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Skipping home inspection for a condo? Think again, based on these photos

Buying a condo? Get a home inspection, also known as a condo inspection. Even though there is typically less maintenance and responsibility of the individual owners, condos can still experience a lot of the same issues that single family homes experience. Instead of waxing on about the importance of having a home inspection when buying a condo, I've put together a compilation of stuff we've found while inspecting condos. Photos are just more fun.

Insufficient insulation: If a condo has an attic, we inspect the attic. We find all the same defects in condo attics that we do in single family homes. More on attic defects here: Who inspected your attic?  The photo below shows insufficient insulation at a new construction condo.

Attic - Insufficient Insulation

Aluminum wiring: This is a major issue. It's not common, but it's a big deal when it happens. Condos built during the time that aluminum wiring was used (approximately 1965 - 1972), or re-wired during the same period may have aluminum wiring. This typically can't be identified without opening up the electrical panel. More on that topic here: aluminum wiring.

Electrical - Aluminum wiring

Smoke alarms: They're not extremely expensive and it's not a life and death issue but ... no, wait, I take that back. It is a life and death issue. Smoke alarms save lives. When they're more than 10 years old, we recommend replacement. We also check for proper placement and recommend installing photoelectric smoke alarms when not present. Once they've turned yellow, they're typically over 10 years old.

Electrical - ancient smoke alarm

Wiring defects: The missing cover plate shown below is easy enough to correct, but do you see what else is wrong here? The outlet box is improperly recessed at the wall. The repair here is to have a box extender installed, also known as a "goof ring."

Electrical - box recessed at wall

Disconnected conduit: The metal conduit isn't properly secured at the compressor below, which means the metal box of the compressor isn't bonded. This seems fairly innocuous, but if someone stepped on that whip, one of those wires could easily get cut by the metal at the air conditioner. If that happened, the entire cabinet of the air conditioner could be energized, creating an electrocution hazard.

Electrical - disconnected conduit at AC

Extension cords: They get used at condos, too. This shows an extension cord behind a washer and dryer. Permanently installed appliances should be plugged directly into outlets, not extension cords.

Electrical - Extension Cord behind washwer

FPE Stab-Lok panels: They're bad news, and they should be replaced. There are tons and tons of condo units with these panels. More on that topic here: FPE Stab-Lok panels are hazardous.

FPE Stab-Lok Panel

Closet lights: They need globes. More here: Exposed light bulbs in closets.

Electrical - improper closet lights

Water damage: While we typically don't inspect the exteriors and common areas of condos, we do typically look at individual balconies. At this particular balcony at an old condo in Minneapolis, there was damaged stucco at the balcony, allowing water to leak into the building wall.

Exterior - damaged stucco

This next image shows the same condo, which had water stains at the ceiling and door below the balcony.

Exterior - stains at ceiling

Furnace defects: We find pretty much the same defects on condos that we find on single family homes. This includes lack of maintenance, end of life and other problems such as excessive temperature rise. The photo below shows the supply air at 165 degrees. Assuming it's about 70 degrees in the unit, this would be a temperature rise of 95 degrees. Most furnace manufacturers call for a temperature rise of somewhere in the 30 to 70-degree range.

HVAC - Excessive temp rise

Water heater: The defects are also the same as those found on single family homes. This particular water heater had a loose flame roll-out shield, which was allowing exhaust gasses to escape out the front of the water heater, which is what caused the scorching on the front of the unit.

HVAC - loose flame roll-out shield

Plastic dryer ducts are a fire hazard. We find a fair number of them while inspecting condos. More here: dryer duct safety.

HVAC - plastic dryer duct

Short ductwork at toekicks happens at condos too. More on that topic here: The case of the duct that wasn't there.

HVAC - short toekick

Anti-Tip Bracket - still in the bag. This is an important child safety item. More here: anti-tip brackets for ranges.

Interior - anti-tip bracket not installed

Bad planning.

Interior - drawer hits on fridge

More bad planning.

Interior - obstructured drawer

Leaking outlet - insert your own caption. This was at a high-rise condo building with major stucco problems at the exterior.

Interior - drip mark below outlet

Fogged glass at windows - who pays for this, the owner or the association? If it's the association, what does it take to get this fixed? More here: fogged glass at windows.

Interior - failed window seals

Dishwasher drain - this one lacks a proper high loop under the sink. If you go by the new plumbing code, it would be missing an air gap above the sink. More here: dishwasher drains.

Interior - improper dishwasher drain loop

Rotted trim behind the tub. Possibly concealed damage behind the trim too.

Interior - rotted trim behind tub

Leaking tub

Leaking clawfoot tub

Leaking disposer

Leaking disposal

And another.

Plumbing - leaking disposer

Leaking shower door

Leaking shower door

Gas appliance connectors aren't supposed to be connected end-to-end. An appliance connector is supposed to be used to connect the gas piping to the appliance. More here: gas appliance connectors.

Plumbing - Appliance Connectors Connected

You're especially not supposed to use three of them:

Plumbing - third appliance connector

Corrugated drain, and a backpitched drain. Drains should slope down.

Plumbing - backpitched drain

Drop-in tubs shouldn't be installed at walls. When that happens, they can leak.

Plumbing - bath tub leak 1

This same one leaked after being tested for a few seconds.

Plumbing - bath tub leak 2

Bath tub faucets that open below the spill line of the fixture create a cross-connection. More here: two ways to correct a cross-connection at a bath tub faucet.

Plumbing - cross connection at tub

Loose trim and faucet - this will allow water to leak behind the wall.

Plumbing - loose escutcheon

Like this:

Plumbing - leak at bath tub faucet

Toilets are supposed to be caulked at the floor. This helps to keep them secure and prevents unpleasant "bathroom liquids" from getting under the toilet to a concealed fouling area that can't be cleaned.

Plumbing - toilet not caulked at floor

Poorly located thermostat

Poorly located thermostat

Missing sediment trap at the gas line. More in last week's post on sediment traps.

Sediment trap missing

Two defective burners

Two burners won't heat

Hood fan exhaust surprise - while it's legal to exhaust kitchen fans back into the home, this one was a surprise because there was ductwork above the microwave, giving the impression that it was vented to the exterior. It wasn't.

Microwave exhaust ducted wrong

Here's another kitchen exhaust surprise: It just vented above the cabinet.

Interior - kitchen fan vented nowhere

And finally, one of my favorite kitchen fan exhaust surprises of all time:

Kitchen Fan

Thank you for reading. Again, if you're buying a condo, get a home inspection.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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Sediment traps on gas lines: What are they? Why are they required?

Have you ever noticed that extra little leg of gas piping running to your furnace or water heater and wondered what the heck happened? It's called a sediment trap.

Sediment trap at water heater

Sediment traps are intentionally installed to help prevent sediment in the gas piping from getting into the gas valve or burner area of an appliance and fouling things up. The photo below shows 18 years of sediment accumulation at the first sediment trap in my own house. The trap is located on the main gas line just before the pressure regulator.

Sediment emptied from trap

I've taken apart many sediment traps out of curiosity, and this was the first one where I've actually found anything. The sediment traps at my furnace and water heater were completely empty. Sediment traps have been required for approximately forever, and they're still required today by the Minnesota State Fuel Gas Code.

Side note: old-school guys and girls call them "drip tees," "drip legs," "dirt legs" and several other names that you won't find in the current code.

Sediment Trap Improperly InstalledThe basic requirements for sediment traps:

  • Must be installed as close to the inlet of the equipment as practical.
  • Must be installed ahead of all pounds-to-inches pressure regulators.
  • Must be made of a tee fitting with a capped nipple, a minimum of 3 inches in length, in the bottom opening of the run of the tee.
  • Provide a 90-degree change of direction of gas flow, to help prevent sediment from flowing over the trap. The photo at right is an improper installation, because it does not provide this.
  • The cap shall be at an elevation lower than the tee fitting.

While the old code language only required sediment traps where the gas piping dropped down to appliances, there is no longer such language in the code. Sediment traps are required at all automatically controlled gas appliances. The code defines an automatically controlled appliance as "Appliances equipped with an automatic burner ignition and safety shutoff device and other automatic devices which accomplish complete turn-on and shutoff of the gas to the main burner or burners, and graduate the gas supply to the burner or burners, but do not affect complete shutoff of the gas."

No sediment trap at gas fireplaceIn other words, sediments traps are required at furnaces, boilers, water heaters, clothes dryers, ovens, space heaters, unit heaters, gas fireplaces and more. Despite these requirements, I personally can't recall ever seeing one installed at a gas fireplace, they're almost never installed at ovens, and just yesterday I inspected a new construction home with a clothes dryer in the basement that was missing a sediment trap on the gas line. It seems that installers and municipal inspectors don't care much about the presence or absence of sediment trap. Quite frankly, I don't either.

Side note: The 2012 IRC, which is NOT what is used for the fuel gas code in Minnesota, says in section G2419.4: "illuminating appliances, ranges, clothes dryers, decorative vented appliances for installation in vented fireplaces, gas fireplaces, and outdoor grills need not be so equipped." So there's that.

If you look at your appliance and you don't have a sediment trap, don't sweat it. It's not a big deal. Just plan to have it corrected the next time the appliance is replaced. Or not. If it doesn't get corrected, it's probably not a big deal. If you hear someone make a big deal about this, tell them to worry about something more important, like dinner.

To see the full text giving the requirements for sediment traps in Minnesota, click here http://www.dli.mn.gov/ccld/pdf/sbc_1346.pdf and scroll down to section 408.4, or check out the image below.

Sediment trap requirement Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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