DIY Home Inspection
Discover small problems before they get big.
The purpose of a home inspection is to examine the inside and outside of a home, including the grounds, the structure and mechanical systems. The inspector looks for defects, broken or obsolete components, and damage due to weather, rot, or wear and tear. A qualified professional inspector then provides the customer with an itemized and detailed summary of the findings.
While a do-it-yourself inspection won’t be nearly as thorough as hiring a pro, a yearly examination of your house is a good way to analyze your property and determine any necessary repairs you can make to prevent bigger problems in the future. Plus, you can take some cues from the pros regarding how to organize your inspection and how to look for red flags that can lead to more trouble down the line.
According to Robb Graham, president of Professional Home Inspection Institute, a home inspection boils down to three major considerations: Water, Safety and HVAC. “For example, one area of a home inspection is site, grounds and grading, and the primary concern is proper grading to ensure water is running away from the house,” says Graham. “Another area of inspection is sidewalks, and ensuring cracks will not create a tripping hazard, which is a safety concern.”
The home inspection typically begins with a site analysis, examining in particular the drainage and grading of the property. Proper grading ensures that surface water is directed away from the foundation. Poor drainage can lead to accumulated hydrostatic pressure against the home’s walls, which can cause basement walls to buckle, or lead to water erosion, which can weaken the home’s foundation. The grading should be sloped away from the house, dropping 6 inches for every 6 feet.
You’ll need a flashlight to inspect crawlspaces and unlighted basements for any signs of water penetration or cracks through foundation walls. A 4-ft. level will help determine if foundation walls or exterior retaining walls are listing or bowing from external pressure—problems that can eventually lead to collapse. Use a pick, screwdriver or awl to check areas for wood rot or decay in the framing. Wood rot is caused by a fungus and is as damaging as termites.
Check framing members near the ground for signs of termite infestation. Termite-damaged wood shows mud tubes that are lined with dirt. Termites’ wings also fall off easily, so a pile of wings is another clue to their presence.
Cracks in a floor slab or evidence that it is heaving upward probably indicates a high water table. Installation of footing drain tiles can counteract problems associated with a high water table.
If a home has a sump-pump, then drainage is probably an issue. Check the foundation perimeter for ruts on the ground or bare spots where the grass has eroded. This may indicate more water flow than the ground can absorb, which leads to erosion and could eventually weaken the foundation. Installation of drainage conduit can provide a solution.
Inspect trees and landscaping as well. Tree overgrowth can lead to too much shade, which can contribute to mildew and rot on the house. Overgrown trees and shrubs that contact the house can lead to pest infestation and should be trimmed back.
Inspect all walkways, driveways, patios and stairways for any disrepair or damage that can cause a safety issue. All stairways must have a concrete footing and foundation. Make sure the steps don’t tilt, heave or sink to one side. Generally any platform above grade must have a sturdy handrail system. Current building codes stipulate that handrail balusters are spaced no more than 4 inches apart so children can’t get their heads stuck between them.
Check all decks, porches and balconies for structural integrity. For decks attached to the house, pay close attention to the ledger board connection, which is prone to rot and water damage if improperly installed and is a common cause of deck collapse.