In this podcast episode, Reuben Saltzman of the Structure Talk podcast is joined by Jon Bolton from Inspectagator, a Florida-based home inspection company. They delve into various aspects of home inspections in Florida’s unique climate and construction landscape. Florida’s hot and humid climate presents distinct challenges, from stucco problems to moisture management. They emphasize the importance of understanding building science principles and the need for proper building materials to withstand weather conditions. Inspectors in Florida must pay close attention to issues related to moisture infiltration, fungal growth, and insulation, especially in hot attic spaces. The conversation also touches on insurance-driven inspection requirements in Florida and how copper water piping can impact coverage. Overall, the discussion sheds light on the intricacies of home inspections in the Sunshine State.
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.
Rueben 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.
RS: Welcome to another episode of the Structure Talk podcast. We’re coming off hot on the heels of having Jim Katen on the show, fantastic guest. And we’ve got another fantastic guest today. Today we’ve got Jon Bolton with Inspectagator down in Florida.
Jon Bolton: Woo!
RS: So, yeah, [chuckle] let’s go Jon. We’re going from one corner of the country to another. What’s going on in your world, Jon?
JB: Man, I just got back from survival training and feeling pretty good about that.
RS: Survival training?
Tessa Murry: What is that?
JB: Yeah. I went up to visit another inspector in North Carolina last week, and it was 49 degrees, and I had two pair of socks, two pair of pants, two jackets, and I survived.
RS: Oh, the humanity! 49 degrees. Wow! [laughter] That sounds really, really cold.
TM: Do you even own a winter coat, Jon? [chuckle]
JB: Oh, you know what? I have a very nice one that I bought forever ago, but it still looks brand new.
RS: He hasn’t put it on yet.
TM: He never used it.
TM: For anybody listening, I’ll just interject real quick, we’re doing this series, if you have not been listening to the last few shows, where we’re interviewing different home inspectors from around the country to hear about the different types of construction and houses they have and also some of the issues that they face. And so we’ve had Dusty Jameson on from a mixed humid climate, we had Jim Katen on from… Katen, how do you say his name?
RS: I say Katen, I say it…
RS: As though it’s spelled with a D, but it is a T. I don’t know, I don’t know I’m saying it right or not.
TM: Pardon me if I mispronounced that. Yeah. And he covered the marine climate. So today we’re really excited to have Jon on who is from this hot, humid climate zone, which stretches from Texas all the way to Florida, covering the Gulf Coast, and then up the East Coast a little bit through South Carolina, and I think just touching into North Carolina. So it’s a pretty big swath of the US, where I know there’s a lot of home inspections going on, ’cause a lot of people are moving or want to live in that area. So thanks for coming on, Jon.
RS: Yeah. And I gotta say a little bit about Jon. Jon and I are so simpatico with the way we run our home inspection companies and just focus on quality home inspections. He runs a fairly large multi-inspector company. For the people that we’ve had on, both Dusty and Jim, we’re talking much smaller home inspection companies, but Jon runs a much larger one. And you’re not really even out in the field doing home inspections anymore, are you Jon?
JB: Woop! Woop! No, thank God.
JB: I came out January 2020. And man, what a blessing, what a blessing. I do gotta say, I listened to Jim and Dusty and those were awesome. This is major pressure, those guys did fantastic. Those were great shows.
RS: Well, you are a great speaker Jon, I’ve been to your classes where you’ve taught at conferences and Jon can definitely bring it, he knows this stuff. And I knew you’d just be a shoo in for this. So you were definitely the first person I thought of.
JB: Well, it’s is no easy feet when Reuben Saltzman sits in the front row. [chuckle] He’s sitting right there like, “What? Okay. Put on the pressure.”
TM: “You’ve missed a spot.”
RS: Oh, that was good times, man, good times. Well, Tessa, why don’t you kick us off?
TM: Sure. Well, so my first question is, Jon, just give us a little bit of background on you and how long you’ve had your business and how it grew and where you’re at today before we dive into the technical stuff about housing stock that you see.
JB: Cool. To make it as short as possible because it spans many years as does Reuben’s, so this is my 25th year now, I believe…
JB: Or pushing 26. So I got laid off, I was employed one year after college. I got laid off, I couldn’t find a job to save my life. I did things to survive and my dad said, my dad was a GC, he goes, “Why don’t you get into home inspections?” And I’m like, “This construction crap sucks.” [laughter] ‘Cause I was a superintendent right out of school for a year, and that’s it. And anyway, he talked me into it and I’m like, “Boy, this is fun. We go criticize somebody’s house and leave with a check, you don’t have to fix anything.”
TM: You don’t have to fix it.
JB: Yeah. You don’t have to fix anything. I’m like… And I was hooked right away. But I was… I think I had a really, really good fortunate beginning in this industry, in that, literally, I picked up… We used to have these, Reuben will remember, Tessa, you may not be old enough, but we had these big thick books, they would drop off at our front door every six months, they were white in the front and yellow in the back, we called them the Yellow Pages.
TM: Oh, yeah. [laughter]
JB: Big, big thick book. And I opened it up and back then there were two pages of home inspectors, that’s it. And you contrast that today where there are 16,000 plus licensed home inspectors in Florida.
JB: Oh, yeah.
TM: Oh my gosh.
RS: Holy cow.
JB: I know, right? Staggering. I think we’re stuck in only to real estate agents, but there’s the side effect. But I started at the top, and SEO back then was A.
TM: Yeah, the Alphabet.
RS: AAA Home inspections.
JB: Did I tell you this?
JB: Okay. It was AAA, All American Home Inspections.
RS: Oh, my gosh.
TM: Oh, smart.
JB: So finally I said, “Hey, I’m interested in this.” And then he says, “Come on by.” And I got a job and I worked there for a little while and then I met some other owners who needed help. And make a long story short, at one time I was working for like four different inspection companies at the same time. And I’d put the blue shirt and the blue hat on with the blue magnets and do an inspection and then go around the corner for the next one and put on the green hat and the green shirt and the green suit, [chuckle] and it was neat because I got to experience different disclosure methods, different… Well, back then there were only three softwares, that’s it. One of the companies I worked for was the triplicate, carbonless Legal Size Forms, you remember those?
RS: I remember those. My dad used to do those.
JB: Oh, my God.
TM: Wow. Are we talking like ’80s, probably, that that was around?
RS: No, this… I started ’98.
TM: Mid ’90s? Really? ’90s? Okay. Wow.
RS: Yeah. I forced my dad to quit doing it when I came into the company in ’97.
RS: He was doing them up until ’97.
JB: Wow. Those were different times, but shortly thereafter, I did that for three years, I think, and then started my own. And then been… I had Inspectagator from 2000 to December last year when we just sold Inspectagator to Launchpad Home Group. So now we’re part of that whole thing and they’ve made multiple acquisitions at this point. So yeah, you can say I am part of the largest home inspection company in the country.
RS: Wow! Crazy.
TM: Wow! You’ve come a long way, Jon, and learned a lot.
JB: Yeah. Fun stuff, right?
TM: Yeah, gosh. Okay. So you’ve spent a lot of time in the field in this industry, and you have a background too, it sounds like your dad was in construction or was a GC, you said. So you have a lot of experience with houses in Florida, in this hot, humid climate zone. So if you listen to our podcast, you know we talk a lot about issues that have nothing to do with youth, [laughter] and hence why we’re having you on today, because we wanna hear about some of the standard issues that you see in Florida homes.
JB: Yeah. You’d mention the climate zone, we’re actually not just a hot humid climate zone, we’re also in the humid hot climate zone. We have both, just FYI.
TM: Yeah. [laughter] I was gonna say, I spent some time in Louisiana and it is… Try separating them, you can’t. It’s just, as soon as you walk out the door, you get hit by a wall of hot humid air, and you immediately start sweating. [laughter]
JB: Yes. We are… Florida is what they call a typical ’80s state, temperature, humidity and average IQ.
RS: Oh my goodness, Jon.
TM: Jon, I was not prepared for your quick wit today. Oh my gosh. I gotta step it up a little bit here. Okay. So you’ve got really hot humid and humid hot climate…
JB: And humid hot. Yeah, both.
TM: In Florida. So I’m guessing that mold is a constant issue and air conditioning systems, but do your houses… What are some of these issues, building science related issues, that you see and construction issues that you have?
JB: Yeah. Since it is literally, we say about 10 months of the year are very similar, we have some very… Like right now it’s gorgeous, I had the windows opened this morning.
JB: We have free AC day, is what we call it.
JB: Yeah, free air conditioning. We have a lot of free irrigation days, alot of that when it rains. So a lot of our weather is the same, which honestly, we’re gonna have to stretch this episode out because our stuff is really easy, 10 months of the year it’s the same. And if you think about, we have a lot of rain, we have a lot of heat, we have a lot of humidity, and there’s that thing, the second law of thermodynamics. And if every single home inspector would learn building science, I know you’ve got a degree in it, right? And not a lot of us have that option, that doesn’t exist here that I know of, it would’ve been really cool. But if home inspectors would spend time studying building science as opposed to, they’re so scared of things like GFCIs and all these other spooky things, but if they’d spend time on building science things, they would be much more effective in the field. In Florida, we know that the second law tells us that heat/humidity is gonna move from hot to cold, more to less, high pressure to low pressure. So 10 months of the year, it’s coming from outside to inside. Bam! It’s pretty easy. So our construction is pretty easy, and I’ve always said, “What’s the first thing that the raindrop sees on the house?”
RS: The roof?
JB: Well, okay, we have a lot of horizontal rain. [chuckle] So the first thing the raindrop sees is the paint, right?
JB: And if the paint is bad, then you’re into porous stuff, whether it’s stucco or brick or what have you. And the sun comes out and you have that drive, it pushes it towards the interior, there’s more rain outside than there is inside. So there’s always that migration of moisture to the interior.
JB: So a lot of our problems can be solved by just putting those little puzzle pieces together, pretty simple and a lot of our problems can be traced right back to the exterior envelope. The better you caulk, seal and paint, the better the house is gonna perform, it’s pretty simple. So that’s actually a default statement in our report. [chuckle]
RS: So tell me about problems with stucco in your area.
JB: You guys have… I’m sure everybody is familiar with reading the ASTM standard for applying stucco. And that’s… It’s just not done here and everybody understands it, everybody realizes that they come up with a fancy name, they call it something different than stucco. So it’s… They somehow don’t have to apply the rules, but we have one coat systems and two coat systems and of course the three coat that you’re familiar with reading in ASTM. But bottom line, it’s never ever done right, it never ever is. So there’s no cure times in between steps and that kind of thing. And construction’s fast, so you’re going to have cracks, you’re gonna have a lot of cracks and the… We know that water can move through a crack as small as 0.064 of an inch? The thickness of two pieces of paper.
JB: We’ve proven it can move through very very small cracks. So number one, we know the rain’s coming, we know that it’s gonna go in small cracks. And I know we’re all Dr. Joe fans here, [chuckle] and one of his quotes that I’ll never ever forget, “The theoretical capillary rise in masonry is 6 miles.”
RS: Oh my goodness.
JB: That’s mind blowing stuff. And then wood frame, it’s like 400 feet. And I always say, “How many houses are taller than 400 feet or 6 miles?” None.
JB: So we know it’s coming, we know it’s getting in small places, and we know that it can go a very long way.
TM: Yeah, it’s migrating.
JB: Right. As long as the source is still there, as long as it keeps raining, the capillary reaction just keeps happening and it goes a very, very long way. So sometimes, my very, very favorite thing to do is when you get that phone call and they go, “I have a problem. Can you help?” Love it, no liability. Because here’s the truth, when somebody has a problem like that, they typically don’t look in the Google or the phone book or whatever, and a home inspector that knows building science, a home inspector that can solve mold problem, they’re looking under plumbers, roofers, mold remediators, that kind of thing. So by the time they get to us, somebody has typically said, “Well, hey, I have Tessa over here and she is really smart, she knows the building science stuff and she might be able to help you.” That’s where a lot of the phone calls come from. So when I go into those scenarios, I have no liability, they’re just looking for answers, right?
JB: So there’s… We get to go play with our toys, I mean tools, and do these fun things and get paid for it. And usually it’s pretty easy. So you can have a problem and it’s one location that manifests here, but it’s sources is way over there somewhere, right?
JB: So when you know the second law of thermodynamics, and you’re familiar with infrared, the conductive heat and heat transfer, that kind of stuff, you just put the pieces together and it’s really not that difficult.
TM: Wow. I’m curious because in my experience in Florida and in the south, I’ve seen so many different types of construction methods, it’s… Here up where we are in Minnesota, in the Twin Cities area, 99% of our housing stock is built with wood framing, and it’s kind of the same, same materials. But in Florida, it seems like I see concrete block, I see wood framing. I don’t know. What would you… How would you describe your typical housing stock.
JB: In central Florida, it’s really, really easy. An old house to us is something that was built in the ’40s and ’50s, that’s really old.
TM: Oh, okay.
JB: Not that we don’t have some that were built in the ’20s and even earlier, but they just don’t last that long. [chuckle] There’s…
TM: You got some mother nature challenges down there that we don’t have up here.
JB: Yeah, there’s four…
JB: Things that kill a house in Florida, that’s of course UV, water, termites, and insurance companies.
TM: Oh, good point.
JB: So they just don’t last that long. The old housing stock is typically in downtown Orlando area and an adjacent area we call College Park. So they’re similar, those houses are primarily wood frame on a crawl space. For the most part, 98% of everything else is slab-on-grade. So again, it’s really, really… Central Florida is like the best place to do home inspections.
RS: That is great.
TM: No, basement, no crawl space.
RS: No crawl space.
JB: But we have basements, we have plenty of basements.
TM: Do you?
JB: Yeah. We just don’t call them basements.
RS: Okay. What do you call it?
RS: A cools?
JB: Swimming pools.
RS: Oh, pools. [laughter] We both heard same thing. Love it. That’s your area below the ground?
JB: There you go. Sometimes you start digging and you hit water.
RS: Yeah. Okay.
TM: Okay. So most of your housing stock is newer construction and only portions of it are wood frame with a crawl space, majority is slab-on-grade. And then do you have masonry built houses too? Concrete block?
JB: Yeah. It’s probably not accurate to say 50/50, but it’s not that far off. When you get into higher end homes with more cool features and stuff like that, you tend to see more wood frame and when you get into more basic houses or even executive level houses, it’s concrete block.
RS: Why is that?
JB: Probably cost. It’s the easiest thing to do. Back in the ’40s ’50s, you’d see painted block for the most part or wood frame, and then now virtually everything’s stucco. That’s our go-to.
TM: So you’ll see the stucco, and then it’s concrete block, and then what’s on the interior of that?
JB: It’s usually furred out in drywall.
JB: So there’s some type of usually a foil face, vapor barrier type of, perforated in between the drywall and the block they…
TM: I’m so fascinated by this because you understand just how moisture moves and it moves from more to less, and so if you’ve got a concrete block, exterior wall or stucco over top of that, and it rains that material soaks it up like a sponge, and then the sun comes out, beats down on the wall, and your vapor drive is pushing inward, shouldn’t you have the vapor barrier on the outside of the wall? I guess you can if it’s just concrete block, you’ve got it on the inside, but man, then you’re trapping the moisture in the block and hopefully there’s no… That moisture doesn’t get through that insulation and then get to the sheetrock. Do you see a lot of problems with sheetrock on the inside of masonry built homes?
JB: Everybody’s got sheetrock on the inside. What’s really fascinating is we caught on really quick. I remember being as a kid, working for my dad, and he built houses and we would use regular visqueen, 6 mil plastic on the interior side of the wall assembly.
JB: And then put drywall. Well, it doesn’t take very long to destroy a house in Florida putting the vapor barrier on the interior, ’cause we talked about 10 months of the year, that drive is towards the interior and it hits that plastic bag and it can’t go through. It’s a vapor barrier. So it condenses and then gravity is pretty predictable and maintenance free, so it pulls it down and you start manifesting the mold and the rotted tack strip and baseboard and all that stuff along the bottom. And I remember doing those houses and that disappeared fairly quickly. But I can even remember, a couple right now come right to mind. Somebody says, “I have a problem. Can you help?” I get there, and I remember this one house, they had already removed the baseboard and pulled the carpet up because they had a problem and they were trying to figure it out themselves and they just didn’t know.
JB: So I get there and I walk in, and instantly I’ve solved the problem. But now I have to earn my check. [laughter] So I’ve got to pull the tools out and prove things. But they had installed that plastic on the interior. And this is exactly what happens, is the moisture moves towards the interior heats it, condenses, falls. And that’s why their water problem, their mold problem was only on the exterior wall here, ’cause that’s where the plastic was. I see the plastic sticking out, and I explain it to them and I show them with the moisture meter and the infrared, all this fun stuff. And I’ve even seen it with the infrared, where you look at a flat piece of drywall, which you see these streaks. Well, it’s all the plastic, it’s not pulled tight, it’s streaky. If you… I don’t know how to explain the…
TM: The moisture in the poly. And the poly is not taut, so the moisture gets trapped in the grooves and it’s touching the back of the sheetrock, and you can see the temperature difference.
JB: Right. Exactly.
JB: So we learnt that real quick.
RS: Okay. All right.
TM: So, but now you still do the same thing but with a rigid insulation glued to the masonry?
JB: No, it’s usually a perforated rolled craft paper in foil. It’s perforated. That’s what they’re using a lot on the interior. So I guess it’s not a vapor barrier anymore, it’s…
TM: Vapor retarder, maybe.
JB: Vapor retarder. Thank you. That’s the word I’m looking for. So it can still breathe a little bit, but point is, we have to stop the raindrop on the outside. We have to stop the vapor drive on the outside. So the better you caulk, seal and paint, the better that house is gonna perform. Now, we also have the issue where you’ll get some people that go get a full-on elastomeric paint because their neighbors or friends have told them. Well, no wall is perfect. You’re never gonna get that perfect. So you will get moisture behind that layer of paint. And then that’s where you get the saggy, where you can touch the paint and there’s water behind it.
TM: So are you talking about putting a vapor barrier paint on the interior or exterior.
JB: On the exterior. It’ll have to be on the exterior, but it’ll still be somewhat permeable.
TM: Okay. To allow some drying. Because where you run into problems is what if someone wants to put a wallpaper on the inside of their sheetrock? That’s a vapor barrier. And now there’s no drying happening and…
JB: Exactly. So we train our guys, the night before when you’re starting your inspection and you’re looking at all the neat pictures that the real estate agents have put up there, and you see drywall… I’m sorry, drywall? You see wallpaper.
JB: And we have a canned statement that goes in there that says, “Hey, this is a vapor barrier. And you might have stuff growing behind that if we can see. [chuckle] If you’re pulling it down, don’t blame me.” Obviously the canned statement is more eloquent than I just vomited there. But… [chuckle]
TM: A canned comment from what we…
RS: We know what you mean.
JB: You know what I mean?
TM: Yeah. Do you have any other canned comments for things like that, related to just, you know it’s gonna be a problem if you see it in a Florida house?
JB: Of course we’ve got tons of those. What I have done is we’ve got a whole little paragraph on the exterior envelope part, and it’s eloquently said and all this stuff. But what it surmises down to is, “The better you caulk, seal and paint, the better the house performs.” And it’ll say, “See representative pictures of vulnerable areas.” So literally that section is pre-written for the guys, they don’t have to do anything but go take pictures. Now, we have just limited our liability because it says, “See representative,” it’d be impossible to find absolutely every potential place that it’s gonna come in, but if you find cracks then you stick a business card in there and take a picture. If I can stick a business card in there, where does the water go? It goes in the hole. You start sticking other tools in holes and gaps and cracks and whatnot and illustrate the failure of that exterior envelope. And then when water gets in, bad things happen. If you can find… I break it down into the steps. You document the exterior envelope condition. Okay. Step one, real easy. Step two is if you can find an… What we have coined is, “And I told you so.” If you can find an, “And I told you so,” that’s the chef’s kiss.
JB: Code. If I can come in and find moisture stains at the baseboard. If I can find fungal growth somewhere. Similarly, like you get in the attic and they don’t have kickout flashing and then you can find the rotted stuff on the inside, that’s the I told you so.
JB: Sometimes that’s a good example. You might have that pushback from a seller or an agent saying it doesn’t have… You say, “It doesn’t have kickout flashing.” They go, “Well, it wasn’t code back then.” And my answer is, “Well, it’s never been code to funnel water behind into a wall assembly ever.” [chuckle]
RS: Yeah. Who cares what was code back then?
TM: Yeah. So when you can find the I told you so, it kills the argument. It’s done. You can’t argue with the rotted stuff or the fungal stuff that you find.
RS: Yeah. You talk about attics and I’m curious, what do you guys look for? What do you find in your Florida attics?
JB: That’s our inspector 90… What do we call it? Our inspector… What was that exercise thing? PX 90.
RS: PX 90.
JB: We call it our Inspector X90.
RS: P90X. I said it wrong.
JB: Inspector 90X. It’s… Yeah, ’cause you’re gonna sweat.
TM: You gotta make sure you’re hydrated, if you’re going up on a Florida attic.
JB: Yeah, no kidding. It’s hot, it’s basically hot. So you get in there and try to be as efficient as possible. Our SOP whether we’re going to the attic or the roof or a bedroom is the same. You do a macro real big look, because if I go straight to the micro, I could easily miss the macro. It’s just… It’s human. So you do a macro, and then you go in and go right and go right and try to do a circle and come all the way back around. And it’s interesting. We had a fireman one time, and I’m explaining just basic SOP, okay? Macro, micro, go in, go right, and that go in, go right, he goes, “That is our protocol as professional firemen.” I’m like, “Nice.”
RS: That’s awesome.
JB: I know. It’s actually what professionals use. So that’s our approach, is we try to go in and get the big macro, what type of insulation, do I see any leak evidences, and go right and try to do a big circle and come back. And you also… I like to stop and then turn back around, because you can walk right past something and miss it, and then when you turn back around, you go, “Oh my gosh! How did I miss that open junction box, that leak evidence, the rotting?” A plethora of things. So that’s just kind of the SOP, stop and turn around, and you start to limit your liability…
JB: ‘Cause you’re managing your risk. It’s a risk. Everything’s a risk, but there’s ways to manage it. You ever do the flashlight game?
RS: What’s that?
JB: You get somewhere, and obviously make sure you’re safe, you’re not going to fall, and you turn your flashlight off and then look. If there’s a… Especially if you got spray foam insulation, it’ll shine like the North Star. If there’s any penetrations that you didn’t notice from a nail pop or a flashing area, a long list, it’ll show. And you can’t see that without turning the flashlight off ’cause you’re shining light on light, it kind of cancels itself out.
RS: I like that. I’ve never made a point of doing that, but that’s a great home inspection tip, Jon.
JB: Nice. Something I meant to tell you two is, you did a recent podcast and you were talking about the things that take time. The one thing you guys left out was weather.
TM: Oh, yeah. You got bad weather. Yeah, that’ll slow you down.
JB: If there’s snow on the roof, well, you can’t do the roof and it’s gonna be shorter time period, right?
TM: Well, not necessarily.
RS: Well, no, ’cause it can take so much longer because we have our inspectors get up there, and you need to wipe off snow in a few different areas, just to make sure the shingles aren’t toast. And trudging around a ladder through deep snow and trying to get it set up and…
TM: Oh my God.
RS: Climbing up the roof and wipe it off with your glove and your arm and whatnot, Do that in a bunch of places, I would much rather just put my ladder up against the roof and then walk it. That would be so much easier. A lot of the time it takes more time to do this.
JB: Bad example.
JB: If the weather allows you or inhibits you from doing the heat, or inhibits you from doing the cooling, there you go, you save some time.
TM: You save some time.
TM: Yes, that’s true. So going back to this attic question, Jon, what percentage of attics have HVAC located in them? And are we talking like furnaces, air conditioners, water heaters? What do you typically see?
JB: Furnace? Who’s that?
RS: Yeah. You don’t have those, do you?
JB: We have some gas, not much.
JB: Okay. At least in Central Florida, just not a lot. So the location of the air handler in the attic is not ideal, but a lot of places do put them up there. The majority of them, I would say, are gonna be garage. Okay. That’s most of them in a garage. Behind that would be an interior closet, and then maybe the attic. So it’s not unheard of, but yeah, they’re up there. And so speaking of, there’s another great trick when you have a smoke pen, and you can put… You’re in the attic and you use the smoke pen and you watch it suck all the smoke in. Well, you’re pulling all this 100% humidity air, plus all the fiberglass and whatever chemicals or whatever is up there, you’re sucking all that into the system.
RS: Yeah. Good visual evidence.
JB: We use that when the air handler’s in the garage because that represents auto fumes, that represents all those chemicals you got stored there, gas from the lawnmower…
RS: Gas fumes for sure.
JB: Yeah. All those kinds of things. But…
TM: So most of your houses have forced air AC, would you say, where you’re at?
JB: The vast majority is gonna be heat pump, the vast majority. We do have some straight cools but not a lot of them. So it’s real simple, our weather allows for an efficient heating and cooling with the heat pump. It just rarely gets so cold that it can’t extract some heat from the outside.
RS: Yeah. And how long do the air conditioners last in your area? What’s an average lifespan?
JB: Inland will be 15 to 20. If you’re on the coast, well, your condenser, I don’t know, it might last five to 10…
JB: And the salt, it just kills it.
RS: Really? Okay.
JB: Yeah. And those condensing coils where you… The fins are gone, [chuckle] you just see copper tubing going around.
TM: Do you see a lot of oversized units too, where you are?
JB: Oversized? It’s actually going the opposite direction because the spray foams are becoming more popular, energy efficiency is very, very popular, the green movement, all that kind of stuff. So houses are getting tighter and tighter. Engineering is getting better and better. Windows are getting better. All those kinds of things. So we start to see the systems getting smaller, I would say more of a trend going smaller. And of course, it’s gonna be a little bit… Well, that’s what I see as the trend anyway.
TM: Yeah. That the mechanical side is also adjusting to these more airtight building envelopes and better insulated.
JB: Yeah. So we might have rules of thumb, but if you see something crazy, you’ve got a 1000 square foot house with a 5 ton system or just the opposite, then you’re gonna go, “This looks odd.” You might need some further evaluation, but…
RS: Now, you talk about salt destroying the air conditioners. What other problems does that pose for houses like fasteners and other components on the outside of houses? What other stuff is the salt just gonna destroy that you need to look out for, it’s special to your area?
JB: Yeah. That’s a good one, because if… Anybody that’s living on the beach that’s listening to this right now, they’re naming stuff off left and right. [chuckle] But like you said, if you’re on the beach, you have a deck, right? It’s Florida law. [laughter] You most likely have a deck. And if they’re not using the proper fasteners, if it was a DIY and they’re using drywall screws, so those are gonna fail really quick. But you got to keep a close eye on all kinds of deck fasteners. Flashings will, even if it’s galvanized, you’ll see corroded areas. I remember one time where I was on this… I was right on the beach and it was… You had a slope, and I know people listening, they can’t see my hands, but you had a slope and then an opposite slope but lower. So you had this clerestory window, if I’m saying that right, and the wind is coming towards the clerestory window and that soffit up here was allowing all that salt air in. So when I get in the attic, the gusset plates all along the top, all of the trusses, were heavily corroded.
TM: Are rusting? Wooo!
JB: The others were fine…
RS: That’s crazy.
TM: Oh my gosh.
JB: But that salt air is coming in there. And that’s an extreme, you go on, “Holy smokes!” We’re in the structure at this point, right?
JB: Yeah. So you gotta recommend, “Call your truss engineer at this point.” Anything can be fixed, but most commonly deck fasteners and anything metal outside…
RS: You can’t.
JB: If you’ve got any metal that’s exposed, of course it’s awful. But it’s salt air and… Oh gosh, if you’ve got concrete decks, it can be…
TM: Does it corrode the concrete?
JB: What’s inside concrete decks is rebar.
JB: So I’ve got lots of pictures of decks that have fallen off the house, completely fallen off, concrete decks.
RS: I can’t picture a concrete deck. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a concrete deck before. Tessa, have you?
TM: I’m trying to picture it too. What supports it? It’s not attached to the house, so it’s freestanding?
JB: Some of them might be cantilevered, some might have a steel frame, something like that.
RS: I suppose in commercial settings I’ve seen them.
JB: Very popular in hotels, on the beach.
TM: Almost like a balcony, like a cantilevered concrete.
JB: I’m sorry. Balcony is a better term than deck.
TM: Sure. Yeah.
JB: You say deck and everybody pictures a wooden deck. I’m sorry, my bad.
TM: Yeah. So you have issues with those too, with the salt.
JB: Yeah. Absolutely. The concrete cracks, water gets in, the rebar expands, of course, concrete weakens tensile strength and fails. There’s concrete in window sills, in door sills, those kinds of things that’s… Lots of pictures of those really fallen off. [chuckle]
RS: Holy cow.
JB: Yeah. So even little cracks. And this is where it upsets a lot of people, we take pictures, these representative the pictures, and you get these little hairline cracks. And whether it’s a window sill, door sill, or whatever, but little cracks grow up to be big cracks, and big cracks grow up to be faucets. [chuckle] and then by that time, you’ve got failure. And I’ve got some great pictures we use in the class where the stucco has all fallen off the house. So you have a wood frame house, your vapor barrier, your metal raft, your stucco, and water and water vapor, especially the salt stuff gets in, and just disintegrates the raft, ’cause you know how thin it is, and stucco literally falling right off the house in huge chunks.
TM: Man. Okay. So Jon, all these crazy weather things that you’re battling against, heat, humidity, termites, salt, wind with hurricanes. Describe what your perfect house would be if you were to build it. Would it have a crawl space? Would it be slab-on-grade? What type of construction would you use? The cladding, siding, roofing, just describe it.
JB: Boy, that’s a good one. I would definitely go concrete. It definitely would be block, steel studs maybe, so I don’t have to worry about rot and termites and those kinds of things. They’ve come out with better drywall, and now there’s a product that competes with drywall where there is no… One person can hold up a whole sheet and screw it on.
RS: Oh, I like that.
JB: I know. I wish I could remember the name of the stuff. They’re marketing things, they have a room, and one guy’s putting up drywall, and another guy’s putting up that product. And it’s just a fraction of the time because one person can hold it and screw it. And, of course, since it’s not real drywall, it doesn’t disintegrate, it doesn’t have paper that gets mold and all that kind of stuff. So, yeah, I’d try to keep it things that aren’t destroyed by water and termites.
TM: Okay. And what would you put as the siding, and what type of roofing would you use?
JB: Man. Siding? Hardy type products look really good and perform pretty darn good when they’re installed correctly. Stucco does perform really, really well if it’s constructed properly. Shortly after the hurricanes in ’04, we had three of them that nailed us back to back, a friend of mine from church, a PhD that worked for a local university, was on this team where they did real engineering testing, ASTM standards, the spray rack, measuring the whole nine yards, so real engineer studies. And they went through all these houses with just bare block. They did them with bare block, with your scratch coat, the brown coat. Then they did it with the scratch coat, and then they did it with the three coat, and they did it with paint.
JB: So they did it in all those different stages with proper cure time in between. This is a proper ASTM stucco application, proper ASTM testing, all that. And with that cure time in between, the lower coat cracks, and then the top, the coat that goes on top of that fills it. And then that cracks, and the top coat goes on top and fills it. And the testing shows that it performs very very very well when you follow that ASTM standard, cure time in between, three different lifts, all that stuff. At that point, paint is the cherry on top that really keeps water out. But it’s simply not done like that. And I know that there’s no home inspector on here that is gonna argue with that. You just don’t see it done correctly. So it is what it is. We deal with houses that exist when we get there. Most of our work is pre-existing houses, it’s not new construction. And not that we could dictate that either, but it just is what it is, which is why I always say, “The better you caulk, seal and paint, the better the house is going to perform.”
RS: Yep. Okay.
TM: Is there a certain type of roofing material that you would prefer too? I don’t know if you guys use a variety of different materials down where you are. Have you seen metal or clay or fiberglass or wood?
JB: Yeah. I’d have to go metal, I think. We don’t have clay. Well, very very very few houses might have clay. Everything is concrete, whatever shape it might be. A lot of those higher-end houses all have concrete and/or metal. Metal’s pretty, it lasts a long time. The maintenance is just a few fasteners here and there, not a really big deal. So I guess that’s what I would go with.
TM: Okay. And one more question for you that I have before we should probably wrap this up, the time has flown.
RS: Wow. Yeah.
TM: But Jim Katen on the previous podcast cracked us up because he was talking about a certain era of home and he was very specific. He mentioned houses that were built in 1981, he just kind of cringes when he goes into them, ’cause he knows that they’re gonna have problems, they weren’t built right or well. And he had theories for why that was. Some of them might’ve been drug-related. [laughter] You have to listen to the podcast if you haven’t.
JB: Yeah, I did.
TM: Yeah. But is there any age or style type of house that you know is gonna be problematic?
JB: When Jim said that about the ’80s, I was the guy screaming at my phone going, “Yes! That’s it.” [laughter] It’s like… One of our classes is defective building products, and it’s like everything bad was made in the ’80s. You had FPE, you had Gray PEX, Ductwork, you had polybutylene. There were so many things. And it was like all in the ’80s…
TM: Oh, man.
JB: The music was awesome, [chuckle] the hair bands were fantastic, but the building products were…
TM: Not great.
JB: Another story.
TM: Okay. So ’80s built homes you’re kind of…
JB: Oh, man.
TM: Just going in with your eyes wide open looking for problems.
JB: You know that they’re going to take longer. Just simple as that, because of all those. And insurance is a big deal in Florida, real big deal. So it’s interesting, when I was in North Carolina last week, I was with another home inspector, multi-inspector company, Dave Corbett. And we’re looking at an old copper plumbing system. And this… It was 50, 60, 70 years old in some of these houses. And I’m like, “What we would say in our report is, good luck getting insurance.” And he’s like, “What are you talking about?” ‘Cause it’s working, that’s not how it is in Florida. They don’t… Those things are gonna cost them, they wanna see them replaced, especially if they’re at end of life. So old copper, galvanized, those kinds of things. Polybutylene for sure, PEX is really catching on, those are bad.
JB: And if you’ve got a roof… At first citizens was saying, “If your roof is more than 10 years old, you gotta replace it.” And then boy, you wanna talk about, “Yes,” you wanna talk about people getting upset. The state came in and said, “No. Okay, you can’t deny somebody based solely on the age of the roof,” but extended it to 15. More than 15? Yes, you can make that call because that’s about how long you… You’re at end of life and they become more brittle. So when we have high wind events they break and then you have massive damage. So the newer the roof the better. But if you have a 12, 15 year old roof again, that’s like, “Good luck getting insurance.” Most of our roofs are asphalt fiberglass.
TM: Okay. So just to clarify, you said the insurance company does not like copper water distribution piping?
JB: Well, you got a 40 to 60 year life expectancy. So if you’re getting a house, it was ’60s, ’70s, you’re at the end, you’re at the statistical end.
JB: And I don’t know about you guys, but we have a lot of schedule M copper, which is the thinnest wall copper, and you’ll start seeing little self-sealed leaks here and there. And it’s kinda like tires on your car, you can get a leak and plug it. But…
TM: You know what’s so funny, Jon? I think because your housing stock in Florida is so much newer, relatively speaking, where we’re at in the Twin Cities, it’s not uncommon to have a house that’s built in the 1920s or 1900, it’s 100 plus years old. And so copper water piping from the ’50s, we look at that and we’re like, “Yeah, that’s good. You don’t have original galvanized that’s 80 years old.”
RS: Yeah. It’s relatively new.
TM: It’s new.
TM: Yeah. And I’ve never heard of insurance companies denying people coverage because they’ve got copper water piping, but…
RS: But not in Minnesota.
TM: But not in… Yeah. So it’s very interesting what the insurance companies, I guess, are tolerant of or not tolerant of in Florida.
JB: Yeah. They’ve gotten really tough. Some of them… And, well, actually they’ve started… This is going across the country. A lot of them are doing their own roof evaluations via some product like Google Earth. And we’ve had some people been denied coverage until they clean their gutters out.
RS: Come on.
JB: Yes. I’m telling you.
RS: And they could see that from Google Earth?
RS: Holy cow.
TM: Oh my gosh.
JB: If your roof is dirty, they have statistics that say it doesn’t perform as well, as long, than a clean roof, so that you get flagged for that. If your the roof is obscured, tree limb coverage, that kind of thing, that can be a red flag and you can be denied. If they’re looking at an old image and you have a newer roof, you might expect that. That happened to a home inspector here. His roof was three months old or something like that and the image was from three years ago. So they denied his coverage or his premium went up, it was one of those, but yeah. And actually citizens put that notification out. They were doing normally, what was it? 3,500 inspections a year, something like that. And now they’re gonna be doing, 500,000, it’s a huge number. Don’t quote me the exact numbers, but it was huge. So virtually every single inspection we do also comes with a four point, and we talked about that a while back.
JB: Four points and wind mits. So those are the four points. Well, it used to be the four big points; electrical, mechanical, plumbing and roof. And now if you look at the state form or what they call the citizens form, it’s asking you, “Does the dishwasher work?” and some of these other things. It’s looking more like a full home inspection, but every house is getting those. And the wind mitigation inspections are… They wanna know how the sheathing is attached to the roof and how the roof is attached to the house, what code does it fall under, those kind of things and…
TM: Wind bracing.
JB: Wind bracing used to be a bigger thing than it is now. We used to have to find the steel in the corners of the homes when this thing started. A lot of that stuff has changed. But my point is, virtually every inspection now, regardless of the age, is getting wind mits and four points, they’re required. And if you’ve got old stuff, it’s gonna be an issue.
RS: And it’s all driven by the insurance companies?
TM: Yeah. That’s a very different world that you’re in, of like what you’re looking for and how you inspect and what’s a priority for homeowners. It’s all based on, and it seems like driven by the insurance industry. [chuckle]
JB: Yeah, no kidding. So here, we’re always the bad guy. And all we do is, we don’t age the thing or break the thing, we just take the picture and the insurance goes, “Oh, you got cast iron waste lines,” and they don’t want to cover, or the copper, like we talked about. “You got an old roof.” “Your AC is old.” Those type of things. And there are issues, and then people are all upset, “Well, I’ve lived here for 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 years and I’ve never had a problem with that electrical panel.” Well, we don’t make the rules. FPE has a very long history of failure to perform.
RS: Yeah. “The house hasn’t burned down yet.” “I can see that. I know you haven’t had a problem, [laughter] it doesn’t mean you won’t.”
TM: Yep. Wow. Well, we could ask you a bunch of more questions, Jon. I’m just learning a lot from you here, but for the sake of time, we should probably wrap this episode up. We might have to have you back on.
JB: Well, that’ll be fun. Because I tell you right now, I feel like I’ve won the Heisman. [chuckle] I swear I love this podcast. I’ve listened to so many. I got to do Ian Robertson not long ago, and I thought, “Boy, this is really cool.” I’ve done the IEB one, and never been able to be on Structure Talk, and so I feel like I’ve won the high school Heisman.
RS: I’m super glad to have you on here, man.
JB: I appreciate it.
TM: We’re honored. We’re honored.
RS: We can’t wait to see you again in person, Jon.
JB: Fist bump.
RS: Fist bump on the camera.
TM: Hey Jon, for everyone listening, can you tell us… Tell them where they can find you if they wanna learn more?
JB: Well, it’s real easy to find me ’cause I’m not shy. I’m all over the internet. We’ve got a great YouTube channel, I’ll appreciate your likes and subscribes by the way, it’s Home Inspection channel, very very simple. And our phone number is very easy, it’s 407-678 Home.
RS: Love it.
TM: Home Inspection Channel. I’ll have to check that out.
JB: Easy stuff.
RS: All right. Well thanks for coming on the show, Jon. For any of our listeners, if you got questions, concerns, whatever, you can reach out to us, it’s email@example.com. And we’ve got another guest coming up next week. We’ve got a couple of them. Next is gonna be… I can’t decide who’s gonna be next. [chuckle] I think we’re gonna do Chad Fabry next.
RS: We’ve got a few guests lined up. And excited to share what… Hear what he’s got to share with us. We’ll get to you next week.
TM: Yeah. He is our… Is he representing the cold, very cold climates?
RS: Well, I think we’ve got cold, very cold, but maybe. [chuckle]
TM: I think we’ve called someone who’s not us to talk about what they see from a slightly different area of the country, but…
RS: A bit more than Northeast.
TM: Yeah. Okay. Northeast. Well, that will be fun. And after that we’ve got one more lined up to talk about hot dry climates, I believe.
RS: Yes. We got Paul Stirling to cover those.
RS: All right.
TM: Stay tuned.
RS: I’m excited.
RS: All right. Thanks everyone. We’ll catch you next week.
RS: Take care.
TM: See you later.