By Mitch Kuffa
Let’s talk about clues! Many times, when inspecting a house, you have to maintain the mentality of a detective and know how to read “clues” provided by the house. Many of these tell-tale signs tell you about the house history, problems incurred during construction, the types of people who worked on your home, etc. Here are a few of my favorite and most interesting clues discovered when inspecting a home.
THE UNCAULKED WINDOW:
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When I am looking at a newer/middle-aged home with exterior brick, one of the first things I look at are the windows. Are they caulked? If not, this is one of the first signs of a non-professional builder or lack of supervision during construction. And why is that? This seemingly small item is typically ignored by many trades. The mason just doesn’t caulk. The sider will only caulk things that come in contact with his siding. The painter will not caulk this window because it’s pre-finished and if he is not painting, he is not caulking! So how does this window get caulked? You have to know that you must hire a special and separate caulking contractor (or caulk it yourself as the builder). Many times, the caulking contractor is also a brick cleaner and does both tasks at once. He cleans the brick of residual mortar and then caulks the windows in the brick (and sometimes additional areas).
While down in the basement, look up at the wood framing. Many times, you will see muddy areas or even footprints on the surface. This is a definite indication that the job site during the rough carpentry phase was a mud hole. So what does this mean? At times you will find sloppy work in a sloppy environment. Also, when you have a muddy job site, the indication is that there is more likely to be a clay type soil in lieu of the preferred sandy soil. Clay soils hold water and put excess pressure on foundation walls. Clay soils do not compact and you have more settling potential around the perimeter of the house. Clay is more difficult to grade and you may have a lumpy finish around the perimeter of the house.
Did you ever see a house that was just beautiful with upgrade windows, dimensional shingles, stone in-lays in the brick, leaded glass windows at the entrance doors and then had a mediocre cabinet, unfinished plywood floors, light bulbs only in the sockets, etc.? What is this all about? It’s simple. The builder, for one reason or another, ran out of money before the job was finished and started cutting back in order to complete the project. The concern here is, where did he cut back? Where we can’t see!
Open the hatch to the attic, get a flashlight and look at the nails sticking through the roof boards from the shingles. If these nail heads are rusty, there is a concern. I use the rusty nail theory as a gauge. Look closely at the nail points sticking through the roof boards in the attic and if they are not rusty there is no condensation problem. If the nail heads show rust, with no stain on the wood, there has been condensation in the past. If the nail heads are rusty and there is a black stain around the nail penetration about the size of a silver dollar, then the condensation problem has been on-going. If the nails are rusty, the wood is stained and there are black smudges sporadically on the bottom side of the roof boards, the condensation problem is serious. These condensation concerns are sometimes aggravated by homeowners adding insulation, but not more ventilation (or sometimes, plugging up some of the existing ventilation at the overhangs with the new insulation). This condition does not originally exist if the house is professionally built, but rather by modifications to that attic area. Just remember the more insulation, the more ventilation you need.
Here is another clue of minimal job supervision during construction. Most builders consider the electric meter, gas meter, TV and phone hook-up to be cosmetically displeasing. They try to get all these utilities to be inconspicuous and preferably attached to the house at the same location. They don’t want the electric meter on one side and the gas meter on the other. When you see a house where all the utilities are at the same location, someone was doing their job. It is difficult to get the different entities to cooperate in this manner. Typically, the trades will take the easiest route. So, put on your detective hat, get out your magnifying glass and look for clues that can give you valuable information about your home.
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Mitchell J. Kuffa Jr. has been in the construction industry since 1967. In that time, he has 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.