Inspecting floating homes, or "houseboats" as they are affectionately known, is a very different critter from your normal house.
In case you have never seen one, or heard of one, as the name implies, these homes are on water---and in a very real sense "in" water.
Most homes in the NW, under the best of circumstances, suffer from conditions associated with wood decay rot and a variety of wood destroying organisms, so to take a pile of wood and a assemble it on submerged but floating logs seems a little like throwing caution and good judgment to the wind. However, the ones I have inspected and worked on did not appear to be any more adversely affected by their environment than any other home in the Northwest.
As an inspector it is not really possible for me to have anything to do with the structures of the home below the finished floor systems. Inspection of the undersides gets left to the dive inspector. These guys are the ultimate in crawl space inspectors and I am totally jealous that I am stuck doing only land based crawl spaces. The underlying structures are mostly pressure-treated materials in today's floating homes which are bolted to the underwater logs. Some of these logs are 80 to 100 years old and do not suffer from wood destroying organisms because one of the key ingredients for survival of most of these critters is---air. Devoid of air these logs can last a really long time.
Of course some of these floating structures have given way to more modern types of floats including foam-filled concrete and/or barrels of air. Whatever methods are used to float the home, they are great fun to inspect---and even more fun to live in I would expect. All of the docks have their own quirky eclectic personalities and give a whole new meaning to the term "Homeowner Association."
I had the great pleasure of working with Courtney Cooper and Molly Cartwright again on a recent floating home on Lake Union in Seattle. Courtney and company specialize in these floating homes.
When inspecting these homes, the "property" part of the inspection is pretty easy---there just isn't any. The dock it is tied to is deferred to the Homeowner's Association.
Of course the walkways around the structure can always be interesting. One slip and you are all wet and in over your head. Of course you might be saved by falling into a neighbor's boat or perhaps the one that belongs at the home. There is no lawn maintenance (not a mole in sight---but you might see a beaver or an otter now and then) and no roof gutter maintenance either----what is the point of putting gutters on a houseboat after all?
But this post is about the home inspection as it relates to the Homeowner Association that is involved.
Because your neighbor is literally "next door" to you on a houseboat, sometimes defects at one home can affect the neighbor's home and thus might even affect the entire association---which ultimately is all the owners on the dock. This is not too much different than any association---even land based ones. However on water it becomes even more problematic because there are waterway environmental issues that come into play that land based associations would likely not have to deal with. Anything that falls off a house boat could be a potential concern.
Next door to my client's houseboat, the neighbor had a sewage ejector pump with an unsealed cover.
Any plugging of the sewer or failure of the pump would result in raw "you-know-what" being dumped into the waterway. An issue that would not only affect the owner of that ejector pump but likely the whole Association. I am no fan of sewage ejector pumps (let alone floating ones) and even in the best of situations they can be problematic. They are required to be sealed environments so that any back-ups cannot leak out of them.
Such discovery is simply something to be brought to the Homeowner Association for proper repairs---to benefit and protect all of the homeowners on the dock---as well as the waterways with the beavers playing in the front yard.
Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
WA State, Home Inspector Advisory Licensing Board