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Why homebuyers should consider sewer scans and chimney inspections

Starting this year, I’m going to begin recommending two new inspection services in addition to standard home inspections: sewer scans and level 2 chimney inspections. I’ve always been quick to recommend these services in the past, but based on the input from all of the inspectors in my company, these are services we should start recommending to our clients, regardless of our inspection findings.

For the record, neither of these are services that my company offers. Yet.

Sewer Scans

A sewer scan is done by a company that specializes in this service. A technician accesses the main sewer cleanout hole in the basement and feeds a fiber-optic camera through the sewer line that runs from the house to the city sewer at the street. This sewer line belongs to the property owner, and any problems with this sewer line are the financial responsibility of the owner. If there are problems with the sewer line that routine sewer cleaning won’t solve, the repairs will be expensive.

In my experience, most sewer scans on old houses reveal tree roots finding their way into the sewer lines and slowing things down, but no major problems. It’s the situations where major problems occur that make it worth having a sewer scan done. Sewer scans typically cost less than $200 and are usually scheduled at the same time as the home inspection.

Unfortunately, no home, no matter what its age, is immune to sewer problems. While it’s unlikely, even new homes can have problems with the main building drain. As you might imagine, the potential for problems increases with the age of the home. If you’re buying a new home, you probably don’t need to spend your money on a sewer scan. If you’re buying a century-old home, it’s probably smart to have a sewer scan done. There is no clear dividing line between homes that should and shouldn’t have a sewer scan performed. The decision will ultimately come down to the new home buyer’s tolerance for risk.

Two local companies that I've had many good experiences with are Ron the Sewer Rat and DC Annis Sewer.

Level 2 Chimney Inspections

A Level 2 chimney inspection is basically the same thing as a sewer scan, but for the chimney. This type of inspection is recommended by NFPA 211 any time there is a sale or transfer of a property. Unlike sewer inspections, a fair number of chimney inspections end up revealing potentially costly defects.

Level 2 chimney inspection

This is an inspection that is recommended for all solid fuel-burning appliances, which typically means a wood-burning fireplace. The person conducting this inspection should be a professional who is certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). The specific title that CSIA gives to trained chimney experts is “Certified Chimney Sweep.”

I specify this language because there are plenty of hacks out there that throw their untrained, unqualified opinion around as gospel. For more information about hiring a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep, click here: http://www.csia.org/homeowner-resources/how_to_hire_a_chimney_sweep.aspx .

For more information about having a Level 2 fireplace inspection performed, click here: http://www.csia.org/homeowner-resources/chimney_inspections.aspx

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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Mold testing vs. Moisture Testing

This week's blog post topic comes from a potential client who was doing some research to decide on which home inspection company to hire. He wrote the following question to us:

One part of your website says you do Mold testing and another part says you do Moisture testing (and the Moisture testing page does not mention mold). This is confusing to me because these two things go hand in hand. Can you help me understand these two tests better and why they are separate?

That's a great question. While the two go hand in hand, mold and moisture are not synonymous, and we typically talk our clients out of mold testing.

Moisture Testing

Moisture testing

Moisture testing is done on exterior walls to determine if there are moisture problems behind the siding. The vast majority of moisture problems in walls are the result of bulk water intrusion, which typically results from water getting into the wall sheathing around windows, or through improper flashing at other penetrations such as roof ends and deck ledgerboards. Water intrusion at exterior walls typically involves expensive repairs, with stucco and stone veneer siding being the most expensive types, and the most notorious for leaks. These wall coverings are expensive to install, they're difficult to take apart, and hold a lot of water. For a few examples of stucco repairs, check out these blog posts below:

Vinyl siding is the easiest siding to repair; it comes off quite easily, the damage caused by water intrusion on vinyl siding takes a longer time to get really nasty because vinyl "breathes", and the same pieces of matching vinyl siding can be put right back up on the wall after repairs have been completed. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the repairs are inexpensive, but they're far less expensive than stucco repairs. Here's a blog post from last year about vinyl siding repairs: Moisture Testing Homes with Vinyl Siding.

Mold Testing

Mold and Mushrooms

Mold testing can be done by air sampling or swab testing. Swab testing is typically done to surfaces that already appear to have a problem; in those cases, what's the point?

Air sampling is done to find hidden mold. If there is moisture in the walls but no mold growth in the walls, air sampling for mold testing will not help. If there is mold in the wall but the wall is completely airtight, air sampling for mold won't find the mold. Conversely, air testing for mold can also produce false positives; more on that topic here: To Test or not to Test: That is the Question.

My knee-jerk reaction to mold testing is "don't bother". The situations where mold testing may have some value are few and far between. For an in-depth discussion of why there is little value in hiring your home inspector to test for mold, check out this article that appeared in the ASHI Reporter in November of 2010: Home Inspectors and Mold Sampling - Hype or Help?

For the record, the Minnesota Department of Health does not recommend mold testing, and neither does the EPA.

Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections

          

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