Saturday, May 30, 2009

Toronto to Mandate Green Roofs for Most New Construction

This article is relevant for Massachusetts builders, because it reminds us to thoroughly research green options and consider whether they will be worthwhile in the long run:

SolarMagic Boosts Performance For Shaded Solar Arrays

Here's an interesting article on how to improve the performance of your solar heating system.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Planning for Aging-in-Place Up 10%, Remodelers Say

From the National Association of Home Builders:

Click the link above for the whole article, but here is some interesting information:

The aging-in-place modifications most frequently purchased by home owners, according to the remodelers survey, include:
Adding grab bars — 78%
Installing higher toilets — 71%
Upgrading to a curb-less shower — 60%
Widening doorways — 57%
Building ramps or lower thresholds — 45%
Enhancing lighting and task lighting — 45%
NAHB’s survey also indicated that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of aging-in-place and universal design options. Eighty-four percent of the remodelers said that home owners have at least some knowledge of universal design solutions

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Green Building and the Surety

Read this post to learn about surety bonds and green construction contracts:

Monday, May 25, 2009

Solar Panels for Rent for Residential Construction

This article was in yesterday's Boston Globe:
Sun for rent
Boston Globe
It's an old energy problem with a new solution: After decades of facing prohibitively high costs to install solar panels, Massachusetts residents will be able to lease the panels for a tiny fraction of their upfront cost.
Beth Daley
May 24, 2009
Sun for rent
State hopes affordable leases will make panels an electricity option for more homeowners
By Beth Daley, Globe Staff May 24, 2009
It's an old energy problem with a new solution: After decades of facing prohibitively high costs to install solar panels, Massachusetts residents will be able to lease the panels for a tiny fraction of their upfront cost.
Instead of paying $25,000 or more to buy solar panels, homeowners will have to shell out only about $1,000 to install the energy collecting devices on roofs. The companies involved in the leases say most homeowners will be able to recoup the initial cost within seven years through electricity savings - and then save money on future bills by locking in the rate they pay for the electricity generated by the leased panels.
The long-term leases - similar to how residents might contract for cable TV service - are now being offered through a private company, which will take advantage of federal and state subsidies to help lower costs.
"It's great from a green perspective but also from a straight economic argument," said Eric Friedman, a Newton homeowner and state environmental employee who just signed up to lease solar panels.
Governor Deval Patrick is hoping "solar as a service" will help the state reach an ambitious goal of getting 250 megawatts of solar power by 2017. Today, the state has 9.7 megawatts.
Unlike the sprawling Southwest and other sunny places, which can host giant solar parks to generate electricity, the crowded Bay State wants to build up its solar network on the rooftops of urban triple-deckers, big box stores, and suburban subdivisions.
Commercial buildings across the country have been able to finance solar panel lease deals in re cent years, but homeowners were often left out. The costs associated with financing such small projects just didn't make sense to banks.
But the available subsidies - and the high price of electricity here - make it possible for private companies to offer the lower-price option of leasing while still turning a profit.
A company called SunRun Inc., which has done similar business in California and Arizona, is the first company to enter the Massachusetts solar lease market for homes. It owns the solar panels and partners with local solar installers - in Massachusetts, Alteris Renewables and groSolar.
Here's how the program works: A homeowner calls one of the companies to assess the potential for solar at the home and install panels. A one-time, upfront fee of about $1,000 is charged, and the homeowner also is given an 18-year locked-in rate for energy the panels generate. That rate will be comparable to, or less than, what utilities charge, according to the companies involved. If the homeowner uses more energy than the panels produce, they then pay the utility its rate for the electricity.
A typical home getting about 62 percent of its electricity from solar might pay around $77 a month for the solar electricity - and maybe $46 more for electricity from the utility for a total of around $133, according to Alteris Renewables. If they were getting all their electricity from the utility, it might be $151, Alteris estimates.
"We did a lot of market research, and not surprisingly we learned the upfront cost [for solar panels] is too high for people," said Lynn Jurich, cofounder and president of SunRun.
Homeowners who sign up for the leasing program do not have to worry about upkeep of the solar panels: If a panel breaks, it is replaced at no extra charge. They are also freed of other details, such as tying the panels in to the electric grid or applying for the rebates and subsidies. The company - not the homeowner - gets the state and federal subsidies because it owns the panels.
The state subsidy program that helps make Massachusetts attractive territory for such lease arrangements is called Commonwealth Solar. It is offering $68 million in rebates over four years to residents, owners of commercial buildings, and communities. It gives back an average of 40 percent of the cost of solar panels to the purchaser.
Add to that a new federal tax break of up to 30 percent of the cost of the project - the previous federal incentive maxed out at $2,000 - and the price of solar comes down enough to be competitive with traditional utilities in Massachusetts.
The Bay State is not expected to have such generous rebates for long. Already, 716 Commonwealth Solar rebates have been awarded, amounting to more than $25.5 million, according to state officials. Of that, 587 are homes, 113 are commercial or industrial buildings, and 16 are public entities.
But the state hopes the flood of money now - along with other efforts to bring installers and solar manufacturers to the Bay State - will cement the industry in Massachusetts enough to drive competition and lower prices so such generous rebates are not as necessary in the future.
Without the subsidies, SunRun wouldn't be in Massachusetts, because solar is still more expensive than electricity from fossil fuels.
"The goal is to get enough competition to bring down that cost," said Ian Bowles, state secretary of energy and environmental affairs. He said other measures are helping, such as making it easier for homeowners to sell renewable energy they generate back into the grid, allowing utilities to own solar installations, and requiring long-term purchasing contracts with utilities to purchase renewable energy.
The state is also examining making solar a requirement for utilities and other electricity suppliers in the future.
Michael Durand, a spokesman for NStar, a large Massachusetts utility, said the company was supportive of any effort to help reach Patrick's solar goal. "Having a variety of options will be helpful in meeting that goal," he said.
For homeowners, there are some caveats. One, you need sun. The best place to put solar panels is on south-facing roofs that get direct sunlight. And rebates, final costs, and savings can vary based on energy use, how much sunlight you get, and competing electric rates.
One downside might be that panels' cost may come down in the future. Homeowners who move can transfer their solar agreement to the new homeowner, buy out the contract, or purchase the panels.
Still, state officials and solar advocates say the $1,000 or so investment makes sense even in a recession.
"Solar has a guaranteed return," said Adam Browning executive director of the San Francisco based Vote Solar Initiative, a nonprofit that works with states to improve policies to grow solar. "You tell me where else you can get this rate of return in this economic environment."
For Friedman, who is renovating his home as green as he can, his decision to have Alteris install solar panels made sense. Even with all the rebates and other incentives he is eligible for, it would have cost him around $11,500 to buy the panels. His $1,000 investment is expected to be paid back through lower electricity bills within four years.
Beth Daley can be reached at
© Copyright

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

CPSC announces recall of ABTCo., Veranda, and WeatherBest Composite Decking and Railings

This is from the Consumer Reports blog:

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission today announced the recall of 48 million linear feet of ABTCo., Veranda, and WeatherBest composite decking and railings. The materials, made by Nashville-based Louisiana-Pacific, can prematurely deteriorate and break (see photo), posing a serious risk to anyone on a deck made of the recalled decking and railings.
To date, Louisiana-Pacific has received reports that 37 decks have broken, causing 14 injuries that include a broken wrist, a sprained ankle, and minor lacerations and bruises.
The recalled products were sold at the Home Depot and building-product dealers nationwide from January 2005 to August 2008. Colors include Tuscan Walnut/Chestnut, Driftwood Grey/Greystone, Pacific Cedar, and Western Redwood. Veranda is made by several companies; only Louisiana-Pacific-made Veranda has been recalled.
If you own a deck made of the recalled materials, contact the manufacturer for a free inspection; call 888-325-1184 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday. If your decking has prematurely deteriorated, Louisiana-Pacific will arrange for free replacement.
For more details on the decking, go to the CPSC's recall page or the manufacturer's Web site.
Essential information: Veranda was one of the materials covered in our last report on decking. Read the story for more information on choosing a decking product and advice on deck-construction safety.

Contractors Must Provide Pamphlet About Lead-Based Hazards

This comes from the Frost Brown Todd blog-Construction Law News

Failure of Contractor to Provide Disclosure Goes Over Like a Lead Balloon

When performing remodeling and renovation projects contractors, are faced with a number of challenges. Problems with owners, subcontractors, material providers, architects and designers frequently present the lion’s share of issues on a project. Given the scope of problems that can arise on a project, it is easy for contractors to become so focused on issues like the ones identified above, that they fail to stay current on the laws, rules and regulations governing the work they perform. Often, the result is that the contractor is cited by a government or regulatory agency and fined for its failure to comply with a law the contractor knew nothing about. A new rule promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") is an example of the type of regulation contractors must be aware of and comply with or face a large fine. In 2008, the EPA passed a final rule, pursuant to its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act, requiring that contractors performing renovation work on certain types of structures built before 1978 provide information regarding lead-based hazards. Specifically, the new rule applies to renovation work on single and multi-family homes and childcare facilities, including preschools and kindergarten classrooms, where children under the age of six attend those facilities.

The rule requires that before a contractor performs any renovation work, it must provide the EPA's Renovate Right pamphlet to anyone who may be affected by the renovation work, such as the homeowner, any tenants, or parents of a child who attends the childcare facility. Among other things, the Renovate Right pamphlet provides information to these individuals on the dangers of lead based hazards, how the renovation work to be performed could expose an occupant to lead, how to protect themselves during performance of the renovation work, as well as confirms that the renovation work is being performed appropriately and safely. While the rule was only recently enacted, the EPA has moved to quickly enforce the rule and penalize those that do not comply. In San Francisco, for example, the EPA recently fined a painting contractor, that was hired to scrape, sand and strip paint from an older home, $10,000 for the contractor's failure to provide the required information.

To protect themselves from such situations, contractors must always keep abreast of any new rules regulating the manner in which they perform the work. While this task is frequently as easy as staying current with articles from local trade journals discussing new regulations, a contractor may be well advised to meet with its attorney to ensure it is complying with all applicable laws before the work is performed. Submitted by Matt Voors.

When the Builder is Worried About Getting Paid

Let's face it. These are hard times economically, and even when an owner starts a project, at times the contractor might have legitimate concerns about getting paid. An owner will not want to pay a builder ahead of the work, but the builder will want to know that there are available funds for completion of the project.

Here is a contract clause for dealing with that issue:

The Contractor may not require that payments be made in advance of the times specified in the Payment Schedule for the reason that he deems himself or the payments to be insecure. If, however, the contractor deems himself to be insecure by reason of the following: late payments or owners refusal to pay according to payment schedule or notice of the owner’s insolvency or bankruptcy. The Contractor may require, as a prerequisite to continuing the work described herein, that the balance of payments under this contract that are in control of the Owner(s), shall be placed in a joint escrow account that requires the signature of both the Contractor and the Owner(s) for withdrawal.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Punch List Contract Clause

One of the ways to prevent a "neverending" punch list is to clearly define in your contract what constitutes punch list items and what does not.

Here is one sample clause:

1. PUNCHLIST: Thirty-day break-in period. During the first thirty (30) days after the dates of Substantial Completion, the Owner may note minor malfunctions or defects such as sticking doors, nail pops, etc. The Owner should maintain a list of these malfunctions and defects as they occur, and must submit in writing not later than forty-five (45) days after the date of substantial completion. All defects, which are determined to be covered under this warranty, shall be corrected within sixty (60) days. Any defect or malfunction which occurs after the thirty (30) day break-in period shall be classified as a “Latent Defect.”

2. LATENT DEFECTS: A latent defect is defined as a malfunction or defect in warrantable items, which becomes apparent after the thirty (30) day break-in period, but before the end of the warranty period. The Owner shall notify the Contractor in writing at the address set forth in this agreement of the existence and nature of any latent defects. Such notification shall be within ten (l0) days of the reasonable discovery of such defect. If a warrantable defect exists, it shall be corrected within sixty(60) days after the receipt of written notification by the Contractor.

Here is another option:

It at the time of delivery of the Certificate of Occupancy there are uncompleted items of work, there shall be a specific itemized punch list. Builder will use diligence to complete any such punch list items with in thirty (30) days after closing. Buyer acknowledges that there will not be any “holdbacks” or escrow with the reference to punch list items. The Builder acknowledges that the bank may require funds to be held in escrow for major items such as landscaping. Only items to which the Parties agree to in writing prior to closing will be corrected by Builder under the punch-list, all other corrective action will fall under the Limited Warranty.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

More On Contract Clauses-The Warranty

The warranty section listed below is quite long. In some ways, this is unfortunate. The fact that contractors have to be so concerned about spelling out exactly what is or is not included in a warranty seems to go against the notion that an Owner and a Contractor should have a trusting relationship. However, it is better to make sure that there is a clear understanding between the parties about which items will be covered if a problem arises.

Here is a sample warranty clause:

Section Seven: Limited Warranty

Contractor guarantees that the Work will be constructed in a good and workmanlike manner and it will guarantee the Work against defects in workmanship and materials for a period of one (1) year from the date of its completion. Warranty work will be completed within sixty (60) days from the date of receipt of written request from the Owner.

Please note that this Limited Warranty specifically excludes consequential damages. This warranty is extended to the Owner. Contractor hereby passes through and assigns to the Owner any and all manufacturers’ warranties on all appliances and equipment supplies by Contractor in the home.

Contractor specifically does not assume responsibility for any of the following items, each of which is specifically excluded from this Limited Warranty;

1. Defects in appliances are covered by the manufacturers’ warranties which are hereby assigned directly to the Owner. Each manufacturer’s warranty claim procedure must be followed where a defect appears in any of those items.

2. Damage due to ordinary wear and tear, abusive use, misuse, or lack of proper maintenance of the home or its component parts or systems.

3. Defects which are not caused by the negligence of Contractor and or its subcontractors, but the result of characteristics common to the materials used such as, but not limited to;
(a) warping or deflection of wood;
(b) fading, chalking and checking of paint or stain due to sunlight;
(c) cracks in concrete due to drying and curing of concrete plaster, brick or masonry; and
(a) drying, shrinking and cracking of caulking and weather stripping.

(b) Where Contractor's work involves the matching of existing finishes or materials, Contractor will use his best efforts to match existing finishes and materials. However, Contractor does not guarantee an exact match due to such factors as discoloration due to the aging process, difference in dye lots, and difficulty of exactly matching certain finishes, colors, and planes.

4. Defects in items installed by the Owner or anyone other than Contractor or its subcontractors at Contractor's order.

5. Work done by the Owner or anyone other than Contractor or its subcontractors at Contractor ’s order.

6. Defects in items supplied by the Owner.

7. Loss or injury due to the elements not caused by the negligence of Contractor and its subcontractors.

8. Conditions not caused by Contractor and or its subcontractors resulting from condensation on, or contraction of materials.

9. Paint applied over newly plastered walls unless applied by Contractor or its subcontractors.

10. Consequential damages.

All implied warranties including, but not limited to warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose, are limited to the one (1) year warranty period as set forth above.

This Limited Warranty is the only expressed warranty given. In the event that any of the provisions of the Limited Warranty shall be held invalid, the remainder of the provisions of the Limited Warranty shall remain in full force and effect.

Contractor is not an architect, engineer, or designer. Contractor is not being hired to perform any of these services. To the extent that Contractor makes any suggestions in these areas, Owner acknowledges and agrees that Contractor’s suggestions are merely options that Owner may want to review with the appropriate design professional for consideration. Contractor’s suggestions are not a substitute for professional engineering, architectural, or design services, and are not to be relied on as such by Owner. Contractor is not responsible for ascertaining whether details in Owner 's plans conform to all applicable building and planning codes. Contractor is not responsible for the cost of correcting errors and omissions by Owner's design professionals and separate contractors.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Tax Credits Make Geothermal Heat Pumps More Affordable

I recently took a trip from St. Louis to Greenville, Illinois to visit Enertech Manufacturing, LLC, a GeoComfort distributor.I had a meeting with owner Steve Smith to discuss our presentation at the upcoming Green Building Conference in Dallas. When I arrive, Steve showed me around his offices. We walked into the warehouse, where I saw hundreds of geothermal HVAC units still wrapped in cellophane and I thought - oh no, another casualty of the housing downturn.Not this time.The units had just arrived from Enertech’s manufacturing plant in Mitchell, South Dakota and most were waiting to be picked up for installation. There is a bright spot in the current housing market. And it’s called geothermal – using underground loop systems to take advantage of the earths near constant temperature to heat and cool the home.As a Certified Green Building Professional, I’ve often tried to convince my clients to consider geothermal. With costs twice as much as conventional HVAC systems, most clients weren’t interested.That is changing thanks to a 30% Federal tax credit.The new legislation covers installations from January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2016. Homeowners who install geothermal systems may be able to claim up to 30% of the cost in tax credits.But, there’s more to it than just a tax credit. Geothermal is highly efficient and can save homeowners 40%-60% on utility bills. Mechanically, geothermal systems are relatively simple and require little maintenance. They are safe – no flame, no fuel, no odor. And because there are no fossil fuels, indoor air quality is cleaner.From the Dept. of Energy website: "Even though the installation price of a geothermal system can be several times that of an air-source system of the same heating and cooling capacity, the additional costs are returned to you in energy savings in 5–10 years. System life is estimated at 25 years for the inside components and 50+ years for the ground loop."A large tax credit and a good product - I have a feeling I’ll have more clients asking about geothermal. That means distributors like Steve Smith need to keep their warehouses full. After all, Steve says, "Business is up 60!"

Kim Hibbs-Hibbs Homes, LLC St. Louis, Missouri

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Endless Punch List

In Massachusetts, a homeowner does not have to make the final payment until the work is done to "the mutual satisfaction of the parties." What is a contractor supposed to do when the homeowner is never quite satisfied, or the punch list of items to be completed never seems to end?

I have seen this situation occur with my contractor clients, where homeowners take advantage or have unrealistic expectations about when a project is complete. How can contractors avoid this problem?

1. Start with a a good contract that spells out the work to be done and the materials to be used, IN DETAIL!

2. Make sure that all change orders are in writing, and adjust the completion date accordingly. Make sure both the contractor and the homeowner signs off on all change orders.

3. Designate in the contract who the decision makers are and make sure they sign the contract and all of the change orders.

4. When the job is complete, have the homeowner create a punch list and discuss each item in detail. Agree in advance what "complete" means.

5. Plan in advance for potential delays by suppliers or for possible mistakes when ordering materials and agree what the consequence will be for these delays.

6. Once the punch list has been created over a reasonable period of time (a contractor should assume that a homeowner is not going to notice everything immediately), say over a ten day period, then the contractor should agree to come back and finish the work by a certain date.

7. Once the work is finished, it would be worthwhile to have the homeowner sign off on the job and agree that the work has been done to his satisfaction.

8. Once final payment has been made, the contractor may want to "sweeten" the deal by signing something saying that all subs have been paid or by supplying lien waivers from the subs.

9. As always, keep the lines of communication open so there are no nasty surprises at the end of the job.

10. Make sure the homeowner knows which warranties are provided and how long they will last. I know one contractor who warranties his workmanship forever.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Save Money on Utility Bills with Radiant Roof Sheathing

It's one of the best kept secrets to helping home owners live more comfortably and save money on their utility bills - radiant roof sheathing.But let's not keep quiet about it anymore!Radiant roof sheathing is plywood or OSB (Oriented Strand Board) with a thin layer of aluminum on one side to help reflect the suns radiant rays.Radiant roof sheathing helps your attic stays cooler, your home stays cooler and that leads to a more comfortable living environment and lower utility bills. The product is Energy Star-rated and according to its website, "can lower roof surface temperature by up to 100-degrees" and "can reduce peak cooling demand by 10-15 percent."Radiant roof sheathing used to cost more than standard plywood/OSB, but I recently installed the product on a new home we're building near St. Louis for the same cost as plywood. Lumber prices are down and product competition is up, making radiant roof sheathing an affordable option.But, you don't have to be building a new home or a home addition to take advantage of the benefits. A radiant barrier can be installed in an existing attic. ToolBase Services offers helpful information and several installation options.Don't keep it a secret anymore. My clients are learning all about radiant roof barriers and I plan on installing a lot more of it because of the performance and competitive price.

Kim Hibbs, Hibbs Homes-Kim is a Certified Green Professional through the National Association of Home Builders. Hibbs Homes is located in St. Louis, Missouri.