People sometimes say to
their home inspector, "You've probably seen it all when it comes to home
and building defects." From a buyer's or seller's perspective, a home
inspector's knowledge and experience might sometimes appear to be that
complete. But in truth, no inspector has encountered every possible situation.
And just when an inspector is developing that false level of self-assuredness,
something new and surprising emerges in the course of an inspection.
Having personally inspected
over 6,000 homes, I've discovered that no one ever sees it all. There's always
some new surprise when you least expect it. However, I've also found that there
are common types of property defects which rear their unsightly heads as often
as the sun rises, not just in older homes, but often in brand new ones, even
before the smell of the new paint has become a memory. So here is our top ten
list of defects likely to appear in a home.
Problems with roofing material, either due to aging and wear or to improper
installation are likely to be found in the majority of homes. This does not
mean that most roofs are in need of replacement, but rather that most are in
need of some type of maintenance or repair.
Indicating Past or Current Roof Leaks:
The problem here is that you often can't tell if the roof still leaks, unless
it is inspected on a rainy day. Some stains are merely the residual effects of
leaks that have been repaired. There is also the possibility that ceiling
stains were caused by a former plumbing leak in the attic.
Water intrusion into basements or crawlspaces due to ground water conditions:
Such problems can be pervasive, difficult to resolve, and sometimes very
damaging to buildings. Correction can be as simple as regrading the exterior
grounds or adding roof gutters. Unfortunately, major drainage improvements are
often the only practical solutions, requiring costly ground water systems such
as French drains designed by experts such as geotechnical engineers.
Electrical safety hazards, especially (but not always) in older homes: Examples
are ungrounded outlets, lack of ground fault interrupters (shock protection
devices), faulty wiring conditions in electrical panels or elsewhere in a
building, etc. Such problems may be the result of errors at the time of
construction, but very often they are due to wiring that was added or altered
by persons other than qualified electricians.
Rotted wood at building exteriors and at various plumbing fixtures: In places
where wood stays wet for long periods, such as roof eaves, exterior trim, of
decks, around tubs and showers, or below loose toilets, fungus infection is
very likely to attack, resulting in a condition commonly known as dryrot. If
left unchecked, damage can become quite extensive.
Where Additions and Alterations Were Constructed without Permits:
Homeowners will often tell a home inspector, "We added the garage without
a permit, but it was all done to code." This statement is a red flag to
most home inspectors, because no one could possibly know the entire building
code, and the average person without professional involvement with the code is
likely to know very little of it. Whenever an owner offers code assurance, I
know that problems are likely to be found.
Unsafe Fireplace and
These can range from lack of maintenance, such as neglecting to hire a chimney
sweep, to faulty installation of fixtures. Most common among these are the lack
of spark arrestors and substandard placement of wood-burning stoves.
Free-standing fireplaces are typically installed by home owners and handymen,
people without an adequate knowledge of fire safety requirements. The most
common violations in these cases involve insufficient clearance between hot
metal surfaces and combustible materials within the building. Fire hazards of
this kind are often concealed in attics, where they remain undiscovered until a
roof fire occurs.
Faulty Installation of
In most localities, less than 5% of all water heaters are installed in full
compliance with plumbing code requirements. Violations can include inadequate
strapping, improperly installed overflow piping, unsafe flue conditions, or
faulty gas piping. It should also be remembered that today's water heaters are
designed to have shorter longevity than in times of yore. In fact, leaks can
develop in units that are only five years old.
Involving Gas Heaters:
Most gas-fueled heaters are in need of some maintenance, if only the changing
of an air filter or a long-overdue review by the gas company. In some cases,
however, gas heaters contain life-threatening defects that can remain
undiscovered until too late. These can range from fire safety violations to the
venting of carbon monoxide into the building. A cracked firebox, for example,
can remain undiscovered unless found by an expert or until tragic consequences
Firewall Violations In
Special fire-resistive construction is required for walls and doors that
separate a garage from a dwelling. Violations are common, either due to faulty
construction, damage or alterations to the garage interior, or changes in code
requirements since the home was built. In older homes, where firewalls are not
installed, sellers and agents will often say that the building predates the
code. However, the fire separation requirement for residential garages dates
back to 1927.