Robin Jade Conde

PODCAST: Home Inspection Terms Explained

In this insightful podcast episode, Reuben and Tessa delve into an array of technical terms crucial in the realm of home inspection. They elucidate terms such as GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter), AFCI (Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupter), mold, HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning), crawl space, R-value, efflorescence, and flashing, providing valuable explanations and sharing practical experiences. They underscore the significance of these concepts in the context of home inspections, offering both professional insights and relatable anecdotes. The hosts navigate challenges encountered in the industry, particularly in effectively communicating sensitive issues like mold to homeowners. The conversation expands to include terms like in-slab ductwork, sub-slab ductwork, and transite ductwork. Throughout the discussion, Saltzman and Murry foster audience engagement, encouraging listeners to share feedback and propose topics for future episodes. This podcast segment serves as an informative and engaging exploration of essential terminology in the field of home 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: Welcome to my house. Welcome to the Structure Talk podcast, a production of structure Talk Home inspections. My name is Reuben Saltzman. I’m your host alongside building science geek, Tessa Murry. We help home inspectors up their game through education, and we help homeowners to be better stewards of their houses. We’ve been keeping it real on this podcast since 2019, and we are also the number one home inspection podcast in the world, according to my mom. Welcome back to another episode of The Structure Talk podcast. Tessa, it’s just you and me today. One-on-one. How you doing, Tess? 

Tessa Murry: Hey, Reuben, it’s good to see you. We’ve been having a lot of guests on recently. I know we talked about this recently, but it’s good just to see your face and I am excited to kind of dive into your brain today. ‘Cause I know when we don’t have a guest on, it’s usually gonna be a topic that you’ve been thinking about a lot recently.

RS: Yes, yes. I still got the blog going every week. There’s always a new topic. And I always do videos. I try to always do videos on those. And a lot of the time, it’s just, it’s fun to do them in podcast format, ’cause with the blog, I try to be concise, think through exactly what we wanted to say. But with the podcast, it’s fun to expound on a lot of this stuff and do the long format where we just kinda riff on some of this stuff.

TM: Yeah, because we dive into it.

RS: So I thought this would be a fun one to do. And so today…

TM: So what’s s the topic for today? 

RS: Today, we’re gonna talk about home inspector terms. We’re gonna talk about the stuff that home inspectors talk about, these phrases we use and terms we refer to day in and day out. And for us, they just become everyday terms. But I think for a lot of people buying houses, people who don’t know a ton about the home industry, a lot of people get lost with a lot of these terms we use. So I thought it’d be fun to kind of decode a lot of this, get into the inspectories talk and explain what all this stuff means.

TM: I think how have we not done a podcast on this in the last, what? 

RS: I know.

TM: Four years that we’ve had a podcast? I think it’s because sometimes we just, we’re inside the fishbowl and we don’t take a step out of it to realize, yeah, we inspectors, we have a whole different language we use. A lot of it is construction terms or just lingo from the field that we completely, I mean, we take for granted that we understand what these words mean. But when we’re talking to a typical home buyer, homeowner, seller, whatever, a lot of times, we don’t even realize that we need to take a step back and explain some of these terms we use day in, day out. It is. It’s a different language. So I’m excited to dive into this list that you’ve put together and see if there’s some other terms too that we should add to it as well. But let’s get started.

RS: Okay. All right. The first one that I thought of, and this is like items one, two, and three. It should make up the first three, I think is deferred maintenance.

TM: Deferred maintenance. Okay. Explain to me what you mean by that, Mr. Inspector? 


RS: Well, this, what I’m gonna say on this podcast and what I might say during a home inspection are probably gonna be two different things. I’d say deferred maintenance is a euphemism. It’s a very nice PC bedside manner friendly way of putting something when what we’re really trying to say is…

TM: It’s crap.

RS: It’s crap. That’s a good way of putting it, Tess. Yeah. People have not been doing the work that they should have been doing, we’ve got some… It’s neglect. That’s another way of putting it. There’s maintenance that should have been done and it has been deferred. It’s a nice way to put it. It’s been put off, or maybe to put it yet another way, it just hasn’t been done. How’s that? 

TM: Yeah, it hasn’t been done. And there could be a lot of reasons as to why. And we’re not trying to put blame on the homeowners, or say shame on them. ‘Cause there are all sorts of situations where people may not be able to take care of their home and we understand. But as a home inspector, we come in and you can take a wide variety of these projects that should have been done and lump them into this category of deferred maintenance. And I think it’s important for people to understand too, this could be something as simple as like maybe a little bit of chipping, peeling paint to potential areas of rot that are allowing water in and water’s been getting into the wall for years and years and years, and there’s a lot of issues going on, like structurally and with mold and whatnot. So it could be, when we say deferred maintenance, hopefully your inspector is explaining exactly what’s going on and what the potential liabilities or issues could be as well.

RS: Yeah. And Tess, that makes me think of one, we chatted a little before the show about some other ones that you may have come up with. And I think that’s a good segue for one on your list. You had mentioned water intrusion.

TM: Yeah.

RS: To me, this is just basic, everybody knows what water intrusion is, but maybe you don’t. What is water intrusion, Tess? 

TM: You know, I was talking to my family about this and they’re like, yeah, just the terms that you use with water intrusion. And I was like, huh. I thought the same thing as you, Reuben. Like that’s very self-explanatory. Water and intrusion. But they’re like, no. Us common folks say, “You’ve got a leak.” What do you mean by water intrusion? And so I think it’s one of those terms where you have to kind of it could apply to a lot of different scenarios. Some being minor issues, minor little leaks, and some being potentially bigger, bigger issues. More problematic, more costly things. And water intrusion is basically anytime you’ve got outside water leaking into your house, it could be through the walls. It could be through the roof, it could be through the ceiling. And it could be from things like rain or snow to even potentially, like we deal with in Minnesota, frost inside the attic when it gets really insanely cold and water dripping in that way, that could be water intrusion or even water from an ice dam coming in. So there’s lots of potential ways for water to get into your house. And a leak doesn’t always necessarily, I think, describe these different ways.

RS: Yeah. And the way I differentiate it, I mean, my line in the sand is if the water originated from inside the house, it’s not water intrusion. The water was already there. That’s a leak. That’s a problem.

TM: Yeah. Good point.

RS: For sure. But water intrusion means the water’s coming from outside.

TM: Yeah. Thank you for emphasizing that point. That’s very important. Because I think of, I think home inspectors a lot of times use the term leak for, like you said, Reuben, when there’s like maybe a water pipe inside the house that’s leaking or dripping or there’s a plumbing leak somewhere else. That’s when I think a lot of times we say there’s a leak.

RS: Yep. Okay. So another one, let’s talk about some positive. Here’s one we talk about frequently is a clean house. Whenever a home inspector talks about a clean house, we’re not talking about meticulously scrubbed down and vacuumed and mopped and all that other jazz. We’re talking about a house that has been well maintained. It’s in good condition.

TM: You don’t use that term literally sometimes.

RS: Every once in a while, maybe, but no, for the most part, I don’t, no. I’m not talking about…

TM: Why is that? Why don’t you comment on a house being clean Sometimes? Is that a bad thing? 

RS: I’m not there to look at that. That’s a transient thing. I mean, you hire house cleaners and now the house is clean. I’m not here to report on dirt. We’re here to talk about the condition of the house or the permanent condition. So, a clean house doesn’t mean that it has been thoroughly scrubbed. It means the house is in good shape. That’s a good thing to hear your home inspectors talk about a clean house. And…

TM: Yeah. And just to expound on that for a second, one thing you taught me when I was learning to inspect was that we don’t comment on aesthetics. We try not to. That’s a very personal thing. And we’re here to look at the technical system, the systems of the house and the condition that they’re in, and safety issues and structural issues and maintenance and all of that. And so it’s not our job to say, oh, this paint color is really atrocious, or this carpet is really old. Like, and that of course can get you in trouble, as you can imagine as a home inspector.

RS: Oh my Goodness. Yeah.

TM: So we try to stay away from those comments and those personal opinions about people’s houses and their choices. And I think whether or not something is clean or filthy dirty is kind of lumped into that category, right? 

RS: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

TM: We, we don’t… If someone is… Yeah. People have different ways of living and we try not to talk about those.

RS: Yeah. And almost to a fault, not a fault, but we do a very good job of it. And a lot of people know that about us. I remember specifically there was an agent, she and her clients were buying this house. They had us inspect it and the walls, the whole inside was like bright pink. I mean, it just screamed at you, and Tessa, it was hideous and they hated it. They knew they were gonna paint this house right away. Can’t imagine how many people didn’t buy the house ’cause of the colors. But I mean, they knew they hated it, but they knew that when my dad came out to do the inspection, he would not comment on it. And so they set up a camera and they recorded him coming in the door just to see what a good poker face he was gonna have. It was hilarious. I mean, he walked in, you saw him look around, he raised his eyebrows a little and then he went right into it. And they all just burst out laughing because he had such a poker face.

TM: I can totally imagine Neil just going, “Oh, okay.”

RS: Yeah. Okay. Alright. Hi, I’m Neil.

TM: It’s very good.

RS: Yeah, So, alright, that’s clean. Another one, I don’t know if this is a common home inspector term. Maybe it’s just something that I used to say, but whenever I was inspecting a really clean house, I’d apologize to my clients for this being a very boring inspection. And I feel like that’s definitely a good thing to hear a home inspector talk about.

TM: Well and then you have to explain hopefully to the people that boring is good, right? 

RS: Yes, yes. Definitely. We always do. We say, and I don’t mean that in a bad sense. It’s a nice house. But yeah, I don’t wanna have a ton of stuff to talk about. I’ll show you how everything works. I’ll give you a great education today, but I’m not gonna have a gigantic report for you with a bunch of suggestions. ’cause I don’t have a lot. This house is very clean.

TM: Yes. Boring is code for clean. Anytime your home inspector says, well it’s been a long day or there’s a lot to look at here, or this has been a very interesting inspection.

RS: Interesting.

TM: In between the lines, that means you got a lot going on there. It may not be a good thing.

RS: Alright, next one on the list, grading. I feel like everybody knows what this is, but maybe not.

TM: Does the house get an A, B, C, D or F? 

RS: No, no. That’s not what we’re talking about, Tess. We’re talking about the slope of the ground around the outside of the house. You want the ground to slope away. So water drains away and when it does slope away, that’s positive grading. When it doesn’t slope away, when the water drains toward your house, we call that negative grading. It’s graded towards the house. And it’s easy to remember. Negative is a bad thing. You don’t wanna have negative grading. You wanna have positive grading, you want the ground to slope away. I think just about every home inspector is gonna talk about this at some point when we’re walking around the outside of the house. Agreed? 

TM: Agreed. Yeah. That is one of those kind of technical terms, I guess, when you take a step back. Not everybody, not every homeowner talks about their negative grading around their house, so. But it’s something we talk about every day and is one of the most important things when it comes to keeping a house dry and structurally sound and avoiding any moisture problems.

RS: Yep. Agreed. Another one…

TM: That’s a good one.

RS: Thanks. Another one would be end of life expectancy. And this is such a big one. I was actually writing this blog post with all these terms and I decided end of life expectancy needs its very own blog post. I mean, we need to do a better job of defining life expectancy ’cause so often, we’ll say, oh the water heater’s nine years old, average life for a water heater is 10 years. It’s at the end of its life expectancy. And then right away, you get people who turn to their spouse or whatever and say, oh, the home inspector said the water heater needs to be replaced. No, that’s not what we’re saying. Just because it’s at the end of its life expectancy doesn’t mean that it’s gonna go out tomorrow. We have no idea how long these appliances are gonna last. And I think about applying this term to humans. I mean, you go to the Google machine…

TM: Good point.

RS: And yeah, you, you look up the, like the average age of a male in the United States, it’s 77 years. That means maybe if I’m within 10% of that, if I’m say 70, you might say I’m at the end of my life expectancy, but you don’t know anything about me. You don’t know what I’m…

TM: Time to say goodbye.

RS: Yeah, yeah, exactly. You don’t know what my diet is, how much I exercise, what type of things I do to live longer. You know nothing about my history. Huh? 

TM: Is there a lot of deferred maintenance? 

RS: Exactly. Exactly. You know nothing about it. And the same thing goes for appliances. I almost wish we didn’t report on this as home inspectors ’cause we don’t have any way of knowing how long something’s gonna last. All we can do is go on averages.

TM: Yeah, yeah. Averages. I’m glad you’re bringing this topic up because we are… So we follow the ASHI standards of practice. Correct? 

RS: Yep.

TM: And do they require that we, if something is… If a big system is at the end of its expected life, we report on that? 

RS: Yep. That needs to go in the inspection report, need to report on stuff at end of life [0:15:21.5] ____.

TM: That’s the one of the reasons why we do that. And we also think, I mean, just from a practical standpoint, if you’re buying a house, it’s nice to know if your heating system or cooling system or something big like a roof is going to need to be replaced relatively soon. And like you said, Reuben, we can’t always say exactly when it’s gonna fail. That would be impossible. We would be wizards if we could do that. And there’s always going to be things that live way longer than we thought they would or things that may die sooner than we expected. So we don’t really know, but we do our best to kind of put things, I guess put things into context and give people a warning so that they can at least potentially budget or have a proper expectation of these systems. And so we do that. But like you said, it can be highly variable and it’s important as a home inspector to explain what we mean when we say that because it doesn’t mean, like you said, that you’ve gotta go replace this tomorrow. It means that it could need to be replaced soon, but it may not be.

RS: Yeah. And I don’t know, I personally think it’s pretty bad form for a home buyer to go back to a home seller and say, ‘”Hey, the water heater’s 10 years old, we want you to replace it.” Like asking for new stuff just because it’s old. It seems like really bad form to me. But I’m not a realtor. I don’t like to say it. I hesitate to even say it on this podcast ’cause I feel like I’m going outside of my lane. But if I’m selling a house and someone came back to me and they’re like, “Hey, I want a new furnace. ’cause yours is 17 years old.”

TM: ‘Cause is old.

RS: It’s working fine.

TM: Well, you’re buying a used house, so not everything’s gonna be brand new. So where do you draw the line of what you want the seller to replace and what you don’t want them to replace? Right? Just ’cause something’s old. Maybe the carpet is stained and you’re not asking them to rip out all the carpet. But I will say you know, I was looking at some properties with my parents recently and it was a beautiful town home and it was like 30 years old and it had been maintained really well and the roof was new, siding was new, everything was beautiful. But every single appliance was original. I mean even like the furnace, AC, it had an air exchanger, refrigerator, stove, microwave, washer, dryer, all of them were 30 some years old.

TM: And I just said, that’s a… You have to think about that and you have to really budget for that because who knows, you could move into that house and you have to replace every single appliance. And that could be really costly. So there might be situations where, again, you wanna work with a good real estate agent who can help you understand the market and what’s going on to see if it’s something you do try and adjust the price or negotiate over, ’cause maybe it is, if it’s something that’s gonna be 30, 40, 50 grand to deal with.

RS: Yep. Yep. Exactly. All right so that’s…

TM: That’s a good one. Yeah.

RS: So that’s the end of life expectancy.

TM: Okay. What’s next? 

RS: Another one we got on here is safety upgrade. What do you think of when you hear safety upgrade? 

TM: Safety upgrade. I have no idea. What does that mean when you’re talking about a house a safety upgrade for a house? 

RS: I’m thinking…

TM: In what context? 

RS: I’m thinking about stuff where the house was built. It was built to code. It’s all fine but over the years we’ve discovered there’s additional things you can add to the house to make it safer. Things like adding smoke alarms or carbon monoxide alarms or GFCI devices or arc-fault circuit interrupters or tightening the spacing on stairway balusters putting a metal screen in front of your gas fireplace all these different things. I would call these safety upgrades. The house was built properly. It’s not a defect based on when the house was constructed. But we’ve found better ways of doing things. We found ways to make the house safer. And all of these recommendations these are not pointing out bad things. We’re not pointing out defects. We’re saying here’s an upgrade you could do to make your house safer. I think it’s important to make that distinction.

TM: Yeah it’s an upgrade and you just rattled off a bunch of things that I think could also be on this list that we could talk about. Because it is home inspector lingo. But GFCIs and arc fault breakers are these newer doing in quotes air quotes safety devices for your electrical system that in theory prevent fires or prevent you from being electrocuted? And older houses may not have them especially where they should. And so those are things as a home inspector we’re looking for. And we would make a recommendation. It’s not a defect but a recommendation for these safety upgrades like you talked about.

RS: Sure. Yeah.

TM: Another thing and I wanna circle back to these GFCI what that even means and arc faults, so you can explain it Reuben but I also wanna touch on you said did you say smoke alarm or smoke detectors? 

RS: I said smoke alarm. I’m careful you get it right. Yes.

TM: So can you explain the difference between a smoke alarm and smoke detector and a CO alarm versus a carbon dioxide alarm [laughter] or detector? ‘Cause we hear that a lot too.

RS: Alright I’ll try to remember everything you just asked. First off the smoke alarm [laughter] and I’m probably not gonna get the technical definition correct. I’m going by memory. But a smoke alarm is gonna be a device that has both a smoke detector. It’s a sensor that will detect the presence of smoke and it’s gonna have some notification thing built into it like a siren to let you know that it has smoke and it’s all self-contained into one unit, that’s a smoke alarm. When you have only a smoke detector it might be part of a bigger system like a security system. Typically you might find it if you have a whole home security system or you’re in a commercial setting or you have remote detectors, these devices that detect smoke and then you’ll have a separate alarm or siren or something like that. That would be a smoke detector. But for residential 99.9% of what we see they’re going to be smoke alarms where it’s all self-contained. So smoke detector…

TM: Thank you for clarifying that.

RS: Is kind of an outdated term.

TM: Okay. That’s good to know. And what about the carbon monoxide alarms/detectors? What’s the proper term for that and what do they do? 

RS: Same thing. Same thing. CO alarm or carbon monoxide alarm. And you joked about carbon dioxide. So often we’ll hear people say oh you need to have CO2 alarms. What they really mean is CO, they’re never referring to carbon dioxide. They’re just using the wrong term. That’s all.

TM: Carbon monoxide, right? 

RS: Carbon monoxide.

TM: One Oxygen. Not two. Yes.

RS: Exactly.

TM: Okay.

RS: Thank you.

TM: Okay that’s good. And circling back to this, you’re talking about GFCIs as being an upgrade for a house for a safety upgrade and arc faults being a safety upgrade. Explain to me what those two things mean.

RS: Man, we should do a show just based on GFCIs and AFCIs. We should get an electrical expert to bore the heck out of everybody and explain exactly how they work. And I say that tongue in cheek. I’d be interested. I’d like to hear technically how they work.

TM: Yeah, how it works.

RS: But here’s my remedial understanding of it.

TM: High level.

RS: Yeah. High level…

TM: High level version.

RS: GFI stands for ground fault interrupter but that’s really an old school term, the more modern way of referring to it probably for the last 20 years would be GFCI Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. It’s the same thing as far as I know. [chuckle] And it’s this device that is constantly measuring the voltage going out and coming back in. It’s always going in and coming out… Going out and coming back in like 60 times a second or something like that. 60 hertz which gets us 120 volts. You multiply it by two ’cause it goes up and down. It’s this device that measures the voltage and if there’s any imbalance if some of that voltage is taking a different path to get back to its source meaning it’s leaking out, you got a problem. It means that somebody might be getting shocked.

RS: It’s like if I touched a wire some of that current might go through my body to complete the circuit means I’m getting shocked we’ve got a fault. It’s using the ground to get back to its origination so that we call it a ground fault. And to make it really simple it’s this device that helps prevent electrocutions. That’s the job of a GFI or a GFCI. And they come in the form of either circuit breakers. You can have a circuit breaker with built-in GFCI protection or you could have a standalone device. Most often we’ll find those in primary. I had to pause there. I’ll say the right term Tessa, primary bathrooms [laughter]

TM: Good for you. I still struggle with that.

RS: I remember your podcast with Rhonda Wilson. We gotta be PC here we’ll find…

TM: By the way for our listeners we are trying to not use the terms master bathroom or master bedroom. Correct? So.

RS: Yeah we’re following along with the real estate community. That’s what they’re doing. So we’ll try to follow along.

TM: We don’t want to offend anyone. Yeah.

RS: Yep. So it looks a lot like a traditional outlet except there’s nothing to plug into. It’s just got two buttons on there. It’s test and reset. And sometimes we’ll find those devices protecting the circuit for a whirlpool tub. You might have it tucked away in the primary bedroom closet or mounted on the wall somewhere in the bathroom. It could be a standalone device. It’s not too common to find those but they do exist. And then the one that everybody’s familiar with is just the GFI outlet or GFCI outlet. And that’s an outlet that has a test button and a reset button right in the middle of it.

RS: And you’ll find those in all kinds of areas where you have a greater likelihood of getting electrocuted if you get a shock. And the difference there if you get a shock it means you had electricity go through you. If you get electrocuted it means you die. There’s the difference between the two. So if you’re gonna have your GFI protect you, you’re still gonna get shocked but it’ll cut off the circuit before you get electrocuted. Did I forget anything, Tess? I know you know all this.

TM: That was very thorough. You did a great job explaining that Reuben. And just for any person that’s listening that may not understand what you’re talking about with circuits and stuff, just to clarify, in your house the electricity comes from a source either underground or overhead into your house. It goes through the electrical panel and then it takes all these different pathways and wires these circuits through your house to turn on lights and power outlets and all these things and then that electricity needs to find its way back to the panel back to the main electrical panel too to complete the circuit. So these devices you’re talking about are located either it’s a circuit breaker inside the electrical panel that can sense leakage in the circuit or it’s a device on the circuit somewhere like a GFCI outlet that can trip and cut off the power to that outlet so that you’re not electrocuted.

RS: Exactly.

TM: Right? 

RS: Yep.

TM: Yeah.

RS: Perfect.

TM: Yeah.

RS: Thank you.

TM: And those devices have not been around forever but the earliest ones were installed I think in pools in the ’70s maybe? 

RS: That’s right.


RS: That’s exactly right. Early ’70s yep.

TM: Yeah. So if we’re inspecting houses that are older than that that haven’t had any electrical upgrades or safety updates at all then we’ll be definitely recommending that homeowners install GFCI outlets where they should and potentially even breakers in the main panel.

RS: Yeah yeah. And then we don’t get that specific. We just say, “Add GFCI protection.” You can figure out how you want to do it. And just to hit it real quick some of the most common areas that we recommend upgrading to GFCI protection, it’s going to be outdoors, unfinished basements, kitchens, bathrooms, garages. What am I missing Tess? That’s most of them, isn’t it? 

TM: Unfinished spaces. Yeah, I guess places that could be near water, right? Where there’s exposure to water.

RS: Yeah or a really good contact with the earth. Yeah, either one. Yep. Like a garage that’s generally a dry place but that concrete slab I mean that is a great conductor. And if you’re out there barefoot you have a very good path to the earth. You get a shock when you’re standing on your concrete slab barefoot good chance you could get electrocuted. That’s a nasty shock. And you know what? You know what? There’s a recent change in the electric code. The current requirement now is that actually all basements, not just unfinished basements but all basement outlets need GFI protection now. All right.

TM: Wow I forgot about that.

RS: Yeah. We haven’t really caught up with that.

TM: Oh wow. Man, yeah.

RS: We don’t recommend adding it on finished… In finished basements in our home inspection reports yet. Maybe someday we will. I don’t know.

TM: Yeah.

RS: And then…

TM: And pretty soon it’s going to be like all outlets are GFCI outlets right? [laughter]

RS: And AFCI I bet. Yeah.

TM: And Arc-Fault yeah.

RS: So let’s touch on Arc-Fault briefly. Here’s my basic understanding of it. It’s a device that helps prevent fires. There.

TM: Yes.

RS: Are we good? 

TM: Okay, great definition. Yeah. [laughter] For the sake of time because I realize this podcast is already almost 30 minutes right? Yeah. For the sake of time…

RS: Yeah I said this is probably going to be a quick podcast 20 minutes and we’re going to be done.

TM: Yeah. And here we are.

RS: Here we’re not even halfway through the list but.

TM: Oh man. Yeah.

RS: But AFCIs it’s a lot the same. They come in the form of breakers, standalone devices, AFCI outlets or receptacles however you want to say it. And their job is to prevent fires. They sense when the current has these funky spikes because you got some type of shorting maybe and then they kill the circuit. So… Those are required all over the house. We’re not at the point in our home inspections where we recommend adding AFCI protection. I know some home inspectors do but we don’t. So there’s that. All right. I don’t even know what got us down this tangent Tess. How’d we get here? Where were we? 

TM: We’re talking about safety upgrades. And then you were rattling off all these terms that could be potential safety upgrades. And I’m like even those terms are things that might need translation for a typical homeowner. Yeah.

RS: All right. Thank you.

TM: Yeah.

RS: Okay.

TM: Yeah.

RS: All right. So back to our list.

TM: Moving on. [laughter]

RS: What does it mean when a home inspector talks about black stains or suspected organic microbial growth? What are we talking about Tess? 

TM: This is the big one. You didn’t save this for last. You wanted to dive right into this right now, huh? 

RS: Maybe I should have, yeah.

TM: Okay. Well we still have a guest [0:31:40.3] ____ to talk about it. I feel like this is one of the most challenging things to talk about because I feel like it’s a very sensitive topic and it can really upset a lot of people and it can impact even a transaction, right? Have you seen…

RS: Oh for sure.

TM: Have you seen deals fall apart because of this? 

RS: I have personally used… And what we’re referring to we’ll let the cat out of the bag here. We’re referring to mold when we say this or we think it’s mold.

TM: Mold. Yeah.

RS: I have personally put in my reports like “Hey there’s some staining under the kitchen sink that looks like mold.” I’ve always been very careful not to say it is mold if I’m not actually testing but you know there’s stains under the kitchen sink that look like mold have it cleaned up. Blah blah. I had one client I remember they couldn’t get a mortgage. Their mortgage company denied them their mortgage. They had to find somebody else because I used the word mold in my inspection report. They’re like “Nope the house has mold. We’re not giving you a loan.”

TM: Wow.

RS: So ever since then…

TM: Oh, devastating.

RS: I’ve been a little bit more careful. Yeah. Very frustrating.

TM: Well, and then the tricky part is too if you are not using the word mold and maybe you’re using something less incriminating or scary like dark staining then you’ve had that backfire too, right Reuben? 

RS: Oh yeah.

TM: You’ve had that backfire? 

RS: And then you get a contractor who comes out and says… I mean they just take one look at it. They’re not a mold specialist. They’re not an indoor air quality specialist. They’re none of that. They’re just a general contractor but they now have more trust because they’re somebody who works on houses and they go in an attic and they say “Oh that’s mold. You got mold here. Your home inspector should have told you that’s mold.” And you look at the report we said that there’s black stains and they’re like “Yeah you didn’t tell me it was mold. The contractor said it was obvious.” And it’s like your contractor has no idea about how carefully we choose our words. [chuckle] and they are not testing.

TM: Yeah. It’s like you lose. It’s a lose lose sometimes, the situation we’re put in. But I think one thing I’ve found depending on… Okay black stains or what did you say? Suspected organic microbial growth, mold, whatever word you use as a home inspector it’s really important to understand what a sensitive topic and word it is for people and what a trigger it can be and help them understand what you actually mean. If you’re gonna use the term dark staining, help them understand that it’s probably mold. If you’re going to use the term mold help them understand that you’re not licensed to even say that it’s mold, maybe if you’re in a state that requires like licensing for mold testing or whatever to diagnose that it’s actually mold. Let them know that from your experience this looks like mold but you can’t definitively say it’s mold. So we’re gonna call it mold-like staining but it’s really important just to make sure as you said Reuben people understand what you’re talking about when you use any of these terms.

RS: Agreed. Agreed. All right. So there’s black stains. We’ll go through a few easy ones HVAC or people say HVAC. We’re talking it’s an acronym heating ventilation and air conditioning. It’s the professional that deals with making your house warm or cold and moving air around in your house making sure that it’s properly ventilated. Are we good on that? We don’t need to go into any more detail right? 

TM: I don’t think we need to. Would that include something like an air exchanger? 

RS: Yeah for sure. That would be the V in HVAC.

TM: Okay.

RS: It’s the ventilation.

TM: And I think that might even be a term that some people may not know what it is. And depending on the part of the country you’re in it may not be so common to have an air exchanger. So if you’re a home inspector and you’re just using that term lightly you might need to expound on that, potentially.

RS: For sure. And there’s a bunch of terms for air exchanger. We use that. We we call things an air exchanger because we found it’s the most understood term but there’s a bunch of other more technical terms like a heat recovery ventilator or an energy recovery ventilator. The super old school term it was a brand name, everybody called it a vanEE system.

TM: Yeah.

RS: They kind of dominated the market, you know does the house have a vanEE? And we’re referring to an air exchanger and it’s the box that usually sits down in the basement in the furnace room. It’s gonna be tied into the duct work. We got them all over Minnesota. You get people in other climates and they don’t see them a lot but it’s gonna bring fresh air in. It passes it through a heat exchanger passes it through some filters and then it takes stale air and it brings it back out. It’s constantly bringing air in bringing air out. That’s it in a nutshell, right? 

TM: Yeah I think so. Yeah. You know we could do a whole show just on acronyms, couldn’t we Reuben? 

RS: Oh that’d be fun.

TM: HRVs, HRVs, ERVs, HVAC, Arc-Fault, GFCIs.

RS: So many of them. Yeah.

TM: So many.

RS: RTFM that’s I didn’t make that one up but I heard that [0:36:58.9] ____

TM: What did you say? 

RS: RTFM, read the friendly manual. [laughter] Okay. All right.

TM: Well, I’ve not heard of that until now.


RS: Maybe it’s not that common. Okay.

TM: Did you just make that up? 

RS: Well, I put in a friendly word for F.

TM: This is a G-rated podcast.

RS: It’s probably things that are improperly installed. This is a G-rated podcast. Yes.

TM: Yes.

RS: Okay. Crawl space.

TM: Keep it kid-friendly.

RS: Kid friendly.

TM: Oh, crawl spaces. Yes. You mean that spot above my ceiling, under my roof? 

RS: Because you have to crawl to get there? No, I don’t. Thanks for asking, Tess. ‘Cause that’s what people say all the time. Like, oh, have you gone up in the crawl space? And immediately, I got to think for a second. I’m like, wait, this house doesn’t have a crawl space. And then I’m like, oh, they’re talking about the attic.

TM: They mean the attic. Yeah.

RS: They mean the attic.

TM: Yeah. Or that little crawl space behind that short wall, like the knee wall, in the side attic.

RS: The knee wall attic. Yeah.

TM: Yeah.

RS: That’s not a crawl space. That is still an attic. And you know what’s interesting? Crawl space used to be defined in the Minnesota State Building Code. I’ve got my super ratty 2003 version of the building code, which is falling apart. I’m holding it up to the camera.

TM: That’s been well-loved.

RS: Yeah, well-loved. I know this is great pod showing you my building code book. But it’s 20 years old, over 20 years old. And we had a special section where Minnesota amended the code, and we added a definition to Chapter two of our version of the IRC. And we defined crawl space, and we called it areas or rooms with less than seven feet ceiling height measured to the finished floor or grade below. So we’re talking about the basement, the lowest area of the house. And we’re talking about areas that have seven feet or less. But then I remember we changed our building code. I don’t remember exactly when it was. I think it was like 2007 or something.

RS: Maybe it was 2015. And we changed it to say that you could actually have finished spaces in the basement. And you could lower your headroom down to 6’8″. And still make it a legal dwelling space. So I think we had to throw our old definition of a crawl space at that point. So now we don’t define it anymore. But crawl space, it’s gonna be the lowest part of the house. And think of the space between the ground and whatever’s above your head. And it becomes a crawl space when it’s too low to be habitable space. So Does that sound like a fair definition? 

TM: Yeah. And too low is hard to define. It’s probably under, what, 6’8″? 

RS: I would say less than 6’8″.

TM: For Minnesota.

RS: For Minnesota.

TM: Yeah.

RS: Yep.

TM: Which is funny, ’cause when I think of crawl space, I mean, there’s a lot of older houses that have basements where you kind of have to duck a little bit. But I wouldn’t consider it a crawl space unless it’s like, at least for me, something that I physically have to kind of crouch down to get into.

RS: I’ve got the same mindset, Tess. Yep.

TM: Yeah.

RS: Yep. But all right, so that’s… That crawl space…

TM: Yeah. Thank goodness we don’t have a lot of crawl spaces here in Minnesota. If we did, I don’t think I’d be a home inspector.

RS: Alright, exactly. Same here. Alright. Next we got R-value. Tessa, you take this one. What’s R-value? 

TM: R-value, it measures how well something, I guess insulates from heat. How resistive it is to heat transfer through material. So the higher the R-value, the less conductive it is and the better insulation it’s gonna be.

RS: Perfect.

TM: So a couple things. Yeah, a couple things in a house that we look for as home inspectors for R-value would be, well the main one I’m thinking of is attic insulation, basically. And of course you’re gonna have insulation in other areas of the house, the building envelope, like the walls or if you’ve got a crawl space in the floor, whatever. Depends on your climate zone too. But especially usually attics is kind of the only space that we can actually physically get into to evaluate this thermal boundary and look at the type of insulation and how much there is. And the higher the R-value the better.

RS: Yeah. And also with attics, it’s probably about the only space where you would get a return on your investment for adding more insulation. You got poor insulation in your walls, too bad. You’re never gonna get a payback for tearing your walls open and insulating, maybe if you’ve got absolutely zero insulation in your walls, maybe you could blow some in. But most of the time it’s cost prohibitive to change it. The attic is the one place where you have easy access to it, and you usually have enough physical space to add more insulation. Alright.

TM: Do you know, I will say Reuben. There are some attics where you physically can’t get into them or it’s like a story and a half where it’s a slant ceiling where it’s not accessible. And those attics, you may not see a payback or it may not be easy to add more insulation. So we’re talking about the attics where you can like physically crawl into them and add more insulation. That’s the easiest return on investment, ’cause all these other spaces, like you’re talking about a wall or slants, you can’t really get in there easily. And most houses will have some sort of something in the exterior wall. So like you said, adding a little bit of R-value in a wall like that it’s gonna be a longer payback. But there are some old houses that have completely empty walls. And in that case, maybe it’s worth the investment on blowing in insulation, dense filling, dense packing those exterior walls, potentially just depending on how long you plan on being in the house too.

RS: That’s right.

TM: And if comfort is an issue and other things going on. But I’d say that there’s lots of variables to think about. We won’t get into them on this show. But yeah, in general, add more insulation to your attic if it’s accessible when you can.

RS: Perfect. Perfect. Alright, another one, efflorescence. Not to be confused with effervescence. I’ve heard it for the wrong term used many times.

TM: Oh, a very effervescent basement.

RS: Yes.

TM: I love hanging out in this space.

RS: Bright and bubbly and very inviting. Very effervescent.

TM: So refreshing.

RS: Yeah. No. Efflorescence is these fuzzy salt crystals that get deposited usually on your foundation walls, sometimes on your basement floor, sometimes on a lot of the time on garage floors. We’ll see it. It’s these fuzzy little salt crystals that are left over when water has evaporated… And you can frequently have efflorescence on walls where the wall is dry, you don’t have any water coming through, but you’ve got water dry, water wants to come in. It makes its way through the wall, but it doesn’t come through fast enough and in big enough quantities to actually have liquid water. All you get is the salt crystals and the water evaporates before it actually drips. Is that a good explanation of it, Tess? 

TM: I like that. Yeah. Think of your concrete wall as being a giant sponge in contact with water on the outside. And that moisture wants to dry to the inside and it does dry. It just leaves behind little salt crystals.

RS: And Tessa, I gotta tease that topic. I gotta tease it. Okay? We’re gonna do another show on this, probably. I recently heard about a basement waterproofing company who went out to one of our client’s houses and they used this $50 moisture meter from a big box retailer, and they put it up against a concrete wall and they said, “Look, it pegs the moisture meter. You need drain tile.”

TM: That’s criminal. I’m assuming that they know better.

RS: Criminal, and I wanna do a show on it.

TM: Maybe they’re just very ignorant on how the moisture meter works. For anybody listen and doesn’t understand what we’re talking about, you cannot use a moisture meter directly on concrete. You can’t use it on metal. You can’t… I mean, you can, but it’s always going to tell you that that surface is wet. Correct? 

RS: Yes. Yes. Yeah. So, all right. That’s another show. Just had to tease it. We’ll talk about that.

TM: Yeah.

RS: Okay. Flashing, here’s my definition of flashing.

TM: Yep.

RS: Yeah. Well, we’re not talking about lifting up…

TM: Yeap. Well, this is G rated. This is G rated, Reuben.

RS: Yeah, we’re talking about the home version of flashing. It’s stuff that gets installed to prevent water intrusion. How’s that? 

TM: Yes. Water intrusion. Yes.

RS: We’ll bring it right back to the beginning.

TM: Yeah. You mean list. Yeah, water intrusion. Perfect. Okay. So it’s like a piece of metal that gets installed usually around windows or doors or at siding, transitions from one material to another to make sure that water can’t get in.

RS: Yeah. Or it could be holes in a roof like you’ll have flashing for your roof vents, for your plumbing vents, for your bath fans. Those all come with their own flashing kits. It’s… Yeah. And it doesn’t have to be metal. It’s not always metal. It’s usually metal and it’s something that prevents water from coming in. Yeah, that’s it. And it doesn’t…

TM: Safe and appropriate flashing.

RS: That’s right. And it doesn’t cost a lot of money. Doesn’t cost a lot of money for the material nor to install it. But when it’s done wrong, it can cost a lot of money. It can cause a lot of damage.

TM: Yes. Yeah.

RS: So huge thing we look at during home inspections.

TM: Yep. That’s good.

RS: So that…

TM: That’s good.

RS: That was my list. Tess, you had a few others I think. What else did you have on here? 

TM: Oh. Yeah, we were just brainstorming a little bit and one of the terms that came up was in-slab duct work. What the heck does that mean? 

RS: Okay. Sure.

TM: And I think we even as home inspectors, and when I was learning all these terms and terminology, I think there’s something that trips us up a lot in this industry and it’s sub-slab duct work versus transite duct work. And there’s a big difference. But a lot of times those terms get used interchangeably, in-slab duct work is duct work that’s located in the slab, like in the concrete that’s poured below grade or on-grade if you don’t have a basement. And we do see that in Minnesota with in-slab duct work in concrete. And then there’s the transite in slab duct work, which a lot of times people just call it transite duct work. And that’s specifically referring to an asbestos material duct work that’s located in the slab. Correct? 

RS: Yeah, exactly. Transite is a very specific term. A much more generic term would be in-slab or you keep saying in-slab I always say sub-slab.

TM: Sub-slab duct work.

RS: They’re technically not the same thing, but I’ll admit I use the two terms interchangeably.

TM: Yeah. So Sub-slab duct work is duct work located in the concrete and that potentially could be a really a big issue in terms of, if you’ve got moisture in your duct work. A lot of times we see here in Minnesota standing water in duct work that’s located in the slab either coming up from the ground below or poor water management. But as you can imagine, you don’t want water standing in the material that your air is being distributed throughout your house with. That can lead to air quality problems and mold or microbial growth or dark staining that we see a lot.

RS: Yap.

TM: So, yeah, anytime we come across sub-slab duct work or transite duct work with the asbestos it could be a potentially a big issue and homeowners or buyers or clients don’t even know what sub-slab duct work is.

RS: Yeah.

TM: So we have to make sure we explain that to them.

RS: Yep, that’s a good one.

TM: Yeah. And I think we covered most of the other things that were on my list too that I wanted to add to that. I’m sure we could… This list could go on and on Reuben, we could probably have a part two and I’m sure our listeners have other terms they’d like to add to this list too. So where can people hit us up if they wanna send us a note or tell us something we missed? 

RS: Yes, please email us. Our email is

TM: We love getting feedback from you guys. So please shoot us a note and we’ll get back to you. And, yeah, do we have anything else we wanna add to this list before we close the show? 

RS: No, I think that’s it. We went way over. We were shooting for a 20 minute show. We’re at like 50 minutes here [laughter] so much for that. Alright, that’ll conclude part one. Maybe we’ll come back with part two some other time, but…

TM: If anybody’s still listening out there, sorry.


RS: Yep. Thanks for tuning in.

TM: Yeah.

RS: I’m Reuben Saltzman for Tessa Murry signing off. Take care.

TM: Bye.