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Community and Q&A

Complete tear down or continue building?

faemow | Posted in Energy Efficiency and Durability on

I have a client who purchased a property 10 years ago with two other partners. In the initial year they were gung-ho erecting the building and then stopped, untouched for 10 years. I got invited to look at the property yesterday and where they stopped amazed me. The contractor literally stopped after he completed 95% of the exterior plywood sheathing (there’s an exposed hole on the side elevation that spans all three stories. All the windows, the roof with shingles are installed, but no Tyvek membrane to be found anywhere. There’s racoon feces on the third floor and somehow there’s puddles of water inside the house. All the exterior plywood is waterlogged, soaked all the way through and already discolored to gray. All the wood stud walls and floor boards are different shades of gray throughout. I don’t know if there’s wood rot on the studs but definitely on the plywood.

I play dumb with the partner who’s a contractor and ask why the wood is discolored, he says it’s from 10 years of sun beating down on the house and it’s not from 10 years of soaking in rain and snow.

Here’s my question, would it be better to tear the entire house down and start from scratch? Or can my client continue completing the house with water soaked wood? I cautioned my client that mold and mildew will form once the inside temperature gets warmer than the exterior. This house is located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

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  1. Expert Member

    The answer may depend on the local building inspector. The permits will have lapsed and to get a new one will probably require re-submitting the drawings, bringing the work up to the current code and an inspection of the existing structure. I'd talk to your B.I.

    Edit: On a sort of related note: Photos can be deceiving, but are you sure you have the required four foot setback to the property line? If not, the structure needs to be non-combustable.

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Malcolm is right, of course, that the project can't proceed without all needed permits.

    Assuming that your local building department has no problem with the project proceeding, you can evaluate the existing sheathing and lumber using common sense. Use an awl to check the soundness of the framing lumber and sheathing. If some (or even all) of the plywood sheathing needs to be replaced, you have to calculate whether the cost of the work is justified.

    When exposed to the weather, plywood or lumber occasionally takes on water -- these are wetting periods -- and occasionally dries out -- these are drying periods. In general, if the rate of drying exceeds the rate of wetting, plywood or lumber can remain sound for decades. But the only way to tell the condition of these materials is to check them.

    Raccoon feces can be cleaned up.

  3. user-4053553 | | #3

    Whats an awl?

  4. Expert Member

    I think it's what they call owls south of the Mason-Dixon line

  5. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #5

    It's a standard tool used by home inspectors. Awls are cheap, multipurpose tools: check lumber for soundness; start holes in softwood for screws; punch holes in leather when repairing your boots; etc.


  6. user-4053553 | | #6

    LOL! @ Malcolm

    @ Martin, You have much better inspectors then we have here, i've never seen one of those, and they are certainly not used by inspectors in these parts (Ontario Canada)

  7. faemow | | #7

    Supposedly the contractor pulled a new updated permit and an inspector did come to look at the house and told them to get an engineer to write up a report. The engineer did take a look and recommended to replace a few boards. Thanks for all the responses everyone!

  8. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #8

    Yes, there are probably a few home inspectors who have spent $1,200 on an infrared camera, but don't know how to use a $10 awl. Sometimes you need to learn the basics before you move on to more expensive gadgets.

  9. user-4053553 | | #9

    I would personally at minimum replace all the sheathing, it now has quite a few decades of "wear" compared to a finished house. Then put R20 of foam on the outside (and no interior vapour barrier which is called for by code in Ontario) to increase insulation value and reduce thermal bridging before final cladding

    @Martin Indeed, home inspectors are required by law around here whenever a house is sold but many take the short few week training course then make their living providing sub standard inspections. Its a big problem :(

  10. Expert Member
    MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #10

    So if your prescription doesn't meet the code, how would you get it approved?

  11. user-4053553 | | #11

    It would not be approved then. What do you say is needed for approval?
    In retrospect R20 of foam would be quite pricey, whats needed to keep the sheathing above the dew point anyways?

  12. Expert Member
    MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #12

    You wrote; " What do you say is needed for approval?"
    An interior vapour retardant layer of less than I perm. We might not agree with the code, but if you want to get the building passed, that's what it wants.

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