Contractor Shortcuts – Part 2

In our last post, we discussed a small handful of the many shortcuts we come across while inspecting houses. In this post we’ll cover a few more…

#1. Unsealed roof fasteners. On nearly every roof we inspect, we locate exposed nails – mostly on ridge caps and plumbing vent stack boots. Roofers often don’t bother applying roof sealant on nailheads because they know the homeowner isn’t likely to climb up on the roof to see them and they know the metal will take a while to corrode or form small pinhole leaks. But that’s exactly what can happen. Over time, the metal will eventually corrode, and small leaks can eventually form. It’s extremely simple and inexpensive to apply some roof sealant on these fasteners, and it’s always best to do it right and know you’ll have no worries for quite some time.

#2. Flexible vinyl dryer vents. This is one we see far more often than we’d like. White flexible vinyl ducts look similar to foil dryer vent ducts, except for the fact that dryer vents are metal and vinyl ducts are white. Homeowners who install dryer vents on their own may not be aware of the fact that vinyl ducts are not intended for use with dryers, so they install them for the sake of ease because they are light, bendable and very easy to work with. Even some contractors take this shortcut to make life easier knowing the homeowner likely won’t be aware that the installation is improper. So what’s the big deal, anyway? Why shouldn’t vinyl be used with dryers when they look like they should be? Well, vinyl ducts do have a purpose, but it isn’t with dryers. They are primarily intended for use with bathroom vent fans that are mostly concealed in unfinished areas and not subjected to such intense heat. Vinyl ducts are actually very thin, fragile and prone to damage and are even flammable under high enough temperatures, so they pose a potential fire hazard or a risk of damage that could lead to leaking dryer exhaust. Many of the vinyl ducts we see at dryers are full of cracks and holes – especially when the ducts are not well protected. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to get this right and to make a quick, simple repair. Just remember that dryer vents should always be metal – flexible foil or smooth rigid metal. Of the two, flexible foil is far more common because it’s easier to install, but smooth rigid ducting is actually preferred because it is less prone to damage and even helps your dryer run more efficiently.

#3. Spray foam and silicone for every gap and crack. What could be easier than spraying some expanding foam or applying a bead of silicone to seal gaps and cracks? In short, not much! It makes sense that many homeowners, and even contractors, pull out a can of Great Stuff or Loctite spray foam or a tube of silicone to quickly seal exterior crevices and prevent unwanted moisture and pest intrusion and air leakage. And in many cases these fixes will do the job… but only for a time. And therein lies the problem. In many places where foam or silicone is liberally applied, a more permanent material like mortar would be longer lasting. All foams and caulks naturally deteriorate over time when they are exposed, so areas repaired with them will need to be periodically monitored and occasionally redone. The easiest and cheapest method is often not the best fix, so be sure to use good judgment when sealing void areas open to the outdoors.

#4. Open risers and missing balusters at decks. It’s very rare that we come across a deck that has been constructed with all recommended safety components. Of these, the most frequently missing are closely spaced balusters (spindles) in deck guardrails and riser boards at deck steps. Modern safety guidelines recommend that risers over 4 inches in height (which encompasses nearly all risers) be closed and that balusters be spaced no more than 4 inches apart. This is to ensure a sufficient barrier while simultaneously preventing children’s heads or small pets from getting stuck between boards. Fortunately, installing some additional boards is pretty simple; and if your deck is missing these components you could probably install them in a very short time. Just be sure to use appropriate exterior rated fasteners that won’t corrode and loosen shortly after you install them!

#5. Omitting joist hangers. Whether floor joists are supporting the floor structure of a home or a deck, contractors occasionally neglect to install joist hangers. Instead, they simple toenail the joist ends to rim joists. This is fine if the joists are cantilevered, as the cantilevered joists are supported where they are embedded in other structure, and their exposed ends don’t need additional support. In typical cases where both ends of the joists are against rim joists, though, the additional support of the hangers is strongly recommended. If you notice that your joist ends aren’t held with hangers, installing them is pretty simple. Just buy hangers that are appropriately sized for the depth of the joists, fit them snugly beneath each joist end and against each side, and nail into each hanger hole.

#6. Improperly routed plumbing vent pipes. Your plumbing system requires an air intake to ensure fast and efficient drainage. In fact, you can see how this works firsthand by conducting a simple test. Open a bottle of water, turn it upside down, and time how long it takes for all of the water to fully drain out of the bottle. Next, refill the bottle, but this time poke a small hole in the bottom when you flip the bottle upside-down. You’ll be shocked and amazed at how much faster the bottle fully empties with the aid of a simple hole! A slug of water needs to be followed by air as it drains, so proper venting of your plumbing system is crucial. Ideally, the vent stack terminates through the roof, and in most cases it does. Some contractors like to avoid the hassle of roof work, though, so they may run the pipe through an exterior wall or even directly into an unfinished attic space instead. Rules for this vary across municipalities, but a couple of general rules are that the pipe must terminate above the highest openable window of the home and should be at least 10 feet from any openable window. If you’re able, first check to make sure that you can even see a plumbing vent pipe on your roof or through an exterior wall. If you don’t see a pipe or it’s improperly installed, it may be time to consider calling a trusted plumber.

#7. Poorly labeled electrical panels. You may be surprised at how many electrical panels we inspect that are either not labeled or are insufficiently labeled. After going through the work of installing a panel, the last thing an electrician wants to do is take the extra time to label every breaker/circuit. After all, something as simple as writing seems almost degrading after running and connecting wire. Even at fully labeled panels the writing is often virtually illegible, so they might as well not even be labeled. Knowing which breakers control which circuits is crucial, however, if you need to kill the power to a particular area. Take a quick look at your electrical panel and make sure every breaker is labeled. The labeling will likely be either on a paper legend on the inside of the panel door or right next to each breaker. If any breakers are not labeled and too difficult to figure out on your own, call in a qualified electrician to identify and clearly label each circuit/breaker.

I hope this next set of common shortcuts has been helpful, and please be sure to share this post with your family and friends so they too can improve the safety and function of their homes!

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Author: hillinspections

I am a Certified Master Inspector (CMI) and the owner and operator of Hill Property Inspections LLC, the top-rated inspection company in the greater Johnstown, PA area, based out of western Pennsylvania. I specialize in property inspections and environmental testing services and have a passion for helping my own clients and other families in learning to properly maintain their homes. I’m also the owner of Hill Pest Control, LLC and a pest management professional committed to helping our clients rid their homes and businesses of unwanted pests. I am an Army veteran, former State Farm Insurance Agent, and real estate investor with experience in all facets of real estate construction, transaction and insurance. I am also the founder and President of the Southwestern PA Chapter of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) and an affiliate member of the Cambria-Somerset Association of Realtors (CSAR).

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