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lenn harley
Lenn Harley,
Maryland and Virginia

Phone: 301-704-6964


Home Inspector 2 July 2010

ANSWERS courtesy of:
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC
Bristow, Virginia

If you have specific home inspection related question, plese send them to
Lenn Harley

* * * * * * * *

Q1. The deck on my town home is pretty dirty with green stuff in the shady areas. Would pressure washing help? The deck is made of redwood.
Q2. Can vines cause damage to decks, chimneys and house structures?
Q3. The roof of my home has a black coating. What is it and what can I do about it.
Q4. How soon will I need to paint the exterior trim on my new home??
Q5. Will a home inspection let me know if the electrical services is adequate?
Q6. How often should I replace HVAC Filters?
Q7. Do we need a home inspection for a new home??
Q8. Should we have the builder install a new deck?? Or, should be have it installed by a builder after settlement??

A. NEVER Pressure Wash A Deck!

I tell my neighbors. I tell my clients. I tell everybody who will listen. NEVER pressure wash a deck! When the pressure-wash companies send their college kids to knock on my door to "wash" my deck, I tell them why they should not be doing that to decks! When I see their trucks*, they advertise cleaning decks, patios, siding, roofs - you name it! Don't do it!

The older the deck, the worse the wood reacts to pressure washing. The big mistake is that companies and homeowners have a tendency to set the pressure way too high. But even at low pressures the deck can become damaged.


What does pressure washing do?

It removes loose material and leaves a gafillion dangerous splinters and gaps. Those gaps open up further letting in more damaging sun and water.

  • It removes the natural oils in the wood that are not replaced with sealants.
  • It causes wood to dry quickly causing cupping and warping.
  • It causes damage.
  • It loosens nails as the wood expands.
  • It can cause water to enter the house.
  • So what to do instead?

There are various, excellent, gentle cleansers out there. Be sure to select cleansers that do not have caustic lye or acid, or say not to use around children, pets or water features. A company called Dekswood makes an excellent cleanser that can be followed with sealants. And the so-called "oxygen" cleansers, with the active ingredient of sodium percarbonate, are great and don't damage the wood, the kids or pets, the house or the yard.

You MUST seal your deck after cleaning. The sun does more damage to your deck than rain and snow. BE SURE TO USE A SEALANT THAT HAS UV INHIBITORS IN ADDITION TO WATER PROTECTION. Read the label. It will tell you what the contents are. Water proofing alone is not enough.

My recommendation: Keep your deck gently cleaned and protected and it will last many decades. Not doing so makes it unsafe and age much faster.


War Of The Worlds!

Can vines cause damage to decks, chimneys and house structures

Don't be fooled!  This alien monster starts as a small seed or even in a small pot. 

And you plant it thinking how one day it will be beautiful, cascading, flowering delight. 

You build a pretty, but light, pergola to house your new little buddy.

But no.  Left unchecked this alien being can, and mercilessly will, take over its perch!

It will take over the world!

This humongous trumpet plant has been growing under, around and over this deck for nearly 20 years.

It is beautiful, especially when flowering, but at this point weighs hundreds of pounds.

And it is tearing up the deck!

Can vines cause damage to decks, chimneys and house structures

It is also tearing up its support.

You can see a couple of supports toward the rear which have been removed from their original positions.

This lovely entry way light, not made for the outdoors, was moved here when a new interior light was purchased some time ago.

The way this is done is very "homeowner" in fashion, not correct and fairly dangerous.

But it has been there!

Sooner or later this plant will collapse this support!



Can vines cause damage to decks, chimneys and house structures

The original columnar supports for the deck, beside which the alien was planted, have been completely eaten!

They had to be replaced, of course.

This being Virginia, Mr. Jefferson would be proud of the alien's intelligent symmetry.

Notice how both previous columns have been removed and preserved at exactly the same angle!

Parallels are hard to come by in nature!

But, with some trimming above, this alien creature might once again be the delight it was intended!

After all, with views like these it sure would be worth it!

Can vines cause damage to decks, chimneys and house structures

The upper and lower decks both view into the property.  The nearest neighbor is no where near the house!

My recommendation:  keep your plants under control and away from the house!

Can vines cause damage to decks, chimneys and house structures

Answer: Black Algae on Roofs.

Prevalent in Northern Virginia, and to the south, is a roof staining problem called "black algae."  It looks like a dripping, running black stain, usually on a shaded roof, or on the side facing away from direct sunlight.  Incorrectly called mildew and fungus, the staining is an algae, typically Gloeocapsa magma.  I see it all the time.

black algae

The black algae is usually distinguished as a general stain. 

It runs down the roof as it is carried by water.

It grows where it obtains food in the roofing materials.

I do not know how prevalent it is around the country, but suspect it is common.

Algaes can grow on all types of roof surfaces - I have seen it growing on asphalt shingles, clay, concrete asbestos and even slate.

It seems to me that it has become more common in the last 15 years or so.  One theory as to why is that manufacturers began then to change the composition of shingles, adding more limestone to lend more weight.  Black algae LOVES a lime buffet!

black algaeSometimes it is hard to distinguish from a roofing problem.

Asphalt shingles can sometimes be damaged on installation and a pin prick spot opens up and becomes a problem.  Over time the asphalt can begin dripping out.  The single point of such a black discharge may be what you see in the lower right corner of this roof, and under the window.

But that could be black algae also!

The drippy black on the top right of the roof is likely black algae.

I have been told by more than one roofer that this algae is one way to date shingles.

It seems the black algae begins taking hold and manifesting on shingles at about 8 or 10 years of age.

That time frame has proved true on my inspections.

black algae


So, what can a homeowner do?

Well, you already know NOT TO PRESSURE WASH IT!

Be sure your shingles are not old and fragile.  If so, you may as well replace them.  Then, test your cleaning on a small area to see if it works.

The algae must be killed for any cleaning to be effective.  The oxygen cleansers (sodium percarbonate) will clean the roof, but not necessarily kill the algae.

One formula I found is this:

Tri-sodium Phosphate (the substitute, not the original which is environmentally unsafe) can be diluted and sprayed onto the shingles.


4 Gallons Water mixed with 1 Gallon Bleach.  Stir in 1 Cup of TSP (phosphate free) until diluted.  Tri-sodium Phosphate can be obtained at any hardware or paint store.  Remember to use the safer phosphate-free mix.

Spray on the roof, let it sit for 15 or 20 minutes and rinse off with a hose.

This black algae is aggressive and hard to get rid of.  So good luck!

My recommendation:  when you see what is likely black algae on a roof, it is ugly but does not eat the roof very quickly.  And it might be an indicator as to shingle age!  It can be cleaned!  All three of the roofs above are 12 years old and in the same neighborhood.

Answer: That will depend on the condition of the wood used in the trim and the quality of the paint job performed by the builder.

rot    rot    rot

An interesting email came the other day. It was from a former client, for whom I had done an inspection four years ago. His house at that time was only two years old. All the window trim on the house was beginning to rot.

My comment at that time was that this was a lot of rot developing in only two years, and that it would get worse. I also suggested that since it was on nearly window that the problem was likely due to improper installation. At that time I was unable to see what could have caused it, but thought it to be the usual suspects. On my way home the next day this house was along the way, so I stopped by to have a peek.

I could have posted many more photos. So, what are the common characteristics?

  1. Caulking is not meant to be wider than about 1/4". This is much wider than that!
  2. Interior nails (or brads) were used. As they rust, they rot the wood with them!
  3. The wood was not primed. Even if it was primed on the outside facing the weather, and I could see on some peeling windows that it was not, wood has 6 sides! All 6 sides need to be primed PRIOR to installation or it will not last.
  4. The trim was just jammed into place, with large gaps. The miters and joints are not tight and merely filled with caulking.

ANYTHING NEW HERE? No, not at all. I see this every day. It is 7-11 construction at its worst (or best, depending on your angle...). It is a slap-up job by inexperienced people, working with little oversight.

Here's the big issue! ALL of the houses nearby are experiencing the exact same problem. I had noticed that 4 years ago, but the other houses weren't my focus then. Now we have a demonstrable pattern throughout the neighborhood.

The pattern, in my opinion? Improper product, improper installation. Of course, if contacted, the builder would claim lax homeowner maintenance.

But everyone has let this go and now the rot is migrating into the framing structure around the windows. This was something my client was told four years ago that he needed to handle immediately. It has been let go. By everyone. Now it has gotten dramatically worse.

I don't know where it will go from here. But I would recommend replacing the wood!

My recommendation: Sometimes home inspectors will point out conditions and suggest repairs that prevent future, more difficult, repairs. It is best to pay attention...

Answer: It should. Under the "Electrical" section of the inspection report, the home inspector should detail the present service capacity and address needed upgrades.


Service With An Old Smile

While in downtown Washington DC, inspecting a 100 year old row house (we would call them townhouses!), I noticed something interesting between the house we were inspecting and the one next door.

Both houses had upgraded electrical service conductors. I took a minute to explain this to my client. Somewhere I even saw an action shot of my explanation! Um, an excellent photo! OK, maybe not that excellent, but I digress.

The house on the right had a conductor that was so old the insulation had completely disintegrated with time. Guessing, I would date it to the 50's.

My client's house had a newer conductor, which I dated to the late 70's or early 80's.

The meter boxes are quite different in age as well.

But each replaced a service that was previously there.

Interestingly, the older service on the right was probably the first to upgrade to "modern" stuff, way out of date by our standards today.

The service line into that house looks to be 125amps and may even connect to an old fuse box. Even if it connects to a circuit breaker box the system is still very old - but state of the art at that time!

A service amperage of only 125amps is very minimal service for modern usage, even with gas appliances in the house.

My client's house had been upgraded more recently, to 150amps of service and a circuit breaker box. Again, this upgrade was state of the art at that time. But this house had been purchased and completely remodeled in recent months. And the electrical in the house was supposedly done with a permit, although I saw no evidence of a final city inspection.

Even 150amps is minimal service in my opinion. I wonder why the contractor did not recommend upgrading the service, and the panel box, to a more modern, state of the art at this time, 200amp system? I suggested on the report that this service was minimal, again given modern usage.

Overall my biggest concerns with this house were electrical. For instance, the lighting "main" breaker, 100amps by itself, turned the furnace on and off. And not all the lights! Did a city inspector look at this? Or approve it? Ummmm... There were other such things as this, which, I noticed, my client's Realtor, Pat Kennedy, called "funky!" That's not a bad word!

My recommendation: when houses are remodeled, look to see if an inspection permit was pulled and if it had a final approval by the local jurisdictional authority. Typically that approval appears as an orange sticker, usually left on the inside of the door of the panel box. If you do not see one, you may want to have your own electrician have a look prior to making a final decision on the house.

Answer: Duct Cleaning And Air Filters


In the previous post I discussed dusty ducts and their contents. That post has become increasingly popular! And I have received many private contacts asking for the follow up!

So, how can we prevent such dust build up in our ducts and forestall its accumulation?

First, there are two HVAC industry philosophies on household air filtration.

Second, there are many types of filters out there - ranging from disposable, to washable to electronic. Some are very cheap, others quite expensive.

Remember, an HVAC system moves and conditions air. The more it moves the more it can condition. So air returns are extremely important. Most people think of their HVAC system as one that blows air. It is more valuable to think of it as a system that RETURNS air. Volume is crucial!

Philosophy 1. Install a filter that allows more air to flow. This puts less strain on the system, moves more air and the system operates more efficiently. But, these filters remove less particulate matter from the air and the system can get dirtier faster.

Philosophy 2. Install a high-filtration filter. These of course remove more particulates from the air. But they clog more quickly and restrict air flow and need cleaning or replacement quickly. Even newly replaced, these filters cause 10 - 20 times more restriction to air flow. Therefore, they reduce efficiency, but the system stays cleaner longer.

So, which to choose?

Some news about dust! The typical family of four creates about 40 pounds of dust in a year! This comes into the house as we open windows and doors, on our clothing and shoes, and it resides in our furniture, carpets, bedding and pillows. That is a lot of dust!

Just walking through a room disturbs and releases millions, if not billions, of dust particles into the air, which is moved about as we continue to move. Sitting on the sofa releases much more, or hitting a pillow or folding a blanket - you name it! Dust is always moving about the house through the air.


The typical HVAC system exchanges all of the air in the house only about 5 to 7 times A DAY, depending on its efficiency and size. And that is only true if you run the fan 24/7.

So your furnace/AC filter will never, that is NEVER, filter enough air to adequately to remove all those particles and allergens from the air. An expensive air filter might keep your system cleaner, and your registers, but not so much anything else.

So what can we do?

room air cleaners

My recommendations:

1. Vacuum and dust regularly. Nobody wants to hear that! But it is true. Approximately 85% of the dust in the air falls onto the floor and furniture. Vacuuming often with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Accumulation) vacuum gets a lot of it. Dusting is crucial.

2. HEPA room air cleaners can go a long way toward controlling allergens, spores, molds and mites in the house. These are most effective in bedrooms. Should you use the ozone-creating filters? My reading says no. Ozone negatively charges dust making it fall. It will land everywhere, and on you while you sleep! When you get up you disturb it again, releasing it back into the air. Ozone can also be irritating to many people's respiratory systems.

3. Shake pillows and blankets outdoors, and often! Were you the student asked to beat the chalk erasers at school? Same principle! Wash bedding regularly, particularly to control dust mites.

4. Vacuum furniture and mattresses. Spraying mattresses with Lysol or some other disinfectant helps also to control dust mites. Deodorizers do nothing toward dust mite control.

5. Replace your furnace filter regularly! How often? Once a month, except perhaps those months the system is not operating so much. And put it in the right direction! They have an arrow on them showing the way!

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC


Note from Lenn Harley, Broker, Home Buyers often hire home inspectors to examine a new home prior to taking posession. They are generally looking for cosmetic fixes and to test the systems. However, one of the most important reason that a NEW HOME BUYER is smart to have a new home inspected by an experienced inspector is SAFETY. Mr. Markanich's inspection below is a good example.

builders deckJay Markanich, a home inspector in Northern Virginia.

Builder Grade Deck

The first thing I noticed on the builder grade deck was the Trex decking, seen when I went into the kitchen. I thought that was great as Trex is a more expensive product. It is a composite material, mostly plastic, and lasts a long time without the same problems or care that come with wood.

But I was disappointed to see that the screws used to install the decking were erratically placed, with some sticking up over 1/8" and others buried very deeply into the board.

This is an example of what I mean - See complete article HERE.



New construction inspections are always a challenge.  And for many reasons.  There is a lot of countervailing stuff going on. 

  • The supervisor thinks he has built the perfect house.  Sometimes he tells me that. 
  • The builder doesn't want me there.  Sometimes they tell me that. 
  • The client has been upset many times by the time we do our inspection.  Sometimes they tell me that.
  • And the client has been told that the house was already inspected numerous times by the County and that the supervisor was on site every day doing his routine inspections, so that superfluous home inspector isn't really necessary at all.  Sometimes they tell me that TOO!

Here are a few photographs from a recent new home inspection.  They will each become the subject of an individual post at some time.  I could include more!  This is the same house, "ready" for a "final inspection" before occupancy and ALREADY APPROVED by the County.  Oh, at the time of this inspection the wall ovens and dishwasher were yet to be installed.  They were going to get to it "tomorrow." 

How the County can sign off on the electrical without the electrical wall ovens or even their wiring being installed is beyond me, but that's where we were.


Broken furnace vent, exhausting moisture and carbon monoxide INTO the house.










An exposed opening where a poorly-cut drip edge did not extend to the end and roof sheathing is exposed.  That cut end of a shingle will not last very long either.  This was one of four, all done the same way.






No insulation in the attic!  None, not even a cotton ball.









Bent kitchen vent, right beside the garage door.  It is so bent, the flap does not open all the way.  And they didn't even paint it.





Perhaps hard to see, but the trim to the right of the small pediment detail is made up of two pieces, caulked in the middle with the nails showing.  They aren't even finish nails, and for all I know are bright nails, intended for interior applications!  The other side of the pediment had a single piece.







Faux stone improperly installed, with no casing bead, backer rod, and the mortar is touching wood (likely not primed or painted) all over the house.  Result?  Eventual rot all over and moisture penetration to the interior.





This is laughable.  Is anything level - trim at the top, shingles, roof, window?

This is one of four similar areas.  All are just as hideous.  If I had to drive up to my house every day and see this kind of thing I would cry.  My house would be a perpetual source of distaste for me.

My job is to protect my client's assets. When you are paying big money for a house, and my definition of "big money" is a $million or more, you deserve a proud, professionally-done, craftsman-like finished product!

I know builders don't like it when I show up.  Why would they?  There are more photos!  These are only a few!

I feel badly for what is happening to our trades.  They are being filled with people who have no idea what they are doing, and CANNOT read English.  My eighth-grade shop teacher would fail these jokers left and right.  He may have failed me for this, even though I was only in 8th grade! 


Sorry to stand on my soap box and scream, but I am disgusted!!

My recommendation:  NEVER buy a new home without a home inspection.  Don't look for the cheapest inspector you can find.  Hire an experienced bull dog who knows what he is looking at and can explain it.  He is worth twice what you pay him, so pay him his fee and pick his brain!

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia