Inspecting Interior Floors
Floors take more abuse than any other surface in a house. Many things get knocked or spilled and children and pets cause a great deal of wear and tear.
Flooring materials include hardwoods and laminates, tile, rolled vinyl, vinyl tiles, carpet, painted concrete and the baseboards around the perimeter of the room.
When inspecting the floor, your primary concerns will be the condition of the floor covering and potential water intrusion in areas very similar to those discussed in the article on walls.
Look for stains and worn or damaged areas. Look for missing baseboards and carpet transition strips. Carpet strips are where the carpet meets another type of material such as linoleum, wood or tile. Transition strips are usually made of metal or wood, are generally found in doorways and if loose or missing can create a TRIPPING HAZARD .
There are many other HAZARDS found in the floor area. Worn carpet, worn or cracked linoleum, broken and raised tiles are a few examples of things that could cause a person to trip or fall.
Fireplace hearth bricks that are sticking out in an area where people walk are a HAZARD . Pathways should always be clear of objects that could cause tripping or falling. This is especially true if there are children or elders in the home.
Another dangerous condition is an uneven floor. When a homeowner adds on to their existing home, converges a garage to a living space or simply changes the flooring materials, it can leave a slight difference in the level of the floor. Any change in the level of the floor that is more than one inch can cause a person to trip or fall. This is truly a potential HAZARD .
REMEMBER, HAZARDS ARE A PRIORITY WHEN IT COMES TO REPAIRS AND / OR REPLACEMENTS .
Hazards high lighted in bold print on a home inspection report could influence a prospective buyer's decision to purchase your home.
Tripping hazards from a sudden change in the floor surface is not the same as an irregularity in the overall level of the floor. Irregularities are caused by changes in the floor joists or foundation where sagging or sinking may have occurred. A “crown” or bump in a floor is an irregularity.
Older buildings often have floors that have sagged from the natural dip of the wood sub floor materials. Inspecting this condition will require a careful look in the crawl space to be sure there is not damage to the foundation or underpinnings of the floor.
If you have a sagging floor, a floor that appears to dip in a corner or you notice a crown, make a note to look for obvious damaged when you later venture under the building. This becomes particularly important when a homeowner has cut a hole in a floor to provide a stairway to a lower level and has not properly supported the cut floor joists.
I live in an area where there are a noticeable number of mountain cabins. Many of them were built on the side of a mountain and have large open spaces under the building. It is common for homeowners to turn the spaces into recreational areas with access provided by a new stairway .. The obvious question would be “Were permits filled?”
One of the most scrutinized areas for floor damage is in the bathroom around the tub, the shower and especially around the toilet.
Loose or discolored linoleum in such locations is usually a sign of water intrusion and possible deterioration in the underlayment or in the sub floor. This is area where the home inspector will use a moisture detector such as a GE Surveymaster Protimeter to look for water intrusion. Most of the termite inspectors I have met do not have one of these tools. They rely on discoloration, uneven or spongy flooring, obvious dampness and evidence of moisture when looking at the sub floor in the crawl space area.
Taking an awl and gently poking around in an area may reveal soft underlayment. Be careful not to damage the floor covering.
Check and see if the toilet is properly secured to the floor. This can easily be done by standing with the calf of your leg under the front of the toilet bowl and giving it a slight lift. This procedure should only allow you to move the toilet up and down very slightly. More than slight movement means that the hold-downs are loose.
If the toilet is very loose it will cause the “Wax-Ring” between the toilet and the plumbing flange to leak. Water leaking from under the toilet will soak into and swell the underlayment of the floor and discolor the linoleum. If the toilet is over a concrete slab the potential for wood deterioration is eliminated but organic growth and deterioration of the floor covering will still be an issue.
Another common finding that you can easily eliminate is cracked or loose caulking at the base of tubs and showers. Caulking the bridges will eliminate an inspection note and cause the home inspector to nod his head in approval.
Another place where water intrusion is often found at outer door thresholds. This is not only true for hinged front or back doors but also for sliding patio doors. Water will see through poor or missing flashing and soak the underlayment and sub-flooring.
Usually less pervasive areas will be around the dishwasher or possibly behind the clothes washer. If you have a water dispenser in the refrigerator the valve and tubing behind the refrigerator should also be inspected.
Keep in mind that if there is water available in an area, there is a possibility of water leaks and damage.
Record any loose, stained or missing baseboards.
Another item that is reported over and over again is the gap between floor coverings and the thresholds of exterior doors. Moisture and debris from the bottom of shoes could eventually create problems in the sub floor, particularly in rain and snow areas.
Fill the gap between the threshold and any grouted tile, vinyl or wood and you will make the visiting home inspector think a home inspector has prepared the building.
FLOOR FINDINGS: REMEDIES AND SOLUTIONS
Worn or damaged floor coverings may have to be repaired or replaced.
Repairing is not common because most repairs look like repairs. I am sure that is why most people, including flooring contractors, replace instead of repair.
If there is obvious underlayment or sub floor damage under the floor covering, replacement may be your only choice.
A qualified tradesman should only do repairs on damaged underlayment.
At times a Realtor will recommend cleaning the floor coverings rather than replacing them. As with window coverings, the new owners may want to pick their own colors and styles.
Do not replace or lay new linoleum over damaged or deteriorated flooring. Deteriorated wood should always be removed before laying new linoleum.
Broken or missing ceramic tile pieces can be replaced but the tile pattern or color batch may no longer be available. Changing the pattern with contrasting tiles may be less expensive than replacing the entire floor but is labor intensive.
Repairing stained and deteriorated hardwood flooring will usually require the skills of a professional flooring contractor. Small spots can sometimes be colored or bleached as needed. I would recommend having a professional give you an estimate for repairs.
Caulk or fill gaps between the door threshold and adj. Flooring materials and you will eliminate a note.