Category Archives: contractor

Wenatchee Area Builder Association Talks About Code

 A couple of weeks ago we posted information about Washington State’s new HVAC requirement.   We are members of the local North Central Home Builders Association and along with the BIAW they are frustrated with the adoption of this new code and fear that it will cost contractors time and money to meet the new requirements.  Read the summary below written by NCHBA.

“On February 7th, Judge Robert Bryan of the Federal District Court in Tacoma denied BIAW’s Motion for Summary Judgment and Granted the State Building Code Council’s Motion for Summary Judgment. The Judge issued a lengthy opinion, finding that Chapter 9 of Washington’s Energy Code was not preempted by Federal Law, even though it concerns the use of components that exceed federal standards…The Federal law states that credits under state energy codes must be on a one-to-one ratio to energy savings. In other words, a one point credit for installing a high efficiency furnace under Chapter 9 must equal the same amount of energy savings as the one point credit for building a house under 1,500 square feet…BIAW is appealing the ruling.”

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WA State Energy Code’s New HVAC Requirement

This week one of our staff went to a WSU Extension Energy Program training in Wenatchee with a focus on duct sealing and testing requirements for the 2009 Washington State Energy Code for HVAC: 503.10.3 Sealing. We have two Energy Star Performance Technicians on staff so this class was more of a refresher course on duct testing but we did benefit from understanding more about the changes to the new HVAC requirements. Basically, the code is in a trial period. Contractors must test the HVAC now but do not have to meet the target rate of allowable leakage during this 120-day testing period. In April 2011 a judicial committee will listen to arguments from all sides and make a decision about the 503.10.3 Sealing WA State Energy Code.

We performed a HVAC leakage test on a home in South Wenatchee. The new construction home performed well. It would have passed the new requirements. It was interesting to note the small leakages that could be easily fixed by mastic. The equipment used for testing the HVAC includes a duct blaster, manometer and blower door which could add up to $5,000. This is a new expense to contractors. There is also discussion about requiring third party testing due to conflict of interest. Should HVAC contractors be able to test their own work?

 Here are a few interesting facts we learned in class this week. Did you know that 40% of a home’s fresh air comes from the crawl space or garage? Thinking about cleaning those spaces right now…aren’t you!? This is also a good time to remind you to open your garage door any time the car is on. A family of four can emit up to 3 gallons of water into a home daily from sweating, showering, cooking, etc. Where do the 12 gallons of water go? Be sure to use your oven and bathroom exhaust fans regularly!

Seattle Home Show: Feb. 19-27th

Seattle Home Show

credit: Seattle Home Show

Spring is just around the corner and it’s beginning to look a lot like Home Show Season!  Wenatchee’s Home Show was a huge success last weekend, now we look forward to the Seattle Home Show starting on Saturday and open for 9 days.  Your online ticket purchase includes a full year subscription to “Better Homes & Gardens” and free parking.  Check out this info from their website:

The Seattle Home Show opens its doors for its 67th annual home products extravaganza on February 19, 2011 for a nine-day run through February 27.   This much-anticipated show of nearly 500 exhibits includes everything for the home and landscape, highlighted by Idea Street™ – a community of furnished and landscaped model homes. Idea Street is a showcase for home design, interior style and the latest appliances and fixtures.  Show attendees enjoy the variety and scope of the exhibition which includes green living displays, kitchens and baths, home decorating, arts and crafts, garden displays, and Meet the Expert Seminars featuring home improvement topics presented by industry professionals. America’s Biggest Open House™ – the Seattle Home Show – takes place in downtown Seattle at the Qwest Field Event Center. Details at www.SeattleHomeShow.com.

Hot Water Heaters Expansion Tanks, what do they really do?

Thermal expansion of water in a closed plumbing system can create a number of annoying and potentially dangerous problems. These include: unusually high pressure in a system, pressure surges, and the chronic or continuous dripping of a temperature and pressure (T&P) relief valve. In addition, dripping faucets and leaking toilet tank ball cock fill valves are also symptomatic of thermal expansion.   More serious problems can also occur due to thermal expansion. When dangerous pressures are built up in a water heater, internal parts may fail such as the internal flues, fittings or water connections. If a flue way collapses it can lead to the potential release of toxic gases, such as carbon monoxide into living spaces.

Virtually, every modern plumbing code requires the installation of an expansion tank on hot water heater installations. The reason is simple. Water expands when heated. This extra volume of water needs to go somewhere. Before the widespread usage of backflow preventers, check valves and pressure reducing valves, this expanded water simply pushed the cold water back into the city water main. Now with these devices required in new construction and most permitted remodels we have successfully closed this system.

Where does the pressure to go?

Expansion tanks are really simple devices. They contain compressed air and a special rubber bladder. When your hot water heater turns on, the water within your piping system begins to expand. This expanding water slowly enters the expansion tank as the water is brought to temperature. Eventually, hot water is drawn from the system thru a faucet and the expansion tank releases the extra water into the piping system.

The installation of an expansion tank is a simple upgrade for any hot water systems.  There are some things you need to know before running out and purchasing your unit such as existing water pressures, capacity of the hot water tank, and ensuring the unit you purchase is for potable water systems.   I always recommend working with a licensed plumbing contractor.

2010 Real Estate Outlook

I just attended the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce’s 2010 Real Estate Outlook breakfast panel discussion on April 22nd. This event provided valuable information and discussed the indicators of the health and direction of the economy…and in effect- the real estate market. The panel included an appraiser, a construction company owner, a mortgage broker, realtor, commercial property manager.

The panel was split on their feelings about the direction of 2010. It was about a 50-50 positive- negative outlook. I’m “the glass is half full” kind of guy so the positive notes inspired me and were really appreciated. Everyone was in agreement that slow growth in the real estate market would be equally healthy and almost inevitable. The big boom from a few years ago isn’t happening again any time soon and for several good reasons. A bubble will always burst. Here’s what I learned from the Wenatchee Valley experts:

The real estate services professional, commented on the slow commercial leasing market. Rents have reduced from $22 per square foot to $12-14 per square foot. Down payments have increased from 25-40%. East Wenatchee is becoming a popular location with several vacancies showing up downtown.

The appraiser indicated that there is a 2-year supply of 500k+ homes and a healthier 1-year supply of 100-200k homes. He agreed that rents are being lowered in order to keep filled. It appears that an occupied space is better than a vacant one, even if it’s not getting its full value.

The contractor remained positive and boasted profits even though he performed below “boom time.” His company modified their target consumer. Now they get more contracts for folks moving into town or retiring and downsizing. They see far less First Time Home Buyers and have yet to sell a home to anyone taking advantage of the 8k home buyer’s credit. I was really surprised to hear this because so many of my realtor friends have been able to help their clients with this credit. This contractor is seeing more buyers paying with cash or financing with great credit and their company offers financing. A true concern for their company is supply costs. With plants closing there is (as Jay explains) an “artificial shortage” that increase the supply costs dramatically, but he also says that if you “provide custom quality at spec house prices, they’ll buy!”

The mortgage expert provided some cold, hard facts to keep us on our toes. Yes, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are pulling the purse strings with tighter requirements. There was a small increase in foreclosures in Chelan County this year but we’ve remained above the state or country average. He suspected that the government policing will decrease growth and concluded that the market is 15% above the long term trend. I asked him for clarification on this. The long term trend is calculated by taking housing appreciation and adding 3% per year. After keying the calculator, in his opinion the market will still decline 15%. Food for thought…Approach with caution or take advantage while you can?

The realtor added more positive spin on the morning. Her introduction: “realtors look forward and appraisers look backward.” With 21 counties in the Northwest Multiple Listings she has seen a 51% increase in pending sales. The March 2010 pending sales were up 35% from March 2009. This is great news! The hottest price range in Chelan County is $250-300k which is also comforting because the Appraiser said there is a 2-year supply of these homes. We need to put them to work! The realtor concluded that she has worked harder than she ever has since her start in 1993. Consumers are making responsible decisions but require a lot of education, hands-on attention, negotiating, meetings and counseling. It’s not coming easy anymore but it is comforting to know that our consumers are making wiser choices.

Well, this was a well-rounded discussion of where the real estate market has come from and where 2010 may take us. I think it’s safe to say that we’ll all approach with caution. We’ve got to get creative in this industry and maybe change tactics a bit, but our consumers are strong and aware. As a home inspector we want our clients to be very active in the services that we provide. Being present on inspections and asking questions is strongly encouraged. It appears that consumers are taking their time to make wise decisions and planning quality investments. That’s good news to me.