These are the finished portions of the house where you and your family will be spending most of your time at home. Although we are not concerned with the cosmetic issues such as paint or wallpaper and we are not necessarily concerned with the condition of the carpet, there are other clues that we are looking for in these areas. For example, you will see us flash our light across the ceiling because we're looking to see if we can detect any staining or old patches indicating past leaks or-- in a vacant house-- a situation that will resume leaking when the property is re-occupied. Mold and mildew indicate that the moisture levels are too high and we will look more closely to see if we can figure out why. Perhaps the bathrooms use windows for ventilation rather than an exhaust fan. A window is an acceptable means for ventilation in a bath but in our experience very few people open the window in February to vent the excess moisture from a shower so before you know it, the wallpaper is peeling because a garden of fungi is growing under it. Bath exhaust fans would be a suggested upgrade to include in your budget after you move into the house. It is the little details that really make us comfortable and those are the things we look for when we are in a room.
Other than that please be sure that all prime windows operate freely--especially those in bedrooms. In the event of fire, a stuck sash does not help a quick exit! Also, consider the brave fireman coming through that window to save you with air tanks and equipment on his back. On all thermal double pane windows and doors and on double pane skylights, any sign of moisture or cloudiness between the panes can indicate a failed thermal seal. Sometimes faint cloudiness can be chased away with a hair dryer but substantial moisture cannot be removed. The only solution is to replace the failed component.
Interior doors are usually hinged 6-panel or hollow core slab doors. Especially with heat pump heating systems it is important to have adequate undercut on the doors. (This is the space between the bottom of the door and the floor or carpet.) Proper undercut facilitates air movement between rooms and helps even the interior temperatures.
Walls and ceilings often show cracks at the tops of windows or doors and in corners. Since houses move, expand and contract with the seasons and react to humidity or lack thereof, this can be quite normal and common. If you want to try to repair these kinds of non-structural cracks, consider using the new fiberglass self-adhesive joint compound tapes instead of the old paper tapes. They help spread the load more evenly and make recurrences of the crack less likely. Do not be surprised if the crack reappears, however. These kinds of cracks can be very difficult to eliminate permanently. Any areas where the wall is raised or uneven can indicate prior repairs (although it can also simply be imperfect workmanship). Ceilings should be watched carefully under bathrooms. Early signs of plumbing leaks can show here before damage gets too extensive. Be curious about any changes you see.
Dishwashers frequently have air gap fittings on top of the sink that can overflow if the drain becomes partially blocked. Failure to rinse dishes off before washing can contribute to this as can dishwasher detergent that does not completely liquify. The top of the air gap can be removed and blockages cleared with a wire or perhaps a bottlebrush. Keep the slots in the metal cap turned toward the sink to help reduce flooding of the countertop if there is a blockage. Most range hoods have filters in them which trap grease and oil and will become blocked. Clean these periodically to maintain the effectiveness of the process. If these become covered with dust they can force the unit to work much harder than necessary and can cause premature failure of the unit. Cleaning with the hose from your vacuum may help. The use of GFCI's on all outlets within 6' of the sink should be considered. See ELECTRIC comments for more information.
Masonry fireplaces usually have a firebox lined with a special buff colored firebrick to withstand the high temperatures. If this brick becomes loosened or the mortar degrades, have repairs performed. Fireplaces with metal fireboxes and flues are frequently seen in development contruction or when they were retrofit into a house after construction. They may look like traditional fireplaces (0 clearance style) or can be freestanding. Smoke stains on the face of any fireplace can be a sign of periods of poor draft. This can prevent toxic gasses from being vented properly from the house. Obstructions, closed or broken dampers, broken flue liner, bird nests and other irregularities can contribute to this as well as create fire hazards. Visual inspections such as this service cannot evaluate chimney problems. Chimney service firms are equipped with special tools, video cameras, etc. which allow them to diagnose problems inside the chimney flue. Consult with them if you have questions. We recommend annual chimney cleaning as a safety measure for all fireplaces that get more than occasional use and some stoves may even need mid-season attention. Consult with a chimney sweep firm.
SECURITY AND SAFETY
Any prime doors that have glass in arm's reach of the locks, whether in the door or in the wall beside it, are vulnerable to a burglar breaking the glass and releasing the lock from the inside. Deadbolt locks that operate with keys from both sides (double-cylinder) prevent this. If you choose to add this kind of protection however, be aware of the risk that you may not be able to get out quickly in the event of a fire. Consider keeping a key near the door in an accessible place for all inhabitants. Patio doors are equipped with latches to close them -- these are not locks! There are a variety of supplemental devices available such as drop down bar locks called Charley Bars, locks that can be mounted on the door to secure it to the other panel or to the jamb, anti-lift plates and so on. Many people simply put a cut length of broom handle in the track - a very effective and inexpensive method. If your door is not made with thermal double pane glass consider adding a storm door to reduce the huge heat loss single pane glass can permit.
Consider an ABC fire extinguisher (effective on all 3 classes of fire) on each level of the house. Good places to keep them include a workshop where paints or chemicals may be stored, near fireplaces, in the kitchen, and one by your bed. (In an emergency it may help you get out of the house.) Smoke detectors also should be used in more locations than the minimum requirements call for--consider one on each level, in utility or furnace rooms, in all bedrooms and halls serving them, and any other locations you choose. Change the batteries semi-annually and test their operation frequently. This is truly a matter of life or death and really worth your attention!