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

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