Inspection in the Spot Light
and Media Articles on Home Inspection
The signs can be subtle, the damage huge - How to protect
your greatest asset
By Mark Myers
is private property, you varmint!" may have evolved into
"Hey, honey, what's that brown stuff under the eaves?"
But the fact remains: Your home is y our castle. And since
IRAs, 401(k)s and other Wall Street investments have suffered
steep declines recently while the medium single-family home
price has soared nearly 53 percent in the last ten years,
your house may also be the best investment you ever made.
spring-perfect time to give your place a once-over. On the
following pages, we'll show you how to find and fix the five
most commonly overlooked structural threats to your home -
most homeowners see the evidence of a problem, they overlook
it because they're not aware of what's happening behind the
scenes or how bad the problem can get," says Michael
Casey, a home inspector in Haymarket, Virginia. "Of the
500 homes I inspect each year, a third turn up problems that
were noticeable and could've been addressed sooner, at great
savings to the owner." Watch for these early signs then
water seeps under shingles or tarpaper on your roof, it pools
in the eaves or in your ceiling. If you notice a brown stain
in either place, don't go on the roof. It's easy to slip and
fall, and some roof warranties are invalidated if you walk
on the shingles.
call a roofing contractor or home inspector, who will probe
surfaces for moisture and search for curled shingles, protruding
nails, flaws in the flashing and dislodged roofing.
the expert to take Polaroids so you can see any problem,"
advises Casey. To prevent roof leaks, clean gutters, clear
branches that touch the roof, and have a roof inspection -between
$100 and $300-every three to five years. Caught early, a leak
can be fixed, and affected areas dried out and repaired. Left
untreated, roof rot will set in and require costly replacement.
floods occur when a home's underground drainage system or
dry well can't handle the runoff from rain and thawing.
you find a heavy coating of white powder on your basement's
concrete walls, the soil outside is likely saturated and moisture
is entering your house. Other warning signs include dark watermarks
or blistering paint on cellar walls, and lingering puddles
along exterior walls days after a rain.
home inspector or masonry restoration and waterproofing contractor
will probe walls with a moisture meter and examine the crawlspace
to see if water is above the plastic "vapor barrier"
that covers the ground and separates the soil from the structure.
a garden hose into the pipe that sticks out of the ground
under a downspout," says Richard Matzen, a home inspector
in Seattle. "Turn on the hose. If water backs up, the
belowground drainage system is likely plugged." Unclogging
a drainage pipe or fixing a tear in the vapor barrier can
cost a few hundred dollars, he says, depending on the problem's
a more complicated problem, such as a clogged dry well or
damaged drainage pipe, can cost much more. About two years
a go, Melinda Catalano of suburban Seattle noticed a strong
musty smell in her downstairs bedroom. She crawled around
the room and saw that her hands were wet and her furniture
legs were cracking.
realized we had a leak and that the water had been there for
some time, " she says. "O couldn't see the problem
because my carpet was dark green. She also noticed the ground
just outside was extremely wet.
called Steve Bovine, a drainage-repair specialist, who suggested
the least expensive solution first-running a fiber optic camera
into the "below grade" downspout nearest her bedroom.
This pipe starts at the surface, below a home's aluminum exterior
downspout, and runs underground to a foundation drainpipe,
which sends water to a discharge pipe that moves it off your
tiny camera showed a tennis-ball-sized hole in the foundation
pipe. In heavy rain, water pooled next to the foundation and
dug up the earth above the problem and replaced the broken
pipe for about $1200. Had excavation been needed to search
for the problem or restore the bitumen coating on the foundation
wall that acts as a barrier, the job might have cost up to
Darien, Conn., Woman, who chose to remain anonymous to protect
the value of her home, was recently playing basketball on
her driveway with her two children. "The ball bounced
off the asphalt onto the soil," she says. "When
I went to get the ball, I saw it had crushed these giant ants.
They were awful, coming down from the tree in long lines.
I didn't know what they were, but I knew from their size they
ants, which grow up to three-quarters of an inch long, use
plant and tree branches to reach your house, and then chew
into wood to create nests and leave behind small piles of
termites are tiny-about half the size of a staple and actually
eat wood. The most common termite in the United States, they
avoid light by building pencil-thick shelter tubes, sometimes
freestanding, sometimes along outdoor masonry or pipes-anything
that will take them from their nests in damp soil to the underside
or other entry points of houses.
tubes typically pop up around the sides of homes and emerge
from the soil in dark, damp crawlspaces, says Stephen Gladstone,
a licensed pest control operator in Stamford, Conn., and president-elect
of the American Society of Home Inspectors.
insects are highly destructive and relentless about reaching
the wood of your home. A licensed exterminator will search
for tubes and sawdust, rap on surfaces for hollow sounds and
probe wet wood with an ice pick. To kill carpenter ants, pesticide
is sprayed above the ground or on colonies in the soil. If
they're living in wood or walls, holes are drilled and pesticide
injected. The treatment costs $400 to $600 a year, typically
under a contract that calls for several applications of pesticides
can cost as much as $2000 for termites, a much more extensive
process that requires at least 200 gallons of termiticide
for an average-size home, but should last several years. A
more environmentally friendly but costlier approach for both
species is baits. Insects go inside, feed on poison and carry
it back tot the colony. If there's significant damage, especially
if structures such as a deck need bracing, you may need to
hire a carpenter.
Darien homeowner called Dave Curtis, a pest control specialist
in Stamford. He put baits in the trees to kill the ants before
they could get to the house. In addition, the woman bought
an annual prevention plan for about $60 a month.
also found termites in the old barn on the property. They
had eaten away large parts of tree stumps that supported the
structure. They'd also built shelter tubes on the sides of
the stumps to reach the underside of the barn.
urged the owner to replace the sumps with cinder blocks. "We
then coated the wood surfaces inside with liquid borate,"
he ways "which is absorbed by the wood after a few months
and is toxic to the insect." He treated the soil under
and around the barn with a termiticide that lasts around ten
years. Cost: about $1000.
ant destruction isn't usually as serious as that of termites,
but if the ants had gotten into her house and gone unnoticed
for some time, they could have caused costly damage.
is a microscopic organism that enters your house through open
windows and ventilation systems, and on shoes. Once inside,
mold spores hibernate until they find a water and food source,
such as damp wood and carpeting or shower grout.
may be growing on a wide scale in your home if you smell a
strong, musty odor or experienced water damage that wasn't
a qualified mold specialist, preferably a member of the International
Association of Mold Management (IAMM), the Indoor Air Quality
Association or the Indoor Air Quality Council. The expert
will take air and sample tests inside and outside your home
to determine the mold type and intensity. Expect to pay between
$800 and $1200 for the investigation.
If enough spores of nontoxic mold are airborne, they can affect
the health of people with allergies, low immune systems or
is not strong enough to clean some nontoxic molds, says Dana
Carter, executive director of the IAMM. Trisodium phosphate
(TSP), a strong detergent sold at hardware stores, should
be used. Then a dehumidifier must be installed to dry out
a legitimate health concern, cases of toxic mold-a specific
type that produces airborne toxins that attack respiratory
systems of even healthy people-are uncommon. But if yours
is one of the rare cases of significant levels of toxic mold,
you will need to hire a "remediation contractor,"
potentially costing thousands.
types of mold can be hazardous to your health if left to grow
on a large scale. According to the Insurance Information Institute,
more than 10,000 mold-related lawsuits are pending in state
courts. Most are in Florida, California and Texas, where climate
makes it easier for mold to take hold.
blisters form on outside painted surfaces, there's either
too much moisture in the wood or the paint was poorly applied.
"Blistering paint was poorly applied. "Blistering
due to moisture usually appears first high up on the house
because it enters there first. Or it appears first along horizontal
surfaces such as windowsills and garage-door trim," says
Jim Virtue, a paint contractor in Quincy, Massachusetts. He
suggests using binoculars to monitor higher surfaces. Blistering
due to a bad paint job often appears along a house's entire
early, the area affected by a bad paint job may be prepped
and repainted for a few hundred dollars. If moisture is the
problem, you'll need to find out how it's getting into the
and Angela McCarthy's two-story, 70-year-old house faces Quincy
Bay in Quincy. Wind, ice and rain whip off the water, so homes
like the McCarthy's are typically covered in hardy cedar shingles.
three years ago, Joe McCarthy noticed the shingles were starting
to mildew, curl under and pull away from the side of his house.
In addition, the McCarthys' trim was not only peeling but
hired Jim Virtue, who recommended staining the shingles to
better protect them. Virtue pressure-washed to remove mildew.
When the wood was dry, he sanded and scraped the house and
repaired damaged shingles. Next, he sprayed on one coat of
gray stain, and then brushed on another. He caulked, scraped
and painted the trim. The job cost $2500.
McCarthy discovered it wasn't just the weather doing in his
home's exterior. "When we fixed the trim, we noticed
water getting into the roof," he says. "The damage
on the house's sides and trim was caused in part by moisture
getting behind them. So the contractor replaced the roof shingles.
First we put an asphalt coating on the entire surface to cover
all of the nail heads. Then we used heavy asphalt shingles
designed to withstand high winds." Roof replacement cost
$6500, but left undiscovered, the leak could have rotted internal
wood and caused much more substantial damage.
we're always on the lookout for bubbling and blistering on
the painted surfaces," says Angela McCarthy, "because
we know it means water is trapped underneath."