One of the most common defects on homes is getting the final finish grade too high---or more accurately---building the house too low. Having built quite a few houses myself, I really don’t understand how this happens. After all, what would a few more inches of concrete cost? The vast majority of homes that I inspect, that have siding buried by dirt, walkways and driveways, could have easily been remedied by the house being 5 or 6 inches higher.
I suppose one could argue that it would mean one more step and the step’s associated costs. But really, will that additional “initial cost” really be that much more than the damage that will be caused from inadequate clearances to finish grade---forever? This is of course assuming wood destroying insects don’t invade.
Take a look at the following home. It looks pretty nice at first glance. Yes?
On two sides of the home, the driveway/parking area asphalt has been poured right over the bottom of the siding.
The first question I have to ask is, why Asphalt-Man doesn’t know this is “wrong?” What this installation of asphalt does is to direct moisture that is trapped under the asphalt to areas where there is no asphalt---the house structure.
Now, if you will, I would like you to suit up and come along with me into the crawl space.
As you can see in the next picture the access is super-duper.
If you look closely you should be able to see that there are four short deck boards under the end of the hose that can be removed for access to the crawl space. All that is necessary is to remove the 32, 2-1/2” star-drive screws!
I am not equipped on a Standard Home Inspection for such an exercise, but fortunately the maintenance person was, and he (albeit reluctantly) took all the screws out for me. Whenever anyone wants to make it difficult for me to get into a crawl space, I naturally want to know why.
Trust me when I tell you that this is one crawl space that I knew intuitively that I did not want to miss. (Also note that the writing on the deck surface tells anyone that is interested, that the water shut-off is under there too. Again, all that is necessary in an emergency is to pull those 32 screws out!)
With the boards removed, we can now see the access. It is all of 40 inches wide and all of 8 inches high!
I don’t even have to exhale to get through 8 inches. The two beams that I had to get under, to get to the driveway side of the crawl space, did make me exhale however. The thing about crawl spaces like this one is that if I can barely get into the space, there is a REALLY good chance nobody else has gotten in there. All of which just reinforces even more the importance of me persevering.
After much effort I was able to get to the other side and found a virtual terrarium of vegetative and insect species.
The following pictures show what the wood structures looked like all along the sides where the asphalt is poured against the building.
Probing the rotten beams showed that there was very little structural support left---barely enough for the armies of Moisture Ants and Dampwood Termites to hang out in and the fungus to cling too. Here is a nice Moisture Ant nest clinging to the beams and sub-floor in a corner.
Needless to say, this “problem” was a bit more than my buyer was prepared to take on. It is all fixable---after all it is only wood and nails and concrete. From the exterior, you can’t really tell the whole building needs a foundation. But at least a new foundation can be built high enough to get it out of the clutches of the asphalt---and the albino spiders.
Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle.
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WA State, Home Inspector Advisory Licensing Board