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Splinter city and dangling shingles: Best of the worst new home inspection photos

It’s once again time for my annual blog post that stresses the importance of new construction inspections. Specifically, home inspections. I still talk to home buyers, home owners, and real estate agents who have never even considered the idea of getting a home inspection on a brand new home. I won’t bore you with all of the reasons that things go wrong in the construction process because I think these photos do a much better job of getting my point across.

The photos below are all photos we’ve taken during the past year while conducting new-construction inspections, or one-year warranty inspections.

Attics

The #1 problem that we find in new construction attics is insufficient insulation. As stingy as some insulation contractors seem to be with their insulation, you’d think the stuff was worth its weight in gold. Approximately half of the new construction homes that we inspect have insufficient insulation in the attic.

The photo shown below shows the tag in the attic which states the minimum required insulation depth is 18.25″, along with the insulation contractor’s depth marker with insulation mounded high enough to make it appear correct. You can also see my aluminum ruler about two feet away, showing the actual insulation depth drops off significantly. The whole attic looked like this. This isn’t right, but it is pretty standard for a new home.

Insufficient attic insulation

The two images below show the ceiling on a very large, expensive home where the insulation on the first-floor attic was completely missed.

missing insulation

The infrared image with the blue colors shows where the uninsulated attic begins. The listing agent was there when I discovered this and was quite insistent that my equipment was broken. I could hardly blame him, as the home had gone through some extra energy audits to get a good HERS rating, and supposedly passed with flying colors. The photo below shows the attic.

missing insulation in attic

More on new construction attic inspections here:

Roofs

The shingles shown below were badly buckled, and they’re not going to sit flat over time. This was mostly likely caused by roofers moving too quickly and not following chalk lines to keep their lines straight. As the lines started going askew, the roofers pulled the shingles down to correct the lines, which caused the shingles to buckle.

buckled shingles

The kickout flashing shown below was nearly useless. Kickout flashing should never be cut; the only reason for doing this is ignorance. This can lead to a leak at the wall in this very critical location. Check out my blog post on kickout flashing for more details on this topic, along with a video showing how easy it is to create a piece of kickout flashing that won’t leak.

Improper kickout flashing 1

improper kickout flashing 2

The loose and missing shingles that are shown below were the result of improper fastening; specifically, the issue was overdriven nails. This was a pervasive condition that led me to recommend complete replacement of the roof covering, or obtaining a letter from the shingle manufacturer stating that this improper fastening would not void their warranty.

missing shingle

loose shingle

over-driven nail

Electrical

Outlet boxes need to be mounted flush with the surface of the wall. When something like a cabinet makes this tough to do, a goof ring or box extender should be used. That wasn’t done at this outlet below the kitchen sink, making it impossible to properly install a cover plate.

electrical box improperly recessed

CSST gas piping needs to be bonded, period. It doesn’t matter if it’s the black ‘arc-resistant’ stuff or not.

CSST not bonded

When CSST is bonded, it needs to be bonded to the electrical service grounding electrode system, not at the bonding terminal for the low-voltage communications equipment. This was actually the builder’s improper fix after not bonding the CSST at all the first time.

improper csst bonding

Everyone knows that garage door openers aren’t supposed to be plugged into extension cords, right? So how does this happen on a brand new home? Don’t ask me. It just does.

garage door opener plugged into extension cord

Unused knockout holes need to be filled. Believe it or not, this is fairly common on new installs.

missing knockout

You can’t blame the electrician for this next one:

knockout hit by nail

The photo below shows a missing outlet at what will eventually be a second-story deck.

missing outlet

Exterior

One of the most common siding materials being used today is composite siding, which is a term that I use to describe both James Hardie siding and LP Smartside siding. Both of these products get installed improperly at nearly every new home that is built. Check out my blog post from last year on LP Smartside installation defects. I won’t repeat all of that information here, but I can tell you that it’s quite rare to find a new home without any siding installation defects.

The photo below shows a goofy installation of the gas fireplace vent at a home with vinyl siding; the terminal should have been surrounded by J-channel, not simply caulked. Any professional home inspector, builder, siding installer, etc is surely putting their palm to their forehead while looking at this. Again, this is new construction.

improper siding terminal

This next photo shows a close-up view of Splinter City, found at a front porch guardrail. For the record, there’s nothing in the building code that prohibits this kind of thing, so this is technically a legal installation. It’s just sloppy.

sloppy details

Would it surprise you to learn that Minnesota has no requirement for garage floors to be sloped so water (aka “snow melt”) goes to a drain or the door opening?  Crazy, right? The garage floor in the photo below actually doesn’t violate anything in the building code, but it sure is a nuisance, and it’s something that we reported as a problem.

garage floor sloped backwards

The International Residential Code, which we’ve adopted as our residential code here in MN, has language that says “The area of floor used for parking of automobiles or other vehicles shall be sloped to facilitate the movement of liquids to a drain or toward the main vehicle entry doorway”. The crazy part is that through code amendment at the local level, we’ve stricken that paragraph from our local code. I’ve asked about this, and the answer I’ve been given is that this is supposed to be common sense. Obviously it isn’t, and obviously I’m not getting the whole story.

HVAC

Check out my super high-tech method of determining airflow; it’s a piece of toilet paper. There’s a lot of air coming out of this hole in the wall, which is simply an access panel for the bathtub drain. Why is air coming out of this hole? Getting to the bottom of that goes beyond the scope of a home inspection, but my assumption was leaky ductwork.

air coming out of hole in wall

Here’s a disconnected dryer duct.

disconnected dryer duct

I know that I’ve mentioned poorly installed ductwork at toekick registers before, but the stuff that I continue to see continues to amaze me. These are all new photos.

Toekick register 1

Toekick register 2

Toekick register 3

Toekick register 4

Toekick register 5

Toekick register 5

Direct vent / sealed combustion furnaces obtain all of their combustion air directly from the outdoors; when the cabinet for the burner area isn’t sealed, it’ll pull a lot of its combustion air from inside the house. This is a simple fix, but why didn’t someone else catch this?

hole in side of furnace

Do you see what’s wrong in the photo below?

hrv installed improperly

What you’re seeing is an air intake for an air exchanger blowing air out. The leaves we’re holding are bending backward from the airflow. The exhaust for the air exchanger, not pictured, was also blowing air out. This was happening because of a botched installation; the intake duct was connected to the stale air exhaust on the HRV. No kidding.

I discovered this while performing a one-year warranty inspection at this new home, wherein the owner had been complaining about frost on the windows, leaky windows, and indoor comfort issues for the entire first year that he owned his home. The builder was unable to resolve any of these issues. Having an air exchanger installed in this manner could certainly cause all of those problems. The fix was to have the duct re-arranged at the HRV.

Clothes dryers shouldn’t exhaust through the roof, but there is nothing in the code that prohibits this, so it happens. What’s really bad is when a clothes dryer exhausts through the roof and someone forgets to remove the screen at the terminal. This will lead to a clogged terminal in a fairly short amount of time.

screen at dryer exhaust

At this particular home, the homeowner had complained to the builder about his clothes dryer not working properly, and a few different people had come out and determined that there was nothing wrong, including a rep from the clothes dryer manufacturer. All it took was an inspection on the roof to figure out the problem.

roof inspection

These two units are way too close to each other. This particular manufacturer requires the units to be spaced at least 24” away from each other in order to properly dissipate heat.

air conditioners too close

Plumbing

Take a look at the photo below and see if you can guess what the problem was. I think most plumbers and home inspectors will get this one right away.

check valve on water supply

When there’s a check valve installed on the water supply for the home, there must also be an expansion tank installed to give the potable water somewhere to go when the water heater does its thing, thereby making the water expand. If no expansion tank is installed, the water will have nowhere to go when it gets heated, so the temperature and pressure relief valve on the water heater simply does its thing, and it relieves the pressure.

relief valves leaking on water heaters

The fix for this home was to have a plumber install an expansion tank. More on that topic here: Leaking relief valve at water heater

While we’re on the topic of temperature and pressure relief valves, this one had a broken / missing test handle.

broken test handle

Here’s a gas leak at the meter, outside of the house.

exterior gas leak

Here’s a gas leak inside the house.

interior gas leak

Frost-free faucets need to be installed so water drains out. When this doesn’t happen, they can freeze and burst. This one was backpitched.

backpitched frost-free faucet

The good thing about the faucet shown above is that the faucet was mounted to the exterior wall finish; not buried in it like the faucet shown below.

faucet buried in wall

This next one was a huge mess that we discovered during a one-year warranty inspection. The tiled shower in the master bathroom wasn’t properly installed, and it leaked just a little bit every time the owner took a shower. It wasn’t leaking enough for the owner to know about, but it was enough to cause major damage to the subfloor in about half of the bathroom. This fix required a complete tear-out of the tiled shower, as well as all of the tile in the floor surrounding the shower. The photo below shows the wet subfloor adjacent to the shower, which could be seen by removing the bathtub access panel.

leaking shower

To discover leaking shower pans, we flood test tiled showers during our home inspections. The photo below shows water leaking down into the basement from another leaking tiled shower, again identified during a one-year warranty inspection.

leak from tiled shower

The bottom of this sink base cabinet was wet and water damaged. Water was leaking in at the intersection between the sink and countertop because it wasn’t fully caulked.

missing caulk

It’s quite rare to find mold on new construction inspections, but it sometimes happens. I had no idea where this stuff came from; my recommendation was simply to clean it up and make sure it didn’t come back.

pretty colors

Side note: did I recommend mold testing? Heck no. As far as I’m concerned, there would be absolutely no value in having that done.

Interior

Here’s an interesting issue that was actually brought up to me by my client during a one-year warranty inspection; the cabinet above this microwave / hood fan was too large. The manufacturer of the microwave/hood fan requires the upper cabinet to protrude from the wall no more than 14”, but this one stuck out 16”.

microwave hood fan obstructed

hood fan installation instructions

This next photo shows a radon pipe that wasn’t glued together. We found this purely by accident.

radon pipe disconnected

For my last photo, here’s an improperly constructed stairway. The top riser was only 6” high, while the last one was approximately 9” high. The maximum allowable riser height is 7-3/4”, and the maximum allowable difference in riser heights for a single stairway is 3/8”. This wasn’t discovered until our inspection, which happened right before the closing was supposed to take place. The only acceptable solution was to tear out the stairway and re-build it, which the builder did.

improper stairway riser heights

Conclusion

New homes need home inspections too. It doesn’t matter who the builder is, what city it’s in, nor which municipal inspections have already taken place.

If you’ve purchased a home in the last year but didn’t have it inspected, consider getting a home inspection before your one-year warranty is up.

Related Posts:

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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The Health Inspector: Fireplace hearth extension rules should not be boring topic

This blog post is about fireplace hearth extension rules, but first, a quick story to explain why I'm blogging about such a boring topic.

I've said it before and I'll say it again; one learns from teaching. We've constantly been adding new home inspectors to our company since 2009, which means that I've not only had the pleasure of training a lot of fine individuals, but I've had the opportunity to learn a lot of new information. Training others forces one to research topics and to look up references to prove the information being taught. In some cases, it makes me take a closer look at something that I've always gotten wrong.

While doing a home inspection with one of the newest inspectors on our team, Matt, we came across a wood burning fireplace with a tiled hearth extension. Matt instantly recognized this as a defect, noting the fact that the hearth extension should be a minimum of 2" thick, and presumably consist of concrete. In this case, the hearth extension consisted of tile on top of wood. The tiles were loose and the wood below was badly charred, as you can clearly see in the photo below.

Scorched hearth extension

Bad news, right? This would have been an acceptable installation if the material below the tile was concrete, but that obviously wasn't the case. So where does the requirement for a full 2" hearth extension actually come from?

I turned to the actual Minnesota Building Code requirements for fireplace hearth extensions, and that's where I found my answer. Section R1001.9.2 of the 2015 Minnesota Residential Code says the following:

R1001.9.2 Hearth extension thickness. 
The minimum thickness of hearth extensions shall be 2 inches (51 mm).

Exception: When the bottom of the firebox opening is raised at least 8 inches (203 mm) above the top of the hearth extension, a hearth extension of not less than 3/8-inch-thick (10 mm) brick, concrete, stone, tile or otherapproved noncombustible material is permitted.

According to the exception, this fireplace would have been fine if the firebox opening was at least 8" above the floor.  At that point, it's acceptable to have a simple tiled hearth extension. The whole purpose of the hearth extension is to make sure that embers or logs that fall out of the fireplace don't start the floor on fire.

Also, the hearth extension must extend at least 16" from the front of the fireplace and 8" on the sides for smaller fireplaces. When the opening of the fireplace is at least 6 square feet, the hearth extension needs to extend at least 20" from the front of the fireplace, and 12" on the sides. This is illustrated in the diagram below, courtesy of the fine folks at Code Check.

hearth extension requirements

Also, just a little bit of history on the matter: my oldest code book is a 1967 edition of the UBC, which required a hearth extension of 18" in front and 8" on the sides, regardless of the size of the fireplace opening.

1967 UBC Section 3704

That requirement changed in the 1976 edition of the UBC to the numbers that we have today.

1967 UBC Section 3707

Does any of this history matter from a home inspection perspective? Absolutely not. We're not code enforcement officials. It's just trivia. Included below are a few photos showing different fireplace hearths, along with my commentary on what makes them acceptable or not.

2-inch-hearth-but-short

Proper hearth extension

Tiled hearth extension short

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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