A Home Inspection Can Find Sill Damage and Its Causes

Water damage, rot or termites pose serious threats to wood structures in your home, especially at its base.

Years of water leaking into wood members will cause the sills to rot. Wood rot in sills next to slabs and steps is common. All too often builders will leave out the metal flashing on the sill/wall/sheathing surface before the steps or slabs are poured.

A lot of times it’s hard, if not impossible, to tell if flashing is where it should be, and if it’s been done properly. Your home inspector may need to look under the siding with a mirror to see if there is evidence of flashing. Sometimes a material like “Ice and Water Shield” is put into place. Or in older homes asphalt paper may have been used because it was allowed many years ago. The problem is that paper quickly rots, and that exposes the sills to water.

In the basement at sill areas next to steps and slabs, water stains and rot are often seen. Unless the slabs or steps are removed, there’s no way to truly tell how bad the rot damage is. A home inspector will look very carefully at these areas and do all he can to see how serious the situation is.

Termites can also cause weakened sills. They get into wood sills at your outside concrete steps and slabs. Termite damage can cause structural failure and make it necessary to spend a lot of money on repairs.

Gaps in steps and slabs are where termites find their way into your home. Those gaps are there because steps and slabs are put in place after the main foundation has been poured and the grade is backfilled. That leaves just enough of a gap for termites to come in.

A step or a slab is actually similar to a pile of dirt that’s up against your home. Such a pile of dirt creates a place where termites can sneak into a home and start feasting on the wood members.

Your home inspector will look for signs of termites. A sure sign of termite damage is a compressed wood member. One such example is the sill attached to the foundation. When the sill has weight on it, it will be squashed like a wet sponge. That’s evidence termites have been eating away at the interior of the wood, and that leaves holes and gaps that can collapse the sill so it has the consistency of cardboard.

Your home inspector will be very careful to search for termites in places like the basement next to outside steps and slabs. Porches built on slabs are also common places for termites to get into.

Termites are clever. They can be compared to little building engineers. They’d rather sneak into your house than to build a termite tunnel up the side of the foundation.

Your inspector will look for termite damage because if it is missed or overlooked, the next home owner may be stuck with major repairs and bills after closing on the home. However, a WDO (Wood Destroying Organism) inspection is required separately from a home inspection and your WDO inspector not your home inspector is responsible for finding WDO/termite signs.

As knowledgeable as your home inspector may be, he shouldn’t be in the pest control or termite extermination business. That would be a conflict of interest if he found termites and got paid for getting rid of them. The ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors) has standards prohibiting such conflicts of interest.

It’s strongly recommended that you get three estimates for repair if your home is infested with termites. Negotiate before a closing or be prepared to absorb the costs yourself.

Water damage, wood rot and termites are common causes of damage to your home’s sills, and your home inspector will be sure to describe their condition in his report.

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