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Expert Interview with Daniel Friedman About the Inspecting Process

Inspecting processIn world full of people interested in DIY projects, remodeling, building a dream home, and everything else in between, there is a lot of information to be had. At InspectAPedia.com, those same people can find answers to just about anything relating to the building process.

In this interview, InspectAPedia’s Daniel Friedman talks about everything the website offers, the need for more information about the inspection process, and how people from all over the world can find the information they need about their project on the website.

As a go-to site for those in need of advice regarding inspections and other aspects of the building process, how does InspectAPedia anticipate topics that would be of use to readers?

I was an ASHI member and active in that home inspection professional association for many years.

Home inspectors worth their salt soon realize that while their individual depths of expertise varied widely, none of us has a corner on knowledge – nobody has it all.

Sharing information, conducting or attending classes, attending conferences, reading newsletters and the like ultimately led many inspectors to write up explanations of common defects found on the homes they inspected. Such an approach let inspectors offer their clients lasting written information that gives more detail in more depth than they could otherwise provide without having to charge thousands of dollars to provide a detailed if unique written report when so many building or environmental problems are found over and over again.

Working together, home inspectors and other building professionals – the serious ones who felt they were called to a profession, not just a generic “business” – figured out that they could learn from one another’s education and field experience – making all of us smarter working together than we’d ever be working alone.

Starting by publishing my own collection of problem diagnoses and repair advice online on a private network and later by the more far-reaching Internet led to a wonderful discovery.

By putting information that we think we’ve researched out before the public eye, we get feedback from a much larger group of readers than ever before: inspectors, architects, engineers, builders, homeowners, realtors, lawyers – the lot.

Within a few days of publishing an article on diagnosing septic field failures, I heard from Mary Gayman, who was an expert on the topic. Gayman offered corrections and advice that were most valuable. Before that public exposure of our data, I’d have had a heck of a time finding her.

Feedback means critique, questions, suggestions.

That steady stream of comments, questions, suggestions keeps InspectApedia.com “live” and worse, it has taught us that there is really no end to what we need to understand.

A few days ago, I read about the recent 60 Minutes program on formaldehyde outgassing of Chinese flooring sold by Lumber Liquidators. While the jury is out on just what tests were performed and whether the problem is as scary as the media suggested, anecdotal evidence suggests that some people may have experienced a reaction to formaldehyde outgassing, at least when a floor is newly-installed.

I set out to update our articles on laminate flooring, indoor air quality, and formaldehyde gas testing, limits, exposure to address the Chinese flooring question.

We posted FLOOR, WOOD ENGINEERED, LAMINATE, INSTALL.

Within 24 hours I had still more helpful comments from readers, asking questions, criticizing the material, making suggestions. That prompted us to expand the article series, including a new page: FORMALDEHYDE in LAMINATE FLOORING.

The result of this public forum in which we can hear from our readers is better information, more timely information, and greater technical depth of information.

What trends do you see happening in the world of DIY and how do those trends impact InspectAPedia?

These are not “all” of the trends, just a few that come to mind.

As many middle-class people around the world share the smallest piece of the economic pie since the 1950s, there is an increasing interest in, if not “doing it” yourself, at least “finding out” enough about doing it that we have a better shot at a better and more economic outcome to home environmental or building and repair projects. That need creates a great space for providers of reliable information on building diagnosis and repair and on addressing indoor environment worries.

There is a long-standing condition in the world of building construction and building professionals in which opinions range further than facts, arm-waving wilder than wisdom and where he who shouts loudest wins the argument.

A trend, sparked by consumers who are frustrated by conflicting advice or by advice that doesn’t have their interests foremost in mind, is the demand for accurate, informed, authoritative information and a means to check that what we’re being told is sound. That need for corroboration leads people to turn to trusted sources, and for sources like InspectAPedia to take the responsibility to meet that need most seriously.

A second trend is the competition for attention and pressure to do more work in less time. The danger is that in an effort to get more “done,” we speed by and miss something that’s going to hurt someone or cost someone unnecessarily.

Being always-on, texting, calling, and fooling with cool test instruments, means we need more effort than ever to pay attention: pay attention to people, pay attention to the building, pay attention to what you’re doing.

For example, years ago and along with some other oddballs I helped write up some procedures for using test instruments during building inspections. The article, published in ASHI’s Technical Journal, had a troubling if unintendend consequence: Some people, instead of actually inspecting the heating system, just turned on and plopped down their combustible gas detector and went off to look elsewhere – maybe at an attractive client or an interesting bulge in the foundation.

When the detector didn’t beep, whine or whistle the inspector wrote up a “no-trouble-found-in-the-heating-system” report along with a disclaimer penned by her attorney. Those inspections were of little value. Using an instrument to extend our knowledge is smart, but using an instrument to avoid doing our job is dumb.

A third trend is rapid access to information by everyone. What’s still young is the ability of both information providers and of information consumers to take care about the accuracy of the data that our cell phone serves up.

How can users from all over the US use InspectAPedia? Does the site instruct individuals to consult local laws that pertain to renovations, building, inspections, etc.?

Actually InspectAPedia.com has readers in 170 countries around the world and in widely varying climates and conditions.

I’ve enjoyed working with an island reader whose home was painted with a mixture of sugar and lime and who needed to know how to remove that coating, and hearing from a Costa Rican on wet soil problems faced by septic fields, a reader in Mexico preparing a pozo (hand-dug well procedure), an Argentenian on lighting, readers in Germany on indoor air quality and test instruments, and we have a reader who has translated our air conditioning diagnosis information into Serbian (Kako vršiti inspekciju i popravljati centralne sisteme klimatizacije).

We have Hong Kong and Singapore readers who speak better English than I do. They’re smarter, too.

Believe me, that geographic range is both exciting and a big challenge.

We have benefited from this experience: a widespread audience means that we have had to learn about rather different building practices, different environmental worries, and different terms people use for building parts, components, practices.

In Canada, oil-fired heating system circulators are not wired the same way they’re hooked up in the U.S.

In the E.U. BTU monitoring on heating and cooling systems in apartment buildings is mandatory while in North America landlords just estimate to apportion heating costs.

A drainfield in Oakville, Ontario, is a soakbed in the U.K. and in Christchurch, New Zealand, “flat white” refers to a coffee beverage, not a wall paint.

Those differences inform our research, writing, and language and they broaden our knowledge base in ways both useful and sometimes esoteric.

Currently New Zealand is leading the world in both earthquake recovery and design of earthquake-damage-resistant structures, after those disastrous quakes in 2010 and 2011. Last year I spent two months studying building practices in New Zealand, learning about night storage heaters, documenting their very different plumbing practices from those in North America. And as a side project I became the last living expert on the McSkimming toilet.

We do indeed refer readers to building and environmental codes and standards from various countries. And in some InspectAPedia articles we provide state-by-state or province-by-province links to local codes and standards information.

We understand very well the serious responsibility to offer accurate, unbiased information to such a large group of readers.

But you’re right, it’s impossible to offer detailed advice for complying with local laws and regulations everywhere, in so many countries. Fortunately all is not lost.

First, in most countries local laws are based on national or even international model codes. So there is at least some consistency.

Second, the local building code compliance inspector is, in almost every jurisdiction, the final legal authority. S/he might be willing to listen to an idea you have if supported by a local, licensed design professional. Otherwise, just do what they say. You’ll be happier with the local officials on your side and you’ll find them quite helpful as soon as they find out you’re not trying to put one over on them.

Third, building codes are a minimum performance standard, not a maximum, and despite the best efforts of experts, building codes and code compliance do not and cannot address explicitly the tens of thousands of individual things that can go wrong during construction or that can break, fail, leak, smell, or make noise in a building years after it has been constructed. Our scope of interest is the diagnosis and correction or prevention of this larger group of building and environmental failures.

Please share anything additional that you would like readers to know.

InspectAPedia.com has benefited from and we are very grateful to our content contributors including both individual readers and our TECHNICAL REVIEW COMMITTEE MEMBERS, whose generosity in sharing information has been a benchmark example and my guiding light.

We very much welcome questions, criticism, content suggestions from our readers at InspectAPedia.com

When we tackle a new request from a reader, we love digging into the research – we both benefit. We find new material (or clarify old text that was unclear) that will help other readers, and the person who asked the question will (we trust) get a useful answer.

InspectAPedia is an independent publisher of building, environmental, and forensic inspection, diagnosis, and repair information provided free to the public – we have no business or financial connection with any manufacturer or service provider discussed at our website.

We are dedicated to making our information as accurate, complete, useful, and unbiased as possible: We very much welcome critique, questions, or content suggestions for our web articles. Working together and exchanging information makes us better informed than any individual can be working alone.

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