Red Flags & Safety Reviews


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Red Flags Tell The Story (Part #1)

A professional home inspector determines the condition of a home by looking for "signs" that tell a story. These signs indicate that a problem does exist or will exist in the future.

After 30 years of growth, home inspecting is fast becoming an exacting science thanks to a thorough understanding of these "signs". You can dramatically improve your overall knowledge of homes by reviewing the list of "warning flags" shown below. At the very least, you’ll feel confident that when home inspectors examine properties, they know what they are looking for.

Interior Leaks (Skylights, below flashings and valleys, at chimneys, in the attic, and at other roof penetrations)

  • Red Flag #1 - Gutters should always slope toward the downspouts.
  • Red Flag #2 - Look for fuel lines coming out of the ground. Underground tanks can be a significant environmental concern. Age is a major consideration.


  • Red Flag #1 - Check for movement away from the wall, deterioration close to the top, repointing, water penetration, or excessive cracking.
  • Red Flag #2 - Drafting problems at draft controls or bonnets and view doors. Evidence for this is condensation, soot, high humidity, depending on the type of fuel used.
  • Red Flag #3 - Unusual noise at the heater. Simple vibration, worn motor shaft, burner problems, and air flow problems.
  • Red Flag #4 - Check for burn marks on the cabinet of fossil fuel burners. This indicates firebox deterioration and/or a maligned or oversized burner.
  • Red Flag #5 - Air flow at duct registers. If it is too low, it may be because of a dirty filter, a slow fan speed, or due to improperly designed or sized ductwork (either too large or too long). If the air flow is too high, it may be because of small ductwork or because the fan’s speed is too fast.

Heat Exchanger

  • Red Flag #1 - Look for excessive rust at the bottom or on the walls of the unit.
  • Red Flag #2 - Look for uneven burn patterns. 

Boilers (water or steam)

  • Red Flag #1 - Check for leaks, check the pressure and look for excessive rust or corrosion.
  • Red Flag #2 - Check the relief valve for evidence of past problems.
  • Red Flag #3 - Steam or water distribution (radiators and convectors, etc). In a steam system look for corrosion at the shut-off and air control valves, and for leaks at steam return lines. Check the altitude pressure in a hydronic water system to help determine if the radiators, etc. have water. Remember that one pound per square inch (PSI) will lift water 28". (4.34 PSI equals 10’)

Heat Pump

  • Red Flag #1 - Age is a consideration. 10 to 15 years is the typical life expectancy. The outside unit should be close to level and clear of shrubs, etc. two feet all around the unit and five feet above. Leaves and debris should be cleared from the outside coil. When the system is operating, check for an acceptable temperature difference across the inside coil. Check the temperature at a supply register and at a return register. A 13 degree to 20 degree Fahrenheit is acceptable in most cases.
  • Red Flag #2 - Check for a heat source in each room of the house.
  • Red Flag #3 - Check the heat pump back-up. If electric, the temperature rise should be a minimum of 10 degrees above the prevailing supply temperature. If there is a fossil-fuel back-up, the temperature rise should be a minimum of 25 degrees in most cases.


  • Red Flag #1 - Check for frayed service cables. Water can enter and follow the cable into the meter socket and main panel. This can be a fire safety hazard. Look for rust in the panel at metal contacts and on the bottom of the panel.
  • Red Flag #2 - Wire insulation should be reasonably flexible. Dry, easily cracked or falling insulation indicates the wire is undependable and a fire safety concern or hazard.
  • Red Flag #3 - Check for proper over-current protection: 14-gauge wire = 15 amps, 12-gauge wire = 20 amps, and 10-gauge wire = 30 amps (single conductor, copper wire).


  • Red Flag #1 - Check the type of service pipe: copper, plastic, steel, or lead. The concerns vary depending on age and overall situation. Call a professional home inspector with details about your situation.
  • Red Flag #2 - Check the water supply pipes:
  • -Copper: This is a dependable material. However, wells with acidic water can cause failures. Pinholes surrounded by green patina indicates a failure has taken place.
    - Steel: Dependable for 40+ years. Oxidation/rust causes failure in 40 to 75 years, depending on usage and local water. Rust spots on the exterior of the pipe is an initial failure.
    - Plastic: Dependability of this type is unknown. Previous concern has been with the joints of the supply piping. New projected dependability is promising.
    - Lead: Installed in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, lead is a dependable material that is inherently soft. Some concern is that lead occasionally leaches into the water.

  • Red Flag #3 - Check the drain pipes:

- Cast iron is dependable for 50 to 90 years. The location, slope, and usage cause variables. The first failure typically occurs in the top of the horizontal piping, generally eight to 20 feet below or past the vertical section of the wet vents. Cracks in the top of the horizontal piping are visible if the pipe is visible. Check the lower end of the vertical piping for evidence of water or failure.
- Steel drain pipes are dependable for 50 to 100 years. Rust spots on the exterior of the pipe indicates initial failure is taking place.
- Brass and copper pipes are very dependable. Failures are usually workmanship related.
- Lead pipes are also dependable. 50 to 100 years is an approximate life expectancy. This material is relatively soft. Problems usually result when it is replaced.

  • Red Flag #4 - Check for the location of the plumbing vents. These are needed for smooth and proper drainage. Toilets typically have 3" and 4" vents and can be found through the roof local to the toilets. Sinks and tubs are connected to these vents. Fixtures that are not close to toilet vents, need local vents.
  • Red Flag #5 - Gently rock toilets and sinks to determine if they are secure.
  • Red Flag #6 - Check below sinks for evidence of current or previous leaks or taped or Red Flag caulked drain or supply pipes.
  • Red Flag #7 - Check the water pressure. We recommend using the bathroom located at the highest point in the home. Open the tub spout (not the shower head), flush the toilet, and open the sink all at the same time. The worst pressure will be reflected at the sink faucet. Check the shower head pressure separately.

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Red Flags Tell The Story (Part #2)

Water Heater

  • Red Flag #1 - Check for leaks and/or stains on, around, or below the water heater.
  • Red Flag #2 - Check for burned paint on the cabinet. This indicates a burner safety problem.
  • Red Flag #3 - Check for evidence of drafting problems in the burner compartment and at the draft control or bonnet. Excessive rust will be present. Look for a distorted/deteriorated baffel in the tank flue. It is just above the burner, and indicates there is a draft or burner problem. Use a small mirror and flashlight to determine this.

Basement/Crawl Space

  • Red Flag #1 - Water penetration: Soil residues on the floor indicate water penetration is from the grades and not a water table below the basement. Whitish deposits on the walls are typically efflorescence due to the absorption of water by the masonry. The deposits are sodium from the lime in the masonry materials. Concentrations of deposits indicate the highest concentration or accumulation of exterior surface water.
  • Red Flag #2 - Whitish stains on the floor may be mineral deposits which outline the existence of water which is dried.
  • Red Flag #3 - Inverted cone shape stains in corners indicate water from downspouts which has accumulated close to the wall and entered the basement or crawl space. Installing downspout extensions or splashblocks is the solution.
  • Red Flag #4 - Dirt floors act as evaporator plates and contributes to excessive moisture/humidity to the air.
  • Red Flag #5 - The presence of a sump pump may indicate previous or existing water penetration which may be being controlled.
  • Red Flag #6 - Check the floor or surface drains for evidence that they are not functioning properly. Look for stains or debris at or around the drain.
  • Red Flag #7 - Handrails should be present at all stairs for safety. 



  • Red Flag #1 - A general rule of thumb is as follows:

- Vertical and horizontal cracks are not structurally related unless there is lateral movement (e.g., bow or sheer, etc.)
- Diagonal cracks, not step cracks, are typically structurally related.

Wood Joists:

  • Red Flag #1 - Check for crushed wood at joist-bearing points. This will typically be accompanied by a separation of the subfloor at the subject joist(s).
  • Red Flag #2 - Cracks in or with the grain of the joists are generally not a concern unless they are all the way through the joist.
  • Red Flag #3 - Cracks perpendicular to the wood grain are failures.
  • Red Flag #4 - Holes for plumbing, electrical, or other mechanical functions should be small and close to the center of the joists.
  • Red Flag #5 - Check posts or piers for deterioration. The majority of problems will occur at the bottom of the posts.
  • Red Flag #6 - Concrete floors typically do not support the structure and cracks are only related to the expansion/contraction characteristics of the floor. The slab on a grade construction needs concrete slabs which do support parts of the structure.


  • Red Flag #1 - High moisture or humidity is conducive to insect survival.
  • Red Flag #2 - Mud tunnels are the best evidence. Look for medium brown tunnels found on masonry or wood. The size can vary but 1/8" to 3/16" is most common.
  • Red Flag #3 - Check wood building components which come in contact with or are close to soil/earth.
  • Red Flag #4 - Check for evidence of movement or previous repairs/improvements. 



  • Red Flag #1 - Appliance springs and locks (dishwashers and ovens) should be in working order. Also check door and window locks.
  • Red Flag #2 - Check operability of kitchen appliances.
  • Red Flag #3 - Check kitchen and bath cabinets. Look at the drawer guides, hinges, overall operation, quality, workmanship, and age. Note: The worst drawer is typically the silverware drawer due to the frequent use.
  • Red Flag #4 - Check the countertops for scratches, chips, wear, separations, and see if they are secure.

Floor coverings:

  • Red Flag #1 - Hardwoods and softwoods. Look at the quality of finish and workmanship. Look for stained carpet (pet stains) or excessive wear.
  • Red Flag #2 - Sheet goods and tile. Look for excessive wear, cuts, scratches, and stains.
  • Red Flag #3 - Marble, ceramic tile, and masonry. Look for excessive wear, surface scratches, cracks, mortar or grout deterioration, and if the structure is designed support.

Walls and ceilings:

  • Red Flag #1 - Cracks typically occur in plaster ceilings in one direction at approximately 30-40 years. Cracks perpendicular to these cracks typically occur at approximately 50-60 years. Premature cracking may be evidence of a problem or concern.
  • Red Flag #2 - Check stairs for consistent risers, adequate tread depth, and hand rails.
  • Red Flag #3 - Ceramic tile in bath tubs typically fails at the faucets first and then on the side wall toward the front. This failure is caused by deterioration of the wall materials behind the tile, not the tile itself. Repairs/improvements should include a waterproof material in lieu of water resistant material behind the tile.


  • Red Flag #1 - Check the sash joints at the top and bottom rails and stiles. If these joints are separate, it may be difficult to salvage the window. Tight or secure joints indicate an acceptable sash.
  • Red Flag #2 - Check to see if the counterbalance is operating smoothly, the window closes properly, and that the overall condition of the paint and glazing is good.
  • Red Flag #3 - Awning and casement windows will have operating mechanisms which should be checked. Larger windows of this type will generally have more problems than smaller windows.
  • Red Flag #4 - Southern exposure problems include weathered windows, and paint and glazing problems.
  • Red Flag #5 - Northern exposure problems include rotted sills due to moisture.

Insulation and Ventilation:

  • Red Flag #1 - Ventilation is necessary if insulation is present.
  • Red Flag #2 - The best ventilation is "high/low" due to natural thermal convection.
  • Red Flag #3 - Condensation evidences include:
  1. Rust on roofing nails.
  2. Dark stains on the wood adjacent to nails.
  3. Stains on attic floor and eroded spots in the insulation.
  4. Discoloring of the roof sheathing. The first are to discolor is the north side at the lowest portion of the roof.
  5. Excessive discoloring (very dark staining), delaminating, and deterioration of the sheathing.
  6. Cupping of the roof shingles due to absorption of moisture from the sheathing.

The first three evidences listed above would be considered minor. Action is needed when the evidences indicated in numbers 4, 5, and 6 show up.


  • Red Flag #1 - Check damper door operation if there is one present.
  • Red Flag #2 - Check to see if the chimney is high enough. It should be two feet above the roof or any structure within 10’.
  • Red Flag #3 - Check the firebox-to-flue ratio. The flue should be 1/12 the size of the firebox opening, or larger.
  • Red Flag #4 - Look up and down the inside of the chimney for evidence of deterioration.
  • Red Flag #5 - Metal chimneys have more drafting concerns than masonry chimneys because they dissipate heat quickly and may not evacuate smoke and moisture when or if they are not warm enough.

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Fire Prevention Checklist

The only thing more devastating than the loss of all your possessions in a house fire is the loss of life. A fire in the home can bring about both tragedies quickly, especially if a family is not prepared. The following guide, designed to assist homeowners in determining the degree of fire safety within their homes, offers a number of ways to develop a sensible approach to everyday fire prevention. A little prevention can save a lot of heartache.

  1. Discuss the subject of fire and its prevention with all members of the family. Develop a sound fire prevention program for your home, along with an escape/action plan in case of fire. Schedule periodic family drills.
  2. Record the telephone number of the closest fire department (also police and rescue squad, if any) at all telephone locations. Call and inquire if an official fire prevention inspection is available.
  3. Be sure upper floor bedrooms have easy escape routes via windows with adequate openings. Do not block key windows with air conditioners or security devices. Provide inexpensive rope ladders if upper floors are more than a reasonable jump for children.
  4. Provide solid-core doors for bedrooms (and close at night). A solid door will serve as a fire shield far longer than hollow or louvered doors. Close openings around pipes and ducts that run between floors so they won't act as flues in case of fire. Also, if ceiling or attic ventilating equipment is installed, make certain it can be shut tightly when not in use, thereby preventing fire-drawing drafts.
  5. Install heat- and/or smoke-sensitive fire alarms in strategic areas (hallways, kitchen, basement, etc.).
  6. Discard partially filled cans of little-used, combustible products. Store necessary cans and bottles in a cool, ventilated location out of reach of children.
  7. Replace small and unsteady ashtrays with heavier, larger-based ones with wide-angled rims. Also, keep matches in a central metal container and out of reach of children.
  8. Check all household appliance cords and their plugs regularly and replace or repair those that have become frayed, loose or broken. Never use undersized extension cords for high-wattage appliances or tools. Also, do not overload circuits.
  9. Place portable fire extinguishers at strategic locations in home (hallways, kitchen, basement, etc.) and instruct family on proper use. Check the charge on each unit semiannually. Be sure extinguishers are of type appropriate for most-probable types of fire (electrical, grease, etc.).
  10. Ground outdoor TV antennas securely to prevent them from conducting lightning into your home. Install a lightning rod to divert power to ground.
  11. Call local utility company at first major sign of trouble (gas odors or fumes, downed electrical lines, etc.).

Be sure to dedicate time to implement these fire prevention and preparation strategies. It may be one of the most important things you do this year.

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Basics Of Home Security

In the United States, a burglary occurs roughly every 15 seconds. Burglars entered more than 2.1 million homes in 1991. The possibility of your home being next is very high, unless you do something about your security. And, yes, you can do security yourself.

You the homeowner can assess and upgrade your home security without being a security expert. You don't have to hire an alarm company. You don't have to wait for the police crime prevention specialist to tell you what is needed. Security is a lot like common sense, and once you realize it is common knowledge, it's simple.

Estimates are that at least one home in twenty in the United States was broken into in l991. That was the number reported. If all break-ins were reported, the number would be more like one in four. The average victim reportedly lost about $1,300.00, but all losses were not listed. Many homeowners do not report their losses to the police, because it gets printed in the local papers. The total loss, therefore, is much higher.

In this day of two income families, more and more people are away from the home during the day, and burglars take over. Many burglars simply enter through doors since many are hollow core. Even if such a door is locked, it can easily be smashed in.

It is impossible to keep a determined burglar out, but if you discourage him for a few minutes, add delay time and exposure to police patrols, he'll usually go where the "picking's easier."

Tool List

All the tools and the skills needed to install home security are simple household tools and the skills one acquires from normal household maintenance. Below is a list of tools and some helpful hints on designing and installing your own security electronics and hardware.

  1. Hammer (claw-hammer for pulling nails)
  2. Phillips head screwdriver
  3. Flathead screwdriver
  4. Pliers
  5. Needle nose pliers
  6. Awl (sharp point for starting nails and screws)
  7. All purpose electrical tool for cutting and striping coatings off wires
  8. Small pry bar (12 to 15 inches long)
  9. Finish nails for pinning of windows
  10. Small three-eighths' inch (3/8") electric drill (also called a drill motor)
  11. Assorted three-eighths' inch (3/8") drill bits
  12. Roll of electrical tape
  13. Utility knife
  14. Electrical screw-on electrical connectors
  15. Cloth for cleaning up and wiping up grease
  16. Keyhole saw
  17. Plaster of Paris, and trowel

Some jurisdictions require the final electrical connections, including home alarms and associated electrical equipment, be accomplished by a licensed electrician. Check with your local building inspector. As an alternative, try wiring your electronics into a standard electrical outlet. Plug into the nearest standard and existing wall plate or receptacle. Some alarm manufacturers make a clamp that fits over the electrical plug securing it in place.

Target Analysis

In home security, the burglar's targets can be obvious. They include:

  • Your bedroom for jewelry, watches, and even hidden money under the mattress
  • The dining room for silverware and valuables
  • Any room with portable electronics, radios, tape players, computers, etc.

In essence, the criminal's target is any item that can be grabbed in haste and carried on the person out of your home.

A burglar spends only about three minutes in your home, and the professional knows what he's looking for. It doesn't take long, but planning a security system can make it that much more difficult and may make the burglars choose another home.

Setting Up Inner Defenses

Even with precautions, a burglar may still get into your home. Once there, slowing down his spree is key. Try converting a closet into a vault by installing a dead bolt lock to the door. This will definitely strengthen your inner defenses. Also, restricting access from one part of your home to another via deadbolts, etc., will give the burglar yet another obstacle to overcome if he should break into your home.

Installing a burglar alarm is like having an insurance policy. You hope you never need it, but it is comforting knowing the alarm is there. Burglar alarms stop an intruder before he enters your home, but can also be costly. Cost saving methods involve using interior and exterior lighting, pads under rugs, and motion detectors.

Remember no home cam be made 100 percent burglar-proof, but, by making it extremely difficult for the burglar to enter your home, you will discourage him.

Security Awareness

Like preparing your family with fire drills, all residents of your home should be aware of your security features. Security drills train all members of the household and give hands-on operations or performance checks. Even young children can be taught how to use a computer pad alarm system.

Reduce Criminal Opportunity

By reducing the criminal's opportunity, you reduce your risk of begin burglarized. Remember not to leave bicycles, major toys, lawn mowers, etc., outside when you have finished using them. Ladders are also stolen often. Criminals like loose ladders to reach and burglarize the upper floors or to enter above ground windows, balconies, or doors of a home. With a ladder, they can bypass the locking devices and sometimes the alarm system.  

Alarm Systems

If an alarm system is installed, insure that all residents know how to turn the systems on and off. Assure that they are familiar with the control pad to arm the system, and set entry and exit alarm

delays. Have emergency phone numbers handy to call in case of accidentally setting off the alarms, e.g., record them on a small sticker on the phone. Everyone should know where these numbers are recorded.  

Door and Window Locks

Deadbolts, peepholes and door chains, and window locking pins are useful only when they are used. It doesn't help to have them if the window or door is left unlocked when you leave home. The best protection is not only to install security devices, but to employ them.  

Security Lighting

Security lighting that is not turned on does not provide security. Make sure all members of the household know which light switches are for security lighting and that they know how to "arm" them by turning them on, or simply by not turning them off. Label the light switches so that all will know what switches are always in the On position. Make sure that timers are not accidentally turned off.

Lastly, always know who is at the door before opening it. Make sure that children know their responsibilities for personal safety, including their names, home addresses, and telephone numbers. Impress upon them the dangers of strangers.


Houses Aged 8-15
Serious Problems Can Have Home Owner Reaching Deep Into Pockets

During the years 8-15 the problems typically found in a house will be much the same as those found during the previous period only now the manifestations are more serious. You will also begin to experience your first round of expensive appliance repairs.


  1. Backfield areas may now have sunk up to eight inches or more and wet basement problems start to develop particularly at patios and stoops. 
  2. Plantings may have outgrown their space and may be too large to transplant.
  3. Poorly built retaining walls are now beginning to show significant deterioration.
  4. Sidewalks and patios not built on compacted soil may now need removal and replacement.


  1. Lower-grade roof materials, particularly those associated with flat or low pitch roofs, will wear out before 15 years. 
  2. Look for damaged downspout ends and splash blocks that do not slope and direct the water away from the house. 
  3. Paint and caulk may now be in any condition and windows may be painted shut.
  4. In the places where good drip edge practices were ignored there will be rot developing, such as along cornice lines, window sills, and door and window trims.


The house now have enough history to get a good indication of its stability. Serious soil conditions will have manifested themselves and typically show up as failures in the basement walls. Marginal soil conditions may take longer to affect the foundation, and trouble may only be triggered by losing control of the drainage patterns outside.

Weaknesses in the framing structure begin to have real aesthetic impact. Some sagging around stairs and bathroom walls is normal in houses built within the last 20 years; but if the house was built with proper attention to supporting the heavy points, there should not be any excessive cracking. 


There still should be no obsolescence other than fixtures outside. The same do-it-yourselfer warnings apply. There is a possibility of aluminum wiring but this is generally characteristic of slightly older houses. The GFI circuitry may be very limited or defective.


Two key items come due for replacement during this period.

  1. Well pumps last about 10-12 years on the average depending on type and the amount of grit in the water.
  2. Water heater elements usually go after about eight years and tanks rust out after about 12-14 years.
  3. Deterioration of copper piping may be noticed on houses with wells and unbalanced pH. 
  4. Improperly maintained bathroom tiles may now be loose from the wall with the associated damage elsewhere.
  5. Check the sump pump.

Heating and Cooling

  1. Heat pumps will only last about 8-12 years, more with good maintenance, much less without.
  2. A/C units tend to last a little longer because they don't run all year but they are very suspect after 14 years. It is possible to replace just the compressor to make it last eight more years.
  3. Poorly maintained gas furnaces may wear out in this time. Humidifiers and electric air cleaners may be in any condition.

Attics & Interior Finish

  1. Style changes may necessitate changing wallpaper, and carpets will be worn out in this time frame. 
  2. Kitchen appliances will start needing repairs and the dishwasher will be worn out or, hopefully, replaced.
  3. Disposals and laundry equipment will either be replaced or functionally obsolete.


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