As a home inspector, I often see the same problems in old and new homes. While some are problems best left to the experts to fix (electrical …), some are simple maintenance problems that a homeowner can fix themselves for minimal cost. Here are several problems that can be easily fixed, so you don’t have to put them as problems when inspecting your home:
1. Loose toilets: Your toilets should be a solid throne, not a rocking chair / swivel chair. When the toilet is released from the toilet flange, the movement damages the wax ring that forms the seal between the toilet and the flange (the drain pipe). This can quickly lead to sewage leaks. If your toilet rocks when you sit on it, or you can easily turn it over, it’s time to lift it up, replace the wax seal, and reset the toilet. As a DIY project, all you need is the wax ring, which should cost you less than $ 10.
2. Leaky sinks: Another common source of plumbing leaks is under sinks. These leaks sometimes stay hidden until I get in and really put the pipes to the test. To properly test your sink, put on the plug and fill it … almost to the top. If you have an overflow drain, run a good amount of water as they are often clogged or leaking. Once the sink is full, pull the plug and look under the sink with a flashlight. If you see some water dripping, it’s time to adjust things a bit or it may be time to replace the drain pipe. If you decide to fix this on your own, be sure to use the correct materials and check for leaks after and after using it multiple times.
3. Putty / grout in bathtubs and showers: Even though putty tubes say they are good for 20-30 years, they should be tested under absolutely ideal conditions. I have received several complaints from the seller’s side for being fussy about caulk and grout, but these two things are their first line defense against water intrusion into the walls behind the shower.
The good news is that removing the old caulk and replacing it is fairly easy and inexpensive. Grouting requires a bit more skill, but is still not difficult or expensive. As a side note, grout doesn’t work well in corners, but most grout makers have matching caulk that can be used in shower corners.
4. Downspout extensions: I can’t stress enough how important it is to get the water out of your base, even if you don’t have a basement. And by far, I mean 6-8 feet away. This means that those plastic splash blocks that you can put at the bottom of the downspout are not enough. Get the stretch hoses and stretch them (less than $ 10 each). Also make sure the ground around your home is clear of the foundation, at least 6 inches above the first 10 feet. If you have underground drains for your downspouts, make sure they work. During a steady rain (not a thunderstorm), get out there and make sure they don’t back up where the downspout connects. If so, it’s time for them to be cleaned, because this is just dumping a lot of water right next to their base.
5. Smoke / Carbon Monoxide Alarms: Please please Make sure they are working! They save lives! If you have not yet upgraded the units with the 10 year battery, be sure to change the batteries in all of your alarms every 6 months. If you have gas / oil appliances (oven, water heater, stove, etc.), a fireplace, or an attached garage, it should also have carbon monoxide (CO) detectors. One on each level with a potential source of CO, as well as one in the hallway outside the bedrooms. I cannot stress this enough, not only to aid inspection, but to save your life in an emergency.
6. GFCI Outlets: Check to make sure they work. I should do this every month anyway, but this is another frequent problem that I encounter. To test, simply press the test button, which should cause the reset button to pop out (and turn off the power). Then press the reset button to restore power. As long as the test works and the enclosure reboots, it should be working properly. If the test doesn’t work, or the receptacle doesn’t reset, it’s time for an electrician to replace it.
7. Penthouses: When was the last time you were in your attic? Look up to see how the insulation is working. Are there areas where insulation is lacking? Pay attention to the areas around electrical boxes (which should have a cover) and bathroom vents. If the insulation is missing or displaced, it will show up as a sore thumb on the thermal imager. It only takes a little time to redistribute the displaced blown insulation, but you should wear protective gear like disposable coveralls, goggles, and a dust mask. If your home was built before the early 1990s, be aware that the insulation may be vermiculite. If you suspect it does, have it checked by a licensed insulation contractor.
While you’re in the attic, take a moment to check the bathroom ventilation fans. They must be connected to a vent pipe leading out of the attic. These fans are designed to remove hot, humid air, and when that air enters the attic, it can lead to wood rot and mold.
8. Dryer Vent Hoses: Another common problem I encounter is with the dryer vent hose. The suitable type of hose is semi-rigid. I often find flexible foil hoses and their even more dangerous substitute, the plastic hose! Both were designed for things like bathroom fans, not hot at all. Remember, fluff is very flammable, and plastic and aluminum vents cannot contain flames. Believe it or not, these vents were allowed until 2006, when the new standard was finally issued. Look for a dryer vent hose that meets UL2158A standards.
9. Ovens: When was the last time you changed your AC furnace / filter? If you have to think about it, or if it’s been more than a month, go ahead and replace it. While you’re there, if your furnace runs on petroleum or propane, is there enough in the tank for the inspector to test the unit? Are the pilot lights on all your appliances on? This is one of the most frequent reasons why I re-inspect something, and most of the time, the seller ends up paying me for the re-inspection.
10. Light bulbs: This probably seems like another touchy subject, but in addition to showing the buyer how well lit the house is and making moving around the basement safer, I need to know that everything works. I don’t have time to search for your replacement bulbs or to change the bulbs on working fixtures to make sure it is a faulty bulb. If a light does not work, I must assume there is more than a faulty bulb.
Checking these 10 things will not only help you pass your home inspection, but it will also contribute to the health and safety of your home. So even if you are not preparing to sell your home, take a few minutes to review your home. The time invested now will save you a lot of time and money in the future.