Articles by Keith Tripp
by Keith Tripp, 2020
To prepare quotes and to prepare for inspections, the more I know about the house, the better. Today you can have almost as much info as the real estate sales people, and at no cost. You should have this same level of info when house shopping and doing your own research.
As a home inspector, age of the house is extremely important. The age will determine risks related to older electrical and plumbing components, energy performance, and foundation (basement) leakage risk. The true age of the house is often not highlighted in the selling material. Age indicators include: street date (on the sewer caps, installation tags inside the house, window manufacture dates, HVAC equipment dates, type of construction, construction materials used and location. Always find out the year of construction of the OLDEST part of the house when house shopping.
Here are some of the (FREE!!!) tools I use to get info on the property here in the Greater Toronto Area, Ontario, Canada.
- This is the public version of the MLS info. It does not show all the info the real estate sales people can see, for example names of owners and age of house. Search by address on the map, or by listing number: shows house description and names of listing agent.
- Bungol.ca :
- This is the new kid on the block, arriving when laws were changed to allow for access to the MLS info. This is a powerful tool that real estate sales people wish did not exist. All of the info from realtor.ca except not the name of listing agent. The big plus with Bungol is it shows previous listing history such as terminations, price changes, and previous sales. It shows listing date and time on the market. It also shows when a conditional offer is in place and the expiry date of that condition. Age is shown but the range is quite broad.
- Google maps:
- Photos over previous years can show dates of exterior renovations and even date of construction for newer homes. Click on Street View and the option to look at photo view going back over the years. I acan often check a an approximate date that a roof was redone, or significant changes to exterior cladding by looking at this feature. Also good to look at proximity to highways, bodies of water, railroad tracks, industrial areas.
- MPAC is the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation. This organization does thee property assessments to determine property taxes. You can sign on by using the tax roll number of your existing property. Use the “About My Property : My Neighbourhood” function to search the map. This is the best place to confirm year built, as the sales info likes to keep a low profile on that. Also shows: Square Feet, Lot size, Number of storeys, Current Value Assessed, Sales Indicator (date of previous sales only back to 2012, not amount).
One goal of the home inspection is to identify non professional work. With plumbing work, much of the drain piping is not visible once the work is completed. The trap arrangement visible under sinks is often the only visible drain plumbing. If the trap is incorrectly done, this is an indicator of non professional work, and brings in to question all of the plumbing work. For a basement bathroom non professional work is a big deal because most of the drain plumbing is embedded in the concrete and cost to rework can be very high.
After the trap, drain pipes should flow at a low slope, typically about 1:50 slope, and a vent pipe should be attached within a set distance before the pipe drops sharply. On this drain, immediately after the trap, the pipe drops sharply. This can cause the trap water to be siphoned out, allowing sewer gasses in to the house. Risk is a bit lower because this drain is for a small sink in a powder room, typically not filled to the brim and then drained. The chrome pipe is probably about 60 years old and will basically crumble in your hand if you try to work with it. Time for some ABS work to make it OK.
Vent pipes are pipes connected to the drain system that allow air to enter the pipes. The pipes are routed through the house, and on Canadian homes they typically pass through the roof. Providing this connection to atmospheric air prevents siphoning empty of the traps. The traps (loop in the pipe) hold water that provides a seal against sewer gasses. This trap seal is essential to keeping sewer gasses out of the house.
by Keith Tripp, 2020
House Shopping 101: Towards Maintenance-Free. In this hustle and bustle world, maintenance is a dirty word. Houses are certainly heading towards maintenance-free as exterior cladding materials evolve, but some materials still have relatively short life. Here’s a few things to look at to assess maintenance requirements.
#2: Exterior wood and paint. Exterior wood can survive many years if it is installed in a position that allows it to drain. When ends of wood are butted so they trap water, or a horizontal surface is not sloped, the wood will rot. 10-12 years seems to be about the length of time for significant rot to occur at wood that is frequently wet. The North exposure may rot faster because of slow drying, and the South exposure may rot faster because the sun will accelerate paint deterioration. Most exterior panel boards are composite materials designed for exterior use, but real wood is still used as trim. Real wood was used on window frames through the 80s and 90s.
Painting may slow the rot, but will not prevent it on poor installations. When house shopping, even for brand new houses, watch out for wood that may require painting, especially in hard to reach places like dormers. It is common for me to find wood that is freshly painted and filled with sealants or other materials, but is completely rotted underneath. Garage doors may contain real wood, and this is subject to rot, especially at the lower door panels. Door frames on balconies are high risk, as are porch columns.
# 1: Exterior sealants (caulking). Life expectancy of sealants varies greatly based on quality of material, installation details, and exposure to the sun. Sealants on new houses will have the shortest life because wood shrinkage is causing movement. Sealants on new construction can separate within the first couple of years. More commonly though, failures in the form of separation will be noticed around the 7 to 10 yr age on the sunny side of the house, and 10-15 years on the less sunny sides.
The photo is at a 15 year old house, South facing window. In addition to the age and the South exposure, the gap at this junction was probably too wide for sealant, even before shrinkage of the wood frame. Sealant performance is specified based on maximum joint width . Backer rods ( foam material that acts as a filler in a wide joint) can be used, but there is still a maximum joint width recommended by the material manufacturer.
Flexible sealants have been used for many years. Newer materials exist that could displace the use of the sealants, such as gaskets that expand to take up movement, but they are not in use by the tract home builders.
by Keith Tripp Feb. 2020
Construction defects are not a new thing. On this 1978 townhouse in Mississauga, a piece of wood has been used as filler above a steel basement window frame. The wood is slowly deteriorating and allows a pathway for water into the wall and to the top of the window frame. Eventually, as the wood rots, the carpenter ants will probably get to it and finish it off. The wood is supporting the bricks in the veneer wall. The wood was installed instead of brick segments. Cutting the bricks lengthwise is tedious work, so the piece of wood made for a quick fix. On the plus side, the piece of wood is doing quite well for 42 years of exposure.
Toronto has a longstanding love affair with brick. Especially after the great fire of Toronto 1849, brick has been the building material of choice. Bricks were made right here in the City at multiple locations on the East side and even in Mississauga! “Solid brick” is the term used for double wythe brick, or two layers of masonry providing the wall structure. Older houses (pre-1940s roughly) may even be more than two layers thick. The double wythe brick can be identified by the short ends of the brick. See in the photos, every sixth row has short ends of brick showing. These are the bricks that are tying the two layers together. Looking at the wall from the inside of the garage shows the bricks tying the wythes together, and the plain block ( about 4 inch) used as the inner wythe.
Low salt diet recommended. Not unique to Toronto, salt is still the method of choice for ice melting and keeping our roads safe in the winter. Despite environmental concerns, it is used because it works very well. Salt can cause reactions in masonry products causing them to break down. The outside of this garage wall tells a story of 60 years of salt exposure and freeze-thaw activity. Originating from inside the garage where the salt-slush mix falls off the car on to the concrete floor slab and then runs against the wall, the reaction has travelled through a double wythe masonry wall, about 8 inches thick and the erosion is visible on the outer surface. The mortar on the surface is from previous repair efforts. This is a structural wall, so one day it will fail if the salt and water exposure continues.
My first winter in Canada was spent in Thompson, Manitoba. We wore mukluks to school and played outside in the -40 weather. Quite a change from the English raincoats and shorts that we were accustomed to. At night, lying in bed we would hear loud bangs and cracks, like a gun going off. We were told it was the wood shrinking in the roof framing.
Yes that’s me in the photo. My first year of snow shovelling. Thompson, Manitoba , March 1968.
Now here in temperate Toronto, a common question from clients is why they hear ticking and banging noises in the walls. The most likely culprit is the plumbing drain pipes. Because these pipes are connected to the vent pipes that pass through the roof, they get very cold. Then, when warm water runs through the drain system, especially first thing in the morning, materials expand and give off ticking noises. The ticking sound is not the pipes leaking. If they were leaking the stains would soon show up somewhere in the house. This phenomenon can occur with ABS ( black plastic) drain piping, but will be even more likely with copper drain piping. The copper drain piping was common in construction in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. The ABS piping came in to common use in the early 1970s and is still used today.
These are vent pipes in an attic in an older house built in 1950. Copper pipes serving as vents for fixtures in the house are connected in the attic to one cast iron pipe that passes through the roof. You can see how these pipes would be really cold in the winter, as they are exposed to exterior temperatures. The vent pipes allow air in to the plumbing drain system so water can flow in the drains without siphoning the traps empty. Vent pipes may slope back towards the fixtures or in the opposite direction, as long as there are no low spots where water can collect and block the vent pipes.
by Keith Tripp, Feb 2020: I have never seen a home inspector’s photo on a bus stop or bench. We are the negative nerds of the real estate industry, and frankly some of us are just not that good looking. We are perceived, at best, as analytical curmudgeons, and unfortunately often as unqualified. So why bother trying to impress the home inspector?
In the eyes of the inspector, the house is guilty until proven innocent and the they would rather not be writing up a long list of defects. The home inspector can only see the tip of the iceberg, so brick and mortar “curb appeal” can have an impact on what they write and what they convey to the buyer. Believe or not, the buyer’s interpretation of the home inspection can kill your deal, sometimes over trivial issues. Here are some low cost or no cost tips that may keep the inspector’s list of defects shorter.
My #5 tip for home sellers is: Check the basement floor drain.
A floor drain that is concealed and not accessible will be written up as a high priority issue. The floor drain needs to be accessible for maintenance and to be functional as an emergency drain in event of a flood. A floor drain that has been concealed by basement renovations is an indicator of non-professional work. The floor drain will also be checked for a trap primer, that is a system that prevents the water in the trap from drying out and allowing sewer gasses to enter the house. If the floor drain is full of stagnant water or any other debris, flush it with buckets of water. If the floor drain trap appears to be dry, pouring water down the drain will rejuvenate the trap seal water.
If the lid to the drain is badly corroded and stuck in place, break it free to facilitate inspection of the drain, and replace the lid. If there is no floor drain, or the drain is not at the lowest basement level this is also a high risk issue. The type of pipe material and condition of the drain pipe is also of interest to the inspector. Basement floor drains have been installed in new construction since roughly the 1950s.
My #4 tip for home sellers is: Open a few windows!
Window replacements are expensive. In favour of the seller is that the life expectancy of double pane (thermopane) glass is not well understood. These windows became the norm in the 1980’s, and now, almost 40 years later, the glass may still be performing well. Inspectors are looking for an excuse to justify window replacement to protect themselves from what the buyer may discover after they move in.
In this hustle and bustle world it seems many people don’t open windows anymore. It is common to find windows that can’t be opened. They are either painted shut or jammed shut or frozen shut or some combination of those.
If a window is jammed shut and can’t be opened from the interior, I will write it up as a dysfunctional window. In a bedroom, that can be a safety issue because the window is required for emergency exit. Now the issue and cost of window replacement finds its way into the inspection report and discussion. At $1000 and up per window, it might have been a good idea to crack those windows open and free them up before the inspector found them.
My # 3 tip for home sellers is: Don’t lie about the age!
I believe honesty still has a place in the real estate world. I have seen clients walk away from deals because they were lied to probably as much as from physical defects. Most people understand that a real estate listing is embellished and that real estate advertising in general appeals more to the emotions than the wallet. Small lies, like age of furnace, roof and air conditioning may not be deal breakers, but on multiple occasions I have seen buyers walk from deals where the sellers failed to mention that significant parts of the house are older than advertised. A home inspector’s # 1 concern is basement leakage, so when I find a house that is “completely renovated”, that is sitting on an old concrete block foundation I make sure the buyer fully understands what they are looking at.
Old foundations that have not been upgraded with newer dampproofing and foundation drainage will be the highlight of the inspection report. It is common that even professionally renovated houses fail to address the high cost improvements required to reduce the risk of basement leakage, and it is the home inspector’s duty to educate the buyer on the risks associated with the older components. The old sump in the photo was an indicator that the basement slab and foundation walls and foundation drainage system were the original old components on a house being marketed as new. Other old house components such as ungrounded wiring and old duct work are common finds in houses being marketed as “fully renovated”
My # 2 tip for home sellers is: Replace older water heaters
Insurance companies alert homeowners when the water heater reaches 12 years old. Even though the water heater may perform perfectly well beyond that, the 12 years is a good guideline. In areas with high mineral content water the life expectancy may be considerably shorter. Most water heaters are rented, so there is no merit in hanging on to an old water heater.
A really old water heater poses a high risk of leakage and is an indicator of overall poor attention to maintenance and upkeep of the house. Get the water heater replaced. It does not have to be upgraded to a different type, even though that may be a good idea depending on condition and type of the existing vent system. There may be incidental costs for replacing a rental water heater, but in many cases there is no cost, and this gleaming addition to the mechanical room means the inspector has fewer issues to list in his report.
My #1 tip for home sellers is: Have the furnace inspected by a qualified heating company and post the record directly at the furnace.
Tell the heating company that you want a checklist of what they have done, and specifically that you want a safety check, not just the old style clean and vacuum. Make sure the thermostat functions are included in the check. Include any other gas burning heating systems such as a gas fireplace in the check also.
Reading the document ( any document) is not officially part of the inspection, but if it is in the inspector’s face when he is opening the furnace, it won’t get ignored. This will probably cost less than $150 total, and in today’s market that is a next-to-nothing amount well spent.
Why is this #1?
Firstly, because carbon monoxide from faulty heating systems kills people. No inspector will take responsibility (by ignoring) a poorly maintained furnace and vent system. Only a TSSA Gas Technician can fully inspect a gas furnace.
Secondly, it removes, or lowers the priority of the furnace replacement cost in the inspectors reporting or discussion with the buyer.
So don’t let a neglected furnace jeopardize your million dollar deal. Get it checked and documented in advance.
Keith Tripp lives, works and plays in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
by Keith Tripp, January 2020.
Home inspection topics are soooo boring. What’s more fun is poking into other people’s business.
Years ago I wrote about the NUANS business name search data base and how to use it for free to check if a business really exists. At that time a password was required, and the password expired every few months. This week I want back to the NUANS site. A guy had knocked at my door looking for work trimming trees, and he left me his business card. He seemed like a credible hard-working dude, so I decided to check if his company really existed under the name on the card. I will not use the real company name of the tree trimmer, but the real name was a bit hoaky, along the lines of A Right Proper Job Tree Service.
His business card passed my first test, which is that he had both his first and last name on it. What’s with these driveway paving company sales reps who all only have one name like Madonna? If the card says call Joe, it’s headed straight to the garbage can. He passed my second test also, which is that his business was based locally. My tests are based on beginning with the end in mind. If things go sour when you hire someone, will you be able to identify them, track them down and follow up to sue them or otherwise recover your losses?
The third test is whether the business really exist as a legal entity. Many business names floating around are not the real business name, and if you can’t connect a business with the legal entity then you are out of luck for follow up. This is where the NUANS site comes in. No password is required, and Keith’s tips will show you how to use it for free. That’s a $13.80 per report savings. I learned how to do this years ago when I set up my own company name, and impressed my lawyer by avoiding the fee they charge for doing the same search.
The NUANS site is entitled Nuans-Corporate name and trademark search, but don’t let that fool you. All types of business names are on the register, including sole proprietorships. The purpose of the site is to avoid conflicting or duplicating names when a business is established.
Here are the steps, using my own company name.
NUANS.COM: select language of your choice: under order a report yourself, click on Order a Federal report: under Order your report there is a box to Enter proposed name of corporation.
Type in the name that you are searching. PROVANTAGE PROPERTY INSPECTION
A screen will pop up with Exact match warning…. This is what you will see for companies that exist.
And you will see both my provincial and federal corporate listings, with status: ACTIVE:
|Rank||Name||Jurisdiction and number||Creation date (YYYY-MM-DD)||Status||Business activity|
|1||ProVantage Property Inspection Inc.||CD-6728481||2007-02-28||Active|
|2||PROVANTAGE PROPERTY INSPECTION INC.||ON-3025560||2007-02-28||Active|
Now try with a shorter version. Click on Enter another name: and enter just the key word PROVANTAGE
Again, an EXACT match warning will pop up, and a table listing all the company containing PROVANTAGE will appear. I will show part of it here:
|Rank||Name||Jurisdiction and number||Creation date (YYYY-MM-DD)||Status||Business activity|
|2||PROVANTAGE||TM-0702790||1992-04-10||Inactive||35 , 37|
|3||PROVANTAGE||TM-1263740||2005-07-06||Inactive||1 , 4|
|4||PROVANTAGE||TM-1588830||2012-08-03||Active||42 , 44|
|5||PROVANTAGE||TM-1563001||2012-02-07||Active||1 , 16|
|6||PROVANTAGE BUSINESS CONSULTING INC.||ON-2595628||2017-09-07||Active|
|7||ProVantage Property Inspection Inc.||CD-6728481||2007-02-28||Active|
|8||PROVANTAGE HOME SERVICES||ON-210387569||2011-04-07||Active|
|9||PROVANTAGE HOME INSPECTION||ON-191145242||2009-11-12||Active|
|10||PROVANTAGE TRADING INC.||ON-1095714||1994-09-07||Active|
If no exact match warning comes up, use the shorter word versions to check for similar names. If the name is not on this NUANS list, then they don’t exist, the company may not be registered, or is not officially operating under the name provided. If you want to do business with company, go back to them and ask for the real company name, and confirm it on NUANS.
Have fun with it, and Buyer Beware!
By Keith Tripp, October 2018
This is the sixth in a series on construction defects found in the Greater Toronto Area, Ontario, Canada.
This 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
This 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.
The 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.
Photo 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.