Wednesday, February 17, 2010

New EPA Renovation, Repair and Painting Certification

Do you live in, own, deal with the sale of, or intend to perform work (such as repairs following pre-purchase inspections) in any home constructed prior to 1978? Surprise, this new certification requirement will now affect you!

Beginning in April 2010, federal law requires that contractors performing renovation, repair and painting that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child care facilities, and schools built before 1978 be certified and they must follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination. The recommended actions and practices aren’t new; they began on April 22, 2008. However, the certification requirement, enforcement of recommendations becoming requirements and fines is a very different scenario.

What is at risk? First and foremost is the safety of the children spending time in these homes or buildings. It doesn’t end there. There are new liability issues related to landlords, contractors and Realtors who may be involved with repairs especially if they fail to use EPA certified contractors. If you live in or are involved in any capacity with a home built before 1978, for your welfare and the occupant’s safety, make sure your contractor is properly trained and certified in accordance with the new EPA regulations and uses lead-safe work practices during renovation or they are subject to fines of up to $37,500.00 per violation per day of noncompliance. Put simply, demand to see and be given a copy of your contractor’s certification and the EPA “lead hazard information pamphlet” (click on the photo below). Verify for yourself that all contractors are following proper protective procedures.
For additional information visit EPA’s website at:

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Perfect Storm Brewing

Some storms are bad but, some are good. I think that a good storm is brewing all around us! I am not alone in my thought! All of the conditions are coming together for this storm to occur and there is only one factor preventing it from hitting us full force. Here are the factors which are leading to a perfect storm in Real Estate sales:
  1. Pent-up demand
  2. High inventory
  3. Low prices
  4. Motivated sellers
  5. Low interest rates
  6. Incentives from government and other sources
What is the one thing preventing this storm from occurring? It is lack of buyer confidence. When this one factor changes, Katie bar the door!

Have you noticed the little blond giving Real Estate advice on the NBC Today Show? Maybe you have seen her on the program Shark Tank. At first I wasn’t very comfortable with what she had to say because she appeared attune to a single market “New York City” rather than the Nation as a whole. Are you aware who this tiny lady is? Maybe we should pay attention!

Being old sometimes has its privileges such as receiving the AARP magazine. A recent article about “Real-Estate Seer” Barbara Corcoran by Laurie Wiegler was titled:

A Tycoon’s Tips
BUY NOW! That’s the hot advice of respected housing expert Barbara Corcoran, who says she’s never seen a better time to purchase a home. “Typically when real-estate prices are low, interest rates are high. This is the first time I’ve seen cheap money and cheap prices simultaneously. This is the good old days we’ve dreamt about.”

Corcoran has a knack for timing. Having parlayed a $1,000 loan into a high-end New York City real-estate firm she started, The Corcoran Group, she sold the company for $66 million in 2001, before the market cratered.

Now, as an investor on ABC’s Shark Tank, Corcoran encourages buyers to jump at the abundance of good deals, “It’s a perfect time to snatch a bargain or to upgrade,” she says. And when does she think the market will rebound? “Real estate is slow to unwind but fast to recover. I suspect we’ll make up for most of the loss of the last four years within the next 18 months.”
I like this tiny blond better all the time! Check out her best selling book (click on the image below).

Plumbing – Caulk Toilet at Floor

There is one issue I count on being different on the residential and commercial properties I inspect. The requirement is clearly the same on both. Commercial building toilets will, most likely, be caulked at the floor and single family residential will not.

Why the difference?

It’s simple, an anticipation of enforcement of codes or a lack thereof. Most builders will not acknowledge such but they default to the minimum of enforcement or generally accepted practice rather than the requirement of codes or manufactures recommendations. Many builders and subcontractors actually learn code when their hand is smacked for failing to meet it not from their foreknowledge of the requirement. Hence no enforcement leads to a failure of compliance. This is an easily observable primary example of this issue. Walk into your bathroom. Is your toilet caulked at the floor? Most likely it is not. Should it be?

When conducting a home inspection I handle this differently depending on the home. On new construction I write up “Toilet Not Caulked at the Floor” as a “repair” item. However, on lived in homes I write it up as a "discretionary improvement". When I started in this business I wrote them all up as a repair item. Why the difference? You can’t imagine the flack I have taken over this. Most homes new or existing, in my service area, have un-caulked toilets. Many home inspectors simply ignore this issue because of all of the flack and conflicting opinions. I call that a cop out on the part if the inspector who should know better than to ignore such an issue. Some counties code enforcement inspectors require that toilets be caulked and some ignore this. You might be surprised to observe that large builders who work in multiple areas usually have their toilets caulked while local builders might not only ignore this but may be vehemently opposed to this practice. I have found the difference interesting and have been observing it for many years. Why the difference? I have found it to be simple. Large builders, working in many areas of enforcement, tend to function at the most restrictive, following codes more closely to keep their employees and sub contractors, who function in the different areas, from having issues with the enforcement officials. For example in my service area I will usually find new construction, in most counties, with un-caulked toilets with the exception of Guilford County where they are much more likely to be caulked. Wonder why?

Why are some builders and homeowners opposed to caulking toilets? The primary excuse is leakage or more correctly easily observable leakage. The thought is if the joint is open water from a leaking wax seal will run out onto the floor making the homeowner aware of a leak before the floor is damaged by rot. Interestingly a small open area in caulk at the rear of the toilet will easily accomplish this although most will refuse to caulk at all. Is there interest in observing a leak or simply their bull headed refusal to change their long standing practice of not caulking toilets?

Why should toilets be caulked at the floor?
  1. Although our inspections are not code enforcement inspections we must consider code issues, especially on new construction, even though we do not write them up as such. The International and Uniform codes clearly show a water-tight seal is required where plumbing fixtures meet floors and walls. Since issues found on new construction are the responsibility of the builder, who is responsible to meet code requirements, enforced or not, I choose to designate this as a repair item which is easily justifiable under current code requirements. On lived in homes this falls on the homeowner who isn’t responsible for meeting current code requirements and most likely required by code or not, at the time the home was constructed, the generally accepted local practice was not to caulk the toilet. Hence the difference as an improvement recommendation.
  2. Manufactures recommendations include that plumbing fixtures should be sealed where they meet floors and ceilings. Interestingly, by default, manufactures recommendations carry the same weight as code in most municipalities. Surprisingly, to some in most situations, where manufactures recommendations exceed the written code the code enforcement official will demand the more excessive be followed. Codes even state where an issue is not addressed in the code that manufactures recommendations are to be followed. That gives the manufactures recommendations the force of code.
  3. Often below a second floor toilet you will observe a stain on the first floor ceiling. Has the toilet leaked? Not necessarily. Where do you think the mop water, water dripping from bathing or leaking at a shower curtain goes when it runs up under an un-caulked toilet? Through the opening in the floor at the pipe and to the ceiling below.
  4. Have you ever noticed or cleaned the obnoxious build up in the joint at an un-caulked toilet? Think that might be a sanitation issue? The Health Department does. Wouldn’t it be easier to caulk the toilet rather than cleaning the open joint over and over on your knees with a tooth brush (hopefully not the one you use later to brush your teeth)? On second thought if you are willing to clean the joint with a tooth brush and then brush your teeth caulking the toilet will not be high on your list of things to do today.
  5. Many experienced plumbers have observed that toilets caulked at the floor are less likely to have leaking wax seals. Why could that be? Easy, Caulking reduces the potential for movement limiting forces on the seal which might cause it to leak.
Is your toilet caulked at the floor? Would you desire for me to write this issue up on a home you are purchasing? Do you think your builder should caulk your toilet?