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A Tale of 2 Renovations

a-tale-of-2-renovations

This week we had the opportunity to do inspections on two renovated houses the 1st house is a 1970  build, and this has had a total makeover. The 2nd was constructed Between 1910 and 1920 and has had a full makeover as well. The quality of both of these renovations is excellent, and the standard of finish is high.

What we are going to compare the properties from the perspective of deciding to purchase. The 1970s is a brick veneer with a metal roof with an attached garage. The 2nd is a 1910 home that has been raised on steel peers and enclosed with a single garage underneath.

Meter box no sticker

Meter box no sticker

From the building inspectors report, 1970 home has a little bit of cracking visible on the external render and comes with an engineering certificate with the recommendation to have additional piers installed. Internally both houses have been renovated and lined with gyprock and outfitted with modern appliances. Turning to the 1970s home by searching through the Internet, we were able to find photos of the home pre-renovation. What we found was that in the 1st level of the home that had previously been just a cavernous area underneath the main body of the house there had been expansion joints visible in the slab had been poured infill. What this means is that without treatment, termites may gain entry into the building. There is no evidence that the slab are suitably waterproofed and have had their termite treatments installed. The slab shows signs of cracking and movement. No treatment sticker located.

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When we look at the Queensland style house we can see that there is evidence of waterproofing around the exterior and visibly see the termite protection in the form of a plastic blanket and besides there is a treatment certificate verifying the installation. Readily presented was all the documentation from the local councils and certifier again confirming the renovation completed in a compliant manner.

Internally both properties had a minor leak one in the kitchen of one home and one in the vanity of the 2nd these were easily repaired and would cause no long-term problem.

leak

Lastly, when we came to the roof void, the 1970s home had no roof access the manhole and been gyprock over and was not available for access. In contrast, the Queensland home had a purpose-built manhole installed in the ensuite, which allowed easy access to the roof space allowing a full and thorough investigation. Having this manhole in place allowed from electrical maintenance when necessary.

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Both of the properties were rated in “above average condition”. Given the opportunity, there is no reason why I would not buy either property myself. The quality of workmanship is high, quality of the renovation is high, and there is no apparent deviation from the building code of Australia for either property. In our reports, we would make the recommendations that all certification be viewed and copied especially for the 1970s property the main reason for this is that when you go to on-sell this property the incoming purchaser will require certification. If the renovation hasn’t been done in a compliant manner, then without that certification you have no recourse to the QBCC.

No access to structural timbers support under deck

No access to structural timbers support under deck

At the time of writing this, no documentation had been received with regards to the 1970s build and the purchase is continuing.

Cracks in Concrete

Crazing

When initially placed, on-site concrete generally contains more water than is required for hydration. When the concrete hardens, and there is a loss of the excess water. This is when shrinkage begins if this shrinkage is retained cracks will form. This cracking is dependent upon the rate of drying the amount of shrinkage the strength and strain, creep elasticity of the concrete if there is any restraint and other more complex factors.

Cutting control joint -and concrete

Cutting control joint and concrete

Typically cracking does not affect the serviceability or longevity of the structure though all cracks are unsightly. In more severe cases, cracking can reduce the serviceability of the structure and should be kept to a minimum.

Shrinkage of concrete, especially from drying, is caused by many things the ratio of water to cement, the actual amount of the concrete, how fine and the mineral composition of the cement, how stiff is the cement, the shape of the poor, the texture, and the type of aggregate used is it fine or course, all affect how and why concrete cracks

When concrete cracks, surveys had revealed that the four leading causes had been problems with construction or supervision of the installation, defects in the design inferior or substandard materials used and lastly the conditions when the concrete was poured, i.e. temperature or humidity.

Cracking can be classified into two categories-1. Cracking that occurs while hardening or before the hardening process has occurred. 2. Cracking that occurs post hardening. How do we recognise various types of cracking? Insufficient expansion joints generally cause shrinkage cracks that may be caused by stress concentration, cracking in feathered sections of the concrete, cracks at doors or window corners these type of cracks in the concrete or insufficient reinforcing.

Other types of cracking occur because of poor drainage of the subgrade this can either be too much or too little moisture all by the quick loss of water from the concrete. Plastics shrinkage is caused by the evaporation of water on the surface of the concrete at a rate higher than can be replaced by the normal transference of moisture to the surface usually caused by high wind, low humidity or higher temperatures or sometimes all 3. This type of cracking can be remedied by surface treatments covering or shading the surface or installing windbreaks et cetera.

Sometimes you can see a pattern that follows the reinforcing in the concrete this is a vertical crack and is caused by the settling of concrete around reinforcing bars especially when the concrete near the surface sets faster than the rest of the concrete and there is settling.

Sometimes cracking can be caused by the overuse of vibrators or small movements by formwork (twisting or swelling of formwork or popping of nails in the form work) in the 1st process of hardening may cause cracks. If the subgrade is unlevel or poorly compacted excessively muddy or not stable for any other reason cracks may extend through the slab before the concrete has acquired relative strength.

Cracks that form after hardening

Generally concrete cannot change it shape without some damage this change in shape may be caused by shrinking because of dryness or because of movement caused by temperature or sometimes may take place because of exposure. In these circumstances, the structure will need to permit movement or cracking may occur because of the extra stresses.

Crazing

Crazing

Crazing in concrete sometimes referred to as shallow map or pattern cracking, do not generally affect the integrity or durability of concrete. They are not pleasant to look at and spoils the finish, and the shrinkage of the top layer causes them they are rarely more than 3 mm deep and are noticeable on trowelled surfaces.

The cause of crazing is normally because of high evaporation rates because of low humidity, high temperature, sunlight or the drying effect of wins on the surface. To whet a mixture where there is excessive concrete and finds at the surface. The use of concrete powder to remove excess water is a common cause. Or a combination of all the above.

Shrinkage cracks occur and can be managed by cutting control joints that manage the direction of the cracking when movement occurs. If cracking results usually it will occur along the control joint. These control joints are usually at logical points of stress; sometimes, these joints I have a pre-moulded material inserted.

In short too much water at the installation stage of the concrete is as dangerous as too little water during the curing stage.

With concrete floors, regardless of how well they are designed or how well they are installed, it would be unrealistic to have the expectation of no cracking. There will always be some amount of cracking and curling on every concrete job and this does not necessarily reflect on the quality of the floor design or the quality of its construction.

6 Common Varieties of Cracks in Concrete

1. When the concrete has not hardened and is full of water.

As this water dissipates, it may leave significant gaps between solid particles in these areas the cement is not as strong and may crack. These are commonly known as plastic shrinkage. This type of crack generally occurs around pipes or corners.

2.Expansion crack

Expansion Joint in Concrete

Expansion Joint in Concrete

Heat will cause concrete to expand, and when it hits another slab or a solid wall, the expansion may cause concrete to crack. This is a logical point to use an expansion joint or isolation joint.

3.Heaving

The ground movement caused by excesses in moisture or dryness causes the soil to move many centimetres, and if the slab is not available to move with the ground, it will crack. Sometimes in the colder areas where the ground freezes under slabs and then thaws, this will create excessive movement.

Tree roots will have a similar effect on the slab. This is very visible when a large tree grows under concrete.

4.Settling cracks.

This occurs where a tree is removed nearby, and the route started to compose, leaving a void underneath the slab. Or more commonly where the ground underneath slabs has been contacted properly, for example with plumbing electricity.

5. Overloading the slab

This is simply placing loads on concrete slabs in excess of their strength. You can see this occurring where large motor vehicles or trucks are parked in driveways.

6. Cracks caused by premature drying

The cause of crazing is normally because of high evaporation rates because of low humidity, high temperature, sunlight or the drying effect of wins on the surface. To whet a mixture where there is excessive concrete and finds at the surface. The use of concrete powder to remove excess water is a common cause. Or a combination of all the above.

When a building inspector reports that the piers are cracked, and you should get an engineer to have a look. What the building inspector is normally talking about is the rust or corrosion in the reinforcing in the piers. This expansion because of the rust in the reinforcing, causes the concrete to crack or explode and will only accelerate with time.

With the older style concrete piers, it is relatively easy to replace the peer with another concrete pier or even a galvanised steel peer. But before that is done, we would strongly recommend that you investigate the cause of the cracking, i.e. where did the moisture come from was from a leaky tap overflow from drain wastewater or a condensate drain from an air conditioner.

Some common concrete terms:

  • Cast in place – this is formed, poured and cured in a permanent position.
  • Cured concrete – concrete that has reached its maximum strength
  • Green concrete – this is concrete that has not hardened or cured it remains hydrated and in the early stages of curing
  • Lightweight concrete – a lightweight concrete mix that is normally used on roof or upper floors.
  • Monolithic concrete –  this is a concrete structure that is of one poor including the footings and the slab concrete.
  • Precast concrete – this is concrete that is poured and cured in another place. These are normally beams or columns exterior walls sometimes lintels.
  • Prestressed concrete –  this is where concrete is poured over tightly drawn steel cables or rods.
  • Reinforced concrete –  this is concrete where wire cables fibre mesh wire mesh or steel rods have been added to allow concrete to resist cracking or movement
  • Admixtures –  accelerators shorten the curing time fly ash a substitute for cement which reduces shrinkage and slows setting. Retarder slows the rate of hardening
  • Aggregate – this may be sand gravel it increases the bulk and can also increase the compression strength of the concrete.
  • Cold joint –  a stop in a poor where the concrete is cured basically a non-continuous poor.
  • Compaction – this refers to the density of the surface on which a concrete slab is poured this process ensures a suitable surface for pouring concrete and prevents slab movement and/or cracking.
  • Expansion joint – the separation between two slabs to allow for movement in the slab by either expansion or contraction due to variations in temperature these joints are normally filled with a synthetic product.
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Building and Pest Inspections During Wet Weather

water-overflowing-from-blocked-downpipes

One of the most commonly asked questions during periods of rain is it a good time to do a building inspection and pest inspection. I believe it is the best time as you can identify any leaks, wet areas, the overland flow of water. And if the water flows away quickly from the house and generally de-waters the property. You are also able to see if guttering and downpipes are sufficient for your needs if there is any backup water pipes or blocked pipes.

During the last few weeks, Brisbane and its surrounding suburbs have been inundated with large volumes of rain. This inclement weather has impacted beneficially on our ability to do quality building inspections. The rain has made any opportunity for a leak occur in an element of a building whether it be the roof the windows exterior walls gutters and downpipes there has been sufficient wet weather to enable these leaks to present.

Even in my own home, a leak presented where an extension abutted up to the old dwelling. On investigation I found that the weathering and scribing on the metal sheeting (though an excellent job was done) still enabled water to be pushed back in and into the house proper.

I was able to determine that when the new roof was installed the tradespeople had used a small amount of silicon over screw holes and around the scribing. Over time with the effects of weathering, heat shrinking and expanding this silicon now allowed water entry.

shrinking-and-expanding-silicon

What I did was use Silver Tack to seal the holes and make a semi-permanent repair. Semi-permanent I expect to get 8 to 10 years without any problem.

During building inspections in times of wet weather, it is very hazardous to climb on top of a roof and would most certainly contravene health and safety regulations. We can climb inside the roof void during this time, and you can see any water ingress, that may take the advantage of gaining access through holes and metal roofing or cracked in tile roofing.

cracked-roof-tile

Cracked roof tile located during a building inspection

By using a thermal camera inside though we do not have access to the roof covering because of health and safety issues, we are easily able to determine water leaks even in skillion or cathedral roof areas where there usually is no access at all. The variation in temperature caused by water is readily discovered by using a thermal camera.

water-leaks-visible-in-thermal-scanner

Water leaks visible with thermal during a building inspection

During a building Inspection and pest inspection it is the ideal time to do the examination of the gutters and downpipes and general yard drainage. During periods of wet weather, the gutters will show any leaks quite readily. If they are prone to blockage by leaves, we will see overflowing gutters and downpipes that have water backing up into the gutters or even water bubbling out of the base of the downpipes where they have been broken or blocked. It is part of a building inspection and pest inspection to try to determine if the flow of water around the house ensures that no water is directed to external walls or underneath the house. When you inspect the home during periods of dry weather you are not fully able to determine that water is directed away from the house and water is not gaining entry via weep holes or pooling of ponding on the outside of the building. During dry weather building inspector and pest inspector can only look for tell-tale signs of water against the house staining, moss growing or soft and sunken soil areas but during wet weather we can see exactly what’s happening with the drainage.

drainage-during-wet-weather

Water overflowing From blocked downpipes during a building inspection

Water escaping gutters during a building inspection

During the extended period of dry weather and subsequent water shortages and restrictions in Brisbane In the early 2000’s a lot of homes put in water tanks to capture access rainwater. We can see the impact of these rainwater tanks their overflows during periods of wet weather, and if there is the possibility, they will impact negatively on the structure by directing water against the side of the building increasing the moisture in the soil near the building. And sometimes it is just as simple as seeing if the plumbing is adequate around water tanks.

In homes where there are subfloors when doing a building inspection and pest inspection, we can determine if there is water ingress under the house or if there is drainage issues where water moves through the soil or in worst-case scenarios the overland flow of water directly underneath all these items will impact on the long-term use of a house. Normally we can only see the results of water flowing under the house may be some erosion discolouration of soil or a damp, musty smell but during rain periods we can easily recognise if drainage is an issue.

water-overflowing-from-blocked-downpipes

Water escaping gutters during a building inspection

It is a regular occurrence when we were doing building inspection and pest inspections for Twinspectors to use thermal image camera, which can readily show up any moisture leaks from ceiling areas in and around windows.

Sometimes the design of the house has an impact on how waterproof a home may be, and at your building inspection and pest inspection the inspector will be looking at the exterior cladding, commenting on window flashings if not visible, door flashings if required investigating the waterproofing methods of the exterior sheeting. in modern homes, the eve is not giving protection to the external walls. Modern homes also use large sheets by the Blue Board or Hardyflex as the exterior cladding the joins in these areas need to be well sealed, and sometimes timber is used as a decorative cover these timbers will decay over time allowed water entry. Again the use of thermal cameras and moisture metres during building inspections will readily discover these leaks during a thorough building inspection  and pest inspection.

During a building inspection downpipe leaks could readily be seen, with water flowing down the outside increasing the moisture on the outside walls. Windows and doors showed signs of water penetration around flashings, especially in areas where there was no eves present.

When you are doing Building inspections internally during wet weather, you can confirm a multitude of possible wet areas. For example, there may be a water stain to the roof void on the gyprock during periods of dry weather we can report on the stain. Still, we are unable to accurately determine if the possible or previous water leak has been repaired. During periods of rain if it is leaking the thermal cameras will quickly determine if moisture is present.

Seals around doors and windows or incorrectly fitted flashings will become very evident during wet weather and easily identified. Whereat other times no evidence may present all we may rely on tell-tale signs when determining if a leak has previously occurred. These are things like water staining evidence of drip line down the walls evidence of mould or again that musty smell.

Building and pest inspections are best done during inclement weather

One of the main difficulties with doing Buildings inspection during periods of sustained fair or good weather is that you are unable to determine whether water stains watermarks decay or other evidence of water ingress is current or has it been repaired. A watermark on timber will remain there forever and the water may have occurred during construction or it may have occurred during the last period of heavy weather.

Sometimes repairs are evident; tiles have been replaced or resealed roof tiles have been recoated. There may be evidence of repairs by the installation of silicon, black tar or other waterproofing compounds.

Heavy rain aids in identifying whether water is directed against the side or underneath a dwelling. It is very important that water doesn’t run under or around structures; this will soften the soil and allow for unintended movement in the footings or foundations which will cause doors to jam windows to stick possibly even cracking on brickwork or gyprock.

Internally when doing a building inspection and pest inspection during periods of wet weather, it is not uncommon to find elevated moisture under Windows or along skirting boards of external walls. This elevated moisture is generally because of poor or inadequate flashing around the windows and inside the walls on a lot of occasions is because water has been allowed to enter via weep holes. Neither of these would be visible during dry periods.

I am an owner of a Building Inspection and Pest Inspection Business and I would advise any prospective purchaser to have their building inspection and pest inspection undertaken during the worst possible weather because one of the things I’ve found in all the time of been doing this job is that 99% of all problems occur for 2 reasons one too much water around the house or to little.

In this article I have concentrated on the building side of the building inspection and pest inspection but there is also the pest side, and during periods of extended wet weather in high humidity termites become very active, and the soft damp soil makes their foraging a lot easier. Hence evidence of termites in dry weather can readily turn to active termites in rainy weather, and these can easily be found.

 

Why Weep Holes Are Important

When Twinspectors undertake a Building Inspection one of the items we always look at is weep holes.

Weep holes are the small gap left between bricks or blocks in external walls. These small gaps located at the bottom of the walls and their sole purpose is ventilation and drainage. During the Building Inspection we confirm they are of sufficient size to allow airflow or water flow.

In modern brick veneer homes, it is vitally important that the internal wall studs be well ventilated and drained to reduce the opportunity of mildew, wet or dry rot and damp as these reduce the life of the building. These weep holes are an essential part of the drainage allowing water and condensation to escape, ideally without allowing water to enter.

why-weep-holes-are-important-no

Obstructed Weep Holes

These weep holes allowed ventilation keeping the internal components dry. During a Building Inspection we tried to confirm the location of the weep holes. It Is vitally important they must be above the waterproof membrane and have proper flashing.

During periods of driving rain, water penetrates brick walls as the water enters through the wall it passes down the back and when the weep holes are present and open the water escapes back outside this water gaining entry into the cavity can be visible if you pull back the carpet and may be caused by the driving rain or gutters overflowing all water pooling against the exterior of the house. A Building Inspection is not normally invasive and hence we cannot pull back the carpet to inspect for water entry, though the use of Thermal Cameras and Moisture Metre may indicate water entry during a building inspection.

Some people blame this water ingress on the weep holes and block them generally it is not the weep hole it is to brick itself that causes the water entry. By blocking the weep, I’ll you have defeated the purpose of allowing the water to escape; generally, the weep holes are approximately 1 to 2 inches below the level of the concrete slab or flooring.

Though weep holes may look open they can be blocked or clogged for a number of reasons. The check to see if your weep holes are entirely open insert a piece of wire the width of the brick +25 mm. Sometimes with the rendering of houses, the renderer does not correctly clear the weep holes. Or even worse completely blocks the weep holes with render. The render should be cleared away, ensuring that there are proper ventilation and no damming of water inside. As a Building Inspection is a visual inspection only we can report on only what we locate.

It is not unusual during a Building Inspection we find leaves and other detritus has blocked the weep holes restricting the flow of air and sometimes the outflow of water these should be cleaned out.

Sometimes water gains entry because of rising water levels during times of rain this is best remedied by the installations of new gutters if required additional day on pipes or the installation of drains and contouring of water flow in the yard.

The adding of additional topsoil is and building up around the outside is not recommended as this creates a moisture problem in itself and does not allow adequate ventilation and possibly enabling hidden termite or other pest entry.

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The General Inspection Requirements

general inspection requirements

In this section, we can talk about the general requirements of an inspection and the scope of an inspection. You will find that various standards, codes of practice are minimum documents and are useful in making decisions about the purchase of the property. There are other reasons why inspections are undertaken and maybe because the property is rented and they wish to have a maintenance inspection and may be subject to finance and require evaluation.

Various states have their own requirements bylaws or standards for inspections, and it is not my intention to include this in this general overview of inspections.

Residential buildings come in many forms from a multiunit high-rise to freestanding houses, semi-detached villas or even the modern townhouse. In Queensland, it is the requirement that a building inspector is a licensed builder and have the relevant professional indemnity insurance in place.

Codes of practice, building standards and inspection standards contained guidance and information and usually contain various appendices that include the required or integral part of an inspection and other areas for information only. For example, poor subfloor drainage would be an integral part of a report. Where a leaky cistern would be for your information only. Also, various other inspection reports may be required for example A Pest Inspection Report, Electrical Inspection Report, Plumbing and Drainage Report and even a copy of the original plans from the council have value in ascertaining what alterations have been done to a building. These additional reports supply information that may not be readily available to a building inspector but may cause you serious expense in the future. For example, a per goal that has been attached to the house though not certified by the local council may for all intensive purposes be well constructed but will cost you many thousands of dollars to have it approved by the Council.

As I had pointed out in the earlier article, we are not there to identify illegal or unauthorised building work or non-compliant work. Our report is divided into two distinct parts the identification of the dwelling/building and the report. The identification of the building talks about the style, the type of cladding, roof cladding construction type peers and the other various elements of the building. It is not meant to be empiric as the builder may describe various surfaces by common names then it is possible to completely misidentify what they are. This identification is more about letting the client or purchaser know about the style of the house. The report goes into details about the various elements and areas of the structure.

Included in the reports all in the report agreements are definitions of the various areas, the types of defects, various building elements, limitations various defects and significant items and even defines the various sections of the house.

Inspection is normally done of all areas that are accessible given the limitations of height and the ability to gain entry. Manholes or ceiling access points must be of a certain size and height, as with subfloor men access must allow a minimum height and crawlspace. Where reasonable access is unavailable, this should be documented and possibly excluded or a recommendation to gain access.

The inspector will understand, and into super limitations to the inspection, these are usually included in the pre-inspection agreement but again they may not cover all items. For example, aggressive dogs in the backyard and may not allow full inspection of the exterior, locked garages or sheds restrict inspections. Where possible our inspectors will try to make you aware of the significance of these limiting factors.

It is important that the inspections be undertaken as early in the purchasing process as possible as it may be necessary for additional inspections to be undertaken or additional areas to be opened for the inspection to be completed. This allows you sufficient time to gather all the information on the property to make an informed decision. There may be additional charges, especially where other specialists are involved for example the electrician or plumber. Or if it’s something as simple as a locked bedroom arrangements can be made where the inspectors in the area to return and possibly no charge involved.

In the next section of this series of blogs, I will go into the various types of defects whether they be major, minor safety. I will try to define them for you and put in perspective with regards to report.

Again this blog is for general information only and cannot be relied upon for the interpretation of a report, standard or code of practice.

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Why an Australian Standard for a Building And Pest Inspection

licensed inspectors

Why an Australian standard for a building and pest inspection, in Queensland building and pest inspections are done in line with the Australian Standard 4349.1-2007, the purchase of a home especially a first-time Buyer is a serious decision and must be sustained with an understanding of the condition of the property. Impartial and unprejudiced advice is required to make possible knowledgeable decisions.

The standard implies that the inspection by a licensed and qualified builder by its nature will be a personal assessment of the circumstances of your new home or building. As we are not Certifiers, we are not here to objectively assess the structure. And it goes without saying that different inspectors or even possibly the same inspector may reach different scenarios as to the condition of your new home or building. The Australian standard 4349.1-2007 informs us that it is seeking a balance between consistency of outcomes, the limitations of time and cost yet still giving the flexibility required to report on different and sometimes many types of homes and buildings.

The inspection of the building or new home is not restricted to prepurchase or presale but may have other interested parties, for example, an investor may be looking at the report for valuation, a real estate agent may be looking at it from a risk assessment point of view before taking on the rental. You should remember that the Australian Standard 4349.1-2007 sets out the minimum requirements for inspections.

There is an expectation that any inspection carried out under the standard will be combined with specialist inspections reports of elements of the structure that are not part of the standard these will include Timber pest inspections-termites borers, fungal decay and moisture. An electrician would be required to inspect the wiring and ensure that residual current devices are present (safety switch)

Plumbers, roof tilers, structural engineers and air-conditioning specialists are other types of’s special inspections that may be required.

Common sense would dictate that the building inspections and other associated inspections be completed early in the buying process thus enabling the purchaser to understand the property’s condition and hence make a well-informed decision if to carry on with the purchase.

On occasions, the vendor (the seller) commissions the building inspection reports to streamline the sales process and rectify any defects.

There are significant limitations to the Standard; significantly you need to understand that any report prepared in line with Australian standard 4349.1-2007 is not a “certification of compliance”. It will not prevent problems occurring in the future and will not locate or identify building work that is not or does not comply with building codes or regulations.

Australian standard 4349.1-2007 requires that inspection agreement is entered into before the inspection and will define the purpose, the scope and how the client accepts and commissions the inspection. Notations of any change to the purpose or scope of the inspection are to be noted.

In Queensland, The Queensland Building and Construction Commission is the body that licensed completed building inspections. It is a requirement to have professional indemnity insurance in place. Please note it is not part of the inspection to report on easements zoning covenants et cetera. Your legal representative is the person to seek an explanation about title and ownership.

In general terms, the scope of the inspection is the identification of major defects and form a view about the condition generally of the building. Estimation of cost of rectification is not required when the inspection is done to this standard. Where the client requests and estimation cost this estimate is based on the inspectors own experience and standard industry costs. Remembering the dependability of the costs and guide only. Seeking additional quotations for specific work including the extent is another method of establishing the costs of rectification or even a quantity surveyor will give an estimate of the cost of repair.

All available areas of the structure should be inspected, and where access is restricted or not reasonable, these should be excluded from the inspection nor will they form part of the inspection. Access and the right of entry to the dwelling or building are normally arranged by the purchaser or the purchases agent. It is not uncommon for us to arrange with the agent on your behalf time of the inspection as this removes the unnecessary telephone tag that may occur in seeking suitable times.

It is fundamental that the client understands that there will be limitations to the inspections. Having said that it would not be unreasonable to request the vendor to make access available when the limitations of the inspection have been removed.

The minimum expected under the standard is a report on major defects, safety defects and minor defects are reported on generally. At Twinspectors we exceed the minimum standard and endeavour to report on minor defects that we consider may influence your decision to continue with the purchase. All safety issues will be reported on as a major defect. We will endeavour to include these defects in our report in such a way that any major defect or safety issue cannot easily be overlooked.

The litmus test in our reports is that we are comparing buildings of a similar type of construction with similar age of construction in acceptable condition with an adequate maintenance program during the life of the building. And it is irrelevant whether the building complies with the current Australian Standard regulations, codes or acts that are in force at the time of the inspection. Reminding you that we are not certifiers and we are not there to report on illegal building work.

The building is to be compared with a structure that was constructed by the building practice at the time of construction and has been maintained as there has been no noteworthy loss of strength and utility.

Our inspectors are fully licensed builders with current licenses, Twinspectors is licensed to do building and pest inspections with the Queensland Building and Construction Commission. We have our professional indemnity insurances in place as well is adequate WorkCover policy. Where possible Twinspectors is an equal opportunity employer.

I will continue with this series of articles trying to simplify what we do in an inspection and why, it is not a comprehensive document, and we are only talking in layman’s terms removing any jargon. If you have questions, please call Twinspectors, and we will endeavour to answer them. In the next article what we review the areas that to be inspected, and I will include limitations where possible.

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Balconies and Decks Safety Guidelines

scott-webb-502757

It has become very popular in Queensland because of our temperate climate to incorporate outdoor entertainment areas/outdoor living areas. These renovations in older homes generally will incorporate deck or veranda, or in the case of new homes, the designs include alfresco dining areas as well as decks and balconies.

There have been serious injuries and deaths in Queensland from deck collapse and failure. This article may assist with safety inspections of decks and other external structures that in the event of a collapse are of sufficient height to put family members and friends at risk.

Owners are obligated to ensure their decks and balconies are safe always. All balconies will fail at some stage either because of poor design for construction or simply badly maintained.

The impact emotionally, legally and financially can be enormous for homeowners.

What makes balconies and decks unsafe?

Badly designed and poorly maintained balconies and decks are a danger and will cause possible serious injury or death to loved ones, colleagues or friends.

Different things may affect the safety of a balcony or deck over its lifetime.

Termite and Borers

Attack by insects such as termites and borers will affect the strength and condition of timbers.

Wet Rot

Timber that is constantly moist, weather by constant or continuous contact with the ground or another timber member with moisture present.

The result of sea spray

The corrosive effects of being near the coastline can affect unprotected structures and building elements including reinforced steel and fixings such as bolts and fixing plates.

Loadings

Decks are not designed to hold large water features, spas, large heavy barbecue equipment and exercise equipment.

Is my structure safe and will I need to……

  • Check to see if your balcony and deck has been designed and erected correctly.
  • It is possible to get the building approvals and plans from your local council and maybe compare them to the actual structure. Inspection by an engineer (structural) or a suitably qualified builder.
  • Materials that can deteriorate should be inspected yearly to identify any potential problems. Bolts and screws can loosen and corrode over time.

If not protected, timber can be susceptible to insect attack and decay. However treated timbers do provide resistance for an extended period they still will require maintenance and regular inspection. Rot and decay is a particular danger and correctly applied stain, or paint finish will restrict moisture or water entry through the faces of timber, but gaps and joins and end grain that are exposed provide access for moisture to penetrate.

These are some of the risk factors and what to look out for:

  • Water pooling on the deck or balcony surface.
  • Balustrading that is not directly fixed to the main support structure-fixed to the balcony or deck surface.
  • Loose or inadequately fixed solid balustrades and balustrades fixings at wall junctions.
  • Exterior cladding that terminates against a balcony deck may contribute to decay or rot.
  • Support members and connections that are covered by cladding or lining boards that are fixed to the balcony or deck.
  • Excessive bearer lengths without support posts or columns.

Timber balconies and decks

  • 20 years or more would be a reasonable life expectation of a timber balcony or deck that is well maintained.
  • Look for changes in the structural members. Has the timber moved from its intended position either by warping or bending or cupping?
  • Moisture causes discolouration in timbers this moisture will lead to decayed timbers these should be probed using a sharp knife or screwdriver. The feel of decayed timbers is soft and spongy.
  • Handrails and balustrades need to be checked to ensure that the fittings aren’t corroded, loose or badly installed. Physically pushing and pulling balustrades and handrails to ensure they are secure.
  • If possible physically pushing the main supporting beams or joists to detect any movement is one means of properly ensuring the deck is fixed to the building.
  • If possible, check under the deck look at the base of timber posts and the connections to beams for rot. Again, check all fixings, brackets and bolts for signs of rust and that they are firmly attached. Ensure that water cannot pool at the base of any support structure or wall. Floor joists that are fixed between beams require careful visual inspection and possibly maintenance. Where this occurs look for steel plates or manufactured hanger brackets again check fixings that they have rusted and become loose.
  • While underneath probe timbers with a sharp object screwdriver or knife for deterioration especially at joins.
  • In older constructions, Oregon or untreated pine may have been used and are not suitable for construction of balconies and decks these timbers are very susceptible to termite attack and decay. If these timbers have been used a regular and thorough maintenance schedule must be employed or consider replacing the timbers with products that are more resistant or sustainable.
  • Timber support posts are attached using proprietary metal brackets (galvanised) or stirrups with adequate clearance from the concrete footing to protect against insect attack and rot/decay. Whether it’s timber (with steel stirrup) or steel posts they must be embedded in concrete and securely anchored to the foundation.

Concrete balconies

  • The expected life of a concrete balcony is between 40 and 50 years. The deterioration in concrete balconies is not as obvious as those in timber. Corrosion in the reinforcement (steel cancer) occurs when small cracks in the concrete surface allow moisture to penetrate, these cracks may look harmless.
  • Look for signs of movement or leaning this may indicate a problem.
  • Under the balcony look for rust stains or steel that is exposed.
  • Physically push and pull handrails and balustrades to ensure they have not become loose or corroded or simply unstable.
  • Where there is flaking concrete or cracking concrete, this may indicate a serious problem and needs to be examined by a structural engineer or licensed builder.

 


Disclaimer:

The material in this article provides general advice, guidance and information. About any particular concern, you must seek appropriate professional advice from an engineer or registered builder the writer of this article expressly disclaim liability, negligence or otherwise, for any omission or act as a result of reliance on this article or any consequence. All decks and balustrade must have regular, thorough inspections. Neglect to do so may result in death or injury and financial loss.

 

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