New houses and old houses are different in some important ways, and they are the same in some important ways. They both suffer from some of the same problems. To illustrate this, we reviewed literally all of the inspections we have ever done looking for patterns. We found the top five issues that show up in reports from new and old houses alike. If you want a heads up on what we'll find when we get to your place, here's a great place to start.
1.) Downspouts (89%)- By far our biggest offender, short downspouts showed up in almost 9 out of 10 inspections. It didn't matter how new or old the property was. When downspouts discharge directly at the foundation of a building, water is able to wash away the backfill (a less dense soil often mixed with sand or gravel) that sits against the foundation. This can cause exaggerated settling on the corners of the house where the majority of the weight sits. Downspouts extensions are not expensive or difficult to install. All downspouts should end about 6 feet from the foundation. We'd be willing to bet that yours are too short as well. Take this weekend to fix that. You'll be glad you did.
2.) Non-GFCI Outlets (71.5%)- This is another really common issue showing up on almost 3 of 4 reports. GFCI outlets are the receptacles with the "Test" and "Reset" buttons in the center. The purpose of these outlets is to stop the flow of electricity to the outlet if water is detected. This is to prevent you from accidentally becoming the electrical ground, which we guarantee would ruin your day. GFCI outlets should be installed anywhere moisture is present like kitchen counters, bathrooms, behind washing machines, and even under the kitchen sink where the garbage disposal plugs in (some electricians will debate this last one, but we choose to err on the side of not getting electrified). These outlets are not expensive and only take a few minutes to install. You can do it during a commercial break.
3.) Low Insulation (59%)- This is one issue that seems to show up a little more on older houses than newer ones. Insulation compacts over time which reduces its effectiveness. Plus, we're always getting better at insulation. A hundred years ago, we thought a few inches of wood shavings was good insulation. We now know that a few inches of wood shavings is really only good for starting fires. Even new houses suffer from low insulation, though. Adding insulation doesn't have to be time consuming or expensive if you're willing to take a stab at it yourself. The machines can be rented from most home improvement stores where you can also buy the insulation. The whole job takes about 2 hours for a 1600 Sq Ft house. You can read up on different materials and recommended depths for your type of furnace and temperate zone in this nifty article. If you want to check out the process for adding the insulation material you've chosen, you can watch this video to get some helpful advice from our friends at This Old House™.
4.) Trees / Shrubs (54.5%)- Homeowners love the way landscaping helps homes feel nestled into their setting. For generations, we've known that trees are great energy savers during the summer months as they offer cooling shade. People have planted yew bushes against their walls for decades, because they're low maintenance and produce some easy-to-keep greenery along the bottoms of walls. However, when these lovely plants are not watched carefully and trimmed faithfully, they will eat your house. No really, it's bad. Tree branches will scrape granules off of your roof, roots will push against foundations and crack drain pipes, and yew bushes will grow into behemoths that can hold 50 gallons of water in their root systems directly against your house. Trees and shrubs will benefit your house the most when trimmed back regularly. Trust us, it's really worth the time and expense. A good rule of thumb is to allow at least two feet between all plants and walls, but more space is better. Snip snip!
5.) Fireplace / Firebox (51%)- There was a time in our history, many moons ago, when the fireplace was a significant method of heating our homes. While a few people still keep their toes toasty with them, fireplaces are generally a nostalgic, cosmetic feature now. We've largely forgotten how to properly care for this really important part of the house. As a result, we see a lot of cracked masonry or rusted fireboxes. Just over half of our reports had issues with the fireplace, which is notable because only about 70% of the houses we inspect have a fireplace at all. There's some math out there that would show just how those numbers coincide to make an important statement, but math isn't our specialty. Just know that if you've got a fireplace and you've never had it serviced, you probably should.
There are plenty of other issues that new and old houses share, but our unbiased scientific calculations show that these are the main ones. If you own a home, you owe it to yourself to tend to these little things before they become big things. We're always happy to answer your questions, too. Call us any time to talk about what your house might need from you.