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.

Flat Lot Considerations

As a home builder there are actually a lot of different considerations that you are going to want to make. When you have a specific lot that you are going to be building on, you will want to consider what it is that you have to work with and how your current lot is going to impact the types of building that are available to you.

  • The difference between a flat lot and a sloped lot may not seem like a big deal, but there are huge considerations to make. You really need to be able to make sure that the plot of land and the building and foundation style are accommodating to one another, because they need to agree with one another in order for your home to be structurally sound and cost effective.
  • Flat lots may have drainage problems, for example, in situations where the soil is not ideal for good drainage. If your soil is not going to work for your drainage considerations, then you need to plan to bring in a specialist who can help you make the right building decisions in preparation for your home.
  • You should choose your lot first, and then choose your home style. Or choose a home style and then select a lot that actually suits the house plans that you have chosen. It is essential that you ensure that they accommodate one another before you begin the building process.

For example, the differences between flat lots and sloping lots are numerous, and are actually going to have a pretty large impact on what types of homes you can build on the lot, especially as far as foundations are concerned. Here are some of the flat lot considerations that you are going to want to make.

Basement Considerations

If you are looking to install a basement in your home, and you are living in an area where the soil beneath the home is not going to drain well, such as a type of clay soil for example, then the truth is that you should avoid a flat lot. On the other hand, you will find that your footing drains are going to better benefit from a sloping lot because it is going to provide the ample amount of drainage that you are looking for.

When you are looking at a flat lot, you are definitely going to want to consider the type of soil that you are dealing with. If you have any doubts, bring in a specialist who can test your soil and give you some advice about how to proceed with the building of your home. Take their advice seriously: If they tell you that you have poor soil and need to change your drainage considerations, then make sure that you follow their direction so that you can build a home that suits the land that you are working with. Poor quality soil is definitely capable of leading to more expensive foundation considerations. It is definitely going to benefit you to have your soil tested before you buy the lot so that there are no surprises later on in the process.

Sloping Lot Benefits

There are a lot of benefits of choosing a sloping lot over a flat lot in this particular instance. For example, if you choose a sloping lot it is going to make it possible for you to design your home using a walkout basement, which means that you could use windows or doorways on one side of your basement in order to provide the space with some natural ventilation and natural light. Another consideration is that in some areas you will be able to use frame construction on the open side of your walkout basement, and this is generally going to be a lot more cost effective in comparison to a concrete block or poured concrete basement.

If you absolutely have to build a basement foundation but you are dealing with a flat lot that has poor soil for drainage purposes, then it is going to be a wise idea for you to hire a professional subcontractor that can help you with the waterproofing and drainage considerations that your home is going to need.

Waterproofing Exterior Basement Walls

When you hire a specialist to help with your drainage and waterproofing, then they will be able to take some extra care in the waterproofing of your exterior basement walls. They will be able to provide you with footing drains that will drain either into a sump pump or into a lower elevation somewhere on your property depending on how much land you have to work with. It is going to be important for you to consider local codes because sometimes there are specific codes in place that dictate where your drainage is allowed to be discharged, and you are going to want to make sure that you are building in such a way that you are following all of the local and state building codes so that there are no nasty surprises along the way.

Non-Basement Building Considerations

If you are not actually interested in building a basement foundation for your home, then it will definitely benefit you to find a lot that is relatively flat in nature. The reason for this is because you are not going to have to deal with excessive amounts of crawl space. This is also the best course of action if you are looking to build your home on a slab foundation, which is a foundation that involves pouring concrete directly onto the ground and then building atop the concrete with no basement or crawl space.

The type of foundation that you want to build is going to have an impact on what type of lot you need to buy for your building purposes. On the other side of the coin, the type of lot that you buy is definitely going to have an impact on the type of foundations and the types of homes that you will reasonably be able to build. If you buy the land first, make sure that your foundation and home styles correspond with the land that you buy. If you have your heart set on a specific type of building or a specific type of foundation, then you should absolutely make sure that the plot of land you buy corresponds with the building style so that you do not end up with a problem somewhere along the way.

Choosing a Foundation

If you are not sure what foundation style you are currently interested in, then you might allow the lot that you choose to dictate what foundations are available to you. On the other hand, you can do a little research and find out what types of foundations are common in the immediate area and then make your choice accordingly. Crawl spaces are more cost effective as a foundation style as compared to basement foundations, but basement foundations obviously offer their own benefits in that they create additional living space for the family living in the home. If you are looking for the most cost effective foundation and your lot is flat, then choosing a poured concrete foundation is definitely a solid way to go. The drawback here, of course, is that there is no space under the home for living space or to access the various mechanical systems of the home.

Ultimately you are going to need to weigh the pros and the cons for each type of foundation and then make your choice accordingly. Take into account the types of lots and the types of soil that you have in your area so that when you buy your land, the land is going to correspond with the type of foundation that you want to build. If you do not necessarily have a foundation preference, then feel free to make your choice based on whatever type of lot you end up buying.

Ultimately, though, you need to make sure that you are considering how different slopes of land can impact the types of foundations and the types of homes that you can build on the space. Flat lots and sloped lots have completely different building considerations for you to make, especially when drainage is considered. If you build the wrong type of foundation for the type of land that you are working with, or if drainage considerations are ignored, then you can end up with a moisture and drainage problem, or even worse, you could end up with a home that is not structurally sound.

When in doubt, work with a specialist who can give you honest answers about your options. Bringing in professional help is often the best course of action when you are trying to make the right decisions about your home building. If there are any doubts about the shape of your lot, the drainage options available or the ideal foundation style, then asking for some advice will definitely behoove you in the long run.

Main Sewer Line Inspections

Replacing the main sewer line can potentially be the most expensive repair ever made to a home. Homebuyers should take this into consideration when purchasing a home and they also need to be aware that inspecting the main sewer line (from the home to the city connection) is not included in a standard home inspection.

There are two main reasons that it is excluded:

First, inspecting the main sewer line requires expensive equipment that most home inspectors do not have and many can not afford. It’s a no-brainer for a plumber to spend $7000 on a sewer camera because it will pay for itself in a year or two.

Second, many homes do not have accessible sewer cleanouts and a plumber may be necessary to inspect the sewer line. It may be necessary to install or replace a cleanout or remove and replace a toilet to complete the inspection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

roots protruding sewer line
clean sewer line

Not every home needs a main sewer line inspection. (We call it a “sewer scope.”) If the home has a septic system, a septic inspection is necessary. If the home is newer, there is a potential from problems but they are less likely. A good candidate for a sewer scope is a home that is 20+ years old that has trees in the front year and has a new cleanout cap. This is a good indication of a past sewer line problem and if the homeowner has not replaced the line problems may recur in short order. (In a newer home, evidence that the sewer line has settled may indicate a problem.)

Typical set up for sewer scope inspection

At The BrickKicker we are able to offer a sewer scope for an additional fee. With advance notice, we can often have the sewer camera available at the inspection. Frequently our inspectors will recommend the sewer scope based on conditions observed at the inspection. We can usually take care of the sewer scope within a day or two and if a plumber is going to be needed, we can advise you on local plumbers that perform this service.

Not every The BrickKicker location offers this service but those who do often charge $175 to $225.00 for a sewer scope. Prices from a licensed plumber vary, but the typical fee is $250 to $300. When you order a sewer scope from The BrickKicker we will also provide photos of any issues uncovered and a video of the inside of the sewer line to aid in requesting and ordering repairs.  You are also getting an unbiased opinion versus an opinion for a contractor who is looking to perform additional services.

If you would like more information on sewer scope inspections or would like to schedule one today, please call us or visit www.brickkicker.com.

Foundation Settlement

Foundation Settlement

Foundation settlement is a serious deal for a homeowner, and it often requires that swift action be taken to prevent structural damage from occurring to the home. The causes behind settlement of the foundation are actually rarely due to the actual design or the under design of the home itself. The most common causes for the damage that leads to foundation settlement have to do with changes that occur to the soils around the foundation and the soils that are responsible for surrounding and supporting the entire structure. The following is a look at some of the potential causes for foundation settlement and what they can mean for the future of the foundation and the structure itself.

Weak Bearing Soil Issues

There are certain types of soil that are simply not capable when it comes to supporting the weight of the foundation or bearing the pressure that the foundation of the building exerts. Resulting from this fact, the foundation’s footings can press down or sink into softer soils. In cases such as these, the footings are going to need to be designed in such a way that they are going to spread the load across the weaker soils. The purpose for this is so any potential settlement of the foundation can be reduced. However, you still need to be aware of the fact that in most problems involving the settlement of the foundation where the bearing soil is weak, the reason is because the residential construction used standard footings rather than better load bearing footings. The reason for this is because the footings are typically going to be designed based on general guidelines rather than on soil information that is specific to the site.

Poor Compaction Issues

Both when developing commercial subdivisions and residential subdivisions, there is a common practice that people will place fill soils. Generally speaking, buildable lots are created by cutting down hilltops or by filling in valleys in order to create spaces that are flat and compacted. Fill soils that are placed properly and compacted properly should be more than capable of creating an adequate amount of support for the foundation of these businesses. However, it is important to note that when these fill soils are compacted but not in an adequate manner, then they may be capable of compressing under the load of the foundation. The result is that the structure and the foundation can settle, causing structural integrity problems in the future.

Changes in the Moisture Content

When a foundation soil experiences an extreme change in the moisture content, then this can result in damage to the foundation in the form of settlement. An excess amount of moisture is capable of saturating the soil of the foundation, and this can easily lead to a softening or a weakening of silt or clay soils. When the soil is no longer capable of supporting the load, the result is often settlement of the foundation. An increased amount of moisture within the soil beneath the foundation often comes as a consequence when there is poor drainage on the surface around the structure, when there is a leak in the water line, when there is a leak in the plumbing or when there is a raised groundwater table.

Soils that have a lot of clay content in them can also generally have a tendency to shrink when it comes to the loss of moisture. As soils with high clay contents begin to dry out, they can contract or shrink. This is going to result in the general and gradual decrease of the soil’s volume. As a result, settlement damage is often going to be observed when it comes to structures that are supported on soil that has become dried out. Drying out of the foundation soil can often be caused by conditions that are extensively drought-like as well as other causes. For example, maturing vegetation and trees can cause a drying out of the foundational soil. Another cause for drying of the foundation soil is a leaking of an HVAC or heating, ventilation and air conditioning system in the subfloor.

 

Maturing of Trees or Vegetation

As mentioned above, this is another problem that can lead to settlement of the foundation, and so it must be watched for with time. Maturing of the trees, bushes and any other types of vegetation that are in close proximity to the building of the home is a common reason for foundation settlement to occur. When trees and other types of vegetation mature, they are going to grow in size and as such, the demands they place on the soil for water and nutrients are also going to grow. The root system for these types of vegetation is also going to grow and expand on a continuous basis with time, and as such, the roots are going to be trying to draw moisture out of the soil around and beneath the building’s foundation.

Soils that are rich in clay, as a result of this action, are going to shrink with time as they lose their moisture content. This is going to result in a settlement of the overlying structure including the foundation and the building built over the top of the foundation. Many building owners and home owners have said that they never had any problems with the settlement of the foundation until many, many years following the building of the structure. Unfortunately, it can take as many as several decades before this type of problem becomes apparent, and so it can make things difficult for the home owner who suddenly has to make repairs to the foundation below the home. The reason for this is because it takes many decades for new vegetation and trees to really grow, and that is why these types of foundation issues really do not crop up until later on in the life of the building.

Foundations that are closer to the surface of the ground are generally going to be affected more often by soil dehydration issues. The reason for this is because of tree roots. Basement level foundations and foundations that are deeper are generally not going to experience as many problems with this type of soil settling issue. As a general sort of rule, the diameter of the root system for the tree is going to be at least as big as the canopy of the tree. Considering this may help you determine whether or not you are going to have issues with mature vegetation in the future.

Soil Consolidation

The concept of soil consolidation is something that occurs when a structure’s weight compresses down on a weaker, lower soil, or when newly placed soil for the purpose of filling does the same thing. A lower clay-based soil that is naturally weaker is not going to be able to withstand the pressure from the structure or the heavier fill soil, and so soil consolidation is going to occur as a result. The applied load is generally going to force some water content out of the weaker clay soil. What this is going to do is to allow for individual soil particles to space out in a denser manner. The consolidation is going to result in a downward movement of these overlying structures, or in a settlement of the foundation as a result.

When settlement is caused by a consolidation of the foundation soil, it typically occurs over a lengthy period. This type of foundation settlement can generally occur over several weeks, several months or even several years before it is considered to be complete.

Dealing with Foundation Issues

Unfortunately, when foundation settlement begins to occur, you are already in trouble. It is vitally essentially that you start dealing with this problem as soon as possible so that you can nip it in the bud before it becomes even more serious. If your foundation is sinking or settling, then there is a good chance that it is going to continue to do so until help is provided. The best thing that you can do is to determine the exact cause of the foundation settling so that you can prevent it from becoming worse.

If you are ever in doubt about what is causing your foundation to settle, it would be very wise for you to bring in some professional help so that you can get feedback and advice. Because it is so essential that you stop allowing the foundation to sink or settle, getting quick and effective professional help is going to be a really important consideration for you to make. Dealing with a settling or sinking foundation quickly and effectively is the best way to save and preserve the structural integrity of your structure, allowing it to stay in good condition for many years to come. If you do not address the problem, the continued settling may jeopardize the structural integrity of your building, causing it further harm and potential damage in the process.

Georgia Radon – What You Need to Know

Radon is a cancer causing, radioactive gas. The Surgeon General has warned the radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, killing 21,000 people per year in the United States. You cannot see, smell or taste radon. When you breathe air containing radon, you increase your risk of getting lung cancer. Testing is the only way to find out your home’s radon levels. The EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing all homes for radon. If you find that there are high levels, the home can be fixed. Even very high levels of can be reduced to acceptable levels. We use Sun Nuclear continuous radon monitors. These devices are very expensive but will show the radon measurement over time, note any unusual or abnormal reading in the test, detect tampering with the device and produce reliable results that you can be confident with. You will get a detailed report the day the test is completed. We do not need a lab or 3rd party to interpret our results.

The test must run for a minimum of 48 hours and sometimes we can drop them off in advance of your inspection to give you the results sooner. If you would like to add a radon test, please contact our office and we will make sure your inspector has one available the day of your inspection. Occasionally they may have one on hand at the inspection and you can add it then, but please do not count on it.

For EPA information on Radon please visit their website: https://www.epa.gov/radon.

For information on Radon measurements in Georgia, please visit the UGA Cooperative Extension radon information page: https://www.fcs.uga.edu/extension/home-radon

When Realtors Price Shop for Their Clients

Recently we had some feedback from some Realtors that know and trust us. The question we asked was “You send us most of your clients but sometimes you tell them to call another company. What makes you think they are better in some situations?” The answer was the same for all three of the agents: price. They all agreed that we were the most thorough and most qualified inspectors in the area but sometimes their clients were purchasing homes that were “easy” so they referred them to a low-cost competitor. This may seem like they are looking out for their clients’ best interests but is it really?

If a buyer is completing their due diligence and is paying for a home inspection they are doing it to uncover latent defects or upcoming expenses. If a client is only hiring a Home Inspector to check off a box, why hire one at all? Why save 7% when you can save 100%? If the house appears to be in order and well taken care of, then the last thing you need is a discounted inspector. This is when you need a thorough and well trained inspector the most. In my experience, the worst houses I’ve seen are the “well maintained by a single owner” or “contractor renovated” homes. They have been given meticulous attention to cosmetic details but no one has been in the attic or the crawlspace since it was built.

Instead of focusing on price, let’s turn their attention to value. What does the other inspection company offer with the inspection? At The BrickKicker we offer several things that are unmatched by our competitors. We offer a free Homebinder Account with every inspection. In addition to the value of the service ($120), if used properly it can increase the value of the home when it’s time to sell. The Porch Home Assistant (a $350 value) will help them transfer or set up utilities and find qualified contractors for repairs for the life of the home. We even give them $100 in discounts to help pay for these repairs. We offer other bonus gifts like $100 off their first gas bill with Gas South and a free alarm system from ADT. We also offer an unmatched Inspection Guaranteed. They have a full 90 Days to decide if they are satisfied with our work. If they find out later that we missed something, they can get their money back.

Here’s another reason to keep The BrickKicker at the top of your list: liability. By having consistent referral practices you are exercising the same standard of care for all of your clients. When you decide that the home doesn’t need attention to detail and thoroughness because the house is an “easy one”, you are making an exception to the way you treat a particular client. If the cheaper inspector misses something, your client had good reason to question why you made this exception and recommended the cheaper inspector.

So, the next time you want to help your client save money, tell them to call The BrickKicker. If you really think it’s worth risking your reputation to save them $25 dollars, I suggest asking Jen Fleece for a coupon first. She has a stack of them in her car.

The BrickKicker has referral indemnity that covers all referring parties and you will always be covered when you refer us.

NOTE:  Each The BrickKicker operation is independently owned and operated.  Some services and programs may not be available in all locations.  Please call your local The BrickKicker to see what is available in your location.

 

What does a realtor look for in a home inspection?

Most home buyers look to their Realtor for advice on who to choose when they are looking for a Home Inspector. Some Realtors are reluctant to recommend anyone because they fear that it will hurt their reputation if the inspector does a poor job or misses something. Most Realtors will give a list of three names without committing to a particular inspector to shield themselves from liability. Buyers need their Realtors to help them make decisions and guide them through the home buying process and this includes helping them choose a Home Inspector.

 

So what does a Realtor look for in a Home Inspector?

 

The easiest way to vet your inspector is to let someone else do it for you. Georgia will let anyone work as a home inspector so long as they tell their clients, in writing, that it’s a visual inspection and report their findings in writing. That’s it. There isn’t even a minimum standard and there is no licensing body or any consumer protection. It’s “Buyer beware.” Realtor beware as well. We recommend choosing an ASHI Certified Inspector. ASHI has the highest standards in the industry and is the only accredited professional Home Inspector association, period.

 

Let ASHI vet your home inspectors for you.

 

No matter how many names are on your list, your client is only going to choose one inspector and their professionalism may reflect on you no matter how hard you have tried to distance yourself from the decision. You want to make sure they communicate well, maintain a professional image and they deliver a useful report in a timely manner.

 

You should never refer an inspector that does not carry E&O insurance. Never. There is always the potential for things to go sideways and if they do, you want to be sure your client is protected. Imagine if things did go terribly wrong. Imagine the oversight (or negligence) is so great that no inspector could afford to make things right. E&O insurance can ensure that your client gets a check. As a bonus, the right E&O policy will protect the referring Realtor as well. The BrickKicker carries E&O with a $1,000,000 limit that also covers referring parties.

 

The BrickKicker services most of Northeast Georgia, including Athens, Oconee, Winder, Buford, Jefferson, Auburn, Monroe, Braselton, Hoschton, Oglethorpe and Madison Counties. We have multiple ASHI certified inspectors that each have over 500 inspections under their belt. Call us today to hire the experience your client need to fully protect them, and you.