Common Home Inspection Problems

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I find it humorous that investors love us but realtors hate us, however the need for professional home inspections has dramatically increased in the last few years. While requirements vary from state to state, some states and lending institutions no longer allow licensed general contractors to conduct such inspections. I personally don’t have a problem with allowing a competent / knowledgeable contractor to do a home inspection, however the building profession is being filled with too many individuals that lack knowledge and experience.

As my schedule allows, in the next few months I will submit various articles on some of the common problems I find when doing a home inspection.

Originally I was contemplating on writing one article to cover many of the areas but decided it would be better to go into greater detail with many of the topics. The topics will not be in any particular order, other than the methodology I use when conducting an inspection.

1. Grading and drainage issues

One of the first problems I often note are improper grades. These often lead to other problems, especially with basements and crawl spaces. Other than the manual labor required to throw some dirt and seed down, this is one area that is typically inexpensive to correct. A good wheel barrel and a shovel are the only required tools for this job. These tools can usually be acquired in your neighbor’s garage, with his permission of course. Grades should be approximately 6 inches for every 10 feet, with the final grade no closer than 6 inches from any exposed wood on the house.

When an interior grade of a crawl space is lower than 12 inches of the exterior, then a drainage system should be installed. Some approved methods, but not recommended, include putting an interior French drain inside a crawl space. I personally would not do such because of the high moisture levels that will result if not done properly, this in itself often leads to more problems.

Without a doubt water is the number one cause to the deterioration of a home. When gutters are installed the water should be drained away from the house even if it requires additional drain piping to be installed. The corrugated plastic drain pipe is very cheap and easy to install. I personally have tested other methods, such as the plastic covers that wrap around your downspouts, where the water comes down the spout and the plastic covers are suppose to unroll dispersing the water like a sprinkler system. The main problem I have encountered with this type of system is that they are easily clogged with leaves and debris. The main thing to remember is to get the water away from the house.

Before I forget, let me state that when grading your property you need to take into consideration where the water will eventually end up. You can be held civilly responsible for changing the flow of your water onto another person’s property. I few years ago I built and sold a new home to a couple who was intent on increasing the grade of their home. I advised them that the grade was sufficient and that any changes could affect the nearby neighbors property to which they would be responsible, …….of course they didn’t listen and it wasn’t until the nearby neighbor had to get a lawyer involved did they eventually change it back to the way it originally was designed.

Two other things that are worth mentioning are mulch and vines. While mulch and vines are attractive coverings they can lead to problems. It is amazing what a vine can do to the veneer of a house. I have seen it creep into the cracks of mortar joints of brick and end up inside the bedroom of a house. Anyone that is familiar with Kudzu understands what vines can do, vines should be removed.

Mulch is attractive but a waste of money. It absorbs the moisture away from the plants as well as smothers them, it is nothing more than termite food, I suggest using pine needles instead.

The next article will be on exterior veneers, doors and windows.


  • joel17th February, 2004

    I really apprecieate this article NC_Yank. We have a unit that is going to need some either regrading or something due to the water that is collecting in the crawl spaces.

    I seem to think that the crawlspace should be about level ground as the outside.

    On our units the outside level of dirt is definately higher than the inside crawlspace.

    Somebody suggested to put an inside crawlspace drain system, but that seems to look like it will cost more than just digging a trench outside of the house's footers, lay some corrugated plastic drain, put a gravel layer on it, then dirt and call it good.

    Also I would want the gutters to drain into the pipe so it would lead away from the house.

    On a $600 square ft. house, what do you think something like this would cost??

    This upcoming year, we plan on putting vinyl siding up, so should I do the drain stuff after or before??

    • Lufos17th February, 2004 Reply


      Vynal siding. Grounds for Divorce. I would reconsider.

      Your comments are excellent and I am sure are applicable in NC, land of your activities. But here in Los Angeles, we are faced with a slightly different set of circumstances. Most of our problems really get heavy around the area of the hills. Building in the hills causes all kinds of problem. There is nothing more distressing then a sudden change of Zip codes in the middle of a rainy night. Yes it has occured.

      I am a Realtor, careful pronounce it correctly no undo accents on the last portion. I approve of home inspections and while qualified to do them I do not. No not because I am too fat and old, because I really want an independent opinion. Besides the new larger meaner termites know me and are laying in weight. er wait...

      I am addicted to the utilization of a small chain extending from gutter end down to ground level with a good slope to move the water away, or into a six inch imbeded ground drain. It is pretty and something to look at as you gaze out a window on a rainy day.

      I have held General Contractor and most important the Plumbing Contractors license in the past and I prepared a check list with lots of space for comments, when we first started to use house inspections prior to purchase. The problem we had was in the selection of inspectors. Buyer and Seller always wanted to appoint their own and when I talked to the selected ones, in many cases I found that it was all about a fee instead of a good inspection.

      In our hillside areas now we find ourselves creating two and three levels of retaining walls all with pilings or cassions attached. I sometimes feel that I am back in medievel times from the look of these items. I think it is important that the home inspectors also examine these items for any evidence of upcoming failure etc. etc.

      Thank you for your article, you are wrong, most licensed real estate persons welcome your arrival on the scene. Much better to know early then late.

      Cheers Lucius

      • NC_Yank17th February, 2004 Reply

        Hi Lucius,

        Most of the realtors that welcome me on the scene do it because it is close to the date of closing and want my "good house stamp of approval" with their paperwork when it come time to collect their commission. (smile)

        As for as the fee.......well frankly I wonder if it is worth it sometimes. My fees are based upon the size and age of the house, with the typical fee being about $300 - $400.00 which take anywhere from 4 - 6 hours to inspect one house, properly that is. Now taking into consideration the litigious society in which we live, coupled with the high cost of insurance..........that fee starts to look pretty small.

        I constantly have companies call me every month about adding "mold inspection certification" to my credentials.

        Like a fellow inspector advised me........dont even bother with such......its just another liability issue and having to charge the extra dollars and time involved is just not worth it.

        In regards to inspecting anything not connected to the house is no-no, at least here in North Carolina. We are governed by a licensing board and inspecting anything outside the scope of the house itself can and will get you into hot water.

        I am also licensed general contractor, both commercial and residential, however, the Inspection Board frowns upon wearing multiple hats when conducting an inspection, even if you are licensed to address such issues.

        I know when I finish the inspection of a house approximately what the cost of repairs will be, however those numbers never come out these lips. I carry business cards of reputable contractors or engineers they can consult with on matter outside the scope of my inspection.


    • NC_Yank17th February, 2004 Reply

      Hi Joel,

      Having a high interior grade in a crawl space is ideal, however this is seldom done due to the added cost of the foundation.........your foundation has to be higher for ground clearance requirements.....this means thousands of extra dollars for every foot a foundation is elevated.

      Interior drains do not get the moisture away from the crawl. It is often a poor attempt to channel the moisture under the crawl to the lowest point of the house where it is taken outside the house. The moisture content still exist, just not as much. If I were a termite then interior french drains would be my friend.

      I would get estimates from various foundation proofing companies to install an exterior french drain. It is not complicated to do as much as it is time consuming.

      In some cases the price can be reduced drastically by hiring a laborer to escavate the dirt away from the foundation exposing the footers.

      I typically pay about $500 - $750.00 to have a french drain installed on a new crawlspace,

      this is where the footers are exposed.

      There are numerous products out there that one could install themselves and save quite a bit of money.

      Many of these products can be tied to the gutter system. However I would exercise caution when doing such. Having a french drain clogged up with leaves, nuts, and other debris can be problematic at best.

      Also french drains will not address a water table issue. Last year I had several customers complain about water in their crawl space where french drains were properly installed. In such cases a temporary sump pump is all that is needed since the rise of the water table was a rare phenomenon.

      I would address the water and grading issue first.


      • joel17th February, 2004 Reply

        So is the pipe/gravel/dirt solution called a 'french drain'?

        $800 bucks sounds pretty cheap. For these houses, I don't know if they even have footings. They are pretty old. 1950 or so.

        So if you don't like the gutters feeding into the french drains, then what else do you suggest??

    • NC_Yank24th February, 2004 Reply

      Yes, a french drain system is nothing more then a system that prevents water from entering a foundation while at the same time collects and drains any water away from a foundation.

      Again not all houses need a french drain...only if there is a grading issue that is problematic.

      Footers were common in the 50's.......especially after WWII when the construction industry took off with the return of our GI's.

      I would be surprised if your house did not have one.

      As long as gutters are draining water away from the house then it is sufficient....sometime putting a drain pipe.....the black corrogated plastic pipe you see at a hardware store.......on the down spouts for about 4 - 8 feet to get the water away from the foundation is all that is needed.

      Some people will bury them and have them drain further down into the yard or a ditch........

      Just make sure if a drain pipe is installed that it has a decent degree of fall so as to not back up the water....


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