Monday, December 29, 2014

What were they thinking?

The latest edition of my blog about all the crazy things I find on home inspections.  The first one was from a recently renovated property (aka flipped) where they really only concentrated on the cosmetics.  This cast iron drain line was readily visible in the laundry room, and was a clear sign that the flippers didn't know much about renovation.  (Or maybe they just didn't care).  The rust stains are from the pipe corroding from the inside out, and there was a crack about 6 inches long.  What you can't see is that this was the drain line off of the two bathrooms.  Not exactly what I want dripping down on my laundry!

This next picture is from a foreclosed row home in Baltimore.  Thankfully the power company had disconnected power on the outside, since someone had taken some scrap wire and jumped the meter brackets.  They had used 14 gauge wire to do it, which is only rated for 15 AMPs, so this was a fire waiting to happen, not to mention quite illegal.

From the same row home, we get this nice view of a furnace.  The rust coming out of the hole and piled up is what was left of the heat exchanger.  Hopefully this happened after the previous owners moved out, since this would be a very dangerous situation (Carbon Monoxide poisoning).

You know it wouldn't be a post on this blog without pictures of bathroom venting gone wrong!  These next two pictures are from the same house, and are yet another flip (flop?).  The sellers were actually upset that I called this out.

This next picture is from a home where I was asked to check up on some contractor repairs as part of the OverSeeIt program.  My client was continuing to have major water intrusion issues in one corner of her basement.  When I checked outside this is what I found.  The PVC pipe is from the sump, and then there are two downspouts also running into the black pipe.  Unfortunately, all of the water was dumping right back next to the foundation and coming right back in to the basement.  Seems the contractor was hoping that gravity didn't apply in this small area.

The last one is just for a good laugh.  From the outside, it appeared there was a triple flue chimney.  When I got inside, there were no appliances requiring a chimney, and no fireplace.  Once I hopped up in the attic, I saw this!  I guess a previous homeowner wanted people to think he had multiple fireplaces.  The chimney was completely unused, but still causing problems as you can see around the top where water is penetrating the flashing.
That's all for now folks.  Stay safe out there, and remember to hire the best home inspector you can find.  For more on our services, check out

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The crazy things a home inspector finds

This first one is from a condo inspection.  The black hose attached to the PVC sink trap under the kitchen sink was for the washing machine.  Notice that it attaches after the trap.  Needless to say, while I was running the kitchen sink, I was smelling sewer gas from the washing machine at the other end of the kitchen.  Not the clean fresh scent I want from my clothes!

A crowded electrical panel with multiple mini breakers is a sign that it's time to replace the whole panel.  Not to mention, there were multiple other issues with this panel.  Inspecting the panel normally takes me about 5 minutes.  I spent more than that here just trying to figure out where everything was going.

I've mentioned it before, but if your inspector doesn't go into the attic, they could be missing a lot.  This cracked roof truss was not visible from the access hatch.

And while we're on attics, make sure the bathroom exhaust fans completely exit the building.  Close doesn't count, it just leads to mold.

A couple of the comments I got on this one were: mother-in-law's shower, and hot water for your coffee

This one was just plain scary and a head scratcher at the same time.  The Temperature-Pressure Relief Valve extension was plumbed correctly, until they added this nifty loop.  They worked hard to screw this one up.

This garage door self-destructed on me.  They tried to get me to pay for repairs, until I told them they needed to go after the person that installed the garage door opener.Turns out the homeowner installed the opener and modified the door so the arm would fit.

That's all for this edition, but stay tuned, there are plenty more where this came from.  Including Knob & Tube (hint, it runs through the whole house, not just the attic), more water heater plumbing fun, and a roof top pool the client didn't know they had!

Stay safe out there, and remember to hire the best home inspector you can find.  For more on our services, check out

Sunday, August 10, 2014

10 things you can check to make the home inspection easier

As a home inspector, I frequently see the same issues on houses new and old.  While some are issues that are best left to the experts to repair (electrical...), some are simple maintenance issues that a homeowner can take care of themselves for minimal cost.   Here are several issues that can be easily repaired, so that I don't have to put them as issues when I inspect your home:

1. Loose Toilets: Your toilets should be a solid throne, not a rocking/swivel chair.  When the toilet loosens from the toilet flange, the movement causes damage to the wax ring that forms the seal between the toilet and the flange (the drain pipe).  This can quickly lead to sewage leaks.  If your toilet rocks when you sit on it, or if you can swivel it easily, it's time to pull it up, replace the wax seal, and reset the toilet.  As a DIY project, all you need is the wax ring, which should cost you under $10.

This thermal image shows water leaking from a toilet on the second floor.  The drywall in this area had just been replaced, and I would have never found this without the thermal imaging camera.  The water is the yellow-white area, since the water has been heated by the sun on this area.

2. Leaking Sinks:  Another common source of plumbing leaks is under sinks.  These leaks sometimes stay hidden until I come along and really put the plumbing to the test.  To properly test your sink, put the stopper in and fill it up...almost to the top.  If it has an overflow drain, let a good amount of water run into it, since these are often either plugged or leak.  Once the sink is full, pull the plug and watch under the sink with a flashlight.  If you see any water dripping down, it's time to either tighten things up a bit, or it may be time to replace the drain piping.  If you decide to fix this on your own, make sure you use the right materials, and check for leaks afterwards, and after using it a few times.

3. Caulk/Grout in tubs and showers:  Even though the tubes of caulk say they are good for 20-30 years, it must be tested under absolutely ideal conditions.  I have received several complaints from the seller's side about being nit-picky on caulk and grout, but these two things are your first-line defense against water intrusion into the walls behind your shower.

This is the inside of a shower wall after the tile was removed.  The grout and caulk had failed after only 2 months of use and the black stuff was confirmed to be stachybotrys (toxic black mold).
 The good news is, removing old caulk and replacing it is quite easy, and cheap.  Grout takes a little more skill, but it's still not hard, or expensive.  As a side note, grout does not do well in corners, but most grout makers have matching caulk that can be used in the corners of your shower.

4. Downspout extensions:  I cannot stress enough how important it is to get the water away from your foundation, even if you don't have a basement.  And by away, I mean 6-8 feet away.  This means that those plastic splash blocks you can put at the bottom of the downspout aren't enough.  Get the extendable hoses and stretch them out (under $10 each).  Also make sure that the ground around your home slopes away from the foundation, at least 6 inches over the first 10 feet.  If you have underground drains for your downspouts, make sure they work.  During a steady rain (not a thunderstorm), go outside and make sure they aren't backing up where the downspout connects.  If it is, it's time to have them cleaned out, because this is just dumping a lot of water right next to your foundation.

This is how you should manage the water coming down your downspout.  If you have the plastic splash blocks, you can put them at the end of the hose if you want.

For underground downspout extensions, check them during a steady rain (but not during a thunderstorm) to make sure they are draining properly and not backing up next to the house.

5. Smoke/Carbon Monoxide Alarms:  Please, Please make sure these are working!  They save lives!  If you haven't already upgraded to the units with the 10-year battery, make sure you change the batteries in all of your alarms every 6 months.  If you have gas/oil appliances (furnace, water heater, stove, etc), a fireplace, or an attached garage, you should have Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors as well.  One on each level with a  potential CO source, as well as one in the hallway outside the bedrooms.  I can't emphasize this one enough, not just to help the inspection, but to save your life in an emergency.

6. GFCI Outlets:  Check to make sure they work.  You should do this every month anyways, but this is another frequent problem I find.  To test, simply push the test button, which should cause the reset button to pop out (and the power to go off).  Then push the reset button to restore the power.  As long as the test works and the receptacle resets, it should be working properly.  If the test doesn't work, or if the receptacle doesn't reset, it's time to have an electrician replace it.

7. Attics:  When was the last time you were in your attic.  Take a look up there to see how the insulation is doing.  Are there areas where insulation is missing?  Pay attention to areas around electrical boxes (which should have a cover on them) and bathroom vent fans.  If insulation is missing, or displaced, it will stand out like a sore thumb on the thermal imaging camera.  It only costs a little time to redistribute displaced blown in insulation, but you should wear protective gear like disposable coveralls, goggles and a dust mask.  Beware if your house was build before the early 1990s as the insulation may be vermiculite.

Missing insulation shows up very well on thermal imaging.  This area was found to have no insulation at all. 

While you're in the attic, take a moment to check the bathroom vent fans.  They should be connected to a vent tube that exits the attic.  These fans are designed to remove warm, moist air and when that air is blown into the attic, it can cause wood rot and mold.
This bathroom vent fan didn't exit the attic, and was blowing directly on the roof sheathing.  The black and white substance was found to be mold.
8. Dryer Vent Hoses:  Another common issue I find is with the dryer vent hose.  The proper type of hose is the semi-rigid hose (like the one in the picture above).  Frequently I find the flexible foil hoses, and their even more dangerous substitute, the plastic hose!  Both of these were designed for things like bathroom vent fans, not anything with heat.  Remember, lint is very flammable, and the foil and plastic vents are not able to contain flame.  Believe it or not, these vents were allowed up until 2006, when the new standard was finally issued.  Look for a dryer vent hose meeting UL2158A standards.

9. Furnaces:  When is the last time you changed your furnace/AC filter?  If you have to think about it, or it's been more than a month or so, go ahead and replace it.  While you are there, if your furnace is fueled by oil or propane, is there enough in the tank for the inspector to test the unit?  And are the pilot lights lit on all of your appliances?  This is one of the most frequent causes for me to go back out to reinspect something, and most of the time, the seller ends up paying me for the reinspect.

10. Light Bulbs:  This one probably seems like another nit picky issue, but aside from showing the buyer how well the house is lit, and making moving around the basement safer, I need to know that everything works.  I don't have time to go looking for your spare bulbs, or to change bulbs from working fixtures to make sure it's just a bad bulb.  If a light doesn't work, I have to assume that there is more than a bad bulb.

Checking these 10 things will not only help you to get through your home inspection, they will contribute to the health and safety of your home.  So even if you aren't getting ready to sell your home, take a few minutes to check your home.  The time invested now will save you a lot of time and money down the road.

For more information, or to book your full home inspection, visit or call 210-202-1974

Monday, June 23, 2014

Is the added cost of a Thermal Imaging Home Inspection worth it?

What does Thermal Imaging bring to a home inspection?   

This is a question I am frequently hearing, and the simplest explanation is that it allows the inspector to see more of the picture.  Most home inspectors are going to open up the electric panel and check for things like incorrect wiring, double tapped breakers, and aluminum wiring.  Some will even take the initiative to run an infrared thermometer over the breakers to see if they are excessively hot. With a thermal imaging camera, we can quickly see what is going on in the panel.  Not only will we see the hot breaker, we can also see wiring that is potentially overheating.

A breaker that is slightly warm, with a wire that is warm only in the first few inches.  This can be a sign that the wire is damaged, and should be evaluated by an electrician.
This overheating breaker is on a Federal Pacific Electric panel.  There is a lot of controversy about these panels, and I see them all the time.  This was the worst I have seen, and I recommended that the buyer have this panel completely replaced prior to moving in.  This is a fire waiting to happen.
One of the frequent electrical issues I've been seeing is hot receptacles.  If an electric outlet has nothing plugged into it, it shouldn't be hotter than the surrounding area (GFCI outlets are an exception).  
This receptacle was so warm that you could actually see where the wires were overheating behind the drywall (top left of the receptacle).
 Another common benefit to using thermal imaging is the ability to see where moisture is accumulating.  Water is normally cooler than the surrounding materials, which makes it stand out on the IR camera.  Water can also be seen before it causes stains or damage that is visible to the naked eye.

This kitchen ceiling looked perfectly normal, but once I looked at it with the thermal imaging camera, I saw a large area that was cooler than the surrounding ceiling.  The moisture meter confirmed that the drywall was 97% saturated with water.  We traced the source of the water to a leaking toilet above the kitchen.  This wouldn't have been found without the camera.

 By far the most common issue I find with the camera is missing or displaced insulation.  The hot spots in the next picture show areas where insulation wasn't installed.  I was able to verify this by looking in the attic.  What makes this even worse is that this was a new construction home.  The builder's rep was there, and when I showed him the camera and said it looks like you forgot some information, he told me I was wrong.  When I showed him pictures from the attic confirming my findings, he stormed off.  Of course this was an easier fix than the missing insulation I found in the walls of a couple other rooms.

Missing insulation in the stairwell to the attic.  The darker lines are caused by the framing.  
Unfortunately, the price of the equipment and training to perform a full inspection with a thermal imaging camera is expensive, and many inspectors can't afford it.  This also means that the price of an inspection with thermal imaging is more expensive.  But when you think about the problems it can uncover that the cheaper inspectors will miss, isn't it worth it.  This really lends credence to our slogan that "Anyone else is just looking around."

For more information, or to book your full home inspection, visit or call 210-202-1974.

We look forward to showing you the whole picture.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Warranties vs. Guarantees

First off, I will apologize for the pause in posting.  The last couple of weeks have been very busy.  Part of the reason for that has been the announcement of the new "We'll Buy Your Home" Guarantee by InterNACHI.  Anyone who has owned a home is probably familiar with the traditional home warranty programs, and many have probably had one at some time.  If you aren't familiar with these, they are often offered as part of a home sale to cover major systems for a set time after closing.  Many home inspectors also offer warranties as a part of their inspection package.  Of course, these come with all kinds of exclusions and deductibles.

As an example, I had an A/C unit break down, and when I called the home warranty company (one of the biggest) I was told that they wouldn't replace it, but would instead exercise their cash-in-lieu option (They pay me what they think they could get it replaced for, and I get it replaced).  How much did I get?  $700.  How much did I pay to have it replaced?  $6900.  And nothing I could do, except cancel my policy with them.

So, why do I tell you all of this?  Basically, warranties are planning for failure.  The home seller knows that something will probably go wrong, so they try to assuage you fears, and cover their liability, by offering the home warranty.

On the flip side, a guarantee is planning for success.  We are very confident in our inspections.  So much so, that InterNACHI has agreed to back us up on that with their "We'll Buy Your Home" Guarantee.  If we miss something that we should have inspected per the standards, InterNACHI will buy the house back from you at the price you paid, and it's valid for 90 days after closing.

So, one final question, why would you have an inspection done by someone planning to fail?

To schedule your home inspection backed by the best guarantee in the industry, call 210-202-1974 or book online at

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Flippers vs. Floppers

   With all the TV shows about flipping houses today, it seems that everyone thinks they can do it too.  While the TV shows show some of the problems the flippers run into, they don't show all the details and planning that go into a good flip.  And trust me, it's the details that will get you every time.  If you even suspect that the home you are about to buy, I cannot stress the importance of a home inspection enough.
   Several times a week, I inspect houses that were flipped.  Some are very well done, and I only find minor issues.  The vast majority though, have major issues.  Most flippers seem to budget for the cosmetics that will help the house sell fast.  The nice granite countertops, the tile showers, a new coat of paint, and new flooring.  For a buyer that doesn't get a home inspection, this may be enough to get them to sign on the dotted line.  For those that do get a home inspection, we can get into the actual systems of the house and look beyond the beautiful kitchen.
   I recently did a home inspection in Southern Maryland on a house that had been flipped.  The house was an older split-level ranch on a nice amount of land.  Cosmetically, the house was great.  By the time I finished my inspection, my client was scratching his head and asking me what he should do.  When I turned on the water, we found several burst pipes, the roof was leaking and would have to be replaced really soon, There was mold in the attic, the electrical was a mess, and the deck was not sufficiently supported.  They were at least thoughtful enough to hang a tarp in the attic to catch the water from the leaking roof.
Without a home inspection, my client wouldn't have known
about the mold in the attic and the leaking roof.

   Another flip I inspected in Baltimore was an even better cosmetic job, with a really nice roof-top deck.  Of course to get to the deck you had to duck under the power lines that were about 4 feet off the deck.  Oddly enough, this was not the first time I've seen power lines across a deck!  That and a loose wire in the electric panel that was energizing the cover made for an interesting inspection.
White wires are normally not energized, thankfully I checked before touching
this panel, because the wire was hot, and so was the cover.

Yes, that's the power lines coming in from the pole about 4 feet over the deck.
   At least a couple time a week, I hear the same thing.  "I need you to inspect this house I'm buying, but it's just been renovated, so it'll be really easy.  Can you give me a discount?"  When I hear this, I normally add a bit of time to the inspection, since I know there will probably be a few issues that will take extra investigation. Don't worry, the price is still the same though.
  So remember, no matter how pretty the home is, always get a home inspection.  Not everything is as obvious as the power lines across the deck.  While I hope that the house you are buying is a flip, I want to make sure it's not a flop.

To book your San Antonio, TX area home inspection, call 210-202-1974 or book online at

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Where do your bathroom (or kitchen, or dryer) vent fans exhaust to?

One of the frequent things I find on home inspections is incorrectly vented exhaust fans.  First, let's look at the purpose of these fans.  They are designed to remove the moisture that is created from showering, cooking, or drying clothes.  Anyone who has had me do an inspection knows how much I harp on moisture control.  Moisture is one of the things that can rapidly cause damage to a house, be it from material deterioration, mold, or even creating an environment conducive to termites and other wood destroying insects.  Vent fans are supposed to vent to the exterior of the house.  This can be either through a roof vent, a wall vent, or a soffit vent.  Many times though, I find the fans are simply exhausted to the attic.  Sometimes, I find them exhausted to the soffit space, but not actually outside through the soffit.  A good attempt, but still not a correct attempt.  When the hot moist air from your bathroom or kitchen is exhausted into the attic, most of the moisture ends up condensing on the surfaces in the attic, especially during the winter.  This can rapidly cause severe damage to the structure of the attic, as well as lead to mold and other problems.  I have frequently found attics with areas of mold growth and delamintaed plywood.  Sometimes, it's a problem with the roof ventilation as a whole (a topic for another day), but most of the time the cause can be traced to a vent fan exhausting to the attic.

What to do?  First, take a look in your attic.  Especially if it's been a long time since you've been up there.  Look above your bathrooms to see if there is a tube leading outside.  If it goes to the roof, check outside to make sure there is a vent in that same location.  If it goes to the soffit, make sure there is a vent through the soffit in that area.  If your bathrooms are on a lower level, they may vent through the wall.  In that case, turn on the vent fan, or your dryer, and look to see if air is exhausting.  Most of the time, you can see the flapper moving or fully open.  If it's not, you may have a problem, and I would recommend getting a licensed contractor in to help you out.  And while you're at it, make sure the dryer vent line is cleaned on a regular basis.  Lint builds up and is very flammable!

Bathroom vent to attic causing delamination of the roof plywood and mold.
A soffit vent.  Even though the soffit is vented (the perforations)
you still need to exhaust a vent fan through the soffit.
This is an easy to fix problem that can save you a lot of trouble in the long run.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Inspection Highlights of the Week

This will be a (hopefully) weekly roundup of the highlights of the week.  Some will be informative, some will give you something to look out for in your own home, and some will just be funny, as in "what were they thinking?"

To get started, one of the things many of my Facebook and Twitter followers will know is that I am very proactive on Radon testing.  Last week, I was inspecting a home in Bowie, MD, and I noticed what looked like a partially installed, or maybe it was partially removed, Radon mitigation system.  I explained to the buyer what I had found, and that I suspected the sellers had either had a system and removed it, or tried to install a system on their own and not completed it.  Now most people don't just decide to put in a Radon mitigation system unless they know there is an issue with the house.  I suggested that we conduct a test, and they agreed.  I got the results back yesterday, and they were 12.8 pCi/L!!!  The EPA recommended limit for indoor Radon is 4.0 pCi/L.  Needless to say, the buyers were very happy to find this out before they bought the house.  I always say, would you rather find out that your home has high Radon as the buyer or the seller?

To book your San Antonio, TX area home inspection, call 210-202-1974 or book online at