Bellingham, Wa. Home Inspector and the Implications of a Quickie

      I know what you’re thinking. The big difference is that with home inspections there are five participants looking for satisfaction; the prospective home buyer, the seller, the sellers’ agent, the buyers’ agent, and the inspector.  The inspectors’ focus should always be to satisfy his client, the home buyer in most cases.  I know of inspectors that claim to be able to perform a complete inspection and report in an hour or two.  Then there are those who can spend an hour in the crawlspace alone.  Let’s face it.  Crawlspaces are interesting, and a lot of problems can be apparent there.   

      In the State of Washington, inspectors are limited to a visual and non-invasive inspection of conditions of a home, in a very limited time frame.  Obviously, if we were allowed by the seller to tear out walls, floors, ceilings, and underground plumbing, we could better see how the house was constructed and what has been affecting it over the years.  I often wonder if Mike Holmes of Holmes on Homes, one of the most respected men in Canada, and for good reason, isn’t doing a bit of a disservice to comprehensive and knowledgeable inspectors when, after basically gutting a house, he remarks that “the inspector should have caught this”.  In some states in the U.S., by law, inspectors cannot perform any work on a house that they have inspected for a period of one year.  Instead, if we find a concern, we refer this to qualified and respected contractors, as does Mr. Holmes.  I believe that if we researched it, we could find “less than professional” accounts of contractors, inspectors, and even television personalities all day long.  I think it’s safe to say that we all have respect for professionals who perform a comprehensive and thorough service for their clients.

     But I digress.  My main point with this blog is to comment on the time spent at an inspection.  When one considers the many implications about what can go wrong or what is already wrong with the many systems in a house, it can take a bit of time.  With my own inspections, I find that I average about five hours or so, depending upon the size and age of the home, until I can feel satisfied that I have not overlooked anything.  And my reports seem to take even longer than that.  Typing is not my forte.  I do consider the possibility that just because an inspection is performed quickly doesn’t necessarily mean it is incomplete or lacking, and vice versa.  But it has been my own personal experience that most clients want an inspector who is not in a hurry. Allmann Home Inspection Services in Bellingham and Blaine, Wa.   360-371-0260 0r 360-739-7361. 

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Bellingham, Wa. Home Inspector and the Stairway to Heaven

     Yes, I do look fondly back on the days of tripping out to Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and Cream, but today I am referring to the stairs and stairwells of the homes we inspect.  While, generally, inspectors do not cite code, it is important for homeowners to understand all possible safety concerns when it comes to stairs.  Since 2009, modern safe building practices require a minimum ten inch tread run, and a maximum seven and three quarter inch riser height, with a variance of no greater than three eighths of an inch.  Any greater variance results in a tripping hazard, as a persons’ stride naturally adjusts to a certain height.  Having size fourteen shoes, I actually prefer a tread width of eleven or twelve inches, which is possible if there is enough room for the overall run of the stairs.  In addition, modern building requirements call for a minimum of eighty inches of headroom clearance from the outside end of a tread to a ceiling, beam, or anything overhead.  Which means if you’re tall and have big feet, it could get a little dicey navigating narrow stairs and low ceilings.  Obviously, many older homes do not conform to modern codes, and are not required to, but it is beneficial to note to our clients that a trip down the stairs may involve a trip down the stairs and a large knot on the forehead.  At the very least, we should recommend a large DUCK sign on low ceilings and a soft pillow at the bottom of the stairs.  I have been in old homes with a tread width of barely seven inches on very steep stairs.  It gives a whole new meaning to tip-toeing up and down the stairs.  There are also minimum requirements for balusters or spindle spacing, banisters or railing, and handrail width.  It is not unusual for inspectors to find handrails that are poorly connected on stairwells, breezeways, and decks.  This is a major safety concern if these areas are several feet off the ground.  Many jurisdictions require railings if the stairs or elevated surfaces rise more than thirty inches or four risers off the ground.  Two more factors that are safety concerns are the positive connection that the stair stringers have at the top to a beam, joist, or LVL, and an outward swinging door that opens over the stairs.  Most framers prefer pressure blocking at the stringer top connection for interior stairs, and pressure blocking or approved hangers on decks.  In summation, there are many factors to consider when building and inspecting stairs and stairwells.  No one wants their next trip down the stairs to be their Stairway to Heaven.  Allmann Home Inspection Services in Bellingham and Blaine, Wa.   360-371-0260 or 360-739-7361.

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Bellingham, Wa. Home Inspector, Rasputin, and Old-Time Religion

     During my forty-plus years in the construction trades, part of that time, in the late sixties and early seventies, was spent working with a construction outfit that worked exclusively for HUD, repairing and retrofitting very old homes in the greater L.A. area on low-cost loans.  My main tasks were replacing support posts, insulation, and replacement and refinishing of drywall where needed.  I would crawl under the house and add support posts under the beams.  The existing “posts” that I was replacing included tree stumps, large rocks, stacks of old bricks, wood pallets, and, in one case, a stack of encyclopedias.  At the time, I remember thinking that an encyclopedic fellow might have known better, but then I realized that he used the books to support his house, rather than read them.  While crawling around the crawlspaces in these old homes, I found many old milk and medicine bottles from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  I had quite a collection at the time.  During the course of removing old drywall and lathe and plaster walls, I discovered a stack of old currency bills from the confederate states. Mostly what I found in the walls were stacks of old newspapers and pamphlets that had been used as insulation.  Most of them dated back between 1900 and 1920.  Among them was a pamphlet from 1917 from the L.A. Opera house announcing the grand opening of the play Rasputin: The Mad Monk.  There were also many religious flyers from various denominations.  In the end, I had to be impressed by the fact that the original owner did so much recycling, and utilized these products in the construction of his home, which, although not very efficient, was quite green.  Now I know what to do with all the junk mail.  Allmann Home Inspection Services in Bellingham and Blaine, Wa.  360-371-0260 and 360-739-7361. 

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Bellingham, Wa. Home Inspector and Pet Peeves

     It is estimated that approximately 60% of American households have at least one cat or dog.  Many of these homes have multiple pets.  I myself have one cat and have had other single cats in various places I have lived in the past.  We love our cat and she brings us a lot of joy.  It is understandable that peoples’ pets are loved and respected as a family member.  What is not as understandable is when pets are allowed to treat a home or any part of a home as their personal litter box or chew toy.  When this behavior is overlooked or ignored, the damages to a property can be quite extensive and costly to amend.  With rentals, landlords will usually charge an addendum pet deposit, as a hedge against possible or likely repairs performed when the tenant moves.  This stems from either past experience with pet problems or insurance claims.  We have probably all entered into homes where the aroma of cat urine is overpowering.  Often, when the cats move out, their perfume doesn’t.

     As a general contractor, I have quite a long list of major repairs that were required in order to ready a home to rent or sell.  You can imagine the costs involved in replacing every door, door frame, window sill, and all the floor coverings in a house with as many 18 pit bulls at a time.  I don’t think beavers could have done a better job at chewing through everything.  I once repaired the rental of a fellow who lived there with four dogs (German shepherds), one pig, and two chickens in the house.  Of course, I suggested a bulldozer, but the owner insisted that it should be saved.  His repair bill was just under $30,000.00.  Repairs included all new flooring, new drywall, new sub-floors in most areas, new vanities, lower cabinets, countertops, new doors, paint, etc.  In addition, the house had to be fumigated twice for fleas before the other work even began.   Granted, these cases seem a bit extreme, but I have had to replace sub-floors and flooring in homes with as few as two cats.  And animal related repairs are not limited to cats and dogs.  Birds, especially parrots, and ferrets can have quite an impact on a house.  My old friend had an ocelot that loved to scratch.

     All that a Bellingham, Wa. Home Inspector can do is to see, and possibly smell, the damages caused by wayward pets, and make recommendations as to possible amendments.  That’s it for now, as my fat cat is begging for food, and she gets ornery if I take too long.     Allmann Home Inspection Services in Bellingham and Blaine, Wa.   360-371-0260 or 360-739-7361.


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Bellingham, Wa. Home Inspector and Insulation Insights

     With the cooler than usual temperatures that we have been experiencing in the Northwest, we may find ourselves bumping the thermostat up a notch or two to keep our teeth from chattering.  The frosty temps and the ever rising cost of fuels can compel us to revisit just how well our homes are insulated.  There is a plethora of insulating materials that may well be worth our while to consider.  New construction codes and requirements are continually becoming more stringent, as energy savings become more critical.  Common insulating materials like fiberglas, with an R-value of 3.2 per inch of thickness, are now being overshadowed by products like polyisocyanurate batts with an R-value of 7.0 per inch.  In addition, the old standard of 4 inch exterior walls has fallen by the wayside, and 6 inch walls are the current standard, with many builders proposing even thicker exterior walls, which would have the dual benefits of increased R-value and improved sound dampening.  The higher construction costs for these upgrades would be off-set in a relatively short time when considering the savings in energy costs.

     Many home inspectors have peered into attics, especially in older homes, only to find that the attic is woefully under insulated.  I personally have been in attics with only a smattering of vermiculite, a relatively non-efficient insulator with some asbestos content.  As much as 40 to 60 percent of heat loss can occur through ceilings in under insulated older homes.  My recommendation always is to improve these areas of little or no insulation to at least match industry standards.  With wall insulation and heat loss, the wild card is usually windows.  Even the best dual pane windows have R-values of only 4 or 5.  Often, the biggest benefit realized by replacing older single pane windows with more efficient dual pane windows is noise control.  Many older homes have as few as eight windows total.  I once installed window coverings in a home with 93 windows.  Unless and until the window industry can produce windows with higher R-values, home builders and architects may want to consider limiting the amount and size of windows in a home design, and home buyers should consider the fact that a home with numerous or oversized windows may have a profound effect on the pocketbook.  Allmann Home Inspection Services in Bellingham and Blaine, Wa.  360-371-0260 or 360-739-7361.

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Bellingham, Wa. Home Inspector and Flourishing Efflorescence

  While inspecting homes in Bellingham, Wa. and Blaine, Wa., that are built on, or have garages that are built concrete slabs, I often find large areas of efflorescence growing on the slab floor.  These areas are indicators of moisture seeping through the slab, via water or water vapor intrusion, and carrying with it the mineral salts that are inherent to the slab or sub-strata.  These mineral salts are than left deposited on the floor either as a stain or as a powdery pile up to an inch high or more.  Most commonly seen as a white powder, they can range in color from pure white, to blue, to a rusty color.  Efflorescence is a natural process that occurs in all or most slabs and mortar via evaporation during the curing or drying stage.  Sodium, potassium, and iron oxide sulphates, and calcium carbonate and other minerals produce alkali salts that are caused to move through the porous areas of the slab in the presence of water.  However, this usually occurs during the first year of curing.  When we see continuing recurrence of efflorescence on older or well-cured slabs, this is an indication or implication of continuing water seepage or presence in and through the slab, mortar, or brick, in the case of brick walls.  This may be caused by improper or non-existent installation of a moisture barrier beneath the slab, which allows moisture to wick up into the porous slab, and transport the offending alkali salts with it.  There is no panacea or easy fix for this phenomenon.  Perhaps the best solution is preventive measures.  Utilizing low alkali portland cement, washing the rock and sand utilized in the mortar mix, and even coating the rebar to prevent rusting could make a difference in the amount of alkali salts.  Good luck if you can get a cement contractor to do any of the above. More important than anything is having a few inches of clean drain rock and a proper vapor barrier under the slab.  Short of this, there are a few products on the market that have been utilized to try and ameliorate the problem, ranging from acid washes to remove stubborn efflorescence, to silicon and epoxy sealers for moisture prevention.  Though they may prevent some moisture intrusion, silicon sealers for mortar walls could cause spalling, due to the different expansion rates of these alkali salts trapped in the bricks and mortar joints, and epoxy sealers for slabs may cause colored cements to discolor unevenly. The other implication of efflorescence in homes built on slabs is the possibility of excess moisture in the home, via water vapor. All of this amounts to more good reasons for a comprehensive Home Inspection and recommendations by a Bellingham, Wa. Home Inspector.     Allmann Home Inspection Services in Bellingham, Wa.     360-371-0260   

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Bellingham, Wa. Home Inspector and Catfish Curb Appeal

After my last blog about some of the unusual critters I have encountered while either inspecting or making repairs in client’s homes, I figured that I would write about one of the most unusual.  While living in California in a little town called Independence, I received a call from a client who asked me to do some remodeling in the master bath in their three bedroom two bath rambler.  They had the place up for sale, but were continuing to make improvements.  The area where this town is located is upper desert in the eastern sierra, on the way to Mammoth Lakes.  Like northwest Washington, this area is popular for fishing, with many streams, lakes, and ponds.  Both the husband and wife were very friendly “country folk”.  When I entered the master bath, I noticed an unusual aroma.  At first, I thought that that was the reason they had called me.  As it turns out, the odor was because my client had gone fishing the night before, and had landed over two dozen nice catfish.  Well, as we all know, catfish can survive almost anywhere, so he decided just to keep them in the master bath in order to keep them fresh.  He preferred throwing them in the skillet while they were still flopping, and figured they would last at least a week or two.  I couldn’t fault his logic about that, but questioned the salability of the home with a tub full of catfish.  His wife didn’t seem to mind too much, either.  Apparently, she loved fresh skillet fried catfish in cornmeal. 

     They wound up hiring me to do the remodeling, which took about a week.  During this time, he would scoop out a few of the catfish every day with a fishing net, and she would fry them up for us for lunch. They were fantastic!  Ultimately, I came to believe that selling a home with a mess of fresh catfish in the master tub was a pretty good perk.  It curbed our appetites for an entire week, and that’s what I call real “curb appeal”.    Allmann Home Inspection Services in Blaine, Wa.  360-371-0260 or 360-739-7361.


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