In the South, high heat, excessive humidity, and driving rains can punish your home’s exterior and other outdoor features on your property. By performing regular inspections and preventative outdoor maintenance, a homeowner can avoid much pricier repairs down the road. Here are some of the key areas that certified home inspectors focus on when examining the exterior of a house and surrounding property.
Maintaining a proper grade or slope away from the home is crucial. But the South’s clay-heavy soils can pose challenges to that endeavor, says Bob McDonough, a certified home inspector with Atlanta’s National Property Inspections.
“Clay soil shrinks when it dries out, causing the earth to separate from the foundation,” he explains. Water that seeps into those cavities can find its way into basements. If it freezes, it can cause cracks in the foundation.
Prevention can be as simple as filling these gaps with soil as soon as they appear. If the soil surrounding the foundation doesn’t slope away from the home, additional fill dirt may need to be brought in. Neglecting this task can be expensive: $3,000 or more to stabilize a bowed block foundation, and more than $10,000 to replace it.
Doors and windows
Leaky doors and windows not only decrease a home’s comfort and efficiency, they can invite moisture, insects and rot, says McDonough. Routinely check caulking and weather stripping to ensure tight seals. Inspect wood sills and trim for peeling paint, insect damage, and moisture penetration.
Fogging in double-pane windows is a sign that the seal has failed, resulting in the loss of insulating qualities. The window will need to be repaired or replaced. Cracked window panes, missing storms, and ripped screens should be replaced or repaired.
Decks on Southern homes are often 20 to 30 feet off the ground due to hilly terrain, notes Earl Beahm, president of the Atlanta chapter of the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors. For that reason, safety is paramount. Check to see that railings and stairs are firm and secure. Closely inspect the bolts that connect the deck to the house.
Hammer or screw popped nails and screws back in place. Posts need to be monitored for rot at the soil line. Wood decks benefit from annual cleanings and sealing.
Just because septic systems are underground doesn’t mean they can’t be monitored from the surface. Trouble typically presents itself in the form of foul odors and visible seepage. An average family of four should have their system inspected and pumped every three to five years.
Air conditioning & heat pump
Air conditioners get a lot of use down South, so it’s important to keep them in peak condition. Leaves, debris, and shrubbery allowed to grow too close to the unit can decrease the system’s efficiency, notes Patrick Cloninger, a certified home inspector with Knoxville’s Pinpoint Home Inspections. Remove loose debris and yard waste, and cut back shrubbery so that it’s at least 2 feet away from the unit.
Check to ensure that the concrete pad is level, as a shifting base can damage the unit. Inspect the insulation on the copper refrigerant line, which prevents condensation and increases efficiency. Get the system serviced by a pro every couple years.
Irrigation systems & spigots
In spring, sprinkler heads should be checked for proper working condition. A weak or nonfunctioning sprinkler is likely a sign of a split line or popped connection.
With the system running, examine that all areas of the landscape are receiving equal amounts of spray. Heads that are spraying excessive amounts of water on driveways and sidewalks should be adjusted or replaced. Cost: $3 to $15 per replaced head, $2 to $5 for a coupling to repair a leak. Allow two hours to check the system.
A hard freeze often catches Southerners unprepared. In spring, take care that garden hoses are disconnected in the event of sudden frost. In the fall, exterior spigots should be drained and garden hoses disconnected and stowed. Homeowners with automatic lawn sprinkler systems should drain the lines and shut off the water source. Water that’s left in the lines and allowed to freeze can crack hoses or burst pipes.
Fences and gates
Wood fences generally require more attention than their chain-link and vinyl counterparts. Every other year or so the wood should be painted or sealed, unless the wood is left to weather naturally.
All wooden fences should be inspected for rot and insect damage every few months. Popped boards need to be nailed back in place; warped ones should be replaced. Pay special attention to posts, which are susceptible to rot.
Although largely maintenance free, chain-link and vinyl fences should be examined regularly for proper functioning. A sagging panel, crooked door hinge, or misaligned latch likely signals a shifting post. The South’s clay-heavy soils have a tendency to expand and contract with changes in moisture content, putting pressure on fence posts. The cost of replacing a post is $7.50 to $15 for a 5-foot cedar post.
Vinyl fences will need to be cleaned at least once a year. Throughout the growing season, remove vegetation with a trimmer along the base of the fence to prevent damage from climbing weeds.
Garages and outbuildings
Vegetation should be pruned at least 3 feet away from buildings to prevent mold, pest infestation, or damage to siding from high winds. Large tree limbs should be trimmed to prevent them from touching the structure. Cost: $15 for a pruning saw and $10 for pruning shears. Allow 1 to 2 hours for pruning.
Inspect the underside of garage and outbuilding roofs for water damage, which can point the way to a roof leak. Small cracks in the foundation should be filled with the appropriate caulk. Maintain a proper grade around the buildings to ensure sufficient drainage. This may require the addition of soil.
Twice a year, check the automatic reverse safety feature on the garage door to make sure it works properly, urges Cloninger. Check to see that the door has no bent casters and that it rolls smoothly in the tracks. Perform a visual check of bolts for snugness. In the case of attached garages, proper weather stripping at the base of the door can greatly improve a home’s energy efficiency.