If you’ve ever been involved in the home buying process, you’ll know just how important it is to conduct a thorough home inspection. The purpose of the home inspection isn’t to make or break the sale of the property but to clue the homebuyer into any major defects and issues that could be costly in the near future.
From time to time, a home inspection may identify one or more major issues with the property that needs to be rectified, or at least negotiated upon if the sale were to go through.
Major deficiencies in a home inspection are typically defined as anything that requires correction by a licensed contractor. These are not “do it yourself” repairs and require professional correction.
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The 7 major home inspection issues include:
- Building Structure Issues – this includes damage to wood framings such as the floor, wall, or roof framing; structural foundation movement such as failed foundation piers and cracked concrete slabs that have shifted.
- Roofing Issues – this includes damage or aged materials requiring replacement of the roof coverings. Roof coverings have a limited lifespan and often require replacement early due to environmental conditions.
- Electrical Issues – Mostly found in older homes that have ungrounded wiring and electrical panel boxes over 40 years in age.
- Plumbing Issues – Major plumbing issues include old piping such as cast iron waste piping and galvanized supply piping. These can also include defective materials such as ABS waste piping and Polybutylene supply piping.
- Mechanical Issues – Mechanical systems such as furnaces, heat pumps, and water heaters have a limited lifespan and are prone to failure.
- Water Drainage Issues – Water drainage issues can cause the failure of the foundation of the home. This can be caused by stormwater runoff from roofs or negative grading with the land around the home.
- Wood Destroying Organisms (especially termites) Issues – Wood destroying organisms include termites, carpenter ants, beetles, and wood-destroying fungi. Termites are the number one culprit in this category and can cause major structural damage if left untreated. Treatment of termites can cost $500 to $1500 or more.
Buying a home could be the single biggest investment you’ll ever make, it’s not the kind of time you want to leave the door open for a few unpleasant surprises.
However, it’s worth pointing out that whether or not these issues should be considered as a dealbreaker is purely based on personal preference. Some buyers may be able to negotiate a fair deal with the owner for the repairs that must be carried out, and for the time that it’ll take to conduct them. You may even be able to grab yourself a bargain if you find a house that has a few major issues that can be repaired without too much hassle.
Nevertheless, it’s important to note that a major issue more often than not brings with it some form of safety concern. For example, a dated electrical system can be extremely hazardous as it is one of the leading causes of home fires in the USA. Both ASHI and NACHI accredited home inspectors will do their best to identify any such issues in accordance with their Standards of Practice.
If you believe that the property your viewing has a specific issue, it would be wise to hire a specialist to accompany the home inspector so you can get a more thorough and objective analysis of the building. For example, if you have reason to believe the structural integrity of the building is damaged, you should take a qualified structural engineer along with you who can assess the structure in much closer detail than a general home inspector could.
In this article, we will take a look at some major home inspection issues, and a few tips and tricks on how to pick up on them yourself. Let’s get into it.
Building Structure Issues
Building structural issues are easily one of the more major concerns that can arise in the property inspectors’ report. The structural integrity of the property is one of the key aspects for assessing its strength and potential longevity. If any of the building’s structural components are damaged in some way, this would usually constitute a major issue for most homebuyers.
A residential building’s structure is usually divided up into four components. These are the foundations, walls, floors, and the roof. Over the years, these structures can incur damage for a wide number of reasons. It’s the home inspectors’ job to determine the cause of these issues and assess whether or not they pose a safety risk to the inhabitants.
One major structural issue is damage to the foundation. This typically occurs due to abnormal settlement, which is the shifting of the soil beneath the home. Over time, these shifts cause damage to the property as there is an increase in structural stress on the foundations.
Home inspectors will be on the lookout for tell-tale signs of this around the property, such as cracks in the foundation walls, deteriorated masonry piers, uneven flooring, cracks and gaps in the mortar and brickwork, as well as ill-fitting doors and windows.
Many modern homes are built from structural engineered trusses and I-beams. These engineered products can be found in roof and floor structures. Engineered building components are designed for a specific purpose and load.
Any alteration to an engineered product, whether caused by man or environmental factors, requires repair by a structural engineer or a contractor working under the direction of a structural engineer.
Oftentimes, plumbers will cut or notch an engineered wood product with no consideration to the potential structural implications.
Environmental examples include engineered floor or roof trusses that have long term moisture exposure causing wood rot to form. This can occur from water leaks, wet crawl spaces, or where the engineered building materials are left on the job site exposed to the rain for an extended period of time.
If you suspect the home that you’re going to buy has structural issues, you should consider taking a qualified structural engineer with you to assess it’s integrity in more detail.
Even though the roof is part of the building structure, it deserves its own entry into our list of major home inspection issues. Depending on the size of your home, a full roof replacement can cost anywhere between $10,000-$100,000 or more.
Home inspectors often quote the roof as being the ultimate deal-breaker in the homebuying arrangement. Roofing issues, including improper installation, age, and damage caused by hail or wind, top the list of significant roofing issues.
Depending on when the roof was installed and the materials that it’s composed of, it is generally recommended that it should be replaced every 25 to 30 years. Of course, the vast majority of people do not follow this advice which means that there are some largely inadequate roofs out there.
The chart below shows the approximate lifespan of the most common roofing materials:
|Roofing Material||Approximate Lifespan|
|3 Tab Asphalt Fiberglass Shingles||~15 to 20 Years|
|Architecture Fiberglass Shingles||~25 to 30 Years|
|Concrete Barrel Tile||~30 to 50 Years|
|Metal Roofing||~40 to 70 Years|
|Slate Tile Roofing||~125 Years|
|Wood Shake Roofing||~20 to 40 Years|
The roof plays a pivotal role in the home structure and also helps to prevent the rest of the house from the outdoor elements, water damage, pests, and heat loss in the winter. Roofing issues are not always visible to the untrained eye, but here are a few things to look out for:
- Sagging roof (could also indicate a foundation or structural problem)
- Dark streaks and water stains
- Damaged, cracked, curling, or missing roof shingles
- Roof spreading
- Evidence of an improper installation
- Broken or missing flashings
We kick-off our list with electrical issues as these can be some of the most hazardous and potentially life-threatening problems that you can have in a building. The US Fire Administration states that there are an estimated 24,000 residential building fires that are caused directly by electrical issues.
These fires are responsible for well over $850 million in property damage and are one of the leading causes of fire-based fatalities.
As time goes on, what was once considered to be a perfectly safe electrical system is now deemed to be totally unacceptable by the National Electric Code (NEC). The older a home gets, the more likely it is to have some sort of electrical faults that need to be updated. Let’s take a look at some of the more serious electrical issues that home inspectors report:
Outdated Electrical Panels
The electrical panel is the main hub for power in the house. Pre1950s houses would have fuse boxes present which were common in houses with knob and tube wiring.
Between 1950 and 1965, the 60-amp service electrical panel became widely accepted and the preferred method for electrical distribution.
However, many of these panels were built with aluminum manufactured during wartime that wasn’t up to quality standards. The aluminum components were prone to overheat resulting in numerous house fires.
Many of these first-generation electrical breaker panels contained numerous defective components. Some of the faulty panels included Federal Pacific Stab-Lok, Zinsco, Challenger, ITE Pushmatic, etc. Many of these electrical panels can still be found in use today.
When a home inspector comes across one of these panels, it will likely be cited for potential replacement and further examination by a licensed electrician.
In Signs Your Electric Panel Needs an Upgrade – Safety & Costs to Replace we discuss these and other electrical defects in more details.
Buildings that are at least 40 years old have a strong chance of having unnecessarily complex or hazardous electrical wiring systems in comparison with today’s standards. In the past, we didn’t have access to the technology that we do today, which is why some households have a relatively rudimentary electrical system.
Any houses that were built pre-1950 were typically fitted with knob and tube wiring. This is single insulated and operates without a grounding system. Of course, this is unsafe and needs to be brought up to current day standards.
Aluminum tubing is also a prime candidate for electrical fires. It was originally introduced in the 1950s and 1960s as a replacement for expensive copper wiring. Unfortunately, this material has been directly linked to many fires in the USA. This is a dangerous issue that needs to be replaced.
Other older electrical wiring had sheathing that was made with asbestos materials and paper insulation.
While most electrical wiring in a house lasts 100 years, the sheathing begins to breakdown much sooner with a lifespan of only 50 to 70 years. As of this writing, a home built in 1960 with original wiring would be considered at or near the end of its useful life and should be examined by a licensed electrician.
Electrical systems installed pre-1980 have a strong chance of using ungrounded receptacles. This means that the receptacles do not have a grounding wire which helps to prevent an electrical shock to people who come into contact with it.
On top of this, ungrounded receptacles present a risk of electrical fire as sparks may ignite nearby furniture. These receptacles were also susceptible to lightning strikes resulting in numerous house fires.
While faulty plumbing may not pose much of a threat to human life, it does pose a significant threat to the life and longevity of the property in the form of water damage. Similar to the electrical issues listed above, old and outdated plumbing systems typically fail to stand up to the test of time.
Let’s take a look at some of the major issues that can be found with a plumbing system:
Problems with the piping
Most residential properties have pipework running throughout the house, transporting gallons upon gallons of clean and dirty water each day. As the pipework is usually located beneath the floorboards and in hard to reach places, updating the piping system is a complex and expensive task.
It’s for this reason that plumbing issues are one of the most common problems that arise in the home inspectors report. In the past, it was common to install plumbing materials such as galvanized pipes, polybutylene pipes, and polyethylene pipes. While these pipes may have been fine at the time, many of them have fallen into disrepair, becoming brittle and starting to fail. Home inspectors will be on the lookout for any signs of corrosion or serious defects that can arise due to these piping materials.
Sewer line clogs
Your sewer line carries wastewater from your toilets, sinks, washing machines, showers, and baths away from your home. When this line becomes clogged and the water fails to drain properly, it can lead to a raw sewage backup which causes serious issues and damage to the property.
Problems with the water heater
Home inspectors will take a look at the water heater as part of their standard home inspection. A functioning water heater is a necessity in most properties, especially those that are subjected to extreme winter conditions.
If there are serious issues with the water heater it will need to be replaced, which can easily cost upwards of $2000.
Evidence of leaking
We will talk more about leaks later on in this article, however, it’s important to note faulty plumbing is one of the primary causes of water damage in residential buildings. Damaged and leaky pipes are notoriously hard to identify until it starts to cause significant damage, at which point the repair costs would be sky-high.
Undetected leaks waste tens of thousands of gallons of water each year, and cause a series of knock-on effects to the property’s foundation, floors, walls, and contribute to the buildup of mold and mildew throughout the home.
The HVAC system is an important part of the house as it is used to regulate air temperature and air quality. It also helps to reduce the humidity throughout the house via increased ventilation and prevents some of the water damage issues listed above.
In general, heating and cooling systems have a lifespan of between 10 to 25 years, as long as they have been maintained correctly. It is the owner’s job to frequently change the air filters and to ensure that all of the ductwork is as it should be.
During the inspection, the home inspector will assess the HVAC system and the ductwork to make sure that it is in working order. If there are severe problems with the HVAC system and a replacement is required, a new installation can cost anywhere between $5000-$9000, which is what earns this a place on our list.
According to NACHI and ASHI certified home inspectors, water damage is responsible for the vast majority of reported issues on the home inspection. Water can enter the property in many different ways, and none of them are good news. The implications of sustained water damage poses a very real threat to the structural integrity of the house and can cost thousands of dollars to repair.
One of the major issues with water damage occurs when excess water penetrates the foundations and finds itself in the basement of the property. This is usually the fault of negative gradient and improper drainage of the land surrounding the property.
When it rains, the water drains towards the building has nowhere else to go other than into the foundations. Over time, this corrodes the building’s key structures and compromises its integrity. The manifestations of this can be seen right throughout the house in the form of cracks in the walls, ill-fitting doors and windows, uneven floors, bowing and leaning walls, and so on.
The average cost of a water damage claim is roughly $8000, but as you can imagine, the sky is the limit for these sorts of repairs. In extreme cases, it can render the property unfit for human occupation.
As mentioned previously, water can also enter the property via leaky pipes and problems with the plumbing system. The home inspector will be on the lookout for any signs of water damage throughout the property. Other than the previously mentioned symptoms, here are a few of the classic tell-tale signs that there is water damage in the house:
- Musty smell
- Mould and mildew
- Excess condensation
- Dark stains on the ceilings and walls
- Ventilation issues
Wood Destroying Organisms
If you are eyeing up your next family home and you’re ready to splash out a significant investment, one of the last things you want to see is a pest infestation. However, some pests are far more than just an unpleasant sight.
In the USA, there are plenty of wood-eating pests that literally spend their existence gnawing and chewing away at your investment. Sometimes, they feed off the key support structures in the house, such as wooden joists and important load-bearing walls.
It’s estimated that termites alone are responsible for upwards of $5 billion worth of damage to US property each year. It’s safe to say, if you see any sort of termite infestation in the home you’re looking to buy, alarm bells should start ringing in your head.
The whole idea of a home inspection is to give the home buyer the information they need to make an informed decision on the potential life-changing purchase that they are about to make. As we all know, no home is perfect, and almost every inspection will return some sort of issue. However, some issues are more serious than others, and this needs to be taken into consideration during the negotiation process of the sale.
To the untrained eye, what might appear as a fairly innocuous crack in the wall may turn out to be something far more sinister, such as serious structural damage or water penetration at the home’s foundation level. Issues such as this can run up hefty repair bills in the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars, which would end up turning your dream move into something of a total disaster.
In addition to this, it becomes even more important to take a home inspector with you when you are looking to purchase an older property. Old electrical and plumbing practices have now been rendered obsolete by modern day standards.
The inspector will inform you if the home you want to buy has an aged electrical system that may have a higher likelihood of causing an electrical fire, or a dated plumbing system that could end up costing you thousands of dollars worth of water damage repairs.
Thanks for reading.