Things to look for in a house w/basement

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Old 02-23-19, 05:58 PM
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Things to look for in a house w/basement

So, been looking at a few homes locally and one thing we've decided we'd really like is a basement. With the cost of utilities and the small lots the developers build on, a basement will double our square footage while keeping the lot large enough, as well as cutting the cost of heating and cooling in our relatively mild winters, but extremely warm summers. I'm competent enough to assess electrical, insulation, age of WH, condition of roof, etc...but...read on..

I have never lived in a place that had a real finished basement so am clueless on what to look for in the way of bad design or possible problems. I'm sure I won't be able to take anything apart to look in switchboxes or anything, unless we make an offer. Looking for basic visual and tactile clues I can use.

We are currently looking at one in particular with 3 of 4 bedrooms downstairs a well as one bath. All bedroom windows are egress sized sliders with window wells, installed ladders, and walking grates above. I'm sure they meet code...but what problems can they cause? Do they need drainage other than the 2-3 ft of gravel? House has gutters...one of few here I've seen. Keep in mind, not in a flood prone area and when we get rain..it's normally a monsoon. Basically doesn't even soak in around here, thus our plethora of washes, drainage cuts, and large runoff catch areas. Very deep water table as well.

Any suggestions?

Not sure if basement is block or concrete...but how is it normally framed out for sheetrock? 2x3 or 2x4 on edge..or flat?

 
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Old 02-23-19, 06:22 PM
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Vic,

Hard to answer your questions as some of these things vary based on locale.

You should be able to tell what the foundation is made of from the outside unless it is stuccoed all the way to the ground. Or there may be evidence outside the basement windows. Or an unfinished mechanical room.

How the basement walls are framed is anyone's guess, much may depend on who did the work... homeowner or otherwise. You might be able to figure it out if there is an unfinished mechanical room... you will be able to see the finished walls on either side. Or you might be able to remove a wall plate off an outlet or switch and stick a tri square past the outlet box on one side or the other, to check the depth of the wall. Is it 2"? 4"? Nowadays we know not to use vapor barrier below grade but who knows if that is the way they did it back then.

Basement window wells don't always need drainage, but they often will have drain tile. That's not a show stopper in such a dry climate. You can also usually find clear plastic covers for them if you want to block most of the rain.

Poured foundations are often better than block... blocks are often weaker and if not reinforced properly, they can bow and crack from the hydraulic pressure of the ground. It also could be ICF.. insulated concrete form. That would have foam on both sides. The basement "should" be waterprooofed on the exterior side... but there my not be evidence of that unless you can spot it... or can dig for it. And that may be something they omit in arid desert climates.

One thing to look for is the carpet around the perimeter and in any outside corners. Does it appear that it has been wet? If you can pick the carpet up along an edge, look for tack strip that has been wet. Or baseboard that looks punky. Or paint that is blistering. Same thing around the window trim. Sow bugs, roleypolys, millipedes and centipedes are often an indication of moisture problems in a basement somewhere. Look for a floor drain in an unfinished area or mechanical room. Is the water heater near the floor drain?

Also you should examine the exterior drainage. The thing that surprises me about AZ is how when it does rain, it all seems to run off instead of soaking in! So make sure that the perimeter of the house is not FLAT or that you see evidence of standing water or low spots around the house. Gutters are good, a must if you have a basement. Be sure the downspouts lead away from the house and that there is enough slope for it to run away from the foundation.
 
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Old 02-23-19, 11:49 PM
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That's good stuff. I've got a list going now.

Forgot to mention...home built in '95. Really bigger than we need at 4 bdrm and 1700sf, but that will help resale down the road I imagine. Plus, seems the only way to find a reasonable size lot. (Sometimes I really miss the place back in VA). If you want to take a look and see if there's anything that jumps out.... https://www.zillow.com/homes/for_sal...t/18_zm/0_mmm/
 
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Old 02-24-19, 02:10 AM
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Just the amateur opinion of a homeowner in Canada: If you're buying a house, I would recommend buying one with an unfinished basement and then finishing it yourself if it makes financial sense. You'll be able to see everything prior to the close up and and you'll know exactly how the finishing was done, and can make sure things are done correctly. You also get to choose the entire floor plan.
 
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Old 02-24-19, 05:34 PM
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Thx Tratts...20 yrs ago that may have been an option. Old and arthritic joints don't allow that kind of work now, and I'm certainly not going to PAY someone to do it. Very few basements here as it is, and I haven't seen a single new construction with that option unless you go full custom. That's out of our price range let alone time constraints.

Probably beyond most peoples experience...but if you go 5 miles outside of town for cheaper land, you either pay to bring in electric or go fully solar. You also either drill a 1500-2000 ft well or haul water from one of the public standpipes at outrageous rates. And of course you have to go septic. All that adds up pretty quickly, esp when the builders are already busy developing areas that have been on hold for the last 10 yrs or so.
 
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Old 02-25-19, 05:26 AM
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The price sure is nice for that size house.
 
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Old 02-26-19, 01:37 AM
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Yeah, we sorta thought so too...but you have to realize, it's only 100 yds from the BNSF tracks. Trains every 30 min most days. That and I think it's been a rental for a while, so it needs some work.

Oddly, we were in front when 2 freights went by in opposite directions...the loco's were a little noisy, but with windows up on the Kia, you barely heard the cars themselves. I guess cause that area is wide open, nothing to reflect it? Heck, I slept like a baby 20 ft from 2-16 cyl Alco turbo diesels for almost 6 yrs, hows a train gonna bother me?
 
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Old 02-26-19, 03:39 AM
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You'll get use to the trains as if they were never there. But company won't.
 
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Old 02-26-19, 03:43 AM
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Trains going by that often my dampen enthusiasm for spending time outside.
There was a set of tracks splitting my grandfather's farm but they only came thru a few times a day, once at night. The night train would wake you [as a visitor] but you'd go right back to sleep. Unlike a girlfriend I had back in the early 70s that lived next to an interstate. There wasn't any rhythm to the trucks/cars and that made it a lot harder to sleep.
 
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Old 02-26-19, 01:56 PM
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But company won't.
Perfect! Lol

May not be an issue anyway. Listing says it has a bid and Realtor hasn't called back about appointment for walk thru.
 
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Old 02-28-19, 06:46 AM
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The Zillow page brought up several houses, not just one. Check the tax records for the house to see what is listed as a description. If the finished basement was permitted then it should be there. That would mean there were inspections. Not a guarantee of quality work but at least something. If it was a DIY then you would be within reason to ask more specifics. Also, if ot was done several years ago then it would be harder to hide leaks. New construction could mean leaks have not yet caused issues.
 
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Old 03-01-19, 09:38 PM
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Well, it's back on the market. Offer was withdrawn after inspection.
It's got some issues for sure, but we're still exploring. They'll have to drop the price way down, but that's probably going to happen after more people actually see the place. Relatively minor stuff for a DIY type, but most people will be scared off. Description on the link does not tell the whole truth (surprise, surprise) Btw...the one we were looking at is 3040 Alpha...listed for $160K.

There are a few things beyond me of course, but not outrageously expensive to have done.

How about why they did this... old (maybe original) American Standard package unit on the roof, with what appears to be a much newer AMANA compressor unit sitting beside the garage. Also found a manual for an AMANA horizontal coil in the closet with the compressor manual. Could what appears to be a package unit be JUST the furnace? With the coil mounted either in the attic or in the unit on the roof somehow? Was this maybe added on for central A/C? Doesn't appear there was ever a swamp cooler on the roof.

Here's another thing that's new to me. Steel framing! Interior walls, exterior walls (I'm pretty sure)...even the trusses! I've never seen that. Is it relatively common? Sure I've seen it in commercial work...but residential...not so much...and never trusses.

And why would someone stick a sump pit (In what appears to be an afterthought, tile looks like it was cut after being put down) in a closet in the largest downstairs bedroom? Takes up most of the closet with piping. Also not sealed completely, could see water in it. And why a sump at all? Seems like it wouldn't be needed with our dry climate and very low water table. Maybe wasn't planned for and basement had water issues during rainy months? Why is their water in it now?

So anyway...the hunt is still afoot. Though realtor knows of no other homes with basements in our price range.

Oh, and though we were there for over an hour, none of us heard any train noise...which are normally every 30 min.
 
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Old 03-02-19, 03:13 AM
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In the southeast steel residential framing comes along when there is a shortage [and price increase] on lumber. I've seen it happen a few times but the 'fad' never seemed to last more than a few months.

I have a neighbor that bought a house from a HVAC guy that was getting divorced. His house inspector gave the system a good report. He bought it late spring, when fall came around he switched it from AC to heat but didn't get any so he called a HVAC repairman you discovered all the parts pertaining to heat were missing .... so if there is any question about the HVAC - run it in both modes!
 
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