Baeumler: If the walls could talk… (HVAC, Electrical, Plumbing)

They’d tell you to fix the electrical, plumbing and ventilation systems.

By: Bryan Baeumler Real Estate, Homes Renovations, Published on Fri Feb 10 2012 from the Star

In my last article, I talked about roofing, siding and foundations — undeniably the most important parts of our homes when it comes to providing the basic human need for shelter.

That being said, most people would agree that there’s no sense in spending money redecorating or remodelling the inside of your home if it’s not properly protected from the elements. Most, but certainly not all! If you want your home to last a lifetime, the systems that protect your home should always take first priority.

Let’s assume for a moment that the exterior of your home is in perfect shape (really, it could happen). No leaks in the roof, proper attic venting, effective water protection on siding and sills and a dry solid foundation with proper grading and drainage. Identifying what’s important inside will help you decide (all things being equal) where you should spend your hard-earned money, and where you should get the most return on your investment in the long run.

Apart from the financial aspect of these decisions, there are also health and safety, environmental, moral and ethical factors to consider. It goes without saying that health and safety take the lead here — if there are any life-threatening hazards, they obviously need to be dealt with first.

We’ve learned a lot building shelters since the caveman days. Current building codes take the strength and longevity of building materials into account to make sure that houses don’t collapse. Notice how in century homes floors sag, door and window openings are slanted, and joist hangars and lintels are usually non-existent. They’re still standing, but they require a lot of work to keep them standing safely for another 100 years or more.

Catastrophic collapse is pretty rare, even with questionable engineering, but a proper structure is important for longevity, which means long-term value. Framing inspections happen after all of the mechanical work (electrical, plumbing, HVAC, gas) has been completed for a reason — to ensure that the structural components of the home haven’t been compromised.

It’s a fact that the air quality in most homes can be up to 10 times worse than the outdoor air. There are a lot of possible reasons for this, including not only our daily activities (cooking, cleaning, etc.), but the actual contents of our homes. We tend to keep our doors and windows closed in the winter and turn on the air conditioning in the summer — opening some windows will help let some fresh air in!

In some areas, radon gas can enter our homes through the soil, or a buildup of carbon monoxide can occur from appliances that aren’t properly vented. Off-gassing of anything from carpet to cabinets, paint, clothing, plastics — you name it — puts chemicals and particulates in the air, and without proper air exchange and filtration you can be breathing a toxic soup that can affect long-term health.

Part of that soup is dust . . . of which a large majority is dead skin. Yuck! Installing an HRV or other type of air exchanger with a secondary air filtration system will clear the air in your home by bringing fresh air in and sucking out the stale dirty air from the basement where it settles. A clean, healthy environment in your home is worth much more than a home theatre, but it will cost you about the same.

We’re hearing everywhere that costs for clean water and energy are going to rise in the near future. By building or retrofitting homes that use very little energy, the inevitable exponential increase in costs to operate your home in the future won’t become unmanageable. Building an efficient home is much more affordable than retrofitting an old one and the monthly savings on services will pay you back forever. Imagine your heating, cooling and water bills quadrupled tomorrow — could you handle it?

Managing heat loss and using less water are the keys to saving money. If you’re building or renovating, put efficiency near the top of the list — it will pay you back forever. I’ve seen a lot of people make decisions to save money on insulation in order to afford the stone countertops they really want. But I’ve never heard of a countertop handing out cash every month.

• The electrical and mechanical systems in your home have to be in good shape in order to operate safely and efficiently.

• Bad wiring is a fire hazard.

• Plumbing that leaks or isn’t vented properly can lead to mould and rot or sewer gas buildup in your home.

• Your HVAC system should be well sealed and get a clean filter frequently to ensure maximum airflow and efficiency.

During a renovation, bringing these systems up to current code and ensuring they’re safe is not optional, even if it means compromising on the quality of interior finishes in order to stick to the budget. I see it happen all too often — but what’s worse is that we see secondary owners (which could be you) bearing the brunt of the costs to repair or replace the basics when it could have been done more efficiently in the first place.

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention hardwood flooring, cabinets, countertops, fixtures, or anything else on the decorative list. That’s because homes change hands every four to five years, and they are typically updated every 10 to 15 years. If a home is built properly (i.e. responsibly), upgrading your home shouldn’t have to involve going in behind the drywall.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of home renovations we tackle involve digging deeper to repair structural and mechanical systems, upgrading insulation and increasing efficiency. Making responsible decisions today on what’s really important in your home might mean making compromises on the finishes, but consider this as both a buyer and a seller: the real value of a home should be in the home itself, not the disposable decorations. Those only become valuable once the house itself is healthy.

If your home’s exterior is in perfect shape, it’s structurally sound, healthy, safe and efficient, the “To Do” list is empty and there’s nothing of questionable interest hiding behind the walls, then we can talk about that (wo)mancave you wanted.

Bryan Baeumler is the host of Disaster DIY (weekdays at 9 a.m.), Leave it to Bryan Thursdays at 10 p.m., Canada’s Handyman Challenge Tuesdays at 10 p.m. and House of Bryan: On The Rocks coming soon. His column appears every two week in New in Homes & Condos. You can contact him via his website or follow him on Facebook or on Twitter @Bryan_Baeumler.

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