Insiders Guide to Home InspectionsBuying a House Built in the 1980’s or 1990’sPresented

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Table of ContentsIntroduction . 5Electrical Systems. 5Heating Systems . 7Ducts . 7Plumbing . 8Insulation . 8Roof . 8Windows . 9What should you do? . 9The Real Estate Inspection Co. 2012 - 20173

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1980’s – 1990’s Houses“What issues should I be aware of when buying a house built in the 1980’s or 1990’s?”IntroductionMost of the Country experiences building booms every 20 - 30 years. This happened right afterWorld War II with all the GI’s returning from the war, and again in the 1980’s. Our last buildingboom took place in the early 2000’s and continued until about 2007. This paper focuses onhouses built in the 1980 – 1990 time frame. Even though most of us don’t think of the 1980’s asthat long ago, it has been about 30 years!We love to use the car analogy. Every year cars get better. Newsafety features are developed, better materials are used, andtechniques that proved to be inferior are no longer used. This isthe case with homes, too. Remember the Chrysler K car?If you are considering buying a house that was built 30 years ago there are some things youmust consider so that you are not disappointed once you move in. We inspect many of thesehouses throughout San Diego. Many large planned communities were built during this timeperiod. Some of the largest growth areas were CarmelMountain Ranch in Rancho Bernardo, The San Diego CountryEstates in Ramona, and other developments throughoutnorthern San Diego County. We are familiar with many of theanomalies found in these neighborhoods.It is important for your home inspector to identify certaincomponents of the house even if they are functioningproperly. They may be old (20 years ), consist of old technology, or may not be what youexpect – such as single pane windows or wood tilt-up garage doors.Electrical SystemsGenerally speaking electrical systems that were installed in the 1980’s areconsidered “modern” electrical systems. They consist of circuit breakers(instead of fuses), the systems are grounded with three-prong receptacles,conductors are copper, and they are much safer than older systems of the1970’s or before. There will also be far more receptacles than in older housesfor convenience and safety.The Real Estate Inspection Co. 2012 - 20175

It was during the 1980’s that the use of Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI’s)began in areas of the house other than the bathrooms and garage. Prior to 1987 theywere not required in kitchens, which is a question that is often asked. For a completelist of where and when GFCI receptacles were required, please visit our website are-gfci-receptacles-required/Houses built after the 1970’s do not have aluminum wiring at their branch lighting circuits (forreceptacles and switches). Aluminum wiring was the cause of house fires, but its use waslimited to the mid-1960’s through the mid-1970’s. For more information, please see our otherpublication in this series entitled “Buying a House Built in the 1970’s”. Aluminum wire is stillused on dedicated circuits of 30 AMP’s or more such as dryers, ranges, or AC condensers.The standard capacity for an electric panel installed in the 1980’s is 100 AMP’s which isadequate for most homes. It will accommodate multiple computers, TV’s, ceiling fans, andmany other modern items. In some cases you may be limited if you want to add a hot tub,additional receptacles in the garage (for shop equipment), or a pool.Some houses built in the early 1980’s have electrical panels thatare no longer considered safe. The twobrands of panels that should be replacedwere manufactured by Federal PacificElectric (left) identified by distinctiveorange-tipped breakers, and Zinsco panelswhich are typically horizontal, and havemulti-colored breakers.Both of these brands of panels have a poor reputation, and have beensuspected of causing house fires by over-heating or breakers that fail to trip when over-loaded.If you have either of these panels your inspector will likely recommend further evaluation by alicensed electrician to provide you either with piece of mind or an estimate for replacement.Many of the 100 AMP panels also had limited space for breakers. As the building code evolved,more dedicated circuits were required. A new house will have many more dedicated circuitssuch as one for the microwave, one for the refrigerator, one for the dishwasher, etc. In the1980’s many of these appliances were still sharing one circuit. You should take note to see if thepanel is full, or has additional capacity. This is important if you want to add a hot tub or morereceptacles in the garage. If the panel is full, a sub-panel may be required, or a new panel –both of which can cost hundreds or a couple thousand dollars.The Real Estate Inspection Co. 2012 - 20176

Heating SystemsDue to the moderate climate in San Diego, we often see original furnaces in old houses.Furnaces in San Diego outlast the national industry standards because they simply are not usedas much and have less wear and tear. Most of the furnaces from the 1980’s are in serviceablecondition but some are nearing the end of their useful life, especially those by the beach.Of primary concern are horizontal furnaces that were manufactured by a furnace companynamed Consolidated Industries that is no longer in business. They manufactured furnaces thatwere sold under many private labels, most notably Premiere. Some of these horizontal furnaceswere the subject of a recall due to poor design and the presence of small rods above theburners called “NOX Rods”. These rods were intended toreduce the nitrate emissions (and thus nitrous oxide) fromthe furnace in a similar way that a catalytic converter worksin a car. But these rods over-heated and fell onto the woodplatforms under the furnace causing fires.Without going into exhaustive detail in this paper, thesefurnaces are a fire hazard with or without the NOX rods.Not only are they old at this point, but they have designflaws which cause failure of the heat exchanger which cancause Carbon Monoxide to enter the house air. These furnaces should be replaced. If you areinterested in a detailed article about these furnaces, please visit our website for an article titledHazards of the Consolidated Industries H-Series Horizontal Furnace written by Michael Whedon.DuctsIn the 1960’s forced air units distributed heated air through rigid ducts which were wrapped ininsulation. This was a big improvement over wall heater found in most pre-1960 houses, butrigid ducts were difficult to install and leaked at connections. In the mid1970’s the industry changed to using flexible ducts. These new ducts helpspeed the installation of heating systems and allowed the installer moreflexibility to route the ducts around structural components.The only problem with early flexible ducts is that the outer plastic shell wasnot UV stable. When exposed to sunlight, it deteriorated and caused theducts to fall apart. This occurs even from the small amount of light thatenters an attic through vents. These ducts require repair or replacement if UV damaged.The Real Estate Inspection Co. 2012 - 20177

PlumbingTo save money, many of the huge housing developments used a new type of plumbing in the1980’s and 1990’s. It was a plastic product called Polybutylene (or Qwest) that was supposed tobe the answer to many traditional plumbing problems. The plastic plumbing system was easierto install than copper and required no soldering. Because the plastic tubing is flexible, long runscould be installed quickly. The sections of tubing were fastened together using plasticconnectors (much like a drip system) and crimps to hold the tubing onto the variousconnectors. In addition to the cost savings to the developer, the plastic tubing was supposed tobe unaffected by corrosion.Unfortunately many of these plumbing systems failed causing property damage. Although anexact cause could not be determined, it is expected that the chlorine in water caused thefittings to fail. In some early installations with aluminum crimps, the crimps failed due tothermal expansion. A huge class action lawsuit was settled withthe manufacturers of the Polybutylene which paid to repair orreplace plumbing systems which failed.Many of the early systems were repaired by replacing the plasticfittings with brass or copper fittings and copper crimps (as shownin this picture). These upgrades were considered satisfactory, butthese systems still can fail. If the house you are buying has Polybutylene plumbing, you shouldobtain a quotation for a whole house re-pipe prior to the end of your contingency period, asyou will want to have the plumbing system upgraded.One contributing factor to failed plumbing systems, (copper or Polybutylene) is high waterpressure. The street pressure in many parts of San Diego is very high – as high as 130 psi. Tokeep the pressure below 80 psi in a house, a pressure regulator is installed at the main waterline. These pressure regulators can fail. When they do fail, water pressure in the house canexceed 80 psi which puts tremendous stress on faucets, plumbing, toilet fill valves, etc. Yourhome inspector MUST check the water pressure as many regulators fail after 15 years.InsulationMost of the houses built in the 1980’s and after have ample insulation. The products used donot contain asbestos, and are most typically made of fiberglass.RoofEverything in a house will wear out. This includes components of the roof. Even a tile roof hasan underlayment commonly referred to as tar paper. This underlayment lasts 20-25 yearsThe Real Estate Inspection Co. 2012 - 20178

depending on installation and sun exposure. Many roofs that were installed in the 1980’s arecurrently in need of having the underlayment replaced. The same life expectancy applies toconcrete or clay tile roofs. This involves removing the concrete tiles, removing the tar paper,and replacing the paper with a new underlayment. The original tiles can be re-used if they arein good condition.An asphalt-shingle roof is also likely at the end of its life. It is madeof oil-impregnated fiberglass material, with an aggregate (whichlooks like kitty litter) pressed into the surface. The aggregate addscolor, but its primary purpose is to protect the shingles from UVexposure. Once the aggregate is worn, the shingle deterioratesrather quickly. Most of these roofs are 20 or 30 years roofs. Do themath. If the roof looks worn it is likely in need of replacement.WindowsMost windows installed in the 1980’s have aluminum frames. Higher-end houses may havedouble pane windows. Not all houses built in the 1980’s have double pane windows. Doublepane windows were considered an upgrade. We often have clients who are disappointed tofind that the modern house they want to buy has single pane windows. Be sure to check thisout.The most common problem we see with older windows consists of worn glides or rollers. Thismakes the windows difficult to slide. This is considered a hazard. The added force required toslide these windows could cause the window to be slammed shut resulting in broken glass.What should you do?Hopefully this guide will help set your expectations of what to expect from a home inspectionperformed on a 30 year old house. We don’t want you to be surprised with the items in thereport. You should ask the seller if any upgrades have been performed. If not, you may need tobudget for upgrades after you move in. Of course this guide cannot cover every scenario aseach house is unique. There is a lot more information on our website at www.sdinspect.comand on our blog. Just use the search box to find additional info.About the author: Philippe Heller is the president of The Real Estate Inspection Company. Hismulti-inspector firm performs thousands of inspections a year in San Diego. The company usesstate-of-the-art testing equipment and the best reporting system available.To learn more about what should be included in a thorough inspection, please or call us at (800) 232-5180.The Real Estate Inspection Co. 2012 - 20179

Plumbing To save money, many of the huge housing developments used a new type of plumbing in the 1980’s and 1990’s. It was a plastic product called Polybutylene (or Qwest) that was supposed to be the answer to many traditional plumbing problems. The plastic plumbing system was