Unsafe Chimney

An experienced home inspector knows that this older Pleasant Hill house chimney was constructed without the use of reinforcing steel and that brick mortar is deteriorating.

Brick and mortar chimneys have three common failings – The first is that with age, the acids in the air (pollution) react with the concrete mortar joists to produce Calcium Sulfate, which deteriorates brick mortar joints.

The second is that with rain, the degraded mortar may dissolve somewhat, leaving a more porous crumbly sandy mortar.

Third is the freeze-thaw damage to concrete or mortar. Water is absorbed into porous materials and if the temperature drops below freezing, the water may freeze into ice. The volume of water increases when it freezes and can crack bricks and mortar.

Add the fact that chimneys built prior to 1959 probably don’t have reinforcing steel making this chimney susceptible to toppling during an earthquake. This is a safety concern, a home owner’s liability and doesn’t meeting building requirements.

We’d recommend to a home buyer that a licensed chimney specialist review the old chimney prior to buying the house.

Water, Water, Everywhere

Before a home inspector enters a crawlspace, they will remove the access panel and take a quick look with a flashlight.

Finding water under a house is not a good thing.

Swimming in a pool is great exercise. Creating a Koi pond can bring a sense of calm to the garden, but finding water under a house is not what a homeowner wants to hear and stress levels rise.

Standing water and saturated soil in a crawl space can create undesirable conditions for the structural integrity and air quality in a home.

  • Uneven and sloping floors
  • Foundation cracks, settlement
  • Mold growth and odors
  • Pipe corrosion
  • Air duct damage

As you can see, water can be a good thing or not so good of a thing.

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Why is the Room Cold?

The crawlspace (area under a house) is a home inspector’s favorite place to inspect.

Crushed or disconnected heating/cooling ducts are discovered more often than you think in the crawlspace and can definitely affect heating/cooling performance inside the house.

Why does this happen?

Because the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Crawling 20 feet to get around a duct and then back 20 feet, isn’t an option for some.

The soft flexible heat ducts tempts people to take a shortcut.

Of course the stature and energy of people probably factors into the equation… and a decision must be made: Do I go over the top or under the duct?

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Crutch Support

After thousands of home inspections, it sometimes begins to look routine.

That is until the home inspector encountered this San Leandro mobile home creatively using crutches to support the side door awning.

At first glance, it looked a little odd – but, what do you do with crutches when they’re not needed anymore?

Do you know that there are five types of crutches: Forearm, Underarm, Strutters, Platform, and Leg Support?

The homeowner used the underarm crutches, which are the most common type in U.S. and are used most often by people with temporary disability or injury.

The crutch design has evolved from the basic “T” used by Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol… to aluminum braces with ice-gripping tips… and energy-storing tips that function as shock absorbers – kind of like Air Jordans for the injured.

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Makes You Wonder

Home inspectors “love” crawl spaces, which is why they save crawling under the house as their last inspection step.

Put a group of seasoned inspectors together and ask them what they’ve seen in crawlspaces and they’ll tell you they’ve seen it all.

The water, the mud, snakes, skunks, rodents, raccoons, termite tubes, carcasses, rotting wood, rusted furnaces, plumbing leaks, disconnected ducts, live electrical wiring, rodent nests, etc…

And now – A pair of shoes sitting in the middle of a 2800 sqft crawlspace in Blackhawk.

What happened? Do they belong to the plumber, the electrician, the HVAC guy or a previous home inspector?

What did they see that made them jump out of their shoes? – It makes you wonder.

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It’s a Sign

An experience home inspector will follow the signs… silt marks on a foundation, a ceiling water stain.

One of the definitions of the word sign – is something indicating the presence or existence of something else, <signs of moisture>.

It’s not uncommon to identify several property conditions (signs) associated with a damp crawlspace… the perfect place for mushrooms to grow:

  • no gutters or downspouts terminating next to foundation
  • clogged gutters allowing water to fall next to the house
  • the yard slopes towards the house
  • poor yard drainage
  • leaking pipes

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Bad Location

Note the location of the electrical wall outlet above the kitchen cooktop, a common 1950-60s installation for electric skillets or crock pots.

If a kitchen electric appliance is plugged in – there’s a good chance the power cord can drape across or contact a hot cooking element – melt the cord insulation – causing an electrical short.

An additional risk is that the electrical circuit breaker may not turn off resulting in an electrical overload and fire.

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Asbestos Boots

Home inspectors find interesting conditions in crawlspaces, an area under a house and in attics.

Under an older San Ramon house, the inspector noted the heating ducts terminated at a ‘transition boot’ wrapped in asbestos.

The asbestos wrapped ‘boots’ are found between the round heating ducts and rectangular floor, wall or ceiling heat registers in a room.

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that was added to a variety of products in the past to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation and fire resistance.

Are asbestos wrapped boots a problem? Yes, only if the boots are damaged, rusted or deteriorating; and the asbestos becomes “friable” – where asbestos material can be crumbled, pulverized, or reduced to powder by hand.

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Coffee Can Fix

What do coffee drinkers and home inspectors have in common? They both get a buzz.
Coffee drinkers get the caffeine kick and home inspectors get excited when they observe the creativity of home owners.
The photo was taken under an older San Leandro house… where a creative person used the large bulk coffee cans to patch a corroded heating duct.
Just the right size.
The inspector found that the West Coast Coffee company is a wholesale coffee roaster and distributor out of Portland, Oregon.
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Chimneys Hidden Danger

The inspector was using his flashlight to peer inside the 35 year old fireplace flue in Walnut Creek, and to his amazement light was reflecting back and glistening.

From the top of the roof, he saw that the spark arrestor and raincap assembly was loose at the chimney flue and was heavily encrusted in a black shiny material – a sign of creosote buildup.

Creosote is a sticky, corrosive and extremely combustible substance that originates from the smokiest fires and the coolest chimneys, which produce the greatest amount of creosote build-up. In time, creosote buildup hardens in a chimney.  What’s the danger in this? 

If you decide to have a rip-roaring fire in the fireplace… it’s possible for creosote to catch on fire.  With a heavy build up in your chimney, a small fire can turn into a very large one in moments… and the roar is deafening.

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