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Whatcom County Home Inspection (King of the House) -- Dryer Ducting - 11/29/09 03:23 PM
I know that I have talked about this before, but below is an excellent photo of how dryer flex ducting should not be used. Okay, let us be practical. People like convenience and using a short little section of this accordion style flex duct right behind the dryer is par for the course even at new homes. They are known as "flex transition ducts" and they are allowed by codes but with some stipulations: They cannot be concealed in construction (crawl spaces, attics, going through walls and floors) and the maximum length must not exceed 8 ft. Even for these short runs the semi-rigid (15 comments)
Food Disposal Wiring -- King of the House (Bellingham Home Inspections) - 11/29/09 02:59 PM
This is one that people seldom think about. Either the food disposal grinds and operates, it does not grind or it leaks. What they never think about is how the disposal is wired. I would say that, at least 25% of the time, I find that disposals are wired with the wrong cable. The disposal should NOT be wired with unprotected soft-sheathed cable. In fact, at the disposal below, there is a ding in the insulation on the cable. This is from damage or repeated twisting.
The proper wiring for a disposal is either a soft appliance cord or wiring (5 comments)
Lummi Island Ferry Dilemma - 11/29/09 01:51 PM
Here outside Bellingham, we have what you might call a bedroom community on Lummi Island. Lummi Island is a small island, part of the San Juan Islands. The last census, another one is going on now, put the population at 822. A real estate office on the island states that, as a result of the building boom a few years ago, there are now about 900 houses on the island. I know, and have known over the years, many people who live on Lummi Island. They work in Bellingham and Whatcom County and take the ferry off the island a couple times, (4 comments)
Gas Fireplace Servicing and Maintenance (Bellingham Home Inspection) King of the House - 11/29/09 01:15 AM
Homeowners don't always do it, but most of them know that they should have their furnace cleaned and professionally checked-out and serviced about every year or two. On the other hand, it seems that these same people have no clue that the gas log fireplace also requires periodic cleaning and a professional safety evaluation.
The fireplace above, from the standpoint of a home inspector, needs to be professionally serviced. The general guideline is that these devices, if used heavily, should be serviced annually. If, on the other hand, they are only used primarily for aesthetics then go with service every (7 comments)
Building Codes, WSDA and the Washington Home Inspector - 11/28/09 01:36 PM
The other day a seller gave me his blunt opinion of home inspectors. He made it clear that he disagreed with the general idea of a home inspector citing a problem at an older home if that problem might be, reasonably, expected at a home of that age. I guarantee you that if an inspector used that theory, as a business model, he or she would be spending more time in court than out in the field working. The man said that inspectors use codes retroactively and that is not the intent of codes and should not be allowed. Now, what he says has some degree of good (9 comments)
Bellingham Home Inspections (King of the House) -- Non-wood Sidings and Earth - 11/27/09 09:27 PM
It seems like almost everyone knows that wood to earth contact is and will lead to rot. That is one fact that I find even novice clients have been told, and pickup on, during inspections. But, the thing that fewer people know is that even the various masonry sidings should not be down in the soil either. The standard guideline, set by the IRC code, is four inches clearance from the masonry to soil. That would include brick and stucco products. Now, that still gives those products a break. They do not have to be as far removed from the soil (12 comments)
Bellingham Home Inspection (King of the House) -- Makin' Moss In Washington - 11/26/09 08:03 PM
Since I was a kid, I have heard a number of people refer to those of us in Washington state as "moss backs." I am not sure it is all that flattering a description but it is, also, not all that untrue either. To get that point across, I will show you some photos of our moss. Our climate, no doubt about it, produces some of the finest moss known to mankind.
Many homeowners mistakenly accept moss like that as normal. Fact is, it is not and that seriously shortens the life of the roof. This moss was under a (10 comments)
Rot In The Pacific Northwest (King of the House) -- Bellingham Home Inspections - 11/25/09 09:16 AM
In the wet Pacific Northwest, it is essential that roofers put metal flashings or even a shingle over the various rafter tails or fascia that extend out from the house -- typically at the ends of the gutters. When that simple step is neglected, it ends up that, inevitably, there will be deterioration and rot in those areas of the home . That photo above is an excellent example of the problem. Despite that, some folks do not learn. The photo below is a newer addition at the same house. I guess that people do not know what to be careful (7 comments)
Client Psychology And The Inspector - 11/22/09 07:37 PM
Sometimes I find the psychology of working with clients interesting or even amusing. I think that, to a large degree, that is the result of the general public not really knowing what the home inspector is looking for. Are we there to straighten the pictures on the wall, or something more significant? It seems like a number of people feel that we are on the lookout for cosmetic issues -- not the case. The kind of situation that amuses me would be like the one described here. These are photos I took several months back at the site of an inspection. (38 comments)
King of the House (Bellingham Home Inspections) -- Vinyl Siding - 11/22/09 07:19 PM
Vinyl siding is a very common siding in my area. Some people love it, others hate it. I have found it on high-end homes and low-end homes. I knew one fellow who had it put on a very high-priced custom home because he never wanted to paint. As the years go by, vinyl tends to get brittle. I think that the UV rays and hot and cold eventually take a toll. Below is a photo of a typical patio in front of a duplex. Many of the multi-unit homes and condos in this area have vinyl siding.
Normally a home (6 comments)
Salt Spring Island Photo - 11/22/09 12:28 PM
A week back, when I was on Salt Spring Island -- this gorgeous island in British Columbia -- I noticed that the island has many different churches. We were staying at a place called Fulford Harbor and a short walking distance away from our lodging was this cute little church. I thought it was the best looking church on the island.
Thanks for stopping by, Steven L. Smith
Farkas On The Roof -- An Active Rain Moment - 11/21/09 06:40 PM
All right. Some of you probably think that this crazy blogger has a mis-spelling in the title above. Maybe you think that I mean "fracus" on the roof. But, nope, my spelling is exactly as was intended. This is my story and I am sticking to it. Today I was working with a fellow Active Rain member, one of the prominent realtors here in Whatcom County -- Chris Farkas from Exit Realty. We home inspectors like a realtor who is pro-active for the clients and wants to understand the condition of a home and any issues that might be present. Hands-on and concerned is good. (15 comments)
Innocence Beyond Belief - 11/20/09 07:07 PM
Maybe you have to be on an island to find this kind of trust. I have not seen anything like this since I was a kid back in the 1950's and early 1960's. My wife and I were visiting Salt Spring Island in British Columbia. It is an easy drive and ferry ride from Bellingham. We were going to the "cheese" factories on the island. We found this one, on the map, that was called Moonstruck Cheese. We followed the winding country road and, before long, we were there. It was an attractive storefront.
As we got out of the (52 comments)
Funny How The Mind Works - 11/20/09 01:32 AM
Sometimes it is funny how the mind works. As part of the home inspection training class at Bellingham Technical College, I maintain some online practice tests that help students prepare for various inspection related state or national exams. Here is the scoop. I was at an inspection today and one sprinkler head was buried down in the soil.
And another sprinkler head nearby looked like this one.
Seeing the two heads made me think of a test question.
"Which of the following is most likely to lead to a cross-connection at a yard irrigation system?" 1. A (12 comments)
Keeping Your Rattlesnake Fresh -- Refrigerator Etiquette - 11/17/09 09:43 AM
The one creepy crawly that I do not like is snakes. In general, I can cope with spiders and bees and vermin, but I do not like snakes. I give garter snakes a pass in that I see enough of them that I am used to them. I do not want them crawling over me, but they can slither by nearby. The other side of this is that, in western Washington we do not have poisonous snakes, although there are rattlers in eastern Washington. Imagine my surprise on a recent inspection when I opened a refrigerator door and found a coiled rattler. (27 comments)
Howling Winds and Lost Power - 11/16/09 08:44 AM
This morning in Bellingham the wind is howling. I have an inspection on Lake Samish. I really wonder if I will be able to get on the roof. This is turning out to be a bad year as far as losing our power in Bellingham. That is usually wind related. It has happened twice at my house so far. Back in early October I was writing a report one night -- it gets dark early -- and "poof" the power went out. Can you say dark? The power came back on later and I thought nothing more about it. We had (9 comments)
Bellingham Home Inspector (King of the House) -- Controlling Runoff Water - 11/14/09 02:59 PM
Sometimes people resist the concept of gutters and downspouts. In the climate around here, in the Pacific Northwest, it is hard to believe that anyone can ignore the need of a means of controlling runoff water. However, there are those who think that an inspector, who recommends gutters, is simply trying to make work for a gutter contractor. Sometimes, however, the necessity of gutters is so readily apparent that nobody can argue.
There are, actually, a couple causes for the rot on the fascia. The shingles are cut too short so the water runs right over the fascia, and there (11 comments)
Leaking Gutters May Lead to Other Issues - 11/14/09 02:59 PM
Frequently, in the northwest, we home inspectors see gutters, or roof/gutter combinations, that are improperly installed. The roof is cut short, so it does not overhang the gutter and seldom is there a drip edge flashing to help route the runoff into the gutter below. When that is the case, it is common to find the edge of the roof sheathing decayed and, along with that, an inspector might find damage and rot to the soffit area if the problem has been going on for some time.
In wet climates it is essential to control runoff water.
Thanks for stopping by, Steven (7 comments)
Oh Yes, The Best Of Intentions - 11/13/09 06:14 PM
Picture this: The homeowner knows there is a roof leak. The homeowner knows that shingles are blown off. So how does the homeowner correct this? Usually in a totally unprofessional manner. The photo below is not an uncommon repair.
Those shingles laying over the damaged area are vulnerable and this is not the way a roofer would do a repair. New shingles are worked in where the damage was done. They are no plunked down on top. If the old shingles were prone to blowing off before, then how about this conglomeration? Once an inspector sees something like this, the (8 comments)
When receptacles (outlets) or switches are missing cover plates that is no big deal as far as a repair. Heck, it is a piece of cake. On the other hand, citing the problem is valid. Anyone, but especially children, could come in contact with energized wiring when the covers are missing. As much of a no brainer as it seems to be -- put covers on your receptacles -- I would (12 comments)
Failing Water Heaters (King of the House Home Inspection) - 11/11/09 08:44 PM
Home inspectors, when it is possible to do so, try to get data on water heaters. From a serial number, almost always, a water heater can be "dated" for age. Some sellers think that as long as the water heater heats, then the inspector should say nothing about the condition of it. That is not wise on the part of the inspector. If a buyer goes into a deal and, right after the inspection, finds out that the inside of the water heater looks like this, then the inspector will probably be getting an unpleasant telephone call.
It makes sense (18 comments)
You're Looking At A Fire Hazard - 11/10/09 11:49 PM
Natural gas and propane furnaces are usually vented with B vents. A B vent is a double-wall vent, so it can have tighter clearances to combustibles than single wall vents or metal chimneys. But, just the same, it requires one inch of clearance, minimum, from flammables. Especially when people put water heaters in attached sheds, we find clearance issues.
A casual glance at the photo makes it all too clear that this water heater B vent is in contact with the OSB, a flammable. This contact is only a few feet above the water heater so we know that the (28 comments)
Raccoons Came Calling - 11/10/09 09:46 AM
The house below had signs of raccoons walking on the roof and partying under the soffit. It is really no big surprise if you have ever watched a raccoon climb a tree. Raccoons are large animals and the damage they can do to a home -- siding and soffit -- if they decide they want to make a nest or den, or whatever it is called, is extensive.
There are many reasons to keep trees cut back from a house: Leaves in gutters and on the roof, moss and fungal issues, damage to roofing and siding and trim, easy access (11 comments)
Old School -- It Could Have Been Worse - 11/09/09 03:47 PM
I do not know if anyone from Active Rain has written about this, locally in my area, or not. But last week, Thursday early morning, there was a major fire at Whatcom Middle School. Now I relate to that school. It used to be the original high school in Bellingham and when I was in school it was a junior high and I attended Whatcom Junior High. In 1966 it became a middle school. Fifty years ago, in Bellingham, you went to elementary school grades 1 through 6. Then you were in junior high grades 7,8 and 9 and then you were (6 comments)
Looking Under the Surface -- Can You Dig It! - 11/09/09 03:14 PM
In the past I have written a number of articles about underground fuel tanks, both heating oil and gasoline tanks. Such tanks were common in older homes and, sometimes, I find homes where the tanks are still in use supplying a furnace. The most common signs of a storage tank underground consist of seeing either the vent, or breather, pipe.
Or a fill pipe or cap.
The first photo is a vent at an underground oil tank. The next one is the fill tube and cap for an old underground gasoline tank. Another thing the inspector might see is (4 comments)
Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House) -- Sloping Lots - 11/08/09 10:17 PM
Here in the Pacific Northwest, especially in wooded areas, it is common to find that the perimeter soil -- call it a hillside -- is sloped toward the home. When that is the case, if there is a basement or a crawl space, the home inspector will look for signs of past or present water intrusion. However, if the home is on a slab, there is not much to see. As building lots become more scarce, and people are building on lots that they would not have built on fifty years ago, the home inspector sees more and more of this (3 comments)
Bellingham Home Inspector (King of the House) -- Unsafe Closet Lighting - 11/08/09 09:26 AM
Bare light bulbs in closets are a safety hazard. I know of that first hand. You see that bulb there -- assume that the socket is not loose -- well people do things like use closet bulbs as hangers. I know that one firsthand. My dear departed dad (yes Heather that was great grandpa Lee) once hung his baseball cap on a similar bulb in his closet. Now you can forgive him, he was about 95 years of age at the time. This condition of the bare bulb is common around Bellingham and Whatcom county -- probably everywhere there are older houses. Anyway, this (7 comments)
TPR Drain Lines - 11/07/09 09:14 PM
Not long ago, at three inspections in a row, I found TPR drain lines that were improperly installed. By improperly installed, I mean that they were routed up. In some cases there were other defects as well -- the TPR drain was routed into flex tubing, the line terminated in the crawl space or too high off the ground outside.
One homeowner claimed that his drain line, being routed uphill, was not a problem because pressurized water is involved. He is wrong. This arrangement is not allowed by any of the professional plumbing standards. What the fellow says, if one knows nothing (12 comments)
When You Can't See the Roof for the Trees - 11/07/09 10:41 AM
One of the state standards of practice, in Washington state, is that an inspector must traverse the roof if it can be done safely and without property damage. The idea is that the inspector, in so doing, will have a better idea of the condition of the roof. While in theory that is a good concept, sometimes Pacific Northwest reality and trees interfere with good intentions -- see photo below.
Even though I got on that roof, the organic debris was so thick that I really could not see much. I did have this to report: The roof is heavily obscured (4 comments)
Properties Taking Out The Home Inspector - 11/07/09 09:25 AM
Most of us in the northwest, when we think of decks, probably think of a flat walking surface comprised of either wood decking or a composite decking material with rain gaps to allow rain between the boards. That is usually the case. However, it is also not uncommon to find a solid flat surface -- such as a plywood nailed over the structure below. We home inspectors have to be careful when inspecting decks. They can be very high and construction methods are often suspect. When plywood is the walking surface, often the homeowner has applied onto that surface some type of waterproofing (4 comments)
Whatcom County Home Inspector (King of the House) -- When Your Balusters Are Loose - 11/06/09 07:23 PM
I seem to be having a spate of luck where, inspection after inspection, I a running into high decks. We are not talking three feet high. I mean decks that are 18 or 20 feet high and they are situated over valleys below. When such a deck is inspected it is very important that it be solid to the house. Another thing we inspectors want is proper spacing of the balusters. The standard safety guideline today is that balusters should be close enough together that a four inch sphere will not pass through. At many decks I find spacing much wider (10 comments)
Why I Don't See Vermin At My Abode - 11/05/09 04:36 PM
Recently I wrote a post entitled Rodents In Paradise. I have got to tell you that I see them everywhere. We are talking rats and mice, not the wonderful little squirrels that are so well behaved. In this area even high-end homes have problems with rats and mice. I can honestly say that, at my home, I have not had a problem with rats or mice in years. At one time we would see an occasional one under the sink. Now, if there is any sign of them at all, then it is a body that we might find in the (17 comments)
Rodents In Paradise - 11/05/09 08:19 AM
Sometimes it seems like the rats and mice must look upon fiberglass batt insulation as some type of paradise. If not, well they sure have a strong love for the stuff. The photo below is commonly found at a home inspection when the rodents have been enjoying a roll in the insulation.
This insulation is pulled down and torn by, in this case, rats. If you look inside the insulation you see seeds the vermin have carried in. And, in a few spots, you can see the very holes they are using for easy access. The little fellow even left (13 comments)
The Problem With A Cantilevered Deck - 11/05/09 12:49 AM
An inspector needs to be on the lookout for structural problems with cantilevered decks. That is especially true here in the northwest where we have so much rain. Do you know what a cantilever is? Here is a pretty good photo that I took at a recent inspection.
See that beam: Dark on the inside and white outside where it supports an upper deck. Notice how green that beam is at the exposed outside section. That is a big problem with this design. As the wood is exposed to rain on the outside, rot forms and that will travel right down the (5 comments)
Bellingham Home Inspector (King of the House) -- Clues - 11/01/09 06:05 PM
In older homes it is not uncommon to find that the house, at some point, had an underground storage tank -- either gasoline or, more likely, heating oil. Since underground tanks are buried, not visible, probably any number of them go unnoticed. However, we home inspectors are on the lookout for certain clues as to the existence of such a tank. That photo below is not a periscope. That pipe looks like a vent pipe from an old underground storage tank. I did not find a nearby fill tube but, where there is a vent there is often a tank below (9 comments)
These photos were taken during the fourth week of the course -- field training. The first three weeks students are in the classroom, and at some labs, but generally they are tied down learning the nuts and the bolts of what it is that they are looking for. In that final week, the students go on-site with instructors and put to practical (6 comments)
Bellingham Home Inspector (King of the House) -- It's That Time of Year - 11/01/09 09:58 AM
Folks, I hate to say it, but here in the northwest it is that time of year. What time of year you might ask. Well it is that time of year when you need to clean the roof and the gutters. All of the needles and leaves from all of the trees are now in valleys of your roof and down in the gutters. Such debris blocks drainage and, frequently, leads to gutters not functioning at all. The subsequent leaks can rot structure such as the fascia behind gutters. Bearer of bad news that I might be, the time is now (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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