Tom Silva checks an oil tank during fall house inspection of East Boston project house
Photo: Russell Kaye
Every basement has things that can leak, such as a furnace or water heater. Here, Tom checks the belly of an above-ground oil tank, looking for rust and drips.
Sometimes you only discover structural issues by looking inside the house. Sagging floors, walls, and ceilings are obvious clues to leaks and rot. But seemingly innocuous problems, like peeling paint, sticking doors, loose floorboards, and popped drywall screws can also be signs of trouble.

Then again, sometimes a sticking door is just a nuisance. But put it on your fix-it list anyway—farther down, right next to jiggling hinges and doorknobs, loose balusters and newel posts, squeaky stairs, and scraping drawers. Now is ¬≠also the time to look at ceiling fans for signs that they've worked their way loose. Listen to vent fans for unusual sounds that signal worn bearings in the motor.

Be sure to look beyond the easy-to-reach areas. Take a flashlight into crawl spaces and corners, inside cabinets, and up in the attic. That's where you'll see telltale droppings from mice or other animals. While you're in the neighborhood, make sure joists and rafters are sound and insulation is dry. You also need to look for critters in the fireplace chimney—squeeze yourself in there and point a flashlight up the flue—and make sure to schedule the chimney sweep before the start of her busy season.

Remember that weather isn't the only source of water damage. A house's own plumbing will wreak havoc if it fails. Look for signs of leaks in exposed pipes, or where they enter walls or foundations. Examine everything for rust, pits, and excessive green patina on brass or copper fittings, which signals the start of corrosion.

Look at fixtures for cracks that drip. TOH plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey points out that a rocking toilet or radiator could mean that a leak has compromised the floor. Likewise, a loose shower tile—or one that sounds hollow when tapped—can be covering up rotted backer board. And dishwasher and washing-machine hoses are vulnerable points if they get brittle or aren't connected properly.

Now is the time to put those little nagging problems on your plumbing repair list as well. Dripping faucets and handles that you have to tighten more need new washers. Low water pressure may mean sediment has built up in faucet aerators and showerheads. Fill sinks and let the water out all at once to test for slow drains, which might indicate a clog or a blocked vent pipe. And you may not even know that your toilet runs until you stop and listen for a few minutes to see if it kicks in to refill.

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