Being a home inspector lets me witness a condition that pops up fairly often in Salem, Oregon, area: Water in crawl spaces. Home inspections do not allow me participate in diagnostics very often but sometimes I do get called out to diagnose where water is coming with my high-tech infrared camera.
Crawl space construction in this area is very popular for a few reasons. The two main reasons are; one: it takes less concrete, read- Cheaper. and Two: it puts the wood members of the house up off the ground when our high water table potentially allows water to bubble up from the ground. Ideally crawl spaces should not be wet however it is not a terribly uncommon issue in this area and the main culprit is the gutters and downspouts and what they are up to when they go underground.
Right after the foundation is poured, the underground piping is installed. This means that every other trade that is working on their part of the home has to step over the newly installed plastic pipes. Once the pipes are covered up, near the end completion of the home it is sometimes out of sight and out of mind.
The most compelling evidence I had for this condition was on a listed home that had an offer and a home inspection. The sellers called me out to try and locate the source of the water. After some trial and error per my suggestions the handy home owner disconnected the downspouts and shoved the garden hose down the pipe and filled the pipe with water. He went into the crawlspace and noted the water bubbling up under the foundation near his front door.
The door had a nice slab of concrete leading to the entrance so the home owner rerouted that troublesome pipe into a drywell near the perimeter of his lot and promptly dried up his wet crawlspace.
Diagnostics don’t always work like that but for years I have seen water in crawl spaces and a majority of the time I can find the gutter and downspout that is the contributor.
You can find more information on crawlspaces here:
Thermal imaging has been an absolute game changer for the home inspection industry. About eight years ago my wife and I bought our first home in Salem, Oregon. At that time I worked in construction and I was a pretty hand dude but I knew very little about furnaces, electrical systems, plumbing and many other integral parts of a typical home.
The home inspector that we hired requested that we not show up till the end of the inspection. I didn’t really like that advice so I showed up went he began his inspection. That excuse for an inspector spent about 45 minutes in our 1950’s fixer and didn’t say more than a dozen words to me, even though I was asking him questions constantly. He didn’t even introduce himself!!
Upon moving in we realized that the furnace didn’t work, the bathtub had a leak and the shower head barely had enough spray to get you wet!
A year pasted before I learned of thermal imaging and how their were a few inspectors across the country that were using this wonderful technology to offer more and better knowledge for their clients. I took the leap and be and became home inspector.
Yesterday I inspected a new home and with out my fancy little camera my clients would not of known about a plumbing leak. The leak was in the upstairs master tub and it had not caused any finish damage yet……
Equiped with the knowledge that I provided my clients were able to save the ceiling in their kitchen/dining room, the flooring in this area and all of the head aches that go along when you have to do major repairs to your home.
The state of Oregon has a regulation system for home inspectors and home inspections (check out the Oregon State Standards of Practice for Home Inspections). These regulations have created minimum levels of competency and insurance and this has been a very good thing for consumers.
In some states it is still possible to hire a home inspector that has no more training than to buy a flash light and a screw driver. There will be good home inspectors in most areas but weeding through the new screwdriver/flashlight business owners can be more challenging.
My number one source of business is referrals. I dearly appreciate the agents that are willing to put their good names and the safety of their clients in my hands. This level of trust is not taken lightly. Local Real estate can be a very small community and inspectors that make a habit of providing less than the absolute best can get known for that.
If you are shopping for a home inspector start with the real estate agents. State licensing is a good start but the reality of day in and day out performance will only be realized on the ground an in the community.
It just makes sense for a person that does not work in the field of real estate to trust a good advisor. A good agent is much more than a creature that can open a door for you.
Probably the number one thing a home buyer/seller can do to ensure a trouble-free transaction is to- find a great agent. Through education, training, and plain old feet on the ground experience a good agent can help advise a home buyer/seller on every phase of a transaction.
Finding a good agent is not always easy. It will take time so start early. I spent about two years doing home inspections before I found a referral base that I felt really good about. Agents that cared about their clients more than the deal. Agents that realized that their job was that of an advisor and not a warm body to open a door. Two years of total immersion it took for me to find those agents. Most people don’t have two years to spend on the task of meeting an agent but a little more reasearch than calling the phone number on the sign should be considered.
First place to start is your circle of influence. Most adults have had experiences with agents. Ask local people like your doctor, repair contractor, and friends and neighbors. Get a few names of some good agents and then hit the web. Many good agents have blogs and a Google search for local agent blogs can turn up a lot of useful information.
The beautiful thing about an agent’s blog is that you can get to know that person before you actually meet! Face to face interaction is great but some times it can be difficult to get to know someone by having a few minutes if conversation in their office.
With more and more banks acting as the primary owner of homes I am starting to see more and more ridiculous decisions. Issues that would never come up for a home owner are now manifesting due to the utter lack of common sense displayed by most banks when home ownership is their new responsibility.
Water heaters in general are reliable for around 10 years. They can last much longer or they can start to fail after 5 or 6. (the oldest I have seen was a 68 year old electric water heater that was still cranking away!) Among other issues with water heaters, the age is a good indicator of when the unit may start to fail or when you may need to replace the unit.
The thing I look at, when I am inspecting homes in Salem, Oregon and the water heater is the name plate:
The name plate will give most all of the information we need to determine the size and age of the unit. Some times the age is very obvious and there will actually be a label that states when the unit was manufactured. Most of the time you have to look in to the Serial Number. With most brands the year will be the second 2 numbers in the serial number.
At this point I am tired of talking about have concluded some brief ideas on what to look for when looking at these super stylish modern appliances. You can check out my earlier posts here: More water heater information
Jim Allhiser President/Inspector