Safety Issues in Older Homes in Vancouver | Video

Talking home building safety with certified Home Inspector David Fairbairn

Mark: Hi, it’s Mark Bossert from Top Local Lead Generation. We’re here with home inspector, David Fairbairn of Fairbairn Inspections in Vancouver, how are you doing today Dave?

David: I am good Mark, how are you?

Mark: I good, great. So we’re talking about safety issues in older homes in Vancouver, BC. Come on, there’s no problems here in Vancouver are there?

David: If there was no problems, guys like me would probably be unemployed right now but luckily for us there are a lot of issues, depends upon the type of building you buy but with the older homes there’s a lot to look out for so, I’ll be happy to go through those with you and tell you a bit about them.
Mark: Sure, is there asbestos in older homes in Vancouver?

David: Yes, most of the time and when I say older homes, we’re talking about houses that are pre 1950’s, you know those are your character homes, those are you’re really, really old homes but it could be anything pre 1970’s and asbestos is actually not quite as ancient as you think, you’ll actually see it more recently in buildings, you can actually find asbestos in homes up to 1996 which always surprises people. With the older homes as soon as you go back before about 1970, you’re going to see it in really obvious places and when you get a quality home inspection the inspector will go through and point out areas where you don’t necessarily have to do anything about it but you would want to know about it. For instance, I don’t know if you’ve ever gone into maybe a Vancouver special and taken a look at the furnace duct work, for your heating system and you’ve got this sort of white plaster tape on there, it almost looks like, you know, when you break your arm and get a cast, so you’ve got this wrapped around all your joints. Most of that material, we’re probably talking a range of about 95 to 98% of it has asbestos fibers in the actual tape. So that’s one of them, and in other areas especially in older homes, attics are a big one. If you go to an older home, I was in one from about 1941, 1942 the other day and the attic had what’s called vermiculite insulation and it kind of looks like almost like a silver popcorn, I describe it as light and fluffy but it’s actually almost like a mineral, very hard to explain unless you’ve actually felt it, but that material does contain asbestos as well and then there’s some other ones that aren’t really as obvious, sometimes with your flooring tiles, or even if you go to a finished in basement, the ceiling tiles could actually have asbestos and what I like to do is basically tell a client, you’re buying into a house that’s quite old, there’s a good chance you’ve got asbestos here and here but as long as you disturb it this may not be a safety hazard for you but, if you’re going to go in there and gut the whole place and reno the entire house then you’re definitely going to want to get this stuff tested so that’s going to add to your expenses because all of a sudden you’ve got to pay for disposal and having everybody wear respirators while you’re working and it’s going to send up your costs and the safety aspect as well for your family.

So to answer your question, yes there’s definitely asbestos in older homes. The inspector will point it out to you where it’s located.

Mark: Sure and that’s probably true right across North America.

David: Yes that’s true, it’s very similar. You go to the states, some areas in the states where they actually have some really, really old homes. The oldest home I’ve ever inspected was 122 years old. In certain areas of New England a lot of the houses, most of them are that old so if you down there they have similar problems as well.

Mark: So what about, talking about old technology, what about knob and tube wiring, do we have that in Vancouver?

David: Yeah, we’ve got a ton of knob and tube wiring, there’s a lot of knob and tube. I know your house was built in 2006 and you are not really at risk for that problem, you’ve got what’s called Lumex wiring which is your standard new construction wiring that we’ve been using since about the 50’s or 60’s and knob and tubing wiring was a very early version of electrical wiring where they actually sent the wire along and they hung it on a little ceramic knob on the side of the joist, usually you can see it in the attic and then when it goes through the joist they drill a hole and put a little tube, ceramic tube and it goes through the tube and it’s a series of knobs and tubes, you can probably guess where the name comes from, knob and tube and the problem with that is it can, the jacketing on it can actually fall apart and then you’ve got exposed conductors which poses not only a shock hazard but also a fire hazard, especially in older attics where they’ve buried the knob and tube in the insulation. So this is a big one, if I were to tally up all the major issues that I’ve found in older homes, knob and tube would probably be the number one issue that’s a real sticking point because the insurance companies don’t like them and if you do find knob and tube you have to get somebody who’s a qualified electrician or a qualified electrical inspector to come out and basically sign off saying, o.k. it’s either safe or it’s not safe and you have to do this much work to make it safe. So older homes definitely knob and tubes are probably one of the top concerns that home buyers have.

Mark: Alright, so when you mentioned insurance doesn’t like it as in you’re probably not going to get house insurance.

David: There’s a pretty good chance that could happen. In some cases they will actually grandfather you in; let’s say someone’s been living there for ten years and they have somebody sign off saying it’s safe, there’s a pretty good chance that you might be able to get insurance from the same company. There’s no guarantees and insurance companies are in the business of making sure that they don’t pay out on a huge fire or flood and rightfully so. So these are the kinds of things that I warn the clients about and I say get somebody to check it out before you proceed with the purchase and every once in a while they say the electrician actually said we’ve got to rewire the top floor and it’s going to cost 8 thousand to 10 thousand dollars, yeah, so definitely that’s something that you’re going to want find out if you’re buying pre 1950. This is probably one of the most important things and I’ll talk about some of the other issues later but this is probably the single most important to look out for.

Mark: Alright, so again another kind of old technology that isn’t banned at this point, what about lead paint?

David: Lead paint, yeah, a huge one. We see lead paint pre 1978, so obviously if you’re going into a house that has been painted a number of times and it’s still got the original plaster or the original drywall or what have you, there’s a pretty good chance that if you scrape away the layers of paint you’ll come across some old lead paint. That was just a fact of life back then, some of it was leaded and the big thing to know about lead paint and I always tell the customers is that unless you are destroying it in some way or removing it in some way it’s really not a serious hazard because it’s buried usually behind other layers of paint or you may have wall paper on top of it or it just may be sitting there not doing anything; if you start removing the paint, steaming the wall paper off, things like that, you will definitely want to test for lead paint, actually get a lead paint test kit. I think Home Depot sells one right now and you can just do a test right there in your home, so definitely very common, in terms of being a huge, huge safety concern, probably not top on the list but definitely something that I get asked a lot about; I try to let them know that probably there is something here if it’s a certain age.

Mark: So these last three really are big concerns if you’re the fixeruper or you’re buying something that you’re going to remodel a whole of stuff because none of these are going to be obvious to you.

David: Yes, that’s right, exactly and if I’m a general contractor and I’m going to come in, you call me in to reno your kitchen I’m going to find these things if the home inspector didn’t tell you, I’m going to find these things I’m going to go in there and say o.k. you’ve actually got asbestos in your ducts and in your walls and we’re going to test your plaster and maybe your plaster has asbestos, so the thing is to just know about it before you start planning and if you have concerns about it, there’s a number of companies that will come out and do asbestos testing and we can actually get the air cleared in your home. They can actually test for asbestos fibers and my company offers some basic testing services as well. So a lot of inspectors will find vermiculite in the attic and say well it might have asbestos, we do have the ability to take a sample and process it 24 hours later, we’ll actually get a result saying it is or it isn’t and that probably 40 or 50 % of inspections where there’s vermiculite I will do the test for the customer. We charge a small fee for it but it’s a great service.

Mark: So what about, this one’s probably a lot hard to find if you don’t know what you’re looking for or you don’t have the proper equipment to check for; what about oil tanks.

David: Oil tanks, yeah, a huge one. I put this under the safety category and I’ll explain why. They a safety hazard but not necessarily to the inhabitants of the home so I think in past Hangouts we’ve talked about oil tanks and their sort of effect on property so just a short introduction, you’ve got in the olden days you were going to heat your home with heating oil, right, we’re going to have oil fired furnace and boiler and we’re going to have either an above ground oil tank or buried oil tank and a truck will come by and refill the oil and that was before natural gas came to the lower mainland. So in certain areas you see a lot of them, East Vancouver there’s quite a few, quite a few on the North Shore, very few in Richmond, you won’t see any, hardly at all, it’s so marshy that you can’t put an oil tank in the ground, they keep on sinking and in some areas it’s not really a risk. What can happen is as they get abandoned, the owner of the house gets natural gas service and just kind of abandon it and either they fill it with sand or with cement in some cases and they just kind of forget about it, sits out in the yard and if there’s oil in the bottom of the tank that hasn’t been used and that thing rusts all of a sudden you’ve got soil contamination so that oil is leaching into the actual soil and ground water and it can actually be a huge problem. Let’s say you decide to build a shed out back or a garage and you’re digging and all of a sudden you find this oil tank, well you know what you are going to test the soil and say we’ve actually got contamination here, we need an environmental company to come start cleaning up the soil and removing soil and replacing it and you can imagine that gets extremely expensive. So with every home inspection you should always have a qualified, like an actual professional full time oil tank removal company come an scan the property and they will issue a certificate to you saying there is a tank or we don’t think there’s a tank here and I recommend almost every time you buy a home past a certain date especially in some high risk areas and so it’s more of a financial safety than a safety for the home but it can be environmental problems.

Mark: Alright and the last one on our list here is what about pests, how can they be a safety issue.

David: Yeah so pests, no surprise, we live in a rain forest and we have a lot of; racoons, we’ve got squirrels, mice, rats, bees, ants, you know I could probably sit here all day and name different animals that I’ve found in houses. But from a safety stand point there’s a couple of different reasons that pests are really important to check for and if you were to go to maybe a hundred houses you would actually find in about 20 to 30 houses, you’d find a good deal of maybe a mice infestation or maybe racoon activity or ants, you know, sometimes carpenter ants but safety concerns are with droppings and disease, so if you go up to an attic or crawlspace and you got a big rat problem there, rats eventually die and rats bodies rot and smell bad and they attract other vermin, right and then you’ve got droppings, they’ll urinate and they’ll actually sit in your insulation and it could be a pretty big safety concern and it mice and rats should never be in contact with people because they carry diseases and it’s also unpleasant, it’s unclean, it’s a hygiene thing. You don’t want rats running around your attic so this is the kind of thing we’re always checking for and there’s a few different trademarks we’re looking for especially with mice in attics, they’ll actually carve little paths through the insulation so if you go to an attic and you see a bunch of fibre glass insulation up there and there’s pathways, but no droppings, you don’t see the droppings but you see little pathways and that’s usually a pretty good sign something’s been running around up there, whether it’s a chipmunk, mouse or rat and we always recommend calling a qualified pest control company to check it out before you go out and move in. If you’re moving your family in you want to make sure it’s safe.

Mark: So that’s the core safety issues in older homes, pretty much in North America, let alone Vancouver, is there anything else you would like to include or finish off with?

David: No, I can’t recommend strongly enough is to hire somebody who has experience in older homes, you get it inspected every time, if you’re getting a great deal from your uncle and you’re buying his house, it doesn’t matter, you should always get a home inspection done by somebody who is familiar with these issues because you can save a lot more than inspection costs. If you spend $500 on a home inspection and you save $10,000 on fumigating the attic and removing asbestos somewhere, that’s a pretty good return, right? So always hire a qualified home inspector and the last thing I’ll say is please give us a call for your next home inspection. My number is at the bottom of the screen.

Mark: So folks, we’ve been talking with David Fairbairn, he’s a certified home inspector in Vancouver and he deals with the whole metro Vancouver area from Coquitlam right to West Van, Richmond, Surrey you name it, he goes there so he’s a good guy and he knows his stuff. David Fairbairn at Give him a call 604-395-2795. Thanks David.

David: Thanks Mark, talk to you later.

About the Author DavidFairbairn

Author David Fairbairn is a certified, licensed home inspector serving Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. He has been featured in the media and has contributed to "24" Newspaper, and Global TV. He has spent years working with residential and commercial building projects, and holds a Power Engineering License in BC. Why not give him a call for your next Home Inspection? Call 604 395-2795 or email today!

follow me on: