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 ramble with a middle crawl space and then a crawl space on the east and west sides of the middle crawl space. 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 a tunnel dug out under the foundation between the east and middle crawl space. Being more in the action mode then the thinking mode I went through. Now to go through it turns out you have to lay on your back and push yourself through with your legs and then you slide up the tunnel into the middle crawl space. Mission accomplished, only issue is that is the only way out, so the same process had to occur to get out of the crawl space. This short story is written for all you claustrophobic people. All three crawl spaces were about 18 inches high.

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 greater NW I have run into my share of rodentia furrius. The basic rat in the Seattle area is about six to eight inches long without the tail and is generally a rodent that tries to be invisible. Most of the time that I am in an attic or crawl space I will see waste and damage from rodents, but very rarely see the rodent themselves.

A few times over the years I have done inspections for people who are moving from the East Coast to the Northwest and had the house have rodent issues. This has been interesting to me. 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 in my mind I know people do not like rats in their house, but my personal thought is this is a little bit of an overreaction. One of the clients then proceeds to tell me that when he was a kid in the Bronx, he was about eight and walking down the sidewalk and turned into an alley that was a short cut and got part way down the alley and had a pack of rats chase him back down the alley and down the street!  Other clients have stated that the East Coast rats are a bit more brazen and bigger. They wait for the subway with you and do not give a damn as to if you are standing next to them.

Sounds like our Northwest rats are bush league rats.

Live rat grab

One time I was entering a crawl space. The crawl space is the area under a house. This particular crawl space was accessed via an exterior hatch in the side of the house. I opened the hatch, put my crawl space suit on, with gloves and crawled in with my flashlight to take a look. The crawl space floor, which is exposed soil, is 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 the rat that happened to be sitting in the buckle of the plastic. I screamed and 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 and if one needed to work on plumbing, electrical, support on the structure, or house rats. Crawl spaces range in size 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 made it from the exterior entry hatch to the other side of the house. This voyage has taken about 10 minutes. I am laying on my side and swing my flashlight over to my side and up and 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 and you usually find damage from them, but never see them. I get my cameral out to take a picture of an issue and take the picture and look back to where the rat was and now there are two rats sitting there looking at me. This is abnormal. I put my camera back in my crawl space suit pocket and pick up my flashlight and look one more time and there is a third rat lined up with the other two, all three of them watching me. I figure this is my cue to leave immediately. They do not follow me and I retreat.

Clients who don’t ask (Part one)

As a home inspector, you have the client at some point 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 am inspecting a house for the nice couple starting out in life. My ladder is against the single story attached garage gutter and I have finished the inspection of the garage roof. I am back down on the roof and am following a thought about something I saw earlier and go around to the back of the garage to check on the item. I come back around to the front and have the 8 ½ month pregnant wife walking around on the garage roof. This is a heart attack moment, calmly I suggest she come back off the roof and there was much rejoicing as she did this in the normal manner.

Beware the Cat

I was doing an inspection on a large house out in the country. Nice house, the inspection was moving along at a good pace.  I had worked my way around the exterior of the house and through the roof and garage and headed indoors.  The house was occupied and in the spirit of helping 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 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 of the office. I need to test the plugs that are installed at intervals along the counter. The cat is a large grey cat, sitting on the counter, growling. Being the intelligent person that I am I decide not to pet the cat and start at the outlets at the other end of the three-wall counter system away from the cat. The cat sprints around the counter, I test the plug and pull back as the cat attempts to scratch me, now really growling. The rest of the plug inspection is running back and forth to the plug that is farthest away from the cat, testing it, cat running and trying to kill me. Finish the plugs, quickly note the other stuff in the room and retreat before the cat launches itself off the counter.

Crawling for Dollars

Crawl spaces are always an interesting mixed bag of fun. It is the last thing I do on a house. I like to run all the water in the house and then do the crawl space to be able to see if anything is leaking in 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. Door open, up and into the crawl space. I slid down into a sea of beer cans! Half of the crawl space was filled with empty beer cans! About 2’ deep. Tyvek suit on, swimming through beer cans to check out the framing and other crawl space items.

The people bought the house and 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.

When Fido is in the house…

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

One time I was walking into an inspection.  The realtor was already there. The house was occupied, but the owners were gone, and the clients had not shown up yet.  I opened the front door and walked into the entryway, the dog, sleeping in the sun across the living room, jumped up, ran over and bit my leg! The realtor pulled the dog off me and locked him in another room. Exciting!  The bite was minimal, and we did the inspection, summarized with clients and at that point the owners came home. I said, “Your dog bit me when I arrived.”  They said, “Oh, 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 thoughts towards electricity. I was taught that 110 VAC will hurt and 220 VAC and 440 VAC will seriously damage or kill me. Then 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. The smallest circuit breaker we have in a standard electric panel is 15 AMPs. 1/10 of 1 AMP, 15 AMP breaker, going to take the breaker a long time to shut off if its not an AFCI breaker.”  Things to think about.

I was taking the panel cover off an electric panel in the basement at an inspection. The client, a woman of about 50 was standing about 10’ away from me. She says to me, “You know what one of my jobs was when I was a kid?” “No, what?”  “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.” 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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