Many vacant homes in foreclosure or bank-owned are “winterized”, meaning the utilities are shut off. Prospective buyers will ask whether Bob can inspect such a house. The answer is generally “Yes, but why would you want him to?”
Bob can inspect the house, but many of the systems NORMALLY inspected as part of the inspection will need to be “disclaimed” or not inspected. This means Bob can look at items, but cannot tell whether they work. The stove/furnace/water heater may look fine, but without utilities, there is no way to know whether they work, or leak, or are unsafe.
If the gas is off
- Can’t test gas furnace, water heater or stove
- Can’t test gas fireplace inserts
- Can’t detect gas leaks
If the water is off
- Can’t test faucets, showers, toilets or tub
- Can’t test water heater
- Can’t test dishwasher
- Can’t detect leaks in pipes or drains
- Can’t test hose connections
If the electricity is off
- Can’t test lights, outlets or switches
- Can’t test GFCI (anti-shock) devices
- Can’t test garbage disposal, electric ranges or ovens
- Can’t test heat pumps
Winterized Houses Are Vulnerable
Modern houses are not designed to be kept out of their “comfort” temperatures. Houses that are allowed to swing wildly in temperature (and humidity) will have many more nail pops, drywall cracks, creaking floors and other symptoms, and may never completely recover. Cold and dry causes some issues, but HOT and WET can allow many other organic pests to invade and grow when humidity goes unchecked. As basements typically are cooler in the summer, unchecked humidity can cause natural condensation on basement surfaces, even IN and BEHIND walls where a typical visual home inspection won’t uncover them. Wood destroying organisms of the 6 legged variety love damp warm wood.
In addition, there’s the possible discomfort of trying to inspect a house with no heat during the colder months. Recently Bob was asked to inspect a vacant house that was SUPPOSED to have all the utilities on. When he got there it was 50 degrees OUTSIDE and 40 degrees INSIDE. The water and electricity had been turned on, but the gas had not and a hard deep freeze was in the forecast. He opened the house up to warm it to 50 degrees and told the selling agent to go buy some electric heaters to keep the house (and the water pipes) from freezing that night. Everyone wore their heavy coats during the inspection, including the client’s 1-year-old child who had to occasionally go spend time in the car with a parent to stay warm.
A Cautionary Tale
A few weeks ago, Bob scheduled a Home Inspection on a foreclosed house. The house had been “winterized”, and the inspection ended up being rescheduled four times, as each time the inspection date rolled around, the house was still awaiting “dewinterizing”. Finally, the realtor was assured that the house was ready. Bob drove up and saw a problem right away.
Even before he got into the house, he knew there were going to be BIG problems inside.
Once inside, Bob found that many of the faucets were turned on, gushing water into tubs and sinks. The shower in the Master Bath had been turned on, and the head was pointing out the open shower door, leaving standing water in the master bathroom, damaged drywall, and soaked wood throughout the house.
The water from the Master Bath seeped throughout the house, including the ductwork in the garage. See the water dripping from the bowed insulation?
How did this happen? When the house was “winterized”, the faucets were opened to facilitate draining the pipes. The crew that came to “dewinterize” did not examine the house at all; they merely turned the water back on and left immediately. As a result, the water was left running for nearly a full day before Bob and his client arrived. The result? Probably several thousand dollars in repairs. If the water issues are not addressed quickly, the costs could quickly escalate.
The Bottom Line
If YOU are Winterizing a house, keep the heat/cooling on and set it for 55/85 as this will reduce costs while still keeping the HOUSE within its limits. If you stray too much outside this range, you are risking cosmetic damage at a minimum. Make sure you keep a close eye on the property, and walk through the house frequently to spot problems like leaks.
If you are BUYING a winterized home, INSIST that it be de-winterized for the Home Inspection. If the ONLY thing stopping a possible sale is the Home Inspection, the seller should agree. De-winterization may uncover more than broken appliances and pipes, as the utility companies may want back bills paid before they turn the utilities back on, and these bills could come as a surprise later. Yes, they are supposed to be caught at closing, but sometimes they do get missed and then the buyer is left to pay them or face a protracted battle to get additional money from the (now gone) seller or remote mortgage holder.