Don't Flirt With Disaster - Home Inspections You Need to Do NOW
Be careful what you wish for
When I found this house I knew it was the one. I wanted it from the time I saw the pictures. It wasn't pretty in any sense, but I could see Potential (with a capital P) in it. The purchase process was relatively easy and I saw it as a sign that we were meant to be together. Little did I know that I would learn important life lessons, and a few helpful construction skills too, from this house.
When life gives you lemons
A little over a year after my son and I moved into this home, we were just getting settled. Most of the boxes were unpacked and life was finally getting back to our normal. That summer, a heat wave hit and it was over 100 every day for two weeks. I was SO glad I made the decision to put in central heat and air when I had the roof done the previous fall. I had to take out an equity loan to do the repairs, but I had analyzed it to death before deciding that comfort was an ok thing to spend frivolous money on.
Then the recession hit. My hours at work were cut and I couldn't really afford to run the air conditioning all that much. I only put it on at night just long enough to cool the house to be able to sleep. I came home from work one evening, took my shoes and socks off and headed for the shower to cool down. As I walked through the hallway, I felt something "funny" in the floor. It wasn't even. This is an old house, so I though the heat had something to do with the problem. The house has a partial basement and the rest of the house is over a crawl space. I am ghastly afraid of the crawl space because I think there are rattlesnakes down there during the long hot summer.
So I went to the basement and opened the little door that leads to the crawlspace. And what to my wondering eyes did appear? A flood of monumental proportions. There was water everywhere under the crawlspace - it was dripping from every single spot under the floor. A little past the point of no return I realized that the plumbing was leaking. Later it hit me that I could have avoided most of this fiasco if I had done some routine monthly inspections. Simply look through the crawlspace door to see if there are any visible signs of trouble like condensation, mud puddles, plants growing, mold or water spewing out of a pipe like crazy.
My boss came over and helped replace the portion of pipe that had rusted through. Some owner in the past had replaced about 6 inches of galvanized pipe with black pipe. Steel that is galvanized is resistant to rust and has a lifespan of 50-60 years. Black pipe is never to be used for water because it has no coating to prevent rust. Steel + water = rust. Rust is corrosion that erodes the surface of the pipe and eventually springs forth water from holes. This 6 inches of pipe had three holes and the water was spraying upwards and landing on the bottom side of the floor.
The piece of pipe was part of the mishmash that had been used to add a second showerhead to the bathtub. Yeah, I thought it was weird, but it was an old house. I figured I would get around to it when I had the time and money to redo the retro, carpeted, 50's era bathroom. There were other things I wanted to work on first. The house had been added on and remodeled several times. The big bedroom had two doors but no windows. The beautiful fireplace needed a new liner. Before I purchased the house, I received a copy of the previous buyers inspection report. I knew the house had problems, and I didn't get an inspection because I didn't want the sale to fall through. Again, the house had potential and I had some skill and a lot of gumption. I had a lot of projects lined up on my wish list.
At first I didn't realize the seriousness of the leak. I though I could just replace the pipe and be done with it. Then I walked through the dining room and felt the uneven floor under the carpet. The original floors were a beautiful oak hardwood - I had even ripped out the carpet in the living room and was working on refinishing them. I discovered the leak on Thursday. After talking to a friend who had a water leak, I called my insurance on Friday. They said they would send someone out Monday. By the time I got home Friday, I could smell a musty smell. I called the local water damage company and got them out to start the drying out process. They put fans in the house and in the crawlspace.
When the insurance adjustor arrived on Monday, he called out the mold remediation company immediately. Because of the perfect conditions of warm + wet the house had developed mold between the subfloor and the hardwood and also in some of the walls. The plastic sheeting and Hazard signs went up immediately. My son and I had to find somewhere else to stay "indefinitely". Our belongings and furniture were hurriedly packed in boxes and moved into the basement. So much for getting settled.
Our life was in complete chaos. I remembered thinking over the last couple of months that it was strange that the hot water was so fast. It had taken three or four minutes before to get from the hot water heater, through the maze of old pipes to the faucet. Now it was almost instant. Looking back, it was instant because the hot water had been "running" constantly for almost three months. I had been busy and had my gas bills on monthly averaging and they were automatically paid by online banking. I didn't even look at them. My water bill had gone up about $5 a month but I figured it was summer time and I was watering my plants a lot.
Looking back, there were many clues that I chose to ignore because I was too busy. The result of ignoring routine maintenance was a gutted home. I did get a new kitchen and new bathroom, but it was through a lot of blood, sweat and tears. There are just a few things in your home that can cause major disasters - plumbing, water heater, washer and electrical. Make it a point to do, at a minimum, a cursory inspection several times a year. The few minutes you spend being inconvenienced may save you a lot of heartbreak and money. If you do not have the skills or capability to do basic inspections, arrange with a professional to do the work. There is no better insurance than a little bit of prevention.