If you're a fan of Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, you'll recognize the familiar scene in which the world-wise detective dazzles Dr. Watson by drawing amazing—and correct—conclusions based on a few simple observations. What's elementary to him certainly isn't elementary to his assistant, or even the sharpest of readers.
In some ways, the job of the home inspector is much like the sleuthing abilities of Mr. Holmes. To the many Watsons (home home-shoppers) in the market for a new home, clues revealing potentially serious problems can slip by, ending up costing money and posing safety hazards. That's why hiring a certified home inspector, like those at a-pro, is a critical step in the home-buying process.
The inspector, like a detective on a difficult case, has the experience and knowledge to ask the right questions to get to the root of the problem: Is the issue caused by natural aging? Was it caused by an object striking a surface, such as a tree limb falling on the roof? Is homeowner neglect at fault, which may be the case in instances where gutters have been clogged for far too long? Or does the issue stem from the use of the wrong fasteners and connectors; cheap, outdated, and even dangerous materials; and generally poor construction practices? In short, installation problems.
Just about anything in a home can suffer from poor installation or amateurish repairs, from do-it-yourself plumbing and wiring to makeshift, temporary roof fixes. In today's home inspection checklist of installation problems, we touch on five common areas of concern: roof flashing, roof coverings, electrical systems, skylights, and siding (we'll address other installation concerns in future articles).
Roof Flashing: Installing flashing to prevent moisture issues around roof penetrations such as chimneys, dormers, and vents is a job best left to professionals. Your inspector will report on installation problems such as the use of a continuous, single piece of flashing at sidewalls, rather than manufacturer-recommended step-flashing for shingled and slated roofs; putting down a layer of sealant instead of step-flashing (this will eventually dry and crack, letting moisture in); failure to leave a gap between the bottom of the exterior wall and the top of the roof covering; use of roof cement around chimneys rather than proper metal flashing; lack of kick-out flashing where the sidewall meets a roof edge; chimneys without proper step-flashing and counter-flashing; and vent pipes that have not been adequately flashed.
Roof Coverings: Shoddy workmanship, such as nails that are sticking up, too short to secure the shingle, driven in the wrong spots, or puncturing the shingle due to being overdriven, will not escape the eye of your inspector. Failure to adhere to the installation guidelines of the roof-covering manufacturer will expedite the appearance of defects, such as shingle buckling. Other installation problems include exposed fasteners that have not been protected with a roof sealant or silicone caulk, and use of the wrong type of fastener (e.g., staples instead of nails).
Skylights: Often, installation problems crop up in areas that demand a high level of construction skill. Such is the case with skylights—a tough job for seasoned installers, but a potential nightmare for a weekend handyman who has great ambition but not enough experience to do the job right. It's one reason skylights are frequent sites of roof leakage. Installation defects include not sufficiently securing it to the roof; absence of insulation or a vapor barrier when needed; flashing that doesn't allow water or debris to be shed; and installation of the wrong style of skylight for the wrong type of roof.
Exterior Siding: While the impact and weather-related damage may be factors, installation mistakes are often the cause of siding defects. For vinyl siding, installation errors include improper clearance at all openings and stops; improperly-driven nails that can lead to buckling; nailheads driven flush against the hem, restricting panel movement; and failure to install house wrap or building paper behind the siding. Wood siding is often installed too close to the ground (leading to wood rot), and fiber cement siding demands strict installation practices when it comes to using fasteners, roof-to-side clearance, and flashing.
Electrical: As we've discussed in previous articles, many electrical problems in a home are the result of someone who has taken shortcuts. The inspector will report on issues such as double-tapped circuit breakers, improperly terminated wires and junction boxes, ungrounded receptacles, exposed and outdated wiring, and other hazards.