Environmental Tests and Other Home Inspection Services
- Do I need a mold test?
- Do I need a radon test?
- Do I need a water quality test?
- Do I need a septic system inspection?
- Do I need a furnace (HVAC system) inspection?
- Do I need asbestos or lead paint tests?
Answers to Questions About Common Construction Defects
- Stucco cracks
- Brick veneer cracks
- Concrete cracks
- Tile and grout cracks
- Excessively warm or cold rooms
Useful Life Estimates for Residential Components
Environmental Tests and Other Home Inspection Services
Do I Need a Mold Test?
Mold must have hired a public relations firm based on the amount of attention it receives in the press. Our position on mold testing is that, in many cases, it is not necessary. The probability of a mold problem is low if there is no visible evidence of a moisture or a mold problem at the home. If there is visible evidence of a moisture or mold problem, mold testing usually will not provide the information you need to develop a mold remediation plan. Developing a mold remediation plan and mold remediation cost estimates requires determining the extent of the mold coverage, the extent of the damage to the home’s components, and the source of the moisture. This is often not possible without removing finish materials such as drywall.
The most current expert opinions on the mold, as we understand them, are:
- Mold in quantities found in almost all homes presents little risk to most people. People who are allergic to mold, and those with impaired immune systems, are at the greatest risk. Consult your doctor if you have questions about your personal health situation regarding mold.
- Mold is usually a symptom of a moisture control problem in the home. Mold cannot grow without a source of food, a source of water, and the correct temperature. Take any one of these away and mold cannot start growing, and if it has begun to grow, it will cease to grow.
- Generally accepted standards and procedures for mold testing, for certifying who is qualified to conduct mold tests, and for determining what level of mold exposure is harmful do not exist. Some organizations claim to set standards and certify inspectors, but some of these organizations have close ties to those who sell mold testing equipment and services.
If you wish to have a mold test, we believe in using a qualified industrial hygienist to conduct the mold sampling, and in using a qualified laboratory to analyze the results.
Mold, and all environmental hazards, are out of scope of a home inspection. We do not perform mold tests.
Do I Need a Radon Test?
Our position on radon testing in the Triangle area is that, in many cases, it is not necessary. Most parts of the Triangle are not considered high risk areas for radon. That said, any given home can have a radon level that exceeds the current EPA standard. Mitigation may be necessary.
The problem with radon testing is that the short term tests usually performed for real estate transactions can be unreliable. The conditions for a reliable radon test include that the test area be closed for at least several days, and ideally much longer. This is unrealistic in an occupied home. In addition, the time of year, pressure changes within the home, and other factors can affect the results.
Radon, and all environmental hazards, are out of scope of a home inspection. We do not perform radon tests. The equipment required to conduct a reasonably reliable radon test is expensive to acquire and to maintain. If you believe that a radon test is necessary, or if your relocation company requires one, we suggest that you contact a company that conducts these tests. We can provide a referral* if you wish.
*We do not accept referral fees.
Do I Need a Water Quality Test?
Our position on water quality testing is that if the home is connected to a municipal water system, such tests are usually not necessary unless you are considering an older home that has lead water supply pipes, or pipes and fixtures that may have used lead solder or parts. Very old homes may have lead water supply pipes. Homes built before about 1986 may have lead solder in copper water supply pipes.
If the home is connected to a privately owned water system or to a well, a water quality test may be a good idea if: (1) there is a history of problems with the private water system or with the well, or if (2) you have an allergy or health condition that may be affected by water-borne contaminants, or if (3) the well is near an agricultural or commercial site, or near a vehicle fuel or service station.
Do I Need a Septic System Inspection?
Septic system inspection is required in some areas, and by some lenders. A septic system inspection may be a good idea if: (1) the system is more than 20 years old, or if (2) the installation and service records are not available, or if (3) there is a garbage disposer in the plumbing system, or if (4) bedrooms or bathrooms have been added to the home after the septic system was installed, or if (5) there are known problems with the septic system of the home, or with the septic systems in nearby homes.
We do not inspect septic systems. Such inspections often require a separate license. We recommend that you contact a qualified septic system contractor.
Do I Need a Furnace (HVAC System) Inspection?
We usually suggest that you consider a separate HVAC system inspection if our inspection indicates that one is needed, or if any part of the system is more than 15 years old. External condensers that are more than 15 years old are at or near the end of their service life. Older systems can function during the inspection, then fail at any time thereafter. A qualified HVAC contractor can perform a more detailed inspection of the HVAC system.
Instead of paying for an additional HVAC inspection, you may wish to replace an aged system with a newer, more energy efficient system. Installing a high efficiency HVAC systems may allow the homeowner to benefit from utility and government incentives, and may substantially reduce utility bills. Energy efficiency upgrades can be a good investment.
Do I Need Asbestos and Lead Paint Tests?
Our position on asbestos and lead paint testing is that, in many cases, it is unnecessary. If the home was built before 1978, it may contain lead paint. If the home was built before 1980, components such as popcorn ceilings, floor tiles, insulation, and pipe and vent coverings may contain asbestos. The older the home, the more likely it is to contain lead paint and asbestos.
Lead paint and asbestos are not usually harmful, unless they are damaged such that you may swallow or inhale chips or fibers. If paint in an older home is damaged or flaking off, or if it appears that the paint is very old and has not been painted over since 1978, then testing may be a good idea. If possible asbestos containing material is damaged, then testing may be a good idea. Reasonably reliable lead paint tests are available at many hardware stores. A qualified laboratory should perform asbestos testing.
With both lead paint and asbestos, encapsulation is often the best and least expensive means of avoiding exposure. Encapsulation means covering the material with other material that prevents contact with the lead paint and asbestos.
Disturbing or removing lead paint and asbestos is a hazardous procedure that produces hazardous wastes. If you intend to do any remodeling that involves disturbing or removing lead paint or asbestos containing materials, then you must follow expensive abatement and disposal rules, and the abatement work must be performed by a licensed abatement contractor.
Asbestos, lead paint, and all environmental hazards, are out of scope of a home inspection. We do not perform these tests.
Find out more about what is and is not included in our home inspections here.
Answers to Questions About Common Construction Defects
Stucco cracks are usually the result of minor normal movement of the home’s structure, or improper application or curing of the stucco. Stucco cracks around penetrations such as windows, doors, and pipes are often caused by the weakness in the wall at the penetration that results in minor movement of the wall. Stucco is very intolerant of movement, and will crack when moved.
In most cases, stucco cracks are not a structural concern, and do not indicate a structural problem. Stucco cracks around wall penetrations may be a water entry point. You should evaluate and repair cracks in these areas, if necessary. Stucco cracks that exceed 1/16 inch in width should be repaired.
Brick Veneer Cracks
It is important to distinguish between cracks in the bricks and cracks in the mortar. Cracks that run through the bricks may be a sign of a more serious issue either with the foundation or with the installation of the bricks. A qualified contractor or an engineer should evaluate cracks in the bricks.
Cracks in the mortar may or may not indicate a structural issue. Cracks that are not wide (1/16 inch or less), and that are not long, and that are uniform in width are usually not a structural issue. Cracks that are wider than 1/16 inch, and cracks that increase in width, may be more serious and should be evaluated by a qualified contractor or engineer.
People believe that cracks in concrete slabs, such as basement floors and driveways, are construction defects. It is wisely written that there are two types of concrete slabs: those that are already cracked, and those that are going to crack. Armed with this bit of wisdom, you can develop realistic expectations about slab cracks. The following discussion deals primarily with new home construction; however, if you use good judgment, this information applies to concrete slabs found in most homes and light commercial buildings.
Experts will tell you that concrete slabs may not crack if you follow proper procedures. Proper procedures include: preparing and compacting the supporting material under the slab, using the correct concrete mix, delivering the mix promptly to the job site, prompt and professional laying and finishing at the job site, and curing at the correct temperature and moisture. If even one of these procedures is not followed to near perfection, slab cracks can result.
It is reasonable to spend the time and money required to lay concrete using proper procedures in commercial construction (with large budgets). In residential construction, one must balance the cost required to follow proper procedures against the benefit of having crack-free slabs. Because most concrete slab cracks are cosmetic, the cost often exceeds the benefit; thus, it is common and reasonable to see minor cracks in residential concrete slabs.
One usually asks three questions when evaluating cracks in residential concrete slabs:
- where is the crack?
- how big is the crack, both vertically and horizontally?
- how active is the crack?
Answers to these questions will help determine how to deal with the crack.
Crack location is important because different locations have different intended uses. Cracks in areas intended for vinyl, tile, or wood floor coverings might adversely affect the cosmetic and functional performance of these materials. Vinyl can reveal very small cracks. Cracks with vertical displacement can cause cracks in tile and grout, and can cause squeaks in wood floors. Cracks that run through stem walls and footings can be more serious than other cracks because cracks in structural components may adversely affect structural integrity.
Size matters when evaluating concrete cracks. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) standard for cracks in interior slabs requires repairing cracks exceeding 3/16 inch wide, or 3/16 inch high (vertical displacement). State regulators may have different standards. Smaller cracks may be patched, but this is usually not a good solution because the patch may be more noticeable than the original crack, and because the patching material may crack or become dislodged. It is often best to leave hairline cracks alone.
Cracks with vertical displacement in driveways, walkways, and patios can create a trip hazard. Generally accepted rules for these cracks in older construction are less clear. Displacement of 1/4 inch or more can present a trip hazard, but some inspectors (including us) usually will not call out a crack under ½ inch displacement, particularly in older homes. Extra care should be taken if children or those with reduced mobility regularly use concrete slabs with greater than ¼ inch vertical displacement.
Evidence of continuing crack activity is the most difficult question to answer, and can have the greatest impact on how best to deal with a crack. Evaluating continuing activity is a matter of judgment and experience. For example, cracks where prior repairs have been attempted can be a sign of continuing activity. It can also be a sign of a poor repair job, or the normal aging of the repair material. Crack monitoring devices exist, but they often are not practical on slab cracks, and they usually require monitoring over a long period of time.
You should not be concerned about most cracks in most residential concrete slabs. You should bring wide cracks, and those with vertical displacement, to the attention of a qualified professional for evaluation and a recommendation.
Tile and Grout Cracks
It is important to distinguish between cracks in the grout and cracks in the tiles. Cracks in the grout between tiles are often caused by improper grout mixing or curing, or by minor variations in the floor under the tile. Cracks in grout installed on wood-framed floors may be caused by excessive deflection (bending) of the floor. Cracks in the grout between tile and walls and cabinets may be the result of improper grout mixing or curing, but such cracks are more often caused by the small grout joint at wall or cabinet, and by movement of the walls and cabinets relative to the tiles. In most cases minor grout cracks are a cosmetic concern and do not indicate a structural problem.
Cracks in the tiles are often caused by variations in the floor under the tile, and by excessive deflection of wood-framed floors. Cracks in tiles will often recur unless the cause of the cracking is identified and repaired.
The contractor should replace loose and cracked tiles and grout one time during the first year, usually at the end of the year. The contractor should repair or replace “hollow” sounding tiles if the number of tiles is “excessive” or if the tiles are loose.
Excessively Warm or Cold Rooms
Wide variations between the temperature in different rooms can have many causes. Common causes include improperly designed or installed ducts, and lack of a return air duct in the room. Sometimes the HVAC contractor can solve the problem with simple fixes, such as opening the register cover louvers, or by directing the air flow from one room to another. If these simple fixes do not solve the problem, the contractor should continue working until the problem is solved.
A reasonable standard is that the temperature in every room controlled by a thermostat should be at least the same as the thermostat temperature setting. A slight variance (one or two degrees) is usually considered reasonable. The temperature is measured in the room at the center of the room and five feet above the floor. The contractor should meet this standard regardless of the direction the room is facing, and regardless of any excuse other than homeowner changes to the system.
Useful Life Estimates for Residential Components
Every component in your home has an estimated useful life. Components such as the foundation and wood frame should last for the life of your home. Plastic (such as ABS, PVC, PEX) plumbing pipes and modern electrical cables should also last for the life of your home. Other components in your home will need to be replaced at some point.
The average home component useful lives listed below assume that you perform recommended periodic inspection and maintenance, and assume that the component is at least average initial quality. Components that are not properly maintained, and components of lower initial quality, may not last as long as indicated. Components exposed to unusually harsh conditions, such as components in homes near water, also may not last as long as indicated. Conversely, components that are well maintained and are of higher quality may last longer. Times are in years.
Air conditioner external condenser unit: 10-15
Air handler (gas furnace/heat pump): 18-22
Carbon monoxide alarms: 7
Clothes dryer: 10-20
Clothes washing machine: 8-15
Dishwashing machine: 8-12
Food Waste Grinder (Disposer): 5-12
Electrical panels and circuit breakers: 35-40
Exhaust fan (bath, laundry, kitchen): 15-20
Fireplace (prefab wood burning): 20-25
Garage door opener: 10-15
Ground fault and arc fault circuit interrupter receptacles/breakers: 5-15
Gutters (aluminum): 5-25
Microwave oven (built-in): 8-15
Paint (exterior): 5-10
Plumbing pipes (galvanized steel) : 40-60
Plumbing pipes (copper embedded in concrete): 20-60
Plumbing pipes (copper in attic or crawlspace): 25-40+
Range, oven, surface unit: 10-20
Roof tiles: 40-60
Roof tile underlayment (30# felt): 20-40
Roll roof covering (mineral): 7-15
Roof shingles (20 year): 13-18
Roof shingles (dimensional) : 15-20
Smoke alarms: 10
Toilet tank interior parts: 5-8
Ventilation fan (attic): 5-10
Water heater (electric): 12-14
Water heater (gas) : 11-13