Tuesday, February 9, 2010

inspection number 20

Inspection number 20
Today’s inspection took me to the northern part of Haliburton County, these are always inspections that I enjoy, more just the anticipation of what I will see as I drive up the laneway. The snow is heavy in this area so inspections this time of year always carry a heightened risk factor with them. In most cases there is very little that I can see of the roofing material, so the exercise is to flag areas that are typically problematic and be particularly diligent about looking for repairs or fresh paint to the ceilings and upper walls. In this case the ice damming was extensive on the metal roof; however no indicators were present that would suggest that it has reached the point of causing any interior damage. I believe this to be due to the fact that the eaves projection beyond the walls was at least twice what the normal distance usually is. This was a good design on the builder’s part.
This particular home was of log construction. This is an area of home construction that I find varies greatly when it comes to quality of workmanship. Not all builders are cut out to do log construction.
Log construction has many variations the earliest form would have been, most likely the round log scribed system. Very little hardware if any was needed with this style of log construction. That is not to say that it was not necessary to have skilled carpenters doing the work, on the contrary these early builders had to have their wits about them. Not only was it important that each log was carefully sized and cut but they had to take into consideration how much shrinkage they were going to have, and build in allowances to enable window and doors to still operate freely even after as much as 10inches of log shrinkage had taken place. These early builders were very savvy in understanding the importance of surface and roof drainage. Overhead projection of the roof line well beyond the corners of the building would be the key to longevity. The butt end of any log is it point of greatest vulnerability. In looking at log structure the two most common problems that I find is outside corner rot and rot at the logs that are at grade level. The decay of the log is just the beginning, once we have wet rotting wood that opens the door for the an array of wood boring insects the two that are most prominent are the Powder Post Beatle and our old friend the carpenter ant. Once infested the log home will quickly succumb to the ravaging of these little buggers.
From this point in time to the present the evolution of the log home, like everything else has grown exponentially, new techniques, new systems, prefabricated factory built homes and the list goes on. The log construction that I looked at today was and is the most simplistic of all log construction and even with that it is (so far) standing the test of time. At a young 22 years of age things were weathering pretty well. The log style in this home is a simple lap joint on the corners with (I assume) a dowel driven through to maintain alignment of the outside corners. No scribing here, no carful fitting just a timber (5x5 squared hemlock logs) stacked on top of one another. This style of construction leaves a gap between each log which in turn is filled with “chinking”. In the early days chinking was a combination of mud and grasses that were mixed into a paste and then forced by hand into the voids between the logs. Chinking has seen a steady evolution from there, the next product was mortar and then a bitumen (various dark mixtures of hydrocarbons) product, and finally the product of choice today is a synthetic mixture that is commonly referred to as “pema-chink”. Perma-chink is a very thinly applied highly flexible product that is placed over a backer rod( foam dowel) or a high density Styrofoam. The Home that I was looking at had used the bitumen product which, with age and weathering had receded back inside the log by and easy inch and a half. This can certainly start to cause problems of water infiltration and wet wood and that means rot and insects. The good news for my client was that it had not evolved to that point yet.
Major Concern: exterior log repair. My client felt that this was manageable and moved ahead with the purchase of his cottage.
Hey, it has been great having you along for the ride
See you next time

Thursday, February 4, 2010

first inspection of Feb

Hello, very nice to have you back for another inspection adventure. On February 3rd I found myself back in the City of Kawartha Lakes looking through yet another century home. Rarely does it seem like you see very many single story bungalows that are circa 1900’s. This 800 sq. Ft. Bungalow had had an addition or two put on it to bump the size up to I would guess around 1300 sq. Ft.
It is always somewhat of a challenge to establish whether these brick clad homes are solid masonry or a brick veneer home. Early in my career my arrogance and inexperience caused me to be very cocky about defining, without question (I thought) if the home I was looking at was solid or veneer. The tell tale that an inspector typically looks for is the “tie in brick”. To better define that for you, if you envision a brick home the bricks that you see in your mind’s eye are referred to as “stretcher bricks”. On a solid masonry home, that being defined as a home that the brick work is structural to the home rather than just a siding. The solid brick home will have two, three or four courses of brick thick that makes up the exterior of the home. The “tie bricks” run at a right angle to the stretcher bricks the purpose of this is to, you guessed it; tie in the inner courses of brick.
Each mason had his own signature way of placing these tie bricks. In most cases the mason would run six courses of stretchers and then one course of ties. Where I became humbled was in a little town in Pennsylvania where I was watching the demolition of a century home. During the workers lunch I decided to sneak a closer look and to my surprise there was no tie bricks to be seen. On a closer look I realized that the mason had recessed the tie brick by about an inch and a half in from the outside face of the brick and then split a stretcher brick to cover the butt end of the tie brick. Very clever.
I have come across that only a couple of times since in Ontario, but lesson learned as far as stating that the home is or is not a solid brick home right off the hop.
As I did my second exterior pass with my client (the micro pass) I had notice something that I had missed on my first macro pass. On one of the mortar joints I noticed it had some small circular(1/4 inch) repairs, then I noticed that about every 36 inches up the same pattern existed................ what is your guess? If it is Urea formaldehyde foam insulation (better known as UFFI) you are correct. However I did not jump to that conclusion right away. I explained to my client what my thoughts were and explained to him that this type of repair is representative to the injection holes that were used to blow in the liquid foam product. I then told him that I would like to reserve judgment until I got inside to see if there were any more clues that would lead to the same conclusion. Once inside I made my way to the cellar / crawlspace. The first tell tale was present. Hanging from the ceiling, covered in cobwebs from lack of use and maintenance was a mechanical air exchange unit better known as an HRV or heat recovery ventilator. This was certainly a first generation model due to the fact that the fans were on the outside of the unit. The idea was that the UFFI was felt to be out gassing both urea and formaldehyde and for that reason a mechanical air exchange unit was installed to ensure against contaminated indoor air quality. I am pretty confident that the home has UFFI in it now, but I continue to look for more tell tales. The next thing to check is where the floor joist sits on top of the foundation. At this point the wall is placed on the subfloor directly above the foundation. The clue I am looking for here is that quite often the UFFI installers would run a bead of caulking around the ends of the floor joist and on the underside of the wood subfloor. This was done so as to ensure that the UFFI did not run or drip down into the cellar, due to the fact that it stayed in its liquid form for a longer period of time than what the foam products of today do. My final tell tale to look for was signs of the actual product and as I wiggled back into the crawlspace ( remember where all sins lay) low and behold the pale white almost fluffy looking stuff was there in a place where the insulation company did not do any caulking. Now my client discloser begins
UFFI was a product of the mid to late seventies and even as late as the early eighties. In most cases it was a retrofit or upgrade product. During this period of time the Federal government introduced an incentive program called C.H.I.P.S ( not a 100% on the acronym) Canada Home Insulation Program. During this insulation incentive program the government was subsidising households that did attic and wall insulation upgrades. Soon thereafter people began to experience various health concerns that were contribute to the out gassing products from the insulation. An important bit of information to understand about this product is that the harmful out gassing had a half life of about 6 months. What that means is that every six months the product would out gas half as much, and the next six months that half would be cut in half and so on. It should be logical then that if the product was, in the worst case scenario blown in around 1980, the ill effects of the out gassing should be immeasurable. The only time that this statement would be inaccurate would be if the foam was allowed to become very wet, at which point there may be some degree of out gassing. Here is some prospective for you. If you are subjected to any second hand smoke in your day that is by far a bigger health concern than 30 year old UFFI. Another point of interest is that I believe this product is still used in Europe.
Regardless of the minimal to no health impact this product has it still carries a stigmatisum about it that will impact Real Estate prices
Well it has been great having you along, hope to see you again on the next inspection

Sunday, January 31, 2010

inspection number 18 made the quota

Jan 30 10 Inspection #18
My last inspection of the month took me to the Bancroft area this would represent number 18 for the month. For anyone that is counting the posts you will notice that the documenting of every single inspection has not happened. The reason for this can be summed up in one word BORING very often it is simply going through the motions. Yes this is good news for the home buying public. A boring inspection for me is a good inspection for the buyers in most cases. Occasionally I will come across a home that is very interesting either due to architecture or just the quality of work. It is a good job to have when you can go into the home and your explanations are about superior workmanship or clever ingenuity. Everyone walks away feeling good.
My Bancroft inspection was interesting, but not for any of the above reasons. It was interesting for the reason that, thanks to Mother Nature I was able to visualize one of the many theories that I speak about when trying to explain what has caused the defects that I have found. In this case it was in a crawlspace (Remember in the past postings I mentioned where the bulk of the sins are found) The situation that I found was a convection current of air within the cavity of hollow masonry foundation wall, and how as warm air rises up through the hollow cavity it picks up moisture that is laying in a liquid form with in the this space. Due to improper surface drainage the ground has been saturated to the point where it has placed a hydrostatic pressure against the foundation thereby causing water to penetrate the mass of the block.
As this warm moist air rises up the cavity of the block foundation, it reaches the top and comes into contact with the bottom of the wood sill plate, rim joist and floor joist where the warm air condenses, (due to the below freezing temp.) turns to moisture and forms frost. This is where Mother Nature came in. The day of the inspection it was -15 c outside and colder inside( no heat in the building ) due to this I was able to see a complete frost line of how the moisture laden air was moving as it left a perfect imprint on the framing that it came into contact with it. This condition, left unaddressed quickly leads to significant structural problems, mould and wood rot.
The good news is that at this stage the problem was easily addressed. Correcting the cause of the problem is the first step. Eaves trough clean and in good working order, down spouts that extend a minimum of 4 feet from the building and finally ensuring that the grade is such that the water runs away from the building. Once this is done the next step is to seal the top course of block to eliminate the convection current of air within the bock cavity. This can be done with spray foam insulation or with masonry.
Crawl spaces can have a wide array of concerns, you can be sure that we will talk about them again in the very near future.
Thanks for tagging along

Thursday, January 28, 2010

lucky number 13

Number 13
Today’s inspection takes me to the snowy north county of Haliburton County. The inspections here are always a mixed bag of nuts, and the same could be said for the clients. I certainly do not mean this in a malicious way I find the mixed bag of people to be very interesting that I get to work with. Just watching how the family interacts during the inspection. Spending three plus hours with total strangers is as interesting as you want to make it. I have actually come to like clients that provide me with challenges that go beyond the standard inspection, whether it is shyness, sarcasm, differing opinions, or even just the very stern executive type. The list goes on and it is my job to pull each and every one of them into my little realm of understanding. Most times, I think I am successful. In some cases they are just too tough for a mere home inspector to figure out. Houses fall under the same category in the north each one has its own little oddities (which may be representative of the last owner). The term, “cookie cutter” housing does not have a place up here. Two alike, maybe they will be close but not alike. Winter inspections in the north do, on occasion provide me with a heck of a lot of discomfort, crawlspaces on their own suck on a cosmic level, add frozen dirt and snow and you now have( should you choose to don the coveralls and follow me under)experienced a small sliver of hell on earth. This is where all the sins lay. The good news is that this cottage had, yes, wait for it........ FULL BASEMENT. I can’t even begin to explain the internal smile I am packing when I discover this. It gets even better a concrete floor with no rock outcrops. The block foundation is mint! This has everything to do with the fact that the builder/ planner knew what they were doing right from the inception of this 1400 sq ft bungalow type cottage. Cottages as a rule (at least in Haliburton county) are always build on a hill, road at the back and lake at the front. When placing a cottage on its site drainage should always be of the utmost consideration, especially when the building is going to be intercepting every drop of water, frozen of liquid that runs down that hill. Now that it has been decided to intentionally place a dam (cottage) in the middle of this hill it is important not to compound the problem by building a roof line that is draining in such a fashion that the water that runs off the roof then tries to run through or under the building. The rain and snow that come off the roof line at the front (lakeside) of the building then splashes off the deck, damaging it and splash back that eventually damages the siding. The good rule of thumb is to ensure that your ridge line is running parallel to the slope of the ground or to look at it another way it is good if the ridge line of your roof is pointing at the lake and the road. This way water and snow from the roof can easily be shed away from the building. This cottage was a pleasure to inspect and my clients and the agent were all great. Ya kind of mushy but hey when I get them like this one it’s not even like a job
Thanks for tagging along (next time bring your coveralls)

this is number 12

Inspection number 12
Today’s inspection takes us through yet another century home. Rarely do you ever encounter an inspection from this era of housing that constitutes a boring inspection. It may be the original workmanship, or the unique design and layout, unfortunately in some cases it is the ingenuity and creativity of one of the previous home owners that makes you step back and say “what the heck were you thinking”. In any case I find that every century home provides me with some degree of a learning curve. Quite often I will joke with my clients about what I like to refer to as “pink and blue” money. Let me explain, Moving into a century home can be a very expensive venture. One of the most common denominators that I find is that rarely is there a balance of cosmetic and mechanical work done. To walk into a century home and find that the interior wall and ceiling cracks (plaster) have either been repaired or covered with another finish, in most cases it will be drywall is common. The hardwood floors, typically maple or oak will have been refinished or replaced. The hardwood product that is most common in the century homes was a 3/8’s inch thick by 2 3/8’s inch wide wood floor. Replacement of this floor is often due to the fact that they have already been sanded to the point where the top groove of the tongue and groove (T&G) system will be so thin that it will splinter off. Under the hard wood is the 6 inch T&G pine subfloor, it will be at least one inch and possibly two inches thick. This is often also used as the finished flooring, coming to my own conclusion, I think that the flooring of the old homes said a lot about the financial position of the original family. In farm houses from this era you may not see any hardwood installed, it may, and often is the pine subfloor that is used as the finish flooring. Moving into the towns or cities you start seeing the hardwood used as a finish floor over top of the pine subfloor at the main levels. I also come into homes that have the hardwood covering the pine subfloor on the second story thus causing me to assume that this was likely a home of notoriety in its beginnings. Other cosmetics such as the windows (which could be argued is not really just a cosmetic upgrade) kitchens and bathrooms have all had the lion’s share of the renovation money.
Proceeding into the cellar I notice that the furnace is 20 years or older the service panel is still a fuse box, suggesting that some of the original “knob and tube wiring may still be present. I notice that only a small portion of the plumbing has been upgraded where new bath and kitchen supply and drains were required. Up in the attic it is probable that no insulation upgrade will have happened.
This is a pink house. Should the roles be reversed than it would be a blue house.
One of the interesting things that I came across in this home was the use of a wall sluice.
A hundred years ago or so, the efforts to deal with basement seepage was not of the highest priority during the construction of the stone cellars with earth floors. The use of the this space was intended as storage for maybe preserves and fuels (wood , coal) a place for your furnace and if you had one a hot water tank and a cistern. There was no thought to provide any type of water proofing material or products, in all likely- hood there was simply nothing available to use. Years later when and if spring runoff or heavy rains became a problem remedial work often took place inside the building rather than the outside. One such system was the wall sluice. Simple in its manner, a trough was cut into the floor slab or possibly a wooden embedded part was laid into the wet concrete at the time of pouring to create a small “ditch” all around the perimeter of the building, curiously, I would see this system in homes and there would be no pick up point for the water. This was always a puzzle to me. Then the light came on! During another inspection some years ago I was doing an insurance inspection on an old farmers, old house. In one sense it was very cool it was Original. It had had virtually nothing done to it. ( it still had all the old stove pipes snaking through out the rooms in the home.) Low and behold in the cellar is the wall sluice but running through (or sitting in) the entire sluice are cedar rails. Sponge’s. The cedar rail sucks up the water and the water evaporate, or humidifies the home. What do you think? Sounds pretty good to me but of course once again this is a conclusion that I have come to on my own.
I can only assume that it must have worked pretty good for them due to the fact that the only time that I see a catch point, like a sump pump is when someone has retrofitted one in after the fact.
In this particular century home the owners felt that it was best to fill the sluice with kitty litter. Probable did not work quite as well as the cedar rails.
Hey it’s been fun. Thanks for dropping by.
See you next time on homeinspectiontoday.blogspot.com

Monday, January 25, 2010

Inspection number 11

The eleventh inspection of the year started out being interesting in that it was a unique salt box construction. This style of home seems to be more popular along the eastern seaboard. It is along the same lines as a gable roof, the only difference is that the two slopes are at a different pitch, the lesser of the two slopes is also a shorter roof surface. It is a style of construction that is very typical of the Atlantic water front properties. The second story is very much a loft style with an upstairs hall that runs parallel with the length of the building that allows you to look down onto the main floor. As did the house I inspected a pair of skylights often adorn the steeper pitched roof slope which faces the water front. While skylights can be a very nice asset to the home in the form of additional natural light, they suffer a bad rap due to the condensation problems, contribution to ice damming and flashing leakage at the roof line. Truth be told the bulk of these concerns are all installer related. In my opinion there is only one skylight that is truly worth its salt. The “Velux” lights have a superior flashing system that when placed properly ( not in bathrooms or kitchens) and a proper side wall (light shaft) insulation has been done, preferably spray foam, this type of light can give you years of trouble free service.

Strangely enough this home had wood shakes, split one side and sawed on the other. This is a type of shingle that I do not see often and all of a sudden I see them twice in a two week span, very cool! Unfortunately for my client we had just had a fresh snow fall and I could see none of the shakes except for the rake of the roof (the edges of the shakes) and to compound this limitation, no attic access. The frustrating part of this is that the house is only 4 years old. The Building Official dropped the ball on this one.

The home was built by the homeowner, while he did a pretty good job on the framing, (although the squash blocks were missed again on the engineered floor joist again) finish work was not his forte. It pains me to see people spending large on high end interior finishes and then bastardize the installation. One of the common things that I find on new construction is that they receive their final permit and then the basement renovations begin, without a permit. In this case the owner had decided to put in a four piece bath in the basement. On rural properties that utilize On- Site Waste Water Systems, (septic system) in most cases plumbing that is in the basement requires a pumping system to elevate the waste to the discharge pipe that is usually passing through the wall about four feet off the floor. A sewage ejection pump is typically installed in the floor and all waste water in the basement is piped from the source (tub, toilet, basin, laundry) underground to the plastic containment pit. From there a macerating pump mulches the waste and pumps it to the septic tank. Depending on the amount of below slab piping this system can add easily $6000 to a bathroom installation. Here’s the good news, there is a toilet system called “Sani-Plus System”, this ingenious system incorporates a macerating pump in the back of the toilet, what’s really cool about this toilet is that the basin and the shower can be pumped into the back of the toilet. The price of this toilet is about $1000. Now, there is always a down side, and here it is. A very small reservoir means that the pump runs a lot. This in itself is not the problem, it’s the dam noise. In the case of my clients prospective home, it had one of these little toilet systems. However the installation was not without concerns. In addition to the basin and shower that drained into the Sani Plus toilet the builder also drained the large whirlpool bath into it. This is a huge volume of water for the pump, because it was an application that I had never seen before (for that matter I had never seen a regular tub on that type of system either) I suggested to my client that he would have to check with them manufacture to verify that type of use. The tub installation had other concerns. To supply power to the tub the builder installed a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) receptacle which is what was required, the problem was that he had plugged the toilet (remember it has a pump in it) into the same receptacle. Number one, all motor loads require a designated circuit, number two you sure do not want your pump dependent toilet to be on a ground fault receptacle. GFCI plug trips and you do not realize it, the toilet over flows. Yes that is what happened during the inspection. So now I have black water running out of the tank all over the floor. Shit (pun intended). We are not done with the tub yet. All whirlpool tubs require access to the pump ( for what I consider to be obvious reasons) The builder in this case did not feel that way and saw fit to use construction adhesive to seal all the panels on. I was able to squeeze in under a stair case that was on the wall behind the tub, while I was not able to access the pump or motor I was able to see yet another problem.

Mechanical venting, Air admittance valve, or cheater valves as they are more commonly referred to as, are a mechanism that is used to replace a proper plumbing vent system. It is a simple device, it is a check valve that is screwed into a fitting (often a horizontal leg coming off the drain pipe) when it feels water pressure going down the pipe the valve opens and takes in air. When there is no longer any water pressure the valve closes to ensure that no sewer/ septic gases can enter the home. As of the 2006 building code revision this is now an acceptable installation, as long as it is accessible. That is the point that the builder did just not get, when I was peaking in the small hole under the stairwell, low and behold there is a cheater valve up in the wall cavity. No possible way to access that one.

What concerns me about a bathroom that has so much amature work is the fact that I know I can only see 2/3rd’s of the problems in this house. If this is what I can see, what else is looming behind these walls?

Hey thanks for tagging along

Inspection number 9:

Hello, nice to see that you are tuning in for yet another home inspection. The adventure today takes us to the City of Kawartha Lakes, This was an interesting inspection for me. Not your typical home, you could almost say that this house was in disguise.

As I sit in my office filling out my report system in preparation for the afternoon inspection I try to predict what type of home I will be looking at. I am very accustom to the area I have done thousands of inspection over my career in this part of the city. Century home, I surmise. Maybe a large two story, possibly even a three story, there is a chance that it could be a home from the 50’s as well. Pulling up to the site about 15minutes early I pull up to the driveway and then park just out front of the house, on the street. (another good practice, if you have another inspection to get to the last thing you will want is to be stuck with the agent and buyers car blocking you in.) I am puzzled?

The home has a very traditional 3 story look about it, a small back room addition, standard Hip roof line with dormers. The puzzle is the siding. A brick veneer which is not uncommon but this exterior finish is missing the tradition brick arches over windows and doors and is a very odd colour, almost a pale white colour. Not what you typically see on century homes. Other clues are that there are some weeping holes present in the veneer. This practice to the best of my knowledge did not start happening until the mid to late sixties. Even then they were used sparsely. The concept of brick veneer weepers is twofold. The first consideration is to provide an avenue for moisture to escape. The brick veneer should be maintaining an air space of about one inch. Inevitably all homes will experience some degree of heat loss through their walls. When this heat loss passes through the building envelope the warm air comes into contact with the colder exterior finish, the warm air cools, condenses and turns to moisture and in theory, via the weep holes has an avenue to pass through the brick work. The second purpose of the weeping holes is that they allow the equalizing of air pressure on both sides of the veneer there by resisting the movement of exterior driven vapour or moisture from entering into the wall cavity.

When my client arrives I give the standard disclosure of what the process will entail and I ask her if the agents gave her an approximate age for the home? The young lady buying the home replies “Yes, they believe it is about 35 years of age”. I consider that for a moment and then proceed to tell my client that that estimate may be a little off and while we are going through the inspection I will try to establish a little more accurate circa of age for her. The first tell tale is present as soon as I walk in the front door. As we pass into the entrance we are greeted by a beautiful pine stair case that has been completely painted with a very dark choice of finish, but the beautiful lines of the meticulously turned balusters and the stout curves of the newel post are screaming “I am a century old”. Prior to commenting, I wonder if it has simply been recycled from another home. As I quickly scan the floor plan it is certainly not a typical layout for a 100 year old home. I am intrigued. I am excited to get down into the cellar to see what is going on down there. (true sign of a house geek) Time to start the head scratch, the foundation is concrete block. If I was looking at a century old basement, surely I would be looking at stone or maybe a first generation, very porous concrete pour. I reserve judgement until I can get a little more of the puzzle. I was hopeful that I was going to be able to see some of the floor framing, but no luck there, the ceiling has been completely sheathed with plywood. My next clue is when I start to check what we refer to as a representative number of receptacles I find that I am seeing a large amount of ungrounded circuits. The service panel had been upgraded but still had some of the old ungrounded romex wire. This is a good clue to age I now know that this wiring was done in the late 40’s or early 50’s. Once I get to the 3rd story another clue is uncovered, “vermiculite insulation” this product had two strong spurts of use. The first was in the early 50’s which is matching the age of the wiring. The second was in the late 70’s and early 80’s. This second era of use is the basis for my only real major concern as we go through the inspection.

The vermiculite insulation that was used in the 70’s had two main producer of this product, the name brands used were “Micafil” and “Zonolite” The concern is that the Zonolite was discovered to have a higher than acceptable level of asbestos within the product. While the remedial actions as prescribed by Health Canada and CMHC are relatively simple, encapsulation (cover with another insulating product).Assuming the insulation is not disturbed the health implications are minimal. That being said, the true concern is the financial impact it has on resale. The cost of removal of this product can easily exceed $10,000. The unfortunate part of this for my client is that it is impossible to establish the asbestos content without lab analysis. At my clients request and the permission of the homeowner I extract a sample and send it to the lab. Now we wait.

Wrapping up the inspection I still am perplexed as to the exact age of the home. I suggest to my client, who needs the information for her insurance company that from what I can surmise the home is at least 70 years old.

We all pack up and are ready to leave and an elderly gentleman walks past me on the sidewalk and he asks me if the home has been sold? I reply, not sure yet I was just providing an inspection. The gentleman than said “yes I remember when they moved this old stable up the hill” my ears perk up.

“Really” I replied, are you familiar with this building? He proceeded to give me the “in a nut shell” history.

It is in fact a circa century building. It was originally a stable on the mainfloor and a boarding house upstairs for the workers. In the 50’s it was moved up the hill and converted to a home. In the seventies it was lifted off the rubble foundation and a new block full basement was put under it and then the wood siding was stripped and the brick veneer was installed.

Now I can sleep at night

Thanks for tagging along


Monday, January 18, 2010

Inspection Number 8

OK, hang on readers the inspections are coming fast and furious now, well not quite a whirl wind of activity as of yet but trust me it all changes. There is really quite a trickle down effect as the agents get busy I have about a two to three week wait before I see the fruits of their labour.
Number 8 was a special inspection for me. It took place in Lindsay. I have a number of houses that are on my "homes that I really want to inspect" list. Now I know you are sitting there thinking, "this guy truly has no life", some days I wonder. Anyway, I am excited to tell you about this place, it was certainly on the list. Without question it was architecturally built, that being said it does have some odd lines to it, we will discuss these later.
The home is sided with wood shakes and field stone, two very nice earth products that really do complement each other. I am a very big fan of the wood shakes but find that there is a lot of misconception about them, and today I will take it upon myself to give you wood shake, 101, and 102. Ah yes you will be able to sit around the table at supper tonight, and when that awkward silence rears its ugly head you can chime in with confidence " So what do you think about those cedar shingles anyway" ( now you truly are an official house geek)
From an inspection stand point inspectors should always be trained to refer to the product as wood shingles / shakes. Being species specific can be a risky comment. One that you could be held accountable for should you mistaken one species for another. In Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia I have come across four and maybe five different species. The most common of course is Western Red Cedar. It takes a well trained eye to be able to look at a cedar shingle and define it origin of species after it is a year or two old. In Canada we are blessed with two types of Cedar that are used in construction, that being the western reds and the eastern whites. Differences in there chemical make up is different but barely measurable. The resin that is with in the product make for a very water resistant material, as well as extractants that are toxic to decay fungi. These extractives actually will increase as the tree ages. It is important to understand that the Cedar tree is, as all trees are, made up of a number of layers. Starting at the core of the tree the terminology is as follows. First we have the Heart, this section of the Cedar tree is typical discarded as it is not all that stable or sound. Next on the list is the Heart wood, this is the money shot, this is the product that is sought after for shingles, shakes, and lumber and trim alike. The next layer is considered Sap wood, while this is a nice colour and makes for a nice contrast on lumber, it is a very week section of the product when milled. The "magic juice" that runs through the veins of this tree are called Polyphenole which is water soluble and Thujaplicans. ( throw that one out at the supper table and see the conversations that build off of it, oh ya). Another amazing property of Cedar material is the ability to insulate. The best of all the softwood species with an R value of 1.35 per inch is impressive. ( cellulose, a popular attic insulation in Ontario is 3.70 per inch) This superior insulation value ( as far as wood is concerned) can be contributed to the low density and presence of many tiny air spaces.
The home that I was looking at utilize a 24 inch long shake, sawn on one side. This is a premium product right down to the way it sawn. In the saw mills the ideal cut with this type of product is referred to as "Quarter sawing" this refers to the direction of the grain in the material. What the sawyer is looking to accomplish is a "radial grain" or straight grained shake. This is the product that absolutely should be used in a roof application due the fact that the shingle/ shake is much less susceptible to cupping or even longitudinal splitting. The shakes that are on this home are 100% radial grain, and was aging amazingly. At 38years of age no product defect was noted. This great product was complimented by the fact that the installers did not just fall off the wood pile, these guys new what they were doing, correct exposure, proper placement of fasteners, and an impressive staggering of joints, all of which to ensure a sound weather resistant exterior finish.
Terminology of wood shakes/ shingles seem to be all over the map as well. Here's the explanation.
A shake is split on two sides, literally that is what happens, this is not a saw cut it is physically split. This is one of the nice things of a wood that has been quarter sawn and has a very straight grain. It has the ability to be split with a metal throw and a sledge hammer. The irregularity of this product is certainly one of the attractions to this style of exterior finish. While I am a big fan of the shake ( split two sides) I do not like it for a roof application. The building code also views them as being a little more problematic , for this reason the application of shakes on a roof require a 36 inch course of 15lbs perforated tar paper ( and the new era product called "cedar breather" looks like a sheet of brillo cloth) at every course. If a home owner is determined to use shakes on the roof the product should be "split one side, sawn one side" this, at least makes for the shingle lay to be much tighter to the roof deck ( still needs the perforated tar paper and cedar breather ) The last of the styles is the sawn two sides wood shingle, they come in various dimensions.The width of wood shingles / shakes should not be less than 3 inches and not greater than 13 3/4 inches, the thickness of shingles does vary some what the standard butt thicknesses seem to be 3/8's, 1/2, and 5/8's for sawn shingles and typically about 3/4 inch for shakes. Wood shingles should not be shorter that 16 inches in length and are rarely longer than 24 inches. A premium "Certi. Sawn" 5/8's butt, 18 inch shingle is, in my opinion the best product for roof application.
I like the look that the White Cedar has as the patina ages out of the shingle. Whites age colouring are referred to as a silver black, while the reds age to a brown black colour.
The correct type of fasteners are critical to the longevity of a wood shingle. Steel and electrogalvanized fasteners will cause the "extractive bleeding" marks to form on the shingles. These take the form of blue black streaks that run down the shingle.
The other types of shingle that I have encountered are White Pine, Red Oak, Poplar, and Ash.
I have found that the type of materials used is generally what ever the most common species of tree is in the area. In Kentucky is where I came across the Oak shingles and then again in Bobcaygeon. This is the Cadillac of wood shingles with a projected life expectancy of 100 years where as cedar shingles (certi sawn 24in with 5/8's butt) are more in the 40 to 50 year area.

The field stone was the other impressive workmanship on this building, beautiful colouring, placement, and corner cuts. The challenge was the stone chimney and where it passes through the roof. flashing's at this point should be done by the mason in conjunction with the roofing company. This was not the case and the problems were evident ( inside leaking that had been repaired for the purpose of sale) the faint images of repair work on the ceiling were the telltale to suggest that this area was troublesome as was the caulking via slingshot all around the roof flashing. This repair represented a MAJOR concern in my report. (more that $500 to fix)
Architects are a curious bunch to me. The design work that I see time and time again that is not practical or in the houses best interest, are continually built, even though we all know ( those in the business) that they will be a point of failure. Case in point "brick corbeling" this is where we have a series of bricks at the top of the chimney where each course of brick extend beyond the course below it by an inch, which goes on for a number of course and then the course start to step back in. The negative results are that the water does not effectively drip off the chimney brick work. Instead, it runs down the brick. In turn the brick absorbs the water, it freezes and the ice expands and pops the face of the bricks off. this was the case on the second of the two chimneys that were on this house. A simple concrete pre-cast crown will eliminate this problem.

thanks for tagging along, certainly feel free to ask questions anytime, I extend the same courtesy to you guys as I do my clients .

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Jan 15 inspection number7

This certainly shaping up to be a typical January. That being painfully slow, and if next month stays true to form it should be even slower. I am usually pretty happy if I can get 18 inspections in January and the same in February. It is all just part of the business, if you choose to live and work in the rural settings this is what you have to get use to.
The last two inspections, on Wednesday were both pretty none eventful. Which, from a buyer, seller, and agent stand point is, as I said before just what every one wants.
This is not to say that both of these homes were with out concern. It is just that both the concerns, when convey in a non alarmist fashion and therefore were deemed( rightfully so) as being manageable, in this case, as well as typicall. In fact the two biggest concerns in these house were the same. There is some irony in this due to the fact that there is about a 50 year difference in age. The concern that they were both dealing with is a problem that easily 75% of the housing in Ontario deals with. The scourge of this winter wonderland we call Ontario, The nemesis of new and old housing alike, regardless of social status, the rich or poor. The plague we know as the ICE DAM. ( pretty big intro for something that can be easily summed up as a simple pain in the ass { and pocketbook})
However you want to define it, Ice Damming is a problem that we ( in the construction industry) have been aware of for a very long time. While we are aware of it the fact still remains that it is (can be) a tricky problem to effectively, and completely address. Let me give you my two cents worth.
Cause: 1. Interior heat loss to the attic space (most of the time)
2. Lack of ventilation in the attic space ( some of the time)
3. Air leakage into the attic (often)
4. Additions (occasionally)
5 Exterior, solar thermal loading ( rarely)
Now here is the kicker, all of these concerns can be compounded with the introduction of intricate roof lines.
The explanation of each of the five bullet points are as follow.
1. This is usually the first culprit to address but unfortunately it is not always as easy as just dumping some more insulation into the attic. In the first older house, of the two inspections that I did on Tuesday the insulation medium that was being used was hard wood chips. While this may seem odd it is a common occurrence to find this type of material being used as an insulator. Remember that more often than not older homes were made by the owner, and not that long ago. My dad with assistance build his first house in the fifties. Now he had enough money to use proper building materials but many did not. It is common to see used materials in old homes, The home we are speaking of had logs, old barn beams, and standard 2x8 lumber making up the floor joist. ( Recycleing has been around alot longer than you think) Ok I am off on a little bit of a tangent, lets get this ice damming talk back on track. While this home was certainly in need of the attic to be re-insulated I was not convinced that this was going to be the total correction. In fact I felt that the problem was much a little more difficult to address. The frost pattern on the underside to the roof sheathng ( observed form the attic space), which was most intense a top of the walls, was I believed in all likelyhood,due to the wall insulation being equally as poor.
Understanding the basics of ice damming is an important start. During the winter months we develope a blanket of snow overtop of the roof . As we have warm air escaping our building envelope and entering the attic the warm air rises to the underside of the roof where is sits. In doing this it warms the underside of the roof sheathing enough to cause about an eigth of an inch of snow to melt which in turn runs down the roof, all the while the snow blanket above it insulates the melt water from the outside air, ( go figure) once the melt water passes over the roof overhang or the soffit where there is no longer any heat the melt water freezes. This is where the perverbial dam begins. As the melt water continues to run down the roof the dam builds larger and larger untill the water can no longer go over top. Now the leaks begin, the water finds its way under the shingles and leaks into our homes. In the case of the home I inspected the bulk of the air, I suspect is rising up through the wall cavities.
House insulation has a nasty habit of settling, or compressing with age, yes like you and me your attic insulation sags with age too. Equally every time the plumber, electrician or home owner go into the attic they disturb, move, and compress the insulation and rarely do they put it back or "fluff" it up, and now we have more potential air leakage. There are a lot of different types of inulation that have been used over the years some good and some not so much. All of which have varing capabilities of resisting the passage of heat / air through them. This is a whole other subject that we surely will discuss another day.
The second on our hit list is ventilation. I have, what I suspect is a different take on the venting of roof attic spaces. I will pass it along to you as food for thought, it is something that needs to be re hashed over I feel. The Ontario Building Code (OBC ) states that we should have not less than 1 sq. ft. of roof venting for every 300 sq.ft. of insulated ceiling. Heres where is gets a little complicated. Not less than 25% of that ratio has to be in the roof line and not less than 25% of that ratio has to be in the soffit. Wait....... we are not done yet. If the roof pitch is less than 4 in 12 ( going off memory here) than the ratio is 1:150 meaning about twice as many vents. Now if that sounds like greek to you let me try to give you some prospective on that. Every one of those little square vents that you see on a roof equates to just slighly over a half of one square foot of venting. While these are commonly put on only one side of the roof the correct applicaiton would see them equally placed on both sides of the roof. That being said if we were going to live by the letter of the law then a 1500 sq. ft. home with a straight gable roof (triangle shape) would have approximately 6 to 8 vents placed 3 or 4 on each side of the slope of the roof about 16inches below the ridge line ( peak of the roof) and a completly perferated soffit with insulation baffels placed on the inside to ensur that the insulation does not plug the soffit vents. Heres the part that bugs me. This deals with the results of the problem. Would it not make more sense to deal with the cause of the problem . AIR LEAKAGE. I'll let you chew on that for a while.( As a sub note a continuous ridge vent is by far a better venting system) This brings us to number 3 on our list
Every time we put a penetration through our ceiling it is a potential spot for air leakage ( how many pot lights do you have?). What does your attic access look like? How many chimneys do you have in your house? Not real chimneys as we know them I mean holes in the ceiling. Everyone of these penetrations are acting just like a chimney for heated air. Yes I am sure you have a vapour barrier ( depending on age of the house) under your drywall but I am also sure you have 15,736 holes in it This due to everything from drywall screws, staples, light and fan fixtures and of course the big daddy of them all the attic access. End result, lets do the math. Penetrations + air leakage = ice dams.
Number 4 on the list is a tough one. It likely is more of a contributing fator than it is a cause. It is common to find areas that have been worked on during additions and have not had enough detail paid to the seams of the addition to the existing building. An old place that I use to live in is a perfect case in point where an addition was put on but due to the fact that not enough attention was paid to doing an effective job at insulating the seams where the two met I had air leakage and because the new roof line was built over the old one there is now a spot for the heat loss to be trapped becuase the venilation that is suppose to be dealing with the results of the problem is also now very restrictive.
The 5th is a little more rare to see but when this is the problem it is very difficult to deal with. So your choices are move the sun or move the building, good luck with that.
It is a case that the winters sun being low in the horizon will cause the roofing materials (usually metal) at the top of the roof ( steep pitchs are most suseptable) to warm up to the point where the some snow melt begins to occur. The sun is in most cases not out or warm enough in Febuary to completly melt the snow off so the melt water runs down the roof only a few feet and then re-freezes where the roof is shadded and creates an ice dam. Not at the eaves but half way up the roof, In this case I have seen not only where the water backs up and leaks into roof vents but where the ice will slide down and tear roof vent off .
Ice damming ? In my mind still a big question. If you were to ask me, I would say that my understanding level of the problem is about 60%. I say that because about 40% of the time I am left scratching my head as to what is causing it this time. Be leery of the guy that tells you he has it 100% figured out , he just has not seen enough of them yet.

It's been fun talk to you later

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pre Delivery Inspections

And a good afternoon to you ( yes, that is singular, the one person that reads this is still in fact anonymous.)

Yesterday's inspection, a PDI is likely my least enjoyable type of inspection ( it does pays the bills). Regardless of how much I enjoy doing them I do feel they are an awesome idea, when done by somebody other than the guy you are buying the house from. I just do not like the routine of the builder or an agent of the developer walking the home buyer around and telling them all of the marvellous features of the home and when it comes to the important stuff, all is glossed over. For instance, "Yes Mrs. Home Buyer this is your furnace room, now let’s move to the beautiful down stair bath that we put in for you". Mrs Home Buyer, not knowing what to say, or even what questions to ask simply smiles and follows. "UNACCEPTABLE. This is the time to pick out all the small cosmetic defects and to verify that any and all extras that you have ask for have been installed and are exactly what you ask for, it should also be 2 to 2.5 hours of a learning curve that is almost vertical. It is expected that no real big problems will turn up. Come on the place is brand new what could be wrong. Regardless weather you are the type of person that is very hands on and intends to do all of the maintenance yourself or you are the type of person whom would prefer to just manage your home ( Hiring the appropriate trades to do all maintenance). You need to understand to some extent how these components in your home work or at the very least what they are.

I was hired to do a PDI ( Pre Delivery Inspection) on an approx. 3000 sq. ft. home in a very nice section of Uxbridge. As I pull into the community it is still a bee hive of construction, I pull into my clients home and the first thing that I notice is the house that is under construction next door has an extension cord running to my clients outside receptacle, which is in fact powering all of the tools that are being used on the site next door. How important do you think it is to have your hydro meter read as soon as you sign on the dotted line? I enter the house and my client ( Mrs. Home buyer)is getting the warm fuzzy walk through from the builders rep. So does the client follow me or the Rep.? At this point I am, in my mind busily assessing the Rep. Is he a follower, or an "in charge" kind of guy? This is important. I can tell right away that my client is totally out of her element. I now have to approach this carefully the last thing she would need is confrontation between myself and the builders rep.

I introduce myself and explain to my client what my process is and that she is most welcome to tag along with me. I look to the rep and say "unless I am interrupting your process". He pauses and never really comes back with a straight reply. Follower, I conclude, so I take the initiative and invite him to tag along with us and he suggests that that would be a good idea. I have already done my outside look around and brought the information into my client. I ask if she has any immediate concerns with the house, she makes a quick glimpse at the rep and said " I am a little concerned about some of the brick work, the mortar joints are not all looking to good" At this point the rep jumps in to say " Oh not to worry Mrs Home Buyer you are covered by a 2 year builder warranty on all exterior imperfections". Perfect I think, but it is only as good as the builders attention to recalls. My advice in this case is, come back for a drive around the community on Sunday and stop and talk to your neighbours they will be more than happy to give you the low-down on just how good the builder really is on call backs.

From there we head down stairs and straight to the electrical panel. Turning to the rep I ask for his permission to shut the power off ( I do not really need his permission, I have already informed the trades across the road that I would be interrupting the power for not more than 5 minutes and they were cool with that, It just makes everybody feel a little more comfortable when you ask) I take the time to explain to my client the purpose and use of the bedroom arc fault breaker and the rep jumps in and gives his two cents worth how they are like the ones in the bath room. NOT. That is OK, once the client and I were alone I explained the difference, this way allowing Mr. Rep to save face. In the electrical room the ceiling framing is still exposed which for me is great. Now I am able to at least give my client some insight as to how this puppy is put together.

I this case it was really great because I was able to assess that the builder had omitted some key framing components when utilizing engineered floor joist. That being the "squash blocks" an integral part of the floor joist when they are carrying a load above them. These small framing blocks need to be installed on every joist to ensure the joist webbing does not crush under the load of the house. This is a tricky call for me due to the fact that every system has its own engineering spec's. There is a chance that it is not required in this home, highly unlikely but there is always that chance. The suggestion is for the job superintendent to provide the engineering specifications that say otherwise.

Now it is off to the mechanical room. Wow lots going on in here, furnace, filters, hot water tank, tempering valves, electronic thermostats, heat recovery ventilator (HRV) particulate filters, heating core filters, and main water shut off. I don't know, what do you think? To me it justifies a little more time than "and this is the furnace room. "

Today I will just address the HRV as this was the only component that had concerns.

First off my client had no idea what the "box hanging off the ceiling" was.

Here's the disclosure.

This "box hanging from the ceiling" is a mechanical air exchange unit. The reason for it is that your new home has been built very tight so as to not allow any heated or cooled air to escape thereby reducing your operating costs. While it is a good thing that we do not have any condition air getting out, equally we do not have any fresh air coming into the home, so we are trapped in here with all the indoor air contaminates that we create. Cooking , cleaning, breathing, pets, and we won’t even talk about what dad does in the washroom. The H.R.V. takes care of all those little impurities by discharging them outside. This is done by way of a central ducting system that in the perfect world has extraction points in kitchens, laundry, and bathrooms. The smart thing about this system is that prior to discharging the stale air out of the house it extracts up to 60% of the heat from the air and retains it within a heating core inside the H.R.V. and then expels the stale air outside through a wall mounted vent. From here another wall mounted vent is pulling freshair into the house but before entering the duct system it also passes through the same heating core and absorbs the heat that the core had stored from the stale air. Pretty cool eh.

Now, here's the problem. Builders are always looking to save a buck, t'is the nature of the beast. Ducting is very expensive. Now enter the short cut, how can we kind of accomplish the same thing without spending all that money on ducting. The answer, lets create what I like to call the "circle jerk" instead of running the ducting to all the individual rooms why not just take the stale air right out of the return air duct. The problem is that the fresh air that comes out of the H.R.V. gets dumped into the same fresh (or return) air duct. Now instead of having a snappy good system with have one that sucks (not a return air pun) it really does suck! In the case of my client it was even worse because the two pipes were reversed so the fresh air came in upstream of where the stale air went out. The result of this was that as soon as the fresh air came into the duct from the H.R.V. it was sucked right back out with the so called stale air. Dam that sounds confusing eh!

Any way it was a total botch up and to compound things there was meant to be a furnace interlock switch with the H.R.V. which was not hook up. The intent of that is to lessen this inefficient set up so that it only sucks a little bit. Hence the term "circle jerk"

The crown jewel on this was that the Energy Star guy checked it all out and said "hey dam nice job, here is your sticker" I wonder who he worked for

Just another day at the office, thanks for tagging along


Sunday, January 10, 2010

cottage condensation

Re-Inspection, it's a service that all Home Inspectors should offer. Past clients calls, maybe from years ago. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Many inspectors seem to be very tardy about getting back to past clients. Maybe this is due to the fact that they are worried that they will have a complaint to deal with. Truth is, I get hundreds of calls each year and very rarely is it these people that are trying to hang you with a problem that they have, in fact it is quite the opposite. As inspectors we establish a level of trust with our clients (assuming you are competent ) and they are calling for help, understanding, or direction.
I spend very little money on marketing ( not that that is the making for a good business plan) Where I spend my marketing dollars is somewhat indirect. I eat costs. Case in point, the cost of re-inspects, when I do charge it is very minimal. I leave my clients with the warm fuzzy feeling that they are still benefiting from a service that they may have purchased years ago. Guess what. We have all heard the old saying " They tell two friends and they tell two friends", well you get the idea. And it pays off in spades.
Yes you are correct that is a very strange introduction for condensation problems.
This is one of my typical call backs. Not to place blame, not to hold responsible, and not to point the finger. Just a cry for HELP. "I am frozen out of my cottage, the door is frozen shut, I can't even get my dam key in the lock and all the windows are dripping wet! We had to spend last night in a hotel because we could not access our own cottage!"
Here is the scenario, Clients from the Big Smoke buy a nicely renovated cottage in Haliburton County, the inspection goes well. In this case the cottage has all the tell tales of a "flip".
An old cottage that has been purchased, cosmetically renovated and re-sold in the hope to make an extra buck. Here is the concern. We take and old cottage on piers with an earth floor and a very low slope roof, which at some point has had an addition of a fourth bedroom and another roof built over top of the original one to increase the pitch (or slope) of the roof. Not a bad idea, better snow shedding capabilities, and an increased attic space that allows for increased insulation and adequate ventilation. All the ceiling had been re-drywalled at which time,unfortunately they covered in the attic access (sound familiar, client bought anyway, and a year later still no access, oh well.) The drywallers did a very professional job but strangely enough left the add on bed room with the old paper acoustic tiles. The crawl space had been "skirted in" with plywood and a spray foam insulation had been sprayed on the inside of the exterior walls. As per the inspection recommendations the my client covered the earth floor with a 6 mill. poly to reduce the amount of moisture and soil gases emanating from the earth floor. The crawl space was pretty friendly it had a head room of between 36 to 48 inches in most places, but like most lake side cottages it was built on the side of a hill. This means lots of head room ( from a crawl space stand point) at the front of the cottage ( which would be considered the lake side) and not so much at the back. Inside the cottage new vinyl and laminate flooring was also added. Once again acting on a recommendation form the inspection the client replaced the remaining old window with a high quality single hung vinyl window which were installed very well. The installer even offered to go around and re-caulk all the existing windows and doors, and equally did a very nice job of it.

So you might ask your self " Well Mike, this place sounds perfect. Whats the problem?"

The problem is they now are living in a plastic bubble. No air in and more importantly no air out.
The next question you might ask is, so where is the condensation coming from?
Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation has an interesting site on their web page that pertains to this specifically, that being seasonal dwellings and condensation. Take a minute and check it out it is an interesting read (www.cmhc.ca)

Finally lets get to the meat of this concern. where does the moisture come from?
with continuous use the occupants are the biggest culprits.

BATHING / SHOWERS 2.5 /per shower

However in this case the cottage is being used only during weekends in the winter time.
After the re-inspect was finished the only viable conclusion that I was able to come up with was the addition. The add on was built basically right at grade level. At the back of the crawl space I was able to see where the floor joist (of the addition) were maybe 4 or 5 inches off the floor. There was just no way you were going to be able to thing small enough thoughts to even consider getting into that space. Given the fact that this space was so small the likelihood of getting a vapour barrier on the earth floor or any insulation was going to be impossible. This area was further plagued by the fact that like most of the cottages this was on the down side of the hill so the ground here was continuously being saturated via surface water, weather it was rain or snow melt. Now we introduce the phenomenon of "stack effect". The air pressure that is within and surrounds our homes and cottages ( this will be another writing in the future ) which is always pulling air vapour into our living space that may exist in the lower levels. When there is a high level of moisture laden vapour or air within the building in the winter it is always tiring to get out. If it is not being removed mechanically then it will find its own path, fixtures, windows, doors, attic access, any where that we have a penetration in the building envelope ( the insulated shell). When it hits these cold surfaces the vapour condenses and turns to moisture or frost.
In this case the fix that is recommended:
1 sub floor come up in bedroom to access crawlspace
2 vapour barrier is placed on earth floor (also acts as a drainage layer)
3 earth floor is then spray foamed as well as perimeter
4 Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) is installed
I'll let you know how things turn out

House Condensation

Re-Inspection, it's a service that all Home Inspectors should offer. Past clients calls, maybe from years ago. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Many inspectors seem to be very tardy about getting back to past clients. Maybe this is due to the fact that they are worried that they will have a complaint to deal with. Truth is, I get hundreds of calls each year and very rarely are these people that are trying to hang you with a problem that they have, in fact it is quite the opposite. As inspectors we establish a level of trust with our clients (assuming you are competent ) and they are calling for help, understanding, or direction.
I spend very little money on marketing ( not that that is the making for a good business plan) Where I spend my marketing dollars is somewhat indirect. I eat costs. Case in point, the cost of re-inspects, when I do charge it is very minimal. I leave my clients with the warm fuzzy feeling that they are still benefiting from a service that they may have purchased years ago. Guess what. We have all heard the old saying " They tell two friends and they tell two friends", well you get the idea. And it pays off in spades.
Yes you are correct that is a very strange introduction for condensation problems.
This is one of my typical call backs. Not to place blame, not to hold responsible, and not to point the finger. Just a cry for HELP. "I am frozen out of my cottage, the door is frozen shut, I can't even get my dam key in the lock and all the windows are dripping wet! We had to spend last night in a hotel because we could not access our own cottage!"
Here is the scenario, Clients from the Big Smoke buy a nicely renovated cottage in Haliburton County, the inspection goes well. In this case the cottage has all the tell tales of a "flip" an old cottage that has been purchased, cosmetically renovated and re-sold in the hope to make an extra buck. Here is the concern. We take and old cottage on piers with an earth floor and a very low slope roof, which at some point has had an addition of a fourth bedroom and another roof built over top of the original one to incease the pitch (or slope) of the roof. Not a bad idea, better snow shedding capabilities, and an increased attic space that allows for increased insulation and adequate ventilation. All the ceiling had been re-drywalled at which time, unfortunatly they covered in the attic access (sound familar, client bought anyway, and a year later still no access, oh well.) The drywallers did a very professional job but stangely enough left the add on bed room with the old paper accoustic tiles. The crawl space had been "skirted in" with plywood and a spray foam insulation had been sprayed on the exteior walls. As per the inspection recommendations the my client covered the earth floor with a 6 mill. poly to reduce the amount of moisture and soil gases eminating from the earth floor. The crawl space was pretty friendly it had a head room of between 36 to 48 inches in most places, but like most lake side cottages it was built on the side of a hill. This means lots of head room ( from a crawl space stand point) at the front of the cottage ( which would be considered the lake side) and not so much at the back. Inside the little cottage the new vinlye and laminate flooring also added. Once again acting on a recommendation form the inspection the client replaced the remaining old window with a highquality single hung vinyle window which were installed very well. The installer even offered to go around and re-caulk all the existing windows and doors, and equally did a very nice job of it.

So you might ask your self " Well Mike, this place sounds perfect. Whats the problem?"

The problem is they now are living in a plastic bubble. No air in and more importantly no air out.
The next question you might ask is so where is the condensation comeing from?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

century homes

good evening inspection followers ( both of you)
I couple of inspections to tell you about tonight. Old houses with new window problems and then some.
The Alcan double hung windows of the late 80's and early 90's can be a real pain in the finger.
Of course the pain only begins when you unlock the hasp at the top of the bottom sash and the upper sash plummets down and wedges your fingers between the two panes of glass. Yes been there done that. This experience is a little embarrassing when your client is standing behind you asking if you are all right, of course you have to lie and say "Oh yes no problem here" as the blood drips down your knuckles. What is to be learned from this little experience? Alcan double hung window, BEWARE top sash falls when unlocked. This is typical with this window, hardware problems with most windows of this age is common, in this case the spring, or tension system has simply worn out after 20 years of service.
My next century home inspection also had window issues. Century Home, new windows, old wood sash left in place. What this means is the old single pane, single hung windows were removed but the frame work was left in and the new windows were just inserted, then fastened to the old frames. The problem is that the likelihood of there being any amount of insulation in behind the old fame work is little to none. Quick install for the guys doing the job, everything looks good until the first winds of winter start to blow, and that old familiar cold draft is back. In the home I looked at today, it had the old sashes still in place but to add insult to injury the fit was incorrect so the upper and lower sashes would not line up at the locking hasp. When this happens security is out the window ( no pun intended) and more importantly if the windows won't lock then they do not seal, if they do not seal then the cold comes in. Ten thousand dollars in windows that have to be all re-installed.
The other common denominator that these two inspections had in common is 3/8's hardwood flooring. In both cases the prospective home owners were disappointed to find that they had already been sanded down at least once. When my client asked "why on earth wood any body face nail these beautiful old oak floors. It was then he realized that the tongue and groove system had been sanded to the point where the top lip of the groove was so thin that it could not hold the floor for popping up and coming apart. Both floors had to be replaced. In the second of the two houses the floor had also started to cup quite badly. This is a common occurrence when the cellar floor is exposed earth. The never ending moisture that evaporates out of an exposed earth floor not only ruins finished flooring but creates less than favorable indoor air quality and potentially harmful soil gases (radon).
The final disappointing finding in the second house was up in the attic. This is where I easily find 40 to 50% of the sins that I come across in most houses that are over 5o years of age. One of the things that concerns me the most, is when I am doing a Home Inspection and I discover that the attic access has been permanently sealed over. It happens all to often and I will bet you that at least half of the clients assume that risk, especially if the rest of the inspection has gone well. That always worries me.
In todays home the old house had had a fire. Some of the burnt framing members had been repaired (sistered) but many were still left unaddressed. Using a probe, if it can be easily penetrated through a 1/4 inch of material on either side of the rafter framing than remedial action is required. Equally important is the sealing of the chared material , special paint is to be utillized to reduce the hightened flash point of the charcoaled wood roof structure.

Thanks for tagging along, we'll talk again after the next inspection adventure