Please remember that your Home Inspector is not a Code Inspector. While local building codes are meant to keep the general public safe, an Inspector’s primary goal is the safety of their clients as it relates to one specific property. For that reason, an Inspector’s recommendation may sometimes exceed local code requirements.
Any repairs or fixes mentioned here or in your Home Inspection Report should be completed by a qualified professional. Even seemingly simple repairs have some risk and should not be attempted unless you know what you are doing.
The notes below address general situations, and the specifics of your home may vary.
Missing outlet/switchplate covers
It may seem like a small issue, but where electricity (and the risk of shock) is involved, there are no small issues. Fortunately, the fix for this is small and easy. Covers are around 40¢ and can be found at any hardware store.
Bathrooms without vent fans
All bathrooms with a tub or shower need a way to remove moisture from the air. While a window of at least 1.5 square feet meets the code, this is one area where an inspector’s recommendation may exceed the code requirements. In our coastal environment, which already has added humidity, a ventilation fan helps remove that moisture, especially in a heavily used bathroom, so it doesn’t accumulate on the walls and ceiling. Moisture is one of the top enemies of your home, and being able to better control it is always a good thing.
Kitchens without vent fans
This is another area in which the inspector’s recommendation often exceeds code. An exhaust fan over a stove removes moisture from cooking (think boiling water) and combustion gases (in gas-fueled ranges). If at all possible, it is recommended that every kitchen have an exhaust fan that vents to the outdoors. There are clearly instances where this either isn’t practical or isn’t possible (some HOA’s won’t allow owners to put vents through the roof or wall), but whenever possible, it is highly recommended.
It has been estimated that over 2,000 building materials contain asbestos, a harmful chemical that can cause lung cancer. Everything from acoustic ceiling material to floor tiles and lots of items in between. One expert warns clients that any building material that isn’t solid wood or metal, in a home built before 1978, likely contains asbestos. Asbestos is at its most dangerous in a “friable” state. That means if it is crumbling, or flaking, such as when you break floor tiles apart to remove them, or scrape that acoustic ceiling material off. For the most part, if asbestos-containing materials are left alone, they are not harmful. Thus, there are instances where an inspector may recommend that the asbestos material simply be left alone--such as a transite flue pipe running through an attic. In all other instances, it is our recommendation that materials be handled by qualified professionals to safely remove asbestos using methodology prescribed by the EPA.
Moisture issues (Mold)
Let me start by saying that we are well aware there are differing opinions on whether mold testing is necessary. You may have been told by your real estate agent that air sample testing for mold is critical, and maybe even that you need before and after sampling. While it is clear that certain molds can be hazardous to your health when present in large enough quantities, we tend to agree with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that air sampling is not necessary.
And here’s why:
Mold is essentially a moisture problem. Mold needs two things to grow: food and water. The food must be anything organic. That’s why it is often found on wood, drywall (feeding on the paper backing), and even cardboard. If found on concrete or other non-organic materials, it is often on top of an accumulated layer of dust, which contains enough nutrients for the mold to feed on. The second element, water, must be present in relatively substantial amounts, usually equating to a relative humidity of 60% or more indoors. Thus, if you remove the source of the moisture, the mold cannot continue to grow.
If mold is visible, or even identified by smell, it does not need to be tested. Does determining whether the particular type of mold is the highly publicized “black mold” have any bearing on whether or not you will remove the mold? Likely not. Clean or replace the surfaces that have mold on them, and eliminate the source of the moisture, regardless of what type of mold is present.
If mold is not visible, or not detected by smell, it can still be in the home. If there has been flooding, or a leak that caused wet drywall, it may live on the inside of wall, in enclosed areas of framing, for as long as the wall is wet. Air sampling would not find traces of this mold, as it is trapped in one space. Also, mold does not release spores when it is growing, only when it is in its dormant state. But with hidden mold, this is not really a problem, as it is literally trapped. Like materials that contain asbestos, it cannot harm you if you cannot breathe it in. And, if you’ve taken care of the source of moisture, it will eventually die.
If mold has been found and remediation is the planned course of action, the Before and After testing may be recommended. But again, we feel this costly process is unnecessary. When the work has been finished, is the leak or source of moisture gone? Are the building materials in the area dry? This can be determined with a simple moisture meter, a tool most Home Inspectors carry. Is any visible mold gone? Then you have done all you can. Even if there are spores floating around in the air (hint: there always are), if you don’t provide them a moist place to land, they cannot grow.
So that’s our advice. You may have picked up on a theme, which is taking care of any sources of moisture in your home. This includes leaks from roofs or pipes, humidity entering the home from the crawlspace below, and moisture from cooking appliances and bathtubs and showers. Without adequate ventilation, the humidity in any room in your house, or the attic or crawlspace, can reach critical levels that allow for mold growth.
Electrical codes have been updated several times over the past few decades, first requiring GFCI outlets in bathrooms, then adding kitchens, outdoor plugs and eventually even garages and below-grade crawlspaces as other required locations. All GFCI outlets should work properly (be able to trip and be reset). Not every receptacle in a required space must actually be a GFCI outlet. If the first outlet on a circuit is a GFCI, all other outlets “downstream” are protected by that first device. We also like to point out that newer GFCI outlets are much more sophisticated than older units. They are more responsive, easier to reset and less likely to trip under “false positive” conditions (also known as “nuisance trips”). So even if your home has GFCI outlets, if they are older than 15-20 years, it is recommended that you replace them.
Electrical service panels
Most homeowners don’t give their electrical panels a second thought, as long as everything is functioning properly. But it should be known that panels are not just distribution devices, but are there for your safety. As such, it is important to know that your panel should be updated every now and then. Safe practices surrounding electricity are always improving. And besides that, our homes are filled with more and more electrical devices. If your panel is a few decades old, it may be time to upgrade it. At the worst, it could be one of several brands known for their dangerous shortcomings (Zinsco and Stab-Lok panels), or it may just be undersized for a modern home, which could lead to frequently tripping circuits. Every piece of your electrical system comes back to your service panel. If the home is 25+ years old and has the original panel, please speak with an electrician about upgrading your service panel.
Dishwasher air gap
Air gaps are an item that lots of people seem to know a little about, but almost no one seems to know everything about. What do they do? Are the required? Doesn’t my dishwasher already have one? Are they really required?
So here we go. Air gaps are necessary to keep sewage from siphoning back into your dishwasher and therefore possibly into the clean water supply in the case of a loss of pressure in the water system. The authority having jurisdiction (your city, county or state who adopted the code) wants air gaps to protect the public water supply from possible contamination.
Our take is to let our clients know the purpose of the air gap, and remind them that if they ever have a City Inspector in their home, that he or she might check for a functional air gap. But we then leave it up to our clients to decide whether or not they feel they need one. Sometimes, the second-best solution (a “high-loop” or backflow preventer) is enough to satisfy the client, if they don’t like the look of an air gap and don’t believe they’ll ever have a City Inspector call out their missing safety piece.
It should also be noted for those who are really opposed to the air gap, that certain newer dishwashers do include a safety mechanism that performs the function of an air gap. Particularly Miele (and possibly Bosch) dishwashers may have this feature. It has been noted on various online forums that homeowners in other jurisdictions requiring physical air gaps have been successful in petitioning for an exemption based on the manufacturer’s literature.
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