A professional home inspection should not be skipped when you first buy a property. But after you move in, doing an annual maintenance inspection yourself will highlight most problems before they become costly repairs.
Inspect the exteriors first
If you are not comfortable with heights it is better to leave climbing on the roof for the pros, or to use a pair of binoculars.
Especially look at:
- Roof: Check for broken or missing tiles or roof sheeting – anything that may compromise the weather protection of your home. Check for tree branches growing over the gutters and roof. Trim back and clear.
- Chimneys and pipe penetrations: Look for anything that might be blocking the chimney opening. Inspect the bricks and mortar around the chimney – especially the crown (top) and the base of the penetration. There should be no cracks or broken pieces that allow water to seep in.
- Gutters and downpipes: Check for sagging gutters, blocked gutters and damaged joints. These problem areas often allow water to run down walls and into the foundation, which can cause major damage.
- Paint: Check for peeling paint, which can be a sign of moisture penetration.
- Walls and foundations: Check for cracks which can be either a sign of minor settlement, or something more serious. Slight settlement cracks are fairly normal in many areas of South Africa because of the problem soils on which most of our cities and towns are built. Significant cracking can be caused by foundation movement, which is often connected with water seeping under the foundations – especially if there is clay soil. Ensure that there are no areas where water is ponding against the foundations of your house. Correct the drainage if you find this. If you are worried about any cracks call in an expert or at least monitor the cracks for continued movement.
- Windows and doors: Look for rotted seals around the frames. Poor sealing around window and door frames, and around glass panes is one of the major causes of water damage.
- Driveways and garage: Check the paving. If you have an automatic driveway gate, or garage door, use your hand to do a force test and to ensure that the safety auto reverse is working/has been installed. Gates and garage doors which do not have a functional auto reverse are a serious safety hazard – especially for small children.
- Pool, decking and paving: These areas require regular maintenance and it’s important to inspect above and below the surface. Look for loose and broken boards and lifting paving. Inspect for signs of ant and termite damage.
Inside the house
Use a torch when inspecting the inside of a home. This will allow you to spot problems within the roof cavity, under the sink and inside cupboards.
- Walls and ceilings: Dark, blackish stains can mean mould from poor ventilation. Brown marks indicate a water leak from a broken pipe or a problem with the roof.
- Kitchen splash backs and counter: Look for open space between the tiles and the counter near the sink. This could allow water to drip behind the cupboards or sink.
- Tiles: Damaged grout and cracked tiles are entry points for water getting into the walls. Feel for loose tiles around a bath, shower, basin or sink
- Caulking: Check the condition of caulk around the bath, shower, basin and sink. If it’s deteriorating, water can get into the subfloor or walls.
- Electrical installation: Check the distribution board, and switch and plug covers for signs of rust which indicates water is getting into the panel. Don’t forget to check sub DB boards at the pool or in the garage. If your electricity trips regularly, or if you see exposed or dangerous wiring, then call an electrician immediately.
- Staircases: Interior staircases and balustrades should feel solid under your feet and in your hands. Look underneath staircases for wood rot and damage. Older homes may have railing widths that are too wide (more than 100mm). This can be a hazard for small children.
- Interior paint: Wall surfaces should be clean and smooth. Blistered paint may indicate damp – try and find the source.
- Roof cavity: Check for water stains on the roof timbers, which are signs of a water leak. Look out of other visible damage to the roof structure. The entire floor surface of the roof cavity should be insulated, including the corners and around vents.
- Hot water geyser: Check for water collecting in the drip tray and any broken or missing overflow pipes. Make sure that the electrical inspection cover is in place and that there are both electrical isolator switches and cold water stop cocks within easy access, in the event of an emergency.
- Floors: Check for cracked and lifting floor tiles and damp smells in the flooring. If there is a suspended wooden floor and you can access the subfloor then check that there is adequate ventilation. Also poke up at the subfloor with a screwdriver. It should be hard and solid. If it’s soft or squishy then the wood is rotted.
- Plumbing: Turn on the hot and cold water at the sink and basins and look underneath for leaks when the water is running. Flush the toilets and check for leaks. All pipes should be dry. Rust and discoloration are signs of a water leak.
- Sewerage and drains: Check for bad smells around drain pipes, rodding eyes and manholes. Lift any inspection manhole covers to look for root encroachment into the sewer system.
- Appliances: Check and clean appliances such as stove hobs and smoke extractors.
- Safety alarms: Check the operation of the electric fence , intercom and burglar alarms.
If you are too busy or if you don’t feel up to it consider employing a company like HouseCheck to do a comprehensive inspection of your home every couple of years. The purpose of a home inspection is to locate trouble spots early on. This is the best way to prevent major problems down the road.
Who is John Graham?
John Graham is a South African who has spent more than 30 years in the property industry. He has hands-on experience as a developer, investor, estate agent, home builder and property inspector. John is the founder and CEO of HouseCheck (www.housecheck.co.za) and the principal of the SA Home Inspection Training Academy (www.sahita.co.za). He is the author of a number of popular eBooks including: The South African Home Buyer’s Guide; Quality Control for South African Home Building and The Complete Guide to South African Home Inspection.