Internachi certified professional inspector
I owe a lot of my skill as a home inspector to the time I spent working at NSCC (Nova Scotia Community College), where I was not only able to access high quality training but was able to see firsthand how complex modern technology helps to create safe, healthy, efficient buildings. NSCC is a leader in sustainable building practices, and I have taken plenty of courses on topics such as Heating, Air Conditioning, Pipe and Air System Design to name a few. I also learned to apply many of these principles to my own home and one project I will be working on soon is to look at replacing our HRV, possibly with a modern ERV. Modern building codes require the installation of mechanical ventilation (i.e. just exhaust fans are no longer acceptable) as modern homes are built very tight for energy saving purposes.
What is an HRV? ERV?
HRV stands for Heat Recovery Ventilator while ERV stands for Energy Recovery Ventilator. These two systems are very similar with the difference being that an ERV recovers both heat AND moisture. Personally, I think they should be called HMRVs (Heat & Moisture Recovery Ventilators) as this would be a better descriptor. Here is a basic diagram about how these systems work. While it appears the air mixes based on this picture, they remain completely separate with only heat (and possibly moisture) being exchanged.
So, Does This Mean a ERV is Better?
Not necessarily. While ERVs are considered a step above HRVs (and more expensive!) opinions vary on which is the right choice in Nova Scotia. While we do have humid summers, having too much humidity is not an issue for the rest of the year and heating is prioritized over cooling in our province. When considering installing a new unit, remember mechanical ventilation is a job that should be left for a qualified HVAC contractor and they can offer the best advice on what will be effective for your situation.
How Are These Units Different from an Air Exchanger?
An air exchanger does exactly what it says: exchanges air from inside to outside and replaces it with outside to inside air. This works great in theory but in reality it is rare that outside conditions are as comfortable as the ideal indoor conditions. The air outside is typically colder and bringing in constant fresh air without capturing heat from the air vented outside will lead to unnecessarily high energy bills. In short, a HRV is a step above an air exchanger with an ERV being another step above that.
HRVs and ERVS Need Maintenance Too!
While they are generally very reliable and are designed (and supposed) to run 24 hours a day for 20+ years, they still require regular maintenance just like any piece of HVAC equipment. The biggest faux pas (other than a home missing an HRV/ERV entirely) I see is units that have not been cleaned (often times it is clear they have NEVER been cleaned!). It is important to inspect for proper operation and clean the unit according to manufacturer's instructions, typically once a season. Are these units pricey? Absolutely, but it is a small price to pay for a clean and healthy home!
Like most home inspectors, I have read countless articles about “how to choose a home inspector” that by an amazing coincidence always seem to include narrow criteria that miraculously describes the inspector writing the article! I promise to never write such a blog post, but I thought with today’s economic conditions where a homeowner or potential homeowner is being squeezed to the limit it might be a good idea to highlight the difference between cost and value.
I firmly believe that of the many home inspectors in Nova Scotia, few if any can match the level of value that I, and by extension our company provides. My extensive academic and professional background in both home inspection and building services combined with my friendly, go-above-and-beyond personality (or so I have been told) means that everyone who hires Inside Edge will get a professional, highly detailed, personalized inspection that is easy to understand. As well, thanks to my Commerce Degree and entrepreneurial experience, I am able to keep overhead costs low and pass the savings onto you.
However, while my value is at the top of the market, I make no apologies for not being the lowest priced in the Halifax area. If anyone is looking for the cheapest possible home inspectors and nothing else, our company is simply not going to be the right choice and never will be. A house is a complicated system of interdependent components, and an inspection should be performed by someone with a high degree of competency and who understands a superficial “drive-by” inspection is not an acceptable practice. Let me make it clear that I am FAR from the only competent inspector in the local market but all the skilled inspectors in our province have one thing in common: they charge more because they have invested in education, training and equipment and bring more value to the table.
I was once addressing a group of both new and potential immigrants to Canada. There are a lot of misconceptions from people unfamiliar with our country and region, such as the idea of homes in North America being built like tanks (they aren’t!), newer homes not needing inspections (it’s possible to find just as many issues in newer homes than older homes) and that flips are basically brand-new houses (any home inspector will agree this is ANYTHING but the truth in most situations). One thing I made clear was that while my prices are lower than average, I warned that when choosing a home inspector, the total cost should be at the bottom of your concerns. I also pointed out that in Nova Scotia, like most places in Canada, you DO NOT require ANY training or qualifications to be a home inspector and there are NO regulations specific to home inspectors aside from the usual requirements to register your business with the government. Yes, you can start a home inspection company within approximately 1-2 weeks with just a few hundred dollars. Caveat emptor indeed!
How Do I Know Who To Choose?
While I fully believe in my skills and my company, I am aware that not everybody falls in my service area and I cannot fulfill every request (feast or famine is an apt description of the home inspection industry as my fellow home inspectors can attest to). I am passionate about homes and do not want to see anyone get burned by a bad inspection. Here are a few signs of a good company or home inspector:
…or why I have two smoke detectors next to each other in the basement.
One of the biggest safety issues I see in my home inspections is also one that is easy to remedy: the lack of smoke detectors or (more commonly) the prevalence of smoke detectors that are past the 10-year life expectancy and should be replaced. It’s an easy fix: almost every hardware store sells them for a very affordable price. They are not only an invaluable life safety device that can save lives but, along with fire extinguishers, can help stop a fire from becoming out of control and destroying a home. As mentioned, I have two smoke detectors in very close in proximity in the basement. The obvious reason for this is so that there is no question we will hear the alarm upstairs while sleeping and as a backup if one fails, but it is a little more complicated than that. The main reason is that the detector present when we moved in was ionization and I wanted an photoelectric alarm, especially near the dryer. Does this mean a photoelectric detector is better? The truth is more complicated than that.
The biggest advantage of this type of detector is that it is superior in detecting flaming fires. In other words, fast moving fires that can quickly overwhelm occupants and block escape routes. This would be fires as the result of paper, wood or flammable liquids to give a few examples. These detectors are, believe it or not, filled with a radioactive substance called Americium. As scary as that sounds, the amount is astronomically tiny and poses no threat as long as they are not deliberately dismantled. In my experience, most smoke detectors utilize ionization technology.
Why Use a Photoelectric Detector?
Photoelectric smoke detectors are better at detecting smoldering fires, which are fires that are barely visible with a lazy haze of smoke, often for hours. A common example would be a burning cigarette, and a photoelectric detector can alert occupants to a situation that can lead to a flaming fire and give time to act (either fight or flee) accordingly.
Which is Better?
I will again use my most common stock phrase and say “it depends” but the most important fact is that placement is far more important than what type you have. The simple facts are:
While it is a great idea to know the difference between the two types of residential smoke detectors, this is not generally something that home inspectors note. What’s important is that smoke detectors are installed, are working, and are well placed to maximize safety and minimize nuisance alarms. It is concerning that few homes have proper smoke detectors installed and this is one of the easiest DIY jobs. I hope that one day I will never again hear about a fatality caused by occupants not being aware of a house fire.
Recently we have been doing a little spring cleaning in the summer and trying to do some organizing. I must admit I have a hard time letting go of items “just in case” although I certainly cannot be considered a hoarder in any way. There are several TV shows that cover the topic of hoarding and while they are informative, they tend to show the worst examples of a hoarding disorder.
What is Hoarding?
The generally accepted definition of hoarding is someone who has “persistent difficulty with getting rid of possessions, especially with little or no value”. Like many other issues, it is not an all or nothing condition and various stages of hoarding exist. Generally, for a home inspector this means a hoarded home has items stored outside the normal expected areas in a house such as in stairways, in the middle of living room floors and an excessive amount on kitchen counters.
The Main Problems with Hoarding
The most obvious one to home inspectors is that an unusually large number of belongings in a home makes it difficult to do our jobs. We don’t have the ability to move a significant amount of homeowner belongings, and this can conceal signs of water damage or mold growth. The biggest concern however is safety.
Hoarding and Emergencies
When you think of emergencies, most people think of needing a clear path to escape in a fire or for paramedics to enter. Even with a path cleared that doesn’t mean that fire safety can be ignored. It takes very little time for toxic smoke to overwhelm someone, often in seconds rather than minutes. The more obstacles to walk around, the higher the chances of a tragic outcome.
From a home inspection point of view, there is another potential emergency that few new homeowners think of: access to shut offs. All homes should have at least 2 and possibly 3 or more: they are usually located:
Burst plumbing in particular can do devastating amounts of damage in only a short period of time. Electrical arcs can cause fires if not immediately de-energized and electrocution can occur by touching even a single live wire if the electrical source is not stopped immediately. Some outlets in a home are protected by GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters) but this is not universally required on all receptacles, particularly in older homes and, like an airbag or a seatbelt should not be 100% relied on to save your life.
Too Many Things are a Liability, NOT an Asset
Of course, many of us find that we have accumulated many more items in our house than we had when we moved in but it is vital that we regularly manage our clutter to keep it from impeding the safe function of our home. Too many assets can actually be a liability. Always keep things in designated storage spots so you will have access to everything necessary to maintain your home and be safe. Your local home inspectors and emergency responders thank you!
I recently added an impact driver to my toolkit to go with the existing power drill I own. Though an impact driver and a power drill look similar and perform overlapping functions, both have their place in a workshop. Think of it like a ball pen hammer vs a sledgehammer: they both perform the same basic function, but both have their specific uses. While an impact driver appears to be just a tiny power drill, in many ways it is the superior and more powerful choice when installing screws.
So, What’s the Difference?
The basic answer is that the drill is used for precision and the impact driver is used for raw power. Of course, this seems very counterintuitive just by looking at the size of each tool but it’s true. The reason is that an impact driver delivers bursts of torque many times a second while a standard drill delivers a constant force, without stopping or pulsing.
Why I Love My Newest Tool
The best feature of an impact driver is that is far easier to drive screws into place. I went back at some screws that would not budge using either a screwdriver or power drill and they were fixed with ease. It’s also very easy to switch bits and are simple to lock into place, making it much quicker to use with jobs that have different bit sizes (in other words most of them!). The compact size makes it easier to easy to fit in tight corners, which made my recent DIY work far easier.
Then Why Keep the Power Drill?
The obvious answer is that it’s great as a backup in case the impact driver battery runs out or otherwise needs maintenance. The real answer is that an impact driver simply can’t perform some functions well. The most obvious is drilling a pilot hole. While they can technically be used for drilling the far better choice is….. a drill. As well, it is either all or nothing with no variable settings when precision is needed. A good example would be when installing drywall screws, as they need to be set properly without being pushed right through the wall.
Should You Get an Impact Driver?
The answer to this is a common one: it depends. If you are just doing an occasional assembly of furniture or other minor jobs, the power drill will be more than adequate. If, however, you are a bit of a DIYer (or play one on TV) you will find immense benefits in adding an impact driver to your arsenal. I was skeptical that it would be worth the cost but to be it has quickly become one of my go to tools, both around the home and out in the field doing home inspections.
A home inspector looks at all major aspects of the home, including windows which are a significant part of the building envelope. Residential windows are usually constructed of two basic materials: vinyl and wood. Generally, most homes use vinyl windows, with wood windows being far less common as they are more expensive and require regular maintenance. Therefore, most wood windows an inspector sees are usually nearing the end of their lifespan.
There are countless different styles, including:
Single/Double Hung (Slides straight up from the bottom/straight down from the top)
Casement (Entire window usually pivots outside)
Awning/Hopper (Segment that opens in or out respectively)
Fixed (Doesn’t open)
Jalousie (Look like mini-blinds and are very rare in Nova Scotia as they are not suitable for our colder climate)
The two most common types I see are single hung and casement. There are pros and cons to all types of windows although I personally prefer single hung.
Windows can also be single, double, or triple glazed. This refers to the number of panes of glass in a window, which are usually sealed and filled with argon gas to improve efficiency. Most modern windows are either double or triple glazed, with double glazed being the overwhelming choice. Single glazed windows are usually only seen in older homes.
So, Should I Replace Old Windows?
I will give the typical politician’s answer and say, “it depends”. If an older wooden window has rotted, it is usually a good idea to invest in new windows. However, if a single glazed window regardless of age or type is in good shape, the savings in energy efficiency by replacing it with a modern double glazed window will likely be far less than the cost of replacing the entire window. A qualified contractor can give you a clearer (no pun intended) idea as to the best option for your situation.
One of the requirements of an InterNACHI Certified Inspection Company such as Inside Edge is to follow the standards of practice, including section 3.10.III.C., which states we must report any window that was obviously fogged or displayed other evidence of broken seals. A broken seal means that the argon gas used for insulation has escaped. A few options can be utilized to repair this issue: the most obvious one is to replace the window, which while improving both efficiency and aesthetics can be quite costly. Other options include fixing the seal and having a defogging agent applied. These won’t fix the lost insulating value but will get rid of the ugly fogging.
New and shiny windows are always nice but are they worth the investment? Hopefully this blog post and a home inspector such as yours truly can point you in the right direction when making that decision.
There are many myths about homes I see floating around and one I want to address today is the idea that mobile homes (also known as manufactured, mini or trailer homes) are poor quality and are a bad idea to purchase. The truth is more complicated than that but, in some ways, mobile homes can be better quality than site-built houses. Even the name mobile home is a bit of a misnomer as they are not easy to relocate once the building is in place and utilities are hooked up.
Nova Scotia, like most of Canada, requires mobile homes to be built to CSA-Z240 MH Standards. In plain English, this is basically the building code for mobile homes. Furthermore, as these homes are transported from a remote factory, they are often structurally stronger than their site-built counterparts.
Pros of Mobile Homes
The biggest advantage is the lower cost of ownership. Given that real estate price increases are nothing short of insane in the Halifax area now, a mobile home is a reasonable option for a young family. Given their small size, they are also cheaper to heat or cool as they are only one level. The electrical and plumbing systems are generally of good quality, and the safety concerns are overblown: mobile homes are required to have two separate doors, escape windows and smoke detectors. Modifications that can increase the spread of fire (such as tearing out interior walls) generally cannot be made. My research has shown that manufactured homes have a significantly lower chance of catching fire and are easier to escape in an emergency.
Mobile Home Drawbacks
The biggest challenge is that few areas allow mobile homes, especially in the city. There is unfortunately still a stigma that “trailer parks” bring trouble and are unsafe: both are untrue, however, this mentality is slowly changing for the better. Mobile homes are usually harder to finance as they are often not considered real estate for banking purposes and usually require several additional fees be paid such as monthly lot fees. Since they do not have a basement, they also require specific tie-downs (which is NOT something a homeowner can do) and need to be checked regularly that they are level. Finally, mobile homes, unlike traditional homes, are usually considered a depreciating asset and are generally not considered a long-term investment.
Are They Hard to Inspect?
There is a concern among some home inspectors that mobile homes are too difficult to inspect and this is simply not true. While there are limitations that an inspector must work around (usually no attic access, no way to verify anchors are properly footed below the frost line, tight crawlspaces etc.) there are just simply homes like any other. Do they have concerns? Absolutely, but that can be said about literally every single home I have inspected. If you are considering a mobile home, rest assured that these are as safe and comfortable as a traditional house. Just don’t forget to get that home inspected by a qualified professional such as your favourite Inside Edge home inspector!
If there is one thing that I dislike about being a homeowner is dealing with the seasonal nuisance of ants and wasps. Both these critters have attempted to take over our property but we have been fortunate enough to keep them at bay.
Ants are No Termites (but Annoying Nonetheless)
Fortunately, we do not have building destroying termites in Nova Scotia (yet), but ants, particularly Carpenter Ants can cause building damage, not to mention they are ugly and annoying. Like any pest, the best way to get rid of them is to prevent entry in the first place but as any home resident knows that is easier said than done! The biggest thing to remember is that ants are searching for food and water, particularly sugar. Remove empty pop cans and garbage frequently and be sure to keep the home’s humidity down in the summer as ants are attracted to moist environments.
If they do make a large-scale appearance, it is my experience that the best way to get rid of them is to use a liquid ant bait. Yes, this will attract a significantly larger number of ants for a day or so, but they will quickly take the poison back to the nest. What’s even better is that the ants will literally take away all of the corpses!
Wasps Can Buzz Off!
Wasps are aggressive, highly territorial and can deliver painful and, for someone with allergies, fatal stings. There are several ways to get rid of them and the following two methods I have found to keep them away from our home seem to be the most effective.
The first success I had was using a pop bottle with a special top (which can be purchased anywhere that sells pest control products) that allowed easy entry but challenging escape. I tried a few liquids and found orange juice to be the best solution. It typically takes a few days, but the number of wasps trapped will exponentially grow over time until the problem is eliminated. Still, the best way to stop wasps is to keep them away in the first place. In my experience, the best method for keeping wasps away is using a fake nest in the spring. While this is commonly thought of as a total myth, it was effective for our family and permanently kept the annual nest building away from the house.
Generally, an established nest can be destroyed after dark using an insecticide spray but if it is in a hard-to-reach area, such as a soffit or hidden under a woodpile it is best to call the professionals. Getting swarmed on a ladder or amongst a woodpile is a deeply unpleasant scenario.
I have made it clear that, like most home inspectors, I have an overall negative view of flipped homes, which are homes that are bought to be renovated and quickly re-sold. That’s not to say flippers are all greedy and/or incompetent people but the simple fact is, partly due to various TV shows, the real estate market currently incentivizes investing in the style of the home instead of structural or system updates. Oftentimes the expensive items are usually neglected in a home flip and some “improvements” can even shorten the life of a home. One of the biggest faux pas that I see in flipped homes is the painting of the home’s bricks, particularly its chimney.
Moisture is the #1 Enemy of Homes and Bricks
I sound like a broken record, but it bears repeating again and again. Two of the big myths I hear about home exteriors are that bricks are waterproof or the opposite, that bricks are porous (absorb water) and paint can help seal against water intrusion. Both are incorrect and painting the chimney, while aesthetically pleasing is a bad idea from a maintenance standpoint.
Bricks Need to Breathe!
Painting a chimney will seal up the pores of bricks. While the obvious rebuttal would be to say it prevents moisture from reaching the brick in the first place, this is simply not realistic, especially in our wet climate. No matter how skilled a painter, moisture WILL eventually find a way behind the paint and will be trapped in the brickwork. This can lead to deterioration of the bricks and mortar and will lead to an expensive repair bill (or worse, complete failure!) down the road, and further damage by the rapid freeze/thaw cycles experienced here in Nova Scotia can contribute to the deterioration.
It's Abandoned So Who Cares?
Thanks to advances in heating technology, such as heat pumps and high efficiency direct vent furnaces/boilers, many homes in the city no longer use their fireplace. Once again, painting bricks can lead to long term structural failure and a falling brick can be deadly, regardless of whether it's being used or not!
Paint Covers Problems
A freshly painted chimney is a giant red flag to a home inspector. Paint can be used to hide issues such as cracked/soft mortar, damaged bricks, and the presence of efflorescence (white spots caused by salt deposits that indicate moisture issues). This is yet another reason to have a home inspected regularly by a professional.
It’s Not THAT Simple
Despite what I just wrote, there ARE some situations where painting is perfectly fine. Indoor bricks can usually be painted without issue because it doesn’t rain indoors (I hope!). There are also certain types of very old chimneys that need a specific type of paint. Always check with a chimney or masonry contractor before engaging in any painting of brick as the potential for long term damage isn’t worth the improvement in appearance!
There is a common saying, especially to those who grew up in areas such as Southern Ontario and Nova Scotia that says “it’s not the heat, it’s the #%$@# humidity!”. We in the Halifax area feel the effects of our humid summers and even though we live in a cold climate, it certainly doesn’t feel that way in the dog days of summer!
In short, it’s not just about what the air temperature is that determines our comfort level. Having a background in building services, I have done extensive training in the complex nature of modern buildings and how measurables such as temperature, humidity and pressure are continuously monitored and fine tuned. This is known in the industry as psychrometrics. To give you a quick idea of how complex these calculations are, here is a simple psychrometric chart.
I would imagine that your eyes glazed over at this point. This blog is written for you, the everyday homeowner and not an HVAC specialist so let’s break it down in simple terms: the comfort level in your home is based on both temperature AND humidity, which are heavily influenced by air pressure.
Understanding Air Pressure in One Minute
Something few homeowners consider is the importance of balancing air pressure in a home. Put simply, air always flows from higher to lower pressure. Having a positive pressure relative to the outside will cause air to be pushed into walls and insulation and having negative pressure relative to the outside will cause outside air to rush in to balance out the pressure difference, neither of which is desirable, especially on a cold winter day. This can also lead to a common complaint I hear about woodstoves and fireplaces causing smoke to enter the home rather than go out the chimney. Like in most homes, our air vents were strategically placed to maximize air balancing and keep conditioned air inside the home where it belongs, while minimizing heating and cooling bills.
Humidity is Important Too!
It is important to consider not only temperature but relative humidity as well. A general rule of thumb is that it should be between 40-60% in the average home. Since cold air holds a lot less moisture, heated winter air can be very dry. This can lead to many issues such as bloody noses, dry skin, asthma, static shocks and cracked wood products.
We are in the time of year where the average home can start to have too much humidity. Not only can this lead to feeling hot and uncomfortable, but also mold growth and moisture damage to the home. As I have said countless times, moisture is the #1 enemy of homes. Therefore, it is imperative that homeowners operate a dehumidifier in the summer months. If this post doesn't make it clear, there are many very good reasons to have your HVAC system inspected annually by a qualified technician.