Home and Property Owner Frequently Asked Questions

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Q: What do I need to know before I start construction on my brand new dream house?

A: Homebuyers building their new dream house have many important decisions and considerations. Below are some of the most significant:

Soil Conditions: Soil stability is one of the most important considerations for your new home. Soil conditions play a vital role in the structural integrity of your future home and can even determine whether a building permit will be issued for the project. To ensure that all is acceptable in this regard, have the property evaluated by a qualified geotechnical engineer. In addition to site stability, a qualified engineer can detect conditions affecting ground water, drainage and can assist in determine the most advantageous building location on the property.

Utilities: Be sure your have made arrangements for the utilities. Some utilities, such as electric power lines should be provided by the utility company, while other basics, such as well water and septic systems may need to be arranged by the buyer in some new construction sites. If a well is needed, you should consult with local property owners who have existing wells and with professional well drillers who work the area. In this way, you can determine the likelihood of finding water, the likely depth of the water table beneath the property, and the general water quality to be expected. With regard to the septic system, the seller of the property may be able to provide you with a perc test, to determine the ability of the soil to absorb wastewater. On properties where percolation is limited, expensive septic systems may be needed.

Building Contractor: Another concern is the availability of qualified building contractors when you need one, especially when the construction business is booming. At such times, people often make the mistake of hiring just anyone, sacrificing quality for the sake of a construction deadline. Avoid this error by setting quality concerns before time constraints. Make sure you find a highly reputed contractor, and then schedule your project according to his or her availability.

State of Texas Licensed Professional Inspection. Finally, be sure to hire a Texas Licensed Professional Inspector for a final review of the project. No matter how good a job your builder does, a competent home inspector may find defective conditions that managed to slip through the cracks of the construction and municipal inspection processes. A detailed inspection report can provide a pick-up list for the contractor, before you occupy your new home.

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Q: What are the most common defects found by home inspectors?

A: When hiring a home inspector, many typically believe that stability of the foundation is the main focus of the inspection when, in reality, serious foundation problems are among the some of least common building defects. Below are the “top ten “ most common defects found in residential real estate?

bulletRoofing defects: Problems with roofing material, due to aging, wear, or improper installation, are likely to be found in the majority of homes. This does not mean that most roofs require replacement, but rather that most could use some type of maintenance or repair.

  • bulletCeiling stains, indicating past or current roof leaks: Unfortunately, you often can't tell if the roof still leaks unless you inspect on a rainy day. Some stains are merely the residual effects of roof problems that have been repaired, while others may be related to leaky plumbing.
  • bulletWater intrusion into house or crawlspaces due to ground water conditions: Faulty drainage can be pervasive, difficult to resolve, and sometimes very damaging to buildings. Correction can be as simple as re- grading the exterior grounds or adding roof gutters. Unfortunately, major drainage improvements are often warranted, requiring costly ground water systems such as french drains designed by geotechnical engineers.
  • bulletElectrical safety hazards, especially (but not always) in older homes: Examples are ungrounded outlets, lack of ground fault interrupters (shock protection devices), faulty wiring conditions in electrical panels or elsewhere in a building, etc. Such problems may result from errors at the time of construction but often are due to wiring that was added or altered by persons other than qualified electricians.
  • bulletRotted wood at building exteriors and at various plumbing fixtures: In areas where wood remains wet for long periods, e.g. roof eaves, exterior trim, decks, around tubs and showers, or below loose toilets, fungus infection is likely to attack, resulting in a condition commonly known as dry rot. If left unchecked, damage can be quite extensive.
  • bulletBuilding violations where additions and alterations were constructed without permits: Homeowners will often tell a home inspector, "We added the garage without a permit, but it was all done to code." This is a red flag to most inspectors, because no one could possibly know the entire building code, let alone the average person without construction knowledge. Whenever an owner offers code assurance, problems are likely to be found.
  • bulletUnsafe fireplace and chimney conditions: Problems with wood burning fixtures can range from lack of maintenance to faulty installation. Most common are missing spark arrestors and faulty placement of freestanding fireplaces. Wood-burning stoves are typically installed by homeowners and handymen, persons without adequate knowledge of fire safety requirements. Common violations involve insufficient clearance between hot metal surfaces and combustible materials within the building. Fire hazards of this kind are often concealed in attics, where they remain undiscovered until a roof fire occurs.
  • bulletFaulty installation of water heaters: In most localities, less than 5% of all water heaters are installed in full compliance with plumbing code requirements. Common violations include inadequate strapping, improperly installed overflow piping, unsafe flue conditions, or faulty gas piping. What's more, today's water heaters are designed to have shorter longevity than in times of yore. Leaks can develop in units that are only five years old.
  • bulletHazardous conditions involving gas heaters: Most gas-fueled heaters are in need of some maintenance, if only the changing of an air filter or a long-overdue review by the gas company. In some cases, however, gas heaters contain life-threatening defects that can remain undiscovered until too late. These can range from fire safety violations to the venting of carbon monoxide into the building. A cracked firebox, for example, can remain undiscovered unless found by an expert or until tragic consequences occur.
bulletFirewall violations in garages: Special fire-resistive construction is required for walls and doors that separate a garage from a dwelling. Violations are common, due to faulty construction, damage or alterations to the garage interior, or changes in code requirements since the home was built. In older homes, where firewalls are not installed, sellers and agents will often suggest that the building predates the code. However, the fire separation requirement for residential garages dates back to 1927.

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Q: How can I make sure my chimney and fireplaces are in safe working order?

A: Make certain if there is a gas connection, that the gas valve shuts off completely. If you have gas logs, ensure that a damper clamp is installed. This allows potential gas leaks to rise to the outside. Check to see if the bricks are loose inside the firebox or if the mortar has loose or missing sections. If these conditions exist you should call a chimney professional for corrective actions.

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Q: Is my furnace hazardous?

A:This check should be performed by a licensed HVAC contractor annually.

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Q:Are there any precautions that can be taken to better ensure my family and home’s protection against water intrusion?

A:Check for high soil levels around the foundation area. A minimum of 4-inches foundation exposure is required under current building codes. The grading around the home should slope a minimum of 6-inches in the first 10-feet from the house.

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