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Grading Narrative


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Sparked by comments by Les in the roof narrative thread reminded me of questions concerning writing up grading and things like it.

For example what is uneven grade in the absence of evidence that the improper grade is adversly affecting the house?

It doesn't appear to be a problem or a syptom most of the time. Well it might be a symptom of a lazy builder or ignorant homeowner. I would characterize it as a conducive condition.

For instance I have seen poor grading that judging by the evidence has been that way for many wet seasons with no apparent affect on the house. Would you still write it up aggressively for correction or do you educate the client on the risks of poor grading?

There are a number of other things that I can think of that are similar in nature in that they for a particular house are not really a problem nor are they a symptom but they are a condition known to present risks.

No kickout flashing but no evidence of deterioration.

Improper sidewall clearances to roof with no deterioration.

Less than 6" of siding clearance to ground cover with no deterioration.

Please comment on your opinion on writing up conducive conditions where no actual problem exists or even is likely to develop.

And the list goes on and on.

Chris, Oregon

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Chris,

Don't have time now for a longer response other than - - - You can drive yourself nuts with reporting.

I could stay at any house and collect data and write stuff for hours, if not days. As an inspector that ain't your job.

If the grade is not perfect (and what is perfect in different soil types?) and there is no negative effect (visually here and now) and a reasonable expectation of no future (how long a period of time?)problem, what is the purpose of writing it?

I often consider exactly how much of my "knowledge" I want to sell. I have for twenty plus years made that decision in concert with my client. There are inspectors on this board that could go on and on and on about HVAC or roofs or framing or electrical, etc, why? Give some real thought about the philosophy you want to operate with.

One more short comment. I have been working on a "list" I call Sticks, Stone and Straw. It is a list of materials I have seen in houses such as a license plate roof, printing plate siding, rammed straw walls, etc. Been working on it for 15yrs and it still ain't done, yet I guess I could impart all that "knowledge" on each and every customer. I don't!

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I could stay at any house and collect data and write stuff for hours, if not days. As an inspector that ain't your job.

If the grade is not perfect (and what is perfect in different soil types?) and there is no negative effect (visually here and now) and a reasonable expectation of no future (how long a period of time?)problem, what is the purpose of writing it?

It's a rare house that doesn't have a grading issue that I comment on - even if there are no signs at all that it has caused a problem. One big reason is that its a great CYA tool for basement moisture issues.

In the past, I've had buyers think that I'm clairvoyent and can predict whether or not they will ever get water in their basement, even after I had gone to great lenghts to explain that I can only point out visual clues, and that I'm not a friggin' psycic.

I breath a huge sigh of relief when I ask the complainer if they improved the grading and extended the downspouts as I recommended in the report, and they reply with something like uh, no, where did it say that?

Boilerplate:

The grading slopes toward the building. This will allow water runoff to accumulate next to the building and possibly run into the below grade areas of the building. The soil should be sloped away from the building. See Article 1S.02, 1S.03, 1S.04, 1S.05 and 1S.06 for more information.

The grade at the bottom of the window wells is close to the windows. This could allow water to enter. You should excavate the excess soil and add several inches of crushed stone, keeping the stone several inches below the windows. You should monitor the wells for water accumulation after making these changes.

With new construction:

final grading around the building is not finished. If this is not done the drainage may run back towards the foundation. You should have the grading finished with the proper slope. See Article 2C.06 for more information.

The fill at the foundation is new. The grade may be proper now but new fill may take 5

or more years to settle. You should monitor this area and add fill as needed to keep the grade sloping away from the building. See Article 2C.06 for more information.

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Plus, negative grading will carry water back to the overdig area and increase the load carried by the drain tiles and (might? may? will?) cause premature plugging of the drain tiles.

For stuff like this: "Regrading is needed." As noted, good CYA and nobody is going to argue with you.

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Chris,

As Les said, "You can drive yourself nuts..."

Somebody mentioned a while back - here or on ASHI - that thousands of people can make it through a 4-way stop without incident, but put 4 home inspectors at that intersection and they will bump into each other for sure.

With the thoughtfulness that you put into your posts here, I'm sure you are quite good at putting in the pertinent information for each case, and the relevant CYA that will allow you to sit on any hard surface.

But I have also worried, like you, that perhaps I should give the client a wealth of information. I offer my clients a choice of two reports. I show them a sample of my written report (20-30 pages, depending) and I show them the Home Reference Book (A nice 2" encyclopedic binder). I let them look at these while I'm on the roof or in the attic and then I ask which they want. So far, I haven't handed out a Home Reference Book.

People have a lot on their minds at this point - "Just the facts, please," or "I'm a bullets sort of guy," is what I always hear.

Originally posted by rjw

Plus, negative grading will carry water back to the overdig area and increase the load carried by the drain tiles and (might? may? will?) cause premature plugging of the drain tiles.

For stuff like this: "Regrading is needed." As noted, good CYA and nobody is going to argue with you.

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Yes, with this trendy new thing called the internet, I'm beginning to simply state to almost every client that if they want more information than what they've received in my report, just Google it. Read away . . . !!

I have to make a professional decision to draw some clear lines on how much information to give. If not, I'll go crazy.

BTW, you know everything published online is true, yes?

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I use to have common sense when I first started this business. Then -

Zoids here and there started complaining why I didn't write up this or that condition cause their last inspector always writes that thing up or they make some comment as to why I didn't write something up but the FHA appraiser did and then there were those near misses where the client hired another inspector after he got pissed off at me and the next guy wrote everything up including the faded paint etc.

So much for common sense. It became a business decision to try to fend off the idiots out there by writing up conditions that were not problems and probably would never be a problems leaving me now with this question of how do the brothern deal with this stuff.

Chris, Oregon

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Chris, with nothing but kindness, I say, "Be your own man."

From your posts, it's quite obvious you're thoughtful and responsible, and take yourself seriously. You decide what's important for your customer to know about the house they're buying. Like others have said previously, you don't want to overwhelm someone with minutiae and have them not attach appropriate significance to what really matters.

A few weeks ago, I had to return to a house I'd checked out several days prior because the appraisor said the house had structural problems. Know what he perceived to be a structural problem? Cracked parging on the blocks used as a form for the concrete slab.

Cracked paint on an old house? Obvious to a buyer and not such a big deal to us, but FHA appraisors rail about it due to lead issues.

Remain true to your own perceptions of how you should do your job. I don't know you at all, but I think you'll do just fine.

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Hi,

In Washington State, all home inspectors are required to be licensed Structural Pest Inspectors and SPI are required by law to write up any pest conducive conditions, whether they are negatively impacting a home or not.

That means that any grading near the home that doesn't slope away from the foundation must be written up; water ponding near a home must be written up; firewood stacked near the home must be written up; improper clearance from grade must be written up; earth-to-wood contact must be written up; gutters pitched a little bit the wrong way that hold any water must be written up; any vegetation touching a structure must be written up; wood stored beneath a deck must be written up, etc., etc..

There isn't a whole lot happening on the exterior of a house that the authors of that law (originally written primarily by pest inspectors) didn't term a "pest conducive" condition. One of those that was in on that process, told me months ago that, when they put together the draft of that law and handed it over to legislators, their intent was to erect obstacles that would discourage home inspectors from getting into the business, because they were fed up with home inspectors making the wrong calls on bugs and rot. It didn't work.

Chris,

I write narrative reports. I describe grading, as well as any in-ground drainage I can find, patios, flatwork, vegetation near the home, and walks and drives. I also describe how it appears to me drainage is configured, and always write up anything that I'm not happy with, whether it's impacting the home or not.

I don't bother to try and explain why something is technically incorrect but isn't negatively impracting the home. Why would I? If it's wrong, it's wrong, and not pointing that out, just because the house is fine and there's no evidence that it's ever been an issue could come back to bite you one day. This year, we here in the Seattle area found out how true that is. There were homes flooded here this year that, despite improper grading at the exterior, have never had an ounce of water in their basements in half a century.

Two days before that big storm in Seattle on December 16th, I'd inspected a little upgraded bungalow in the Madison neighborhood of Seattle. The grading around the house was poor but the basement was dry as a bone and didn't show any indication that it's been flooded since the 1980's when the basement was remodeled - largely due to the fact that there was a sump pump working in one end, which the listing agent assured my client could keep up with anything.

I wrote up the retaining walls between that property and the neighbor on one side, for lack of dead men and I wrote up the negative grading around the structure, basically telling the client that, lack of flooding or not, it was wrong and the sump pump was clear evidence that the yard doesn't drain correctly. He walked - for that and for many other issues - most of which were not negatively impacting the home, but were just plain wrong and he didn't want to have to deal with fixing them.

The next day, during that storm, a 4ft. high wall of water came down the slope behind the house, crossed the service road, knocked down the fence, caved in the neighbor's retaining wall, hit the exterior basement door, taking out the door and door casing, and filled the basement to grade level with nearly 4ft. of water. Three houses down, that wall of water caved in one whole side of a basement and the occupant, a voice-over actress who does voices for animated films and books for the blind, etc., went into the basement and tried to save her studio. She became trapped and drowned.

Man, was I thankful that I'd been so anal about writing up all of those issues, even though they'd not negatively impacted that home for decades, and that my client had walked. If he hadn't, I might have had to explain why the 25-year old basement remodel was ruined, there was 4ft. of water in the basement and the fence and retaining wall needed to be rebuilt.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Gentleman,

On a ralated note the required clearnce between wood and grade is 6", and the IRC specifies possitive grade away from the building. Now what about masonry exteriors? I see so many apartments and commericial building where the grade is equal to or above the finished floor level some times covering the weap hole[:-crazy] these may or maynot have possitive drainage.Now when the site is flat what do you recomend for a fix/repair.

Bryan

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Hi,

Weeps should definitely not be blocked by grading, and the finished floor level shouldn't be below grade, but it's not unheard of for a few bottom courses of brick veneer to extend below grade. Some builders do it that way intentionally, placing the brick shelf below grade, and then they fill the core between bricks and the foundation all the way up to where they install their thru-wall flashings and weeps, several courses above.

That provides a nice traditional look without the unsightly concrete band around the base of the structure below the veneer. As long as the grading isn't higher than the sills in this configuration, it's OK, because the thru-wall flashings function as a substitute for a damp course. I almost never see this done here, unless it's on a very high-end home. Around here, it's pretty common not to find thru-wall flashings and weeps.

Is the lot truly flat or does it just appear flat? Around here, because we don't have a lot of snow, you can get away with grade that's as little as 1/2" per foot away from the structure and not get flooding in a basement, even though we get a ton or rain from September through April. A lot graded like that appears "flat" too.

If it's truly flat, or if you've got negative grading, and you're trying to figure out where to send all of that water, think in terms of creating a shallow swale, with a French drain at it's bottom, around the structure, centering the French drain 6ft from the foundation wall, ensuring that the water near the foundation, as well as that in the yard, drains into the swale. This lets the French drain collect the water and then you'd want the French drain to convey that to drywell somewhere else on the property that's well clear of the foundation.

Unless you've got clay or a high water table, this should be able to handle just about anything that nature will throw at it, short of an actual flood. DO NOT place French drains right up against a foundation wall and expect them to prevent infiltration. It doesn't work - they need to be right at the 6ft. mark if they're to work effectively.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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French and subsurface drains are our typical recommended soulitions. The assisted living building I inspected the other day had a interior courtyard, mostly concrete with planting beds around the prementer. The is no way to lower grade and can not tell if there is a french drain system. There is however subsurface drain lines for the downspouts, which help tremendously (sp).The grade in this area is at the bottom of the vinyl siding, I advised them it needs to be addressed, however there is no good soulution in my opion.(notpart of the report)

Bryan

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I think there's a lot of regional particulars to that question. Baseline, if a house isn't sited nicely, there's so many things that can go wrong......

I always comment grading that slopes toward the house because it is probably the single largest cause of bsmt. dampness in my 'hood. Even if I don't see a problem, I tell folks about it and say this could cause bsmt. dampness in a heavy rain.

Happens all the time. If you don't say it, they get pissed first time it rains; if you do say it, they think you're a genius. I prefer the second evaluation.

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Hi,

But whose to say it's not reasonable when there's no way to really know when it's a 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 or 1000 year cycle? It's like that silly term "100-year flood plain" - what the heck is that supposed to signify? The engineers that built the levees around New Orleans used 200 year old records when deciding how tall and strong to build those things. Surprise!

I say just report whatever isn't done correctly. Correct being the best standard of care traditionally used by the construction trade or mandated by codes nationally and then specifically what works best in your region. That's not being knit-picky, it's just telling the truth and that, more than anything else, will keep you out of trouble.

The example I cited above is not the only previous client who got slammed with flooding in that storm. I actually had three former clients call me up to tell me that I was right, and to ask for the name of a competent contractor to correct flooding issues for them. All three of them had issues that I'd written up, even though they weren't causing any problems at the time of the inspection, and all of them had ignored those issues for years, because they weren't causing a problem. Then, that storm hit, and those negatively graded areas ended up causing the exact issues that I'd been concerned about. I think if you're recommending what is correct, even in the face of no existing issue, then you're doing what's expected of someone in this profession.

It was a little bit stressing to have a three different clients call me up in the space of two days to inform me that they'd experienced flooding issues in a basement, crawlspace or garage, but it sure felt good to learn that I'd documented everything so carefully that they'd called me up to get the name of a contractor and weren't demanding that I shell out to make repairs, because I'd ignored incorrect issues only because everything was copacetic at the time of the inspection.

It's not the most popular method to use. I can assure you that I catch a lot of grief from 'zoids, because I insist on writing things up when they're not correct, even when no issues exist because of them, but I believe that it's what's kept me out of trouble and I haven't even had to sit down to an arbitration table for nearly 11 years.

I think that is being reasonable.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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I agree with everything you're saying vis a vis if it's wrong it's wrong. I'm a geekosaurus when it comes to delineating every deficiency I notice . . . I mean, hey, I killed my first deal of the year this week to the tune of $750K. But grade issues have little to do with whether a house was trashed by Katrina. I've never been to WA state, but do you really think an appropriate grade around the bungalow you described would have prevented four feet of water from swooshing into the place?

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Originally posted by Bain

I've never been to WA state, but do you really think an appropriate grade around the bungalow you described would have prevented four feet of water from swooshing into the place?

No, it wouldn't. The point I was making there is that if I hadn't written anything about the fact that the home was directly in the path of water coming down off that steep slope behind the home and damaging the retaining wall and flowing directly toward that home, because things were fine, I would have been into it up to my ass.

None of the issues with any of those other three clients involved any flash flooding. All of those simply involved common drainage errors that I'd written up and they ranged over a period of nearly 10 years. None of them had a problem...until now.

One of them told me straight-out that he'd thought I'd been over-thinking the issue and had over-stated what could happen in my report to him 7 years ago. After every rainy season wherein he continued to ignore those issues, he became more and more convinced.....until now.

What if I'd only done his home about 10 months ago and had not written those things up and told them to correct them, simply because there wasn't any evidence of a problem. Where would I be now? Up to my ass in alligators, I suspect.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Poor drainage is death to foundations around my neck of the woods. Our state required form lists "foundations" then "grading and drainage" and you must report as inspected or in need of repair.

Guess what 90% of houses get? We have some of the worst soils and traditionally bad drainage since most homes are slabs. That same 90% have at least some foundation stress indicators. I spend more time on explaining grading and drainage than anything else. Most foundation repairs run $10,000 or more and alot of it could be prevented with proper drainage.

I can't speak to basements and drainage since they are not common here, but I always, always comment on drainage.

Jim

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I get the feeling this is the kind of discussion that does not develope well on a forum board.

I have no argument with any of the comments EXCEPT - It is my experience the inspector that tries to report on every possible present, past and future condition will get screwed in the long run. BTW if you whisper drainage in my ear at 2am while I am sleeping I'll respond "One inch of drop per foot for five feet away from foundation". I don't think most of you care that in this area the grade is typically 7'+- higher than basement floor.

I am of the opinion that most inspectors get caught up in the little details (not grading)and subsequently BS their way to a report that is nearly 50% compliant with their CYA mentality.

I am lucky. Thousands of inspections and many years in biz and never sat in court or even a deposition where I was the defendant - knock on wood! I have been in court more than one hundred times regarding other inspectors and their report. Ya know what? most of them are nice people and hard workers with bad habits and a modicum of inspection skill. The inspection is much more than Code, SOP's, etc. - it is a personal relationship between you and your client and your providing information and facts for their use.

Ran out of time again!

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Well let me back up and try this again. However it may turn out to be one of those ask the wrong question but get the right answer sort of deals.

My original question was concerning conducive conditions on items that we are required by our SOP's to report on.

It is impossible for some clients, if not many, to see the house as we see it; separated between the systems and components that make the home habitable and the ones that are essentially embellishments that increase the enjoyment of the habitation. We have the duty to report on the former but not on the latter but one is more than free to do so, however as an industry doing so just muddles it all up.

My question concerns strictly the systems and components needed for habitability and not the embellishments. And where a condition in the best judgement of the inspector appears to be something that poses a potential risk.

Mike, I think is saying if it's not correct in your mind then write it up for correction or discuss the risks with the client.

There is another point of view that says that our duty to consider conditions as adverse stops if there is no apparent real threat now or in the proximate foreseeable future. But then Mikes point is that it could have been fine for 50 years and then next week, bang your dead.

Les, I thinks is advocating that in the world of conducive conditions its far better to discuss them with the client verbally rather then get into trying present them on paper where a proper discussion of them cannot take place anyway and in some cases you can just fill up a report discussing nothing but potential risks making them appear as actual problems and again digressing into a practice that muddles up the industry.

As Kurt would say, there is no correct answer. At least I think it was Kurt who said it recently. I apologize if it was instead one of the other brotheren. And I am fine with that, in fact I am really comfortable with that. That is where I want to see it go because it demonstates that we maybe are at the line in the industry. Even if that line is still black and white or cut and dry to many.

Chris, Oregon

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Chris,

I really enjoy talking about protocols and these discussions. Mike O, Kurt M, Gary, me and many others on this and other boards likely perform inspections very close to identical. You have regulation that you must conform to. I think it is a bad regulation, I have read it,that hurts our industry. Believe it or not, I have actually read every state regulation while doing homework for pending Michigan regulation. I do not understand all of them, but who does?

My office would write the hypothetical grade issue shown above, but would not feel a pressing need to write every house we see with improper grade. We, me too, get into trouble when there is no clear understanding about what we do during an inspection and what the final product should be and be used for.

Mike has said it a thousand times, until we have a national standard there will be no peace! Walter J has also said until we require inspectors to pass the GED we will have no peace (or respect).

I think you will become an even better inspector and succeed!

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Les,

Good summary. It's true - Mike, Walter, Hansen, Cramer, Katen, and the rest of the best know what needs to happen.

But the world is what it is. Each state is an empire unto itself. Politics and economics drive us locally, making a national standard intractable.

Some states want inspectors who are licensed GC's. NY doesn't license contractors but it lets PE's become HI's without further education or testing - which is fine, since the education and testing provided by NY (like others) is sadly inadequate.

The final worth of this business rests with each of us as individuals. But, if you are reading this, you aren't someone who needs to needs to read this. There's the rub.

While striving to learn from the masters, I also play a small part in improving our 'profession' by rejecting meaningless certification.

Don't much like Kool-aid anyway.

Originally posted by Les

Chris,

I really enjoy talking about protocols and these discussions. Mike O, Kurt M, Gary, me and many others on this and other boards likely perform inspections very close to identical. You have regulation that you must conform to. I think it is a bad regulation, I have read it,that hurts our industry. Believe it or not, I have actually read every state regulation while doing homework for pending Michigan regulation. I do not understand all of them, but who does?

My office would write the hypothetical grade issue shown above, but would not feel a pressing need to write every house we see with improper grade. We, me too, get into trouble when there is no clear understanding about what we do during an inspection and what the final product should be and be used for.

Mike has said it a thousand times, until we have a national standard there will be no peace! Walter J has also said until we require inspectors to pass the GED we will have no peace (or respect).

I think you will become an even better inspector and succeed!

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Yeah,

I think you'd find that a lot of us on this board inspect in much the same way, and that each of us could learn much from each other. I'd love to have the opportunity to be Les', Kurt's or Kim K's shadow for a couple of weeks, and just be able to soak up what I see and hear like a fly on the wall. Learning is fun. However, writing style is something that you must constantly work at and changing one's style isn't easy. If a certain way of writing becomes ingrained, it's difficult to change.

I'm a perfect example of someone whose developed a certain way of writing and had difficulty shedding bad/ingrained habits. When you read a post of mine, you have to keep in mind that my writing background is grounded in criminal investigations. Before I became an investigator back in the '70's, I'd hardly written anything except one or two letters since I'd left high school. Then, for the next ten years, in any report I wrote, I had to write laboriously anal descriptive reports to describe crime scenes, explain who, what, where, how, and why (If I knew) crimes had been committed, and then explain every step of my investigation in minute detail, including my own thought processes when reaching certain conclusions about suspects, witnesses or victims.

Even after that 10 years as an investigator, a lot of the rest of my Army career was proof-reading police reports and/or instructing soldiers how to properly write those reports. When I retired from the Army and started doing this, I fell immediately into my old custom of observing, analyzing and then reporting what I'd seen in painfully anal and descriptive reports. Learning how to write differently has been a real challenge for me. In the past 10 years, I've found that it wasn't too difficult for me to adjust my writing style from the passive voice used in police writing to an active, present tense voice, but shedding my tendency to over describe and over analyze everything I see has turned out to be impossible. I try though.

Those habits are why I can't seem to write a report using boilerplate and I'm never happy with how any boilerplate, even my own, is written. It's gotten so that my 'boilerplate" is now what I've written in the previous home that I had such and such issue with. I'll be writing a report, will get to the point where I need to describe an issue, and then I'll open the file of the last house that had that issue and copy and paste that comment into the current report. It would work fine, except for the fact that I'll then re-write it and tweak it still again and am never completely satisfied with it. Anymore, it takes as long to do that as it would if I'd started from scratch. I think that at some point in life there are some things that one just can't change - that old zebra and stripes thing.

Chris, you'll just need to develop a style and methodology that works best for you. You need to be open to ideas from others, experiment with them and change when you think you need to, or are able, but concentrate on being yourself, telling your clients the truth.....always, and documenting everything you see in a way that makes you feel the most comfortable.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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