Hugh Cairns: Grow ops cause grief

Various clues are left behind by the operators of indoor marijuana grow operations that can assist in confirming the presence of a former grow op. Photo: Contributed – (Photo: Hugh Cairns)

Hugh Cairns: Grow ops cause grief

It’s no surprise that the preferable method for growing marijuana is indoors. Although it costs more to produce marijuana indoors than outdoors, it does have its benefits for the grower, but never for the homeowner or a mortgage holder. Grow ops often carry a stigma for the property owner, one that is hard to shake and usually ends up costing them money. Sadly, growers just don’t care.

Cultivating pot indoors allows the grower to control the crop in almost every way.  The largest advantage is concealing the crop from the public eye. Growers can control the amount of light that the plants get in order to maximize the flowering of the plant. They also can control the temperature of the room and vary the amount of water and nutrients to get the most out of growth.  Growing marijuana indoors produces the largest harvests and greatly influences the quality.

Sophisticated growers take the cultivation of their crops seriously and control the growing elements to a precise level. Some grows have reservoirs that are piped to the pots that the plants are grown in. A timer controls the delivery of water and nutrients to each plant. As the water drains from the plant it is returned back to the reservoir. Good draining soil that contains perlite or other additives makes for better drainage and discourages pests. Most marijuana gown indoors is done so under powerful grow lamps such as a metal halide or high pressure sodium. The conditions that are created by this criminal activity are great for those racking in the cash, but can be disastrous for the structure and the owner. The biggest enemy to the structure is mould caused by warm moist air that can be circulated throughout the home by the furnace blower, and secondly, alterations to the structure and electrical systems that can be very costly to remediate.

Indoor grow ops need power. Lots of it. The smart meter system is sure to help expose those who steal electricity to profit illegally. Theft of hydro, mainly through grow-ops, costs BC Hydro customers $150 million a year. The cost of theft is simply passed on to the law abiding consumer. Once the entire hydro grid is connected to smart meters, electrical service providers will be able to analyse what the metered billing is for a very specific area and determine if there is a discrepancy between usage and billing and investigate. If you’ve seen the damage that grow ops cause, or if you’ve been a victim of unscrupulous growers, you’ll welcome the sight of smart meters in your neighborhood. 

There isn’t a typical house, condo, mobile home or neighborhood where I see a grow-op set up. However, grow-ops are often housed in rentals and the onus of property damage remains with the owners. It is sad, but unscrupulous owners try cover up these tainted former grow ops with a paint job and try to sell them to unsuspecting buyers.

Grow op clues

Experienced and trained home inspectors always make it a priority to assess the home for warnings of a grow-op.

  • Mould is a typical clue. Grow-ops elevate the temperature and humidity levels in the home to 25 degrees – ideal conditions for toxic mould growth. This mould can coat the walls and ceilings of a home or the infestation may be more sinister, eating the walls from the inside out.
  • Electrical system – look for damage caused by growers boring or chipping holes through the house’s concrete foundation to tap into the main power cable and bypassing the hydro meter. There are no circuits or fuses to protect the incoming load of stolen power, creating a dangerous electrical hazard and fire risk. The residual hole is sometimes covered with drywall or repaired improperly leading to water problems in the basement or permanent structural damage.
  • Repairs in unusual places – holes are punched through walls and ceilings to accommodate for exhaust systems that vent excess moisture and odours. Look for a large vent holes in the fireplace. Even little clues like hooks left in ceilings for hanging lights or staple marks around windows for tight window coverings give away the grow op. Grow-ops operators sometimes disconnect the furnace and hot water tank flues to help feed the plants, poisoning the air with excess combustion gases. 

It used to be that grow-ops were in production until they were dismantled or the house was destroyed. Now illegal grow operators make a quick buck off of a few crops and take their wares and destruction to the next location. These homes are finding their way onto the market and require costly restorative repairs.