One of the biggest frustrations of home buyers and home inspectors alike is the fact that you can’t see inside walls. So far, nobody has invented a handy portable x-ray vision device that lets you take a real peek at what’s going on behind plaster, drywall or paneling. Life would be a lot easier if you could, but for now, you have to rely on clues.
Here are a few defects that can happen in any house. They might not be obvious from outside the wall, but they have a few telltale signs that something is amiss.
#1: Water Damage from Leaks, Ice Dams, Old Flooding or Condensation
Bruce Lee once said that you should be shapeless and formless like water. “Water can drip and it can crash,” he said. It can seep into the tiniest of spaces and conform to a large void. Unfortunately, it can erode the structural integrity of a house, as well.
Hidden water damage can manifest in a few ways. If water has soaked into framing members and remained wet, the walls might bow or the ceilings and floors might wave or dip.
A tiny brown spot on a ceiling or streak on a wall could also be a sign of widespread water damage underneath. If there’s significant warping or evenly spaced stains on drywall, the home might have experienced flooding. A rusty drywall fastener could indicate a plumbing leak inside.
Damaged Electrical Wiring from Screws or Nails
Most homeowners decorate the walls. Unfortunately, many people worry more about hitting a stud than avoiding the wiring inside. If there’s a defective electrical outlet, receptacle or light, trace the path to see if you can spot a nail or screw that might have nicked the wires.
A small nick in a ground wire might never cause a problem, at least not one that you’d find during a home inspection. But if the nail or screw is oversized, it could cut the power entirely, not to mention giving the homeowner a nasty jolt.
Reuben Saltzman of Structure Tech Home Inspections also warns that screws, nails, and plumbing don’t mix. On a recent home inspection, a Structure Tech employee accidentally drove an access panel screw through the homeowner’s water supply line. So keep in mind that a seemingly random water leak might have a puncture wound.
Termites in Masonry Walls
Termites can’t infiltrate concrete blocks, right? Unfortunately, they can and do. Concrete isn’t tasty, but those materials can serve as a pathway to other delicious treats, including paneling, roof trusses or even the homeowner’s furniture.
Termites don’t leave the telltale burrowed holes through cinder blocks or other masonry materials. Instead, they build their own pathways. They appear as raised tunnels on the surface, similar in appearance to the tunneling of a mud dauber nest.
If a masonry home you’re inspecting has raised tunnels on the surface, don’t assume that you’ve found a home for wayward wasps. Mud dauber wasps are more common than termites on masonry materials, but termites can easily adapt where wood isn’t available. Once they’ve tunneled in, they can devour the wood inside any house no matter what the walls are made of.
Home inspectors can’t see through walls, but experience and time in the industry will improve your deductive reasoning. Don’t expect to find every problem that’s hidden inside a home. But when faced with a puzzling situation, such as a water stain with no visible source or an outlet with no apparent defects aside from the fact that it doesn’t work, put on your sleuthing hat. You might have an “Aha!” moment.
Are you ready to step into a new career that’s challenging, creative and has plenty of room for growth? Enroll now in ICA School’s home inspector education course and work at your own pace.