I read an interesting piece of news the other day. It seems that our politicians are getting reports of shady home building practices from around the state concerning contractors not following the codes that have been established in the industry. The politicians are beginning to pass laws to punish contractors for overlooking structural and safety issues. Home inspectors have tried to protect the public for over 30 years. Our warnings to buyers and sellers may have not been taken seriously. This may be part of the problem. some buyers are willing to purchase a home with defects and then pass them on to an unsuspecting new buyer. It is always best to purchase a home after the defects have been repaired. Repairing the defects prior to occupancy is far better than possibly paying thousands of dollars to fix issues later when selling the property. There will be things that need to be fixed over the life of a home, but it is never safe to live in a home that had major problems that were never properly repaired in the first place. If the home is referred to as a "fixer upper," it is most likely that there could be major concerns that need to be addressed.
Each day we leave our home, we take chances of having some kind of accident, either in a car, on a bike, or even walking/hiking. It’s never a guarantee that we will be safe. So when you are in your home, shouldn’t that be the one place that you know that you can be safe? Unfortunately, not all homes are as safe as they should be. There are an estimated 1 million home accidents each year, and approximately 17,000 result in deaths. Here’s a few things to check to make sure your home is as safe as it can be.
Stairway issues contribute to many accidents each year. The most common ones are:
If you have stairs in your home, use a tape measure to check some of these areas. First, measure the height of each step (riser) and the width of each step (tread). Are there some steps that are higher or wider than others? This can be the cause of a possible trip hazard, especially for older adults. Next, measure the distance between the rods or boards that hold up the stair rails. If they are wider than 4 1/2 inches, this could be a safety issue for young children. Finally, check to make sure your handrails are secure, and re-secure them if necessary. Go outside and check the same areas with your front porch and deck steps.
Next, let’s take a look at your bathrooms. Half of the home injuries that occur each year are caused by bathtub falls. Make sure that you have some type of a non-slip surface in each bathtub/shower. Another safety feature that you should consider is a handhold that you can grab onto if you should start to slip and fall. This would be particularly important for older adults.
You should make sure that your home is equipped with both smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors on each level. Check them on a regular basis to make sure they are functioning properly. There are approximately 430 deaths and thousands of visits to the hospital that occur each year due to carbon monoxide poisoning. It is now a law that your home be equipped with detectors. If you don’t have one, get one today. It could save a life.
Another item I would like you to be aware of is the wiring in your home. Due to cost issues, most homes are now wired with aluminum wiring rather than copper. This meets the building codes; however, there are safety procedures that need to be followed when working with aluminum wiring. Statistically, there is a 50 times greater fire risk with the use of single strand aluminum wiring versus copper wiring, if these procedures are not followed. The Consumer Products Safety Commission has published a pamphlet outlining federal safety regulations and how to properly handle the issue of aluminum wiring. Most electricians carry anti-oxidant grease which, if properly applied around the connections, can prevent some issues such as sparking in the wires.
There are other safety issues around your home that you can look for, but these are just a few that I thought were important, and that you can easily correct if you need to.
As you know, weather is not the same in every location. That’s why we live in Colorado Springs instead of Arizona or Florida. We moved away from Arizona, of course, to get away from the heat, but then in Florida, you always have the chance of those nasty hurricanes. With the exception of a few unpleasant winter days and one or two hail storms during the summer, our climate here is quite temperate, which we love.
So, how does this all relate to roofs and shingles? You need to be properly dressed for the weather outside, so does your roof - from the shingles down to the sheathing board. If you live in a high wind/impact area that would affect your roof, it is important to start with a heavier sheathing board to help the nails stay embedded longer. Sheathing can be made of either OSB board or plywood. Both meet building standards, but I prefer plywood, as it tends to be more durable over time, especially if there is any water damage.
Believe it or not, all roofs are not created the same. Some roofs are covered with cement or ceramic tiles, others have wooden shakes, some roofs are metal, while still others have various kinds and colors of asphalt, fiberglass, or architectural shingles. Some are designed for more temperate climates, while others are designed for high wind/impact areas.
Shingles are rated according to their to their wind resistance - A through H, with A being the lowest at 60 mph and H being the highest at 150. If you are lucky enough to live in a costal area, builders are required to use a G (120 mph) or H (150 mph) rated shingle. Shingles with a high wind rating can cost up to 50% more than a standard shingle. It is also required that roofers use 6 nails vs. the standard 3 or 4. Staples should never be used in high wind/impact areas. They just aren’t strong enough.
Back to the home front… even though here in Colorado Springs we seldom get really high winds, there are some areas further east out on the plains that do. High wind shingles are not required in these areas, so some builders will unfortunately use standard shingles on the roofs. It is my suggestion that if you live in an area that you know gets high winds, that you invest in better quality shingles. They will most likely need to be special ordered and will cost more, but they will be well worth the money. It has been my experience to see model and new homes that have had to be repaired only after a few months due to poor shingles and poor installation.
The bright side to all of this… you should get discounts on your insurance rates if you have higher grade shingles.
Years ago, when someone purchased a home, they generally stayed in the home for quite some time. Money was hard to come by. Homeownership was considered a privilege. People took care of their homes, their landscaping, and anything else connected with their home.
Shingle manufacturers designed quality shingles back then that would last the lifetime of the home. After awhile, homeowners became leery of that guarantee, so manufacturers began designing lower quality shingles that had a 20 or 30 year warranty. Unfortunately, not all companies are honest. Some manufacturers claimed that their shingles would last for 30 years and charge a higher price, when in reality, they were the same shingles that were built to last for only 20 years. When buyers caught on to to this scheme, they would of course purchase the lower cost shingles that had the 20 year warranty. The few homeowners who still purchased the shingles with the lifetime warranty found that the shingles actually lived up to their promise. However, the company eventually folded because of low sales. Any so-called "lifetime shingles" now have limited warranties attached.
Fast forward to today… larger companies saw a new way to boost profits by selling shingles with a 20 or 30 year warranty. Both shingles are about the same quality. The 30 year shingles just cost more. Homeowners that considered staying in their homes for 20 or so years would not want to have to re-shingle their home prior to selling it, so they would purchase the 30 year shingles. Therefore, these shingles were very popular for awhile. Today’s homeowners are not as likely to stay in their home as long. It just makes sense to pay less for 20 year shingles, if they aren’t planning in staying in the home that long anyway. The lifetime shingles have just become a memory of the past.
While I was taking my home inspection training classes, our instructor took us to a 45 year old home with lifetime shingles. We were asked to guess how old the roof was. Most of the students guessed that it was 5 years or less; some even thought it was new. The house definitely showed its age, but the roof was fine. No one could believe that the roof was really that old, but we saw it with our own eyes. Seeing is believing.
I saw a very interesting article in our city newspaper a few weeks ago that naturally caught my eye. There was a person that wanted to hold the city inspector liable for passing off things that were not acceptable in the home that was recently purchased in our area. Being an independent home inspector, I am always trying to educate others on the importance of having their home inspected by a knowledgeable inspector prior to purchasing the home.
There are several other issues that we should address here. First, city inspectors are required to evaluate several homes per day, not allowing for thorough inspections. These inspectors usually have one area of focus such as plumbing or electrical. Because each has so many homes to inspect during the day, they may only take a few minutes to “evaluate” and pass off the home. How can anyone do a great job in that amount of time?
Secondly, the home plot and house plans must be approved by city/regional examiners prior to the first shovel hitting the ground. These examiners should be educated in the rules or codes that must be adhered to. In the past, I have questioned examiners that check off items that are not up to code. Again, I think it may have something to do with meeting numbers instead of actually doing a thorough evaluation. I have actually spoken with both the individuals that approve plans and the field inspectors that train them. Once I asked a regional plan examiner about a certain building code, and it took him 10 minutes or longer to look it up in his code reference book. His comment was “I think I will go home and check this out in my own home.”
The third issue focuses around the homebuilders. Often in their tunnel vision to make more money, they overlook the shortcuts that their employees are taking to finish the home in the allotted time. For example, I have watched a crew pour concrete in the middle of a snow storm and then fail to cover the foundation, possibly allowing too much moisture to enter, and then beginning to build before it is completely dry. I have cautioned buyers to be careful about buying homes that are “move in ready” or that have been completed in less than two months, start to finish. These homes may possibly have structural or other problems over the life of the home.
The fourth item stems from using a realtor who is not involved with the home or his client while the house is being built. The realtor should ask basic questions during the process to assure the buyer that basic items are being done right. For example, the realtor could ask simple questions like “Was the wall built straight?” or, “Is the lumber that you’re using dry?” or “Do all the doors close properly?” Over the past 10 years as a home inspector, I’ve seen too many simple things being overlooked. I’ve been able to see into the attic from the outside because someone forgot to finish the exterior of the home. Another time I was able to stick my pen through a gap in the foundation wall and touch the basement drywall. These are not great findings for the prospective homeowner.
The fifth and final item centers around the “quality” control supervisor who ignores major problems in the home. I received a call from one of our military personnel to inspect their home that they had purchased just nine months before. They had purchased this home as their dream home to retire in and were already having some major problems. Upon a complimentary return visit, I saw that some of the items they were supposed to repair looked even worse. His wife was left to deal with this mess after her husband was again deployed. The problems stemmed from the house being built on poor soil. The back of the house had a covered patio that was pulling the roof away from the house. I could put my fist though the gap between the patio floor and the rest of the house. The basement entertainment room had a crack from the floor all the way up to the ceiling. The stones in the fireplace on the main level were falling out onto the floor. It was determined that the soil report was not even from their property but was from the house across the street. The back of their home was slowly siding down the hillside. Apparently, someone was not doing their job!