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