April, 2012
News in Brief
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Rare Virus Rears Its Ugly Head


In March, the San Diego City News Service reported eight mice infected with the Hantavirus had been found in Escondido, Santee and the San Diego neighborhood of Tierasanta.

The virus was found in 53 rodents across the country in 2011. It can be transmitted to humans from the dried droppings, urine or saliva of infected mice and rats. In 2010, the most recent year for CDC data, 20 cases of Hantavirus were reported in humans.

The disease begins as a flu-like illness characterized by fever, chills and muscle aches, but it can rapidly progress to a life-threatening condition marked by respiratory failure as the lungs fill with fluid. Animal laboratory workers and persons working in infested buildings are at increased risk to this disease, particularly during dusty clean-up activities, because people contract it by inhaling virus particles stirred up in the air.

Although the disease is rare, home inspectors may want to take precautions when working in spaces where there are signs of the presence of rats and mice. It has been found in all contiguous states.

For more information, download www.cdc.gov/hantavirus/surveillance/annual-cases.html and www.cdc.gov/hantavirus/pdf/HPS_Brochure.pdf.

Direct Connect 911 Smoke Detector Via Cellular Networks

It is a proprietary technology that is poised to create a new option in the smoke detector industry. The Direct Connect 911 smoke detector from PlugNProtect, LLC, communicates over the cellular network in the event of a smoke or fire emergency at a home or business. The stand-alone, photo-electronic smoke detector will alert central-station emergency operators to a fire or smoke condition. The system costs $10 a month.
It is not connected to the user's cell phone or cell phone plan.

The unit simply attaches to a ceiling or wall like a typical smoke detector. When smoke is detected, the unit's alarm sounds and simultaneously alerts Central Station. Local fire/rescue teams are called and additional contacts are notified by phone or email. It allows people who are present at the time of the fire to focus on escaping the building and not have to worry about calling 911. It is also ideal for helping to save pets that may be home alone at the time of a fire. The unit can even indicate to emergency operators the location of the fire within a home or building.

A manual shut-off button is included, alerting the emergency operators of the false alarm. For more information on the Direct Connect 911 smoke detector, go to www.directconnect911.com.

U.S. Department of Energy establishes Commercial Building Energy Asset Rating Program

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is establishing a national standard for a voluntary commercial building energy asset-rating program. DOE's goal is to facilitate cost-effective investment and energy efficiency in commercial buildings by providing a tool that allows building owners to benchmark their buildings against peers. The tool also allows other market players to understand the relative efficiency of different buildings in a way that is distinct from their operations and occupancy.

What is the asset-rating tool?
The asset-rating tool is a free web-based application that can help building owners evaluate the modeled energy efficiency of their buildings. It is a centralized modeling tool that takes into account the building envelope, the mechanical and electrical systems, and other major energy-using equipment that is physically built into the building. The tool aims to reduce the implementation cost and increase the standardization because building owners do not need to hire an expert energy modeler. The asset-rating tool aims to provide value in the first step of building assessment by identifying some possible energy efficiency upgrade opportunities.

What building types will be covered by the asset-rating scheme?
The rollout of the program has been organized in a phased approach, focusing first on building types that are simplest to understand and about which we have more information to establish a rating system. Phase I includes buildings in these categories: office, educational, retail, and unrefrigerated warehouse. Phase II includes mixed-use types of buildings that incorporate Phase I uses, lodging, food service, food sales, public safety and religious worship. Phase III buildings are either those with more complex systems or those for which we currently have a limited body of information, such as data centers, laboratories, refrigerated warehouse, health-care facilities, public assembly and so on. DOE is also rolling out a residential asset-rating system and it remains to be determined whether multi-family residential buildings will be included in that system or in the commercial one. Both new construction and existing space will be supported by the commercial building energy asset-rating system.

What building components will be included in the rating?
The rating will include the as-built physical characteristics of the building and its overall energy efficiency, independent of occupancy and operational choices. The physical characteristics will include the building envelope, the mechanical and electrical systems, and other major energy-using equipment. Installed features such as daylighting controls and occupancy sensors, variable-frequency drives, and variable air volume terminal units will be included in the asset rating for a building. However, the degree to which a control system is operated to save energy will not affect a building's asset rating.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy, asset.rating@pnnl.gov.

2013 Budget Proposal Would Reduce the Impact of the Mortgage Interest Deduction on the Home Sales Market

The Obama administration has released its U.S. budget proposal for 2013

Among other things, the president's proposal would cut back on the availability of itemized deductions for married couples with adjusted gross incomes exceeding $250,000 and for individuals with AGIs exceeding $200,000. In effect, it would reduce the attractiveness of the mortgage interest deduction as an inducement in these income groups to purchase a home.

ASHI has a long history of supporting the mortgage interest deduction and opposing any efforts that would limit the pro-home sales impact of the mortgage interest deduction. The mortgage interest deduction is not in any immediate danger, but only because every such past proposal to limit the deduction has been met by strong opposition from nearly all the major home sales organizations, and by homeowners themselves.

Randall Pence, Capitol Hill Advocates, will keep ASHI apprised of all federal government activities related to the real estate industry and the home inspection profession.

New Report From IBHS Evaluates Building Codes in 18 Coastal States

The report examines the three main elements of a state's building code system.

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) released a report that provides an analysis of residential building codes in the 18 hurricane-prone coastal states along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Coast. "Rating the States: An Assessment of Residential Building Codes and Enforcement Systems for Life Safety and Property Protection in Hurricane Prone Regions" is the first of its kind, state-by-state assessment of individual state performance in developing and promulgating a residential building code system. The report combines IBHS' engineering expertise and regulatory research to examine the three main elements of a state's building code system:

1. Code adoption and enforcement – Statewide mandatory code adoption and enforcement are the primary elements to require that the minimum standards of codes are utilized.

2. Code official training and certification – Code official training and certification are part of the regulatory scheme to ensure that code officials are properly educated, trained and tested in order to correctly enforce building codes.

3. Licensing requirements for construction trades – Licensing requirements for construction trades ensure that contractors and subcontractors are familiar with the sections of code that impact them, that they demonstrate minimum competency in their trade and stay current with code requirements.

Full report and state-specific information is available on the IBHS Building Code Ratings web page. Go to www.disastersafety.org.

Source: IBHS, an independent, nonprofit, scientific research and communications organization supported by the property insurance industry.