Monday, June 30, 2008


As a home inspector I have always been intrigued by the classic homes I have inspected over the years for many reasons. The detailed craftsmanship of course, but that's not the main reason. The main reason is the fact that inspecting older stock homes, you get to see the evolution of building practices from materials used and the advancement of mechanical devices.
One of the biggest advancements has been the technology that has been made possible by electricity. Think about the impact electricity has made in industry, not to mention our daily lives.
When I sit here on the computer in the nice cool air-conditioned office, or when I just fire up my Strat to relax, this was all made possible through electricity.
It is probably not normal to think about electricity, but just for fun as you go through your normal day think about what part of that day was not impacted by electricity. The plant that processed and packaged what you have for breakfast, the plant that made the car you drive to the place you work that use computers copiers telephones, are all make possible because of one thing, that's right, electricity.
Since I am on the electricity subject, I thought I would share these photos of vintage electrical devices that were sent to me.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Inspecting Househole Wiring

Inspecting Household Wiring is a very important part of a home inspection, but what things are included in a home inspection?
To answer that question here are some of the things that are included in the electrical portion of a home inspection:
1-Check for open splicing (wires connected outside of a junction box)
2-Check junction boxes for covers and open knock-outs
3-Look for knob and tube wiring
4-Test outlets for open grounding and reverse polarity
5-Check for GFCI protected outlets in kitchens, baths, and exterior receptacles
6-Check for cover plates on all receptacles
7- Check to make sure that all electrical devices are securely mounted

Understanding Interrupters
The term “interrupter” refers to fusses, breakers, GFCIs, or any other device that is designed to interrupt the electricity traveling thought a circuit. Here is a list of some of the circuit interrupts and their use.
Main Breakers
Interrupts circuit to protect equipment (not people)
Must not exceed wire capacity or equipment load

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI)
GFCIs are designed to reduce the chance of serious shock to people
Three types of GFCIs are:
Receptacle type
Circuit Breakers
Portable Devices
Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI)
AFCIs are designed to reduce fire hazards
New Electrical code effective 01/01/02’ will require AFCI circuits in bedroom circuits on all new homes

It is a good idea to have your electrical system evaluated when having other electrical work done. It does not take a qualified electrician long to evaluate the safety of your electrical system, it’s worth it!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

What Can Spark an Inerest for a Home Inspection?

I receive a lot of questions concerning safety, related to electrical wiring. Theses questions are a concern, since according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, problems in home wiring, are associated with more than 40,000 home fires each year. These fires claim over 350 lives and injure 1,400 victims annually.
The following is a summery of the history of electrical wiring:
Electrical dates of interest
1886–First residential use of AC current (Great Barrington, MA)
1890-First Residential electric lights introduced
1897-National Electrical Code established
1900–early 1930’s–Knob and Tube wiring used
1930’s-Wide use of armored cable (BX)
1940’s-Increased use of non-metallic cable (two wire romex)
Early 50’s-early 60’s-Introduction of rag romex (still two wire)
Early 60’s NEC codes changed to the use of the three slot outlets
1962-1973- Single strand aluminum wiring used in 15/20 amp circuits
1973-GFCI’s introduced for exterior receptacles
1975- Code mandate for GFCI’s in bathrooms of new construction
1974 or 75-Edison based fuses prohibited for installation unless they were equipped with type S fuses
1978-GFCI’s mandated for garages in new construction
1987-Code revised to include GFCI’s in kitchens and one in a basement
1990-Code revised to require GFCI’s in crawlspaces.

The term “out dated equipment” is often used to describe some of the following electrical issues:

Sixty amp Service Panels
Not adequate for today's household electrical demands
More and more Insurance providers are denying homeowners insurance on houses with less than one hundred amp service

Open ground wiring (Two wire wiring)
More likely to be a shock hazard
With two wire systems it is even more important for GFCI’s to be installed in the suggested places

Knob and Tube Wiring

The newest (original) Knob and tube wiring is around 70 years old
It is a greater fire hazard
It is a greater electrocution hazard
It is obsolete to modern use standards
More and more Insurance providers are denying homeowner’s insurance on houses with knob and tube wiring
It is an open air wire, and not designed to be covered with insulation
In most cases the insulation is brittle and damaged (from age)
More likely to have improper splicing

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

This May Come as a Shock to You

Electricity has been in homes just a little over a hundred years, it's birth was around the same as aviation and look how much aviation has advanced. Electricity has come a long way from it's humble beginning's in New York at Thomas Edison's Pearl Street Station. The Pearl Street Station plant was opened in 1882, and supplied power to about 80 people in lower Manhattan. This plant could supply a limited amount of power to homes for lighting in about a one square mile radios. The Plants limitations was mainly due to the fact it produced DC current (Direct Current). The big change came with the invention of AC current (alternating current). In 1895 George Westinghouse opened the first AC producing power plant in Niagara Falls. Since this plant was producing AC current it could deliver power to homes two hundred miles away.

The popularity of Electricity grew slowly, many people were afraid of bringing electricity in to their homes. Many critics said that electricity would never catch on. How funny, they said the same thing about Aviation. In the early 1920's almost forty years after electricity had been introduced, only two percent of the energy produced in the US was for electricity. The demand for power increased much faster after the 1940's, now over forty percent of the energy produced in the US is used for electricity and that number is still climbing.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Home Inspector's Schocking Discovery

Okay, maybe that was a bad play on words, but if these inexpensive safety issues are not corrected, somebody may get the shock of there life.
Moving on.
These pictures are some examples of reported safety issues concerning the electrical system. In this case the cost to correct the issue is very low. The most common safety issues with the electric system are usually not expensive repairs. They include Open-spliced wires (wires that are not spliced in a closed junction box), missing switch covers, missing plug covers, and double taped breakers(more than one circuit on a breaker).

Now on the other hand some older homes that still have the original wiring (Knob & Tube) in use, may not be up to today's safety standards and may have to be re-wired. In this case it is likely this will cost over a thousand dollars and is considered a major defect.
Above are some pictures of Knob & Tube wiring:

Monday, June 23, 2008

"What does a Home Inspector Look for Anyway?"

In the thirty six years I have been in this business, I have heard the question "We had a home inspection on our house before we bought it, but now the ice maker does not work. What does a home inspector look for on an inspection anyway?"
Professional Home Inspectors follow a Standard of Practice and a Code of Ethics that have been established by National organizations such as The HomeTeam Inspection Service Inc., ASHI, NAHI, and many others. But to boil it down the practice is:
A visual inspection of the condition of the house at the time of the inspection and to inspect for visual major defects, safety issues, and maintenance issues. A major visual defect is described as a single issue that has to be resolved to allow the normal safe function of the house, that will cost a thousand dollars or more to correct. Safety issues generally cost under a thousand dollars to correct. A large amount of safety issues found, involve the home's electrical system and usually not costly to repair. The last thing is maintenance issues. Not all maintenance issues are required to be on the report. However maintenance issue that will cause a major defect or a safety issue if not corrected in a timely manner, shall be written in the report.

Ask questions when you are hiring a home inspector, so you will know what to expect from your home inspection.

I will post some pictures tomorrow of some reported issues.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Water Concerns in Nashville

Water intrusion and water damage are the number one cause of major defects in homes, and something a Home Inspector is very aware of. During a normal whole house inspection a professional home inspector will inspect for any conditions that may have or will cause water damage. However, a visual inspection will not determine water or water damage hidden in the walls. If a home inspector finds conditions that are favorable for intrusion into hidden areas it will be noted in the walk through or on the written report. There are additional inspections available that can determine the condition of interior walls. Water intrusion can also cause the growth of mold. The presents of mold can not always be found in a normal home inspection, but if conditions are found that are favorable for mold growth a separate mold inspection is recommended.
In the case of the Nashville house the non-standard roofing is evidence of favorable conditions for water intrusion. Here are some pictures from Nashville:

Friday, June 13, 2008

"The Ugliest House in Nashville" Part 2

The roof is a major component of any house and can cause serious damage to a house if not properly maintained. The methods used to install a roof are also important, if the incorrect method is used it is a safe bet that the roof will fail to do it's job. A professional Home Inspector can detect if the roof was installed using non-standard methods, and will advise an evaluation by a professional roofer prior to closing. This will protect you and your investment.

The slope or pitch of any roof that has lapped shingles (one on top of the other)is very important. Generally a 3-12 pitch is the minimum for lapped shingles. The 3-12 pitch means that for every 12 inches the roof will slope 3 inches. The 12 does not change, just the first number, so the larger the first number the steeper the slope. If the slope is not steep enough for the water to run off the roof quickly, the water will run back under the shingles and cause leaks.

This House in Nashville had some very good examples of non-standard roof installations. The roof on the Nashville house was not actually flat, but two different degrees of pitch on different sections. The front and sides had a parapet wall, and the roof sloped to the rear. The far right side had a pitch of 1 in 12, and had asphalt shingles (lapped shingles). The other sections had a 3 in 12, and also had shingles. The second level was 1 in 12, and had rolled roofing. Very interesting to say the least. The roof on the first level sloped down where it meets the second level front wall, and was slightly built up in the middle to try to divert the water flow like a chimney cricket. The roof had just recently been re-roofed thought, so it was hard to tell what had been going on. I have attached some pictures of the roof. See what you think.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"The Ugliest House in Nashville"

Buyers are attracted to houses they want to purchase for many reasons. But for what ever reason you are attracted to a particular house always get a home inspection prior to your purchase. The house may have the best view, the best school district, close to your job, or for what ever reason perfect for you. But without a home inspection that dream house can turn into a financial night mare. If you find the perfect home and the inspection reveals costly repairs,in most cases you and the seller can come to some mutual agreement on how to make this sale work for both parties and you can still get the house of your dreams.

A friend and fellow Home Inspector from Nashville, (Tom) sent me some information on an inspection he did on a house with a perfect view, but the inspection revealed the house was not so perfect. I will talk about the issues Tom found with this house in my next post, but for now I want to tell you about "The Ugliest House in Nashville", well that is not my opinion, I think the house has a certain charm, but here is what Tom said; "Oh, when I drove up and got out, the Realtor said", the buyer had termed
the house "The Ugliest House in Nashville".
You be the judge.

Join me tomorrow for more information on "The Ugliest House in Nashville".

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Home Inspector Finds “Bats in the Belfry”

Home Inspector Finds “Bats in the Belfry”

Like I have said before, you never know what you are going to find in an attic or a crawl space. If you inspect houses long enough, you will have unusual discoveries. I received an email and picture from a friend and fellow Home Inspector in Jacksonville that proves this. Here is the email and the batty picture:


I thought you might like to see this. I was inspecting a two-story condo with an airshaft like structure above a first floor closet. I was in the attic and smelled a strong urine smell and heard sounds like small birds. I made my way over to the opening from the attic into the shaft and looked down, seeing a lot of dirt and what turned out to be bat guano (hence the urine or ammonia smell). When I turned to look up into the shaft, this is what I saw! I took this picture very quickly as I did not want to disturb them and have them fly into the attic where I was. The picture is not very clear as I did not take the time to zoom the lens, but you get the idea. Anyway, I'm sure this has happened to others, but it was a first for me!

Regards, Chris

I have found my share of unusual things in attics and crawl spaces, but I have never found anything like this in a condo. Chris has me beat on strange condo inspections.

Tune in tomorrow for more unusual discoveries.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Once Bitten Twice Shy

Vic’s Uncle, who is not a home inspector tried to save some money by not hiring a professional home inspector. In lieu of hiring a professional home inspector, he decided to check out a prospective purchase himself. His first problem is he started with too many no’s; No long sleeves, no boots, no mask, no gloves, and no idea. When he was inspecting the crawl space of this Caribbean home he found, or should I say a Centipede found him. This centipede is native to the Caribbean and can grow to about 12-inches long and whose bite generally does not cause death, but can cause serious pain and high fever, not too mention necrotic fasciitis (gangrene). Vic’s uncle is ok now, but his temperatures got up to 104 before he decided to go to a hospital.
Below are some pictures:

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Creatures in a Crawl

Crawl spaces can be dangerous to a home inspector because of live unprotected electrical wires, standing raw sewage, and also creatures. Personally, I started home inspecting in the south, so I found my share of snakes and black widow spiders, but I have heard some good stories.

I have a home inspector friend (Vic) that since he became a home inspector has been bitten by a possum, a beagle, what could have been a brown spider, attacked by a cat, someone's pet boa, a hawk and my favorite, a copperhead rattler.

It is important to dress properly to inspect a crawl space, long sleeves, boots, dust mask, a hat, and gloves will help. Also it only took one very long, very dark crawl space for me to start bringing an extra flashlight.

Vic has an uncle that had a very unusual experience in a crawl space, but you will have to tune in tomorrow to find out what it was.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Attack of the Crawl Space

During the years of training inspectors, I have often been asked: “Is inspecting dangerous?” I don’t consider inspecting particularly dangerous, but like any other trade, safety is very important. Knowing how to safely approach electrical components, roofs and crawl spaces are very important for the safety of a home inspector . I have home inspector friends that have fallen through a ceiling as they were inspecting an attic. I know a couple of my friends have fallen from ladders and roofs.

Before placing ladders, it is very important to know the location of the power lines. Fortunately I do not know anyone that made that mistake, because in most cases you only make that mistake once and that is the last mistake you ever make.

Inspecting the crawl space of a house has sent me and other inspectors I know to the first aid kit and some times to the Emergency Room. Usually crawl spaces are dark and the path of your flashlight is the only light you see, so it is easy for creatures to be too close to you with out you knowing, in time that is. I don’t know which one I disliked most; live creatures in a crawl space or dead ones. Most of the time it’s not the creature that hurts you, but you hurting yourself trying to get away.

I worked with a guy that said he was only afraid of two kinds of snakes; “live ones and dead ones”. I found out that he was afraid of a third kind, when I watched him run four city blocks to get away from a rubber snake that someone put in his wheel barrow. I know you think it was me; well, I am going to take the fifth on that one.

Monday, June 2, 2008

My First Home Inspection

Inspectors I have trained over the years often ask me if I was scared on my first inspection. I am not sure if I was always completely truthful with my answer, but let me make no bones about it, you bet you’re Sweet Aunt Minnie I was scared. I think I was more afraid of making a bad first impression then doing the actual inspection.

With that in mind, I prepared myself for my first inspection. On Uncle Norm’s recommendation, I washed my pickup and cleaned the interior and had her looking like new for the inspection. Now I needed to make myself look professional for the inspection. I put on my best kakis with such well pressed seems, that even my ex-Navy Dad would have approved of. I wore my best denim shirt with a dark blue tie I borrowed from my police officer neighbor. I polished my work boots and put my hair in a ponytail and tucked it in my shirt, hey give me a break, it was the seventies.

I arrived at the house early and started my inspection. Shortly after I started the inspection Mr. Holloway shows up, so I take a few minutes to introduce myself and thank him for the opportunity to do the inspection. I complete the inspection, and that night I wrote a two page report, and had it on Mr. Holloway’s desk the next morning.