You are just about to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a home. That’s probably once in a lifetime dream for many. Don’t you like to know what you are investing in or buying? You need a professional home inspector who is competent and works for you. But, before you hire one, just be knowledgeable to weed out the bad houses by doing some preliminary check yourself. That will give you the confidence and save some money too.
First Things First:
You will probably look at several homes before you decide on the one which is right for you. Even then, many home shoppers have more than one in which they have an interest.
You know you will need a proper inspection but what should you do when there are several properties in which you are interested? Most likely you will not want to arrange in-depth inspections for several locations. Now what?
The General Do-It-Yourself Inspection
Before enlisting the services of a Professional Home Inspector, we suggest you do a preliminary inspection. From this brief inspection, you may be able to determine the more obvious flaws or concerns with the prospective home. If it meets your requirements after your initial review, then you will be ready to arrange for the more complex and in-depth inspection.
How Would I Know What to Look For?
First, we must realize that this is simply a preliminary inspection and therefore are looking for only the most obvious or glaring concerns. We will guide you through the basics. As we go through this procedure, if there is something you don’t understand, contact us for help. This help is free and there is no obligation.
To help You, here is an outline of the steps you can follow:
- Stand back from the property and look at the surroundings. Does everything look Okay? Anything unusual catches your attention?
- Is the house standing up straight? That is, do the walls look straight or are any leaning or tipped?
- Is the roof straight across the top? Are there any obvious sags or dips noticeable in or on the roof? Look at all the individual roofs (if there are more than one) including the roofs on the garage and outbuildings.
- Does the roofing look OK to you? Look for obvious damage, missing shingles, lots of moss, or repairs.
- Look at the chimney. Can you see any damage? Is it straight? Is the work neatly done where it passes through the roof?
- Next look at the doors and windows (from the outside). Do they appear to be straight and without damaged sections?
- Look at each of the outside walls of the building. Do you see any damage or places where something seems to be missing? Are there any plants, shrubs, or trees against the siding or over or touching the roof? There shouldn’t be.
- Can you see the top of the foundation wall? Look for any cracks or damage. Any wooden parts of the building (such as siding) should be at least 8 inches (20 cm) away from the land surface.
- Look at the steps and decks. Do they look solid and safe? Are you able to see underneath? It’s important to look at the underside as damage and decay often start on the underparts first.
- Same applies to the fence. Is it safe and sound? Also, make sure it’s set according to the local code and guidelines.
- Again, as for the outside, do things look OK? Is there anything which seems unusual or specifically attracts your attention?
- Do things smell OK to you?
- Do the entry doors (front and back) function well? Do they open and close easily? Do they appear in good shape and are they protected by paint or stain?
- Again, as for the outside, do the walls appear to be straight and without damage? Look in every room? Remember, if the home is a resale property, most likely there will be typical flaws and some minor damage (possibly some minor scratches or scrapes, small dents, or normal wear). Other than cosmetically, this is usually not a major concern.
- Do the floors appear even and without damage? Any creaking sounds when you walk across them?
- Look around the windows. Are there any wall cracks or water stains. If present, this could indicate a significant concern with possible water entry or rot within the wall structure.
- Are any windows broken or steamed up between the two pains (if double glazed)? Steamed up double glazed windows are usually only a cosmetic concern but may mean costly replacement if you are not satisfied with the appearance.
- Do the internal doors appear in good condition and do they function (open and close) easily? Jammed doors may mean movement within the structure itself (bad) or simply not fitted properly during original installation (a lesser concern).
- Visually check the plumbing fixtures. Do they appear in good condition? Are there any stains around any of the fixtures or apparent leaks?
- Is there access to the attic (all attics if there are more than one)? This is vitally important. Your professional home inspector will definitely want to get into the attic and look around. As well as getting a good look at the under roof area, your home inspector will want to check the amount of ceiling insulation, attic ventilation, exposed wiring if any, and other important features.
- What are your plans for the basement? If you plan to use the area for any type of living quarters, you will want to do many of the same checks you’ve done for the main living area.
- How does the basement smell? Preferably, if it’s to be used for a rec room or sleeping area, it should smell and feel dry.
Also, there should be access windows large enough to get out through in case of an emergency (e.g. fire).
Your professional home inspector will spend a considerable time in the basement checking mechanical systems (heating, plumbing, electrical, etc.) and looking at the basic structure (if visible) of the building.
That includes testing for the presence of Radon in the house and to see if the basement is livable.
Insurance companies have become increasingly difficult within the recent years.
So, make sure your home inspector is paying close attention to some of these.
Some of the things identified from agents with whom I’ve spoken include:
60-Amp Electrical Service Entrance Panels
Many insurance companies are now refusing to insure homes with 60-ampere services.
Although it is acceptable in the National Building Code for smaller residences with minimal electrical requirements.
Plastic Dryer Vents
Many insurance companies are now insisting that clothes dryer vents be of metal construction.
Without a Manufacturing Date: Although there are still a few oil tanks produced which have no date label or stamp, many insurance companies are refusing insurance unless it can be proven that the tank is less than 10 to 15 years old.
Support: The tanks should be firmly located on steel legs resting on a level and firm concrete surface. The use of wooden supporting structures is strongly discouraged.
Oil Supply Tube and Shut Off
Some are requesting that the oil supply tube have a loop at the tank and that both the line and the shut off be protected by a type of roof or shield.
Running the oil line under concrete is no longer acceptable to many insurance companies.
There are numerous issues involved with solid fuel heating systems.
Some of the most obvious concerns are that stoves or furnaces be certified by acceptable agencies.
There must be sufficient clearance from combustibles such as floors, walls, and ceilings (usually listed on the attached certification labels).
Exhaust vents (stove or furnace pipes) must have three screws holding each of the connection joints and the vents must have sufficient clearance as well as be properly supported. Say for example, for a single walled stove pipe it should be 18″.
Galvanized exhaust vents aren’t acceptable for wood burning equipment.
If there are two furnaces providing heat to a residence, the furnace using wood must be closer to the chimney and/or if a separate exhaust vent is used (in a single flue), the larger vent for the wood burning unit must enter the chimney flue below the vent for the oil or gas furnace.
If a fireplace insert is used, often a stainless-steel liner will be required by most insurance companies.
Age of Roof
Some insurance companies are now insisting that asphalt roofing must be replaced, if over 20 years old.
What Are Home Inspection Attention Getters?
Make sure you fix these so you don’t invite a digging from your inspector.
Because of the complexity of a home, professional home inspectors will often proceed system by system or region by region to ensure that all important items are covered.
However, I feel it is also necessary to look at the overall situation and to view the entire property as a system.
I believe that much can be gained from this overview. Sometimes individual components are functioning normally but may show a weakness when viewed as a link in the overall system.
Also, some features may work fine but may not be acceptable to the home insurance people. The good inspector will often point out these features as an added value or simply as a courtesy to the client.
So, you may wonder, what things attract a home inspector’s specific attention, beyond the routine items?
Perhaps a few examples might help explain.
What if the front yard dips down toward the house? This might mean that water from rains and melting snow could flow directly toward the basement wall.
Have drains or a swale been provided to lead water away? Is there a moisture problem in the basement… possibly near the front basement wall?
Suppose the downspouts from the roof gutters terminate next to the foundation wall with no provision to divert the potentially thousands of gallons of water collected per year, away from the foundation? Wet basement …maybe?
Suppose new asphalt shingles have been put on the roof within the last few years?
Good idea? Most likely.
Leaks? Probably not.
However, … were new flashings provided around the chimney at the same time?
Ah, maybe not. Problem?
Well … flashings will often outlast the shingles, but seldom can they outlast two life spans of a good asphalt roof. Is this a concern? We think it could become one.
Older homes often have a 60-amp electrical entrance. Is this an electrical safety concern? If properly installed and the electrical usage requirements are low, most likely not.
What is the policy of your insurance company? Better check as some are wary of insuring homes with 60-amp entrances, with some refusing to insure, while others may charge higher premiums, and some may not be at all concerned.
Is the electrical system properly grounded? A mistake here could be life-threatening.
Is grounding to the metal (copper) plumbing system acceptable? Usually, as long as the metal piping is continuous underground to the water source.
I’ve found many instances where the metal piping is changed to a plastic or is interrupted by a meter before leading to the public water supply or the well.
Dangerous? You bet.
The newly installed wood burning stove in the living room has been carefully placed on a brick hearth and with a brick facing on the drywall behind the stove. Is there an air space behind the brick veneer?
Your insurance agent will want to know before providing you with home insurance Make sure your home inspector is looking beyond the obvious.
Does the home have a heat recovery ventilation (HRV) system installed?
Hopefully, it’s not installed in the attached garage or placed in the attic. Where is the condensate drain? Are the filters clean? Where does the ductwork lead and is it installed properly?
Insulation and Vapor Barrier:
How thick and continuous is the attic floor insulation and is the access trap insulated and weather-stripped?
Was a continuous vapor barrier included? Is the attic well ventilated with provisions for proper ventilation at both the soffit level and higher in the attic either as ridge vents or gable end vents?
Your comfort, energy efficiency, and the longevity of the home may be significantly affected by how well this is accomplished.
A competent home inspector looks for and at these situations among hundreds of others. Read a lot of reviews and find a qualified, excellent home inspector who would do that for your house.
This information is meant solely to aid the potential home buyer in eliminating homes which do not fit their requirements.
In no way should this brief review and check be considered a full inspection or conclusive in any manner.
Your professional home inspector will not only do these checks with a trained and experienced eye but will include hundreds more tests and checks plus in-depth observation of all the permanently installed residential systems.
However, as previously stated, this brief inspection outline will aid the potential purchaser in eliminating some of the residences and will help narrow down the choices to one or two candidates for their new home.
Now it’s time to contact the best home inspection service in your area to arrange a full professional inspection.
You are about to spend thousands of dollars on your new home so don’t make the mistake of allowing anyone to downplay the importance of a professional home inspection by professionals trained specifically for that purpose.
Remember, contractors and real estate agents are not home inspectors, nor are they trained for such an important duty. Their areas of expertise and agendas are much different.
Likewise, a professional home inspector has no qualifications to determine whether or not you should purchase the home or what you should pay. Also, the professional home inspector should not offer to do any contracting or service work beyond inspections, regardless of their background or claimed credentials. To do such is a violation of the code of ethics and principles of all professional home inspectors.