Perhaps the single most
important part of the home inspection is the basement
I will use the term "basement" here to mean the part of the
house below the first floor. The basement can be a full headroom
space or a crawl space with less than full headroom. Sometimes,
there are even finished rooms in the basement. Under parts of
some homes, there are crawl spaces that are inaccessible because
of very low clearance or a lack of an access opening. A home can
be built on a slab with no basement, or can have a full basement,
an accessible crawl space, or an inaccessible crawl space. Some
homes have a combination of all of these.
Your home inspector should enter all accessible crawl spaces
during the home inspection. In my experience, problems are often
found in crawl spaces so they are very important. Your home
inspector will require more time on site in order to properly
inspect a home with crawl spaces. Do not be surprised if your
home inspector takes longer than expected if the home turns out
to have a crawl space. Most inspection firms will inform you
ahead of time of additional fees should the home inspection take
longer than anticipated. Your home inspector should be
compensated for additional work.
If the central heating system boiler or
furnace was not on the first floor, you are likely to find it in
the basement since that is where most of them are. Special low
profile furnaces are often found in low clearance crawl
The main electrical panel is often found in the basement. Occasionally, I do not find the main electrical panel anywhere in the house and then discover later on that
it is behind personal belongings in a closet or behind a wall
hanging. It is important for your home inspector to locate and
inspect the main electrical panel.
In an unfinished basement or accessible crawl space, your home
inspector has an opportunity to inspect the floor structure for
moisture condensation, mildew, mold, fungus, rot, and breakage. Several
conditions can interfere with a proper floor structure
inspection, however. For example, if there is insulation
installed between floor joists, it is not possible for the home
inspector to see all of the subfloor and both sides of every
floor joist and beam. If I find floor insulation such as this
during an inspection, I carefully pull insulation away from
selected areas under bathrooms, kitchens, and laundries. I also
like to selectively remove insulation under floors with above
average bounce. If your home inspector pulls insulation down in
order to inspect floor structure components, he should put it
back in place afterward. Occasionally, I find such a thorough
insulation installation that it is not possible to remove any
insulation without destroying its integrity. Insulation supported
on fiberglass mesh screen or polyethylene plastic and
friction-fit rigid foam insulation are good examples of
insulation systems that cannot be disturbed without destroying
them. Unless there is reason to believe that the floor structure
concealed under it is rotten, such insulation systems should not
be disturbed during a typical home inspection.
While always on the lookout for moisture condensation, mildew, mold,
fungus, and rot, your home inspector should also be on the
lookout for broken floor structure members. Rot weakens wood.
Sometimes wood structural members split or break even in the
absense of rot. For example, deeply notched floor joist ends
often split at the notch. In order to find split joist ends, it
is necessary to inspect every joist end in the basement and crawl
spaces. This can be problematic in crawl spaces with restricted
access and in basements full of stored personal property
In older houses, it is important to inspect the condition of the
subfloor where visible. I use a flat blade screwdriver to probe
subfloor boards, floor joists, beams, and sills. The screwdriver
leaves a small rectangular impression that will not be mistaken
later on for a wood boring beetle hole. I can sink the
screwdriver blade in to get a rough idea of the depth of rot. Probing of
beams, joists, and subfloor boards can take a long time in some
older houses, particularly if rot is found.
Another thing to check for in floor structures is wood boring
insect damage. Some home inspectors include this as part of the
home inspection. I have found wood boring insect infestations in
attics, basements, crawl spaces, garages, barns, and under
cottages. Carpenter ant infestations are quite common in this
geographical area. Carpenter ants are attracted to wood that has
been softened by rot. During house renovation work, I have removed structural wood that had been completely hollowed out by carpenter ants. I have
even found carpenter ant infestations in rigid foam plastic.
Apparently, the foam has the same consistency as rotted wood. Sometimes
the only evidence of a carpenter ant infestation I can find is an
accumulation of wood shavings. The shavings are not always
located near the infestation, however. In one attic, I found a
very large number of carpenter ants on the side of a roof rafter
that was not visible from the attic access opening. I discovered
the infestation only after climbing several feet into the attic.
It is very important for homeowners to keep an eye out for live
carpenter ants during warm weather particularly. Carpenter ants
appear to be very crafty. On one seasonal cottage, I discovered
that carpenter ants were coming and going in single file over a
clothesline suspended between the cottage and a tree!
The other wood boring insect common in this area is the
so-called powder post beetle.
Sill rot can be concealed behind box sill insulation. If I can
remove the insulation without destroying it, I like to inspect
box sills under exterior doors and adjacent to exterior decks.
Rot often develops in sills and joist ends adjacent to exterior
decks and under exterior door sills.