A conversation I had with a Realtor today reminded me to discuss the trend toward Spray Foam Insulation in attic spaces. We decided that neither of us is a fan. Yes I know, I have touted the benefits of recent advances in residential building tech, but this one is a ‘no go’ for me. Instead of blown in or Batt insulation on the attic floor and ventilated roof structures, a chemical mixture is sprayed directly onto the roof deck that expands to the correct thickness depending on material type. There are two; open cell foam and closed cell foam. Without getting into the weeds about it, one is better for 4 season or cold climates and the other for temperate or hot climates like ours. With both types, any structural ventilation is eliminated with one exception for extremely cold climates. The attic is essentially a sealed envelope. There is anecdotal evidence regarding defective mixture of the chemicals on site that cause toxicity. The more they spray the closer we will get to major litigation in the future regarding respiratory issues. Just my opinion, not fact. I can’t speak to the performance of spray foam in a 4 season or cold climate but here in the Southwest, I believe it is a mistake to not ventilate attic spaces. My other issue is that with the number of leaking roofs I report on weekly, it is a bad idea to cover all the areas where roof leaks can be easily detected and not covered by several inches of foam that will hide the issue for a long time. Ripping out foam insulation to repair water damaged roof decking will be a nightmare and replacing the foam will be expensive. YouTube has some interesting videos regarding toxicity issues and the debate about ventilation. Definitely check these out if your considering a new build with spray foam.
I get criticized regularly about drainage and grading issues I include as Action (repair) Items. Until about the year 2000, drainage and grading was a complete afterthought by builders that resulted in many class action as well as individual home owner and HOA law suits. Engineered drainage and post tension foundation slabs have finally eliminated these issues for most new builds after 2000. Up to about the late 1960’s, many Phoenix homes used and many still use “flood irrigation”. The lot is bermed at the perimeter and sloped away from the building to create miniature lakes on the property after X number of gallons are pumped onto the lot. This allowed people to have grass that doesn’t belong in the desert in the first place. It was the worst of bad ideas. This brings me to the top two reasons why drainage and grading is really important. We have Subterranean Termites that are attracted to moisture so flood irrigation, planting vegetation requiring watering within 3′ of the building and unchecked vine growth on building walls are all major no no’s. Most homes built between the late 70’s and the year 2000 included “floating” concrete floor slabs. Over the years I have reported on hundreds of major issues with floating floors. Every last one of them caused by negative drainage to the building walls, overwatering vegetation against the building, undetected broken sprinkler lines etc. Many issues were caused by the homeowners ill advised landscaping dreams that created unintended consequences.We also have pockets of “expansive soils” in Maricopa County that are like a sponge that grows larger when wet and have caused major structural issues when left unchecked. If you search “expansive soils Maricopa county” you will find more information than I can provide here. The USGS site will have the most up to date info.
I’ve blogged about new construction, now it’s time to write about our used home inventory. Used is a good descriptive word. Abused can also be added in too many instances. After doing this for 18 years, I have seen a few trends. Before the last recession, there were several things that were standard practice. Most people would do some recommended repairs or replace old or failing major systems prior to listing. More often than not, sellers would leave me work orders and paid receipts to review. There was some effort made to make the homes show well. If a home had Termites, it was on the seller to have treatment prior to closing date. I had almost no repeat clients with the exception of some investors during those years. None of this applies anymore and I have non investor repeat clients all the time. Without getting into the weeds about the cause and effect, the last recession cycle changed attitudes about due diligence for everyone but us Homies. As the overall quality of resale homes has declined, it takes us more time to complete a through inspection and opens us to more liability. Not cryin’ the blues here people, just sayin’. For those on the buying side it means don’t get emotionally attached to the first house you get to have inspected and “fixer upper” has a whole new meaning now btw. I’ve seen no improvement in the quality of “flip” homes either. The majority are still lipstick on a pig.
We have had many calls for inspections of new builds and new build 1 year warrantee inspections this year. I’ve been doing both for many years and they used to be easier. Believe it or not, the best new builds with very little wrong were always during market slumps or recessions. Builders and sub contractors have tried to keep their best people thereby producing good quality. Builders here were not ready for this mini boom of residential construction we are seeing. I have had some very unhappy clients with lists of issues about their homes and complaints about the builders. No, I can’t tell you which ones but I can tell you some of the issues are being litigated. With that said, the overall quality of new builds is excellent by comparison to homes built twenty years ago. How(?)you ask. For one, foundation technology has improved dramatically with Post Tensioned Slabs becoming standard. Energy certifications such as the Energy Star Program that enable energy efficient homes to require smaller tonnage A/C systems and much lower energy costs. HVAC damper systems that allow users to set different room temperatures from only one A/C or heat source. The use of Porcelain tile instead of ceramic, engineered wood and next generation vinyl (yes vinyl) flooring that wears like iron. Arc Fault breakers, smart house low voltage systems and stronger GFCI requirements for safer electrical service. These are just a few. So it really is a good thing that “they just don’t build ’em like they used to”. However, caveat emptor definitely applies.