How many hidden places are in your house? Many homeowners have never even seen some areas, such as attics or crawl spaces, that are often difficult to get into and are only accessed by contractors when something needs fixing.

We believe performing a thorough home inspection means we go places few others dare to. Our clients will sometimes be shocked to see us wiggle into (and out of!) a small crawl space access hatch, or get on our stomachs to get a look at the framing under a low deck. But these are the places we will frequently find issues needing repairs, or that have significant structural or safety concerns.

Bob emerging from a crawl space

A home inspection has limits

While we try to get in and inspect every area, there will always be some that are not accessible, either because the way in is too small or in a dangerous location, or there isn’t enough room for us to maneuver safely. Environmental hazards such as extreme heat in attics or standing water in crawl spaces can also restrict how much we can inspect. While Bob had an interesting time maneuvering into this crawl space, it’s a good thing he made the effort: there was a plumbing joint that was corroded and leaking, and if it had failed, it would have flooded a basement filled with priceless Japanese antiques!

Attic access hatch in closet

Some accesses are more challenging than others! We may need to use a ladder to get into the space, or put on protective clothing and masks, but there are few accesses we can’t get to, or through. And if we can’t get in, we will at least try to stick our camera up through the opening and take some pictures.

Attic access hatches were once permitted in reach-in closets, but the picture here shows why that’s not allowed anymore. Once the expensive closet system is installed, good luck getting there!

Hidden Threats: Why being thorough can save your life

Hidden inside this fireplace ash pit was a life-threatening defectHere’s a great example of how being persistent about looking in all the hard-to-reach places revealed a life-threatening defect that the owners never knew of. This picture shows the inside of a chimney system’s ash pit, which is the portion of the chimney below the fireplace. This is typically not visible, and the only access to this space is through the cleanout door at the base of the pit. To get a look here, we will stick our camera through the ash dump and take a photo looking up and down.

To orient you, this picture was taken looking up; the plywood you see is the underside of the fireplace hearth. That’s the first problem; that plywood is a fire hazard as embers can fall into the ash dump and ignite it. You can see some singe marks around the opening. Removing the plywood is an expensive repair, as it involves opening up the chimney so a person can climb inside and cut the plywood out.

But that’s not the only thing going on here. Look at the lower left; see the silver pipe coming through the chimney wall? That comes from the water heater exhaust. If you look at the upper left of the plywood base, you will see a round opening; this is probably where the water heater vent pipe should have been connected to. Instead, it is dumping the exhaust — which contains Carbon Monoxide — directly into the chimney, where it can easily flow through the fireplace ash dump opening and enter the house.

Water heater exhaust pipeThe water heater was manufactured in 2000; our inspection was in 2019. So there is the possibility that toxic gases had been leaking into the house for nearly two decades! Anyone looking at the water heater — including me! — would think there was nothing out of the ordinary. It was only by taking the time to open the cleanout door and stretch a hand in to take a picture that this was discovered. The house’s residents had absolutely no idea there was a significant hazard!

Don’t let a hidden safety hazard impact your family’s health. When buying a home, you need a home inspection company that is looking — really looking — out for you! Give our office a call to learn how we can help you!

(301) 208-8289


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