Home Inspection 101: Inspecting a Home’s Grading

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An important component of a home inspection that is not always obvious to the home buyer is the grading of the yard. I have seen homes that are meticulously maintained inside but have poor grading, even holes in the yard. Unfortunately, grading is often considered a low priority, but the effects of improper grading can be disastrous.

Rainwater ponding outside, or worse, running toward the house, can wreak havoc. Basements can flood, damaging items in the basement, as well as drywall, carpet and more. Even a slab-on-grade house with no basement is susceptible to water damage, as it could develop mold from water seeping into the walls, and the moisture could attract termites. Furthermore, standing water in cold climates can freeze and damage brick paver decking and other hardscapes.

The ideal grading that the home inspector should look for is for the ground to slope away from the house in all directions a half inch per foot. Other factors besides the slope of the ground can cause problems, including downspouts that disperse water right against the building, instead of directing it away, and vegetation that holds water and keeps it from draining away.

If the property looks like it has drainage problems, then the best way to know for sure is to check during or immediately after a rainstorm. When this is not practical, the inspector could try running a hose in the questionable area.

While the best and most foolproof way to remedy the grading is to build up the ground to slope away from the house in all directions, it’s often just not possible. Small lot sizes, the elevation of the house, where the house transitions from foundation to framed wall, the elevation of the neighbor’s land, existing vegetation, hardscape and accessory buildings, and especially cost are all factors in the equation.

Remedies for improper grading include connecting downspouts to a pipe to direct the roof rainwater further away from the house and French drains, which are basically a trench filled with gravel or perforated pipe that catches the water in the yard and directs it away from the house.

For more information about grading, read our previous post, “What’s Your Grading Grade?

Submitted by Ken Roleke, NPI Franchise Owner, Tucson, Arizona

What’s Your Grading Grade?


Spring is a great time to grade the grading of your house. Give yourself an “A” if the soil around your foundation is sloped away from the house at least 6 inches in the first 10 feet, with 3 to 4 inches in the first 5 feet on all sides.

Give yourself a “B” if you have any low spots at all around the foundation. These low spots many times are near inside foundation corners and near where utilities enter the house. Make sure to look under bushes and other landscaping, too.

Give yourself a “C” if the grading is at or near level around a significant portion of the foundation. If you have a yard that slopes toward the house and water pools at or near the foundation with wet, spongy ground in the vicinity of the foundation, give yourself a “D.” If you have moisture in your basement or crawl space, especially during rainstorms, and water stains on the interior side of the foundation walls, then you get an “F.”

Any time excess moisture is present around a foundation, the potential for foundation problems increases. The water itself creates what is called hydraulic pressure, which presses the foundation walls inward and can lead to cracks, settlement and shifting of the foundation. If left unchecked, this can ultimately cause structural failure and cost many thousands of dollars to repair. If you live in area with expansive soils, such as the Midwest, the effects tend to happen much faster. Ongoing moisture issues can also lead to mold, insect infestation and rot within the structure — all of which are expensive to repair.

In many cases, the proper grade can be achieved by simply adding soil around the foundation to slope the grade away from the house. Forty-pound bags of topsoil can be purchased at home improvement centers for about $1.50 for small projects, or you can have a truck load of topsoil delivered. Be advised that both soils are pulverized and will settle and compact a significant amount, so be sure to by extra. On large jobs or jobs that require extensive regrading, it may be best to hire professional. In the long run, this will be less expensive than repairing a foundation.

Remember to leave at least 2 to 3 inches of space between the soil and the top of the foundation or the bottom of the siding. This will prevent moisture from wicking into the siding and help limit insects from entering the structure. Adding downspout extensions and/or splash blocks is also a good idea to help move water away from the foundation. If you have a sump pump, make sure that it, too, is discharged well away from the foundation.

By Scott Ward, NPI Franchise Owner, Southern Johnson County, Kansas

5 Signs You Might Have a Foundation Problem

5 Signs of Foundation Problems

Foundation issues can easily be one of the most expensive things you’ll deal with as a homeowner. The thing is, most of the time it’s kind of hard to tell what a real foundation problem is and what isn’t. Since literally everything rests on your foundation, you can see subtle signs that might spell foundation trouble all over your house—you just have to know where to look.

Before We Begin

It’s important to note that the following warning signs of foundation problems don’t necessarily mean you have one. The truth is that all houses settle over time—there’s no way around it, and a little bit of settling is to be expected. However, if you’re noticing many of these occurring at once, it’s a good idea to bring in a professional to get their opinion.

Also, keep in mind that the age of your home isn’t the only factor involved with foundation issues. Depending on the condition of the soil, the climate and more, even new houses can exhibit the problems below.

1. Doors and Windows are Tough to Close

A substantial shift in your foundation often causes doors and windows throughout the home to misalign. Windows might be difficult or impossible to open, while you’ll find that doors won’t latch easily and might catch on the frame and jamb.

2. Sagging Floors or Ceilings

Sagging floors or ceilings can indicate a number of problems: excessive settlement, termite infestation, or improperly spaced or altered floor joists. Sagging floors will generally be easy to recognize—you might notice some separation between your floorboards and baseboards, and you may even be able to feel the slope of a floor when standing on it.

3. Your Chimney’s On the Move

If your chimney’s starting to look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, don’t ignore the issue. This can be a sign that the soil beneath your home has eroded and isn’t able to support it. Even if it’s not noticeably tilting, though, looks for signs of movement like cracked mortar or an uneven hearth that can signal the beginning of larger problems to come.

4. A New Mold Problem

You haven’t had mold problems in the past, but now it seems like new spots are popping up everywhere, including the basement. Before you blame the humidity, take a look at the state of your walls. Are there any cracks letting in moisture from outside? Cracks can be a normal part of house settling, but if they’re letting the elements in, they need some attention, stat.

5. Cracks in the Walls

This bears repeating—just because you have cracks in your walls, doesn’t mean you need to panic. Small vertical cracks around windows or doors are most likely normal and due to seasonal expansion and contraction of drywall and the wooden structure underneath. Cracks that are more than one-eighth inch wide, are horizontal or diagonal, or show a telltale “stair step” pattern in masonry joints are more of a cause for concern. Call in the experts when you see these signs.

Call National Property Inspections Today

NPI inspectors are professionally trained to identify the condition of a home’s most important features, including the foundation. Call us today to schedule an inspection before you buy.

June 2016: Summer Home Maintenance Checklist

Ask The Inspector

Q. I’m a relatively new home owner, and I know there are seasonal jobs I should be doing around my house, but I’m still figuring out what I need to do and when. What should I do during the summer months? Do you have any kind of checklist I can follow?

A. Of course we do! Your NPI home inspector can provide you with a printed copy of our seasonal home maintenance guide. Call or email your inspector if you’d like one. We also have assembled a handy summer home maintenance checklist that should help you:

Ask The Inspector

Indoor Maintenance
With the warm summer weather, there’s not much to do indoors. First, check the operation of any attic fans and roof-mounted turbine vents. If these are not operating properly, contact a roofing contractor to make repairs. Next, move on to the basement or crawl space and check for dampness and/or leaking. If you discover leaks or moisture, contact a basement professional to determine the source and remedy.

Structural Maintenance
There are several maintenance items you should do around the house to protect your home’s structure. Since water is your No. 1 enemy, you should caulk exterior joints around windows and doors. This will prevent water intrusion, and it will reduce or eliminate drafts, so you’ll save energy. Another job you’ll want to tackle to prevent water intrusion is to clean the gutters and downspouts on your house and garage. Properly draining gutters and downspouts work to keep water away from the house’s foundation, preventing water intrusion.

Summer is also a great time to have your chimney professionally cleaned and inspected by a certified chimney sweep. Do this before the fall, as there’s plenty of time for repairs and you’ll have an easier time scheduling appointments.

Clean and seal your deck, which will require three sunny days. Click here for a step-by-step guide. You should also check the deck for loose boards and railings and make the necessary repairs to avoid falls or injuries.

Finally, inspect your house for signs of termite infestation if they are prevalent in your area. If you see signs of these pests, call an exterminator pronto to prevent damage to the structure of your home.

Yard Work
If you didn’t check for overhanging tree limbs in the spring, check your trees and trim them if needed. Take a walk around your house and check the grading to assure that water drains away from your home’s foundation.

Give Your Siding Some TLC
The siding on your house probably needs some attention. First, remove any vines growing on the house, siding, brick or mortar. Then, wash the siding using an ordinary garden hose and a mild detergent, and take the opportunity to clean the exterior of the windows. Be careful if using a pressure washer, as it can damage the siding or force water under siding, encouraging mildew and rot. While washing the siding, check for cracks or damage and repair them to prevent moisture and pests from intruding. And, if your siding is peeling and needs to be refreshed, summer is a great time to paint it.

Air Conditioner Maintenance Clear leaves and other debris away from your outdoor air-conditioning unit. After you clear the debris, disconnect the unit and use your garden hose to wash off the fins on the outside. Sometime during early summer, you should have your air conditioning unit professionally checked and serviced to ensure proper cooling during the hot summer months.

Light Cleaning and Maintenance

Take a little walk around the house and do these easy tasks:

  • Clean your dryer vent.
  • If you didn’t do it in the spring, then it’s time to de-winterize your sprinkler system.
  • Check exterior faucets and hoses for leaks, which can really add to your water bill.
  • Clean the porch and patio. Give them a good sweeping and washing. Repaint the porch if you have cracked or chipped paint.

Garage and Driveway
Fair weather gives you the opportunity to clean out and organize your garage. Properly dispose of any hazardous materials, such as paints and solvents. Check for evidence of termites. You should also inspect your driveway and walkways for cracks and holes. If you have damage in these areas, call a professional to repair them.

Be Advised

Staging Your Home Can Help It Sell Faster

Protecting young children and others in your home from burns caused by hot water can be a concern. Water temperatures over 120° F (48° C) can potentially cause scalds. That’s why a water temperature assessment is part of a general home inspection.

Be Advised

A home stager is a designer or artist who specializes in highlighting a home’s assets for prospective buyers. Barb Schwarz, president of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals, said, “Staging is preparing a home for sale so the buyer can mentally move in.”

In recent years, studies have shown that staged homes sell faster, and for this reason, many real estate agents bring in a stager before listing a house. A survey by Coldwell Banker Real Estate Corp. found that staged homes are typically on the market half the time as non-staged homes and sold for more than 6 percent above the asking price. Furthermore, a National Association of Realtors (NAR) survey found that the average staging investment is between 1 and 3 percent of the home’s asking price and generates a return on investment of 8 to 10 percent.

Sellers can choose several levels of staging services to fit their budgets. The least expensive option is a walk-through consultation. The stager will offer advice on how to best present the home. At the next level, the designer will de-clutter and reposition existing furniture in the home. Stagers can also be hired to completely redecorate a room, from painting to bringing in furniture. This is the highest cost option.

A staging professional should be objective, working to make your home look good to buyers. Always check the stager’s experience and references — you may even ask to tour a property the company is currently staging — and read the contract carefully.

Snapshots From The Field

What’s Wrong With This Photo?

Snapshots From The Field

You don’t have to be a home inspector to spot the problem with this garage door — or should we say doors? This home owner assembled two bi-folding closet doors in place of a standard garage door. These doors aren’t necessarily against housing code, but they won’t open automatically, and they probably aren’t very secure.

Noteworthy News

Keep Your Home Safe While You’re on Vacation

Summer is a great time for family vacations. It’s also a prime time for burglars to steal your valuables unless you remember to protect your home when you are away.

Noteworthy News

  • Stop your mail, including newspapers. The post office will provide you with a form to complete for temporarily stopping your mail.
  • Lock all windows and doors.
  • Trim bushes and other plantings below the windowsills. This reduces the hiding places available to criminals.
  • Install automatic garage door openers with rolling access code technology. This technology automatically changes the code after each use, preventing thieves from using a universal remote to steal the access code.
  • Ask a trusted neighbor or friend to check on your home, mow the grass if necessary and take out the trash. Give that person a phone number to reach you in case of an emergency.
  • Don’t announce that you’re on vacation on social media. Avoid posting your current location and vacation photos. Burglars can see these posts and easily find your address.

Maintenance Matters

Aluminum Versus Vinyl Siding

Vinyl siding is popular because it’s inexpensive and low-maintenance, but aluminum siding is making a comeback. Which is right for your house?


Aluminum siding was introduced followed World War II as maintenance-free alternatives to wood. It lived up to its claims, with a few exceptions: First, the thin layer of paint baked on the outside tends to fade, chalk or chip. Nowadays, however, home owners can repaint their aluminum siding. Another problem with aluminum siding is that it dents when hit by a projectile (such as large hail), and it can be a challenge to repair in small sections because it comes in boards, sheets or panels. Additionally, aluminum siding conducts electricity, so some jurisdictions require grounding it for safety reasons.

Since the late 1970s, vinyl, a plastic material, has stolen most of the market share once won by aluminum. Vinyl siding is inexpensive, and it’s a solid color all the way through, so it doesn’t require repainting. Although it comes in boards, which may crack or puncture if hit by a projectile, individual boards of vinyl siding can be replaced without much trouble.

Both aluminum and vinyl siding are nailed in place along the top of each section. The bottom overlaps the piece below to prevent water intrusion. Metal and vinyl siding must have enough give to allow for expansion and contraction with changing temperatures.

Did You Know?

Dirty Secrets

Slope, or geography, isn’t the only factor in determining whether or not water properly flows away from the foundation and walls of your home. Soil type, location and surface absorption rate also play a role.

For example, soils with high clay content absorb water more slowly. Soils with higher sand content allow water to absorb and percolate through the ground faster. Concrete and asphalt are impervious surfaces, so instead of soaking in, water flows over or around these materials. This can cause problems if your driveway runs next to your house and isn’t sloped correctly. If not diverted, water will work its way under the driveway at the seam and eventually into the basement or foundation.

Sandy-soiled areas may carry water away from the foundation fast enough to avoid absorption into the foundation or walls even with improper slope.

It’s important to take a walk around your house and garage often enough to know when pooling begins. Consider appropriate maintenance steps or repairs to prevent water from causing problems.

From Our Blog

The Top 5 Things Sellers Should Do to Prepare for the Home Inspection

When you’re selling your home, preparing everything for the home inspection can prevent unnecessary delays during the closing process. For liability reasons, home inspectors won’t move items blocking access to areas that need to be inspected. If you don’t provide access to these areas during the inspection, it can lead to incomplete results, callbacks, additional fees or a frustrated buyer. Here are five tips to help you along.

Click here to read the rest of the blog post.

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