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The Inspector's Journal

Smoke Detectors and the Value of Using Standards


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As a home inspector I don't think about standards as often as I should. Henry Ford should get some of the credit for standards. Prior to standardized manufacturing everything had to be custom made by hand. If your steam boiler broke you had to go to the blacksmith to get a new part made. Today we take the part to the corner hardware store and pick out a new one knowing the sizes are standard.

* Have you ever stopped to wonder why you can use your bank card almost anywhere in the world?

* Buy an electric appliance and know that it will work when you plug it into a outlet.

* Buy a DVD and it will play at home?

* Or the packaged food you eat is fresh and safe?

As home inspectors we are surrounded by an standards from organizations such as the IBC, NEC, CABO, UPC and NFPA (to name a few). These organizations provide a valuable service setting the standard for home infrastructure should be installed in the home. This make our job easier as it give us criteria that we can use to determine good installations versus bad installation. Take the slope of a drain line. Too little slope and the homeowner has lots of headaches. What if there was no standard and we had to argue the point with plumbers who were saying "it looked OK to me." Our job would be a lot harder because now it?s our opinion against theirs.

Recently it come to my attention that ASHI is being ask to set a new standard regarding smoke alarms. There is a proposal before the board to recommend photoelectric smoke alarms only. Why ASHI is being ask to go against the Consumer Products Safety Commission, National Fire Protection Association, Underwriter Labs and the NEC (to just name a few) is absurd. Although I believe that we should looking out for our client's safety I think its going to be hard to explain to a client who is buying a brand new home that all the "builder installed" smoke alarms should be replaced when they have been UL approved, been installed to NEC and NFPA standards and then inspected and approved by the local building department.

Once we start down this path, what's next? Will we become the light bulb police and identify incandescent light bulbs because they don't conform to the Light Bulb Law*? Personally I like being able to point to standards as I identify issues and use the standard to encourage the repair of the defect. Let not deviate from our mission:

To set and promote standards for property inspections and to provide the educational programs needed to achieve excellence in the profession.

*http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/new-lighting-standards-begin-2012

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Hi Rick,

Yeah, that is pretty weird. Since you're in Washington State, I wouldn't worry about it if I were you; regardless of what ASHI, NAHI, iNACHI or AII want, the only standard that applies in Washington State is the Washington State SOP. Licensed inspectors here are not allowed to inspect to any other SOP and unlicensed inspectors are not allowed to inspect here at all - regardless of any club they belong to.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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* Have you ever stopped to wonder why you can use your bank card almost anywhere in the world?

* Buy an electric appliance and know that it will work when you plug it into a outlet.

* Buy a DVD and it will play at home?

* Or the packaged food you eat is fresh and safe?

You can use your bank card, but just don't try using a punch card to program your computer.

You can buy an appliance and plug it in, but if your receptacle isn't grounded and polarized how will you know if you've plugged it in correctly?

You can't buy a Blu-Ray DVD and play it at home. (At least I can't.)

How many people have gotten sick the last few years from eating packaged spinach tainted with e-coli?

Standards change. Better technology comes along, or just better information.

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Licensed inspectors here are not allowed to inspect to any other SOP and unlicensed inspectors are not allowed to inspect here at all - regardless of any club they belong to.

Mike,

My pre-inspection agreement and reports state that my inspections conform to the Standards of Practice of the Washington State Department of Licensing and the American Society of Home Inspectors. Are you saying that I'm operating illegally because of that statement?

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Not to answer for Mike, but my understanding is that as long as you fulfill what is required by the state, then you can also inspect to any other standards you want, including your own. So, nothing wrong with you stating you conform to multiple standards, as long as one of them is Washington's. Just my opinion.

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Richard is right.

The minimum standard is the State Standard and it's more rigid than any of those used by associations. As long as you are meeting the state standard, if you want to say that you are also meeting a lesser standard I guess that's your business, although I don't see the point. It certainly wouldn't impress me if I was a potential customer.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Richard is right.

The minimum standard is the State Standard and it's more rigid than any of those used by associations. As long as you are meeting the state standard, if you want to say that you are also meeting a lesser standard I guess that's your business, although I don't see the point. It certainly wouldn't impress me if I was a potential customer.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

Standards are like the building codes, they are the minimal requirement. I think all of us will agree that when a builder brags that they are building to code that they are not bragging about very much.

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Richard is right.

The minimum standard is the State Standard and it's more rigid than any of those used by associations. As long as you are meeting the state standard, if you want to say that you are also meeting a lesser standard I guess that's your business, although I don't see the point. It certainly wouldn't impress me if I was a potential customer.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

Standards are like the building codes, they are the minimal requirement. I think all of us will agree that when a builder brags that they are building to code that they are not bragging about very much.

That's exactly right. They are the minimum standard and our other minimum standard is to use the NHIE as an entry level bar to legally enter the profession here. The NHIE is not used as a measure of superior competence - only minimal competence sufficient to complete a minimally adequate inspection if one applies oneself.

Unlike ASHI and the other inspector clubs, Washington State doesn't allow inspectors to develop that minimum leve of competency while practicing on the client's dime, as the associations do by allowing inspectors who are practicing with absolutely no experience or competency in the profession to join. We want inspectors here to have the knowledge and tools to do a minimally competent inspection when they hit the ground running, not two years later and after hundreds of inspections for unsuspecting clients. It makes it harder to get into the gig here and in other licensed states, but the likelihood of a consumer getting hurt badly because the guy they hire was flipping burgers yesterday, and really hasn't a clue as to how to go about conducting an inspection or the implications of basic uncovered issues, is reduced.

Like surgeons, architects, and many other professionals, inspectors become better at this business the longer they are at the gig. The SOP is simply a starting roadmap. Lots of experienced inspectors go well beyond the SOP and take far longer to do a thorough inspection than a rookie does because their more developed knowledge base ensures they are looking at lots of stuff that rookies haven't got a clue about. That's why, like you, I think bragging about adhering to a private club's stadnards when the only standard that counts is the one promulgated by the state, is pointless.

In the end, the market and customers determine who is better at this gig than the ability to pass a test of minimum competency or adherence to some basic rules for a minimally adequate inspection.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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My pre-inspection agreement and reports state that my inspections conform to the Standards of Practice of the Washington State Department of Licensing and the American Society of Home Inspectors.

My attorney, who I really like working with, advised me to only reference the Illinois SoP (which is required) and omit the ASHI SoP from my agreement. His concern was for being called on the courtroom carpet and being asked how I can adhere to two standards that are not the same? It is a good question that I'd prefer a client's attorney not ask me.

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My pre-inspection agreement and reports state that my inspections conform to the Standards of Practice of the Washington State Department of Licensing and the American Society of Home Inspectors.

My attorney, who I really like working with, advised me to only reference the Illinois SoP (which is required) and omit the ASHI SoP from my agreement. His concern was for being called on the courtroom carpet and being asked how I can adhere to two standards that are not the same? It is a good question that I'd prefer a client's attorney not ask me.

Right. Then the question would be if you're an ASHI member, why aren't you performing according to their standards as required for membership?

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My pre-inspection agreement and reports state that my inspections conform to the Standards of Practice of the Washington State Department of Licensing and the American Society of Home Inspectors.

My attorney, who I really like working with, advised me to only reference the Illinois SoP (which is required) and omit the ASHI SoP from my agreement. His concern was for being called on the courtroom carpet and being asked how I can adhere to two standards that are not the same? It is a good question that I'd prefer a client's attorney not ask me.

Well, if you're ever asked. . .

It's very easy to explain. If standard #1 says you have to be courteous and prompt, and standard #2 says you have to be courteous, prompt, and respectful, as long as you're courteous, prompt and respectful, you've adhered to two different standards.

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'Minimum standards' is just an approximation of what an SOP is. It's possible there's some conflicting language between ASHI's SOP and that of the states since compatibility between them most likely was not a design consideration. Every state did it's own thing. The attorney is just being thorough.

Marc

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There is no conflict. Regardless of club, the association SOP's all state that an inspector must comply with state law. If an inspector who is a member of ASHI complies with the Washington State SOP he is doing what the ASHI SOP says he is supposed to do, therefore he does not have to worry about dotting i's and crossing t's with the ASHI SOP - all he has to do is follow the state SOP and he is automatically in compliance with his club's SOP.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Then the question would be if you're an ASHI member, why aren't you performing according to their standards as required for membership?

What I thought I wrote was that I do not reference the ASHI standards in the agreement. That was not intended to say I don't follow them.

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What I thought I wrote was that I do not reference the ASHI standards in the agreement. That was not intended to say I don't follow them.

Well, then it shouldn't be so difficult a task to explain in court how you follow two different standards, no?

("His concern was for being called on the courtroom carpet and being asked how I can adhere to two standards that are not the same? It is a good question that I'd prefer a client's attorney not ask me.")

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Standards relating to building practice (building codes) are developed by autonomous entities (codes publishers like ICC and NFPA), not by government agencies, and there is plenty of good reason for that.

The codes are available for adoption and amendable by local governing bodies.

Standards for manufactured products are best developed by autonomous entities as well, such as UL and CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest).

I don't think we will get to the point of inspectors being required to rat out users of obsolete light bulbs. Of the news about ASHI adopting a position regarding this or that smoke detector I can only roll my eyes at what sounds to me more like industry pressure than anything.

I have suspected industry pressures of being the cause of recent codes changes (creeping AFCI requirements and tamper-proof receptacles), where it sounds like the industries begging for help in providing what they call product improvements in the name of safety. Seems like new products introduced under the force of required use usually demand steep prices that cause contractor laments and more consumer burdens.

I think requiring inspectors to recommend one design over another is a kind of Rubicon crossing that we should be careful about making.

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I don't think we will get to the point of inspectors being required to rat out users of obsolete light bulbs. Of the news about ASHI adopting a position regarding this or that smoke detector I can only roll my eyes at what sounds to me more like industry pressure than anything.

I can assure you that this position isn't based on any type of industry pressure. And I don't even know what kind of pressure any outside organization could possibly bring to bear on ASHI. Where would their leverage be?

It's based on solid evidence. And it's based largely on the belief of many inside ASHI that we should stop just standing on the sidelines. The vast knowledge that all of the combined ASHI inspectors can bring to bear on an issue can be an overwhelming force. We're on the front lines, seeing what's going on every day. And if we take all that information and pool it then ASHI could really be a leader in the entire real estate industry. That's the direction many of ASHI's leaders want to take the organization, and I'm in complete agreement with that position.

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Steve,

I hear what your saying but if that's the case then where is ASHI on CO Alarms? Only 25 states now require CO alarms. What are we doing about the other 25 plus possesions (PR and Guam)? Hundreds of people are sickened or killed each year and the cost of installation is less than $40.

Maybe ASHI should be pushing for residential sprinkler systems. There were 362,100 residential building fires in 2010 and lots of deaths. Sprinkler would have saved most of those people....

My point is we should stick with our core competencies and not stepping into a controversy that has been going on for many years.

//Rick

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Steve,

I hear what your saying but if that's the case then where is ASHI on CO Alarms? Only 25 states now require CO alarms. What are we doing about the other 25 plus possesions (PR and Guam)? Hundreds of people are sickened or killed each year and the cost of installation is less than $40.

Give it time. Perhaps ASHI will. Right now, the problem of CO poisoning is like a drop in the bucket compared to unnecessary deaths from smoke alarms that don't do their job properly.

Maybe ASHI should be pushing for residential sprinkler systems. There were 362,100 residential building fires in 2010 and lots of deaths. Sprinkler would have saved most of those people....

Absolutely correct and a damn good idea you've got there. If ASHI asks, I might suggest it for their next position statement.

My point is we should stick with our core competencies and not stepping into a controversy that has been going on for many years.

That is, actually, not your point at all. Your point is that ASHI should be doing *more* to educate the public about these kinds of life-saving devices and technologies. I think you should send these ideas to the board.

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. . . Of the news about ASHI adopting a position regarding this or that smoke detector I can only roll my eyes at what sounds to me more like industry pressure than anything.

What industry? The smoke alarm manufacturers? Do you really think that they would invite this sort of thing? They want a very quiet and slow transition to photoelectric technology -- so quiet, that no one notices.

I have suspected industry pressures of being the cause of recent codes changes (creeping AFCI requirements and tamper-proof receptacles), where it sounds like the industries begging for help in providing what they call product improvements in the name of safety.

That's what they said about circuit breakers and GFCIs. (In fact, I used to work with a bunch of guys who thought the same thing about plywood. They wanted to keep using shiplap sheathing.) Actually the CPSC and UL led the way in the development of AFCI technology and, while it was pretty crummy in the early days, it's now a good, proven technology. 20 years from now, we will not be looking back and saying, "Damn, those manufacturers really pulled one over by foisting AFCIs on us."

Seems like new products introduced under the force of required use usually demand steep prices that cause contractor laments and more consumer burdens.

That's what every old fart says about every new innovation that wasn't around when he was young. Change is a bitch.

I think requiring inspectors to recommend one design over another is a kind of Rubicon crossing that we should be careful about making.

I agree. However, after thinking about it carefully, I think it's a good direction to go.

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Requiring inspectors to recommend what credible studies have shown to be a better product is a good idea. There's no Rubicon crossing here; it's society moving forward to a better place. People knee jerk resent when someone tells them they ought to do something; sometimes it's a good idea.

Re: AFCI..... I'd like to see a whole house AFCI that can be retrofit to existing dwellings. The small expense of retrofitting AFCI's could offset the immense expense of deaths, damage, fire departments to some degree, and every other costly result of a home fire.

I imagine that would set off a firestorm of resistance too.

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Requiring inspectors to recommend what credible studies have shown to be a better product is a good idea. There's no Rubicon crossing here; it's society moving forward to a better place. People knee jerk resent when someone tells them they ought to do something; sometimes it's a good idea.

Just to be clear. The position statement doesn't include any explicit requirement for inspectors to recommend anything.

Re: AFCI..... I'd like to see a whole house AFCI that can be retrofit to existing dwellings. The small expense of retrofitting AFCI's could offset the immense expense of deaths, damage, fire departments to some degree, and every other costly result of a home fire.

I imagine that would set off a firestorm of resistance too.

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