Q39: If the floors are wood, laminate or linoleum are they in good condition? Are there any unusual stains?
Many of the stains that you will encounter are from either water or pets. The first question for the Realtor is if the Homeowner did have pets. If so, these stains can be addressed but you can be sure it will require some sincere hard work and “elbow grease.”
When it comes to water stains, notice where they are—if they are near an entryway or window, does it appear possible that rain or snow would have somehow come in on the flooring and sat for long periods? Stains occur when water has laid on a surface for a “long” period of time—not just an few minutes – but again, “long” is relative. Are the stains on the floors under an area of the ceiling or wall where it is apparent that there was water leakage? If that is not the case, what is the shape of the water stain- in other words, could the stain be the shape of a houseplant container that was placed directly on the flooring?
In the areas where you see stains, test the strength of the wood itself—does it feel when you place your foot on the stain that it is as stable as the rest of the floor or is it spongy / soft when you press on it? Signs of more serious decay may require that you hire a professional flooring contractor.
Q40: If the floor is carpeted, are there unusual odors or stains?
Wall to wall carpeting was very popular a few years ago—first, because it is much less expensive than hardwood flooring; second, because in the Northern part of the United States, it just “feels warmer” when you walk into a carpeted room. If the condition of the carpeting is still fairly good, you may just want to have a carpet cleaning company be the first visitors once you purchase the home. This service will not only freshen the rug up but be one of the best things you can do before moving in all of your own furniture. If you see large areas of stains on the carpets, you’ll want to figure out if those are stains from mishaps (the friend who accidently dropped the glass of red wine) OR if the stains are the result of water leaks from a ceiling, window or door.
If you will want to replace the carpet, it is worthwhile to ask the Realtor for the room’s measurements so that you can stop by a flooring store and get an estimate on the cost to have the old one removed, new padding, new carpet and installation. Is this expense part of your move-in budget or does that cost mean you should move on to another Open House?
If you believe the carpet stain is due to water leakage and you are still very interested in making a purchase offer, ensure that your offer is contingent upon a Professional Home Inspector’s review of the property. Then once you have your appointment, point out the stain to the Home Inspector and ask for his opinion on what could have been the cause from “above” and the effect below.
Q41: Do the floors, walls and ceilings appear straight / level / plumb? Is paint, wall paper or paneling in good condition?
In areas like the Southern US where hurricanes and termites are present, you may find walls constructed of steel and concrete. Most homes, however still use wood for framing. If you notice that there is a definite bend in the wall, the flooring doesn’t seem to meet it properly, or you feel like you are leaning while you are walking through the room, we would definitely recommend that you make any Purchase Offer contingent upon both a Property Inspection and if confirmed by the Professional Inspector, a Structural Engineer.
Wallpaper and paneling were popular for quite a while from 1980 through about 1999. If what you are seeing on the wall is not something that you absolutely “hate,” maybe you can live with it for a little while until you have the time for a do-it- yourself project or the expense for a contractor. Just make sure you look at the walls to see that the are not bowing in any way—notice if the paneling and wallpaper is straight especially at the corners—that is a good place to look at patterns meeting or paneling lines being consistent.
When it comes to paint on the walls you may have to run your hand across different areas just to see if any spots seem to dip they will be more noticeable with paint so take a moment to walk the entire space of the room and just look around. Although many issues you might encounter in a gently used home can be easily addressed with a little elbow grease or paint, repaired at a reasonable cost or remodeled away, structural issues should cause you concern. Go forward seeking wisdom and advice from professionals.
Q42: Are the walls and ceilings free from stains or cracks indicating water leakage?
First, let’s discuss cracks in the wall or ceiling….
Sometimes cracks in the ceiling or wall are merely cosmetic (like those laugh lines on a happy face) or indicative of a more serious structural issue. Cracks in walls and ceilings are most commonly attributed to either fluctuation in heat or moisture content of the attic air OR settling of the home after build.
Notice first what the crack looks like – if it is a fine “straight” line, this is usually the result of insufficient drywall mud having been applied on the drywall tape when the drywall was initially installed. Many homeowners choose to ignore these cracks but there is an easy “fix” that your local home improvement store can provide guidance for.
If you’re noticing a spiderweb type crack thata runs off in many different directions, it may be that drywall compound was applied too thick…. The drywall professional has to have the correct touch in both of these cases! Again, there is a “fix” that your local home improvement store will suggest.
If you notice a horizontal crack between the wall and ceiling, this could be a sign that the when the roof trusses expand and contract with the fluctuation in the attic temperature or moisture, the room ceiling is moving ever so slightly due to the way the drywall was attached to the ceiling joists. While some movement is expected and this may not be a structural issue, you should have your professional Home Inspector provide guidance if you make an offer on the home. The repair of this work requires the skills of a professional, so we suggest you get a referral for this kind of job and avoid tackling it yourself.
If you notice a vertical crack that runs across the ceiling and matches to a crack in the wall along the same line, you are looking at a more serious issue that may be the sign of structural damage. It could be that there was an addition to the room and has settled differently than the rest of the structure or there could have been an earthquake below and the ground moved differently. Either way, it is best to make any purchase offer contingent upon a professional home inspection and a consultation with a structural engineer to determine if this is a structural issue you want to contend with.
If you see ceiling cracks as well as wall cracks above doors or windows, then most probably your are seeing the results of the house “settling.” If it appears that these are just hairline cracks, there may be nothing to worry about; you can take a picture and talk with your Home Improvement specialist for suggestions on how to fix these. However, if the crack is an 1/8-inch or more, discuss them with the professional home inspector you make as a condition of the purchase offer.; these types of gaps can be more indicative of a structural issue.
Q43: Do the interior doors and windows operate easily?
Granted, you don’t want anyone in your household to be slamming doors, however, you probably do want them to open and close easily. Over time, door hinges can become loosened and the door may scrap the frame or floor when closing. It may just be an issue of finding a longer screw to make the hinge tighter so open the door wider and take a closer look.
If the door seems to open easily without turning the knob when it is closed or “sticks” when you turn the knob and pull, it could be that the door latch needs a little TLC (tender loving care)! Easy enough but you’ll have to have a screwdriver and a consult with your local Home Improvement store Agent for this fix.
If it isn’t either of these two issues, it may just be that the overall fit of the door into the frame is not correct – it may require planning or installation of a new door (which we always would suggest a professional be hired). Either way, this shouldn’t be a deal breaker if you like the rest of the house.
Now for the windows – when that beautiful fresh spring breeze comes to your region, the first thing you’ll want to do is enjoy it… but if the windows are stuck or worse, painted shut, that might be a problem. Even if it is winter when you are looking at a home, take the time to see how easily the windows in a couple of rooms open and what the window sill looks like – it will tell you a lot about the home.
First, if the windows are double hung or casement (crank or roll-out) style they should easily move either up/down or out. If it sticks, there are many do-it- yourself (diy) tricks you can search for on the internet. If you push the double hung up and it falls down easily, this may require replacement of the inner jamb hardware – and if you’re NOT handy, it may require replacement of the window altogether. If the casement window doesn’t open or close, there are diy options for replacing the hinges or roll-out mechanisms. Again, not expensive work however just another thing on your list of things to do!
If the bead trim, window sills or casing of the window appears to be deteriorated, consider if it just needs a bit of cleaning to get them working and in good condition or if it might just be time to consider replacements.
If you opt for replacement, consider how many windows in the house you will want to look similar (ie: all front windows should have the same basic “look” especially if they are on the same level –like all double-hung on the second floor bedrooms) and then in take a look at window replacement costs in your local newspaper advertisements to estimate the cost. Again, you may be able to put up with the window condition for a year or two, but count this as a move-in cost if they are in too bad of shape.
Q44: Are all doors and windows free from disrepair, decay, sweating or broken glass?
The door and window condition questions were explained for the most part in Q43, however there are a few additional things you should notice.
There have been times when the former homeowner did not “gently use” their home…. Doors may be broken, have portions of the wood broken off or punched in and be basically an eyesore. You know what you’ll have to do bring the interior of the house to a “happy state” in those cases.
Do the windows show signs of sweating? This means that you can see signs of stain from where the cold (possibly wintery) weather and the warm interior air formed the enchanting “jack frost” effect on the interior of the window where the water that condenses could eventually cause rot to the window frame and points to heat loss. These older windows are probably not double paned or well insulated and will eventually appear on your list for replacement.
Most everyone in the United States has heard of a window hit by a baseball, soccer ball, football or flying bird. If a window was broken, you shouldn’t be able to tell that the glass was repaired. What you don’t want to see is a window that has been cracked and not replaced or was taped as an alternative method of fixing it. For security reasons as well as general disrepair or energy loss issues, this also isn’t a deal breaker, but something you’ll want to make note of so you can get them fixed when you take possession of the home.
Q45: If windows have been painted, do they open easily?
Once replacement windows were more readily available and the cost and installation was more attractive, windows in homes were more frequently replaced. If you’re looking at an older home that had the interior window frames painted, you’ll definitely want to notice two things:
First, are the windows painted shut? Occasionally, when the homeowner painted the window’s frame to update the look, they didn’t realize (we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt here) that as they dried, the window was going to remain in that closed position for many years to come because they had, in effect, glued them shut. Not only is this a safety issue, but if you do decide that you’re going to try to get them to slide up and down, you are going to be s using a lot of brut strength to create a mess!
The second thing to look for is whether the painting of the window frame was to hide decay from the window sweating and deteriorating the frame. Since many older homes did not have storm or double paned windows that insulate the inside from the cold outside, the windows would sweat and the frames and window beading would begin to deteriorate.
With either scenario, you will need to assess the overall condition of the windows and if they need replacement immediately. Again, this adds an additional cost to homeownership that you need not only to prepare for in your piggy bank, but plan for.
Q46: Do light switches and permanent fixtures work properly?
While there isn’t a ceiling light in every room, if the homeowner and family still live in the house and there are lamps, as you enter each room you should flick the switch to see if the outlet works. Keep in mind that some outlets turn on and off at the room entry switch and some electrical outlets require that the switch on the appliance be turned on.
This again isn’t a deal breaker but we thought it best that as you enter every room you at least try the switch to make note of whether they work or not. If the house you are looking at is unoccupied, you might want to bring along a night light when you come back to see the house with your Professional Home Inspector just to see if things “turn on!”
Q47: Are electrical outlets in working order? Are there an adequate number of three-pronged outlets in each room?
You probably aren’t walking around with an ammeter in your back pocket so this will probably be something you will ask your Home Inspector to just test during his inspection of the home. The best you can do during your visit is turn on the switch and hope the lights go on but no sparks fly!
As you go through the rooms of an older home you may notice that there are either NO electrical outlets on the exterior walls or that that are only 1 outlet in the entire room. Many older homes still have the older 2 pronged un-grounded outlets as well. While this was an acceptable way to wire outlets “years” ago, grounded 3 pronged outlets have their advantages especially with regard to safety and preventing high voltages of electricity running through the outlet.
Whether the home’s wiring has been updated and brought up to modern code is something that your professional Home Inspector will be able to provide insight to. If you are looking at purchasing a home that has not been brought up to electrical code, we highly suggest that in addition to the Home Inspector condition of your purchase offer, that you also condition an inspection by a Licensed Electrician who can give you an estimate of the size of the job and cost.
Working with the electricity in the house is a definite job for a licensed professional, so please, seek their guidance – not only for your safety today, but for years to come. As far as the quantity of outlets, think about the purpose of the room and how many electrical appliances you will have working in a room at the same time. For example, if it’s a bedroom and you’ll need a lamp on each bedside table as well as an outlet for an in-room TV for your teenager, and you only see one outlet on the wall, you may feel a little restricted! Please note: extension cords are not always the answer! While you may not be able to add additional outlets easily, you should take note so you’re not disappointed once you move in.
Q48: Is there a heating / cooling vent in each room?
There are actually two types of vents that you will be noticing:
1) HVAC (Heating and Air Conditioning) air supply vents – these bring the warm air from the furnace into the room or the cooled air from the Air Conditioning (A/C) unit
2) Air return registers bring the air back from the room to be warmed (or cooled) and re-supplied into the room.
Regardless of the season you are doing your own personal inspection of the home, you should occasionally hear the furnace or A/C unit turn on and force air into the home.
Most heating ductwork in the Northern United states are placed at floor or wall level to first heat the lower level air because warm air rises. If you notice more than one duct at floor level, put your hand over the one furthest from the heating / A/C unit to ascertain if there is airflow or if the duct is a “ghost unit.” Also remember that units furthest from the Furnace or A/C unit will not “feel” the effects of the heated or cooled air as much as those closer to the unit.
In warmer parts of the U.S., a cooling or A/C system may have ducts that deliver the cool air supply higher on the wall or in ceilings as cooler air will fall to the floor. If the duct is in the ceiling, look to see if there are water stains (which may indicate a roof leak) or dirt stains (which may indicate that the ductwork has not been cleaned).
Air return registers are designed to pull the air drawn from the outside of the home or from the interior rooms back into an unheated space, heat it and transfer or blow it back into rooms in the house. You should see at least one return register in each room (unless the room is a larger space).
There are quite a few considerations when it comes to the ducts for both the heat & cooling registers and air return registers, for example:
Are the intake ducts properly sealed so that contaminated air does not make its way into the home?
Are the blower fan and air filters working as designed (has the homeowner replaced the filters at least 2 times a year?)
Are there leaks in the supply or return duct system that will cause poor heating or cooling resulting in energy waste?
Are the ducts clean so that mold, mildew, loose insulation (or other things) aren’t sent flying in the air?
The furnace and A/C unit is something you will want your professional Home Inspector to assess more completely on your behalf. While a unit may be 5 to 10 years old or more, it may be a perfectly functioning unit; your inspector will be should be able to discuss the unit’s output and efficiency. Replacing a Furnace unit could be a costly expense, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Q49: If there is a fireplace or wood stove, does it appear free of cracking or damage to the masonry? Does the fireplace damper work freely?
Over time, brick and masonry work requires restoration/rebuilding or repair. The mortar may need re-pointing to ensure the stability of the brick structure. The chimney may also need rebuilding from the ground up or just from the roofline up. The flashing around the chimney may need repair or replacement as well. The exterior brickwork condition is covered in Q15 and chimney conditions were also covered in Q25. However, if you do notice a substantial amount of cracking or damage to the brickwork, it would be worthwhile to include as a condition in your Purchase Offer that a Chimney Sweep Professional’s inspection in addition to the Professional Home Inspector.
A fireplace’s construction has 3 main and VERY important parts.
First, there is the firebox is the “unit” inside the home where the fire is burned. It is surrounded by brick or marble and in the case of a wood stove, is out in the open and free standing.
Next, there is a chimney that houses the flue. This is the airway from which the smoke from the burning wood rises and exits to the outside air through the roof.
Finally, inside of the fleu is a “damper” which you can think of as a door that prevents cold air from entering the house when there is NO fire and allows sufficient oxygen to the fire when you have one burning. Learning how to use to properly use the damper once you are in the house will be one of the most important things you can do if you want a beautiful smoke-free evening!
When you are looking at the home for the first time, you will want to notice the condition of the firebox (have burning embers been cleared out consistently? Make an assessment of if you think it’s in good condition or requires brickwork? If it’s a wood stove, look to see if there are cracks or loosening joints. While determining the condition of the chimney may seem difficult or a bit of a dirty job, it’s a really good idea to see if you can open the flue and see straight up to the sky outside — — what a beautiful sight! You can use a flashlight to look up the flue to check for damage, obstructions like leaves, sticks or bird nests too. While all of the above may be in good order, we suggest that if you do purchase this home that you schedule a Chimney Sweep inspection before you use the unit to ensure you will have a safe working unit.
Q50: Are smoke and carbon monoxide detectors installed (if required by local ordinances) and in working order?
There is nothing so precious to you as the blessing the blessing of family and friends—more than anything else, keeping them safe is always your first priority. Smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors are, quite literally, your life preserver!
Smoke detectors provide you with the security that IF there is a fire or smoke from a fire that you haven’t detected on your own, the alarm will startle you into action. Many communities in the U.S. have passed laws requiring that when a home transfers ownership, the carbon monoxide detectors must be hardwired. This means that a CO unit is connected to the electrical system in your home. This alarm detects dangerous levels of CO gas that would at the very least make your family very sick and even cause death. Although many of these units are wired to your electrical system, they also usually have a back-up battery so that you can be sure when there is a power failure, you can still be protected.
The best thing you can do as you inspect any prospective homes is notice if these little units are there and how old they appear. If they look too old, just put it on your shopping list to purchase new detectors—they’re under $50 each. If the existing units appear relatively new, make sure that you purchase replacement batteries and install them in your units on the day you move in. The peace of mind you will have is worth millions!
Q51: Are fire and carbon monoxide detectors hard-wired as a safety precaution?
Yes, it happened – our proof reader didn’t catch that we already had asked this as Q50. Sorry! Hope you answered N/A to one of them.
Q52: Has the chimney been recently cleaned?
Remember in Q49 when we asked you to peek your head up into the chimney of the fireplace or look straight up the pipe on a woodstove? Why did we ask you to do this? You were doing the inspection for this question – granted, you’re not an expert
but you can make some good assessments.
If you see bird nests, squirrel nests, or other “foreign objects,” those shouldn’t be
there and need to be removed. And, when you’re using that flashlight we mentioned ,you should also notice if there are any bricks or mortar missing or if there is a lot
Whether just a wood burning unit or a gas heating appliance, when you move into your “new” home, if you decide to purchase this property, you should contact a professional chimney sweep to have the chimney cleaned and get professional guidance on how often you need to add this service to your home maintenance schedule.
Q53: Are treads and risers on the stairs solid?
Treads and Risers? Don’t you just mean the steps? We’re getting a little fancy here and using construction terms, so if you already knew this, skip past the next 2 paragraphs.
The stair tread is the horizontal portion of the stairs where you put your foot as you walk up the set of stairs. It can be made of many different types of materials – wood, metal, plastic – or it could be covered with carpeting.
The riser is the vertical piece that serves to act as a spacer between the first stair and the next. Risers can be closed so that you don’t see below you as you walk up the staircase or they can be closed.
As with every other part of your personal inspection of the house, safety is first. Take note of the following:
Are the stair treads “deep” enough for the whole foot? If not, taking those stairs in the middle of the night could pose a hazard.
If there are balusters or spindles up the staircase, are they secure and at most the width of a tennis ball apart? If they’re any wider, this is a hazard for a small child who can get caught or fall when playing near the stairs.
Is there a light switch at the top and bottom of the staircase?
There is a lot that can be done to correct any of the problems you may have noted from inspecting the stairs, however all of them will require some professional assistance from a contractor. Before you put forward a purchase offer on this property, you may want to speak with your Home Inspector more in depth about the issues you noted.