House Grading

In over 2,400 inspections, I consistently find one defect 95% of the time, negative grading. Negative grading is when the soil around your home is sloped towards your foundation, most foundation and water problems can be directly connected to negative grading causing hydrostatic pressure against the foundation.

Hydrostatic pressure is the water pressure against your foundation, water weighs slightly more than 60 lbs. per cubic foot. If the soil around your foundation is saturated with water, there could be tens of thousands of pounds of hydrostatic pressure against the foundation wall. This makes it likely that water will find its way into your basement, as well as causing foundation problems with cracking or bowing.

Repairing negative grading usually is relatively inexpensive and easy to correct but needs to be done correctly or there may be more harm done than good. But if the the driveway, patio or sidewalk is causing the negative slope the repair will be much higher and may require professional services.

Here are several examples of what I find that looks good as I walk up to the home but upon further investigations may be causing problems:

  • Rock being used for grading
  • Mulch used for grading

Using rock or mulch is deceptive in promoting what looks like a positive or proper grade of soil. Remember mulch and rock sits on top of the ground surface, water will sit in the rock and mulch is to retain moisture, think “giant sponge”. Rock and mulch can be used for cosmetic purposes after the grading is done correctly.

I recommend that homeowners use black dirt to grade 1/2 inch a foot for the first 10 feet away from the foundation or 1 inch a foot for 6 feet away from the foundation to have proper run-off of water away from the foundation. This may require removal of concrete, asphalt, plants or shrubs. After achieving the correct slope you may replant the shrubs or plants.

In the event that your yard will not allow positive drainage, then you may have to dig down and install a swale or French drain to divert the water away from the foundation.

Gutters and downspouts are another extremely important element in water control. Keep gutters clean and downspout extensions in place (6 feet or more). Paint the inside of galvanized gutters, which will extend the life. Shortly after a rain or thaw in winter, look for leaks at seams in the gutters. These can be re-caulked before they cause damage to fascia or soffit boards. If no gutters exist, it is recommended that they be added.

Water is a great force many people underestimate, but causes the most harm to our homes, with a little forethought and planning these problems may be avoided.

My Home Stinks – What Is It and What Can I Do

My Home Stinks – What Is It and What Can I Do

There are times when I am at a home inspection and there is a smell in the home that usually is not strong but persistent and annoying. There are many areas odors can come from and simple maintenance that can repair them to keep your home smelling like you want to live there. I will explain many common smells in the home and what you can do to remedy the annoyance.

I am not talking about animal smells, that is a whole subject on its own

Sewer Odor:

Sewer odor can come from many areas in the home, but here are some common areas to look first

  • Drain traps, if there is a drain that has not been used in while; the water will evaporate and allow sewer gas to enter your home
  • Damaged or broken waste line in the home, this will allow sewer gas to enter and build up in your home
  • Improper venting of the sewer system, this also will allow sewer gas to enter the home

Toilet Smells:

Many times, a bathroom will have a persistent smell of sewer and urine.

  • The wax ring may be bad and leaking, if the toilet rocks or your see moisture around the wax ring, it’s probably bad
  • If the wax ring is bad, the toilet will need to be pulled and the wax ring replaced
  • There is the potential that the toilet is cracked, then the toilet will need replacing
  • Damaged toilet flange, not allowing the toilet to seal correctly
    • This should be performed by a qualified plumber

Sink smells:

If there is a smell noticed around a sink and the trap has been checked and is good, there are several areas to check

  • Check the sewer line for any cracks that would allow sewer gas to escape
  • Check the overflow for any debris and food that may have gotten stuck in it.
  • Food and debris stuck just below the drain lid or under the pull up stopper in the bathroom drain

Garbage Disposal Smells:

Garbage disposals are a common area of odors, because of everything people like to put in them. They are required to be cleaned.

  • First you want to clean the rubber flaps to remove trapped food and don’t forget to get under the flap
  • I recommend running a couple cups of ice with cold water, this will break food particles loose allow the water to wash them down the drain
    • Next put lemon or orange rinds to help remove deposits and give a clean aroma

Dishwasher Smells:

Dishwashers like disposals will require cleaning also. It’s a good idea to clean it monthly. There are several dishwasher cleaners that can be purchased, they work good enough but what I recommend to my clients is:

  • Remove the lower basket and clean out all visible debris, then put the basket back in
  • Put a cup of bleach on the top basket and run a wash cycle
  • Dump the excess left in the cup and pour in a cup of white vinegar and run the dishwasher though a new clean cycling allowing it to go through the dry cycle

Sewer Smell from Hot Water:

Hot water can have a sewer smell if there is bacteria in the water because the hot water will react with the bacteria. Water high in sulfur will give the water a smell like rotten eggs. This is not harmful to drink, but the smell is not pleasant.

  • To help with the bacteria, you can have a professional shock your well
    • Shock chlorination is the process by which home water systems such as wells, springs, and cisterns are disinfected using household liquid bleach (or chlorine). Shock chlorination is NOT a recommended method for treating recurring bacteria problems.
  • A home owner can also install special water filtration systems to remove the bacteria

Fireplace Smoke Smells:

If the home is using a wood burning fireplace, the chimney needs cleaned and inspected annually.

  • Damper needs to be sealed when the fireplace is not in use. When using any vents or dryer in the home it can create a negative pressure pulling air and odors into the home
  • Clean out needs to be sealed also for the same reason above

Performing simple maintenance can help to prevent unwanted odors in your home, making it more comfortable and inviting, for you and your guests.


Feiza, Tom. “Help! My House Stinks”. Working RE Home Inspector. Winter 2018: 22-25