Your gutters need attention. The shorter days have told the trees to drop their leaves. Not only that, the rains are about to begin again. Your gutters will be working overtime for the next few months in this area. It is important to keep your gutters clean. This will require cleaning your gutters out several times over the next few months as the different trees around your home drop their leaves at different times.
We all know that the parts that are exposed to the elements (and leaves) are important to keep clean but lets not forget about the underground pipes as well. These pipes are low and out of sight and are easy to forget about. Those underground pipes are probably the most important part of the system as they will collect, concentrate, and (hopefully) remove the concentrated storm water from around your house.
In Marion and the surrounding counties, the underground pipes are usually where things are going wrong and unless inspections or unusually close attention is paid, things can go wrong for months or even years. It really is all about the way we receive rain.
The rains in the Willamette valley, in Salem and surrounding parts of Oregon show up in mid October and things stay moist until the middle of May. We don’t necessarily receive a lot of rain, it is just steady and the clouds do not usually part long enough to dry anything out.
The gutters, downspouts and underground pipes are the wettest points around our home. If there is water in your crawl space or basement the gutter and downspout system is usually the main culprit.
A great test for the underground system is to shove a garden hose in it and see where the water comes out. If water bubbles to the surface in the area you are testing…….you have some work to do.
Believe it or not this post is not about incontinent home inspectors. That will have to be another post. This post is about fuzzy critters and how they get under your home.
These tight, nasty, potentially wet areas are easy to neglect. Low, out of sight and most likely disgusting it is usually best to not even think about these places.
This mentality also leads to the fact that I will often find defects in these areas. One of the most popular defects I note is openings that allow pest access.
Most crawlspaces have these neat little vents for air flow. Compared to the concrete foundation the metal screens on these vents are much easier to bash and slash to allow access for pipes and wires. Most contractors care more about their next few hours than about the damage that occurs to the home due to pest infiltration over the years from a hasty hole cut into the crawlspace screen.
As an active, preventatively thinking home owner one of the best things to do (short of actually go into your crawlspace because really who wants to do that?) is to open the lid to your crawlspace andsmell. Yeah, seriously take a wiff. If you are slapped in the face with years of rodent urine……you may have some more investigation to do.
Today as I was doing a home inspection and crawling around looking for damage to my client’s potential home, I put my arm down and something, ……rather large…..*gulp*….pushed back. I figured it was a healthy rat under the plastic vapor barrier. This close encounter along with the smell of a public urinal led me to look for the rodent’s access opening.
Finding the hole was easy. Right where the downdraft vented out, the metal screen was completely open. This gave most neighborhood rodents plenty of room to move in.
The point of my wonderful, rambling tale is that you can and should check your vents. These are on the perimeter of the home, which means you do not need to enter my place of business (your crawlspace) to see these open critter funnels. Just take a stroll around the outside of your home and look and bend down to get a good look at those vents. Especially the vents near the AC unit, cable, and or satellite connections.
Part of my job is crawling around under
people’s homes. This is by far the
nastiest part of being a home inspector here in Salem, Oregon.
Most of the time crawl spaces are really not all that bad. Spiders, yes but in the Salem, Oregon area we
have very few seriously poisonous ones.
Spiders don’t chew on your home and I am quite a bit bigger than most of
them so, they don’t bother me that much.
cats can get access, things get really nasty.
uses crawlspaces for a litter box, urinal, and
graveyard. Yep, it can get nasty when
old Garfield can get under your home.
only does Mr Snookums defecate in the areas I need to crawl, he also shreds and
disconnects ducts, and crawls between the heated floor and the insulation and
ruins the fiberglass insulation.
there are signs or other critters: rats, mice, raccoons, opossums. They all like crawlspaces but it seems that,
per capita, the cats have market share on shear crawlspace destruct
The wonderful world of residential construction can be very complex. A new home is a series of systems and components that rely on one another to perform properly. If the previous component is installed improperly all of the other systems that are built upon that component will not live up to their potential. I recently had the opportunity to inspect a beautiful new home here in West Salem, Oregon that was like a display home for just why you need a home inspection on a new home.
Cosmetically this home was very attractive. Vaulted ceilings, custom built-ins, crown molding and of course the ever present Brazilian cherry floors and granite counters. Under the fancy façade were a few very important details that the builder screwed up. One of those little things was a vapor retarder, big name for a very simple and relatively inexpensive component. It is basically a sheet of plastic stretched over the bare earth of the crawl space that prevents excess water vapor from leaving the soil (a normal and natural process) and being absorbed by the home’s wood structure (also a natural process but very harmful to the structure of the home).
With the vapor retarder missing, the moist soil provides all the moisture and humidity necessary for an extremely conducive environment for wood destroying organisms. Wood destroying organisms like molds, termites, and powder post beetles and other critters that can call your home food.
When I popped the lid to that crawlspace a wave of mustiness (mold spores) slapped me in the face. Upon closer inspection of the very wet, very muddy crawlspace it could be noted that although the air was full of spores from actively producing molds, no visible growing mold could be noted on the structure. However the scraps of wood, construction debris, that had been left scattered about were covered with very healthy fungal colonies.
All of that excess wood was another little screw-up. All of these little mistakes, although ultimately the builder’s responsibility, were also made by the contractors that were in charge of the vapor retarder, the contractors that left cellulose debris (plumbers, framers, and electricians), and the government official (building inspector) that is paid to ensure that these things don’t happen.
This poor home had other serious issues. Homes like these sometimes makes me wonder about some people’s integrity, however I guess it will always be job security for honest, independent building consultants.
Crawlspaces are a very popular way to build a home in the Salem, Oregon area. With a crawlspace the home is up off the ground, so most importantly to the builder, there is less concrete and that equals less money. Being up off the ground also allows the homes to stay away from the water that is frequently bubbling up from the ground when the rains come down. Over all this area is ideal for crawlspaces however there are some things that most homeowners don’t realize:
We live in a maritime climate. That means it does not freeze very hard (or at all) most winters. Those silly Styrofoam crawlspace vent plugs should be strictly reserved for the 3 days of below freezing weather we get every 2 years. At all other times the crawlspace vents should be left open! The times your crawlspace will need to be vented are in the winter when the water tables rise. If the vents are all plugged the standing water will create a very conducive environment for wood eating/destroying organisms. Molds, beetles, termites and carpenter ants all benefit from the moist stagnant environment those little plugs foster. Moisture content of 18% wood becomes a good food source for things that eat wood. If the moisture content of the wood can be kept below 18% (through effective ventilation) the wood will not be food.
You Must Monitor your Crawlspace. This does not mean that you actually must go in to your crawlspace (but you probably should). But you should at least open the hatch, peek and smell. The smell is the important. If you smell musty sticky rotting wood…. that means more investigation is needed! The sniff test is great to do year around but especially in winter. I have seen crawlspaces that passed the sniff test and had inches of standing water. If the vents are open, even if there is a little water under there, the moisture doesn’t effectively raise the moisture content of the wood structure.
Mechanical and Plumbing need attention too. Crawlspaces are also wonderfully suited to maintenance. Although crawlspaces are not the best places to hang out, if you need access to plumbing wiring, ductwork, it is all there. In order to monitor these components you will need to enter your crawlspace, or hire a professional inspector. Leaky shower/tub drains, disconnected ducts, and leaking supply lines are all very common repair items that I see often. If the leaks are left unchecked they will give the wood eating creatures all the moisture they need to call your house home.
At minimum, every 3 months you should pop that crawlspace door open and squeeze into to the tight, dark, dirty, creepy hole that is your crawlspace. You will save yourself money and get to know your home on a level you never thought possible!