Drive toward your home ... what do you notice before getting to your street?
- Cell towers?
- Power lines?
- Level of traffic?
- Gravel pits?
- Compost facilities?
- Hospital or fire station?
Any of these might have an impact on your home, such as with increased exposure to radiation, traffic or industrial fumes, noise or elevated levels of particulates.
Now, turn into your street.
What do you notice about the slope of the street? Is the street on a hill? How is the street positioned as to rain water flow and for drainage?
Look at the electric lines. Do they look like ordinary neighborhood lines, or are they bigger? Are they closer to your house or across the street? Are they elevated or buried? Are they in the front or backyard of the house?
Observe the plot of land the house sits on. What is the slope of the land? Is rainwater likely to puddle around areas of the foundation? Would rainwater flow down the driveway toward the house? Check the slope of a patio, because patios too often tilt toward the house. Is the house in sun? Does it have a lot of vegetation around it? Do you know the type of soil? Is it clay, with the potential for drainage issues? Is it sandy, which would have good drainage? Make inquiries about underground springs.
Now, look at the house.
From what you know from the above:
- Do you suspect the house has a dampness issue? Do you see signs of green algae on siding or roof discolorations? If you have binoculars, use them to look at the roof.
- Do you think we might find mold in the basement, crawlspace, or under exterior door sills?
- Check windows for cracked or missing caulking or signs of moisture intrusion.
- What kind of siding does the house have?
- If you have a newer house with stucco, you likely already know that some homeowners have had leak/mold issues with improperly done stucco. Newer stucco is known as EIFS, or Exterior Insulation and Finish System. Some inspectors are certified as stucco inspectors. (Search on stucco and lawsuits.)
- One client had an older, Cape Cod house sided with lower-grade, porous brick. During rains, water soaked into the brick. The sheathing (building envelope) was black with Stachybotrys mold. A waterproofer told me that he would throw water against brick. The water should pill and run off. If it didn’t, the brick needed to be sealed.
- Consider if there are any finished, below grade rooms, including a finished basement or a bi-level house, where part of the lower level is below grade. Concrete is not waterproof, and the risk for mold growth is elevated in finished, below-grade wall cavities, even when there is no visible water intrusion. When someone is house-hunting, my advice is "No finished below-grade spaces."
- Note where the electric meter is and where wiring from the street joins the house. What is on the other side of the wall from these installations? Those wall areas should be used for storage, TVs, etc., rather than for beds and chairs.
DURING AND AFTER HEAVY RAIN
Don your galoshes and grab an umbrella. Take a walk around the perimeter of your home.
Note how the gutters and downspouts are working. Is water being directed away from the house? You may need an additional gutter if a run is too long or downspout extenders. A general recommendation is that downspouts extend 10’ away from the foundation.
If water ponding anywhere? Do you need to address the slope of the land? There should be a 15-degree slope away from the foundation.
Don’t pile soil up to the siding, because you may provide a pathway for termites. You want to leave a clear area so that you can see the mud tubes built by termites to travel between the ground and the house.
This goes for inside crawlspace and basement walls, too. Don’t cover the top walls over with plastic, because you may not see mud tubes.
Sometimes a French drain needs to be put in around part or all of the foundation. Stop water intrusion from the outside; don’t recycle it from the basement.
Many waterproofers sell interior subterranean drainage systems, which are advised if there is a high water table and water is coming up through the slab, but which won’t stop water from entering through the foundation wall.
What if there is no land slope available for water to drain off? That can be a tough situation.
- I once inspected a rent-to-purchase house that was sitting in a pit at the bottom of several hills. Though the renters had installed new wood flooring, I said to them: "The first loss (the wood flooring) is your least loss. Be glad you don’t own this house. No house should have been built in this location."
- Speak with a few waterproofers to see if they have any ideas. Some may recommend adding absorbent clay or clay-like substance down by the footings. Pass on that, because the clay will get saturated and will be difficult to dig out again.
IS THERE AN ATTACHED GARAGE?
A New York Times article reported on a study showing about 85% of houses with attached garages had exhaust gases in their living areas. If you buy a house with an attached garage, take steps to minimize infiltration of car gases, as well as gases from a lawn mower, etc., into the house.
- Put good weather-stripping around the door between the garage and house:
- Seal up holes in the garage ceiling.
- Install an exhaust fan on a timer, to run 45 minutes or so after a car leaves or enters the garage.
FOR APARTMENT DWELLERS
- What is below or next to your apartment? A parking garage? An adjacent utility room or basement room with electric meters?
- Where is the laundry? Will you be bothered by laundry smells?
- If the apartment is on the top floor, what is the history of roof issues and leaks?
- Is a patio attached to the apartment? Is there a history of water infiltration into the apartment by the patio?
- Is the apartment in the basement? Elevated chances for water infiltration into wall cavities and possible radon?
GETTING STARTED SECTION
- Getting Started with Environmental Home Inspecting
- Pre-purchase considerations when when looking for a new home
- Outside Observations of your home (this page)
- Preliminary Walk-through of the home