The Process: Walk-Through, Pt. 2

Returning to a much earlier point in the City-owned house purchase process (an outline of the process is located on the righthand side of the page, below the links), let’s talk about some things to look for on your walk-through.  For information on scheduling and preparing for your walk-through, see Walk-Through Pt. 1

Firstly: Cap and Boots, which is a cute way of referring to a house’s roof and foundation, respectively.  These are the most important parts of any house, because everything between is at the mercy of their condition.  Houses in this city are made unlivable mostly by two elemental forces: fire and water.  Water is the less dramatic of the two, but it more than makes up for that with persistence and prevalence.  Water keeps coming and it slowly decays every unprotected surface.  Chances are, water will be your primary foe when buying a fixer-upper.  The roof is your house’s first and last defense against water from above, be it rain, snow or ice.  Foundations are vulnerable to water, so the cap protects the boots.  The condition of the roof is very important.

Most houses in Buffalo are roofed with asphalt shingles.  The most common shingle styles of recent years are three tab and architectural.  Three tab shingles look like rows of rectangles with offset joints, like a brick wall.  They tend to be the economy option.  Architectural shingles have a more irregular look, meant to mimic the cedar shingle roofs (or “rooves”, for you Victorians out there) of yore.  These days, architectural shingles tend to be the higher end of asphalt.  Some older styles of asphalt shingles include T-lock and diamond.   The also tend to be the higher-end choice for asphalt shingles.  The lowest in the hierarchy of residential asphalt is roll roofing, which is properly used as part of a layered roof on a low-pitched deck (that’s the wood surface the roof material is attached to), but too often finds itself nailed up as a “super shingle” on a high-pitched roof.  Look for three foot wide rows, with the seams running vertically, and you will know that someone did that roof on the cheap.

Three tab shingles on the roof of the Green Monster.

Another roof component to look for is gutters.  A functioning gutter system channels water safely off the roof, preventing large amounts of water from falling next to your foundation and undermining it.  Looking at the picture above, you can see that the house lacks a functioning gutter system.  It has the remnants of what is known as a Yankee gutter, sometimes called an integral or built-in gutter.  Look for it on the left side of the photo, just above the drip edge of the roof.  This type of gutter is quite common on older houses in Buffalo.  It represents an older construction method that is largely out of use in modern building, largely because of the high maintenance.  It is made on site by nailing a board, in this case a true 1″x6″, on its side and then placing a metal liner on the uphill side of the board.  Problems arise when even a small leak occurs in the metal, as that water is trapped against the wood in an enclosed space, which invites rot.  That is exactly what happened on the Green Monster.  So pay attention to gutters, and know that “deferred maintenance” is not wise, especially on something like a Yankee gutter.

One last point of interest on roof assessment (books have been written on the subject) is chimneys.  An old house in Buffalo is almost certain to have at least one chimney, and potentially several.  On the Green Monster, we have four.  One was taken down to a point inside the attic by a past owner, probably because it was out of use and deemed not worthy of repair.  Everything below the attic is still in the wall, but at least it is not a leak source.  The second chimney is currently the vent path for the natural gas furnace and the hot water tank in the basement.  It could use some repair.  The third chimney is located in the old kitchen and is a floating chimney.  Instead of being a solid tower of masonry from the basement up through the roof, the bottom of the chimney sits on a wood frame shelf inside the wall.  That means the framing, not the ground, is supporting the weight.  The slope of the floors around that point in the house is evidence that this design is not working well.  Chimneys like this were often used to vent kitchen ranges and the like.  These days, they are much more hazard than help and should usually be removed.  And the fourth is a small chimney in the back of the house that had cement slathered over it in the past, which was a shoddy repair because the hard cement over the old, soft clay bricks broke the bricks into pieces.  So chimneys are potentially both structural and water infiltration problem areas.  See photo below for a visual example of both.  Water leaking around the chimney of a house nearby the Green Monster has not only wreaked havoc on the interior finish of the house, it has kept the wood framing wet long enough to induce rot.

Chimneys are a common leak point in older houses. Failure of the metal flashing between the roof and the sides of the chimney is usually the cause. Photo is from a house nearby that A. and I also looked at.

The boots of your house is the foundation, which we will cover in Pt. 3 on the Walk-Through.  We just happen to have a model foundation problem at the Green Monster, so I will have some authentic photos yet again.  And to close out, here is the parting thought on roof assessment.  If you can see daylight through the ceiling, you have a problem: