Blog: Weekly Inspection Information and Updates

Gas Water Heater and Furnace Venting

Appropriate venting for gas hot water heaters and gas furnaces is a critical element to safe operation of these appliances. Some high efficiency furnaces now use plastic PVC venting because they discharge spent gasses which are not very hot, and they are vented differently that what is pictured here. But in the majority of cases the exhaust from these units is similar to what is pictured here and venting the appliance causes the steel piping to become very hot.

It is not safe for hot metal surfaces to come into immediate contact with combustible materials like wood or paper because of the potential for a condition known as  Pyrolysis to occur.  Pyrolysis is a thermochemical decomposition of organic material which occurs at elevated temperatures even in the absence of oxygen. Contact with the materials with heat from the venting over long periods of time can eventually cause the wood or paper to change internally, become dry and brittle and even catch fire in some cases. It is very important to make sure that any venting which travels through combustible materials have proper spacing between the materials and heated piping.

Standard practice is to have the vents from furnaces and hot water heaters  attach from the appliance to a solid single wall pipe, and then connect to a solid double wall pipe. The double wall pipe then vents through to the exterior.  The double wall pipe is required to have at least one inch clearance from combustible material and be secured firmly. If single wall piping is used, it should have a minimum of six inches of clearance between combustibles, as standard practice.

The photo on the left was taken in a home located in Aurora Colorado during a home inspection by our company, Magpie Property Inspections LLC. It is an example of an incorrect vent pipe installation from a hot water heater. Single wall venting is installed and is vented through plywood decking in an attic with less than one inch clearance in places. It is not well secured. This can lead to a serious fire risk as explained. The photo on the right was taken during a home inspection in Castle Rock Colorado and illustrates the correct installation of furnace and water heater venting.

If you notice any issue with your furnace and/or water heating venting, similar to the installation in the photo on the left, we recommend having a qualified HVAC technician evaluate the venting and advise on any corrections which are needed.

Dishwasher Drainage

The photographs above were taken during home inspections by my company, Magpie Property Inspections, in Parker Colorado and Denver, Colorado.  The thinner white flexible plastic tube pictured is the waste water discharge line from the dishwasher to the drain, waste and vent system under the kitchen sink. Because of the possibility of water water backing up from the main drain line under the sink into the dishwasher, most jurisdictions require that the dishwasher drain either be installed with an air gap, or a high loop to prevent a back up from occurring.

In the photo on the left,  no air gap device or high loop was noted. The photo on the right shows a drain line installed into a drain pipe with an air gap. While some dishwashers have an internal back flow device, normally it is not possible for an inspector to determine if an internal back flow device is installed in a dishwasher unit. It is  good practice to inspect to see if either a high loop or air gap has been installed for safer operation of the dishwasher and report if none is found. In some cases a dishwasher may have been installed when this practice was not required, but it we recommend having this checked anytime a plumber is out to your home and to have this addressed, as needed,  by a qualified technician to meet current standard.

Basement Window Safety

Many older homes with basement windows do not meet the current building safety code for size or ease of egress.  In some cases, the windows are so small or high off the floor that it is not possible for occupants, particularly children, to escape through them in the event of an emergency. With regard to these situations, it is normally not required that a homeowner make any changes to the basement windows unless or until damage occurs to the home or remodeling is done. If this occurs, the local building department will require updating be done to at least one window in the basement to improve the level of safety.

These images were taken from homes inspected by our company, Magpie Property Inspections in Aurora, Colorado and Parker, Colorado. One image is of an older home with the original basement window installed in 1972, the second of a newer home with windows that meet the current standard.

The current building code is for basement window openings to be no less than 20″ wide and no less than 24″ tall and must equal a minimum 5.7 square feet of net clear opening.  The sill height must be less than 44″ from the floor.  The window wells must be 9 square feet with a min 3 foot projection and if the window well is deeper than 44″ a permanent ladder or steps must be installed in the window well.

If you have an older home with old style windows, and especially if bedrooms are used in the basement it is highly recommended that at least one current window and opening be installed for safety.



Exterior Moisture Damage to Wood and Hardboard Siding

These are some examples of moisture problems and damage to exterior wood and hardboard siding applications I have seen recently in Aurora Colorado and Castle Rock Colorado. As the owner of Magpie Property Inspections, I see quite a bit or worn or damaged siding on homes. Often, it is due to deferred or neglected maintenance. In some cases, like the home pictured below, the improper installation of a window or opening allows water to run in behind the siding and trim, and the wood rots from underneath. This can occur unseen for a while, so it is important to check your home periodically for peeling paint, softness in materials, discoloration or looseness in the siding or trim.


Below is a photo of a cantilever under a kitchen wall. Moisture has seeped through openings in the siding and trim which were not kept caulked and sealed, and has now damaged the siding from the inside out. It will need to be removed and replaced properly. While there is no visible mold in this instance, mold can form in cavities behind these kind of materials. If found, it must be removed by a qualified contractor who is skilled in applying the appropriate remediation techniques for safe restoration.


In this case below, the siding and framing has actually rotted and come loose from neglect over time. Keeping the exterior of your home sealed, caulked, and painted is the best way to prevent problems like these. If your home begins to develop symptoms or wear and damage like these, have it addressed by a qualified contractor immediately.




Repair vs. Replacement of Wood Shingle Roofing



During an inspection in Parker Colorado, for my company, Magpie Property Inspections LLC, this roof was observed. Normally, a wood roof is not walked upon during an inspection as it can cause damage to the shingles, but in this case the owner requested I check the roof from on top. The home is approximately 20 years old and the shake shingles are showing a great deal of wear. Some are split and or missing. This roof may still be repairable, although the cost and difficulty to repair this many damaged shingles makes it a borderline case for replacement. In this case, we recommended the roof be replaced to our client prior to sale as the un-repaired areas of the roof will likely continue to deteriorate rapidly at this stage. In many cases, In many cases, wood roofs can be repaired and the roof certified against leaks for 5 years by a qualified roofer.


Log Home repair – maintenance

As the owner of Magpie Property Inspections, I recently inspected this home hear Parker Colorado. As a Certified Home inspector, I thought I would share some basic information regarding log homes and some photo examples of repair and maintenance for those who are interested in, or own, a log home. Some of this information has been taken from Log Building Maintenance and Restoration’s web site.

The restoration of a log home requires water repellent and protection against the suns UV rays. It is essential that a quality product is used to protect the home. Special types of stains and coatings are available to protect log homes.  The stain used should is specifically designed to protect your home in all weather conditions or elevations.


These days, the media utilized in the removal of aged and deteriorated finishes is a biodegradable, non-toxic method favored by log home professionals. Often corn cob or walnut shell material  is used to blast old finishes off the logs to prepare for re-staining. This method is proven to remove up to 98% of the existing finish and produces a clean, dry and textured surface ideal for optimal penetration and adhesion of stains and other finishes.

As the logs acclimate to your region, occasional failures in chinking may occur, because of the movement of the logs, and/or the aging process. It may crack, or become soft and lose effectiveness. It is important to inspect and repair any damaged chinking




Log homes are a natural attraction for bees, insects and other pests. They, along with the weather, can take a toll on any log home which is why it is necessary to caulk cracks and gaps. As a log home stands through the seasons, its’ logs will grow and shrink in the hot and cold weather; this causes cracks in the wood and gaps between the logs. In order to keep the weather out and your heating and cooling bill down, caulking the home can be very beneficial.



Original 1953 Custom Home

My company, Magpie Property Inspections LLC, recently inspected this home in Denver Colorado, which I thought was awesome. It was built in 1953, and when I inspected it last month,  almost all of the original interior fixtures, cabinets, flooring (except carpeting) and features were intact. The owners had upgraded plumbing, electrical components and added safety features to modernize the home, but most of it was original and in very good condition. Bath tubs and showers, tile, kitchen cabinets; even the 50’s style intercom system with radio was still in place. As a history buff, with a longtime construction background, this place was a real time capsule. I thought it would be fun to share with others.

P1010187       Hall bath                               P1010206 Kitchen – Original Cabinets and flooringP1010207 Original intercom and radio.P1010210 Master bath – totally 50’s decor! P1010217Original flagstone and mahogany

My clients plan to keep much of the original finishes and complete updating the mechanical aspects of the house. It is truly one of a kind, and still beautiful.

Improper Alteration of I Beams or Support Elements in Your Home.

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During a home inspection in Aurora Colorado,  my company, Magpie Property Inspections encountered a serious situation. One of the owners cut a hole through the middle of the steel I beam in the garage in order to install a garage door opener.  This is a very bad idea. The beam is a critical support member holding up a second story of the home.

I-beams are widely used in the construction industry and are available in a variety of standard sizes. Tables are available to contractors, architects and engineers allow easy selection of a suitable steel I-beam size for a given load. It is critical that the selection of the size and material used be made correctly for structural integrity and safety. Beams may be used both as beams and as columns. I-beams may be used both on their own, or acting with another material, typically concrete.

I-beams are commonly made of structural steel but may also be formed from aluminum or other materials. A common type of I-beam is the rolled steel joist as is the case in this home.

I Joists are I-beams engineered from wood with fiberboard and/or laminated lumber are also becoming increasingly popular in construction, especially residential, as they are both lighter and less prone to warping than solid wooden joists. However there has been some concern as to their rapid loss of strength in a fire if unprotected or covered with some type of fire stop material.

Whatever type or beams or support system which in place in your home, never make any alterations to changes to the beam, beam pockets or supports on your own. In the example above, the dead load capacity of the beam has been diminished and this has the potential to result in deflection or movement of the beam causing damage the structure of the home. If you notice cracking, flexing, twisting or evidence of movement in the beams and/or supports, have it checked by a qualified engineer or expert.

Polybutalene Plumbing

B McFarland2 070B McFarland2 069

These two photos were taken during a home inspection in Castle Rock Colorado performed by my company, Magpie Property Inspections. The home was built using polybutylene plumbing and fittings.

Polybutylene, or PB is a form of plastic piping that was used in the manufacture of water supply plumbing from 1978 until 1995. Due to the low cost of the material and ease of installation, polybutylene piping systems were a substitute for traditional copper piping in about one out of 5 homes during that era. It is most commonly found in the southwest and western areas of the country. This type of plumbing has been the subject of a number of lawsuits and is no longer manufactured or installed in new homes. It is generally white, gray or light blue in color. The upper photo  is a good example. Note the lower photo  shows a gray pipe, which is polybutylene and also a bright blue pipe which is a different plastic material currently in use successfully, called PEX. Not all plastic piping is polybutylene.

It is generally believed that ingredients in  public water supplies, such as chlorine, react with the polybutylene piping and acetal fittings causing them to become brittle. Small cracking may result in the pipes and fittings and the basic structural integrity of the system is compromised. If this occurs the system becomes weak and may begin to leak causing damage to the building structure and personal property. In some cases, improper installation of the piping and fittings has resulted in leaking and subsequent water damage.

Polybutylene plumbing inside your home can be found in the unfinished areas of basements or crawlspaces, near the water heater, or protruding from the wall into vanities or kitchen cabinets. In some cases however, plumbers used copper “stub outs” where the pipe exits a wall to feed a fixture, so seeing copper there does not definitely mean that you do not have PB.

If you have plastic piping which has developed leaks, or looks like this type of material in the photo on the left, we recommend having a professional evaluation of the condition of the plumbing by a qualified plumbing contractor. They may help you determine what is the appropriate remedy is to address any problems you may be incurring.

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter Outlets


Your home most likely is equipped with GFCI outlets. These outlets normally have two buttons, in the middle, one marked “test” and the other marked “reset.”  Our company, Magpie Property Inspections inspects homes throughout the Denver Metropolitan area, and we check the functionality of these devices during each home inspection. You may find them in some or all of these locations of your home:



Outside outlets



Laundry rooms

A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) is an electrical outlet with a device that shuts off an electric power circuit when it detects that current is flowing along an unintended path, and/or in an unbalanced level. They are placed in areas, for example, where water sources are present and it is possible for current to contact water which will draw the current outside its intended route, normally the wiring and/or the appliance being used.

A GFCI works by monitoring the current which leaves a power source, such as the ungrounded or live wire and checks it against the current which returns to the neutral wire in the electrical system. If they become unequal due to a fault in the system, or an unusual demand on the system, or the current is somehow leaking in an unwanted way, the GFCI shuts the power off. The outlet will keep shutting off until the source of the problem is corrected. If this is occurring in one of your outlets, a qualified should be consulted to evaluate the outlet and system. These units can become damaged or wear out, so it is recommended that they be tested monthly.

The use of GFCI’s has evolved over the years, and current electrical codes require that GFCI outlets be installed in more locations that in years past. You can check with you local building department or a qualified professional for current requirements. Although GFCI protection may not have been required at the time your home was built in all of these areas, for safety reasons, consider upgrading the electrical system to include GFCI protection at the following locations:

  • Bathrooms
  • Outside
  • Garages
  • Crawlspace (at or below grade)
  • Unfinished basements
  • Kitchens
  • Laundry rooms
  • Within 6 feet of all plumbing fixtures
  • Boathouses