It’s the final stretch for the talk about Structure Tech’s home inspection process series.
Tessa, Reuben, and Bill start by talking about the top 5 things that they specifically look for when walking inside a house. They follow a step-by-step flow process that they stick to, in order to avoid being distracted and missing things.
Tessa talks about checking outlets, windows, and bedrooms, which are the easiest part of the inspection. She highlights that they also take time to check the bathroom water system, kitchen appliances, plumbing, and to note cracks on the floors and walls. Wood or gas-burning fireplaces are also required to run for a specific amount of time before performing any type of combustion testing. The basement is inspected for water intrusion, signs of moisture, environmental problems, floor drains, and potential foundation issues.
Tessa shares that the nose is one of the more powerful assets as a home inspector as it will cue inspectors to many potential problems during the inspection process. Reuben shares that infrared and time-stamped images have helped them address complaints. He adds that their thorough process, record keeping, and data availability also support their consistency with every inspection.
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.
Reuben Saltzman: I realize that I’m the worst offender. The intention of this was to talk about process, why we do things in the order we do them in, and I got on tons of tangents on what we do. We’re talking about why we do things in the order we do them in.
Bill Oelrich: 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, talking all things houses, home inspections, and anything else we’re thinking about on a given day. We’re getting back to the process of inspecting a house and we’ve spent two sessions already on this. We set it up in session one, basically what we’re doing and kind of the overview. Session two, we spent the entire time talking about the exterior, well with a couple of other caveats. And today we’re gonna go inside the house and we’re gonna kinda walk you through our interior process.
RS: And you know, we did a little bit of a prep work before hitting record on this podcast. I realized that I’m the worst offender. The intention of this was to talk about process, why we do things in the order we do them in, and I got on tons of tangents on what we do and the specifics of that. So I apologize. I’ll try to stay on topic. I’ll try to stay focused. We’re talking about why we do things in the order we do them in. That’s it.
BO: Can you really ever separate the what, the how, and the why? It just feels like they’re married.
RS: I guarantee we’re gonna get into some more what today.
Tessa Murry: Yeah.
BO: I’m gonna put both of you on the spot right now. So Tessa, I’m gonna start with you. So Reuben, you’ll have an extra second here to think. What specifically are you looking for when you walk inside a house? Give me the five low-hanging fruit types of things. Categorize them or something right? Like this is what I’m after.
TM: That’s a great question. You know what, I feel like when I walk into a house, I try to keep an open mind because every house is different, and to be sharp as a home inspector, you have to be looking at things with kind of this curiosity, like, what am I gonna find today? But if I had to kinda boil it down, I’d say, looking for… Well, obviously, we’ve got electrical systems, we’ve got plumbing systems, we’ve got structural systems, we’ve got ventilation and mechanicals, we’ve got, I’d say, environmental concerns too. And so those are kind of the big things. But when you walk into a house, it’s being perceptive to say, “Okay, I know I’ve got this process to follow, I know I’ve got these things that I’m looking for, and following the process helps me find these things.” But it’s like looking at things with fresh eyes to be like, “Okay, what? There’s something unique going on here. I need to dig a little bit more.” Does that make sense?
BO: Okay, I’ll take that answer. Reuben?
RS: I don’t know if I can do a top five, Bill. But I can tell you the biggest one that is more of something that I feel when I walk into a house is indoor air quality problems. Now, we do not do indoor air quality IAQ. We don’t do IAQ inspections. When you got bad air, when you got a bad environment inside the house, it can lead to so many other problems that get documented in our reports. And so often I can walk into a home and I just feel that something’s wrong. It might be you have a gas leak and you get an odor of natural gas. It might be improper venting of a water heater, and you just get that little whiff that of an odor of back-drafting flue gases. It might be, you have a plumbing fixture that’s not working right, and you got sewer gas coming into your house. So all these are odors.
RS: It might be that the humidity is way too high, it’s like you walk into a house and you can just feel the change in humidity and you go, “What the heck is going on here?” And that can lead to destroyed windows, mold and frost in the attic, frost and mold in closets. It might be basement water issues. I remember a house where I walked in and it just punched me in the face, and instead of doing my traditional walk-through, I just said, “I’m going out of order today.” And I went straight down to the basement and found sub-slab ductwork, and I went right to one of those ducts and found standing water in there, and it was like… It was the first thing I came across right when I got to the house, just ’cause my spidey senses were going crazy. I had to figure that out. So I’d say just kind of the atmosphere of the inside of the house is probably the first thing that home inspectors subconsciously get really attuned to.
TM: Reuben, I love that answer. I think that’s what I was trying to say, but you articulated it much better. It’s like you can’t…
RS: I had time while you were talking.
RS: I was thinking.
TM: I mean, you have to be… I think the bottom line is, you have to be adaptable. We have this flow process at Structure Tech that we follow, and it’s step by step through the house. But it really is, you walk in and you have to go with your gut on how you… What you’re perceiving or where your spidey sense takes you, Reuben likes to say.
BO: My answer was going to be rot, water, structural concerns, and I really like the idea of indoor air quality. To me, you’re trying to eliminate those from the conversation, and you look around and you’re like, “No, not there, not there, not there, not there. Perfect, we can move on to the next room.” Now, Tessa, let’s talk about the actual process a little bit without getting too far into the weeds, because you have all these systems inside a house and all those systems, they exist inside a room. So basically got five sets of eyeballs moving around the room in any given time, but tell me what you do first. I know you go to the top, but when you enter a room, how do you check off all of the necessary boxes before you leave and give it the thumbs up, thumb sideways, or the thumbs down?
TM: Well, I think this is where it’s really important to have a flow process that you follow and you stick to, because if you start jumping around, it’s really easy to get distracted and miss things. So we start, as we’ve mentioned, at the top of the house, and we work our way down. And we also have a policy where you wanna either start on the left wall and work your way clockwise or start on the right and work your way counterclockwise. And it’s just being systematic about how you go through each level of the house and really each room in the house too.
TM: Yeah, so I’d say just a quick overview, we’ll start up on the top floor, and usually if there’s a big jacuzzi tub somewhere up there, that’s a good place to start to get that thing going, ’cause it takes a while to fill and at that time, start turning on the water in that bathroom, the owner’s bathroom, if they have a shower and stuff too, and get that going. And then it’s getting back on track and working your way from left to right in counterclockwise or clockwise through the rest of the upstairs, testing everything, and…
RS: Now Tessa, this is all on process. Let me jump in.
RS: You’re filling that jacuzzi tub, you start filling it, you’re done with the bathroom, do you leave the bathroom to inspect the master bedroom? Oh wait, we’re not supposed to say master anymore, are we?
TM: Oh, yeah, it’s owner’s, yeah.
RS: The owner’s suite.
TM: The owner’s suite. Yeah.
RS: I remember. So you go in to inspect the owner’s, do you leave the bathroom to inspect the owner’s suite?
TM: You know what, this is my favorite answer. That depends, how quickly is the tub filling, right? And can you safely walk away from that tub? And we’ve talked on other podcasts about disaster stories there with forgetting of the tub.
RS: Okay, alright, Tess. It’s a quarter full, you’re a quarter of the way up from the overflow, took five minutes to get there. Do you sit there and stare at it?
TM: No, I don’t. I think I… Well, initially, when I was a new inspector, I did, ’cause I was so scared. But as I got more comfortable and I got my own process with it, I would say that I’d spend a majority of the time just in that bathroom checking the sinks, checking the drains, checking electrical outlets, toilets, showers, all of that, ventilation, windows. And if the tub’s still filling, then I might venture to the owner’s bedroom, owner’s suite bedroom and start checking outlets and windows and all of that too. I don’t know. How do you do it, Reuben?
RS: Well, I’m just asking. I leave, I do.
TM: You leave.
RS: I can’t sit there and watch it. I know I’ve shared on this podcast sometimes, well, at least one time where that got me in big trouble. I flooded a house because I realized it when I got to the basement that it was still running. That was an insurance claim. Yep, never felt more incompetent in my life, but you develop a process you gonna figure out what it’s gonna take to not let that happen again. One way would be to just simply not leave the room. I’m not gonna do that. My method is I’ll set a timer on my phone. I look at how fast it’s going, how long has it been? And it’s like, alright, set a timer for three minutes, and then go back and check on it. Alright, still not there, set a timer for two minutes. Some other inspectors in our company use an alarm. They’ve got a little water alarm where they just… It’s suction cups, they stick it on the side of the tub, and if water reaches this alarm, you’re gonna hear it anywhere you are in the house, it goes nuts. And I think most of the time they probably get back to the tub before the alarm ever goes off, but it’s just a fail-safe, just in case they forget, you’re gonna have an alarm screaming at them. So I think that’s super smart.
TM: Yeah, that’s a good trick. But I think it is fair to say whatever you’re comfortable with, as long as you’re not gonna forget about it, and there are some tubs where you can inspect the entire upper level of a house and it’s still filling when you’re done.
BO: Every tub?
RS: That’s the house I flooded.
RS: It was just like that.
BO: Every tub? Are you filling every tub? I mean, really?
RS: Oh yeah.
BO: All the way to the… A full bathtub?
RS: Well, here’s the deal, Bill, if it’s a whirlpool tub, we’re gonna turn on those jets and you gotta bury all the jets. So absolutely. And you can’t just bury them, you gotta really bury them, ’cause if you’re just above the surface, you might still have water splashing out. Rookie mistake for any new home inspectors out there, make sure those jets are pointed down.
TM: This would have been a helpful podcast for me when I started out. I made a gigantic mess, and the jets were so dirty that it just sprayed black goo everywhere on the walls.
RS: Oh, I can’t imagine.
TM: Yeah, it was a mess to clean up.
RS: But even if there’s not a whirlpool, even if there’s not a motor in and it’s just a traditional soaking tub, it’s nice to make sure that that overflow doesn’t leak. Not only that, but this is a good way of running a lot of water through the system. And if you’ve got a problem with the main building drain, it’s probably gonna evidence itself after that bathtub is done draining. You’re gonna have a floor drain that backs up. So it’s another way of really stress testing those main drain lines.
BO: Do you do the same with showers, or is there a set period of time you wanna see those run? And does it vary depending on where they are in the house?
RS: 20 minutes. That’s the magic number. Well, if it’s a traditional shower, no, but if it’s a tiled shower, we’ll run water for 20 minutes on cold to make sure that it’s not leaking.
TM: And you’re talking about a tiled pan, right?
RS: Thank you. Yeah, tiled shower base. Exactly, tiled pan. Thank you.
BO: Okay, that’s water. What else you got going on? I mean, you’re hitting all the systems kind of simultaneously in these rooms, right?
TM: Yeah, you are. You’re checking all… At Structure Tech, we try to test every single outlet that we can get to, so we’ve got outlet testers, we’re checking GFCIs, we’re checking all the windows that we can get to as well.
BO: You open every window?
TM: We do. So I know that our standards of practice that we follow say a representative number, but we open every single window that we can get to and check every single outlet that we can…
RS: Yeah, the standards are pretty weak. A representative number is defined as at least one in every room. It’s like, are you kidding me? No, we’re not following the standard of practice, we’re not doing the minimum there. That’s for somebody who charges $200 in inspection, that’s not us.
BO: Do you have some opinions you care to share?
RS: I just did.
BO: Okay. Alright.
TM: No filter here. But yeah, so I’d say that probably on the interior of the house, this is when you’re checking bedrooms and you’re checking just windows and doors and outlets, that’s probably… I think most inspectors would agree, that’s the easiest part of inspecting a house, right? ‘Cause there’s so much stuff to look at on the exterior, and when you get into the basement typically or a crawl space or an attic, but going through the inside, you can… I feel like you can start to kind of cruise through a lot of these things.
BO: Are you kinda hopping on the floor to make sure it’s solid, or looking at walls to make sure they’re… You know, there’s no obvious patches or something.
TM: Definitely, yeah, checking cracks, noting cracks and seeing if there’s any other structural issues potentially going on to stains, if you’ve got stains on the ceiling, making note of that, documenting it and also trying to figure out what caused it too. We use an infrared camera to help us determine if something is currently wet or not, and so we do a scan with the IR camera before we start testing all the plumbing, underneath kitchens and bathrooms to see if there’s any signs of water leaks, and then we scan it again after we’ve run all this water to see if it changes.
RS: Well, at least, at least we used to, when we were doing flood testing on shower bases, I don’t know if we require people to scan below plumbing fixtures before testing them now.
TM: I think that’s in the flow process. I’ll have to double check that. Well, it may or may not be.
RS: Murry, I’ll shut up. That’s what I get for being out of the field for a couple of years. [laughter]
TM: Yeah, I think it is. And especially if we’ve got stuff like the whirlpool jetted tubs, we’re definitely, as soon as we turn that on, we’re checking the ceiling, scanning below with an infrared camera or anything that you visibly can’t really inspect or see from an access panel, we’re getting our infrared cameras out and scanning that as quickly as we can.
BO: I always felt there was enough risk involved that before was important, because if somebody says, “Hey, you missed my toilets leaking,” it’d be nice to say, “No, I didn’t ’cause when I started, here’s where it is, clearly it was dry, the people have been living here are using it, this must have happened afterwards.” And even if you do your before or your after is it seems like just a… I’m not saying you need this armor vest, so people don’t come back and get mad at you, but it’s one of those things you can never go back in time and get. As long as you’re there, it’s nothing to do.
RS: And those infrared images have saved our butts many times, where someone claimed that there was a leak and we’ve got infrared images showing look, after all of our testing, it’s dry, it’s time stamped. This happened after our inspection.
TM: Well, and to that point, I think that’s a good reason why we have a policy procedures and why we have this process that all of our inspectors follow, because if there are complaints, we know what our inspector did and we have the data to back it up too.
RS: Yeah, yeah, we can be totally confident and say, “No, we know we checked that, we are consistent with every inspection.”
BO: Is it fair to say you do the same thing in every room, bedrooms, you just don’t worry about the plumbing and you just move through the house that exact same way, open windows test doors, all the systems?
TM: Yeah, open closed doors, look for anything weird. Right, you’re always just keeping an eye open for something strange or out of place. There are holes or cracks or something like that, evidence of pests, evidence of mold, asbestos, stuff like that. So it is, it’s keeping an eye open for those things, smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms.
BO: Are you testing those? Or are you just looking for them?
RS: We’re just looking for them, we do not press the test button, that can change at any time, and we put a note in our report saying that these need to be tested monthly. And most of the time, we’re recommending that they be replaced on top of it because we recommend photoelectric smoke alarms on every inspection when they’re not present, and most houses don’t have them.
BO: Odd question, but I want both of you to tell me how you approach this or if you use this tool, do you employ your nose and report on unusual smells?
RS: I have, I wouldn’t say I do, typically, when I smell something, I try to get to the root of what it is that I’m smelling and I report it with pictures. Odors are so subjective, so it’s pretty tough to report on that I gotta… It’s gotta be over the top to make it into my report.
TM: I think that my response is similar to that, usually I’ll try and figure out where it’s coming from or what’s causing it, and usually you can figure that out, is it sewer gas smell, is it a funky crawl space where a cat has been using it as a litter box for 20 years [laughter], is it mold, something like that. Usually, you can figure it out, gas leak. I think I did have one inspection though, where there was just this really bad funky smell and I could not find the source of it, and I did put it in the report, I don’t know what was causing it, but maybe it was like dead mice in a wall or something.
RS: I thought of an exception to that that I think we all report on regularly which is a rotten egg odor in the hot water. That indicates a condition in the water heater, it’s like sulfur or something like that, and it might be a bacteria issue in the water heater or the sacrificial anode rod is completely gone, that can lead to a rotten egg odor in the water, and it’s not something we can take a picture of, it is like a punch in the face, it’s quite obvious, and that is something that we report on regularly.
TM: You know, I can’t think of ever smelling like a rotten egg odor from a house that had city water before, but if we’re inspecting a house on well water, I’ve smelled that before.
RS: Sure, that could be a well condition too. Definitely.
BO: Some of the suburban water is a little challenging. It’s a little irony and do you know what is the root cause of that sulfur smell, is it iron or?
RS: I think it’s always bacteria.
BO: I don’t think you wanna drink bacteria, it doesn’t sound like healthy.
TM: No. Gross.
RS: Outside my pay grade, I don’t know.
BO: One more reason to live in the congested urban core.
TM: Convenient urban core.
BO: You get to drink the Mississippi, the muddy Mississippi, it’s nice and clean by the time it gets to tap.
TM: After a lot of filtration. Yeah, one thing we kinda skipped was just the attic inspection, I know we talked about attic access stuff, but when you come in house… Our inspectors can choose to either inspect the attic first, when they head upstairs or they can wait and do it at the end, and so there’s some different, depending on what the weather conditions are or what the inspector prefers, some do it at the beginning, some do it at the end.
RS: I’m pretty opinionated on that one, if it’s a summer day and it’s a morning inspection, you do the attic first because it’s gonna be nasty by the time you get to noon or whatever it is, it’s gonna be really hot up there. So do it first if it’s gonna be a hot summer day. And otherwise, you do it last, because you got the potential to get dirty in there, and it’s just nice when you leave the attic, if you’re leaving the house, if that’s like one of the last things you do, you can brush off outside and if it’s your second inspection of the day, you go home and take a shower when you’re all done.
TM: Yep, definitely.
BO: Okay, inside the house. Bedrooms, rec rooms, that’s what my dad used to call them, “Go to the rec room.” So living room, family room, bedrooms, those are easy. Bathrooms, you have to run some water. What are you doing in the kitchen? And why are you doing what you’re doing? Because the kitchen is a little more involved, right?
TM: Yeah, the kitchen is a little bit more involved. There’s plumbing, there’s appliances, there’s electrical there. So all the basics with testing outlets, checking for GFCIs, making sure light fixtures are grounded above sinks. And then, we actually… We have a pretty detailed process for how we inspect permanently-installed appliances, as well. And the reason that we do that is because it seemed that, and Reuben, you can jump in here too if you know, what was the percentage of complaints we would get about appliances?
RS: Out of the complaints that we would receive, about 10% of them were focused on appliances.
RS: “This isn’t working. You inspected it, you didn’t say anything, I just moved in and it’s not working right, or I’ve been here for two months and now it’s leaking. And you should have caught it during your inspection.” Yeah, a disproportionate number were about appliances.
TM: Yeah, yeah, people have an expectation. If they’re spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars to have their house inspected, they wanna know if their clothes-washer is working properly, or their dishwasher is working. And so, we’ve put together this kind of appliance testing procedure for how we do that. And we basically, we will turn on the clothes-washer, we’ll throw in a towel, make sure that it goes through a complete cycle, the water drains out of it and we’ll also test the dryer, turn it on, make sure it’s able to dry the towel that we bring. And we’ll do the same thing, we’ll run the dishwasher through at least a rinse cycle. We’ll test microwaves, make sure they’re heating up a glass of water or a wet paper towel, document that. And then refrigerators, we’ll take pictures with the infrared camera to make sure that we document that they’re cooling the way that they should and freezers and check the ice and water if they have a built-in ice and water feature too.
RS: Yep, and then we take pictures of all of these things to document it.
TM: Yes, thank you. And we don’t…
RS: Those don’t necessarily go in the report but…
TM: Right, yeah.
RS: We have those images.
TM: Yep, we have them on file.
BO: Do you care if appliances are really noisy?
TM: If it’s making a weird noise, it sounds like it’s not working right, I would definitely document that. But again, noises are subjective, right?
RS: Yeah, Tess is telling you, “it depends”.
TM: You know, one cool feature, though, with the report writing software we’re using is it’s really easy to take a video and put it into the report. So if something’s making a weird noise, you can just record a few seconds of it and put it in the report, so that the client can hear it for themself.
BO: I like that.
BO: ‘Cause again, that’s a… You can’t go back in time.
BO: And dishwashers have been known to be loud.
TM: Yeah, and garbage disposals too. We’ll test those and run them, take a short video. So we’ve got it all documented.
BO: Gotcha, okay. So we’ve cleared the top floor. Maybe you have six floors, I don’t know. Now you’re moving down, down, down. Now we’re in the basement. So what’s extra and special about the basement that you have to do in this whole process?
RS: Look for signs of basement water intrusion.
TM: Yes. [chuckle]
RS: Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Sorry, Tess.
TM: That is Reuben’s specialty. Signs of moisture. I was gonna add one more thing quick too, fireplaces. If people have fireplaces or wood-burning fireplaces or gas fireplaces, those are something we definitely check. And with a gas fireplace, we’ve got a process for testing those, as well. And we’ll let those run for… Depending on what type of fireplace they are, 15 minutes to 45 minutes before we actually test and make sure they’re not leaking carbon monoxide or gases back into the house too.
RS: Yeah, and those are not our numbers. Those are standards developed by… Who is it? CSA or UL or some standard? I don’t know where it comes from, I don’t remember. But it’s like if you have a gas fireplace leaking exhaust gas, and it has not run for at least 15 minutes, your findings are worthless. It needs to run for at least that long before you can test it. And it depends on which standard it’s built to. So like Tess has said, either 15 or 45 minutes, that is a standard. It was not established by us.
TM: Yeah, and I was gonna say too, with new construction houses, we can’t do that test on gas fireplaces because they need to run for… What is it, eight hours minimum?
RS: That’s right, yup.
TM: Before we can do that test to burn off all the chemicals, I think… Or what’s the reason behind that?
RS: I’ve never gotten a clear answer.
RS: I don’t know why.
TM: We don’t know why. We just know we can’t get an accurate test if we turn it on and it hasn’t run for at least eight hours.
RRS: Yeah, the new construction, all we do is verify that it works and that’s it.
BO: It likely has a warranty if it’s not working, right?
RS: I should hope so.
BO: You’ve been in some big houses where there’s multiple gas-burning fireplace… That seems very time-consuming to crank all these things up, let them run for anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes. What’s guiding you on 15 to 45? Is it something on the inside that says, “I’m special, and I have to run for 45”?
RS: Yeah, and now that you asked, I’m picturing the standard. I said, UL or CSA. It’s not either one of those. It’s ANSI.
TM: ANSI, yeah.
RS: Yup, and there’s two ANSI standards that fireplaces are built to. I don’t remember them off the top of my head. I wanna say it’s like 21, 80 and 21, 50.
TM: 50. Yes, I think that’s correct, Reuben.
RS: Okay, yeah.
TM: Which one is the 15 minutes and which one is the 45, I can’t remember.
RS: I don’t remember either. And I know there’s a handful of people on our team who don’t want to have to remember, and so they always run them for at least 45 minutes.
TM: Yes, I was gonna say, that’s just what I do. It makes it simple. You just run it for 45 minutes. And usually what I’ll do is I’ll just on the initial quick walkthrough as I’m turning on lights and turning on fans and waking everything up and just getting the initial inventory, I’ll flip on those gas fireplaces, so that when I finish up the roof and the exterior, I come back inside, now I can test those things. And they’ve been running for 45 minutes and then turn them off.
RS: Yep, it’s good.
TM: Yes. Especially if it’s summertime, you don’t want it running any longer than it has to.
RS: Yes, those do kick out some heat for sure.
TM: Yeah. Sorry, Bill. I pulled us back up to a main floor situation, but we were heading down to the basement.
BO: Right. I wanna know how much are you employing your nose again in the basement? Do you have a smell test when you walk into the basement?
TM: Oh, definitely. Reuben, yeah, you’re shaking your head. Definitely, that is… I think your nose is one of your most powerful assets as a home inspector and it will cue you to so many potential problems, especially in basements.
BO: I see Reuben sniffing around the outside edge of a house.
RS: Yeah, I use my nose a lot, man, getting down on those outside walls and the suspect areas, putting your nose close to the carpet, smelling for what might be mold. Absolutely.
RS: We do it that a lot. Now, probably you try to do that when your clients are not looking ’cause you look downright goofy. But it doesn’t mean we don’t do it.
TM: Well, and gas leaks too, it’s a… We have tools that can check for potential gas leaks, gas sniffers, but personally, I just like to use my nose. I’ve got a really sensitive nose, so I’ll just put my nose close to all the gas manifolds and gas lines that are accessible and just take a whiff. [chuckle]
RS: Yup, that works just as good as a gas sniffer. It just doesn’t look as cool. That’s all.
TM: Yeah, but if you’re someone who doesn’t have a strong sense of smell, I would suggest that you definitely use like a gas sniffer or something like that.
BO: Your punch list is quite a bit longer in the basement though.
BO: Off the top of your head, how many components do you think you’re actually looking at when you get into the basement of a house in Minnesota?
BO: Okay, I like that. [chuckle]
RS: No, I… There’s a lot. The high level is looking at the heating plant, whether it’s a furnace or a boiler, looking at the air condition or at least the part of it that sits inside the house, the water heater, the electrical panel, the framing and structure in the accessible, unfinished areas. And what did I miss, Tess? Did I miss any others?
TM: Well, yeah, just foundation issues potentially too, I guess that falls in the structure. And plumbing, any plumbing that’s visible, any gas lines that are visible, and signs of moisture or environmental problems too. I don’t wanna get too far into the weeds, but like floor drains and making sure you’re not having any signs of water backing up and that they’ve got their clean out plugs installed and there’s… It’s a little bit of everything, plumbing, electrical, structure, environmental, HVAC.
RS: Yeah, and once you’re down in to those nitty-gritty details, I can’t really think of any reason why you would inspect one before the next one, I can’t really think of why the process for those would change all that dramatically, which of course is the focus of the show, is process. With the exception of the electrical panel, I guess one thing, I don’t remember if we touched on this in a previous podcast or not, but what we’re doing at the beginning of the house, like Tessa explained, waking the house up as we’re turning on all the fans, all the lights, we’re running a big load on the electrical panel, we’re turning everything on, and that is something we do at the beginning, is we take an infrared image of the panel, so that if there’s any breakers that are really hot, we’ll document it and we’ll try to figure out why it is. I remember a new construction house I was inspecting where they had changed one of the bathroom fans to a fan that had a heater built in, and it was drawing way too much load.
RS: It was drawing like 22 AMps on a 20 AMp circuit. And if you know your electrical, you know that you can’t have a continuous load that exceeds 80% of that circuit breaker, so if it’s a 20 AMp breaker, 20% of that would have been 16 AMps. That’s the max you should have on it. So, this was a wiring issue and the infrared camera alerted us to it, there’s no way we would have figured that out without an infrared camera.
TM: The breaker didn’t trip?
RS: No, it didn’t. When you’re only two amps over the 20 AMp threshold, it’s gotta be that way for a long time before that breaker trips.
TM: Okay. I had a similar situation with a dryer, I think, electrical clothes dryer that the wires were overheating and were melted. But I wanted to ask you, can you do that scan of the main panel with the actual panel cover still on it? Or do you need to take the panel cover off?
RS: If you can still scan the circuit breakers, and if you got a hot breaker, that’s gonna indicate an overloaded condition. Now, it’s not gonna show you hot wires, that will be too much load, but that’ll be a hot wire and a hot breaker, but more often, a hot wire is gonna indicate a poor connection between the wire and the breaker.
TM: Or an undersized wire potentially too, but then the breaker would trip. No.
TM: No, it wouldn’t. No, it wouldn’t. [chuckle] Sorry, I corrected that myself. [chuckle] Okay, because…
BO: Okay, as you two argue about that, what’s the why behind that?
TM: If you’ve got an undersized wire going to a breaker, then that breaker is not going to trip. So…
RS: Yeah, the breaker doesn’t know what size wire you got.
TM: Right. So an undersized wire is dangerous because of that, it can overheat and start a fire and the breaker will not trip.
BO: Okay. And all of this can be discerned after waking up the house and you being in there for two hours and… Or is that your best attempt at collecting this information?
RS: Yeah, more like four hours. Yeah, not every time. I’m sure there’s been plenty of houses where they have stuff that was technically overloaded and I never found it, but we’re doing the best we possibly can to identify this stuff.
BO: Do you have any hacks that you can share with people? I have one off the top of my head that I remember Reuben talking about, but specific to old houses with big stacks and elbows on the stack.
RS: Oh, you’re talking about the… Oh yeah, the plumbing line. Share it away Bill.
BO: Well, I’ll see if I can explain Professor Reuben’s teaching. But the stack is also the vent pipe, and in on these old houses, the stacks are made out of usually cast iron.
RS: That’s right.
BO: And then so if it’s coming straight up and then it turns at like a 90 at the floor to go wherever, sometimes that 90-degree elbow will actually rot out and it rots on the top of the pipe, not the bottom of the pipe. Is that correct?
RS: Yup. That’s right.
BO: And you can just, like sometimes just literally feel the crack or pick a piece of that entire pipe up and be like, “This is broken.”
RS: Yeah, and it’s usually so high that you don’t see it, it’s like you gotta put your hand along the top of it to identify this, that’s an advanced home inspection move right there, Bill.
TM: There we go. Yeah, definitely advanced level.
BO: I remember one house, I was in in a basement, and you didn’t need to be advanced to understand that this probably wasn’t a good idea. There was so much pressure on this sewer line, and I don’t know why that would be, but if you… There was no plug, it was just wide open, there was no, nothing. It was just a sewer line, if you put a piece of paper over it, it would literally lift it two feet off the ground and just blow it away. And this was a house on the kinda southwest side of St. Paul, sort of in the… There’s a bunch of caves and things over in that area, and I have no idea why there was so much pressure on that sewer line, but it was really pretty amazing.
TM: Interesting. I was just thinking about another category that we didn’t even talk about, and technically it is something that we do not need to really report on or inspect, but I think it’s something that clients these days expect, it’s comfort. And I’ve had clients in the past that have complained about certain rooms being much colder in the winter or hotter in the summer, and so one of the things that we’re doing as is we’re going through this house too, is just… We test the furnace, we test the AC if the house has that and make sure each room is getting adequate… Well, not, I shouldn’t say adequate, has some sort of heating cooling system for that space as well, and if it doesn’t, or I would say if you’ve got a room that’s like a cantilever and there’s no conditioned space below it, that’s gonna cause potential comfort issues or over a crawl space, that’s not conditioned that can cause comfort issues too, and so a lot of times I’ll… If I’m seeing a house where I can discern that there’s going to be potential variations in temperature, then I’ll talk to a client about that too, especially if it’s a concern of theirs, and they they’ve brought it up.
RS: And Tessa, to touch on that something… One other process thing that we have is we want all of our inspectors to finish the inspection by sweeping the house with their infrared camera, check every one of the rooms, every heat source or cooling source and make sure that it’s hot or if you’re running the AC, make sure that it’s cold, make sure that you’re checking every room with your infrared camera, it’s a quick way to do it, and that’s the same time that you go around and you shut the lights off…
RS: And possibly scan below plumbing fixtures one more time while you’re doing it all, that whole process probably takes five to 10 minutes total, and it can identify a lot of problems and eliminate a lot of complaints, ’cause if you leave a light on, you better believe the seller is gonna be furious about the thousands of dollars that you’re costing them in electricity for a lightbulb being on for an hour.
TM: Yeah. Well, and actually one thing too to add to that is we’ll take pictures with our 360 cameras as we go through as well, each room, just to document the house as we leave it, some people take them at the beginning, personally, I like to take them at the end, again, it’s more of a protection for us as a home inspector, say this is how we left the house.
RS: Gotcha, and just in case anybody doesn’t know, it’s a camera that takes a 360-degree image, it’s a special camera, you hold it over your head, you click it and it captures the entire room in one shot, so we’ve got every surface of every room photographed at every inspection.
BO: There it is, that’s a wrap, that’s a complete structure tech home inspection from the getting out of your vehicle to walking in the front door.
RS: That’s it.
TM: Well, that’s the technical side. We didn’t even get into what we communicate with clients and how that works too, but that can be another episode.
BO: That could be three episodes. I mean, seriously, you start dissecting all of this and it takes a while to do it, I mean the how, the why, the what… There’s more here, I’m always amazed when we start talking about these things like process, it just goes on and on and on and on and on.
TM: And we, you know what, congratulations to us, we stayed pretty high level today, didn’t we?
BO: Yeah, not bad. Reuben, there’ve been no tangents. It’s kind of…
RS: Not a lot. We had a couple… A little bit…
TM: A few.
RS: But not much. I think we did pretty good.
BO: I left my buzzer downstairs too, I was gonna… I was gonna buzz you when you started talking to long about something somethings specific. Maybe jacuzzi tubs.
RS: Maybe, maybe.
BO: Alright, so Reuben’s writing the test right now, after you get done with the three episodes of the process, you can ask him through email to take the test and he will send you some gold star if you pass it.
BO: You notice how I just slipped some extra work for you in there, Reuben?
RS: I appreciate it, Bill. Thank you, I will be sure to forward those emails to you.
BO: Yes. Alright, anyway, thank you everybody for tuning in, it’s always fun just to kind of hash this process over, there’s a lot that went into it, a lot of pain, but also a lot of learning, so thank you very much, you’ve been listening to structure talk a structure tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich as always, I’m with Tessa Murray and Reuben Saltzman. And we will catch you next time. Thanks for listening.