STRUCTURE

: I noticed a bounce in the floor of my living room recently. We just had a new furnace installed. Do you think the two are related?

cut floor joistThe floor  structure  is only as strong as its weakest link. If the furnace installers cut a floor joist to install some duct work it is likely the cause of the bounce. By cutting out more then 1/3 of the floor joist you can weaken it to the point that it cracks and springs when it is walked on. Look for this while someone is bouncing on the floor above. If this has happened you will need to reinforce the damaged joist somehow. Of course the furnace installers should be responsible for the repair if they cut a joist without your knowledge. 

I have an older home that has a dug out basement. Are there any special precautions I need to know about to prevent problems with this type of basement?

Most of the dugout style basements I come across have a perimeter type footing that holds the home up and an inside half wall that holds the dirt back in the basement. Much of the time the inside half wall is leaning inwards due to the pressure of the soil. On several occasions I have come across walls that have failed and the soil has partially covered the furnace and hot water tank. The key to keeping this type of basement sound is to keep the soil dry. This means the outside ground and the roof water must be directing water away from the home. If you allow the soil between the footing and the half wall or retaining wall to get wet you are causing extreme pressures on the retaining wall. Most of the time the perimeter footing is cracked and shifted meaning the soil under it has moved. In this case there is only one place for the soil and water to go, into the basement. Keep it dry, or risk the very structure of your home!

Why is my roof sagging?

This photo shows a transition point where two rooflines come together. The resulting valleys that are created here have to be constructed to withstand the extra snow load in these areas. In this case the valleys have sagged considerably and an abnormally heavy snowfall may actually cause the timbers to crack and fail. This type of failure may not be observable right away until the snow melts and rains into the attic and through the ceilings. Many older homes were constructed this way and I have seen other similar issues such as sway backs in the ridge line (similar to the saddledome). Often times this movement happened soon after the home was built and likely hasn’t gotten any worse. Having said that I always recommend having a qualified contractor or engineer access the situation to be sure it is still structurally sound.
P.S. Any inspector worth their salt should try their best to gain access to the attic space as it is so important to the whole picture. I don’t often walk in attics for many reasons but there are times when I do in order to get a closer look at a potential problem.

A BIT OF ADVICE FOR THE DO-IT-YOUSELF TYPE – Keep records of renovations

A well documented renovation /repair is worth its weight in gold when its time to sell your home. As a home Inspector I see things all the time that concern me. In order to do my job I pass these concerns on to my clients. This week I came across a home that had recent foundation repairs. The seller claimed that the repairs were professionally completed but the end result left me wondering. The stud wall and drywall finish job had about a three inch inward bow. From experience I naturally figured that the concrete wall behind the studded wall must also be bowed in the same fashion as the finished wall.

A horizontal crack in a concrete wall can be an indication of a serious situation. I recommended that my clients, who were young and first time buyers should move forward cautiously. I suggested that they ask for pictures of the repairs and documents to prove the wall was indeed professionally repaired. I explained that without this documentation it looked like there was still a major problem with this wall. The sale was in jeopardy at this point.

As it turns out the realtor had the documents I asked for and we went through the ample photos of the repair job. The concrete wall looked fine (no bow). I was able to determine that the homeowner had completed the finish work on the stud wall themselves. The upper part of the wall was not removed during the initial tear-out and when the homeowner rebuilt the lower 2/3 of the wall they ended up with the 3” bow in the joint where the two walls met. If it was not for the renovation pictures the sale may have fallen through. I often suggest that the buyer ask for permits if the job looks poorly done or if I believe it is unsafe, meaning it was not likely permitted and inspected. So I recommend that you take lots of pictures of the repairs before and after. If you do it right you should be happy to prove its right. In this case I recommended that the interior wall be removed and rebuilt if the buyer felt they wanted it to be straight and level, otherwise I suspect it was just cosmetic.

Wall looks bowed in

Wall looks bowed in

The importance of using vapour barrier in a crawlspace.

One of the most misunderstood areas of the home is the crawlspace.  There has been disagreement on several parts of the crawlspace for decades. The big questions are;  do you heat the area or keep it at the outside temperature, should the walls be insulated and vapour barrier applied, and do you need to have any vapour barrier on the floor.  One thing is for sure, if you don’t do it right you could end up with a result like the one shown.

First of all if heat is present in the crawl space you will need to try your best to separate the heat from the cold. When the heat and cold come into direct contact with each other frost develops as you can see in this picture. When it warms up outside the frost melts and the wood becomes damp. Before you know it the framing/skirting is rotted and mouldy. The best prevention for this is to insulate and vapour barrier the walls. The vapour barrier stops the transfer of moisture and the insulation slows down the heat transfer. The result is a more comfortable and healthy home, not to mention a solid foundation.

If the home is for seasonal use and the crawlspace is not heated then you don’t need to insulate the skirting walls. But you still should put down vapour barrier on the soil so the ground moisture does not enter the crawlspace. I often see crawlspaces with very damp soil. It is crucial that this soil moisture be kept out of the crawlspace. Therefore you need to lay a sheet of 6mm poly over the soil and seal it around all the edges as much as possible.  With the advent of the spray foam industry we now can insulate and vapour barrier in one application. A few inches of foam will make a tremendous difference in the comfort of your home or summer cabin. There is much more to be said about crawlspaces but little space to say it. Feel free to call us for more on this and other topics.

 

Structure and the effects of poor renovations

The structure of a home depends upon a network of components all working together to form a safe and strong building envelope.  Most homes in the past half century or so have been designed by builders with the help of architects and building engineers and more recently with building inspectors being the last person to approve the actual building construction. Even with all these people involved in the building process it does nothing  to stop the home handyman from cutting out walls or taking out critical posts to make the home more suitable to the inhabitants. Of course the problem with changing walls and tele-posts is that the entire structure may be counting on them for support.

Often people can get away with these renovations because the engineered plans have some room for error and the removal of a support wall will simply place the load on the trusses and outside walls. What often develops over time is the outside walls begin to spread outward as the roof settles inward. The drywall over the windows, doors  and ceilings begins to crack, door jambs shift making the doors out of square and sticky. Other times the movement is far more serious and the homeowner will use a cable in the attic to hold the walls together, yes I have seen this more then a few times.  So the long and the short of it is that you should seek the advice of a structural engineer if you plan to remove a wall or supporting post in the basement. Failure to do so could compromise your entire home.  Almost anything can be done if you plan for the change and improvise a safe and effective solution.

ONE SMALL MISTAKE COSTS THOUSANDS TO MAKE IT RIGHT

I recently  inspected a basement wall in a ten year old home that was leaking. I was disappointed but not surprised to find out that all the effort was a result of the poor workmanship of the builder. In this case the wall was taken apart to find the source of the problem. From the outside it occurred to me that there may not have been any tar paper under the stucco but when the wall was opened up there was tar paper but it was installed improperly. As the title suggests the mistake was small but the under lapping of the tar paper cost this homeowner a lot of money. When the stucco got wet from the dripping water from the joint in the bottom belt strip (bottom trim of the siding) it soaked through to the tar paper as it is supposed to. The problem is that the water was then directed in against the OSB (instead of away from it) where it created mold and rot.

The same thing happened in the corner when the downspout was not properly extended out away from the home. The entire corner was beginning to rot. I have seen this in the advanced stages on older homes where the entire corner including the framing was compromised, thus causing the home to shift slightly, not to mention the mold growth. Its hard to imagine the damage that one small oversight by the builder/renovator could cause such a large problem, but it does albeit slowly over many years. The tools used by a good home inspector such as thermal imaging and a good quality moisture meter along with experience may help the home buyer identify this type of problem before they own the home and the problem.