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Walls and Ceilings
Walls and Ceilings photos: P 117, P 210
Check all of the walls and ceilings for any structural problems or settlement cracks. You'll usually find some minor settlement cracks but you're looking for any major problems that could be hazardous. In older houses the walls will be made of lath and plaster which is also called stucco. Lath and plaster consists of an underlying layer of metal wiring, or lath, which has a layer of concrete over it. Lath and plaster walls are very rigid and have good sound insulating and fireproofing qualities. However, since these walls are so rigid they can develop cracks from any minor settlement in the house or with temperature changes. Also, the metal lath can rust out over time and sections of the plaster can fall off which can be hazardous.
In newer houses the walls will be made of sheetrock which is also called drywall. Sheetrock consists of a gypsum material on the interior, usually about 1/2 inch thick, with exterior layers of a lightweight cardboard paper. The gypsum is a clay and plaster mixture. Sheetrock panels are sold in four feet by eight feet sections and are installed on the walls and ceilings with nails or screws. Screws are preferred to nails because they hold longer. Nails can pop loose over time which you'll see sometimes during an inspection. If you see small round areas slightly protruding from under the paint, then that's the nail head coming loose from the sheetrock. The joint sections where the different panels meet are sealed with finishing tape and spackled over to provide a smooth transition. Sheetrock is relatively inexpensive and is easy to install. Fireproof sheetrock is 5/8 inch thick and has a better fire resistance than the 1/2 inch sheetrock. However, it's also heavier and more difficult to install than 1/2 inch sheetrock.
Check for water stains on the walls or ceilings, or around skylights. If you see water stains, it indicates that there's probably damage to the areas behind the walls and ceilings that isn't visible due to the finished covering. So be very careful about telling the client anything like the water damage appears minor because the stain isn't large. Water can do an awful lot of damage behind the finished coverings. So if you're not sure, tell the client to have the stained area opened and evaluated further.
All linseed oil based paint prior to 1978 had lead in it because the lead is a good "binder" for the paint.Therefore, if a house was built before 1978, then there will be lead in some of the paint.
See if the house needs to be painted. Sometimes the client will ask you if there's lead paint in the house. The only way to identify lead paint is to have a sample taken to a lab for analysis. You can provide this service if you like, but charge a fee for it or else you'll be running to the lab on every inspection at your own expense. All linseed oil based paint prior to 1978 had lead in it. The reason for this is lead has a good wear quality and it is a strong "binder" for the paint. Therefore, if a house was built before 1978, then there will be lead in some of the paint. Latex based paint has never had a lead content in it and all paints today are non-toxic. Latex paint peels over time as it get old. Lead based paints wear off in layers over time. This was a cosmetic benefit because when the paint layers would wear off, they would leave a renewed surface. It's similar to a snake shedding its old layer of skin. However, when lead paint wears off it creates a dust. This lead dust causes soil contamination and health problems to anyone who breathes or drinks the lead.
If the interior of the house has been painted after 1978, then the paint with the lead content will be encapsulated underneath the newer layers of non-lead paint. The main hazard of having lead in paint is if the paint is peeling and children eat small sections of it. Also, if lead paint is sanded, then the dust created will have lead in it that will be breathed-in by the occupants of the house. Each State EPA office has brochures with information about the hazards of lead in paint.
If there's wallpaper in the house, make sure it's not peeling off the walls. Tell the client that if they plan to remove the wallpaper, it is a time-consuming job that can be expensive. They should get estimates if they are not going to remove it themselves. You have to be careful removing when wallpaper from sheetrock walls because you can pull the light cardboard paper off the walls with the wallpaper.
Some ceilings have acoustic tile coverings. These are also called drop ceilings. Try to lift some of these tiles to view underneath. Often these ceilings are installed to cover defects in the area underneath.
Check for the existence and operation of any smoke detectors. Smoke detectors are required on all levels of a house or condo. Heat detectors are recommended in the garage area.
Check for the existence and operation of any smoke detectors. Smoke detectors are required on all levels of a house or condominium. Heat detectors are recommended in the garage area for fire detection. If the smoke detectors are battery operated, they should have a small test button. Recommend the client replace all batteries after moving in. Some smoke detectors have a hard wired installation. This simply means that they're electrically operated and not battery operated. Hard wired systems can't be evaluated during a home inspection. Tell the client to get all instructions from the homeowner. I once was doing an inspection on a house and the owner had a very "unique" smoke detection system installed. He stapled fire crackers to the lower level floor joists and the attic roof rafters! He said that if there was a fire, the fire crackers would explode and wake him up. I obviously wouldn't recommend anyone using this type of a system.