The Great Karnak I'm Not

Home Inspector with JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC HOI 394

Anyone over twenty, well maybe a little older, may remember the Great Karnak, a character portrayed by the legendary Johnny Carson. Karnak was a seer, a prognosticator of magnificent skill. By holding an envelope to his forehead, Karnak could recite the answer to the question on the card sealed inside the envelop. He would then tear open the envelop and read the question. His predictions were if nothing else, hilarious.

Improperly installed plumbing vent flashing on a low sloped roofAs a home inspector I am thought, at least I feel this way at times, to be able to predict the future. If this were so, I wouldn't be inspecting houses. However I can with reasonable surety in some instances predict how, for example, the installation of a component in a house will reach an inevitable conclusion based on what I find on the day of the inspection.

Recently I was able to see the result of a prediction I made from two years ago. The result was in no way a surprise.

A homeowner had contacted me, as I said two years ago, to inspect an addition being made to their home. They had gotten into a dispute with the contractor over several issues. They wanted an independent inspector to review and document the work thus far completed.

The addition was raising the roof at the back of the house to create a shed dormer, making more space in the attic, which would then be finished into bedrooms. The space would of course require a new roof and covering. Since a shed dormer has an almost flat to low slope roof (3 pitch or less) it should be covered in a roll type roofing material, not shingles. Ascending the roof, I found exactly that, roll asphalt.

Flashing detail for a plumbing waste vent on a low sloped roofSo far so good. Then I saw the two plumbing vents protruding through the roof. Actually I noticed the gobs of roofing tar around the incorrect type of flashings for these two vents. The roofing "professional" had installed a typical plumbing vent flashing for a moderate to steep pitched roof.

This kind of flashing is meant to be installed with shingles. The top is tucked under the shingle above, the bottom left exposed, thus matching the lapped pattern of the shingles. I believe it would seem obvious to even the most inexperienced person, this is not possible with a sheet form of roofing material. So the solution the roofing professional used in this instance was to slather the edges of the flashing with tar. Tar is not flashing. It is not a good, long term sealant. At best it is a temporary, stop gap measure that can be used until a proper and more permanent repair can be made.

The same flashing two years later.

As the diagram I have included shows, properly flashing a plumbing vent with this type of roofing material is a bit more involved, requiring different flashing materials and methods. In other words, it takes more time and care.

Now viewing these flashings two years later, I saw what I had predicted. The tar had dried and was beginning to flake and peel.

I warned the homeowner that when the snows come this winter, inevitably piling up on the roof, leaks are quite likely to begin.

This conclusion wasn't hard to predict.

Posted by

James Quarello
Connecticut Home Inspector
Former SNEC-ASHI President
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC

 ASHI Certified Inspector

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Anthony Daniels
Coldwell Banker - San Francisco, CA
SF Bay Area REO Specialist

Always good tips about home inspections, along with excellent pictures.

Thanks for sharing them.

Sep 24, 2012 11:40 PM #6
Harry F. D'Elia
Real Estate and Beyond, LLC - Phoenix, AZ
Investor , Mentor, GRI, Radio, CIPS, REOs, ABR

Tar and duct tape is man's best friend when it comes to fixing things in a home

Sep 24, 2012 11:51 PM #7
Adrian Willanger
206 909-7536 - Seattle, WA
Profit from my two decades of experience

James, I'm sure if the homeowner was having problems with the contractor it was a much greater problem not to belittle the improper flashing which will, as you mentioned, lead to bigger problems. Thanks for the photos and explanation. 

Sep 25, 2012 01:06 AM #8
Hella Mitschke Rothwell
(831) 626-4000 - Honolulu, HI
Hawaii & California Real Estate Broker

James: Another thing I learned from your post. As to the homeowner, he should have listened to you. Why wouldn't he have the contractor correct that?

Sep 25, 2012 01:26 AM #9
Barb Merrill
Cactus Mountain Properties, LLC - Tempe, AZ
GRI, Associate Broker

I appreciate the info about the lack of durability of tar.  I feel educated!  Thanks.

Sep 25, 2012 03:12 AM #10
Dana Hollish Hill
Hollish Hill Group, Keller William Capital Properties - Bethesda, MD
Lead Associate Broker

What a great post. I particularly appreciate that you added pictures to illustrate your points. I will definitely refer buyers to your post if I encounter something similar.

Sep 25, 2012 04:05 AM #11
Gary Frimann
Eagle Ridge Realty / Signature Homes & Estates - Gilroy, CA
REALTOR and Broker

Things work when done properly.  A lesson I've learned the hard way time and time again.  There are no shortcuts.

Sep 25, 2012 04:14 AM #12
Nan Jester
Exit Real Estate Gallery Jacksonville Beach, FL - Jacksonville Beach, FL
Realtor, Exit Real Estate Gallery

A very informative post as always. Thanks.

Sep 25, 2012 05:35 AM #13
Ginger Harper
Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage - Southport, NC
Your Southport~Oak Island Agent~Brunswick County!

Thanks for posting this.  Do the work that has to be done...right..and not pay the consequences later..

Sep 25, 2012 06:29 AM #14
Adam Brett
The Adam and Eric Group - Fullerton, CA
The Adam and Eric Group, Fullerton's Finest

Excellent post, I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy day to share it with us.

Sep 25, 2012 07:43 AM #15
Jim Patton
Century 21 M&M - 209-404-0816 - Turlock, CA
Realtor - Stanislaus & Merced county Realtor.

Cutting corners or just plain laziness will usually come back to bite you in the butt.   I think you are spot one with this one.   And I do remember Karnak, very funny stuff. 

Sep 25, 2012 09:35 AM #16
Myrl Jeffcoat
GreatWest Realty - Sacramento, CA
Greater Sacramento Real Estate Agent

It always amazes me that some contractors don't see certain calamities coming!  As for the Karnak hat, I once worked in an office, where the manager periodically put on one of those hats and made predictions for the coming year in real estate.  It was uncanny how often he was right!

Sep 25, 2012 10:42 AM #17
Beth Paterson
Reverse Mortgages SIDAC, NMLS #173899 - Saint Paul, MN
CRMP, NMLS #342859

James, I remember Karnak and did find it amusing.  While your predictions may be accurate, they should be taken seriously, not found amusing.  Thanks for sharing this informative post!

Sep 25, 2012 11:34 AM #18
Kathleen Daniels
KD Realty - 408.972.1822 - San Jose, CA
San Jose Homes for Sale-Probate & Trust Specialist

James, It sounds like you were contacted to inspect and yet the homeowner and contractor did not make corrections which resulted in your prediction. 

Sep 25, 2012 01:53 PM #19
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Raymond, This wasn't hard to predict. 

Clint, For the vents on this roof, the time has come.

Jay, The dispute occurred long before I arrived. 

Richie, Thanks. That is for sure.

Terri, I warn new homeowners that putting off repairs will costs more down the road. 

Anthony, Thanks.

Harry, No home should be without them :)

Adrian, Yes there are bigger issues. This is the tip of the proverbial ice berg. 

Hella, The homeowner was unaware of the issue until the inspection. The contractor had already walked of the job as I recall, so fixing it wasn't going to happen. 

Sep 25, 2012 10:07 PM #20
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Barb, You're welcome. Tar is the other caulk ;)

Dana, Pictures are so valuable in making a clear point. I use many in my reports. Thanks.

Gary, I think we all have learned that lesson. I know I have :)

Nan, Thanks.

Ginger, Saving time, in the end doesn't save money or grief.

Adam, Thanks, my pleasure. 

Jim, Who could forget him. I haven't. 

Myrl, That's funny, especially since he was right.

Beth, I find a little levity helps in stressing the seriousness of an issue. I don't want to scare anyone, but impress the importance of the issue. 

Kathleen, Not exactly. The contractor was uncooperative, which was part of the dispute between the homeowner and him. 

Sep 25, 2012 10:15 PM #21
Vince Chinell
VICO Home Inspection - Branson, MO

James, I often ask my customers to keep me informed with any situation that I recommended repaired and they for some reasons can not fix now.  I almost always find out later that a larger repair was needed because they didn't listen to their friend, the home inspector.

Sep 25, 2012 11:18 PM #22
David O'Doherty
Raleigh Realty Inc - Clayton, NC
Clayton NC Homes, Raleigh, NC

James, what a joke, it never ceases to amaze me how bad some contractors can be, it's a mine field out there folks!!!

Sep 25, 2012 11:40 PM #23
Donald Hester
NCW Home Inspections, LLC - Wenatchee, WA
NCW Home Inspections, LLC

Jim, And just to think those flashings are so relatively cheap. I do not understand this type of thinking. 

Sep 26, 2012 03:14 AM #24
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Vince, It does seem from my experience as well, repairs get put off or not done at all. 

David, It certaiunly is.

Don, It is hard to fathom. 

Sep 27, 2012 10:15 PM #25
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James Quarello

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