Helter Shelter

When will they ever learn?

Every time co-inspector Rick and I inspect a house, there are a few problems that we know we're going to find. We call them the fish in a barrel, the usual suspects, job security. We don't know why, but the local tradesfolk just seem bound and determined to do some things assbackwards, and the codes inspectors seem equally determined to let 'em slide. Here are a few examples:

The hole in the fireplace

Wrong ratio: 100%

In this part of the world, we've got a lot of prefab metal fireplaces. They're featured in starter homes, and in million-dollar mansions. Usually,they're rigged up with gas logs. Well, where there are gas logs, there has to be gas plumbing. The prefab fireplace manufacturers know this, so they leave a little weak spot (a knockout) in the wall of the fireplace. The installer just knocks out the knockout, runs the gas plumbing through the fireplace wall, and hooks up the gas logs.

As far as I know, every fireplace manufacturer requires that the knockout hole around the gas plumbing be packed with a "non-combustible" sealant. The idea is to keep an errant flame from getting sucked through the hole, and into the (flammable) wood framing.

In all my inspecting life, I've never seen the knockout hole packed with anything. You'd think that somebody would've read an installation manual, and stuffed some kind of non-burnable goo in one knockout hole. But no.

Weep holes in the brick veneer

Wrong ratio: 100%

Every new brick-veneer house is supposed to have weep holes and flashings. That's not just my opinion, it's a by-golly building code requirement, and it has been since 1995.

The weep holes and flashings work like this: When water gets behind the brick veneer (and it does, regularly), flashings catch the water, and water drains out through the weep holes. If water stays in the wall cavity, the wood framing and sheathing can rot, or get all moldy.

When we explain this to builders, most either look at us sideways, like Nipper the RCA dog, or just start cussing us. A few, eager to correct their error, send a man to drill some weep holes. Well, it's too late, bubba! You can't just drill the holes after the house is built. You won't have any flashings, so the holes won't do any good.

It's not as if this is some obscure knowledge. It's plain as day in the 1995 CABO code. If you want to look it up, go to 703.7, where there's a great big picture, with arrows pointing to where the weep holes and flashings are supposed to go. The holes and flashings are required, not suggested.

If local codes inspectors are not enforcing this requirement, I say shame on 'em.

Deck flashing

Wrong ratio: About 95%

Where a wood deck joins a house, there's supposed to be flashing. The idea of the flashing is to keep water from rotting the wood - and corroding the connectors, which keep the deck attached to the house.

A few times, we've found deck flashing on high-end custom houses, with extra-tall decks.

Deck flashing isn't just a good idea. It's a code requirement. Doubters can check 1995 CABO 703.8, which, don't you know, is right under the part about brick-veneer weep holes and flashings.

This is another one where the codes inspectors are letting the builders slide.

Bathroom vents in the attic

Wrong ratio: About 95%

Everybody enjoys a nice bathroom fan. It sucks the shower fog out of the bathroom, and it cuts down on the need to light a match. Problem is, installers just vent all that fog and funk right up into the attic. Rather than a run metal duct from the fan to the exterior of the house (like they're supposed to do), most installers just hook a piece of that cheapass white-plastic dryer duct to the fan, and put the other end of the duct out near the edge of the roof. They think the moisture-laden air from the bathroom will just drift out a soffit vent.

No, bubba, no! Those soffit vents are intakes for attic ventilation, not blowholes for bathroom fans. For cryin' out loud, any fifth-grader with a C-minus in science ought to be able to figure this out. The fog from the bathroom can condense on the roof decking, and drip back down into the attic.

All this is richly detailed in the 1996 International Mechanical Code, 501.3, which says, plainly: "Air shall not be exhausted into an attic or crawl space."

How hard is that? And why do the codes inspectors let it slide?

There are other everyday screwups. I could go on and on. Understand, I enjoy finding building defects, but I get a little annoyed when I see the same ones over and over. It means somebody's bad lazy, incompetent, negligent, or worse. It's not always clear who the guilty party is.

This is clear: Builders won't start following the building code unless the government code inspectors make 'em do it.

Walter Jowers is in for a vacationing Lissa Sims.