Sunday, April 30, 2017

What Is Fiber-Reinforced Concrete?

When a homeowner discovers cracks in their floor slab just a few months after moving into their brand-new home, the builder gets an irate phone call. Usually, the cracks are small and the result of the concrete shrinkage as it sets up. It’s normal and not a structural problem. But complaints about cracks in concrete floor slabs—especially at the garage, where the slab is most visible—have bedeviled homebuilders for as long as floors have been made of concrete.

Because concrete has tremendous strength in compression, but minimal tensile (bending) strength, the standard way to add tensile strength has been to use a heavy steel wire mesh with a 6” grid, placed slightly above the center of the slab depth when it is poured. The wire mesh provides additional stiffness but is not always that effective controlling cracking.

The addition of small fibers of glass, steel, or a synthetic material such as polypropylene, to concrete, became popular in the 1960s as a way to make concrete more crack-resistant; although asbestos was used previously (before it became recognized as a health hazard), and even ancient builders added horse hair or straw to mortar for reinforcement. Research continues today in using other materials, such as cellulose and even recycled carpet fibers.

When you see bagged pre-mix concrete at your local home improvement warehouse store marked “crack resistant,” that means it has a fiber additive. Also, some homebuilders have used a higher ratio of the fiber admixture as an alternative to steel mesh reinforcement for their concrete floor slabs.

Van Hibberts, CMI

Certified Residential Building Code Inspector ICC-5319905
IBHS Fortified  Certified Inspector  #FEV32561020109 
ARA Certified Inspector #20302 (Applied Research Associates)
Florida-State Certified Master Inspector Lic. #HI 89
Certified Owens-Corning Roof Data Inspector
Florida-Certified Wind Mitigation Inspector
WDO Certificate #JE190791 
InterNACHI #10071802

362 Gulf Breeze Parkway, #214
Gulf Breeze, Florida 32561

850.934.6800  (Office)                                          
850.485.3209  (Cell / Text Msg)                          

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.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What Are The Common Problems To Look For When Buying A 1980's House?

A 1980s home looks neither new or old—but in-between. Also, unlike mid-century and ‘70s houses, there is no clearly defined retro-style for the eighties popularized in movies and design magazines yet. Although it was a prosperous time overall, a million fewer houses were built than during the peak of household formation for baby boomers in the seventies. Here’s what to look for if you are considering buying a 1980s home:

✦ Floor Plan - The average home is only a little smaller than new homes today, and the master bedroom suite and split floor plan became pretty much a standard over this decade, if not quite as spectacular as now. The eighties was also when the walls between the kitchen and the rest of the house began to come down.

While you can add more square footage by enclosing a porch or building an addition, gut and remodel the kitchen, or even knock down a wall to open up more visual space, moving rooms around is prohibitively expensive, so be sure the basic layout suits your lifestyle.

✦Energy Efficiency - Wall and attic insulation R-value was about three-quarters of the standard today and double-pane insulated windows were installed in many, but not all, homes. The concept of carefully sealing the envelope of the house from air leakage for energy conservation was still not a big concern. 
Some of this may have been upgraded over the years, but it’s a good idea to take a peek at the condition of the insulation in the attic if you can, observe how well the doors and windows are sealed, and ask the seller to provide a few recent utility bills.

✦Foundation and Exterior Walls - Most eighties homes are concrete slab-on-grade, with a thickened edge that served as a foundation. A site dictates the foundation type to a certain extent, however, and sloping sites often required a combination of a concrete block stem wall on the more sloping part of the ground under the home and slab-on-grade on the flatter areas of the site.
Over the 30-plus years of the home’s existence, soil erosion will take its toll on a sloping site as the soil slowly migrates downhill. Look for tell-tale stair-step and diagonal cracks, especially on the down-side of slopes, indicative of settlement, along with areas where the base of the foundation is beginning to become exposed. Other factors, such as expansive clay in the soil under the home, can also cause foundation distress over time.

Any older home will accumulate a few cracks from a minor settlement and the natural expansion and contraction of the structure through the temperature changes of the seasons, and they are not a reason to be concerned. What you should look for are cracks larger than about 1/8” across (that you easily can stick two quarters into) and/or that have differential (one side is kicked-out higher than the other). A differential is usually the result of significant movement. 

If you find signs of structural problems, it is not necessarily a reason to abandon a prospective house. Your home inspector can evaluate the defects further and give you insight into how severe the problem appears to be, along with referring you to a foundation contractor for further evaluation, if warranted. To learn how to evaluate the purchase of a house with known structural defects, Contact SitePro at 850-934-6800

✦ Plumbing - Although copper water supply pipe was standard, a flexible gray, plastic pipe called polybutylene became a popular and less-expensive alternative for builders during the ‘80s. It went by the acronym “PB” and was considered a wonder of new technology at the time. Unfortunately, there were recurring leakage problems at the crimp-type pipe connections early in the use of the new pipe. This was resolved by the manufacturers, but it was later discovered that the composition of the plastic was also flawed, and it could develop micro-fissures after about 20 years of service. The fissures would eventually pop open, and class-action lawsuits over the defect followed. Many homeowners received settlements for pipe replacement, but the period for filing a claim has ended and PB is no longer manufactured or approved by the plumbing code. Also, many insurance companies will not issue a homeowner’s policy for a home with PB pipe, so replacement is usually required. To learn how to recognize it, see our blog “What does polybutylene pipe look like? Why is it a problem?”

Plus, we suggest you look under all the sinks at the condition of drain pipes at the P-trap and check for an evidence of leakage below them. Then check the shut-off valves under the sinks and at the toilets. If they look original, like the one shown below, they are likely frozen in the open position and will need to be replaced.

Because a water heater can last anywhere from 10 to 25 years or more, it has probably already been replaced at least once, although it is possible that it is original equipment and in dire need of a change-out. So the age is variable, and your home inspector can tell the exact age of the water heater from the serial number later, or you can jot it down and determine how old it is for yourself at our blog “How do I decode the water heater serial number to figure out the age?”

✦Electrical - The good news is that all homes built in the 80s have modern 3-slot, grounded receptacles and the electrical system is very similar to today’s equipment. GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) shock protection was required for bathroom and exterior outlets and also phased in for outlets near the kitchen sink later in the decade. To learn more about GFCIs, see our blog post “Why does that wall plug have push-buttons in the middle?”

✦HVAC - This system has likely been replaced at least once by now, but it is also possible that it is the original system. Because the components of a heating and air conditioning system may have been changed out at different years and evaluate the condition of the ducts require crawling around the attic, wait for a thorough evaluation by your home inspector on this. But definitely, take a look at both the interior and exterior units. If they are rusty and look really old, they probably are.

✦ Roofing - The average life expectancy of a roof is 20 years and, since the home is now 30-plus years old, the roof has been replaced at least once by now. To learn what clues to look for when trying to determine the condition of the roof, see our blog “How can I tell if the house needs a new roof?” Your home inspector will take a look at the roof up-close, but there’s plenty you can observe looking up at it from the yard.

✦Overall Condition - Houses run the gamut from rough shape to recently updated. For tips on evaluating one that needs repairs, see our blog “Should I buy a fixer-upper?”; and, if the house has been remodeled by an investor for resale, find out more at “What are the common problems to look for when buying a ‘flipper’ house?”

✦ Neighborhood and Value - These are things your realtor can help you with. But if you are ready for a ‘80s home, this era offers a combination of good value for your dollar and reasonably modern construction and technology.

Van Hibberts, CMI

Certified Residential Building Code Inspector ICC-5319905
IBHS Fortified  Certified Inspector  #FEV32561020109 
ARA Certified Inspector #20302 (Applied Research Associates)
Florida-State Certified Master Inspector Lic. #HI 89
Certified Owens-Corning Roof Data Inspector
Florida-Certified Wind Mitigation Inspector
WDO Certificate #JE190791 
InterNACHI #10071802

362 Gulf Breeze Parkway, #214
Gulf Breeze, Florida 32561

850.934.6800  (Office)                                          

850.485.3209  (Cell / Text Msg)                          

Monday, April 10, 2017

How Far Away Can the Attachment Point of Electrical Service Conductors be for a Service Head that is under the Roof?

New overhead electric service comes to a house at a service mast with a service head that extends above the roof, like in  the photo at right. But older electric service was often run to a service head below the roof, with the service cables secured to the fascia of the roof or high area of wall nearby and then looped over to the service head. 

The National Electrical Code (NEC) still allows this older type of service, and specifies that the service head must be located above the point of attachment to the house. But it allows one exception [230.54 (C) Ex.]:

When it is impracticable to locate the service head or gooseneck above the point of attachment, the service head or gooseneck location shall be permitted not farther than 600 mm (24 in.) from the point of attachment.

The service head under the soffit at left corner of the home in the photo above (left arrow) is not above the attachment and about 11 feet from the attachment point on the wall (right arrow), so it is not acceptable.

Friday, April 7, 2017

What's The Difference Between A Gable and Hip Roof For My Insurance?

A gable roof slopes inward on two sides, and the other two sides have a wall with a triangle shape at the top; whereas, a hip roof slopes in on all four sides. The photo above shows intersecting gable and hip roofs: the hip roof is in the back on the main part of the house, and gable roof at the protruding garage. 
And here they are again below, represented in diagrams along with other popular roof styles. Hip roofs are more complicated and labor-intensive to build, but are also more wind-resistant in a storm. Gable roofs are easier and less expensive to build, but the triangle-shaped “gable end” is prone to collapse in a hurricane force wind if not properly braced, with a domino-effect knocking down a row of roof framing members once the gable end collapses.

Because hip roofs have been proven in wind tunnel tests to be significantly more hurricane-resistant than gable roofs, there is a windstorm insurance discount for homeowners in Florida that have a roof shape that is at least 90% hip. The calculation is made by measuring the length of the perimeter (edge at fascia) of the roof that is a hip shape as a proportion of the total perimeter. The big gable end at the garage door in the home above would disqualify it for the hip roof discount.

As you might expect with an insurance industry calculation, there are several complicating factors. A gable roof that covers an open entry area, and a porch roof that is attached to the main structure only at the fascia and is not over an enclosed living space, are both not considered as deductions in the calculation of hip perimeter length. Also, a very low-slope or flat roof that is more than 10% of the total roof area over the living space of the home overrides all the other calculations and eliminates the discount.

While engineers and insurance companies evaluate these two most common roof structures based on strength and cost parameters, architects see the two types of roofs as part of their design vocabulary, and it is currently popular to have the main mass of the house topped with a hip roof, with smaller gables added as a kind of embellishment for entry porches, dormers, and garages.

The roof shape is just one element in what your insurance agent calls a “wind letter”  or “wind mitigation form,” but is officially known as the “Uniform Mitigation Verification Inspection Form.” To find out more about the form, go to our blog: What is a wind mitigation form for homeowner's insurance?

 If you have had a windstorm mitigation inspection and did not get the discounts you were expecting, see our blog post: Why did I get no discounts or only a small discount from my wind mitigation inspection?

You can discover more ways to reduce your homeowner’s insurance premium at our blog: How can I lower my homeowners insurance cost?

To learn about the average lifespan of different roof materials, check out our blog: What’s the average lifespan of a roof?

To recognize when it’s time to replace your roof, go to our blog: How can I tell if the house needs a new roof?

If you want to understand the difference between an “architectural” and a regular shingle roof, see our blog: What's the difference between an "architectural" and a regular shingle roof?

To figure out why your roof is leaking, go to our blog: Why is my roof leaking?
If you can find the answer to any of the above questions, contact either Van or Bill at SitePro 850-934-6800