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Trouble Spots Your Home Inspector Might Miss

Home inspection plans come in a wide array of values. A low cost home inspection might put your mind at ease about a house you already really want, but they could miss some key things that should be checked. Make sure your talk to your inspector about whether these items are included in your plan, and if not, adding them on.

1. Polybutylene pipes. In houses built in the 80s-90s, PB2110 pipes were used as an inexpensive alternative for plumbing houses. Unfortunately, they can't stand up to the chlorine in municipal water supplies and will, inevitably burst. Have your inspector look at the exposed pipes to your water heater, or in the shower access to determine if you're in for re-plumbing the house, which is usually $10,000 or more. And don't think that insurance will help if you wait too long and one bursts. Most flood policies specifically exclude PB2110 pipes. A leak in an elbow joint of a PB2110 pipe.

PB2110 pipe leak at an elbow joint

2. Aluminum Wiring. For houses built in the Vietnam era or additions wired then, copper was at a premium and builders used aluminum instead. The problem is that aluminum expands and contracts in temperature changes more than copper, meaning that connections can become faulty, a leading cause of house fires. The easiest place for the home inspector to look for the wiring is at the breaker box, though there have been cases where a shady contractor replaced the wire from the breaker box into the wall, but no further, leaving the new home owner with a surprise. So check for flickering lights, warm outlets or switch plates, and discolored outlet covers to make sure the house isn't in need of a complete re-wire.

An insulated aluminum wire electrical outlet shows signs of overheating.

Aluminum wiring into an overheated outlet

3. Mold. Mold can lead to a variety of health problems and cause damage to the home. Unfortunately, a visual inspection for mold isn't enough and your home inspector can't find mold hidden under fresh paint or new carpet. Instead, ask your inspector to check for humidity levels in various places around the house where mold would be likely (bathrooms, basements, utility closets, etc). That will give a good indication of whether the house could be hiding mold, but this service often is an add on. Mold inside of the wall can sometimes be spotted on the outside by looking for flaking or bubbling paint, indicating moisture.

Mold inside the walls is often hiding behind bubbling or flaking paint

4. Termites. Having a pest inspection is an extra, but usually the cost of born by the seller, not the buyer. Make sure your offer includes a pest inspection. Termites can completely ruin the structure of a house and insurance policies usually exclude termite damage. Most of the evidence of termites can be swept away before the home inspector gets to the home, so it's important to have a licensed pest inspector look at the house in greater depth. Termites sometimes climb up the outside of walls, like foundations by creating fibrous tubes before reaching the wood of the home.

termite fiber tubes on cement

5. Foundation Problems. Your home inspector can likely determine if there's a possibility for an unstable foundation by looking for bowed walls, inward leaning basement walls, sagging front porch, cracks in the foundation or the ceilings, or a leaning chimney. If your inspector sees these signs, actually determining the extent of the damage and needed repair should be up to a structural engineer to inspect the problem house. The good news is that sellers will often pay for the structural report if it'll help the buyer decide to go through with the purchase.

If you or your home inspector sees wall cracks in the foundation or siding of the home, ask for a structural engineer to take a look at the property.

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