Friday, April 30, 2021

Inspecting Synthetic / Composite Engineered Roof Coverings

            Inspecting Synthetic / Composite Engineered  Roof Coverings

 I’ll never forget the first time I saw a polymer slate roof covering. I first looked with my binoculars, as I always do before climbing. I was struck by the incredible condition of the “slate” tiles on this very old lake house. However when I went up the ladder, I discovered they were a rubberized material. Since then I have seen many. Although the materials used are very durable; it is the installation that can be problematic. There have been some manufactures that have had issues with their product materials in the past. Most of the newer products are very durable and if installed properly should have a long serviceable life. However it is important that other materials including flashing and fasteners are also durable. We normally refer to these coverings as just “composite” because of the many different materials used like: rubber, plastic, and other polymers. It is much more expensive than conventional roofing materials; however the serviceable life, if installed properly is longer. Composite roof coverings will tend to fade or oxidize over time. If you observe different colors / variations in different areas; that may mean that the shingle bundles were not mixed prior to installing. The installer should mix shingles from different bundles to ensure they are properly blended due to color variations. Special installation requirements are recommended for slopes of 2/12 or less. Composite shingles should not be installed on flat roof surfaces. I have outlined broad recommended guidelines. The specific manufacturer installation recommendations should always be referenced. What should a home inspector be looking for when inspecting composite roof shingles?


  • Snow guard devices should be installed
  • ½ Plywood is the minimum thickness required for 16” on center rafters, although 5/8” is recommended. 5/8-inch plywood is required for 20” rafter spacing or greater. OSB is not recommended.
  • Minimum 1 ½ ” large head ring shanked roofing nails Stainless steel are recommended
  • Nails must be fully covered by shingles and not visible in joints
  • Where applicable, only a “pure silicon” sealant should be used to cover up exposed nail heads or to seal joints on ridge caps. The sealant should be color matched
  • Every shingle should have 4 nails
  • Every cap should have 2 screws
  • It is important that the head of the nail not be driven below the top surface of the shake. This may cause leaks in this area.
  • The joint between 2 shakes in one course should never be closer than 1 ½” to a joint below or above it.
  • A Synthetic underlay is required. Ice / water shield may also be used
  • The second course should be installed directly over the starter course, but should project a maximum 1/2" beyond the starter course (drip edge)
  • The exposure should be less than 9 inches (7-7.5 normally). (This will vary depending on the shingle size and manufacture)
  • A 24” wide W-flashing (heavy gauge) should be used in the valleys
  • Stainless steel flashing is recommended

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Inspecting Modern Flat / Low Slope Roof Coverings


Inspecting Modern Flat / Low Slope Roof Coverings

 When I first started conducting home inspections many of the flat or low slope roofs were covered with roll asphalt for residential applications or built up roofing for commercial. Although some people may still use roll roofing, and it may have its place; most modern flat roof coverings are made from newer, more durable, and more waterproof materials. Some of the materials that are commonly used for flat roofs are IRMA – Inverted Roof Membrane Assembly which is widely used for commercial applications. Normally you would not see this on a residence. IMRA incorporate insulation in the assembly and have a protective coating that may contain gravel. Modified / Polymer Bitumen which can be Atactic Polypropylene or Styrene Butadiene Styrene is a rubber like compound that is installed in sheets. Elastomeric or EPDM are sometimes called rubber roofing. PVC or plastic roofing materials are also available. These types of materials are most common for modern flat roofs. Some bitumen coverings may be prone to damage from the sun’s rays unless they are coated with ultraviolet protection. Bitumen materials can also be reinforced with fiberglass. Flat roof covering materials can be applied by heating (torch down), peel and stick, or glued down. It will be difficult for a home inspector to identify the different types and specific materials of bitumen. We normally refer to these types of coverings in our reports as a “Single Ply Membrane.” Here are some of the things home inspectors should be looking for when inspecting single ply membranes on flat roofs:


·       Seams facing the wrong direction which could cause water entry

·       Cracking or splits in the membrane

·       Blisters / wrinkling

·       Any areas that have been repaired or patched

·       Seams that are not overlapped at least 3 inches

·       Areas that have “bubbled” or are not properly attached to the substrate

·       Ponding / standing water

·       Any puncture or tear in the material

·       Side & end laps should be staggered

·       Flash points especially around air conditioning systems due to vibration

·       Flashing around parapets

·       Flashing around skylights

·       Flashing around any roof drains

·       Examine any drains that travel through the interior from underneath if possible

·       Ensure the water is draining properly including the drainage system / gutters

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Revisiting Attached Garage Fire Separation


Revisiting Attached Garage Fire Separation


Many home inspector training manuals and continuing education courses address the fire separation requirements between an attached garage and living space. Specifically; fire rated drywall, self closing fire rated door, and ensuring the garage is 4 inches below the living space (although this may be waived for ADA compliance). I have seen some inspectors call out a wood door.  Also any pilot / flame in the garage should be 18” above the floor. However fire separation requirements have been revised and expanded. For instance in the IRC – R302.6 states in part that fire rated gypsum board shall not apply to garage walls that are perpendicular to the adjacent dwelling unit. Also, any openings from a garage directly into a room used for sleeping purposes are not permitted. Fire blocking is also required to eliminate concealed draft openings and to form a fire barrier between stories, and between a top story and the roof space. Fire blocking in wood framed construction should be in the following areas; in concealed stud spaces, vertically at the ceiling and floor, horizontally at intervals not exceeding 10 feet, at connections of soffits, dropped ceilings, and cove ceilings. So where should a home inspector be looking for fire separation:


  • Fire separation doors should be solid wood doors not less than 1 3/8” thick, solid or honeycomb core steel doors not less than 1 3/8” thick OR 20 minute fire rated doors
  • Enclosed accessible space under stairs shall have walls, under stair surface and soffits protected with ½” gypsum board
  • All doors should be equipped with a self closing device
  • Ducts in the garage penetrating the walls or ceilings separating the dwelling from the garage should be a minimum of No. 26 gauge steel, 1 inch minimum rigid nonmetallic or other approved fire rated material
  • No Duct openings are permitted in the garage
  • Any openings around vents, pipes ducts, cables, or wires shall be sealed with approved material to resist the passage of flame, smoke, and products of combustion
  • Wood Structural Panel floor structures shall be required to have a 5/8” gypsum wall board
  • Wood floor assemblies using dimensional lumber equal to or greater than 2 inch by 10 inch or any other approved floor assemblies demonstrating equivalent fire performance do NOT need 5/8” gypsum wallboard (basements only)
  • The annular space between the wall membrane and any electrical box shall not exceed 1/8”
  • Two family dwellings should be separated from each other by wall and floor assemblies having not less than a 1 hour fire rating
  • Two family dwellings equipped with an automatic sprinkler system should have a ½ hour wall and floor assembly separation 

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Inspecting Modular Built Homes


Inspecting Modular Built Homes

Many people confuse modular homes with manufactured homes. Mobile or manufactured homes are built on steel frames called chassis and they cannot be removed. The chassis are used to support the homes and transport them to their permanent locations. These homes can either be placed in “parks” where other manufactured homes are also placed or be fixed on a permanent foundation, which may qualify them as traditional homes.

Modular homes are built in units that are joined together on-site and, unlike a manufactured home; they can be built as a multiple story house. Modular homes are built with wooden beams that use steel supports which make it possible for the modules to be stacked, allowing the homeowner to have a basement and multiple stories.

Modular homes are built with a process that involves the construction of components in a factory. It starts with a wood frame floor built to attach the wall panels later. The builders will then use fasteners to attach the wall panels. The window openings are already cut out before they are attached. As the structure is built, the drywall, ceilings, plumbing, and electrical wiring are installed under the close supervision of inspectors.

The roof is attached in one of two ways depending on the builder. Some manufacturers will build the roof and then set it on top of the walls. Other companies will send the roof separately and attach it on-site.

The final step is adding the exterior and interior finishes. The buyer can customize their own finishes such as the siding, the cabinets, flooring material, backsplash, vanities, countertops, and many other finishes.

The modular units, are usually shipped with a layer of plastic wrap suitable for transportation purposes only. Failure to erect these assemblies on a timely basis may result in serious weather damage and molded areas. Modular homes are inspected like a “stick built” house; however there are some areas that an inspector should pay close attention to:

- An energy seal should be installed by the factory around the perimeter of the marriage wall.

- To ensure an energy-efficient seal between the modules, a foam gasket or other sealant should be used for this insulating process.

- The perimeter rail of the structure is nailed to the sill plate with 16d nails @ 12” O.C. (For basement sets, all lally columns are located per the recommended schedule and lagged to marriage wall floor rails/girders with four 3/4” x 4” lags each one preferably into each rail. Additional columns are required under each side of marriage wall opening in excess of 52”.)

- The first two modules are bolted together, using 1/2” through-bolts.

- If the home is a two story, the rails of the first floor are bolted together with 1/2” bolts @ 4’ O.C.

- The third module should set on top of the first module, in the same manner as the first. The second floor rails should be fastened to the first floor ceiling rails with 16d nails @ 12” O.C.

- Spray foam is put in place around the marriage wall perimeter.

- Roof center beams must be nailed with a 16d nail @ 8” O.C. in height and 12” O.C. in length, staggered, after leveling the beams to each other.

-  Fire stop should be installed in chase areas to assure a maximum of eight feet of vertical distance.

- For an open roof system; fasten truss knee wall to ridge or rafters as per plans.

- Ensure floors are level and not damaged

- The center beams should be bolted together per specifications

- Check factory installed interior / exterior doors for proper working order.

- Drywall cracks, especially at marriage wall openings.

- Check the connection of water lines between modules

- Connection of electric panel to main service and between modules. There may be electrical connection junction boxes where the modules are joined

- Connection of hot water heater to main plumbing pipes.

- Connection of mechanical equipment, furnace, air conditioning, etc., to main systems.

- Ensure there is a bottom sheathing board that completely covers the sill plate

- Examine sheathing splice at marriage wall openings.

- Examine marriage wall doors and cased openings.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Inspecting The Square D QO Electric Load Center


Inspecting The Square D QO Electric Load Center

The Square D – QO and Homeline load centers have some unique features. It is important to note the proper breakers must be used. I know you are thinking; load centers should always have proper breakers, however these breakers are different than ones you are used to seeing. The Neutral Load Centers are specifically built for Arc Fault, Ground Fault, and dual function breakers. Pig tails on these types of circuit breakers have been eliminated using the Square D Plug-on Neutral breakers. This also reduces clutter and additional connections in the panel. These new circuit breakers also have special diagnostics to identify the type of fault that last occurred by holding the test button down. If the breaker trips immediately, it is detecting a fault. If the breaker trips after a 2 second delay, it is detecting an Arc Fault. If the breaker trips after a 5 second delay, it is a thermal overload or short circuit. This is great technology and identifies an issue on the circuit. So what should a home inspector be looking for:


  • The QO load center will have an extended neutral lug on both sides of the panel (this can be seen in the picture above)
  • The specific “Plug-On Neutral” circuit breakers for this load center connect at the rear of the breaker to the extended neutral lug
  • Neutral pigtail’s are not present on these breakers
  • If you see a AFCI or GFCI circuit breaker with a pigtail connection, it is not the proper breaker
  • The Quick-Grip Wire Management System eliminates most knockout removal
  • The Quick-Grip Management system is UL Listed and Code Compliant
  • Eliminates most box connectors
  • Wires connect from the front of the panel and are covered by a protective shield.
  • There is less of a chance of conductors shorting on the panel
  • Quick-Grip connectors can hold up to 5 NM-B wires

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Why Are The Air Conditioning Ducts Sweating?


Why Are The Air Conditioning Ducts Sweating?

We are conducting an inspection on a hot day and the air conditioning is running; which is something I am always grateful for. In the basement, attic, or crawl space we see the ducts or the air handler sweating. Sometimes we see the copper suction line sweating. Our client asks; “why is there water droplets on the ducts (or unit)”? I have heard home inspectors give different answers to this issue. I know some say this is “normal”. Normal does not mean acceptable, and I take issue with “normal”. Sweating ducts can cause mold issues in areas we can’t see over time. I have seen ceilings covered with mold from sweating air conditioning ducts. One of the issues I see overlooked by not only home inspectors, but installers is the size of the air conditioning system. I hear installers say; “we use 3 ton units on all houses”. Sure they won’t get a call back. The homeowner sets the temperature to 60-65, and the house is cold, but not properly dehumidified. I have seen “professionals” recommend that a dehumidifier is installed to control sweating ducts. A properly sized unit should dehumidify the air. Actually this is the most important part of a properly sized system. I have seen people set the temperature at 60 degrees F! Air conditioning is about humidity reduction. A 78 degree, 48% humidity house will feel great. A house at 60 degrees and 90% humidity will feel cold and clammy because the humidity has not been properly reduced. An oversized unit will shut down long before the house is properly dehumidified. An air conditioning system that is too large will run in shorter cycles of less than 12 minutes. This is because the system will quickly cool the air and shut the thermostat down without properly cooling the entire space. This causes the system to shut off without running long enough to cool the furthest rooms in the house and properly dehumidify. The thermostat should be set around 78 degrees F. If you set the air conditioning temperature higher, then the temperature of the return air will also be higher and there will be less chance of sweating. Short cycles will cause temperature variations and areas of the house that are not properly dehumidified. 1 ton of cooling (12,000 BTU’s) should be adequate for every 1000 square feet of well insulated space. This number could be higher or lower depending on many factors including; house layout, insulation, air leakage, etc. Always recommend your client seek the advice of a qualified HVAC contractor. So what else may cause air conditioning ducts to sweat?

1.     Duct Insulation – Duct insulation is most important. We have cold, dehumidified air traveling in a space that is hot and humid through a thin metal duct. The same analogy applies to a cold glass of water sitting on a table on a hot summer day. All ducts should be properly sealed. Gaps or missing insulation will cause air loss and moisture.

2.     Sealing a Crawl Space – If the crawl space is not properly insulated, including a proper vapor barrier on the floor that will increase the chances of condensation on the ducts.

3.     Proper Attic Ventilation – I know many individuals don’t recommend attic ventilation anymore (which I disagree with), however a very hot attic, with cold ducts running through it, will cause condensation.

4.      Poor Air Flow – The biggest reason for this is a clogged or dirty filter. This is the easiest fix of all. I have seen furnace heat exchangers ruined because of a clogged filter. Damaged, dirty, or blocked vents can also cause improper air flow.

5.     Icing of the Evaporator Coils – Causes of this are a clogged air filter, dirty coils, or an undersized or improperly functioning system.

6.     Blocked Condensate Discharge – Chilled condensate water will back up into the condensate tray in the air handler mixing with the warmer air creating condensation.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Common Code Misconceptions & The Home Inspector

 Common Code Misconceptions & The Home Inspector

I know what you are saying; “why is he talking about building codes”. You are right. A home inspection is not a code inspection. But there are many areas where the two do intersect. Here are some issues I would like to address. I know some of my clients have asked me some of the following questions, and I must admit I was caught off guard at times. I never like to be caught off guard!

  • You see a joist hanger where the wood member is not tight to the back of the bracket.
  • Is there a difference between a stair railing and a guard railing?
  • How should plywood or OSB be installed for a roof deck or floor structure?
  • Insulation with exposed kraft paper vapor barrier
  • CSST Bonding

 Many times I see wood members that are not fully seated against the back of a joist hanger or other metal bracket. Sometimes we see a complete structure where the members are not fully seated. Many staircases, especially in older homes actually have a “guard” being used as a railing. To ensure the structural integrity of walls and roof systems, there is a proper way to install plywood or OSB. Many times we see very small pieced sections. We regularly see exposed kraft paper insulation in different areas. So what should a home inspector be looking for:

 Joist Hanger Installation

-        The connection between the structural member and the joist hanger should be tight. This included trusses. Sometimes the lumber may have been wet and has shrunk. Anything more than 1/8” gap may decrease capacity or strength intended. Some manufacturers have resources that include repair techniques and load reduction based on the gap or connection. 

What is the Difference Between Stair Railings & Guards?

-        A railing is for “gripping” or “grasping” and must extend from the top step to the bottom step. A railing must be easy to hold on to where you can close your hand around it. A railing should be continuous. You should not have to let go of it and re-grasp. The ends of a handrail should be turned back to a wall or post. It should not contain open areas that may catch clothes or anything else being carried. A guard wall is built at the edge of a elevated surface to prevent someone from falling. Guards could be decorative like a bench or row of cabinets. A guard could be also be used as a hand railing, however the requirements for a hand railing must be met.

How Should Plywood or OSB be Installed For a Roof Deck or Floor Structure?

-        Most accepted standards recommend sheeting extends over three rafters or floor joists. This standard applies to sheeting that is at least 24 inches wide. Smaller panels require solid blocking and or “H” clips.

Insulation With Exposed Kraft Paper Vapor Barrier

-        The paper facing is combustible and must be covered by an acceptable material like drywall. It should not be exposed to air. This warning is printed on the face of the paper: “WARNING: This facing will burn. Do not leave exposed. Cover with approved building material in contact with facing. Keep open flames and other heat sources away from facing. See package for warning, fire hazard and installation instructions…”

CSST Bonding

-        CSST must be bonded to the electric service grounding with at least a number 6 AWG copper wire or equivalent. This requirement is for every section of CSST if not connected to a bonded section.