July, 2008

Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Disastersafety.org offers resources for professionals and the public


Foreclosures put a new twist on hurricane season and intensify the need to prepare

Fallout from the ongoing mortgage crisis provides a new, potentially hazardous twist to the 2008 hurricane season; however, communities can take steps to protect themselves, says the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS).

Unfortunately, more than half a million properties in hurricane-prone states are in some stage of foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac. IBHS warns that the many thousands of foreclosed homes standing empty in coastal areas from Texas to Maine could exacerbate property damage in their neighborhoods if the wind starts to blow.

“Foreclosed homes that are either poorly maintained or otherwise left vulnerable to natural forces could become flying debris that takes aim at neighboring buildings,” said IBHS President and CEO Julie Rochman. “Gulf and Atlantic Coast communities should consider this fact when making or reviewing hurricane preparation and disaster recovery plans.”

IBHS notes that a house is most vulnerable to high winds when the building “envelope” is not sealed by approved forms of opening protection, such as storm shutters or reinforced garage doors. Building materials and other debris from partially completed new homes sitting unsecured along the coasts also could become shrapnel or missiles impacting nearby buildings.

IBHS recommends that homeowner associations or community groups try to determine who is responsible for unoccupied properties in their neighborhoods, and encourage those responsible parties to take meaningful loss-prevention steps prior to the start of hurricane season.

Many Americans are facing difficult times financially, but IBHS stresses there are effective, affordable options to minimize losses from hurricanes and wind-driven rain.
A wide variety of products on the market today are rated for high wind and large missile impact; this variety means more inexpensive options. To help with decision-making, IBHS has created an online Shutter Selection Guide.

Wind-driven rain can lead to significant water damage inside an otherwise intact home. However, a loss of power leaves little means to dry things out. So, homeowners should caulk any exterior holes, such as where wires, cables and pipes enter and exit the house, and seal around electrical boxes and circuit breaker panels.

Keeping shingles attached is critical, since edge shingles that are not well-fastened or extend beyond the drip edge more than a 1/4" can be lifted off by high wind, creating a peeling process or domino effect. Home-owners should tug on shingles along the roof edge and if they come up without much effort, secure them with three one-inch dabs of roofing cement under each tab (available at little cost at most hardware stores).

For more property-protection projects to help reinforce homes against high winds and other hazards, visit the Hurricane section of www.disastersafety.org.

Increase tornado protection as you rebuild

Residents recovering from tornadoes can help minimize damage from future events as they repair and rebuild, according to the IBHS.

While most buildings are not meant to withstand the direct impact of a severe tornado, good construction choices can give added protection against these windstorms.

Structures built to meet or exceed current model building code high-wind requirements have a much better chance of surviving violent windstorms.  This type of construction is commonplace in hurricane-prone areas, but should also be considered by anyone who wants to increase their property’s protection against tornadoes, no matter where they live.

Contractors or builders should pay particular attention to the windows, doors, roof coverings, gable ends and connections (roof-to-wall, wall-to-foundation).  The design wind speed for homes in inland areas of the United States is only 90 mph, but winds from tornadoes can easily exceed that, and weaknesses in these parts of the house make it more vulnerable to significant damage.

Many of the changes in construction that could be employed in areas affected by tornadoes would use materials already used and paid for, but connect them in a way that will reduce the chance the structure will be torn apart or collapse.

Manufactured Home Inspection Checklist

To help manufactured homeowners understand the vulnerability in high wind areas and how to improve their home’s ability to withstand windstorms, the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) has updated its Manufactured Home Inspection Checklist.

Manufactured homes are units built off site and installed or assembled on site, including those that are propped on a pier foundation and anchored to the ground with steel straps.

When a manufactured home was built and whether it had the proper wind-zone rating were determining factors in the level of damage it sustained from recent hurricanes.  Manufactured homes weren’t built with high wind standards until after July 1994.

NAHB calls for homebuyer tax credit

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) last month called on Congress to create a temporary homebuyer tax credit, along with other important tax measures to boost the faltering housing market and economy.

“House prices and inventories obviously are central to the outlook for the economy and the financial markets,” Joe Robson, first vice president of NAHB and a homebuilder from Tulsa, Okla., told members of the House Small Business Committee.  “Policies that stimulate home purchases in the immediate future can pay huge dividends and a temporary homebuyer tax credit provides the most bang for the buck.”

Robson added that the recent revival of interest among prospective buyers suggests that temporary credits could stimulate a wave of home buying that quickly could reduce excess supply in housing markets and halt the dangerous erosion of house prices and mortgage credit quality.

HR 3221, the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008, contains a provision that would provide a temporary, first-time homebuyer tax credit of $7,500 for the purchase of any home used as a principal residence and closed on between April 9, 2008 and April 1, 2009.

“NAHB believes that the homebuyer credit model in HR 3221 would help address many elements of the current housing crisis,” said Robson.  “The tax credit would increase home sales, which would cause inventories to fall and stabilize home prices and mortgage markets.  NAHB would urge Congress to consider options for increasing the size of the credit to maximize its impact and effectiveness.”