blue bathroom solid state home inspections

One of the biggest changes to homes in the last century has been in our demand for more and bigger bathrooms. Bathrooms in homes today can outnumber bedrooms and can be luxuriously appointed with crown mouldings, custom cabinetry, and chandeliers over bathtubs. For Home Inspectors, bathrooms present a challenging room during home inspections to identify hidden water damage, test all fixtures, and ensure home occupant safety.

Bathroom Features

The minimum bathroom today is commonly called a half-bath and contains only a toilet and hand sink. There is however no limit to the number of fixtures that constitute a 'full' bathroom. Items found in bathrooms that home inspectors are concerned about include:

  • Sinks and Faucets - Bathrooms can have one or more sinks either as stand alone pedestals or integrated into cabinets. Sinks and faucets should be in good working order with no leaks from supply lines or drains. Non-functioning or missing drain plugs is a common deficiency in a home inspection.
  • Toilet - Toilets should not have running water when not in operation and should have a strong flush capable of pulling debris. Toilets need to be 'sealed' to the floor connection using a wax ring which occasionally will fail and allow toilet water to seep out. A common deficiency in home inspections is a loose toilet that needs to be tightened to the floor.
  • Bath and Shower Surrounds - Bath and shower surrounds are one of the most common places to find water damage in bathrooms, particularly when made of tile or stone. Home inspectors should check this area with a non-destructive moisture meter for hidden moisture levels.
  • Bath Tubs and Bath Faucets - Bath tubs, like sinks, should be in good repair, free of leaks, and should drain easily. A common bathtub deficiency found in home inspections is slow drains which require maintenance to clean out.
  • Stand-Alone Showers - Stand alone shower surrounds are a high risk area for hidden moisture. Shower systems should also have a leak free shower base and operational faucets. Two common home inspection deficiencies in showers are a loosely secured shower head and water leaks at the shower head connection.
  • Cabinets - Bathroom cabinets should be in good repair with smooth moving drawers and doors that correctly open and close. Cabinets hung on the wall, common with medicine cabinets, should be well secured to prevent their falling.
  • Bidets - Bidets are not common in western homes however they, like toilets, should be in good repair, respond to all controls for hot and cold, test operational, and have a vacuum breaker to prevent waste water from possible back flowing into the household drinking water.
  • Ventilation - Bathrooms can be very wet environments and they need good ventilation to remove excess moisture. Bathrooms must have fans and/or windows to help provide this ventilation to the bathroom. See more on bathroom ventilation at this link.
  • Heat Source - Bathrooms should have some form of heat source for occupant comfort. This can be provided by the main home heating system or be independent such as a local in-floor heating system. Heat lamps are less common in modern construction but under some building codes they were considered to be a heat source. It is not uncommon in new construction for small bathrooms with no walls along the exterior of the home to no longer have a heat source at all.
  • Heat Lamps - Heat lamps use infrared energy to help dry and warm bathroom occupants. While less common today, they were very popular in the 1970's. Heat lamps should never be directly over a bathroom door or shower rod as towels hung over doors and rods could overheat and become a fire hazard.
  • Flooring - Bathroom flooring should be a non-absorbent water resistant surface which is also easy to clean. Carpet should never be installed in bathrooms as it cannot be adequately cleaned and it will trap spilled water raising the risks of mould growth and hidden damage

Hidden Water Damage

Hidden water damage is one of the biggest concerns for home owners, home buyers, and home inspectors. The biggest risk area for hidden damage is at shower and bath surrounds with a second risk at the toilet seal.

Shower and Bath Surrounds

Home inspectors perform a visual inspection but there are some clues which can help inspectors detect hidden water damage in bath and shower surrounds:

  • Visual Test - Hidden water will most often get into the wall area through gaps in caulking and damaged grout. A visual examination, aided with a good flashlight, of the grout and caulking will help reveal possible defects
  • Touch Test - When building materials behind surround walls become damaged by water, they lose structural rigidity. If a home inspector can 'flex' the wall area in a shower surround, it may contain hidden water damage.
  • Moisture Meter Test - There are many great non-destructive moisture meters available and most inspectors now carry these tools. They can detect possible moisture levels behind the surface. Moisture meters and operators can be fooled however by concrete walls or even concrete skim coats for tile setting so inspectors should be careful not to over-interpret the results.

If any of the tests above indicate there may be hidden damage, inspectors need to advise clients to have further investigation of the surround performed which will likely involve some destructive testing. Nobody wants to open up a wall to find that there was no damage at all so inspectors need to be careful not to over-interpret results.

Toilet Seal Leaks

Toilet seal leaks are far less common than shower surround issues but they do occur. Often, water can be seen leaking out of the toilet onto the floor area around the toilet or staining or discolouration may be apparent. If the inspector suspects moisture content, they can use a moisture meter to try and determine if there may be moisture in the floor. As toilets areas may have unhygienic conditions, for inspector safety it is best to avoid much contact with this area unless visual clues suggest further investigation would benefit the inspection.

Bathroom Plumbing

Bathrooms are a high consumption area for both hot and cold running water. All bathroom fixtures need to have correct supplies of each with hot and cold responding to the correct sides of the faucets to avoid accidental scalding injuries. A common deficiency, particularly in new-build houses, is to find leaks at the drains under sinks where plumbers did not correctly attach drain components.

Bathrooms also need to have all drains vented to encourage correct water flow. This can be particularly difficult when adding a new bathroom in a basement area but is needed to prevent dangerous sewer gases from possibly entering the home.

Bathroom Electricity

Water and electricity are a dangerous combination however bathrooms need electricity for lights, fans, whirlpool tubs, and personal grooming appliances. Three key areas of electrical safety are:

  • 3 Foot Rule - Light/fan switches and outlets should always be at least 3' away from baths and showers to prevent occupants from being able to reach them in the bath or shower and accidentally  electrocuting themselves
  • GFCI Plugs - Around sinks, plugs up to the 1970's were often labelled as 'for razor use only' and were protected from the main circuitry of the house through a low power in-wall transformer. Today, ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI's) provide an adequate level of protection from electrocution of outlets near sinks. Outlets should still always be to the side of the sink and never directly overtop to prevent electrical cords from possibly resting in water.
  • Whirlpool Tubs - Whirlpool tubs are another area where electricity, water, and occupants meet. GFCI's should also be on the circuit connected to the whirlpool tub controls. In some homes, this will be in the bathroom and in others it will be at the electrical panel. Home Inspectors are required to test this safety device while the whirlpool is in operation to confirm operation and to protect the home occupants.

Final Thoughts

Bathrooms provide a considerable amount of modern luxury in our homes but there are major safety concerns for occupants and possible major expenses from hidden water damages. A professional home inspector performing a home inspection will give home buyers and occupants the best protection in confirming the correct operation of bathroom features and safety features keeping bathrooms safe and solid.

By James Bell - Owner/Operator of Solid State Inspections Inc.