Thursday, April 27, 2017

How Can I Tell If A Wall Is Load-Bearing? Which Walls Can I Take Out?

It’s always possible to remove a wall, or part of a wall, in a home. It’s just that some walls are more expensive—sometimes way more expensive—to remove than others. And the expensive walls to remove are the load-bearing ones, because of some sort of structural element, usually, a beam has to be installed to transfer the weight that is now sitting on the wall you want to remove, to an adjacent support point.

A wall is defined as load-bearing if it is supporting some portion of the roof or ceiling in a home, and determining for sure whether a wall is a load-bearing requires an evaluation by a construction professional or an engineer. But there a few guidelines that can help you figure identify load- bearing walls with reasonable accuracy. Poke your head up in the attic and do the following:

  • Look for trusses. Most trusses only require support at the two ends of their span at the exterior walls; so a home with a truss roof would rarely have interior bearing walls. However, if you see a truss that has an end inside the exterior perimeter walls, then there may be a bearing wall underneath it. 
  • Look for where the ceiling joists lap. A roof that is constructed with rafters (instead of trusses) will have horizontal ceiling joists to support the drywall ceiling of the rooms below. The ceiling joists rarely span all the way across the home, and they will bear on an interior wall, with one rafter slightly overlapping the next one side-by-side at the bearing point. The wall under this lap is a bearing wall.

These two checks are meant for preliminary evaluation only. We still recommend that you consult a construction professional or engineer before tearing down any interior walls or ceilings. There are sometimes secondary engineering issues that may need to be worked out. When a homeowner takes out the ceilings in a living room, for example, to expose the roof rafters and create a dramatic cathedral ceiling, there’s a new problem that must be solved: the ceiling joists act as a stiffener (by triangulation) to keep the roof rafters from splaying the tops of the walls outward where they bear. Alternate stiffening members must be installed, such as collar ties.

There are also electric receptacles and switches, along with plumbing, that may be inside the wall to be removed that have to be considered. Sometimes removing the plumbing or electrical is a straightforward job, especially if the removed material is at the end of a run. But, if the pipes or wiring are in the middle of a transfer of electricity or fluids to other points in the home, the work becomes more complicated.

You should also be prepared for the possibility of a few minor cracks around the area of a removed wall, even one that is not load-bearing. This is because, although a wall is not designed to be load-bearing, it still ends up transferring some of the weight above it to the ground; and, when you remove the wall, the load distribution shifts, and the structural members adjust a little. Any cracks that occur will happen in the first few months after the work is done and, once repaired, should not happen again.

We are always willing, during your home inspection, to take a few minutes to check on the load-bearing status of a wall you want to make disappear, and discuss what the wall removal process entails.

Monday, April 24, 2017

What Causes Wood Rot On A Home?

Wet wood is the first requirement for wood rot to begin. The moisture content of the wood has to exceed its Fiber Saturation Point (FSP), which is typically around 30% or more water content. Next, wood decay spores, which are constantly being blown around in the wind, settle on the moist wood surface. When the temperature is warm enough, the spores germinate into tiny fungus “plants” with root-like hyphae tubes that penetrate the wood and secrete enzymes, which soften the wood and make it easier for the fungi digest. The fungi multiply to form a colony and, under the right conditions, they can expand rapidly across the wood.

While wood rot may seem like just a nuisance, advanced decay can cause structural failure. Replacement wood needed to repair wood rot fungi damage accounts for 10% of the annual wood production in the United States, according to an Ohio State University study.

Three Common Types Of Wood Rot

Brown Rot - This type of decay causes the wood to break down into brown cubes that split against the grain. It is sometimes called “cubic wood rot.” Advanced stages of brown decay result in dry, powdery wood that is unable to support much weight, and crumbles easily.

White Rot - This type of decay appears whitish, stringy and mushy, and tends to be more common in hardwoods.

Dry Rot - A misnomer, this term has been used to describe decayed wood that has since dried and ceased decaying. Some people may erroneously assume that the wood is still in the process of decay. Moisture is required for wood decay to occur, so no literal “dry rot” exists.

How To Prevent Wood Rot

• Keep wood sealed with a coat of paint in areas of direct weather exposure. Caulk any joints or cracks the wood surface that might hold driven rain.

• Avoid installing wood in a configuration where rain water will sit on the surface of the wood for extended periods of time instead of draining away. These spots are called “water traps” in the carpentry trade and professional builders try to avoid them by giving any horizontal surfaces, such as a window sill or top surface of raised door or window trim, a slight incline so that water runs off.

• Maintain adequate ventilation in the crawl space under a home. Moisture arising from the soil will create a humid under-floor environment unless adequate cross-ventilation openings are installed.

• Install preservative-treated wood where in contact with, or near, the ground.

• Make sure the grading of the soil around your home slopes away from the walls, to avoid water puddling under or next to the home.

• Keep any wood siding a minimum of 6-inches above the ground and don’t let leaf debris accumulate around the base of siding.

• Installing gutters will dramatically reduce wood rot problems on many homes with wood siding, especially the rot caused by rainwater splash-back onto the bottom 12-inches or so of wall.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Why Is A Carpeted Bathroom A Bad Idea?

Wall-to-wall carpet in the bathroom was a hot design trend in 1970s. It was often a shag texture and next to a sunken bathtub. Together, they were a fashion-forward emblem of the era. 
While sunken tubs slipped out of vogue long ago, we occasionally still come across a carpeted bathroom in our inspections. It is a quick and cheap way to cover up deteriorated older floor tile; but the carpet and underlying pad act like a sponge to absorb and hold any wetness from:
  • Shower steam that condenses on the carpet.
  • Water splashing from the tub, shower and sink.
  • Water dripping onto the carpet while towel drying after bathing.
  • Minor toilet leakage that seeps into the carpet pad unnoticed.
  • And last, but not least, the men in the house may have poor aim or a split-stream that sprays urine around the base of the toilet.
We call out carpeted bathrooms as an area of concern for homebuyers in our inspection report because of the potential for mold growth, but don’t really need to when the carpet is already visibly stained and matted. While it is possible to live with a carpeted bathroom if your are incredibly meticulous about moisture control, why go to all that trouble? A small rug with anti-slip bottom surface provides a soft place for bare feet after a shower, and it is easy to remove and clean—or just replace.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Why Do I Have to Hold Down The Button To Close My Garage Door?

You are overriding the infrared beam sensor when you hold down the wall button continuously while the garage door is closing; so, if you have to do this to close the door, it means the sensor is malfunctioning. Any transmitter, like a handheld “clicker” or outdoor keypad, will also not work to close the door if there is a problem with the sensor. One of the sensor lights will usually be blinking when there is a malfunction.

The most common reasons are that one of the sensors has been accidentally knocked and the beam is out of alignment, or something is blocking the path of the beam between the sensors. A spiderweb with debris in it is sometimes enough to block the beam. Check for these two things first. 

It can also be caused by dirt on the sensor eyes, loose or corroded wire connections at the sensors or the motor head, or just that the sensors have gone bad and need to be replaced. We recommend unplugging the garage door opener and then re-plugging it back in after any repairs or adjustments to reset the system.

Friday, April 14, 2017

What Causes Stair-Step Cracks In A Block Or Brick Wall?


A stair-step crack is a diagonal crack but, since mortar is usually not as strong as concrete block or brick, the crack migrates to the mortar joints as it zigzags along a path of least resistance. Sometimes a stair-step crack will mostly follow the mortar joints, then take a short-cut through a defective block or brick, before returning to the stair-step pattern. 

If you draw a line through the center of a diagonal stair-step crack, then draw a perpendicular arrow to it, you will have the approximate direction of movement—either up or down—of the crack. Many cracks have a “hinge point” at one end and loosely pivot around that point, with the opposite end being wider. Others move more uniformly.
This crack pattern usually indicates settlement of the corner of a structure (blue arrows). The corner of the house is “laying down,” like the severe example shown below. But it can also indicate heaving of the area to the left of the crack (green arrows), and sometimes requires close examination to determine which side is moving.

A pyramid shaped crack of joined diagonals, as in the diagram below, is usually indicative of subsidence (dropping) of the area under the pyramid. Because window openings are weak spots when a wall is having settlement or heaving problems, diagonal cracks emanating from the corner of a window are common.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

How Much Can I Cut Out Of The Floor Joist?

The rules are the same for both floor joists and roof rafters as far how much can be removed and still maintain the structural integrity of the wood member, They are divided into the categories of notching (cutting away an area of wood at the top or bottom) and bored holes (drilling through the center).

Notching requirements:

1)  Notches in the top or bottom not to exceed 1/6 of the height of the joist/rafter.

2)  The length of the notch cannot exceed 1/3 of the depth of the joist/rafter.
3)  No notches in the center 1/3 of the span.

4)  Notches at the end of a rafter/joist cannot exceed 1/4 of the the height

5)  Notches and bored holes cannot be in the same area.

Bored hole requirements:

1)  Holes cannot be more than 1/3 of the height of the joist/rafter.

2)  Holes must be a minimum of 2 inches from the top, bottom and other holes in the joist/rafter.

What Are The Problems To Look For When Buying A Home-Owner Remodeled House?

America has always been a do-it-yourself nation and proud of it. HGTV and the DIY Network, plus thousands of YouTube videos, reach millions of home improvement weekend warriors that desire a bigger, more glamorous home without spending big bucks. 

When homeowners stick to tiling floors, painting, and minor carpentry projects, the results are often excellent. But if they tackle plumbing, electrical wiring, duct work, or roofing projects, lots of things can go wrong. What seems like a sensible way to assemble pipes to a homeowner can be a sanitation hazard. As one of our contractor friends put it: “Do they really know how to do plumbing or do they “YouTube” know how to do it?”

Homeowner improvement projects run the gamut from darn near professional quality to a hopeless mess. A home inspector can help you sort out what is acceptable from the things that need repair or replacement. Here are four guidelines you can follow when evaluating a homeowner remodeled home before you call the inspector:

1)  Ask about building permits - If the homeowner pulled permits and got final inspections for most of the work, that’s a good sign. It means that a municipal inspector got a chance to check the work in areas that may already be closed-up when you see them. Ask for copies of the documentation, especially for work done by electrical, plumbing, air conditioning, and roofing contractors hired by the homeowner.

2)  What you see will be similar to what you can’t see - People are usually consistent in the quality of their work and attention to detail. If the fit and finish of what is visible looks sloppy, it’s likely that what you can’t see is the same or worse.

3)  Check for the little things indicate good workmanship - All joints and seams should been caulked before painting, with a paint finish that is even with crisp edges. Tile joints ought to  align accurately over a uniformly flat surface, and doors and windows should open, close, and latch easily. These things are a given for professional work, but should be checked at a homeowner project.

4)  Look carefully at the quality of the materials - The big box home improvement stores where homeowners get most of their supplies offer budget quality cabinetry, laminate wood flooring, and fixtures that don’t hold up well over time. They sell top quality materials too, but take a look at the interior surfaces of the cabinets and get down on your knees and examine the flooring close-up to get a feel for the quality of what has been installed. 

Homeowner-remodeled homes often have character and charming idiosyncrasies not found in the work of professional contractors, and that makes them worth considering. The ones that hired pros for plumbing and electrical, while doing the rest of the work themselves, are your best choice. Just be sure to check the functional and safety aspects of any non-professional work before buying. More Important, contact SitePro to see the correct permits have been requested.