Welcome

Our inspections follow the ASHI Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics. We use state of the art computer software and equipment to provide you with an electronic computer generated report, typically delivered by email by the end of the business day. We use digital photography to document items that need immediate attention, repair, or general maintenance. We use state of the art thermal imaging to find hidden moisture and areas where insulation is missing or not performing.

Before purchasing the home, have it inspected by a qualified professional home inspector. Look for one with a certification from the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). Check ASHI.com to find an  inspector in your area.

It is important to be present at the time of the inspection. This way you can walk around with the inspector, see what he sees, ask questions, and really get to know your new home. The home inspector is working for you to find major deficiencies in the home and to identify areas that require immediate repair and maintenance.

Review the inspection report and ensure that all areas that need attention have been addressed. Make any necessary repairs and perform any maintenance recommended by the inspector. If a contractor or other professional is hired to do the work, make sure you are satisfied with the job. When choosing contractors or repair services be sure that individuals are licensed and insured.

Check out our posts below for information about common findings and conditions that we evaluate during our home inspection. Pages, in the right column, provide additional information and maintenance suggestions for the items in the home.

 

Thermal Imaging and the Inspection

I use infra-red thermal imaging technology in all of my home inspections. The thermal imaging camera helps me identify insulation problems as well as finding areas of hidden moisture. Thermal images are incorporated in the inspection report along with a digital photograph of the problem.

Thermography has some limitations. All findings must be followed up with either a visual inspection of the area in the attic or with further evaluation using a moisture meter

FLIR1574 FLIR1575

Insulation has fallen down in to the stairwell leaving a large area on the second floor without insulation coverage.

FLIR1898 FLIR1899

Water cools as it evaporates. The purple area indicates the drywall and carpet in a basement are wet from past water intrusion.

FLIR1792 FLIR1793

A leaking air conditioning drain has soaked the carpet in the basement.

These case of the melted siding

Reflected sunlight melts siding

It is well known that reflected light from neighboring windows can melt vinyl siding. It has been stated in construction literature that vinyl siding begins to deform at 165°F. I was fortunate to be able to see this phenomenon as it was happening. I was able to document the damage to the siding and the cause of the damage using thermal imaging.

In this case the November sun was reflecting off the neighbor’s second-story window. The image you see is the concentrated energy from the reflecting sun heating the vinyl siding to just over 200° The sun tracks directly across the window pictured below. Not only has the intense heat melted the siding, but it has also shattered the outer pane of glass in this double pane window.

Photography and thermal imaging are beneficial for documenting what you see and in this case determining the cause of the damage. It leaves no question as to what is causing the damage to the exterior of the house.

FLIR0557 FLIR0556

Combustion Air

There needs to be enough adequate fresh air for the furnace and water heater to operate properly. A lack of this combustion air can cause the gas appliances to operate poorly and possibly even create carbon monoxide- a dangerous gas. An average sized furnace and water heater needs an open basement floor plan if there is no outside combustion source installed. Combustion air can generally be added to any room.

We often find that when the home was built there was probably adequate for combustion. Over time as the home is renovated and the the basement is finished, the open floor plan is decreased and the furnace and water heater are often walled off in a separate room. This is where we see inadequate combustion air.

It is always best to seek further consultation and evaluation by a qualified mechanical contractor.

 

Combustion air 2 Combustion air

 

Sump crock and pump

The Sump Pump

The sump crock collects water though a drainage system around the perimeter for the foundation The sump pump removes the water from the sump crock. The system is designed to help keep the basement dry. There are two components to every sump pump: the pump that discharges the water and the switch that activates the pump. Either the pump or the switch can require replacement. Water is removed form the sump by the pump that is attached to a discharge pipe. The discharge should be made of schedule 40 PVC pipe with a integrated check valve. The pipe should discharge to “daylight”- that is on to the ground or buried just below grade so that water can evaporate in to the air.

 

Sump pump diagram

Pumps

There are two types of pumps: pedestal and submerged

The pedestal pump is often thought of as the older style with the pump motor placed on top a pedestal above the sump and out of the water.

Submerged pumps are designed to be placed in the bottom of the sump, below the water line.

Switches

There are three types of switches- pressure, float, and tethered float.

-The pressure switch operates when sufficient head pressure is exerted on a pressure sensitive switch and engaging the pump. This type of switch often does not operate properly in a shallow crock because sufficient head pressure cannot be exerted on the switch mechanism. These switches can also malfunction due to debris build up clogging the switch inlet. These work best in a deep sump crock.

-The standard float switch or side switch incorporates a float device that moves up as the water rises activating the switch. This switch works well in most applications.

-The tethered float switch uses a float device that contains a switch that when inverted, activating the pump. The sump crock needs to have a large enough circumference to allow the switch to float up without being obstructed by the crock side wall. These work best in large modern crocks.

All three types of switches have advantages and disadvantages. It is important the switch be best matched to the style of crock in use. The sump pump should be activated occasionally to check that that the pump operates properly. If the pump isn’t working, it may just be that the float is stuck or the pressure diaphragm inlet is dirty. Most switches can be replaced independently from the motor is there is a failure.

Backup Power

In situations where there is a lot of foundation drain activity or basement flooding is predictable, a backup power source should be considered. There are two types of backup systems, water activated and battery power back up pumps.

Battery powered units are the most common and reliable as long as the battery is properly conditioned and in good working order. Water powered back up pumps are used where there is a municipal water source.

The Discharge Pipe

The discharge pipe should have a one-way check installed and the pipe be secured to the foundation or basement wall. Often over looked, the location of the final discharge is important. It is important to keep the water at least 6-8 feet away from the structure. It wouldn’t make sense to allow that water to discharge right next to the house just to move right back down to the foundation and back into the sump.  Many installations discharge into a larger pipe that is buried under ground and allows the water to seep into the topsoil and to evaporate. Proper installation of the discharge pipe is important so that it does not become clogged with debris or freeze in the winter. Older homes may have the discharge into a dry well. Discharge water from the sump crock should not be directed into the sanitary sewer or the sanitary septic system.

Water, water, every where

I say it at every inspection, “90% of the problems I see at a home inspection are related to water”: Roof leaks, wet basements, cracked foundation walls. leaking plumbing pipes, holes in the exterior siding, condensation in the attic, and on and on. Water causes structural damage as it causes decay of wood products that do not have a natural or man-made resistance to water penetration. Water and moisture are the main ingredients of mold production. So let’s keep water out of the house.

A major source of water infiltration into the house is water flowing off the grade and water running off the roof. Water running off the roof falls onto the grade, splashes off the siding, and eventually flows into the basement and around the foundation. Soil type, age of the house, type of foundation drain, and whether or not there is a sump or not, all influence how the house will be affected by the water.

How much water runs off the roof in a rain storm? 1,000 square feet of roof surface that receives 1 inch of rain equals 623 gallons of water. If you don’t have working rain gutters, all of the water falls off the roof and adversely affects the home. Worse, if a downspout or leader extension is missing, all of the water is concentrated in a small area. Typically the downspout is placed on a corner of the home, which is the most vulnerable portion of the foundation to water infiltration.

A functional gutter, downspout, and leader extension are necessary to keep water away from the home. The leader extension should move water at least 6 feet away from the house. The water should eventually drain to daylight, that is, on to the ground so that it can evaporate. If the leader extension is buried, it should not be too deep in the ground to interfere with that evaporation.

Bath Venting

A common problem that I see on home inspections is the bathroom vent fan not properly installed. More accurately, it is the flexible duct for the vent fan that is usually the problem. Every manufacturer recommends the vent fan discharge to the outside but they don’t include the vent connector with the fan. The duct and vent hood are described as “accessories”. So it’s no wonder that bathroom vent fans are often venting into the attic. Venting warm moist air into the attic is about the worst thing you can do, especially in a cold climate. Warm moist air from the shower fills the attic space, goes up to the roof deck and condenses into water. Moisture in the attic can cause a whole host of problems.

Increased moisture and high humidity in the attic will collect on the bottom side of the roof deck.  In the winter months this moisture turns to frost in the attic that will eventually melt. When the frost melts, it “rains” inside the attic. This condition leads to wet insulation, wet drywall, and an environment for the mold growth. All of which have the potential to damage the structure of the home.

Excessive moisture in the attic from improper ventilation of the bathroom exhaust fan can often appear to be a roof leak. I have saved more than one homeowner the expense of a new roof after the roofing contractor concluded the water stains in the second story ceiling was from a roof leak. In one case, I found just four inches of fiberglass insulation and two bathroom vent fans venting into the attic.

Vent the bathroom exhaust to the outside either through the roof or sidewall of the house. The bathroom vent should NEVER exhaust into the attic. Venting by sticking the duct in the roof vent, continuous ridge vent, or soffit vent is also not recommended.  Bathroom vent fans should discharge at least three feet away from any other type of vent.

If the flexible duct is not insulated, it can also allow condensation of water vapor and drip water into the attic or the water can run back down and drip at the fan. All ducting that travels through a cold attic should be insulated with R-5. Flexible, insulated duct is available at most home improvement stores. It is also acceptable to cover the duct with insulation that is applied to the floor of the attic.

Bath vent example

Every bathroom should have a vent fan the discharges to the outside. If the flexible duct for the fan travels through a cold attic the duct should be insulated. The duct should leave the house through the roof or sidewall by way of a purpose built vent damper or hood.

Ice Damming

The Problem

Remember, 90% of all problems in a home are associated with water! Ice damming is a serious problem where melting snow re-freezes at the eave causing a dam. More melting snow accumulates and water has the potential to migrate into the home. Shingles are designed to shed water by overlapping and allowing gravity to pull the water off the roof. With ice damming, the weight of the accumulated ice and snow actually causes the melted snow to move uphill- between the laps of shingles and eventually into the home.

The Cause

Itis the heat escaping into the attic and of the bright sun on those warm winter days that contribute t ice damming. Raking the snow from the eave to remove the problem but the actual source, the heat from the attic onto the roof surface is a major cause. Look around any neighborhood and you’ll see the roof on house covered in snow while another has the snow melting and the roof surface is visible. This lack of adequate insulation significantly contributes to ice damming.

Fix the Problem

I am always suspicious of heat tape laid out on the roof eave as a solution to ice damming- it doesn’t work. Until you improve the insulation and ventilation in the attic, you’ll continue to have problems.

Wet basements and sewer backups in older homes

This house has an older style foundation drainage system. It is made out of segments of clay tile referred to as the footing drain. This drain system collects water from the ground around the house and any water from the roof or gutter that migrates down the outside of the foundation wall. This footing drain is also connected to the floor drains in the basement.

The home’s sanitary waste plumbing directs waste from the house out to the street. This drain ties into the footing drain at a point under the basement floor concrete slab. A common clay tile drain is then used to direct water collected from the footing drain, basement floor drains, and waste plumbing out under the front yard and into the city sewer below the street. All of the water and waste eventually goes out to the sanitary sewer below the street in one common drain.

Clay tile drain is laid in short sections. They are not physically connected but instead lay end-to-end.  Clay tile is prone to cracking and breaking over time and will typically allow sand, dirt, and tree roots to get inside the pipe, clogging the pipe and interfering with its flow to the sewer. When there are periods of heavy rain, the system is prone to backing up. Ground water, mixed with sewage in some cases, is forced back up the common sewer drain and into the basement floor drain.

The home will always be prone to this type of backup. Preventative maintenance is recommended.  At a minimum, have the drain tile system augured and cleaned by a professional drain cleaning company.  These homes can be up-graded with the installation of an interior foundation drain and replacement of the common clay tile sewage drain.  Consult with a basement waterproofing company for further evaluation and estimates for costs on installation of a system designed specifically for your home.

GFCI Outlets

The GFCI

Mapping Electrical Circuits – Interactive Tutorial

A “GFCI” is a ground fault circuit interrupter. A ground fault circuit interrupter is an inexpensive electrical device that, if installed in household branch circuits, could prevent over two-thirds of the approximately 300 electrocutions still occurring each year in and around the home. Installation of the device could also prevent thousands of burn and electric shock injuries each year.

The GFCI is designed to protect people from severe or fatal electric shocks Because a GFCI detects ground faults, it can also prevent some electrical fires and reduce the severity of others by interrupting the flow of electric current.

The Problem

Have you ever experienced an electric shock? If you did, the shock probably happened because your hand or some other part of your body contacted a source of electrical current and your body provided a path for the electrical current to go to the ground, so that you received a shock.

An unintentional electric path between a source of current and a grounded surface is referred to as a “ground-fault.” Ground faults ground-fault. Ground faults occur when current is leaking somewhere, in effect, electricity is escaping to the ground. How it leaks is very important. If your body provides a path to the ground for this leakage, you could be injured, burned, severely shocked, or electrocuted.

Some examples of accidents that underscore this hazard include the following:

  • Two children, ages five and six, were electrocuted in Texas when a plugged-in hair dryer fell into the tub in which they were bathing.
  • A three-year-old Kansas girl was electrocuted when she touched a faulty countertop

These two electrocutions occurred because the electrical current escaping from the appliance traveled through the victim to ground (in these cases, the grounded plumbing fixtures). Had a GFCI been installed, these deaths would probably have been prevented because a GFCI would have sensed the current flowing to ground and would have switched off the power before the electrocution occurred.

How the GFCI Works

In the home’s wiring system, the GFCI constantly monitors electricity flowing in a circuit, to sense any loss of current. If the current flowing through the circuit differs by a small amount from that returning, the GFCI quickly switches off power to that circuit. The GFCI interrupts power faster than a blink of an eye to prevent a lethal dose of electricity. You may receive a painful shock, but you should not be electrocuted or receive a serious shock injury.

Here’s how it may work in your house.. Suppose a bare wire inside an appliance touches the metal case. The case is then charged with electricity. If you touch the appliance with one hand while the other hand is touching a grounded metal object, like a water faucet, you will receive a shock. If the appliance is plugged into an outlet protected by a GFCI, the power will be shut off before a fatal shock would occur.

Availability of GFCIs

Three common types of ground fault circuit interrupters are available for home use:

  • Receptacle Type: This type of GFCI is used in place of the standard duplex receptacle found throughout the house It fits into the standard outlet box and protects you against “ground faults’ whenever an electrical product is plugged into the outlet Most receptacle-type GFCls can be installed so that they also protect other electrical outlets further “down stream” in the branch circuit.
  • Circuit Breaker Type: In homes equipped with circuit breakers rather than fuses, a circuit breaker GFCI may be installed in a panel box to give protection to selected circuits The circuit breaker GFCI serves a dual purpose – not only will it shut off electricity in the event of a “ground-fault,” but it will also trip when a short circuit or an overload occurs Protection covers the wiring and each outlet, lighting fixture, heater, etc. served by the branch circuit protected by the GFCI in the panel box.
  • Portable Type: Where permanent GFCls are not practical, portable GFCls may be used One type contains the GFCI circuitry in a plastic enclosure with plug blades in the back and receptacle slots in the f rant. It can be plugged into a receptacle, then, the electrical product is plugged into the GFCI. Another type of portable GFCI is an extension cord combined with a GFCI. It adds flexibility in using receptacles that are not protected by GFCls.

Where GFCIs Should Be Considered

In homes built to comply with the National Electrical Code (the Code), GFCI protection is required for most outdoor receptacles (since 1973), bathroom receptacle circuits (since 1975), garage wall outlets (since 1978), kitchen receptacles (since 1987), and all receptacles in crawl spaces and unfinished basements (since 1990).

Owners of homes that do not have GFCls installed in all those critical areas specified in the latest version of the Code should consider having them installed. For broad protection, GFCI circuit breakers may be added in many panels of older homes to replace ordinary circuit breaker. For homes protected by fuses, you are limited to receptacle or portable-type GFCIs and these may be installed in areas of greatest exposure, such as the bathroom, kitchen, basement, garage, and outdoor circuits.

A GFCI should be used whenever operating electrically powered garden equipment (mower, hedge trimmer, edger, etc.). Consumers can obtain similar protection by using GFCIs with electric tools (drills, saws, sanders, etc.) for do-it-yourself work in and around the house.

Installing GFCIs

Circuit breaker and receptacle-type GFCIs may be installed in your home by a qualified electrician. Receptacle-type GFCIs may be installed by knowledgeable consumers familiar with electrical wiring practices who also follow the instructions accompanying the device. When in doubt about the proper procedure, contact a qualified electrician. Do not attempt to install it yourself.

The portable GFCI requires no special knowledge or equipment to install.

Testing the GFCIs

All GFCIs should be tested once a month to make sure they are working properly and are protecting you from fatal shock. GFCIs should be tested after installation to make sure they are working properly and protecting the circuit.

To test the receptacle GFCI, first plug a night light or lamp into the outlet. The light should be on Then, press the “TEST” button on the GFCI. The GFCI’s “RESET” button should pop out, and the light should go out.

If the “RESET” button pops out but the light does not go out, the GFCI has been improperly wired. Contact an electrician to correct the wiring errors.

If the “RESET” button does not pop out, the GFCI is defective and should be replaced.

If the GFCI is functioning properly, and the lamp goes out, press the “RESET” button to restore power to the outlet.

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Sewer and storm drain

Many older homes have by design the basement floor drain, foundation drain and sewer drain all tied in together and going out to the street. If the city has not separated the storm drain from the sewer drain there is a chance that it can all come backing up into your basement.  It was a common practice in the forties and fifties to route the storm run-off and sewers to the water treatment plant for treatment. Many communities have or are in the process of separating the storm water runoff from the sewer in a effort to safe on water treatment activities and costs. You can check with your local municipality to see if this is the case with your home.

Older homes that still have the original plumbing are prone to drain problems. Galvanized drain pipe in the home is prone to clogging, deterioration and leaking. The main seer drain that leads out to the street is often cast iron and the basement drains are made of clay tile segments. All of this material is prone to clogging and deterioration. Worse yet, if the home has vacant for any period of time and the plumbing not in use, sediment and plant growth can clog the main drain. During the home inspection we run a lot of water into the system to challenge the system to see if all of the plumbing is functioning properly. It is not uncommon for the new home owner to come in to the once vacant and after using the toilet and flushing solids and paper, clogging and drain problems occur. We always leave the client with a high index of suspicion and recommend frequent monitoring of the plumbing in a home with plumbing, especially one that has been vacant.