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WHAT HOMEOWNERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT LEAD

​Originally appeared in Haverhill Life, November 2017

Massachusetts lead-paint law requires that all houses built before 1978 including owner-occupied houses must have a lead-paint certificate or letter of interim control if a child under the age of 6 lives there. Many homeowners mistakenly believe the law applies only to rental apartments.

If you live in a house that’s more than 40 years old and you have children who are younger than 6, you should contact a licensed lead inspector for a full inspection. If lead is found, you should hire a licensed de-leading contractor to remove it. After the lead hazard has been removed, the original inspector can re-inspect and provide the lead-safe certification necessary for children to live in the home. Lead inspectors and de-leaders must be state licensed.

The Massachusetts Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CLPPP) is the governing body that oversees this requirement. Lead poisoning in young children can result in permanent neurological damage including learning disabilities, reduced intelligence quotient, behavioral problems and impaired memory. Lead poisoning also poses a particular risk to pregnant women.

Children in Massachusetts are required to be blood-tested from ages 9 months to 4 years. The testing should be done annually and possibly monthly, depending on the child’s lead blood levels.

Lead inspections typically cost from $350 to $700. If lead is present, the work needed to attain compliance could range from $3,000 to more than $50,000, depending on many factors.

However, you may be able to save on de-leading costs by obtaining low- or moderate-risk de-leading approvals through CLPPP, which would allow you to perform some of the work yourself.

New Hampshire law does not mandate lead certification for houses occupied by children, except in cases where a child is lead-poisoned.

As of 2010, federal law requires that anyone disturbing a coated surface of a home built before 1978 must be lead-safe-renovator (LSR) certified and licensed in Massachusetts and renovate-repair-and paint (RRP) certified and licensed in New Hampshire. There is an exception to this law: You can renovate your own single-family house without the LSR or RRP certificate and license.

Keep in mind that most renovations require building permits. 


PROTECT YOUR HOUSE FROM THE ICY COLD

Originally appeared in Haverhill Life, January 2018

This is the time of year when we worry about the effects that cold, snow and ice will have on our houses. One common problem is frozen pipes. Pipes can freeze when there is a cold spot in the house caused by a small hole in the exterior siding or by a broken window or slightly opened cellar window. Pipes also freeze when they are on outside walls below bath or kitchen sinks and in crawl spaces.

To prevent pipes from freezing, look for any open windows or voids on outside walls and close and seal all those areas. Also, insulate the accessible pipes in the cellar, crawl spaces and below bath and kitchen sinks.

If a pipe does freeze, heat the frozen section with a hair dryer or wrap a wet, hot towel around the pipe. Never use an open-flame torch and be very careful if you use a heat gun. Both have been known to start house fires. You may have to open the sheetrock wall below a sink to gain access to a frozen pipe. In very cold weather, open the cabinet doors below sinks to allow those areas to warm up.

Another common winter problem is ice dams on the roof, which can lead to leaks and water damage. Ice dams are caused by the buildup of snow and ice on the roof edges along the fascia gutter lines of the house. If the snow and ice remain long enough, they can become very difficult to remove. Roof leaks occur when the buildup of snow and ice at the bottom edge of a roof creates a dam that traps the water from melting snow. Instead of flowing off the roof and into the gutters, the water backs up under the roof shingles and leaks into the house. The water can damage insulation, ceilings, walls and floors and it can cause mold to form inside your house.

If your attic is incorrectly ventilated, it will become warmer than the outside air and could lead to the snow melting that creates ice dams. It is very important that the attic have correct air movement, which involves venting at the soffit lower areas of the roof as well as the upper ridge areas. This low-to-high cross ventilation should keep the attic cool enough to minimize the ice dam problems. If your attic is incorrectly insulated, heat from your house will escape into the attic, causing the melting and water-leaking problems.

We recommend using a roof rake to remove the snow along the lower areas of the roof. Never rake or shovel the snow completely off the roof and down to the shingles, because this can cause damage to the shingles themselves. I have seen many roofs badly damaged by the removal of snow. If you hire a contractor to remove the snow and ice, be sure heh or she is a fully insured professional. Please don’t ever climb onto a snow-covered roof, because it is extremely dangerous.

One safe way to control the ice dam is to fill nylon socks with ice-melting calcium chloride and place the socks every few feet along the roof from the bottom edge toward the ridge. The calcium chloride will melt the ice down to the bare roofing, allowing water to flow off the roof instead of backing up and seeping through the shingles.

WHAT HOMEOWNERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TESTING FOR RADON

Originally appeared in Haverhill Life, October 2017

Radon is a naturally occurring gas that is detected in every house. Radon gas comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in the earth. Radon gas is also present in well water.

Long-term exposure to radon has been linked to lung cancer, so it is recommended to determine the level of radon gas in your house. The EPA recommends remediating radon when the indoor-air level of radon is 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher.

To measure radon in your home you can contact a radon testing professional or purchase a radon test kit at a hardware store. Two common methods for testing radon are liquid scintillation test vials, and radon continuous monitors.

At a hardware store, a radon vial test kit typically costs around $20 to purchase the kit, plus around $40 to develop or test the vials after you’ve conducted the test. Results for this type of test can take as long as 2 weeks.

A professional radon technician typically charges around $200 for a complete radon analysis, which includes dropping off and retrieving a radon continuous monitor or vials, as well as a personal home consultation. Monitor test results are usually available in two days from the test date.

If you are considering hiring a professional technician, be sure to ask about certification. Measurement provider certification is available to technicians through American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists (AARST).

Certification is not currently required in MA, but it is required in NH. Radon remediation contractor certifications are also available.

If high levels of radon gas are detected in a home it is recommended to remediate the problem. A common method of remediation is “sub slab depressurization.”

This method involves installing a plastic pipe below the basement concrete to remove radon gas from the soil below the slab, and extending the pipe up through the roof of the house.Remediation systems can cost less than $2,000 or as high at $6,000 depending on difficulty of installation and size of the home. If you suspect that you have a radon problem we recommend contacting a certified radon remediation professional for testing and remediation.

HIRING A CONTRACTOR TO WORK ON YOUR HOME

Originally appeared in Haverhill Life, December 2017

Massachusetts state law requires that most construction work be supervised by a licensed construction supervisor. Whether you’re building a house from the ground up or renovating or repairing an existing house, the contractor doing the work must be licensed in the discipline that he or she is working in.

Massachusetts has several categories of licensed contractors: Unrestricted construction supervisors can work on any one- or two-family residential house and any residential or commercial buildings smaller than 35,000 cubic feet. Restricted contractors can work only on one- or two-family houses. Specialty licenses for roofs; windows, doors, and siding; wood stoves; masonry; insulation; and demolition are authorized only for those specific disciplines.

Before hiring a contractor, make sure he or she has an active license in the proper category. Check to see if the contractor has insurance and workers’ compensation coverage on all his or her employees and on all sub-contractors.

Nearly all construction supervisors are required to be home-improvement—contractor certified (HIC). This certificate is required when the contractor is working on an owner-occupied home, from one- to four-family. The contractor must have the client sign a proper HIC contract before starting the job. This contract must be carefully drafted to meet the strict requirements of the HIC law, so it is wise for the homeowner to have an attorney review it to ensure that it has been properly drafted.

When properly followed, the HIC law allows the homeowner access to a $10,000 guarantee fund in the event the contractor fails to properly meet the contractual obligations. The homeowner can use this money to make necessary corrections to the property if the contractor’s work was incorrectly performed.

All contractors disturbing coated surfaces in residential property built before 1978 must also be licensed and certified as lead-safe-renovation contractors.

When working in a home built before 1978, a contractor must implement leadsafe work practices, and he or she is subject to penalties if not properly licensed.

The good news is that the homeowners renovating, repairing or painting their own single-family house are exempt from the law.

A final note: Always make sure contractors are licensed in the proper discipline, fully insured, have workers’ compensation coverage, and use the proper contracts so you don’t lose access to the HIC guarantee fund. Never take out a building permit in your own name for work being done by a contractor.

Have the contractor obtain the permit and be sure to get the final municipality permit sign-off after the work has been completed.

There is no construction-supervisor-license requirement in New Hampshire. Contractors must obtain work permits, but they are not required to have a license.

ALL ABOUT HOUSES: CONDOMINIUM OWNERSHIP

Originally appeared in Haverhill Life, March 2018


All types of real property can become condominiums. Most people are familiar with apartment-style or townhouse condos. But other examples include garages, boat docks, storage bins, and boat-storage racks. Any multi-unit house or commercial or industrial property can be built as a condo or converted into a condo.

Owning a condo can be the perfect fit for many people. One benefit is not having to worry about common-area maintenance and tasks such as landscaping, snow removal, painting, exterior-building maintenance, etc.

In most cases, the unit owner is fully responsible for his or her own unit’s interior. The condo association is responsible for care of most of the common areas outside the unit itself—from rooftop to foundation. Many condos have common heating and cooling systems that also are maintained by the condo association.

Having a condo association that is responsible for common-area work is great, but keep in mind that it’s not free. All unit owners pay a monthly condominium fee to cover common-area maintenance. Fees vary greatly depending on the amenities of the complex. For example, a complex with a swimming pool, life guards, tennis courts, and a fitness room might have much higher fees than one lacking such amenities.

Condo fees can increase to pay for major repairs in an older, deteriorated complex. An older complex could have a roof, siding, asphalt, heating system, windows and decks that need costly attention. When common-area work is required and the condo fund does not have sufficient reserves to cover the cost of the work, each owner can be required to pay an additional fee—called an assessment—on top of the monthly fee. It is a one-time fee and is often due all at once. My downtown office condo had a problem with the common boiler that cost me $16,000 as an assessment. This is a reality that all condo owners need to be ready for.

One building we inspected in Boston had deteriorated mortar between the bricks. We warned the buyer about it, telling him to ask the association to fully explain what his responsibility would be relative to the brick problem. Our buyer never took our advice, and two months after the closing, he had to pay an assessment of $35,000.

Before purchasing a condo unit, do some due diligence to inform yourself about the reserves and condition of the common areas. Obtain the condo documents from the real estate agent and read them fully to learn what the rules and regulations are. Condominiums can have many rules that will affect your ownership experience. The condo board has the power to control many things, such as allowing animals, signs in windows, planting flowers, certain patio furniture, bikes and toys left in the yard, etc. Some condo rules require that all units are owner occupied, not rented.

Owning a condo is often a great experience and a good investment. Read all the condo rules and talk to the management company, condo president, real estate agent, home inspector and your attorney to become fully informed of all issues before you purchase.