Since Sandy, home inspections bring new challenges

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WOODBINE — It’s been nearly three months since Hurricane Sandy blasted South Jersey, but for local home inspectors, the real work is just beginning.

Storm damage means a home inspection is a whole different ball game with salt water splashing around inside low-lying island homes. Flooding can mean a whole host of issues to deal with, and soggy carpets are just the beginning.

Bob Galster owns Pillar to Post, a home inspection service located in Woodbine. Galster assists home buyers, home sellers and real estate professionals concerning the true condition of a home when it is about to be sold.

“We’re most concerned with hidden damage,” Galster said.

The crawl space, he said, tells a lot about the health and safety of a home after a storm has passed. In the wake of a storm like Sandy, Galster said home inspectors will be on alert for salt water damage issues.

If a home was flooded, Galster said would-be home buyers should ascertain that the seller professionally mitigated any damage.

“This is going to be an ongoing issue for many years, as the homes that were damaged are eventually sold,” he said. “If the homeowner hasn’t taken the upper hand, there could be problems. The homeowner must show that they were proactive.”

Mold remediation, he said, is a big issue. Mold can be a serious concern even when there isn’t storm damage to mitigate, especially for someone with a sensitivity, allergies, or health problems. After the bay and ocean roll through, mold sampling is a must. 

“Part and parcel” of a home inspection, he said, is a thorough review of every facet of a home. A professional inspection takes a long time under normal circumstances, post-hurricane inspections take a bit longer.

“I look for the water line outside, or in the crawl space,” he said. “Obviously if a home is up on pilings, or elevated about the base flood elevation, it’s not a problem, but in an older home you have to check.

“Salt water is a killer,” he said.

If salt water came in contact with an HVAC unit, water heater or other appliance, it has to be replaced. Electric receptacles are vulnerable to salt water too, he said.

“You don’t want any mechanicals that have been damaged,” he said. “Everything should be replaced if salt water came in contact with it.”

Ground floor units suffered serious damage throughout the island, he said.

“If they’re on the ground, you have to get the drywall out, the carpet, the flooring, it all has to go out,” he said.

Newer buildings, he said, use what is known as Hardie board, WonderBoard or Durock.

“It’s half fiberglass and half concrete, and it doesn’t absorb water,” he said.

Galster said the construction material, an underlayment that has been used to replace conventional drywall in areas of high moisture, is a real breakthrough for seashore homes. While it’s generally used in bathrooms, it’s a great product for a ground level storage room or garage. Layers of concrete are formed into reinforced sheets installed on the wall or on top of a subfloor in locations where tile will be installed. It does not rot or absorb water like drywall can.

“It’s a really good product for areas that are susceptible to flooding,” he said. “You use that on a ground floor, for the first four feet above the ground. Any building that used that is in good shape.”

Insulation has been another big issue, he said.

“Any insulation that got wet has to be replaced,” he said.

While most newer homes were spared water damage beyond the garage, which was quite common, he said some homeowners found that the water had come in the crawl space under their house, and in some cases, contaminated the insulation. Homeowners who did not go under their homes and inspect their crawl space may be in for a not so nice surprise down the road.

Galster, who has performed over 5,000 home inspections since 1997, said Sandy was quite a disruption.

“The storm really knocked down the market for a while,” Galster said. “The late fall is normally a slower period of time, but November was not busy at all, and then December was about average. The storm just sort of stopped everything.

“Any home that was inspected, but had not gone to closing before the storm, I had to re-inspect after the storm to check for damage. Some homes that were supposed to settle were damaged and the settlements have yet to occur.”

South Jersey, he noted, usually suffers the wrath of a northeast storm, and most of the damage he sees on a roof would be with the shingles on the northeast side of a home.

“It’s odd, after Sandy I’m finding damage on the southern side of the building,” he said. “It’s a little different than usual.”

Sandy, he said, was less of a wind event and more of a flooding event.

Galster said he has seen some heartbreaking situations.

“We have friends that live on Bay Avenue and their home was knocked off the foundation,” he said.

The 90-year-old home will most likely have to be torn down as it is structurally unsound, but the homeowners are battling with their insurance company.

“The insurance company says it will give them $20,000,” he said. “There is so much structural damage it’s basically a tear down. There are a lot of heartbreaking stories out there. Some things just can’t be fixed.”

Galster said the storm has increased business in one area – people who are not buying or selling a home, but just want to be on the safe side that the home is sound.

“They’re calling and asking if I will go underneath and check the house out,” he said. “They want the peace of mind that everything is OK.

“It’s going to be an interesting time as we move forward,” he said, adding that the situation will take a very long time to play out. “This really is just the beginning.”

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