Reuben Saltzman

Reuben Saltzman is a second-generation home inspector with a passion for his work. Naturally, this blog is all about home inspections and home-related topics in the Twin Cities metro area. In addition to working at Structure Tech, he is also a licensed Truth-In-Sale of Housing Evaluator in Minneapolis, Saint Paul and several other cities.

Posts about Real Estate

Stucco Repairs: Three Case Studies

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman Updated: April 24, 2014 - 4:39 AM

This blog post is a compilation of three blog posts written by Reuben, which originally appeared at the moisture testing web site www.PrivateEyeMN.com.

Moisture testing on relatively newer stucco houses (mid 1980s - late 2000s) has become standard practice when buying a home in Minnesota, and a lot of those tests reveal problems with moisture intrusion.  Water intrusion is never good news, but there are several options to consider when exploring a repair strategy for a home with water damage.

Remediation protocols range from retrofit, which consists of partial repair and maintenance, to full tear off and replacement, which consists of removing all of the stucco and replacing with an alternate cladding material, such as James Hardie HardiePlank® or LP Smartside®.  

Today we'll be taking a closer look at all three repair strategies, all of which were performed by Sunset Construction Group (SunsetCG), a Minnesota company that specializes in repairing stucco houses with moisture intrusion problems.  

When SunsetCG is contacted to perform stucco repairs on an existing home, there are four basic steps that take place; a review of the moisture testing report, removal of the stucco at the affected areas, repair of the affected areas, and maintenance on the rest of the stucco.  

Case Study #1: Retrofit Repair

Review the Moisture Testing Report

The first thing SunsetCG wants to see is the moisture testing report, which is what we provide.  This report will contain photos of the home along with moisture readings, which helps to determine the scope of the work and offers professional guidance to the buyer and sellers of a property. From there, a bid is put together on stucco repairs and various repair strategies are explored.

Reviewing this retrofit-level case study, we first performed moisture testing at this home in 2006, and found several areas with high moisture levels, but no repairs were conducted at that time.  We performed moisture testing again in 2013, and many of those same areas showed high levels of moisture, so SunsetCG was contacted to perform repairs.

Here's an excerpt from our moisture testing report, showing exactly which areas of the wall sheathing had elevated moisture levels; our results from 2006 and 2013 are documented right next to each other on the report for comparison. Moisture Testing Report  

To keep this short, I'm only focusing on a small portion of the house.

Partial Stucco Removal

As you can see from the moisture testing report above, the big area of concern was directly below the first floor window. The next step was to have a minimal amount of stucco removed around the window, to expose and give access to the water damaged areas.  Click the photo for a larger version.

Water damage below window

Stucco Repair

After the stucco was removed, the source and severity of the moisture intrusion were confirmed.  The sheathing, framing, and insulation of the impacted areas were repaired or replaced as needed.  The impacted areas were then redesigned using improved materials and installation methods, to highly reduce the potential for future moisture problems.

Examples of new materials and methods would be new head flashing above the window and new pan flashing below the window.

Stucco Repairs below window The stucco color and texture were then patched and matched as closed as possible, and then the front of the house was painted with a high quality, breathable stucco paint to give the front of the house a uniform look.

Stucco Maintenance

While existing stucco homes may not have been constructed with the same details that a new stucco house would be built with today, the areas that have proven to perform over the years are maintained in their current condition with a quality caulk/seal effort.  Some areas of particular attention will be the window miters, mullions and perimeter of windows, and vertical transitions between stucco and other surfaces, such as windows and doors.

The theory/risk proposition with a retrofit repair is that the areas that have performed over the past ten to fifteen years will probably continue to perform, even though it may not be an ideal installation.  The main benefit with this type of repair is cost; these types of repairs will typically cost 30% - 40% of what a full tear off and redo would be.

When a retrofit repair is performed, a follow-up moisture testing inspection should take place three to five years after the repairs have taken place.

Along with the lower cost of repairs comes a limited warranty on the work.  A ten year warranty (per MN State Statute) is not likely to apply under most (if not all) retrofit repair strategies, as the contractor is only touching part of a wall.  If a ten year warranty is a must, the next two repair strategies would be good options.

Case Study #2: Wall-to-Wall Repair

The photos below show a house that had missing kickout flashing at a roof end, which led to extensive moisture damage at the front wall, including sheathing and minor framing repair.

Stucco repairs 1 After the stucco was removed and the damaged sheathing replaced, new plywood sheathing was installed, the window was properly flashed, and the first of two layers of building paper were applied to the exterior wall.

Stucco repairs 3 Proper kickout flashing gets installed at the roof end, and a quality drainage plane was installed to create an air gap.

Stucco repairs 3 Finally, new stucco is installed, the old stucco is caulked and sealed, and everything is painted with a high-quality, breathable stucco paint to give the entire front of the house a uniform look.

Completed Stucco Repairs The repaired areas are covered by a 10-year warranty, and the cost of the job was approximately $20k. Follow-up moisture testing can be conducted between three and five years after the repair work as a health check-up, as well as to provide documentation to any future home buyers that the repairs are performing as they should.

Case Study #3: Full Stucco Tear-off and Replacement

As is standard practice when buying a newer stucco home in Minnesota, the folks buying a stucco-clad home in Plymouth had invasive moisture testing performed as part of their purchase agreement.  Despite the fact that there was no visible evidence of moisture damage inside or outside the home, the moisture testing report showed high levels of moisture in many locations throughout the home.

The home seller contacted SunsetCG to verify the results of the moisture testing, and the results were confirmed by cutting exploratory holes into the stucco; this helped to confirm the problem and determine the extent of the water damage.

Exploratory Hole in Stucco

Side note: If you ever happen to see a stucco home with caulked squares of stucco, you're probably looking at a home that has had exploratory holes cut.  The photo below shows what these exploratory holes look like after they're patched.

Stucco Patch

After the home sellers were shown the extent of the moisture damage inside the walls, they decided to have the stucco completely torn off and the home resided with a different product.  They decided to go with James Hardie® fiber cement siding, which has become a very popular product on new homes throughout Minnesota.

Photos

The photos below show the home before the stucco was torn off, while it was being repaired, as well as the finished product.

Stucco home with concealed moisture damage stucco water damage stucco water damage repairs window flashing Re-sided home

Benefits of a Full Tear-off and Redo

While a full tear-off and redo is the most expensive option when it comes to stucco repairs, there are plenty of benefits to this method.  Instead of having only the areas with damage / water intrusion repaired, everything is opened up and redone.  For example, pan flashing gets installed at all of the windows, proper kickout flashing gets installed at all of the roof ends, and the deck is completely re-flashed at the ledgerboard.  At-grade or low wall plate lines that are too close to grade can be exposed and re-designed at the same time.  All of the siding is now covered under a full 10-year warranty per MN Statute 327A, which can be a very attractive feature for potential home buyers.  Finally, the stigma associated with newer stucco homes is removed.

For a full stucco tear-off and re-do, the cost can go into the six-figure realm, but of course this price involves all of the stuff that happens under the siding; it's not just about replacing existing siding.   It's also about figuring out and repairing all of the items that caused water damage in the first place.  

Special thanks to Matt Roach of SunsetCG for providing the photos and information about the repair process for these three case studies.

Author: Reuben Saltzman, Private Eye Moisture Testing

          

Online Building Permit History and more for Twin Cities Homes

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman Updated: March 7, 2014 - 6:33 AM

While real estate web sites give the most important information about homes to potential buyers, there are many other free web sites that give public information about homes in Minnesota.  I use these sites on a regular basis, especially when I'm inspecting a flipped house.  Not only is it interesting to see if permits have been pulled for work being done, but it's also interesting to see if the work has ever been inspected and approved.

Online Permits

I think it's wise to check the permit history when buying a home.  The standard Seller's Property Disclosure Statement asks the seller if appropriate permits were pulled for any work performed at the property, but I think this is a fairly worthless question, and I often find the check boxes on this form just left blank.

 

If permits were pulled, it means the seller was given permission to perform work.  It doesn't mean the work was completed, inspected, or approved.  If you were buying a home, wouldn't you want to know if there were a bunch of open permits?  Or that the basement was completely finished without permits?  Or that no permits were pulled for a bunch of hack wiring that was done as part of a kitchen remodel?

The old timey way to check permit history was to call the building inspections department, but today there are at least eighteen cities in the Twin Cities metro area that give building permit history online.  If I missed any, please let me know and I'll add them.  I also have these cities listed under the "External Links" page on our web site.

*Minneapolis and several other communities use state electrical inspectors, so electrical permits must be looked up here: https://secure.doli.state.mn.us/etrakit2/AdvPermitSearch.aspx

Truth In Sale of Housing Evaluations

Currently, only Minneapolis and Saint Paul have TISH evaluations publicly available online.  Here's how to look them up.

Minneapolis: Go to the Minneapolis Development Review site to look up information about properties within the city.  Just type in the house number and street name; don't bother with things like "Avenue" or "East."  If there are multiple listings for your search terms, you'll be given a choice.  Once you've found the property, click "View this Property".

The next page will have a bunch of links at the top left, including one that says "Truth in Sale of Housing".  Click this link to look up any current TISH evaluations.  If there are open repair orders, those will also be listed here.

Saint Paul: Go to the Saint Paul One Stop page to look up property information about Saint Paul homes.  For TISH evaluations, start by clicking the link that says "Property info and Permits by Address."  Type in the house number and street name, hit submit, and you'll be taken to the property info page.  To know if there is a TISH evaluation on file for the property, look for an entry that says "Truth In Sale of Housing Inspection".

Saint Paul Truth in Housing Screen Shot

At the bottom of such an entry should be one or two hyperlinks; one linking to the TISH cover sheet, and another linking to the 'guts' of the report... or in same cases, both the cover page and the guts may be combined into a single report.  I've heard some guys have figured out a way to combine the two reports into a single document, but I haven't.

Owner Info, Sales History

The Hennepin County web site gives information about who the current owner is, what the property last sold for, aerial photos, and rough diagrams showing the sizes and shapes of lots.  The image below gives a shrunk-down example of what this looks like.  Click the photo to see a large version.

Hennepin County Map View

Hennepin County's property information site is the only one I use with any regularity, but other counties give similar information on their sites.

Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections
          

Minnesota Radon Awareness Act

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman Updated: January 30, 2014 - 4:50 AM

As of January 1st of 2014, there are new requirements for home sellers in Minnesota regarding radon disclosure.  The old disclosure form that home sellers would fill out just asked if there were any environmental concerns with radon, and the sellers would check yes or no.  It couldn't get any more basic.

Old radon question

If the home hadn't been tested for radon, the answer would of  course be "no".  End of story.

The new Minnesota Radon Awareness Act requires sellers to give home buyers a lot more information about radon, including whether or not tests have been performed, the most recent test results, any details pertaining to radon reduction or mitigation systems, a warning about radon, and a copy of the Minnesota Department of Health publication titled "Radon in Real Estate Transactions".

Whew.  That's a lot of stuff.  Here's what the radon section in the new disclosure form looks like:

New Radon Disclosure

With the new Radon Awareness Act, radon testing in Minnesota is going to become much more common in real estate transactions.  In 2013, my company conducted radon tests at approximately one out of every three buyers inspections that we did; the number will probably increase to at least one in two for 2014.

If you're buying a home, hire a professional to test it for radon.  Don't go with the sellers results.  I had an almost comical situation occur this fall when a buyer hired us to conduct a radon test along with our home inspection.  The seller acted very insulated because she had already conducted a radon test on her own, "proving" that radon levels in her home were low.  After some conversation with the seller, it seemed quite obvious that she had placed the do-it-yourself test on the second floor of her home and the windows were probably open when she conducted the test, making the test results worthless.  It was no surprise to us when the radon results came back high.

To test your own home for radon, simply purchase a do-it-yourself test kit and follow the instructions.  Short-term tests can be purchased online for $7.95 at http://www.radon.com/sub/mn/.  Don't bother calling a home inspection company like us; our tests are geared for real estate transactions, where the testing needs to be done quickly by a third party professional.

Click these links for more information:

Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections

          

Home Inspectors Shouldn't be Nail Biters

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman Updated: December 6, 2013 - 4:46 AM

While having lunch during a recent all-day continuing ed seminar for home inspectors, we home inspectors all did what home inspectors do when they get together; we talked about home inspections.  We're out inspecting houses with new clients every day, our wives are tired of hearing about home inspection 'stuff', and we get very little peer interaction unless we participate in online discussion forums. Moisture Meter

So anyways, we're talking about home inspection tools.  Oh boy, can we talk about tools.  I asked one of the guys at my table, a relatively new inspector, about what type of moisture meter he uses.  His answer drove me nuts.

"I don't use a moisture meter, because I've heard other home inspectors say that this only increases your liability."

I've heard this repeated by nail-biting home inspectors countless times over the years.  I knew exactly what he had heard, but I encouraged him to elaborate.

"If you use a moisture meter to investigate one area but don't use a moisture meter on every wall surface and you end up missing something, you could be held liable for negligence.  A prosecutor would say that because you used a moisture meter in one place, you should have used it everywhere."

Sorry, but I don't buy into that.  He was given weak advice from a home inspector who spends more time worrying about getting sued than they spend trying to identify problems with a house.

If a home inspector wants to provide a great service to their clients, get referrals, stay busy, and be proud of their work, here's some stuff they ought to do:

  • Ask questions
  • Embrace new technology
  • Buy the latest and greatest tools
  • Learn how to use their tools
  • Seek out excellent continuing education
  • Work on writing a better inspection report
  • Make recommendations for further inspections sparingly
  • Take more photos during inspections and put them in reports

If a home inspector advertises that they're going to use a moisture meter on every square inch of the house and then they don't... well, they didn't deliver on their promise and I suppose they might get sued.  On the other hand, if a home inspector uses a moisture meter to scan specific areas that they're concerned about and they happen to miss an area that was wet (and I'm sure I've missed hundreds), have they done anything wrong?  Lets use a little common sense.

Back to the seminar.  I went on a small tirade about all of the above during the seminar lunch, and I convinced my colleague to go get a good moisture meter.  He actually sounded relieved and eager to do so.  That made my day.

Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections

          

Top 10 Home Inspection Myths

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman Updated: October 17, 2013 - 3:40 PM

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.

10. The seller needs to fix this.

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.

9. Windows less than 18" from the ground need tempered glass.

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.

8. Buyers should only attend the end of the inspection.

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.

7. New construction homes don't need inspections.

We inspect a ton of new construction homes, and we find a ton of defects. Click here for some examples: new construction inspections.

6. CO alarms are required by law in Minnesota to sell a home.

Minnesota's requirement for CO alarms has nothing to do with real estate.

5. A small air conditioner might not cool the house properly.

Small AC

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.

AC Sizing

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:

4. A backdrafting water heater should be replaced.

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.

3. Old stucco is a concern.

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.

2. Bedrooms need closets.

There is nothing in the building code that requires a closet. An appraiser might want to see a closet... so what's a closet?

1. Double tapped circuit breakers are a big deal.

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

            

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