Saturday, August 3, 2013

Inspection of the Utility Room


A professional SitePro home inspection is not just about looking for defects in a home, it is also about identifying the building materials present by their defining characteristics.

Utility rooms are typically an area of the home where the SitePro inspector can identify the largest numbers of building materials present, this is often the most dangerous room in the home

Safety First
Before a home inspector storms their way into the utility room, it is typically safest to have a good look around. As utility rooms are often unfinished spaces, they often are neglected in maintenance which can lead to safety hazards. Also, many amateur handy-people have been known to ignorantly leave major safety hazards about waiting to hurt an unsuspecting visitor.

Here are some things to watch for before and as you enter the utility room:

·    Lighting - Is there some form of lighting for the room? It is not uncommon for light switches to be missing cover panels or sometimes the whole switch with just bare wires sticking out. Look for pull chords on wall mounted or overhead bulbs. Use your flashlight until you have safe room lighting.
·        
      Head Clearance - Utility rooms often have low hanging equipment or shelves mounted in unexpected places with sharp corners. Be particularly careful where you may be kneeling or standing up or down for anything that could injure you
·         
      Standing Water - Standing water can have many safety risks, first, there is the risks of electricity and water in a space with many mechanical systems. Second, the water may have dangerous bacteria or other contaminants (it may not even be water), and lastly, it is a slip hazard. Don’t try to clean up spills you didn’t make. If you can’t safely work around it, document it as a limitation to your inspection and safely move on.
·        
      Other - There are many possible other safety issues such as gas leaks, open flames, or hot equipment. Use caution as you move around the room to various areas.

Floors, Ceilings, and Structure
  • ·          If no other area of the home reveals the structure, you can often get some idea what to report on based on observations in the utility room.
  • ·         Things you may be able to observe include:
  • ·         Types, styles, sizes, and spacing of joists in floors above
  • ·         Material, configuration, and installation practices of sub-floor above (e.g. is the plywood glued?)
  • ·         The presence of conventional wood joists or of engineered joists
  • ·         Correct connections of joists to exterior walls or beams
  • ·         Confirm the material for the sub-floor under the utility room (if you see wood, either you are not at the lowest level or you need to be looking for a crawlspace access)
  • ·         Look for signs of over-notching, heavily damaged, missing, or cut structural elements.
Plumbing
When it comes to plumbing systems, you need to be watching for the main materials and paths of water flow in the home. We will look more closely at each system at the next steps in the utility room inspection but this is a good chance to familiarize yourself with materials for your report.
  • ·         Water Supply - Can you identify the main home water shutoff in the utility room? What is the supply material? What is the diameter of the pipe? Is there a pressure reducing valve?
  • ·         Home Water Piping - Can you identify what primary materials are present for water supply piping? Are they correctly attached and appear to be free of leaks or other issues? Is there any polybutylene which is at a higher risk of leaks? Are there any legacy materials such as galvanized piping which could be an issue for the client?
  • ·         Drain Piping - What are the primary materials visible for drains and drain stacks? Are there any legacy materials that need to be reported? If the main drain from the home is above the level of the basement floor, is there a sump of some sort for any basement drains or plumbing? Are any P-traps visible for upstairs fixtures?
  • ·         Plumbing Venting - What is the material visible for the plumbing venting? Does it appear to be in correct configurations?
Electrical
We will cover more on electricity in a separate article in this series but you should be observing electrical systems that are visible in the utility room. What types of wiring is present? Are connections made in junction boxes? Are junction boxes overloaded with wires? Is there armored cable serving furnaces and hot water equipment? Are there exposed wires unprotected? Are there staples in the wires at changes of direction and near box connections?

Natural Gas
The inspection of natural gas materials varies depending on the materials present:
  
  • Black Iron - Connections twisted together? Strapping in place to keep system protected?
  • Copper - Are the connections pressure fit (never soldered)? Is the copper marked every 6-feet with the work gas or yellow tape/paint? Is it well secured?
  • Flexible Hose - Are the fittings secure and the material has some slack to it?
  • Galvanic Reactions - Galvanic reactions occur when two dissimilar metals touch such as copper and steel. Electrons from one metal attempt to migrate to the other metal and create an oxidization of one of the materials which could result in gas leaks. Dissimilar metals, particularly with natural gas, should never be allowed to touch without some type of inert barrier between them.

  • Fuel Shut-Offs - Are there visible gas shut-offs for both local appliances and for sections of the gas system as a whole?
  • Smell Test - If you are concerned about a gas connection, give it a good sniff for any signs of even minor leaks.

Heating and Cooling
Heating and cooling materials will vary greatly depending on the heating systems present. Some typical items to observe before the detailed system inspections:

Forced air - What are the materials for moving both the supply air and the heater air? Are they well attached?

A/C - Does it share the blower with the furnace or a separate air handler? What materials are involved?

Hot Water Heating - What is the piping material and how do the pipes distribute in the home?

Final Thoughts
With experience, a home inspector will learn to identify all these materials in passing and will know where to look for typical signs of incorrect installation or deterioration. A great home inspector will be able to keep the various materials in mind as they travel through the rest of the home and not discrepancies or changes in materials which may indicated updates, repairs, or additions.
Unfortunately for home inspectors, we are limited to visual observations and many home systems are concealed behind finished surfaces. For that reason, the utility room may be the best location in the home to observe some materials needed for a compete home inspection report.


Van Hibberts, CMI

Certified Residential Building Code Inspector ICC-5319905
Florida-State Certified Master Home Inspector Lic. #HI89
Florida-Certified Wind Mitigation Inspector
203(k) FHA/HUD Consultant #A0900
WDO Certificate #JE190791 
NACHI #10071802
362 Gulf Breeze Parkway, #214
Gulf Breeze, Florida 32561
850.934.6800  (Office)
850.485.3209  (Cell / Text Msg)
"Looking Beyond The Obvious"


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