The first category of any home inspection is an examination of the lot and grounds at the perimeter of the home. There are many areas that must be checked out to prevent issues such as: pooling water near the foundation, moisture seepage and possible mold growth in the basement or crawl space, Tripping hazards at patios and walkways, as well as guardrail, handrail, and stair rail hazards.
Before I even exit my vehicle I start to look at the roof eave and ridge to check to see if it appears straight from end to end. This can be an indication of settlement, possibly from excessive moisture gathering in one location. As I walk toward the front door to introduce myself to the property owner I examine the walk. If it is poured concrete I look for sections that are elevated from other sections. When settlement occurs this offset can become a tripping hazard. Mud Jacking is sometimes an adequate and cost effective repair for this condition. Stone or concrete paver walkways can also become tripping hazards when settlement occurs. A difference in 3/4 inches is considered a tripping hazard and should be corrected.
The next big item is stairs. Handrails, guardrails, and stair rails are rarely constructed correctly. Deficiencies in these items come up on over 80% of our inspections. See my previous post about this subject HERE. Improvements in building standards have changed the requirements with regard to handrails and baluster spacing over the years. The current building standards call for a minimum tread depth of 10 inches and the baluster spacing is not to exceed 4 inches at a guardrail, and 4 3/8 inches at a handrail. These standards are in place to prevent injury to children. The minimum tread depth is in place to prevent tripping/fall hazards.
Decks are also often not constructed correctly. Most decks don’t follow all of the rules with regards to handrails and guardrails and steps, but also many decks are not connected to the home correctly. Two items tend to come up regularly, 1.) The lack of lag bolts. The ledger board must be lag bolted to the home in a specific pattern and spacing. Many times I find that the deck is just nailed or screwed to the home. These connections are prone to pulling out and are a hazard. The most common accident with regards to do it yourself improvements is deck collapse. And 2.) The lack of a proper flashing at the ledger board. When the ledger board is not flashed correctly rain water will get behind the board and either run down the wall behind the siding, eventually making it’s way int the wall cavity or, it will follow the fastener into the home and cause structural damage. In my own home this was discovered and started to cause water damage to a basement window head.
Shrubs and trees are also examined. A shrubbery should be trimmed a minimum of 12 inches away from the siding to allow for drying during periods of wet weather as well as to protect the siding from damage from wind blown branches. Mature trees should also not be located closer than 10 feet from the foundation wall as their root structure can cause damage to the foundation. Overhanging branches should also be trimmed back for obvious reasons. Another reason is that trees will drop leaves and other debris on the roof that can cause damage to shingles if it isn’t cleaned off regularly. Regular pruning/trimming of shrubbery and trees is a great idea to prevent possible damage to the homes exterior.
Window wells are also an area that gets neglected on most homes. Most people will just cover them and forget them. The plastic covers turn them into a mini greenhouse sometimes and vegetation goes wild. These vines or branches can make their way around the window creating a path for inspects, moisture and rodents to infiltrate the home. Another issue we find is the base of the window being covered with leaves. This creates a bathtub effect and can cause the well to fill with water. I don’t need to tell you where that water will end up! The base of the window well should be a minimum of 6 inches below the window sill and be filled with a minimum of 6 inches of gravel. Newer homes also have drains installed that lead moisture into the drain tile system.
One final item to address is retaining walls. There are many types, but one thing is common to them all. If you divert water away from them and incorporate adequate drainage they should last a long time. If your roof runoff system directs water to the base or either end of your retaining wall, you will experience settlement and eventual failure. Another item that is sometimes missed in the construction of retaining walls is adequate drainage behind the wall. Hydro-static pressure will build up causing failure, the installation of drainage with gravel and drain tile will relieve this pressure. I speak from experience, mine failed twice! Adequate grading in the area of the retaining wall will also help prevent moisture issues.
So, I hope this helps you identify possible areas for improvements to your home. This is the first stop with regards to our home maintenance program, although, it may be easier to make repairs when the weather improves. I guess I should also say that I do perform annual home maintenance inspections so if you would like a full list of repair items we are available to make that happen.
Aaron M. Zuehlke is the owner and inspector at Zuehlke Inspection Service, LLC, a full-service home inspection company serving Southern Wisconsin. Specializing in Home inspection, Radon Testing, Mold Testing/inspection and Residential Thermal Imaging. I can be reached by email at Aaron@Zuehlkeinspections.com or by calling the office at 608-931-7485.