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.

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.

Little details matter when maintaining electrical components

When putting the cover plate on your electric panel you should never use sharp tipped screws. Sharp tipped screws when going into the panel can cut into the live wires in the panel, cause a circuit breaker to trip and damage to the wiring. Putting yourself in harms way by increasing your potential of being shocked is also a reality. Electric panels come with blunt tipped screws that do not cut the wires and if you loose those you can go to the hardware store and buy extras.

I was inspecting a house that had been remodeled by the owner and the owner was standing behind me when I took the panel off. He had used sharp tipped sheet rock screws to put the panel cover on.  I pointed out that this should not be done and explained the above reasons. He was non plussed about it. I put the panel cover back on and promptly pierced one of the wires with the sheet rock screw, causing a large spark and tripping the breaker.  I turned to him and said “kinda like that.”

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