Home inspection findings by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck, Professional Real Estate Inspector TREC# 9073

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A List of Common Home Maintenance Items

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During my home inspections, there are consistent findings which a homeowner could fix or at least have fixed, so here is a list to help you out.

I often deal with common home inspection findings and repairs. I was asked last night is there new issues that I am finding in foreclosures. The repairs in foreclosures may be amplified, since the homeowners frequently gave up on repairs, but most of these repairs are the same that we find in other homes. Following the home inspection report format, I thought that having a list of the easier to repair items, or at least ones that should be checked by a contractor would help owners, so here we go.

    Garden beds and the lawn are built up near the walls of the home. This leads to moisture problems as well as pest problems. Have six inches of foundation showing for brick and eight inches for boards.
   Gutters should be kept clean, and the downspouts should not be damaged. Most gutters with trees near the home have problems with cleaning. The downspouts are damaged by lawnmowers bumping into them. Downspouts should also move water away from the foundation, so a splashguard or tube is advisable. Many splashguards are turned the wrong way round. You do not want the lip to catch the water to make a pool.
   Even roof caulking has to be renewed. Nail heads should be caulked, because when they rust, the nails can be a source of moisture penetration. Plastic vents around plumbing vents break down around five years after installation, so they should be caulked when you see cracks. (I prefer lead flashing over plumbing vents).
   After a windstorm, check your roof for missing shingles. Cracked or missing rows of shingles will lead to moisture problems in the attic if left unrepaired. Some people seem to believe that the row of shingles visible under the missing shingle section will help prevent damage, but you have set up a situation were moisture has the chance to cause more damage.
    Trees and bushes should be pruned away from the home. Tree branches should be kept ten feet away from the roof. Bushes should be at least one foot away from the wall. Keeping the plants away from the wall allows air flow to dry out surfaces, while also preventing damage to those surfaces from branches blowing in the wind.
    If you store items in the attic, or you add insulation, you should check that the insulation may not be causing a problem. Insulation can block soffit vents, reducing your attic ventilation. Insulation can be pushed onto the metal flue of a chimney or onto the recessed light (which is the light in your ceiling below that has its housing in the attic). This can be a fire hazard, so insulation needs to be away from these surfaces. (Note: a recessed light housing that states that insulation can be placed on it is more energy efficient, since you can place insulation there, but most installed recessed lights do not have this rating in my experience).
   Attic doors should be considered to be exterior doors. Insulating them; having weather stripping on them; and having them close properly in their frame is important for energy efficiency. Also attic entries with a ladder should be attached in a way where weight on the ladder will not break the fastener. This means no screws.  Screws are great for pulling two pieces of wood together, but they are not designed to deal with a perpendicular force to their axis. A good sized nail is designed to deal with this force.
    I have seen the caulk at wall joints last for five years, but I have noticed problems after one year. Anywhere where you have two surfaces coming together, like two walls or a window and wall or a door and wall, will need to be sealed to prevent moisture from entering. I know some people do not think that this is much of a problem, but I have seen a good deal of damage from a small crack. Also sealing these spaces helps with creating a tight building seal, which is good for energy efficiency.
    On floors, the biggest finding is improperly installed floor covering causing a trip hazard. This is more common with carpets. A carpet needs to be pulled tight, so that it is stretched over the floor. A wave in the carpet can be a trip hazard. I have seen tile and wood flooring that is improperly installed as well, leaving an uneven surface that could trip a person.
    The number one problem with doors is lack of a doorstop. No doorstop means that walls can be damaged with a hole caused by a door knob. I have also seen door knobs become beaten up by being slammed into a wall. Less common is the surface of the door being damaged by it slamming into a wall, but this does happen.
    The number one problem with windows has to be the window screens. I realize that most of us do not open and close our windows on a regular basis anymore. We are too fond of air conditioning. Yet there are times when we need to have this ability. Window screens should be in place. They should fit into the frame, and there should be no tares in them, so you will not have insects entering the house when the window is open. Also, do not bolt the window screens into place. In case of a fire, you should be able to exit the house quickly. A bolted window screen makes the exit that much harder.
    Handrails on stairways should go for most of the length of the stairs, and they should be at a height where people of different sixes can easily hold onto the rail. What I notice is that due to the design, people like to remove part or all of the handrail, but this is a safety issue. Another thing about stairs is that they should be well lit; you want to be able to see objects left on the stairs to prevent trips.
    A fireplace should have a damper that can fully close. The damper is a shield that blocks off the flue from the firebox. When you light a fire, you want the damper to be open to allow the smoke to exit. When not in use, you want the damper to fully close to stop your conditioned air from exiting the home. (If you have a sealed fireplace, then this is not a concern, since the firebox is not open to the conditioned space).
    The most common problem with the chimney is the cap on the top. Cement caps break apart over time. Metal caps become dented. In both cases, rain water can collect at the top of the chimney. This leads to that water coming down into the attic and home.
    Renewing or placing weatherstripping is sometimes needed. Breaks or damage to this stripping can cause air leaks that reduces the efficiency of your air conditioning system.
Electrical System
    If you have overhead power lines to your home, then make sure that no tree limbs can knock them during high winds.  A branch can also fall on the line. In both scenarios, you will loose power if the line is separated from the main power lines or the home.
    A newer item for breaker panel boxes is the AFCI (arc fault circuit interrupter) breaker. These prevent wires from arcing to a piece of metal. If the metal heats up, you can have a fire, that is why you will want this type of breaker on your bedroom circuits. Older homes do not have them installed. I have found that on newer homes that these do not operate as intended when I test them (there is a test button on the breaker; push it and the breaker should trip off).
    You will be surprised at how many people do not change out lights. Sometimes not having a light can be a safety issue. I have been told by some people that they do not know how to change out a fluorescent tube light. You turn the light until the prongs align with the gap, then you can pull it out.
    Loose outlets are the bain of my existence. I am always finding them. If you are plugging and unplugging equipment into an outlet (think vacuum cleaner) on a regular basis, you could be loosening the screws that hold the outlet into place. When loose, you can face wiring problems. To tighten these screws, you have to remove the outlet cover, then you will see a screw above and below the plug on tabs. Tighten these down, then replace the cover.
    Check your smoke alarms. Many units need batteries to operate If they are not going off, or if you cannot near them, then they cannot help you during a fire. I also see people removing them, because they can go off form a kitchen disaster. You want a smoke alarm on each level of the house, and in each bedroom.
    Loose fans are also common. This is a bit harder than the plug, but the principal is the same. You have to remove the fan housing on top to find where it connects to the box in the ceiling. There are usually two screws there to tighten.
Air Conditioning
    The unit sitting outside of your home can be called the compressor or the condenser (it has both pieces of equipment in it). This needs to sit at least three inches above the ground surface. The fins surrounding the refrigerant pipe should not be damaged. If they are bent, the unit has to work harder to cool your home.
    The larger copper pipe going back into your home is the refrigerant pipe. This needs a good insulation which completely covers it. This means cracked, deteriorating insulation will not do, and gaps in coverage are also not acceptable. This pipe is carrying the cooled refrigerant back to your unit in the home, so a lack of insulation means the refrigerant can heat up, causing an energy efficiency issue.
    The biggest energy waster in the home is electric motors. If you are hearing anything unusual, like humming or clanging, the motor may have a problem, so you will want to call a qualified service technician to work on it.
    If you have a gas burner for your heating system, the flame should not have a lot of orange or red in it. The flame burns blue, and if you are seeing other colors, then something else is being burned, like dust particles. You should have the unit serviced.
    The primary drain line from the evaporator coil has to be insulated. The refrigerant line goes into a box called the evaporator coil. This has a drain pan underneath it. The primary drain comes out of this box. The secondary drain line comes out of the pan, and it lets it water out over a window or door. If you see water coming from the secondary you have a problem, call a technician. The primary will carry the cool water condensate that collects in the evaporator coil to either a drain or to the exterior. Since this line is cold, water can condensate on it if the line is exposed to the hot attic air. (Think cold beverage in a glass with water dripping down the sides.That water is the condensate from the air). This water then drips down to your ceiling, making you believe that there is a leak.
    Air filters should be changed out every month if you are using your air conditioning. If the filter is clogged with dust, the air conditioning unit has to work harder to pull air through the system, causing it to use more energy. Clean filters eliminate this problem. This is why I like the permanent, washable filters. They cost about as much as a year’s supply of disposable filters. These can break down, but I have used mine for four years now without problems.
    Ducts should be supported in the attic. If they lay on the insulation, it effects the performance of the insulation. They should be well insulated, which is hard to tell by looking at them, but check for tares or exposed insulation; this could mean a problem. Also they should be kept separate from one another or other objects. This has to do with the condensation problem possibly occurring here.
Plumbing System
    Dripping faucets or whistling faucets indicate an issue with the seal. If the seal breaks down further, you can have a leak. I say seal, but this could be a gasket or o-ring as well. It depends upon the valve design for your faucet.
    Constantly running toilets. This is due to the flapper valve at the base not seating properly over the opening. There could be different reasons for this, like the gasket failing or the flapper needing to be readjusted. Sometimes this can be do to thevalve that lets in water into the tank. A new set up for these internal parts does not cost too much (around $10), and can be a quick fix. If you are changing this out, I found that a dual flush upgrade is just as easy to install, and I have had fewer problems with my toilets since installing them (these cost closer to $25).
    Keep toilet bases, tub and shower tiles, and tub and shower bases caulked. This helps to keep leaks from spreading to other areas around the bathroom or walls.
    If you have a hydro-therapy tub (a whirlpool tub or jacuzzi tub are common names), you will want an access panel to the motor. If the motor breaks down, a service professional will have to be able to gain access. If you have tiled the front of the tub, he will have to remove the tile, making the job cost more.
    On the water heater, the TPR valve is a safety device that releases water when the unit is overheating, causing pressure to build up inside the tank. The valve should release its water, which is very hot in a safe location. The line for the TPR valve (which is located on the side or on the top of the tank; it has a little lever on it) should drain out by gravity. This means that the line should not go up. This line should be made from a material that can withstand the heat, such as CPVC or copper) but you do not want the material to burn the hand of someone who touches it (copper or other metal pipes should be insulated).
    Hot water pipes are more energy efficient if they are insulated.

    This is not a repair item, but something for people to be aware of: dishwashers are sometimes placed on a switch that is located on the same plate as the food disposer switch. If your dishwasher is not working, and you have a “light” switch that does not operate any light, check to see if you switch it on and the dishwasher then comes on. I place the location of this switch on my reports to help inform my clients. I have known home inspectors who did not know about this switch. It seems to be a practice in Texas, but it serves no purpose.
    Check the seals on doors for kitchen appliances. If they are wearing out, you could have leaks from the dishwasher, or lack energy efficiency from the oven.
    Filters for your range hood should be kept clean to prevent grease fires. I prefer range hoods to force the air out of the home. This rids the house of moisture from cooking, but many range hoods recirculate the air. This is not entirely a problem, but to control moisture from cooking, you should then open a window.
    Cooking ranges need an anti-tip device. This prevents the unit from tipping over if you place a heavy object, like a turkey, on the door. The anti-tip is a metal bar that either slips over the foot of the range, or it slips into a space on the back of the range. An cooking appliance should be securely mounted to prevent issues from occurring.
    This is not often recognized as a problem, but I do take issue with placement of the gas valve for the cooking equipment. If the valve cannot be accessed, because it is behind the unit in the wall (such as behind a wall oven) or if it is behind the range, you may have trouble reaching it during a fire in or on that equipment. You may want to consider having the gas valve moved to one of the cabinets to the side of the unit. In this way, you can shut off the gas without having to run outside or deal with a burning cooking range.
    Lint in the line for the clothes dryer vent. Your clothes dryer probably has a filter to catch lint. Hopefully your are cleaning it out, so that your clothes dryer works efficiently. If the filter is broken or missing the lint can go into the vent line. A build-up of lint can be a fire hazard. The lint should be cleaned out.

Lawn sprinklers should be checked every so often. The heads can be damaged by lawn mowers or yard work. Grass can grow over the sprinkler heads. The sprinkler system may need to be changed because of plant growth. 

In general, you want a well lit space around the various components around your home for service workers. About three feet wide will do with enough head height as well. This would be around the breaker box, the air conditioning components, or water heater (as examples).

This may not be the ultimate home repair list, but I think this is pretty close. These are the most common findings on a home inspection report that a homeowner can easily take care of by themselves. It may not be a bad idea to have a home warranty insurance to deal with many issues, but preventive medicine is better. See if this insurance will cover the yearly check-ups that some firms offer to look over your equipment. Hey, failing that, a home inspection can be a big help in determining the state of your home, he says with a smile.

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© Frank Schulte-Ladbeck Professional Home Inspector Houston, Texas
Frank Theodor Schulte-Ladbeck
home inspector, TREC# 9073
Houston , Texas , 77063 United States

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