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I was up in Point Roberts, WA. Interesting place, trees all around and many vacation homes. Because of the wooded landscape, it is common to find carpenter ants. Carpenter ants often have nests in nearby trees or old stumps or even old wood below grade so if a person lives near a forest, it is best to be vigilant and watch out for this pest. If you see an occasional ant, that is one thing, but when you start seeing several of them walking one after the other, like a parade, across the deck and under the siding or if they are (10 comments)
Choking the Attic and Roof - 02/29/08 12:28 PM
A key element to maintaining the integrity of most roofing materials, and the attic below, is sufficient ventilation. Ideally this is provided by upper ventilation and lower ventilation. Soffit venting is lower ventilation. Sometimes the soffit vents are correctly installed, but those people who install the insulation end up blocking the soffit vents. When the soffit vents are blocked, you might as well not have them because they cannot perform the intended function. The attic can't breath! The roof gets hot and, if moisture collects, it can lead to moisture damage (fungus) on the sheathing or even the big M word -- (0 comments)
New Homes, Forgotten Tasks - 02/29/08 12:16 PM
There is, periodically, a discussion about whether or not there is a point in having a home inspection at a brand new home. My experience has shown me that the answer is a resounding "yes." The most serious problem I have found at new homes involves significant standing water in the crawl space and the builder is not telling about that. In the wet northwest, if you buy a house located on the downside of a hill, it might look crispy inside, but be soggy down below. Over the years that can lead to rot and mold, and the mold might (2 comments)
In the Pacific Northwest, practically speaking, we have two types of termites to look out for on inspections. And, if you are in the Bellingham area, despite the propaganda you might hear to the contrary-- Yes, we too have termites! The first, and uncommon in most parts of the country, is the Pacific Dampwood termite. Here in the northwest we see this insect fairly often. This guy, and the gals, are attracted to very moist, often decaying, wood. They are a secondary problem in that wood is way too wet to begin with if they find it appealing, so you have (6 comments)
Look To The Sky My Friend - 02/26/08 10:08 AM
When a home inspector looks for leaks, where pipes and vents exit the roof, it can be a subtle process. If there is an accessible attic, the inspector will try to look around these appurtenances (big fancy word for stuff coming out of the roof). Another method, done in virtually every inspection, is to look at all of the flashings on the roof. Is the metal rusting, is the flashing done right, are the shingles or roofing around it holding up, has debris collected that blocks the flow of water? The defect in the photo below was an easier find than (0 comments)
Not Subtle If You Look - 02/26/08 09:50 AM
Realtors in our wet Pacific Northwest are usually expecting an inspection report to mention something about gutter or downspout problems -- gutters full of leaves, gutter leaks, downspouts draining on the siding or next to the house. Sometimes agents will, visually, take a look at gutters as they walk around the home with their clients. One thing to look for, that seems to be often missed, is the downspout that is leaking at an elbow or where there is a joint of one kind or another. The photo below is a good example of that -- more obvious than what you usually (2 comments)
Whatcom County Home Inspection (King of the House): Pest Inspector Methodology - 02/22/08 03:13 PM
When performing a structural pest inspection, an inspector is likely to "sound the wood." The basic idea is two fold. One possibility is that the wood will, hence the name, "sound" different if it is damaged, hollow, soft. This is a technique that works quite well on exterior logs on log homes where you want to get an idea of their condition, without dinging them up. The other possibility is that when a piece of wood is hit, it will come apart in pieces or insect frass or live insects will be exposed. Obviously, this latter type of test, which might (5 comments)
Botched Up At the End - 02/22/08 12:29 PM
Inspectors see any number of decks. Some are well built. In this wet climate, we like to see the structure built out of pressure treated lumber and concrete piers that isolate wood from soil. As the composite deckings get better looking, to look much like wood, they are becoming more common. Even though these materials are good, weather-resistant decking, many people who install the material do not follow the manufactureer's installation guidelines -- which are quite specific. The manufacturer's define where you can, or cannot, use the material and also the distance to centers (joist spacing) is important and depends on (2 comments)
Mount Baker Home Inspector (King of the House): Uncontrolled Runoff Water - 02/22/08 12:12 PM
There is a tendency, when homes or cabins are at alpine regions, to ignore the runoff water from the roof. That means, they do not bother installing gutters and downspouts. The argument against them, by those who do not install them, is that the gutters can be bent, damaged or torn off the home by accumulated snow and ice. The other side of it is that, when no gutters are installed, rain runs off the roof to the soil below and then splashes up against the siding. Below is a photo of a gutter at an alpine home. Fact is, it was not snow (1 comments)
Bellingham Home Inspection (King of the House): Coffee And A Light - 02/22/08 12:19 AM
I saw a recent blog about can-lights written by Charles Buell. He was explaining the finer points of can-lights, inspecting can-lights, and can-light safety. In the comments, he and another AR member were talking about safety features found in some can-lights -- that cause them to shutdown if the bulb is overrated for the fixture and they get too hot. This discussion tickled my memory gland and I remembered a photo I took at an inspection. Whoever put in this can-light, he took the term very literally. It really was a can-light, by Folgers as I recall. You can just see the (2 comments)
Bellingham Home Inspector (King of the House) -- Two Problems, One Attic - 02/21/08 04:48 PM
This is an interesting photo in that there are two problems, or at least possible problems. The knob and tube wiring, which had been modified in various places, is the most obvious problem. Some insurance companies will still cover knob and tube wiring (with a higher premium) but many of the most affordable insurance companies will not even consider insuring a house with knob and tube wiring. A primary risk is fire, and also the system has no equipment ground. The other possible issue in the photo is vermiculite attic insulation. It could be okay, but based on the age of the (2 comments)
Whatcom County Home Inspections (King of the House): Scenes From This Old House - 02/21/08 10:54 AM
This Old House -- a famous song and a famous expression. As a home inspector, I see lots of old houses. The one below was a classic example of a 100 year old plus farm house that had been built and lived in over all those years. The modifications and repairs were not always, in fact seldom, done right and the maintenance had fallen by the wayside over the years as well. Sometimes people ask: "Why would someone pay an inspector money to report on such obvious problems?" I do not always have a good answer for that. With many homes the problems are subtle enough that it takes (5 comments)
Blaine WA Home Inspector (King of the House): Oh Rats! - 02/19/08 10:55 PM
It is odd. People do not want rodents in their homes. Yet they often fail to do something as simple as putting one plus one together. That something simple is realizing that rodents are going to enter a crawl space when they have a window of opportunity, such as through numerous holes left by workers or homeowners. Below are photos taken at a crawl space on a newer home. You can see that a mouse or a rat could easily get into the crawl space at the entry door -- simply by darting in either side of the board at the top of (4 comments)
Home Inspection: It's All About Straightening The Pictures On The Wall - 02/17/08 05:22 PM
The title of this blog is deceptive, down right silly -- if you know anything about the scope of a home inspection. Silly as that title above might be, it is apparent to any working inspector that some naive sellers are under the false impression that the home inspector comes to a house to do something as menial as performing a quick visual scan looking for any crooked pictures on the wall. I describe this to others as "people having a mistaken belief that we inspectors are there to pull out a torpedo level and put it on the picture frames to see which ones are cockeyed". Seriously, I am (40 comments)
Ferndale WA Home Inspections (King of the House): Disconnected Heat Ducts - 02/14/08 02:40 PM
The photo below gives an example of a problem detected upstairs, that would be hard to impossible to troubleshoot without going into the crawl space. I was at an older home and had my laser thermometer out testing the accessible heat supply registers -- while the furnace was running of course. They all worked except two in the living room. Odd and suspicious! They never got above the temperature of the nearby carpet. When I went into the crawl space, I navigated over to that area right away. The problem was apparent. The ducts had come apart. And, from the look of (6 comments)
Many aspects of home inspection involve common sense. That does not, however, mean that the decisions an inspector makes are always obvious. That is especially true when dealing with electrical, HVAC or plumbing issues. This blog is about a common sense concern, but one that the average person does not think about. First, the reader must begin by being aware of a couple facts (1) water is not a welcome visitor in the crawl space; (2) water collecting around wood will lead to decay of the wood. Now that we understand those two things, it is apparent that the slope (2 comments)
This One Curled My Hair And Gave Me A Charge! - 02/14/08 01:43 PM
I found something at an inspection the other day that was not only dangerous, but pretty illogical too. This was another house where a "builder" had been doing his own projects. He might have been a builder, but an electrician he was not. The photo to the left is an AC plug, two prongs and ground, hanging out of a Bryant electric panel. It gets a person's attention right away, however, fact is it was live. That plug had 120 volts across it. To know why, one just had to look over to the right. That female receptacle, to accommodate the (8 comments)
I know an individual who, sarcastically and with a smirk, makes fun of duct tape repairs. Can you imagine that -- making sport of the greatest repair miracle cure of the past 100 years. It is a product well known around the world, and in Canada too. This same person is a stickler for doing things by the book, as in following manufacturer's guidelines. Well, in doing some research the other day I found a product, a high quality product, where the official manufacturer's repair specifies the use of none other than duct tape. So, how do you like them apples Mr. Anti-Duct (10 comments)
Black Widow Spiders In Western Washington! - 02/12/08 10:12 AM
I have to admit, as a Washingtonian all my life, I have always thought that the only place a person would find black widows spiders would be east of the mountains, as in eastern Washington. Those of us born and raised here know that the "serious" spiders and snakes are found on the hot side of the state. Now, that does not mean that some dingbat does not catch, and bring over, a rattler or two. I remember in my senior year at Bellingham High School, back before Lincoln was elected President, a kid brought two rattlers to biology. They were in (9 comments)
Big, Mean, Nasty Termites: At Least They Are Not In Your House - 02/11/08 10:34 PM
As a home inspector, who also teaches a class in wood destroying organisms through the state college system in Washington State, I always take a camera along with me on hikes or vacations. I have some cool, and very illustrative, photos that I have taken of all kinds of wood problems, like classic cubical brown rot on wood in the famous city of Pompeii or wood that is in good shape and nearly 1000 years old from Bologna. However, I think that the one time I was really happy to have my camera was in the Yucatan of Mexico a few (5 comments)
Bellingham Home Inspector (King of the House): New Home Inspection Issues - 02/11/08 11:17 AM
This is probably a surprise to most people, it was to me the first few times I saw it. I am referring to the number of times in new houses, where the heat ducts have not been hooked together or, if they have, they have come loose. Sometimes I think it is the result of subcontractors forgetting to complete the job, other times the ducts were not properly secured or someone working under the home managed to contact them in such a way that they came apart. I have also found ducts that were crushed, so no heat would pass through (5 comments)
Garage and Appliance Safety - 02/11/08 09:39 AM
I would not say that this is a frequently seen problem on my inspections, but it certainly is not uncommon either. This is a new house and nobody bothered to put in a barrier to keep someone from accidentally running into the water heater. A metal bollard (post) should be put in front of furnaces and water heaters that are in the path of a vehicle and, therefore, might be clipped by drivers. Even careful drivers can have accidents and hold onto your hat with teenage drivers on premises. In some older installations, instead of the metal post, there might be a concrete (1 comments)
Homeowners Doing Crazy Things With Trees - 02/10/08 04:10 PM
Earlier today I posted a photo of a nice tree house. In thinking about that, I started reflecting on any other unorthodox uses for trees, that are nuts, insane or crazy that I have seen on real, honest to goodness home inspections. Unfortunately, back when I did this inspection, I was not keeping all my photos, so I cannot provide a good view of the size and expanse of this deck. However, this was a back deck at a home, and it was large and heavy. In fact, the guardrail alone was made from thick safety glass, so not light. Anyway, the whole (4 comments)
Is This An Exception To The Rule -- Does This House Really Need an Inspection? - 02/10/08 03:33 PM
I probably should have saved this post until April fools day. But, then again, I was browsing through my photos today and ran across it. Actually, I was looking for it a few weeks back and could not locate it. So, since it was in my grubby little home inspector paws today, I thought I would post it. Now, personally, I think that, even as a home inspector, I might let this one slide as far as inspecting it. It sure would be hard to price the inspection. Now, take my friend and nemesis here on AR, inspector Charles Buell, he will (11 comments)
Lynden Home Inspector (King of the House): Right Idea, Bad Implementation - 02/09/08 10:56 AM
The photo below is amusing in a way. This crawl space vent well was put in, somewhere down the line, by a person who knew that crawl space vents need to be protected from runoff water and being blocked by soil. To achieve that goal, the person put in a vent well. A metal or plastic vent well is better, but, if they go with wood it should be pressure treated lumber -- not the case here. Also, obviously, there is not much value in the well when it is completely plugged with soil, grass and debris. This is another example of (5 comments)
Lynden Home Inspection (King of the House) -- Carbon Monoxide: The Odorless, Silent Killer - 02/08/08 06:46 PM
You might think, from the title of this blog, that I am planning to write about high blood pressure, diabetes or another one of the well publicized medical conditions that we hear about on a daily basis. However, this article specifically refers to a serious condition that can exist in homes -- homes that you as realtors sell and homes that we home inspectors inspect. That condition is dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a by-product of combustion and can come from defective, improperly installed or worn out appliances or flues. Wood burning devices can be a source of (7 comments)
Everson WA Home Inspection (King of the House): Crawl Space Debris - 02/07/08 12:12 PM
Earlier today I wrote about old roof debris and the huge mess it creates in an attic. At that time I eluded to a different, but similar, scenario in the crawl space. In the crawl space the builders will often leave the old wood forms around the poured footings or piers. Sometimes, instead of wood, they will leave cardboard forms. An inspector knows, probably better than anyone, why this is such a bad idea. When you see home after home, older homes, and these forms have been in place for years, the old forms are almost always rotten and might have (4 comments)
Bellingham WA home Inspector (King of the House): Attic Debris - 02/07/08 12:02 PM
So the owner of the home is really proud of the new roof that replaced the old wood shake or shingle roof. The owner says it was a major improvement and, in fact, it probably was. Then the home inspector goes into the attic. This is another of those things an inspector sees over and over again. The roofer might have gone to lots of trouble -- even removing old skip-sheathing or decayed sheathing, and putting on new sheathing, flashings and shingles. The problem is, more than half the time, much of the old debris was dumped into the attic. The photo (2 comments)
Sumas WA Home Inspector (King of the House): Crawl Space Water - 02/05/08 03:29 PM
Here in the Pacific Northwest, from about September through March or April, the home inspector is likely to see a number of crawl spaces, or even basements, with the affliction shown below. Water in the crawl space or basement is a conducive condition and, need I say more, very bad for the home. It leads to rot in the structural lumber, such as the post here. Also, the evaporating water ultimately ends up as humidity in the home. High humidity levels are key to the formation of mold. Solving problems as extreme as those shown here, range from controlling downspouts and all (8 comments)
Monty Python Trees - 02/05/08 02:28 PM
I remember in one of the old Monty Python movies, there were trees that would reach out and grab people. I kind of felt like that when I saw this tree. This is one of the best examples I have seen of a tree, at a main public street, that has turned itself into being a trip hazard. Trees that are planted too close to foundations can cause damage but, personally, this is more typical of what I see. At many inspections I find tree roots that have damaged driveways, stepping stones, pavers, sidewalks and especially asphalt surfaces. I wonder how (5 comments)
Romans Knew Thy Wood - 02/05/08 09:44 AM
I was pondering Charlie Buell's blog called "What Would Impress The Romans" and thought I would pull out a couple photos of Roman work that impressed me. This is the bottom of an ancient Roman-built building in Bologna Italy. Bologna, like much of Italy, was run, or overrun, by Romans (or Greeks) at one time or another. The thing I think interesting about this is the age of the wood and the fact it is still supporting a monster-sized building. This wood is somewhere between 750 and 1000 years old and it is holding up in this location because it is sheltered and dry. (2 comments)
Antique Modern - 02/05/08 09:15 AM
I ran across this photo this morning. It is one that came from my trip to Italy last fall. We were standing on top of a hill, looking down on the city of Verona, and I saw this power pole. It had the old glass insulators. I have seen a number of these insulators in antique stores around here, along with old glass fishing floats, but I do not think I have seen them in use. If I have, it goes back many years and the memories have faded. I guess, when you think about it, the old insulators are still one of (3 comments)
Everson WA Home Inspector (King of the House): The Picture Conveys A Thousand Words - 02/03/08 07:41 PM
I have gotten many gasps, comments and mileage from the photo of the fresh water supply that is pictured below. In fact, a few weeks back it helped me tie for number one in the "bozo bathroom" awards here at Active Rain. (I would have won outright, but the other party, who tied with me, used unfair practices and also won by posting photos of his own biffy).
I have toted the photo out again because of a recent happening. I now realize how well this photo illustrates a point. The point is one that needs to be reiterated: A home inspector (2 comments)
People in the Pacific Northwest sometimes feel like they are living in a rain forest. And, of course, some parts of the region are in rain forests. The rest of us, who are not in rain forests, still have lots of rain. Moisture and shade, that leads to a lack of drying potential, causes not only moss on roofs but also a green fungus, like algae, on many surfaces. When this fungus is on wood, the problem goes beyond cosmetic. The growth of the green fungus is a clear sign that rain, and probably shade, is having a severe impact (5 comments)
Daydreaming In A Perfect World - 02/03/08 11:16 AM
I am writing this blog in winter. For some reason, the best days for daydreaming are considered to be those heady days of summer. A person, thinking of daydreaming, will picture the student stuck in the classroom with the warm weather just outside. I believe that one of the main reasons a home inspector has to look out for safety hazards, especially tripping hazards, is because of people daydreaming. I have had sellers tell me that "there are no trip hazards on the property as long as someone pays attention." You might be able to say that about descending a rope ladder (3 comments)
Steven L. Smith, King of the House Home Inspection, provides information for real estate buyers, sellers and real estate industry professionals.
Blog posts emphasize issues commonly found in Bellingham, WA and Whatcom County. Smith is Washington State Licensed Home inspector #207, a state licensed structural pest inspector and one of the most experienced inspectors in the northwest corner of the Pacific Northwest.
Steven L. Smith is lead instructor of home inspection at Bellingham Technical College and teaches classes for Washington State University and the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Steve was a two-term member of the state licensing board.
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