Troubled Houses - The Home Owner's Resource sm - Landscaping
We see many interesting adverse conditions during our inspections, partly because of the unlimited number of ways people can mess up a house, but also because we do a thorough inspection to reveal these adverse conditions. We hope these stories help home owners avoid these costly conditions by learning about causes, preventions, and remedies. A home purchase can create opportunities for the new owner to improve the home, possibly increasing its value, durability, and usefulness.
NOTICE TO BUYERS & SELLERS: This site does NOT encourage or discourage the purchase of any individual house, or style, age, location, or condition of house. Conditions shown and/or described in the following articles may have been remedied at the house where these conditions were found. These conditions typically can be remedied by qualified contractors. The presence of these conditions in any house is comparable to any other real estate consideration such as price, size, or location. Consult a qualified home inspector before purchasing any house, and consult a qualified real estate agent for more information on how to handle a real estate transaction where adverse conditions are reported in a home inspection. This site does not describe any house by address or knowingly show a readily identifiable exterior image. Further, no home actively listed for sale will be described on these pages at the time the article is posted.
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"Troubled Houses - The Home Owner's Resource" is a SERVICE MARK of Hankey & Brown Inspection Service Inc. List of topics and all articles in this resource.
Also see our pages on Moisture Mysteries, Moisture Damage, Wet Basements, and Moisture Investigations.
A key part of landscaping either a new or existing home, involves choosing, arranging a layout, planting, and maintaining a variety of vegetation suitable for the property and the building. Even at homes blessed with well chosen and well arranged plantings, the vegetation can become a problem with lack of maintenance. One aspect of a thorough home inspection is to report on vegetation which has created or has the potential to create an adverse conditions in or on the building.
One of the most common adverse conditions in landscaping is the failure to prune back trees and shrubs. Overgrown trees and shrubs can pose several threats to the building, including scraping - abrasion damage to roofing, siding and trim. The tree may have been planted too close to the house or grew from a seed carried to the ground by roof runoff.
Mature trees too close to the building increase the potential for structural damage to roofs, walls, and foundations.
Another concern with mature trees is the influence of their roots on older sewer lines. We recommend customers hire a drain cleaning firm to video scan the sewer as a part of their pre-purchase due diligence.
Trees are not the only plants which can cause adverse conditions on a building.
The above left photo shows how a chimney can be obstructed by ivy, potentially obstructing the flues. The detail photo above right of a different house shows how ivy can grow into brick mortar joints. The vine has the potential to damage the brick in at least two ways: 1. as the vine grows, it can press the bricks apart, 2. the vine can cause water to be trapped in this vertical mortar joint, freeze, and crack open the mortar joint permitting further freeze-thaw damage and opening the mortar joint for further growth of the vine.
Overgrown or misplaced vegetation can cause adverse conditions on other components of the building and its systems such as the two shown below:
Vegetation obstructing the central air conditioner coil limits air flow through the coil which reduces its efficiency and can lead to damage to the compressor. The seedling growing at the foundation has the potential to adversely affect the siding, foundation, downspout and its buried drain. The drawing shown below helps list some the adverse conditions and their causes. Proper design, installation and seasonal maintenance of your landscaping by qualified professionals can reduce the potential for damage and improve the appearance of most homes.
For more vegetation related adverse conditions see our Roofs page.
Snow Covered Grading Problem
This deep snow alongside this garage hides an sloping walk, steps and ground with may cover the siding where the garage foundation steps down the slope. Clearing some snow with a boot reveals the ground does cover the siding.
Vinyl siding can not protect the wall structure from moisture when soil and/or mulch covered the siding. A view of the interior side of the wall in this area reveals water damage to the waferboard sheathing behind the siding.
The blackened area along the bottom of the waferboard sheathing is the result of the sheathing absorbing and wicking up soil moisture ground which covers the siding on the outside of this wall. Another potential problem is that the wood frame at the base of the wall does not have the color or markings of treated lumber. Therefore the frame may also be water damaged or decayed. The drawing below shows a proper position for soil at the base of a frame wall.
Drawing from Illustrated Home, by Carson-Dunlop.
Hill versus Retaining Wall. Wall losing the battle.
Owning a home located on a steep hillside involves being aware of the condition of the sloping earth, and any walls or terraces built to retain the hillside.
The house shown above is at the base of a steep hillside. A block retaining wall is present behind the garage (at left) and the house. Notice some bare earth on the hillside.
The retaining wall began behind the left wall of the garage and was within 3 feet of the garage foundation.
A closer view of the wall (shown above) reveals the bending - bowing of the wall due to earth pressures. Notice the gap between second and third visible courses of blocks.
A view of more of the wall shows metal pegs driven into the soil at the base of the wall to help resist the force of the earth. Also notice how the bottom blocks have pushed up the patio pavers.
The hillside above the wall is so steep that some of the soil has collapsed, adding further load onto this retaining wall.
Our conclusion in this 2001 inspection was that the conditions were consistant with a retaining wall failure and that the wall and hillside posed a threat the house and garage. We recommended the buyer consult with a professional engineer experienced in this type of wall, and a retaining wall contractor to determine the methods and costs of repairing or rebuilding the wall. After discussing the situation with an engineer, our customer elected to purchase a different house.
Recent aerial photos of this property are consistent with a rebuilt or repaired wall.