A house inspection mainly deals with uncovering defects in the structure’s components and systems, typically as part of a proposed real estate transaction. But a complete house inspection is more than that, examining and documenting the state of practically everything, irrespective of its age, serviceability, or appearance. The inspection report does not simply list defects; ideally, it acts as a sort of user manual, suggesting to the client preferred maintenance practices, including how to keep the home as comfortable and livable as possible.
The house inspection addresses livability indirectly by evaluating heat flow, airflow, and moisture flow. That is, livability deteriorates when the temperature is too cold or too hot, when air gets static and stale or there are noticeable drafts, and when moisture problems develop in the form of too much or too little humidity, leaks, mold or mildew, and general dankness. Let’s examine the approach for inspecting the heat, air, and moisture status of a home environment and how it can point to improved livability.
Heat transfer occurs in three ways: conduction, convection, and radiation. The house inspection focuses more on heat capacity and operability than on transfer, but it may divine a heat flow problem from certain evidence (in a variety of forms). The inspector operates the furnace and checks that registers or radiators are bringing heat into rooms, where it spreads by means of convection, sometimes natural but often blower-assisted. If anything in this chain is amiss, it of course has an impact on livability.
Air circulation occurs via filtration and ventilation. Filtration is the exchange of outdoor air for indoor air through house cracks and openings. Ventilation is the natural exchange through windows and doors or mechanized with fans and the like. When the exchange rate is too great, the house feels drafty, it loses excessive heat, and hidden condensation can develop. Newer homes tend to be more tightly constructed and thus often exhibit an air exchange rate that isn’t high enough, resulting in degraded indoor air quality. The home inspection conventionally excludes house air quality measurements, but the inspector evaluates the capacity for adequate ventilation. He checks operability of windows and doors as sources of natural ventilation, and his inspection checklist also includes examining exhaust fan behavior wherever they occur. Ventilation inspection in the attic and crawl space is particularly critical, as lack of ventilation induces condensation and other moisture problems.
Moisture flow occurs via bulk movement (i.e., leaks), capillary action (wicking or rising damp), vapor diffusion, and borne by air. The house inspection includes checking for leaks, moisture damage, and condensation. Vapor diffusion is not that much of an issue in the home, but the inspector does care about warm humid air striking cooler surfaces and thereby condensing, particularly if it may be hidden behind walls.
If comfort seems to be lacking, there should be recommendations for improving it in the inspection report. If heat loss is excessive, consider installing insulation and/or weather stripping. If moisture is wicking up into the crawl space sub-floor or condensing inside walls, installing a vapor barrier is a must. You can remedy poor air quality with mechanized air exchangers. Specific recommendations for your situation will result from your own house inspection and acting on them will improve livability.
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