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Reuben Saltzman

PODCAST: Mean feedback, leaky hose spigots, and wet sub-slab ducts

Bill starts off the conversation talking to Reuben and Tessa about life, spring maintenance, and business in general. Reuben and Tessa go on a tangent talking about mean feedback given during free continuing education classes, which leads to Tessa discussing her current project of creating a home inspector training curriculum.

Reuben also mentions that we’re hiring! We’re actively looking for a full-time client care coordinator. Check out the employment page on our website for more information.

Bill brings up leaking faucets, and that leads into leaking backflow preventers, how to remove them, and what happens when a hack tries to take them off with a pipe wrench. Next, the gang discusses sub-slab ductwork, commonly referred to as transite ductwork.

Related links: 

At the time of publishing, the transcription is not yet available. We’ll publish the transcription as soon as it becomes available. Our transcription service is currently running about one week behind normal schedule.

TRANSCRIPTION

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: You get a nice weekend, where the sun is shining and it’s warm out, it inspires people to want to buy houses. I don’t totally understand how it works, but it has always been that way. And so, that’s what I’m gonna say was the big uptick in business.

 

Bill Oelrich: Welcome everybody to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman, and they are the crew at Structure Tech. We are here on this Friday morning. You will get this podcast next Monday, but we do it now weekly on Friday mornings and afternoons, depending on how our schedule goes. Everybody, say hi.

 

Tessa Murry: Hello.

 

RS: Hey, good morning, good afternoon. I couldn’t be any better. How about you, Tessa?

 

TM: Doing well.

 

BO: Awesome. So let’s have the quick market update. What’s it looking like around the old water cooler? Are people happy, or are they still singing the doldrums?

 

RS: People seem to be happy. Last weekend, we had some really nice weather. I think we got some nice weather coming up this weekend, too. I guess we’ll know about the time this podcast airs. [chuckle] But our market here in Minnesota seems to be so dependent upon the weather. When it’s this time of year, if we get some out of season snow storm that happens, all of a sudden, that Monday our phones are really slow. It’s like people just don’t wanna come out of their house and look at houses. If you get a nice weekend, where the sun is shining and it’s warm out, it inspires people to want to buy houses. I don’t totally understand how it works, but it has always been that way. And so, that’s what I’m gonna say was the big uptick in business. Maybe it has something to do with this pandemic too, and maybe confidence in the market is increasing, but we saw a big increase in home inspections this last week. Things have really turned around, it feels like.

 

BO: So, last week you thought we were somewhere 55%-60% of what our typical market would be for that week. What do you see in this week? How much of a change are you seeing?

 

RS: Well, this week, it’s really tough to gauge, because we’ve got a handful of people who are removed from the schedule. We’ve got a couple of inspectors who are living with some compromised people, or have close contact with compromised people, people with weaker immune systems, and they don’t wanna go in anybody’s houses, they’re basically off the schedule. So that reduces our capacity. And then we’ve got some other people who are kind of pulled from the schedule, Tessa is one of them. All Tessa is doing right now is creating training content for the new people on our team. And Tessa, we’ve alluded to that on this podcast, but we’ve never really dug into that. Share what you’re doing.

 

TM: It’s top secret.

 

RS: Oh, alright, never mind. I didn’t say anything. Forget it.

 

[laughter]

 

TM: No, I’m kidding. It’s actually of been a fun process, and I’m actually learning a lot doing this. There is so much content out there, Reuben, that you have created with your blogs and your great YouTube videos about things. And then with the classes that we teach as well, there’s so much information, and so it’s been really a fun project, seeing what’s out there and compiling everything, and trying to create a program where we can train inspectors in an efficient way, where we’re not overwhelming them with too much information but we’re still making sure that they are doing quality inspections, at least to Structure Tech standards.

 

RS: Yeah.

 

BO: Okay, so can you go back to the high level overview? Why exactly… This is about training, or what’s this education program all about, Tessa?

 

TM: We’re trying to create a curriculum to train new inspectors that we hire. Up until this point, we’ve kind of just grown organically, and basically our training process before this was, “Go out, shadow a bunch of inspectors for a really long time. Do a lot of reading and studying on your own.” Because here in Minnesota, we don’t have any licensing requirements, so people don’t have to go to school or do anything really to start in this career. And so, there’s a lot of reading, there’s a lot of studying that they need to do on their own, while they are trying to learn how we inspect a house, how we talk to clients, how we write our reports. Historically, it’s been really challenging to get people through that process, and to get them out any faster than six months has been almost impossible. We’ve had a few people that have done it, but not many. So, we really wanna try and streamline it and train people in a more efficient way and get them out quicker.

 

BO: Is this just about Structure Tech training, or is this a product that is gonna be offered to the greater inspection community?

 

TM: I’ll let Reuben take that one.

 

RS: Yeah, we don’t know yet, Bill. Right now, this is only for us. This is exclusive Structure Tech home inspector training. Tessa’s doing this for us, but in the future this might turn into the equivalent of a home inspection school. That’s definitely not our intention. There’s a lot of wheels out there, there are a lot of home inspection schools out there, but we really are re-inventing the wheel. There’s a million wheels out there, we’re making our own. So, it could get to that point some day, where we’re making our own school out of this, but today really our focus is adding inspectors to Structure Tech faster, and having a more consistent, intentional training program.

 

BO: Perfect. So, if you’re an aspiring home inspector in the Twin Cities metro area today, we haven’t kinda gone outside of these borders yet, they should get a hold of who, Reuben?

 

RS: Go to our website. Go to the homepage at structuretech.com, and you go to the top right where it says “Employment”, you click on there, and you could figure out the rest.

 

BO: Gotcha, perfect.

 

RS: You gave me an opportunity to have a plug there, Bill. I gotta say, we are hiring. We’re not actively hiring for home inspectors. Right now, we’ve got a home inspector who started training with us, what was it Tessa, two months ago?

 

TM: Yeah.

 

RS: He started training right before everything went into lockdown. And he’s been sitting in limbo ever since. But once we get him through the training process, we’ll be able to add a bunch of inspectors at the same time, so we’re looking for people for when that happens. I’d like to meet you if you’re interested, but we’re looking to hire now, like today when you hear this podcast, is another client care coordinator and that’s the person who answers the phones, answers emails, schedules home inspections, works miracles, does all the stuff behind the scenes that makes our business run. And right now we’ve got Mindy and Lisa and Peter, they’re all awesome, but we’re at the point where we’re looking to add somebody else to the team. One more. This is not a replacement, this is an in addition to the team. So if you’re at all interested, this is a work from home position, it’s full-time, competitive wages. We offer good benefits. We were named a top place to work by Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal, lots of great reasons to work here. So if that’s of any interest, we’re hiring, please check out the employment page on our website. Sorry, I had to get that plug in Bill. I’m allowed to do that here, right?

 

[laughter]

 

BO: It’s our podcast. You can do whatever you want.

 

RS: Thank you, thank you.

 

TM: Bill, we’ve done so many classes this week. Reuben, how many hours have we logged on GoToWebinar this week? I think probably eight hours least, but we are not allowed to mention our company name or promote ourselves at all during those classes which is so counter-intuitive, so it’s kind of weird plugging ourselves.

 

RS: I stopped myself this week Tessa, where I say, “And here at this home inspection company… ” [laughter] We have not slipped once yet though. I’ll tell you that, we’ve been very good at it.

 

TM: I know, we’ve gotten better. I think the classes are definitely getting better. The more we do this, the easier it’s getting but I think I did slip the first time we were teaching this.

 

RS: Yeah that was before or after the class had officially started, I think.

 

TM: Yeah, yeah.

 

RS: Although, I don’t know if we’re getting better at instruction. Bill, did you hear? I don’t know what it was I was explaining yesterday, but had some agent heckling me in the middle of the class. I’m talking about the operation, I was explaining how GFCIs work or why we need them, I don’t know, I think that’s what happened.

 

TM: It was. Yeah, I think you were talking about shock versus electrocution and why we need GFCIs.

 

RS: And yeah, some agent types in, I don’t remember exactly what he said, he’s like, “Reuben is horrible at explaining this. This is like listening to a pinball machine talk and please have Tessa teach in the future.” And I’m just like, “Alright, well, maybe I’m done with this. Alright.”

 

BO: That wasn’t me, that wasn’t me heckling you.

 

RS: You promise? Okay.

 

TM: People are very bold with their chat statements during these classes. It’s like, “We do our best.”

 

RS: They are. It’s like, “I know who you are.” It made me think of mean tweets.

 

[laughter]

 

TM: Yes! I know, I know.

 

RS: We should do a podcast episode where we read some of these comments. No.

 

TM: That actually might be kind of funny.

 

RS: It would be.

 

TM: We’re used to handling these things in person. At least I am too. And this was something that was hard for me to deal when I first started teaching. I was like, “Reuben, there’s agents that are complaining about these things and will attack certain things we’re talking about in class, and say ‘We don’t use your company because of all this.'” It can be a lot to deal with when you’re trying to teach these classes, but now that we’re on this online platform, it’s just coming in through chat.

 

RS: Yeah. Although to be fair, we’re making it sound bad. The number of chat comments that come in is just ridiculous. There’s over 1000 comments per class. It’s crazy how many chat comments come in.

 

TM: And they’re not all bad, only a few.

 

RS: You say not all bad, it’s like the vast majority of them are very positive. It’s lots of praise, and it’s gotta be a personality problem with me where I’m sitting here talking about the three crappy comments that came in when the vast majority is like people are happy about it.

 

TM: We’re not bringing up to complain. I think we were just bringing up because it was actually kind of funny because you are an amazing teacher.

 

RS: Go on Tessa, go on.

 

TM: No, I’m serious. The way that you explain things, I don’t think anyone could do it better than that. And so I think it’s funny when there’s an agent who’s like, “You’re a terrible teacher.” It’s like, “Umm… ”

 

[laughter]

 

RS: Yeah, it’s like, “What am I supposed to do with that?”

 

TM: I don’t know. Ignore it.

 

RS: Should I just end the class? I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.

 

TM: Just ignore it.

 

RS: Well, one thing’s for certain. You’re teaching on GFCIs on Wednesday.

 

TM: Oh, boy.

 

BO: Can I ask the obvious burning question?

 

TM: Yeah.

 

BO: What’s the difference between shock and electrocution? They both hurt and I don’t want either. So are we splitting hairs, here?

 

TM: Reuben, should I explain this?

 

RS: Yeah, it’s really simple. Go ahead.

 

TM: I’ll explain it because Reuben’s a really bad teacher.

 

[laughter]

 

RS: Thank you.

 

TM: Shock is gonna hurt, but you’ll survive it. Electrocution, that means you die, you die from a shock. So they are different, and GFCIs prevent you from being electrocuted. You will get shocked, that’s how they work, but you won’t die.

 

RS: Yeah, electrocution by definition, you don’t get to tell someone you were electrocuted.

 

BO: So you always have to use “almost” in front of electrocution if you’re telling that story.

 

TM: Yes.

 

RS: Yeah, yeah. Or I guess if you really wanna split hairs, you could say, “Well, you got electrocuted and you got brought back to life.” Maybe you could have… Nobody’s used it on me, but some day I’m waiting for someone in a class to use that. And I’ll go, “Yeah, you’re right.”

 

[laughter]

 

BO: How many agents have you taught to since the beginning of the online education?

 

TM: Almost 700, right?

 

RS: No, it’s more than that.

 

TM: Is it more? We can look this up real quick.

 

RS: Yeah, each class we’ve done has been the max of 250 participants and we just completed class number seven, so…

 

BO: But some people have may be cycled through and…

 

RS: That’s possible.

 

TM: Yeah. We’ve probably had repeat agents, for sure. I don’t know if we can tell how many repeat agents we’ve had.

 

RS: That’s tough, yeah. Yeah, tough. Probably somewhere between 500 to 1000 unique agents I’m guessing, somewhere in that neighborhood.

 

TM: That’s a good guess.

 

BO: Alright. And all constructive criticism is appreciated regardless of hurt feelings and such. So, bring it on, agents.

 

RS: Speak for yourself, Bill, speak for yourself.

 

[laughter]

 

BO: Oh, come on. You grow through constructive conversation.

 

RS: No, I’m just kidding. Absolutely. You know what? It’s funny, I’m reading a book right now titled “Thanks For The Feedback.”

 

[laughter]

 

RS: I am in the middle of that right now and I was thinking about that this morning and I was like, “Whatever.”

 

BO: Alright, well, very good. I’m sure everybody’s really interested in our small world and things. Should we talk about some house stuff?

 

RS: Yeah. We were on house stuff. We were talking about… I never even answered your question, Bill, we got down such a rabbit hole with this. You started asking, “How’s the market?” And our answer is, “I don’t know exactly because we are at our capacity.” Our capacity is fairly reduced right now with people like Tessa doing other things, and Brian help teach these classes, and all this other stuff.

 

TM: Oh yeah, shout out to Brian. Brian, thank you so much for the help with these classes online, could not do it without him.

 

RS: Yes, exactly. Every one of these classes, like the one we did yesterday, we start out a half hour beforehand, we teach for four hours, then we do a wrap-up for another half hour. That’s 15 man hours at Structure Tech. I almost didn’t say our company name. That’s 15 man hours at our company just to give free CE to people. So we’re spending a lot of time on this, so our capacity is down, but I can tell you, we are at our max capacity, we don’t have room for any more home inspections this week and we reached that… We were filled on Tuesday, that was all we could handle. So I don’t know how far along we are to what we should be, Bill, but I feel like it’s fairly close. Even with the limited capacity, we were at 80% of what we did this time last year, so I’m feeling good about it.

 

BO: You’re as full as you can be, down just a little bit because there’s some manpower issues, but all in all, Minnesota is plugging away, even in a somewhat lockdown mode.

 

RS: Exactly. We’re still at the point where we’re not allowing anybody at the inspection, it’s just the home inspector. And we’re gonna keep it that way until the stay-at-home ban or whatever this is, the stay-at-home order, goes away. So it’s gonna stay that way at least until then.

 

BO: Well, that’s awesome. How long are you gonna be doing this teaching? This is the last question on teaching because I wanna move on to more stimulating topics. Are you guys gonna be teaching in perpetuity or is there a season to these classes?

 

RS: There’s definitely a season to it, I think. Well, Bill, you know. When does everybody have to have their CE done by? When does the state require it? Isn’t it the end of June?

 

BO: June 30, 30th. But those people who want them done by the 15th to allow for processing time. They have to show up by the 30th.

 

RS: Okay, gotcha. Yeah, so we don’t have any classes scheduled past mid-June, and we’re not planning to offer any other classes until the fall. That’ll be the earliest that we start offering these again. So we’re doing these for a very narrow period right now while everybody’s a little bit slower and at home. But by the time that happens in the fall, we’re likely gonna be offering these classes in a different online format where people can take them any time of day. We’re gonna have recorded sessions with quizzes and all that, and there will be a small fee to cover the administrative costs of having it in online. We’re gonna be offering them on another platform in the near future.

 

BO: Alright, sounds good. So on to bigger and better things. I hooked up my sump pump extension hose this week. Really exciting.

 

[laughter]

 

RS: That is exciting, Bill.

 

BO: Yes.

 

RS: Man, how did it go? Did you go with the corrugated?

 

BO: That’s exactly right, because that’s what showed up when they put it in, and I’m not gonna change what the manufacture did, so yeah. But it’s springtime in Minnesota, we’ve raked up all the leaves, we’ve turned on sprinkler systems, flowers are coming. What other projects should people be working on this time of year to ensure successful home ownership?

 

RS: Well, like you said last year, you gotta turn on your… You gotta do you de-winterize your outside faucets. You know what? Interesting topic on that. I’ve got something to share on that. If you have left a garden hose connected to your outside faucet, you probably destroyed it. But something else that might happen is if you’ve got a vacuum breaker on your outside faucet, it’s this little brass device that threads on the outside, if water is trapped inside there, it can destroy it. It expands in the winter and it destroys the inside, and then every time you turn on your faucet, water shoots out of that vacuum breaker in all these crazy directions. And apparently this is a big sore spot for homeowners right now. And I know this because everybody in my neighborhood on Nextdoor is talking about it. They’re all very frustrated with these vacuum breakers that leak, and the problem is that you can’t get them off. A vacuum breaker, it’s a safety device, it prevents water from going backwards in your faucet, and it’s got this little set screw. The idea is you tighten down the screw all the way until it snaps off and then your back flow preventer is permanently installed. So once it’s on there, you can’t get it off. And people get very frustrated when they can’t get them off.

 

BO: How do you winterize them, then?

 

TM: There’s a great video about that.

 

RS: Yeah. Funny you should ask.

 

TM: I know, I found it while I was doing research for my plumbing module this week. It’s like a 20-second video. We should put a link. So there’s this little plastic white thing, I don’t even know what you call it, that’s inside the faucet. And if you stick your finger in there and you push that little white thing to the side, all the water will drain out of it.

 

RS: Yeah, that’s it. We’ll have to show the video. Yeah, we don’t know the technical terms.

 

TM: Yeah, I didn’t realize you had to do that with those and that’s how you did it.

 

RS: Yeah.

 

TM: I learned something new.

 

RS: And then if it does get destroyed and you wanna take it off, the way that you take that set screw out is you take a hack saw and you make a cut into the screw to basically make a new slot, and then you take your slotted screwdriver and you unscrew it. And I made a video showing how that works too.

 

TM: Because every homeowner has a hacksaw available.

 

RS: Oh Tessa, would you stop?

 

TM: I can’t imagine… I’m just trying to think, “Would my dad be comfortable doing that?” My dad isn’t even comfortable holding a drill. That would definitely be… That would be a plumber who would have to do that.

 

RS: I tried to make this so simple by saying hacksaw. What I actually used in my video was a Sawzall or chainsaw. But I said hacksaw ’cause I figured everybody has a hacksaw.

 

TM: Everybody, yeah.

 

RS: And now you’re still giving me crap about a hacksaw.

 

TM: Well, Hal Murry maybe has access to a few hand-held screwdrivers, but that’s probably it. My mom is the one that has the drill.

 

RS: Really?

 

TM: Yeah.

 

RS: Oh my goodness.

 

BO: So what could go wrong? I imagine people trying to get this off, they don’t do it with the hacksaw because I can’t even picture that.

 

TM: That’s terrible.

 

BO: So they go get a plumbing ranch and they’re gonna back this thing off. So what’s the end of the faucet gonna look like after they remove this thing physically with a large pipe wrench?

 

RS: And I’ll tell you a couple of possibilities if you try to just get that off. And that was like half of the advice I saw in Nextdoor. All my neighbors, they’re saying, “Just get a big pipe wrench and lefty loosey righty tighty.”

 

[laughter]

 

RS: That was half the comments, to just crank on it. So here’s a couple possibilities if you try that. One, you will twist the water line inside the wall and you will rip it and make it leak like crazy inside the wall.

 

TM: Oh that’s terrible.

 

RS: That’s one possibility. The other is that you do get the back flow preventer off and the threads are gonna be completely destroyed, that set screw will just eat through the threads to get out. So no good is gonna come with taking a wrench to this thing. You’re going to ruin something. There’s no doubt about it.

 

BO: One more thing I won’t remember to do that will cause a problem. Huh, love home ownership.

 

[laughter]

 

TM: Bill, just don’t use a pipe wrench on yours. You don’t need another exploding pipe in your basement.

 

BO: So can I ask a technical question? Speaking of sprinkler systems, I have a faucet that there’s this looping pipe that goes up and goes down into the ground but there’s a faucet on the end of it. And it’s just like a normal faucet, it doesn’t have a back-flow prevent or on it, but there’s a vacuum breaker higher up, there’s a vacuum breaker on the sprinkler system, but there’s no vacuum breaker on that faucet. Is there supposed to be?

 

RS: Technically yes. And what you’re describing, Bill, that big thing sticking up in the air, it’s almost like this upside down bell-shape thing and it’s called a pressure vacuum breaker. It’ll say PVB on there. And yeah, you’ve got a faucet right next to it because somebody added that so they can winterize your system. They’re gonna connect an air compressor directly to that. And so they open it up, they blow the whole system out with air and then they shut it off. But unfortunately, it has garden hose threads on there. So because of that, somebody might connect a garden hose and then have an unprotected connection. So technically, yeah, you’re supposed to have a vacuum breaker on there and it’s just something that would thread on and you can’t install that set screw, you gotta be able to take it back off again when it’s time to blow the system out.

 

BO: Yeah, because the blown back flow preventer’s not gonna do a lot of good, right?

 

RS: No, exactly, it can’t winterize the system through one of those things.

 

BO: So officially anybody who was listening is now asleep. Sorry.

 

[laughter]

 

BO: I do have one question for you, because I got wind of a problem that a friend of a friend found this week. They live in one of the first ring suburbs here in the Twin Cities, and they discovered some water in some pipes that are in their floor that are attached to their furnace. Why is this showing up now? What were they looking at? Why is it happening? And what should they do about it?

 

TM: We could talk about that for probably a whole other entire podcast, Bill.

 

BO: Really? Okay, give me high level of it then. Give me the high level of it.

 

TM: So, it sounds like you’re talking about standing water in sub-slab ductwork, which is ductwork that is in the floor. So if you’ve got a basement or a walk-out basement or just a slab on grade house with no basement, if you’ve got ductwork that runs through that concrete, it’s we call sub-slab ductwork. And if there’s water in there, that’s a problem.

 

[laughter]

 

RS: That’s the short and sweet version of it, yeah.

 

BO: Why did somebody think putting ductwork underneath the concrete floor in a nine-foot hole was a good idea?

 

RS: Well, on paper, it’s a fantastic way to distribute the heat. You’re talking about heating the basement and basements are always cool. And the way that we always do it here in Minnesota is you have all the heat registers at the ceiling, but what does that achieve? It means that you’ve got a warm ceiling but it still makes your basement feel kinda cool. So, some genius at some point said, “Well duh, let’s have the heat coming up out of the floor. It’s gonna make for a much more comfortable space.” And it does. The physics work much better this way, but to your point, Bill, is, “Well, come on, how else could this end up? You’re gonna end up with water in there.” Is that what you’re concerned about?

 

BO: Well, that’s not my concern. That was reality. So now what?

 

RS: Well, yeah, now it’s an expensive proposition. That’s one of the biggest things that we come across during home inspections, one of the things that kind of freak people out. It’s an expensive proposition to fix this, because you gotta do something with that ductwork. Usually, what people end up doing is they abandon it in place. They seal all of the openings and then they run new ductwork, oftentimes, through finished basement areas. And we’re talking tens of thousands of dollars to fix something like this. I’ve never heard of a solution for less than that. It’s a big fix.

 

TM: Why is water a problem? Why can’t you just continue to use that ductwork with water in it?

 

RS: Well, it’s kind of like a whole house humidifier on steroids. This is the most efficient way to add copious amounts of moisture to your entire home, and it is an extremely efficient mold grower and mold transmission system. Mold is going to grow in there, I guarantee it. And now you’ve got heated air blowing over it throughout the entire home. This is a serious health issue when you’ve got standing water in those ducts. And that’s why, from a home inspection perspective, any time we’re coming across a house that has this stuff, it’s standard policy we remove every one of those covers that we can get at, we take a mirror and we look down both directions in that ductwork to make sure there’s no signs of previous water. ‘Cause if there is, we’re gonna let our client know about it and say, “Look, you oughta get somebody out here to give you another opinion on it and make sure that you never get water in here again.” That’s not easy for a company to do.

 

BO: So was this a product that popped up for a period of time and then kind of went away, or is this something that’s still in use? What’s the history behind this installation?

 

RS: I don’t know. Tessa, what do you think?

 

TM: Well, there’s different types of materials and we don’t need to get into it in this podcast, but it could be metal, it could be PVC plastic, it could be asbestos transit ductwork, or it could be… What is it, Sonotube? I wanna Sonotube, but Reuben corrected me earlier before this podcast so I didn’t sound like an idiot on the podcast. Thanks, Reuben. What is it, Sonotube?

 

RS: Sonotube.

 

TM: Yeah, it’s like a cardboard material. It’s not that common, but they could be made out of all these different things, and there’s other potential problems with those materials, but they’ve been around for a long time. It’s still being done in houses, slab-on-grade town homes or whatnot still have in-slab ductwork. But I’d say pretty common. I don’t think I saw anything before 1950. Have you seen in-slab ductwork in 19…

 

RS: Surely not.

 

TM: ’20s, ’30s, ’40s?

 

RS: It started getting popular in the ’70s.

 

TM: ’70s? Yeah, okay. Yeah, maybe even a little bit, maybe even ’60s but definitely ’70s and ’80s and up until today we see it.

 

BO: Okay. It’s not something that’s been put on the scrap heap of bad installation.

 

TM: It’s not and it hasn’t been banned. It’s not against code.

 

RS: When it’s done right, it works really well.

 

TM: Yeah, and if you’re not by a lake or if you don’t have a high water table, then it could be good. If you’re in sandy soil, yeah. But we see a lot of houses that have this sub-slab ductwork where there is evidence that there’s been water in there. You can see the rings around the ductwork and the lines where the water’s been sitting in them. And a lot of times it has to do with poor water management on the exterior or a high water table or a lot of other things that are not necessarily fixable.

 

BO: Ruben, you put the caveat, “if it’s done right.” [chuckle] What does it look like when it’s not done right? How can it not be done right? It’s just a tube in the ground.

 

RS: [chuckle] It’s all about what you’re doing to make sure that water doesn’t get in there. It’s not so much the tube itself, it’s everything else. It’s kind of like on a permanent wood foundation. They’re great on paper, but you need to have a really good water management system. And we’re talking the soil pitched properly around the outside of the house, gutters, down spouts, down spout extensions, drain tile system, and the drain tile system installed at the proper height. The drain tile needs to be installed below your sub-slab ductwork. If it’s installed above your sub-slab ductwork, there’s a really good chance that your sub-slab ductwork is gonna turn into your drain tile system. And we have seen this happen and people actually install sump pumps in their furnace return plenum. And maybe I just lost 90% of people listening when I said that, but for the other 10%…

 

[laughter]

 

RS: It’s worth it for the other 10% to imagine what I’m describing.

 

TM: Their jaws are on the floor right now.

 

RS: Yes, that’s what happened to us when we saw it.

 

BO: Alright, so this person’s got this problem, now what? You can fill it in. I guess you can abandon it in place. Is that the most surefire way to move on from this?

 

RS: Well, we’d leave it up to somebody who’s doing the work. Tessa said we’re not gonna talk about this, but we’re talking about it. There’s a local company here, they specialize in sealing these systems up. They will sanitize it and they will coat the inside of the ducts, and I think they guarantee that water won’t get in when they’re done. It’s basically this rubberized coating or something that they spray on there. They guarantee you’re never gonna get mold or water. And they’ll seal these systems up. Now, that doesn’t do anything for systems that have had some serious failure or systems where you don’t have a good water management system to start with. It’s not gonna address those, but there are ways of dealing with this that don’t involve the most expensive repairs possible. We leave that up to the professional to design the repair.

 

BO: Perfect, so home inspectors, we just learned something very, very important right there. Home inspectors do not design repairs, is that correct?

 

RS: Not unless we’re really qualified to do it and I don’t know most people who are. Yeah, we’ll leave that up to the people doing the actual work.

 

BO: Okay, so my last question of the day because we’re probably getting short on time here. What percentage of the time, during a home inspection, when you find something that should be addressed, does somebody asks the question, “How would you fix that?

 

RS: 100% of the time, probably.

 

[laughter]

 

TM: Yeah.

 

RS: Something close to that.

 

BO: Okay, so you’re always in conflict as a home inspector?

 

RS: Totally. And we share what we know. If somebody’s asking me, “What do I do about this sub-slab ductwork?” I’ll share with them what I know. “Well, there’s a company who specializes in sealing it. There are other companies who will tell you you gotta cover it over and run new ductwork. There’s other people who, like the seller, is surely gonna tell you it’s not a problem and you don’t need to do anything. So, you’ll need to do some of your own research and figure out who you trust, but these are some of your options.” That’s always gonna be the discussion we have with people.

 

BO: The most important part of that is you’re having the discussion before it’s theirs and they can make a decision on what to do.

 

RS: Yeah, and if you’re working with an agent, talk to your agent about this stuff. Have them coach you on some of this.

 

BO: Awesome. And I expect that this conversation is probably part of that curriculum that you’re providing to real estate agents as well, so you’re filling the agents in on all this information in teaching your classes, and then the inspectors are filling in clients in on this information on site. And then those two, the client and the agent go have a real conversation about what to do and then they move forward as a cohesive unit.

 

TM: Yeah.

 

BO: Wow, what a beautiful world.

 

[chuckle]

 

RS: You wrapped that up nicely Bill.

 

TM: Yes.

 

BO: I think that means we have to put a wrap on everything. You’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. And next time, we’re gonna talk about even more interesting stuff. Thanks for listening.

 

2 responses to “PODCAST: Mean feedback, leaky hose spigots, and wet sub-slab ducts”

  1. Jason
    May 4, 2020, 1:32 pm

    Not about this episode directly, but can you discuss air purification given the amount of pollen that is driving our house crazy? I’m using the lowest MERV filter on my 16x25x4 per ST recommendation when we bought our house, but I think Allergies are going to have to change that.

    Thanks,
    Jason

  2. Reuben Saltzman
    May 4, 2020, 1:45 pm

    Hi Jason,

    We’ll put that on our list for future podcast topics. Thank you for the suggestion.

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