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About The House

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.


Hugh Cairns: Home inspection guarantee's

What is a home inspection?

Well, that’s a great question and the answer varies greatly between inspectors and consumers. One thing we can all agree on is that home inspections are very important. The best case scenario is that the home inspection will determine that the home is performing as it should. Ironically, there is an additional best case scenario, the one where the home inspector identifies a component that requires further investigation that can save you money or ones that avoid future problems.

The answer that the home inspection and consumer advocacy groups provides is the technical version. A home inspection is a visual inspection of the structure and components of a home to find items that are not performing correctly or items that are unsafe. If a problem or a symptom of a problem is found the home inspector will include a description of the problem in a written report and may recommend further evaluation.

What a home inspection is not –a home inspection does not pass or fail a home. Home inspections do not determine if a home meets zoning or building codes. A home inspection does not answer health concerns or regulations governing insurability.

Home inspection guarantees

Although some companies offer home inspection guarantees, they are more a ploy to secure sales than offer anything of substance. Guarantees simply just don’t apply to home inspections. By Standards of Practice, an inspection does not provide warranties or guarantees on a home’s condition. If an inspector is offering a guarantee then in my books it is a marketing manoeuvre.

Here is a popular home inspection guarantee…. “If your home inspector misses anything, we'll buy your home back.” Sounds good? Too good to be true? You bet. Once you start with the fine print you’ll determine that defects not present at the time of inspection are not included. The guarantee lasts only 90 days – hardly enough time for a precondition to deteriorate. Only items that are specified in the Standards of Practice are included. If you pass this narrow criteria you may be able to sell the home to the guarantor for what you paid for the home – while that may sound good – you’ll have to pay up again for all your costs and go through the inconvenience of looking for and buying another home.

Hugh Cairns: The perfect house

People are often curious to know what kinds of conditions are found during home inspections. In older homes, the inspection report often leads itself to deficiency recognition and how aging components are likely to last. The inspection of new homes tends to lend itself towards the proper installation of components and making sure things are done right. Either way, there seems to be a reportable item to consider before purchase and usually it’s a routine uncomplicated fix.

I was reading an article produced by Carson Dunlop & Associates Ltd. out of Toronto recently. It stated that they have inspected over 85,000 homes and haven’t found the perfect house yet. Therefore, if the perfect house isn’t out there, then spending a couple of bucks usually is what it takes to return the home to optimum performance. Next, something else will need attention and an additional investment will be required. A pattern is developing and unavoidable. It is called maintenance.

Let us replace the term “perfect house” with “optimum house”. How much money does it take to maintain a home to its optimum performance? It’s a big question with a straightforward answer – 1%. When you consider the life cycle of every component of a house, a reasonable annual estimate of the cost of normal maintenance is 1% of the value of the house (not including the lot).

It may be an upcoming roof re-surface or a furnace down the line. Toss in the odd unexpected repair and you are looking at an average of 1% of the value of the home to keep it in optimum performance. Sadly, all construction components and systems will eventually wear out. The good news is they do not all wear out at the same time because different components have different life cycles. Houses tend to settle into what you might call a “normal maintenance pattern”. Interestingly, the 1% rule applies to expensive and affordable homes. Think of the home as a 100 year home, a 1% investment every year is what it’s going to take to keep it at optimum performance.

Expectations play a huge role when home buyer arrives at an inspection. The expectations of buyers vary dramatically based on their experiences, priorities, standards and resources to maintain a home or improve it. The inspection of the condition of the home helps buyers with expectations about the home and will help clarify what kind of future financial commitments that is likely and unavoidable.

If you are buying a 15-year-old home, let’s face it, depending on the quality of the covering you may be looking at a new one shortly. If you are buying a 30-year-old home, you may require a new furnace. Don’t expected maintenance items scare you away from a perfectly good home.


Hugh Cairns: Attic frost

Q. How much attic frost is too much?


A. After sticking my head into hundreds of attics every year, I can tell you that seeing some frost low on the underside of the roof sheathing in the dead of winter is nothing to be immediately concerned about. In fact, most people don’t even know that it happens or where to look for it.

There are telltale signs of humidity retention in attic spaces from stained sheathing to rusted nail heads. When conditions are ripe, it is possible to observe frost in small areas and in areas where air circulation may not be the best. It’s not ideal, but it can be expected, especially in older homes. It might surprise you that I’ve seen this condition in newer homes that utilize today’s ventilation and proper insulation and air/vapour barriers.

In the case of this home, the winter weather had been pleasantly mild. Next, a significant drop in temperature happened which immediately dropped temperatures to well below freezing and an abnormal amount of humid air in the attic space the moisture quickly condensed on the underside of the sheathing and froze.

It is good practice to periodically peek in your attic, and do some maintenance to improve air sealing and ventilation; I wouldn’t lose sleep if you see small amounts of frost in a few locations.

In short, if you see moderate to large areas of very thick frost in your attic, then action may be needed. Otherwise, a few small spots near an old chimney or small gaps above interior partition walls are nothing to worry about.

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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