Attic Nightmare

Throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, people will awake from sleep, sit straight up in bed and listen intently… “What was that?”

Then silence, but then the silence is broken again… a scurrying sound… gnawing… “there’s something in the attic”.


Ask any home inspector – rodents find their way into attics and crawlspaces through holes in ventilation screens, house siding holes, gaps in roofing tiles especially during the cooler months searching for a place to hunker down.

Once inside attics, they build nests, burrow in the insulation, chew electrical wires, poop/pee, chew through ducts, tear off duct insulation… and make those noises in the night.

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Flexible Gas Pipe

At an older house in Walnut Creek, the home inspector spotted a flexible brass gas supply pipe going into the side of the heating furnace.

Flexible pipes are very thin wall, so that they can be bent.

The pipe is resting on the sharp edge of the sheetmetal opening.

When a furnace is running, warm air is pushed into the house by a blower motor which sets up a mechanical vibration.

These vibrations can result in the sheetmetal edge cutting through the flexible gas line during operation… not good.

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Precarious Post

The home inspector spotted this unstable support post under an old Oakland house.

The San Francisco Bay Area is in earthquake country and a small tremor could cause these stacked bricks and wood post to collapse.

There is a concrete footing under the stacked bricks, but what was someone thinking when they constructed this precarious support post – as the correct concrete piers are in the background.

Today, concrete piers sit on a concrete footing in the ground. The bottom of the post is toe-nailed to the pier wood block and the top of the post is secured to a beam with a steel bracket.

This construction detail will keep a support post in place during an earthquake or when there’s ground expansion and settlement.

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Plumbing Problem

During a recent San Ramon home inspection, the inspector was surprised to see a fallen drain/waste pipe under the house.

In a large household, it’s conceivable to be flushing a toilet, taking a shower, running the dishwasher and using the washing machine all discharging water at the same time.

A gallon of water weighs approximately 8.4 lbs… 10 gallons of water weighs 84 pounds.

The main drain/waste line fell to the ground most likely due to these older pipe support straps or possibly due an earthquake at the time water was flowing through the main drain/waste line.

Remarkably, there was no water leakage.

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What Goes Up…

After several thousand home inspections, The House Whisperer is still amazed about what’s discovered.

Just when you think you’ve seen everything… the home inspector spotted something embedded in an Oakland roof. It turned out to be a 9mm slug.

They say a 9mm bullet shot exactly straight up will tumble as it falls back to the ground and not have the velocity to kill… but if shot at any angle… the slug can be lethal.

How did the bullet get there, probably due to celebratory gunfire, an old and irresponsible practice… and it’s not as uncommon as one thinks.

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C-Clamp Concern

The home inspector is looking at a damper plate in the exhaust flue above a wood burning fireplace with a gas log lighter pipe.

When the damper is open, it allows exhaust gases and smoke to draft up the flue… when closed, it stops cold air from coming down the flue.

The gas log has a gas control valve, typically installed outside of the fireplace in the wall.

If an older gas valve leaks or the valve is accidentally turned-on… natural gas will accumulate in the fireplace with the damper plate closed 100% – a big health safety concern.

Building requirements call for a $3 C-clamp to be installed on the edge of the damper plate to keep it slightly open in the event there’s gas flow in the fireplace.

Now if gas does leak into the fireplace, it will rise to the top of the chimney flue and not come into the household.

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Seeing Double

The home inspector occasionally finds within an electrical panel, a condition known as double-lugging.
Double-lugging or double tapping is where two electrical wires are connected to a single screw or lug – usually done by a wannabe electrician.
The amateur electrician does this because they didn’t want to buy another circuit breaker or there was no more space for an additional circuit breaker.
When two wires are secured under one lug, one of the wires might not be completely secured (loose), especially when two different wire sizes are used.
If a wire becomes loose and pulls out, it can arc and cause a spark or create high electrical resistance where the wiring over-heats and starts an electrical fire.
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What’s Wrong

Occasionally, home inspectors discover several things requiring attention from a single photo.

Here’s what was in the inspector’s report:

A floor joist under the Danville subfloor was over-notched to accommodate a drain pipe causing the floor above to sag.

The black plastic drain/waste line didn’t have support straps as required and was supported with a wood post and shim.

The plastic pipe was manufactured by Spartan Plastics between 1984-1990, which had a history of cracking and failure; and was involved in a class action lawsuit.

The parallel copper water pipe isn’t properly supported which can cause water leakage at a connection.

The electrical cable lying on the ground is subject to mechanical damage should be secured to floor joists.

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EZ Wall

Are you looking to build a retaining wall in the front yard without too much effort?

Here’s how to build a retaining wall that’s inexpensive and requires little masonry skill – although you do need to be able to lift 60lbs sacks of dry concrete.

It turns out that stacking bags of dry concrete is a quick and cheap way to construct a wall.

After soaking the stacked bags of concrete with water, the concrete hardens in the bag.

It may not be the best looking wall, but it’s strong and cheap.

Lowes sells a 60 pound bag of Quikrete concrete for $2.97

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Asbestos

Throughout most of the 20th century, asbestos products were hailed as a ‘wonder fiber’ that insulates up to intense temperature.

Due to its outstanding resistance to heat, its fibrous structure and low cost – asbestos was manufactured into thousands of products from toasters to heating ducts for 60 years.

In 1977, asbestos was found to cause cancer in workers who breathed its microscopic fibers in mines, shipyards and asbestos plants decades after their exposure. When the EPA discovered this, they restricted the use of asbestos.

It’s the breathing of fibers when this material is disturbed, not its presence, which is considered a health risk.

When the home inspection report comments that the heating ducts have been wrapped in an asbestos material and that some ductwork sections have separated – there’s no need for panic.

People have time to become informed about asbestos, obtain estimates, and select an appropriate course of action.

A licensed contractor will recommend a course of action ranging from encapsulation to removal and replacement of the heating ducts.

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