Archives for May 2013

The Purpose of a Home Inspection

Plain and simple, the purpose of a home inspection is to give you more information to base your home-buying decision on. The seller and their real estate agent will present you with the many features of the house. And it’s natural that they emphasize all the good qualities of the house. Home inspectors are there to help you identify major defects that they can find through a visual inspection of the property. It’s not that we want to be negative, we want you to see both sides of the property and make a choice with fewer surprises down the road.

Home to be Inspected

Most prospective home owners find their home inspections to be highly informative. You may be a first time buyers with maintenance questions, or need to understand the unique issues of country properties. We are happy to answer whatever questions we can while going through your property. Following along with us on our detailed inspection, you may be surprised by what you didn’t notice yet about your prospective new home.

Every house has defects. Usually a lot of small ones, but sometimes larger issues enter the picture. So what is a defect? Well, they can be a lot of things. Your inspector will be looking for things that aren’t as they should be. It might be a safety issue. It might be something isn’t functioning the way it should. There could be signs of past trouble or hints of future problems looming. While we can’t look at everything in such a short time, we do look at a great number of things. For a detailed list of the items I do and don’t look for see the Standard of Practice that I follow. If you get tired reading it all, think how much work it is to look at all that stuff. But don’t worry, the inspector does all that.

We just list the facts of what we find. The same defect may have great impact on one buyer and virtually none on the next. It depends on your needs and abilities. If you are already planning a kitchen renovation, that fact that the range hood doesn’t work might not matter very much. If your Dad owns a roofing company, old shingles are a lot less worrisome. You may not care that the electrical service is only 100 amp, but if you planning on getting a hot tub, it’s more important. So your needs and abilities can give you a much different perspective on the same house. Share your intentions for the property with your inspector so that he can take them into consideration.

At the end of the inspection, you will get a quick verbal summary of the findings, but wait for your Inspection Report before you commit to any firm decisions. It will have a write up of the defects found, many pictures and diagrams to explain them, and tell you when other resources are needed. It may call for further evaluation by a specialist or that contractor quotes might be needed. Read the report thoroughly, understand any risks with the property, and you will make a better decision. For more ideas on how you can get a better inspection read Tips for a Good Home Inspection

All the best on your search for the perfect new home for you and your family. What you learn now can help you have confidence in your residence.

Author: Rob Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. © 2013 HomeXam Inc.
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Home Inspection Myths

1.The home inspector gives a pass or fail.
The inspector identifies defects in various components of a house. If the component does not function properly, demonstrates signs of pending nonperformance, or presents a safety risk to occupants and guests, the inspector will report a defect. This could be perceived as giving the components a failing grade but that is entirely different from deciding whether the house is the right one for you. Different clients can justifiably make different purchase decisions over the same set of defects. For example, if the clients have a family-member who is an electrician, even numerous electrical defects may not be material to them. The decision to buy or not always remains with the client. Pass or fail is up to you.

2. The inspector will look at everything.
Home Inspector
Inspectors budget their time to look at the most significant items in the home and only look at a sampling of some minor components. Other items are outside the scope of the inspection such as outbuildings, swimming pools and low voltage devices. We already have a lot to get through and you don’t have the time for us to exhaustively plod our way through every component on the property. We do look at a lot of items, the keyword being look.

3. Having an inspection removes all my risk.
Nope. Sorry. A home inspection is in no way a warranty or guarantee. Inspectors try to identify risks, or defects, for you. It helps you make a more informed decision when you buy. Hopefully we won’t find many significant issues but whatever we find, or fail to find, you accept the risk in our agreement and ultimately as the buyer. Assuming you still have an inspection condition, you always have the choice to walk away from the deal.

4. The inspector will tell me how much repairs will cost.
The best inspectors won’t. Remember that home inspectors are only allowed to visually examine a home. You don’t own the house yet. So we can’t open up the walls to see the extent of a problem. We will suggest when we think you should call a contractor to get some quotes. This works much better in the long run as you will have prices in place if you choose to proceed.

5. Inspections are all the same so lets just get the cheapest.
What you want is an inspector who is a graduate of a college home inspection program, belongs to a professional association of inspectors, is properly insured and is dedicated to providing you with the highest quality report possible. One or more of these critical factors is missing in the cheaper inspection services. They may try to race through the home and/or produce a shoddy report to save time. Be prepared to spend at least the average fee in the market if you want superior work. You are paying to find out as much as you can as part of your diligence. Why would you cut corners?

6. Inspectors are incredibly knowledgeable and invariably handsome.
This is not a myth. LOL. Inspectors are knowledgeable across a broad spectrum of house construction and maintenance practices. However we are generalists. When a specialist is needed, we will recommend you call one in; in much the same way a general practitioner will call for a medical specialist. Oh, and as for other thing, as Red Green might have said if clients don’t find you handsome they should at least find you handy.

Author: Rob Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. © 2013 HomeXam Inc.
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Home Inspectors are Crack Addicts

At least in a manner of speaking. Everywhere we go we look for cracks in foundations. When we find them we try to classify them and evaluate the surrounding influences that might make the consequences better or worse. Cracks are a foundation’s way of relieving stress. The majority of houses offer one or more cracks for examination. So don’t panic at the sight of the first one. Let me offer a layman’s primer to the types of foundation cracks that may be encountered.

There are obviously ‘bad’ cracks that we refer to as ‘structural’. In inspector language, we might write, “the structural integrity of the foundation wall has been compromised”. What we mean is that the foundation wall is not doing its job of holding up the house properly. The damage is potentially significant and the cost of repair usually is too. The other thing to remember about a structural defect is that we are saying that the damage is going to get worse if you don’t get things corrected. If the foundation is not holding up the house in its original position, the weight of the house above will cause further stress cracks and movement. Don’t lose hope. Just because a crack is significant doesn’t mean that it can’t be properly repaired.

Inspectors look at the size of the crack, its orientation and for any displacement. The wider the gap the worse the crack. If you can get your fingertip in a crack, there has already been significant movement. A horizontal crack is generally of more concern that a vertical one because it suggests displacement. Displacement is when one side of a crack has shifted out of alignment with the other; the two sides are no longer in the same plane. Pressure from the fill around a foundation sometimes causes the wall to start to bulge inwards. Most commonly this happens with block foundations.

Buckling wallThe picture shows a block wall that has started to buckle inwards. It has what we refer to as ‘step cracking’ as the mortar has opened between the blocks. The bulge displaces the blocks out of their vertical alignment and is often detectable by eye when sighted along the wall. Left unchecked further movement will cause the wall to collapse and the home will be unsupported along this section of wall.

The least expansive cracks are referred to as ‘hairline’ cracks. You can see them but the sides are still in contact and aligned. They are often located around basement window openings. Some cracks are caused by the tension in concrete drying out as it ages. Minor settlement can cause these too. If a crack has remained unchanged for years there’s less risk of future movement as settlement usually diminishes over time. The uncertainty is whether a recent crack will widen into something more serious. The pictures we put in our inspection reports can be a reference to refer to later. Wider cracks need special devices to help track millimeter size movements over time.

Cracks that we find in basement and garage floors are the least worrisome. It’s hard to find a house without them and unless the floor is buckling, or contains in-floor heating, inspectors aren’t going to get too worked up about them. In traditional house construction the floor slabs have very little structural significance. They are poured after the house is built and and the roof is on. They don’t play much of a role in holding the house up.

A non-structural crack that occurs in a well-drained, dry environment is pretty harmless. Once past the issue of structural support, the enemy we watch for is potential water intrusion. Concrete is not waterproof and the presence of cracks add to the potential to leak. Past leaks often leave signs and we will certainly comment if we find those. The influences I referred to earlier are things that either bring more water to the crack or fail to take water away from it. The grade around your foundation wall should slope away from the house. Landscape edging or porous fill like river rock can pool water along the foundation wall. The lack of an eves-trough on a roof surface above that drains towards that edge, or downspouts that empty too close can feed large amounts of water to an otherwise harmless crack.

I hope this article has helped to give you a better understanding of what Home Inspectors as thinking about while they look at a foundation wall. Ideally you now have some insight into distinguishing a serious crack from a lesser one.

Photos courtesy of AboveWater Foundation Waterproofing & Restoration Services Inc.

Author: Rob Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. © 2013 HomeXam Inc.
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Fixing a Structural Crack

When a foundation crack is severe enough that it compromises the ability of the wall to carry its load, we call it a structural crack. Left unattended to the integrity of the foundation will continue to degrade but there are remedies. This article describes one example of the repair of a structural crack in a poured concrete foundation wall.

Structural crack discovery Structural crack revealed

Initially the crack may not look too serious, but once it is chipped out for repair it is obvious that it extends all the way to the footing. The chipping opens the crack to accept concrete and allows the to bond with the wall. Next an adhesive rubber membrane seals the repair from any water. Steel plate straps are bolted into anchors drilled into the wall. In this case the straps go around the corner but the technique works just as well on straight section of wall. The excess thread on the bolts is cut off and a dimpled plastic membrane called Platon is attached and sealed to the wall. The purpose of the Platon is to sheet water down to the footing weeping tile and away from the crack. A porous fill like gravel is used for backfill to make sure any surface water can drain rapidly.

Structural crack patch Structural crack platon

Obviously there is some hard work to make this repair happen and the cost can be considerable. However if the crack is structural a repair really isn’t optional. This is work for a foundation repair specialist. General contractors may be able to come up with a solution, but time is money and a specialist is going to do it right the first time. And nobody wants to pay for a second time.

Photos courtesy of AboveWater Foundation Waterproofing & Restoration Services Inc.

Author: Rob Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. © 2013 HomeXam Inc.
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Home Maintenance Misconceptions

We all pick up ideas in passing about various subjects that we accept at face value. Perhaps even helping to pass them on to others with the full conviction that we are sharing a bit of wisdom. Most of the time these truisms are valid but every once in a while a myth sneaks in undetected. Here are a few home maintenance misconceptions.

  1. You test a smoke detector by pressing the ‘test’ button.
    If there’s no smoke the circuit had nothing to test except that the batteries still had power. Basically you are pushing the on switch for the alarm. If you want to test for smoke detection you need to present some smoke within range of the detector. A blown out candle or wooden match is more than enough to a functional smoke detector. While you are checking you might want to confirm that the detector is less than ten years old. I’ve been told that’s about length of their effective life. I hope it wasn’t a myth.
  2. Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors should be installed near the furnace.
    Only if you enjoy the occasional false alarm. Small amounts of CO are not uncommon around furnaces or other combustion sources. As for the ongoing debate over high or low placement in a room, there are arguments for each. If you desire more precise measurement and memory for duration testing the digital plug-in models fit the bill and will typically be 18 inches off the floor. Hardwired CO and smoke combination units are typically installed in ceilings and are an affordable alternative. High or low the one placement guideline to make sure you follow is that at least one alarm can clearly be heard in the sleeping areas.
  3. The bigger your range hood fan the better.
    This is potentially a life threatening concern because if your mega-fan is pushing too much air it has to come from somewhere and that may be your smouldering fireplace or conventional gas water heater. While it seems like an excellent idea to get rid of cooking odours and humidity, you need to balance the volume of air being blown out with the fresh air that replaces it. If that 600 cubic feet per minute fan has a 6 inch outlet, and you have unsealed combustion devices in the house, plan on putting in a 6 inch fresh air inlet. Back-drafting poisonous combustion gases and smoke into your home is unpleasant at best and fatal at worst. On the positive side you’ll find out if your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors work.
  4. Blocking your combustion air supply is a good idea.
    I see this occasionally while inspecting homes. If you have a conventional gas water heater or furnace they rely on a duct from the outside to provide a fresh air source for combustion. Some people worry about that cold air coming in the combustion air supply and stuff a rag or towel in it to block it. Bad idea. The fresh air inlet keeps air flowing up the chimney and is much less likely to create a back-draft situation as per the previous item.
  5. The finer your filter the better for your furnace.
    Not really. Furnace filters were created to protect the furnace and can operate quite well on the lowest MERV rated filter at your local hardware store. The finer the filter you buy the sooner it will get clogged up with dirt, forcing you to change it more often. One of the worst things you can do to your furnace is let the furnace filter get really dirty. It makes the blower motor work too hard and can actually burn them out.The higher rated filters were created to improve the air quality in the house for you and your family. They can screen out much smaller particles like smoke, pet dander and pollen, but are much more expensive. When buying your furnace filters remember that you are really paying that extra money to look after the health of your loved ones. If you change them often enough, your furnace will stay healthy too.

Author: Rob Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. © 2013 HomeXam Inc.
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Window-Well Woes

As a Home Inspector, I frequently find cracks in the foundation at the lower corners of basement window openings. They occur there so often because it’s a weak point in the wall. The depth of the concrete in the window opening is less than the full height of the foundation wall surrounding it. When pressure from uneven settling or heaving acts on the wall, the wall in the window well cracks first. Does this mean that if we didn’t have any basement windows that we wouldn’t have any cracks? Not necessarily. If the pressure is great enough the wall will eventually crack somewhere. Besides basement windows have their virtues.

So now that we have accepted cracks at basement windows as a fact of modern living, why do we worry so much about them? Any crack is a potential entry point for water. Cracks within the confines of a window-well are in what amounts to a catch-basin for water. If water pressure builds up against a cracked basement wall, sooner or later that water is coming through to damage your basement renovations and possessions.

Modern basements should be built with a plastic membrane on the outside of the foundation to feed water down to the footing. From there it should run away through the perforated drain pipe installed at that level. All too often these components are missing or defective in older houses. Occasionally relatively new homes have these problems as well. What matters is that the homeowner gets to the bottom of the problem before the damage starts. And the best way to get to the bottom of the problem is for a foundation repair contractor to start digging.

Here we see the work the contractor has already done. Crack repairedThe area around the crack has been excavated and the crack has been filled and covered with tar or an adhesive rubber membrane to seal it. Next a harder plastic sheeting that has a waffle-like texture is attached to the wall with fasteners shot into the concrete. The dimpled pattern will encourage water to percolate down to the footing more easily. You can see the new piece of perforated pipe that has been joined to the weeping tile at the footing.

Gravel is used as fill because it is porous and allows water to flow to the footing as well. The hole is filled with gravel and a galvanized window well is attached to the wall. Dirt fill is replaced around the window well and the grade is finished to slope away from the foundation wall. Finally the a cap is placed on the drain to lessen the likelihood of it becoming blocked with debris. All that remains to be done is to install some sod and enjoy a drier basement.

Note that multiple techniques have been used in combination to resolve this problem.Filled in a ready for sod The wall was made as impermeable as possible. A platon membrane (the waffle), porous fill and a weeping tile has been installed to help remove whatever water arrives outside the wall. And finally, the grade has been sloped away from the wall to run water away. In combination they add up to the best solution to a crack that allows water into a basement. Because of all the work, the bill can add up to a hefty figure as well. All the more reason to make sure you get a good foundation repair contractor.

Photos courtesy of AboveWater Foundation Waterproofing & Restoration Services Inc.

Author: Rob Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. © 2013 HomeXam Inc.
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Red Flags for Buyers of Old Homes

Old House

Older homes have charm, character, and curb-appeal. Buyers tend to fall in love with them at first sight. Along with their beauty, older homes tend to need significant upgrades that can quickly gobble up household budgets. Not all old homes are money pits, but they all warrant a thorough home inspection. Old houses used the technology of the day and unless the previous owner upgraded key components, you are going to foot the bill sooner or later. Here are some things to think about before you write a quick offer.

Old houses have cellars rather than basements. They tend to have low ceilings and be damp; not a good combination for renovating. When foundation walls are made from rubble, stone or block not only are they likely to be damp but there are other potential issues. Significant cracks in walls and crumbling mortar are signs to watch for. If they have already been renovated, you may inherit mould or other issues behind the walls. Just keep in mind that cellars were not built to be living space.

Smaller electrical services are often found in older houses. The current just wasn’t needed back then, but it sure is now. Back then services were 30 amps. Now larger homes commonly have 200 amp service. If you see an electrical panel with fuses rather than circuit-breakers, you should plan on an upgrade. Homes built before the 1930’s can still have knob and tube wiring, hidden piecemeal behind walls. A couple of signs are receptacles mounted horizontally in baseboards, two-prong plugs and the ever-so-charming push-button light switches or ones with twist knobs. Upgrading requires more than electrical work, walls must be opened and refinished adding to the expense.

The plumbing system in an old house may consist of a series of retrofits cobbled together. It’s not uncommon to see cast iron, galvanized steel, copper and plastic pipes in one building. Cast iron and galvanized pipe work well for decades, but eventually rust on the inside and clog. Depending on the amount to replace, and its accessibility, repairs can be a major expense. Make note of their presence or absence.

Lead was often used for water supply piping. Some people consider this a major issue, others don’t see the risk. Just remember that if you buy a house with a lead pipe water supply, when you want to resell some of the buyers will be scared away. It’s expensive to dig up and replace the supply pipe to where the city service enters the property. After all that the city lines may still have some old lead pipe. Take a peek where the water supply enters the basement. If you see only copper pipe, the house has passed another quick test.

Fireplaces and wood-stoves were often the only source of heat in old houses. Somewhere along the line coal, oil, gas or even electric heat may have been installed. Lots of old houses still use hot water and radiators to distribute heat rather than today’s more common forced air systems. If the listing says natural gas forced-air heat with air-conditioning, you may have dodged another upgrade. Despite the charms of radiators and comfort of hot water heating, the house is less likely to have a central air-conditioning because the duct-work is hard to retrofit.

Original windows in old homes will be single-pane glass. When it’s all about the charm this may be a concession you are willing to make. Do make sure that the windows operate properly and are not painted shut. Double-hung window mechanisms can be repaired but the costs add up quickly. Older homes are less airtight and poorly insulated by today’s standard. Be prepared for a few drafts and higher utility costs. Make sure you see some bills.

Slate, cedar shake and cedar shingle roofs are stately features of any home and seem to look better with age. Be aware that the cost to repair or replace them are higher than today’s common asphalt shingles. If you see missing or broken shingles take note. While it may look charming, take special note of shaded areas that have moss growing on them. The less pretty name for moss is rot and it means repairs are probably overdue. While you are walking around the house admiring the roof-line and decorative trim, take a look at the chimneys. If they have a lot of character you may have some bills coming. Watch out for leaning stacks, missing bricks or mortar and cracks. As impressive as ivy covered walls appear, they grow by digging their tendrils into the mortar and may be doing damage to your masonry under that leafy facade.

The uniqueness and beauty of older homes can make them wonderful places to live and they are often in terrific locations. Knowing a few of the missteps to avoid can help you to sort through MLS listings quickly. I hope this article has opened your eyes to some red flags you can watch for when shopping for older houses. This is not an exhaustive list and is no substitute for a good home inspection. Here’s hoping that old house is your dream home.

Author: Rob Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. © 2013 HomeXam Inc.
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Toddler-Proofing your Home: A Home Inspector’s View

Toddler danger

Toddlers present many challenges for parents; not the least of which are the hazards their rapidly improving mobility presents. They are curious about everything and have few fears to protect them. There will be plenty of the common sense advice offered elsewhere dealing with topics such as poison control, stair gates, safety locks, sharp furniture corners, operating strings on blinds, and so forth. As a Home Inspector, I hope to be able to add some tips that deal with the house itself.

Many opportunities for injury in the home come in the form of climbing hazards. Kitchen cabinets sometimes have built-in under the counter wine racks that must look like a jungle gym to a toddler. Park the wine somewhere else for a year and consider blocking the opening with the back of an upholstered chair. Wine mini-fridges are a newer trend. Hopefully the door is lockable.

Stove doors and dishwasher doors are tempting platforms to climb. Some manufacturers provide anti-tipping brackets for their stoves. They work by holding down the back feet of the stove. The brackets cost less than five dollars and can be found at your neighbourhood Lowes or Home Depot. Oh, and they protect everybody else in the family too.

Dishwashers can have the same tipping problem if they are not installed properly. They come with a strap that should be screwed in the laminate counter top near the latch. With stone and synthetic counters hopefully the trim is screwed into the cabinets. Just leaving the door open is a tripping hazard and of course there’s always sharp cutlery to grab. Keeping the door closed when you are not actively loading or unloading is your best bet.

Stair balusters (those repeated vertical bars that run down from a hand rail) should be no more than four inches apart. The risk being trapping a toddler’s head between the bars. In older homes, particularly outside on balconies and decks, multiple horizontal rails were sometimes used. Another invitation to climb. Consider upgrading the railing system to a more modern solution. Make sure that deck boxes, benches and chairs are not up against a railing.

Toddlers like to hold onto the balusters as they descend a staircase because they can’t reach the railing. Be careful if you have winding stairs. In most cases the exposed side with the balusters will have the skinny end of the stair treads. This creates a situation where a short misstep can result in a long fall. Coaching children to go up and down the stairs on the wide side of the stair treads may end up being safer. Don’t forget that stairs have always been a hazard for people of all ages.

In the last few years there’s been a trend of using stainless steel horizontal handles on pot drawers. Not just a climbing hazard, they also extend at the ends to present a danger to young faces when toddlers inevitably run through the kitchen. Possible temporary solutions include removing the handles if you can easily open the drawer from the edge, or installing safer knob handles in the existing holes.

Shelving units commonly use pins in drilled holes to support the weight of a shelf. This poses a couple of hazards. Shelves can be easily pulled out and will drop their contents on unsuspecting little ones. Climbers may breakout particle board materials, resulting in similar consequences. You can temporarily remove shelves at the lower levels or reinforce the shelves with more permanent brackets. Also remember to secure any tall objects that a little one might pull over onto themselves.

Lever handles on doors are a convenience but may be too easy to operate on particularly risky doors, like the one in front of the basement stairs. Consider swapping a safer lockset until toddlers are fully in control.

Gas fireplaces are a commonplace feature of our homes. Few realize that the pilot light can keep the glass face quite warm to the touch. It’s a simple matter to turn off the pilot to avoid a tearful episode. Wood-burning fireplaces have their own issues. Ashes can still be burning hot the morning after a romantic fire and they can make an incredible mess on carpets. While we’re at the fireplace, if you have a set of fireplace utensils sitting in front of the hearth, consider storage for a while.

Something that we see quite often these days are fridges that serve water and ice in the door. This can be quite entertaining for toddlers who learn to operate them by themselves. The wet floor presents a slip and fall hazard. Most units will have a combination of buttons that will lockout water delivery. See your appliance’s user guide for instructions.

Ladies here’s a hazard you’ve wanted to fix for years. Tell the guys they need to keep all the toilet lids down or risk an expensive plumbing call to snake your cellphone out of the drain pipe. If that doesn’t motivate, you might point out that some toilet seats are heavy enough to break little fingers. I’m referring to those solid wood or epoxy resin replacement seats.

Some homes have solid metal doorstops that stick out from the baseboard. A trip and fall just waiting to happen. You can replace them with doorstops that are spring that will bend before a tiny foot gets caught. The downside is that the annoying sound of pinging them seems to amuse small children for long periods of time.

Some replacement designer heat registers have openings large enough to snag a toddler’s toes. It only takes a minute to swap them out of the areas that the little ones will be playing in. It would be unfortunate to have a setback when everyone is so excited about newly acquired walking skills.

Everyone has probably seen the plastic safety inserts for electrical receptacles. Unless your house was built in the last few years, you may not be aware that newer homes have tamper-resistant receptacles. As you already know, toddlers learn quickly by observing adults. Removing an insert or sliding cover is just another lesson to be practised. If you are remodelling, or if you decide the extra safety is warranted in a given play area the tamper-resistant receptacles are an easy upgrade.

I wish you and your little ones the best of health and protection from life’s bumps and bruises.

Author: Robert Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. His daughter survived falling on her head off a counter top, falling headfirst down a winding staircase, cutting her forehead falling against the fridge, and sticking a screwdriver in an electrical receptacle. Despite these, and other heart-stopping mishaps, she has still grown into a beautiful and brilliant woman.

Author: Rob Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. © 2013 HomeXam Inc.
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Home Inspection Guide for Sellers

House for sale

Now that the big picture decisions of affordability, room layout and neighbourhood are behind them, buyers are going to examine your house in much finer detail. They are trying to picture how it will feel to live there. Everybody gets used to their own messes but other peoples’ are much less appealing. A little extra effort at this final stage can help keep a nervous buyer moving forward.

The goal should be to get as many of the little items taken care of as you can to keep them from bulking up the inspection report. This can help to relieve the anxiety of the buyer, who might be intimidated by the reality of the closing and still has to waive their conditions. Why not reassure them that the house is in top shape in as many ways as possible?

Quick Fixes

Replace any burned out light bulbs. A burned out bulb suggests that you haven’t been keeping up on the little things around the house. A cautious inspector will now spend twice as much time to make sure they see everything.

Install missing and replace damaged receptacle covers (with the power off for safety of course). Inspectors will write up every missing receptacle cover they see as a safety hazard. It is commonly treated as a major safety and immediate item. Why have those items in the report when its such an easy fix?

Make sure your furnace filter is clean and replace if necessary. Furnace protection plans are often transferable to the new owner. Have the documentation out on the kitchen table. It’s a great way to reassure the buyer that their furnace maintenance is up to date.

Inspectors don’t like to see leaves and debris accumulating in window wells. It only takes a few minutes to scoop them out and eliminate another item from the report.

Make sure the pilot light is on in your gas fireplaces. Some inspectors refuse to turn on any gas appliances for fear that they are not operating properly. This ends up in a phone call from the agent or as an item for followup inspection. Its just easier to avoid the possibility and have them on and ready. By the way if your unit uses a remote control to operate, have it out in plain sight.

The inspector is most likely going to detect the signs of significant work such as foundation repairs. Inspectors will report evidence of past water intrusion for sure. Rather than having the prospective buyer worrying about expensive repairs, and possibly losing the deal, a much better impression is made if you freely display the paper work for the repairs that addressed the problem.

A Bit of Elbow Grease Required

Funky smells get noticed and nobody appreciates them. If the kid’s sports equipment or accumulations of laundry are developing a fragrance all of their own, take the time to do the wash and put the equipment in the trunk of your car. If that seems like a gross idea, it just proves the point. Flush toilets, clean litter-boxes and diaper pails. Scrub any mildew around tubs and showers. Emptying and deodorizing garbage pails is a good idea. Take fifteen minutes to air the house out, but don’t over do the chemical air fresheners and deodorizers.

The fewer signs that there are pets in the house the better. It’s a good time to take the pets with you for a walk. Make sure someone has done a thorough poop cleanup in the yard. You may think the buyer loves animals too, but if they show up with Mom, Dad or their Mother in Law, their opinion may be unnecessarily soured. Nobody will appreciate stepping on one of your pet’s landmines.

The inspector is going to climb up to have a look in the attic hatch. Most of these hatches are in closets and sometimes those closets are stuffed with belongings. First, you probably would prefer us not to be handling your stuff to clear out the closet enough to spread a stepladder. And second, although we try to be neat and tidy, its almost inevitable that some insulation will fall down through the hatch. Far better to move a few things now than to have suits to clean later.

Most inspectors won’t run the appliances, but the home buyer might. Empty the washing machine, clothes dyer and dishwasher. If you have a built-in vacuum cleaner, this might be a good time to empty it as well.

Turning off the electrical power is the safest way to inspect the distribution panel. If you have special equipment that requires continuous power try to make accommodation for a brief shutdown. I once had a house with a couple racks of computers in the basement serving several online businesses. In that case it was pretty obvious, but if I had thrown the switch before noticing the computers it might have been awkward. At the very least, make sure the inspector hears about stuff like this before hand. Confirm after the inspection that power has been restored to GFCIs, thermostats and timers you depend upon.

Please make sure there are no dishes or laundry items left soaking in the sinks. Sinks that drain slowly will be reported. It might not be fun, but you can clear them with a plunger or by emptying the traps. Those curved sections under the vanity have a plug or nut that can be loosened to flush them out. Have a tub underneath and a rag handy.

If winter snow has accumulated, clear off walkways, porches, balconies, decks and if possible the driveway. Whatever the inspector can’t see will become a report item. This doesn’t mean that anything is wrong, just that the inspector can’t reassure the buyer of their condition. Don’t shovel snow off the roof. You will more likely damage the roof and it’s a risky activity.

A Few Bucks But Probably Worth It

Squeaky floorboards get noticed. There are special screws that will fix squeals under carpet, hardwood and linoleum floors. They are specially designed so that they tighten the floor to subfloor or joist with minimal visibility. The screw heads snap off to leave a small hole below the surface which should be invisible in carpet floors and easily filled in hardwood. An excellent explanatory video is available from the manufacturer, O’Berry Enterprises, Inc.

Door hinges sometimes need a little lubrication on the hinge pin to stop a squeak. Some people use oil or powdered graphite, but both can be messy and can drip or work its way out where it can be seen. Grease is a better choice. Be careful to use just a little. See your local Lowes or Home Depot for plumber’s grease or alternate product. Here is a handyman site that has a good how to page on this topic.

Ripped window screens can be taken to your local hardware store for repair. The inspector will want to operate your windows. You can find replacements for cranks missing from casement windows at Lowes or Home Depot. Thermopane panels in windows sometimes have failed seals that show up as moisture or stains in between the sheets of glass. This can be a pricey item to fix in any quantity. I’ve seen houses that had more than half a dozen of these located throughout the house and it can become a renegotiation issue. There are three approaches to be considered, replacing the entire window, just replacing the glass or attempting to repair the seal. You may decide fixing a prime picture window location to be a good investment. Then you can provide the paperwork to the buyer when discussing the others. Here’s more window seal repair information.

All inspectors comment on areas where surface water runoff will drain toward the house rather than the preferred direction away from the house. Eavestrough downspouts often deliver water too close to the foundation. By extending downspouts, six feet where possible to a downhill grade, the water runs away form the house and has little chance of soaking down along the basement wall. Toronto Eavestroughing has produced an excellent video explaining how to reroute a downspout. In this case the eavestrough had been flowing underground but the same principles apply to extending a surface feeding downspout. For more explanation see their website.

Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors that are discoloured or nearing ten years of age will be reported. Most detectors are now hard-wired to the electrical supply, so make sure you turn off the right circuit breaker before replacing them. Replacing with the same model or brand can reduce this to a quick plug in to the existing connector. If you are the least bit uncomfortable working with electricity seek help, but its pretty simple and here’s a very thorough video guide from

If you are a bit handy or have access to a handyman these issues can be readily addressed. They aren’t showstoppers but they help to remove items from the inspectors report.

Final Thoughts

Just in case the selling agent doesn’t have your cell phone number with them, it’s a good idea to leave it out on the table. Sometimes a quick answer can help clarify things quickly. For those few hours you are out of the house, disable the security alarm. Everybody might have a good laugh later but the inspection could get derailed. You can always let a neighbour know that an inspection is happening.

If you can take your animals with you it would be best. The non-pet people will appreciate it and there will be people opening outside doors and gates that any escape artists might take advantage of. The inspector needs access to all parts of the house. Dogs with an attitude can stop things cold. If you have work conflicts, you might consider asking someone to watch ‘Spike’ for the day.

Look here for a printable home inspection checklist.

Finally, make sure you are not at home during the inspection. Be out for at least four hours. As welcoming as you intend to be, it can still be awkward for the buyer. Not having the freedom to inspect at their leisure feels uncomfortable. This is a crucial part of the buying process when you want them to feel as much ‘at home’ as possible. One last piece of advice, don’t show up at the end of the inspection and ask how it went. As much as you want to know the answer, the inspector reports to the buyer and the buyer needs time to absorb the contents of the report. Rest assured, you will find out as soon as the buyer is ready to tell you.

Author: Rob Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. © 2013 HomeXam Inc.
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Tips for a Good Home Inspection

A home inspection is an important part of your diligence in buying a home. Here are some tips to help you get the most value out of your inspection.

  • Start by finding a good inspector. Check your inspector’s qualifications. They should have completed a community or junior college program in home inspection and be a member of a professional association dedicated to home inspection. Try to stick to inspectors that only do home inspections. While real estate agents are aware of inspectors in the area and may provide referrals, an independent source may be advisable. Friends and relatives may know someone that they liked but you need an inspector that you have rapport with. You should feel that your inspector is interested in your questions and that you are comfortable communicating with them.
  • Once that trusting relationship starts out on the right foot, don’t undermine it by price shopping or asking for cash deals. Give as accurate a description of the house as you can. If you want to work with a professional, be a good client and respect the team members working for you.
  • Book a reasonable time for the inspection. Make sure you leave a little room before your condition expires for any other inspections or contractor estimates that may become necessary. Wells, septic systems, pools and wood-burning appliances are examples of specialized inspections that are frequently called for. You may lose control of the deal if you have to ask for more time to do them. There’s little point in starting after dark if you want your inspector to see exterior deficiencies. Most inspectors will work on weekends but most appreciate a free Friday evening. Statutory holidays aren’t popular either. It’s also a good idea to get the first inspection on the next available day rather than try to force a third one in on a busy day.
  • Review the inspection contract and standards of practice before you arrive at the inspection. It will help you to understand the service you are getting and avoids wasting time on site that could be better spent inspecting.
  • Good inspectors have a process that they follow to help them keep on track and cover all the things they need to look at. By all means ask questions but do your part to help keep things on track by asking questions in the room they pertain to.
  • Be ‘present’ at the inspection both physically and mentally. You are the client and the decision maker for your purchase. Make sure you are there so that you gain the most insight into the condition of the property. Don’t bring kids, relatives, leave pets in the car or carry on long personal phone conversations. It’s tempting to share the excitement and get input from others but there will be another time for that. During the inspection, anything that distracts you from seeing and understanding the potential issues with your new home is counterproductive. Worse yet, too many background conversations can get in the way of your inspector seeing everything you want them to find.
  • Don’t be a ‘Yabbut’! Some buyers are already so emotionally attached to the property that they get defensive when a defect is identified. If you jump in with a ‘Yeah but … my brother can fix that’ or ‘Yeah but … I don’t plan on using that bathroom’, you are not listening. Don’t debate the defects as they are found, you will have plenty of time to discuss the issues after the inspector delivers the report. Remember that you are paying for the inspector to find defects and that every house has them. You want to find out about them now so that you have options and can get estimates if needed.

Good luck with your purchase and I hope this has helped you get more out of your home inspection.

Author: Rob Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. © 2013 HomeXam Inc.

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