DEAR BARRY: We had travertine tiles installed in our kitchen and the adjoining bathroom about a year ago as part of a remodel. Two sections, one in the kitchen and one in the bathroom, are cracking down the middle of the tiles. Our 66-year-old house has a raised foundation, and the contractor says that the backer boards he installed are separating due to settling. Therefore, he denies responsibility. Is he correct? –Jamie

DEAR JAMIE: It is so common for contractors and tradespeople to disclaim liability for defects that it’s hard to know when the excuses are valid without inspecting the specific problems. However, here are some thoughts on your situation:

DEAR BARRY: We had travertine tiles installed in our kitchen and the adjoining bathroom about a year ago as part of a remodel. Two sections, one in the kitchen and one in the bathroom, are cracking down the middle of the tiles. Our 66-year-old house has a raised foundation, and the contractor says that the backer boards he installed are separating due to settling. Therefore, he denies responsibility. Is he correct? –Jamie

DEAR JAMIE: It is so common for contractors and tradespeople to disclaim liability for defects that it’s hard to know when the excuses are valid without inspecting the specific problems. However, here are some thoughts on your situation:

1) A 66-year-old house is not likely to be continuously settling. After all, how deeply can a house settle? If a home settled ceaselessly for 66 years, it would probably vanish into the ground. However, it is possible that the old floor has some lack of rigidity and could use some additional supports in the crawlspace.

2) When a contractor installs a tile floor on a 66-year-old subfloor, he should consider that additional piers might be needed to stiffen the original floor framing. If he knows or believes that the age of a house could adversely affect the quality of his tile installation, why does he ignore that issue, rather than addressing it in advance? Why does he install a heavy new floor on an old structure and then shrug his shoulders when cracks appear? Shouldn’t he at least have mentioned the age of the building as a consideration before commencing the installation?

In this inspector’s opinion, a responsible contractor should know what he is doing when he installs tiles in an older home. If the tiles crack, he should take responsibility for it. If he doesn’t agree, a report from an experienced home inspector might help to persuade him. Try to find a highly experienced home inspector who specializes in construction defect inspections.

DEAR BARRY: I am presently in escrow to buy my first home, and I am worried about the roof. My home inspector identified a water stain in the attic. It is close to the center of the roof. His report says: "Stain noted in attic at right front. Monitor during rain." He said this stain is minor, as it does not have any mold signs around it. But I am not very comfortable about this. Your kind advice would be greatly appreciated. –Paul

DEAR PAUL: Nearly all attics have a few water stains, often from leaks that are no longer current, and sometimes from slight trickle leaks at pipes or other roof penetrations. Home inspectors typically report these stains to protect themselves from liability in case of future roof leakage. In most cases, these stains are of no concern. It is important that the home inspector report the condition of the roof in the area where this stain was observed, assuming that the home inspector was able to get onto the roof. You should ask him specifically about the observable condition of the roof, particularly in areas where stains were seen.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

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