By Mitch Kuffa
The dirt I’m concerned with is the kind under and around your house and property.
When I inspect a house, I spend a lot of time looking at the grounds and everything related to it. The earth that your house sits on, in and sits around can have a major impact on the building structure. Is it dirt or sand, possibly clay or a more fertile black dirt? All 3 of these soils have different characteristics. Before building any residence, most professional builders are concerned about what type of ground conditions they may find.
SAND (which is the builders preferred soil) compacts well, is usually stable under foundations, but also has the tendency to erode quickly if disturbed. Also, it is a type of soil that most easily could infiltrate any drain tile system around the perimeter of a house (which are typically installed to control ground or rainwater). If you happen to see a lot of sand in your sump basket, this is a tell-tale sign of sand infiltration.
CLAY doesn’t erode but also does not compact well. This type of soil will many times cause porches to settle, sidewalks to more readily crack, concrete floors to break–up, etc.. It takes years for clay to settle and it holds water which makes the soil very heavy. Water laden clay soils can put undue stress on foundation walls. If combined with the fact that the house does not have a gutter and downspout system or the house is sitting in a wooded area, additional negative things can happen to the house structure.
BLACK FERTILE SOIL is usually found in low areas and/or wooded areas. This type of dirt is great to grow potatoes in but typically is unstable, has the tendency to stay wet and is more frequented by insects or pests.
Some additional things we look for on a property is the “grade pattern” or the topography.
This is the degree of inclination or slope of the ground surface. Is a house sitting on a hill, in a valley or on a slope? The basic rule of thumb is, that the ground immediately adjacent to the foundation should be sloped away from the building at the inclination of not less than 1 unit vertical in 12 units horizontal and for a minimum distance of 8 ft. away from the house. Simply said, the ground needs to pitch away from your house (or other provisions made to control surface water). This item is very important. I have seen the smallest variance in this basic rule cause water infiltration or other foundation problems. Sidewalks should not pitch back to the house, any holes that are dug should be filled in and perimeter landscaping should not be built-up so as to hold water next to the building.
Just remember, the Colorado River cut the Grand Canyon. Water is relentless, flows by gravity and if left unattended will always win.
Here are a few other things to look for in the DIRT around your house.
1. What is the condition of the trees? Removing a dead or infested tree can be quite costly and is not uncommon for trees that reach full maturity and then cause damage to your house.
2. Is the landscaping overgrown? No shrub should be touching the house. Overgrown vegetation can scratch siding, impact brick and create a shade condition that will not allow air or sunlight to dry the soil. Many plants create traffic patterns for pests and insects which can then more easily enter the house, damage shingles, plug up your gutters, etc..
3. Is there any evidence of any ground burrowing creatures (moles, gophers, etc.) or abnormal insect infestation (nests, traffic patterns, etc.)? All of the above can be hard to get rid of.
Remember, insects like wet, dark and warm areas. Many times they are “invited” into the house via a rotten tree stump or a pile of old stored firewood next to the building.
4. What are the conditions of any pedestrian traffic patterns around the outside of your house? Sidewalks, driveways, patio’s and decks should not be settled or heaved due to improper soils. Not only do they create a trip hazard, but often pitch water back to the foundation.
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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