Home Design Changes Affect Total Cost of Ownership

October 17, 2006

Puget Sound homeowners’ quest for convenience might outweigh potential maintenance risks when it comes to features of new-home construction, according to a recent examination of building trends by PEMCO Insurance. For example, the survey indicated that a laundry room inside the house is riskier.

“There’s a good reason that the homes many of us grew up in had the washer and dryer in the basement,” said Jon Osterberg, PEMCO Insurance spokesman. “When the hoses failed — as all of them do in time — the water had nowhere to go but the floor drain, leading to pipes outside the house.”

Osterberg’s comment relates to a construction feature found in many new homes: a laundry room on an upper floor, placed near the master bedroom. “Sure, it’s convenient to do laundry next to the bedroom instead of walking downstairs, but just a cracked hose can cause thousands of dollars in water damage,” Osterberg added. “Water seeps downward onto lower floors, damaging carpet, hardwood floors, walls, clothes, furniture, you name it.”

Current building-design features — including laundry room placement — are increasingly important as new home buyers consider houses with added conveniences that can affect the total cost of ownership, the survey said.

“A year ago, people were snatching up homes as soon as they hit the market, afraid of missing the opportunity to buy,” Osterberg noted. “As the market softens, home buyers now have the opportunity to be more thoughtful in their purchase decisions.”

PEMCO Insurance commissioned a survey of the top 10 homebuilders in the Puget Sound area to get a handle on trends in the past five years. PEMCO found design and construction modifications that, although they likely have no bearing on insurability, might lead to costly maintenance issues down the road.

Aside from upper-floor laundry rooms, other trends involve site placement. When the housing market was hot, homebuilders tried to accommodate consumer demands to live closer to downtown, or to have view property.

As a result, new homes are built closer together, there are more homes built on sloped lots and with flat roofs, and more homes are built on wetland fill. Also, homes now have more skylights. This brings increased risk of higher maintenance costs due to water damage, fire and earth movement.

“If you own a home that sits on a steep lot and you want to level the land, be sure to hire an engineer who is familiar with hydrostatic pressure and who can build a retaining wall that will withstand big rainstorms,” Osterberg said. “Don’t risk running to the lumber store and building one yourself.”

PEMCO uncovered several other trends and has the following recommendations:

— If you have skylights in your home, be sure to monitor the seals for leaks. Stay clear of skylights if you pressure-wash your roof. When it comes time to have your roof replaced, hire an experienced professional to replace and properly seat the seals around your skylights.

— If your home was built on a wetland, learn where the drainage lines are located and keep them clean and clear of any blocking debris. If your home has a sump pump, have it cleaned and maintained regularly.

— If you have a flat roof, clean the scuppers and drains often. The lack
of a steep pitch can cause water to pool when minor debris collects.

— If you live in a neighborhood where the homes are built close together, you’re at increased risk for fire spreading to your home. Keep the area clear of combustibles, and don’t plant shrubs between homes.

What should consumers do if they have an upper-floor laundry room? According to Osterberg, hardware stores sell an inexpensive sensor that can detect leaks and automatically turn off the water.

“Buyers need to understand how changes in home design and construction might put them at risk for costly repairs if they don’t take the proper precautions,” Osterberg said. “A little homework now can save you money and hassle down the road.”

PEMCO Insurance is a Seattle-based provider of auto, home, boat, life, and umbrella insurance to Washington state residents. Web site: www.pemco.com.

Source: PEMCO

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