Friday, April 18th11.6°C
About The House

Hugh Cairns: At the altar

Here’s a little story that I offer up from time to time about the home inspection and home buying process. In the pews are the buyers’ family and the sellers’ family. Nestled among them are the buyers’ agent and the sellers’ agent a couple of lawyers, some appraisers, mortgage brokers and insurance underwriters. The buyer and the seller are at the altar. It’s the moment of truth. The cleric says, “Can anyone show a deficiency as to why not these two contracted parties may not lawfully be joined forever, let them now speak.”  And the home inspector in the back holds up his report and says, “I do.”

You see, the above analogy is somewhat of a parody of how the home buying process works. The clients literally are standing at the altar, and it is there that the story of the home is dealt with on paper, often within hours or a few days of consummating the deal. They like the looks of the home, or the way it feels or works for them, and now it’s time for the unemotional home inspector to put the condition of the home down in the form of a report. It takes a great deal of tact by the home inspector to explain the conditions they find in the home. Good home inspectors neither like or dislike a home and view them with a mechanical mindset. When the news isn’t desirable, great home inspectors are able to deliver the results to their clients without aggravating an already delicate set of circumstances.

Even a procession of little things uncovered in an inspection adds up mentally to the buyer. It can make the buyer wonder and can play wildly with their expectations. It’s usually written on their faces. With the care of an informative explanation, the inspector can put their own findings into perspective. What the inspector can’t, and never should do, is offer advice on buying the home or how much it costs to fix a finding. Sadly, many home inspectors do, even though it’s dead against their contractual and ethical obligations. Most do it because they are thinking that they are being helpful or knowledgeable. When the inspector offers advice beyond the home inspection they may be inviting themselves to an appearance before a judge to explain why the information that they weren’t qualified to offer was wrong. There are many professionals that augment the work done by home inspectors. It is the responsibility of the person actually doing the work to offer costs and a scope of work to correct a deficiency. Most deficiencies that home inspectors report on are regular, routine, uncomplicated and not expensive to correct.

Buyers can fairly rely on property disclosure statements. Conditions can change between the completion of this document and the sale. Some of the answers may be wrong because the seller is unaware of a condition. Sadly in other cases, disclosures are inaccurate. All of these reasons are great reasons to have a home inspection completed prior to sale.

When people are getting their house ready to put on the market, it’s better to get problems taken care of upfront, rather waiting for a buyer’s inspector to detail them or uncover them with a purchase contract on the line. In some cases sellers aren’t aware of a developing problem or are not in a position to rectify one. A seller who doesn’t have problems fixed ahead of time may experience a reduced selling price of their home, but if they know about and disclose a condition, it usually doesn’t blindside the process. One word of advice from an experienced home inspector, most people think what needs to be fixed costs more than what it actually does and that goes for both parties. Fixing the deficiency in most cases is a good investment in the home.


Hugh Cairns: Pool openings

If you are the DIY’er type like me, pool openings are kind of a revelation. Is the water going to be clear? Or is it going to be one of those green pea soup years? Over time, clearly, I had more success with early pool openings. I think that’s because algae growth likes warmer water conditions. So now is the time that I used to think about firing up the circulation pump for my pool and got my water in shape before it took over me. I definitely would have rather looked at a pool filled with crystal clear clean water than a huge black tarp covering the unknown brewing below.

So, is it okay to open up your pool even if it is too cold to swim? You bet it is. Now it’s time for all of the pool pros to return from Arizona with their southern tans and buff them up with an Okanagan one, and get back to the grindstone. It’s the beginning of pool season and nobody knows more about professional pool openings than Jim Tompkins. “It is not too early to open your pool,” says Jim. “In fact April is the best time to fire up your pool and get the bugs out.”

Opening your pool right now can add to a beautiful backyard and be beneficial too. “If you have a mesh cover that allows sunlight in, you may find yourself opening green instead of clean,” says Jim. “Have your pool opened within the next few weeks before the green stuff gets a chance to grow, and you will avoid a troublesome start up”.

“The temperature of water determines whether or not algae will grow in your pool. If your pool is uncovered or if you have a winter cover that allows sunlight to penetrate then the outside weather will dictate the temperature of your pool. Waiting too long to open your pool usually results in a lot of chemicals to ready it for swimming conditions,” warns Jim.

Opening and closing your pool every year can be a lot of work. Why not let the experienced professionals do it for you and get it right? They have the knowledge and experience to lessen or eliminate the use of expensive chemicals needed to shock algae growth. “We can get that cover off and start up circulation so you no longer have to look at the depressing winter cover,” says Jim. It’s all about ramping up, step by step, until you’re ready to use your pool. “Cool night temperatures and circulation of the pool water will keep the water clean naturally. Then, on the first nice day, flick on the heater and away you go!”

If you are selling your home and you have a pool, why not have a pro start it up for you and at the same time have them complete a pool inspection report. You will benefit by demonstrating that your pool is in good working order for prospective buyers. In addition, a pool is a huge selling feature. Show that your pool is ready to go.

For more information on professional pool start-ups and pool start up tips visit my site or contact Jim Tompkins at Kelowna Pool & Spa

Hugh Cairns: Make up air vents

Furnaces and hot water tanks are generally the largest sources of CO in the home because of the amount of fuel they consume. The amount of CO in combustion gas depends on the cleanliness and tuning of the burners, on the quality and quantity of combustion make-up air, and other factors. In the case of this home, the make up air venting has been purposefully blocked. When there is an inadequate amount of combustion make-up air, there is the potential for insufficient amounts of fresh oxygen that can cause larger amounts of CO to form. Unfortunately, I see this far too often.

Make up air ducts are basically 6 inch tubes that connect to a vent boot at the exterior of your home which purpose is to deliver fresh air to combustion appliances. Older make up air ducts are usually ridged sheet metal tubes, while in new construction they are wrapped in insulation and flexible. They are passive intakes that provide needed air to the home. To the unaware, make up air vents just seem to be a pipe that is not connected to their furnace or hot water tank, doesn’t contain any kind of damper, and delivers a constant flow of cold air into their home. Now, I know that in good spirit, when someone feels a constant draft coming into the basement or utility area that the first thing to do is to plug it until they figure out what needs to be done about it, but it’s a bad move.

When air is removed from a home due to combustion, it has to be replaced. Without the installation of a make-up air vent, the combustion air will get replaced from breaches in the building envelope. If the home has low air leakage then the only make up air will be from recirculated air in the home. When there are combustion gas vent pipe leakage problems, such as with poorly installed hot water tank and furnace venting the products, the combustion gases become part of the combustion make-up air. The amount of potential CO buildup in a home will depend on the amount combustion gas leakage and amount of outside air changes in a home. The more the combustion gas leakage, and the less the outside air changes, the more serious a potential problem can be. For this reason, one can see why it is so very important to have CO alarm protection or a detector that measures potential CO levels.

When a combustion air make up duct is properly installed, it will help to prevent the house from getting depressurized and from potential hazardous CO conditions.


Hugh Cairns: Termite time

When on the job, your home inspector focuses on the construction of a home and the permanently installed components. We don't inspect specifically for Wood Destroying Organisms (WDO) because it’s a field that requires a trained specialist. WDO’s are a nasty bunch. Termites and carpenter ants are well respected for their reputation. They eat wood. In most homes the exterior wood framing components makes up about 27% of the exterior surface area. Add your interior framing and there is a lot to eat.

Carpenter ants and termites go to work behind the scenes so most of their activity is subterranean. Once they hit your inedible concrete foundation they look for wood. They don’t like being seen and like to keep their activity private. You may be watching TV, having a nap or cooking your favorite meal, but behind the finished walls in your home, and in areas hidden by furniture and possessions there is a chance they could be at work especially if you live in a termite zone.

Now, it may be a surprise to you that Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley is a termite zone, but not to the pros working in the pest control industry. If by chance I see WDO activity on the job, it’s time to get on the horn and call in a Steve Ball Sr. at BugMaster. Steve has taken me under his wing (pun intended) and I have greatly appreciated his informal training.

If you’ve ever owned a home that has had WDO activity, it’s unnerving because without professional help, you can’t stop them. Next, you’ll have to deal with the stigma of owning a home with a history of WDO activity. Always have a pest control expert inspect a home that you are looking at buying – end of story.

“The subterranean termites are active in the valley. Each spring the activity increases and some homeowners find themselves with a nasty infestation of little white and brown bugs that appear to look a lot like ants. These insects can and will do tremendous damage to the structure of a building – they just need enough time and favorable conditions. They are at work 24/7 turning wood products in cellulose, that they use to control their environment. The cellulose appears as “mud” or “shelter” tubes that may be found, most commonly, along baseboards, in furnace rooms, between door jams or any area where a crack in the foundation or slab intersects with wood”, advises Steve Ball Sr. In many cases they can go unnoticed for months or even years as most people are unaware of tell-tale signs.

Soon we will have the emergence of the “alates”. These are the winged sect of the termite colony that appear by the 100’s this time of year. Usually they are found in a basement near the furnace, or clustered by a downstairs window. They differ from regular ants, in that have a 2 part body and straight antennae. The wings of these breeders are about twice as long as the body. “There are some safe guards home owners may employ for early detection and removal,” advises Steve. From my end, that means the involvement of a trained licensed professional, with highly specialized equipment and materials.

If you’re sensing that WDO’s are a tad complicated, you’re right. If you suspect you may have uninvited guest about the house, have a pest inspection. I know from experience that WDO companies inspect at very reasonable rates.

The pros can identify the presence of WDO’s, give advice on remediation, and proceed to make plans to eliminate them from your home.

Think you may have termites or other pest activity? Contact BugMaster.

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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