HomeAbout UsservicesCommercial InspectionsResidential InspectionsConsultingLitigationEIFS/Stuccolinkscontact almost home


From time to time, we publish technical or informational articles in local papers, trade journals, etc.    Below is a Table of Contents to some of our Articles which are published here for your browsing.

The ASHI Reporter and Garden State ASHI Newsletter

4/2008  Focus on Ethics - Preferred Vendor Programs Introduction

3/2007  New Home Warranties on Rebuilt Houses

9/2005  New Tool for Homeowners in Builder Disputes

2/2004  One Year Warranty Inspections

10/2003  Legislative Activity After Licensing

The Two River Times:

4/15/99  A Slightly Damp Fairy Tale - Water and its effects on houses

4/15/99 Old House Secrets Revealed - Some hidden surprises often found during renovations

5/21/99 Window Wonderland - Why you should save your historic windows

6/17/99 The Ghost that Smelled Like Peaches - Soot damage from aromatic candles


Preferred Vendor Programs Introduction

By Peter Engle, 2007 chair, ASHI CEPP & Keith Oberg, 2007 chair, ASHI Code of Ethics Committee

 Paying for referrals is unethical. It has always been unethical as defined by the ASHI Code of Ethics (CoE), and it is unethical by our current Code. For professionals to pay for referrals is also unethical by the ethics codes of most professional organizations, by many state and federal laws and by the writings of ethics professionals. The practice is unethical because of the inherent conflict of interest created. Once a home inspector has a financial relationship with a referrer, there is pressure placed on the home inspector to meet the needs and goals of the referrer or lose that investment. The inspector then tries to meet his or her duty to the client, while meeting the needs of the referrer. This is the essence of conflict of interest. There is no wiggle room on this subject, paying for referrals is unethical, regardless of how much money is paid, what the payment is called, or whether there is or isn’t a written agreement. Giving anything of value to any party to induce that party to provide referrals in any fashion is unethical.

And yet, even though the practice is unethical, even thought ASHI has provided numerous published articles and other informational items about this problem in addition to the CoE itself, many ASHI members continue to participate in programs that constitute paying for referrals. Some of these programs are explicitly called preferred vendor programs. Others are called advertising. Sometimes the cost to participants is referred to as a marketing fee. Regardless of the name, the majority of these programs are at least in part unethical. We have found that some ASHI members participate in these programs without knowing that they are violating our Code.

 We will be publishing a group of articles that provide some history regarding ASHI’s position on preferred vendor programs, the nature of the ethical challenges posed by these programs, aspects of real world advertising programs that are ethical or unethical and real actions that home inspectors can and should take to either avoid ethical conflicts or to endorse their marketing partners to design advertising programs that are both ethical and beneficial to all partners.

 Please note that although these articles are based on the ASHI Code of Ethics, approximately half the states now have some form of licensing or certification. Many state regulations include ethics provisions that are the same or similar to those of the ASHI code (details may vary.) Inspectors whose states have ethic requirements will want to review and comply with them as well as with the ASHI Code of Ethics.

New Home Warranties on Rebuilt Houses – by Peter G. Engle, PE

As you are probably aware, New Jersey requires new home builders to provide a homeowner’s warranty (HOW) on all new homes constructed in NJ.  These warranties cover all workmanship, materials, systems and structures for the first year after closing.  In year 2, they cover major mechanical and electrical systems along with structural defects, and in years 3-10 they cover only major structural defects.  Making claims under these warranties can be difficult, but the warranties are often the best or only recourse homeowners have to correct deficiencies in new homes, especially homes built by small or insolvent builders.

There are two major exceptions to the rule requiring HOWs.  The first is when the owner is the builder.  If you build a house for yourself, it would be silly to make you buy yourself an insurance policy.  The second is when the new home is not actually new, but uses some portions of an existing structure.  Both of these exceptions are exploited by builders, and it is useful for home inspectors to know about them so that we can give our customers appropriate advice.

It has become common practice for small builders to build houses for themselves, using it as their home while they build additional houses, then move to the next one and so on.  By doing so, they can legally avoid the cost and liability of providing the HOW to their buyers.  But buyers should understand that the lack of a warranty is a significant drawback that might affect their purchase decision.  When buying houses directly from the owner/builder, buyers should be cautioned to become fully informed about the existence of any HOW, and make sure that if the builder offers one, it is a real policy as required by the state.

More disturbing is the case where a builder buys an infill lot, knocks down the existing house leaving only a portion of foundation or wall standing, and then builds a new and much larger house on the site.  These houses are generally sold as new construction.  But they are not required to have a HOW, and in fact, they are not eligible for them.  I have worked on several cases recently where the builders took out a HOW on such a house, and when problems were discovered, the policy was cancelled by the insurer because the house was not really new construction, leaving the owners with no recourse at all.  DCA is very clear on the rules here:  If any portion of the house has been reused, it does not qualify for a HOW. 

When you are inspecting new houses, especially those on infill lots, have a frank discussion of these issues with your clients.  Urge them to investigate the status of any HOW offered by the builder, even going so far as verifying with the insurer that the HOW is valid.  This conversation takes little time, and it can save your clients from some really big headaches.

  New Tool for Aiding Homeowners in Builder Disputes

For those who perform new construction inspections, 1-year punchlist inspections, or who help homeowners in filing Homeowner’s Warranty claims on new construction, there is now a tool to put in your toolkit of measures to force builders to comply with the law.  Early this year, the NJ Supreme Court held that local code enforcement officials may issue Notices of Violation to a builder even after the Certificate of Occupancy (CO) has been issued and the builder has transferred title to the property.  They may do this for 10 years from the original CO.  This is a Big Deal.  The state DCA has gone even further than the Court, and has issued Bulletin #05-1 that requires building officials to do so.

The Bulletin provides a specific process that code officials should follow when a complaint about code deficiencies is brought to them.  As of this past June, when complaints are alleged, the code official is required to issue a NOV to both the homeowner and the builder.  If the builder fails to make suitable repairs within the time allotted on the NOV, the code official then issues fines against the builder, generally daily for each day the builder fails to comply.  For those wishing to obtain a copy of the actual Bulletin, use the link on the GSASHI website, or go here: http://www.state.nj.us/dca/codes/bulletins_ftos/list_of_bulletins_ftos/Bulletin%20No%2005-1.pdf

Once notified of deficiencies, the local inspectors are required to list all complaints on the NOV whether or not they find the issues to be code issues or not.  Both the homeowner and builder have the right to appeal to DCA trained state level inspectors and administrators.  The NOV is a law enforcement action, it is very fast, and very inexpensive for the homeowner.  It also covers all code deficiencies, whereas there are many gray areas in the homeowner warranty.  Truly, this is a must-have tool for code-quoting building consultants, and one that provides homeowners with substantial relief from real deficiencies in their new homes.


 One Year Warranty Inspections

Picking up on the subject from my cover article, I thought I’d provide an overview of this specialty inspection for those of you who aren’t providing them right now.  These inspections are very nice work to get: they pay about the same as standard home inspection (or better), but they have pretty much none of the liability.  Your client is already the owner of the property.  Your job is to identify any defects that they may not have recognized yet, and also to document the defects that they have identified but that the builder has not yet corrected. 

All new homes (except owner-builder) in New Jersey must be covered by a new home warranty that covers workmanship defects for 1 year, mechanical and electrical defects for 2 years, and structural defects for 10 years.  The point of the 1-year inspection is to identify any workmanship defects so that the homeowner can submit a claim under their new home warranty.  For an additional fee, you can even help them fill out the claim forms.  This isn’t as easy as it sounds, and it is well worth a healthy fee.

In order to identify defects, you basically do the same inspection you would as a new construction punchlist type inspection.  Since that could be the subject for a 3-day class at least, I’ll just give some highlights.  First, you need to be code-competent.  This doesn’t mean that you need to be a licensed code official, but you need to be able to quote chapter and verse from the codes, and you need to be convincing.  It helps your credibility if you’ve at least passed the IRC exams given by ICC.  You use the codes as reference information, and you avoid calling defects out as “code violations.”  That’s the job of the local muni inspectors.  In addition to code citations, you use manufacturer’s specifications, industry standards, UL standards, ASTM standards, whatever is appropriate to the item in question.  It is important to tie the reference standards to the warranty language in order to establish a clear basis for a warranty claim.

Many of the defects identified by the homeowner will be what we normally consider to be cosmetic in nature.  No problem, you list them anyhow.  I recently had a client who was very unhappy about some rather small chips in the seams of her granite countertops.  Her dissatisfaction resulted in about $10,000 of brand new granite at arbitration.  All defects get listed in terms of workmanship defects as above.

It is also important to read the warranty booklet.  You’ll see that they’re all almost identical.  Defects are identified in two ways.  The first way is the list of specific defects covered by the warranty.  There are about 100 different specific defects listed.  If you can state the defects you find in language that closely resembles one of these, you’re in good shape.  The second way is a catch-all that workmanship must meet established industry standards.  This area is a free-for-all that may include codes, manufacturer’s installation instructions, industry sources, magazine articles, and anything else.  Since it’s not clearly defined, the burden of proof shifts to the homeowner and this is where you can earn your fees.  If you can cite multiple sources for defects it goes a long way towards establishing what the “industry standard” is for that issue. 

You also need to be prepared to argue your position in an arbitration hearing.  Nearly all significant claims are denied by the insurers, and an arbitration is held at your client’s home.  You bring all of your supporting information, you point at the defects, and you explain clearly to the arbitrator why this defect meets the warranty terms.  If you do this well, the warranty company either makes the builder repair it or they pay the homeowner to hire someone to repair it. 

During the process, you earn fees during the inspection itself, by preparing the submissions to the warranty company, by supporting the written arguments back and forth, and by appearing at arbitrations, sometimes at several arbitrations for a single claim.  This is much more rewarding financially and emotionally than typical home inspection work.  The satisfaction in these jobs comes when homeowners get their concerns addressed through the process.  That’s a part of the business where we seldom get to participate.  If you’ve got the training and the attitude, warranty inspections are a very good part of the business to pursue.  And with the quality of construction in NJ these days, it’s certainly a growth industry.

 Legislative Activity after Licensing

There has been much discussion in the Reporter and online about home inspector licensing. ASHI has provided some useful tools for local chapters facing new licenses, including the Position Statement and Legislative Guidebook that are available online. Many states now have some form of licensing in place, most have some form of law under consideration, and there are still some that have no serious threats on the horizon. But with licensing in place in so many states, we need to start looking at how to protect our interests as home inspectors and ASHI members, because as soon as there is a licensing law, there will be special interests that try to carve out pieces of it for their own causes. These interests can be as diverse as already-licensed architects, engineers, appraisers, Realtors, code officials and others, as well as semi-related tradespeople who want to perform home inspections in some manner. Another interested group comprises home inspectors who are left out because they don’t or can’t qualify for licensing. Home inspectors need to respond to this threat by maintaining an active legislative presence.

Stop and start New Jersey licensing history

Like many states, New Jersey legislators occasionally made attempts to license inspectors, but the members of the Garden State chapter managed to fend off those attempts through gentle education and persuasion. That all changed in 1997 with a single event that made licensing a priority for someone with the power to implement it. The secretary for the Chair of the Regulated Professions Committee had a bad home inspection. To be precise, it was a bad termite inspection that was performed by her home inspector. The house turned out to have substantial damage, and the unlicensed and uninsured home inspector took no responsibility. The secretary’s boss decided that it was about time to license home inspectors. Before any one in the Garden State Chapter knew the bill was in play, it had sailed through his committee and was headed to the floor. The chapter mounted a hasty but surprisingly effective campaign to improve the bill instead of defeating it, because it quickly became clear to us that licensing was inevitable this time around.

The law was signed in 1998, and is not yet fully in effect because the licensing committee has been working since then to write and implement the rules. Here are the proposed requirements to become licensed as a home inspector in NJ:

*Grandfather applicants must have been in business for at least three years and have performed at least 300 home inspections.

*Each applicant must also have passed the ASHI exam (later, the NHIE was also accepted by the committee).

*If an applicant doesn’t qualify for grandfathering, he must take a 300 hour classroom-based course, perform 50 training inspections, and pass the NHIE. After that, he must work for a licensed inspector as an Associate Home Inspector for at least a year and perform at least 250 inspections. At that point, he can become a fully licensed Home Inspector.

Of course, the law also regulates the practice of home inspection by creating standards of practice, business practices, ethical conduct, etc.

Without debating the merits of our particular law, it is safe to say that it is one of the most restrictive in the nation. The details of the final law were negotiated with the legislative sponsors, local ASHI chapters, and some other interest groups. Together, we arrived at these requirements as the most appropriate for our state’s situation. Our position was that if there was going to be licensing, it should be meaningful, and it should guarantee that licensed inspectors were qualified to perform their duties.

Chronology of attempted changes

Fast-forward to spring 2002. The Law has been in place since 1998, but the committee has just released the Regulations that spell out the chapter and verse of what we all will have to do to become licensed, and what we’ll have to do to stay that way. We hear from our lobbyist that the sponsor of the original bill is proposing an amendment. The amendment potentially reduces the training requirement to a short course and 10 inspections, with no requirement for one year experience and 250 fee-paid inspections. It waters down the licensing committee by adding non-inspector members, it changes grandfathering to allow many more inspectors in, it creates the possibility for the committee to use an exam other than the NHIE, and it allows certain code inspectors automatic grandfathering into the indefinite future.

Garden State chapter was joined by other ASHI chapters whose members work in New Jersey to oppose the amendment in the belief that public interest would not be served by these changes. We arranged a meeting with the sponsor, and thought it was a productive meeting. We expressed our concerns, we listened to his reasons for the changes, and we reached agreements on what features could be kept or modified slightly to make them acceptable. In all, it seemed things were working as they should. Hearing nothing for the rest of the summer, we followed the advice of our lobbyist to sit and wait. His theory was that if the bill isn't moving, don’t push it.

In parallel with that bill, another bill was floated in the Senate. This one only addressed grandfathering, and we worked with its sponsor to arrive at a bill that we could support. That bill passed out of the Senate in December. Also in December, we heard from the Assembly bill’s sponsor that he was moving on his original amendment, and that he couldn't care less about our objections. It was time to gear up for battle.

Again on the advice of our lobbyist, we played nice, contacting the Assembly committee members and quietly contacting some of the more powerful members of the Assembly. We learned the bill was going to a committee vote one week before it happened. It passed the committee unanimously, then went to a house vote the following week where it passed easily. We never had a chance. Even more disturbing, in this process, it was quietly combined with the Senate bill we had previously supported, and went back to the Senate under that title. So now we were trying to educate people on why we supported it before and were fighting it now. We fired our lobbyist.

Our new lobbyist recommended mounting a multi-pronged campaign to defeat the combined bill in the Senate. The chapter provided its members and other interested parties with tools for contacting their senators. They received the names of their senators, faxes to forward, messages encouraging them to arrange face to face meetings, and they were kept updated about the issues via e-mail. In short, we made a lot of noise in the Senators’ home districts.

We went public by contacting all of the major newspapers in NJ, meeting with their editorial boards, and writing Op-Ed pieces that received good placement. There was some good press, and some bad press. The opposition was running a PR campaign as well.

ASHI national supported our position by writing a letter that was forwarded to every Senator, staffer, and news outlet we could find.

At the same time, our lobbyist was working the Senate. He arranged meetings between our leadership and powerful Senators. More importantly, we had some long meetings with their staffers, and with the senate researchers, the guys who write the bills and the background behind them. These young staffers hold a surprising amount of power.

The state licensing committee took our side. It passed a resolution to oppose the bill, and this allowed the governor’s office to weigh in directly and through the office of the Attorney General. While we knew that the Governor would never veto such an insignificant bill, the Senators do generally try to keep the Governor happy.

The fight lasted until the day of the Senate vote in March, and the outcome was far from determined. Minutes before the vote was scheduled, we reached an agreement. The Senate made its own amendments and passed a bill that looked much like the one they passed back in December. But we hadn’t won yet. The Assembly sponsor of the original bill was upset about the Senate changes, and he still held considerable power in the Assembly. But now many of the groups supporting his changes were forced to support us, because of a lucky alignment of the state’s budget schedule, the deadline for the licensing to go into effect, and the end of the legislative session. The bill passed the Assembly and was signed into law in May.

We won. All it cost us was about $20,000 and hundreds of hours of volunteer time. Plus, we made some lifelong enemies in the Legislature, and that’s never good PR.

Related Developments

While we were distracted by that struggle, the Well Water Quality Testing Act was signed into law. It requires all private well systems to be tested every time that a house is sold. For our members that do this testing, it looked like a godsend. Unfortunately, nobody read the fine print. The way the law was worded, it prevents home inspectors from doing the testing – only the labs can do it. Also, since this is now a mandated test, sellers are paying for it. The testing is done before the home inspector gets the phone call for an inspection. Some of our chapter members lost 20 percent of their business with the stroke of a pen.

Right now, there are bills pending to make radon testing mandatory for all home sales, to change home inspector license grandfathering yet again, and there’s a really fascinating mold bill pending. That bill creates a “mold victim’s compensation fund.”  The idea is to compensate all of the people being put out or permanently “injured” by mold. The bill will prohibit home inspectors from testing for mold, and it will provide money for the victim’s compensation fund via a tax on home inspectors, and only home inspectors. That’s nice, huh?  Home inspectors are certainly happy to step up and underwrite the millions of dollars in claims that will start flowing in.

Lessons Learned

So what have we learned from the past year?

  1. Never rest. Once licensing is in place, you need to maintain vigilance, and to actively engage your representatives. The name recognition you build will help enormously when a new bill comes out of left field.
  2. Get good representation. We paid our first lobbyist for 5 years before we realized that he was giving us bad advice. Our new lobbyist is double the price, but well worth it. We could not have organized a campaign like the one we did without professional help, and we would have lost the fight if our campaign had been even slightly less effective. Lobbying is expensive. The members of our chapter are currently reworking our entire chapter funding and activities around the cost of this representation, but we are convinced that it is necessary.
  3. Don’t wait for the fight to come to you. If we had been out there rubbing elbows with our representatives for the five years that the license was stalled in committee, we would have had some stable relationships to use when the going got tough. As it was, we had to open lines of communication from scratch. That’s the hard way. It’s expensive and very bruising.
  4. Take part in local politics, both on the chapter level and on each member’s personal level. Again, that name recognition carries surprising weight. Get to know your representatives personally. Go to fundraisers, receptions, whatever. It takes time, but it pays back in the long run.
  5. Watch peripheral developments as closely as the ones that come straight at you. Professional help is important here. Few of us make all of our money doing home inspections, and those related fields are also subject to legislation that affects us. One benefit of our loud battle is that we now have their attention and they know who we are. We bought ourselves a seat at the table, and we are now capitalizing on that seat to weigh in on related bills. This gives us significant influence to help our members.


Home inspector licensing is here to stay. It certainly is in New Jersey, and it will happen everywhere eventually. It makes sense to organize and to delay licensing as long as possible, and to be prepared to positively affect it when it does happen. It is then even more important to maintain your energy once the licensing is in place.

[NOTE: This information has been added to the article.  Things in NJ have changed since 2003, and here's the update, as of 2007.]

Despite the "win" described above, the forces working against us for change eventually prevailed.  ASHI was financially unable to keep up the pressure on the Legislature, and a coalition of the large franchise firms, the Realtors, and the new and unqualified inspectors eventually won the day.  in 2005, legislation passed that reduced the educational requirement to 140 classroom hours plus 40 hours of onsite training inspections.  It eliminated the Associate Inspector position completely, thereby removing the one-year OJT requirement.  It also made some other minor changes to the requirements. 

The important element of this push was that the interested parties got together to dramatically lower the standards, making it far easier to become a home inspector.  Each had its motives: The national franchises generally experience high turnover rates for inspectors.  They rely on fast training to keep their costs down, and to replace inspectors who quickly realize that low-cost commodity inspection work is not for them.  The Realtors want to keep inspection costs low to reduce the impact on the cost of buying and selling houses.  Of course, Realtor commissions have gone up by a factor of 2 or 3 in recent years with home price inflation, but home inspection costs have remained essentially stable.  The inspection training schools need to keep training inspectors in order to stay in business.  It sounds cynical to say so, but the schools need their students to fail - there is only work for about 500 home inspectors in NJ on an annual basis, but the schools are training several hundred more every year.  If 90% of them didn't fail, we would quickly have a glut of home inspectors.  Finally, the beginning inspectors and the ones who didn't have the wherewithal to complete the difficult training of the original law were eager for reduced standards.  They got what they asked for - most of them have already washed out and left the business, but there are always more new and untrained inspectors to take their places.

The lesson here is that regulated professions are always under attack from many directions, and everyone wants a piece of their pie.  Just like with a driver's license, merely holding a license does not make one qualified to perform.  The license is merely a tool of taxation for the state.  In order to find a qualified inspector in NJ, look for ASHI membership, look for years in the profession, look for accredited degrees and training, and in general, look for an inspector who is knowledgeable, experienced and educated.

A Slightly Damp Fairy Tale

And the third little pig built his house of brick, and the Wolf huffed and he puffed, but try as he might, he could not blow the house down. And the three little pigs lived happily ever after. Or for a few years, anyhow, for after defeating the Wolf, they grew fat and happy, and ignored all those annoying little maintenance chores that houses need, and the rains came, and pretty soon their nice little brick house fell down all on its own. Because Water, not the Wolf, is the worst enemy of houses.

Brick, mortar, wood, steel, concrete. All of the building materials used in houses are affected by water, either directly or indirectly. Water erodes mortar and masonry. Water soaks into masonry materials and when it freezes, its expansion causes spalling, or shedding of the outer layers. Constant high moisture levels encourage mold and rot in wood structures. Damp wood attracts termites, carpenter ants, and other wood destroying insects. Moisture in the soil surrounding foundations causes wet basements and foundation damage. Water, especially salt water, causes steel and other metals to corrode and fall apart.

Spring is the season to take a critical look at your house and see what havoc water has caused over the winter, and also to see what issues may need to be addressed to prevent new water damage from getting started. Take a walk around your house with your eye towards water and its effects.

What is the condition of paint, siding, caulk and seals, etc.? Do these items need touching up, or is it time for more serious attention? Are there missing shingles, and just how old is that roof, anyhow? Most common asphalt shingle roofs last 15-20 years in our climate. Are the trees and shrubs close to the house or touching it, reducing ventilation, trapping moisture, and encouraging insects to make your house their home? A foot or two clearance for shrubs and three or four feet clearance for tree limbs is recommended. Is the soil piled against your siding and encouraging termites to make your house their next meal?

Does the soil around the house slope away from it, or has settlement caused the soil to slope back toward the foundations and trap water? How are the gutters and downspouts doing? Roof water should be channeled through clean gutters, downspouts, and runoff drains so that it is deposited as far from the house as possible. By far the largest single cause of wet basements and foundation damage is roof water pooling against the foundations because of clogged gutters, lack of runoff drains, and improper soil grading around the house. Attention to these issues costs very little, and can prevent big problems down the road. Even if your house has French drains and a sump pump, stopping the water outside is still the best approach.

Speaking of sump pumps, just where does your pump discharge its water? Most towns in our area have passed laws against having a sump pump attached to the sewer system. There are good reasons for this. First, sump water is generally pretty clean. It does not need sewer treatment. Local towns are charged by the sewer authority based on the total flow rate into the system. A single house with a sump pump discharging into the sewer can create as much flow as 500 typical families. This raises everybody’s sewer bills, and everybody hates bigger bills. Second, this practice can be a safety hazard. When the sump dries out, there may be no protection from sewer gases entering the basement through the sump. Sewer gases are unhealthy and potentially explosive. Do everyone a favor; run the sump pump drain outside the house and discharge it as far from the house as possible. This reduces the likelihood that the sump water just soaks into the ground, flows back into the basement, and gets recycled again. Since sump pumps run most frequently in the winter when the plants and lawn are asleep, many people attach an extension pipe to the sump only in winter. The pipe can be removed in warmer weather when it is more likely to get in the way of lawn mowers and people moving about in the yard.

So after their Insurance company fixed their house and raised their rates against future damages, our three little pigs, instead of lying around by the fire reading fairy tales, paid a little attention to their place. They painted, and caulked, and made little repairs, and kept their trees and shrubs pruned and trained to look very nice indeed. And they realized that doing all those little chores wasn’t really so much work when they did a little at a time. And then when the third little pig sold his house many years later, the real estate market was booming, and he squealed with delight and took his profits all the way to the bank. He later made a killing by investing the profits in an Internet startup company, but that’s another tale.......

Old House Secrets Revealed

My shovel went CHUNK vibrating my arms with the impact. The first hole I had dug to plant the Sops of Wine apple tree went quickly and easily. The one for the Seeks No Further was shaping up to be a bigger challenge. I uncovered what looked like a soft rock with rectangular holes in the top. I had excavated only enough to describe it to my Husband, Peter. "Lets see", he said, "From your description, ‘like a rectangle made of cinders with holes’, could it be maybe a.... cinder block?" Duh!...Oh yeah...I guess so! I’m used to excavating older things like bricks, old bottles, broken dishes, horseshoes and marbles out of our yard. This was maybe circa 1930’s. I continued to dig and found another below the first, then more block running in a curve. On the outside of the curve was pea gravel several feet deep. The best we can guess is that we had discovered yet another old septic tank. The third one that we have uncovered behind our 1894 house in Rumson.

We moved here in 1991. The house was covered with white paint on the inside and asbestos shingle on the outside. With happy dust in our eyes, we were blind to the amount of work that lay before us. When you are afflicted with old house disease you do not have the ability to see the house as it is but only how it should be. Eight years of stripping and shellacing and I still walk around this house in my own private fairy world.

I love this old place. It reveals itself to me every day like a mystery novel. Door trims that end in different rooms. Closets carved out of the front parlor. A hand hewn beam burned at one end that had been reused as a floor joist. After scraping off four layers of linoleum tile a minefield of toilet and sink plumbing holes were found in the sub floor, indicating a succession of privy, out house, and WC. This Swiss cheese had to be replaced for the bathroom we were installing. The back door to the house had moved and changed so often that the back wall had few original studs supporting the second floor.

The biggest surprises were found in the crawlspaces. Before recycling and regular trash service, innumerable things were chucked under the house. Aside from one or two mummified rats we have found pieces of Victorian furniture, old beer bottles with ceramic stoppers and a cast chimney flue cap decorated with a lion’s head. We have four crawlspaces off the original basement. The crawlspaces are divided again by older foundations. A side room here, a back porch there. Each generation shaped the house to suit their needs, firmly believing that the following generation would thank them for their perfect vision. Of course, I’m convinced that we will be praised for building the consummate eat-in kitchen.

Before buying the house I visited the Hall of Records in Freehold. Intending to look up my own comps in order to negotiate the price, I wandered into the Deed room and spent a few hours traveling back in time. I learned that the house was part of a late Victorian development and had been owned primarily by one family who handed down the house from daughter to daughter etc. for one dollar. The deeds led me to the Map room where I made a copy of the development map. The lots are a bit different then they appear today. Our property originally encompassed the two lots to the left as you face the house. Six inches below the dirt of our side garden, a driveway, paved in cinders from the coal stove, curves into our current neighbor’s yard.

Observation of the other "development" houses clues us into how our house grew. Most of the porches have been enclosed. (We don’t have one now... but... there is a brick foundation that is now our front garden) Some homes have cedar shake that covers each story, while if you peek up under the asbestos, our house has clapboard on the first floor (painted a mustard color) and square shake on the second floor (painted a forest green). We are hoping to find scalloped shingles on the attic storey once we can afford to send all the asbestos to the dump. Maybe we should shove it into the crawlspace.

When we were removing the back wall of the old summer kitchen we found a carefully folded copy of the Newark Sunday Call from August 27, 1933. Placed there for us by past owners, the time capsule reminded us that we are only temporary care takers of this old house. Privileged to celebrate it’s first century, we are mindful to preserve it for the next young couple with dust in their eyes. We placed a photograph of the two of us back in the wall.

Window Wonderland

I have discovered that I have a magic power. Merely by raising the first forkful of dinner to my mouth, I can make the phone ring. Sure, we could let the answering machine pick up but when you run your own business every phone call MUST BE ANSWERED. Actually now that I think about it , the shower makes the phone ring and so does turning the key in the back door. But mostly at dinner time, and all too often the person on the other end is not a client, but a telemarketer. "Hello (insert wrongly pronounced name) We will be in your neighborhood next week installing our Amazing, Beautiful, Cut Your Energy Bill in Half, Double the Value of Your Home, Maintenance Free Space Age Plastic, Tilt Swivel, Spring Loaded, Lifetime Lasting, Quadruple Tracked,.... Replacement Windows.

This is probably the same pitch that was given to the sad fellow who owned my home sometime before me. That was in the 70’s and the only difference in the pitch was that the windows were Amazing Space-Age Aluminum instead of Plastic.

The replacement windows in my 1894 house are ugly. They were so poorly installed that the screens cannot ever be removed for cleaning or repairs. They leak air and water. The installer caulked over the weepholes. This has caused water damage to the wall. They will be landfill before I can afford to replace them with decent quality Marvins. They will never save even half of their cost in energy.

Still, the phone pitching must work. Every day I see one of these companies removing perfectly good original windows from a wonderful old house.

It inspires me to wax wistfully poetic.. ahem...If the eyes are windows into a person’s soul, then Windows are .... um... the eyes.... into a house’s soul. OK OK I’ll stick to my day job. Simply, the look and feel of a historic house often is defined by its windows. Removing the windows is a giant step towards removing the original design integrity.

A traditionally built wooden window can be disassembled, restored, repainted, weatherized, and reinstalled for less than the cost of a cheap replacement window. And you rarely need to do all of that. Many of these windows were built before you were born, and with proper care, will still be doing fine long after you’re gone. Why should anyone replace a solid wood "Out Last You" window with one "Guaranteed to Last Until We Cash Your Check." You cannot imagine how many times I’ve had to tell our clients that, yes, your windows are only 8 years old, but they have reached the end of their lives and are due for replacement. The seals are broken, or the frame is rotten or warped or cracked, or they’re leaking into the walls and damaging the house, or the springs are broken and cannot be repaired, or something else equally fatal to a new window. I have never had to say this about a traditionally built old window. Even the best windows on the market today will be lucky to last 30 or 40 years. Old windows can last hundreds.

Is the pane cracked on your traditional window? Reglaze it. Tools needed: putty knife, glazing compound, piece of glass. What a concept! You see, the people who built these things back then understood that when things break there should be a way to easily fix them, not just landfill them. Does the window not stay open? Replacing the strings on the sash weights could be the solution. Could use something more energy efficient? Consider installing an exterior storm panel, weatherstripping, and sash locks. If you want modern features there are some companies out there who will retrofit your old windows to be double glazed, weatherstripped, tilt in windows. Remember that most of the character and value of your house lies in the original design’s integrity and the original "fabric" of the building.

If you own an old home and you are lucky enough to still have the original windows, don’t bow to neighborhood peer pressure or replacement window ads. Do some research first. There are many publications available that will help you decide that restoring your windows can be a much better choice.

The NJ State Historic Preservation Office has a number of (free!) publications of interest to old-house owners, including the widely acclaimed Preservation Briefs published by the US Dept. of the Interior. Write to them for a publications list at: Division of Parks and Forestry, Historic Preservation Office, CN 404, Trenton, NJ 08625-0404. You can see the text of the Preservation Briefs online at: www.historichomeworks.com/hhw/pbriefs/pb00-toc.htm. This address is at John Leeke’s Historic Homeworks website. John Leeke is a preservation consultant who has worked with the Park Service and knows just about everything about historic buildings. The site is full of useful information and links to interesting articles about old houses.

For all those window replacement salespeople who are now thinking about increasing the frequency of their annoying phone calls to my house I welcome you. Because I wish to find out when you will next be in my neighborhood to remove old windows. I’m specifically in the market for 12, one hundred year old, solid wood, 30" X 53", Two over Ones. Cracked panes no problem. Will also swap.

The Ghost that Smelled Like Peaches

Bulletin... Insurance companies are reporting increasing claims for damage caused by ghosts. These ghosts do not discriminate between new and old homes. They may be causing damage to your own house even as you read this newspaper.

Have you noticed any of these warning signs? The edges of light colored carpets turning black. Dark lines appearing on the carpets under doors. Stripes aligning with the studs on walls and beams of the ceilings that are not part of your wall paper pattern. Smudgy outlines left on the walls after you move a piece of furniture or artwork. These are all signs of the invasion. Are they lost souls? No. They are manifestations of a phenomenon which has a perfectly rational explanation. The technical name is "Ghosting".

Ghosting is caused when very fine airborne particles are selectively deposited in various areas of your home. While the particles are too small to see individually, enough of them sticking in one place can form these characteristic stripes, lines, and shadows. The reason that they stick in certain places and not in others is related to airflow, temperature and humidity differences, and some other minor factors.

The reason that there has been an increase in these ghostly sightings is because of the popularity of a major source of soot, aromatic candles. You know,... the powerful peach scented one in your sister-in-law’s powder room or the romantic vanilla mood candles placed artfully around your boudoir. ( We personally have a regular old bedroom) Sure the house looks great in candlelight ...but in the daylight ..yikes!

Before anyone thought to look to candles as a major source for ghosting, the problem was often blamed on defective furnaces. The insurance companies would pay to have the furnaces checked out or adjustments made or might even pay for whole new systems and paint the walls......once. But after they did all that the ghosts came back. Homeowners started grasping at wild ideas about outside air pollution, mold, building defects, even the traditional kinds of ghosts. Then some brilliant inspectors, engineers, and heating contractors (one of whom lives in New Jersey and doesn’t care much for scented anything) thought of the candle craze.

When we see the ghosting at an inspection on a house we give the clients one of our "Prepared Speeches". We tell them about the candles and how they often produce soot that causes ghost images in the house. Pretty much every time we see soot, we later find a candle or the homeowner will tell us about their spouse’s predilection. When we see a candle on a counter before we notice the ghosting, we issue a warning, and we generally find the ghosts somewhere. We can’t predict where the ghosting will occur. Sometimes candles used in the kitchen cause ghosting on the bedroom ceiling. Its weird, but it happens. Again, its related to air flow, people traffic, temperature differences, etc.

We have had several cases where the homeowners had either replaced their furnace already, or were about to. In fact, the furnace was fine. Candles were the culprit. We do need to be a little bit careful here because furnaces can cause similar soot deposits, and if the furnace is the cause, it is an indication of a dangerous defect that can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. If you have these ghosts, you should definitely have a heating contractor carefully check your furnace. If they say you’ve got a cracked heat exchanger, have it replaced, but make them show you the crack first. Lots of perfectly good heat exchangers get replaced when the problem has nothing to do with the furnace. This is another good reason to invest in a carbon monoxide detector for your house, just like a smoke detector. Both can save your life.

Back to the candles. Some candles produce lots and lots of soot, and some aren’t too bad. The fragrant candles seem to be the worst offenders, and certain ones are worse yet. Those big tower candles with three wicks? Nasty. The ones in the attractive collector jars? Those are bad too. It's all related to the size and shape of the wick, the type of wax, the fragrances themselves, disturbances of the flame, many things. If you’re wondering about a specific candle, there’s a low-tech test you can do right in your own home. Oh Goody! A science project!

Take the candle in question into the bathroom, or another small room in the house. Please be careful to keep it away from flammable things! Take a stack of new, white, plastic disposable plates out of its plastic bag. Separate the stack into three or four smaller stacks. By separating them, you’re creating a static charge. Place the smaller stacks on the countertop. Light the candle, close the door, and wait 10-20 minutes. Go back and check the plates. Take the top plate off of one of the stacks and compare it to the next plate down. The difference in color shows how much soot deposited in that short time. Now think about burning several of these candles all the time, and you start to see the problem.

Now many of you are thinking "But I love my Lavender Jasmine Nights Mood Enhancer! This all sounds a little unbelievable to me" Well then go do some research on the subject. Some very respectable organizations have published articles. There’s even a website and discussion group just for people who have problems with candle soot (http://www.leadwicks.com). The EPA is currently studying the health effects of all this soot on the people burning the candles.

Suggestions? Get candles that are listed as "smoke free." They’re not really actually smoke free, but they smoke less than the others. Easier yet, cut down on burning them, save them for special occasions, or just skip the candles altogether. (The last suggestion is from the brilliant inspector who can’t abide scented things and whose name starts with the letters PETER. ). Otherwise, be prepared to battle your very own ghosts.

Search this site.

Almost Home Biography
Click here to find out who's doing the moving and shaking at Almost Home, Inc
Our President, Peter Engle, was recently honored by the American Society of Home Inspectors, which presented him with the John E. Cox Member of the Year award.  Congratulations!
Here are links to some of our publications that we have access to online.
Virtual Home Inspection
Click here to view an online virtual home inspection.

ASHI Virtual Inspection


2005 Almost Home, Inc. All Rights Reserved.