Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

Aerobic Floor Vibrations

The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:   Our house does not have a foundation problem, but the living room furniture used to shake when we would do our morning aerobic exercises. So we installed some steel posts under the joists to make the floor more rigid. Unfortunately, this is a problem now that we are selling the home. When the buyers’ home inspector saw the posts, he reported that they need concrete footings and permanent attachment to the framing. If we had never added these posts, there would be no problem. What should we do, add footings, take the posts out, or what?  Belinda

Dear Belinda:  Removing the posts after the home inspector made his recommendations will probably raise suspicions with the buyers. Adding concrete piers may or may not be necessary, but it may be the path of least resistance for selling your home. The only other approach is to get an opinion from a structural engineer.

The home inspector, when faced with an unusual installation of this kind, had reason for concern, but he should not have drawn conclusions that exceed his professional expertise. Unless he is a licensed structural engineer, he was exceeding the scope of his inspection by prescribing specific types of structural repairs. Instead, he should have recommended further evaluation by a licensed structural engineer. That would be the proper course of action for a home inspector.

If the living room floor used to flex when you did your aerobic exercises, the joists may have been over-spanned when the house was built. In that case, the posts that you added may have been necessary, and having them secured in a proper manner may now be an appropriate upgrade. 

Home Inspector Didn’t Inspect Inside the Walls

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I bought my home about five years ago and hired a home inspector prior to purchase. Recently, my contractor replaced some exterior siding. When the old boards were removed, he found rotted framing inside the walls. Is this something the home inspector should have found five years ago, and do I have any recourse?  Kate

Dear Kate: A home inspection is specifically defined as a “visual inspection of conditions that are exposed and accessible at the time of the inspection.” No home inspector can determine conditions that are hidden within finished walls. The rotted wood, after all, was discovered by removing the siding; something that does not take place during a home inspection. Keep in mind also that five years have passed since your home was inspected. Wood that is currently rotted may have been intact at that time. But that could only have been determined by opening the walls, and investigations of that kind are beyond the scope of a home inspection.

When hiring a home inspector, it is wise to read the inspection report and contract in their entirety. This will familiarize you with the standards and limitations of the home inspection process.

Dispute Over Wood Rot & Purchase Deposit

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We just hired a home inspection for the house that we may buy, and this raised a dispute with the sellers. The inspector found rotted framing below the porch and living room, but he did not list this as a major defect. The sellers say we cannot cancel the deal without losing our deposit because the purchase contract allows cancellation for major defects only. What should we do? Larah

Dear Larah: Home inspectors rarely specify whether a defect is major or minor because that kind of judgment is often subjective. A defect that is major to one buyer might be minor to someone else. In the case of wood rot, two variables directly affect that assessment: 1) the extent of the damage and; 2) the cost to repair.

If large portions of the porch and floor framing are damaged, then the condition cannot be described as minor. Besides this, dryrot is not a static condition. It is caused by fungus infection that spreads further into the wood members whenever moisture is present. If left unchecked, small amounts of rot can become very major. This means that replacement of rotted wood is an immediate necessity.

This leads, of course, to the question of expense. If the repair costs are major, then the rot cannot regarded as a minor defect. To resolve this debate, you should get three bids from licensed contractors for replacement of the affected framing. Hopefully, the repairs will not be too costly and you can proceed with the purchase of the home. Otherwise, you should be entitled to a refund of your deposit.

Settlement Damage Was Concealed

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: Since purchasing our home, numerous cracks have appeared in the walls. Some are as wide as half-an-inch. We’ve also noticed that patching has been done at many of these cracks, indicating that the sellers of the home were aware of the problem but had attempted to hide it. None of this was reported by our home inspector when we were in escrow. How serious do you think this problem is, and what should we do about it?  Thomas

Dear Thomas: Cracks as wide as half-an-inch indicate a major structural problem with the foundation system and/or instability of the soil. The fact that so much movement has occurred since the cracks were patched warrants immediate attention and concern. When symptoms such as these are intentionally masked in order to sell a property, some home inspectors are able to see through the concealment. But when cosmetic repairs are effectively done, it is sometimes possible to prevent discovery of building settlement by a home inspector.

Your first course of action is to notify all parties to the transaction by certified mail. Inform the home inspector, the sellers, their agent, and your agent that there are serious, undisclosed problems with the home and ask that they all come to the property to see what is taking place. And don’t perform any manner of repair work in the meantime. Inform all parties, particularly the sellers, that you want a detailed structural engineering report on the home. The sellers should accept whatever costs are necessary to repair the structural defects, as determined by the engineer. If no one is willing to cooperate, you should enlist the aid of an experienced real estate attorney.

What to do with a flooded crawlspace

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I recently discovered about 3 to 4 inches of standing water under my house. I pumped out the water and removed the plastic sheets that covered the ground so the soil can dry out. Once the ground is dry, should I spread lime over the surface to help prevent mold? And should I also reinstall the plastic sheets?  Steve

Dear Steve: Mold prevention is not necessary unless you have moisture on cellulose materials. Wet soil will not support mold growth, so there’s no need for lime on the ground.

The purpose of the plastic membrane is to prevent ground moisture from evaporating and causing humidity and condensation in the crawlspace. If faulty ground drainage causes flooding above the plastic, then the plastic serves no useful purpose and does not need to be replaced.

The primary concern in this case is the drainage problem. To solve this, you should have the property evaluated by a geotechnical engineer to determine the water source and the best means of preventing future water intrusion. The engineer might recommend french drains around your home, a sump pump under or around the building, regrading of the ground around the building, or possibly la combination of these. Once this is done, replacement of the plastic membrane may be advisable, but additional foundation vents might also be needed to minimize humidity and condensation.

Finally, you should have the structural framing and subfloor inspected for fungus/dryrot or other moisture-related damage. In subareas with high humidity, rotted wood is common, and repairs can be very costly.