Thursday, February 4, 2010

New Cracks Appearing in your Brick or Stucco Veneer?

If you are seeing new cracks developing in your brick or stucco veneer in the Houston area, the cracks are likely caused by the cold weather. The cold weather has lasted an unusually long time this year and the masonry veneer shrinks because of the cold. The colder it is and the longer it stays cold, the more the veneer will shrink. As the brick or stucco shrinks, cracks are likely to develop. Although all the propaganda from foundation leveling contractors in the Houston area makes you think that all cracks in a house are caused by differential foundation movements, the propaganda is completely untrue. Masonry veneer and interior drywall materials develop cracks for many reasons. Differential foundation movements are only one of the causes. If you are only seeing cracks in the brick or stucco veneer and there are no corresponding cracks in the interior drywall and you do not notice slopes in your floors, the cracks are probably from the cold weather. If the cracks are related to the cold, the cracks will close as the weather warms. If you repair the cracks or fill them, new cracks will form as the existing cracks try to close. You should leave the cracks open and clean the debris from the cracks so that these cracks can close without creating more cracks. If you have any questions, contact a well qualified inspector to inspect your walls and your foundation. Be aware that many, if not most, real estate inspectors are afraid to make determinations on the need for foundation leveling as they are concerned about legal liability. Make sure the house inspector that you hire has the education, experience and ability to be able to properly perform a competent foundation inspection. If you have questions contact us at

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Roof Inspections

The minimum standards of practice for real estate inspectors in the state of Texas require a house inspector to inspect a roof from the surface of the roof provided that the inspector can safely reach and stay on the roof. Inspecting the roof covering materials from the surface of the roof is extremely important. Damage to the shingles, delamination of the shingles, loss of the gypsum chips surface, location and number of fasteners (nails), the effectiveness of the adhesive strip and the bonding of the first row of shingles to the starter course cannot be determined from the ground. While many roofs in the Houston area are too steeply pitched for an inspector to be able to safely walk on, inspecting the roof from a ladder at the eaves provides you with a much better inspection than an inspection from the ground. When you are buying a newly built or an existing house make sure that the house inspector you hire inspects the roof at least from the eaves on the roof.

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Results of a Foundation Inspection

There are more myths about foundation than there are realities. Concrete slab on grade foundations are not constructed 'level' or 'flat'. All foundations have some slopes. Foundation elevations only tell you the profile of the surface of the foundation at the time the elevations were taken. 'Movement' is a function of time. Just because a foundation is not 'level' or 'flat' does not mean that the foundation had moved differentially. Many house inspectors in the Houston area are afraid to render opinions on the performance of a foundation due to liability concerns. Since there are many houses that have differential foundation movement in the Greater Houston area many, if not most real estate inspectors prefer to defer to a structural engineer to determine if the foundation is in need of 'leveling'. Structural engineers are taught to design foundations, not to inspect them. Inspectors are taught to observe and report defects or indications of defects. The real indication that the foundation of the house you want to buy may need leveling is if you feel that you are going up and down hill when you walk through the house. If you do not notice floor slopes in the house you want to buy, what will the benefit of 'leveling' the foundation be? So that you know, foundation 'leveling' methods do not provide stability in most cases. If foundation 'leveling' methods did provide stability there would be no need for warranties on the leveling work. When you are in the market to buy a house, hire an inspector who knows enough to perform the tasks that you are paying him for. TREC#160

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Everybody Does It

Builders in the Houston area often refuse to repair defects claiming that the defect noted by your professional inspector is 'common practice' or that 'everybody does it'. What is so interesting in that reply is that your builder is claiming to be the same as everyone else. Your builder has no desire to be the best in his profession or to set a high standard for his product. He chooses to build to the lowest level. So why would you choose to buy from a builder who has no pride in his profession or in his product? When you buy, choose a well educated, experienced professional inspector who takes pride in his work and who seeks to be the best in his profession at providing service to his clients. Demand the same from your builder. Ask your builder these questions, "What level of perfection should you expect from his product? Does he take any pride in being the best in his profession or is he content to be just like everybody else? And finally "What level of tolerance for errors and hazards should you expect from the investment you are making in him?" Would your employer keep you employed if you did things 80% right? Why would you allow your builder to be anything but right in his materials and methods? He is not giving you the house is he? If he is, it would be rude to complain about the defects. If you are paying for the house, you have every right and every reason to demand that the house be built to the minimum levels of life, safety and sanitation provided by the model building codes.

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When Your Contractor Wants to Argue with Your Inspector

Your professional inspector should provide you with building code references and/or manufacturer's installation instructions in his report on your house. When your builder wants to argue with the information provided by your inspector, have the builder cite his references. Non-acceptable references are his subcontractors opinions or the opinions of the architects, engineers or third party inspectors employed by the builder. Your inspector explained the defect and justified it by referencing code organizations which create codes because something is scientifically factual or because someone got hurt or killed or because a house burned. Manufacturers make their appliances to operate safely if the appliances are installed according to the manufacturers instructions. Underwriters Laboratory determines that an appliance will operate safely if the appliance is installed according to the manufacturer's instructions. The more restrictive rule, whether it is the building code or the manufacturer's installation instruction, is the rule that is to be followed. If these rules are not followed at a minimum, the installation is not considered to be "safe". If it is not safe, it is a hazard to you, your family and to the guests in your house. If your builder cannot cite an non-biased authority on an issue, make him fix the defect. As noted in a previous article and blog, city inspectors and builder third party builder inspectors have no liability to you. You should not rely on them as proof that the house conforms to the building code or to the manufacturer's installation instructions. Builders in the Greater Houston area also refuse to fix defects because "everybody does it" the way he did it. 'If everyone jumped off a cliff' .... your house would still be unsafe.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

When Your Contractor Wants to Argue with Your Inspector

Most good professional inspectors provide building code citations and manufacture installation instructions in their reports. Your professional inspector provides this information so that you will understand the reason he called out the deficiency and what the basis of his decision was. When your builder wants to argue with the results of your inspection, have the builder cite the source for his opinion. Most builders cannot do so. They defer to their sub contractors. Builders use the same sub contractors to build many houses. If the builder actually made the sub contractor perform his job properly, the sub contractor would raise his price which reduces the general contractor's profits. The general contractor is only going to have to deal with you once. Builders also rely on the 'everybody does it' defense. Going back to kindergarten, 'if everyone jumped off a cliff......' Building codes are minimum standards to safeguard life, limb, health, sanitation and public welfare. By definition, if your house is not built to the minimum levels provided by the building codes, your house is not safe. If your builder cannot provide an independent source, which does not include anyone he pays routinely like the engineer, architect or sub contractors, to defend his actions, make the builder bring your house to the minimum levels of safety provided by the building codes.

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Is Your New House Safe?

Builders want you to think that your new home is safe because it passed inspection by a city building inspector. Even if city building inspectors actually inspected houses, building codes are established to provide the MINIMUM level of structural performance, safety and sanitation. So if you house is actually built to the level of the minimum standards of structural performance, safety and sanitation, you have a minimally safe house. There is no maximum level of structural performance, safety and sanitation but you should at least expect your house to be minimally safe. I have never inspected a house that even met these minimum standards. Protect yourself and your family. Have an inspection performed by a qualified, well educated, thorough professional inspector. Even if you have already bought your new home, your builder is liable for defects for one year and for structural defects for ten years.

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