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Full Disclosure and PCDS – (property condition disclosure statement)

Full disclosure

What is full disclosure and why is it important? When dealing with one of the most expensive purchases of a persons’ life it is pretty important to make sure the deal is as honest as you can make it. This honesty refers to the buyers, sellers, realtors and inspectors.  I am sure you have heard of the expression “buyer beware”. This means if you are buying you should do all you can to reduce the risk of buying a money pit. When you involve a home inspector and a realtor you should be reducing that risk as these professionals should help you to avoid most of the pit falls inherent in this type of purchase.

If you are the seller you need to disclose to the buyer all you know about the home in terms of the major issues you might be aware of. I can tell you from experience that you should not leave this part of the process to anyone else. You need to be clear about the conditions of the home. Don’t leave any part of the disclosure to misinterpretation by the seller. As an inspector I try to be as thorough as I can to present the fact of what I see in the clearest light possible. Sometimes this means I need to use my vast experience to predict a likely problem even though I can’t physically see it. In my opinion it is best to deal with the issues up front during the negotiating process rather than in court a year later. As I always say, “it is what it is”. I realize that full disclosure may cause a buyer to back away from the deal but this is far better than the fight later on if you choose to be dishonest.

In the real estate world there are forms the seller fills out called PCDS or property disclosure statements. When you are filling these out you should list anything you feel is significant in terms of the major components of the home. I have experienced several misunderstandings about the PCDS. If you are in doubt about what you need to fill out here ask your realtor. Form my experience most people are honest but sometimes they fill the form out quickly and forget to disclose things or don’t disclose things because they consider them unimportant. My advice is to take a day or so to fill out this form, then ask your realtor to help you decide if there are any questionable issues you are not sure should be included in this disclosure statement.

Let’s face it, you don’t want to tear your home apart in the disclosure statement but there are likely some things you should inform the buyers of. Here are a few guidelines I’d suggest adding to the PCDS. If the home has ever flooded or if it has had major damage due to a water line or fixture leak. Many times the sellers realize the problem, fix it and consider it no longer important so they don’t think to mention it in the PCDS. All of a sudden the inspector or the new owner finds evidence of the past leak and they go into panic mode. The whole deal is thrown into dispute and the seller is made to look like they are dishonest. It is best to disclose past issues even if you feel they are not that important.

Even if you are not concerned about a current problem and consider it normal wear and tear for the age of the home, you should still disclose it. I’m not talking about a tear in the carpet or a poor paint job. I am referring to things like a chronic furnace problem or recurring ice damming. These are things the buyer will want to know and once disclosed they can make an informed decision. Once again if you are in doubt about whether you should put an issue in the PCDS you should seek the advice of a professional such as your realtor. Most of us only buy and sell a few houses in our lifetime so we are very inexperienced in the process. Realtors on the other hand have vast knowledge of this area and you are paying them to properly guide you through the process where everyone is treated fairly. Let’s face it most homes have issues and need some repair and maintenance, in fact most sellers want to upgrade because the want a better home, having said that the sellers are not going to bring an older home up to today’s standards to sell it. If they did that they might as well not move.

The Long story about ice damming and attic ventilation

Ice damming

Ice damming is a real problem in many older homes in particular. I have written about this in several other blogs but it has been a while so I will try to broach the subject once again in a slightly different angle. Let’s start with building construction. In the last 25 – 30 years we learned a lot about building ventilation and attic ventilation in particular. In order for a building to breathe well it must be designed to do so. It is of paramount importance that we build our homes to be healthy if we plan to live in them. If you have ever been to a hunting camp you will know that they breathe really well and don’t seem to have any particular health problems. In a home however we add heat and furniture and close up the gaps as best we can. The air inside our homes can easily become contaminated and stale if we don’t plan to refresh it on a regular basis. It is this process of ventilation and the lack of ventilation that can lead to ice damming.

If an attic is not properly designed and ventilated, problems often arise. The most common problem I see due to improper design and ventilation include molds, moisture and ice damming. There are four very common issues that lead to the above problems;

  1. Lack of insulation,
  2. Lack of vapour barrier,
  3. Low clearance to the roof sheathing near the eaves and
  4. Lack of ventilation.

Lack of insulation and vapour barrier:  Insulation is very important in any heated structure. In the Midwest we experience extreme temperatures, it is the sudden change in temperature that causes the air inside a home to pass through what is referred to as its dew point. When warm air rises it passes through the attic insulation and vapour barrier where it eventually cools to a point where it condenses and any moisture in the air will form frost on the closest building materials that are below freezing. When temperatures rise the frost melts and the resulting moisture can cause all sorts of problems such as mold and rot. Two common solutions to reducing this natural process of cooling and condensation is to reduce the rapid heat loss by adding insulation and  adding a vapour barrier to stop the moisture in the air from rising to the cold attic.

Other causes of moisture and mold in many homes is the design of the roof. If the home is older it may not have much or any eaves. In more modern homes we have discovered the importance of extending the eaves out past the wall of the home and adding vents to provide a pathway for wind driven air to move through the attic space. If your home was built prior to the 1970’s it likely lacks this type of ventilation. Furthermore the distance (slope distance) between the attic ceiling rafters and the roof sheathing near the wall of the home is minimal. This is the area where the warm moist air from the heated space inside the home will often cause problems. When the heat rises through the insulation it begins to cool quickly, because there is little air movement in the attic by design the warm air reaches the sheathing of the roof at the same time it hits its dew point. It is here that the moisture in the air is deposited onto the roof sheathing.

To be clear, it is fairly rare to see frost development near the peak of the attic as the distance between the rafters and the peak is great enough that the heat in the air cools beyond its dew point before it gets that high. By the time the air does rise that high it is too dry to create frost. So we remain with the frost and warmer area of the attic at or near the eaves. One last problem that presents itself in this situation is ice damming. Ice damming occurs when the heat energy from the home rises up and touches the roof sheathing in the cold winter months. Generally it doesn’t matter if the heat is moist or not in this case. What happens is the heat hits the sheathing and transfers through the wood and shingles until it reaches the snow on the roof. When the last of the heat residual hits the snow it begins to melt the snow layer next to the shingles. This melt water begins to run downwards toward the eaves. When the water reaches the outer edge of the exterior wall it freezes again because the heat source below is no longer available to keep it thawed. After a few days of this thaw / freeze cycles occurring,  the ice layer gets thicker and the water from above needs to rise up to get over the dam. When the water behind the dam gets about 3-4” thick it can and often does run into the attic and makes its way into the ceiling and outer wall cavity. Of course the moisture in the wall leads to rot and mold as you might expect.

One last though on this, I always recommend using ice and water shield on the first three feet of the roof eave as it will prevent some of the ice damming. I also recommend adding ventilation as it moves the air around and cools it before it has a chance to create ice damming and frost. Lastly adding more insulation and vapour barrier where possible is a good idea.

Maintaining your pressure tanks – know the signs of failure and under performance issues

Pressure tank Maintenance

If you live on an acreage or farm you will likely have a well and pressure system in your home. This little component is often overlooked and receives very little maintenance. This week I was having some issues with my Reverse Osmosis system so I began to trouble shoot what the problem might be. I concluded that the pressure tank was only at 6 lbs. I added air to the bladder to achieve about 30 lbs and the problem disappeared. While I have the compressor handy I decided to check the well pressure tank as well. I found that this tank also was low on pressure at 13 pounds. I added air to this tank as well to achieve around 28 pounds.

The procedure for checking the air pressure in a bladder tank is often misunderstood so I will go over it here. First of all you should turn off the breaker for the pump. Next turn on as many of the cold water fixtures as you can to drain the water pressure from the system. You should be able to watch the pressure drop on the gauge and physically see the volume of water drop in the fixtures. Once the water stops coming out of the fixtures you can assume the pressure is at zero. If your gauge is reading something else gently tap it to see if the needle drops, if not I recommend changing the gauge at this time.

Now that the pressure in the lines is at zero you can check the pressure in the bladder with a tire pressure gauge. If the pressure is below 28 pounds you should add more. Never go above 45 lbs as most bladders are only rated to 50 pounds and 28 – 38 should be adequate. If you cannot get the tank to build pressure or if it appears to leak out once you remove the pump, you likely need a new tank. If the pressure tank is not holding air you are over working your pump and may need to replace it prematurely if you don’t address the pressure pump issue.

Finally, if you notice the pump is cutting in and out (cycling) more than once every few minutes or so than you likely have a bad pressure tank or the tank is low on air. The cut in and out pressures on the pressure switch should be set close to 35 and 55 pounds pressure. If you go higher or lower than that you may shorten the life of the pump and risk other issues such as leaks. If you are hauling water you want low pressure to conserve water. If you live in a two story home with 6 bathrooms you may need more pressure (65 PSI) to adequately supply the house. As always if you have questions about your particular situation don’t hesitate to contact me for free over the phone or text advice.

AVOIDING WET BASEMENTS – Part 5 – Deciding to make a claim or not

Wet basements, to claim or not to claim

So you have had some water infiltration into your basement, what now? The vast majority of the people I deal with call the insurance company first. While this may be the best approach in a given situation it may also end up costing you a lot of your hard earned money because you jumped the gun. The reason I say this is because as soon as you make that call you are making a claim. It almost always leads to you losing your claims free status and your insurance could go up. Now don’t get me wrong, that is why we have insurance but I am suggesting that you look at the severity of the problem before you make that claim. If the problem is minor and easily repaired and cleaned up, you should likely do it yourself. If the problem is larger and more serious then insurance involvement is recommended. Your insurance company has access to many industry professionals that can set things right. Just be sure you need them first.

I am sometimes called to investigate a wet carpet in the corner of a basement. Upon arriving at the home I quickly scan the lot and downspouts before even knocking at the door. Many times I can predict from that cursory view where the carpet is likely to be wet. Once inside I usually discover I am correct. I will often see a streaks of water that has poured through a basement window and if the homeowners are lucky, only a small area of wet flooring. At this point I use my thermal camera and moisture meter to try to determine the extent of the moisture area. If the moisture is through a window for instance it may not have wet the wall at all. If the flooring is carpeted and the area is small it is usually possible to peel back the carpet and underlay and begin the drying process. The key to handling this type of problem is to get the professional opinion of an independent contractor. If the problem is small you and the contractor may opt to simply open a small section of the wall and air dry the carpet for instance. This approach should be documented and kept for reference when you are ready to sell the property. If as a home inspector I see what appears to be a past leak you need to be able to explain the event, better yet you should have disclosed it to the buyer already.

If the damage appears more widespread and materials are going to need to be discarded and replaced you should then consider calling your insurance company who will send their own representative over to have a look. I am not suggesting that you take a week to decide, these things need to happen quickly in order to avoid mold and other setbacks. All I am saying is don’t panic, assess the situation and decide with the help of others what you need to do. Obviously if you have an inch of water in your basement you will need an extensive renovation and insurance is there for that. On the other hand however, if the problem is small and can be quite easily cleaned and dried without replacing contents then that is something you can likely handle. Read on in this series for tips on how to properly clean up a mess caused by water intrusion. By the way, if the moisture is sewer related it will almost always require professional attention. Don’t mess around with sewer backups as they have significant harmful health effects if not properly cleaned up.

Finally if the flood was a sewer backup you should consider hiring me to scope your sewer line to see where the backup started and who might be responsible.

Click on this link To view actual inspection photos that correspond to Avoiding wet basements .

AVOIDING WET BASEMENTS – Part 4 – How to deal with a wet basement

How to deal with moisture in your basement

Moisture in a basement may take the form of a chronic problem or a one-time issue. The water intrusion may be severe such as a sewer backup or as simple as a little bit of water on the bare concrete floor. Whatever the severity you must find the source and correct the problem or your efforts to repair the damage will be for nothing and the problem will come back. Repairing a wet basement wall more than once for the same issue for instance, should not be an option and you insurance company will likely not take it well. This blog will talk about the small (to large) cleanups that you find yourself dealing with. This blog assumes for whatever reason, you are the person doing the cleanup and restoration. I always recommend hiring a professional crew to do this work but I understand there are times when this is simply not possible and in the smaller cases may not be necessary. It is imperative to your health and safety that you go about this in a systematic way so as not to spread the problem (potential mold) throughout the home.

I will paint a scenario of a leak that will form the advice in this blog. There are many different ways for you to end up with a wet basement but I need to narrow it down to one that may contain mold, either from a sewer backup or a flood that has wicked up into the drywall inside the basement. When dealing with sewer and wet drywall you need to consider that mold and other toxins is or will be forming in a short time within your home. The key is to contain the problem and quickly. I know many people who experience water problems and hope that if they just wait long enough the moisture will simply dry up, problem solved on its own. The reality is if you take this approach you will most likely be exposing your family to harmful molds and other toxins. Even if you expect moisture but can’t see it, you should consider investigating. I won’t get into investigations at this point except to say that special tools are usually required to detect hidden molds and moisture such as a thermal camera, moisture meter and if necessary air sampling and destructive inspections.  Remediation companies and inspectors such as myself should have these tools to help diagnose your concerns.

Let’s assume your home has experienced a sewer/ water backup and one bedroom and a hall way has wet carpet and drywall looks wet on the bottom 6” along the interior wall by the furnace room. For your own reasons you have to do the cleanup. The first step is to plan. Plan how to remove the wet contents as soon as possible. Mold will grow in ideal conditions within 48 hours so I always suggest a quick removal of contaminated materials before then. If you discovered the flood too late, then you need to set up containment and negative air before you begin the removal process. To do this I recommend getting some 6MM builders poly and some tape from the hardware store (don’t be afraid to ask their advice). The goal is to seal off the wet products from the rest of the home before removal as they may in fact have mold spores on them. Secondly you will want to create a negative air area where any loose mold spores will be drawn outside rather than into the home where they may affect your families’ health. To do this I recommend adding a fan in a basement window inside the containment area. In this way when you are entering the containment area, air is drawn in rather than expelled.

Finally you must consider the furnace and how it may spread the spores. Somehow you will need to try to isolate the air intakes from the containment areas. I also recommend a bio-wash of some sort to do the final cleaning once the wet materials have been removed. You may also want to rent an air scrubber if it is in your budget. Remember the best approach is to leave major water damage to the experts but I see lots of homeowners trying to save money but doing so at the expense of their homes air quality. If you must do it yourself ask lots of questions and do it right, your family will thank-you for it later. When you are satisfied the moisture is cut out and the home is once again clean, you should consider hiring someone like me to perform an indoor air test to make sure you have not overlooked something. When the air test come back clean, you can proceed to repair or replace the damage. Good luck but don’t take this lightly as it can be serious and remember to take pictures and document what you have done in case you need that information when selling your home etc.

Click on this link To view actual inspection photos that correspond to Avoiding wet basements .

AVOIDING WET BASEMENTS – Part 3 – Drainage under your homes concrete floor

Draining under your homes concrete floor

Wet basement floors are common in this part of the country and most contractors will tell you every home should have a sump pump. I have a different opinion as I see hundreds of dry basements that have been designed correctly and are therefore dry and they don’t have a sump pump. I hear the phrase often, “well it couldn’t hurt could it?” well in fact I believe it might, here’s why. If you jack hammer into a perfectly good basement floor you are now exposing the home to whatever might be under that floor. I have been in homes where you can hear the weeping tile running but the home has never had a leak in its 35 year history. If you disturb this process you may be opening up a can of worms you don’t want to deal with. I always say don’t fix it if it is not broke! By opening up the floor you are now directing the flow of water to the sump and relying on a pump to do what other systems have successfully done for decades. If and when your sump pump fails you now have a problem. I always look at the history of the home to tell me if changes are required.

On the opposite side of the coin you may live in a damp basement that has little or no water control systems. As a result your basement floor might have significant amounts of efflorescence (white powder) on it and you are experiencing a musty smell. Obviously something must be done and a sump pump is an obvious solution, or is it? I have experienced many damp basements that have a dry sump. The problem is this, the water under the basement floor is not free to travel to the sump. Instead of migrating under the floor to the sump pit, the water simply pushes up under the slab.

Many of the early basements models were missing two critical components that we use today, a thick layer of crushed rock and vapour barrier. The problem with most basements from the 70’s and prior, is that they did not provide a pathway for water to travel under the slab without touching the bottom of the concrete floor. Even if gravel was used, it was often pushed into the clay and became ineffective as a drainage plane. When the water table is high as it has been in recent years, the ground under the concrete floor becomes saturated. This excessive moisture often looks for the path of least resistance and that is usually up through the unprotected concrete of your basement floor. Today we add a layer of vapour barrier and 6-12 Inches of clean crushed rock that provides a pathway to the drainage system for the water rather than just letting it sit under the floor.

Adding a sump pump in an older home may help alleviate some of the water issues but don’t count on one sump in the corner or anywhere for that matter, solving your water problem. As I mentioned above, the water will take the path of least resistance and that is often up through the floor rather than across the basement to a sump. When I see this type of home and problem I will always look to the outside to see if there are any means of controlling the surface water to reduce the load on the basement. Often the slope needs correcting and the downspouts can be better arranged. If your home is built in a hole at the edge of a swamp you may have issues that require extensive repairs at a high cost. For most city dwellers however, the answer may lie in the exterior grade and water control systems. In a worst case scenario jack hammering out the floor may be necessary in order to get control of the water issues under it. As always feel free to contact me for free advice. If you require a home visit I charge $150 for a comprehensive assessment of single component systems.

Click on this link To view actual inspection photos that correspond to Avoiding wet basements .

AVOIDING WET BASEMENTS – Part 2 -Sump pumps

Sump pumps

Sump Pumps have become quite technical in the past few years. Homes with high water tables are very dependent upon the proper operation of the sump pump. There are several combinations of sumps available on the market, some that will even notify you in the event of a pump failure. Of course these systems can be expensive. In this blog I will attempt to discuss various options available depending upon your needs and some maintenance tips to help keep your pump in a dependable condition.

A sump pump has two main types of on switches that turn the pump on, both controlled by the water level. One style is built into the pump or attached directly to the pump down in the pit and wired to a receptacle on the basement wall. The built in style of pump switch is often more difficult to test and therefore often gets neglected. The second style of float as they are referred to, is the type that allows the homeowner to bypass the float and manually test the pump without getting into the sump pit. To do this you would simply unplug the two wires and plug in the pump directly to the outlet receptacle. Once this is done you should hear the motor turning. It is important at this point that you know the difference between a turning motor sound and a seized motor hum. One way I determine the difference when the sump is dry is to listen for the motor to slowly wind down when it is unplugged. If the motor suddenly stops when it is unplugged it may be seized and will not pump the water when it is needed. Also check to make sure the check valve in the line if present is not stuck in the closed position. if either of these components fails the water will rise.

This leads me to the next topic, backup systems. There are a few ways you can reduce your flood risk. One is to install a flood sensor in the top half of the sump pit. If water hits the sensor due to a pump failure, the sensor will sound an alarm. Of course you need to be home to hear it. The next approach is a second sump pump that only starts if the first fails and the water level climbs high enough to activate that pumps float. A third way to protect your home is to add a battery backup in the event of a power failure. Power outages often accompany huge rain events and thus the need for the sump to run. A forth type of protection is to add a “smart” alarm system. These systems are pricey but offer the most protection. If the main sump fails to start and the water level rises above a certain level you will receive a notification of a possible pump failure on your smart phone. You can purchase even more sophisticated systems that will include a second pump and a battery backup and all the notifications that go with those component operations.  These high end systems are great but for most of us they may be out of reach and ultimately overkill. I liken it to owning a Cadillac or a Civic. If you can afford the Cadillac great but if you own and maintain the civic you will get where you are going none-the-less. Bottom line is, sump pumps require maintenance and will eventually fail so be proactive and in tune with your sump requirements. If you don’t you may be calling a plumber or worse yet your insurance company.

Click on this link To view actual inspection photos that correspond to Avoiding wet basements .

AVOIDING WET BASEMENTS – Part 1 – Downspouts

Downspouts

One of the most common problems I come across is missing and loose or otherwise improperly installed down spouts. In the Midwest we have fairly flat properties and the soil is generally a layer of top soil over a clay base. Many of the homes I inspect have several issues related to water control and drainage. This week and most weeks in the spring and summer I hear about wet basements. Most basement leaks stem from misdirected downspouts. Sometimes homeowners try to fix a wet basement with a sump pump but if the moisture is seeping through a wall and creeps out onto the floor, a sump pump will not help. I always emphasize the importance of controlling rain and melt water on the outside first.

There are two major repairs you can do to keep your basement dry. 1. Move the water from the roof a long ways from the home. Many inspectors recommend at least 8’ but I’ll go a bit further to say make sure the discharge of the downspout is landing in an area where the water will continue to move away on its own. All too often I see 8-10ft extensions added but the water is pooling and back grading towards the home none-the-less. I often recommend using a fence as a fastening device to add more length to your roof control systems. In this way you can move water along the fence and discharge it at the front or back of the yard where it can run to the street or the back alley. In a heavy rain this could make the difference between a wet or dry basement. 2. Secondly always try to use a clay base to create a positive slope away from the home. If you have a concrete basement this should not be a difficult task, simply remove the top soil and slope away from the wall with clay. Depending upon the severity of the problem you may want to add a plastic water drainage plane and rock as ballast. If the slope is not too negative simply correct the slope and add a layer of top soil on top and seed again.

Correcting the slope and filling in low spots commonly found under decks, together with properly positioned downspouts will usually keep your basement dry. If you have a deep basement you will likely need to install window wells in order to bring up the slope near the basement. Remember that some basement windows need to be a means of egress so a large window well will be required. In extreme situations the property slope may not be repairable. In these situations you may need to add an exterior sump which is a topic for another blog. Good luck and call for free advice anytime.

Click on this link To view actual inspection photos that correspond to Avoiding wet basements .

Q: Our walkway is broken and tipped. Should be replace it or try to fix it?

A: A broken walkway presents two problems. One problem is the fact that it may be a trip hazard. If the walk has displaced pieces which you or a guest may catch their foot on, it should be repaired or replaced. A second issue of a broken and tipped walkway is that they almost always tip towards the home. This creates a drainage path toward the home and may act as a water dam holding water against the basement wall.  Either of these situations is not desirable as water needs to be moved away from the home not towards it. If the walk is in good condition but has simply settled or tipped it is possible to have the walk mud jacked back to the level position. I have read recently that there is a new polymer material that is used to jack concrete up as well.

Q: Our furnace has an old humidifier. I don’t think it works any more, do we need to replace it?

A: Most old furnace humidifiers no longer function due to the hard water we put through them. Most have a float system that is on an arm. When the float is down it opens a water valve to fill the tray. When the water comes up sometimes the float gets stuck and water begins to overflow the tray. Most furnace plenums have rusty stains on them from just this problem. If you feel you need to humidify your home then you will need to learn to keep the humidifier clean and operable. In my opinion I don’t think very many homes need a humidifier in the first place. If the humidifier is not properly cared for it could cause all kinds of problems including mold growth.