Reader Question: I am a young single person who is going to buy a house. I liked the article on your website titled “ What should I look for when viewing a home,” but what, exactly, should I be looking at, or for, inside a house? Sarah Y.
Monty’s Answer: Every homebuyer’s past home experiences vary. The following information does not replace the home inspector, but the more you know about the house, the more confidence you will have in your decisions. The words do not to suggest you engage in this entire routine in every home, but indeed, any home in which you have a keen interest.
1. The floor plan
The floor plan of a home is the largest component. As you tour homes be thinking about how you plan on using the house. Will you live here to raise a family? Is it temporary until your situation evolves further? Will you be entertaining? Do you have or desire pets? Do you want an office?
It is easy to overlook the hallway connectors, privacy walls, and room buffers. Are there a front hall closet and an entryway? If there is a bedroom off the living/family room, can you see directly into the chamber? If there is an attached garage does the door open directly into the kitchen, or is there a back hallway with a closet?
2. Sound attenuation
Dictionary.com defines attenuation to mean, “decrease over distance as a result of absorption, scattering, or spreading.” In a two-story home, can you hear the footsteps of a person walking on the upper level when you are on the main floor? Can you hear the basement furnace running in the living room? If sound is a factor for you, come to understand the cost or practicality to overcome unwanted sound.
The size, shape, ceiling height, HVAC distribution points, and the location of lighting fixtures, wall plugs, and light switches are important to observe. More than one person has bought a home without realizing there were rooms with no electric receptacles, or one had to walk across a dark room to flick the light switch. The room shape can play into the usefulness of your existing furniture, or the air duct may require a diffuser.
Are they double-glazed for energy efficiency? How can you tell? Shine a flashlight or other light source in front of the window; if you see four light reflections there are two panes of glass. Also, window size dictates the amount of natural light in the room. Many people see the natural light as a benefit and look for it when buying a home. One way to determine if they are well constructed is if they operate correctly and with ease. Are they drafty in the winter? Get permission to open a few.
If there is a basement, look first for a sump pit. A sump pit with a sump pump diverts the water away from the foundation. This system keeps the basement dry if it is working.
Look for evidence of water penetration or stains and patched cracks in the walls and floor. The type of wall is a construction clue. Poured concrete is less apt to crack or heave in particular soil types and more expensive to install than concrete block. Look at the basement windows and window wells for security and energy efficiency.
Look up over your head. This may be the only place to get a glimpse of the floor truss system. Is the space between studs on the outside walls insulated? The grade and species of lumber may be a clue as to the quality mindset of the original builder or owner. It is also a good idea to open the electrical distribution panel to see if the circuit breakers are labeled.
Every attic has an access point in the ceiling of a hallway or closet. It is often called a scuttle. You can take a peek into the space to observe the roof truss system, the type of insulation, and possibly evidence of animal activity. Is there storage space? Is there a floor? Is it lighted? Can you see the vent system necessary to keep air moving in the attic?
This is not an all inclusive checklist of every detail in every home, but using these observation points as a baseline, your awareness will expand to spot additional items that may be in one house, but not another.