Articles by Keith Tripp
By Keith Tripp, November, 2017.
High prices and bidding wars can trivialize the cost of common and predictable repairs such as roof replacements, window replacements, HVAC replacements, and grading. There are however, some issues that will send buyers running even at the best of times, and attic mould is a #1 “runner”.
Attic mould can be fixed for a price, but many buyers do not want to go through the ordeal of identifying the cause and getting the remedial work done, and they don’t want to live in a house that may be harmful to their health.
I’ve always done full attic inspections, so I’ve been in hundreds of mouldy attics, and I’ve been in hundreds of squeaky-clean old attics that look as good as the day they were built. I challenge myself at inspections by guessing if the attic is mouldy even before I go in. I know the contributors and I know the smell. Sometimes I can smell the mould when I’m on my ladder at the edge of the roof. Who needs a mould dog?
What is mould and how much is a problem? There are many types of mould and fungus and it requires an expert and laboratory work to identify them and assess the risk by type. This is not something that a home inspector does.
Mould is everywhere, so when I refer to mould in an attic what I mean is: Visible deposits of mould in locations consistent with warm air leakage from the house condensing on the cold roof deck. Chronic attic mould is typically dark green to black in colour. I will often see small amounts of mould on the rafters, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
The old school of thought for home inspectors is that we are not supposed to use the word mould, and should pretend we can’t identify mould. They used to teach us to say: “black mould-like substance”. The problem with that school of thought is that I’ve known what mould was since I was about 8 years old. The expectation as per CMHC writings is that a homeowner should be able to identify mould. So much for the old crotchety home inspector school of thought. Good riddance to that!
For report writing purposes, if it’s green or black and fuzzy looking I call it mould. If it’s white or brown and stringy or mushroom-like I call it fungus. I never use the term mildew. Any level of detailed identification beyond that I leave up to the experts.
Health hazard and other risks? The purpose of the roof is to protect the house, and not to act as a garden for mould growth, so any visible concentrated mould growth DOES represent a defect that should be reported. It can not be classed as part of the charm of the neighbourhood or the “norm” for a certain age of house. In theory, the attic is a separate air space from the house. In the perfect attic, there will be no mould problems. Once mould is found in an attic, it is an indicator that there is air movement between the heated areas of the house and the attic.
If air can get in to the attic from the house, which is the typical cold weather and heating season scenario, then air can also move in the other direction in different weather conditions. Mould odours and perhaps contaminated air can move in to the house from the attic, and yes, this MAY pose a health hazard. Attic air in general is not pleasant stuff. There can be fibres and odours from insulation, animal feces, and general dust and dirt.
Plywood and OSB are common roof sheathing materials. Both are hardy material, but the mould and fungus growth MAY eventually cause deterioration. With heavy growth, moisture and mould will spread to the rafters, and this wood can also be damaged. Wood deterioration occurs slowly and is not usually the main concern with attic mould.
Attic mould growth is caused by Old Man Winter. Canada is classed as a cold climate in building science terms. Even here in toasty Toronto, that means our primary concern is keeping our homes warm, without trapping moisture in places where it can do harm. I can find mouldy attics at any time of year, but that mould is only flourishing when it has moisture to feed on, which is generated in cold weather. Cold is a relative term. “Cold” means the interior roof surface is colder then the dew point of the air coming in to contact with it.
In cold weather, warm air condenses on cold roof sheathing. The sheathing is supposed to be cold. The whole attic space above the insulated ceiling is supposed to approximate the outdoor temperature both winter and summer. The warm air is not supposed to be floating up to the cold roof sheathing. The bad guy in the attic condensation situation is the warm air leakage in to the attic. Because the air is warm, it can hold moisture. Ongoing moisture accumulation can result in mould and fungus growth.
The challenge with resolving attic mould is identifying the sources of air leakage. One big culprit is leakage through the exterior walls, sometimes originating from the basement. Pot light installations, bathroom fan installations, leakage around attic hatches, leakage through interior walls, and defects in original construction can all allow excessive air leakage in to the attic space.
Contact of warm air with the roof deck is exacerbated by low slope roof designs and poor attic ventilation. Excessive insulation can decrease roof deck temperature, increasing the risk of condensation. Attic mould is mostly found in houses from the late 50s, through the 60s and seventies and in to the 80s. But there are many variables at play, and many exceptions. Most of the worst cases of attic mould I have found are houses built in the 1960s.
Cold weather is a great time to stick your head up in to the attic space and see winter wonders at work. Get a safe ladder, don a dust mask, check your compass, and remove the attic hatch. Stay on the ladder and look around. Don’t go in to the attic unless you know what you’re doing. Mould growth is most likely to be on the North and East slopes, because they get the least amount of sun. It is most likely to be at the lower part of the roof, because of air leakage upwards through the exterior walls. You may see condensation or frost glistening on the surface.
Shingles are a highly reliable product used on most of the residential roofs in the Greater Toronto Area. There are limitations however, and one of those is that shingles are intended for sloped roofs, not flat.
Shingles have gaps between the sections, and they rely on overlapping layers to create a water-resistant barrier. They work because water can’t run uphill. If water is going to run uphill, such as in an ice dam scenario, then underlayments at those locations are required to prevent leakage.
Flat and sloped are terms used in roofing that can be open to interpretation, but the minimum slope for shingles is specified in codes and manufacturers’ instructions.
The minimum slope for shingle use is 1:6 (rise over run) which is the same as 2:12, expressed in the OBC as 1 in 6. Shingles installed between 1 in 3 and 1 in 6 require special installation methods, including increased overlap.
Shingles are not recommended at all for less than 1 in 6. The photo shows shingles installed on a 1.5:12 slope, which is less than the 2:12 minimum recommended. New construction at the N-E corner of Trafalgar/Dundas in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.
by Keith Tripp. May 2017
Home Inspection in Ontario is not a licensed profession.
For a few years in Ontario there has been a movement toward licensing for home inspectors.
Currently there are several voluntary professional associations in Ontario that a home inspector may be a member of. The Ontario Association of Home Inspectors (OAHI) is the only “government endorsed” association and was supported by provincial legislation in 1994 which gave OAHI the right to use the Registered Home Inspector designation. (Ontario Association of Home Inspectors Act, 1994, being chapter Pr65)
Despite the valiant efforts of volunteer members over the years, OAHI never became large enough or wealthy enough to fully promote their members to the real estate world and the public. Membership that typically has been less than 500 inspectors and trainees simply hasn’t generated enough revenue or capability for the organization to advertise beyond word of mouth. OAHI members go through mandatory training programs that I can vouch for as being excellent, and the benefits of conferences and meetings among the members make a strong resource for an inspector. An OAHI member inspector represents at least a basic standard of a good inspector. OAHI is a not for profit corporation that does not receive any government support either financial or publicity or administrative assistance. If the Home Inspection Act 2017 goes through (it is not in force yet and may never be), OAHI will continue to exist but the provincial bill that supports the RHI designation will be repealed.
Many inspectors operate (nobody knows the real numbers) in Ontario without being a member of any legitimate association. But lack of training or association membership is not the real root of the problem. With Ontario’s system of real estate, where all real estate salespeople are obliged through their agency agreement to get the best deal for the sellers, there is little motivation for real estate salespeople to seek a qualified and diligent inspector. Unscrupulous inspectors, including those who are well trained and members of professional associations, have been able to prosper by keeping real estate salespeople happy, getting referral business from them, and doing inadequate inspections and reports.
Misconceptions about the scope of home inspections have also fueled discontent. The most common constraint is that the inspection is visual only. At the time of a typical “conditional offer” inspection, the house is still owned by the seller, so the inspector can’t pull anything apart or cause damage. Based on what is visible, the inspector must assess the risk of what might lie behind walls and other surfaces, and write a report that conveys this. In the fantasy world of TV, inspectors are cast in a bad light where they didn’t reveal issues that are behind walls and under floors. TV heroes flex their biceps and pull apart the house and fix everything that the evil inspector missed, bringing tears of joy to the eyes of the homeowners.
In this environment of real estate salespeople supporting sellers, and buyers beware, real unscrupulous inspectors, and TV heroes casting false hopes, it’s no surprise there have been some unhappy customers. The provincial government threw home inspectors into the pot with pay-day loan operators and door to door sales crooks and created a bill called: Bill 59 Putting Consumers First Act. This received Royal Assent April 13, 2017 and paves the way for the Home Inspection Act 2017.
I say “threw into the pot” because there was always the option of the government modifying the existing bill, supporting OAHI, and making the RHI designation mandatory. There was no effort from the provincial government to support and improve the existing structure.
Key Points of Home Inspector Licensing
Disclaimer: (All the following are based on my layman’s interpretation of the Act and related processes. It is a wordy and complicated document. If you’re a legal-eagle and can see that I have got it wrong, let us know.)
- The short title of this Act is the Putting Consumers First Act (Consumer Protection Statute Law Amendment), 2017. See the act and other info at: http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/bills/bills_detail.do?locale=en&BillID=4333&detailPage=bills_detail_status
- The Bill enacts a new Act, the Home Inspection Act, 2017, see: https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/17h05
- The bill received Royal Assent on April 13, 2017 however mandatory licencing is not in place until proclamation. For the time being it is business as usual. (the Act set out in this Schedule comes into force on a day to be named by proclamation of the Lieutenant Governor.)
- Next Provincial election is June 7, 2018. The new act may not receive proclamation before that date, so everything related to enactment is an IF, not a given.
- An administrative authority must be formed before licencing can commence. This will probably be a lengthy process. Timing is unknown. I have requested further info from my local MPP Mitzie Hunter but haven’t heard back yet. Safe to say this administrative authority will not be in place before the next provincial election on June 7, 2018. I imagine this new body will be similar to the TSSA, but on a much smaller scale.
- The Act is VERY detailed, especially when compared to the legislation that exists for BC and Alberta. Regulations, the next level of detail believe it or not, still need to be written. Presumably the administrative authority will write these regulations, and they will have to be written before proclamation.
- Upon commencement of the Home Inspection Act, pr95 will be repealed and the title of Registered Home Inspector will become meaningless. The OAHI will continue to exist as a corporation with the same “objects” after implementation of the new bill
- Small corporations (like me) will require two licences. One for the company as a provider, and one for the inspector. Only a sole proprietor can function with one licence.
- Details of contract and reporting requirements are included in the Act. Insurance coverage will have to be written in to the contract.
- Professional Engineers and Architects are completely exempt from the licensing requirement.
- Nobody really knows how many home inspectors there are in Ontario. Financial support for the Administrative Authority is a big question mark. Will there be enough revenue from licensing to support this governing body? Who will provide the initial funding to get the administrative authority formed before any licensing revenue is available?
- Under the broad wording of the Act, tradesmen such as plumbers, electricians, roofers, and renovators and even real estate salespeople may find themselves in contravention of the act in their normal course of business when they are “providing an opinion as to the condition of a dwelling or residential property based on a non-invasive evaluation of any of the features and components of the dwelling or property”. Common sense dictates, we hope, that wording in the regulations will exempt them from the licensing requirement.
House Shopping: Talk to the Neighbours
Neighbours can be a great source of information when you are house shopping. If possible, talk to the neighbours and ask about issues specific to that area such as flood risk and sewer problems and about the schools and parks. They may also tell you about comings and goings at the house, how long the previous owners lived there, approximate dates of significant additions and modifications, and if they were glad to see the old neighbours leave.
Look over the neighbouring properties to see what impact they could have on your property in terms of possible fencing issues, easements, pedestrian traffic, large trees, grading and surface water etc. and add your concerns to the list of questions for your lawyer. Try and walk around the neighbourhood to see if you feel comfortable and like what you see.
The monument in the picture is for the Secor family in Scarborough. It occupies a lot between two houses on a residential street. The lot forms the entrance to Secor Memorial Park. The park address is on Markham Rd, however the sign in the picture fronts on to Stevenwood Rd. which is at the top of the valley overlooking the creek where the Secors once owned a mill. If you could speak to the Secors, they could tell you a long history of Scarborough going back to the early 1800s when Isaac Secor settled here, but not much about the houses that were built adjacent to the memorial in the mid to late 1950s.
Per A History of Scarborough, edited by Robert R. Bonis, 1968, the Scarborough Secors are descendants of Ambroise De Secor who came from France to New York State in the 1600s. “While one branch of this old Huguenot family established itself in the Niagara peninsula and won fame through the legendary Laura Secord, Isaac Secor eventually settled in Scarborough.”
So, all the historical fame went to the Niagara branch of the family despite the hard work of the Scarborough Secors. Laura Secord is a chocolate company that was established in 1913 using the story of Laura Secord’s heroics in the war of 1812 as a marketing platform. On the monument, you can see that Major Joseph Secor of Scarborough also served under General Brock in the war of 1812.Peter Secor was the first postmaster of Scarborough in 1832 and first Reeve of Scarborough in 1850.
Pioneer life was no box of chocolates. You knew it would be rough and tough and short-lived. These pioneers basically lived off the land and had to take breaks occasionally to fight wars. It’s surprising to see on the monument that many of the Secors lived in to their 70s and 80s.
The Secors would make good quiet neighbours.
By Keith Tripp, 2017
by Keith Tripp October, 2016
So, what really happens if the sump pump system fails? In most cases, water will back up in the foundation drainage pipes where it may lead to leakage or seepage around the base of the foundation wall. It may also result in higher water levels under the concrete floor slab, that can show up in undesirable locations such as the access box for the backwater valve. The basement usually won’t flood, but this depends on where the water is coming from.
I often find sump systems that have been out of service, sometimes for years, and the basin is full of water up to the infeed pipe level.
One risk of a failed sump pump or float system is that water may escape to the underside of the slab through holes in the side of the basin. In new construction for the last few years, most builders are installing low cost plastic corrugated sump basins. The infeed pipe to the basin enters through a holecut-out in the side of the basin. The junction of the infeed pipe to the basin is not sealed. To the contrary, there is often a substantial gap around the pipe where you can see the gravel.
In the attached photo, showing a typical builder installed basin, there is water flowing from beneath the slab, back in to the basin. This photo was taken after triggering the start of a sump pump that had a stuck float, so at the onset of the inspection the water level in the basin was above the cut-out in the side of the basin.
As soon as I touched the basin lid, the pump started and the water level dropped. So, when the pump was not working, water was flowing in to the basin, up to the hole in the side of the basin, and then out of the basin and to the underside of the slab. Not a desirable situation. Even though there may be some naturally occurring water under the slab, the sump is collecting a large volume of water from around the house, and concentrating it to the area around the sump basin. Risk is even greater if the sump is collecting water from a basement walkout drain, which was the case with the sump in the photo. It’s really not a good idea to send a concentrated flow of water close to structural footings for foundation columns or walls.
So what’s the solution? Options include: a) make sure the pump and float system are working properly so water never rises to the cut-out in the basin b) Install a better quality basin with sealed infeed pipes and an airtight lid.
One potential drawback with old houses is effectiveness of the water supply. In the good old days, houses typically had fewer bathrooms, and the requirement for water supply to the house was less. Old houses tend to have smaller water supply pipes to the house from the City main. In the GTA, 1950s and earlier supply pipes tend to be ½ inch size. In the sixties and seventies, they bumped up to 5/8, and by the 1980s, ¾ inch copper was the most common size. Today even larger supply pipes are used. There was a lot of overlap in the phase-ins so this is rough information only. Some municipalities use larger supply pipe (you lucky folks in Newmarket) presumably to compensate for a lower pressure supply.
Older houses may also have City supply lines made of lead or steel, and these materials are less desirable than copper of plastic feed lines.
Recent codes (Ontario Building Code) list minimum and maximum water pressures and also describe effective flow requirements at fixtures. The water pressure range is 30 psi (200kPA) minimum and 80 psi (550kPA) maximum. Pressure less than 50 psi typically is going to give unsatisfactory performance for modern day living. 30 psi would be basically useless. Anything over 80 psi poses risk of damaging fixtures and connections. Connecting a pressure gauge at the exterior hose outlets or laundry tub faucet or washing machine hose connection will provide an indication of water pressure. I read pressure with nothing else flowing in the house, so obtaining a static pressure reading. If reading at a laundry faucet, if a trap primer tube is attached at this faucet, the reading will be lessened by leakage through the primer tube, so is not a good indicator of static pressure.
Pressure is interesting to know, but pressure and pipe size work hand in hand so what really counts is flow rate at the point of use. City of Toronto uses 7 L/ min after the meter as a minimum acceptable level. See info on Toronto service request for chronic low water pressure at: https://www.toronto.ca/services-payments/water-environment/your-water-pipes-meter/water-related-help-advice/no-water-or-low-water-pressure/.
Effective flow within the house will be less than at the meter, and will be impacted by length of piping, number of bends and connections, and height that water must rise to the fixtures. Ideally the pipe diameter will not be reduced after the meter. Running full size pipe, same as the City feed size, from the meter to the water heater area is a good practice.
For poor flow rates, options include upgrading the supply line to the house, or the use of booster pumps within the house. Both are costly options, so when buying an older house, find out if the water supply pipe has been upgraded. Sometimes streamlining of the plumbing within the house can improve flow, and basic things like clogged screens in faucets should be checked. For high pressure, (such as in Oakville close to the pumping stations) the installation of a pressure reducing valve is required to maintain pressure below 80 psi.
by Keith Tripp Revised 2020
Respect for Professional Engineers
My guy, My guy, My guy
My father once said I should be an Engineer. I thought he meant the guy who drives the trains, which might explain why today I am not an Engineer.
Recently I had an issue with a listing real estate salesperson advising my client’s buying salesperson to use inspectors other than me! Well that’s no surprise, it’s more a form of flattery that the listing agent would rather not be the victim or even unwitting beneficiary of my inspection. My inspections create too much work for listing agents for them to not cringe when they see me coming. My client (a very busy buyer) had handed over affairs to the buying agent who copied me on correspondence from the listing agent. The listing agent didn’t like my time estimate for inspection of the very large home, and she told the buying agent. “Call company A and ask for (and I’ll call them my-guy A and my-guy B), they are top “engineers” at company A. Apparently the two my-guy “engineer” inspectors have a good record of making this real estate salesperson happy.
Let’s start by clearing the my-guys and company A from blame. Neither of them make any claim to being real Engineers on the company A web site.
Also, it wasn’t the “my-guy” line from the salesperson that bothered me. I have heard the my-guy line many times before. I once inspected a 1960s house that had the swimming pool room collapsing, and the structural brick walls being cracked apart by corrosion of the embedded steel balcony supports. My client decided it was more risk than he wanted to pay for. The irate listing salesperson phoned me after the inspection and left a message (a message because NO, a salesperson is not entitled to talk to me after an inspection!) saying “my-guy” looked at it and says everything is OK. So, these my-guys do get around.
It was the loose usage of the term “engineer” by the real estate salesperson that I took exception to. She probably thinks these guys are Engineers.
I have the greatest respect for education and for hard earned credentials. In this country, a young aspiring Engineer must start his career earning less than plumbers and electricians, and certainly less than real estate agents. Often they are faced with years of uncertain employment working on a contract basis for companies that tend to ebb and flow on success of contracts. After years of formal university education and relevant work experience, the P. Eng. designation can be acquired. Only people with this status are qualified to be called Engineers, and they deserve it. It is a chargeable offence in Ontario to make a false claim to be an Engineer and PEO has very effective enforcement.
Home inspector licensing is coming, but is not yet required for home inspectors in Ontario yet. So, before deciding which my-guy you want to stick to, I recommend checking for credentials that are recognized by the Ontario government:
To verify Professional Engineers in Ontario: go to their Directories of Practitioners http://peo.on.ca/index.php?ci_id=1798&la_id=1
To verify Certified Technicians and Technologists in Ontario go to: www.oacett.org/Find-a-Member
To verify membership in OAHI and status as a home inspector go to: http://www.oahi.com/
The two my-guys don’t appear in ANY of the three above sites. They are not presenting ANY credentials as home inspectors. Even on company A’s website, only their people skills are advertised.
And back to the my-guy line, so yeah, maybe it was bothering me a bit. A good inspector should be the my-guy to the client only. The real estate salespeople are not clients. In Ontario, the “buying” and listing real estate salespeople are all paid by the seller, and their obligation is to maximize benefit for the seller. Home inspectors should be maximizing benefit for the buyer.
Funny country eh. Good thing we have great Engineers that are recognized all around the world.
To help you remember this article, listen to the My Guy song. I guarantee it will stick in your head. www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WT7nBGX5eU
Thanks to Wikipedia: My Guy” is a 1964 hit single recorded by Mary Wells for the Motown label. Written and produced by Smokey Robinson of The Miracles, the song is a woman’s dedication to the goodness of her man (“There’s not a man today who could take me away from my guy”)
More FROM PEO: How to verify licensure
To check whether an individual is licensed or a firm holds a Certificate of Authorization (C of A), search the directories of practitioners (licence and C of A holders) at www.peo.on.ca. To report unlicensed individuals and unauthorized companies, contact PEO’s enforcement hotline at 416 -840-1444 or 1-800-339-3716, ext. 1444, or email email@example.com
By Keith Tripp, Nov 2016
By Keith Tripp, revised December 2020
It’s OK to fail now. Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter receptacles purchased since about 2010 are now “fail-safe”. That means that if the GFCI protection fails, no power will be available at the receptacle. From an inspection perspective, this moves the failed GFCI device out of the “safety” category, and in to the “function” category.
It is a misconception that people can’t be killed by 120-volt household circuits. Not true! A typical 15-amp household circuit has plenty of power to kill. A ground fault is when current is leaking to “ground”. The “ground” may be a human being that is receiving an electric shock. The GFCI circuitry detects the difference between the “in” and “out” current, and cuts out the power supply to the receptacle. A GFCI limits the ground fault amperage to about 4-6 milliamps. (thousands of an amp!)
GFCIS reduce risk of electrocution and save lives. They are used almost exclusively where water is adding to the electrical risk, such as in proximity to sinks, at the exterior at ground level, and at hydromassage tubs, (commonly referred to as brand names such as Jacuzzi, or Whirlpool” tubs.)
GFCI s were developed in the late 1960s, initially by the Rucker Manufacturing Company to protect swimming pool light circuits. See the photo attached of a Rucker “Safety Century” used on a pool circuit on a 1960’s GTA home, still in use as at 2009. A rare find indeed, and one that sent me scurrying to research what the heck it was when I found it! The GFCI device has come a long way since then. Over the year’s, codes have required GFCI protection at exterior receptacles and bathroom receptacles (late 1970s, early 1980s), kitchen counter receptacles (around 2002) and various other wet locations. There are some significant differences in code requirements between Canada and U.S, so keep that in mind if surfing the web for more details. One of the key differences is that in Canada the garage receptacles do not require GFCI, whereas in the U.S they do. This is significant because garage receptacles often get used to power equipment that is used outside the garage.
It is common to find GFCI receptacles that have failed. It is so common that builders have taken to installing the exterior GFCI protection devices on the interior of the house so they have less exposure to the elements. On many new houses, you will find the GFCI protection device for exterior receptacles installed close to the electrical panel in the basement. This way, one device is protecting the exterior circuit that may have 2 or 3 three receptacles on it.
For the old style GFCIs, failure means power will be available at the receptacle, but the safety feature is not working. This creates an unsafe situation. GFCIs have test buttons on the receptacle typically labelled as TEST and RESET. The devices should be tested monthly, but of course that rarely happens. If your house still has the old GFCIs, there is a good chance they are not performing their function. New GFCI receptacles cost about $25 each.
There are multiple options for providing GFCI protection to a point of use. GFCI devices, GFCI receptacles, or GFCI circuit breakers can be used. Bathroom circuits typically have GFCI protection at one receptacle at the beginning of the circuit that protects the downstream receptacles. So, the original 3 or 4 bathrooms in the house are typically protected by one GFCI receptacle. These remotely protected receptacles can easily be tested using a low-cost tester that simulates a ground fault by sending a small current to the equipment ground wire causing the GFCI to trip. For the earlier 1980s circuits, GFCI breakers in the panel were used to protect the circuits. In a typical 1980s home, two GFCI breakers will be found in the panel. One for the bathrooms and one for the exterior receptacles.
GFCI protection can be provided by GFCI devices or GFCI receptacles installed at the beginning of a circuit. In this photo, there are multiple devices installed close to the electrical panel in the basement. The device labeled “Exterior” is protecting exterior circuits. The receptacle labeled as “Jacuzzi” is protecting a hydromassage tub circuit. Because hydromassage tubs require dedicated circuits, ideally a non receptacle GFCI device should be used so that nothing else can be plugged in to that same circuit. The receptacle at the right is an older style than the other devices. It should be labeled, but is not. This is 1982 construction, so the unlabeled receptacle may be protecting exterior receptacles or bathroom receptacles.
GFCI protection is also an accepted method of improving safety of ungrounded circuits. Ungrounded means the circuit does not have the bare copper “equipment ground” wire. Prior to about 1960 here in the Toronto, Ontario, Canada area, circuits were non-grounded, having only two wires instead of three. By installing a GFCI device at the beginning of the circuit, all the wiring and devices on that circuit will be protected. Old knob and tube circuits are non grounded, and the GFCI can be used on these, however not necessarily bringing the knob and tube to an acceptably safe or functional level for modern day. When installed on ungrounded circuits, the basic GFCI tester will not work. These testers rely on sending some current to the ground wire in order to work, so will not work on two wire circuits. This makes it difficult to determine the extent of GFCI protection on these ungrounded circuits.
Common Inspection findings
- GFCIS not working, with power available (pre-2010 type)
- GFCIS not working, with no power available (2010 type)
- GFCIS removed, leaving no GFCI protection
- GFCIs installed incorrectly, such as adding GFCI receptacles to a circuit that is already protected with other devices.
- GFCIs not installed where required in renovations
- GFCIs not installed in wet locations on older houses.
Electrical codes generally are not retroactive, however GFCIs are a low cost and effective upgrade so their installation may be recommended in inspection reports. As the bathroom and exterior receptacles have required GFCI protection for the last 40 years or so, there really is not much excuse to not have those upgraded. Kitchen receptacles are a bit trickier. A modern day (post 2002) kitchen will be built with GFCI protection for any receptacles within 1.5 meters of a sink. During the seventies and eighties it was common to install kitchen circuits with split receptacles. A split receptacle is a receptacle wired with two separate “hot “supplies. The supply to the top and bottom half of the duplex receptacle come from different circuits, controlled by separate fuses or breakers. The tab connecting the contacts for the two halves of the duplex receptacle is broken away. Split receptacles provide more available amperage from one recpetacle..in practical terms, the kettle can be plugged in to the top half and the toaster plugged in to the bottom half without blowing the fuse because each has its own 15 amp circuit. Applying GFCI protection to split receptacles requires either modification to the circuits or use of costly GFCI breakers in the panel, and this work should only be done by a qualified electrician. You can not simply replace a non-GFCI split receptacle with a GFCI receptacle.
Buy Today! And do your own 10 step risk assessment! According to reports on cp24 today January 17th is the cheapest day to buy a house, and January is the cheapest month.
In todays GTA market, the no-conditions offer is in and the traditional pre-purchase home inspection is all but gone. And it might not come back. I say that because we are not hearing stories of buyers or salespeople getting hit with costly surprises after taking possession, (yet). That could be because people are sitting on latent defects that they may not discover for years, and lack of consumer knowledge, or because buyers are desensitized to repair cost issues by the massive value of their property. All those involved in the market are becoming accustomed to deals with no home inspection involved.
Over the past 3 years the trend is towards bidding wars where, so I’m told, price offers jump in increments of $25,000 and $50,000 or more. The cost of issues discovered in a home inspection may seem trivial in comparison to these leaps and bounds in purchase price.
The pre-purchase home inspection is part of the total risk assessment process. It is a supplement to information and checks and balances from real estate salespeople, mortgage providers, appraisers, lawyers, and insurance providers not to mention family and friends. All these participants have some interest in the “brick and mortar” risk element, but the home inspection is the most detailed assessment of this risk. A home inspection does not comment on risk associated with real estate market or economic trends or legal use of the property.
When the inspection condition disappears from the offer to purchase, what’s a buyer to do? Without the benefit of the actual inspection, you need to account for a certain amount of risk, and have a post-possession contingency plan.
Types of risk related to the “brick and mortar”:
- Repair costs that are easy to predict. (roof replacement, furnace & AC replacement, window replacement)
- Repair costs that are hard to predict (engineering assessments, hidden plumbing and electrical work, foundation drainage)
- Health& safety issues that may impact ability to live in the house. (moisture and mould impacting air quality, heating and cooling comfort levels)
- Health & safety issues related to risk of personal injury of fire. (unsafe electrical or heating, unsafe guarding)
- Insurance costs and mandatory upgrades or coverage exclusions. (removal of knob and tube wiring mandated by the insurance company, asbestos risk)
To get an idea of where a house stands on the risk scale, throw on your “guilty until proven innocent” inspection hat and do the following:
- Determine house value versus land value. If its worse case and you must quickly resell as an “as-is builder’s special” how much will you lose?
- Determine age of the house. This means the age of the oldest part, not the newest. The older the house, the more risk both for repair costs and comfort.
- Determine age of components with predictable life-cycle such as roof coverings and HVAC equipment. Compare to standard information available or to warranty coverage available.
- Identify additions and modifications to the original house. The more of these the more the risk. Ask for full proof of professional work including work receipts and proof of compliance with all permit processes and approvals by the authorities having jurisdiction. Remember it’s guilty until proven innocent. If there is no paperwork available, then it is non-professional (or out-dated) work.
- Smell the roses. If the house stinks when you first step through the front door, try and figure out why. If its an organic smell, is it sewer gas or mould? Are there indications of heavy dog presence? Be especially wary if the house appears otherwise clean but still has a bad odour. This could mean nasty things lurking behind the walls.
- Imagine the storm of the century. The ground is covered with rain water two inches deep. It is flowing everywhere. Is your house in the path of the torrent? This is the old “high and dry” common sense requirement and helps determine flood and basement leakage risk.
- Don’t miss the forest for the trees. Large tree removal and replacement is a permit-controlled process and can be very costly. Recent pest invasions such as the emerald ash borer are killing trees that may cost you thousands to remove and replace.
- Determine degree of customization of the house. Was the house built as part of a subdivision (lower risk), or was it a custom home or perhaps designed by some “renowned” architect (higher risk). When faced with the “fine architect” claims, ask for full copies of the as-built engineering drawings, and of course check records for compliance to permit processes and approvals by the relevant authorities. Your reno team will appreciate that in the future.
- Assess recent reno work. If you are buying a “flip” house, you want to be aware of that. Ask your real estate salesperson about recent sale timing and prices paid. Not all flip-related reno work is bad, but it can be. If you had to strip out all the recent work and redo it, is it still a good deal?
- For the “brand new” house:confirm Tarion warranty coverage. Many custom homes built in older established areas are built without Tarion warranty. The builders know all the loopholes. I have inspected many 1 year old houses that have no Tarion warranty coverage and have never been lived in, so hence are not even tested for the 1 year. Run to your lawyer before making a move on these homes and they will describe the bucket of risk involved. For any house that is less than 7 yrs. old make sure you understand what warranty coverage is in place, if any.
ProVantage Property Inspection does post-possession inspections. Because our report writing is detailed and clear, the result is a to-do list ranked by priority and descriptions and recommendations that really make sense. Consider doing an inspection within the first few days of possession, before you move all the furniture in. This creates an ideal inspection environment, and you can join me for hours of fun filled defect finding!
By Keith Tripp, January 2017
Do I need that 200-amp service?
A few months ago, I inspected a small 1998 townhouse in Richmond Hill with a 200-amp service. This was way more power than needed so my “high risk” radar went up. Oversized electric services are sometimes related to a history of electric heating, either baseboard or electric furnace. Fortunately, a neighbour was involved in the inspection and could confirm that his townhouse also had 200-amp service, and he knew it had been installed by the builder. There was no history of electric heating. It’s possible that everyone in the townhouses was sold an upgrade by the builder.
The picture above is of this panel in the townhouse. Not really doing any harm, but sort of a space-waster and not earning any payback on investment.
I also inspected two new (2016) homes in Aurora recently, and the owners had paid the builder for an upgrade to 200-amp service.
So how do you determine if you need the upgrade to 200-amp service? One piece of advice NOT to run with is the CMHC blooper below:
This is from the currently posted CMHC document: What to Look for when buying a Home ( www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/newcomers/pdfs/English/B11.pdf):
Electrical system—if you are buying an older home, find out if the electrical panel has been upgraded. If the service says 200 amps, it is an upgrade. A 60 or 100-amp panel has probably not been upgraded, and may not be enough to meet the electricity needs of your family.
In GTA terms where we don’t use electric heat any more, this is a blooper. There are two things wrong with this. Firstly, 100 amps is the most common service size, and is adequate for most homes, even new homes that may be around the 3000-sq. ft. size. and most old homes that are “upgraded”. Secondly, the panel rating alone is a poor indicator of total service size and electrical wiring upgrade status in an older home. It is true that a 60-amp service is no longer considered acceptable.
How do you know if you need the 200-amp upgrade? Simple answer for the new house is you don’t. You may want 200-amp but you don’t need it. If a builder is offering the house with 100-amp service, then it has already been determined that 100-amp is adequate for the house as-built along with a few extra circuit spaces for future consideration as required by code. If the house needs more than a 100-amp service based on the quantity and type of circuits, then it won’t be an option, the builder will simply install the correct size. If electrical loads are added on top of the original builder installations, then at some point the 100-amp capability may be exceeded. Typical additions that may put the 100-amp capability at risk are 240 volt ranges, driers, hot tubs, saunas. To determine when the 100-amp capability is exceeded you need an electrician to do the calculations for you. That is one reason why any significant electrical additions should be done by a qualified electrician.
So, if you don’t have any plans of adding electrical load to your new castle then stick with what the builder is offering as the base model. If you are planning significant addition of electrical loads such as fully finishing the basement with a kitchen and laundry, then ask an electrician to do some calculations for you, or just lay out the $2000-$3000 for the upgrade. If you have an older home that has had many electrical additions to the original circuits provided by the builder, then you may need an electrician to review the service size to see if it is adequate. p.s interested to know what folks are paying the builder for this upgrade. The $2-3K is my best estimate now!
by Keith Tripp, January 2017