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Blog: Weekly Inspection Information and Updates

Interior Signs of Structural Movement / Distress in Residential Construction.

In an earlier post, we looked at some exterior signs of structural distress on a house inspected by my company, Magpie Property Inspections in Aurora, Colorado. That home had a brick exterior. This home, located in Denver Colorado, was also inspected by Magpie Property Inspections. It also shows clear evidence of  structural distress to exterior lap siding. The foundation walls and slab under an addition show evidence of significant cracking and movement as pictured below.

I thought this inspection provided some good examples of what type interior cracking is found when there is significant structural distress or movement in a structure which needs to be evaluated and repaired by qualified professionals. Almost every home has some hairline cracking to the drywall or plaster in places, particularly near window and door openings. These occur from the expected settlement and minor movement of the home and seasonal temperature variations. You have likely seen that type of cracking in your home.

The examples pictured below, however,  indicate that the structure has moved or settled more than what is commonly expected. The drywall surfaces have sheared and separated. Some cracks are 1/8 inch in width with multiple tears in close proximity. Cracking like this is indicative of likely structural damage which should be addressed by a qualified contractor under the direction of a structural engineer.  If you see this kind of damage in your home, or a home you are interested in, we strongly recommend you have it fully checked out.

 

Some General Safety Guidelines on Stairs and Hand Railing.

Here are some general rules regarding stair and handrail safety in residential construction. The Photo on the left was taken of a home built in 1978  in Aurora Colorado during a home inspection by my company, Magpie Property Inspections. It shows spacing between the railing spindles well over four inches which presents a safety hazard, particularly for small children.  The photo on the right was taken in Parker Colorado during a home inspection of a new home with stairs and railing built to be consistent current requirements.

By today’s standards, balusters (spindles) at decks and steps should be spaced no more than 4″ apart. Standards and rails should be configured so that a hand may easily grasp around a rail for safety. Handrail should be installed at a height of no less than 34″ and no higher than 38″. Stair riser height should not be over 7 3/4 inches , but at least 4 inches. Treads should be at least 8 inches deep. Railing missing at interior and exterior steps should be installed for safety where three or more steps are present.

For outside decks, railings are not required with drop-offs less than 30 inches above grade but we recommend considering your own personal needs and those of your family and guests, and install railing as needed to ensure their safety.

Fire Protection in Your Home’s Garage.

The photo on the left is a photo of an older home in Aurora Colorado inspected by my company, Magpie Property Inspections. The home has an attached garage which does not have proper fire prevention in place between the garage and habitable areas inside the home. The photo on the right was taken from the garage in a new home constructed in Denver, Colorado.

Because garages contain a number of potential fire causing items like cars, motorcycles, lawnmowers, gas cans etc., it is required that a fire retardant barrier be in stalled between the garage and house to protect the interior of the home. Current practice involves installing Type X Fire rated drywall. It should be installed between the walls and ceiling immediately adjacent to interior areas of the home.  It is also important that any holes or damage in these areas be repaired and sealed properly to maintain fire protection as required by most building codes.

Fire-rated drywall,  can stand up to one hour of fire in laboratory conditions without combusting or burning through. Standard drywall can withstand up to 30 minutes of fire under the same conditions.

Type X drywall contains gypsum strengthened with a fiberglass core. While standard drywall is  1/2-inch thick, fire-rated drywall is generally 5/8-inch thick and much denser than standard sheetrock. Most building codes require that fire-rated drywall be used in areas near furnaces, wood-burning stoves and garages. Fire-rated drywall is commonly available, and contractors and homeowners can purchase it from most retailers that sell drywall.

This is something that should be checked carefully during a home inspection. It is a very important safety issue to make sure garages have the correct type of drywall in place and that it completely seals all areas which adjoin livable spaces of the homes interior.

HVAC Duct Boosters

On a recent home inspection in Aurora Colorado, my company, Magpie Property Inspections inspected a home that was equipped with a Duct Booster like this one.  A unit like this is designed to increase the flow of heated air in warm heating systems, or cooled air in air conditioning systems. In most cases, a duct booster’s size limits its use to individual rooms, not the main supply line. They can normally be mounted on round or flat ducts. They are frequently installed on a warm air duct of a gravity warm air furnace to provide heating for a basement area, or may also be helpful in moving treated air to a remote room or through long spans of ductwork. If you have a room or area of your home which is difficult to heat or cool, this might be a solution for you.

Mini Split Air Conditioning Systems.

Pictured above is a mini split AC system which was inspected during a home inspection conducted by my company, Magpie Property Inspections, in Aurora Colorado. A mini split AC system is a ductless system for indoor climate control. Each mini split system features an outdoor unit and at least one indoor unit as these photos illustrate. A system like this allows a homeowner to provide conditioned air to a room which does not heat or cool very well with the current system, or to additions or basements which do not contain ductwork or connection system to a current system.

Mini split units are connected with copper tubing and electrical wire. In most cases these systems are intended primarily to provide air conditioning. The outdoor unit pumps refrigerant through the tubing into indoor units. A fan dispenses the resultant cold air across the inner unit’s evaporator coil, cooling the room or area to the desired temperature.

The mini split is, however, a versatile climate control system that cools during the summer and heats during the winter. This system is ideal for addressing homes not outfitted with ducting, such as homes heated by boilers. It is also commonly used in new homes that can’t readily accommodate traditional AC due to space constraints. Mini split installation only requires drilling 3 to 4 inch holes in floors or ceilings to connect indoor and outdoor components.

 Mini splits operate quietly and are also expandable.  Another advantage to these systems is that reducing ductwork can improve energy efficiency. In addition, mini splits are relatively small and are easy to integrate into interior designs and exterior smaller areas. A qualified HVAC company can provide an evaluation on adding a system to your home if this might provide a solution to solving a problem to your heating and cooling needs.

Hazardous In Ground Electrical Outlets

These photographs were taken during a home inspection by my company, Magpie Property Inspections, during and home inspection in Denver Colorado. As you can see, live electrical wiring and outlets are improperly installed and exposed to moisture which presents a serious safety and fire hazard. They are in Contact with the ground; one was partially buried. Neither responded when tested to see if the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter outlets were functional which is a must for safe operation.

Exterior electrical outlets should be installed in weather proof approved cases with covers that can be closed and placed well above grade. In this case, the outlets are partially buried and moisture has penetrated the casing which could cause a shock to anyone in contact with the outlet or moisture adjacent to the outlet. A qualified electrician should install approved GFCI outlets appropriately to make these units safe for outdoor use.

 

Structural Distress – Exterior Signs

During a home inspection in Aurora Colorado conducted by my company, Magpie Property Inspections, these photos were taken of signs of significant movement and distress to this structure. The window and door frames are out of square in several places. The face brick has cracked along vertical lines from foundation to eave and improper repairs have been made which do not address likely movement and cracking to the foundation. This home was built in the mid 1950’s on a slab, and it was not possible to inspect the stem walls or footings under the house to look for major cracking and deflection of the walls and slabs. Given that this has occurred on all the exterior walls, it is very likely this has occurred. A situation like this calls for a  full evaluation of the structure by a qualified structural engineer to conduct the needed examination of the outside and hidden supportcomponents to determine the appropriate remedy to make the home structurally sound.

Improper Electrical Exterior Wiring

These photos show improperly installed exterior wiring at a home in Aurora Colorado. They were taken during a home inspection by my company, Magpie property inspections. Someone has routed interior rated Romex (NM) wiring along the surface of the ground outside to power lighting and electrical to a storage shed. This type of wiring should never be used outside along the ground surface and/or without being installed in approved exterior conduit. Wiring runs outside should be buried at least 18 inches deep underground between the origin and termination of the lateral run and installed in PVC schedule 40 type piping below ground, and schedule 80 type piping above ground, with approved connections and fittings, to protect the wiring and prevent damage and contact with moisture.

Direct burial of type “UF” cable under soil is probably the most common and least expensive method to run electrical lines outside. UF cable provides for hot, neutral and grounding conductors all inside a durable, sunlight and moisture resistant encasement. UF type cable looks very similar to  Romex (NM) cable, but differs in that the individual conductors are encased with the jacket material found on NM cable to provide a solid weatherproof material that will resist damage and moisture penetration to a much greater degree. It too, should be buried at least 18 inches underground from origin to termination.

Any electrical work outside should be done using the appropriate materials by a qualified electrician in accordance with prevailing building codes.

Basement Window Safety

These photos of basement windows were taken of a home inspected by my company, Magpie Property Inspections, in Aurora Colorado. In most older homes, ingress/egress windows in basements do not the meet current standard, but were likely OK when the home was built. If this type of basement were to be updated or finished, at least one window would need to lowered and enlarged to allow for quick exit in the event of an emergency, particularly in a basement bedroom. If you are looking to purchase an older home with a finished basement with original windows, we suggest checking for building permits on the work completed to see if it was inspected and approved by the local building department. If not, this should be done in order to meet current building standards.

In older homes, be aware that in order to finish a basement properly there may be an additional cost to update at least one window to make it safe for the occupants.  A basement egress window should not be over 44 inches off finished flooring, have an opening which is at least 24 inches high, 20 inches wide and have at least 5.7 square feet.

Unsafe Room Addition Construction

This is a room addition which was photographed during a home inspection conducted by my company, Magpie Property Inspections, of a home located in Littleton Colorado. During the home inspection, it became clear that there were a number of concerns with the condition of the room addition and the way in which is was constructed.

We found holes in the flooring inside which revealed that 2×4 joists were laying over a 4 inch deep concrete slab to support the interior floor structure with no support or attachment to the existing building. An examination of the perimeter indicated that the whole structure was built on top of this patio slab and it was very unlikely that there are stem walls and footings underneath to support the walls and roofing properly as is required with standard home construction. This has allowed the walls to move and separate away from the house inside. A flat roof was installed which appears to allow water to pool and not drain effectively. In short, it was clear this added room was done without regard to building codes and standards and could not have been inspected and approved by the local building authority.

Room additions, finished basements and remodeling projects should always be done by qualified people using approved materials and in compliance with the current building standards which are in force in the locality in which the work is completed. This will prevent having a situation like this from becoming a safety concern for the occupants of the home. In this case, our clients have correctly decided to have the room addition removed.