Home and Property Owner Frequently Asked Questions

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Q: How can I know the condition of my roof?

A: A noticeably worn out roof is an easy call to make, but a roof that is only starting to age is a more subtle defect that a professional home inspector can uncover. Because the resurfacing of a roof can costs thousands of dollars, eliminating problems before they start is smart. For a potential home buyer, a roof needing to be resurfaced in the foreseeable future may be a negotiable item to a sales transaction.

Tar and gravel roofs, also known as built-up roofs, are among the most common of all roof types. They are installed on countless homes and on the majority of commercial buildings. The most frequent concern with built-up gravel roofing is the need for periodic maintenance to retain gravel coverage on all surfaces. Sun exposure to bare spots can lead to deterioration and shortened longevity of the roof membrane.

Another common roof problem is ponding -- standing water that results from inadequate pitch of the roof. This can be due to substandard framing at the time of construction or sagging of the roof structure. Ponding can also result from blocked roof drains; so it is important to keep the roof free of debris and foreign objects.

A detailed roof evaluation is a standard part of every competent home inspection. Home inspectors typically inspect a roof by walking on the surface, as this is the best way to observe and evaluate all pertinent conditions. There are some conditions that could keep an inspector off the roof (barring these circumstances, a competent inspector should include a walk on the roof):

  • bulletThe surface is too steep to provide safe footing
  • bulletThe surface is too high for access with a normal length ladder
  • bulletThe roofing is so deteriorated that foot traffic would cause further damage
  • bulletSurface conditions such as snow, ice, moisture, or moss make the roof too slippery
  • bulletThe roofing consists of tiles that might break under foot pressure
  • bulletThe sellers have ordered the inspector to stay off the roof

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Q: Should I get my fireplace inspected?

A: Both TPREIA and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommend a yearly, professional inspection to include the checking of chimney, flues and vents for leakage and blockage by creosote and debris. Leakage through cracks or holes could cause black stains in the outside of the chimney and flue. These stains mean that pollutants are leaking into the house. Most people are not aware that a fireplace inadequately maintained and vented can produce more carbon monoxide infiltration into the home's interior than several furnaces and water heater flue vents combined.

Several problems may occur at the chimney and firebox that the average homeowner is unaware, such as corroded or inoperable metal smoke damper, a damaged metal ash dump cover, eroded mortar joints at the rear and side interior hearth fire brick walls and base, inadequate hearth extension, improper clearance from combustible materials at the hearth opening or at the chimney within the attic space, a cracked flue liner or no flue liner at all especially at older chimneys, a damaged cement cap at the chimney top which can allow moisture intrusion into the chimney interior chase ultimately deteriorating the entire system. Also, there is the possibility that the ash dump pit is overfilled, the exterior clean-out cast iron cover is missing or below exterior grade or under the house within the foundation crawl space area (which is no longer an approved location as the spillage of hot ashes under a home presents a distinct fire hazard). The chimney top should be equipped with a weather capped spark arrestor to help prevent seasonal moisture intrusion into the chimney interior and the escape of hot embers when operating the fireplace. This is very important when the home has a wood shingle or shake roof covering.

Consider the following advice when looking to hire a fireplace specialist: check to see if the company or individual you call is a member of a state chimney guild or association; check with the local Better Business Bureau to see if there is a record of any complaints; and most important, do not allow the fireplace/chimney inspector perform corrective work for any defects that are reported (this is a conflict of interest). Get a written report from the inspection specialist, then hire and then hire a state licensed masonry contractor to do the actual repair work.

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Q: What’s the best way to “winterize” my home?

A: The most destructive element to a home’s structural health is moisture infiltration through openings in the building envelope. Water is insidious in its efforts to find even the smallest crack and attack any and all cellulose materials, which includes the both exterior and interior coverings including the structural framing members — often resulting in “dry rot” (a misleading term because continual moisture contact with wood usually results in “wet rot” which is the breakdown of cellulose materials).

Another area of concern when dealing with moisture infiltration is pest infestation — the invasion of wood destroying insects, carpenter ants and wood eating beetles that thrive on cellulose materials. And of course, moisture problems can also lead to mold.

If your home has inadequate grade slope away from the perimeter foundation, there may be the possibility of water intrusion into the foundation’s crawl space area, which can be compounded if the home contains below grade rooms and storage areas.

The most common means of moisture intrusion noted by home inspectors in Texas are through the following avenues: gaining entry below the structure; worn roof coverings; deteriorated roof vent flashing serving both plumbing fixtures and mechanical equipment; improperly installed or worn chimney flashing; and doors and windows that have not been properly weather sealed.

Below is a simple list of maintenance tasks for the homeowner to perform to help prevent moisture infiltration both into and below their homes:

  • bulletClean all rain gutters, including downspouts, and make sure all gutter joints are properly sealed.
  • bulletInsure that rain gutter downspouts are directed away from the perimeter foundation. This may take adding some corrugated plastic extension piping you can purchase at your local home store.
  • bulletCheck to see there are no low areas around the home’s perimeter foundation where water can collect after a rainstorm. Standing water will eventually work its way beneath the home and can lead to building settlement and foundation support failure.
  • bulletCarefully check all of your exterior doors and windows and adjacent trim to see if they need any application of exterior type epoxy or sealants.
  • bulletImmediately after the first heavy rain, check under your house to confirm that the ground is reasonably dry.
  • bulletIf you think the surface grade around the perimeter foundation is a source for concern and more than you can fix with a garden shovel, consult a state licensed drainage contractor for their recommendations – they will provide a cost estimate for corrective work which may include the installation of an underground drainage system.

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Q: What is “toxic mold”?

A: While the existence of toxic molds in the environment has been documented for centuries, due to modern construction practices, poor quality control and a lack of proper maintenance, they are now linked to illnesses and other medical disorders that are affecting the lives of families across the continent. Most of the attention regarding toxic molds has been focused on the compromised health and shattered lives of the home’s occupants along with the inevitable litigation that follows. What has been missing throughout all this firestorm of media activity is discussion regarding the conditions contributing to toxic mold manifestation.

There are many factors leading to fungal development within a structure. The primary cause is water intrusion; a fungal contamination requires several conditions in order to survive and grow. There must be a moisture source, limited ventilation and a food source that is commonly any cellulose substrate on which the fungal contamination can grow on and become a colony. The typical gestation period for a mold colony is only 12 to 48 hours from the onset of spore exposure to the cellulose substrate.

When dealing with a possible toxic mold contamination inside a structure, the first course of action is to locate the moisture source and remediate it. There are several common areas of moisture intrusion to consider, such as;

  • bulletRoof leaks
  • bulletPlumbing leaks
  • bulletPoorly maintained heating and cooling systems
  • bulletWindow and door leaks
  • bulletImproperly adjusted landscape sprinklers as well as many other possible sources

Homes should be thoroughly reviewed, including an inspection of the roofing materials and penetrations, such as heating and plumbing vents. Other common leakage areas, such as chimney and/or skylight flashings should also be examined. Exterior wall penetrations, such as windows and door openings, electrical fixtures and receptacle boxes, should be examined for signs of water intrusion as well. Additionally, the plumbing system, including pipes in crawl spaces and attics should be thoroughly reviewed for signs of leakage. All heating and cooling equipment should be operated and inspected for signs of moisture intrusion, and or creation. Harper explained that residential air conditioning systems can produce two to three quarts of water per day when operated for extended periods of time. “If the air conditioning condensation line is not properly routed, you could put a bathtub full of water into the walls before you noticed it,” explained Harper.

Due to the complexities surrounding moisture intrusion sources, TPREIA recommends consumers not attempt these investigations on their own, but rather hire a professional home inspector that is trained and equipped to perform such work. A qualified TPREIA inspector is trained to identify conditions leading to and causing moisture intrusion. TPREIA qualified inspectors are equipped to access roofing materials, attics, and crawl spaces. Although specific identification of fungal contamination is beyond the scope of a typical home inspection, some TPREIA inspector members have received additional education and training in this discipline and offer this and other ancillary environmental services in addition to their usual inspection services.

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Q: What is proper drainage for my home?

A: It’s an old industry adage that warns: “A lot of water in short period of time can cause major damage and a little water over a long period of time can cause major damage.” TPREIA warns that amateur solutions to complex drainage problems often result in poor guesswork with no assurance that the money and effort invested will produce desired results. Causes and cures for excessive ground water conditions can be perplexing, even challenging the most knowledgeable of drainage professionals. Failure to properly diagnose and address such conditions can have significant long-term effects on the integrity of a home, including possible jeopardy to the foundation itself.

A nonprofessional’s recommendation, such as boring a drain hole in a foundation wall, may appear to resolve the problem but is actually little more than an uneducated guess. The problem with this approach is its reliance on the following poor assumptions that by simply draining a bore hole in the foundation: 1) all ground water in the sub-area will flow to that opening and that there are no other low areas where standing water could remain beneath the building; 2) the water flow beneath the building has not caused soil erosion at the piers and foundations (ongoing erosion could lead to eventual undermining of the structure) — it is important to prevent further water 3) there has been no moisture condensation on the wood framing. Condensation is a common cause of fungus and dry rot and can also lead to rust damage of structural hardware. If water damage is occurring, increased ventilation could be essential, and the addition of a plastic ground membrane may be an important consideration.

The Texas Professional Real Estate Inspection Association (TPREIA) recommends that you have your home’s foundation and drainage issues looked at by a qualified home inspection professional. After a careful professional inspection, your home inspector may recommend further evaluation by a qualified drainage specialist, such as a licensed geotechnical engineer to determine the source of water entry. A drainage system should then be installed to prevent further intrusion of ground water. Improvements could include installing a french drain near the building, adding gutters to the roof, regarding the ground surfaces around or below the building, installing a water pump beneath the structure, and possibly more. Only a drainage specialist is qualified to determine which methods of correction are appropriate.

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