In today’s show, Reuben, Bill, and Tessa talk about urinals, spray form, and tiled showers.
Bill shares that his cabin is in the phase where they are finishing the bathrooms. Reuben remembers that the urinal (http://www.structuretech1.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Urinal.jpg) he installed in the basement of his last home helped sell the house. They discuss using a waterproof foam board and a cement board behind the surrounding tiles and how they can potentially be damaged. Also, Reuben mentions that there are changes in the building and plumbing code.
They also talk about exterior walls and exterior finishes in Bill’s cabin and the materials they are using. Reuben discusses the importance of staining all six sides of every board to stay flat. He also talks about ”nogging” to prevent the wall from bowing and the studs from moving in the interior load-bearing walls.
Tessa shares about the permeability and water resistance of spray foams and how to seal out moisture and soil gases. Reuben mentions a vlog by Matt Risinger titled Water Testing Spray Foam Insulation (https://youtu.be/H6jiGKOSABo). They also give recommendations on how to vapor-seal the bedrock that the cabin is built on.
They share the construction challenges of their relatives and neighbors. Reuben expresses that it’s difficult to draw the line when visiting a friend’s house, noticing alarming parts of the house, and not reacting. Then he and Tessa share their experiences.
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.
Tessa Murry: There was no preparedness for this.
Bill Oelrich: Yes, and that’s where the best conversations come from. We’re just gonna lay bare our questions and curiosities to a building scientist and an expert inspector and see if we get to the right answer. Welcome, everyone, you’re listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman. As always, your three-legged stool coming to you from the Northland, talking all things houses, home inspections and anything else that’s rattling around in our own heads, not in our minds. My mind’s an empty chasm. It’s rattling around in our heads. Welcome today.
TM: What’s the difference?
Reuben Saltzman: Important distinction.
BO: Welcome. Today, we are gonna do kind of an open quiz, the building scientist nerd, and this isn’t really a quiz, it’s more me explaining a couple things that came up in building on my cabin that I wanna ask Tessa about. And Reuben, I’m gonna ask you too, so don’t feel left out in this conversation.
TM: Let me just note, there was no preparedness for this.
BO: Yes, and that’s where the best conversations come from. We’re just gonna lay bare our questions and curiosities to a building scientist and an expert inspector and see if we get to the right answer.
TM: It’s gonna be fun. [chuckle]
BO: I might agree with you at the end, maybe not. It just depends on how much money you’re going to cost me by the time the conversation’s all settled up. Okay, so our fun little cabin up North is still under construction and everything’s going well. I love it, I love my contractor, I love the fact that I get to run up there periodically and act like I’m important… Bring some materials or something like that, but I came across something I was not aware of, and we’re at the finishing the interior wall stage and in our bathrooms, we have a male and a female bathroom, just like a camp, so the girls only get to get one spot and the guys get to be dirty in a different one.
RS: Wait a minute, you’ve got a male and a female bathroom…
RS: Okay, tell me, please Bill, tell me you put a urinal in the men’s bathroom.
BO: Well, if you believe a toilet’s a urinal, yes.
RS: Not at all. I’m so disappointed. You know I had a urinal in my last house, right?
BO: Reuben, yes. There are some things that will not be sold in my house, and urinal is one of them. Listen, there’s a toilet, there’s a sink, and there’s a bathtub. If the three of those aren’t good enough for a relief, then you’re just out of luck. [laughter] I don’t know what to tell you.
TM: Not the bathtub. I can see why you get your own bathroom.
RS: Hey guys, come one in. There’s room for two more. [laughter]
BO: Exactly, exactly. Okay, we have gone off the highway into the ditch, and I’m gonna get the car back up on the road.
RS: No, no, Bill, I’m sorry, no. We gotta stay on this topic. I’m telling you, for anybody who has the space and the gumption, put a urinal in your house. You’ll be so glad you did it. I think that’s the only thing that really sold my house. The people who bought it, I heard, as soon as the guy saw the urinal in the basement, he was like, “Oh, this is the house for me, I am sold.” I can’t sing the praises high enough to have one in your own house. It’s just fantastic. Alright, I’m done.
TM: That was something you installed, did you personally install that?
RS: I did, I found it on Home Depot, I got the urinal, and it’s not much. It was like 100 bucks, and then you get a flusher meter, and that was another 100 bucks or something and boom, not a big deal.
BO: That’s because there’s no walls, there’s nothing surrounding it, it was just right out in the open, right?
RS: You are completely right, Bill. It was right out in the open.
TM: Oh my gosh. [chuckle]
BO: The expense of a bathroom does come with the finishes, okay, I mean tile walls and all that other sort of stuff. That raises the cost of that urinal significantly.
RS: Well, my point is that you’re gonna have a bathroom already, and while you’re in the design phase, just design it on in there. And for this house, this is an unfinished basement, but that’s where my office was. So, I’d spend a lot of time down there, and it was just so nice not having to run upstairs all the time, but, side note, you know what, I’m not done waxing on urinals, Bill. One of the nicest houses we ever looked at… I won’t say the name, but it was this kind of mogul in Minnesota who ended up having to go to jail ’cause he pulled some crazy stunts with other people’s money, I think it was around 2008, 2009, something like that, and it was one of the craziest houses I’ve ever inspected, and there was a urinal in every single bathroom. Okay, I’m done. Go on, Bill. Sorry.
BO: Alright, so we are now at the phase where we’re gonna finish out the bathroom, and we have tubs that we’ve reclaimed. So, we’ve got cast iron tubs from probably 1910 in the cabin, which is super, super cool. They were really heavy, and my friend Charlie and I had this great adventure where we were going up to Northern Wisconsin to get a free tub and, anyway, I digress. But my contractor called me. He said, “What do you wanna put on the walls in the surround by the tub?” And I was like, “I didn’t even know that this was a question.” I just assumed we were gonna… I told him we were gonna do a tiled surround, and I assumed it would just be Dura Rock. You put some Dura Rock up, and you put your tile on your Dura Rock, and everything would be fantastic. Well, he told me that’s not allowable anymore or it’s not acceptable. And he said, ’cause Dura Rock… Or cement board, I don’t wanna put… I don’t really wanna throw Dura Rock under the bus here. Cement board, because it’s not waterproof, you can…
BO: If you got lots of grout joints, you can get moisture that’ll pass through the grout joints, and you can get some moisture that can pass all the way through and rot out the studs behind it. And I thought this would take 400 years for this to actually happen, but it’s a real thing. Reuben, did you know that you’re not supposed to use this cement board behind tiled surrounds anymore?
RS: Yeah, yeah, I did hear about that, and I can’t remember when that code change happened or which code it was. I feel like I’m super rusty now. You see, we did not rehearse this ahead of time. I can’t remember if it’s a building code or a plumbing code change. I think it’s a building code change, and I wanna say it happened around five years ago or something like that.
TM: So, what are you supposed to use now?
BO: Well, you’re supposed to use some sort of waterproof board or a membrane, you thinset, then you put this membrane down, and then you seal it all up that way. So, I ended up finding this product that’s like a waterproof foam board, super light, but it’s got this concrete skim over the top of it, and there’s a local distribution company in the Twin Cities that I’ve never heard of before, Hank’s Specialties, I didn’t even know this was a store, and they had this product called wedi board, W-E-D-I, and apparently it’s waterproof and it’ll work for my application just fine. Otherwise, there’s this membrane called Kerdi, K-E-R-D-I, I believe it’s sold at the big-box stores, and that’s the membrane that you can put down and use like a thinset. You troll on this thinset, and then you put this membrane down, and then it dries, and then you can fix your tiles to the top of that. But yeah, it was like these products… Tessa, the look on your face tells me you had no idea that this was even a thing.
TM: Nope, I had no idea. [chuckle]
BO: They don’t teach this in school about… You guys are the water control people at the Building Science building.
TM: You know, that is above my pay grade. I was unaware of that, and I’ve always thought about the moisture that moved through the grout and then back into the wall, but I’d figured with the cement board back there, it wasn’t a huge issue. But for it to be a change in the code, they must have had enough problems with that, you would think.
BO: Have either of you ever seen a situation when you were inspecting a house and there was an open closet behind a tiled shower, where you could see cement board, that you saw water damage of any sort?
RS: I can’t say I have, no.
TM: No, I have seen in older homes before they used cement board, where the tile is in really bad shape and the grout is cracked and missing, where water will drip back down, but I can’t say I’ve seen a house that’s like in the last 30 years that’s had problems with that. But then again, we’re not ripping open tiled walls to look.
BO: What I found when I started messing around looking for this membrane or this different type of this wedi board, there’s a whole industry that I was not aware of. These curbs that are made out of foam that are wrapped in the membrane so that they’re super strong, lightweight and don’t absorb water, ’cause I’m sure Reuben, you’ve seen in the past where a plumber or a contractor will actually pour out a cement the curb, and then put the membrane underneath, and then pour a pan, a shower pan, made out of cement. Have you ever been a part of a project like that?
RS: I don’t think so, no.
BO: Interesting, I’ve seen that a few times, especially in the city. Sometimes, people will wanna put a shower in the basement that it doesn’t fit the 2 x 3 or whatever the standard is. So, they just build their own curb and they’ll pour it out of concrete, but… Yeah, like the little boxes that… The l curbs that you would put in a tiled shower, they are made of this membrane, these… You can go buy these boxes. I had no idea because why would I? I haven’t installed a shower for ever, and now I need to. So, it’s the funny, the little things that you come across that seem to make an impression. As a home inspector, Reuben, you’re never gonna call out cement board on the back side of a tiled shower as being a problem?
RS: Well, if I did, what would my recommendation be?
TM: Rip it out and redo it.
RS: Okay, yeah. You’ve got Dura rock or cement board behind the tiles, and you have a higher potential for water to seep into this material and cause damage. Therefore, tear it all out and redo it. And I realize it’s been fine for the last 20 years, yet tear it all out and redo it. That’s crazy. I would never do that in my own house, I’m sure the tiled shower in my basement has that exact same setup today, and what am I gonna do about it? Nothing. I’m not gonna tell my clients to do anything, either.
BO: Yeah, I know. I just feel like sometimes we have these solutions that are looking for a problem, and I’m not saying that these manufacturers did this before there was a need. Exactly the opposite of what I’m saying, but it was just one of those things that I had no idea, never even considered it more important. I should give you guys an update. We’ve talked about the exterior walls and the wall finishes in the cabin. All the…
TM: Yeah, what did you end up doing? What did you end up putting on the ceiling and the walls.
BO: So, I did put dry wall on the ceiling.
BO: And then I covered it with a veneer of beadboard.
BO: And so, that is actually in panels, so those are 4 x 8 panels that are glued and nailed, so there’s not as many holes as you would think, like if you were just nailing it up. And that was really funny. The contractor had a hard time working with the material because after I stained it and varnished it, it kind of began to twist and warp a little bit, and I don’t know why that is, but the beadboard gets pretty thin at areas where the grooves are cut, and he was like, “This stuff is… This stuff is a pain to work with, just saying.”
TM: Was it warping ’cause it was starting to dry out?
TM: Like had you had it… Been in a warm, dry cabin long enough that it was starting to shrink and contort?
BO: Yeah, totally. That’s exactly what it was. And when you pick it up from the lumber yard, it’s still wet. I don’t know what the moisture content is…
BO: Well it’s wetter than it was when they installed it, so it moved around a little bit.
RS: Let me ask you.
RS: Did you do all six sides of every board?
BO: It’s a sheet of plywood. No.
RS: I’m just asking. Okay.
BO: Am I supposed to?
RS: I don’t know. I’m not sure. Maybe? I built my own table several years ago, kitchen table, and it’s super fancy. It’s got like this herringbone pattern for the tabletop. I mean so many cuts, so much time. And all I did was I stained everything when it was all done being put together. I sanded it all down to make it totally flat, and then stained it. And it didn’t weather well. It was like some of the pieces seemed to take on water and others lost water, and they all kind of warped. So after about six months, it wasn’t a flat table anymore. Some were thicker, some weren’t. And I decided to do a little bit of research about how I should have done it later on, and all the advice was, “You need to stain all six sides of every board if you want it to stay flat.” Now…
TM: That makes a lot of sense. Yeah.
RS: And now with your beadboard… I mean, being plywood and being so flat, I don’t think you’re gonna have it… The same issues that I did, but I don’t know. Just a thought.
BO: Yeah, we’re gonna see. I’m not worried about it in the least. It’s all up there now. It’s flat and looks good and I’m happy with it.
BO: The walls are 5 and 1/2 inch wide shiplap. All of them. Exterior. Interior.
BO: Every… Yeah.
BO: Everything with the exception of the tiles surround is shiplap.
TM: And is that just nailed right onto the studs over…
TM: You’ve got poly behind it?
BO: Yep. Yep. So…
BO: I did not go with drywall, then a layer of beadboard, or shiplap. I just went… They just put the shiplap right to the studs, which is not uncommon. I mean it’s just like tongue and groove…
BO: Or whatever they use up north.
RS: All right, so Bill, I got a quick question about this, because I know that when you have interior load-bearing walls, you need something to prevent those studs from moving all over the place, from bowing. And there’s a few ways you can do it. One is you put in blocking. I think the technical term for this is nogding. There’s your word of the day.
RS: N-O-G-D-I-N-G. Nogding. I just call it blocking. It’s just little pieces of 2×6’s cut to fit in between the wall studs, and it kinda keeps everything from bowing in the middle. That’s one option. Another is you can install drywall to the walls, and all those screws in the drywall are gonna hold the studs where they need to be. So I’m wondering, is there or was there any type of similar concern ’cause I feel like the stuff you put on the walls… What was it? Bead…
RS: Shiplap. Yeah.
RS: It feels like that’s not gonna provide the same rigidity to your wall that drywall would, so how did you address this?
BO: Well, I would imagine it’s gonna provide a… Way more rigidity because first of all, it’s almost 3/4 inch thick, made of pine.
BO: It’s like pine boards and that have a nail in them. Because they’re 5 and 1/2 inches, there’s whatever to the ceiling. A lot of boards. There’s a lot of nails in that wall. I can’t imagine that wall moving in the slightest.
BO: But there is nogding in the walls, too.
BO: So we are double…
TM: It’s a really strong wall.
BO: Double protected. Yeah. Well, I mean if we needed more nails, but it’s just like sheathing on the exterior of an old house, where they had those 12 inch sheathing boards. This would be the exact same thing, except on the interior.
RS: Well, I guess it depends how you fastened it, too. I mean, I know I’ve put some of that shiplap up and I used, I think, 18 gauge nails, like really small finishing nails, to keep it all up. And the nails went in a really thin spot, so it was really a concealed. Do you know how yours went up?
BO: It’s some sort of nail. The head is countersunk, so it was a finish nailer. I don’t know what they do.
BO: But I’m sure it’s the same nail that they use for putting up tongue and grove in exterior or interior walls.
RS: Okay. All right.
BO: But there is the nogding in there too, so I’m not terribly concerned about it. If it moves, that’s just God telling me that the wall needed to move for some reason. [laughter] So I’m gonna roll with it. There’s only so much I can prevent.
TM: Well what kind of insulation did you add in the exterior walls in the attic? ‘Cause I know you were talking about closed cell spray foam. But did you end up doing that or something else?
BO: No, we didn’t use any spray foam except for on the rim. They spray foamed the rim. Otherwise it’s just normal fiberglass in the walls, or whatever the latest and greatest configuration of insulation is for a 6 inch wall. And then it’s fiberglass in the attic.
BO: Poly, they sealed everything up, and then they sealed all the… I’m sure they went through a few cans of that spray foam where all the wires passed through the studs up into the attic, and then they filled it with insulation.
BO: Guess what I did not do what?
BO: I did not go in there and inspect the depth, nor will I. [laughter]
RS: Ignorance is bliss.
BO: Well, I have no reason to feel like I need to because I have complete trust in my guys up there. I’m telling you. They measure three times and cut once. So…
RS: And their insulation contractors do too?
BO: Do it all.
TM: Is it the same guy?
BO: It’s the same guy.
TM: The same people?
RS: Interesting. Okay.
TM: Well and the fact that you saw some spray foam cans for attic bypasses, that’s encouraging.
BO: Dave is amazing. He’s said this to me several different times. He’s like, “Bill, I gotta warranty this thing, so I’m taking responsibility for how this stuff goes in. And I watch over this. I know what my guys do. I know how we complete jobs. I’m not worried.” He’s not worried, I’m not worried. He’s probably so sick of me saying this to him when he asks me a question, like, “well, Dave, what would you do?” And then he tells me and I say, “well, I think that’s what we should do.” And… [laughter] I trust you, Dave, I trust you, I trust your judgment, and then we just go on about our business, so.
TM: No, that’s great, that’s great. You’ve got a builder that you can trust and has experience.
BO: Well, this is what I find interesting about building projects, how many people do you know by the time they’re done with building their building, they just want their contractors out of their life as quickly as possible, they’re just tired of dealing with them, and there’s been too many change orders, there’s been too many of this, too much of that. Anything that’s been changed on this project has been because of me, and so I can’t complain about the delays, they’re right here, right on me, even in 2021 with materials and all kinds of other stuff. I just had some indecision moments and so… I’ve got nothing, I can’t complain about my contractor at all, he could probably complain about me a lot, but I can’t do the other way around.
TM: He hasn’t fired you yet though, so that’s good.
BO: I can’t say that for my neighbor. [chuckle] Who has been building this… What do you call that when you zip the top off and then you rebuild the second floor, pop the top, right?
TM: Like a pop top?
BO: Yeah, so a couple houses down that happened and they’ve been going at this project forever, and you can just see the frustration on… And the contractors are frustrated, the owners are frustrated, there was material stuff, and then there was other stuff and I just… It’s one of those things. Okay.
RS: It might be too soon because it’s right in the middle of it, but I have a family member who has that going on right now, where there was some hiccup with the permit and zoning setbacks and one-to-many walls got taken down when they were redoing this and the city came in and said, “No, no, no, you can’t do this. Once you’ve taken down that last wall, that was all damaged and rotted, now it’s new construction, you need to change the footprint of the foundation and like… ” And this is after all of the material had already been delivered and it’s been sitting out in the front yard for, I don’t know, three months, four months, five months. I mean, it’s like, it is wild. And they ended up appealing the decision, they filed some type of something or another with City Hall, they got turned down, then they filed an appeal and they won, and now they’re being able to proceed with the project, but it’s just… What a nightmare. And they’re not living there, of course, because there’s really just about no house left right now, but…
BO: Do tell, what city? I mean, you don’t have to give any specifics…
RS: I don’t even wanna share what city this is, I don’t wanna share any details ’cause I didn’t ask permission to share anything.
TM: Well, that is… I mean there’s a fine line between existing and then a new construction, and if it’s just the matter of one wall, one extra wall coming down, that has got to be just so… That’s just so frustrating having to go through the whole process. Wow.
BO: Tessa, I have another question for you about closed-cell spray foam.
TM: Yeah, shoot.
BO: Is it always and forever water-resistant?
TM: Water resistant. Well, I don’t know if I can answer that question, I’m not qualified, but in terms of permeability, different foams have different permeabilities, and so like a closed-cell spray foam would be vapor impermeable at a certain…
BO: But how does that differ from water-proof?
TM: That’s a good question. I don’t know. You’ve felt what closed-cell spray foam feels like, right?
TM: And if you poured water on it, it would just roll right off it.
BO: Right. Like a doc spec?
TM: Yeah. And I don’t know. Does it stay like that forever? That’s a good question. I don’t know.
RS: I can tell you that if anybody has seen this guy, his name’s… And I might butcher the pronunciation of his last name, I think it’s Matt Risinger.
TM: Oh, yes.
RS: You guys know who that is?
TM: Yeah. He’s got some good videos.
RS: Oh, yeah. I do YouTube videos and I wanna be him.
TM: He’s really good, yeah.
RS: He’s amazing, he’s so entertaining. And he gets in there and he does this stuff, it’s almost like MythBuster-esque type of experiments. And I just pulled it up on my screen as we’re talking about it, and I remember there was one he did, the title of the YouTube video is “Water Testing Spray Foam Insulation”. And we’re just doing this all off the cuff right now, but if I remember right, that spray foam… If you pour water on it, it’s gonna run off, but he had it sitting in a pan of water or something, and then he waited before and after, I think and I might be butchering this, I saw this a few years ago, but it took on a lot of water.
BO: Was it closed-cell or was it open cell?
RS: Yeah I don’t remember. I’d say, if you want the answer to your question, check out his 13, 14-minute video, and you will get the answer.
BO: Okay. I’ll do that. Okay. Tessa, here is why I’m asking because I’m just wondering how this would hold up, ’cause the cabin is built on bedrock and there’s no real good way to vapor seal that bedrock without stretching the material across, and it’s just so imperfect. The most perfect thing we could do would just spray it with closed-cell spray foam, then we would get the benefit of the insulation and the vapor barrier, and I’m just wondering how it will hold up over time, and I should preface this question with, we are kind of at the top of a hill, and then it goes down. And if anybody knows like bedrock, there’s cracks and crevices all over the place, and obviously water can run around and it goes to the lower spot, but whatever, if you’ve ever driven around up North, you see water leaking out of the side of bedrock all the time, and so hydrostatic crusher… I mean, if we put this down, is it gonna be a permanent solution or will you have to freshen it up at some point?
TM: So this is like a crawl space under the house. You’re trying to seal out moisture and…
BO: Well, potentially radon gases. Reuben, who was the guy we had on who talked about radon and said that bedrock is one of the worst things?
RS: That was Joshua Kerber with the Minnesota Department of Health.
BO: And I remember that and I was like, “Well, we are not gonna be at the cabin all the time, so maybe low levels of radon coming out of bedrock aren’t the worst thing… “
TM: There’s lots of different materials that you can use to try and feel out moisture and soil gases and all that stuff, and it sounds like you’re thinking about doing spray foam because of the unevenness of the rock… Bedrock underneath, but…
BO: Well, yeah, and selfishly I want it to be a storage place too, because I can scurry around on top of the spray foam, it’s hard, it’s durable. I can throw a lawn chair, a canoe or something up in there, and it’s not gonna be a big deal. But if it’s polyethylene and it’s just stretched over these sharp jaggedy rocks, it’s gonna be a vapor… Permeable vapor barrier by the time I’m done with it, so.
TM: I wonder if over time, if the way that you’re mentioning the water running down the hill and potentially seeping up from the ground and then bedrock, if it can shift and move, if spray foam may not be a good investment? ‘Cause it’ll be expensive to cover the entire ground with it, and if you do have bulk water sitting in it or on it or running through it, and any movement of that rock, I would think of that would probably not be the best use of your money. I’d probably put in some type of…
BO: Yeah that bedrock isn’t moving, I can promise you that much. It…
TM: Okay. I would lean towards doing some type of plastic material or something that you could put over that dirt… Over the rock and tape all the seams, and then just make sure you’re not going in with any heavy boots walking over it.
BO: Just like Reuben was asking if the walls… What if the walls rack… If the bedrock moves, well I got bigger problems. You’re saying don’t do it.
TM: Reuben what would you recommend on that?
RS: I would go with something more like a pool liner or something really thick, a really thick membrane, that some of those high-end crawl space and basement waterproofing companies install. And the idea is they put this down over the whole thing, and then you don’t go in there with anything other than socks on. And it is clean and dry and gorgeous. I think that’d be the most cost-effective solution, if it’s not, I can’t imagine why they’re all doing it.
BO: Well, you guys…
TM: Yeah it’s gotta be cheaper than spray foam, it’s gotta be.
BO: Probably, okay. Now I’m not gonna freak anybody out, but here’s my big concern about just stretching a membrane. The one or two mice that find their way into this place, I feel like it’s gonna be New York City underneath this vapor barrier that I can’t see through. They’re gonna just start building condos and high skyscrapers, and the next thing I know it’ll be this thriving community underneath bed liner… My pool liner that’s covering the bedrock.
RS: You tell your contractor you want no mice, no holes, buddy. That’s all.
TM: Well and you know what, mice can chew through… They can chew through spray foam too, but if they chew through the pool liner you can always tape back over it.
BO: This is true, this is true. This is… But we’re kind of on the tail end of things here, so I’m really excited, I’m not gonna let you two up there because you’re gonna tell me all the things that I did wrong. You inspectors, but…
RS: Well, my wife has been very clear, you don’t inspect your friends houses when you go to visit. You’re not gonna have any friends.
BO: Okay, alright. Well then… Then we can reset…
TM: She had tell you that.
RS: It’s just a joke.
TM: I thought you had a story of coming home from a friend’s house and she was mortified by something you said or did.
RS: No, no, she’s just joked with me beforehand like, “Now, whatever you do, do not inspect their house when we go there.” And… Yeah. So I don’t, I don’t… I don’t comment on other people’s houses. Keep my mouth shut. I try not to look up. It’s habit as home inspectors, you go in, you’re always looking up, you’re looking what the ceiling, it’s like, “No, no, we’re not doing that”.
TM: Well, yes I definitely will be looking, but I will not… I don’t say anything, my brain just… I can’t help but think about building science things when I’m in a structure, although I will not be communicating that with friends or family.
BO: Okay, let’s put a wrap on this episode by doing this, tell me what is the worst thing you’ve seen in a friend’s home that you literally bit a hole through your lip trying not to talk to them about?
RS: That’s easy. It was in… Alright I’m not even gonna… I’m not gonna give away too much. I was at a house, and I remember seeing a wood stove connected to the same vent as the furnace in a really bad way, it was just totally unsafe. And I pulled somebody else aside, not the homeowner, but I pulled somebody else aside and I said, “Dude, this is really bad, this is not safe”, like someone needs to tell them this and they kinda went “Yeah, I suppose”. And that as much as what happened there, and not a month later, their house burnt down because of that situation.
RS: Yeah, it was like, did I make the right decision or not? Should I have said something? Thankfully. Thank God nobody got hurt, they weren’t home. But there’s my… There’s my moral dilemma.
BO: Wow. I thought it was gonna be something like entertaining, that’s just straight up intense.
RS: That was bad. Yeah, for sure.
BO: Tessa, do you have any good stories like that?
TM: Well, one thought came to mind… A friend of mine, they have an old house, 1900s, stacked stone foundation, and I was in the basement briefly and looked over and noticed they had a Federal Pacific Stab-Lok panel on the foundation wall. And I thought, Oh man, I should probably say something. I can’t… I just… I can’t not say something. So I did mention it to them, I said, “You know, I noticed your electrical panel downstairs, it’s this… Federal Pacific, and it’s a really… It’s really dangerous panel and bad breakers and increased risk of fire and safest thing is to replace that. I’ll send you some more information about it so you can read up on it” and send them a link to the blog that Reuben has written, and everything about it. And I followed back up with them and ask them what… If they did anything and what they thought about they’re like, “Yeah, it’s never been a problem this far, we’ll be fine”.
BO: I thought you were gonna say their house burned down because that was way more likely than the…
TM: I know though.
BO: Situation that Reuben was explaining…
TM: Well, cross our fingers. I don’t… Not yet, right?
RS: But for so many of these situations where do you draw the line? You go to somebody’s house and you see that they took their smoke alarms down, do you reprimand them for that?
RS: There’s a good potential of dying in a fire without smoke alarms, same thing with CO alarms to follow up on last week’s podcast. If you see a carbon monoxide alarm where they took the batteries out, do you admonish your friend for that? And then what if somebody dies later on, are you gonna feel bad about… Where do you draw the line? I don’t know. If I were to go to the same house again, rewind time, I still don’t know if I would say something about that vent, I really don’t know.
TM: You know, I would like to think that if I was the acumen of a house that had a potential life-threatening situation happening in it, that I would rather know about that and be offended than not know about it and die [chuckle] or lose my house.
RS: Same here Tess, yeah.
TM: But maybe that’s not… I can’t speak for everyone.
BO: Well, let’s put a wrap on it, I think that’s something to chew on. At what point do you stop pointing out deficiency? For a home inspector, not an easy line in the sand to draw.
RS: But Bill, you got any similar stories?
BO: No, I get punched on a regular basis, “Stop looking, stop looking.”
BO: Because I’m a roof looker, I’m always staring at roofs, and I don’t know why, but I am. And I notice, “Oh, there’s some missing shingles over there, or there’s a vent cap that’s been blown off.” My neighbor’s vent cap, it was that two piece that slides up and down, and… The ones that squirrels always chewed up, that was missing for like…
RS: The plumbing vent cap.
BO: Yeah, yeah, that was missing for years. And I mentioned it one time and then I decided, “Well, whatever, they fixed it.”
BO: Somebody came along and put a vent on top it, but no, I think it’s better off. Leave the friendships in place and the home inspecting to some other professional that they aren’t well acquainted with.
TM: There you go.
BO: Alright, well, I think let’s put a wrap on this one. We went off the rails with the urinal thing, Reuben, but we made it to the end and…
RS: Well, I’m glad we did, I thought it was a worthwhile discussion, Bill.
BO: So you’re pro urinal.
TM: Obviously for you [chuckle]
RS: That’s right, that’s right.
TM: Part of your life.
RS: Now you know where I stand.
BO: You do have to post a picture of your ex latrine at your last house.
RS: Alright, we’ll put that in the show notes.
BO: Alright. [chuckle] Thanks everybody for listening. You’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a structure tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman. As always, thanks for listening and we’ll catch you next time.