For home buyers interested in conducting their own home inspection, here's a list of larger items to look out for while viewing houses. This is a cursory overview of some of the larger problems that are frequently identified during home inspections. Of course, this is no substitute for a professional home inspection, but it's a great start.
While many roof problems can only be identified by actually walking the roof or leaning a ladder up against the eaves, some defects can be easily seen from the ground. Be sure to view all sides of the roof. In older neighborhoods with tall houses that are close to each other, it may be necessary to walk a fair distance down an alley to get a good look at the roof.
Look for any irregularities with the roof: shingles that look curled from the ground indicate an old roof. This type of curling almost always happens on the south side first, so pay special attention to that side. The photos below show examples of some particularly nasty roofs.
Look out for cracks in shingles as well. These typically won't be visible on second story roofs, but it's sometimes possible to spot these on single-story roofs.
Mis-matched or patched shingles, missing shingles, and shingles sliding out of place typically indicates an improper installation. The photo below shows a horrible patch job. A 'new' roof doesn't mean a 'good' roof.
Always look for loose shingles in valleys.
A large section of the roof below had been patched. Why was the roof patched to begin with? A patched roof is often the result of an improper installation that has led to shingles coming loose.
Shingles without neat rows may have been installed that way, but it may also mean that shingles are beginning to slide down. Closer inspection of this roof revealed that the shingles were improperly nailed, causing the shingles to slide down.
Here's a more extreme example of sliding shingles.
Don't forget to view all sides of the roof. This next roof was too high to be safely inspected with a 28' extension ladder, but a walk down the alley revealed considerable, obvious damage.
Chimney repairs can be another large expense. When buying an older house with a masonry chimney, take a close look at it. Missing mortar between the bricks typically won't be a major repair, but missing bricks and large cracks in the walls can sometimes mean the upper portion of the chimney needs to be re-built.
As with roofs, be sure to look at every side of every chimney. The chimney shown below had been redone to look good from the street, but didn't look so great from the back yard.
Problems with the chimney flashing, crown, and interior flues are difficult to identify from the ground.
Hardboard siding begins to swell and then literally fall apart when it rots. Deteriorated hardboard siding is usually quite easy for anyone to spot. Check the north sides, areas not protected by soffits (overhangs), and the areas closest to the ground first; these will be the first areas to rot. If unsure about an area, push on it with your finger, but not too hard. When hardboard siding is badly rotted, it gets mushy.
Defects with newer stucco siding are difficult to identify from the exterior, but stains below windows are an obvious warning sign that there may be hidden damage.
Problems with others types of siding usually aren't as easy to spot without a trained eye.
Rotted wood windows that have been patched may look fine from a distance, but it's usually easy to spot damaged areas when up close. Give the windows a little poke with your finger when rot is suspected. Sometimes the patchwork will be paper-thin, so don't poke too hard.
Aluminum clad wood windows can completely rot apart on the inside, yet leave no visible evidence at the exterior. These windows can be pushed on or squeezed to help determine if there is internal rotting. The windows that will rot first are the ones that aren't protected by soffits (overhangs).
In the photo below, we pulled some of the cladding back to show severely rotted wood inside the sash.
Cranking windows open and looking at them from underneath can sometimes reveal water damage.
Always take a look underneath decks. Sometimes decks will have a fresh coat of paint that conceals severe rotting, which may be quite visible from below.
Also, take a step back from the deck and look for sagging, which may indicate a structural problem with the construction of the deck. The deck shown below had a very noticeable sag in the middle which wasn't obvious from up close.
Click this link for more info on deck inspections.
This one is huge. Make sure water is properly directed away from the house. Look for proper gutters, downspouts, and downspout extensions. They're not required, but they certainly help. Also, check to make sure the earth slopes away from the house. Water draining toward a house can lead to big water problems in the basement or crawl space, as well as foundation problems.
Look at roof lines as well; if water gets concentrated against the house, the potential for water intrusion goes up. The photo below shows a good example of several roof surfaces concentrating water in to a small area right up against the house.
Next week I'll have a home inspection checklist for the interior, along with a one-page pdf checklist of all the interior and exterior items.
Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections