Many homeowners are perplexed when they see defects in their homes. If there is a water spot on the ceiling, does it mean a few shingles on the roof need to be replaced? Or does an entirely new roof need to be purchased?
Reggie Marston, president of Residential Equity Management Home Inspections in Springfield, Va., says it is important to thoroughly assess any defects in a home. Call in experts as necessary to help decide whether the repair is a major or minor expense, he says.
“Homeowners should have some method of determining the extent of the problem and how to have it corrected,” Marston says.
Relatively common defects — such as cracks in concrete or worn wooden decks — may offer clues as to whether they can be solved with a quick, cheap fix, or whether they require a long, costly remodel, Marston says.
Homeowners need to use these clues in order to spend their repair budget dollars wisely.
Thin cracks along a concrete foundation could be the result of settlement in the concrete and may not necessarily be a cause for concern, says Kathleen Kuhn, president of HouseMaster Home Inspections in Bound Brook, N.J.
However, homeowners need to pay attention to the shape and direction of the divide. Long, horizontal splits in the concrete could indicate pressure from the outside — possibly from saturated soil — that needs to be repaired.
“Normal settlement doesn’t generally cause horizontal cracks,” says Kuhn.
Regardless of shape, any cracks that leak water or are wider than one-fourth of an inch (some experts put the limit at one-sixteenth of an inch) should be inspected by a structural engineer immediately, says Kuhn.
Even if a crack appears to be minor, it should be repaired, Marston says.
“If moisture gets inside a small crack, it can cause the steel inside to rust, which could cause further deterioration,” he says.
COST: According to Marston, the cost for a structural engineer to assess a property is about $300. If the expert finds major structural damage, the repair would be costly.
“Typical bills range from $10,000 to $30,000,” he says.
One low-tech way to test the firmness of a wooden backyard deck — assuming it’s safe to stand on — is to hit it hard with your foot and listen to the sound it makes, says Dean Bennett, president of Dean Bennett Design and Construction in Castle Rock, Colo.
“If you hear the board beneath your foot vibrate, the deck is still probably solid,” Bennett says.
Marston says if the deck is fairly new, it’s probably structurally sound.
“When the wood is under 5 years old, then even if the lumber is discolored and there’s a little cracking, it’s generally not a cause for concern,” he says. “The solution could be as simple as cleaning it, re-securing the nails and adding a sealant.”
COST: Marston says the cost of a cosmetic repair could range from $200 up to about $1,000, depending on whether the owner makes it a do-it-yourself project or hires a contractor.
If the deck is older than about 15 years, however, it is probably past its life expectancy and should be inspected by an experienced, licensed landscape contractor, Marston says. Replacement cost ranges from $5,000 to about $20,000, he says.
After spotting a water stain, homeowners should consider where the possible source of the stain is, Kuhn says. If there’s a bathroom above the water spot, the leak may be a plumbing issue. That could be a costly repair, she says, because a plumber may need access to an interior wall to repair the leaking pipe.
If the water spot appears to be rainwater coming through the roof, it’s not necessarily a major expense, especially if the roof is fairly new, Marston says. It could simply be a nail that popped through a shingle on the roof, or flashing (which secures pipes to a roof) that hasn’t been caulked properly, he says.
“Those problems are relatively simple to fix,” Marston says. “They usually cost a couple hundred dollars for a roofer to repair.”
Other problems could be more expensive to fix. For example, if the roof is 15 years old and several shingles have blown off, the roof is probably in poor condition and requires a complete replacement, Marston says.
“Most builder-grade asphalt roofs have a life expectancy of 15 to 20 years,” he says.
COST: According to Marston, new roofs cost from $5,000 to $12,000, depending on their size.
If a home’s heat source or air conditioning unit isn’t working well, homeowners need an inspection by a heating, ventilating and air conditioning, or HVAC, professional, Bennett says.
The technician will look for problems and likely perform general maintenance on the system, which may include cleaning the burners, tightening connections and checking the system controls, Bennett says.
After the heating and cooling unit is repaired, homeowners still need to budget for regular maintenance on their systems to keep them in good condition, Marston says.
“If the system isn’t efficient in the first place, it’s probably because the owners didn’t keep it properly maintained.”
COST: Common problems that HVAC technicians discover — such as defective igniters and fuses — are relatively cheap to fix, Bennett says.
“Homeowners can expect to pay a few hundred dollars for these types of repairs,” he says.
However, Marston says if the unit is older than 10 years and isn’t working properly, it’s probably best to buy a new one. Otherwise, even after it’s been repaired, it probably won’t have the energy efficiency that newer models will have.
New HVAC units cost about $5,000, with high-efficiency models starting at about $10,000, Marston says.
If a basement wall spot appears to be mold, there’s probably a moisture problem, Marston says.
“Call a soil engineer or home inspector to help determine where the moisture’s coming from,” he says.
If water is coming from leaks in the interior water pipes, the repair could cost thousands.
However, if the problem is poor water flow around the house, the exterior of the house may just need simple regrading, Marston says.
“The owner could hire a landscaper for a couple hundred dollars to add more shrubs and to make sure the dirt that’s beside the house is 6 inches higher than the level of dirt that’s 10 feet away,” Marston says. This creates a hill for water to drain away from the house.
If you live in an arid climate, a wall spot may not be moisture at all.
Bennett, who lives in Colorado, says: “Out west, in our part of country, it’s very dry. We don’t see a lot of water filtration, so we don’t run into mold issues often. So a spot could just be dirt.”
The solution? Soap and water.
COST: Anywhere from a few dollars to several thousand dollars.