Emergency Supply Kit for Severe Weather

Assemble the following items to create kits for use at home, the office, at school and in your vehicle:

  •  Water—1 gallon per person, per day (3-day supply for evacuation and 2 week supply for home)
  •  Food—a 3-day supply of non-perishable food for evacuation, 2-week supply for home
  •  Battery-powered or hand crank radio, and a “Public Alert Certified” NOAA Weather Radio and extra batteries for both
  •  Items for infants—including formula, diapers, bottles, pacifiers, powdered milk and medications not requiring refrigeration
  •  Items for seniors, people with disabilities and anyone with medical needs—including special foods, denture items, extra eyeglasses, hearing aid batteries, prescription and non-prescription medications that are regularly used, inhalers and other essential equipment
  •  Kitchen accessories—a manual can opener, mess kits or disposable cups, plates and utensils, utility knife, sugar and salt, aluminum foil and plastic wrap, resealable plastic bags
  •  One complete change of clothing and footwear for each person— including sturdy work shoes or boots, raingear and other items adjusted for the season, such as hats and gloves, thermal underwear, sunglasses, dust masks
  •  Sanitation and hygiene items—shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, comb and brush, lip balm, sunscreen, contact lenses and supplies and any medications regularly used, toilet paper, towelettes, soap, hand sanitizer, liquid detergent, feminine supplies, plastic garbage bags (heavy-duty) and ties (for personal sanitation), medium-sized plastic bucket with tight lid, disinfectant, household chlorine bleach
  •  Other essential items—paper, pencil, needles, thread, medicine dropper, whistle, emergency preparedness manual
  •  Several flashlights and extra, fresh batteries
  • A first-aid kit
  • A copy of your home owner’s insurance policy
  • Contact information for a pre-selected, local and licensed Public Adjuster

This list was extracted and modified from the information provided at: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/os/severeweather/resources/ttl6-10.pdf

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 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.

Energy Efficiency and Your Water Heater (Part One)

Although water heating will consume approximately 15% of the average family’s annual use of electricity (25% of natural gas use) in the home, not many fully understand how the wasted energy is lost and what can be done to reduce this waste.  Most of what they know comes from the power company, along with some confusion and contradiction, with electric company rebates to replace gas water heaters with electric — and gas company rebates to replace electric water heaters with gas.

To understand how to produce and use hot water more efficiently it is important to know exactly how energy is used by the common residential water heater.  In the typical residential dwelling the water heater will use energy in three ways:  demand, standy and distribution.

Demand

Demand refers to the use of energy for heating incoming cold water up to the temperature setpoint as hot water within the tank is used.  The amount of demand energy that is used will depend upon the energy efficiency of the water heater’s design, behavior of the hot water users and the consumption of fixtures like the dishwasher, clothes washer or shower.

Standby

Standby energy is in the form of heat that is lost through the walls of the storage tank’s walls.  Standby losses can vary from 20% to 60% of energy loss depending upon the amount of demand.  The greater the demand, the less time the water is stored in the tank and the less standby energy loss.  Households using less hot water will have the highest percentage of standby energy loss.

Distribution 

Losses through distribution occurs as heat escapes through the pipes and fixtures.   Pipes that are nearer to the water heater will lose heat even when the water is not flowing as hot water rises out of the tank, is then cooled in nearby pipes, and falls back down into the tank to be reheated.

These three factors are important to know and understand as one seeks and determines the best actions to take in improving the energy efficiency of their hot water systems.

Newer water heaters are designed with increased insulation and, in some cases, adding additional insulation to the outside of the tank to reduce standby energy loss may void their warranty and/or show minimal improvement.

Smaller tanks with a higher demand will probably show less improvement by insulating the distribution system to reduce energy loss than larger units with less demand.

Reducing energy demand through behavior changes or equipment changes will, as we see, increase the standby energy loss and require additional measures, as well.

A diagnostic home performance evaluation will assist home owners in selecting the most efficient, safest and balanced means of heating water in their homes — in addition to addressing the entire home as one single system.

What Does It Mean When a Home “Meets Code”?

Does the fact that certain work within a home has “met code” assure the quality of that work?  Not necessarily.

The technology has existed for many years to keep a home’s electrical wiring from arcing and catching fire from electrical short circuits — but has only recently been added to the electrical code.  The requirement for the use of this technology (an arc fault circuit interrupter, or AFCI breaker) has yet to be adopted everywhere and where it is adopted, its requirement is often limited to only those circuits in a bedroom (as if bedrooms are the only rooms in a home where electrical wires will arc and burn, I suppose).

For years, home dwellers were severely shocked or electrocuted when a hair dryer would accidentally be dropped into a sink or tub, even though the technology existed (in the form of a ground fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI receptacle or breaker) to help prevent injuries from such accidents.  Again, it took many years and a series of small, incremental steps before GFCIs were finally required to be installed in homes where such requirements were adopted and enforced.

In this sense, the requirements themselves are lacking in prompt implementation and practical application.  Most items are added to codes and become “standards” only after many years of accumulated evidence of property damage, injuries and death.  Today’s recent addition of life saving fire suppression systems in the newer building codes — and the subsequent attempts to limit its application — is one recent example.

These requirements … and other building standards covering everything from the foundation to the roof, and everything in between … are what is commonly referred to as “building codes” or “code requirements”.

When codes are adopted by law in cities, counties and/or states … they become only the basic minimum requirement that a builder, remodeler or other contractor must meet.  Anything less than these basic minimum standards are considered illegal.  In that sense, simply “meeting the code” in some cases could also mean “barely legal” with the possibility than an even higher level of quality or assurance of safety can be attained.

Thus, “meeting code” is far from being any type of assurance of quality.  It only means that the minimum requirements established by law have been met.

Jurisdictions that have these basic minimum requirements will usually have someone tasked to enforce them called the “Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ)”, “building inspector” or “code enforcement officer”.  His visits to a construction or remodeling site are typically short and limited and sometimes serious violations of minimum building standards can be overlooked, but his pending inspection goes a long way to motivate the contractor to adhere to the standards.  Some home owners and contractors will perform work on a home without the proper permits whereby the AHJ is unaware of the work and does not inspect it.  For these reasons, not all homes for sale can be considered safe to occupy without having an independent inspection performed by a professional prior to purchase.

If you are fortunate enough to live in an area where building codes have been adopted, it is important that you ensure that the proper permits have been acquired by your contractor … not only to meet the requirements of the law for obtaining a permit, but to ensure that your contractor meets the skill and licensing requirements in your area and to have the work inspected for compliance.

Missouri, Hazardous Waste Sites and Your Home

According to a recent publication from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, facilities or businesses in Missouri that actively treat, store (for more than 90 days) or dispose of hazardous waste must get a hazardous waste permit, which lists how and what kinds of hazardous waste the facility can manage.  It also lists the facility’s operating conditions and closure, corrective action and financial assurance requirements.

It could be important to you to research the information contained in these permits to see how close to where you presently live, or are planning to relocate, any of these facilities are located and whether or not they have modified their original permit conditions.

Permit modifications are labeled as Class 1, 2 or 3, depending on how much they change the original permit conditions.

The Department of Natural Resources invites the public to review its list of all approved hazardous waste permit modifications for calendar year 2011.  The permit modifications list is online at dnr.mo.gov/env/hwp/permits/publications.htm .

For more information or a hardcopy of the list, contact the department’s Hazardous Waste Program at 800-361-4827.  Hearing and speech impaired individuals may reach the department through Relay Missouri at 800-735-2966.

How To Recognize a “Soft” Home Inspection Report

First, what is a “soft” home inspection report – and how can it do harm?

Many home inspectors that inspect homes for real estate transactions have built their businesses upon the referrals of real estate salesmen to stay in business. Since real estate salesmen make no money until a home actually sells, some inspectors feel compelled to assist them in selling the house they inspect in the hope for future referrals.  To do this, they will ensure that their inspection reports do not “alarm” the prospective home buyer and possibly interfere with the sale of the home – with the hope and expectation of gaining favor and receiving more referrals from the sales agent.

The result is a “soft” report that is of little value to the home buyer who commissions it and potentially harmful to anyone who comes to depend on it.  A “soft report” could result in a buyer missing out on important information that could affect their choice to purchase a home.  This can lead to serious financial loss.

The following are a few common methods used by some home inspectors to “soften” their home inspection reports:

“Balancing” the Report

     The most common method used to “soften” a home inspection report is to add “positive” things about the home that would be attractive to the buyer.  I have had some inspectors tell me that they actually strive to include one positive feature of the home for every material defect that they find in order to “balance” the information.

Most experienced and professional home inspectors already take into account the fact that their client has found features of the home that attract them or they would not have contracted to purchase it. Professional inspectors know that they are hired to describe the home’s condition and report material defects that could affect the health or safety of its occupants as well as the sustainability of the structure.

They will perform this service by providing a home inspection report that is complete, accurate and totally unbiased.

Sandwiching information about hazardous or defective conditions between flowery comments is not the proper way to write a home inspection report.

“It Wasn’t in the Code Book, Back Then

     Another common technique used to minimize a material defect in the mind of a potential buyer is for the inspector or real estate salesperson to point out a serious material defect in the home and then infer or suggest that it is somehow more acceptable since it was not required by the code or building standards at the time the home was built.

Any defect that could result in physical harm to the structure (click here) or its occupants (click here) …   is serious and should be addressed.  A home inspector’s job is to bring to his clients’ attention every such issue he observes and to recommend that it be corrected.  It is not  his job to make excuses for its presence.

Understanding that building codes are simply little more than basic minimum standards of which anything less is illegal … the fact that something harmful may have met or did not meet a code at the time it was built has no relevance to the owner, today.

Estimates

     Another way that an inspector can take the “sting” out of a description of a material defect to soften a report is to include an estimate of repair to help the prospective buyer apply what is called “context” to the defect.  This is not common to most home inspection reports, but it happens in some cases.

     It is … dangerous for the inspector as well as the home buyer (click here)  … for the buyer to make purchasing decisions based upon an inspector’s estimates.  Many state laws and all standards of practice discourage inspectors from providing repair or replacement estimates.

     Estimates can only be accurately provided by a person or business who is currently doing the work and aware of the present costs of materials and labor associated with the project and will often find undiscovered issues that affect the cost of the project once work has begun (click here).  Many contracting companies employ professional estimators who are trained and current in the practice of providing them.

“I am not an Alarmist.”

     Watch for these code words that home inspectors use to alert interested real estate salesmen that they will write a “soft” home inspection report in exchange for future referrals … something that one court referred to in one recent lawsuit as “consumer fraud”.

     Among some home inspectors and the real estate agents they work with is an “understanding” that first-time home buyers are sometimes easy to frighten or “alarm” when they learn of imperfections with a house they intend to buy.  Some home inspectors address this as they solicit referrals from real estate agents by advertising themselves as friendly to first-time home buyers and provide an assurance that they do not “alarm” them in the manner that they describe defects in their reports.

     Learn more about the bad results that come from this act of “consumer fraud” … from this lawsuit (click here) … that resulted  from a soft home inspection report given to a first-time home buyer who got burned.

“Free” Warranties and ” Guaranteed Buy Back” Offers

     It makes sense for a real estate salesman to want to take some of the worry out of taking a chance on a new home.  Many will encourage or enhance the sale by providing “home warranty services” that may or may not cover items that stop working when the new home owner takes over the property.  Some will offer to buy the house if they can’t sell it … or “buy the house back” if you don’t like it, with (of course) a long list of certain disqualifying conditions.

         While most home inspectors are careful to inform their clients that they are not providing or implying a guarantee or warranty through their inspection reports, many will want to impress real estate salesmen with the appearance of assisting them in providing an incentive to buy.  Accordingly, they will purchase “90 Day Home Warranties” or provide “Guarantees” that are supposed to cover selected systems within the home against defects for very low cost ($5 to $15) and will provide them to their clients with paid home inspections.

     These low cost service contracts promising high end payouts are a common source of complaints with state level consumer advocacy offices (attorney general, BBB, etc.) and should be carefully scrutinized.  Even when they appear to be provided “free of charge”, reliance upon them when deciding to buy a home can be extremely costly.

     In addition to the exclusion laden free “warranty”  is the recent promotion where some home inspectors offer to “buy back your house” if they miss a defect in their report.  If you really … really … believe that your home inspector can afford to “buy back” every house that he inspects charging his $300-ish inspection fee, then go ahead and take comfort in his offer when deciding to buy a home.  If, however, you are suspicious as to why he will NOT promise to pay to replace the broken water heater he failed to detect for $500 but is willing to “guarantee” to buy back the house for $300,000.00, instead … look carefully at the hundreds of exclusions that assure that no such transaction can ever take place.

     When the home inspector … the person hired and trusted to report things that might be wrong with the house that one intends to buy … begins providing “free” incentives to help the potential buyer decide to purchase the home by addressing future recalls of appliances or “free warranties” should things break, this could indicate that someone other than the home buyers’ interests are being considered.

     The use of these so-called “warranties” along with other gimmicks (such as ongoing updates on the recall status of appliances, alarm system evaluations, etc.) assist some home inspectors who wish to solicit additional referrals from real estate salespeople in promoting the sale of the home by furthering the sales agent’s presumption that the prospective buyer will decide to buy the house.  Carefully read these “warranties” and “guarantees” to see that they actually provide the intended coverage.  Many don’t.

       While these gimmicks have little to do with reporting the present condition of the home  … they can go a long way in helping a sales agent create a mindset of “ownership” that advances the sale of the home.  This is why some inspectors, according to their conversations in private sections of professional forums, promote their use as “marketing tools” to solicit more real estate agent referrals.  “Agents love them” is a mantra for those who promote them.  One vendor who sells the “We will buy back your house if we miss something” goes as far as to promise participating home inspectors that “every” real estate agent he solicits will provide him with “every” client they serve as a referral.  Some home inspectors believe this and are willing to take a shot.

     Home buyers should ensure that the company that is representing these service contracts is properly registered with their state and should not hesitate to hold the inspector that provided it to them responsible for the provider’s failure to perform under the contract – since it is being provided as a part of the home inspection service that they paid for.  Here is a lawsuit where the home buying victims of a “soft” home inspection report with a 90-day warranty did exactly that … (click here).  A “We will buy your house back” guarantee would also exclude the conditions described by the duped home owners in this suit.

Caveat emptor.

What Should You Do (and NOT Do)?

 Do your best to seek an experienced, full time and certified inspector, but be aware that even highly experienced and “credentialed” home inspectors can still be found to participate in writing soft reports or using gimmicks in return for future referrals.

While I personally know some excellent home inspectors who have scaled down their businesses for various reasons and continue to do quality inspections on a part time basis … I know many others who have yet to reach a level of skill and expertise upon which they are able to confidently rely upon or fully commit themselves to being a home inspector on a full time basis — yet these inspectors somehow expect others to place confidence in that level of skill and expertise to such a degree as to rely upon them to make the largest single purchase that many are likely to ever make in their entire life.

Use the internet to do your research and if you prefer to have someone refer an inspector to you, seek advice from friends or family who have had personal experiences with professional home inspectors.

Be skeptical of referrals for home inspectors from real estate agents or anyone else who has a financial interest or stands to gain from the sale of the home. Often, home inspector referrals come in the form of lists that will contain the names of inspectors known to the list provider to write soft reports or will be simply a list of inspectors who were willing to pay the real estate broker or agent a fee to appear on their referral list (click here). If one chooses to rely upon the recommendation of a real estate salesman for a home inspector and they provide a list of inspectors that they prefer to have a home buyer work with, it is not a good idea to go through the list simply searching for the inspector with the lowest fee.

Instead, home buyers should seek information about the inspector’s qualifications, length of experience, certifications and whether or not the inspector is committed to business on a full time basis, since some only perform inspections sporadically “on the side” from their other full time job. When a home inspector adds a “free” gimmick to an inspection report such as a 90-day “warranty”, he should be asked how he has come to the conclusion that the buyer has decided to go forward with the purchase prior to having read his inspection report.

He should also be asked why he would be involved in matters, regarding future performance or recalls of appliances in a home, that he alleges his report to be exempt from. Using these selection criteria, the best inspectors will stand out quite readily.  Still, one should remember the “code words” when reviewing his advertising and his reports.

(Revised on 6/9/14)

Caveat emptor.

Copyright 2012 James H. Bushart

Has Your New Furnace Made Your Water Heater Dangerous?

Naturally drafting residential chimneys develop draft because the air inside the chimney is lighter than the air outside the chimney.

The source of the heated air at the bottom of the chimney burns fuel and creates a column of gases that are lighter than the outside air. The taller the chimney and the hotter the contents – the greater the draft.

Today, with the installation of more efficient heating systems that vent their combustion gases through fan-assisted plastic vents, it is often left up to the fuel burning water heater to create enough heat by itself to make a sufficient draft to vent the combustion gases through a chimney that was originally designed for much more heat provided from both appliances.

The water heater’s over sized chimney now needs a chimney liner.

The need for chimney liners is often ignored when the heating system has been upgraded and the potential for dangerous combustion gases to enter the living space is increased. Unlined chimneys and those deteriorated from acidic combustion gases should be upgraded, as well, to include stainless steel, aluminum or masonry liners.

For more information about inspections of mechanical systems for safety and efficiency, visit http://www.missouricertifiedenergy.com.

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