Asbestos and Home Inspections

Asbestos containing materials may be a concern for some home buyers. Their concern is not unwarranted but their understanding of the hazards associated with asbestos exposure usually comes from class-action lawsuit infomercials. Mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis are all associated with asbestos exposure and the latency period for disease can range from 10-40 years. To make things worse, there is no safe level of exposure and asbestos containing building materials are found everywhere.

Homebuyers may request asbestos testing with their home inspection. This is a difficult request to deliver. First, it is rare to find a home inspector that can legally do asbestos testing in Georgia. (Spoiler Alert: We can.) The ability to test is further complicated by the need to cut holes in walls, flooring or insulating materials to get samples. Inspectors certainly cannot cut holes in walls or flooring materials during a home inspection. In addition to taking multiple (up to 9) samples in each area of concern, the EPA recommends doing sampling in a way that is truly random, making discrete sampling locations unlikely.

When is asbestos testing appropriate?

If may not be feasible during a home inspection but asbestos testing is recommended during renovation and demolition projects. The local building inspector may require it before issuing a demolition permit. An asbestos inspector will identify areas of potential asbestos containing materials and take an appropriate number of samples for laboratory analysis. A home buyer should also be aware that some renovation projects that they plan to tackle on their own may not require a permit but could be potentially hazardous.  Repairing drywall, removing “popcorn” ceiling texture or replacing old flooring materials are a few examples of simple DIY projects that could result in contaminating the home and exposing the occupants to asbestos.

How should Realtors communicate to clients about asbestos?

So how do you help your clients keep these hazards in perspective without downplaying them? First, direct them to the EPA website. At www.EPA.gov/Asbestos, homebuyers can find clear and concise information about the hazards of asbestos and products that may potentially contain them. Second, they should make sure their home inspector has been trained to identify materials that are likely to contain asbestos.

How can The BrickKicker be of help if asbestos is suspected to be present?

At The BrickKicker, we have an EPA accredited asbestos building inspector on staff. When an asbestos survey is necessary or testing is requested by a homeowner planning a DIY project, we can legally offer the service. During a home inspection, our professionally trained inspectors can identify potential asbestos containing materials, assess their condition and give recommendations for maintaining or removing them without laboratory analysis.

Maximum Occupancy

DO YOU KNOW YOUR MAXIMUM OCCUPANCY?

“Occupancy Load” refers to the number of people permitted in a building at one time based on the building’s floor space and function. The occupancy load must be posted on signs and publicly available. To exceed occupancy load or fail to post-occupancy load signs in the required places can result in fines and is a serious safety hazard.

Emergencies can require the immediate evacuation of a building, particularly in the event of a fire. Any delay in evacuation can be tragic, as was the case in the 2003 Station Night Club fire in West Warwick, Rhode Island, which killed 100 people in just over five minutes. The fire was so lethal because evacuation was sluggish, partly due to the fact that the actual number of people present was much higher than the building’s occupancy load.

Sign Inspection

CCPIA inspectors can consider the following questions while they inspect load occupancy signs:

  • Is the sign present? The 2006 International Building Code (IBC) requires that signs should be present in all “assembly occupancies.” The city of Yuma, Arizona, requires their presence in assembly occupancies and defines that term as “gatherings of 50 persons or more for civic, social, or religious functions.” Other jurisdictions, such as the cities of Houston, Texas and Portland, Oregon, as well as the state of Idaho, agree that occupancy signs are required for buildings that have occupancy loads of 50 or more.
  • Has the sign been maintained?  It is the responsibility of the building’s owner to make sure that the sign is not damaged by wear or abuse.
  • Is the sign clear and legible? The Houston Fire Code requires the following:  Signs shall [have a] minimum of 1-inch block letters and numbers on a contrasting background so as to be readily visible. Allowable smaller lettering shall be a minimum of 3/8- inch block lettering.
  • Is the sign placed in a suitable location? The 2006 IBC requires the following: Every room or space that is an assembly occupancy shall have the occupant load of the room or space posted in a conspicuous place, near the main exit or exit access doorway from the room or space.

Additional recommendations can be drawn from the Houston Fire Code, which requires that occupancy load signs be placed in the following manner:

  • The sign shall be located in a conspicuous location within the room, adjacent to the main exit, so as to not be obstructed by doors, curtains, poster board stands, furniture, room dividers, or similar items.  The sign shall be posted not more than 60 inches nor less than 48 inches above the floor.

Calculation of Occupancy Load

Occupancy load is calculated by dividing the area of a room by its prescribed unit of area per person. Units of area per person for specific buildings can be found in the chart at the end of this article. For instance, the chart dictates that dormitories require 50 square feet of floor area for every room occupant.

Consequently, a dorm room that has 100 square feet of floor space will have a maximum occupancy of two people. The amount of space required per person varies based on the function of the room, which is determined by the building’s designer.

In summary, the occupancy load must be posted in many buildings on signs that are clearly visible and legible.

–thank you to InterNACHI and the CCPIA or this important information

Commercial Fire Safety

How Safe is Your Fire Alarm System?

Fire alarm systems are designed to protect people and their property from fire and smoke, but they cannot be relied upon unless they are routinely inspected by professionals. Regular inspection and maintenance also reduce expenses by preventing unbudgeted emergency repairs and costly false alarms.

Fire Alarm Systems Can Be Damaged

Fire alarm systems can be damaged in the following ways:

  • infiltration by dust, dirt and other contaminants;
  • vandalism;
  • remodeling;
  • improper maintenance; and
  • inadequate
    performance of degraded
    electronics.

How old is the system?

If you can find out the age of the system, you can get a better idea of inspection requirements.

  • Systems less than five years old require little effort to maintain. In these new systems, problems are usually caused by improper installation, such as bad grounding, or environmental factors, such as voltage transients.
  • Systems between five and 10 years old may experience component breakdown caused by harsh, but normal, environmental factors. Voltage fluctuations, temperature, and humidity may cause system failure or nuisance alarm problems.
  • Systems between 10 and 15 years old can still provide an appropriate life-safety response. However, systems this old require close attention, even with proper maintenance procedures in place. If the system has a history of poor maintenance (or none at all), it’s likely that failure of components will occur.
  • Systems older than 15 years may be beyond their technological life expectancy. The system may continue to work satisfactorily if properly maintained, but it will require testing and inspection by trained specialists to ensure that proper system response will occur in an emergency.

Inspection Steps

Few property inspectors are qualified to inspect fire alarm systems, and the International Standards of Practice for Inspecting Commercial Properties do not require inspectors to inspect fire alarm systems. However, some basic knowledge about systems outside of the scope of a general inspection can be helpful. In addition,  commercial property inspections give you the opportunity to educate your client about the importance of maintaining fire protection systems in a commercial building. Your client needs to know that a fire alarm system requires periodic maintenance and an annual inspection by a licensed contractor, as required by code. You should advise your client to obtain the documentation of the previous annual maintenance inspections, which should be kept on site.  They should indicate the items inspected (smoke detectors, pull stations, horn/strobes, etc.), the condition they were in at the time of the inspection, and any repairs made to the system.

Specifically, the following steps are generally taken by contractors trained in fire-alarm system inspection:

  • Set the sensitivity. This requires an understanding of the particular system, the specific application, and fire detection theory.
  • Simulate inputs, and test the annunciators. This requires specific knowledge of the system under testing.
  • Test and calibrate the alarm sensors, such as flame and smoke detectors, per the manufacturers’ specifications. This requires knowing about the different sensors—and their testing requirements, failure modes, and re-installation requirements.
  • Coordinate with the local fire department to test the input to their system.
  • Check the battery for corrosion and expiration date, and then take appropriate action, if necessary.

In summary, fire alarms in commercial buildings are essential life and property-saving systems, and they must be maintained and periodically inspected.

Septic Systems

Sewage waste from most Georgia homes is managed through centralized sewage treatment plants but approximately 25-37% of homes in Jackson, Oconee and Athens-Clarke counties use septic systems. Home septic systems are very common, and not just in rural areas.


A septic system is comprised of the septic tank and a drain field. The septic tank allows wastewater to settle into three levels; sludge, liquid (known as effluent) and scum (grease and oils). Once settled, the effluent level is allowed to drain through perforated pipes buried underground into the drain field. The sludge and scum remain in the tank and need to be pumped out on a regular basis that is determined by the size of the home, size of the tank and the number of people living in the home.

If you purchase a house with a septic system it is important to be mindful of the following:

  • Use toilet and sinks for human waste and toilet paper only. Avoid flushing anything that will not break down into organic material. Garbage disposals are not recommended if you are on a septic system.
  • Get to know your system. What is the size of your tank? Where are the tank and drain field located? How old is your system and when was it last inspected?
  • Be aware of your water usage, especially during the rainy season to avoid overwhelming your drain field. Reduce your water usage by using low-flow shower heads and fixing leaks immediately upon discovery.
  • Have your tank checked by a certified professional every 3-5 years. It is more cost effective to inspect, pump and maintain a septic system than it is to make repairs to a neglected system.

 

Signs of septic system failure include:

  • Foul odors around the septic tank and drain field
  • Wastewater back up in your house
  • Liquid seepage in your basement or around the septic system
  • Grass that is greener and mushy ground around the drain field

 

We recommend Antonio Martin with Athens Professional Septic & Drain Service for pumping, inspections and guidance on maintaining a septic system. Athens Professional services 12 counties. If you are purchasing a home outside of their coverage area, please ask your Realtor for a referral to a contractor that they know and trust. You can visit Antonio’s website here for more information about septic systems and what to expect from a septic inspection. Their office number is 706-207-3739.

 

Termite Inspections

Every year, termites invade homes and create more than 5 billions of dollars worth of damage by compromising the structural integrity of the residences they infest. That is more fire and storm damage combined. The Southeast has a very high termite presence due to our climate and soil conditions. There is an average of 3 termite colonies per acre in Georgia. Often, an infestation is not a matter of “if”, but “when?” If you request a complimentary termite inspection from the BrickKicker, we will schedule a 3rd party pest control company licensed by the Georgia Department of Agriculture*.

In a termite inspection, the inspector is looking for visible evidence of any of five wood-destroying organisms: subterranean termites, powder post beetles, wood-boring beetles, dry wood termites, and wood-decaying fungus.

Beyond simply looking for evidence of activity, the inspector will also identify any conditions in or around the home that may be conducive to future wood-destroying organism activity. The inspector will look for evidence of prior treatment, give recommendations for future treatment and identify obstructed and inaccessible areas. If your lender requires a termite letter, you can purchase one from the extermination company at the time of the inspection and they will bill you directly. (Their typical fee is $50.) A termite letter will give you a 90-day guarantee (as required by the SPCA) that the structure is free from infestation and the inspection report will allow you to negotiate treatment of any active infestations with the seller.

If you would like a complimentary termite inspection or if you need to order a termite letter from a licensed extermination company please contact us at 706-353-2745 or negaoffice@brickkicker.com.

 

*The Georgia Department of Agriculture and the Georgia Structural Pest Control Commission administer the Structural Pest Control Act (SPCA). The SPCA is the primary law for the pest management industry in Georgia. The Department of Agriculture is the enforcement agency for the SPCA.

 

Maintaining Buyer Enthusiasm Through the Inspection

One of the things I love about my job is that every day is a new day. It never gets boring. We get to meet new people daily and help move them forward with their home purchase. This can be a bumpy ride and the home inspection can be the hardest part to get through so we do our best to make this a positive experience that is mindful of our clients’ experience. We do this by viewing the home buying process as a journey from uninformed optimism to informed optimism. In the middle the buyers may experience various states of pessimism but we make sure we put them on the path to informed optimism. Understanding the mental state of the buyer at each point on their journey is critical to ensuring a successful transaction and a positive experience for everyone.

As I mentioned before, the journey begins with uninformed optimism. The buyer has fallen in love with a property that they really know very little about. There may be some uncertainty based on what was in the Seller’s Disclosure but in general the buyer is excited and hopeful. They have invited us to review the property to verify the condition of the home and that they are not making a huge financial mistake. The home inspector is called in for a reality check.

The results of the home inspection really don’t matter but the home inspector and their report will determine if the buyer goes into crisis mode (and runs for the hills) or if they are ready to move forward. So what is the difference? The goal of every inspection should be to leave the buyer in an informed state. The rose colored glasses are off and the buyer know what they are purchasing. One difference between a good inspector and a bad inspector is how these results are delivered. If all the buyer can see is a long report full of defects then the inspector has communicated poorly and left them in a state of uninformed pessimism. If the inspector has done a good job taking care of their client, the buyer will understand all of the issues in the report, they will know which things they should really care about and they will know what to do about each one. This is a state of informed pessimism and the only thing left is negotiating with the seller. A good inspection report will make this a breeze for the Realtor.

It is really the REALTOR that guides the client from informed pessimism to informed optimism but, make no mistake, there is no way to get from an state of pessimism to optimism without being properly informed. If the home inspector has failed, the deal may fall apart for the wrong reasons. When a seller walks away from a property because they have a poor understanding of what defects have been found or those findings have been blown out of proportion, everyone loses. The Buyer misses the opportunity to buy the house they were once smitten with, the Seller has to go through the process again and both Agents are back to square one.

Our job as home inspectors is to make sure everyone is headed in the right direction. As much as we would like to take our clients all the way to the closing table, we understand our role and we are not part of the negotiation. I am continually impressed with the way REALTORs

overcome surprises that come up in the home inspection. More often than not, the seller is also unaware of the major issues and what to do about them.

It’s difficult to know what you’re going to get when you order a home inspector but there are things you can look for before you hire someone. First, check their online reviews. See what others have shared about their experience. Next, check to make sure they are experienced. A professionally trained and independently certified home inspector has a better chance of understanding their role than someone who is self taught with nothing but online training. An experienced inspector will also be able to communicate their findings in a way that keeps everything in perspective. Finally, make sure that the inspector is available to help request repairs. Home inspectors are not supposed to prioritize their findings but they will certainly let you know if you are giving unnecessary consideration to minor issues that are easy or inexpensive to address later.

Life Expectancy

A forty-five year old home inspector walks into his Doctor’s office.  The Doctor tells him he has great news.  You have the mind of a thirty year old but the body of an eighty-six year old.  Just because you feel young does not mean you are young.

The home inspector does not just have to move through a home with purpose and experience but has to manage the varied expectations of all those present in the transaction.   One of the most difficult aspects of the process is dealing with the expectation of life expectancy.

Whether the home inspection is being performed in a State with regulation or the Standard of Practice is established by a trade organization, no standard talks about condemning a system or component because of age.  If something is functioning as intended it is deemed to be satisfactory.  As true as this statement is, the client still needs to understand their component or system is aged and may fail at any point.  This is the fine line and dance every home inspector has performed during every home inspection.

This article will look at all of the major systems and components and discuss the life expectancies of those items with the goals as establishing a standard for all inspectors to follow.

Appliances

Appliances are not just in the kitchen and laundry but located throughout the home.  Most standards of practices exclude the direct inspection of appliances as most define them as personal items.  As an inspector we may not know if the appliance is staying with the home as part of the purchase or being moved with the current homeowner.

There is no better opportunity to set the stage and expectations of the client than when discussing appliances.  If you are going to be the inspector who operates all of the appliances through full cycles then explain what you are doing to the client.  If you are the inspector who just performs a visual review of the appliance then explain that as well. 

A simple method of inspection and expectational conversation between the client and the home inspector is…”the hots will get hot and the colds will get cold and what is wet does not leak on the floor…”  The nice expectation of this is that it informs the client that you will operate the appliances but you are not going to make sure the oven is properly calibrated to an exact temperature and you are not going to place dirty clothes in the wash machine or dishes in the dishwasher.

Before there are any conversations about operation and inspection one has to understand the new design and product construction process will not provide the same life expectancies and they did twenty years ago.  Products are now designed for planned obsolescence and frequent replacement.  You are likely not going to find a twenty year old avocado or harvest gold appliance in a kitchen and if you do you should inform the client about the expectation of future replacement.

The Kitchen

Dishwasher-   The modern dishwasher is designed for a 9 year life expectancy.  These appliances have designed with electronic mother boards which fail, plastic connections and tubing to clog and motors which are not as strong and reliable those used a decade ago.  If an appliance is observed to be around the nine year mark it should be listed on the report as aged.  The operational testing of the unit should include observing the interior to see if there are missing components.  Then testing the operation can include turning the unit on and running it through a “quick wash” cycle.  If there is not a “quick wash” cycle than a normal cycle with the opportunity to cancel partially through the operation.  Always make sure the unit can be safely operated prior to turning it on.

Oven / Range-   The modern range is designed for a 12 – 15 year life expectancy.  These appliances have designed with to be safe and reliable but the systems and components begin to fail and become problematic anytime after ten years. If an appliance is observed to be around the ten year mark it should be listed on the report as aged.  The operational testing should include the igniting or operation of all of the burners, the operation and igniting of the all of the ovens.  If the unit is electric most inspectors will operate the entire system at once so that if there is a failed electric element the breaker or overcorrect device might trip and indicate the failure.

Refrigerator- The modern refrigerator may live well past its twentieth birthday but around fifteen years the unit will no longer be efficient or operate as well as it did when it was newer.  This is why the life expectancy of the units is published to be 13 – 15 years.  One of the biggest challenges and seldom observed issues is the lack of cleaning and maintenance.  The rear of the units is seldom cleaned and the dust and debris will build up and cause the unit to not operate as well as it should.  This is why this appliance should be called aged at ten years.  The refrigerator examination should include the review of the both the freezer and the cold box  as well as observations of the door gaskets and the lights.  If there is an ice maker or water chiller present on the unit the inspector should verify a water source as well as the operation of those features. 

Disposals- The disposal is not only difficult to age but has so many extenuating circumstances to the operation determining the life expectancy is very difficult.  This includes the amount of use the appliance sees, the water quality and the products placed in the unit.  Disposals just fail!   They can rust through the sides and spontaneously leak.  This is why the published life is around 12 years.   The best way to verify the operation of the disposal is through the direct initiation of the electric switch.  Water should be operating during this testing.   The electric under the unit should also be inspected.  This electric is often incorrect or loose.

The Laundry

Laundry-   The laundry might be the most misunderstood and seldom operated room in the home yet, it is the room and the source of appliances home owners use just as often as the rest of the home. 

Wash Machine – There are front loading and top loading wash machines.  There  are wash machines that stand alone and units which both clean and dry in the same appliance.  The inspector is not expected to be the expert and each brand or style but they should be able to observe some very basic operational features.

First, if the unit located on any level of the home which is not the basement or the ground level the unit has to be located in an emergency drip pan.  This pan should be plumbed to a drain and free of any cracking or damage.  Regardless of whether there is a pan or not a second floor comment should be made on the report.  Next, the water supply lines should be observed.  Ideally, these water lines should be braided stainless steel but if they are rubber or vinyl they should be free of marks, kinks or deformities.  If the unit is a front loading type there is a gasket to keep the water and clothes contained.  This gasket should be free of issue and without any    mold or other issues.  Sometimes all an inspector has to do is smell the gasket to discover the issue. 

When approaching the appliance the inspector has to look inside prior to operational testing.  Often, these appliances are found to have clothes on the inside of them.  Do not operate the unit if there are clothes resting on the inside.   

The statistical life expectancy of the wash machine is 10 years.    

Clothes Dryer – The clothes dryers are found in both gas and electric.  Regardless of the heating medium the life expectancy is 13 years.  When observing the dryer the inspector needs to identify the ultimate discharge point of the exhaust.  This unit has too exhaust to the exterior of the home and not into the living space, attic, basement or crawl space.  The only exception might be the smaller apartment sized units which exhaust through a designed lint trap system.

When looking at the exhaust pipe it must be the proper materials.  This should ideally be smooth metal and not corrugated.  It should never be fastened together with screws and only connected with tape and slip connections.  If there is a corrugated pipe it must be listed materials not foil or plastic materials.

The length of the pipe must exit the home within 25 feet.  If there are any elbows or bends in the pipe the length will be decreased by 4 feet for every elbow.  Elbows, bends and screws will all contribute to lint obstructions and potentials of fires.

If the unit is gas the pipe needs to be properly supported and the appropriate materials.  Do not operate the unit if there are clothes on the interior.

The Major Appliances

Water Heater-   There are two basic domestic water heater concepts.  These are  the tanked and the tankless.  The tanked unit unit has the ability to deteriorate and leak causing water damage and failures.  The tankless unit does not have hold tank but the same opportunity for failure.  The tanked gas and electric water heaters have a life cycle of around 12 years.  This depends partially on the quality of the water as well as a great deal of luck. The tankless unit statistically lasts over 20 years.  These are newer to the market and have not shown the historically data as the tanked units.

If a tanked unit is located on any level of a home which is not the first or the basement a drained drip pan should be placed under the unit.

Forced Air Furnace – There are now two different types of forced air furnaces.  The high efficiency and the medium efficiency.  The difference is typically the use of the recuperative heat exchanger and the method of flue pipe and discharge.  These are often called condensing furnaces.    The result in this design as well as the types of metals used creates the life expectancy of 15 years.   

Warm Water and Steam Boiler – These are some of the oldest styled heating appliances and have not appreciably changed through the years.  This steady design provides a design life expectancy of at least 20 years. There could be components which may fail or require maintenance but the boiler component should last several years.

Water Distribution – Galvanized water pipes were designed for only about 45 years of life in a home.  These pipes not only leak but can become constricted and the reduction of water flow can be very disappointing to the consumers. 

Copper, CPVC and Pex when properly supported and connected can have a much longer life expectancy. 

DWV – The drain waste and vent pipes can be PVC, Cast Iron, Galvanized and or lead.  These are all designed to be reliable and long lasting.  Most of these materials are designed to last in a home as much as 100 years.

 

The Wet Hole

The Wet Hole – A look at Drain Tiles

In agriculture, tile drainage is a type of drainage system that removes excess water from the soil below the surface.  Whereas irrigation is the practice of adding additional water when the soil is naturally too dry, drainage brings soil moisture levels down for optimal crop growth.

This technique and design has been at work since the late 1800’s.  The original designs used open trenches followed by perforated clay tiles.  Modern systems use corrugated perforated plastic pipes often covered with a permeable sock to prevent silt infiltration.

The idea behind the tiles is to create a grid drainage plan to help dewater the fields and prevent flooding all the while increasing crop yields.  The original field ever dewatered, in Seneca County, New York, was a 320 acre field which was producing 12 bushels of wheat per acre.  Once the field was properly maintained and dewatered the same acreage produced 60 bushels of yield.  This was an instant success and the better yield meant more money for the farmer.

This technique was been routinely a part of the design or a farm field throughout the midwest and without any conflict on the environment or surrounding ecosystems.

The real challenge is urban sprawl. As more and more communities and urban areas consume the old farms these tiles and tile fields become exposed. What happens to the fields when they are cut? What happens to the tiles if a home is built on them? Where is all of the water doing to go when the ditches are now streets?

These are excellent questions and the answer will be very surprising.

Nothing!

There is no typical plan for the placement of these tiles.  They could be on a 50 foot grid, 100 foot grid, or any other pattern necessary to control the drainage on a particular field.  The farmer and drainage contractor only want to get the water to a control point like a ditch, stream or lake.  They never had a plan for having a house let alone an entire neighborhood placed in the field over the tiles.

Here is the long and short of it.  If the grid pattern is 100 feet and a subdivision is being placed in the field and the average lot is 75 feet wide there is a likelihood that at least every other home is going to be cutting through the tiles during construction and placing the home directly in the field drainage plan.

Most municipalities do not have provisions to require the contractor to reroute the tiles around the home and maintain the several decade old plan.  They only require a new drainage system be installed around the perimeter of the home and have that system serviced by a drainage basin, a sump pump.  If the water from around the home, which could be dewatering several acres of land, migrated directly through the foundation footprint it is considered to be a “WET HOLE.”  It is unfortunate but there is really very little a consumer can do to predict this or an engineer to anticipate during the design.

The inspector dilemma

As we inspect a home we have so many things to consider and take into account.  This would include the age.  The newer homes will be far more susceptible to water issues than older homes.  If five years ago the homestead was beans or corn and there is nothing around the neighborhood one has to anticipate the potential of a wet foundation.  If the home is older, maybe twenty or thirty years and there are homes built around the neighborhood, there will be a strong chance other homes farther upstream will have the issue before this home. 

When inspecting you have to pay attention to all of the conditions.  These will include recent rains.  If it has not rained recently yet the sump is constantly being drained into you have to consider the source.  Is there a leak in the water utility system causing excess hydration to the foundation, is there and issue with the sump discharge and it is back-cycling into the pit or, is this a wet foundation?

Then there is the old home.   These homes most likely had clay tiles as the drain system.  These were constructed with a series of four, six or ten foot long sections of clay tiles joined together with bells.  Not only can the tiles crack but the bells can separate.  As the lush landscaping matures around the foundation it will seek moisture to its root system.  The most desirable source will be the drain system.  It is a moisture reach location.

The roots can infiltrate the bells or the cracks and quick envelope to pipe.  Even a partially clogged pipe can be an issue to the system.  This is one of the many reason why a good inspector tries to look on the interior of every sump pit. 

The sump pump design life or statistical life span of a sump pump is seven (7) years.  This means the homeowner has to be ready to replace their sump pump every seven years.  The typical homeowner is not prepared or monitoring this and therefore only replace the pump upon failure.  If the failure occurs during a storm or during a heavy hydration event the likelihood of unwanted water entry will be very high. 

The thinking and consultative home inspector has to be aware of this fact and all of the conditions surrounding the home.  Informing and educating the client about the lifespan and all of the observations will arm them for success.  Always suggest the installation of a back-up system whenever a sump pit is present.  Especially when a “wet hole” is discovered.  You may also suggest having a spare sy

stem present in the event the main system fails during a time when a store purchase may be inconvenient.  This could be in the middle of the night or during a weekend.  This is very true if the homeowner is mechanically inclined. 

The home inspector has to walk a thin line between being an alarmist and consultative.  This is a learned and applied practice but, over time your clients will thank you for the knowledge and information you shared.  There is always a reason for everything.  Very seldom will there be a spontaneous event or occurrence n a home.  A good inspector has the ability to discover those reasons and prepare their clients as necessary.

Catch Basins

The Catch Basin

A home built prior to 1960 and located in the urban areas of the larger cities is likely to have a cast iron lid on a large masonry basin.  This basin is called a catch basin.  There are many reasons for these large structures but the most common is to separate the various contaminants in the residential sewer system. 

Before we talk about catch basins we need to talk about the sewer system.  Most older systems in older communities have a single pipe system. This system has both the sanitary and the storm sewers go through the same pipes to the same discharge locations.  Modern communities and designs utilize a two pipe system.  The storm water would be in one pipe and the sanitary sewer in another.  The storm water would discharge to an appropriate location like a river or a lake and the sanitary will terminate a some form of sewage treatment facility.

The older treatment facility did not have the capacity of design ability to fully treat some of the grease, lye, or phosphates created from residential waste.  Modern treatment facilities have the ability to treat these elements.   In order to protect the system a trap or catch basin has been added to residential property.

A catch basin is typical crafted from masonry.  This masonry could be brick, concrete block or concrete rings.  It is constructed deep enough to be lower, by a few feet, then the bottom of the sewer system in the street. There are at least two pipes installed through the walls of the basin.  One pipe is the inlet pipe from the home and the other is the outlet pipe toward the sewer.  There may also be other pipes as well.  These could be the downspouts from the gutters or other yard drains.

The idea is; the laundry, floor drains and kitchen sinks are the most likely origin of the contaminated water.  The toilets and bathrooms would discharge directly into the sewer and NOT through the catch basin.  When the discharge enters the catch basin it would naturally separate.  The solids would sink to the bottom.  The gears scum and soap will float on the top.  If the outlet pipe has a small elbow or bend it will only allow “clean” liquid to migrate out to the sewer system.

If the water levels are allowed to become unbalanced or too high the system will not work properly.  This is typically because the scum layer is too high.  There is an older term called a “muck bucket.”  This is a small shovel or bucket on a pole.  It was used to help clean out the scum or other debris accumulated at the bottom of the basin.  The modern repair would be to have a sanitary vacuum truck clean out the system.

Because this system is installed to the laundry and the kitchen there is a strong opportunity for odors.  Laundry and kitchen water is extremely malodorous.  The installation of a garbage disposal is not encouraged.  The organic materials will decay and provide the bad smell in the system.

The inspection of the system should begin with the observations of the exterior elements.  You have to verify the lid is safe and intact.  Any cracks or damage to the lid can be potentially dangerous.  There are two different types of lids.  One is suitable to located in a driveway an

d strong enough the support a vehicle and the other is only for a yard or sidewalk.  The drive lid will be considerably thicker and stronger.

The second element to the inspection is to review and look around the line and the concrete ring.  This should be without any cracks or displacement.  It should also be without and voids.  Cracking in the ring can lead to lid failures.  Voids or sink holes around the lid can be evidence of sidewall failure and erosions.

The interior of the catch basin should be reviewed. You have to attempt to identify if there are any visible structural deficiencies to the sidewalls.  These would be visible distortions to the wall.  The basin was constructed in a reasonably cylindrical manner.  Any deviations to the cylinder should be noted.  Next the water level should be reviewed.  The inlet pipe (from the home) needs to be higher than the water level. 

An inspector should have the ability to determine if the catch basin is still an active part of the sewer system or has been removed from the system and is now vacated.  There is a very easy way to determine this.  It will include turning on the water in the kitchen and laundry sinks.  This water should be visibly discharging into the catch basin.  If the water is not draining into the catch basin it is most likely vacated.  Make sure to operate the system long enough to verify the system.

If the water level is higher than the inlet pipe there will be strong possibility of back up or slow drains in the home.  The outlet pipe should be partially submerged in the water with the return under water.

A catch basin is no longer a necessity in modern homes.  The older system can be removed from the system.  It is a matter of reconfiguring the drains in the home and possibly adding an ejector system.

When a system is taken off line they are typically permanently sealed.  This would include filling the basin with an appropriate material.  This could include sand, stone, gravel or the combination of all of them. 

          

Foundations

Beneath your home you have a foundation, and the purpose of this foundation is to provide your home with support for its entire weight. The foundation is designed to prevent the home structure from settling, slipping or sliding away from the initial position where it is built. There are three different types of foundations that you can utilize when you are designing and building a home. The first is the basement foundation, the second is the crawl space foundation and the third is the concrete slab foundation. Depending on what type of foundation you end up choosing, you may build foundation walls, footings and concrete slabs. In some situations, all three are utilized in some combination to create the finished foundation.

Ingredients in a Foundation

  • Footings: The foundation’s footings are made using concrete. These are bases that are designed to support foundation walls and columns depending on what type of foundation you are building. The minimum standards for footings typically call for them to be as deep as the supported wall is thick. The width for the footing is typically going to be twice the width for the wall that the footing is supporting. In most areas, building codes require that footings are installed under the frost line, which can range from 18 inches to 48 inches at a minimum depending on what region of the country you are in. The footings generally have to be built separately, but in some circumstances you can pour your footings at the same time that you are pouring concrete slabs as well.
  • Foundation Walls: A foundation wall is responsible for connecting footings to the house structure’s primary floor. You can either create these foundation walls using concrete blocks or you can pour concrete instead. If you are making a poured concrete foundation, then you are going to need to have forms built that are braced properly and level so that the concrete can be held in place until the point where it has cured. This type of project typically requires an expensive crew in order to ensure that it is performed in a timely manner. Once the pouring begins, it has to be completed. With this type of foundation, mistakes can be expensive and difficult to correct. Concrete blocks tend to be significantly easier to use in comparison to poured concrete, and they also do not require the use of forms. You are able to work at any pace that you like, meaning that you can work on your own and can stop and start whenever you like. When a mistake is made, it is typically much easier to correct and does not involve much additional cost.

Types of Foundations to Choose From

  • Basement foundations: As the name suggests, these foundations involve a structure beneath the actual home. Many people finish their basements, which means that you can create additional living space out of your home’s foundation to increase the living space available in the building.
  • Crawl space foundations: These foundations are raised above the ground, but only by a few feet. This makes it possible to crawl under the home to take care of plumbing, electrical and other mechanical concerns.
  • Concrete slab foundations: These foundations are poured directly onto the ground, meaning that there is no space between the house, the foundation and the ground. This is the simplest and most cost effective type of foundation, but it is only generally beneficial in the right circumstances and is not always the best type of foundation.

Considerations in Choosing a Foundation

  • Weather and climate considerations are one of the first things that you need to look at. Basement foundations, also known as T-shaped foundations, are most commonly found in the northern regions of the country because freezing is a serious concern. With this type of foundation, the footings are poured separately before you begin to construct the walls out of concrete. The concrete floor is poured next, between each of the walls, in order for the structure to be completed. Basements are generally approximately 7 feet and 10 inches tall. If you plan on finishing the basement, make sure that you consider insulation because a rigid foam board or radiant barrier should be installed prior to pouring your slab.
  • Crawl space foundations also require that you consider weather and climate conditions. In situations where the ground has a lot of clay content, this type of foundation is going to be ideal. The primary methods for building this type of foundation are similar to building a basement foundation, but in this situation you are typically going to leave the floor. The crawl space is designed to have only a minimum amount of headroom available. Some crawl space foundations only offer 24 inches to 36 inches of room, which is why they are known as “crawl spaces”. Unlike with concrete slab foundations, this space between the house and the ground makes it possible for you to maintain building systems such as wiring, heating and plumbing because the ductwork can fit nicely under the home and can be accessed easily as necessary later.
  • Concrete slab foundations, also known as slab on grade foundations are quite popular for a number of reasons. The important thing to consider, however, is that there are many situations where this is not the right type of foundation. For example, in areas where frost is a significant problem or high winds, you are going to want a sturdier foundation than what a concrete slab can provide. On the other hand, if you are looking for a simple, straight forward and cost effective foundation style, then the poured concrete foundation style is going to be well worthwhile. This foundation style is especially popular in the south because weather is less of a consideration and so a more cost effective option is always ideal. With this type of foundation, you should simultaneously pour your footing and your concrete slab by pouring directly over gravel. You can insert wire mesh into your concrete in order to add bonus reinforcement. Concrete slab foundations tend to range between 8 inches and 10 inches in terms of thickness.

Choosing the Right Foundation

Obviously there are a few things that you are going to want to consider when choosing the right foundation for your home building project. Three basic considerations are going to go a long way in ensuring that you are satisfied with your decision for many years. The primary three considerations that need to be made when choosing a foundation style are:

  • The cost of the foundation project.
  • Weather and climate of the area where you are building.
  • Building styles and traditions in the area where you are building.

Make sure that you consider all three of these things when choosing the right foundation to meet your needs. Do not opt for the most cost effective option just because you’re going the cheap and easy route, unless you have also considered weather and climate and other building conditions first. Incorrectly choosing a foundation style can put the structural integrity of your home at risk, or can cost more than you need to spend. Put a little time and effort into choosing the best possible foundation style for your home and you will certainly benefit in the future. Making the right decision about your foundation will go a long way in ensuring that your home is structurally sound and in good shape for many, many years to come.