When Psycological Repairs are warranted

I occasionally get calls from frantic sellers wanting a “second opinion” on something that another home inspector has found during the home inspection.

repairs-not-necessary1I have no problem in helping sort out these difficulties with the parties involved, but it does have its difficulties.

In this case, what the other inspector had to say was not totally inaccurate. It was the language the inspector used in the report that set off alarm bells for this particularly nervous buyer. The written description of the defects, and what they recommended about the defects, was not wholly untrue, but their languaging in the report opened doors that had no need of being opened. Some of the recommendations showed a lack of basic knowledge of the particular type of wood destroying insect they were describing.

Of course there is no way to guarantee how any buyer will react to the written report. However, all control is lost if the information is inaccurate–or just plain wrong.

It is what was said under each relevant picture that caused some of the problem. Under each picture it said the following: “Evidence of Insects, Action Required, Repaired “past” insect damaged floor joist in crawl space.”

What the nervous buyer honed in on was “evidence of insects,” and “action required.” That there was “repaired ‘past’ insect damage….” seemed somehow unimportant when compared to the fact that the inspector said their was insects and that action was required.

This particular instance related to past Dampwood Termite infestation. What was further expanded upon in the “Narrative” portion of the report (the part that ends up in the summary) was acceptable right up to the point where they recommended treatment by a “licensed exterminator” to “ensure the insects are dead.”

So between what was said under each picture and in the narrative of the report the buyer was left confused, misinformed and frightened.

The following picture is of Dampwood Termite damage (plus some Annobid Beetle damage) at one of my own inspections that was both active and in need of major repairs.

Dampwood Termite & Anobiid Beetle Damage

Dampwood Termite & Anobiid Beetle Damage

This next picture is of damage that is a past condition. The joist has been sistered (note the bolt into the previously damaged joist). The end of the damaged joist shows some evidence of the past condition–about 12″ to the left of the bolt.

Past Dampwood Termite Damage

Past Dampwood Termite Damage

In the State of Washington, people who treat for wood destroying insects are licensed as: “Pest Contol Operators,”–not exterminators–even if that is in fact what they do on occasion. This was my first clue that the writer might go out on a limb elsewhere; and, as they continue: “to ensure the insects are dead.” This particular wood destroying organism is only present if the wood is wet. If the water intrusion issue has been fixed, the Dampwood Termites have no interest in staying and they disappear on their own. No formal treatment is warranted. In this case the areas of damage were VERY old, the result of leaks into the structure many, many years ago–the wood was too dry to support any moisture dependent wood destroying insects. Structural repairs had clearly been made and the only additional “repairs” that anyone might want to do would be considered “cosmetic.”

Sometimes the removal of damaged wood is a good idea so that unwarranted red flags don’t get waved–as in this case, where the waving flag likely scared away a potential buyer–due to inaccurate information about the condition.

In this case the observation could have been worded in a way that a nervous buyer could be made to understand that there was indeed a past condition and that nothing further was required–other than for cosmetic or psychological reasons.

Sometimes psychological repairs are warranted.


By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Gravity—it is often not our friend

We have all experienced gravity–it is very helpful in everything we do from brushing our teeth to getting out of bed–or even staying in bed. Controlling our movements, as well as the movements of the objects around us, in relation to gravity is important to our health and safety.

Gravity can be very patient

Gravity can be very patient

Today I want to focus on control of the movement of the objects around us.

If you live in a seismic zone and experience earthquakes you are likely very aware of how easily heavy objects can tip over. In those zones there are often requirements for preventing heavy objects from tipping over–such as is the case with water heaters. When water heaters tip over water lines and gas lines can be ruptured–also electrical connections can be ripped apart. The necessity for restraining such an appliance is pretty obvious.

Other reasons for restraining objects is to prevent unwanted tipping over of objects that could result in crushing someone–especially a child. Anti-tip brackets for kitchen ranges is good example of this. Children like to open oven doors and climb on them to get to the proverbial cookie jar. Of course adults need anti-tip devices as can be seen in this video–especially after tipping a few too many.

But seriously, according to the CPSC, thousands of children are injured by appliances, televisions, bookcases, and bureaus tipping over on them. Between 2000 and 2010, 245 children were actually killed by these objects. Emergency room visits from injuries from these objects tipping over on them amounts to over 43,000 kids under the age of 8—per year.

Here are the CPSC’s recommendations:

To prevent tragedies follow these safety tips in any home where children live or visit:

Anchor furniture to the wall or the floor.

Place TVs on sturdy, low bases.

Or, anchor the furniture and the TV on top of it, and push the TV as far back on the furniture as possible.

Keep remote controls, toys, and other items that might attract children off TV stands or furniture.

Keep TV and/or cable cords out of reach of children.

Make sure freestanding kitchen ranges and stoves are installed with anti-tip brackets.

Supervise children in rooms where these safety tips have not been followed.

But what about outdoors? What about the things outdoors that can tip over and either damage the things they fall on or injure persons that they fall on.

On an inspection a while back, it occurred to me that there might be an issue with this elevated rain barrel.

Rain Barrels need to be restrained

Rain Barrels need to be restrained

This barrel, when full of water, weighs almost 500 lbs. Would a kid want to see if they could climb this structure to get to the deck? Of course they would. Or perhaps they would just climb on it to see how much water is in the barrel. Either way this barrel needs to be properly restrained to prevent it from tipping over.

Anyone that has raised 6 year old’s knows what it feels to be awakened from a nice nap as the 50 lbs of joy lands on you from a running start. Now while a 500 lb rain barrel has no razor sharp knees and elbows to hit inappropriate areas of one’s body–it can do even more damage.


By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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While it may look OK from the Brooklyn Bridge………..

painting-looks-good1One of the things a home inspector looks for when inspecting the outside of the home is the condition of the painted surfaces. While paint failure is a pretty easy thing to catch, there are are conditions that can be concealed by freshly painted surfaces and there is no way to really tell how “adequately” the house is painted.

Proper painting of the exterior should consist of at least two finish coats over a well primed surface. There are all kinds of short cuts that can be taken to make your house look well painted with the actual job being somewhat less than adequate. The inadequate painting job might not show up for several years—long after the painter is forgotten or no longer in business.

I worked as a painter for a while and did much of the painting on my own projects. The development of paint sprayers–especially airless type paint sprayers–was a huge improvement in being able to get a home painted quickly and theoretically adequately. But as is the case with so many tools–they can also be used to assist the user in taking shortcuts.

I want to continue this discussion with a simple question. You have just had your home painted and you are standing out at the curb writing a check to the painter and admiring his handiwork. How do you know how “well” it is painted?

If you go by looks alone you may be judging a book by its cover.

All paint has coverage specifications printed on the can. A really good quality exterior siding paint like Benjamin Moore will cover between 500 and 550 sq ft per gallon. Coverage will vary to some degree depending on surface porosity/roughness etc. But generally speaking if the exterior of your home is 2000 sq ft (wall surface area), you should have at least 8 empty cans when the job is done. Significantly less empty cans might mean only one coat was installed–or that at least the recommended coverage was not installed.

The problem arises when the installer sees the paint sprayer as being the “means of painting the house” as opposed to merely the “way to get the paint onto the house.” In other words the paint should be applied with the sprayer and then brushed out (or rolled out sometimes) to actually “adequately” complete the job of painting.

(While there are those that will argue that a house “can” be adequately painted with a spray approach alone, I will still argue that using a sprayer alone is VERY difficult and will almost always result in inadequate coverage. Just because many Professional painters paint this way does not make it the “best practice” in my opinion. Regardless of approach getting the desired results in the end is what should be the goal.)

In a recent new construction home I saw a great example of this short cut to proper painting. From the ground the paint job looked fine. But as I climbed the ladder to get to the roof I could see that this home was merely spray painted–not brushed out.

White primer showing where the paint did not cover

White primer showing where the paint did not cover

Any of you that have used a can of spray paint have noticed that the angle of the spray will only cover the areas in the path of the spray. Ridges and protrusions will remain unpainted in the areas hidden from the path of the spray. The whitish areas in these photos are the exposed primer–and not visible at all from the ground.

In this case it was the roughness of the wood siding surface itself that was out of the path of the spray.

Spray painted but not brushed out

Spray painted but not brushed out

Certainly this is proof of only one coat of paint and inadequate at that.

So how many empty cans of paint can we expect with this job? Not enough.

When you have your home painted always note how many gallons are specified in the contract, make sure that amount is enough to do your house twice, and make sure there are that many empty cans when the job is done. Also some painters like to “tint” the primer a color more like the finish color. This is OK but should never be used as a way to avoid that second coat of paint.

Then you can stand back at the curb–or the Brooklyn Bride–and admire how nice it looks.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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