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Have you ever wondered why your neighbors never surface from their home, rarely have any garbage to pick up, always have the blinds down or windows covered, come and go at unusual hours and never invite you over for a barbecue? If this is the case, there is a possibility you are living beside a grow house. With an estimated 50,000 grow houses in Canada, there is growing concern about health, fire, safety, and structural implications for home buyers. But what risk is there in owning a grow home?
What is a grow house?
A grow house is a home that has been converted into a marijuana operation. Larger homes in quiet areas with unfinished basements are preferred, although grow houses can exist in any neighborhood.
What are the signs and the risks?
There must be ideal greenhouse conditions for these operations. The electrical system is usually altered to power the hydroponic equipment. Operators may also steal electricity by tapping into the electrical service before it enters the electrical meter, and bring power into the house through a hole in the foundation. Additional circuitry is usually added inside the home to bring electrical power to the equipment, and operators rarely make sure that these alterations meet electrical codes. While these modifications can create a hazardous electrical situation, improvements can be made to ensure the electrical system remains safe for a potential homebuyer. Holes cut in the foundation wall can be repaired as well, but if not done properly, the potential for water leakage remains.
Plants require light, ideal temperature, water and nutrients in order to thrive, and with the heat generated by hydroponic lighting, a significant amount of humidity is produced in the process. While humans, animals, and plants need humidity, too much can cause mould, mildew, and rot to form in the home, especially in or on exterior surfaces. Often, modifications are made to the home to help vent the excess humidity to the outdoors and bring in fresh air from the outside. Fireplaces and chimneys can be used as channels for removing excess moisture. Structural members such as floor and ceiling joists are sometimes cut to accommodate additional ductwork. The structural integrity of the home may be compromised by the combination of cut framing members and high humidity. Signs of high humidity are usually most visible in attic spaces, where the moist air is often dumped. Darkening of attic surfaces is generally a good indicator that mould and mildew are present.
Mould comes in many colors and may be visible and distinct. It can also be very subtle. Surface mould may be the tip of an iceberg, with considerable mould concealed behind the wall. In other cases, the mould is only on the surface. The toughest situation occurs when the mould is not visible. Home inspectors pay particular attention to intersecting walls and ceilings where air circulation is poor or areas that have been chronically damp or wet. The good news is that many grow houses are in operation for less than a year, which may not be enough time for mould to thrive and cause serious structural damage.
Look for painted concrete floors in the basement, and walls that have been painted white to reflect light. Screw holes and patches are often visible in the foundation wall where equipment was mounted above the floor level to avoid any water on the floor. Multiple splices in the plumbing system may be present to nourish the crop. Chemical odors, including fertilizers and pesticides are also used, which can create health hazards through poor indoor air quality.
While it is expected that realtors who are representing sellers or landlords of these properties should make every effort to ensure that all parties are notified of the potential issues, a home inspection can help quantify the severity of these issues. In most cases, with proper clean-up and some repair, these homes can be lived in without concern. Unfortunately, insurance companies are also being very cautious and focusing on reducing loss ratios, not on acquiring business, making it more difficult to get insurance on high risk homes such as grow homes. By exercising good judgment and due diligence in obtaining proper information on the condition of the home, purchasers can rest easy knowing that with a little tender loving care, the home will provide the comfort and security they deserve.
A home inspector can encounter a lot of horrors in a day’s work. The job entails:
These are a home inspector’s 10 worst nightmares…
Water in a crawlspace in a new home, now that’s scary. Potentially, this leakage can reoccur in the future if not repaired correctly. This water, as it evaporates, creates ongoing high humidity in the home and it can support mould growth in attics and roof spaces when it condenses.
In order to create more storage in the attic, a home owner has cut engineered roof trusses, without a permit… and without adding any reinforcement. Likely, the roof will sag in time, and possibly collapse during heavy snow or wind loads.
Every time the toilet flushed, sewage entered the crawlspace through the missing clean-out cap. Nasty for the poor home inspector, never mind the new buyer. Multiple issues for the home owner: health, sanitation, odour and moisture.
When home owners converted from oil to natural gas furnaces, they simply left the buried oil tank in the ground. Problem is, some home owners did not pump the oil out of the tank. These metal tanks eventually corrode and the oil leaks out, contaminating the surrounding soil. We’ve all heard about the $150,000 clean-up bill. Scary to the pocketbook.
The scary part is that rainscreen technology, which is mandatory on newly constructed and remediated buildings, has been part of building science since the 1960s, but never adopted into the Canadian National Building Code.
This photo is of ceiling mould in a bedroom closet. There was zero attic insulation above this area, so warm, moist air from the home’s interior was condensing on the cooler drywall ceiling, creating the moisture the mould needed. The scary part: children and the elderly are most susceptible to continual exposure and possible long-term health effects. In extreme cases, mould can be toxic.
The physical damage from a grow-op can be substantial and, if not correctly remediated, can have health, structural and moisture-related issues. Obtaining home insurance can be difficult and may include additional costs.
Most people looking at this addition know this is wrong. Where is it going to leak? Home inspectors see additions, basement suites and general renovations with the associated unprofessional and often scary (i.e., dangerous) roofing, structural, electrical, plumbing and heating modifications. In extreme cases, the upgrades need to be partially or totally removed and redone.
This mouse got stuck between the fan blade and the fan housing. You would think the home owner would have checked why his fan blades weren’t turning. I often see signs of rodents in attics and crawlspaces. It’s scary thinking this carcass is decomposing so close to your food. Yuck!! Upon seeing this, some people would have continual nightmares. Is this the only mouse in the house?? Perhaps that’s why this home is for sale!
I won’t show you the ghostly picture of the dead cat in a crawlspace. Not a serious matter, but scary and disturbing for the home inspector (me). BTW, the owner had no knowledge of it. Live baby raccoons in a house attic can be a very serious matter. For one thing, they did some roof damage to enter the attic. On top of that, they’re using the attic as their toilet. Significant repairs and clean-up after they move out.
Q: HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN BUSINESS?
Home inspectors come and go. We have been in business for over 5 years and are here to stay. We will be here if you have a question or a problem down the road.
Q: WHAT ARE YOUR INSPECTORS' QUALIFICATIONS? The industry is essentially regulated but there are three different associations. CAHPI has the highest standards of the three which we are a proud member of.
Q: CAN I FOLLOW ALONG AT THE INSPECTION? We actually encourage you to attend. This is a valuable learning experience for most home buyers. It is the perfect opportunity to ask specific questions about the condition of the home. Also, where defects are identified, the inspector can discuss these so that you understand what repairs are required.
Q: DO YOU DO REPAIRS OR RECOMMEND CONTRACTORS? No. We are an inspection firm specializing in home inspections. We consider it a conflict of interest for a home inspector to recommend or refer a contractor to perform repairs.
Q: HOW MUCH DOES AN INSPECTION COST? Some factors will affect the fee. If you are comparing home inspection firms, the fee charged should not be the sole deciding factor, unless of course the level of service offered is identical.
We suspect the house you are buying is not the cheapest house, but rather a house that you feel represents good value. We urge you to choose your home inspector the same way.
Q: HOW LONG DOES AN INSPECTION TAKE?
A typical home inspection takes between 2.5 and 3 hours plus the report writing time. Some older and/or larger homes can take longer. As a courtesy to the vendor, they should be informed of the time involved once the inspection is arranged.
Q: DO YOU PROVIDE A WRITTEN REPORT?
Yes. We will provide you with a computer generated report complete with illustrations and digital pictures. There will also be important maintenance tips in the report so that you can maintain you new home.
Q: CAN WE CONTACT YOU WITH QUESTIONS AFTER THE INSPECTION?
Yes. We offer free technical support after the inspection for as long as you live in the home. Simply call us or email us with any questions.
Q: WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT? We inspect the major systems of the house. These include the Roof, Exterior, Structure, Electrical, Heating, Cooling, Plumbing, Insulation and Interior. The goal is to identify any existing major problems that would affect a typical purchasers buying decision.
We will add significantly to your knowledge of the home, but still cannot tell you everything about the house. All home inspections are entirely visual. No destructive testing is performed. The inspection and report will put you in a much better position to make your decision.
Q: CAN YOU PROVIDE ME WITH ANY REFERENCES?
We cannot give out our client’s information as all home inspection are confidential but we do post customer testimonials on our website for you to read.
Q: DO YOU LOOK FOR UFFI? The only way to guarantee that UFFI is not present somewhere in the house is to remove all of the interior finishes. Obviously, this is not possible. Looking for application holes, or drilling the odd hole is not enough. If we should see evidence of a UFFI installation or uncover a material we suspect to be UFFI, we will inform you.
Q: IF THE HOME IS REALLY BAD, WILL YOU TELL US NOT TO BUY THE HOUSE?
No. Our goal is to report on the condition of the house, indicating potential repairs and expenses. Ultimately, it is your decision as to whether or not to purchase the home. The home inspection is very important but it is only one piece of the puzzle. Only you know all the factors at play.
Pre-Inspected Listings, The Future of Real Estate Home inspections have traditionally been for the benefit of the purchaser. Pre-inspected listings benefit all parties - purchasers, vendors and Realtors.
Deals Won't Fall Through
Home inspections, performed as a condition of the offer, can kill deals. Sometimes this is because the purchaser gets cold feet; sometimes there's a big problem no one knew about. Sometimes it is because the house has been misrepresented; sometimes it is because the home inspector scared the purchasers by not explaining that minor and typical problems are just that - minor and typical.
If the home inspection is performed prior to the house being listed, all parties will be aware of the physical condition of the house before an offer is drawn. There will be no surprises after the fact. Deals will not fall through.
Pre-inspected Listings Avoid Renegotiation
In a buyers' market, most houses have to be sold twice. It takes a lot of work to get a signed Agreement of Purchase andSale. Then the home inspection is done and the purchaser wants to renegotiate.
If all parties know the condition of the house prior to the offer, there is no need for renegotiation. As most real estate agents know, renegotiation is very difficult. Vendors have already mentally sold the house; purchasers are suffering buyers' remorse. Egos, pride and frustration can muddy the already emotional waters.
A vendor who pays for a home inspection will be further ahead than one who has to renegotiate. He of she may even sell the house faster.
An inspection at the time of listing can also help a Realtor deal with a vendor who has unrealistic expectations. The inspection report is good ammunition for explaining why you can't ask top bucks for a house which is not in top condition.
Repairs Prior To Sale
Sometimes, the home inspection will reveal items which should be repaired immediately. A pre-inspected listing allows the vendor to repair the problem prior to putting the house on the market.
If the inspection occurs after the Agreement of Purchase andSale, the purchaser could walk, renegotiate or, depending on the inspection clause, the vendor may have the option to repair. A repair done by an unmotivated vendor may not be the best repair and may not meet the purchasers' expectations. This has caused more than one deal not to close.
Peace of Mind for the Purchaser
There is no doubt that part of the value of a home inspection is a guided tour of the house for the prospective purchaser. The inspection company can return to do a walk-through with the purchaser, if requested.
Reputable Inspection Companies
Pre-inspected listings will only have value if the home inspection company is perceived to be reputable, qualified and properly insured. Prospective purchasers will have little or no faith in a report done by someone they perceive to be in the vendors', or Realtors' pocket.
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