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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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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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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Has Your Home Ever Flooded? Here Are Some Solutions

Submitted by Dale Senkow, GPI Franchise Owner, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan

Senkow2In some homes, water may make its way into the basement. There are, however, ways to prevent this from happening. A home inspector will look to see if the landscape (grading) slopes away from the home (positive grading) and make note of the downspouts — downspouts need to extend out and away from the home. Checking the grading is something that does take a bit of a trained eye like that of a home inspector. You also want to make sure there are no holes in the ground around the outside perimeter of the home, as these areas could fill with water that seeps into the ground and could make its way into the home.

Sometimes positive slope and good drainage may not be good enough. Water may, in fact, be working its way through the home’s footing, which is located under the basement walls. Linoleum can soak up water, and sometimes after water has entered the building mold can be noticed on the back side of the linoleum. A possible solution for this type of water intrusion could be a sump pump and pit with an exterior or interior weeping tile or French drainage system.

A contractor may suggest an interior weeping tile system if there is too much concrete around the home. An exterior waterproofing system is typically the best practice for a leaky foundation: Generally, a basement can be about 8 feet deep. The contractor will use a backhoe to dig down this deep. The building will need to be dug around the exterior. The outside of the foundation needs to be very clean and then the cracks can filled with hydraulic cement or other approved methods. Once dried, the foundation walls can be sealed and waterproofed, and an exterior weeping tile system can be placed around the exterior of the home.

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Beautiful, Cursed Trees

Submitted by Roland Bates, President, National Property Inspections/Global Property Inspections

Trees are not necessarily part of a home inspection. However, to a homeowner, trees provide beauty, shade and privacy from that neighbor kid who creeps everybody out. Cleaning leaves from gutters adds a little excitement and danger to our lives. And, raking leaves from the lawn provides a great cardio workout — unless one doesn’t like their neighbor, then one simply lets the leaves blow into the neighbor’s yard. Some of us have no shame.

To a professional home inspector, however, trees necessitate some consideration. Oftentimes tree branches overhang a roof, where they can abrade the shingles and possibly damage the siding. Tree branches can interfere with overhead power lines, cable connections and the like. In this case, a little snow, ice, gravity and a broken tree branch, and the homeowner could lose power, heat and the ability to watch reality TV all at once.

No problems here. How else can raccoons get on the roof?

No problems here. How else can raccoons get on the roof?

A tree’s root system more or less mirrors its branches. If there are tree branches overhanging a roof, it’s very possible its roots could damage the foundation. In many cases, we have found tree roots growing in crawl spaces and/or through foundation walls. When this happens, it can be both tricky and expensive to repair.

Tree roots can also wreak havoc on driveways and sidewalks. Some species of maple trees are particularly prone to their roots working their way above grade. If there are driveways or sidewalks nearby, it can cause considerable cracking and lifting, as well as a tripping hazard. No one wants the delivery man dropping the box of china they just bought from Amazon.com.

If there are tree roots above grade, it is not an easy fix. Sometimes building a bridge or walkway over the exposed roots is the best solution. Otherwise, always check with an arborist before cutting or removing any exposed tree roots.

And perhaps the most dreaded of all: Tree roots can obstruct sewer lines, and no one but no one wants that. No one who’s experienced a sewer backup says, “I’m sure glad I never paid for a scan of my sewer lines. I saved a bundle.” Well, somebody might, but not me.

In reality, most homeowners plant trees too close to the house. Trees are generally planted when they are small, and little consideration is given to what grief they might cause at maturity. It’s like having kids and forgetting they become teenagers. A good rule of thumb for planting trees is the one-half rule: Whatever height the tree reaches at maturity, plant it one half that distance from the house. For example, if a tree is expected to reach 50 feet at maturity, plant it at least 25 feet from the house.

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