HOME INSPECTIONS – Scope is misunderstood
Today we tackle Home Inspections as it seems to it’s the most misunderstood part of buying a home.
Particularly, scope and expectations. There seems to be a bit of misunderstanding as to what a home inspection covers and how to read the reports. A home does not PASS or FAIL a home inspection. It’s a record of the condition of the house, written in neutral language so the buyer can objectively make an informed decision.
Maintain: means it’s a “maintenance item” not a problem. How often you should do maintenance on an item can be monthly to every couple of years. The inspector will explain this. Plus, maintenance is seasonal in Ontario and what can be done will depend on the season the home is sold. Maintenance that is well overdue is not the same as maintenance is NOW due or due soon. It’s noted in the report so you can establish a maintenance schedule of your own for the home. Expect at least average maintenance by the current homeowner. Perfect maintenance is rare.
An important but often misunderstood aspect of home buying and selling is the Home Inspection Report. We met with one of our favorite home inspectors, Tony Muscat who owns Inch by Inch Home Inspections in the GTA. We asked him to explain what a home inspection is for and what a proper and thorough inspection should entail.
What to understand BEFORE the Inspection: When clients first meet Tony, it’s usually at the house they’ve just bought and they are anxious to get started. As a realtor, I know that the anxiety gets in the way of the client truly hearing what Tony is saying about scope just by the questions they ask me after the inspection and report have been delivered.
Tony is an InterNACHI Certified Home Inspector. InterNACHI is a registered trademark of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. We asked Tony, what is the most misunderstood aspect about home inspections? What are the Elephants in the Room because he receives the ‘after the inspection’ calls too.
It’s not a laundry list.
Home inspections are more than report card to weigh against and checklist downloaded from the internet. Many times the checklist a buyer downloaded isn’t even written by an inspector or someone who has gone through a home inspection themselves. Was the checklist downloaded from a site for homes in Texas? Different housing types, different geography, different building codes, and different laws and vastly different weather. “The biggest thing most people are misinformed about regarding home inspections is the scope and then they think there is a PASS or FAIL for an inspection which is NOT true,” Tony says.
What do we do here in the Greater Toronto Area?
A certified inspection will include structural, electrical, heating, HVAC, environmental, and health and safety components. Most items that come up time and time again are relatively simple and inexpensive to address and are basically ‘expected’ on the report. Typically they are deemed ordinary maintenance issues and depending on the time of year they will differ. Weather can play an important part in accomplishing maintenance tasks.
Downspout extenders, hairline cracks in concrete exterior paving, caulking around windows, flowerbeds next to the house, or a deck with a not so perfect height on a step. Exterior Grading and changing the furnace filter more often on basically every single report in the last 25 years. (It should be preprinted). Health and safety is the key measurement of the homes condition and the all to often, WATER PENETRATION!
So you like Victorians and those Arts and Crafts/Edwardians
Tony tells us that the major concerns for most any home, but especially older homes, are:
- Heating systems (boilers)
- Asbestos presence and air quality
- Piping systems (and materials used)
- Electrical and wiring
Home building through the ages – understanding ancient versus modern architecture
Boilers and Asbestos wrap
Boiler Systems for heating, you’ve seen older homes with those often beautifully ornate radiators. According to Tony, “most people have no idea how boilers work or how to maintain them.” The move to radiant heat was more efficient than previous methods but as Tony says, “oil-fueled boilers run really hot and pose an extreme hazard. Worse still, asbestos insulation was used to insulate the boiler piping.” The presence of asbestos is extremely dangerous and by law must now be removed by asbestos abatement professionals if exposed during repairs or renovations. If you are tempted to pick at the wrappings on those pipes, it’s linked to mesothelioma. Read this before even touching those pipes.
Your inspector should have a certification in mold and air quality. This is critically important for health and safety reasons. Poor air quality can affect the health of everyone in the home. We lock-in for winter and older homes with newer airtight windows and doors and eco-audits may be trapping issues. Your inspector should have experience in the building environmental field and not just the basics. The more experience, the more he or she will find and know to test. A really good inspector will gather data from testing/visual inspections to provide a synopsis of findings. They have a wide array of gadgets available to check for things you may not have considered. Each era of home building has it’s own special problems. The home inspection helps you learn about these, how to handle homes of a different era so you enjoy your new home to the fullest. No home is flawless. Each era has it’s own unique characteristics.
Piping – how not to get hosed
Lead pipes Lead pipes were phased out in the 1970’s for the most part here in Ontario, however, lead solder was used to join pipes together until the late 1980s. In older neighbourhoods, the municipal water supply pipes to your home could include lead. In Toronto, most homes built after the mid-1950s have lead-free pipes. The only way to check, and it’s a maybe is with a licensed plumber. Not typically something an inspector can always check. Older neighbourhood, the likelihood is higher.
Lead supply pipes can contaminate your drinking water through leaching. (run the cold tap to clear the line before drinking from old pipes) Also, lead soldering on old copper pipes, and lead in some fixtures can also pose a drinking water hazard. Lead in your drinking water can have negative health implications.
Galvanized plumbing was the height of home building fashion around 1940-1941. It was typically a steel pipe or iron pipe dipped in zinc to stave off corrosion. The problem is, from the outside the pipe can look fine but the inside is closing up due to corrosion (see photo) The cost to replace galvanized plumbing, specifically galvanized can range widely. How can you tell if you have galvanized supply pipes in an older home while you’re on showings? A simple test: Go upstairs and run the cold water and flush the toilet. Then, run the hot water and flush the toilet again, if the water pressure drops significantly for the hot water test start looking for galvanized plumbing. Hot water corrodes the pipes more quickly. Do this when you’re looking at the house on a showing. Don’t wait until you’ve paid for an inspection to find out.
More Modern Plumbing issues
Two other plumbing issues are the kitchen and bath updates and the wrong type of plumbing is used for the drains. Common Error: a multi-family dwelling with a kitchen reno and the wrong drains were used and therefore don’t meet code. If you’ve completed a renovation, check this page so you can check your own piping. Common plumbing pipes to understand: ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) and PVC (polyvinyl chloride) piping are now the rule, for their non-toxic and abrasion resistant properties. Gray or cream pipes (multi-family homes and condos and ABS (black drain pipes) for single family homes only.
Beware of buying a house with Kitec Plumbing and learn how to identify it when you are on showings. (See photo) A product known as KITEC piping, a flexible aluminum pipe with an inner and outer layer of plastic pipe became widely used in home construction. Why? Because it was seen as a low-cost alternative for water system piping. Recalled due to its accelerated corrosive tendencies, it is no longer manufactured. This means retrofitting and replacement to get insurance. Kitec plumbing in condos was popular about 10-15 or so years ago. Kitec plumbing replacement cost is quite high. ($8,000-$10,000 per unit) plus drywall and painting. Read more about Kitec and various other tubing types here.
Older Electrical Systems
1880-s – 1930’s: Electrical Systems: homes up to the early 1930’s in Ontario were built with ‘knob & tube’ wiring and often not installed by a trained electrician. These systems are outdated but still considered SAFE with caveats from the ESA (Electrical Safety Authority). Typically this type of wiring has insufficient electrical panel controls and most consumers and insurance companies want it replaced as soon as possible. The biggest problem with knob-and-tube wiring is the lack of grounding. It’s expensive to remove and replace. The cost of the wire isn’t expensive. The difficulty and mess it creates is time-consuming because it’s typically behind lath and plaster.
Lead and galvanized piping are also common and are no longer used under modern building codes. The building code has updates throughout the year and every so often a major ‘overhaul’ update takes place. Understanding what is ‘grandfathered’ (means it’s still ok) and what is installed incorrectly is often a common misunderstanding. Let’s face it, no one gets building code updates mailed to their house.
Mid-Century: Electrical and Wiring
Aluminum: Mid-century construction, up to the late 1960s and early 1970s. Aluminum wiring became widely used. The elephant in the room is: I’s not allowed or inferior. Actually that’s wrong. It’s fine and still being installed into new residential construction today. See this ESA BULLETIN from ESA. Aluminum wiring is not the issue, it’s what’s attached to them. Typically a buyer will ask for an ESA inspection if you have aluminum wiring. They want to ensure the home doesn’t have the wrong connectors. inspections take time, and cause delays so if you are selling your home, get the ESA inspection before listing. Here is the brochure from ESA and the process. You need special connectors to connect to copper-based duplex outlets or you risk sparks, shorts and scorching. Unlike-metals heat up and contract at different temperatures. With repeated use and the wrong connectors, connection become loose. This is dangerous. Or people replace old light switches with newer ones and get the wrong kind of switch and think it’s always copper. DIY electricians are a danger most of the time. Often operating from a book or video or they’ve ‘done a bit of electrical work in their time’. When getting electrical work done, please use a licensed electrician. Peace of mind, safety and good for resale.
GFCI’s and Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs)
GFCI circuits work by cutting power to an outlet/receptacle. How do you identify a GFCI outlet? Look near a water source like a bathroom or kitchen and look for the reset button in between the two plug-in spots. Also, your inspector will talk to you about GFCI circuit breakers versus a GFCI receptacles.
Arc-Fault-Circuit Interrupters came into the new standards over two updates, 2001 and 2015 in Ontario. NEW homes had to have them installed. That doesn’t mean older homes had to have them installed unless they were renovated. They prevent electrical surges and eliminate contact with water,” Tony states.
Double tapping in the electrical panel. Happens frequently, it is not allowed and the home inspector will advise you on this situation at the house. It’s not unusual to find low voltage led pots tapped into another circuit during a basement reno. If there is room on the panel for another breaker, call the electrician to install a new breaker for you.
Do NOT ever open someone’s electrical panel on your own. The door is ok but never remove the panel cover (requires removing screws). It’s very, very dangerous and you aren’t authorized to do so.
‘Cracking’ the building code
Today, water damage claims are on the rise, but water is not the only enemy of building foundations. Tony tells us that “settlement of newly built homes often causes hairline cracks everywhere that are not visible under the flooring.” He uses an infrared camera to see as much as he can. Inspectors can’t take the walls apart but they can be equipped with the best tools. As well, people finish basements and cover/block the floor drains. Don’t cover the floor drain!
Foundations are at the bottom, but what’s at the ‘TOP of a proper home inspection? In a word, “Shingles,” says Tony. “Modern standards have helped us move to products like mold, mildew, insect and UV-resistant cedar shakes and roof coverings that extend beyond the typical 20-year shingle. Many people mistake an architectural shingle for a shingle that needs repairing. Architectural shingles are designed to resemble (loosely) the look of wood shakes and people mistake this texture for an old roof.” Not so. It’s a design element.
Knowing is empowering!
Whether buying or selling, a certified home inspection gives you protection and peace of mind. It can help lower your insurance costs and guide you in choosing your coverage. You can make your purchase conditional on the home being inspected and that the results are within reason for your expectations. A professional home inspection when you are selling by a home inspector with a tough reputation is a great marketing tool. Knowing what buyers are going to find lets you address any issues right away.
For more information on home inspections, you can contact Tony Muscat via his website at inchbyinchinspections.com/ Or call Tony directly at 416-826-7172