October, 2007

Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Quick and easy marketing tips


ASHI Certified Inspector Roger Hankey, Hankey & Hankey1.gifBrown Inspection Services, Eden Prairie, Minn., never misses an opportunity to remind his clients of his ASHI affiliation. To this end, he does more than just clip his ASHI badge to his shirt. He takes it off and includes it in photographs for the inspection report.

His business card also does double duty. It has a 3-inch Hankey2.gifruler with 1/8” increments imprinted along the edge. When the card is photographed with a defect, it provides the client with both a size reference and a reminder of who performed the inspection.

Answering clients’ questions about winterizing

ASHI Certified Inspector Jim Rooney, Freestate Home Inspections, Annapolis, Md., answers questions from consumers in his newspaper column and shares those columns with ASHI. You’re welcome to share his advice if you receive a similar query.

Q: My question is about winterizing the house this winter while we are away for several months. We have baseboard hot water heat and plan to leave the temperature set at around 55 degrees. We are on well water, and I would like to know if it is OK to shut the water off by turning power off to the pump, or do we need to leave the water on for the hot water heating system? Given recent events and increased price of heating oil, does it make sense to just turn off the heat and winterize all the water pipes? We do have a neighbor who will be looking in on the house periodically while we are away.

A. I am reluctant to advocate winterizing a modern house the way we traditionally know and understand the term. Completely shutting down and draining a hot water heating system, plus the water heater and interior plumbing lines and, with a well, draining any well equipment that may be in danger of freezing, such as pressure tanks and conditioning system, to me is a sure recipe for trouble. Boilers, which is what the water-heating device supplying your baseboard heaters is called even though it doesn’t produce steam, don’t like to go cold. Metals shrink and gaskets get loose, and they end up leaking. And, even a teaspoon of water left in a waterline in the wrong place can freeze and cause trouble that you only find when you turn things back on again. That’s why, when you enter a professionally and traditionally winterized house, you see big red warning signs on all of the plumbing fixtures warning you that it has been turned off and drained down and that returning it to service requires special attention.  

Additionally, houses themselves don’t like to get cold. It takes a while, but all the construction materials get cold and some may begin to change shape. Shrinking and cracking of wood and drywall takes place, and things don’t necessarily return to their original condition when they warm up again. I told my thrifty sister this. She has a vacation home in Vermont that she would close down between visits during the winter months. It wasn’t so much the cracking materials that changed her mind, but what finally got her attention was the experience of returning to a cold house and, even with the furnace going full blast, having it take up to six hours to completely warm the house. Now she drains the water system, puts antifreeze in the traps and toilets, and leaves the furnace set at 48ºF. She tells me now she can get back on line in about an hour. Vermont winters routinely get well below zero, so we can count ourselves lucky as zero is rare here, but it does get cold. Houses begin to become at risk of interior freezing when the thermometer gets to about 25ºF and lower outside, assuming no wind.

Given what can go wrong by completely winterizing your house by turning off the boiler and draining it down versus the cost of keeping the system at a bare minimum is, for me, a no-brainer. The cost and hassle of repairing what may happen makes the cost of oil look pretty cheap. And yes, you do need to keep supply water going to the boiler. The boiler probably has a low-water cutoff in the event its water level decreases for some reason and a malfunction is the only reason I can think of that would cause that. Your ace in the hole is the neighbor who will be looking in from time to time. Make sure your neighbor has all the contact numbers, such as your boiler service provider, plumber and especially you in the event calls need to be made. And when you come home, remember to treat this friendly neighbor to dinner in appreciation. That’s money well spent.

Single women: today's prime real estate niche

Bernice Ross, national speaker and CEO of Realestatecoach.com, advises Inman News readers on how to tap into the lucrative single-woman homebuyer market.

According to Ross, “While everyone pays attention to the needs of the ‘typical family,’ very few people are addressing the specific needs of single female real estate buyers and sellers.

“Which of the following groups buys more condominiums: married couples, single men or single women?

“The answer is single women. Not only are single women buying more condominiums, NAR reports that 22 percent of all home purchases are made by single women as opposed to only 9 percent for single males.”
Some of Ross’ recommendations for tapping this market may be better suited to real estate agents than to home inspectors. While she suggests getting involved in raising money for abused women and children or other charitable activities, this is just one example of her sound advice to “meet them on their own turf” and “offer a unique set of services customized to meet their specific needs.” Source: Inman News