Rehabilitation (of existing buildings)

There are two major classifications of real property in the United States today.  The first and most familiar is the zoning classification written and enacted by the local government.  The second and less widely known is the occupancy classification assigned by the locally adopted building codes.

Zoning classifications and legislation is passed by local municipalities to regulate land use within those areas.  Classifications are added or dropped as needed and cover such uses as agriculture, manufacture, commercial (retail), or residential. More specific or more general classifications are adopted to cover changes in community development. In short, zoning is legislative classification to govern land use and dictates what you may build on a property.

Occupancy classifications govern building use. These classifications, adopted by local building code, stipulate what a building must include in its construction to satisfy various functions. A warehouse building has very different construction and use from a residence or an auditorium, a hospital from a retail space. These may change or overlap as communities grow and expand. Occupancy classification specifies how you must build it.

Land may be zoned for more than a single use as with business and residential areas.  These are common in many communities as homes on the main thoroughfare that now house professional offices.  The needs of each are different however and change dependent on the current use.

A professional office will be frequented by the general public on occasion and must have accommodations for public safety as well as handicapped access.  An owner occupied residence at the same location and building has less stringent requirements.  Occupancy classifications are assigned by the building codes in use at the time of construction or rehabilitation.

A third use for our example building above may be as a rental residence.  This classification has different needs again from the two buildings described above.  The building must now provide a safe environment for persons or families who have no financial interest in the property and may have a limited stay at this location.

When first constructed the home in the scenario above was a single family owner occupied residence.  The International Building Code classifies this use as group R-3.  As the community grew and the street adjacent to the property became the main thoroughfare the land use was re-zoned as Business/Residential.  The building code now classifies the occupancy as group B (potential).  Later this same property might be used as a single family rental accommodation.  The building code considers this occupancy as group R-2.  In each of the three examples above the same building needs to comply with three different occupancy classifications.  The change from one occupancy classification to another is considered rehabilitation by the IEBC and requires suitable upgrades or changes to fit the new designation.


Happy Father’s Day

My father is daily remembered for having taught me the most valuable lesson in life. A difficult lesson and not one that I recognized till years later, my father taught me the meaning of ‘tough love.’

Now many of you reading this will jump to the conclusion that my father compelled me to suffer some great hardship to learn this lesson. That was certainly a popular idea when I was growing up. Force the kids to endure the harsh realities of life.

Exactly the opposite was true. The love he taught me was tough on him, not on me. Countless times he went to bat for me and supported me despite having to sacrifice some of his own pride, personal ambition, or leisure.

After some time when I had been defiant, argumentative or downright combative and he had responded similarly, he came and apologized. Not for my behavior, I came to realize, but for his own, where he thought he had not achieved some standard he held himself to.

The lesson is simple enough. One I’ve needed with my own children and not easy to live up to. Love is sacrifice. I need to give up my own foolish pride, my selfish ambition, my wants, my time, and my self-serving indignation.

The proving ground for this may be your own family as it has been for dad and myself, but the real test is carrying this sacrifice into the world. Something dad excelled at as well, “Love your neighbor as thyself.”

Why Your Realtor Won’t Recommend Me

You’ve found your dream home and signed a contract. Now you need a Home Inspection to make sur you aren’t buying a money pit.

You could just accept the Home Inspector your Realtor recommends. But wait, will that home inspector represent your interests or the Realtors?

You like your Realtor and believe he or she is a good person. But the truth is a Realtor is best served by an easy sale without a lot of negotiation. A “soft” home inspection without a lot of defects allows the Realtor to complete a sale without knowing the entirety of the homes problems. They can honestly deny any culpability for those things the “Soft Home Inspection” missed.

The best compliment I’ve ever received came from a Realtor who said they couldn’t use me (after two inspections) because I found too many things wrong. I couldn’t believe my ears. Isn’t that what you (as the buyer) want? To be in a position at settlement to consider all the defects!

Rest assured I work for you alone. That is the independence of Independent Home Inspection. I have no affiliation or obligation to anyone but you. I don’t sell your personal information or email to any third party marketers. You won’t be besieged with gimmicks and offers for your new home. Independent Home Inspection offers consistent results to reliable standards.

Bob Kenney CPI


The Truth About Referrals

How can third party referrals that advertise as free afford those TV commercials?  Good question.

The truth is that those referral  companies charge the vendor!  That means that the plumber, carpenter or handyman that you hired from a referral company paid for your referral and will charge you more to cover his costs.

“I got several referrals at the same time and only chose one,” you say.  Well the dirty little secret is that the referral company charged each of those vendors,  whether they were chosen or not.  That means that the vendor you chose not only had to increase his rates for your referral but also for each referral he wasn’t chosen for.

Why would you want a nationally advertised company to refer a tradesman  that will need to be local to provide you service and reasonable rates?   It is just a numbers game to them.  They have no more interest in your needs than the man in the moon.  The tradesmen they refer to you will only be the ones who agreed to pay for your referral.

So now you have several  names.  Each of whom has paid for your number.  Each of whom could be reached just as easily on the internet without the middle man referral company.  Other than generate income for the referral company, what have you accomplished?  You still have to choose.

You say the referral company has ‘vetted’ each of these companies.   Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?  The truth is there is no incentive to the referral company to limit vendor participation by excluding anyone, regardless of their performance or reputation.  The more vendors that pay them the more they profit.

Several of these referral companies are engaged in class action suits with either vendors or consumers for fairly obvious performance and ethics violations.

I was taught there are no free lunches.  All costs will trickle down to the consumer.

Smoke Alarms Re-visited

There are four distinct requirements for Baltimore County Rental Inspection smoke detectors. This continues to be a topic of confusion for owners who are trying to comply with the law. Maryland code for residential properties has never been retro-active. This means that new code only applies to new construction. However, because you are re-purposing the property for rent the licensing laws in Baltimore County are in addition to and supersede the current code.

Section A of the inspection sheet details the specific requirements for smoke alarms. The first paragraph applies to all properties, while the subsequent categories define the locations for various property configurations.

The first requirement is that ALL smoke alarms in a rental property must be hardwired. That is, they are powered by the house wiring with a battery backup in case of a power failure. There are no exceptions!

The second requirement is interconnection of multiple smoke alarms. This is not to be confused with hardwiring. Interconnection of smoke alarms allows them to all respond simultaneously to smoke at a single location. Smoke that originates in the basement will set off all the alarms to alert you no matter where in the home you are. This has the advantage of allowing you more time to exit the property.

Interconnection of smoke alarms can be accomplished in two different ways. One is to simply connect a physical wire between each of the smoke alarms. This may not be practical in situations where the wire must traverse multiple floors such as a town house.

A newer method of interconnection is by radio signal. A coded signal is transmitted between smoke alarm stations by radio waves when a smoke alert is needed. Wiring is greatly simplified by this method and transmitted signals do not interfere with other devices in the home. Note that this method only accomplishes interconnection and does not replace the need to hardwire the smoke alarms for power.

The third requirement for smoke alarms in Baltimore County Rental properties is that they be less than ten years old. Testing has been done by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) that shows that smoke alarm sensitivity is significantly reduced after ten years. Diminished sensitivity of smoke alarms will reduce the time you have to exit the premises and increase the risk of harmful smoke exposure or death. Smoke alarms ten years or older must be replaced.

Hardwired smoke alarms, as required by Baltimore County Rental licensing, can never be replaced by battery only alarms.

The final requirement for rental properties in Baltimore County is that all installed smoke alarms be from the same manufacturer to insure proper interconnectivity.

I hope this clarifies the Baltimore County Smoke alarm requirements. I have run into a few situations where the installer has complied with the new smoke alarm law, but not with the Baltimore County Rental regulations. Feel free to call Independent Home Inspection if you have any questions.

Baltimore City Rental Licensing

Independent Home Inspection

Baltimore City Rental Inspections

The long awaited Baltimore City Rental Inspection form has arrived. Along with it have been constant phone calls and endless emails as landlords and inspectors alike try to determine the easiest path through this inspection mess.

It’s obvious to me, and I’m sure my colleagues will agree, that no Home Inspectors were consulted when the Baltimore City Rental Inspection criteria was finalized.

I’m not going to waste any words about what’s right with the inspection sheet. It’s been long overdue, but the three pages of inspection items show that the City took little notice of its County neighbor whose successful inspection program has been running for the last 10 years with a single page.

One of the first oversights made by the city is simply that the properties involved are mostly occupied. Furnished homes provide obstacles to any Home Inspection as many areas are obscured by furnishings. Home Inspectors do not move furniture and tenants will have a legitimate concern that their property may be damaged during the inspection should that be necessary.

Some of the inspection items are vague and do not provide a standard. Home Inspectors are not ‘Code’ inspectors nor are they supposed to be. The City needs to specify the requirements for a ‘pass’ when needed.

All told the inspection sheet is a big ‘FAIL’ by itself.  A landlord with no inspection background should be able to decipher what’s needed and make his/her property ready for inspection.  Otherwise a great many landlords will be paying for TWO inspections.

The ultimate cost of inspections will be borne by the renter. While the intent may be to make Baltimore housing healthier and safer, the poor, who can barely make ends meet now, may just find themselves poorer as a result of these inspections.

Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air quality has become increasingly important to homeowners. Year round temperature control inside homes results in windows that are seldom opened and air that is continuously recycled. Skyrocketing energy costs have accelerated the sealing off of homes from the outdoor environment.

Many homeowners believe that their air handler filters can play a larger role in the quality of air inside the home. Towards this end they spend money on expensive furnace filters in the hope that that will significantly improve the air quality in their home.

To affect air quality in your home you will need an air handler that is capable of 10 to 15 air changes per hour. Typical residential air handlers average only 4 to 7.5 air changes per hour if run continuously and may only operate twenty minutes or less out of every hour on auto.

After reading above you now know that your system is not optimized to affect indoor air quality. You may have made maters worse by installing a “high efficiency” filter. A filter that has high efficiency (catches more and smaller dirt) has a low air flow. It is simply more restrictive. Low air flow will result in inadequate cooling or heating.

In order to efficiently cool or heat your home your system needs optimum air flow. this is achieved with a less restrictive filter. The purpose of the filter in your system is to protect the air handler components only, not to affect air quality.

Save your money and buy the least restrictive filter for your system. In the long run you will save on energy costs as well simply because your system will run less to do more work!

An Independent Home Inspection can save you money over the life of your home.


Maryland Smoke Alarm Law

A recent Home Inspection revealed what seems to be continuing confusion about Maryland’s new smoke alarm law. The law, passed in 2013, only took effect in January of this year. It strengthens the previous law and follows NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) 72 guidelines.

Since 1975 new home construction code required installation of hardwired smoke alarms and in 1990 this was amended to require battery back-up.

The current law requires ten year batteries for installations that only require batteries (pre-1975) but require hard wired alarms be replaced with the same for hardwired installations.

The photo above shows a hard wired location and the battery only alarm that was installed as a replacement.  The new law requires replacement for ten year old alarms and the date indicates this alarm as current.  Lack of an electrical connector and the wording “SINGLE STATION” indicates that this alarm is battery operated only and not intended for interconnection which makes it unsuitable for this location.

In short you can never replace a hard-wired interconnected smoke alarm in Maryland with a battery only device.

Realtors should be aware of this and caution their clients.  It is an item that is checked on every Independent Home Inspection.

Radon Measurement

The only thing Continuous Radon Monitors (CRM) do continuously is power their timers. “Why is that?”, you say. CRM timers tell the machines when to sample for Radon. Yes, that’s right, I said, “sample.”

Some popular machines only sample once every hour, others once every half-hour. Either way the most readings your getting over a 48 hour period is 96! The average of these samples is your result.

Everyone knows that the more samples you have the better their average represents the actual quantity.

The only way to get a truly continuous result is if you have a chemical reagent that changes over time. Film and photo papers are good examples of this. Exposure to light changes them over time.

Two Radon Measurement technologies exist that do just this. Each gradually changes over time when exposed to Radon continuously. The sample is the entire 48 hour time commonly allowed of Radon measurement for Real Estate transactions.

The most consistently accurate of these two are charged electrets. An electrical charge is placed on two electrets and measured before exposure to Radon. After the exposure time is complete (48 hrs.) they are measured again. Because the charge decays in the presence of Radon, the difference in readings will accurately measure the quantity of Radon in the home.

Radon equipment should be calibrated annually. Measurement should be done in the lowest livable level of the home. If the buyer intends to finish the basement it should be done there.

Your report should tell you where in the home the measurement was taken, the final result, and the equipment calibration date. The equipment calibration date should never be more than one year from the test date. This assures you that equipment maintenance is up to date.

New Rental Requirements for Baltimore County

  Baltimore County has new regulations regarding safety equipment for your rental property. Beginning in February of this year changes have been made to the smoke alarm requirements and in April changes will take effect for the Carbon Monoxide alarms.

Hardwired interconnected smoke alarms are now required on every level of your dwelling excluding unoccupied spaces (attic, crawl, garage). This will still include basements if your home has one. Smoke alarms must all be from the same manufacturer to ensure proper operation and alarms 10 years or older must be replaced.

Beginning in April of this year Carbon Monoxide (CO) alarms are now required on each level of your home if you have fuel burning devices or an attached garage. They must be audible from the sleeping areas and must have a 10 year battery.

While not required of the CO alarms, Interconnected alarms still provide the most safety by allowing more time to exit the home should that be necessary. This is easily demonstrated by CO occurring in the basement and setting off all alarms on each floor before the gasses have left the basement. Smoke and CO gasses that reach the upper floor sleeping areas before the alarm sounds may not provide adequate time to exit the premises before a fatality occurs.

Independent Home Inspection will check your alarms during inspection to make sure they comply with the new rules. As before re-inspections will be performed for no charge after the proper repairs have been made.