A Home Inspector is a highly-trained professional who can identify issues that most people would not be able to find. There are some home defects, however, that are easy to spot. The following seven issues are commonly found in homes, and can cause expensive problems if not repaired.
What is it? Double-Tapping is an electrical issue where someone (usually the owner of the home) has connected two conductors to the same breaker terminal.
Risk: Overheating, arcing (sparking), fires.
Repair: A double-tap is usually an easy fix for an electrician, and shouldn’t be expensive. The electrician will join the two conductors together with a wire nut, and connect a short piece of wire to the terminal.
What is It? In order to install something such as a pipe or a duct, the installer cuts a piece (or an entire section) of one or more structural framing members, weakening the floor or ceiling structure.
Risk: At best, nothing. At worst, major structural failure.
Repair: This often involves a structural engineer being called. Often the beam is “sistered” (doubled) or plugged with additional wood. In some worst-case scenarios, the the beam must be replaced completely.
What Is It? A sink drain should always be vented and trapped. Venting is to prevent siphoning (suction) of the water in the trap, and the trap is to prevent sewer gases from entering the home. A proper P-Trap should always be installed.
Risk: A poorly installed drain can allow sewer gas to enter the home, causing odors, and a possible explosion.
Repair: Illegal traps are usually a straightforward fix for a plumber, which involves re-piping the affected area, and installing air-admittance valves (if needed).
What Is It? Most domestic hot water tanks have a service life of 8-12 years under normal use. After this, corrosion of the shell (interior) usually has taken place, and a leak will develop. This is an easy issue to spot – just take a look at the tank’s serial number.
Risk: Leaks, dripping, and poor hot water supply.
Repair: Replacement of the tank by a qualified plumber. In our area, the price ranges from about $900 (Electric) to $1500 (Gas).
What Is It? A bathroom exhaust fan is used to transport hot, humid air from the bathroom to the outside of the house. If a duct isn’t connected properly, the air will be dumped into the attic space, where it can cause a number of problems.
Risk: Mold, wood deterioration, roof failure
Repair: A contractor should be called to reinstall the duct, and seal it properly.
What Is It? Most inspectors will use a pinless moisture meter to test behind the tiles of a shower. If the grout is cracked, broken or improperly sealed, the inspector may suspect hidden moisture damage behind the walls.
Risk: Mold, deterioration of wood and drywall, loose / falling tiles.
Repair: In most cases, re-sealing the grout lines and applying silicone caulking will stop the problem. In extreme cases, the whole shower enclosure should be removed and re-installed.
What Is It? When landscaping slopes towards the home, or when the height of the soil is too close to the bottom of a home’s siding, then water may seep into the home’s foundation, walls, and crawlspace, causing big damage.
Risk: Wet basements, rotten siding, wall framing damage, mold
Repair: If caught early, a landscaping contractor can improve the slope of a lot, and prevent moisture ingress from happening. If water has already seeped into the home, a contractor will need to start investigating to see what kind of problems may be hidden.
This week’s inspection is duplex property in Horseshoe Bay village, in West Vancouver. The home was built in 1985.
We started out the rear deck inspection and immediately noted problems. The deck appeared to be pulling away from the side of the home:
The guardrails were poorly designed. During our inspections, we follow the 4″ rule – a ball with a diameter of 4″ should not fit through any gaps in the rails. In the photo we can see that a small child or pet may fall through:
Here we can see below the deck, and the major problem; it’s not connected to the home. To be fair, one section was connected, but the walkway section was completely free-standing.
Looking at the supports, we can see major racking of the deck structure. This poorly built deck was not only pulling away from the home, but collapse will likely occur if repairs aren’t made.
A contractor was called and they are currently rebuilding/repairing the failed deck areas.
This weekend I was called out to Maple Ridge to inspect a foreclosure property that my client, a young man in his 20’s, was considering purchasing. He explained that his main concern was any major-cost items. He could do small repairs himself but any major work would cost him out-of-pocket and he would not be able to afford surprises.
Looking at the exterior of the home, we can already see major structural concerns. There’s been an addition added to the side of the house, right where the carport used to be. Due to the terrible workmanship, the side of the addition needed to be propped up by stacks of wood.
Here we can see the extent of the failure; the walkways have all cracked and are sinking under the weight of the structure. Those walkways are not designed to bear the weight of a house! We need a proper footing to bear load.
In this photo you can see the full extent of the leaning:
We went inside the home and found huge structural cracks through the drywall. The owner tried to patch the cracks, but they opened up shortly after. Cracks of this magnitude almost always signify a serious structural defect. (Note: The windows could not be opened in this room. The movement was so severe that the windows had been pinned in their frame).
I entered the crawlspace and inspected the floor structure from below. Immediately it became apparent that lateral movement was occurring in this home. The addition was pulling the house sideways, and several pony walls/supports were leaning significantly:
The owner had added supports to the floor, but the had also failed. At one end of the home, the sill plate had been replaced, probably due to the old one rotting away.
Not only did we find structural concerns, but the roof needed replacement, and most of the electrical in the home needed to be rewired. The owner wisely decided to look for another home in better condition.
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We were called to inspect this property in the Shaughnessy neighbourhood, in Vancouver. The house was an old character home, and upon arriving, a strong, musty smell was noticed at the main floor.
We climbed up to the roof to take a look at its condition:
Here we can see the older cedar roof, with extensive moss growth and deterioration. This roof covering needed to be completely replaced in most areas. Thermal imaging from below showed moisture leakage into the ceiling space, and around the base of the chimney:
When we reached the other side of the home, a moisture stain was visible at the top of the wall:
We climbed up to view the flat roof above – here we can see the built-up (tar and gravel) roof, which was in poor shape. If you look at the wall, you can see the repaired patch where leakage was occurring. The homeowner had “repaired” the leak using roofing tar – an improper and temporary fix. We can also see large amounts of growth on the roof covering.
This inspection included an Indoor Air Quality test, so we sealed off the house and took four air samples, and one air sample outdoors (approximately 9m upwind) as a control sample. The results came back showing high levels of Aspergillus and Stachybotrys, which are both toxic molds (they release mycotoxins, which are harmful to humans). Side effects of these mold toxins include respiratory problems, headaches, fever, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat.
Today’s featured inspection is a townhouse in White Rock, BC.
The house was built in 1993 and was a typical wood frame over crawlspace construction.
In the crawlspace, there were a few structural concerns found. One concern was the pony wall, which someone had damaged to make room for the gas line. The stud was crooked, and needed straightening to maintain its structural load-bearing capabilities. We can see it’s a load-bearing wall by the direction of the joists in the below photo:
When we approached the area below the master ensuite bathroom, where a toilet had been added, we discovered a major structural concern:
The person who added this toilet had cut the joist completely out to make way for the ABS drain line. If you look carefully at the neighbouring joist in the photo you can see where it should be.
A cut joist can cause significant problems to the floor structure. In this case, the weight of the toilet (and the user) is being supported by only the plywood sub-floor. We recommended a structural contractor to repair this. This issue, along with other defects found in the home, saved the buyer thousands of dollars.
Marijuana grow operations can be a disastrous event in a home – and there’s usually a good reason. A large-scale grow operation can cause hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to a home, and, worst of all, lingering health hazards to future occupants.
Grow-ops can be difficult to spot from the road, but inside there are often elaborate setups that destroy a home’s building materials, finishes, indoor air quality, electrical and HVAC systems, and even structural integrity – not to mention the property value and safety of the occupants.
This home inspection was done in the Burke Mountain area of Coquitlam. The first thing we notice is that the electrical meter has been tampered with:
We can see that the electrical meter and service entrance conductors have been illegally modified. This is perhaps the easiest-to-spot sign of a grow-op. The growers will bypass the electrical meter in order to hide the huge amount of power they are consuming from the hydro company. The electrical at this home had already been professionally redone, but the concrete block remained.
During an inspection, I will always check closet ceilings carefully. They may have been cut to install venting. The closet in this next photo had been heavily modified:
If we sidelight the ceiling with a flashlight, we can see the outline of the vent:
The attic above showed modifications, however no visible mold growth was found. The home had been professionally remediated, and the city had issued an occupancy permit.
Be careful when purchasing a former grow-operation; they may seem like a good deal, but it may be extremely difficult to get financing and insurance. And when it comes time to sell, you may have a hard time convincing potential buyers that there are no problems.
Today’s featured inspection is a foreclosure Townhouse in Maple Ridge, BC.
Upon entering the home, it was obvious that major water damage had occurred in the upstairs bathroom. The plywood subfloor was brittle and couldn’t even be stepped on in some areas. The electric baseboard heater was badly corroded:
The floor around the bathtub and toilet was soft and badly damaged, and high water marks were seen around the base of the walls. Mold growth was heavy, and extensive repairs would need to be made. Here’s a photo of the rotting subfloor at the base of the bathtub:
A visual inspection of the piping revealed some “handyman” fixes. Also, the home contained Polybutylene pipe, which is a problematic material that was still being used when this building was constructed. Overall plumbing was very poor, and it had been neglected in many areas, such as this leaking, bent drain line:
There was a small crawlspace area below the bathroom, above the garage stairs. A strong odor was coming from the area. Further inspection showed mold growth and serious moisture damage – you can see the box disintegrating in the photo:
Water began pouring from above, and we ended up shutting off the water to the property completely to stop the leak. A plumber was called right away, but not before the water reached the garage ceiling and caused staining in the drywall.
The buyers negotiated a nice amount off the purchase price and will be taking on this “Fixer Upper” in a month.
Today’s featured inspection is from the Willoughby area of Langley.
The house was built in 2012, and therefore almost new. It was a custom-built home, corner lot, approximately 4500 square feet. There was a problem, however – no warranty. The owners had built the home and were applying for a warranty at the time of inspection. (Circumstances like this are a great reason to always get a new home inspected)
During the attic inspection, we discovered heavy black mold growth on the OSB (Oriented-Strand Board) sheathing. When there’s a lot of mold growing in an attic, there is usually a very obvious reason:
The photo above shows the main reason – this bathroom fan had fallen off and was laying on top of the loose-fill insulation. All the humidity and hot air from the main bathroom was pouring into the attic. This situation alone can put enough moisture into the space to cause serious mold problems.
Further inspection of the attic revealed over seven areas that were leaking:
The dark staining along the truss (left side) is a serious leak – and moisture testing confirmed this:
The flashings around the roof penetrations were terrible – here’s another photo of a leak above one of the bathroom fan connections:
Investigation of the roof above revealed a very poorly installed roof and several critical details that were left missing. The sloppy roof installation will cost the owners of this home thousands of dollars to fix. The buyer was extremely happy he avoided such a costly repair bill.
Throughout my career inspecting buildings, I have never seen a parkade (parking garage) without at least one moisture stain, or active leak. It’s very common for parking garages to leak, and when they do, the stains left behind are often not removed. This may scare off a potential buyer, when in reality the leak may have been solved already.
Here is a list of what to look for when inspecting a parkade:
Efflorescence is a chemical salt that becomes drawn out of the concrete when moisture passes through it. It’s commonly described as a white, chalk- like substance. It stays behind, even after the leakage problem is solved. When inspecting these stains, look at the pattern of the staining. If you see small, perfect circles on a ceiling, you can bet that water has been dripping at some point. A pale, whispy stain with no soft edges is probably left over from construction, and is likely not a concern.
All concrete, during curing, will crack and shift slightly. New, small cracks may form as the live load of the building changes. These most commonly appear as vertical cracks on the exterior foundation walls, and are a common point of water entry. One or two of these can be normal, however, if a wall is cracked in multiple locations and all are leaking heavily, an expert should be called.
Some water ingress at side walls may be caused by improper or defective waterproofing at the exterior wall.
Leakage around drain lines is common, particularly below landscaping and patio decks on ground floor units. Some cast iron drain lines may corrode and leak in the slab, leading to cracks and staining around the connection in the garage. Repairs usually involve removal of the drain base, and part of the cast iron stack, and replacing and waterproofing as necessary.
Widespread leakage, or heavy staining around the parking garage may indicate a waterproofing membrane failure. This is a potentially expensive repair – a building with complete membrane failure may need to remove significant amounts of the landscaping above, and torch on a new membrane. Repairs sometimes involve destruction of landscaping, concrete walkways and patios. The photo above is from a building in Vancouver – they ultimately dug up the entire courtyard and re-waterproofed.
Perimeter Drain Failure
The image above is from a condo with a failed perimeter drain. We can see the rust colored sediment leaching through, as well as a water stain running along the base of the wall. Since the pipe was completely plugged, no water was being carried away from the base of the foundation, into the storm drain, and instead seeped into the basement. The rust color is due to the oxidization (rusting) of the iron in the soil.
Epoxy injections are a popular solution for concrete leaks. They can be identified by small injector plugs that follow a crack line, usually along the ceiling of a parkade. Epoxy repairs will remain forever and cannot be cleaned/removed to hide the repairs. When inspecting these areas, consider that they may have been done recently or long ago – it’s very difficult to determine.
Repairing heavy leaks using epoxy injections is not the best method – the source of the water should be eliminated before any action is taken.
As an alternative to Epoxy Injections, products such as the Kryton Krystol waterproofing compound, can be used with good long-term performance. One advantage to these products is that the finished result looks much more professional – with no visible epoxy residue, oil or injection plugs left over. The installation involves chipping or “routing” out the crack with a chipping gun and packing the product into the trench. The product expands and “follows” the water source, effectively stopping the ingress.
Garage leaks are common, and knowing what to look for can greatly help buyers differentiate between small repair jobs and larger issues. A certified home inspector can help you identify any issues in the building. And, of course, always read any strata documents provided by your seller.
Due to advances in waterproofing technology, we have added information regarding the Kryton waterproofing system (an alternative to epoxy injections), as well as improved the general readability of the article.
During my home inspections, I always make a point of walking every square foot of the attic, if possible. More often than not, I’ll find something that another inspector might miss. What I usually find is a leaking roof, missing insulation, or an animal or two.
The worst hazard I have ever found was from this home in East Vancouver. It was an old-timer and the price was very good, which attracted by client to it.
Entering the attic, I followed the usual routine – checking for leaks, asbestos, and bad wiring.
One thing we can usually find in an attic is the presence of knob and tube wiring in the home. Knob and Tube is an old wiring method that is considered extremely hazardous and obsolete by today’s standards. Here’s a photo of the old wiring peeking out from below the insulation – a bad idea which is a possible fire hazard:
At the bottom you can see the old ceramic knob – using an AC Volt Pen I was able to confirm that the wiring was live. This could be a potentially huge cost to the buyer if the insurance company will not insure the house until it gets re-wired.
When I turned around, I saw this:
Old wires, stretched across the length of the attic. At either end of them were glass Coke bottle necks, anchoring and insulating the wires from the wood rafters.
Volt testing confirmed these were live – not only that, but they were bare and exposed in sections:
Someone touching these lines would get quite a shock – and the attic was dark, which made it hard to see. This “electric fence” in the attic made this house a complete safety hazard. We called in a professional electrician to evaluate the system, and the home needed thousands of dollars of electrical work.