Friday, May 27, 2011
Buckling and Crowning... In the Same Room?!
By Craig DeWitt
Now that was a fun inspection. It started as an HVAC-related hardwood floor issue so I had to be careful what tools I took on the airplane with me compared to what the client had. I know things aren't always as they are described, but I guessed pretty good on what tools to take. Flying is getting to be more and more fun, isn't it?
This house had both buckled and crowned 3/4" solid nail-down floors in the same room. So my question this week is; how can that happen? Relatively new house, crowning in an area beside the fireplace and buckling down the center of the same room. Semi-finished basement underneath, ducts in the floor above the basement, with furnace and AC in the basement.
Well, it turns out that the buckling wasn't an HVAC issue. It was a fireplace issue. The house has a wrap-around porch, with the chimney running up through the porch roof, up the side of the house and extending above the peak of the roof a couple feet. It has a stone facade on the outside of a framed chase around the metal flue pipe.
Some testing, poking, prodding and even a little borescope work indicated a water leak at the chimney. So I went outside for a look-see. Well, the section of chimney below the roof peak had separated from the part above the peak, and had dropped and leaned away from the house a couple inches. The part below the porch roof was fine. It turns out that the rock facade was built on the porch roof, with no modification to the roof for the weight of the rock. Over the few months of existence, the porch roof had sagged under the weight, causing the chimney to drop and lean. And leak. And the leak affected the floor. (But that doesn't explain the crowning. Another question for you: What does it mean when your pinless meter reads lower on a crowned board than on the rest of the floor?)
Fixing the floor is one thing. Fixing the chimney is going to be a whole 'nother story.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
The Worst Home Inspection I've Seen
By Craig DeWitt
Another week with a long ride for a short inspection. And it involved a crawl space again. Only it really didn't. This was for a real estate transaction, and the home inspector's report said "Inadequate cross ventilation in the crawl space due to the solid porch at the front. Due to inadequate ventilation, the floors are cupping in areas above the crawl space at the foyer, entrance. Properly install a power vent with a humidistat at the crawl space."
Actually, this was probably the worst home inspection report I have seen. For details about the crawl space, it said simply "Entered". Same for the attic. For details on the water heater, it said "gas" and showed a photo of it in a closet. No mention of whether it was a properly vented closet or not.
And the fireplace: The living room contains a gas fireplace that vents out the back. The previous owners added an enclosed sun porch off the back such that the fireplace had to be disconnected. (You can't vent this fireplace into living space.) But the inspection report stated twice that "the fireplace was in acceptable condition." But you can't use it because of the sunroom addition. But it's in acceptable condition. But you can't use it.
The inspector's statement about the crawl space resulted in me driving 9 hours yesterday to look at this 5-year old house. Factory-finished solid 3/4" by 2 1/4" oak that was essentially uniform in appearance throughout the house. Cupping no more than 0.010" with some out-of-plane boards that made things look worse with the big window walls. The crawl space was fine. Nothing over 10% moisture content. No signs of previous elevated moisture. Just some flooring that went in too dry in the first place, and some configuration issues.
This is not California, this is coastal South Carolina. Power venting a crawl space here will more likely cause problems than solve them. Johannes found a good article on crawl spaces that's posted in the Troubleshooting/Inspections part of the HF Forum. I have a couple articles on my web site as well. Over the last 20 years, we've taken many, many nasty crawl spaces and fixed them by sealing them. Pest control people, builders, building codes and even some wood flooring people have recognized the benefits (in some parts of the world). Home inspectors are a hard crowd to get to, and many feel the only solution is to add ventilation. Some even recommend undoing the fixes that have been made.
In this house, I won't recommend changing a thing. Well, except for fixing a couple things the home inspector missed.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
In the Trenches
By Craig DeWitt
It was a busy week with a couple nice floor inspections. The most interesting one was a factory-finished floor that had significant overwood and underwood issues. Corners and edges were higher than adjoining boards, and in some spots sections of boards were lower than adjoining boards. Measurements on removed boards show some significant thickness variations in the flooring. The sad part was that a section of this flooring was replaced to get rid of the over/underwood issues, but the replacement flooring wasn't any better.
I followed another inspector on a different house. That inspector found joist moisture levels near 25% in the crawl space under the floor. I found moisture levels significantly less, but also found evidence that the inspector didn't go in the crawl space. In this house, you had to crawl under an addition to get to the part with the wood floor issue. Then you had to crawl in a trench dug out for the furnace. Here's a photo of the trench pathway.
This part of the job isn't for the big guys or those with claustrophobia. I envy all of you with with basements and slabs.
The gang building the new shed here is one truss shy of a roof. I think that's similar to being a few cards short of a full deck, or not having the elevator go all the way to the top, but in this case, it’s also literal. We are at a standstill until they get a new truss delivered. Friends and money are not a good mix. Friends and construction are also not a good mix. How and when do you pull the plug on a friend who's not doing a good job?
Monday, May 09, 2011
Whose Fault is it? The House or the Floor?
By Craig DeWitt
I managed to get back one of the jobs I thought I had lost last week because of an old telephone number. It’s a 100-plus-year-old building that has undergone several modifications over the years. Now they are changing all the heating and air conditioning equipment, and wanted to make sure that the new systems wouldn't cause problems with the building. Old buildings didn't have A/C, and adding that can cause lots of problems, especially in humid areas. I really like crawling in all the nooks and crannies of old buildings. You see some interesting things and some great construction.?
Question of the week: If a building is working fine and you change the floors, why are there problems with the new floors because the building is too humid? I looked at a floor in Charleston, S.C., this week that was replaced a couple years ago in an insurance claim from a washing machine flood. The house is about 40 years old. The replacement floors cupped shortly after installation, and everyone is blaming it on a too-humid house. (No washing machine residual issues.) I measured RH in the upper 50s inside and low 60s in the crawl space (swing season, no heat, little A/C). Some signs of surface fungi on joists, but nothing unusual for this area. So the conditions are normal for this house (and this area). Why then do we try to blame the new floor problems on these normal moisture levels?