The Return of the Rains

The return of the winter rains have occurred in Salem, Oregon.    Although our wonderful indian summer was enjoyable, it prolonged my inability to find leaks effectively.

Now that a sufficient soaking rain has occurred I can once again find leaks that are not readily visible.

Check out this skylight I inspected recently:

Visual inspection of a leaking skylight on a Salem Oregon Home inspection

Looks good right?









The visible surface of the drywall appeared to be just fine with no stains or bubbles or any tell tale signs of problems.  Thank goodness I have a highly advanced thermal camera:

Thermal image showing skylight roof leakage on a Salem Oregon home Inspection

Those blue areas are current moisture










I am sad to see the sunshine go away but my effectiveness as a home inspector just went up a few notches!

Back Draft Call Back

Gas water heaters use a special flue connection, called a draft hood, that allows indoor or surrounding air to induce a draft up the flue increasing speed and efficiency of the exhaust of the combustion gasses.

That is the theory anyway.

Melted collars on a Salem Home inspection

The plastic collars were melted due to back drafting

If the flue is installed properly it should draft properly but there can be problems that can be hidden that can cause problems with proper draw.

When the draft hood does not function properly you get what is called backdrafting.  This is where combustion air would rather spill back into the home or garage instead of getting effectively sucked up the chimney.  This is potentially dangerous because sometimes gas appliances do not burn as clean as they should and monoxide is a by-product of improper combustion.

On a recent home inspection I noted issues with draft on the water heater.  The combustion air was spilling into the home.  So much so the plastic trim on the water pipes were melted!   I suggested that this was potentially dangerous and a licensed professional plumbing/heating and air contractor repair as necessary.

Several weeks later I was asked by my client to re-inspect the work that was done.  Everything looked great until I got to the water heater draft hood.   No change to the back drafting condition could be noted.

Testing Back draft on a home inspection in Salem Oregon

Fogged mirror indicates back drafting.

One of the problems with repairs done by the seller is that they usually want to meet the agreed upon conditions for the least amount of money as possible!

A week later I was called back to inspect the back draft once again.  This time I met the heating and air contractor who was involved in the repair.  He told me how he began to fix sections of the flue and he kept discovering problems.  He ended up replacing the entire flue all to way up to the roof line due to the deteriorated, unlined masonry chimney that was at the root of all of the issues.

Multi-Layer Roofs

Multi- Layer roofs are roofs that have had an additional layer of roofing added over the top of a layer that has reached the end of its useful life.

Multi-layer roofs are the goto solution for house “flippers” and people that need a new roof surface but would like to do it as inexpensively as possible.

Salem, Oregon home inspection showing a multi layer roof

The edge of the roof is the best location to determine if you have a multi-layer roof.

There are some benefits and some problems with this situation:
The main upside to going over the top of an existing layer of shingles is cost. The labor that it takes to remove the old roof and the dump costs can be directly subtracted from the cost of the new roof. In general this savings equals around 10 to 20 percent of the cost of the new roof. If you are planing to move in the near future this saving may seem like a good deal.

Now lets look at the downsides. Wear and tear: Multi layer roofs are usually not warranted by the shingle manufactures and they will not last as long. How much shorter the new shingle’s life will be depends on many variables but two thirds to three quarters the life is a safe bet. Also multi-layer roofs will have more issues with nail pops, or fasteners that poke through the surface of the new shingles. This condition is due to the fasteners not being long enough to penetrate through the old shingles and in to the wood sheathing properly.

As a local Salem, Oregon home inspector I see these type roofs often and it is important my client understands what a multi-layer roof actually means. Most shingles are at least 20 year products (if they are installed correctly!) so even on a multi-layer roof you should have at least 12-15 years of relatively trouble free roofing.

Thermal imaging/Infrared helps to find Siding Leakage

Siding systems are continually evolving, changing and sometimes improving as new materials are developed and new understandings in building envelopes are improved.

We are always looking for the sidings that need less maintenance, are inexpensive and, are easy to install with very little instruction. Those three attributes fuel the evolution of sidings and over the years some have been great and some have not been so good. In the last 20 years there has been a siding that has worked well in other parts of the country but has failed so consistently in the northwest it has actually been banned in Oregon! This wonderful siding is very adept at allowing water into the wall cavity while appearing visually good.

Synthetic stucco, Exterior Insulating Finishing Systems (EIFS), or even by the brand name “Dry-vit.”

Like most siding systems the problems arise with poor installation. Lack of proper installation training appears to be at the heart of the problems with EIFS. If EIFS is installed precisely and maintained aggressively, it can shed water properly.

Perfect installation is very rare. So rare, that I have only seen one home that had a proper EIFS installation and the home had just undergone a $100,000+ insurance claim siding remodel that involved forensic siding specialists!

If you are going to buy a home that is covered in EIFS you should plan on having an inspection that will include invasive probing. The foam boards that make up the substrate can be a very clever thermal barrier…

EIFS is still allowed on commercial buildings and on a recent inspection in Salem, my clients did not negotiate for invasive probing and thankfully the pictures that the thermal camera captured made the total replacement of the siding a compelling option:

Infrared finds leakage in Stucco
Leakage in Siding noted with Infrared/ thermal imaging
Visual view of the EFIS stucco siding      The blue is the moisture that can be located with infrared/thermal imaging
Blue = leakage noted with Infrared/ thermal Imaging
More Infrared located leakage

Window Cleaning

A majority of my job includes highlighting or making people aware of things in their home that they never think about.  Items in everyones’ homes that need attention but are out of the way, out of sight and seldom considered during our daily lives.  One component in particular seldom gets looked at directly but it is in our direct line of sight daily.  Not only are these components in our line of sight, we look through them all the time.  When is the last time you actually looked at your windows?

Most windows these days are vinyl and very low maintenance.  Notice I said “low,” and not “NO,” maintenance!  In the Salem, Oregon area our windows on the south sides tend to do quite a bit of water shedding.  All of this moisture can cause things to grow in the inner workings of the vinyl channels.  On the other sides of our homes the glass and vinyl gets dirty and does not get washed with rain and will need to be cleaned periodically.

What is the proper way to clean these windows?  Here is what I do:

Materials:  I tend to keep things pretty simple as far a chemicals.  Most of the “work” with window clean is unfortunantly good old elbow grease.

1.Toothbrush-  I like the cheap motorized brushes.  The twisting bristles can get in to some tight areas!

2. Vaccuum- To get the bulk of the loose dust, bugs, etc….

3. Vineagar and Water solution-   This is a pretty standard cleaning solution.

4. Funiture polish-  This will be for the final lubrication on the rollers and the vinyl-to-vinyl surfaces.

-Now for the work!

Have you ever heard someone say that, “..they don’t do windows,”?   There is a good reason for that cliche.  Cleaning a window properly is a lot of work!

I have two styles of windos in my home and I will deal with how to take them apart separatly.

I will tackel the sliding style first:

The first thing you need to do is remove the movable section.

-For sliding windows the movable section should be slid to the center and lifted up.  There should be enough clearance to tilt the bottom of the window out of the track and pull the section out.

Sliding window sash removed

Once the sash or moveable section is removed you get a good look at the bottom roller track:Dirty window track, soon to be cleaned

To properly clean this section you must remove the track.  Sometimes a screwdriver is needed to pop the track up.  Here is what the track looks like when it comes out:

Removal of a sliding window bottom track

Things are pretty simple with sliding sashes.  The only mechanical parts are the rollers and ususally the crud is collected at the bottom of the track and not where the rollers are functioning.

Roller on my Salem Oregon vinyl window

With the sash removed, wipe out the window. Then reinstall the track and sash.   Lubricate the vinyl surfaces with funiture polish and you are done!











Next is the single hung window:

You must first find the spring retention clip.

Sash spring retention clip

These are little clips on the upper tracks that ‘grab’ onto the springs on the movable sash.  When the springs are retained the window can be opened a little more and slid to the side.  This slight amount of tucking to the side in the track will allow the opposite side of the window to clear and tip out of the track. With that opposite side out of track clear you can now slide the window toward that side and remove the sash from the track.

With the sash out it is time to clean.

Dirty window sash BeforeAfter

I use my daughter’s old motorized tooth brush.  It does a  great job of cleaning out the inside corners!











The last thing to do once all of the parts are cleaned up is to lubricate the vinyl-to-vinyl surfaces.

Vinyl window lube











Like most things, cleaning a window properly is not that hard, the tricky part is actually getting started!

Clean windows will last longer, be better functioning and will just be nicer to look out.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me!

Grounded outlets, GFCI’s, seatbelts and airbags

It is very common for me to inspect homes that are older than 1960’s that have three prong outlets that are not grounded.

Originally these outlets would have been a two prong, with one side acting as the “hot” and the other side acting as the “neutral.”  The hot is, for the purposes of my discussion, the supply of power and the neutral is the return.  When well meaning home owners try to “improve” their original two-prong outlets with three-prong outlets they very rarely think about the third prong and what its purpose might be and the fact that there is no wire for the third hole in the outlet.

Often, when I start to describe what is going on, my client’s thoughts jump their electrical devices not functioning properly.  Proper function of electrical devices is not really what we are dealing with when a ground wire is missing.  The ground wire is merely a backup for the neutral/return, and its purpose is to protect the occupant (you) from shock/electrocution and has very little to do with proper function.  

There is a slight caveat when referring grounds, computers and some newer televisions.  Surge protectors take excess electricity and dump it into the ground leg.  If no ground is present the surge protector will not function.  I have also heard that some newer televisions will not function at all without a ground.  This is a liability protection for the TV manufacturer that is built into some newer

To put this in a more understandable analogy I compare this situation to a car.   Ground wires are kind of like a seat belts.  They protect the person from injury and older homes (just like vehicles and seat belts) didn’t have them.  Grounds/seatbelts really don’t effect the way the car drives/electrical device operates.  They are merely a safety device that will protect you from injury.  Grounds are not required on a 1950’s or older home, just like seat belts aren’t required on that age car.  Vintage two prong plugs are relatively safe because it is obvious that there is not a ground and you cannot plug in a device that wants the ground prong.

The three prong adapter is screwed into a box that is not grounded.  This is not a safe ground

Three prong adaptors are devices that allow you to plug a three prong plug into a two prong outlet. When three prong adaptors are used it is VERY important that the electrical box is grounded.  You might be wondering what in the world is a grounded box?   In the early to mid 60’s the nonmetallic wiring changed from a strickly two wire (one hot, one neutral) to a three wire (one hot, one neutral and a newly added ground).  The wiring changed but many of the plugs (two prong) did not change.  The only way to verify if the box is grounded is with a tester.  Plug one side into the hot and touch the other to the screw in the center of the outet.  If the outlet is grounded there will be a completed circuit and the light will glow.  This type of grounded box is the ONLY time that the three prong adaptors should be used on a two prong plug! 


 Now lets say the home we have interest in was pre 60’s and none of the outlets are grounded, what do you do now?   Always, always, always talk to a licensed professional electrician.  The conditions I describe are totally gerneralities and your specific sitiuation may have special circuistances that make these general recommendations less than ideal or even DANGEROUS!  Now with that disclaimer out of the way……..        

Grounds are especially important around water sources.   Kitchens, bathrooms, garage and exterior plugs should all be grounded at the least.  These areas are the places that you are most likely to become a great source for electricty to try to jump to ground through you.

  • The ideal way to ensure these shock/electricution prone areas are protected are by running a new, properly wired circuit from the panel to the plug.
  • Boot-legging a ground may be an option but TALK TO YOUR ELECTRICIAN FIRST!!  Boot-legging a ground is where you run a single conductor (wire) from the outlet to a bond (clamp) on a cold water pipe.  Boot-legging is not ideal and you may not be able to find a licnesed professional electrician that will help you out with this (that should tell you something!)
  • The installation of GFCI’s on the ungrounded circuits.  This is kind of like installing an airbag in a car with no seat belt.  It is safer than no seat belt, no airbag but it is not as safe as a properly installed seat belt and airbag.  The installation of GFCI’s on ungrounded circuits will not provide an equipment ground and should be labeled as such.  This means that surge protectors will not protect equipment from surge and your surge protectors are usefull only as paper weights.

I have used this analogy for a few years and it seems to hold up pretty well when describing this electrical theroy.  If you have any questions on how the electricity working in your home please contact your local electrician or of course your favorite home inspector!

What do I do If there may be an Underground Oil Tank for my home in Salem Oregon

Jim Allhiser President
OCHI# 916 CCB# 179533

Oil tanks were very common between the 1920s and 1960s for the relatively cheap heating oil for the oil furnace and for a while it was thought that sticking those tanks in the ground would be a great idea. If the home has exchanged hands a few times a hidden underground tank may be easily forgotten. The presence of a hidden underground oil tank is an issue that can rear its ugly head during a real estate transaction/home inspectionevery now and then. There are some things that you should know to help protect your client and yourself. A licensed professional tank locating service is the best way to ensure that no problem tanks exist under the surface however there are a few things that buyers, agents and home inspectors can look for that can be flags that indicate the need for further evaluation. Fill, or Vent Pipes or the tank itself: The tank is pretty self explanatory but the fill and vent pipes are usually a little more concealed and you must know what to look for. The fill lines will usually be a 2 or 3 inch pipe sticking up from the soil or out the side of the home. The vent lines will be smaller 1 inch pipeswith special vent caps like these photos.  These tubes are not terribly reliable because they are easy to cut off andcover up.Supply lines: Short of a metal detector and probes (professional tank finder tools) the supply lines are the best indicators of underground tanks. Supply pipes will be small(1/4″) copper lines. These lines, or the reminents of the lines will be located in the basement/garage, near the furance (or where the furnace once waslocated) or in the crawlspace. In general two lines indicate underground tanks. One is for the supply and the other is for the unburnt oil to return to the tank that is lower than the furnace. If only one line is present it may be an indication for an above ground tank. Unfortunantly these are general rules and underground tanks could have still used one line. The two lines to the left could be noted in the crawlspace. The crawlspace is the place where things are least likley to be “covered up.” The clipped lines to the left were noted in a home that had an oil tank that had been properly remidiated. Unfortunantly these lines were going to a completely different tank in on the oposite side of the home! If any of the above conditions can be noted it is time to do some more investigation. The internet and the DEQ is the first place tocheck.

  1. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) here in Oregon, has a program to help keep track of those oil tanks that have leaked. The site is: is a trick to using the search engine: You must just enter the address number only!!If you enter the street name it will not work.If excavation or redevelopment is planned you can find information on known and suspected Leaking Heating Oil Tanks (HOT) and if the site has received a closure letter for the decommissioning, assessment or certification of the HOT.If a HOT is present there may be contamination of the surrounding area and a cleanup may be required. Decommissioning, assessment, and cleanup must be performed by a DEQ licensed HOT Service Provider. For you agents, check out this publication: What agents should know about underground oil tanks. I posted this information a few months back and last week I found two little copper lines in the crawlspace under a home in Silverton. These lines are a great indicator of underground storage tanks so I raised a bright orange flag and alerted my client. The home had been owned by 4 different people in the last 20 years and the current owner had the home for the last 6 months. There was very little chance the current owner had a clue about oil tanks and whether proper decommissioning had occurred. I tried the search myself and by entering the address numbers but not the street name found documentation that the tank had leaked and had been removed and cleaned up in 2003! That is info that can now be linked to the home no matter who owns it.

If documentation of the tank cannot be located online the next step is to call the DEQ. The database is for only tanks that have leaked and if the tank was above ground or removed with no evidence of leakage it will not be in that database. The DEQ has records of tanks that have been decommissioned but it is not online. I have made a contact with:

Ingrid Gaffney

with DEQ HOT

503-229-6170   and found her to be very helpful!

If the above steps are taken and proper documentation cannot be located it is time to call a professional oil tank location/removal/remediation company.     I recommend two in the Salem area:

  1. Enviro-Probe

    (503) 304-9653   Karl VanZandt

  1. Xavier Environmental

                                                     (503) 236-3796 office

These are the proper steps to take if an underground tank is suspected. The responsibility of proper remediation fall on the current owner and the cleanup of leaking underground tanks can easily exceed $10,000. Pay attention and don’t be surprised with that expense. I welcome calls or emails if additional information is desired.

Jim Allhiser President





Blog: OCHI# 916 CCB# 179533

How can I Buy Agent Referrals? Or Why I don’t give out Chocolates and Pens.

A few years ago the Construction Contractor’s Board did some revising to one section of their “Standards of Practice for Home Inspections.”  The section referred to gifts or rewards for the purposes of referrals.  It was always a little ambiguous and in order to clear up some confusion they posted 4 pages worth of, “what the rule really means.”

If you would like to read the post in its entirety it is here:

Here are the highlights as I see it:

2. May a home inspector advertise on a website

containing listings for homes for sale? In general, the

answer is yes. However, if the website is maintained by a

real estate agent and the home inspector buys the

advertisement to induce the real estate agent to refer

business to the home inspector, the practice is prohibited.

3. May a home inspector advertise on a real estate agent’s

website if the home inspector did not pay for the

advertisement? Yes, so long as the home inspector did not

pay the real estate agent nor give the real estate agent

anything of value.

10. May a home inspector share the cost of joint

advertising with a real estate agent? No. The real estate

agent would receive the benefit of the reduced cost of

advertising. Joint advertising likely implies a recommendation

of the home inspector by the real estate agent.

11. May a home inspector hand out to the general public

pens, notepads, magnets, coffee mugs, calendars,

candies or similar items with the home inspector’s

name? Yes. The rules do not prohibit home inspectors from

providing items of nominal or actual value to the general

public or to potential or actual customers.

12. May a home inspector deliver to a realty agent pens,

notepads, magnets, coffee mugs, calendars, candies or

similar items with the home inspector’s name? No.

Since the items are likely to be used or consumed by the

realty agent, the implicit purpose is to encourage a referral.

The conduct is prohibited. It does not matter that the items

may have only a nominal or small value. The rule does not

distinguish on the basis of the value of the items.

20. May a home inspector with a booth at a realty agent

trade show offer a (relatively modest) door prize torealty agents?

No. Since the door prize is intended for

realty agents, to obtain business referrals, the conduct is


21. May a home inspector with a booth at a realty agent

trade show offer chocolate candies to the realty

agents? No. Since the chocolate candies are intended for

realty agents, to obtain business referrals, the conduct is

prohibited. The new rule does not distinguish on the basis of

the value of the item provided.

22. May a home inspection company that operates on a

national or regional basis hold a contest or drawing,

open both to the general public and to realty agents,

and give out randomly won prizes? Yes. Presumably,

there is no distinction between entrants, be they realty agents

or other members of the general public. (There may be other

government regulations that restrict contests or drawings.

Our answer does not address those laws.)

These rules and definitions come from a good place.  There is no good that comes from buying referrals.  Inspectors that do not precisly understand that they are contracted to protect the client’s interest may have feelings that they are there to help the referring agent.  This only creates bad feelings and distrust throughout the entire realestate process.

My main referral source is the great agents that recommend me to their clients.  The only reason these wonderful agents recommend me is because I protect their clients and, indirectly, their good name and real estate license.  These agents realize that even though deals may fall apart by the time I am done it is because of the home’s condition and the inability of the buyer and seller to come together.  For better or for worse their clients should know as much as possible about their home before the deal closes.