Home Inspectors Tell All: Strange but True Tales From the Trenches
Ever wonder what's involved in a home inspection? These anecdotes are more the exception than the rule.
Home inspectors go where none of us particularly wants to go—into all the nooks and crannies around our homes, both inside and out. So you can bet that they’ve seen it all. You know—all that stuff that you don’t want to think about happening in those dark and creepy spaces.
Wait, actually we do want to know. (Is it masochism?) So we asked home inspectors who’ve been in the biz for a long time—and boy, did they deliver, with stories ranging from Stephen King–level horror to just downright weird. Check out some of the crazy things these home inspectors have witnessed. It’s all in a day’s work!
It’s a zoo in there
“Some of the nastiest stuff we find is animals—dead ones in attics or crawl spaces, which are always disgusting, and live ones, which are always scary,” says Reuben Saltzman, president of Structure Tech Home Inspections in Minneapolis. “In Minnesota, we usually find raccoons and squirrels, and inspectors in the Southern part of the country find a lot worse.”
There have been drowned frogs under water heaters, cooked mice in furnaces, frozen porcupines in crawl spaces, and dead fish on a roof. Was it a bird that somehow dumped it there, or something weirder, Saltzman wonders?
“We’ve also found wasp’s nests the size of basketballs inside of attics, and in the basement at the ceiling rim joist, and homeowners who didn’t know they had wasps,” Saltzman adds.
Bruce Barker, founder and president of Dream Home Consultants, in Cary, NC, has collected close to 6,000 photos documenting things like fried lizards and mice inside electrical panels, snakes in basements and crawl spaces, and even a black widow spider.
“We’ve found termite tubes hanging down from the ceiling. Termites need soil to travel and live, so they build tubes out of mud,” he explains. “It looked like there were stalactites hanging down.”
Then, of course, there’s the mass quantities of bird poop, which is nasty, toxic stuff.
“One of the craziest things that I’ve ever seen was a boat trailer being used as the foundation for a home,” Saltzman recalls.
“In the crawl space, I saw a tire half-embedded in concrete. I had to stare at it for a little while to figure out what I was looking at,” he says. “And I realized the whole addition was built on top of a trailer.”
Sometimes projects are half-finished, or half-baked, like a deck being held up by a single, wobbly post.
“This puts the ‘can’t’ in ‘cantilever,’” Saltzman quips about one memorable photo featuring a doomed deck.
Perilous plumbing solutions
Saltzman frequently discovers homeowners have tried to fix leaky plumbing with whatever materials they have on hand. Contrary to popular belief, duct tape does not, in fact, fix leaky pipes, shower wall tiles, or drains, he says.
“People will use caulk, radiator hoses, hose clamps, vice grips—just the craziest stuff—to keep water from coming out of a place where it shouldn’t,” he says.
This sparked some concern
Perhaps the most alarming things home inspectors come across involve electrical systems and outlets in a home, Barker says.
“I’ve seen people not putting the wire connections in boxes, and just leaving them hanging out. If I had a dollar for every one of those, I wouldn’t have to crawl through crawl spaces anymore,” he says, noting that this is a major fire hazard.
Also in the “What were they thinking?!” department: Another home featured rows of Christmas lights strung directly over a pool (see image above). When the water fountain feature is activated, the swimmers beneath could get seriously injured from electrocution.
One homeowner strategically placed a basketball net with its glass backboard leaning against the roof, making it the ideal magnifying glass fire-starter on a blazing sunny day. Saltzman has also seen a roof so covered in moss and plant debris, it should have been mowed.
Barker has been amazed to see turbine vents in older houses that have lost their covers, unbeknown to the homeowners, or worse, have been covered with strange things—like an upside-down Halloween candy bucket.
Makeshift chimney repairs are often laughably ineffective, adds Barker, who has seen flammable asphalt material used to fix crumbling chimneys.
Weird and wacky windows
In older homes, it’s not uncommon to find wooden window frames that have seen better days, Saltzman notes. What’s odd are the homeowners who think up outlandish ways to fix them.
“One of my favorite photos of all time was taken 15 years ago: Somebody had taken spray foam to fill in all the rotted wood, and then cut the spray foam to match the profile of the wood, which they painted to match,” he recalls.
Other head-scratching discoveries Saltzman’s team has made include a mysterious pile of leaves in the attic, scissors embedded in an electrical panel, a downspout aimed squarely at an electrical outlet, a roof fascia repaired with a hockey puck, and a bunch of unopened bags of insulation in an attic. (Pro tip: A home will always be warmer when insulation is actually laid out and not trapped in plastic.)
It’s not just horrifying for the home inspectors—all this weird stuff could kill a deal. Once potential buyers see things like mushrooms growing out of a floor drain, a crawl space filled with animal excrement and spider webs, or frost in the attic, they’ll wonder what else hasn’t been maintained, Saltzman says. And often, they’ll be spooked enough to walk away.
“We’ve got about 20 inspectors on my team,” he says, “and between all of us, every day someone decides they’re not buying a house based on what we found.”
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