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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My god! They're all naked!

There are two kinds of people, those who have a fear of public speaking and those who don’t. 

If you don’t have any fear of speaking in public, good for you. If you do have a fear of speaking in public, then you suffer from glossophobia.

Glossophobia is the irrational and intense fear of public speaking. A glossophobic person is unable to control the overwhelming feeling of nervousness when speaking in public, and they may have a nervous breakdown when confronted with a big audience. This can leave both their personal and professional life disturbed.

The term glossophobia in itself seems innocuous. Chances are, if you were amongst friends and you suddenly just outright told them that you have glossophobia, most of them wouldn’t know what the term meant. If you told them that you suffer from the fear of public speaking, you’d be met with their psychological defence mechanism called ‘simple denial’. 

Once their skepticism subsided, and you convinced them that you really do suffer, you’d likely be met with their suggestion of the cure-all remedy: Toastmasters. It’s safe to say that your friends care, and it’s true that the folks at Toastmasters are wonderful people and can assist in the cure for public speaking fears. 

Once you’ve ’fessed up, you’re also likely to be met with other innovative suggestions from friends, like my home inspection colleague Mark Goodwin, RHI, who inspects in Squamish BC. 

Mark told me to “pretend the audience is naked”. 

Thanks Mark, that may be a great solution when you are addressing an audience of professional athletes or models, but I can tell you from experience that it didn’t work for me this past weekend in a convention hall with a few hundred home inspectors, most of whom were out of shape males in their fifties and sixties. 

It’s estimated that 75% of people suffer from speech anxiety, making it one of the most common phobias to exist, so the good news is, I’m not alone. 

That statistical finding doesn’t add comfort for long, though, because glossophobia ranks higher than the fear of death. The fear of death is necrophobia. If you have a bad case of glossophobia, it’s likely that you will wish for your own death before you have to give your next speech. 

Once you’re booked, it’s a long journey until you finish your speech.

Interestingly, one of the causes of glossophobia is a previous related trauma. Almost all glossophobic people are distressed about being embarrassed in front of a mass of people, and being a failure while speaking. The trauma can result from a previous distressful event that happened when speaking in public. Apparently, such incidents may not appear intense when they happen, but they can cause a longer lasting fear that can take the form of a phobia.

Glossophobia, along with other social fears, is thought to begin at around age 13. Mine began at age 15 when I ran for student council president against Lisa Schienbein. In a highly competitive battle, it was neck and neck between Lisa and me, in what was pretty much a popularity contest. 

Things went very badly for me, glossophobia-wise, when I took the stage to address the entire school. If there are 30 symptoms of glossophobia, I had 47 of them. Lisa, on the other hand nailed it. She eloquently parlayed all of her genuine kindness and positive hopes for the school, and made some pretty impressive promises. 

The good news is, I went first, and she was so good that everyone pretty much forgot about me at some point during her speech. Since that day, I have been ever so thankful for alphabetical order.

Fast forward 40 years later to the home inspector convention this past weekend, with another election, one that included my good friend and colleague Mark and six others. 

Mark Goodwin is a retired bobby - a British police officer - who began his professional home inspection career overseas before immigrating to Canada. He is a man of authority and integrity, and has the gift of the gab topped off with British wit. Obviously he offered the best and most dynamic election speech of the day, and since ‘Goodwin’ comes after ‘Cairns’, I went first and he, not I, was remembered.

I can trace my glossophobia all the way back to you, Lisa Schienbein. It’s been 40 years that I’ve suffered to various extents, but I do thank you for such a great speech that it caused the school to focus on you, and caused them to forget my clanger. 

As for you, Mark, thank you for your encouragement that resulted in one of my best speeches to a convention hall of naked home inspectors. 

Unfortunately, now I have a weird form of gymnophobia: An irrational fear of imagining convention halls filled with naked home inspectors.

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The home inspector broke it

Dear Hugh:  

I am a realtor, and during the home inspection of one of my listings, damage was caused. The inspector was inspecting the attic from inside a closet hatch when a shelf and belongings gave way causing the ladder to crash and the inspector to fall. 

When the ladder fell it somehow tipped over and went into the adjacent bathroom and broke the vanity top. Who is responsible for the cost of repair?  

Thank you, 



Great question, Liza.

First it is important to know that during a home inspection an inspector is not required to enter any area likely be hazardous or to go where there is a potential to damage the property or its systems or components. 

In addition, home inspectors are not required to access confined spaces or spaces not readily accessible. The seller has a responsibility to provide access to areas of the home that are expected to be accessed. 

From time to time home inspectors feel obligated to overlook this exclusion because of pressure to do so, and acciden   ts can and do happen.

You may want to check with your purchase contract to see if there is a clause in the potential buyers’ contract that may hold them responsible for any damage that occurs during a home inspection. You may find that the potential buyer is liable to the seller. This, however, doesn’t necessarily absolve the inspector of liability on the basis of professional ethics. 

Most, if not all home inspectors have caused or paid for some kind of damage during their professional career. My colleagues have told stories about expensive flower vases getting broken, improperly hung paintings knocked to the floor, natural gas appliances left on, and, in rare cases, overflowed sinks.

I’m happy to report that in the above examples, the inspector accepted professional responsibility and, in some cases, made reparations. Most homeowners understand that accidents happen, and that everyone makes mistakes. Not all homeowners see compensation as the sole way to make amends.

From your description, it seems clear that the homeowners did not provide clear access to the attic hatch. Their personal belongings and the shelves from the closet should have been removed to allow the inspector access. That this was not done put the inspector in the poor position of either refusing to inspect the space, which could have upset the sale process, or potentially causing damage to the owners’ belongings or to the inspector himself.

Everyone makes mistakes, and one quality of a good person is accepting the consequences when it happens. In this case, the homeowner should share some responsibility for not providing unobstructed access, and the inspector should share responsibility as well. 

A 50/50 approach to repairs seems appropriate in this case.

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You're alive. Remember?

Usually when a commercial airs on TV from a North American big box store they show how wonderful they are at helping. It’s all smiles and shiny packaging, and the goal is, of course, to sell you stuff. 

Heck, they will even tell you that if you do it, they will help. Problem is, the salesperson can’t leave the store and go with you to help. That’s why, just after water intrusion, the biggest enemy of all homes is the big box store.

North American DIY products usually take an ‘it does exactly what it says on the tin’ approach, which means that the product does what it claims to do without further explanation needed. For example, how fast and efficient a multi-tool 15-in-1 screwdriver is.

Having been on the tools, and having visited thousands of job sites to witness the aftermath of countless DIY projects, I can tell you that they all have one thing in common: Emotion. 

Emotion reigns supreme in DIY projects. Miscuts cause heartache. Hand injuries are painful. A trip back to the store for a forgotten part is dejecting. The pure joy of reaching 90% completion is cause for a celebratory beer, while reaching 100% completion months or years later goes by unnoticed.

Men build in straight lines. A lot is achieved this way. Straight lines, square angles, power tools, and a buddy can result in an apartment building over a weekend. 

As soon as an arch or a curve is added, productivity diminishes, head scratching starts, and resentment follows. Curves and arches in DIY projects is what krypton is to Superman. 

North American DIY home improvement commercials rarely bring out the emotion of the process. However, in Germany, home improvement chain Hornbach has managed to do just that in their latest video advertisement.


Watch the video and you’ll see a naked man plunge into a metaphoric DIY project, and experience the joys and pains and the victory of his DIY journey.

But most of all, you’ll see how his journey has made him feel alive again. 

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More About the House articles

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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