We interview Minneapolis Truth-In-Sale of Housing (TISH) program supervisor Breanna Patsch during this podcast. We discuss the purpose of the Minneapolis TISH program and how the program has ‘teeth’. We also sidetrack into the licensing requirements for TISH evaluators and discuss how difficult the licensing exam is, making the National Home Inspector Exam seem like a cakewalk. We also discuss the purpose of the new Energy Disclosure requirements and talk about some specifics of that program.
At the end of the podcast, we discuss the most common repair items related to Minneapolis TISH evaluations, and Reuben mentions a one-page pdf that gets sent to all Structure Tech clients at the time they book a Minneapolis TISH evaluation. Here’s that pdf: https://structuretech.com.com/common-tish-repairs-minneapolis.pdf
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.
Breanna Patch: So the purpose of the TISH program is to ensure safe and quality housing within the City of Minneapolis. This was created a number of years ago, and really the main goal throughout since it was created to now, is to improve and maintain our housing stock in the city and then protect the public health and welfare by removing specific code violations.
Bill Oelrich: Welcome, everybody, to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, and I’m alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman as always, and we’re happy to have in studio on the podcast today, Breanna. Breanna, can you introduce your full name? Breanna’s with the City of Minneapolis and she works with the Truth in Housing program at the city and on today’s episode, we’re gonna talk about some changes that are happening to the, we call it the TISH program, T-I-S-H, Truth in the Sale of Housing, and you know how we all like to use acronyms around here. So, if you talk in code you have to explain what your code is.
Reuben Saltzman: Bill’s good at making us do that.
RS: You always play pin, you fix it.
BO: I like… I like it.
Tessa Murry: Bill speaks in acronyms.
BO: Yeah, so tell us about yourself and then we’re gonna start scratching the surface of TISHs and understand where this thing is going.
BP: My name is Breanna Patch, official title is Development Coordinator three at the City of Minneapolis, but I supervise the Truth in Sale of Housing program as well as several other programs within the construction code services department at the city. A little bit about myself, I’ve been at the city for actually just over 10 years now, working in construction code services and with the various programs for six, I’ve been supervising the program for almost three years.
BO: Okay. What’s the purpose of the TISH program?
BP: So the purpose of the TISH program is to ensure safe and quality housing within the City of Minneapolis. This was created a number of years ago, and really, the main goal throughout since it was created to now, is to improve and maintain our housing stock in the city and then protect the public health and welfare by removing specific code violations, so it allows buyers and sellers to be more informed of what’s happening at a property and how they might prepare for potential repairs or if there’s any required repairs.
BO: Required repairs? So the city can actually, they have some teeth behind this, this program?
BP: They do. So we have a number of required repairs that can be called out within the program or within a truth in housing evaluation and those required repairs are mainly life safety, some of them a little more minor ones that evaluators can actually go out and re-inspect to make sure the work was done, things like smoke detectors that are missing, CO detectors, some of them a little more majors. So safety checks on a furnace, make sure it’s functioning okay, or if something needs a permit, then that goes through the city, city inspectors check out.
BO: Cool, you wanna have some fun? Let’s do a quiz. Reuben is a TISH evaluator in the City of Minneapolis and I think we should…
BO: We should…
RS: Barely. [chuckle]
BO: Quiz him and see how well he knows…
RS: We need air quotes, when you say licensed. [chuckle]
BO: So do you have any real minutia content here that you can throw at Reuben and see if he can stomp them?
TM: We’ve never seen him fail.
RS: This is gonna be embarrassing, this is gonna be embarrassing. I’m gonna fail miserably.
BP: I was gonna say, I gotta try to think of a situation that we’ve had recently, I don’t off the top of my head.
RS: Chapter 249.
BP: Chapter 2… Oh!
RS: Oh wait, I wasn’t ready, I was…
BP: Oh hey, what do most of the violations go off of?
RS: No, that’s it, that’s it, we’re doing jeopardy here.
BP: See? [chuckle]
TM: What does that even mean? What does chapter 248, what is that?
BP: 248, that’s what most of our violations come out of.
BP: It’s the… Do you know what it is?
RS: The housing, Minneapolis housing maintenance code.
BP: Well done.
TM: Minneapolis housing maintenance code.
RS: I got one!
BO: You got it.
RS: Yeah, right there.
BO: Okay. So this game is on the entire podcast.
BP: Great. [chuckle]
BO: So if anything pops in your head, just stop and ask a question.
BP: Toss it at him?
BO: Yeah, absolutely.
BP: Fair enough.
BO: Absolutely. So, Reuben, how many years have you been a licensed evaluator?
RS: I think it was like 2004-2005, one of those two. It’s been a while.
RS: Yeah, and I’ve kinda dropped off of really even doing TISHes, I maintain my license ’cause it was a huge pain to get it. I mean, oh my goodness, what do you guys do for testing now? It’s like once every two years?
BP: It actually hadn’t been offered for about five years ’cause there was a transition between…
TM: Oh gosh!
BP: Supervisors and stuff, so we just offered it this last fall, and it is a heck of a test and then, yeah, and so we’re actually gonna offer it ’cause it had been so long, we’ll offer it again this fall and then we’re looking at about every other year offering the test for potential evaluators.
RS: When you compare it to other stuff, there was like, there’s the national home inspector exam, and there’s clear outline study material for it, here’s what you do and everybody on our team, it’s like you take the national home inspector exam, you pass it, everybody passes it, people get worried about it and they get weird abut it, but it’s like, “Look, here’s what you do, you’re gonna be okay.’ The TISH exam, I’m like, “You’re probably gonna fail.” It’s… [chuckle]
BP: It covers a lot. [laughter]
RS: Yeah, yeah, it is crazy and they’re like, “Oh well, what do you gotta study?” Well, you need to be familiar with the IRC and the plumbing codes and the mechanical codes and…
BP: Everything, yeah.
RS: And it’s like, “Oh, so I just get all these books and know what’s in there, huh?” Oh, and you need to know the Minneapolis housing maintenance code and the TISH guidelines…
BP: And the TISH guidelines, yeah.
RS: While you’re at it.
RS: Yeah, it’s…
RS: It’s crazy how much you need to know.
BP: We’re gonna try to come up with a guidelines and stuff like that, ’cause it is, it’s to say, “Hey, this giant code, and this giant code and building and plumbing and mechanical”, and not to be specific is not worth studying. There’s no way to know exactly what you really need, so…
RS: Yeah. What’s the passing rate on that? Do you know?
BP: The last time they offered it five or six years ago, nobody passed.
RS: Oh my gosh!
BP: Yeah, with doing it this time, we’ve definitely readjusted a lot of the requirements. So the percentage you need to get right to pass, we have it at, I believe, 70 or 75%. They had it at 80, which is really pretty high for any exam that you would normally take.
TM: Great, dropped that down.
BP: Exactly, and then we actually did, so we redid the whole exam to meet current code and we found that there were four or five questions that everybody got wrong and we thought that doesn’t work. You can’t have every single person get those wrong. And so, we crossed those out. We gave people points for those, so they didn’t count towards their total. It’s a work in progress. I had never been there when this was offered, so I definitely want to adjust things to make it much more friendly to the people trying to apply and pass this.
TM: The national home inspector examination, it’s not required. You don’t have to take that to be a home inspector here in Minnesota, you don’t have to be licensed to be on that, but there’s this national exam that home inspectors can take, and there’s this board that oversees it and sometimes I volunteer. Reuben, you’ve done this too you’ve volunteered to help write exam questions and edit exam questions. Part of it is going through and looking at the stats of how many people are getting these questions right or wrong…
TM: And then realizing, “Oh this is poorly written, or… Oh, this is not relevant or… ” and then taking out or editing it.
RS: Yeah, too many people get it right.
RS: It’s got to…
TM: It’s too easy.
RS: We get it wrong.
RS: Throw it out, there’s a problem with the question.
BP: Yep. Yeah.
RS: It is crazy how much time is spent digging into every one of those questions.
TM: Every question.
RS: What’s the term they use, it’s a psychometrically validated exam or something like that.
TM: Oh, I can’t I don’t remember the term.
RS: There’s a term for it.
RS: There’s a testing company, that oversees that. We’re going down the rails, but…
BP: Yeah. Things for us to learn.
RS: There’s a lot that goes into testing.
BO: Well, I think any question I’ve gotten wrong on a test was poorly worded.
RS: Amen brother. Amen.
BO: Today we have Briana Patch in the studio with us, and we’re talking about the Minneapolis TISH Program. So let’s dive into this a little bit, what can you tell me about this new energy disclosure, that’s becoming part of the TISH Program?
BP: Absolutely, so the energy disclosure, which went live mid-January this year, is in addition to our truth in Housing program. It was brought forward by our City Council, they’ve been making a lot of efforts to reduce the carbon footprint throughout the whole city. One of those efforts has been directly towards the buildings and housing in the city. Truth in sale of housing being one of the three programs that they’ve looked at. So the energy disclosure adds in a few additional items that our evaluators will be looking at. This includes wall insulation, attic insulation, heating plants and single pane windows. So, all of these items except wall insulation, the evaluators were already looking at, so we just added a few extra items to get more specifics. And the wall insulation is the one new one and this is the requirement that’s been a little controversial ’cause we are having a two-inch hole drilled into a wall in a discreet location.
RS: Invasive testing.
BP: Yeah, yeah. That is exactly what we heard.
BP: So, but having your walls insulated makes a really big difference on the energy efficiency of your home. So, that’s one of the reasons we’re doing this check. It is a standard part of any full energy audit you’d get from say the Home Energy Squad, that is why we tax that into this. Evaluators do it in a discreet location. It’s plugged as soon as they’re done checking, drilling that hole in, so not too bad, but we do know some people have been a little concerned, so.
RS: I’ve got a question, and this is just something that people have asked me many times and I just go, “I’m just the messenger don’t ask me!” People will say, “Why just one area, how can you base the whole house on one test hole location?”
BP: Sure. So, some of this we did go off as we worked with the Center for Energy and Environment. They are the people that work directly with our utilities to do the Home Energy Squad. And so that was one of the things that they had kind of recommended. They only do one hole in the wall. You could certainly do more but, in general, we find with unless there’s a new edition, with a home, all the original walls, you’re gonna find the same general insulation in them.
BP: And so though it’s only checking one small little section, the idea is that if there’s all the original walls, you’re gonna see the same insulation throughout, most likely.
BO: You use it as a word there. “Original.” So, are you asking your evaluators to assess a house and be like, “Okay that’s original or this is an addition”, or things of that nature like, asking people to use their best judgment, to give the best information?
BP: Yep, yep. We do let them know that it should be in one of the original walls, exterior facing wall…
BO: Kind of worst case scenario, care to say?
BP: Yes, yes. That’s what we wanna look at. ‘Cause an addition, if you did an addition, it’s only part of the house. So, and we do have it set up in our program. So, any home that’s built in 1980, or after, so between 1980 to now, will not need the wall insulation check and the reason for that is the energy code went into place in 1980. Your walls now need to be insulated when you build a new home. So, the assumption is your walls are fine, you have insulation in your walls. But anything prior to that… But it’s important to do the original walls, as opposed to… Hey, you got an addition off the back if that was done after 1980, you probably have wall insulation in that piece of your house.
BO: Sure, that’s interesting, that’s the first time I’ve heard the word “Original”, in all our conversations, and that makes more sense.
RS: And I gotta ask you this too. And I don’t wanna get myself in trouble but…
RS: With something that we’ve done, this is everybody’s biggest concern when we’re doing these energy evaluations now, “Where are you gonna put the hole?” And so, to kinda get over this, we tell people ahead of the time, “Hey, look. We gotta drill this hole. Pick out an inconspicuous spot, that you like and mark it for us. Put some tape there, or if you’re gonna be there, just point it out. Pick somewhere, and then we’re not gonna have any problems.” But, do you foresee any problem with that? What if somebody is like, “Oh yeah, I got this addition, I just put on last year, I want you to drill here.” What would you say about that?
BP: That’s fair. So, it has absolutely come up as a concern in some of the trainings I did to teach the evaluators of all of these new changes. One of the things I did talk about, and I recommend is, prior to going out when the evaluator is scheduling inspection. Give a heads up. “Hey, this is part of the program. Now, we will be drilling a hole in the wall. Do you have a spot you want? Otherwise, I’m gonna look for a discreet location in a closet, under a sink, in the cabinet, something that’s not dead center of your dining room wall.”
BP: That’s very very visible, so and then, if someone has a recommendation, awesome, that works perfect. They know where it’s gonna be, they’re prepared for it. If they don’t, then finding a discreet location. So if they recommend doing the hole in a brand new edition, we do ask the evaluators to let them know that we are looking for the original walls. If they absolutely push forward that that’s where they want it located, we’re not looking for fights, or anger, or anything like that, they can either be referred to our office and we can talk to them more about why that’s important to do on original wall as opposed to an addition.
BO: We’re having a conversation today with Brianna Patch from the City of Minneapolis about TISHs. And so Tessa, I wanted to ask you, we can make some pretty broad assumptions about old houses. They probably have very little insulation. And what happens when you add insulation to an old house, the side walls of an old house that were never built that way. Does it increase the energy efficiency a ton for that house? We’re not adding all the elements of a properly sealed home then. What’s it doing for us?
TM: The easy answer to that question is, it does reduce your heating cooling costs when you fill an empty wall cavity with insulation. In general, the broad answer, but you do have to think about some other things too when you add insulation to a house, if you make it more air tight, if you do any air ceiling work, it can change how that house works. So you have to think about those things, too.
BO: Can you add air ceiling to a plaster wall?
TM: Well, when people are… Usually, when people are adding insulation to their exterior walls, they do it with a drill and fill method. Is that what you’re familiar with, Breanna too?
BP: Yeah, yup.
TM: Yeah, so they’ll cut a hole in between each stud and then fill it with insulation. Usually, they’re using something like blown cellulose, right?
TM: And so, cellulose, it’s not gonna stop air movement like a spray foam would, so it’s not perfectly air tight. Air can still move through it, but it’s gonna slow it down a little bit.
BO: Okay. So it’s like me putting on my puffy coat without a shell. The wind will still move through it.
BO: But or air will still move through it, but it’s not completely sealed.
BO: So I guess, my question for you, Ms. Building Science expert is, is there a way in a retrofit application to add air ceiling to this wall construct?
TM: Unless, you fill it with closed cell spray foam, you’d have to take the wall apart to add a vapor barrier, yeah.
RS: Yeah, but even if you do a closed cell spray foam, you can’t just start at the top and fill it. It’s like, you need to take off one side of the wall, you need to spray it against the surface, and it needs to dry.
TM: You know what? There’s this type of foam, and I don’t know if you’ve seen this brand, too, where they can stick the hose in the wall cavity and pull the hose out and fill the cavity with foam.
RS: I’ve seen that.
RS: Yeah, but it’s like a closed cell foam, right?
TM: It’s not, but it would be air tight than if you’d fill it with foam. But yeah, it’s probably not gonna happen to make a wall perfectly air tight and have a vapor barrier like a new house would have, you wouldn’t do that. You would just get that added value that would help insulate the house a little bit better, and help reduce heat loss, and save you money on your heating cooling costs.
BO: Okay, alright. So it’s better than nothing.
BO: But it’s not as good as what we’re doing now with… Obviously, if you can build it perfectly right away, that’s better. Okay, so what other kinds of things came up in the conversations when you were talking about implementing the energy disclosure stuff? Did you have any other concerns?
BP: I gotta say, one of those most surprising things for me and seeing how these from prior to go live to now that we’ve been in it for almost a month is, I think, there were concerns on our end of people are gonna really push back on this. There’s an option to appeal having the wall installation check, especially, in situations of if you’ve already had your walls insulated or built before 1980, but had your walls insulated or other various situations, you have that opportunity. And I absolutely expected a giant influx of appeals that people are saying, “Absolutely not. I don’t want this. This is terrible.” And we’ve actually gotten more people calling in with concerns of saying, “Why is my score so low? But I did this or I’m up to grading my furnace,” or different things like that. “I want you to update our energy report so that it’s showing a more accurate score.”
BO: Like how much work I put into my house to make it better than it was when I purchased it.
BP: So people are actually very interested in making their score higher, or it accurately reflecting exactly what they have going on to show, “Hey, my score isn’t 85 or it’s a 100.” ‘Cause the score ranges from 0-100, you can absolutely hit 100 if you have met those four areas.
RS: Let me ask you a specific question on that. One of the scoring areas is your furnace. What’s the metric? Can you explain to us the metric for scoring on your furnace?
BP: So what they… I can do a little bit. Center for Energy and Environment is much better at it than me. The three key areas that we look at with this is the type of heating plant, whether it’s a boiler furnace and within those what type of boiler furnace or electric baseboard.
TM: Like efficiency ratings?
BP: Yep. And then, we look at the venting type, and then we look at the age. But what we specifically look at for age is, is it 20 years or older, or is it less than 20 years? The age doesn’t actually affect the score at all. And what it specifically does is, if it’s say, over 20 years old, the language on the energy disclosure report will actually show, “Hey, your furnace is over 20, you might wanna consider replacing it.” Now, some furnaces or boilers are meant to last longer than 20 years, so, you have to know that or maybe take it with a grain salt knowing, “You know what? It’s actually not that bad.”
BP: But many times a furnace that’s over or boiler over 20 years old, isn’t as energy efficient as if you got a newer one. And then from there, what it looks at very much is really the type of heating plant, and then the venting type. And the points are assigned based on that. If you have a condensing furnace, you get all the points, that’s awesome. And it goes from there as it lines things up.
RS: But for the vent type, it’s basically… It’s gonna be one or two categories, either it’s condensing or it’s not condensing, right?
BP: There are three options; there’s condensing natural draft and…
RS: Fan assisted?
BP: I think so. Yeah. Something like that. Yep. So the condensing… I think it’s this condensing PVC here.
TM: We’re getting real technical here, sorry Breanna.
BP: That’s okay. You guys are testing my knowledge. But yeah, the condensing or PVC pipe I think is the absolute most efficient, and then it goes down.
BO: So let’s talk about this condensing thing because, for people like me who don’t always understand all these things, condensing just means it’s high efficiency, correct?
RS: Well, that’s about it. Yeah.
BP: Okay. Alright.
RS: Yeah, a good way of putting it.
BO: If it’s got a big big round chimney coming out of the top of it, it’s not condensing?
RS: A big metal thing that gets really hot, it’s not high efficiency. If it’s got plastic coming off the top like PVC or ABS…
TM: White pipes or something…
RS: Something used for a drain, it’s high efficiency. It’s condensing. Another term for that is 90 Plus. It’s at least 90% efficient or more. And it means that it removes so much heat from the exhaust gas that you’re left with a bunch of moisture, and to handle that moisture, you need a drain pipe.
BO: There you go.
BP: Learning something new.
BO: Broken down right to the facts you need to know. Awesome. Well, Breanna, is there anything else you wanna throw on here? We’re getting short on time, I could ask 40 more questions, but, our podcast would end up being three hours long.
TM: Just to jump in real quick, there are a couple of questions: One, what can we tell homeowners that are asking, what do I need to do to prepare for a TISH, when they ask us? Is there any good information or… What can we tell them?
BP: Sure. So our… On the Our City Minneapolis web page we actually have a truth in housing page dedicated to just a lot of that information. Have some documents that specifically talk about common repairs that might be called out, or just kind of how the evaluation is done. Why do we do this? All that kind of stuff. It’s got a little bit about the energy disclosure. We actually have a Frequently-Asked-Questions document to give them some information. It provides additional information, it provides our contact information for our office. You can always call us, we are always happy to answer any questions. You can email, we’re available Monday through Friday during the day, and we’re happy to help anybody out with concerns, questions, thoughts…
RS: And, I’ve got something to tack on there for any of our clients or… Well, if you’re one of our clients or not, if you’re getting ready to sell a house in Minneapolis, you guys have got a fantastic one-page thing for how to get ready for your TISH that you mentioned. And, I have gone through… And for all the ones where people had any trouble with it, they’re like “Wait, the toilet fill valve needs to be adjusted to this, what do I do? And nobody could figure this out.
RS: And over the last 12 years or so, I’ve written blog posts on everything that is difficult to understand on that list. And then I’ve put together my own one page list, and I listed all… Well, the stuff that we most commonly call out, along with hyperlinks to blog posts that I’ve written where I’ve got videos showing you how to fix this stuff. So… And this is… That’s a one-page document that we send all of our clients at the time that we book the Truth in Housing. So anytime somebody books a Truth in Housing with us…
TM: That’s great information.
RS: We automatically send it. The second they book it’s like, “Hey we’re coming out, look over this list, this is the most common stuff, and 99% of the repairs are on this list that we’ve put together.”
TM: That’s cool. We’ll put a link. We’ll put a link…
BO: Hey Reuben, can we have some fun?
RS: We will.
BO: Can you tell everybody where they can find those blogs? [laughter]
TM: What? There’s no one?
BO: Yeah, nice. [laughter]
RS: Yes, you thought I was gonna say structuretech1.com, didn’t you? [laughter] Yeah. Yeah.
BO: Yes, you’re smiling, can you explain…
RS: And we have a… We have a new URL, we’ve finally purchased structuretech.com. Way back in the day, you had to pay… I don’t know, some ridiculous fee, it was up to $60,000 for this but, I finally got it for a reasonable price.
BO: So Breanna, I have one last question, ’cause… I’m just curious, is Minneapolis as a city, are they a leader in a program like this around the country, or, is this something that many cities have?
BP: The Truth in Sale of Housing, that program in general is actually done by a lot of cities. There’s a number of them that do it within Minnesota, a lot of the suburbs surrounding Minneapolis, St Paul. But, there are a lot of cities within the US that also do this. As for the energy disclosure piece, that is actually very new. In the studies and research we did prior to even bringing this forward, there were only a handful of them that did any sort of energy disclosure. I believe only one city which was Portland if I’m not mistaken, actually required energy repairs, whereas we don’t.
TM: They require energy repairs?
BP: Yep. Or they have required repairs that are connected to that.
BP: For our energy disclosure, it’s strictly informational, we don’t require any repairs with that, we just want the public to be informed.
BO: Awesome. Very good. Well, the voice you just heard was Breanna Patch, with the City of Minneapolis. She’s in charge of the Truth in the Sale of Housing Program there, which was what we were just talking about some recent changes to it. Thanks everybody for listening, that’s gonna wrap it up for this podcast. You’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. We’ll catch you next time.