The SupervisorPosted on Tuesday, May 7th, 2013 by Nathan Weinstock
Ottawa home owners love their pets. Four years ago we posted a blog entry “Pets At The Inspection”. Pets can be your best friend in life, but at an inspection they can be disruptive. Any stranger in the house can be an intimidating and stressful intrusion for a family pet who is genetically predisposed to protect the home and its inhabitants.
I encourage you to think carefully about your pets if you are selling your house. It might be best to remove your pet if there is any chance they could cause a disturbance, get hurt or escape through an open door. It’s all part of a safe working environment and removing distractions.
However, I can’t fight destiny. I was closely supervised during a recent home inspection. This was one calm, harmless and adorable feline who was just interested in looking at the AccuChex home inspection unfolding before her. She stayed out of the way and didn’t trip me up. The cat seemed quite content to silently monitor the goings on.
Ottawa Spring Home ShowPosted on Friday, April 12th, 2013 by Nathan Weinstock
The weather may not quite feel like spring, but that didn’t stop me from helping out again to promote home inspections in Ottawa at the spring home show. More precisely, I was staffing the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors booth spreading the good word about Registered Home Inspectors.
In Ontario, anyone can call themselves a ‘home inspector’ but it doesn’t mean that they have the education or experience to do a good job. However, no one can call themselves an RHI, a Registered Home Inspector, unless they are a member of the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors, otherwise known as OAHI. By an act of provincial legislation in 1997, OAHI was given the authority to confer the designation of RHI to qualified individuals who have met the requirements of education and experience.
So our mission at the home show was to educate the public about this important and valuable distinction. OAHI does the hard work in helping people find a good and qualified home inspector. You just start by checking to see if he or she is a member of OAHI and is an RHI. Once that is confirmed, you can go on and see if this is a person who inspires confidence and is someone you can work with.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am an early member of OAHI, one of the first RHI’s. In fact I could see right from the start that this professional association would play a key role in maintaining high standards in the home inspection community.
Ah The Joys Of Spring!Posted on Thursday, March 28th, 2013 by Nathan Weinstock
Spring in Ottawa is wonderful. With the receding snow, getting around on the outside during a home inspection becomes less of a challenge. More and more of the house exterior is revealed, for better or worse.
Spring snow melt and showers put a real strain on the house’s ability to keep water out. This is especially true early in the season when the ground is still frozen. Normally, in the warm weather, the ground can absorb much of the water. On frozen ground, water has nowhere to go but downhill on the surface. This is when you want the downhill slope to be away from the house. Because, no matter how good the waterproofing is on the house, given enough time, a pool of water against the house will always find a way to get in (see the picture).
So as the weather warms up, take a walk around your house. See if there are any squishy areas. Or worse, look out for any pools of water. If you find water, make a note of where. Take pictures if you can. That will tell you where your summer project will be.
The best way to prevent standing water is to ensure that the ground slopes away from your house. This can be done by either raising the grade next to your house or lowering it at the farthest point away from your house. Raising the grade is generally easier if you have the choice. The main reason you would not be able to do this is if the ground is too high already.
You need to have a 6″ to 8″ clearance between the ground and whatever is covering the house (like brick, siding, or stucco). If the ground is too close, water will wick in behind the wall covering and cause moisture damage inside. So never pile earth too high on the wall.
If the ground is already too high, then the problem can be quite serious. It is not usually viable to lower the grade at the farthest point away from your house. Usually there are trees and neighbours to worry about. The best you could possibly hope for is to install some form of catch basin or drain. This is generally difficult and expensive, and not usually possible.
Hopefully you have good drainage around your house and you can enjoy spring for the wonderful season it is.
The Rating is Between 100% and 100%Posted on Thursday, March 7th, 2013 by Nathan Weinstock
Doing inspections here in Ottawa always means having a close look at the home’s heating system. I am always reluctant to be the home inspector that tells my client the house has electric heat. It seems to be a general belief that electric heat is not the best, primarily because of the relative cost.
Whether the heat system consists of electric baseboard heaters or an electric furnace, the news is definitely not all bad. Certainly, when compared to natural gas or even oil, electric heat tends to be more costly. But, to be sure, electric heat is the only heating system that is 100% efficient. (See the Energyguide sticker in the picture.) All the energy consumed, and I do mean ALL, is used as heat. And that is exactly what you want. Even high efficiency gas furnaces can only boast efficiencies of 90% to 95%.
In addition, electric heat is the only heating system that produces no gases or emissions where it is utilized. There are no exhaust gases to deal with; no chimneys or exhaust vents to worry about.
Finally the capital costs (the price of the heating system) and the repair costs tend to be lower. It is cheaper to buy an electric furnace than a gas or oil one. And baseboard heaters are cheapest of all. If something goes wrong with an electric furnace, they are also less costly to repair. There are fewer components and they tend to be simpler.
Sometimes a home owner has little choice than to go with electric heat. Or the electric heat was installed in an era when electricity was more affordable (in the ‘70′s and ‘80′s). So you can see that it is not all bad news. Have electric heat means that ensuring the home is energy efficient is more important than the energy source used to heat the home. Indeed, many uber-green, ultra-efficient homes are heated electrically. They need so little heat that it doesn’t really make sense to go with a more complex energy source.
Keep Snow Clear of Furnace PipesPosted on Thursday, February 21st, 2013 by Nathanadmin
This has been a particularly hard winter here in Ottawa. The swings in the temperature have been extreme to say the least, from +16C to -29C, just in January alone. And that doesn’t take into account the wind chill. Also, the snow doesn’t show any sign of letting up. Needless to say, home inspections have been quite challenging.
A major peril when it comes to heavy snow fall is snow piling up and blocking the furnace pipes on the outside. This generally applies to high efficiency furnaces. There is always at least one pipe, the exhaust vent. High efficiency furnaces no longer use a chimney for exhaust. Often there is also a second pipe, the intake.
What is the risk of having blocked pipes? If the vent is blocked, the safe flow of exhaust gases to the outside is also blocked. This can lead to these gases building up on the inside of the house. These gases can include carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is clear, odourless and very hazardous.
It is also a serious problem if the intake pipe is blocked by snow. Whenever you have combustion (fire), like in the heart of your furnace, you need oxygen from the air to feed the fire. This air can either come from inside the house or from the outside. It is best to get the air from the outside so that you are not wasting heat with the inside air feeding the furnace. This is even more important with newer houses that tend to be more air tight. With a blocked intake, there is a danger that outside air will be drawn back into the house through the exhaust pipe. This again risks hazardous gases entering the house.
Finally, most new furnaces come with safeguards that detect blocked intake or exhaust pipes. When abnormal airflow is detected, the protective feature shuts the furnace down for safety. The furnace won’t work and you have a no heat situation. You are stuck with a bill for a service call that simply needed the snow to be cleared from the pipes outside.
I hope you now understand the importance of keeping the snow clear of all your exhaust and intake pipes on the outside. It is critical for your health and safety and also good for your wallet.
A Shower Without WallsPosted on Tuesday, November 13th, 2012 by Nathan Weinstock
In all areas of the house, including bathrooms, you want to control the flow of water. This is to prevent flooding and water damage. In a shower, you typically need some sort of wall surround to keep the water in. The walls are usually covered with ceramic tiles or acrylic sheets. You only have to worry about one side, the one you get in and out of. And that is usually taken care of with a shower curtain. But what happens when you want to add a shower to a free standing bathtub? There are no walls on any side to contain the water. Often this means remodelling the bathroom and installing a more conventional bathtub-shower combination.
But there is a way of getting the shower into the existing tub. Instead of tiled walls catching the shower spray, there is a circular rod that lets the shower curtain do the job on ALL sides (see picture). The rod also supports the shower head and supply piping.
While quaint and full of charm, this solution is more of a challenge. If all the gaps on the curtain are not closed, or worse, if the curtain bottom is not sitting inside the tub, you can get serious flooding and water damage. It goes to prove the old adage, where there’s a will, there’s a way. But take care.
Ottawa Home Inspector Runs for Kids with CancerPosted on Saturday, June 9th, 2012 by Nathan Weinstock
Ottawa Home Inspector Runs for Kids with Cancer
Early on Sunday, May 13, 2012, Nathan Weinstock, our fearless President and chief inspector, took part in the Sporting Life 10K Run for Kids with Cancer. This run supports Camp Oochigeas, the camp that gives children with cancer a real summer of fun. It felt good that the run time for Nathan was a personal best. The event was extra special because, in addition to supporting Camp Oochigeas, Nathan was part of ‘Team Weinstock’, running alongside his brother, Joe, and watching son, Ben, and daughter, Tobi race down the course out of sight.
More Rusting In The FurnacePosted on Thursday, February 2nd, 2012 by Nathan Weinstock
Back in October, I told you about the “Furnace Humidifier Gone Bad”. I described the humidifiers I regularly come across during my Ottawa home inspections and how they are not only unnecessary in modern homes, but can be harmful. Well, the water from the humidifier is not the only threat to the furnace.
You will remember that the sensitive part of a furnace is the heat exchanger. That is the part of the furnace that surrounds the fire chamber. The heat exchanger captures the heat from combustion and transfers it to the air that is blown by the furnace. The heat exchanger also ensures that the exhaust gases are safely directed to the outside. In a high efficiency furnace the gases are expelled through the exhaust pipe with the aid of the induction blower (that’s the round black thing in the pictures).
Another source of water in a furnace, besides the humidifier, can be from the furnace exhaust. The products of combustion from a properly performing gas furnace are carbon dioxide and water vapour. With older, inefficient furnaces, the exhaust is fairly hot and the water vapour is easily blown out of the house through the chimney. The newer, high efficiency furnace captures more heat from the exhaust. The water vapour in the exhaust is relatively cooler and condenses into water. That is why these high efficiency furnaces have a drain to get rid of the condensate water.
The biggest threat to the furnace is water. If the water is not drained away and it leaks into the furnace, it can damage some of the furnace components including the induction blower, some solid state circuitry, and even the heat exchanger. (See the photo.) You do not want water anywhere near the heat exchanger. A rusty or cracked heat exchanger generally means a new furnace is required. These furnaces also contain some solid state circuitry. You want to keep water clear of these if you don’t want to replace an expensive circuit board.
Wishful Thinking Is Not EnoughPosted on Monday, January 30th, 2012 by Nathan Weinstock
In the real world, something is either done right and works, or done poorly and doesn’t work. No amount of hoping and wishing can change that. When assessing a home during an Ottawa home inspection, I see many examples of wishful thinking.
A good example of this is shown in the photo. Here we have a structural beam with one end completely rotted out. Rather than replace the beam, a difficult and expensive proposition, someone tried to support the beam end with a small stud wall. And, after the stud wall sank, they tried to level the beam with wood shims. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next time this was inspected, there would be wads of chewing gum and duct tape somehow incorporated.
Improvising a fix to a serious problem never provides a reliable solution. Hope is no substitute for technical design. When you need to repair, replace, or provide reliable support for a key structural element, just do it. There is no getting around it. It makes for a safe and reliable home in the end.
Foundation Wall RotPosted on Thursday, January 19th, 2012 by Nathan Weinstock
I pointed out in a previous blog that the foundation plays a vital role in holding up the house. And most homes that I inspect in Ottawa have poured concrete foundations. Concrete is one of the better construction materials having good strength in compression and being fire resistant. Concrete is a composite construction material composed primarily of aggregate (coarse gravel or crushed rocks), Portland cement, and water. The ability of a wall to last and provide reliable performance relies largely on its particular formulations and its surrounding environment. The concrete in older foundation walls (over 60 years) was often formulated with a lower cement content. This reduces the bonding ability of the concrete. These older walls also have no waterproofing protection.
As it ages, the concrete wall can deteriorate and lose some of its ability to resist lateral forces (the earth pushing sideways). This is caused by water seeping through the wall and washing out the binding cement. A significant factor affecting the wall’s longevity is the amount of water that passes through the wall, contributing to the deterioration. The less deteriorating water, the longer the wall life. This means that a dry wall environment can provide good long term performance. On the other hand, a cracked, leaky wall may not provide reliable service.
Repairs to these walls can only be effective when done on the exterior. Any attempt to repair and cover the walls on the interior will inevitably fail and fall off (see photo). At some point in the future the foundation may require (major) remedial work to reinforce the wall. Eliminate any water migration through the wall (foundation water proofing). Provide proper drainage around the foundation. Repair the foundation wall. Provide and maintain viewing access on the interior at strategic wall locations to monitor and assess the wall condition and performance.