Home inspections Salem Oregon

Internet House Research

When looking at a house to buy there may be several things that can be learned while in the comfort of your own home.

I use the web to start the inspection process when the appointment is booked.  I can usually determine the age of the house which will tell me things like where the mechanical systems will be (water heater, furnace, electrical panel(s)), where the attic and crawlspace accesses are located.  Here is my process:

  1. First, I just do a general search on the address. This will bring up the real-estate-based pages like Zillow, Redfin, Realtor.com, Trulia, and any real estate companies that have had the property as a listing.  Most of these sites have the same information because they all grab the same info from the local listing service, but it doesn’t hurt to check them all out. There may be old photos from a previous listing that can give you some history of repairs/remodeling and sometimes agents will enter more information about the house on their own site than they enter on the MLS site.  This can be not-so-valuable when a listing agent does not do a good job of entering information, but if the listing agent does a thorough job of entering the info about the house there is quite a bit of info to be gathered.
    1. Year built: This is an important step because building styles and materials have followed patterns and almost everyone was building similar very houses with similar materials at any given time. Of course, there are special houses but if you are looking at the majority of what was built in a year range most houses will have similar features.  Such as: LP siding in the mid ‘80’s’80s to early ‘90’s’90s in the PNW. Crawlspace accesses were outside before the 1970s. ‘90’s’90s or newer two-story houses- crawlspace access will be under the stairs on the first floor and the attic access will be in the master bedroom closet. Electrical panels from the 1970s until now are mostly in the garage. The list goes on, but you get the idea. Here is a presentation on Age-Based Inspections.
    2. Pictures:  From my limited research of real estate in other areas I have found that, in this part of the world (west side of Oregon), real estate agents do a very good job at listing photos.  With a bunch of wide-angle and close-up shots you can learn a lot about a house. (Just keep in mind: wide angle lenses can make spaces look WAY bigger than they actually are. Sometimes the listing photos can be a bit misleading) 
    3. The area around the house: How does the driveway look? Does it slope toward the garage? What about plants and large trees? Although plants can be nice, they can also cause damage if they are touching, especially large trees touching the roof.  What does the yard look like? Will you need to be anticipating deck or fence repair? (The answer is YES, if it has a wooden deck and/or fence) How about the roof and entire lot? Aerial pictures? 

Here you can see the “meeting rails” where this triple-wide manufactured house came together.  Although it was not called a manufactured house in the listing, we can now be certain of the fact that it is a manufactured house and will be looking for other things like: how are the deck and garage attached to the building (hopefully they are not!) (update after the inspection: the garage was attached to the building and will require some serious rebuilding to repair the engineering!) and polybutylene plumbing if it was built in the ‘90’s’90s which it was. (update: it had PB plumbing!).

  1. Inside pictures:  Is there wear and tear on the walls, doors, floors, cabinets, counters?  Carpet in bathrooms? Skylights?  These pictures are not usually very helpful because no one wants to take a picture of an issue or a worn out system but sometimes some things can be spotted if you look close enough.
  2. General maintenance info:
    1. Does the house have a septic or sewer system? These components should always be camera inspected. Just get mentally prepared for this, we haven’t bought this house yet, we are still researching.
    2. City water or well?   Again, this is just a get-ready thing.  If it has a well there will be pumps, tanks, piping and wiring that will be your responsibility. If it has city water there is not too much to worry about with that system.
    3. Property tax estimate?  It might be good to know what those taxes will be!
    4. Homeowners’ association?  If there is an association, you should get some minutes from meetings or a copy of the by-laws.  Some associations can be over the top. I have heard of association reps measuring grass length with rulers to ensure compliance! These will be all things that can be important issues that should be further researched.
  3. Next, check out mapping services.  Google maps and Bing
    1. Satellite photos can give an idea of how close the house sits to the neighbors, or highway, or shared driveways. Do the neighbors have a huge garbage pile or a junkyard behind their house? (This can lead to rodent issues for everyone!) Also, how close is the house to the nearby parks, schools, and stores?  Looking at a map can quickly help you see that a cool little park is only 2 blocks away if you cut between two neighborhoods, for instance. Google satellite photos get “enhanced” as you zoom in and can get weird looking.  Google Earth is the best I have found for high-definition satellite photos.  It is a separate program that you download to your computer and there are a bunch of cool features with this program such as a “birds eye” view (which gives you an angle that can view the property instead of from the very top) and a timeline feature that you can scroll back in time and view old satellite photos back into the 1980s’ and 90s’ (although the older satellite pics are pretty grainy and low definition).
    2. Street view can be pretty cool for a view of the house that no one expects.  You can zoom around the neighborhood, 360° picture-by-picture. You can see the front of the house and sometimes different angles on the house. Also along the bottom of the screen is the date that the image was captured. Some areas that have had multiple years of the 360° Google cars will have a date scroll in the top left corner: This allows you to choose older dates to see what the house/neighborhood looked like 10 years ago or in the spring vs. fall.  Bing has its street view too, so that can give you another look at the house/neighborhood at a particular point in time. In the upper right of the Bing Street view, you can see the date the picture was taken.
    3. Bing also has a “birds eye view” setting.  While not very helpful for heavily treed lots, you can rotate the cardinal dial to view the house from the north, east, south and west.
South side "bird's eye" view
East "bird's eye" view
North "bird's eye view
  1. The G-terrain feature is not very helpful.  It is a pretty basic and hard to read topo map with some shading to indicate slopes and flats.
  2. The last place I might dig would be the local building official website.  It is not terribly reliable due to paper forms being/not being converted to soft copies and currently (12/2022) the site states that they only have records from 2005 (although I have seen permits back into the 1960’s on this site).  Also, you must jump through some hoops and get yourself registered.  But once all of that is done you can insert an address and see what has happened (or at least been permitted) in the last 15 years.  https://permits.cityofsalem.net/

So I just picked a house I am about to inspect and pulled up 6 separate permits, dating back to 1999. 

In 1999 it had a kitchen remodel: Bob Hise was the contractor, and I can open each of the reviews for a little more information.

That is about it.  With the information superhighway at all of our fingertips, you too can start inspecting your potential property before you even leave the house!   Let me know if there are other handy resources that I didn’t mention.  As always if you have any questions, please drop me a call or email:  

Jim Allhiser





Flat Roof Deck failure and the Story of Repeated Deck Replacements

The coolness factor of a deck/patio that you can walk out onto and having living space underneath cannot be denied.  When houses are built on/in hills it can be a very efficient way to maximize the usable space while minimizing concrete.

These deck/patio areas are considered “flat roofs.” Everyone hears the word “level” when I say flat and that is not true.  Flat roofs are any roof with a less than 4-12 pitch.  They all have slope, some more than others.  The tricky thing about flat roofs is that they don’t really get to take advantage of gravity to bring the moisture down and away.  The water is flowing down the slope of the surface just much slower and if there are any low areas of areas of ponding water will sit and work on any vulnerable areas until there is a leak.  

Case in point:

With this decking system we can look into the past a little and see that as the contractors installed the framing and sheathing everything was nice and sloped and smooth.  Then the roofing was installed and part of the roofing at the lowest edge a 90° edge metal was installed.  This created a little high area, right alond the edge that wouldn’t let water drain effectively but over all it was sloped and the standing water could be managed.  Almost done right?  Oh, wait!  We still need a railing!

If the rail has not been thought about until this point in the deck’s construction it is screwed (in more ways than one!).  There is no good way to install deck posts that won’t damage or hamper another part of the roof surface.  With the deck surface needing a rail and a nice (mostly flat) roof surface to the edge the contractor chose to go right through the surface of the roof with fasteners.  This is a terrible installation for structural stability (toe-nailed fasteners are not very reliable against lateral/horizontal forces).

Now, right at the edge of the roof slope, where remember we had those areas of ponding, the roofing membrane was filled full of holes to mount the wooden posts.  The poor home owners tried to caulk this post-to-roofing transition, but it was too late.  

Inside the thermal camera did not see any smoking guns (sometimes it can be hard when temperature inside and outside is very close to the same), the moisture meter was able to confirm current ongoing leakage in this system under the edges and especially where the rail posts where installed.

The top sides of the windows are always a good place to check for leakage.  Even if it is not active the tannins in the water from soaking through wood framing alow you to see the “tea” colored stains.

By failing to plan for the finishes and rail this deck was doomed to fail.  These decks can be done much better, but it takes an experienced contractor who knows what the issues are going to be 5 steps ahead!

As always if you have any questions or would like some help diagnosing an issue just give me a call or email:

Jim Allhiser 503.508.4321


Your favorite Salem Home Inspector.

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

Grounded outlets, GFCI’s, seatbelts and airbags

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

Originally these outlets would have been 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 homeowners 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.

When I often describe what is going on, my client’s thoughts jump to their electrical devices not functioning properly.  The 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 to 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 TVs.car

To put this in a more understandable analogy I compare this situation to a car.   Ground wires are kind of like 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 affect the way the car drives/electrical device operates.  They are merely safety devices that will protect you from injury.  Grounds are not required in the 1950s or older homes, just like seat belts aren’t required in 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 strictly 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 outlet.  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 let’s say the home we have an 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 generalities and your specific situation may have special circumstances 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, garages, and exterior plugs should all be grounded at the very least.  These areas are the places where you are most likely to become a great source for electricity to try to jump to ground through you.

  • The ideal way to ensure these shock/electrocution-prone areas are protected is 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.  Bootlegging is not ideal, and you may be unable to find a licensed professional electrician to help you with this (that should tell you something!)
  • The installation of GFCIs 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, and no airbag but it is not as safe as a properly installed seat belt and airbag.  The installation of GFCIs 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 surges and your surge protectors are useful only as paperweights.

I have used this analogy for a few years, and it seems to hold up pretty well when describing this electrical theory.  If you have any questions on how the electricity works 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
Web: www.SalemOregonHomeInspections.com
Email: Jallhiser@PerfectionInspectionInc.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/PerfectionInspectionInc
Blog: https://salemoregonhomeinspector.com/
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 inspection every 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 pipes with special vent caps like these photos.  These tubes are not terribly reliable because they are easy to cut off and cover 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 remnants of the lines will be located in the basement/garage, near the furnace (or where the furnace once was located) 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. Unfortunately 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 likely to be “covered up.” The clipped lines to the left were noted in a home that had an oil tank that had been properly remediated. Unfortunately these lines were going to a completely different tank in on the opposite 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 to check.

  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: http://www.deq.state.or.us/lq/tanks/lust/LustPublicLookup.asp There 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.   http://www.deq.state.or.us/lq/pubs/factsheets/tanks/hot/BuyingSellingHomeHOT.pdf 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 an underground storage tank 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 the oil tank 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 and not leaked in a PDF document here: http://www.oregon.gov/deq/FilterDocs/HOTCleanDec.xlsx.

If all of that fails, you can contact DEQ directly.  I have made a contact with: DEQ HOT (Heating Oil Tank program)

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

If the above steps are taken and proper documentation still 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    http://www.xavierenvironmental.com/

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


Web: www.SalemOregonHomeInspections.com

Email: Jallhiser@PerfectionInspectionInc.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/PerfectionInspectionInc

Blog: https://salemoregonhomeinspector.com/ OCHI# 916 CCB# 179533