Getting a home inspection today on a house that we would like to buy.
We're first time home buyers, and it's an old house (1898) 2.5 acres, a
barn and some sheds. The house looks like it's been very well
maintained over the years, was completely remodeled on the inside
around 1984 or so (according to buyer legend), but I'm not a home
inspector. In fact, i have the handy-man sort of mentality but no real
experience. Looks like i'm gonna gain some real quick, and I'm kinda
looking forward to it :D.
I see some stuff already that needs attention, which is of course
expected. It's all little things and I'm fine with that. I was hoping
that the home inspector will be able to find anything MAJOR that i just
don't have an eye for, but searching through this NG about home
inspectors i don't get a really warm, fuzzy feeling about their
abilities. By "MAJOR" i'm talking safety and structural issues. I'm
especially paranoid about old wiring. Buyer legend states that the
house was gutted and completely rewired top to bottom in the 1984
remodeling. There is a fairly modern-looking breaker box in the house,
there are plenty of outlets everywhere and they're all 3-prong.. No
GFI outlets in kitchens or bathrooms, and there are a few light
fixtures in closets and a chandelier that look like they haven't been
touched in about 50-70 years.
I suppose I can get the water tested for lead. I went into the
basement and looked at some pipes there but I honestly can't tell what
they're made of. I didn't have a magnet to check if they were iron or
lead. They look cast and they're shiny black. I see some PVC down
there too. I'm of the mind where I'd probably buy a kit and test it at
home, and then send a sample to a local lab for a second opinion.
Walls are purported to be 16" concrete all the way up. They are 16"
thick for sure, and concrete on the outside for sure, but it wouldn't
surprise me if there is some brick or stone block underneath and it's
just been 'resurfaced' or something. One corner of the wall has a
series of really gnarly cracks that go from ground to about the middle
of the 2nd floor. A trusted and respected handyman of mine looked at
the cracks and at first said he was a bit concerned about them, but
then looked at the inside of the basement and said they don't go all
they way through so they're nothing to worry about. How would you fix
a concrete wall if he's wrong? Fill the crack and hope it doesn't
crumble? Knock it out and repour it, and hope you don't knock the
whole house down in the process? Sounds like a major undertaking....
Like anyone else that's ever bought a house, i'm doing all the "what
if? what if? what if?" stuff... :D
I'd appreciate any suggestions on things to look for in the wake of a
home inspector. I know that there is so much stuff to name, and it's
hard to do without actually being there to see the house firsthand, but
any comment, question or discouragement is appreciated.
Old houses are great with lot's off character and all that stuff, but
materials REALLY degrade after 100 yrs!! Don't buy a money pit, you
will hate it. Make sure the electrical is good, with new wiring, goood
plumbing, and if the foundation is bad or crumbly beware. Especially
look at the wood for termites. I was in Eureka Ca a few years back
where they have many Victorian homes, and saw a crew ppulling out all
the huge floor joist's from under the house, and replacing them due to
termites and rot. VERY expensive job. If you don't have 100K to put
into the house, be sure and do all your homework.
You have NEVER experienced buyer's remorse the way you will if you buy
a house full of nasty surprises. It happened to me once, bought a house
in San Diego in '89 for 220K. Gorgeous house on .5 acre, 2400+ sq. ft.
with pool. But it turned out to be a money pit, water problems, poorly
maintained, etc. On top of that the housing market turned south in '89
in southern cal and didn't recover until '98. I had to sell for a loss
DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!
Here in the Wisconsin tundra the ground freezes solid for half the
year, so termites aren't often a problem. The basement looks solid so
far that I can tell, but it's painted over stone and concrete. The
paint isn't brand-spanking new- it doesn't look like anyone's trying to
hide anything to sell it, and there's been a little shoring up of the
first floor with some timbers but of all the wood i can see in the
house, most of it has been already replaced in the near past or the
really really old stuff still seems rather solid.
Gosh.. if the basement started to crumble, could that even be fixed?
Stickframe houses can be jacked up or even set aside while a new
foundation gets poured, but if this thing is 16" of concrete or stone
all the way up to the top of the second floor, would it be too heavy to
work with or too brittle to lift?
Now i'm all paranoid.. uh..heh...
So yeah.. .it's the nasty surprises that i'm trying to avoid, and i'm
not qualified to look for this stuff.
If it's 100 now and hasn't shown any major signs of failure, that's a
good sign you can expect it to outlive you. :)
Our house is only 10 years or so younger and has very few problems
structurally other than I haven't fixed some drainage issues yet and
they are causing some foundation issues--I <really> need to do that!
:) As in the case you say, the house was extensively remodelled in the
late 70's when all new wiring and plumbing was put in as well as
insulation and a HVAC system. There's one area of concern in an old
house--did they do this at the same time there? Heating particularly in
your area is a concern.
W/ a non-conventional construction such as this I'd recommend a
structural guy as a good investment as someone else suggested if you're
really concerned. Whatever, you do, be sure that whoever is doing it is
on <your> payroll, not the realty company's or even your lender's.
I really don't know about your climate enough to know for sure, but I
wouldn't rule out termites w/o at least a rudimentary check unless you
have really solid knowledge/basis for otherwise.
I really doubt that the walls are 16" concrete. They may be stone with
stucco applied or brick with stucco but not concrete. The insides are
probably plaster. They may be 16" thick but certainly not concrete
For those interested, concrete, as we know it today, is a relatively modern
invention that followed the invention of Portland cement. Its history is
here.... http://matse1.mse.uiuc.edu/~tw/concrete/hist.html If this house IS
1898 and it really IS concrete it could be one of the first in the world.
Concrete was very new in 1898.
Indeed. Here in the upper midwest, pre 1900 homes virtually all had stone
foundations. From about 1900-WWI you see cast stone blocks, and poured
concrete really isn't too common in the foundation until you get to 1920 or
That said, an old stone foundation isn't necessarily a bad thing - they
might not keep the basement bone dry, but chances are your basement has
minimal headroom anyway - so it isn't likely you're going to finish it off
into a media room or something.
An old house is a different animal - and, yes, it will be a continual
project for as long as you live in it.
On Wed, 17 Aug 2005 18:04:11 -0500, "Ranieri" <uh-uh> wrote:
While I agree they are uncommon, there are pre-1920 poured foundation
homes. In fact I live in one, built in 1905, While mine aren't 16"
thick, they are every bit of 12". And, what I originally thought were
horizontal foundation cracks, are simply where the form boards were
moved higher from the previous days pour. There is a bulge of
approximately 1/8" where the later (higher) pour meet the previous
From the ridge marks on my foundation, the form board were about 4"
wide, and laid horizontally. In fact, I wouldn't be too surprised if
they were the same boards that went into the framing of the house. My
house is balloon framed, with 20'+ long, 2"x4"'s. That is 2"x4" in
true dimensions, not that 3 1/2"x1 5/8" stuff they sell now.
BTW, after 100 years, there are NO cracks in my foundation. On they
other hand, the concrete floor is rather uneven, and quite thin.
I also 100% agreee that an old house is more something you form a long
term relationship with, rather than purchase. I often kid people that
my house is my mistress! That said, she has real character, the kind
that seems to be lacking in newer boxes. Not to mention, I haver seen
major problems caused by some of the shoddy corner cutting that is so
widespread in recent construction.
My foundation was also formed with horizontally placed boards (the days
before plywood). The character thing is something that some folks get and
others don't. When we first moved in, the neighbor lady (age 98 at the
time), told us she remembered her cousin building the house and excavating
the basement with a couple horses and a scoop. I was under the front porch a
couple years later replacing a rotted sill plate and found an old horseshoe
in the packed earth.
Reading all the threads about home inspections, however, I really don't look
forward to the day I sell. It's a great house, but it's quirky - some
coppper plumbing some galvanized, some cat iron drain pipe, some PVC, some
conduit, some romex, some bx.... and of course there's the wrought iron
fence that the neighbor built sometime in the 1930's that is 6 inches on my
Probably won't matter much, though - the next buyer will probaly tear down
and build a tract mansion..<sigh>
Yep, Grandpa dug the basement for the house (and the pits for the grain
elevator and a whole bunch more) w/ mules and a similar "scoop" (called
a "Fresno"). I still have the bill of sale for it--as I recall it was
something exorbitant like $50 or so...
The walls were formed for a single pour, however, using 1x12s. One has
to look quite a bit to find the <occasional> tiny knot impression... I
can't think what the form lumber would cost today if you could even get
If you're lucky, an inspector will point you to problems that you will
have to investigate and remedy. DAMHIKT. You'll probably be told a
series of lies if you ask about various specifics.
You need someone there representing you alone, who knows what he/she's
looking at, especially concerning the site, foundation, framing,
Useful tools while visiting house: a big nail for checking
concrete/mortar integrity, pocket knife for checking wood for rot.
After 40-50 yrs, typically mortar and concrete lose strength. Salt and
acidity speed this up. For house > 100 yrs old, I'd bring along a
structural engineer. Or pass.
Well, fwiw my fiancee pulled this inspector out of the book and I'm the
one who pays for it, so if she (the inspector) has any agendas, they'll
be mine ;)
I wasn't there for the inspection, but my fiancee was, and she followed
her all around. She says that she did a very thorough job- spent
nearly 3 hours on it and crawled into everything she could fit into.
She says she was 'impressed' with some things, such as how cool the
attic was, and that it had that perfect balance of ventilation and
insulation. She said all the wiring is 100A and it was all replaced
recently, and the electrician did a good job of it. The floors were
sloped a little (which is to be expected) but they were all very solid
and the entire house was very structurally sound. The basement appears
sound and solid, though it was very humid (about 65%) and she pointed
out all the places water was getting in and getting trapped. Most of
it is stuff like fixing gutter downspouts that drop right in front of
windows, minor flashing, etc. She did note that the ground slopes
*toward* the house all the way around, and that backfilling/planing so
that it slopes away from the house would make a lot of difference.
The other big thing was the cracks in the exterior walls i had
mentioned. The house has all new windows in it, but apparently when
they were replaced, the timber around the windows wasn't replaced, even
though it was probably already starting to rot and it wasn't ever
caulked. So now the wood around the windows is all rotten and that's
allowing water to get into the concrete and make it crack. She says
that once the window situation is fixed the concrete cracks are 100%
repairable through various means. She gave the name and number of a
local guy that specialises in old house restoration, particularly stone
ones. She also recommended a book titled "Renovating Old Houses" by
Nash. Most everyone i've talked to about pulling the windows out and
re-doing the framing around them says it's not nearly as bad as it
sounds, and that the epoxies and things that fill concrete are actually
stronger than the concrete.
Most of the plumbing is either copper or PVC, there is one lead pipe
leading from the well to the pump area and might be original. The
plumbing all appears to be fine, and completely redone recently. Only
thing is they re-did it to old standards- it has an S trap instead of a
P trap and no gas vents, but since there is a lot of the plumbing
readily accessible in the basement (all wrapped with insulation, mind
you) this is something that can probably be updated easily. There are
a few things that aren't quite up to code, but they could be made that
way easily and inexpensively. Case in point: local fire codes require
that the water heater sit at least 6" from any wall. This one is right
up against the basement wall, but it's a stone wall so the chances of a
house fire are probably minimal. It's one of those things that i can
probably get to leisurely before anyone would call me on it.
Then there's a lot of stuff that I already knew about. There's a newer
concrete block chimney on the outside of the house that isn't anchored
and hangs about 1.5" from the wall all the way up. According to owner
legend, it has been that way since they bought it in 1984. There's
some rusted out ductwork in the basement coming from the oil furnace
(it appeared to me that water was seeping in through a slipshod plaster
job and contributed to it rusting). My handyman guy (the fiancee's
grandpa) says that there's about $50 worth of ductwork to replace in
the basement. The oil furnace was getting serviced by a really old guy
that probably originally installed it, but he couldn't remember when
exactly- he guesses late 1980s.
Then there's lots and lots of little stuff- you know all the "death by
a thousand paper cuts". The dryer vents to the basement instead of the
outside, the kitchen faucet leaks, the front door has no working locks
on it, the doors that do have working locks have no keys, the garage
door 'safety backup' switch thingy doesn't work, the kitchen and
bathrooms have well maintained but well used floors, there is some
hideous wallpaper and panelling choices throughout. I read through
this list and i'm not scared yet.
The inspector left with us a very organized and detailed report. She
says that most houses half this old run into 40-50 pages of stuff to
address, this house has about 12. She listed the loose railing on one
side of the front deck as the biggest safety hazard. (!)
All in all she says that the house is very structurally sound and safe,
and will remain that way for a long time if i keep the water out. I'm
quite pleased, and I'm glad I had it done. I understand that when I
move in there will be plenty o' things that i'll find, but it sounds
like all the big and/or dangerous stuff is covered.
What is the wall construction?
AFAIK it is concrete on the outside, probably about 6" worth of it.
Underneath that is probably going to be brick or block or fieldstone
and mortar. The basement is definately fieldstone and mortar, and in
this area of Wisconsin there are a lot of houses of that vintage that
go either way- some are fieldstone all the way up, some are fieldstone
basement with brick or block walls. For this house, I really don't
know for sure what's under the concrete. On the *inside* of the house
the walls are some sort of plaster in some rooms, drywall in others,
and ugly paneling in others.
Is that what you're asking? :-D
*and* is that good, bad or otherwise?
Thoughts? Lots of thoughts. My comments are below....
She - I have never met a home inspector who was a she.
She says that she did a very thorough job- spent
How big is the house? Is there gas for the oven and heat? Does it have
central air? 100A service could be getting a bit small. The reason I ask
about gas is that you will not have as much crunch if your dryer, over and
heat is gas or oil. If all these things are electric then 100A could be
getting too tight if you are planning to add circuits. Did she not how many
open, or free, breaker slots were left in the panel?
The floors were
Sloped floors can be an indication of some pretty BAD things or maybe not. I
hope the inspector determined what caused the sloped floors and indicated
that they would not continue to get worse. I would want to know why they
were sloped, if it were me.
The basement appears
Agreed - I called this one w/o seeing the house!!! Create slope AWAY from
house, extend downspouts away, fix window wells, add window well covers (If
non standard sizes see http://www.windowbubble.com/ for custom made ones).
This will take care of most water problems in any basement. That will reduce
your humidity in your basement. The water in your basement is most likely
what caused your floors to be sloped (Either through rot of your sill or
excessive settling of your foundation)
This one has me worried a bit too. I'm not sure what "the timber around the
windows" actually is. If its some structural framing then it could get very
messy and expensive to replace. Repair of rot is difficult and if not done
correctly will be a waste of time and money because the decay will just
continue on to unrepaired areas. Replacement is usually better. If the wood
you are referring to is just trim then its easy. If repair will involve
removing windows that is likely a big job, maybe up to $1,000 per window,
more or less.
Did she give you a sense as to the flow rate of the well? Usually measured
in Gallons per minute. Also measure how well the well recovers. In other
words, if you draw down all the available water in the well (Is that
possible first of all) then how long will it take to be able to use it
again, etc. I do not have a well so others may interject on the common
measurements here. Running a new pipe to the well head is no big deal. I
would only worry about it if I had babies or was planning. (If it really is
If it aint broke don't fix it. The insulation - Did the inspector give you
an opinion as to the possibility of asbestos? Again - I wouldn't worry too
much unless its falling apart. If its intact and not flaking off its
probably no big deal. Others would disagree I'm sure.
Most places do NOT require an old house to me current codes when sold.
Again - If it aint broke don't fix it. You have a lot of other things to
Could be a major job to fix properly. Most likely the chimneys foundation
wasn't properly installed. Plus the water issues discussed above. I would at
least consider anchoring it to the house or knocking it down if its not
According to owner
Don't replace the duct until you prevent the water from coming in. One point
I should have made before. Keep the water outside. Repairs from the inside
are fruitless as evidenced by the "slipshod plaster job".
The oil furnace was getting serviced by a really old guy
Significantly adds to humidity
, the kitchen faucet leaks,
$.05 cent repair that will take all day Saturday, 3 trips to hardware store
and $50 in tools! I've been there.
the front door has no working locks
This one can be a really pain. These are probably what's called 'full
mortise' locksets. Finding replacements that fit the existing cutouts will
be next to impossible unless you are willing to pay BIG $$$ for replicas or
restored antiques or what ever. So what, I'll just get the $10 sets at the
blue store. Well, now you need to fill in the holes left by the old se,
drill the new holes, etc. Its a lot of work per door. May want to first have
a locksmith some in and see if he can just repair what you have and make
keys as necessary. That's where I would probably start.
Could be repairable vs. buying a whole new unit.
the kitchen and
Fun stuff but fix the water, rot, etc. before you start to tackle the
I read through
Whew - Maybe I'm in the wrong business. Can you post some pictures?
Yep. You and Duane Bozarth both called the sloping/humidity issue with
the basement. In addition to this, the prior renters threw down some
thick neo-70s shag carpet which is probably holding a lot of moisture.
It's coming out right away. I doubt I would be able to "finish" this
basement and make it like another room in the house. Home inspector
discouraged pouring concrete in there because it would hold more
moisture. I might consider small pea gravel or something. It's got
really grungy cobblestone as a flooring now. That's all down the road
tho. Why does the earth slope towards old houses? Is that 100 years
of very slow sinking? Water erosion?
Agreed that my first priority will be getting the water out. Window
wells, grading, new guttering. Hopefully all before winter. As best
as I can tell, the walls are ALL stone in the place. The only wood
that's in the walls is what's in the windowframes. The windowframes
are anchored to the stone, and the windows themselves are attached to
the windowframes. The windows themselves are new, self-contained in an
alyewminneum frame and would come out as a unit and go back in as a
unit. I'll have to look at them again, but if that's the case, then i
think it won't be a big deal to redo the windowframes myself, or maybe
with a little help from the handyman grandpa. I'd want to spend a
couple bucks more on pressure treated wood, right?
I'm afraid of heights. This will be a problem when I go to do the
upstairs windows. Also if I have to re-do the gutters. Home inspector
sez they are plastic and are starting to warp. Doesn't have to be
dealt wth right away but probably in the near future. In the meantime
i should be able to tend to the downspouts and extend them away from
There's a giant wasp nest in one of the eaves. Call me nuts or call me
shadetree mechanic, but i think that a powerful shop vac with a 10' PVC
extension on it could detain the wasps while i knock the nest down.
Then shut it off and run like hell. Or cap it and leave it sit for a
couple of weeks. Or leave it running, go inside and unplug it there.
The wasps will crawl back out but maybe they'll go somewhere else.
100A service. Oil heat. Electric dryer and stove. I would prefer gas
in both cases but I kinda doubt it's available. No central A/C, but in
the few times i've gone in the house when it's 85F outside, it seemed
much cooler. I think that a single window A/C unit to pull the
humidity out of the house in the summer might be sufficient. There are
unused breaker slots in the electrical box, but i forget how many.
Inspector chix0r said that there is one set of wires coming from it
that is still 60A. Word on the street is that an electrician is moving
in next door. Her report sheet had a checkbox for "Federal Pacific"
breaker boxes, and she didn't check it. I just learned about the folly
of those yesterday from googling in this group :-D
Lemme guess: upgrading from 100A to 130A means a new breakerbox, new
breakers, and rewiring the whole house again? Otherwise,
overstressing a 100A system will show itself by popping breakers all
the time, no?
Possible asbestos tape on the pipes in the basement. My understanding
about asbestos is that it's perfectly fine until you start messing with
it. I grew up in a house with asbestos shingles on the outside and i
didn't die. We don't have kids and don't plan to have any so i'm not
going to worry about the lead a whole lot right now. I'll still test
the water, but if it's within normal limits i'll spend my coins on
other things first.
Agreed on the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" part. She says there's
nothing wrong with the plumbing- there's just a better way. There's
plenty of stuff that i *have* to fix first. She wrote down the flow
rate of the well, but once again i don't have it in front of me right
now. I think i saw 35gpm but i'll have to check it again.
(coincidentally last night was my b-day celebration, so a few things
are fuzzy today ;-) )
About the locks in the doors: There are only a couple of doors in the
house that are really old, if that's what you mean by "full mortise".
All the outside doors are probably 15-20 years or less. The front door
looks less than 5. The knobs and locks on them look just like the
stuff in the Knobs And Locks aisle at Home Depot. Interestingly, it's
only the new doors that are screwed up. All the old ones are fine.
Anyways... i better go eat something. Rumor is that once you buy a
house you don't get to do that very often ;-)
Thanks again for everyone, humouring me and helping out a n00b.
Yes, plus there's a tendency for the yard elevation to go up owing to
the many years of accumulated thatch, etc., that builds up and
eventually ends up as additional humus/soil. Where I am that process
was accelerated drastically in the 30s w/ the blowing dirt of the Dust
Bowl which is a significant contributor to my problem as I mentioned
Could be easy-ish. PT would not hurt but shouldn't be required with proper
flashing, caulking, etc.
Gutters can be DIY but I have found that, if you shop around, you can get
instaled seamless gutters for same or better price that the DIY variety.
Better quality and no hassle, more color choices too! Shop around before you
decide to DIY.
In the meantime
Easy and cheap.
Probably a bad idea - I always chuckle at an advertisement I once saw. It
was of a guy with a weed whacker heading for a hornets nest. The tag line
was 'bad idea' or some such thing. I have no idea what the ad was for. This
sounds similar. There are sprays designed to help you with this. Do it after
dusk for maximum effectiveness. It will kill the wasps and keep away any you
missed. After a day you can knock down the nest. See
and look for a long reach spray. Or, if you are getting new gutters, your
gutter installers will likely have this as a standard item on all their
trucks and will take care of it for you free of charge!
Nope - You would go from 100A to 200A, not 130. All that will do for you is
give you more spaces for new circuuts. May just require a new box, may
require new box and larger service cable. Not typicly a DIY project.
No - If the breaker and wire are sized properly and the circiut is not over
loaded you will not have popping breakers. They will pop when you have your
microwave, oven, hair dryer, and toaster, all on the same circuit and
running at the same time. Not a likely possibility if house was re-wired in
the past quarter centry.
You may find it useful to map out what each breaker turns on and off. Make a
list and hang it on the door of your breaker box.
describes full mortise versus what cylindrical (Cheapies at lowes, etc). A
mortise is an area carved out of the door to hold the mechanical parts of
My only concern is that what look like small repairs on old homes turn
into large repairs as layer after layer removed reveals other repairs
If you are in a place in your life where you feel like spending a lot of
time on a house go for it. Seems odd though as you seem pretty young,
and I doubt you consider this your final house.
Maybe youll get good practice.
Thanks to "No" for the link about mortise locks. I didn't pay
attention to the front door (or any of them for that matter) regarding
the type of lock. I'll know now to look, and if they're full-mortise
types I'll give a call to a locksmith for some quotes vs. replacement.
Thanks for the tip!
Wasps: Jmagerl in a recent thread had a neat idea using a small fan
near their nest to whittle them away by chopping action. I just so
happen to have all the materials to do that, just for kicks.
Upgrading Electric to 200A: I wouldn't attempt that myself. I agree
it's not DIY.
Planing/Grading: I'll have to look at it again. Sounds like lots of
shoveling. Maybe I can rent a small tractor. Still haven't regretted
purchasing a small pickup truck last time around. Sometimes wish it
weren't a stepside. Probably want to do that in the spring, so i can
plunk some sod down on top of the new grade to keep it from going
anywhere, right? I might have to pull a small porch off the front of
the house to do this. It's there, it's sturdy, but it's ugly. I'm not
going to tell you guys how I plan to move it. This house needs a
wrap-around porch anyways.
"the kitchen faucet leaks---->$.05 cent repair that will take all day
Saturday, 3 trips to hardware store and $50 in tools! I've been there.
Me too. It was a 2 beer job last time I did it ;)
I tinker with solid state electronics so i'm not so worried bout that.
I could probably build the IR laser emitter and "electric eye" detector
from scratch if i had to. Honestly, I think those things are annoying
when you're trying to shut the door and run out real quick, and you
have to jump over the beam path while a door is coming down to crush
your cranium.... I'll have to invent the "just this once ignore me
walking through the beam" button for the door opener/closer ;)
I'd guess the small problems turning into big ones as layers are
removed can happen even in newer homes. I suppose you are right,
though. Hopefully there are no surprises, but it's very possible that
Once again though.. yep... all the water leaks first.
Thanks to everyone for the help thusfar. Usenet is properly the last
bit of the Internet that's still awesome.
Wow, sounds almost exactly like the house I bought 8 years ago.
The first thing I addressed was water infiltration and small structural
issues. The rest was fixed slowly through the years, mostly by myself (this
kind of house can become a nice little hobby).
All in all, I am quite happy with my "character" house. If you address the
water/structural items first, the rest are very minor problems in my
opinion. If, on the other hand, the plumbing and electrical had not been
replaced in the early 90's on my house, I probably would have passed.
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