You pull up to inspect a house. From a distance, it looks great (Photo 1). There’s fresh paint on the trim and siding. Most people would guess that the exterior finishes and cladding don’t have any major problems. But as a smart inspector, you know better.
Oops! Maybe the paint is hiding something…
You notice problems right away during your exterior inspection (Photo 2). There’s wood rot at the window sill, brick molding and trim (Photo 3). In fact, part of the wood was removed and patched; the new wood is not a good match, and caulk and fresh paint fill the gaps. You imagine that the painter and the homeowner might be deliberately hiding major damage.
One thing leads to another
Looking even closer at the lower edge of the window, you push lightly on the surface and it flexes. You resist the temptation to probe further with your finger or a screwdriver, which would cause additional damage.
You can see the outer edge of the cap or “Z” flashing from the ground, but you want to see the top of the flashing, too. You set up your ladder. At the top of the window, the siding is caulked to the cap flashing and the flashing tips back into the wall (Photo 4). This may have worsened the problem of water getting trapped behind the siding and trim.
Cap flashing should be installed behind the siding and the water barrier, then over the top of windows and horizontal trim. This directs water to the outside, but only if the joint is not caulked (Illustration).
This home has major defects that need further evaluation: rotted windows, rotted trim and improper flashing.
Major rot and water issues can hide beneath a great-looking surface; all it takes is a tube of caulk and a few chunks of wood. Train yourself to be skeptical. What’s going on behind the fresh paint and caulk? Always take your time to get a good look at finishes.
One final tip: The back side of windows in the garage are visible if the walls haven’t been finished. This shows whether there’s house wrap and flashing and whether leaks are occurring behind the windows.
Tom Feiza has been a professional home inspector since 1992 and has a degree in engineering. Through HowToOperateYourHome.com, he provides high-quality marketing materials that help professional home inspectors educate their customers. Copyright © 2019 by Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It, Inc. Reproduced with permission.