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Home Inspection topics in the Twin Cities area

By Reuben Saltzman | Home Inspector in Minneapolis, MN
  • Chinese Drywall In Minnesota?

    Posted Under: General Area in Minneapolis, In My Neighborhood in Minneapolis, Property Q&A in Minneapolis  |  January 18, 2011 2:51 AM  |  1,310 views  |  6 comments

    A few times each year, I have a friend or family member ask me about Chinese drywall.  Drywall imported from China during the big building boom after hurricane Katrina had high levels of elemental sulfur, which caused problematic hydrogen sulfide emissions.

    What?  You don't know what that stuff is?  That's OK, I don't either.

    What I do know is that these emissions have a very strong rotten egg odor, cause major damage to homes by destroying copper, and cause health problems in the form of allergy-like symptoms, as well as headaches and nose bleeds.  Homes that have Chinese Drywall are being completely gutted, because the repair requires replacement of the drywall and replacement of the copper in the home - plumbing pipes, electrical wires, electrical panels, air conditioners... etc.

    Most of the tainted drywall ended up in Florida and the surrounding states, but wasn't limited to just those areas.

    Do we have Chinese drywall in Minnesota?

    Should we be worried about Chinese drywall in Minnesota?

    To my knowledge, no.  As of 1/7/11, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has received two reports of Chinese drywall in Minnesota.   There are no confirmed cases of this stuff in Minnesota, and I don't think we'll get any.  Why?  Because it's so bulky.

    I don't think it makes sense to import drywall from China, then transport it all the way to Minnesota.  At the time I'm writing this post, a 1/2"4'x8' sheet of drywall is selling for $4.40 at Home Depot.  This sheet of drywall weighs 54 lbs.  That comes out to about $0.08 / pound.  I'm no expert on transportation, but I do know that the heavier and bulkier something is, the more it costs to transport.

    So what about those two reports of Chinese drywall in Minnesota?  All it takes to file a report with the CPSC is to fill out a form on their web site.   I sent the CPSC an email asking about this, and they responded by sending me a 1.3 megabyte text file that contained database information of every case reported since 2005, along with a few other documents I assume were supposed to help interpret the data, but I found them to be quite useless.  If you'd like to see the files yourself, I've posted them at my web site here.

    Both reports for Minnesota were received by the CPSC in 2009; one was in Orono, the other in Burnsville.  I wasn't able to figure out how to interpret the data, but a helpful person at the CPSC informed me that neither one of these were confirmed cases.

    In other words, there hasn't been a single confirmed case of Chinese drywall in Minnesota.

    Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections - Email - Minneapolis Home Inspections

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  • Ice Dams, Pantyhose, Salt

    Posted Under: General Area in Minneapolis, In My Neighborhood in Minneapolis, Property Q&A in Minneapolis  |  January 11, 2011 3:58 AM  |  1,279 views  |  No comments

    Ever since I was a teenager working at a hardware store, I've heard of people filling up pantyhose with salt and tossing them on their roof to create drainage channels in ice dams.  After hearing about this so many times and even seeing this method of creating drainage channels in ice dams on the news, I began to believe this actually worked.

    Nevertheless, I tend to question everything, and last year I finally got around to testing this method on my own.  Instead of laying the pantyhose perpendicular to the ice dam, I laid them parallel to the ice dam in an attempt to get rid of the ice dam entirely.  As I mentioned in my blog about how to remove ice dams, this didn't work well at all.

    Several readers suggested I place the pantyhose the way everyone else does (does everyone else really do this?), perpendicular to the ice dams.  The whole idea of placing them perpendicular to the ice dams is to create drainage channels for water, so water doesn't back up in to your house.

    I tried this on a cold January day at my neighbors house (thanks for being a willing participant, Jonathan).  I was also curious as to what magical properties the pantyhose possessed.  How do pantyhose make salt so much more effective than salt alone?   Wouldn't it work a lot faster to just put salt directly on to the ice dam?  As it turns out, yes.  This works way better.

    The photos from my little experiment are below.  I filled one of the pantyhose up with "Ice Melt", which contained a blend of calcium chloride and rock salt.  I filled the other pantyhose with an ice melting salt that didn't have the contents labeled - I suspect it was just rock salt.  I also poured the Ice Melt in a perpendicular line along the ice dam, using far less salt than I used in either of the pantyhose.

    10:00 AM (Start Time)

    Salt Filled Pantyhose 10am Salt On Roof 10am

    2:00 PM

    Salt Filled Pantyhose 2pm Salt On Roof 2pm

    4:00 PM

    Salt Filled Pantyhose 4pm Salt On Roof 4pm

    Hmm... it looks like we have a winner.  If you're going to put salt on your roof, I don't understand what the purpose of using pantyhose is.  The obvious thing here is that salt applied directly to an ice dam is far more effective than salt in a pantyhose.  So you can run and tell that.

    Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections - Email- Minneapolis Home Inspections

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  • Truth-In-Sale of Housing Doesn't Apply To Uncle Sam

    Posted Under: General Area in Minneapolis, Home Selling in Minneapolis, Property Q&A in Minneapolis  |  November 18, 2010 3:17 AM  |  566 views  |  No comments

    I was recently asked whether or not HUD homes require Truth-In-Housing evaluations, and my thought was sure, they’re required on all properties…but I said I’d check on it.  I did some research on this topic, and I was quite surprised at what I found:

    The rules don’t apply to the federal government

    In a nutshell, HUD’s position is that Truth-In-Housing evaluations may slow the sale of a property, and “By statute and regulation, HUD is to sell its properties as fast as it can, preferably to owner occupants.”  HUD won’t pay for Truth-In-Housing evaluations, and they won’t complete required repairs.

    So how are the various cities dealing with this?  I contacted every city, and the answers were all across the board.  By the way, I use the term 'Truth-In-Housing' loosely – it’s what most people call the required pre-sale city inspection.  These are also known as Truth-In-Sale of Housing, Time of Sale, Point of Sale, and I/I Sewer Inspections.

    • Bloomington – Still required.  The city of Bloomington is currently in the middle of a dispute with HUD, but if a property is offered for sale in Bloomington today, an evaluation is required.
    • Brooklyn Park – An evaluation is required after the sale goes through, and the new owner must complete any required repairs.  This means that the new buyer is walking in to the deal blind, and could be facing a large list of required repairs immediately after purchasing the home.  You can see a letter that HUD wrote to the City of Brooklyn Park regarding this matter here.
    • Crystal – No.
    • Golden Valley – When I called, I was told “Yes, they’re required on all properties.”  This answer makes me think that the city is not yet aware of HUD’s refusal to participate in this program.
    • Hopkins – An evaluation is still required, and the buyer must complete the repairs after the sale goes through.
    • Maplewood – “Yes, they’re required on all properties.”
    • Minneapolis – No.
    • New Hope – Same as Brooklyn Park.  An evaluation is required afterthe sale goes through.
    • Osseo - “Yes, they’re required on all properties.”
    • Richfield – Same as Brooklyn Park.  An evaluation is required afterthe sale goes through.
    • Robbinsdale – “Yes, they’re required on all properties.”
    • Saint Louis Park - “Yes, they’re required on all properties.”
    • Saint Paul – No.
    • South Saint Paul – “Yes, they’re required on all properties.”

    How this affects the public

    When a home is sold without a Truth-In-Housing evaluation, the buyer takes on a larger risk.  The obvious and immediate issue is that these HUD homes may have numerous safety hazards that would ordinarily be identified by a Truth-In-Housing evaluation.  The obvious solution is to get a private home inspection.  Gee, you didn’t see that coming did you?  The less obvious issue is that the new owner may be faced with a list of unexpected repairs when it comes time to sell the property.  Buyer beware.

    Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections - Email- Saint Paul Truth In Housing

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  • Don't Be Afraid of MAC Houses

    Posted Under: General Area in Richfield, Home Buying in Richfield, In My Neighborhood in Richfield, Property Q&A in Richfield  |  September 16, 2010 3:29 AM  |  1,247 views  |  2 comments

    If you hear about a house getting MAC’d, it usually means that some high-quality “Green” improvements have been done to a house near the MSP airport.  The purpose is to minimize noise issues with houses, and that’s great, but I think some of the best benefits of the MAC program have to do with energy savings.

    The Metropolitan Airport Council (MAC) implemented a Residential Sound Insulation Program in 1992, and since has gone through thousands of homes near the airport making improvements in sound insulation. This partial list of home improvements comes from the MacNoise web site:

    • Reconditioning or replacing existing doors and windows
      • Adding acoustical exterior storm windows and storm doors
      • Replacing weatherstripping
  • Adding wall and attic insulation
  • Adding baffles to mail slots and chimneys.
  • Adding central air conditioning if not existing
  • Every ‘MAC’ home I’ve inspected has had professional work performed – these aren’t just quick handyman home improvements.  They’re high quality improvements that make houses much more comfortable and save money in energy costs.  The average cost of the improvements done to homes has averaged a low of $17,300 in 1995, and a high of $45,000 in 2001.  In 2003, homeowners were asked asked if they were satisfied with the quality of the improvements, and 100% answered yes.

    Window and door improvements are pretty easy to understand – a better insulated window means less noise, as well as less heat loss.  Insulation in the attic is also pretty obvious, but the one thing I’d like to point out is that MAC does an excellent job of adding insulation.  They seal up attic bypasses, they add ventilation when needed, and they get the vapor barriers right.  Seeing all this insulation done properly on an old one-and-a-half story home just gives me the warm-fuzzies :).

    Central air often gets added if it isn’t already present, and while this alone doesn’t do much for energy efficiency, it often means that other stuff has to be done in order to get central air – like replacing gravity furnaces!  If you’ve read my blog on gravity furnaces, you know how inefficient they are.  In order to add central air, old gravity furnaces need to be replaced with forced air furnaces, and this is a HUGE improvement in energy.  Adding central air also requires room in the electric panel for a major appliance, and most of the older fused panels don’t have room for this.  This means an upgrade of the electric service too.

    Chimney FanChimney Fan

    MAC houses end up getting much 'tighter', they also take air changes in to account, and additional steps are taken to ensure all of the fuel burning appliances in homes will still operate properly in tighter conditions.  Sometimes this means the installation of a direct vent furnace, a powervent water heater, or even a forced draft fan at the top of the chimney, as shown at right.  A combustion air duct is always installed.  MAC houses also usually get some sort of whole-house fan installed to make sure the air in the house gets changed out several times per hour - sometimes it's an HRV, other times it's a fan installed in a central location that constantly exhausts at a very low speed.

    If you’re shopping for a home near the MSP airport, don’t be afraid of houses that have been MAC’d – it’s a good program.  To learn more about the program, including future improvements, visit http://www.macnoise.com/noise_programs.

    Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections - Email - Richfield Home Inspector

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