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.
Today’s featured inspection is from a detached home in East Vancouver.
The home was built in 1992, and featured a concrete tile roof and stone/stucco siding.
The upstairs master bedroom featured a deck which was directly above the living room. Although common, this design can be risky. With high levels of rainfall in our area, the deck must drain and perform perfectly, otherwise leakage into the home will occur.
Inspection of the deck revealed some bubbling and separation of the membrane. Bubbling can indicate moisture below the material. It can also break/crack when stepped on, and all blisters should be repaired if found.
The drain area showed evidence of previous repair. This was our first warning sign. Past repairs almost always indicate a leak.
Failure of the floor drain is common; either the ABS pipe itself, or the seal around the base will fail. These areas need to be carefully checked.
We also noticed that the cap flashing at the front of the balcony had been repaired with roofing material:
Since it was raining at the time of the inspection, it was a great time to see the condition of the living room ceiling. As expected, it turned out that the deck had indeed failed:
Bubbling and separation of the drywall and tape was evident, and moisture testing showed that the leak was still active.
Although this wasn’t a massive leak (yet), the repairs for this problem may be costly, and where there’s moisture, there also a chance of mold. The buyer was happy to have caught this when we did. They negotiated with the seller to have the issue fixed.
Before natural gas became available in 1957, many homes were heated by furnace oil. The tank feeding the furnace was stored underground and held between 300 and 1,000 gallons of oil.
Once houses were converted to natural gas, the tanks were often left buried beneath the soil and not all were emptied properly.
The containers rust and can allow oil to leach into the soil. The oil can then find its way into an older home’s perimeter drainage system and flow into the storm sump, resulting in a fuel oil odor inside the home. The oil can also run into a neighbour’s drainage system and cause the same problem.
City staff don’t inspect properties-homeowners must determine on their own whether a tank is buried on their property and have it removed. Tanks must be removed under a permit from the city’s fire prevention office. A homeowner should use a contractor to remove the tank and hire a property surveyor if necessary if no visible signs of a tank are obvious.
A fire inspector checks the site when the tank is pulled out for evidence of soil contamination. Minor contamination may require some soil removal, but the environmental protection branch orders a professional cleanup plan for major problems.
In the past, leaving the abandoned tanks in the ground and filling them with sand was standard practice. But this is not the ideal option because the sand doesn’t always fill all the voids in a tank.
Some insurance companies won’t provide insurance unless a problem tank is addressed. Even homeowners who have been “grandfathered in” by doing business at the same company for years, may be at risk of one day being asked to remove their oil tank.
In a recent case, a homeowner didn’t want to deal with the tank on his property, but the new purchaser wanted to find out whether there was a contamination problem. The homeowner agreed to allow the potential new buyer to take the tank out at his cost. It turned out the soil was badly contaminated and the purchaser backed out of the deal.
The homeowner was left with a huge hole in his back yard and substantial funds would have to be spent to clean it up. There are still legal actions pertaining to this property.
Homeowners might feel little incentive to check out their property for tanks out of fear they could face a costly removal and cleanup. However, this is a worthwhile step.
The tank could be intact today, but it could have a couple of hundred gallons of oil in it – tanks weren’t pumped out when people converted to gas. Eventually, every tank is going to start leaking at some point in time. The faster you can deal with it and get the oil out of the tank, the better. It will significantly lessen your liability in the future.
Pulling up a tank costs $2,000. Environmental consultants, who sign off on a property after analyzing five soils samples, charge about $1,500 to $2,000. Soil removal also costs more money.
Estimates of total costs run between $5,000 and $10,000.
The two main visual clues are filler pipes or vent pipes along the exterior of the home. There are often cut off over the years, making meter detection the primary means of locating a possible oil tank. Other signs can be cut-off feed lines in the basement or furnace room.
Vent lines are often a “goose-neck” style, as seen below:
An oil tank scanning/removal company should always be called, regardless of the visual findings by the home inspector. These companies utilize equipment such as ground scanners and metal detectors, and can provide a certificate stating that nothing was found. Scanning can usually be done in a short period of time (less than 1 hour), and for a nominal charge.
We offer quality home inspection services in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. Call today to schedule your Inspection – 604 395-2795
Today’s featured inspection is a 1960’s home in Burnaby, BC.
The house had a rear deck, which had been closed in and turned into a bedroom underneath. However, inspection of the exterior revealed some potentially catastrophic drainage issues:
The downspout had been disconnected, the deck wall was below the soil level, and the soil at the side of the home sloped heavily toward the wall.
Going inside, we can see the results of the moisture ingress:
This house had been vacant for over a year, and in that time, the room had never been opened. All the windows were closed, everything remained wet, and the mold grew unchecked.
Toxic Black Mold, also known by its scientific name, Stachybotrys, is a type of mold that releases Mycotoxins (a poisonous compound) into the air when it breeds.
This room will need to be demolished and rebuilt.
NOTE: We offer certified Mold Testing and Inspections – if you have a mold issue in a home, please contact us today – 604 395-2795
Today’s featured inspection is a detached Home in Maple Ridge, BC, which was built in the 1980’s.
There were a few issues with this home, but most notably a fairly large plumbing problem:
During our inspections, if possible, we always measure water pressure. This is important as it can provide valuable information on the plumbing, pressure regulator valve, and the well equipment, if present.
This home’s interior water distribution pressure measured approximately 110 PSI. This is extremely high (we would expect about half that).
Looking at the pipes in the home, we have old polybutylene pipes, which have a history of failure and leakage.
Poly-B pipes with a pressure of over a hundred pounds will most likely burst or leak! We requested that a plumber come in and check the PRV (Pressure Regulating Valve), which may have failed.
There were also some electrical safety hazards:
The neutral wires were double (and triple) tapped. Double tapping is the dangerous practice of cramming more than one conductor into a terminal or slot. It can cause overheating and fires.
Also, the ground fault interrupter breaker had failed – another dangerous hazard. An electrician really needs to evaluate this panel!
The simple act of testing water pressure saved these buyers a potentially huge repair bill.
Asbestos has been around for millions of years, and its use by humans dates as far back as the ancient Greeks. It’s fireproof, insulates wonderfully, and was readily accessible.
However, since asbestos has been linked to respiratory diseases and cancer, it has been outlawed for use in home construction for years. Although still used in certain applications (mostly industrial), it can be a potentially serious safety risk in homes. Here’s a guide to identifying asbestos in a home, and what your home inspector may find.
First, let’s look at the terms that inspectors use to describe asbestos:
ACM is an industry term for any material that contains (even small) amounts of asbestos. If your Home Inspector refers to “Possible ACM”, it is probably one of the below listed types. Note: A good Home Inspector will always refer to asbestos as Possible Asbestos – the only true way to determine the percentage and danger is by testing the material in a lab.
Friable is a state of asbestos – if something is Friable, its is damaged, chipped or otherwise deteriorated, and the fibers of the product can enter the air and be breathed in. Non-Friable asbestos is generally safe, however you should always consult with a qualified asbestos contractor to determine safety concerns.
Duct wrap is common in older homes – it was used to increase the efficiency of forced-air heating systems by insulating the metal ducts, thereby reducing heat loss. The problem is, by now most of the insulation has sagged, collapsed or is friable. It looks and feels like dense cardboard. Most duct wrap that is still around today should be removed.
Duct tape, or joint sealant tape, is white and looks like a mix of cloth and plaster around the joints of the ductwork. I often find this material in good shape. However, if it becomes friable (ripped or torn), it will need to be fixed or removed.
Vermiculite Insulation is a type of wall and attic insulation that often contains asbestos fibers. It looks like tiny granite-colored stones, and is usually seen in attics. It’s generally safe, however if you disturb it (renovations, demolition, repair work), it can become airborne and is unsafe. Testing should be done with vermiculite, as not all of it contains asbestos fibers.
Old 9″ floor tiles often contain asbestos. It’s best not to disturb them – they’re not usually harmful unless disturbed / removed. If you decide to remove them, an Asbestos Abatement Company should be called.
Textured (or Popcorn) ceilings are unique – up until the late ’90’s there is a chance they may contain asbestos. If you are considering removing the texture, don’t do it yourself unless you know what you are dealing with. Take it in for testing, or have a contractor remove it professionally. My customers are constantly surprised that a home built in 1989 would have asbestos, but it’s a possibility.
If you don’t disturb a popcorn ceiling, it is not a safety issue.
The most important thing about buying a home with asbestos in it is to find out ahead of time. Hiring a professional Home Inspector to evaluate your home and identify any possible risks, is the first step in determining if the home of your dreams might be hiding any surprises. You may be able to negotiate a reduction in the price from the seller, or at very least you can budget for any removal or repairs.
Today’s featured inspection is a low-rise condo building on East 1st in Vancouver. The building was constructed in 1994 and was clad in vinyl siding and a flat roof membrane.
The big problem with any building from the nineties in Vancouver is leakage – however this building had already been fully rainscreened and didn’t show any signs of failure.
The roof showed some wear and granule covering loss at the edges, which will eventually lead to deterioration of the material. Overall, however, the roof was in great shape.
Walking around the building showed quite a few failed window seals:
Condensation and fog between the panes of glass is a sure sign of a failed seal. During our inspection we noted approximately 1/4 of the windows had either failed or were beginning to fail. This will be a significant expense for the strata over the next few years, and replacement of all the windows at once may be a good option for them. If they do, they may impose a special levy to the owners.
Finally, the bathroom sink leaked like a sieve when tested – how do the sellers not notice this? I’m always surprised when people don’t test out their fixtures before listing their property. This will need to be fixed by a qualified plumber.
The buyer negotiated a great deal and removed subjects – they will be moving in next month!
This week’s inspection is a brand-new construction home in the Maillardville area of Coquitlam. It is approximately 3000 square feet with a detached garage.
Since it hadn’t passed code inspections yet, there were some strange quirks:
That’s a receptacle – right beside the bathtub. This is an obvious code violation, and a huge safety hazard. Code requires a minimum of 1 m (3.28 ft) clearance from the edge of a bathtub/shower to an outlet. This had to be removed before the electrical inspector arrived.
A torn shingle on top of the garage – this needed to be replaced.
(Just as a side note, when a roof is brand new, the self-sealing asphalt strips won’t stick down until warm weather melts the adhesive.)
Exposed wood sheathing at the basement windows. This will need to have building paper and cladding installed.
Finally, the radiant floor heating system was checked with thermal imaging – a great way to determine possible future leakage issues.
The builder was very grateful we caught some of the issues before it was turned over, and the owner saved a significant amount of time and money, not dealing with issues that would only have been discovered after moving in.
If you’re buying a condo or a townhouse, you’re probably going to be dealing with a Strata Corporation. A Strata is an organization that is set up to govern a multi-family residential complex, such as a condo tower or a group of townhouses. The law in BC is for the seller to provide two years‘ worth of strata minutes to a potential buyer if an offer is accepted. Looking through these minutes can be quite confusing if you’re not sure what to look for. Here are some tips on navigating these documents:
AGM (Annual General Meetings) occur every year in a strata building, and, unlike monthly meetings, all owners of the building are encouraged to attend. If there is a big, hot-button issue or a major project coming up, this is where it will be discussed. Have a look at the AGMs first to get a summary of any large cost items.
SGMs (Special General Meetings) are one-off meetings that are called, usually as a result of some major repairs/remediation, or emergency issue that has come up. Examples include leaky condo remediation, lawsuits/litigation, or emergency (large fire, flood, etc.). Although not always bad news (every strata has had one at one point or another), if an SGM is called, it’s probably a very important issue you should know about.
Depreciation Reports are required in BC for strata corporations as of 2013. A Depreciation Report is a unique report, prepared by a team of engineers and specialists, that outlines the health of a building’s large systems such as building envelope (siding, windows, roof), plumbing, heating system and structure. It also outlines how the strata will be paying for any future repairs / replacement, and when the repairs will occur. It’s a great way to know what upcoming costs / levies you may need to pay over the next 5, 10, and even 20 years. Note: A strata may choose to waive doing a depreciation report if more than three – fourths of the owners vote against it.
Some stratas may try to hide embarrassing or serious issues by using weasel words:
“Due to elevated moisture levels in the dry board at the 4th floor, ABC Painting will be attending to provide quotation on treatment”
Translated: “The roof leaks on the 4th floor”
I’ve seen this countless times – if it looks fishy, ask someone on council.
I recently came across this:
“The depreciation report is now in its 4th draft stage. We will be meeting with XYZ engineering company this month to have them add information about the great maintenance program we are implementing, and to revise some wording.”
Translation: “The engineer’s report was too critical, and we are having them re-write the report until it looks friendly to potential buyers”. A strata that gets the engineering company to re-do the report five times may have something to hide!
Realtors, Home Inspectors and other industry experts can assist you with reading these minutes and may be able to point out red flags or areas of concern. If you don’t know the answer to a question – ASK! It may make all the difference – especially on the biggest purchase of your life.
Today’s featured inspection is a huge home in the Dawe’s Hill area of Coquitlam. The home was custom-built in the early nineties and featured seven bedrooms and five bathrooms.
Due to the massive amount of slope on the property, the main concern with this home was the amount of settlement seen around the building:
Settlement of walk/driveways is common in some areas, and is not generally a concern. However, a closer look at the structure of the building revealed some red flags, such as this large foundation crack running about 12 feet vertically from the garage to the foundation footing:
When a home has a significant amount of movement, it will also telegraph into other materials, such as floor tiles or drywall, as seen in this photo:
In fact, cracks ran through most of the walls/ceilings of the East side of the home. Drywall cracks are common, but not in large numbers or when they exceed a certain width. These cracks certainly did!
I recommended a structural contractor evaluate the foundation/settlement of this home