In today’s episode, Reuben Saltzman and Tessa Murry are joined by Chad Fabry from StructureSmart. The discussion focuses on the unique challenges and characteristics of home inspections in Western New York, particularly in areas with historic homes dating back to the 1700s and 1800s. Chad Fabry shares his expertise in dealing with older houses, highlighting issues related to basements, and crawl spaces, and finishing these spaces. The importance of understanding building science and relying on reliable sources of information for home inspections is emphasized. Chad also discusses his role in teaching continuing education classes for home inspectors in New York. The conversation provides valuable insights for both home inspectors and homeowners dealing with older homes and regional differences in home inspections.
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 Tech 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 the Structure Talk Podcast. We are on guest number four of our five part series on regional home inspection differences. We’re interviewing home inspectors from all over the country, figuring out what makes their areas challenging, unique, cool. All that fun stuff. Tessa, how you doing today?
Tessa Murry: Yes. Hey, Reuben. Good to see you. Okay, so excited, to have on… Do you want to introduce him Reuben?
RS: We got Chad Fabry from StructureSmart, and I’ve known Chad for a while now. I’ve gotten to know him really well through the examination board for professional home inspectors. But Chad has got to be one of the most knowledgeable home inspectors in the country. I know he’s not going to admit to that, but I’ve talked to a lot of people over the years and I’ll tell you what, Chad knows his stuff. So, Chad, glad you’re on the show. Would you mind just talking us through a little bit of your history? How did you get into Home Inspections and what… Take us back, what does it all look like?
Chad Fabry: It’s a kind of an unusual story, but it’s really a natural segue. For the first 25 or 30 years of my career, I was in the automotive business. I had an auto parts store and I had an auto repair facility, a bunch of employees and I always did it because I could. And I’m grateful that I did it but in 2001, I really became super interested in historic houses partially because I owned one and partially I met a historic house preservation architect through my wife. And just all the pieces fall into place and I started a Home Inspection Business while I still had my automotive businesses going. I was one of the fortunate people who had this ability to earn a living without working in the home inspection field before I jumped in. But in 2005, I went to work as a FEMA contractor after Katrina and Rita. And I made enough money so that I could comfortably just stop my businesses. So I came back from that gig and hung up a close sign.
CF: And went to work in the home inspection field full time while I was liquidating the other businesses. So then that’s it. And the reason it’s a natural segue is because everything we do is based on science and the automotive field prepared me really, really well for this because cars are just a series of hydraulic systems, electric systems and levers and that’s exactly what houses are. And so it was a real short segue from the automotive field to the construction field. And that’s it. And then I also have a historic home. My wife and I own this fantastic 1830, it started 1870s, it was finished at Italian eight villa. And we poured 25 years and all of our spare money and our children’s vacations into it and we’re working on it still today, but it’s 99% done.
RS: And where is that?
CF: It’s all about the history of it. Yep.
TM: Chad, do you want to…
RS: And where are you Chad?
TM: Yeah, where you’re located?
CF: I’m in about halfway between Rochester and Buffalo, Western New York, in a little town called Marine, New York. It’s very rural, very bucolic. It’s a lovely place to live.
TM: So for everyone listening, Chad is representing a cold climate zone. And I know that Reuben and I, we talk about cold climate zones all the time, but we wanted to get another perspective from someone who’s in a different part of the country. So Chad, you’re covering the East coast for us, and I believe if I’m looking at kind of our standard climate zone map, I think you’re in climate zone six. Does that sound correct?
CF: Five or six.
TM: Okay. Five or six.
CF: Five or six depend…
TM: Yep. Which…
CF: 50 miles one way, you’re in five and 50 miles the other way. You’re in six. Yep.
TM: Okay, okay. And technically, the twin cities, Reuben and I are in climate zone six as well. But it’ll be interesting to see kind of, or hear from you what your houses are like over on the East Coast. And I’m guessing you’ve got a lot of really old historic houses too.
CF: So our area is settled right around 1800 the farther south you go toward New York City to the Hudson Valley, you get down into the 1700s and sometimes even into the 1600s.
CF: So there are some old houses here.
TM: What’s the oldest house you’ve ever…
CF: The oldest house I’ve ever personally inspected is mid 18th century, 1750 or so.
TM: Oh my gosh, wow.
CF: So for a guy named Bill Kibble, that would be like a 60s ranch, he inspects old things, right?
RS: Yeah, yeah.
RS: He’s in your area, huh?
CF: Bill’s probably 250 miles south of me.
RS: Okay. Alright. Got it. Yeah, he’s a smart guy when it comes to old houses. Tell you what.
CF: There’s nobody smarter. He’s the smartest guy.
TM: So you see a variety of aged houses. Just curious, do a lot of the houses up in your area, talking about kind of construction methods and stuff, do they have basements? Do they have crawl spaces? What do they look like?
CF: So going back historically, they’ve always had basements.
CF: But the houses are allowed in proud above grade, the older houses, because they had to dig the holes by hand. And then they put the last 3 feet above grade. So it always put the first floor 3 feet above grade, which was a really good construction practice back in the day. Now we’re putting them 8 inches above grade and it creates other problems. But I’d say 95%, 98% of our houses have basements of some sort.
RS: Okay. All right.
CF: So if you want to go into more current construction, it depends. It’s super geographical. In the Syracuse area, all the basements are cast concrete, cast in place concrete. In my area, they’re all CMUs, concrete block, almost exclusively. A few superior walls sprinkled in, a few formed in place. Then you get to Buffalo where they have expansive soils and you’re back to concrete. So there’s a lot of geographic differences within a hundred mile radius.
TM: These houses that are built in the 1700s and 1800s, do they typically have basements under them that people have dug out later or were they built over a basement in the first place?
CF: That’s a good question. So they were always built on a basement. Whether or not it was useful space when they built it is the question. The primary reason to put a basement in was to get below the frost line, just like where you guys are. So, since they had to dig down there, they might as well put that root cellar in there or cold storage in the basement. Now we’re using the basements a little more proactively. And were the basements dug out? A lot of them were dug out, Tessa, which leads to a whole bunch of other problems if it’s not done properly because there was no footing footing. It was just a bunch of rocks in a hole.
CF: And you dig down below the bottom of that bunch of rocks, you can get some soil subsidence issues. And then just as bad as when they try to drain the basements, they put drain tile around the interior and around the exterior of the basement. Then they tie it all together thinking that they’re doing the right thing. But a lot of times that causes the soils below the footings to wash into the sump pump crock and eventually you’re pumping all the dirt below your footing out into the side yard. So a lot of foundation issues in the older houses in this area are caused by well-meaning people doing bad things. And that’s one of the bad things that they do.
TM: Wait, let me wrap my head around this. Putting in drain tile around an old stack stone like foundation from these historic homes actually creates problems for the foundation?
CF: It creates footing subsidence because the dirt washes into the tile from below the footing. And then they direct it to a sump pump crock and they pump it out. So I mean, there’s ways to get it done to get your basement drained, but drain tile without thought around the bottom of the footing, it probably isn’t a good idea.
RS: Interesting. I haven’t seen that problem here. Don’t they use socks or these sleeves that the drain tile goes into?
CF: Yeah, I don’t know. Sometimes it’s too hard to know you’re there and you can see the problem when you’re not really looking at the drain tile.
CF: So you just buy perforated drain tile too, with no sock.
CF: I think common construction practice is now to use a sock to drain tile. But even in new construction, we’re using the black ABS with perforations and then just cover with number one stone.
RS: Okay. Alright.
CF: The concrete footing is a lot more able to resist a spot washout because it has steel in it and it can span that failure where a rubble footing can’t span a failure.
RS: Sure, sure. Now, Chad, do you have a lot of people who are finishing their basements?
CF: Yeah, there’s a lot of finished basements here.
RS: Okay. And how do those work out? [laughter]
CF: Sometimes good, sometimes not good. Probably the same with you.
CF: There’s always this analogy that your house isn’t a boat. It’s not waterproof and you have to handle water once it gets into the house because inevitably it will. With the newer builds, I’d say in the last 25 or 30 years, it’s a lot more successful because we put dimple wrap on the outsides of the houses. We parge them either with mortar or with a dense waterproofing parge material like Camproco and then they tar it and then they put on dimple wrap. Then it creates a pretty nice water shedding film around the house and it keeps water away from the footing and then all that directs it to the footing drains. And the basements are nice and dry. You don’t really have to have any special measures. But if you’re talking about a 60s ranch where they just parged the wall and then coated it with some bituminous goo, the goo is long sacrificed to bacterial action. The wall’s not waterproof. And even if you’re not getting liquid water, you’re getting a lot of vapor drive.
CF: And that creates a problem in the wall systems and basements.
TM: That sounds very familiar.
CF: Right. Yeah. It’s just a molding mass, right?
TM: Yeah. Yeah.
CF: I don’t know what the best way to handle that is. I’ve been dealing with this for a long time. I think one of the most elegant solutions is polyisocyanurate, well detailed at the joints on the right against the wall. Try to stop that vapor drive issue. Try to get the temperature differential in the block so that it’s the same temperature inside the wall as it is outside the wall so there’s not an inclination for vapor drive.
TM: You’re talking about putting a rigid foam board on the inside of the foundation wall?
CF: Yeah. And not just any, it has to be a floor cell foam board. So, yeah.
TM: Okay. Yeah. That’s one method we talk about that could be an option for trying to finish a below grade wall that has some moisture migration through it. And the thing is, then you just have to make sure that if you install that, you are sealing around the perimeter of that foam board to the foundation wall, so that any moisture that does come through the foundation or get behind that foam board and condenses is not creating a connection of mold into the air that you’re breathing. So to literally seal that foam to the foundation.
CF: Sure. And I’m not saying that that’s the best solution. Probably the best solution is leaving a foot of air space between your studded wall and the basement walls themselves. So they can have…
TM: Or just not finishing it.
RS: Is your basement finished, Chad?
CF: What’s that?
RS: Do you have a finished basement at your house?
CF: No, but for an old house basement it’s pretty awesome.
CF: I have seven feet of head room. It’s a nice basement.
TM: Nice. Okay.
RS: But just exposed block walls then?
CF: Mine’s rubble.
RS: Oh, okay.
CF: Yeah. It’s all, it’s stone mortar and it’s in very good condition. I did drop my floor down about a foot. When I bought the house it had a dirt floor. Now it has concrete.
TM: Wow. That’s a project.
RS: Yeah. It’s a project.
CF: There was a story.
TM: I’m sure.
CF: About 50 10-year-old kids and every time they brought a bucket up out of the basement I gave them a chip and at the end of the day, I paid them all.
RS: Oh my goodness.
TM: I’m picturing as you’re talking about your house Chad, like the movie Money Pit with Tom Hanks.
CF: It’s what old houses are. If you’re, my house is worth $10 and we’ve got $25 in it.
CF: It’s the fastest way to lose about 60% of your investment.
TM: Well, it’s a labor of love and it’s every time you start a new project you probably uncover another layer of something you weren’t expecting.
CF: Yeah, it is true. And we were pretty dedicated to keeping the place as original as as possible. Right down to we re-grained all the finishes and I had all the molded reproduced that we had to replace and we fixed all 77 windows. That sort of thing.
CF: It’s the opposite of energy efficient. Just so you know.
TM: Well, that means it’s durable then, right?
CF: That’s right. It dries out when it gets wet.
TM: Yeah. It’s robust.
RS: What did you do for the windows?
CF: Took them down, rebuilt them all.
RS: So you’ve got, I assume double hungs.
CF: Yeah. They’re all double hungs. Some are counterweighted. The ones on the first floor are fancier. They have weights. The ones on the second floor don’t, they’re… I’m looking in this room that I’m sitting in, the windows are four over four. Some of them are two over four, some of them are two over two. It’s Italian eights had a variety of windows. Some of them are arch top.
CF: And so yeah, we replaced rotted bottom component, bottom styles. And I used, Bill Kibble would be ashamed of me but I used a lot of epoxy. So it’s this real watery epoxy. A number of people make it but I used to have ATRON products and it penetrates into wood fiber and re-constitutes even rotted wood. It works pretty well.
RS: I’ve used it myself. I love that stuff.
RS: I don’t care what Mr. Kibble says. I like it.
CF: But it works really well.
RS: It does.
CF: Like the things they’re so strong when you’re done with them you can’t rack them even if you try to. You could put them on one corner and rest your whole body weight on the other corner and it wouldn’t do anything to it.
RS: Yeah. Well, I’m glad to hear you approve of that stuff.
RS: Good. ‘Cause I love it.
TM: Yes. Going back to basements really quick do you guys have a lot of crawl spaces? Like what percentage of houses in your area would have them?
CF: So you’re talking to a guy who probably does 80% of houses that I do are probably a hundred years old or older.
CF: So I specialize in old stuff. And so more houses that I do have crawl spaces.
TM: They do.
CF: Pretty regularly maybe a third of them.
TM: Wow. Okay.
CF: I’d say other houses built from 1900 forward almost zero. So few of them have crawl spaces, that is very rare.
TM: And what are some of those typical issues that you see in your crawl spaces?
CF: Well, the crawl spaces that I go in.
CF: It’s like, yeah. You find the well that used to serve the kitchen when your right shoulders drops off a little bit…
CF: There’s never any room. There’s always dead animals. Generally there’s not much rot there. If you took a house that was built out of today’s lumber and subjected that lumber to the same conditions in those crawls, it would be just nothing there. It would be a rotten moldy mess. That old growth timber that we cut down in 1850 was probably alive when Columbus was here. And so there’s a hundred growth rings per inch where we have a two by four with 16 growth rings. And so it’s just a completely different product that’s not even comparable. And it’s not the kind of thing where you say, oh, your floor joists are eight inches away from the soil. That’s not right because it’s proven that it’s perfectly capable of being eight inches away from the soil for 150 years.
TM: Wow. What about, I’m sure you don’t see basements that have insulation or vapor barriers along the dirt floor or anything like that. Do you have vented crawlspaces where you’re at?
CF: No. We do have vented crawlspace. I shouldn’t say we don’t, sometimes on new construction, venting is this double-edged sword. I generally try to convince people to turn that into condition space because nobody, here the summers are hot and humid and the winters are cold and dry and it’s this constant struggle for places for water to condense. And so the crawl spaces are cool. That hot humid air in the summer comes in creates all kinds of issues. Ventilation even though it’s prescriptive and required isn’t the best solution.
TM: Chad you know your stuff man. How did you learn all of this? I feel like you understand the building science of houses really well. How did you learn about all this stuff?
CF: I’m a little embarrassed to have you say that. How did I learn it?
TM: Experience, time?
CF: You read everything you can. There’s this little website called the Inspector’s Journal where a bunch of smart people used to hang out, and I had the back of their skillset and I’ll tell you where I don’t learn anything like this is on Facebook groups.
TM: But they could use some of your wisdom, Chad.
CF: No. So, I watch those groups and it’s disheartening to me because you’ll see somebody ask a pretty good question and within three or four responses you’ll see a good answer and then it gets buried below a bunch of folklore and untruths. And nobody ever realized that the right answer was there and there’s no amount of cajoling you can do to say, Hey, you guys missed this ’cause they just want to, they want to talk, they don’t want to learn.
TM: You know what? I feel like that’s just a small example of the world we’re living in these days where I feel like there’s just so much information from everywhere and all these different sources, and it’s a challenge to sort through it all and then try and figure out what’s true and what’s not.
CF: Yeah. So I think you have to qualify the definition of information, right. Information is something that’s going to be useful to you. The rest of it is just a bunch of fuzzy background noise. And then you mix in all the politics of the profession and it just becomes intermittent attacks and discussions instead of technical discussion. That’s one thing about this Inspector’s Journal was very early in the internet, I jumped on there probably in the late ’90s, and it looked almost cartoonish the way that it was laid out. But there was seven or eight really smart people there and they were willing to talk to me because I was interested in this profession. And everything they told me I then went and read about and that was a good method to learn.
RS: Yeah. I’ve learned a ton from that discussion forum. And you were one of the moderators on there, or still are, right?
CF: I still am. Yep.
CF: So I mean, it’s been displaced now by the trendier forums, but there’s still smart people there.
TM: And Shad, do you teach to continuing education or what do you do in that room?
CF: I do, yeah. I teach continuing education. I have a little school that teaches New York home inspectors and sometimes, inspectors from other states who want to come, they heard about an electrical class or they just show up and I run seven or eight classes a year, usually somewhere between eight and 15 people per class. And it’s the people who actually want to learn who come, number one, it’s kind of spendy and I understand that. And number two, it’s in person. And so it’s not convenient. And I hate teaching on Zoom, so I’m not going to teach on Zoom. If they want to come, they can come.
TM: Yeah. We’re just talking about that before we started recording how difficult it is if you’re teaching to all these people on Zoom and you have zero faces that you can see and no connection and no feedback from anyone that’s listening.
CF: And you never get off course on Zoom and getting off course is sometimes some of the best learning experiences there are.
TM: Yeah. Good point.
RS: Being able to answer questions, get into specific things where people don’t understand something and you don’t realize you just totally missed a ton of your audience going over something and then you get to get the right answer, but…
CF: Yeah, that’s right. Having questions and answers and even skipping out of electric for a minute to talk about emergency escape and rescue openings or whatever it is that people might have a misconception about. And it’s great to expound on those other things. And it’s also, it’s like an intermental where, you’re having a little bowl of survey in the middle of a long main course, right?
TM: Yeah. Yeah. A little refresher. Well, yeah, we just appreciate your experience and your knowledge and coming out on the podcast to talk about your area, but also what you’re doing for the industry to try and elevate it as well and help other inspectors learn what you’ve learned over the years. But going back to the houses Chad, I wanted to ask you, so, okay, so you talked a little bit about this old growth lumber and these old houses, and because you know that wood is a lot more durable than the new growth stuff we have in new construction today and it’s not all these composite products. I’m kinda wondering, this sounds very similar to the housing stock we have here in the Twin Cities area in Minnesota, but issues with small openings in the wall around windows or missing flashing or something like that, is much less of a concern in a hundred plus year old house than it is in like a 1990’s house because of that old growth wood and it being more durable and it being able to dry out. And because those houses are typically not fully insulated and they don’t have vapor barriers in the walls versus a newer house that has all that stuff, if it gets wet, it can’t dry out. Do you have the same types of situations where you are?
CF: Yeah. One of the whole problems with modern materials is the, not necessarily the materials, I think you can build a good house with modern materials and modern techniques, but the whole world’s gone shake and bake and everything is super fast and hurry up and get it done. And this is going to be wildly unpopular and apolitical, but everybody’s stoned. All the contractors are stoned. You get to a job site and I go to a lot of job sites and I’m on a lot of new construction and I do a lot of phase inspections, and you can always smell weed. And so that’s part of the problem. The other part of the problem is people just… Nobody’s ever taught anybody anything. They don’t know what flashing is. When I say, Hey, I’d like to see a sill pan flashing here, they don’t even know what you’re talking about. And so I encourage people to read manufacturer’s instructions because every window manufacturer that I’ve ever read, I’ve hundreds and hundreds of instruction manuals for windows. They all want flashings. They don’t want you to tape the window into the wall. They want it flashed into the wall, and they want an abrogated assembly that sheds water, like fish scales starting at the top and going to the bottom. They don’t want to rely on DuPont’s tape for their Tyvek weather resistant barrier.
CF: That tape is designed to be an air barrier. It’s not a flashing for the window. And so, just talking about that, I’m going to digress for a minute. Last year I did a house where it was 4-years-old. They had a pervasive water issue on the prevailing side. And I asked them, I said, do you want me to poke a hole in the wall or do you want me to take off the side? And what do you prefer that I do to see what’s going on here? And so they opted for me to cut a hole in the drywall, and I cut a hole in the drywall, and it was like garden mulch inside the wall. The OSB was completely gone. Second floor, first floor in vinyl siding. So once I did that, I went outside and took off some siding. And all it was, I’m not going to specify the manufacturer, but it was a proprietary system. They used a weather resistant barrier with the same manufacturer’s tape, and all the tape had failed around every window. And so water was just being driven into the wall system. And so it was easy to fix. All they had to do was take off the side and take off all the OSBs and take off the insulation and do all that again. But aside from that it was just a mess. And…
RS: Yeah, that sounds really easy.
RS: Easy to say.
CF: But in that vein, adhered masonry veneer is probably the worst invention of the 20th century. In my opinion, right next to vinyl for concealing problems until they’re too late to fix. And for creating situations where you’re going to have a problem.
RS: You said adhered masonry veneer.
CF: Adhered masonry veneer.
RS: And for anybody who doesn’t know other names for it, or stone siding or lumpy stucco or stucco with funnels. Lots of terms for this stuff.
CF: Stucco with funnels, that’s perfect. Stucco with funnel.
RS: Joe Steber came up with that one. I can’t take credit for that.
CF: Yeah, that’s beautiful.
TM: A giant sponge on the side of your house.
CF: Yeah. And so if it’s detailed right, if you detail it like it’s EFIS, you can get away with using it. My problem with it is that people that put it on aren’t masons, and it’s always clearer that they don’t understand how stonework really worked. And I have several photos where they used all the stones of one size, then switch to the stones of the next size and then switch the stones of the third size up the wall.
CF: Or you’ll see 12 head joints lined up in a row to create this vertical line. They don’t understand how stonework is supposed to look or you’ll see it up on a gable above two columns. It’s ridiculous. But…
TM: You know what Chad, you said something that was funny, but also disturbing and I think I just want to circle back and highlight it. You’re the second person we’ve had on in this series who has mentioned the impact of drug use on our housing stock and the quality of it. We had on Jim Caden.
TM: Who was talking about 1980s is always a problem. And one of the things he was joking about, but not joking about was cocaine usage at that time. But I think you bring up a really good point in the fact that housing today, the materials we have and the goals we’re trying to meet with building houses that are more energy efficient, which means more insulation, more airtight, they are a lot less forgiving if there is water intrusion or high humidity issues. And so it’s even more important to have skilled workers who can put these assemblies together correctly and follow manufacturer’s instructions and detail everything out perfectly so we don’t have issues with water intrusion. And we have just the opposite of that. We have less and less people going into those fields and getting minimum if any training, before they’re thrown out on the job site and we expect our houses to perform perfectly.
CF: Yeah. It’s pervasive throughout the trades right now. No matter what trade, I just did a construction defect for concrete, and it was clear that they placed the concrete with probably a 10 slump. It was almost self-leveling. It was so wet.
CF: And it was less than a month old, and it was staling. And the masons are saying that it’s the concrete batch plant, and it’s clearly not the batch plant. It’s clearly the mason’s fault. And it’s that zip wall systems. Zip wall systems are awesome. You have to read the instructions, otherwise they don’t work. If you don’t read the instructions, they don’t work. And one of the things that I do the most of for construction defect litigation support is bad roofing jobs. Which is ironic because everything you need to know about shingle roofing is on the bundle. All the instructions are on those 60 bundles you just handled.
CF: And if you took the time to read the back of that package, you can’t screw it up. And every time it goes to court or never goes to court because I always just take a picture of the back of the bundle and everybody has to acquiesce and say, yeah, we didn’t do it like that. And it’s all done. So I think it’s super important to, these assemblies and these processes that are listed and labeled and tested a certain way, it’s important to install these products the way that they’re tested. Otherwise they’re not going to perform.
RS: Sure. What are the most common issues you find with roofs in your area?
CF: Oh, they just never follow instructions. Closed-cut valleys are almost always wrong. I don’t know. This is hard to describe, but you’re supposed to cut that little corner off of the shingle that’s on the top of the valley so that you don’t have this huge corner where the water can migrate across horizontally.
CF: Nobody ever does that. Nailing is always too high. Now, lately I’ve done a bunch of, well, not a bunch of, several defects where there’s an aesthetic defect and there’s all these little like mold tunnels on the roof. And I think that comes from, I think what happens is the roofer puts a shingle down, shoots in two nails, then pulls the other corner down and creates that hump to a shingle.
TM: Yeah. Sure.
CF: So they’re going so fast that they create that problem. So, I think that like Asphalt or Fiberglass Mat Shingles are better than they ever have been. I think that we have the ability to put a 50-year roof on with this product. Although when we had relatives from Switzerland come, they asked me why we put paper on our roofs because theirs are all tile hovering. Those are 700-year roofs. And so…
TM: Yeah. Do you mostly have Asphalt or Fiberglass?
CF: Yeah, so we have a lot of work to be done, the processes and when they put on things are wrong, that underlayments are bad. It’s a bunch of different problems.
TM: Do you mainly have Asphalt, Fiberglass type Shingles where you are?
CF: Yeah, I’d say it’s probably 90% of the market, metal’s making an inroad right now. The shingle-look metal.
TM: Yeah. Okay.
RS: And what do you find when you go in attics? What’s the biggest stuff you’re looking for there?
CF: So, on an old house, I’m looking for a lumber that’s finally given up because we used to expect a lot out of lumber, and a lot of times it’s roof systems are kind of dramatically undersized around here. They only might have two by four rafters spanning 16 feet and Lord knows what centers.
CF: 16 to 32 inches, whatever they hit.
RS: Oh my.
TM: Yeah. Wow.
CF: So, you’re going to see those obviously when you’re on the ground, you’re going to see those big sags on the roof or re-formations in the roof plane. On new houses, you’re looking for these conditions that turn the OSB into mulch or the plywood into mulch. And usually that’s inadequate ventilation in the attics or misconceived ventilation attempts. I’m probably going out on a limb and I’ll be wildly unpopular, but I don’t think Soffit to Ridge Venting works very good. And so I’ve seen a lot of problems, around here it’s pretty consistent with Soffit to Ridge Venting. The plywood’s almost always really in bad shape right above the Soffit Vents and, it doesn’t matter if there’s baffles there or I don’t know why we call them baffles because they don’t restrict flow, but that’s what they’re called.
TM: Vent chutes. Yeah.
CF: Its called chutes, it’s like air chutes.
CF: But I think that you’re bringing in, at certain times a year you’re bringing in moisture laden air where it condenses on the bottom of the roof sheathing through that Soffit Vent. And I don’t believe that you can’t mix the venting systems. I’ve never seen, anecdotally, I’ve never seen any evidence that suggests that putting a ridge vent in with a gable vent is going to harm anything.
RS: Yeah. Agreed.
CF: All the vent manufacturers tell you that it’s vent suicide to do that, but I have never seen any evidence of that. The systems that I’ve seen that perform the best consistently day after day, year after year are Gable to Gable, Gable Vent to Gable Vent. It always works because you’ve got this big powerful force called Barometric Pressure, and if it’s lower on one side, the air is going to move through the attic and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Where with the Soffit to Ridge, you’re depending on gravity, that buoyant error to go up through those tiny little perforations in the Soffit, number one. Number two, you’re hoping that it’s going to move fast enough so that there’s not an intimate contact with the bottom of Cold Roof Sheathing for a long time and get out the ridge. But it just doesn’t happen like that. You get condensation issues there and it’s consistent and observable. Once you’re in a couple hundred attics, there’s definitely a trend that shows you that this doesn’t work well.
RS: And how much of these condensation problems in the attics do you think is a result of indoor air leaking up into the attic?
TM: Sometimes it is a bath fan or the kitchen exhauster hood over the stove, or you’re boiling spaghetti is venting to the attic. But usually, I don’t think most of, I think most of them are caused by Soffit to Ridge Venting issues. [laughter] Honestly, if the location of the problems just sort of indicates that’s the cause and I know everybody says correlation doesn’t mean causation, but once you see 500 houses with moldy sheathing right above the soffit, you know that there’s probably some causation there.
CF: And I heard Steepler talk about it, I don’t know, five, eight years ago. And he sort of felt that there was a, and I’d already noticed it by then and so it was really nice to have somebody else affirm this phenomenon but he sort of felt like it was because the sun and the low altitude in the winter was beating down on the siding and creating this blanket of warm air on the side of the house, which rose up after it sucked all the moisture under the cold air adjacent got into the attic and then that vapor that was in that air condensed on the bottom of the attic sheathing. And I don’t think that’s wrong, but, that would explain it on south sides. Not on north sides. And I see it on north sides a lot.
TM: To your point, Chad, when I was doing a lot of diagnostic testing with blower doors and infrared images, one thing I noticed, we have a lot of ramblers in our area in 1950s, ’60s and inevitably, they always had problems with ice dams, because even if you would try and air seal the attic and install spray foam and a good amount of insulation, it was really hard to air seal and insulate over that exterior wall top plate because of just the small amount of space there with the low pitch of the roof and the way that they built it and framed it. And inevitably, what we found is that unless you could literally air seal and caulk between the top plate and the double top plate and the exterior wall framing in the attic, you would get air leakage from that wall. From the inside of the house that would come up through those top plates and then obviously condense when it hits the cold roof deck right there. So it was really a matter of trying to air seal and insulate and then obviously as best you can in that area, but you can’t really get to it unless you’re going to start taking the roof off or the exterior siding at the top with the soffit. So that spot would always have some heat loss happening there and would always melt snow and create ice dams.
CF: I think that’s a really valid observation. In the newer stuff, I don’t think that is as prevalent because of now every house has to pass a blower door test and they’re still doing a much better job sealing that. And every joint, I don’t know if you’ve been on new construction sites lately, but every joint between the framing members gets caulked now. And they’re trying to make these ACHS drop, they’re even caulking the drywall up in place to the top plate into the bottom plate.
TM: Well, and the use of energy heel truss too, that gives you more space above that exterior wall top so any of that warm moisture that is leaking up has some more space to dissipate before it condenses on the roof deck.
CF: I think you’re right. Yeah, I think all of that, I think that the fact that the houses are tight and most of them are running at a slightly negative pressure because of the HRVs or because of bath fans or whatever, that probably helps prevent it as well. But I don’t know, I’m not seeing it going away yet entirely. I still see it even on houses that were built on the last three years during this energy cold cycle. It’d be interesting to see what happens in the future. I don’t know how much tighter we should make them. [laughter]
TM: Yeah, there’s a lot of things to worry about when you make a house super airtight for sure. Yeah, like you said earlier when you were talking about how being a mechanic and specializing in cars really set you up to succeed in this industry because houses really are just a bunch of different complex, dynamic systems that interact together and when you change one thing, you impact another.
CF: You’re absolutely right. It’s exactly the same thing. There’s no difference in the science.
RS: We’re running a little short on time here, but I did want to ask you too, Chad, if someone is coming up home inspector in a southern climate, and they’re going to be inspecting in your area in the middle of January, February, what kind of trouble are they going to have inspecting houses? What’s some of the most challenging stuff you got to deal with because of your climate?
CF: I hate it when my phone rings in January and February.
TM: Take your gloves off [laughter] You can’t take your gloves off…
CF: It’s too cold. There’s snow. You can’t do a good job. Normally when I inspect a house, I might walk around it five times from different angles. I look, sometimes I focus just on below the windows. Sometimes I look just above the windows. In the wintertime, you don’t do that. It’s too hard. You’re trudging through 24 inches of snow. For me, I try to set my clients expectations. Hey, I’m going to try to diagnose your house from the inside. I’m going to look at the outside. But chances are I won’t be able to see any of your roof. I won’t be able to see any of the penetrations. And that’s the best I can do. And I swear…
TM: And the grating.
CF: What’s that?
TM: And the grating?
CF: You can’t see anything under 18 inches of snow. And I kick around, and I do the best I can, and Lord knows I’ve slid down a couple of roofs I shouldn’t have been on. [laughter] But sometimes gratefully into like giant U plants. But it’s still embarrassing when you’re screaming and your client can hear you inside.
CF: Yeah. So that’s the challenge. And the other challenge is it’s cold. It’s five degrees or 10 degrees. And even though you’re out moving around, it’s not physical enough to keep you warm. And I dress… My wife has spent a lot of money trying to keep me warm. All the best winter clothes but you’re still only good for about 45 minutes with low effort and then you got to sit in your truck for 10 minutes and warm your hands back up. And I always pretend I’m looking at my photos. I’m not. I’m just getting warm.
TM: Oh, man. Hey, do we have time for me to ask just a couple really quick questions and we’ll try and keep the answer succinct as possible?
RS: Let’s do it.
TM: Okay, Chad, what are the most common types of heating and cooling systems where you’re at?
CF: Gas forced air.
TM: Okay. Gas forced air.
CF: These folks are making an income. They’re start starting to hit… I keep calculating mini splits for myself. They don’t make sense for me. They don’t make sense in the building I own. They’re not going to save me any money. I don’t know if you guys are aware of our politics, but our governor just made gas furnaces essentially illegal in the next three years.
RS: You’re going to have to put in…
TM: You’re already moving faster than California.
CF: That’s what she wants, all commercial builds now have to be all electric.
TM: Wow. Okay. That’s happening fast.
CF: Which is ironic because she just had a natural gas generator installed at her house but we won’t talk about that.
TM: Okay, moving on ’cause we’re going to keep this as short as possible. These houses that are 150 years old or older, do you see a lot of dangerous electrical and really old plumbing that doesn’t function very well?
CF: Old plumbing, definitely. Dangerous electrical is kind of, I think it was Jim Caton that said electrical is only dangerous when there’s more than one thing wrong. Right? Because there’s some safeties built in. You have to have a series of events normally for something really bad to happen. Is it dangerous? Yeah. Some of it is dangerous. It’s old. Everybody says you can’t recommend that you replace equipment based on age only but sometimes that’s just not true. Sometimes you should replace your equipment.
TM: We were…
CF: Usually it’s just so messy that it just prudent to replace it while you fix it.
TM: Well, what was interesting and we learned in our podcast with John Bolton last week from Florida is that a lot of insurance companies are driving the home inspection industry to like basically report on systems that are old and say that they’re defective or that they like need to be replaced, such as like, electrical panels or plumbing that’s like 50 years old, and you can’t get insurance if you’ve got a panel that’s older than that. And it blew our minds ’cause here in the Twin Cities we’ve got houses that have electrical knob and tube that’s over a 100 years old that’s still being used. I didn’t know if you had that same thing where you are.
CF: When I bought my house it had water and it was installed in 1917, but it was installed in armored cable and it’s knob and tube is… Was popular here, but it was never wildly popular like it was in other areas. We electrified slightly during the time when armor cable was available and most people used armor cable ’cause it was easier to pull retroactively. And they can pull it through a hole in the floor drills. I don’t know, obviously even old wire is got this old rubber insulation on it that’s all deteriorated. And as soon as you touch it, it falls off as long as things stay in the same place. I don’t know how dangerous they really are.
TM: Yeah. Thanks for indulging me on just those quick really, questions on some of those other systems we didn’t get to really cover.
RS: A lightning round.
CF: The lightning round. Just to elaborate one second. It that FPA 73 sort of suggests that electrical equipment has a life, right?
CF: It’s this document 20 pages or so that says, Hey, things get old and you should replace them proactively.
RS: Yeah. Doesn’t that say like 40 years for electric panels?
CF: Yeah. 40, 50 years, right? And I don’t think they do it because the panels wear out. I think they do it because after 50 years you’ve had the pool guy in there, you’ve had the HVHC guy in there. All these non electrician people plus the homeowner add a circuit for the new hot tub by double…
TM: Yeah. Time for a redo. [laughter] Yeah. Perfect. Well, oh my gosh. Okay. Chad, we could ask you a million more. I could ask you a million more questions, but for sake of time we should probably put a wrap on this episode, Reuben?
RS: Yeah. It’s time. Well Chad, thank you so much for coming on the show. Good to see you as always. Can’t wait to see you again in person. And next week on the show, who do we have next, Tessa? We got Paul Staren.
TM: Yes. We’ve got Paul and he is from a hot… Is he from a hot and dry?
RS: Hot and dry.
TM: Yes. Hot dry climate.
RS: He’s going to be covering hot and dry and yeah, he’ll be the last one in the series, but…
CF: He’s super smart.
RS: Super smart guy. Yeah. Glad to get him on.
TM: Hey, real quick though, should we have Chad, for any of our listeners that are wondering how they can find Chad or find any of his classes or just learn more about you Chad and what you do and your company, how can they find you?
RS: Yeah, Chad.
TM: Thanks. My company name is StructureSmart Incorporated. It’s all one word. My school name is Inspector Central. If you google you’ll find me, find my phone number, everything.
RS: Thank you Chad. And for the listeners, if you have questions, comments, concerns, whatever you can email us email@example.com. And I am Reuben Saltzman, for Tessa Murry signing off.
TM: Thanks. Catch you next time.=