Bill, Tessa, and Reuben start the show discussing a few minor corrections to the podcast from two weeks ago on air conditioners. Next, they discuss the new standards for home inspection attendance and safety for home inspections. Reuben also mentions a facemask that most Structure Tech home inspectors are wearing, which can currently be found here.
The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.
Reuben Saltzman: I had this line I quoted from the LinkedIn founder. I can’t remember his name, but he had a good line. And it said, “If you’re not embarrassed by your earliest work, you started too late.” And…
Tessa Murray: Sure.
RS: I think that’s great. It’s a good point. I’m paraphrasing what he said, but that’s the point. It’s like, just get going with it. And that’s what we did with our podcast.
Bill Oelrich: Welcome, everybody, to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich alongside Tessa Murray and Reuben Saltzman, as always. And welcome back after taking abbreviated, well, we stepped out of the home inspection lane for a week to have a more relevant conversation. But we’re getting back to the topic of two weeks ago, which was air-conditioners and how these units work and what they do.
BO: And as expected, we made some mistakes. And we were kindly and gently corrected by many listeners. So we’re gonna run through some of our errors and set the record straight. Is that true, Reuben?
RS: Yeah. And I wouldn’t say many. It wasn’t a lot of stuff but there was a couple of things that we didn’t quite get right. One of them, Ben wrote in and said… Hold on, wait. Let me step back just in case you didn’t listen to our podcast from two weeks ago. We talked a lot about air conditioners.
RS: And one of the things we mentioned was how the traditional air conditioners that most people have here in Minnesota is gonna be a split system, where you have half of it sits outside, half of it sits inside of the house. And we talked about how those are like one-speed vehicles. They’re either on or off. There’s nothing in between.
RS: There’s no dual stage split system. Well, turns out there is. I have a comment here from someone. Ben wrote in and said they actually do make two-stage AC compressors. He said he has never seen one here in Minnesota. He says, “I don’t know for sure but I suspect they’re not cost-efficient here because we don’t get high temps any other parts of the country.
RS: So that was news to me. I stand behind what I said. I’ve never seen one here. But that’s an interesting fact that they actually do make them in other parts of the country. Well, they make them and they’re installed in other parts of the country.
BO: Reuben, you mean to tell me you’re not out researching things that aren’t in your marketplace on a regular basis.
BO: And becoming expert at them? [laughter]
RS: No. I don’t mean to tell you that because I still do do that.
RS: To be totally honest. I research stuff about all parts of the country. I can tell you about codes in a lot of the country. However, I didn’t get this one right, Bill, my bad. I messed up. I didn’t do enough research on this before we did the podcast. I thought I had all the information in my head. Turns out, we were wrong.
RS: We are definitely not experts at everything. We are expert home inspectors, which means we know a little bit about all the rest of the trades, just enough to get us in trouble like this.
BO: Yeah. But it’s all in good fun. What else did we stumble across?
RS: Well, there was another one. And you know what? As soon as I read this comment, I went, “Oh, yeah, duh. What was I talking about?” I talked about how you have many split systems. And I referred to the systems that you often see in hotels and saying how those are mini splits. Tessa’s shaking her head. Tessa, what did I get wrong there?
TM: Those technically aren’t mini splits. I can’t remember exactly what they’re called.
RS: Yeah. I guess they call it a packaged terminal air conditioner. This is also from Ben who wrote in to say this. It’s a packaged terminal air conditioner, and a good point. As soon as I read his comment, I went, “Yeah, duh. I knew that? Yeah, just a little correction there.
BO: I want Ben on the podcast.
BO: Sounds like he knows a hell of a lot more about this stuff than we do.
RS: He certainly does.
TM: Is Ben an HVAC contractor?
RS: I think so. I think so. He wrote a lot of other stuff here. But you can go to the blog, the Structure Tech blog and you can read his comments. Because the way our website is set up right now is that our podcast simply shows up as a blog post. And then if you scroll to the end of it, you can read the comments.
RS: He talks about, basically, commercial systems are just way more far advanced than what we have in residential here.
BO: I’m sure.
RS: That was the gist of it. I won’t read everything.
TM: I’m surprised this hasn’t happened more. Yeah. We’re not experts in everything. We know, like you said, we know enough to get us into trouble. But definitely not in the way…
RS: Where people write in and correct us?
TM: Yeah. Yes.
RS: I can tell you why.
RS: ‘Cause nobody’s listening.
TM: That’s true.
TM: No one is listening.
RS: No. I make that joke. I was just reviewing a class that I did for home inspectors on social media and blogging and all this other stuff. And I had this line I quoted from the LinkedIn founder. I can’t remember his name, but he had a good line. And it said, “If you’re not embarrassed by your earliest work, you started too late.” And…
RS: I think that’s great. It’s a good point. I’m paraphrasing what he said but that’s the point. It’s like, just get going with it. And that’s what we did with our podcast. And what I had said during this class, I was like, “Don’t be embarrassed about the first stuff you write. If you just started going out and doing a home inspection blog or whatever, don’t be embarrassed about people, what they think of what you’re writing because nobody’s reading it anyway.”
TM: That’s comforting.
RS: I’ll take that to our podcast. We get a few hundred listens. Maybe on a good episode, we’ll get quite a few hundred. But we’re not in the thousands and tens of thousands yet. Once we get there, I’m sure we’ll get more emails and more corrections.
BO: Yeah. One thing that Ben did note is that we don’t have temperature extremes up here. But obviously, we have extremes. We do get fairly hot. I don’t know. I should get on my weatherman hat, do some research and find out how many 90-plus degree days we have in a year. What would you venture to guess that is, 15 maybe? But we have a…
RS: Man, last year, it felt like maybe 10 would be my estimate. But yeah, I don’t know.
BO: See, I’m old enough now where the years all blend together.
BO: Last year doesn’t mean anything ’cause it is likely… I think last year was four years ago.
RS: There’s one more thing someone said, well, actually two people wrote in about how there’s two-stage split systems. Richard Andrews also wrote in for the same thing, and he said, as far as R-22 I just bought a skid, which is 144 30-pound bottles, one bottle of it works out to be 650 bucks, and he charges $75 a pound. So not terrible. Not as bad as a lot of people have made it sound. We’re sharing our information from, we’re not selling this stuff. We’re just sharing from our HVAC contractors, and I had interviews with three of the largest companies that we deal with on a regular basis, three HVAC companies, kind of doing our homework for that podcast. So that’s where we’re coming from. We’re just sharing what other HVAC contractors here in Minnesota are sharing with us. The one thing we do know for sure is that it’s expensive. Exactly how expensive, it’s going to vary from contractor to contractor. So that’s what we had to touch on from last week. Any other? Well, two weeks ago, I should say. Any other thoughts? Bill? Tessa?
TM: I was looking up ASHRAE cooling degree days for Minneapolis.
BO: Wait, wait, wait, wait, you were looking up what, cooling days?
TM: Cooling degree days for Minneapolis.
BO: Who’s ASHRAE?
TM: It’s a bunch of engineers basically. And they come up with the data that figures out like what type of sizing for mechanical systems you need based on your climate zone. So like in Minnesota, we have a lot of really cold days. So all that data is compiled, and it’s on ASHRAE. So I was just trying to look it up. But it’s been a while since I’ve had to do this sort of research and since I’ve used ASHRAE, and I’m realizing now that I can’t just glimpse at it and figure out what it is I’d have to actually spend some time trying to read this data. So that’s above my pay grade.
BO: Yeah, but there’s places where you can get this information and really drill into it if you’re kind of sort of geeky that way. So Tess, can you spell out what the ASHRAE is, again, and where you’re finding this information, just if anybody wants to sort of cross-reference?
TM: There’s a book, obviously out there that’s published, but you could just google ASHRAE. I was looking up cooling degree days for Minneapolis, but ASHRAE stands for American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers. There we go.
RS: Went off the tip of your tongue.
TM: Yes, is does.
TM: And it’s an organization devoted to the advancement of indoor environment control technology in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning industry.
RS: I’ve already got so much stuff I need to remember I’m gonna do my best to forget that after this podcast.
TM: Me too, me too. It’s already gone. Don’t even ask me that question again.
RS: Good. I just googled it up real quick Bill. In 2018, we had 20 days over 90 degrees in Minnesota. Last year though, 2019, we had four days that were 90 degrees or more. So that tells me I had my AC on for four days last year. That’s it.
TM: What about the humidity factor though? Sometimes it gets really humid here. And even though it might only be like 85 or 80 degrees, it’s just like so sticky and awful.
RS: Alright, I exaggerate. I’m sure I had it on for more than four days.
TM: You know what…
BO: There’s no way. You turn that thing on, as soon as the compressor can be run safely, you put it on just to stay on top of the humidity just like Tess is saying. It’s got more to do with humidity than it does with heat.
RS: Exactly. So that was air conditioning. And then we were also gonna talk about what we’re doing now, how things have changed regarding COVID-19 protocols and home inspections and home inspection attendance and all that ’cause we’ve made a lot of changes here at Structure Tech since we last had a podcast talking about what we’re doing. There was a time when we were podcasting about this weekly, but we did make a bunch of changes, right?
BO: Yeah, a lot of changes. It’s funny, things just kind of keep rolling along. But update us, Reuben, where are we at?
RS: Well, we’re allowing clients to attend the Home Inspection again. As soon as Governor Walz announced the end of our stay at home order, he changed it to something called, what did he call it? Stay Safe Minnesota or something like that. It changed, it allowed for gatherings of 10 people or less, and people weren’t like banned to their houses unless they’re going out for essential stuff anymore. And instantly, our phone started ringing off the hook from our clients saying, “Hey, can we come to the Home Inspection now? You sent us an email for inspection on Monday saying we can’t come but now the lockdown is over. So we wanna be there and we’re gonna be there.” And people were canceling their inspections if we wouldn’t let them come and I guess for the next time we go through a pandemic like this…
RS: I will be better prepared and when the Governor has some type of order, we are gonna be having a team meeting as soon as that news briefing ends to figure out what we’re going to do to change ’cause people expect businesses to change their practices immediately.
RS: And we ended up having a team call the next day. And we agreed that we’re gonna start allowing our clients to attend the inspection. But we don’t want them to be there the whole time because we still want to follow best practices from the CDC, which is when we’re inside we should be wearing masks. There was some controversy over this. Even within our own team, about whether or not it’s the right thing to do, to wear a mask and blah, blah, blah. I’ll tell you, my wife is a nurse. Anna works on the frontline. She works at Fairview Southdale at the ER and she’s dealing with a ton of this so you better believe, she’s taking this seriously and therefore I am definitely taking this seriously whether I wanted to or not I would have no choice. I have to take this. So…
RS: I’ve been told to. I don’t know, I’m going on a tangent here, but our inspectors are wearing masks when they’re inside the home. Maybe it would be okay to have inspectors just wear masks when they’re inside the home with other people, but we had a long discussion about this and we found it’s just too hard to draw that line to figure out when they should be wearing a mask and when they shouldn’t. And for a while there, we were saying, we will wear a mask inside people’s houses if requested by the seller. We thought that was kind of a good thing to do. I mean we’re by ourselves, there’s nobody there, but Bill or Tessa, what happened?
TM: I think one of our inspectors was being watched on a nanny cam by the sellers, right? And they…
RS: More than once, yeah.
TM: Yeah, and we got angry phone calls about our inspectors not wearing a mask, even though they were alone in the house.
RS: Yeah, we send out an email saying, “If you’d like our inspector to wear a mask, let us know and they’ll do it while they’re alone in your home”, and nobody reads the emails, that’s…
RS: Just a fact, nobody reads them and they turn on their nanny cam instead and they watch us inspect the house and… I mean that happened to the same guy twice, two different homes.
TM: Oh no!
RS: Where he wasn’t wearing a mask and we got angry calls in the middle of the inspection, even though we made, Bill promised that we were going to. So kind of the take away here and I guess, maybe the audience’s home inspectors that I’m talking to right now, but I guess it’s anybody, when you’re inside somebody else’s house, just always assume they are watching you. Cameras are so cheap and people want to know what’s going on inside their house when they’re not there, just assume you’re being watched 24/7 and we weren’t even doing anything wrong, but still, people were getting mad at us, so…
BO: Well, you do have to honor the fact that we are guests in somebody else’s home and they might not communicate to us, that’s what they want us to do, but it’s just easier to err on the side of caution, then we don’t stir up any unnecessary controversy. So put the mask on, go do your job, find one that’s comfortable. I guess that’s our job is to figure out how can we continue to operate in our space and respect other people’s space because it isn’t ours and when I’m talking about space, I’m saying our industry and the things that we do. Let’s just find some comfortable masks, so we can just gear up, go in, do our job and nobody’s upset in any way about what we’ve done.
BO: Easy peasy.
RS: Exactly, and that’s what we have done. We’ve just mandated, “You gotta wear a mask when you’re inside the home.” We’ve asked our clients to start showing up to the inspection two hours after the scheduled start time, this gives our inspector room to move around the house, go from room to room quickly without having to kind of bump into other people, to get a lot of the inspection knocked out before the clients show up. So that has been extremely helpful and it’s one of those things that might stick around, that might be our permanent protocol. You hear more and more about how businesses are not going to be returning to the way things have always been done after all this COVID stuff calms down, and I think it’s very true. I think there’s gonna be some permanent changes here at Structure Tech after all this is settled down, no doubt about it. We’re gonna change in the way we teach classes online, that’s for sure.
TM: Yeah, that’s been a big change.
BO: I think it’s fun, this continuous improvement and constant evaluation of why do we do what we do? Just because we’ve always done it that way. Is that the right answer? Probably not.
RS: Oh my gosh, well, you guys know, if I hear somebody say that at a company meeting, they’re kicked out of the meeting, like you gotta go, you cannot say, “That’s the way we’ve always done things” as a justification for doing them in the future. No, we don’t believe in that.
TM: Yeah, we really had to embrace one of our core values in the last few months, which is…
BO: Which is…
RS: Yes, exactly, and you know what, Bill, just something I thought of, you mentioned wearing a comfortable mask, figuring out what works for everybody and I’ll just share the masks that we’re all using now, at least just about everybody at Structure Tech, I ordered a ton of these six weeks ago, they just finally arrived. It seems to be a good mask. Everybody seems to like wearing them, well, they don’t like wearing them, they tolerate wearing them for several hours, they’re comfortable and it’s not like it’s rubbing on your lips when you have to talk. And that’s been a challenge, just having to talk through a mask and I guess communication is much more difficult. Tessa, we’re hearing about that this morning, right?
TM: Yeah, it’s hard to have a conversation through a mask, especially when a homeowner is standing more than six feet away and they maybe are not projecting very loudly, it’s hard to hear. You know what, even though I’m not inspecting right now, I went to Trader Joe’s yesterday and at the check out line, they make you stand six feet back from the register from where they’re scanning your food and stuff and the guy was trying to talk to me. They’re very friendly there at Trader Joe’s, and I love that, but he was trying to have a conversation with me through his mask and I could not hear him. I just gave up. [chuckle]
RS: Yes, not only that but Jim was talking about the fact that you get people talking through these masks and you forget how much you rely on seeing people’s lips move to understand what they’re saying and then when it’s only the sound, it’s a lot more difficult and it’s harder to read people too.
RS: We do Zoom meetings so we can see each other, but when you’re over to the phone, it’s like a lot of that emotion is lost and especially when you’re talking to people. We teach our CE classes… We’ll teach to 100, 200 people online and we’re getting zero feedback, we just kinda keep powering through and we don’t know if the message is coming across or not. When you’re in person, you can see people’s brows, furrow or…
TM: Yeah. [chuckle]
RS: Their eye brows go up, like, “Wait a minute, what are you talking about?”, and then we can kind of pause and go back. It’s just more difficult to do all that when somebody’s wearing a mask.
RS: Well, it’s…
TM: Yeah, a 100%.
BO: Well, it’s interesting though, the lens that you’re looking through. So I spent about 10 years in the orthopedic industry and I spent a lot of time in operating rooms. And of course, everybody’s masked up there and nobody cares a blink about it, it’s just part of the deal, if you wanna walk into that operating room and kinda help in the process of somebody getting their joint replaced by providing technical support or just expertise or something like that, you go in there with a mask, nobody even cares. And for a bearded guy like me, you should have seen what they made me do to cover all the hair on my face. But they’re like, “Dude, if you wanna be in here, here are the rules, play by them”, and you very quickly adapt, okay, this is just my normal existence right now, they just don’t like being told what to do, but it’s not that big of a deal, put a mask on. You might become a better listener because you might have to focus just a little bit harder on what people are saying and not multi-task quite as much as you used to, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, it just might be a good by-product of a pandemic that we listen to each other just a little bit better than we used to.
TM: Well, and I think too, our new process of how we’ve adjusted to, we used to have clients present for the entire inspection, and now, we’re having them show up two hours in, that’s also caused us to reduce the amount of conversation we’re having with them and condense it down to just highlight the takeaways from the inspection and so that’s another positive thing that’s come out of this whole change is just I think our communication with clients is probably improved. We’re not hitting them with a million different facts, we’re hitting them with the 10 big ones, the take aways.
BO: Okay, we’re adjusting, the new normal is gonna become the permanent normal, I guess. I don’t know exactly how to say that, but, so all things considered, April was a weird month, but May’s cranked up again, we’re getting back to business as usual, however different, it’s business as usual.
RS: Amen, thank you, Bill.
BO: Next week, we’re gonna preview a conversation. I think we’re gonna talk about fires. This is near and dear to my heart. So we’re dealing with a fire situation in our family, which is I’m learning a great deal, I’m learning a lot about insurance companies and they’re good people, and I’m really glad I have them. So, we’ll talk about that next time on the Structure Talk podcast brought to you by Structure Tech. Thanks everybody for listening, we’ll catch you next time.
Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections
June 10, 2020, 3:16 pm
Mentioned twice in a podcast, I am quite a shade of red. For the record I am most definitely not an HVAC professional, just a serious amateur! I kid, I’m really a college professor of Computer Networking & Security but do hold a MN Power Limited electrical license and am well researched and experienced in many mechanical systems. Some might also list me as an “extreme DIYer”.
For what it’s worth here there are some good HDD and CDD datasets on the EIA website at https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/units-and-calculators/degree-days.php Broadly, the upper midwest has 6,969 heating degree days and only 1,134 cooling degree days. Heating is king here! For comparison the “West South Central” zone (e.g. Texas & surrounding) has 2,248 heating degree days and 2,862 cooling degree days. All given a base temp
Remember now, I’m not an expert here but I think that means that they spend about 2.5 times the energy we do in cooling and we spend about 3 times the energy on heating that they do. So, that’s why cooling is a much bigger deal for them than us and heating is a much, much bigger deal for us than them. Other possibly conflating economic factors such as our generally low electric prices here make efficiency gains in cooling less commercially viable.
As an interesting aside, the reason I know about multi-stage cooling is because I’ve done some work with high-end custom thermostat design and have seen Y1 and Y2 terminals for cooling just like the H1 and H2 terminals for multi-stage heating. Also, while a modern multi-stage furnace will work with a single stage thermostat (they usually start at the lower output stage and then kick into the high output stage if the heat call is not met quickly) you are much better off if your thermostat is also multi-stage (and you have enough wires to control the stages separately). This is because they thermostat actually knows the current air temperature and can calculate the delta between the desired temperature and the current temperature. If it’s bigger than a small amount (e.g. you are trying to warm a house from 62 degrees to 72 degrees) they can immediately start the furnace at high output. You can do even fancier things if the thermostat knows outside air temperature and/or has a memory tracking how long the house usually takes to warm up given a certain delta or outside temperature. More data, more better.
Lest anyone think I know everything I can assure you that is not the case! I am currently planning an addition to our house in Minneapolis and was very excited by the new information I was led to by Pat Huelman and his research on Project Overcoat, exterior rigid foam insulation, etc. I think I spent more that a few days reading his research studies after hearing him on the podcast.
Knowing full well Bill’s comment may have been in jest I’d be happy to participate in a couple future episodes if you cover one of my areas of mechanical interest and experience: smart home, electrical, A/V, plumbing, etc. and there’s something I can add.
Keep on swinging the hammer!