Home buyers typically spend the most time viewing a prospective home on the interior. Are the rooms going to work for what they need? Are there sufficient bedrooms and baths and are there any issues that would typically be spotted by the average home buyer? When a home inspector enters a bedroom for example, he/she is making many observations. In what condition are the walls, floors and ceilings? What are they made of? Do they indicate any symptoms of structural issues? Do the doors and windows operate properly? Are the electrical receptacles correctly wired? Is there sufficient HVAC air flow in the room? Do the ceiling fixtures operate as intended? Have there been obvious repairs and what do those repairs mean? Are the cracks in the drywall a result of settling or just a drywall joint separation due to the framing drying out?
This inspector prefers to inspect the interior of the house from the top down. Once leaving the attic, I usually start the interior part of the inspection on the highest floor. Any bathrooms are also done during the interior inspection as they appear in the inspection progress. This is done for two reasons. Bathrooms are inspected as the inspection proceeds and all plumbing fixtures are turned on and inspected. If there are plumbing leaks they will be visible when you get to the lower floors. Secondly, structural issues like cracked drywall or settling are amplified in the upper parts of the house. A slight sag in a framing member in the basement can produce a much larger result on the second floor. Possible settling issues are noted as the inspection proceeds and the cause of the settling is looked for as you descend the building.
A point should be made about what are called cosmetic issues. It should not be the intent of a home inspection to identify every paint blemish, insignificant drywall ding or carpet stain. An unsophisticated buyer and/or an over-eager real estate agent can reduce the intent of the inspection to a nit-picking hit list of items that just may screw up the sale. Unfortunately, there are those inspectors that also put too many cosmetic items in their reports to try to make the inspection appear to be very thorough. It has been my experience that the many-page inspection report detailing one minor cosmetic item after another has more than likely missed some important defects in the property. Quantity does not always mean quality. There will be more about this in a future article. Cosmetic items do, however, have a place in the inspection of a new house. I once heard a real estate agent tell our customer, “A new house should look new.” Almost everyone should be in agreement with that statement. I encourage my customers to put together a list of their own cosmetic items and to bring them to the builder’s attention during their walk-through inspection. The builder will respond much better to the prospective buyer’s concerns than from a list compiled by a home inspector.
The standards state that a representative number of doors and windows should be inspected. This usually means one per room. Does the door open and close easily? Is all the hardware installed and operating properly? If the door frame is not square, this may mean there has been settling and further investigation is required. The type of windows and the condition must be identified and if they are operable. This is very important in bedrooms where at least one window must be operable for egress purposes. If the windows have burglar bars, this too should be noted because they not only keep the bad guys out but they can prevent egress during an emergency.
The type and condition of walls and ceilings have to be noted. And yes, old plaster ceilings and walls usually have some past cracking evident. They kind of wear their history and it is not necessarily an indication of problems. Settling in ceilings can be difficult to spot but it is an important observation that must be made. Sagging ceilings may mean over spanned joists. This condition can only get worse if unaddressed. All moisture stains should be measured with a moisture meter to determine if the stain is the result of an active leak. This is why we ran all the sinks, showers and toilets when we were upstairs.
The type and condition of floors also has to be identified. Because of carpeting and household furniture, uneven floors are also difficult to spot. Sagging floors in older houses are very common around Atlanta. Many framing members will settle some over long periods of time under their own weight. Consider an eighty year old house with furniture and people in it. The inspector has to look for unusual structural reasons for the settling and to talk their customer through their concerns. Is this pretty typical or is the house about to fall down?
Stairs can be an unsafe part of the house. All efforts must be made to identify any possible problems that might cause a bad fall or accident. Are the treads and risers evenly spaced to prevent trip or fall hazards? Are the railings properly installed and of the right size and height? Do the railing components have larger than standard openings that might be a hazard to small children? Is lighting sufficient?
The fireplace is one of the home’s components that just kind of sets there quietly like a big piece of furniture. Everyone likes to have one but most people don’t know much about them. Fireplaces range in size and simplicity from the enclosed glass front gas unit with the on/off switch on the wall. Turn the switch on when you want the fireplace to light and turn it off when you are done with it. The next jump up is the open fireplace with gas logs but no vent, ventless. That’s right the heat and what’s left of the combustion gases rolls out into the house. Don’t worry this is the same operating principle as the gas oven and cook top, no vent to the outside. Although it is important with all fireplaces, it is more so with the ventless fireplace that all operating instructions be carefully followed. The next in complexity would be the typical fireplace with the flue that can burn wood or use installed gas ceramic logs. This type is the most common in homes built in this area in the last twenty years. The last type we want to talk about is what some of us call “real fireplaces”. These are fire brick lined fireplaces with a real lined masonry chimney. These guys can burn real wood or use ceramic logs if gas is installed. The inspector must be familiar with all these units and their operating characteristics. Flues and dampers must be checked and their general condition accessed.
Some municipalities require fire sprinklers in residential housing. Most in town condos and townhouses also have sprinkler systems installed. Although the testing of these units is beyond the scope of the home inspector’s inspection, the report should state the inspector checked to see if there were sprinklers in all habitable rooms. If possible, determine if the system is charged and to what pressure. It is also during the inspection of the interior that the inspector looks for any red flags that might suggest there could be a mold problem in the property and how to proceed. We will discuss this in detail in the article on environmental testing of the property.
Next time, “Everything you didn’t want to know about plumbing”.
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