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Living with an Older Home – Maintenance-Insurance-Energy challenges

The charms of living in an older home can be many – history, style, craftsmanship, quirks. But there’s no denying that living in such a home has its challenges. Maintenance can be tricky and expensive, especially if certain systems and features have been neglected over the years. Let’s take a look at some common situations found in many older homes:

  • Energy inefficiency is probably the number-one issue with older homes. Most older homes were constructed with single-pane windows; if these windows are still there, they likely don’t fit very well. Replacement windows can be very expensive, but will contribute immensely to reduced energy use and heating and cooling costs. Most replacement windows are available in several styles, so finding one that suits the look of your older home is easier than ever.
  • Like single-pane windows, poor (or no) insulation will also result in wasted energy and money. The most important and easiest area of the home to insulate is the attic, but walls and floors above ventilated crawlspaces should be insulated as well if possible. The attic may already have insulation but it may be inadequate by current standards.
  • If your home has older water pipes, have them checked to identify the material and determine if they need to be replaced. Some older materials such as galvanized steel, iron, and even lead are subject to deterioration and are still in use today even though new construction does not allow them. Replacement options include copper and CPVC piping.
  • Outdated electrical systems can still sometimes be found in older homes and may not only be dangerous, they can make the house uninsurable. Even if no danger is present, we use so much more electricity in our homes now that the capacity of your older system may be inadequate. Only a qualified electrician should attempt any repairs or updates to your home’s electrical system.

Reprinted with permission: Doug MacDonald, Registered and Certified Home Inspector
Proudly Serving Red Deer, Airdrie and Surrounding Areas. For more information, please contact your local Pillar To Post home inspector.


Comment by Elke: We often get requests to show homes which were built before 1930. There are most definitely insurance concerns for many of the older homes in inner city Communities or in satellite towns so it’s best to be prepared for the questions you need to ask your insurance company before looking at the cute doll-houses you have seen on the MLS®. Call us for a free consult (403-295-3336), a referral to a local home inspector.

 Selling Calgary Group     Elke Babiuk
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Budgeting for Home Maintenance

It’s important for REALTORS® to remind home buyers that all homes-old or new-need ongoing maintenance.

First, buyers should understand the 1% rule. This rule postulates that normal maintenance on a home is about 1% of the value of the home per year. For example, a $250,000 home would require $2,500 per year to maintain. This would be enough to replace the roof covering…and then, a few years later, to replace a failed hot water tank…and then a few years more until a new central air system is required.

Then there is the 3% rule. Some experts say that home buyers should plan on spending 3% of the value of the home in the first year of ownership. This is because new homeowners will most likely have to buy drapes, blinds, a washer and dryer, a stove, maybe even a new roof covering. Also, new homeowners often customize the environment to their taste, so they need to budget for repairs, replacements and maintenance.

In addition, most home components have fairly predictable life cycles. For example, the typical life cycle of a high-efficiency furnace is 15 to 20 years. What this means is that most high-efficiency furnaces last between 15 and 20 years.

One way to know the extent of the maintenance needed and the costs to repair and/or replace items is to have a home inspection conducted. Home inspectors are required to let the buyer know if a component is significantly deficient or if it is near the end of its life cycle (service life), and a reputable home inspection company may offer up-to-date repair-cost guides to help clients with their planning.

Home inspectors work with REALTORS® and buyers to help them understand the issues that are found in the home, regardless of age, offering the right perspective and objective information. Home buyers need to understand that it’s normal for items in a home to wear out. This should be regarded as normal “wear and tear” and not necessarily a defect.

A good home inspection determines the current condition of the house, offering a report of all the systems and components in need of maintenance, service, repair or replacement.

For example, consider a home inspection that uncovers that the heating system is old and requires replacement. A home buyer may see this as a huge problem. However, this problem may be the only item in the home that requires attention. If a buyer were to look at this situation in perspective, this home could be well above average-a home merely requiring a new furnace.

A good home inspection provides objective information to help the buyer make an informed decision. Knowing what items need to be budgeted for repair or replacement will help home buyers plan or negotiate better and not be stuck with unexpected costs of hundreds, or even thousands of dollars in the long run. Also, fixing these items will make a marked improvement on the performance of a home and minimize issues that could affect its future integrity…and value.

Reprinted with permission: Doug MacDonald, Registered and Certified Home Inspector
Proudly Serving Red Deer, Airdrie and Surrounding Areas.
For more information, please contact your local Pillar To Post home inspector.


Comment by Elke: Understanding how much to budget for home maintenance when buying new or resale homes will help you protect your real estate investment. For more information about Calgary Real Estate, please visit our website.

 Selling Calgary Group     Elke Babiuk
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Preventing Wet Basements from snow and rain in Calgary

Home Maintenance Tips to Prevent Wet Basements

by Merv Stark, Calgary Home Inspector.

There are various items of concern that I have encountered, as a Registered Home Inspector (RHI), over the past several years that are ongoing at homes that I inspect.  This spring may become challenging as we have had to deal with increased amounts of snow on roofs, snow in yards that has turned into ice trapping the melting snow water and  preventing it from going away from homes, plus frozen downspouts which prevents water from being expelled from the surface area. I expect to see more water around the perimeter of homes this year than I have seen in the last several years of having done inspections. I have heard many stories from past clients about water damaged basements and as this is a concern that usually has easy exterior remedies, I have put several diagrams and pictures in this article for your convenience and understanding.

The gutters on your home are very important. These are installed around the home by the builders who also provide downspouts that extend away from the home so water will not come back towards the foundation. Occasionally I have found gutters full of leaves, dirt, past construction materials and/or with tennis balls and children’s toys.  I have even had trees over a foot tall growing in gutters! Gutters should be cleaned annually so water can flow proper.

Ice in Downspout

Ice in Downspout

In the late winter/early spring time, I find most downspouts not in use or frozen shut with water spillage backed up to the foundation wall.  Some downspouts have been blown open several feet above the ground from the freeze/thaw cycle that can occur daily during our winters in Calgary and area.   A lot of downspouts have had the elbow installed too low so the entire downspout makes soil contact.  Ground level spouts will freeze up quicker than a downspout that is elevated at the discharge end.  Our wonderful Chinook winds cause roof snow melting but with the frost remaining in the ground, downspouts at ground level can freeze up.  The warm Chinook air flow should be allowed to go around the entire pipe creating a continuous melt within the pipe.

Weeping Tile no Cap

Downspouts that discharge into a weeping tile (Black corrugated pipes that are vertical and general found at newer homes at basement window well areas and at downspout discharge locations) can also freeze shut near the top.

Note: This particular weeping tile does not have a cap on it.  Children can drop rocks and garbage down them preventing their ability to drain the water properly away. Water can then seep into the basement.


Downspout Extensions should be long so that water doesn't collect at foundation wallNote: This picture on the right is designed for summer discharge. I prefer the discharge opening not to touch the ground during the winter, but you must be careful of a possible trip hazard. Also you should not drain onto a sidewalk where the water could freeze causing a slippery ice trip hazard. Frozen ice on the concrete will also eventually cause damage through surface damage and possible cracking since the water may get under the concrete and can cause the concrete to heave, thus creating cracks. Ask your home inspector for a possible solution if he does not volunteer a comment.

A good builder will provide a proper graded ground slope for this water drainage to leave your lot.  However, the ground around the new home will settle after a few years and a reverse drainage system may develop. This settlement can be several inches as noted in the picture below and I am always surprised how many people do not notice or do not care. Now add the fact the neighbor may have added soil around his home. You now have potential for a moat around your castle. Soil must be added and graded to bring a proper slope away from your home.

Graded Slopes Critical for water Drainage away from home foundation

The season for potential water in your basement is now coming to a basement near you. Are you ready?   A comment that I put in my reports for my clients contains the amount of water that an average lot is exposed to throughout the year, as reported from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, CMHC, a strong supporter of the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors, CAHPI. Monitoring your home is discussed below may prevent water damage. Lengthen and Reposition Downspouts

  • It should be understood that it is impossible to predict the severity or frequency of moisture penetration to a home. Almost all basements exhibit signs of moisture penetration and virtually all basements can indeed leak at some point in time. Further monitoring of the foundation will be required to determine what improvements, if any, will be required. Basement leakage rarely affects the structural integrity of a home.
  • The vast majority of basement leakage problems are the result of insufficient control of storm water at the surface. The ground around the house should be sloped to encourage water to flow away from the foundations. Gutters and downspouts should act to collect roof water and drain the water at least five (5) feet from the foundation or into a functional storm sewer. Downspouts that are clogged or broken below grade level, or that discharge too close to the foundation are the most common source of basement leakage.
  •  In the event that basement leakage problems are experienced, lot and roof drainage improvements should be undertaken as a first step. Please beware of contractors who recommend expensive solutions. Excavation, damp-proofing and/or the installation of drainage tiles should be a last resort. In some cases, however, it is necessary. Your plans for using the basement may also influence the approach taken to curing any dampness that is experienced.

Annual Precipitation

  • Annually the province receives about 355 millimeter of rain from May to October. On a typical 40 x 110 foot lot, this will produce 144,800 liters of water.
  • 6 millimeter of rain on the 40 x 110 foot lot would produce 2,596 liters of water.
  • The 355 millimeters of rain on a roof of a 2000 square foot house would produce more than 167,200 liters of water, which must be directed away from the foundation of the home.
  • The 6 millimeters of rain on the same roof would produce 1,200 liters of water that must be directed away from the foundation of the home.

Preventing Wet Basements: Causes

Lengthen and Reposition Downspouts away from House FoundationCauses of Wet Basement Problems

Wooden Decks and Water Drainage

House Drainage should not be beside wooden decksAnother potential water problem I encounter is wooden decks that have the house drainage beside the deck. The soil below a deck is very rarely graded for water to be moved away from the home. With soil settling under the deck, causing low surface areas, the water will go under the deck creating ponds where it slowly evaporates. This picture shows the water draining directly under the deck, it has no ventilation and will quickly rot due to the moisture trapped under the deck. Grading should be planned and maintained around your entire home including under all decking. The grading of the property can determine where the water will go!

At least this elbow is not pointed at the basement window. The potential for the discharge water to freeze on the sidewalk is a concern. The window well is inadequate as a frozen surface could allow water entry that can freeze in the pit opening. Water may have gained access to this area in the past and lifted the sidewalk creating the crack as observed in this photograph.

Several years from now the crack may be bigger, chipped out, and several years after that you may get two elevations creating a possible trip hazard. To repair a poured sidewalk, you will need to get someone to jackhammer out the concrete, remove the debris, add gravel, new rebar, then pour new concrete. The cost may easily be over a thousand dollars. I think the downspout relocation would have been a more logical choice a decade earlier and could have been done with basic tools on a warm sunny day when you could have also bought a few extra feet of downspouts.

Point Downspouts away from Windows and FoundationLet’s use a different scenario.  Our first spring rain, and it’s a heavy downpour.  Frost is still in the ground.  Soil is right up to the window.  Guess where the rain water will go! Your home inspector should recommend you remove several inches of soil below the window and install a window well if needed.

Spring is a time for enjoying the out of doors and doing some home and yard maintenance. Caring for your home by insuring that your gutters are cleaned before the winter, that your downspouts are installed properly with drainage away from your home and walkways, that proper grading away from your home is maintained, and window wells are protected from excess water will allow you to put on the warm weather gear and enjoy spring in Calgary rather than watching the moat grow around your home, and clean up the water mess in the basement.

Window Well GradingRemove extra soil from Window
Merv Stark, Starkpro Property Inspections, CAPHI -RHI


 Selling Calgary Group     Elke Babiuk
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