For those who like backyard barbecues and tailgate parties without fighting the hordes of fans at the stadium, a patio is an excellent perk when shopping for the perfect home. They come in an ever-increasing variety of materials, from poured and stamped concrete to flagstone, clay brick to cut stone, and asphalt to sand, among other options.
Depending on your budget, space limitations, and imagination, they can range from a simple, modest flat concrete surface to elaborate setups featuring mosaic patterns, outdoor fireplaces, winding steps, and kitchens worthy of the cover of Architectural Digest. A popular feature is often an attached patio cover, which also is included in the exterior portion of a complete 500-point foundation-to-roof home inspection.
Unfortunately, as any home-shopper has certainly discovered, patios and covers can be a neglected part of a home, leading to conditions that will find their way onto a home inspection report. Here is a brief home inspection checklist of defects that the home inspectors at A-Pro have found after inspecting many thousands of patios over the last 27 years.
Settling: One of the more obvious problems in a concrete patio are sections that have settled. Beyond being unattractive, this situation often presents a tripping hazard that results because of the patio’s unevenness. Further, a sunken slab that slopes toward the home may direct rainwater toward the base of the house, leading to foundational deterioration, water in the basement, and soil instability.
While it is beyond the scope of the inspector to pinpoint the exact cause of this defect (failure to tamp down the underlayment before installing, ground movement, etc.), your inspector may discover water pooling on or around the patio—an indication that water is being channeled toward the area, making it susceptible to damage. Likely culprits of this problem are improperly placed downspouts, a clogged drainage system, or complete lack of drainage. There are several options for repairing a sunken slab, including the more costly choice of tearing it up and pouring a new one or having it leveled by lifting, which can’t be accomplished if the slab has significant cracks or is crumbling.
When individual pavers have been installed incorrectly, say, the ground beneath wasn’t compact enough for weight-bearing purposes, they can sink in spots, leading to an uneven surface and, perhaps, an unfortunate tumble by the homeowner (most likely when carrying a plate full of burgers). Pavers that have caved in also tend to allow water to pool on top of the patio. Other factors that could lead to this condition include not excavating the site to a proper depth and use of improper (or not enough) fill material.
Patio Covers: Patio covers can make a pleasing aesthetic addition to a home, while also providing practical protection from sun and rain as you lounge on your favorite Adirondack chair. However, there are a number of problems that can affect the structure. While some issues are merely cosmetic, others may render the cover a safety hazard that should be immediately addressed. Defects include covers that are pulling away from the house; brackets that have not been fastened properly (nails not going through studs, for example); rotting wood; insufficient roof slope that results in pooled water; insect-damaged wood; and leaning and warped beams. Further, per manufacturer recommendations, the inspector may
find a patio cover connected to a type of siding that does not accept such attachments. Please note that inspections do not include a check of freestanding structures, such as is the case with most pergolas.
Surface Damage: Your home inspector will not be concerned about minor surface damage that falls in the realm of cosmetic-only concerns. However, cracking and crumbling of the patio’s surface will be noted by the inspector, especially if it poses a tripping hazard or invites damaging moisture inside. Water that gets underneath tiling via cracks, for example, may lead to widespread breakage and popping out of tiles in climates that subject patio surfaces to the freeze-thaw cycle. Cracks in highly permeable concrete (or concrete surfaces that have not been sealed) will invite water penetration and freezing, exerting a tremendous amount of pressure that may lead to more cracks. Homeowners are highly encouraged to be vigilant in the winter by shoveling snow off of patios as soon as possible to prevent the formation of ice in the first place. In addition, the home inspector may note multiple missing bricks, tiles, and other masonry pieces.
When assessing more involved patio designs, your inspector may find masonry steps lacking required handrails or not in compliance with other guidelines.
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