Questions To Ask Your Home Inspector

Posted on 13. Jun, 2015 by in asking the right questions

There’s a catch-all phrase in green building:  Don’t Do Stupid Things. This newsletter explores how not doing stupid things begins with asking the right questions.

Low-tech hammer and nail homebuilding days are gone. Construction, along with everything else, is driven by CADs, composites and spreadsheets. New technologies foster new mistakes at digital-speed. Design and install errors are more likely to cause major defects.

Good Intentions, Bad Results

The turning radius into this garage is OK but the floor area was reduced for room expansion. Garages. like stairways, require more space than we think they should.

A Caveat:  Inspectors should never discuss design in their reports unless it affects safety and function.

Disfunction Junction   Side-entry garages require a 30ft turning radius. City lot widths averaging 50-75ft  render these garages useless for cars, good for storage.

Making Mold A Monster  Some mold remediation practices disperse mold throughout the house-transforming isolated, manageable problems into a systemic, catastrophic ones.  

 

Mold is biologically designed to disperse. Best practice is to encapsulate it like asbestos.

Maslow and Limitations of the Trades “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”  Contractors are expert in the fields in which they are trained yet often amateur in their understanding the House as a System.   Diagnosing moisture problems illustrates this limitation:  I recently helped a homeowner identify the cause of excessive condensation in his basement but only after he’d paid four different contractors to pound their trade hammers on components that were not the cause of the problem.

A blocked exterior drain forced this perimeter drainage system to cycle water through the basement. Mud stains below the window and trashcan full of water indicate the loop.

Inspectors are often guilty of the opposite tendency:  we should, but often don’t, leave specific analysis of the defects we’ve found to the experts.

Home-Made Heating Upgrade A well-meaning owner connected a return air duct to the back of his home-made fireplace housing to improve heating efficiency.  Yikes!, a perfectly Stupid Thing.

Whole-House (Big Picture) Questions to Ponder

Here are a few topics I consider when writing reports:

Cleaning dirty flexible ducting is impractical. Best bet is to not let it get this bad in the first place. If you have a metal duct system KEEP IT.

How does the dwelling “balance out”; are defects for this style and age normal or excessive and costly?

How are the three forces of nature that destroy all buildings at all timesUltraviolet light, Heat and Moisture, managed?

If there are structural concerns have they been adequately addressed?  Should I recommend further evaluation by an engineer or other construction specialist?

 

My observant client noted ceiling stains below the bathrooms. The installer forgot to install gaskets between the base and tank. One more item on the inspector’s checklist

Is there one component or system in need of serious improvements?

Do recent upgrades address functional and safety concerns as well as aesthetic and cosmetic ones?

How can I help my client maximize function and safety and reduce maintenance costs?

How did I miss an item during an inspection?  How do I change my methods to avoid repeating the mistake?

And More Specifically…….

Is the roof drainage system properly sized and easy to maintain?

 

 

This homeowner went to great lengths to build this chimney. He tapped in a return air vent just behind the flue

Is there a mechanism to replace and replenish air in a tightly built home, condo or high-rise?

Where are Pest and Pollutant Pathways?

Are hard and smooth ducts and drains healthier and more durable than ribbed, flimsy ones?

Are low-pressure return air pathways installed between sleeping rooms to the airhandler?

When should a homeowner upgrade electric service from the street to the house, including the electric panel?

What are the best ways to reduce energy and water bills?

What’s the best way to manage humidity?

Are conditions conducive to biological and pest contamination like bacteria in water, mold, radon, termites, roaches, rodents?

Maxed-out electrical panels are one of the questions you should ask your home inspector about.

Maxed-out panels are all too common in Flipped brick ranchers. Function and Safety considerations dictate that at some point the entire system will have to be re-vamped

Point of sale inspections provide the buyer the opportunity to look at a home in a Comprehensive way.  Because homes and their components are more integrated than in the old days the House as a System approach is required to avoid doing Stupid Things.  Moisture management, energy efficiency and indoor air quality are key elements.

I may not have all the answers but I’m working hard at Asking the Right Questions.