Home Inspections during a Pandemic

What is Covid-19?

Artistic rendering of coronavirus

COVID-19 is the official name of the disease caused by a virus  (Short for COronaVIrus Disease of 2019). The virus itself is officially known as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2).  It is not the same as the SARS virus identified in 2003.

Both viruses are known as Zoonotic diseases, meaning they can be transmitted between animals and humans.

Like the flu, these viruses spread from the inhalation of ingestion of the resipatory liquid emitted by other bodies when they cough or sneeze.

The current mortality rate for COVID-19 is between 35% and 38%. Compared with other viruses, such as SARS (9.6% mortality rate) and MERS (34.4% mortaility rate) this disease appears to be less deadly. The transmission rates between the three viruses are:

  • SARS (2002) – 8,096 people infected (0.00013% of the global population at the time)
  • MERS (2012) – 2,494 people infected (0.00003% of the global population at the time)
  • COVID-19 (2019) – 4,180,000 people infected (as of May 12th, 2020) (0.0554% of the current global population)

This shows that the spread of COVID-19 is much higher than the previous two Coronaviruses. The bulk of the cases of the disease are in the U.S. (1,380,000 cases), Europe (Combined 1,191,000 Cases) and Russia (232,000 cases).

However compared with the Spanish Flu (1918) which infected an estimated 600,000,000 (1/3rd of the global population at the time), and killed 50 million, this latest virus is, as yet, not equal to the devastation caused by that pandemic.

The good news is that we know a lot more about the transmission of viruses now, and have better means to prevent the transmission. People still have to go about their daily lives, but proper precautions can help ensure we can all work as best as possible, and still limit the spread of the virus.

The bad news is that there are a lot more people on the planet now, thirteen times as many, so the ability to social distance is much more difficult. In addition, in 1918, it took a lot longer for people to travel long distances. So now we have more people, more likely to travel, further distances and to more crowded places. This presents a perfect breeding scenario for viruses.

Are Home Inspections and “Essential Workplace”?

The regulations, that provides the power to restrict business operation and protect the public, are made under the Emergency Management And Civil Protection Act. The specific regulation the lists “Essential Workplaces” is the Ontario Regulation 119/20 – Closure Of Places Of Non-Essential Businesses.

Under these regulations, Home Inspections are not seen as an Essential Business in their own right. This means that if you are providing a Home Inspection for a regular consumer, either as a buying or selling service, you ARE NOT entitled to work (as of publication) to perform the inspection.

A number of Inspectors (and other Associations) have suggested that Home Inspectors are part of the supply chain for Real Estate Agents. We do not believe this is so. The question you need to ask yourself to get to this conclusion is “Do you work for the Realtor?” If the answer is No, then you are not part of the supply chain. Realtors do not need Home Inspections. This was adequately shown during the 2016-2017 rush to sell without conditions. If Home Inspections were essential to Realtors, they would have been essential then, and they patently were considered not to be.

In considering our position, we also looked at the positions taken by RECO, the AIC, and CNAREA, all of who are telling their respective professionals to not enter homes.

We realise that many Inspectors are hurting, both from the COVID-19 lockdown and also the aftermathc of the “No-conditions” frenzy of the past 3-4 years. It is important to realise though that the spread of the virus has been limited by the social distancing. Over 99% of the population of Ontario has NOT contracted the COVID-19 disease. In our opinion, opening up our businesses widely and removing the social distancing and social isolation policies will lead inexplicorably to a greater spread of the virus and an increase in the mortality rate from it.

We do however recognise that there are some instances where Home Inspections could be considered part of the supply chain. These are few and limited to the following list:

  • When the Inspection is required for a legal action (i.e. being used as part of a lawsuit)
  • When the Inspection is used, by the lender, to ascertain if the Home is indeed worth lending on (i.e. the inspection is perofrmed for the Bank or an independent mortgage provider)
  • When the Inspection is used, by an insurer, to ascertain the insurability of the Home. (i.e. the inspection is performed for an Insurance company)
  • When the Inspection is used, by a Realtor, to provide due dilligence on the condition of a property that they are dealing with (i.e. The Realtor engages the Inspector, signs the agreement and pays for the inspection and they are the recipient of the report, not the consumer)

We seen no other situation that complies with the regulations currently in place (as of May 12th, 2020)

Some ancillary inspections may be allowed

A number of Inspectors also provide ancillary inspection services, including Indoor Air Quality, Water Testing and Well Inspections and Septic Inspections. We see that there are opportunities to continue to provide these services as long as they are not in conjunction with any non-compliant inspection. (i.e. normal residential Home Inspection) These inspections, we believe, are covered in the regulations are businesses that deliver or support the delivery of services including, Sewage treatment and disposal (Septic Inspections), Potable drinking water (Water testing and Well Inspections), Environmental management and monitoring, and spill clean-up and response (indoor Air Quality including Asbestos and Mould). We believe septic inspections, as long as they are not in conjunction with any non-compliant inspection, are also covered under property management services strictly necessary to manage and maintain the sanitation and essential operation of residential properties and buildings.

We believe there is also an opportunity for Inspectors to provide WETT inspections, again, as long as they are not in conjunction with any non-compliant inspection. The clauses that cover this compliance allowance are under the property management services strictly necessary to manage and maintain the safety and essential operation of residential properties and buildings.

We have provided a survey-quiz that helps you make the decision as to whether the Home Inspection you are being asked to perform complies with the regulations.

you can take this survey as many times as you like so you can check each Inspection requests against our understanding of the current regulations.

If you establish that you are legally entitled to perform the inspection, then we would advise you that it is both sensible, and your legal obligation under the Health and Safety Act, to take proper precautions. For your assistance we have provided the following advice. As an when the lock-down opens up and we are all allowed to perform more Inspections, this advice will remain pertinent.

Protect yourself as much as posible with your contract.

There is a possibility that you may find areas of a Home you are inspecting could be considered too high a risk to inspect. This happens in a normal inspection, and would be catered for, by reporting the inability to inspect that area. During the COVID-19 situation, the number of these areas migh increase. You should pre-warn your client about such circumstance, or even that you might have to foreshorten or call off the inspection due to circumstances you find at the inspection.

First and foremost, every contract should have reference to the changes to the Home Inspection Process and any limitations these changes might create.

We strongly suggest that you have a clause in your Home Inspection Contract such as this:

COVID-19 PROCEDURAL CHANGES

During the COVID-19 crisis, it is imperative for everyone's safety that you complete the COVID-19 Questionnaire and provide this to your Inspector. You agree to waive all rights of litigation, for anything with respect to this inspection, against Inspector should, as a result of information received as part of our inquiries, or as a result of actions outside of our control. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • The last-minute cancellation of the inspection
  • Early termination of the inspection
  • Refusal to inspect certain components of the property
  • Prohibiting close personal contact
  • No post-inspection personal walkthrough

You also want to ensure that you have a COVID-19 Questionnaire filled in prior to you attending an inspection. This allows you to properly gauge your areas of risk and allows you to judge how best to mitigate those risks.

OntarioACHI COVID-19 Questionnaire for Home Inspections

Cleanliness-101

Viruses are NOT bacteria. Anti-bacterial soap, regardless of the amount you use, and the number of times or length of time you wash your hands WILL NOT kill the virus. Only alcohol-based cleansers will absolutely kill the virus. The acetic acid in vinegar also kills viruses, but the acetic acid level must be 5% or greater and alcohol works better.

Washing your hands regularly and properly will remove bacteria and the running water will wash off the virus. Bacteria itself can affect your immune system, and a compromised immune system is a major cause of increased mortality to viral diseases like Covid-19.

So the recommendation is wash your hands and face regularaly with soap and water, ensuring you have a good lather, rinse and dry (preferably with a paper towel, and use the paper towel to turn off the faucet after washing. Use the paper towel to open doors in public washrooms to prevent re-contamination of your hands.

Use a hand sanitizer whenever you have to touch items as part of your work. (There’s generally no sink close by).

Reducing the risk of transmission – air transmission

The 2 metre separation does not come close to protecting anyone from an unrestricted sneeze. Here we can see a sneeze travelling 4 times that distance.
This is why everyone should wear a maks of some sort.

Disposable masks (surgical masks) are great to help prevent you from spreading illnesses that are transmitted by respiratory droplets. However, if you are well, they provide little to no protection from you getting an illness that is airborne. A surgical mask is a loose-fitting, disposable device that creates a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and potential contaminants in the immediate environment, but because it’s loose-fitting, it is highly unlikely to be efficient at preventing a virus from bypassing the cover and entering your respiratory system. (More here)

An unrestricted sneeze can send water droplets over 8 metres through the air. (Read the MIT article here)

An N95 mask, typical to the type Inspectors use for Mould and Asbestos assessments are effective at preventing water droplets (and therefore the virus) from entering the respiratory system of the wearer, but they have to be properly fitted and the ‘fit’ tested to ensure there are no gaps to allow air in other than through the filter. The general public is not properly trained to wear these masks so they will likely provide no great protection.

Remember, even a properly fitted N95 mask will not stop an infected wearer from transmitting the disease as exhaled air is not filtered by these masks. An N95 mask also only filters 97% of particulates 3 microns or greater (HEPA Filtration) so does not filter everything.

An N100 mask provides better inbound protection (at 99.97% HEPA filtration) but is in itself still not impervious to the virus. P100 provides a better re-use functionality.

Reducing the risk of transmission – Contact transmission

The virus can also enter the body through the eyes, so eye protection should be selected to protect yourself. The likelihood of airborne viruses entering the eyes is less than hand transmitted viruses getting into your eyes from touching your face and rubbing your eyes. Eye protection as simple as wrap-around safety glasses with help to prevent some of these transmission routes.

Wearing protective gloves, for example nitrile or latex gloves, can prevent you from transferring the virus from surrounding surfaces to your hands, but you need to be aware that this will contaminate the gloves. Anything you subsequently touch with the gloves could be contaminated. This includes your mask and your face and eyes. Ensure you correctly dispose of any “one-time use” masks and gloves and learfn how to properly wear and remove personal protective equipment.

Proper Sanitization

Regardless of the PPE you wear, you and your equipment may become expose to an evironment that has airborne viruses in. It is imperative to increase your protection of yourself, your friends and family and the occupants of the Home you are inspecting. This requires proper sanitization procedures.

You should ensure all the equipment that you use on an inspection is properly sanitized before each and every inspection. This includes all your meters, laptops, tablets, cameras, phones, measures probes and carrying bags, ladders etc. Sanitizing can be performed by thoroughly wiping with alcohol-based sanitizing wipes, or a disposable cloth soaked in Isopropyl (medical) Alcohol. Again dispose of the cloth and wipes properly.

We recommend you carry some wipes or medical alcohol and cloth around the home as you inspect, and you sanitize each area AFTER you’ve touched it. Your gloves should already be sanitized when you enter the property so this process ensures you do not transmit any virus onto a new location. There’s no point in sanitizing areas before you touch them only, as your gloves could pick up airborne viruses as you go through the home.

At the end of each inspection, before you remove your PPE you should sanitize all the equipment that entered the home with you BEFORE you put it back into your work vehicle. You should sanitize any part of your vehicle you’ve touched (including keys!) with your gloved hands

Remove your mask first using proper procedures not to cross-contaminate onto your skin, and then remove your gloves. See video below.

Try to reduce the number of inspections you perform. This allows you to ensure you are properly cleaned between each inspection, thus reducing the liklihood you will transmit any virus between properties.

This is obviously going to add costs and time to your inspection so you may want to warn your clients and any attendant Realtors of an increase in the time for the inspection and an increase in price to cover extra costs.