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10 Year Old Home and Condensation in the Crawl Space

Image Description:  Columbia River Gorge, Stevenson, WA - Over 30 rotting posts, and completely saturated insulation on a 10 year old house in the Columbia River Gorge.

In 1999 we inspected a house in Stevenson, WA that has become infamous for its crawl space issues.  This home was only 10 years old at the time of the inspection.

The insulation shown in the picture is completely wet.  There were no leaks, but you could reach up, grab the insulation, and it would ring out lots of water.

The post shown in the picture was just one of over 30 that were completely decayed. 

The cause?  Inconclusive.  We could find no leaks, let alone a leak that would account for uniform moisture issues throughout the entire crawl space.  It appeared to be condensation... and lots of it. 

The other interesting thing was that the purchaser almost didn't have a home inspection, the seller had no idea about the problems, and neither of them were working with Realtors.  This could have been a real issue for the buyer. 

Also, as strange as it may be... there was really little water on the ground in the crawl space... it was just "hanging" there in the insulation.  Again,  it was so wet that you could literally ring it out!

Why Inspect a New House?

Image Description:  Vancouver, WA - A small leak behind the washing machine on the second floor had caused mold to grow in the wall cavity.

The vast majority of all homes are inspected in the US during a real estate transaction.  A 2001 survey stated that 77% of homes had a home inspection at the time of a sale.  It is likely higher than that today.  However, when it comes to new homes many people skip out on the home inspection for the following reasons:

1) It is "New" so what kind of problems could it possibly have?

Answer: Actually, it could have a lot of problems, even though it is "new".  In fact, we have never inspected a new home that had a "clear report".  That is over 10,000 home inspections, and likely 15-20% of those were on homes that were one year old or less.  There is always something.  Granted: if you are going to gamble, then why don't you gamble on a new home.  But, do you really want to gamble with that much money?  The reality is that new homes can have significant issues that you may not know about until after you move in, or ones that you may not know about until it is too late, cosing even more money to fix at a later time.

2) The house was inspected by the County during construction, so we don't need a home inspection.

Answer: What a government official does during a "Code" inspection is not what a home inspector does during a "home inspection".  These are completely different fields, and the approach is very different.  Home Inspectors are interested in problems, regardless of what any "Code" says.  Our Standards of Practice (Oregon, Washington or private standards, supplied by organizations such as the American Society of Home Inspectors) are not based on "Code".  Some things will cross over, but others do not. 

Further, when we inspect a home we are going to be at the house for (typically) 2-3 hours (sometimes more, somtimes less, it really just depends on the home), whereas a "Code" inspector is not going to be there for very long and they are not as detail oriented as a home inspector. 

As such, passing on a home inspection at the time of a real estate transaction due to the fact that it was inspected by government officials is a bad reason: we find problems all the time that the "Code" inspector missed.

3) Well, the house is under warranty, so if a problem comes up we will just call the contractor.

Answer:  Good luck with that!  Many contractors are great, and many construction companies are top-notch.  But, there are bad ones out there. 

At a recent inspection, the buyer's had moved into the home and started having problems from day one.  They didn't have a home inspection when they were buying it.  They called us and we went out and performed a standard inspection on the property, which not only revealed a long list of problems, but a list with some significant issues.

Over 3 months later, the buyer has not been able to get the contractor to fix the issues... it is even hard to get a return phone call.

So, what would have happened if the buyer had just had the home inspection prior to closing on the home?  The contractor would have not only responded, but the problems would have likely been fixed quickly.  Reason?  The contractor wants to get paid, and if these issues surface during the transaction after a home inspection, the contractor isn't going to get paid until the items are fixed, so their response is ... quick.  After the home is sold, what reasons do they have to answer the phone or, more, fix the problems?

Be smart, and have home inspections on new homes!

The Best Moisture Ant Infestation... Ever

Image Description: NE Portland - Moisture Ant "nest" shown extending from the ground to the beam.  Beam is decayed and muchrooms are growing out of it.  Cause: patio on the outside of the home (to the right) was sloping towards the home and poring water on it. 

Technically, Moisture Ants are generally categorized as a "wood destroying insect", but they are not as bad as other forms of WDI's--they are interested in wood that is already damp and decaying, hence, their presence is a sign of a problem that already exists.  They don't really "cause" the problem, but they certainly emphasize it and, possibly, accellerate it.

As noted above, these moisture ants had created at sizeable "nest".  Though hard to see in the picture, this "nest" was about 16 inches high, about 4 inches wide in the middle.  When I arrived, you couldn't see any ants!  But, after I cut it open they started getting angry and thousands began to come out. 

It was great!  (These are the things that only home inspectors and pest control people get excited about...)

As noted above, the reason why the beam was decaying was due to the patio on the rear of the home, which was sloping towards the house. 

Unfortunately, the inspection was performed for a seller (not a buyer), though she had just bought the home before the inspection.  If she had found this problem when buying, she may have either walked away from the home, asked for a lower price on the home, or had the issue fixed.  Yet another reason to get home inspections when you are purchasing the home, no matter the condition and no matter how old or new it is.

New Home Has Some Notable Deck Issues

Image Description:  Washougal, WA - Deck, 50 feet above ground level, has improper cantilever, joists that are not nailed into the joist hangers, and obvious stress (middle of the picture) in the area of the Jacuzzi tub.

This deck, attached to a home in Washougal that was over 5000sf and NEW, had some significant issues.  In the picture you can see an improper cantilever--i.e., the framing on the right side extends out too far from the supports on the left.  The imbalance and weight have caused the structure on the left to sink, and it is cracking (seen in the middle of the picture).  Worse: the joists shown in the right side of the picture (and over 30 other ones on the entire deck structure) were not actually nailed to the joist hangers.  As such, as the structure moved, the joists were slowly getting close to simply falling out of the hangers, which would have sent anything or anyone on the deck above this down... over 50 feet.  How the contractor was able to get away with this one, I do not know.  Then again, this is the kind of thing we run into every once in a while on "new homes".

Septic Tank Shot on 30 Year Old Home

Image Description:  Estacada, OR - The septic tank (right) was completely shot on this 30 year old home in Estacada, which was leading to other issues with the foundation and the home.

Given that home inspections are visual and non-invasive, an Oregon or Washington home inspection is not going to be able to comment on the condition of the septic system.  That said, if you have a septic system most home inspectors are certainly going to recommend that you have it looked at.


The picture on the right shows why.  This septic tank, on a 30 year old home in Estacada, was completely deteriorated. 

More, it was contributing to the errosion of the soil around the house and retaining wall (I was standing on the retaining wall when I took this picture), and the foundation was significantly cracked.  When standing in the house on this side, it was reminicent of Alice and Wonderland stories. 

Unfortunately, the seller was not motivated to do anything about these problems (even though the home had been on the market for over 2 years).  The buyer walked. 

Carpenter Ants vs. Foam Insulation

Image Description: Astoria, OR - Carpenter Ants find that hard form insulation in a crawl space is a "joy" to crawl through... forget the wood... sort of.

The Winner: Carpenter Ants

Something in this crawl space didn't seem right.  There was dust everywhere, but it didn't look like wood dust.  When we pulled back some of the aluminum covering on the foam board insulation we found out what was going on: Carpenter Ants had attacked the insulation and found it (and the wood) to be an excellent place for nesting. 

We usually think of Carpenter Ants as going for "wood", but wood isn't the only thing that they will get into. 

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