How can you tell if a wall is load bearing?

This is a common question, and one that begs you to ask more questions.

To answer these questions you may need to pop your head up in the attic or take a quick look in the crawlspace.

Does the wall run perpendicular to floor joists, ceiling joists or roof rafters?
Climb into the attic and locate the ceiling joists. If they run perpendicular to your wall and rest on top of it you have a bearing wall. You can also look at your roof–Whichever direction the water falls will match the orientation of the roof framing. If you have a complicated roof system this trick will be less helpful.

Does the wall run long-ways down the center of your house?
It is common for walls that run down the center of a house to be load bearing. Especially in smaller, more simple homes two joists anchored at either exterior wall span across the living area to meet at the center where they rest atop a bearing wall. 

Is there a wall directly above and/or below it?
Check upstairs and/or downstairs. If there is another wall directly above or below this wall It is most likely load bearing. Be careful–sometimes an opening with a beam carries load. If you’re not looking carefully you might assume a wall above an opening with a beam is non-bearing. 

Does the wall have direct bearing over a piling, pier, post or column?
All of these are means of connecting the foundation to the framing members to support the home. If there is a foundation piling, crawlspace pier, basement post, or even a finished column in the living area directly below the wall, it is likely load bearing. 

**If YES, you likely have a load bearing wall.

**If NO, you still might have a load bearing wall–contact a professional.before tearing it down.

These four questions can apply to bearing walls in most structures. They will help with early design ideas and renovation dreams, but they do not always apply to every home. Consult an inspector, engineer, builder or architect to be certain before removing any walls in your home. 

Note:

Many modern homes are build with truss systems, as opposed to roof rafters and ceiling joists. A home built with manufactured truss systems and engineered beams will be much stronger. Rafter and joist homes are said to be “stick built,” which may inadvertently imply weakness. Trusses can span longer distances safely and require fewer interior bearing walls for structural integrity. Take this into consideration when planning your renovation. 

What is a Radiant home inspection?

Every home inspector has their own system of order, techniques and preferences. This is a rundown of what a Radiant home inspection looks like:

I start from the road with a photo of the house and get a feel for the property as I approach. I like to step inside for a quick peek before beginning the inspection. If my client is there I will use this time to introduce myself and ask if they have any specific concerns. After a brief chit-chat, I begin my inspection at the front door and move around the exterior to the right. I poke and tap my way around the house looking up and down inspecting siding, trim, finishes, doors and windows, decks and fences, porches and patios, electrical and water components, outdoor appliances, and eventually make my way back around to the front door.

Now I go up top! The roof inspection is an important (and fun) part of my job. There are some aspects of a roof that can be inspected sufficiently from the ground, but even a small roof problem can be a costly one, so I try to walk on every roof and look very carefully. Shingles, chimneys, sidewall flashings, pipe stacks and other penetrations are of particular concern to me. The final part of the roof inspection happens later–from the attic space.

Next I throw on my crawl suit and get under the house. A crawlspace is a great place for me to get up close and personal with your home. I’m looking for wood rot from insect and water damage, structural issues, problems with ductwork, failed insulation, foundation issues, dangerous electrical situations, air leaks around plumbing penetrations, evidence of excessive vermin activity, and anything else that seems interesting or out of place.

After the crawlspace it’s Halftime. I head back to the truck to clean up a bit, grab a water and get ready for the interior.

When I get inside, I head straight for the attic. The roof inspection is not finished until I check it from underneath. I check the roof sheathing for water staining, wood rot or mechanical damage, and inspect the penetrations for leaks. Moving on, I inspect trusses or joists and rafters, ductwork and the air handler, insulation, ventilation and attic floor penetrations around registers, lights, chimneys and pipes. Much like the crawlspace, the attic usually has a few stories to tell.

Before beginning the interior inspection I open up the electrical panel to take a close look. I’ll spend a few minutes here, but this is the system I find can be most satisfying when done correctly. A well done panel looks beautiful and orderly when you open it up. It’s free of double taps, overheating, missing knockouts, pig tails, loose wires and debris; and has GFCI and AFCI breakers installed on the proper circuits. The rest of the electrical inspection takes place throughout the house with a tester.

Now I can turn up the heat or the A/C and begin inspecting the interior. I start on the top floor and work my way down, clearing bedrooms, bathrooms and living rooms from right to left. Now I’m checking boring stuff like floor and wall finishes, window and door operation, hand rails, balusters, stairs, plumbing fixtures, light fixtures, fans, etc. The infrared camera comes in handy here because this is when I test HVAC performance, find gaps in insulation, air leaks through windows and doors and any plumbing leaks if present. I finally check the laundry room and garage before finishing with the kitchen.

The kitchen area is usually where the agent and client have found a seat. It’s funny–even when there isn’t a party with food on the counter and drinks at the bar, people still congregate in the kitchen area. I’ll take this time to share photos, discuss my findings and answer any more questions that the agent and client may have. I leave the client and agent at this point to talk about their next steps together and we exchange cards and handshakes.

Once home, I begin uploading photographs and writing the report. By the end of the day the agent and clients will have their completed written report to review. With their newly updated knowledge of the property, agent and client are more prepared to move forward with negotiations, and the clients will have a better understanding of their house and the systems in it when they move in.

What is the difference between GFCI and AFCI?

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters protect people from electric shock.

Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters prevent electrical arcing, which causes fires.

GFCI and AFCI protection can be installed at the receptacle itself (those square receptacles with the ‘Test’ and ‘Reset’ buttons) or at the electrical panel in the form of a special breaker (also with a ‘Test’ button).

Requirements:

To paraphrase the standards set by the National Electrical Code:
GFCI protection is required in wet areas such as kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, garages, unfinished basements, exteriors, and near pools or spas.
AFCI protection is needed on all circuits in living areas such as bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms, dens, sunrooms, recreation rooms, closets, hallways, etc.

How Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters work:
Electricity always finds the fastest route to ground. Breakers, switches, appliances, fixtures are grounded so that electricity stays in the circuit and goes to the right places. A breaker on a 15 Amp closed-loop circuit sends electricity out on the load wire (black wire) to power a light or appliance, and then the current goes back to the source along the neutral (white) wire. The GFCI breaker has small electronic and mechanical components inside it that measure the current going out and coming back in. If the GFCI device senses a weaker current returning than it sent out, that means the electricity has found an alternate route to ground–perhaps through a person! This is known as a ground fault.
When a ground fault is detected the breaker trips, which is an immediate mechanical disconnection of the circuit within the breaker. In case a fixture or switch box has been energized and you are electrocuted, the circuit will be cut so that it will be a quick shock instead of a more harmful one. That circuit cannot be used again until it the breaker has safely been switched back on.

How Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters work:
Electrical arcing occurs when a current jumps from one conductor to another, and usually happens within walls at cracked, broken or damaged electrical insulation. This can also happen if a floor lamp is not all the way plugged in. A conductor is so close to the exposed hot wire that the current actually jumps across the gap. An electrical arc looks like a tiny lightning bolt, and sometimes has an audible snapping or crackling noise. If you flip a light switch very slowly you can hear this crackling inside the switch. The greater the current, the farther it can jump. And as long as the circuit is live, the arcing will continue. Electrical arcs are white hot and have been measured at thousands of degrees Fahrenheit. This can surely start a fire. You don’t want this happening in your home.
AFCI protection devices aren’t entirely different from GFCIs. AFCIs are more sensitive and monitor the current on the circuit for anomalies that meet the signatures of arc faults. As soon as it detects arcing it breaks the circuit before the arcing can cause a fire.