December, 2001
News in Brief
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Discover a wealth of earthquake data online


If you’re looking for earthquake information, it’s at your fingertips on the World Wide Web.

Of particular interest to home inspectors is the impact of earthquakes on buildings. On the Association of Bay Area Government’s (ABAG) Web site, you’ll find earthquake impact charts for different building types. Buildings are rated by construction material, number of stories and age. Structural integrity is compared to the intensity of the earthquake. Go to:

Although many of the organizations are based in California, there is information available on virtually all earthquake sites from the Pacific Northwest to South Carolina. The USGS Web site contains earthquake information from around the world and is a good place to start researching. Go to:

Another option is to simply type “earthquake” into your favorite search engine, and surf some of the thousands of sites.

Better mapping for betterbuilding

“Our ultimate goal is to provide sound, scientific information on where hazardous areas occur along the coast so that better decisions can be made on how far back new structures should be set from eroding shorelines,” reported USGS coastal geologist Abby Salinger. Salinger is referring to a new map showing critical elevations of the  south Atlantic coast that indicate relative vulnerabilities of the coast to storm surge overtopping and inundation by hurricanes and extreme storms.

The map was developed by USGS and NASA using data gathered by a high-tech, airplane-mounted NASA laser, the Airborne Topographic Mapper (ATM). As the aircraft flies along the coast, a laser altimeter scans a several hundred meter swath of the earth’s surface, acquiring an estimate of ground elevation every few square meters. Coastal change is measured by comparing pre-storm to post-storm data. Traditional topographic maps do not have sufficient resolution to be useful for  comparing coastal elevations. Airborne scanning laser surveys are providing unprecedented data to investigate coastal changes (erosion and accretion) that occur during storms.

USGS and NASA have also developed a new scale that categorizes expected coastal change occurring during storms. The map and scale of the south Atlantic coast are available online at: Similar maps are planned for the Gulf of Mexico and the Northeast U.S. coastline.

Take the test: energy audits online

Trying to save money on energy costs? Online energy audits are a great resource. The following two Web sites help provide answers on how to spend wisely to save substantially.

Home Energy Saver
The Home Energy Saver is de-signed to help consumers identify the best ways to save energy in their homes, and find the resources to make the savings happen. The project is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as part of the national Energy Star program for improving energy efficiency in homes.

The Home Energy Saver computes a home’s energy use online. By changing one or more features of the modeled home, users can estimate how much energy and money can be saved by implementing energy-efficiency improvements. Categories covered include heating, cooling, major appliances, and lighting.

The Home Energy Saver’s Energy Advisor calculates energy use and savings opportunities, based on a detailed description of the home provided by the user. Users begin the process by entering their zip code, and in turn receive instant initial estimates. By providing more information about the home the user receives increasingly customized results along with energy-saving upgrade recommendations. The end result is a graph of usage, with recommendations on the best ways to save money.

The entire process takes approximately 45 minutes. Once a profile has been started, a session number is assigned. Users are able to access and update the profile whenever desired by entering the session number. To try it out, go to

Energy Audits
Another energy audit site is, which is an affiliate of the Energy Star program. At this site, consumers can find out about energy deregulation in all states, and analyze home or business energy use.

For a very basic profile, enter a zip code. To complete an extensive energy analysis of a home or business, enter an email address. The user is then guided through a series of categories, with detailed questions about a home or business’ energy use. The home categories include weatherization, heating, cooling, hot water, lighting and kitchen.

When the analysis has been completed, a report is generated, which includes graphs of usage and cost versus savings for every suggested improvement. If the user wants even more indepth analysis, an optional feature of the ENERGYguide analysis is the ability to determine specific usage for electric and natural gas by entering information from a year’s worth of energy bills.

The graphic interface of this program is friendly. Watch your energy costs increase or decrease as more detailed data is entered. The information a user enters is saved temporarily, but in order to create a permanent profile that can be accessed at any time, the user must become a member by creating an account. Conducting the energy analysis takes approximately an hour. To begin an ENERGYguide analysis, go to

Both the Home Energy Saver’s Energy Advisor and ENERGYguide are excellent tools to help determine where your energy dollars are going, and how to save a little or a lot. They offer specific recommendations based on data input. Although it does require some time to complete the audits, it may be time well spent. The end result is information that you can use.