I think it must be code for “code.”


It seems that everyone involved in the real estate transaction brings their own opinions and answers to the many questions that arise.  These opinions are too often literally based on thin-air.

These “thin-air” recommendations constitute what I call Agentcode, Buildercode, Sellercode, Buyercode, and most importantly Inspectorcode.

We have all heard agents that talk about my grandfather being at the home and how we will not find anything wrong because the seller is a builder, or builders that say, that is the way we have always done it, the way my father did it, and the way his father did it, and the AHJ signed off on it. 

The seller of course will resort to how he or she did the work themselves so of course it is top notch, and the buyer will state they watched This Old House and learned the way something was installed could not possibly be correct or that one extra spore of mold or one asbestos fiber is going to kill their entire family–or worse.

Home Inspectors are perhaps the worst offenders—because they should know better. 

Home inspectors actually know enough to make up Inspectorcodes that actually sound plausible–sounds like actual code.  Of course, home inspectors are “expected to know” so they gain some undeserved authority.  They sometimes rely on luck to get them through to the next inspection.

The building codes are a minimum level of performance expected of anyone constructing homes or repairing homes.  I find it odd that any inspector would not at least support the minimum standards as a starting point and then recommend improvements to those standards when applicable.  But instead, they react to what is going on in the home much the same way agents, builders, sellers and buyers do. 

They resort to making stuff up based on rules of thumb, what they learned incorrectly in inspection school, on the internet or based on nothing at all.

Sometimes I think this reaction is largely to compensate for the other code-meisters involved in the transaction.

This is a shame because there are REAL CODES and manufacturer’s instructions that anyone with an Internet connection and an 8th grade education can look up and discover what is actually required–there is no need to make anything up.  The real work comes when we want to go beyond code or when we ignore them altogether.

We can end up making a whole bunch more work for ourselves if we decide to make up our own requirements and ignore the minimum standards.

Many home inspectors will swear up and down that we are not code inspectors.  While we typically do not have enforcement powers, in the sense we must know the minimum standards in order to know how to inspect pretty much anything, we are indeed code inspectors–and a whole lot more.

Getting familiar with basic codes necessary to do a home inspection takes a LOT of time and work, but nowhere near the mountain of wrong information that gets passed on to our clients and perpetuates urban legend.  Sooner or later, if the inspector lives long enough, that mountain has to crumble away–no matter how reluctantly.

Would it not be nice to have not built the mountain to begin with?


By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Infrared Cameras, what is the temperature really?

Infrared cameras are a great tool for the home inspector, but like any tool, they can be misused or misinterpreted.

These pictures show frost on a roof with a roof surface temperature of about 12 degrees Fahrenheit.  I say about, because 12 degrees is pushing the lower limits of what this particular thermal camera can see (FLIR C2, 14 degrees Fahrenheit).


When measuring the temperature of a roof at night, one must be careful to compensate for the much colder temperature of the night sky that the camera can also see by angles of reflection.  On a cloudy night this might not be so important–and might not even matter at all.  On a clear night the warm roof will give up the heat it has accumulated during the day, to the cold of space.  As it does so, the temperature of the roof surface can depress significantly below air temperature.

But, is the actual roof temperature even close to what the IR camera is telling us? 

On a clear night, likely not.  For a more accurate temperature we would have to shield the roof from the night sky in such a way that the night sky is not influencing the camera’s sensor.  In the case of the pictures above, the actual roof temperature was closer to 25 degrees Fahrenheit—still well below freezing.  This next picture shows, in a simplistic way, how the camera can see more than the small circle on the roof we think we might be measuring.

The camera is viewing the roof from my own house window. It is also seeing some of the night sky.

With air temperature above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature of the roof surface can drop below freezing and result in frost on the roof—even though air temperature is well above freezing.  Of course there has to be sufficient humidity such that the dew point can allow the condensation to happen and for frost to develop.

This condition is very common in the NW in the Spring and Fall.  See this link for more information about this phenomenon called night sky radiational cooling.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Symmetrical eclecticism–when things don’t mirror each other

There is arguably no bigger difference between housing on the East Coast and housing on the West Coast than notions of “symmetry.” On the East coast (and please don’t start throwing the exceptions at me–I know they exist—plenty of them—I am just doing a little tongue-in-cheek generalizing) housing is more symmetrical—god help you if you design your house with a front door that is not in the absolute center or that the windows on either side don’t match or the dormers don’t match. You could be placed in the stocks, publicly flogged, or burned at the stake, for such oversights.

On the West Coast the other extreme exists where eclecticism is the rule and if things are “traditionally” balanced by East Coast standards your house’s value could plummet.

Of course on both the left hand side and the right hand side of the country you will find all manner of styles–and the markets and the buyers to support those styles.

If someone moves here from the east coast and is not willing to embrace the eclectic side of themselves–buried deep within themselves—they can find that lonely old colonial tucked away somewhere–where it has likely been bugging more eclectic neighbors for years. But the reality is that the colonial will not really be a colonial in the classic East Coast sense. There will be just enough modifications to allow it to “fit in” with the rest of the Northwest houses. Additions to the home and remodeling that is done to these homes generally brings them ever closer to Northwest sensibilities—with perhaps only the “white” remaining in the end.

This eclectic freedom of design was immediately appealing to me as a designer-builder when I moved here from the east. I grew up in the symmetry of colonial New England—and contrary to popular belief, not in “actual” colonial times. Some time-warps never shift however, and the desire to keep everything “old New England” is a difficult design barrier to overcome. Everything changes however—even the east coast.

However, a while back, I came face to face with “eclecticism-gone-wild” and found myself pushing very hard to embrace what I was seeing. Even intellectually I could not do it—and that was because the design was flawed on so many “practical/functional” levels. This was not “freedom” of design but possibly closer to just plain non-functional design and possibly even unsafe design.

It was eclecticism out of control.

It was a case of where one-or-more later poor design decisions were attempting to overcome one-or-more earlier poor design decisions. While this process often can result in creative solutions that actually can work and thus become successfully eclectic—more often than not they represent instances where someone should have gone back to go—and started over.

I will let you be the judge as you take a look at the following pictures and attempt to imagine all the various decisions that were thought through and culminated in the final solutions you can see in the pictures and not only once—but twice in the home.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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