Hazardous building materials

building materials
Grounding building components (infographic from lightning.org)

It’s not unusual that new building materials are produced to make construction and system installations easier, less expensive, and/or safer.  However, once in a while, it’s found that the component may fail or can become dangerous as it ages or if installed improperly.  Examples of such materials include FRT plywood, polybutylene pipe, Chinese drywall, and most recently CSST.

Fire Retardant Treatment (FRT) plywood was identified in the 1990’s as a potential problem when used as roofing sheathing.  FRT sheathing was supposed to help limit fire damage by containing a fire.  Some FRT plywood used in roofs during the mid to late 1980’s and early 1990’s was found to become defective over time and deteriorate, subjecting the roof to possibly fail.  Although FRT wood is commonly used in roofing building materials, wood joists and other building materials may have also been treated with FRT chemicals and were also identified to possibly have latent problems over time.

Another building component used during the 1980’s and 1990’s that had problems was supposed to make plumbing applications easy to install and less expensive than copper.  Many homes built in the 1980’s and early 1990’s had plumbing with polybutylene (PB) pipes.  The plastic PB pipe was found to be susceptible to leaking and bursting.  The fallout resulted in a class action settlement to assist home owners replace pipes and reimburse for any damages from failed pipe.

During the housing expansion during the mid 2000’s, many builders opted to use imported drywall because it was abundant and cheaper than domestic drywall.  The use of imported drywall kept costs down and did not impede building schedules when supplies ran low.  However, as the decade wore on, it was found that some imported drywall from China became toxic when exposed in certain environments.  Homeowners complained that the imported drywall caused respiratory ailments, oxidized jewelry, and even corroded pipes.  Most complaints originated from hot and humid climates, such as Florida, but also occurred in other areas of the country.  The complaints peaked in 2008 and resulted in congressional hearings.

More recently, Corrugated Stainless Steel Tubing (CSST) was identified to have the potential to be a hazard if not installed properly.  CSST is flexible stainless-steel tubing used in natural gas applications.  According to CSST Safety (csstsafety.com), CSST was first used in Japan in the 1980’s and introduced in the US in 1990.  The benefits of CSST include speed, ease, and cost of installation, compared to black iron gas pipes.  CSST is supposed to resist leaking because fewer joints are needed for installation (most gas leaks are observed at black pipe joints).  As of 2012, it is estimated that seven million homes have CSST.  It was found that power surges due to lightning strikes may cause CSST to puncture, which can cause a fire.

The standards of practice for Maryland home inspectors (mdahi.org/Maryland-Standards-of-Practice) require inspectors to “describe” the presence of CSST in a home, with the recommendation that “the bonding of the CSST be reviewed by a licensed master electrician.”  Washington Gas (washingtongas.com) recommends that you inspect CSST in your home to ensure that it is properly bonded and grounded.  “Bonding is provided primarily to prevent a possible electric shock to people who come in contact with the gas piping and other metal objects connected to the grounding system. Proper bonding and grounding reduce the risk of damage and fire from a lightning strike.”

By Dan Krell
Copyright © 2018.

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

New homes allure is neurological

new homes
New homes (infographic from candysdirt.com)

Last week I mentioned that new home sales jumped 18.7 percent year-over-year, which is a ten-year high.  It should come as no surprise that new homes are selling like hotcakes.  After all, existing home inventory has been and remains historically low, which doesn’t give many options to home buyers.  But there are other reasons for the allure of new construction.  Some of the home buyers’ motives are apparent and some are not so obvious.

The idea of buying new construction goes beyond the “new home feel.”  Buyers of new homes are attracted to modern designs and trends that are incorporated into new houses.  New home construction takes advantage of modern building techniques and materials that allow for the open floor-plan concept that many home buyers prefer.  Many of the materials used in new construction are “engineered” for efficiency and longevity.

Buyers of new homes like the feeling that there will be minimal maintenance for the first year.  Everything is brand new and there is sense of confidence that the home’s systems won’t need major repairs or replacement.  Being the first owner of a home also gives assurance that they won’t have to deal with the poor maintenance habits of the previous owner.  This is a plus for home buyers who don’t have a lot of financial reserves to address home maintenance emergencies.  Instead, they can begin to save and budget for future repairs and replacements that should be years down the road.

New home builders take advantage of current trends in green building practices.  Many new home builders tout their LEED certification, demonstrating their commitment to energy efficiency and sustainable resources.  Green building practices are not only used when the home is built, but is actually built into the design.  Home owners seeking LEED certified builders believe they will have a smaller impact on the environment and save money on energy costs.

A new trend that buyers are pursuing is the “healthy home.”  The healthy home concept emphasizes the quality of the air inside the home.  Home buyers are becoming aware of the physical and environmental benefits of good indoor air quality, which can improve their emotional well-being and reduce the potential for respiratory distress.

But there is another reason why home buyers are attracted to new homes, and it lies within the brain.  Research has demonstrated time and again that consumers respond to novelty.  This means that home buyers have a tendency to want “new.”  This can be interpreted into making an old home new by renovating a kitchen, bathroom, etc.  Or it can mean buying a newly built home.

new homes
the desire for new homes may start with the limbic system (infographic from success-mohawk.com)

The novelty seeking behavior of the home buyer isn’t just a choice, as some may argue, it’s neurological.  Basically, the desire for a new home lies within the brain.  A study conducted by Nico Bunzeck and Emrah Düzel (Absolute Coding of Stimulus Novelty in the Human Substantia Nigra/VTA; 2006; Neuron 51, 369-379) demonstrated that the hippocampal region of the brain responds to novel (new) stimuli.  The hippocampal region is part of the limbic system, which is noted for being responsible for memory and emotions.  It has also been associated with motivation.

The study also discusses the idea that novelty seeking behavior isn’t just emotional, but it is also rewarding.  This means that there is a behavioral loop for seeking new things, including buying a new home.

Home sellers need to take note of these findings.  Translating this study to home buyers may mean that a home’s feeling of “newness” is important, regardless if it’s construction, renovation, or even how the home is decorated.  Understanding what attracts and motivates home buyers can be the tipping point to get a home sold.

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2017/12/08/new-homes-allure-neurological/

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Title fraud protection

title fraud
Title fraud and house stealing (infographic from fbi.gov)

In the wake of the largest consumer data breach in history, ads for credit monitoring and other related services are flooding the airwaves.  One of these associated services is home title monitoring.  These commercials claim that they will protect you from home stealing and title fraud.  But what is home title monitoring and is it worthwhile?

According to a FBI report (fbi.gov) “House Stealing, the Latest Scam on the Block,” house stealing is a combination of two popular “rackets:” identity theft and mortgage fraud.  The 2008 report described a couple of versions of how the scam is perpetrated.  One form of this crime is committed by obtaining a cash-out mortgage posing as you to get a check at settlement.  Another form is committed by fraudulently taking title to your home and then selling the home for the proceeds.  Although fraudsters frequently target vacant homes, house stealing can also occur while you’re still occupying your home.  The FBI describes how scammers perpetrate house stealing and title fraud:

Here’s how it generally works:
-The con artists start by picking out a house to steal—say, YOURS.
-Next, they assume your identity—getting a hold of your name and personal information (easy enough to do off the Internet) and using that to create fake IDs, social security cards, etc.
-Then, they go to an office supply store and purchase forms that transfer property.
-After forging your signature and using the fake IDs, they file these deeds with the proper authorities, and lo and behold, your house is now THEIRS* [*Since the paperwork is fraudulent, the house doesn’t legally belong to the con artists.]
There are some variations on this theme…
-Con artists look for a vacant house—say, a vacation home or rental property—and do a little research to find out who owns it. Then, they steal the owner’s identity, go through the same process of transferring the deed, put the empty house on the market, and pocket the profits.
-Or, the fraudsters steal a house a family is still living in…find a buyer (someone, say, who is satisfied with a few online photos)…and sell the house without the family even knowing. In fact, the rightful owners continue right on paying the mortgage for a house they no longer own.

Both forms of house stealing (or title fraud) are typically intertwined with mortgage fraud.  And because of the process, mortgage fraud usually has multiple conspirators carrying out the scam.  An example of this is the 2013-2014 sentencing of at least five co-conspirators (including a title company manager and mortgage broker).  These criminals perpetrated a complex multi-million-dollar mortgage fraud scheme that occurred in Maryland.  One conspirator sold homes that did not belong to her.

According to the FBI report, house stealing is difficult to prevent.  However, vigilance on your part is highly recommended.  Red flags include receiving payment books and/or late notices for loans for which you did not apply.  Additionally, it is recommended to routinely monitor your home’s title in the county’s land records. Any unrecognized paperwork or fraudulent looking signatures may be an indication of title fraud and should be looked into.  Title fraud should be reported to the FBI.

Title fraud protection

You can visit Montgomery County’s land records office and get information on searching your home’s title from the very helpful staff.  You can also search land records online.  However, you should consult a title attorney for a detailed title search.

A problem with searching land records is that it is not always definitive.  Of course, accuracy depends on those who prepare and file the documents with the county.  Common issues that are found in title searches are misspelled names and aliases.  Deeds and other related documents (such as quit claim deeds and mortgage satisfaction letters) are not always filed timely, or sometimes not at all.

After the Equifax breach, millions of consumers’ identifications are available to criminals to perpetrate house stealing/title fraud.  Title monitoring services tout their ability to protect you from such scams.  Before you decide to enroll, be aware of the fees, the limitations, and how it compares or differs from your owner’s title insurance policy (including cost).

Your title insurance policy may already protect you from title fraud.  According to the Maryland Insurance Administration’s A Consumer Guide to Title Insurance (insurance.maryland.gov), “Title insurance protects real estate purchasers and/or lenders from losses that arise after a real estate settlement…A title insurance policy provides coverage for legal defense, as well as the coverage amount listed in the policy, which usually equals the purchase price of the real property.”  Basic coverage typically protects you for fraud that occurred prior to settlement.  However, enhanced coverage may provide protection for fraud that occurs after settlement.

You should consult with a title attorney about your title insurance coverage and how it protects you from title fraud.

By DanKrell
Copyright© 2017

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2017/10/22/title-fraud-protection

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3D printed homes

3D printed homes
3D printed home building

Imagine a time when you can print a new door knob, a sink trap, a cabinet, or any other house component right in your home.  That time is rapidly approaching, thanks to 3D printing technology.  3D printed homes may be your house of the future.

When Sean Mashian recently wrote about the potential of 3D printing technology (The impact of 3D printing on real estate; Cornell Real Estate Review; 2017. 15, p64-65.), he was correct to say that the technology has the potential to change the home construction industry.  3D printing may also be the ultimate affordable housing solution, printing on demand homes and apartments at a fraction of stick-built homes.

Mashian stated:

Currently, 3D printing is most often used in the real estate industry as a way of creating scale models for new developments. As the technology grows and becomes more commonplace, there may be huge changes coming to real estate from this emerging technology…Right now, 3D printing is expensive and still in rudimentary stages. As we learned from the explosion of e-commerce just a decade ago however, a rapidly growing trend can quickly become a way of life. If 3D printing continues its swift rise to prominence, real estate will change and well positioned assets stand to benefit.

But 3D printing is already making an impact on housing design and construction, as Eric Schimelpfenig wrote in 2013 (Design and the 3D Printing Revolution; Kitchen & Bath Design News; 2013, p20).  He talked about one New York company that was already manufacturing personalized 3D printed bathroom fixtures.  Besides custom faucets, 3D printing tech will also bring us on-demand custom cabinets and other fixtures too.  Schimelpfenig said, “that future isn’t far away… and it’s going to be awesome.

Schimelpfenig’s future is unfolding before us as 3D printing technology is rapidly advancing.  The technology has come a long way since the first 3D printer was created by Charles Hull in 1983.  Originally, 3D printing was used for 3D modeling.  As the technology become cheaper and widely available, 3D printed modeling become a hit with hobbyists.  However, the potential in commercial applications didn’t really make strides until the turn of the century.

Although, 3D printing is not yet widely used in home construction, there are companies already 3D printing entire homes.  Apis Cor (apis-cor.com) not only builds 3D printed homes, but claims to be the first company to develop a mobile construction 3D printer capable of printing an entire building completely on site.

We are the first company to develop a mobile construction 3D printer which is capable of printing whole buildings completely on site.
Also we are people. Engineers, managers, builders and inventors sharing one common idea – to change the construction industry so that millions of people will have an opportunity to improve their living conditions.

Apis Cor 3D printed a home in Russia last December in 24 hours.  The one level home was rudimentary, and had 38 square meters (about 409 square feet) of living space.  But this was a demonstration of the flexibility of the 3D printing technology.  The endeavor not only showed how a home can be 3D printed on site, but that it can also be done in the cold of winter.  The company claims that 3D printed homes can be any shape, and designs are only restricted by the laws of physics.

Apis Cor states that 3D printed homes can also cost less because an onsite 3D printer “frees up resources.” Construction costs are lower because there is a cost reduction in labor, construction waste disposal, construction machinery rentals, tools, and finishings.  They claim that one 3D printer “can replace a whole team of construction workers, saving time without loss of quality.”

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2017/09/03/3d-printed-homes/

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

What’s the controversy with laminate flooring?

Since my last installment of How your Home is Making You Sick, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released and revised their analysis of certain types of Chinese laminate flooring. The initial release was found to have used an incorrect value for ceiling height, which calculated airborne concentration estimates about “3 times lower than they should have been.”

The increased interest in health concerns over certain types of Chinese laminate flooring was due in part to an exposé by CBS’ 60 Minutes (which aired March 1st, 2015) that investigated California home owners’ claims that certain types of laminate flooring sold by Lumber Liquidators was making them sick. The investigation alleged that the Chinese laminate flooring sold by Lumber Liquidators did not meet California Air Resources Board standards for formaldehyde emissions in wood flooring. Lumber Liquidators questioned the testing methodology and results (Lumber Liquidators; cbcnews.com; August 16th, 2015).

In a May 2015 press release, Lumber Liquidators stated that “Initial results of the indoor air quality testing program for certain laminate flooring customers – conducted by independent, accredited laboratories – indicate that over 97% of customers’ homes were within the protective guidelines established by the World Health Organization for formaldehyde levels in indoor air.” However, sales of the products in question were discontinued; and company has offered air quality test kits for those who have purchased laminate flooring from the company.

reduceformaldehyde
from “Laminate Flooring Test Results – Health Issues and Solutions” (cdc.gov)

Since the 60 Minutes exposé, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) tested samples of Chinese laminate flooring and along with the CDC issued “Laminate Flooring Test Results – Health Issues and Solutions”.   The consumer handout states that formaldehyde is found in many home products; and levels typically decrease after 2 years of installation. Recommendations in reducing health risks are also listed (cdc.gov/nceh/laminateflooring/docs/nceh-atsdr_laminate-flooring.pdf).

The February 10th CDC press release initial reported analysis conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) of the CSPC data “…found that formaldehyde levels observed in select laminate wood flooring products could cause short-term irritation for people in general and in some cases exacerbate asthma.  The risk of cancer associated with long-term exposure to the observed formaldehyde levels is considered extremely small…” (ATSDR and CDC Analysis Finds Possible Health Effects Associated with Formaldehyde in Select Laminate Flooring; cdc.gov).

However, a correction to the analysis was made several days later indicated that that although “the final results are not yet available,” the estimated conclusions are to be close to these: Exposure to the range of modeled levels of formaldehyde in indoor air could cause increased symptoms and other respiratory issues for people with asthma and COPD; Exposure to the lowest modeled levels of formaldehyde could result in eye, nose, and throat irritation for anyone; and The estimated risk of cancer is 6-30 cases per 100,000 people (increased from the initial “Low risk of cancer” 2-9 cases per 100,000 people). The CDC cautions that these revised results are “very conservative” and “the calculated risk is likely lower than our modeled estimate.”

Even though the results are revised, the CDC states that their recommendations will likely remain the same – “we strongly stress taking steps to reduce exposures, which should alleviate respiratory and eye, nose and throat irritation.”

By Dan Krell
Copyright © 2016

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.