Consumer’s Guide to Well and Water Quality

Learn more about private wells and water quality issues for homeowners.

Vulnerable Roof Areas

An example of vulnerable roof areas and a recommended fix. The typical vulnerable areas are where the roof changes direction or material (for example, AREAS where the roof meets a chimney or a wall). On a properly installed roof, these areas are flashed. Particularly vulnerable areas exist where two or more flashings intersect, for example where a chimney occurs in a valley. Things that obstruct the flow of water off sloped roofs increase the risk of leaks. Skylights, chimneys and dormers are examples. Roof penetrations for plumbing stacks, electrical masts, etc. are also weak spots.

What matters in an inspection?

Buying a home? The process can be stressful. A home inspection is supposed to give you peace of mind but often has the opposite effect. You will be asked to absorb a lot of information in a short time.

Inspecting the structure

As a home inspector, it’s important that I keep up with my education. It is also important for me to help you understand structures, such as the house or building you’re living in.

Home inspectors are guilty of conducting superficial structural inspections. The reason for this is that structural defects are less common than defects in other areas. When these defects do exist, they are often very noticeable – unless someone has gone to great lengths to hide that fact.

Example: I once heard a story of a home owner who went complete out of their way to hide a foundation problem. To the point where they had the old footing extended to support a new foundation, the weeping tile moved over. That new foundation the supported not the structure, but a façade exterior wall. The icing on the cake was that they had to extend the overhang on the roof. It would have been more cost effective to just fix the problem.

As a home inspector, my job is to evaluate the performance of the structure. It’s to answer the question: Is it doing its job? To answer that question, it’s best to ask: Has it withstood the test of time? That makes answering the first question easy. On new home builds however, I don’t have the ability to answer the validating question. So, in those instances I must fall back to my knowledge of current building standards (not building code).

In some cases, many people believe that home inspectors do building code inspections – the reality is that these are two different vocations. Home inspectors are like the family doctor who checks up on you. If you have a knee problem, the family doctor refers you to a knee specialist. Most often than not, a home inspector’s recommendations may more stringent than the actual building code – depending on the knowledge and experience that the inspector has.

How do I know if the structure has been standing the test of time and doing its job? If there are no signs of major movement (because all structures move, constantly). Minor cracks in the parging – cosmetic; parging falling off the foundation wall – cosmetic; minor settlement cracks (minor as in a couple of millimeters) – not a concern. If there are any of the following, then it’s time to be concerned:

  • Failure of interior finishes (large cracks where you can tell it is shearing)
  • Undue stress on joints or individual components
  • The movement affects the home’s systems (windows/door not functioning properly; pipes that are damaged; electrical wires that are taunt (This may not be structural at all, it may be an installation error), etc.)

The most important thing about structures is for it to satisfy the question: Can it safely support live loads?

What are live loads? Live loads are the people and things inside the home, the wind, the rain, the snow, or anything that pushes or pulls on the structure, or anything that stresses the structure that isn’t always there. Live loads can also be the water in the soil around the foundation; wet or frozen soil exert more pressure on the foundation then when it is dry.

The most important thing to remember about home inspectors is that we are not engineers (some are and shouldn’t be home inspectors). And we do not have X-Ray vision.

Home inspectors should only report things that they have visually inspected – seen with their own eyes.

Roof Drainage

What do I need to know about roof drainage?

Roof drainage is one of the most important design of a roof and roof coverings. However, no roofing system is complete without controlled drainage.

This is where gutters and downspouts become such an important part of roof drainage and is important for protecting your basement and the health of your home.

Gutters have come a long way over the last couple hundred years, it’s still fair to say that most guttering systems are high-maintenance. Homeowners with uncovered gutters need to clean them out regularly; and after severe weather they need to be inspected as they may have been damaged.

Do all homes have gutters?

Not all homes have gutters, however, in Ottawa and the surrounding area I highly recommend controlling water from rain and thaw to keep it from your foundation.

Some homes are designed to be without gutters with eave overhangs of 1.2m to 1.5m (4 to 5 feet). Even though they maybe protecting the foundation in this manner, there are usually porches under these over hangs with a base that is affected by moisture.

Gutters and downspouts are generally found on buildings with slopped rooves. Flat rooves employ internal drainage systems that moves the water to the public or private waste system.

What kind of gutters should I have?

This is a good question. This depends on the architecture of your home, but for most homes built in the 21st century they are equipped with aluminum or PVC type gutters; in some cases, gutters are not installed at all.

From personal and professional experience, I do not recommend PVC type gutters, no matter how attractive the price may be. I recommend a good quality aluminum gutter system, preferably designed by a specialist. Aluminum maybe easier to damage, but it will stand the test of time if cared for.

How do they protect my foundation?

Gutters and downspouts protect your foundation by controlling the flow of water. Gutters should discharge at least 1.8m (6 feet) away from your foundation. This will mitigate basement leakage in certain situations.

Can I install them myself?

The work itself can be dangerous and I always suggest a professional do the work. Don’t be afraid to call and ask for references and example of work. This can help you find someone you can work with and trust.

Pre-Sale / Pre-Listing home inspections

Having your home inspected by a certified home inspector can streamline the sales process, and help you avoid unexpected surprises. It will give you a clearer picture of the state of your home, and anything that may prevent the sale of your home.

Moisture Intrusion

Moisture intrusion is the uncontrolled movement of moisture into a building where it is unwanted and undesirable.