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Unbolted Foundation Indicates Older Home

<i> Ross is the public relations chairman for the California Real Estate Inspection Assn. (CREIA)</i>

QUESTION: I have been informed that the foundation of my house is not bolted. Is this a serious defect? Should I insist that my next home be bolted?

ANSWER: First of all, a “non-bolted” foundation is not necessarily a defect; it primarily indicates that your home is older. After the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, the Field Act went into effect in 1935. Most notably, the Field Act called for improved concrete, the use of reinforcing steel and the joining of structures and foundations by anchor bolts.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Jun. 24, 1990 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 24, 1990 Home Edition Real Estate Part K Page 8 Column 1 Real Estate Desk 3 inches; 83 words Type of Material: Correction
Home wiring--An item in the Ask the Inspector column June 10 addressed what voltage is coming to the house from power lines. If three wires extend from the power pole to the house, the voltage is 240. However, many houses have a voltage regulator at the meter so that only 110 volts come in. To get the higher voltages needed for heavy appliances such as an air conditioner, electric range or electric clothes dryer, you must have a 220/240-volt meter and a 220/240 circuit breaker and branch circuit. In older homes, those with only two wires coming to the house, 220 or 240 voltage is not available.

This makes homes built post-1935 more earthquake resistive, and by definition, stronger. However, bear in mind that a pre-1935 house you may have been considering has survived three significant earthquakes (1933, 1971 and 1987), and the vast majority have come through in good stead.

I have inspected hundreds of pre-1935 houses, and while some have had problems, I can recall fewer than five where the foundation system required wholesale rehabilitation or replacement. While ultimately, a house with a bolted foundation might be preferable, it would be a bit close-minded to exclude from your plans an older home simply because the foundation is non-bolted. More attention should be paid to an older foundation, however, particularly with regard to area drainage (from the eaves and grounds) and trees directly adjacent to the home.

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Inspector Is Needed to Protect Investment

Q: Why do I need an inspector?

A: 1. You are making one of the most important investments in your life, and you should have it inspected by a professional home inspector who is trained in the home inspection industry.

2. Each home has many idiosyncrasies. Some can be life threatening, costly or very minor. A professionally trained, experienced inspector can evaluate these problems and professionally report them to you in a written report.

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Get Bids From Licensed Contractors for Repairs

Q: I want to make repairs on my new home. Will the inspector tell me costs of repairs?

A: If the inspector is a general contractor, he should be qualified to give you approximate costs. However, these costs will vary depending on who is giving them. For actual costs, it is always recommended that you get three bids and always get them from a qualified, licensed contractor.

Insulation Required in Houses Built After 1975

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Q: My new home is not insulated. Is this a requirement?

A: No. It wasn’t until about 1975 that new homes were required to be fully insulated. This is a state law, Chapter 24 of the housing code.

Smoke Alarm Needed at Time of Home Sale

Q: Do I have to have smoke alarms in my home?

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A: No. At the time of a sale of a home in California, the smoke alarm has to be installed. The state requires one alarm in a home. Each city has its own codes.

The city of Los Angeles requires smoke alarms to be installed in bedrooms and adjacent halls to the bedrooms. They are to be on the ceiling or within 12 inches of the ceiling. Alarms in single-family dwellings can be battery operated, and all others shall be hard wired. In new construction, they will be hard wired in all units. The homeowner may put in the alarms. If he doesn’t, then the buyer is required to. In apartments, they were required by law in 1983, and the owner is supposed to check them every six months. He is supposed to keep a log on this.

Power Lines Will Tell Voltage of Wiring

Q: How can I tell if I have 240-volt wiring in my home?

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A: If there are three wires from the power pole to the home, it is 240. On the twisted cable drop lines the cable is the third wire. Any home built after World War II will have 240.

Inspector Should Act on Safety Hazards

Q: I am selling my house, and recently our house was professionally inspected for a prospective buyer. We were gone at the time of the inspection. I think the inspector hired by the buyer overstepped his bounds by turning off our gas because he found a gas leak.

We returned that evening to a cold house with no gas and nothing to alert us but a note to call a plumber or the gas company and a message on our telephone recorder from our realtor with the same advice.

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A: Come on now! Would you rather have returned to find your house filled with gas--or worse? While there are no rigorous guidelines for an inspector detecting an unsafe condition, common sense (and probably common law) should demand that the inspector take suitable action when an imminent hazard is detected. It would appear that the inspector and realtor both did what they could in your absence, and you should thank them both for their concern.

Upgrading Fuses Can Boost Electrical System

Q: My home has fuses. Should these be changed?

A: No. There is nothing wrong with fuses. They usually never fail to function. However, a lot of them deteriorate with age. Some lose their ability to carry their maximum volted amperage with each tripping of the breaker. Fuses will date a home. Most homes built after 1950 will have circuit breaker panels. They still use fuses for main electrical panels.

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However, most older homes have upgraded the electrical systems to meet today’s electrical needs. Older service panels were 50 or 70 amps. With all of our modern appliances, these usually will not be large enough to carry the load required by today’s electrical needs. Panels are required to be a minimum of 100 amps or larger on all homes today.

Plan Home Inspection at Beginning of Escrow

Q: I am preparing to buy a house. Different people give me conflicting advice on scheduling a home inspection. Some say, wait until near the close of escrow so any problems that develop during the escrow period will be spotted. Others say, have it done right away. Any suggestions?

A: Most sales contracts will require you to have the inspection early rather than late, because it is a contingency that “clouds” the sale until completed. But there are good reasons why you, too, should prefer an early inspection.

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The risk of new problems developing during escrow is small compared to the risk that you will have to make a hasty decision if you wait. Bear in mind that the inspector is a generalist, and may very well advise you to consult a specialist on a specific problem.

For example, a furnace may show suspicious symptoms that the inspector flags. He or she will likely advise you to consult a heating contractor for further analysis. If that advice does not come until the day before escrow is to close, you’re left in the lurch between assuming the risky furnace or delaying closing.

Ross is the public relations chairman for the California Real Estate Inspection Assn. (CREIA), a statewide trade association of home inspectors. Readers may send their comments or questions on home inspection topics to Bill Ross, CREIA, 1100 N St., Suite 5-D, Sacramento, Calif. 95814.


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