What HouseCheck will inspect

These notes are intended to provide the prospective clients with additional useful background and technical information regarding the HouseCheck inspection in different areas of the property.   The information given here is just a brief summary of the information a trained HouseCheck inspector must possess.

Please scroll down to read more about the following topics:

  • Roof inspection
  • Hot water (geyser) inspection
  • Electrical inspection
  • Electric fence inspection
  • Plumbing, sanitary ware & drains inspection
  • Gas installation inspection
  • Walls, foundations and slab inspections  – including damp & cracks
  • Doors, windows & glazing inspection
  • Balconies, balustrades, decks & steps inspection
  • Security, safety & fire protection inspection
  • Free-standing exterior walls inspection
  • Storm water management & ground grading inspection
  • Swimming pools inspection

Roof inspection

HouseCheck inspectors are trained to conduct a visual inspection of roofs installed on the property, in order to report on observed defects – including the legality of the installation.

Where practical HouseCheck inspectors will check the overall roof structure, including: The general condition of structural items such as trusses/rafters, bracing, anchoring, valley boards, fastenings for the battens/purlins; the presence and condition of items such as under-tile sheeting and insulation; the condition of hot water systems, plumbing and electrical supply located in or on the roof; and the condition and safety of items such as chimneys and fire walls (in and on the roof).

In South Africa an A19 roof compliance certificate is required to be provided for all new roofs installed. This certificate certifies compliance with the National Building Regulations, both as regards the design and manufacture of the roof trusses (which are mostly pre-manufactured in specialised factories) and also the structural integrity and compliance of the roof installation.

Many older roofs on South African properties (especially old carpenter-built structures do not comply with the deemed-to-satisfy rules of the National Building Regulations. However, most of these older roofs are still structurally sound and functional. An A19 roof certificate is generally not required for such older roofs, unless a buyer or a lending institution requires such. In its report, HouseCheck may, if the HouseCheck inspector considers this precaution necessary, recommend that an engineer should certify the structural soundness of the roof.

It should be noted that HouseCheck inspectors are not licensed (nor qualified) to issue A19 roof certificates, only registered roof engineers can do this. This HouseCheck report should be viewed only as an indication of the general condition of the installation and not as any type of warranty or guarantee of its functionality or legality.

Hot water (geyser) inspection

HouseCheck inspectors are trained to conduct a visual inspection of hot water systems – including electric and solar powered geysers – installed on the property, in order to report on observed defects – including the legality of the installations.

Among the items which HouseCheck inspectors will check are: The general, observed condition of the hot water systems, including the legality and functionality of: Drip trays; overflow systems; valves; earthing; stop cocks and isolator switches and also geyser support.

HouseCheck’s many years of inspecting South African property has shown that a high proportion of geyser installations are defective in some way.  Defective geyser installations are both a safety risk and the leading cause of home owner’s insurance claims.

It should be noted that HouseCheck inspectors are not licensed (nor qualified) to test hot water systems.  In the event of a defective geyser installation a registered plumbers and/or electrician should investigate further and rectify the problem.

This HouseCheck report should be viewed only as an indication of the condition of the installation and not as any type of warranty or guarantee of its functionality or legality.

Electrical Installation inspection

HouseCheck inspectors are trained to conduct a visual inspection of the electrical installation on the property, in order to report on observed defects – including the legality of the installation.

Among the items which HouseCheck inspectors will check are: Distribution boards; legality of the location of plug points, lights and isolator switches; the general condition of built-in appliances and the general condition of visible wiring and earthing.

In South Africa an up-to-date compliance certificate is required to be provided (usually by the seller) prior to ownership of a property being transferred to a new owner.

It should be noted that HouseCheck inspectors are not licensed (nor qualified) to issue compliance certificates, only registered electricians can do that.

This HouseCheck report should be viewed only as an indication of the condition of the installation and not as any type of warranty or guarantee of its functionality or legality.

Electric Fence inspection

HouseCheck inspectors are trained to conduct a visual inspection of any electric fence installed on the property, in order to report on observed defects – including the legality of the installation.

Among the items which HouseCheck inspectors will check are: The general, observed condition of the energizer and fence; and the legality of the electric fence as regards warning signs and overhangs.   HouseCheck inspectors will not check the actual operation of the fence.

In South Africa an up-to-date compliance certificate is required to be provided (usually by the seller) prior to ownership of a property being transferred to a new owner.

It should be noted that HouseCheck inspectors are not licensed (nor qualified) to issue compliance certificates, only registered electric fence can do that. Electricians, who are not licensed as electric fence installers may not issue electric fence compliance certificates.

This HouseCheck report should be viewed only as an indication of the condition of the installation and not as any type of warranty or guarantee of its functionality or legality.

Plumbing, sanitary ware and drains inspection

HouseCheck inspectors are trained to conduct a visual inspection of plumbing (water supply and drains) and sanitary ware installed on the property, in order to report on observed defects – including the legality of the installations.

Among the items which HouseCheck inspectors will check are: The general, observed condition of visible water supply and drain systems; the general condition and functionality of sanitary ware, showers and sinks; and the legality and functionality of storm water management systems.

In Cape Town an up-to-date compliance certificate is required to be provided (usually by the seller) prior to ownership of a property being transferred to a new owner. Other local governments are expected to follow suit.

It should be noted that HouseCheck inspectors are not licensed (nor qualified) to issue compliance certificates, only registered plumbers and drain layers can do that. This HouseCheck report should be viewed only as an indication of the condition of the installation and not as any type of warranty or guarantee of its functionality or legality.

Gas Installation inspection

HouseCheck inspectors are trained to conduct a visual inspection of any gas inspection installed on the property, in order to report on observed defects – including the legality of the installation.

Among the items which HouseCheck inspectors will check are: The general, observed condition of the gas installations, including the legality and functionality of: The positioning of gas bottles; gas supply pipes; and shut-off valves.

In South Africa an up-to-date compliance certificate is required to be provided (usually by the seller) prior to ownership of a property being transferred to a new owner.

It should be noted that HouseCheck inspectors are not licensed (nor qualified) to issue compliance certificates, only registered gas installers can do that. This HouseCheck report should be viewed only as an indication of the condition of the installation and not as any type of warranty or guarantee of its functionality or legality.

Walls, Foundations and Slab inspections:

All new building work in South Africa must be approved the local government (municipality) Building Control Officer. Such work must comply with the National Building Regulations and with local bylaws. Older, existing structures may not be subject to these regulations.

HouseCheck inspectors conduct a visual observation of structures are report on aspects which appear to be structurally or functionally defective and in general compliance with the National Building Regulations.

Where visible damp is observed HouseCheck inspectors will use a moisture meter to measure and record whether the damp is old damp or active damp.  HouseCheck inspectors will use their experience and training to try and determine the probable cause of the damp problem.

HouseCheck inspectors are not structural engineers, nor building control officers and this HouseCheck report should not be construed as a guarantee or warranty of any kind as regards the structural, functional, serviceability, or safety aspects of any components or installations inspected and reported on by HouseCheck. If any doubt exists regarding any component or installation of the inspected property then the client is advised to seek specialist advice.

Penetrating damp is usually caused by roof leaks or water ingress via exterior wall cracks. Other causes may be leaking plumbing, adjacent shower or bath, planter on external wall or water penetrating the exterior cavity wall through the exterior walls as a result of incorrect exterior ground levels. Further investigation is usually recommended. Damaged areas should only be repaired and decorated once there is certainty that the source of the moisture ingress has been repaired and the damaged area has completely dried out.

Rising damp is confined to the lower parts of internal walls area. Rising damp is caused by ground water “wicking up” through the masonry due to the lack of, or damaged, damp proof course (DPC). Recommend further investigation and possible remedy by the installation of a chemical damp proof barrier. Damaged areas should not be redecorated until the source of the water ingress has been located and repaired and the damaged area has completely dried out.

Damp proofing course (DPC):  In modern buildings a plastic barrier installed at the base of walls and in wall openings is the usual method of preventing water from the ground from wicking up into the structures.  Many older buildings do not have an effective DPC. Malthoid or slate was in older buildings used to prevent rising damp. These components can disintegrate over time causing rising damp to become active and visible on the bottom of walls. It is recommended that a reputable waterproofing company be contracted to evaluate and propose best solutions to repair the rising damp.

Mould is black fungi spores which, given still, moist conditions  grows on walls, ceilings, behind cupboards and in roof spaces.   Mould is unsightly and is dangerous to the health of those with allergies.  Penetrating damp and the lack of adequate ventilation  encourage the growth of mould spores.

Efflorescence is an aesthetic problem.  Efflorescence is a white, powdery salt substance that forms on the surfaces of concrete, bricks and plaster.  It is caused by soluble salts migrating through the material via capillary action. Once these soluble salts come into contact with air, unsightly white sediment appears.

Cracks in walls, slabs and foundations:

The walls and slabs of all buildings are liable to crack at some point due to the movement and stresses to which buildings are continually subjected.  Problem soils, weak foundations, poor roof anchoring and water penetration may worsen the situation.  

Most houses in South Africa sooner or later develop wall cracks.  Most of these cracks are not serious and can be ascribed to slight settlement of the foundations, mortar shrinkage, or slight roof movement.  However, some cracks can be potentially serious and are the result of significant foundation displacement, water penetration, or excessive roof movement.

The most common reasons for cracking of walls are settlement, movement, thermal expansion, moisture penetration and roof movement. 

HouseCheck inspectors will examine and report on observed cracks in walls and slabs using the following criteria to determine just how serious the crack really is.  Most cracks are caused by movement or other loads – usually settlement of the foundations.   If the movement has stopped, then most cracks can be classed as “not serious” and are easily repaired.

Crack width:

HouseCheck inspectors are guided by the crack width criteria below, which has been developed by the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC)

  • Less than 1mm / Very slight / Normal re-decoration
  • 1 to 5mm / Minor / Normal re-decoration
  • 5 to 15mm / Moderate / Normal repairs / minor masonry replacement
  • 15 to 25mm / Severe / Extensive repair work / replacing sections of walls
  • Over 25mm / Very severe / Major repair work / partial rebuilding

Types of cracks:

HouseCheck inspectors are trained to diagnose the cause of the observed cracks.  Crack diagnosis is not an exact science and where doubt exists, then the services of a structural engineer should be enlisted.

Settlement cracks occur as the house “settles” onto its foundation, often leaves “stair step” cracks and diagonal cracks extending upwards from window and door lintels in its wake.   Cosmetic repairs such as new paint or crack repair will only permanently fix settlement cracks once the structure has fully settled.

Movement cracks occur if the house has been built on expansive (clay) soil with poorly designed foundations.  “Stair step” cracks and diagonal cracks extending upwards from window and door lintels in its wake.   Cosmetic repairs such as new paint or crack repair will not permanently fix movement cracks problems caused by expansive soil. 

Thermal cracks Daily temperature changes results in walls expanding and contracting can result in vertical or stair step cracks, or plaster cracks. 

Water damage cracks: Water penetrating walls from above (especially through cracks on the tops of parapet walls) will cause cracks lower down as the water seeps downwards through the wall and seeks an exit from the masonry when encountering an impenetrable barrier such as a concrete slab or waterproofing. 

Roof movement cracks: Movement of the roof, where it rests on the wall plate on top of the walls, can also cause wall cracks. These cracks are usually slight and can be seen along the line of the ceiling and cornices. However the weight and movement of a badly constructed roof can also result in severe structural damage to the walls below.  Roof movement generally results from badly braced rafters and trusses which can exert outward pressure on the tops of load-bearing walls. This is known as truss thrust or truss spread.  Poor anchoring of the roof to the walls can also lead to roof movement – especially in windy areas. Truss uplift can also occur if the top chords of the truss become damp and expand while the bottom chord remains dry.

Plaster cracks: Cracks in plastered walls are common, especially in older houses.  Plaster cracks may result from stresses caused by movement of the brick substrate (see discussion above). Crazing cracks of plaster can be caused by incorrect plastering techniques or plaster which has been allowed to dry too fast. One of the main reasons for plaster cracking is changes in ambient moisture levels and different expansion coefficients between mortar plaster, bricks, concrete and steel.  

Slab and Foundation Cracks: 

The reason why foundations crack is usually soil movement compounded by inferior construction. Foundation footings and slabs carry the weight of the walls and roof and so cracks in foundations will almost always result in wall cracks also.   

Water seeping under foundations (from downpipes or water ponding against structures) increases the risk of foundations sagging. Tree roots close to structures may also cause problems. HouseCheck inspectors will check water management around the base of structures.

Slab cracks are usually either the results of inferior materials and construction techniques or the result of incorrect placement and compaction of the fill beneath the concrete slab.  If the concrete floor slab is insufficiently strong it is likely to crack especially if the ground beneath the slab is unsuitable and insufficiently compacted before the slab was cast.

Problem soils:

Most populated areas of South Africa have expansive soils.  These soils contain a high percentage of clay which absorbs a lot of water.  This can cause the soil to expand by a tenth or more as moisture enters it during the rainy season.  The expanding soil then causes huge pressure on foundations and slabs.  This soil also contracts during the dry months causing big differences in the pressure being generated on the foundation or slab.  Some indications that you are dealing with expansive soils and weak foundations are:

• Cracked foundations.

• Heaving and cracking of walls and floor slabs.

• Jammed windows and doors.

• Ruptured pipes.

• Heaving and cracking of paving.

Soil movement can also result from soil collapse if the soil is sandy and the foundations have not been properly designed.

Windows, doors and glazing inspection:

HouseCheck inspectors check the soundness of window and door frames and also look for signs of leaks and damp around the edges of the frames.

The National Building Regulations (NBR) specify standards of glazing safety for South African properties.  Safety glass is required on low windows, doors, balustrades, staircases and areas of high traffic and potential risk.  Many South African homes have unsafe glazing and some safety glass is also not clearly marked in accordance with the NBR.

Where the HouseCheck inspector suspects that there may be a glazing safety issue, this will be mentioned in the HouseCheck report.  However, HouseCheck inspectors are not glazing specialists and no warranty of glazing safety is implied or provided in any HouseCheck report.   Where any doubt exists the client is advised to get the glazing installation reviewed by a glazing specialist.

Balconies, balustrades, decks and steps inspection:

HouseCheck inspectors conduct a visual check of the structural soundness of balconies, decks and steps as well as safety and functional aspects as stipulated by the National Building Regulations.  These include:

  • Balustrades must be securely fixed and be a minimum of 1m high with no gaps between vertical bars greater than 100mm.
  • Balconies must be properly drained.
  • Balconies must have a weather step or upstand of at least 50mm to prevent water flooding from the balcony to the interior.

Security, Safety & Fire Protection inspection:

Fire safety in attached garages:  If the dwelling has an attached garage, because of the dangers of fuel stored in the garage, motor vehicles or in containers, regulations require certain fire safety precautions – including an adequate fire wall within any roof cavity; a fire-resistant, self-closing door between the garage and the dwelling and a step-up on the floor level between the garage and the dwelling.   The HouseCheck will report on observed safety issues as regards the above – as far as is practical.

If smoke detectors have been installed in a structure then the HouseCheck inspector may report on the presence of these detectors.  HouseCheck will not check the functionality of such detectors.

Automatic gates and doors, especially in driveways and garages, pose a safety threat to pets and children.   Where practical the HouseCheck inspector will conduct a force test on the automatic gate/door settings to ensure that the gate/door reverses which small resistance is applied.

Intruder and access control:  HouseCheck inspectors may report on any serious observed defects as regards access control to the property and intruder protection.  However, the HouseCheck inspector will not check or warrant the effectiveness of burglar alarms, burglar bars, security gates, intercom systems and remote gate and door releases.

Free-standing exterior walls:

Garden and boundary walls are mostly classified as “free-standing”.   This is because such walls are not tied together in a continuous shape (square, rectangle, circle etc).  As a  result a free-standing wall has less integral strength than, for instance, an equivalent house wall.

This means free standing walls most do not have a damp proof course (DPC) – which is a layer of plastic or other waterproof material inserted between the foundation and the base of the wall.

This makes free-standing walls prone to rising damp and inherently more unstable that an equivalent house wall.   Free-standing walls often crack if the wall is not properly designed with adequate piers (support pillars) and sufficient expansion (movement) joints.

Storm water management and ground grading inspection:

HouseCheck inspectors check the efficient management of water from roofs and storm water away from the base of structures.   The best way to achieve efficient ground water management is by the installation of a suitable drainage system, or by installing an impervious, properly sloped apron around the perimeter of walls.

HouseCheck inspectors will also check that finished outside ground levels (including paving)  are at least 150mm lower that inside floor levels.  If the outside ground is higher than the floor inside there is a threat of water seeping into the walls above the DPC – resulting in interior damp damage.

Swimming pool inspection:

HouseCheck inspectors check the presence of pool filter and cleaning equipment (inspectors to not test the function and efficiency of this equipment); the observed condition of the electrical distribution board serving the pool; the observed condition of the visible portions of the pool shell; and pool safety aspects as required by law.

The National Building Regulations (NBR) require that swimming pools must be enclosed by a fence or wall: To prevent access to the pool from any street or public place; the fence or wall must be at least 1.2m high; with gaps between the vertical fence rails of less than 100mm; and must have a self-closing and self-latching gate.

This means that in terms of these regulations a swimming pool on private property does not have to be fenced in – so long as the boundary walls and /or fences around the property are more than 1.2m high and there is a self-closing driveway and pedestrian gate, preventing children from wandering in off the street. 

If however, the pool is open to the street then a 1.2m pool fence and self-closing gate must be installed around the pool.

Various municipalities have adopted by-laws which in addition to enforcing the NBR above, allow for a suitable pool net to be substituted for a pool fence. 

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