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 Home Improvement

Fall Maintenance Checklist for Minnesota Homeowners

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman Updated: September 29, 2014 - 5:14 AM

Even though it still feels like summer outside, Fall is officially here.  It's time to get started on your fall maintenance list.  It's much easier to get this stuff done while it's still pleasant outside, so don't put these projects off until we have snow in the forecast.

This list was originally compiled by Structure Tech Home Inspector Duane Erickson, and has been added onto a few times over the past several years.

Water

  • Disconnect any garden hoses.
  • If the exterior faucets are not frost free, drain the water out.  See How to Prevent Your Outside Faucets from Freezing.
  • If you have a lawn sprinkler system (aka "irrigation system") it needs to be drained and blown out with compressed air.  Hire a pro to do this.
  • Remove any pond pumps, and store the pump in your basement in a 5-gallon bucket filled with water.  This will help to prevent the seals from drying out.

Air

  • Clean the combustion air or makeup air intake vents.
  • If an air exchange system is present, such as a heat recovery ventilator (HRV), clean it.  Regular maintenance items for an HRV include cleaning the exterior intake, the filters, and the core.  See HRV maintenance.
  • Clean the clothes dryer duct.  The damper at the exterior should move freely and close properly.  See dryer duct maintenance.
  • Check the bathroom and kitchen exhaust dampers for wasp nests.  The nests will prevent the dampers from openings.  See Bath Fan Terminal Inspections.

Roof

  • Clean the soffit vents.  These can get clogged up with lint, dust, insulation, and paint.  They’re located under the roof overhangs.
  • Check the roof vents for bird nests.
  • Clean the gutters after all the leaves have fallen.
  • If the downspouts or sump pumps drain in to an underground system, re-direct them to drain to the ground surface when feasible.  See Sump Pump Discharge.

Air Conditioner

  • Outdoor covers are NOT necessary.  If a cover is used, it should be the type that only covers the top, not a full enclosure.
  • If the furnace or water heater vent blows exhaust gas on to the air conditioner, a plastic cover can be used to shield the air conditioner from the corrosive exhaust gases.
  • Don’t cover heat pumps (these are not common in Minnesota).

General Exterior

  • Seal any gaps around the house; check for loose or dried out caulking around pipes, ducts, faucets, air conditioner refrigerant lines, etc.
  • Replace any damaged or worn weatherstripping around windows and doors.

Smoke / CO Alarms

  • Smoke alarms should be located inside every bedroom, and one in a common area on every level.
  • CO alarms should be located within ten feet of every sleeping room (and not in furnace rooms, kitchens, or garages).
  • Replace the batteries in your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms and test them using the built-in test buttons.
  • Make sure your home is equipped with photoelectric smoke alarms.
  • Check the age of your smoke and CO alarms; smoke alarms are good for up to ten years, CO alarms are good for between five and ten years.  If they’re any older, replace them.

Furnace 

  • Have a professional furnace tune-up performed annually.  See Are Annual Furnace Inspections Really Necessary?
  • Replace the batteries in your thermostat.  If your thermostat fails while you're on vacation, you might come home to a nasty surprise.
  • Clean or replace the furnace filter - this should usually be done every one to three months, depending on the type of filter.  The arrow on the filter should point toward the furnace.

Fireplaces

  • Have the flues professionally cleaned on any wood burning fireplaces if they get used regularly.
  • Avoid burning any woods that are not hard and dry.
  • Clean the dust out of the bottoms of any gas fireplace inserts.
  • If you have a gas log installed in a wood burning fireplace with an adjustable damper, make sure there is a damper stop installed to prevent the damper from getting closed all the way.  See My Beef With Old Gas Log Fireplaces.

Last but not least, Duane says "Cuddle, stay warm, and safe sledding."

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

          

Why Home Inspectors Should Know Building Codes

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman Updated: September 22, 2014 - 5:18 AM

In last week's blog post, which I did not post here on the Star Tribune, I mentioned that there is an upcoming seminar for Minnesota home inspectors, being taught by building code guru Douglas Hansen of Code Check.  Minnesota currently uses the 2006 International Building Code (IRC), but we'll soon be adopting the 2012 IRC, and with that will come a lot of changes.  The upcoming seminar will cover the most important parts of these changes.

Side note: Why are we flying in a national code guru from California to teach this 8-hour seminar when the class has already been put together and is being taught by some extremely knowledgeable and capable building officials right here in Minnesota?
@#$!%* beaurocracy, plain and simple.  The folks that I've reached out to at the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry have told me they're not allowed to do any teaching outside of the state curriculum because there's a conflict of interest.  I have no idea what the conflict could possibly be, and I'm not at all satisfied with that answer, but in the interest of getting this class put together and notifications sent out to MN home inspectors in a timely manner, I didn't fight the issue.  I'm not done with it though.

I sent out an email notification to all of the Minnesota ASHI members letting them know about this seminar, and I've been making phone calls as well to make sure that everyone got the word.

I had one conversation with another Minnesota home inspector, who I'll call Inspector X, that prompted me to write this post.  When I told Inspector X about the upcoming seminar that would be covering the code changes to the IRC, I said I considered this  seminar to be 'must-have' training for any home inspector in Minnesota.

Inspector X said he disagreed that this is must-have training, because he doesn't conduct code enforcement inspections in any capacity.  I didn't have time to engage at the moment, so I just told him he was right, home inspections are not the same as code enforcement inspections, but it's still important for us to be familiar with current building codes.  I couldn't get him to agree with that either, so I basically just wished him well... but if I had had the time, I would have explained it this way:

ASHI Home Inspection Standards of Practice require home inspectors to provide clients with a written report that states those systems and components inspected that, in the professional judgement of the inspector, are not functioning properly, significantly deficient, unsafe, or are near the end of their service lives.

Unsafe is defined as "A condition in a readily accessible, installed system or component that is judged by the inspector to be a significant risk of serious bodily injury during normal, day-to-day use; the risk may be due to damage, deterioration, improper installation, or a change in accepted residential construction practices."

Current building codes are what define accepted residential building practicesIf a home inspector is not familiar with current building codes, they're not familiar with accepted residential building practices.

Code Knowledge vs. Code Inspection

Even though home inspectors should be familiar with current building codes, this doesn't mean that home inspectors should report code violations.  Our standards of practice clearly state that home inspectors are NOT required to determine "compliance of systems and components with past and present requirements and guidelines (codes, regulations, laws, ordinances, specifications, installation and maintenance instructions, use and care guides, etc.).

If you want to know the difference between a code compliance inspection and a home inspection, look at the reasoning behind the recommendations for change / repair.  ASHI Standards of Practice require home inspectors to report the reasoning or explanation as to the nature of deficiencies reported that are not self-evident.  If the home inspector bases their reasoning on code, they're heading into 'code compliance inspection' territory.

As an example, take a look at the sump basket cover at this new-construction home; the cover isn't airtight, which will allow for moist air to enter the home.  This air may also bring radon gas into the home.

unsealed sump basket cover

Here's a bad way for a home inspector to report on this: "The sump basket cover was not airtight, which is required by Minnesota Administrative Rule 1322.2103, Section AF103.4.4.  Have this corrected."

The problem with this type of reporting is that it tells the client that this is a problem because the installation does not meet code... and that's about all.  It doesn't give the reasoning or explanation as to the nature of this deficiency.

The proper way for a home inspector to report this type of defect would be "The sump basket cover was not airtight, which will allow for air to leak into the building.  This air will have relatively high levels of moisture, and will contribute to radon gases coming into the home.  Have the sump basket cover made airtight."

See the difference?

If the home buyer addresses this issue with the builder and asks them to correct this, the builder might say it already passed inspection and meets code.  At that point, a home inspector who is familiar with building codes would be happy to give their client the above code reference, backing up their recommendation.  That's a good thing, and it doesn't mean the home inspector is doing a code compliance inspection.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

          

Roof Replacement Part 1: Should Contractors Use GAF, Owens Corning, or IKO?

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman Updated: August 25, 2014 - 6:51 AM

This is a guest blog post by Ryan Carey, of My 3 Quotes.

3-Tab ShinglesLet's face it, it's no fun when you realize you need to fork out thousands of dollars for a new roof. If you're like many homeowners, you avoid it as long as you can despite all the tell-tale signs: You have more granules in your gutters than on your roof, you have old organic shingles that are curling up like diplomas on the south side of your house, or worse yet- there are several areas of your ceiling that are turning brown from leaks.

Despite your many attempts at doing hail dances around your house in the hopes that your insurance company may have to foot the bill, you are stuck with having to pay out of pocket since Mother Nature has not cooperated. Once that bitter pill is swallowed, its time to get serious and do some research on the best shingles and contractors out there.

This product comparison is going to be quite different from previous ones. In Window Replacement Part 3: Marvin, Andersen, Pella, I gave many pros and cons of the different window lines since they are all made differently. In Siding Replacement Wars, LP vs. James Hardie, I had a clear favorite between the two different products. However, when it comes to these three roofing product lines I can say the following statement that some of the manufacturers won't like to hear: It matters very little which one of these three you choose; picking the contractor is WAY more important.  If installed correctly, all of these products (including some brands I don't mention below) will have nearly identical performance.

3-tab to Architectural

Architectural ShinglesAsphalt roofing didn't have much variation in the past. Shingles were made in the 3-tab style, which is a flat shingle with 3 rectangles per piece.  Today, the vast majority of shingles are of the architectural variety. They have a cedar-shake look, with overlay pieces to give the shingle dimension and shadow lines. They are thicker and cover up roof line imperfections better. They also have longer warranties.

With the variation built into the product, architectural shingles are also easier to install.  With the symmetrical rectangles of 3-tab shingles, much more attention needs to be paid in placement on the roof before nailing.  3-tab has basically gone extinct for new roofing installs, since there is little to no difference in pricing anymore.  With over 90% of new roof installs going architectural, 3-tab has become a special order product and many contractors will do architectural for the same price.  Under those conditions, there is no reason to do 3-tab unless you are doing a partial roof or trying to match product on nearby structures.

Unfortunately, the warranties of architectural shingles have recently changed to make things more confusing to the customer. Each one of these brands used to have 30, 40, and 50 year shingles. 30 was the majority of what was used, but the customer could pay more for even thicker 40 or 50 year varieties with more material weight and more distinctive shadow lines.  Now, asphalt shingles will never last 50 years but at least you could see the "good, better, best" progression with the old system.

One of the companies got the bright idea to call their 30 yr a "lifetime shingle" to differentiate from the other manufacturers. That differentiation didn't last because the others quickly followed suit. So what changes were made to the old 30 yr to now be called "lifetime?" Absolutely nothing. The shingles may be shot in 20 years, but by that time the pro-rated value is pretty small. Shingle manufacturers also rely on the facts that homeowners stay in a house for 7 years on average, and "lifetime" is how long the homeowner lives there.  Severe weather events could cause the roof to get replaced over such a time period. Finally, if the homeowners actually get to 20-30 years, there's a good chance that they won't still have the original paperwork.  All these factors keep the lifetime warranty risk pretty low for the manufacturers.

Today, customers need to sift through all the product offerings to find the difference in thickness and weight.  30, 40, and 50 year was previously the guide to tell the difference.  With every architectural shingle now having a lifetime warranty, homeowners need to do a little more reading (or get some help from a rep) to find which ones are the premium thickness products.

GAF 

GAF Shingles

Speaking of warranties, GAF has most effectively worked their special warranties into the sales pitch. "Certified," "Master Elite," and "Golden Pledge" are a few of their extended warranty terms depending on what level the contractor is at in their system.  GAF is the most popular brand in town due to their well-known Timberline shingles. Timberline became the generic term for architectural shingles years back, and people ask for them by name quite often. "Do you have Timberlines?" sometimes means the same as "Do you have architectural shingles?"

They have other lines as well, all the way up to the super-thick "Grand Sequoia." GAF shingles have a great name, a great look, many color selections, and many extended warranty options.  GAF has very effectively embedded themselves with local contractors through their certification for different warranty options.

Owens Corning 

Owens Corning Shingles

One of the most well-known brand names around, Owens Corning continues to assert its presence in the fields of shingles, pink insulation, and large pink cats. Talk about an awesome branding strategy; I have the "Pink Panther" theme going through my head every time I talk about them.

While I'm not a fan of their entry level "Oakridge" architectural shingle (the overlays seem too thin, they don't look much thicker than a 3-tab shingle to me), I AM a big fan of their "Duration" series. Not only does this shingle look like an architectural is supposed to look, but it has a fabric stretched over the nailing strip which they call "Sure-Nail Technology." The strip helps prevent nail blow-through from installers and shows them the exact place to nail the shingle down, which helps to prevent improper nail placement.  O.C. has a variety of colors and thicknesses as well.

If you are a do-it-yourselfer (or if you're using an installer that you don't have 100% confidence in), Duration is the perfect shingle to use, as it is the only shingle that has that Sure-Nail strip for a guide.  4 nails per shingle will give you a 110mph wind warranty; 6 nails will get you up to 130mph.  Other brands have similar warranties, but the strip helps to assure the best placement for effectiveness of those levels.

IKO

IKO has a slightly different look than the others, as the overlays have a straight cut instead of a tapered cut. While they don't nearly have the brand recognition of the first two, they are a huge company worldwide. They boast more weight in their base-level lifetime product than the others and they have premium thickness products like "Armourshake." IKO Shingles

Customers of mine have been going to their "Cambridge IR" (impact resistance) shingle quite often, since it is the least expensive shingle I can find that carries a Class 4 hail rating. Most insurance companies will give you a break on your monthly premiums if you can show them Class 4 impact resistance paperwork.

Contractors

OK, all pretty darn good products here. However, if they are installed incorrectly, they have an increased potential for failure, which won't be covered under manufacturer warranty. Contractors can use nails that are too short or use nail guns that aren't set at the right pressure, resulting in nails not in far enough that eventually work their head through the overlaying shingle, or nails blowing through the shingle, leading to shingles coming loose. Valleys and flashing can be installed improperly, resulting in leaks. Kick-out flashing can be missed resulting in problems for other areas of your house. See Reuben's post on roofing installation issues.

Ventilation needs to be adequate as well to keep too much heat from building below the roof line and curling the shingles. Can you imagine a ridge vent getting installed and the installers forgetting to cut a channel in the roof decking so the vent could work? It's happened.

This is why it's so important to have a contractor with a good labor (workmanship) warranty, good reputation, and local longevity so you know you're covered if the failure is a result of faulty installation. Many contractors only have 1 year labor warranty and that's it. Now if the roof fails after one year and its because of improper installation, you're up asphalt creek without a paddle on getting any warranty help. Don't even get me started on out-of-state storm chasing contractors.

Labor Warranties

Many contractors have Lifetime Workmanship Warranties. Now, just like a lifetime shingle warranty, they know that lifetime will be the amount of time the homeowner lives there (average of 7 years), but at least you know you're covered while you're there. Also, if a contractor is sticking their neck out for any water damage that could occur from a leaky roof, you know darn well they will do everything they can to prevent the problems from starting. Water damage can get up to tens of thousands really quick from a bad roof leak.

These three brands are my favorite asphalt shingles to work with, and I haven't had problems with any of the three when they are installed correctly. Pick a solid contractor to do the job, and you'll be happy with any of them. Pick the wrong contractor, and they can all fail. We'll cover metal roofing options in a future post.

Ryan CareyRyan Carey has 15 years of experience in exterior remodeling for Twin Cities Homeowners and Property Management Companies. He is the owner of “My 3 Quotes,” a company that provides the free service of collecting 3 competitive home improvement bids for customers. For more information, visit www.getmy3quotes.com for free home improvement estimates on window replacement, siding, roofing, and more.  

How to Inspect Your Own House, Part 4: The Rest of the Exterior

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman Updated: August 18, 2014 - 5:23 AM

In last weeks blog post, I gave advice about homeowner siding inspections, based on the most popular types of siding in the Twin Cities.  For this week's post, I'm going to go over what a homeowner can do to inspect the rest of the exterior of their home.  This will cover such items as foundation walls, vegetation, windows and doors, and vent terminals.

Vent Terminals

Before inspecting the rest of the exterior of your home, start by turning on any fans or devices that blow air out of the house.  This includes the clothes dryer, any bathroom exhaust fans, the kitchen fan if it exhausts to the exterior, and the HRV if applicable.  Now go outside and locate the terminal for each one of these devices, and make sure there's air coming out of every device.

It's common for these devices to terminate at the roof; if that's the case, you'll probably need to get on the roof to make sure everything is working properly.  This is important.  When fans exhaust into the attic, they can cause major problems in cold climates like Minnesota. Be careful when looking underneath vents; wasps love to make nests at vent terminals, both at the roof and on the ground.  If you can't account for every device that's supposed to be removing air from your house, or there's no air coming out of a terminal but there should be air coming out, it's something that should be looked into further. As I've mentioned many times in previous blog posts, the clothes dryer terminal needs to be cleaned regularly.  Ideally, clothes dryers should not be vented through the roof.

Dirty clothes dryer exhaust For more information about inspecting your bath fan exhaust, click here: http://www.structuretech1.com/2014/07/bath-fan-terminal-inspections/

If there's a screen present at the clothes dryer exhaust, remove it.  Screens get clogged and should not be installed at dryer terminals. Check any intake grills to make sure they're clean; the most common one is the combustion air intake.  Take a second to read through my blog post on combustion air duct problems and solutions to help know what you're supposed to be looking for.  If your home has an HRV, the combustion air intake and the HRV intake will probably be located right next to each other, and they look identical.

HRV Intake and Combustion Air Intake

The way to tell them apart is that the HRV intake usually gets dirty much faster than the combustion air intake... not that it really matters though.  You just need to make sure they're both clean, and clean them on a regular basis. If your home has an HRV but you can't find the intake, you have a problem.  Maybe it was covered up when the house was resided, or maybe it's located underneath the deck where nobody can ever get at it to clean it.  Those are both problems.

Windows and Doors

If you have old wood windows, check to make sure the paint and glazing putty are in good condition.  A good layer of paint will help to protect the windows, and the glazing putty is what holds the glass in place.Window on gable end wall

To check for rot, you don't need to go around poking at every single window and door.  As I mentioned in my blog post about exterior water management and last weeks post about siding inspections,  just figure out which areas will rot first.  Windows that are covered by big overhangs will probably never rot, while windows that see a lot of water will rot relatively quickly.  If you've already had a chance to walk around your house during a heavy rainstorm, this should be very easy to do.  Just think about which windows get the most water exposure.  For windows located on large gable end walls, like the one shown to the right, check the lowest windows.  They'll see the most water. If you have wood windows, take an awl or a screwdriver and give the bottom corners of the windows a poke to check for rotted wood.  

If you have wood windows with aluminum cladding, give your window sashes a push and a squeeze.  I made a video last year showing how to do this.  See below.

Window Inspection Video

The same advice applies to wood doors and aluminum-clad sliding glass doors.

If you have an older home with windows and doors that have been wrapped with aluminum, make sure all of the joints and seams in the aluminum are properly caulked to prevent water intrusion, and re-caulk any areas with dried out or split caulking.

Gap in caulk

Caulk

Every homeowner should own a caulking gun and caulk.  Go around the outside of your house and look for dried out / split caulking that needs to be serviced.  This is a topic that I could blog about for weeks, so I'm not going to go into too much detail here.  Just be aware that not everything on the exterior should be caulked; some areas are supposed to be left open to allow water to drain out.  I have a couple of examples of places that shouldn't be caulked in some older blog posts: Don't Caulk Here.  This might be one of those topics where there are just too many variables to cover every potential situation.

Vegetation

This one is easy.  Keep vegetation away from your house.  For trees and tree branches, keep stuff trimmed at least six feet away.  No trees too close to the house.  One foot of clearance for bushes and smaller stuff.  No ivy, period.

Tree in Window Well

Oh, and if you have trees growing right out of the shingles on your roof... don't forget to water them.

trees growing in roof

Foundation Walls

Small cracks in foundation walls are normal, and usually not worth getting excited about.  What's small?  For a concrete block wall, cracks that are less than 1/4" wide.  For poured concrete, cracks that are less than 1/8". That's certainly not a hard and fast rule, but it's a good general guideline to go by.

The trick is to figure out whether cracks in the walls are caused by active movement or not.  To help determine this, cracks can be patched with cement or mortar.  If the cracks open up again, there's probably active movement, which is structural concern that should be further inspected by a foundation specialist.

The other concern with cracks in foundation walls is that water can leak right through the cracks; the photo below shows a small crack in the foundation wall of a new-construction home.  This crack resulted in water leaking right through the wall and into the basement.

Crack in foundation wall

Soffits and Fascia

Inspect the soffits and fascia for rotted wood and any holes that could admit pests.  Also, check your soffit vents to make sure they're clean; a clogged soffit vent will hamper air flow to the attic space.  As mentioned in my previous blog post about roof vents, proper ventilation in the attic may help to extend the life of the roof, reduce the potential for ice dams, and reduce the potential for frost in the attic.  The photos below show a couple of different types of soffit vent grills that need cleaning. Dirty Soffit Vent 2 Dirty Soffit Vent

Driveways / Walkways

Raised edges in sidewalks and driveways create trip hazards.  While this is one of those 'no-duh' defects, it's also something to take seriously and have fixed.  Falls are the leading cause of unintentional home injury deaths.

Decks

Decks are deserving of their very own post.  Check out my blog post on how to inspect your own deck. That concludes this four-part series on inspecting the exterior of your own home.  Included below are links to the previous posts in this series:

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

          

How to Inspect Your Own House, Part 3: Siding

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman Updated: August 11, 2014 - 4:36 PM

This is part three in a multi-part series of How to Inspect Your Own House.  In part one, I covered how to inspect your own roof and chimney.  In part two, I covered the inspection of the exterior water management, which is one of the most critical parts of preventing major water damage to a building.  Today the focus will be on inspecting your own siding, broken down by the most popular types of siding in the Twin Cities.  Oh, and a note to any word sticklers: a more technical / accurate term for siding would be "exterior wall covering", but that term is a little geeky and pretentious.  I'm happy to call the stuff that covers the exterior walls "siding", whether it be vinyl, stucco, wood, etc.

Wood Siding and Trim

The two most common problems you'll find with wood siding and trim are peeling paint and rotted wood.

Peeling paint is an obvious defect that can be spotted from a block away.  Paint is meant to protect wood surfaces from decay and rot, but it's not common to find rotted wood siding because of lack of paint.  The main issues with peeling paint at siding are that it looks horrible, it's an environmental hazard if the paint contains lead, and it may violate a maintenance code for the city.  For example, section 244.500 (d) of the Minneapolis Housing Maintenance Code says "No exterior wall of any dwelling or building accessory thereto shall have paint which is blistered, cracked, flaked, scaled, or chalked away."  I don't have any inside tips to share on peeling paint; if you need more info on that topic, check out what Dr. Lstiburek has to say about it.

Rotted wood siding isn't much of an issue at old houses in Minneapolis and Saint Paul that have been sided with old-growth wood; it's more of a 'new wood siding' type of issue.  To inspect your own home for rotted wood siding, start by figuring out which areas will be prone to rotting first.  If you've already taken the advice that I gave in last weeks blog post about exterior water management, you'll probably have a good idea of which areas you need to pay the most attention to.  Areas of the house that are covered by big soffits / overhangs will probably be fine.

home with overhangs

The areas that turn into problems are the areas where water gets concentrated.

home with minimal overhangs

Other areas to pay special attention to are the siding below roof ends with missing kickout flashing, below bay windows,  and at wood chimney chases.  Also, any areas that have water splashing against them will be prone to rotting.  To check for rotting at wood siding, start by looking for obvious things like holes in the siding.  Be sure to look at everything.  As shown in the photo below, this might require walking the roof.

Rotted wood siding

The next step is to go around and poke at the areas that will be most susceptible to water intrusion and rotting.  You can sometimes just push on the siding with your fingers to find rotted / soft areas.

Finger poking rotted wood

If you want to look and feel a little bit more official, you could go poking around with a rot detection device (aka "awl").

Rotted siding below missing kickout flashing

Look for areas with missing or dried out caulking that need attention.  If rotted siding is found in several areas, there's a good chance that there's rotted wall sheathing behind the siding.  There are two ways to check for rotted wall sheathing; remove the siding and check it out, or have moisture testing performed on the home by a company that specializes in this.  When we conduct moisture testing on wood siding, we start by scanning the siding with a non-invasive moisture meter.  Areas with elevated moisture levels are tested the same way that stucco siding is tested; two small 3/16" holes are drilled, and a moisture probe is pushed into the wall to determine the moisture content and condition of the wall sheathing.

Vinyl Siding

First, a quick primer on vinyl siding.  Love Tolerate it or hate it, vinyl siding is very good at what it does.  Vinyl siding is an exterior cladding that reduces the amount of rain that reaches the stuff underneath it, which is referred to properly as a water-resistive barrier, but more commonly as Tyvek®, which is a brand name.  Vinyl siding is not watertight and isn't designed to be watertight.  Vinyl siding should always be installed over a water-resistive barrier, but this wasn't required by code in Minnesota until 2003.  If you have a home built before 2003, you may or may not have a water-resistive barrier behind the siding.  After 2003, it should definitely be there.

The most common visible problem with vinyl siding is physical damage from hail, basketballs, baseballs, weed trimmers, or rocks thrown from lawnmowers or snowblowers.  Small chips and nicks aren't big performance  issues; remember, vinyl siding is not watertight.  The main issue with physical damage to vinyl siding is that it makes the house look bruised up.  The photo below shows an extreme example of a house with some nasty hail damage, as well as some makeshift repairs by someone with a short ladder and a long roll of tape.  This siding is clearly in need of replacement.

Damaged vinyl siding

Vinyl siding can also melt / deform when someone has a grill too close to the siding, or from reflected sunlight on low-e windows.  The photo below shows an example of deformed siding caused by reflected sunlight.  This is a cosmetic issue; the vinyl will still do its job even though it looks terrible.

Melted vinyl siding

Unfortunately, homes with vinyl siding can experience water intrusion just like homes with other types of siding.  There is typically no visible evidence of moisture intrusion with vinyl siding... at least not until it's too late.  The nice thing about vinyl siding is that it's fairly easy to pull apart and put back together without any tools.  The video below shows me pulling apart vinyl siding on a bank-owned property that had experienced major water intrusion.  As you can see, it's pretty easy to open vinyl siding up.

Vinyl Siding Inspection

If there are areas where moisture intrusion is suspected, pull the siding apart and check it out.  There are plenty of videos on YouTube showing how to open up vinyl siding and put it back together.

Stucco Siding

Old stucco houses typically don't have big problems, while newer stucco homes (late 80's +) often do.  There's not much that can be seen to identify major problems with stucco houses.  Stains below windows and other similar penetrations in the walls are cause for concern, but they're not necessarily a problem.

Stains below windows

As I've said for many years, long before we ever began doing moisture testing on stucco houses ourselves, the only way to know for sure is to have invasive moisture testing performed.

Stone Siding

Stone siding is typically installed only on the front of houses, but it's subject to the same problems as stucco, and problems with moisture intrusion are just as difficult to identify.  It requires invasive moisture testing.  For info on stone siding installation defects, click here: http://www.structuretech1.com/2012/09/stone-siding-installation-defects/

Hardboard Siding

Hardboard siding, often called masonite, is a pressed wood siding product that lasts about 20 - 30 years.  When hardboard siding rots, it's usually quite easy to spot, as it really starts to look nasty.

Rotted hardboard siding

Hardboard siding typically fails at the lowest courses first, usually from water splashing up against siding that has been installed too close to the ground.   When it's just a few pieces of hardboard siding that are rotted, the appropriate repair is to replace the rotted pieces of siding.  Once there is rotted siding in many areas throughout the exterior, it's time to reside.  I have more examples of rotted hardboard siding at the end of this post: http://www.structuretech1.com/2013/04/home-inspection-checklist-exterior/

LP Smartside / James Hardie

I'm lumping these two types of siding together because they're nearly indistinguishable to the untrained eye, nearly 100% of 'new construction' home buyers that I work with don't know which type of siding their new home has, and the installations instructions for these two types of siding are very similar.

For the record, they really are quite different products though; check out this post for more info: James Hardie vs. LP Smartside

The most common problems I find with these types of siding are improper nailing and improper clearances to grade, hard surfaces, and roof coverings.

Overdriven Nail on LP Smartside

My best advice for inspecting these types of siding would be to read the installation instructions from the manufacturer, then walk around your home and make sure the installation details match up with the diagrams the manufacturer provided.  I have installation instructions for James Hardie siding going back to 1998 on one of my older blog posts about that product:  http://www.structuretech1.com/2009/08/problems-with-james-hardie-siding-installations/ .

While this is obviously not a full list of siding products used in the Twin Cities, these are definitely the most common.  Same goes for the list of problems.  Next week I'll have a blog post on inspecting the rest of the exterior of your home.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

          

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