Many issues that commonly arise during a home inspection can be found in both newer and older homes. The key is to have the home inspected by a properly trained, ASHI Certified, and experienced professional home inspector that understands how to communicate these issues and how they can be addressed so a potential home buyer, along with their real estate agent, can make his or her home buying decision confidently. All of these issues are repairable and may not be a reason to stop the sale of a home. When in doubt, ask your home inspector!
This is a common reason for wet basements, foundation issues, and rodent/insect infestation. This includes grading around the home’s perimeter that does not encourage water to drain away from the home and also includes downspouts discharging too close to the home. Downspouts should discharge at least 4’ from the home’s foundation. Addressing either of these issues is fairly simple, inexpensive, and straightforward.
Learn about Preventing A Wet Basement
Due to the abundance of home fix-it shows on television nowadays, many home owners think they can handle just about any upgrade or repair themselves, such as electrical upgrades and repairs. I’ve been inspecting homes since 2002, so I have seen my fair share of live exposed wiring, incorrectly sized breakers, improperly wired receptacles, and other hazards that can potentially electrocute someone and/or burn down a house. Electrical repairs and upgrades should be left to a qualified electrician.
See this article about Electrical Inspections Of Older Homes
Faulty Pipes and Leaks
As part of my home inspections, I run a good amount of water at every sink, bathtub, and other fixture. I want to make sure that drains empty and pipes don’t leak. Clogs in sinks, bathtubs, and showers are not uncommon and are, in most cases, an easy fix. Pouring chemicals down the drain is not a smart idea in most cases and may actually lead to skin or eye burns. In most cases, trying a plunger is the first thing to attempt. Older lead and galvanized steel pipes should most often be replaced with modern materials, such as PEX or CPVC. Polybutylene (PB) pipe was a plastic piping used between 1978 and 1995 but was taken off the market due to a propensity to leak. Similar to the DIY Electrical section above, it seems that many home owners think they can handle plumbing repairs when most people should leave the fix to a licensed plumber.
See this article about Plumbing Materials
Finding stains at roof penetrations (such as chimneys and stack vents) is not uncommon. The older the home, the more likely it is to find evidence of a past roof leak. A qualified inspector will use a moisture meter to determine if accessible stains are wet (and therefore active) or if it is a prior leak. Missing or torn shingles, deteriorated stack vent boots (the most common cause of roof leaks), clogged gutters, and unmaintained flashing are common causes of roof leaks. The leak doesn’t always happen directly above a visible stain so the inspector needs to think like water to help locate the entry point of the water. I have found many hidden roof leaks over the years using my infrared (IR) camera yet no stains were visible yet. This is one key reason to use home inspectors who offer infrared thermography. Roof repairs should be performed by a qualified roofer.
Again, due to the many DIY and house flipping programs on TV, many homeowners think they can fix things themselves without any formal training, and often end up not fixing the problem correctly or sometimes even causing more damage. In many cases, the repair ends up costing much more than if a professional was called in from the start. Homeowners may live years unaware of issues in their home or learn to live in circumstances that inspectors and new buyers would not consider safe. Many of the common maintenance issues found during a home inspection include chipping paint, rotted exterior trim, damaged windows, and uncaulked exterior and interior (bathroom) joints.
Proper ventilation inside a home helps control humidity and odors, and also plays a role in a home’s energy efficiency. Many people don’t think about the vast amounts of water vapor contained in the air inside a home due to breathing, washing, bathing, and cooking. This water vapor needs to go somewhere and that somewhere should not be in your attic, basement, or crawl space. A properly vented attic helps preserve your roof covering’s life and helps prevent structural roof damage and attic mold. Bathroom fans should always terminate to the home’s exterior, not into the attic. In pre-2000 homes, it is not uncommon for inspectors to find bathroom fans discharging into attics. In some cases, moldy roof sheathing is the direct result. Proper ridge and soffit venting can help address moisture issues in your attic as well as help prevent ice dams. Bathroom fans should be discharged through siding or beyond the soffit. If your home has a crawl space, it should either vent to the exterior (common with older crawl spaces), vent unobstructed with the basement, or be conditioned space (heated/cooled using your HVAC system and closed off from the exterior).
Learn more about Attic Ventilation
The cost of energy for heating and cooling a home continues to rise. From experience, most homes over 20 years old could benefit from additional attic insulation. The standard for attic insulation in new homes today in our area is R-49. Just 15 years ago, the standard was R-30. R-values provide a measurement of how well a material prevents or slows down heat from passing through it. Blown-in fiberglass has an R-value of about 2.5 per inch. Blown-in cellulose has an R-value of about 3.5 per inch. Rolled fiberglass is about 3.0 per inch. Ideally, attic insulation should be thick and uniform in terms of thickness throughout your entire attic. Attic access panels (also called scuttles) or doors are almost never insulated. Insulating your attic to a high R-value but not insulating the attic access location greatly lowers your attic insulation’s overall R-value. Why pay money to insulate your attic and then waste that money by not insulating the access panel? Properly insulating your attic can help lower your heating and cooling costs meaning lower utility bills and increased interior comfort.
Learn more about proper Attic Insulation
Nearly all home inspectors have seen structural framing that has been cut, notched, or otherwise modified in a way that can compromise a home. Building standards specify how holes or notches or other modifications in structural framing can be safely performed. A floor joist running directly under where a plumber wants to install a toilet too often results in a large hole being drilled in framing. The original 2x10 may then effectively become a 2x4 due to the removal of framing. This can lead to doors and windows that don’t properly operate, floors that sag, drywall cracks, etc. Trusses should only be modified once approved by the truss manufacturer or a licensed structural engineer.
Learn more about Compromised Structural Framing
Improperly Installed Kitchen Appliances
Two of the most common issues found in the kitchen (beyond clogged drains or leaking pipes) are stove anti-tip brackets that are not installed and dishwasher drain pipes that lack an air gap or visible high loop. All free-standing stoves have come with anti-tip brackets since 1991. Stoves can easily tip out when someone or something puts weight on an open oven door resulting in possible scalding, other injury, or possibly death. From my experience, about 95% of the stoves that I inspect lack their anti-tip brackets. For some reason, many appliance delivery people simply don’t install this critical safety feature. Many homeowners install their own appliances and also omit this safety item even though it’s supplied with every stove nowadays with instructions about how to properly install the bracket.
Dishwashers often lack a key feature that is incorporated into their installation instructions. The drain line should have a high loop between where it enters the cabinet under the kitchen sink and where it connects to the kitchen sink’s drain. This high loop helps prevent dirty water from the sink drain or garbage disposal from backing up into the dishwasher. In lieu of the high loop, an air gap can be installed which is a vacuum break to prevent the same dishwasher contamination that a high loop is designed to perform.
Unmaintained Heating/Cooling Equipment
You rely on your home's heating and cooling systems to help get you comfortably through the year. Central heating (boilers, furnaces, and heat pumps) and A/C systems should each be serviced/inspected annually by a qualified HVAC professional. Doing so helps keep them working at peak efficiency and helps prevent unforeseen breakdowns and expensive future repairs. As part of a home inspection, the inspector will report whether there are service records available at these appliances. Most homeowners don't have their heating and cooling systems regularly serviced. If no service records exist or if the last posted one is from more than a year ago, the inspector will normally recommend a clean/service of the HVAC equipment prior to closing.
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© 2019 Matthew Steger
Matthew Steger, owner/inspector of WIN Home Inspection, is a Certified Level 1 Infrared Thermographer, an ASHI Certified Inspector (ACI), an electrical engineer, and a US Dept. of Energy Home Energy Score Assessor. He can be reached at: 717-361-9467 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WIN Home Inspection has provided a wide array of home inspection services in the Lancaster, PA area since 2002. This article was authored by Matthew Steger, ACI - owner of WIN Home Inspection in Lancaster, PA. No article, or portion thereof, may be reproduced or copied without prior written consent of Matthew Steger.