Interior spaces

The Old House Web

Editor's note: This information is adaptedfrom the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's ResidentialRehabilitation Inspection Guide, 2000. Clickhere for other stories and checklists in this series.

Sometimes the best solution to failed plaster is a new layer of wallboard. (Photo by Ray Cunningham)

Examine the following elements and conditions of interior spaces.

Walls and ceilings:

  • Check the general condition of all surfaces, ignoring cosmetic imperfections.
  • Look for cracks and peeling paint or wallpaper.
  • Note signs of exterior water penetration or interior leakage.
  • Whenever possible, probe behind wallpaper, paneling, ceiling tiles, and other coverings for problems that may have been concealed but not corrected.
  • Look for sags and bulges in old plaster work.
  • Gently tap and push on the plaster; if an area sounds hollow or feels flexible, it is a good indication that the plaster has separated from its backing. If such areas are found it may be best to re-plaster or overlay the wall or ceiling with wallboard. Wall and ceiling cracks are usually caused by building settlement, deflection, warping of wood structural elements, or small seasonal movements of building components due to temperature and humidity variations. Seasonal movements will make some cracks regularly open and close; these may be filled with a flexible, paintable sealant, but otherwise cannot be effectively repaired. Cracks due to settlement, deflection, or warping can be repaired if movement has stopped, as is often the case. Large wall and ceiling cracks may indicate structural problems.
  • Inspect drywall-covered walls and ceilings by checking for nail popping, joint cracks, and other signs of deterioration or failure, such as rust stains at fasteners and corner beads.
  • Examine paneled walls by pushing or tapping on the paneling to determine if it is securely attached. Look for de-lamination of veneers. If the paneling is obviously not original, try to look behind it to see what problems may be covered up.
  • Lift suspended ceiling panels and observe above them. Check the condition of the original ceiling, if any. Tiled ceilings should be examined similarly.
  • On top floors, inspect for ceiling penetrations that may form thermal bypasses to the unconditioned spaces above.

interior wall problems
Interior clues to structural problems

Exterior walls:

In buildings built after 1960, try to determine if the exterior walls areinsulated and contain a vapor barrier. Vapor barriers should be placed on theinterior side of the insulation in cold climates and on the exterior side of theinsulation in warm, moist climates.


  • Examine the floor's finish or covering.
  • Inspect hardwood floors to determine if they will need cleaning or sanding. If sanding is required, be sure to check (by removing a floor register or piece of baseboard trim) how much the floor thickness has been reduced by previous sanding. Too much sanding will expose floor nails and, if present, tongue-and-groove joints.
  • Inspect resilient floors and carpeting for their overall condition and quality. If they are to be replaced, check that their floor underlayment is sound.
  • Note floors that feel springy, sagging, or unstable.

Interior doors:

Inspect the condition of doors and door frames including the interior ofentrance doors and storm doors. Check hardware for finish, wear, and properfunctioning. Binding doors or out-of-square frames may indicate buildingsettlement.


  • Inspect window sash and frames for damage and deterioration. Operate each window, including storm windows and screens, to determine smoothness, fit, and apparent weather-tightness.
  • Pay particular attention to casement windows. When open they are easily damaged by wind and hinge damage may keep them from closing properly. Also carefully check casement operating hardware to be sure it operates smoothly and easily.
  • Note the type and condition of glass in each window and assess its effect on energy use. If possible, determine if the window has a thermal break frame.
  • Check for the presence and adequacy of security hardware.
  • Examine the functioning of sash cords and weights in older double hung windows. Open windows above the ground floor (or others not fully inspected from the outside) and check their exterior surfaces, frames, sills, awnings, and shutters, if any.

Consider window-related code requirements for natural light, ventilation, andegress capability. Most codes require the following:

  • Natural light. Habitable rooms should be provided with natural light by means of exterior glazed openings. The area required is a percentage of the floor area, usually eight percent.
  • Ventilation. Habitable rooms should be provided with operable windows. Their required opening size is a percentage of the floor area, usually four percent. A mechanical ventilation system can be provided in lieu of this requirement.
  • Egress. Every sleeping room and habitable basement room should have at least one operable window or exterior door for emergency egress or rescue. Egress windows should have a minimum net clear opening of 5.7 square feet (0.53 m2), with a clear height of at least 24 inches (610 mm), a clear width of at least 20 inches (510 mm), and a sill height not more than 44 inches (1120 mm) above the floor. Emergency egress or resc u e windows and doors should not have bars or grilles unless they are releasable from inside without a key, tool, or special knowledge.


  • Inspect all closets for condition and usability. It is best that they have a clear depth of at least 24 inches (610 mm).
  • Check all shelving and hanging rods for adequate bracing.
  • Check for proper type and location of closet light fixtures; lights positioned close to shelves present both a hazardous condition and an impediment to the use of shelves.

Trim and finishes:

Examine baseboards, sills, moldings, cornices, and other trim for missing ordamaged sections or pieces. Replacement trim may no longer be readilyobtainable, so determine if trim can be salvaged from more obscure locations inthe building.

Convenience outlets and lighting:

  • Look for signs of inadequate or unsafe electrical service as described here. Generally speaking, each wall should have at least one convenience outlet and each room should have one switch-operated outlet or over-head light.
  • Examine the condition of outlets and switches and feel them for overheating. Make sure they are mounted on outlet boxes and that light fixtures are securely attached to walls or ceilings.
  • Operate switches and look for dimmed or flickering lights that indicate electrical problems somewhere in the circuit.
  • The electrical system will be re-examined more thoroughly later in the inspection. Also check the light switches for sparks (arcing) when switches are turned on and off. Switches that are worn should be replaced.

Check the heating source in every room. This particular heater, when tested, was operable and safe.

HVAC source:

  • Locate the heating, cooling, or ventilating source for every room.
  • If there is a warm air supply register but no return, make sure doors are undercut one inch (25 mm) for air flow.
  • With the HVAC system activated, check the heat source in each room and make sure it is functioning. The HVAC system will be more completely examined later in the inspection.


  • Examine the undersides of all skylights for signs of leakage and water damage.
  • Inspect skylight components for damage, deterioration, and weathertightness.
  • Operate openable skylights to determine their smoothness of operation, fit, and apparent weather-tightness.

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