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Inspecting a bank barn converted to a residence


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I have an inspection booked for Tuesday of what the buyer described as a two story house built in 1820. Since I was passing not too far from it on Thanksgiving Day, I thought I’d better check it out to make sure it isn’t a log house, since Marion Allen won’t cover log structures. It turned out to be a Pennsylvania bank barn that was converted to a residence.

I%20love%20barns,%20and%20I’m%20very%20comfortable%20inspecting%20them.%20%20My%20logo%20has%20a%20barn%20in%20it.%20%20http://www2.enter.net/photoalbum/data/natan/42936.JPG Ironically, the barn in my logo is within sight of this one. What I’m not comfortable with is the thought of inspecting this conversion. Unless a barn is full of hay or stored crap, the entire structure is pretty much open to view. That won’t be the case here. Also, the loads on the structure are way different from what it was designed for. The live loads are much less and the dead loads are much more.

I’m sure there are many potential pitfalls with inspecting this. Does anyone (BK) have any experience with inspecting a conversion like this (BK)? Anything in particular to watch out for?

On a side rant, I hate to see such beautiful structures bastardized like this, although if the alternative is a knockdown, I guess I’m OK with that. I can envision a day here in the Lehigh Valley when there are no more barns left in their original state.

I have a strange, kind of sad hobby. I photograph old barns that are slated for destruction. Thanksgiving day, I discovered a new one less than a mile from the conversion barn. I’ll be heading over there at 6 am tomorrow with a flashlight and camera. As you might gather from the picture, it looks like it’s gotta be this Sunday or never.

http://static.flickr.com/122/304483872_f8b98abd99_o.jpg

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What I’m not comfortable with is the thought of inspecting this conversion. Unless a barn is full of hay or stored crap, the entire structure is pretty much open to view. That won’t be the case here.
You regularly inspect much more complex buildings that have interior finishes. German bank barns are about the simplest and most consistent structures. Many of the conversions I've seen leave most of the framing exposed. If not, you know where the interior timbers should be and it’s a big problem if they’re gone.
Also, the loads on the structure are way different from what it was designed for.
The barn had livestock in the lower level, loaded wagons on the threshing floor and harvested crops piled to the rafters in the side bays. I'm pretty confident it can handle mechanical systems, furniture, appliances, a few human residents and some pets.

I've been involved with several barn projects where an engineering analysis and/or modeling was performed. Carrying interior loads was never an issue.

Does anyone (BK) have any experience with inspecting a conversion like this (BK)? Anything in particular to watch out for?
1. Horizontal tie-beams that have been removed. (I keep telling folks that hand hewn beams aren’t easy to create and install. They didn’t put ‘em there for aesthetics.)

2. Failure of the joints between the tie beams and rafter sills at all bents. (The roof is always trying to force the front & rear walls out.)

3. Original posts removed at the fore-bay.

4. Finishing the lower level without leaving access to maintain the foundation on the bank side. (As you know, the foundation is always sweeping and/or bulging inwards behind the bank.)

5. Damage to the sill below where the threshing bay door was regularly left open in the rain.

6. The additions are never built as well as the original structure. (incomplete/inadequate foundations, soil/wood contact, undersized rafters.)

On a side rant, I hate to see such beautiful structures bastardized like this.
Although I don’t care for the window groupings on this one, I am a solid supporter of adaptive re-use of any old building. Any unused barn you see today will likely cease to resist gravity during this, or the next, generation. Even at the handful of old farms that are still agriculturally active, the original barns are only a storage building for some old implements and all current operations/equipment are in recent pole barns clad with steel panels.
Is that cement-asbestos siding? Can you just demolish a building with asbestos in Pa.?
Out here, we hire the neighbor's kids to bust it up and use it to fill in the old dug well.
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Thanks Bill. I knew you'd be the man with the answers. I feel better now, knowing the inspection should be more straighforward than I first thought.

I can't wait to find out what's up with the South gable end wall. What should be a massive stone wall is sided with wood and has ground to roof fixed windows.

I'm for adaptive re-use too, but so many of these barn conversions make me cringe. Once in a while I'll drive by one that was done with an obvious sensitive eye for keeping the exterior as original as practically possible. Those seem to be few and far between.

Joe,

Is that cement-asbestos siding? Can you just demolish a building with asbestos in Pa.?

It sure is, Tom.

Can't say I ever heard of the disposal method that's used in Bill's neck of the woods, but in PA, the siding can go right to a standard landfill. Ideally, it should be removed by hand without breaking it, but you used to be able to just knock 'em down with the siding still attached as long as you kept it wetted down to prevent any fibers from becoming airborn. I don't know if that's still the case though.

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Hi,

Is that cement-asbestos siding? Can you just demolish a building with asbestos in Pa.?
Tom, if I might digress for a second. Maybe you're asking simply from a curiosity standpoint, but maybe because your own state has stringent asbestos rules and you feel they should be everywhere, in order to prevent people from getting sick from asbestos.

Well, for the benefit of those who don't know, it's be pretty hard to ingest asbestos from asbestos-cement siding. The manufacturing process encapsulates the asbestos fiber in cement and then there's the inevitable paint applied to the surface. Together, there's almost no way to get the stuff airborne and separated again. Even when you bust up a building with the stuff installed, the stuff breaks off into heavy sand-like particles that aren't likely to get airborne with anything short of a hurricane.

I suppose that an industrial person bent on suicide could grind up one of the shingles to fine powder, lay out a few lines of asbestos-cement powder and then snort them - hoping to ingest a fiber or two - and then wait 25 years for them to metastasize - but by then there's no way to know whether it was the ground-up shingle that got him, or the dust cloud he passed through and breathed driving down the turnpike on that hot summer day, or that time he was standing next to the service manager's desk paying his bill at the auto dealership and one of the guys was blowing out brake drums with an air hose, or when he attended grade school and the heating pipes were wrapped with the stuff and the kids used to pick at it while standing in the cafeteria line, or when he was in the Army as a private buffing hallway floors made of asbestos-asphalt tile with a dry brush, or when he helped his Dad tear down that old unsightly ceiling in the family room when he was 15, or......

When I was a kid, asbestos was more plentiful in building materials than it is now (It's still used in some building products, by the way). I can remember many times helping my Dad as a youngster, using a torch and putty knife to scrape tile adhesive from a basement floor so new tile could be applied, dust blowing everywhere as asbestos acoustic ceiling tiles were cut (acoustic ceilings were popular back then - don't ask me why), tearing off walls of asbestos siding so that additions could be added or doors or windows installed, dust everywhere and nobody wearing a mask. I know that the clean air laws are there to try and eventually get a handle on this stuff and other contaminants, but I think it's, frankly, too little too late.

The genie is out of the bottle and there's no getting him back in. I get a chuckle out of the look on clients' faces when I'm inspecting post WWII era homes, shine my light into the heating registers and it reveals that asbestos tape - usually frayed and friable - sealing the boot to the duct below. Sometimes it's the interior of old oil-burning furnaces that are lined with the stuff. Sometimes it's the dried-up, flaking and dusty cement left over on a basement floor where tile had been removed. When I point it out to them and explain what it is, they usually turn a little white and then ask whether it's "normal" to have it. Then, when I explain that it's typical of homes of that age, and point out to them that if they grew up in a home built between WWII and 1965, that there's a chance that the stuff was used in those homes as well and they'd been exposed to it for years. It's not uncommon for them to realize during the inspection that the home that they're living in at the time of the inspection is just such a home. Then I give them a reality check by pointing out to them all of the opportunities they've had to be exposed to the stuff on a daily basis, as above, and explain why they'll continue to be exposed to it, because it's still being used, and it kind of falls into perspective.

Sure, asbestos fiber causes cancer in some folks, but not in everyone whose ever been exposed to it or has breathed asbestos fiber. If it did, there'd be no such thing as life insurance, because life insurance companies would have gone belly-up decades ago, and there'd be lines of vehicles backed up at funeral homes, cemeteries, doctors offices and hospitals. The folks that live in Libby, Montana are a good example. The soil there was heavily permeated for decades and everyone breathed the dust created by the vermiculite mine there. Town folk there have an extremely high rate of asbestos-related maladies, compared to the rest of the country, but not everyone in that town got sick.

Reassuring someone that they won't ever get an asbestos-related disease if they never purchase a home that's ever had any asbestos materials in it is just plain irresponsible. It makes more sense to let people know that they've been exposed to, and have been breathing, asbestos fibers their entire life, and to make them understand that, regardless of the clean air laws, it's something that probably isn't ever going to change for them or their children.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled 'Inspecting a Bank Barn' post.

OT - OF!!!

M.

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The only state requirements regarding ACMs is from the PA-DEP. Their requirements for removal, transport or disposal are not applicable to private owners of anything considered residential, unless there are 5 or more apartments.

Individual municipalities may have a local ordinance regulating demolition of a known asbestos containing structure.

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Well, I did that bank barn conversion inspection on Tuesday. Since it was vacant and it was my only inspection that day, I decided to get there an hour ahead of the scheduled start time so I'd have some uninterrupted look-around time. I arrive to find the buyer and his agent already there. (Insert expletive here.)

The agent comes out the back door by himself and tells me he's not staying. As he passes me, he stops and says "don't scare 'em". I just looked at him. After talking to the buyers a while, it became apparent that they had no idea what they were gettintg into as far as what that place needed both now and on an ongoing basis. .......... I did my best to scare them.

Here's a link to a sanitized copy of the report if anyone is interested (I know I like to read other people's reports): http://inspectvue.com/Public/Arick%20Amspacker/666moneypit/666moneypit123.pdf

Please exuse the typos. I normally proofread pretty carefully and catch them, but I was pretty glassy eyed after finishing this one.

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  • 2 weeks later...

John, I don't know if they're going through with the purchase. The only time I typically find out that buyers back out of a deal is when I get a call from them to inspect another house a short while later.

It's been over two weeks and I didn't get a call from these buyers. I was hoping that they would decide to pass on it. After talking with them and asking about their past experiences with houses and maintenance issues, it was pretty clear that this wouldn't have been a good fit for them. While I didn't try to discourage them, I did bend over backwards to open their eyes to the money and time that they were going to need to devote to the property.

There have been a few rare times when I've come right out and told a buyer that a particular house wasn't the right one for them. I know a lot of inspectors would say that's overstepping my bounds by a mile, but I don't really care. I don't do it willy-nilly, but if I have a naive, inexperienced buyer who tells me he's stretching to buy a place, and I know the place is an absolute disaster that he won't have the know how or money to deal with, well - I come right out and tell him "you don't want this house". I kinda think that should be the agent's job, but if they don't do it, I gladly step in. I may lose a referral or two, but I sleep like a baby.

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Originally posted by Inspectorjoe

. . . There have been a few rare times when I've come right out and told a buyer that a particular house wasn't the right one for them.

Good for you.

I know a lot of inspectors would say that's overstepping my bounds by a mile, but I don't really care.

They're a bunch of pantywaists anyway.

I don't do it willy-nilly, but if I have a naive, inexperienced buyer who tells me he's stretching to buy a place, and I know the place is an absolute disaster that he won't have the know how or money to deal with, well - I come right out and tell him "you don't want this house". I kinda think that should be the agent's job, but if they don't do it, I gladly step in. I may lose a referral or two, but I sleep like a baby.

If you don't do it, who will?

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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