The Home Inspector

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

Pre-listing inspections: How one inspection could have saved more than $13,000

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman Updated: February 10, 2015 - 5:23 AM

Planning to sell your home? Hire your own home inspector to inspect it before you put it on the market.  Having your home inspected before it’s listed for sale will greatly reduce the potential for surprises that may crop up in the future.

I've given many anecdotes of how home inspections done for sellers can help the whole transaction go smoothly, but I recently had a real estate agent share a story with me that tops 'em all. This agent was an investor in this deal, and he tells the story in his own words:

This was a series of unfortunate events, but essentially here's how it went down:

- We supposedly "completed" the build project and began marketing it in July for top dollar. Major renovation, spent 350k on the work, all hired out to experienced, licensed professionals.

- Property didn't sell, didn't sell, didn't sell. Price dropped, dropped, and dropped. By now we were entering fall / winter and chasing the market down, left with fewer and pickier buyers.

- We finally get an offer, which puts us at break even. Buyers are attorneys, and cautious, negotiations are drawn out and tedious. We finally get consensus on price and closing date, and buyers move to the inspection.

- After the inspection, they immediately cancelled, not providing us with any reason other than the property felt "abandoned" and unfinished by the builder - there was lots of unfinished punch list items and other issues (no sump / drain tile system installed). We, the sellers, freak out on the builder and tell him to get over there and finish those items. In his defense, there was also supposed to be an opportunity for him to walk thru with the buyers and make a punch list of items (wall dings, screw pops, etc.), so he tells us he wanted to do it all at once, which is why things were unfinished. Whatever.

- Feeling like an incredible real estate agent, I get another buyer immediately.  We negotiate a BETTER deal than the last, and begin patting ourselves on the back and talking about how stupid and high maintenance the previous buyers were. Glad to be done with them, now on to the new inspection, and thankfully the builder has already been there to correct everything.

- These buyers also cancel unilaterally, immediately after their home inspection. They do not try to renegotiate price or corrections.

- Defeated, I beg the buyer's agent for forgiveness. He likes the house, so do the buyers, and as a courtesy he sends me the list of corrections they were going to send before deciding to cancel. Some of the items are erroneous, many are valid. We had a drain tile system installed when the foundation was done, but not the sump pump. We have a radon pipe going out of the home but no fan. The inspector called us out for not having closers on a built-in bench and that it could smash little fingers.  The closers were visible, in packaging, sitting in plain view in the bench... but just hadn't been installed yet. LOTS of little things like that.

Bottom line - if we would have had the home inspected first, we could have made the corrections or held our contractors feet to the fire to do things. We wouldn't have lost these deals - and let me quantify the loss for you: $13,300 price reduction and we “corrected” everything - whether it was wrong or not - much out of pocket.

A $500 inspection and some bruises are much better than that. And just KNOWING what the issues are - we trust our builder and trades people that we pay top dollar to, but they did us wrong.

They say surprise is the enemy of thought. We were surprised, put into a panic, and had to act out of desperation and humility (we feel bad our property was $#!%) instead of just having our $#!% together.

I've done well over 600 deals, been in the business 10 years, and consider myself good. But look at where we ended up. Pre-inspections are worth it every time, literally.

Hard to top that one, huh?

For anyone concerned about the cost of a home inspection, or for anyone who thinks a full home inspection report isn’t necessary or even wanted, no problem. Home inspectors can work around that.  Instead of a full home inspection, we do a ‘walk-n-talk’ consultation. We go through the home the same way we would for a normal home inspection, with the owner following right along, but the owner takes their own notes. We skip over the obvious stuff that anyone living in a home already knows about, and the whole walk-n-talk probably takes about half as long as a normal home inspection.  We offer this same type of service to property investors who want stripped down home inspections, which we call investor inspections.

There’s no report for a walk-n-talk, but the price for this consultation is about half the price of a home inspection.  Next week, I'll follow up with a post on how to get the most out of your Truth-In-Sale of Housing evaluation.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

          

Minnesota home builder won't allow attic inspections. My two cents on the matter.

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman Updated: February 3, 2015 - 5:37 AM

A document titled "Inspection Contingency Addendums Protocol" was recently emailed to me.  This document, put together by a local home builder, gives "a list of common things found on inspection reports that [the builder] does not agree with."  The document goes on to say "Please note that none of these items will be addressed by [the builder]."

I'm writing this post as somewhat of a rebuttal to that document because while many of the points made by the builder are valid, many of them aren't.  I'm not disclosing the name of the builder because I'm not in the business of singling out any local companies for negative stuff.  It's a fairly long document, so I'm only including part of it.

"1. Auto Closing Mechanism - the installation of an auto closing mechanisms  on the door from the garage to the house is a previous requirement of the building code that is no longer required."

True.

"2. Attic Scuttle Access - There is to be no opening of the attic access for inspections.   -and-   The only items that could be viewed in this area would be a leaking roof, which would be seen in the ceiling below by water marks; or to verify insulation, which was inspected by the city inspectors during the insulation inspection.   -and-   The more tech savvy inspectors have infrared reading equipment that can see heat loss to verify insulation without going into the attic scuttle.

No, no, no, and no.  That's all just plain wrong.  While it's true that the more tech savvy inspectors have infrared cameras, there is no way to use an infrared camera to verify that the proper amount of insulation was installed.  The only way to know is to look at the insulation.

As for verifying the insulation, city inspectors don't inspect the insulation.  Nobody inspects it.  Seriously.  I wrote a blog post on this topic a couple of years ago: New Construction Attic Inspections.  The photo below could be from about 50% of the new construction inspections that I do.  The insulation in this area was about half as deep as it was supposed to be.

Attic - Insufficient Insulation

As for insulation and water leaks being the only things that could be viewed in the attic, take a look through a few of these photos that have come from new construction attics.  New construction.  Brand spanking new, inspected by the city and everything.  To start, here's a missing cover plate at a junction box in an attic.

Electrical - missing cover plate at junction box

The outlet shown below is over ten feet away from the radon vent.  The outlet is there so a radon fan can be installed at the vent if radon levels are high… but what good does it do if it’s ten feet away?

Electrical - Radon Outlet

Here’s a home where the builder agreed to install a radon fan, but installed the fan on its side.  Radon fans should be installed vertically to help prevent water from accumulating, which can cause the motor to burn out prematurely.

Radon - Fan on side

Here’s a GFCI outlet in the attic.  GFCI outlets are supposed to be tested every month… not that anyone really does this, but just for the sake of argument, let’s say someone wanted to.  Are they really supposed to go into their attic to do this?

Electrical - GFCI Outlet in Attic

When we perform pre-drywall inspections, we frequently find gaps in the attic “lid” that will be attic air leaks once everything is finished.  The gap between the two top plates (2x4s) shown below shows an example of a future attic air leak.

Attic - Air Leak

Attic air leaks cause frost in the attic.  That's what you're seeing in the photo below.  At the bottom of the frost covered area, the sheathing is already starting to turn black.  The funny thing about this one is that the builder wouldn't give me permission to access the attic through the scuttle hole, but I was able to climb from the garage attic up to the main house second floor attic to inspect it.

Frost in new construction attic

Here’s an infrared image of a disconnected bath fan duct below the insulation in an attic on a cool day.  There were no visible signs of this defect, but a quick scan with an infrared camera made it quite obvious.  The infrared camera also helped us to know exactly where to dig through the insulation to get a photo documenting the condition.  Could we have diagnosed this condition by using an infrared camera from inside the home?  Heck no.

 HVAC - Disconnected Duct in Attic

This next photo shows a disconnected duct from a bathroom exhaust fan.  This was a little easier to find.

Attics - loose bath fan duct

Trusses can get damaged and broken on new homes.  It happens.

Attic - damaged truss Attic - damaged truss 3 Attic - damaged truss 2 Attics - broken truss chord 2 Attics - Broken truss chord

Here's a light that was left on in the attic.  The builder made a bit of a stink about me going into the attic, but then reluctantly allowed it.

Attic - light on

In the photo below, the roof vents weren’t properly lined up with the holes in the roof sheathing, which reduces the total amount of attic ventilation.

Attics - bad hole for roof vent

In the next photo, they completely forgot to install a roof vent.  I've see this happen on a number of new construction homes.

Attics - missing roof vent

I could go on, but I think I've made my point.  It's important for attics to be inspected, even on new homes.  Wow, we're only on item number two of the builder's list.  I guess you can probably see which item on this list got me the most whipped up, huh?

3. Sump Pump Discharge Extensions - [Builder] does not install nor recommend the installation of hose extensions to sump pump discharge outlets; with the rare exception that the Client's home has a high water table with a sump pump that runs often.  Discharge extensions run the risk of freezing up and clogging.

It's true that discharge extensions run the risk of freezing up and clogging, but it's not a big deal for a home builder to create a solution for this before the yard is landscaped and sod laid.  Click here for more info: Potential for freezing at sump discharge hose.

On the other hand, if a home inspector conducts an inspection and the sump basket is bone dry, I wouldn't expect the inspector to recommend installing a sump pump discharge extension.

4. Hardwood Floor Finishes - Many model homes are staged with area rugs and as a result some slight fading of the hardwood floors where the areas rugs were not covering the hardwood floors may occur.    -and-    There is no repair for this except time.

Fair enough, but I don't think most home inspectors would comment on slight color fading.  We're not there to report on cosmetics.

5. Washing Machine Shutoff - The shutoffs for under the counter washing machines are typically not easily accessible, because they are behind the washer and under the counter top.  This arrangement is no different than the water shutoff to the refrigerator's ice maker line, which is located behind the refrigerator.

I would argue that they're quite different.  Washing machine manufacturers warn folks to shut off the water supply when the washing machine isn't in use.  Here's what Maytag says:

Warning from Maytag washing machine user manual

Here's what GE says:

GE Washer Warning

I'm sure the rest of the manufacturers have similar warnings.  In other words, the shutoff should be accessible.  Refrigerator manufacturers have no such warnings.

In the real world, however, nobody shuts off the water to their washing machine when it's not in use.  A better position for the builder to take on this point might be "do you seriously care?"

6. Washing Machine Floor Drains - [Builder] no longer installs floor drains underneath washing machines.  Based on feedback from insurance adjuster washing machines do not leak from the bottom.  If problems occur, it is from the supply lines to the washing machine.  [Builder] recommends the replacement of supply lines every 5 years.  If a supply line does fail it will spray throughout the room and no floor drain will prevent the resulting damage.

I don't have any statistics, but that all sounds about right.

7. Gutters - [Builder] does not typically install nor recommend the installation of gutters.  Gutters cause ice dams, which are not covered under warranty.

Gutters don't cause ice dams.  Check out Steve Kuhl's recent blog post on this topic, which is right on: Gutters don't cause ice dams.  If the builder doesn't want to recommend or install gutters, that's fine, but leave it at that.  It's not the builders responsibility to install gutters, and that's all they ought to say on the matter.

Home inspectors will recommend gutters just about every time, as we should.  Gutters go a long way toward preventing water damage.  Here are a few blog posts I've written on that topic:

8. Warranty - Everything built by [Builder] is covered under warranty for 1 year from the date of closing.  This warranty covers defects in workmanship and materials.  Items such as air conditioning, lawn sprinkler systems, roofs, grading, etc. cannot be evaluated during the winter months.  It is common for home inspectors to say things like, "air conditioning cannot be evaluated because it is winter."

Well, yes.  Every home inspector who follows the ASHI Standards of Practice has to put this type of information in their report.  Our SOP says we need to provide a written report that states, in addition to many other things, "those systems and components designated for inspection in this Standard that were present at the time of the home inspection but were not inspected and reason(s) they were not inspected."

There are a number of things we can't test or inspect when it's cold and everything is buried in snow.  That's just life in Minnesota.  On the plus side, we don't have to worry about termites here.  It's too cold.

9. Exterior AC Unit Covering - It has recently become more common for this issue to be included in inspection reports.  Exterior AC units are meant to have water and rain on and running into them.  These units should have a board placed on top of them in the winter, to prevent icicles from dropping into the units, no further covering is needed.

That's correct.  Personally, I don't even bother putting a board on top.  I blogged about that many years ago: Should I Cover My Air Conditioner?

10. Paint/Stain Touch Ups

I won't bore anyone with this item.  This is all cosmetic stuff that nobody needs a home inspector for.

11. Water Heater - Some inspectors make issue with the capacity of the water heater in relation to the capacity of a soaking tub or the number of bathrooms in a home.  This is relative and will be different based on the number of people living in the house and the expectation of the tub user as to how hot the water is desired.  It is commonly accepted within the marketplace to have a 50 gallon hot water heater in lieu of a 40 gallon hot water heater when there are multiple bathrooms and/or a soaking tub of some type.  Some of our homes have higher capacity hot water heaters due to available rebates or discounts, but 50 gallon is customary and typical and no accommodation for larger capacities than what the house is being sold with will be made.

Bath tub filling, no more hot waterI'm one of those inspectors who makes an issue of the capacity of the water heater in relation to the capacity of a soaking tub.  I don't tell my clients the builder needs to replace the water heater, but I try to let them know if the water heater is only large enough to fill the tub halfway up with hot water.  If you have a 100 gallon tub and a 50 gallon water heater, either the water heater is too small or the bath tub is too big.  Take your pick.  It's even worse when the bath tub is a whirlpool, and it won't fill up with enough hot water to bury the jets.  I blogged about this topic here:  Is your water heater large enough for your bathtub?

Yes, sure, it meets code to put in a water heater that's way too stinking small for the bathtub, but that doesn't make it right.

Also, the part about how different bath tub users will have different expectations as to how hot the water should be... doesn't hold water.  There's a very small range of acceptable water temperatures for a bathtub.  At 100 degrees, a bathtub will actually seem a little cool, but might be ok for little kids.  At 105 degrees, getting into the tub is a little painful.

Ok, that concludes my rebuttal.  My advice to this home builder and any other home builder who puts together documents like this would be to make the document short and sweet, clearly state what you're willing to do and not do, and stick to the facts.  My advice to anyone buying a new construction home is to hire a private home inspector, and make sure the builder will allow the home inspector to inspect the attic.

Related Posts:

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

          

Radon Testing Clowns

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman Updated: January 13, 2015 - 5:42 AM

The Minnesota Radon Awareness Act went into effect on January 1st of 2014. This required home sellers to provide a lot of information about radon and radon testing to potential home buyers, making it basically impossible to buy a home in Minnesota without being told that it’s important to test for radon.  And it is.

As intended by this act, the amount of radon tests conducted in Minnesota as part of real estate transactions increased dramatically. I don’t have any official numbers, but I can say that the number of tests that my company conducted in 2014 was about twice as many as we conducted in 2013. I've heard other home inspectors express similar sentiments, and I've had several home inspectors in Minnesota ask me about what it takes to start doing radon testing. There’s a larger demand for radon testing today.

The Bad News

As one might imagine, the number of unqualified folks conducting radon tests has also increased. Just like home inspections, there are no licensing requirements and no training requirements for radon testing in Minnesota. The EPA has developed standards for radon testing, but there seems to be a lot of clowns out there doing radon tests however they want to. As far as I’m concerned, these tests are worthless or misleading. Allow me to share a few examples.

Radon Monitor in a Crawl Space

access to crawl space Radalink in crawl space

I've shared this photo before, but here it is again. This radon test was placed in an uninhabitable crawl space.  Who cares what the radon level in the crawl space is?  The radon test is supposed to be placed in the lowest level in the home that could be lived in; not the crawl space.

Radon Monitor on a Bucket

Radon Monitor on a bucket

This isn't an egregious error, but it’s a very basic mistake that any qualified radon tester should not commit. Radon monitors need to be placed at least 20” off the floor. Most 5-gallon buckets are only 13” high. If you happen to see a radon test sitting on top of a 5-gallon bucket, EPA protocol for radon testing isn't being followed.

Side note: we use 5-gallon buckets to carry our radon monitors around in, and we use little wood boxes placed on top of the upside-down buckets to get the required 20" height above the floor.  Our radon monitors fit inside the boxes, which fit inside the buckets.  We also keep a 25' extension cord in the bottom of the bucket.  This works quite nicely.  If you're a home inspector reading this who's looking for a nice solution, here it is.
 Structure Tech Radon Test Contents of radon bucket

Radon Siren “Testing”

Radon Siren

There’s a radon siren available online for $129, which collects data while it’s plugged in and will give a display of the average concentration, much like a profession radon monitor.  There’s apparently at least one home inspector here in the Twin Cities who’s using this device to conduct radon tests. Apparently, he or she plugs this device in at the time of the inspection, comes back out to the home some time later, takes a picture of the display on the unit, then sends out this photo as the official radon test results. I’m not making this up. That’s where the photo above came from.

While this device might be well and good for homeowners to use in their own home, just the fact that it doesn't produce any type of report should be enough to tell you that no professional should be using this device and charging a fee for it.  If that's not enough, take a look at the list of approved devices for radon testing professionals: http://www.nrpp.info/radon_testing_devices.shtml .  You won't find the radon siren on that list.

Radon Monitor on a Sump Basket

Radon Clown

This is the most recent one I've heard about. One of our clients contacted us with concerns about how a radon test was being conducted in her home. The folks buying her house hired a home inspector to inspect the building and conduct a radon test at the same time. The home inspector placed his or her radon monitor right on top of the sump basket lid, and then put a box of the top of that! As you might imagine, the radon test came up very high, at over 18 pCi/L.

First, the radon monitor needs to be at least 20” off the floor, as I mentioned earlier. Second, the radon test shouldn't be placed anywhere near the sump basket; as I've mentioned in past blog posts, sump baskets are actually required to be sealed shut in new construction because this can be a major contributor to radon in the home. Placing a monitor right on top of the sump basket seems like a great way to guarantee high radon levels. Finally, placing a box over the top of this mess is either the result of ignorance or dishonesty.

My Advice

If you’re going to hire someone to do a radon test for you, hire a professional who’s certified by the National Radon Proficiency Program (NRPP) or the National Radon Safety Board (NRSB). The Minnesota Department of Health also maintains a list of qualified radon measurements professionals, which can be found here: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/indoorair/radon/measurement.html. To be added to that list, the individual first needs to be certified by one of the two agencies that I listed above.

If your home is going to be tested for radon as part of a real estate transaction, make sure that the person doing the test will be following EPA protocol for radon testing. Even better yet, insist that the person doing the test is certified by one of the two agencies listed above. This is consistent with what the Minnesota Department of Health already advises for radon testing; it’s solid advice.

If you haven't tested for radon in your own home, buy a DIY test kit.  Short term test kits are $9.95 and long term test kits are $21.95 here: http://www.radon.com/sub/mn/ .

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

          

Photos from New Construction Home Inspections, Part IV

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman Updated: November 18, 2014 - 6:28 AM

It's been a year since my last post on new construction home inspections, so it's time for another.  My message is pretty simple: new homes should be inspected by private home inspectors.  Home inspections aren't just for old houses or used houses.

One of the newest inspectors on our team is Patrick Brennan, who worked as a project manager for Charles Cudd building new homes for many years.  Because of his background in home building, Patrick brings some excellent perspective to the table when it comes to inspecting new construction homes.  For the majority of the new construction inspections that Patrick has done for us, the builders have actually been quite appreciative for the inspections that we provide.  It gives the builders a chance to address defects before they turn into big problems, and there are no occupants that have to be disturbed while corrections are taking place.

Here are some of the most common arguments that we hear against new construction inspections:

  • The house has already been inspected plenty of times by the city.  We're private home inspectors.  We only have one or two inspections to do each day, so we often spend more time during our single inspection than the city inspectors all spent combined at the home.  This isn't a knock against city inspectors; it's simply a fact that private home inspectors have the luxury of more time.
  • The builder already has a one-year warranty, so anything that comes up later will be addressed by the builder.  We do a lot of inspections for clients right before their one-year warranty is up because they've had a lot of problems with the builder, and sometimes can't even get the builder to come out.  Builders also seem to be much more responsive to problems that come up before the closing than after the closing.
  • If you're paying a private home inspector to find problems, they're going to come up with problems.  Most of 'em won't be real.
  • A private home inspection is a waste of money.
  • The builder won't fix anything the home inspector comes up with because the house already meets code.

Instead of arguing the rest of these points individually, I'll let the photos speak for themselves.  These are all issues we've found during new construction inspections over the past year.  Some of these photos are from pre-drywall inspections, and some are from one-year warranty inspections.  The point of sharing these photos isn't to make home builders look bad; the point is that everyone is human, everyone can make mistakes, and the home inspector can help to make sure that many of these mistakes are addressed.  We identify problems with houses long before they become expensive to fix.

Click any of the photos for a larger version.

Exterior

A large portion of the exterior house wrap was improperly installed at this home.  We identified these defects during a pre-drywall inspection.  These are the types of defects that can lead to major water damage, sometimes after the builders 10-year warranty has expired.  It's not a big deal to fix this stuff today.

Exterior - flashing improper Exterior - house wrap improper close-up

Do you see what went wrong with the installation of the LP Smartside siding shown below?

Exterior - LP Smartside not painted #2

The manufacturer requires a 3/8" gap between the bottom of the siding and the flashing below it, so that the cut edge of the siding can be properly painted.  The diagram below comes right out of their installation manual.

LP Smartside Clearance Above Window

Even when a proper 3/8" gap is left, the siding doesn't always get painted.  The photo below shows a close-up view of a proper gap but no paint at the cut edge of the siding.  If the siding isn't painted at the cut edges, it can experience premature failure.

Exterior - LP Smartside not painted

While we're on the topic of LP Smartside, overdriven nails are another common defect with this siding on new installations.

Exterior - overdriven nails #2

Here's how the manufacturer says to fix this:

LP Smartside Nailing Diagram

Most new-construction homes don't have decks, but when they do, we often find problems with them.  The photo below shows a couple of missing nails at a joist hanger.  Pretty minor stuff.

Exterior - Missing Joist Hanger Nails

This next photo shows a missing metal bracket (joist hanger) at one of the joists.  That's a little bigger.

Exterior - Missing Joist Hanger

And here we have a missing metal hanger at the tripled 2x10s, which was supporting the stairway.  This really needs to be fixed.

Exterior - Missing Hanger

Here's a stairway with improper attachment to the deck.  Each stringer was attached to the header with two 1-1/2" nails going into the corner bracket.  No joke.

Exterior - Bad Stairway Attachment

The J-channel installed on vinyl siding is supposed to be continuous.  This one wasn't.

Exterior - cut in j-channel

On that same window, there was a poorly located seam in the siding, preventing the siding from being attached on this side of the window.

Exterior - Vinyl Siding Defect

The damper for this bathroom exhaust fan didn't open because the plastic grill obstructed it.  The grill obstructed it because the feature board wasn't cut out enough.  This renders the bath fan useless.

Exterior - Obstructed damper terminal

Roofs

Here's a roofing defect that we were suspicious of before we even went into the attic.  The roofer missed one of the roof vents.  As you can tell from the house wrap, this was a defect we caught during a pre-drywall inspection.

Roof - Missing Vent

Here's what it looked like from inside the attic.  Don't step there.

Roof - Missing Vent (attic view)

Why was the shingle lifted?  Oh, that's why.  Duh.

Roof - lifted shingle

Lifted shingles can lead to shingles catching the wind and blowing off.  That's probably what happened in the photos below.

Roof - Missing Shingles Roof - Missing Shingles #2

Kickout flashings have been required by the Minnesota State Building Code since 2007, so they're nothing new... but we still see 'em bungled.  This first photo shows the kickout bent at a 90 degree angle,  which will create a lot of turbulence and splashing.

Roof - kickout flashing improper

This next photo wasn't from a new construction inspection, but it was a relatively new home, and the installation surely happened at the time the house was built.  Just think about where water is going to go.

not kickout flashing

Here's a home with adhered concrete masonry veneer siding, and missing kickout flashing.  Every little detail on this type of siding is critical, so it really boggles my mind how something like kickout flashing can be omitted.

Roof - kickout flashing missing

Oh, and the stone siding is supposed to be kept at least 2" above the surface of the shingles, not touching them.

ACMV - Required Clearance Above Roof Covering

Here's a peak with two pieces of makeshift flashing that will almost surely leak.

Roof - bad flashing at peak of roof

Plumbing

Even new stuff can leak.  This first photo shows a leaking bath tub overflow drain.

Plumbing - leaking bath tub overflow

Showers can leak too.  We test tiled showers by using a shower dam.  When tiled showers leak, it's a big deal.  This first photo shows our shower dam sitting in the shower.

Plumbing - Leaking Shower

The next photo shows water that leaked through the shower base, down into the garage.

Plumbing - Leaking Shower Evidence

Plumbing vent caps are installed at the roof so the system can be pressure tested to make sure the drains don't leak.  After that, the caps are supposed to be removed.  We find a lot of caps that still haven't been removed. When the caps aren't easily seen from the ground, they're easily forgotten about.  The photo below comes from a new-construction home in Plymouth that I inspected during the winter.  I couldn't safely walk the roof because it was partially frost covered, but it looked like there was a test cap still in place at the plumbing vent.  I put this in my inspection report, the buyer brought it up to the builder, and the builder said it would be taken care of.

Plumbing - test cap in place original

The client was suspicious that it had never been done, so I stopped by the house during the summer when I felt safe to walk on the roof to check it out.  Nope.  Never was done.

Plumbing - test cap still present cropped

Dishwasher drains are supposed to be looped to the underside of the countertop.  This is done wrong on a lot of new homes.  I mentioned this condition during my recent blog post on cross connections, but it's worth bringing up again.

Plumbing - dishwasher drain loop missing High loop at dishwasher drain

This next photo doesn't exactly show a defect, just some scary hot water.  A safe temperature is 120°.  Turn the temperature down at the water heater.

Plumbing - hot water

Frost free faucets are great, but they can still freeze when they're not installed properly.  The faucets need to be pitched slightly down, so water can drain out of the stem when the faucet is shut off.  The faucet below was pitched up instead.  I've seen this same defect a few times this year on new construction homes.

Plumbing - backpitched frost-free faucet

Here's another comically small access hole for the bath tub drain.

Plumbing - comically small access hole

Unless one is proficient at building ships inside of bottles, that hole is pretty useless.

Electrical

Most circuit breakers are only designed for one wire to be connected to the breaker, including the breakers shown below.  One of these breakers had two wires connected.  This is an unusual defect for new construction, but hey, that's why we open panels.  For more info on this topic, click here: Double Tapped Circuit Breakers.

Electrical - Double Tapped Circuit Breaker

All unused openings in electric panels are supposed to be covered up to help contain any fires, and to prevent pests from getting into the panel.  This doesn't always happen.

Electrical - Missing knockout in bottom of panelboard Electrical - Missing knockout plug at back of panelboard

That ground clamp needs to be slid up about an inch so it makes full contact with the copper water supply tubing.

Electrical - ground clamp not making contact

This weatherproof cover won't keep water out when it's installed upside down.

Electrical - Upside Down Weatherproof Cover

We had to check this one a couple of times to make sure we weren't losing our minds.  It was an outlet with reversed polarity.  This is a very unusual defect for a new house, but again, that's why we test the outlets.

Electrical - Reversed Polarity

Here's an especially nasty defect; this outlet was located behind the kitchen drawers under a range top in the kitchen.  The outlet is missing a cover plate, the outlet isn't attached to the box, and the box isn't flush with the surface of the cabinet like it should be.

Electrical - hanging outlet

Here's a missing cover plate at a junction box in an attic.

Electrical - missing cover plate at junction box

Check out the location of this outlet.  It's over ten feet away from the radon vent.  The outlet is there so a fan can be installed if radon levels are high... but what good does it do if it's ten feet away?

Electrical - Radon Outlet

While we're on the topic of radon fans, here's a home where the builder agreed to install a radon fan, but installed the fan on its side.  Radon fans should be installed vertically to help prevent water from accumulating, which can cause the motor to burn out prematurely.

Radon - Fan on side

Here's a GFCI outlet in the attic.  GFCI outlets are supposed to be tested every month... not that anyone really does this, but just for the sake of argument, let's say someone wanted to.  Are they really supposed to go into their attic to do this?

Electrical - GFCI Outlet in Attic

By the way, it's very important for attics to be inspected.  Even on new construction homes.

Attics

Same old, same old.  We find a ton of new construction homes with way less insulation than they're supposed to have.

Attic - Insufficient Insulation

How does this happen?  There is no such thing as an "attic insulation inspection" for new construction homes.  No joke.  See my blog post dedicated to attic inspections on new construction houses: Who Inspected Your Attic?

When we perform pre-drywall inspections, we frequently find gaps in the attic "lid" that will be attic air leaks once everything is finished.  The gap between the two top plates (2x4s) shown below shows an example of a future attic air leak.  It's still very easy to fix these air leaks today, but it'll be a P.I.T.A. to find them once there's 14-3/4 inches  8+ inches of insulation throughout the attic.

Attic - Air Leak

Here's an infrared image of a disconnected bath fan duct below the insulation in an attic on a cool day.  There were no visible signs of this defect, but a quick scan with an infrared camera made it quite obvious.  The infrared camera also helped us to know exactly where to dig through the insulation to get a photo documenting the condition.

HVAC - Disconnected Duct in Attic

HVAC

Lots of air leaks in ductwork.

HVAC - air leaks HVAC - air leak #1

When HRVs aren't balanced, they may either put the house under negative or positive pressure, neither of which is usually good.  Check out my recent blog post about siding stains; putting a house under positive pressure would contribute to stains like that.  If the balancing damper (circled below) isn't screwed into place on the HRV, it hasn't been balanced.

HVAC - HRV not balanced

Someone installed a damper on this HRV intake, which prevents the HRV from pulling any fresh air into the home.  Easy fix, bad mistake.

HVAC - Damper on HRV Intake

Here's a furnace intake and exhaust flipped around.  This will cause the corrosive exhaust gases from the furnace to get sucked back into the furnace.  Again, easy fix, bad mistake.

HVAC - Furnace Intake and Exhaust Backwards

Would you accept this crooked hood fan installation?  This is purely cosmetic, but still...

HVAC - crooked hood

Toekick heat registers in kitchens and bathrooms are almost always done poorly in new construction homes.  So poorly, in fact, that I put together a countdown of the top five worst toekick registers I've seen at new construction houses this year.

#5

HVAC - Toekick 5

#4

HVAC - Toekick 4

#3

HVAC - Toekick 3

#2 - look carefully.  I drew a thin black rectangle on this image to highlight the effective opening.

HVAC - Toekick 2

#1

HVAC - Toekick 1

It's called a "toekick", not a "footstomp".

Interior Stuff

Spray foam insulation is great stuff and I'm a big fan of it, but it won't work right if it's not installed right.  Check out this article on Spray Foam Insulation Problems at the Journal of Light Construction web site.  I'm not exactly sure what went wrong with the installation of the spray foam at these rim spaces shown below, but I know wrong when I see it.  There were obvious voids in the insulation at these houses that need to be addressed.

Interior - spray foam insulation problems Interior - spray foam problem

What happens during the summer when you build a home with an exhaust-only ventilation system and the poly on the wood framed portion of the basement wall isn't perfectly sealed?  Humid outdoor air will leak into the basement wall cavity and then condense on the relatively cold poly.   There was so much condensation on the poly at this home that water was pooling at the base of the wall.  The builder had already attempted to fix a supposed leak at the window twice, but this was simply condensation.

Interior - incomplete vapor barrier Interior - incomplete vapor barrier #2

Side note: This is the opposite of what I blogged about last week.  Siding stains show up during cold weather at the upper levels of the home, and 'supply-only' ventilation will exacerbate this condition.  Good stuff, huh?

The fix is to make the poly 100% airtight, or to insulate the wood-framed portion of the wall with closed-cell spray foam insulation.  For the record, I'm no hypocrite; I had that done at my own house three years ago: Spray foam insulation at Reuben's house. Here's a joist cut all the way through.

Interior - cut joist

That's obviously the wrong joist hanger.

Interior - wrong joist hanger

These metal brackets aren't right either.

Interior - wrong hangers

Here's a wall that completely missed the anchor bolts, or more likely, the anchor bolts weren't properly located.

Interior - Missed Anchor Bolts

Here's a sump basket cover that isn't sealed.  An unsealed lid will allow humid air into the basement, as well as radon gases.

Interior - sump cover not airtight

Not only was this sump lid not sealed, but someone used that hole in the sump basket to dispose of their coffee cup.  That coffee cup could float into the wrong spot and prevent the float from operating the sump pump... which could lead to a flooded basement.  Get the trash out.

Interior - Sump Basket with Coffee Cup

Whew.  That's enough for this year.  These blog posts on new construction inspections keep getting longer and longer.  Again, this isn't a knock against builders.  The point here is that a new house doesn't mean a perfect house.  Even new houses should be inspected by private home inspectors.  If you already own a new home and never had it inspected, consider having your home inspected before your one-year warranty is up.  We do a lot of those inspections.

Related Posts:

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

          

Moisture Testing Homes with Vinyl Siding

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman Updated: November 4, 2014 - 6:31 AM

While the majority of our moisture testing is done on stucco homes, moisture testing isn't just for homes with stucco siding.  Moisture intrusion can happen with any type of siding, and it's always an expensive repair when left unchecked.  Just recently, some friends of mine expressed concern about some dirt that started showing up below the corner of their living room window, so they asked me to take a look.  The photo below shows the "dirt" they were talking about; click on the image to see a larger version.

Dirt below window

Can you guess what caused it?

The title of this blog post probably gives it away, but before I show photos of the rotted wall, let me first explain all of the stuff that went wrong.  To start, here's a photo of the front of the house.  It's a little tough to see through the tree, but there are no gutters at the upper section of the roof, and the valley at the upper roof dumps water onto the lower roof.  From there, the lower roof is supposed to direct water into the gutter.

Front of house original

If there had been gutters installed at the upper portion of the roof, all of that water would have been dealt with, but instead the lower roof gets pounded.

Kickout FlashingAt the lower portion of the roof, there should have been a piece of kick-out flashing installed where the roof ends above the window, but there was none present.  This allowed water that ran down the roof/wall intersection to leak in behind the vinyl siding.

Finally, there was no water-resistive barrier installed behind the vinyl siding.  As I mentioned in my blog post about how to inspect your own siding, vinyl siding isn't designed to be watertight.  It's only supposed to keep most of the water out.  It works because there is supposed to be a weather-resistive barrier installed behind the siding, such as Tyvek®, which is a brand name that is somewhat synonymous with house wrap.  Unfortunately, water-resistive barriers weren't specifically required by the MN State Building Code until 2003, so it was pretty much hit and miss up until then.  In this particular case, it was "miss".  Without a water-resistive barrier, all of that water that leaked in behind the siding ended up saturating the wall sheathing and leaking into the wall cavity, where it caused major damage.

I did some moisture testing around the window to confirm my suspicions, then we took the siding off to get a good look at the damage.

Water damage behind vinyl siding2 Water damage behind vinyl siding3 Water damage behind vinyl siding4 Water damage behind vinyl siding5

Nasty, huh?  Thankfully it was just vinyl siding, which does a pretty good job of allowing the wall to dry out. If this had been stucco siding, the damage likely would have been much more extensive and the repairs much more expensive.

Remember, the only visible evidence of this water damage was the little black flecks that had made their way through the window and landed on the carpet.  I suspect those were little pieces of rotted wall sheathing blowing into the home during periods of heavy wind, but I'm not 100% sure.

This is the type of damage that home buyers try to avoid when buying any home, and this is why some home buyers choose to have moisture testing performed on homes with vinyl siding.  Vinyl does a great job of hiding this kind of damage.  While moisture testing on stucco homes is considered an invasive inspection and requires special permission from the homeowner, moisture testing of vinyl sided homes is done by using a non-invasive surface scanner to quickly scan large areas of the siding for moisture intrusion, and then followed up with pin-probe testing behind the siding to verify the results of the surface scanner.  The siding is then popped back into place, leaving the siding in it's original condition.  This is a non-invasive inspection that requires no special permission from the homeowner.

Included below is a short video clip showing Antonio and I performing moisture testing on a 2007 built townhome that had moisture intrusion below the deck. 

If you're buying a home with vinyl siding or you already own a home with vinyl siding and there is concern about water intrusion, have moisture testing performed.  Vinyl sided homes with no moisture barrier should always raise concerns, but as seen in the video clip above, moisture intrusion can still occur when a moisture barrier is present.  For information about how moisture testing is done on other types of siding, click here: http://www.structuretech1.com/moisture-testing/other-types-of-siding/

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

          

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