A house to love

There is a certain irresistible charm about a century-old home and, in many cases, ends up as love at first sight.

There is certain timeliness about heritage homes, as if they have always been there and always will be. The interiors of heritage homes offer an aura of history that translates into a sense of belonging and calm.

Old homes offer unique styles and classic designs using building techniques from an era gone by.

I’ve heard their owners say they love living in an older house over a new one, because they have the satisfaction of saving a piece of history.

Their stone foundations are made from materials as old as nature. Their walls are made from old-growth lumber and fastened together with brute strength workmanship and sweat.

Sometimes, it seems as though they are a portal to the past and they tend to offer a sense of trust having stood in place for decades and decades.

When this home was built, horses and buggies were the easiest way to get into and out of town. Soon, over the next few years, Ford Model Ts would start rolling off the assembly line in Highland Park, Mich., some 2,300 miles away.

They just don't build them like they used to, but that’s because people lived differently 100 years ago than we do today.

  • The floor plans had purpose.
  • Everyone went upstairs to rest.
  • The kitchen was a place to prepare meals.
  • The dining room was where people sat down to enjoy them.
  • The living room was the social area where guests gathered to converse.

Earlier generations understood it best: Less is more.

The construction techniques and tools were basic. I don’t think “perfectly level” was really a big thing back then, but “good enough” was.

In most heritage builds, the foundation began as a hand-dug hole in the ground. Next, rocks, stones and boulders were hand placed to form a foundation wall.

Of course, over time, almost every home settles to some extent. In a heritage home, sloping and rolling floors are the norm. The roof ridge and roof deck are expected to sag over the years. You just have to go with it.

All homes need maintenance and upkeep. Keeping an older home in top condition requires commitment, but here’s the thing: heritage homeowners that I have spoken with have an unequivocal love for their homes that translates into a long-lasting sense of pride of ownership.

They know that with character and age comes expected and some unexpected updates and repairs, it’s a labour of love as they say. Some say we should learn from other countries the value of keeping older homes and fixing them up.

You may not get crushes on older houses, but some people do, and they completely fall in love with them.

They adore the character that comes from a charming house built at the turn of the last century, before cars, telephones and the Internet.

What’s not to love about that?

Beat the heat

The best thing you can do to keep your air-conditioning system running properly is to perform preventative maintenance on the system at the outset of the summer.

Good news. It’s not too late to service your air conditioner and doing so may pave the way to a comfortable rest of the summer.

After you have had a technician service your air-conditioner system, you can take over with routine maintenance tasks.

The single most important maintenance task that will ensure the efficiency of your air conditioner is to routinely replace its filter.

A clogged, dirty filter significantly obstructs airflow and your equipment will work harder to meet demand. When the filter is sufficiently clogged, the furnace blower may not be able to send conditioned air to where it’s needed.

My friends in the air-conditioning service business tell me that the No. 1 solution to their most popular call, “my air conditioner isn’t working,” is to replace the dirty filter.

For central air conditioners, air filters are generally located where the air-return duct meets the furnace. Sometimes the filter is located in the furnace blower cavity.

Room air conditioners have a filter mounted in the grill that faces into the room.

Some types of cartridge filters are disposable, others are reusable after washing. From what I see in the field, the washable filters are not very popular.

With good intentions, homeowners buy the washable filters only to find that cleaning the debris that is sucked into them is unpleasant and not worth the work to clean them.

The plastic mesh filters, are usually ineffective. The mesh is not good at filtering out dust. Left unchanged, the power of the furnace blower usually sucks the dust out of mesh filters and blows it back into your home.

In my book, mesh filters are best used to catch rocks.

It’s the paper-pleated furnace filters that I like. The pleated pattern makes for a larger surface area. The range is from good to best.

A good, paper-pleated filter catches most debris and is suitable for most families and equipment needs. The best ones are more expensive and filter out allergens.

Once you reach the level of the highest-priced filters, it’s time to think about an air-purification system to meet your health needs.

Summer is the peak months for problems with air-conditioning equipment. Although there are several contributing factors to these problems, starting the cooling season with a service, and plenty of clean filters will give the best chance to beat the heat.

Homebuyers unprotected

Homebuyers are going unprotected

The quick pace of B.C.’s hot real-estate market in the Lower Mainland has been mirrored by record activity in the Okanagan.

It’s been a busy time, and things are changing fast.

Many occupations serving the Lower Mainland real-estate industry have been run off their feet meeting the demands of a booming market, with one exception – home inspectors.

In order to win bidding wars, thousands of Lower Mainland homebuyers have been pressured into making subject-free purchase offers in order to secure a home.

In doing so, consumers are going unprotected, risking their investments without a professional home inspection.

Industry insiders estimate as few as 10 per cent of homes changing hands in the Lower Mainland are now being professionally inspected prior to sale — down from 75 per cent from 12 months ago.

As many as 30,000 homes changed hands in the first five months of this year without a professional home inspection. The fear of losing a house is preventing prospective buyers from performing due diligence, putting themselves at serious risk.

In real estate, due diligence means taking caution, reviewing documents, procuring insurance, and inspecting the property prior to sale.

When there are too many issues with a property — and that means too much potential risk and cost — consumers can change their minds and look for a more suitable property.

Buying a house is unlike most things; you don’t get to return it for a refund if you don’t like it.

The spiraling trend of buying homes without good information could cause devastating consequences for thousands of vulnerable homebuyers unaware of the condition of the property they are purchasing.

This is especially true when most buyers’ funds are stretched to the limits just by purchasing the property, and there isn't any left over for unexpected repairs.

There is a simple solution — a cooling-off period for all real-estate sales in order to protect consumers. Providing the time for due diligence will afford the purchaser caution, time to review complicated documents properly and to receive a professional inspection report prior to sale.

Every home purchase is a huge decision and a cooling-off period will help prevent consumers from making serious mistakes with their life savings and possible financial ruin.

The B.C. government has the opportunity to correct this unnerving trend immediately by matching the same way they protect consumers purchasing real estate with pre-sale real estate contracts — with a similar seven-day cooling off period.

Down the hatch

Flooding in your crawlspace?

If you have a crawlspace, this is the best time of year to pop your head down the hatch  and have a gander. At the end of the snow melt, and with the spring rainy season underway, now is the time when the water table will be rising and your gutter and downspout system will be at work.

There are a number of circumstances that can cause a wet crawlspace, and they are usually related to something we are doing or haven’t done. 

First, it is ever so important that you have a well-designed and functional gutter and downspout system. It may be a surprise to learn that in our area, gutter and downspout systems are a voluntary method to protect our homes from water intrusion. 

One of the main purposes of your sloped roof is to move water off the structure. Your gutter system should catch roof surface runoff and send it to the downspout system where it should be diverted well away from the structure. 

Far too often I see plugged downspouts and gutters full of debris. Loose and sagging gutters can cause water to overflow and to deposit water directly at the foundation. 

Landscape grading is very important. Your landscaping should slope away (positive slope) from the structure, and experts tell us that the best drainage starts at a slope of 1” per foot for at least the first 6’ around the structure. Negative slope has the tendency to divert water back to the structure, where it has the potential to pond and infiltrate the sub-structure of your home.

Gardens and irrigation systems are often poorly planned. Our local garden centres are chock full of small and beautiful plants seeking their forever home. The tendency is to place these vulnerable little plants at the safest place possible for their protection – right against the structure of your home. Most of the plants purchased require water to survive, so irrigation is a must. 

In the end with these little plants, a plentiful water source is placed against the structure, resulting in a high potential for water intrusion. In addition, as the plants reach maturity they have the tendency to shade and hold moisture on siding components, which can cause deterioration. The plants can also become a highway for insects and rodents.

A failed plumbing system can also cause headache. Intermittent water events can occur on the waste side of your plumbing system. Continuous water events on the pressurized side of the system can leak for long periods until they are discovered. 

Dampness in crawlspaces can increase humidity, which can deteriorate the wooden structural and framing components located below grade. Wet conditions can foster mould and rot, and we should not forget that termites and other unwanted pests are attracted to the moisture.

Right now is one of the best times of year to inspect your crawlspace. Your gutter and downspouts have been active, your irrigation system is likely on, and your plumbing system is functional and pressurized. It’s definitely time to go down the hatch.

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About the Author

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

Home improvements can be rewarding, turn your home into a nicer more 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 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 www.subject2homeinspections.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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