A Home Inspector Reveals the 6 Signs Your House Is in Trouble
We don't mean to scare you … well, actually we do. We sat down with a longtime home inspector, and he told us some tales and shared some photos that were downright frightening. Much of the damage he's encountered could have been prevented if the homeowners had just heeded the silent signs that their house was in trouble.
Bulge in washing machine hose?
What it means: The hose is ready to burst.
A bulging washing machine hose is an emergency. It may burst next year, next week, or right now. But it will fail—and it won’t just leak. It will gush. In just a few minutes, it can do thousands of dollars in damage.
Replace rubber hoses with braided stainless steel
What to do: Immediately turn off the valves connected to the hoses. Before your next load of laundry, you’ll need to replace the hoses. Buy new braided steel hoses and while you’re at the home center, invest in a pressure gauge that hooks onto a spigot or laundry room faucet. Your rubber hoses may have bulged because your water pressure was too high. It shouldn’t be more than 80 psi. If it is, install a pressure-reducing valve (PRV) before you damage other appliances and fixtures in your house. If you already have a PRV, it may be set too high or due for replacement. Here are more home maintenance tasks you should never overlook; they could cost you in the long run.
Stains around a bath fan?
What it means: Condensation is forming inside the duct.
The stain could be caused by a roof leak, but condensation inside the duct is the most likely cause. If you live in a cold climate, there’s a good chance that the warm, moist air from the bathroom is condensing inside the duct and the water is seeping back down into the fan housing. It’s soaking the drywall around the fan and may be ruining your fan motor or even the framing components in your attic. Don’t miss these other secrets home inspectors won’t tell you.
Investigate, insulate, and run the fan longer
What to do: Start by checking the damper inside the fan housing and the one on the vent outside. Vents are usually on walls or roofs, but sometimes they’re in the soffits. A stuck damper can lead to heavy condensation.
A bath fan duct that’s not insulated (or poorly insulated) gets really cold in the attic. A cold duct filled with warm moist air is a recipe for condensation. On exceptionally cold days, that condensed water freezes and then drips back down when the temperature rises.
Even insulated ducts get cold enough for condensation to form when the fan first starts up. If a fan is run long enough, the duct will warm up and dry out. Consider replacing the wall switch with a timer switch, which will run the fan for a set period of time.
Condensation forms in ducts (left). Warm air condenses on the inside of a cold duct and the water runs back down into the house.
Insulate the duct (right). You could wrap the existing duct in insulation, but it’s usually easier to replace it with a duct pre-wrapped in an insulated jacket.
Efflorescence on chimney brick?
What it means: Too much moisture inside the chimney.
Efflorescence is the white material that appears on brick. It occurs when moisture moves through masonry. That moisture picks up minerals and leaves them behind in the form of tiny crystals. The minerals themselves do no harm, and a small amount of efflorescence is common. But heavy efflorescence on your chimney is a cause for concern. It’s a sign of moisture inside the chimney—and when that moisture freezes, it can slowly wreck the chimney from the inside out. Even more alarming, your flue liner could be cracked or broken, and deadly combustion gases from your furnace, fireplace or water heater may be leaking into your home.
Fix the crown or call an expert
What to do: Immediately have your chimney inspected by a licensed chimney sweep certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA).
Cracks in the crown allow water in (top left). Water that gets inside the chimney through cracks in the crown can cause efflorescence and damage the bricks.
Seal the crown (bottom). Small cracks in the crown can be sealed with an elastomeric masonry sealer, but a crumbling crown will have to be replaced. Smear on the sealant by hand, then smooth it with a brush. And be careful—you don’t want to end up like these cringe-worthy home improvement fails.
Melted grommets on water heater?
What it means: Deadly gases may be entering your home.
Exhaust from a gas water heater is supposed to flow through a duct and out of the house. But sometimes, exhaust doesn’t flow up and out. Instead, it “backdrafts,” spilling deadly carbon monoxide into the air you breathe. One sign of backdrafting is damaged plastic grommets on top of the water heater, melted by the hot exhaust. This shows that your water heater has backdrafted badly on at least one occasion—and you must take action.
Get carbon monoxide alarms
What to do: Sometimes, the cause of backdrafting is obvious: A vent pipe may be disconnected from a vent hood, for example, or a vent may slope downward. But even a properly installed vent might occasionally backdraft because of high winds or other unusual circumstances. So the surest way to protect your family is to install carbon monoxide alarms. If you don’t have CO alarms in your house, go get them today.
Install one on every level, outside sleeping areas, and within 5 ft. to 20 ft. of any sources of CO, such as water heaters, furnaces and fireplaces. If an alarm ever goes off, get out of the house immediately and call the HVAC repair service to correct the problem. The symptoms of CO poisoning are dizziness, headaches, and vomiting. If anyone in the house is experiencing these symptoms, leave the house and call the fire department.
Test for proper drafting (top left). Close all the windows and doors and turn on all the bath and kitchen fans. That creates a worst-case scenario for backdrafting. Run some hot water and light an incense stick and see if the smoke is drawn up the vent.
Bad vents cause backdrafing (top right). Water heater vents need to slope upward at least 1/4 in. per foot. The installer responsible for this down-sloping vent apparently didn’t know that hot gases rise.
Carbon monoxide alarms save lives (bottom). Every home with an attached garage, fireplace, or gas appliances should have carbon monoxide alarms. If you already have them, be sure to test and maintain them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Decking directly under the door?
What it means: Rot could be wrecking your house.
Decks that are built right up to the bottom of a door often mean trouble. Rainwater splashes off the deck up onto the door. That much water is hard to keep out. Even if the flashing holds up, water may eventually find its way through the door components. This can ruin the siding door and interior flooring, or worse, destroy the rim joist and other framing components both inside and outside your home.
Divert the water away
What to do: Diverting the water with gutters will help. However, the bottom line is that as long as the deck boards are up tight under the door, there’s a chance of water infiltration. If you plan to build a deck, install it about 4 in. below the door threshold. And never let snow pile up against the door.
Interior damage (top left). Splashing rainwater can work its way through the door and leak into the house, damaging the rim joist below.
Installing gutters will help (top right). If there’s an overhang above the door, install gutters to divert the water that pours off the roof. Read more about installing gutters on your home.
Exterior damage (bottom). Splashing rainwater can work its way through the door and leak into the house, damaging the rim joist below. Check out these crazy pictures of things you won’t believe home inspectors have found.
The water meter never stops?
What it means: You’ve got a leak.
If all the faucets and plumbing fixtures in your house are turned off and the low-flow indicator on your water meter continues to measure running water, you’re wasting water and money. Here are more secrets your plumber won’t tell you.
Look for the leak
What to do: Indoor leaks usually create obvious signs. Look for water stains on walls or ceilings or a puddle on the floor. Also listen to toilets—a worn-out flapper on the flush valve creates a hiss and is a common cause of slow, constant water flow.
Outdoor leaks usually seep into the ground and can go on for years without being noticed. If your water meter is outside the house (warm climates only), the first step is to check the water line between the house and the meter. Shut off the main water valve at the house and check the meter. If it’s still registering water flow, you know there’s a leak between the meter and the house. Fixing this problem will likely require some excavation.
A leaking water spigot may go unnoticed if a hose is attached that runs out into the yard or garden. If you find one that keeps dribbling water, a new valve seat washer is probably the solution. If the spigot leaks at the top near the handle, replace the packing nut washer. Read more about how to fix a leaky faucet.
Irrigation systems are another cause of hidden leaks. Check for irrigation leaks by shutting off the valve in the house that feeds the irrigation system. If the meter stops spinning, you’ve found the problem. Narrow the search even more by looking for wet spots in the yard or areas of grass that are especially green. A malfunctioning zone valve is usually the cause.
Inspect the spigots (top left). Disconnect all the hoses and make sure the spigots aren’t leaking.
Check your sprinkler system (top right). A malfunctioning irrigation valve will allow water to continue to dribble out into the yard.
Check the line between the meter and the house (bottom). If the main valve at the house is turned off and the meter is still spinning, you know the leak is between the meter and the house. Don’t miss these 35 more things all homeowners definitely need to know.