3 Issues Found During a Hamburg, NY Home Inspection

House in Hamburg, NY

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Earlier this year we inspected a smaller home near Bayview Drive in Hamburg, NY.  Our home inspections are more detailed than many, and as usual we uncovered a number of issues.  

The house inspected was a “flip” house, meaning that the owner bought the house with the intention of making upgrades that appeal to the masses, then selling for a profit.  In our experience, flip homes almost always have more problems than others.  

Let’s take a look at three important problems that we identified with this home in Hamburg.

Chimney Damage

The exterior of this chimney revealed bricks that were damaged, and unprofessional repairs where mortar had apparently crumbled away.

The brick damage is technically referred to as “spalling”, and is caused by moisture finding its way into bricks and freezing.  Typical chimney bricks are designed to take this stress, so they crack.  

3 Issues Found During a Hamburg, NY Home Inspection 1
Bricks on this chimney have suffered the consequences of Hamburg’s brutal winters.

Brick spalling can be prevented by making sure that the chimney rain cap is intact, that the crown is in good condition and that mortar is properly maintained.  Once the damage has been done, as was the case with this house in Hamburg, all damaged bricks will need to be replaced.

Mortar damage on its own is a relatively simple problem to repair, but in this case my recommendation was to have a qualified chimney repair company evaluate all damage and repair all of it.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America certifies chimney inspection professionals across the country.  They recommend a Level 2 inspection for those who are purchasing a home, and a Level 1 inspection annually.  We recommend all of our clients follow their guidelines.

Unsafe Wiring

The house in question was built in the 1940’s, and probably underwent an electrical upgrade sometime during the 1960’s.  This was a time when the price of copper was high, and so aluminum wiring was used for certain parts of the house, and many other houses in Western New York.

Aluminum wiring has been deemed unsafe by industry and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (or CPSE) because of its tendency to expand and contract with temperature changes, leading to loosened connections and house fires.  

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It’s tough to see, but there are 3 sections of solid-core aluminum wiring visible in this panel.

The CPSE published guidelines on how to repair aluminum wiring, which is meant to help consumers discuss the repair process with their electricians.

Home inspections are not invasive in nature, so it was impossible for us to know where all of the aluminum wiring segments were in this house.  Instead, we advise our clients (as we did with this home) to have an electrician evaluate all the home’s wiring and repair all aluminum connections in accordance with the CPSC guidelines.

Unsafe Water Heater Installation

There are several safety standards that must be followed by any responsible person that’s installing or repairing a water heater.  These standards were developed over time to prevent the tanks from exploding, catching fire or burning people.  

We’ve learned that these risks aren’t always enough to ensure a safe installation of these pressure tanks.

This Hamburg flip house had at least two safety problems with its water heater, both concerning the closeness of plastic to the exhaust.  

Safety and code dictate that plastic should never be within 18” of the water heater exhaust.  The reason should be obvious, but it’s not.  Hot exhaust gas can sometimes be hot enough to melt plastic.  Melted plastic can lead to a bigger fire, which isn’t a good thing. 

Problem #1 was that PEX pipe connected the home’s plumbing to the water heater.  PEX is plastic, and can melt.  The plumber (or flipper) who installed the heater should have used copper pipe for that final 18” to the heater.  

Problem #2 was with the pipe insulation.  From an energy conservation standpoint it’s a great idea to insulate hot-water pipes in any house.  But some plumbers (and flippers) take this idea too far and actually create a fire risk.  The fix here is easy, just remove at least 18” of the pipe insulation.

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This foam pipe insulation is touching the hot exhaust pipe, posing a fire risk

But these weren’t all the issues

We reported on over 40 issues in this home, which isn’t uncommon with older homes in the Buffalo area. It’s important that everyone has a home inspection before they finalize their real estate purchase.  Regardless of your background, there’s just not enough time to determine if there are big problems with a house without the time and experience to conduct a detailed inspection.

Homes in Hamburg, NY should always be inspected prior to purchase

Real estate sales prices have never been higher in Hamburg and the overall Buffalo area. But the age over homes in Hamburg is relatively high compared to some areas, and skipping a home inspection to make your offer more enticing to the seller is risky.

The risk that someone takes when placing an offer with no inspection contingency is that the house may have a serious problem with its foundation, plumbing system, roof or other structure. You might then find shortly after you move in that there’s a $20,000 bill to pay. Be careful!

This buyer made a smart move and had us inspect his new house, and in the end found out about not only the 3 problems we reviewed here, but also many other defects.

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About the Author:

Bradley Beck

Bradley is owner of Alto Home Inspection, LLC.  He lives just south of Orchard Park, in Western New York’s Southtowns, and inspects homes throughout the Buffalo area, and is NY Licensed Home Inspector #16000086029, NY Certified Mold Assessor #MA01313.  He also serves as Technical Director of Alto Home Inspection’s Radon Laboratory.

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