DIY home inspection: How to spot minor issues

Fri Dec 08 2023

A middle-aged couple, facing away from the camera, look at their home

Forgoing home inspections before buying a home is becoming increasingly common, especially in hot real estate markets. Buyers may offer to buy as-is and waive their inspection to sweeten a bid on a home. But that strategy is not without risk. Homebuyers are then responsible to make repairs to the home on their own.

Even if you had an inspection before you bought the home, houses require maintenance. By knowing what to look for, you may save yourself thousands in damage and repair costs by catching a problem before it gets out of hand.

Learn to spot-check your home for minor issues before they become big problems.

Tools you need to inspect your home for minor damage

To do a DIY home inspection, you may want to make sure you have the following items:

  • Binoculars
  • Flashlight
  • Gloves
  • Protective eyewear
  • Notepad and pen
  • Camera

As you examine your property, be sure to take notes and photos. That way you can document and keep an eye on possible problem areas.

Ready to get started?

Inspect the attic

An attic is one of the first places you want to check for poor ventilation, water damage, and openings. Open the hatch and take a look around without walking into the attic. Do you see sunlight coming through the attic (and not through a window)? If so, this is a good sign that your roof has a hole and may cause a leak. Damaged wood and rusted nails are also signs of water damage and a possible roof leak.

If your soffit (lower roof) intake is obstructed by insulation, that may be a sign of poor ventilation. Keep an eye out for black mold – this must be removed ASAP because it is toxic.

Remember to leave walking in the attic to the professionals – it’s very easy to fall through if you don’t know where to step.

Inspect the home's exterior

Grab those binoculars! With these puppies, you can scan the roofline, high walls, and chimney without the extra danger of a hike up the roof. Primarily, you’re looking for symmetry, alignment, and obstructions when you examine the following:

  • Gutters and downspouts. Cracks, clogged elbows, and debris in the gutter may contribute to damaged foundations. These problems may keep water from draining away from the foundation like it’s supposed to.
  • Siding. Peeling, cracking, and fading paint may indicate surface deterioration and signal it’s time to hire a professional to replace the siding.
  • Chimney. Are pigeons roosting in your chimney? Congratulations on the new pet, but leaves or bird nests can block chimney ventilation. Be sure to look for cracks in the bricks and mortar skirting the chimney – you don’t want water to seep in.
  • Roof. Curling, cracked, and missing shingles are good signs that your roof needs a repair or replacement (especially if it’s 25 years or older). Be especially vigilant for a roof that sags. That issue requires immediate expert attention.
  • Foundation. The grade around the foundation should be 8 inches below the siding. Watch out for cracks that are both horizontal and vertical, or ones that are growing. Take photos to keep track of the cracks. If they grow, hire a pro!
  • Driveway and garage. Watch out for loose and cracking asphalt, which may indicate current or future problems with the foundation.
  • Windows. Rotting, and peeling caulk can let in unwanted water and air. Repair this right away.
  • Decks, stairs, and porches. Cracked boards and missing screws may signal termite damage.

Inspect the home's interior

Get your flashlight ready. It’s time to take a look inside your home and inspect the following:

  • Walls and ceilings. Look out for mildew, usually recognizable by dark, blotchy stains. Brown ring stains may indicate a broken pipe.
  • Kitchen backsplash and counter. Catch dripping water behind counter space and cabinets. Look for an open space with leakage before it causes more damage.
  • Tub surround. Check for loose or cracked bathroom tiles to avoid water in the walls.
  • Service panel. Rusty or scorched electric shorts are a hazard. If you see these, immediately call an electrician. Call a licensed professional at once if the wiring is spliced and outside the electrical box.
  • Joists. Joists with pencil-thick coiling around them could indicate termites. Call the exterminator before these pests cause structural damage.
  • Safety alarms. Make sure every bedroom has a smoke and carbon monoxide alarm. Test these alarms monthly to make sure they are in working order.

Your DIY inspection can help you catch problems before they snowball into bigger, more expensive repairs. When you spot a problem, call the appropriate specialist to handle it. Trying to make a repair that is outside your comfort zone or expertise may only add to the problem and jeopardize your safety.


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