Today’s episode is a continuation of Structure Tech’s home inspection process. Bill opens the show by asking about getting permission from the homeowners to open attics. He also touches on the topic of having minors in the house during the inspection. Reuben highlights that the real estate contract in Minnesota defines intrusive inspections as when the property has changed.
Reuben talks about the entry to the attic access panel, electrical panel, checking the utilities such as the water and gas. Tessa also shares a story about getting locked out of a garage.
The show also touches on the physically challenging processes and tips on how to effectively inspect and test. Recording and handling defects and putting things into context for clients. Reuben and Tessa share their takeaways from their fun-fail stories.
The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.
Bill Oelrich: So if you need permission, let’s dive into these permission topics that you might need at this point. So Reuben, what are they. There’s a few things you need a blessing to actually do.
BO: Welcome, everyone. You’re listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman. As always, your three-legged stool coming to you from the Northland. On today’s episode, we’re gonna continue talking about our home inspection process. Last time we went through the set up, all the things that we do before we actually start inspecting. So we’re gonna call this part two ’cause we’re only gonna get through the outside of the house by the time we get to the end of this podcast, but where we left off last time, Tessa was down in a mechanical room, she was looking at data plates and figuring out some basic information, and she was just about to head outside and start looking at some of the exterior components. But before we do that, we have to touch on a couple important things, just in case you need to start making phone calls to give alerts, or heads-up or you need answers before you can open something that maybe you’re not supposed to open. So if you need permission, let’s dive into these permission topics that you might need at this point, so Reuben, what are they? There’s a few things you need a blessing to actually do. What are they?
Reuben Saltzman: If you’ve listened to all of our podcast episodes, you know where we’re going with this one and it’s the attic access panel. I think we did like maybe 17 episodes just on attic access panels. [chuckle] That’s a big… No, I think we did one episode on that. It’s so important that the home inspector gets in the attic, and if we come to a house and it’s sprayed shut or caulk shut or painted shut, how are we gonna get up there? And in the past, we used to just get up there with impunity, we’d take a knife and we’d cut it, or we’d bump it open and nobody would be the wiser, or if they were, we made it look good and nobody ever cared, nobody complained, but as our company continued to grow in size, at some point, we said, “Someday someone’s gonna be really angry and we’re gonna have to spray somebody’s ceiling again.” We don’t wanna have to ever deal with that and we made an internal policy that if it’s sprayed shut, caulk shut, whatever, we’ll still open it, but we need to get the seller’s permission first, and I think it was a good change we made…
RS: When you look at the definition of a home inspection in Minnesota, according to a real estate contract, they define an intrusive inspection and they say it’s something where the property has changed, and you could definitely make an argument that once you cut that attic opening, you have changed the property and it becomes intrusive and home inspections are not supposed to be intrusive, so I think it was a good change we made saying, “Look, you need to get permission.” So, all that to say, during the initial walk-through, that’s where the home inspector needs to figure out how they’re going to get inside the attic. There’s the panel, has it been opened before? Yes, great. If it hasn’t been opened, you need to get on the phone immediately and you need to get written permission to cut that seal. And we send that out ahead of time in an email, but nobody reads those emails, so… [chuckle]
BO: I blame that on the building science profession, this concept of sealing up this attic access and Tessa would argue with me, but they just made our lives more difficult.
Tessa Murry: You can go out and blame the Building Science community, but you know what, it’s funny, I think attic access are sealed just because that’s the standard in the building industry, they’re not sealed for any real reason, they’re just… It’s just part of when they build a new house, they texturize the whole ceiling and then nobody wants to break that seal and go up there.
BO: Yeah, but that’s not truly a seal, that’s just a texture seal. The seals that we’re getting now are straight up caulking in… Okay, Reuben, what else do you find that you should get permission to actually take apart?
RS: Well, right along those lines is gonna be when you’ve got an electrical panel cover with about 30 coats of paint on it, usually on an old condo, how do we open those? And it’s kind of the same thing, it’s like you gotta take a knife and you gotta cut that open. I feel like I’m experiencing déjà vu, we’ve surely discussed this on the podcast at some point.
TM: I can’t remember what episode, but I think we did.
RS: Yeah, we need to get permission if the electrical panel cover needs to be cut open, we get on the phone and we get permission for that.
BO: Okay. Those cut lines are always very visually appealing.
TM: Especially when you have to back the screws out and every… Every screw that you take out, peels off the paint with it too, it’s gonna look completely different when you’re done with it, and I don’t know about you guys, but I had one electrical panel when I was pulling it off and I thought I cut around it really well, but I missed a little section and as I’m peeling it off, it actually took a piece of the wall off with it. [chuckle]
RS: My hand is raised, been there, done that too. Yeah.
TM: Yeah, so that’s in our policy too, and Reuben, just to add what you said before, we like to get permission in writing, but we try to make it as easy as possible, and so a lot of times we’ll just text the agent.
RS: Yeah, we don’t have some form anybody needs to sign. It’s just text me back so I have some type of documented communication with you that you’re cool with me doing it, and that’s good enough, and we’ve never had an issue after that.
BO: One more thing, and we’ll just touch on this quickly, at least at Structure Tech, the policy is, if you get in this house and there’re minor kids there alone, we stop everything we’re doing, go outside and make sure that there’s either a parent there or somebody who is in charge of these kids, right?
RS: It’s either that, or at least two adults. Yeah. That’s our policy. You can’t have one employee of Structure Tech in a house with only minors present. If we got two employees from Structure Tech or you have a Structure Tech person and the agent or the buyer, whatever and we’re gonna be in the house together, fine, but that’s it. Great point, Bill.
BO: And it’s not because we’re creepy people, it’s just because you have to protect the business.
RS: Yeah. Yeah.
RS: We don’t wanna put ourselves in any type of situation. My church has the same policy when you’re with kids. It’s the exact same thing. No one-on-one stuff going on. And you don’t want one other one, sorry, we’re gonna get to the outside eventually, but it’s also check the utilities, make sure the water is on, gas is on, and electricity is on. If it’s not, you gotta get on the phone immediately and get somebody out there to turn it on. We used to turn it on, but at some point, we had enough people on our team say, “I’m not comfortable doing this.” And now, if that stuff is going to be turned on, it needs to be the seller or their agent coming out to turn it on. We’ve had too many scary close calls with gas, where we’re given permission to turn it on, we do it, then you’ve got some open gas line in a different room that we don’t even know about, and you got gas pumping into the house. And even if we had written permission to do it, I don’t wanna deal with a house that explodes. I can’t imagine what a headache that would be. So we just don’t do it anymore.
TM: Well, we’ve had the same issue with… Well, not blowing up houses, but with water too, if water is shut off and they say, “Yeah, sure, go ahead, turn it on.” And it hasn’t been turned on in years, or whatever, next thing you know, you’ve got water leaking out of the ceiling from some pipe in the wall. It’s a huge liability.
RS: Oh, and we’ve had that happen many times after we were given written permission. So we’ve never really gotten stuck with somebody suing us or threatening to sue us because we turn the water on and it leaked, but still, when we do it and there’s a mess, we don’t just sit there and stare at it. We take an extra hour out of our day and we clean it up as well as we possibly could. It’s the responsible thing to do. But it’s a huge inconvenience to our home inspectors not getting paid anymore to clean up a huge water mess. So we just… We don’t do it anymore. It’s gotta be the seller turning on the water, gas, and electricity.
BO: Yeah, then you call 24 Restore, have them come out and take care of whatever you can’t see.
RS: That’s right. Releasing gas.
BO: Alright, what are you doing outside, Tessa, first thing?
RS: Are we actually making it outside?
BO: Yes, we’re walking outside…
TM: Oh, we’re heading back outside.
RS: Alright. Let’s do it.
TM: Yeah. Okay. So just a quick recap. We showed up at the property, we walked around the outside quickly, just looking at the big picture, looking at the grading, the roof lines, where the water goes, all of that. We went through the inside. We start at the top and just turn on all the lights, all the fans, anything that vents to the outside, get the appliances going, kind of inventory where the bathrooms are, do they have fans? Get the dishwasher going, clothes washer, dryer, all that stuff. And in the basement, take a quick inventory of mechanical systems, record data tag information, all of that. And now we’re actually gonna start the full inspection process. And we’re gonna start back outside. So we’ll start usually at the front of the house, and we’ll go the opposite direction that we went on our initial walkthrough or walk around, I should say. And the reason that we like to go the opposite direction is, sometimes you see things at a different angle and it’ll stick out to you. And we’ve already kind of looked at the house from one direction, it’s nice to look at it from a different direction. So usually, that’s the way that we’ll start around the outside. But first, we’d like to actually go up on the roof. And, Reuben, you mentioned in the last episode that one of the reasons we like to do that quick walk around first when we arrive, is to see where’s the best place to set the ladder to go up on the roof.
RS: Yeah. Yeah.
TM: So at this point, now you’re heading out, you’re getting your ladder out of your car, and you know exactly where you’re gonna set that ladder, and the best way to get up on the roof. So you can do that pretty quickly and efficiently. And so the first step is to do the roof. And we at Structure Tech have a pretty detailed photo requirement list that our inspectors need to take pictures of and how they should do that roof. But the most important thing is to walk the entire roof, check all the penetrations, try and lift some shingles. And…
RS: Why do we lift shingles?
TM: And we lift shingles to see how they’ve been nailed, and to check the nailing pattern, make sure they’ve been installed properly. And also, we wanna make sure that shingles have sealed down as well. If you’ve got a house that’s five years old and you can lift all the shingles and they haven’t sealed properly, and they’re just more likely to get torn off or ripped off in high winds, so we’re checking for a few different reasons. Usually in a new construction, I think we’ve talked about this, I’m having déjà vu too, in a new construction, it’s really important to lift the shingles on new construction to make sure that they’re all installed properly as well. And a lot of times they’re not sealed down yet too, so you can do that. If the roof is over 6’12 we don’t require our inspectors to walk it. They can if they feel safe and they want to, but it’s not required. And we do carry 28 foot ladders as well. So there’s a lot of roofs that we do inspect here at Structure Tech. We also offer drone inspections, right?
TM: So if we’ve got roofs that are unsafe to walk on, they’re too steep or they’re too high, then we’ll use a drone service.
RS: Yeah, and there’s no additional charge for that. And our policy is, if it’s a roof that we cannot access, if we can’t… I mean, if it’s a 12’12 roof, and it’s two storeys up in the air, we will take an extension ladder, a 28 foot extension ladder, and we’ll lean it up against the house and in a whole bunch of areas, and we’ll get a good look of the roof from the edges. And I’d call that accessing the roof. We’re not walking it, but we’re accessing it. But if it’s a three storey, and typically that’ll be like a townhome building where there’s just nowhere you can even lean a ladder up against, it’s too high. At that point, we’ll drone it. And we use a third party drone service. We pay them for it. We don’t make as much on those inspections, but for the few and far between where we have that situation, I like being able to get a good look at the roof, have those high quality images. I think it’s a good service to our clients.
BO: You gave it your best shot, is what you’re saying.
RS: Yeah. Yeah.
TM: We give it our best shot. And to dig a little bit deeper on the roof part too, one of the reasons we go through the house in what we like to say, “Wake it up,” turning on all the bath fans, turning on all the lights, anything that vents the outside is so that when we’re on the roof, we can check and make sure, “Okay, when I was upstairs, I know that there were two bathrooms upstairs, each one had a fan. So I’m gonna check and make sure we’ve got a damper on the roof or coming out of gable end somewhere.” If it’s going through the roof, I wanna make sure that I’m feeling airflow coming out of it, right? And that the damper is opening, there’s good airflow, to make sure that that fan is doing what it’s supposed to be doing in venting out. And sometimes when you’re up on the roof, either you’ll be counting and you’ll realize, “Well it seems like I might be missing a bath fan somewhere,” [chuckle] or…
TM: Maybe the damper’s not opening, and so that is a good kind of red flag to be thinking about, “Hey, when I am in the attic or when I’m walking around the outside, I need to be looking for these bath fan terminals and see, maybe the bath fan duct came loose in the attic and it’s just blowing air in the attic. Maybe they forgot to cut a hole through the roof and actually vent that thing out.” I’ve seen it. We’ve all seen that before. Or maybe it’s going out of gable and we need to check the damper when we’re walking around the outside too.
RS: Right now too, if I could just share a couple of good tips for inspecting roofs and share some mistakes I’ve made.
RS: If it’s a wood roof, never ever, ever walk it when it’s wet or damp. Never.
TM: Do you have a story that goes along with this? I sense a story.
RS: Oh, there was one where it was mostly dry and I was just walking along, but there was a section of it where it was still covered in shadow, the sun hadn’t reached it yet, and then had morning due on there, or some morning frost. I don’t remember what it was, but all of a sudden I’m just walking along, not paying much attention to which part was covered by the sun, ’cause most of it, most of it was, and I just… Boom, I went down fast. I went right down on my hip, and luckily I didn’t slide down the roof, but my feet just went right out from underneath me like nothing. So it really changes the grip ability of a wood roof when it’s wet. So if it’s wet, don’t walk it period. If you’re walking in asphalt shingle roof, my advice is bring gloves with you because it doesn’t take that hot of a day for the sun to get those things really, really hot. And if you’ve gotta go down on your hands and feet backwards or forwards, because it’s a really steep roof, you will blister your hands. Those roofs get so stinking hot. So wear gloves when you’re walking the roofs too.
BO: Why is it so much harder to get off a roof than it is to get on a roof?
RS: Same reason cats get stuck in trees.
RS: Whatever that is, it’s the same science.
BO: Very good.
TM: To that point though about roof getting really hot, what do you think is an unsafe temperature to actually walk a roof because you could cause damage to the shingles?
RS: I don’t know, that’s a great question Tess.
TM: Because when it gets really hot, you can damage the shingles and the protective granules can kind of come off on it too, so there’s a certain point… I’m sure… Anyone listening in the south, I bet they have their threshold for…
RS: Yeah, I don’t know. I think if you’re using Cougar pause, that’s a type of boot that just about everybody in on our team has, and they’re made for walking roofs, they’ve got the soft spongy bottom that’s super grippy. I think if you’re using those, you’re probably not gonna tear up an asphalt roof, but if you’re wearing traditional shoes, yeah, you could tensually kinda scuff some of it up, yeah. We don’t have a magic number for that.
BO: Okay, what do you do on tile roofs? What do you do on the clay tile roofs, the slate tile roofs. Are you going up there?
RS: For us, and this is just us, if you’re in a different area of the country, I know it’s standard for home inspectors to walk those. We have them, they are so few and far between, and it takes some specialized knowledge to be able to safely walk them without damaging them, and when our inspectors come across like one a year, our policy is we don’t walk them, we will lean a ladder up against it in a bunch of different places, but that’s as far as we go. And to the best of my knowledge I don’t know of a single inspector in Minnesota who does walk those types of roof coverings. It might exist, but I don’t know him.
TM: Oh yeah, you know also too, just to throw this in there, if you’ve got a masonry chimney, we will do just a level one chimney inspection on that from the roof too, if we can. And so we’ll document what the crown looks like, what the walls look like, any flashing details. And then if we can, we’ll try and look down the chimney too. So if there’s a cap on there that’s held on with a few screws, we’ll loosen those screws, take it off and actually take a look down and look down the clay liner.
TM: I forgot to mention that.
RS: Yeah, good point. And home inspection standards of practice do… Well, at least the ASHI standard of practice implies that you’re supposed to look down those flues if you can access them. It says that you’re not required to look down the flue when it’s obstructed by a chimney cap implying if it’s not, you gotta do it. So yeah, it’s important to do that. Use a good flash light and secure that chimney cap cover when you’re done, I’ll share a fail on that once I…
RS: This was probably 10 years ago now, where I had inspected a house in St. Louis Park and I had taken the both of the chimney caps off to get a good look down inside, put them back on, thought I had screwed them on tightly, but apparently I didn’t, and I guess the wind took one of them and blew it off.
TM: Oh no.
RS: And it blew off like a couple of days later or something, but the home owner saw it sitting in the yard and she was furious. And I wish I had saved her voicemail because she was like, “You know, if you didn’t like my chimney cap, you could have just said so. You didn’t need to take it and throw it down in the yard.” And she was like, she thought I was disgusted with her cap and I just chucked it like, “What’s this?” It was comical how she thought I was insulted her house and of course I drove out there the same day or the next day, and apologized up and down, and I put it back on. I said, “I did not throw it off, I forgot to screw it, I’m so sorry.” And luckily, it wasn’t damaged, I was just able to put it back up there and screw it on. But yeah, make sure you screw it back on tightly. I don’t know how I messed that up.
TM: Oh gosh, that’s classic.
RS: But never messed it up again, that’s for sure.
TM: That’s classic.
TM: Oh my gosh.
BO: Typically, how long are you up on the roof doing all of these various pokings and proddings?
RS: I’d say it depends on the roof, I’m gonna say somewhere between five and 20 minutes, depending on the house. Tess, what do you think?
TM: Yeah, the least amount of time would be five minutes, that’d be like a really simple like thousand square foot ranch or something.
TM: Yeah. But you could spend 20 minutes, it depends too what if you’ve got a house with multiple different levels of roofs and the only way to get from one level to the other is to move your ladder around and check that out.
RS: Oh yeah, Tess, I remember one with George, when George was in training, he and I were going around together, and there was one… It was a solid hour.
RS: From the time I took my ladder off my truck to the time I was putting my ladder back on the truck, solid hour to inspect all the different areas of that roof. Going through a fence yard.
TM: Oh my gosh.
RS: And this, that and the other. Yeah, yeah, it can take a long time.
TM: There’s some houses that have a mixture of flat roofs, you need your one ladder to get onto a flat roof, then you need a 28 foot ladder to get onto a shed roof, and then you need your little giant to get on to a gable roof, all in the same house, yeah. Those are a workout.
RS: Yeah, yeah, that’s one of the hardest parts of this job physically is carrying around that big extension ladder, setting it up, taking it down, putting it back on the vehicle. Oh, let me share another fail, almost fail. Whatever the mistake is, admit it. It was like one of the first inspections I had ever done and my clients are there, and I put the ladder back up on my truck, and I didn’t want to see them fumbling around with me trying to figure out how to strap it on to my truck. I’m just like, “Yeah, I’ll strap it on to the truck after we’re done with the inspection,” well, you know what happened?
TM: Oh, I’ve done that, Reuben. I’ve done, I’ve done that too, but I only made it a block away before I remembered and luckily it was still on my car.
RS: Yeah, same here, same here. I did not get far, it didn’t fall off my truck, it was… Nothing catastrophic happened, but I saw it like wobbling around on top.
TM: Oh my gosh.
RS: And I went oh my goodness that’s…
TM: Oh [laughter]
RS: My policy now is when the ladder gets set on the racks, that’s when it gets tied down.
RS: You never come back to the…
TM: Yes, good tip, good tip. [laughter]
BO: Well, if you use electrical cable, like your dad does, to secure his ladder down, it only takes 13 14 seconds.
RS: That’s his style and it has worked for him forever. He uses 10/3 Romex, and that’s how he secures his ladder. Yeah.
TM: I didn’t realize that.
TM: Oh, Neil.
BO: Alright you’re getting off the roof and now you’re flat on the ground, take me to the next place.
TM: Well, the next place, we’ve kind of got an outline so our inspectors need to do the exterior next, and some people will start at the garage, some people will end at the garage. Let’s just start at the garage here. We will open up the door, we will make sure the garage door is opening properly, opening closing the door itself looks good, and then we will inspect everything and anything in the garage that we can.
RS: People wanna know about our policy for testing garage door openers.
TM: Please explain.
RS: Well, the question is, what about the auto-reverse sensor? How do you test that? You can have sensors at the bottom of the door where it’s got the magic eyes.
RS: And you break the beam and the door is gonna go back up, that’s an auto-reverse sensor, it’s been required on doors since around 1990 ’91, something like that and our policy is if it’s got one of those, you break the beam and you make sure the door goes back up. They are pretty much a fail-safe, or if that beam breaks, the door is gonna go back up, but we still test it because I have run across houses where they had them in place and they weren’t doing anything, they just weren’t even connected, and the real sensors were duct taped together on top of the… On top of the opener.
RS: So it gave the perception that the eyes were doing something but it actually didn’t, so we do break the beam. Another way of testing these is to place an object in the path of the opener, or a lot of home inspectors will just grab the door coming down with their hand, and once they feel that there’s about the right amount of pressure, if it doesn’t go back up, they write it up. Let me tell you this, if you’re a home inspector and you’re doing the hand test, you are wrong.
RS: You can’t do the test that way, there is an industry standard for how to test an overhead garage door with an impact, and you need to lay a 2 x 4 block of wood flat on the ground, and let it close on that 2 x 4. That’s the only industry recognized test. That’s it. And the reason is that there’s this lever action that’s exerted on the overhead door as it’s coming down, and once it’s within the last 6 inches of travel, the force is exponentially increased by the opener upon that overhead door, so that’s the part that we care about, it’s the last 6 inches of travel. And again, industry standard, flat 2 x 4, you do it with your hand, you are making up your own test, it’s not valid. If you damage a door doing that…
RS: Well, I don’t know what to say, you might damage the door, you probably won’t, but I wouldn’t consider it a valid test. The only way to do it is a flat 2 x 4, and on that topic, we have bought too many failed garage door openers where we put a flat 2 x 4 underneath there, it closes on it, it doesn’t go back up when it hits that 2 x 4, but the motor keeps working, it’s gonna burn out the motor on an opener that’s at the end of its life, and then the opener doesn’t work anymore, and then the home inspector broke it. So, when that happens, we’ve paid for a number of them, but it sucks and if there’s already a properly installed auto-reverse sensor, I’m happy with that. Show me the body count of people getting injured where you had properly installed sensors and it still injured somebody.
RS: So, that’s all we do. If we have a door that predates the auto-reverse sensors, we say, “Replace it for safety.” It’s already past the end of its life expectancy. Life expectancy for an opener is gonna be somewhere around 15 to 20 years. We are at what now 30 years, we’re way past the point where it probably should have been replaced, and we’re really comfortable saying, replace this $150 garage door opener, it’s past the end of its life, doesn’t have the required safety features that have been in place for 30 years, put a new one in.
BO: Can we go back to the guy who… Or maybe it’s a woman? Who has such a beef with these eyes, the beam eyes, that they would actually tape them up and then put fake ones down there.
BO: And then you’re like, “Who are you actually kidding?”
RS: You’re trying to fool the home inspector.
BO: Okay, so that person is obviously a home inspector, ’cause nobody else in [chuckle] their right mind would spend more thought time than maybe 14-15 seconds about that.
RS: I agree, Bill.
TM: Reuben, you retain so much of that information about garage door openers. We should just call this podcast garage door openers, but…
BO: He needs a tangent to get on every episode.
RS: I do.
TM: I was gonna say, didn’t we have a continuing education class at our local ASHE chapter with someone who came from a garage door company?
RS: Yeah, yeah, that’s where I got schooled on all of this.
TM: Right, right. And I think actually some good takeaways from that too, is to check all the components of the door itself actually. And recently, I’ve seen this a few times through some of our people in training, where they’ve spotted that the actual opener is not squarely located for the door, it’s off to one side and some other hardware and stuff that’s rusty or corroded or something like that too, that could cause that door to fail.
RS: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
TM: So we consider all the components.
RS: One of the biggest takeaways I got when that guy came out to teach us is that most of these overhead doors are gonna have these steel cables that are attached to a torsion spring that help to lift the door, and it’s really… It’s the spring doing all the work, you should be able to disconnect your door from the opener, and at any position you put that door in, it’s supposed to stay right where it is, and that means the springs are doing their job. All that the opener is doing is guiding the door along the track. It’s not doing a lot of work to actually lift it. And so you got these steel cables coming down and they always connect right at the bottom, and in Minnesota during the winter, you got lots of salt, lots of snow that sits at the base of these overhead doors, and it will rust the heck out of those steel cables. So pay attention to those steel cables ’cause they rust right at the bottom, and then when they snap… You know when your neighbor’s door snaps because all of a sudden the door… I can’t do it with my hands, but the door gets cattywampus, that’s the technical term. It’s like one side is down at the ground, the other goes ‘niahhh’, and it goes up [chuckle] about a foot, that’s ’cause your cable snapped, usually. And the failure point is right where it touches the ground, so pay attention to rusting cables.
TM: Super important. We have talked way too much I know about garage doors. I was gonna add one more thing, and this is from Tessa’s fail file.
RS: Go on.
TM: This is probably in the first year of me doing inspections on my own, and it was a detached garage, and there was no way into the garage except from the actual garage door itself, and there was an automatic opener for it. And I had saved it for last, I was actually going around the outside of the house first and inspecting that. And part of our process is checking all the exterior outlets and trying to make sure that they are GFCI, and they’re operating properly, and so I had done that, and I had used the outlet tester, used my test button. Hit the test button, tripped the outlets on the outside of the house, not thinking anything of it. And I get to the garage [chuckle], that the reset for these exterior outlets was actually inside the garage, and I couldn’t reset that outlet because I couldn’t get into the garage because the garage door opener was on the same circuit and it was tripped, and the power was killed to it too. So I had no way to get in the garage [chuckle] so we said… And I remember, Reuben, did I call you or shoot you a text? I can’t remember, but I reached out to Reuben, and I was like, “Reuben, I’m in a really bad situation and I don’t know what to do.” And I think you sent me a link to a YouTube video about how to…
TM: Break into the garage safely with a coat hanger. [chuckle]
RS: Yes, that’s exactly right, Tess.
TM: Yes, this is so strange. There was a coat hanger in this house that was vacant, and I took this wire coat hanger, took it apart. Had a really long piece of metal, and I was able to squeeze this coat hanger up in between the garage door and the weather stripping at the top of the door. And I could pull the release with this coat hanger from the outside [chuckle] I could pull the release on the garage door, and I was able to then manually lift the door open from the outside. But it took a few minutes, it took some maneuvering, but it actually worked.
RS: But Tessa, that’s when I knew you were a keeper. [laughter]
TM: Oh man, I was sweating, and the buyer’s agent was there and they were watching me and they were just looking at me like, “What the heck are you doing?” Just, oh my gosh, sweating bullets, but came back from that, recovered. Reset the outlet, test the door, it was all good. So that was a long story, but this all goes to show, if you’ve got a garage that does not have another way into it, don’t test any GFCI outlets with the door down. That’s all I’m gonna say.
RS: Amen. Yes. And Tessa, you are not the first person to do that. There’s a reason I knew about this video [chuckle], let’s leave it at that. Policies and procedures in writing now, it’s like you need to pass down this knowledge to the next person.
TM: Yeah, yeah, definitely.
BO: Are you gonna inspect the outside of this house at some point?
TM: Yeah. We’ll get there. How much time do we have though? [laughter] Oh gosh, okay. Well, so we’ve done the garage and then the rest of the exterior. So where do we start with the exterior? Again, we like to walk the opposite direction we did when we first showed up on the property, and this time it’s for real. We’re actually looking at everything very closely this time around. We’re looking at the siding. We’re looking at, has it been installed properly? What type is it? Is there a weather barrier underneath it, if we can check that? If it’s vinyl siding, right? We’re looking at windows, we’re looking at flashing details, we’re looking at grading and drainage, sidewalks, all of it. Reuben, what did I miss? I missed a lot.
RS: That’s about it. It’s not much on the outside to look at. No, just kidding. [laughter]
TM: Decks, oh my gosh. And we’ve talked about decks before.
BO: I just like the black hole of home inspections that you can get lost in?
RS: Yeah, there’s so much on decks. We’ve talked about inspecting your own deck. I think we did a podcast on that. I think there’s too much for us to cover that in process and procedure.
BO: But the one thing you can’t overlook is the stucco chimneys, guard rails on decks, just like little stuff like that, but…
TM: And actually, newer stucco houses too, we’ve… We talked about that on a podcast before, the issues with new stucco and concealed damage and everything, but yeah, it’s not just new stucco, you can have concealed damage on houses that have wood siding or vinyl, and so just paying attention to again, you know, the big picture. I think it’s really easy for us as home inspectors, if we’re really detail-oriented, looking at something so closely, to take a step back every once in a while, and again, think to yourself, you know where is the water going? This house doesn’t have any roof overhangs protecting the walls from rain or from bulk water, we’ve got all these windows, we don’t have any head flashing, we’ve got vinyl siding, and we don’t have any weather barrier underneath there, so it’s just gonna increase the potential for concealed water damage, you know, with all those situations, and especially if you’re missing kick out flashing and gutters and all of that too, it can just add to it.
TM: So you really have to be paying attention to it, even though you’re looking closely at things, right? You notice that there’s some damage to the siding here, or a missing head flashing here, you really have to kind of ask yourself, okay, you know this missing head flashing on this window, is this a big deal? What age is this house? What type of materials are used in the wall? Are they durable? Is it 100-year-old old-growth wood beneath this or is it, you know, 2000-built house with OSB and no weather resistive barrier over top of it? What are we dealing with here? And think about the big picture and put these things into context, and I think that’s a challenging part too, I think for training purposes, when we’re, you know, training new inspectors, it’s like, you know, you can have this detail that has a defect with it, and in some situations it might be more critical, some situations, it might just be a comment, and I’m trying to think of an example, but let’s say for instance like… Well, I kinda already said it, head flashing above a window.
RS: Yeah, perfect.
TM: Yeah, if you’re missing head flashing above a, you know, house that was built, let’s say in 2000 and it’s stucco and there’s no overhang from the roof and this window is getting hit by lots of water over the years, that’s gonna be a much bigger issue than missing head flashing on a house that was built in 1900, that has two layers of siding on it, [chuckle] and it’s a 100-year-old wood on the wall sheathing, and we know that heat and air flow is getting through that wall cavity to dry out any moisture in that wall, you know I’m not as concerned about missing head flashing on a window like that.
RS: Yes, yes. That’s so important to us. It’s taking stuff in context, I mean it’s the exact same defect, but if you’re just using traditional, standard home inspection software and you didn’t write the comments, you’re just using what somebody else did, the comment is, there’s no head flashing here. And what do you do about it? And you can’t apply the exact same language to every house, and one house, there’s no head flashing, nah, who cares, it’s there to help prevent water damage, but things are probably fine, and on another house, you’re missing head flashing and there’s a good chance that you got water leaking in and I’m gonna recommend intrusive moisture testing to see if there’s a problem. I mean it’s two very different conditions when it’s the same defect.
RS: Two different houses.
TM: Also another part of that too, not only just inspecting and having that lens that you’re looking through, okay, you know, what’s the story this house is telling me? When was this house built? Is this gonna be a big issue? But you also have to be able to kind of put these things in context for your client too. At least that’s what we try to do. When our client shows up at the end, you wanna be able to explain these things and have them make sense to someone too, so, you know, it’s not gonna be the same exact comment and the same severity for every defect on every single house and for every single client.
RS: No, no, exactly. You know, I think we’re just about done with the extra procedures. I mean, aside from actually getting into the nitty-gritty details of home inspections, which… Okay, I’ll admit I’ve done that a few times already but… [chuckle]
TM: Guilty too, guilty.
RS: I mean that is the procedure for inspecting the exterior, it’s just be methodical, we talked about the direction you do it, the photos you need to take, and the rest of it, it’s… We don’t really have it lined out in our policies and procedures document, there’s too many variables, but I will say one other tip, we don’t have it in our P and P, but just a little mistake to not make is don’t lock yourself out of the house. [chuckle]
RS: If you got one of those doors that locks behind you when you close it, make sure you unlock it, make sure that if there’s a key to the house, there usually is, my advice will be put the key in your pocket and keep it in your pocket. Don’t set it on the kitchen counter or leave it in the lock box receptacle outside the house, one of those two, but don’t leave the key in the house. I’d advise you against doing that. Ask me how I know.
BO: Right. [chuckle]
TM: Well, and I would say, don’t put it in your pocket. Ask me why I would say that. [laughter]
RS: What happened with you Tess? You went home with it or…
TM: Well, I’m surprised you don’t remember this. Well, I’ve done that too. I’ve gone home with the key in my pocket, but no, there was one time where a key fell out of my pocket while I was doing the inspection, and I… Reuben, didn’t you get a call from the seller? ‘Cause I think they called you directly to complain about how I had lost the key.
RS: Yeah, yeah. They were very upset.
TM: Very upset. And I had searched, I mean, I had searched everywhere and I thought, man, I bet it came out while I was in the attic, you know, ’cause I was climbing through the trusses and kind of doing weird maneuvers and stuff, and I had searched the entire interior of the house, I had walked around the outside, could not find it, and I’m like, “Oh my God, it’s gotta be in the attic”, and the seller got home and they found it in the yard, like in the grass in the yard, like five minutes after looking for it, so glad that they found it, but just be careful wherever you keep the key, be conscious on it. [chuckle]
BO: Right, right. One last hack, Reuben, this was an interesting day when this happened too, check any gas-burning fireplaces for bird nesting before you turn them on.
RS: Yeah, we had somebody turn one on and it lit the bird’s nest on fire at the outside and our inspector was on the roof when this happened, and he didn’t know what was gonna… He just saw smoke and then flames coming out the side of the house.
TM: Oh my God.
RS: I think he did a fireman slide down his ladder and got the garden hose and went to town, called the fire department, that was a to-do. Yeah, for sure.
TM: Oh my gosh. Well, that’s stuff that we can catch on just our quick initial walk around the outside. Note, there is a bird’s nest in that fireplace, I’m not going to turn it on, or remove the nest first.
RS: Yeah. I never would have caught that in a million years.
TM: I don’t think… I don’t know if I would have either, in theory right? In theory.
RS: In theory.
TM: In theory. You know, I was just gonna say too, one other thing on the outside, I think it’s important, we’re checking all these bath fan dampers, and there’s a kitchen exhaust that goes to the outside, making sure that damper is opening as well, but if you’ve got a house that’s got an HRV or ERV system, you turn that on when you’re doing your initial walk-through on the house, make sure it’s running, so that when you’re on the outside, you can check and make sure the intake is actually pulling air in and the exhaust is actually blowing air out.
RS: Yes, and if you’ve got a high efficiency furnace, make sure that those are the same, make sure the out is out and the in is in. We’ve found those done wrong a lot. Even on brand new construction, they’ll get those backwards.
BO: Wow, we might have to save that for next time or you two can kinda nerd out on what you just said, because for anybody who’s not a home inspector, they’ll be like, what? Let’s pick up there next time, ’cause then eventually we have to get inside and see if we can find any plumbing leaks or anything else, but… Reuben, Tess, anything else you wanna add before we close on this one?
RS: No, this is fun. Sorry that we geek out on some of these things, but we’re gonna keep doing it for part three of this series, I guarantee you, we’re gonna have more of these fun, fail stories.
TM: We need you to keep us on track.
BO: Well, I was gonna say in the prep work for doing these podcasts, it’s like, Okay, you two stop talking all the time about all this stuff, you kinda go off on a… Down a gravel road that goes into the woods and you gotta bring it back to the interstate, but it’s good that people can learn from your mistakes and failures, ’cause God knows if you can save somebody an afternoon of frustration, it’s well worth it.
BO: You’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman. Two very long-winded home inspectors… No I’m just kidding.
BO: Jump back in next week when we wrap up our series on what a home inspection procedure actually looks like, all the boxes we check, then you can hang on a shingle and go on your own and start making a living as a home inspector.
RS: That’s all it’ll take.
BO: That’s right, that’s right. And a few videos on YouTube and maybe an occasional shock once…
BO: Alright, thank you everybody for listening. It’s always a pleasure. We appreciate it. We will catch you next time.