Summer Home Maintenance Checklist

Summer House_shutterstock_104946530Did you know that your local NPI or GPI home inspector can provide you with a printed copy of our seasonal home maintenance guide? Call or email your inspector if you’d like one. We also have assembled a handy summer home maintenance checklist that should help you keep your house in tip-top condition.

  • Check the operation of any attic fans and roof-mounted turbine vents.
  • Caulk exterior joints around windows and doors
  • Clean and seal decks, which will require three sunny days. Click here for a step-by-step guide.
  • Have your chimney professionally cleaned and inspected by a certified chimney sweep. Do it before the fall, as there’s plenty of time for repairs and you’ll have an easier time scheduling appointments.
  • If you didn’t check for overhanging tree limbs in the spring, check your trees and trim them if needed.
  • Wash your siding using an ordinary garden hose and a mild detergent. Be careful if using a pressure washer, as it can damage the siding or force water under siding, encouraging mildew and rot.
  • Check for cracks on brick veneer that are wider than 1/16 inch.
  • Remove vines growing on the house, siding, brick or mortar.
  • Check vinyl and aluminum siding for cracks or damage.
  • Check your yard’s grading to assure that water drains away from your home’s foundation.
  • Summer is the perfect time to paint your siding if the paint is cracked and/or peeling.
  • Clean your dryer vent.
  • Clean the gutters on your house and garage.
  • Have your air conditioning unit checked and serviced to ensure proper cooling during the hot summer months.
  • Inspect your house for signs of termite infestation if they are prevalent in your area.
  • Check your basement or crawl space for dampness and/or leaking.
  • Clear leaves and other debris away from your outdoor air-conditioning unit(s).
  • Disconnect your air conditioner and wash off the fins on the outside.
  • Get your pool ready for summer by cleaning it, leveling the water, ensuring pumps are working and balancing the chemicals.
  • If you didn’t do it in the spring, then it’s time to de-winterize your sprinkler system.
  • Wash your exterior windows. You can use a window cleaner that attaches right to the hose to reach high windows.
  • Clean the porch. Give it a good sweeping and washing. Repaint if you have cracked or chipped paint.
  • Check exterior faucets and hoses for leaks, which can really add to your water bill.
  • Clean out and organize the garage. Properly dispose of any hazardous materials, such as paints and solvents.
  • Inspect driveways and walkways for cracks and holes, and have them repaired.

NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home from roof to foundation. Consult with your local NPI or GPI inspector for your next home inspection. To find your local inspector, visit one of the links below.

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What Did My Inspector Mean When He Talked About Grading and Slope Around My House?

Grading_shutterstock_135142733The exterior of your house is just as important as the interior systems when it comes to a well-functioning, well-sealed structure. Because of this, home inspectors should begin the inspection long before they ever reach the door, assessing grading, utility hookups, walkways, decks, driveways, windows and doors, roofing, and exterior cladding or siding.

The grading around your home’s exterior helps prevent water intrusion, which can cause wood rot, mold and mildew. Proper grading also prevents structural movement and damage, keeps out unwanted pests, and helps regulate temperatures inside your home.

Preventing water intrusion begins with the grading of the lot, or the way the ground is shaped around the house. For best results, the ground should visibly slope away from the structure (positive slope). Negative-sloped grading around a home (the ground slopes toward the house) can cause water to pool at the foundation and eventually soak into the walls. Positive slopes move water away from the home and help prevent damage to the foundation.

When a house is built at the bottom of the hill, swales (small ditches) may be built to direct water around the house and away from the foundation. Your home inspector should assess the property’s slope and grading, noting the specific location of negative slope or pooling water. One common problem area is the garage apron. If the flooring is not poured with proper slope, then water will run under the door and pool inside. Inaccessible or obstructed areas of the foundation will also be noted in your inspection report.

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Fall Home Maintenance Checklist

Autumn House_shutterstock_116166403Autumn is upon us, and there are many things you should be doing around the house to prepare for the cooler weather of winter. Here’s a handy checklist:

  • After leaves have fallen, clean the gutters to keep water flowing away from the house.
  • Remove garden hoses from outdoor faucets/bibs, drain and store hoses, and shut off the water.
  • Check caulking anywhere two different materials meet. Specifically, check wood siding joining the foundation wall and where window or door trim meets the siding.
  • Check for broken or cracked glass and damaged screens or storm windows.
  • Insulate pipes in crawl spaces and attics.
  • Have the chimney flue inspected and cleaned by a certified chimney sweep. Also, inspect the damper.
  • Remove bird nests from chimney flues and outdoor electrical fixtures.
  • Run all gas-powered lawn equipment until the fuel is gone.
  • Clean, repair and store outdoor furniture.
  • Trim tree branches that hang over the roof or gutters.
  • Mulch around bulbs, shrubs and trees to prevent drastic soil temperature change from destroying plant root systems.
  • Check the reversing/safety mechanism on garage door operators.
  • Inspect the roof for missing or damaged shingles and repair.
  • If you have a pool, check the pool cover for damage and repair or replace if necessary.
  • Make sure the seal between your garage door and the ground is tight. Add a layer of weather stripping if necessary.
  • Have your heating system inspected and cleaned by a certified professional, and remember to change your furnace filters regularly.
  • Change the direction of ceiling fans to create an upward draft that redistributes warm air from the ceiling.
  • Test and change the batteries in all smoke detectors.
  • Empty all soil from outdoor pots and planters.
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Tips for Outdoor Lighting

New House at Night_shutterstock_139225259Outdoor lighting can serve both decorative and safety purposes. Visit the lighting department at your favorite home improvement store, and you’ll find endless options. Here are some tips to keep your grounds well-lit:

  • Use solar or photovoltaic (PV) lighting to illuminate pathways and walkways and for decorative purposes. These are handy to light areas that are not close to a power supply.
  • Save energy by choosing outdoor lights and floodlights with a photocell or timer, so they will turn off during daylight hours.
  • Consider floodlights with a motion detector to save energy. The lights will turn on when the motion detector senses movement within range.
  • Make sure to turn off decorative outdoor gas lamps. Just eight gas lamps burning year-round use as much natural gas as an average-size home during an entire winter.
  • Use compact fluorescent (CFL) or LED light bulbs — which use less energy and last longer than other types of bulbs — for outdoor lights.
  • Consider battery-operated LED light fixtures for areas where you need good light but have no power supply.
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Take Care When Growing Vines on Your House

English Cottage Door_shutterstock_162916304To some people, ivies and flowering vines crawling up a house add beauty and sense of nostalgia. But at what price to the home’s structure?

Some vines, like wisteria and climbing hydrangea, are woody vines, which can become heavy on your home’s siding, fence or other lightweight structures. Others have growths like suction cups that attach to the house, trapping moisture and causing rot conditions for wood siding. The problem with growing vines on stucco siding is that when the vines are pulled off, they’ll take paint and chunks of stucco with them. And, on houses with aluminum or vinyl siding, vines can grow up under the siding, creating openings for moisture and pests. Furthermore, the invasive roots of ivy and other types of creeping plants can cause considerable damage to a house.

Brick siding in good condition will likely handle ivy, but for weakened brick, creeping vines can widen existing cracks and allow water inside. If you’ve decided you definitely want to grow vines on your brick home, be careful what type of vine you choose. English ivy and others are so invasive that they are banned in some areas. Do some research and choose vines that are less invasive and won’t threaten neighboring trees and houses.

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Water in My Basement? Never

By Roland Bates, President, NPI/GPI

Grading_shutterstock_135142733No home owner would knowingly do anything that would lead to a wet basement. “Knowingly” being the operative word.

Let’s start with the builder. Hopefully, every builder knows to grade the yard in such a fashion that rainwater will naturally run away from the house on all four sides. If that’s done, then so far so good.

Many home owners like to add flowerbeds next to the house to enhance the beauty of the property (the maintenance of which virtually eliminates any free time they might otherwise have, but that story is for another day). That flowerbed next to the house is now flat, or nearly flat, and won’t necessarily direct rainwater away from the house. Sometimes home owners go one step further and use landscape timbers to wrap or frame the flowerbeds next to the house. Now we have a framed-in, flat space next to the house that rather than shedding rainwater probably traps it. This is not a guarantee that this will lead to a wet basement, but it greatly increases the odds.

Let’s go back to the builder for a moment. I couldn’t find a picture that shows this and was too lazy to keep looking, so please use your imagination. Depending on how the builder ties a sidewalk into a patio or driveway and wraps that sidewalk back toward and close to the house, this trapped space between the sidewalk and house — just like the landscape timbers mentioned previously — can act as a dam that holds water that just might find a way into the basement.

A missing downspout is a common cause for a wet basement. It might be something as simple as the homeowner removed it while mowing the grass and forgot to replace it — and then it rained that night.

How about a wet basement and an optical illusion? My neighbor told me he got water in one corner of his basement every time it rained hard. The gutter and downspout in this corner looked fine, and the grading appeared sufficiently pitched to shed rainwater. However, when I pulled back all the mulch piled up in this corner, I found a significant depression causing negative grading. Rather than shedding rainwater away from the house, it was being funneled directly toward this corner. Once discovered, it was a relatively easy fix for my neighbor.

A point I would like to leave you with is this: A home inspector is not going to routinely pull back mulch to look for negative grading. It could be there and simply hidden by an optical illusion. A good inspector can tell you a lot, but based on the limited time on the premises, they can’t tell you everything.

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Home Inspection 101: Inspecting a Home’s Grading

Submitted by Ken Roleke, NPI Franchise Owner, Tucson, Arizona

New House + Landscaping_iStock_000002119557SmallAn important component of a home inspection that is not always obvious to the home buyer is the grading of the yard. I have seen homes that are meticulously maintained inside but have poor grading, even holes in the yard. Unfortunately, grading is often considered a low priority, but the effects of improper grading can be disastrous.

Rainwater ponding outside, or worse, running toward the house, can wreak havoc. Basements can flood, damaging items in the basement, as well as drywall, carpet and more. Even a slab-on-grade house with no basement is susceptible to water damage, as it could develop mold from water seeping into the walls, and the moisture could attract termites. Furthermore, standing water in cold climates can freeze and damage brick paver decking and other hardscapes.

The ideal grading that the home inspector should look for is for the ground to slope away from the house in all directions a half inch per foot. Other factors besides the slope of the ground can cause problems, including downspouts that disperse water right against the building, instead of directing it away, and vegetation that holds water and keeps it from draining away.

If the property looks like it has drainage problems, then the best way to know for sure is to check during or immediately after a rainstorm. When this is not practical, the inspector could try running a hose in the questionable area.

While the best and most foolproof way to remedy the grading is to build up the ground to slope away from the house in all directions, it’s often just not possible. Small lot sizes, the elevation of the house, where the house transitions from foundation to framed wall, the elevation of the neighbor’s land, existing vegetation, hardscape and accessory buildings, and especially cost are all factors in the equation.

Remedies for improper grading include connecting downspouts to a pipe to direct the roof rainwater further away from the house and French drains, which are basically a trench filled with gravel or perforated pipe that catches the water in the yard and directs it away from the house.

For more information about grading, read our previous post, “What’s Your Grading Grade?

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Add Curb Appeal With Landscaping

Landscaping_shutterstock_90858971Whether you’re preparing to sell your home or you just want to improve its look from outside, landscaping can be a valuable tool to add curb appeal. Maybe you just need to spruce up existing landscaping, or maybe you’re starting from scratch. Either way, here are some easy tips for landscape design.

  • First, draw a rough sketch of your yard and designate areas for landscaping, vegetable gardening, play spaces and any other things you’ll use the yard for.
  • If you’re completely at a loss as to what to do in your yard, consider hiring a landscape designer for an hour-long consultation.
  • Understand that landscaping is an ongoing process. Don’t feel like you have to do everything in a weekend. Plan to landscape as your budget permits.
  • Become familiar with the sun and wind patterns in your yard. This will help you determine what types of plants to plant and where.
  • Start small — landscaping is a process. You might start by planting shrubs or flower beds at the front of the house now, and then tackle the design of the side and backyard.
  • Create a focal point, whether it’s a fountain, a sculpture or an unusual and visually appealing plant.
  • Fill in with annuals. If there are areas you’re not ready to tackle or if you’re waiting while your perennials fill in, plant annuals for some color and a more mature look.
  • Add height to your garden or landscaping with planters and baskets.
  • Enjoy color throughout the growing season by researching when certain plants and flowers bloom and then planting for every season.
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What’s Your Grading Grade?

By Scott Ward, NPI Franchise Owner, Southern Johnson County, Kansas

Grading_shutterstock_135142733Spring is a great time to grade the grading of your house. Give yourself an “A” if the soil around your foundation is sloped away from the house at least 6 inches in the first 10 feet, with 3 to 4 inches in the first 5 feet on all sides.

Give yourself a “B” if you have any low spots at all around the foundation. These low spots many times are near inside foundation corners and near where utilities enter the house. Make sure to look under bushes and other landscaping, too.

Give yourself a “C” if the grading is at or near level around a significant portion of the foundation. If you have a yard that slopes toward the house and water pools at or near the foundation with wet, spongy ground in the vicinity of the foundation, give yourself a “D.” If you have moisture in your basement or crawl space, especially during rainstorms, and water stains on the interior side of the foundation walls, then you get an “F.”

Any time excess moisture is present around a foundation, the potential for foundation problems increases. The water itself creates what is called hydraulic pressure, which presses the foundation walls inward and can lead to cracks, settlement and shifting of the foundation. If left unchecked, this can ultimately cause structural failure and cost many thousands of dollars to repair. If you live in area with expansive soils, such as the Midwest, the effects tend to happen much faster. Ongoing moisture issues can also lead to mold, insect infestation and rot within the structure — all of which are expensive to repair.

In many cases, the proper grade can be achieved by simply adding soil around the foundation to slope the grade away from the house. Forty-pound bags of topsoil can be purchased at home improvement centers for about $1.50 for small projects, or you can have a truck load of topsoil delivered. Be advised that both soils are pulverized and will settle and compact a significant amount, so be sure to by extra. On large jobs or jobs that require extensive regrading, it may be best to hire professional. In the long run, this will be less expensive than repairing a foundation.

Remember to leave at least 2 to 3 inches of space between the soil and the top of the foundation or the bottom of the siding. This will prevent moisture from wicking into the siding and help limit insects from entering the structure. Adding downspout extensions and/or splash blocks is also a good idea to help move water away from the foundation. If you have a sump pump, make sure that it, too, is discharged well away from the foundation.

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What’s a ‘Green Roof’?

Submitted by Roland Bates, President, NPI and GPI

green-rooftop-waterproofing-systemImagine a combination of grass, plants, shrubs and possibly small trees growing on top of a building. A green roof can be just about anything. It’s possible to have green roofs on residential property, but more likely they will be found on flat commercial rooftops.

One of the reasons for a green roof is to reduce the amount of sunlight that hits the top of the building, making it less hot inside the building in the summer and in warm climates. A green roof can reduce energy consumption for cooling and the like.

Depending on how it’s built, a green roof could add a lot of weight to the roof; therefore, it might be necessary to beef up the structure to carry the extra load. Naturally, this would add to the cost of the building, as would the addition of a sprinkler system to maintain all of the plants, etc.

NPI and GPI do a lot of inspections on existing commercial buildings, as well as a lot of commercial draw inspections (new construction). Green roofs are a trend that we’re not seeing much of on new buildings. One contention is that the dark green leaves from the plants absorb more UV heat than does some sort of lighter-colored reflective roof, so maybe this is why companies aren’t really buying into the idea of a green rooftop. It will be interesting to see how popular they become in the coming years.

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