Mark: Hi, it’s Mark from Top Local Lead Generation. We’re here today talking with David Fairbairn of Fairbairn Inspections in Vancouver and we’re going to cover a very interesting topic, aluminum wiring. How are you doing today David?
David: Hey, I’m good Mark. Are you ready to talk about electrical safety?
Mark: Yeah, so I guess we’re in a spot where we can actually see an electrical panel where you are today, so aluminum wiring, what year was aluminum wire sort of started to be installed in homes?
David: Just for today we’re actually looking at an electrical panel. This house was built in the mid 80’s. You’re not going to find aluminum wiring in a house built in the 80’s. Aluminum wiring was used from the mid 60’s to the mid, late 70’s and I’ve seen it as late as about 77, 78 and here’s a thing about it, because it was manufactured and installed around this time it doesn’t necessarily mean it stopped after the 70’s, I’ve actually seen back stock of it used in unpermitted work. Sometimes it’s an electrician whose got a bunch of extra in his truck and he’s going to throw it into your panel so that’s why you always have to check every single panel even if it’s from the mid 80’s, I always pull them open and once or twice I found old aluminum but the main thing it was used from the mid 60’s to mid 70’s.
Mark: So why are we even concerned about aluminum wiring?
David: Well we are concerned about aluminum wiring as it overheats so the draw with aluminum wiring was that it was cheap and it’s exactly as easy to install as copper was, you know, as copper prices rose we said hey you know, let’s actually start using aluminum, it’s a lot cheaper, you can wire a whole house for a lot less than you can with copper and what we discovered later unfortunately was it overheats at connections, so aluminum handles current very poorly and it tends to overheat at places like we’ve got a switch, a light fixture, a junction box, those are all areas that you can actually get an overheating condition and it actually started fires and the statistic was that a home wired with aluminum wiring is 44 times more likely to have an electrical fire than a house wired with copper so you can see the statistical need to remediate aluminum wiring and for that reason let’s say you’re buying a house, a Vancouver special built in the early 70’s you know, if you’ve got aluminum wiring you’re going to have a hard time getting insurance on that house. The insurance companies understandably don’t want to see aluminum wiring in the house and if they do see it, they want to see it corrected or the house rewired.
Mark: So how do you tell if you got it in your house?
David: O.K. so what we’re going do is I’m going to pull up some photos of it because I want to show you what aluminum wiring looks like in a house, so let me know when you can see the photo appear that I’m going to be bringing up.
David: Okay, so here we are, we’re looking at a receptacle that’s been pulled from the wall and it’s pretty easy to tell that you’ve got aluminum. Copper is kind of a shiny gold colour and aluminum is generally a silver colour so if you see this chances are you have aluminum. Now in some older houses particularly in character homes pre 1950’s you will see what’s called tin copper where they would actually take the copper, put some solder on the end of it in what’s called tinning and that can actually confuse a lot of newer inspectors and newer electrician where it actually looks like aluminum. The way to tell is that if you have a rubber jacket so here we can see black and white wired rubber jacketed, we also look at the time frame of the house and this is from a 70’s house, early 70’s house and we can see that it’s, you know if you look at the tips of the wire you can see that it’s aluminum all the way through. What we try to do, what they tried to do later, once aluminum had a bad reputation we started bringing out a new type of material called copper clad aluminum or CC8. CC8 was basically aluminum wire with a copper coating on it and it doesn’t work. The idea was that we would get the connectivity of copper without the cost of it. It doesn’t work and if you see CC8 you pretty much have to remove it. Let me go to the next slide here, this is the panel from an inspection in Richmond so this is sort of a Vancouver special in the Richmond area houses built in 72 and this is the best way to tell if you’ve got it. So go to the panel, we’re having a look at the bottom there, you can see those white wires coming out and going into that busbar, it’s sort of a horizontal bar at the bottom, that’s the best place to find aluminum.
I just want to outline that if you get a home inspection done make sure your inspectors are actually pulling the panel cover open. You cannot tell usually without pulling either some receptacles or the panel cover. Most home inspection standards do not require the inspector to actually open up the panel which actually scares me because I think every panel should be opened, it’s a huge, huge area where you can have safety concerns. So we open this up, this has got aluminum in it.
Here’s the same house, we’ve got a receptacle here that has overheated and if you zoom in a little bit, it’s not the best picture but there are scorch marks actually on the wires. This actually was a serious fire risk and the aluminum here was too far gone and they had to actually rewire the house and that cost I believe it was around ten to twelve thousand to rewire the whole house and that’s with all the drywall work so this was a big find. Very important to pull a couple receptacles if you do find aluminum wiring because you want to see how it’s actually performing and whether or not somebody’s done something to it.
The last photo I’m going to show you – this is a panel from Richmond, actually a different house and what we’ve used here is thermal imaging and we’re scanning the panel for overheating and the red cursor in the middle is an automatic hot point sensor was going to find the hottest spot in the panel and if you look at the top left, the camera actually gave up after about 270, that’s what that star means but it says it’s higher, it’s at least 270 degrees Celsius. This was when the stove was running so we had the stove with all the burners on and you get a bad connection you break your panel so thermal imaging can really help us identify if the aluminum that you have is a safety, an immediate safety risk or not.
Mark: So just to remind everybody water boils at a 100 degrees centigrade so 270 is what we would call really, really hot and really, really unsafe of a high risk of a fire.
David: A very high risk of a fire, yes, there’s been, you know, anecdotally I know several people who actually live in houses that’s loaded with aluminum wiring and it’s not uncommon to have the outlet, you hear a pop sound, shorts out and also you’ve got a big scorch mark next to it on the drywall and drywall is combustible and it’s really scary stuff.
Mark: What about the electrical use from that much heat?
David: I would like to see a study done on it but as far as I can tell it’s much more efficient not to have overheating going on so if you have overheating in your electrical system my immediate concern would be that it is extremely dangerous to live in a house that’s overheating from a fire and safety standpoint but then again if you’re converting electricity to heat you’re not converting electricity to the use that you want it so you’re wasting an enormous amount of power too, so it’s a bad deal all around.
Mark: So what if you find it, you do an inspection, you find it, it’s not safe, what do people have to do about it?
David: There’s a couple routes you can go; the most obvious route would be to rewire the house and in many cases if you don’t have issues with your aluminum wiring, it’s not really prudent to do that because there may not be a need, so the main thing is to get a certified licensed electrician out to review your electrical system so as a home inspector and almost any inspector you’ll find, if they find aluminum wiring the first thing they’re going to say is have an electrician who’s familiar with this type of material into to review your electrical system and they can tell you exactly what stage you’re at so that’s the obvious thing, is have an electrician come in and review it. At that point like that one in Richmond, that system is so far gone that it’s overheating everywhere that they had to rewire the house, they had to pull all the aluminum wires out, replacing with copper and it was a huge job. The other option is what’s called pig tailing. Now pig tailing is a method where you can put a small piece of copper onto the end of the wire, so let’s say I’ve got a receptacle and we’re going to actually take a small piece of copper wire connect it to the existing aluminum with a special paste called an antioxidant paste and that prevents oxidization of the aluminum and you twist it together with a special wire and then you send that into your switch and you do that for your hot’s and your neutrals. Now you can imagine the labour involved going through the house, if you were to count the number of receptacles, switches and lights in the room you’re sitting in right now and then multiply that by the number of rooms in your house and then multiply that by the labour it would take an electrician to go through and do that, it’s not uncommon for this to between 15 hundred to 3 thousand dollars to go and redo that all. It’s extremely expensive and generally if the system’s been pig tailed the insurance company will be okay with that.
Mark: So what does that accomplish?
David: It decreases the chances of overheating at the connections so like I said aluminum overheats at the connections, it just doesn’t overheat in the centre of the wire it actually overheats at the connection points, for instance that first picture I showed you of the receptacle where it’s actually screwed down, that’s where it’s going to overheat. It tends to expand and contract as current passes through it and it will tug at that and then you get oxidization and you get overheating going on so by pig tailing you are also giving it more space to move, that’s the big thing and then you’re also getting a good solid copper connection to the existing fixture and the third thing you’re getting is the antioxidant paste you’re preventing oxidation of the aluminum so that accomplishes everything that we want to, everything that we don’t like about aluminum we can fix by pig tail.
Mark: Does aluminum degrade with time; is its current capability kind of degrade as it gets older and older?
David: I think more importantly, the chances of having an overheating condition increases over time, so it’s not really a function of the material degrading it’s more that as you use a system for lets say for 40 years, so you’ve got a mid to late 60’s house that’s loaded with bad aluminum, you know as you are using this over time you’re going to get the likelihood that you’re going to have a failure at one of junctions is going to be, it’s just going to go up and up over time, it’s just a function of time. As I turn on a light you’ve got however many amps of current flowing through it and it expands and contracts, and if it expands and contracts for 40 years eventually it’s going to give way so it’s not really a function of the material failing it’s just the sooner you can pig tail or get an electrician correct it the better.
The last thing I want to point out is that there are some receptacles, fixtures, switches that were manufactured that there’s a stamp saying CUAL and it basically means copper aluminum so it’s, the idea was that it was a special fixture that would actually accommodate aluminum wiring and render it safe and I’ll let you guess if that worked or not, spoiler, it didn’t work. We tried a few things, we tried copper clad aluminum that didn’t work, we tried CUAL fixtures, that didn’t work so your only two options that are really feasible and what we see out in the field are pig tailing and rewiring the house so you got to choose one of those two. In some very rare cases electricians will come in and say you know what this particular situation that you have here where it’s all set up is actually in good shape and I’m passing it with, here’s a letter for your insurance company, but I think I heard of that ever one time happening so it not very common. So call a certified electrician, have them check out your system and make sure to get inspector who’s actually familiar with this type of material because it’s a big deal.
Mark: So in having torn houses apart and found all kinds of electrical shenanigans and say someone’s redone their own basement or you know, whatever and maybe they’ve done some brilliant things like marrying copper and aluminum, just pig tailing it without the proper procedure . . .
David: I’ve seen it done with electrical tape that was a good one . . .
Mark: And or maybe just being crazy with junction boxes that are completely hidden will all kinds of connection points by using aluminum wire, is there any way for you to actually spot that stuff?
David: We can’t guarantee it Mark; we can certainly do our best. What I do as part of my
inspections and I make sure this is in this time period of house, is to find the oldest outlet in your house, oldest receptacle in your house, let’s say you open up your electrical panel and you see copper all the way the way through but you suspect it may have aluminum, it’s right in the hay day of aluminum and other houses in the neighbourhood do have aluminum and I see brand new copper wiring coming out, I suspect that there’s a splice box somewhere where somebody’s actually hidden the aluminum wiring from you because they want to be dishonest about it. Now most homeowners are honest, once in a while you get somebody trying to hide bad wiring in which case you’re going to want to find the oldest receptacle in the house, maybe a light switch or two, generally in one of the upstairs bedrooms or bathrooms, pull it open and have a look there and that’s happened to me one time that somebody had actually hidden a splice box, it was actually pretty obvious from the panel. We saw this brand new lumex coming into the panel, you know and we’re talking like a couple years old and we’ll the house has either been rewired or they’ve just shunted in a bunch of a copper into the panel so that would be an area where we can’t guarantee anything but a good quality inspector knows what to look for would hopefully be able to find that.
Mark: And would this be a case where if it’s that age of house where it’s almost imperative that somebody gets a thermal imaging done of the house in case there are hidden junctions that are overheating.
David: Absolutely, I would recommend someone again, do it 100% of the time with certain types of scenarios and aluminum wiring would be an area where I would always have an inspector who offers thermal imaging. The other time would be if you have a flat roof because in Vancouver flat roofs there’s not attic to inspect so if you’re going to get thermal imaging done, get it done if you have a flat roof or aluminum wiring. That’s where the thermal camera really shines and we can uncover these problems that you can’t see with your eyes, so aluminum wiring, definitely. Yeah get thermal imaging, have somebody scan the panel, you don’t run it under load, run a dryer, run the oven and all your burners, run the air conditioner all at the same time, you know, if you can find out what is going to happen when you move into the house and you’re running all the stuff with your family, find out how hot that gets and that’s what we can do with the thermal imaging camera. That’s what we did in Richmond and saved the customer a considerable amount of, we may have saved him from a fire, who knows but certainly that’s something that wouldn’t have come up otherwise.
Mark: We’ve been talking about aluminum wiring in home inspections with Vancouver home inspector David Fairbairn of fairbairninspections.com. Give him a call at 604-395-2795 or go to his great website, tons of information, he’s very active on Facebook and Google+ as well. Search him out; this is the guy you want to get doing your home inspection if you want to live safe, plain and simple. Thanks David.
David: Thanks Mark, talk to you soon.
Mark: Hi, it’s Mark from Top Local Lead Generation. We’re here with David Fairbairn from Fairbairn Inspections in Vancouver. He’s a home inspector and we’re going to talk about Air Quality, how are you doing David?
David: I’m doing pretty good Mark.
Mark: So, we’re still in the same spot this morning; beautiful day in Vancouver, a great day to be outside but what are the signs that air quality testing might be required in my home?
David: Well Mark I get this question a lot whereas the question would be do, you have mold in your home and if you want that question answered then you should get an air quality test so that’s almost the same question: do I have mold in my house. Let’s look at some of the reasons you might think you have mold and then go from there. So, you are living in your home and you see mold, that’s a pretty good reason to test for mold, you obviously have some sort of issue because you should not be seeing mold growth and we have covered this in other topics about where mold grows, you know, showers, windows, doors, attics, crawl spaces, places like that. If you see mold growth you should call us and we’ll take a look at it and we can sample it, determine where the mold is coming from and what to do about it. So that would be the main thing is if you want to find out if you have mold. In many cases you’re not actually going to have visible mold and you can still have mold in your home. Now mold can hide in places, it could be behind a wall somewhere, it could be below your carpet, it could be behind the fridge, you know, you’re not going to be able to see it on a regular basis so this is where we bring in what’s called Air Quality Testing. Air Quality Testing is the way to determine what you’re breathing in and it will actually provide you with a list of every type of mold spore that you’re actually breathing in on a daily basis so let’s look at some of the symptoms that you may have that would prompt you to get this Indoor Air Quality test done.
Now I’m going to scare you but generally I say use your intuition so if you think you have mold, you might, you know, I find a lot of times, somebody will actually call me and say you know what, I think I have mold, I just got a musty smell in my house, it doesn’t smell fresh in here, it used to, got a flood, you know the guy came in and fixed it and it smells funny. Okay so that’s the big thing, odours, right, do I have mold in my home.
Second thing, you’re coughing, this is a big one. If you’re unusually sick for a long period of time, you know, it’s flu season right now, it’s January and it’s going around but if you’re persistently getting a cough, it only happens when you’re home, that’s a pretty good sign that your indoor air quality is pretty poor.
Another sign, your family is complaining of itchy eyes, itchy redness, even sometimes on your skin, you know if you’re itchy. These are all symptoms of or they can be anyways, of having a high level of toxic mold spores in your home.
Now the concept here is when you get mold, the mold grows and it reproduces the same like flowers do except without using pollen, it uses spores, it releases spores into the air and spores float around and they land and grow new mold and over time the mold is actually evolved to be some spores, some strains of mold that have actually evolved to be toxic and this is a competition evolution that they’re doing where they can battle off other types of mold and they kill off other types of mold and they dominate and unfortunately a by-product of that is mycotoxins, they’re called, is that they can be harmful to people. You’ve probably heard about toxic black mold, you know, we’ve talked about it before where in the states a while ago there was a case where an infant had actually died and they were looking at toxic black mold as possibly being the case of what happened, so it’s scary stuff and the indoor air quality test can tell you fairly definitively if you’re breathing anything in.
So, I’d like to introduce you to the indoor air quality tool of choice which is an air pump, so this is a Zefon brand Bio Pump. This actually draws air through a small cassette called the spore trap. The spore trap right here has a sticky plate inside, we’re going to actually sample the volume of air from inside the house, bring it across the plate and bring this to a laboratory and have the laboratory evaluate what’s on the place and by bringing it for a set period time we can tell per however many litres of air what you’re breathing in. So what we do, is we typically take this, let’s say we’re in a garage right now, we think there’s mold in the garage, we’re going to run this for a set period of time, a set flow rate with one of these spore traps and we’re going to run another one outside. If we run the one outside, get the results from that, compare it with your indoor we can triangulate, we can tell, okay you know what, normal for this neighbourhood, we’re in Surrey right now, normal mold level would be here and this is what’s in the background, stuff you’re breathing when you go hiking in the woods and it’s higher inside the garage, we have a mold issue that needs to be looked into. So we’ve actually got this report which shows you the exact species, everything that you’re actually dealing with. I’m going to try sharing my screen Mark and show you what a lab result for mold looks like. Let me know if you can see that. Can you see that?
David: O.K. without giving too much away, I’ve hidden the address, so this is from Mold & Bacteria Labs, Canada, they are a local lab, there are a couple that do this kind of evaluation, this is one of them and this is a test we did in Vancouver on a townhouse complex about five days or six days ago and you can see that there’s three columns and the columns correspond to, which spore trap we used, so we have our outdoor control which is our baseline, we have our main floor and then our top floor and what we wanted to determine was if there was mold inside the house, so we can look and we can actually see down the left there we’ve got a list of different species of mold, oh pardon me, would be the genus of mold; genus is a family species. So if we go down we’ve got Alternaria, Aspergillus, Ketonium, Qitasporium, and these are the different types of mold and they all have their own characteristics. Some of them are toxic, some are not and we can compare our outdoor to our indoor and what you can see on this one it’s pretty clean. There are no real issues here, we felt that the mold levels inside the house were considerably lower than outside and it was not really a huge cause for concern. We do see that Cladosporium down the left there and the center column that’s a little bit higher in which case that was from some wet towels so that wasn’t really a concern because later testing it will lighten up but overall it’s a pretty clean report and we can at the bottom that the total number of spores 5,300 outside versus 360 inside is pretty good results. I would hope for that result if I tested my house and it looked like that I would be a pretty happy camper. So that’s the kind of stuff we can do with this and if you think you have mold we can come in, test it pretty easily, it’s not overly expensive and it’s relatively painless and you just want to make sure all your doors and windows are closed for several hours prior to the testing and we can actually get you that lab result that you can keep on file and if you decide to sell your house or if you decide to get work done then you have a record of what you’re breathing in on that exact date. There’s no other way to do that and it’s very in demand right now, I get a lot of requests for this and it’s a great tool.
Mark: Awesome, so that’s all about air quality with Mr. David Fairbairn of Fairbairn Inspections. Give him a call at 604-395-2795 or go to his website fairbairninspections.com Thanks David.
Mark: Hi, it’s Mark from Top Local Lead Generation. We’re here with Mr. David Fairbairn talking about attic mold, attic mold, mold in your attic, I’ve got lots of that, you can see here. The details about what’s critical about it, why you need to know whether you’ve got it or not, how to test for it, how to get rid of it. How are you doing today David?
David: I’m doing good Mark; hope you’re ready to see some pictures of moldy attics.
Mark: Love it.
David: Yeah, so attic mold, this is a huge, huge question I get as a home inspector about, first of all is there mold in my attic, you know, that’s probably the number one question when we do a home inspection and we go up to the attic and the two questions I get are is there mice in the attic and is there mold in the attic. Those are the two scary sort of unknowns when you go up to an attic and if you think about an attic and you look at the sort of design of it they’re very, very prone to moisture and humidity problems because they are basically a sealed wood box sitting on top of your house so if you don’t have proper ventilation and a waterproof roof membrane above you that’s keeping the water out and you aren’t adding unnecessary moisture into the attic, then you’ll have a dry attic. If you’re ventilating it properly, you’re not adding moisture and your roof doesn’t leak you will generally have a dry attic. But if you miss any of those points generally you’ll get mold growth or some sort of growth up there that has to be dealt with so, what I like to do is show you some visuals. I’m just going to do a screen share so let me know when that pops up for you, if you don’t see it let me know, you should see it come up pretty quick.
Mark: You got it.
David: Alright, so what I wanted to do was give you a case study of the house that we inspected; this property in Vancouver and they had a considerable problem with moisture and condensation in the attic. Now this is a concrete tile roof which is very popular in East Vancouver and they generally breathe pretty well but you have to be careful with them because in this case you’ll see why. So we’re looking at the soffits here, this is the underside of the eave’s and it doesn’t come out really that clearly in the picture here but what we have is there is a lot of staining around the actual soffit vents and these soffits are perforated so the air will rise up and travel through the attic and carry all the moisture out but in this case there was a lot of staining and rust around the soffits so that’s, when we are doing a home inspection and we come up to this property for a mold inspection, that’s the first thing we look at, what’s the condition of our soffits and generally you can tell if you have an issue right off the bat before you even go into the attic; if you see this, this is a big red flag.
So, I labelled it heavy growth; this is the inside of the attic, it was quite bad, it was a cold day and there was literally water dripping off the ceiling and we’ve got what looks like some black mold growth growing in the attic here. And this is your sheathing, a sort of metal sheathing paper that they use on concrete tile roofs and just as an aside, I just wanted to point out, here a lot of people say you have mildew growth in your house, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that Mark, somebody said you know, there’s mildew in the bathroom shower, that’s actually the wrong term for it because mildew in nature will only grow on plants, they will not grow on any other surfaces, so mildew is pretty much a plant specific mold and it will not grow in homes unless you have plants. So it’s not mildew, what we’re actually looking at is mold growth, we’ve got some different colours, we’ve got some white, we’ve got some black. We took a sample and sent it to the lab and it came back as a combination of a few different types of mold, all of which were needing to be remediated.
So there was a lot of damage to this attic and here is another photo of the insulation below and we can see the condensation in this attic was so bad that is was dripping on the insulation and those little pock marks on the insulation are from the water dripping off the top of the attic onto the insulation so the insulation in this case was damaged. So if you do see that, even if it’s dry when you go up in the middle of summer and you see insulation that looks like this, this is another big red flag that you may have a serious moisture problem in your attic. Not necessarily a leak, it can look like a leak when you first go up but if you’ve got water dripping in a uniform pattern like that as opposed to one area it’s generally going to be a condensation problem.
Alright, so I want to go into the causes of attic mold because there are only a handful of them and ninety percent of the time they’ll fall into one of the few categories. So here we are, we’re looking at some bathroom vents . . .
Mark: That’s brilliant, oh my God.
David: My favourite part about this is how he decided to use an exterior hood, like I don’t know what the benefit of that is, it’s generally to keep the rain out, but he decided to terminate and on the left you’ve got another one coming up and it goes right there and stops right there and it’s got a little hood on it too, you can’t see it in the picture. So we’ve got two bathroom fans, now we’ve got a family that’s taking showers every morning, sometimes twice a day if they’re doing sports and you can have one fifteen minute shower can generate an incredible amount of steam, I think it’s somewhere around .83 of a kilogram of vapour for a fifteen minute shower which is actually quite a lot, right, if you think about that, how many pounds is that, it’s just under, it’s about 1 ¾ pounds right, of vapour and you’re adding that straight into the attic and that’s a terrible, terrible design. So the big thing here is that probably most, the majority of attic mold is caused by improper bathroom fan termination so that’s the first thing we’ve got to look for, are you adding extra unnecessary moisture into the attic and this is a huge one. We always report this if we see it and it’s usually caused some damage by the time we find it.
So our next issue is this is something we come across especially in older homes where the owner has added additional insulation into the attic. What happens is they put insulation in and make it thicker and what they do is, they actually block off the soffits, o.k., so the soffits like I showed you in the first picture, you’ve got a vent at the bottom of that eave and the air is going to rise up through the soffit pass through the attic and out through the roof vents and in this case you can see that the soffits are actually blocked on the left two rafter base and on the right hand one you can see they’ve added what’s called the soffit baffle so if you’re adding insulation to your attic you need to put a soffit baffle in. It’s a Styrofoam tray that slides in between the rafters and it allow air to pass above because otherwise you’re going to choke your attic and you’re going to create a huge amount of moisture in your attic so this is probably number two on our list of what causes mold in attics is people getting a little bit too excited with the insulation. The other thing you’re going to want to do is if you’re changing your roof out to a different type, have a guy check out how much ventilation you actually have. If you’ve got one roof vent and you’ve got a huge roof area you might want to add two or three more and there are calculations on this based on the square footage of the attic, so you have to check that.
So the answer to what can we do about mold; this is an example of a treated attic, so when you see white like this you know one of two things have happened; they’ve either had a fire and they have painted the smoke damaged wood and I’ve come across that many times where there has been a fire and the homeowner is usually pretty up front with it or you’ve got a mold problem in the attic that’s been remediated. In this case it’s been remediated and it also sprayed a layer of product onto it that prevents regrowth of the mold.
Mark: That’s like a silver based paint?
David: Yeah, there’s a couple different products, I’m not entirely sure which one this one is but I can get you a list of the different products they offer, it’s basically a layer you can spray onto the attic that prevents mold from ever happening again, taking root again and it’s particularly important in attics where you have OSB sheathing so the OSB is, you’re probably familiar with the different types of sheathing you can have in the attic, that’s those boards between the rafters. In this case I believe it was actually plywood, in a lot of attics you’ll have OSB or even Strand Board which is very, very susceptible to mold growth and that’s why I don’t recommend it for roof replacement. If you’re ever doing a roof replacement don’t put in OSB sheathing, put in good quality plywood that’s going to resist mold growth and your attic will last longer. So this has been fully remediated by a mold abatement company and per attic, if you have an attic that you have mold in you’re probably wondering about cost. It generally, I mean the minimum you’re ever going to get this done for is probably, if it’s just a small area, you’re looking at a thousand dollars, if you go in a large area, I’ve seen it go as high as four thousand for a complete remediation and there’s a number of different ways that they can remediate it, they can do a chemical scrub on the wood, the one that I like that’s sort of getting a lot of traction now is called dry ice blasting, it’s almost like a sand blaster and you blast dry ice along the material, it actually removes a layer of the wood but it’s very, very effective if you want to go scorched earth on your attic and there’s no chance of anything, that’s actually really a good method by which you can do it.
I think we’re actually back around to the start. Switch off the slide show there. Just to recap, ventilation is everything when it comes to attics especially in a wet climate like ours as well as making sure that you’re not adding any moisture to the attic so, bathroom fans, check your bathroom fans, check your dryer exhaust and check your kitchen range hood. All three of those I’ve seen in a lot of attics where they actually dump into the attic and you can create some really nasty problems in your attic. If you have a healthy attic it will make your roof last longer, be healthier for your family and it increases your resale value because when you go to sell there’s no surprises. So if you think you have mold call somebody out to have a look at it.
Mark: So does it get worse in the winter in terms of condensation?
David: Absolutely, yes, especially in buildings that has poor insulation to begin with. One thing I don’t think I touched upon is even your attic hatch where you enter and leave the attic, a lot of time those doors aren’t sealed with weather stripping and they aren’t insulated with some insulation on top of it and you can get a lot of heat up there and the heat will just settle, right on the sheathing, right on the nails and that can cause huge condensation, yeah, so that’s true, it’s worse in the winter, during hot humid summer days as well you can get a lot of problems there. I’ve seen attics that have just been completely blocked off and left that way for a couple seasons and the roof is actually starting to collapse in some cases because the plywood is so inferior that, if plywood sits at more than twenty percent moisture content it can actually lose its, it’s called delamination and delamination is where the plys of the plywood actually separates and you can lose the structure. That’s not a roof you’re going to want to walk on and that’s why in some cases
I’ll show up at a property and go I don’t want to walk on that roof, let’s take a look at the attic first. You go in the attic and I would have probably fallen through if I walked on it so, yeah so definitely with the temperature swings you can have a lot of damage up there. So again, ventilation is everything.
Mark: Awesome, so there’s everything you ever wanted to know about attic mold and why it’s very important, the stuff will make you sick or wreck your house pretty quick so it needs to be taken care of! If you have any doubts, if you want to know, if you’re going to buy or sell a home, here’s the guy to call Mr. David Fairbairn of Fairbairninspections.com 604-395-2795 Thanks David.
David: Thanks Mark, take care.
Mark: You too.
Today’s featured inspection is a 7200 square-foot home in Maple Ridge.
An inspection like this takes a long time, but sometimes quality isn’t quick – I don’t cut any corners, especially in these larger homes.
The home featured three heating systems total – one radiant floor boiler system in the detached workshop, and two furnace / heat-pump systems for the main home. One furnace served the main floor, and the other served the second and third floors.
When calculating heat pump size, we use “tonnes” of cooling as a measurement. Generally, one tonne of cooling is good for about 1000 square feet. The combined total of these two pumps was about 7 tonnes – perfect for a home this size.
There were some minor issues with one of the hot water tanks – in the photo below you can see a missing TPR (temperature-pressure relief valve) extension tube, missing seismic strap (earthquake strap) and improper wiring – the exposed wire should be enclosed in BX metal sheathing for safety.
In the main electrical panel, I found a failed sump pump circuit that was shorting to ground. Resetting the breaker caused it to repeatedly trip. This circuit feeds a rain-water sump outside in the yard, which is designed to eject ground/rainwater into the ditch at the front of the property. Normally we see sump pumps installed when the drain lines are lower than the city sewer mains, however in this case the lot was quite large and the challenge was getting the water to travel the distance from the home to the ditch.
The sump pit was opened and revealed an usually high water level. We had experienced a large rain storm the day before, so it was easy to determine the issue. If you look closely, you can also see that some of the float switches are sunken, indicating a possible leak. This may have been the cause of the electrical short.
The buyers called in a drainage contractor to review the sump, and some other, smaller items. Overall the home was in excellent condition, particularly considering its size.
A home inspection is a small percentage of the price of a home, and usually one of the cheapest services in comparison with other closing costs (notary, appraisal, realtor commission, mortgage fees). It’s cheap insurance, and you should always hire the best Home Inspector you can afford!
Call us today to inspect your Maple Ridge Home! – 604 395-2795
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Mark: Hi, it’s Mark from Top Local Lead Generation. We’re here today with Mr. David Fairbairn of Fairbairn Inspection in Vancouver. He’s Vancouver’s mold expert and a fantastic home inspector, how’re you doing today David?
David: I’m great Mark considering I’m in a crawlspace.
Mark: So, we’re broadcasting right from someone’s crawlspace. I want to talk about the problems with polybutylene piping. What’s the deal?
David: I’m glad we’re in a crawlspace today Mark, because this is a great opportunity for us to see, I want to show you exactly what it looks like and some of the problems with it. So if you’re not familiar with polybutylene pipes, it’s a grey plastic pipe that was extremely popular back in the ’80’s and the first half of the ’90’s particularly in our area, in Vancouver, you seen a lot of these in homes built anytime after 1980. So what I’d like to do is go through the pros and cons of it and what to expect if you’re buying a house that has polybutylene pipe in it. I don’t fee like saying polybutylene every time, so I’m going to say PolyB – that’s the name that everybody refers to it by – so we’re talking about PolyB pipes.
So what we’ve got here, is a house that was build in 1985 and if you look, we’ve got some great plastic pipes here in the crawlspace, these are polybutylene plastic. These were invented in 1978, so any house built after 1978 could have it. It largely replaced copper for most homes where cost was an issue and ease of installation. You know, PolyB was supposed to be the next big thing and the reason they like it is there’s no soldering involved. You could just assemble it, it’s very easy to put together on site and the big thing here is that it’s flexible. When you’re dealing with plastic pipe, you can bend it around different angles, it’s not like rigid copper where you have to create elbows everywhere to work it around obstructions. So from an installation standpoint this is a very cool back in the time. So what we’re looking at here is a polybutylene with plastic fittings. We have plastic fittings at all the connection points, all our T’s and straight fittings are all plastic. This is known as a bit of a problematic type piping.
The house I’m in right now has actually had a pinhole leak, so the owner of this house, they had at their hot water tank, they actually had a leak already and that’s because PolyB has had a history of failure and that’s why we don’t use it anymore. So after they developed it, they put it out in a lot of houses, there was a lot of bursting at fittings, we had the pipe itself splitting and eventually there was a class action lawsuit. So when there was the class action lawsuit, the piping got a really bad name for itself – and of course, it’s no longer manufactured. I’d like to show you the there generations of polybutylene pipe and which ones to look out for and which one are not as bad.
I’d like to screen share with you, just let me know when it comes up. We’ve got some photos to share of what the different types of PolyB look like. So what we’re looking at here, this is a very early generation polybutylene fitting – which is a compression fit style. So what they would do with these compression nuts, they would tighten them, they’re also called grip fittings. This is something you would see in a very old PolyB installation, probably very early 80’s. If you see this type of pipe, there is a pretty good chance that you either had failure already or a leak already. Usually you don’t even see this type of piping because it’s already been, the house has already been re-piped. So this is the early generation of the stuff.
If you go to the next generation, that’s actually the same stuff we’re looking at in the crawlspace here. This is our plastic fitted polybutylene. You can see at the T’s where they connect, you’ve got these metal rings here and they are a crimp fitting. So you have these plastic fittings, you would slide the pipe overtop of the fitting and with a crimp tool you would crush down these rings and they would grab onto the fitting and compress it down. So this is what we have right now in this house from 1985. So you see the plastic fittings, they’re not great, they have a history of bursting and splitting. This would be your high risk style as well. If you see this in your house, there is a pretty good chance it at some point in the future, you’re going to have to re-pipe your house.
So on to the third style. This is something you’d see a bit later on – more in the 90’s with this style of pipe which is the metal fittings. So the metal fittings were introduced in response to some issues with the plastic fittings, so they’re a little bit more robust. What I usually like to say is it’s the least bad kind of PolyB to have. It’s not perfect, there still can be some problems with it but it’s of the three, if you had to pick one, this should be your top choice. So those are the three types of PolyB.
Mark: So that second one was more of a white colour. The PolyB isn’t always just grey?
David: PolyB came in a few different colours. Sometimes when you have your service entry piping coming in from the city they did use some different colours. I have seen where it actually looks like a different product altogether. The best way to determine if you have PolyB is to take a look on the actual pipe. I’m just going to grab my flashlight and show you.. you may not be able to see it on the video feed, but over here we have, it’s actually stamped with some letters and numbers… PB and 2110. That’s a dead give away if you see PB on the pipes. PB 2110, probably the most common stamp that you will see on these type of pipes – so that’s what you want to check for. Usually the give away is the grey plastic is present because modern piping, such as PEX, they use different colours. They don’t use grey because they don’t want it to get mixed up with the polybutylene, they don’t want to look like a bad product. So if you see grey plastic, or you see PB, even if you have a different colour, if you’re buying a house from the 80’s or 90’s you’re going to want to check for that stamp and make sure that you’re not fooled by the colour.
Mark: So are there any insurance problems with this product?
David: Yeah, there were a number of insurance problems that have recently gotten a lot worse. I’ve seen, you know as a home inspector, in the last couple years, the insurance companies are getting more and more sort of resistant to insuring properties with it. For instance, if we were to buy this house and we went to get insurance, the first questions they’re going to ask us when they see the build date on the house is what type of pipes do you have? If I tell them I have original polybutylene, they ask what type of fittings we have, do you have the plastic fittings or the metal fittings. If we tell them we have the original plastic fittings, they may either quote us a really high water damage deductible or they may actually request that we re-pipe the house in extreme cases. So I’ve seen both happen. Sometimes they’ll grandfather the insurance from the existing owner but that’s a best case scenario. You could run into insurance problems so you should always check with your insurance company when you’re purchasing a house with this type of piping about how they’re going to approach it and if they want you to actually replace any pipes.
Mark: So you mentioned there’s like splitting, pinhole leaks, fittings bursting… any other problems with this? I guess some other stuff can happen in areas where you’re not necessarily going to see it.
David: That’s correct. Luckily this house is a rancher, it’s a one story on crawlspace so all the piping is very visible and that’s how they found the leak. But in some cases you’ve got it behind drywall, sometimes it’s in a concrete slab, so unfortunately if it is hidden, you want to be pretty careful with the stuff. Some of the other problems are, sometimes they burst when these plastic hangers, they used to use, a lot of these are broken by now especially in crawlspaces. So you see these plastic hangers and the thing is just hanging down and it puts a lot of strain on the connections. So we’re not going to want to have these hanging down too much, we’re going to want re-support them at very least. That’s going to help us out a lot. One thing you’re going to want to check is your hot water tank, you know polybutylene tends to burst within the first maybe twenty feet of the hot water tank. It’s very common for us to go in, take a look at a hot water tank and go there’s actually new piping just in that one area and that’s where the actual burst happened and the concept there was that the hot water accelerates the deterioration in the pipe.
Mark: Thermal cycling just stresses it too much and the plastic can’t take it.
David: Yeah the plastic becomes quite brittle and the theory here is that since the city’s water is chlorinated, the chlorine can actually break down the pipe structure, which when they developed it they didn’t take into account. They should of figured that out but unfortunately we found out the hard way.
Mark: So how do we repair this?
David: In most cases you’re going to want to re-pipe. This house, because we’re on the crawlspace, it should be pretty easy to re-pipe. We have this nice big crawlspace we can go through and replace it with a better product such as PEX. So PEX is our newer plastic, we’re going to see that in almost all new installations around here. PEX is basically a cross lined polyethylene plastic which has been in use in Europe for a long time, but we only recently brought it over here and it functions very well. It’s not subject to the bursting problems of the polybutylene so we would probably want to go through and replace the PolyB. That’s going to be the best case scenario or our best option anyways. There are a couple other tricks you can do, you can lower your water pressure. We have seen that in a couple townhouse complexes where the entire townhouse complex is done with PolyB. What you can do is dial back your water pressure a little bit and that will actually reduce the impact on the connections and will reduce your chances of getting a problem. But aside from that a re-pipe is really your best option. If you’re having problems with it, in some cases you’re going to want to take a wait and see approach, which if you’ve got a more modern metal style you could hold out and see if you have any issues but the second it starts to leak you’re probably looking at a fairly good repair bill.
Mark: Great, so with that good news and after we finish this I’m going downstairs to check…
David: You have to check your pipes Mark, let me know what you have.
Mark: I know that the place that we had in Richmond it was definitely the second one that you showed with the plastic and crimp fittings and we had issues. We didn’t re-pipe the whole place but we definitely did around the hot water tank. So been through this, know this game.
David: Yeah absolutely and you have to be careful, you know a water leak can cost a lot more than a re-pipe. You know, a house like this, you could probably re-pipe it for around $3000 maybe even $4000 for really high quality re-pipe. You want to weigh that against what a water leak would cost you and also the jump in your insurance premiums as well. A lot of home owners are choosing to take that route.
Mark: Awesome David. So we’ve been talking with David Fairbairn of http://www.fairbairninspections.com – you can reach him at 604-395-2795. They are extremely busy so give them a call right away if you need something they can book you in the future. Thanks David
David: Thanks Mark, have a great day.
Mark: Thanks, bye.
Mark: Hi it’s Mark Bossert from Top Local Lead Generation. We’re here with David Fairbairn of FairbairnInspections.com in Vancouver and you can reach him at 604-395-2795. Today we’re talking about the gross stuff, we’re talking about mold. So how’re you doing today David?
David: I’m doing pretty good Mark. Mold’s not that gross – if you like blue cheese or if you like beer mold is pretty good. Penicillin if you like not getting sick. Mold is pretty helpful. It is gross and in some cases pretty helpful. I’d like to show you today what mold looks like – have you seen a lot of mold?
Mark: Unfortunately, I have.
David: Excellent, ok so I’ve got some photos for you. We’re talking about what mold looks like. So this is probably one of my top questions when it comes to mold related questions – somebody is standing there looking at something and going I think that might be mold, I can’t tell. What I want to start with is that it’s very important to note you can’t tell if something is mold or not just by looking at it. You can know what mold usually looks like and you can know different growth patterns, but if you’re not sure, you should sample it. Take a sample of the material and take it to a lab for testing because they’re actually going to be able to tell you if it’s mold or not. Even myself, doing mold for years, I’ve done testing and sampling and investigations and there’s still some cases where we find mold where it doesn’t look like mold or it doesn’t look like anything. What I’d like to do is show you how mold grows and this will give you a better idea about how it appears and what it might look like. So what we’re looking at now is a microscope slide of some mold. What we’ve got here is the structure of mold and you can see that it’s not just a blob of slime, it’s actually quite defined and that’s because mold is a plant. It’s part of the fungus family, so when you have mold you actually have fungus. Mushrooms, those are fungus. There’s different types of fungus and mold is a type of that. So it grows like any plant and when you look at it up close, you will notice that it has branches just like a tree or a plant and you’ve got the tips where you have the spore production (the circles). So if we look at what that actually is we’re looking at is called Mycelium. Mycelium is the structure of the mold – it’s in all the branches woven together. The branches are called Hyphae or Hypha individually. So this is how it spreads and grows and once mold sets up, it takes about 24-48 hours to grow in material and after a certain amount of time usually 10-14 days it’s ready to reproduce. So the mold decides to release some spores into the air and hopefully those spores settle and grow more mold. So when you hear about respiratory problems, people getting sick from mold, it’s the spores we’re talking about, it’s not the actual mold material, it’s actually the spores that are floating around in the air and you’re breathing them in because some spores are toxic.
So that’s the idea behind the growth. If we look at it here, it’s eating away at this bread – you’ve probably seen bread mold before, it usually doesn’t look this extreme, but this is just for illustration. We can see that the mold here has taken root, it’s feeding off the material, mold will grow in any organic material if the conditions are right. If it’s warm and wet it usually thrives and at one point or another we get spore production and this one is actually in full spore production mode.
So we’re looking at an attic now Mark, this is a fairly new construction building, this house is only… do you want to guess how old this attic is?
Mark: From the state of the OSB and some of the other clues I can see there, probably no more than 10 years old
David: Yeah, it’s actually 1 1/2 years old. So just as an aside, we perform home inspections, you should always get even if your house is a year and a half old. Get it inspected every single time. So this attic a year and a half old, terrible ventilation problems and they’re also using OSB which stands for oriented strand board, which has basically replaced plywood in most new construction and you can see that it’s made out of wood chips. It’s also a great surface for mold to grow on. I would conservatively say it’s about 150% more likely to grow mold than plywood or wood itself. So you have to be very careful with this material. And what we have here is – you can see the blotches and as you move up the the centre of the screen, you can see black blotches forming everywhere. This is the same attic here and we’ve got this growth pattern and as the blotches form, they start connecting together. So what’ve got is mostly black, in some areas it’s mostly white and in some areas it can turn blue. Mold can look like any of those and still be part of the same family of mold. So it’s very important to get it tested because you won’t be able to tell what type of material it is until you actually get it tested. Any idea what happened here Mark, want to hazard a guess? This is an attic as well.
Mark: A leak in the roof?
David: A leak in the roof. This is actually a marijuana grow operation.
Mark: So a leak from downstairs?
David: A leak from downstairs, exactly. So marijuana grow operations are very damaging, particularly to attics. Here the moisture was so high that the entire attic was just covered in a web of mold. This is actually post remediation – so they’ve actually gone through and cleaned all the mold out – this was what was left over, the staining – so you can imagine how bad it was before this. tThis is a type of mold called Penicillium which is related to Penicillin and it can be harmful. This is something you don’t want to play around with especially if you see it at this level. This is the same house, a grow operation where they had removed the growth and this is after thousands and thousands of dollars of removal. So you can imagine how thick that must of been before for it to take root that deeply that they weren’t able to get the lines out of the wood, the nails are rusted, they had a huge, huge amount of moisture going up into the attic. So that’s something we can see. So that’s what mold looks like.
What you should do – there’s two tests we offer. We can do sampling, so we can come in and actually test the mold stain to see if it actually is mold and if it’s alive or not and we can do an air quality test which is where we sample the air in the home and provide you with results of how many spores are floating around. So we have some different equipment to do that. This is our Zefon Bio Pump, this is some of the equipment we’re using. This actually sucks air through the top – that white disc at the top is called a spore trap and it will capture the spores floating around in the air and we break it open and put it on a microscope and we can tell if there are any indoor air quality issues.
So if you have something that looks like mold or you’re not sure – play it safe and get it tested. You can call us at 604-395-2795 and we can come out and determine if you have a mold problem, where it’s coming from and what to do about it.
Mark: Awesome. So I think we’ll . . . I don’t know if there’s anything more to say.
David: Mold can look like a lot of things. It can be fuzzy, it can be black webbing like that and as we go along with our next episode, I’ll bring some different shots of different things we have found in homes – everywhere from a wall that looked completely bare and it actually had mold on it, up to a room that was basically falling apart. We’ve got some good stuff coming up so stay tuned.
Mark: Awesome. So we’ve been talking with a building inspector, home inspector and mold specialist Mr. David Fairbairn of Fairbairn Inspections in Vancouver. You can reach him at fairbairninspections.com with tons of great information on the site or you can give him a call at 604-395-2795. Thanks David
David: Thanks Mark. Talk to you later.
Mark: Hi, it’s Mark Bossert from Top Local Lead Generation. We’re here with Mr. David Fairbairn; he’s a home inspector in Vancouver. How’re you doing this morning David?
David: I’m doing great, Mark, how’re you doing?
Mark: I’m good. So swimming pool inspections, what should be included?
David: o.k., so you’re buying a house, you want to get the swimming pool checked out pretty carefully. Sometimes a buyer will actually not get the swimming pool inspected, will by pass it and look mostly at the house but I think your face says it all. There’s a lot that can wrong with a swimming pool, they’re huge, huge cost centres if you have major repair. Swimming pools even when they’re just operating, they’re very expensive, right, just to heat them, put chemicals in. You can’t imagine, repairs really add up, so I think probably in the world of inspection some of the best return on investment is getting a swimming pool inspected. So when you call us we have a trained pool inspector on our team who can come out and we can actually do it at the same time as the home inspection, so basically it’s a package where we come out, we inspect the home, we can take of the swimming pool and can take care of the hot tub at the same time, you can get it all done and we put it together on the same report for you, onsite, it’s delivered to you onsite and then you receive an email within about 30 minutes to an hour depending on how much information we need to add on to it. The pool inspection includes, you know, obviously a visual examination of all the parts to the pool, so we’re looking at the liner, the basin, if you’ve got a vinyl lined pool we’re going to take a look at the condition that, we open up all the skimmers, we do light the heater if possible, sometimes depending on the time of year the heater may not be lit, we’re going to give it a shot try to light that heater and see if we can get it to fire and see if it’s operating properly and of course it’s going to include the filter, pump, all your mechanical equipment. This is probably where we find most issues is in the mechanical areas of the pump house, right, usually we probably find one leak every single time, that’s very, very common, those aren’t too expensive and we also find out a lot of pump problems, if the pump hasn’t been used properly or run dry for a while. So we’re going to inspect those, the hot tub itself we’re going to, if it’s a package unit where you’ve got the pump built in, we’re going to open it up, inspect the mechanicals and heater on the pump and we’re also going to inspect the electrical run pole, o.k., because that’s a big part of it because you’re often running a sub panel to the pump house and I would conservatively estimate that 80% of them are unsafe. They’re usually corroded or they’re installed wrong, there’s some handyman wiring going on so obviously for a safety standpoint we’re going to take care of everything that could be a safety hazard to you and your family and that’s the big thing, if we do nothing else we just want to make sure that pool is safe.
Mark: What about checking for leaks?
David: Checking for leaks, so what we’re going to do is we’re going to obviously check for visual signs of leakage. If we show and the pools half full and you know the hose has been running for a week, we may suspect there’s a problem that has happened of course, we’re going to look at your mechanicals too, obviously a lot of water in the mechanical room, you may be losing a lot of water there, and in some cases our pool inspector may say, I think you have a leak in your basin, you know we see a crack in a the basin or you know we think you may have a leak at the skimmer or whatever it is. So we can actually do a follow up visit so there’s the standard pool inspection, if you need a leak test done it takes about 72 to 96 hours depending on the size of the pool but we can actually do a drop test. We’re going to fill it up, measure the level of drop of the water to see if you actually have a hidden leak because you’ve got a lot of buried lines so we can actually do that for an additional cost and if we suspect that may be the case, that you do have a leak, we will recommend that and we can actually handle that as well.
Mark: So in your reports do you have photos and you’re specifying everything that you finding?
David: Absolutely. It’s very similar to our home inspection report, same template, same format where you receive a digital report. Now we offer swimming pool inspections as a stand-alone, you can just get the pool inspected. If you call us up we can send somebody out, we can get a report by the same evening. If you do it with the home inspection we roll it all together with the home inspection and you will receive a digital report with photographs and descriptions of all the issues found and one of the things we like to do with the pools is if we can is actually provide a quotation so if we have a for instance a bad filter, bad pump, we’re actually going to be able to provide you with a rough estimate of the range in prices you may pay to replace that item so we try to keep it very straightforward and easy to understand and of course we take photos of everything including all the safety hazards and we put it together in a PDF file which you receive by email.
Mark: Awesome, so if you’ve got a pool, these are the guys to call to make sure it’s safe, make sure if you’re buying or selling your home, get an inspection done so that your clients on either side can feel more confident and you close that sell quicker. This is the guy to call, David Fairbairn at fairbairninspections.com Call him at 604-395-2795. Thanks a lot David.
David: Thanks Mark, have a great day.
David Fairbairn of Fairbairn Inspections gives insight into identifying a leaky condo in Vancouver, BC
Mark: Hi, it’s Mark Bossert from Top Local Lead Generation. We’re here with David Fairbairn from Fairbairn Inspections in Vancouver. How are you doing today David?
David: Hey I’m good, how are you Mark?
Mark: I’m good. So we weathered the storm of the Google Hangout, unpredictability and now we’re going to talk about how to identify a leaky condo in Vancouver. So are there still leaky condos in Vancouver?
David: Very much so, although a lot of them have been remediated by now, however, yeah, there’s still a good number of them out there and if you’re buying a condo, you’ve got to be careful.
Mark: So what years of construction are at risk?
David: Typically with the leaky condo crisis we’re looking at buildings built between 1981, 82, somewhere around there until around 1998 and the reason for those years is a mix of, you know, you’ve got different issues, such as code issues, building construction, it’s architecture methods, it’s really a perfect storm and it lasted for sixteen, seventeen years and by the time they finally figured out what was going on a lot of buildings were experiencing problems, so we’ve got this huge span, 1981 all the way to 1998.
Mark: So what style of buildings are leaky condos?
David: Leaky condos, the ones that you see in the news, these are the ones that cost people their life savings; they failed on a huge level. We’re talking about wood frame, low rise buildings, usually a low rise building of four stories or less and we’re looking at buildings that are stucco predominately, stucco clad buildings and of course, if you look at them you’re going to see that sort of California style building which was very popular around the time they were built and of course that style came up from California and people like it. It looks nice; it just doesn’t work with your average rain fall of 1,500 millimeters a year as opposed to California’s, I’m going to guess around 400. You really have to be careful with these things. Typically low rise buildings, altho it’s not a hard and fast rule, we do see a lot buildings that are high rises that are also failed as well. If you go to Yaletown in Vancouver you’ll actually see quite a few buildings that were built as leaky condos that were remediated or actually some of them are currently undergoing problems so it’s not just low rise buildings, but those are probably the majority of them, the low rise stucco buildings.
Mark: So buildings built for the desert, originally designed for the desert, foolishly in my opinion architected without proper overhangs or proper screening to try and deal with someplace that has a minimum of four times as much rain and often a heck of a lot more given California probably hasn’t had rain in seven years right now and especially.
David: Yeah, exactly and I’m glad you brought up the overhang points, that’s the thing is that a lot of these buildings have absolutely no overhang and no eaves coming off the roof, you got these flat roofs, they’re built straight up and down, they’re often a big box and this is where the rain is getting into the walls, soaking in behind walls, it’s rotting the structure, you’ve got stains inside your condo unit, you’ve got mold problems. I was in one just last week, you wouldn’t believe the amount of damage that can be done, and it’s probably one of the worst building related crises we’ve ever had. It’s never happened up until this point.
Mark: So we’ve touched on, so what causes leaky condo syndrome?
David: Leady condo syndrome is caused by a number of factors; first of all the California style building. If you look at a building, you know in 1950’s, in 1960’s low rise condo building, we’re going to see a huge amount of overhang, right, you’re going to see the roof projecting out of the side of the walls and that’s actually protecting the top of the walls from moisture intrusion so in building sides we have what’s called an interface. Now an interface is a change in direction or it’s a change in material, a balcony would be a great example of an interface, so a lot of these buildings have exposed balconies made out of stucco and the water can just get in at these interfaces. You have an inside corner like this, you know and you’ve got the top of the wall cavity, you’ve got a little tiny flashing protecting a four story wall, you know, it may not do that, especially windows, windows are really hard yet. If you’re looking at what you might think is a leaky condo, look around the windows, especially on the top floors, see if there’s repair work around them. You’re probably going to see a point where they’ve done some stucco repairs around the windows and so all these interfaces, we’ve tripled the number of interfaces in our buildings and all of a sudden we have these points where water can get in and we started using this California style stucco and of course the stucco is installed in such a way that it’s, we’ve got our sheathing, wood sheathing for the building, we’ve got our building paper and then we’ve got our stucco, right against that and there’s no cavity behind the stucco so once water gets in, it’s going to get trapped in that wall cavity and it’s not going to leave on its own and we have very few periods of drying here in Vancouver so we don’t get a lot of sun, it’s kind of a big city and it’s going to get held in there so basically it starts to soak through and it can rot out your sheathing and cause all sorts of problems. So that’s a big thing, you’ve got a lot of interfaces and you’ve got a style of material that doesn’t really work well with our environment.
Mark: So, what’s a rain screen?
David: A rain screen is our solution to a leaky condo. So you’ve probably heard of this term, most people have, it’s on the news quite a bit. Rain screening is a process where we’re actually removing the stucco from the building in our exterior cladding and we’re installing it. You can use stucco but this time we’re actually going to put a drainage cavity behind the wall material so we’ve got these strips, and we’re going to put this cavity back there so if rain does get back there it’s going to be able to vent out or drain out and we’ve got these metal flashings at each fork and water’s going to be able to exit from each floor vs leaky condo, we call those face sealed buildings where it’s right up against the side. A face sealed building you would have, there’s not where for it to leak, it just keeps going down forever. I’ve seen a guy actually go down three stories before it even slows up. I’ve seen the water show up in a crawl space or basement and the whole basements rotted out and actually it started three stories up on a deck and that’s how insidious this problem is. It’s really quite problematic. So rain screenings going to give you that drying capacity and it’s also going to be a break between the floors and of course fresh air can come in there and dry out the wall cavity and rain screening as far as we know is working very well, so far, we haven’t had any real problems with it, of course it’s very expensive so if you have to take all the stucco off your building, rain screen your building, you can be looking at a few million dollars at least to get started with it and if you’re in a building with 38 units or 35 units, you’re going to split that three million dollars or two million cost by the 38 of you which I imagine is quite a financial hit.
Mark: Yeah, thus people walking away because they have a two hundred and fifty thousand dollar rain screen special assessment and their condo isn’t even worth that in some cases. That’s changed pretty radically over the last 10 years but when this first started that was a problem.
David: Absolutely, people just walked away from their mortgages. There is that one building in Port Moody, the bank basically bought it, we’ll do rain screening and resell it. I’ve heard stories about buyers back in the 90’s buying a condo for ninety thousand dollars and rain screening costs 150 so it doesn’t make financial sense so that’s why there was such an issue.
Mark: So, again identifying that leaky condo what are we looking for. Let’s just bring it back to what are the points that people should be looking for?
David: You’re looking at getting a quality home inspection, that’s number one, in some cases you know I actually have a blog post on my website that it actually shows you how to identify leaky a leaky condo from the street. The big thing would be to, if you’re standing on the street you’re looking at a condo, do you see three wall flashings between the floors; that’s a huge indicator that you may have a rain screen solve. You might want to, if you’re thinking about buying in the building, talk to the strata and say have you guys rain screened, is it a full rain screen. Sometimes they’ll just rain screen one wall of the building, for instance the east wall in our buildings fail first in almost in every case just due to our weather patterns and so ask them, have you guys just done one wall or are you planning to do the rest of the building. Is this a full rain screen, right? So that’s one of the things to look out for, another thing would be if you walk into the building and you see a bunch of repair work done to the stucco, very rare for a rain screened building to have any repair work to the stucco especially since they’ve been done recently and we haven’t really had a lot of failures. So if you see a bunch of repair work where the texture changes, the colour changes in some cases, you know that’s a big red flag and you want to ask about that with your real estate agent or your home inspector. Is this building at risk for a leaky condo? If you’re not sure make sure to ask, you know, this is a very important financial decision and it could end up saving you a significant amount of money.
Mark: So we’ve been talking with David Fairbairn from Fairbairn Inspections in Vancouver about leaky condos. Give him a call if you have any kind of questions about at the property you’re looking to buy. This guy knows just about everything, a lot of it so give him a call 604-395-2795. Thanks David.
David: Thanks Mark, talk to you later.
Exploring home inspection frequently asked questions with David Fairbairn in Vancouver, BC
Mark: Hi, it’s Mark Bossert from Top Local Lead Generation. We’re here with David Fairbairn of Fairbairn Inspections in Vancouver, BC and we’re going to be answering some of the common questions that people have about home inspections this morning. How’re you doing David?
David: I’m good Mark, how’re you doing today?
Mark: Good, so what’s included in a home inspection?
David: Well, Mark there’s a set of standards that home inspectors have to use that is considered the bare minimum that home inspectors can look at during an inspection and these are considered a bare minimum but they typically include the major systems of the house. So you’re looking at your structure, your plumbing, your roof, the heating, ventilation, electrical, things like this, so that’s the major systems of the property and almost any home inspectors going to do that and in BC you have to abide by those standards but you can also go above and beyond those, so for instance one of the things that home inspectors actually are not required to inspect, is appliances and they’re not required to use any specific tools, they’re not required to do moisture testing or in fact, as far as I know they’re not even required to have a plug tester which I find funny, but that’s the bare minimum of what’s included in a home inspection.
Now, our home inspection includes more than that but we’ve got the basic major systems of the property, we’re going to give you an overview condition of the building, but we’re also going to give a little bit more than that.
Mark: So do you inspect everything, like what about fences or a big one for me and I think for anybody in the Vancouver area is drainage because we get a lot of rain here, outbuildings, all the sort of stuff, do you look at those as well?
David: Yes, interesting that you should ask that because the standards actually say that home inspectors are not required to look at fences, sheds, any sort of drainage whatsoever aside from the maybe three inches of drain tiles sticking up from the garden bed so what we’re doing with our home inspections is we’re obviously limited by what we can see but we’re going to give you an overview of the whole property so what I like to do is during the inspection I’ll show up and walk the entire property, corner to corner and this is for a number of reasons, you know, if you have a lot, maybe it’s predominately a flat lot but there’s a slope on one side of it and it maybe direct water onto one side of the home where you get pooling in your yard, you might have, this is actually when I find a lot is where there’s a big retaining wall back of the property that you need to sort of go way back and hack through the bushes, take a look, you know you’ve got some types of problems with the retaining wall. That can be really expensive, a retaining wall right now, to rebuild it, a concrete retaining walls between $25 to $35 a square foot so it’s thousands of dollars to actually rebuild a retaining wall. You can’t really shift them back into place, you have to tear them up and rebuild them. So it can actually be a huge item. So retaining walls, that’s a big one, inspecting drainage; what I like to do is actually open up manhole covers if I can find them, pop them open, have a look and we can actually see a little bit of our perimeter drainage, storm drainage system, right. There’s been a couple times I’ve opened up inspection chamber in the front yard, those turquoise lids you see in the front yard, there’s one red one, there’s one turquoise one, never open the red one because that’s sewage and turquoise one is rain water, so if you ever see a red one you’re probably not going to want to touch it. But the green one, you pop it open, you have a look and you can see, there has been a couple times you can see it backing up from the connection from the lateral to the city, so those are the things that be curious, that’s what we’re doing, you know the curious guy we go around the property, take a look at everything we can and if the sheds about to fall; I saw a shed in Coquitlam the other day, the shed was leaning so much that the door wouldn’t open any more, the door was actually seized, so you know, that’s going to be a safety hazard if they move in, start using that shed it’s going to fall over so this is kind of basic stuff that’s it’s not technically required but it’s going to create the impact of the use of the property so all inspections that we do include these areas.
Mark: So what about in the ceiling or above the ceiling in the attic area or whatever you want to call it in that space area, I know that if you just stick your head up you see one view and if you actually walk on the framing members and work your way around you might see a whole different picture, like junction boxes buried in the ceiling and where nobody’s ever going to find them and all kinds of interesting things or different kinds of wiring, aluminum or all kinds of old, old wiring because we have some old houses in the Vancouver area merged with new wiring because part of the house was renovated or . .
David: that’s usually the case, yeah, you know hey this panel looks great and all of a sudden you go up to the attic and it’s tied into a bunch of tubing and electrical tape. Yeah, that’s really a good point and home inspectors are required to go and look at the attic, doesn’t say how so I could technically open the attic hatch, poke my head in there, shine a flashlight around and come back down in three seconds and that would meet the requirements of what I’m supposed to do but that’s not good enough. I always say if we can get into the attic, if I can fit myself into the attic, unless it’s a Vancouver special, now a Vancouver special they have incredibly low attics, they’re almost universally impossible to get into but for a standard house, if you can get into the attic there’s a lot of stuff you can find up there. One of the really common problems I find in attics is somebody’s gone and put in recessed lighting and they’ll put like pot lights all over the upstairs ceiling and they’re really proud of themselves but they actually put in a style that potlight that can’t be in contact with insulation and the manufacturer specifically says that and it’s called a non IC rated light, it’s insulation contact light and this kind of fixture you would have to actually have to build a small box around it or have the insulation not touching it and that can be a big job so that’s a pretty common mistake and you wouldn’t know unless you actually went into the attic or you pull the pot lights down from below which I’m probably not going to start doing.
Mark: So, what don’t you inspect?
David: The only thing, there’s a few things that are difficult for us to inspect, anything that’s not visible, right so we have to remember it’s a visual inspection so anything that we can’t see so if I walk into a room and it’s packed with storage items I may not be able to inspect that room so that ties in with how to prepare for the home inspection. If you have an inspection you are going to want to make sure that they haven’t taken one of the basement rooms and filled it storage items because they’re moving, it’s packed with boxes. I’ll give it a shot, I’ll try to pull back the boxes and take a look behind it if we can or if we can reasonably move some items out of the way but if we can get everything visible then I can inspect more of the property, actually that’s one of the big things I can’t inspect is anything that’s not visible, locked doors, we’ve had a couple mystery rooms this month where you know, it’s locked, nobody knows where it goes and I have to say, you know what, I can’t get in there, I don’t know. Attics if they’ve got shelving installed overtop the attic hatch, I can’t go up to the attic, so you just want to make sure we have access to all the areas and one more thing I don’t inspect is the security system of the house. We’re finding a lot of these newer homes, they come with installed security systems but they don’t, sometimes they’re half way there, maybe you don’t have your sensors in, maybe you don’t have your control box, so there’s a few different steps to get a security system up and running and I leave that up to the security experts so that’s one thing I don’t inspect and I also don’t want to set off any alarms while I’m in the home otherwise I get a call from the homeowner asking why the fire truck was there this afternoon so but everything that I can see we can reasonably test is on there. We can even sometimes if you go to a garage you can see the central vac, it’ll have a on/off switch, I can actually test that out. If the buyer wants a test on anything else specifically let me know, I’ve even tested a stereo system one time, it was quit or leave the house. It was a nice one too. We had some tunes going through there so . .
Mark: So what about like you mentioned the stuff you can see, now you do have some tools that you use that can look behind the walls, infrared basis.
David: That’s right, what we’re seeing is that tools aren’t really . . . but I have a great collection of tools and I constantly get people asking about what I’m using and some of these tools are just really cutting edge and they’re great for determining if there’s a hidden problem that we’d never find otherwise so for instance a possible gas leak detector, it’s basically a gas . . . ., you can use it on your gas meter, you can use it on your furnace gas piping, you can use it on your homes anywhere you have gas piping, you can actually test the joints and see if there’s a pin hole leak and sometimes it’s so fine it takes a lot of looking before the repair man can actually determine where it is so I actually have to circle it and say actually you know, this joint needs to be resealed and so that’s a big safety thing. There’s a moisture meter, a pretty standard home inspector will have a moisture meter with you to determine if there’s moisture behind the shower walls or if there’s some wet drywall and then of course the thermal camera. The thermal camera is going to give you that image of, sometimes you can see the studs, you know wet insulation, find gyproc with that so all my tools we include that with a standard home inspection, the only difference is that the thermal camera, if you would like a whole building scan done we offer a thermal imaging package which depends on the size of the property but it’s very affordable.
Mark: Awesome, sounds pretty thorough and from what you keep finding and surprising us on your posts, thorough which is great, which I appreciate, I’m kind of a bit anal about this. I just had my drains scoped actually.
David: Excellent, so how’d they look?
Mark: They looked great, very happy, so . .
David: That’s great; you’re one of the few that actually will do it. I’ve gone in houses you know, the owners have lived in there thirty years and like, what are perimeter drains? Literally they had no idea, right, and you’re going o.k. this is the old tile from the 80’s. It’s corrugated, how much junk is in that drain tile, right, yeah you’re a good home owner, I look forward to inspecting your home one day.
Mark: Alright, thanks David. It’s been great talking with you. We’ve been talking with David Fairbairn from FairbairnInspections.com in Vancouver; give him a call 604-395-2795. Buy a house you can trust. Give David a call; he’ll look after you – 604-395-2795. Thanks Dave.
David: Thanks Mark.
This week’s featured inspection is a Townhouse in Langley. The development was constructed in 2004, so it was just out of warranty. These townhomes usually feature a 2/5/10 warranty (2 years mechanical, 5 years envelope/leakage, and 10 years structure).
The rear balconies were in poor condition, particularly for a young building. There was extensive rot and deterioration of the balcony railings and trim, and in several units the actual deck posts were damaged – a safety concern.
The roof was a typical, asphalt “laminate” shingle, which have a service life of about 20 years. Note how the downspouts are extended so they run down the roof, into the gutters, instead of directing water onto the shingles. This will extend the roof life and is optional – the BC Building Code does not require these! I always point these out as a positive when I see them.
These units are typically heated with electric baseboard heaters. As part of our thorough Home Inspection, every baseboard heater is checked using an IR Thermometer. Electric baseboards provide reliable heat that rarely needs maintenance, which is perfect for a first-time home buyer.
The kitchen island featured a receptacle on the side, however when tested, there was no power to it.
A quick look inside the cabinet, and we can see that it’s a “dummy” receptacle which wasn’t even connected! The owner had started to install one (including drilling a hole through the floor for the wiring), and never finished. This is why we always check every receptacle when possible. (Note: The island was not installed permanently; it was free moving and could be slid around on the floor. Be careful to check if your island is secured before you buy).
Finally, the garage door was completely hacked to pieces. The owner explained that they had cut it in order to fit a storage rack in the garage – a strange repair and one that I have never seen before. The only way to fix this is to replace the door.
Outcome: The sellers negotiated a slight reduction on the price and will be moving in next month.