Let’s go house shopping, part 2
By Mitch Kuffa
In our last article, we discussed what a building inspector usually looks for on the OUTSIDE, when shopping for a house.
Now, let’s talk about what to look for on the INSIDE.
First, let’s go in the basement (or heaven forbid into the crawl space). There is more to see down in these areas than anywhere else because in most cases, it’s exposed and visible.
Here are the things to look for:
- Go around the interior perimeter to observe the foundation walls. Do you see any abnormal dampness, stains, signs of insects, abnormal cracks, dark mildew/mold type stains or water? Keep in mind that approximately 90% of all foundation areas have some dampness and 75% of those concerns are usually easy to remedy.
- Look at the wood framing. Take your time, use a flashlight and glance over every individual member that you can. Do any of the floor joists show cracking, dry rot, past cutting or notching (especially around plumbing pipes and heat runs) or do you see any signs of deterioration (especially under bathroom kitchen areas)? Do you see any “sagging or crowning”? Are all the members supported (should be sitting on the perimeter foundation wall or center beams)?
- Next, let’s look at the furnace. How old is the furnace? If possible, look at a copy of the “sellers disclosure” to see if the seller knows how old the unit is. Like an average roof, standard furnaces usually have an average life expectancy of around 20 years and are relatively expensive to replace. Also, are all the heat ducts connected and secure and does every room above actually have a functional heat register? Does the furnace fire up normally (the flame should not flutter once the fan turns on)? Does the blower motor run quietly? If possible also check any central A/C components. The unit outside should be sitting level on a pad, have protected electrical, insulated gas line and not being impacted by roof water runoff.
- How does the electrical look? DON’T TOUCH! This is a potentially dangerous area. What is the size of the main service panel? It should preferably be 100 amps (look at the main breaker on other ID on the panel to indicate size). How does the wiring look? There shouldn’t be any hanging wires, exposed wire nuts, taped up connections, missing cover plates or frayed wires. Do all the plugs/switches work normally? Do all the lights turn on/off? Are there indications (stains or rust) of water near the electrical panel? Do all of the recommended areas have functional GFI plugs (near sinks, outside plugs, garage, laundry area, etc.)? Are there functional smoke detectors (should be within 3 ft. of any bedroom, at tops of staircases and within 10 ft. of the furnace and/or hot water tank)?
- How does the plumbing look? In general, you basically want to check for good water pressure at all the faucets, see if all the drains work normally and see if there are any leaks. Take your time and follow all the pipes to see if any joints are leaking. Are all the waste lines (that’s the bigger cast iron or PVC sewer pipes) pitched, secure, show evidence of leaking and have clean-out provisions (should be a plug that can be unscrewed near the floor or at main joints to allow the sewer cleaner to enter)? Are there any older gray colored, galvanized steel pipes? These haven’t been used for years and have the tendency to rust within and eventually restrict water flow. Does the house have city water and sewer or a well & septic? If there is a well & septic you can check with the county health department in that area to see if there is any past “history” (permits, repairs, etc.).
- Look at the hot water tank. Run the hot water faucet to see if the tank fires up. Is the vent pipe secure, tight and pitched upwards (waste gasses such as carbon monoxide rise)? Does the tank have a pressure relief valve hopefully extended to within 6” of the floor? Do you see any leaks? Does the chassis show any stains or burned type marks near the burner controls? These are all signs of potential irregular function.
You have now looked at the 5 major systems of the house (foundation, framing, electrical, heating & plumbing). This is, of course, is an overview and does not make you an inspector, but does allow you to raise certain concerns that may dictate the necessity of an expert.
In next week’s issue, LET’S GO HOUSE SHOPPING – PART 3, we will travel upstairs into the habitable areas and check it out through the eyes of an inspector.
To learn more about INSPECTIONS by Mitch Kuffa, click here.
Mitchell J. Kuffa Jr. has been in the construction industry since 1967. In that time, he was worked as a construction superintendent, general superintendent and construction manager for several large developers in the state of Michigan.
He has been a licensed Michigan residential builder since 1977, was an incorporated general contractor for 11 years and has built and/or run the construction of approx. 3,500 residential houses, apartments, commercial structures and/or light industrial buildings.
In 1981 he started the first private home inspection agency in Michigan and to date has personally performed approx. 16,000 inspections for a fee.
Since 1981, Mr. Kuffa, inspects properties and acts as a construction consultant for the Michigan Department of Mental Health (group homes), UAW Legal Services, numerous lenders, several non-profit organizations and for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Mr. Kuffa is a federal housing fee inspector and FHA 203K mortgage loan consultant, works with several attorney’s as an “expert witness”, has been appointed by the Michigan circuit court system to act as a Receiver in several cases concerning construction litigation and teaches a series of construction classes (for misc. school districts, community colleges. Michigan state housing authority, etc.).
Mr. Kuffa has been a member of the National Association of Home Inspectors, in good standing, since 1983.
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