“You'd be wasting your money if you hired a home inspector. This is a brand new house that has been inspected dozens of times by the city of Perfectville, and they're especially picky. If there was anything wrong, they would have already caught it."
This is the same line that most builders give to new home buyers while trying to talk them out of a home inspection.
New houses are never perfect. Instead of discussing all of the ways that new construction homes get built improperly and things get botched, I'd like to share some photos I've taken at new construction homes over the past year. We inspect a lot of new construction homes, and we find a lot of defects. Some of these photos are similar to photos I've shared in the past, but none are the same.
Is this safe? Click on the photo to see a blowup. You'll see that the deck is about 30" above grade, measured from the edge of the deck.
Here in Minnesota, we're still using the 2006 IRC for our building code, which allows the installation shown above, but what happens when the grade drops off right away? The photo below shows the same deck. As you can see, the grade drops away from the deck immediately, making a fall significantly more than 30". While this is arguably a code compliant inspection, home inspectors don't inspect for code compliance; we get to make recommendations based on common sense.
Common sense says this isn't a safe installation, and as soon as Minnesota adopts the 2012 IRC, this won't be a legal installation any more. The diagram below from CodeCheck shows what the 2009 and 2012 versions of the IRC require for guards at a deck. If grade drops below 30" measured 36" out from the deck, a guard is required. I told the new home buyer to install a guard for safety.
Here's a terrible flashing detail at a new home in Plymouth. Water runs down that piece of metal and into the trim board. This will rot very quickly.
Here's a double whammy. The composite siding on the left needs to be installed at least 6" above grade, and the stone siding (adhered concrete masonry veneer) needs to be installed at least 4" above grade. These are basic requirements that come from the manufacturers.
They say stone siding is the new stucco. It's details like this that makes people say this. The head flashing should be thought of as the drain. When it's caulked, water can't drain out. This is a problem waiting to happen.
Builders typically don't / won't install gutters, but home inspectors recommend gutters at most homes. It's not just about wet basements and foundation problems; it's also about protecting the exterior envelope of the home from water.
I wrote an entire blog post on water management at new construction homes earlier this year. The photo below gives an excellent example of horrible water management at a gorgeous new construction home in Eden Prairie. A ridiculous amount of roof water gets directed to that single downspout, and there's no simple way to deal with this water.
I also wrote a blog post this year about connecting downspouts directly into yard drains; this is a bad practice that can lead to water backing up the downspout during the winter.
This handrail was installed too close to the guardrail; it needs to be at least 1-1/2" away. Do I go around measuring handrails? Heck no... but if I grab the handrail and my knuckle hits something, it's too close. I measure it to document that it's not installed properly.
Most new construction homes don't come with decks, but decks can sometimes be added on by the builder for an additional fee. In many cases, the fasteners are severely over-driven into the deck boards. This will shorten the life of the deck boards.
There are also a lot of new construction homes with overdriven fasteners at the siding.
Thankfully, this isn't a major defect; LP Smartside has a list of fixes right in their installation instructions. Nevertheless, I'm always glad I'm not the one who has to go around fixing it.
Overdriven nails is a common installation defect with new roofs. When nails have blown through the shingles everywhere, it's a defective installation. If this just happens in a few places, it might be appropriate to re-nail the shingles. When this happens everywhere, the appropriate repair would be to tear the entire roof covering off and start over. I've seen this happen at a number of new-construction houses this year.
Side note: Owens Corning has addressed this issue with the creation of SureNail® Shingles, which have a strip of fabric running through the nailing area to help make the shingles stronger and to help prevent improper nailing. Milind just had these installed at his own house, and said it's just about impossible to overdrive the nails. These shingles seem like a great idea.
This new construction home in Maple Grove had several shingles missing at the back corner of the house. It was a fairly steep two-story roof, so I never got close enough to the edge to figure out what went wrong with the installation.
This first image shows an infrared overlay of a soaked ceiling below a shower at a new construction home in Eden Prairie. There was apparently a major problem with the shower valve, causing water to leak into the wall cavity when I tested the shower. I didn't realize it until water started pouring out of the basement ceiling.
This next image shows a new construction house in Saint Louis Park that had a leaking shutoff valve inside the wall; the water was draining down the PEX tube and dripping onto the kitchen ceiling. This was a lucky find; if I hadn't been using my IR camera to scan the ceiling for a leaking shower, I never would have identified this leak. Click on the photo for a large version.
The whirlpool tub pictured below apparently leaked a lot of water through the house a few hours before the inspection, and was being repaired when I arrived.
The part that the builder didn't know about was that the water traveled across the first floor ceiling, through an exterior wall, and down into the basement. An infrared scan and a follow-up test with a moisture meter confirmed there was water in all these places. Let's hope it all got dried out.
Not all plumbing defects are so obvious; dishwashers need to be installed with a high loop at the drain to help prevent a potential cross-connection. The dishwasher drain shown below doesn't come close to being correct; the drain hose needs to be looped as high as possible, not simply to the underside of the sink.
It's common to have a bath tub access panels with just drywall behind it, but this particular access panel, disguised as a return register, was hiding a comically undersized access hole for the tub.
There aren't a lot of electrical defects at new construction homes, but they do exist. Last year I blogged about how chandeliers above bath tubs are a no-no. This no-no zone extends 3' out from the tub. The chandelier shown below was about 20" away from the tub, measured horizontally. Too close.
This next image shows the electrical disconnect for an air conditioner along with some information printed on the air conditioner, stating the minimum ampacity of the conductors is 31.9 amps. The orange cable coming into the box has 10 gauge conductors, which are good for up to 30 amps. No more.
A fairly common defect with new construction homes is a main electric panel improperly recessed into the wall. With combustible construction (wood framing), the main panel needs to be installed flush with the wall. It shouldn't be recessed at all.
Here's a surprising defect; someone forgot to install a cable clamp where the cable entered the panel. This is done with 'handyman' wiring all the time, but was a surprising defect to find on a new construction home.
Gaps in ductwork all over the place. All the time.
In last week's blog post I discussed how to check the temperature rise on a furnace. Of course, I don't do this at every inspection, but if I put my hand on the supply plenum and it feels too hot, I'll check. In the photo below, this brand new furnace had a temperature rise of nearly 110 degrees, while the specs called for a max rise of 70 degrees. Let me remind you, this installation had already been inspected and approved.
I don't know what the problem was with this hood fan, but the damper didn't open for the fan at the exterior. We find these types of defects because we start our inspection by turning on all of the exhaust fans, then we head outside and make sure they're working as we inspect the exterior.
This gas fireplace was leaking exhaust gases back into the home, and those exhaust gases had a high level of carbon monoxide. Scary stuff for a new installation that's already been inspected and approved, dontcha think?
It's fairly common to have a brand new furnace that leaks condensate from a loose connection inside the upper cabinet.
Here's a brand new HRV that wasn't balanced. If it had been balanced, the dampers would have been screwed into place.
Here's a super easy one. That lower white pipe in the photo below is the combustion air inlet for the furnace; if it gets blocked, the furnace won't run. Can you guess what's wrong with this installation? I'll have the answer at the end of this post.
If you're having a new home built and you make any framing changes to the original plans, beware of hack modifications. The photos below come from a pre-drywall inspection I did earlier this year where a big beam had to be moved, and it wasn't done properly.
Here's another photo from the same house. There's no way that beam is supposed to be hanging from that truss.
Damaged and broken trusses will sometimes show up in hard-to-access attic spaces.
As I mentioned in a blog post at the beginning of the year titled "Who Inspected Your Attic?", the vast majority of attics never get inspected after the insulation is installed. The insulation installer simply leaves a certificate that says the insulation was installed to code, and the building official signs off on it. That orange mark on my yardstick shows what the insulation depth was supposed to be.
I find insufficient insulation at roughly three out of four new construction houses that I inspect, probably more.
Here's an unexplained void in the garage insulation.
Here's an easily explained void in the insulation: the wind wash barrier blew out of place, so wind blew into the attic and pushed the insulation out of the way.
Here's a photo from a different new construction home where the wind wash barrier was blown out of place in the garage. The garage attic was also supposed to have been insulated, according to the buyer.
Here's a fun one that probably shouldn't have made it past plan review... but it did. It made it past all of the inspections. Take a look at the blueprints showing the square footage for this bedroom, then look at the size of the window. See any problems?
Here's the issue: the text at the top of the drawing, "3050 SH", indicates a 30" x 50" single hung window. Just for the sake of argument, let's say the window has a glazed area of 30" x 50" (it's actually less). That would be 1500 square inches, or about 10.5 square feet of glazed area. The minimum required glazed area for a bedroom is 8% of the floor area (R303.1). This bedroom has 256 square feet, so would need at least 20.48 sf of glazed window area for light.
In other words, this bedroom is missing a window. Oops!
Finally, to come back to that photo of the furnace inlet installed 4" - 5" above the ground, the issue is that it could get blocked with snow. If it gets blocked, the furnace won't run. It's supposed to terminate at least 12" above the highest anticipated snow level, according to the manufacturer's installation instructions.
That's enough photos for this year. I'm sure I'll have plenty more next year.
If you're going to purchase a new construction home, hire a private home inspector to inspect it. If you've already purchased a new construction home and you're still within your one-year warranty period but you didn't hire a home inspector before you purchased, hire a home inspector to perform a one-year warranty inspection.
Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections
I hear a lot of the same home inspection myths repeated over and over. I've blogged about most of these, but there are a few topics here that I haven't blogged about yet.
The seller doesn't need to fix squat. Home buyers can ask sellers to fix things or pay for things to be fixed, but I can't think of a single defect that a seller would be required to fix.
Many cities in Twin Cities metro area have Truth-In-Sale of Housing evaluations (TISHs) that might identify required repairs, but those are separate from the home inspection. Even if the home inspector identifies a defect that was missed by the TISH evaluator, the seller has no obligation to fix anything.
There is no such code requirement. This misunderstanding comes from section R308.4 of the International Residential Code (IRC). The IRC requires special glass in hazardous locations, and goes on to give a list of hazardous locations. One such example is glass in a location that meets ALL of the following conditions:
- Exposed area of an individual pane larger than 9 square feet.
- Bottom edge less than 18 inches above the floor.
- Top edge more than 36 inches above the floor.
- One of more walking surfaces within 36 inches horizontally of the glazing.
When only one, two, or three of these conditions are met, it's not considered a hazardous location and tempered glass is not required. My oldest code book is the 1988 UBC, which basically had the same requirement.
For more detailed information about safety glazing, check out Douglas Hansen's article: Safety Glazing.
Buyers will probably get the most out of the inspection if they do what the home inspector prefers. If the home inspector prefers to have the buyer show up at the end, the buyer would do best to show up at the end. If the home inspector prefers to have clients attend the whole thing (like we do), the buyer should try to be there the whole time.
We inspect a ton of new construction homes, and we find a ton of defects. Click here for some examples: new construction inspections.
Minnesota's requirement for CO alarms has nothing to do with real estate.
The physical size of that thing at the outside of the house won't tell you anything about the cooling capacity. It has a lot more to do with the efficiency of the unit; larger units = more surface area = higher efficiency. The cooling capacity is measured in tons. To figure out how many tons your unit is, look at the model number and find a number usually between 18 and 60 that's a multiple of 6. Divide that number by 12, and you have the number of tons your unit is.
For example, the unit pictured below is a 2-½ ton unit.
For more info on sizing air conditioners and a nice explanation of why air conditioners are rarely undersized, check out this article on Air Conditioner Capacity that was published in the ASHI Reporter.
There are several blog posts about AC sizing at the Vanguard Energy Blog. Here are a few:
Replacing a water heater won't correct backdrafting unless a new powervent water heater is installed. If a water heater backdrafts, there's a problem outside the water heater. Sometimes it's a problem with the vent, sometimes the vent connector, and sometimes it's a more complicated problem that requires evaluation of the entire house.
For more detailed information on this topic, click this link: backdrafting water heaters.
Old stucco is fine. It's just the newer stuff from the early 90's on that should be a concern. What went wrong with this stucco? Joseph Lstiburek calls it the "perfect stucco storm." We recommend invasive moisture testing when buying a newer stucco home.
There is nothing in the building code that requires a closet. An appraiser might want to see a closet... so what's a closet?
This is one of the most common electrical defects that home inspectors report on, but the repair for a double tapped circuit breaker is usually quick and easy. When compared to most of the other electrical defects that home inspectors find, the safety risk posed by a double tapped circuit breaker is quite low. So what's the big deal? Probably fear of the unknown.
This is one of the topics I'll be covering in an upcoming continuing ed seminar for real estate agents on October 23rd. It's free and breakfast is included. Click here for more info: https://cecreditbreakfast.eventbrite.com/
Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections
I recently read a blog post by building science guru Allison Bailes that discussed patent trolls, infrared cameras, and home inspectors. The quick version of that post is that there's a company in Mississippi that has patented the use of infrared cameras for home inspections. Basically, they claim that if a home inspector uses an infrared camera as part of their home inspection, the home inspector is infringing on their patent rights. Absurd, right? Let me explain why I care about this topic.
My infrared camera is definitely the coolest home inspection
toy tool that I own. I can bust my dog for sitting on the couch, prove to my kids that they're not really "freezing", and confirm that my wife is hot. In addition to that stuff, I've discovered lots of useful ways to use this camera for home inspections.
When we first started offering infrared inspections, we had one camera that we juggled between everyone. Today, I'm proud to say that all of the inspectors at Structure Tech have infrared cameras. We don't always use infrared cameras during home inspections, and we charge extra for a full infrared inspection, but these cameras frequently come in handy for identifying and documenting defects. The most obvious use of an infrared camera is to identify insulation defects in walls or air leaks in attics, but the images below show several other examples of ways that infrared cameras can be useful to home inspectors.
We use infrared cameras to help identify leaking tiled showers. As I mentioned in my blog post about shower leaks, we test tiled showers by flooding the shower base with about 2" of water, and then letting the water sit in the shower for about 45 minutes to an hour. If the tiled shower base leaks, water will show up on the ceiling below.
Through the diligent use of an infrared camera, we can almost always identify these leaks before they stain the ceiling below. The images below show a few examples of tiled shower leaks identified with infrared cameras during home inspections. Of course, we always verify these leaks with a moisture meter before reporting them as leaks. Cold spots in ceilings aren't always leaks.
I recently shared this photo in my blog post about not connecting downspouts directly to yard drains, but here it is again. The blue area is wet.
It's one thing to say there's moisture intrusion in a basement, but having an infrared image that shows the area that's wet really helps to tell the story.
Scanning electric panels with an infrared camera can easily identify overheated conductors or circuit breakers. The panel shown below had an overheated neutral wire, which I suspect was the result of a loose connection; there were two neutrals connected to a single lug.
For the record, only one neutral wire is allowed at each lug.
Inspecting in-floor heat with an IR camera quickly shows which areas are heated. The image below shows a heated garage floor.
It's much easier to make sure a radiator is heating properly by just pointing an infrared camera at it. The radiator shown below wasn't heating properly.
We rarely use infrared cameras outdoors because the sun really messes with our results, but we'll occasionally get a nice image at the exterior that illustrates suspected water intrusion. The image below shows a suspected leak at the wall of a stucco home with missing kickout flashing.
Again, we don't report leaks without verifying them with a moisture meter. The only way of confirming a leak at a stucco home is to perform invasive moisture testing, which is a service we don't offer. We leave that up to the folks that specialize in that service. Infrared inspections are not an acceptable substitute for invasive moisture testing on stucco homes.
We may have never found this hidden floor register without the use of an IR camera. This was a new construction home where the carpet installers apparently went a little too fast.
We have several more examples of things that can be identified with an infrared camera at our web page on infrared inspections, but they're mostly focused on energy loss.
Can you believe that someone got a patent to do this stuff? Hmm... maybe I'll patent the use of a flashlight for home inspections. I'll just need to find a technical writer who can make it sound very complicated.
Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections
One of the most common questions that home inspectors get when walking around the outside of a house with clients is "What's that thing?"
It's called a doo-hickey.
Here's my list of the most common doo-hickeys found at the exterior of homes in Minnesota, many of which are quite common at old houses in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
Automated Meter Reading equipment
You'll find a phone line going from the water meter to this transmitter at the exterior of the home; this is part of an AMR (Automated Meter Reading) system. This is how municipal water departments know how much to bill homeowners for their water usage. They just aim a wand at this device from the road or yard and get their data.
This is an older type of transmitter that is currently being replaced with a newer type of AMR device that can transmit data for several miles.
This vent is found at older houses that have a gas meter inside the home. There is a tube that goes from the gas regulator to this vent, which needs to terminate at the exterior to prevent the release of natural gas inside the house.
Rain Sensor for Irrigation System
This device will shut off the home's irrigation system if it's raining outside, to prevent water from being wasted. Rain sensors should be located in a location that receives about the same amount of rainfall as everything else in the yard. You'll typically find these at a back corner of a garage or house.
For the record, the rain sensor pictured above was crooked, which will prevent it from functioning properly. This is a simple fix that just requires a little re-positioning.
Radon Mitigation System
This one is pretty self explanatory. The fan pulls soil gases out from underneath the basement slab, and these soil gases get exhausted above the roof. Most systems are a little more inconspicuous, but sometimes there's no simple way to hide a mitigation system on an older house.
Click the following link for more info on radon.
Oil Fill Pipes
These pipes either lead to a buried fuel oil tank, a fuel oil tank inside the house, or some hack removed a fuel oil tank without removing the pipes. For several more examples, click here: fuel oil tanks.
A lot of old houses in Minneapolis and Saint Paul had gutters and downspouts that directed rain water to the city's sanitary sewer system. It's no longer acceptable to direct rain water to the city's sanitary sewer, and hasn't been for over 50 years. The photo above shows what's left after the system has been disconnected, although most will no longer be open at the top.
Coal Chute Door
Many old houses in Minneapolis and Saint Paul still have coal chute doors. This was the access door to the coal chute. It's not critical that the doors be removed, but they should at least be secure, weather-tight, and insulated if left in place.
Just for fun, click the following link for a photo of a coal chute that still had coal sitting in it, which we shared on our Facebook page earlier this year. This was at an old house that we inspected in Minneapolis.
Did I miss any?
Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections
Water management at the exterior of homes is critical. Most people know this and I probably sound like a blow-hard when I keep repeating the same message... but too bad. The message bears repeating over and over.
My latest beef with home builders is poor water management at the exterior of homes, which is mostly about three different things done at the same time: concentrating a lot of water to one location, an anti-gutter policy, and no consideration for gutters in the future. Let me explain.
A common design for new houses is to concentrate rain water from several roof surfaces to a small area, which greatly increases the potential for foundation and basement water problems. I marked up the images from some recent new construction inspections to help highlight where a lot of water gets concentrated.
Installing gutters would certainly help in all of these situations, but it usually doesn't happen. Home builders are typically opposed to installing gutters, which is unfortunate. They give poor excuses such as "gutters cause more problems than they fix", but I suspect the real reason is always about cost savings. Gutters prevent a lot of problems with houses, and they can help in almost every situation. I'll admit that if a home is properly designed for no gutters, it will function fine without them, but that situation is a rare exception.
Even if a builder doesn't install gutters, it hardly costs any money for them to plan for gutters; all they need to do is toss a twenty foot section of corrugated yard drain at the front of the house, so a downspout can drain under the front walkway.
This never happens though.
Instead, builders do what you see below. Click on the photo below to see a large version of it, so you can really see all of the wood chips washed away. This happened after a very light rain.
After a decent storm this will be a big mess. This was a new construction home in Eden Prairie with nearly a seven figure price tag... and that's how they dealt with the downspout. In my opinion, the only acceptable fix for this situation is to install a yard drain with a receptor for the downspout; the same thing I blogged about last week. This could have been done very easily with about $5 worth of material before the walkway was poured, but now it's going to be a much bigger project.
If you're having a new home built, be sure to cover this stuff early on in the home building process. Even if your builder has a policy saying they won't direct the downspouts to a yard drain / underground, at least have them bury the tubing for it.
Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections