Q: I have been looking at buying a home. I plan on having it inspected, and I would like to know what to look for before buying. Can you give me some ideas of what I look for myself so that I can make a good offer before paying someone to tell me I made a bad choice?
A: The inspector should remain objective and never make choices for the buyer. The inspector will give you information so that you can make an informed decision. I have found situations where some buyers would have decided to look for another home, while others are skilled in repairs and are looking to purchase a fixer-upper and save money on their purchase. There are certain issues that appear more often on almost all homes that the average buyer can look for:
1 Grading and drainage: When you first look at the property, check to see if stormwater will drain toward or away from the home. It’s easy to see if the yard slopes, but you also need to check the concrete next to the home to make sure it drains as well. Driveways, sidewalks and patios often settle, and the runoff from the concrete drains toward the foundation. Downspout drains should extend at least 6 feet away from the foundation. You don’t want water collecting in the basement or crawl space.
2 Whereas the inspector will most likely walk on the roof for the inspection, it is preferred before the inspection that the buyer ask the owner when the roof was last replaced and if it is a single layer. The average and steep-sloped roof shingle should last a total of 20 to 30 years; a low-sloped roof or flat roof will have an average life expectancy of 15 to 20 years. Shingles in direct sunlight will not last as long as those that are shaded.
3 With the owner’s permission, turn on all the faucets to check the flow of water. Make sure none of the sinks or tubs overflow during the test.
4 Open the outside hose faucet, and place your thumb over the hose fitting to stop the flow of water. If the flow is easily stopped, then the faucet is cracked inside the home and will need to be replaced.
5 Open the cover on the main electric panel to see if the home has breakers or fuses. An older fuse panel may be rated at 60 amps and will need to be upgraded to a minimum of 100 amps.
6 Check each light switch and the number of outlets in each room. There should be an outlet every 12 feet. Older homes may only have one or two outlets in a room, which is not enough for modern equipment needs.
7 Check the glass over a tub or shower to see if it is closer than 60 inches to the bottom of the tub or shower. Glass that is closer than 60 inches must be tempered glass. Tempered glass will have a “Tempered” mark etched inside the panes or on the glass. Glass blocks do not have to be tempered. Windows that are larger than 9 square feet, are closer than 18 inches to the floor and have a 3-foot walkway on either side of the glass also have to be tempered.
8 With the homeowner’s permission, operate the disposal, dishwasher and other kitchen appliances.
9 Look under the kitchen sink to see if the electrical wiring is in a conduit. Romex house wiring needs to be protected when it is exposed. If the wiring for the disposal and dishwasher is a cord and plug to an outlet, conduit is not required.
10 Open all accessible windows to make sure they are easily operated. All bedroom windows must be easy to open in case of an emergency.
11 Check the height above the floor for a gas or electric water heater and furnace in a garage. The area that generates a flame or a spark must be at least 18 inches above the floor. This is to prevent gasoline fumes from igniting.
12 A gas-fired furnace and water heater cannot be located in a bedroom or a bathroom or in a closet accessed through a bedroom or bathroom. A high-efficiency furnace that has two PVC pipes, one to vent and one to take in combustible air, can be inside a bedroom or bathroom closet.
13 If the home has a crawl space, put on your dirty and disposable clothes and check for decay, mold, standing water, plumbing leaks, loose ductwork, etc.
C. Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors.