Updated: Apr 26
Problems to Anticipate During a Home Inspection Based on the Year the Home was Built
The goal of this training is to give you guys a little bit of expertise so that when you walk up to a house you know what to expect based on the year it was built. You know exactly what things can be deal killers for your clients or if you're the kind of person that buys their own properties, does flips, etc, you know the things that cause big issues like polyvalent piping. Today I'm going to take a little deeper dive. I want to be done in under 50 minutes. We'll do a little deeper dive into each one of those things and why they're bad and just a little backdrop on it. Once we do do that you'll have more expertise and knowledge on this stuff than even 90 percent of home inspectors that are out there.
First of all, we'll start with electrical panels, all things electrical. The first thing that comes up is from the 1880s-1930s. We have what's called knob-and-tube-wiring. You can see this electrical thing here going through this little bit of porcelain, that was super common back in the early 1900s. It's no longer safe obviously you have exposed wires up in attic areas. Anytime you see this even if it's not, what do you call it? But this is not considered safe and a lot of times they'll de-energize it and run new wiring but they don't remove this. All situations this should be completely removed from any old houses. But you tend not to see that like 1940 and newer.
Single Strand Aluminum Wiring
There's a lot of misconceptions here. Even home inspectors get this wrong. It was very common from the mid '60s to the mid '70s. What it is is you got single strand, one strand of aluminum wiring. There is sometimes when that is actually okay. If you were looking at an electrical panel and there's two aluminum wires running, if you know where they're running to, in other words they're running to the range and back, to the air conditioner and back, to one item and back it's actually fine. Nothing needs to be done with it. It doesn't need to be replaced. That's the thing I see home inspectors write down all the time. They write down single strand aluminum wiring. But really the problem is what's called multi-branch single strand aluminum wires. In other words it goes from the outlet, outlet, fan, television. Those are the kind of aluminum wiring that should be replaced. You'll also see what's called multi strand aluminum wiring. This is single strand. Multi strand would be like lots of them together. They use that in modern day houses, it's totally fine. There's no issues with it. Here in the Arizona area there's different ways that you are required to remediate aluminum wiring depending on the part of the country you're in. In Florida the insurance companies get very involved. Sometimes your insurance company will actually make you rewire the entire house. That can actually be a very expensive proposition. Here in Arizona you can actually do what's called pig-tailing. The last four inches of the line is switched over from aluminum to copper. But there's a special way that you have to connect those together. One of the things that we do when we do inspections if we find the aluminum wiring we'll pop open an outlet or two. Even if you see a wire nut inside the wall that's actually not done right. You have to either use a very specific type of wire nut which is like a brand name AlumiCon or you have to put this little paste inside there. Because basically you have the same problem otherwise where the copper and the aluminum are touching and could be corroding each other. But if you use AlumiCon, if you Google that right now you'll see like a purple connector. As you put the two wires in each side there's this little gel in there that prevents them from touching and electricity gets conducted and there's no corrosion.
This is a little bit confusing because we find it and then when we find it we have to say, what I need you to do is I need you to get with an electrician. Because some cloth wiring is okay and other cloth wiring is not okay. As you can see in this picture, it's a little blurry actually, probably because it's so big. Cloth wiring becomes very frail, very brittle. The wires could become exposed. But some cloth wiring actually has like a plastic sheeting inside of it and the wire is well protected. That's why when we find cloth wiring we say, hey we found cloth wiring, you have to get an electrician here and tell you whether it needs to be replaced or whether it's fine. I've seen electricians go in both directions with it. We did like a 10 unit apartment complex about two months ago and all that cloth wire had to be replaced. Part of the reason it starts to get so expensive is because it's all on the wall. So you got to replace all the drywall and the trim and paint and all that kind of stuff. More so on this you got fuses. If you see fuses nine times out of 10 the whole fuse panel needs to be replaced. There is some times where you can use a fuse with a furnace in an attic and that's actually still okay. But fuses are known to only have a lifespan of about 50 years or so and they stopped using them in the 1960s. If there's still around basically there's little mechanical things in there that causes it to trip. They're just not reliable anymore. If you can imagine in the '40s and '50s and '60s when they were putting fuses in there were really no computers, no TVs, not even really large refrigerators. Those fuses that were designed back then were not designed for the levels that we put on nowadays. Outside of a little fuse on a furnace most of the time fuses should be replaced.
There's several different kinds. If you see this one where if you have black breakers look like a red label on it that's almost always going to be a Federal Pacific panel. The thing to know is that they just don't trip when they're supposed to. Again, also installed '40s, '50s, '60s some in the late '70s. But the way that we talk to a client about it is that there's nothing going on with this particular electrical panel but you are inheriting a known safety issue. If it gets overloaded it might not trip and you might not want to be the person who owns that house although all the houses in this block and this neighborhood have this same panel if they haven't replaced it. The other thing I like to tell clients if you're buying a whatever, 3, 4, 5 $600,000 house and you're buying it because it's the right schools, it's right size and right garage, a panel might be two grand maybe three grand. Don't let yourself go totally sideways on $500,000 house all but perfect except for a panel. Again, to the other point if I brought three electricians in here actually a second, but one of them would say I've never seen a problem with them and the other one might say well, it doesn't matter if it's more than 30 years old. Those are mechanical things and they can't be trusted to work just like mechanical items in your car. Other types of panels are Zinsco, Challenger, and then what's called Early Sylvania. What happened is Sylvania actually purchased Zinsco in the late '70s. There's some panels that are actually internally all the same Zinsco parts but they just have a Sylvania label on them. If we see a Sylvania panel from '77, '78 up to '82, '83, then we know that that's a problem.
Prior to 1962 you're going to have potentially ungrounded receptacles. But what a lot of people do is they change out those two pronged outlets or three pronged outlets, which is actually more unsafe than just the two pronged outlets. If you have the two pronged outlets, outlets are things that you plug in and only have to and are grounded. That's fine. Our recommendation when we find someone that replaced two pronged outlets or three pronged outlets is to either go back to two or run the wiring required to actually ground the outlet.
It can be very expensive hypothetically to ground it, but sometimes you can get lucky. If you have an electrician open up the wall of the panel, if that box that's holding the receptacle is a metal box a lot of times they can use that and ground right to that. Which if they can I'll save a bunch of money.
One thing I didn't make a slide for, and I don't know if it was Bruce or he was somebody else, but they asked about balloon framing and I didn't make a slide for it because you don't find it very often, but I'll talk about it really briefly. A balloon frame house is how they built on basically like 1860s, 1920s. The idea is if you were to look at the house it's built nowadays, there is a separation of extra layers of wood from one floor to the next floor, to the next floor. Without that, basically a fire can spread really quickly so it's sometimes hard to tell whether you have balloon framing, but the balloon framing, you can imagine it's two by fours behind this wall here, it actually goes straight up and there's a separation between floor to floor and basically fires spread like very quickly in that a frame pass. If you're going to figure out whether or not you have a balloon frame house, you're typically going to see it in the attic and you can look at how it's built on the where the edge of the roof hits the side of the building. Now it's not as bad of a thing in one story house, but it's obviously how much worst thing in a two-story house. If you are dealing with the historic column and it can be remediated, it can be pricey but basically we put an extra layers of framing in to separate the floors to prevent fires from spreading through the walls.
I haven't seen this much here we see it a little bit. Parts of the country it's very prevalent. Basically late '70s to the mid '90s, you have what's called polybutylene. It looks just like this almost every single time. It's funny, it's perfectly clear in my photo, not on TV, but it's this gray piping with sometimes a black fitting and sometimes it's copper fitting. The black fittings there's a lot of misconceptions lot of people spread old wives tales about this stuff. It is true that in the beginning those black fittings basically couldn't handle the heat, so you'd get a lot of water leaks right near the water heater. They just weren't rated for that heat. Nowadays, what happens is the chlorine and what not in the water actually interacts with the poly material and you'll get little pinhole leaks and basically you'll get leaks behind the wall. When I've done hundreds of these little jobs, but it's really unfortunate because what happens is that the leak happens behind the wall, you don't know for days, weeks because it's like leaking behind the wall a little pinhole thing, and by the time you realize there's a problem, you've got like, a mold all inside the wall, so it is expensive. Some insurance companies if they know you have polybutylene they will not cover your house or they'll say we're not going to cover you for water damage. Again, if you had to re-plumb, a normal size 2,500 square foot house, you might get a quote for 2,500-3,500 to re-plumb it, you got to double that number because basically you can imagine, you got to take out cabinets, you got to take out wall. You've got to whatever the case, maybe, either rerun [inaudible] but then you have to basically fixed everything backup, paint, trim, dry wall, etc. I've actually had this big agents argue with me that no, that's totally not polybutylene. I've done thousand of those house, I know what that is. But there's a PV number and there's also an ASTM number and you just Google that right on the piping. If it doesn't come up as polybutylene right away, there's going to be more than one ASTM number, and you can actually see here you would have one ASTM number for the fitting, one for this T joint, and one would be the piping. At least after three tries, you will definitely find the ASTM numbers. Are we getting any questions, Cristin?
Cool. Sorry. I just figured I check-in everybody plus I can steal a drink of water or coffee. The other thing to know is that this is a trick question but sometimes polybutylene is found in older houses because they run the copper piping through the foundation. You get some leak at some point and then they rerun new piping and they ran it while they were using the '80s and '90s they were using polybutylene piping you might already run it through. These warmer climates that run through the attic sometimes. I've seen it plenty of times in houses from the '60s, '70s got re-plumbed in the early '90s and they have polybutylene.
Lead In Solder for Copper Piping
Another plumbing issue, you'll see us and this as an informational piece and I'm actually going to tell you how you can figure this out to your clients. The solder that was used to hold together copper piping before 1985, some of the solder had lead in it. Which means that as you're running drinking water, what water through there, you could be getting lead in the water. The way that you test for that, it's a hassle. Normally, you could imagine taking a water sample, you want to let the water run encourage for a long period of time so that you're getting an accurate sample. Well, it lead in water is actually totally different where you actually have to let the house sit perfectly still for about 6-8 hours and then when we do take that sample, we take what's called the first draw. The second we open the water faucet, we take that very first water out of the system. I think that's about $150, $250 sample, and again, the whole hassle is you can't run any water. Usually you'll do it in the middle of the day. If the person who lives there lives for work in the morning, you go by in the afternoon, take the sample, you can't do it first thing in morning, you can't flush toilet, you can't run it. You can't do anything. You can't run any water anywhere in the house, so just know that that's a thing. Next couple of plumbing things would be pursuers. When these were installed, I don't have dates here, but basically galvanize piping was used in the '40s and '50s. The next one, what do we got here?
Orangeburg, Cast Iron & Galvanized Pipe
It basically just corrodes out and all of these piping, you got to know that even if the material is great back in the '50s, it's now been 72 years from 1950. The plumbing is just not going to last that long, so at some point you have to dig it up and replace it. Orangeburg piping, my guess is if you've been a realtor in Arizona for more than five minutes you've heard of this. Basically, it is this compressed paper material for lack of a better explanation. Even if you try to go on hydro-jetting you're just going to shred it up and then you'll never actually fully solve the problem. What we actually see a lot of times with a cast iron piping is that it gets a little groove in the bottom of it which causes, again just things to get caught up and blockages. The good news is, and again, you might know this already, this wasn't the case 10 years ago, 15 years ago, but now they're going to actually put a machine down into the sewer line and reline the inside of old piping that is still structurally sound, which is still expensive, but saves a lot of money compared to the old attentive two years ago when you literally had to dig up the entire line and then replace the whole line by new. Now a normal line that needed to be realigned which started about 4,500 and usually runs about $200 a foot, whereas 10 years ago it was 30, $40,000 replaced like a 40 foot sewer line and it could get worse with other things.
With this asbestos this is really funny, I couldn't help myself and I had a DVR home inspector Joe, just shoot me. On HGTV and was everything that I hated about the inspection industry. The guy is talking about stuff he's not making any sense. He's making stuff up, he's scaring clients, he is super scaring clients, then he's acting like the realtor telling them what they should not negotiate, how to fix the problems. The worst case scenario for the inspections should go. One of the things he did in the very first house I was like five minutes into the show.
He goes, that pipe insulation, you see he's up in New York, is definitely asbestos and that all needs to be removed. The first thing is some houses have asbestos. It does not have to be removed. There's no rule saying you have to remove it. Now, if you do remove it, you're going to want to take some precautions because it's dangerous for your lungs, which I'll explain in a second. But if insulation on a pipe is intact and it's not damaged, it doesn't have to be removed. Now, if you go do remove it, you have to take special precautions because the asbestos fibers basically cause lung cancer, asbestosis mesothelioma. A misconception about asbestos is that it's only in old houses. It's not true. The EPA governs asbestos as remediation and testing for commercial buildings federally, nation wide. They do not do anything with regards to residential properties. That being said, some states, because it's state-by-state, have decided to basically copy the federal requirements for commercial buildings and residential buildings. States that do do that there's no age requirement. The reason people think there's an age requirement is because there was and I'm trying to remember now in 1987, there was a couple of things that happened and they just started to outlaw. But then all these things were grandfathered in. You're still allowed to use it. You can actually go to Home Depot right now by joint compound and some of them actually had asbestos in them. In states say like Colorado, in Colorado you have to test. This is my house, if I were going to renovate more than 32 square feet, my house is brand new built last year, we would have to test in Colorado if this house in Colorado, if we were renovating more than 32 square feet. People don't understand that they don't believe you. They think it's just old houses and then I show them exactly where the state of Colorado wrote that up. Now in Arizona, we do not have that rule. You can tear up whatever you want in your residential setting, no one's going to care, no one's going to bother you about it. That being said, it doesn't mean that you might not still run into asbestos, you just didn't test. You don't know that it's there. Asbestos has been used in over 3,000 building type materials. It's used on the back of tiles, it's used in tiles. We found it in joint compound. It's sometimes used in the sheathing of wiring. Again, by the way, it's a lot of other things. It's sometimes in brake pads, it's sometimes in cigarette filters. Little tidbit, you'll notice if you are ever at home in the middle of the day and you see commercials for mesothelioma, the reason that the attorneys chase mesothelioma and you never see them go, hey, did you get lung cancer from asbestos or did you get asbestosis from cancer? Is because that's from a prolonged exposure. They've actually proven that mesothelioma can be caused by only one time exposure to asbestos. Therefore, that's what the attorneys pursue because obviously that's much easier to prove in court that you're exposed to at one time as opposed to it serves 20 years and we know follow button, you can match all that goes. That being said, if they're going to renovate their house, renovate their kitchen, it's from the '70s, whatever it's from 2000s and they're worried about it, they of course can still test for asbestos. The way that it works is, in areas that are mandated, let's say a commercial building, the numbers a little bit different. If you're going to renovate more than 160 square feet, then you have to do this testing for asbestos. The way it works is you take a little piece of the material, about a size of the quarter goes into a bag, we label it, and then we take it out of the lab and they look under special microscope and they tell us whether there's asbestos in there and then whether or not the asbestos is above one percent, in other words, the percent of the material that is asbestos. For an area, you have to take random samples, all the samples have to come back negative. The way the numbers work is you take three samples of each material for less than 1,000 square feet, and they take five samples if it's between 1,000 and 5,000 square feet and you take seven samples if it is more than 5,000 square feet. Again, this is per material. If you're doing a bathroom in a commercial setting let's say you got the back of the tiles. You have a drywall, you have trim. What else do you have? You have the wiring, you have the mastic on the back of the tiles. Each one of these things is three more samples. Get three samples per material. All have to come back negative before you can actually move forward and go ahead and assume that there's no asbestos there. It can get pricey, we've actually done houses where they're demo-ing the whole. It's a 1905 house in an upper coming area and they're going to demo the whole thing and build one of those three-story super cool modern houses. You have to do every single material. If you think that that dry wall was installed at a different time to this dry wall, that's three different samples or five different samples each. There's one in commercial building I did where they have white. It was all the same tiles, but some were white, some were red, and some were blue. I had to do seven samples of the white tiles, and then five of the red and five of the blue, even though they all look like they came from the same place, that's the way the rule was written.
Again, usually people are shocked when I tell them it doesn't matter the year. The way that the EPA writes it up is that like in my house, if Arizona said you have to test in residential settings, I would either have to have a letter from my builder stating, we guarantee you there's no asbestos and good luck getting that letter or you have to do the testing. That's how that works. People are usually shocked to hear that. We talked about this when and where is it found. If you don't know what asbestos is, it's actually a mineral. I think it's found in rocks. Except for it causing all those lung problems, it's actually great material. It doesn't conduct electricity, it's got some great thermal properties, it's relatively inexpensive. Basically it does all these from a building material standpoint. It's actually really great. But when you basically break it up and you breathe in the fibers, it's really bad for you. Kind of covered that.
We talked about how to find it, we take all these samples. If you do, then basically you have to do this hazmat setup where you put plastic bags up, you have negative air, you have heat filters running. The idea is as you're breaking up this material to demo it, these fibers are going to become airborne and all of it gets bagged up. You see all the protective gear that they're wearing, with the masks and everything. Then at the end, you have to do this really aggressive air sampling and look at it under a microscope to prove that the area is totally cleaned from asbestos fibers.
A common thing that I'll tell people. This is another good story. I went into a real estate office one time and it was in Colorado. There you have to test in residential settings. The lady who was running the office was like, we fired our last home inspector because he missed asbestos. Then I go, asbestos is not part of the home inspection, he didn't miss asbestos. Oh yes he did, because it came back. I know but a home inspection is not designed to find asbestos. Because again, there's over 3,000 items. This is a common misconception. People go, can you check the house for asbestos? You're like no, because the right way to do that, again, would be to test every single material under a microscope, which costs money. One it's cost prohibitive unless you're going to tear the house down. Because again, the houses that we did, we'd usually run like $4-5,000 in testing per house. But the second thing is, like I said, you have to cut a hole in the wall in the material. You got to take some of the material down to the lab. Most sellers are not keen on you cutting holes in the wall only to come back and say, we found asbestos we're no longer going to buy the house. So you can imagine how well that goes over it.
Have you ever seen that composite siding? It's like crest wood, it's not, I don't know, it's maybe on 10, 15 percent of the houses here. A lot of the 80's and 90's. If you don't keep it sealed, the problem is because it's at press material, it just absorbs water really quickly. But there's also from '90-'97, I forgot to put the data on there, Louisiana Pacific made this type of composite and it was way worse than all the rest. We have a write-up for that, if it's the years of it. It is extra problematic because, again, the siding is just going to deteriorate extra quickly. It wasn't built very well. So '90-'97 is that Louisiana Pacific materials.
I know that realtors know a lot about lead paint because you got to take all the classes and it's in your disclosure and it's in the contract, pre 1978, but let me just give you a little background on it. When you go to the EPA and you take their class, one of the first things they said is does anybody know why lead paint was even a thing? We're all like, "No, not really." Well, because it's actually really good stuff. If you remember back in the 1910s, 1920s, you had a little farmhouse, a little whitewash fence. Well, they literally have to whitewash the fence every single year. When lead paint started to come around and the paint lasted so much longer that it basically you could do it every five years or so. It was just a much better product. It wasn't until later that they had found out that if someone ingested lead paint, you might have a medical problems. As an adult, if you ingest lead paint, you're just going to get high blood pressure. It's not the end of the world. But you probably know for children, it's very bad. It causes a severe learning disability. One of the worst-case scenarios I heard was, I think it was a realtor and she had a daughter. She had all the symptoms of lead paint poisoning. It just couldn't figure it out. They brought in some people to test the whole house for lead paint, and they actually found it inside the cabinets and they were storing all their drinking glasses upside-down. Of course, adults didn't known. The girl ended up with all these problems. It's just super sad story. If you do find lead paint, again, before 1978, they actually put out to all of these paint building companies that in 1969, "Hey, we're making this illegal on this date." I think it's March 1st, 31st '78. So you do not find a lot of lead paint in houses during the '70s. If you do test for it and you do find it, it's really common when you're getting new windows. So they'll do an, let's say it's 1965 house, you're getting all new windows. They'll do all the lead paint testing around the window. If they do find lead paint, they basically put up a little barrier and then they put all the materials in there and they take it out to the trash. There's no special way to get rid of it. Whereas if you find asbestos, that has to go special landfills and all this stuff. The lead paint, the whole point is, we just don't want the lead paint dust to be spread around the house in a way that can be ingested. You just put some plastic up. You rip out the stuff and you just take it out to the trash behind the garage. There's nothing more special to it.
Two more building materials, that not everybody's heard of, or I should say, overly familiar with, Chinese drywall big housing room, construction room in the mid to early 2000s caused builders to import drywall from China, and what ended up happening was the Chinese drywall put off way more sulfur in the air than the American drywall did. You can see here this picture, it's terrible. It looks perfect on my iPad just so you know. These are like the little copper coils inside of an air handler. Basically normally they would be copper colored and here you can see they're black. This same black, mat black chalkboard look also happens to copper wiring. So what happens is, you got free on running through there. Just black corrosion thing happens, you get leaks. Well, what ended up happening? You get $60,000 worth of damage. I've traveled all around the country doing Chinese drywall testing. I went into New Orleans on a one-day trip. This guy had two furnace. There are two air handlers up in his attic. They look just like this. Water damage throughout the whole house, and it was like $60,000. Well, here's the thing, the insurance company was basically hiring the engineering firm who hired my company to do all the testing, because they're like, "If it's Chinese drywall, we're not covering it." The insurance companies attitude was like buying a car. You have car insurance and then the transmission goes out. Usually they won all those cases. They'd rather pay the engineering firm and my company 5,000 than to pay the claim of $60,000. Most of it that caused the problem is out because it does cause these kinds of problems. But as a warning, we always have our inspectors at least know how to talk through all this stuff, so that they do do a 2004/2005 house and they opened up the electrical panel and the wires are black. They understand why what would happen there. But most of it's been handled and taken care fine. Too very often. The last thing that I know a lot of people haven't heard of is what's called vermiculite. I put here lack of insulation and vermiculite. Old houses just don't have any installation and it's a good idea to add insulation. I might tale realtors anything they don't know already. Vermiculite lives just like this, and it's like this little, I don't know, it looks like a breakfast cereal, the brand or whatever, and that vermiculite is actually has asbestos. We do find that. This was installed in about a million house across the whole United States up through about 1985. You don't want to go in that attic because if you're disturbing that, again, those fibers become airborne. We could take some of this down to the lab, and we could have the lab tell us whether or not that's asbestos or not. Sometimes people are confused, that blown in cellulose. So if it looks like somebody ripped up an old newspaper, that's cellulose. If it looks like this pebbly stuff, there's a chance that that has asbestos in it. So not everybody has seen that or everybody knows about it, but that's it. Look at that, 37 minutes, I know we don't have a huge crowd today, but do we have any questions?
It's most common in the '50s and '60s. I don't know that I have the exact date. I can look for the dates, but it goes neighborhood by neighborhood. Speaking of that, I want to talk about one other thing that's another, I feel like half my days are spent fixing misconceptions. Some realtors tell their clients, "Hey, you only got to worry about getting a, which we call it, a sewer scope on an older house." They had these rules. Well, if it's Sun City, it's before 19th. Let me tell you something. I had a brand new house. I did a sewer scope on it, and I found that vendors had poured all this paint down the drain. Any year house, new builds too, we find problems all the time. You can have if the ground under the sewer's a little loose, you could have little soft. You could have an offset, which will cause blockages. You can have root intrusion. You could have people that lived there for 10 years and poured oil and grease down the drain. Again, I'm not going to tell somebody what to do. I just say this is our jobs to make sure that you don't inherit problems unknowingly. If you don't look at the inside of the sewer line, you might inherit problem unknowingly. So consultative sales person in me says, you pay and you learn or you don't pay and you don't learn, you as the consumer, it's your choice. But problems happen in all age houses. We've literally did a new build, I think two weeks ago and the line was running out, and then they literally just ran it right back into the house. The second somebody would've moved in there, they would have had backups within two weeks. Mistakes happen. Problems happen. Some people say, "I don't want to spend $200 and find out there's nothing wrong." Other people say, "Man, I really loved to spend $200, find out there's nothing wrong and feel comfortable about moving forward with the purchase of my new house." So just my little tidbit on sewer scopes.
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