- Water stains along walls or floor. This could be caused by something simple such as an overflowing laundry tub or it could be a result of water seeping in through basement windows, the walls or the floor.
- Musty odor or damp smell. Excess moisture in a basement can cause an unmistakable smell.
- Mold. It could be colored black, brown, yellow or green, and you won’t know for certain if it’s mold without testing it. Often the northwest corner of a house is known as a “cold corner” and susceptible to developing mold.
- Efflorescence. This condition produces a white or sometimes grayish ash on the walls. Sometimes it sparkles. Efflorescence is caused by salt deposits left behind by evaporating water.
- Spalling. When water gets inside the surface of concrete, brick or stone, salt deposits from the water cause the surface to flake away, peel or pop off.
Laminate flooring is a multi-layer, synthetic flooring product installed as a cost-effective alternative to traditional wood floors. While home inspectors are not required by InterNACHI’s Standards of Practice to specifically inspect laminate flooring, knowing something about the various types, manufacture and characteristics can help them spot defects and potential hazards.
Laminate flooring simulates wood and, less commonly, marble, limestone and granite, using a photograph installed beneath a clear protective layer. This image makes the laminate closely resemble a natural material, but the difference becomes apparent upon close inspection. Homeowners may choose from among common woods, such as maple, oak and pine, as well as exotic species, such as Brazilian cherry, mahogany and walnut. Beneath this layer is an inner core composed of melamine resin and fiberboard materials. Pergo® is the most popular brand of laminate flooring, although it is often mistakenly used to describe all laminate floors. Laminate floor manufacturers include DuPont® and Witex®.
Laminate floors are environmentally friendly — the paper and wood are made from recycled products — and easy to maintain, as they are resistant to scratches, dents and demarcations. And, unlike hardwood floors, laminate floors can be installed without any expensive equipment or training. They are more affordable than hardwood floors and they’re often the better choice for homeowners who require an inexpensive floor that is expected to take a beating. Hardwood floors, however, can be sanded and refinished, and tend to add substantial value to the entire house.
Here is a list of defective conditions common to laminate floors:
- gapping. Extreme temperature changes can cause the boards to pull away from one another. Builders should acclimatize laminate flooring to the conditions of the room in which the laminate will be installed;
- peaking. This condition occurs when panels push up against each other at the joints, creating unlevel high points. This defect is common where the boards were not installed with sufficient expansion space. As a remedy, the boards or surrounding molding may be trimmed;
- buckling and warping, which is caused by high humidity, excessive surface moisture (such as that leaked from ice makers and pipes), and dampness rising from the sub-floor, along with the lack of a sufficient moisture barrier. Buckling and warping can be limited if a pressure-balancing layer is installed beneath the boards. Hardwood floors, by contrast, are naturally more resistant to moisture damage, as they will swell and shrink to accommodate changes in moisture;
- mold, which is caused by excessive moisture. Mold is a potentially serious threat to building materials and the health of sensitive individuals. Refer to InterNACHI’s articles on mold for more information;
- off-registration, in which the patterns on adjacent boards do not match;
- “soft floor.” This condition often results when the inner core, made from expanding high-density fiberboard, is subjected to moisture, causing it to swell and fall apart. These boards must be replaced;
- formaldehyde-outgassing, which originates from the melamine resin in various laminate floors. Chemically sensitive individuals may select laminate flooring that has been treated to reduce formaldehyde emissions; and
- sound penetration. Laminate is a “floating floor,” meaning that occupants can hear a tapping echo when someone walks on the floor. Some manufacturers have added acoustical padding to muffle the sound.
Manufacturers’ warranties may cover some of the aforementioned defects, although many restrictions apply. For instance, the floors must be installed to the manufacturer’s specifications, such as leaving vapor barriers and expansion gaps where required. Abuse, accidents, scratches, and many types of water damage are not covered.
That “perfect” four-bedroom, two-bath house you stumbled upon in a beautiful suburban neighborhood could hide some serious problems. The best way for homebuyers to find out about potential issues is with a good home inspection.
In fact, you’ll have to get a home inspection to meet mortgage lenders’ requirements before you buy. But not all licensed inspectors will thoroughly inspect and report on your potential home’s defects.
So before you hire the first home inspector you find on Google or whoever your Realtor or lender suggests, do your homework. It’s acceptable to interview a home inspector before you decide to drop $300 or more on the inspection fee.
Here are the seven most important questions to ask before you schedule a home inspection:
1. What’s your background?
The best home inspectors are typically those who have experience in the building industry. You want to work with an inspector who knows what’s inside the walls of your home and understands the basics of local building codes and requirements. (Note: A home inspector will not be able to tell you if every single plumbing, electrical and/or structural aspect of your potential home is up to the latest codes. For this, you’ll need a more specialized inspection by a licensed plumber, electrician or contractor.)
Background is especially important if you’re planning to purchase an older home, as inspectors may need to look for problems in older homes that are uncommon in newer properties. So if you’re buying an older home – or a fixer-upper – find an inspector with a background in inspecting similar homes.
2. How much experience do you have?
It’s OK to work with a rookie home inspector who has a background in construction or home repair. But be sure you hire someone who has, at the very least, undergone extensive training – or who will have the assistance of a more experienced inspector during the inspection.
3. How long will the inspection take?
On average, a home inspection should take two to three hours to perform. If you’re dealing with a large home, a fixer-upper or an older home, the inspection should take even longer. Don’t hire someone who promises to be in and out within an hour or two, as this is too short a time to thoroughly inspect a home.
4. What will you inspect?
Keep in mind that it’s not a home inspector’s job to inspect things that can’t be seen. The inspection won’t reveal any wiring problems hidden behind drywall or any mold problems under the shower tiles.
With that said, an inspector should evaluate every possible visible place in your home, including the roof, basement and attic. And the home inspector should be in physical shape to access these places, even if a ladder or flashlight is required.
An inspector should also look at things such as the water heater, furnace and electrical box. Again, the inspector may be unable to tell you if your home’s systems are up to local codes. But the professional should have enough knowledge to inform you if the systems are safe or in need of major repairs.
5. Can I attend the inspection?
A refusal to this simple request is a red flag. A home inspection is a fabulous opportunity to learn about your home and talk about any possible repairs that may be needed. A good inspector will take you along on the inspection, if you wish. A great inspector will talk you through everything he sees.
6. What kind of inspection report do you offer?
Most inspectors will provide a report within 24 hours. It’s important to be sure the inspector’s reporting style will meet the requirements of your lender as well as your own personal preferences. Ask to see samples of their previous home inspections if you aren’t sure.
Of course, you’ll also want to ask about the inspector’s fees and schedule. But before you get to those, find the right inspector by asking these seven questions.