Housing Secrets Revealed

By Melissa Kandel

Not many people get excited about dead animal smells, mold growing in bathrooms, or leaky attics, but for employees at the Building Performance Institute Inc., it’s all in a day’s work. The company uses building science, house-as-a-system, and home performance analytics to determine if a home is safe, comfortable and livable for buyers and sellers alike.

Their research was outlined in Saturday’s lecture, “Behind the Walls: Housing Secrets Revealed,” during the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Orlando. The company’s research is aimed at helping REALTORS® present properties that won’t need repair just a few years down the newly cobblestoned road.

“These houses look great on the outside but what we don’t see is what can happen,” said John Jones, national technical director at BPI. Hidden construction issues like insufficient fresh air, disconnected ducts, poor insulation levels, and carbon monoxide leaks not only chip away at ceilings and walls of a home, they also chip away at the credibility of the REALTORS® who sell them.

As Jones explained, many of home owners’ heating problems arise from the stack effect, which results in unwanted air infiltration. Warm air rises up and out through holes in upper portions of the house and is then replaced by an equal amount of cold outside air that enters through those very same holes. Surprisingly, points of entry don’t need to be very large to cause serious problems; even recessed lighting can create enough space for warm air to escape, if not installed properly.

“A hole in a boat no matter the size is eventually going to be a pretty good problem for that boat,” said John Costello, senior instructor at Everblue Training Institute.

These insulation breaches can be found using equipment as elaborate as a “blower door”, which pressurizes or depressurizes an entire home. Or, they can be as simple as a candle blowing underneath the recessed-lighting wind, indicating that air is getting through.

Detecting problems before they escalate doesn’t just help home owners; it helps the reputation of REALTORS® too.

“We don’t want to sell typical homes, we want to sell better homes and this is what makes a home better,” Costello said. He also stressed that whatever the specifics of the property up for sale, the same health and safety concerns apply. “It does matter if you live in a mud hut or a McMansion, it’s all the same principles and basic concept.”

And it’s not just enough to have a building be up to code, according to Jones. “All that being ‘up to code’ means is that the building isn’t breaking the law,” he said.

For both Jones and Constello, REALTORS® who look beyond the granite countertops and take the time to have a property thoroughly inspected are not just exercising responsible business practices; they’re also the “mustard seeds” of their profession who must educate others from the front line.

Blog Contributor

This post was contributed exclusively for REALTOR® Magazine.

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  1. My clients are amazed when I point out the negatives as well as the positives, from the termite mud tubes to the location of the property. I tell them that I want them to make a decision on as much information as I can tell them so they buy with confidences and no surprises.

  2. It makes me happy when an agent goes the extra step to bring a little realism to client’s expectations. We almost bought a condo one winter that hadn’t been up to code. The entire length of AC line had been punctured by roofers that fall and no one had noticed ’til our Realtor took the time to have it inspected. Our own inspector (a friend) completely missed it.

  3. Certainly true! Let all buyers know what they’re buying.