Mike's Home Inspector Blog
Michael Burfitt, CPI
Mike's Home Inspector Blog
Michael Burfitt, CPI
During my elementary school years, I had a routine on school days: the bus arrived at around 8:15am so if I wanted to watch a cartoon before school, I had to get up at 7:30am and for years, since I grew up in the 80s with only a handful of channels, the only kid’s show on TV at that timeslot was Inspector Gadget.
For those not aware, the show is about a dimwitted cyborg detective who has hundreds of gadgets installed in his body and somehow, someway manages to always save the day despite his ineptness. Did I mention that the show was partially created right here in Halifax as well?
No, I am not a dimwitted inspector, but I couldn’t help but notice the parallels to my own set of tools, many used only for obscure situations. Sadly, mine are not built in but today’s blog post covers some of the more common tools I, and most skilled home inspectors, use on most inspections. Let's take a look at these one by one.
One of my newer tools, I started offering this service late last year. It is a pretty simple setup, with a camera on a very long cord. However, it is a little more complicated to use, and knowing how to avoid getting it stuck in a sewer system is an area I studied very carefully.
The most expensive but also most valuable piece of equipment. While it does not provide X-ray vision it does provide valuable assistance in seeing things the naked eye cannot, usually related to moisture issues or poor insulation. There is a lot to know about how to use a thermal camera properly and they can actually DECREASE the quality of inspections if used improperly.
That tiny little unit in the middle is used for detecting the % of moisture in a particular substance, most notably drywall and wood. In my experience, a cheap unit like this works just as well as an expensive one and all homeowners should pick one up. They should also buy a...
While not 100% reliable, these plug in units can usually tell if an electrical receptacle is properly polarized and grounded. Lately, I have tended to avoid using this until later in the inspection to confirm what I already know through inspecting the main electrical system.
Not only great for picking up loose screws that drop, another great use of this is to determine if a metal is ferrous (contains iron) or not. Using this on older pipes can also confirm the presence of lead supply lines, although luckily they are relatively rare in Halifax.
I remember my very first inspection having to scramble to see the roof due to the home's very tall design. I did manage to rig something together but put a drone on my wish list. I eventually went and added it to my toolkit and wonder how I ever inspected without it. A great tool to not only see onto tall roofs but also to provide valuable aerial shots and look for big picture issues. The bonus is on quiet days like the day I wrote this I can capture some breathtaking natural beauty in ways we have never seen before.
4" Basketball (!?)
You might wonder what the point of this is and if I am planning on taking a sports break during inspection. The answer is in the size: 4". My then 2 year old didn't have much interest in this particular ball but I couldn't help but notice it was exactly 4". In other words, a properly installed railing should have balusters no more than 4" apart. No need to pull out a tape measure when this ball does the trick: if it falls through the balusters are too far apart.
Of course it goes without saying that the #1 tool is an inspector's senses, particularly their eyes and brain. All the fancy tools in the world are pointless without the skills and knowledge to know when to use them and more importantly when not to.
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 some 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 is 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 very 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 completed by the homeowner or a handyman.
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 asbestos 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.