Real Estate

3 Warning Signs You Should Never Ignore, According to Home Inspectors

published Dec 11, 2019
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Somehow, I made it through my first five or so years of homeownership dodging any major maintenance problems. Then, it happened: I walked into my kitchen one morning and noticed that seemingly overnight two sizeable squares of ceramic tile had popped up out of the ground and formed a little pyramid. 

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Was there moisture pooling under the floor? Was the foundation shifting? Did Denver’s wildly abrupt temperature swing from balmy to blizzard cause this? Any of the above could have been the answer. But thankfully, the general contractor I hired to come investigate the mystery was able to explain to me that the tile bonding material wasn’t set correctly—which I found to be the best-case scenario (read: least costly to fix). 

Still, tiles spontaneously popping out of the floor and cracking is never a good thing and definitely requires some immediate attention. Here are three more warning signs homeowners should never, ever ignore, according to home inspectors who are pros at scouting out potential health and safety problems in homes.

Mold or a musty odor

If you see mold appear in your home, you might be tempted to just clean it up and go on with your day, says Sol Kruk, the owner of Property Inspection Pros in Baltimore, Maryland. But the appearance of mold signals a bigger problem, he explains, and you need to pinpoint what’s causing it to grow.

Mold growth could mean your home is too humid or it could signal there’s a leak in your walls, roof, or plumbing. Kruk suggests calling in a professional and having a mold inspection done so you can address the problem and repair potential leaks. If mold isn’t cleared up, it can cause respiratory issues and other health problems, he says.

Likewise, if you smell a musty odor, you need to have a professional investigate a potential mold problem, says Robert Weitz, a certified microbial investigator and founder of RTK Environmental, which is an environmental inspection firm in the Northeast. “It could be hidden behind walls or under carpets, or even be in plain sight,” he says. 

Termite swarmers

They look like winged ants, and they appear in the spring, Kruk says. “You might think they’re just a small infestation that you can get rid of with Raid, but in reality you may have termites behind your wall,” he says. Eek, right?

Kruk suggests calling a termite inspector who will be able to determine whether you have an infestation. Catching this as soon as possible is important as a termite infestation can eventually cause structural damage to your home and cost you thousands of dollars.

Horizontal cracks in the foundation

Vertical cracks, commonly in the middle section of walls, frequently occur in new construction homes and often are a result of the foundation settling. No biggie. 

But a horizontal crack in your foundation can spell trouble as it could mean your foundation is bowing in and its structural integrity is compromised, explains Andy Geckler, a certified professional home inspector with Everest Home Inspectors in Minneapolis, Minnesota area.

Soil pressure could be to blame as clay soils are notorious for absorbing moisture and expanding, putting tremendous pressure on your basement or foundation walls. Or, hydrostatic pressure could be to blame, and this occurs when groundwater or melted snow presses up against the foundation from the outside.

If you discover a horizontal crack, Geckler suggest calling in a structural engineer to give it a good look. You may need to reinforce your foundation to prevent any more damage. “Ultimately, the worst case scenario could be that the foundation collapses,” Geckler says.

New to homeownership and need some more help navigating maintenance issues?Here’s what we think should be in every first-time buyer’s manual.