On June 24, a House and Senate Conference Committee passed an amendment that extends the deadline for compliance from July 1, 2010 to September 30, 2011. It is important to note that the extension applies only to the homeowner oil line compliance deadline and not the deadline for homeowner insurance offerings.
Why not call Bonsai Inspection Company today at 781-760-8162 to set up an oil tank evaluation?
For only $99, Bonsai can help assist you in determining your compliance with these regulations, as well as performing a multi-point tank safety check that includes an ultrasonic tank integrity test - all as part of the TankSure program!
As part of the TankSure program, your MA oil tank qualifies for valuable discounts, including: a $1,000 proactive tank replacement warranty, and homeowner's insurance discounts.
With the new law coming into effect, now is a great time to have your heating oil tank checked and upgraded/replaced if necessary.
For more info about the TankSure program today, click here.
Call Bonsai Inspection Company today at 781-760-8162 to set up your appointment.
Media reports have linked indoor mold exposure to everything from asthma to headaches. So what’s the real scientific evidence that exposure to mold in your home actually can cause physical symptoms? A recent review of scientific literature about mold-related diseases found that many common claims just don’t hold up under scrutiny.
#1: The term "Toxic mold" - popular reports about the health effects of mold are likely to include the near-famous term “toxic mold.” But that term can be misleading, the experts say. Only certain mold spores produce toxins, and only under certain circumstances - just because a particular mold can produce toxins doesn’t mean it will. Lastly, even if a mold is producing toxins, a person must breathe in a sufficient, and in most cases, large, dose to be affected. It is highly unlikely that anyone could inhale enough mold in their home or office to receive a toxic dose.
#2: The term "Black mold" - the equally infamous cousin to 'toxic mold', this term, technically, does not exist. In actuality, there are a lots of molds that are black (or look black). In fact, many molds classified by frightened homeowners are actually a very dark green. The type of black mold that made the news years ago, associated with a lot of ill health effects, is called Stachybotrys. However, most molds that appear 'black' are fairly common and generally not of concern. The take-home message here is that 'black' molds do not always equal 'bad'.
#3: Mold causes asthma - While allergic responses to inhaling mold are a recognized factor in lower airway disease such as asthma, studies show that outdoor mold is much more likely to cause problems for asthmatics than indoor molds.
#4: Mold causes allergies - The link between mold and allergies is even weaker, the experts say. Current research doesn’t provide a persuasive case that exposure to mold in the outdoor air plays a role in allergies, and studies linking indoor molds to upper airway allergy are even less compelling.
#5: Mold causes skin rashes - Exposure to molds doesn’t contribute to atopic dermatitis, or rashes.
#6: Mold causes sinusitis - There’s no clear-cut evidence that sensitivity to mold causes chronic sinusitis, nor are there conclusive data to show that mold-killing antifungal drugs such as amphotericin, applied to the nasal passages, are an effective treatment for sinusitis.
#7: Mold causes infection. Superficial fungal infections, such as toenail fungus or jock itch, generally result from fungi that develop inside the warm, moist environments found in shoes or tight garments. Thrush can develop inside the mouths of people with weakened immune systems, such as those who have AIDS or cancer. These infections generally are not the result of exposure to mold in the home or workplace.
#8: Mold causes irritation. Mold found indoors, even inside damp buildings, is not likely to cause irritation of the eyes or throat -- and if it does, the effects are short-lived. Symptoms or signs persisting weeks after exposure and those accompanied by complaints related to the nervous system, brain, or whole body (such as those attributed to chronic fatigue) can’t be pinned on the irritant effects of mold exposure.
#9: Mold causes immune system damage. There is no credible evidence to suggest that environmental exposure to mold damages the immune system. The experts warn against immune-based tests given to look for intolerance to mold and other substances in the environment—so-called multiple chemical sensitivity. The authors specifically advise against using blood tests that look for a wide range of non-specific changes in the immune system. They also discourage using tests of autoantibodies, which are abnormal antibodies that the body sometimes produces in reaction against its own tissues. These tests are expensive and do not provide useful information that will help to diagnose or manage diseases related to mold, they say.
#10: Mold causes hypersensitivity pneumonitis. This uncommon inflammation of the lungs, an example of which is Farmer’s Lung, is caused by exposure to an allergen, usually organic dust that may come from animal dander, molds, or plants. A person generally develops this condition only after high-dose or prolonged exposure, or both, to mold or other allergens.
Much of the hoopla over mold exposure came in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the experts note in their report, which appeared in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The flood-ravaged areas of the Gulf Coast, sadly, have provided a natural laboratory, which enables medical researchers to address lingering questions about the health effects of mold testing ma.
The research cited in this article was provided by: Bush RK, Portnoy JM, Saxon A, Terr AI, Wood RA The medical effects of mold exposure.
J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2006 Feb;117(2):326-33. Review. Erratum in: J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2006 Jun;117(6):1373.
PMID: 16514772 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Although extreme, and not quite the norm, some individuals are experiencing that Chinese drywall, sometimes referred to as "contaminated drywall" or "tainted drywall," has negative impacts on health and on metal products in a home. This issue is being studied by a few organizations including the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), and the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This column is provided to give you some insight to an issue that can negatively impact the health of those living in the home as well as impacting metal items in the home.
Photo 1. Chinese drywall is prevalent in the states highlighted in red.
In a press statement, these organizations noted that they are working together to determine if homeowners with Chinese drywall in their homes face potential health or safety risks. As of January 25, 2010, the CPSC had received 2833 incident reports related to drywall from 37 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. More than 90% of reports are from Florida (59%), Louisiana (21%), Mississippi (6%) Alabama (5%) and Virginia (4%). In addition, the CPSC has worked hard in an outreach program to identify as many instances of homes that have registered complaints about their drywall and to date the total combined estimate of number of homes impacted is upwards of 5000 homes.
The first incident report was received by the CPSC in December of 2008. Homeowners have reported that the drywall in their homes has caused bad odors, corrosion, and sickness. In some cases the problems have driven the occupants from their homes. The complaints include:
- Itchy eyes
- Scratchy, burning throats
- Nose bleeds
- Sinus infections
- Breathing problems
- Skin irritations
In addition to these issues, there are also reports of corrosion of metals, including wiring, due to the toxins from the drywall. If your gut reaction is to presume that only those products touching the drywall have a potential to be impacted and to exhibit corrosion, you are most certainly incorrect. Any product in the home, touching the drywall or not, can exhibit corrosion problems simply due to the toxins in the air. Complaints of corrosion have been received by the CPSC for the following:
- Air conditioning evaporator coils. In this case, corrosion leads to pitting of the tube and leaking of Freon. Your Green radar/alarm should have just alarmed.
- Smoke alarms sounding in the middle of the night without any apparent cause.
- New appliances including televisions, microwave ovens, refrigerators, dishwashers and computers suddenly stop working for no apparent reason.
The CPSC has completed various reports that contain information on the impact to electrical components. They are finding that the harvested components from affected homes are exhibiting significant corrosion of copper wiring and a lesser degree of corrosion to other parts of the electrical equipment such as the screws and metal and conductors contained within. No indications of significant overheating of conductors or other conductive parts have been recorded. No fires have been attributed to this problem as well. This report and more can be found at the CPSC web site (http://www.cpsc.gov/info/drywall ).
What Can You Do?
Finding out that your home has this issue is not an easy pill to swallow. If you are the inspector who has to tell the homeowner there is an issue, it's not an easy message to deliver. First, let's consider what you, the homeowner, can do.
1. Consider the age of the home or work completed in the home. Was the home constructed or was drywall added since 2001?
2. Look for corrosion of metal components in the home. Look for black corrosion on any copper tubing, including that which you find on the conditioner coils in refrigerators. Look at air conditioning units as well. If the air conditioner cannot cool the home, this may be an indicator that a leak may have occurred and the refrigerant is escaping into the atmosphere. Coil failures with this problem typically occur every 6-14 months
3. Look for more metal corrosion. Any blackening of copper wires, ground wires, uncoated copper pipes and fittings, chrome-plated bathroom fixtures, silver or copper jewelry and even the back of the mirrors which have a foil. (Caution should be used when looking at electrical wires. Educate homeowners not to touch any copper wires or try to remove any receptacle plates or loadcenter covers. Safety first.)
You can go a little further to help identify a problem by looking for markings on the back of the drywall. Find locations where the back is exposed and look for the word "China" in big letters somewhere, indicating that its origin is China. Other than doing this, you are into testing the air or the gypsum for certain chemical components. There is handheld equipment on the market that can detect Strontium levels. If these levels exceed 2,000 mg/kg (ppm), the gypsum used in the drywall may have been mined in China.
If you suspect your home has a problem with its drywall, a report can be filed with the CPSC through their web site: http://www.cpsc.gov/info/drywall. Use this link as well to learn more about the issue as further studies are conducted and alerts arise.
For More Information
Remember, this problem is still unfolding and more reports and study results will be available. The CPSC has spent more than $3.5 million on this investigation constituting more than 3.5% of their annual budget. The CPSC has established a web site specifically focusing on this issue and can be found at the following URL: www.cpsc.gov/info/drywall. Also, the CDC has established a site and can be found at the following URL: www.cdc.gov/nceh/drywall . Arm yourself with as much knowledge on the topic as possible.
Article Copyright © 2010 IAEI Magazine Online.
We've all heard about the health dangers of mold in residential and commercial buildings. Having measures in place to prevent or control the growth of mold is of course prudent, and mold remediation is a necessary and often difficult task. For mold testing, control, and remediation, it is best to rely upon an expert in the field.
Preventing & Controlling the Growth of Mold
Mold prevention is necessary because mold has the potential to cause a number of health problems, including allergic reactions, asthma attacks, and lung inflammation. Mold growth occurs when there is a buildup of water or excessive moisture in an area within a structure. This can often be prevented by making sure that plumbing does not leak, and that the humidity inside a building is kept at a level between 30-50%.
Humidity and moisture buildup can be prevented by ensuring that the ventilation system is sufficient and working properly, and that air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and exhaust fans are used in areas prone to high humidity, such as the bathroom, or in the kitchen when cooking or cleaning. Insulation will also help to control the buildup of moisture. If there is water damage within a home or building, water damaged materials need to be discarded and replaced, and dehumidifiers need to be used to dry the area quickly.
Why Mold Remediation Experts Are Necessary
Walls or ceilings that show a discoloration, and the presence of a musty smell are signs that there may be water damage. Buildings are especially susceptible after heavy storms, or if there is a plumbing leak. A mold remediation expert should be called if there is suspected water damage or mold contamination. The expert can identify and assess the water damage and the potential for mold, and determine what needs to be done, as well as recommend improvements for the future prevention of mold.
Only a mold remediation expert will possess the skills, experience, and the specialized equipment necessary to thoroughly check a structure for mold, such as a moisture meter, which can detect moisture in building materials. Mold remediation experts also possess the proper disinfectants needed to fight and destroy mold spores, as well as the recommended respirators, goggles, and other protective clothing. Mold remediation should never be attempted by anyone who is not an expert and does not possess the proper equipment, or you are exposing yourself to significant health risks.
The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority has begun mailing its Annual Water Quality Report to every household in its service area. The report is required by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and updates consumers on last year's water quality test results.
In the latest round of testing, the MWRA system was again below the Lead Action Level with the lowest levels ever. And tests have also shown that there are no traces of pharmaceuticals in the drinking water supplied by MWRA.
MWRA distributes the report to over 800,000 homes in 41 cities and towns. Community-specific inserts also provide information about municipal water systems. The reports are being mailed between now and the end of June. Look for it in your mailbox.
The report is available on-line at http://www.mwra.com/water/html/awqr.htm.
The new Massachusetts Oil Tank Law goes into effect on Jul. 1st! If you currently have an oil tank on your property or are listing/selling a property with an oil tank, you may be affected.
This law has two major provisions that require:
- the installation of either an oil safety valve or an oil supply line with protective sleeve on systems that do not currently have these devices; and
- insurance companies that write homeowner policies to offer coverage for leaks from heating systems that use oil.
Most homeowner policies do not currently include such coverage, leaving many to pay for costly cleanups out of their own pocket. Although it is mandatory that insurance companies offer this coverage, the insurance is an optional purchase for homeowners. The effective date for both provisions is July 1, 2010.
Who must take action?
Owners of 1- to 4-unit residences that are heated with oil must already have or install an oil safety valve or an oil supply line with a protective sleeve, as shown in this diagram. Installation of these devices must be performed by a licensed oil burner technician. Technicians are employed by companies that deliver home heating oil or are self-employed. It is important to note that heating oil systems installed on or after January 1, 1990 most likely are already in compliance because state fire codes implemented these requirements on new installations at that time.
What will an upgrade cost?
The typical cost of installing either an oil safety valve or oil supply line with a protective sleeve ranges from $150 - $350 (including labor, parts, and local permit fees).
For those households that meet certain income criteria, financial assistance of up to $300 is available through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). For more information on financial assistance, see the Department of Housing and Community Development Web site at http://mass.gov/dhcd or call them at 1-800-632-8175.
Download a printable summary of this law here.
For more information about oil tank testing, please check out my Oil Tank Testing page.
This is part two of my little 'mini-series' on the differences between the two most common real estate transaction radon gas testing methods. In part I, I addressed the primary similarity, that being accuracy. In this blog installment, I'll be sticking to differences. I'd like to cover a few pros and cons of each.
Cost - Advantage: Vial test
Most good quality kits cost the average inspector $20-$30. I can usually whittle the client cost down to the $50-$75 range. The machine test however, requires two trips or one (paid by me) trip for an assistant to pick up. Factoring in the machine's cost (upwards of $600) and the 'tie up' time, and you've looking at a typical $100-$150 per test.
Speed - Advantage: Machine test
We all know time is king in this business. Assuming a minimum 48-hour test interval, for the vial test results the typical turnaround is 5-7 business days from the start of placement. The machine? Wait 48 hours, show up, push button, done.
Simplicity - Advantage: Vial test
Don't discount simplicity as a potentially significant advantage. The vials require no calibration, don't care if the power is off or turned off, have no cords, don't need a back-up battery, and have no moving parts or 'down time'. If it 'can' go wrong with an electronic device, at some (most likely inopportune) time, it will.
"Tamper-proof" - ness - Advantage: Machine test
While no test is 100% tamper-proof, the machine test can be close. I have added temperature and relative humidity monitoring to my system to make testing virtually fool-proof. The vials require a small leap of faith that tampering has not occurred, however the test is not as easily fooled as it may seem.
So, like most other things in life, we see that there are plusses and minuses to the majority of A vs. B choices we are faced with every day. In the end, it all boils down to each individual clients specific needs and finances. As long as accuracy remains the same, no test method presents a clear advantage over the other.
I hope this little 'mini-series' on radon testing has shed a little light on this rapidly developing aspect of the real estate industry.
Over my 10+ years as a Massachusetts Home Inspector, I (like many others in my profession) have seen a huge increase in the percentage of well-informed clients that are requesting radon gas testing as an additional service along with their home inspection. Several months ago I added continuous radon monitoring (CRM) - also loosely known as "the machine test" to my service arsenal, while continuing to offer the more economical liquid scintillation test - aka "the two small plastic vials".
I routinely get quizzical questions from clients ranging from ‘what is radon' , ‘why should I test for radon', ‘what's the difference between the two methods' , and my favorite - ‘why should I pay you when I can do it myself?' So, I thought I was time to devote a couple of blog installments on this rather important and somewhat mysterious subject. Here goes:
One common misconception about the two test methods is that the ‘machine test' is more accurate than the ‘vial test'. The bottom line is there is no difference in accuracy. Doesn't it make simple common sense just based on all of the potential implications? Think about it. The USEPA maintains strict protocols for placement and QA/QC for both types of devices. Upon close examination you'd find that for the most part, the protocols are nearly identical! So don't get sold into paying more based solely for accuracy - it simply isn't there. Analytical Organizations that provide vial test kits for testing must remain in compliance with the USEPA's strict QA/QC protocols in order for their devices to retain their product certifications. The same goes for Home Inspectors and the like providing continuous radon monitoring services.
Another common misconception is that there is some sort of ‘magic formula' for making a pre-determination about a property without actually testing for radon - there isn't. Brand new homes, old homes, stone foundations, concrete foundations, etc. - none are immune. No one in the neighborhood has radon? No matter - soil concentrations of radon can vary as much as 300 times over as little as 30ft of distance. The bottom line is that radon gas testing is the only way to make an accurate determination. I've had many an unsuspecting property and/or property owner be surprised by significantly elevated radon gas levels.
Which leads me to my final point: Accurate determinations require accurate testing. Yes, the average handyman can easily purchase the $30 hardware store kit. The truly difficult part comes with correctly following the placement protocols and the interpretation of the results. The average hardware store kit instructions at best fill up a few paragraphs on a single page - the USEPA's Protocol for ‘vial kits' takes up an entire page and half just for device placement! A lot of this critical information simply isn't on the average hardware store kit instructions! I've stumbled across many an incorrectly setup hardware kit over the past 10 years - and in almost all of those cases, those placement mistakes were almost certain to induce false negatives. Why risk it for another handful of dollars? Have a professional place your radon test kit.
In part II, I'll cover some of the pros and cons for each testing method. See you then...
I got a lot of (mostly) good feedback on the last article about home inspection company sales pitches, so why not kick off the winter blogging season with four more tried and true goodies:
1. "My report is better because it's (insert number typically greater than 30) pages..."
What it can mean: "...the report will likely be filled with a lot of boiler plate (typically paragraphs of cut-and-paste information from a reporting software with some field enterable data); repetitive and over-worded statements (for instance, instead o f "I do not move furniture", using, "I didn't move the dresser in the front bedroom, I didn't move the sofa in the living room, etc."; lines of disclaimers (designed primarily to protect me); a copy of my state home inspection standards (which is required, but makes about 13 great pages of filler); about 100 questions "you should ask the Seller" (protecting my liability); and 10 contractors you should consult (also protecting my liability). Since you've never seen any other reports, you probably won't ever know the difference."
2. "I have conducted over 5,000 inspections over the past 6 years...."
What it can mean: "...I was really only paid to do 750 inspections over the past 5 years, but I am counting every house I have ever looked at, because bigger numbers look way better than my competition. I may, however, be unable to figure out that would require performing more than 2 inspections per day, every day, 365 days per year, for 6 years straight, and the subsequent diminished quality that might seem to entail. Hopefully, you don't figure this out either."
3. "I guarantee you my best effort, I promise you this..."
What it usually means: "...I got this great sounding tag line from (insert affiliation) and I really need to put something catchy on my web page/ad that shows you just how serious, how much better, and how different I am then my competition. I don't think you will find it cheesy, and I certainly do not think you will do a web search on it and find 100 other Inspectors (also from said affiliation) using the exact same line, because if you did I would look just like everyone else."
4. "I've been a builder/contractor for the past (insert some multiple of 10) years..."
What it means: Being a good carpenter, plumber, finish contractor, etc. really has very little bearing whatsoever on being a good home inspector. You may logically assume that if someone has been hammering nails for 20 years, they must know a lot about houses (hopefully). You might not however, assume that doing finish cabinetry doesn't teach someone much about say, electrical systems or identifying foundation failures. What you do need to know is that being a great home inspector requires an enormously diverse skill set that is not taught in trade school, or ‘at the job site'.
Spring is here (at last) in Massachusetts, and it's getting to be that time again when jobs are abundant and competition is on the rise. Like many in the Real Estate profession, home inspection companies can be subject to being perceived as commodities – that somehow we are all alike, separated only by cost.
As competition rises, so does the volume of time-tested sales pitches, claims, shenanigans, and exaggerations. While intended to be harmless, some of these tactics can downright deceitful. We’ve all ‘been had’ at some point in time in our lives.
Some of you may question why a Home Inspector would write such an article about Home Inspection sales tactics. Here’s why: After answering thousands of calls, presenting a dozen or so homebuyer seminars, and conversing with a multitude of clients and Realtors, it is clear to me that too many potential homebuyers don’t know the difference between one Inspection firm and the rest. I educate buyers about homes, so why not also educate them about Home Inspectors? As an ‘honest Abe’, I guess I feel like it’s my obligation.
So the moral of the story is this: Be a skeptic. Make multiple calls. ASK questions. DON’T fall for the easy pitch. If you hear or read one of these famous one-liners, assume the alternate meaning might be true. Armed with this new perspective, you may find yourself seeing things in a whole new light and finding the inspector that is truly right for you.
1. “Lower priced Inspectors are just desperate for business…”
What it can mean: “…Hey, this is America – and I know that you think that bigger and more expensive is ALWAYS better! The $1,200 TV at Wal-Mart looks way better than the $325 TV, so that must go for home inspections too, right? Hopefully, my well-practiced telephone sales pitch, flashy web page, 100 years of construction experience, and multitude of certifications and customer testimonials will convince you that don’t want one of those ‘puny’ $325 inspections! Because if I can’t, and you hang up and call around, you’ll find out that most inspectors can do the same thing for 1/3 the price. But that’s okay… because ‘you’ll be sorry’.”
2. “I’ll save you $50,000 in repairs…”
What it can mean: “…But, you’re not going to buy this house (in fact, if you’re the scared and nervous type you may never buy a house)! Because I will point out every single defect and describe it in a worst-case scenario, you will likely become so frightful you will likely back out. This is good for me too because it eliminates my liability. You also probably don’t realize that the odds of getting 50, or even 10 thousand dollars off of asking price really are about as great as hitting the lottery. But by the time you do, I’ll have gotten 2-3 inspection fees out of you.” (see #4)
3. “Mention this ad/site and receive a $10 discount/free pest inspection…”
What it usually means: “…Mention this ad/site and I will raise my price $10 before discounting you $10, and then I’ll give you a “free” pest inspection (that I was going to do anyhow) because I definitely don’t want any claims for missing insect damage!”
4. “I don’t solicit/accept recommendations from Realtors…”
What it can mean: “… no Realtors will recommend me because I frequently scare customers out of transactions! I might really dislike Realtors (including yours) because of this. Even though not soliciting/accepting recommendations creates an illusion of ‘me good’ vs. ‘them evil’, you might not remember there are good and bad eggs in all professions. It’s also good that you don’t know that Buyer Agents in Massachusetts can and do recommend Inspectors, because if you did, I’d look like a either a hypocrite or a fool…”
Continue to Part II