Orillia Home Inspector Tips

Providing Valuable Home Owner Resources for Maintenance

Category: Foundations

Purchasing a Century Home

Don't Buy a Money PitPurchasing a Century Home requires doing your homework.  When buying an older home you are usually buying a home with built in character which has withstood the test of time and is hopefully still in living condition. There are some common issues that you might discover when purchasing an older home. Having your home inspected by someone with years of experience is paramount to ensure you invest your money wisely.  I have listed some of basic problems encountered over the years..

Your century homes foundation is probably constructed of cement and rock. Older homes do not have exterior waterproofing and there will be no weeping tile draining into sump. This inspection area is one of the most important and expensive to repair if faulty.  Many century homes will have little trenches in concrete around perimeter that drain into a dug drain hole.

Knob and tube wiring was typically installed in older homes when electricity became available. You have to have a home inspector or electrician check to ensure all the knob and tube wiring was replaced, many times I have found live Knob and Tube in service chases or in attics. Even if knob and tube was upgraded, the installed cable may not have a ground wire attached.  Some homes have upgraded outlets but no ground is not available.

Asbestos was installed in most older homes as it was the insulation of choice back in theold boiler - asbestos removed day.  Many older homes had hot water boilers with cast iron radiators. This systems were typically insulated with asbestos insulation. Many times during an inspection I find the basement asbestos has been removed but the heat ducts passing through the home still have asbestos insulation attached.  Asbestos requires professional removal which is very expensive.

Lead plumbing pipes and galvanized plumbing lines can be very expensive to replace and were used on most older homes. Most insurance companies in Ontario will not insure a home with galvanized plumbing pipes. Galvanized pipes are past their life expectancy and there is the possibility of water contamination from corroding pipes.

Older homes may have many layers of lead paint which has built up over the years. Lead-based paint is a major source of lead poisoning for children and can also affect adults. In children, lead poisoning can cause irreversible brain damage and can impair mental functioning. It can retard mental and physical development and reduce attention span. It can also retard fetal development even at extremely low levels of lead. Thus, young children, fetuses, infants, and adults with high blood pressure are the most vulnerable to the effects of lead.

Your house is old and gorgeous but how is it heated.  During inspections I have had clientsOil Tank Costs who were quite surprised to learn that the only heat on second floor were some grilles in the floor.  So much for privacy or toasty warm beds.  Also older homes sometimes buried their oil tanks which is no longer permitted.  Removing a buried oil tank can easily cost upwards of $20,000.00 and if it has leaked, the sky’s the limit on costs.

The Orillia Home Inspector has over ten years of experience in inspecting Century Homes and is also a Certified Building Code Official with the Ontario Building Officials Association.

Inspecting Century Homes

Poor Foundation Support Footing

Today’s home buyers cannot seem to get enough old fashioned Century Homes. Many times when inspecting a well maintained century home there was multiple offers on property and often a “bidding war”. Century homes can require a lot of time and money to restore to their former splendour. Century homes can sometimes be either a money pit or a beautiful example of restoration, and sometimes it is hard for the home buyer to recognize the difference. Any home that has stood the test of time has most likely had many renovations over the years and at least some of them may have been “do it yourself” projects. It takes a professionally trained eye to spot the differences in workmanship but the end result could make a difference in thousands of dollars in repairs if deficiencies are not identified.

There are some common deficiencies that maybe an issue with century homes and if the seller have not properly dealt with them the new owners will most likely be dismayed to discover the amount of work and costs they could be facing. Some of the more standard issues found are structural, asbestos, knob and tube wiring, 60 amp service and galvanized plumbing. Building materials and construction methods have changed dramatically over the years. Materials once used in normal practice are now considered toxic and may require expensive remediation.

Stone Foundation is Failing

Foundations on a century home were typically different on every home. There were no enforced building codes years ago and everyones home was constructed differently although basic concepts remained the same. Most foundations are supported on rock and cement walls. Most of these old style foundations will still be standing long after we have gone. Water issues can affect the integrity of mortar between rocks and if you have signs of movement you may have to bring in a structural engineer for guidance. If your mortar is failing or deteriorating you can remove loose bits and re-point the stones and even give it a coat of white wash for more appealing look. If your wall is bowing or showing other signs of significant movement there may be an issue with expansive soils causing pressure on your foundation wall. This will require the services of a an experienced foundation contractor and will most likely be an expensive repair. Some foundations may require a sister wall to be poured to strengthen the existing foundation, this also is a job for an experienced contractor. Many older homes have a concrete base poured around the existing foundation to add to stability and prevent movement.

We deliver a narrative style report which includes pictures of every deficiency.  Our report is broken down into individual sections which make it easy to comprehend and digest the detailed information provided.  Industry standard maintenance suggestions are provided for the individual defects noted.  A handy PDF copy of report is also included which maybe emailed to contractors or used in negotiations.

When contemplating the purchase of  an older home, call Roger at 705-795-8255 to Book your Century Home Inspection

Masonry Blocks and Mortar

Masonry Blocks and Mortar Explained.  One of the most common masonry units is the concrete block. It consists of hardened cement and may be completely solid or contain single or multiple hollows. It is made from conventional cement mixes and various types of aggregate. These include sand, gravel, crushed stone, air-cooled slag, coal cinders, expanded shale or clay, expanded slag, volcanic cinders (pozzolan), pumice, and “scotia” (refuse obtained from metal ore reduction and smelting). The term “concrete block” was formerly limited to only hollow masonry units made with such aggregates as sand, gravel, and crushed stone. Today, the term covers all types of concrete block-both hollow and solid—made with any kind of aggregate. Concrete blocks are also available with applied glazed surfaces, various pierced designs, and a wide variety of surface textures. Although concrete block is made in many sizes and shapes (figure 8-4) and in both modular and nonmodular dimensions, its most common unit size is 7 5/8 by 7 5/8 by 15 5/8 inches. This size is known as 8-by-8-by- 16-inch block nominal size. All concrete block must meet certain specifications covering size, type, weight, moisture content, compressive strength, and other characteristics. Properly designed and constructed, concrete masonry walls satisfy many building requirements, including fire prevention, safety, durability, economy, appearance, utility, comfort, and acoustics. Figure 8-4.-Typical unit sizes and shapes of concrete masonry units. Concrete blocks are used in all types of masonry construction. The following are just a few of many examples:

  • Exterior load-bearing walls (both below and above grade)
  • Interior load-bearing walls
  • Fire walls and curtain walls
  • Partitions and panel walks
  • Backing for brick, stone, and other facings; Fireproofing over structural members
  • Fire safe walls around stairwells, elevators, and enclosures
  • Piers and columns; Retaining walls
  • Chimneys
  • Concrete floor units

There are five main types of concrete masonry units:

  1. Hollow load-bearing concrete block
  2. Solid load-bearing concrete block
  3. Hollow nonload-bearing concrete block
  4. Concrete building tile
  5. Concrete brick

Load-bearing blocks are available in two grades: N and S. Grade N is for general use, such as exterior walls both above and below grade that may or may not be exposed to moisture penetration or weather. Both grades are also used for backup and interior walls. Grade S is for above-grade exterior walls with a weather-protective coating and for interior walls. The grades are further subdivided into two types.

Type I consists of moisture-controlled units for use in arid climates.

Type II consists of nonmoisturecontrolled units. Typical unit sizes and shapes of concrete masonry units—Continued.

BLOCK SIZES AND SHAPES Concrete masonry units are available in many sizes and shapes to tit different construction needs. Both full- and half-length sizes are shown in figure 8-4. Because concrete block sizes usually refer to nominal dimensions, a unit actually measuring 7 5/8-by-7 5/8-by-15 5/8-inches is called an 8-by-8-by-16-inch block. When laid with 3/8-inch mortar joints, the unit should occupy a space exactly 8-by-8-by- 16 inches. ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) specifications define a solid concrete block as having a core area not more than 25 percent of the gross cross-sectional area. Most concrete bricks are solid and sometimes have a recessed surface like the frogged brick shown in figure 8-4. In contrast, a hollow concrete block has a core area greater than 25 percent of its gross cross-sectional area-generally 40 percent to 50 percent. Blocks are considered heavyweight or lightweight, depending on the aggregate used in their production. A hollow load-bearing concrete block 8-by-8-by- 16-inches nominal size weighs from 40 to 50 pounds when made with heavyweight aggregate, such as sand, gravel, crushed stone, or air-cooled slag. The same size block weighs only 25 to 35 pounds when made with coal cinders, expanded shale, clay, slag, volcanic cinders, or pumice.

The choice of blocks depends on both the availability and requirements of the intended structure. Blocks may be cut with a chisel. However, it is more convenient and accurate to use a power-driven masonry saw (figure 8-5). Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s manual for operation and maintenance, As with all electrically powered equipment, follow all safety guidelines.

BLOCK MORTAR JOINTS The sides and the recessed ends of a concrete block are called the shell. The material that forms the partitions between the cores is called the web. Each of the long sides of a block is called a face shell. Each of the recessed ends is called an end shell. The vertical ends of the face shells, on either side of the end shells, are called the edges. Bed joints on first courses and bed joints in column construction are mortared by spreading a 1-inch layer of mortar. This procedure is referred to as “full mortar bedding.” For most other bed joints, only the upper edges of the face shells need to be mortared. This is referred to as “face shell mortar bedding.” Head joints may be mortared by buttering both edges of the block being laid or by buttering one edge on the block being laid and the opposite edge on the block already in place.

MASONRY MORTAR Properly mixed and applied mortar is necessary for good workmanship and good masonry service because it must bond the masonry units into a strong, well-knit structure. The mortar that bonds concrete block, brick, or clay tile will be the weakest part of the masonry unless you mix and apply it properly.

When masonry leaks, it is usually through the joints. Both the strength of masonry and its resistance to rain penetration depend largely on the strength of the bond between the masonry unit and the mortar. Various factors affect bond strength, including the type and quantity of the mortar, its plasticity and workability, its water retentivity, the surface texture of the mortar bed, and the quality of workmanship in laying the units. You can correct irregular brick dimensions and shape with a good mortar joint. Workability of Mortar Mortar must be plastic enough to work with a trowel. You obtain good plasticity and workability by using mortar having good water retentivity, using the proper grade of sand, and thorough mixing.

You do not obtain good plasticity by using a lot of cementitious materials. Mortar properties depend largely upon the type of sand it contains. Clean, sharp sand produces excellent mortar, but too much sand causes mortar to segregate, drop off the trowel, and weather poorly. Water Retentivity Water retentivity is the mortar property that resists rapid loss of water to highly absorbent masonry units. Mortar must have water to develop the bond. If it does not contain enough water, the mortar will have poor plasticity and workability, and the bond will be weak and spotty. Sometimes, you must wet brick to control water absorption before applying mortar, but never wet concrete masonry units.

Mortar Strength and Durability The type of service that the masonry must give determines the strength and durability requirements of mortar. For example, walls subject to severe stress or weathering must be laid with more durable, stronger mortar than walls for ordinary service. 

Type M— One part portland cement, one-fourth part hydrated lime or lime putty, and three parts sand; or, one part portland cement, one part type II masonry cement, and six parts sand. Type M mortar is suitable for general use, but is recommended specifically for below-grade masonry that contacts earth, such as foundations, retaining walls, and walks. Type S— One part portland cement, one-half part hydrated lime or lime putty, and four and one-half parts sand; or, one-half part portland cement, one part type II masonry cement, and four and one-half parts sand. Type S mortar is also suitable for general use, but is recommended where high resistance to lateral forces is required.

Type N— One part portland cement, one part hydrated lime or lime putty, and six parts sand; or, one part type II masonry cement and three parts sand. Type N mortar is suitable for general use in above-grade exposed masonry where high compressive or lateral strength is not required. Type O— One part portland cement, two parts hydrated lime or lime putty, and nine parts sand; or, one part type I or type II masonry cement and three parts sand. Type O mortar is recommended for load-bearing, solid-unit walls when the compressive stresses do not exceed 100 pounds per square inch (psi) and the masonry is not subject to freezing and thawing in the presence of a lot of moisture.

MIXING MORTAR The manner in which mortar is mixed has a lot to do with the quality of the final product. In addition to machine and hand mixing, you need to know the requirements for introducing various additives, including water, to the mix in order to achieve optimum results. Machine Mixing Machine mixing refers to mixing large quantities of mortar in a drum-type mixer. Place all dry ingredients in the mixer first and mix them for 1 minute before adding the water. When adding water, you should always add it slowly. Minimum mixing time is 3 minutes. The mortar should be mixed until a completely uniform mixture is obtained. Hand Mixing Hand mixing involves mixing small amounts of mortar by hand in a mortar box or wheelbarrow. Take care to mix all ingredients thoroughly to obtain a uniform mixture. As in machine mixing, mix all dry materials together first before adding water. Keep a steel drum of water close at hand to use as the water supply.

You should also keep all your masonry tools free of hardened mortar mix and dirt by immersing them in water when not in use. Requirements You occasionally need to mix lime putty with mortar. When machine mixing, use a pail to measure the lime putty. Place the putty on top of the sand. When hand mixing, add the sand to the lime putty. Wet pails before filling them with mortar and clean them immediately after emptying. Mixing water for mortar must meet the same quality requirements as mixing water for concrete. Do not use water containing large amounts of dissolved salts. Salts weaken the mortars. You can restore the workability of any mortar that stiffens on the mortar board due to evaporation by remixing it thoroughly. Add water as necessary, but discard any mortar stiffened by initial setting. Because it is difficult to determine the cause of stiffening, a practical guide is to use mortar within 2 1/2 hours after the original mixing. Discard any mortar you do not use within this time.

Do not use an antifreeze admixture to lower the freezing pint of mortars during winter construction. The quantity necessary to lower the freezing point to any appreciable degree is so large it will seriously impair the strength and other desirable properties of the mortar. Do not add more than 2-percent calcium chloride (an accelerator) by weight of cement to mortar to accelerate its hardening rate and increase its early strength. Do not add more than 1-percent calcium chloride to masonry cements. Make a trial mix to find the percentage of calcium chloride that gives the desired hardening rate. Calcium chloride should not be used for steel-reinforced masonry. You can also obtain high early strength in mortars with high-early-strength portland cement.

MODULAR PLANNING Concrete masonry walls should be laid out to make maximum use of full- and half-length units. This minimizes cutting and fitting of units on the job. Length and height of walls, width and height of openings, and wall areas between doors, windows, and corners should be planned to use full-size and half-size units, which are usually available . This procedure assumes that window and door frames are of modular dimensions which fit modular full- and half-size units. Then, all horizontal dimensions should be in multiples of nominal full-length masonry units.

Average Concrete Masonry Units and Mortar per 100 sq. ft. of Wall  Number of 16-Inch Blocks per Course You should always use outside measurements when calculating the number of blocks required per course. For example, a basement 22 feet by 32 feet should require 79 blocks for one complete course. Multiply 79 by the number of courses needed. Thus, a one-course basement requires a total of 790 blocks for a solid wall, from which deductions should be made for windows and doors. If any dimension is an odd number, use the nearest smaller size listed in the table. For example, for a 22-foot by 31-foot enclosure, use 22 feet by 30 feet and add one-half block per row. As a Builder, you might find yourself in the field without the tables handy, so here is another method. Use 3/4 times the length and 3/2 times the height for figuring how many 8-by-8-by-16-inch blocks you need for a wall. Let’s take an example: Given: A wall 20 ft long x 8 ft high

3/4 x 20 = 60 + 4 = 15    (8? x 8? x 16?  block per course) 3/2 x 8 = 24 ÷ 2  = 12 courses high 15 x 12 = 180 total blocks

ESTIMATING MORTAR You can use “rule 38? for calculating the raw material needed to mix 1 yard of mortar without a great deal of paperwork. This rule does not, however, accurately calculate the required raw materials for large masonry construction jobs. For larger jobs, use the absolute volume or weight formula. In most cases, though, and particularly in advanced base construction, you can use rule 38 to quickly estimate the quantities of the required raw materials. Builders have found that it takes about 38 cubic feet of raw materials to make 1 cubic yard of mortar. In using rule 38 for calculating mortar, take the rule number and divide it by the sum of the quantity figures specified in the mix. For example, let’s assume that the building specifications call for a 1:3 mix for mortar, 1 + 3 = 4. Since 38 ÷ 4 = 9½, you’ll need 9½ sacks, or 9½ cubic feet, of cement. To calculate the amount of fine aggregate (sand), you multiply 9½ by 3. The product (28½ cubic feet) is the amount of sand you need to mix 1 cubic yard of mortar using a 1:3 mix. The sum of the two required quantities should always equal 38. This is how you can check whether you are using the correct amounts. In the above example, 9½ sacks of cement plus 28½ cubic feet of sand equal 38. SAFE HANDLING OF MATERIAL When you handle cement or lime bags, wear goggles and snug-fitting neckbands and wristbands. Always practice good personal cleanliness and never wear clothing that has become stiff with cement. Cement-impregnated clothing irritates the skin and may cause serious infection. Any susceptibility of the skin to cement and lime burns should be reported. Personnel who are allergic to cement or lime should be transferred to other jobs. Bags of cement or lime should not be piled more than 10 bags high on a pallet. The only exception is when storage is in bins or enclosures built for such storage. The bags around the outside of the pallet should be placed with the mouths of the bags facing the center, The first five tiers of bags each way from any corner must be cross piled. A setback starting with the sixth tier should be made to prevent piled bags from falling outward. If you have to pile bags above 10 tiers, another setback must be made. The back tier, when not resting against an interior wall of sufficient strength to withstand the pressure, should be set back one bag every five tiers, the same as the end tiers. During unpiling, the entire top of the pile should be kept level and the necessary setbacks maintained. Lime and cement must be stored in a dry place. This helps prevent lime from crumbling and the cement from hydrating before it is used.


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