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About The House

Hugh Cairns: It’s not going to be perfect

In my book, there are three primary outcomes from home inspections and they are all categorized as good. There are the inspections where a significant existing condition is communicated that the buyer may not be aware of, or where the conditions observed are anticipated and explainable (these include items that the buyer may already have seen or aware of, but need some clarification or further explanation). The third good outcome is where the home is performing just as it should.

Buying a home is a big event. All the critiquing, advice and expectations being discussed can be a tad overwhelming. It can be difficult to extract the not so big items from the things that are big. Not surprisingly, most deficient or maintenance associated conditions found during home inspections are routine, expected, understandable, and are a result of in-service age, materials or workmanship. It stands to reason that some items reported in home inspections pop up repeatedly and are not big surprises.

So here are 3 home inspection items that buyers may expect…


Old water heaters

Water heaters usually last decades without a problem, however for insurance purposes, the widely accepted reliable service life of tanked water heaters ranges from 8 to 12 years (or the published warrantied period). When it comes to hot water heaters, they may be working just fine and can expect to do so for years, but insurance underwriters tend to categorize aging water heaters differently than newer ones. Your home inspector has your best interest in mind and just wants to advise you on the life span so that you are prepared. In most cases, if the water heater is working the seller does not have to replace or credit for this item.


Small cracks in drywall or some settlement

Houses expand and contract with pressure and temperature, moisture can play a role too. There are multiple reasons why simple drywall cracks appear. Today’s engineered homes tend to fair better than older homes, but new homes aren’t immune. My advice, go into your inspection expecting that the drywall will not be perfect.

When it comes to settlement, older homes simply just don’t perform structurally the same way that new ones do. They aren’t as well engineered and the land that they were built on not evaluated like what is expected today. Think of the immense amount of weight that a home constitutes and how it gets transferred from the roof to the sub-surface. Your home inspector will be able to point out settlement and discuss potential sources of cause most of which are simple and explainable. When cases are significant, your inspector will advise a technical inspection. If you’re sensitive to a bit of rolling in a floor surface or a driveway that isn’t cracked then you might consider looking at a brand new homes to meet your expectations.


Tired roof coverings

Your roof is the first line of defence from the weather, it also accounts for about a third of the visible surface area of the structure. It is important that your roof is well maintained and weather tight. Aside from buying the house itself, a new roof covering represents one of the largest maintenance investments that you will make. It’s vital to know when your roof needs attention and, if so, what you should do about it – your home inspector will help with advice. It’s safe to say that significant deterioration is a reason enough to have a plan for replacement. The older the covering, the less reliable it becomes.


Home inspection fees could soar

If you have had a home inspection or are about to have one, in probability it will be conducted by a member of BC’s predominant association of home inspectors, The Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors BC (CAHPI BC). Members of CAHPI BC perform home inspections in accordance with the home inspection industry’s most widely recognized professional standards - the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors Standards of Practice. Basically, the Standards are a set of well-defined guidelines to evaluate homes that allow the inspection to focus on the condition of the home, rather than cosmetic, code or design issues.

The way home inspections are conducted may be about to change if the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) has their way. Many of us know the name CSA because they are the branding on many of the consumer items that we use in our daily lives. Most of us think of them as the people that approve tools to toys as being safe. What you may not know is the CSA is in the Standards business. Much of the public have never heard of standards, but we come into contact with standards every day without realizing it. Many standards are in places that contribute to safer homes, workplaces and public spaces.

The Canadian Standards Association Group has developed a Standards of Practice for home inspections across Canada that will most certainly have the real estate industry in a buzz. Simply put, the CSA is proposing to get involved in training, testing and certification of home inspectors from coast to coast.

The CSA Group, a growing offshoot of the CSA’s traditional product testing work, already provides training, testing and personnel certification for employees in a number of specialized fields, from the greenhouse gas to medical devices sectors.

BC and Alberta are far ahead of the pack when it comes to accountability in the home inspection profession through the implementation of government licensing. The balance of the Canadian industry has been known to be in need of better regulations. The CSA model is a national one, and that may overstep the advanced development negatively that we have achieved here in BC.

Recently, the CSA has released a draft of their proposed Standard for public review – the Home Inspection Standard "A770". It’s a thick document with far reaching implications, especially when it comes to the pocket book of consumers.

Professional home inspectors in Alberta met a few days back to discuss the CSA Standards. The bottom line is after their review the proposed Home Inspection Standard will dramatically increase the cost of an inspection to the consumer and at the same time may actually reduce consumer protection due to anticipated time and cost increases to comply with the proposed regulation.

Home inspections typically cost between $400 and $600 in BC and Alberta. Industry studies show that the CSA Standard will demand a raise to the future cost of an inspection from $1,200 to $1,800 or even more. It’s my experience that home inspections are an investment, but I have a grave concern that those consumers that most need an inspection will likely have to opt out of having one.

Currently, home inspectors investigate a home and report on hundreds of items through the accepted Standards developed by home inspection associations throughout North America. The new CSA model will impact the real estate industry as a whole. It is expected that the CSA model will cause an inspection to take up to 2 days to complete and will further influence purchase negotiations than what is experienced now.

To read and comment on the proposed CSA Standard A770 directly with the CSA, click this link: CSA Standard A770

Hugh Cairns: Excessive dryer lint build-up

A quick look at your dryer venting can be very illuminating. Up on the roof and out of the way this dryer vent is causing problems. Notwithstanding long drying times, clogged vents contribute to the danger of a fire.

Considering what is at stake, dryer venting deserves more attention than it garners. In addition to the danger of fire, clogged dryer vents prolong drying time. This wastes energy and helps contribute to even more lint build-up.

A quick look at both ends of your dryer venting system can be very beneficial. Often I see those plastic flexible dryer hoses installed improperly. Known as transition ducts, the flexible hose usually come in a length of 25 feet long in a package. Frequently the installer will use the entire length rather than the short piece that is required. Multiple bends of the flexible hose can be dangerous. In addition, crushed dryer hoses between the dryer and the wall can severely restrict airflow. Lint build up behind a dryer coupled with the odd lost sock and an empty fabric softener box adds fuel to the fire.

Dryer vent piping usually should not exceed 35 feet between the dryer and the exterior exhaust port. Long runs of vent piping, bends and elbows in the system lead to inefficiency. In most cases vent piping is concealed with the walls of the home. Poor dryer vent terminations are all too common and contribute to negative conditions. Of course I strongly recommend that the dryer lint screen be cleaned before every load; the fact is that some lint will still make it past the filter. There are many reasons for dangerous lint build up – some you can see and some you can’t.


5 conditions that contribute to excessive dryer lint build-up

1.  Excessive duct piping and restricted piping

It used to be that the laundry room was near an outside wall. New construction styles focus on the convenience of the room for placement rather than what is optimum for the equipment resulting in laundry equipment being further and further away from exterior walls than in the past. Longer distances require more piping and elbows to reach the outside wall.


2.  Nests

Birds like to be safe warm and dry. I don’t see it very often, but birds are known to nest in uncovered termination hoods.


3.  Crushed, excessive and kinked transition hoses

Hidden behind walls and out of sight, crushed, excessive and kinked transition hoses can drastically reduce the equipment’s ability to efficiently vent exhaust air.


4.  Blocked exhaust vent boots

As pictured in this home, blocked dryer vents are a hazard. In some cases the wrong kind of termination hood has been used or one that has a screen feature. Dryer vent hoods require inspection and regular cleaning as debris builds up.


5.  Condensation in the duct system

Where warm meets cold the potential for condensation is real. Installing an un-insulated duct through an attic or crawlspace will most certainly cause condensation in the pipe. Wet surfaces within the pipe attract and promote negative accumulation of lint to the pipe walls.

Clothes dryers are one of the more expensive appliances in your home to operate. The longer the dryer runs to dry your clothing the more money it costs you. Clean and unobstructed dryer venting improves the safety and efficiency of your dryer.


Hugh Cairns: Do this before winter

For homeowners, the end of Fall means that your home should be prepared for winter. Beyond yard cleanup and irrigation blowouts, homeowners should be completing their Fall maintenance inspections. If you’ve already done yours good for you, if you haven’t, the good news is there is some time to get it done before winter arrives.

If you’ve been on one of my inspections then you’ll know that I consider water and moisture the number one enemies of a home. Once water intrusion occurs it can be difficult and costly to remediate, so make sure that your home is up to protecting you from the upcoming wet weather.


Inspect your roof covering

Your roof covering is a vital part of protecting your home, and it's important to make sure that it is in good condition. Regular maintenance of your roof can help ensure it will continue to protect you and your family from the elements. It’s always preferable to hire a roof professional to inspect and maintain your roof, they have the training, tools and experience to work in dangerous conditions.

Look for aging and worn shingles. Make sure that all flashings are sealed and roof valleys (where two or more sections of the roof meet and act as a funnel on the roof) are clear of vegetative debris that can gather and eventually deteriorate the covering.

Inspect your roof perimeter gutter and downspout drainage system

Roofs collect a ton of water literally. Managing the water that accumulates on the covering is extremely important. The purpose of your roof perimeter drainage system is to collect water from the roof and divert water well away from the structure out of harm’s way. Blocked or damaged gutters can deposit water that can penetrate walls and damage your home.

Overflowing gutters can drop water onto walkways. As the temperatures continue to drop moisture, build-up can result in surface ice on your walkaways. If your gutters and downspouts are not clear of debris, they can overflow and cause icicles to grow and fall. Even worse, ice accumulation in gutters expands and can pry gutters, soffit, fascia, roof shingles, and other structures apart from the home. Excessive ice build-up can cause your gutters to become very heavy. It is estimated that a 10-foot section of gutter can hold 150lbs of water.


Inspect and test your outdoor lighting

Soon it’ll be dark by dinnertime. Now is great time to make sure that you and your guests will be able to navigate their way in and out of your home. Replace all burnt-out bulbs. Consider upgrading inadequate fixtures with newer stronger ones.

A great flashlight is a good idea. I pack a flashlight everyday while inspecting homes. I’ve been through them all and have arrived at my self-called “Torchamatic 9000” (it’s really a ArmorMax 3D Tactical Flashlight - $30 at our local big box store). It’s a big rugged flashlight with a staggering 600 lumens. It’ll light up an attic effortlessly. It holds 3-D batteries which gives it a great long battery life. It can easily illuminate the side of a house from 300 feet away.

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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