Buyers: go to your Home Inspection

I realize that some peoples schedules' prevent them from attending the home inspection. But if you can be available, can carve out the 3 hours or so the inspection takes, then it will be worth your while to attend. First of all its the time to address anything you noticed about the house – sloping floors, cracks in the foundation, old electric outlets, drafty windows your home inspector can explain these and any other issues that arise. If your not knowledgable regarding the workings of the house, (and most people aren't) by the end of the inspection you'll at least have a passing acquaintance with the major systems of the house (10 or so – depending on the house) and how those systems support and protect the house and provide the house with its comfort and convenience. Make the home inspector earn his money and you'll be entering home ownership (a wonderful thing) better prepared than you were before the inspection.


Bleed those Radiators

Here on Chicago’s North Shore a winter chill has set in over the last couple of November days, with the temperature struggling to get to 40 degrees. For many of us that means our boilers have kicked on in earnest for the season. As a general rule, the higher up the radiators sit in the home, the more likely they need to bled. Start by feeling the temperature of your radiators on the 1st floor with your hand – there should be a certain uniformity of warmth from each radiator. Any radiator that is not as warm as the others should be bled. Most likely you'll find the radiator(s) on the 3rd floor where you've stashed your two boys, cooler to the touch than the radiators downstairs. Bleeding the radiator is simple, get a radiator key from your local hardware store, a small pan, a rag for any spilling and insert the key in the valve at the top of the radiator and give it a turn. You'll hear a hiss, catch a whiff of some foul air trapped in the radiator and when the water hits the pan just turn the valve off and your done.

Put Carbon Monoxide Detectors in the Basement

Here on Chicago's North Shore the local codes requires Carbon Monoxide Detectors to be placed within 20 feet of all bedrooms in the home. But if you live in a single-family home with the hot-water heater, and furnace or boiler, in the basement, I think it's best to also place a Detector close to the bottom of the stairs as they exit the basement. It just makes sense because the gas-fired appliances that produce carbon monoxide – a gas which you can't taste, can't smell and can't see - is most likely released in the basement. Think of the Carbon Monoxide Detector in the basement as an early warning detection device to keep you and your family safe from harm.

How much does a Home Inspection cost?

You would think that this is an easy question to answer, but for the home buyer, it is not. Most home inspectors do not post their prices and are reluctant to give a price until speaking with the home buyer and determining the location, size and age of the home. I know home inspectors that charge $1,500 dollars for larger homes and one inspector here on the North Shore of Chicago who charges a flat rate of $250 regardless of whether it is condominium or a lakefront mansion.

I try to keep my pricing in the middle of the pack, making it reasonable and reflective of the degree of difficulty.  For instance, a condominium is generally a relatively easy inspection and I charge $300 for it. My prices increase as a I move through townhouses, bungalows, and 2-story homes all the way to a 6 bedroom, 100 year old Winnetka home for which I charge $750. 

Check out all my pricing on the website.

Why do I need a Home Inspection?

Many home buyers don't have much experience with the inner workings of a house and those that do probably won't subject the home to a thorough inspection. The home is made up of some fairly complex systems. 

If I'm buying a house, some of the things I would want to know:

  • Is the plumbing galvanized steel?
  • What's the condition of the roof?
  • Is the electrical wiring dated?
  • Is the attic ventilated and properly insulated?

Really the home inspection is a heads-up to the home-buyer for anything that might need repair now and may need upgrading or replacement in the future. That way, if the home has a 25 yr. old furnace the home buyer knows that its possible that the furnace could die this winter or next and he or she can be prepared for that.

Is your Sump Pump ready for the Spring rains?

Spring is here in Chicagoland and as our thoughts turn to sunshine and baseball we also know that the rains will come, heavy rains, basement flooding rains. And nothing can kill those good Spring vibrations quicker than a flooded basement. And if your basement is finished and converted to a rec room or an office or a bedroom then a flooded basement is more than an inconvenience.

If your house was built after 1950 you probably have a sump pump that take the excess water from the rain storm and pumps it out of the sump pit and away from the house. But if that sump motor stops working during a heavy rain then the water will overflow the sump pit and flood the basement. As a home owner you should consider doing an annual inspection of the sump pit and motor.

The modern sump motor is more resistant to rust and corrosion and is now made mostly of plastic and stainless steel. The sump motor is like any other motor, whether it's a lawn mower, a leaf blower, or an automobile, the older it is the more likely it is to breakdown. The estimated lifespan of a sump motor is much debated, ranging from 5 to 15 years, if it is over 10 years have a plumber evaluate it and replace if necessary.

Lou Manfredi, of Mr. Fix-it fame recommends a plumber does an annual check-up on the sump motor. However, you can give it your own spring check-up and the only tools you'll need are a flashlight and a bucket and about 10 minutes. A sump pump is a pretty simple operation. Most sump pumps have a float switch, when the water rises the float activates a switch, the motor turns on, and the pump pulls the water out of the pit and sends it up through the PVC piping.

To inspect the pump:

First, unplug the sump pump (modern electric code calls for a GFCI outlet) from the outlet.

Next remove the sump cover (if your home has a radon mitigation system the sump cover needs to be removed by a professional).

Look into the sump pit. Look to see if there is a little oil slick on the water in the pit. If so the pump is releasing coolant and should be replaced.

Look to see if there is any debris in the pit and if so remove it. Find the water intake on the pump (a round hole with a screen) and remove any debris with your hand. Next examine the float switch and make sure no debris is interfering with the float going up and down.

Plug the sump motor back in, get a bucket of water and slowly poor it in the sump pit. Watch the float rise and the motor activate. The motor should run smoothly, in rhythm, and shouldn't be noisy, or race, or sputter, if so you probably need a replacement. The motor should stop when the water is removed.

Finally, you should have a battery back-up in case of an electrical outage. The batteries come in a variety of strengths and are priced according to the protection they provide. Many people now have a 2nd or back-up pump inserted in the sump pit and if the motor on the 1st quits, the 2nd will kick on saving the basement from flooding.

Mark McCaffrey

Keep the Attic Ventilated

The reality is that most people don't spend much, if any, time in the attic.  Those with pull down stairs may spend a few minutes a year lugging seasonal decorations up and down with barely a glance at the rest of the attic.  For those whose only access is a hatch needing a ladder for entry they may never see the attic.   In the course of my inspections I come across mold in the attic fairly frequently usually of the light and moderate variety but on occasion I find heavy mold infestation.  The homeowners are invariably surprised by the finding of the mold.  If you're going to sell the home and there is mold in the attic, any home inspector worth his salt is going to find it and in some fashion the mold will need to be dealt with.  The primary cause of mold in the attic is condensation from the warm and moist air in the home convecting up into an attic that does not have adequate ventilation.  Ideally the roof is ventilated from the soffits at the eaves of the roof up through to the ridge vents at the top of the roof.  That air flow keeps the underside of the roof cool and dry so that the mold spores don't have a chance to stick to a warm moist surface.

Besides a poorly ventilated roof a number of other factors can contribute to mold in the attic:

  • A poorly insulated attic floor including air gaps around lighting, fans, plumbing and the attic entrance;
  • Vents from the bathrooms, kitchen, and clothes dryer venting directly into the attic;
  • Furnaces and uninsulated duct work located in the attic;
  • Leaks from the roof, chimney, plumbing vents etc...

The vast majority of  mold found in attics is of the light or moderate variety and can be self-remediated or can be removed by a handyman.   Check the EPA website at - keyword: mold for the proper clothing and cleaning supplies to remove the mold. If you have heavy mold infestation on the underside of the roof call a couple of mold remediation firms for estimates.  This could be quite expensive and I know a few clients who have replaced the roof including the plywood sheathing, and got a new roof with proper ventilation for less than the cost of the mold remediation.Remember a well ventilated roof is the key to keeping the attic moisture free.  If your home does not have soffit vents or is multi-peaked making it difficult to have an effective ridge vent consider adding powered vents.  Solar vents have been on the market now for a number of years and are easy to install, relatively cheap, need no electric power and last for about 20 years – a good alternative for keeping your attic moisture and mold free.

Keep the Critters out in the Cold

When the cold winds of October and November blow, our thoughts turn to hearth, and home, and hot chocolate. It’s time to settle in with a good book or a family meal. Nothing can upset the harmony of the home more than the spotting of a mouse. Married men must go on high alert devoting all available resources to the removal of the mice. Warm-blooded furry little (and not so little) critters will poke and prod our sanctuaries in their desire to escape the cold and enjoy civilized living powered by gas heat. Mice, squirrels, possums, skunks and raccoons are hoping you’ll extend your hospitality by letting them ride out the cold winds of Lake Michigan under your porches, in your soffits and attics and crawl spaces.

Critters are scavengers and freeloaders. They’ll gladly take the freebies from an open trash can and will gnaw through or knock the trash can over for a taste of your leftovers. From the trash can they’ll check out the garage for bird and grass seed, a sack of grass seed can feed a family of mice for a couple of generations. Nothing is sweeter for a critter than to feed at the family pets’ trough, feed and water the pets inside the house. Finally if you have apple or other fruit trees the critters will camp out in your yard and when the cold comes they’ll look to your house for warmth and comfort. Remove food sources and most likely the critters will go elsewhere for their sustenance and winter lodging.

Critters will try to find a way into your home. Mice need a hole the diameter of a pencil to get in your basement, squirrels and raccoons will chew and claw open fascia boards to get in your attic, skunks and possums will dig under your deck lattice work to get good and comfy in a nest close to the warmth of your home. You’ve got to be vigilant, critters in and around the house pose health threats, can be very destructive, and generally creep you out while they are in residence. So take a good close look at your house, inspect it, make sure your house is closed off to the critters. Look closely for:

  • any unfilled holes caused by utilities (cable, gas, HVAC, plumbing, electricity) in the siding and foundation;
  • check for digging around porches, decks, and the foundation;
  • check gable vents in the attic for torn screens;
  • inspect the eaves of the roof particularly soffit and fascia boards for wood that has been gnawed on;
  • keep the tree limbs off your house;
  • make sure there’s a critter guard on the top of the chimney.

Critters are going to eat and keep warm whether it’s at your property or someone else’s. So keep them moving, let them enjoy the hospitality of others so that you can enjoy the warmth of your home with loved ones and invited guests.