Author: Brandal Gehr

Triple Crawl Space

Back in my early days of occasionally doing things with less intelligence, I was inspecting a house that turned out to have three different crawl spaces.

The house was a long rambler with a middle crawl space and crawl spaces on the east and west sides. There was a hatch for the west crawl space, and I traversed that one. There was a hatch for east crawl space, and I traversed that one. While in the east crawl space I noticed that the access to the middle crawl space was just a tunnel dug out under the foundation. Being more in the action mode then the thinking mode, I went through. However, to get through it turned out I had to lay on my back, exhale all my air, use my legs to push myself through and slide up the tunnel into the middle crawl space. Mission accomplished. Only issue was that it was also the only way out, so the same process had to occur to get out of the crawl space.

All three crawl spaces were about 18 inches high and pitch dark with only the light from my flashlight. This short story was written for all you claustrophobic people.

Don’t want to crawl down there yourself? Hire an inspector.  🙂

East Coast vs. West Coast Rats

Over the years of doing inspections in the great Northwest I have run into my share of Rodentia Furrius.

The basic rat in the Seattle area is six to eight inches long, without a tail, and it generally tries to be invisible. When I am in an attic or crawl space I will see waste and damage, but very rarely see the rodents themselves.

Over the years I have done inspections for people who are moving from the East Coast to the West Coast and a few times I have found the house to have rodent issues. This has turned out to be quite interesting. I’ve had two different clients who, when I came out of the crawl space and mentioned that they have a rat intrusion in their potential new house, have had the color drain out of their faces and have had to sit down. Now I know people do not like rats in their house, but my thought is that this was a bit of an overreaction. However one of the clients then proceeded to tell me that when he was an 8 year old kid in the Bronx, he was walking down the sidewalk and he took a shortcut down an alley but when he got part way through a pack of rats chased him back up the alley and up the street! 

Clients have stated that East Coast rats are brazen and bigger. They wait for the subway with you and do not give a damn if you are standing next to them.

Sounds like our Northwest rats are in the bush leagues.

Live rat grab

One time I was entering a crawl space, the area under a house. This particular crawl space was accessed via an exterior hatch in the side of the house. I put on my crawl space suit and gloves, opened the hatch and crawled in with my flashlight to take a look. The crawl space floor, which was exposed soil, was covered in a sheet of thick black plastic which was buckled in a few spots. I put my hand down on the plastic, right where a buckle was, and wrapped my hand around a rat that happened to be sitting in the buckle of the plastic. I screamed as it squeezed out of my hand and disappeared down the buckle in the plastic. Ahhh, crawl spaces.

Three Interested Rats

One of the many exciting things about home inspections is getting to go places where most people don’t go, like the crawl space. For those of you who are not home inspectors or do not know about crawl spaces, let me digress and paint a quick picture.

A crawl space is an area under a home that one can access for inspection, work on plumbing, electrical, structure, or find thigs like rats. Crawl spaces range in height from walkable to laying flat on your face and army crawling under beams and joists. Not a good experience for anyone who is claustrophobic.

So I’m in this crawl space which is about two feet tall and fairly full of heat ducts and plumbing pipes. The house is decent size, so I have traversed from the exterior entry hatch to the other side of the house. The voyage at this point has taken about 10 minutes. As I am laying on my side, I swing my flashlight over and up and I notice a normal sized NW rat sitting on top of a heat duct watching me. This is a little weird because rats usually run away when you enter the crawl space. You usually find damage from them but never actually see them. I get my camera out and take a picture of a structural issue, and when I look back to where the rat was there were now two rats sitting there looking at me. This was definitely abnormal. I put my camera back in my crawl space suit pocket and pick up my flashlight and look one more time and there was a third rat lined up with the other two, all  of them watching me intently. I figured this was my cue to leave immediately. Thankfully, they did not follow me as I retreated.

Clients who don’t ask (Part one)

As a home inspector, at some point you will have the client that wants to get on the roof via your ladder. As tempting as it is to be nice and allow them to do so, do not do this! How would you explain the potential influence of gravity to your insurance broker? Then there are the clients who do not ask…..

I was inspecting a house for a nice young couple starting out in life. My ladder was against the single story attached garage gutter and I had finished the inspection of the garage roof. I came back down from the roof and went around to the back of the garage to check on another issue. When I came back around to the front I saw the 8 ½ month pregnant wife walking around on the garage roof! This was a heart attack moment. I calmly suggested she come back off the roof, and there was much rejoicing as she did so in a safe manner.

Beware the Cat

I was doing an inspection on a large house out in the country. It was a nice house and the inspection was moving along at a good pace.  I had worked my way around the exterior of the house, through the garage and over the roof, so I headed indoors. 

The house was occupied, so in the spirit of helping me the owners had put their cat in the first-floor office with the doors closed and a note that said “cat in study”. Well, cats are not like large dogs ready to chew on you, so in I went. The office was a standard wood paneled office, but with the addition of lower and upper cabinets with a counter running around three sides. I needed to test the plugs that were at intervals along the counter. The cat was a large grey cat, sitting on the counter, growling! Being the intelligent person that I am I decided not to pet the cat and started at the outlets at the other end of the three counter system, away from the cat. The cat sprinted around the counter! I tested the plug and pulled back just as the cat attempted to scratch me, now really growling. For the rest of the plug inspection I ran back and forth to any plug that was far away from the cat and tested it, all the while the cat was running back and forth trying to kill me!

I finally finished the plugs, quickly noted the other stuff in the room and retreated before the cat could launch itself off the counter and finish me off.

Crawling for Dollars

Crawl spaces are always an interesting mixed bag of fun. It’s the last area I do on a house. I like to run all the water faucets in the house and then check to see if anything was leaking into the crawl space.

Once I inspected a house that was half basement, half crawl space. I had everything done and the crawl space was the last item on the list. I put on my Tyvek suit and opened the 2’x2’ door that was in the basement wall adjoining the crawl space. The door sat about 5’ off the floor so I had my step ladder out. I got the door open so up into the crawl space I went. And whoa! I slid down into a sea of beer cans! Half of the crawl space was filled with empty beer cans about 2’ deep! There I was, Tyvek suit on, swimming through beer cans to check out the framing and other crawl space details.

The people that bought the house called me later to tell me that they took out four pick-up loads of garbage bags full of empty beer cans. Maybe they made their first mortgage payment with all of the recycling refund money.

When Fido is in the house…

Remember! When doing an inspection or visiting a house that is not yours, treat any animals you run across with caution.

One time I arrived to do an inspection and the realtor was already there. The house was occupied, but the owners were gone.  I opened the front door and walked into the entryway and the dog, sleeping in the sun across the living room, jumped up, ran over and bit my leg! The realtor had to pull the dog off me and lock him in another room. Very exciting!  The bite turned out to be minimal so we did the inspection and summarized with my clients. 

When the owners came home I told them, “Your dog bit me when I arrived.”. They responded with, “Oh ya, he doesn’t like men.”. Maybe that bit of knowledge should have been in the listing notes.

Current Thoughts

Electricity is deadly. 

We all know this, yet most of us have been taught some basic incorrect information about electricity. For instance, I was taught that 120 VAC will hurt you, and that 240 VAC and 440 VAC will seriously damage or kill you. However, I went to an ongoing education electrical course and the master electrician teaching the course said, “If you have been shocked and you’re still alive, you’re really lucky.” So I listened up. “The real killer is the AMPS. If 1/10th of 1 AMP crosses your heart, you’re done.”. He went on to explain that the smallest circuit breaker in a standard electric panel is 15 AMPs so it would take a long time to shut off unless it’s an AFCI breaker.  Things to think about.

Funny story: I was taking the cover off an electric panel in the basement at an inspection. The client, a woman of about 50, was standing a safe 10 feet away from me. She says to me, “You know what one of my jobs was when I was a kid?”.  “No, what?” I asked.  She replied, “My dad did a lot of work on the house. When he was going to do something with the electric panel, he would hand me a baseball bat and tell me, “Honey, if I get shocked, you hit me as hard as you can to break the current.””. I asked her if she had to go to therapy for that:)

Got a cedar shake roof? Take a look in the attic!

Traditional cedar shake roofs are great roofs and need to be maintained correctly. A common issue that I have found over the years is that as cedar shake roofs age the shakes cup and lift up.  Cedar shake roofs are installed on what is called skip sheathing and long story short have gaps in the sheathing below the cedar shake material. When the roof material cups and the shakes lift it opens a door for rats to come through. If I am doing an inspection on a house with a cedar shake roof I am not surprised when I get in the attic and find that the insulation has been damaged by rodent intrusion.

I was in an attic once and the insulation had been completely destroyed by rodent intrusion. I finished the inspection, explained the issues to the clients, wrote my report and moved on. A few days later the agent called and said the sellers response was:  “There are no rats in the attic, we have dogs!”  The reality here is that your dogs do not live in the attic. Whether you have dogs or cats it makes no difference, rats are entering your house not through the front door. Most of the time I find that they are entering through the roof system somewhere and through a hole that most people thinks is too small for a rat to get through. Your average NW rat needs a 3/8” gap to squeeze through.

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