Gutter talk

gutter_talk1While having one’s mind in the gutter can be entertaining and exciting, when it is about the gutters on one’s home it is usually anything but entertaining or exciting.  Of course if that is your particular “thing” I will do my best to understand.

There are those that would say that gutters on homes are part of the problem–as opposed to a solution to anything.  In climates with lots of snow, people claim that the weight of heavy snow and ice will just rip them off the home.  There are ways to deal with that problem, but I will let that be fodder for another post.

Gutters can be a maintenance nightmare.  Annually thousands of people are injured or killed falling off ladders and roofs trying to keep the gutters free of debris.  There are some more-or-less successful ways to deal with that problem too but that also is perhaps best left to another post.  For now, suffice it to say that every leaf-guard system on the market will tell you why their system is the best.  As an inspector I can tell you that some are clearly better than others–and all have their issues.  Most work better than nothing.

The reality is that water pounding on the ground around homes can result in damage to siding and result in erosion of the ground around the home and even affect foundation stability in some types of soils.

In Washington State “missing” gutters are even considered a condition conducive to wood destroying organisms, and something that Licensed Structural Pest Inspectors will include in a any report regarding wood destroying organisms and conditions conducive to wood destroying organisms noted around the home.  I placed the word “missing” in quotes because there are in fact no codes “requiring” the installation of gutters. As we know, the codes are a minimum standard and the Washington State Department of Agriculture (that regulates Structural Pest Inspectors) recognizes missing gutters as a conducive condition.  This is what gives  Washington State Home Inspectors the mandate to call them “missing” when they are not present.

I personally agree with the State of Washington as I often find problems in homes with improper gutters, missing gutters and improperly terminated downspouts.

On a recent inspection I found this gutter that was poorly attached to the eave of the roof.  This creates a low spot in the gutter which then fills with water.  This causes the gutter to sag even more.  It fills with more water until the weight of the water spills over the edge like a side-dump truck creating a torrent of water on the ground below.
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The impact marks on the ground are obvious and the eroding soils in this case flow around the end of the building where all the siding close to the ground is buried by the river of dirt.
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Installing gutters is important but maintaining them in good working condition is perhaps just as important.  Otherwise it may be worse than none at all.

Now we can all get our minds out of the gutter.

 

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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A far better mouse trap–why not use them?

Usually most attempts at building a better mouse trap does not significantly deplete the number of mice to be trapped.

This fact does not keep us from trying to come up with better mouse traps.  After all, it is the American way–and many fortunes have been made from these attempts.

On a recent inspection, of a ten year old home, I came across one such “better-mouse-trap” that apparently did not catch on–at least not yet.

This mouse trap has to be the “Cadillac” of washing machine trays.  It is still surprising to see a tray at all under washing machines, so when I came across this Floodsaver I could not help but be amazed.

Flood Saver Washer Tray

Flood Saver Washer Tray

This tray is not one of those cheap brittle plastic things that float around on the floor and has a flimsy drain that always leaks.  This one is high-density polyethylene with a real drain as durable as any shower stall drain.  The drain ran to the exterior of the home.  This tray protects the floor and wall from leaking of the supply lines, flooding due to the drain backing up, as well as leaking of the washer itself.

Drain termination

Drain termination

The termination at the exterior was very clever as well.  Since you would not want to install a trap on this drain—because then you would have to install a trap primer as well—this drain just ran to the exterior and pointed down toward the ground.  Since these trays are only for catching emergency leaks, any traps would likely dry out quite quickly.  To keep cold air and critters from going into the drain the end was sealed with a small hollow ball that would float if water had to find its way out of the pipe.

If you were in a jurisdiction that did not allow the pan to drain to the exterior, a trap could either be installed with a trap primer or long lasting oil trap seals can be used to prevent the trap from drying out.

The cost of the unit pictured is about $140.00 and seems worth it, in the context of a new home.  There are models without the back wall cover and with no drain—sometimes there is just no way to drain the pan.  Then of course you would want a high water alarm or to pay attention when the dog or cat has found a new watering hole.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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How inspectors keep track of themselves during inspections

Typical data plate

Typical data plate

As anyone that has followed my blog for any length of time knows, photography is my primary note taking tool during an inspection.  I VERY rarely write anything down during an inspection.  I have developed a list of ways to photograph things that could perhaps be easy to write down–but why bother when it takes so much less time to snap a picture.  If I have something that is only evident by “movement” I will shoot a couple of seconds of video of the issue–like a poorly secured gas line swinging back and forth.

Not only do I use it as a means of documenting what I am seeing, but it essentially enables me to repeat the inspection while I am working on the report back in the comfort of my office with KEXP on in the background (available by internet connection pretty much everywhere).

Some inspectors would have you believe that they catch everything the first go-around on an inspection.  Most experienced inspectors know otherwise–however painful it may be to admit it.  Every inspector knows that when they walk around the house one direction they find things.  They know when they walk around the home in the other direction they find things they missed the first time.  In time, most inspectors develop ways to check themselves–to help themselves not miss thiongs–or as little as possible.  Through this process most inspectors hopefully don’t miss anything major.

Keeping track of myself

Keeping track of myself

Photography is one of my primary tools to keep track of myself.

There have been countless times where, during the writing of the report, I have found things in pictures that I not only missed at the time of inspection but also would have had no way of seeing at the time of inspection.  For example I will run my arm up a tunnel where the neighbor’s cat has made a path under the porch and shoot a few “blind” pictures of the space under the porch—to be looked at later on the computer screen.  This gives me better information in how to language what I am going to say about the lack of access under that porch.  One time I found a large pile of  materials known to contain asbestos.  One time I got a picture of the cat.  Out of sight–out of mind I guess.

It is pretty rare for me to take less than 350 pictures on an inspection.  Sometimes as many at 600 on larger homes.  I have had commercial inspections with  over a thousand pictures.  I have gotten to the point where I can see a relationship between how many pictures I have taken and how much “hell-to-pay” I am going to have doing the report.  300 pictures on a 1000 sq ft rental property is a much nastier report than 300 pictures on a 3000 sq ft  new construction home.

The other day I did an inspection where I was specifically taking a picture of the main water shut-off and the water meter.

Water line tapped in prior to meter

Water line tapped in prior to meter

When I got home and was looking at the picture I could see where a “T” had been installed in the line previous to the water meter.  I had no chance to trace the line–because I did not see the issue until I saw it on my computer–I don’t know what purpose the line was serving.

I seriously doubt that most jurisdictions would approve of tapping into the main water line prior to the meter.

Regardless, this is an issue that is worth bringing to the attention of the buyer for further evaluation.  I wish that I had noticed it at the time of inspection–but I didn’t.  So having a second chance to catch the issue with the photographs was better than missing it all together.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

If you enjoyed this post, and would like to get notices of new posts to my blog, please subscribe via email in the little box to the right. I promise NO spamming of your email :-) 

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