There’s no substitute for a professional home inspection. In fact, before the sale of your dream home is final, you probably won’t have the same access as an inspector would. But once you buy the house, regular DIY inspections can spot problems before they turn into disasters.
You don’t need a contractor’s license to check out your home’s exterior from top to bottom. Here are expert tips from the master of home improvement and maintenance, Bob Vila, to make the job easier.
#1: Get a Different Point of View
After you move in, you’ll grow accustomed to your home fairly quickly. That’s good for feeling at home, but it’s not so good for spotting issues that need attention. How can you overcome going a bit numb to your surroundings? Use binoculars, a camera or both for a different point of view.
Bob Vila suggests binoculars for a “fresh vantage.” Used at a distance, you can spot issues such as missing shingles, loose flashing or a small crack in a window. Up close, binoculars reveal fine details that you probably didn’t notice on a walk-through.
Cameras let you transfer a picture to your desktop computer, where you can focus on parts of the home in ways you probably don’t do every day. You may spot design elements you’d missed, darker areas in the paint (which could indicate dampness underneath), a wave in wood flooring and a number of issues that you don’t notice while standing there. And with a photo, you’ll know exactly where to find the defect again.
#2: Assess the Siding Condition
Although it’s the face your home shows the world, chances are the siding has one or two issues that slip past you on a regular basis. Maybe there’s a bit of mold in a corner, paint chips on the trim or a cracked board or two. Using your two tools, the binoculars and camera, look for signs that the siding needs maintenance.
If the siding is vinyl, warping might be an issue. So might loose seams, fading and impact damage. For brick or stone cladding, watch out for mortar cracks, which can let in water and may indicate foundation issues.
If the cladding is newer stucco, water infiltration is a big risk. Holes, loose areas (especially around windows and doors), discoloration and cracks may be signs that water is passing through, which can rot the structure underneath.
#3: Check out the Foundation
The foundation is one of the most important parts of your home. Cracks may be benign, but they could indicate excessive settling and structural issues. Bob Vila recommends looking at the foundation walls and mortar joints. If they’re plumb or vertically straight and crack free, the foundation is probably sound.
The soil around the home shouldn’t touch the siding or anything that’s wood. If the soil level is too high, you’ll need to excavate, he says. Leave at least six inches between the soil level and the lowest wooden element.
Look for signs of pests and decay while you’re at it.
Termites and other insects can easily travel from the soil up into the home. If you see infestation signs, you’ll need an exterminator.
#4: Inspect Windows, Doors and Skylights
Every penetration through the siding and the roof has the potential to let in water. Caulk shrinks and can fall away. Silicone doesn’t last forever, and flashing might be in poor condition. Check the perimeter of window and door frames looking for evidence of air leaks.
Doors should hang straight, not catch on the frame. Windows should raise and lower easily. If either of them sticks, you might have a warped jamb, uneven house settling or a combination of problems.
If there’s damage, consider replacement. In older windows, you can replace the glass. Newer multi-pane windows usually require full replacement. A damaged door can’t secure your home as well as it should, so think about replacing one that’s warped or otherwise compromised.
There’s no substitute for a certified home inspector, but that doesn’t mean you should slack on the job of homeownership. DIY home inspections help you keep track of changes that gradually happen over time and new damage, such as from storm activity. You don’t need fancy equipment. A ladder, flashlight, and camera should be enough. If you find issues that make you uneasy, then you can call a pro.
If you’re in the market for a home inspector, you’ve come to the right place. Let Hire an Inspector find a home inspector near you.