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About The House

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.


Hugh Cairns: Mouse!

When I’m out inspecting it’s not uncommon to find evidence of rodents. Evidence can be found year round, but just like us humans, in the winter, rodents want to be safe, warm and dry. Rats and mice search out shelter and invade our homes through cracks and holes. Rats can fit through holes the size of a quarter. Mice can fit through holes the size of a dime. In both cases, rodents will damage your home and make a hole in your wallet. I regularly see the damage they cause inside of our homes. Sometimes it’s pretty serious. The real concern is that rodents can spread diseases.

It’s estimated that a third of homeowners will experience a rodent problem in their home this year and half of those invasions occur in the winter months. About a quarter of infestations occur in both the spring and summer months.

Evidence of recent gnawing is a great sign of mice activity. Mice will chew on just about anything including wood and food packaging. They’ll chew through drywall just to be comfortable. They’ll tatter books and paper towels for their nests. When rodents invade your home, they can ruin insulation by shredding it to make a nest and by peeing in it. Mice are known to be the cause of electrical fires by chewing on wires.

Mice spread Salmonella and other bacteria through their droppings. Droppings are the most commonly encountered evidence of rodent activity. Mice can leave literally thousands of droppings behind in a short period of time. Adult mice typically produce up to 100 droppings every day. About ¼” long, tapered at both ends and dark coloured, they’re not hard to miss. Breeding mice will produce about a dozen offspring every three weeks, so it’s plain to see that infestations progressively cause adverse conditions until they are eliminated. The life span of a mouse typically is 9 to 12 months or until they are terminated, whichever comes first.

Mice urine is known to trigger allergies and disease. Serious stuff. I never got the whole pet rat, mouse or hamster thing. Letting children play and have contact with mice or hamsters, their urine and feces is beyond me.

So, where do I find the most evidence? Well, that would be the garage and attic. Why? Because less attention is paid to cleaning and maintaining these areas. Where do home owners most often find mice? The answer is their kitchens because of food sources. I find less evidence in kitchens than anywhere else because homeowners and tenants will make the effort to clean up the poop, but that is not always the case.

If you leave your food out in the open, and you have an infestation, then you’re feeding your pests. If you can’t refrigerate a food item, then store it in a sturdy sealable container. Desperate mice do desperate things. They’ll pretty much gnaw through any plastic bag or cardboard box to get to your food.

Keep it clean. Clean up after meals. Sure it’s a pain, but it’s better than dealing with an infestation. Don’t leave dirty dishes in bedrooms or in the sink. Wipe your counters clean of food debris and vacuum regularly.

After the kitchen - 50% of discovered infestations combined occur in basements and bedrooms. Attics and garages are the next most popular places to find a mouse. Surprisingly, about 10% of infestations are found in a bathroom.

Pest control service providers provide low cost inspections, so if you think you might have a pest problem, don’t hesitate to give the experts a call.

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

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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