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.

Tagged: , , , , , ,

Why Are Gutters, Downspouts and Splash Blocks Important?

Gutter_shutterstock_147483605Gutters, downspouts and splash blocks are used to move water away from a house or building, protecting the exterior surfaces of the home, the foundation and landscaping materials from water damage.

  • Gutters are valleys that can be made of a variety of materials and which are located on the edge of the roof.
  • Downspouts connect to the gutters to contain the water on its way to the ground.
  • Splash blocks are found at the end of the downspouts to disperse water away from the foundation.

A variety of gutter systems are available, depending on the type of home, slope of the roof and aesthetic concerns. Gutters on residential homes may or may not have seams, may be attached to the outside of the roof, or may be an integral part of the soffit. Gutters are made of plastic or metal, and they may have screens on top to prevent large debris from causing clogs. Leaks are most common at the seams, elbows and corners of gutters.

Drainage on flat roofs, generally found more often on commercial buildings, can be accomplished with gutters and downspouts, an interior drainage system or scuppers. Scuppers are holes cut in walls that extend above a roof line. Generally a downspout is connected to the scupper to move water away from the building.

Damaged or leaking gutters can allow water to stain walls and ceilings, pool against the foundation, or seep into the walls damaging the frame.

An unbiased, independent inspection by your NPI or GPI inspector includes a thorough examination of the home’s gutters and downspouts to provide the information you need for.

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.

Tagged: , , , , , ,

Ask the Inspector: What Are Weep Holes?

http://www.masonryinnovations.com/images/largewall.gif

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.

Tagged: , , , , , ,

Do You Need to Add a Vapor Barrier in Your Home?

TS-77902336_vapor-barrier-crop_s4x3.jpg.rend.hgtvcom.1280.960Because common foundation materials, such as concrete blocks, are somewhat porous, adding an air or vapor barrier can be important an important step when it comes to insulating a basement, crawl space, garage or other unheated area of a house. To improve comfort and utility costs for adjacent heated rooms, home owners may consider adding insulation to the ceiling or walls of the unheated space. Another thing to consider is adding a vapor barrier.

A vapor barrier installed on the warm side of the insulation will prevent air from moving through the insulation, adding to the insulation’s effectiveness. A vapor barrier is difficult to install once insulation is already in place, so if you are planning to re-insulate an area of your home, you might want to consider also adding a vapor barrier.

It is important to avoid putting vapor barriers on the cold side of the insulation. This can trap moisture in the insulation, causing possible rot around wood framing or walls. Air and vapor barriers also should not be used to hold insulation to the ceiling of an unheated garage or crawl space.

An earthen floor in a crawl space or basement can cause elevated moisture levels in the air and promote rot in wooden structural beams, so it is advisable to add a moisture barrier like a polyethylene sheet over such floors. The moisture barrier should be sealed at the joints and around the perimeter. A layer of gravel or sand can help prevent rips or tears.

Your local NPI or GPI home inspector can provide you with a full assessment of your home’s systems and condition. To find an inspector near you, visit one of the links below.

Tagged: , , , ,

The Nasty Mold And Mold Removal

By Todd Newhook, GPI Franchise Owner, Markham, Ontario

Newhook Photo 2Quite often, home inspectors come face to face with a so-called enemy : The Nasty Mold. As professional home inspectors, we are obligated to report to our clients the presence of possible mold whenever we see visible staining, and we also must recommend next steps.

Many home inspectors are certified to test for mold. I’ve been testing for mold for about six years and also have considerable mold remediation experience. Our clients and real estate agents appreciate our level of expertise and industry experience. (A little side note [shhhh]: Mold is not necessarily bad for you and is an important part of our ecosystem.)

Mold in general requires a food source to grow — moisture — and something to grow on, such as substrates. It is important to ensure that the house you live in is well maintained, and that includes ensuring proper indoor humidity levels and temperatures. You know those silly cracks and the deteriorated caulking around your house? If you don’t maintain these areas, water will get inside at some point. Concerning mold, preventive maintenance is key.

Attic mold is common in our area (Canada) due to the changing seasons, extreme cold temperatures and sometimes poor home-owner maintenance (e.g., disturbed insulation, poor ventilation, leaks). If not properly assessed and treated, mold can cause damage like dry rot to the structure.

From my experience, mold often causes a hiccup in the real estate transaction process when discovered. That being said, typically mold can be easily treated, and remediation runs between $2,000 and $4,000. If your home inspector finds mold in a house you are planning to buy, your options include but are not limited to ice and soda blasting, which removes a thin layer of wood and removes mold stains; acid Newhook Photo 1treatment and scrubbing; and disinfecting and encapsulation. The photos at the right show before and after views of an attic with the sheathing/structure disinfected and encapsulated with an anti-mold paint.

Mold in the living area of a house is a different issue. Depending on the amount and type, mold may be harmful to your health. A common area of mold growth that you can’t see is in your furnace. If there is an air conditioner, then there is likely an A coil just above the heating system, with a condensation pan. If the drain in the pan plugs with debris, then water will pool. A dark environment plus elevated moisture levels, changing temperatures and humidity can certainly cause mold. Guess what happens when you turn on your furnace or AC? You likely are blowing mold spores throughout the house. This is just one of the reasons to have your furnace and air conditioner serviced and cleaned annually by a qualified HVAC technician. Duct cleaning is also a great option, as technicians can spray disinfectants through the ductwork system.

Another common area for mold to appear is in bathrooms. Many older homes do not have adequate ventilation, such as bathroom and kitchen fans. Due to high levels of humidity, we typically find surface stains of possible mold or mildew. Fortunately, with proper housekeeping and upkeep of seals and caulking, this type of mold is easily cleaned with disinfectants. Upgrading or installing fans and vents will help control humidity levels and prevent mold.

Your home inspector will note if there is other possible mold in the home — for example, from leaks that present visible stains. If you or your inspector suspects mold, you should consult a mold expert. If ever in doubt, always contact a mold expert. Don’t take chances with your health.

Mold is not necessarily a bad thing “or nasty,” but it’s important to be aware of potentially toxic mold and take care of your home and your health.

Newhook Photo

Todd Newhook is a professional Global Property Inspections home inspector in Markham, Ontario. If you live in the area, call 855.504.6631 to schedule your home inspection with Todd or a member of his team.

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 to help reduce elevated levels of harmful mold in your home.

Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

Icicles Signal Problems for Home Owners

IciclesThis winter, take special note of any icicles hanging from your roof. Small icicles are normal, but large, thick icicles can be dangerous if they fall and usually spell trouble for your home. Fortunately, most problems that cause icicles can be remedied easily.

Icicles typically indicate ice damming on your home’s roof, a problem usually caused by insufficient or missing insulation and ventilation in your attic and between your house and your attic. During the winter, this warms the roof, causing snow to melt more rapidly and move down the roof to the overhang, where it refreezes in the form of icicles. It can also cause an ice dam to form, which eventually pushes the water up under the roof’s shingles. This damages the roof and gutters, and it can lead to water intrusion causing leaks in ceilings or walls, or soaking insulation, which would make it ineffective. As if those problems weren’t bad enough, ice dams can cause structural decay and rot to your house, or cause mold and mildew to form in your attic and on wall surfaces.

Try the following remedies to reduce or eliminate ice damming and the damage it causes:

  • Seal all holes or gaps connecting your heated living space and your attic.
  • Ensure that the attic is properly insulated.
  • Attached with clips along the roof’s edge in a zigzag pattern, heated cables prevent ice dams, allowing you to equalize your roof’s temperature by heating it from the outside instead of blowing in cold air from the outside.
  • Use an aluminum roof rake to pull snow off of your roof.
  • Install a ridge vent and continuous soffit vents to circulate cold air under the entire roof.
  • Make sure that ducts connected to the kitchen, bathroom and dryer vents all lead outdoors through either the roof or walls — never through the soffit.
  • Seal gaps between chimneys and the house framing with L-shaped steel flashing held in place with unbroken beads of a fire-stop sealant.
  • DO NOT attack an ice dam with a hammer or other tool to chop it up, as you could cause further damage to your roof. If necessary, contact a roofing company to steam the ice dam off.
Tagged: , , , , , , , , , ,

Top Five Problems Revealed During a Home Inspection

By Kenn Garder, National Accounts Manager and Technical Support, NPI/GPI

Purchasing a house is a major decision, and a home inspection report can be used to assist in the decision-making process. Here are some of the more common issues found during a home inspection.

Poor Grading and Drainage
Water should run away from any structure to help prevent moisture intrusion. If the soil around a house slopes toward the house, or if water pools around the perimeter of the foundation, that moisture can create hydronic pressure in the soil that can move the foundation, causing cracks and leaks that can lead to extensive damage and expensive repairs. If water wicks into the wood framing members, the wood will rot over time. This moisture also provides a haven for wood-destroying organisms (WDO) because it provides a water and food source.

Erosion around the perimeter of a house may be caused by water spilling over gutters due to clogged downspouts or downspouts that terminate near the foundation. Downspout extensions or spill ways can be installed to keep water away from the foundation.

Roof Coverings
The roof of a house is designed to withstand most of what Mother Nature can dish out, whether it be rain, wind or sun. If installed properly, the roof should keep water out of the home.

The life expectancy for roof coverings varies depending on the material. Asphalt composite shingles, for instance, typically have a life expectancy of 15 to 25 years. As the roof covering ages, it can become more susceptible to water infiltration and leaking.

Plumbing Problems
Notice a theme here? Controlling water is one of the most important issues in home maintenance.

Leaking supply water and drain lines can cause damage to walls and floors, or they can become the water source for mold and mildew. Outdated (galvanized) or problematic systems (polybutylene) can develop leaks more frequently. Wax rings under toilets can develop leaks and damage the floor around the toilet or the ceiling below.

Electrical Issues
House fires caused by faulty wiring and overloading circuits are common. It is not unusual for a home inspector find evidence of DIY additions to a home’s electrical system. Many times these additions work but were not done properly, causing safety issues.

Exposed wire connections and double taps in the panel are also common problems. If your home inspector finds these or other electrical issues, he/she will recommend that you have the system evaluated and repaired by a qualified licensed electrician

HVAC Havoc
Inadequate maintenance of the HVAC equipment is common. Dirty condenser coils on the air conditioner condenser unit and dirty furnace filters can lead to major repairs. The equipment may be at or near its life expectancy and need to be replaced. Gas-fired furnaces may not burn properly.

With proper maintenance, an HVAC system can continue to heat and cool the house, but many times heating and cooling systems are “out of sight out of mind.”

This is a sampling of typical issues found during a home inspection. These items may vary depending on the geographical location of the property and the overall maintenance of the property.

Looking for a professional, qualified home inspector in your area? In the United States, visit http://npiweb.com/FindAnInspector. In Canada, visit http://gpiweb.ca/FindAnInspector.

Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged: , , , , ,

Common Causes of Chimney-related Leaks

By Lawrence Englehart, GPI Franchise Owner, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Chimney_shutterstock_159544304Most people would be surprised to know that Nova Scotia gets an average precipitation of 1,388 mm per year — which equates to more than 54 inches of water hitting the ground, roof and chimney each year — so keeping water or excessive moisture out of our homes can be a constant battle.

Regardless of where you live, when it comes to typical penetrations of the roofing system, the chimney offers the most opportunities for water to make its way into the home. Here are examples of the four common causes of chimney-related leaks:

Rain Cap
Flue pipes come in many sizes, but 8”x8” or 8”x12” clay liners are typical, providing a large opening for water to get inside. If rain is allowed to freely flow down an open flue pipe, it will mix with soot or creosote and can create unsightly stains. A properly designed rain cap will not only minimize water entry, but it can help keep leaves and critters out.

Masonry Cap or Crown
The chimney cap or crown is a cement cover placed on top of the masonry chimney in an effort to shield the top of the bricks from the elements. A properly designed masonry cap should overhang each side by at least two inches and should gently slope away from the clay liner. Visible cracks or a poorly designed masonry cap could allow water in.

Deteriorated Mortar/Brick
The mortar between the brick will naturally deteriorate over time and will eventually need repointing. Repointing is the process of replacing the old mortar with new. Any visible gaps or cracks in the mortar will allow water to enter these voids and can cause significant damage through multiple freeze/thaw cycles.

Flashing Failure
Chimney flashing is designed to prevent water intrusion from where the chimney passes through the roof. Visible signs of excessive tar cover usually suggest past problems with leaks and nonprofessional installation. Sometimes the best place to inspect for flashing failure is from inside the attic space.

The inspection of a masonry chimney is part of a typical home inspection, but once they take possession of their new home, most homeowners never think about regular chimney maintenance. Your masonry chimney should be inspected each year by a qualified masonry contractor. And, if there are any wood burning stoves or fireplaces attached to the chimney, then your chimney it should be cleaned and inspected by chimney sweep. In Canada, your chimney sweep should be a WETT-certified.

Tagged: , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged: , , , , , , , ,