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.

How to control window condensation

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman under Home Improvement Updated: March 10, 2015 - 5:24 AM

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

Condensation can turn wood windows black and make a mess of window sills.  It's a very common occurrence here in Minnesota.  The typical Ice on window homeowner goes on-line to read numerous articles about how they must be doing something wrong with their humidity levels to experience so much condensation.  In some cases, they have condensation forming, freezing, and melting all over the wood. They consider adding air exchangers with humidity control, throwing all plants out of the house, and telling the family to cut down on showering, cooking, and breathing.

Studies show a typical family of 4 releases around 2.5 gallons of water per day into the air of their house.  However, most of those families can't imagine cutting down on winter humidity levels when the house already seems bone dry.  Your skin is cracking around the knuckles, lips are chapped, and giving your kid a kiss goodnight can cause a static spark so loud that it nearly gives the dog a heart attack.  Yet there is still condensation on the windows?  Why is this happening?  In this post, we will talk about the causes and effects of window condensation, as well as strategies to prevent it from happening.

So why does condensation happen?

Water stained window sash

OK, so here's the science of it: when the temperature of your glass drops below the dew point of the air inside your house, condensation starts to appear on your window glass. The dew point is the temperature at which the air is fully saturated with water vapor. Dew points in the 50's and lower 60's are pretty comfortable, but imagine how easy it is for the interior glass temperature to get well below that on a cold night in MN.

The bottom line is that there are only two variables to window condensation: indoor humidity and window temperature.  To prevent condensation, these need to be controlled.  Let's talk about how to do that.

Control humidity

Indoor humidity can be lowered by doing all of those things that I listed at the beginning of this post.   Reuben listed a bunch of ways to lower indoor humidity levels in his blog post on siding stains, all of which apply to this situation.  Here they are, word for word:

The most obvious "no-duh" thing would be to turn off your whole-house humidifier if you have one.  A few other ways to lower indoor humidity levels are:

  • Install timers on your bathroom exhaust fans that will run the fans for an hour at a time, and use the fans.
  • Install bathroom exhaust fans in bathrooms that are used for showers or bathing if not present.
  • If the kitchen hood fan exhausts to the exterior, use it while cooking.
  • If you have too many plants (or weeds) in your home, fix that.
  • If you have a crawl space with no vapor barrier, fix that.  Crawl spaces with dirt floors are major contributors to indoor humidity.
  • If your home doesn't have a ventilation strategy, add one.  To understand what that means, please read this excellent article by Allison Bailes at the Journal of Light Construction web site: Choosing a Whole House Ventilation Strategy.
  • Read the article linked to above.  Seriously.  This will make the rest of this blog post make more sense.

To monitor indoor humidity levels, buy an indoor humidity monitor and put it in the upper level of your home.  Unfortunately, keeping indoor humidity levels low enough to completely avoid condensation at windows can lead to a very uncomfortable home.  There are charts that have easy recommendations for avoiding condensation: 20 degrees outside? Lower house humidity to 40%. 0 degrees outside? Lower house humidity level to 30%. -20 degrees outside? Lower house humidity level to 15%! The Mojave Desert has a daytime humidity level that ranges from 10%-30%. Doesn't that sound comfortable? Absolutely, if you're a gecko. Frost on window

Thankfully, we don't have sustained temps in -20's here in Minnesota all that often, so keeping your humidity level in the 30% range is usually enough to prevent condensation, but again, that's a pretty dry house.  I'm guilty of having humidifiers going in my daughters' rooms nearly all winter as they struggle through one winter sickness to the next.  Of course, that results in some condensation, as shown in the picture at right.  However, I have vinyl windows so the condensation I get doesn't hurt the product, and there is less condensation because of the foam spacer and upgraded glass.

Control window temperature

To help keep your windows warmer during the winter, don't close your blinds all the way to the bottom at night; you need warm air to wash over the windows to help keep them at a reasonable temperature.  During the day, keep the blinds open.  Even taking the screens off of crank-out windows helps a little to allow heat to reach the glass.  That's about all you can do to keep the interior surface of your windows warmer, short of replacing them.

Other strategies

3M Window Insulator KitIf you're not willing or able to control the above listed variables enough to prevent window condensation, consider using a temporary window insulator kit from 3M.  These are usually quite effective at reducing condensation, because they basically add another layer to your window on the inside of the home.

If you don't like any of these ideas, consider replacement windows.  If your home was built in the 70's, 80's, or 90's, you may have the unfortunate combination of a tightly sealed house and double-pane pine windows with aluminum spacers between the two panes of glass. If you've read the rest of my window series, you know how I feel about aluminum spacers and real wood windows. The aluminum spacer that runs along the perimeter of the glass conducts the cold from the outside pane to the inside pane, making the glass surface even colder. Since none of the double pane windows from that era had new glass technology like Low E coating and argon gas available, the aluminum spacer gets nearly as cold as the outside temperature which causes more condensation (and sometimes freezing) on the inside piece of glass. The condensation forms on the coldest part of the glass, which tends to be the bottom edge where it meets the wood. Bottom corners are the coldest, with aluminum spacers meeting and helping to create the condensation "smile" that lifts up higher at those corners. 

Frost on window

Windows from the 60's and earlier were made of hardwood or old-growth pine, which holds up much better to moisture than the soft pine used in windows today.

Even if you use real wood again on the interior, today's glass packs with multiple layers of Low E coating and argon gas are more effective and keep the inside glass at a higher temperature, resulting in less condensation and lower energy costs. Regardless, no window can completely eliminate condensation, so I encourage customers to go vinyl, composite, or fiberglass on the interior when getting new windows since those won't be hurt by water. Any spot where glass meets soft pine makes me nervous about maintenance issues, even with today's glass. That is also why non-wood windows have longer warranties than their real wood counterparts.

Some people may choose wood if they didn't have a previous condensation problem with the old windows.  However, I've seen times when homeowners get condensation for the first time with new windows because the old windows were so drafty.  The new windows are better at trapping air, which means less air changes per hour, which means a more humid house and a new problem.  New houses are built so tight that they often have condensation on the windows, and the construction process can add to that when the newer studs and other wood components temporarily release moisture into the air.

Conclusion

The good news for those of you with the deteriorating wood windows is that you can minimize the damage by controlling humidity and following these tips. The bad news is many people don't want to follow those tips, myself included. Some people want to close their blinds, use humidifiers for the kids, and keep their house at a humidity level that doesn't cause their skin to crack. If you are one of those people, your wood windows are probably turning black. Staying on top of it year to year with sanding and re-varnishing the area where the glass meets the wood can certainly help. People have also bleached them at times to get some of the mold out. In the end, it depends on your own threshold for humidity levels, and whether or not you can continue on with the wood windows or get them replaced with something more moisture-friendly.

Author: Ryan CareyMy Three Quotes

DIY confessions: Urinal installation and my tale of woe

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman under Home Improvement Updated: March 3, 2015 - 5:07 AM

One of the things that us home inspectors love about our job is that we get to point out what's wrong, recommend repairs, and then we're done.   We don't have to worry about exactly how the repairs are going to happen, and we're not the ones that have to do the work.

When we take on our own home improvement projects, we don't have that luxury.  We've gotta do it right, and figure out how to get there.  I rarely tell personal stories, but here goes one.  This is a blog, after all.

UrinalI moved into my home in Maple Grove about four years ago.  It had an unfinished basement when I moved in, and the basement is still unfinished today.  I'll get around to finishing it someday, maybe, but for now this space serves as my office and exercise area, and I spend a lot of time down here.  There's a rough-in for a bathroom, which consists of drains and vents for a toilet, sink, and shower or bathtub.  Pretty standard stuff for any newer home with an unfinished basement.

When I finish off my basement I'll add a bathroom, but I thought it would be great to have a urinal and a sink down here in the meantime.  I figured that since the drains and vents had already been roughed in, all I'd have to do would be to run some water lines over, connect the fixtures, and I'd be all set.  It shouldn’t take more than a few hours, and would be a temporary installation, but I'd make good use of the fixtures while they were installed.  I've thought that ever since I moved into this house, but I finally took action a few weeks ago.

I had been passively looking for a used urinal on Craigslist for many years, but I was going to be home alone for a few days, and that was my chance to get a project done.  You know, a nice surprise for my wife when she got back ;-).  To get things moving along, I went online and special ordered a urinal from Home Depot for $118, and a flush valve for $92.  For the sink, I went on Craigslist and found someone selling a sink base, sink top, and a faucet for $50.

I got the project done, but it took me a little while longer than I had planned.  I’m sure any good plumber could have knocked it out in a few hours, but I’m not a good plumber.  Heck, I’m not even a bad plumber.  I know wrong when I see it, and I know how stuff is supposed to look when it’s right, but installing a urinal is brand new territory for me.

Water flow

First off, I spent way too much time installing the water supply lines.  Urinals with direct flush valves require at least ¾” water lines (see section 4715.1730 of the Minnesota State Plumbing Code), because there needs to be sufficient water flow to get a good flush out of the flush valve.  It's not like a flush tank, where a large amount of water is available to quickly dump.

Whenever I see PEX tubing installed, I’m a little annoyed at the number of fittings that are used.  Every one of those fittings restricts water flow, and part of the really cool thing about PEX tubing is that it’s flexible.  You shouldn’t have to use a bunch of fittings to get the PEX tubing to go where you want it to go.

So of course, I killed my back standing on a ladder bending and pulling ¾” PEX tubing through my floor joists and through the top plate of my wall.  Check out the photo below; you’ll notice there are no fittings used.

No fittings

I was tempted to use 90-degree fittings to get the PEX where I wanted it, but I persevered and got it all pulled through with no fittings, just to make absolutely certain that I wouldn’t have to worry about water flow.  It turned out to all be a waste of time and effort.

Once I gave the urinal the first test flush, water came out so fast that it shot right over the end of the urinal and all over the floor.  I adjusted the flow on the valve down about hallway, and the same thing happened again.  I adjusted it down again... same thing.  I ended up adjusting the flow all the way down to nothing, then gave the adjustment screw a quarter turn open.  That was about perfect.

Lesson learned: plumbers know what they’re doing.  Fittings in PEX aren’t a big deal.  The water flow probably would have been fine with a hundred fittings installed.

Boring holes

Box splicesWhile making the bore holes in my floor joists for the water lines, I made sure to stay the heck away from electrical wires.  Or at least I tried.  I made note of some wires that were in the path of where my water lines needed to go, pushed them aside, stapled them up out of the way of where I would be drilling, and drilled through my joist into the back of another wire I forgot about that was on the other side.  Duh.  Ultra-rookie mistake.

The good news was that my circuit breaker did its job and tripped the circuit, and I only put a tiny nick in the tip of my drill bit from the electrical arc.

So that’s what the two junction boxes at the ceiling are all about.  Lesson learned: look twice, drill once.

Watch it, sparky

I wanted the water pipe coming out of the wall for the urinal to be sturdy, and the right way to do this would be to use a ¾" drop ear elbow, but all that I could find at Home Depot, Menards, and Lowes were the ½" fittings, so I stubbed out some ¾” copper tubing and fastened the tubing to one of the wall studs with a few home-made brackets.  Not perfect, but it worked pretty well and the pipe doesn't budge.  One of my screws ended up protruding through the wall stud a little bit, so I got my angle grinder out and used it to cut the screw off flush.

Sparks on urinal

I didn't worry about the shower of sparks shooting out from my grinder onto the new urinal until I noticed a million little black flecks that showed up on the top of my brand-new urinal that wouldn't come off.

After coming up with no solutions on Google, I used Scotchbrite pads, SoftScrub, and about a half hour of very hard scrubbing to get the black flecks to nearly disappear, but they’re still not completely gone, as you can see in the photo below.  It almost looks as though the surface of the porcelain is pitted, but it still feels perfectly smooth.

Blemishes on new urinal

Lesson learned: keep sparks away from porcelain, or any other nice surface you don’t want ruined.

Summary

I’m sure I’ll end up re-doing everything except the water supply lines when I finish off my basement, but this sure is a convenient addition to my basement for now.  I've shared photos of residential urinal installations on the Structure Tech Facebook page, and one of the more common comments I received is that urinals are either gross or messy, but I couldn't disagree more.  Anyone who thinks they're gross is probably comparing them to public urinals.  Sure, the areas around those can be gross, but when the urinal is in one's own home, one has laser-focused aim and there is absolutely zero mess.  Liquids go where they're supposed to go, and nowhere else.  There's nothing not to like.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

          

Getting the most of your Truth-In-Sale of Housing evaluation

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman under Real Estate, Eden Prairie Updated: February 24, 2015 - 6:13 AM

In my last blog post, I extolled the virtues of having a house inspected by a private home inspector before it's even listed for sale. To piggyback on that topic, I'd like to give some advice to home sellers on how to get the most out of their required Truth-In-Sale of Housing (TISH) evaluation.

Not familiar with TISHs?  A TISH evaluation, also known as a Point of Sale inspection, is basically a condensed version of a home inspection where a licensed TISH evaluator conducts an evaluation of a home in accordance with a set of standards that have been set forth by the city. Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and eleven other larger inner-ring cities here in the Twin Cities require TISH evaluations on homes before they can even be listed for sale. Click here for a list of cities. Saint Paul's program is a disclosure-only evaluation, whereas Minneapolis and most other cities have a long list of items that would need repair if deemed unsafe.

When I say this is a condensed home inspection, I mean it's an extremely basic, abbreviated, and cursory inspection. For TISH evaluations, we don't walk roofs or even lean our ladders against the eaves, we don't open electric panels, we don't perform any type testing on furnaces, we don't use moisture meters, we don't enter crawl spaces... and the list goes on. As it says right on every TISH evaluation, "This is not a Buyer's Inspection!"

Research your city

Before your TISH evaluation, do a little research about what the TISH requirements are for the city you live in. For example, I've put together lists of the most common TISH repair items for MinneapolisHopkinsBloomingtonRobbinsdale, and South Saint Paul. If you live in one of those cities, download my list for your city, go through it, then inspect your own house yourself and fix any obvious problems.  

I did a news story with CBS news a few weeks ago, covering some of the most common repair items found during a TISH evaluation, which can be viewed here: http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2015/02/03/a-home-inspectors-tips-for-owners-looking-to-sell/

Be there

When scheduling your TISH evaluation, try to plan a time when you can attend. When the TISH evaluation happens, ask questions as the TISH evaluator goes through the house. Many TISH evaluators will treat the TISH evaluation like a mini home inspection, oftentimes pointing out stuff that any good home inspector might raise red flags about. When this happens, home sellers view the TISH evaluation as a positive experience, and they appreciate the insight that an experienced home inspector can share. 

Who to hire

That's easy; hire the best TISH evaluator you can find. Some real estate agents refer business to TISH evaluators who are known to miss a lot of problems with houses, because they like their sellers to have clean reports. They say these evaluators are easier on the houses. It's unfortunate, because a TISH evaluation is supposed to be very black and white. Us TISH evaluators are given a specific set of things that we're supposed to evaluate, and we're told exactly how to report on these things. When we don't put stuff in our reports, I don't call it being "easier on the house"; I call it negligence, laziness, incompetence, or something like that... but it has nothing to do with being nice.

A TISH evaluator who misses a bunch of stuff that should go into the report is doing a disservice to the seller, the buyer, and the entire TISH program. Sure, a clean TISH evaluation report might make a home more attractive to a potential home buyer, but here's what happens when that buyer hires their own private home inspector and they find out that there are a bunch of defects with the house that probably should have been identified by the TISH evaluator:

  • The buyer now needs to decide if this is still the right house.
  • The buyer may decide to ask for a price reduction, ask the seller to make repairs, or both.
  • The real estate agents scramble to keep the deal together.
  • The seller is stuck scrambling to get bids and fix stuff at the last minute.  Stuff that could have been taken care of a long time ago.
  • Everyone involved in the transaction loses confidence in TISH evaluations, lowering public opinion of the entire program.

There's not a big difference in price between TISH evaluators. The last time I checked, there was about a $30 - $40 price difference between the most expensive and the cheapest folks in town. 

Conclusion

You'll get out of a TISH what you put into it. If a home seller treats a TISH evaluation as a necessary evil and a hurdle to selling their home, they'll probably spend way too much time shopping around for the cheapest inspector in town, and the service they get will be reflective of that. If a home seller follows my advice and gets the most out of their TISH evaluation, it'll be a worthwhile service that the seller is satisfied with. 

Related News: Eden Prairie is considering adopting a Point of Sale inspections program: http://kstp.com/article/stories/s3707383.shtml

Related Posts:

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

          

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

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman under Real Estate, Home Improvement, Real Estate 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 under Real Estate, Home Improvement, Real Estate 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.

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Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

          

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