Monday, January 25, 2010

Inspection number 11

The eleventh inspection of the year started out being interesting in that it was a unique salt box construction. This style of home seems to be more popular along the eastern seaboard. It is along the same lines as a gable roof, the only difference is that the two slopes are at a different pitch, the lesser of the two slopes is also a shorter roof surface. It is a style of construction that is very typical of the Atlantic water front properties. The second story is very much a loft style with an upstairs hall that runs parallel with the length of the building that allows you to look down onto the main floor. As did the house I inspected a pair of skylights often adorn the steeper pitched roof slope which faces the water front. While skylights can be a very nice asset to the home in the form of additional natural light, they suffer a bad rap due to the condensation problems, contribution to ice damming and flashing leakage at the roof line. Truth be told the bulk of these concerns are all installer related. In my opinion there is only one skylight that is truly worth its salt. The “Velux” lights have a superior flashing system that when placed properly ( not in bathrooms or kitchens) and a proper side wall (light shaft) insulation has been done, preferably spray foam, this type of light can give you years of trouble free service.

Strangely enough this home had wood shakes, split one side and sawed on the other. This is a type of shingle that I do not see often and all of a sudden I see them twice in a two week span, very cool! Unfortunately for my client we had just had a fresh snow fall and I could see none of the shakes except for the rake of the roof (the edges of the shakes) and to compound this limitation, no attic access. The frustrating part of this is that the house is only 4 years old. The Building Official dropped the ball on this one.

The home was built by the homeowner, while he did a pretty good job on the framing, (although the squash blocks were missed again on the engineered floor joist again) finish work was not his forte. It pains me to see people spending large on high end interior finishes and then bastardize the installation. One of the common things that I find on new construction is that they receive their final permit and then the basement renovations begin, without a permit. In this case the owner had decided to put in a four piece bath in the basement. On rural properties that utilize On- Site Waste Water Systems, (septic system) in most cases plumbing that is in the basement requires a pumping system to elevate the waste to the discharge pipe that is usually passing through the wall about four feet off the floor. A sewage ejection pump is typically installed in the floor and all waste water in the basement is piped from the source (tub, toilet, basin, laundry) underground to the plastic containment pit. From there a macerating pump mulches the waste and pumps it to the septic tank. Depending on the amount of below slab piping this system can add easily $6000 to a bathroom installation. Here’s the good news, there is a toilet system called “Sani-Plus System”, this ingenious system incorporates a macerating pump in the back of the toilet, what’s really cool about this toilet is that the basin and the shower can be pumped into the back of the toilet. The price of this toilet is about $1000. Now, there is always a down side, and here it is. A very small reservoir means that the pump runs a lot. This in itself is not the problem, it’s the dam noise. In the case of my clients prospective home, it had one of these little toilet systems. However the installation was not without concerns. In addition to the basin and shower that drained into the Sani Plus toilet the builder also drained the large whirlpool bath into it. This is a huge volume of water for the pump, because it was an application that I had never seen before (for that matter I had never seen a regular tub on that type of system either) I suggested to my client that he would have to check with them manufacture to verify that type of use. The tub installation had other concerns. To supply power to the tub the builder installed a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) receptacle which is what was required, the problem was that he had plugged the toilet (remember it has a pump in it) into the same receptacle. Number one, all motor loads require a designated circuit, number two you sure do not want your pump dependent toilet to be on a ground fault receptacle. GFCI plug trips and you do not realize it, the toilet over flows. Yes that is what happened during the inspection. So now I have black water running out of the tank all over the floor. Shit (pun intended). We are not done with the tub yet. All whirlpool tubs require access to the pump ( for what I consider to be obvious reasons) The builder in this case did not feel that way and saw fit to use construction adhesive to seal all the panels on. I was able to squeeze in under a stair case that was on the wall behind the tub, while I was not able to access the pump or motor I was able to see yet another problem.

Mechanical venting, Air admittance valve, or cheater valves as they are more commonly referred to as, are a mechanism that is used to replace a proper plumbing vent system. It is a simple device, it is a check valve that is screwed into a fitting (often a horizontal leg coming off the drain pipe) when it feels water pressure going down the pipe the valve opens and takes in air. When there is no longer any water pressure the valve closes to ensure that no sewer/ septic gases can enter the home. As of the 2006 building code revision this is now an acceptable installation, as long as it is accessible. That is the point that the builder did just not get, when I was peaking in the small hole under the stairwell, low and behold there is a cheater valve up in the wall cavity. No possible way to access that one.

What concerns me about a bathroom that has so much amature work is the fact that I know I can only see 2/3rd’s of the problems in this house. If this is what I can see, what else is looming behind these walls?

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1 comment:

  1. I always end up happy and smiling after reading your post. You always give me new knowledge on home inspection and other pro things in terms of being every house's doctor. But this eleventh post reminds me of taking a break from my work. As I read this, my mind is traveling to a nearby beach, with me lying on an attic, looking the coastline and blue sky lines creating a horizon. I badly needed rest! Being a full-time interior designer
    (that's why I am so Interested on your blog) is enjoying but tiring as well. I need vacation, spa and fatigue muscle inspections! St Paul Mn has lots of hidden beaches. Right? Or at least springs will do. Hope I could go to this house you just inspected. Or I need to go out of Minneapolis! Home inspection is a technical job yet enjoyable. I can see it in your writings. Hope I could read more, Hope I could dream more. Great blog!