Friday, November 27, 2009

The home inspection

Once we decided that we wanted to make an offer, we commissioned a home inspection. A home inspection costs about $400, but is essential, especially for older homes. By having an inspection done, you can be informed about potential additional expenses you will incur once you own the home. This in turn will affect your offer on the house. There is nothing wrong with buying a house that needs repairs. But it's essential to know what the cost of those repairs will be so that you can figure out how much you are willing to pay for the house.

In our case, the inspector said the home was in good shape except for a couple of expected problems. For one, the roof needs re-shingling and second, as might be expected with a house built in the '50s, the basement was not waterproof. You can see it in the picture below, which was taken after three days of constant rain. On one side of the house, the floor is damp and the foundation wall is discoloured. This discolouration is called efflorescence and it is an accumulation of crystalline salts on the masonary walls. This mineral residue is what's left after moisture, which seeped through the walls, has evaporated. There is moisture on this wall because the grading of the soil outside the wall slopes in toward the wall. Hence, water that falls on the ground drains toward the wall and then seeps down into the ground against the foundation. It would be easy to fix this problem by fixing the grading outside. However, to be sure the basement will stay dry, it really should be wrapped in a plastic membrane.

In modern homes, the basement is wrapped in a waffle-like plastic membrane, which allows water to flow down the wall to a perforated plastic drain tile that sits beside the footings of the basement. The drain tile (weeping tile) is usually covered with coarse gravel or crushed stone and, in urban areas, is connected to the city storm sewers to take water away. This keeps the basement of modern homes nice and dry. But in older homes, this type of treatment was not done. Before our basement can be properly finished, it should be waterproofed, otherwise water that may seep through the walls will cause mold to form inside the newly drywalled basement walls. Besides being smelly and unsightly, it is also a health hazard.

Waterproofing the basement requires digging out the dirt outside the basement walls and installing the plastic membrane and weeping tile. This will cost about $20,000. Re-shingling the roof will cost about $10,000.

In addition to this, the inspector told us that it would not be unusual for the sewer line from the house to city sewer to be in rough shape and may need replacing (it is 50 years old after all). For about $400, we had Mr. Rooter inspect the sewer with a camera, which confirmed that the sewer, while not blocked, was corroded in several places and had holes in it. While it is not really a problem right now, if we ever had a tree root grow into the sewer, the necessary cabling or pressure flush to clear the way would most likely cause irreparable damage to the sewer. The cost to replace the sewer line could be as high as $10,000.

So, we see that there are a fair number of expenses that we should plan on after we take ownership of the house. However, given that we are planning on renovating and may be adding an addition on to the house, the cost of the waterproofing and sewer repairs could be cheaper because the heavy equipment required for digging will already be on site.

As mentioned above, a home inspection is essential before you make an offer on a house. However, it also pays to educate yourself. A great book that I really liked was "The Holmes Inspection: Everything You Need To Know Before You Buy or Sell Your Home", by Mike Holmes. It is quite informative about what to look for in a house, but is also quite informative about the actual home inspection process as well.

Mike Holmes was on the radio recently talking about picking a home inspector. According to him, the biggest mistake people make when buying a new home is waiting until the last minute to pick a home inspector and they end up with someone who they know nothing about. As it turns out, not all inspectors are created equal. In fact, it takes only two weeks of training to become a licensed inspector. For all you know, that person may never have even picked up a hammer before. Mike suggests lining up your inspector as soon as you decide to start looking for a home. That way, you can check him/her out thoroughly before you need to call on him/her. As with all contractors, Mike suggests asking lots of questions and checking references. Mike says you should pick an inspector who has worked in the building trade for some time before becoming an inspector. If you live in Toronto, you can use Mike, who runs his own home inspection company. His inspections cost between $1000 and $1500 and take all day to complete. He brings a thermal camera and a snake camera with him so he can find all kinds of surprises behind walls that normal inspections could not find.. He is more expensive than any inspector I have ever heard about before, but you know with Mike that it is going to be extremely thorough.


  1. Move the earth sloping away from the house. Mum

  2. Simon, I think the prices to do the foundation work and the new sewer pipe are extortionate, compared with what I spent. In Exshaw, a plumber put the sewer pipe in, you don't need a contractor. Do check this out. Also, I hope you are able to fix the water problem, it seems to me that that lousy concrete should be removed in that spot, the house jacked up on piles, and the concrete replaced first. I'm sure you should be able to slope the earth away from the house, which is the main problem. You only need a pin hole to have the same problem again. Remember I've had these problems at Exshaw, with a new concrete basement, but the earthmover didn't slope the land away at the side of the house and that had to be done, by Rheese Whalen and me. We did it, as well as putting terylene cloth and then some sort of special paste and more terylene on top and waterproofing it. Cost, used terylene net curtains,(tip from the expert) special paste and sweat equity. No further problems, (flooded basement before).

    I dig a trench and every year redo it behind my double garage, now studio, as the runoff from the mountains runs right into the low concrete wall foundation and finds a crack. I sealed the crack with black concrete goo and dug a trench and on the advice of a builder banked the earth up against the wall and sloped it down into the trench. I also carried the trench to the middle ground between the two garages where it can flow freely downhill, albeit slight, and it works, problem solved. Hope this helps. Some contractors see you coming. I never had that kind of money so I had to be creative. Where there's a will...


  3. Thanks for the info. We haven't actually had any quotes yet to waterproof the basement or redo the sewer line. These prices are based on what the home inspector told us it would cost. We'll get actual costs later, when we start to get the construction documents drawn up.

    There does not have to be a hole in the foundation wall for water to seep through. According to Mike Holmes, both concrete and cinder block are porous and it is natural for water to seep through the walls if the exterior is not waterproofed. Apparently, in the '50s, this was not a problem because nobody used their basements for anything other than storage, and hence, did not finish the basement walls. Water seeping through the wall was therefore OK, because it could evaporate. The problem is if you then finish the basement walls with drywall, without waterproofing, that moisture has nowhere to go, and mold can set in. Proper grading can help, but from what I hear, if you want to be totally sure, then the earth next to the foundation must be excavated down to the footings and the basement wrapped in a Platon membrane with proper weeping tile installed at the footings.

  4. Great Suggestion. Yes, lining up a list of inspectors should happen, importantly when moving to a handed-down house. Quality is an important thing so we do not have to compromise because of lack of time. We really have to plan things before doing it. That happened when we transferred to an apartment here in Minneapolis. Home inspections and check-ups were really an option that time. But we postponed it to the following week because my father wanted it to be planned and end up getting a good one. We searched the net, asked for verified recommendation and, as my father said, we got a good one. Good thing happened was we built a good contact and business relationship with the home inspector. He became our family's regular guy doing our monthly inspections.St. Paul Mn and other cities always have inspections to think of because of the ever and constant weather changes. So as said, plan it first before landing on the battlefield. Cheers!

  5. Thanks for the confirmation about lining up an inspector first. I definately plan to for any future house purchases.

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