Never Chop A RoofPosted on Friday, February 14th, 2014 by Nathan Weinstock
It has been a tough winter here in Ottawa. The cold weather and heavy snow have made it particularly demanding to do home inspections, especially on the outside. They have also made just living and getting around tough. And the trying conditions created by this winter are especially hard on our houses.
The deep blanket of snow and the arctic temperatures have contributed to the build-up of ice on many of our roofs. I have talked about roof ice damming in the blog entry: “Scary Ottawa Ice” posted on 02/03/2011. Click back to the past blog posts and check it out.
Once you have an ice build-up, it is really difficult to get rid of it. Many things are tried. Generally these have limited success. Sometimes they can cause serious damage, or be down right DANGEROUS.
First thing to know is never climb on a roof in winter. Never place yourself at serious risk. Hire an experienced professional to do the work if you must try something. They should know how to take the right safety measures. Stopping any water leak is not worth breaking your neck for.
Also, never use a torch or any open flame to try and melt the ice. You can easily start a fire and burn your house down. Again, it is not worth it.
Finally, never use an ax, or pick, or any kind of chopper to try and break up the ice (see the picture). This will certainly damage shingles or roof covering. So when the ice finally melts, the water will have an easier time of getting into your house making the leak and the resulting damage that much worse. Then, not only do you have to face repairing the damage the water may have caused, you also have to fix or even replace the roof.
The best offense is a good defense. Do your best to keep ice from forming on your roof in the first place. Increase the levels of insulation and ventilation under your roof to help keep the snow from melting and then re-freezing into ice. And pull the snow off your roof if you can do it safely from the ground with a roof rake.
As a rule, once the ice has formed, you are pretty much stuck with it until the warm temperatures finally arrive (and yes they will come) and nature helps you out.
The Right Humidity LevelPosted on Wednesday, January 8th, 2014 by Nathan Weinstock
We are in the midst of winter here in Ottawa. In fact, this is one of the coldest and snowiest winters we’ve had in a long time. Winter weather provides a special set of home inspection considerations. For instance, what is the right humidity level in the house?
In summer, we are often dealing with high humidity levels on hot muggy days. Winter conditions can be just the opposite, too dry. You can experience things like chapped skin, nose bleeds, and static electrical shocks. The challenge is finding the right level of humidity in the winter.
You might be wondering can there be too much winter humidity? Well, yes. With too much humidity, you get water condensing on cold surfaces, such as on your windows. Even your walls can get wet if the humidity levels get really high. So the target moisture level would be in the range between 30% – 45%.
How do you know that you have the right humidity level? You could invest in a hygrometer (an instrument used for measuring the moisture content in the atmosphere). But we’re not talking about worrying about an exact number. There is a simple trick you can use to tell if there is enough moisture in your inside air. Simply look at your windows.
With the right humidity level, you should have a light mist or a few water droplets at the bottom of your window. (Please see the picture.) With no moisture, your house is too dry. If water is pooling on the window sill, or running down the walls, then the house is too humid. Keep in mind, I am talking about relatively new, energy efficient windows. Older, less efficient windows often get covered in ice and do not provide a reliable reflection of humidity levels.
So there you have it, a simple test that can tell you so much. If you find you have too much humidity, then you need to run some exhaust fans, or even briefly open a window, until you expel some of the moisture. To find out what to do if your house is too dry, take a look at a previous log post:
Furnace Humidifier Gone Bad
Posted on Wednesday, October 5th, 2011
Cast Iron Sneaking UpPosted on Friday, December 6th, 2013 by Nathan Weinstock
The plumbing system in a typical Ottawa home has two parts. There’s the supply piping that brings fresh water in. Then the drain-waste-vent (DWV) piping system, usually referred to simply as the drains, removes the ‘used’ water. During a home inspection, it would be glaringly obvious if there was a serious problem with the supply piping. Water would be spraying all over or pouring into the house.
Problems with drain piping may not be quite so apparent. There could be rust and decay lurking inside the pipes that you would not know about until they fell apart and started to leak. Your household drains can be made of plastic, copper, galvanized steel, cast iron, brass/bronze, and even lead.
Let’s talk about cast iron as an example. It was extensively used up until the 1960′s and presents its own unique set of problems. Iron, as you may know, can oxidize. That means it rusts. This is done in the presence of water and air. Where do you get this combination with a cast iron pipe? The answer, on the inside. So the deterioration, the rusting, happens slowly, silently, and out of sight, inside the pipe.
Cast iron failure generally occurs precipitously (suddenly). The pipe will work fine and reliably for many decades, and then, it will disintegrate right before your eyes. Just a light tap or hit can cause major disintegration or rupture.
Sometimes, if you are lucky and are paying attention, you get some warning, like rusting and staining on the outside (see the picture).
So, if you have drains made of cast iron, and they are over 30 years old, you should pay careful attention to them. Watch them closely so can you catch any deterioration or leak early on. Or better yet, replace them with new plastic piping. This is fairly easy to do and not that costly. That way you don’t have to worry about damaging drain leaks sneaking up on you.
Still RunningPosted on Wednesday, October 16th, 2013 by Nathan Weinstock
I thought I’d take a break from talking about inspection issues and surprises and tell you about my latest Ottawa run, the Alterna Run. This event was staged to raise funds to fight men’s cancers. It was a cool day with the threat of rain. Fortunately, the rain held off until the end of the run.
This was one of the smaller events in Ottawa with a few hundred participants. So it had a bit of a collegial, friendly vibe. That was very nice. And the route, along the Rideau canal, was very attractive, very scenic.
There was the added treat of a pancake breakfast served to the runners at the end. And I had the pleasure of having my flap-jacks handed to me by my lovely wife, Amanda. She was one of the volunteers helping out.
So, with a respectable running time of 0:59:15.5, a delicious breakfast, and the satisfaction of helping a worthy cause, I’d say this was a very successful event for me.
Plumbing On A Hope And A PrayerPosted on Monday, September 30th, 2013 by Nathan Weinstock
After duct tape, the next most abused ‘repair’ material is caulking. I have seen it used to try and repair foundation cracks, worn out roofing, and yes, a leaky drain (see photo).
When I see this kind of repair, it tells me that the owner either does not know better or can’t afford to do it right. This sharpens my inspection radar even more. What else has been repaired poorly? What has been neglected? That’s what I’m there to find out.
Owning and managing a home is not for the faint of heart. This is true everywhere, including here in Ottawa. When I do home inspections, I often see improvised repairs that get my inspection senses tingling. Not only is this kind of work unreliable, it can be damaging and even dangerous.
The caulking is a red flag that tells me that a poor repair has been done. This could be because the current homeowner doesn’t know enough to do the work correctly or doesn’t have the financial resources (money) to hire the right person to do it properly.
When they own a home, people know that they need to pay their mortgage and taxes. But they often don’t know (or haven’t been told) that they need money to take care of the place. I advise my inspection clients that they should have 1% to 2% of the value of the property (the purchase price) to spend on repairs and maintenance every year. Some years will be more, some less, but this would be an average over the long term. It is important to understand that this amount of money is critical.
People often stretch their budgets just to buy the house. There is little left over for repairs and maintenance after the mortgage and taxes have been paid. So when something does go wrong, the repair is attempted on the cheap, with varying degrees of success. You can’t improvise a repair and hope it will work. The only way to fix something is the right way. Otherwise, things will only get worse with more damage developing. Plus you can even be compromising your health and safety.
Pipes and Wires and Rot, Oh My!Posted on Tuesday, September 17th, 2013 by Nathan Weinstock
When I conduct home inspections in Ottawa, I spend a lot of time in the basement, especially when it is not finished. Being the diligent Ottawa home inspector, I carefully examine and scrutinize all the systems found in the basement. I do this in an organized way, starting with the structure, then the plumbing, electrical, heating, and finally the cooling system. Every so often I come across a really challenging basement. Here is a picture of one such basement. There were concerns evident in all the systems I checked.
The structure, to start with, had extensive deterioration. The floor decking was rotting and failing. The wood post that was there to help was not properly supported on its base, nor was it securely attached to the floor supports above.
The plumbing system is made up of two sub-systems: the water supply piping and the drain system. With the supply piping, I saw a combined use of copper pipes and galvanized steel pipes. Where these 2 metals come in contact, an electro-chemical reaction occurs. There is a deposit of sediments inside the piping. This would affect the water pressure through the house, especially at higher locations. Galvanized steel piping is now considered obsolete since it has been found to be a water leak and safety hazard. It needs to be replaced.
Some of the drains were made of cast iron. There were areas of the cast iron drain that were deteriorated. Cast iron failure generally occurs precipitously (suddenly). The drains will need to be repaired or replaced.
On the electric side, there were loose wires in contact with the metal piping and ducting. This is a major safety hazard. An experienced, licensed electrician will need to examine this installation.
And finally, the heating ducts were in poor condition, were poorly supported, and leaked. This will reduce the heating system efficiency. It will cost more to heat the house.
This was only one corner of the basement. There was lots to see, lots to understand, and lots to explain during this inspection. It feels good when I can give my client a clear picture of what was found in this house and what it means.
Complex DrainPosted on Monday, September 9th, 2013 by Nathan Weinstock
There are drains and then there are good drains. Looking at the plumbing system during a typical home inspection here in Ottawa, I take a particular interest in the drains. As an inspector, it is quickly apparent when the supply piping is not working right. There is water spraying all over the place or leaking into the home . But a drain problem may not be so obvious.
A real tell tale sign as to the skill and experience of the drain installer is the quality of the work done. Just because the drain does not leak and the flush contents make it to the sewer or septic, does not mean the piping is right or can provide reliable service over the long term.
A skilled and experienced plumber will use as few joints as possible to connect the pipes. Fact is, pipe leaks generally take place where there are connections. So it makes sense that the fewer the joints, the smaller the chance for the drain to leak. You can see in the picture that the lower pipe has 9 pieces visible just in that one small section alone.
As a final note, the more complex the drain, the more twists and turns it has, the more likely the flow will be impeded and the pipe develop and blockage. It is only a matter of time until that drain is plugged.
Ottawa Race Weekend – Ottawa 10KPosted on Wednesday, August 28th, 2013 by Nathan Weinstock
Yes, I am very involved in doing home inspections all over Ottawa. And yes, I never tire of being the go-to Ottawa home inspector. But I also know it is important to be active in other areas of life, including challenging myself physically. So this year I decided to experience the Ottawa Race Weekend first hand.
This is the biggest running event in Ottawa. I’ve watched and cheered from the sidelines in the past, but never took the plunge to actually enter the event. My run of choice is the 10K, a manageable distance that can still be quite challenging.
Committing to the run meant I had to stay serious in training. I mapped out a 2.5K loop through my Ottawa neighbourhood. That way I could build up my running distances in a systematic way. I also mixed in cycling, swimming, and working with weights.
All that hard prep work paid off. I had a fun run, and managed to clock in at 0:59:16.1. I guess climbing into basements and up ladders helped too.
Plug NightmarePosted on Friday, July 19th, 2013 by Nathan Weinstock
There are times when I see something during an inspection and I have to pinch myself to check if I am dreaming (or having a nightmare). Over the years, I have enjoyed inspecting houses all over Ottawa. This week, I got a chance to get away from the city heat and look at a rural property. These types of homes can be more of a challenge to inspect because many repairs and upgrades are often done in a less than competent manner, let’s say with a country flair.
Though every system in the house is vital, a key area to make sure that’s right is the electrical system. Poor wiring is a serious fire threat to both the building itself and its occupants. Poor wiring is also a critical shock safety threat. It only takes a few milliamps (thousands of an amp) to kill you. So, you do not want to fool with electricity.
Sometimes wiring problems are hidden. They can be in the panel, or worse, completely hidden inside a wall. These faults are tough to find and correct. And then again, wiring faults can jump out and practically kick you in the butt (see picture). When you see something like this, stay way clear of the area. You don’t want to be hurt by getting an electrical shock. And don’t hold out any hope for the fire safety of such wiring. If you live in a house with a plug nightmare, don’t wait for trouble. Get a licensed electrician to check and fix the system stat.
Rusty RoofPosted on Tuesday, June 25th, 2013 by Nathan Weinstock
When you hear about rust, you generally think about car bodies or garden shears. You don’t usually associate rust with house roofs, especially here in Ottawa. With home inspections, I have learned a long time ago not to be surprised with anything.
One of the best roof coverings you can have on a house is sheet metal, as long as it is the right kind. You want residential sheet metal which is a heavy gauge sheet steel with a baked enamel finish. That kind of finish is a durable, effective covering that provides reliable long term service. Failure in sheet metal eventually tends to come from the finish wearing and the underlying metal deteriorating. When the finish loses its protective qualities the sheet metal decays and corrodes. The roof covering then will tend to leak. Although repairing or replacing a sheet metal roof is more difficult and costly (approximately 50% – 80% more than asphalt shingles), it is a longer lasting and more effective roof covering.
On the other hand, one of the poorest roof coverings you can have is sheet metal, if it is the wrong kind. You want to stay away from ‘tin’ roofs. These are made with light gauge sheet metal and are designed for barns and sheds. They damage easily and rust readily (see the picture). The long term weather performance of this type of roof covering is very unreliable.
As a final note, another thing shown in the picture is the use of two different roofing materials. This is also something you want to avoid. The seam between these two coverings is a very common leak location. The best approach to any roof covering is to have as few seams and joints as possible.