Frequently Asked Questions
I am planning on buying my first home; it is about 15 years old and appears to be in good condition. My friend who knows about houses looked at it with me and said that it was in good condition. Why would I need a professional home inspection?
Answer: For most people, buying a home is most likely the largest single purchase they will ever do in their life. Having another opinion is always a good idea; and if that opinion is a professional opinion from someone who is trained in all aspects of home inspections, and has the credentials to back it up, that would go a long way in giving you the purchaser peace of mind knowing what condition the home was in and what repairs may need to be done down the road or immediately. I have seen homes where a friend recommended that the home be purchased, and thousands of dollars needed to be spent to repair what the friend missed, and in one case the house had to be demolished. If you had a health issue would you ask a friends opinion or would you go to your doctor? Always seek out the advice and opinions of trained professionals, you will feel a lot safer and it could save you money in the long run, and we all like saving money.
I have a home that is about 30 years old. I have noticed that in the cooler months I get a lot of condensation on my windows, and now I am noticing “black mold” on the window sills, what should I do, and is there need of alarm?
Answer: The condensation on your windows in the cooler months of the year is because the moisture in the air inside the home is coming in contact with the cooler surface of the window glass and causing condensation on the glass. Try keeping your curtains or blinds open during the day and see if the condensation becomes less or goes away. If it does not go away or become less than there may be other issues to deal with that will reduce the amount of moisture in the air of the home.
The “black mold” that is accumulating on the window sills is most likely not mold at all, but is dust and dirt that is floating in the air of the home and that is on the windows. When condensation appears on the windows the dirt sticks to the moisture and is washed down the window where it accumulates and looks like “black mold”. No cause for alarm, just wash it off and check to see if your furnace filter needs changing.
I have a home that is about 30 years old. The gas furnace is original to the home; I was thinking about getting a new one but my friend said if it’s not broke why fix it. What do you think?
Answer: The average expected lifespan for a gas furnace is around 20-25 years. After that the failure rate goes up. If the furnace fails it could introduce carbon monoxide into your home, this can be lethal, and it is hard for a layperson to determine exactly when this is going to happen. Also as your furnace ages it does not work as efficiently as it did when it was younger. Older furnaces typically function around 50% efficiency, this means that half of your heating dollar is going up the chimney. Installing a new high efficiency furnace can save significantly in your heating bill plus ensure that you will be safe from furnace failure. Installation of a new furnace is not as expensive as some think, and there are government grants available to help offset the cost. For more information on grants ask your heating contractor or me.
Do all home inspectors use a Thermal Imaging Camera (Infrared) and what are the benefits of thermal imaging?
Answer: Not all home inspectors use a Thermal Imaging Camera; in fact I am one of the only home inspectors in the Okanagan that uses a Thermal Imaging Camera. I use the camera on every home inspection that I do. The benefits of using thermal imaging technology are numerous, but in a nutshell, this is a close as one can come to x-raying a home. The camera sees and records heat. The different temperatures are registered in different colors. With that one can see where cold air is entering a home, wet spots that may indicate mold or roof leaks that may not be otherwise visible. Missing or poorly installed insulation in walls and ceilings can also be seen. Insect infestations in walls can be seen due to the heat a nest may generate. Overheating electrical breakers and circuits can also be seen. This is just some of the applications of this type of camera. Having a thermal imaging scan done on your home can reveal areas that may need improvement and save you the homeowner dollars. We can all use that.
During this cold weather are there any easy fixes to making my home more efficient to heat?
Yes, there are a number of things one can do to make your home warmer. First off, having your furnace serviced if it has not been done yet this year, is a good starter, a properly running furnace will use less fuel to heat your home. Second, cleaning or changing the air filter on the furnace would be good; your furnace will not have to work so hard to circulate the air through your home. Third, installing foam gaskets behind all the electrical outlets and switches that are located in the exterior walls of your home, this will help keep the heat from migrating through the wall and to the exterior. Fourth, check to make sure the weather stripping is in good condition and seals your exterior doors and windows. Fifth, ensure that your attic access hatch is insulated and sealed with a weather stripping. Six, if your basement or crawlspace is unfinished you can check to make sure that at least the rim joists around the perimeter of your basement/crawlspace are insulated, and if not then insulating would be a big improvement. These are just a few inexpensive things to do to help keep your house warmer and more efficient to heat. There are other upgrades that you can do as well that are more costly, but may have a government grant attached. For more information on government grants you can go to www.nrcan.ca and click on the ecoACTION link.
I am planning on selling my home; what are some things I could do to help it sell easier?
Answer: Number one; don’t try and hide things, if you have a rotten board on your deck, don’t paint over it, replace it. If buyers see little things covered up they will wonder what big thing got covered up. Number two; clean up your house, get rid of the clutter. If everything is neat and tidy it reflects on how buyers feel about your home. Number three; be current on servicing all your appliances such as your furnace and fireplaces. If some are near the end of their expected lifespan, replace them even if they may be big ticket items. Number four; replace burned out bulbs, tighten all loose hinges on kitchen and bathroom cabinets. If interior doors are binding or don’t latch, make the required adjustments. If there are any repairs that you have been putting off or just “making do” now is the time to fix it. Ask yourself what would put you off of buying a home, and then make sure your home does not have these deficiencies. Lastly, if you are still unsure, then hire a good home inspector to do a “pre-listing” inspection on your home. You can then fix what you choose and have the report available for potential buyers to view and know what condition your home is in.
I am considering purchasing a home; the home question has a wood foundation. What are your feelings on wood foundations?
Answer: Pressure treated wood foundations have been around since the early to mid seventies. They were initially thought to last about 30 years. Many of the homes that I have seen are at or past that 30 year mark. Depending on what part of the country the home is built in, the foundations are surviving quite well as far as structural stability goes. The biggest problem that I have encountered is that the water membrane on the exterior of the foundation walls is failing and allowing water into the foundation wall cavity and into the basement or crawlspace. What then needs to be done is to excavate the home on the exterior right down to the footings. The foundation wall then needs to be re-sealed with a new and improved waterproof membrane and there are a number of good membranes available through your local building supply stores. Once the wall is re-sealed and backfilled again, the interior insulation and drywall may need to be replaced if it has been water damaged. When all repairs are done your home should be good for many more years to come. You will find that homes with wood foundations are quite a bit warmer than conventional concrete foundations. Though there are better foundation systems available, pressure treated wood foundations need not be a scary thing.
I have discovered what I think is vermiculite insulation in my home; I have heard that vermiculite contains asbestos, which is a health hazard. What should I do?
Answer: First of all you should have it verified that it is actually vermiculite. Then you should have a sample of the vermiculite tested at a lab to determine if it actually does contain asbestos. If it is found to contain asbestos you can do a few different things. Number one, you can ignore it and hope it will not come back to haunt you (not recommended). Number two, some advise to not disturb it, seal it off from the rest of the home and do not touch it. Or you can have it professionally removed. This is most likely the most expensive solution, but I feel is the best solution. Some years ago vermiculite was not a big deal, now it is becoming an issue due to the fact that it is a health hazard, known to cause some types of cancer. My advice is, why take the chance with yours and your family’s health, have it professionally removed for peace of mind and knowing you have made your home safer. Who knows, maybe in the next few years vermiculite could become a major issue and seriously de-value your home? For further information give me a call or Google vermiculite on the internet.
I have lots of icicles hanging from my roof as well as ice is building up along the bottom edge of my roof. What is this, why is it happening and what should I do?
Answer: What you have described is known as “ice damming”. This is a result of warm air entering your attic spaces, warming the underside of your roof causing the snow to melt and run down the roof. When the water reaches the bottom edge of your roof it freezes because there is no warm air in that location. Over time the ice builds up and forms a dam. The ice can actually back up under the roofing material and start to leak into the attic and roof cavity, at times find its way into the home. There are few different things that can be done to help prevent ice damming. Sealing all air leaks into the attic from the home would be a good start. The cooler you can keep your attic, the less likely the snow will be to melt. Insulating and adding weather stripping to attic hatches is a big area where home heat enters an attic. Also at the tops of the exterior walls where the roof system and the wall system join there is generally not much insulation, adding more or better insulation to this area of the attic would be a good improvement, however an air space must be present between the roof deck and the insulation to allow air flow for attic ventilation. Another improvement would be to add more venting for the attic, a good place for more venting would be under the eaves of your home so that there will be a higher turn over of air in your attic helping to keep it cool and dry. This is just a few things to do that can make a big difference in your home. For further information, give me a call or go to the CMHC website and download their information on ice damming.
What is “radon” and how do I test for it?
Answer: Radon is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas that occurs naturally in the earth’s crust. It is a product of the decay of uranium. The radon gas itself is not a problem but its decay products are. These radioactive products can attach themselves to the lung tissue when radon gas is inhaled, this can cause lung cancer. The risk is higher with greater exposure, and the effects are long term rather than immediate. Radon which escapes into the air is not a problem as it is quickly diluted. However, when radon becomes trapped in a home it can rise to levels of concern; especially during the winter months when ventilation is at a minimum. Radon can enter a home through cracks in basement floors and walls, openings around pipes or other penetrations in the basement walls and floors. It can also enter through exposed earth in crawlspaces and basements. There are several ways to test for radon gas. A charcoal canister can be used to absorb radon from the air; there are filtering systems where air is pumped through a filter, trapping radon particles. There are grab-sample testers which allow for a quick air sample. These all require the use of a lab to analyze the samples. There is also a radon detector that is similar to a smoke or CO detector that can measure radon levels in the home. Since radon levels can vary at different times of the day and seasons of the year, longer testing times are better. Winter testing is more reliable than summer testing. If you find that there are high levels of radon in your home there a number of different ways to deal with it. For more information contact me or look for it on the Health Canada website or the CMHC website.
The provincial government has legislated the right to practice, and as of March 31 all home inspectors need to be licensed in order to practice home inspections in British Columbia; as a home inspector, how do you feel about that?
Answer: Personally I feel that it is a good thing for the consumer as well as the home inspector. The Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors (BC), which I am a member of, has been lobbying the provincial government for a number of years now to bring this about. For the home inspector this now gives us somewhat of a level playing field. All of us must be licensed; all carry errors and omissions insurance, all have training and carry out inspections to a minimum standard. For the consumer this means that the quality of home inspections should go up. The Joe Blow off the street can no longer call himself a home inspector without getting approved training and licensing. This in turn will help protect the consumer from being ripped off by an incompetent inspector. There will still be inspectors that may not do a very good job; but there is now recourse for the consumer if there is a complaint. Some say that the cost of licensing will cause the home inspection to become more expensive. According to the information I have, the cost of licensing will be around $100. If an inspector performs say 200 inspections in a year, that cost would be fifty cents per inspection, not unbearable. When shopping for a home inspector always check his credentials and experience. The lowest price is not always the best choice, you get what you pay for, and my father always said “If you pay peanuts you get monkeys.”
My crawlspace has exposed soil in it; is that a problem, and if it is, what should I do about it?
Answer: Yes it is a problem. It depends on a few other things such as the type of soil it is, the location of the home, are you in an area where there is a high water table or other ground water issues; or how well ventilated your crawlspace is. Sealing of the crawlspace floors is currently a requirement of the British Columbia Building Code. Even though the soil under the home can appear dry there is still a large amount of water vapor coming up through the soil and into your home. I have seen some crawlspaces in cold weather, with enough moisture in the air that it was almost ready to rain in the crawlspace. The amount of damage that can be done can cost a fair amount to repair. The moisture in the air seeks out a cold spot to condensate on, this is usually the rim joist and floor joist ends of your floor system. These joists will rot and result in a big repair job. The moisture can also find its way up into the attic, condensating on the underside of the roof deck where it can grow mold. The moisture barrier will help reduce the amount of moisture entering the home from the ground, and will also help to prevent radon gas from entering the home. Adding an approved moisture barrier to the basement or crawlspace to cover all exposed soils is a good plan and really not that costly.
Now that spring is here, are there any suggestions as to what I can do for maintenance on the exterior of my home?
Answer: Yes, there are some things that you can do. There is always the obvious spring clean up, washing your siding can get the exterior of your home looking fresh again. Cleaning all the winter debris off your roof is another. Whenever you consider pressure washing your house and or your roof you should always hire a professional that has had experience in that type of cleaning; for someone that does not know what they are doing, it is very easy to damage your home or your roof with a pressure washer. Extreme care must be taken, and some types of roofs should not be pressure washed. Asphalt type roofs should not be pressure washed as it will remove the protective granular coating and your roof will then become damaged from the ultraviolet rays of the sun. This year was a bad year for ice damming on roof edges, many have found that their gutters have been damaged or even pulled right off the home. It is a good idea to have the gutters fixed right away as rain water running behind the gutters can damage the fascia boards and even find its way into the roof framing system. Water is one of the number one enemies of a home and it should always be controlled so that it does not damage your home. A small amount of time and money invested now will save you thousands of dollars later if you did nothing. Remember the old saying: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”
Now that home inspectors have to be licensed, as a consumer what can I expect, and how do I know the guy is legitimate?
Answer: As of March 31, 2009 all home inspectors in the province must be licensed. It is not good enough for them to say they have a certificate from ABC home inspectors training, that won’t cut it. Home inspectors must be licensed with The Business Practices and Consumer Protection Authority of British Columbia. Home inspectors must publish their license number in all of their advertising, all of their contracts and reports. You have a right to ask to see their license; doing home inspections without a license carries a five thousand dollar fine. Licenses must be renewed each year. I think licensing is a good thing as it protects you the consumer as well as leveling the playing field for us as home inspectors.
I have heard that drywall imported from China is contaminated and making people sick, what do you know about it?
Answer: What is known so far about contaminated drywall from China is this. The drywall was imported from China between 2001 and 2007. Research shows that some may have landed in the prairies and some in the Toronto area and possibly the lower mainland of B.C. The drywall was made using gypsum that was first used in slurry containing carcinogens to de-sulphur coal. The chemicals remaining in the drywall are toxic enough that as few as three sheets can contaminate a home to the point it may need to be bulldozed. This drywall is found to emit toxic hydrogen sluphide gas as well as other sulphide gases. These gases are alleged to cause health conditions and illnesses, such as headaches, dizziness, and shortness of breath, eye irritations, insomnia and respiratory issues. The indications in homes are blackened, scorched wiring behind switch plates and wall plugs, it causes air conditioning coils to fail, computer wiring to become faulty as well as damage to the wiring of other appliances. Some have noted the smell of sulphur in the home. So far none has turned up in the Okanagan that I am aware of. However do your homework; if you are doing renovations or building new, find out where your drywall was made before you purchase or install it. Remember, when in doubt ask an expert.
I have a small amount of water coming into my basement, a friend told me I should move my downspout from my roof gutters so that it drains farther away from my house, what do you think?
Answer: I think your friend is right. One of the major reasons that water gets into basements and one of the easiest to fix is your downspouts. Downspouts that dump water closer than 4 feet to your home are introducing a lot of extra water against your foundation. If your foundation wall has even hairline cracks in it and almost every house does, the water will find it way through the crack and into the basement or crawlspace. If there are no cracks it can flood the perimeter foundation drains, and it the perimeter drains are collapsed or plugged the water will find its way into the basement. A good rule to follow is if your downspouts drain onto the ground, ensure that they drain at least 4-6 feet away from the home. At one time there may have been downspout extensions but they were in the way for foot traffic of mowing lawns, so they were removed. A good solution for that is to get a hinged downspout leader that can be lifted out of the way when necessary. If your downspouts drain underground, ensure that dirt and debris cannot enter the underground drains. Another thing to remember is that if an upper roof level downspouts drains onto a lower roof, that part of the lower roof will wear out much sooner and will need repairs due to the scouring action of the storm water with roof grit in it. Add a downspout extension to the lower roof gutters. Remember, water is one of the biggest enemies of a home, and anything you can do to keep the water out is a very good thing.
I have one or two small cracks in my basement wall. During the wetter seasons of the year I have water coming through the cracks into my basement. What can I do to fix it?
Answer: You didn’t say how old your home was or where it was located. You didn’t say if the cracks were horizontal or vertical. I will assume that they are vertical or slightly diagonal cracks, and most likely run from the top of the wall almost to the bottom, and are slightly wider at the top than the bottom. If your house was built in the 70’s or newer it is most likely tarred on the outside of the basement walls below grade, so the fix will be a little easier. If your home is older than that the fix could be a little more involved. If the cracks are horizontal or fairly large, and there are signs of lateral movement, then the repair gets more involved and could require the input of a structural engineer. So let’s go back to the simplest fix. There are a number of products out there that claim they can fix the problem from inside the basement, and they may; however I feel that that is a temporary fix. The best solution is to dig down on the outside of the home where the crack is, right down to the footings. Clean the crack and the area around it thoroughly. Seal the crack with a good concrete caulking, and then tar the caulking and either side of the crack with a good tar sealant. Then add a fiber mesh to the tarred area, about 1 inch thick and about 16 inches wide. Install the mesh from grade level right down to the footings. Then back fill. The idea is to seal the crack and then install a fiber drainage system so that any water that comes in contact with the crack will be directed down to the footing where it will enter the perimeter drainage system and removed from the home. This type of fix will ensure that the crack will most likely never leak again. Remember, when in doubt always ask an expert.
I have recently purchased a new home built on a crawlspace. I discovered that the return air system has no ductwork, but uses the crawlspace for return air. Is this acceptable?
Answer: It depends what jurisdiction the home was built in. In Kelowna it is not allowed. In the Vernon area it is allowed, but is considered very poor practice and cutting corners by the contractor. Some of the issues that could arise because of this are: crawlspaces tend to get very dusty and dirty, the stale crawlspace air is pulled from the crawlspace, heated and distributed through the home. If the moisture barrier is compromised at the crawlspace floor, ground moisture and harmful gases such as radon will also be introduced into the air. Over time mold can grow in crawlspaces and this will also be introduced into the house air. There are other issues arising from this that can cause problems in the home as well. My suggestion is to have an HVAC technician install a proper balanced and ducted return air system. Your furnace and home will love you for it. And remember, when in doubt, always ask an expert.