We inspected this property in Vancouver, which was built in 1943. Most of the home was in “original” condition, and many of the components (wiring, insulation, plumbing) were original and in need of a lot of work.
In the basement, we can see an interior sump, which were popular until about the early 70’s. The sump pit is a receptacle for rain and surface “storm” water, and is designed to overflow into the city storm drain. However, the problem with interior sumps is obvious – directing water into the basement puts the home at risk for flooding. Right away we can see that there is a moisture problem in this area, as the owner has placed a dessicant container next to it.
Inspecting the exterior, the original terra cotta perimeter drains were noted, and I recommended having a drain line scan performed. A plumber can insert a camera through the lines and determine if there are any blockages or breakage. Old terra cotta lines, while resistant to root damage, can crack or crumble below grade.
The plumbers scanned from three locations, including the drain at the bottom of this stairwell. Flooding of the stairwell was evident (not in the photo) due to a large amount of wood rot at the base of the door.
Here’s a photo from the drain camera – we can see some debris but the line is mostly clear. However, there were some issues.
1. The interior sump piping entry points were extremely high (only 4″ below top of pit), so there was almost no “buffer” should the lateral back up.
2. There was a large obstruction near the sump (photo below):
The drain in this area (below the deck) was completely blocked off – whether this was intentional or a result of construction work was unclear. In any case, it will not function and required expensive excavation and drainage work.
The plumber quoted from $10,000 – 18,000 to repair the issue, and the buyer saved a significant amount of money off the purchase price of the home.
If you’re buying an older property, I recommend having the drains scanned. And, of course, getting a high-quality Home Inspection performed by us. It pays!
This was one of the worst-designed showers I’ve ever seen. It was found in a New Westminster condo inspection recently.
First of all, there were two windows in the shower; one window is usually bad enough. This photo (courtesy of Carson-Dunlop) illustrates the problem with windows in showers – they (almost) always contribute to leakage.
Secondly, the workmanship was shoddy and most of the grout lines were severely cracked. Cracked grout ensures that water will enter into the backing board, soaking it and weakening the wall considerably. The wall was so soft I could push it almost 1/2″ in with my hand.
Thirdly, the floor drain (bottom left of photo) was half-buried under the wall, which caused water to pool against the bottom edge of the wall – which had, you guessed it, cracked grout. We found moisture over six feet away in the drywall, beside the sink.
This shower will need to be completely rebuilt. And when the wall is opened up, there may be surprises, such as mold, rotten studs, and destroyed insulation.
The seller, however, negotiated a nice reduction!
A hot water tank is a quiet, often-ignored part of a home’s plumbing system. They tend to go unchecked, quietly providing consistent hot water to the fixtures. However, if left ignored for too long, severe problems may develop which can be disastrous, and, if you need an emergency replacement, expensive.
Here are five signs it might be time to replace your tank:
Rust in certain areas of a hot water tank can indicate failure. A corroded inlet nipple may indicate that the inside of the tank has finished corroding.
Corrosion around the base of the jacket may be an indication of leakage from the shell. The one in this photo, a 10-year old tank manufactured by General Electric, shows signs of upcoming failure.
A fogged burner window may indicate moisture in the burner chamber. Moisture in the burner area indicates either very poor combustion at the gas burners, or a leaking shell. If you see this issue, you should be calling a plumber.
Most household hot water tanks have a service life of between 8-12 years, depending on usage and region. The oldest tank I’ve ever seen was from 1986 – almost 30 years old! At the ten-year mark you should start budgeting for replacement.
Determining age is easy – just take a look at the serial number on the plate. Most manufacturers will have the year encoded in the serial. If you need help, go to the building center, a great site with a comprehensive list of manufacturer’s date codes.
One the inside of hot water tank has fully corroded, heat transfer is greatly reduced (metal oxide, better known as rust, is an insulator). Symptoms will include, but are not limited to, running out of hot water during showers, lukewarm water (even when the thermostat is turned up), and a constantly firing burner.
Burnt areas at the top of the burner access are usually a sign of flame rollout; where the flame (usually during start up) will “roll out” of the burner chamber, scorching the outer jacket. Check for discoloration above the access port.
Although this doesn’t necessarily mean the tank must be replaced, it is a serious issue and a fire hazard, and a plumber should be called for further review.
Short of fire, nothing causes more damage to the inside of a property than leaking water. It is estimated that 65% of property damage to stratas (homeowners associations) is caused by water leaking from failing pipes, hoses, plumbing fixtures and appliances. Washing machine hoses are a leading cause of residential water damage. Research shows that there are simple and inexpensive steps home owners and strata councils can take to prevent most of this damage.
When was the last time you checked your washing machine hoses? If you’re like most, this is a task that is frequently overlooked. Since they are barely visible (located behind the washing machine), they are out of sight and out of mind. The same holds true for dishwasher hoses. According to State Farm Insurance Statistics, washing machine hose failures cause approximately $170 million in damages to homes in the United States & Canada annually.
Washing machine hoses hold about 70 pounds of pressure. The rubber hoses weaken with age and do eventually burst if not replaced. In some cases, the hose connections can start to leak, giving an advanced warning sign. In other cases, there are no advance warnings and a sudden burst results. A bursting hose can displace 650 gallons of water per hour. If your home is unoccupied for 30 hours, this equates to 20,000 gallons – the average size of an in ground swimming pool!
Here are some preventative measures that you can take:
When I find rubber hose connections to the washing machine, I recommend that the client replace them.
For further reading:
I inspect many condominiums and large buildings here in Vancouver. Often the inspection of the boiler room will reveal failure of the copper pipes, in the form of corrosion and pinhole leaks. This recent condo inspection turned up leakage on the hot water supply piping for the building:
Corrosion like this may indicate a chronic problem throughout the building’s plumbing lines. Pinhole leaks are unfortunately a common occurrence for many homeowners, and, from my experience, there is a lot of misinformation regarding this problem.
What is a pinhole leak?
A pinhole leak is the breakthrough of the pipe wall when the pipe is undergoing “pitting corrosion” or simply “pitting”. When enough pitting occurs in the interior of the pipe, it will break through and water will begin to travel to the exterior of the pipe.
What causes pinhole leaks?
Pitting corrosion (pinholes) are directly related to water chemistry. High or low pH balance and water softness/hardness (high/low mineral content of the water) will directly affect certain types of copper piping, and can cause accelerated corrosion. Vancouver, for example, has extremely soft water. The low mineral content has been blamed for poor protection from corrosion. For instance, in a hard-water region, the minerals in the water will form a protective layer on the interior of the pipe. Vancouver therefore suffers from greatly reduced copper lifespans.
What kinds of pipe are affected?
Hot water and heating supply lines are statistically more frequently damaged by pinhole leaks. The high temperature of the water can accelerate corrosion. Certain types of pitting will not occur in low water temperatures.
TIP: If you are inspecting a home or condominium, always have a look at the hot water lines near boilers/hot water tanks. Typically the hot water lines will fail before the cold lines.
What are the solutions?
Although there are several fixes for failed piping, the most obvious solution is to re-pipe the building. However, this is also the most expensive and destructive of the options. With the advent of flexible, easy-to-install PEX (Plastic piping), it is easier and more cost-effective than replacing with new copper lines, however significant damage to the interior walls is still often necessary.
Epoxy coating is a newer method that coats the interior walls of the pipe with a sealant. The system is shut down, water drained, and the coating pumped in. The advantage to this system is the lower downtime needed VS replacing the pipes. It is also less costly than re-piping.
UPDATE: After posting this article, I was contacted by Randy at CuraFlo BC, a company that specializes in epoxy coating. He answered several questions about epoxy lining, including addressing the common perception that the epoxy linings will fail prematurely. According to CuraFlo, there was some faulty product used prior to 2004, however their newest lining material, “CuraPoxy” has an extremely long service life up to 50 years. I will be providing more information on this system in a future blog post. Thanks Randy!
Water treatment is the lowest-cost option. A chemical injector is installed on the water lines which injects a corrosion-inhibitor into the water as it passes through. This is a popular option for large buildings where re-piping would be extremely costly. Although it will not repair existing holes, the companies selling these products claim it will stop further corrosion from occurring. The downside to this system is the ongoing cost for injector and chemicals. It is also unclear whether these systems are a reasonable long-term solution.
One company offering water treatment in Vancouver is Hytec Water Management. I see many of these systems installed and strata owners seem to be happy with their performance.
What else can I do?
One word of advice: NEVER drain a copper pipe suffering from pinhole leaks. Draining and re-pressurizing a copper pipe may cause debris / mineral deposits sitting in pitted areas to loosen and cause a multitude of new leaks.
For more information on this subject, visit the EPA website at http://www.epa.gov/sciencematters/april2011/leaks.htm
CuraFlo BC – CuraFlo BC
Hot water tanks, whether gas or electric, utilize something called a sacrificial anode rod. The rod (or rods, depending on the make and model of the water heater) acts to prevent the shell of the tank from corroding (rusting) by being made from a material that is susceptible to galvanic corrosion more easily than the shell. Simply put, the rod dissolves and your tank does not.
A typical anode rod by itself will last about six years. If you have two anode rods, you can expect your tank to last between 8-12 years. Some tanks will go the distance – in my inspections I have seen water heaters still functioning as old as 22 years.
Aluminum anode rods are best for places with hard water. The aluminum rod will withstand harder water than any other type. Aluminum may be a health problem, so to be safe you may not want to drink hot water and make sure to run some cold water through the faucet spout before drinking the water. Keep in mind, our sodas come in aluminum cans too.
Magnesium anode rods are the most common type of anode rod. They are used in places where water is softer. They do not last very long when you have hard water, a couple years at best. This is the main reason water heaters don’t last long after the anode rod is eaten up.
Zinc anode rods are really just aluminum anode rods with a small portion being zinc. The ratio of zinc to aluminum is 1:10. The reason zinc is added is to combat any sulfur smell coming from the water. A new water heater is never installed with a zinc anode rod already in it, but it is a good upgrade if you experience rotten egg smell coming from your hot water.
Replacing Anode Rods
Replacing the anode rod in a water heater before it fails can slow down corrosion inside the tank and significantly extend the life of the water heater, sometimes even doubling it.
Depending on water conditions, an anode can last longer than normal, but many localities treat their water, which can have significant effect on the life of your heater and the anode. Sometimes water conditioning may accelerate the rate at which the anode rod is consumed. In other words, checking the anode should be a routine maintenance task.
An Excellent DIY Video can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97ett_HNu4k
As with all Home Improvements, if you are not comfortable with performing the work, please contact a licensed professional in your area.
This week we’re going to take a look at a rather controversial item for many home inspectors – Polybutylene Piping.
Also known as “Poly-B” piping, it was used from the late 1970′s to the early 1990′s for hot and cold water distribution in homes. It is extremely common to see this type of piping here in the Northwest.
It usually has a dull grey (sometimes white) appearance, with metal bands at the fittings.
It was flexible, easy to install, and cheap, and it gained popularity for those reasons. However…
Poly-B can prematurely burst. Chlorine, present in most domestic city water supplies, is suspected to weaken the structural integrity of the plastic and cause it to prematurely burst. Even if it looks fine from the outside, it could still have flaked away on the inside.
Poly-B piping has so far been the subject of several class-action lawsuits. In some states/provinces, it will affect the homeowner’s ability to get home insurance!
If you have this type of piping in your home and it starts to leak in one area, it may just be the beginning of your headaches. If one section of pipe has weakened then more leaks will likely follow. You may need to re-pipe your entire house.
Depending on your home inspector, they may not necessarily report Polybutylene piping as a deficiency, but will warn that it will require ongoing monitoring for any signs of failure. I personally take this route and make sure my clients fully understand the implications of this type of piping.
As a side note, my childhood home, which is almost 30 years old, contains all Polybutylene distribution piping and is still going strong. As with many things in life, “your mileage may vary”.
About the Inspector:
David is a licensed, insured, Certified Home Inspector in the province of BC. and holds a certificate in home inspection from Ashton College in Vancouver.
He is also a licensed Power Engineer in BC, and holds a certificate in power engineering from the McPhail school of Energy at SAIT in Alberta. He has been involved in the construction, maintenance and repair of luxury and high-end commercial buildings in downtown Vancouver for many years.
He has a common-sense approach to Inspecting Homes and an innate ability to explain complicated concepts in clear terms.
Call now to book your home inspection!