During an inspection of a home with a basement walkout, I noticed the exterior floor drain was covered with ice and there was not an additional drain on the interior side of the door. There are two schools of thought and depending on which suburb you are located in, this is what is required:
Additional photos were taken of the bottom left and right of the door that showed minor damage to the door frame from water entering the basement. This has happened and I advised my clients that this drain must be kept clear at all times.
I must admit that I do not know every code in the City of Chicago, nor do I know every code in every suburb. No home inspectors does. I assume that whichever method was installed, was installed to the local authority’s code. My job is to see if it is working properly and to warn my clients of possible issues.
The most important item with any exterior drain is to keep it clean. This includes window wells, bottoms of driveways, patios, and also the walkout basement stairs which we are talking about here.
Another construction gone bad. The opening was enlarged to fit this window in this photo. The studs that supported the head on the left side was removed. The header was not replaced. Heck it wasn’t even removed so it could be replace.
I removed some of the duct tape to expose above the window. As you can see the header and support studs are missing.
I have seen some fantastic remodels and some pretty poor work as well. This home; I honestly thought the contractors did a wonderful job. The utilities were professionally installed and new windows properly installed everywhere. Then I fired up the thermal imager and started getting some weird photos. Entire ceilings and stud channels were showing cold. I go up to the attic and there it is. Something got forgotten. With our recent snow and the colder temperatures, this home started ice damming and water was entering the attic.
I should lead off with a confession that I am not a big fan of wood burning fireplaces. During my tenure in the fireman business (1980 to 2018) I went on multiple house fires caused by fireplaces that were not in a safe condition. Two of those fires burned enough to make the houses uninhabitable for almost a year before they were able to be repaired. The only reason the rest of the fires didn’t completely damage the homes was because the occupants didn’t leave the fire. They were able to call the fire department early and we were able to extinguish the fire before holes were burning through the roof. Fire places require a few things to keep them safe:
I personally like sealed fireplaces with ceramic logs which burn gas. I am also fairly comfortable with non-vented fireplaces. They are much safer, require far less maintenance, and look extremely real.
Water spigots are also known by hose bibbs, faucets, nozzles valves, hydrants, spouts stopcocks, taps, and bibcocks. Their obvious purpose is to run water outside the building. In the last few days, the inspections that we have been doing we found frozen spigots. Frost free spigots have the handle outside of the house that is connected a valve about 10″ inside the walls. This way the water will be stopped in the heated part of the house and not close to the exterior where it can freeze. When the faucet is turned off, the water drains out and prevents it from freezing in the pipe. The hose attached to the spigot is our problem. The hose prevents the water from draining from the spigot. When the water is trapped in the spigot during our winters, it will freeze. When water freezes, it expands. If it expands enough, it will burst the pipe just inside the wall. This is more common than people think. After the thaw of the frozen water, the water will spray (inside the house) every time the spigot is turned on and it will not be visible from the outside.
This last one was a home inspection in Chicago. It was a frost free spigot that the hose wasn’t removed for the winter. This motivated me to write this blogpost. The garden hose needs to be disconnected every winter to allow water to drain properly from the spigot and prevent this freezing of the pipes..
Head flashing is sometimes referred to as Z flashing. The purpose of this type of flashing is to direct water away from the house. When windows are installed, part of the window protrudes from the siding. When water flows down the wall, it hits this protrusion and flashing is needed to keep water from flowing into the house. In the diagram to the left you can see how the flashing is behind the siding and goes over the top of the window. Although some windows have this built into them. most do not. The vinyl windows are the most common that have flashing installed. This is usually a J-channel the is built into a window. But this blogpost is about head flashing and not the J-channel.
Head flashing is not always required. If a window is not subject to having water flowing down from above, then this flashing not required. The rule is shown in the diagram to the right. If the distance from the bottom of the ceiling to the top of the window is less than 25% of the overhang then the head flashing is not required.
Very little of the flashing is visible from the finished window. There will be a small metal (sometimes plastic) strip that travels along the top of the window. On the gray house, there is only J-channel along the top of the door. Even though the top of the door is caulked very well, water still entered the door and rotted the bottom. The green house has the head flashing and water is kept from damaging the door and the structure.
There are two types of garage door springs. Expansion (extension) and torsion. All springs are under tremendous pressure and are considered dangerous. Only professionals should work on these springs.
First I will talk about the torsion springs and how we inspect them. Torsion springs come in many different sizes. They twist to help support the door to make it easier to open and close. Each one is designed to support certain weights and sizes of overhead garage doors. The first thing we have to do is determine if the springs are the correct size for the door they are helping to lift. If the springs are professionally installed, the installer will spray paint a line straight across the springs. The springs are supposed to be wound 7.5 times. So we should see 7.5 spaces between the lines if the springs are properly wound. Then we disconnect the door from the garage door opener. We move the door so that the bottom of the door is close the the middle of the opening. The door should stay in the middle, fully open, and the fully closed position. If the door falls or springs up, there is a problem.
Expansion springs are a bit different. They stretch to help support the door open and close. Their proper length and size will be unknown to home inspectors. They should be the same on both sides. The door should stay in the fully closed and open position without any help. Springs are ordered for the size of the door. Extension spring sizes use two numbers. The first number is the length of the spring when the spring is NOT extended. The second number is half the height of the garage door. So an Extension spring sized 25″X42″: would mean the not extended length is 25″ and the height of the door would be 7 feet. 42″ x 2 = 84″ or 7 feet
They are also color coded at the ends. The codes are as follows.
The most important thing to check when inspecting these doors is that a safety cable is installed. These springs break. When they break, they are violent. The cable secured at both ends will keep the spring from damaging property or harming people and animals should they be near when it does break. We will also check that both springs are the same on both sides. This includes length and color coding. And when we open the door; it should open equally on both sides.
We do many home inspections in Chicago. There are many times we run into poor installations. Heck, never have we found something perfect. Sometimes we find things that are appalling. This porch was built in such a way that is just out-right dangerous. I included a few photos of the porch and put some comments on the issues in the photos.
There are a lot of rules in the Porch Design & Construction Guidelines by the City of Chicago, Department of Buildings.
Below is an interview with Charles (Charlie) Bellefontaine with Chicagoland Home Inspectors. He shares the good and the bad about the home inspection business.
I am a professional home inspector. I inspect residential and commercial properties for a potential buyers (most of the time). I take a systematic approach to find, and document defects about a property that would affect a typical home buyer’s decision.
We go through and evaluate all of the major systems and components like: roof, structure, heating & cooling units, plumbing, electrical and other built-in components. Then we create a detailed written inspection report with photos and descriptions of the defects we find. Within the report we also note descriptions of components (e.g., structure type – masonry, etc.) but the potential buyer is usually most interested in the defects found.
It is very interesting because we spend about 50% of the time looking at the exterior and 50% of the time inside poking around. Most people working indoors long to work outside while those that work outside want to be inside where it’s cool (or heated). Human nature is funny, we always want what we don’t have. The building inspector gets to “have it all” so to speak.
If all goes according to plan, we would have a full schedule each day filled with inspections. An inspector can evaluate a maximum of about 10,000 square feet per day so in the case of a larger building, you would inspect over multiple days or get help from another inspector if you work for a larger company. Often the schedule is not completely full so inspectors get a fair amount of free time (unpaid) between jobs.
I got started back in the olden days (1988) just after dinosaurs stopped roaming the earth. At that time, little to no formal training existed so we learned by doing. Today classroom, correspondence, and online training exists to learn the details about how to inspect. It did help that my background was in architecture/engineering.
I already stated that we have the perfect mix of working indoors versus outdoors. Also, we are helping potential buyers make a smart choice about whether to buy a property or not. At times we discover serious safety defects that can hurt or even kill people so theoretically you could say that we help to prevent tragedies and in that way benefit humankind in a major way.
At the time I am writing this it is about 112 degrees Fahrenheit outside so that whole message above about the virtues of working outside mainly applies to the spring and fall seasons. Also, people get really upset when you miss something important during an inspection and can even sue you. Complaints are very gut wrenching and so is writing big checks to fix something you missed.
Most of the time we charge by the square footage of the building and may add to the fee if the building is old or if the client would like us to also inspect for termites (we need to have a separate license to inspect for termites).
I believe the majority of individual inspectors make between $50,000 and $100,000 per year, however, it is possible to exceed $100,000 per year if you have marketing skills, hire someone with exceptional marketing skills, or work for a successful multi-inspector firm.
When I started it was a side business while I worked full-time at a local major employer so I likely lost money on the venture. Back in 1988 an inspection was not commonly thought of when buying property like it is today. Therefore my early years have no reference point to today. If you started today you could likely make $25,000 to $50,000 in the early years.
It is very beneficial to have education and/or background in architecture, engineering or construction. Most inspectors get started by obtaining a home inspectors license (if available in your state). Following that, commercial inspection courses are available from private providers.
The challenging parts can vary widely. Sometimes it is hard to determine how you are going to get on a roof. Other times it is hard to get a nervous buyer to understand which report findings are critical versus the comments that are less important. At all times, it is challenging to keep learning a little more each day about the profession.
It is very rewarding to get appreciative comments from clients after the inspection and then have them give recommendations for your work. It is also a thrill to find obscure defects that exist in a building that no one has discovered, not even the municipal building inspector who approved the building at the time of construction. That is cool and makes you feel like an expert detective, ready to change your name to Sherlock.
Become an expert at home inspections and then transition into the commercial inspection field. Go to seminars in your area provided by ASHI (the American Society of Home Inspectors) and check it out. The inspectors at those meetings are open and willing to share their experiences. Also, ask if you can go on a ride-along with one of the inspectors you meet (offer to carry their ladder and help out) to see if the profession seems right for you.
This business can rise and fall with the real estate market so at times you can have much more time off than you would like. It seems like a “feast or famine” type career. Once established though, it is a really flexible and enjoyable mix of on and off time.
That we are super-human and can find EVERYTHING wrong with the building. Oh, people also think we can predict the future better than we really can.
The inspection business has only been in existence as a profession since about 1976, therefore, it is still very young. I would like to see inspections performed on virtually every real estate transaction and double my business within 10 years or less.
It is very important in this career to keep learning. Inspectors never really “arrive” at fully knowing everything about the profession. If you like to read fiction, you will need to stop and learn to love reading technical information. One final critical note – inspectors must become expert (and I mean expert) technical report writers. If you suck at report writing, it won’t matter how good you are at inspecting. To see examples of home and commercial inspection reports, go to our website at www.azinspect.com.