The process of buying a detached house in Vancouver can have its fair share of highs and lows as Vancouver has it’s fair share of older houses. In 2011, out of 41,440 owner-occupied single detached homes, thirty per cent of them were built in 1946 or earlier. Older houses present problems for the prospective buyer. Insurers may refuse to cover, or renew policies on, houses that have not been upgraded to modern standards. The Marketing Team at Chris Tioseco Real Estate Services has generated some helpful tips for buying an old home in this beautiful city.
Perhaps the best known dangerous house material, asbestos is an insulating agent known to be cause cancer and respiratory disease, and cannot be detected just by looking at it. Homes built before 1990 are more likely to have asbestos, in floor tiles, wrapped around furnace ducts or pipes, or in other areas.
Asbestos is a very common product. It was used in the 1920s right up until the mid-1980s. Its usually found in houses built before the 1980’s around the duct work, piping, and venting of heating systems or often in the form of the insulation in a product called Vermiculite. It can also be a lot of other places such as in flooring tiles, shingles, drywall mud, and ceiling coatings.
A large portion of the houses in Vancouver were built before the 1980’s, so there is a very good chance if you are looking for an older home in Vancouver you will come across or will have to deal with Asbestos.
How do we know if a House has Asbestos or not?
Hire a Home Inspector.
If a Home Inspection turns up Asbestos, what should a Buyer do?
There are asbestos removal companies that can give a quote on how much it will cost to have it safely removed.
Health Canada recommends that people reduce risk of exposure by hiring professional inspectors before altering their house. Often, the best response to pre-existing asbestos is to leave it be. WorkSafeBC recommends that asbestos should be identified and removed by trained professionals with protective gear, and that homeowners should contact their municipality to learn how to safely dispose of asbestos materials.
Modern lifestyles, full of appliances and entertainment devices, consume far more electricity than they used to, and the electrical systems of older houses, built when the cutting edge of domestic technology was a two-slice toaster, may be inadequate to the task.
Many old houses have knob and tube wiring, also known as K&T wiring or open wiring. Every house in North America built between 1880 and 1940 had K&T wiring, and “It is still present to some degree in the vast majority of occupied houses in B.C. that were built pre-1950.” The copper wire was covered by a cloth and rubber insulation called “loom”, and ran through porcelain knobs and tubes. K&T is ungrounded and can short out. Electrical service was often limited to 60 amps.
Homes built between 1965 and 1976 may have aluminum wiring instead of modern copper wiring. Aluminum wiring is susceptible to overheating and failure of terminals, indicated by discolouring near the wall receptacle, the smell of hot plastic, or flickering lights. Most of these problems occurred with 110 volt circuits for outlets and lights, not the 220 volt circuits for major appliances.
According to an essay by a master electrician, out of the 500 Vancouver houses more than forty years old he surveyed, 95 per cent of them had electrical fire hazards, which he attributed to “handyman tinkering” by non-professionals.
When selling houses, particularly old ones, realtors are obligated to educate the buyers and sellers about the kind of wiring. It requires a certified electrician’s inspection, and that finding will inevitably recommend replacing the wiring. Removal and replacement of the wiring for a 1500 square foot house can cost from $5,000 to $8,000, and take one week or more. Upgrading an existing electrical panel to 200 amps can cost about $1,200.
By some estimates, 40% of single-family homes in Vancouver include secondary suites. A fraction of those are legalized.
The City of Vancouver is in favour of secondary suites, but wants more suites to be legalized for safety reasons. Legal secondary suites meet the BC Building Code and the Vancouver Building By-Law, which stipulate certain safety and living condition standards for all residences in the city.
Some illegal suites meet the BC Building Code and VBBL as well, but not all.
Legalizing suites requires the suite to have several features to meet your City’s requirements:
Please contact your City Building Department to find out what their specific requirements are for your zoning or classification.
Common things are: ceiling heights, Fire Separation, separate exits, separate heating controls or systems, entrance locations, minimum and maximum sizes for units
In order to legalize a suite in Vancouver homeowners need to have an inspector who is a City Employee from the Secondary Suite program come out and assess your property. This is a free service. The inspector will identify any key issues you may have with your suite, and provide advice and plans for how to make your suite comply. Other Cities may or may not come out to assess the Secondary Suite before issuing permits.
In most cases, inspectors are more lenient when it comes to deficiencies with homeowners who report their own illegal suites than with those are caught with suites that haven’t been legalized.
However, for safety and compliance reasons, these city inspectors will require you bring your suite up to BC Building Code or Vancouver Building By-Law (VBBL) standards, which may mean extensive upgrades if the suite was done poorly.
Prior to a review by the City, having the suite, and possibly the whole house, reviewed by a licensed contractor is a very good idea. If the contractor identifies anything that was done poorly, they can advise on whether calling an official inspector is a wise decision.
In addition, it is advisable to compare the plans on file at the City to the actual layout of the home. If the current house does not match the plans on file at the City, the homeowner will be required to submit a permit application to the City, in order to begin the process to bring the house into compliance.
Further, if the current house is larger than what is allowed in its designated zone, the homeowner might be required apply for a Development Permit and possibly a Board of Variance review. If those are denied then they will be required to return the house to a size that is allowed within that zone.
With the way housing prices are now, a young family may only be able to buy a house if they can rent out the suite. As Vancouver is a popular and beautiful city, many people want to live here. Secondary suites, either legal or unauthorized, can make that dream possible.
For more information about secondary suites in Vancouver, contact Chris Tioseco with Oakwyn Realty by phone at 604-512-1000, or email or visit his office at 1286 Home Street in Yaletown. You can also visit their website or connect with him on Facebook and Instagram