Three Insights from the Thinking Man’s Home Inspector

Posted on 24. Jan, 2017 by in thinking man

Understanding The House as a System helps this inspector do a better job

Field Generals and First Responders

Not for sale
inspectors are ethically bound. Our business model is built on impartial reporting. “Inspectors shall avoid conflicts of interest or activities that compromise, or appear to compromise, professional independence, objectivity, or inspection integrity.”
We recommend contractors based on quality of work, not referral fees.

Inspectors combine comprehensive building analysis, integrity and objectivity

 

Something for everyone 
Inspectors and their reports benefit a variety of groups:

  • Buyers use reports to make an informed purchase and limit risk
  • Sellers use pre-listing inspections to prepare homes for market
  • Agents use inspection reports to clarify contracts and adjust price
  • Professionals, tradesmen and specialists use reports to identify defects and to bid for repairs
  • Building Departments, lenders and insurers use reports to identify defects and limit risk
  • FEMA and other relief agencies employ inspectors to assess flood and fire damage

 

Replacement plumbing drains are not properly sloped to remove solid waste. Messy repair comes later…

The House as a System

Inspections are inclusive. They review buildings, grounds and component systems. They are forensic and diagnostic:  They aim to discover defects and assess current conditions.
Inspectors understand homes as a system of inter-related components; how failure in one area may lead to failure in others. We don’t specialize in repair and maintenance, but on the overall condition of the property. 
Studies of Building Science increased my understanding of how homes work, why they don’t and how to “read” clues of latent defects. Check out this authoritative link on The House as a System
https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/inpr/su/regrgu/regrgu_002.cfm#science

Attic above a beautifully renovated kitchen hosts numerous code violations. You’ll never see an architect or code official up here…

Uncomfortable Renovations

The Atlanta housing market is strong, especially for affordable homes in desirable neighborhoods. Renovations of homes built between the 1920’s and 1960s are common. Renovation dollars are spent on kitchens, bathrooms, master suites, laundry rooms and open floor plans.
Standards require complete upgrades when systems or components are altered more than 50%, but there are no specific requirements requiring energy and air quality improvements.

 

 

Renovated bathroom exhaust fans were added but not vented outside

This lack of a comprehensive approach results in homes strong in appeal and weak in performance.
Functional defects often get a pass, especially if they aren’t in readily visible attics and crawl spaces.
It’s no surprise renovations slip past sustainability and efficiency requirements.
Cities are keen to add residents. Square footage and features, not sustainability, drive sales.
The consequence of incomplete renovations play out over time.

 

 

 

 

Dead Legs (water pipe connected to supply through which water does not flow) could incubate the bacteria the causes Legionairres disease

Wind, rain and fire events cannot be prevented after the fact.  Environmental defects; poor indoor air quality, contaminated water and lack of comfort are not immediate. Mold, water in basements, high utility costs, constant maintenance and health issues occur over time and are hard to quantify

 

 

 

 

 

12″ Supply duct riser can’t move enough air to cool upstairs

Sustainable Solutions
Twenty years ago we didn’t understand how to address these problems. That’s no longer true. Today a whole industry has evolved to assess, improve and verify healthy, comfortable and efficient homes.
Sustainable renovations present a logical starting point. New homes represent a small fraction of housing. The optimal path to improve sustainability is during the design, construction and permitting of renovations.
It’s time for improved renovation standards. Reasonable standards that combine public policy, marketing and education.

The coolest “room” was the crawl space. Here’s one reason why

Age Matters in HVAC

The 1968 two story home I inspected was not only well-maintained, the owner had replaced the heating and cooling appliances, sealed the exterior, added attic insulation, storm windows and ceiling fans. Best of all he’d installed a partially sealed and de-humidified crawl space.
During my walk-thru with the buyer we noted sections of wall had been removed in bathrooms exposing a 12″ supply duct riser running from the single HVAC airhandler to the 2nd floor. The upstairs temperature was significantly higher than downstairs. The crawl space was cold, mainly due to loose duct connections.

 

 

Stupidity born of Ignorance: this louvered door to the attic lets heat in and out of the conditioned space

I did some rough cooling load calculations and considered a number of other clues that indicated cooling problems upstairs. I recommended further evaluation.
The evaluation revealed the duct riser upstairs was undersized, ducts were leaking, the A/C was undersized, reduced cooling efficiency due to refrigerant leaks, lack of wall insulation, a dirty air filter, and a heat-only duct system.
The recommended solution: install a separate HVAC system and seal the attic.

 

 

 

 

 

The contrast between meticulously designed living area and sloppy, un-workmanlike attic reflects the current approach to renovations

The conscientious homeowner was ill-served by his contractors. They didn’t use House as a System analysis. They sold a product and promised a solution

Lesson Learned
The pre-1980 HVAC system couldn’t cool upstairs, it wasn’t designed to. New equipment and piecemeal energy upgrades were not enough. Only an HVAC system design based on a comprehensive understanding of The House as a System, could. If you’re buying a two story home built before 1980 don’t forget that:
Age DOES matter in HVAC

Respectfully,

Your Thinking Man’s Home Inspector