Island Home Inspections
Tel: (808) 395-7809 or (808) 291-9479
Structural issues in the home are often the most significant items that are uncovered during the home inspection. This is due to the fact that the cost to repair structural damage or deficiencies are often the most expensive. The physical condition of the structure will basically determine whether the home is livable or not.
The basic structural components of the building consist of:
- foundation (footings)
- floor structure
- wall structure
- ceiling and roof structure
When you observe a structure, you want to try and trace the load path from the top of the building to the bottom. Structural framing members should be properly installed and situated; however, this most often cannot be completely done since much of these areas are often concealed within finishes.
Where visible, look at the roof framing or ceiling structure to be sure it is properly set and anchored over wall top plates. Walls or columns supporting the roof structure should extend down to the floor structure and be set directly over girders or beams if not directly set on a concrete slab foundation. The girders or beams should be properly supported directly over the foundation walls. Insect and moisture shields or barriers should be in place over the foundation to prevent moisture and insect transmission into the wood framing.
Your investigation of the homes foundation & structure will vary depending on the homes design. Your intent is the same regardless of the design though. You want to determine if there is structural damage to any portions of the home. Also, if there is any evidence that there has been substantial structural movement in the building originating from foundation settlement, movement, stress or building flaws.
In homes with concrete slab on grade foundations, you want to determine if there is any sloping, unevenness or cracks that is evident in the floors, ceilings or roof lines. Are the walls plumb and window and door frames square? If not, these may be signs of possible structural problems.
In post and pier homes with elevated floor structures. You want to look in crawl spaces beneath the home for moisture accumulation or evidence of seasonal moisture entering this area. In older post and pier homes, especially where the structure is not strapped to the foundation, you want to look for footings or piers that may have slipped out from underneath structural components such as posts or columns.
Other times, footings may have sunk beneath the posts or columns? Consequently, the floor structure may not be level or there may be lack of load bearing support if the structure did not sink or move downward with the footing. Evidence of this is when you see a post elevated or floating a few inches above a footing. Often you will see shimming that has been done (wedges or blocks placed beneath footings and posts) to provide adequate load bearing support when footings have sunk.
Moisture and drainage on the property plays a large role in how well structures perform over time. If there is a lack of proper drainage around the home or if significant storm water accumulation occurs adjacent to the foundation and beneath the home - this can increase the possibility of structural movement and consequently, building damage.
Measures should be investigated such as the installation of:
- intercept drains
- drain tiles
- digging drainage paths (swales)
- proper soil grading
- roof gutters and downspouts
These are all methods that can be considered to improve drainage on the property. Moisture or storm water run-off should be directed away from the home in all situations.
Soil conditions can play a large role in how the structure performs over time. There are many different soil types that all have their own unique properties that react differently to different environmental conditions. For example, some soils such as clay and silty clay type soils have a tendency to expand and contract at a greater rate than other soils. Consequently there is greater potential for building movement especially if the soil goes through constant wet and dry cycles.
We also want to find out if there structural damage from insects (most notably termites) and wood rot. Often there is some degree of localized damage in structural framing members and it can be challenging trying to determine how extensive this damage is.
You want to access as much of the structure as possible by going into crawl space areas beneath the home and attic or ceiling hatches since this is where you can see the structure, find structural flaws and often learn the most about the physical condition of the home.
Often there is surface damage visible on structural framing members; however, it can be difficult to determine how far damage penetrates into any one specific framing member. If the suspect areas of the structure can be probed without causing additional damage, this will help indicate how extensive the damage is.
In areas viewed from a distance, where structural members cannot actually be probed, it is more difficult to determine the extent of structural damage. Sometimes there is just surface damage which is not a major concern. Other times, the structural member will look in good condition with no visible damage on the surface; however, when you probe you will discover that there is just a thin outer layer (skin) of wood with a significant amount of damage behind the skin.
Also, be aware that sometimes damaged framing members have been poorly patched or just painted over and damage is concealed or not readily visible. Obviously, any broken, cracked or altered structural framing members such as rafters, joists or beams are indications of potentially major problems that should be investigated further.
Minor or hairline cracks on the interior or exterior finishes of the home are often not a significant concern; however, should be monitored since they may be associated with some stress in the building.
In most areas other than crawl spaces and attic spaces, the structure will be concealed behind interior or exterior finishes such as the wall studs as an example. Consequently, there is always the risk of hidden damage. Garage areas sometimes have exposed framing which you can observe directly and get a feel for how the framing on the home was done.
A soil and/or structural engineer should be consulted regarding any major damage or suspected flaws in the structure or where there are visible signs indicating possible red flags. Hiring and engineer may be helpful in some instance since there are limitations when you perform a home inspection. For instance, you cannot positively determine if a home that has settled, will continue to settle or move in the future, or if the home has become stable. Also, you cannot perform load calculations and other engineering tasks such as qualified, licensed engineers can when there are visible signs indicating deficiencies in the building.
Island Home Inspections PO Box 240752 Honolulu, Hawaii 96824-0752 Tel/Fax: (808) 291-9479
Copyright 2008 - Brooks Kimo Franklin BKF Island Enterprises, Inc. - All Rights Reserved