Articles by Keith Tripp

House Shopping 101: “Don’t worry, the City inspected it.” #6: Sump Infeed Absent

By Keith Tripp, October 2018

This is the sixth in a series on construction defects found in the Greater Toronto Area, Ontario, Canada.

sumpaThis photo shows a sump basin at a home in Oakville. In this case, the defect is what you can’t see. There is no infeed pipe to connect this sump basin to the foundation drainage system. This is the third sump system I have found this year with no infeed pipe

 

sumpbThis is a worse than useless basin. It would be useless if it was a solid basin, but because the builder installed a perforated basin, this is doing more harm than good. Not only is it NOT collecting water from the foundation drainage, it is collecting water from the ground below the slab, which is not necessary and creates an additional pumping requirement. There is water in this basin even though there is no infeed pipe. This is new construction completed in 2018 in Oakville.

 

 

sumpcThe purpose of the sump system is to collect water from the foundation drainage pipes that are installed below ground, around the perimeter of the house at the same depth as the footings. These perforated pipes are also referred to as “weeping tiles”, “weepers”, or sometimes by “Big O” which refers to a brand name.

 

The purpose of foundation drainage system is to reduce risk of water pressure developing against the outside of the foundation wall, especially at the junction of the foundation wall to the footing, where there is risk of leakage. The foundation drainage system is prescribed by building code, it is not an option. Details of sump installations are scarce in the code,hence the loophole that allows builders to install perforated basins.

 

 

sumpdPhoto at left shows a sump basin with an infeed pipe, albeit a poor quality one. That is the green pipe. It is a modified piece of pipe cut along the length and squeezed inside the foundation drainage pipe. It will leak along the cut seam and at the junction with the foundation drainage pipe.

 

In order to find this defect, the sump lid has to be removed to get a full view of the basin. This issue could go undetected for many years, as a foundation drainage defect may not show any symptoms unless a house is in a very wet location. Another issue is that the sump is installed in a cold room where the outfeed pipe is subject to freezing in winter time.

 

 

It’s a common sounding from the selling parties on new or almost new homes. “Don’t worry, the City inspected it”. As an inspector serving the buying community, I am often amused by that statement. My income on new and nearly new home inspections relies directly on identifying the leftover issues after all the builder and municipal inspections are complete and the first owner has taken possession. These issues don’t go away on their own, and I also find “builder issues” on resale homes, even up to 50 years after original construction.

Don’t hesitate to have new or nearly-new homes inspected by a professional.

The homeowner now must pursue the builder through the Tarion warranty program to get this made right. The risk with this repair is making sure that the new pipe is properly connected to the foundation drainage system. There is a risk the builder will use makeshift measures and install a “dummy” pipe at the basin that is not connected.

Keith Tripp lives, works and plays in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

House Shopping 101: Roof Ready?

By Keith Tripp, September 2018

roof aSeptember 21, 2018. We are in for another wind event this afternoon. Is your roof ready? On April 4th and May 4th of this year we had wind events that caused significant wind damage to shingled roofs across the GTA.

The 14 year-old Richmond Hill roof in the header photo is not doing very well. That is a South slope that was not visible from ground level because of orientation of the houses, and the tight distance between the houses. Despite the tender loving care this roof has received in the form of makeshift repairs, it will continue to lose shingle sections and pose a leakage risk. The steep slope of the roof is reducing the leakage risk, but probably it was leakage visible on the interior that prompted the owner to send someone up to risk life and limb and to wack little shingle pieces in to place and cover the exposed plywood.

Roof shingles provide good value over their life, and its always advisable to have professional repairs and replacement done. There is no point in doing work as seen on this roof, just get the whole thing replaced. New construction shingles have a life expectancy of around 12- 18 years depending on quality of material, quality of installation, exposure to sun and wind, and attic ventilation. The second set of shingles will often be better quality material and installation and last 20 -25 years. Shingle warranties are of little merit when buying a house. There are too many exceptions to the warranties. So make sure your inspector has ladders or other equipment that will facilitate a full roof inspection. A drone is hit and miss depending on the weather, and most drone use in real estate and inspection is illegal. Getting up to the edge of the roof with the ladder will provide good information to allow the inspector to estimate remaining shingle life.

roofbProfessional roof shingle installation is important. The newer Scarborough roof shown in the photo was a victim of the May 4, 2018 wind event in Toronto. I did not inspect this roof, but there is a chance the nailing was not well done or the shingles did not adhere to each other. Once the lifting started, looks like the underlayment acted as a sail to catch the wind and lift multiple shingles. This is a West facing slope, the side that tends to catch the most wind in the GTA.

 

 

 

 

roofcLook closely at this photo. What do you see? I intentionally did not highlight the part bundle of leftover shingles on the ridge of this Oakville roof. This is about two years after construction is finished and owners have taken occupancy. Those shingles will sit tight through most weather, but in extreme wind events there is a risk they will blow off and could cause injury or damage.

 

So, batten down the hatches and take care in the storm today.

Keith Tripp lives, works and plays in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

 

 

House Shopping 101: “Don’t worry, the City inspected it.” #5: Misplaced steel column

by Keith Tripp, October 2018

This is the fifth in a series on construction defects found in the Greater Toronto Area, Ontario, Canada.

5d columnThe photos show a steel column installed against the exterior wall of a basement in Richmond Hill. This is new construction in Richmond Hill, completed in 2016. I inspected the house in early 2018, on a mission to help the homeowner with a suspected leaky roof.

For the average homeowner nothing seems out of order. For an inspector who knows even the basics of structure in residential construction, this red column is a red flag. When a beam reaches the outer foundation wall, it is customary to support that beam on the concrete foundation wall, either in a beam pocket set in to the foundation wall, or on a pilaster (concrete pier integrated with the foundation wall). Columns bearing at basement floor level, and supporting first storey floor structure are not usually found against outside walls.

 

 

 

5b columnThe purpose of the column is to support the steel beam that in turn supports the floor joists and other structure for the floors above. Columns are installed on footings, which are pads of concrete that are installed on undisturbed soil. The footing pad serves to distribute the load (weight) over a large enough area that the soil can support it without moving. The size of the footing for a column can vary depending on the load and soil conditions, but let’s say a typical residential column footing in the GTA might be 34” by 34” and 16 inches deep. The problem is that this particular column is not bearing on a pad footing, it is bearing at the outer edge of a strip footing. A typical strip footing for a foundation wall 5c columnmay be 19” wide, so with an 8-inch foundation wall in the centre, that footing will protrude 5.5 inches in to the basement space.

The pilaster close to the column was obviously the intended location for the beam. The photo shows that the column is about 12 inches away from the centre of the pilaster. The homeowner obtained the construction drawings from the City, and confirmed that the plan called for the beam to rest on the pilaster, and that no changes had been approved by the City. This is a dimensional error that should have been caught and corrected earlier.

 

The fresher concrete around the base indicates the column was installed after the basement floor slab was installed. Probably wood was used to support that end of the beam until the additional steel column arrived on the job.

 

5e columnThe photo at left shows a typical beam installation, with the beam bearing on a concrete pilaster at the foundation wall. Steel shims are used for leveling. This was the intended design for the beam in question.

All of those involved in the framing of this house would have known that the misplaced column is not acceptable, and of course the column is out in the open to be seen by any inspectors or supervisors from the builder or municipality. The errant column and the other related dimensional errors made it through the builder PDI with flying colours. When the home owner reported the issue to the builder after my inspection, the initial response was along the lines of “don’t worry, we’ve been doing this for over 20 years…” The homeowner was then forced to invoke support from Tarion and from the City building department to get further assessment and remediation.

 

It’s a common sounding from the selling parties on new or almost new homes. Especially those built without Tarion warranty. “Don’t worry, the City inspected it”. As an inspector serving the buying community, I am often amused by that statement. My income on new and nearly new home inspections relies directly on identifying the leftover issues after all the builder and municipal inspections are complete and the first owner has taken possession. These issues don’t go away on their own, and I also find “builder issues” on resale homes, even up to 50 years after original construction.

Don’t hesitate to have new or nearly-new homes inspected by a professional.

Keith Tripp lives, works and plays in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

House Shopping 101: “Don’t worry, the City inspected it.” #4: Window Misfits

By Keith Tripp, September 2018

This is the fourth in a series on construction defects found in the Greater Toronto Area, Ontario, Canada.

4 window gapThe photo shows a significant gap between the window sill and window frame. The gap is about 25mm.

The gap has not been sealed because it is too large for sealant, even with the use of backer rod. All the other windows on the house were sealed. The contractor applying the sealant (“caulking”) would simply have left this gap because it is not his responsibility to compensate for dimensional errors. Note that the EIFS has been sealed at the sill.

 

 

 

 

4b window gapThe gap could be filled with additional material such as wood or vinyl or metal. The root problem however, is that the size of the window and the size of the opening do not match. There is a dimensional error. The correct fix is to install a window that matches the size of the opening.

This is brand new construction in Oakville, completed in 2018. The homeowner now must pursue the builder through the Tarion warranty program to get this made right. This type of defect may or may not be easy to find depending on location. In this case the window was at the first storey and the gap was visible at ground level. I found the issue in the first few minutes of the inspection

 

 

 

4c window gapThe photo at left shows a similar gap, this time above a window. This is from a resale inspection in 2016, on a house that was built 27 years earlier in 1989 in Markham. Because of the layout of the house and slope of the ground, this was not readily visible to the homeowner. I spotted it in the first few minutes of the inspection when viewing the house from a distance.

 

 

 

 

4d window gapIt’s a common sounding from the selling parties on new or almost new homes. Especially those built without Tarion warranty. “Don’t worry, the City inspected it”. As an inspector serving the buying community, I am often amused by that statement. My income on new and nearly new home inspections relies directly on identifying the leftover issues after all the builder and municipal inspections are complete and the first owner has taken possession. These issues don’t go away on their own, and I also find “builder issues” on resale homes, even up to 50 years after original construction.

Don’t hesitate to have new or nearly-new homes inspected by a professional.

The risk with gaps in the building envelope is that water entry may have occurred. The challenge on this repair is to get the proper fix, which is a properly sized window. There is a risk the builder will use makeshift measures to seal the gap.

Keith Tripp lives, works and plays in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

 

House Shopping 101: “Don’t worry, the City inspected it.” #3: Missing Vent Terminal

 

3 roof nailsIn the photo, nails can be seen protruding through the roof from the inside outwards. The homeowner had told me about water leakage in the bathroom ceiling below. This is brand new construction in Oakville, completed in 2018.

The nails were installed during construction to mark the location of a vent terminal for the bathroom fan. What’s missing is the vent terminal!

The vent terminal needs to be installed, and that requires cutting a hole in the roof and connecting the terminal to the hose that (we hope!) is inside the attic.

 

 

3b roof nailsWhat’s missing is a vent terminal like the one in the forefront of this photo at the same house. Also visible are two plumbing vent stacks, a terminal at the far end, and two roof vents close to the ridge. Checking for missing vent terminals is a regular part of my inspection process. That includes vents from all storeys of the house. I have found missing bathroom ,drier, and kitchen exhaust terminals on houses over 10 years old.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3c roof nailsA repeat offence at a house down the street. I’m wondering if the installer didn’t account for the second floor laundry rooms that require a vent? The homeowner was completely unaware that this terminal was missing and there were nails protruding through the roof

This type of defect is not easy to find as it is hidden on the roof, out of view from ground level, and even difficult to reach by ladder. The narrow space between houses in new developments often hinders ladder placement.

It’s a common sounding from the selling parties on new or almost new homes. Especially those built without Tarion warranty. “Don’t worry, the City inspected it”. As an inspector serving the buying community, I am often amused by that statement. My income on new and nearly new home inspections relies directly on identifying the leftover issues after all the builder and municipal inspections are complete and the first owner has taken possession. These issues don’t go away on their own, and I also find “builder issues” on resale homes, even up to 50 years after original construction.

Don’t hesitate to have new or nearly-new homes inspected by a professional.

The homeowner now must pursue the builder through the Tarion warranty program to get this made right. The challenge with any work done in hidden locations is verifying that the remedial work is correct. The homeowner should ask the workers to take photos or provide some other verification of work done.

Keith Tripp lives, works and plays in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

House Shopping 101: “Don’t worry, the City inspected it.” #2: Missing Insulation

By Keith Tripp, September 2018

This is the second in a series on construction defects found in the Greater Toronto Area, Ontario, Canada.

2e insulationIn the photo the flashlight is placed on an uninsulated section of raised ceiling. The flashlight is standing on the drywall, and where the light dusting of cellulose is brushed aside, the polyethylene vapour barrier is visible. This is brand new construction in Oakville, completed in 2018.

The label claim is for R60 ceiling insulation, which would require about 16 inches of cellulose or a depth of batt material to provide equivalent resistance. Batt type (as opposed to loose-fill) insulation is usually used at raised or sloped ceiling areas.  With an R60 claim, typically two layers of R30 batt would be installed, with the second layer perpendicular to the first to provide coverage at the gaps between the batts.

2f insulationWhat’s missing is batt insulation as shown in this photo from the same house. Note the gap between the batts. It would be better to use multiple, thinner batts and lay them at 90 degrees to each other to cover the gaps. At the gaps, the truss wood is acting like a thermal bridge and allowing considerable heat loss compared to the fully insulated space between the trusses. The   dusting of loose-fill cellulose on top of the batts is just over-spray from filling of the main attic area.

 

 

 

2c insulationThe main attic area is filled with loose fill cellulose. Note the 10 inch depth versus the 16 inch minimum requirement to achieve the R60 as per the installation label. Under-filling of loose fill insulation is a common builder defect. It is not a new defect, and has been occurring for at least 40 years, basically as long as loose fill ceiling insulation has been popular.

 

2 insulation

An installation label can be found at the entrance hatch. Most houses from the 1980s onwards will have a label. The label will show the claimed fill depth and R value for that depth. In 2018 construction, attic (ceiling) insulation could be R50 or R60 depending on which energy compliance package was chosen by the builder.

This type of insulation defect ( the missing batts) is not easy to find, it is that the opposite end of the attic from the entrance hatch. A homeowner would only discover this issue based on lack of comfort in the room below, or after some time, by observing water staining or mould on the ceiling caused by condensation occurring under the vapour barrier and soaking through the drywall.

It’s a common sounding from the selling parties on new or almost new homes. Especially those built without Tarion warranty. “Don’t worry, the City inspected it”. As an inspector serving the buying community, I am often amused by that statement. My income on new and nearly new home inspections relies directly on identifying the leftover issues after all the builder and municipal inspections are complete and the first owner has taken possession. These issues don’t go away on their own, and I also find “builder issues” on resale homes, even up to 50 years after original construction.

Don’t hesitate to have new or nearly homes inspected by a professional. The homeowner now must pursue the builder through the Tarion warranty program to get this made right. The challenge with any work done in the attic is verifying that the remedial work is correct. The homeowner should ask the insulation installers to take photos or provide some other verification of work done.

Keith Tripp lives, works and plays in Toronto, Ontario , Canada.

House Shopping 101: “Don’t worry, the City inspected it.” #1:The cut column.

By Keith Tripp, September 2018

It’s a common sounding from the selling parties on new or almost new homes. Especially those built without Tarion warranty. “Don’t worry, the City inspected it”. As an inspector serving the buying community, I am often amused by that statement. My income on new and nearly new home inspections relies directly on identifying the leftover issues after all the builder and municipal inspections are complete and the first owner has taken possession. These issues don’t go away on their own, and I also find “builder issues” on resale homes, even up to 50 years after original construction.

1 columnIn the photo, the structural column has been cut and moved. This is brand new 2018 construction in Oakville. You can identify the structural columns in the basement because they pass through the concrete floor slab. Their base is below the floor slab, on the footing. Polyethylene is wrapped around the wood column to separate it from the concrete floor slab. This column supports the first storey floor structure at the intersection of two laminated beams. This structural column was cut and moved because it didn’t align with the members above that it was intended to support. The ruler shows that more than half of the width of the 2 by 4 built up column is overhanging the original “base”. A couple of nails are wacked in for good measure. It took me a few minutes to find this in the basement, it was out in the open for me to see, and for any other inspectors who preceded me.

 

Inked1bcolumn_LIColumns are sized in the original design to match the load and the width of the members being supported. This column is supporting the corner junction of laminated beams at the floor opening. This column is no longer a column.

Don’t hesitate to have new or nearly homes inspected by a professional. The not too pleased homeowner now must pursue the builder through the Tarion warranty program to get this made right. Not an easy task if the builder decides to shrug his shoulders and pretend everything is OK.

House Shopping 101: Sorry Sump Saga

oakville mud sump no infeedby Keith Tripp, April 2018

This  photo is one of two sumps I have found this year with no in-feed pipe. It’s a reminder that nobody is checking these sump installations (except me!). There is nothing good about the renaissance of sumps in new construction. They exist because they are a money-saver for the builder, and will remain as a nuisance item in the house forever. In the Oakville, Ontario sump system in the photo, there was no in-feed pipe, and the basin is a perforated one.  A solid basin is required for foundation drainage applications. The basin is full of mud, my spatula is standing up in it. The water and mud have entered through the perforations in the basin. Just one of the reasons that a perforated basin is the wrong choice for a foundation drainage application. The question is where is the water collected by the foundation drainage system going? Perhaps it is creating a flow of water under the footings or basement slab that could lead to erosion?

 

 

 

 

 

 

georgetown no infeed 2018This sump in Georgetown, Ontario is nice and clean, but equally useless as the Oakville sump above because there is no in-feed pipe.This is a solid basin, which is a good start, but it is actually two basins joined together. One basin has been cut and used as an extension. At the joint between the basins leakage will occur.  The question remains, for the first year at this house, where has the foundation drainage water been flowing to?

Sump systems are coming back because they are a cheap alternative for the builder. If you have choice, check if the house has sump system in the plan. Avoid having a sump if possible, or be prepared to pay money after you take possession to upgrade to  a good quality sump system.

 

House Shopping 101: Brick Behaving Badly

 

by Keith Tripp, March 2018

wall compressed mar 16 2018We build houses with brick, yet brick and water don’t do well in our cold climate where the freeze thaw phenomenon takes it toll. Why isn’t the brick on houses all falling apart?  Water management and a bit of warmth are the key.

The best examples of brick failure can be found on garden walls and those proud entrances to pseudo-gated community subdivisions built in the 1980s, followed closely by chimneys built in the 1980s that didn’t meet common sense or even code requirements at that time.The failures are caused by lack of water management. In the photo of the wall, the brickwork has exploded from freeze-thaw action. Water enters at the top of the wall where fenceposts are embedded in the wall and flashings are inadequate or damaged. The parging efforts on the wall will have little benefit and may even reduce the ability of the brickwork to dry to the outside.

 

 

spalling compresses mar 16 2018

This 50-year-old brick veneer wall shows spalling caused in earlier days when the downspout was leaking against the wall. Brick veneer walls can tolerate some water because they can dry to the exterior, have an air space behind the brick and drainage capability. They also receive some warmth from heat loss through the house walls. However, concentrated and long-term water exposure will cause damage. Brick veneer damage is most commonly found where downspouts have been leaking, or close to ground level at the front of houses where snow and salt take their toll.

 

 

 

 

chimney glenashton compressed mar 16 2018This Oakville chimney is disintegrated at an early age of 27 years, and soon will be at risk of collapse. It was built without good practices that have been understood for many years, and probably did not even meet the code requirements at time of construction. It has no chimney cap and drip-edge to shed water away from the brick. To make things worse the brick is corbelled, creating ledges to catch the water. These failed chimneys are a common find on 1980s houses across the GTA.

 

 

 

 

chimneys compressed glenashton march 16 2018This triumvirate of Oakville chimneys are all destined to early failure because of poor construction practices.

There are two house shopping tips buried in this rubble:

1) The chimneys are a good example of why you should still worry if you have purchased a new home and the builder is telling you “Don’t worry, everything has been inspected and approved by the City”.

2) If buying a 1980s house with a masonry chimney: look up and expect the chimney to be in worse shape than found on houses built in the 1950s and 1960s.

House shopping 101: Perfect playground or accident waiting to happen? Don’t expect your new house to be completed on closing.

compressedA

I think the new housing market is unique in that it is one of the few places where you are expected to pay full price for an unfinished product. It is almost universal across the GTA that upon closing, landscaping is not complete, and if there is a deck at the rear, the deck will not be fully complete and ready to use with stairs. Downspouts, if installed, will be discharging water close to the foundation, and the driveway surface is not installed. Exterior painting is often unfinished, and lately I am finding even roofing work is incomplete.

As I inspect these new houses for 30-day warranty issues, tromping through the mud brings back childhood memories of playing in piles of dirt and riding our bikes on improvised mud tracks pretending we had engines on them. I love the smell of the dirt and looking for gems that might rise to the surface. Every once in a while, I find a nice looking local rock that I throw in the back of the truck. The tracts of mud that are the precursors to back yards would have been the perfect playground for me. Not to mention the allure of climbing over partly built houses and foundations and trying to lift heavy steel beams.

compresseDcompressedB

 

But 50 years ago, if a kid fell off their bike and got hurt it was considered part of growing up, not fodder for a lawsuit. I am surprised that builders expose themselves to the potential risk of children or others getting hurt at these back yards that are active construction sites. I know the sites are riddled with video cameras, and fully expect the rock police to show up at my door one day, but a video camera doesn’t stop an 8-year-old from jumping off a foundation wall to test their parachute.

I am leaving out the fact that I have never seen a child playing in these areas. I am the only one. It seems nobody wants to come out and play with me. The other kids have video games and electronic devices that I don’t, and it’s a long walk from the flat screen to the backyard.

Is there a house shopping tip to be had? Be prepared for the unfinished house and a year of mud and dust, and make sure you buy the bikes with the fat tires.

Keith Tripp lives, works, and plays in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.