Monthly Archives: February 2008

Leap Year Quiz – What Do You See In This Picture?

lh-003.jpgHere’s a leap year quiz for Kansas City Home Inspections. What do you see in this picture?

Just to help you understand what you’re looking at: This is a picture of a roofing section just above a front door of a split level home. The roof intersects with the wall of the upper level of the home.

Notice that the shingles are “wavy”? They don’t lay nice and flat. This indicates that there are multiple layers of roofing materials. If you look closely, just above the gutter, you’ll see two drip caps. This also provides suspicions of multiple roofing layers. Layered roofs won’t last as long as the manufacturer may have indicated. They can’t lay flat on roof decking, and will wear out much sooner than expected because of this.

The siding material is composite wood. Notice how it’s in contact with the shingles? Proper installation of this siding requires that this siding have a 1-2″ clearance from the roofing material. The gap should be protected by metal step flashing, and, hopefully, the siding would be painted on the bottom edge. In this installation, there has been caulking applied to the roof/wall intersection. This is a temporary attempt to keep water from damaging the siding. Too late – the siding is already deteriorating – Notice the cracking in the paint and holes in the siding? Rot has already started in the siding and wood trim (further up the roof).

lh-011.jpgAlso notice the lack of a “kick-out” flashing. The kick-out would be an extention of the step flashing (not visible) that would extend through the siding and divert water into the gutter. Without this, any water running down that caulking will seep behind the siding and into the house structure. The second picture is of the interior on the other side of this wall. Notice the moisture stains on the wall? This type of moisture damage will often lead to mold in the wall and insulation, and rot in the interior structure. Damage can also extend into lower levels as well. (Click here to see an example kick-out)

Anyone notice anything else?

The situation that has been discussed here is very common in the Kansas City area and home inspectors should always point this out. Proper repairs are required by a professional roofer to get the flashing corrected. In this case, a siding contractor would be required to make repairs to the siding, and general contractor may be needed to fix interior wall damage.

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Inspections Are Not Disclosures

Click here for a great article on disclosures in Kansas City.

It reminded me that people often assume an inspection is a good substitute for a disclosure statement. IT’S NOT!

Many home inspectors are good, but not that good. We don’t have X-Ray goggles. And my personal crystal ball is on the blink (If you know of a good repair shop, let me know). An average home inspection lasts about three hours. In that time, we can generally find many of the defects that may be present in a home. But a well finished basement can hide a multitude of sins. And if its not raining during an inspection, we may or may not find leaks in attics or basement walls.

The point is – always request a disclosure for a property you’re buying. Every seller should provide one. Read through it carefully. Consider talking with the seller to verify the facts.

Question on foreclosed houses: Does anyone understand how a bank can get away with not providing a disclosure? If they don’t know anything about the house, then they should not be able to sell it. I’d like to see banks required to have a house inspected before selling it and be required to make that inspection report available to buyers.

Radon: Who Can Test For It?

Or, simply put, don’t you really want to know if you can test it yourself?

In the Kansas City area, most radon professionals charge about $125 to conduct a 48 hour radon test. Test kits can be obtained from multiple places for much, much less. So why hire a professional?

First, lets look at the reasons to test for radon. The EPA states that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. The EPA and the U.S. Surgeon General estimate that approximately 22,000 people die a year in this country from lung cancer caused by radon inhalation. Simple arithmatic would indicate that if there are about 2 million people in the greater Kansas City area, and approximately 300 million in the US, then there are about 146 people dying in this area each year from lung cancer caused by radon. 

The national average says that 6% of all homes have elevated radon levels (Greater Than 4.0 pCi/l). However, in the Kansas City area, our experience tells us that approximately 40% of all homes have elevated radon. This would lead to the conclusion that many more people are at risk of lung cancer caused by radon in the Kansas City than the numbers indicated by the simple math above.

Until 1998, the EPA kept lists of people that were “Qualified” to test for radon in residential housing. They stopped this program, presumably due to budget cuts, and encouraged private programs to “qualify” radon professionals. The two programs that the EPA recognized for radon proficiency programs were the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) and the National Radon Safety Board (NRSB).

In order for a professional to be recognized as “qualified” by either of these programs, the individuals have to have completed a radon proficiency training program and passed a recognized examination to prove their knowledge. “Qualified” individuals have proven their knowledge of Radon, including what it is, how it is harmful, how it enters a home, and how to properly test for it. They have proven their knowledge of the EPA Protocols for Radon testing devices and Protocols for conducting a radon meaurement. Measurement procedures can vary house by house, so knowing how to test for it properly can affect the results and thereby affect your knowledge of whether or not individuals in a house are at risk of radon exposure.

I’m of the belief that if I’m at risk of contracting lung cancer, I want to know it, and I want to be certain. I’m not qualified to diagnose myself of having lung cancer so I’d seek out a professional if I was concerned about it. By the same token, you should also do the same if you’re testing for radon.

Check out www.radongas.org for a list of qualified NEHA radon measurement providers. Or do it yourself if you really think its worth it.

But whatever you decide, DON’T waste your money by hiring someone to do the test that is not qualified – you might as well go buy lottery tickets.

Home Buyers Beware

Beware of the home inspection price wars in Kansas City. This is America, and anyone can price their services at any level they want. But here’s a few thoughts to chew on as you get prices for home inspectors:

You’re about to buy a house and give your Real Estate Professional somewhere around 7% of the price of the home in commisions. (“No, I’m not giving it to them – the seller is!” Who’s name is on the mortgage?). For a 200,000 house, thats $14,000. Thats equivalent to a year of college. Its also a pretty nice car for many people. 

In our opinion, a thorough home inspection is worth that same amount of money. Home Inspectors are the only people involved in the real estate transaction that truly have no financial interest in whether or not you buy the home. Who else is truly looking out for your best interests? 

Fortunately for you, prices for home inspections only range from $95 to $600. But thats still a pretty sizeable gap: So whats the difference?

If you have a problem with your luxury car, who are you going to take it to? The service station down the street, or back to the dealer? I’m willing to bet most people will choose the dealer. Why? Because you want someone the most qualified person to take care of your problems. By the same token, you’re going to spend at least 1/3 of your life asleep in the house you’re buying, and at least 1/2 of your life in the same house, isn’t it worth the satisfaction having the most qualified inspector look over your house to know whether or not the house is safe for you and your family?

Before you decide to save $50 on the biggest investment of your life, ask yourself if its worth it. Cheaper doesn’t always mean better. Ask yourself why the other guy is cheaper.

Here’s an article that appeared recently for your review regarding home inspector pricing.

Make sure your inspector is an ASHI CERTIFIED INSPECTOR. Many advertise it – others can prove it.

Johns ASHI ID Badge      randy_id_badge.jpg

Feel free to call John or Randy. We’ll be glad to talk to you about pricing – at no charge!

By the way, for those of you following, Kansas House Bill 2315 passed through the House of Representatives this week and was sent to the Senate. Looks like regulation of home inspectors in Kansas is one step closer.

A Word About Knob & Tube Wiring

Home Inspectors in Kansas City see it all the time: Knob & Tube wiring. This was the predominant method of wiring a house in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Any good inspector will let you know that it is either unsafe, or potentially unsafe. But there will be others that will tell you theres nothing wrong with it. 

So…..Which is it? Safe or Unsafe?

Knob & Tube wiring, if you’re not familiar with it, is characterized by the ceramic knobs with screw on the top to allow the knob to clamp to the wiring and hold it in place. You’ll also see ceramic tubes that hold the wiring in place as it passes through a framing member. The knobs hold the wiring about an inch away from the framing members, and also secures the wiring as it changes directions or where it may have been spliced. The “Hot” and the “Neutral” lines would be running separately, usually at least 3″ inches apart. Also inherent to this system was a fuse panel that managed overcurrent protection for the occupants of the home.

This wiring also requires free air spaces to dissipate heat as it conducts electricity.

Is this unsafe? NO. If installed properly, and if left alone by well-meaning non-professional electricians, Knob and Tube wiring is no less safe than any other ungrounded electrical system in a home. And, as a matter of opinion, it may be more safe in this state than an ungrounded system that was installed in the 1950’s – there are less moving parts. You won’t find any breakers that could potentially not function as intended.

The problem with Knob & Tube wiring is not the wiring itself, the problem is that its rarely left alone. 

Since World War I, we’ve seen many additions to the home in the way of convenience inventions. Televisions, Microwave Ovens, Computers, Video Games. And many other household items that demand additional electricity. The way we have used electricity in the home is no longer the same as when the Knob & Tube system was installed in a home.

People go into a home and start modifying the system in unknown ways and then cover up their handy work. They add outlets. They add rooms and additional circuits. They walk around attics and damage wiring as they go. These additional demands put loads on the system that may cause it to over heat and become a fire hazard.

Then there’s the little problem of energy efficiency. In the last 100 years, we’ve decided that insulation is a good thing. It helps to keep our heating bills down, and improves the efficiency of our HVAC systems. But it covers up that Knob & Tube wiring in non-visible locations and no longer allows the wiring to dissipate heat properly. This can also cause the wiring to over heat and become a fire hazard.

All of these things contribute to potential problems with a system that was once a safe design. In much the same way as how its not the car thats unsafe, its how you drive it, its not the wiring system, but what how you use it.

Knob & Tube wiring is potentially unsafe in ways that you may not be able to see as you walk through a house prior to buying it. Always, always, always, get the opinion of a qualified electrician before assuming any electrical system is safe, especially Knob & Tube. And check with your insurance company to be sure they’ll cover the house with this wiring.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Earlier, we wrote about home inspector qualifications. As of today, there have never been any requirements to become a home inspector in the states of Kansas and Missouri.

This past week, Kansas House Bill 2315 was passed in the Labor and Commerce committee in Topeka. The bill passed unanimously. Pending approval by the legislature, there will be requirements for home inspectors in Kansas.

Also this week, Missouri House Bill 2057 was introduced and will probably be reviewed in committee during this legislative session.

Our beliefs? Licensing or registration for home inspectors really does nothing to further protect consumers. Fact: Home builders aren’t even licensed across the states. Most reputable home inspectors offer more qualifications and protection to the consumer than these bills require.

But licensing and registration, even with strong entrance requirements, may keep some of the unqualified and non-professionals out of the business. We’ll have to wait and see.

In the mean time, stick to the advice we listed below. Do your research and know that all home inspectors are not the same. You get what you pay for.

We’ll add updates if licensing or registration becomes a requirement in Kansas or Missouri.