The Scariest Thing About a Home Inspection

By Tim Shuford, NPI Franchise Owner, Jamestown, North Carolina

Inspecting homesFrom this home inspector’s perspective, one of the scariest things about many home inspections is what I can’t see.  As you probably know, a home inspection is a “non-invasive” inspection of readily-accessible components and systems.  That means that the things hidden inside walls or other inaccessible areas are not inspected.  If a home inspector had X-ray vision or some other super-power, I feel sure that inspection reports would list a lot more areas of concern.  Here are a three “real life” examples of what I’m talking about.

Several hundred homes in a nearby housing development were constructed 20-30 years ago.  Almost all the homes were clad with composite hardboard (Masonite type) siding, and no re-siding has been done on approximately half the homes.  A small percentage of the homes now have cement-fiber siding, and the remainder are now clad with vinyl siding.  It’s pretty common knowledge that most 20-30 year old composite hardboard siding has some amount of deterioration, and a lot of it is badly deteriorated……maybe to the extent of allowing water to reach the structural components and cause decay and other moisture-related issues….and this development is no exception.  (Of course, there’s also plenty of decay typically found in the window sills and trim, door jambs, etc. on these homes.)   When inspecting one of these homes with deteriorated hardboard, it’s easy to report the defects and indicate that there could be structural damage due to water intrusion.  The scary homes in the development are the ones that have vinyl siding and aluminum trim installed.  You just have to suspect that the newer surface treatment was installed right over whatever deterioration and decay existed, without much thought of whether any underlying damage was present.  Unfortunately, there’s not much to report here, as long as the siding and trim is intact and installed properly, and there’s no other evidence of structural problems.

Occasionally, we’ll inspect a home with an area (such as a basement) that was obviously finished by the homeowner.  (Well, maybe they did invite some friends to join in and provide some pizza and beer.)  It seems that most of the time, we’ll find some kind of electrical deficiency (such as a spliced electrical cable not enclosed in a junction box) in an accessible area of the same home.  You just have to wonder if similar conditions exist behind the finished walls or ceilings.  Again, there’s not much to report unless you can see it.

Many homes (especially older homes) have portions of the crawl space that are inaccessible, due to low clearances, ductwork, etc.  It’s not uncommon to find structural problems, electrical problems, etc. in the accessible areas of these crawl spaces.  So, why would I think that everything is “just fine” in the areas of the crawl space that I can’t inspect?

The “gut feeling” that goes along with inspecting a property like this is not the best.  You want to make sure that the condition of the property is as accurately represented as possible, and your gut tells you that there are probably some hidden items that need repair.  I guess that the best we can do is just try and make sure the client knows that there are areas in the home that we can’t see or inspect.

 

Shuford PhotoTim Shuford is a professional National Property Inspections home inspector in Jamestown, North Carolina. If you live in the area, call 336.823.6605 to schedule your home inspection with Tim.
NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home. Consult with your local NPI or GPI inspector for an assessment of your home.

Ask the Inspector: What Are Weep Holes?

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Brick can be a structural component of a home, serving as the wall itself, or it can be a veneer, which is a type of siding. As a veneer, a single thickness of brick is added to the outside of a wood-framed home and serves the same purpose as any exterior siding.

One way to identify the presence of brick veneer is to look for weep holes — small openings at the bottom of brick veneer walls. Weep holes are designed to give moisture that accumulates between the home’s interior wooden wall and the exterior veneer a way out. Without weep holes for ventilation, moisture may become trapped in this cavity, causing mold, reducing the effectiveness of insulation, encouraging the formation of rot and attracting pests.

Weep holes can often be identified by open slots on a course, or row, of bricks near the foundation. The holes are typically 32 to 33 inches apart and should be kept unobstructed. It is a good idea to check and clear weep holes periodically. Do not allow dirt, mulch or broken pieces of mortar to block the holes and trap moisture inside.

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Why Should I Get a New-construction Home Inspection?

By Wes Grant, NPI Franchise Owner, Indian Trail, North Carolina

I hear this question often from folks buying a newly built home, and it has compelled me to explain the virtues of having a new-construction home properly inspected by a professional and qualified home inspector.

Firstly, I am not writing this to bash home builders, per se. For the most part, I know many custom home builders who do a fine job. Unfortunately, I also know many home builders who do a mediocre to poor job and who are only concerned with their bottom line regardless of the marketing propaganda they feed new-home shoppers. I have been labeled “Deal Killer” by some of these builders because I point out the flaws and poor workmanship they try to pass on to their buyers.

Home inspectors are the one — and often only — party who has no skin in the game. What does it benefit us to be a deal killer? The builder makes money selling the house; inspectors are the only objective party involved in the transaction because we are paid to inspect the home whether or not a buyer goes through with the purchase. Buyers of new-construction homes are often inexperienced in the new-construction home buying process. They mistakenly assume that because a home has passed all local code inspections, it must be OK.

My short answer is this: Don’t assume your builder, or the subcontractors they use, did a good job just because the home passed code inspections. A professional home inspector is your last line of defense against major and minor defects that could literally cost you thousands of dollars and cause you many a restless night.

At National Property Inspections, we work with many professional Realtors, and they know us and understand that we are here to help our mutual clients and keep them from being fleeced by parties who choose to ignore poor quality or simply don’t care.

OK, I’m getting off my soap box. Here, I outline the most severe issues I regularly find during new-construction home inspections.

Improperly Installed Cement Fiber Plank Siding
Most frequently, I find multiple issues with improperly installed cement fiber planks. Major manufacturers of this product are James Hardie and Certainteed. I’m not going into the class-action lawsuits that are currently in process with some cement fiber plank manufacturers — that’s for a later discussion. I’m simply pointing out that many new-construction homes I have inspected have siding that has been installed improperly.

I find that nails are often overdriven or multiple nails are driven into small areas. Nails that are overdriven no longer have holding strength and/or crack the corners of the siding. In either case, the individual planks will begin to fail over time, and some fall completely off the house, many times within just a few weeks after construction.

Per the Certainteed installation specs: “Do not over-drive the fasteners. Seating them below the surface of the siding reduces their holding power and creates an entryway for moisture. Do not place fasteners in the center, unsupported area of the siding.”

Another issue is siding planks and boards that have large gaps between the ends of the siding. The butt ends of siding should be in moderate contact and should have joint flashing, joint caps or sealant at each joint connection. (Depending on local code, many manufacturers recommend against using any joint sealants.) Open gaps between the butt ends allows easy access for water intrusion behind the siding.

Problems With Stone Veneer Siding Installation
Improperly installed manufactured stone veneer siding is also a common defect. Failure to follow the manufacturer’s installation procedures can lead to water intrusion inside the wall cavity behind the siding. At a recent 11-month builder’s warranty inspection, we discovered very high moisture readings on the interior walls of the home using a Tramex encounter plus noninvasive moisture meter. The manufactured stone veneer, commonly referred to by builders as “lick and stick” was installed with no visible weep system at the base of the wood frame walls or horizontal transitions. We found other problems, too:

  • No visible weep system at the tops of windows and/or doors
  • No visible sealants along seams between the stone cladding and siding, trim, windows and/or doors
  • No indication of a flashing and/or weep system where the stone cladding is in contact with roofing materials or along head flashings
  • Metal lath was visible, indicating that the proper base coats of mortar were not applied prior to installation of the stone cladding

The lack of proper detailing and flashing is conducive to water penetration behind the stone cladding and possible hidden damage. The home owner contacted the builder after receiving our report that night (we always deliver same-day reports). The builder started removing stone, and multiple areas of the interior wall had water-soaked insulation and mold growth. We saved the customer thousands of dollars for which she repaid us by referring at least six of her neighbors in this new-home community, all for 11-month builder’s warranty inspections.

Rayn Properties Architectural Images

Unprotected Roof Penetrations
We frequently discover improperly installed flashing and boot vents at roof penetrations, as well as missing kick-out flashing at the end of sidewalls. We were inspecting a brand-new home on the same day our customer was doing the walkthrough with the builder. It was raining on the day of inspection, and as we made our way into the attic, I noticed a large puddle on the OSB plywood just in front of the furnace. Upon further inspection I determined that the subcontractor who cut the hole penetration in the roof to extend the furnace flue had cut the hole much too large allowing water to pour into the attic area.

This is a brand-new house — even after the roofers, HVAC technicians and who knows who else had been in or around this roof and attic, nobody noticed the light coming in around the furnace flue penetration, and no one saw the gaps around the flue penetration on the exterior roof while they were putting on the shingles? Had the customer not had a home inspection, how much damage would this leak have caused before it would be discovered?

On a 10-year-old brick home we inspected, kickout flashing was missing over a window at the front porch, and visible staining was noted on the exterior brick veneer. On the interior walls, we found moisture intrusion, and the window sill area was very soft. At the band sill (viewed during the crawl space inspection), our inspector noted rot and severe water damage directly under the area missing the kick-outs. If the missing kick-outs had been noted at the time of construction (regardless of code), these home owners would not have been looking at spending thousands of dollars in repairs 10 years later.

Plumbing Fails
During the crawl space inspection of a new-construction home just this year, I noted water leaking from under the master bathroom toilet area. It appeared that the plumber forgot to install a wax seal! I have actually caught this three times in new-home construction.

Funny story: My Daddy was a plumber, so from the time I was able to walk, I was required to be a plumber’s helper. I can clearly remember Daddy having me finish installing some copper supply lines in a bathroom of a new-construction home when I was about 14 years old, while Daddy went back to the supply house to pick up some elbows. I was fluxing my heart out and connecting pipes and was so proud of the job I did. I remember when Daddy was testing the water pressure all the joints blew at the bathroom I completed — seems I forgot one important task: soldering the joints. Not my best moment! Point being, everybody makes mistakes or forgets things sometimes. A home inspection will catch many of these lapses.

Improperly Flashed Window and Door Openings
This defect is normally only discovered if the customer is having a pre-drywall inspection (a very good idea for new-home-construction buyers). We got a call to do an inspection on a 4-year-old house in a new home development that stalled in 2009 during the economic crash after several houses had already been constructed.

In the interior of the home, around the back-door threshold area, the floor was very soft and “giving” when stepped on. During the crawl space inspection, we noted evidence of water intrusion, wood rot and mold growth in the subflooring components under the back-door threshold. The sellers agreed to repair the problem, and the contractor doing the repair work started demolition. They discovered that there was absolutely no flashing around the door threshold, which could have been caught with a pre-drywall inspection.

This year, we have done several new-construction inspections and pre-drywall inspections in that same neighborhood (building resumed full force in 2014), and we are finding that this particular builder is routinely failing to install flashing at some areas of windows and doors, or not using any type of rubber tape adhesive flashing at some of the corners (bowtie cuts) and just using caulk sealant. This is sloppy work by a subcontractor, which will lead to expensive damage in the future.

These are just a few of the major issues we have discovered during new-construction home inspections that have saved our customers thousands of dollars and more than justify the cost of a home inspection. All of these issues have been identified by a qualified professional home inspector.

A new home will be the largest financial investment most of us make in our lifetimes. For the cost of pennies on the dollar, you can buy peace of mind that your purchase is a sound financial investment with an objective home inspection. Call National Property Inspections today to book your next home inspection. We will save you money in the long run.

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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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What You Should Know About Home Siding Materials

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

Stucco siding

Stucco siding

Inspecting the siding is an important part of the home inspection because the siding, along with the roof, protects the interior of the house from the elements. During the inspection of the home’s exterior, your home inspector will examine the following.

First, the home inspector looks for damaged siding, and, just as importantly, the underlying reason for the damage, which is overridingly improper installation.

Brick, stone, wood and stucco are still used as siding material, but often in new ways. There are also new materials. Some siding materials have come and gone, and still others are here to stay. The traditional materials — wood, stone and bricks — were typically sourced locally, so you’ll find distinct regional styles in siding.

Vinyl siding is the most prevalent material used in the United States today, especially in the northeast and Midwest. Vinyl siding must be installed loosely, to allow for expansion and contraction. Buckling and warping will occur if it is installed too tightly.

Brick is next, and it is particularly popular in the south. It was traditionally built to be a bearing wall, with brick on the outside and brick or block on the inside. Since the 1970s, most brick houses have actually been brick veneer, with the wood framing the veneer is attached to carrying the load of the structure. Some things an inspector will look for in these homes are whether the brick veneer is detaching from the framing, deteriorating mortar, cracks in brick or mortar indicating foundation movement, failing lentils, spalling brick, and lack of weep holes.

Stucco over a frame wall is the dominant material in the southwest. While there will always be some minor cracks caused by framing that shrunk or when the stucco cured, the inspector looks to see if there are more cracks than normal or larger cracks than normal. Cracks caused by a continuing moisture problem, defective installation or foundation settling are more serious problems.

Fiber cement has become increasingly popular, in the form of vertical and horizontal boards, and in panels for a contemporary look.

Cultured stone, and, to a much lesser extent, natural stone veneer, are used often these days. These are more likely to be accent materials than whole-house covering because of the high cost.

Two materials that came and went are asphalt composition siding, big in the 1930s through 1950s, and asbestos cement siding, popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Steel siding rusted and was largely replaced by aluminum siding, which has mostly been replaced by vinyl siding.

Composite wood siding, made of wood fibers and chips held together by glues and resins, was popular in the 1980s through the mid-1990s as a low-cost alternative. It is prone to rot, buckle and warp, but defects can be lessened if it was properly installed.

Exterior insulated finished systems (EIFS) — basically synthetic stucco over a mesh attached to insulating board — have had problems trapping moisture, leading to very expensive repairs for wood rot damage. With the combination of moisture and wood, termites do not have to return to soil. Nearly all EIFS homes inspected are found to have been installed incorrectly. A properly conducted EIFS inspection is an invasive inspection and should only be performed by an inspector specially trained for it.

If the siding material has been painted, then the inspector should look for peeling, which normally indicates a moisture problem, often caused by improper installation.

There are still distinct regional siding preferences today, but homeowners have more choices than ever. They can mix and match materials, or use one as an accent. However, leaks or other problems are more likely to occur where two materials meet. Once again, proper installation is the key.

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