Mold Damage is Not a “Physical Loss” According to Court and Insurer

Universal Image Productions, Inc. v. Federal Insurance Company

The U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, holds that mold contamination, while certainly inconvenient and irritating, does not result in a direct physical loss to a building.

The court relied on the opinions of several other courts around the country in determining that direct physical loss or damage requires tangible damage, an actual physical change to the property, or a loss of use of the property.

In this instance, mold contamination did not meet the requirements, and so, the insuring agreement pertaining to direct physical loss or damage was not met.

The insured was not entitled to coverage under the terms of its policy.

Radiant Barriers – Good for Energy Savings/Bad for Fire Safety

They can cool the attic … but at what risk to the structure and the occupants?  Could radiant barriers represent a potential for harm?

Read the McDowell Owens Engineering Inc. white paper as to how “The physical and electrical properties of these materials are such that they introduce new and very serious dangers of ignition and fire.”  

The link that I had used for years to the original McDowell Owens Engineering Inc. report is no longer operating; however, you can find a pdf copy of the report by clicking here.

The summary of the McDowell Owens Engineering study is, as follows:

“1. Standard installation methods for roof sheathing with integrated radiant barrier are such that the end result is an overall environment where all of the radiant barrier material and virtually everything metal on and around the roof are electrically connected.

“2. In most cases, something in that environment is connected to earth ground. If anything in the roof environment becomes electrically energized (by lightning or any other common source) there is a high probability the current will pass through the barrier material at some point on the way to earth ground.

“3. The physical and electrical properties of reflective radiant barrier materials which we tested are such that the material in a structure provides two new and unique hazards relative to fire causation.

(a) When energized by an electrical current the material readily generates temperatures sufficient to ignite MANY materials.

(b) The barrier material itself readily serves as the first ignited material.”

If you are considering radiant barriers as an energy efficiency upgrade … if you reside in a home with radiant barriers that are installed … if you are considering a recommendation by an energy auditor or other entity to install them … read this report, first.

Home Owners and Asbestos Exposure

Historically, asbestos has been included in products around the home and have been one of the sources for construction material in the early 20th century. Both homeowners and construction workers have dealt with asbestos concerns during repairs, remodels and demolitions. In many cases, the presence of asbestos goes completely undetected, placing those on site at risk for inhaling airborne asbestos fibers.

The use of asbestos in homes was so extensive that it’s best to assume most homes built before the 2003 ban could contain some amount of asbestos products. Homeowners who perform do-it-yourself projects should especially understand the risks of asbestos exposure and familiarize themselves with common locations for asbestos products so they can avoid them.

Most countries have established strict regulations to minimize exposure levels and prevent future asbestos-related diseases from developing. According to the International Labor Organization, about 100,000 workers pass away from an asbestos-related disease each year.

Health Concerns

Asbestos exposure has been linked to lung cancer, peritoneal mesothelioma and other cancers. All of these conditions cause respiratory problems and are difficult to treat. Common symptoms include coughing, chest pain, abdominal pain, and shortness of breath, but such symptoms can take 50 years to arise after exposure occurs. If you experience respiratory problems and suspect you were exposed to asbestos during a home project, it’s important to undergo screening by a doctor who is familiar with asbestos-related disease.

What to Look For

Homeowners should not be too concerned about asbestos if their home was built after 1980. But a home built before this date is likely to contain asbestos-containing materials and certain locations present more hazards than others. Common locations for asbestos products include:

  • Attics
  • Roofs
  • Ceilings
  • Basements
  • Exterior siding
  • Flooring

Areas inside homes that needed insulating and fireproofing were hotspots for asbestos-containing materials. Some of the most common asbestos products used for home construction included:

  • Insulation
  • Roofing felt
  • Shingles
  • Exterior siding
  • HVAC parts
  • Popcorn ceilings

Safety Recommendations

It’s important to understand that not all asbestos-containing materials present a health hazard. If asbestos products are in good condition and aren’t damaged, asbestos fibers will not become airborne. However, any disturbance to asbestos products can result in airborne asbestos fibers.

If you’re performing a construction project and suspect the presence of asbestos-containing materials, hire a professional to come check them out. Handling asbestos is very dangerous and strict laws regulate how asbestos can be removed from a home. Proper disposal procedures are required as well.

Bio: Jensen Whitmer has been writing for the Mesothelioma Center for more than three years and he has an interest in spreading awareness about the hazardous effects of asbestos exposure.  I thank him for being a “guest blogger” on my site and for sharing this important information.

Properly Responding to Mold in Your Home (Video)

There is an industry that is growing as rapidly as mold, itself, that sometimes feeds upon the fears of home owners who find or suspect “toxic mold” in their homes.

Knowledge replaces fear … and I found this video to be informative and entertaining.

While I have not independently researched or evaluated the accuracy of the descriptions of medical conditions addressed in the video and cannot personally confirm their accuracy, I enthusiastically support the emphasis that is stressed on identifying the conditions and addressing them rather than spending large sums of money to test, identify and remove the colony – only to have it return the next time you run your air conditioning unit.

This video describes the importance of identifying and addressing the conditions that cause mold to appear and how to properly address them.

Whether the home owner decides to pay to have their mold “tested” and identified or not, they should NEVER hire the same person/company who is “testing” their mold to remove it.


Energy Efficiency and Your Water Heater (Part Two)

Conventional gas water heaters present an additional challenge to the home owner improving the energy efficiency of their water heater.  In addition to the energy loss through demand, standby and distribution (as previously discussed), the conventional gas water heater will waste a greater percentage of energy than electrical water heaters due to the design of the burner and ventilation system.

The wasted energy specific to gas and oil water heaters are:  excess air, dilution air and off-cycle air circulation.

Excess Air

Approximately 15 cubic feet of air is required to efficiently burn one cubic foot of gas.  Wasted heat and combustion by-products are carried by air through the chimney and are not heating water.  Some of this waste cannot be avoided, but the more excess air that flows through the burner the more energy is wasted.

Dilution Air

Dilution air is air from within the room that enters the flue at the draft diverter during combustion to assist in providing the draft needed to carry the dangerous combustion by-products to the outdoors.  Some or all of this dilution air is air that has been heated or cooled from the home.

Off-Cycle Air Circulation

Surrounding indoor air circulates through the burner and flue, carrying the heat away from the water (and conditioned air away from the home) and up the chimney.

There are improved gas and oil water heaters that reduce these losses that are directly related to ventilation by restricting the air that flows through the flue and chimney.  Some designes have eliminated the draft diverter.

By restricting the air flow through the flue and chimney, air circulation carrying the heat away from the tank has been reduced.

None of these are modifications that the home owner should do on their own since proper drafting through the flue and chimney are necessary to ensure that the dangerous by-products and gases produced during the combustion process are safely vented to the outdoors.

Since gas is a less expensive energy resource than electricity, many home owners will want to find the way to efficiently use it as opposed to replacing their gas appliances with those using more costly electricity.  The professional who conducts the diagnostic home performance evaluation will assist the home owner in locating a qualified contractor who can safely affect these changes.

Electrical Safety: Some Thoughts on Knob and Tube Wiring and Insulation

Knob and tube electrical wiring was an early method of electrical wiring in buildings and was commonly used in North America from about 1880 to the 1930s.  While it was replaced with other electrical wiring methods decades ago, home with energized knob and tube electrical wiring still exist.

Knob and tube wiring consists of single-insulated copper conductors run within wall or ceiling cavities, passing through studs and ceiling/floor joists through protective porcelain insulating tubes.  The wires are supported along their length by porcelain knob insulators that have been nailed in place.

Knob and tube wiring runs at a higher temperature than modern wiring materials and requires a minimum of three inches of air space around the length of the wire.  This requirement adds an additional challenge to home owners wishing to add insulation in order to increase the comfort and energy efficiency of their older home.

If you have knob and tube electrical wiring in your home and plan to add insulation, first have a qualified electrical contractor inspect your wiring to ensure that it is safe prior to adding insulation.  Ensure that all connections are enclosed in appropriate protective boxes, that the wiring insulation is intact and in good condition and that it has not been modified in any manner since its original installation (addition of non-metalic sheathed cable wiring circuits, for example).

The next step, prior to insulating attics or floors where knob and tube wiring is present, is to identify and seal air leakage points.  This is an important step that will maximize the efficiency of the insulation, extend its life and assist in providing a comfortable and healthier living space.

Do not insulate wall cavities containing knob and tube wiring.

Knob and tube wiring in attics may be isolated by building a barricade around it with R-30 unfaced batts.  Ensure that the batts are at least three inches away from the knob and tube wiring.

While the presence of the older knob an tube wiring does not, in itself, violate national electric codes (though some regions forbid it), the best solution for knob and tube wiring is to replace it, if economically possible.

I’m sure that there are electrical contractors and weatherization folks who could add much to this topic and  I hope they will chime in.  Home owners should always consult a professional electrical contractor prior to adding insulation in the presence of knob and tube electrical wiring.

Save Energy – and Money – By Avoiding Rebate and Incentive Programs

If your objective is to reduce your use and waste of energy in the operation of your home – and to reduce the costs associated with it … you will have a better chance of success when you avoid being led by “rebates” and other incentives provided by government agencies and utility companies.

How can passing on the cheap or “free” audit … or ignoring the rebate for the water heater or furnace … save you money?  Read on, and  be surprised.

Economic Stimulus versus Reducing Energy Use and Costs

First, let me introduce you to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

This is an act passed by the U. S. Congress and signed into law by the President that set aside billions of dollars to be spent for the purpose of putting more money into the economy and creating jobs.

Money sent to the states, utility companies and other private entities under this Act of Congress has that … stimulating the economy and creating jobs … as its only purpose.

Some of the money under this act was provided to a particular government contractor for the purpose of creating energy efficiency computer calculators designed for the use of home owners (such as yourself) and energy professionals (such as me) to use to calculate present levels of energy use and to recommend improvements.

In almost every case, these calculators will produce a report that will recommend that home owners spend additional money, such as to exchange presently owned appliances for newer “EnergyStar” rated models, which puts hundreds of their dollars into the economy and creates jobs to produce and ship these new appliances and materials.

These models do not require an  actual  measurement of air leakage … representing the amount of heated and cooled air in the home that is being wasted to the outdoors … which can reduce the heating and cooling costs by up to 40% with the use of inexpensive caulk or foam.

Instead, the calculators and their reports will simply refer to an undefined act of “plugging air leaks” and provide a default savings projection which, in the absence of a diagnostic check by a qualified energy official, could actually create dangerous or unhealthy conditions (refer to link under “air leakage” in the preceding paragraph).

These calculators produce reports that will also suggest spending additional money to add insulation which, in the presence of air leaks that have not been addressed first, will not only reduce the effectiveness of the added insulation but will also result in the probable need to spend even more money when the air leakage is eventually addressed and the new insulation is damaged in the process.

The Home Energy Score

Soon, you will be hearing of a new U.S. Department of Energy program called the “Home Energy Score“.

This program will appear to be an inexpensive energy survey where home owners will pay someone up to $100 to come into their  home and collect information for a computer model — designed by that government contractor who was paid with money from the same American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — to simply give the house a “score” (from 1 to 10) and a brief report to tell the owner what to spend money on in order to increase his “score”.

If your home’s “score” is more important to you than its level of comfort, indoor air quality and energy efficiency it might be worth the $100 to know what that score is, but the advice that comes with the score – directing you how to stimulate the economy and create more jobs by telling you what to buy – is already available to you for free through on-line sources.

Utility Company Rebates

Utility companies are also playing their part by paying rebates for various purchases that their customers are encouraged to make.

Chances are, your electric company is  offering you a rebate to replace your gas water heater with something that uses their electricity while – at the same time – your gas company could be providing a similar rebate to throw away the electric water heater and replace it with one that runs on their gas.  Does this save you energy … or does it simply encourage you to spend more of your money to stimulate the economy and create more jobs?

Does your utility company provide you any significant rebates for sealing up the air leaks that keep your heated air in the house longer or do they, as many do, place their emphasis and largest rebates toward the purchase of bigger and “more efficient” furnaces and air conditioners?

How many times are customers actually choosing the less efficient system by incorrectly assuming that the rebate is directing them to the smarter choice?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in an article last year, considered a utility company asking its customers to use less energy as being similar to the Anhueser-Busch Brewery  asking its customers to drink less beer.

And, in consideration of all of the recent increases in their rates for their customers, let’s not even ask where those rebate dollars actually come from.

Let’s ask this, instead … If the gas and oil service providers stopped using rebates to encourage people to get rid of their electrical equipment – and the electric service providers stopped using rebates to encourage people to get rid of their gas and oil using equipment – might they both require less of a fee increase next year?

The bottom line is this:  Upgrading your older model appliance with the recommendations of your certified energy auditor is going to save you much more money than the rebate, anyway.  After first making the educated choice … if your choice should still qualify you for the rebate anyway, that’s icing on the cake.  Not the cake.

The Solution = Independent and Unbiased Advice

Saving energy and reducing the associated costs is not always about spending more money, although some expenditures are sometimes necessary.  While it is wise and prudent to replace broken and improperly functioning mechanical equipment with newer and more efficient models, energy efficiency can be improved through a variety of steps that do not require major purchases, initially.

Seek the assistance of an independent home energy professional for a complete, accurate and unbiased description of your home’s performance and recommendations for improvements.  Seek, first, the steps that are best in achieving your energy efficiency goals and then … after selecting the right materials and establishing a scope of work … see what rebates or incentives might be there to assist you.

Remember, it is not the “rebate” or discount that you are seeking … it is the results that will produce a more comfortable, healthier and energy efficient home to live in with the greatest return on any financial investments that you make toward that end.  Take the money that you stop wasting on unnecessary energy loss … and stimulate the economy by spending it on something you enjoy.

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