Common Defects: Detached Garages

Detached structures are not normally as important to homeowners as their primary dwelling (and for obvious reasons). We don’t live in detached structures, and they don’t directly affect our house.

Still, detached structures are valuable pieces of property that shouldn’t be overlooked. They often house important and valuable items like cars, motorcycles, lawnmowers, expensive stored items and other valuables. Taking care of detached structures should be a top priority, but it’s easy to neglect or overlook structures we don’t actually live in. However, doing so is a mistake.

Some common defects with detached structures are missing gutters and downspouts, significantly deteriorated mortar joints of concrete block walls (if the walls are masonry), missing photoelectric “red eye” safety sensors for overhead, mechanical garage doors and inadequate sealing that allows pests easy access to the interior.

Of course, some of these defects may be acceptable to most homeowners with detached structures; BUT, fixing these deficiencies is usually fairly easy and inexpensive, and making these repairs is a wise investment to ensure that these structures (which are quite valuable) remain in a good state of repair.

If you have a detached garage, shed or other outbuilding, I encourage you to take some time to perform a simple check on your own. See if gutters and downspouts are present, if mortar joints are intact or deteriorated, if garage door safety sensors are in place, and so forth; and make the time and financial investment necessary to remedy any defects. You won’t regret this small investment in the additional structures on your property.

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Post-Winter Checks

Spring is upon us, and spring cleaning isn’t the only job you should be performing on your home during this exciting time. Winter can cause numerous forms of damage, and in this article I’ll cover a few of the common defects you should look for once the winter weather has cleared.

#1: The roof. During the winter (at least if you’re in a climate like ours in western Pennsylvania), your roof has likely been the brunt of substantial snow accumulation multiple times. The thick layer of snow acts as an insulator, and if your roof and/or attic space aren’t adequately insulated and ventilated ice dams may have formed, which weigh down gutters and can lead to roof leaks (as well as a potential safety hazard). Once the weather breaks, thoroughly check over the underside of your roof – especially near the eaves – and the roof covering (if possible) to verify that no damage or leaks have formed.

#2: Driveway. If your driveway is asphalt or concrete, the snow and ice may have caused some new holes, cracks or other forms of deterioration to form. Thoroughly look over your driveway to make sure no new holes or displaced sections have developed, as these areas would need repaired to prevent tripping hazards and possible damage to tires or the driveway surface itself. Having your driveway periodically repaired and sealed as needed is much less expensive in the long-term than waiting till the driveway is beyond repair and has to be dug up and repaved.

#3: Exterior wood. Wood on the exterior is exposed to the elements and is always prone to weathering, deterioration, and even rot. Come spring, be sure to look over exterior wood, and you should replace any rotted wood and clean and repaint any weathered/deteriorated sections.

#4: Windows: If your home isn’t continually and properly conditioned, excess moisture levels and temperature variances can lead to ice buildup from condensation. This is especially true if the windows aren’t adequately caulked and sealed. Ensure that your home is temperature controlled and that moisture levels are kept at bay to reduce the likelihood of problems. And come springtime, you can easily seal any areas that need work.

#5: Supply piping. If you’ve been the victim of frozen burst pipes during the winter, you’ll know about it and would have had the pipe(s) immediately repaired. Still, checking your plumbing supply lines for damage from the winter is a good idea. If your supply piping is metal, you may want to consider eventually upgrading to plastic piping, like PEX, which is rated to withstand a much lower temperature and will likely never freeze.

The spring season is a great time when we all want to be having fun, enjoying the weather, and not worrying about extra work. But if you take a small amount of time to check over these few items you’ll have greater peace of mind and will be very glad you did some extra “work” if you find winter related defects that require repair for the safety, durability and functionality of your home.

Of course, nothing can take the place of a Certified Home Inspector checking over your home in a situation like this, and I highly recommend hiring someone like myself to perform this all too important job on your home – your biggest investment.

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Easy Energy Upgrades

Often times, energy upgrades can be very costly. Adding insulation, replacing entire heating or cooling systems, and other big jobs can be extremely costly and often take many years to pay for themselves. Because of this, many homeowners opt to never perform any upgrades that would improve their home’s energy efficiency and comfort, increase its value and decrease their energy costs over time. Fortunately, there are several smaller energy upgrades you may not be aware of that offer a fast and significant return on investment, and I’d like to review a few of those here so you can take action and begin saving money and increasing value with your own home now.

The first simple thing you can do is replace any incandescent light bulbs with much more efficient LED bulbs. LEDs use far less wattage to produce the same amount of light, which translates to bulbs that cost much less to operate and last much longer. In addition, LEDs emit far less heat than incandescent bulbs so they don’t pose the threat of a potential fire hazard. LED bulbs do cost a little more, but they pay for themselves in hardly any time at all. They’re far more efficient, much cheaper over the long run, and safer. Not only that… you can replace the bulbs yourself, so there are no labor costs and no waiting period for a contractor. You can drive to the store this evening, purchase the bulbs, and go home and install them. What could be better!?

Another relatively simple upgrade is replacing an old mechanical thermostat with a programmable thermostat that allows you to program different temperatures for different time periods. The cost of the thermostat is quite low in comparison to other energy upgrades, and the ability to program your thermostat means that energy is only used at necessary times based on your particular needs and preferred comfort level. The return on investment for this upgrade isn’t quite as fast as the first recommendation, but it is still much faster than many other options. If you have a non-programmable thermostat, make upgrading it a priority and you’ll reap the benefits very quickly.

Another inexpensive and simple upgrade is ensuring that your ductwork or boiler piping is well sealed and insulated. The cost of this insulation job is obviously far less than the cost of other insulation jobs (like insulating an entire attic), and it will instantly produce better efficiency of your heating and/or cooling system and help ensure that the system remains in a good state of repair. The return on investment for this upgrade isn’t amazing, but it’s still worthwhile in the long run.

This last simple recommendation will not pertain to everyone right now but could pertain to anyone in the future. If you’re in the market for a new water heater, washer, dryer or other appliance, be sure that the new unit you purchase is Energy Star rated. These units are manufactured, tested and proven to consume less energy (often much less) than their older counterparts while accomplishing the same task. For example, an Energy Star rated dryer will possess a sensor to run only as long as necessary rather than for a set time period that may be longer than needed. Along those lines, if your dryer’s vent duct is flexible tin you would benefit from replacing it with rigid metal ducting, which is less prone to damage and lint clogging and improves the efficiency of your dryer.

Do any of these things and you’ll see improvement in your home’s energy efficiency that leads to quick cost savings, greater comfort and an increase in your home’s value and safety. If you can’t afford to do all of them at once, prioritize doing them as you’re able over time. These upgrades are simple but are very worthwhile, and you won’t regret doing them!

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Here at HPI, we provide all home inspection clients with a free and very valuable service called RecallChek. During the inspection, we gather information on all appliances with visible data plates and then submit the information to RecallChek to ensure no appliances have any outstanding safety recalls. RecallChek’s appliance database is enormous, and the recall details they possess on appliances is equally impressive, down to the number and types of incidents reported and even the stores, brand names, time period and price ranges an appliance was sold under.

When a vehicle has a recall, the manufacturer goes to great lengths to ensure you know about it. In fact, I’d guess that if you’re reading this you’ve likely received at least a couple or few letters in the mail about vehicle recalls. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with appliances. If you don’t look up appliance recalls, you’ll likely never even know they exist.

The best thing about RecallChek is that if you do have a recalled appliance, the manufacturer is required to do a free in-home repair or replacement. This also alleviates all fear from the seller and buyer since neither has to pay to fix or replace the appliance. But that’s not all… RecallChek is a free lifetime benefit! Your appliances may not have a recall now, but they eventually could at any time in the future. For this reason, RecallChek notifies you immediately in the future if any new recalls develop, and if you purchase a new appliance you can easily add it to your list with RecallChek via a monthly digital newsletter.

Many of our clients have benefited immensely from RecallChek. Several have even received brand new appliances for free! Needless to say, in almost every case those clients have saved more in the value of their repaired or replaced appliance than they had to pay us for their inspection services. Talk about great value and a wise investment!

On average, about one out of every ten houses we inspect has a recalled appliance. That may not seem like many, but it’s actually a fairly high percentage; and as I said before, not having a recalled appliance now doesn’t mean you won’t at some point in the future – especially as your appliances age.

Whether you’re searching for an inspector here in Pennsylvania or another area of the country, be sure to look into what additional services (if any) inspectors offer. Free services like RecallChek cost nothing but give you peace of mind and amazing protection.

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Complexity can Add Risk

Before I get into the meat of this article, let me stress that the premise I’m writing on is generally true but not a hard, fast rule. When it comes to construction and common building practices, the more complex a home is, the more risk there is that comes into play… usually. However, with proper maintenance and care, complexity does not have to be a negative thing.

In general, simplicity with construction means a lower likelihood that problems may develop, whereas complex features and design often create more weak areas that are prone to defects. This is good on one hand since simplicity is easier and saves cost, but bad on the other since complex features usually make homes more appealing in terms of layout, aesthetics and uniqueness. We all want both – luxury with low risk – but as is the case with most things, it’s often difficult to achieve both without a little extra work. Here are a few examples of some nicer features that present more risk and require more maintenance…

Skylights and Chimneys: Chimneys and skylights are very nice features that most homeowners would like to have. Unfortunately, they are also very prone to leaking, which can lead to interior or structural damage. Chimneys and skylights are often not flashed properly, or their flashing has deteriorated and allowed leaking to develop over time. The penetrations aren’t areas most homeowners ever inspect, so the problem usually isn’t detected until it’s become severe and obvious. Typically, there are four sides that need adequate flashing at penetrations, and some contractors unfortunately cut corners during installation. If you have or desire either or both of these nice features, be sure that the installer is reputable and that you continually monitor the penetrations for leaks that may arise and would need dealt with immediately.

Complex Wall and Roof Design: A house that is a simple rectangular or square shape with a gable roof is less prone to problems because of its simplicity. Of course, this traditional design is rather boring to many people, so more complex designs are often more sought after. With more angles, corners, and other transitional design elements, though, comes more weak areas that require special attention and skilled installation to hold up well. A more complex roof may require additional step flashing, kickout flashing, ice and water shield, a saddle (“cricket”) or other additional components to ensure a highly leak resistant barrier. I recently helped a friend repair roof leaks at two corners where a roof saddle adjoined the wall of a house addition with a higher roof; and the leaks wouldn’t have existed in either area if the roof transition didn’t exist. A complex roof design can also make insulating more challenging, especially if the attic space is or will be finished. Likewise, nicer features in the walls like bay windows or the use of different types of siding require extra planning and skilled work to prevent potential defects. In short, more complexity means more appeal but also a greater risk and need for upkeep.

Layout: Layout can also present problems if the design is not simple, particularly with plumbing. Ideally, bathrooms, the kitchen and the laundry area are close or on top of each other, if on separate floors, so plumbing runs are simple, efficient and as short as possible. If rooms with water fixtures are spread far apart, more supply and waste piping is necessary, which means more area for leaking or other damage to occur.

Jetted Tubs: Whirlpool tubs are another great example. While jetted tubs are certainly a nice luxury item, they can cause some headaches if they’re not maintained properly. The jets tend to fill with grime deposits that are quite unsightly and unsanitary, and they need to be cleaned often if you want your bath water to be clean and your tub to remain in a good state of repair.

Technology: Technology also fits the bill of fancier and more convenient but often more prone to issues. I remember an SUV I had years ago. The side mirrors had smaller circular mirrors for the blind spot. I loved this feature and knew the mirrors were always reliable since they were actual mirrors I could see. The next model I got had lights instead of mirrors, which seemed nicer but actually caused me more worry because I constantly feared that the electronics would malfunction or the lights would go out without me knowing. I no longer own either vehicle, but I would have taken the older, less fancy model over the newer one any day. The same is true for some modern advancements in home technology. Most of these advancements provide major improvements over their older predecessors, such as programmable thermostats that save a lot of money in heating and cooling costs, and doorbells, thermostats, garage door openers, cameras and other items that can be remotely controlled from virtually anywhere. These units offer amazing benefits, but their complexity places them beyond the skills of a typical homeowner if a repair need arises.

Fancy design and luxury features are certainly nice and are desireable for good reason. However, they often also mean a greater risk for potential problems and require more diligence and care. If you already have some of these features or are considering investing in them, be sure that you weigh the pros and cons, knowing that fancier often means riskier. Also know, though, that those risks can typically be well managed with a little extra care and attention if you’re realistically willing and able to devote some extra time to monitoring and maintenance. You likely wouldn’t regret having a nicer home with luxurious features, but you should commit to giving such a home the due diligence it deserves.

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New Offering: Home Energy Report!

I’m excited to announce that we have a new (and amazing) offering here at HPI – a Home Energy Report. For a mere $50, you can add this highly valuable report to your home inspection package, and it’s hands-down one of the best add-ons you could choose!

During the inspection, we collect data from many points related to the home’s approximate energy usage and cost. This includes, but is not limited to: the age and square footage, number of occupants, direction the house faces, appliance information, types and amounts of insulation, window and door data, duct insulation, the number and types of lights, and much more. We compile that information in an advanced calculating tool, which populates zip code specific climate and cost information. The result is a highly detailed report that provides you with recommended energy improvements (in order of priority), as well as estimated cost savings and the approximate amount of time it will take for you to recoup your investment.

The report also contains several maintenance and upgrade tips and even a free energy eBook. All in all, the report is an amazing value. It’s one of the most helpful reports you could possess related to your home and allows you to formulate a smart action plan for improving energy efficiency and comfort, the value of your home, and cost savings over time.

If you’re a new HPI client or considering us for your inspection needs, don’t miss out on this huge benefit! Be sure to request a Home Energy Report as part of your inspection package; the value of the report is worth so much more than its low initial cost!

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Warranty Spotlight: MoldSafe

For these warranty posts, the first few paragraphs are nearly identical since they cover necessary information related to each warranty or protection plan. If you have read these paragraphs, feel free to skip ahead to the plan details in each upcoming article.

Here at HPI, we offer a free, zero deductible 90-Day Home Warranty to all home inspection clients for added protection and peace of mind. In addition to the home warranty, we offer three additional free protection plans, including the MoldSafe plan that I’ll review here. These warranties are provided through Residential Warranty Services (RWS), a premier residential warranty company with a proven track record of exceptional service. Every one of our home inspection clients is automatically enrolled in every one of these plans, and we take care of everything on our end so you have to do nothing! Read about the MoldSafe plan and the other free plans we provide, and you’ll quickly see that at HPI we’ve got you covered!

The protection plans are similar to insurance policies for different components but with one major benefit. Just like an insurance policy, each plan has a deductible and a maximum (aggregate) amount of coverage if you file a claim; but unlike an insurance policy, you do not pay a premium! If you don’t have a claim, you never pay money; but if you do have a claim you’ll likely end up paying far less than if you had to be paying premiums all along. With the 90-Day Home Warranty there is no deductible, but the other protection plans do have a deductible if a claim is filed. Either way, having these plans provided for free and with no premiums is a huge benefit!

Since the protection plans are not insurance policies, they do not cover damage resulting from insurance covered events (fire, flood, lightning, vandalism, etc.), and any such claims should be filed under your homeowners insurance policy. They also don’t cover damage resulting from negligence or normal wear and tear. The warranties are there to help in other cases to provide you with broader protection.

Now to MoldSafe… the MoldSafe plan is in effect for the same period as the Home Warranty – 90 days after the date of inspection or 22 days after closing, whichever comes later. MoldSafe covers the remediation (removal) of any visible mold that arises during the warranty period and was not present at the time of inspection. This is very important considering the adverse health affects associated with mold for some people. In addition, the presence of visible mold means there is a water problem, which would need corrected immediately to prevent potential structural damage.

The MoldSafe plan carries a deductible of $300 and an aggregate (maximum) coverage amount of $2,000. If you do need to file a claim, mold testing will need to be done, which we can take care of for you with our complete or limited mold inspections (see the FAQ page of our main website for more details on our limited and complete mold inspections.

When you choose Hill Property Inspections, you get this and several other free protection plans completely free of charge! That translates to exceptional value and peace of mind when you need it most, which is why we proudly proclaim that we offer the best value home inspections in Western Pennsylvania. At HPI, we’ve got you covered, and at a great price!

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