Nice Touch!

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

Bathroom_shutterstock_103857686Property inspectors routinely discover things in homes that are unusual or “out of the norm.” Unfortunately, there are often deficiencies (electrical, plumbing, structural, safety, etc.) associated with some of the handiwork that went into creating these unusual features, and the deficiencies are the things documented in an inspection report.

As an inspector, I’m sure that I often don’t pay much attention to the “nice touches” that may be incorporated into or added onto a home — unless there’s a deficiency associated with it. I try to note positive features in a house that required extra thought or effort on somebody’s part to provide some added convenience, functionality or aesthetic appeal on the home, regardless of whether there are associated deficiencies or not.

Here is a sample of my observations and discoveries that might fall into the “nice touch” category:

  • Location: An 89-year-old, 1,400-square-foot bungalow with a crawl space and partial basement in a not-so-great part of town. Some of the things I’m likely to see are water intrusion at the foundation walls, sagging and out-of-level floors, cracks in the plaster, foundation problems, inadequate support of floor framing — and, yes, they were all present. Something that jumped out at me before I entered the home was a decorative mosaic tile feature in a brick paver walkway about halfway to the backyard, with an inscription in Latin that appears to be translated as “Way of Life,” or possibly “Pathway of Life,” given its location on a path to the backyard that had a nice little patio area for relaxing. Somebody spend a lot of time creating this piece of art, which is located where almost no one will ever see. Nice touch!
  • During the course of the inspection on the same home, I had noticed that some improvements to the bathroom had been done, but I didn’t look too closely until it was time to inspect that room. To my surprise, there sat a nice jetted tub (equipped with a heater and proper GFCI protection) in the space where the original tub had been. The bathroom was the only place inside the home that had received any upgrades. Nice touch!
  • While inspecting an 11-year-old, 1,400-square-foot home, I noticed that there were at least four exterior electrical receptacles installed on the home. (Nice touch!) The amazing thing was that each of these receptacles and the receptacles in the bathrooms were individually GFCI-protected. So, if GFCI protection trips, the home owner doesn’t have to launch an all-out search for where the tripped GFCI receptacle is located. Pretty convenient for not a lot of added cost. (I’d like to nominate this electrician to revise some construction standards.)
  • While inspecting a roof that was at least 20 years old, I become curious about an anomaly at the ridge cap shingles in one area. What I discovered was a dollar sign ($) carved out of a shingle and nailed on the ridge of the roof. Not sure what that was about, but I got a chuckle out of it. Given the state of the plumbing vent flashings, I may have been the first person to see this handiwork since it was installed. Thanks for the chuckle, Mr. Roofer. Nice touch!

StaircaseThere’s nothing terribly spectacular about any of these examples. But, I do believe that each helps illustrate my point. Somebody made some extra effort, put some thought into, spent some extra time, and/or put a few extra dollars into creating a “nice touch” feature. I’m also challenging myself to spend a small amount of time trying to figure out what might have motivated folks to create some of the things that evoke the, “That’s unusual,” or “That’s strange” reactions when I see them, and maybe better appreciate the effort that went into making them happen. Some thoughts, questions for pondering, and examples:

  • It must have taken a tremendous effort to get the jetted tub into the bathroom of the home mentioned above. I assume that they broke the original cast iron tub into pieces in order get it out, as the doorways are narrow, there tight corners to navigate getting to the bathroom, and there’s very little working space once the tub is inside the room. There was no apparent damage to the hardwood floors, walls, door trim, etc. The home owner must have had some motivation for installing this tub that was greater than getting a bathtub upgrade for the home. Maybe the owner needed the tub for health reasons. Maybe the owner’s loved ones gifted the installation as an expression of their love. I guess I’ll never know.
  • What would motivate the roofer to carve the dollar sign and install it? Maybe he was bored. Maybe this was his “signature mark” that he put on every roof he installed. Maybe he’d been out of work, and this roofing job provided the first opportunity in a long time to bring home a paycheck and provide for his family.
  • What was the motivation for an unusual placement of some feature in a home (such as the laundry location, bathroom location, a seemingly random sink location, some kind of cabinet or storage nook, etc.)? What was the motivation simply an over-engineered contraption that doesn’t have an intuitive purpose? Maybe a husband was trying to provide a convenience for his stressed-out wife (or vise-versa) that would save two extra steps every day. Maybe a grown child was trying to provide added convenience for a frail parent. Depending on the installation, there is probably at least one plausible explanation.

If I could find a potential reason and/or purpose behind something unusual that I find, then it might just take on a “nice touch” perspective, even if it still seems strange.

The home inspection report probably doesn’t provide the best avenue to elaborate on “nice touch” features discovered, but a photo with a little description might provide some added value for the client (and Realtor). A wrap-up discussion with the client is certainly a great time to point out any “nice touch” features and discuss the potential reasons behind things that seem odd. It could also help take the edge off any deficiencies associated with the oddities.

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.

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Your Home’s Foundation: Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

Severe cracks in walls can signal settlement and foundation problems.

Severe cracks in walls can signal settlement and foundation problems.

Most houses are supported underneath by concrete or a stone, referred to as the foundation. It’s a simple truth that most people keep their sights on things that are at eye level. Whether you are inside or outside your house, your attention is often drawn to wall hangings, furniture, doors, windows, the siding. You may not think much about the foundation of your house, especially if it’s a slab foundation.

However, it is imperative to check the foundation of your home, as the expenses to repair it can become overwhelming if problems are left to worsen. It’s important to inspect your foundation regularly, so you can catch problems in the early stages, before they become expensive repairs.

Common Problems

There are typically three types of foundations: basements, crawl spaces and slab. Regardless of the type of foundation you have, several foundation problems are common:

  • Bulges and outward bumps are commonly caused by temperature changes and can lead to serious problems in the future, including abnormal settlement and potentially building collapse.
  • Cracking is commonly caused by soil settling and vibrations from nearby elements. Normally cracking is repairable and not seriously threatening to the structure and safety of the building. However, be sure to monitor cracks and call in a professional if you notice any warning signs.
  • Leaking occurs when water penetrates through cracks in a foundation and enters the inside of the house. Water can cause erosion and spawn a breeding ground for mold, which can ruin nearly anything, including cherished belongings like photos and keepsakes.

The Top 10 Signs of Foundation Trouble

  • Uneven and sloping floors in the house
  • Cracks in exterior or interior bricks
  • Displaced or cracked moldings around doors, windows, etc.
  • Wall rotation
  • Cracks or bowing in walls
  • Cracks in floors, floor tiles or the home’s foundation
  • Doors and windows that won’t open or close properly, doors that swing open or closed on their own
  • Separation of doors, windows or garage doors
  • Gaps or spaces between walls and the ceiling or floor
  • Walls that are separating from the house

Unfortunately these types of problems do not correct themselves, and procrastination may cost you as the problem persists and worsens.

Photo courtesy of Gustty via EveryStockPhoto

Photo courtesy of Gustty via EveryStockPhoto

Do keep in mind, however, that some amount of settlement is normal in any house. Some cracks in foundation walls are minor and do not require you to take action right away, only to monitor them. If you have an old house with evidence of minor settling, it’s probably nothing to worry about. If you suspect you have major settlement or foundation problems, you can contact your local National Property Inspections or Global Property Inspections home inspector as a first step. Your home inspector will be able to tell you whether the problem is serious and you need to call in a structural engineer.

Foundation Repair Costs

Basements are the most expensive and complicated type of foundation to construct, as the depth of a basement is commonly 8 feet. Basement repair costs generally range from $500 to $10,000, depending on the type and extent of damage.

A slab foundation is a concrete pad poured directly on top of 4 to 6 inches of gravel with a sheet of plastic between them designed to keep out moisture. A slab is the easiest and least expensive foundation for a building or house. The downside is that there is no easy access for foundation work that may be needed. In addition, sewer lines are embedded in the concrete slab. Expenses for repairs vary wildly and can range from $100 to $15,000.

Crawl spaces are similar to slabs; however, they raise the house off the ground and allow for easy access to plumbing and ductwork. The cost to build on a crawl space is comparable to that of a slab. Expenses for repairs can range from $1,500 to $15,000.

Make a foundation inspection a part of your annual spring home maintenance checklist. If you have a basement or crawl space, check the inside and outside for damage.

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Today’s Tip: Freshen Up Your Garbage Disposal

Kitchen Faucet_shutterstock_85457362The kitchen is a source of odors in the home. Some, like apple pie, are pleasing. Others, like the odor emitting from a kitchen drain, can hit you right in the gut.

To clean and freshen your drains, pour the juice from half a lemon and a handful of baking soda down the drain. Flush well with hot water.

Garbage disposals are another part of the sink that can get stinky. To freshen your garbage disposal:

  1. Cut a lemon in quarters.
  2. Run cold water down the disposal.
  3. Turn on the disposal and drop in one piece of lemon.
  4. Follow with a second piece.
  5. Once both pieces of lemon clear the disposal, add a handful of baking soda.

Remember to keep your fingers away from moving parts at all times. While the disposal runs, use the other lemons to make refreshing drinks.

Cold water should always be used with a garbage disposal because it helps congeal the fats and grease that may be in the disposal. Warm water will liquefy these items, but could cause them to congeal and block the plumbing before they are completely flushed from the system.

Although the garbage disposal itself generally requires little maintenance, the area under the kitchen sink is prone to leaks. Every month, be sure to open the cabinet doors, remove all of the items and check carefully for dampness or drips. Stopping leaks early can prevent expensive fixes later.

If your house has a septic system, there may be something you may not have thought of: If you have a garbage disposal, you likely will have will to clean the septic system more frequently because of the build-up of solid foods and grease from the disposal.

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.

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What’s the HWBB Heating Pipe Doing in the Attic?

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


My client was wondering why their house’s addition above the garage was so difficult to heat during our Canadian cold winter season, and why their heating costs were so high. I guess that’s what happens when an incompetent contractor (nine years ago) installs the Kitec hot-water baseboard (HWBB) heating pipe on top of the attic insulation, which runs for more than 20 feet in an unconditioned space! The attic was relatively warm on the day I inspected it, about 0° C (32° F), versus this pipe at 70° C (162° F).

Englehart PhotoLawrence Englehart is a professional Global Property Inspections home inspector in Halifax, Nova Scotia. If you live in the area, call 902.403.2460 to schedule your home inspection with Lawrence.

NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home. Consult with your local NPI or GPI inspector for an inspection of your home or a home you are planning to purchase.

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Water Heaters and Earthquake Safety

By Roger Pigeon, NPI Franchise Owner, San Diego, California

Water Heater_shutterstock_113790454If you live in a house, condo or manufactured home in California that has a water heater — which most of us here in California do — you may have wondered about those metal straps around your water heater. This may be especially perplexing if you’re moving to California from another state. Here is what you should know about water heater bracing and safety in California.

Many years ago, California adopted a health and safety code that requires all water heaters to be braced or strapped with approved straps in order to help prevent catastrophic damage to a home in the event of an earthquake. It was found that during an earthquake, a water heater has the potential to topple over and fall. As if this weren’t bad enough, when the water heater falls, it usually results in to damage the gas, electrical and water connections to the water heater. A damaged gas line may result in fire, causing further serious damage to your home and threatening your personal safety. Damage to the electrical connection can pose an electrocution hazard. And, of course, damage to the water connections can lead to flooding of your home.


Figure 1

The diagram in Figure 1 shows an approved water heater strapping method. There are some key things you will want to look for when examining your water heater:

  • You should see two metal straps on the water heater, and these should be installed at the top and bottom third of the unit. These straps should be approved for use in securing water heaters. Water heater strapping kits are available at your local hardware store or online. Plumber’s tape is NOT approved for securing a water heater.
  • The metal straps should be attached to wall stud with at least 5/16 x 3-inch lag screws. If your water heater is not installed close to a wall, then you may need to contact a local contractor to design a method to properly secure your water heater.
  • You also should see flexible water connectors at the top of the water heater and flexible gas or electrical connectors (depending on whether your water heater is gas or electric). Flexible connectors allow for some movement of the water heater during an earthquake.

If you are unsure whether your water heater is safe or not, I urge you to call a local plumber you trust. And, when it is time to buy a new home, the professionals in your local National Property Inspections office will inspect your home thoroughly and make recommendations for repairs and safety upgrades.

Pigeon PhotoRoger Pigeon is a professional National Property Inspections home inspector in San Diego. If you live in the area, call 760.420.8659 to schedule your home inspection with Roger.

NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home. Consult with your local NPI or GPI inspector for an inspection of your home or a home you are planning to purchase.

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I’m a Guy; I Can Fix Anything

By Roland Bates, President, NPI/GPI

Man Hanging Light Fixture_shutterstock_190995362To preface this article, I need to explain that a ballast is a crucial component of a fluorescent light fixture. It controls the amount of current that flows to the bulbs and provides the current to start the bulbs.

That said, the ballast went out in one of my two kitchen lights a couple of months ago. My lovely wife asked me to replace it. As a guy, I was thinking that if one out of two lights work, what’s the rush? It turns out women don’t think that way.

I am pretty comfortable doing electrical wiring. Thus, I went to the hardware store and purchased a new ballast and installed it. Ignoring the instructions, and certain that I had wired it correctly, I turned the light on and off numerous times to make sure it was working and then went to do other things.

Fast-forward four or five weeks later: The ballast I replaced quit working. The hardware store obviously sold me a defective ballast. So, I purchased another new one and installed it. Again, I turned the light on and off numerous times to make sure it was working, and went then I went off to do other things.

Four or five weeks later: The same ballast quit working yet again. Now I want to sell my stock in the hardware store. What kind of operation are they running, anyway? After installing a third new ballast, I glanced at the installation instructions, which previously I had just thrown away. I had wired it correctly each time; however, in big, bold, red letters it clearly stated, “Upon initial installation, leave the light burning continuously for at least 48 hours to allow the ballast to ‘season.’” Whoops.

Did I tell my lovely wife that my failure to read the instructions cost me all that extra grief? Nah, no guy is going to do that.

Roland PhotoRoland Bates’ high energy, willingness to work hard and optimistic outlook are the cornerstones of success for NPI and GPI. His easy manner and family attitude inspire a friendly and close atmosphere at the company. Before he founded NPI/GPI in 1987, Roland owned a general contracting company, where he worked for eight years as a general contractor. Prior to that, he spent five years as a property claims supervisor and regional claims manager.

To find an NPI or GPI inspector in your area, click one of the links below:

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