NOVEMBER 21, 2015 - As a home inspector here in Northern Utah, when I read the newsflash article in the latest edition of the Utah Realtor magazine I just giggled. I was once again struck with the way that everybody has to protect themselves from common sense. In previous times, buyers of homes had to close on a property, take a look around, and decide what they needed to do to protect the structure. If it was fall time, then they would have to shut down their sprinkler system. If there was snow on the ground, then they should have already inquired with a seller how to shut down the sprinklers and how to bring it back online in the spring, as well as to whether or not this winterization process had already been done. Then in the Spring, new home owners would have to take care of broken sprinklers and pipes that were damaged in the frigid snow and ice filled winters.
Then stepped in the lawyers as the buyers were upset that they had to repair sprinkler systems in the Spring... Seriously?!?!... Sprinkler systems are a minor system of the home that require annual repairs. Just as concrete cracks, Northern Utah sprinklers break. Why? Well the majority of the systems are homeowner installed and they rarely are done to professional standards.
Take, for example, many of the homes in Orem, Utah. Much of Orem is built upon rocks that after I dug an in the ground trampoline pit, I believe the stacked rock goes all the way to China. Have you ever tried to dig a trench down the recommended 14" to run your sprinkler lines?... Without a pick-axe and dynamite you may get the first 20 feet at the proper depth, but that initial installation goal is soon a scrapped dream of the past and by the end of the install we are lucky to see the pipes 4" in the ground. The result is improperly sloped pipes that do not self drain and these end up freezing in the winter due to water trapped in the lines and inadequate depth of burial.
Is this a reason to not buy a home? Absolutely not! It is just something you have to take in stride and expect that it will take you a pretty Spring Saturday morning and a couple of trips to the sprinkler supply house to get things working right when you bring the system back online.
Let's take a good look at the announcement in the Utah Realtor magazine...
I understand that this is now going to require the seller to share the status and the steps taken to winterize a sprinkler system. This is a good thing, but I just get so frustrated with several more important "cans of worms" that are not part of the Utah standardized disclosure statement. Exterior sprinklers are a relatively minor issue. Much more important is the need to disclose work done on the home without the benefit of a building permit. This includes the finishing of basements, the addition of electrical circuits by non-electricians, the upgrading of mechanical components like water heaters, furnaces, and A/C's. It also includes roofs and patio covers.
Take a look at the way the "Seller's Property Condition Disclosure" deals with basement finishing and remodeling...
Notice that nowhere is there a mention of the building permit, which is required by Utah law, needed for major remodel work. Why? I am convinced that The Utah Association of Realtors does not want to rock the boat in the real estate transaction. They leave it to the home inspector to break the bad news instead of just getting it out in the open and helping the marketplace change the prevailing attitude and get the needed building permits when doing major work. The building permit process saves lives, prevents unsafe and shoddy workmanship, and keeps structures from flooding, collapsing, and burning down. I know I know, I climbed upon my soap box for dramatic emphasis, but hopefully I can get my point across. Sprinkler systems are important, but finishing off the basement following the building permit process is of a much greater importance, yet bypassed in at least 60% of all the homes I have inspected for the last twenty years. Yes, I endorse the added sprinkler disclosure, but I would hope that the form would be changed to really convey some useful information between the seller and their prospective buyer. If there is a can of worms, then get it identified and opened before the closing on the home is consummated. Until then, as a home inspector, I will continue to be one of the most important information conveyors in the transaction; job security I guess!
Make it a great day and if you haven't yet done so, then winterize your sprinklers today!
Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah