Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tips from the Inspection -- Water

Realtors talk about buyers doing "due diligence", which really just means they look over the place with a critical eye (or more typically, hire someone to do it for them). When we bought our condo, we arranged for an inspector to drop by, and we met him afterward for a few minutes so he could tell us the dishwasher didn't work and we needed to replace the insulation on the air conditioner coolant pipes (incidentally, although we replaced the dishwasher shortly after moving in, we never did re-insulate the air conditioner). But our meeting with the inspector before buying this place was much more detailed, and one of my favorite parts of the purchase process.

Sometimes I'm surprised by what a little systematic thought can do for a problem. Sometimes that surprise comes tinged with disgust ("You mean I can take an entire 3 credit hours in Underwater Basketweaving?"), and sometimes I'm terribly impressed and wonder why I didn't think of whatever it is already -- except, of course, that 1) it never occurred to me to think about it, and 2) there's often substantially more work involved than a first impression would suggest. The home inspection was this latter variety, and for the sake of blog fodder, I'm planning to include bits of our inspection results in occasional posts.

We started off with the outside of the home, and in particular, with the roof. Our has problems, on one side, as I've mentioned before. Shingles cracking and blown off, missing rain gutters, bad drip edges. Turns out a fair bit of a home inspection is figuring out where water is going to want to go, and making sure it's ok for it to go there. Our inspector (see the website for a free PDF copy of his home maintenance guide) gave us lists of places where water was going to mess with our house, and gave us ways to abate the problem:

  • Have rain gutters. They let you collect rain water into once place, and deal with it.

  • Water flows downhill. Angle your rain gutters accordingly.

  • Rain gutters lead to down spouts, and those down spouts lead to the ground. They should extend several feet away from the foundation before emptying the water.

  • Rain flows down roofs, not up it. Pipes and vents coming out of the roof have flanges on them to keep water out; the shingles should be on top of the flanges on the uphill side of the roof, and under them on the downhill side, to keep rain out.

  • Clearing vegetation (grass and weeds) away from the foundation keeps the foundation dry (and, we later learned, helps control earwigs and other bugs that like to come inside at night).

  • Don't spray the house. Sprinklers are like rain on steroids, and can cause water damage just like the rain can.

Inside the home, we turned on pretty much every faucet, tap, and fixture in order to ensure we had both hot and cold water everywhere we were supposed to. I say "pretty much", because we didn't test the toilet in the old end of the house. The little valve on the supply line coming from the floor was turned off. The inspector suggested I could turn it on, "if you're feeling daring", but I declined (after we moved in, we discovered it leaked a little bit, and the tank wasn't well matched with the toilet base, but otherwise it functioned). Not only did this process ensure (most) everything worked, it also proved we could run lots of water down the drains and the septic tank wouldn't back up into the shower. This is a useful thing to know.

Finally we discovered the home has three (yes, three) water heaters. Connected, that is, and three more disconnected, standing forlornly in the various basements. Since the home consists of an original portion and two additions, apparently each section has its own essentially separate plumbing. One day I'll allocate a dead water heater or two to some project or other and go to the trouble of packing them up the stairs and out of the basement, but today is not that day. Any guesses as to what has killed off the water heaters such that there are so many dead ones?

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