Do I Have Carpenter Ants?

Jonathan writes: I have been finding little piles of wood shavings on my backyard deck, along the bottom of the exterior wall of the house (see photo). Does this look like a sign of carpenter ants or termites? I suspect ants as I sometimes see large, black ants in the house. What's the best way to get rid of carpenter ants? Steve Bliss, of, responds: Wood shavings like these are most likely the work of carpenter ants. Carpenter ants excavate wood for nesting, but do … [Read more...]

Building New Slab Over Foundation Rubble

Kevin writes: In 2013 we decided to demolish our existing home (build in 1941) and build a new home in the same place. Because our neighborhood is built on 85-foot-deep clay over a glacial lake, the old cinder block foundation had failed in the basement and we had serious moisture problems as a result. To prevent a repeat, we chose to not have a basement in the new home. Our contractor initially told us that they would be digging out the old foundation and placing new footings under where the … [Read more...]

How Much Slope for Walk-Out?

Karen asks: We are considering buying a property that's labeled as "gently rolling". Do we need a builder to look at it in order to tell us if a walk-out basement is possible? How much slope is required? Steve Bliss, of, responds: Assuming an 8 ft. foundation wall, and assuming your foundation projects one foot above grade at the front of the house, you need approximately a 7 ft. change in elevation from the front of the house to the back for a walkout. Much more slope … [Read more...]

Metal vs. Plastic Roofing for Carport

Jill asks: What is the best roofing product to use on a carport and pergola? The carport roof covers both, which are part of the same structure. I am aware that there are plastic-coated steel sheets, polyester-coated, zinc, and polycarbonate sheets. It’s a minefield. There are lots of trees overhead, so everything goes green including the roof and patio. I was thinking of maybe going for a dark green-colored roofing product. What do you think? Kindest Regards Steve Bliss, of … [Read more...]

Testing for Well & Septic

Jim writes: Do you need a perc test if there is sewer hookup at the road? Also, is there such a thing as a well test also? Steve Bliss, of, responds: There is no need for a perc test if you are tying into a municipal sewer system. There will be a cost to tie in, however, so you might want to check with the town for an estimate of the hookup fees. You may also need to pay for some of the trenching and piping to your house. Unfortunately, there is no similar test for a … [Read more...]

Is This Lot Buildable?

Stephanie asks: Who is the right person to answer questions from the Land Buying Checklist? Steve Bliss, of, replies:  Most of the issues raised in the Land  Buying Checklist  are also discussed in Questions to Ask, which suggests where to get answers to questions about vacant land. Questions are broken down by the various types of professionals, businesses, and government agencies whom you can go to for information. While a good home inspector can do a pretty thorough … [Read more...]

Buckling Asphalt Shingles

Lee Writes: Please tell me what caused the buckling shingles in this photo. It appears to me to be the materials rather than structural. This roof was installed in April 2013 in northern Texas.   The shingles are Tamko 20-year 3-tab.  There is visible warping three years following the installation, as seen in the attached images.  The roofer has recently inspected in the attic, and sees no issues with framing or decking.  He has walked the roof and says it is stable.  The house was … [Read more...]

How to Tell if Wall is Loadbearing

Oscar asks: What is the simplest way to identify different types of interior wall structures and whether it is safe to remove some of the studs? Also, what are the telltale signs that reveal different roof structures? Steve Bliss, of, responds: As for figuring out wall and roof structures, it takes a bit of detective work and knowledge about residential construction techniques in your area. Are you planning to remodel and wondering what you will encounter under the drywall … [Read more...]

Architect’s Plans Don’t Meet Code

Andrew writes: I hired an architect who drafted plans for a loft in our townhouse. My contractor brought the plans to the city and was denied a building permit because the plans didn't fit the building code. Now the architect is re-doing the plans, and billing me for this cost and for the time required to meet with the building and planning department to sort out the issue. My question is: Should I have to pay the additional printing cost and hourly rate for the architect to figure out the … [Read more...]

Warranties and New-Home Defects

Q: If a ceramic-tile floor is failing in our less than 10-year-old home, does the builder have an obligation to replace it if it was not installed properly? Are there minimum requirements that have to be met when installing a ceramic floor in new construction? — Sheila A: There are well-established industry standards for setting ceramic tile, published by the Tile Council of North America (TCNA), in its annual TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass, and Stone Tile Installation. The guide shows a … [Read more...]

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