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Home Inspection 101: Inspecting a Home’s Grading

New House + Landscaping_iStock_000002119557Small

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?

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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

April 2016: Grading and Outdoor Inspections

Ask The Inspector

Q. What did my inspector mean when he talked about grading and slope when we walked around the outside of my house?

A. The exterior of your house is just as important as the interior systems when it comes to a well-functioning, well-sealed structure. Because of this, your home inspector should begin the inspection long before they ever reach the door, assessing grading, utility hookups, walkways, decks, driveways, windows and doors, roofing, and exterior cladding or siding.

Ask The Inspector

The grading around your home’s exterior helps prevent water intrusion, which can cause wood rot, mold and mildew. Proper grading also prevents structural movement and damage, keeps out unwanted pests, and helps regulate temperatures inside your home.

Preventing water intrusion begins with the grading of the lot, or the way the ground is shaped around the house. For best results, the ground should visibly slope away from the structure (positive slope). Negative-sloped grading around a home (the ground slopes toward the house) can cause water to pool at the foundation and eventually soak into the walls. Positive slopes move water away from the home and help prevent damage to the foundation.

When a house is built at the bottom of the hill, swales (small ditches) may be built to direct water around the house and away from the foundation. Your home inspector should assess the property’s slope and grading, noting the specific location of negative slope or pooling water. One common problem area is the garage apron. If the flooring is not poured with proper slope, then water will run under the door and pool inside. Inaccessible or obstructed areas of the foundation will also be noted in your inspection report.

Be Advised

Prevent Hot Water Burns

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

This assessment has two parts: First, the inspector uses a thermometer, usually held under the water in the shower while operating at least one other water fixture to determine any significant changes in water temperature. The temperature in the shower is adjusted to about 105° F (40° C). Next, the inspector will flush the toilet and turn on the sink. If the water temperature in the shower shifts more than five degrees, the inspector will note it in the inspection report. This same test is also used to help assess and report on water volume and flow in the home. The inspector will note visible changes in the water volume or flow when all three fixtures are operating.

To test the general temperature of a home’s hot water, your inspector will turn on the hot water in the kitchen and test it with the thermometer. Inspectors frequently find that a home’s water is too hot, but the temperature setting usually can be changed on the water heater to protect people in your home.

Snapshots From The Field

What’s Wrong With This Photo?

Snapshots From The Field

  1. Nothing. The grading is positive-to-negative slope, going the right direction.
  2. The grading is negative, and there’s no water-intrusion barrier on the foundation wall.
  3. This slope of the grading will make a great moat and water feature for the home.
  4. Code doesn’t require a water intrusion vapor barrier on solid poured concrete walls because concrete is waterproof.

Correct Answer 2.The slope of the grading is positive to negative — which is the wrong direction. Also, there is no water intrusion barrier on the foundation wall. If left uncorrected, this will likely cause water intrusion problems for the home owner.

Noteworthy News

Moving With Pets

Moving can be a stressful time for the whole family, and especially for your four-legged family members. A little forethought can help make the transition to a new home easier on your pets.

Noteworthy News

Visit your veterinarian before you make the move. Make sure to get copies of your pets’ records, including vaccination records. You also may want to check state and local laws in the area you are moving to. Some areas may require additional vaccinations or specific information for licensing.

During the moving period, try to keep your pet’s schedule as familiar as possible. Don’t change foods or introduce new foods if you can help it. And, if you have dogs, try to walk them every day as usual, even though it may be difficult to remember while you’re busy preparing for the move.

Avoid leaving pets alone in a parked car. On warm days, temperatures can reach over 120° F (48° C) in just a few minutes. When moving, either bring pets to the new house first and then close them in a bathroom, or close them in a bathroom at the old house and move them last. This will prevent your furry friends from getting lost or injured while you’re loading and unloading boxes and furniture. Place a large, “DO NOT ENTER,” sign on the door and inform anyone helping you to avoid that room.

Finally, make sure your pet wears identification at all times. Open doors and trips in and out of the house during a move are the perfect time for pets to escape. A collar with identification tags and a microchip may help find your pet faster.

Maintenance Matters

Don’t Let Dirty Windows Dull Your Home

April is the perfect month to clean the winter grime off your windows and let the sunshine into your home. Here are some tips to help you get gleaming windows.

MAINTENANCE MATTERS

  1. Remove the window screens. Lay them on a flat surface. Wet the screens thoroughly and scrub lightly, being careful not to bend the material in the screen. Repair any holes in the screens.
  2. Clean windows from the inside of your house using window cleaner and a soft towel or newspaper. Did you know that newsprint works wonders for a streak-free shine? It does, so put those old newspapers to good use. To clean the exterior side of windows, you may need a ladder. If you have second-story windows or very high windows, you may opt to use a window cleaner that attaches to your garden hose. These cleaners are available at any home improvement store and offer an easy, affordable way to clean hard-to-reach windows.
  3. You should also open any weep holes that are clogged by sealant, dirt or paint. This will help pull moist air out of your home and prevent mold and mildew.
  4. Reapply weather stripping or sealant around the window. Vacuum any debris from inside the sill and then replace the screens. You can use a fine steel wool to clean the window tracks to prevent sticking.
  5. Reassemble the windows and enjoy the terrific natural light.

If you can, clean and repair windows on cool, cloudy days. Warm, sunny days tend to cause windows to dry too fast, leaving behind streaks and spots.

If you are using a ladder to reach exterior windows, it might be a good time to check the gutters and downspouts for build-up, debris or damage. Clean out any leaves, twigs or other items that may be clogging gutters. Be sure to follow proper ladder safety guidelines at all times.

Did You Know?

Bringing Electricity Home

Do you know where your home’s electricity comes from? The electrical connections powering today’s homes start at a transformer on a pole or somewhere on the ground near the house. Transformers on the ground signify buried electrical lines. Transformers on a utility pole mean the electrical lines come into the house via overhead wires.

If your electrical lines are buried, they won’t be visible outside your home. However, if you have overhead electrical wires, you should regularly take a look at them for safety reasons. Damage to the wire or insulation around the wire can cause electrocution, so look for those things. You can likely check the overhead wires from the ground, and you should never touch the electrical lines.

Height regulations for electrical lines vary from one city to another. For general purposes, all electrical lines should be out of reach of people, vehicles, ladders and other equipment. This includes areas above pools, decks, porches and balconies. Electrical wires also should be clear of trees or other obstructions, including the corner of the house or the edge of a gutter, which could cause abrasion and expose bare wires. Finally, electrical lines should not touch other utility lines entering the home, such as the telephone or cable line.

From Our Blog

Is the Roof on Your New Home Installed Properly?

Many buyers and Realtors often don’t see the need to have a newly constructed home inspected, or they prefer to wait until the 11th month after purchase to get what is known in the industry as a builder’s warranty inspection. A builder’s warranty inspection is a full home inspection to find any builder defects in a house prior to the expiration of the builder’s one-year warranty.

Some of the problems I find in newly built homes are roof installation issues. I am sure that most reputable builders assume they are hiring qualified professionals, but sometimes they simply are not and the roofing contractor they use may have a lot of “rookies” working in their company. Based on my observations, many of these rookies have not received enough training.

Click here to read the rest of the blog post.

Monthly Trivia Question

What real estate board game became the best-selling game in America just one year after it was created in 1934?

Be the first to answer correctly and win a $10 Starbuck’s gift card. Submit your answer to find out if you’ve won.