Ah yes, another year has come and gone. Let’s take a look at my annual top pictures from 2016! I typically do top a 10, but this year I’m expanding it to 12; there is just too much good stuff not to share it.
Once again I wish to say a heartfelt Thank You to all who chose me to have your back during the stress of buying a house. It’s a responsibility and an honor that I do not take lightly, and I can’t thank you enough. To those of you who didn’t choose me….shame on you. Really, shame on you.
Happy New Year! Here’s to making 2017 the best yet!
If you missed my Best of 2015, click the button and check it out now.
Lots of people love the idea of living in an older house. They love the “character” that only old houses can bring. I get that. But I’m seeing a trend of people wanting to go this route with no knowledge of what it really means to own an old house-or the cost of keeping one up and running. Anyone who has lived in an old home for any real amount of time will tell you its a labor of love. Old houses need constant upkeep (more so than their younger counterparts), and if you have ever tried to re-hab an old house, you know it can feel like a huge hole in your yard that you dump money into every day. You know, “the money pit.”
My city, Louisville, KY has an area of town known simply as “Old Louisville,” which is packed full of old Victorian style solid brick houses. It is the third largest such district in the United States. Old Louisville also has the largest concentration of homes containing stained glass in the nation. Pretty cool, eh? Needless to say I get to inspect lots of big, old houses. That, too, can be a love-hate relationship.
Let’s dive into the plumbing system of an old house. Old pipes can look fine on the surface, but looks can be deceiving. Over the past 100 years or so, several different types of material have been used for plumbing in homes. Clay pipes, cast iron, and galvanized steel were the most commonly used forms back in the day. All of these have been replaced with modern plastics in recent years, but millions of homes still have the old systems; and one day they will have to be replaced due to failure.
For clarity’s sake, the supply line is the pipe that brings water into the home and distributes it throughout. The waste lines are the pipes that take the sewer water away from the house.
Clay pipes (or vitrified clay pipes, if you want to be technical about it) are what most sewers were made from in the 1800’s to early 1900’s. Clay pipes have been around for much longer than that though. Some of the earliest pipes ever discovered date back to about 4000 BC in Babylonia. The issue with having a buried clay pipe in your yard is that they are known for cracking or breaking over time because clay is brittle.
A clay waste (or sewer line) is comprised of many short sections of pipe that fit together. They’re short because the pieces are heavy, but short sections mean lots of joints where bad things can happen. Cue the tree roots. When a breech in the wall of the pipe happens, roots, dirt, and everything in between begin to settle inside the pipe. Over time this will lead to a clogged waste line in the middle of the yard.
At this point there are two options. You can either dig up the yard and replace the pipes, or hire a company that does “lining services.” That is, they claim to use the old pipe as a chase and pull a new liner through the old pipe. I’ve never seen this done, but in theory it seems possible.
Cast iron pipes have been around a long time as well. It’s not uncommon to see cast iron sewer pipes last 80-100 years, sometimes even longer. However, cast iron pipes have a certain type of failure that is easy to spot…rust. The thing to remember is that cast iron rusts from the inside out. That means that while it may look fine on the surface, your pipe could be paper thin in reality. Long horizontal runs of cast iron pipes also crack quite frequently, a result of corrosive sewer gases. When you are looking at an old house, and you see cast iron pipes, pay attention to the areas of rust around the collars of the connections. That is where I typically find them failing. Also, if you are seeing pipes that look freshly painted, it could be someone trying to cover up a badly rusted sewer pipe.
The thing to remember is that cast iron rusts from the inside out. That means while it may look fine on the surface, it could be paper thin in reality. If the cast iron is around 80-100 yrs old, it’s getting close to the end of its life.
Galvanized Steel Pipes
Galvanized Steel Pipes were used as both supply and sewer pipes up until around the 1950’s in Louisville. When steel has been galvanized, it has had a zinc coating applied to the steel to help prevent rust. Once the zinc coating wears off, the rusting begins. Galvanized steel water pipes are bad news. They rust and close up like an artery that has seen too many cheeseburgers. You can also get some pretty nasty tasting water from steel supply pipes. Louisville’s water is voted as some of the nation’s very best tasting tap water, and you wouldn’t want to spoil it with crud filled water pipes. Obviously when this happens it cuts the flow down dramatically as well. Like I said, bad news all around.
Supply lines are not the only problematic pipe when it comes to galvanized pipe. Lots of old houses have waste lines made of the same stuff. They, too, suffer from the same fate of rust and buildup over time. Most of the time I see this stuff being used as main sewer lines throughout the house, that tie into a cast iron main sewer stack to head out to the sewer at the street.
So, as you shop for your new (old) house, pay attention to what you see in terms of plumbing pipes. A total plumbing replacement job on a big house is “new car money.” If you notice little bits of PVC pipe sprinkled in here and there, that is a sign that the owners have had problems in the past, but didn’t want to bite the bullet and spend the big money to have it all replaced. It’s inevitable. These old pipes will fail. You just don’t want to be caught off guard when they do.
I’m a bit later than I wanted to be getting this written, but hey, better late than never. If you missed the first part of this post you can see it here: Best of Home Inspections 2014. So without further ado, the second half of the Best of the Worst pictures of 2014.
A waterfall in the crawlspace – This house was about 15 years old. This was the 3rd person selling it. What you are looking at is the master shower that was NEVER connected to the home’s plumbing. It has been dumping shower water under the house since the day it was built. How many other inspectors missed this little gem because it was in a tight spot that took a bit of extra effort to get to? And do you know what I had to craw through to see it? Go on…tell me you’ve never peed in the shower.
NEW Insulation in the Attic – That is what the listing boasted. In fact, the buyer even commented to me on how this flipper (not the dolphin) did everything just right. I may be a bit cynical, but I have never seen a flipped house “done right.” When I climbed through the tiny hole in the ceiling to get into the attic I saw this pile of batt insulation (the worst possible choice for attic insulation, mind you). Well…in the sellers defense, there was new insulation in the attic, it just hasn’t been installed yet.
Leaning Crawlspace Tower of Pisa – Truth be told, I could make one of these post every week with the crap I find in crawlspaces alone. This beauty was in an old house, circa 1900. There were probably a dozen or so of these wonderfully crafted modern marvels scattered throughout. What do you say other than “Um…no.”
Air filters are important – Who doesn’t like clean, fresh air? The people who owned this house, that’s who. This was a 10yr old gas furnace that I don’t think has ever had a filter installed it. I was getting very little air flow out of it and when I took the unit apart I found this fan so clogged with crud it could barely draw the air through it.
Casting a shadow – It doesn’t hurt to turn off your ceiling fans every few years and wipe them down. The dust on the edge of this fan blade was nearly 3/4 inch thick. So fellas, the next time you start to catch heat about not pulling your weight in the house cleaning department, just show the them this pic and point out how it could always be worse.
My last and final picture is not of a house, but of a fortune cookie message I received a few weeks ago. It only took 30 years to get one that actually made sense.
I’ve got enough pictures to write a novel of funny, awful, and scary things I’ve found during my home inspections, and I’ve already started compiling my list for next time. I had record numbers in 2014 because of you and the trust you put in me. I love what I do, and I love helping people. Thank you for choosing ABI.
Another year older, one or two more gray hairs found, and a stack of pictures to choose from. It’s hard to whittle it down to just a handful, but I selected the top 10 problems found during home inspections this year.
A Cold Fireplace – This is a picture from a one year old home. The owners paid extra to have a vented gas fireplace insert installed. What they didn’t realize is they would be paying extra on their heat bill forever because of it. You can see through the eye of my thermal imaging camera that the lower section of the insert was not insulated or air sealed. It’s constantly letting cold in air. The room temp was 68, the outside air was 17. This is why thermal imaging home inspections are awesome. It put visual reasoning to a problem you can feel. This problem is fixable, but it would requiring removing the mantle and fireplace to air seal/insulate the back wall.
Structural Window – Ok, there is no such thing, but this window in this custom garage is acting as one. The owners of this two month old custom built garage called me when they started to have trouble with water leaking in. I came out to find what the water problem was. I did, and found this beauty as well. Whenever we have masonry spanning the top of a window or door or opening, there should be a piece of steel installed above the window, called a lintel. This L shaped support is what holds everything up in the air. These concrete blocks are resting on the window frame only. No steel. Only water leakage.
Flooded Crawlspace – There is not much I won’t do for my clients. I have been bitten and stung. I have crawled through dead animals, piles of poop, puddles of pee, and everything you can imagine to get the low down on a house. But I drew the line with this crawlspace. I took one look in there with the exposed and flooded electrical lines and “noped it.” The buyer just laughed and said “I don’t blame you.”
Rotting Creatures – In keeping with the creepy, nasty crawlspace theme; one day I turned the corner and stumbled across this guy. I think it used to be a possum at one time. It may not seem too bad now, but imagine yourself in a dark, wet crawlspace. You’re crawling on your belly, turn the corner and find this dude 6 inches from your face. It’s a bit startling. Oh, and wet, decomposing hair smelled great!
See Through Drain – Ever wondered what your bathroom sink drain looks like? Yeah, me neither. But if by some chance you do….wonder no more. This thing is flat out gross. It was almost like a lava lamp for hair and dead skin cells.
So there is the first five. It’s tough picking a top ten with thousands of pictures to choose from for sure, but you can see part two here- ABI Home Inspection – Best of 2014 Part 2
You hear that? That half a second woosh sound your toilet makes? Do you know what that is? It’s a leak; and that’s cold hard cash you’re flushing down the drain. Leaking toilets cost you money. According to the EPA, the average house leaks or waste about 10,000 gallons of water a year. Based on what I pay for water here in Louisville KY, that’s about $150.00 a year. Now add a leaking toilet to the mix, and depending on how bad the leak is, you could easily triple that number. I’ve been told a severely leaking toilet could fill a swimming pool in a year. That’s a lot of dough.
So you think you may have a leaking toilet? It’s super simple to check. All you need is a bit of food coloring and time. Lift the tank lid off and drop a few drops of your favorite color in the tank. Now you wait. Depending on how bad your leak is will depend on how long the next steps take. At minimum I’d wait a few hours though. I like to do this as I’m going to bed, or heading out for the day (just in case you have a very slow leak), and you can give the toilet time to send the colored water into the bowl without you having to worry about flushing.
How do I know if it’s leaking?
If, after time, colored water has made it into the bowl of your toilet without you flushing it…you have a leak. A perfectly working toilet should pass zero water from the tank to the bowl without flushing. If you have colored water in the bowl, you have a leak.
I’ve got a leak, now what?
This really depends on what toilet you have. Most have a flapper in the center of the tank that loses it’s seal over time. Some of the newer ones (like the one in the upper picture) use a canister style flush valve. Either way, that rubber seal is typically the culprit. If you are unsure which you have, it’s always a great idea to take a quick pic of the parts with your phone before heading out to the hardware store. It’s also a great idea to know the brand name of your toilet. Some manufactures use specific parts. Replacing the parts shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.
Water. The substance of life. We can’t live without it. And there’s nothing better than indoor plumbing. Don’t think so? Ask your favorite senior sometime about walking through 12 inches of snow in sub-zero temperatures just to use the bathroom. But with all the greatness that indoor plumbing holds, people have made a few mistakes along the highway of plumbing technology.
Between 1978-1995 plumbers all across the country fell in love with a product known in the industy as simply PB (short for Polybutylene).
This stuff revolutionized the plumbing of a home. Speed is the name of the game when it comes to construction, and the faster you can get a job done, the faster you can get another job started. PB was the key to the Promised Land to plumbers. It cut install time and material cost in half! Which, of course, doubled profits. Win-win right? For awhile, yes. However, PB pipe had a deep dark secret that was lurking in the shadows…
I was in a home just last week doing a Louisville home inspection on a pretty nice house. This was the second home inspection for the same client in two weeks. The first home was suspect, to say the least. I thought that she had found a winner this time…then I opened the kitchen cabinet under the sink. And buried behind all the usual under-the-sink “stuff” sat a bomb.
There, with time ominously ticking away, was PB pipe.
Nothing but fire will destroy a home faster than water. PB would prove this to be true. You see, PB water supply lines had one critical fault. They failed at the crimp joints, flooding homes in the process. Many, many people have come home from a hard day at work to find water pouring out of their front door. Nearly everything they own destroyed in a flash.
How can you tell if you have PB pipe in your home?
Exterior – Polybutylene underground water mains are usually blue, but could be gray or black. They are normally 1/2″ or 1″ in size, and may be found coming into your home through the basement wall or floor, concrete slab or crawlspace. You should also check at the meter by the street. Although you may have copper in the home, your main line could be a PB buried in the yard.
Interior – Polybutylene used inside your home can be found near the water heater, running across the ceiling in unfinished basements, and coming out of the walls to feed sinks and toilets. It it normally battleship grey in color and could have a red stripe on it. You may also find the text PB2110 SRD11. Bear in mind that you may have PB concealed in the walls, and copper “stubs” protruding through the walls for sinks and toilets, giving you the false impression that you do not have PB in your home.
What is the problem with PB pipe?
It is not certain what the exact issue is. Many professionals suggest that the chemicals added to city water supplies, such as chlorine, cause the plastic resin in PB to break down over time from the inside out. This means you CANNOT look or touch the PB in a home and tell if it is failing. Blame has also been placed on installation error. While it is very feasible that problems could arise from a faulty install, it is difficult to find and check EVERY connection in a home. That could easily amount to the hundreds of connections. The reality is there is no safe or good PB installs. Many plumbers now state that it’s not a matter of if but when it will fail.
What do you do if you find PB in your home?
If, after reading this, you look under your sink and see what appears to be PB, call a plumber. Tell them you think you have PB in your home and you would like to get it checked out. Just because you’ve never had a leak, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. This stuff is calm like bomb. If you are looking at a home to buy and suspect PB plumbing in the home, get an estimate on having the home re-plumbed with copper, PVC, or PEX. It might not be a deal killer if you don’t make it one.
Call your insurance company. Many won’t cover a home with PB installed in it. Although the question may never have come up while you were getting the property covered, it may be hard times for you if they deny the flood claim because of some fine print on page 538 of your contract.
Be proactive. It’s always cheaper in the long run. You may find PB in your home, and think, “It’s fine, this stuff has been here since 1990.” While this may be the case, you may come home next week and find you have to replace not only the plumbing, but the drywall, carpet, tile, cabinets, sub floor, baseboard, insulation, doors, cat, dog, etc… You get the idea. It’s never a problem until it leaks.