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 ‘used’ water is removed through the drain-waste-vent (DWV) piping system, usually referred to simply as the drains. During a home inspection, it is very obvious when there is 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 the pipe falls apart and starts 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. 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, will work fine, will work fine, and then, it will disintegrate right before your eyes. Just a light tap hit can set it off.
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 piping 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 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.
Pipe In The Foundation WallPosted on Friday, June 14th, 2013 by Nathan Weinstock
There can be a terrifying monster lurking underground, just outside of many Ottawa homes. No, I’m not talking about vampires or zombies. These are very real nightmares. I’m talking about buried oil tanks.
Because they are buried, these tanks often go undetected; until it is too late and there is an oil spill. Tanks have a limited useful life and eventually have to be replaced. This is especially true for the older oil tanks which are bare steel like the ones you have seen in basements or garages. These tanks were not designed to be buried and, if left in place, will eventually rust and leak. Even newer tanks that were specifically designed for underground use can leak if they are not protected from rusting.
The likelihood of a leak increases as the tank gets older. Even small, slow leaks can pose a serious threat to your family, your neighbours and the environment if they go undiscovered. An oil leak or spill is a serious environmental issue that is costly to clean up and correct: not in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, but in the hundreds of thousand dollar range.
So, the tank is buried. How can you see it, let alone inspect it? That’s the problem. You can’t. The good news is that very few houses have buried oil tanks. So the risk is very small. Still, the risk can also be very serious. These tanks are usually found in the older parts of Ottawa where oil heat was the standard of the day; neighbourhoods such as the Glebe, Sandy Hill, Centretown, Old Ottawa South, Ottawa East, Westboro, Wellington, Island Park, and Hintenburg, among others.
What can you do to help minimize the risk? First, try to find out and confirm where the oil tank was located in the house. If you see patched holes in the upper basement wall or the outline on the floor where the tank had been, these are very good signs.
Check for a pipe set in the foundation wall or coming out of the ground in the garden (see the picture). This can suggest that there may be a buried oil tank. The pipe can also be an old gas or water line. If there is no evidence of the location of the previous oil tank in the interior, further investigation is required by a heating/environmental professional as soon as possible. A heating/ environmental professional should be asked to conduct an exhaustive investigation immediately to determine if such a tank is indeed present.
Ottawa Home Inspector Runs Sporting Life 10kPosted on Tuesday, June 4th, 2013 by Nathan Weinstock
It was a cold and windy Mother’s day run in Toronto. I would not let the weather detract from my determination for the run because of the wonderful cause it supports: Camp Oochigeas, a charity camp dedicated to children recovering from cancer.
The run started just north of Eglinton and ended up near Lake Ontario at the Canadian National Exhibition. I followed behind my quicker children, Ben and Tobi. This is the second year I have been able to participate in this run. Despite the inclement weather, the turn out was HUGE. 27,000 people had registered to run the event.
It’s hard to find time to train for spring runs because March, April and May are such busy months for home inspections in Ottawa. But I managed to juggle the occasional run with my inspection schedule. And I also managed to turn in a personal best time: 57:20.
It was a fun family run and we were ready to celebrate Mother’s day with the non runners once we were done. My next run: Ottawa Race Weekend, 10k.