Hudson River Home Inspections

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The Old House Inspection

Purchasing a home is one of the biggest decisions of your life! With all that's at stake, it's crucial that you're fully aware of the condition of the major systems and components before you buy. And this is especially true with the purchase of older homes. Sometimes buyers walk through a house they like and everything looks great, but a home inspection may reveal all kinds of flaws, defects, safety issues and maintenance requirements not readily apparent to the average person.

Windows on Heritage houses should be kept originalLet me describe some of the things I have found which may have caused grief for buyers had they not known the condition of the house in advance. Rain and windstorms have often resulted in wet basements. Poor grading of the soil around the house and the discharge of roof water onto the ground near the foundation walls are two major reasons for water leaking into basements. Home inspectors will quickly assess the lot grading and make suggestions to ensure the drainage of water away from the foundation. They will also inspect the foundation walls as much as possible, although finished basements restrict their ability to see defects such as cracks or evidence of moisture penetration. In such cases, many home inspectors will use a moisture meter to detect abnormally high levels of moisture in the walls, and they will look for signs of dampness such as stains or even mold near the bottom of the walls. When the concrete is exposed in an unfinished basement, cracks and efflorescence may be indicators of water leakage. Needless to say, damp basements may also be home to mold, some types of which are known to have a negative impact on human health.

With older homes, the condition of the foundation can be a major issue. Sometimes, people who want to renovate and sell their home ignore the foundation. I have seen houses with many thousands of dollars in renovations and improvements but with foundations that are in very poor condition, including serious cracks and spalling (deterioration of the surface of the concrete in such a way that pieces of the concrete flake off the surface). In a few cases the condition of the foundation is so poor that its ability to continue to provide support for the house for more than a few years is doubtful. I remember one house built in the 1920s that had a brick foundation and the mortar was in such poor condition that a new foundation was required. With another house, the top of the foundation wall was lower than the soil on the outside, so that the bottom of the wood structure of the house was actually lower than the top of the soil and therefore subject to water and moisture damage including wood rot, mold and termites. Saving such houses from future calamity can be very costly.

Roof dammimg can cause serious problemsThe electrical system in older houses may also be an area where an inspection pays off. For example, home inspectors will identify the size of the service and alert the buyer if it is less than 100 amps. Many smaller and average size older houses have only 60 amp service or less which may not be adequate for modern living, and which may result in home insurance companies refusing to ensure until the service and service panel are upgraded. In some cases the panel is out of date and may even be unsafe.

Other electrical issues include wiring done by amateurs which may be poorly done and even unsafe, ungrounded panels, ungrounded distribution wiring, overloaded circuits, oversized breakers (which may not trip and shut the power down in an unsafe situation), unprotected connections and the absence of GFCI receptacles in kitchens, bathrooms and exterior locations. GFCI receptacles are designed to shut the power off if there is a fault or a short in a circuit as may happen for example if electricity comes into contact with water. I have even seen hot tubs and Jacuzzi tubs installed without GFCI protection, something that in these cases is mandatory for safety reasons.

Some older houses still have galvanized water pipes, which typically have a life expectancy of about fifty years, and tend to rust from the inside out. This not only reduces the flow of water through the pipes but may also result in leaking. Insurance companies in many municipalities require that new owners replace such pipes with new copper or plastic pipes before they will insure the house. Other plumbing issues for older houses may include rusting and leaking drainpipes and the use of lead pipes to bring water into the house (much more common than you might think). Some older houses also have un-vented plumbing, Roofs with moss and lichen need to be cleanedwhich means the drain pipes may not be connected to a stack which allows air into the pipes and which provides a way for sewer gases to be dissipated. In some cases drains below sinks are not trapped, a condition that may result in the entry of sewer gas into the house. Home inspectors will identify these issues and offer suggestions and recommendations on upgrading.

There are many other issues which home inspectors will help buyers understand, including signs of rot at windows and possible leaking of water into the wall space, problems with the roof including shingles that may need to be replaced, flashings that are damaged or improperly installed, and in some cases structural issues such as sagging in the roof. Home inspectors will examine the roof from both the outside and the inside, if possible.

Inspect your wood for signs of rotAn inspection of the attic may reveal problems with the roof that are otherwise not evident, and will also reveal the adequacy of the insulation and ventilation. I have seen houses that still have nothing more than a few inches of wood shavings in the attic for insulation; you can imagine the impact of this on the heating bill. Poor ventilation is also an issue for some older homes. Attic ventilation helps to keep the attic space cooler in the summer time and reduces the likelihood of damage from the build up of moisture in the winter time. Also, houses that have poor insulation and ventilation may experience ice damming as evidenced by a build up of ice and icicles along the bottom edge of the roof. While these icicles may look charming, ice damming has the potential to cause damage to the roof and in some cases leaking.

Home inspections also include an assessment of the heating system, the hot water heater, stairs, doors, windows, and many other aspects of the house including safety issues. For an average sized house, the inspection may take two and half hours or more, and with larger older houses, often more than three hours.

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Phone #:  914-329-2584           E-mail:

Areas Served in Westchester:  Amawalk, Ardsley, Ardsley On Hudson, Armonk, Baldwin Place, Bedford, Briarcliff Manor, Bronxville, Buchanan, Chappaqua, Cortlandt Manor, Crestwood, Crompond, Cross River, Croton Falls, Croton-on-Hudson, Crugers, Dobbs Ferry, East White Plains, Eastchester, Elmsford, Goldens Bridge, Granite Springs, Greenburgh, Harrison, Hartsdale, Hastings-on-Hudson, Hawthorne, Heathcote, Irvington, Jefferson Valley, Katonah, Larchmont, Lewisboro, Lincolndale, Mamaroneck, Maryknoll, Millwood, Mohegan Lake, Montrose, Mount Kisco, Mount Pleasant, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, North Salem, North Tarrytown, North White Plains, Ossining, Peekskill, Pelham, Pleasantville, Pocantico Hills, Port Chester, Pound Ridge, Purchase, Purdys, Rye, Rye Brook, Scarborough, Scarsdale, Shenorock, Shrub Oak, Sleepy Hollow, Somers, South Salem, Tarrytown, Thornwood, Tuckahoe, Valhalla, Verplanck, Vista, Waccabuc, West Harrison, White Plains, Yonkers, Yorktown, Yorktown Heights,

In Putnam:  Brewster, Carmel, Cold Spring, Garrison, Kent, Lake Peekskill, Mahopac, Mahopac Falls, Patterson, Putnam Valley, Southeast,

In Dutchess:  Amenia, Annandale, Arlington, Bangall, Barrytown, Beacon, Beekman, Billings, Castle Point, Chelsea, Clinton Corners, Dover Plains, East Fishkill, Fishkill, Glenham, Holmes, Hopewell Junction, Hughsonville, Hyde Park, LaGrange, Milan, Millbrook, Millerton, North East, Pawling, Pine Plains, Pleasant Valley, Poughkeepsie, Poughquag, Red Hook, Rhinebeck, Rhinecliff, Salt Point, Staatsburg, Stanford, Stanfordville, Stormville, Tivoli, Union Vale, Verbank, Wappinger Falls, Washington, Wassaic, Wingdale,

New York State License #:  16000029952

Last modified: September 28, 2011