Selling your house? Follow these tips to reduce the number of "items" in your inspection report.
All of us live with components of our homes that are not perfect. You know, like that one light switch in your basement that doesn't have a switch plate cover on it or that one door that doesn't latch unless you push or pull on it. The truth is...we all live with stuff that we have become comfortable with; but, what is acceptable to me, may not be acceptable to you, and vice versa.
Sometimes it isn't what is being reported during a home inspection, it is merely the number of issues that are present in a home inspection report that cause buyers to second guess their decision to buy your home. Here are some common issues that clutter up inspection reports, which you can easily fix before your inspection date:
#1 LOOSE TOILETS
It is getting to the point where I am genuinely surprised when I inspect a house that does not have a loose toilet in it. Not all loose toilets are blatantly obvious because there are usually 2 levels of loose.
"Level 1 Loose" is easy to recognize because you will likely feel like you are on some type of $0.25 amusement ride outside of a grocery store (maybe some of you are too young for that reference, because I don't see a lot of the $0.25 jolting ride machines outside of the grocery store anymore). Excuse my digression and lets get back on track. Typically, when the toilet becomes Level 1 Loose it is going to affect the integrity of the wax seal that keeps the flushed water headed toward the sanitary sewer instead of leaking onto the floor. In the case of a Level 1 Loose toilet I recommend having the toilet removed and then reinstalled with a new "wax" or "no wax" seal. The reason I include "no wax" is because there are now plenty of other good options out there for sealing the connection between the toilet and the floor flange that are not the traditional wax ring seal.
"Level 2 Loose" is not as noticeable and is typically not something a homeowner will be aware of. In fact, it is not something you will notice when sitting on a toilet, instead, it is the condition where the toilet is just loose enough to pivot from side to side when the bowl is pushed on from the sides. Typically in the case of a Level 2 Loose toilet the seal does not need to be replaced as long as there is no active leakage. Instead, located the 2 bolt posts (one on each side of the toilet) near the floor and tighten the nuts on the posts until the toilet no longer moves side to side.
WARNING: Be careful when tightening the nuts on the bolt posts because you can damage the flange or even the toilet if you over-tighten them.
#2 DIRTY OR MISSING FURNACE FILTERS
I am a stickler for a clean furnace filter. We have multiple animals and an active household which adds up to some gross looking furnace filters. I typically inspect my furnace filter once a month and rarely do I go more than 3 months without replacing the filter with a brand new one. Does it cost a little bit of money to do that? Sure. But, it helps with my allergies and it helps to keep the airflow from being restricted within the HVAC system which in turn allows the system to function as efficiently as possible. Whether you have changed your filter recently or not, if you have a home inspection coming up...put in a new, properly sized filter.
In addition to the new filter, make sure there is some type of cover over the filter housing opening. If there is no cover currently installed the HVAC system in your house will not be functioning properly because most of the return air will not be coming through the return registers as intended. Replacement covers are typically made of metal or magnetic material and can be found at most home improvement stores.
Finally, if you are not the "annual maintenance" type of person when it comes to furnaces and air conditioners don't fret, this is a good time to have that service performed. Not only will this help to ensure the unit is working properly, but the note about the furnace "not appearing to have been serviced in the past 12 months" will not show up in the inspectors report. This tip also applies to boilers and air handlers.
*For those houses that have hydronic heat (boiler) but also have central air conditioning don't forget that if the system has an air handler (a unit that looks much like a furnace without the ability to supply heat) there is likely going to be a filter housing installed in the return duct work. If you have one of these systems you should follow these same general furnace filter tips.
#3 OUTLET AND SWITCH COVER PLATES
This is one of the easiest ones in this list. If there are any missing or damaged outlet or switch cover plates in your house...even the one behind the refrigerator, replace them.
This has nothing to do with the A, B, C, D, F system that you may know from school. The grading I am talking about here is the slope of the soil next to the foundation of your house. Grading is generally put into one of three categories:
NEGATIVE - The soil/ground is lower at the foundation than the soil/ground as you move further away from the foundation. The drawing below shows an example of NEGATIVE grade.
FLAT - The soil/ground is the same height or level as the soil that is further away from the foundation.
POSITIVE - The soil/ground is higher at the foundation than the rest of the surrounding soil/ground.
TEXTBOOK - In a perfect world the grade around your house should be POSITIVE with a 6 inch slope over the first 10 feet of soil/ground next to your foundation and there should be a minimum 6 inch clearance between the soil/ground and the siding on the house.
Very rarely do I see grading around a house that is truly POSITIVE and I am pretty sure I have never inspected a house with the TEXTBOOK example of grading. Typically, most grading around most houses is generally FLAT.
One of the biggest obstacles to creating a POSITIVE grade around a house is that the soil/ground is usually already close to or touching the siding of the house. In such a case where drainage modifications are needed, a SWALE can be used to promote better drainage. As you can see from the graphic below, a SWALE is essentially a ditch around a house.
Making changes to the grading around a house can be as simple as adding fill dirt to bring up the level of the soil around the foundation (if conditions and clearances allow), or as extensive as digging SWALES and adding surface drains. Every situation will dictate the level of grading modification needed to keep a basement dry. And the reality of the situation is...your basement may never be totally dry without spending $10,000+ on foundation waterproofing, which is in most cases, unrealistic.
If you can see low areas in the soil/ground near your foundation and you have adequate clearance to the siding or other components of your house, adding fill dirt is a simple and relatively easy correction that can be made prior to a home inspection. If you have more extensive water intrusion issues or obstacles to making simple grading changes, contacting a professional home inspector or landscaping professional for a more in-depth evaluation may be a better option.
The main goal of grading modifications is to minimize the amount of water that is directed toward your foundation AND to maintain a reasonable clearance between the soil/ground and the siding of your house. It is a bit of a balancing act with respect to 99% of homes and hopefully after reading this you have a greater understanding of how the grading around your home affects water intrusion and potential damage to siding and other components.
#5 DOWNSPOUT EXTENSIONS
I know. I already have a blog post about downspout extensions, but I felt like it was worth mentioning here because it is something that shows up on most inspection reports. But, in an attempt to avoid being completely redundant, you can read all about downspout extensions RIGHT HERE.
Landscaping is a pretty straight forward topic. Typically modifications or repairs related to landscaping only require minimal trimming of the trees, bushes and other plants that are in close proximity to your house and/or other structures on your property.
Landscaping Rule #1: If ANY part of a tree, bush or other plant it is touching ANY part of your house, cut it off or pull it out. But wait, you say...the vines climbing up the side of the house look great and add visual appeal to the house. While that may be true, and I don't disagree that the vines look really cool, they can cause extensive damage to the siding and structure of a house and they will be noted during any home inspection.
Landscaping Rule #2: Trim all trees, bushes or plants to leave a minimum 12 inch clearance on all sides of mechanical equipment such as central A/C units or the intake/exhaust venting for other mechanical components such as furnaces and water heaters.
Landscaping Rule #3: Trim all trees, bushes or plants so that there is clear access to all utilities such as gas meters and electric meters.
#7 EXTERIOR ELECTRICAL OUTLETS
The 2 most common issues that I find with exterior electrical outlets (technically, they are called "receptacles", but most people who are not electricians say "outlet") are that the outlet itself is not GFCI protected and/or the weatherproof cover is missing, broken or damaged.
Replacing or adding a weatherproof cover to exterior outlets is typically a very easy task and the parts are readily available at most home improvement and hardware stores. There are a wide variety of covers available but some of the most common ones will allow the outlet to be used with the cover closed so that is is still able to provide protection while in use.
Adding GFCI protection is also a relatively simple repair, but there are "rules" when installing GFCI outlets, especially when there is more than one outlet on the same circuit. Unless you really know what you are doing, and no offence to anyone but I mean REALLY know what you are doing, I highly recommend hiring an electrician to do this type of repair.
I hate installing doors. Level and plumb seem like they should be relatively easy goals to achieve when you are installing a door, but in my experience getting a door to function properly is not always straight forward. There can be issues with binding, rubbing, sticking, not properly latching...the list goes on. The good thing for me is that when I am inspecting, I don't have to install them, but I do see the issues with doors that make me dislike them so much. Maybe one of the reasons I dislike doors so much is because, many times, getting them to working properly requires a small amount of "tweaking". I am not referring to a special dance you can do to get the doors to work properly. What I am talking about is minor adjustments like shimming the jamb, strike plate adjustments and door stop adjustments, just to name a few.
Before your inspection, open, close and lock (if a lock is present) each and every door in your house. While you are doing this pay attention to things like: doors not latching, locks not working, doors binding (the door becomes progressively harder to shut the more closed it gets), doors rubbing on the frame, doors sticking once closed. Basically, if the door does anything other than open, close, latch and lock effortlessly, it needs some attention. Small adjustments can make a big difference in how a door functions and it is well worth making repairs to doors before your inspection to keep those "items" out of the report...because the inspector will find them. In most cases, unless you have experience with door installation and adjustment, I recommend hiring a qualified contractor for this type of work.
Widows are a lot like doors. They are not fun to install, they can be stuck in an open or closed position, they may not close all the way, the window latch/lock will not engage...this list too, goes on.
Many times, especially in older homes, the windows will be "painted shut". This is exactly what it sounds like...the windows have been painted either once or many times in the past and the paint has worked into the openings between the window and the jamb. The paint will act like a really strong glue and even a small amount of paint can cause a window to seem like it will never be open-able again. Now, you may be thinking "so what if they don't open, the air conditioning works just fine?". The problem with that statement is that windows are not just for ventilation. Windows are also present for safety reasons as they can be used for emergency escape routes in the case of a house fire. This is the primary reason that issues with windows are included in an inspection report.
My advice for windows is very much the same as my advice for doors. Go through your house and test all of the windows. Open them, close them, lock and unlock them. If you find that any of the windows are stuck in one position or another or just don't operate smoothly, repairs are likely needed and in most cases a qualified contractor is going to be your best resource for getting them repaired.
#10 GFCI OUTLETS
OK, technically, in older homes (depending on when they were built) GFCI outlets are not required in all of the locations in which they are required by current building standards, BUT, it is 2020 and GFCI outlets have been around long enough that I no longer really consider them an "upgrade". Also, I don't enjoy the feeling of being shocked and I am pretty sure I would not like to be injured or killed, by electrocution. Outlets in locations that could potentially be damp or where the outlets could be exposed to water, should have GFCI protection installed. At a minimum, GFCI protected outlets should be present at:
Kitchen Counter Outlets
Bathroom Counter Outlets
Laundry Room Outlets
Electrical stuff can be scary and dangerous for those who are not familiar with electrical systems, and to highlight the potential dangers I will tell you a short story about someone that I know and their recent experience with electricity. Don't worry, this is not a story with a bad ending and is not intended to be scary, it is just an example of how a simple electrical repair could result in substantial injury, if you don't know what you are doing.
Recently, I was present at a house when someone I know was working on replacing a light fixture in their kitchen. Seems simple enough, right? This person had used the breakers in the electrical panel to turn off the electrical current to that fixture and verified that electricity was not flowing to that fixture by trying to turn the light on with the switch on the wall. They also noted that there was no electricity to the remainder of the kitchen (this was in a house built in the 1950's). This person removed the currently installed light fixture and then capped the neutral and hot (line) wires that the fixture had been attached to. In addition to the 2 wires that had been attached to the light fixture there were multiple other white and black wires in the same junction box. This person assumed that there was no electricity flowing through any of the wires in the junction box because the breaker had been turned off and because the light no longer functioned with the wall switch. Because of this assumption, this person was working on installing a thin metal plate to which the new fixture would be attached. The installation of the metal plate required maneuvering the electric wires through some openings in the thin metal plate. (The reason I keep mentioning the metal plate is because electricity and metal are not good bedfellows when someone is hanging on to the metal portion). What this person didn't realize was...there were still "hot" wires inside the same junction box because it was either wired this way, or someone had done some electrical work in the past resulting in wires from another circuit running through this same junction box. Ultimately, nothing bad happened because I suggested that we test all of the wires in the junction box before proceeding with the project and once the other "hot" wires were discovered, the other circuit was disabled and the project was completed without incident.
The moral of that story is: Hire an electrician to do electrical work because you just never know what might be going on when it comes to electricity.
#11 DOOR BELLS
Doorbells can be finicky. Sometimes they work, sometimes they make goofy noises and sometimes they just don't work at all. When it comes to inspections, a door bell is not required to be installed in a house. However, if a doorbell button is present at a door, I do expect that the button will cause the doorbell system to chime or make some doorbellish type sound when I push the button.
Doorbells usually have 3 different stages of functionality:
Functioning as expected.
Functioning but the sound produced is a buzzing or weak bell sound.
Not functioning at all.
If the door bell at your house is doing anything other than functioning properly at the time of an inspection, it should, and most likely will be noted on the inspection report. Fixing or replacing the current doorbell system is a completely reasonable option, as is removal of the doorbell hardware. Whichever option you choose, making the repair before the inspection will keep this item out of the report.
#12 SINK & TUB STOPPERS
This is another relatively simple repair item that can be corrected before an inspection. Most bathroom sinks and bathtubs have stoppers installed so that the sink or tub can be filled. Like doorbells, this is typically an item that you either find yourself using on the regular, or never at all.
Stoppers come in many different styles. Some are connected to a mechanism, such as a lever or pull that allows the user to open or close them, some are the type that twist to open and close, some are the type that a user can push down on which causes them to pop open or click closed, and finally there are the good old fashioned rubber stoppers that insert into or just cover the drain opening.
Drain stoppers are not important to everyone, but if the stopper is missing or damaged, it will likely show up in an inspection report. I recommend that you check all of your sinks and tubs for functional stoppers. (Typically, stand alone showers do not have stoppers, so you should not have to worry about those.) If a stopper is not present at a sink or a tub, is damaged in some way, or water seeps past the stopper when the sink or tub is full, repairs are likely needed.
#13 GARAGE DOOR AND OPENER SAFETY COMPONENTS
Garage doors and openers are often not thought of as safety hazards in a house but they are dangerous enough that in 1991 laws were passed requiring safety features to be installed on automatic garage door openers.
As an inspector I take garage door and openers seriously which is why they will show up in a report if I find issues with them. In order to keep these items out of your inspection report, I recommend examining your garage door and opener for the following safety features.
Whether a garage door is a manually operated or has an automatic opener, there are two common types of springs that a used. The first type of spring in garage door applications is called a torsion spring. (diagram to the left) Torsion springs do not have safety cables but I felt they needed a mention here. The thing to remember with torsion springs is: If it seems like it is broken or not functioning properly, CALL A PROFESSIONAL! These types of springs can be extremely dangerous.
The other type of spring is called an extension spring. Extension springs are easily recognized because they can be found on the sides of the garage door near the tracks and they look like a typical spring. Extension springs extend when the garage door is closed and are under a lot of stress when the door is closed. If the extension spring breaks it can snap back and cause serious injury to anyone nearby. That is why extension spring should ALWAYS have safety cables running through them. (diagram below) If your garage door has extension style springs, make sure safety cables are installed. If no safety cables are present I highly recommend having safety cables installed.
Finally, if you suspect any issues with the spring assembly of your garage door, call a professional garage door repair technician to evaluate the performance of your garage door because spring failure can result in injury.
Next up is the auto-reverse system for automatic garage door openers. The auto-reverse system on an automatic garage door opener is designed to prevent the crushing of people, pets and cars. When I was a kid...in the 80's, automatic garage door openers did not have the safety systems that are required today, but I loved playing Indiana Jones and rolling under that door as it closed. Thankfully, I was never injured. Automatic garage door opener safety equipment became mandatory starting in 1991 primarily because kids were being injured and killed by closing garage doors. The automatic reverse system is designed to automatically reverse the garage door upward if the door is closing and it encounters an obstacle before fully closing. Today's safety standard says that the door shall reverse if it encounters an obstacle a minimum of 1" high off of the floor. A typical way of testing this system is to place a 2x4 on the floor with the long side of the 2x4 flat on the garage floor and then close the door. When the door hits the 1.5 inch high object the door should automatically reverse. If the door does not reverse when it hits the 2x4, adjustments, typically on the back of the opener, can be made to reduce the downward force that is applied by the garage door opener. If you are unable to properly adjust the door opener, you will need to contact a garage door repair technician for further evaluation.
The third garage door opener safety component that will be looked at during a home inspection is the photo eye. This is the invisible beam that causes your garage door to automatically reverse if the invisible beam is disrupted or "broken". That's right...no more Indiana Jonesin'. Much like the auto reverse system that is activated when an object is actually stuck by the closing door, this safety component is designed to reverse the door operation before the door comes into contact with anyone or anything. It is kind of like wearing a belt and suspenders, better safe than sorry. The photo eyes should be located at opposite sides of the garage door, at the garage door opening, and no more than 6 inches above the floor. Between 4 and 6 inches off of the floor is typically where the photo eyes should be located. Adjustments to the photo eyes are generally pretty easy to make. As long as they are properly positioned at the correct height above the garage floor, installed on each side of the garage door and pointed at one another, they should function as intended. Once again, if you have difficulty making the adjustments on your own or if something doesn't seem quite right, I highly recommend contacting a garage door repair technician.
While this is not a comprehensive list of the items that are inspected during a typical home inspection, checking these items and making repairs where needed should help to reduce the number of items that show up in an inspection report.
I have the experience, training and background to help you better understand your home. If you find yourself with a home related issue at your house and you need help diagnosing the cause of the issue, call me at: 920-253-6278 or send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: Do not attempt anything in this blog post yourself if you are not familiar or comfortable with the required skills and abilities needed to perform any maintenance or repairs. Noble Inspections always recommends hiring a qualified professional for any maintenance or repairs.