Technical Terms and Definitions
This section explains some of the tools that we use to detect conditions and problems in the homes we inspect.
In addition, other concerns such as insurance issues are explained in detail.
We are happy to act as a technical resource for the home buying public.
Feel free to send us your technical questions using this form.
We will do our best to give you honest, unbiased answers.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is one of the products of combustion. Specifically, it is formed when combustion is not perfect. CO is an odourless, tasteless, invisible gas which is poisonous humans. For this reason it is called the silent killer, and CO poisoning has become more frequent as the building envelope has been tightened. With less fresh air available in newer construction, the risk of CO poisoning increases.
CO is typically produced at a combustion appliance such as a furnace or water heater, and can be distributed through the house due to faulty heat exchangers, or back drafting of the appliances. Once in the house air, we can breathe in the CO, and as the concentration increases, the severity of the poisoning likewise increases.
Typical residential CO detectors should be installed on any floor where people sleep, and alarm at 100 parts per million (ppm).
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The inspection begins on the outside with the service entrance wires which may be overhead or underground. We are looking to ensure there are no safety concerns with the entrance wires and the proximity to roofs, roads, decks, pools, and driveways.
Next, we will inspect the outside to ensure there are no other safety concerns with the wiring like broken outlets, GFCI's that do not operate properly, and any other outdoor wiring that is visible.
Inside the home many of the important wiring details are not visible, however we will inspect panels, a select number of outlets, and switches looking to ensure the grounding is done correctly, and GFCI's are located where they should be. If there is knob and tube or aluminum wiring in the house we will be looking to see if any updates have been attempted. Many insurance companies require the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) to inspect and certify that work has been done according to safety requirements before they will approve the home for an insurance policy.
Electrical distribution panels come with breakers or with fuses. At the present time fuse panels are not an insurance concern but upgrading to breakers is suggested. There may be additional distribution panels and shut off switches in your home or building which can also have breakers or fuses.
The next section of electrical is the wiring, most of which cannot be seen. The wiring which we do see is most often in the attic or basement, and the quality of the wiring in these two locations is not always an indication of the level of workmanship throughout the remainder of the home. There are a number of deficiencies that we find regularly. Loose wires, open boxes, hidden boxes, extension cords, connections, ungrounded plugs, miswired plugs and these are just a few. Electrical distribution wiring is a safety concern if it is not installed to the safety standards, and for this reason we suggest you always have a professional electrician do modifications in your wiring system for you.
1. 60 Amp
Small electrical services are an insurance issue that is here to stay. Starting in the early 1900’s, houses were wired with 30 Amp electrical services. The power was typically used for cooking and limited lighting. In the 1930’s, the 60 Amp service became the norm, as the number of uses for electricity increased.
The modern lifestyle typically requires a 100 Amp service, and this is what insurance companies will want to see. Purchasers of older houses will be asked the service size. This is information that we will provide at the home inspection. 30 Amp services are unheard of today; the last one we recall seeing was in 1995. 60 Amp services are still relatively common in older areas with long term owners.
It is important to understand that the risk with a 60 Amp service is not typically a fire concern. Instead, the concern is one of chronic overloading and nuisance fuse failure. In fact, it is still possible to build a small home in Ontario with a 60 Amp service; you just wouldn’t be able to insure it.
Aluminum wire was produced and installed in Ontario between 1969 and 1976. For most of these years, copper wire was simply not available in quantity. As a result, there are thousands of houses in our area of operation which have aluminum or a mix of copper and aluminum wire.
Problems with aluminum wire are primarily fire concerns. Loose connections and insulating oxide form the bulk of the issues. The most common upgrade recommended during a home inspection is the replacement of outlets with aluminum compatible ones. This process is tedious, but relatively simple.
Other areas of concern are the wire nuts used at light fixtures, and the 240 Volt circuits which form an insulating oxide on the exposed wire, leading to overheating. These connections are pasted with an anti-oxidant conductive grease, to prevent this from occurring.
Currently, aluminum wiring is an insurance issue, and most companies will want to see an ESA (Electrical Safety Authority) certificate or a certificate from a qualified electrician stating that the upgrade work has been completed. This work can cost $750 – $1,400, depending on house size.
3. Distribution Wiring
Branch circuit wiring through the house can have several important failures. We typically see less than one percent of this wiring. Problems hidden in floors, walls and ceilings often go undetected until renovations start. House fires often start because of wiring defects, and although the aftermath of a fire usually prevents determination of the exact causes, distribution wiring is often fingered as the culprit.
As inspectors, we check receptacles for grounding and polarity, and visible wiring for proper installation and damage. Sometimes, the clues we garner from our inspection suggest that the wiring was amateurishly installed, and the risk of other hidden problems should be considered significant. Unfortunately, there is no way to prove this. Here is a list (by no means complete) of issues we find on a regular basis.
a. UNGROUNDED OUTLETS
Grounding did not become the norm in Ontario until the 1960's. As a result, older homes often have 2 prong ungrounded outlets, which should be considered out of date, and 3 prong ungrounded outlets, which we consider a safety hazard.
b. MISSING AND HIDDEN JUNCTION BOXES
The Electrical Code requires that all connections be made in an accessible approved box, which is then covered. Many times, open connections are left in amateur wiring work, and these should all be considered a safety and fire hazard. Similarly, connections made in a box may not be covered over with drywall. The box must remain accessible. This is a defect that is obviously not visible to us.
c. LOOSE WIRING
Lack of support and restraint on wiring should be considered a safety and fire risk. If wires are left loose and draping, the connections are strained, and arcing can result. This is a common issue even in professional wiring work.
d. EXTENSION CORDS
Extension cords are not intended to be permanent wiring. They are flexible, but do not have the conducting capability of regular permanent wire. When they are used as permanent wire, particularly for large loads such as window air conditioners, fires can result. Even worse, we have seen wiring such as light gage telephone wire used as high voltage wiring
e. EXTERIOR WIRING
Exterior wiring should be rated for exterior use. This sounds logical, but is often not the case. Exterior wiring comes with two common ratings: NMW and UNMW. These stand for Non-Metallic Wet, and Underground Non-Metallic Wet. Basically, outside above ground and underground. If exposed wiring outside does not show one of these designations, then it must be in a conduit (typically plastic). Often, the wiring to pool equipment, garden sheds or deck and balcony lighting is done by non-electricians using the wrong wire. UV degradation and freeze thaw cracking of the plastic are significant shock hazards.
4. ELECTRICAL DISTRIBUTION / PANELS
Panels have a number of functions. They will be an area to connect several wires together, distribute power and or disconnect it. They contain breakers, fuses, or they are simply a box for electrical connections typically called a junction box. Many or all of these types will be found in your home or building, and all have different concerns for you. All panels or junction boxes need to be accessible for repairs or tracing wiring whereas the wiring itself can be concealed in walls floors or ceilings, and this we refer to as distribution wiring.
Concerns with fuse panels are numerous, but the main concern has to do with the fuses themselves. Firstly, there are several types of fuses and they have different characteristics, delay fuses, fuses that only fit the appropriate size (fuse rejectors), among others. Fuses must be replaced when they are blown and often home owners replace them with whatever size they have available which is often the incorrect size for the wire. This can lead to wires being overheated, and damaged. An over-fused circuit can injure people when it fails to blow when it is overloaded and also can damage the wire, but both are a safety concern. Once a wire has been damaged replacing the fuse to the proper size does not fix the damage and the wire will now be more prone to overheat. In short upgrading to new breaker panel style distribution system is most often recommended.
GFCI’s are electrical safety devices which provide human safety from shock by detecting “loose” electricity and shutting the circuit down. They do this fast enough that in theory you will survive, assuming they are working properly and wired properly.
Power becomes “loose” when the amount of electricity flowing in the hot (black) wire differs from the power flowing in the neutral (white) wire. We do not actually consume electricity; we simply pay to move the electrons from hot to neutral.
When power is free to move from hot to ground, or worse, to you, the GFCI detects this loss of power (loose) and shuts the circuit down. This is completely different than the protection from a breaker or fuse, which is a fire safety issue. The breaker trips at 15 Amps, the GFCI trips at 5 milli-Amps, or 33/10,000’s the breaker rating.
GFCI’s, like any electronic device, do not appreciate exposure to extreme temperatures and humidity. As a result, a significant portion of the GFCI’s located outdoors and in bathrooms do not work properly when tested. These should be tested once a month, by pushing the test button. The reset button should pop out, and the circuit should be dead, and they should reset easily by pushing the reset button.
6. KNOB AND TUBE
Knob and tube wiring can be a safety concern because of its tendency to overheat when insulation is packed around it. Also if it has been around for some time now the chance of it having been overheated due to over-fusing is much higher. This can become a issue with insurance companies as they no longer want to insure houses with more than one circuit of knob and tube. There may still be a couple insurance companies that will insure knob and tube wiring and if you know of which please let us know.
When can you expect to see knob and tube wiring in a house? It was installed in homes up to the 1950's and you will likely see it in homes built before there was wiring installed initially.
Knob and tube wiring was sometimes installed with a fuse on both the neutral and the power wires. This is a concern because in the event that the fuse on the neutral is blown the home owner will think that the circuit is no longer live when in reality you can still be hurt or injured because the circuit will still be live.
Because the uses of electricity has changed so much in the past 60 years since it was last installed, it is common to find circuits that were extended by home owners who may or may not have done a good job. Because knob and tube was installed without junction boxes people think they can still make connections without junction boxes when in fact this is not any longer allowed. Lastly since the wiring is typically quite old the chances of it having been damaged is higher and it has aged, meaning the sheathing may be brittle or broken.
AFCI's (Arc Fault Circuit Interruptors) are electrical safety devices which provide fire safety from arcing by detecting “loose” electricity and shutting the circuit down. They do this fast enough that in theory no overheating can occur, assuming they are working properly and wired properly.
Power arcs between the hot and neutral wires when there are loose or improperly insulated sections in the circuit. Arcing is fairly common in old outlets and switches, and in many cheaper or older appliances. If the AFCI breaker trips repeatedly, you should be calling a qualified electrician to diagnose the issue.
AFCI's are required in sleeping areas of homes constructed after 2008 in Ontario, and in future we will likely see them required throughout the home.
The exterior inspection is one of the most important parts of the inspection process. This is because most systems have components outside, and the exterior shell, called the building envelope, is what protects the structure from damage. Water penetration is probably the single biggest concern in the Canadian climate, and we rely on the siding, windows and doors to stop this.
In the last twenty years, many new exterior products have been introduced to the Canadian home building market, with limited success. You may be purchasing an experiment when it comes to the exterior of your home, if it is not one of the traditional materials such as stone, brick or vinyl. We are constantly finding new errors in building envelope design and construction in newer construction. Many of these are the result of the search for cheaper materials, or faster construction.
Grading around the foundation of the home is also evaluated outside. Basement leakage is typically the biggest concern of purchasers, and is usually the result of poor grading or gutters. Simply put; you want the house at the top of the hill, not the bottom of the valley. Grading is often easy and cheap to correct, but it can be difficult and expensive due to soil types and lot topography.
LOT TYPOGRAPHY AND GRADING
The single most common concern we as home inspectors address is the risk of moisture in the basement. This issue has many reasons, but the most common reason is grading deficiencies.
Simply put, you want to buy a house that sits at the top of a hill, not the bottom of a valley. Unfortunately, there aren’t many hills in the area we work in, so the builders make their own, by contouring the lots to be higher in the centre, and lower at the property lines.
Natural settlement of the soils will cause these contours to change, and the perimeter of the house has soil which has been backfilled. As a result, all houses require grading correction, within the first few years. Clay based soils are the worst; we often see 8 – 10 inches of settlement within the first 2 years. This is why you should never install a deck in the first 2 years; you may need to remove it to fix grading if your basement leaks.
Lots with natural topography such as ravines, cliffs, hillsides, etc pose special challenges for the builder. Sometimes, if enough land drains towards the house, the grading cannot effectively deal with the surface water, and some form of drainage system must be installed.
Galvanized supply piping was used up until approximately 1955, with limited use after that in rural water systems. Occasionally, some limited amounts are found in newer installations of rural plumbing even today.
The insurance issue surrounding galvanized piping has made it virtually impossible to get homeowners insurance if there is any significant amount of galvanized pipe in the home. The concern is the corrosion, and ultimate leakage that occurs when the galvanizing wears off, and the mild steel pipe is subjected to fresh water.
This failure typically occurs at the joints in the piping, where the threads have been cut. This is the thinnest point along the pipe length, and so leakage typically occurs here first.
Galvanized hot water supply pipe is almost unheard of nowadays, because the corrosion is temperature related, and so the hot piping fails quicker than the cold. One common problem is that the hot pipes have been replaced, but the cold pipes have not. This means that the walls and floors will need to be opened again, in order to replace the cold pipes. Usually there is less than 15 years difference in hot and cold piping life spans.
The heating inspection covers all types of heating equipment. Typically this is a furnace powered by natural gas or oil, but we inspect many other types of systems. These include propane and electric units, and boilers, convectors, radiators and space heaters.
The purpose of the heating inspection is to ascertain that the heating system functions properly and safely using normal operating controls, and is sized adequately to heat the house. We also evaluate the distribution of the heat to the rooms, although we do not do heat loss calculations, or duct sizing analysis. We want to ensure that every room receives heat. Sometimes individual rooms are cooler, such as the room over the garage. The inspection may not reveal these, unless outside temperatures are such that the concern is noticeable during the inspection.
As in the airconditioning inspection, airflow to every room is evaluated but heat gain calculations are not performed, so it is possible that you may end up with hot rooms, or floors, even though the air conditioner or furnace are working properly. This is very common with two or three storey buildings, and in split level homes.
During the Canadian winter, we are constantly asked about humidity levels in homes. Most newer houses have an excess of moisture, and most older houses don’t have enough. There are very few houses which have a proper balance of indoor moisture.
Moisture appearing on the windows in the winter should be considered a normal occurrence, especially on those very cold mornings, when the blinds have been closed. By the end of the day, that moisture should be fully evaporated. Liquid water pooling on window sills is not acceptable, as mold is not far behind in this situation.
Building products in the house will absorb or release moisture as the ambient relative humidity (RH) changes. An RH of 35%-45% is a good figure to strive for, although this can result in condensation, if the outside temperature is low enough. Remember that is there is condensation on your windows, there can be condensation in your walls.
Houses that are too dry will also have problems. Excessive shrinkage and cracking of floors, walls and ceilings will occur, along with nosebleeds for the occupants if the RH level is too low.
We recommend that you try to keep the indoor air at 35%-45%. This number can vary based on outdoor temperatures, window quality, insulation, vapour barrier and ventilation levels, and your own tolerance to dry air. Even architecture can affect this. Cathedral ceilings are very prone to rot from indoor humidity, so houses with these ceilings should have lower humidity levels if possible.
INSULATION & VENTILATION
Insulation is typically visible in basements, crawl spaces and attics. We determine the type, amount and condition of the insulation. Insulation in concealed spaces such as walls and floors over cold areas can often be found by probing around electrical outlets and heating registers.
Common insulation types are fiberglass, cellulose, mineral wool and polystyrene. Less common insulations are vermiculite, asbestos, paper, sawdust and horsehair.
Ventilation works in conjunction with insulation to limit or prevent damage to the building from moisture penetration or condensation. Confined spaces are also vented to limit heat buildup. We attempt to determine the amount of ventilation present, and the historical performance. Cathedral ceilings are a concern, as they typically have limited or no ventilation. This often leads to rot of the roof structure.
In newer homes, the presence of air and vapour barriers has become an important issue. This is because as we tighten the building envelope, the effect of moisture in the walls has become critical.
Some examples of a vapour barrier are;
- Asphalt laminated papers
- Heavy roofing papers
- Metal foils of copper or aluminum
- Polyethylene film
- Aluminum paint
- Asphalt paints and coatings
- Varnish vehicle paints
- Latex emulsion paints of some types
- Exterior grade plywood
- Cellular glass insulation
- Cellular plastic insulation
Vermiculite is a mineral based insulation that was used as a pour in retrofit insulation material from the 40’s to the 80’s. Unfortunately, it was recently discovered that the mine which produced most of the vermiculite used in Canada was contaminated with asbestos.
As a result, there is a risk of asbestos exposure whenever vermiculite is found in a house. The test to determine the presence of asbestos is beyond the scope of a home inspection, and must be carried out by a lab. There are several local labs able to do this work.
If asbestos is found in the vermiculite, then the next question is what to do about it. Removal of the vermiculite is the best long term answer, but it is very expensive. Also, as the attic is not normally used, it may be possible to simply contain the vermiculite and not enter the space. Obviously, resale value can be affected by the presence of asbestos.
Articles and Information about Asbestos in Vermiculite Insulation:
The detection of moisture intrusion into the building is probably the most common thing we do as home inspectors. For this reason, the meters which are used to find moisture penetration are fairly sophisticated, and expensive.
There are two basic types of moisture meter.
The first is an electric resistance meter. This meter has two steel pins which are driven into the test material. The electrical resistance between the pins is measured and interpreted to give a % water content.
The second type of meter is a radio frequency scanning meter. This type of meter is non-destructive. Surfaces can be scanned using this meter to fin damp or wet areas. The meter reads approximately .5 inches into the surface, and gives a% water content. These meters can be fooled by the presence of metal in the underlying material. For this reason, the pin type meter is often used to provide conclusive proof that moisture is present where the scanning meter indicates. On some surfaces, such as ceramic, the pin style meter cannot be used.
Insurance companies are concerned with the risk of environmental damage caused by leaking oil tanks. In residential applications, we see three types of tanks.
The most common style of tank is the indoor tank, usually located in a basement. The tank should be on legs, not straps, and should have a data plate indicating its age. The usual age limit for insurance companies is 20 years, although some companies may differ from this number. If the data plate has no year of manufacture, or the writing is in Old English script, the tank will be outdated. Modern data plates are in Block script lettering, and include size, age and metal thickness information.
Indoor piping must be protected by a plastic sheath if it is copper tubing. The piping must not be buried in concrete, as was the normal installation practice for many years.
The second type of tank is the exterior, above grade tank. These are less common, but do exist; typically in rural installations. The exterior tank installation is different than the indoor tank because of the greater risk of corrosion to the tank, and the much greater risk of environmental contamination if the tank leaks. For this reason, the tank must be stainless steel, or double walls, or be installed in a containment basin, typically made of concrete. The age criteria applies to these tanks.
The third type of tank we occasionally “see” is the underground tank. This is not actually true, as the tank is buried, so it’s not actually seen. The presence of this type of tank is usually indicated by old, abandoned supply and return lines in the basement, or a fill line outside the foundation. These tanks must be removed if they have been abandoned, and removal must be performed by a qualified contractor who will inspect for soil contamination. If contamination exists, it must be remediate, which can be very expensive. Locating these tanks is not considered to be part of a Home Inspection.
The plumbing inspection starts where the supply pipe enters the building and finishes where the drain and vent pipes leave. All visible piping materials are inspected and identified. This can include insurance concerns such as lead or galvanized steel pipe.
As the price of copper has climbed, plastic piping materials have become more common, with varying degrees of success. The latest material, PEX, appears to be here to stay.
Drain and vent piping has been almost exclusively ABS for 40 years. In older houses, we often find cast iron, steel, lead, copper, clay or asbestos pipe. Most of these older materials have a finite life, and we attempt to determine how close to the end of the serviceable life these materials are.
Fixtures are inspected, with particular attention paid to the ceramic tub and shower enclosures. Moisture penetration in these will lead to failure of the enclosure walls and floors. We use an electronic moisture meter which determines the moisture content of the scanned area. From this we can determine the projected lifespan of the enclosure, and often provide maintenance tips to prolong the life.
PEX piping has had a checkered history, with a class action lawsuit settled against one major Canadian manufacturer, IPEX. Piping branded as KITEC (also sold under several other brand names) has become an insurance issue.
This list is not intended to be complete or conclusive, you will need to contact a professional if you find that you have any of the effected equipment listed below. For a more complete list of recalls please see the CSA website.
- Carrier, Bryant, Payne and Day & Night brand furnaces.- poly heat exchanger type
- Gas Control Valves - 2004 Roberstshaw controls
- Direct Vent Wall Furnaces Valor heating 2002
- Oil Burners - Riello - 2000
- Gas Furnace - York - 1999
- Electric Furnace - Rheem - 1999
HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilators
- Venmar, flair, vanEE, Sears Brand, Guardian by Broan Brand, NuTone Brand, Conformax, Payne, Day & Night, Carrier, Bryant, Heil, York, Rheem, Ruud, Protech, Weatherking - 2007
The roofing inspection covers all types of roof membranes. This includes flat and sloped roofing. Materials we typically encounter are: asphalt, wood, composite and metal shingles, concrete and clay on sloped roofs, and tar and gravel, modified bitumen, EPDM and PVC membranes on flat roofs.
Flashing details are inspected for water tightness. These include chimney, valley, roof/wall joints, and manufactured flashings such as vents, plumbing stack flashings, and skylights.
Chimneys are also included in the roofing inspection, and these are evaluated for durability and functionality. It is very common in older homes to have abandoned chimneys, and we can recommend when to remove these.
Sometimes the roof architecture leads to complications that the roofing contractor must work with. Butterfly roofs, and poorly designed dormers are two of these. In areas like these the homeowner must live with an increased risk of leakage, particularly in the colder months. Ice damming often causes leakage even when the roof membrane is in good condition. Attic ventilation is critical to reduce this risk.
The butterfly roof design became popular in the 1960’s as a way of squeezing two houses together to form a semi. In this design, the two roofs meet at their lower edges, and the resulting valley poses a significant leakage risk. In 15 years of inspections, we have never seen a butterfly roof that did not leak, or have historical evidence of leakage.
The common solution to this problem is to provide a flat roof membrane in the valley, with a slight slope to drain. This poses another problem: the amount of water in the winter can cause massive ice damming.
Houses with this design should be viewed as having a high risk roof, regardless of roofing approach. There is no proper, permanent solution other than to restructure the roof system. This is usually so much money that it doesn’t happen.
Ice damming is a winter phenomenon that occurs because of the amount of insulation and ventilation in the attic space. In simple terms, snow that lands on the roof will melt from heat loss out of the attic. This water runs down the roof slope and re-freezes at the lower edge. As this process continues, a dam of ice forms with a puddle of liquid behind it.
Liquid water can leak up behind the shingles, or flashing material, and into the house. This can cause serious water damage and potential mold problems inside the house.
Modern shingle systems have a membrane that is installed under the shingles at the lower edge, and up 30 – 36 inches. This membrane is waterproof, and so prevents the leakage. The ice dam can still form, but is prevented from causing damage. This membrane should be installed on any roof that is less than 8 in 12 pitch. This membrane is often called ice and water shield.
Heating cables can be installed as a repair measure to melt through the ice dams. These cables typically consume 5 Watts per foot, so a 60 foot cable (long enough for a 6 to 10 foot long dam) will cost roughly $120.00 to run for 4 months of the year. Obviously, over the 20 year life of the shingles, it makes more sense to install a membrane and vent the attic properly, but in the short term, cables can be justified. The one most evident problem with running cables on the roof is the amount of nails or screws that are required to secure it in place. This means there are many more places for the water to penetrate the roofing material, and this problem can outweigh the benefits of the heating cables.
Every so often, somebody invents a siding material that appears to be a good bargain, and ends up being a problem. Some of these materials disappear with changing architectural standards, and others hang around for decades. In our area, the four most common sidings we see as concerns are Insulbrick, Compressed Fibre Sidings, EIFS (Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems or synthetic stucco) and Asbestos Cement Siding
Insulbrick is a paper based, tar impregnated, granular faced material that was popular from 1920 to 1950. This material can appear as brick, stone, metal siding or shingle. The pattern on the surface is simply embossed. The product burns extremely well, has seam related water penetration problems, and of course, can no longer be purchased, so repairs to small areas are difficult. Some insurance companies have been reluctant to insure Insulbrick sided houses, because of the increased fire concerns.
Compressed Fibre siding materials are probably here to stay. These materials started in the 1970's and have undergone several iterations in design and execution since. Many of these products swell and delaminate as water penetrates. Rarely are horizontal and vertical seam joints sealed properly by installing contractors. Embossed surface patterns often mimic traditional stucco or wood siding. The newer types are apparently manufactured with waterproof glues, and if so, should stand up for longer periods of time. Only time will tell! In the late 1980's several major forestry companies had premature failure of these products that resulted in lawsuits and premature endings of the production of such materials. We still occasionally come across installations of these, and are hard pressed to be positive about the future performance of these materials.
EIFS was first developed after the second World War, in an effort to insulate and cover much of Europe that had suffered so much damage. The system performs very well on this type of masonry construction.
In the early 1980's, the technology was exported to North America, where it was applied to our conventional wood frame construction. The experiment has had some notable disasters. Since there is no drainage system in an EIFS wall, any water penetration will rot the structure. In the older masonry style wall, this water penetration could actually drain through the wall without damage. Houses in Ontario built with EIFS up to 2003 were not required to have any system to accommodate this water. It is important to note that any wall system will leak water if exposed to driving rains. Unfortunately, the problem was attributed to windows and doors for many years, and there are still thousands of these homes in our area requiring substantial repair to stop this problem.
As home inspectors, we are limited in our ability to determine the condition of structural elements that are not visible. For this reason, when you consider purchasing a synthetic stucco house, you should also consider a more involved inspection of the stucco. This type of inspection can be done with an infrared camera. The camera reads surface temperatures of the wall and shows where water penetration is occurring. This is beyond the scope of our inspection, and is typically performed by a specialist called a thermographer.
Asbestos cement siding (commonly called John Mansville siding) is a mixture of cement and asbestos fibre. This material has proven to be very durable. Since the asbestos is encapsulated, the health risk is minimal. Cutting or grinding can release fibres, so this should be avoided. Removal and disposal of this material has become more expensive as it is listed as a hazardous waste. The panels often crack or chip particularly at corners and holes, and since they are no longer available this can be a cosmetic concern. Actual problems with the siding performance are almost unheard of.
The structural inspection covers all visible components of the building structure. These include the foundation walls, the floor framing, and the attic structure. Most of the structure is typically covered by finishes, and so structural inspection often involves clues from other systems. Settlement of footings, which the entire structure sits on, is an inferred condition, rather than a visible one.
Cracks and movement in foundations are common issues that we deal with. There are many reasons for these to occur, and our job is not to necessarily design the repair, but to determine the cause of movement. Bowing block foundations occur regularly in the area we work, because of the type of soils and the block size.
Floor framing defects are less expensive to fix, but can lead to local issues. Joists are often damaged by other trades when they are installing mechanical systems. They can also be rotted by water intrusion.
Rafters, trusses and sheathing wood comprise the structural components in the attic. The most common defect in this area is mold or rot due to water intrusion, or condensation.
Maintenance records of your furnace, air conditioner, roof, windows, and any other repairs that have been required in your home should be filed. Ongoing maintenance is an integral part of owning a home. A well maintained home will cost less for the home owner in the long term, as windows, furnaces, and roofs will last longer if proper maintenance is followed. For this reason Seymour Home Consulting Inc provides a Home Reference book with each home inspection which contains information on maintenance. The book also acts as a folder to keep maintenance information and documentation of repairs.
We have compiled a list of common tasks which we see neglected at many properties. These items can increase your personal safety, reduce your operating costs and mitigate the risk of significant water damage in the future.
This list is not intended to be all inclusive, as different homes require different maintenance, depending on their systems. Any questions about maintenance items can be forwarded to us, and we will be happy to respond.
Initial Occupancy Tasks
When you first move into your home, you should perform the following safety related tasks
- Have a locksmith re-key the door locks.
- Change / update the smoke detectors if you do not know the age of the existing units. You should have one per floor, at least. They should be less than 10 years old.
- Install carbon monoxide sensors on every floor which contains a sleeping area.
- Devise a fire escape plan, and inform every person in the home where their escape routes are, and where to meet (outside) in case of fire.
- Reset all electrical breakers. (Turn them off, then back on) Test all GFCI outlets. These are located near wet areas: kitchens, bathrooms, outdoors. Simply push the test button and then the reset. Power should be restored. This should be done monthly.
- Test the garage door opener auto reverse feature. Modern openers have “eyes” that reverse the door is you interrupt them when the door is closing. Older openers should reverse when they hit something. The amount of force required to reverse these should be minimal (less than the force required to crush a roll of paper towel) This should be tested monthly.
-Check to ensure there is no leakage in basement areas or crawl spaces.
-When it is determined that there will be no more freezing weather turn on outdoor faucets as required, while inspecting to ensure there are no leaks.
-Inspect the grading when visible to ensure there has not been any noticeable movement and that all ground is sloping away from the house. Ensure that all downspouts are discharging water away from the home so that there is less chance of water buildup around the home.
-Clean/change filters for the furnace. (Filters should be inspected at least monthly)
-Inspect roof surfaces when for damaged shingles, and ensure that eaves troughs are clean and free of debris. Flat roofs should be checked for any blisters, cracking or de-granulation. Avoid walking on bare or blistered areas of any roof surface.
-Turn on the air conditioning when the temperature is above 65 ˚F. If the electrical breaker is off, it will have to be turned back on. Older units may need to be energized for 24 hours before the system is used, to reheat the compressor oil. Make sure that the cover is removed and that there is no visible debris on the outdoor coil. (It is a good idea to have the furnace and air conditioner serviced, even if you are comfortable maintaining the filters and coils.)
-Inspect all openings in exterior walls (doors, windows, hose bibs, electrical outlets, etc.) for signs of cracked caulking and failing paint.
-Check under all enclosed areas such as decks and porches for water accumulation, rot or rodents. Check deck and porch rails for solidity.
-If there is a well or wells on the property it is a good idea to know what is required for their maintenance. This will vary highly depending on the type of well that you have. If you visit WellAware.ca you may find some useful information.
-If there is a septic system on the property, you should be aware that these require pumping maintenance every 3-5 years, at least. The frequency of pumping depends on the size of system, and your usage. You should pump in warmer weather, so spring is an ideal time.
-Check all tub and shower enclosure caulking. Test the pressure relief valve on the hot water heater.
-Clean all gutters and downspouts. This may need to be done more than once if the weather is wet, and leaves drop over an extended period of time.
-Remove any outdoor temporary wiring that has been left installed in warmer weather. Extension cords left under snow can be a significant hazard.
-Any heating system which burns a fuel (oil, propane, gas, coal, wood) should be serviced in the fall by a qualified technician. Even if you are performing proper filter maintenance, there is combustion cleaning, efficiency testing and gas analysis that is done during a regular fall check-up. At this time, the pressure relief valve on the hotwater heater should be tested.
-You should be sweeping any wood burning appliance flue in the fall. A certified chimney sweep can clean the interior of the flue, and check the chimney above the roofline
-You should inspect any accessible attic once per year to monitor insulation settlement or movement. Rodents and birds can build homes over the spring and summer, and these should be removed when found. Any water staining or compressed insulation should be noted, as this can indicate roof leakage, or humidity buildup.
-Check all tub and shower enclosure caulking.