A Babbling Brook and a Babbling Home Inspector

In a previous post I talked about an abused house with a couple of barely functional bathrooms. I said the story would continue regarding where the water from the bathrooms was actually going.

So here goes.

While the vast majority of the water was still going down the drains, some of the water was leaking into the crawl space due to the condition of the shower walls and leaking at other undetermined locations.

Water was clearly running into the crawl space and had been doing so for quite some time as evidenced in the following picture of the area immediately under the tub/shower.

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Here is the picture of that shower if you were fortunate enough to have forgotten it.

Shower in poor condition

Unfortunately this was but the tip of the iceberg regarding the water issues in the crawl space. There was considerable evidence that the crawl space had been flooding with at least 15 inches of water seasonally—and has likely been doing so for the last 50 years. The “quality” of the staining on the walls, the degree of rot in the majority of support posts, the fact that ALL of the form ties were completely rotted away, and the presently saturated ground condition throughout the crawl space—at the driest time of the year, were all testament to a very long standing water intrusion issue. Here is a picture of the obvious high-water line on the foundation and support post.

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The fact that the entire space was not infested with Anobiid Beetles was remarkable—but perhaps it was too wet for them. The wood frame of the access door was in fact riddled with Anobiid Beetles—with very recent kick-out of frass present.

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To complicate repairs to this situation is the presence of a very cute little brook (a listing perk no doubt) running across the back of the property—less than 30 feet from the house.

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This stream, as near as I could tell, appears to be higher than the floor of the crawl space, thereby eliminating any possibility of draining the space by gravity. A sump pump system will likely be necessary—and has been necessary for a very long time.

I think a logical question to ask is: why was anyone allowed to build a house with a crawl space on this site in the first place? Part of the answer is that when the home was built there were likely no regulations that would have prevented it.

….and now I am babbling—-just like the brook.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Obviousness—paying attention to the details!

crawlspace11If you want a very dark, Bukowskiesque and cynical look at modern day life, and perhaps reflect on ones own drinking habits, I highly recommend the movie Barfly. But be warned, this movie is not for the squeamish or easily offended. Even some of you that are NOT easily offended might find parts of this movie a little over the top. It is nonetheless very funny, sad, and poignant.

One of the great lessons to be learned from the movie, and there are many, is when Henry (Mickey Rourke) talks about how one of the things he can’t stand is “obviousness.”

The crawl spaces of homes can be dark places too. Only a very naive person would think these places would not fit well in a Bukowskiesque view of the world. Suiting up to do battle in a crawl space is a lot like climbing onto some tattered, booze and urine soaked bar stool–right along side all the creatures that have slid in off the city streets looking for solace and connection. Instead of the stench of centuries old booze, urine and body odor, we have oily rat pee, raccoon feces and the smell of raw sewage.

There really is no excuse for letting our crawl spaces become the places that inspectors hate. They get this way one day at a time. The same way a barfly becomes the fixture they do–one drink at a time–some by luck–some by mental defect. However explainable, there are no “good” excuses for how people’s lives end up in the Bukowskiesque bars all around America. If we paid attention to the details as we went along, perhaps we could avoid both the sad story of most crawl spaces and barflies. Certainly most children do not say that when they grow up they want to be a barfly. Well the same is true of any home–that crawl space “generally” starts out clean, rat free, and something someone was possibly even proud of.

So what happens along the way?

Whether it is in our lives or in our homes, it is because we don’t pay enough attention to the details.

If someone went down into the crawl space and checked on things at least once a year, and took care of issues as they cropped up, they would not turn into the monstrous places that they turn into so often.

But back to obviousness.

At a recent inspection, of what I consider a “new home”–only 5 years old–there should be no real issues to speak of. However this house was suffering from a very bad infestation of rodents that had been going on since day one. Hopefully this house was not inspected when purchased, as the number of locations where critters could get in should have been noted. However if the buyer waived an inspection because: “Who the hell needs an inspection–the house is new,” I think someone made a mistake in judgment, and did not pay enough attention to the details.

To not send someone down into the crawl space a year after purchase, prior to the end of their warranty period, was again not paying enough attention to the details–as significant costs could have been avoided by nipping the infestation in the bud. Five years later things were a real mess–all for NO REASON. Except not paying attention to the details.

How were the critters getting into the space? It was all too obvious–and now aren’t we all starting to hate “obviousness?” The two most important locations were the gravity drain and the main house sewer drain.

Gravity drains are installed by the builder during construction so that the foundation doesn’t fill up with rain water before the house is built. They can also be a place to drain water away after construction whether from water intrusion from the outside or from catastrophic plumbing leaks. This fix probably costs about $.75 to fix.

Intrusion at the plumbing waste drain was due to a missing cap on the test balloon port. All plumbing systems have to be tested for leaks. This test involves inserting a balloon device into the pipe through the test port and inflating it to seal the pipe. The entire piping system is then filled with water until it runs out the vent pipe above the roof. When done with the test, the balloon is removed and a proper cap is put in place. This cap may cost $3.29–if you were the plumber that installed the port, the cap probably came with the fitting.

Rodent intrusion into crawl space

So now, for want of $4.04 we are looking at several thousand dollars in repairs and crawl space cleaning.

Sooner or later someone has to pay attention to the details and someone has to pay.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Taking the flooding of a crawl space to a whole other level.

While it is never a good idea for home inspectors to “jump to conclusions,” our experiences can lead us to sometimes “predict” with reasonable accuracy what we might find.

For example if we find large areas of missing shingles on a roof it is not too much of a leap to suspect there might be some leaking and possible damage on the interior of the building–especially if there is evidence that the shingles have been missing for a long time.

Another example is when we are walking around the exterior of a home that we know has a crawl space but there are no crawl space vents showing.  Missing crawl space vents will (and should) set off alarm bells for most home inspectors in my neck of the woods.  It is possible that it is a type of crawl space that is constructed in such a way as to not require venting–but they are rare enough that an inspector’s alarm bells should be going off anyway.

I saw a crawl space the other day that should be setting off everyone’s alarm bells–inspector or not.

Easily Flooded Crawl Space

I do not need to go in this crawl space to know that at the very least it is going to be “interesting.”

Better check the tide tables.

 

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

 

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