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Fri, Oct. 18

Column: Don't let planters touch exterior walls

A recent letter I received has a number of possible answers:

"Inspector Randy:

Thank you for your informative and helpful column. We appreciate your professional expertise. My question is: Our guest bedroom has a strong odor (more chemical-like than musty) and it has spread to another room across the hall. I get an almost immediate stomachache and soon a headache when I enter the room; hence, I've kept the doors shut and windows open.

"You inspected our home in 2000 and it was okay when purchased. The changes we made are new carpeting in the entire house; outside the guest room wall was an area for plants, and we put a flagstone courtyard outside that wall. The two rooms that are the worst each have water spigots outside on the walls. The floor is concrete slab; the slump block home was built in 1978-79.

"Where do we start to get the right company to identify what the odor is and correct the problem?"

"Inspector Randy." I like that. I feel like a detective. This is not an easy question to answer without an on-site investigation. My first thought is the culprit is moisture entry, and you mentioned two possible sources. You stated there was a plant area outside the guest room. It is never a good idea to allow water to pond or come in contact with an exterior wall. Retaining/planter walls touching the exterior walls can be a source of moisture entry. With wood siding, this can cause moisture damage to the siding and eventually within the frame walls. You said your home is block. Block walls are not waterproof. If water constantly touches a block wall it will seep into the wall, and eventually all the way through.

Another suspect would be the hose faucet. Freeze-resistant hose faucets were in use when your home was built. These faucets have a long stem, so the actual valve is inside the wall where it should not freeze. If you leave a hose connected to one of these faucets in the winter it can freeze and break inside the wall. This will allow water to escape into the wall whenever the faucet is opened. I check this by screwing a cap on the hose faucet and fully opening the valve. I then place the metal end of a screwdriver on the faucet or on the wall next to the faucet and put my ear on the plastic handle. If there is a leak, I can usually hear it with this "stethoscope." I get funny looks from any neighbors who are watching me, but I'm used to that.

The other symptoms are confusing. A headache could mean carbon monoxide in the home, but it would not be immediate. And carbon monoxide does not cause stomachaches. Getting an "immediate" stomachache is also a puzzle. This might suggest that you are allergic to something in these rooms. I would suspect the carpeting, except you stated you put new carpeting in the entire home. If you were allergic to the carpet or pad, why would it be in only these two rooms?

Maybe it is a combination of the two. Perhaps if moisture gets on the pad or carpeting it causes some type of odor or chemical that you are sensitive to.

And now the final clue: You stated the odor is more chemical than musty, so perhaps moisture is not the culprit at all. Is there anything else unique to these two rooms? Perhaps a reader or local company can offer suggestions.

I had this question from a Realtor last week:

"I like your articles in the Courier, but I'm afraid I cannot refer you because you will not give a summary in your inspection report. Have you considered upgrading to software that will provide a summary report?"

My software will produce a summary, but I refuse to use that feature. My reports are full of information, including nice features of the property, maintenance information, and 50 or more color photos (many more on a larger home). Why would I want to produce a list of just the 15 things that are wrong with the property? I know that if a summary is provided, often that is all the seller sees. Home inspectors do not like their home inspection reports to be used to renegotiate a purchase price or ask the seller to fix common flaws. But we realize that our reports are very often used for these purposes. I feel it hurts the buyer's position if the sellers only receive a summary. If the sellers see the entire report, they know the inspector mentioned the new roof shingles, or that the home has been maintained better than most. They feel the inspector was fair, and are more willing to negotiate with the buyer. If all the sellers see is a list of 15 defects (the summary), they may take offense and be less willing to negotiate with buyer. This is especially true if the home is older. An older home can be well maintained and in very good condition, but there could still be numerous recommendations in an inspection report.

Randy West owns Professional Building Consultants in Prescott. He is a state-certified home inspector and has performed almost 5,000 home inspections in the Prescott area. West is past president of the Arizona Chapter of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), and currently serves on the Home Inspector Rules and Standards Committee for the Arizona Board of Technical Registration. Contact him at

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