Today the gang discusses a timeline of home inspection defects or issues that might come up, based on when the home was built. Reuben shared this timeline on the Structure Tech blog and on the Structure Tech YouTube channel, but we thought it would be fun to discuss these issues during a podcast to help explain some of them a little bit more in-depth.
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: And we are gonna talk about what we call a timeline for house issues. So on the naughty list of things that houses can do to us. We’ve got a list that’s a good 20 or 30 long here. Welcome everybody to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, and as always I’m alongside Tessa Murray and Reuben Saltsman, the dynamic duo that make up the leadership team at Structure Tech, in addition to some other great folks.
Ruben Saltsman: Dynamic trio.
RS: Don’t exclude yourself Bill.
BO: Well, I’m just sitting here hosting this program for today.
RS: Bill, you are important, okay?
BO: Yeah. Thank you.
Tessa Murray: There’s a lot of people on our leadership team.
RS: Yes, yeah, there’s a lot of them.
BO: All right, okay. So all the really important people are here right now.
BO: I’m just kidding.
TM: Oh God.
BO: Welcome to today’s episode and we are gonna talk about what we call a timeline for house issues. So on the naughty list of things that houses can do to us, we’ve got a list that’s a good 20 or 30 long here, and then Ruben at some point in the past has gone. And he’s made this wonderful graph that tells all kinds of stories of when you would find these issues in a house.
RS: Yeah, at least made an attempt at it. I’ll show the history of this, Tessa and I have been teaching a ridiculous amount of CE classes to real estate agents and… Yeah, air fist bump. We can’t touch fists quite from here. But we’ve been teaching a lot of these classes and we had an agent during our old houses class say, “Man, it be really nice to just have a timeline of all these things you guys were talking about.” And I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time, and finally I just said, “All right, yep, you’re right. Let’s get it done.” I have no idea what this timeline is called or how to do it, but I know what I want it to look like. So I had to find some examples, I had to chat with Brian, Brian Sholtis, one of the inspectors on our team, who is our IT czar.
RS: Our IT guy.
TM: Among other things too.
RS: Among other things, he does a lot for us.
BO: He’s also a part of the group that’s really important.
TM: Everybody is really important.
BO: I know, I’m just teasing. But I was just trying to make fun of me, actually.
RS: Well done. But apparently, this is called a Gantt chart, G-A-N-T-T, a little bit of trivia there, according to Brian, that’s what this is. So we put one together and it’s not a perfect science. With all of these things, you can have these defects that happen before our timeline, after our timeline, but this is our best estimation.
TM: There’s always gonna be outliers.
RS: Yeah, always, always.
RS: But I thought it might be fun Podcast fodder to go through this timeline. I already created a video that’ll be on our website, it’ll probably be on our website by the time this podcast airs. But I mean, the videos, I try to keep kinda tight. I didn’t go into any explanation of what any of this stuff was. And as long as podcasts are a little bit longer format, I thought it might be fun to kind of discuss some of this stuff.
TM: Yeah, definitely.
BO: Yeah, and it looks like it’s beautifully put together in alphabetical format with some numeric here at the beginning. Let’s start at the top of list. 9 by 9 floor tile.
BO: Tell us about these things. Why do they exist? When would you typically have seen a contractor install this material in a house?
TM: Well, 9 by 9 floor tiles, it’s on the list because they’re known to contain asbestos and so a lot of people are concerned about health effects with 9 by 9 floor tiles being in their house. And from what we understand from the specialist we’ve talked to about asbestos and air quality, we’ve been told that it’s not a concern, right?
RS: Yeah. That’s right. Yeah.
TM: I mean, it obviously…
RS: As far as health hazards.
TM: Yeah, as far as health hazards.
RS: It’s zero.
TM: Don’t sand them and don’t scrape them up or break them up. That’s bad.
BO: Even if you scrape and break… You probably, I guess you can create some.
RS: I agree, even if you scrape and break it, you’re surely not gonna release it into the air. The way you release it into the air is taking an angle grinder to it.
TM: Yeah. [chuckle] Don’t do that.
RS: And intentionally creating a fine powder, that’s it.
BO: No father who was trying to help has ever done that.
TM: That we know of.
BO: Yeah, I’m sure it’s never happened.
TM: Yeah. But you can see those up until the 1980s. That’s what we’ve got on our chart here, you might find some from the mid-80s or late ’80s, but the majority before that period of time.
RS: Yeah. But the reason we include it on there is that if you’re buying a home and you got that stuff and you wanna put down some type of other floor covering and you wanna go to a big box retail or like a Home Depot or Lowes or somebody like that, and you wanna have them put down new floor covering over the top of that, they’ll just tell you no. And I remember that from when I used to work at Home Depot. If somebody mentioned 9 by 9 floor tiles, it just… No, can’t touch it. Because these big box retailers have deep pockets and they don’t want people suing them because they’re the last one to touch it, so they won’t touch it. If you got that stuff, you gotta have it removed before you can hire somebody to put down something over the top of it.
BO: That’s interesting. I like their approach to simplicity or their a simple approach to this topic, and I said that very clumsily.
BO: I think you understand what I mean.
RS: It wasn’t simple, yeah.
BO: Thank you, appreciate that.
TM: That snickers didn’t help you out.
BO: Yeah, well, I turned back into me after being a bulldog earlier. Okay, so moving down the list, here aluminum wiring, you got a bar code for this too.
TM: Yeah, we said 19, mid-1960s to mid-1970s. Aluminum branch circuit wiring is probably one of the worst things we can find as a home inspector. In terms of just safety issues and cost to fix it. So it’s mainly something that was used from the mid-1960s, mid-1970s, but I’ve found it up until the late ’70s. I think I inspected a house built in 1978 with it.
RS: Wow. And to be more specific on this stuff, there was a really bad alloy of aluminum that expanded and contracted a ton, and that was made between 1965 up until 1972, and then after ’72 they came out with a new alloy, I think it’s like this 8800 series, and it’s way less expansive, it’s probably not that problematic, but I’ve found most electricians don’t know the difference.
BO: I was gonna say…
TM: Well, how would they?
BO: Is it identified on the outside of the sheathing?
RS: I think there’s a way to identify it, yes, but I don’t even remember what it is, and I think most electricians don’t either. And they’re gonna come across it and say, “This is aluminum wiring, it’s hazardous.” So when we find it as home inspectors, we don’t try to make that determination. We say, “It’s aluminum wiring. Get the electrician to look at it, let them tell you it’s safe or not.” So for this chart, I just said mid-70s, but we could say mid-to-late ’70s, I guess, Tess?
BO: All right. And then you have asbestos on here. What are we talking about there?
RS: Well, you know, I just put asbestos general. We’d already talked about 9 by 9 floor tiles, and there’s a few other asbestos topics in this list here, we’ll come across later in alphabetical order. But asbestos was never officially banned or outlawed, you could still have a manufacturer putting asbestos in products today. I think we did a whole podcast on asbestos once, earlier last year or maybe this year, I don’t know when, but I’m pretty sure we did a podcast topic on that. And asbestos has been found in thousands of building materials. If it’s not made out of wood or metal it may contain asbestos, so we said probably anything built before, around 2000, there’s a good chance you’re gonna have something in your house that contains asbestos, and we’re not gonna try real hard to figure out every material that could have it. If it’s some of the big nasty stuff like vermiculite insulation that we’ll get to at the end. No, let’s go there right now.
TM: Let’s do it.
RS: Let’s just skip ahead to all the asbestos stuff.
TM: Let’s do it.
RS: All right Tess, educate us.
TM: Vermiculite’s really bad, period. [chuckle]
RS: All right, done and done, next.
TM: It’s really bad. No, I mean, vermiculite, it’s that type of insulation that has kind of that gold, kind of a shiny pebble look to it, and it’s different from all the other materials that contain asbestos in the way that it’s like a loose-fill type insulation. So if you… Any little bit of disturbance can basically kind of kick up the dust and really see asbestos fibers into the air, whereas a 9 by 9 floor tile, all the asbestos fibers are…
BO: Bound together.
TM: Yeah, they’re bound together in a solid material. So vermiculite is really bad stuff. There’s actually a class action lawsuit. Reuben, do you want to talk about that?
RS: Yeah. Nah, I don’t want to get into it.
TM: We don’t have time actually on this…
RS: I’ll put a link to our other blog post, yeah. But we’d find vermiculite insulation from… In homes built from the ’20s up through around 1980, so there’s a big range in home. And like everything else in here, if a home was in existence at this time, or before then, it might have it. So I said the ’20s, but if a house was built in 1900, and then they added it at some point ’cause they wanted some more in the attic, as long as it was in existence during that section it may have it.
RS: So we said ’20s up through the ’80s, that’s when it was used.
BO: At least they didn’t put it in the attic, where if somebody drilled a hole through the ceiling, it’d pour down into your living space.
TM: Sounds like you’re talking from experience…
RS: Oh, no. Oh, no.
TM: Has that happened to you?
RS: They absolutely did.
BO: I’ve never done that.
TM: Actually, you know, one short crazy story, I was inspecting a house, I think it was in Minnetonka, and it had this wood paneling on the wall, and I happened to see something shiny through some of the gaps and looked closer. The walls were full of vermiculite insulation. It was a balloon-framed house, and the attic had it, and the walls had it, too.
RS: Oh, crazy.
TM: The whole house.
RS: Man, don’t open those walls up.
TM: Oh, my gosh.
RS: Leave it alone.
4 BO: Okay, so what else is on the list of asbestos? I see transite ducts, we’ve talked about those in the past.
RS: Yup, transite ductwork, and…
TM: From the 1960s through the… What did you say? The ’80s for transite ductwork?
RS: Yeah. Yeah, for sub-slab, the stuff the goes underneath your home.
RS: That would be a good timeline. And then transite was used as a gas vent for a pretty short period of time. This is based on what we have found at Structure Tech, it could be a wider range, but we’ve found this stuff in homes built from about 1949 up until about 1954, so it’s a pretty narrow range.
TM: Very specific.
RS: Yeah. And that’s where they used a transite gas vent for the furnace and water heater. And the problem with that is that it flakes apart on the inside and eventually collapses and prevents the exhaust gases from rising up and out of the home, which leads to carbon monoxide issues inside the home, it’s a very serious safety issue.
BO: Oddly, the asbestos doesn’t kill you, it’s the carbon monoxide.
TM: Yeah, right.
BO: All right.
BO: That kind of covers that material, the A word, right?
BO: What else do we have here? Attic bypasses, do tell, ’cause these exist today, so why isn’t the bar all the way across from zero…
TM: Well, yeah, so it looks like on this Gantt chart, we’ve got attic bypasses from 1900 to 1992-ish.
RS: Exactly, yeah.
TM: Yeah, 1992. And houses today, built today, still have attic bypasses, but there are measures put in place from 1992 on that were trying to reduce the amount of attic bypasses in houses and make houses more air-tight. So it’s not saying that houses built after 1992 can’t have attic bypasses, it’s just builders are actively trying to not have them.
RS: Exactly, yeah. It’s kind of saying that if we’re gonna inspect a house built before ’92, and we go in that attic, and you don’t find attic bypasses, you didn’t look.
RS: Because they’re there. You just better expect to find them. And the only exception to that is if somebody hired an insulation contractor to come out and seal everything off. And it’s really easy to find. The easy way to do that is go to the furnace vent, pull some insulation away there, and if that’s wide open, everything is open.
BO: Gotcha. Okay, so moving down, we’ve got buried fuel tanks. Okay, buried fuel oil tanks.
TM: I can’t believe that that goes up until the mid-1980s.
RS: Yeah, and I’m putting that down from personal experience.
RS: There was a home that I inspected in Maple Grove built, I can’t remember if it was ’82, ’84, or ’88. I don’t remember, it was mid ’80s. And it had a buried fuel oil tank there.
RS: And I saw the pipe sticking out and I was kind of scratching my head saying, “I don’t know why this is.” Well, a little bit of history on the home would have turned this up. It turns out that there was no natural gas for that street.
RS: Until four years after the home was built.
RS: So it’s the only way they could have heated the house. So you go to some of those outer ring suburbs. And if it’s some of the first houses in that development, they may have fuel oil.
BO: Did you consider that an Easter egg?
RS: Finding a fuel oil tank? Probably, probably that’s one of those fun little finds that…
TM: It always feels real good when you identify one.
RS: Yeah, ’cause it’s one of those things that could be really easy to miss.
BO: Right, so do you remember what municipality that was in?
RS: Maple Grove.
BO: Yeah, so you’d never look for it?
TM: I wouldn’t have thought to look for it…
BO: I think that’s an Easter egg all day.
TM: Especially from the 1980s.
BO: If you’re off on your game that day, you’re gonna walk by that thing and just…
RS: Oh, for sure, some of these can be so easy to miss. We’ve got pictures on our website, we’ve got pipes hidden behind bushes and pipes low to the ground that it would be so easy to miss.
TM: And we’re not taking the time to dive into why this can be a big issue, and what they look like or any of the details, but you did a really good video that if anyone wants to learn more, they can check out your YouTube video on fuel oil tanks.
BO: It’s one of those things that has a few zeros behind it to fit.
TM: Yeah. Just a few.
RS: It sure does.
BO: And it’s gonna cost somebody something at some point, so you wanna find them.
RS: And you know what, side note, on the history of that. If you had a home that was in existence before the ’30s, it’s almost a guarantee that there was a fuel oil tank at that home at some point because all these houses were gonna be heated with coal. And then in the ’30s, it started becoming really popular to switch over from coal to fuel oil, ’cause they weren’t working off natural gas just yet.
RS: So this is Per Diems tanks. That’s a company we always recommend for fuel oil removal. And this is what they’ve told me.
BO: Gotcha. So they would just dig up next to the house, they’d drop that thing in the ground, punch a hole through the concrete or the block wall, and…
RS: They do that or they’d put the tank inside the home. It could be that too. But that wouldn’t be a buried tank, that’d be a free-standing tank.
BO: Right, that’d be out in the open.
BO: It’s funny where I grew up, my next door neighbor, his father was a architect kind of contractor guy, and he built a house in the 1980. And he threw a fuel oil tank in the basement.
BO: I thought it was really interesting. I’m like, we use propane or LP and they use fuel oil. But another side note that I see on a regular basis still fuel oil trucks still rolling around my neighborhood in St. Paul. I see them every single day but there’s one or two and it’s always the same company and the trucks look like they’re as old as the fuel tanks that we find in the ground too.
RS: That’s ’cause you’re in St. Paul.
RS: Give me five, Tessa.
BO: Thank you very much. Capital city, by the way, fantastic group of people.
TM: I love St. Paul, I do, I do love St. Paul.
BO: Great restaurants, Revival. If you’ve never been…
TM: Oh, yeah.
BO: Go to Revival on Selby Avenue.
TM: Making my mouth water.
BO: Best fried chicken in the world.
RS: I’ve been to the one in Minneapolis, yeah.
BO: Just like Hattie B’s down in Nashville, you know?
RS: I was in Nashville within the last year and you told me to go to Hattie B’s and I got it.
BO: Hattie B’s is just…
TM: Oh, really?
RS: Yes, I did.
BO: Oh, that’s like our meal alongside my wife’s crab curry, but Revival is really close, okay? They’re really, really, really good at what they do. Alright, moving off this food topic…
TM: We should get sponsored by Revival.
BO: I’d say for free I don’t need any…
BO: Oh, here we go Federal Pacific Stab-Lok panels. We’ve kind of covered that already, but.
RS: Well, we covered that on our last podcast we kind of dug into it but the short answer is about 80% of the FPEs we find are gonna be homes built in the ’70s and early ’80s. You may find them going back, I don’t know anything, before then.
TM: Yeah, it’s kinda like vermiculite. If the house was standing between the ’70s and the ’80s, they could have a Federal Pacific panel.
RS: Yeah, they were making the panels from the ’50s on, but we’ve found them in homes built in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, all of those.
BO: So it’s fair to say this nat chart?
BO: I know, I did that on purpose. It’s fair to say this is… This just gets your spider senses up when you walk into a house of this age you’re like, “Yeah, I’m looking for the aluminum wiring. I’m looking for the Stab-Lok panel, because this is the bullseye zone for these types of things.
RS: Yep, yep, exactly.
BO: Okay, we’re down into the Gs, galvanized drain lines and water pipes.
TM: Yeah, they can be problematic. The main issue with them is they’ll rust and corrode from the inside out and eventually won’t have good water flow anymore. You can’t do your laundry and you can’t take a shower at the same time, or your drains get slow and the only fix is to replace them. So what do we have here up until the 1960s? 1960.
TM: So anything before that, pretty sure that you’ll find galvanized piping material in a house.
RS: Yeah, for drains, that’s gonna be about it, that’s what was used. For water distribution piping, we started using copper right around 1950 or so for water pipes. So if you had a home built before 1950, it’s almost a guarantee, you’re gonna have galvanized steel pipe. If it was built after 1950, you may have copper, you may have galvanized steel. After 1960, you wouldn’t have galvanized steel anymore.
BO: All right, well, as long as we’re on the topic of piping, let mainline… Let her galvanize water mains, that’s what I’m trying to say.
BO: That’s got four or five zeros behind the fix on that one.
RS: That’s a big deal.
RS: Yeah. Going out to the street. We covered that on our pilot episode of this podcast, I know you shared a good story.
TM: Yeah. I think that was one of our Easter egg stories about finding a galvanized water main in a house where they had replaced all of the distribution piping with copper. And it looks like it was a copper main coming in, but the flow was really bad in the house. And it turns out they had replaced the main out to the curb stop, but the section of pipe that went under the street was still original galvanized.
RS: Very expensive.
RS: And so what’s the timeline on that, Tess?
TM: It looks like up until the early ’30s, potentially. Well, 32 for Minneapolis, 28 for St. Paul, I think.
BO: See, we were ahead of the curve.
RS: You were.
TM: You were on that one.
RS: We’re gonna give that to you, Bill.
TM: Give yourself some points.
BO: All right, all right, very good, very good.
RS: You can have that.
BO: Well, here’s a good one, alright? So this one always needs explaining because people understand it, but they don’t. Problematic stucco on stone veneer siding.
RS: Sure. And it’s important to qualify this because almost all the stucco out there is great, no problems with it, but if you got a home built from about 1988 on, that stuff might have some problems, so it’s been a lot of really expensive stuff.
TM: Why ’88, Reuben?
RS: Well, I’m going by what Wayne, one of the moisture techs and home inspectors here at Structure Tech has told me. He said that’s when they started using moisture barriers. I didn’t know of such a defined detail, but whatever I say about, or 1990 or so, he’s always clicked it out, ’88. So he’s the moisture tech, I’ll go with what he says.
TM: Well, ’cause I’ve recommended intrusive moisture testing on houses that are mid-80s, that have a stucco with defects with installation and missing flashing and all that.
RS: And it’s not to say it can’t happen at that age of home, it’s just our concern is not nearly as high.
RS: It’s also generally better.
BO: Okay, so we’re gonna lump these two together, radon and sewer problems, because there is a very long bar near to this.
RS: I added this to make it really clear that there is no defining line. That bar starts at the beginning of our graph and ends at the end of the graph. These are not age-sensitive issues, you can have sewer and radon issues at any age of home.
BO: Okay, no further discussion necessary. Stucco-covered chimneys, do tell, and this is actually quite a short bar.
TM: Yeah, from the ’20s to the ’40s, watch out if you have a stucco-covered chimney. A lot of chimneys built around that time period were made with a limestone brick. Limestone’s really porous, and when you cover a porous brick with a reservoir cladding type of siding material, something that holds water like a sponge, well then that brick will just deteriorate over the years. And so we had our own… Did we talk about stuff for covered chimneys in a past podcast?
RS: I don’t remember, I don’t think so.
BO: We’ve had so many conversations about this topic.
TM: Yeah, I don’t know if we did.
BO: Inside and outside of a studio, it all blends together.
TM: Right. Well, if we haven’t, we should dedicate a podcast to that and at least link some of the pictures to what these chimneys look like on the inside, ’cause there’s several examples throughout the Twin Cities of what these chimneys look like, we’ve got pictures.
RS: So many.
TM: You wrote a blog about it.
RS: And it is so expensive.
BO: Well, and you can always tell the ones that were fixed because halfway up the stucco, the brick starts.
TM: You’ll see a new top with the original stucco base. Yeah.
BO: Correct, correct.
TM: Yeah, yeah, they just… These chimes are just crumbling on the inside behind the stucco, and you just can’t see it.
BO: So if you’re driving around a city, like an old part of a city, and you see that, that’s why. Little by little, it just decays, and then one day it just declares itself like a nasty pimple or something, and then it’s gotta be fixed, and it’s a pretty expensive fix.
BO: All right, and then the last thing on our list is ungrounded outlets, nothing I even would put on the list as a big, big problem. Why did you add ungrounded outlets to this list?
RS: Well, because it wasn’t required to have grounded outlets throughout homes up until 1962, that’s when the electrical code changed. So if we’re inspecting a home built before then and you got three prong outlets everywhere, our concern is much higher. And we find a lot more ungrounded three-prong outlets on homes that were built before 1962. After then, even if you do have an ungrounded outlet, you’re surely gonna have wiring inside the wall to properly ground the outlet.
RS: So that’s why we got that dividing line there.
BO: All right. So we’re gonna post this document up in the show notes, is that correct? Or are you gonna share this with everybody so they can…
RS: We will put this chart in the show notes, for sure, but we’ll put a link to another blog post that I will have published by the time this goes live. And that’s gonna be filled with links, so if you wanna learn more information like, “What’s the deal with ungrounded three-prong outlets?” We’re just glossing over them. And I blogged about all of these things, so you can click a few links and you can get a ton more information on any of these topics that we’re talking about.
BO: Okay. So then real estate agents out in the field can just bring this chart along, and they just go right down and be like, “What’s the year? Let’s look around.”
RS: Here’s where you may have it. Yeah.
TM: They’ll never wanna sell an old house again. We’ve been told that after we teach our Old Houses class.
BO: Yeah, I’m selling whatever is available. There’s no accounting for taste, people choose what they choose for a variety of reasons, and least of which is not on this list, location, location, location. Nobody can see me pointing, but I did point each time I said that.
TM: That’s true.
RS: And you know what, Bill? I think we skipped over one of them, which was knob and tube wiring, I think we jumped into something else. And knob and tube wiring, this is a tough one. I haven’t found knob and tube wiring at a single home built after about 1940, and I had put that in our timeline, and I had this timeline vetted by the inspectors on our team. And Eric pipes in with, “Oh, I just inspected a house last week, built in 1959 with knob and tube wiring.” And so, right away, I mean, my internal response is, “No, you didn’t.” They weren’t using knob and tube in 1959. So I had to look up the house, “Where? What’s the address? Let me see.” I pulled up the photos. Sure as all get out, I looked at all these photos, there is knob and tube wiring in the walls, in the attic, in the basement, and it is straight up knob and tube wiring, and the house was built in ’59.
BO: Is it possible that ’59 was a typo? Somebody hit the five instead of the 2?
TM: That’s what I think. I have to admit, Reuben, I did the same thing you did when he said that. And I looked at the pictures of the house, I swear to god, the floor joist in the basement looked old, and the style of the house looked like it was built in the 1920s. Could they have moved a house and put in a new foundation, or could they have done a typo with the age it was built?
RS: I don’t know. I questioned that, I wondered the same thing, and I went to the county records, and that also said ’59. So I couldn’t punch a hole in this one.
TM: That’s weird.
TM: That’s the only one now, right?
RS: That’s an outlier…
TM: Yeah, that’s an outlier.
RS: But my point is I didn’t include that in this chart, and I bring it up to say that this chart is not 100% perfect, there’s gonna be outliers, but generally knob and tube before the ’40s.
BO: That’s a lot of knowledge stacked in this one document.
RS: I hope so.
TM: Good stuff.
RS: And for anybody listening, if we got any of these wrong, feel free to leave a comment.
TM: We’ll hear about it.
RS: Yeah, we don’t claim to be perfect. Feel free to write us in the comments.
TM: And it might vary per region on some of these things.
RS: I’m sure it does.
TM: So we’re talking about Twin Cities, but I mean…
RS: Yup. Yup.
BO: Yeah, or the upper reaches of this great country. All right, well, this has been fascinating. I feel like you could equip a lot of real estate agents with some pretty golden nuggets to walk around with. Awesome, you’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, and we will catch you next time. Thanks for listening.