Crawl-space is­sue un­cov­ers big­ger prob­lem

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - ARI MARANTZ

QUES­TION: I have a ques­tion about my home and hope you can pro­vide some ad­vice or at least re­lieve my trou­bled mind.

Last Novem­ber I pur­chased and moved into a small “slab” house in the Cres­cent­wood area of Win­nipeg, a wartime house built in the for­ties. It has a crawl space. The fur­nace and hot wa­ter tank are in the crawl space, and not much else ex­cept a sump pump. The outer con­crete “walls” are in­su­lated. The beams and floor­ing are open and vis­i­ble from the crawl space.

When I pur­chased the home, I did not want to write an of­fer that was “sub­ject to an in­spec­tion” be­cause I was afraid I would lose out to an­other pur­chaser. Af­ter tak­ing pos­ses­sion, I have found that I have a few con­cerns.

The first is­sue is that the crawl space smells mouldy, es­pe­cially in the sum­mer. I’ve made ev­ery ef­fort to en­sure the down­spouts are not clogged and wa­ter is di­rected away from the foun­da­tion. The sump pump is func­tional and kicked in a few times dur­ing the down­pours we ex­pe­ri­enced in the spring. Be­cause of the damp­ness in the crawl space, is there po­ten­tial for rot­ting of the beams and floor­ing?

Se­condly, should the home be tested for radon gas? I’ve checked out the test­ing equip­ment at Rona. It ap­pears to be quite a pro­ce­dure.

I don’t like sur­prises. Is there po­ten­tial for any other prob­lems with this type of home? I don’t know if it is of­ten done af­ter pos­ses­sion, but is an in­spec­tion at this time some­thing you would rec­om­mend?

— Donna Parkhurst, Win­nipeg

AN­SWER: While I have re­ceived sur­pris­ingly few emails like yours, about prob­lems dis­cov­ered af­ter pos­ses­sion of a home that was not sub­ject to a pre-pur­chase in­spec­tion, I do many in­spec­tions af­ter new home­own­ers have moved in. I will ex­plore the con­cern you have with the damp smell in your crawl space while an­swer­ing your other ques­tions about fur­ther test­ing and in­spec­tion.

As any­one at­tempt­ing to pur­chase a pre-owned home in our area has dis­cov­ered in the last few years, it’s be­come a very com­pet­i­tive process. While this ap­pears to have its ebbs and flows, the strong sell­ers’ mar­ket has con­tin­ued, even as the econ­omy has slowed.

Un­for­tu­nately, with this com­pe­ti­tion has come an un­wel­come and dis­turb­ing trend, as you have seen. In­clu­sions of nor­mal clauses in an of­fer-to-pur­chase that pro­tect buy­ers’ in­ter­ests are be­ing omit­ted. Chief among these are in­spec­tion and fi­nanc­ing con­di­tions, which used to be stan­dard in most of­fers. Pres­sure to make “clean” of­fers is com­ing from sell­ers and list­ing agents even when only one or two of­fers are re­ceived.

While I em­pathize with you and all other buy­ers who have been pres­sured to elim­i­nate this crit­i­cal com­po­nent of the nor­mal due-dili­gence prior to pur­chas­ing a home, I don’t un­der­stand the mass hys­te­ria and gen­eral com­pli­ance with this dan­ger­ous trend. With­out a pre-pur­chase in­spec­tion, this enor­mous fi­nan­cial com­mit­ment is truly taken at your own risk. Not know­ing which com­po­nents of a home will need re­place­ment, up­grad­ing or re­pair af­ter pos­ses­sion of­ten leads to sit­u­a­tions like yours, with un­fore­seen prob­lems.

To ad­dress your fi­nal ques­tion first, it would be an ex­cel­lent idea to do a com­plete in­spec­tion of your home even af­ter you have been liv­ing there for sev­eral months. You should still know the con­di­tion of the ma­jor com­po­nents of your home so you can prop­erly pri­or­i­tize and bud­get for up­grades. Reg­u­lar main­te­nance rec­om­men­da­tions and gen­eral in­for­ma­tion in­cluded with the in­spec­tion will also be use­ful.

So­lu­tions for min­i­miz­ing or elim­i­nat­ing the mouldy smell from your crawl space would also be part of this process. While I could pro­vide some of this in­for­ma­tion here, or you could re­search the is­sue on­line, there is no real sub­sti­tute for a hands-on in­spec­tion and ex­pla­na­tion pro­vided by a trained home in­spec­tor.

As one ex­am­ple, the de­scrip­tion of your home as a “slab” home is com­pletely in­ac­cu­rate. If so, it wouldn’t have a crawl space. Slab homes are built di­rectly on grade and sit on a con­crete slab only, which is the deriva­tion of the name. They don’t of­ten have floor joists, so your ques­tion of rot­ted fram- ing would be a moot point if you truly pur­chased this style of home.

The ques­tion of radon test­ing is also a good one and more of a con­cern in a home with ex­posed soil in the crawl space. Radon will en­ter most dwellings through the soil be­neath the build­ing, and a large, open area like your crawl space will put your home at higher risk for soil gas in­tru­sion as well as mois­ture dam­age to the floor com­po­nents. I would cau­tion that the test­ing kits avail­able at re­tail­ers may pro­vide some an­swers, but can be tricky for some peo­ple to use. Their place­ment, as well as ac­cu­rate record­ing of the time of ex­po­sure, are crit­i­cal to radon-test­ing equip­ment. It’s ad­vis­able to con­sult a pro­fes­sional en­vi­ron­men­tal en­gi­neer or radon spe­cial­ist be­fore test­ing. Most ac­cu­rate test­ing re­quires a min­i­mum of three months, done dur­ing the heat­ing sea­son when the home is largely sealed up. Again, de­tails about this process would be avail­able from an ex­pe­ri­enced home in­spec­tor and part of your pre-pur­chase or post-pos­ses­sion in­spec­tion.

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