Insulation & ventilation issues in the attic
The attic should be properly sealed, ventilated and insulated with a minimum of 12 to 15 inches of blown-in insulation. Otherwise, you will get heat loss. Heat loss not only leads to high energy bills, but it can also lead to a number of problems. For example, when heat escapes through the attic — which should be the same temperature as outside — it causes snow on the roof to melt in the winter. That melted snow can then refreeze along the roof’s edge and lead to ice damming, which can cause loads of problems. For one, ice dams can block and warp your eavestroughs. Not only does that mean extra costs in repairs, but if the eavestroughs are blocked, water can back up underneath shingles and cause leaks, rot and mould.
Grading & drainage issues on the property
Look for puddles on the property, especially during spring or after a big storm. Pooling or flooding on the property means there’s a grading issue. If it’s serious, water can come into the basement through the foundation, window wells or window frames. If you see pooling around the property, watch out for signs of moisture inside the home. For example, look for water stains on the wall and ceiling or a musty smell in the basement. Unfortunately, moisture problems in a house are a recipe for disaster, and the fix isn’t cheap.
There are different types of electrical wiring — the most common are knob and tube, aluminum and copper — and they shouldn’t be mixed together. Only one type of electrical wiring should be in a single home, and there are a few reasons why. The most important is that different types of wiring mixed together can cause an electrical arc, which could lead to an electrical fire.
Missing or unsafe handrails & guardrails
Most homeowners just assume that the stairs in a house are going to be safe, whether they’re new or old. But small shortcuts during construction, a renovation or just wear and tear in an older home can compromise their safety, and the consequences from a trip or fall could last a lifetime. The most important thing to remember is that you need a handrail for more than three treads or steps (or 24 inches).
Issues with structure
Look for wide cracks in the foundation (if you can fit a dime in it, it can be a problem and should be looked at by a structural engineer). Also keep an eye out for doors that stick, cracks along walls and ceilings, uneven floors and baseboards that have separated from the floor. This can all spell trouble with structure, and structural problems are very expensive to fix, especially if it involves something like replacing a footing or building a step foundation.
These home inspection tips ran as a sidebar to our 2015 Real Estate Roundtable in our print magazines.