In this episode, Reuben Saltzman and Tessa Murry delve into the unique challenges of home inspection in Arizona with Home Inspector Paul Staron. Their exploration encompasses the distinct nuances of newer constructions, the prevalence of unvented attics, and the transitioning trend towards electric heat pumps within the region. They emphasize the influence of extreme heat on inspections, address air quality concerns in energy-efficient homes, underscore the significance of adhering to safety standards for pools, and stress the value of performance-driven assessments over rigid code compliance. Despite these distinct challenges, the inspection landscape in Arizona exemplifies a remarkable degree of adaptability when compared to colder climates. The discussion sheds light on how these factors contribute to the intricacies of home inspection in the 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.
Reuben Saltzman: Welcome to my house, welcome to the Structure Talk podcast, a production of Structure Talk Home Inspections. My name is Reuben Saltzman, I’m your host, alongside building science geek, Tessa Murray. 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 back to the Structure Talk podcast, we are in our final segment of interviewing home inspectors all over the country, learning about regional home inspection differences, this whole series was Tessa’s Brainchild. Tessa, how do you think it’s been going?
Tessa Murray: Reuben, when you said “this is the last episode of the series,” I’m actually a little bit sad, this has been so much fun.
RS: We might have to do another series, we certainly could.
TM: I think we should do a part two. We’ve been getting lots of good feed… I’ve been getting some good feedback, I know you have too, Reuben, that a lot of the listeners are enjoying this series, because, of course, just talking about Minnesota gets old after a while right? Hearing about all of our complaints about cold weather issues. It’s really fun to hear what other home inspectors deal with in their different climate zones and their different housing markets, so I would definitely be open to maybe continuing this and doing maybe a round two.
RS: Yeah, yeah, that’d be great. Well, today for our final guest, we’ve got Paul Staron coming on, and he’s from the Phoenix Metro area, and his company is Valley Building Inspections. I’ve known Paul for a long time. I met him through ASHI, I can’t remember what position he had with ASHI at the time that we met, but I surely met him at one of the InspectionWorld conferences. And Paul at the time was a big wig with the examination board of Professional Home Inspectors, they’re the group who administered the National Home Inspector Exam. But Paul, why don’t you fill in the gaps? I’m just muddling through it. Tell us about a little bit of your history in home inspections, how you’ve been involved with ASHI, the National Home Inspector Exam, all that fun stuff. Tell us a little bit about yourself, Paul.
Paul Staron: Thank you so much, Reuben. I just first wanna thank you and Tessa for having me on, this is a real treat for me. I’ve listened to your podcast for several years now, and I found myself really impressed with the technical content, especially. And to the point where I make notes and I take things back to my inspector team. Specifically, I was listening, I don’t know, maybe a year or so ago, to my friend, Skip Walker, talk about smoke detectors and his stance on that. And that prompted a very detailed review and even us updating our report template a little bit to make sure that we’re totally on top of that kind of stuff.
PS: So I so appreciate the series that you guys are doing. I think it provides a lot of real specific ways to look at the home inspection process and how it does differ in all the localities. And I’ll give you just a little background and then we can dig into it.
PS: It’s interesting, I was listening to your technical ask, your technical stuff, and I was thinking, Reuben, speaking of ASHI, that your content is so good on this podcast, guys, it’s worthy of one ASHI CE per episode. I actually think you should apply for ASHI CEs. It’s worthy, it’s as good as any other education out there, guys, and I’m not actually kidding on that. Our buddy, Tom Lahan, is the incoming education chair, so you can always check in on him and see, but the content is that good. And also, I’ve heard the Structure Tech content is also known throughout SEO land with home inspectors, and the quality of your content is just amazing.
RS: Oh, thanks, man.
PS: I started inspecting back in ’94, and back when I was handwriting reports with four-part NCR, and we got the fourth part, so I used to get cramps in my hand by doing that. And it was just me inspecting for many years. I never really wanted to have a home inspection company, I just enjoyed doing inspections more than running the company. And as things go, one thing leads to another. And along the way, of course, I wound up doing a lot of ASHI volunteer work. So I think you might’ve been on the board of directors, possibly, Reuben at the time.
PS: And I am now sitting on the board, I’m currently sitting on the ASHI national board, my second tour on that. And I’ve also over the years done other things nationally, had a chance to serve on the exam board of Professional Home Inspectors that does the National Home Inspector exam, and honored to be president there for two years. And I’ve done a lot locally here with our state regulatory body. We are licensed here in Arizona, and there’s always a lot going on. We’re just changing our SOPs frankly after 22 years, it was time to dust them off and upgrade them, as actually even ASHI National is in the process of updating their national SOPs that Dave Goldstein’s working on.
PS: Interesting, we’re talking about local differences. I have a sister in Eagan, Minnesota, and I was down in her basement because that’s what we home inspectors do, we go down in basements and look around and find fault with things.
RS: Yes, we do.
PS: I saw that there was gas pipe used for the natural gas. We would never allow that here.
RS: Wait, copper. Right? Copper.
PS: I’m sorry. Copper pipe. Copper pipe for natural gas. That’s a no-no here.
RS: It’s a no-no, in a lot of areas? It’s so crazy.
PS: It must have to do with the petroleum makeup of your gas is not as corrosive. Your localized gas is not as corrosive on the copper, so it’s allowed there, but it would not be allowed here as far as our codes. Interesting.
PS: Yeah. But so basically, our company just grew a little bit here and there, and now it’s myself and seven inspectors. We do a lot with new construction, we specialize in that, we specialize in luxury homes, and we are currently working with a large national builder and we’re doing quality control work on their dime to assist with that, so heavy into the new construction side of things. And so that’s a little bit about our company, so it’s almost 30 years we’ve been doing it, still love doing inspections. I’m not doing quite as many anymore and I’m trying to… I’m trying to hire an inspection manager so I can step out of that role in my company and just do more GM stuff.
TM: Paul, real quick, the name of your company, is it called Valley Building Inspections?
PS: That’s correct, Tessa.
TM: Valley Building Inspections. And you said something I… This is interesting, I haven’t heard of inspection companies doing this before, but you’re actually working on the front end with a new construction builder trying to mitigate risks and liabilities with their construction? You’re doing like quality control stuff?
PS: That is correct. Yeah. And we’ve been doing that for a while, and it was kind of a tough nut to crack to get in on and to be an approved vendor. But not the only builder we know of around who brings in third-party inspectors, so it is opportunity for inspection companies out there. And we’re also trying to work with small custom boutique-type luxury builders, which we do do, but also with the track home builders too. And we’ll usually go in and do a final inspection for them. But sometimes, some builders would do a roof drying, for a tiled roof, we might do a frame inspection, predrywall, that kind of thing.
TM: That is very encouraging news, that like the builders out there are actually hiring inspectors like you to come out and check their work. They’re not waiting for a problem or a callback or a lawsuit, they’re trying to be proactive about it.
RS: Yeah. Yeah.
PS: Yeah. That’s great. And sometimes, they do call us out to help put the fire out, but it’s nice when it’s proactive.
RS: Yeah, definitely.
TM: Yeah. So okay, diving into this. Can we dive into this questionnaire we have going on here about regional differences? So I’m curious to hear, Paul. So you’re in the Phoenix area, so this is a hot, dry climate. What are some of the biggest differences, you would say, between your houses out where you are, how they’re built, the materials that are commonly used compared to what you heard of us talk about, is common for a Upper Midwest house?
PS: When I think about it and I get a chance to interact with colleagues from across the country, I realize just how easy we have it here. Our housing stock is so easy. Vast majority is slab-on grade. Very few basements. When we do have a basement, it’s never a full basement, it’s usually a partial basement. And our housing stock is newer largely because refrigeration didn’t really start coming into play until the late ’40s or 1950s. So after World War II, the big building boom and we had refrigeration, and that’s usually most of the oldest houses that we look at. Occasionally, it’ll be fun to look at a hundred-year-old house in the 1920s, a little bungalow, those are usually real quality-built, craftsmen-type homes that are still standing and doing really well.
PS: And the building itself changed those 1920s and ’30s, where we still had some crawl spaces, that was pretty much the end of crawl spaces. The only time we see a crawl space now on anything newer is with a manufactured home, where we’re getting under there, but otherwise, there’s just really no crawls. And with the slab-on grade, it’s worked really well for us as a construction type. We started bringing in posttension slabs into the 1990s or so, so most of the new stuff, including what the builders are doing on trackside or posttension, PT, slabs. Interestingly, I teach a class as I had mentioned to you guys, to realtors, and we talk about new construction and posttension slab. And I get this questions sometimes when I’m showing photos, “Where’s the posts? Where’s the post in posttension?” There’s no post in posttension, the post means it’s done after, like postmortem. It’s done after the pour, it’s tensioned after the pour. So that’s what the post is in posttension. But nobody knows that, it’s just kind of funny.
RS: Now, hold on, Paul. Since you’re talking about that, I wanna pause on that topic and just do a little 30, 60-second deal on what posttension means.
PS: Yeah. So a traditional slab is usually done in two pours. You have the footing, a spread footing, and a stem wall that comes up, and then you get all your plumbing in and all your preslab stuff, and then you put in a slab, what we call here a “floating slab.” Which doesn’t sound great, but essentially is, it’s not mechanically affixed, it’s just sitting there. A posttension slab is done in a monopour. And the footings are built in as turndown footings around the edges of the pour. A traditional slab might be a 4 or 5 inch thick, nominal PT slabs are much thicker, usually 8 to 12 inches. But both the thickness of the slabs and the depth of the turndown footings around the edges are part of what’s engineered for any specific site.
PS: What’s unique about the PT slab are the cables itself, a crisscross of cables that are steel cables in a sleeve, greased so that after… And they’re laid in a crisscross pattern. After the concrete is poured and we have our official… Code says “28 days for nominal hardness of the concrete,” then they put tension on the cable. So all the forces are pointing towards the center of the slab. So we have a lot of forces, thousands of pounds of torque are pointing towards the center of the slab. It doesn’t mean that the slab could never fail or move, but it does help minimize movement, it helps minimize cracking. Then we don’t have control joints normally in a PT slab, like we might have control joints, they might trawl in in a garage or something. We don’t have those kind of control joints, it’s all done in a monopour.
PS: And I think the PT slab itself came I think from the commercial side, and parking garages, and it was used on a commercial side for so many years, they finally said, “I think there’s a good application for it here.” So it’s not a be all and end all for addressing all soil issues, but it does help minimize movement. And we do have some clay in the soil, some expansive soil around here, so more often than not, most builders are leaning towards a PT slab. It’s more expensive, it probably adds another five or 10 grand at least to the job, and then there’s a special inspection the city requires on it.
TM: I didn’t know anything about that. Thank you, Paul, that was very informative.
PS: Yeah, sure thing. And the cool thing about it is, in the garage floor, they put a stamp in the concrete, it says, “PT slab, do not core or bore,” meaning you don’t wanna be drilling holes in and break one of the cables, because bad things happen when you bust a cable.
PS: And you can go online and YouTube “aftermarket repairs on damaged PT slabs,” and it’s very involved and thousands of dollars and… But it’s a great method to help minimize movement. And there was one builder in phase one of their development, they didn’t do their soils work, they just decided they would throw PT slabs at some questionable soil. And so a class action lawsuit later, they found that you still need to do your soils work, your PT slab is not a be all and end all, but it does help minimize movement, for sure.
RS: Well, you just answered my next question, Paul, ’cause I was gonna… I was gonna ask about how you even know what you’re looking at from a home inspection perspective. How do you know that you’re looking at a posttension slab versus a monolithic pour? And so you’re telling me that they’ve got this stamp in the corner of it. Well, I guess there’s that. And the lack of expansion joints would also be a giveaway, but is there anything else that would just tell you what you’re looking at?
PS: Yeah, so Reuben, if you walk around the outside of the property, you often see the patch marks on where the nuts, if you will, these large washers and nuts fit on, and then they patch over them. So you often see those patches every 2 to 3 feet on center. The cable’s usually 2 to 3 feet on center, depending on the design. So you see the patches there. Yes. You won’t see control joints. So you’ll see in the garage the tire stop in the garage, it’ll all be formed as one piece with no control joint in there at all. And then, of course, there’s always the stamp in the garage. And I don’t know if code requires it, but we always see it.
RS: Okay, allright. Got it.
TM: So I’m curious, Paul. What are some of the biggest potential issues that you guys deal with in houses where you are?
PS: Yeah. Certainly, some of the… Some of the concerns that the heat brings in and… I may back up just a quick moment, if I might, Tessa?
PS: And just talk about the housing stock, if you will?
TM: Please do. Yeah, please do.
PS: And then I’ll jump into it, if that’s okay? I’ve found that the houses that were built 1920s, ’30s, even in the ’40s, just really generally high quality, into the early ’50s. And then, boy, right around early ’70s to mid ’80s, there was just a lot of garbage built. That’s when we felt the codes were the loosest, there was loose attention paid, the codes were going through a bit of a morph, morphing through from different codes and how they applied them. So we tend to find longer lists of things in our reports on houses in 1970s, ’80s into the early ’90s. And yeah, we had some polybutylene in some areas and a few little problem things like that. But now the quality of the homes these days I feel are pretty darn good, the workmanship detail isn’t really there anymore, but the general quality of the product is there. Don’t look too close at the painter and don’t look too close on always if every outlet is properly wired, that kind of thing because we find all kinds of things on new construction, so quality control. But the general energy efficiency and the general basic structural quality of the home is really, really quite good, that we see now.
PS: And so just jumping over into some of the considerations for the heat that you’re asking about. We’ve got a little game in my company, and we see every summer who can shoot the hottest temperature on a roof. And so we tend to walk roofs out here, while we have a lot of tiles, we also have a lot of asphalt shingles. And so our personal best in the company is 191 degrees on a hot July afternoon. Facing south, the asphalt shingles were 191 degrees that we were walking on. And, Reuben, I heard you on an earlier podcast talking about inspecting or installing a roof when it’s really, really cold. And nobody wants to spend a whole lot of time installing a roof when it’s really, really cold.
PS: Nobody wants to spend a whole lot of time inspecting a roof when it’s really, really hot.
RS: No. Do your feet get hot walking those roofs?
PS: Yeah. Years ago, I used to wear like tennis sneakers, and it would actually start to melt a little bit. The challenge is too, that the ladders get really hot, so your little giant ladders that we all use, you almost have to wear gloves. Or I have an extra rag, so I’m grabbing the rungs, because when you’re grabbing the rungs, you need to hang on tight. Right? “Three points of contact on the ladder,” we teach our folks, and so it can get really hot. And we just tell our guys, “You have to try to minimize the time you’re spending on the roofs, minimize the time you’re spending in a 140-degree attic, do what you need to do and get off of there.” If there’s more to do in the attic and it’s just too hot, we have a finding in our report, “access impaired due to high heat conditions.”
RS: Oh my goodness.
PS: You probably don’t have that in Minnesota.
TM: We have all the opposite. Yeah, I didn’t even think about that, how the heat would impact just being able to touch like an aluminum ladder or something.
PS: Yeah. Yeah. And just from a functional standpoint with the inspections, we do get more limited what we can do with gas furnaces. We just can’t do a whole lot with them in the summer, it’s a visual review. And of course, we have very few issues with them ’cause they don’t have a lot of wear and tear like they might in your neck of the woods. So we’re more limited as far as that kinda testing of heat. We can, we have mostly heat pumps out here, we do have some gas furnace, but there’s a lot of heat pumps out here, and so…
TM: Is that the primary method of heating out there where you are? You see heat pumps?
PS: Yeah, I’d say probably two thirds of the houses are probably electric heat pump heat, and then the rest are probably gas heat. But a lot of the new stuff going in is electric, and I know that’s a bit of a trend we’re seeing here.
PS: Or starting to see.
PS: The lack of rain is another challenge for us sometimes. I was thinking about where Jim Caton lives up in Northwest. And people ask us all the time, as inspectors, they ask us about mold and organic growth and those kinds of things. And someone might see a stain on the ceiling and freak out and think that there’s mold there. And so what we tell our homebuyers here in the Phoenix area is, “You normally don’t get mold from roof leaks here. You might in Seattle, not here. You might get organic growth from air-conditioning condensate leak or some other kinda plumbing leak, but it’s usually not gonna happen from a roof leak here. It’d be an unusual ponding kinda situation.”
TM: I would think the home’s worst enemy for you guys would be would be forced air, like air-conditioning because it’s such a hot, dry climate that you don’t have to worry about water intrusion with rain or snow or condensation issues forming from air leakage. Like it’s the opposite, if you’ve got a house that’s got air-conditioning and it’s running full blast, like maybe you can have some condensation issues on the inside, but I mean Is molded a pretty rare issue in most of the houses you’re inspecting?
PS: Relatively. I mean certainly mold from roof leaks is, so I suppose it is less than normal, but we do have… I’d say our rainy season, our humid season, Tessa, is like July, August, September, that’s our “monsoon season,” that we call it, and we do have higher humidity then, and that’s when we can test those condensate drains. And we’ve got a couple of different findings in our report, depending on what the season is, but sometimes, all we can see is stains from previous leaks, and we have to recommend further evaluation or try to proactively have recommend someone wet-test these condensate drains. But you can… Certainly, we can get leaks with from condensate drains, but most of the rest of it is gonna be from some other kind of plumbing leak usually if we got organic growth.
RS: Just before we move on from attics, you’re talking about spending time in attics, and it can be… It can be limited based on how long you can spend in there. What do you guys look for in attics? What goes wrong in an Arizona attic?
PS: Yeah, boy, there’s so much to look at in an attic, and it’s always the biggest challenge, I think, when I’m training someone because there’s so many shiny objects to be distracted from in the attic. It’s not unlike your attic as far as we’re always looking at the basics, the roof structure and leak evidence and obviously a close look at insulation. I think I might have heard of one of your previous podcasts, I think a good approach… And I think what I recall you saying, Reuben, was you first take a good general look at the attic and then you do 360 degrees, which I really like that 360 degrees with the flashlight.
PS: We are seeing… What’s a little unusual, we’re seeing both vented and unvented attics now. So our newer attics, it’s more conditioned space unvented. And so we’re starting to see that transition, even from some of our track homes, our higher-end track homebuilders are doing unvented conditions space attics. Usually shooting foam up at the roof deck, but sometimes I’ve seen cellulose netted up there, sometimes batting. Different ways to do it, but most often, they’re shooting foam up there for that, so we’re looking for that obviously on the insulation side of things, is the biggie. Obviously, whatever can make the attic cooler is a benefit, and it seems like we’re almost to the point of having a fresh… Having a cold air supply register blowing air into the attic on purpose, but it seems like we’re almost there. Actually, one of the things we do on the safety side is fire sprinklers. And actually, sometimes the ordinance includes sprinkling the attic when there’s mechanical equipment up there.
PS: Also, in attics, we have a lot of mechanical equipment up there, probably about half of the time, we’ve got air handlers up there. So there’s always furnaces… Air handlers, there’s always a lot to look at there. We occasionally find some fresh air units, some of these heat exchangers that we see but not too often that we see. And we rarely see a humidifier or dehumidifier, but occasionally, we’ll see humidifiers bolted on to the furnaces, some of the old AprilAires, like you guys see, but they’re usually neglected, and it’s usually someone who moved here from Minnesota who wants them.
RS: I believe it.
TM: Yeah. Do you guys have air-to-air exchangers at all where you’re at, or how are the houses dealing with ventilation strategies?
PS: So the old ones are on their own, of course, but we do see a few HRV’s installed. Usually, they don’t care too much about trying to reclaim any heat or cooling, it’s just a matter of exchanging air to the exterior. But we rarely see the HRVs. I popped up in an attic and saw one last week, but they’re not that common. And again, people don’t really know what to do as far as maintenance, some of them have internal filters and need a little attention. And I think the one I looked at last week had one of the purification ultraviolet light…
TM: Like a HEPA filter?
PS: Yeah, like an ultraviolet light purification type, we’re starting to see more of those on air handlers, and this one was actually, I think, part of the HRV too. But the builders are trying to… All the new stuff has fresh air supply, makeup air, so we are bringing in fresh air. Indoor air quality is an issue for us because now our houses are so tight that the compounds are compounding themselves inside the home, and we do a lot of air testing and we see a result of that through our tests.
TM: Do you know if builders are required to do a blower door test and check the building envelope for the amount of air leakage and pass a certain standard where you are?
PS: Yeah, good question. And it depends on which energy code the municipality has adopted.
PS: Yeah. So I have not seen that done on every single house, but I have seen blower door tests done. But I don’t know if it’s done to get it done for the design, in other words, a system design has gotten checked out, I think it’s that, and maybe in certain models. But I don’t think it’s required to do a blower, I don’t think any municipality requires a blower door in every house. But our energy codes do look at, of course, the whole house as a system so that while you may have an R30 equivalent required for insulation in the attic, it’s not really R30, it might be R19, but it’s okay because the rest of the envelope somehow is making up the rest of the energy efficiency, which is always sometimes a challenge to look at when you’re looking at some of these newer houses. But we are also seeing that the capacity of the air-conditioning that Reuben was mentioning, how important it is to us here. We’re able to lessen that capacity down more towards 400 square feet a ton and make those units a little more efficient with our higher-efficient homes and make good use of the air-conditioning that we have.
TM: Everything’s connected. Right? You build a much tighter house that’s better insulated, and all of a sudden you need a smaller AC unit. And is that HVAC contractor aware of these changes with the building envelope and adapting with the change of construction as well or not?
RS: Yeah. You know what? I got one other question before we move away from attics. We talked about some stuff you find in attics. Do you ever have water heaters in attics?
TM: Good question. I’m wondering that too.
PS: Yeah. Not on purpose, but yes. Every once in a while we come across one, there was a couple of builders sticking them in a garage attic at one point. Thank goodness they were smart enough to throw a pan underneath it with a pipe, that’s always a good idea. Every once in a while… I came across one on a commercial inspection last year, where I had to ask the owner of the building, Which ceiling tile was the water heater behind? Because he had a 5000 square foot office building. And the water heater was somewhere, I knew it was somewhere around the restrooms, but it’s like you’re just pushing up ceiling tiles trying to figure out where the water heater might be, but it was up there on a platform. But never a good idea. Is it, Reuben?
RS: Yeah, well, how the heck do you replace it? Oh, my gosh. I mean they’re heavy enough to roll into your basement, but getting it into an attic, I can’t imagine.
PS: Yeah, it’s crazy. One of the things we’re seeing, interestingly, I just came across on a new luxury home. So a high-end electric tankless, high-end electric tankless water heater. No TPR required somehow, they’re able to get a variance of the UPC somehow for that, maybe because it’s not holding a vessel of water.
PS: And this one takes, the one I saw, four 40-amp circuits, four 40-amp circuits running just to a single tankless water heater. So this house had 600-amp service. 200 of the 600-amp was just for that little tankless electric water heater.
RS: That’s crazy.
PS: Yeah, they manufacture them locally here, they seem to work fine, some of them have built-in recirc pumps, but just a crazy thing that we are seeing here.
TM: So are most of these mechanicals located in the garage then, if they’re not in the attic and you don’t have basements, where are they?
PS: Yeah, they’re gonna be in the garage, Tessa. On the bigger homes, they’re outside utility closets like you guys might have. But it’s gonna be garage, garage, closet, outside utility closet, sometimes inside interior utility closets, and occasionally, like inspection today, it was up on the roof, we do have some packaged units up on the roof. And so I had two packaged units up on the roof today and so all my AC was done at the same time, the visual review of it was done when I was inspecting the roof. But the challenge for us on the heat side of things is trying to make sure that our clients are gonna be comfortable in the home on a hot July afternoon. And so it’s tougher for me to tell on this morning’s inspection, when I was testing the air-conditioning, and it was only 70 degrees outside. It was pretty easy to have the unit perform properly, but we wanna see the unit perform on a hot July afternoon, and so our criteria for our inspector team is, we at least have to have one degree per hour that it has to lower the temperature. You get to a house, it’s 82 degrees and you turn a thermostat down to 75. You wanna see progress being made, it at least has to achieve about 78, 77 degrees or so.
PS: And sometimes we’ll get nice cold air, great temperature splits coming out, 20 degree temperature split, awesome. And the stat is just sitting there at 80 or 81 and it won’t go any further, and it’s pegged down to like 70 where it’s set. So then you’re looking at ducting and airflow issues and other efficiencies. You know the unit’s pulling and pushing out cold air. Crazy, we’ve even seen this kinda thing happen in a really dirty filter. You ever seen that, where the filter is so dirty, it’s blowing out really cold air, but the filter is so dirty that it’s blocking proper air movement so that it’s working very inefficiently?
PS: But hot July afternoons, that’s really important time for us to make sure we’re looking out for our clients.
TM: Yeah, for sure.
RS: Sure. Sure.
TM: You said something that stuck out to me earlier because it’s such a foreign concept for us here in Minnesota. I think you said “an outdoor utility closet.” You mean there’s like a little closet on the exterior of the house where you keep all of the mechanical systems?
PS: Yes. Yep. Yep. So we have them out there sometimes just for a water heater, sometimes it’s an air handler, that’s where you go to change the filter, maybe. A lot of times, there’s both a water heater and a gas water heater and a gas furnace in the same closet sharing the gas, and that’s an outside utility closet for us. And so yeah, obviously, with slab-on grade construction, they gotta put it somewhere. And we’d rather have these open for service purposes, a lot of times, it’s just easier to have them open to the exterior so they can be serviced without bothering folks on the inside quite as much. But we see a lot of that and a lot of garage closets, garage storage rooms, those kinds of things.
PS: And occasionally even… I was happy to chat about pools but even sometimes pool equipment, they’ll actually put the pool equipment room inside a house, if you will, sometimes, or in a small little… Almost a basement, but a lower area like a grotto or something.
RS: Yeah. You’ve got a ton of pools in your area. Right?
PS: We have a ton. We have more pools per capita, I think, than anywhere else in the country. It’s between us and Florida, really. And what’s interesting is we realized from a licensing standpoint here in Arizona that the pool was the biggest ticket item and the biggest safety item that was not getting inspected by home inspectors and didn’t have a standard of practice or anything for it. So we in Arizona, in 2014, we put together a standard of practice just for inspecting pools and spas. It’s just for licensed home inspectors who are also inspecting the pool and spa as part of the inspection. And I know now ASHI has a national SOP for pool and spas. And actually, it’s part of our… It’s law, it’s part of our statute here for home inspector, and I think we’re the only one in the country that has a part of the law. But we see a lot of it, Reuben, we see such a variety of pools and pool spa combos and negative edge infinities and just crazy stuff.
PS: And I did one a few years ago, it was almost like you were in an amusement park, there was a flowing river and this and that and three different pools in this $20 million house.
RS: Oh, my.
PS: So we get all kinds. And pool safety for us is just super important. Gates and doors having direct access to the pool. Some children die every single year in the valley here from pool drownings, and so we try to help minimize that in our inspections as much as we can. Even if we’re not getting paid to do the pool, we still wanna be on top of safety for it. The other important thing on the safety side are antivortex drain covers in pools. So we know this came also from the commercial and public pool side. Young girls with long hair when the pump is on, the old style drain covers, we’ve lost too many people over the years. So those antivortex drain covers are super important, that we look for, especially in the older pools, the older spas, especially when there’s a single drain. Now most of the standards require a double drain to spread that suction amongst more than just one contact point. But safety is real important.
PS: Interestingly, I was looking back at GFIs and where GFIs were first required, and it was the underwater incandescent pool light. Good idea there. Right? I think we might wanna have an underwater incandescent light, have a GFI protection circuit on it. And then they took off from there.
TM: How long would you say it takes to inspect an average pool then?
PS: Yeah, good question. It’s probably a 20-minute on average. Of course, it depends. And we have a lot of pool spot combos, where we’re going to go ahead and try to fire up the heater. And we’re limited as to some things we can do. We’re not pool design specialists, so home inspectors aren’t really good at is, Should that be a three quarter-horse pump or should it be a one-horse pump for a three and a half inch pipe? Who knows? That’s more of a system design kind of thing. But we’re real good at looking at the basics. Are the systems operating? We find a lot of times where systems get discontinued. People say, “Well, I want a salt system.”
PS: We usually have a couple options, either a chlorinated pool or a salt pool as far as from a chemical standpoint. And so we find a lot… Sometimes, people install these systems, they don’t maintain them, and then they get discontinued, and then we have to report on them. But it’s an important part of the pool. But it’s probably a 20-minute inspection on average, almost every home inspector in town charges extra for them, and it’s money well spent, of course.
RS: Sure. Makes sense.
TM: You don’t have to deal with basements, but you have to deal with pools, and that’s a whole different animal.
PS: Yeah. Most of the land is flat here, but we do have some hillside homes. I was looking at a pool a few years back on a hillside home on the side of Camelback Mountain, the famous mountain that we have here in the valley. So I was inspecting the pool and one of the things that we first look for before we start the pumps or anything, we just do a close visual review of the pool and the pool body, we hope that the water is quiet and we can look through and it’s not windy. Up on the hill, it usually is windy. I saw that the waterline tiles and the water were not quite at the same level, and so it looked like the pool was sliding down the hill a little bit.
RS: Oh, boy.
TM: Oh, weird.
PS: The pool builders, the pool contractors are really good at making sure those waterline tiles, in other words, the tiles that the water meets up to just before the coping is really perfectly level, they snap that line perfect. They want to make sure that is perfectly level. So when I was trying to explain to the realtor, she was trying to say, “We… ” I said, “I think the pool is sliding down the hill, I think there’s evidence of movement there, the whole thing is that… ” It didn’t crack, but the whole pool as an entire structure, the entire cage of the pool, the whole thing was sliding down a little bit. And what I had to, of course, tell the agent was, “The waterline tiles are crooked here. One thing we know for sure, the water is level, we know the water is level, I’ll take that to the bank.”
PS: But we do get a lot of a variety of things. Every once in a while, we’ll not just see a pool heater, but a pool cooler, if you will, to cool the water. So on a hot July afternoon, our pool temperature can be mid 80s, high 80s, even almost 90 degrees this summer for my pool out here. So they actually have… It’s almost like a swamp cooler for water, if you will, almost like an evaporative cooler for water, where it actually cools the water down. And we’re starting to see more heat pump coolers and heat pump heaters for pools and spas out here. So instead of cooling the air or heating the air, we’re cooling the water with a different kind of heat exchanger, that’s all it is. But pretty cool.
RS: That’s wild, that’s wild, I didn’t know there was such a thing.
TM: You’ve got such a different world from us, Paul. You’ve got houses that, I mean really, you don’t have much constructed before 1950, it sounds like. I mean a few here and there, but really, it’s a much newer housing stock, so you don’t see all the issues with like the old electrical wiring and knob and tube and the old plumbing with low flow and stuff like that. And you don’t have basements, so you don’t have those big structural concerns. I’m sure you can get cracks in the slab and some movement here and there, but it sounds like your posttension slabs are fixing that issue. And I mean you don’t have a ton of rain and a ton of moisture and humidity, so water intrusion around windows and exterior, it seems like it’s pretty minimal, and grading problems. So it’s like, really, what are your biggest issues or the most expensive problems you find? I mean like old outdated cooling systems, mechanical systems that aren’t working or a roof that’s leaking or a major pool issue or… What would you say?
PS: Yeah, I mean you wouldn’t think that our major issues would be roof because it doesn’t rain that much, but honestly, we can go two months without rain and then it rains and then you can’t get ahold of a roofer because everybody’s calling them. The other thing is the UV rays just cook our roofs, Tessa, whether it’s a latex acrylic coating on a urethane foam roof or some kind of built-up roof or a cap sheet, it just cooks it. So anything that’s exposed to the sun really gets beat up, which is why we don’t have a lot of wood siding, we don’t have a whole lot of hardy board or any of that kind of stuff out here. We’re starting to see some of that, but not much that they’re bringing into new homes. But we’re mostly just in stucco land out here.
PS: But the bigger ticket item’s still gonna be the roof, it was on this morning’s inspection and our roofing underlayment, our felt that’s below those tiles. The tiles all look great, but for an inspector to try to get a handle on assessing the condition of the roofing felt, there’s always a challenge, we’re not pulling off tiles. While it’s limited, it’s an important part of the inspection to try to gauge the age of the roof. But roofs are big, and obviously, air-conditioning is just super big for us. And yeah, we don’t have the basements.
PS: This morning’s home, it was an area of expansive soil and the garage slab was heaving up at least an inch and a half or so, it had heaved up a nice little crown in the floor of the garage concrete. Again, that was not a PT slab, that was 1980s traditional slab, floating slab, and moving that concrete around. The good news I told our client was that it seems to have been localized towards the garage and I didn’t see any evidence of movement in the living space. But it’s sometimes a challenge for us, as home inspectors, what we can recommend to our clients when we see that because it’s not as much of an issue of fixing what’s there, it’s an issue more of trying to minimize further movement.
PS: And that’s a big thing that we as home inspectors are trying to educate our clients on. It’s one thing, something not being perfect or not meeting code or something like that, and as new inspectors, we’re so happy when we find those kinds of things. But we also need to understand. As inspectors, it’s important to know, even if something isn’t built properly, according to code, you have to look at performance, you have to look at how it’s performed, and that’s a real important thing for an inspector to be aware of. Yeah, something may not be the code, but you have to give some value, whether it’s in the report or verbally to the client. Yeah, it’s not right, but you know what? It’s been that way for 17 years and it’s still performing, that kind of thing.
PS: But with the concrete that we have, we do have pockets of expansive soil, we do have pockets of radon in a home, and when we do have those underground returns, occasionally we’ll find a home with underground returns. And the old ones are actually concrete pipes, like we used to. Like we’d have concrete sewer pipes, we’d have concrete pipes for underground returns, those were just fraught with danger. Moisture getting in, talk about mold options, that can easily happen with leaky underground return pipe. Who wants to be running air through a wet underground pipe? No good can happen from that. And then the other thing that gets brought in, of course, is radon.
PS: Well, we don’t have high levels of radon here, but we do have pockets of it. And while most of those pockets are in the edges, the outskirts, the outcroppings of our valley, the edges of the valley. But even in the center of the valley, when we have underground returns, especially the old ones, we’ll see high radon levels. The underground returns we see on the newer homes, it’s the newer PVC pipe that we see. It’s like a Schedule 40 massive PVC pipe, those are the newer underground returns we see. But very few builders are building underground returns new now. It’s just more work than they wanna spend, and it doesn’t work too well with the PT slabs.
TM: Oh yeah, I bet.
RS: Yeah, I bet.
TM: Well, we should probably wrap this podcast up because we’re already at, I think, 50 minutes or so now, but Paul, you have just given us so much great information. You’ve clearly outlined just the differences in your housing stock very well and pointed out some of the challenges. I cannot imagine being on inspection and dealing with some of the… Melting your sneakers on a roof, passing out an attic because it’s so hot, burning yourself when you grab your ladder, that sounds absolutely painful. So we each have our own challenges. You may not have basements and ice, but you’ve got pools and other things to look out for, so thanks for highlighting all that. Is there anything that we missed that we didn’t ask you that you wanted to cover?
PS: We have our share of critters around, and we get our share of snakes, and woodpeckers love to make holes in the roof, and we’ve got a lot of ground activity, scorpions. Inspectors just really have to be careful. You can never put your hand where you can’t see, and in these ground boxes and some of that. So we are on guard at certain times of the year. Sometimes, it’s snake season. And I had a big rattlesnake in my yard this year.
TM: Robin and I are shaking our heads. No.
RS: We’re shaking our heads. No, no, no, no, no, thank you.
TM: Snakes? No.
PS: But at the end of the day, we are very lucky here, it’s pretty easy for a home inspector for the most part. It’s easier to deal with the heat than it might be for the cold. And every once in a while, we’ll travel to the northern edge of Scottsdale where they might get a little snow once in a while and not know what to do when there’s snow on the roof. I’ll have to reinspect this, I don’t know what to do on it.
PS: But I think we hit some of the big highlights, and I so appreciate you guys having me on, this has just been a whole lot of fun.
RS: Well, thank you for making the time, Paul. Really appreciate it.
TM: Yes. Thank you, Paul.
RS: Good to have you on the show. Good to get that Arizona perspective.
TM: Yeah. Yeah, such a completely different perspective than what we’re used to.
RS: And Paul, people want to reach out to you, how could they get ahold of you?
PS: Sure. Our company is Valley Building Inspections, we’re at 480-860-1100, and our website is V-B-I-A-Z, that’s vbiaz.com. And so appreciate being a part of your podcast, Tessa and Reuben, thank you guys so much. You’re doing wonderful work and wonderful content that you have on the podcast, and keep it going.
RS: Thanks, man.
TM: It’s because of people like you, Paul, experts like you, it makes our job easy. You just run with it. And we appreciate your time, so thanks for being here.
PS: Thank you.
RS: All right, we’ll call that a show, thank you so much.
TM: All right. Catch you next time.
RS: Take care.