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.
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.