Home Inspections Demystified

If you’re wondering how serious your home inspection results are, our guest blogger, Tom Sherman of Absolute Home Inspections, demystifies some common terms for us here.
“Every house is different and every house is the same.”
I remember hearing this way back in the early days of my home inspection career. Surely, all houses will have certain similarities…each should have a climate control system such as a furnace or a boiler; each will have electrical and plumbing systems. And of course, each will have walls, ceilings, floors and a roof. So, one could surmise that every house is the same. That having been said, one house may have a stand-alone water heater while another may have a side-arm tank being heated by the boiler, or any number of other dissimilarities.
Our challenge as home inspectors is to look at each house as a blank canvas and create our opinion from square one. That means, in a matter of a few hours, being able to look at the literally thousands of pieces that make up a house and provide an honest, factual assessment, all the while trying not to break the Hummel collection that is resting precariously on the edge of the mantel.
Along the lines of similarities, there are certain things that seem to crop up quite regularly. Listed below, I will try to take the mystery out of a few of these oft-heard phrases.

Double Taps

DOUBLE TAPS– A double tap is nothing more than 2 electrical circuits that are connected to the same breaker. This type of connection, while commonly found, is not permitted. Usually, it is a simple fix, though if there are many in a panel box; it may require adding a sub panel.
IMPROPER CLEARANCE TO COMBUSTIBLES– When you hear this phrase, we are generally referring to the minimum clearance permitted between a heating vent pipe and any combustible material. With a single wall pipe on a gas system, the minimum clearance is 6 inches. With double walled “B-Vent” the clearance is reduced to 1 inch. Installing a heat shield between the pipe and combustible material allows you to cut those distances in half.
ORPHANED WATER HEATERS– This is a common situation where a chimney flue is used to vent both the heating system and the water heater. It becomes a problem when the furnace is replaced with a sidewall-vented high efficiency unit. This eliminates the additional heat that assisted in providing good “rise” of the flue gas (hot air rises, right?) So now we have this oversized flue with only the measly water heater vent entering it. The flue is now far too cold to allow a good draft. This often results in back drafting, where the nasty combustion gas is entering the building instead of exiting out the top of the chimney. The solution is to have the chimney “relined” with a smaller flexible vent pipe.
REVERSED POLARITY– This simply means that the receptacle was wired backwards. There are two sides of a standard electrical receptacle, one side having brass colored screws, the other silver. Each side has a specific wire that should be connected to it. If it is connected backwards, there will still be power, though it will be fed through in a reverse path, which can be dangerous. This is a very simple correction for an electrician.
IMPROPER GRADING– Grading, in regards to a building, has a very important role of directing water (be it rain or melting snow) away from the foundation. This concern is almost boiler plate on our inspections, as most every house we look at has some sort of grading issue. Poor grading leads to water in a basement, potential mold growth and a slew of other negatives. In a perfect world, the soil would be built up around the building and sloped away at a rate of 1 inch per foot drop, extending 10 feet from the house.
These are but a few of the issues that are brought up regularly during a home inspection. I hope this helps to clarify some of these terms. In the end, keeping in mind the overall health of the home is important, rather than concentrating on all the minutiae, to keep a good perspective.
Tom Sherman can often been found under a porch, or crawling through attic insulation. He can be reached at 315-673-1755 or Tom@AbsoluteHomeInspection.com.

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