How to Look

at a House

A blog with answers
to your questions about

More blogs posts about similar subjects:

  1. How do you determine when the house was built?

  2. Should I buy a house that needs a new roof?

  3. What’s my chance of buying a Gainesville home over a sinkhole?

  4. How much of a roof truss can I cut out to make a storage platform in the attic?

  5. How can I tell if cracks in the garage floor are a problem or not?

  6. There’s cracks running along the home’s concrete tie beam. What’s wrong?

  7. What can you tell me about buying a house with structural problems? It’s priced cheap!

  8. Should I buy a fixer-upper?

  9. What causes cracks in a driveway?

  10. How much can I cut out of a floor joist?

  11. We looked at the house carefully, and it seems alright. Do we really need a home inspection?

  12. Should a home inspection scare you?

  13. What should I look for when buying a “flipper” house?

  14. How can a tree damage my house?

  15. How do I remove cigarette odor in a house?

  16. The house has asbestos siding. What should I do?

  17. There’s an old fuel oil tank underground in the yard. Is it a problem?

  18. What are the common problems you find inspecting windows?

  19. What are the most common problems with older houses?

  20. How much does a home inspection cost?

  21. What are the warning signs of a dangerous attic pull-down ladder?

  22. Why are there score line grooves in the concrete floor of the garage?

  23. What are the common problems of different types of house foundations?

  24. What are the warning signs of a dangerous deck?

  25. What is the average life expectancy of stucco?

  26. Why is a double cylinder deadbolt lock on an exterior door a safety hazard?

  27. Should I get a home inspection before signing a contract to buy the house?

  28. What makes a house fail the home inspection?

  29. What are the green plastic discs in the ground around the house?

  30. How can I reduce the risk of an expensive surprise when buying a house sight unseen?

  31. How can I tell the difference between a renovation project house and a tear-down?

  32. What tips do first-time homebuyers need to know to get a better home inspection?

  33. What is the difference between a structural defect and a cosmetic defect?

Welcome to our blog!
We want you to be an informed homebuyer, and each blog post is a question that we have answered for our friends and customers over the years. Hope they help you make a good choice for your next home.

  1. Foundation and Exterior Walls - Most eighties homes are concrete slab-on-grade, with a thickened edge that served as a foundation. A site dictates the foundation type to a certain extent, however, and sloping sites often required a combination of a concrete block stem wall on the more sloping part of the ground under the home and slab-on-grade on the flatter areas of the site.
       Over the 30-plus years of the home’s existence, soil erosion will take its toll on a sloping site as the soil slowly migrates downhill. Look for tell-tale stair-step and diagonal cracks, especially on the down-side of slopes, indicative of settlement, along with areas where the base of the foundation is beginning to become exposed. Other factors, such as expansive clay in the soil under the home, can also cause foundation distress over time.
        Any older home will accumulate a few cracks from minor settlement and the natural expansion and contraction of the structure through the temperature changes of the seasons, and they are not a reason to be concerned. What you should look for are cracks larger than about 1/8” across (that you easily can stick two quarters into) and/or that have differential (one side is kicked-out higher than the other). Differential is usually the result of significant movement.
        If you find signs of structural problems, it is not necessarily a reason to abandon a prospective house. Your home inspector can evaluate the defects further and give you insight into how severe the problem appears to be, along with referring you to a foundation contractor for further evaluation, if warranted. To learn how to evaluate the purchase of a house with known structural defects, see our blog “Should I buy a house with structural problems?”
  2. Plumbing - Although copper water supply pipe was standard, a flexible gray, plastic pipe called polybutylene became a popular and less-expensive alternative for builders during the ‘80s. It went by the acronym “PB” and was considered a wonder of new technology at the time. Unfortunately, there were recurring leakage problems at the crimp-type pipe connections early in the use of the new pipe. This was resolved by the manufacturers, but it was later discovered that the composition of the plastic was also flawed, and it could develop micro-fissures after about 20 years of service. The fissures would eventually pop open, and class-action lawsuits over the defect followed. Many homeowners received settlements for pipe replacement, but the period for filing a claim has ended and PB is no longer manufactured or approved by the plumbing code. Also, many insurance companies will not issue a homeowner’s policy for a home with PB pipe, so replacement is usually required. To learn how to recognize it, see our blog “What does polybutylene pipe look like? Why is it a problem?”
       Plus, we suggest you look under all the sinks at the condition of drain pipes at the P-trap and check for an evidence of leakage below them. Then check the shut-off valves under the sinks and at the toilets. If they look original, like the one shown below, they are likely frozen in the open position and will need to be replaced.

       Because a water heater can last anywhere from 10 to 25 years or more, it has probably already been replaced at least once, although it is possible that it is original equipment and in dire need of a change-out. So the age is variable, and your home inspector can tell the exact age of the water heater from the serial number later; or you can jot it down and determine how old it is yourself at our blog “How do I decode the water heater serial number to figure out the age?”
  3. Electrical - The good news is that all homes built in the 80s have modern 3-slot, grounded receptacles and the electrical system is very similar to today’s equipment. GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) shock protection was required for bathroom and exterior outlets, and also phased in for outlets near the kitchen sink later in the decade. To learn more about GFCIs, see our blog post “Why does that wall plug have push-buttons in the middle?”

  4. HVAC - This system has likely been replaced at least once by now, but it is also possible that it is the original system. Because the components of a heating and air conditioning system may have been changed out at different years and evaluating the condition of the ducts require crawling around the attic, wait for a thorough evaluation by your home inspector on this. But definitely take a look at both the interior and exterior units. If they are rusty and look really old, they probably are.

  5. Roofing - The average life expectancy of a roof is 20 years and, since the home is now 30-plus years old, the roof has been replaced at least once by now. To learn what clues to look for when trying to determine the condition of the roof, see our blog “How can I tell if the house needs a new roof?” Your home inspector will take a look at the roof up-close, but there’s plenty you can observe looking up at it from the yard.

  6. Overall Condition - Houses run the gamut from rough shape to recently updated. For tips on evaluating one that needs repairs, see our blog “Should I buy a fixer-upper?”; and, if the house has been remodeled by an investor for resale, find out more at “What are the common problems to look for when buying a ‘flipper’ house?”

  7. Neighborhood and Value - These are things your realtor can help you with. But if you are ready for a ‘80s home, this era offers a combination of good value for your dollar and reasonably modern construction and technology.

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To read about issues related to homes of another specific earlier decade or type of house, visit one of these blog posts:

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1950s house?

  1. What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1960s home?

  2. What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1970s home?

  3. What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1990s house?

  4. What problems should I look for when buying a country house or rural property?

  5. What problems should I look when when buying a house that has been moved?

  6. What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been vacant or abandoned?

  7. What are the most common problems with older mobile homes?

  8. What should I look for when buying a “flipper” house?

  9. What should I look for when buying a former rental house?

  10. What are the common problems to look for when buying a house that has been remodeled by the homeowner?

  11. How can homebuyers protect themselves against buying a house over a sinkhole?

While we hope you find this series of articles about home inspection helpful, they should not be considered an alternative to an actual home inspection by a local inspector. Also, construction standards vary in different parts of the country and it is possible that important issues related to your area may not be covered here. ©2015 - McGarry and Madsen Inspection. -


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