A home inspection involves hiring a professional home inspector to examine the house's major systems -- including heating and central air conditioning, interior plumbing, electrical systems, the roof, attic, visible insulation, walls, ceilings, floors, windows, foundations, and basements -- to let you know if there are any problems or defects.

Water, even a constant drip gone unnoticed, can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage behind walls, on structural beams, and in the foundation.

"Sometimes, particularly with first-time homebuyers, the more obvious cosmetic home concerns, such as landscaping, painting and flooring overshadow the more critical issues, such as water damage, which can have serious consequences and cost quite a bit to correct or repair," said Kathleen Kuhn, CEO and president of HouseMaster, a home inspection company with more than 380 offices throughout the United States and Canada. The company has performed more than 1 million home inspections since 1979.

HouseMaster's Resale Home Deficiencies Survey found structural damage, plumbing systems and water seepage are three of the most commonly found defects in older homes for sale.

Some of the water problems you and your inspector should keep an eye out for during the inspection include:

  • Water seepage and wet basements. If you have small cracks in the foundation and porous walls, heavy rains can potentially build up against the foundation and ultimately leak into your basement and could eventually cause serious and costly structural concerns. How do you alleviate the problem? Make sure those foundation cracks are sealed. Also, surface water run-off should drain away from the house. Direct gutter downspouts away from the foundation.
  • Roof leaks. The biggest problem area is the flashing, the areas where the roof plane changes, like at a chimney or plumbing vent. Regularly check your flashings. Check the interior of your roof at least once a season. If you have constant leaks in the attic, damage or mold growth in the insulation can occur.
  • Poor water pressure. This can be a sign of water service supply deficiencies or costly piping upgrades. First you should determine if the problem might be caused by blocked faucet aerators, partially closed or defective faucets. If you have old galvanized piping in your house, the issue might be interior corrosion or deposit build-up. The best thing you can do is replace the blocked sections of pipe. And perhaps the biggest water issue these days is mold, which can cause panic in homeowners and is prompting the number of insurance claims and amount of jury awards that are on the rise.

    "Mold has been around for years and is commonly found in homes," said Mike Casey, president of the American Society of Home Inspectors, the largest professional society for home inspectors in North America. "But while often harmless, too much of certain kinds of mold in a home can be dangerous. Mold always indicates excessive moisture and the source should be corrected immediately."

Once you have found the house of your dreams, the ASHI says the following steps should be taken to prevent mold growth:

  • Wash mold off hard surfaces and then dry them completely. Absorbent materials, such as ceiling tiles and carpet, may have to be replaced.
  • Keep drip pans in your air conditioner, refrigerator and dehumidifier clean and dry.
  • Use exhaust fans or open windows in kitchens and bathrooms when showering, cooking or using the dishwasher.
  • Place vents for clothes dryers and bathroom exhaust fans outside the home.
  • Remove and replace flooded carpets and drywall.
  • Maintain low indoor humidity, ideally between 30-50 percent relative humidity. Humidity levels can be measured by hygrometers, which can often be found at local hardware stores.
  • Clean bathrooms with mold-killing products.
  • When painting the home, add mold inhibitors to paint.
  • Do not carpet bathrooms.
  • If the problem persists, or if anyone in the house is susceptible to mold and mildew, have the problem evaluated by an expert in mold/moisture intrusion.
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