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1: Judge a Book by it’s Cover
The logical place to start any fall inspection is outside the house. Here you can note the Big Picture: cockeyed windows or a sway in the roof would signify a foundation issue, chimney, roofing, flashing and siding need to be inspected. Are you seeing some stains on the siding, indicating gutters not directing water away from the house properly? What about peeling paint or missing mortar in distressed spots, small holes or droppings, indicating animal or insect nests?
Don’t just look at the outside structure, look around too. How about the tree branches scraping across the roof? That could be a great bridge for critters to have access to the house. Overgrown foliage might be more than an eyesore as it can mask foundation and sill problems. Most experts suggest creating an area large enough for you to walk between the plant and the structure, even if it’s just for maintenance.
How about the walks and drive? Note the cracks that can open up even more in freezing weather and exacerbate the tripping hazard. Give a little shove to fences, gates and stone walls to see how sturdy they will be with the next storm that comes along.
2: Come in for a Closer Look
Contractors and inspectors agree: Water is the biggest enemy to a home. Think of all the areas where water has touched the home and then begin looking. Doors and windows are obvious areas to start and always take the brunt of rain and snow. Look at sills and thresholds for cracks, check caulking, weatherstripping and glazing to see if any have split or worn away.
Check all framing supports – sills, posts and headers – for signs of insects or deterioration. Probe wood with a screwdriver or keyhole saw for any soft spots, damp areas or crumbling. Do you see any little mud tunnels or neat holes drilled into wood? That can be termites and carpenter bees – a sure sign of infestations! Is the crack in the foundation last year growing bigger? That’s a sign of instability and should be looked at by a foundation expert.
Look over the roofing and siding for signs of wear: Stains or cracks, rusted or curling flashing, cracked or missing shingles, wood rot, the list goes on. One expert recommends getting up the attic on a sunny day and turn the lights off. Look around to see if you have sunlight coming through any holes – water comes in through those as well.
You don’t need the sun to find out how water gets into the house. Next time it rains hard, watch to see where water pools around the foundation. You will soon spot how water is getting into the basement and if the sump pump turns on at the right time.
3: Get the Inside Scoop
Sometimes structural issues don’t show up with an outdoor inspection. Inside, sagging floors, walls and ceilings are the obvious clues. But seemingly simple annoying issues like peeling paint, sticking doors, loose floorboards and popped drywall screws can also be signs of trouble. Sometimes these are just annoying, but if they are coupled with other problems, you can bet something bigger is going on.
Be sure to look beyond easy-to-reach areas. Take a flashlight and go into crawl spaces, cabinets and the attic. That’s where you will find telltale droppings of vermin. While you’re in the area, examine the floor joists and ceiling trusses to check for soundness and proper insulation. Also, direct your flashlight up the chimney flue and check for critters; then call the sweep for a yearly cleaning before he gets too busy!
4: Let the Water Run
Water from a downpour isn’t the only source of damage. A house’s own plumbing can cause plenty of issues if not properly maintained. Look for signs of leaks in exposed pipes. These can show up in the form of rust, pits and excessive green patina on brass or copper fittings.If there are constant drips that need more tightening, you need new washers. A slow drain can indicate a clog or a blocked vent pipe.
A rocking toilet or radiator could mean that a leak has compromised the floor. Check your dishwasher and washing machine hoses for proper installation or if they are brittle.
5: All Systems Go
If you haven’t already done so, schedule your annual furnace maintenance and inspection – long before the first cold day gets here. If you’ve been proactive in changing the filters and checking for leaks around the unit and/or water tank, that can help the technician with any problems there may be AND save you some money.
One of the most overlooked hazards in a home is the electrical system. Take note of loose covers and receptacle boxes, which might fray wiring. Are there scorch marks in the breaker box or around plugs? That could be a sign of arcing. Test your GCFI receptacles by plugging in a lamp and push the test and reset buttons to see if the light goes off and on. Put fresh batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
In the end, all these inspections may leave you with a long list of repairs. But better that a pro come to take care of the little things before the problems become more costly and dangerous.
Item-by-item inspection checklist