The real estate profession unfortunately doesn’t always enjoy the best of reputations. Fortunately, here in Charlottesville we have a high percentage of excellent real estate agents who put their clients needs first and foremost. The top agents have a level of commitment to fulfilling their clients needs that sets them so far apart from the majority of their profession that they should be referred to by another name….perhaps buyer advocates instead of real estate agents. Pictured below with her client is one of those buyer advocates-Deborah Rutter. I can count only twice when a “buyer advocate” suited up and followed me into the crawl space during a home inspection. That’s the kind of enthusiastic and thorough representation that everyone should have on their side when searching for a home.
Please take the time to find a buyer advocate instead of just a real estate agent. It is without a doubt the single most important decision that you will make in the home buying process-yes…even more important than choosing a thorough home inspector.
Inoperable dampers or clogged weather hoods on clothes dryer exhaust ducts are items that I repeatedly discover during my home inspections. A dirty duct and/or clogged weather hood causes the dryer to operate very inefficiently and run much longer than needed. If the air can’t leave the dryer exhaust duct the moisture can’t leave the clothes-this is both costly to operate and greatly increases the chance of a house fire starting in the dryer duct. The weather hood pictured below is a perfect example of why any type of screen on a weather hood serving a dryer is prohibited by Virginia Building Code.
All crawl spaces are not created equal. All home inspectors will not fit into all crawl spaces.
I received a phone call last Sunday night and was asked if I would come inspect the crawl space of the house that the caller had under contract. I said that I would be happy to, but it would probably be in her best interest if she also had me inspect all of the house above the crawl space too. She meekly said that she had already had the house inspected by another home inspector, but that he wouldn’t go into the crawl space. I was sad to hear that, because it suggested to me that she did not receive a thorough home inspection. I was further disappointed that my schedule was completely full for the upcoming week and that meant that I was not able to help her – having already had one inspection she was very near the end of her contingency period. I would have liked to have seen that crawl space.
Fortunately, I like tight crawl spaces and being on the scrawny side can spelunk my way through most of them. Maybe home inspectors should include their height, width and weight in their profiles so clients can make sure the home inspector they hire will fit into their crawl spaces. The things you find in crawl spaces is amazing! Anything and everything from outdoor blinds to fake plants to God knows what!
The link below is to an impromptu video taken of me during a home inspection explaining a simple method of monitoring cracks in a foundation wall to determine if the foundation is still moving. The simple method I describe using old glass microscope slides, can be very helpful in creating peace of mind for home owners and more importantly documenting a track record to give to potential purchasers when an owner goes to sell their house sometime in the future.
Monitoring Foundation Cracks
At many of my home inspections I find condensate pumps installed to discharge the condensate water produced by the air conditioning system and/or high efficiency gas furnace from the home. The pumps contain small reservoirs that have a float switch installed, which activates the pump when the water accumulates to a set point in the reservoir. The condensate pumps are frequently located in crawl spaces and tend to be forgotten. Unfortunately, like all mechanical devices the pumps can stop working for a variety of reasons. When they stop working, the condensate water spills into the crawl space. The wet area quickly becomes a host site for fungal growth and contributes to raising the humidity level throughout the crawl space encouraging additional fungal growth elsewhere. Condensate pumps should be cleaned and inspected for proper function as a regular part of an annual home maintenance program.
There are condensate pumps available that come equipped with a safety switch. The safety switch, when properly wired into the air conditioning system, automatically turns the air conditioning system off when the condensate pump malfunctions. Turning the air conditioning system off when the condensate pump malfunctions, stops condensate water from being produced and overflowing from the reservoir into the crawl space. Notice the two small wires coming out of the right side of the condensate pump pictured below, those are for the safety switch and are supposed to be connected to the control circuit for the air conditioning system. Unfortunately the pump was never wired correctly, and as a result a fungal garden grew when the condensate pump continued to overflow and saturate the crawl space. I always recommend a condensate pump with safety switch be properly installed when the unit will be placed in a crawl space.
leaking condensate pump
leaking plumbing vent flashing
I find cracked and leaking plumbing vent flashings every week during my home inspections. I always wonder why the home building industry can’t make a vent flashing that lasts as long as the shingles. On very steep roofs where the up slope side of the flashing is pinched, I can understand why the flashings deteriorate so quickly. Very few roofs are that steeply pitched. With all the advances in building materials over the last couple of decades, there should be a plumbing vent flashing on the market that lasted for as long as the shingles.
One of my home inspections this past week was of a house that had no gutters on any of the roof pitches. As an inspector, I frequently see a missing gutter or two, but rarely do I see an entire house without any gutters. The consequences of having no gutters were evident everywhere: the siding was rotting in multiple locations; the rear entry door, door frame and sill were rotted; the paint on all of the exterior woodwork was deteriorated and the floor system was rotted and termite infested in one corner. In our wet climate here in Charlottesville, gutters are the single most important feature on the exterior of a house. Gutters need to be installed along every roof eave to prevent the large quantities of water that flow off of the roof from saturating the exterior walls and more importantly the soil supporting the foundation. Without a doubt, the absence of, or the improper installation and maintenance of gutters accounts for the most damage I see on the houses I inspect.
Estimates put the number of house fires that can be attributed to lint accumulation in clothes dryer at over 4000 per year. The flexible ducts made of vinyl or foil present the greatest risk, because both the interior ridges created by the ducts accordion design and the ducts propensity of sagging when not installed properly create greater resistance to air flow. The slower air flow causes lint to get caught inside the duct both on the interior ridges and in any low spots caused by the sagging duct. Over time as lint continues to accumulate the air flow is reduced further to a point where the hot air exhausted through the duct is moving so slow that it raises the temperature high enough in the duct to ignite the accumulated lint. If your home has flexible vinyl or foil duct replacing it with either a rigid or semi rigid metal duct is a safer alternative. The metal ducts properly installed, not only stay cleaner, but if a fire does start a metal duct may contain the fire. A clean lint screen and a clean exhaust duct will not only reduce the risk of fire, but will also allow the clothes dryer to operate more efficiently and lower your electric bills. All exhaust ducts on clothes washers should be cleaned regularly…so add it to your yearly maintenance list.