6 Oct 2016

Priority Maintenance for Home Buyers

There are so many home maintenance and repair items that are important; it can be confusing trying to establish which are the most critical. To simplify things, we have compiled a short list of our favorites. These are by no means all-inclusive, nor do they replace any of the information in a home inspection report. They should, however, help you get started on the right foot. Remember, any items marked as priority or safety issues on your home inspection report need immediate attention.

One-Time Tasks

1. Install smoke detectors as necessary (usually one on each level of the home, near any sleeping areas). Install carbon monoxide detectors, according to manufacturer’s recommendations.
2. Make any electrical improvements recommended in the home inspection report.
3. Remove any wood/soil contact to prevent rot and insect damage.
4. Change the locks on all doors. Use a dead bolt for better security and to minimize insurance costs.
5. Correct trip hazards such as broken or uneven walks and driveways, loose or torn carpet or uneven flooring.
6. Correct unsafe stairways and landings. (Railings missing, loose, too low, et cetera.)
7. Have all chimneys inspected before operating any of these appliances.
8. Locate and mark the shut-offs for the heating, electrical and plumbing systems.
9. Label the circuits in electrical panels.
10. If there is a septic system, have the tank pumped and inspected. If the house is on a private water supply (well), set up a regular testing procedure for checking water quality.

Regular Maintenance Items

11. Clean the gutters in the spring and fall.
12. Check for damaged roofing and flashing materials twice a year.
13. Cut back trees and shrubs from the house walls, roof and air conditioning system as needed.
14. Clean the tracks on horizontal sliding windows annually, and ensure the drain holes are clear.
15. Test ground fault circuit interrupters, carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors using the test button, monthly.
16. Service furnace or boiler yearly.
17. Check furnace filters, humidifiers and electronic air cleaners monthly.
18. Check the bathtub and shower caulking monthly and improve promptly as needed.
19. If you are in a climate where freezing occurs, shut off outdoor water faucets in the fall.
20. Check reversing mechanism on garage door opener monthly.
21. Check attics for evidence of leaks and condensation and make sure vents are not obstructed, at least twice a year. (Provide access into all attics and crawl spaces.)

6 Oct 2016

15 Questions That You Should Ask When Shopping for a Home Inspector

Q: HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN BUSINESS?
A: Home inspectors come and go. The long time firms are here to stay. They’ll be here if you have a question or a problem down the road.

Q: WHAT ARE YOUR INSPECTORS’ QUALIFICATIONS?
A: The industry is essentially unregulated. Anyone can call themselves a home inspector.

Q: CAN I FOLLOW ALONG AT THE INSPECTION?
A: If they won’t let you go to the inspection, don’t use them. We actually encourage you to attend. This is a valuable learning experience for most home buyers. It is the perfect opportunity to ask specific questions about the condition of the home. Also, where defects are identified, the engineer can discuss these so that you understand what repairs are required, when and at roughly what cost.

Q: ARE YOU MEMBERS OF ANY ORGANIZATION?

Q: DO YOU DO REPAIRS OR RECOMMEND CONTRACTORS?
A: No. We are a consulting engineering firm specializing in building inspections. We consider it a conflict of interest for a home inspector to recommend or refer a contractor to perform repairs.

Q: HOW MUCH DOES AN INSPECTION COST?
A: Some factors will affect the fee. If you are comparing home inspection firms, the fee charged should not be the sole deciding factor, unless of course the level of service offered is identical.

We suspect the house you are buying is not the cheapest house, but rather a house that you feel represents good value. We urge you to choose your home inspector the same way.

Q : HOW LONG DOES AN INSPECTION TAKE?
A: A typical home inspection takes between 2 and 3 hours. Some older and/or larger homes can take longer. As a courtesy to the vendor, they should be informed of the time involved once the inspection is arranged.

Q: DO YOU PROVIDE A WRITTEN REPORT?

Q: CAN WE CONTACT YOU WITH QUESTIONS AFTER THE INSPECTION?

Q: WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT?
A: Inspect the major systems of the house. These include the Roof, Exterior, Structure, Electrical, Heating, Cooling, Plumbing, Insulation and Interior. The goal is to identify any existing major problems that would affect a typical purchasers buying decision.

We will add significantly to your knowledge of the home, but still cannot tell you everything about the house. All home inspections are entirely visual. No destructive testing is performed. The inspection and report will put you in a much better position to make your decision.

Q: CAN YOU PROVIDE ME WITH ANY REFERENCES?

Q: DO YOU LOOK FOR UFFI?
A: The only way to guarantee that UFFI is not present somewhere in the house is to remove all of the interior finishes. Obviously, this is not possible. Looking for application holes, or drilling the odd hole is not enough. If we should see evidence of a UFFI installation or uncover a material we suspect to be UFFI, we will inform you.

2 Aug 2015

Follow these simple steps to protect your house and property to stay warm and dry this winter.

The first areas to check are the roof and gutters.  If you are not comfortable with heights or ladders hire a professional to do this type of work.

Make sure that the gutters are clean. Are they sloped correctly and are the downpipes connected and not loose? Checking the slope of gutters is easy as water will accumulate in the incorrectly sloped areas. Remove all debris from the gutters as well as from the roof.

The roof should be free of debris and moss. If you have moss growing on your roof have it removed by a professional  as moss growth will degrade most roofing materials and can impede drainage, particularly in valleys. If your roof is flat, annual cleaning is important as debris tends to accumulate quickly here particularly at drains. Beware of pressure washing; many materials, such as cedar shake and asphalt shingles in particular, will be damaged by this method of cleaning. Sweeping a roof is effective; however moss, algae and lichens may have to be sprayed to kill them. Adding zinc strips to the ridges of the roof is also effective in most cases and should be installed by a professional.

Take a close look at the outside walls of your house. Are there any gaps around doors, windows, light fixtures, or cracks and gaps in your siding? Any openings in the wall are a potential source of water penetration and require caulking. Caulking is more difficult to apply in colder temperatures so early application makes the job easier. Most caulking requires painting after it dries for UV protection so caulking and painting of the house are generally done at the same time. This late in the season may not be the best time to paint your house, but caulking any gaps and cracks now will help prevent damage caused by wind and driving rain in the coming months. The weather stripping around doors must be replaced as it degrades to prevent drafts and heat-loss. Weather stripping usually lasts 1 to 5 years depending on the location of the door and its exposure to the elements.

For warmth and comfort, make sure your heating system is in good shape. Yearly servicing is recommended to ensure reliability and efficient fuel consumption from your furnace or boiler. Replace the furnace filters annually.  If you have an older system consider upgrading to a high efficiency system as it will save fuel cost in the long run and rebates seem to be available almost continuously through various providers.

Take care of the air quality. Check to make sure your Smoke Detectors are working properly and consider adding a Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector if you haven’t already got one. Plug in models are readily available at building supplies stores. With windows closed in the months ahead indoor air quality can easily become compromised. Regular use of bathroom and kitchen fans will further ventilate your home.

Having done all this work allows you to feel more secure in your house when the wind is blowing and the rain seems never ending. The only thing left to do now is sit in front of the fire with your favourite drink and check out the latest travel magazine.

Book an inspection today with our Vancouver home inspection company.

2 Aug 2015

Drainage Systems in Vancouver: Do You Need a Rowboat to Navigate Your Basement?

In the Greater Vancouver area, water damage in homes is a constant threat. If your basement smells moldy or shows signs of moisture or water damage, it may be the result of an improperly functioning drainage system. Since the exterior components of a home are often the most neglected, and the drainage system is largely hidden from sight, this system is especially prone to problems. Professional Home Inspectors know where to look for water damage and mold. The earlier the water damage is identified the better so you can repair the damage before it gets out of hand. Although localized repair is sometimes possible, costs to replace the entire drainage system will be $10,000 – $15,000, making this a costly repair.

There are, however, things you can do yourself to assess the condition of your drainage system and to maintain your Greater Vancouver home.

How the drainage system works

Drainage systems direct roof and ground water away from the foundation of the home. Water is collected in the roof gutters (eaves troughs) and drained via downspouts to draintiles (pipes) laid at the foundation of the house. Surface water also filters down to the draintiles, where it is diverted away from the building, reducing water pressure on the foundation walls and keeping the interior of the home dry and protected.

Draintiles were commonly used in residential construction beginning in the early 1950’s. Prior to that time it is possible that no such drainage system was installed. In older systems, clay pipes were laid around the base of the foundation wall, with each 1′ long pipe section separated by a ¼” space to allow water to enter. The joints were covered with building paper to prevent debris from entering the pipe system. The collected rainwater was diverted into the sanitary sewage system leaving the home.

In modern construction a split system is used. This greatly reduces the amount of water collecting in the draintiles at the foundation level and also keeps rainwater out of the sanitary sewage system. Water collected from the roof flows through the downspouts into a closed pipe located along the exterior walls of the house, just below the soil surface, and is channeled directly to the storm sewer via the sump. Surface water is collected in a separate system of draintiles laid around the base of the foundation wall that also drains to the sump.

The sump is a covered concrete tank usually visible at the soil surface near the house. Drainage water flows to the sump where it is collected, allowing any debris to settle on the bottom. When the water level in the tank rises to the storm sewer outlet level it drains into the municipal storm sewer system.

Common problems and solutions for Greater Vancouver Homes

Lot grading that slopes towards the house directs water to the foundation wall.  As experienced home inspectors in Greater Vancouver we see this a lot and we know that this adds an extra load on the draintiles. Surface levels should slope away from the foundation wall at a rate of 1 inch per foot (1/12) for at least the first 6 feet. Topsoil can usually be added to accomplish this (never sand or gravel). Walkways should have a slight slope to drain water away from the structure.

Soil level higher than the foundation wall can cause water damage to siding and house walls. Soil contact with siding promotes rot and creates an ideal environment for pests. Water damage to house walls can be costly to repair. Ideally, soil surfaces should be kept 6 to 8 inches below siding.

Root growth from trees and shrubs planted close to exterior walls can damage foundations, and clog the draintiles. Tree roots naturally grow towards water and the draintiles provide a steady source. Eventually roots will clog the tile, block drainage, and in severe cases can dislodge foundation walls. Large trees and shrubs should be planted well away from exterior walls.

Leaves and debris on the roof can clog gutters and downspouts. Trim shrubs and trees away from roof and exterior walls. Clean gutters and downspouts annually to maintain proper roof drainage. Do not flush debris into underground drains.

Downspouts draining at a point several feet away from the foundation wall are an indication of existing drainage problems. Redirecting roof water away from the perimeter wall is sometimes effective, but is considered a temporary solution to drainage system problems.

Efflorescence, a white powdery deposit found on the interior of foundation walls is usually caused by excessive moisture penetration through the wall. Efflorescence can usually be removed by scrubbing or chemical cleaning. If the condition is recurring it is an indication that water is penetrating the wall.

Excavation, Damp-proofing and Draintile

When leakage into the basement cannot be controlled by other means, a complete repair may be necessary. The following steps must be taken:

Excavation around the exterior of the structure to expose the foundation wall to the bottom of the floor slab must be done by hand to prevent damage to the foundation wall.

Dampproofing the exterior face of the foundation wall controls the movement of soil moisture into the foundation. A heavy coat of bituminous material, polyethylene or other sheet material is most commonly used. Most older homes were not originally dampproofed.

Draintile made of white PVC piping, with perforations in half of the diameter, is installed holes down, in a bed of drain rock around the base of the foundation wall. More drain rock is added above the piping, and landscape fabric is placed on top of that to prevent soil from filtering down to the drain rock and clogging the system.

Once dampproofing is completed and new draintile has been laid, the excavation is back-filled to bring the soil surface and slope to an appropriate level (see Lot Grading and Soil Level, above).

A properly functioning drainage system will protect the home from moisture and water damage caused by heavy rainfall. If you are concerned about the condition of your drainage system it would be wise to have a professional mold inspection by a qualified drainage company.

Written and published by Vancouver home inspectors at Primus Home Inspections Ltd.

2 Aug 2015

Mold in Your Home Can Make You Feel Lousy

It may be more than just the short days and lack of sunlight that gets us down at this time of year. During the dark months of the Greater Vancouver winter most people spend upwards of 90% of their time indoors. Dampness and molds growing inside the home could be to blame for some of our bleak moods. Molds are some of the most common of biological indoor pollutants. Molds suppress the immune system and particularly affect children, the elderly and people with medical problems. Negative health effects range from irritant to allergen to toxin. The American Review of Respiratory Disease reports that the effect of dampness and molds on the respiratory health of children is equal in power to that of parental smoking. Symptoms associated with dampness and molds include:

  • sluggishness;
  • mental fatigue;
  • irritation of skin, eyes, nose and throat;
  • respiratory problems;
  • aching joints;
  • headache, including migraine;
  • nausea and vomiting.

Prolonged exposure to pollutants can also have indirect health effects, including:

  • susceptibility to disease from other causes,
  • aggravation of an existing disease,
  • sensitization to other environmental factors.

When different parts of the home are kept at different temperatures, the cooler parts will support mold growth. Typically, homes with Electric or Radiant Heating systems are prone to mold growth because the air is not being circulated. Smaller living quarters tend to have greater mold problems due to the lower volume of air. Poor air circulation creates an environment with warmer and cooler areas. Moisture condenses and then molds grow in the cooler areas, such as around windows and skylights, in damp basements and crawlspaces, in carpets that have been wet, and on the soil surface of houseplants. Homes that have crawlspaces with earth floors are particularly susceptible – it’s naturally cool and damp, and ideal for mold growth. Take these steps to make your home healthier. Eliminate mold in the home Clean moldy areas with hydrogen peroxide or a citrus-based cleaner. Discard moldy items, such as furnishings, equipment or building components. Take measures to repair conditions that lead to mold growth (moisture, cold, etc.) Separate moldy areas of the home to prevent “off-gassing” Seal the material itself to prevent it from “off-gassing” (gradual release of volatile or toxic substances). Create a clean-air “oasis” such as a bedroom within the house. Cover the earth floor in a crawlspace with a 6 ml. vapour barrier, creating an airtight seal by attaching it to the foundation walls. Ventilate to prevent mold growth Good ventilation includes continuous air exchange, distribution, circulation, and control of temperature, humidity and pollutants. A simple solution for an existing home is to install a humidistat on a bathroom fan and a fresh air vent elsewhere in the home – as far away as possible, preferably on a lower floor. The humidistat controls the moisture level by bringing fresh air into the house and making an inhospitable climate for mold growth. Exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms remove pollutants at their source, and should be used frequently. A whole house ventilation unit, such as a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV), brings in outside air and removes an equivalent amount of stale indoor air. Heat from the outgoing air is used to warm the incoming air during cold weather. It is an ideal choice in new construction, but because of the extensive ductwork required, is costly to install in an existing building. Mold growth in the home is linked to numerous health problems, from low-grade to severe. When molds are found indoors they must be eliminated, their cause remedied, and ventilation established to maintain a constant supply of fresh air and a moisture controlled environment. Every effort made to create indoor air that is fresh, clean and odour-free will improve health, overall well being, and, with a little luck, just may chase those winter blues away. Written and published by our Vancouver home inspectors – Primus Home Inspections Ltd.

2 Aug 2015

Moisture Problems in Building Envelopes – knowing the score is key to reducing risk.

We’ve all heard the heartbreaking stories. Most of us know someone who was affected by the “leaky condo” crisis that blindsided homeowners and caused them immense hardship and loss. Between 1983 and1998, a massive failure of the building envelopes in coastal BC homes allowed moisture to enter walls and reap havoc in rot, mold and leaks. Although the damage was most prevalent in condominiums, it also hit rental units, co-ops, townhouses, high-rises and single-family homes. When all is said and done, an estimated one to two billion dollars — most of it paid by homeowners — will have been spent to clean up the mess. Public confidence in the residential construction industry went into a tailspin as a result and stayed low for many years. If you’re thinking of buying a property, you’re riding a new wave of confidence in real estate purchase. Is this confidence justified? If you buy a home today, how sure can you be that it won’t leak? True confidence in today’s market must be based on the knowledge gained from past mistakes. It means standing on solid ground and making an informed buying decision. This article looks at how the problem of moisture-ridden homes developed, what’s been done about it, and the steps you can take to reduce your risk.

Causes of building envelope failure

Several coincidental changes played a role in the disaster. From building codes to consumer protection programs, the processes in place to ensure quality building practices failed. Rapid economic expansion and a boom in housing construction led to a dramatic increase in land prices, squeezed profit margins, and a shortage of qualified developers and builders. In this fiercely competitive market, hungry developers looked for cost-effective building techniques and new housing solutions. They began to model California dwellings and to emphasize lifestyle marketing and exterior design at the expense of solid construction practice. The new designs ignored the traditional features suited to a rainy climate and instead limited or eliminated overhangs, minimized wall thickness, and incorporated ineffective building envelopes made of substandard materials. The arena in which this was occurring gravely compounded the problem. It was one in which the roles and responsibilities of the various participants in the system — the architects, engineers, developers, general contractors, city inspectors, financial institutions, warrantors and so on — were ineffectively delineated and regulated. Along with inappropriate designs and shoddy workmanship, this lack of guidelines and accountability led to a systematic failure of the building process that resulted in the deterioration in the quality of construction and the ensuing tragedy. For a detailed analysis, read the report of the Barrett Commission of Inquiry into the Quality of Condominium Construction in British Columbia: www.qp.gov.bc.ca/condo/index.htm

Rain penetration control

The building envelope consists of everything that separates the indoors from the outdoors — the exterior walls, foundations, roof, windows and doors. It is meant to keep out rain and to prevent moisture from getting trapped inside the walls, leading to deterioration and decay of the building components. Building envelope technology is a complex subject, but a basic understanding of how different wall assemblies perform in terms of keeping water out can be helpful. Three factors are needed for water to penetrate into a building: water on the exterior wall, an opening through which the water can enter, and a driving force to move the water. Wind, momentum, capillary suction, and pressure due to differences between the outside wall and the interior wall cavity create the conditions necessary for water to penetrate the building envelope at any opening. Since it is practically impossible to achieve and maintain a watertight seal of the building envelope, some water will inevitably enter and must be allowed to drain out. Deflection and drainage are the primary mechanisms for protecting a wall from water penetration.

Deflection not enough

Systems that rely primarily on the deflection of water from the exterior wall are insufficient. For example, the face sealed systems widely used in this area attempt to create a completely impervious barrier to water by carefully sealing the envelope.   However, due to temperature extremes and building movement, the seals eventually fail. Wind then moves through the cracks, creating the driving force necessary to bring water into the wall assembly. Since there is no cavity for the water to drain out, it stays trapped there and causes rot. Concealed barrier systems are designed mainly to shed water from the exterior surface but also incorporate minimal drainage and venting capabilities as a second line of defense. These types of wall assemblies work well in drier climates. In BC’s wet coastal climate both systems have shown a high frequency of moisture problems in recent years. In the 1980s various new wall systems were tried that contributed to the problem. Among them, a new waterproof synthetic stucco called EIFS (pronounced ee-fiss; exterior insulating & finishing systems) came on the market and into wide use. It has subsequently been connected to concealed rot in wall cavities.

Rain screen systems go further

Rain screen wall assemblies are the best method for controlling water penetration. These designs deflect most of the water at the exterior cladding, but also have a cavity through which any water that does get past the surface wall is allowed to drain. Water entering the wall cavity typically runs down the backside of the cladding and exits at flashings and weep holes. The combination of a larger drainage cavity and vent paths to the outside improves the drying ability of the wall. Residential structures in Vancouver have been built using rain screen technology since 1999. The result is that properties entering the market since then are much more effective at preventing moisture penetration into the building components. Whatever type of building envelope is used, if moisture does enter the wall and the problem is identified early, it can be remedied relatively inexpensively. If left unattended, repair costs increase dramatically. Even if a building survived the crisis period without any complaints doesn’t mean that it won’t leak in the future. Regular home inspection and maintenance of the building envelope by a qualified professional is crucial.

New regulations to protect homeowners in B.C. 

As a result of recommendations by the Barrett Report, British Columbia now has a regulated construction industry and consumer protection mechanisms in place. In 1998 the Homeowner Protection Act was passed and the Homeowner Protection Office (HPO) established to protect consumers and improve the quality of residential construction. As of July 1, 1999, all residential builders must be licensed by the HPO and provide third-party warranties on new home construction. This mandatory coverage includes a minimum of two years on labour and materials, five years on the building envelope including water penetration, and ten years on structure. There is a public registry of all licensed residential builders on the HPO website. In addition, as of October 1, 2000, repair contractors who perform building envelope renovations on residential buildings of three units or more must be licensed by the HPO and provide third-party warranty insurance in order to get a building permit. For more information visit the Homeowner Protection Office website: www.hpo.bc.ca

How to reduce your risk

Despite these measures and improvements in building technology, the danger still exists that you could buy a home with building envelope problems. A prudent approach is especially important if you’re considering buying a condominium. Some defective buildings have yet to show signs of moisture damage, some repairs have turned out to be as faulty as the original buildings, and there can be less-than-perfect disclosure of the property’s condition. Whether you’re interested in a resale or new unit, there are several important actions you can and should take to minimize your risk of moisture problems and maintain proper home health.

1. Investigate the property

In new buildings

  • Ask about the builder’s experience, training, and affiliation with trade associations.
  • Check the company’s reliability report with the Better Business Bureau: www.bbbvan.org.
  • Request a list of projects completed in the last few years and check them out. How has the company dealt with any previous problems on its projects?
  • Make sure the developer used a building envelope specialist.

In resale buildings

  • Review the property disclosure statement the developer or seller is required to give you.
  • Read strata council minutes, corporation bylaws, regulations, financial statements and budgets for the current and previous two years. If moisture problems are mentioned, find out if and how these were remedied. Are there any major expenditures planned for the building?
  • Try to determine how proactive the strata council is with regard to maintenance planning and repairs. Find out the percentage of rental units to owner-occupied units. Higher owner occupancy indicates that the building is likely to be maintained at a better standard, and the minutes will more accurately report existing building conditions.
  • Request any engineering reports, critically important since they are typically done after moisture problems have been identified.
  • Find out what kind of wall system was used following envelope repairs and discuss with a Contact Us.
  • Ask specific questions of the strata president about water intrusion and talk to neighboring unit-owners.
  • Have a knowledgeable person assist you in interpreting technical and legal documents if necessary.

2. Understand the warranty protection

If a defect occurs in your new home, a strong warranty is your only guarantee that it will be repaired. Make sure you clearly understand the type of warranty offered. Keep in mind that the market is in a period of transition regarding warranty protection and that many different types of warranties exist. For more details, refer to Buying a New Home: A Consumer’s Protection Guide, available on the Homeowner Protection Office website: www.hpo.bc.ca.  

3. Hire a professional home inspector

A professional inspection by a Primus home inspector will reduce the risk of purchasing a home that may have moisture penetration problems. Training in building envelope theories and practices, and experience in the field will enable a building inspector to reasonably predict the likelihood of existing or future building envelope failure. It must be emphasized that the only conclusive way of determining whether moisture damage is evident is through core sampling, a procedure in which test cuts are made at various locations in the building envelope to extract a core sample. This is not, however, a realistic option for buyers, nor are many vendors likely to agree to it. A professional home inspection report will give details on the likelihood or potential for moisture penetration problems in the building envelope, giving the buyer valuable objective information to confidently make a purchasing decision.   Written and published by our Vancouver home inspectorsPrimusy Home Inspections Ltd.

2 Aug 2015

Electrical Systems: Are You Wired for Safety?

A properly functioning electrical system is an essential feature of a healthy and safe house. Since electrical systems are generally expanded and upgraded over the life of a house, safety hazards often arise due to amateur renovations and improper installations.

With the help of professionals, you can identify common flaws and take corrective action to protect against electrical shock and fire. You will also ensure optimal efficiency of your electrical system.

How electricity works

Voltage (volts or V) is the pressure between any two wires of an electric current. Most modern houses have two incoming voltages: 120 volts for lighting and appliance circuits and 240 volts for larger appliances such as stoves and dryers.

Current (amperage or amps) flows constantly back and forth through live and neutral wires (conductors) when an appliance is turned on, completing the electrical “circuit.” This is known as alternating current (AC). Most home lighting circuits are 15 amps, while larger appliances require 30 amps.

The amount of electrical current flowing through wire is affected by resistance (ohms), which is the capacity of a material to resist the movement of electricity through it. For example, the copper wire typically used in home wiring has low resistance, so that electrical current can flow easily. In contrast, the insulators covering the wire (e.g. rubber) have high resistance and thus resist the passage of current.

The amount of electrical power needed to make an appliance operate is called “wattage,” and is a function of the amount of current flowing through the wire (amperage) and the pressure in the system (voltage).

Circuit overloading: how to prevent it

A circuit becomes overloaded when too much current flows, causing heat to build up and wiring and insulation to break down. When two bare wires touch, a “short circuit” occurs, which can lead to sparks and fire.

Circuit breakers and fuses are safety devices designed to prevent overloading of electrical circuits. They are located in the panel box, the distribution centre for branch circuits that carry electricity throughout the house. When the amperage at which they are set is exceeded, the fuse blows or the breaker trips, which shuts off the flow of electricity and stops the circuit from continued overheating.

Is your electrical service adequate?

The electrical service coming into your house must be sufficient to satisfy the power requirements of the various electrical appliances you will be using. Older homes often have an inadequate capacity because of the increase in electrical appliance needs over the years.

Any service less than 60 amps is inadequate and must be upgraded. Although 60-70 amps may be adequate for a small condo, the minimum electrical service for a normal size modern house is 100 amps at 110/220 volts. A professional inspection of the panel box will determine if you need more electrical service.

Common hazards and precautions

Wrong size fuses are often used to replace blown fuses, especially in older houses. When the amperage of a fuse exceeds the wire capacity and there is an overload on the branch circuit, the fuse will not blow but the wires will become excessively hot, increasing the risk of fire. A recommendation is to switch to circuit breakers if feasible, or to install special fuse holders that will only accept a certain size of fuse.

Missing ground wires is often a problem in older homes. In any house built in the 1960s or later, all outlets should be grounded to accommodate modern grounded (3-prong plug) appliances. A ground fault circuit interrupter is a recommended alternative to rewiring for grounding.

Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). Incorporated into a circuit breaker or electrical outlet, this handy device shuts off the power to a circuit when it detects as little as .005 amps leaking. Adding a GFCI on a circuit with an ungrounded outlet will provide adequate protection from an electrical shock hazard. Most codes require their use on outdoor and bathroom outlets, wherever water and electricity may be brought dangerously close.

Lack of junction boxes is an indication of sloppy electrical work. If missing, they must be installed. Connections in branch circuit wiring should be made behind a wall inside a sealed junction box. Where wires are exposed, the damage of electrical shock and fire is increased.

Extension cord overuse can result in circuit overload and wire overheating because the cords cannot handle as much electricity as wiring. An adequate number of outlets should be provided to deter this practice. Outlets should be located every 12 ft. along a wall and spaced so that no point along the wall is more than 6 ft. from an outlet. Kitchen outlets should be placed every 6 ft. and never more than 36″ apart.

Knob and tube wiring is commonly found in houses built before 1950. The conductor wires run separately of each other, whereas in modern cable the wires are wrapped together. The ground wire is missing and no junction boxes are used.

Knob and tube wiring is not in itself unsafe, but problems such as pinched wiring and damaged installation often arise from unskillful connections made during renovations. Because of this, insurers may insist that it be replaced with modern grounded electrical wiring.

Reversed polarity occurs when the live and neutral wires are improperly connected inside an outlet, again usually the result of do-it-yourself renovations. This can compromise the safety and/or proper functioning of an electrical appliance and must be corrected.

If you have any concerns about the safety of your electrical system, it would be wise to hire a professional home inspector. And whenever electrical circuits are added or changed during home renovations, be sure to use a licensed electrician whose work complies with the BC Electrical Code.

Written and published by Primus Home Inspections Ltd. – your professional Vancouver home inspectors.  Book an appointment for a home inspection today.

 

2 Aug 2015

Buyer Beware – Learn to Recognize Common Problems in Single Family Homes

Buying a home in Greater Vancouver’s competitive real estate market is not for the faint of heart. Until recently demand has far exceeded housing supply often leading to intense bidding wars, and typically resulting in offers at or above asking price, and sometimes with no subjects conditional to the sale! Frequently too, buyers have only the briefest of opportunities to view the home. The pressure to make a major financial decision within a very short time frame and often without adequate objective information can expose home buyers to risks that may be overwhelming.

While the following information should not be considered a substitute for a professional home inspection, it is intended to help you recognize some common and potentially expensive problem conditions that may affect your purchase and planning decisions.

First, know what you can manage. Are you looking to buy a home in move-in condition; or do you have the time and skills to devote to a fixer-upper, or the resources to hire professionals to do the work for you? The answer to this question will help fine-tune your search.

What is your initial impression of the home’s condition? Has it been well maintained? This will give you a general idea of the overall level of upkeep. Ask the realtors, and the vendor if available, questions about the home’s history including any recent repair work, upgrades and renovations, and whether work was done with a permit or not.

Some common problems found during a home inspections are costly to repair and relatively easy for the untrained eye to see.

Roof: On average, most roofs will require replacing every 20 years. Prices range from $5000 to $25,000 depending on the material used and the size and pitch of the roof.

Roof conditions to look for:

1) Overhanging trees dropping debris onto the roof will contribute to wear, as will moss growing on the surface. Look especially on the north facing slope, but look at the roof from all directions.
2) Note the condition of the roofing material; is it curled, stained or visibly damaged?
3) Throughout the home, look for any stains on ceilings, walls and floors; moisture penetrating from the exterior or problems from internal plumbing could be the cause.

 

Drainage: Drainage systems located around the perimeter of the home direct roof and ground water away from the foundation. Over time these can become clogged with debris, causing water to collect at the foundation and often leading to dampness and mold growth or even water ingress to the basement. Replacement of the drain tiles can cost $10,000 to $15,000.

Drainage items to look for:

1) When walking around the exterior of the house note whether water collected from the roof flows through the downspouts into a closed pipe located along the exterior walls of the house. If the downspouts are disconnected from the closed pipes at surface level and are draining directly onto the ground away from the house it could indicate a problem with the drainage system.
2) Notice whether lot grading slopes towards the house or away from it. Water directed towards the foundation wall will add an extra load on the draintiles.
3) Soil levels higher than the concrete foundation wall can cause water damage to siding and house walls. Soil contact with siding promotes rot and creates an ideal environment for pests. Ideally, soil surfaces should be kept 6 to 8 inches below siding.
4) In the basement or crawlspace areas look for the formation of a white crystalline deposit on exposed foundation walls or concrete floor. This could be efflorescence; an indicator of potential drainage problems.
5) While you’re looking at the foundation walls notice any larger-than-hairline cracks in the concrete. Cracks larger than 1/8” should be investigated further and monitored over time.

 

Electrical System: Requirements for electrical capacity in homes today are much higher than when many older homes were constructed. Older systems that have not been upgraded are not necessarily dangerous; however temporary modifications, such as the long term use of extension cords or using the wrong size fuse or breaker in an electrical panel can be a fire hazard.

Electrical safety items to look for:

1) Check electrical outlets to make sure they are 3-pronged. 2-pronged outlets indicate an older system.
2) Note whether the Electrical panel is a breaker or fuse type. Again, fuses indicate an out-dated system.
3) Look at outdoor and bathroom outlets to make sure they have a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter).
Wherever water and electricity are in close proximity, GFCI’s are installed to prevent electrocution should someone accidentally make contact with water while using an electrical appliance.
4) Look for smoke detectors. There should be one installed per floor.

 

Ventilation: A good ventilation system will make the interior living space healthier, more comfortable, and will increase the life of various components in the home such as windows and walls.

Ventilation items to look for:

1) Test exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathrooms to make sure they are functioning. An adequately functioning fan should be able to hold a piece of toilet tissue in place. The presence of exhaust fans may not necessarily mean that they are being used by the current occupants, but we stress their use in maintaining your home and your health.
2) Note the condition of window interiors, particularly if curtains are frequently left closed. Temperature differences between interior room temperature and window surface temperature will lead to mold growth.
3) Look in closets or any rooms that have an outside wall and which are typically kept closed; they are subject to temperature variations and are more susceptible to mold growth.
4) Use your nose to detect any musty smells, especially in bathrooms and at lower levels of the home. Note any blistered or peeling paint, water damaged drywall or musty smells.

 

New Homes: Building practices and the materials used will greatly impact the overall condition of a home during the course of its life. A professional home inspection will assess visible construction details and finishing, and will determine whether building components, such as the plumbing, heating and electrical systems, if operational, are installed and functioning properly. Outstanding deficiencies are identified and provide a basis for determining final completion with the builder. It should be noted however, that some deficiencies will not become evident until several years after completion. For example, wood framing that was wet during construction will dry out and shrink somewhat causing cracking to drywall finishes.

Things to look for in a new home:

1) Windows and doors should be caulked on the exterior and have adequate overhangs or drip flashings to direct water away.
2) Test hot and cold water taps to make sure they are not reversed.
3) Run bathroom and kitchen fans to make sure they are functioning properly and, if possible, note if they are vented to the exterior.

 

There are many items that are visible to the lay person and which can help narrow down your choices to a property that you want to seriously consider. A professional home inspection is also limited to a visual investigation but with training, experience and specialized equipment the home inspector is able to give you a much more in-depth analysis of the home’s condition. On average, the fee will be $400 to $600 and will cover thousands of items, many of which are not visible to the untrained eye. Most home inspectors will welcome your attendance throughout the 2 to 4 hours they will be on-site. The knowledge, skills and experience that a professional brings to the work will give you confidence knowing you have the information needed to make purchase and planning decisions best suited to your needs, budget and capabilities.

Contact our Vancouver home inspection company today to make it easier to choose the house that is right for you with the least amount of problems.

 

 

1 Aug 2015

The toxic threat of “Chinese drywall” to homes in Canada

While the risk of asbestos in home construction has been long recognized and action taken to stop it, a less well-known recent threat is the use of an extremely toxic drywall that was imported from China during the U.S. housing boom of 2004-2007 to satisfy the drywall shortage, and in response to natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. Many thousands of homes in the U.S. have been irreparably damaged by this substance, and the homeowners sickened, leading to extensive lawsuits.

Although there was no similar shortage in Canada, the defective drywall found its way into the country through Vancouver and has reportedly spread to the Prairies and eastward to Toronto. By 2009, many homeowners in British Columbia had reported illnesses linked to its use. The full extent of the toxic drywall crisis in Canada has yet to be revealed.

The effects of “Chinese drywall” are devastating

The devastating effects of this drywall are caused by the toxic sulphide gas it emits. When the gas comes into contact with household humidity, it gives off a noxious odour as it erodes any exposed copper or lead in the home, with the following effects:

  • scorched and blackened wiring behind wall plugs and switchplates
  • corroded coils on air conditioning units
  • malfunctioning of light fixtures and other electrical equipment
  • blackened wiring in cable televisions and converters
  • ruining of personal property such as jewelry and silverware

As well, affected homeowners may develop respiratory problems, eye irritation, headaches, fatigue, dizziness, sore throat, and nosebleeds. Pets have died from exposure.

No repair is possible

Only a few sheets of the drywall can render homes unsafe and uninhabitable. The contaminated home cannot be repaired. The only possible recourse is to move out, gut the house, and rebuild the interior.

If you suspect that your new or renovated home may be contaminated with this drywall, have a proper inspection done by a qualified home inspection professional. The drywall can be identified by the manufacturing label of KNAUF PLASTERBOARD TIANJIN (KPT). If it is discovered in your home, then promptly seek legal advice to ensure that your right to future financial compensation for your potential losses is protected.

If you are in the Vancouver area, contact us to book a Vancouver home inspection today to check if Chinese drywall is present in your home.

1 Aug 2015

How to Safeguard Your Home from the Risk of Asbestos

Most people are aware that the use of asbestos in home construction has been banned in Canada due to the serious health risks it poses. But when it comes to our homes, how can we know whether asbestos is present and how to safeguard against it? This article highlights some pertinent information about asbestos that you should know for your peace of mind and planning. It discusses where asbestos can be found in the home and what to do about it.

Asbestos was widely used

The word asbestos means “inextinguishable” in Greek.  It has been used since antiquity in a wide range of products such as lamp wicks, funeral shrouds, and ceremonial tablecloths, which the ancient Greeks would throw into the fire to clean.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral composed of long, thin, silky strands of fibrous material that are strong and durable. It binds easily with other materials, making it an ideal reinforcement material in construction. The unique properties of sound absorption, non-combustibility, tensile strength, and resistance to electrical and chemical damage made asbestos a popular choice among manufacturers and builders from the late nineteenth century.

In the 1800s, asbestos was a major component in the machinery that powered the industrial revolution — hot engines, boilers, and piping.  In World War II, it was widely used in the shipbuilding industry. In the 1900s, asbestos layered the walls and ceilings of public buildings and homes to insulate against fire and sound.

Health risks of asbestos

Although concerns about the health risks of exposure to asbestos were recognized from the late 1800s, public awareness catapulted in the 1960s when it was found that heavy, prolonged exposure to asbestos led to an increased incidence of lung disease in workers. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they stay lodged in the lungs for years, predisposing a person to the following diseases:

  • Lung cancer
  • Asbestosis — scarring of the lungs with fibrous tissue
  • Mesothelioma — cancer of the lining of the chest and abdominal cavity

Asbestos has been largely banned from commercial and residential construction in most of the developed world. Tragically though, it is still being mined in a small number of countries, including Canada until late in 2011, and exported to developing nations such as India and China, where it continues to ravage vulnerable workers. The World Health Organization reports that about 125 million workers worldwide are exposed to asbestos and at least 90,000 die each year from asbestos-related diseases.

Where is asbestos found in the home?

There is a strong likelihood that pre-1978 homes contain asbestos, especially in siding, floor tiles, and wall and ceiling insulation.

Asbestos is added to many products to enhance strength, and most asbestos in homes is found in asbestos-containing building materials (ACM). There are three main categories of ACM use:

  • Surfacing — sprayed or troweled on surfaces for acoustical, decorative, or fireproofing purposes. Includes wallboard, plaster, textured and latex paints, and fireproofing insulation.
  • Thermal system insulation — for example, furnace duct tape; insulation used to inhibit heat transfer on pipes, boilers, tanks, ducts, and other components of water systems, heating ventilation systems, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems; and in loose-fill vermiculite insulation.
  • Miscellaneous — other products and materials such as resilient floor tiles (vinyl, asphalt and rubber), ceiling tiles; carpet underlays; roofing clapboard, felt and shingles; patching and spackling compounds; cements; concrete pipe; and exterior siding.

When is asbestos a problem?

When considering whether asbestos in the home may be a problem, it is important to distinguish between friable and non-friable. Friable refers to material that can be crumbled or reduced to powder by hand pressure, and can become airborne on touch. Examples include damaged pipe insulation or sprayed-on ceiling material. Non-friable refers to everything else. Although friable material releases asbestos fibers into the air more readily, non-friable materials can also release fibers if disturbed.

If asbestos is tightly bound in a product, it does not pose any risk to health. For example, dense construction materials such as insulation board, asbestos cement, and floor and ceiling tiles do not normally release asbestos fibers. It is only when these products break down through aging or when they are disturbed that problems can ensue.

Homeowners can inadvertently put themselves at risk when they undertake repairs or renovations without being aware that disturbing asbestos-containing materials can release fibers into the air.  Even in well-bonded materials, asbestos can become loose and airborne when the materials are cut, scraped, filed, sanded, or removed. Here are some of the ways that fibers can be released into the air:

  • sanding or scraping of vinyl floor tile during removal
  • repairing or removing appliances  that have asbestos insulation around them (e.g., hot water tank)
  • cutting, tearing, sanding, drilling, or sawing of insulation
  • breaking apart acoustical or decorative material sprayed on walls and ceilings
  • sawing, drilling, or cutting of asbestos cement roofing, shingles, and siding; tampering with roofing felt
  • disturbing loose-fill vermiculite insulation which may contain asbestos
  • sanding or scraping older asbestos coatings such as roofing compounds, spackling, sealants, paint, putty, caulking or drywall, and textured paints

How to minimize asbestos risks

If the product is well contained and not exposed to the interior home environment, it poses very little risk. The best thing to do in this case is to leave it alone.

Unless a product is labelled as containing asbestos, you can’t detect its presence simply by looking at it. If you suspect that a material contains asbestos, and you’re planning on doing something that might disturb it, you should have it sampled and analyzed by a qualified and licensed contractor. It is not recommended that you attempt to take samples yourself.  If you disturb the material by hitting or rubbing, asbestos fibers may be released into the indoor air.

Before remodelling or renovating, it’s important to find out whether asbestos-containing materials are present and if they are damaged in any way. If this is the case, and you’re planning to make changes that might disturb it, repair or removal by a professional is probably needed.

Repairing asbestos in your home

This option is usually cheaper than removal, but it may make later removal of asbestos more difficult and costly. Repair involves either covering or sealing the asbestos-containing material to prevent the release of fibers into the air.

  • Covering (or enclosure) involves placing something over or around the material. For example, exposed insulated piping can be covered with a protective wrap or jacket.
  • Sealing (or encapsulation) involves coating or penetrating the materials to seal in the asbestos. If the materials are soft and crumbly (friable), sealing is not appropriate. Pipes, furnaces, and boilers can sometimes be repaired in this manner.

Removing asbestos from your home

This option involves the stripping of asbestos-containing materials from surfaces or components. It should be considered only as a last resort when the material is damaged beyond repair or the disturbance of material cannot be controlled with appropriate procedures.  Removal may be required when you are remodelling and making major structural changes. It is a dangerous, complex, and expensive process that must only be undertaken by a contractor with specialized training and licensing.

Recommendations

  • Be informed about the risks of asbestos in your home. If your home was built prior to 1978, be aware that it probably contains asbestos.
  • Have sampling done by a qualified professional if you suspect a product may contain asbestos.
  • Do not attempt any repairs or renovations yourself on materials that may contain asbestos.
  • If the asbestos product is well contained and protected, leave it alone!
  • Keep in mind that asbestos should not be disturbed, sampled, removed, or repaired by anyone other than a qualified and licensed professional

 

Home Inspection Vancouver  Primus Home Inspections

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