Your house may be more than dirty—it may actually BE dirt!

If wood has a goal it is to decay so that it can become food for new growth.

Human beings and beavers like to take wood and do useful things with it–but sooner or later–no matter how we try, wood eventually finds its way back to the earth–back to being dirt.

houseisdirt1The best homes are the ones that successfully slow down this transition as long as possible. Some structures are obviously better at it than others. With others, it is almost as if we don’t even try. Water is obviously the enemy for the preservationists, and just as obviously the friend of the decay process–whether from insects or rot.

If we dump water on our hardwood floors, and throw some seeds in the water, typically nothing will happen. The water will evaporate long before the seeds sprout because of the protective coatings on the floor. If the seeds are unlucky enough to sprout, there will be nothing for them to take root in or to sustain them once the water is gone.

With enough time and enough water the wood will eventually decay and those seeds might actually sprout and be able to take root because the wood has become dirt again.

In some cases we are so busy trying to keep our houses free of dirt we don’t notice the areas where it is turning into dirt.

Sometimes there is evidence that tells us what is going on.

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Sometimes we do not listen

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Hidden damage should be anticipated….

Home inspectors can’t see inside walls, but sometimes we do see things on the surface where “predicting” what will behind those surfaces is actually possible to some degree. Whether hidden damage is moderate or extensive might even be able to be predicted based on the location in the structure and whether structural elements are involved.

Damage to a non bearing wall can be quite extensive and not give itself away, while less extensive damage to key supports might prevent doors from closing, break glass in windows or cause floors to slope.

At an inspection a few months back I found a small slot in the trim around a window (the black mark on the trim right at the center of the picture).

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There was a little bit of decay/rot present at the exterior and the wallpaper was delaminating consistent with past moisture intrusion in the area.

I knew the slot in the trim was mining from Carpenter Ants and so “predicting” some amount of hidden damage was not a stretch. As inspectors, we do not very often get a chance to know how accurate our predictions are, so when I was invited back to see the damage I was delighted. The ants had indeed done quite a bit of mining in the area as can be seen in the following picture.

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Several wall cavities were filled with frass as well.

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In a way they were “insulating” the walls where there previously was none.

This approach to insulating your house should probably be avoided however.

The ants had worked across the bottom of the window framing and up the right side of the window and across the header and then up the diagonal brace above the header and into the double top plate.

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That was the extent of visible damage—but most likely other damage should be anticipated.

It would seem that the predictions never end.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Your home inspector will miss things!

It is only natural that home inspectors (and those that hire us) like to think we will find everything.

thewholestory1The hard reality is that we are not going to find everything and nobody should expect us to find everything. On a good day we are not going to miss anything vital. In fact even on a bad day we hopefully are not going to miss anything vital.

But when it comes to things that are not in the “deal breakers” category, I can pretty much guarantee that things will come up that it would have been nice to have documented in the inspection report.

Because some of these lesser evils will be missed, it is important to not only “set appropriate expectations” but for our clients to “have appropriate expectations.”

I think most clients are pretty realistic in their expectations–after all, in their own jobs there is likely some leeway as to the level of performance expected of them. Unless of course they are brain surgeons, and then I am being reasonable to expect that while I am under anesthesia for them to at least be working on my head and not on my big toe.

On a recent inspection I came across a good example of something that was of concern to the tenant (and thus it might also be of concern to a buyer) that I would have totally missed based on a “visual only” inspection of their apartment. The inspection was of a 17 unit apartment building and the focus of the inspection was not nearly as detailed as a typical home inspection. In fact some amount of remodeling of the units was being planned. At the end of the day one of the tenants approached me and asked if I would include the bad countertop in their unit in the report. I said sure, and asked if I could see it again to take a picture for the report. Their unit was one of the first ones I did earlier in the day.

The countertop was delaminating at the kitchen sink. This is a sanitary issue in a food preparation area and obviously the countertop should be replaced or properly repaired.

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This next picture shows the same countertop and what it looked like at the time I “inspected” it the first time.

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This is a pretty good example of how easy it is for the inspector to “miss” something. Of course we all have CYA’s that say that we are not responsible for “concealed” issues, but when your focus is providing as much information as possible it is a shame to resort to one’s CYA’s for something like this–but it does happen.

The example above is the type of thing commonly missed in occupied homes.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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