Going Green and giving up Lattes

For anyone that has happened upon this post that is not interested in conserving energy, and/or saving money, please click away right now.

LED lightsWhether one has good arguments about whether there is any kind of energy crisis or not, I think I can get even the most radical resisters-of-change to admit to wanting to save money.

As with any new technology, there are almost always going to be higher initial costs of the product as new infrastructures are built to make the new technology, and to pay for those new infrastructures.

For example, some of the resistance for auto manufacturers to produce more energy efficient cars is due to the retooling necessary to build those cars and the fact old infrastructures have not yet paid for themselves.  That said, transitioning slowly into new technologies is not always a bad thing.  Time allows the bugs to be worked out in new products and allows for a more gentle transition as new factories get rebuilt and old ones are torn down or modified.

One technology we can all get on board with is LED lighting.

The quicker we get on board, the sooner prices will come down.  I have already witnessed a huge drop in the cost of these bulbs since four or five years ago.  I recommend by-passing the entire CFL phase of the transition to more efficient lighting.  They break too easy, have warnings about safety when they are broken and are not dimmable.  While there are dimmable ones made, they are more expensive and they typically require replacement of the wall switches too, which just adds to the cost of the bulbs.  They also are notorious for not lasting nearly as long as claimed.

I just bought a 40 watt equivalent (uses 8 watts) LED bulb the other day for less than 6 bucks.  Speaking of bucks, many people spend more than than in a day at Star-bucks.

Giving up just a few lattes a week can eventually allow you to replace all the bulbs in your home and very quickly you would be able to buy twice as many lattes every week.

Regular incandescent bulbs last anywhere from 750 to 1,000 hours before burning out.  While there are long-life incandescent bulbs that last up to 2,500 hours they are less energy efficient and produce less light per watt. LED bulbs have projected bulb life of 25,000 hours.  There will come a time when light bulbs may not be included with the sale of the home.  Just kidding, but you might want to verify any noted at the time of sale are still there when you move in.

Take a moment to digest the following:

LED light bulbThe U.S. Department of Energy estimates rapid adoption of LED lighting over the next 20 years in the United States could save about $265 billion in energy costs and eliminate the construction of 40 new power plants.

That to me is a staggering indictment of the incandescent bulb.

People like to whine how they don’t like the quality of light from LED’s.  Well the truth is the light from LED bulbs is much closer to the quality of natural light than incandescent bulbs have ever been—we are just used to their quality of light.  I for one will not miss them.

For those of you that just insist on the quality of light from incandescents there are now LED’s with lenses designed to mimic incandescents–and many other colors as well.  So the “red light districts” all around the country will not suffer any losses with the elimination of incandescent bulbs.

Another thing about LED’s is that they are dimmable (although they too typically require replacement of switches) and work in any normal fixture just like any incandescent bulb.

LED’s—a level of going green we all can get on board with.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

If you enjoyed this post, and would like to get notices of new posts to my blog, please subscribe via email in the little box to the right. I promise NO spamming of your email!

The codes are the minimum standard—the worst house you are allowed to build.

We have all heard home inspectors make comments that go something like this: “I do not do code inspections.”

Double HandrailWhile “technically” this is most likely correct, it is in fact a little disingenuous.

In an attempt to protect ourselves from perceived liability we maintain this notion that we do not do “code inspections.”

I want to go into this a little further and take a look at just what such statements mean.

At an ASHI conference several years ago, the speaker, Douglas Hansen, well known Code God and author of a series of books called “Code Check,” asked the 90+ home inspectors how many of them owned a copy of the 2009 IRC. Now keep in mind that this version of the code had only just gone into effect in Washington State. By show of hands, about 2/3 of the inspectors claimed to own a copy.

This indicates that while we may not be “code inspectors” we seem to have a lot of interest in the codes.

So what is a Code Inspector?

I think the general perception is that a code inspector is a “jurisdictional inspector.” He or she is someone that is actually on the payroll of some municipality or county to verify work done on structures complies with the codes at the time of construction. So when home inspectors claim they are not jurisdictional code inspectors, they are quite accurate–we are not being paid by the city or county, we are being paid by someone else entirely. In fact the person who has hired us is probably more concerned about the condition of the home they are buying than the municipality is concerned about the overall structure that our client is buying.

Another very important thing to keep in mind is home inspectors are generally not authorized to interpret the codes. So while we might say something does not conform to some particular code, if there is an argument, the code inspector is the one who is officially authorized to have the “final word”–even if they are wrong.

Due to time constraints, the code inspectors must necessarily be more superficial in their inspections than the home inspector is. However they are generally there at intervals during the whole process and get to sign off on many things the home inspector will never see. They tend to hone in on the major things that would affect whether the house is going to fall down and kill someone or whether it is going to burn down and kill someone.

They are (in my experience as a builder) pretty good at picking out the big stuff–the important stuff. They quickly tend to get to know a builder’s work and know who they have to pay more attention to and who they do not. If you are a homeowner doing your own work, they can make you wish you had hired a professional–and often deservedly so. The system is far from perfect, and home inspectors are relied on as part of the oversight process. This was not always the case. It may still not be the case with some hard headed home inspectors and jurisdictional inspectors.

Almost everything that a home inspector calls out during a home inspection is in some way tied to the codes.

After all, the codes are the bare minimum standard to which we are required to build a home. Most builders do better than this. All builders miss things too. So while we may not come out and say that the handrail with no returns on the ends is a violation of the building code, we in fact know that it is wrong because there is a code that says so, and we could quote it to a builder or buyer if we needed to. The fact that we are more likely to language around the word “code,” and merely state that it does not, or may not, conform to current standards, should not imply that we aren’t interested in, or have some knowledge of the codes, or to say that the codes are not necessary to what we do.

In the real world it works better to not use the word code because in some cases it gives us an “out” if we find that we have crossed over into the Twilight Zone of some jurisdiction that has not adopted or is not enforcing some particular code. Also some manufacturer may have requirements that supersede code. It is not possible to know every applicable code for every jurisdiction, code cycle, and/or time of adoption. Even the “code inspectors” can’t do that. That said, a good working knowledge of the codes is important to be able to know that what some of the things we are looking at are problems or not.

More and more, houses are getting to the point where there are more and more things to show us that we don’t know what we don’t know.

It is no longer adequate for a home inspector to pretend that the codes are outside of their purview. They are not–and never have been outside our purview–even though we would like to pretend otherwise.

There is this perception among home inspectors that if we say something does not meet code we are opening ourselves up to the notion that we have checked every single item in the home for compliance with the code. I am not sure where this perception came from, as even the people being paid to do the specific job of code inspections are not held to this standard. The other confusing thing is that this mind set condemns us for bringing what are the bare “minimum requirements” to someone’s attention.

I see the building codes as merely one more tool in my tool box to provide better information–better inspections–for the consumer. I make it very clear when I find myself in a position where I am quoting the codes that it is regarding that specific issue and that issue alone and cannot be construed to mean I am doing a “code inspection.”

These specific code references are never part of the inspection report. They usually come into play when I have said something in the report like: “The ends of the handrails on the basement stairs do not return to the wall as required. I recommend proper repairs by a qualified party.” The builder comes back and says: “Who says it is required to return to the wall?” This is when I could provide a code reference to support what I said in the report. Pretty simple really. (By the way, did you know that the requirement for the ends of handrails to return to the wall has been in the building codes since 1927?)

Don’t be a wimp–the codes are the minimum standard–the worst house you are allowed to build. When we are splitting hairs over the code it is more a matter of what color Gremlin you want–not a Tesla.

Many builders strive to be better than the minimum.

Many inspectors strive to be better than the minimum.


By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

If you enjoyed this post, and would like to get notices of new posts to my blog, please subscribe via email in the little box to the right. I promise NO spamming of your email!

Copy and Paste, Home Inspection Recommendations

Take a look at the following two pictures and see if you can tell me the difference between the two pictures.

round louver ventround louver vent

Well the difference is that they were taken five years apart.

Plus an extra coat of paint.

The louvered cap is for the bathroom vent fan.

The fan was not pulling any air at the time of the first inspection and responded the same way 5 years later. Surely, more proof that things do not get better with age.

This particular type of cap has a screen behind the louvers that very quickly clogs with lint. The inspection report for the first inspection called for replacement of this cap with a proper cap with a back-draft damper. In the best “green” tradition, I got to recycle the exact same recommendation over again.

Fortunately this was a guest bath that most likely was very rarely used, but all the same, the use of the home may change and then moisture levels in this bathroom will not be able to be controlled properly.

This type of cap if of almost no use in modern construction and when you see them you should question what they are being used for.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

If you enjoyed this post, and would like to get notices of new posts to my blog, please subscribe via email in the little box to the right. I promise NO spamming of your email!