Home Inspection Articles

Terminating Termites: Make Sure This Pest Won't "Be Back"

Posted by Thea Scrimger on Jun 25, 2014 10:01:00 AM

NewsletterMany people know what April showers bring, but what about May flowers? What do they bring? One word: bugs. Warm weather invites many out of hibernation, and that includes insects. June's pleasant temperatures have bees buzzing, butterflies fluttering, ants picnicking, and termites getting ready to feast. Most can appreciate the need for bees pollinating, enjoy a butterfly's beauty, and love to hate ants, but termites illicit a very different reaction. These pests have the potential to inflict serious damage to your home, and are the bane of homeowners. 

One of the major things termites need to thrive is warm climates. As the temperature rises, so too does the potential for termite infestations. With spring turning into summer, it's important to be able to recognize the conditions conducive to termite infestations and learn how to protect your home from these unwanted inhabitants. 

Subterranean termites typically cause the most structural damage and are most prevalent in the southern coastal areas, the dry climate of the Okanagan areas of British Columbia, southern Ontario, southern Quebec, and the Maritime provinces. Though each species of termite thrives in different climates and eats different types of food, all termites require four things to survive: 

1. Food
2. Moisture
3. Shelter
4. Optimal temperatures


These conditions can be found in all buildings, regardless of their construction type. However, older homes typically face increased termite threats as wood rot is more common in them. 

As with the normal approach taken when dealing with other pests, the best way to prevent a termite infestation is to reduce access to food and water sources. For termites, this means eliminating moisture and removing wood sources, including wood piles and mulch close to the home. Rotted wood is by far the most common way for termites to gain entry into the home. The soft, pulpy material gives termites easy access to both food and moisture. If you have concerns about a termite infestation in your home, consider: 

  • Removing all wood debris in contact with soil and store any firewood away from your home and off the ground.
  • Fixing any leaks in pipes and drains - damp wood creates ideal conditions for a healthy, large, and robust termite colony.
  • Making sure the soil around the structure of your home is sloped away from the home, and that drainage from the roof doesn't collect near the property.
  • Trimming dense vegetation from around the siding and foundation of your home.
  • Insulating or putting down a moisture barrier to help limit the humidity and condensation in your crawl space, as this can be inviting to termites.
  • Replacing mulch that is close to the home with gravel. If mulch is used around the home, make certain to keep the mulch layer as shallow as possible; thick mulch beds create soil moisture conditions that encourage termite activity.

Unlike other pests, termites are typically very hard to detect. With the exception of annual swarms, when reproductive termites move to start new colonies, termites live primarily out of sight. So how can you tell if something you can't see is occupying your home? There are a few termite signs that can indicate an infestation. Watch out for:

  • Hollow-sounding wood - if wood sounds hollow when tapped it may be because termites are eating the wood from the inside out
  • "Swarmers" (a group of winged insects), or discarded wings - reproductive termites, also known as "swarmers", take flight to create new colonies; swarming termites, or groups of discarded wings is a fairly conclusive sign of an infestation
    Tip: Subterranean termites typically swarm in the spring
  • Mud tubes on walls - termites construct mud tubes to travel between their home in the soil and the wood that they feed on; these tubes also provide moisture which the termites search for food 
Mud tubes
  • Frass" - termites produce this wood-coloured dropping as they eat their way through wood rot

If you have termites in your home, it's essential to reach out to a professional pest control company to help you address the issue - quickly. Termites can cause the most structural damage of any insect and, based on the extent of the damage, remediation expenses can run well into the thousands of dollars. Treatment methods vary based on the species of termite, size of infestation, and other factors. The required chemicals for termite treatment are not for sale to the public, and must be used in strictly controlled conditions. Your licensed pest management professional can set up the best corrective steps if you have a termite infestation.

Orkin Canada, a leading name in pest control in Canada and our Specialty Services partner, can assist Carson Dunlop clients and real estate partners with termite-related inquiries, including termite inspections and treatment plans. To learn more please call 800-268-7070.

Topics: Home Inspection, Home Inspector Advice, Monthly Newsletters, Homeowners Association, Carson Dunlop, Specialty Services, Homeowner Tips, Newsletter, Pest Control, Spring Tips

Father's Day: Tips for Treating Dad

Posted by Thea Scrimger on Jun 10, 2014 2:05:00 PM

FamilyIt’s mid-June, and you know what that means: Dad’s big day is just around the corner. That’s right; Father’s Day is this Sunday. Are you ready to celebrate? Or are you having difficulty buying for the man that apparently, especially when you ask him, wants for nothing? Instead of opting for the traditional tie and coffee mug, this year, try doing something for Dad.

Sure, a new tie can really bring a look together and a mug letting everyone know you’re the World’s Greatest Dad can definitely boost the ego, but helping with the chores that Dad is usually responsible for can be a thoughtful gift too. This weekend use the tips below so you can take care of the yard work and grilling, and give Dad a relaxing Father’s Day.

Yard Work

  • Mowing

When it comes to maintaining your yard, one of the most time-consuming tasks is mowing the lawn. This is a fairly straightforward, albeit annoying, chore. Make sure you clean away sticks and other items that may interfere with the mower before you begin. You don’t need to give your lawn a buzz cut. Try to keep the grass at least 6-8cm long so that the roots are shaded and able to hold water well. As with other outdoor activities in the summer, it’s important to be weather-prepared. Wear a hat, put on sunscreen and bug spray, and stay hydrated.

  • Watering

You may not have to help with this, as healthy lawns usually only require about 2.5cm of water on a weekly basis to thrive. Check to see when the last time your lawn was watered before taking any action. If it has been more than a week since your lawn was watered grab the hose or sprinkler. Water slowly to both make sure that the ground actually absorbs the water, and to limit the amount of run-off that occurs. It’s also important to water thoroughly – a shallow sprinkling doesn’t do as much good as soaking down into the roots.

  • Trimming

ShrubsLike the individuals who create and take care of them, every yard or garden is different. Some are a testament to organization; others cultivate a more natural aesthetic. Depending on the way your garden is laid out you may have to do some minor trimming. If you have any shrubs, hedges, or trees near the foundation of your home, it’s a good idea to pull branches and trim excess leaves away from the home. This will help to let sunlight into the home, curb the bugs that wish to access the home, and assist with water management.

  • Downspouts

While you’re by your foundation, take a look at your downspouts. How far do they extend? They should reach approximately 6 feet away from your home. If they fall short of this you may see wet or eroded patches where rainwater has been pooling. When not properly directed away from your home via a downspout, water remains on the ground by your foundation, slowly seeping into it. A minor repair to your downspouts can save you major expenses in the future.

Grilling Safety & Maintenance

  • Cleaning

Make sure your barbeque is clean before firing it up. Dirt, debris, bugs, and cobwebs can get lodged inside the grill – especially if you don’t use it frequently. This is not the sort of seasoning you want on your burgers, so always check to see how clean your grill is before putting food on it.

  • Propane Tank

Take a look at your propane tank. Of course, it’s important that there’s enough fuel to cook your food, but it’s also important to assess the condition of the tank. Is your tank damaged or rusty? If so, it might be time for a replacement. You should be replacing your tanks approximately every decade.

  • Charcoal

If you use charcoal as fuel, it’s important to make sure your barbeque is vented properly. Carbon monoxide is released when this fuel source is lit, and poses a threat when inhaled. Keep the barbeque at least 3 metres away from windows and doors.

Father's Day

When you’re done grilling, do not dispose of the used charcoal unless you are confident that the coals are fully extinguished. Hot coals can easily start a fire and are very dangerous.

  • Safety Tips

Do not leave your barbeque unsupervised, especially if you are grilling with your children and pets nearby.

Keep the barbeque out of range of combustible items like wooden fences and trees and shrubs.

Do not get too close to the grill and make sure to wear appropriate clothing like a thick apron and short sleeved shirt to help minimize the potential for having your clothing catch fire. As well, use long tongs and brushes to protect you from the open heat source.

Whatever you end up doing with Dad, we hope you have a safe and fun Father's Day. Looking for more summer tips? Connect with us on Twitter and Facebook

Topics: Homeowners, Home Inspector Advice, Summer Tips, Carson Dunlop, Homeowner Tips, Home Safety, Outdoor Fun

Air Conditioner Maintenance: Beat the Heat Before it Gets Here

Posted by Thea Scrimger on May 28, 2014 9:19:00 AM


May GraphThere's no denying it, spring has sprung. The sun is shining, flowers are blooming, and the birds have returned to nest. Though we now appreciate this perfectly-temperate weather, ideal for picnics and baseball, experience tells us it will not last long. The extreme heat of summer is coming - you know, the record highs you swore you wouldn't complain about when you were knee-deep in snow, shoveling your driveway through gritted teeth. Although most of us are thrilled to be free of winter's ice and snow, heat waves and severe humidity are not the most comfortable weather systems either, and soon the complaints will start to flow.

While our aim is not to appear pessimistic in the face of this pleasant spring season, we do encourage homeowners to be aware of, and plan for, the realities of the coming weather cycles. We aren't exactly calling for the hatches to be battened down, but just as you performed furnace maintenance to prepare it for the winter, it's important to consider the effects the summer heat will have on your cooling system. Like the majority of your home's systems, proper maintenance can help to increase your air conditioner's lifespan and ensure that it works properly. Check out our guide to cooling systems below to learn more.  

Air Conditioner 101

There are many types of air conditioning systems; however they all work on the same principle: moving heat from a relatively cool space to a relatively warm space. In the summer, air conditioners take heat from the house air and transfer it to the exterior. This heat may be transferred to the outside air, a body of water, or into the ground. 

Air-Cooled Air Conditioning Systems

Air-cooled air conditioning systems are the most common. They have two main components:

1.  The evaporator - which may be in the ductwork immediately above the furnace or in a fan coil in the attic. 

2.   The condenser - which is outdoors. 

When most people picture an air conditioner they envision a large metal box that sits just outside of the home. It's an item you have to carefully rake around in the fall and clear snow off of in the winter - sometimes it even comes with its own special plastic cover. This box is the condenser unit.

Air Conditioner Schematic
The evaporator is inside the home. It is used to turn the refrigerant, the medium which carries the heat, from a liquid into a gaseous state.

Inside the condenser is the compressor: a pump that moves the refrigerant through the system and compresses the refrigerant, raising its temperature significantly. The compressor is the heart of the system.

Severe damage can occur to air conditioning compressors if they are turned on when the outside temperature is below 65º F (16º C). The life expectancy of a compressor is typically 10 to 15 years in moderate climates and as little as 8 to 10 years in hot climates. Depending on the age of the unit, replacement of a failed compressor may not be cost-effective. The unit may be so old that replacement parts are not readily available or the system might use an older refrigerant. In these cases, it may be better to replace the entire condenser unit, rather than just the compressor. 

Air ConditionerIt's important to make sure the condenser is on level ground (within roughly 10 degrees). The compressor or the refrigerant lines may be damaged if the unit is not level. So if your unit is on ground that is sloping towards or away from your home, this should be addressed.

You should also check to make sure that the condenser is positioned a safe distance away from exhaust discharge vents. Hot air discharging from a water heater exhaust vent or a dryer vent can affect the operation of air conditioning systems. These should be kept several feet from the condenser. 

If your condenser is running loudly, the best course of action you can take is to contact a service specialist to diagnose and correct the issue. There are several causes of noisy condensers; a technician will be able to assess the problem and offer remediation advice. In fact, due to the complexity of air-cooling systems, if you suspect there is any kind of problem with your unit (noise-related or otherwise) engaging a service specialist is usually a good idea. Many of the complications you can encounter with your air-cooling system will be hard for the majority of homeowners to identify; working with a reputable technician can be very valuable. We recommend having a service person check your system annually to help ensure that everything is functioning normally. 

There are also some air conditioner maintenance tasks homeowners can assume themselves. These include:

  • Changing the filter - dust and dirt can build up on the filter, affecting the efficiency and performance of the unit. The cost of filters can range from $5 to $30, depending on the type you select. In most cases, the filter can be found in the ductwork near your furnace.

Helpful tip: write down the size of your filter before going to buy a new one.

  • Keeping your condenser clear of dirt and debris - dirt outside your condenser quickly becomes dirt inside your condenser as the fan draws air through the coils. A build-up of dirt, dust, leaves, and grass around the outside of the condenser will reduce airflow through the coils, compromising the functionality of the unit.

At Carson Dunlop, we are committed to our clients for the long-run. The Carson Dunlop Homeowners Association helps reduce costs on everyday home expenses, like air conditioner maintenance. Our association member, AtlasCare, offers Carson Dunlop clients and real estate partners preferred pricing and exclusive deals on heating and cooling system work.    

Topics: Home Inspector Advice, Monthly Newsletters, Homeowners Association, Carson Dunlop, Homeowner Tips, Newsletter, Spring Tips, Cooling, Home Safety

Spring Cleaning Checklist: Chores To Help Keep Your Home Dry

Posted by Thea Scrimger on May 23, 2014 11:04:00 AM

HomeMany homeowners will have taken this past long weekend as an opportunity to get some much needed spring cleaning done. The beginning of warmer weather brings with it many chores – some cosmetic (like cutting the grass and pulling weeds), and some more practical (like cleaning the gutters and changing the screens on your windows). When it comes to spring cleaning, we encourage homeowners to focus on function over fashion, and ensure that their home systems are working well and ready for the change in season, before tending to their gardens.

Spring is usually a rainy season, and this one is shaping up to be on par with typical precipitation trends. As such, most of the practical spring chores we advise homeowners to undertake relate to water management and keeping your home dry. As the skies start to darken and the air becomes more humid, consider the following items and make sure they’re checked off your spring cleaning checklist before it pours:

  • GuttersGet the dirt and leaves out of your gutters – We mention your gutters almost every time we address water issues and maintenance tasks to complete around your home, but that’s because clean gutters can make a huge difference to your roof and your home. If your gutters are full (of dirt, leaves, garbage, twigs, etc.) then water can’t pass through them, causing it to build up and pool over onto your roof. Taking the time now to clear your gutters can help to decrease the frequency of roof leakage and keep your shingles in good shape. 
  • Make sure your downspouts are doing their job – Gutters and downspouts go hand in hand, or at least they should. When you’re cleaning your gutters, check the status of your downspouts. They should extend all the way down to the ground and then at least 6 feet away from the home. A downspout’s task is to direct the water that has collected in the gutters away from your home. If your downspout extension is not long enough or facing the wrong way, that can be the difference between a wet and a dry basement.

  • Lot GradingKeep your home on higher ground – Having a properly extending downspout is one thing, but your lot has to have the grading to back it up. If your downspout directs water away from your home and your lot slopes towards your home, despite the downspout’s direction, the water is going to follow the slope of your lot – back to your home.  To combat these grading and drainage issues, make sure your lot slopes away from your home.

  • Ensure your window wells are more window, less well – Like your gutters, window wells can get clogged with all sorts of debris. And it’s similarly important to make sure that you keep your window wells clean. However, unlike gutters, window wells don’t have a downspout. They drain from the bottom, and should have several inches of gravel to facilitate this. If you are consistently having difficulties with window well drainage, consider installing a drainage pipe. This pipe, filled with gravel (to prevent it from collapsing, but still allowing water to pass) will extend down to the drainage tile around the perimeter of the footing (if one exists). Alternatively, you could install a clear plastic dome to keep water and debris out of the window well altogether.

We know we preach the importance of maintaining your water management systems regularly, but in our 36 years leading the Home Inspection industry we’ve come to understand that water is the number one enemy of homes. These systems should receive your attention at every season change, especially during the spring as it is typically a very rainy time. For more spring advice connect with us on Twitter and Facebook.

Topics: Home Inspection, Home Inspector Advice, Water Damage, Carson Dunlop, Homeowner Tips, Spring Tips

Home Maintenance Tips for Spring

Posted by Thea Scrimger on May 8, 2014 12:52:00 PM

Living RoomSpring has arrived and although it’s not as warm as some of us would like, we are still counting our blessings that it’s rain and not snow falling from the sky – sorry Eastern Canada, we know it will stop snowing over there soon, probably. As the increase in temperatures has you setting aside your winter wear for more seasonally-appropriate garb, it’s equally important to make sure your home is ready for the change in weather.

Consider the following ways to maintain your home for spring. Some of these items will fall under some simple spring cleaning, and some are more safety-oriented. We’d encourage homeowners to approach each task with the same enthusiasm, as we often see safety items overlooked for other chores, and then ultimately forgotten. 


Check your Gutters & Downspouts

As you perform maintenance around your home this weekend, take some time for gutter cleaning to ensure your gutters and downspouts are clear of leaves, twigs, or excess snow, so water can effectively drain through them. The extreme snow, wind, and ice storms we experienced this winter may have rendered your gutters and downspouts ineffective – either breaking or moving them, or filling them with debris. While checking your gutters, look at your downspouts to see if they’ve suffered any damage. They should extend at least six feet from your home, so that they can effectively direct water away from your foundation.

Keep your Window Wells Free of Debris

Water and debris can get trapped in your window wells, allowing moisture to intrude into your basement. Clear out any debris, and to avoid this in the future, a clear plastic dome can be installed over the window well to keep water and debris out.

Assess your Roof

RoofRoofs take the brunt of winter weather abuse. Now that your roof is free of ice and snow, it’s a great opportunity to see what condition it is in.

Roofing can be damaged by hail, raccoons, or other animals, and should be regularly inspected by a professional. Localized repairs are often an option, but as a general rule, when more than 10% to 15% of the roof requires repairs, it is best to replace the roof covering.

It’s important to know that roofs do not last forever. As roof materials grow old, they lose their ability to keep water out of the house. Asphalt and wood roofing can crack, curl, and shrink. Wood roofing rots, or burns through from the sun. Shingles, or tiles may fall off as the materials or fasteners deteriorate. By knowing the signs of potential problems, you can have a professional complete necessary roof repair or replacements without the major costs associated with water damage.

Ensure your Home has Proper Lot Grading

No foundation wall system is completely waterproof. Water accumulating in the soil outside your home will leak through eventually. To combat this, it is essential to keep the soil outside your home dry. Achieving dry soil can be done by ensuring the ground around your home slopes away from your home, rather than towards it. The ground around the home should slope down six inches for the first ten feet away from the home; this can often be achieved by adding topsoil. The theory is simple – if there’s no water in the soil on the outside of the foundation wall, no water will get into the interior. 


Test your Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon Monoxide DetectorWe recommend testing your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on a monthly basis, and changing these devices’ batteries twice a year. You should have at least one smoke alarm on every floor of your home, although having more is encouraged. When testing to make sure your smoke detector is working, check the expiry date printed on the smoke detector. If the unit is past this date, or if it is more than ten years old, it should be replaced. If there is no expiry date, it’s probably more than ten years old.

Not every home comes equipped with a carbon monoxide detector, which means you might not have one. If you don’t have one, it’s not only a good idea to get one, the Ontario government passed a law a few months ago making these devices mandatory in every home. Carbon monoxide detectors help to protect homeowners from the dangers related to carbon monoxide poisoning. If your detector finds there is an unsafe level of carbon monoxide in your home it will notify you in a manner similar to a smoke detector: loud beeping. And like a smoke alarm, it requires the same degree of regular maintenance, so check your carbon monoxide detector on a monthly basis, change its batteries twice a year, and check the expiry date. Carbon monoxide detectors often have only a seven-year life span.

Check your Furnace & Air Conditioner Filters

Do you know how often to change a furnace filter? Your furnace and air conditioner filters should be checked monthly to determine if they need cleaning or changing. Typically located in the air return duct adjacent to the furnace, making sure your furnace filter is in good condition can help improve both comfort and heating costs. You will need to see if you should purchase a cleanable or disposable furnace filter – most homeowners choose to have a disposable filter, for convenience, but both are good choices. Furnace filters generally range from $5 to $30 depending on the type of filter you select.

Helpful tip: Note the size of your filter before heading out to buy a new one.

Good luck to all the homeowners starting their spring cleaning projects! We know that for many it can be a dreaded chore, but it means we’re that much closer to summertime lounging.

Looking for more home maintenance tips in 140 characters or less? Connect with us on Twitter.

Topics: Homeowners, Home Inspector Advice, Carson Dunlop, Homeowner Tips, Spring Tips, Cooling

Reno 911: The Hidden Hazards of Homeownership

Posted by Thea Scrimger on Apr 25, 2014 11:14:00 AM

April Newsletter

April Graph

Spring has sprung, and with it comes more than just the pitter patter of raindrops on your roof. As we begin to see the temperature consistently above zero, and climbing, many homeowners will dive into their next home improvement project 

If you're one of the many homeowners undertaking a spring project, consider the following: renovations can be a disruptive activity and it's important to be aware of what it is you're disrupting. Some projects create a mess of dirt and debris, and some create, or rather expose, more dangerous substances. 

In last month's March Poll we asked you to look at a picture and tell us what was or wasn't wrong with it. Although everyone polled did agree that the photo showed a problem, only 30% identified the possible presence of asbestos in the tiles. In light of the limited knowledge homeowners have with respect to asbestos and mould, and the start of renovation season, we thought it was a great time to discuss the more hazardous materials home construction can unearth.   



Prior to the mid-1980s, asbestos was commonly used in many household items, like flooring, insulation, and around pipes. Asbestos minerals tend to separate into microscopic particles that become airborne and are easily inhaled. As long as it is undisturbed, neither the asbestos fibers nor the dust will be released into the air. However, when it is disturbed, it becomes dangerous. Exposure to asbestos can cause individuals to develop several types of life-threatening diseases, including lung cancer. Like any hazards, length and intensity of exposure are major factors in the risk of asbestos-related respiratory illness.

If the renovations that you're doing involve areas or items that may contain asbestos, it's important to have an asbestos inspection performed. An asbestos inspection includes: 

  • A complete visual inspection of the entire home for materials suspected to contain asbestos
  • A sampling of materials that are suspected to contain asbestos - according to O. Reg. 278/05
  • A report summarizing the results of the sampling and investigation

If there are asbestos containing materials that are going to be damaged, disturbed or removed by the renovation, the safe approach is to have the materials removed by a qualified contractor.

Think this is a DIY project? Think again! Disposable respirators or dust masks are not appropriate for asbestos - always hire a professional. Never do this work on your ownCarson Dunlop can help by providing a qualified inspection partner to test areas of your home that may be of a concern for you. Call 800-268-7070 to learn more.


MouldIf you're performing renovations in your basement, bathroom, or any area of your home that sees a lot of moisture, you may encounter mould. Mould can easily hide behind tiles and drywall, and can be found anywhere in the home.

You can't rely on the naked eye, or on mould colour, to identify moulds and their threat to your health and the health of your family. Home test kits can be unreliable too. Not only are you not an expert but the tools can often be faulty if not used correctly. 

Since it's normal for mould to be present in the air and in buildings, its mere existence is not necessarily a cause for alarm. But if mould is present in indoor air at levels higher than would be found in outdoor air, or if a significant mould colony is growing on building surfaces, it could be cause for concern. For this reason, we advise homeowners to have a mould inspection performed if there is any indication that a substantial amount of mould is present in the home. A mould inspection includes: 

  • A complete visual inspection of the entire home from the basement to the attic for signs of water intrusion and mould growth
  • Moisture readings collected throughout the home
  • Two indoor air samples and one outdoor air sample (for reference)
  • A report, which summarizes the results of the samples and investigation

An environmental specialist will help to identify the type of mould in your home, its concentration, and advise you on remediation costs and approaches. Call 800-268-7070 to book a mould inspection. 

How we can Help Home Buyers & Homeowners

ConsultationThe scope of a Home Inspection, as defined by both the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors and the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors, does not include environmental testing. This means that items like asbestos and mould are not covered in a Home Inspection as these materials require sampling and testing that Home Inspectors are not equipped to perform. In addition, they are usually hidden behind walls or under carpet, completely out of sight, so a non-invasive inspection would not encounter them.

We recognize that even though they aren't included in a Home Inspection, mould and asbestos can be a major concern for homeowners. We offer environmental testing through our partners that can be scheduled at any time through our service centre. We have even redesigned our Home Buyer's Inspections to include the option to have clients get their new home tested for hazardous materials at the same time as we do a regular Home Inspection.

Hazardous materials can be encountered during any stage of homeownership, and we're committed to our clients for as long as they own their homes. An environmental assessment can be performed prior to the Home Inspection, during the inspection, or several years after the inspection has taken place. If you are planning on undertaking a renovation this season and haven't had your property assessed for hazardous materials, we'd encourage you to do so.

Interested in more home renovation advice? Check out our useful resource on Home Improvement Costs. Have a more detailed question on Spring renovations? Connect with us on Twitter and Facebook and we'll do our best to help out.  

Topics: Mold, Air Quality, Home Inspection, Home Inspector Advice, Monthly Newsletters, Carson Dunlop, Specialty Services, Homeowner Tips, Newsletter

Energy Efficiency: Tips to Save Money & Reduce Consumption

Posted by Thea Scrimger on Apr 2, 2014 9:20:00 AM

EnergyThe Ontario Energy Board has approved Enbridge Gas Distribution's application to increase the price of the rates it charges for natural gas by 40%. This increase is set to come into effect on April 1, 2014. Enbridge cited the recent ice storm, and the duration of this winter, as the reasons for this raise. As CBC News Toronto reports, “Enbridge said the higher costs are the result of colder than normal weather over the past winter and higher natural gas prices forecast for the next year.”* Enbridge is not alone in its increase as “Union Gas and NRG, Ontario's two other natural gas distributors have also applied to increase their rates.”*

Homes with gas-fueled heating systems are not the only ones affected by this weather-driven price increase. “Propane customers in eastern Ontario and western Quebec saw their home heating bills nearly double in January and February compared with what they were paying in November.”**

The Toronto Star is also reporting that Toronto Hydro has increased its rates, and that “residents can expect their hydro bills to jump by about a $1 a month in May.”*** While that figure is much less than Enbridge’s proposal, there are more raises to come, as “the company wants to charge increases more than double that amount in each year from 2015 to 2019.”*** Although their proposal for annual price increases has not yet been approved by the Ontario Energy Board, the mere fact that it is on the table further shows that there is a change coming in the price of household services.

Although homeowners can’t fight these increases on a larger scale, they can change their behavior at home to limit the new costs they may incur. Consider the energy-saving tips below as you see your heating and hydro bills increasing.

Heating SystemControl Your Heating & Cooling Systems - Turn down your furnace (and air conditioner, if summer ever arrives) when you go to bed and when you leave your home.

While we’re not suggesting that you sleep in your winter coat, most people don’t require the same temperature to sleep comfortably as they do when they’re awake and out of bed. Take advantage of your blanket and turn the heat down when you get under the covers. We don’t encourage homeowners to lower their furnaces to below 15 degrees Celsius or 60 degrees Fahrenheit as this creates the threat of frozen pipes and flooding. That said, do turn your heating system down to a responsible level when you’re going to bed or leaving house for an extended period of time.   

Don't Forget Your Filter - Check and change your furnace and air conditioner filters on a monthly basis.

Furnace filters help to protect the system and the air it heats from dust, dander, spores, and pollen. Keeping these particles out means they collect on the filter. When not dealt with regularly, this build-up makes the filter less effective, making it work harder and not achieve the same results – clean air!

Most furnace filters are located in the fresh air return, which can be placed on either side of the furnace. You’ll first need to determine whether or not you should purchase a cleanable or disposable filter. Furnace filters can range from $5 to $30 depending on the type of filter you select.

Helpful Tip: Write down the size of your existing furnace filter before going to purchase a new one.

Time Matters - If you have a "smart meter", only use your major appliances (dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, etc.) during off-peak times.

If your house has a “smart meter”, your utility has the option of charging different rates throughout the day, depending on whether they are popular or unpopular times for usage. As such, it’s important to be aware of peak and off-peak times to use your appliances. Mondays after work might be the most convenient time for you to do your laundry, but it’s also one of the most expensive.


Check out our infographic above to note peak and off-peak times to use your appliances. Visit the Ontario Energy Board website to learn more about “smart meters” and how peak times are determined.

ComputerPull the Plug - Unplug your appliances at night and when not in use for an extended period of time to avoid phantom energy consumption.

You might not know this, but many of your appliances will continue to draw a small amount of power when they aren’t turned on or in use. This is called “phantom power”. To limit the amount of ghosts in your home, unplug your appliances, like your TV, computer, or toaster (not your stove or fridge). It may be a bit of a hassle to plug in your TV every time you want to watch it, but this is a good method of conserving energy and saving money. 

Stop Losing Heat & Air - Improve the weatherstripping around your doors and windows, and, where possible, seal the cracks around your home.

Homes aren’t airtight – we need air to breathe! They are, however, usually a little draftier than we (and your wallet) would need. Check the exterior of your home and seal any unnecessary openings with weather-resistant sealant. Make sure doors and windows are flush against their frames and sill, and use weatherstripping to fill any gaps. This will help to keep your home the desired temperature without having your heating and cooling systems working harder than they have to.

We hope the items above help to keep your home running more efficiently and your wallet to stay a bit fuller. If there are home maintenance issues we’ve yet to discuss, comment below or connect with us on Twitter and Facebook and we’ll do our best to help out.


*SOURCE: CBC News Toronto - http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/enbridge-s-400-per-year-gas-hike-approved-by-regulator-1.2589608#00546033
**SOURCE: CBC News Toronto - http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/enbridge-seeks-40-natural-gas-price-increase-1.2572366
***SOURCE: Toronto Star, John Spears - http://www.thestar.com/business/2014/03/11/pay_up_or_spend_more_time_in_the

Topics: Home Inspector Advice, Energy Consumption, Energy Saving, Carson Dunlop, Homeowner Tips, Extreme Weather

Preventing a Spring Break In: Protecting Your Home When You're on Vacation

Posted by Thea Scrimger on Mar 24, 2014 8:29:00 AM



Although Spring technically begins on March 21st, the snow, bitter winds, and extremely cold temperatures we're currently experiencing suggest that the change of seasons is likely more than a few days away. Since warm, sunny days aren't quite on the horizon, many will be travelling to escape Old Man Winter's chilly grasp. 

If you're choosing sun and surf over shoveling your driveway, there are some maintenance items you should perform around your home to help limit your energy consumption and keep your property safe. As you pack sunscreen and sunglasses instead of scarves and mittens, consider the following chores to protect your home and your wallet.

Energy Consumption

  • Change the Setting on your Water Heater

Turning down your water heater while you're away can help reduce overall costs and energy consumption. Newer units will usually have a "vacation mode" so you can easily adjust your setting. However, if yours doesn't have this feature, simply adjust the unit to its lowest setting to achieve the same results. 

Do not turn your unit off completely! Restarting it can sometimes require a technician, and tends to be a bit of a hassle.

  • Lower your Furnace TemperatureFurnace

If you know your home is going to be vacant for at least a week, it's a good idea to keep your furnace on, but at a low setting. We recommend keeping it above 15 degrees Celsius or 60 degrees Fahrenheit - this will help to save money and energy, without the threat of freezing water, burst pipes, or flooding.

  • Pull the Plug on your Electronics

You might not know this, but many of your appliances will continue to draw a small amount of power when they aren't turned on or in use. If you're going to be away for an extended period of time, we'd advise that you unplug your appliances, like your TV, computer, or toaster, (not your stove or fridge), to help to curb energy loss and protect these items from getting damaged in power surges.

Home Protection

  • Reroute your Mail

Letters, newspapers, and magazines piled up on your front porch or step can easily alert criminals to your absence. If you know you're going to be out of town long enough to amass a collection of mail, we advise that you arrange with your carriers to have it rerouted or held until you return. This will help to keep your empty home under the radar, and keep you organized - it's a win-win.

  • Put your Front Lights on a Timer

This next tip may seem counter-productive for those focused on energy consumption and efficiency, but it is a good idea to put your front lights on a timer if you are going to be away for several days. This is another measure to protect your home from being the target of criminals. If your home stays dark for a prolonged period, it can alert people to your absence. Having your front lights set to turn on for a few hours each evening will provide the illusion that your home is occupied - without wasting too much electricity. 

  • Be Smart about your Social Sharing

FacebookNothing tells the world "I'm on vacation for a week!" like Tweeting "I'm on vacation for a week! #Aruba #OMGThisBeach #YoureAllJealous". Social media is a large part of many people's lives, which has positives and negatives. It's a great tool to connect and share, but there is such a thing as too much information - especially when it comes to your safety. You may want to Tweet a countdown to your trip, Instagram the sights, and let everyone on Facebook know how awesome the beach is, but if you aren't careful, you could be sending a very different message. To combat your information getting into the wrong hands, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with each platform's privacy settings and ensure that you are only sharing what you want with whom you want. 

  • Use the Buddy System
While we do believe that planning and preparation are key components in maintaining your home, there are some things that are simply out of your control. Major storms and power outages can have an impact on your property, and being on the beach means you likely won't be able to address the damage right away. We encourage homeowners to enlist the help of a friend, family member, or neighbour to check in on their home while they're away. Should your area experience any extreme weather, it's valuable to have someone who can either confirm that your home's systems are functioning normally or assist you in dealing with any issues that have arisen.

We hope that everyone who is travelling this season has a safe and fun trip. Already got away this Spring? March break might be over, but we feel these tips are valuable year-round, so remember them on the next vacation you take. If there's a Home Inspection topic that we've yet to cover on our blog or in our newsletters, make sure to reach out to us on Twitter or Facebook and we'll do our best to help.

Topics: Home Inspector Advice, Monthly Newsletters, Homeowners Association, Carson Dunlop, Homeowner Tips

Furnace Fun Facts: Getting to Know your Favourite Winter Appliance

Posted by Thea Scrimger on Mar 19, 2014 2:56:00 PM

WinterLast month Punxsutawney Phil retreated into his hole after seeing his shadow, indicating that unfortunately an early Spring is not on the horizon. Whether or not you believe that a groundhog can predict when the change of seasons will happen, most people can agree that this severe winter does not show any signs of stopping. Unprecedented amounts of snowfall and record-breaking low temperatures across North America have left many wondering when this weather will end.

As we curse Old Man Winter under our breath and see if there is any way we can afford a last minute trip to the Bahamas, it might be time to accept our fate: winter is here to stay, for at least a little while longer. So let’s show appreciation where appreciation is due and high-five our heating systems – metaphorically, of course -by taking great care of them. Please consider the following furnace “fun facts” as you enjoy the comfort of your warm home.

How do furnaces work?

FurnaceFurnaces distribute their heat by warming the house air as it passes through the furnace. The furnace fan draws cool air in from the rooms through the return registers and ducts. The air is warmed as it passes over a hot metal box inside the furnace cabinet called a heat exchanger. The warm air is pushed out to the rooms through the supply ducts. The house air can be thought of as moving in a loop, passing by the furnace periodically to be reheated.

Gas and oil furnaces have three major components: a heat exchanger, a burner, and a blower. Electric furnaces have a heating element rather than a burner to generate heat. Furnace life expectancies depend on many things, but there are some averages:

  • Conventional and mid-efficiency furnaces typically last about 18 to 25 years.
  • High efficiency furnaces typically last about 15 to 20 years.

Furnaces are usually stored in a cabinet. There are also operating and safety control, and an air filter in the furnace. Gas and oil furnaces have a vent to get rid of the exhaust products. Some furnaces have accessories such as humidifiers or central air conditioning systems. Electronic air cleaners may replace conventional filters.

Why do they sometimes not work?

describe the imageFor most furnaces and boilers, terminal failure is usually a crack or hole in the heat exchanger. Since most of the heat exchanger is not visible, the heat exchanger cannot be fully inspected during a Home Inspection. Because a Home Inspection is not technically exhaustive, the likelihood of failure is based on probability rather than testing or equipment tear-down.

A conventional gas-fired furnace, for example, contains a heat exchanger having an average life expectancy of 18 to 25 years. There are, however, manufacturers of gas-fired, forced-air furnaces whose heat exchangers have a reputation for failing sooner.

Most high efficiency furnaces require more air flow across the heat exchangers than conventional furnaces. Replacing a conventional furnace with a high efficiency furnace can be tricky. Older, smaller ductwork and/or an air conditioning coil can restrict air flow, increasing the temperature rise within the furnace. This can result in premature failure of the heat exchangers and void the warranty. This condition may not be identified in the Home Inspection.

Electric furnaces and boilers contain electric heating elements and controls for the elements. Every single component can be replaced. With age, however, electric systems get to a stage where replacement of the entire unit makes sense due to lost reliability and a lack of available replacement parts.

With individual electric heaters, failure probability is not meaningful, since replacing individual heaters is not a significant expense. Electric heating elements are like light bulbs. Their life expectancy is not well defined, and their failure can’t be accurately predicted.

If you want to learn more about your home and enjoyed these tips, order a copy of the Home Reference Book. Was there another home maintenance item you haven’t seen us cover yet? Comment below or let us know on Twitter or Facebook and we’ll do our best to help out. 

Topics: Winter Tips, Carson Dunlop, Homeowner Tips, Heating Systems

Are You Ready to Spring Forward?

Posted by Thea Scrimger on Mar 6, 2014 9:14:00 AM

SpringThough it may seem like winter will never end, we will soon be trading our winter coats for light jackets, and wind chill warnings will be a thing of the past. It may not feel like it, but Spring is right around the corner. In fact, this weekend is the beginning of Spring time - Sunday, March 9th marks the start of daylight savings time. We will be losing an hour of sleep, but gaining sunlight, which, many would agree, is definitely a fair trade.

As we mentioned last November, our semi-annual clock changes can serve as excellent reminders for home maintenance and safety items. They occur right as the weather starts to change, and their frequency helps with important tasks that can easily get overlooked. So before you begin to think about spring cleaning, consider these chores:

Test Your Smoke Alarms & Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon Monoxide Detector

We recommend testing your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on a monthly basis, and changing these devices’ batteries twice a year. The upcoming time change is a great opportunity to get this task out of the way. You should have at least one smoke alarm on every floor of your home, although having more is encouraged. As you go around your house adjusting various clocks – on the microwave, on the stove, by your bed – change each detector’s batteries as well. While you are doing this, check the expiry date printed on the smoke detector. If the unit is past this date, or if it is more than ten years old, it should be replaced. If there is no expiry date, it’s probably more than ten years old.

Not every home comes equipped with a carbon monoxide detector, which means you might not have one. If you don’t have one, it’s not only a good idea to get one, the Ontario government passed a law three months ago making these devices mandatory in every home. Carbon monoxide detectors help to protect homeowners from the dangers related to carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless gas, and high concentrations of it can be deadly. Because of its nature, it is very hard for people to identify its presence. Carbon monoxide detectors sample the air of your home at specific time intervals. A microchip inside the detector stores the reading and keeps track of the level of carbon monoxide that the detector is exposed to over time. If it detects an unsafe level it will notify you in a manner similar to a smoke detector: loud beeping. And like a smoke alarm, it requires the same degree of regular maintenance, so check your carbon monoxide detector on a monthly basis, change its batteries twice a year, and check the expiry date. Carbon monoxide detectors often have only a seven-year life span.

Check Your Attic for Evidence of Leaks & Condensation

How often do you go into your attic? You might think it’s a bit spooky up there, or it may be tricky to access, but start feeling brave and do some stretches, because we advise that homeowners check their attic at least twice a year to see if there’s any evidence of leakage or condensation build-up. The seasonal freeze/thaw cycle can be hard on houses, and the brunt of winter weather abuse is taken on by your roof. Damaged shingles and flashings can leave your home vulnerable to water intrusion and leaks. In addition, improper venting can allow condensation to build up. From your attic you’ll be able to roughly determine how your roof is doing, and if the venting is working, by the amount of moisture you encounter. You should investigate your attic at least twice a year, preferably during the Spring and Fall, to see what effect the more dramatic seasons can have on your roof. 

Keep Your Downspouts, Gutters & Storm Drains Free of Debris

GuttersOne of the most important ways to prepare your home for Spring is to ensure that your water management systems are intact and functioning properly. The extreme snow, wind, and ice storms we experienced this winter may have rendered your gutters, eavestrough, and downspouts ineffective – either breaking or moving them, or filling them with debris. As you perform maintenance around your home this weekend, take some time to check your gutters to make sure they are clear of leaves, twigs, or excess snow, so water can effectively drain through them. While checking your gutters, look at your downspouts to see if they’ve suffered any damage. They should extend at least six feet from your home, so that they can effectively direct water away from your foundation.

Spring is a time of heavy rain and rapidly increasing temperatures, and although presently it’s still cold and frozen, this will not last. As you prepare your own water management systems for the change of season, it might also be valuable to check the City’s. The same snow and debris that can obstruct your gutters and downspouts can also affect your storm drain. When checking your gutters and downspouts make sure your storm drain is unobstructed so that your curb or sidewalk doesn’t experience any flooding during periods of major rainfall.

Additional Spring Chores

When the weather does finally warm up and there is no question that spring has arrived, there will be some additional maintenance for homeowners to perform. These chores can include:

  • Turning exterior water faucets back on
  • Cutting back trees and shrubs from your house walls, roof, and air conditioning systems (as needed)
  • Changing your window and door panels from glass to screens

Although we are losing an hour on Sunday, that does mean we’re one step closer to Spring. We’d like to encourage homeowners to complete the tasks above to ensure that their home is ready for the change in seasons. Want more Spring tips? Check in with us on Twitter & Facebook for more home maintenance advice. 

Topics: Home Inspector Advice, Carson Dunlop, Homeowner Tips