It’s not uncommon for home inspectors to be portrayed as detectives, using their keen eyes and vast training to spot clues that reveal something much bigger and more profound than the clues themselves. When Sherlock Holmes said, “Elementary, my dear Watson,” he wasn’t bragging to his befuddled assistant about his ability to turn a simple observation into a razor-sharp leap of logic. It’s just a skill he’d developed over years of practice. The same goes for a home inspector, whose well-honed powers of observation make sure that seemingly benign observations during a home inspection are highlighted for what they are—signs of potentially significant and costly defects.
You’ve also likely heard the expression, “If these walls could talk…” Well, to the home inspector, they do. Since home inspections are non-intrusive, your inspector will not be knocking down walls to get to the root of a problem. However, details on the outside of a wall may offer clues of deeper problems lurking behind, above or below. Today we’ll be looking at a few of the issues that a home’s internal walls may reveal during a comprehensive foundation-to-roof inspection, like those performed by the team at A-Pro Home Inspection.
Hot to the Touch: A warm or hot spot on an interior wall can indicate a range of potential problems, including overheating of an electrical connection, a leaky heating duct or a duct that is touching the drywall, a leaking hot water pipe, a hollow spot in the insulation, or maybe even heat from an appliance in an adjacent room. As mentioned above, pinpointing the exact cause—in most cases—won’t be possible without cutting a whole in the drywall, which is beyond the scope of a traditional home inspection. The inspector will look for other indicators (dampness, for example) that may narrow the possibilities of what is causing the issue. Cold interior walls are a good indication that the home is not well insulated.
Cracks: As we’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, not all cracks on interior walls are reason for panic. In assessing these defects, your inspector will factor in the location of the cracks, the number of cracks, their disposition (diagonal, horizontal or vertical), their length and severity (are they hairline or gaping?), and if further investigation reveals additional evidence that the cracks are a sign of foundational movement (e.g., stuck doors and windows, sloping floors, bowed basement walls) or are merely cosmetic and non-structural in nature, perhaps the result of seasonal contraction and expansion of wood framing. Stair-step cracks that following the mortar joint in basement walls are particularly troubling, especially if they extend through the block. They could be signs of earth pressure pushing on the foundation, structural overload, or variations in foundation wall settlement.
Stains: The presence of water stains on walls and their color, often yellow, black or brown, will be noted by your home inspector. These could be the result of a roof leak due to decaying, missing, or poorly installed roofing material; failed flashing around roof penetrations and skylights; a plumbing leak behind the wall; or, in some instances, an accumulation of condensation, such as is often the case in bathrooms and kitchens. Further investigation may help the inspector confirm the source of the stains, in addition to determining if the stains may be from past leakage or are being caused by active leaks (pointing a finger at the precise culprit of stains can be difficult since what’s happening behind the wall cannot be observed). Your inspector will report on walls that feel damp to the touch—an indication that the home has a moisture problem. Slick and sweating walls are frequently accompanied by peeling wallpaper and paint, mold (see below), and a musty odor. As part of the inspection, the inspector will check the exhaust fans in the kitchen/bathroom and assess the adequacy of attic/roof ventilation—two things that can help control moisture in the home.
Mold: During a traditional home inspection, the presence of mold on interior walls will be cited by the inspector. If possible, the inspector will also report on the moisture issue that is allowing the mold to take hold. If neglected, mold can flourish and cause actual structural damage to a home, as well as pose a significant health risk to its inhabitants. For homeowners, getting rid of the mold is only half the issue. Without fixing the moisture source (e.g., high condensation, roof leaks, window gaps), you can count on the mold returning. Certified inspectors, like those at A-Pro Home Inspection, perform more intensive mold inspections as a service beyond the traditional checkup. This entails taking mold samples for testing at a lab to determine the type of mold and the best course of action for remediation.
Bulging: The inspector will report on interior walls that are bulging, but determining the exact cause can be problematic since the framing behind it cannot be seen. Improper drywall installation (such as not adequately securing drywall to studs), plumbing leaks, and high moisture content in the home are common culprits. On the more costly side, bowing foundation walls, caused by excessive pressure and other problems, present a major concern that should be promptly addressed.