What I'm Seeing Now

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Dormers As Architectural Details CAN Look Good, But Can Rot Quickly

On new construction I see a lot of dormers on roofs that are simply interesting architectural details and have no function other than to look good. 

Dormers as architectural details CAN look good, but can rot quickly.

I say that for lots of reasons.

There is usually a lot of wood. 

Of course, wood has six sides!  All sides MUST be primed and the exposed faces painted with two coats ON TOP OF the primed coat.

They say to never say never.  In my experience (that is my disclaimer) builders NEVER prime all six sides.  During an inspection I can see from the brush strokes that the contractor did NOT use two coats.

And worst of all, OFTEN the painting is done when it is too cold outside, which sets the paint up for failure. 

I have had many posts about painting DONT'S, but HERE is one about when it's too cold to paint.

The paint peels and the wood rots.

OFTEN the joints are not mitered well, with wide gaps and very unprofessionally.  Of course, the gaps are filled with caulking.  Caulking does not last very long.  Gaps open up and the wood rots.

But here is one important point.

Do you see the raised shingles at the top?  Those are the so-called ridge vents.

They are a slice out of the roof through which air travels to help ventilate the space.  Such venting is essential.

It helps carry off heat and moisture.

From the inside these dormers are open to the general attic space.  You can see the big opening cut there.  And intentionally!  This is so air will flow.  Convection moves the air from the soffits to the ridge vents.  Heat and moisture is carried off as this air moves.

But looking inside those dormers from inside the house, I can clearly see the bottoms of shingles!

Number one, the vent is pretty narrow.  It should be about 4".

But number two, the cute vent might be visible from the outside, but air cannot escape if the slot is covered by shingles!

CLEARLY THIS IS A ROOFER, OR HELPER, WHO DOES NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT HE IS DOING.

If heat builds up and air does not move, the space becomes more conducive to the amplification of molds and rot.  Dead air is friendly to mold and rot!

I looked out the window and from this room saw four other houses with the dormer detail.

Typically, in my experience (there's that disclaimer again), when a mistake is made in one place the same contractor will make it over and over!  I will never know, but I would LOVE to see under those other dormers on those other houses!

In time, as these dormers begin to rot, people will chalk it up to wood doing what wood does.  Sure, the installation is crucial, but so are the physics!  These dormers are set up for failure, just like the paint job.

My recommendation:  a pre-drywall inspection looks at everything.  Houses are composed of systems which all interact to make it healthy and properly built, or the opposite.  Pre-drywall is one great way to see how those systems interact.

 

 

 

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 25 commentsJay Markanich • May 02 2013 04:34AM

Comments

Hi Jay,

What crappy work on the venting. Was there no ridge venting installed at the ridge? I don't see any. Ridge cut too small like you said it needs 2 inches on each side of the ridge. Not Two inches total.

Many builders want to show off their work. But after we get there they don't want us back. They have nothing to be proud of. Until shown how to do it right the first time. They will continue to do it the wrong way till caught by a inspector.

Have a good day in Bristow my friend.

Best, Clint McKie

Posted by Clint Mckie, Desert Sun Home, Comm. Inspection 1-575-706-5586 (Desert Sun Home, commercial Inspections) over 7 years ago

Yes, Clint, I said it should be about 4" wide total.  But even if it is wide enough, if covered by shingles and air can't move the width is immaterial.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Good morning professor;  my lesson for today is "Dead air is friendly to mold and rot!"  Thank you for the lesson.

Posted by Kenneth Cole, NYS Licensed Real Estate Salesperson (Weichert Realtors Appleseed Group, 2043 Richmond Ave. S.I.N.Y. 10314. office phone 718-698-9797, Appleseedhomes.com -) over 7 years ago

I have to agree. Dormers are nothing but a hole in the roof that lets water in. Great post! Congrats on the feature!

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) over 7 years ago

'Tis Ken, especially in below ground living spaces or crawl spaces.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

I understand the reason - making houses all look different - but given the choice, Michael, I would choose one without dormers.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

After 25 years and no big issues, now I have to go up and peek at the underside of my dormers

Posted by Ed Silva, Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally (Mapleridge Realty, CT 203-206-0754 ) over 7 years ago

Ed - well done they should last a long time!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Jay, Who'd have thought dormers could be so potentially complicated?  Good to know!

Posted by Liz and Bill Spear, RE/MAX Elite Warren County OH (Cincinnati/Dayton) (RE/MAX Elite 513.520.5305 www.LizTour.com) over 7 years ago

Unprofessionally done, Bliz, they are opportunities for weather to destroy!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Mistake, stupidity, or laziness? Hmmm, maybe all three? Dormers are a nice architectural design, more so if they go into a room upstairs, or open a ceiling area. If they are just "dummy's" for looks, it makes no sense to me.

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) over 7 years ago

It is a dummy detail Fred.  But for looks only.  As these mistakes are amateur ones, due to the "professionalism" in new construction that I so often complain about.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Jay, something as simple as a decorative piece can cause long term problems. Another good reason for a pre-drywall inspection. Catch these things before a problem occurs.

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA over 7 years ago

Good morning "Father of Pre-Vention".....akin to Mother of IN vention....good point....decor can be a chore !

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Real Estate Agents - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) over 7 years ago

I have to agree that a pre drywall inspection is a must to ensure all items are correct. It is expensive when they have to go into the wall.

Posted by Harry F. D'Elia III, Investor , Mentor, GRI, Radio, CIPS, REOs, ABR (RentVest) over 7 years ago

Hi Jay.... capes with a gable roof lack light and space upstairs.... gambrel capes have the floor space and then the gable dormers are not needed....

Posted by Barbara Todaro, Previously Affiliated with The Todaro Team (RE/MAX Executive Realty - Retired ) over 7 years ago

That's the idea Mike!  We try to catch, too!

Very good word S&D!  I like it!

Harry - despite the builders continually saying that with so many inspections by the supervisor and county that a home inspector isn't necessary?

Barbara - I like a gambrel roof detail, but you're right about them not needing dormers.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Too late, I have three dormers that look to be done properly. Thank goodness.

Posted by Tammie White, Broker, Franklin TN Homes for Sale (Franklin Homes Realty LLC) over 7 years ago

ANother great post with lots of helpful information.  I never really thought about the fact that fake dormers are more of a liability.

Posted by Marc McMaster, Putting my clients before myself (RE/MAX Centre Realty) over 7 years ago

Never would have thought that fake dormers could cause so many issues.

Posted by Frank Harper, Broker/Owner, Realtor, GRI, SFR. (Idaho Family Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Jay -- if they are going to put dormers on for decorative purposes - one would think they would take the extra care to make sure they weren't just creating future huge holes in the roof.

Posted by Steven Cook (No Longer Processing Mortgages.) over 7 years ago

And I am happy for you Tammie!

They are a liability in that they are more vulnerable to weather than no dormers Marc.

Frank - even real dormers can cause those issues!

Steven - that's essentially what they are.  Look at the gap on the wood trim just under the shingles, yet to be painted.  That kind of gap is typical.  They will fill it with caulking.  Not good!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Jay - I almost never see all sides of wood painted. Its a forgotten area, out of sight out of mind.

Posted by Eric Middleton, Professional Property Inspector (Closer Look Property Inspections Inc.) over 7 years ago

Morning Jay wasn't aware of the painting of all sides of the wood.  I learn something new everyday here on the Rain.

Posted by James Dray, Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results (Fathom Realty) over 7 years ago

I agree Eric.  Bare wood is bare wood, no matter where it is.  And one the end, bare wood is a zillion straws.

James - see the response to Eric!  But think about it - wood has six sides.

 

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

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