The exterior or shell of the house is exposed to the harshness of our climate and has to be continuously checked and maintained to prevent deterioration. Even homes two or three years old may be suffering the consequences of thinning paint and shrinking caulking. Pointing out wood damage or maintenance issues on the exterior can be enormously helpful to the buyer. Tips on future maintenance issues and explanations on conditions are also very useful. Remember, all buyers are not from this area and are not familiar with our maintenance issues. Having the buyer at the inspection is important because if he/she is walking the exterior with the inspector, problems can be identified and remedies discussed. This is much better that having the customer read about problems later when they get the inspection report. A good inspection and report should not contain any surprises if the buyer attended the inspection.
The 1990’s were witness to a flood of law suits involving wood composition siding and synthetic stucco (EIFS). Many of the issues leading to the product failure have been addressed over the years but much of the siding is still on older homes. The type and condition of all exterior cladding must be identified and evaluated. Detailing problems like swelling, over driven nails and the siding been too close to the ground will assist the buyers when repairs have to be made. Improperly installed siding can lead to premature deterioration and may void the manufacturer’s warrantee. All sidings are subject to moisture or impact damage and have to be carefully inspected to assure water is not attacking the wall cavity. Asbestos siding on older homes must be identified and the customer made aware of the options available in dealing with Asbestos. Cracked mortar in brick veneer can be evidence of settling beams or moving foundations. The severity of the cracking and the time involved is important in determining if the movement is a serious structural issue or minor typical cracking.
Wood trim, soffits and fascias are all exterior components that are particularly susceptible to the effects of wind, rain and heat. Once wood damage starts it can accelerate rapidly. Damaged trim and window sills can allow water to enter the wall cavity and cause structural damage. Clogged gutters and gutter fasteners slanted toward the fascia can direct water to the wood fascia and soffits. Knowing the extent of any damage may be difficult to determine until repairs are actually started and the damaged material is removed. The inspector must provide the customer with as much information as possible so repair and cost estimates can be made. If repairs become part of the real estate process, the seller may perform the repairs or an agreed upon price for those repairs may be negotiated between the buyer and the seller and the buyer becomes responsible for the repairs. In either case, the best information is required. Even homes with metal, vinyl and other non wood trim can have issues and also have to be inspected. Amateurish workmanship should also be noted because it could be covering up other problems or will become a maintenance problem in the future.
A frequent surprise to a home buyer during an inspection is that the house or portions of it may need a paint job. Even with a three or four year old home, the paint and caulking may have deteriorated to the point where wood rot has already started in isolated locations. Many home owners and buyers do not know when the paint is thinning until they have wood damage. The ideal time to paint and caulk is before you have rotting wood that has to be replaced or repaired. A home buyer may look at his/her prospective home and think the paint is fine. The home inspector however, may recommend that wood trim or siding be painted in the near future to prevent deterioration and maintain the appearance of the home. Many times this comes as a surprise. Sometimes a paint job is needed immediately and sometimes it can be put off for a short while. The extent and time frame should be made clear to the customer so they can prioritize their household projects.
Insulated windows, doors, storm windows and storm doors are also included in the exterior part of the inspection but they are also inspected from the interior. These items cannot be evaluated as to efficiency but their functionality should be determined. Do they operate properly? Are there screens installed and what condition are they in? Some loan programs require a house to have screens. Whether an insulated door or window has a failed Thermopane seal is usually more easily determined from the interior but also should be noted.
Exterior doors are also inspected from both the interior and exterior. A primary concern is security and safety. Do the doors open and close properly to provide easy egress? Are the proper locksets and dead bolts installed and are they installed properly? Weather stripping is used to reduce air infiltration and it should be working correctly. Improperly installed or missing weather stripping can also allow rain to be blown in around the door trim.
The last item on our exterior inspection list is the chimney. The chimney is best inspected from the roof but again this is not always possible. A good set of binoculars can bring you up close for a good viewing. Chimneys are also inspected from the interior and the attic. The chimney may look innocent enough looking at it from the ground but a proper inspection involves many observations. The chimney material, height, condition of the cap and spark arrester and any obstructions should be noted. Loose cracked or damaged brick or mortar should be recommended for repair. Flashings need close analysis and evaluation. Brick chimneys built partially on the exterior of the house must be carefully inspected. On some homes, the chimney above the roof line is improperly supported on the wood framing in the attic. If this is not done properly, the weight of the brick will cause the wood to compress and the chimney to crack and lean toward the house. Fixes for this problem are not inexpensive and are quite extensive. If the chimney is visible in the attic, mortar joints and the brick condition can be evaluated. Is the flue lined? Is there creosote build-up requiring the chimney to be cleaned? A very common finding in older homes that have been rehabbed is the absence of a flue damper. This can be the equivalence of having a hole through your house the size of a soccer ball. There is however, easy inexpensive fix for this problem.
The next stop is the garage, small but important.