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About The House

Hugh Cairns: Cast iron sewage pipes

Cast iron sewage waste pipes have been in use for more than 100 years. In commercial and multifamily construction applications, cast iron pipes are still installed today, mostly where large diameter requirements are required. In residential construction, cast iron waste pipes were phased out in the late 60’s and early 70’s and replaced with plastic composite products.

Once introduced, PVC plastic pipe quickly became the choice for sewage pipe in residential construction. Plastic piping makes for easier installations is cheaper to acquire and produce.

If you have an older cast iron waste pipe chances are that it’s still in good condition. Under normal conditions, good quality cast iron sewage pipes have a reliable service life of 100 years or more. When we think of water to metal contact we think of corrosion. Cast iron waste pipes does rust on the interior, but when it does, the rust forms a protective barrier layer to protect the remainder of the pipe from further rusting. Most cast iron waste pipes have really thick walls and can handle normal rust and low pressure waste disposal.

There are conditions that cause the life span of cast waste pipes to diminish. Sub-surface erosion or ground shift can cause joint damage or breaks. When seen from above ground, trees are often regarded as aesthetically pleasing, below grade, tree roots seek water and have enormous strength. If there is a leak in the waste system and the tree can sense it, it will surly seek the water source and invade it. For a few hundred dollars, the only way to obtain an idea of how your caste iron pipe is performing is to have it scoped with a camera. This method will provide information about the pipes interior, but the exterior will still be covered in dirt. The only way to view the health of the pipes exterior is to excavate.

For the most part, cast iron systems are very reliable and cause few problems. If you are experiencing some issues it’s best to have a plumber in to discuss the system.

Hugh Cairns: Selling your home in 2015

With some of the great weather we have had this winter it is not a stretch to start thinking about Spring. If you have plans to sell your home in this year’s Spring real estate season then now is the time to get started before you list.

Engaging a professional realtor is sure to alleviate much of the stress that comes with selling your house. From a home inspector’s point of view, looking after those little things that need attention around the house will consume precious time fast.

Of course, there are improvements that cost only a few thousand dollars that are great investments and almost guaranteed to increase the value of your home and its marketability, but you should run them past your Realtor and a home-staging professional before you embark on them. Items like replacing old, worn-out carpet, or updating a dated bathroom, painting, or installing new countertops may be on your list, but to a home inspector they hold little weight.

If you are wondering where to start and not interested in undertaking major overhauls then it is time to get to work on small repairs to get your home in tip-top shape.

Start with decluttering. Empty out your crawlspace and attics for sure. Having unrestricted access to these spaces will allow a quick review for any routine repairs that may be needed. The same can be said for your garage and utility rooms. If it is an option, consider storing belongings off-site.

Service that furnace! Every home buyer wants to know the condition of your furnace, and the home inspector will be looking too. The reliability of aging furnaces can be difficult to predict, so have the furnace cleaned, serviced and the heat exchanger and interior flue system inspected.

Check out the age of your water heater. Insurance companies are interested in the age of hot water heaters. Although they may be working like a charm, insurance underwriters prefer newer, more reliable models.

Have a roof inspection conducted by a professional roofing company. Just because the roof covering looks old does not mean that it is in trouble. In most cases, simple repairs, sealing up flashings and penetrations is all that is needed to continue.

Get a seller’s home inspection. Now we all know that normally it is the buyer who sets up and pays for a home inspection, but it is always a good move to stay one-step ahead of the competition. By having a pre-sell inspection, you will arm yourself with the knowledge of the condition of your home. There may be some items that you will want to correct before a negotiation. Others you may leave for the buyer’s taste and expectations. One thing about a pre-sell report, you’ll have confidence in your product that all involved will respect.

Hugh Cairns: Pack rat

Pack rats are nest builders. They build great nests. They use all kinds of materials ranging from branches, foliage, debris to sofa stuffing. The nest in this attic measures five feet in diameter and almost three feet high. (I gotta tell ya, that on first sight during this home inspection, I thought that what I may have found was an alien pod that hadn’t reached full development - like the ones from the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers).

Pack rat nests are recognizable by their composition. Pack rats gather twigs, foliage and debris from the outdoors, and items like shredded cloth and furniture stuffing from the indoors. The actual pack rat nest is located near the centre of this mound. The nest itself is fairly tidy, but the rest of the attic is the rat's biffy. In fact, the entire attic space of this home was littered with waste pellets and the distinct odour or rat urine was prevalent.

Pack rats earned their nickname because of the objects they collect to decorate their nests. Some nests can reach four feet high and eight feet wide because they are always adding to it. Pack rats love shiny decorative objects and have been known to take keys, jewelry and tin foil to their nest. Usually only one rat lives in the nest - if there is more than one, it is usually a mother with her offspring.

Pack rats can cause serious financial loss. They are avid chewers, often chewing on and through wires in attic because their urine and fecal matter are vectors for disease making removal mandatory.

Removal of pack rats isn’t just as easy as kill and remove. It’s kind of hard to believe that pack rats must be live trapped because they are a protected species. Once removed, a displaced pack rat seeks new shelter and may make a car or another home their new home. Once the pack rat is removed, parasites or other pests may be living in the nest. It’s important to remove the nest and treat it immediately after removal.

Just as important as removal, preventing another pack rat from taking over the space is necessary. That means the home needs to be buttoned up and rat-proofed. Rats like to go where other rats have been. After trapping the resident rat and removing the nest, other rats may try to rebuild in the same area. The scent of rat urine and pheromone can attract new rats and animals.

So, what’s the removal process here? Well, put on your hazmat suit to protect yourself from disease, then start with live trapping of the pack rat, remember, they are a protected species. Next, the nest and all of the soiled attic insulation materials should be bagged before leaving the attic space while wearing your respirator. Continue with vacuuming up the pack rat waste. In most cases a fogging of the attic using a commercial odour eliminator is required. Now, it’s time for rat-proofing and re-insulation. As I said before, pack rats can cause serious setback, in the case of this nest, the remediation was estimated to be about $8,000. Rats!

Hugh Cairns: Thermal imaging is key

Okanagan Valley homes may not be susceptible to dry rot thanks to our drier weather, but fungal rot caused by water infiltration is a different story.

When out inspecting homes, inspectors in our area are sharp to seek out moisture related concerns. Excessive moisture in homes is often due to leaking roofs and gutters, poorly installed downspouts, and faulty plumbing issues. Homeowners, who are planning to sell their homes, often are not aware of the damage that moisture can create.

When it comes to moisture concerns home inspectors cannot tear open walls to look for problems like some televised home inspection programs. Home inspectors can accentuate their training and experience though when looking for water damage. That is where thermal imaging can make a huge difference.

You can tell a lot from an examination of the outside of a house and a close examination of a crawl space. Checking under sinks and a trip into an attic always provides valuable information too. When your home inspector uses thermal imagining technology during an inspection it adds a value added layer of information about the performance of the home.

Although only a handful of Kelowna home inspectors that use thermal imaging cameras during their inspections, they are gaining popularity in the field of professional home inspections. Thermal imaging cameras are not a mandatory requirement, and the cost of acquisition for a decent thermal camera runs into the thousands of dollars, making them discretionary for most inspectors.

In a nutshell, thermal imaging uses infrared technology to read the surface temperature and the difference of temperature of the surface of a material. Thermal light is not visible to the naked eye, but it is part of the electromagnetic spectrum that we perceive as heat.

Each material has a unique thermal signature. When moisture, heat, cold or wood-destroying organisms are introduced to the structure, the surface thermal signature changes. Thermographers interpret temperature variations to evaluate thermal imaging results.

Thermal imaging can evaluate the condition of residential and commercial structures with a rapid diagnosis. Thermal imaging cameras can quickly scan large areas like ceilings and walls to discern suspect areas that can reveal issues that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Read more About the House - Hugh Cairns articles


About the Author

When you need advice or guidance with for DIY home improvement and repairs, Hugh Cairns can help you with the answers.

Home improvements can be rewarding and turn your home a nicer comfortable place to live and increase its value. Whether you are renovating your kitchen, converting a loft, giving a room a lick of paint or making improvements to your home’s energy efficiency this column is here to guide you with some useful information and key things to remember.

Do you have a renovation question or concern? Please feel free to send Hugh your questions. Contact him through


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.

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