by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Kenton Shepard


Backdrafting is the reverse flow of gas in the flues of fuel-fired appliances that results in the intrusion of combustion byproducts into the living space. Many fuel-fired water heaters and boilers use household air and lack an induced draft, which makes them especially vulnerable to backdrafting when indoor air pressure becomes unusually low. Inspectors should try to spot evidence of backdrafting in homes.

How does backdrafting happen?

Fuel-fired water heaters, boilers, wall heaters, and furnaces are designed to exhaust the byproducts of combustion to the outdoors through a flue. These hot gases rise through the flue and exit the home because they are not as dense as indoor air. The pressure differential that allows for the release of combustion gases can be overcome by unusually low indoor air pressure caused by a high rate of expulsion of air into the outdoors through exhaust fans, fireplaces and dryers. When this happens, combustion gases can be sucked back into the house and may potentially harm or kill building occupants. Improperly configured flues or flue blockages can also cause backdrafting.

How can InterNACHI inspectors test for backdrafting?

  • An inspector can release smoke or powder into the draft diverter to see whether it gets sucked into the duct or if it spills back into the room. A smoke pencil or a chemical puffer can be used to safely simulate smoke.
  • An inspector can hold a lighter beside the draft diverter to see whether there is sufficient draft to pull the flame in the direction of the flue.
  • Combustion gases that back-draft into a house may leave a dark residue on the top of the water heater. The presence of soot is an indication of backdrafting, although its absence does not guarantee that backdrafting has not happened.
  • A carbon monoxide analyzer can be used to test for backdrafting of that gas. Inspectors should be properly trained to use these before they attempt to use one during an actual inspection, primarily to avoid false negatives.While performing the above-noted tests, it is helpful if inspectors ask their clients to turn on all devices that vent air into the outdoors in order to simulate worst-case conditions. Such devices may be dryers, or bathroom and kitchen fans.

Types of fuel-fired water heaters:

  • Atmospheric DraftMost backdrafting is the result of the characteristics of this type of water heater. Combustion gases rise through the ventilation duct solely by the force of convection, which might not be strong enough to counter the pull from dips in indoor air pressure.
  • Induced Draft
    This system incorporates a fan that creates a controlled draft. The potential for backdrafting is reduced because the induced draft is usually strong enough to overcome any competing pull from an indoor air-pressure drop.
  • Sealed Combustion
    The combustion and venting systems are completely sealed off from household air. Combustion air is drawn in from the outdoors through a pipe that is designed for that purpose. The potential for backdrafting is nearly eliminated because the rate of ventilation is not influenced by indoor air pressure, and the vented gas has no pathway into the home.
  • Water Heater Location
    The installation of fuel-fired water heaters in particular household locations can increase the chances of personal harm caused by backdrafting. The 2006 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC) states the following concerning improper location:

Fuel-fired water heaters shall not be installed in a room used as a storage closet. Water heaters located in a bedroom or bathroom shall be installed in a sealed enclosure so that combustion air will not be taken from the living space.

This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at

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by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Kenton Shepard, CMI®
Cool roofs, also known as reflective roofs, are roof surfaces designed to reflect radiation from the sun, reducing heat transfer intoCool roof equipped with a solar panel. Not all cool roofs are white. from a home inspecting near spearfish sd the building.

How do they differ from conventional roofing products?

Unlike most North American asphalt roofs, cool roofs are specially engineered to reflect much of the sun’s radiant energy back into space instead of transferring it as heat into the building below. The two basic characteristics that determine the performance of a cool roof are solar reflectance and thermal emittance. Both properties are rated on a scale from 0 to 1, where 1 is the most reflective or emissive. Although there is no industry-wide definition of a cool roof, the EPA’s Energy Star Roof Products Program has established a minimum standard, requiring that cool roof products have an initial reflectance of at least 0.65, and a reflectance of at least 0.5 after three years of weathering. By contrast, conventional asphalt roofs have a reflectivity of between 0.06 and 0.26, resulting in large amounts of heat transfer into the building’s interior.

The use of cool roof products offers the following benefits: 

  • increased lifetime of roofing materials. Cool roofs do not experience thermal cycling as much as conventional roofs. Thermal cycling can deteriorate the bond between shingles and asphalt, potentially causing premature failure;
  • energy savings. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, some reflective roof products can lower roof surface temperature by up to 100 degrees and can reduce peak cooling demand by as much as 15%. Cool roofs may result in increased heating costs during the winter, but this increase is greatly outweighed by the cooling energy savings achieved during summer;
  • reduction of the “heat island” effect. This is the tendency for metropolitan areas to be warmer than their surroundings due to the use of building materials that retain heat. Studies have shown that this phenomenon increases the risk of death during heatwaves and decreases air quality by increasing the production of pollutants, such as ozone;
  • lower peak electrical demand. The maximum energy load an electric utility experiences in order to supply customers instantaneously, which generally occurs in late afternoons during summer as businesses and residences

    Solar reflectance and thermal emittance of a cool roofImage used by permission of the Cool Roof Rating Council (CRRC)

    turn up their air conditioners, is reduced by the implementation of reflective roofs; and

  • utility rebates, in some areas. Generally, utilities pay back a certain percentage — usually about $0.20 per dollar — after installation and documentation. Their motivation for these incentives is to reduce the intensity and likelihood of blackouts and brownouts.

Cool Roof Product Types

InterNACHI believes that products generally fall into a few categories:  single-ply materials, and coatings. Single-ply materials are large sheets of pre-made roofing that are mechanically fastened over the existing roof, and then sealed at the seams. Coatings are applied using sprays, rollers or brushes over an existing clean, leak-free roof surface. “Cool” versions of asphalt shingles are also available.
These products include:
  • Coatings:  Roof coatings can be divided into two categories: field-applied and factory-applied. Field-applied coatings are applied directly onto the roof surface, either on a new roof assembly or over an existing roof surface (and can be applied over the top of just about anything, as long as the correct coating is selected). Factory-applied coatings are applied during the manufacturing process. Examples of factory-applied coatings include coatings applied to metal, and glazes that are applied to tiles.
  • Single-Ply:  Single-ply roofing is laid down in a single layer over a low or steep-sloped roof. The single-ply membrane can be loose-laid and weighted down with ballast or pavers, or firmly set on the roof and attached with mechanical fasteners or adhesives. Single-ply thermoplastic is a flexible sheet membrane which consists of compounded plastic polymers. When heat is applied onto the surface, the single-ply thermoplastic seams are melded together, making the material seamless and effective. Most thermoplastics are manufactured to include a reinforcement layer, such as polyester or fiberglass, for additional durability and strength. There are various types of single-ply thermoplastic, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO). PVC tends to be more expensive than TPO, but PVC is well-known for long-term performance and is naturally fire-retardant. TPO is a blend of polymers that can contain flame-retardants or UV absorbers.
  • Asphalt Shingles:  Although a challenging technical issue, some manufacturers have created dark-colored asphalt shingles that look almost identical to conventional shingles, yet they qualify as cool roof products. They accomplish this feat through the use of engineered pigments that reflect high amounts of invisible wavelengths, namely, infrared.
In summary, cool roofs are coatings and sheets that are applied to roofs to make them reflect the sun in order to keep building’s interior cooler and more energy-efficient, which is especially important during summer months and in warmer climates.  This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at

by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Kenton Shepard

Poorly installed and maintained electrical cables are a common cause of electrical fires in homes. Many older homes contain wiring that is now considered obsolete or dangerous. InterNACHI inspectors should understand the basic distinctions between the different types of cable systems so that they can identify unsafe conditions.common cable types seen during a home inspection
Romex Cables

Romex is the trade name for a type of electrical conductor with non-metallic sheathing that is commonly used as residential branch wiring. The following are a few basic facts about Romex wiring:

  • Romex™ is a common type of residential wiring that is categorized by the National Electrical Code (NEC) as underground feeder (UF) or non-metallic sheathed cable (NM and NMC).
  • NM and NMC conductors are composed of two or more insulated conductors contained in a non-metallic sheath. The coating on NMC cable is non-conducting, flame-resistant and moisture-resistant. Unlike other cables commonly found in homes, they are permitted in damp environments, such as basements.
  • Underground feeder conductors appear similar to NM and NMC cables except that UF cables contain a solid plastic core and cannot be “rolled” between fingers.
The following NEC regulations apply to Romex conductors:
  • They are not permitted in residential construction higher than three stories, or in any commercial construction.
  • They must be protected, secured and clamped to device boxes, junction boxes and fixtures.
  • Support devices that may damage the cables, such as bent nails and overdriven staples, are not permitted.
  • NM and NMC cables should be secured at intervals that do not exceed 4½ feet, and they should be secured within 12 inches of junction boxes and panels to which they are attached. Cables that do not comply with this rule can sag and are vulnerable to damage.
  • They are intended as permanent wiring in homes and should not be used as a substitute for appliance wiring or extension cords.

Note:  Some communities have never allowed the use of Romex wiring in residential construction. Armored cable is typically used in these communities.

Armored Cables (AC)
Armored cable (AC), also known as BX, was developed in the early 1900s by Edwin Greenfield. It was first called “BX” to abbreviate “product B – Experimental,” although AC is far more commonly used today. Like Romex cables, they cannot be used in residences higher than three stories, and the rules for protection and support of AC wiring are essentially the same as the rules for Romex. Unlike Romex, however, AC wiring has a flexible metallic sheathing that allows for extra protection. Some major manufacturers of armored cable are General Cable, AFC Cable Systems, and United Copper Systems.
Service Entry (SE) Conductorsmight find old knob and tube wiring during a home inspection
These cables begin at the splice and enter the meter. They are not permitted inside homes, with the exception of “style R” SE cable that can serve as interior wiring in branch circuits for ovens and clothes dryers. Style R cables should be clearly marked on their jacket surfaces.
Knob-and-Tube (KT) Wiring
Most houses constructed prior to World War II were wired using the knob-and-tube method, a system that is now obsolete. They are more difficult to improve than modern wiring systems and are a fire hazard. Knob-and-tube wiring is supported with ceramic knobs, and runs intermittently though ceramic tubes beneath framing and at locations where the wires intersect. Whenever an inspector encounters knob-and-tube wiring, s/he should identify it as a defect and recommend that a qualified electrician evaluate the system. The following are a few reasons why inspectors should be wary of this old wiring system:
  • The dissipated heat from knob-and-tube wiring can pose a fire hazard if the wires are enveloped in building insulation. A possible exception is fiberglass insulation, which is fire-resistant, although even this type of insulation should not cover knob-and-tube wiring. The homeowner or an electrician should carefully remove any insulation that is found surrounding KT wires.
  • Knob-and-tube wiring is more vulnerable to damage than modern wiring because it is insulated with fiber materials and varnish, which can become brittle.
  • Some insurance companies refuse to write fire insurance for houses with this type of wiring, although this may be remedied if an electrician can verify that the system is safe.
  • Disregarding any inherent inadequacies, existing KT cable systems are likely to be unsafe because they are almost guaranteed to be at least 50 years old.
In summary, inspectors should understand the different types of conductors that are commonly found in homes.  This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at

by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Kenton Shepard

common Central humidifier that you will see as a home inspector
Humidifiers are devices that humidify air so that building occupants are comfortable. Central humidifiers are hard-wired into a house’s plumbing and forced-air heating systems.

What is humidity? 

Humidity refers to the amount of moisture in the air. “Relative humidity” signifies the amount of moisture in the air relative to the maximum amount of water the air can contain before it becomes saturated. This maximum moisture count is related to air temperature in that the hotter the air is, the more moisture it can hold. For instance, if indoor air temperature drops, relative humidity will increase.

How do central air humidifiers work?

Central air humidifiers are integrated into the forced-air heating system so that they humidify air while it is being heated. The water that is used by the device is pumped automatically into the humidifier from household plumbing, unlike portable humidifiers, which require the user to periodically supply water to the device. Humidifiers are available in various designs, each of which turns liquid water into water vapor, which is then vented into the house at an adjustable rate.

Why humidify air?

Certain airborne pathogens, such as those that cause the flu, circulate easier in dry air than in moist air. Moist air also seems to soothe irritated, inflamed airways. For someone with a cold and thick nasal secretions, a humidifier can help thin out the secretions and make breathing easier.

Indoor air that is too dry can also cause the following problems:

  • damage to musical instruments, such as pianos, guitars and violins;
  • dry skin;
  • peeling wallpaper;
  • static electricity, which can damage sensitive electrical equipment, cause hair to stick up, and can be painful or annoying; and
  • cracks in wood furniture, floors, cabinets and paint.

Central Humidifier Dangers

Humidifiers can cause various diseases. The young, elderly and infirm may be particularly at risk to contamination from airborne pollutants, such as bacteria and fungi. These can grow in humidifiers and get into the air by way of the vapor where it can be breathed in. Some of the more common diseases and pathogens transmitted by humidifiers are:

  • Legionnaires’ Disease. Health problems caused by this disease range from flu-like symptoms to serious infections. This problem is generally more prevalent with portable humidifiers because they draw standing water from a tank in which bacteria and fungi can grow;
  • thermophilic actinomycetes. These bacteria thrive at temperatures of 113° to 140° F and can cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which is an inflammation of the lungs; and
  • “humidifier fever,” which is a mysterious and short-lived, flu-like illness marked by fever, headache, chills and malaise, but without prominent pulmonary symptoms. It normally subsides within 24 hours without residual effects.

Other problems associated with humidifiers include:

  • accumulation of white dust from minerals in the water. These minerals may be released in the mist from the humidifier and settle as fine white dust that may be small enough to enter the lungs. The health effects of this dust depend on the types and amounts of dissolved minerals. It is unclear whether these minerals cause any serious health problems;
  • moisture damage due to condensation. Condensed water from over-humidified air will appear on the interior surfaces of windows and other relatively cool surfaces. Excessive moisture on windows can damage windowpanes and walls, but a more serious issue is caused when moisture collects on the inner surfaces of exterior walls. Moisture there can ruin insulation and rot the wall, and cause peeling, cracking or blistering of the paint; and
  • accumulation of mold. This organic substance grows readily in moist environments, such as a home moistened by an over-worked humidifier. Mold can be hazardous to people with compromised immune systems.

Designs and Maintenancecommon Humidistat that you will see as a home inspector

  • drum-type humidifier:  has a rotating spongy surface that absorbs water from a tray. Air from the central heating system blows through the sponge, vaporizing the absorbed water. The drum type requires care and maintenance because mold and impurities can collect in the water tray. According to some manufacturers’ instructions, this tray should be rinsed annually, although it usually helps to clean it several times per heating season.
  • flow-through or “trickle” humidifier:  a higher quality though more expensive unit than the drum-type, which allows fresh water to trickle into an aluminum panel. Air blows through the panel and forces the water to evaporate into the air stream. Excess water exits the panel into a drain tube. This design requires little maintenance because the draining water has a “self-cleaning” effect and, unlike the drum-type humidifier, there is no stagnant water.

Other tips that InterNACHI inspectors can pass on to their clients:

  • If equipped with a damper, it should be closed in the summer and opened in the winter. The damper may appear as a knob that can be set to “summer” or “winter” setting, or it may be a piece of metal that can be inserted to cover the duct opening.
  • The humidifier is controlled by a humidistat, which must be adjusted daily. Some new models do this automatically, although most require daily attention from building occupants. The humidistat should contain a chart that can be used to identify the proper setting based on the outdoor temperature. If this adjustment is not performed, condensation will likely collect on cool surfaces and potentially lead to mold or wood rot. Many homeowners do not know that this calibration is necessary.
  • The furnace might need to be checked for rust. Some humidifiers are installed inside the plenum of the furnace, which can be damaged by rust if the humidifier leaks.
  • Central humidifiers may have a solid core that should be replaced each year. The manufacturer’s instructions should be consulted regarding this replacement.
In summary, central humidifiers are used to humidify air to make it more comfortable, but they can cause health problems and building damage if they are not properly maintained.  This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at

by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Kenton Shepard

Arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) are special types of electrical receptacles or outlets and circuit breakers designed to detect and respond to potentially dangerous electrical arcs in home branch wiring.different types of afci's that you might see as a home inspector
How do they work?
AFCIs function by monitoring the electrical waveform and promptly opening (interrupting) the circuit they serve if they detect changes in the wave pattern that are characteristic of a dangerous arc. They also must be capable of distinguishing safe, normal arcs, such as those created when a switch is turned on or a plug is pulled from a receptacle, from arcs that can cause fires. An AFCI can detect, recognize, and respond to very small changes in wave pattern.
What is an arc?
When an electric current crosses an air gap from an energized component to a grounded component, it produces a glowing plasma discharge known as an arc. For example, a bolt of lightening is a very large, powerful arc that crosses an atmospheric gap from an electrically charged cloud to the ground or another cloud. Just as lightning can cause fires, arcs produced by domestic wiring are capable of producing high levels of heat that can ignite their surroundings and lead to structure fires.
According to statistics from the National Fire Protection Agency for the year 2005, electrical fires damaged approximately 20,900 homes, killed 500 people, and cost $862 million in property damage. Although short-circuits and overloads account for many of these fires, arcs are responsible for the majority and are undetectable by traditional (non-AFCI) circuit breakers.
Where are arcs likely to form?
Arcs can form where wires are improperly installed or when insulation becomes damaged. In older homes, wire insulation tends to crystallize as it ages, becoming brittle and prone to cracking and chipping. Damaged insulation exposes the current-carrying wire to its surroundings, increasing the chances that an arc may occur.

Situations in which arcs may be created:

  • electrical cords damaged by vacuum cleaners or trapped beneath furniture or doors.
  • damage to wire insulation from nails or screws driven through walls.
  • appliance cords damaged by heat, natural aging, kinking, impact or over-extension.
  • spillage of liquid.
  • loose connections in outlets, switches and light fixtures.
Where are AFCIs required?
Locations in which AFCIs are required depend on the building codes adopted by their jurisdiction.
The 2006 International Residential Code (IRC) requires that AFCIs be installed within bedrooms in the following manner:

E3802.12 Arc-Fault Protection of Bedroom Outlets. All branch circuits that supply120-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-amp outlets installed in bedrooms shall be protected by a combination-type or branch/feeder-type arc-fault circuit interrupter installed to provide protection of the entire branch circuit.

Exception: The location of the arc-fault circuit interrupter shall be permitted to be at other than the origination of the branch circuit, provided that:
  1. The arc-fault circuit interrupter is installed within 6 feet of the branch circuit overcurrent device as measured along the branch circuit conductors, and
  2. The circuit conductors between the branch circuit overcurrent device and the arc-fault circuit interrupter are installed in a metal raceway or a cable with metallic sheath.
The National Electrical Code (NEC) offers the following guidelines concerning AFCI placement within bedrooms:
Dwelling Units. All 120-volt, single phase, 15- and 20-ampere branch circuits supplying outlets installed in dwelling unit in family rooms, dining rooms, living rooms, parlors, libraries, dens, sun rooms, recreation rooms, closets, hallways, or similar rooms or areas shall be protected by a listed arc-fault circuit interrupter, combination-type installed to provide protection of the branch circuit.
Home inspectors should refrain from quoting exact code in their reports. A plaintiff’s attorney might suggest that code quotation means that the inspector was performing a code inspection and is therefore responsible for identifying all code violations in the home.  Some jurisdictions do not yet require their implementation in locations where they can be to identify an afci during a home inspection
What types of AFCIs are available?
AFCIs are available as circuit breakers for installation in the electrical distribution panel.

Nuisance Tripping

An AFCI might activate in situations that are not dangerous and create needless power shortages. This can be particularly annoying when an AFCI stalls power to a freezer or refrigerator, allowing its contents to spoil. There are a few procedures an electrical contractor can perform in order to reduce potential “nuisance tripping,” such as:
  • Check that the load power wire, panel neutral wire and load neutral wire are properly connected.
  • Check wiring to ensure that there are no shared neutral connections.
  • Check the junction box and fixture connections to ensure that the neutral conductor does not contact a grounded conductor.
Arc Faults vs. Ground Faults
It is important to distinguish AFCI devices from Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) devices. GFCIs detect ground faults, which occur when current leaks from a hot (ungrounded) conductor to a grounded object as a result of a short-circuit. This situation can be hazardous when a person unintentionally becomes the current’s path to the ground. GFCIs function by constantly monitoring the current flow between hot and neutral (grounding) conductors, and activate when they sense a difference of 5 milliamps or more. Thus, GFCIs are intended to prevent personal injury due to electric shock, while AFCIs prevent personal injury and property damage due to structure fires.
In summary, AFCIs are designed to detect small arcs of electricity before they have a chance to lead to a structure fire.  This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at

by Nick Gromicko, CMI®

Synthetic Stucco

Synthetic stucco is quite different from historic stucco.  Historic stucco is basically a plaster made with water, sand and lime.  While the composition of stucco has changed over time, it has always been applied wet over a brick, stone or wood surface to form the visible outside layer of a wall.

Synthetic stucco is foamboard and fiberglass mesh attached to a wall that is covered with a polymer-based material which is then textured to look like historic stucco.  It is technically known as an exterior insulation and finish system, or EIFS.  It has been in use in Europe since the 1950s, and in the U.S. since the late ‘60s.  It is often used on wood-framed houses.
Why is water damage a concern?
Any building material used on the exterior of residential homes will allow water or water vapor that finds its way inside to eventually escape back to the atmosphere.  EIFS itself, however, blocks the movement of water and water vapor – it does not “breathe.”  This, coupled with interior vapor barriers that are often required by building code, can lead to prolonged moisture intrusion and, eventually, rotting of materials.
Water can find its way inside through any cracks that have developed, or through any areas where the EIFS is jointed with a different material, such as door and window frames, or at the roof.  If the EIFS continues below ground level, any cracks or openings in the finish will allow moisture, as well as wood-destroying organisms, such as termites, inside.  When prolonged moisture intrusion of the wood behind the EIFS reaches 30%, rotting will occur.

Has water damage occurred or is it likely to occur? 

A preliminary visual inspection may reveal if water damage is actively occurring, as well as whether it is likely to occur due to improperly installed synthetic stucco. There have been many reported cases of EIFS manufacturer installation instructions not being followed correctly by builders, leading to problems.  It’s a good idea for inspectors to understand some of the methods of installation so that they can check some likely areas of moisture intrusion.

A few places to start visual inspection include:

  • ground contact:  EIFS should not continue down a wall into the ground.  It should terminate no less than 6 inches from finished ground level.  The bottom lip of the EIFS should also be properly wrapped and sealed;
  • roof flashing:  Kickout flashing should be installed where the EIFS meets the roofline.  If this is missing, there is a good possibility that water is entering the wall cavity.  Check for any areas that feel soft or are discolored;
  • joints around windows and doors:  Check caulking joints around windows and doors to make sure that there are no cracks, even small ones.  If wood on window or door frames feels soft, or it is discolored, water may have entered the wall assembly around the frame; and
  • areas of cracking or bulging:  If there are cracks in the EIFS itself, moisture will be able to infiltrate the wall assembly and cause rotting.  Bulges can indicate that coatings are delaminating or detaching from the polystyrene board.  These would be causes for concern.

Inspection for Moisture Intrusion

If a visual inspection reveals any evidence of damage, or that the EIFS has been installed incorrectly, further inspection may be in order.  An inspection for moisture intrusion consists of inserting a small probe through the outer wall into the frame area to determine the moisture content of the cavity.  The probe will leave holes about 1/8-inch in diameter, which can be sealed afterward.  The moisture readings can be gathered from typical problem areas, such as around windows and doors, roof eaves, near decks, and so on.  Once a more precise estimate of damage is obtained, options for repair can be evaluated by the homeowner.  These may include anything from additional caulking and sealing to removal and replacement of synthetic stucco sections.  Therefore, it is best to catch any possibility of water damage to EIFS at the earliest stage possible, before any lingering moisture has had time to cause rotting.
This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at

by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Margaret Aey

A window well is semi-circular excavation that surrounds a basement window. It is typically constructed from a solid barrier made from corrugated galvanized metal, masonry, plastic or pressure-treated wood.

Window wells are usually installed for the following purposes:
  • emergency egress. If the window serves a living area — as opposed to an unfinished basement with exposed utilities (see our article on Non-Conforming Bedrooms) — emergency escape at a minimum of two locations is required. Window wells allow windows to be used by escaping occupants and emergency crews attempting to enter the house;
  • to prevent moisture damage to basement windows that are at or below grade. The window wells keep the soil away from openings in the foundation walls while still allowing proper grading and drainage away from the house; and
  • to allow sunlight into a below-grade room that would otherwise require artificial lighting.

Window Well Covers

Window wells are often covered to prevent injuries and falls, as well as to discourage small children,pets and wild animals from entering the wells and becoming injured and trapped. For instance, a deer fawn made news in Bountiful, Utah, after it was recovered safely after falling down a 12-foot-deep uncovered window well.   Although not required, window well covers are especially important if the space around the ground level opening is along a walkway or near a children’s play area.

Regarding their strength and operability, the 2007 edition of the International Code Council (ICC), Section 3.4, states that window well covers shall support “a minimum live load of 40 pounds per square foot. The cover shall be operable from within the window well without the use of tools or special knowledge, and shall require no more than 30 pounds of force to fully open.” These requirements ensure that an average-size adult would be able to pass through the window well safely during an emergency evacuation.

window well from home inspection near spearfish sd

Covers (like the ones pictured above and built by the author out of polycarbonate sheets and Unistrut®) also prevent the accumulation of twigs, grass, mulch and blowing snow that would obscure sunlight and complicate emergency escape through the well. Covers may be locked from the inside to prevent unwanted intrusion.  However, locks and fasteners must be fully functional to be certain that the cover can be easily lifted from the inside.

window well from home inspection near spearfish sd

Window well covers, however, can block sunlight, ventilation and emergency egress, especially if they become covered in snow and ice. It is the homeowner’s responsibility to make sure that the cover is cleared of snow and has not been frozen shut from ice. No items, such as garden hoses, potted plants or tools, should be placed on top of window well covers. Note that covers that are locked from the inside to prevent unlawful entry will be inaccessible to fire crews and first responders.
Window well covers should be constructed from sturdy, high-quality material, such as plastic or metal. A window well cover that is made from metal (typically, aluminum or steel) is referred to as a grate and is implemented to protect against intrusion. Since metal grate covers have small openings, sometimes a plastic cover is installed over the metal grate to further prevent leakage and debris from entering the window well. In either case, the cover must fit over the entire opening, so it’s common for them to be custom-fitted.
Additional safety concerns include the following:
  • size. According to the 2006 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC), Section R310:The minimum horizontal area of the window well shall be 9 square feet, with a minimum horizontal projection and width of 36 inches.Even if the well seems large enough for members of a particular household, it might be a tight fit for a fully equipped firefighter;
  • structural damage to the barrier. Hydrostatic pressure and freeze-thaw cycles can exert a great deal of pressure on window wells and, over time, cause masonry to bend or crack. Check for:
    • spalling, bowing, cracking or leaning in concrete; window well full of snow from home inspection near spearfish sd
    • cracking or bowing in plastic;
    • rust, bowing or rupture in metal; and
    • insect damage or cracks in wood.
  • improper drainage. Waterlogged window wells can easily leak through a window into the basement, especially following a heavy rain. Water intrusion can cause a variety of undesirable conditions, such as mold growth, wood decay, corrosion and insect damage. Check for a lack of sufficient cleaning and maintenance both in the window well and elsewhere. Homeowners should first make sure that gutters and downspouts are clear of debris, which can force water to overflow from the gutters and collect in the window well and other low areas. Dirt and debris should also be collected from the well. A qualified professional may be required to correct structural sources of drainage issues, such as soil erosion, insufficient or settled drainage stone, or the pulling away from the foundation of the barrier; and
  • lack of a ladder. The 2006 IRC, Section 310.2, states:Window wells with a vertical depth greater than 44 inches shall be equipped with a permanently affixed ladder or steps usable with the window in the fully open position.
    bent window well from home inspection near spearfish sd

Additional Tips for Homeowners

  • Window well covers can be screened or barred to provide pest-free ventilation.
  • Teach children to avoid window wells, even if they are covered and appear sturdy.
  • Practice exiting the window, window well and window cover so that any previously unnoticed obstacles can be removed. Repair or replace any equipment that does not function properly.
  • Speak with your local building department if you are unsure whether a window well is required in your home. Your jurisdiction may mandate special size restrictions.
  • Metal window wells can have rolled edges for safety against cuts.
  • Consult with your InterNACHI® inspector if you have additional concerns surrounding window wells, covers, moisture problems and emergency egress.
In summary, window wells are installed to allow emergency egress and to protect windows from damp soil, but improper installation and maintenance can lead to moisture damage and safety hazards, especially in an emergency.  Additionally, window well covers can be installed over window well openings to eliminate the risk of children, animals, and pedestrians from falling into the window well excavation.  This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at

by Nick Gromicko, CMI®


A room must conform to specific requirements in order for it to be considered a bedroom or sleeping room. The reason for this law is that the inhabitant must be able to quickly escape in case of fire or another emergency.

Why would a homeowner use a non-conforming room as a bedroom?Non-conforming window found during home inspection near sturgis sd  Some of the reasons include:
  • to earn money from it as a rental. While they run the risk of being discovered by the city, landlords will profit by renting out rooms that are not legally bedrooms;
  • to increase the value of the home. All other considerations being equal, a four-bedroom house will usually sell for more than a three-bedroom house; and
  • lack of knowledge of code requirements. To the untrained eye, there is little obvious difference between a conforming bedroom and non-conforming bedroom. When an emergency happens, however, the difference will be more apparent. If you have any questions about safety requirements, ask your InterNACHI inspector during your next scheduled inspection.

Homeowners run serious risks when they use a non-conforming room as a bedroom. An embittered tenant, for instance, may bring their landlord to court, especially if the tenant was forced out when the faux bedroom was exposed. The landlord, upon being exposed, might choose to adjust the bedroom to make it code-compliant, but this can cost thousands of dollars. Landlords can also be sued if they sell the home after having advertised it as having more bedrooms than it actually has. And the owner might pay more than they should be paying in property tax if they incorrectly list a non-conforming bedroom as a bedroom. Perhaps the greatest risk posed by rooms that unlawfully serve as bedrooms stems from the reason these laws exist in the first place:  rooms lacking egress can be deadly in case of an emergency. For instance, on January 5, 2002, four family members sleeping in the basement of a Gaithersburg, Maryland, townhome were killed by a blaze when they had no easy escape.

The following requirements are taken from the 2006 International Residential Code (IRC), and they can be used as a general guide, but bear in mind that the local municipality determines the legal definition of a bedroom. Such local regulations can vary widely among municipalities, and what qualifies as a bedroom in one city might be more properly called a den in a nearby city. In some municipalities, the room must be above grade, be equipped with an AFCI or smoke alarm to be considered a conforming bedroom, for instance. Ceiling height and natural lighting might also be factors. The issue can be extremely complex, so it’s best to learn the code requirements for your area. Nevertheless, the IRC can be useful, and it reads as follows:

  • EMERGENCY ESCAPE AND RESCUE REQUIRED SECTION: R 310.1 Basements and every sleeping room shall have at least one operable emergency and rescue opening. Such opening shall open directly into a public street, public alley, yard or court. Where basements contain one or more sleeping rooms, emergency egress and rescue openings shall be required in each sleeping room, but shall not be required in adjoining areas of the basement. Where emergency escape and rescue openings are provided, they shall have a sill height of not more than 44 inches (1,118mm) above the floor. Where a door opening having a threshold below the adjacent ground elevation serves as an emergency escape and rescue opening and is provided with a bulkhead enclosure, the bulkhead enclosure shall comply with SECTION R310.3. The net clear opening dimensions required by this section shall be obtained by the normal operation of the emergency escape and rescue opening from the inside. Emergency escape and rescue openings with a finished sill height below the adjacent ground elevation shall be provided with a window well, in accordance with SECTION R310.2.  
    • MINIMUM OPENING AREA: SECTION: R 310.1.1 All emergency escape and rescue openings shall have a minimum net clear opening of 5.7 square feet (0.530 m2). Exception: Grade floor openings shall have a minimum net clear opening of 5 square feet (0.465 m2).
    • MINIMUM OPENING HEIGHT: R 310.1.2 The minimum net clear opening height shall be 24 inches (610mm).
    • MINIMUM OPENING WIDTH: R 310.1.3 The minimum net clear opening width shall be 20 inches (508mm).
    • OPERATIONAL CONSTRAINTS: R 310.1.4 Emergency escape and rescue openings shall be operational from the inside of the room without the use of keys or tools or special knowledge.
  • WINDOW WELLS: SECTION: R310.2 The minimum horizontal area of the window well shall be 9 square feet (0.9 m2), with a minimum horizontal projection and width of 36 inches (914mm). The area of the window well shall allow the emergency escape and rescue opening to be fully opened. Exception: The ladder or steps required by SECTION R 310.2.1 shall be permitted to encroach a maximum of 6 inches (152mm) into the required dimensions of the window well.
  • LADDER AND STEPS: SECTION: R 310.2.1 Window wells with a vertical depth greater than 44 inches (1,118mm) shall be equipped with a permanently affixed ladder or steps usable with the window in the fully open position. Ladders or steps required by this section shall not be required to comply with SECTIONS R311.5 and R311.6. Ladders or rungs shall have an inside width of at least 12 inches (305 mm), shall project at least 3 inches (76mm) from the wall, and shall be spaced not more than 18 inches (457mm) on-center vertically for the full height of the window well.
  • BULKHEAD ENCLOSURES: SECTION: R 310.3 Bulkhead enclosures shall provide direct access to the basement. The bulkhead enclosure with the door panels in the fully open position shall provide the minimum net clear opening required by SECTION R 310.1.1. Bulkhead enclosures shall also comply with SECTION R 311.5.8.2.
  • BARS, GRILLS, COVERS, AND SCREENS: SECTION: R 310.3 Bars, grilles, covers, screens or similar devices are permitted to be placed over emergency escape and rescue openings, bulkhead enclosures, or window wells that serve such openings, provided the minimum net clear opening size complies with SECTIONS R 310.1.1 to R 310.1.3, and such devices shall be releasable or removable from the inside without the use of a key, tool, special knowledge, or force greater than that which is required for normal operation of the escape and rescue opening.
  • EMERGENCY ESCAPE WINDOWS UNDER DECKS AND PORCHES: SECTION: R 310.5 Emergency escape windows are allowed to be installed under decks and porches, provided the location of the deck allows the emergency escape window to be fully opened and provides a path not less than 36 inches (914 mm) in height to a yard or court.
In summary, non-conforming bedrooms are rooms that unlawfully serve as bedrooms, as the occupant would lack an easy escape in case of emergency.  This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at
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by Nick Gromicko, CMI®

There was a time when the only remedy for sinking sidewalks or uneven foundations was to tear out the old pavement slab and pour a new one, and spend a great deal of time and money in the process. Today, a less intensive alternative known as mudjacking (also called concrete leveling, pressure grouting or slabjacking) pumps A sunken concrete sidewalk in desperate need of repair found during a home inspection near rapid city sdslurry beneath a sunken concrete slab in order to raise it back into place.

Concrete sinks because its underlying support, for various reasons, gives way. The original concrete may have been installed on dirt that hadn’t been compacted sufficiently, for instance, or soil erosion may be responsible. And some soil simply settles naturally over many years. Regardless of the cause, sunken concrete can lead to many structural defects, including failed retaining walls, foundation settling, uneven junctions of concrete, sunken sidewalks, uneven concrete pads, cracked foundations, and bowed basement walls. If left uncorrected, these defects can lead to unwanted water runoff and major structural problems.

And, aside from the shabby appearance and decreased functionality of an uneven sidewalk, steps or walkway, sunken concrete can create major trip hazards for which the building owner is liable. If a building owner notices any of these conditions, they should consult with their InterNACHI inspector during their next scheduled inspection.

First, small holes are drilled into the concrete, through which is pumped a slurry that may be composed of various materials, such as sand, cement, soil, limestone, bentonite clay, water or expanding polymers. The particular mixture is based on the type of application and the mudjacker’s preference. The slurry then fills any gaps and forces the concrete to rise back into place before the drilled holes are plugged up with cement, leaving the only visible evidence of the repair. Over the next day, the slurry solidifies and stabilizes the subsoil, making further sinking unlikely.

While this is not a complicated procedure, it should be performed only by a trained professional, as amateur workmanship may cause even more extensive damage. Drain pipes, sewers and utilities must be located and avoided, and the area must be evaluated as to whether it can survive the mudjacking process.

Some advantages of mudjacking over re-pouring cement include:The only evidence left of mudjacking is the patched hole through which the slurry was pumped. from a home inspection
  • efficiency. Mudjacking requires less equipment and fewer workers. Adjacent plants and landscaping are also disturbed less, as are neighbors, tenants and passersby by the loud noise, dust and cumbersome equipment;
  • price. Mudjacking typically costs roughly half as much as concrete replacement because there is little need for new cement or the removal of old concrete. The overall cost is based on the area of concrete that must be lifted, which may be as little as $5 per foot. Thus, for a 5×4-foot job, it might cost just $60, although the mudjacker may charge more if the area is in a hard-to-reach location;
  • speed. Mudjacking takes hours, while certain concrete pours may take days; and
  • environmentally friendly. Mudjacking makes use of perfectly good concrete, which would otherwise be sent to a landfill.
Limitations of Mudjacking
Mudjacking may be an ineffective waste of resources in the following situations:
  • The concrete surface is spalling or otherwise damaged. The mudjacking process might further damage the surface, which will still be defective even after it’s raised back into place.
  • The concrete has risen, caused by expansive soil. The only solution for this defect is to re-pour the cement.
  • The cause of the settling is not addressed. If the soil has settled due to some external factor, the problem must be fixed or the soil will sink again in the future. For instance, a gutter downspout that drains onto a concrete edge must be corrected in order to avoid the need for future repair.
  • The underlying soil is swampy.
  • There is a sinkhole beneath the concrete.
In summary, mudjacking is an inexpensive, fast and clean way to level a sunken concrete slab. This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at
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by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Ben Gromicko

efflorescence found during a home inspection near spearfish sdEfflorescence is the white chalky powder that you might find on the surface of a concrete or brick wall. It can be a cosmetic issue, or it can be an indication of moisture intrusion that could lead to major structural and indoor air quality issues. A home inspector should understand what efflorescence is in order to recognize potential moisture problems.
Indications of Moisture

Efflorescence (which means “to flower out” in French) is the dissolved salts deposited on the surface of a porous material (such as concrete or brick) that are visible after the evaporation of the water in which it was transported. The moisture that creates efflorescence often comes from groundwater, but rainwater can also be the source. Efflorescence alone does not pose a major problem, but it can be an indication of moisture intrusion, which may compromise the structural material.

Porous Building Materials

Building materials, such as concrete, wood, brick and stone, are porous materials. Porous materials can absorb or wick water by a process called capillary action. As water moves through the porous material, salts can be drawn with it.

Concrete, wood, brick, stone and mortar are porous materials that contain salts. The ground in which these materials can come into contact also contain salts. Capillary action can literally suck water and transport it through porous building materials.

Capillary Action

Porous building materials are capable of wicking water for large distances due to capillary action with a theoretical limit of capillary rise of about 6 miles. That’s 6 miles directly up. Think of a tree and how a tree can transport water from its roots to its leaves. That’s capillary action. And it’s very powerful. When you add salt to that capillary process, it can be destructive.

Salts dissolved by groundwater can be transported by capillary action through porous soil. Building materials in contact with soil will naturally wick the water inward and upward. Take concrete footings — they are typically poured directly onto soil without any capillary break. Sometimes this is called rising damp. This is the beginning of how water can wick upward into a structure.

Destructive Pressures

When the capillary flow of water reaches the surface of a building material, evaporation occurs. As the water evaporates, salt is left behind. As this evaporation of capillary flow continues, the salt concentration increases, which creates an imbalance, and nature abhors imbalance and always wants to put things back into equilibrium. This is process is called osmosis. To re-establish equilibrium through osmosis, water rushes toward the salt deposit to dilute the concentration. This rush of water creates massive hydrostatic pressures within the porous material, and these pressures are destructive.

The pressure from osmosis can create incredibly strong hydrostatic pressure that can exceed the strength of building materials, including concrete.

Here are some examples of how that pressure translates:

  • diffusion vapor pressure: 0.3 to 0.5 psi
  • capillary pressure: 300 to 500 psi
  • osmotic pressure: 3,000 to 5,000 psi

As you can see from the list above, osmosis can create pressure that is greater than the structural strength of concrete, which can be from 2,000 psi to 3,000 psi. The action of water rushing to the surface due to capillary action creates incredible forces that can cause materials to crack, flake and break apart.


When efflorescence leads to strong osmotic pressures—greater than the strength of the building material—and the material literally breaks apart, the resulting damage is called spalling. Hydrostatic pressure can cause spalling, but spalling can also be caused by freeze-thaw cycles in building materials that have a high moisture content.

Both efflorescence and spalling can be prevented with capillary breaks, such as by installing a polyethylene sheeting under a concrete slab.

Identifying Efflorescence

InterNACHI inspectors should already know how to distinguish between mold and efflorescence, but it is possible for homeowners to confuse the two. The expense of a mold test can be avoided if the substance in question can be identified as efflorescence.
Here are a few tips that inspectors can offer their clients so that they understand the differences:
  • Pinched between the fingers, efflorescence will turn into a powder, while mold will not.
  • Efflorescence forms on inorganic building materials, while mold forms on organic substances. However, it is possible for mold to consume dirt on brick or cement.
  • Efflorescence will dissolve in water, while mold will not.
  • Efflorescence is almost always white, yellow or brown, while mold can be any color imaginable. If the substance in question is purple, pink or black, it is not efflorescence.
Aside from mold, the following conditions can result from excess moisture in a residence:
  • fungi that rot wood;
  • water damage to sheetrock; and
  • reduced effectiveness of insulation.
    White mold. photo from home inspection rapid city sd
Inspectors should note the presence of efflorescence in their inspection reports because it generally occurs where there is excess moisture, a condition that also encourages the growth of mold.
Prevention and Removal of Efflorescence


  • An impregnating hydrophobic sealant can be applied to a surface to prevent the intrusion of water. It will also prevent water from traveling to the surface from within. In cold climates, this sealant can cause material to break during freeze/thaw cycles.
  • During home construction, bricks left out overnight should be kept on pallets and be covered. Moisture from damp soil and rain can be absorbed into the brick.
  • Install capillary breaks, including polyethelene sheeting between the soil and the building material, such as concrete.


  • Pressurized water can sometimes be used to remove or dissolve efflorescence.
  • An acid, such as diluted muriatic acid, can be used to dissolve efflorescence. Water should be applied first so that the acid does not discolor the brick. Following application, baking soda can be used to neutralize the acid and prevent any additional damage to the masonry. Muriatic acid is toxic, and contact with skin or eyes should be avoided.
  • A strong brush can be used to simply scrub the efflorescence off.
NOTE:  The use of water to remove efflorescence may result in the re-absorption of crystals into the host material, and they may later reappear as more efflorescence. It is advisable that if water is used in the removal process that the masonry is dried off very quickly.
In summary, efflorescence is a cosmetic issue, but it indicates a potential moisture problem. Inspectors should know the how capillary forces can cause structural damage to building materials and educate their clients about efflorescence and the potential problems it may cause. This article is courtesy of InterNACHI and can be found at