15 Home Issues You Shouldn't Ignore

From pesky critters to peeling paint, don't put off dealing with these red-flag problems at home.
By: Karin Beuerlein
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Critters

Ants scurrying on countertops or mouse droppings in HVAC grilles are signs that you have openings in your house that need to be closed, says Steve Gladstone, owner of Stonehollow Fine Home Inspection in Stamford, Conn. Check places like exhaust vents, condensate lines, pipes, ducts, utility access panels and garage doors — you’re looking for obvious gaps, signs of chewing or nesting, or ripped screening. If you aren’t sure what you’re looking at or don’t feel confident you can solve the problem yourself, call a professional exterminator. Mouse and bird droppings in particular can be hazardous to your health. 

Mold

You should expect to find mold occasionally in wet spots like the kitchen and bathroom, but when you see it someplace it shouldn’t be — like on the living room walls — call a professional for evaluation. You want an independent inspector certified by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene or the American Council for Accredited Certification. An inspector can tell you whether you can clean up the mold yourself or whether you need the services of a remediation company.

A Sagging or Warped Floor

A sagging floor may just be the result of natural settling, says Steve Gladstone of Stonehollow Fine Home Inspection, but don’t assume it’s harmless without having a look in your basement or crawlspace. If the room is a bathroom or kitchen, a leaking toilet or sink may have caused water to seep in and rot the subfloor, which is a problem that must be fixed promptly. Or, if a structural support has been removed, bracing or more extensive repair may be needed. Call a home inspector or engineer for advice.

Standing Water in the Yard

If water stands in your yard for hours or even days after a moderate rain, you have poor drainage, which can be caused by heavy, compacted soils or improper grading. If this occurs near your home’s foundation, it can lead to nasty moisture issues in your basement or crawlspace.  Fortunately, a French drain or re-grading the property can usually solve this problem — learn how to install a French drain yourself here.

Missing or Damaged Roof Shingles

Inspecting your roof regularly is a must. If you see signs of damage, no matter how small, tackle them right away; if moisture reaches the wood sheathing underneath the shingles, the potential repair can get expensive in a hurry. It’s possible to fix roofing issues yourself if you’re handy; visit DIYNetwork.com for instructions on replacing shingles or repairing structural damage

Scary Sounds From the HVAC

Your heating and air conditioning system makes some perfectly normal noises from time to time, but they should not include banging, thumping or squealing. Loud, unusual sounds may indicate problems with belts, the blower motor or the compressor and should be investigated immediately by your HVAC technician. (And don’t forget your twice-yearly checkup to keep things running smoothly!)

Plants Encroaching on Your Roof or Walls

Shrubs and trees planted too close to your house can trap moisture, damage siding when the wind blows, and fill gutters with debris. “I want to be able to walk behind shrubs — they need to be at least three feet from the house and from air conditioning units because they block airflow,” says Steve Gladstone of Stonehollow Fine Home Inspection. “With trees, you don’t want them rubbing against the house at all. If the sun can’t dry your house, you’ll have to repaint more often because mold and pollen will build up.” Prune regularly to keep your house envelope clear.

Climbing vines like ivy, although beautiful, can splinter and rot wood siding and even weaken the mortar between bricks. Prune any existing ivy so that it stays away from windows, gutters and trim. If your heart is set on adding a climbing vine, choose a twining vine that wraps around a trellis or other nearby structure rather than a vine that climbs by tendrils or rootlets that cling to the surface of your house.  

Smelly or Gurgling Drains

Investigate any unpleasant smells or noises coming from your bathroom sink drain, says Frank Lesh, owner of Home Sweet Home Inspection Company in Indian Head Park, Ill. Gurgling may be caused by a blockage you can remove with a snake or plunger. If a sink is smelly but you don’t use it frequently, the water in the U-shaped pipe underneath may have dried out, allowing methane gas into the room. Try pouring a quart of water down the drain and airing out the room for a couple of hours. If the smell goes away, Lesh has a simple fix: pour a teaspoon of vegetable oil down the drain, which will keep the water from evaporating and should solve your problem. 

But if smells or noises persist, call a plumber to investigate your vent pipe. It may have become blocked by debris or nesting animals. 

Condensation on Basement Pipes

Your basement or crawlspace is usually the coolest spot in the house because of the insulating effect of the ground. That means that warm, moist air coming inside condenses on surfaces, including your pipes, causing dripping or sweating. Besides being annoying, dripping raises the humidity level in the house and increases the chances for mold growth. To reduce this problem, make sure all vents to the outside are closed, and add foam pipe insulation to the parts of the pipes you can reach.

A Sagging Roofline

File this under “might not be a problem, but better check it out.” A sagging roofline, especially in older homes, can simply mean materials have dried out, says Steve Gladstone of Stonehollow Fine Home Inspection. But it can also be a sign that something is broken, sheathing has rotted or an important connection has come loose, which may require professional help to fix. Make it a habit to inspect your attic area so you can spot new problems right away.

Dripping Faucets

Leaking faucets may seem minor, but they can waste a shocking amount of water. Don’t just wait until you see or hear a drip; actively check the cabinets under your sinks from time to time to make sure nothing’s leaking — including kitchen spray wands, which can leak down the tubing and under the cabinet without your noticing anything. If you want to tackle the repair yourself, learn how at DIYNetwork.com.

Poorly Built Decks

If your deck wobbles or wiggles excessively when you walk on it, don’t wait to get it checked out. “Having a big family party on the deck is a bad way to test whether it’s sound,” says Steve Gladstone of Stonehollow Fine Home Inspection. First, check the deck’s attachment to the house — it should be attached with lag bolts or screw bolts to a sturdy ledgerboard, not nailed to the siding or plywood with straight nails. (This is a relatively inexpensive fix you can perform yourself.) You may also want to replace 4” x 4” deck posts with 6” x 6” or 8” x 8” posts, which can carry a lot more weight; an angle brace installed under the deck can safely reduce movement as long as the deck is built to code. If repairing the deck is outside your skill set, or your deck will have to be replaced, call a reputable contractor — this isn’t the place to save money by hiring cheap labor.

Shaky Stair Railings

Don’t put off dealing with a wobbly stair railing, especially if you have kids in the house. “A stair railing should resist a force of about 200 pounds,” says Frank Lesh of Home Sweet Home Inspection Company. “A little movement is normal, but if it shakes just by touching it, you’ve got a problem.” You may be able to tighten the railing’s attachment to the wall yourself if it’s short, but a long railing or one with a balcony will likely require the attention of a pro.

Asbestos

If your house is more than 50 years old and has a radiator or steam heat in the basement, be aware that you may have asbestos pipe insulation. It looks like a plaster cast wrapped around the pipes, and if you aren’t sure what kind of insulation it is, don’t touch it — get it inspected right away by a licensed asbestos abatement contractor. Removal is not a DIY project under any circumstances.

Peeling Paint (Inside or Out)

If paint is peeling on the exterior of your house, sun and water can damage the wood underneath. Frank Lesh of Home Sweet Home Inspection Company recommends scraping down to bare wood, priming and allowing the primer to dry before applying new paint. “Paint at the right time of day, which is after the sun has faded away from the area you’re painting,” he says, “because sun evaporates the paint material too quickly.”

Peeling interior paint is an issue if it’s peeling off in rough squares, like an alligator’s skin. That’s a sign that lead-based paint is underneath, so if the area is large or if you have small children (who are very susceptible to damage from lead poisoning), consult a professional about removal.