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What’s the dirtiest surface on an airplane? The result may surprise you

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Used tampons, sandwiches, loose condoms, smartphones, dirty diapers. What do they all have in common?

Flight attendants tell Marketplace they’ve all been found in the seat pockets of airplanes.

Marketplace‘s latest investigation reveals that the surfaces on a plane you’re likely touching most often might not be as clean as you think, and some are contaminated with bacteria and other pathogens.

Marketplace staff took a total of 18 short-haul flights between Ottawa and Montreal, flying with Canada’s three major airlines — Air Canada, WestJet and Porter — at various times throughout the day.

On each flight, the following surfaces were swabbed: seatbelt, tray table, headrest, seat pocket and washroom handle. In total, Marketplace collected more than 100 samples.

Microbiologist Keith Warriner tested the samples gathered by the Marketplace team on 18 short-haul flights between Ottawa and Montreal (Norman Arnold/CBC)

Those samples were then analyzed at a lab at the University of Guelph by microbiologist Keith Warriner, who tested the samples for a number of different types of bacteria, as well as yeast, mould, E. coli and other pathogens.

“I was really amazed about how much we actually recovered from them,” said Warriner.  “Some of them more scary than others.”

Nearly half of the surfaces swabbed contained levels of bacteria or yeast and mould that could put a person at risk for infection, Warriner said.

Yeast and mould were detected on the majority of the 18 flights, which Warriner said suggests that the surfaces were either not cleaned well or often enough.

The most contaminated surface on the plane was the headrest.

The most concerning finding for Warriner was E. coli bacteria detected on both the seat pocket and the headrest. The presence of E. coli indicates fecal contamination, and the bacteria can cause intestinal infections, with symptoms that can include diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

“We’ve got to try and think how would fecal contamination get inside [the seat pocket],” said Warriner.

‘It’s mostly for esthetics’

Connor Remus has a pretty good idea how a seat pocket might have come into contact with feces. The former Porter employee said he has found used diapers and other trash in seat pockets before.

“Everything goes in there; everything from the paper-thin vomit bags, to used wrappers…. I found used tampons in seat pockets before.”

Marketplace spoke to more than a dozen former flight attendants and customer service representatives about their experiences working on airplanes. Most said it was their responsibility to clean the planes between flights, but that there simply wasn’t enough time to properly disinfect an entire aircraft.

Former flight attendants describe a few reasons to avoid the seat pocket on an airplane:

Three former flight attendants describe a few reasons to avoid the seat pocket on an airplane. 1:00

The reality, said Stéphane Poirier, who previously worked for WestJet, is that staff typically have less than 15 minutes to turn a plane around. “We had no time to wash the table or clean everything perfectly.”

There’s also no time between flights for staff to use cleansers or antibacterial spray, he said, noting cleaning solutions are often not allowed on board.

“We don’t have rags, we don’t have spray on board,” said Poirier. “Lots of [cleaners] are a dangerous good … so it’s either water from the aircraft, or a napkin.”

Any cleaning that does happen, said Remus, is often totally superficial. “It definitely was not a huge priority. And when it was a priority, it wasn’t necessarily for cleanliness, it was for an esthetic purpose.”

Bacteria found on contact surfaces

The levels of staph and mould Marketplace found on tray tables is evidence that the surface hasn’t been cleaned for some time, according to microbiologist and self-proclaimed “germ guy” Jason Tetro.

Travellers should pay particular attention to the tray-table result, he said, because it likely includes a kind of staph that may cause skin and soft-tissue infections, such as boils.

A sample shows the presence of mould, which was found on a blanket. (Jenny Cowley/CBC)

“If you’re coming into contact with high levels of staphylococcus aureus, such as what you’re seeing here, then you definitely are at a higher risk of having something go wrong,” Tetro said.

Tetro suggests air passengers avoid putting their faces down on the tray table to sleep, and never placing food directly on the table surface before putting it in their mouths, as ingesting or inhaling staph can be especially harmful.

Even ‘germ guy’ went ew!

For Tetro, who works in infection control, the headrest results were the biggest surprise.

“I was shocked. Honestly, I have looked at planes, and I travel so much on planes, I’m aware of so many of the different places [where germs could be found],” he said. “But then I saw what you showed me with the headrest. And even I, the germ guy, went ‘ew.'”

The levels of staph and mould Marketplace found on tray tables is evidence that the surface hasn’t been cleaned for some time, according to microbiologist Jason Tetro. (Dave Macintosh/CBC)

Hemolytic bacteria, mainly associated with strep throat, found on one headrest was especially concerning for Tetro, as was the presence of staph on that surface.

“It really is about ingestion or inhalation,” said Tetro. “If you happen to have this on a headrest, and you’re moving your head back and forth, then there’s a very good likelihood that you could potentially be inhaling this or getting it into close enough contact that it could get into you.”

Tetro added that it can also get into wounds. “If you have acne and you’re touching your face all the time, you could get something called impetigo, you could get cystitis,” he said.

Marketplace’s samples were analyzed at a lab at the University of Guelph. (Jenny Cowley/CBC)

And it’s important to note that if staph and mould is found living on these surfaces, other microbes can live there too, he said.

“It tells you that there’s not a sufficient amount of cleaning going on; yeast and mould are tougher to clean than bacteria,” Tetro said.

Marketplace also tested the blankets offered to passengers from two of the carriers: Air Canada and WestJet. (Porter didn’t offer a blanket.) The yeast, mould and high counts of bacteria on the WestJet blanket surprised Warriner.

Lab testing on this WestJet blanket showed yeast, mould and high counts of bacteria — surprising as it came in a cellophane wrapper. The airline said it was concerned by the finding, as all of its blankets are sold new and come sealed, straight from a distributor. (Andy Hincenbergs/CBC)

“What was worrying was this was in a cellophane wrapper,” he said. “It shouldn’t have been used.”

When Marketplace reached out to WestJet about these results, the airline said it was concerned by the findings.

“We are looking into this matter further, as all blankets sold on our flights are new (not previously used) and come sealed straight from the distributor,” the company said in an email.

Airlines respond

The only time a plane gets a proper cleaning is when it is not in service, according to the former airline employees.

All three airlines declined to be interviewed but did respond to emailed questions. Air Canada, WestJet and Porter all said they follow Canadian and international cabin-grooming rules.

These samples show the presence of E. coli, which was detected on both the headrest and the seat pocket. The presence of E. coli indicates fecal contamination, and the bacteria can cause intestinal infections. (Jenny Cowley/CBC)

In its response, Air Canada pointed to a study that it says proves hygiene on airlines is dirty, but no more dirty than any other public space. The study was funded in part by Boeing, the world’s largest airplane manufacturer.

WestJet said it was concerned by the findings, but that staff do their best, given the fact that planes are public spaces. The company said its planes are cleaned daily, noting that aircraft are given a light groom after every flight, a full groom every 24 hours, a complete interior detail monthly, and an enhanced, hyper-focused groom every year.

Porter said the company is confident about its efforts to keep passengers and staff safe. Porter also said that when an aircraft is done flying for the day, teams clean the interior from nose to tail, as well as carry out an intensive cleaning every three weeks.

Tetro advises that airline passengers need to take cleanliness matters into their own hands. He suggests travellers wipe down the surfaces they’re going to touch and always carry hand sanitizer with enough alcohol to actually kill germs.

“Fifteen seconds on your hands, 30 seconds on surfaces, and you’re good to go,” said Tetro.

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Window repair or replacement is the responsibility of the condo corporation

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If the windows in your condo are hazy, drafty, or have rotting frames, it’s an indicator that they need repairs or outright replacement.

However, under the Condominium Act, it is the responsibility of the condo’s board to carry out such changes as a replaced window is a common element.

“Under the Condominium Act, a declaration may alter the maintenance or repair obligations of unit owners and the corporation but cannot make unit owners responsible for repairs to the common elements,” said Gerry Hyman is a former president of the Canadian Condominium Institute and contributor for the Star.

“A declaration for a high-rise condominium invariably provides that the unit boundary is the interior surface of windows. That means that the entire window — whether it is a single pane or a double pane — is a common element. Necessary repairs or replacement of a broken pane is the obligation of the corporation.”

According to Consumer Reports, selecting an installing windows replacement can be very overwhelming for homeowners. Therefore, if you aren’t covered by your condo’s corporation, it would be necessary to hire professional hands.

Wood, vinyl and composite windows need to be tested on how they can withstand various natural elements. For wind resistance, a window can be very tight when it’s warm but get quite cold too—especially when it begins to leak a lot.

Whatever the case may be, the bottom line remains that replacement windows can save you heating and cooling costs, but it’s best not to expect drastic savings.

Additionally, while getting a new window might help you save on your electric and gas bills, due to their expensive cost, it may take a long time to offset their cost.

Mid-last-year, the government withdraw a $377 million Green Ontario program that provided subsidy on windows to installers and repairers. Window companies had to install energy-efficient windows in order to qualify for the government subsidy that pays for up to $500 of a $1,000 to $1,500 window.

Due to the largely generous subsidies from the government under the Green Ontario program, a lot of window dealers were fully booked for months—even after the program had ended.

“We’re fine with the program ending, we just need more time to satisfy consumers,” said Jason Neal, the executive director of the Siding and Window Dealer Association of Canada, the industry group representing window dealers in a report.

According to Neal, the Progressive Conservatives acted hastily, making massive changes with no prior notice.

“No notification was given to us by anyone,” he said, noting he learned about the change through one of his dealers.

“It’s created a ripple effect.If they had just given us notice we would have pushed that down the line from the manufacturer right into the dealer right down to the consumer.”

Neal noted that he wasn’t particularly sad to see the Green Ontario program end, as it was “the worst rebate program in the history of the window industry.”

“It’s been horrible,” he said. “$500 a window has created such hysteria.”

However, despite the program ending about a year ago, numerous homeowners have been contacting window dealers consistently with concerns that they might not be able to afford replacement windows without the government’s subsidy.

“I understand their concern,” said window dealer Chris George. “I would suggest they reach out to their local representative of the government in their riding and let them know about their concerns.”

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7 Vancouver Real Estate Buying Tips

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The real estate market in Vancouver is turning around for good for everyone looking to purchase a home.

Previously soaring prices are now beginning to ease up, making it a perfect time for buyers—with real estate agents already getting ready for a very busy spring and summer season.

However, before splashing cash on a new property, there are some very important tips you need to know to ensure you make the most of the buyer’s market.

Here are some few expert tips that would guide you when purchasing a home in the sometimes frustration Vancouver seller’s market.

  1. Get adequate financing

It is very important that before you make the move to purchase a property, you put into careful consideration your credit score.

Normally, home buyers with lower scores use the secondary mortgage market to finance their purchase, as they’re more likely to pay a higher interest rate.However, it is advisable to get loan approval long before purchasing the house. This way, you are fully aware of how much you are able to spend—but never be tempted to borrow the maximum amount of money available.

“What’s your mortgage payment that you’re comfortable with? And take into the fact the taxes you’re going to have to pay, if it’s a strata – what the maintenance fees are, if it’s a home what type of maintenance are you going to have to pay in the future?” said Phil Moore, president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver in a report.

Always be careful of the type of loan you secure and ensure that you can comfortably afford it over a long period of time.

  1. Get a real estate agent

Buying a property without professional help is a very risky move and can be likened to choosing to represent yourself in court without a lawyer. While you might trust your negotiation skills, only realtors are permitted to present offers directly.

Therefore, it is necessary to get a professional real estate agent in the area to represent you. So, screen a few agents and select the best one who has in-depth knowledge of the markets and has a great reputation.

“They’re there to protect you. They’re there to walk you through each step of the process,” Moore said.

  1. Sign up for automated alerts

Most—if not all—realtors have access to the Vancouver real estate board’s database which is updated approximately two days before the public MLS website.

Therefore, you can request from your realtor to sign you up for automatic real-time alerts of all new listings. Doing this gives you an edge as you’re among the very first to know about new properties.

  1. Do a thorough inspection

After receiving an alert for a new listing, it is necessary to push almost immediately for an inspection from your realtor. In this current market, buyers now have time to make an inspection.

Making a quick inspection eliminates any surprises—as there could be major maintenance or repair issues that could spring up. Therefore, you can now table your offer based on the outcome of the inspection, with clauses about claiming your damage deposit back if everything isn’t as was advertised.

Additionally, if you notice that renovations were done, you need to be sure that it was permitted work and carried out appropriately. Failing to do this would ultimately lead to further cost down the line and simultaneously affect the resale value.

  1. Have a back-up plan

There’s always the possibility that everything may not go as smoothly as you’d want. From the inspection being a failureto the property not living up to your expectations—or not being able to agree on the closing date that matches with your needs.

However, a professional real estate agent will definitely help you get past all of these things. If you plan on selling the property as you buy, you can table that and make it part of the deal.

“You’ve got an option, especially in a buyer’s market: you can put in an offer subject to selling your place. So maybe you want to have a place lined up,” Moore added.

Additionally, building contingencies into your buying plan is necessary. Things such as unexpected delays in closing the deal, closing cost and moving costs that could result in added living expenses if that’s your permanent home.

  1. Don’t fall for the buyer frenzy

The Vancouver market buying frenzy that caused a serious climb in the prices a couple of years ago has ended. Thus, it is important not to get caught up in bidding wars with properties that have been deliberately under-priced—with the hope of initiating multiple offers.

“Some of the sellers have been on the market for over a year and they’re eager to sell. So what I’m saying to consumers is: you have a lot of choices, you’re in the driver’s seat, let’s go out and take a look at what’s available,” said Moore.

  1. Never be wary of multiple offers

When purchasing a property, don’t be afraid of multiple offers as you have the same opportunity as anybody else.

Typically, there are just a few offers below the asking price: a couple priced fully, and two or three above the asking price—depending on how close the fair market value is from the asking price.

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Do you know what kind of condo you’re buying?

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(NC) Condominiums can come in all shapes and sizes. But it’s important to know that not all condos are created equal when it comes to warranty coverage.

Whether you’re buying a condominium townhouse, loft-style two-bedroom or a high-rise studio, they are all classified as condominiums if you own your unit while at the same time share access (and the associated fees) for facilities ranging from pools and parking garages to elevators and driveways, otherwise known as common elements.

The most common types of condos are standard condominiums and common elements condominiums. The determination of how a condominium project is designated happens during the planning stage when the builder proposes the project and the municipality approves it.

When you’re in the market to buy, you need to know how your chosen condo is classified because it affects the warranty coverage under the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act. Standard condominiums have warranty coverage for units and common elements, but common elements condominiums only have unit coverage.

How could this affect you as the owner? If your condo complex has underground parking and, for example, there are problems with leaks or a faulty door, the condo designation will determine whether there’s warranty coverage.

If your unit is a standard condominium development, then the common elements warranty may cover the repairs. If it’s a common element condominium development, then repairs might have to be covered by the condo corporation’s insurance, which could impact your condo fees or require a special assessment on all the owners.

To avoid surprises, you should have a real estate lawyer review the Declaration and Description attached to your purchase agreement to be sure that you know the designation and boundaries of the unit you’re looking to purchase. Find more information on the types of condos and their coverage at tarion.com.

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