Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Big Change in Lighting

The federally mandated changes in residential lighting are finally visible on the store shelf. There are fewer selections of incandescent lamps available, and more compact florescent (CFL) and halogen choices. The mandated changes may present some changes for the average homeowner.

Realistically, the incandescent bulb met many application needs, was inexpensive to buy, and used a standard amount of energy for light output. Newer lighting generally uses less energy to produce about the same amount of light. That is the first challenge homeowners will face; thinking about light in "lumens" rather than "watts."

Next, newer bulbs do not meet the same array of applications that incandescent bulbs did. Not all new technology can be used in base-up fixtures. Some new technology can not be used with all dimmer switches. And, newer technology may not provide the same service life that older lighting did.

One area that remains a problem for CFL lighting is service life. Some incandescent lamps in use by the author have been in service for over 10 years, and continue to provide adequate light output. Testing of CFLs in similar applications has been extremely disappointing, with service life less than one-fifth of expected. Some CFL lighting has lasted less than one year.

Additionally, the CFL lamps have tended to put off quite a stink when they expire. The odor does not dissipate quickly, and is very strong. CFL bulbs also contain material that should not simply be tossed in the curbside garbage bin. Instead, trips to the hazardous waste collection site are necessary. Halogen technology may be a reasonable alternative.

Halogen bulbs have typically given off more heat per watt than CFLs or incandescent lamps. As a result, newer halogen lamps are coming out that produce nearly the same lumens. For example, a 50-55 watt halogen may replace a 60 watt incandescent.

Still, the 50 cent incandescent bulb is very attractive when compared to the much pricier halogen, CFL, or LED alternatives. food for thought, and a suggestion to know what you are looking for when shopping for lighting in today's government-managed life.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Radon Action Month

Here we are, January again!  To start the New Year off on the right foot, please consider having your home tested for Radon.  Radon is a tasteless, colorless, and odorless gas that is radioactive.  Radon decay byproducts emit radiation for 3-4 days as they decay further.  If these particles have been inhaled, lung tissue is exposed to radiation during the decay process.  This exposure may alter cell reproduction rates, causing cancer.

Look for special offers on Radon testing kits from your local health department.  Listen for public service announcements on local radio and television stations, which may include special offers for Radon testing.  To learn more about Radon and the health effects of exposure, click on the links below.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

University of Kansas


Test, Fix, Save a Life - the life you save may be your own.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

An Ugly Side of Home Inspection

True story.

While conducting a home inspection on a particularly large property in Kalamazoo County, a local real estate agent decided to engage in some small talk. About home inspectors. It turns out that this particular real estate agent lives in the same neighborhood as a local home inspector. His opening comment was that this particular home inspector living nearby "likes to engage in politics."

"Politics?" I asked. Yes, politics, apparently. Or at the least, unethical business practices.

As the story was related, the neighborhood home inspector had a friend--who happened to be another home inspector--who wanted to purchase a house. The house was apparently too costly, so the home inspectors entered into an unwritten agreement that the neighborhood home inspector would inspect the house for the other inspector, documenting problems and deficiencies that did not exist, and exaggerating the problems that actually did exist. Thus the home inspector wanting to buy the house in question would be able to ask for reductions in the sale price. It was not revealed whether or not the property actually sold.

The truthfulness of this story could not be verified, but it would seem that this particular real estate agent had little or nothing to gain by relating this story to me. This story is not shared to point fingers at anyone. It is shared to illustrate yet another reason that home inspectors should be licensed in Michigan.

It is unknown whether the inspectors involved are members of any home inspection association, or whether any association they may subscribe to has any code of ethics, nor whether this particular real estate agent reported the inspectors involved to any association. Some might suggest that the real estate agent may have been sharing this story out of frustration that nothing could be done about the home inspectors in question, and that might be a valid point. Historically, home inspector associations have not made disciplinary records available to the public, so it is difficult to ascertain what associations do take action on complaints.

Though it is likely too late for the Michigan House to act, House Bill 4014 (2011) would license home inspectors in Michigan. Introduced by Democrat Richard LeBlanc, HB 4014 has been held captive by the House Regulatory Reform Committee (Hugh Crawford, Chair). A recent conversation with Representative Crawford's office will shed some light on some possible reasons why the committee chairman has neglected to bring this very important legislation to the committee's attention.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Slate Roofing

A caller several weeks ago inquired about inspecting a home with a slate roof.  The caller had been told by previous home inspectors that she had contacted that a separate inspection was necessary, and that it needed to be performed by a specialist in slate roofing.  She evidently had bought this suggestion hook, line, and sinker.

The truth is, any competent home inspector should be able to inspect a slate roof.  In this particular circumstance, the roof appeared to be an artificial, or manufactured, slate roof.  The roof shingles likely contained asbestos, based on the age and appearance of the shingles, and the rear of the house had been re-roofed using laminated asphalt shingles.

Slate roofs are not difficult to inspect if the home inspector is competent and knowledgeable regarding slate and manufactured slate roofs.  The inspection process itself is very similar to the inspection of any other type of roof; investigating for signs of damage or leaks, looking for missing or loose shingles, investigating for signs of improper installation or alteration, and so forth.

If a home inspector is properly trained, there should be no need for an additional roof inspection during the home inspection process.  The roof should be inspected as part of any competent home inspection.  Substantive training in home inspection will include slate roofing, so a good home inspector will be able to inspect and report on the condition of a typical slate roof.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Renegotiation A Problem?

In a recent Market Watch article (The Wall Street Journal), writer AnnaMaria Andriotis discusses the real estate recovery.  According to the article, which quotes the National Association of Realtors (NAR), 36% of real estate agents report "some kind of problem" between the buy-sell agreement and closing.  One item mentioned is "renegotiations of the sale terms."

Renegotiations typically result from new information revealed during the appraisal or home inspection.  The article specifically states "appraisals have been derailing home sales in cases when the appraised value of the home comes in lower than the purchase price the buyer and seller had agreed to."  What Andriotis fails to mention is that this often occurs when the appraiser is actually doing their job, and refusing to inflate the value of a property as was often done in the past, and was a primary cause of the real estate collapse.  The same may be true in the case of home inspections, where the home inspector properly and honestly reports the true condition of the property.

What Andriotis fails to address is the real issue, that the majority of properties on the market at present are in far worse condition than sellers or real estate agents are willing to admit, and when the actual value or condition is revealed to the buyer, buyers are now more willing to insist on renegotiating the buy-sell agreement or walk away.  As is said in negotiations, no deal is better than a bad deal.  Buyers are waking up to that reality.  The twist of the article seems to be that this is a bad thing.

The truth of the matter is that it is a good thing when a buyer attends to the details, which include researching proper permits for work done on the property, having an appraisal done by an honest appraiser, and having a thorough home inspection performed by a competent and professional home inspector who answers only to the buyer.  This is a reminder that, even in this day of high technology and open information, the warning "buyer beware" still holds true.  Honestly, it is more true today than it was in the past.

If you are purchasing a home, pay attention to the details.  It may save you more money than you could imagine.  Surround yourself with professionals with integrity who will focus on your interests only.  And still, beware.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Michigan Supreme Court Ruling

The Detroit News reported on 17 August 2012 that installers of appliances have no legal duty to warn homeowners about observed safety hazards.  The case involved installers of an electric dryer.  While installing said dryer in the home of a Clinton Township (Michigan) resident, the installers observed an uncapped natural gas line.  Some time later, the home owner opened a gas valve supplying the uncapped line.  An explosion resulted, severely injuring the homeowner and her children.

In a 4 to 3 ruling, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the appliance installers had no legal duty to warn the homeowner about the danger.  The court apparently did not comment on the installer's moral or ethical duty to warn the homeowner.  Nonetheless, the appliance installer could have avoided a lawsuit, and done the morally correct thing, by putting in place a policy that any uncapped natural gas lines be capped when installing an appliance.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Who Are The Stakeholders?

Many home inspection firms are operated as sole-proprietorships or owner-operated limited liability companies. The differences are minimal, but the point is that home inspection firms are typically small companies. So this narrows down who the stakeholders are relevant to any decision made by a home inspection firm. The stakeholders become the home inspection firm, and stockholders or investors, and the clients that the firm serves.

Over the years, many professional home inspection associations have suggested that stakeholders include the seller of a property, the real estate agents involved, and the mortgage broker in addition to the home inspection firm, investors, and the firm's clients. This is improper and wrong. Real estate agents have no interest in the home inspection firm, therefore they are not a stakeholder. Likewise with the seller of a property, or a mortgage broker. While these parties may be indirectly impacted by decisions made by the home inspection firm, they have no legal or financial interest in the firm. They should not be considered stakeholders.

Home buyers should be wary of home inspection firms that consider parties that do not have a financial or legal interest in the firm as stakeholders. This will more often than not muddy the agency dilemma faced by the home inspection firm, and could create a scenario where the client's interests are not a priority. As the saying goes, buyer beware.