2014 So Far: The Good, the Bad, and the Future

Posted on 03. Oct, 2014 by in Architecture, Building Science, Caring for your Home, Eco-Inspector, Energy, Ethics, New Homes, Older Homes

The end of spring/summer real estate season is time to catch up on personal business, analyze trends and plan ahead.

Armed with flashlight, screwdriver and little gray cells here’smy look around the housing industry

Mega-trends

I’ve worked for up-and-coming multi-degreed professionals, investors, software engineers/designers/managers, medical professionals, first-time buyers, retirees, divorced and widowed persons; everyone except my main source of income; the middle-middle class.   Many homes are still underwater…. there are mega-reasons it’s taking Atlanta so long to recover:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/02/28/how-the-recession-turned-middle-class-jobs-into-low-wage-jobs/  

Commons place with View

Atlanta

Accessible Atlanta is fact, and not just with Millennials.  Walkable Urban Places, WalkUPs, are where the money is: http://www.smartgrowthamerica.org/2013/10/03/new-report-reveals-historic-shift-in-real-estate-demand-in-atlanta-ga/

Codes and Safety: avoid the 200F wall

Contractors, Permits and Appraisals 

Most inspection defects aren’t the fault of reputable contractors-they’re caused by homeowners who believe they can do it with just a click of the mouse and a trip to the big box DIY store. http://www.freep.com/story/sponsor-story/hire-it-done/2014/09/26/contractors-are-people-too/16258659/

Un-licensed homeowners, flippers and jackleg contractors cost morein the long run.  Here’s a list of trades requiring licensure.  http://www.contractors-license.org/ga/Georgia.html

Revised appraisal rules taking locally established professionals out of their literal areas of expertise, are a mixed blessing
http://realestate.msn.com/article.aspx?cp-documentid=21080260

Licensed plumbers know sewer should drain downhill

Water Conservation, Energy Efficiency, Healthy Home

The oft-misunderstood DeKalb Water Conservation Ordinancediscussed in detail:  http://dekalbrealtors.com/realtor-tools/

Energy improvements offer above-market returns, not to mention healthier air and better comfort.  Here’s a link to certified energy contractors http://www.bpi.org/tools_locator.aspx?associateTypeID=CT 

Whole-house dehumidifier at Villa Curl also provides a dedicated source of fresh air

 

 

 

 

 

Builders get the first part of the “Build it tight, ventilate it right”equation, they’ve yet to master the second.  Here’s a good first step to understand how to breathe easy.
http://www.southface.org/ez/media/gapoweriaqbooklet.pdf

 

Next time:  History Lesson:  Why 1995 was the 9/11 for Atlanta housing.

Put in a good word for Dan Curl and Comprehensive Home Inspections at Google Review
https://plus.google.com/105379744050065013937/about

 

Letters Home

Posted on 16. Aug, 2014 by in Architecture, Building Science, Caring for your Home, Eco-Inspector, Energy, Ethics, General, Healthy Home, Heating and Air-Conditioning, Nature, New Homes, Older Homes

Moore’s Law in practice: Duct system zone control motherboards that used to cost 9000 are now 400

Inspectors typically work Point of Sale transactions.  A lot of what we do gets lost in the buyers rush to negotiate, move and settle. Here are my reasons to schedule aMaintenance Inspection every 6-9 years.

The science of how we build and live in homes is changing.  Materials, methods and lifestyle all have an impact on function and durability.

 

The Whole Enchilada: Electric code now requires upgraded mains, panel, breakers, wiring and fixtures. Main panel should have been moved during this kitchen renovation

IT makes for affordable components and systems. There’s no reason to assume that the way we build homes will remain unchanged while the world around us is speeding along at the rate of Moore’s Law

Because of bureaucratic hassle obtaining a building permit in metro Atlanta may be considered an option, not a requirement.  Most Building Codes are updated every three years.  Significant codes changes respond to major disasters or building component failures.

 

Dirty cooling fins reduce efficiency and appliance life

A home built or renovated to code is worst structure you can legally build. Go below that minimum at your own risk.  Exceed it and you’ll benefit in the long run.

Systems and components last an average 6-15 years.  Simple and easy maintenance extends service life

Latent, long-developing defects due to sunlight, heat and moisture are less noticeable and, eventually, more costly to repair

 

 

Moisture wicking through foundation wall makes a moldy basement and reduced wall strength

Additions, renovations and energy upgrades alter the movement of heat, air and moisture inside the home. Good time for an inspection.  Not going to move?  Don’t count on it.  I inspect Never-gonna-move-again homes all the time.

The culture of how we build communities is changing:  http://wabe.org/post/what-do-you-do-broken-suburb.  Keeping up with the Jones is more about re-sizing and lifestyle options.

 

 

 

Not Good Housekeeping. Are you using your mechanical closet for storage?

Lost in Translation:  “the idea that houses can loved and beautiful…..has been reduced to a grim business of facts and figures, an uphill struggle against the relentless urge of technology and bureaucracy, in which human feeling has almost been forgotten.”  Buildings, especially homes, should speak the character and aspirations of their owners.  A home can be more than just new countertops.

Homeowners, builders and realtors may not know all that is, and is becoming, aboutHow Homes Work. That’s my job, let me help.

 

 

House-smart realtor Peggy Desiderio noticed a knothole-split deck stair stringer

Applied Building Science. Adjacent crawl vent feeds moist 93F air onto a 55F supply air duct. The result: 100% saturated subfloor and mold

New methods, durable materials. Moisture barrier and weather-resistant stainless steel exhaust housing

 

 

Cool in June

Posted on 17. Jun, 2014 by in Architecture, Building Science, Caring for your Home, Eco-Inspector, Energy, Healthy Home, Heating and Air-Conditioning, Nature

The Streetlight Effect: convenience trumps reality

Thermostat Wars and The Streetlight Effect

Too much A/C gives me sinusitis, too little and I can’t sleep.  You may be comfortable at 79, but it’s 78 for me. Family beach week is a constant battle between the 70F-crew and grumpy uncle Dan.
Individual comfort depends very much on the specific needs of the comforted. How homeowners solve cooling deficiencies depends upon their understanding of the problem. When I see a fan in every room during an inspection I consider the Streetlight Effect.

The Streetlight Effect 

The easy fix is tempting.  The quite human tendency to accept the most convenient solution is known as The Streetlight Effect
http://io9.com/5983112/how-the-streetlight-effect-keeps-scientists-in-the-dark

Ceiling fans (Air velocity) is just one of six comfort metrics. 
http://www.hse.gov.uk/temperature/thermal/factors.htm

Common Cooling Fixes: 

More fans may be a simple answer but not the right solution

Appliances:  Rule of thumb load calculations and latent discomfort

Rule of Thumb vs Load Calcs
Determining appliance size and duct layout with default measurements from what was done on the previous job is a Streetlight Effect shortcut.  Make your HVAC installer perform appliance and duct load calculations to determine the correct amount of energy it takes to heat and cool.  Too big, small, fast or slow may compromise comfort. Software makes the math easy.  Meet the Code, do load calcs 

Over-Loads: 500 square foot vaulted west-facing addition with 12 windows and 3 skylights

 

It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity  Latent heat control is the key to comfort.  Opt for dehumidifiers and variable speed appliances. Unmanaged humidity is conducive to mold.
http://www.buildingscience.com/documents/bareports/ba-0214-conditioning-air-in-the-humid-south-creating-comfort-and-controlling-cost

Building Enclosure:  Don’t let living large=costly discomfort

Fouled filters are the HVAC equivalent of going for run with sock stuffed down your throat

 

Big homes don’t have to be energy-expensive and uncomfortable.  Atlanta has a corps of energy-savvy design and installation experts trained to fix problems like:

  • Energy-hogging FROGS (family room over garage)
  • Hot-topped, cold-bottomed split level homes
  • Vaulted, glass-walled, skylit BIG ADDITIONS 
  • Burning Hot Poptop attic conversions

Atlanta’s Southface http://www.southface.org/ is a clearing house for energy efficient, healthy design

Use industry standards for comfort and health

Don’t monkey around with Ducts

Obsess about furnace filters.  Dirty filters are bad for airflow, equipment, and air quality
Balance airflow with larger, strategically located return air openings
Support and straighten ducts. Crushed and sagging ducts slow airflow and dehumidification. 

Holes in pressurized duct systems blow your dollars away.   Secure and seal ducts and plenums
Take it inside  Ducts and equipment in 150F Hotlanta attics are 45% less efficient than those in conditioned space

Cooling comfort is attainable and sustainable.  Contact a comfort-smart independent inspector who knows his BS……before you buy that next fan.

A Question of Balance

Posted on 23. May, 2014 by in Architecture, Building Science, Caring for your Home, Eco-Inspector, Healthy Home

Five small windows work where one big one would not. Reflected light on the counter and island complete the effect. Architecture Tourist TK agrees

Economies in Equilibrium

Efficient systems require balance.   Part of my job is to discover out-of-balance components before they compromise function and safety.  I rail against the over-emphasis on appearance at the expense of durability because I know, sometime in the future, failures will occur.
Appearances do make a difference, especially when they express common architectural language with a unique voice.

nman Park window vernacular, three color scheme, simple lines and durable features

Lowes and Lead Paint

Contractors are tasked with identifying and controlling lead paint during renovations. This new approach is still a bit out of balance:
http://www.remodeling.hw.net/business/regulations/lowes-to-pay-record-500k-penalty-over-subs-lead-paint-rule-violations_o

Simple screened porch jazzed-up with red floor and bright fabrics. Curtains moderate light and privacy

Pressure Balance

Pressure Regulating Valves (PRV) protect your water piping from excessive external pressures generated from the public water supply.  Thermal expansion devices protect piping from internal pressures.  You need both.

Valves prevent high street pressure from damaging pipes, fixtures and fittings

Too small return forces the airhandler to suck cold from the slab foundation. Increased air speed whistles Dixie

Negative Returns

Balanced airflow in a forced air duct system is critical.  If the area of return openings is insufficient pressure is balanced by drawing air from outside the conditioned space.  This often leads to comfort and air quality deficiencies.  A house without adequate return openings is pressure negative.  It sucks.

Thermal Expansion Devices control internal pressures like those created when heated water expands

 

 

 

 

 

2014 Atlanta Home Trends

Posted on 22. Apr, 2014 by in Architecture, Building Science, Caring for your Home, Eco-Inspector, Energy, Heating and Air-Conditioning, Intown Neighborhoods, Nature

These real-world trends in the Atlanta market are worth a look. Thanks to agent Peggy Desiderio and landscape contractor David Curl for your knowledge and advice

 

Boomer-town Decatur is popular with the 50 and over crowd

Walk To Pizza

What was once a lifestyle decision is now an economic necessity.   This nation-wide trend holds for Atlanta, ITPand OTP.
http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2012/05/why-you-pay-more-walkable-neighborhoods/2122/

 

 

Walkable Neighborhood: Jazz night in Oakhurst

Sprawled Out
Hell on Wheels Atlanta traffic has put the brakes on outward expansion

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take the Last Train to Boomerville 

Ranch-condo quads for the 55 and older set are hot properties if they have the right features:  lock ‘n leave maintenance, water and energy efficiency, big kitchens, good detailing and NO STAIRS!

Seaside, Florida designer Andres Duany explains
retirement communities:  http://vimeo.com/6517061

Icycylene foam insulation helped transform this 100 year old crawl into a dry, conditioned basement-like space

New Science for Crawl Spaces

Cleaning, sealing and conditioning your crawl space works. I know.  I’ve done it at my house.

http://www.crawlspaces.org/

Direct, Efficient Solutions

Direct vent gas appliances allow installers to draw air for combustion and dilution from outside, a logical choice where finished basements limit available air and in older homes to bypass failing masonry chimneys.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjZa-S-b7F4

Killing Two Birds with One Foam

Icycylene foam forms an efficient pressure and
thermal barrier.  Foam keeps moisture and bugs out while increasing R-values in roofs, walls and floors. The nature of the material allows it to fill irregular spaces traditional materials cannot.

 

Hardscaped Outdoor Room Fire pit, sit wall, water feature, Cherokee stone patio

Hardscapes and Edible Gardens 

Landscape clients spend more on patios, sit walls and fire pits than on trees and shrubs.

Many prefer kitchen gardens with fruit trees, berries and herbs and designs that reduce water use

On the Way Out……

Road Warrior no more  Commutes over 30 minutes are no longer the norm.

Chimneys don’t make energy sense.  Switch-activated gas appliances provide convenient, safe heating.

Rarely used jetted tubs are giving way to the oversized stall showers.

Made for another era furnace humidifiers, whole house, attic exhaust and ceiling fans often do more efficiency and air quality harm than good.  Better to have a tight building with a designed ventilation system.

http://www.panasonic.com/business/building-products/ventilation-systems/index.asp

Dan’s List: Media, Products and Services With not much of an apology to Angie

Posted on 29. Mar, 2014 by in Architecture, Building Science, Caring for your Home, Eco-Inspector, Healthy Home, Heating and Air-Conditioning

They’re smiling because someone else is paying

Homes on TV

Tearing houses apart makes for a show, not an inspection.  The inspector’s goal is not to entertain but to assess and recommend cost-effective repairs. If Tom tells Kevin “We’ll just have to tear it out and start over” he’s spending money most of my clients don’t have.  

The success of This Old House created a market for home-style reality TV.  Many of these shows do not reflect the true nature of the industry.  It’snot real. That’s why they call it entertainment.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kg0iPVF-SZw

 

Knowledge, experience and ethical conduct saved Scott a toolbag’s worth of cash

Fear Factor Moisture Control

Scott still had moisture in his crawl space after following my drainage recommendations. Waterproofing contractors bid 15K, 7K and 3K to fix it.  We took a look and found water entering through a small opening at the stepped foundation. True cost of repair:  7.99 for a tub of hydraulic cement
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzFY0Q0TBPQ

Dirty Ducting:  The Old Bait and Switch 

Every con artist knows how to manipulate Greed and Fear.  The bait, a cheap duct cleaning fee,  is followed by the switch, the misunderstood, hot-button, scientifically vague, four letter hazard-of-the-moment word MOLD.
http://www.americanownews.com/story/22110668/air-duct-cleaning-scams

Monkeying Around This install illustrates an all-to-common ignorance of basic design standards

Flexduct: Cheap and Non-Durable

Flexible plastic ribbed ducts have replaced metal ducts as the industry standard.  HVAC contractors save money by going cheap on ducting-and it shows.

http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/building-science/should-flex-duct-be-banned

The Hail You Say

I got some nasty emails when I first published this article
http://tk-jk.net/judi_dan_archive/blog/HailChasers.html
Be on your Gutter Guard

These very expensive products work as long as it doesn’t rain very hard.  A niche product at best.
http://www.pressurewashinghickorync.com/gutter-guards-do-they-work
Leaky Windows update 8.1

Inspector Marko Vovk is back with another great video.  His observations and knowledge of building science accurately describe how and why windows fail.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YP0o9do4eSc
 

Don’t let misconception, misunderstanding or ignorance translate into financial loss Invest in an impartial, third-party inspection BEFORE you write that fat check.  770-457-2787

Ice, Snow and Old Houses

Posted on 18. Feb, 2014 by in Architecture, Building Science, Intown Neighborhoods, Older Homes

Snowy #2 Tee at Candler Park Golf Course

Notes on Stormageddon and the Decatur Old House Fair

In my capacity as an engineering technician I’ve learned to evaluate storm damage.  Keep me in mind if you’ve got tree-on-the-house.

I spoke to an arborist who told me many firms do not charge to assess trees.  They make their money on surgery, trimming and removal.

Public adjusters assist homeowners by ensuring hazard insurance companies honor their homeowner policies.

Georgia DNR historic preservation program offers tax credits for historically designated neighborhoods like WWII-era Westminster near Emory University.

http://georgiashpo.org/

 

I enjoy my walks down Ponce on snow days

Fencing contractor mentioned his membership in theAtlanta Archaeological Society.  There’s plenty of history in underground Atlanta:  this group gets you digging.

http://thesga.org/category/chapters/greater-atlanta-archaeological-society/

Eastlake Drive neighbor Michael Purser of Rosebud Floors gave me his new CD that explains how to clean hardwood floors the right way.

                                                           http://rosebudfloors.com/

Weatherization contractor told me that dollar costs of energy savings are the same regardless of the age of the home. This confirms my field observations that, in spite of new energy codes, the construction industry and general public don’t understand or appreciate how to build energy efficient homes.  I do, let me show you how.

Architects and contractors specialize in restoration and historically correct renovations.  Their expertise is worth every cent…unless your only metric is how much more ft/2 you’ll get.

 

I gave a talk about why homeowners equate convenience with efficiency and how the study of older homes can help us build better, not bigger.

Kudos to Regina Brewer, a corps of hardworking volunteers and the City of Decatur for another great year at the Old House Fair!

Porch Story

Posted on 01. Oct, 2012 by in Architecture

Change
Transform
Scribe
Timber
Reflection
Interim
Catalyst