What Are The Five Most Common Problems or Deficiencies That I Find As A Home Inspector?
I like the saying “learn something new every day”, and I try to think of every job as a learning experience. To a home inspector, this often means seeing something you’ve never seen before. I’d say that at least once a month, sometimes more often, this happens. Sometimes you see something and know its wrong without being able to immediately pull out your codebook and find the code it violates. Other times it’s a “I can’t believe somebody would think that this is acceptable” type of problem.
With that said, I mostly see the same stuff wrong on most houses. Sometimes a home will be otherwise up to code, except these items. So I’ve compiled a short list of the top most common issues I’ve seen with homes during the course of the inspection. These are not listed in any particular order, nor are they similar in severity level. As always, listen to your inspector’s recommendations on what you should do next when they point these things out:
Lack of Attic Ventilation Causing Excessive Heat in Attic
Extremely common in homes built before the 1990’s, and reasonably common in homes that are more than a decade old, lack of attic ventilation can cause a range of problems. Tell-tale signs of this problem are “ambering” of trusses/rafters in the attic, where the heat causes the members to shrink and squeezes the remaining tree sap out of the lumber. Ventilation fans often fail after a few years and insulation is sometimes installed with complete disregard for soffit ventilation, leading to blocked vents.
The biggest problem attic ventilation poses in Texas is the heat buildup. Poor ventilation cause temperatures to be upwards of 140 in the summer. This heat leads to higher electric bills and can cause structural issues to the bearing members of the attic, such as cracking and splitting. In places with snow, this can also lead to ice-damming, which creates a host of moisture related issues that you don’t want to deal with. It’s also awful to be in a poorly ventilated attic; like a sauna filled with itchy fiberglass.
Partial Lack of GFCI Protection & Complete lack of AFCI Protection
Another extremely common issue found in homes built before the 1990’s is lack of electrical safety protection, especially Ground-Fault or Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupters. GFCI’s first became mandatory in the 1970’s and are used to protect individuals from shock in wet-locations, such as bathrooms and kitchens. Over the years, GFCI’s have been required in more and more places. The reasons for a lack of GFCIs in required locations is
1) Ignorance of the codes and requirements by homeowners and amateur electricians,
2) Significantly increased cost compared to regular receptacles and circuit breakers, and
3) Reluctance to use them in locations considered “inconvenient”, such as exterior locations where they are prone to tripping more often, requiring someone to go out and reset the GFCI.
AFCI’s on the other hand are a more recent development, being required by law in bedrooms and living areas pretty much everywhere that isn’t protected by a GFCI since the early 2000’s. AFCIs look similar to the standard GFCI but are more commonly seen as breakers in the main panel. Homes built in recent times often contain GFCI/AFCI “combo” breakers instead of simple circuit breakers save time and money on installation. It is extremely common to find homes built before the 2000’s with absolutely no AFCI protection whatsoever. It is highly advisable to consult with a licensed electrician about installing the required AFCI and GFCI protection throughout your home, regardless of its age. It could save you or a loved one’s life!
Leaky Sink Drainpipes or Signs of Previous Water Damage Under Sinks
Leaky sink drains or tailpipes are pretty common, even in brand new homes. The primary reason for this is not that the plumber did a poor job (although sometimes this is the case), but the fact that so many homeowners love to stuff the cabinet under the sink with junk. Cleaning supplies, towels, toilet paper, etc. People throw things in their all the time, and it doesn’t take much to throw the cheap plastic drainpipes out of wack and cause a leak. Think about this next time you’re putting stuff away under the sink.
I probably see the leaky faucet drains or tailpipes most often in newer homes and the previous water damage in the older homes as a testament to how common this is. The idea being that in many instances, you don’t catch the leaky drain until its already rotted out your under-sink cabinet. A dead giveaway is plywood nailed unto the cabinet bottom, or just white paint on the interior of the cabinet. Make sure your home inspector sticks their moisture meter into the damaged areas to confirm if they are dry or not!
Cracking, Shrinking, or Failure of the Caulking around Exterior Windows & Doors
This is one of those age-related deficiencies that even good workmanship won’t fix, as regardless of what they say on the package, no caulking is “40 year” caulking. Over time and with exposure to the elements, especially sunlight, the caulking that prevents moisture intrusion around your windows and doors begins to crack, or the surface its attached slowly erodes and the caulk isn’t binding to anything.
It’s also a relatively easy fix: spend a few hours going around the house with a bucket of water, a rag, a drip-less caulk gun and your choice of weatherproof sealant to recaulk all the joints. Don’t just do a few, do them all. Spending a couple hours and a few bucks on the materials could save you $1000’s in drywall repair, mold mitigation and other moisture-related repair expenses. If you have a two-story home, hire a painter or handyman to do it; pay a professional to risk their safety on a ladder.
Missing Backflow Prevention Devices on Exterior Spigots
Yes, there it is: one of the silliest deficiencies there is, but it’s present on almost every home, including brand new ones. The issue here is the possibility of a garden hose that’s been left attached to the outdoor spigot sitting in water and syphoning the contaminated water into your potable water supply. Yes, I know, you don’t think its going to happen. The issue is that not only can it happen, but your inspector is required to let you know that it can happen.
When you see this on your report, and you will, just go to your local hardware store and pick up some screw on backflow preventers. They’re no more than a few bucks and they last forever. Problem solved, forever.
Don’t be surprised when you see these items on your inspection report. Better yet, home sellers, plan ahead and have these items taken care of (and others) before listing your home to ensure a smoother, problem-free sale when the time comes!