QUESTION: I’m a single woman who purchased an older home 16 years ago. When I purchased it, the previous owners left me the home inspector’s binder, outlining the state of the home when they purchased it a few years earlier. I often referred to it, it was excellent and very thorough, and used the advice as I considered and did repairs and maintenance over the years. Now, however, it’s 15 years later. That binder and its advice are about 18 years old. I have no plans to move, but would love that kind of current state-of-affairs snapshot that this inspector gave on my house. That way I can be aware of deterioration or concerns that may not have existed years ago. I don’t have the expertise to know what to look for as my house ages.
Do home inspectors do this kind of checkup without a house sale coming up? It seems ironic that I get maintenance advice from my car mechanic every six months, but don’t do the same for my house.
Thanks very much. I have enjoyed and learned from your column for years! — Ann
Answer: Hiring a registered home inspector (RHI) to do a periodic inspection on an older home is an excellent idea, for guidelines on maintenance and repair requirements. Some home inspectors may not be used to providing that type of service, so ensure you ask about their qualifications and background, which should include construction-related experience for the best advice.
Having a home inspection done before purchasing a home should be a normal part of the buying process. While this is frequently being omitted in the current seller’s market, the value cannot be questioned. Many buyers think the sole purpose is to identify items of immediate major concern, and that is a major focus, but not the only benefit. A good home inspector will also take the time to educate the future homeowner on items related to maintenance, specific to that property. These often include obvious advice on regular maintenance of the mechanical systems, but also should identify lesser-known items for that particular residence.
Issues related to grading, water management, vegetation, structural movement, and of course safety-related items may not be immediate concerns, but could be in the future. Deferred maintenance may be the most insidious cause of failure of various systems. For a recent example, lack of watering the area around the home has caused moderate to severe erosion of soil in many homes this summer. I have seen sidewalks, driveways, patios, decks, and even foundations affected by this loss of soil moisture. True, most of it is related to the recent drought conditions, but regular wetting of grass and gardens adjacent to the foundation can minimize the soil shrinkage. Replenishment of lost soil with new topsoil is also a low-cost regular maintenance solution to prevent movement related to dryness.
In normal years, water management and good drainage is equally as important to prevent foundation and leakage issues. Too often I observe loose or damaged eavestroughs and downspouts on many homes. Simple downspout extensions, to divert water to drainage swales and away from the foundation, are often loose, missing, or too short to provide adequate protection. Having roof rain water dump directly on or beside a house or foundation wall can have disastrous consequences. These repairs may only require a few sections of low-cost downspout pipe and a few screws. Even regular cleaning of eavestroughs, to remove leaves and other debris, may prevent seepage due to overflowing during a heavy rainstorm. Even in the recent dry conditions, water running toward the foundation from the few recent rains can find its way inside, especially if there is a gap between the dry soil and the concrete walls.
Other areas that are too often neglected are the wood-based items on the exterior of the home. Wooden trim on windows, soffits, fascia and siding must be regularly stained or repainted to prevent damage. While these areas are becoming much more maintenance-free in newer homes, there are still thousands that require regular work. Many of these are older, already, and exposed wood will be subject to premature rot if left untended. Even decks and fences, if not constructed of pressure-treated wood or composite products, should be recoated every few years. The cost of replacement has escalated exponentially in the last decade, due to higher lumber prices and wages for tradespeople. A hundred dollars’ worth of paint or stain and some elbow grease every few years can save thousands in replacement costs.
So, how often should a maintenance inspection be ordered? Somewhere between every five and 10 years should be a good guideline. Many items and systems on homes are designed to last 20 to 25 years, with proper attention. Lots of these can become prematurely deteriorated if neglected longer than a few years. Other low-maintenance products may last for decades, but still should be inspected periodically, to ensure they don’t need attention. Since the report you have is almost two decades old, much of its content may have already been attended to, otherwise it would be toast. It is surely time to update your knowledge of the current condition of your home.
Periodic inspection of your home, with an emphasis on maintenance issues, is a very good way to budget and plan for the future. Make sure you contact an RHI who has a construction-related background, for the best advice on prioritizing your home maintenance items identified in the new inspection report.
Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and a Registered Home Inspector. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out his website at trainedeye.ca.