For this episode, the gang gets down and dirty discussing disgusting doozies discovered during home inspections. Most of the grossest stuff is related to people and animals, but that’s not all. Don’t listen to this episode while eating.
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: Today we’re gonna talk about icky things in homes. We’re gonna have a dirty episode.
Tessa Murry: Just a warning to the listeners. Don’t be eating dinner or anything right now, or snack…
Reuben Saltzman: Yeah.
TM: Or anything.
BO: Welcome, everybody, to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman, that dynamic duo. Today we’re gonna talk about icky things in homes. We’re gonna have a dirty episode and what else? How else can we describe it?
TM: Yeah, just a warning to the listeners. Don’t be eating dinner or anything right now or snacking on anything.
Yeah, and it’s kind of an impromptu topic. We’re just… Larry was just asking… The producer, Larry, was asking us what’s some of the nastiest stuff you’ve seen, and we said, “That’d be a great topic. That’d be really disgusting and fun.” So why not?
BO: People generally are disgusting.
RS: Oh, man.
TM: There’s a lot of disgusting people out there.
RS: You talk about some of the nastiest stuff I’ve seen, it’s definitely people related.
RS: Yeah, it’s not just house. Yeah. The home inspectors on our team who do truth-in-housing evaluations have seen way more than the home inspectors on our team who just do home inspections.
RS: The big difference is, for truth-in-sale of housing, that’s the inspection that’s done on a home before you put it up for sale, and it doesn’t matter who is selling to whom, if you’re gonna transfer a title, you need to have the truth-in-housing evaluation. So we’ll do these on a lot of homes where the house would never be fit to be seen by other people, but we still gotta go in there and do this.
BO: Okay, so we’re not passing judgment on people. It’s just…
RS: No. It’s just the condition of houses. It’s a totally different animal. If you’re doing a home inspection, you’re not gonna find the same stuff.
BO: And sometimes it gets out of control.
BO: Let’s be honest. You put that thing over in the corner and you forget about it. Maybe you have a pet in the house and they didn’t forget about it. They started using whatever you left in the corner as their litter box, let’s say.
RS: Yeah, and I’ll tell you what. To be fair to some of our spouses, I don’t know if you guys are this way, but I’m kind of a neat freak. I like things clean. I like things immaculate, and I think part of that comes from being a home inspector. I mean, maybe. I don’t know. But all we do is we go into houses that are show-ready and we start to get this idea that this is maybe how people really live, ’cause that’s all we ever see is things just made immaculate. I think it changes the way you feel that a house, your house should look. At least it does for me.
TM: I feel like I want some more of those immaculate houses, Reuben, ’cause I feel like…
RS: You know…
TM: It’s the opposite that makes me wanna go home to a clean house. It’s doing inspections in disgusting houses that makes me wanna go home to a clean house.
RS: And you’ve done a bunch of those as a home inspector, huh?
TM: Yeah, yeah.
RS: Okay, alright.
TM: I think we all have. I think everyone on the team can attest to doing at least a few just cringe-worthy, disgusting houses.
RS: Yeah, we have our share of those.
RS: Yeah. What’s some of the worst you found for just people stuff or maybe you wanted to leave?
TM: Well, Bill reminded me of one when he was talking about pets using things. There was one house I inspected, I think it was in northeast actually, and it was a really, really… I mean, it was like a 100-plus-year-old house with the stacked stone foundation. And the stone was basically crumbling and the whole mortar was crumbling, so there was a bunch of sand on the floor. And I don’t know, maybe a portion of this basement actually didn’t even have a poured concrete floor. It might have been original dirt. But this house was… It was disgusting. I… It had been vacant for a while too, but whoever had been renting it before, obviously, they never cleaned it. And cats had lived in this house.
RS: Oh, no. Oh, no.
TM: So one of the first things I noticed on my walkthrough was… Well, first of all the smell, cat urine…
BO: That’s a strong odor.
TM: The strong odor of cat urine burning your nostrils. But just this gigantic hole that the cat urine had eaten through on the baseboard in the area the cat had been going to the bathroom. It was orange and it had rotted through the baseboard.
RS: Oh, gross.
TM: Because of all of the… Just the cat urine and the acidity. That was one thing that was disgusting. But I got down to the basement, and apparently the cat had thought that the dirt floor was their litter box, so… All across the floor, it was just…
TM: That’s all you could see. I think we’ve talked about our colleagues on the show before and Sewer Joe and the amazing work he does with us and sewer inspections.
TM: And I remember he had come out to this house to do a sewer inspection in. His MO was to remove his shoes at the front door and I didn’t get a chance to warn him about the basement. And he had gone down there, and I went down there and I joined him, and I noticed he was in his socks.
RS: Oh, no.
TM: And I was like, “Joe, do you want me to bring you your shoes?” [laughter] Oh, I think…
RS: I hope he burned his socks.
TM: He has to deal with a whole bunch of stuff, but that was a pretty disgusting situation in the house.
TM: Yeah, no doubt.
BO: Oftentimes animals are involved in these conversations.
TM: Yeah, yeah.
BO: And less so dogs than cats.
RS: I don’t know. I have been in many a home where people had just decided on giving up on letting my dog go outside. And they use the basement as their litter box, as the dog’s litter box. And it’s just unbelievable.
TM: That’s horrible.
RS: I won’t get in on the specifics. You can imagine.
RS: Really gross.
TM: That’s disgusting.
BO: Okay, so one thing that I find very disgusting are front-loading washing machines.
BO: And I have one, and I can’t figure out how to get this smell to go away.
BO: I watched…
TM: Did you write a blog about it, Reuben?
RS: Well, no, but I did read my owner’s manual.
RS: And it was enlightening.
BO: So I clean the filter, I do everything I’m supposed to do, but if you stand next to the laundry sink when it’s dumping out the first round of wash water, it is almost…
TM: It’s foul.
BO: Hard to breathe.
RS: I’ve done that around clients where it discharges, and I have to go, “I promise, that’s your washing machine.” I don’t want them to think I’m…
TM: It’s not me.
RS: Yeah, I’m dropping bombs during the inspection.
BO: How is it that good people buy such bad equipment?
RS: Well, I’ll tell you…
TM: High efficiency, less water.
RS: I’ve never had a washing machine that does that. I don’t know exactly what it is that causes that condition, but something I learned in my owner’s manual is that you’re supposed to do this special wash thing. I think it’s monthly.
BO: A tub wash.
TM: Oh really?
RS: A tub wash, yeah.
RS: You do a tub wash monthly?
TM: Oh my gosh.
RS: And you still have these foul odors?
RS: Alright, we need to get to the bottom of this.
TM: Yeah. I have a front loader and the ring gets gross if you don’t clean it out and leave the door open, but I don’t get that smell from it.
RS: Yeah. I’m blaming you, Bill.
BO: Well, okay, so I had a similar smell.
BO: We have a basement bathroom, in the last few months I’ve noticed that when I turn the water off, it would drain fine, and then five seconds later I would hear, “Bloop, bloop. Bloop, bloop, bloop.” I’m like, “What the heck would that be?” And it’s new plumbing, it’s PVC, it’s not crazy galvanized or anything like that, and something fell down the drain the other day, I couldn’t get it. I actually pushed it into the drain, I’m like, “Dang it. It’s probably my kids something that was important, I should go investigate.” So I took it all apart, and there was a whole lot of nasty that I didn’t expect to be in there in there. So, I always thought regular plumbing lines were self-scouring, like new plumbing was wash itself out as this dirty water leaves.
BO: Not the case. There was like a pencil hole left in this drain that had turned to scum.
RS: And you’re talking about the P-trap at your bathroom sink drain?
BO: Before I’d even got to the P-trap, it had been closing down little by little, like layer of soap at a time or something, it was just the weirdest thing, and it had the most horrible smell.
RS: And you’re in St. Paul, right?
RS: No, sorry.
TM: Is it like the goo that sticks on the stopper?
BO: Yeah. Exactly.
TM: ‘Cause you know what I’m talking about when you pull the stopper out and it’s the long, snaky, slimy gunk that comes out.
RS: And there’s hair mixed in with it.
BO: But there was no hair on this.
TM: It was just slime?
BO: That was all clean, it was just all this slime stuff. And I always thought that it drained fast enough with new plumbing that it would always kinda keep itself clean. That’s obviously not the case.
RS: That’s all I’ve ever experienced is that. I don’t know what you got going on at your house. You got washing machine issues and all kinds of stuff.
TM: Something funky is going on with the water there.
RS: Sorry, Bill. We’ll have to get an answer to your stinky washing machine. That’s gonna take some research.
BO: I’m wondering if the same kind of build-up that was in my drain is somewhere in that discharge. So the water itself isn’t really nasty and gross, it’s just going through nasty and gross, and I don’t know.
RS: Yeah. I’m stumped. Sorry, man.
TM: Maybe it’s the drain hose, the corrugated drain hose from the washer to the sink or wherever your…
BO: That’s a really interesting idea.
TM: ‘Cause it’s corrugated, right?
BO: I don’t even know how I would clean said…
TM: Replace it.
RS: Replace it.
BO: That requires I dig into this.
RS: I’ll come over, I’ll replace it for you, Bill.
BO: I am not mechanically inclined…
RS: Yes, you are.
BO: With these kinds of things.
RS: Yes, you are.
TM: There’s a YouTube video on it, probably, I’m sure.
RS: What did you use my pipe bender for the other day? You’re bending pipe, Bill, and you’re telling me you’re not mechanically inclined. Alright.
BO: That’s for the cabin. I experiment at the cabin because what could go wrong? Who cares? It’s up north at the cabin. I don’t experiment with my own house because something could go wrong and I’m up there. And surely, if it does go wrong, I will be to blame. Well, moving along from my stinky issues.
TM: Reuben, you’ve got some gross stories. Personal gross stories.
RS: I have so many of them. Attics, I’ve found so many disgusting things in attics and it’s always animal-related. When raccoons get into an attic, it is unbelievable what they do. They use that for their personal toilet. That is totally disgusting. Squirrels will do the same thing.
TM: Ooh, bats.
RS: And birds and bats. Oh my goodness, bats. So disgusting. Yeah, anytime you got other, I don’t know, creatures sharing a home, they can make such a mess. Not to say that humans don’t make a mess either. But when these uninvited guests share your house.
TM: Oh my God.
RS: They always make a gigantic mess.
TM: I just had a flashback. Years ago when I was working at Cocoon, I went into an attic that had hundreds of dead bats in it.
TM: This is before I knew how bad bat guano is for your health and your lungs. I should not have been in that attic, but they were like freeze-dried in position, hanging from rafters and stuff. Just dried up dead bats everywhere.
RS: I want a picture.
TM: I don’t think I have any.
TM: It was horrifying. Yeah, they had a bat infestation in that attic and they were just, ugh.
BO: Reuben, do you remember the bat disease that they were trying to prevent when you went in and did the tours at Mammoth Caves in Kentucky?
RS: Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. Yeah. I don’t remember what it was called.
BO: Yeah, something like dry nose or… I can’t remember what it is, but they did have large scale die-offs of bats, and…
BO: There was some disease that they carried around and you had to wash off your feet before you went in the cave.
TM: Oh boy.
BO: And you’d wash it again when you left the cave.
TM: Oh my gosh.
BO: We were there, not at the same time but within the same year.
BO: And so, maybe there was some disease that spread through the bat population in that particular house.
TM: Yeah, maybe.
RS: Yeah, bats make a mess. And that’s part of the reason we always wear respirators when we go in the attic, we’re not wearing an N95 mask for our attics. We’re wearing the respirator, it’s got the charcoal filter and nothing’s getting through that thing. And that is company policy. You don’t enter an attic without one of these bad boys, for sure. So attics, what else? We’ve talked about living conditions for people, other things for basements, we talked about dogs and cats using it as their personal toilet, but also sewage, I specifically remember, this might be the only home where I refused to do the inspection, I just called it off because there was sewage in the basement, there was standing sewage.
TM: Oh, that’s disgusting.
RS: And I think it was a truth-in-housing evaluation I was doing, and the agent was really upset with me for not doing it.
TM: Oh my gosh!
RS: And they’re like, “Well, we need this done.” I said, “Well, you gotta clean up the sewage. [chuckle] I’m not walking through this.”
RS: It’s standing, it’s several inches of sewage.
TM: Oh my god!
RS: And they were mad that I wouldn’t do it. I just said, I’m not, you’re gonna have to hire somebody else.
TM: That’s crazy.
RS: And they never hired me again for anything else, and…
TM: Well, good.
RS: I mean I say good riddance. [chuckle]
RS: Let somebody else do that, but I mean that’ll get you sick.
RS: That is, that is…
TM: That’s horrible.
RS: Not safe to do.
TM: No, yeah, you shouldn’t, yeah, no one should be close to that.
BO: I was imagining the conversation that you’re having with the client at the driveway, “So welcome home, you must be so excited. I’m glad you found your new house, do you have any concerns with the house?” “Well, there’s 6 inches of standing sewer in the basement, but we still love it.” [chuckle] “Can you figure out what’s wrong?”
BO: But at least it was a homeowner, it wasn’t, somebody didn’t obviously want to buy the standing sewage yet, they were gonna find out all about it later.
TM: Knowing what we know now about the number of failed sewer lines out there, would you say it was probably an issue with the main sewer line and that backed up?
RS: Oh surely.
TM: And it just had been backing up, backing up, backing up, and no one had done anything to fix it?
RS: Nobody living there and…
RS: It just sat there and got really disgusting.
TM: That is horrible. Oh, was it summertime too, was it hot and steamy in that house?
RS: It surely was, yes, yeah. [chuckle]
TM: Oh man…
RS: It wasn’t winter.
RS: Yeah, it wasn’t cool and fresh.
TM: That’s gonna humidify the house with sewage.
RS: Oh yeah, oh yeah, for sure.
BO: Had the agent done a pre-listing appointment, and did they know what they…
RS: I didn’t ask.
BO: Okay. [chuckle]
TM: That’s pretty… I’d say it’s pretty up there, Reuben, for…
RS: That was gross. Another one, not quite as bad, but very bad was the mold house. And you ask Nick about the mold house, he’ll surely remember. This was one where they had water damage back, I don’t know, 2013, 2012, something like that. I don’t know what happened, ruptured pipe and it sat there vacant for a long time and this was a summertime deal where it just stewed, and there was mold covering everything in the home from the basement…
TM: Oh my god!
RS: To the attic, it was a one-and-a-half-storey house in Hopkins, and even at the second floor, there was mold on all of the surfaces, you go in the basement and everything’s just black, and we wore our respirators…
TM: Oh my god!
RS: For the entire inspection. We’re wearing these flimsy little cloth things during our inspections today, big deal, that’s nothing, wear a respirator for a whole inspection, that gets really old. That sucks.
BO: Can ask the obvious question?
RS: Why did we even do it?
BO: Why were you conducting a home inspection? Isn’t it obvious that you’ve got…
TM: It’s a gut.
BO: Some severe problems going? [chuckle]
TM: Yeah, it’s a gut.
RS: Yeah, that’s not for me to answer.
RS: I wonder the same thing.
RS: There’s many homes where we get called out to do the inspection and I say, “What are we doing here?” [chuckle]
TM: Oh man!
RS: What are they hoping to learn?
TM: Gosh, that’s pretty gross. I was thinking there’s one more place I’ve found dead animals besides basements and in attics, well, and well, crawl spaces too, but crawl spaces is a whole another thing, we could probably all tell our gross stories about crawl spaces, but…
RS: This is the time.
TM: Well, I was actually thinking of… I was inspecting a house that had a wood burning fireplace. You know where I’m going with this?
TM: They were missing a spark arrestor on the top of this chimney.
RS: Oh, mm-hmm, yup.
TM: I could smell something. I walked in this house and I could smell something, it smelled like something had died and I’m like, “I don’t know where this is coming from, is it a dead mouse somewhere, I don’t know,” but I could smell it and I got over to the fireplace and I’m checking the inside of the fire box and I opened the damper, and this dead like hawk, it’s like rotted, is on the back side of this damper and it about knocks me out. The smell is so bad.
RS: Oh my gosh!
TM: And I… That’s when the hawk fell into the fire box and I can’t even remember, I think I black this out, I’m trying to remember, I must have taken it outside, like put my gloves on and gotten it out ’cause…
RS: Are you serious?
TM: It was so disgusting, it smelled so bad.
RS: Oh my goodness.
TM: It was rotted, yeah.
RS: Wow, gross!
TM: Yeah, that was pretty disgusting. Now, I note if there’s no spark arrester on the outside of the chimney, I am not opening up that damper, if I do, it’s gonna be a very gradual little peek, make sure there’s nothing dead up there.
BO: And then the head falls down.
BO: You can’t shut it and you’re like, “Hi, I am here. [chuckle] I’m not living, but I’m here.” [chuckle]
RS: You know, Tess, that reminds me, I started the show, I was gonna share a story of my dad’s and I got totally side-tracked on TISH evaluations.
RS: TISHies, yeah, TISHy. My dad was doing a TISH in Minneapolis. Nobody was living there, it had been vacant for a while, and they had just abandoned the home with all the food in the fridge, and I don’t know what was in there, we didn’t open it, but they made the whole house stink so bad that when my dad left, the smell carried with him, and he had to go home and change his clothes and take a shower, but then when he got back in his car, his car stunk from…
TM: Oh no!
RS: It’s like he transferred it from the house to his own vehicle.
TM: His tool bag, probably.
RS: Just from being in the air, I don’t know, but it reminded me of an episode of Seinfeld, if you ever used to watch that show.
TM: Yeah. [chuckle] Yeah.
RS: There was an episode where that happened where they had to, George had to get rid of the car or was it? Who had to get rid of it? I don’t know.
TM: I can’t remember, but I know it, yeah.
RS: Yeah, the mechanic…
TM: That was funny.
RS: Got the car all nasty.
TM: Yeah. [chuckle]
RS: Yeah, that, it had happened to my dad. I don’t remember what he had to do to get defunkify his vehicle but…
TM: Oh, you know, speaking of your dad, I was doing an inspection with him, we did this apartment building on Lake Street, and we were going through as many as we could quickly, testing everything, and there were signs of cockroaches throughout these units and stuff, but I won’t forget, your dad was testing an outlet in the bathroom, I think, and he pulled his outlet tester out of the outlet, and a couple of cockroaches came out and scurried out of the outlet and I remember your dad just go, “Ugh!”
TM: It was like, oh my gosh, we have to get through this quickly.
BO: I didn’t know cockroaches were a thing for us.
TM: Oh yeah.
RS: I don’t know what brings them here but I’ve seen them.
RS: I remember when Milind was in training with me and Milind has a unnatural fear of cockroaches.
TM: Sorry Milind.
BO: He’s from Chicago.
RS: He’s from Chicago, yeah. He can not tolerate cockroaches.
TM: Or dolls.
RS: Or dolls. Unnatural fear of both. Yes. But especially cockroaches.
TM: Cockroaches on a doll would really…
RS: Oh my gosh. It’s a good prank. We love Milind.
TM: That’s evil, yeah.
RS: I hope he doesn’t listen to this or he knows it’s gonna be coming.
TM: Oh oh.
RS: But it was this house that had cockroaches all over, and if you see little dots on the outlets, that’s their droppings.
RS: Feces, yeah. And it had cockroaches kinda going in and out of the outlets and here and there. And Milind got so just flustered, he was worthless. I would say, “Hey, can you check that?” And he’d go, “Huh?” And eventually I said, “Milind, you need to go wait outside.” And he just waited outside till the end of the inspection basically. Yeah, he couldn’t be in there. I’ll never forget that. He was worthless. And oh, one more cockroach story. This was my own fault. We knew this was cockroach infested, this one place this investor was buying. And it had a space heater for heat for the entire unit.
TM: Oh my gosh.
RS: And it was a gas space heater. I mean, it’s this big monstrosity that sits in the living room and that’s…
TM: Vented to the outside?
RS: It’s vented to the outside. It is a vented gas space heater. And it’s kinda like a gas fireplace. It just gets super hot and it kicks out heat and that’s it. And I said, “Yeah, we gotta get this going. I got a test.” He’s like, “You know, I’m probably just gonna get rid of it. You don’t even have to inspect it.” And the next time someone says that to me, I’m not inspecting it, but I just felt like… I was a newer inspector and I just felt like this is my job. I wouldn’t wanna say I didn’t inspect it and then later he says, “Hey, can you come back and check it?” So I just said, “Well, I understand you’re going to replace it, but I still gotta look at it.” And I lit it and I think that’s where all the cockroaches were living.
TM: Oh, disgusting.
RS: And the smell that came out of there of those cooked cockroaches and their feces and whatnot was just enough to gag you. And I mean, it was smoking. The fried cockroach smell was, yeah, that was something else. I know if we were to ask, I think it was Mark was his name, I know if we were to ask Mark about that, he’d still give me a hard time to this day about this. Yeah. That was…
BO: I think you should have listened to Mark.
RS: Oh, he’ll tell me that too. He’ll say, “Yeah, remember that time I told you not to blah, blah, blah and you did?” Yeah.
BO: I took you off the hook and you’re like, “Oh, no, no. I’m gonna chew this bait for a little while longer.”
RS: I’ll let somebody take me off the hook next time and I’ll stay off the hook.
RS: Yeah. Gross stuff.
BO: That was a rather unpleasant 25 minutes of what happens to us on a somewhat regular basis.
RS: Wait, we’re not done. We’re halfway done. I’ve got so much more, Bill.
RS: No, okay. Alright, fine.
TM: Well have to do a That’s Gross part two.
RS: Yeah, maybe in a year or two.
BO: That’s Gross part two.
RS: Yeah, we’ll push this out.
BO: Yeah, we’ll be looking forward to That’s Gross part two. You’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. We will catch you next time. Thanks for listening.