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Wednesday, January 08 2014

Wow! 2013 was another great year for Hartman Home Inspections. There were some lean years between 2007 and 2011. But the Seattle real estate market is back and back with a vengeance. What a difference two years has made. Multiple offers and competitive bidding has returned.

The phone was ringing off the hook all summer and work had to be turned down, even though we hired a new full time employee, Jeremy Lockrem. Two inspectors on site has been well received by all parties. It allows us to complete the inspections in less time, and two pairs of eyes are better than one pair. Jeremy has a passion for home inspecting, is a considerate and conscientious professional and has exceeded our high expectations. We are fortunate to have him on board.

The addition of sewer scoping has also been very successful. The ability to schedule the service at the same time as the home inspection has worked out well and allows for a one stop shop. 
This eliminates the need for coordinating two vendors or scheduling two appointments. We have updated our equipment twice in under two years and continue to hone our reporting methods.

We’re looking forward to 2014, our 14th year in the home inspection business. The Seattle job market, especially construction and technology, appears strong. This fact, coupled with the fact that the Pacific Northwest is a great place to live, translates to a robust real estate market. 

Thanks to the buyers, sellers, and owners who used our services this year, and to our associates in the real estate community who referred Hartman Home Inspections. We appreciate you all!

Don Hartman, Owner
Hartman Home Inspections

On Sandy’s Drunk Nuts:
We have struggled over the years to find a special way to say “thank you” to our business associates. A few years ago, Sandy Hartman (my wife and our business manager) created a special holiday nut recipe and named it Sandy’s Drunk Nuts.

Over the years our list of nut recipients has grown. This year, had you stopped by our kitchen during the holiday season, you would have witnessed Jeremy and I slaving over multiple pans of hot nuts. Sandy was tough on us because it is her recipe and they are Sandy’s Drunk Nuts after all. So quality control was heavy-handed.  Sandy had to use the rolling pin several times to keep us in line (and make sure the ginger vodka was kept solely for flavoring the nuts). After all the nuts are packaged, we sit down with our agents’ list to do what we fondly refer to as the “Nut Cut.” The bottom line is we try to give to all who have worked with us over the year.  This year, however, was so robust and our roster has grown so much that we have surely missed some people. Our apologies if this is the case. If we missed you, and you have a craving for Sandy’s recipe, give the office a call and we’ll make sure you get a pack (while they last).They are especially tasty on a spinach, pear, and blue cheese salad or on a morning bowl of oatmeal. 

Cheers from Sandy and Don; see you in 2014, and Go Seahawks! 

Posted by: Don/Sandy AT 04:22 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, December 23 2013
Ad Multos Annos

          Looking back on the year of working with Hartman Home Inspections has been a refreshing experience. It has been a pleasure interacting with clients and giving them a first-rate evaluation of the home they want inspected. Don and I take pride in assisting anyone from first-time home buyers to seasoned real estate investors.

          Previous to being a home inspector, I was a concrete mixer truck driver, and also did concrete finish work. I was a semi-truck driver for a few years. I also worked with Washington Mechanical Contractors for several years. One thing I have noticed after leaving that industry and moving into home inspecting, is that in general, on some commercial and residential job sites, you will find a good amount of cranky, coarse, and crude people.  On the other hand, there are a number of brilliant, hard working, loyal people in the construction industry as well, and I will have lifelong friends from those days. After interacting with some folks in the trades who are highly skilled in spitting, blowing snot rockets, and using the f-word in front of every noun, it is so refreshing to interact with sincere and friendly realtors and clients.

          It is beneficial to have experience in the trades before going into home inspecting, but the key is to have obtained those skills by working with contractors who build things in the correct way, and who do superior quality work.  If a person going into home inspecting has construction experience with contractors who just slap something together as cheaply as possible, they pick up some bad habits, and they would probably be better off not having any experience at all.  Poor quality building habits don’t transfer well into a home inspection career. I can truly say I am now grateful I never picked up any bad habits. With the experience that Don has, and my background, we are honored to provide a high quality service.

          Don and Sandy have forged a strong bond with a network of exceptional realtors over the years.  These realtors truly take care of their clients, and they know that we will provide an incomparable service with Don and I performing a home inspection and sewer scope in a high quality, and efficient manner. Sandy is the office pro, and people always say how kind and warmhearted she is on the phone; well she is exponentially more kind and warmhearted in person.

          It has been an honor working with Don in the field, and Sandy in the office. With a feather in the cap, I look forward to engaging with the hard working realtors and their clients in the years to come. 

Thanks, Jeremy

Posted by: Jeremy Lockrem AT 01:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, October 29 2013

    We hope we will never feel the “earth move under our feet or our house come tumblin down.” That said, an earthquake is one of those events in the northwest that everyone knows will happen sometime, but no one knows when.  So it’s best to proactively prepare for the disaster that will come unexpectedly.  Here are some tips to consider.


    Appliances and other large objects should be anchored to prevent movement or tipping over.  Make sure your hot water tank is properly secured with strapping to the wall studs.  The furnace should be bolted to the floor.  The refrigerator and range should be secured to the wall.


    If your home has natural gas service, there are a few ways of reducing natural gas leaks that could be a fire hazard in the event of an earthquake.  Make sure your gas appliances are properly anchored, and have flexible pipe connections. The same safety measures apply to those in rural areas who use propane for appliances.  


Make sure you know where your gas meter location is, and have a wrench next to the meter so you can turn the manual valve to the off position in the event you smell gas leaking after an earthquake.  A better solution is to install an earthquake actuated valve to the gas meter.  This valve shuts the gas off when it senses the shaking of an earthquake.  This way it will be safely shut off even if no one is present.                  


There have been many earthquake safety improvements to home design over the years such as bolts and straps to home foundations, the use of framing anchors and hold downs to joists and studs,  and the building of shear walls to improve stability from side to side movement.  If your home is more than 50 years’ old, it may not have been constructed with seismically safe techniques. It would be advisable to have a qualified contractor or engineer determine if your home is built for earthquake safety.  If it is not, it would be a good idea to have your home seismically retrofitted to current standards.


In the event of an earthquake, it’s a good idea to have a disaster supply kit in an accessible location. Your kit should include a fire extinguisher, a flashlight with a separate pack of batteries, a solar powered charger for your mobile device (ipod, android etc.), cash, a first aid kit, non perishable food, water, and a box of wine. (Bottled wine might break.) So when Carol King sings, “I feel the earth move under my feet,” don’t assume that she is talking about an emotional experience about physical attraction and taming your emotions. She just wants you to earthquake retrofit your home.


Being prepared for an earthquake, or any disaster, will bring more peace of mind to the rest of your day-to-day life.

Posted by: AT 11:04 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, May 16 2013

Many older homes have 3-prong outlets with no grounding wires attached to them.  This condition is called an ungrounded 3-prong outlet (or “open ground”).  A typical wiring configuration on a correctly wired outlet consists of 3 wires.




The slightly smaller slot on the right side of the outlet is called the “hot.“ Its symbol is (+). The conductor wire supplying power and connected to this slot is black or red. The hot wire carries an electrical charge from the main panel and to the device you're plugging into the outlet. The slot on the left, slightly larger, is called  the “neutral.”  Its symbol is (-). The conductor wire connected to this slot is white in color. This wire returns the electric charge to the panel when you plug a device into the outlet, thus completing a circuit. The end result is a working device.  The hole under the two slots is the ground.  The grounding wire is green, or sometimes bare copper. It’s purpose is to safely carry unwanted electrical current safely to ground.


A properly grounded electrical panel is connected to a metal rod driven into the ground called the “grounding rod.”  There is a copper wire that is attached to the panel’s neutral bus and connects it to this rod. Typically, correctly grounded panels are double grounded to plumbing and gas piping, although this can depend on specific municipality requirements. There should be no confusion about the white neutral wire and the green grounding wire. Simply put, the white wire is part of the circuit and the green wire is not. The device will not work with the white wire disconnected but will work with the green wire disconnected.


If you look around your house, you will notice that just about every appliance that has a metal case has a three-prong plug. Even computers that appear to be plastic have a metal encased power supply. The idea behind grounding is to protect you and your equipment.  An example here is that if a loose hot wire touches a metal case, or if a power surge or lightning strike affects an improperly grounded appliance, it may energize the case. Any person who touches it can be harmed and it could be potentially fatal. The human body contains just  enough resistance to electrocute us. With the metal case properly connected to the ground wire, should the positive wire touch the case, it will short out on the case and this should trip the breaker. Now the appliance wont work but it won't electrocute you either.

When three prong ungrounded outlets are present the best solution is to have an electrician correctly wire the outlets. This may mean running new modern cable to each outlet. Modern cable for  residential wiring is commonly known as Romex, typically 12/2 or 14/2 with ground.


This is the best solution. However, sometimes it is just not practical because of finished walls and ceilings or budget will not allow rewiring. Until the incorrectly wired outlets can be correctly wired a simple solution is to have an electrician install two prong outlets. This is a correct wiring configuration when no ground is present.  It is important to understand that  if you cut off the ground on the cord or use a cheater plug (pictured above) in a two prong outlet the appliance will still work; but you have nullified an important safety feature. It is particularly important that appliances or anything with a steel case are plugged into grounded outlets. Until the outlets can be correctly wired, there are other safety devices such as GFCI and  AFCI breakers and surge protectors that can be installed in the panel and elsewhere to provide an additional level of safety.  An electrician can advise you on the best and safest solution for your specific circumstances when three prong ungrounded outlets are present in a dwelling. Basically, a grounding wire (green wire), along with the breaker on the panel, will protect appliances, electronics, and you.


I was listening to Stevie Wonder’s “Higher ground” the other day, and in the lyrics he wants people to keep on learnin’, sleepers to keep on sleepin’, preachers to keep on preachin’, and the world to keep on turnin’, and don’t let nobody bring you down till you reach your highest ground.  Some folks think he’s singing about past reincarnations and a destination in heaven, but I think he was actually wanting folks to be safe in their use of electrical devices. If your outlets reach the higher ground, nothing’ will bring you down.

Posted by: Jeremy Lockrem AT 03:41 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, February 09 2012
Every time I think this is the last failed LP siding job I will inspect, I get proved wrong. Yes, there is still a lot of LP siding out there. Just a Little history of Composite Siding:

The most commonly seen problematic siding out there, hands down, is Louisiana Pacific Inner Seal Siding. 

After forming from a Georgia Pacific spin-off in 1972, Louisiana Pacific was born.  Building through acquisitions, the company bought Fiberboard Corporation and fifteen southern California building centers that provided the needed distribution points.  For long-term success however, the company needed to compensate for the death of the Southern Pine and Douglas Fir and, in general, the market for solid wood lumber production. In the late 1970’s, the company began manufacturing oriented strand board (OSB) by slicing logs into wafers mixed with resin and pressed into panels or sheets. First introduced as Wafer-Wood and later renamed as Inner Seal, the product revolutionized the lumber industry by offering a less expensive and stronger alternative to plywood sheathing. LP advertised the product as “the smart man's plywood.” 

Success of the product led to the manufacturing of many engineered wood products including the simulated cedar Inner-Seal siding. 

Manufactured from early 1990 through 1996, LP was a defendant in a major class action suit and paid claims for the product discoloring, disintegrating, and even growing fungi. Two years after the suit and after LP settled all related suits, the product was re-engineered and is now marketed as LP SmartSide Since 1997 the company has sold approximately three billion square feet with no warranty claims. 

So there you have the basic history. Now you’re thinking, “So that’s water under the bridge.” Right? Not so fast. A lot of the Inner Seal siding is still on houses in 2012. I’ve done a few inspections recently where the houses had LP siding. The siding had typical swelling at the edges and was clearly delaminating. My opinion is and always has been, that swelled, recalled, moisture-compromised LP siding should be replaced. Regardless of the maintenance, nearly all LP siding installations I look at from this era have failed, at least certainly to some degree. 

It is important to understand that once the product fails and swells you cannot reverse the deterioration, by painting for instance. In fact, painting can seal moisture in and accelerate the process. So what should you do?  My opinion is be prepared to replace. Get estimates so the expense is anticipated and you’re not surprised at the high cost of siding replacement. Typically this costs between seven and twenty dollars per foot depending on what you’re replacing the siding with. The process is quite involved and includes demo of the existing siding and usually destroying the tarpaper or vapor barrier. The trim may need to be removed and replaced depending on the configuration. Then a new barrier installed followed by new siding and trim. Finally, finished with priming, prep, and painting. So, yes, it’s pretty involved. 

Bottom line, if you’re buying a house from the late eighties or early nineties, take a close look at the edge of the siding at the bottom layers. If it’s the failing LP, you will usually see swelling and/or delaminating. Measure the thickness and compare the measurement to siding that is weather protected, for instance under an eave or in a porch. The siding should measure approximately one-half inch. I have seen measurements at lower courses that exceed one inch. 

It is really very easy to identify the problematic LP siding; and knowing this ahead of time is useful information prior to making your offer.  

As far as the SmartSide (the new LP) siding goes, I encourage you to read the disclaimers on the warranty information LPZB0523-SmartSideWarranty-1.pdf  It looks like they went a long way to protect themselves to me.  

The following photos are from a past inspection. 


Posted by: Don AT 04:35 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, November 17 2011
As a Seattle home inspector, I get the opportunity to see a lot of posts in crawl spaces and basements and under decks. There are usually no issues in newer properties. The posts generally are centered on large concrete piers with connections at the concrete pier and at the beam. In addition, there is usually a tarpaper or asphalt barrier between the bottom of the post and the concrete.

As the photos above show, the posts are well above the ground and properly supported with positive connections. This configuration is what I want to see, and with newer construction, I don’t encounter many issues. On the other hand, in older homes in the Seattle and outlying areas, I find many problems – typically in crawl spaces where there is limited access that makes installing posts difficult.

As I crawl the area, I check for connections and usually do not see any. I give the post a light push, and too often the post comes loose. I encounter other issues like posts in direct contact with the soil or at ground level where they are wicking moisture from the concrete and causing rot. Keep in mind that the farther the post is elevated away from the soil, the better. The clearance reduces, or eliminates altogether, the chance of the wood wicking moisture.

Other conditions I find are posts that are out of level and with multiple shims (small pieces of wood that are used to close gaps in the connection). My opinion regarding shims is to use them as little as possible. If the post is cut to the proper length, no shimming will be necessary. 

If new posts are to be installed on older property, they should include a solid poured concrete base or prefabricated pier, positive connections at the top and bottom, and a moisture barrier between the concrete and the wood. It is actually very basic work that should not be difficult to accomplish. Most of the time it is the lack of access and working in tight quarters that makes installation tough. 

It’s important to remember that posts are structural members that support significant house loads. So if you’re going to attempt to work on structural components, I advise you to consult with a professional contractor. 

I’ve included photos below that illustrate some of the conditions I routinely report on in older homes.

Shimmed post with an undersized pier                Shimmed post.                                 Post that is on the edge of the pier with no
& no vapor barrier.                                                                                                  connection.

Shimmed post.                                         Rotting post too close to the earth.             Post wicking water from the concrete/rotting.

Posted by: Don AT 09:40 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, September 16 2011
Has your biffy ever started talking to you? Toilets don’t speak English, instead they speak a type of gibberish known as Drip Latin.  Not quite the Latin we spoke as kids – you know, when we didn't want our little brothers or sisters to understand what we were talking about. My favorite one, usually aimed at the most annoying sibling: “amscray upidstay."

Toilets on the other hand have a special language, and curiously, it sounds a lot like flowing water.

As a general contractor in Seattle, and now as a Seattle home inspector, I have learned to recognize and heed this toilet talk. I recall a kitchen floor tile job I did for a neighbor when I was contracting several years’ back. It was getting close to shutting down time and I had crawled around all day laying tile on kitchen floor. Well, I do drink a considerable amount of coffee during the day, so right before leaving the job I had to use the bathroom. I recall hearing Drip Latin coming from the toilet. I performed the “shake the handle” thing, but to no avail. The gibberish continued. So, thinking the owners probably knew about this, I kind of shrugged it off and went my merry way, thinking I would call the owners that evening when they returned home from work  I had a few things to finish up before leaving the job and I was admiring my handiwork when I looked up and saw water cascading down the hallway and leaking into the floor cavity. Ohh sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet. Panic set in as I rushed to the biffy to turn off the water.

After clean up I, of course, wanted to find out what the issue was. As it turned out, the fill valve was not shutting off the water supply. Therefore the water continued to run to the point where it overwhelmed the overflow tube and leaked onto the floor from the handle penetration in the tank. I turned off the stop valve, left a note, and later called the owners to tell them about the incident. They told me that this “toilet talk” had been going on and ignored for a long time. The owners would just shake the handle to stop it. Well this worked until it didn't, and then it leaked until it was shut off and fixed. 

The moral of this story is that it’s easy to take a toilet for granted - at least until something goes seriously wrong. When your toilet talks, remember to heed its warning.

Posted by: Don AT 12:06 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, September 12 2011
Our website is up and running, thanks to Sandy and iBuilt. It has taken awhile but the results are well-worth it. My deepest thanks to Sandy, who happens to be my best friend and business partner, as well as my spouse. Your hard work does not go unnoticed and is much appreciated.

Our home inspection business in Seattle has been robust this year. We have added a sewer scope inspection service and the volume has been brisk. Recent scopes have revealed adverse conditions such as an electrical conduit running through the sewer, collapsed or near collapsed lines, pieces of concrete in the line, and of course, root intrusion. Although the sewer inspection results can sometimes be frustrating and require follow-up, the process of doing the sewer scopes has confirmed their importance for me. It is important for buyers to have a good understanding of a property from a structural standpoint, as well as a knowledge of what's underground.

The primary goal of our sewer scope is to confirm a working line that is discharging into the main sewer, usually located in the street; and to look at the condition of the pipe for offsets, breaks and general wear. There is one particular sewer line issue that I would like to touch on, because this has been a repeating issue for me, and can cause frustration for all parties. It is discovering that the line has roots in it. Although this doesn't sound like a major issue, its resolution can be more complicated than it sounds.

A line with a lot of roots in it, generally at the bell connections, cannot be viewed properly. We may be able to push past some of the roots, but the roots are obscuring the very connections that should be viewed. It is at the connections where there are likely adverse conditions. In short, a line full of roots cannot be properly inspected and is therefore incomplete. When we encounter significant roots in the line, our recommendation is to have the roots removed and a re-scope of the line scheduled. The only way to ensure a complete root removal is to scope the line before and after the root rooter tool has done its job. This is very important, because "clearing a line" does not necessarily mean removing all of the roots. The only way to confirm that the roots are removed, is to scope the line after the root removal tool has been run in the line. In my opinion, it is best if this is done by the root removal contractor, because he can go back in and remove any roots he may have missed, or roots that have been loosened but are laying in the line. 

The bottom line is, you can clear a line with a rooter tool but you can't see if any roots or other debris remain in the line without a follow-up sewer scope. Unfortunately, many line-clearing contractors do not offer this service. Or, the seller does not want to pay the going rate of $350 to $600 dollars for a line cleaning and sewer scope evaluation. 

My advice to the seller is to go ahead and spend the money. That way you will know if the line is clear and the roots are removed. You will also know the general condition of the line and a confirmation of its location. If this is done by a professional, they will provide you with a report and DVD, and usually this is all that is needed to complete the process. If the buyer then wants their original sewer line inspector to re-scope, you can rest assured as the seller that the line will be clear and the re-scope should be routine. 

Posted by: Don AT 04:20 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, September 02 2011
We just launched our new website and now I'm posting my first blog. Not a big deal in today's business world, but a big deal for me. With the help of IBuilt, I created and am managing our website. Yea me!

Before you think me a braggart, you must understand that I learned to type on an Underwood typewriter. I've dealt with white-out, carbon copies, and broken finger-nails and wasn't introduced to a computer until I was well into my thirties. This was a daunting task for me and I procrastinated for a very long time before (and during) the process.

We're a small home inspection company and we have had other websites during our eleven years of business. They were designed and managed well, but I wanted more control - a flaw of mine. I know the pros can give me a snazier website, and one with more bells and whistles. But I don't think that's what our clients need or are looking for. They are looking for information about home inspections, or sewer scopes, or something involving home buying, selling, or maintenance. So, my intention during the design process was to create something that reflected who we are and what we have to offer. Perhaps down the road I'll add a bell or whistle or two.

Posted by: Sandy AT 10:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

Hartman Home Inspections
3925 41st Ave SW
Seattle, WA 98116
Phone: 206.937.6359

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