Shopping for a home? Five things that may come up on your inspection

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If you’re in the market for a new home, you may very well know it’s very competitive right now. Things move fast and you need to be very strategic in order to get an offer accepted on a home. The last thing you want is to spend your time on a property that will not work out in the long term, nor do you want to spend your money on inspections that will not go well. Here are some things to consider that anyone can look for when house shopping.

Obvious Structural Problems – When you stand back and look at a home, there are many times obvious structural issues are noticeable. This happens on inspections all the time and many clients are more focused on the benefits of a home while shopping. Take the time to look for obvious clues. From across the street look at the home and look for any obvious structural settlement. Look for cracking walls, racked window or door openings, and sloped floors on the interior. Look for rotted, damaged, or altered framing in any unfinished areas. You would be surprised how obvious a structural issue can be.

Check Mechanicals – You don’t have to understand many mechanical components to get an idea of the condition. If the electrical system has messy unorganized wires or looks like it is all old it probably is. If the boiler or water heater looks ancient, they probably are. If the plumbing system has corrosion, alterations, and leakage, there are probably problems. Many clients can look at some really tidy wiring and get an overall feel for how things have been kept.

Consider Age – Buying an old home? Old homes have their advantages, but there are also things that are likely to come up that you should be aware of. Homes before 1978 have a high likelihood of lead paint or lead materials unless they have been deleaded. Homes before 1990 may have asbestos in various materials. While many asbestos products were used drastically less in the 80s, asbestos was used for practically anything that wasn’t wood, metal, or glass. Outdated wiring, outdated plumbing, and numerous other components are also typically present. The homes were also not designed to have dry basements or high-quality insulation so there are numerous concerns for moisture with modern use.

Look for Moisture Issues – Moisture problems often are visible by staining, mold, unusual coloring, or other identifiable cues. Check around windows, on exterior walls, on ceilings (particularly on the top floor). Look at staining and drainage on the exterior as they may show areas of significant moisture damage. In basements and crawlspaces use your senses. Do you smell moisture? Do you see mold staining, a flood line, dampness or staining on the floor and walls, or even efflorescence and other indications of moisture? Most homes in New England have indications of moisture and many are obvious.

What is the Design of the House? – This one is a little trickier but some design flaws are also obvious. The biggest one that comes to mind is when your house is built in a hole. If all the land slopes toward the home and all of the wood siding is in contact with the soil mother nature will take its course. Other things like complicated rooflines, roof surfaces going toward each other or toward sidewalls can also create problems. Homes built on complicated terrain often have obvious signs of related problems. The more interesting the home looks and the location is, there are usually more problems that are created. You can build any type of home properly, but a simple home is often less challenging. With poor design comes inevitable moisture problems, insect problems, building science challenges, and other problems.

With all that said, you still need a home inspection. A trained eye can catch less obvious problems, like the potential for a UST (underground oil storage tank), termite activity, electrical issues in the panel, problems that have been made less obvious. These problems can present huge costs and are missed by most. The purpose of this article is to help you spot obvious issues. It really all comes down to one thing. Putting your home inspector hat on while you tour homes and spending even just a short time looking specifically for issues is going to help you get a better feel for the overall condition of the home. Take some time to focus on just the problems and it will help you focus on the homes that are best for you and your family.

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Water Damage – Preventing A Leakage Disaster

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Most homes we inspect have minimal to no forms of water damage protection from components on the interior and leakage. To think about preventing leakage from interior components it makes the most sense to think about where the moisture is and preventing as many of the potential issues with these components as possible.

Washer Machine – A washer machine is a common source of water damage. They are often installed in upper areas of the home in or above finished spaces where leakage would result in significant damage. We recommend installing a pan under every washer. A pan alone offers minimal leak prevention, and the key is adding an automatic water shutoff in the pan. If the pan starts to fill with water, it is detected, and the water shutoff is automatically activated. Another more basic upgrade is changing out low-quality rubber hoses with stainless-steel high-quality water lines. The rubber ones often are not rated to be under constant pressure and the average person does not shut off the water after each use.

Water Heater – Just like the washer machine, a pan can be added under your water heater. Again, an automatic shutoff is the key component to prevent damage. When water heaters fail, in some cases it is in the form of leakage and may result in significant damage. We rarely see pans and shutoffs under tankless units, but I have seen them fabricated several times and they offer similar protection.

Heating Devices – Boiler systems rarely have any form of leak prevention, and a minimum of a moisture alarm is recommended. Furnace systems create moisture in the form of condensate from the exhaust system and an A/C system creates moisture from condensation created from the cooling process. Furnaces are often installed in attics and other finished areas of the home where leakage would pose a significant hazard. A pan and an automatic shutoff are required in these installations to prevent damage. These systems are often accompanied with a condensate pump to handle these forms of moisture. You want to make sure a pan is present; a float switch is present in the pan and functioning, and the pan is installed in a way where leakage would be caught. Additionally, the condensate pump should be in this pan or hardwired to the furnace to automatically shut it down if an issue occurs.

Water Supply Piping – There are obvious checks you can do to look for leakage or bad connections in your supply piping, but there are also better options. There are a variety of whole house shutoffs that will turn off all the water in the home if leakage occurs. They work in various ways, such as monitoring flow, moisture detectors you can put in various areas, and other ways. They can also prevent the need for secondary measures; for example, leakage at the laundry, although redundancy isn’t a bad thing.

Waste Piping – While waste piping is a source of leakage, you cannot automatically stop the flow for obvious reasons. You should regularly inspect waste piping for leakage. Common areas where leakage is identified is in the basement/crawlspace or ceilings below bathrooms and other areas.

Other Appliances – Appliances like the refrigerator or dishwasher may also have potential for leakage. While there is no commonly installed failsafe, best practice is to install per the manufacturers recommendation and inspect regularly. They have seals and piping connections that may leak and, in some cases, removing the kickplate and inspecting for leaks under the units can prevent a large leak by catching a small leak.

While this is not an all-inclusive list, most of these leak prevention tips are relatively easy to do and can prevent significant damage. They are also not done in many homes we inspect, so in most cases improvements can be made. Consulting a plumber is a good starting point as they are the professionals that could install much of this equipment.

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Knob & Tube – Should I Worry It’s In My Home?

About your home from Jameson at Another Level Home Inspection LLC

Knob & Tube

Knob & Tube is an old wiring we find in homes. It was generally installed from the 1880’s to the 1940’s. Many people have heard about this wiring, and maybe have even seen it, but may not fully understand what it is or what it means to be present in your home. The wiring was ungrounded and had a hot and neutral wire running independently. The knobs were used to change direction and the tubes would insulate the wires when going through wood and other building materials. It may seem like it’s not too dangerous, the wires are separated, and it has been in your home for typically at least a hundred years right! So, what makes it something you should worry about?

  1. It’s probably been altered. Originally the connections were soldered together. Your home has gone through many changes over the years. While the original installer may have taken great care, we often see modern Romex wiring spliced into the wiring and other very poor connections. This is not a safe practice and may lead to a fire in your home.
  2. Insulation. We love tight homes and energy efficiency in today’s world. Knob & Tube is an open-air system, meaning it is designed to dissipate heat by having space and air movement around the wires. While insulation installers typically know this, they can’t see into the walls and we constantly find Knob & Tube covered in insulation. This can lead to overheating and again fire.
  3. It’s ungrounded. A ground serves multiple purposes; it can help protect the user against shock and help trip a breaker if a fault is occurring. An ungrounded circuit poses a shock and fire hazard, especially with the larger demand we put on wiring today.
  4. It is often associated with Asbestos. Some wiring had Asbestos used in the wiring materials and we also see Knob & Tube fuse panels insulated with Asbestos. Asbestos presents its own hazards but is just another downside to this aged wiring system.
  5. IT’S VERY OLD. Typically, 100 years or older wiring can’t last forever. Yes, it’s been around a long time, but it is getting more brittle and more susceptible to fire as time goes on. It expands, contracts, gets hot, and dries out over time. I think it’s pretty fair to say it has lasted long enough and should really be replaced.

In summary, I personally don’t think this should be much of a debate. If you want one system of your home in really good shape, it’s your electrical system in my opinion. For whatever reason, aged wiring is one of the more overlooked issues with homes today and many people choose to ignore these issues. I understand it’s expensive to update or replace your electrical system but having Knob & Tube wiring can even make it difficult or not possible to get insurance from many insurance companies these days. That alone is reason enough because insurance companies do this because they know it poses a large risk.

Don’t put your family at risk by putting off the replacement of this old wiring.

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