One of the great things about being the founder and president of a small company is that I can handle many of the business tasks myself and nearly everything is handled by our family. This gives me great freedom to provide outstanding value and go the extra mile (or 1.6 kilometres if you prefer). I personally answer all calls, read all texts and emails, and give clear answers to all inquiries even if I believe another professional would be better suited for your needs. It is great to be free to speak without following a corporate script but there are a few phrases you will never hear me (and hopefully no other home inspector) utter.
This House is Overpriced/A Great Deal/Just Right
I certainly have personal opinions on the current housing market, but they are just that: personal. As a professional home inspector who also completed a business degree, I have extensive training in the subject of making optimal financial decisions within budget constraints. However, this is beyond the scope of an independent home inspector. You will never hear me advise whether you should buy a house or not, but I will alert a client if I believe their expectations are greatly misaligned with my observations, such as expecting a turnkey home when it needs extensive maintenance.
The Home is Full of Dangerous Mold/Asbestos
Contrary to popular belief, there is no way to identify ‘toxic’ mold or asbestos from a visual examination alone. Are there signs that a house almost certainly has issues with either? Absolutely but there is no way to be 100% sure without a lab test. While beyond the standard of a home inspection I usually alert my clients if further testing or evaluation is recommended but you will never see me make any definitive statements because they simply cannot be made in the field.
Call Me to Fix This Issue
One of the many requirements of being a member of InterNACHI (the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors) is to follow their code of ethics (InterNACHI Code of Ethics). This is more than a meaningless platitude: everyone who is affiliated with our company is expected to follow it without exception. One such requirement is to avoid all real or perceived conflicts of interest. Therefore, while I fancy myself a bit of a handyman, we InterNACHI members are not permitted to perform repairs for an extra fee for 12 months. Yes, I will occasionally tighten a loose screw or clear a gutter blockage if I am safely able to, but you will never see me charging extra. The inspection fee is the only price I charge and if the inspection takes far longer than expected you still don’t receive any additional invoice or other hidden charges.
Please Listen Closely to Our Menu Options
Few things annoy me more than calling a company and having to navigate unclear menus only to be sent to the wrong department. Amazingly these same companies almost always have a ‘higher than normal’ call volume and my ‘call is important’ despite spending significant time on hold. While I am frequently away from the phone, make no mistake I will always call back as soon as possible and will give you a clear answer to your inquiry.
I am aware that the majority of people calling me can be under a great deal of time pressure and stress, whether it be because they are dealing with the various steps of a real estate transaction, dealing with one of the many issues that being a homeowner can throw at you or are worried about a potential structural problem you can rest assured that we will not add to that stress and can give you clear, immediate answers without having to deal with a headache inducing call centre.
I heard it once said that when cooking or baking, a cookbook is just a starting point to build mastery in the kitchen: true skill comes from building off that book knowledge using skills and experiences. This is also true as a professional home inspector: I have completed a significant amount of textbook reading (I lost count how many I have in my library!) but I know there are times where I disagree with the “book” answer and many fellow home inspectors. One such example is Polybutylene (PB) otherwise known as Poly B supply pipe.
PB was a plastic manufactured between 1978 and the mid 1990s that was touted as the “pipe of the future” for its low cost and ease of installation compared to copper. Despite its many advantages, it was discontinued in 1996 due to allegations the pipes were rupturing and causing significant water damage. Class action lawsuits were filed in the United States with a payout of close to $1 billion. Try doing an online search and you will see plenty of PB horror stories: sounds terrifying, doesn’t it?
While all these facts are 100% true, it should be noted that most of the issues originated in the southern United States, where supply pipes can be run through an extremely hot attic. Furthermore, most of the PB issues occurred at joints, which were often poorly made with plastic fittings by plumbers unfamiliar with their installation. In my experience, the PB systems I have inspected in the Halifax area are usually high quality with copper fittings (like the smaller of the two pictures below). My own home has PB throughout and I have no concerns whatsoever about its potential for leakage over any other type of material. Plumbers I have spoken with over the years have informed me that PB failures are rare, and they generally do not recommend replacement of a PB system that has no evidence of leaks.
Having said all that, it’s not a system without problems: it can be damaged by heavily chlorinated water (I know from firsthand experience how chlorinated the water was in Dartmouth before 1999), there is no way to verify that PB is not damaged without invasive testing and some insurance companies look negatively on a home with PB and may charge higher premiums accordingly.
So, how do you know if you have PB? Aside from the obvious answer of calling us at Inside Edge Home Inspections if you live in the Halifax region, there are two telltale signs:
Don’t mistake this post as an endorsement of PB: it was no longer considered an acceptable plumbing material in 2005 and is inferior to both copper and other similar types of plastic-based plumbing like cross-linked polyethylene (commonly known as PEX) or chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC). It is my opinion based on my professional experience that while PB should be monitored for leaks (like any plumbing system), an expensive re-plumbing of a home is rarely necessary. Can a PB system fail without warning? Yes, it can but so can any type of water supply line.
LEt'Termites are by far the most destructive wood destroying organism (WDO) in North America. It is estimated that they cause $5 billion+ in damage annually compared to $200-300 million by the second worst WDO offender (carpenter ants). The average cost to remove Termites can top $3500 and that does not guarantee they will never come back or include the cost of major structural repairs.
How much of a danger are termites to homes in Nova Scotia?
First, the good news: as of the date of this post (September 2021) while termites have been detected in areas with a similar climate such as Maine and Southern Ontario, we do not have verifiable evidence of termite infestations in Nova Scotia and they current do not pose a threat whatsoever. However, there is more to the story than saying there is no danger of termites.
In reality, not only do we have other less destructive WDOS such carpenter ants, carpenter bees and longhorn beetles, but with climate change there is a strong possibility that termites can potentially take root in our province in the near future, especially if they are accidently introduced such as what likely happened in Toronto in the 1930s. While all WDOs are destructive, the termite is by far the biggest danger to homes. This is because unlike carpenter ants for example who only chew wood (usually moist) to clear room for nests, termites eat wood and will target even healthy, dry wood.
Even worse, termites can be extremely difficult to detect and can cause untold destruction before leaving any evidence of their existence. Making it worse, they can be almost impossible to detect during a standard home inspection and even trained pest control experts can miss termite infestations.
As much as I hope termites never make it to our province, they are being spotted in more and more northern areas of North America all the time and it is foolish to think we are immune. Here are some quick signs of termite infestations:
The biggest difference between carpenter ant and termite damage is twofold: not only are carpenter ants not as destructive but are generally much cleaner and leave more evidence. After all, much like us humans they are usually looking to build a nice home and not to literally eat us out of house and home like termites! As well, thanks to our cold winters, even the worst hit areas of Canada are nowhere near as bad as the southeastern United States. Even being in a very low risk area I would not be completely shocked if in the next few years termites are discovered in the Maritime Provinces as they are rapidly heading in our direction.
I am a home inspector that regularly compares notes with other inspectors and inspection companies throughout Canada and the United States. To say that termites can cause problems to homeowners is the ultimate understatement. Let's hope that if you are reading this in the future we still do not have any termites in our province.
I mention how much I love being a home inspector to the point you may wonder is there anything I don’t like about inspections. Yes, like any job it’s not always sunshine and roses, and at the top of that list is being in a homeowner’s personal space. I am aware that a house is not just a collection of drywall, wood, asphalt, and vinyl but a sanctuary from the rat race, a safe place to relax after a hard day and a place to make cherished family memories. I have developed an ability to look past personal belongings to the point you could leave a sack of money on the kitchen table and I would probably not even see it.
Unfortunately, not everyone has that ability, and some will actively try to illegally enter a home to remove said sack, commonly known as a burglar. Residential break-ins can happen anywhere and contrary to the stereotype of the masked man hiding in the shadows like a raccoon, many burglars can dress and act like someone who makes regular house visits, such as a delivery driver or an appliance technician. As well, most burglaries happen during the workday and almost never when the home is occupied.
Here are a few quick facts:
Check Hinges on Outward Swinging Doors
Most burglars are not going to forcefully break down a door or window as it attracts a lot of negative attention and will almost certainly get a call to the police from a neighbour. Criminals are looking for easy and quiet ways of entry and there is no easier way (other than unlocked doors) than with doors that swing outward. While they are usually in garages, I have seen them used on plenty of back doors and without modifications, they can be popped off within seconds even with a powerful deadbolt. Investigate to make sure a modification has been made (such as adding a screw) to make it much more difficult to remove if you have exterior doors that swing outside.
Cut Back Shrubbery
Not only is that a great idea from a moisture and pest point of view, but it is also a great way to cut back on potential hiding spots for burglars to access basement or ground level windows without being noticed.
Remember there is no stereotypical burglar look: in many cases they will disguise themselves as a new neighbour or a service person to not draw suspicion or attention. Like most honest service providers, I am highly identifiable as a home inspector representing Inside Edge with a uniform or company T-shirt, carry an InterNACHI ID card and drive a branded vehicle. I also protect my client's privacy and with only extremely rare life safety or legal exceptions do not discuss ANY of my findings with anyone.
While I hope you never have to deal with a theft from your home, it is always a good idea to make an inventory of your valuables. I include an Appliance Audit in spreadsheet format with every inspection and will be happy to provide you with a blank template for your personal use free of charge: just send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will be more than happy to pass it along. To quote what was said to me many years ago: "there is no need to live in fear but there are plenty of reasons to live with caution".
As both an entrepreneur and a holder of a bachelor’s degree in Commerce, I like to view hiring an independent home inspector as a financial investment with a great return: our (low) upfront fees will usually save you significant amounts of money on home maintenance down the road. I know in my own home I have saved thousands in maintenance costs over the years with my understanding of complex building systems. Today I want to show you how, for about $40 and a decent breaker bar or torque wrench (or better yet a plumber!), you can significantly increase the life of your water heater, even more so if you live outside of an area supplied by Halifax Water that has hard water.
This is an anode rod, sometimes known as a sacrificial anode and is the key to extending the life of your tank. As the name implies, it sacrifices itself to take most of the corrosion away from the tank liner. Without getting into the boring science of electron flow, both magnesium and aluminum lose electrons (i.e., corrode, rust) much faster than ferrous metals such as steel, which is what most tanks are constructed of. These should be checked every year after 3 years and replaced as needed. At approximately $40, it is a lot cheaper and easier to replace than a tank: replacing ours on short notice cost us a total of $1300 just 3 days after moving into our home, not including spending our first weekend cleaning up the mess and dealing with no hot water for the entire day.
Another way to keep your tank running well into the future is to flush it once a year: simply hook up a garden hose and turn the tap after shutting off both the power and water supply to clear impurities that have settled and cause significant rust. As I have mentioned before, a burst water tank is a deeply unpleasant experience that can be minimized with regular maintenance. Be sure to read the manuals for all your home’s equipment and appliances: there are valuable tips that can both extend the life of and improve efficiency of your home’s components.
A home inspector will also look for other important safety features, such as a temperature/pressure relief valve and tube. While catastrophic tank failures are obviously rare, water heaters have an incredible amount of stored energy, and a failed tank can be shot up through the roof and into a neighbour’s yard like a rocket. Regular home maintenance can help insure you will never meet them in this way!
Like most Canadian home inspectors, I have been asked on occasion what I think of Mike Holmes. Overall I have a positive opinion of him and have learned plenty watching his many shows over the years. My biggest criticism, however, is that he tends to exaggerate relatively minor issues and unintentionally misrepresent how easy it is to renovate a home, which given the limitations of television is understandable.
Before I became a professional home inspector, I imagined it was a lot like a TV show, where I look at an issue and loudly proclaim: “this is X, will cost Y and will take Z to complete!” The truth is that while many issues are black and white (i.e. missing safety devices) many defects I come across require me to draw upon my vast knowledge of building systems to evaluate. Here are just a few examples of symptoms that can be anything from cosmetic to catastrophic.
One of the most concerning things a homeowner can face is a home that is sinking on one side. This can be a very expensive repair and in extreme situations it may even be cheaper to rebuild the entire house! While that sounds terrifying in reality this is a rare situation: nearly every home has foundation cracks and they are generally not a big deal. There are a number of variables I look at:
Methane gas not only unhealthy and explosive in large concentrations but smells terrible and can be very concerning. If a home smells of sewage, this could mean a sewer line clog or even worse, a break. Both are expensive to remedy and are disruptive to a home’s occupants. Before waving the white flag and calling for a plumber, an inspector knows to check a few things first, particularly the home’s toilets. These are the only fixtures where the waste pipes do not have a trap to prevent sewer gas from escaping (they are in the toilet itself) and over time the wax seal keeping it in place to the floor will crack and loosen, leading to the unpleasant smell. This is a relatively minor repair and can be easily completed by the homeowner.
I recently had a real estate agent ask me how much of a concern Asbestos is for home buyers. The short answer is that it depends on where in the home it is located. If you follow this blog, you already know that Asbestos is very dangerous to long term health but only when in a friable (easily crumbled) state, where loose fibres can coat the lungs over time. If a house has asbestos (and a significant number of homes, particularly on the Halifax Peninsula or Downtown Dartmouth likely do), my advice will vary based on where the potential asbestos is located. If it is discovered in flooring tiles or siding the best option would be to leave it alone but it is in insulation, I generally suggest either covering or preferably having a qualified abatement contractor remove it. Ideally, I would love to wave a magic wand and remove all asbestos from homes but in reality, it is very expensive and time consuming to completely remove safely from a structure.
Just like a doctor will usually suggest not searching the internet for symptoms, as a homeowner you should be cautious when looking at information online. There is a lot of scary information about topics such as Polybutylene Pipes, Flammable Insulation and Dangerous Decks but reality is far more subjective than the blanket statements I often see. These symptoms can suggest a wide variety of conditions but in my experience, they are usually on the mild end of the spectrum.
While I pride myself on being thorough and detailed in all my inspections it is simply impossible to catch every small detail, especially when the previous owner/tenant’s belongings are still in place. Here are some examples of areas a home inspector generally doesn’t focus much attention to:
I make it no secret that I am big on energy efficiency and am a huge fan of Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs. Simply put, LED bulbs are brighter, last longer, don’t fade with age and generate very little (waste) heat. In fact, the very first thing I did upon moving into our home was replace almost all our (mostly incandescent) lighting with LED. However, this is not someone I check for because:
Not only are cosmetic finishes excluded from a standard home inspection, but in most cases the flooring, if it isn’t brand new, almost always has defective areas. It can be very difficult to identify the quality of a flooring installation from look alone and in many cases new homeowners prefer to change the flooring style anyway. I do look out for major safety issues but normal wear and tear, scratches, dents etc. are normal in a lived-in home and to be expected.
I am generally not worried about holes or dents in drywall as, like most homeowners, I have created more than one moving furniture or carrying a large, pointed object. In fact, it can provide the inspector a way to see in behind the walls even if just a small area. Drywall is generally easy to patch and repair and I have done this myself without issue for a very low cost.
While outbuildings are not included in standard home inspections if I could sum up my observations on sheds I have inspected, I could simply just say “recommend complete replacement” as the cost is usually cheaper than doing necessary repairs. In my experience, sheds have a shorter life expectancy, are generally not maintained or properly footed as they aren’t designed for living and are rightfully not a priority for homeowners on a limited budget.
I have discussed previously that as a professional home inspector, one of the most important skills to be successful in this field is discretion about what is really important and not just filling in lines on a boilerplate. Roofing, HVAC and structural systems are three such areas that can be very expensive to repair/replace and are the focus of the majority of our efforts.
While I pride myself on being incredibly thorough in my inspections, the simple fact is that we home inspectors simply do not have the time to document every single issue within a home: as much as I am proud of being extremely thorough and meticulous, I know it is important to maximize my time by focusing more effort on the big issues that greatly impact safety, efficiency and/or have a significant financial impact. Here are some examples of where I focus my attention:
I recently did an inspection where the roof was not visible from ground level and was approximately 20 feet off the ground. It was a struggle to get a good look at it but I am glad I took the time to do that. To put it nicely the roof was in very bad shape and needing a roofing contractor to evaluate it and replace the shingles as soon as possible. Not only are roof jobs expensive but contractors are usually booked well in advance and even small leaks can cause significant damage.
I have previously touched on this in a past blog post: not only is a home’s electrical system very important from a safety point of view (electricity kills and electrical fires are far too common) but also from a functional point of view. Due to skyrocketing housing costs the average size of a household is growing along with their electrical needs. For example, a system designed for 2-3 people can encounter significant issues and require expensive upgrades to accommodate a household of 6. I also see a concerning lack of smoke and CO detectors.
While foundation cracks are very common and usually a result of simple settling (all buildings settle), some cracks can be symptoms of major structural problems that can cost well into the 5 figures to correct. Fortunately, while catastrophic problems are rare it goes without saying not something I want to miss.
HVAC (Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning)
There is no easy answer for what the best HVAC system is as every option has its pros and cons: in my home I have successfully replaced most of our electric heaters with a ductless mini split system but this may not work for you. One area of concern for me is the large number of older systems still in use: while they can last for years to come, they could potentially fail at anytime and do not take advantage of modern energy efficiency.
Another thing to consider is that many homes in Nova Scotia do NOT have mechanical cooling. Given the recent hot and humid summers this is definitely something home buyers outside of July and August should be aware of.
I can’t tell you how many homes I have inspected that are missing floor drains, particularly near washers located on the top level of a home. When we moved into our home, the water tank burst before we could arrange a replacement. I quickly learned that the floor drain was covered by rigid insulation (and that’s another blog post!) and we woke up to a flooded basement on day three. It can be difficult to add proper drains but at least a home buyer can be aware of the potential issues from a washing machine or water tank.
This list is by no means exhaustive but merely a sample of what is important to be focused on during an inspection. I am not as concerned about the $100 issues as I am the $10,000 issues and how to identify a potential money pit or an unsafe home. Next week I will look at areas I do not focus as much attention to and why.
Being a professional home inspector means there is never a time where you can say that the learning stops and you know everything. If I haven't made it clear through my credentials I have an insatiable appetite for growing my understanding of all things home related that was fostered both through my late Grandfather (possibly the most skilled carpenter I have ever known) and 14 years at working with NSCC. My education continues to this day as can be seen clearly in the photo above: I especially like to learn more about topics that are only lightly touched upon in the formal home inspector programs: one such topic is marijuana grow-ops.
As everyone is well aware, marijuana has been legal in Canada for a while now and while still technically illegal throughout the entire United States, in reality as of 2021 only 5 out of 50 states have a full ban on it. One of the consequences of this is a drastic decrease in the black market and a corresponding drop in houses that are used to grow large quantities of cannabis illegally. It goes without saying that former growers generally do not advertise what the home was used for in the past and it can be difficult to identify a house that was used as a grow-op. There are a number of reasons why it is critical to know if the home was used as a grow house aside from insurance and mortgage issues:
One of the biggest concerns I see from potential new homeowners is the cost of dealing with sewer problems. While it can be very expensive to repair a sewer line, the biggest concern is having sewage backing up into the home and being unable to use water until repairs are completed. In many cases I recommend getting the main sewer line scoped to check for clogs or damage before a home is purchased.
While it is always a good idea to get a sewer inspection done, I generally tailor my advice based on the individual property being inspected. As a rule of thumb, every home over 20 years old should have the sewer lines checked but it is especially critical to get an inspection done for the following two scenarios:
The Property has Large Trees
It goes without saying that large trees have large roots, roughly equivalent to the span of the branches. The biggest concern is that roots can pierce and slowly destroy the sewer lines, leading to sewer backup or a sewage leak on the property.
The Home is Older, Especially a Home Built in the Mid 70s or Earlier
There are several common-sense reasons older homes are more likely to have sewer failures, but the main concern I have is no-corrode piping, otherwise known as orangeburg. Contrary to the name, these pipes are black, not orange and are named after Orangeburg, New York where they were originally manufactured. They were generally used residentially from the early 1940s to 1974 and are made of compressed wood fibres and tar. Not only are they at the end of the expected 50-year lifespan but this type of pipe tends to collapse and cause complete sewer blockage and is a cheaply made, poor quality material overall.
It is never my intention to alarm or scare homeowners or home buyers, but the simple fact is that no-corrode piping needs to be replaced if discovered: if it hasn’t failed already the chances of failure in the coming years is very high and it is a miracle there are still functioning orangeburg systems in 2021. The only way to determine if you have it is to have the sewer system scoped. This is a service that I am looking to add to our company in the near future but in the meantime, there are several plumbing contractors that can perform a sewer inspection.
Here are a few warning signs that it may be time for an inspection:
Finding a problem early before it escalates to a complete blockage or sewer pipe collapse will allow to time to plan a repair on your schedule while avoiding the nightmare that is sewage backup into a home. I have seen the results of sewage going where it shouldn't and I promise you it isn’t something you ever want to see or smell.