July, 2002
News in Brief
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Social Security Benefits Estimated


Do you want to know how much your Social Security benefits will be when you retire? The National Technical Information Service (NTIS), part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has a program available on diskette to do just that. The AnyPIA produces the social security primary insurance amount (PIA) for old-age, survivor or disability benefit, given the characteristics of a particular worker. For example, it allows the user to to compare differences in benefit amount depending on age and reported earnings at the time of retirement. The program can estimate monthly benefit amount, maximum family benefit, and the actuarial reduction or increment factor (for early or delayed retirement).It can produce a projected PIA through 2070.

The price for the program is $47. Call 800-553-6847 or order online at www.ntis.gov.

EPA releases indoor airquality report

The importance of the indoor environment to human health has been highlighted in numerous environmental risk reports. On average, we spend about 90 percent of our time indoors, where pollutant levels are often higher than those outside. Indoor pollution is estimated to cause thousands of cancer deaths and hundreds of thousands of respiratory health problems each year. In addition, hundreds of thousands of children have experienced elevated blood lead levels resulting from their exposure to indoor pollutants.

As part of their response to this issue, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a report entitled “Healthy Buildings, Healthy People: A Vision for Indoor Environmental Quality in the 21st Century.” The report outlines goals, broad strategies, and guiding principles to achieve success in every sector of society over the next 25 to 50 years.

To download the report in electronic form, go to www.epa.gov/iaq/hbhp/. For a free paper copy call 800-438-4318.

Electrocution hazards

Even as technology improves, the electrocution hazards of the past can resurface and pose a danger to consumers. With satellite dishes, cable TV, cellular phones, and the Internet replacing traditional TV, radio, and CB systems, consumers may be taking out their ladders and taking down their old antennas. If proper precautions are not used, the result can be deadly. In recognition of National Electrical Safety Month, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is reminding consumers of the serious electrocution hazard when ladders or antennas touch high-voltage, overhead power lines.

In 1978, the Commission set a standard calling for the industry to properly label antennas with safety warnings about the risk from power lines. This was followed by a standard in 1982 requiring antennas for citizen's band communications to be insulated, thus reducing the risk of shock from contact with power lines. These standards helped to dramatically reduce the 186 deaths per year that occurred in the mid- 1970s from antenna electrocutions to 20 per year in the 1990s. Now, consumers are taking down older, uninsulated antennas, which could lead to more electrocutions.

When participating in outdoor, overhead activities, consumers should take the following precautions:

• Keep all objects - including masts, poles, ladders, tools and toys - far away from power lines at all times.

• If you are taking down or moving an antenna, be aware of new power lines that have been put up since the antenna was first installed.

• Never assume that an overhead power line is electrically insulated; always assume that contact with any line can be lethal.

• Never place a ladder anywhere near an electrical power line.

• Position non-metal ladders (such as fiberglass) at a height and location that prevents the possibility of you or it contacting a power line.

• Keep the distance from an antenna or pole to the power line at least 11/2 times the height of the antenna or pole.

• Properly ground all masts in accordance with electrical codes.

• Be aware that you can be electrocuted by touching a power line directly or by touching a conductive material (such as a metal ladder, antenna, pipe, kite) and, at the same time, the earth or any grounded item (such as metal siding or a downspout).

• Keep away from all downed power lines. A power line that touches the ground can shock or kill you even if you do not touch it. The electrical current can travel through the ground and into your body.

Fuel cell technology

Like the internal combustion engine in the last century, fuel cell systems have the potential to revolutionize the way power is generated for buildings in the 21st century, according to Michael Ellis.

“Fuel cell systems offer modularity, high efficiency across a range of load conditions, minimum environmental impact, and opportunities for integration into cogeneration systems,” Ellis said. Ellis is author of a new book on fuel cells published by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). “Fuel Cells for Building Applications” provides building designers with information they need to identify fuel cell applications that will yield economic and environmental benefits.

There are four types of fuel cell technology applicable for building systems - proton exchange member fuel cells, phosphoric acid fuel cells, molten carbonate fuel cells and solid oxide fuel cells. The book describes these technologies, their performance and operating conditions, materials of construction, system integration issues, and demonstration and commercialization projects. It includes an assessment of fuel cell systems for cogeneration applications. According to Ellis, progress is being made in the development and commercialization of fuel cell systems for buildings, as well as in the development of a regulatory infrastructure to support the introduction of the technology.

To order, call 800-527-4723 or visit the ASHRAE Online Bookstore at www.ashrae.org.

Water damage prevention for your clients

The Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) has published a new consumer brochure titled, “Protect Your Home from Water Damage.” This brochure provides the homeowner with helpful tips on how to prevent water damage through good home maintenance, where to look for leaks, and what to do if water intrusion occurs. To view and download the brochure in PDF format, go to www.ibhs.org. Click on “Flood” and scroll down to the brochure.