Older homes with just renovated bathrooms should be the ideal purchase, as someone has done all the hard work. But unfortunately people selling houses also often choose the cheapest option or worse they choose to do it themselves.
Having looked at over a thousand inspections in Adelaide, I can honestly say you probably do not know what you are buying if you have not chosen a creditable building and pest inspector.
These photos are from a house I inspected a few years ago, it was a nice looking renovated house, the walls were freshly painted, a new modern kitchen installed and the living areas opened up, after having some internal walls removed. The bathrooms were also freshly renovated and it all looked beautiful. Looking closer however, the bathroom renovation was not adequately waterproofed, with moisture passing through the floors and into the adjoining walls. Wall patching could be seen during the inspection and the moisture meter was showing moisture transfer through both walls of the bathroom, old brick walls and the new gyprock walls. Other areas of concern for this dwelling, resulted in the purchaser not bidding for this dwelling and purchasing elsewhere.
The point of a house inspection is not to scare you from purchasing a property, but to give accurate advice, so you can choose what level of issues you are comfortable with.
Most houses, even newly built ones, have issues that can be resolved, some under warranty, others by negotiation with the vendor.
All houses have issues that can be repaired to a better standard, as long as you know about them when purchasing. If you have allocated a budget for these repairs within your spending limitations, you are thinking about your house purchase wisely.
Rising damp can often be seen on solid plastered walls as peeling and flaking paint or exposed brick walls as flaking brickwork or by efflorescence or white salts on both.
Mostly caused by water being drawn up into the slab and lower brickwork by capillary action, into the porous masonry materials.
Often modern structures are built with adequate Damp Proof Courses (DPC membranes), however these membrane areas may be breached by poor path height or gardens located against the slab or walls.
The dampness can affect both underfloor structural timbers, floor boards and timber skirtings, causing rot and decay.
If left unrepaired it can also become a health issue affecting asthmatics, as it promotes mould issues to internal rooms. Often the air will smell musty in a room with damp issues.
I often see areas of lower wall patching to interior walls on older double brick houses, as the vendor is trying to sell the house without rectifying the issue due to the high costs involved.
This should be an area of great concern to any purchaser, who is looking at the house as repair work involves many stages and costs thousands of dollars for each room.
Even DIY kits that you can do yourself will cost around $50 per metre, just for the applicator and chemicals. You still need to drill holes, remove any damaged plasterwork, re plaster walls followed by cleaning up and re painting.
Put simply, a thermal camera is a non-invasive tool that simply shows temperature variations, often caused by heat, dampness and dryness. As a building Building inspector I am looking for issues, such as damaged plumbing caused dampness or leaking wet areas such as from roofing and bathrooms. Not every report will include these photos, unless issues are found that need to be explained. Photos help to explain issues better than words alone.
Often most houses will have insulation gaps, that will result in poor thermal efficiencies that cause additional heating or cooling costs. These are shown in most reports if an issue is found.
Overloaded wiring caused heat signatures can be found on fuse boards, thermography can alert you of this dangerous wiring issue.
The variances in temperatures are shown in colours, cool is purple or black, while hotter is yellow or white.
Thermal cameras can even detect the location of wall framing or missing wall framing in structures that have been completed. This is often seen in garage conversions done by DIY house flippers.
Unfortunately, due to temperature variations of a house, if a house has been closed up for a long time, the camera will not see any temperature differences and find nothing, as the house is all the same temperature.
This is why both a moisture meter and a thermal camera is required when inspecting.
Thermal cameras can also be used for assisting in finding termite mudding behind walls and other issues.
Rammed Earth is a beautiful product that can last hundreds of years when properly installed and is resilient to most environmental conditions.
The basic method of construction is to use locally obtained earth if suitable, combined with a mix of sand, aggregate, with some cement to stabilize the mix and some waterproofing admixture.
The mixture is heavily compacted between formwork, which when removed produces natural looking earthy walls.
Careful batch mixing and maintenance is however important, to ensure that the finished product is stable, otherwise some areas may weather or degrade as in these photos as additional waterproofing is required every 10 or so years.
As a walling product, it has fantastic thermal value for internal walls and has great sound absorption qualities. External walls can absorb heat and cold, so often insulation (foam panels) can be added during the build.
As a product it is also fire proof, it is termite proof and relatively stable to environmental conditions, although incorporated into a structure, often includes other materials that are not.
Wall thickness varies but 300mm is standard and provides a load bearing wall to support roof framing, although this still requires engineering for council approval.
Fixings such as masonry plugs or anchors can be used, but at twice the normal length of embedment, services such as plumbing and electrical are installed during the build process, so as to not affect the finished wall surfaces.
Composite decking has advantages, such as not requiring maintenance to look good all year around. Priced comparably similar to timber decking, it may be attractive to the DIY buyer. Unfortunately, it is required to be adequately installed, otherwise it may become non-functional very fast. The deck I saw last week had many poor DIY issues, resulting in movement of the decking boards. Some areas of the decking was completely unsupported as the decking had slipped off the joists. Sewer inspection points were decked over without thought to access points, resulting in quite a few decking boards that will require removal to access if required. The composite decking boards were attached with DIY concealed fix clips, which gives a nice clean look, but also resulted in every board sliding out of position. This is not common, although composite decking boards are reactive to temperature variations, the boards can change in length once cut. Some brands recommend picture framing or breaker boards that help reduce movement as they are fixed with screws into the underside of the deck. Other brands such as Modwood allow for surface fixing, that would resolve this issue. When installing, a 2mm gap between the cut ends is required, due to expansion on some brands. Another notable issue, is that the decking can get very hot under foot, if installed as a low level deck with limited ventilation. Some brands require 300mm clearance others
The builder can often leave your new home, completed but still requiring pathways, storm water or earthworks to be completed.
Your engineering report will state that these must be done, unfortunately this can be overlooked for many years, resulting in areas of concern.
This week I looked at a house that was built 10 years ago and still had incomplete external pathway areas.
The builders timber debris was still lying around in the mud, resulting in termite activity.
The mud had breached the concrete slab damp proof course and encapsulated the brick expansion joints and the lower course of the brickwork. This had resulted in moisture transfer on to the house brickwork, as well as breaching the termite control systems done when the house was built.
Moisture salting can be noticed on the brick and mortar face.
Termite attacked timber was located right next to this area.
Inspections are a must in all houses that you want to purchase.
In my opinion the current housing market has gone crazy with purchasers bidding without wanting inspections due to the fear of missing out, combined with the trend of the Vendor wanting to accept no conditions on the sale of their property, so they are excluding both the building inspections and subject to finance clauses from the sale contract conditions. This gives the purchaser auction-like conditions once they have made an offer that gets presented, if they want the house. The vendor then knows all the forwarded offers, but unlike an auction, the purchasers do not know where the price is at when making their offer. The risk is all on the buyer and my opinion is this should only be considered as acceptable risk if the property is that new that it is still covered by the builders warranty and you know what it costs to buy land and build. Due diligence is required when buying in today's market, as prices may fall just as it has in other states in Australia in the last few months.
Below are some photos of the damage that my client got to see of this 33 year old house, but I am sure the purchaser probably did not know about it at the time of the fast paced auction. During the Building and Pest inspection that I did for my client, mud tracks were followed through the roof and a termite nest was located in the wall. Notable flooring damage, hidden by a coffee table and rug on the floor. My client attended the auction with the knowledge that work was required when buying the house and knew when to stop bidding.
When you are at an open inspection, you are rushing around and would be lucky to spend 20 mins looking at the whole house. Often multiple open inspections are done, with other potential buyers, all possibly making an early offer.
Here is a heads up on the warning signs, that you should take note of.
In older homes with timber floors, often a carpet is positioned over a floor area. This can be hiding termite damage, or simply a staging prop. If possible, walk over the carpeted area and listen for creaking noises and feel for joist movement. If no one is around peel back the carpet and have a look, however this will be frowned on by the agent. Look for termite floor traps, suggesting prior inspections and for drill holes in the perimeter pathways, that show prior treatment.
Exterior timber windows that were freshly painted for the sale of the property, can also be hiding existing wood rot, look for the texture difference and feel the difference between the putty and the timber. The putty will over time just fall out, leaving the damaged windows.
Wood rot in timber fascia’s is often difficult to see without a ladder. Look for recently replaced guttering and metal capping covering the mitred fascia corners.
Rising damp can be seen by small paint blisters, these can appear after the first few rainy days and often located near damaged downpipes.
Rising damp or waterproofing issues in bathrooms can be seen with a torch, looking down the wall surface for small paint blisters.
A building inspector will have a Tramex moisture meter to check for all the above issues and many other inspection tools, so it's best to use an inspector after you have made an offer or prior to the auction day.
Happy house hunting.
Firstly, I am not an engineer, however the concepts involved are not that difficult to grasp. Underpinning is simply one way to stabilise the movement of house wall but is not the answer in all cases. Digging out and introducing a new stabilised footing under you house slab can and will rectify a lot of the issues, but is this expensive repair technique really the only answer? The other alternative is using an expensive resin injection system to push up the sinking slab to rectify the cracking walls.
All concrete slabs and footings are engineered to be serviceable for the life of the house, however the engineers do request that the entire perimeter of the house be surrounded by pathways that direct water away from the slab edge. When looking at houses for sale, quite often this has been neglected.
Understanding that cracks in ceilings or walls are due to slab heave, that occurs when the soil moisture content under the house has been changed and is no longer uniform under the slab. Reactive clay soils will swell when damp and shrink when dry. When the soil around the outside of the house becomes wet the clay soils absorb moisture and expand pushing up on the external edges of the slab or strip footing. The soil in the middle of the slab remains constant, so the expansion of the slab and cracking of the walls begin. These expansive forces are powerful enough to lift a house and easily crack the concrete strip footings of older homes.
If for example you do spend many thousands of dollars with either resin injection or underpinning, but do not rectify what caused the issues, you may soon find out that any warranty provided by the companies involved is probably void.
In lots of cases simply doing what was requested by the original engineer, making sure that water is directed away from the house and that the house has a decent pathway surrounding the slab to prevent heave is all that may be required.
I would suggest simply doing this and observing the cracking is a great start, then if the ground is not more stable after a year or so, then consider spending your money with an established underpinning or resin injecting business. You may only require patience, some quality crack filler and a slap of paint to keep it looking good.