Home Inspection Questions Answered

Return to article list

The inspector answers home inspection questions, along with home maintenance and repair questions.

 

Archive: Home Inspection Questions    |    Home Maintence & Repair Questions


After 25 years of for sale by owner real estate experience and selling several homes the best advice we can offer regarding inspections is to get one BEFORE you put the home on the market. This way any issues can be dealt with beforehand and you can proceed knowing the house is ready to sell.

 

Dear Hans: My parents bought a house about a year ago and had a home inspector check it out. The inspection report said the furnace had no problems. But recently, a heating contractor did a routine inspection and said the furnace blower is cracked. He told us this could let carbon monoxide into the house and that the furnace needs to be replaced. My parents have carbon monoxide detectors in their home, and the detectors have never gone off. Our suspicions were raised when the furnace man refused to show us the crack. So we're having another contractor take a look. If the blower is cracked, can it be repaired? Shouldn't the company that found the crack be willing to show it to us? Shouldn't the home inspector have reported the crack? And do we have recourse? -- Kari

Dear Kari: A cracked blower does not affect carbon monoxide levels in a home. The heating contractor must have meant a cracked heat exchanger. In most cases, a furnace with a cracked heat exchanger must be replaced. The only exceptions are heaters for which replacement parts are available, and with older furnaces this is unlikely.

It's hard to imagine a heating company discovering a significant problem and then refusing to show it to you. Your decision to get a second opinion was a good one, especially given the high cost of a new furnace. Whether the home inspector should have reported the crack (assuming there is a crack) is uncertain. Inspectors can only report conditions that are visible and accessible. In many cases, cracks in heat exchangers cannot be seen without dismantling the furnace.

As for recourse, that would be an issue only if the crack existed a year ago, when the house was purchased. Unfortunately, there is no way to know if the fixture was cracked then. It is possible that the problem developed during the past year.



Dear Hans: We're planning to sell our home. It's in pretty good condition, but some of the floors are squeaky and there are cracks in the patio slab. We would like to get as much as possible when we sell and are worried about how these defects will affect the appraisal value. If we repair the floors and patio, do you think we can get more for the house? -- Jim


Dear Jim: Squeaky floors and cracked patio slabs have little or no impact on the market value of a home. If the floors can be repaired for a nominal cost, you can correct them if you wish. But keep in mind that many buyers do major remodeling and new landscaping after taking possession of a home. In that case, minor repairs before the sale would have no appreciable benefit. If all other aspects of the property are presentable, you would do well simply to disclose the squeaks and cracks. Most buyers are willing to accept defects that are openly disclosed, especially minor ones such as these.


Dear Hans: We have a 30-foot-long concrete-block retaining wall that is leaning four inches out of plumb. Some of the bottom blocks have small cracks. Does this sound like a serious problem? -- Larry

Dear Larry: A retaining wall that is leaning a full four inches should be regarded as structurally failed. However, it may take many years before the consequences become significant. Before that happens, you can have the wall reinforced. Have it evaluated by a structural engineer.


Dear Hans: The people who are buying our home ordered a radon test. Test readings in the basement were high and the company that did the testing quoted $975 to fix the problem. We're concerned that the company that provided the test is also proposing to do the repairs. Isn't this a conflict of interest? -- Diana

Dear Diana: Such conflicts occur in a number of service businesses, including termite extermination, septic-system maintenance and roof repair. When inspections and repairs are performed by the same company, it’s likely to raise suspicions. But this is a problem only when the business is run by unethical people. If the company is honest, then the conflict should not be a problem.

If you want to confirm the radon findings, you can order radon test canisters from an environmental testing lab and perform your own test. One thing to note: The price the company has quoted for the work is reasonable.

 

Dear Hans: We have a two part question for you: First- We are having a home built.  The builder assures us he will inspect everything as he goes. Should I contract a Home Inspector to make periodic inspections? Second-We want to have a prelisting inspection done on the home we are currently living in, what should be done to make our house “Home Inspection Ready”?

Dear Jared: Both great questions! First – Absolutely! Usually the general contractor is trying to manage multiple sub-contractors at the same time. Most times they are trying to finish before a deadline. With all that going  on it is very easy to miss something. Also many times the general contractor may not be versed   in all the trades such as plumbing & heating, electrical, etc. and won’treally know what to look at or for. Having a professionally trained home inspector do what are called “phase” inspections at different times during the project can be very beneficial, especially since building to code is not  enforced on residential homes in Vermont. Second – Getting your home ready for a home inspection is very important. If there are areas the inspector can’t get to or can’t see, he or she will not be able to fully evaluate it. In some  cases the buyer will ask the inspector to make a return trip to evaluate those areas after things have been moved. Most inspectors charge for returning. Below are some helpful hints on having the house ready. Attic: This is an area the Home Inspector will need to get into or at least access the panel to view into it. If the access is in a closet, make sure you clear anything out of the way that would stop the Inspector and his ladder from accessing it. Home Inspectors generally do not move your personal stuff.

Electrical Panel: Move anything that you may have stored in front of the panel, the Inspector will need to get close to it to remove the cover and inspect the wiring inside the panel. It is also very important to change any burnt out light bulbs.
Computers: The Inspector will need to trip any GFCI breakers and outlets. We recommend that your computer be shut down to prevent the loss of any information during this process.
Dishwasher: Dishwashers may not be tested if there is anything in it, so it’s a good idea to make sure it’s empty.
Ovens: Ovens may not be tested if there is anything in it, so it’s a good idea to make sure they are empty like the dishwasher.
Basements and garages: If you use them for storage, make sure you move as much away from the walls in these areas as you can. This way the Inspector can do a more adequate assessment of these areas.
Furnace and Water Heater: Make sure nothing is stored around these items that would stop the Inspector from properly inspecting them.
Plumbing: If the water is off for any reason and you’re not going to be there, make sure you leave a note giving the Inspector permission to turn the water on for the inspection. The Inspector will turn the water off again when he’s done.
Animals: If you have animals, make sure that they are not in the Inspectors way. The Inspector will need to look at all sides of the house and garage inside and out. Remember the Inspector will have the door open numerous times, so if you’re animals don’t go out it would be a good idea to kennel them.

Dear Hans:  We are getting ready to put our house on the market and were wondering if there is any way to tell if we have issues with the foundation?  -- Marcell B Goshen, VT

Dear Marcell: Great question and if addressed, one that could avoid any delay in selling your home.  Knowing the early warning signs of foundation issues can head off problems that could potentially cost you tens of thousands of dollars.  The sooner you identify problems, the easier and less expensive it can be to fix them.

Keep in mind that houses settle over time and a little unevenness is no cause to panic. At the same time you want to be familiar with signs that may mean there is a larger issue at hand.

Some basic indoor warning signs might be:

1. A door begins to jam or won’t latch.

2. Cracks appear in walls, especially over doorways, windows or where walls meet ceilings.

3. Cracks open in vinyl or ceramic tile over a concrete floor.

4. Windows that used to open and close easily begin to stick or won’t close completely.

Do a check of the Outside:

Check to see if your foundation is straight by sighting down the length of your foundation wall from each corner.  The walls should basically be straight, both up and down and from side to side.  Use a level to see if the walls are leaning.

A curve in a block foundation or poured concrete wall could signal the foundation has shifted, or the soil around the foundation may be expanding and contracting, which can put pressure on the walls.

Check the concrete for weakness:

If your foundation appears to be chipping or flaking, take a sturdy screwdriver and poke it in various places.  The concrete should be strong enough that you can’t damage it by doing this.

If you do manage to chip it or break a piece off, this can be an indication that the concrete is deteriorating because the mix contained dirty or salty sand, or too much water.  This is a problem which is common in houses built in the early 1900’s; unfortunately it has no remedy short of a new foundation.

Check Structural Components:

In your basement or crawl space, look for posts and concrete support, or piers.  The Posts should stand straight, as well as be firmly planted under the beams they support. Bottoms of the posts should rest firmly on concrete piers. You shouldn’t find any puddles or see wet framing.    

Check for rot by probing wood posts with a screwdriver.  Puddles and other signs of moisture in a crawl space may indicate poor drainage around the perimeter foundation.  Be sure that gutters aren’t plugged, and that soil slopes away from the foundation at the rate of 6 inches for every 10 horizontal feet.

Keeping in mind that, as concrete cures, it shrinks slightly.  Where it can’t shrink evenly, it tends to crack. Concrete and block foundations usually have a few cracks; the trick is recognizing which are insignificant and which are serious.

Hairline cracks in the mortar – between concrete blocks are rarely worth worrying about.

Cracks at an L- shape section – are probably shrinkage cracks, especially if they meander and taper down to a hairline.  These typically aren’t structural, although you may want to plug them to keep the basement or crawl space dry.

Stair-step cracks in masonry joints – are a bigger concern, especially if the wall is bulging or the crack is wider than 1/4 inch.  Moisture problems outside or a plugged gutter is probably exerting pressure on that part of the wall.

Horizontal cracks – are the most serious.  It may be that water-saturated soil froze and expanded, pushing in and breaking the foundation.  Or you may have soil that expands when damp and shrinks when dry; that’s bad news and may require a new foundation.

Contacting a Professional: A structural engineer can determine whether any of these warning signs point to normal settling or to structural damage.  It’s worth the peace of mind, if you have concerns, to have  a structural engineer to evaluate your foundation.

Dear Hans: As a homeowner, is there anything I can do to maintain and extend the life of my roof? Also how would I check for leaks? - Bradley D Hartland VT

Dear Bradley: I'll address the maintenance and life extension first. The answer is yes, there are somethings you can do to keep your roof in good condition and possibly help extend the life of the roof as well:
*Keep trees trimmed to prevent the branches from scratching the roofing material, this will also avoid damage to the roof if limbs should fall from the trees. Animals can also reach the roof easily if limbs are touching the roof which can potentially cause extensive damage.
*If you roof has shingles, always replace missing or damaged shingles as soon as possible.
*Make sure you have good ventilation in the attic, even during the winter.
*Keep gutters, roof valleys and flat portions of the roof free of debris.
*Keep your roof maintained, an asphalt shingle roof (the most common) can be expected to last between 15 & 20 years.
Now we'll talk about checking for roof leaks. Little roof leaks can cause big repair bills. Although you should rely on a professional to inspect your roof, if you decide to do this yourself, below are some tips you should follow:
*The best time to check for leaks is during a heavy rain. Look for water pooling on the roof or in the valleys. Check the gutters to see if they are overflowing, sagging or leaking.
*In the attic and on the roof look for signs of mold, this means moisture has gathered and could indicate a leak.
*Inspect the attic for water stains, moisture or dark colored areas, this is an indication that there is a leak.

Q:  Dear Hans: Is there anything I can do to maintain my septic system?- Pauline B Dover VT

Dear Pauline: If you want to avoid a potentially messy situation, here a few things you can do to maintain your septic system:
*Have the system pumped regularly -  It's necessary in order to remove solids in the tank that accumulate over time. Depending on the usage most systems should be pumped every two or three years.
*Watch what you flush or pour down the drains. Avoid flushing or pouring grease, coffee grounds etc. into the drains. This prevents the absorption area from clogging. Keep in mind that garbage disposals will cause the systems workload to increase as well, this will require more frequent pumping.
*Conserve water - repair any leaks and or drips and minimize the amount of laundry you do, this also helps prevent straining and overloading the system.

Q: Dear Hans: We have noticed some noises coming from the attic during high winds and woul like to determine what is making the noise. There was a sound like a fan spinning very quickly coming from the attic; this seemed to come from the vicinity where the bathroom fan is. Then we have a family room on our second floor which has a fan in the ceiling that fan begins to turn very quickly and the louvers begin opening so that the attic was open to the interior of the house. This all occurs when we have high winds. We were wondering what you think might be happening. - Danny H Jeffersonville VT

Dear Danny: What's happening is the wind is causing the house to pressurize and depressurize. The attic vents and the bathroom exhaust fan allow air to enter the house; this causes the whirling noise in the bathroom. With the high winds the house is trying to equalize the inside pressure with the outside pressure. The air pressure has to escape and will take the path of least resistance, in your case it’s the whole house fan, the fan will spin as the air passed through it. This is always occurring without you noticing it; it intensifies with the high winds (usually 50+mph).

Q:  We are renovating my late father's house to put it on the market, located in New York. The contractor we hired there is telling me I need to do all this stuff to bring it up to building code standards for New York, such as sheetrocking the garage ceiling and putting in firewalls, new everything, etc. The house was built in 1964 and I'm wondering if I should just forget about fixing it up myself and sell it as is (a fixer upper), or if he's wrong about things. -- William S., Vermont


Hi William, Thank you for your question. That question actually comes up quite often during an inspection. The simple answer is 'NO' for a single family residence. I say 'simple answer' because certain types of loans have different requirements. An older home does not have to meet current code. In fact a home build 4 years ago probability would not meet current code. Code cycles generally change every 3 years. With that being said, most conventional loans don't have many restrictions but a particular loan type such as FHA/VA or an insurance company may have certain requirements. Some may require that GFIC protected outlets be installed within 6 feet of a sink or tub, hand and guardrails be installed on steps with 4 or more risers and decks more than 30 inches off the ground. Some may or may not require fire separation between the garage and the home. There are some other things on their list but nothing that would generally stop the sale of a home. The only requirement in a home sale in both Vermont and New York is for the seller to install the correct smoke and carbon monoxide protection. This may be a good time to mention 'Pre-Sale' inspections. A pre-sale inspection is when a home inspector would visit the home being sold. The inspector would inspect the home like they would for a buyer. The seller would have the opportunity to see what the buyer would see in the report and then be able to either fix any issues they wanted and/or disclose issues they didn't want to fix.


Q: We haven't used the fireplace in our family camp for years, because it smokes so. We've learned that the damper is rusty, and needs replacing. Does this require a brand new chimney, or is there anything we can do to repair the current damper? We're getting ready to sell it and are afraid it won't pass inspection unless we fix it. -- Annette S., Shelburne

Hi Annette,
Thank you for your question. Rusty dampers are quite common. They generally rust due to water finding its way down the chimney. A rusty damper does not mean you will need a new chimney although its always a good idea to have a certified chimney sweep inspect the chimney and flue yearly. The damper itself can be replaced and there are several different options for doing so. As far as the fireplace not passing inspection, that would not stop the sale of the home in most cases. At most it may be a point of negation with the buyer.

Dear Hans: We recently had a home inspected and no major issues were found. Our lender informed us the home did not pass the FHA appraisal.  How is it possible that the inspection passed and the appraisal failed? Shouldn’t the inspection and the appraisal have been the same?  --- Lynn-Ann R., St. Albans, VT


Dear Lynn-Ann: That is a great question and the simple answer is no.  A home inspection is an evaluation as to the condition of the property.  An appraisal is an evaluation as to worth or value of the property.

An FHA appraisal is a little different from a conventional appraisal in that the home must meet the Minimum Property Standards. Most home inspectors are not versed in the FHA Minimum Property Standards as they are not required to be.

The Minimum Property Standards are the same as a home inspection in regards that both evaluate for safety issues and the structural soundness of the home. They are different in that the FHA appraiser is evaluating for things like encroachment issues and the feasibility of attaching a home utilizing a well to municipal water if available, just to name a few.  These are things that are not within the scope of a normal home inspection.

There are options if the home does not pass the FHA appraisal. There are programs like the FHA 203k Streamline or 203K full which allow the buyer to borrow the money to repair the home and have it added to the mortgage amount.  You should contact you lender for more information.

Dear Hans: Our Buyer Broker scheduled the home inspection for this week, but we’re not sure what to do with the report once we get it. Is the inspection just for our information, or can we use it to negotiate with the sellers? If we don’t like the finding are we obligated to buy the house? --- Cindy M., Middlebury, VT


Dear Cindy:  First of all, I hope you had a say in who your inspector would be. Agents can be a source for referrals, but it is up to you to do your due diligence in finding or accepting an inspector.

A home inspection gives you a few different options as a buyer, but with some limitations. In the majority of home sales, the deal is contingent upon the buyers’ acceptance of the home inspection report.  This means that you, as buyer, have a specified number of days to accept or decline the property. After reviewing the inspection report, you have four basic choices:

1)             Ask the sellers to make a few repairs;

2)             Ask the sellers to make many repairs;

3)             Ask the sellers to reduce the sales price;

4)             Decline to purchase the property.

If you request repairs or a price adjustment, based upon the home inspection report, the sellers also have choices.  They can:

1)            Agree to all of your requests;

2)            Agree to some of your requests;

3)            Agree to none of your requests;

4)            Tell you to take it as-is or the deal's off

The sellers’ only obligation is to address defects that are named in the purchase contract or as required by state and local laws.  If the contract specifies an “as is” sale, the sellers may refuse to make repairs of any kind or to adjust the price in any way.  Lawful exceptions in Vermont include that the seller provide the correct smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in specified locations.

As long as you are in the contingency period of your transaction, the choice to buy the property or to walk away from the deal is entirely yours. This is your discovery period, the time to learn what you are buying and to decide whether to proceed with the purchase or to renegotiate the terms of the sale.

Dear Readers: In a previous column, I provided a list of monthly and seasonal maintenance tips.  One of our savvy readers, Greg Hance of Hance Electric in Randolph Center, suggested another tip we would like to pass on to you.

Greg suggests thoroughly vacuuming your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors monthly when you test them. As a master electrician, Greg has responded to a couple of calls regarding nuisance alarms. When he spoke to the manufacturer of the detectors he discovered spiders are attracted to the LEDs and may build nests inside the detector, which may cause the detector to go off.

Thank you Greg, as you can see your suggestion has been forwarded to our readers!

Dear Hans: We're preparing to put our home on the market. Friends have suggested having a pre-list inspection. Can you explain what that is? - Jonathan & Karen M., Shelburne, VT

Dear Johnathan & Karen: If you are ready to sell your home and want to make sure the sale process goes smoothly, consider a pre-listing home inspection, which will provide you with a written report as to the pre-sale condition of the property. It could uncover any concerns that might compromise a sale.

Typically, home inspections are paid for by the buyer and performed before the closing and sale of the home. By being proactive and having the inspection done prior to marketing your home, you can shorten the process by removing obstacles before they interfere with a potential sale.

Why Get a Pre-Listing Home Inspection?

Pre-listing inspections are gaining in popularity and benefit everyone involved. Here are some of the benefits:

1. Sellers have time to decide what areas to work on to improve the home’s appeal.
2. Sellers choose whom to perform the inspection and can provide details about equipment maintenance, as well as explain current conditions.

3. Sellers gain time to make repairs and compare bids on work to be done. They can then truly provide full disclosure to their potential buyers.

4. A pre-listing inspection helps set the seller's price expectation and can substantiate a higher asking price.

5. Sellers will have fewer issues to negotiate at the last minute, and buyers may even waive their inspection.

6. Buyers’ benefits include receiving a third-party review of the home’s condition before making an offer, which can assist in securing financing.

7. Use your pre-list Home Inspection Report as a marketing tool; leave it out during the open house. This shows potential buyers that the home has been inspected, what was found, and what you fixed. The inspection can remove the buyer’s doubt regarding initial concerns and reduce the stress that often comes with purchasing a home.

Pre-listing home inspections may eventually become more common, but the importance of having a home inspection, as part of the home sales process, cannot be stressed enough. It protects all parties involved by providing invaluable information so that educated decisions can be made. It is also important to make sure your home inspector is licensed. (Vermont now requires all home inspectors be licensed).

Dear Hans:

When we get a hard rain, one corner of our basement gets wet.  It's not a lot of water, but enough to make the concrete wet.  Our home, built in 1978, has gutters I clean twice a year. What could be causing this? - Carmen H., Fairfax, VT


Dear Carmen: The downspout, the vertical piping attached to your gutter and most likely running down the corner of your home, may be missing or have a short leader. The leader should be attached to the bottom of the downspout and carry water at least 4 to 6 feet away from the foundation. Without a proper leader all the water running into the gutter from your roof will accumulate at the corner of the foundation and could find its way into the basement. You can buy leaders, or "downspout extensions" at a lumber yard or hardware store. They are inexpensive and easy to install. 

Dear Hans:  As a seller is it in my best interest to have my home tested for Radon?  --Joyce B., Burlington

Dear Joyce: That’s a great question. Seeing that most buyer’s today are having Radon testing done as part of their home inspection process, it’s a good idea to know what the Radon levels is (if any) in your home so you can be proactive instead of reactive. If the results come back higher than the EPAs recommended action level of 4.0 pCi/L, there are things you may be able to do to avoid the installation of a Radon mitigation system.  Sealing any cracks or separations in the concrete floor as well as sealing the sump pump pit may lower the level.  You would then want to retest to see if the sealing took care of the issue.

Dear Hans:  Our home was built in 1977 and we have “cottage cheese” ceilings. We're considering scraping them and repainting, should we take any precautions before we do so? --Ben H., Newport

Dear Ben: The best and safest course of action for this would be to have some of the material tested to see if it contains asbestos prior to scraping it.  Once you have the results you can determine whether you can do it yourself or you need to contact a professional to do it.

Dear Hans: I am looking for the definition of a bedroom.  I bought a house that was listed as a four-bedroom home. Two bedrooms are in the basement, with no closets and are very small.  I’m not sure if these rooms are large enough to qualify as bedrooms.  Can you please clarify the definition of a bedroom?  -- Victoria M., Essex Jct.

Dear Victoria:  Here are the basic requirements for a bedroom, according to the International Residential Code (IRC):

1) A bedroom must be at least 70 square feet in area, with no dimension less than 7 feet.

2) The ceiling should be at least 7 feet high above the finished floor.

3) There must be an operable window for light, ventilation, and fire escape.  For fire escape, the window must be at least 5.7 square feet in area.  The opening must have a minimum height of 24 inches, a minimum width of 20 inches, and a maximum sill height of 44 inches unless a ladder is provided and permanently attached to the wall.

4) Contrary to popular belief, no closet is required in a bedroom.  In newer homes, en suite bedroom closets often are located off the bathroom or dressing room area. 

State and local building codes supercede the IRC so it is best to contact the town where the home is located.

Dear Hans:  We installed new hardwood flooring over our concrete slab floors about 9 years ago. Last spring, we began to notice the floor was darkening as well as buckling of the wood flooring in one area of our living room.  We had a contractor take a look at it and he made some holes in the nearby walls to see if we had a plumbing leak of some sort, but he didn’t find pipes in those walls and everything was dry.  So now we have two questions. Should we replace the bad floor-boards before selling the house? And if we leave the floor as it is, will this scare off buyers.  --Mary D., Middlebury


Dear Mary: The darkening and buckling of the floor boards is definitely moisture–related, but it’s not likely the result of a plumbing leak. Ground moisture can seep through the concrete slab, possibly at small hairline cracks. We sometimes see this when wood flooring is installed without placing a moisture-proof membrane on the slab surface.  You could talk with wood-flooring contractor about repairs, but keep in mind that new replacement boards will most likely not match the existing ones.  

Another solution is simply disclose the problem to the new buyers when you eventually sell the home. Buyers are often willing to accept defects that are honestly represented; especially if the house is to be remodeled anyway.

Dear Hans:  We are getting ready to put our house on the market and were wondering if there is any way to tell if we have issues with the foundation?  -- Marcell B Goshen, VT

Dear Marcell: Great question and if addressed, one that could avoid any delay in selling your home.  Knowing the early warning signs of foundation issues can head off problems that could potentially cost you tens of thousands of dollars.  The sooner you identify problems, the easier and less expensive it can be to fix them.

Keep in mind that houses settle over time and a little unevenness is no cause to panic. At the same time you want to be familiar with signs that may mean there is a larger issue at hand.

Some basic indoor warning signs might be:

1. A door begins to jam or won’t latch.

2. Cracks appear in walls, especially over doorways, windows or where walls meet ceilings.

3. Cracks open in vinyl or ceramic tile over a concrete floor.

4. Windows that used to open and close easily begin to stick or won’t close completely.

Do a check of the Outside:

Check to see if your foundation is straight by sighting down the length of your foundation wall from each corner.  The walls should basically be straight, both up and down and from side to side.  Use a level to see if the walls are leaning.

A curve in a block foundation or poured concrete wall could signal the foundation has shifted, or the soil around the foundation may be expanding and contracting, which can put pressure on the walls.

Check the concrete for weakness:

If your foundation appears to be chipping or flaking, take a sturdy screwdriver and poke it in various places.  The concrete should be strong enough that you can’t damage it by doing this.

If you do manage to chip it or break a piece off, this can be an indication that the concrete is deteriorating because the mix contained dirty or salty sand, or too much water.  This is a problem which is common in houses built in the early 1900’s; unfortunately it has no remedy short of a new foundation.

Check Structural Components:

In your basement or crawl space, look for posts and concrete support, or piers.  The Posts should stand straight, as well as be firmly planted under the beams they support. Bottoms of the  posts should rest firmly on concrete piers. You shouldn’t find any puddles or see wet framing.    

Check for rot by probing wood posts with a screwdriver.  Puddles and other signs of moisture in a crawl space may indicate poor drainage around the perimeter foundation.  Be sure that gutters aren’t plugged, and that soil slopes away from the foundation at the rate of 6 inches for every 10 horizontal feet.

Keeping in mind that, as concrete cures, it shrinks slightly.  Where it can’t shrink evenly, it tends to crack. Concrete and block foundations usually have a few cracks; the trick is recognizing which are insignificant and which are serious.

Hairline cracks in the mortar – between concrete blocks are rarely worth worrying about.

Cracks at an L- shape section – are probably shrinkage cracks, especially if they meander and taper down to a hairline.  These typically aren’t structural, although you may want to plug them to keep the basement or crawl space dry.

Stair-step cracks in masonry joints – are a bigger concern, especially if the wall is bulging or the crack is wider than 1/4 inch.  Moisture problems outside or a plugged gutter is probably exerting pressure on that part of the wall.

Horizontal cracks – are the most serious.  It may be that water-saturated soil froze and expanded, pushing in and breaking the foundation.  Or you may have soil that expands when damp and shrinks when dry; that’s bad news and may require a new foundation.

Contacting a Professional: A structural engineer can determine whether any of these warning signs point to normal settling or to structural damage.  It’s worth the peace of mind, if you have concerns, to have  a structural engineer to evaluate your foundation.

Dear Hans, In one of last year's articles you wrote about getting your home ready for winter. Could you please post that again? Thanks Gayl (Arlington)

Water

• Disconnect any garden hoses.
• If the exterior faucets are not frost free, drain the water out.
• Remove any pond pumps and store the pump in your basement in a 5-gallon bucket filled with water. This will help to prevent the seals from drying out.
• If you have a utility sink in your garage, drain the water out of the pipes and dump some RV anti-freeze into the drain.
• If you have a lawn sprinkler system (aka “irrigation system”) it needs to be drained and blown out with compressed air. Hire a pro to do this.

Air

• Clean the combustion air or makeup air intake vents.
• If an air exchange system is present, such as a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) or energy recovery ventilator (ERV), clean it. Regular maintenance items for an HRV include cleaning the exterior intake, the filters, and the core.
• Clean the clothes dryer duct. The damper at the exterior should move freely and close properly.
• Check the bathroom and kitchen exhaust dampers for wasp nests. Nests in these terminals will prevent the dampers from openings.

Roof

• Clean the soffit vents. These can get clogged up with lint, dust, insulation, and paint. They’re located under the roof overhangs.
• Check the roof vents for bird nests. They can typically be seen from the ground.
• Clean the gutters after all the leaves have fallen.


• If the downspouts or sump pumps drain into an underground system, re-direct them to drain to the ground surface when feasible.

Air Conditioner

• Outdoor covers are NOT necessary. If a cover is used, it should be the type that only covers the top, not a full enclosure.

General Exterior

• Seal any gaps around the home ‘envelope’; check for loose or dried out caulking around pipes, ducts, faucets, air conditioner refrigerant lines, etc. While this is the most generic piece of fall maintenance advice, it’s still smart to do this before winter.
• Replace any damaged or worn weatherstripping around windows and doors.

Smoke / CO Alarms

• Smoke alarms should be located inside every bedroom, and one in a common area on every level including the basement.
• If you don’t have photoelectric smoke alarms in your home, add them. This is a big deal. If you don’t know what type you have, you probably don’t have photoelectric.
• CO alarms should be located within ten feet of every sleeping room, but not in furnace rooms, kitchens, or garages.
• Replace the batteries in your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms and test them using the built-in test buttons.
• Check the age of your smoke and CO alarms; smoke alarms are good for up to ten years, CO alarms are good for between five and ten years. If they’re any older, replace them.

Furnace / Boiler

• Have a professional furnace or boiler tune-up performed annually.
• Replace the batteries in your thermostat. If your thermostat fails while you’re on vacation, you might come home to a winter wonderland.
• Clean or replace the furnace filter – this should usually be done every one to three months, depending on the type of filter. The arrow on the filter should point toward the furnace.

Fireplaces

• Have the flues professionally cleaned on any wood burning fireplaces if they get used regularly; every 30 – 50 fires is a good rule of thumb.
• Avoid burning any woods that are not hard and dry.
• Clean the dust out of the bottoms of any gas fireplace inserts.
• If you have a gas log installed in a wood burning fireplace with an adjustable damper, make sure there is a damper stop installed to prevent the damper from getting closed all the way.



Hans Cramer (President of Cramer Home Inspection Group) has been inspecting homes throughout New York and Vermont since 1996. With over 30 years of experience in the construction, consulting, and inspection industry he welcomes your questions, which can be submitted by email to: laura@cramerinspections.com