Friday, August 31, 2012

Squeaky Floors And How To Get Rid Of Them

Where do squeaks come from? An estimated 85 percent of all squeaks come from the top of the floor joist and the underside of the subfloor. In most cases there’s no glue between the joists and the subfloor and nails were used rather than screws. If nails were used, they most likely were not ring shank nails. Over time, regular nails will pop upward, causing the bottom side of the subfloor to rub on the top surface of the floor joist and on the shank of the nail—and a squeak is born!

Squeaks can come from around floor ductwork. Squeaks can be created if one (or more) of the floor joists crowns downward rather than upward. Squeaks can be found in the field, i.e., the areas between joists. Squeaks could also come from between the subfloor and the underlayment or at the joints where they meet in double-floor construction. In single-floor construction, the squeaks could come from where the subfloor’s joints meet or between hardwood and the subfloor. Normally in single-floor construction T&G sheet goods are used—squeaks could also come from the T&G joints.
Subfloors could be constructed using plywood sheets or 1x materials fastened on an angle to the tops of the floor joists. Normally 1x materials have spaces up to 1-inch between them, so if you are using the kit, it’s possible that you could install a screw into one of these open areas. Because the fastener has nothing to grab on to, it will not work properly. This is one situation where it’s really important to understand your floor’s construction.
Where should you start? First spend time to isolate the squeaks. Once they are located and marked with painters’ blue masking tape, locate your joists and the direction they run.
Next check to see if the squeaks you marked are in the same area as the floor joists (most likely they are). Now you are ready to use the kit. Begin by installing the screws directly over and into the floor joists. It is better to spread your screws apart, and the spread will be determined by the squeaks you located. If after doing this there are still squeaks, then begin again to isolate the squeaks. It’s possible they are now within the field (between floor joists). offers true-tested products to help fix squeaky floors, creaking floors, squeaky carpeted and hardwood floors, and subfloor and stair squeaks. We have thousands of satisfied customers who have purchased and installed these products to repair floor squeaks with success. So why are you still living with squeaky floors?
It's easy to help fix those squeaks once and for all! Just select the squeaky floor product that best fits your situation. It may take just one product or it may take all three to fix your squeaky floors. The next time a loud squeak annoys you, consider these products!

Fix squeaky floors with Squeak No More, a squeaky floor repair kit.  Repair hardwood floor and stair squeaks with Counter Snap, a squeaky hardwood floor repair kit.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Private Water Wells

Private Water Wells 

If your family gets drinking water from a private well, do you know if your water is safe to drink? What health risks could you and your family face? Approximately 15% of Canadians rely on their own private drinking water supplies. Unlike public drinking water systems serving many people, they do not have experts regularly checking the water’s source and its quality before it is sent to the tap. These households must take special precautions to ensure the protection and maintenance of their drinking water supplies. 

Basic Information 

There are two typical types of private drinking water wells: dug and drilled. Proper well construction and continued maintenance are keys to the safety of your water supply. Your water-well contractor licensing agency, local health department, or local water system professional can provide information on well construction. The well should be located so rainwater flows away from it. Rainwater can pick up harmful bacteria and chemicals on the land’s surface. If this water pools near your well, it can seep into it, potentially causing health problems. Water-well drillers and pump-well installers are listed in your local phone directory. Make certain your ground water contractor is registered or licensed if required. 

To keep your well safe, you must be sure that possible sources of contamination are not close by. Experts suggest the following distances as a minimum for protection — farther are better 

· septic tanks: 50 feet; 
· livestock yards, silos, septic leach fields: 50 feet; 
· petroleum tanks, liquid-tight manure storage and fertilizer storage and handling: 100 feet; and 
· manure stacks: 250 feet. 

Many homeowners tend to forget the value of good maintenance until problems reach crisis-levels. That can be expensive. It’s better to maintain your well, find problems early, and correct them to protect your well’s performance. Keep up-to-date records of well installation and repairs, plus pumping and water tests. Such records can help spot changes and possible problems with your water system. If you have problems, ask a local expert to check your well construction and maintenance records. He or she can see if your system is okay or needs work. 

Dug Wells 

Dug wells are holes in the ground dug by shovel or backhoe. Historically, a dug well was excavated below the ground water table until incoming water exceeded the digger’s bailing rate. The well was then lined (cased) with stones, brick, tile, or other material to prevent collapse. It was covered with a cap of wood, stone or concrete. Since it is so difficult to dig beneath the ground water table, dug wells are not very deep. Typically, they are only 10 to 30 feet deep. Being so shallow, dug wells have the highest risk of becoming contaminated. To minimize the likelihood of contamination, your dug well should have certain features. These features help to prevent contaminants from traveling along the outside of the casing, or through the casing and into the well. 

Dug Well Construction Features 

· The well should be cased with a watertight material (for example, tongue-and-groove pre-cast concrete), and a cement grout or bentonite clay sealant poured along the outside of the casing to the top of the well. 
· The well should be covered by a concrete curb and cap that stands about a foot above the ground. 
· The land surface around the well should be mounded so that surface water runs away from the well and is not allowed to pond around the outside of the wellhead. 
· Ideally, the pump for your well should be inside your home or in a separate pump house, rather than in a pit next to the well. 

Land activities around a dug well can also contaminate it. While dug wells have been used as a household water supply source for many years, most are relics of older homes, dug before drilling equipment was readily available, or when drilling was considered too expensive. If you have a dug well on your property and are using it for drinking water, check to make sure it is properly covered and sealed. Another problem relating to the shallowness of a dug well is that it may go dry during a drought when the ground water table drops. 

Drilled Wells 

Drilled wells penetrate about 100 to 400 feet into the bedrock. Where you find bedrock at the surface, it is commonly called ledge. To serve as a water supply, a drilled well must intersect bedrock fractures containing ground water. 

Drilled Well Construction Features 

· The casing is usually metal or plastic pipe, 6 inches in diameter that extends into the bedrock to prevent shallow ground water from entering the well. By law, the casing has to extend at least 18 feet into the ground, with at least 5 feet extending into the bedrock. The casing should also extend a foot or two above the ground’s surface. A sealant, such as cement grout or bentonite clay, should be poured along the outside of the casing to the top of the well. The well should be capped to prevent surface water from entering the well. 
· Submersible pumps, located near the bottom of the well, are most commonly used in drilled wells. Wells with a shallow water table may feature a jet pump located inside the home. Pumps require special wiring and electrical service. Well pumps should be installed and serviced by a qualified professional registered with your province. 
· The well pipe used was often 8, 10 or 12 inches in diameter, and covered with a concrete well cap either at or below the ground’s surface. This outmoded type of construction does not provide the same degree of protection from surface contamination. 

How can I test the quality of my private drinking water supply? 

Consider testing your well for pesticides, organic chemicals, and heavy metals before you use it for the first time. Test private water supplies annually for nitrate and coliform bacteria to detect contamination problems early. Test them more frequently if you suspect a problem. Be aware of activities in your watershed that may affect the water quality of your well, especially if you live in an area with no sewers.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sump Pumps

Sump pumps are self-activating electrical pumps that protect homes from moisture intrusion. They are usually installed below basement or crawlspace floors to remove rising groundwater and surface runoff before it has a chance to seep into the home. Accumulated water can cause interior damage and encourage the growth of mould, mildew, and fungus. Pumps should be maintained and equipped with all necessary components in order to ensure their reliability.

How a Sump Pump Works

A pit, known as a sump pit or sump trench, can be dug at the lowest part of the basement floor to capture and contain any flowing water. A sump pump sits at the bottom of this trench (or beside it) and expels excess water through a series of interconnected pipes to a suitable discharge location. The pump can sense water levels through a float that rises and falls with fluctuating water levels in the trench. The sump pump becomes activated and deactivated based on the height of the float, providing a simple, automated way to monitor and deal with variable water levels.

Types of Sump Pumps

Pedestal sump pumps sit above the water line beside the sump trench and are not designed to get wet. Since they are not contained within the sump pit, they can be accessed easily but are also very noisy. They cost roughly $60 to $200, which is significantly less than other varieties.

Submersible sump pumps rest underwater at the bottom of the sump pit, and are much quieter than pedestal pumps. Their oil-cooled motors and tight seals protect against water and dust and afford them a long lifespan. They can cost up to $600.


The pump must be kept clean and free of debris. The inlet screen prevents the passage of dirt and other solid material from entering the pump, but it can become overwhelmed. Cleanings should occur often for pumps that run constantly.

Inspectors should make sure that the float is not tangled or jammed in one position. A sump pump with a jammed float is useless because it will not sense when it should turn on and shut off.

The pump can be tested by pouring water into the pit to make sure it becomes activated and expels the water. The homeowner should seek professional assistance if the pump does not activate.

Maintenance should take place annually, and when the home is sold.
When testing the pump, no one should ever reach into the pit. The float can be reached and manipulated with a household item such as a golf club (with a rubber handle) or anything else non-conductive that happens to be lying around.

Check for the presence of the following:
A GFCI. There is considerable debate among inspectors concerning whether or not a sump pump should be connected to a GFCI. It is possible that a GFCI can prevent electrocution, but it is extremely unlikely that a sump pump will energize water in the first place. It is much more likely that a GFCI will trip during safe conditions and deactivate the sump pump when it is needed. A sump pump is among the most critical of all household appliances, and its deactivation, especially if the tenants are not home, could allow catastrophic building damage. Codes recommend that appliances in basements and crawlspaces be connected to GFCI’s to reduce the chance of electrical shock, but this advice is often ignored due to these concerns over nuisance tripping.
An alarm. Sump pumps can burn out, lose power, become clogged or misaligned, or malfunction in a variety of other ways. It is valuable to have a warning device installed that will signal water build-up. These alarms can alert homeowners or neighbours of flooding so that it can be resolved before water damage occurs. Alarms are especially important in residences that are not occupied for long periods of time. Inspectors should keep in mind that, while an alarm can be helpful, it is not a requirement.

A check valve. This device is the same diameter as the discharge pipe into which it fits and is usually a different color. A check valve should be installed in order to prevent pumped water in the discharge line from re-entering the sump pit when the device is turned off. Without this valve, the pump will have to work twice as hard to remove the same column of water, which causes unnecessary strain to the pump components. A check valve can also prevent the rare yet disturbing possibility that a discharge line connected to a stream or pond will back-siphon into the sump pit.
A backup power source. Power outages are most likely to happen during heavy rains and floods, which are situations when the sump pump is most needed. For this reason, combined with the nuisance-tripping from GFCIs, sump pumps should have a backup power source to rely on. A pump powered by a battery or the home’s water pressure can also be installed as a backup.
The pit should be large enough for the pump. The sump pit does not need to be constructed from any particular material, as long as it is solid and provides permanent support for the pump. It must, however, be large enough to allow the pump room to work properly. Some homeowners use a 5-gallon bucket as a sump pit, but this is insufficient. For most homes, the sump pit should not be less than 24 inches deep and 18 inches wide. One of the most common reasons why sump pumps fail is that the float gets jammed between the pump and the pit because the pit is too cramped.
A cover. The sump pit should be covered to prevent water from evaporating into the home & to prevent insects entering the home from the sump pit.

Specialized Sump Pump Systems

There are sump pump systems available that come with backup pumps & power backup built into the system. One such system is the “Triple safe sump pump system”. This system comes with a total of three pumps (two backup pumps) & is available online or at local hardware stores.
To view a video about the Triple safe system, click on the following link & click on the Triple Safe sump pump video at the bottom of the page:

Discharge Location

Water must be discharged at least 20 feet from the building.
Water should not drain back into the house! Cycling water will place unnecessary strain on the pump and can weaken the structure’s foundation.
Water should not drain onto a neighbour’s property without their approval.
Many jurisdictions do not permit pumped water into public sewer systems.
Pumped water should never drain into a residence’s septic system. Especially during heavy rain, a septic drain field will become saturated and will struggle to handle the normal flow of water from the house. Additional water from the sump pump can damage the septic system.
In summary, sump pumps are used to remove excess water from homes that would otherwise cause property damage. There are multiple types, but they all monitor water levels and ensure that they do not rise higher than predetermined levels. Proper maintenance and inspection will ensure pump efficiency and prolong their lifespan.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Septic Systems

 Septic Systems
Septic systems treat and disperse relatively small volumes of wastewater from individual and small numbers of homes and commercial buildings. Septic system regulation is usually a local responsibility.

Information for Homeowners
If your septic tank failed, or you know someone whose did, you are not alone. As a homeowner, you are responsible for maintaining your septic system. Proper septic system maintenance will help keep your system from failing and will help maintain your investment in your home. Failing septic systems can contaminate the ground water that you and your neighbors drink and can pollute nearby rivers, lakes and coastal waters.
 Ten simple steps you can take to keep your septic system working properly:
1.    Locate your septic tank and drain field. Keep a drawing of these locations in your records.
2.    Have your septic system inspected at least every three years. Hire an inspector trained in septic inspections. 
3.    Pump your septic tank as needed (generally, every three to five years).
4.    Don't dispose of household hazardous waste in sinks or toilets.
5.    Keep other household items, such as dental floss, feminine hygiene products, condoms, diapers, and cat litter out of your system.
6.    Use water efficiently.
7.    Plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs might clog and damage the system. Also, do not apply manure or fertilizers over the drain field.
8.    Keep vehicles and livestock off your septic system. The weight can damage the pipes and tank, and your system may not drain properly under compacted soil.
9.    Keep gutters and basement sump pumps from draining into or near your septic system.
10.  Check with your local health department before using additives. Commercial septic tank additives do not eliminate the need for periodic pumping and can be harmful to your system.
How does it work?  A typical septic system has four main components: a pipe from the home, a septic tank, a drain field, and the soil. Microbes in the soil digest and remove most contaminants from wastewater before it eventually reaches groundwater. The septic tank is a buried, watertight container typically made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. It holds the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle out (forming sludge), and oil and grease to float to the surface (as scum). It also allows partial decomposition of the solid materials. Compartments and a T-shaped outlet in the septic tank prevent the sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling into the drain field area. Screens are also recommended to keep solids from entering the drain field. The wastewater exits the septic tank and is discharged into the drain field for further treatment by the soil. Micro-organisms in the soil provide final treatment by removing harmful bacteria, viruses and nutrients.
Pump frequently...You should have your septic system inspected at least every three years by a professional, and have your tank pumped as necessary (generally every three to five years).

Use water efficiently...Average indoor water use in the typical single-family home is almost 70 gallons per person per day. Dripping faucets can waste about 2,000 gallons of water each year. Leaky toilets can waste as much as 200 gallons each day. The more water a household conserves, the less water enters the septic system.

Flush responsibly... Dental floss, feminine hygiene products, condoms, diapers, cotton swabs, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, cat litter, paper towels, and other kitchen and bathroom waste can clog and potentially damage septic system components. Flushing household chemicals, gasoline, oil, pesticides, anti-freeze and paint can stress or destroy the biological treatment taking place in the system, as well as contaminate surface waters and groundwater.

How do I maintain my septic system?
  • Plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs might clog and damage the drain field.
  • Don’t drive or park vehicles on any part of your septic system. Doing so can compact the soil in your drain field or damage the pipes, the tank or other septic system components.
  • Keep roof drains, basement sump pump drains, and other rainwater and surface water drainage systems away from the drain field. Flooding the drain field with excessive water slows down or stops treatment processes and can cause plumbing fixtures to back up. 
Why should I maintain my septic system? A key reason to maintain your septic system is to save money! Failing septic systems are expensive to repair or replace, and poor maintenance is often the culprit. Having your septic system inspected (at least every three years) is a bargain when you consider the cost of replacing the entire system. Your system will need pumping every three to five years, depending on how many people live in the house and the size of the system. An unusable septic system or one in disrepair will lower your property’s value and could pose a legal liability. Other good reasons for safe treatment of sewage include preventing the spread of infection and disease, and protecting water resources. Typical pollutants in household wastewater are nitrogen, phosphorus and disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Nitrogen and phosphorus are aquatic plant nutrients that can cause unsightly algae blooms. Excessive nitrate-nitrogen in drinking water can cause pregnancy complications, as well as methemoglobinemia (also known as "blue baby syndrome") in infancy. Pathogens can cause communicable diseases through direct or indirect body contact, or ingestion of contaminated water or shellfish. If a septic system is working properly, it will effectively remove most of these pollutants.

Mould Quick Facts

Should I be concerned about serious health risks from mould?

It is important to note that everyone is exposed to mould spores on a daily basis. Mould grows naturally in our outdoor environment. Even though mould spores are found in our homes and buildings we do not want them growing there. Mould is known to be an allergen and some cases toxic. There are very few reports of toxic moulds inside homes causing rare health conditions. A better safe than sorry approach should be taken. Any mould contamination existing inside buildings and homes should be eradicated. The Mayo tests found that over ninety-three percent of cases of chronic bronchitis were the result of fungal infection, not bacteria as is generally assumed. (Taken from Dr. Michael Pinto’s book Fungal Contamination, A Comprehensive Guide for Remediation) Individuals with immune or respiratory problems, pregnant-women, the elderly, and children may be at increased risk of illness from moulds.

What are the health effects of mould?

.Health effects of mould are dependent upon the individual, length of exposure, and volume of spores inhaled or ingested. Some effects include, but are not limited to:

Chronic headaches,
Eyes, nose and throat irritation,
Chronic fatigue,
Asthma/respiratory problems.

How common is mould in buildings?

Mould is very common in our homes and buildings. The most common mould in our homes is mould found on bread. All moulds are not harmful. But infestations of mould need to be controlled immediately upon discovery.

How do moulds get inside and how do they grow?

Mould spores may enter your home through open doorways, windows, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. Spores may also attach themselves to people, animals, toys, shoes, and carry bags bringing the mould indoors.

Many building materials provide nutrients that allow the mould to cultivate when exposed to moisture. Wet materials, including paper products, cardboard, ceiling tiles, and wood products, are primary sites for mould growth. Other materials such as dust, paints, wallpaper, insulation materials, drywall, carpet, and upholstery, also support the growth of mould.

What is Stachybotrys?

Stachybotrys is a specific kind of mould present in our environment. Outdoor Stachybotrys moulds help decay organic matter. One particular species known as Stachybotrys atra (sometimes known as Stachybotrys chartarum) is prone to growth indoors. This mould is normally dark brown or black in colour. It can look slimy, sooty, or even like grayish white strands, depending on the amount of moisture available and the length of time it has been growing. Many other common indoor moulds can look similar to Stachybotrys.

It is important to remember no matter what type of mould you have removal is the only course of action.

How do I know if I have a mould problem?

A visual examination is the most dependable means of identifying a mould problem. Musty odours or changes in health could be the first signs of mould in your home. Some signs to look for would be standing water, condensation on windows, floods, or roof leaks - all of which could lead to mould growth. Mould may grow in your wall cavities or attic spaces where it is not easily found. When unsure, call in a professional.

What should people do if they determine they have mould?

First thing to do if you have mould is determine the extent of the problem. This might, and most times should, be done in conjunction with a professional. This might require a consultation only, but remember health is the most important part of the clean-up process. A professional will be able to guide you in the right direction.

Underlying problems that have allowed the mould to grow will become part of the process to clean and rid your home of further unwanted mould growth.

How do you keep mould out of buildings and homes?

Buildings should be inspected on a regular basis for evidence of water damage. Conditions such as water leaks, flooding, condensation or excessive humidity should be corrected immediately upon discovery to prevent mould from growing.

Be sure the building is properly ventilated
Clean bathrooms on a regular basis
Wipe up spills immediately
Remove or dry out flood damaged building materials within 24 to 48hrs

Can I make my landlord test my apartment for mould?

No. If you believe you have a mould problem, you will need to take pictures and document your problem, or contact us for an inspection by one of our certified mould inspectors. You may need to take the information gathered to the Rental Tribunal or your local building standards by-law office for help remediating your situation.

Should I paint over mould?

No. Mould is an allergen and must be removed to rid the home or building of its effects.

Common Myths about Mould

My house is mould-free...

Mould grows naturally in our outdoor environment. Even though mould spores are found in our homes and buildings we do not want them growing there. Mould is known to be an allergen and some cases toxic. There are very few reports of toxic mould inside homes causing rare health conditions. A better safe than sorry approach should be taken. Any mould contamination existing inside buildings and homes should be removed. The Mayo tests established that over ninety-three percent of cases of chronic bronchitis were the result of fungal infection, not bacteria as is generally assumed. (Taken from Dr. Michael Pinto’s book Fungal Contamination, A Comprehensive Guide for Remediation) Individuals with immune or respiratory problems, pregnant women, the elderly, and children may be at increased risk of illness from moulds.

Dead mould won’t hurt me...

Dead mould can be as harmful as live mould. Dead or alive, mould spores are still allergens.

If I can’t see mould, I don’t have mould...

Mould is part of nature. Every home and work place has mould. If you are concerned that mould is a problem in your home and you can’t see it, it may be necessary to have a qualified inspector investigate your concern. There may be hidden areas where mould could be growing. Common areas of concern are behind basement wall finishes or attics.

Toxic black Mould...

What does it mean if you have black toxic mould? The first thing to consider is how do you know it’s toxic? All black mould is not toxic and all toxic mould is not black.

Black is just a colour. Many moulds appear black in colour. In fact, mould comes in many colours - every colour in the rainbow. Black mould (as referred to by the media) is Stachybotrys Chartarum. Stachybotrys has the ability to produce mycotoxins.
Regardless of the type, mould should be removed as people can react differently to different types of mould. What might bother one person may not bother another. Mould removal is the best course of action.

If I paint over mould no one will ever know it was there...

Painting over mould just covers it up. When this mould comes in contact with moisture it will begin to grow. The best practice is to remove visible signs of mould before treating the surface with any chemical or paint.

My house is clean, I don’t have mould...

Even the cleanest homes have mould. Mould is a part of nature. The job mould has in life is to break down organic material and return it to nature. Having mould is a moisture issue - not a cleanliness issue.

I live in a new build, I don’t have mould...

The age of a home or building has no relationship to mould. Moisture is the key to controlling mould. Mould will not grow in a dry home.

Autumn Maintenance For Your Home

As the leaves change and the days get shorter, take the time this autumn to prepare for the oncoming cold weather. Ready the furnace for the months of work it will have ahead, and clean out the fireplace. Test them both to ensure they’ll be working when you need the heat. Don’t wait until it’s snowing to clear out your gutters. With upkeep in the fall, you’ll have peace of mind in the winter and more time to hibernate.

Heating System Checkup

Be sure to change the air filter in your furnace and check its efficiency before the cold weather begins. Call in an HVAC contractor to test the heating output and give the system a tune-up. This technician can also check for and correct possibly hazardous carbon monoxide levels generated by your heating system. Stock up on several air filters for the winter, and change them every month. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, purchase one for the system to help lower your energy costs.

After your furnace has been tuned up to its maximum efficiency, take a moment to inspect your heating ducts and vents. Dust them off and clear away anything that may have gotten into them over the summer. Then check your windows for any leaks that may compromise your heating efficiency. If you feel cold air coming in, purchase a plastic sealing kit from the hardware store and place the plastic around the window to keep the heat from escaping. Be sure to check your doors as well, and fix their weather-stripping if needed.

Check The Fireplace And Chimney

Most chimney sweeps recommend an annual sweeping, but depending on how often you use the fireplace, you might be able to wait on a full sweep. But if you will be using the fireplace often, call a chimney sweep for an inspection. For further information, read the Chimney and Woodburning Fireplace Safety guide.

Hopefully you will have your older, seasoned firewood now ready for use after sitting for the spring and summer. It’s recommended to keep the firewood at least 30 feet from the house and covered. Seasoned wood is best for fires, as it burns cleaner and longer.

Review Home Fire Safety

The introduction of the heating season brings new potential for fire hazards, so take a moment to review fire safety in your home. Check and replace fire extinguishers if necessary, and change the batteries in your smoke detectors. Also go over the home fire evacuation plan with your family.
Outside The House
The Gutters

It’s best to inspect and clean the gutters a few times during the fall, especially if there are many leafy trees around your house. If gutters remain clogged, water will spill over them and onto the ground next to the foundation, which may cause damage to the foundation. Gutters and downspouts should be kept clean and should direct water away from the foundation, as well as from walkways and driveways, so that they do not become slippery or icy.
Yard Maintenance

The orange, yellow, and brown colors of the autumn leaves don’t look as nice on the ground as they do on the trees. Rake the leaves into piles and scoop them into yard waste bags. Most areas have ordinances about burning leaves, so check with your local area government first. When sweeping the leaves off your patio, don’t forget to clean, pack up, and store any patio furniture for the winter. Disconnect garden hoses and, if practical, use an indoor valve to shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets. This reduces the chance of freezing in the section of pipe just inside the house.

In The Garage

It is recommended that you empty out unused fuel from any gas-powered equipment stored in the garage, such as a lawnmower, because sediment can build up and clog the fuel lines. Store gasoline in tanks out of children’s reach and have it ready for use in your snowblower or emergency generator, if need be.

Test Your Emergency Generator

It’s a good idea to have an emergency generator if you live in an area that sees a lot of ice storms, as these are a major cause of blackouts during the winter. So if you have one, haul it out and give it a test run to see if it is in good working order. Make sure you never run the generator in any enclosed space – like your garage – as it will present a carbon monoxide hazard.

Urea-Formaldehyde Foam Insulation (UFFI)

What Is UFFI?   

Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) was developed in Europe in the 1950s as an improved means of insulating difficult-to-reach cavities in house walls. It is typically made at a construction site from a mixture of urea-formaldehyde resin, a foaming agent and compressed air. When the mixture is injected into the wall, urea and formaldehyde unite and "cure" into an insulating foam plastic.

During the 1970s, when concerns about energy efficiency led to efforts to improve home insulation in Canada, UFFI became an important insulation product for existing houses. Most installations occurred between 1977 and its ban in Canada in 1980.

Why Was UFFI Banned?

In the insulating process, a slight excess of formaldehyde was often added to ensure complete "curing" with the urea to produce the urea-formaldehyde foam. That excess was given off during the curing, almost entirely within a day or two of injection. Properly installed, UFFI might not have resulted in any problem. Unfortunately, however, UFFI was sometimes improperly installed or used in locations where it should not have been. Enough complaints were received, particularly from people living in small, well-sealed homes, that Canadian authorities became concerned about possible health implications. The further use of UFFI was banned in 1980.

What Is Formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is a pungent, colourless gas commonly used in water solution as a preservative and disinfectant. It is also a basis for major plastics, including durable adhesives. It occurs naturally in the human body and in the outdoor environment. Formaldehyde is used to bond plywood, particleboard, carpets and fabrics, and it contributes to "that new house smell." Formaldehyde is also a by product of combustion; it is found in tobacco smoke, vehicle exhaust and the fumes from furnaces, fireplaces and wood stoves.

While small amounts of formaldehyde are harmless, it is an irritating and toxic gas in significant concentrations. Symptoms of overexposure to formaldehyde include irritation to eyes, nose and throat; persistent cough and respiratory distress; skin irritation; nausea; headache; and dizziness.

Health Canada has determined that 0.1 parts per million (ppm) is a safe level of formaldehyde in the home. Sensitivity to this level may vary based on individual age and health.

Should You Be Concerned About UFFI Today?

Tests show that UFFI is not a source of over-exposure to formaldehyde after the initial curing and release of excess gas. As it was last installed in 1980, it would certainly not be causing excess indoor formaldehyde today. Houses with UFFI show no higher formaldehyde levels than those without it. However, if UFFI comes in contact with water or moisture, it could begin to break down. Wet or deteriorating UFFI should be removed by a specialist and the source of the moisture problem should be repaired.

In new or other well-sealed houses, significant indoor formaldehyde levels may still occur when new carpets or wood composite materials, such as plywood, particleboard and waferboard, are used in home construction, cabinetry and furnishings. These are the most likely sources of high formaldehyde levels in the home today. If you are asked for a UFFI declaration

Since 1993, a UFFI declaration has not been required for mortgage insurance under the National Housing Act. However, a UFFI declaration may still be requested as part of a real estate listing or an agreement of purchase and sale. Even though UFFI should not be a cause for concern, you may, depending on where you live in Canada, be asked to declare whether or not it is in your home.

Some home inspectors will have the training or experience to identify UFFI. You can make a physical check of the home yourself. Look for a series of small patched holes, 1.2 to 2 cm (1/2 to 3/4 in.) across, at regular intervals on exterior or interior walls. Foam may be obvious where floor joists meet the exterior walls of the basement or around electrical outlets or switch plates. These indicators do not necessarily mean that UFFI is present, but they may alert you to the possibility.

The Importance of Bathroom and Kitchen Fans

Bathroom and kitchen fans are an important part of your home's ventilation system. They remove odours from your house, which improves indoor air quality. They also remove moisture, which decreases the level of humidity in your house. High humidity can damage building materials and can cause mold growth. Mold may affect your family's health.

Common Fan and Exhaust Systems

The two most common types of fans are impeller fans and blower fans.
Impeller fans move air with blades similar to airplane propellers.
Blower fans look like hamster wheels — they are often called squirrel cages — and generally do a better job of moving air than impeller fans.

Most exhaust systems consist of an exhaust fan, ducting and an exterior hood. Some houses have a central exhaust system, in which one fan draws moisture and odours from several rooms of the house using a network of ducts.

Kitchen exhaust systems usually have the fan and fan motor in the exhaust hood. Other systems use an in-line fan, which is in the exhaust duct, or a fan outside the house. In-line and outdoor exhaust fans are usually quieter than systems with the fan in the room.

A heat recovery ventilator (HRV) also exhausts moisture and odours. An HRV is a self-contained ventilation system that provides balanced air intake and exhaust. Like a central exhaust fan, it can be connected to several rooms by ducting.
How Good Is the Fan I Have Now?

CMHC's research shows that many houses have exhaust fans that:
are too noisy
move very little air
are not energy efficient
may cause backdrafting of combustion appliances
use high-wattage lighting

Are There Better Fans?

Yes. There's a new generation of effective, quiet, energy-efficient exhaust fans and controls.

How Do I Choose the Best System?

First, choose the quietest, most energy-efficient fan in the size range required. Most fan labels have Home Ventilating Institute (HVI) ratings so you can compare noise and energy efficiency. Look for a fan with replaceable parts and permanent lubrication. A fan suitable for continuous use is preferable. Be prepared to pay more for a quality fan.
Second, select low-resistance (smooth) exhaust ducting. Seal the joints and insulate sections that run through unheated spaces.
Third, place the exhaust hood where it will not cause moisture damage on exterior surfaces.
Fourth, if you have heating appliances with chimneys, make sure that fans won't cause the appliances to back-draft.
Fifth, install the proper controls.

Bathroom Fans: What Should I Look For?

Fan exhaust capacity is rated in litres per second (L/s) or cubic feet per minute (cfm). A normal bathroom needs a good-quality fan that draws 25 L/s (50 cfm). A poor-quality fan won't exhaust enough air and will be too noisy for regular use. The best fans have sound ratings of 0.5 sones or less and consume about 20 watts. Older units typically run up to 4 sones and 80 watts.

Large bathrooms, or those with bigger fixtures, such as spas, need larger fans. Place the bathroom fan as close as possible to the source of moisture or odour. For in-line fans, as long as the intake grille is properly located, the fan itself does not have to be close to the bathroom. Some bathroom fans have lights or heating lamps. If you choose a fan with integrated lights, look for efficiency. Any fan installed in an insulated ceiling — for instance, if the attic is above the bathroom ceiling — must not leak air and must be rated for use under insulation.

Make sure that exhaust fans, lights and heaters in bath or shower enclosures are rated and approved for wet conditions. Newer units approved for wet conditions may include ground fault protection.

Noise determines whether people use a fan. Many people won’t use a noisy fan. Select the quietest fan in the size you need. Look for fans labelled “low noise” or “quiet,” and check for the HVI rating. If it is not rated, there is a good chance that it will be noisy. In-line fans, due to their potential remote mounting, can also be very quiet.
Fan Power Requirements and Airflows

There is more to energy efficiency than selecting an energy-efficient fan. Ducting can affect fan performance. Uninsulated, undersized, or droopy flex ducting, ineffective or dirty backdraft dampers and exhaust louvers can cut rated airflow by more than 50 per cent.

To find out if your exhaust fan is drawing air, hold a piece of toilet tissue up to the grille. The exhaust air should hold the tissue tightly to the grille. You could also check the outlet to make sure the air is leaving your house. CMHC has developed a simple test to measure flow and published it as an About Your House fact sheet titled CMHC Garbage Bag Airflow Test.

Bathroom fans connected to light switches start running when the light is turned on. Often, users turn the light off before all the moisture is exhausted after a bath or shower. An electronic timer, which is usually quieter than a mechanical timer, offers a wide range of settings. Make sure the time instructions are easy-to-understand and the timer is easy to use. You can use motion or humidity sensors, or a combination of both, to control the fan. Controls which allow you to specify operating times or maximum humidity levels are preferable to those where the operation is pre-set by the manufacturer. Use a delayed fan shut-off to keep the fan running for 15 minutes after you leave the room.


Fans create static electricity which attracts dirt like a magnet to the fan and its housing. The dirt can encourage mold growth and restrict air movement. Clean fans, housings, backdraft dampers and exterior flaps seasonally. A typical bathroom fan can be cleaned by pulling down the grille, and unplugging and removing the fan module. Fans in ducts and exterior fans may be difficult to clean.

Kitchen Range Hoods

A kitchen range hood must move more air than a bathroom fan — about 50 to 140 L/s (100 to 300 cfm). As a result, they are noisier, with the lowest sound rating of about 4.5 sones, although they can be relatively quiet on low speed.

The most useful units have a low noise rating, an energy-efficient fan, fluorescent lights, sound insulation, anti-vibration mounts and duct connections. For heavy duty use, select non-corrosive materials such as aluminum or stainless steel. High quality hoods may have heat sensors and a safety shut-off.

Kitchen exhaust systems should discharge outdoors. Recirculating range hoods rely on filters to capture some odours and grease. The filters are generally made of carbon which must be replaced frequently to be effective. Grease will coat carbon, making it ineffective. With recirculating fans, cooking moisture and odours will usually remain in the house.

Range hoods are most effective when they extend out over the stove surface and are close to the stove top. Island units are less effective than wall units.

Range hoods usually have washable, aluminum-mesh grease filters. Better quality filters have a smaller diameter mesh over a larger surface area and can be cleaned in the dishwasher. Clean or replace grease traps and filters frequently. There are now range hoods available that allow you to remove the fan, but not the motor, for cleaning in a dishwasher.

There is always the possibility of a grease fire with a kitchen range hood exhaust. Smooth metal ducting, preferably galvanized steel, is safer in a fire than lighter assemblies.


Install fans and exhaust systems so they make the least possible noise, vibrate as little as possible and leak as little air as possible. Anti-vibration pads or foam tape can isolate the fan housing from wood joists and drywall. You can wrap fan housings and some duct sections in rubber or vinyl noise barrier mats.


Install exhaust systems according to the building code and manufacturer's recommendations. Straight, short duct runs, with few turns, will result in the highest fan flow.

For bathroom fans, use duct with a diameter of at least 100 mm (4 in.). For long runs, use larger, 150 mm (6 in.) diameter duct to improve airflow. It is usually best to avoid fans with 75 mm (3 in.) exhaust ports and ducts. Follow manufacturer's instructions for kitchen exhaust duct sizes.

Seal all duct joints and connections with aluminum duct tape or duct mastic (available at contractors' supply shops) to prevent air, moisture and noise leakage. Standard cloth duct tapes tend to dry out and fall off.

Seal and then insulate all ductwork running through unheated areas to avoid moisture problems. The best practice is to slant horizontal runs of duct down toward the exterior outlet to drain any condensation outside.

Exhaust air should not be released into the attic, into a wall or ceiling cavity, crawl space, basement or in the roof soffit. These locations can promote condensation damage and mold growth.

Weather Hoods, Grilles and Backdraft Dampers

Even when fans are off, stack effects and wind loads may cause outside air to enter or inside air to exhaust through fan ducting. Fans are equipped with backdraft dampers, usually in the fan box exhaust port. Check damper flaps from time to time to make sure they are clean and working. The exterior exhaust flap or louvers should be clean and in good repair to maintain unobstructed airflow and reduce air infiltration. Most exhaust ducts are fitted with a single flap exhaust hood or triple louver aluminum or plastic exhaust grille. Use weather hoods that lie flat on the wall in driveways and other places where hood-type units could be damaged.

Plastic hoods break down over time and need to be replaced. Clean exhaust hoods of lint and nesting materials seasonally to ensure that the flap or louvers are not blocked or stuck open.
Some Dangers
Chimney Connections

Some older bathrooms have static exhausts which look like upside down funnels on the ceiling. If these exhausts are hooked into the furnace chimney, disconnect them from the chimney, seal the hole in the chimney with hydraulic (expanding) cement, and install a new powered exhaust. If these static exhausts go directly outside, they can still be used, but a good fan will be more energy efficient and less drafty.

High Capacity Systems

High capacity, industrial or oversized exhaust fans, and range-top barbecue fans can cause chimney backdrafting. Backdrafting occurs when air is drawn down the chimneys, bringing dangerous combustion exhaust gases into the house. Avoid backdrafting by selecting sealed combustion heating appliances. If you have appliances with chimneys in your house, and you wish to install high capacity exhaust fans, you will need a matching supply air fan to balance house pressures.

Many ventilation contractors or salespeople are unaware of the effects of large exhaust fans on other house appliances. Make sure that your system is properly installed with supply air. At the very least, make sure that you have smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors to warn you if you have severe chimney backdrafting.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Mandatory Home Inspections on Resale Homes in Ontario

Since the mid-1970s, consumer demand for home inspection services has grown in Ontario. Home inspectors and related industry and consumer groups consider a home inspection to be a worthwhile part of the resale process for the following key reasons:

It provides the buyer with a list of repairs including time frames and other recommendations.
It discloses conditions not readily apparent or understood by a non-technical buyer, or that may have been misrepresented.
It reduces the liability of the realtor and meets the realtor’s need to disclose material facts and act in their client’s best interests.

Although inspections may not find all problems, they provide a reasonable degree of consumer protection at a reasonable cost. The home inspection process also encourages upgrading of Canada’s housing stock to meet current requirements and expectations concerning health, safety, maintenance and use.

However, the voluntary inspection process has been ineffectual in addressing the needs of many homeowners. An increasing number of resale homes are inspected, but not by qualified or certified home inspectors. To better understand the home inspection industry in Ontario and options for improvement, a 2002 research project, funded by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s External Research Program, looked at the possibility of having mandatory, rather than voluntary, home inspections.

Those surveyed included Ontario government representatives, the home inspection industry (private and public), insurance companies, the real estate industry, financial lending institutions, CMHC and various consumer associations.

Mandatory Inspections


Closely linked to the question of mandatory home inspections is the timing of an inspection: should it be prior to listing, or as part of a conditional offer? Approximately 90 per cent of respondents agreed that an inspection should be conducted as early in the selling process as possible, so that findings do not cause negotiations to be changed.

Pre-listing home inspections could benefit sellers, giving them the option of remedying any major problems or adjusting their price. Inspections at this point do not face the same time constraints as those tied to conditional offers. Financial, government and consumer respondents saw pre-listing inspections as having merit for the vendor. Consistency of service would require properly trained inspectors and minimum standards. Realtors saw prelisting inspections as contributing to mandatory seller disclosure and reducing the risk of future disputes. Home inspections are not meant to be used as tools for renegotiation, but this is now often the case. Pre-listing inspections would avoid this problem.

Some thought this approach, though, would result in inspectors being less accountable to the buyer and increase liability.A pre-listing inspection could also be a disadvantage to new and uninformed buyers, who would miss the benefit of going through the inspection process.

Implications for the industry

Almost all respondents agreed that if mandatory inspections were imposed in Ontario today, there would be too few qualified home inspectors to handle the increased volume.Vendors would be disadvantaged if there were not enough registered inspectors to conduct mandatory inspections, as this would result in delaying sales.

Changes in the market over time will make it difficult to maintain a sufficient level of qualified inspectors. During a hectic market, realtors and buyers often expect next-day service, which drives up demand for more inspectors. When the market is slow, fewer inspectors will survive.

Many respondents were mixed in their reactions as to whether mandatory inspections could in fact be imposed. Many thought that inspection services are not readily available throughout the province, especially in rural and remote areas. Standardized training, testing and qualifications for all home inspectors would have to be legislated. Industry self-regulation would produce better qualified and certified home inspectors, although there would still be those offering services with minimal qualifications.

Training and the scope of work are important issues for the industry.The qualifying criteria for someone to become a certified or registered home inspector determines the technical skill levels required. Narrowing the inspector’s focus would be seen as a step backwards. Broadening the focus would add to an already wide knowledge base that professional inspectors must maintain. Other professions provide technical advice to real estate buyers and can augment the work done by inspectors.These include architects, technical designers, engineers, contractors, builders and other building specialists.

September Home-Maintenance Tips

Ever wake up in early September and notice that the air smells different? School begins, days get shorter, and a sense of responsibility begins to creep up on most of us. We've always wondered why "fall cleaning" isn't as popular as "spring cleaning." The air on brisk September mornings inspires us to dutifully button up the home in preparation for cooler days and longer nights.

Add weather-stripping to doors and windows

Weather-stripping can be plastic, foam, felt or metal; its job is to seal small gaps, keeping moisture and cold air outside where they belong. Look around your doors and windows: Is the weather-stripping torn or missing? This can become expensive if ignored. On doors, make sure the bottom seal is working properly — there are many sweeps, gaskets and thresholds designed to seal this gap. Doors generally need weather-stripping in their jambs as well. Adhesive-backed foam pads are easy to install for this purpose. Newer, energy-efficient windows generally don't require added weather-stripping, but if your windows are older, weather-stripping can keep drafts at bay and energy costs down.

Check gutters

Do a quick visual check to make sure gutters are clear — they'll be performing double duty soon with rainstorms and falling leaves.

Keep mice out

September inspires nesting in mice as well as humans. Mice are looking for a winter home now. Mice can squeeze through 1/4-inch openings; rats need a half-inch. Make sure all exterior vents are screened, and that there are no gaps underneath garage doors. If you are careless about leaving doors and windows open this time of year, you'll be setting mousetraps later. Pet doors are another favorite access point for rodents.

Caulk exterior

Think of caulk as weather-stripping in a tube. Any gap on the outside of your home can be a candidate for caulking. Look at transition spots: corners, windows, doors, areas where masonry joins siding, or places where vents and other objects protrude from walls. Carefully read manufacturer's directions to make sure the caulk you buy will work where you plan to use it, and don't forget to purchase a caulking gun. Early fall is a good time for this task because caulk becomes difficult to apply when the temperature falls.

Got wood?

If you have a woodstove, it's not too early to lay in a supply of firewood. Though most of us buy whatever's local, bear in mind that soft woods like fir and cedar burn faster and create hazardous creosote in the chimney, thus requiring more system maintenance and more wood. Hard woods like oak, hickory and maple are slow, hot, clean burners. Wood piles attract insect and animal pests, so stack wood away from the house. Wood dries best when it's protected from rain and has air circulating around it, so under the roof of a wall-less carport would be an ideal wood storage spot.

Clean dryer vent

This is another one of those tasks that should be on your to-do list every six months. Scoot your clothes dryer away from the wall, unplug it, and vacuum behind it. (If it's a gas dryer, turn off the gas supply to the dryer at the appliance shutoff valve.) Unhook the tube that leads to the vent and clear as much lint from the tube as you can. Grab a shop vacuum, go outside, and tackle the outside dryer vent as well.

Inspect your roof and chimney

If your roof isn't too steep, and isn't covered with slate or tile, you may be able to carefully walk on it on a dry day. Look for broken or missing shingles, missing or damaged flashing and seals around vent pipes and chimneys, and damage to boards along the eaves. Also peer down your chimney with a flashlight to make sure no animals have set up house in it. If you can't get on your roof, perform this inspection with a ladder around the perimeter. Pay close attention to valleys and flashings — many leaks originate in these spots. Some patches and roofing cement now can prevent thousands of dollars of water damage later in the winter.