Articles by Keith Tripp

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.

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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.

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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.

 

House Shopping 101: Brand New Home disappointments: Top Five

copped and compressedBy Keith Tripp, March 2018

When I arrive for a warranty inspection on newly constructed homes, the homeowner often has a list of issues waiting for me. (30 day or 1-year inspections). These disappointments may not even make it on to my list of defects if they are not covered by warranty. Some of these may be avoidable by working closely with the builder during the buying process.

  1. Basement height or layout: In this world of 9 and 10-foot ceilings, be prepared for a shock when you enter the basement. The minimum code height is not impressive, and basement space and head clearance can be reduced by ductwork, unexpected placement of columns and large areas of lowered floors. Don’t expect common sense to come in to play in the arrangement of ductwork or positioning of the furnace and water heater, it will be installed in the cheapest arrangement possible. If you specified an increased height of basement, and paid more for it, beware of the use of “approximate” height in your contract. Does 10 inches less than what you asked for meet the requirement of “approximate” height?

 

  1. Garage stair arrangements or lack of garage entrance door: The common story is that the builder will not commit to position of garage man-door stairs, or even location of the garage man-door because they don’t know what the final grade of the garage floor slab will be. If parking your car in the garage is one of your objectives, you need to work closely with the builder on this one or you may find your parking spot has been taken up by stairs and landing.

 

  1. Awkward arrangements of shower doors or other bathroom fixtures: Fixtures on the wrong side of the soaker tub, shower doors that collide with toilets, showers where you must get soaking wet to turn them on. No more needs to be said except that none of this will be covered by warranty unless it is contrary to original specifications.

 

  1. Basement floor slab cracks: Poor quality basement floor slabs are the new norm. It’s not true that all concrete must crack, but it is true that all poor-quality concrete work will crack. The lowly basement floor is not a structural component, so it is permitted (by warranty terms) to crack and heave or sink within limits. If cracks are beyond 4mm wide, or the overall slope towards the floor drain is significantly impacted, or there is significant displacement of the broken sections, it may be covered by warranty. It is an unlikely scenario that a homeowner can convince a builder to redo a basement floor.

 

  1. Gaps at interior window frames and casings: Most people don’t like to see gaps between components on interior finishing. Winter condensation often brings attention to the window frame areas, and wood shrinkage or warping can increase gaps around window casings and trim. If the air barrier and vapour barrier work has been correctly done within the walls, then these gaps do not represent an air leakage risk. My recommendation is to NOT add caulking at these gaps, because the caulking is more likely to encourage mould growth in the future, especially as condensation on windows is common in these new houses.

House shopping 101: Custom in-fill mansions: Five risk factors. Do you know what you don’t know? Ask me!

princess croppedby Keith Tripp, March 2018

Placing offers to purchase and applying for financing and arranging a home inspection are time consuming and costly. Its good to know as much as possible about the house before taking those steps.

Buying the in-fill custom mansion requires a bit of a different mindset than other homes. These homes are built in older, high demand urban areas, typically by smaller building and development companies. The old home is knocked down and a new one built on the lot. As with all new construction, there is some risk of incomplete or inadequate work, but a few areas stand out as being higher risk than buying from a subdivision developer. Here are the first five that come to mind:

  1. Age: For financial reasons, these homes are typically put on the market a year or more after completion of construction and have usually been sitting vacant for that first year or more. The house is slightly aged but hasn’t been tested by actual occupancy. Appliance and other warranties may be expired. Because the house has been vacant or very lightly used, there is no assurance that everything is in working order
  2. Warranty: For financial reasons, these homes are often built without Tarion warranty coverage, and the builder is not registered with Tarion. Discuss this risk with your lawyer.
  3. Municipal and jurisdictional authority’s’ compliance: Permit approval is a multi-staged process. The fact that the house is for sale, or even proof of occupancy approval does mean that everything is complete and approved by the authority having jurisdiction. Due diligence is required to check completion and compliance of the building, plumbing, electrical and gas systems.
  4. Exterior claddings, especially EIFS: Details such as weep holes for brick veneer and drainage for EIFS are notoriously bad on these houses. I have yet to find one of these houses that does not have significant issues related to the exterior claddings.
  5. Strange roofing slopes: High interior ceilings combined with height restrictions result in strange and unusual roof layouts. Typically, the top of the roof is flat, but the problem is that the slopes leading to the flat part of the roof are often too flat for normal shingle application. These roofs are not accessible with a 32ft. ladder. Very long ladders or lift trucks are required if any maintenance or repairs are required.

If you are a home buyer in the GTA, feel free to contact me early in your house shopping process with the address and age of a house you are interested in. I can send you a few key questions to ask that may save you time and money.

House shopping 101: Do you know what you don’t know about antique houses? Ask me!

wineva cobwebs compressedby Keith Tripp, March 2018

Placing offers to purchase and applying for financing and arranging a home inspection are time consuming and costly. Its good to know as much as possible about the house before taking those steps.

I consider anything older than 1960 to be an antique because it is around that time that significant improvements in construction started. I have come across many of these antiques as quick flips with shiny kitchen counter tops and floor tile and my clients are surprised when I tell them the house is still high risk for upcoming issues and costs. It’s not uncommon for me to identify 50 or more defects or risk factors on this type of house. Some of the biggest risk factors are below ground and not visible, so are beyond the scope of a visual home inspection

 

 

 

There are many questions to ask about antique homes. I have selected the first five below, partly because you may not be able to determine these visually on your first visit to the home, and because related costs can be high.

Top five questions to ask the selling parties for antique houses:

  • Has the main water line to the house from the street been upgraded?
  • Has the sewer line from the house to the street been replaced or upgraded?
  • Is the foundation poured concrete or concrete block or other?
  • Have any foundation drainage or dampproofing upgrades been made on the foundation?
  • Is the electrical wiring a three-wire grounded system?

If you are a home buyer in the GTA, feel free to contact me early in your house shopping process with the address and age of a house you are interested in. I can send you a few key questions to ask that may save you time and money.

 

The Beauty of Sewage

sewage frost compressedby Keith Tripp, March 2018

Frost build up as seen in the photo above is the reason that vent pipes must be large diameter where they pass to the exterior. The vent pipes leading to this vertical pipe through the roof are typically smaller. The vent pipe is an essential element in the plumbing drain system. It allows air in to the drain piping system to prevent siphoning of traps and to facilitate flow.

Most houses have 2 or more vent pipes passing through the roof, but there is no requirement to have multiple pipes. In custom building, sometime plumbers will go to great lengths (pun?) to connect the vent pipes in the attic and make only one penetration through the roof with a vertical vent.

Rain water can enter through these vent pipes at the roof, and the rain may be heard dripping in the pipes from inside the house. The rain poses no risk because the vent pipes are connected to the drain system, so the water will find its way in to the drains.

Vent pipes are installed at specific locations relative to the traps of fixtures. The vent piping is connected and routed through the house up to the attic and then through the roof. Lack of connection to vent piping at modified or new plumbing installations is a common defect and is an indicator of non-professional plumbing work.

House shopping 101: Do you know what you don’t know? Ask me!

by Keith Tripp, March 2018

DSCF5940Placing offers to purchase and applying for financing and arranging a home inspection are time consuming and costly. Its good to know as much as possible about the house before taking those steps.

In our buyer-beware real estate system, asking the right questions and getting credible answers when house shopping is the key. The starting point to understanding brick and mortar related risk is to know the age of the house. That is the age of the oldest part, not the age of the shiny new kitchen floor. Construction techniques and materials were quite consistent across the GTA over the years, so there are predictable risk factors based on age alone. Combined with a look at the house on google or other online info, I can often see and write up issues from the comfort of my desk without leaving home based on age and style only. I can also generate a list of questions to ask for that house based on what I can’t see. If you ask those questions and push for credible answers, you might save yourself the cost and effort of going through the offer process, including the cumbersome task of getting your deposit money returned. For most of my inspections, I arrive at the house already knowing exactly which high risk defects to look for.

For example, if the house was built in the mid 60’s to mid 70s, does it have copper or aluminum wire, or both as shown in the cover photo? Who cares? Well the big bad insurance companies do, and they control our financial world. If buying a house with aluminum wiring, you need to know the state of that wiring and you need to know your home insurance provider’s policy on aluminum wiring. They may request a full inspection by an electrician, and/or they may charge a higher premium. In practical terms, the reason the insurance companies are worried is that if aluminum wiring is in poor condition or has been mated with incompatible fixtures, it represents a higher fire risk than copper wiring.

If you are a home buyer, feel free to contact me early in your house shopping process with the address and age of a house you are interested in. I can send you a few key questions to ask that may save you time and money

Sorry Sumps

by Keith Tripp, February 2018

sump with crustSump systems are rearing their ugly head in many newly constructed houses. I often find them in a dysfunctional state, like the one in the photo . The water level was above the incoming pipe, and had been stagnant for so long (probably about two years) that a layer of mineral deposit had formed on the top. At the other end of the water spectrum, the sump basins are sometimes completely dry, indicating no water ever makes it to the basin. This could indicate dry conditions, or indicate poor installation of the foundation drainage piping.

With the exception of specifying a lid that maintains the air barrier and is child-safe, sump details are absent from the Ontario Building Code, which allows the builder to install sumps however they see fit.

The popularity of stepped foundations and walkout basements complicates the foundation drainage and sump installations. If any readers have experience installing foundation drainage on stepped foundations I am interested in your approach, as again OBC does not specify how to do this correctly.

Common finding are :a) incorrect use of perforated basins where solid basins are required b) incorrect use of perforated piping where solid pipe should be used c) float controls inoperative d) float control settings incorrect e) lid not meeting air barrier requirements f) discharge too close to foundation g) discharge point not found (buried underground). h) sump basin or lid damaged or deformed i) basin full of construction debris

Is R50 ceiling insulation bringing back the mouldy attic?

frost on nailsby Keith Tripp, February 2018

In my stomping grounds of the Greater Toronto Area, mouldy attics have traditionally been connected with poor design and workmanship of houses constructed in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Houses built in the last 20 years or so were not usually high on my list of expectations for finding mould in the attic. Sometime around 2012, along came the requirement for ceiling insulation to be at R50, a 25% increase over the existing R40 requirement. Just a short while ago, prior to 2006, the requirement was only R32.

Like with “cold hands and warm heart” there is good and bad with the increased ceiling insulation. Less heat loss in to the attic means that the temperature of the roof structure and roof deck (plywood,OSB) will be lower. Warm house and cold roof means increased risk of condensation on that roof deck if any errant water vapour finds its way in to the attic. And this seems to be happening. With the cold snap this winter I came across a number of frosty attics in new construction. I’m not seeing mould yet, but that takes time. When the frost melts, it turns to water which soaks in to the roof and drips drips down in to the insulation. It may take years of wetting cycles and temperature swings for mould to flourish. However, like with any bad accident, it usually takes more than one thing to go wrong, and I am seeing the return of many of the factors that combine to create a good blue-cheese attic condition.

 

 

 

 

frost with exhaust pipeOne problem is workmanship, both good and bad. On the good side, builders are sometimes coming close to installing the depth of insulation required to achieve R50. This could be about 14-19 inches depth depending on type of insulation material. The problem is retaining this much insulation at the perimeter, and achieving this depth at the perimeter where the distance between top of the outside wall and roof deck is less. Often the installer will use batt material at the perimeter and this does double duty as a retainer and insulation. With or without batt material, the result is that much of the soffit venting is compromised by insulation tucked tightly against the roof deck. Typically a few wood baffles will be installed, but these take time and effort so they are few and far between. In the photo, insulation is in contact with the roof deck at the left, and a wood baffle can be seen at the right, and oh yes, there is warm air leaking from that bathroom exhaust fan hose.

 

In addition to the compromised soffit venting cause by the insulation material, the following potential contributors to attic condensation are also “trending” in new construction:

  • Restricted roof heights resulting in lower slope roofs and flat roofs and attic spaces with less head clearance. These lower and flatter roof styles impact attic ventilation.
  • Narrow soffits and reduced soffit ventilation because of gable roof designs or other roof design features such as parapets.
  • Tight houses with old-style crude heating control systems (only one thermostat) and the potential for RH and temperature to climb above desirable levels. This means any leakage to the attic that does occur is carrying even more moisture with it.

Don’t panic yet. Check back with me in a few years and I’ll let you know if the beautiful white frost I am seeing now changes to the dreaded dark green of a mouldy attic.