How to Look

at a House


A blog with answers
to your questions about
HOME INSPECTION
and HOME MAINTENANCE

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Welcome to our blog!
We want you to be an informed homebuyer, and each blog post is a question that we have answered for our friends and customers over the years. Hope they help you make a good choice for your next home.

  1. Peeling Paint - Faded paint is not considered a defect. But when it starts to peel, the wood below becomes exposed to water intrusion, and rot follows shortly afterward. Prep and paint those areas. But first probe spots that look soft with a screwdriver, especially at window sills and trim, and repair or replace any rotten wood you find. Buyers that are financing with an FHA, VA, or US•DA guaranteed loan will need all wood rot repaired to get their mortgage approved.

  2. Cracked Caulk - That bead of sealant that wraps around the doors and windows of the exterior walls is absolutely necessary to keep water out. Look closely at the condition of the caulking, and repair any areas that are cracked or flaking away. Sometimes homeowners miss a problem location because the caulk is completely gone, so double-check to make sure there is a snug bead of caulk in place around all the wall openings.

  3. Bad Grade - Ideally, the soil should slope away from your home on all four sides. This isn’t always possible on a hillside, but you can add extensions to the gutter downspouts to carry water further away from the house in areas where water puddles near the house after a rain. Also, add some soil to any area where it has visibly washed away from the base of the exterior walls and exposed the top of the footing.

  4. Termite Tubes - Mud veins that are pencil-thick running up a wall indicate subterranean termites have moved in. They can appear on interior walls too. Break one of the tubes. If miniature white ants (termites) spill out, call an exterminator.

IN THE ATTIC

  1. Leaky Roof - A small roof leak will not always drip down and create a stain on the ceiling, but it can be enough to rot the roof sheathing and grow mold around it. So we recommend going up in the attic after a heavy rain to look around. Scan the underside of the sheathing for stains, especially around roof penetrations like skylights, plumbing vent pipes, and chimneys. Then repair as necessary.

  2. Truss Trauma - Any tampering with an engineered roof truss--even just cutting out a small section--dramatically reduces its strength and can be dangerous. If you notice any pieces of a truss that have been cut away, typically to make more headroom or to create a clear area for storage, you have a serious problem. Call a structural engineer for a repair plan.

  3. Insulation Issues -  Look for areas where the insulation has been pulled away, perhaps to make a minor repair at the ceiling, but not replaced. Also, check to make sure that the insulation isn’t obstructing the soffit vents around the perimeter of the home. Typically, cardboard or plastic baffles are installed over the close edge of the soffit to keep insulation from covering it, which assures that air can flow up through the soffit vents and out the ridge vent to cool the attic in the summer. Make sure the baffles are in place.

  4. Attic Stair Safety - Pull down the folding attic stairs and read the installation diagram printed on the frame or inside of cover panel. It typically specifies 16-penny nails or lag screws at specific locations. Are they there? Is any of the folding hardware loose or damaged? Does the ladder seat properly in the opening when closed, so attic air doesn’t leak into the house? A stair tune-up may be necessary.

INTERIOR ROOMS

  1. Vents to Nowhere - Bathroom vent fans are supposed to exhaust the moisture-laden air to the exterior after a bath. But sometimes the vent ends just above the ceiling in the attic or, even worse, is plugged  under a layer of insulation. Turn on your bathroom vent fans, then go up in the attic and check where all that air goes. If it does not make it to the outdoors, you a have another repair project.

  2. Stuck Windows - You already know which doors are hard-to-close or off-their-track, but when was the last time you tested your windows? A shot of silicone spray can work wonders with a sliding window that’s a little stiff. But windows that are jammed or have cracked panes indicate a possible structural problem.

  3. Loose Railings - Give your porch railings and stair handrails a good tug. Fix or replace where necessary.

ELECTRICAL

  1. Bad Wall Plugs - Buy a 3-light plug tester for about three dollars at a hardware store and check the receptacles around your home to make sure they are wired properly and none are dead.

  2. Lights Out - Check the switched light fixtures around the house to make sure they wall work. Most of the time a dead bulb is the only problem.

  3. Shoddy Splices - Any electrical splices that are visible, whether with wire nuts or just taped-up, means an amateur electrician has been at work. All splices should be concealed in an electrical box or inside the fixture for safety. Call an electrician for this repair.

  4. Missing Cover Plates - All electric receptacles and switches should have a solid cover plate that is securely attached.

  5. Smoked Alarms - Push the test button on each of your smoke alarms. Replace the battery or alarm as necessary. At a minimum, you should have one smoke alarm at each hallway or access room to every bedroom.

PLUMBING

  1. Water Heater Rumbling - If you hear the water heater gurgle, rumble, make popping sounds, it’s time to drain the sediment from the bottom of the tank. Louder sounds usually indicate it’s time to replace the heating element on an electric water heater.

  2. Clanging Pipes - When the air cushion built into home piping dissipates over time, the pipes shake and make a banging noise when you shut off a faucet. See our blog article on Water Hammer for the simple fix.

  3. Wobbly Toilet - When the bolts holding a toilet to the floor work loose over time, it can break the wax seal between the toilet and drain piping and lead to water damage in the surrounding floor. Stand over the toilet bowl with it straddled between your knees and do a “wiggle test.” If the bowl moves with you, repair it. Sometimes, just tightening the bolts is enough; but any evidence of moisture around the base of the toilet means it’s time to replace the wax seal too.

THE SIMPLE VERSION

If all this seems like more work than you want to do, see our quick and simple version of preparing for a home inspection at Seller Prep For A Home Inspection.


While we hope you find this series of articles about home inspection helpful, they should not be considered an alternative to an actual home inspection by a local inspector. Also, construction standards vary in different parts of the country and it is possible that important issues related to your area may not be covered here.
©2015 - McGarry and Madsen Inspection.

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