Good bones are essential to a healthy house, in the same way they are to a healthy person. But if bones are underneath the surface, how can you tell if a house is a solid investment, or a money pit you should avoid? A home inspection completed by a  professional home inspector offers the security of truly knowing everything you need to about the state of your home—before you make a big investment. Here’s how to identify potential problems and see beyond what meets the eye.

What does it mean for a home to have “good bones”?

“Good bones” refers to the core foundational elements of the home –– a steady structure that can withstand time, wear, and elements. A home with good bones typically has a sturdy foundation, structural stability, and a strong roof. A well-staged home can hide imperfections with beautiful rugs, a fresh coat of paint, or features that pull your attention. 

Here are some of the elements of a home with good bones:

  • A good foundation
  • Solid skeleton and structure
  • Problem-free roof and walls
  • Intact plumbing and an updated electrical system
  • Adequate drainage to prevent leaks

Signs that your home may need major renovations

When someone has a bad cold, you can usually hear them coughing or see they have a runny nose, even if they’re behaving like they’re fine. A house similarly shows signs of damage or wear as a result of problems beneath the surface.

Large gaps or cracks along the foundation or on the walls of the home.

Some gaps and cracks are normal, especially in older homes. You might notice angular cracks where two materials like brick and concrete meet, which is natural to see over time and might not signify any serious issue. 

When are cracks a problem?

  • Problematic fractures are generally longer than 15mm. If a crack is slanted at a sharp 45 degree angle, this could signify that the foundation has shifted significantly and could foreshadow issues within the structure of your walls.
  • Horizontal fractures that are longer than 15mm or so can signify water pressure on your foundation.

Slanted or uneven floors

 A foundation can shift or deteriorate as a result of water damage, climate shifts––like freezing and thawing––or poorly compacted soil underneath the home. A bit of asymmetry in a home might not be a major cause for concern. But the more uneven or slanted the floors, the more likely the foundation of a home is compromised. Foundation issues can warp floors or cause asymmetry in walls and ceilings. Try rolling a marble along the floor, looking at the angles in the corners or the room, or noting if built in features like a fireplace line up with the floor.

A sagging or peeling roof

If a roof is sagging or worn, this is a helpful indication that the supporting structure isn’t doing its job.

  • Curled, ruffled, or cracking edges on wooden or asphalt shingles can signify that they need to be replaced soon. 
  • Look for signs of damage or leaking in the attic.
  • What are the shingles made of, and when was the roof installed? Vinyl, foam, and asphalt need replacement every 30 years or less, while metal, slate, or clay can have double the lifespan. 
  • The underlayment (the protective shield underneath most types of roofing) is just as important as the tiles or shingles themselves. Ask when the underlayment was last replaced to get a sense of the roof’s lifespan.

Windows, doors, and details

Every element of a house carries a clue about what it’s built on, and can signify damage above, below, or in the walls. 

  • Doors or windows that don’t seal or close could be a sign of a shifting foundation, an uneven floor, or water damage. 
  • If you notice that cabinets are pulling away from the wall or closing crookedly, the foundation may have shifted.
  • Look for water stains on the ceiling, or areas that may have been freshly painted to hide damage.
  • While you’re looking at the details, don’t get distracted by things that are an easy fix. You might get a deal on a poorly staged home if you can imagine the space with some modern updates; wallpaper can be ripped off, tiled floors can be replaced with something more modern, and a house with good bones might have some beautiful hardwood under that ugly shag carpet.
  • Notice little clues that can indicate termite damage: like little pellets, drooping ceiling or floors, and holds in hardwood flooring. Late-stage damage from termites or pests can erode the walls of your home and create lasting, pricey repairs that temporarily make your new home unlivable.

Look for signs of water damage or poor drainage

Water damage can cause costly issues for a new home. Leaks and improper drainage can build up in walls, causing pressure and eroding the structure of your home. They can also cause mold and mildew, which can create serious health hazards or add big numbers to a renovation cost. In a worse-case scenario, toxic mold might require major restructuring of the home itself.

  • Do crawl spaces, closets, or parts of the attic feel damp or full of moisture? You might notice a musty smell or water marks. 
  • Effective gutters and drainage systems should allow for effective water runoff. Is there pooling water around the house? Check on a day with heavy rainfall or melting snow. The ground around the house should slant away from the house so that water is directed away from the home’s foundation. 
  • Peek under sinks in the bathroom and kitchen to check for signs of leaking from pipes underneath.

Notice if the plumbing and electrical systems have been updated

Buildup in pipes can cause blockages and even cause pipes to burst. Electrical systems might also need updating, which isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for a new home, but total replacement is especially expensive.

Check plumbing and pipes

  • When were the pipes last replaced, and what are they made of?
  • Pipes usually run through the basement, especially in homes that are 50 years or older, so look for them when you’re touring a home. Do they have any signs of damage like dimpling, bumps, or discolouration? 
  • Get a sense of when the pipes were installed, and whether they’re made of copper (60-80 year lifespan, brass, steel, or iron (80-100 year lifespan) or polyvinyl chloride piping (PVC, which lasts 25-45 years). 
  • Lead pipes are less common but might exist in older buildings; lead can contaminate water, and these pipes will need replacement or at very least careful attention.
  • Try running the sink, tub, and simultaneously flushing the toilet in the bathroom. A big change in pressure could indicate a system that’s more delicate or running less smoothly.

Look for updated electrical systems

  • Check if the home has a fuse box or a circuit breaker box, and look for insulation around the wiring system (usually found in the basement). A fuse box and insulation indicate an older electrical system. 
  • Old systems like knob-and-tube writing aren’t grounded and might leave some appliances vulnerable to power surges, or make your home more of a fire risk. Ask about the electrical wiring in your home to assess how soon it will need updating. 

OJO can help you find a home with good bones

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