Dangers of Oily
In the article "Safety Lessons" (8/06), you described the
fire we had in 2004 at our paint shop facility. I would like to
point out that the employee did not toss the oily rags into an
open trash container, as was mentioned, but placed them in a
bucket of water, as recommended. Unfortunately he neglected to
put a cover on the container, which was placed outside on a
wooden loading dock.
The fire marshal's inspection pointed to a spread of flames
across the wooden dock that reached the overhead doors. My
guess is that the rags caught fire inside the bucket or the
bucket was tipped by a curious raccoon. Regardless, this
illustrates the very serious hazards that can result from the
disposal of rags soaked with linseed oil or similar
In conversations after the fire, I heard many tales about
dumpster fires — even one about a pile of oiled wipes
left on a floor during a lunch break that ignited. Considerable
care must be taken with their disposal.
Stephen Malcom, President
Boothbay Home Builders
Standards for Home Inspectors
As the president of the Examination Board of Professional Home
Inspectors, I want to thank you for including mention of the
National Home Inspector Exam in the item about the West
Virginia licensing law (In the News, 10/06).
I would love to say that my state is at least equal to the 18
other states that require passing the NHIE for licensing and
However, as a member of Maryland's Commission of Real Estate
Appraisers and Home Inspectors, I am embarrassed to admit that
we will soon be required to issue licenses to those who have
done nothing more than attend a 48-hour course, with no proof
of proficiency of any kind.
Silver Spring, Md.
FEMA Flood Insurance
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you are wrong to
suggest that homeowners would receive insurance protection
against flooding from the National Flood Insurance Program (In
the News, 10/06).
Here in La Crosse, Wis. — some 1,000 miles north of
New Orleans and also located on the Mississippi —
hundreds of frustrated homeowners have been required to
purchase flood insurance over the years, as mandated by FEMA.
Every five years or so, there is significant property damage
due to flooding in many houses located in the flood-plain areas
of our city.
Yet to my knowledge, no homeowner here has ever collected from
FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program. The reason is that
most of the damage is caused by seepage from the high standing
water that makes its way into basements or, on occasion, into
low main floors.
FEMA, however, makes the distinction between this and "moving
water." In other words, only if and when the dikes break here
in La Crosse (something that, fortunately, has not happened in
the past 40 years) would a property owner have even a marginal
chance of collecting insurance monies for flooding from high
La Crosse, Wis.
Return of the Nerd
First off, after 50 years in the trades, this is my favorite
trade mag — but the article by Martin Holladay
("Efficiency Dos and Don't From an Energy Nerd," 10/06) was a
While he did have some good arguments, there are so many
points he either missed or misunderstood, I won't bother with
He needs to understand that no house should be 100 percent
compact fluorescent. Mine is probably 70 percent.
The heat-recovery drain is probably not practical.
Normally, insulation is not needed in the basement; in fact,
most of the time it's a terrible idea. I spent 15 years in
Chicago doing lots of basements; when we had a 16-inch rain and
substations were shut down, those with insulation had huge
problems. None of mine needed to be torn out. I figured payback
once at over 30 years. Also, mold and mildew are issues.
The biggest gaffe was his stance on humidifiers. They are not
only a great convenience, but should be mandated in the North.
The wood structure needs humidity, the wood trim and doors need
humidity, furniture needs humidity, people need humidity, and
your fuel bill wants humidity for comfort. The human body is
more sensitive to humidity than to temperature. He needs to do
a lot of studying on the subject; it's really quite
Meanwhile, he makes no mention of vapor barriers, which are
critical in both the North and the South for different
Otherwise, keep up the good work.
The Domicile Doctor
Martin Holladay responds: Mr. Brown raises five objections to
my article; I'll address them in turn.
1. It's commendable that 70 percent of the lamps in Mr.
Brown's house are compact fluorescent — but I'm not
sure why he insists that "no house should be 100 percent
compact fluorescent" unless he's worried about the light bulbs
in his refrigerator and oven.
I'm happy to concede that it makes sense to use incandescent
lamps inside of appliances.
2. Mr. Brown provides no reasoning to back up his statement
that a drain-water heat-recovery device like the GFX "is
probably not practical."
The GFX has been on the market for more than a decade, and
several field studies have documented the energy savings
resulting from its use. A GFX saves between 15 percent and 21
percent of the energy used for domestic hot water; in a house
where most residents take showers rather than baths, the
savings are even higher — in the range of 25 percent
to 30 percent.
3. Like Mr. Brown, I am no fan of fiberglass batts installed
on the interior of basement walls; that's why the article
noted, "Never use fiberglass batts to insulate basement walls.
Exterior basement insulation usually performs better than
interior basement insulation."
However, the assertion that basement wall insulation is
"normally not needed" is incorrect. The International Energy
Conservation Code requires basement wall insulation in climate
zones 4 and higher — an area that includes Oregon,
Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky,
and Virginia, and all areas to the north.
Moreover, the U.S. Department of Energy has proposed a code
change that would extend the area where basement wall
insulation is required to include zone 3, where Mr. Brown
In a 2003 study supporting the proposal, the Pacific Northwest
National Laboratory calculated that the simple payback period
for basement wall insulation installed in Atlanta is less than
five years — considerably shorter than the 30 years
mentioned by Mr. Brown.
4. Although Mr. Brown asserts that wood framing, furniture,
and people all need humidity, he neglects to explain why
wood-framed houses in Arizona are filled with sound furniture
and healthy people, many of whom moved to the Southwest to
enjoy the health benefits of the state's desert climate.
Furniture is not damaged by dry air — but it can be
damaged by sudden changes in the indoor humidity level.
As the article noted, in a cold climate, very dry indoor air
during the winter is usually a sign that the house is leaky;
tightening the house should make the air less dry.
Many other factors affect indoor humidity levels, including
the number of residents per square foot, the frequency of
showers, the type of cooking performed in the house, and the
number of houseplants.
Of course, some homeowners use humidifiers in winter without
causing any damage to their homes — but if a
humidifier is operated incorrectly, disastrous results are
The main reason that builders should avoid installing
humidifiers is liability: Any possible benefit to the builder
is far outweighed by the risks.
5. Mr. Brown suggests that the article should have emphasized
the critical importance of vapor retarders.
In fact, contractors and building inspectors are already
well-acquainted with code requirements for vapor retarders
— code requirements that, alas, have little scientific
The most common moisture-transport mechanism through walls and
ceilings is air leakage, not vapor diffusion. The best way to
keep interior moisture from entering a wall or ceiling is not
by installing a vapor retarder, but by improving the air
I read your magazine cover to cover every month and generally
enjoy it very much. I do, however, take offense at your lack of
concern regarding OSHA.
OSHA compliance is not only mandatory, it is necessary to
protect the safety of those working in our trades. Our industry
spends a lot of time, money, and effort to comply, and your
obvious disregard is insulting.
D&R Framing Contractors