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Home Inspections Save Lives… Sort Of

One of the things I like best about my job is being able to help people. Sometimes we help first-time home buyers understand how different parts of their home work. Sometimes we help them in the process of buying their dream home. But sometimes we help people avoid a costly mistake.

One young couple we met recently had already been dealt some tough blows. The husband had multiple sclerosis and was in a wheelchair. While the disease had taken it’s toll on his body, his mind had been spared and he could communicate and understand what was going on around him. His wife was a school teacher and his care giver in her off hours. To say they were on a thin budget would be kind. They had managed to save for a house and had put a contract on a home that had recently been renovated. They were very excited. Their Realtor asked us to check it out.

Unfortunately, it was almost all bad news. The house (a pier and beam home) was not attached to any permanent foundation. There were no plumbing vents. There was no insulation in the attic. The windows were new, but were too high and too small for exit in an emergency. There were not enough electrical outlets. The water heater base was a cardboard box! And these were the things were could see. With no insulation in the attic, who knows whether there was any insulation in the walls or whether the home was wired safely?

The buyers were crushed. After all, the house looked great on the outside. It even had a wheel chair ramp. Plus, it was within their budget and in the small community in which they wanted and needed to live. They thought they had found the perfect home.

I know what you’re thinking: How could a home be renovated and NOT be up to code? After all, it was in a municipality. Where was the Building Inspector? Well, this municipality didn’t have the budget for a Building Inspector. As a result, no one was making sure things like this didn’t happen to folks like these. The buyers were literally in tears at the end of the inspection. In fact, they confided in us afterward that they almost didn’t get the house inspected, since it was newly renovated and had looked to have been done well.

Fast forward a few weeks. Their Realtor called us back. The buyers had put a contract on another house in the same community and wanted us to take a look. After their first disappointment, they remained cautiously optimistic. The second home was a vast improvement on the first one. While no home is perfect, this second house was safe and, actually, a better fit for them, they said.

So… Do home inspections save lives? Maybe. Or, maybe that’s overstating it a bit. To be honest when I named the post, I was just trying to get you to read it. (You read it! I win!) However, at the very least, home inspections, or the lack of them, have the potential to have a huge impact on people’s lives, for good or bad.

  • They can help you determine where you’ll live and who your neighbors are.
  • Home inspections can impact the quality of your life in that home.
  • They can affect your finances, whether they catch the need for a costly repair before you buy or alert you to upcoming maintenance needs after the purchase.
  • They are a test drive of the structure where you’ll make your life, at least for a while anyway.

So, I’ll leave it up to you to decide. As for my opinion, Rob has pointed out that my objectivity could be called into question. I will say that anything that gives you as much information about one of life’s major purchases as a home inspection does, could at the very least be considered “potentially life altering”. It’s not “life saving”, but I’ll take it.

I would love to hear your experiences and/or feedback through the “Comments” section, or via email at thehomeinspectorlady@yahoo.com . As always, you are welcome to email me any questions relating to home inspections, home maintenance or anything that’s puzzling you (home-related, I mean.)  Thanks for reading, sharing, pinning and tweeting!

Open House… Literally

Home Inspection

The strangest thing that has ever happened to me during a home inspection was actually the result of an open house the previous day. It resulted in teaching me a great lesson in personal safety, but it also taught the Realtors involved something that I don’t think most real estate professionals would have thought about otherwise. Maybe I’m wrong (and if I am, please comment.)

So, I get a text on a Saturday from a Realtor who has a buyer in a tight spot. He was in town with his daughter to buy a house for her to live in while she went to nursing school. Unfortunately, back home, his wife had taken ill and was in intensive care at the hospital. He needed a home inspection before he left the following afternoon.

We agreed to do the inspection for him the following morning on Sunday. Knowing the house was vacant and we wouldn’t be disturbing the owner, we made the arrangements. It seemed simple enough. Right?

When we arrived at the house, everything seemed to be the definition of normal. Then we realized, we had left our ladder at home. You kinda need that for a home inspection. So, we introduced ourselves to the buyers, got the key out of the lock box and opened the door. Rob explained to the buyer about the ladder and leaves to retrieve it while I stay there to get started.

Upon entering the master bedroom/bathroom combo, I admire the barn doors separating the bedroom from the bath. When I slid the doors open, however, I noticed a smell. A bad smell. I immediately wondered if the plumbing had backed up. A quick check of the fixtures dismissed that thought. Then I thought, “dead mouse”? Yikes! I hoped not. If only it had been that simple.

I turned on the light to the walk in closet and opened the door. On the floor were two denim covered legs sticking out from under a blanket. Two legs, the bad smell and no movement at all from the person on the ground. I closed the door. Quietly. I then had the privilege of explaining to the buyers that there was a person in the closet. I can still see the looks on their faces. It was as if I had told them I had found Narnia in there. Blank stares. I assured them I was not joking.

The father went in to investigate while I suggested to the daughter that we wait outside. Then the shouting started. “WHO ARE YOU? WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? WHY ARE YOU HERE?” Turned out, the shouting was coming from the father. He had awakened the sleeping young woman on the floor and, in hindsight I realized, was probably trying to use the puffer fish defense method to get her out of the house. It worked. She came running out of the house saying she had gotten lost. Probably true in a metaphorical sense. She turned out to be a meth addict. But that’s only part of the explanation.

The listing agent had an open house at this property the day before the inspection. The young lady from the closet had come to the open house, left the master bathroom window unlocked and returned later with some friends. They broke into the house, stole a number of items that the stager had used to decorate and she, no doubt thinking,”Who’s going to be here on a Sunday?” decided to crash there for the night.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: Just because a house is supposed to be empty, that doesn’t mean you are alone. Since that day, my husband and I check every house (he chceks the closets) as soon as we arrive. And we do it together, believe me! When I opened that closet door I truly believed I had found a dead body.

The Realtors involved learned something, as well. Any Realtor who is securing a home after an open house thinks to check to make sure the doors are locked. Who thinks to check the windows?! A few more after that experience, I can promise you. Stay safe out there, Readers! And please comment with your thoughts or experiences!

5 Common Electrical Problems

Be honest: What is the part of your home that scares you the most? The part that you understand the least? There are a few possible answers, depending on your life experience, but I think most people would say, “Electricity”. That’s why we shove those plastic covers into every outlet the moment our children are conceived. It’s why we buy surge protectors for our valuable electronic “babies” like our computers and our gigantic televisions. It’s the system that we use the most and understand the least.

In my experience, I would estimate that, overall, electrical issues rank #2 in home buyers top concerns when buying a house. First would be structural issues. No one wants a house that might fall down around their ears. But frankly, people find electrical issues to be, well… scary. And with good reason. Between fires and shock hazards there’s a lot of potential for problems. But not every electrical issue should be a panic inducing deal breaker.

Following are the five most common electrical items we find during the home inspection process and what to do about them.

Outlets with Reversed Polarity (or “Hot and Neutral Wires Reversed”)

This is an extremely common issue to find in a home inspection report, particularly KODAK Digital Still Camerawhen a non-professional has been installing outlets. What does this mean? An outlet is meant to be wired in a very specific way. The hot wire is attached to the outlet in one place and the neutral wire is attached in another place. Reversed polarity occurs when these two wires have been installed in the wrong places on the outlet. While this is common, that does not mean that it is safe. In some situations there is the potential of a shock hazard, even though the outlet will still operate in this state.  You should have an Electrician sort it out for one very good reason: The swapped wires may not be at every outlet that has tested as having reversed polarity. It may just be on the same circuit as an outlet with this issue. So let the professionals handle it, just to be safe.

Electrical Junctions Outside of Junction Boxes

When two wires, or conductors as the Electricians call them, are connected, they are suppoDSCN6035sed to be connected with a wire nut (the small yellow plastic cap you see in the photo to the left) and be inside a junction box. In addition, this junction box should have a cover. Many times my husband, Robert, will go into and attic or a crawlspace and find electrical connections that have been joined together with wire tape and nothing more. There are couple of problems with this. First, this does not meet code, so there is a chance the work was never inspected. Second, a junction in this condition can easily be pulled apart if someone is working in the attic and catches the conductor on their clothes or shoes. Then not only would you have an electrical item in your home that stops working, but you potentially have live, loose conductors in your attic.

The solution is easy. All electrical connections should be in junction boxes with covers and junction boxes cost about a dollar at most home improvement stores.

Low Service Lines

In many older homes, the service lines, or the lines that bring your electrical service from the alley to the house, are much lower than what is required today. Many times DSCN4822they are also running through tree branches on the way from the house to the alley. Current requirements dictate that these lines be a minimum of three feet above the roof, or ten feet above the ground, so as to be out of reach to a person in the yard. Sometimes there is confusion about who is responsible for remedying this situation. Some people feel it should be the utility company’s responsibility, but the utility companies are only responsible for the lines at the alley. From the alley to the house, the maintenance of  these lines is the homeowner’s duty. And keep those branches trimmed away from the lines! One falling branch can cause a world of problems for a homeowner if it takes out your service lines.

No GFCI Outlets

GFCIGFCI stands for “Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter”. Here’s the way a GFCI outlet works: It detects very small changes in electrical currents, as small as 6 milliamps. So, for example, if you are holding an appliance that is plugged into one of these outlets, and that appliance comes into contact with water, a GFCI outlet will, as it’s name implies, interrupt the circuit and cut the power to that outlet, saving you from a nasty and possibly fatal shock. The power is easy to restore when conditions are safe: simply press the “reset” button and the outlet should be functioning again.

These types of outlets are required in kitchens (above a counter top and within 6 feet of a water source), bathrooms, on the exterior of the house and in the garage. Many homes built prior to the enforcement of this requirement do not have these outlets, however, they are not expensive. They can be purchased at home improvement centers or online for as little at $7.00 and for someone with the proper skills, they can be easily swapped out with non-GFCI outlets on grounded electrical systems. Ungrounded systems would require a consultation with and Electrician.

Missing Knockout Covers at Electrical Boxes

DSCN6097Anytime there is a gap at an electrical panel or junction box, it should be sealed to keep out pests and/or water depending on it’s location. I can’t tell you how many crispy critters Robert has found after removing a panel cover. You also don’t want water in your panel for any reason, whether it’s from rain or from a poorly aimed sprinkler head. These are cheap (less that $5.00 for a three pack at home improvement centers) and simple to install.

The Home Inspector Lady

Hello, and welcome to the first posting of The Home Inspector Lady blog!

My name is Edie Sherwood (that’s E-dee, not Eddie) and I am a licensed Home Inspector and Office Manager for Area Wide Inspections in Lubbock, Texas. My husband, Robert, is also a licensed Professional Home Inspector and we work together to provide, among other things, quality home inspections.

I am a female home inspector in a 98% male dominated industry, so I will be posting about more than just the nuts and bolts of the industry, but also the human aspects of this business and how home inspections can affect people’s lives. The purpose of this blog is to help people understand the home inspection process, terminology and the practical realities of the sometimes confusing results of a home inspection. I will also be sharing with you some of the crazy and unusual experiences that come about in a home inspector’s job!

I invite you to email me questions about all things relating to home inspections and/or home maintenance. My hubby will also be available to answer questions, thanks to a wealth of knowledge from his background in code inspection, structure and construction. I will also be posting (hopefully) helpful information for buyers, sellers and Realtors alike.

So feel free to email your questions to thehomeinspectorlady@yahoo.com and I also look forward to your comments and insights as well!