How can I know the condition of my roof?
A noticeably worn out roof is an easy call to make, but a roof that is only starting to age is a more subtle defect that a professional home inspector can uncover. Because the resurfacing of a roof can costs thousands of dollars, eliminating problems before they start is smart. For a potential home buyer, a roof needing to be resurfaced in the foreseeable future may be a negotiable item to a sales transaction.
and gravel roofs, also known as built-up roofs, are among the most common of all roof types. They are installed on countless homes and on the majority of commercial buildings. The most frequent concern with built-up gravel roofing is the need for periodic maintenance to retain gravel coverage on all surfaces. Sun exposure to bare spots can lead to deterioration and shortened longevity of the roof membrane.
Another common roof problem is ponding -- standing water that results from inadequate pitch of the roof. This can be due to substandard framing at the time of construction or sagging of the roof structure. Ponding can also result from blocked roof drains; so it is important to keep the roof free of debris and foreign objects.
A detailed roof evaluation is a standard part of every competent home inspection. Home inspectors typically inspect a roof by walking on the surface, as this is the best way to observe and evaluate all pertinent conditions. There are some conditions that could keep an inspector off the roof (barring these circumstances, a competent inspector should include a walk on the roof):
- The surface is too steep to provide safe footing
- The surface is too high for access with a normal length ladder
- The roofing is so deteriorated that foot traffic would cause further damage
- Surface conditions such as snow, ice, moisture, or moss make the roof too slippery
- The roofing consists of tiles that might break under foot pressure
- The sellers have ordered the inspector to stay off the roof
Should I get my fireplace inspected?
Both TPREIA and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommend a yearly, professional inspection to include the checking of chimney, flues and vents for leakage and blockage by creosote and debris. Leakage through cracks or holes could cause black stains in the outside of the chimney and flue. These stains mean that pollutants are leaking into the house. Most people are not aware that a fireplace inadequately maintained and vented can produce more carbon monoxide infiltration into the home's interior than several furnaces and water heater flue vents combined.
Several problems may occur at the chimney and firebox that the average homeowner is unaware, such as corroded or inoperable metal smoke damper, a damaged metal ash dump cover, eroded mortar joints at the rear and side interior hearth fire brick walls and base, inadequate hearth extension, improper clearance from combustible materials at the hearth opening or at the chimney within the attic space, a cracked flue liner or no flue liner at all especially at older chimneys, a damaged cement cap at the chimney top which can allow moisture intrusion into the chimney interior chase ultimately deteriorating the entire system. Also, there is the possibility that the ash dump pit is overfilled, the exterior clean-out cast iron cover is missing or below exterior grade or under the house within the foundation crawl space area (which is no longer an approved location as the spillage of hot ashes under a home presents a distinct fire hazard). The chimney top should be equipped with a weather capped spark arrestor to help prevent seasonal moisture intrusion into the chimney interior and the escape of hot embers when operating the fireplace. This is very important when the home has a wood shingle or shake roof covering.
Consider the following advice when looking to hire a fireplace specialist: check to see if the company or individual you call is a member of a state chimney guild or association; check with the local Better Business Bureau to see if there is a record of any complaints; and most important, do not allow the fireplace/chimney inspector perform corrective work for any defects that are reported (this is a conflict of interest). Get a written report from the inspection specialist, then hire and then hire a state licensed masonry contractor to do the actual repair work.
What’s the best way to “winterize” my home?
The most destructive element to a home’s structural health is moisture infiltration through openings in the building envelope. Water is insidious in its efforts to find even the smallest crack and attack any and all cellulose materials, which includes the both exterior and interior coverings including the structural framing members — often resulting in “dry rot” (a misleading term because continual moisture contact with wood usually results in “wet rot” which is the breakdown of cellulose materials).
Another area of concern when dealing with moisture infiltration is pest infestation — the invasion of wood destroying insects, carpenter ants and wood eating beetles that thrive on cellulose materials. And of course, moisture problems can also lead to mold.
If your home has inadequate grade slope away from the perimeter foundation, there may be the possibility of water intrusion into the foundation’s crawl space area, which can be compounded if the home contains below grade rooms and storage areas.
The most common means of moisture intrusion noted by home inspectors in Texas are through the following avenues: gaining entry below the structure; worn roof coverings; deteriorated roof vent flashing serving both plumbing fixtures and mechanical equipment; improperly installed or worn chimney flashing; and doors and windows that have not been properly weather sealed.
Below is a simple list of maintenance tasks for the homeowner to perform to help prevent moisture infiltration both into and below their homes:
- Clean all rain gutters, including downspouts, and make sure all gutter joints are properly sealed.
- Insure that rain gutter downspouts are directed away from the perimeter foundation. This may take adding some corrugated plastic extension piping you can purchase at your local home store.
- Check to see there are no low areas around the home’s perimeter foundation where water can collect after a rainstorm. Standing water will eventually work its way beneath the home and can lead to building settlement and foundation support failure.
- Carefully check all of your exterior doors and windows and adjacent trim to see if they need any application of exterior type epoxy or sealants.
- Immediately after the first heavy rain, check under your house to confirm that the ground is reasonably dry.
- If you think the surface grade around the perimeter foundation is a source for concern and more than you can fix with a garden shovel, consult a state licensed drainage contractor for their recommendations – they will provide a cost estimate for corrective work which may include the installation of an underground drainage system.
While the existence of toxic molds in the environment has been documented for centuries, due to modern construction practices, poor quality control and a lack of proper maintenance, they are now linked to illnesses and other medical disorders that are affecting the lives of families across the continent. Most of the attention regarding toxic molds has been focused on the compromised health and shattered lives of the home’s occupants along with the inevitable litigation that follows. What has been missing throughout all this firestorm of media activity is discussion regarding the conditions contributing to toxic mold manifestation.
There are many factors leading to fungal development within a structure. The primary cause is water intrusion; a fungal contamination requires several conditions in order to survive and grow. There must be a moisture source, limited ventilation and a food source that is commonly any cellulose substrate on which the fungal contamination can grow on and become a colony. The typical gestation period for a mold colony is only 12 to 48 hours from the onset of spore exposure to the cellulose substrate.
When dealing with a possible toxic mold contamination inside a structure, the first course of action is to locate the moisture source and remediate it. There are several common areas of moisture intrusion to consider, such as;
- Roof leaks
- Plumbing leaks
- Poorly maintained heating and cooling systems
- Window and door leaks
- Improperly adjusted landscape sprinklers as well as many other possible sources
Homes should be thoroughly reviewed, including an inspection of the roofing materials and penetrations, such as heating and plumbing vents. Other common leakage areas, such as chimney and/or skylight flashings should also be examined. Exterior wall penetrations, such as windows and door openings, electrical fixtures and receptacle boxes, should be examined for signs of water intrusion as well. Additionally, the plumbing system, including pipes in crawl spaces and attics should be thoroughly reviewed for signs of leakage. All heating and cooling equipment should be operated and inspected for signs of moisture intrusion, and or creation. Harper explained that residential air conditioning systems can produce two to three quarts of water per day when operated for extended periods of time. “If the air conditioning condensation line is not properly routed, you could put a bathtub full of water into the walls before you noticed it,” explained Harper.
Due to the complexities surrounding moisture intrusion sources, TPREIA recommends consumers not attempt these investigations on their own, but rather hire a professional home inspector that is trained and equipped to perform such work. A qualified TPREIA inspector is trained to identify conditions leading to and causing moisture intrusion. TPREIA qualified inspectors are equipped to access roofing materials, attics, and crawl spaces. Although specific identification of fungal contamination is beyond the scope of a typical home inspection, some TPREIA inspector members have received additional education and training in this discipline and offer this and other ancillary environmental services in addition to their usual inspection services.
What is proper drainage for my home?
It’s an old industry adage that warns: “A lot of water in short period of time can cause major damage and a little water over a long period of time can cause major damage.” TPREIA warns that amateur solutions to complex drainage problems often result in poor guesswork with no assurance that the money and effort invested will produce desired results. Causes and cures for excessive ground water conditions can be perplexing, even challenging the most knowledgeable of drainage professionals. Failure to properly diagnose and address such conditions can have significant long-term effects on the integrity of a home, including possible jeopardy to the foundation itself.
A nonprofessional’s recommendation, such as boring a drain hole in a foundation wall, may appear to resolve the problem but is actually little more than an uneducated guess. The problem with this approach is its reliance on the following poor assumptions that by simply draining a bore hole in the foundation: 1) all ground water in the sub-area will flow to that opening and that there are no other low areas where standing water could remain beneath the building; 2) the water flow beneath the building has not caused soil erosion at the piers and foundations (ongoing erosion could lead to eventual undermining of the structure) — it is important to prevent further water 3) there has been no moisture condensation on the wood framing. Condensation is a common cause of fungus and dry rot and can also lead to rust damage of structural hardware. If water damage is occurring, increased ventilation could be essential, and the addition of a plastic ground membrane may be an important consideration.
The Texas Professional Real Estate Inspection Association (TPREIA) recommends that you have your home’s foundation and drainage issues looked at by a qualified home inspection professional. After a careful professional inspection, your home inspector may recommend further evaluation by a qualified drainage specialist, such as a licensed geotechnical engineer to determine the source of water entry. A drainage system should then be installed to prevent further intrusion of ground water. Improvements could include installing a french drain near the building, adding gutters to the roof, regarding the ground surfaces around or below the building, installing a water pump beneath the structure, and possibly more. Only a drainage specialist is qualified to determine which methods of correction are appropriate.
How does a home “show its age”?
New Home. With the purchase of a new home, expecting a finished product free of major problems is justified. However, minor repair items often found in a new home may include incorrectly wired circuits, cracked roof shingles, missing miscellaneous hardware, binding doors, paint touch up, cracked window panes, dirty HVAC vents and filters, scratches in finished wood, and drywall nail pops. A new house should not show any signs of foundation settling, water intrusion, soil erosion, or improperly functioning appliances or mechanical components.
Two to Ten Years Old. A house that is 2-10 years old may begin to show routine wear and tear, but should be structurally and mechanically sound. Most foundation settling will occur by now (however, if a drainage problem is left unresolved future damage may occur). Caulking, painting and other routine items should be checked. A review of the electrical and mechanical systems should also be conducted to assure proper operation.
Eleven to Twenty Years Old. A house that is 11-20 years old will begin to show additional signs of age and degradation. There may be a need to repair and replace some components such as wood rot, sealant, roofing shingles, and cosmetic surfaces. If the appliances are original, they may be nearing their expected service life. The structural elements, as well as the major electrical and mechanical equipment, should still be in adequate condition at this age.
Up to Forty Years Old. As a building ages, it is common to experience some settling or movement in the foundation, floors, walls, ceilings and other areas. Anticipate replacing some major systems and components such as heating and air conditioning equipment, roofing materials, major appliances, and some electrical and plumbing fixtures.
Historic Buildings. When purchasing a historic home be aware that there might be significant structural issues, as well as outdated construction techniques and components that may need addressing. Mortar may be failing and fireplaces may not be safe to operate. Settling, spauling plaster, binding doors, inoperable windows, inadequate electrical and heating components, and inadequate insulation are common with homes of this age. Extensive repairs and upgrades should be anticipated and budgeted.
The above generalizes the anticipated conditions for homes of various ages. A professional inspection can inform a homebuyer of important issues. An inspection consists of a thorough visual examination of a home’s structural components including the foundation, superstructure, and roofing systems, where accessible, plus the major electrical and mechanical components. Much of what an inspector points out is for the buyer’s edification and not intended to be a catalyst for immediate repair. The role of the inspector is to provide potential homebuyers with accurate information on the property so that they can make an informed purchase decision.
How important is it to have clean HVAC ducts in my home?
Home owners need to be aware of potential health hazards from the accumulation of dust and filth in a home’s ductwork. While not the case with all forced air systems, in many homes, occupants are unknowingly breathing air that has been circulated over layers of visible filth.
Although the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not address duct cleaning, air ducts provide a common harbor and distribution mechanism for biological air contaminants. In many older homes, forced air heaters may have been operated for years with dirty filters or with no filters at all. The accumulated dust on the inner duct surfaces is often oily or moist and may contain mites or various species of molds or fungus. In newer homes, where air-tight construction methods are employed for enhanced energy conservation, the growth of mold spores has become recognized as a significant indoor air quality hazard.
The EPA reports that molds can be found almost anywhere; they can grow on virtually any substance when moisture is present. Molds produce tiny spores to reproduce, just as plants produce seeds. Mold spores waft through the indoor and outdoor air continually. When mold spores land on a damp spot indoors, they may begin growing and digesting whatever they are growing on in order to survive. There are molds that can grow on wood, paper, carpet, foods, even dynamite. When excessive moisture or water accumulates indoors, mold growth will often occur, particularly if the moisture problem remains undiscovered or unaddressed. There is no practical way to eliminate all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment; the way to control indoor mold growth is to control moisture.
Molds can trigger asthma episodes in individuals with an allergic reaction to mold. If mold is a problem in your home, you must clean up the mold and eliminate sources of moisture. Recommendation by your professional inspector to clean you air ducts should be heeded to help provide a safe and healthy home.
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Should I be concerned about aluminum wiring in my home?
How important is good drainage around my home?
What are some good summer maintenance tips for my home?
Should I be concerned about a backflow of water between indoor and outdoor faucets?
When I sell my home, what are my disclosure obligations?
What do I need to know before I start construction on my brand new dream house?
What are the most common defects found by Home Inspectors?
How can I make sure my chimney and fireplaces are in safe working order?
Are there any precautions that can be taken to better ensure my family and home’s protection against water intrusion?
When I go to sell my house what do I need to tell a buyer?
When I sell my house do I have to repair everything on the buyer’s inspection report?
What kind of electrical hazards are present in a home?
What do I need to know about clothes dryer safety?
What is the essential difference between home construction and home inspection as distinct professional practices?
How can I make sure that my central cooling system is functioning properly and safely?
How can I avoid moisture problems under my home?
How can I find out if there is asbestos in my home?