Internachi certified professional inspector
Are Rain Gutters Required?
To my knowledge, there are no building code regulations in either Halifax or Nova Scotia that require homeowners to install rain gutters, or eavestroughs if you prefer. This is consistent with my observations: a significant number of homes I inspect do not have gutters, whether it be missing on just on one side, over a portico, other small areas, or completely absent.
Of course, just because I see nothing in my research doesn’t mean that I don’t consider them an essential part of a house. As I have said many times before: moisture is the #1 enemy of homes! We here in Nova Scotia live in one of Canada’s wettest areas and that water needs to be kept away from homes: not only will this help minimize the chance of a flooded basement but will help to protect against paint being damaged and reduce the opportunity for mold and mildew to grow and wood rot to occur.
As a systematic inspector, I know that it is useless to just install gutters and call it a day as they require proper downspouts to be effective. Otherwise, the water will eventually just spill out over the side, and we are back at square one. Furthermore, just pouring a bunch of water in one area near the foundation can do more harm than good: it needs to be extended as far as reasonably possible: 4 feet is a good minimum but that can vary depending on topography. Rain gutters, contrary to popular belief, are not supposed to be installed level. While they may look straight from the ground, it is required to have a gentle slope towards the downspout to prevent water from pooling. They also need to be regularly cleaned, especially in areas with taller trees.
I did one inspection in a rural area where the gutter was nearly 100% clogged with foliage and was essentially useless: a regular eavestrough cleaning can also alert you to roofing issues, as when asphalt shingles begin to deteriorate granules can start to accumulate in the gutters.
Furthermore, one needs to be aware of the slope of the property surrounding the structure. The simple fact is that without a properly graded lot, all the preventative measures in the world won’t do much good: the ground can only absorb so much water and with our rainy Spring season, water will travel towards a foundation and eventually inside a home if the lot is sloped that way. I did one inspection where the force of water coming off the roof compacted the ground and sloped the ground towards the foundation and while no flooding was detected, it is not a matter of if but when the basement ends up with unwanted water.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and a water control system needs to be properly installed and maintained regularly to be effective. Installing a fancy eavestrough system without considering all the points mentioned in this blog post is nothing but a significant waste of time and money. While this can be a DIY project (yours truly successfully installed a supplementary system at home) it is important to understand the science behind water flow and to follow manufacturer’s instructions.
There is no such thing as a perfect home, and yes that includes my own house. Here are 3 subtle defects I found after moving in (and before I became a home inspector). Can you spot the issues?
This is what appears to be plain, ordinary insulation in the basement. The problem doesn’t lie with the installation or the R (insulating) value, nor is there a problem with mould or cold air infiltration and there is nothing wrong with using the red sheathing tape. The problem lies in the fact that this type of insulation is known as extruded polystyrene, which like all plastics is derived from petroleum by-products. As such, while it can be hard to ignite, once a fire has started it burns very rapidly with highly toxic smoke. As it is located in the basement, it would be nearly impossible to detect before the fire got out of control.
Solution: this type of insulation needs to be covered by a fire barrier, such as I have done here with drywall. This simple action can greatly reduce the spread of fire, allowing for precious minutes to take action.
This is a door frame that was walled over. How do I know this was added later and is not part of the original construction? Not only is the wood slightly different, but the plastic vapor barrier is missing over the former doorframe. This barrier is designed to keep wood and concrete from making direct contact, and having moisture travel up from the concrete into the wood by capillary action, which will reduce the wood's lifespan by promoting rot and mould growth. Below is proof that moisture is travelling up: you can see a moisture content of 10% compared to 6% to a nearby section of the wall with a proper moisture barrier. Generally, we start worrying when the moisture content hits 20% as that is conducive to rot and mould growth.
Solution: given how the moisture content isn't in the "danger zone" it is easier (and cheaper!) to just leave this alone, especially since this is not a new home. If this wood needs to be replaced in the future a plastic barrier such as polyethylene will be installed first.
This is from our basement where the washing machine is connected. All electrical receptacles within 5-6 feet of any water source need to have ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection as water and electricity do not mix.
Solution: I replaced this receptacle with the proper GFCI unit and while you may have noticed it was installed “upside down” it is 100% acceptable to install them upright, upside down or even sideways. I have inspected houses that appeared on the surface to be perfect, only to discover similar issues that aren't always apparent. This is just one of many examples of why I love being a home inspector!
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:
I remember way back when I worked in home improvement retail how it was emphasized over and over that there is no ‘profile’ of a shoplifter and the 'average' thief could look like literally anyone from any background, culture, gender or age. This is a good analogy for grow-ops: contrary to the stereotype that drug houses are run down, dirty and scary looking they can just as easily be your neighbour with a clean, well maintained property. Grow-ops were generally designed to blend in to not attract attention and this is the reason it is important to know the signs and keep an eye out for clues that a home might have been used for nefarious purposes in the past. These are numerous and include:
Managing Mo(u)ld and Moisture
One of the biggest concerns I see as a home inspector involve air quality and mould. What exactly is mold and is it dangerous? The most important thing to know is that there is no such thing as “toxic mould” or “black mould”. Mould is a part of the fungi family, to which nobody knows how many species of fungi exist. The most common types of indoor molds are:
The main area of concern for the home inspector are:
So, what is a homeowner to think? This topic is a perfect example of why I am a systematic home inspector and not an “electrical” or “plumbing” or “structural” inspector as these systems are all interdependent in a home. While I could lull you to sleep with my many hours of research, the biggest takeaway is that moisture control is the key to mould control. Did I mention that moisture is the sworn enemy of the home inspector?
Here are some steps you can take to keep mould growth at bay:
Moulds are not generally dangerous but any signs of mould (such as black patches on the bathroom ceiling) should be handled as soon as possible. Generally, it is NOT a good idea to use biocides, chlorine, or other disinfectants as this will not eliminate the root cause, and dead mould can still cause respiratory problems. The best course of action is to prevent mould from taking foot by…. you guessed it…. moisture control. You may have noticed some similarities to this article and my first article on radon and that is no coincidence: the strategies for clean air, mould, asbestos, and radon mitigation are largely the same and can be summed up in three points: source control, improved ventilation, and air cleaners.