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Mon, April 22

Complications can arise at new home inspections

In my last column I wrote about inspections on brand-new homes. I said I usually find some items that need improvement, but most are minor fixes/expenses. I received a few emails from that column, including this one:

"I have to comment on today's article. Hopefully, people will read your article today and understand the need for inspections on any home they buy. I have moved around a lot, and purchased new and used homes in the process. In the past, I only used home inspections for 'used' homes.

"Lo and behold, about seven years ago, I sold one of the new homes I had purchased prior to even moving into the home. Yes, I had been on the job site while it was being built, and yes, I was with the developer/builder's "home inspector" to go over the "punch list" prior to closing on the house.

"What a surprise I got during the closing process to sell the 'brand new, already inspected' home to another buyer. The new buyer had the home inspected and I was handed a 47-page inspection report. The 47 pages were the problems with the house. They had nothing to do with the 'legalisms' within the report ... those were on other pages.

"Each page had about two or three issues, for a total of 75 issues. Yes, some very, very minor ... and yes, some major like the electrician had used aluminum wiring in certain areas. It was an expensive surprise to me. Plus, I learned a lot about landscape grading from the new inspection report ... costly landscape grading ... I don't think the developer/builder's home inspector even bothered to discuss anything outside with me except to assure me that the trees and plants I was due were planted.

"Your articles provide a great service to the people of the Prescott area."

I'm not really surprised at the comments in the letter. In a report on a brand-new home I have a "this new home" comment. Among other things, it states that with a brand-new home you can plan the landscaping and site drainage from the start.

Recently I wrote about some questionable requirements for "green (energy-efficient) homes." That did not endear me to some contractors (like the beginning of this column will). Overall, the requirements are getting better. Like any new practice or technology, there is a learning curve. Now I have read some interesting material on new air conditioners. Most of you are familiar with SEER ratings. This stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, and was devised so consumers could compare efficiency between different models of air conditioners. Kind of like comparing miles per gallon (mpg) on new cars. New air conditioners can have a SEER rating up to 25.

Recent studies have shown that the SEER rating may not mean lower cooling bills. In fact, sometimes designing an air conditioner for a higher SEER rating (which is what consumers will look at) may actually lead to poorer actual performance. John Proctor and Gabriel Cohn of Proctor Engineering Group conducted one such study and concluded:

"The increased in-

stallation of high Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) air conditioners, along with utility program rebates for these units, prompted a study of the measured performance of these systems. This project assessed the performance of these systems in the climate zones found in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. Similar studies in hot, dry climates have indicated that laboratory SEER ratings may not properly predict the actual impact of these systems.

"The data were analyzed to assess the relationship between laboratory testing and real-world performance. This study found causes for concern including: actual seasonal energy efficiency ratios between 59 percent and 84 percent of the rated SEERs, constant fan operation substantially degrading seasonal efficiencies and reducing dehumidification."

The rest of it gets pretty technical, but you get the idea. Making an air conditioner with the highest SEER rating possible may not be the same as making the most efficient air conditioner. I can use the mpg analogy again. I owned a Prius for awhile. The car came with tires with almost no rolling resistance, which gave it a couple more mpg. But no rolling resistance equals no traction. The car wouldn't go uphill in snow, and I had to install better tires the first winter. So designing the car for maximum mileage compromised traction and handling.

Speaking of utility company rebates, there are some very good ones right now. My next column will cover air conditioners and rebates. I will be interviewing Mike Uniacke, owner of Advanced Insulation and Advantage Home Performance here in Prescott.

Fact: two or three room air conditioners are usually much more efficient than central air conditioning. I was surprised at this, but there are several reasons that make sense. The most obvious is that you can limit the cooling to rooms that you're in. You can turn off the living area air conditioner when you go to bed and turn on the bedroom air conditioner. So you're running an 8,000 Btu air conditioner while eating and watching TV, and a 6,000 Btu air conditioner when you go to bed, instead of running a 240-volt compressor and cooling unoccupied rooms all the time. There are other reasons. You usually don't forget to turn off a room air conditioner when leaving a room; it is easier to forget to turn up a thermostat. If the central air conditioner ducts are in the attic (like many are in our area) you are losing up to 20 percent of your cooling to the attic. Of course, room air conditioners are not as convenient as central air conditioning, and potential buyers or renters may not appreciate your "green" approach to air conditioning.

Randy West owns Professional Building Consultants in Prescott. He is state-certified and has performed more than 6,000 home inspections in the Prescott area. West serves on the Home Inspector Rules and Standards Committee for the Arizona Board of Technical Registration. Contact him at


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