Monday, November 28, 2016

How not to cause grief when altering the smell of things.

This primer, (you will get the joke later) is for people who enjoy the fragrant smells of things like essential oils, marijuana, it's mask incense and all sort of things we spray, diffuse or burn to make our homes or ourselves smell better than burnt popcorn or diapers.

First, there is no better air freshener than cleanliness. A little  ammonia, bleach (although never together) or possibly some baking and your house will smell pleasant and clean.

When I walk into a property and I smell anything else, I am on full alert!

What is wrong with scented candles or air fresheners? In a word, lots. Odor masking is a fanatical activity in our society, drag a dog turd in on your shoe or drop your hockey bag in the closet and people immediately break out the heavy artillery. Smoke  dope and then try to mask it with scented incense and problems lingers in a different form.

Our olfactory senses are out most easily fatigued, they get used to bad smells quicker than we get used to, say, not being able to see in the dark or living beside a train track. Things that smell bad to some don't bother those frequently exposed, which in large part is why people are able to work in hog barns to make bacon.

As a kid I grew up in the smelly end of Edmonton, my neighborhood, was downwind of the Stock Yards, Canada Packers, Gainers, Swifts, Burns, Alsask Processors and the Edmonton rendering plant.  We kids knew what kind of critters had walked the stairway to heaven by the way the air smelled. Tuesday was the worse as that was hog butchering day at Swifts. The rendering plant, which boiled dead horses to make soap and leather, always had it's own unique smell depending on the age of the corpses. The stock yards, used to haul manure about once a month and that day was always putrid, even by our own rather low clean air standards.

What we learned, however, was to live with it. Being kids of parents who couldn't afford to live anywhere else, what choice did we have?

We did not have NIMBY committees complaining about the smell since most of the Dads in our encampment worked in one of the aforementioned plants. Except mine, he was a bus driver.

The point is we got used to it, my uncle the lawyer moved away as soon as his legal practice allowed and their new house in the south always smelled fresh and clean.

Smell was thusly considered, a fact of life.

To today:

When I enter a property and I smell anything super scented  I always wonder what is being covered up here?  And I  add sourcing the smell to my list.

A backed up sewer is easy to smell, as is excessive marijuana or tobacco use, so is a lack of proper ventilation. Often the best way to make a home smell better is to clean it and open the windows.  Heavy scents seldom achieve their desired outcome. Mildew, dirty laundry, full garbage cans and unclean fridges all contribute to bad smells. Dogs, cats, babies, teens and men in general contribute as well. Women usually smell pretty good so I give them a free pass on creating bad smells, I don't however, give them a pass on creating pleasant masking smells.

Here is how your air freshener works:

The common ingredient in ALL air fresheners is some kind of oil and it does not matter which kind of oil because they all do the same thing.  The oil is usually diffused by heat in a candle or other heating appliance and diffuses itself by air movement throughout the space. Spray air fresheners also contain oil that is diffused by a propellant when you press the spray button. In either case the same things happens:

The minute particles of oil,  ultimately, being heavier than air collect on surfaces where they  leave behind an oily residue, often so fine you can't even tell.

Try to repaint:

The most popular  paint is latex which is water based and as you know from science class; oil is lighter than water and tends to float to the top. The result for your walls is that when you repaint, the latex cannot make good contact with the surface as the oil on the wall is trying to stay on top. 

You might recall that it is very hard to paint latex over oil (alkyd) paint for this very reason. There is a lot of chemistry involved in paint making so likely there are those who won't agree about this.

People don't like oil paint because of the way it smells and that you need turps to clean it up, yet it's ideal for repainting a wall that has oil paint on it already. But then unless you painted that wall yourself last time, how would you ever know what kind of paint is on it? In practical terms you can't be sure.

So use a  primer and take advantage of it's ability to dry on any surface and create a firm base for oil or latex top coats. 

The poorer the surface adhesion is, (the more oil present) the heavier the primer  needs to be and you will still run into trouble if you are not judicious in how you apply the primer.

The best solution? There are many, all really involving removing the oil from the surface. Finger prints or your dog rubbing on the wall also contribute to the problem. I have had great success washing walls with  Tri sodium phosphate.  In fact any time I have not pre-washed a repaint job I have regretted it. Ammonia can be used but it's very harsh and like TSP MUST be rinsed off. Ammonia is an urea (cow pee) derived product that has remarkable properties. Any time you see a cleaning product labelled "with ammonia"  save your money and  just buy the ammonia. DO NOT SNIFF IT, you'll learn why not about 2 seconds after you do.

Bleach will kill mould, ammonia  and TSP won't, but as a base solution for eliminating bad, or good smell residue TSP cannot be beaten.  Use it before you paint wash and rinse your walls then apply a proper primer and buy good paint.  This is the best way to combat the olfactory war being fought on your walls between the competing interests of oil and a new paint job.

I have seen places that were so perfumed with scented candles that the new paint would not stick to the wall at all or where it did you could knock it off with a fingernail. It's very disheartening to go to all the trouble of painting only to find out that your paint won't stick.  We used to  find this to be a universal problem in kitchens and bathrooms because of the grease and oil loads in those rooms,  thanks to the use of scented candle air fresheners and such  we have successfully made this a problem for the whole house.

And the house inspector asks: What are they trying to hide?

There was a recent civil lawsuit in the United States involving a homeowner suing an inspector for not reporting that the previous owner smoked, the homeowner lost.  It however a clue when you get a highly scented home that the owner is trying to mask something.  Fresh air is the best, no matter how many "spring time fresh" dryer sheets I use , my laundry always smells better when it's dried outside, now anyway. When I was a kid, not so much.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Making your homes value go away in a hurry, scary renovations.

My friend The Real Estate Ninja, says that smoking in your house will cost you $10,000.00 in resale value. Since she was a real estate broker I have no reason to argue with her position on this issue at all.  

Recently I attended to a residence for another friend, (it's nice to have more than one), and what I found was quite impressive. Impressive in a bad way mind you, impressive that everything the home owner had set his hand to was done badly. Not a single repair or improvement was done well, legally or made much sense. Fortunately it was largely contained to the basement, he had virtually left the rest of the house alone, including, I'm sad to say housekeeping and maintenance.

The place was a great house, nice area, nice little crescent and good curb appeal, yet even though the house had been on the market for over six months and every other house in the neighborhood had sold for more, the owner did not understand that his mishaps were keeping his place from being sold.

Staging professionals will tell you that clean and uncluttered sells. A good smell is golden and well done renovations are pretty much a licence to print money.

This house had none of these.

Rather than write a thousand words I am going to let the pictures tell the story:

This is the dryer lint screen, an early warning sign that things might not be quite as good as they appeared. It led me to take a much closer look,  lint is a great fire starter and by having a plugged filter he was asking for a lint related fire in the dryer duct. Major red flag.

The range hood wasn't much better, there was enough grease here to deep fry a turkey. A flash fire on the stove and it is going to set this device on fire too. Another red flag.

So now we know the owner isn't a clean person, or maybe they don't know about such things.

Lets see how this translates into handy work:


This little gem is an attempt at insulating in the garage ceiling, trouble is the pink foam has no protection from fire, it needs to be covered by drywall. The owner went to a lot of trouble to use that board to hold it up there so maybe he's going to come back and finish the job, I have my doubts.  Third red flag.

Onto the basement:
Nice drywall work, there was probably three times as much filler on the walls and needed and  sanding it off is a nasty job so he left it as kind of a random textured effect that paint did not fix.

This is either a bad heat duct install or a bad drywall cut or some new way of having heated floors. There are a lot of good drywall installers in this city who need work, I guess he thought he'd save a few bucks doing it himself,  how hard can it be?

Skills of the owner included electrical wiring. Now I am scared!

This one is funky, apparently no drill was handy when the third wire was run this will make putting the drywall on a bit tricky, one screw into the romex and it's be a shocking experience.  

This, by the way, is virtually impossible to do, the box is too deep and I have no idea how he managed to put the faceplate on wrong, but he did.

There are a bunch of things going on in this junction box, technical enough that this alone  will tell any good inspector that this work was NOT done by anyone qualified nor was it ever inspected.

Next  is plumbing: This is supposed to be a trap for the basement basin and it is supposed to be a P trap, not much P going on here, I bet he paid $20.00 for all the unnecessary fittings in this picture.

I like this one, I find these plastic shower cabinets short too, creatively he solved the problem by installing the shower head sort of in the ceiling, the ceiling BTW was regular drywall which really likes getting wet.

Speaking of getting wet; if you thought this was a heat duct that wasn't hooked up you'd be wrong, this is the vent for the bathroom exhaust fan in the basement, it terminates in the basement, right next to the electrical panel. Nice....

Here we are:  take a pretty house, do bad work and watch it not sell. Personally I'd lowball the offer, rip all the work out and spent $15,000.00  redoing everything right, Then I'd put the house back on the market for full list.  I figure there is a quick $25,000 sitting here to be made. 

My friend is not handy and could not see herself taking on a project like this, so she passed on the deal, it's still out there though.

Do yourself a favour: owning a hammer does not make you a carpenter, nor a screwdriver an electrician. Do it yourself work attracts a lot of attention from home inspectors  as you can see, for very good reason, so if you do it yourself, do it right, get permits and have it inspected. We know when it hasn't been......

Elniski's BestHomes Inspections Ltd.