Why do basements leak?

There are several reasons why basements leak, the most common reasons are:

  • No gutters/downspouts
  • Improper grading
  • Defects in the foundation (a defect or crack in your foundation doesn’t necessarily mean that your basement will leak)
  • Heavy rain
  • Freeze/Thaw (this is happening quite a bit this year in the Ottawa area)
  • Improper/missing/damaged exterior flashing/caulking
  • Improper/missing chimney flashing/cap
  • Hydrostatic pressure

As homeowners, we need to understand how moisture affects the building envelope and understand the effects of moisture intrusion.

No Gutters/Downspouts

Gutters and Downspouts are one of the most important and cost-effective way to control water. Our rooves are designed to shed water (like your umbrella), we use gutters and downspouts to send that water away from the building – the recommend distance from your foundation is 1.89m (6 feet).

Gutters have the following 2 functions:

  • They protect the exterior cladding of a building from water that would ordinarily run off the roof, this water can damage the wall surfaces and cause localized erosion at the ground.
  • The second and the most important is that gutters and downspouts will help to ensure a dry basement.

The less water/moisture in the soil near the foundation, lowers the risk of water penetration. Also remember, concrete functions just like a sponge.

Common problems with gutters/downspouts

Leakage is the most common, gutters will leak for various reasons; these are the most common:

  • Galvanized steel gutters will leak due to perforating rust.
  • Copper gutters will also leak due to perforating rust.
  • All gutters are prone to leaking at joints and seams.
  • Gutters are clogged
  • Gutters have improper slope
  • There aren’t enough downspouts (There should be a downspout every 10.668m [38’] to 12.192m [40’].

This leakage can cause damage to the fascia/soffits/walls below and contribute to basement leaking.

Lot grading

It’s a pretty simple theory, if there is no water in the soil beside your foundation wall, water won’t wick into your basement. Many wet basement problems can be eliminated or dramatically reduced with proper lot grading and gutters/downspouts that are performing well.

Defects in your foundation

If you have a crack in your foundation, it doesn’t mean that it will leak. Horizontal cracks in your foundation require a foundation specialist to shore it. Vertical cracks, although uncomfortable to look at may not be detrimental.

Signs to look out for:

  • Water stains around cracks
  • Efflorescence
  • Standing water

If you have evidence of this in your basement, I recommend an inspection of your gutter system and lot slope. Many cracks can be repaired with out a costly exterior excavation, and many issues can be avoided with proper drainage away from your home.

Heavy Rain and Freeze/Thaw cycle

During periods of heavy rain, it’s difficult to control the saturation levels of the soil near your home. All materials used in home construction has what’s called a hygric capacity. Once the hygric capacity of the soil is reached, the moisture will find new materials to hydrate. In this case, your foundation, and because of thermodynamics; hydrodynamics and the laws of fluids – water will find its way into your basement.

With a freeze/thaw cycle, like we’ve been seeing this year in Ottawa, it is not uncommon to see basements that don’t normally leak, leak.

When these events occur (precipitation) proper remediation should be executed.

Improper flashing/caulking

Flashing and caulking is what we use to help protect the interior construction material. It, like your roof is designed to shed water away from your home. These need to be inspected yearly, especially exterior caulking. Caulking has a relatively short life span compared to other components used to protect your home from moisture intrusion.

Hydrostatic pressure

Hydrostatic pressure is what forces water into your basement. It is the pressure exerted by a fluid (in this case water) that has reached an equilibrium at a given point within the fluid, this is due to the force of gravity. Hydrostatic pressure increases the deeper we go.

To learn more about how a home is affected by the environment, and to learn a little bit about building science, check out my previous post: What is Building Science?

#HomeInspection #HomeInspector #Ottawa #Realestate #BuyingAHome #SellingAHome #AvelarHomeInspection

Basement walkouts

What you need to know.

As an addition

Some homes have an entrance straight into the basement from the outside; sometimes they are added after the fact. Building a basement walkout is tricky business and could lead to some issues you should be aware of if you are considering this type of renovation.

Some of the common problems may be related to:

  • Frost
  • Steps and railings
  • Drains
  • Door thresholds
  • Retaining wall problems like:
    • Cracking
    • Leaning
    • Bowing
    • Spalling

Frost Protection

Courtesy of Carson Dunlop and Horizon Reporting Software

In freezing climates like ours, these walkouts need to be built very carefully to ensure adequate frost protection. Once you have excavated for the new walk, you have lowered the effective frost line which may cause frost heaving to affect the structure. When adding a basement walkout, underpinning of the existing foundation is recommended. Another common way is to heavily insulate the walkout excavation with rigid insulation before construction, this will slow the rate of frost penetration (if done correctly) and prevent heaving problems.

Implications to not considering the frost dept can cause structural damage to the home, and safety of residents when using the walkout.

Steps and Railings

Steps must be installed correctly, and have a slip resistant surface. Railings must be installed for safety reasons.


Courtesy of Carson Dunlop and Horizon Reporting Software

Drains are need in the floor of the basement walkout, because snow and rain will accumulate there. This drain is connected to your plumbing waste system – not the perimeter drainage.

Exterior type drains should not have a p-trap outside, this is because the water in that trap would freeze. The drain should be manifolded into basement floor drain above the p-trap.

Some conditions that may arise are:

  • Missing drains
    • Implications: The basement may flood; door may be damaged from accumulated water.
  • Clogged
    • Implications: The basement may flood; door may be damaged from accumulated water.
  • Undersized
    • When installing walkout drains, pipes should be a minimum of three inches in diameter. Smaller pipes will be more likely to clog and may not be handle a sudden downpour.

Door Thresholds

A basement walkout should have a four to six-inch-high concrete threshold, this will help prevent snow and water entering the basement.

Retaining wall

Before we consider frost, wet soil exerts more pressure than dry soil; poor design or construction practices may result in a wall that isn’t strong enough. This may lead to structural failure of the walkout walls.

AHITV – Electrical Part 7

What can go wrong as we bring electricity into a home?

There are three common problems that may be encountered with bringing electricity into the home.

  1. Mechanical damage
  2. Improper location
  3. Moisture problems

I’ll focus on explaining these defects as it relates to the overhead service, as underground service is impossible to inspect without excavation and proper equipment. Remember, problems with the service drop are usually the responsibility of the utility company.

Mechanical Damage

Wires can be damaged by tree branches; deteriorate due to weathering/sun damage, or human error. When damage is noted on the service, the utility company should be notified immediately.


Wires that are too low can be hit by vehicles; overhead wires should be about 12 feet above ground level. We also do not want people to be able to reach the wires from windows, doors, or balconies; wires should be kept at least 3 feet away.

Moisture problems

Water on the overhead wires are not a problem; but if the water manages to get into the conduit that goes into the home, this is a problem.

AHITV Episode 55 – Settlement

Why do buildings move?

In short, gravity. Gravity is always trying to get things closer to the ground, and strong buildings resist gravity. Buildings also move because of environmental forces, and live loads inside and on the building.

There are two ways a building usually fails to resist gravity:

  • If the soil the structure is built on is poor.
  • If the structure is weak and cannot bear live and dead load.

What are live loads and dead loads?

  • Live loads are things like furniture, people, wind, snow, and earthquakes.
  • Dead load is the weight of the building itself.

Wind can push, pull, or lift buildings; buildings must be strong enough to resist lateral and uplift forces caused by wind, and the downward force of gravity. As seen here in the Ottawa Valley on September 23rd, 2018, wind can significantly damage a building.

“Environment Canada meteorologist Peter Kimbell on Saturday confirmed that two tornadoes struck the area on Friday. The first, which struck Dunrobin just before 5 p.m. and crossed the Ottawa River into Gatineau, rated a high EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita scale with winds of 150-155 mph. The second tornado touched down about 6:30 p.m. in Ottawa’s Arlington Woods neighbourhood. Kimbell said it was a high EF2, with wind speeds of 137-143 mph.”


Earthquakes, soil/geological erosion are often few and far between, but have detrimental consequences to the structure.

Component failures due to inappropriate installation of building materials, rot, insects, fire and mechanical damage can cause a great structure to fail.

How does all this affect components in the structure?

Components in the structure are affected by two main forces:

  • Compression
  • Tension

Compression is when you squeeze something, and tension is when you pull. Many of the components of a home will feel both these affects at the same time.

These components, made from different materials will fail in different ways. Some will shear, for example when a beam splits, or a brick cracks, it’s because of shear. Some components bend. When a component bends downward, the top is under compression and the bottom tension.

10 Easy Ways to Save Money & Energy in Your Home

by Nick Gromicko, Ben Gromicko, and Kenton Shepard

10 Façons Simples de Limiter Votre Consommation énergétique chez VousLas 10 maneras fáciles de reducir el consumo de energía en su casa

Most people don’t know how easy it is to make their homes run on less energy, and here at InterNACHI, we want to change that. 

Drastic reductions in heating, cooling and electricity costs can be accomplished through very simple changes, most of which homeowners can do themselves. Of course, for homeowners who want to take advantage of the most up-to-date knowledge and systems in home energy efficiency, InterNACHI energy auditors can perform in-depth testing to find the best energy solutions for your particular home. 

Why make your home more energy efficient? Here are a few good reasons:

  • Federal, state, utility and local jurisdictions’ financial incentives, such as tax breaks, are very advantageous for homeowners in most parts of the U.S.
  • It saves money. It costs less to power a home that has been converted to be more energy-efficient.
  • It increases the comfort level indoors.
  • It reduces our impact on climate change. Many scientists now believe that excessive energy consumption contributes significantly to global warming.
  • It reduces pollution. Conventional power production introduces pollutants that find their way into the air, soil and water supplies.

1. Find better ways to heat and cool your house. 

As much as half of the energy used in homes goes toward heating and cooling. The following are a few ways that energy bills can be reduced through adjustments to the heating and cooling systems:

  • Install a ceiling fan. Ceiling fans can be used in place of air conditioners, which require a large amount of energy.
  • Periodically replace air filters in air conditioners and heaters.
  • Set thermostats to an appropriate temperature. Specifically, they should be turned down at night and when no one is home. In most homes, about 2% of the heating bill will be saved for each degree that the thermostat is lowered for at least eight hours each day. Turning down the thermostat from 75° F to 70° F, for example, saves about 10% on heating costs.
  • Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat saves money by allowing heating and cooling appliances to be automatically turned down during times that no one is home and at night. Programmable thermostats contain no mercury and, in some climate zones, can save up to $150 per year in energy costs.
  • Install a wood stove or a pellet stove. These are more efficient sources of heat than furnaces.
  • At night, curtains drawn over windows will better insulate the room.

Image of a high-efficiency thermostat at the InterNACHI® House of Horrors® in Colorado.

2. Install a tankless water heater.

Demand-type water heaters (tankless or instantaneous) provide hot water only as it is needed. They don’t produce the standby energy losses associated with traditional storage water heaters, which will save on energy costs. Tankless water heaters heat water directly without the use of a storage tank. When a hot water tap is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the unit. A gas burner or an electric element heats the water. As a result, demand water heaters deliver a constant supply of hot water. You don’t need to wait for a storage tank to fill up with enough hot water.

3. Replace incandescent lights.

The average household dedicates 11% of its energy budget to lighting. Traditional incandescent lights convert approximately only 10% of the energy they consume into light, while the rest becomes heat. The use of new lighting technologies, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), can reduce the energy use required by lighting by 50% to 75%. Advances in lighting controls offer further energy savings by reducing the amount of time that lights are on but not being used. Here are some facts about CFLs and LEDs:

  • CFLs use 75% less energy and last about 10 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.
  • LEDs last even longer than CFLs and consume less energy.
  • LEDs have no moving parts and, unlike CFLs, they contain no mercury.

4. Seal and insulate your home.

Sealing and insulating your home is one of the most cost-effective ways to make a home more comfortable and energy-efficient, and you can do it yourself. A tightly sealed home can improve comfort and indoor air quality while reducing utility bills. An InterNACHI energy auditor can assess  leakage in the building envelope and recommend fixes that will dramatically increase comfort and energy savings.

The following are some common places where leakage may occur:

  • electrical receptacles/outlets;
  • mail slots;
  • around pipes and wires;
  • wall- or window-mounted air conditioners;
  • attic hatches;
  • fireplace dampers;
  • inadequate weatherstripping around doors;
  • baseboards;
  • window frames; and
  • switch plates.

Because hot air rises, air leaks are most likely to occur in the attic. Homeowners can perform a variety of repairs and maintenance to their attics that save them money on cooling and heating, such as: 

  • Plug the large holes. Locations in the attic where leakage is most likely to be the greatest are where walls meet the attic floor, behind and under attic knee walls, and in dropped-ceiling areas.
  • Seal the small holes. You can easily do this by looking for areas where the insulation is darkened. Darkened insulation is a result of dusty interior air being filtered by insulation before leaking through small holes in the building envelope. In cold weather, you may see frosty areas in the insulation caused by warm, moist air condensing and then freezing as it hits the cold attic air. In warmer weather, you’ll find water staining in these same areas. Use expanding foam or caulk to seal the openings around plumbing vent pipes and electrical wires. Cover the areas with insulation after the caulk is dry.
  • Seal up the attic access panel with weatherstripping. You can cut a piece of fiberglass or rigid foamboard insulation in the same size as the attic hatch and glue it to the back of the attic access panel. If you have pull-down attic stairs or an attic door, these should be sealed in a similar manner.

5. Install efficient showerheads and toilets.

The following systems can be installed to conserve water usage in homes:

  • low-flow showerheads. They are available in different flow rates, and some have a pause button which shuts off the water while the bather lathers up;
  • low-flow toilets. Toilets consume 30% to 40% of the total water used in homes, making them the biggest water users. Replacing an older 3.5-gallon toilet with a modern, low-flow 1.6-gallon toilet can reduce usage an average of 2 gallons-per-flush (GPF), saving 12,000 gallons of water per year. Low-flow toilets usually have “1.6 GPF” marked on the bowl behind the seat or inside the tank;
  • vacuum-assist toilets. This type of toilet has a vacuum chamber that uses a siphon action to suck air from the trap beneath the bowl, allowing it to quickly fill with water to clear waste. Vacuum-assist toilets are relatively quiet; and
  • dual-flush toilets. Dual-flush toilets have been used in Europe and Australia for years and are now gaining in popularity in the U.S. Dual-flush toilets let you choose between a 1-gallon (or less) flush for liquid waste, and a 1.6-gallon flush for solid waste. Dual-flush 1.6-GPF toilets reduce water consumption by an additional 30%.

6. Use appliances and electronics responsibly.

Appliances and electronics account for about 20% of household energy bills in a typical U.S. home. The following are tips that will reduce the required energy of electronics and appliances:

  • Refrigerators and freezers should not be located near the stove, dishwasher or heat vents, or exposed to direct sunlight. Exposure to warm areas will force them to use more energy to remain cool.  
  • Computers should be shut off when not in use. If unattended computers must be left on, their monitors should be shut off. According to some studies, computers account for approximately 3% of all energy consumption in the United States.
  • Use efficient ENERGY STAR-rated appliances and electronics. These devices, approved by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR Program, include TVs, home theater systems, DVD players, CD players, receivers, speakers, and more. According to the EPA, if just 10% of homes used energy-efficient appliances, it would reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of 1.7 million acres of trees.
  • Chargers, such as those used for laptops and cell phones, consume energy when they are plugged in. When they are not connected to electronics, chargers should be unplugged.
  • Laptop computers consume considerably less electricity than desktop computers.

7. Install daylighting as an alternative to electrical lighting.

Daylighting is the practice of using natural light to illuminate the home’s interior. It can be achieved using the following approaches:

  • skylights. It’s important that they be double-pane or they may not be cost-effective. Flashing skylights correctly is key to avoiding leaks;
  • light shelves. Light shelves are passive devices designed to bounce light deep into a building. They may be interior or exterior. Light shelves can introduce light into a space up to 2½ times the distance from the floor to the top of the window, and advanced light shelves may introduce four times that amount;
  • clerestory windows.  Clerestory windows are short, wide windows set high on the wall. Protected from the summer sun by the roof overhang, they allow winter sun to shine through for natural lighting and warmth; and 
  • light tubes.  Light tubes use a special lens designed to amplify low-level light and reduce light intensity from the midday sun. Sunlight is channeled through a tube coated with a highly reflective material, and then enters the living space through a diffuser designed to distribute light evenly.

8. Insulate windows and doors.

About one-third of the home’s total heat loss usually occurs through windows and doors. The following are ways to reduce energy lost through windows and doors:

  • Seal all window edges and cracks with rope caulk. This is the cheapest and simplest option.
  • Windows can be weatherstripped with a special lining that is inserted between the window and the frame. For doors, apply weatherstripping around the whole perimeter to ensure a tight seal when they’re closed. Install quality door sweeps on the bottom of the doors, if they aren’t already in place.
  • Install storm windows at windows with only single panes. A removable glass frame can be installed over an existing window.
  • If existing windows have rotted or damaged wood, cracked glass, missing putty, poorly fitting sashes, or locks that don’t work, they should be repaired or replaced.

9. Cook smart.

An enormous amount of energy is wasted while cooking. The following recommendations and statistics illustrate less wasteful ways of cooking:

  • Convection ovens are more efficient that conventional ovens. They use fans to force hot air to circulate more evenly, thereby allowing food to be cooked at a lower temperature. Convection ovens use approximately 20% less electricity than conventional ovens.
  • Microwave ovens consume approximately 80% less energy than conventional ovens.
  • Pans should be placed on the matching size heating element or flame. 
  • Using lids on pots and pans will heat food more quickly than cooking in uncovered pots and pans.
  • Pressure cookers reduce cooking time dramatically.
  • When using conventional ovens, food should be placed on the top rack. The top rack is hotter and will cook food faster. 

10. Change the way you do laundry.

  • Do not use the medium setting on your washer. Wait until you have a full load of clothes, as the medium setting saves less than half of the water and energy used for a full load.
  • Avoid using high-temperature settings when clothes are not very soiled. Water that is 140° F uses far more energy than 103° F for the warm-water setting, but 140° F isn’t that much more effective for getting clothes clean.
  • Clean the lint trap every time before you use the dryer. Not only is excess lint a fire hazard, but it will prolong the amount of time required for your clothes to dry.
  • If possible, air-dry your clothes on lines and racks.
  • Spin-dry or wring clothes out before putting them into a dryer. 

Homeowners who take the initiative to make these changes usually discover that the energy savings are more than worth the effort. InterNACHI home inspectors can make this process much easier because they can perform a more comprehensive assessment of energy-savings potential than the average homeowner can.  

Electricity – Part 6

Service Entrance

How does electricity get to the house?

Typically, homes have 240-volts that come in overhead (service drop) or underground wires (service laterals) from the utility company.

The 240-volts is made up for two 120-volt wires and one neutral. These wires may be copper or aluminium.

Service drops/laterals are typically the responsibility of the utility company. Underground laterals are typically buried two-feet to three-feet deep and then goes up to the meter. Overhead drops are usually attached to the side of the building and comes down to the electrical meter.

Typically, circuits are 120v. Some 120v circuits have a black or red and a white wire. Larger circuits may require the use of both the black and the red wires that care each 120v, totally a potential for 240v to appliances like stoves, clothes dryers or water heaters.

Electricity – Part 5

In part 5, I quick give and overview of breakers and fuses and what they do. Electricity has become an important element of every North American home. It provides lighting, heating and power for electric motors and electronics such as controls and computers. Our homes would not be nearly as comfortable or as convenient without electricity.

On the other hand, electricity is dangerous. It must be installed and used properly to be safe.

Electricity is tricky because it is invisible, it is complicated, and it can kill.

Electricity – Part 4


Watts and Kilowatts

We measure power in watts or kilowatts (1000 watts). It’s calculated by multiplying voltage times the current.


For example, a home with a 240v power supply and 100 amp service generates 24000 watts or 24 kilowatts.

A 1200 watt hair dryer using a 120v receptacle (outlet) would result in a 10 amp current flow.


I = 1200 / 120

10 = 1200 / 120


1000 watts = 1 kilowatt

If you use 1 kw for one hour, you consume one kilowatt-hour (kWh). If each kWh costs 10 cents and we use 500 kWh in a month, our electrical bill for that mouth is about $50.00

Wire Size (Gauge)

We use wires to move electricity around the house because they’re good conductors. The amount of amps that a wire can safely carry is determined largely by it’s diameter. A larger wire can handle more current, typically household circuits are designed to carry 15 amps over 14-gauge copper wire.

Electricity – Part 3


Resistance is measured in ohms. We use resistance to control electrical flow. Things that slow down, or prevent electricity from flowing to some place to some where are called resistors or insulators.


Electrical conductors have a relatively low resistance rating, and are useful for moving electricity to one place, to another. Most metals like copper and aluminium are good conductors. Gold and platinum are excellent conductors.

Water is a very good conductor, which is why electricity and water is not a good mix. Which also makes the human body an excellent conductor.


When we want to stop the flow of electricity, or keep it contained. We use things called insulators like air, glass, wood, rubber, and most plastics are good insulators.