Home buying involves a significant expenditure, and the last thing a home buyer wants is to discover costly unexpected issues that they need to address after moving in. Issues that affect the habitability of the home, safety of the occupants, or significantly degrade the value of the home represent “material defects” that New Jersey home inspectors look for when evaluating the conditions of the home for a buyer. While there are a large number of home inspection items that can have this “material defect” classification, the ones that homebuyers are most concerned about fall into the following five categories:
Water leaks mainly occur from three sources; domestic water or waste pipes, rainwater, and ground water. Almost every home has a leak somewhere; often, they are small, intermittent and do not reveal themselves directly. So, they may not be able to be detected by visual inspection alone. Home inspectors must rely on visual clues to determine if water infiltration is likely occurring. These can include peeling or blistering wall or ceiling paint, warped wood flooring or roof sheathing, water staining on finishes, or damp basement or crawlspace areas. Some of these secondary effects can be confirmed through testing, such as using a moisture meter on an area of water-stained sheet rock. However, if they test as being dry on the day of the inspection, this does not necessarily mean that water infiltration is no longer an issue, since some leaks dry out between episodes.
Probably the most disconcerting to home buyers, structural defects can significantly impair the value of a home if needed repairs are expensive, and may also represent a safety issue such as when a deck’s structure is defective. There are many types of structural defects and deficiencies, including settlement of the masonry foundation system, wood rot and insect damage, poor end bearing capacity of beams or floor joists, cracked or delaminated structural components, fastener corrosion such as joist hangers or hurricane straps, excessive notching or hole-drilling into framing components, beam or joist twisting, and many others. Some of these structural issues reveal themselves in sagging or out-of-level floors, doors or windows that no longer close properly, cracking in plaster or sheet rock materials, and cracks in the foundation walls. And, some issues may initially appear to be major, but are simple and straightforward to fix such as termite-damaged floor joists. Other issues may not give any indication of a problem, but could result in sudden failure, like a poorly fastened deck that could detach if a large group has gathered on it.
Roofs have an important role in keeping rainwater from entering the structure from above. Roof defects can have “latent” or hidden issues (like improper fasteners allowing shingles to blow off in a windstorm) or obvious active issues (like missing shingles, poor flashing around roof penetrations like plumbing vents, etc.) Old roofs are of particular concern to many home buyers since the thought of removing and replacing shingles shortly after buying the home is a painful prospect. However, from the perspective of the home inspector, the advanced age of a roof itself does not constitute a “material defect”. To rise to the level of a defect, the roof needs to either be actively leaking, or there must be sufficient deterioration of the roofing material to clearly show that it has reached or exceeded the end of its expected service life. For example, excessive shingle cracks, curling, cupping, and missing shingles (exposing the roofing paper below) are all indications of a roof in decline and possibly having reached the end of its service life.
Mold (also referred to as microbial or organic growth) is a red flag issue for many homebuyers. At the shore, microbial growth is commonly found on wood components in crawlspaces due to the ideal conditions of cool, damp, stagnant air. It is important to understand that mold grows because the conditions exist to promote it, and it goes dormant when the favorable conditions are no longer present. Inside the home, mold is usually caused by a rainwater leak into the ceiling or walls, or by a plumbing leak. Home inspectors look for water leak issues when suspected organic growth is found. However, note that home inspectors cannot specifically state the presence of mold or identify mold types because this requires air or swab sampling and laboratory testing to confirm, none of which is part of a home inspection service. Suspected microbial growth, however, should be reported by home inspectors when it is visually evident, along with what may be causing it. In particular, garages and closets can experience conditions that promote organic growth within the living space. Sometimes, organic growth occurs seasonally, so it may not be present during a home inspection.
Heating and Air Conditioning Defects
Lastly, heating and air conditioning system mechanical equipment issues are near the top of the list of concerns for homebuyers. Like roofs, age alone does not dictate whether mechanical equipment can be classified as a “material defect”. Some very old systems continue to work year after year, while other newer systems degrade rapidly due to poor seacoast protection of the outside coils, for example. Older air conditioning systems still use HCFC-22 refrigerant which has been discontinued, and so the cost to service an old air condition system can become a major factor in maintaining the system. However, this alone does not mean that the equipment is defective and needs to be replaced. A home inspector tests the mechanical equipment only for function and safe operation, not performance, effectiveness or efficiency. It is important to note that home inspectors do not attempt to operate air conditioning equipment in the colder months due to the potential for damaging the equipment.
If you are buying a home (or plan on selling one) you should consider retaining a home inspector as part of your due diligence so that any material defects can be identified, and suitable repairs or replacements implemented in a timely manner.
Zack Lilienfeld, AtlantiCape Inspections, (609) 287-1776