Reuben's Home Inspection Blog

Problems With James Hardie Siding Installations

August 25th, 2009 | 107 comments

James Hardie lap siding is great product, but it only performs as well as it’s installed.  I’ve heard several complaints about this product from various home buyers, mostly anecdotal evidence about how the material deteriorates, but I’ve found improper installations on every damaged section of siding I’ve ever seen.  James Hardie siding is a fiber-cement product that comes with a 30 or 50 year warranty, but any warranty will be void if the product is improperly installed.  James Hardie isn’t the only manufacturer of fiber cement siding, but it’s certainly the most popular.  

Listed below are a few of the most common installation defects that I find.  The funny thing about these installation defects is that the installation instructions are very clear and very specific – the diagrams below all come directly from James Hardie.  The other manufacturers of fiber cement siding have nearly identical installation instructions.

Improper Clearances

  • Must be kept 2″ away from roof surfaces, decks, driveways, steps, and other similar hard surfaces.
  • Must be kept 6″ above the finished grade.
  • Gutters must be kept 1″ away from the siding, and kickout flashing needs to be installed.
  • Must be kept 1/4″ above flashing above windows, and not caulked here.

Hardiboard clearance to roofHardiboard clearance to deckClearance to stepsHardiboard clearance at gutter end capHardiboard caulked at window flashing

Improperly Attached
  • Must be blind nailed or face nailed, but not both.  The photos below show blind nails and face nails used together, and clearly shows what happens.
  • The proper size nails must be used (6d or siding nails).  Framing nails (16d) were used in the photos below.
  • The nails must be driven in straight, and must not be over-driven or under-driven.  The nails pictured were driven at an angle or driven in too far.
Blind Nailed and Face Nailed

Blind Nailed and Face Nailed

Hardiboard wrong nails

Wrong nails, Face Nailed and Blind Nailed, Nailed at an angle

Hardiboard overdriven nail

Overdriven nails

Hardiboard angled nail

Angled nail

What Do These Defects Mean?

If you’re buying a house with improperly installed James Hardie siding, be aware that damage caused by an improper installation will not be covered by their warranty, and your siding will be subject to premature damage and deterioration. If the proper clearances haven’t been met, they can often be fixed.  If the siding has been improperly attached to the house, there isn’t any practical way to fix this.  You’ll have to take your chances and hope it doesn’t turn out like the photos above, or you’ll need to have the siding redone.  For a full list of current installation requirements for the HZ5 plank, click here.

If you have an existing installation and you want to know if it was properly installed, you can view some of their older installation manuals here:

There may be other editions of installation instructions published in-between these dates, but I don’t have records of them.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections - Email - Minneapolis Home Inspector


Foggy Glass? You Don’t Need A New Window.

August 18th, 2009 | No comments

Fogged Window

Replace The Pane

Rather than replacing the entire window, the defective pane can be replaced.  Most newer double-hung windows have sashes that can be easily removed without any tools.  Major manufacturers such as PellaAnderson, and Marvin all have 20 year warranties on their glass.  If a window less than 20 years old develops foggy glass, contact the manufacturer.  If the window is older than 20 years, you can still replace the pane for less money than it would cost to rip out and replace the window, but you’ll need a window specialist to do the work.

Service The Pane

Some window repair companies, such as The Glass Guru, will repair alter windows with broken seals to make them look good again.  This process consists of drilling a couple tiny holes in the glass, washing out the inside of the window panes to clean up the ‘fogginess’, and then installing tiny vents in the holes to allow the window to breath.  The window will no longer be foggy, and it will stay clean.  The downside to this repair is that the window will have a slightly lower insulating value than it had before the glass fogged over, but this will cost much less than replacing the window.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections – EmailHome Inspector Saint Paul

The Buyer Should Be There

August 11th, 2009 | 2 comments

The question I get from home buyers that always makes me chuckle: “Can I be there for part of the inspection?” I want the buyer there for the whole thing.  Whenever possible.   It allows me to focus on their particular concerns, it lets me tailor the report to their needs, and it helps them to understand everything a little better.

Client Concerns

I encourage my clients to attend the entire inspection so we can go through everything together.  I try to give myself a quick tour of the house and inspect the roof before my clients show up.  This eliminates some  ‘down time’ for my client.  After that, we talk about any particular concerns they have with the house, and I try to get a sense of what’s important to them… the stuff they might not know to tell me.  Some clients are very concerned that the house is safe for children, some are concerned with security,  others are planning a big remodel and don’t care if the windows in the back of the house are rotted.

The Report

Having my client attend the inspection helps me to write a much more customized report.  I make suggestions about ways to fix things,  and sometimes I suggest upgrades they could do to the house.  My clients will often ask me to put those recommendations in the report, and I also include hyperlinks in my reports to web sites if I know what my clients are interested in.  For instance, just yesterday I inspected a home for a client who was thinking about replacing his entire boiler system with a forced air furnace, so I included a link in his report to my blog about furnaces vs boilers.
When my clients don’t attend the inspection, I end up having to write a report with my pickiest client in mind – you know, the person that expects every house to be perfect, and gets worried about hairline cracks in the basement floor.  I end up taking photos of a lot of things that aren’t problems and I document that they aren’t problems, because it saves worried phone calls later.  A good example is something call ‘checking’ in old wood beams, which is something that happens to old timbers as they dry out.   If my clients aren’t there to go through everything with me, they might confuse the checking with ‘cracks’ in their wood beams and think it’s a structural defect, when it’s really just something that happens to wood over time, and has no effect on the structural integrity.


When my clients attend the inspection, we talk about the importance of repairs.  Some problems have little impact on the home as a whole, such as a rotted storm door or a deteriorated driveway.  On the other hand, a disconnected furnace vent in the attic is a serious defect that could cause a ridiculous amount of damage over a period of just one heating season.  Without discussing these items or seeing them firsthand, it’s difficult for buyers to prioritize these repairs.

If you schedule an inspection and the inspector doesn’t want you to attend, this is a big red flag.  Find another inspector.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections – EmailDetailed Buyers Inspections

Sediment Traps

August 4th, 2009 | 2 comments

Sediment Trap Photo Sediment Trap DiagramSediment traps might have more slang terms than any other component in a home; Drip, Drip Leg, Drip Tee, Drip Elbow, Sediment Tee, Dirt Tee, Dirt Leg, Dirt Pocket, Drip Pocket…. you get my point. These names all refer to a short length of pipe installed on the gas piping to an appliance that is designed to catch any foreign debris in the gas line, and prevent it from getting in to your fuel burning appliance and gunking things up.

The basic requirements. Sediment trap requirements are fairly consistent across the country, but Minnesota is a little more strict.  Minnesota requires the following for a sediment trap:

  • Improperly Installed Sediment Trap Must be installed as close to the inlet of the equipment as practical
  • Must be installed ahead of all pounds-to-inches pressure regulators
  • Must be made of a tee fitting with a capped nipple, a minimum of 3 inches in length, in the bottom opening of the run of the tee
  • Provide a 90-degree change of direction of gas flow (the photo at right is an improper installation, because it does not provide this)
  • The cap shall be at an elevation lower than the tee fitting.

Minnesota requires sediment traps at all automatically controlled gas utilization equipment, but good luck getting a straight definition of what “automatically controlled” is.  I’ve been trying for the past four years, and I’ve received different answers from different authorities.  Some jurisdictions say that any appliance that automatically controls the flow of gas is ‘automatically controlled’, such as a clothes dryer or a range.  Other jurisdictions say that only appliances that turn on and off by themselves are automatically controlled, such as a furnace and water heater.  That’s the definition I prefer to use.

How important are they? That’s debatable.  While a missing sediment trap is certainly a code violation, I don’t feel that this is a serious defect.   It’s just a good sign that an amateur has been doing work on the house.  I’ve taken apart many old sediment traps just out of curiosity, and can you guess what I’ve found at the bottom of every trap? Click the photo below to see.

Click the photo to see what's inside

Are they becoming a thing of the past? Natural gas is actually a very clean product today, and I’ve never found a trace of sediment at the bottom of any trap.    The national codes for gas piping don’t require sediment traps at illuminating appliances, ranges, clothes dryers, or outdoor grills.  This leaves furnaces, boilers, and water heaters.  I’ve heard that copper gas lines can leave leave lots of sediment… but again, I’ve never seen it myself.

But if you live in Minneapolis… you better have your sediment traps installed.  For a Minneapolis Truth-In-Sale of Housing Evaluation, any appliance that is less than three years old (from the date of the evaluation) must have a properly installed sediment trap.  If it doesn’t, this requires repair with a plumbing permit.  The Minneapolis Building Inspections department is very picky about these.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections – EmailTruth in Housing