About 1000 people die each year from electric shock in the US. The majority, about 400, occur on the job with the rest in a variety of locations including the home where we like to feel safest. In inspecting homes, the most common defect to the electrical system is missing covers from switches and receptacles. This can easily allow contact with potential lethal voltage. Exposed wiring, arguably more dangerous but less commonly found, is another potential life threatening occurrence and is often the result of incomplete work. Other electrical defects commonly found in the course of a home inspection are ungrounded outlets, lack of ground fault circuit interrupters, lack of arc fault interrupters, missing knockouts in electrical distribution panels, missing covers from splice boxes, yes they are supposed to be covered regardless of the location, splices not contained in splice boxes, improperly supported electrical cables and some truly inventive use of extension cords. Ungrounded outlets, lack of ground fault circuit interrupters and lack of arc fault interrupters are only defects if the electrical code required them at the time of construction but even so, these are worthwhile safety improvements.
Heating and cooling systems defects are often very costly to correct and many times didn’t have to happen. Clogged furnace and heat recovery ventilators filters probably head the list followed by worn fan belts, in older units, and salted up humidifiers. Anything that reduces air flow through the furnace not only affects heating and cooling but also can lead to early component failure. Corrosion on the furnace cabinet is often a result of a blockage in the AC condensation line while inside the cabinet can be from the AC or furnace condensation in a higher efficiency furnace. Furnace condensation is corrosive and can indicate a damaged fan housing. In modern higher efficiency furnaces the burn chamber if often completely sealed and not visible for inspection by a home inspector but annual service by a HVAC professional will help reveal defects in this area.
Crawl space defects are often out of the comfort zone for many home owners although those in unfinished basements are often readily visible. Bulging floors can indicate water beneath the floor or settling of the foundation. Cracks in the foundation walls, particularly those over ¼”, can be a concern but have to be viewed in the context of age and stability. Water leaks or stains around windows often show there have been past leaks. Improperly cut, decayed or damaged floor joists, support walls or posts and beams are not as common but require correction to help restore strength.
Attic spaces are also outside the comfort zone of most homeowners and are too often dangerous to access even for home inspectors. The level of insulation being installed in today’s homes can conceal a number of trip hazards leading to personal injury and damage to the ceiling below. Visible defects from an attic access hatch might include cut or damaged rafters or trusses, damaged sheathing, unevenly distributed insulation, blocked soffit vents, evidence of water and/or mold, improperly vented bathroom or kitchen vents or even vent stacks terminated in the attic.
The code requirements for a fire break between vehicle parking areas and living space inside the home have been around for a number of years. Earlier home may not have a proper fire break that consists of a completely dry walled separation between the two and a fire resistant self closing door. If not a code requirement at the time of construction then it still is a strong safety improvement recommendation. Defects in home built since a firebreak was required are damaged walls, vents between the living area and the garage, attic hatches made of plywood and pull down stairs that are not fire resistant.
Speaking of garages, another common defect is a vehicle door that does not reverse when it strikes an obstruction. In cold country, owners want the door the shut firmly when it strikes packed snow and so these are often maladjusted intentionally. Photo cell sensors mounted between the rafters rather than 4 – 6” above the floor are another risky defect found with some frequency.
This is by no means a complete list of all home defects and the good news is that a home inspector can often go days and only encounter a few of these defects, the bad news is by forgoing a home inspection the purchaser may well not notice them until too late.
Mid-America Inspection Services, serving Fargo and West Fargo, North Dakota, Moorhead, Alexandria, Fergus Falls, Detroit Lakes, Wadena and the Minnesota Lakes Region
218-443-3555, 320-846-0004, 218-287-0877, 218-841-0444