What You Need to Know About Your (almost) New Home Before Signing
Inspection is the best way to detect structural or aging home problems before buying and, by extension, inspecting your home before buying it is not something you should take lightly. By being here, I’m sure that statement does not come at a shock to you. However, without having been through the process before, sometimes it’s not so obvious what to look for when first visiting your potential future residence.
Below, I’ll share some of the things that will be inspected during a professional home inspection, so that you can keep an eye out for any potential obstacles when you first visit the property. Though through our inspection services we serve Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland, these points of inspection apply to any structure.
Our goal is to educate you about the inspection process so that you can get the most out of the experience. Please do follow through with an ASHI certified inspection as this list does not cover the entire process of a professional inspection.
A professional inspection can help identify any potential problems and help you make an informed decision on potential next steps. While inspections cannot guarantee your safety, it can identify any potential risks to you and your family while living in the property.
The Loudoun County Home Inspection Checklist
The Home Envelope
The home envelope is, simply put, the exterior of a building. It encompasses the roof, walls, and floors which as one would guess, keep out the elements.
Simple roofs are boring but effective. Complicated rooflines evoke glorious grandeur, but they can be a bear to install, maintain, and repair.
If you are showing or looking at houses, look for narrow, vulnerable roof valleys and then study the interior walls beneath like they’re a Picasso. Any discoloration or staining could be sign of water damage behind the wall. Given that they are cheap, investing in a handheld moisture meter isn’t a bad idea either.
Now, roof valleys as a whole are not problematic. If well-engineered and well-installed, they can be an effective means of controlling water. However, when valleys are terminated against vertical walls, they can become vulnerable areas where rain, snow, and leaf debris can get trapped, holding moisture against the roof and walls.
If, perhaps, you have or ultimately purchase a home with a vulnerable valley, make sure that it stays clear of leaf and snow debris. Read the full blog entry on ‘The Vulnerable Valleys’ and roof inspection to dive into this topic.
Gutters, Downspouts, & Water Management
I can’t remember the last time I had an inspection where I didn’t talk to the buyer about managing water around the house. At least one or two buyers have probably secretly wondered why I get so fired up about gutters and downspouts.
The simple answer is that water is the most destructive element a house faces on a regular basis. I’ve seen houses where owners have spent thousands trying to waterproof a wet basement or crawlspace. Too often, the overlooked issue is the water settling next to the house.
If you’re a homebuyer or agent, look for the signs:
bricked up basement windows
water staining on the basement wall adjacent to the driveway
poor driveway grading
As you’re looking at houses pay close attention to how / if water is being routed and directed away from the building. Read more about this topic: 3 Sneaky Ways Water Gets Into Your Home And How To Identify It.
Walls, Windows, Doors
The roof and walls redirect outside winds, and if the windows are shut, wind should not be blowing inside. Still an air barrier is needed. In most homes, the insulation in the attic and elsewhere is usually fiberglass, mineral wool, cellulose, or sometimes a spray-in foam. Regardless of type, what these materials do is create small pockets of air that resist the transfer of temperature.
All insulation is measured in R-values. For example, the current standard for attic insulation across Virginia is R-38. Wall insulation ranges between R-19 and R-24.
Why should you need to know this piece of trivia? It provides context for the relative effectiveness of many common areas around homes that you may recognize as you tour a property.
Historic homes are especially subject to closer inspection. The rating for a single pane of glass is R-1! Combine that with air leaks around the glass and you’ll realize how irritatingly inefficient old windows are: They are perilously close to just being holes in the wall!
gaps between the doors and doorframe
ventilation in the attic
For more on all these things, see : How To Prevent Winter Heat Loss Through Windows and The Attic In Historic Homes
Inside the Home
Heating Cooling, & Appliances
Speaking of air flow- any appliance that has a flame, whether its fuel source is gas, propane, oil, or wood, needs air for combustion. The vents into the utility area in your basement might be a bit unsightly, but they’re not meant to be covered up with furniture or wall art. They serve an important function.
The utility rooms of condos and townhouses often have a small exterior vents for gas-fired appliances to breathe. More than a few times, I have found that homeowners have unwittingly blocked these vents not knowing what they were doing.
When you walk a property:
Identify which of the appliances need combustion / dilution air. The easy way to do this in utility rooms is to see what has a chimney: Furnaces, boilers, water heaters, and sometimes a stove – so, again, the ones with a flame.
Figure out where the air for these appliances comes. Is it just the room in which they are located? Are there vents, a shortened door, or an exterior vent brining additional air into the room?
For a more detailed discussion on combustion air, read about it on A Breath of Fresh Air: Appliances and Combustion Air.
Plumbing & Electrical
Firstly, it is important to understand that all the different regulations for residential structures: building code, electrical code, plumbing code, etc. are not set in stone.
Now, this does not mean that we are laissez-faire about safety. The gulf between a guardrail that is six inches too short and old wiring is vast.
Take the case of GFCI protection. Ground fault protected outlets (GFCIs or GFIs) are designed to prevent the flow of electricity into a grounded object outside the circuit. This makes them an improvement over conventional outlets in wet areas.
Do all of the outlets in and around your kitchen and bathroom have ground fault circuit protection (GFCIs)?
Are switches/outlets warm to the touch?
Are switches/outlets discolored?
Are switches/outlets making sounds, such as buzzing or crackling?
Flush toilets and run faucets. Check for smells and proper draining.
And lastly, from The Spruce, Check the “caulk seals. Although the caulk around tubs and showers is not actually “plumbing,” when caulking fails, it can allow water from a bathtub or shower to get behind walls and under floors”
It’s important to remember that a home inspector’s job is to assess the physical condition of a house and its operational systems. We don’t make anyone do anything. Good home inspectors give buyers the information they need to make well-informed decisions.
Our job is to assess the condition of a house at the time of a given inspection and, drawing on our experience and knowledge, provide you with the information you need to make the best decision for yourself.
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