Articles by Keith Tripp
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
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!)
To see a nice pictorial explanation of GFCI protection: www.nema.org/Products/Documents/NEMA-GFCI-2012-Field-Representative-Presentation.pdf
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 not installed where required in renovations
Electrical codes generally are not retroactive, however GFCIs are a low cost and effective upgrade so their installation may be recommended in inspection reports.
By Keith Tripp, November 2016
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
Plastic water supply pipe.
“Nice pecs” used to be a personal compliment. Of course this was a long time ago. Back in that day, copper was used for water supply plumbing. Plastic water pipe has been used in residential construction for about twenty years now. Plastic pipe is lower cost both to purchase and install. The most common plastic pipe is called PEX. This is cross-linked polyethylene. The X stands for cross linking and this happens at the molecular level, it doesn’t describe the spider web of plastic pipe that you may find in the basement around your water heater. The cross linking of polymers results in a material that is more resistant to deformation and flow, but is less flexible.
There were many growing pains along the way with the advent of plastic water pipe. There are almost too many lawsuits to keep track of for pipe or fitting failures. Complicated by geographical temperature extremes, local building practices, and local water conditions, these lawsuits that originated all over North America were not necessarily reflective of valid issues in the Canadian GTA house. The lawsuits mostly related to leakage at fittings, and less often to actual pipe failure. Mostly the brass fittings were problematic, with an issue called dezincification.
Many of the early issues have been resolved and for the past 8 years or so plastic pipe issues seemed to have calmed down. If you have “old” (about pre-2008) plastic pipe in the house it’s worth checking for any signs of leakage or oozing at fittings, especially close to the water heater.
by Keith Tripp, 2016
Top Ten New Home Issues
Buyers of most new homes built in Ontario are covered by the Tarion warranty system. (see Tarion.com). ProVantage Property Inspection provides warranty inspections for homeowners. This is the same detailed inspection as in the case of resale, with the report customized to align with the Tarion on-line reporting system.
Each year I wonder if the builder is going to do such a good job that I can’t find enough defects for my client to justify the cost of the inspection. That hasn’t happened yet. So, I thank the builders for allowing the warranty inspection business to remain viable.
The buyer of the new home is getting a better product than in years past. Now that the changes from the “2012” codes are firmly entrenched, the required attention to detail to meet basic code requirements means a better built home. The home also is more complicated, with the installation of energy saving products such as HRVs, DWHR units and hot water recirculation pumps. Sump systems have also make a come-back for different reasons in different municipalities.
So here are the top ten new home issues that allow the warranty inspection business to remain viable:
- Builders being chronically behind schedule and allowing homeowners to move in to incomplete homes. This means that landscaping, driveways, steps and decks, and gutter and downspout systems are incomplete.
- Incomplete or missing exterior sealants
- Errors at exhaust installations, including missing terminals, and even complete exhaust systems missing.
- Incomplete roofing and flashing details, especially at locations that are not visible from ground level. (See photo above).
- Incorrect plumbing installations. This relates to some of the more complicated plumbing systems now used such as DWHR units and hot water recirculating pumps.
- Attic Insulation underfills and blow outs. With the R50 requirement, insulation is often about 18-20 inches deep. Underfilling attic insulation has always been an issue. I find fewer underfills now, but the deep insulation is prone to being blown around especially when light fiberglass is used.
- Weep hole details in brick veneer walls: Weep holes not fully open, weep holes absent where required. Missing weep holes is most prevalent at “stone-style” brick installations where the brick pattern is irregular.
- Poor quality materials and workmanship at sump installations, including the installation of perforated basins where not appropriate.
- Builders failing to explain complicated features to homeowners. By failing to educate their clients on what they are selling them, that makes the education side of my inspections beneficial. Homes are more complicated than ever. The builders’ reps are usually poorly equipped to explain the new features and related risks and maintenance requirements.
- Poor quality concrete work at basement floors, garage floors and foundation walls. Even though many of the concrete cracks may not be covered under warranty, highly visible cracks cause concern to homeowners and trigger customers to request warranty inspections.
by Keith Tripp, 2016