Common and Unusual Findings: A Home Inspector's Journal

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In inspecting homes here in San Antonio, I've found some really good and some really crazy work. Some days are "wow, that's a really good job", and others are "oh boy...I just saw that, didn't I?" So, I've decided to cover some of the more common items I've found, as well as some of the craziest. This will be an ongoing thread, in the hopes that it will help others better watch their projects and notice issues before they become significant. Feel free to ask questions and I'll respond as best and often as I can. As always, good luck and happy investing!

Updated about 6 years ago

I should probably clarify that any codes, specs, etc contained in this thread are specific to the Texas standards of practice and may or may not be accurate in other areas.

This is a brand new porch roof structure. The length of 2x4" scabbed to the siding in the top photo does not constitute a proper load bearing support. The middle photo shows a load bearing support with the plywood roof decking resting on top of it, providing no actually support. The third photo is the primary load-bearing post of the roof, and has a scabbed on 2x4" to keep the ridge board kind of sort of generally in place (using the technical language commensurate with the engineering...). This was the only semi-legitimate load bearing post on this entire 225ish square foot structure. Framing: it's what keeps things standing up. Don't cut corners.

Water pressure should be between 40-80 PSI. This one came in around 120 PSI, which is about the highest I've seen, and would likely require installation of an expansion tank and pressure reducing valve. The gauge runs under $10 at Lowe's or Home Depot and threads right onto the exterior faucet.

Originally posted by @Chad Clanton :

This is a brand new porch roof structure. The length of 2x4" scabbed to the siding in the top photo does not constitute a proper load bearing support. The middle photo shows a load bearing support with the plywood roof decking resting on top of it, providing no actually support. The third photo is the primary load-bearing post of the roof, and has a scabbed on 2x4" to keep the ridge board kind of sort of generally in place (using the technical language commensurate with the engineering...). This was the only semi-legitimate load bearing post on this entire 225ish square foot structure. Framing: it's what keeps things standing up. Don't cut corners.

 You mean to tell me that vinyl siding can't support the weight of a roof?! Shut the front door!

Incorrect wiring, whether of individual receptacles or the in-wall wiring. While not infallible, these testers run about $7 and can help identify the basic configuration of the wiring in a house (though this is of course best left to an electrician should the question arise). Run into these a lot.

Cracked skylights. Even skylights in perfect condition are often installed with incorrect flashing, which is the metal that diverts water away from the penetrations in your roof (where roofs meet walls, chimneys, roof valleys, etc). The vast majority of interior water spots I see can be traced to improper flashing of one sort or another. 

In a nutshell, shingles and flashing both are intended to help water follow gravity to the ground without having the water seep into the roof or other structure. For example, when installing step flashing at the juncture of a second story wall and a first story roof, the flashing starts at the bottom and each subsequent piece is installed further up the roof. If it were the opposite, all the water would go right into the roof. The same basic principle can be applied to most types of flashing...if you see a water spot on the ceiling, it can often be traced within the attic and then onto the roof. The diagram below depicts step flashing at a roof-wall juncture.

The manufacturing dates of water heaters, furnaces, and outside AC units is often stamped on the manufacturer's label on the unit itself. Often, however, it isn't. Luckily, it is often possible to determine the date of manufacture of a unit by utilizing the serial number. Check out http://www.buildingcenter.org/ for a breakdown of serial number/manufacturing dates. Approximate life expectancy of various units can be found HERE. Do note that these are approximate and not accurate in all cases.

Notice the singed neutral slot (the wider one). If you see these, I'd recommend having an electrician evaluate it. I can't seem to find the photo, but I saw a ceiling fan wired with speaker wire the other day. SAFETY NOTE: The smaller a wire, the more resistance it has. The more current is running through an undersized wire, the hotter it can get. This is one of the ways that fires start. Remember: the electrician is the only tradesman who can literally burn down your house. Do your due diligence.

This one was really fun. This property had had its roof replaced over the past year or so, and apparently the roofing contractor had contemplated installing new electric attic fans. In doing so, he cut the armored cable (the shiny cable seen running to the fan motor) and the wires running to the box (at the top of the grey box). Presumably, for whatever reason he decided not to do the replacement, but left the wires he'd cut. These wires, still on an energized circuit, were only discovered during the inspection, nearly a year after they were cut. Furthermore, they were within 1 1/2" of the radiant barrier. These wires were in a position to energize the entire interior of the attic space; I'll just leave the conclusion up to the imagination, but none of the possibilities are good. Moral of this story? Verify the state of all work. Always. Sure, lots of things are minor, but sometimes the little things aren't. 

@Chad Clanton , you're so picky... Come, on. It's almost right...

At my friend's house a few weeks ago, I found a light switch in the shower. THE light switch that turned on the light to the bathroom, located inside the shower...

Redoing the landscaping in my current house I found beer cans as the frame for the cement edging. Quality construction right there. Hoping that was all they did...

Thanks for this thread!

Always interesting to see.

My partner and I were going to buy a place with broken toilet seats and flush valves. It was 537k for 3BD! (retail price for the area at the time, probably far more now thanks to a transit system being built.)

I was like "You know, the entire place is spotless and staged and the toilet seats need to be replaced?..." I know it's just cosmetic but it was bizarre to me that they would fix everything except that.

@Alice K. it does seem like there's always something like that. It's worth noting that by and large home inspections are functional, not aesthetic. For example, take nail pops in drywall: if there are one or two in a house, I typically won't write it up because there's no functional effect, much like crayon on a wall. Looks bad, but that's not the purpose of the inspection. Now nail pops all along the ceiling joists on one side of a room, for example, could potentially imply a number of functional issues. As such, that will typically show in the report because of the implications, not because of a single nail pop. 

Good evening all, it's been a swamped month, but now it's time for some more photos. First, my favorite: there's a reason I'm always harping on electrical in my inspections, and here's why.

This frayed cloth wire was in an exterior closet with a water heater, with significant ceiling damage owing to excess water penetration. It could have been a shocking experience for someone, under the wrong conditions.

THIS:

Was under THIS:

Then, of course, we have the ubiquitous hard-wired power strip (this was a potential flip):

Below we have what appears to be singed wires and oxidation where aluminum and copper are in contact inside a main electrical service panel:

Here's one of those tidbits which is somewhat interesting and VERY safety related: you know those orange breakers you see sometimes in panel boxes? They were made by a company called Federal Pacific, and they went out of business because they manufactured breakers that only tripped about half the time (actual statistic). That said, when a breaker doesn't trip when it should, current is going to keep running through it, heating up, etc. That's never good. If you see these in your project, house, etc, you may want to very seriously consider replacing them at the earliest opportunity.

Don't let your dryer vent terminate in a gate post, it's just poor form and will get you gigged every time:

Also, interior receptacle boxes are not designed to protect low voltage wires against weather, so don't screw them to the exterior of your house, it just makes folks go... "what?"

Well, that's it for the moment, feel free to drop me a line or post here if I can help with anything. Take care and invest smart!