Saturday, December 13, 2008

Are You Safe?

You should be aware of and checking for hidden electrical hazards in and around your home.

Damaged wires or deterioration to exposed wire sheath can present shock or fire hazard in your home if not repaired.

If you have overheated plugs or outlets, fuses that blow, or circuits that trip frequently, it may indicate an overload of the circuit, or possibly faulty electrical wiring or equipment.

You should test your GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlets every month to make sure they are operating properly. Defective GFCI outlets can be identified by pushing the red test button. If the power stays on after you have pushed the button, your GFCI is defective. These defects are more common with older GFCI products.

Dim or flickering lights can also be a warning sign. Often, they can indicate a loose connection in a lighting circuit, fixture or in your electrical service.

Don't forget to look for power lines running through or between trees. Call your local Hydro office. Do not climb or try to trim trees yourself.

You should also avoid problems by making sure your home has no frayed or damaged extension cords or cord ends with exposed wires. Extension cords used incorrectly or as permanent wiring can also create potential shock and fire hazards. Be on the look-out for damaged cords, undersized cords, cords under carpeting or furniture, and interior-rated cords being used outside.

Overloading outlets is also a big no no since it can often cause overheating and could cause a fire. You should contact a licensed electrical contractor if you're not certain of the load rating for your home's wiring. General purpose circuits are rated at 15 amps in most homes. As well, while covre plates are a quick fix, damaged outlets should be repaired to prevent fire and shock.

Incorrect grounding can cause shocks. Look for missing third prongs, or 2- to- 3-prong adapters. Consult an electrician for help in updating.

For more information, contact the Electrical Safety Authority at

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Do You Have A Mold Problem?

Molds are found in the air outside and in all buildings. They come into the home in many ways -- through open windows and doors, on clothing, pets, food or furniture. The problem actually begins when mold starts to grow inside the home.

Some mold growing, for instance, on the window sill, but not anywhere else, is not a cause for concern. You should take a look at your home to find out the presence and extent of mold.

One way to figure out the extent of mold in your home is to estimate the area of mold.

Mold is considered to cover a small area if the area is no larger than a square metre. There should be no more than three patches, and each patch needs to be smaller than a square metre. You can clean these areas up yourself using a detergent solution, rubber gloves and a dust mask. You need to clean these small areas up because they could grow into larger areas over time if ignored.

Bleach is not recommended as a cleaning agent for mold because the presence of organic materials, the pH (acidity/alkalinity) of the water, the surface material and contact time affect the effectiveness of the bleach for disinfection. Since these factors are not controlled, bleach can't be relied upon for disinfection. As well, cancer-causing substances can be formed by the reaction of bleach with organic materials. In addition, the fumes created are harmful.

The area is considered moderate if there are more than three patches, each patch is smaller than a square metre, or there is one or more patches larger than a square metre, but smaller than three square metres. In this case, you should hire a professional to assess the situation. You can clean it by yourself, but you have to follow proper procedures and use the proper protective equipment.

A mold area is considered extensive is a single patch of mold is larger in area than a sheet of plywood, or three square metres. Being exposed to this much mold is not a good idea, so don't try and clean this up on your own. You need professional help to both determine WHY the mold is there, and how to clean it up.

Seek professional help if there's a lot of mold, the home is very damp or moist, mold keeps returning after repeated clean-ups, or someone has asthma or other health problems that seem to be aggravated inside the home.

To get professional help, contact the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) for a list of people who have completed the CMHC Residential Indoor Air Quality Investigator Program. The investigator will examine the indoor air quality and document your concerns. As well, he will identify the problems, find the source, and suggest solutions.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mold -- What Is It and Why Do We Care?

Why do we care about mold in the house? What's the big deal, you may ask?

Damage to materials is one concern. Materials can get stained or discoloured, and over time they are ruined. Moldy paper and cardboard disintegrate over time. Fabrics are damaged. Continued mold growth can indicate moisture conditions in the house that are favourable for the growth of fungi that cause wood rot and structural damage.

When molds are growing inside the home, you have health concerns about which to worry because molds release chemicals and spores.

Health experts say that, depending on the type of mold in the home, the amount and the degree of exposure, and the health condition of the occupant, the health effects of mold can range from being insignificant to causing allergic reactions and illness. Pregnant women, infants, the elderly and those with health problems, such as respiratory disease or a weakened immune system, are more at risk with exposure to mold. Consult your doctor if you believe there is someone at risk.

How Can You Tell If It's Mold?

Discoloration is a sign of mold. However, all discoloration is not due to mold. Carpeting near baseboards, for example, can be stained by outdoor pollutions entering the home. Stains or soot may also be caused by the smoke from burning candles or cigarettes.

Mold may be any colour: black, white, red, orange, yellow, blue or violet. Dab a drop of household bleach onto a suspected spot. If the stain loses its colour or disappears entirely, it may be mold. If there is no change, it probably isn't mold.

Sometimes molds are hidden and can't be seen. However, a musty or earthy smell often indicates the presence of molds. However, a smell may not be present for all molds. Even when you don't notice a smell, wet spots, dampness or evidence of a water leak are indications of moisture problems and mold may follow, if it isn't already present.

What Are Molds?

Molds are microscopic fungi, a group of organisms which also include mushrooms and yeast. Fungi are highly adapted to grow and reproduce rapidly, producing spores and mycelia in the process.

We encounter mold everyday. Foods spoil because of mold. Leaves decay and pieces of wood lying on the ground rot due to mold. That fuzzy black growth on wet window sills is mold. Paper or fabrics stored in a damp place get a musty smell that is due to the action of molds.

Some molds can be useful to people, such as penicillin and some food (i.e. yogurt). Molds are undesirable when they grow where we don't want them, such as in homes. Over 270 species of mold have been identified in Canadian homes.

Molds will grow if we provide them with the moisture and nutrients. If we keep things dry, mold doesn't grow. High moisture levels can be the result of water coming in from outside, through the floor, walls or roof, plumbing leaks, or even from moisture produced by the people living in the home, from things like bathing, washing clothes or cooking. Water enters the building when there is a weakness or failure in the structure. Moisture accumulates within the home when there isn't enough ventilation to expel it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Canadian Average Home Prices Up In Third Quarter

Home prices in Canada's resale real estate market continued to grow modestly through the third quarter in most major cities, according to a house price survey report recently released by Royal LePage Real Estate Services. This dissimilar Canadian trend is in stark contrast to the housing market woes that continue to plague the United States.

The year 2007 marked the peak of Canada's longest sustained residential real estate market expansion. It was a period characterized by higher-than-normal annual unit sales, constrained listings supply, and in many cases, sharp price increases. It is not surprising that the regions that had experienced the largest and quickest rise in home value are now experiencing easing price appreciation trends, as their markets return to more balanced conditions.

From coast to coast, strong fundamentals, such as favourable rates of employment, solid local economies, and the continuing availability of affordable mortgage financing, have positioned Canada's housing market to weather the storm south of the border and allow the country to continue to chart its own course.

"Canada's housing market is holding up well, with resilient buyer demand supporting house prices that continue to inch upwards. While rate of price appreciation is obviously tempering across the entire country, it's important to underscore the fact that Canada's housing market is supported by markedly different and stronger economic fundamentals than those that American homeowners are wrestling with," said Phil Soper, president and chief executive, Royal LePage Real Estate Services.

"For the most part, Canadian home buyers have been able to shrug off the gloomy stories of economic woe from south of the border and are taking advantage of reasonable financing options and healthy levels of housing supply. Average house price appreciation curves are beginning to flatten, but this is a completely natural reaction to the explosive gains that characterized the market earlier this decade."

Soper added, "The Canadian housing market is on a very different path than that experienced by our American neighbours. Credit-worthy Canadians continue to have wide access to fairly priced mortgages. While we are not immune to the serious problems facing global credit markets, our financial institutions are in much better shape than mortgage providers in the U.S. In Canada, subprime or high-risk mortgages account for a small portion of our banks' portfolios and the mortgage approval process has many more checks and balances in place. As such, we should expect stability in Canada's real estate market."

Monday, November 24, 2008

Condominium Living: What You Need to Know When You're Buying New

What questions should prospective buyers of new condo units ask their lawyers, and ask them well before closing? The most important questions cover a basic trinity:
  • the real cost of both closing the deal and then living in that new condo each month;
  • exactly what you will get for the price you pay;
  • the rules by which you will have to abide if you do not want to face everything from neighbours pounding on the walls to the condo board suing you.

Real costs

When you buy a condo, you will take on mortgage payments, of course, but you will face other costs, both lump sums and monthly charges.

When is the best time to consider these costs? As early as possible during the 10-day recision period that follows the signing of the offer to purchase. Any time in those 10 days, you can back out if sticker shock sets in.

A new condo in the $200,000 range may carry total closing costs of $8,000 or more. That includes not just expected costs: legal fees of perhaps $2,000, and both provincial and any applicable municipal land transfer taxes, but a slew of charges levied on the developer by the municipality and then passed on to you.

You, therefore, need to pay close attention to what you will have to fork over every month. Yes, there will be that mortgage payment, but there will also be a monthly maintenance fee that covers your share of the building's operating costs, and that probably does not include your electricity costs since, in most new condos, each unit has its own hydro meter.

You may also face user fees for things that you might expect to be free. That might include a fee to use the party room, or a fee to have your parents or grandchildren stay the night in the guest suite.

What you are getting

If the extra cash required on closing comes as a shock, so might the look of your suite when you finally move in. Don't assume that the finishes and fixtures you see in the model suite or artist's renderings will be the ones that you get in your suite. They may be upgrades. Remember, never assume.

And don't expect your suite to be a mirror image of those model suites, even if they have similar layouts. The model suite may be 1,150 sq. ft., compared with your 1,100 sq. ft.

You have to ask if those are the appliances or the faucets or the tiles you are paying for, or if they are upgrades. You have to know just what a 10-foot-by-10-foot room really looks like.

Purchasers should also understand that occupation and closing dates may well be delayed. Have your lawyer explain the Tarion Warranty Corporation rules governing delays and have a standby plan if your condo is delayed.

Rules and regulations

When it comes to condos, your home is definitely not your castle. Every project is going to have written rules that are aimed at guaranteeing all residents have quiet enjoyment of their homes.

That can mean a limit on the kind, number and size of family pets. It can mean no barbecuing on balconies. It can mean limits on the number of people living in a suite, when, how and with whom you can use the pool, how loud you can play your sound system, and even what colour you can paint your front door.

It is up to you, the buyer, to know all these things before you close the deal. You want to avoid surprises.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tax Assessments Get A New Look

The Municipality Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) has redesigned the 2008 property assessment notice to make it easier to read and understand. This year's assessment notice will include the following:

* the assessed value of the property for each of the next four tax years
* the percentage by which the property has increased or decreased in value since the last assessment update in 2005, and the average percentage by which properties across the municipality have changed in value
* a history of past adjustments, if any, made by MPAC through a request for the reconsideration process, or the assessment review board to the assessed value of the property, and whether these are reflected in the current assessment
* details about the property, including lot size, square footage, year of construction
* a user ID and password that can be used to access About MyProperty
* the address of the nearest MPAC local office where questions can be answered and concerns addressed in person
* the toll-free phone number for MPAC's customer contact centre.

A brochure is being mailed with each notice, explaining how property owners can determine if their assessment is accurate and, if they feel it isn't, what options are available to them.

For more information, taxpayers can call the MPAC customer contact centre at 1-866-296-MPAC (6722). This is toll-free.

Property Tax Assessments to Rise

Residential property owners in Ontario can expect an average assessment increase of five per cent in 2009, the first year of a four-year phase-in plan.

"Residential property values have increased by an average of about 20 per cent across Ontario since 2005, when the last assessment update was done," says Carl Isenburg, president and chief administrative officer of the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC).

With a four-year phase-in, taxpayers will see an average assessment increase of five per cent next year.

An increase in assessment does not necessarily mean an increase in property taxes. If the assessed value of a home has increased by the same percentage as the average in the municipality, there might be no increase in the property taxes paid by a taxpayer.

The phase-in program doesn't apply to decreases in assessed value. The full amount of a decrease will be applied during the 2009 tax year.

"Our values are based on actual sales and trends in real estate markets across the province," Isenburg explains. Municipalities establish tax rates that are applied to assessed values to pay for local services and the provincial government sets rates for the education portion of the tax.