We are very happy to announce that we now have a second Home Inspector on the Inspections by Bob staff! My wife, Welmoed, who many of you know as “Mrs. Bob”, received her Maryland Home Inspector license and is now ready to do home inspections in Maryland.
Welmoed will be concentrating on pre-listing inspections and home check-ups, but is qualified to perform any type of home inspection.
Give her a call at (301) 208-8289 and book your inspection with her today!
Occasionally I get to inspect really old houses that have been painstakingly “restored” — or so the listing says. The kitchen has been updated, the bathrooms have been redone and it has a new roof. What more could anyone want?
Let’s start at the bottom: the foundation. If a house’s foundation is not happy, the entire house will be unhappy and have problems. The foundation needs to be dry and stable. No undercutting or digging near the footings. Improper materials such a tree trunks that were used to support parts of the house need to have been replaced with more suitable materials. Insulation should be correctly installed so that the house is kept warm from the bottom up (Incorrectly installed insulation is a breeding ground for all sorts of pests and can accelerate damage while at the same time hiding it).
Plumbing pipes need to be examined and replaced as many of the old materials are well past their useful lives and will react poorly if connected to newer materials without special precautions.
Electrical systems need to be updated and brought up to modern safety standards. An older 60A-2wire system is not going to be able to support a modern kitchen, laundry and Heat Pump and if incorrectly “updated” can hide potentially deadly shock hazards.
Older heating systems are MUCH less efficient that modern ones, and although they may continue to WORK for many years, they will hurt you a little bit every month. Modern fuel burning appliances are now routinely 90+% efficient; old systems were barely 70% when new and in top form. AC units went from a SEER (efficiency rating) of 8 to over 20 — a possible reduction of 75% in electrical usage.
Lastly, all existing ongoing damage needs to be addressed. I have seen a new, state of the art, triple pane, argon filled, low-E window installed into a window opening where I could poke my finger into the cavity of the house through the rotten wood the windows was installed into.
My clients have often been quite surprised to find that their beautifully restored house needs tens of thousands of dollars in repairs to the INFRASTRUCTURE of the house to stop the ongoing damage, stabilize the house, and make it safe for modern living. The previous owners had spent all their money on making it look good, but next to nothing on its foundation, plumbing, heating, or electrical system.
Recently I inspected a house whose interior was beautifully renovated. However, the basement told a different story. The original foundation was stone and timber (yes, actual tree trunk sections were supporting the house. After more than 100 years, they were deteriorating). Over the years, repairs and additions were made with brick, then with concrete block, and finally, poured concrete. The original foundation pieces were still there. In Home Inspection training we are taught that there are five foundation materials: wood, stone, brick, concrete block, and poured concrete. This is the first time I have seen all five materials in one property!
Infrastructure repairs can be expensive, and many people are reluctant to spend money on things that don’t “show.” But neglecting infrastructure could mean that the new kitchen you just spent a pretty penny on could be in jeopardy.
There are very few things that will stop a Home Inspection dead in its tracks: a gas leak is one of them.
If I enter a room and smell gas, there is a problem. If I’m standing right by the stove testing it, that’s one thing, but I shouldn’t get more than a whiff. If I suspect there is a leak, I will tell everyone present to leave the house. Once we are outside, I will call the gas company. Leak calls are treated as emergencies, and trucks usually arrive within minutes.
Gas leaks are deadly; just today there was a massive explosion in Allentown, PA that claimed three lives and injured more. Several houses were leveled.
Part of the official Standards and Practices for Home Inspections is testing a representative sample of electrical receptacles in the home to make sure they are wired safely and correctly. This isn’t something I can see directly; I need to use testing tools.
This simple tool costs about and will tell me if the outlet is live, whether it is grounded, if the polarity is correct, and will test a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) as well.
Sometimes I will only get one light, which means that someone replaced a 2 wire outlet with a 3-wire and didn’t wire anything to the ground pin. This can leave 3-wire grounded appliances ungrounded, presenting a potential shock hazard.
Why is Polarity Important?
Circuits have (or should have) three wires: hot, neutral and ground. Plug something in, and the current flows out from the hot plug to whatever you plugged in, and back via the neutral wire. Until the 1950s [check date], electrical outlets had plugs with identical slots, so you had no way of knowing the polarity. Nowadays, all outlets have different-sized slots, and you can only plug things in one way.
So why is this important? Let’s take a light socket as an example. If the polarity is correct, the current flows in from the bottom of the socket, out of reach. But if the polarity is reversed, the current flows in through the socket, so if the bulb is switched off, the socket is still “hot” and it’s possible to get zapped by the current.
Beyond the Basics
Occasionally I will use my fancier circuit tester when I suspect there may be problems that my go/no-go tester can’t see.
This tool is quite a bit more expensive – around 0 – but it can spot major wiring issues quickly and accurately.
Sometimes people will replace 2-wire outlets with 3-wire outlets and just use a jumper to attach the ground pin to the Neutral wire. This is unsafe and illegal, but standard testers can’t see it. The Fancy tester will report it as a “False Ground”
In older homes, sometimes the wires are not the size they should be. The Suretest can check for voltage drop with a 15A and 20A pulse to make sure that a 20A circuit really is a 20A circuit.
The Suretest can also simulate an arcing circuit to test an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI). However, as not all manufacturers agree on how to test AFCIs, the recommendation is to rely on the test buttons in the Circuit panel.
The Suretest can also test GFCIs as well, reporting on more information than just that it has tripped.
For a very small investment, you can check all the outlets in your home to make sure they are wired correctly. If you find there’s a problem, contact a licensed electrician for a complete evaluation of your electrical system. Otherwise, the only indication of a problem might result in the fire department showing up at your house.