Engineer in Hell

An engineer dies and reports to the pearly gates. St. Peter checks his dossier and says, “Ah, you’re an engineer — you’re in the wrong place.”

So, the engineer reports to the gates of hell and is let in. Pretty soon, the engineer gets dissatisfied with the level of comfort in hell, and starts designing and building improvements. After awhile, they’ve got air conditioning and flush toilets and escalators, and the engineer is a pretty popular guy.

One day, God calls Satan up on the telephone and says with a sneer, “So, how’s it going down there in hell?”

Satan replies, “Hey, things are going great. We’ve got air conditioning and flush toilets and escalators, and there’s no telling what this engineer is going to come up with next.”

God replies, “What??? You’ve got an engineer? That’s a mistake — he should never have gotten down there; send him up here.”

Satan says, “No way. I like having an engineer on the staff, and I’m keeping him.”

God says, “Send him back up here or I’ll sue.”

Satan laughs uproariously and answers, “Yeah, right. And just where are YOU going to get a lawyer?”

Ten Things You Don’t Know About the Texas Inspector

Aug 29, 13 • News

  1. The Texas Inspector (dba Aaron Miller) is a former residential remodeling contractor and custom home builder. For 20 years he constructed and renovated homes and light commercial buildings in the North Central Texas area. 
  2. The Texas Inspector, Aaron D. Miller, ACI, CEI, CMI, CPI, CRI, MTI, RCI  is the most certified residential inspector in North Central Texas.
    1. International Code Council (ICC) Residential Combination Inspector 5082671-R5
    2. International Code Council (ICC) Residential Building Inspector 5082671-B1
    3. International Code Council (ICC) Residential Electrical Inspector 5082671-E1
    4. International Code Council (ICC) Residential Mechanical Inspector 5082671-M1
    5. International Code Council (ICC) Residential Plumbing Inspector 5082671-P1
    6. American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) Certified Inspector No. 203652
    7. National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI) Certified Real Estate Inspector, CRI 200353
    8. International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (INACHI), Certified Professional Inspector No. NACHI05060294
    9. Master Inspector Certification Board, Certified Master Inspector
    10. Texas Association of Real Estate Inspectors, Advanced Inspector, Emeritus
    11. Texas Professional Real Estate Inspectors Association (TPREIA) Master TPREIA Inspector (MTI)
    12. Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) Professional Inspector 4336
    13. Texas Department of Agriculture, Structural Pest Control Service Registered Business No. 11379
    14. Texas Department of Agriculture, Structural Pest Control Service Certified Applicator No. 40247
    15. HUD 203K Consultant D0981
    16. Exterior Design Institute (EDI/EIMA) EIFS Third Party Inspector and Moisture Analyst (CEI) MA TX-29
    17. Post-Tensioning Institute Level One Certificate for Unbonded Prestreesed Post-Tensioned Concrete Installer No. 320054833
    18. CertainTeed® Master Shingle Applicator
    19. Building Officials Association of Texas (BOAT)
    20. Texas Residential Construction Commission (TRCC), Registered Builder No. 16229
    21. Texas Residential Construction Commission (TRCC), Registered State Third-Party Dispute Resolution Inspector No. 1350
    22. City of Garland, Texas Building and Fire Codes Board Member
    23. Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) Inspector Core Instructor, Texas Standards of Practice/Legal/Ethics Update, ICE Electives
    24. International Distance Education Certification Center, Certified Distance Education Instructor (CDEI) 67923
    25. McKissock Education, LP, Instructor of Record for the State of Texas
  3. The Texas Inspector has been a full-time Texas home inspector for more than 16 years. Working 60-hour weeks brings that near a total of 45,000 hours on the job, allowing for the occasional vacation. No matter which of the prevailing theories regarding what it takes to achieve expertise, i.e. 10,000 hours vs. 10 years, Aaron has achieved expertise in spades.
  4. The Texas Inspector is a cabinet maker by trade. Attention to detail is the hallmark of any cabinet maker. That same concentrated focus is applied to each inspection performed.
  5. The Texas Inspector is a true consumer advocate. In his signature exceedingly plainspoken style, he tells it exactly like it is regardless of the consequences. When spending multiple hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars on a home, who needs BS? This has often gotten him into hot water with his licensing and certification agencies who find that too much truth being spoken about their industries is not good for business. The Texas Inspector is your advocate and the only one watching your back in the home buying process.
  6. The Texas Inspector has won the prestigious Angie’s List Super Service Award every year since 2007 and is slated to win it again this year. The people have spoken, and that says it all.
  7. The Texas Inspector has more than 10,000 satisfied clients (with a couple, OK maybe a few more, exceptions).
  8. The Texas Inspector does not cater to builders or their agents, or real estate agents.
  9. The Texas Inspector uses the most up-to-date technology during home inspections to include special investigative cameras, precision altimeters, moisture meters, et al.
  10. He presently lives in Garland, TX, with his wife over 30 years, cats, a koi pond in the midst of a small forest garden, and a couple of thousand books.

Ten Things You Don’t Know About Your Texas Home Inspector

Aug 29, 13 • Texas Home Inspectors

1. Home inspectors in Texas are not required to have any home construction experience. While they are required to be licensed, licensing is merely a license to conduct business issued by the Texas Real Estate Commission, which is a bit like the fox guarding the hen house. Licensing requirements are minimal, just like the inspections that most Texas inspectors perform.

2. Your Texas home inspector is not required to know the building code. The Texas Real Estate Commission does not require inspectors to be certified in the building code. In fact, they even allow uncertified inspectors to inspect new homes under construction. The building codes are the basis for determining the structural integrity and safety of a home. Without certification in these codes an inspector is not qualified to critique a builder’s work or judge the performance of an older home.

3. Your Texas home inspector is not going to look at everything in the house. While the popular TV star Mike Holmes may lead one to believe that Texas home inspectors should rip open walls during Texas home inspections to look for underlying issues, nothing could be further from the truth. While that may work on a scripted TV show, no seller in his right mind would allow such a thing to happen to his house, and damaging property to that extent is strictly prohibited by the Texas Real Estate Commission. Barring a $60K portable X-Ray machine or X-Ray vision, your Texas home inspector cannot see inside of the walls.

4.  Your Texas home inspector will not give you a guarantee on your house. Your optional home warranty (service policy), which costs a minimum of $650 per year plus service call charges, does not guarantee everything in your house. Your homeowner’s insurance policy, which costs roughly 0.7% of the value of the house per year, does not guarantee everything in your house. What would lead you to believe that a $400 – 500 visual inspection would? Your Texas home inspector is not an insurance company. It is important to note here that some inspectors offer a 90-day warranty on their inspections for free. Hopefully, you have lived long enough to know how many things of true value are offered to you for free.

5. Your Texas home inspector may be affiliated with your Texas real estate agent, the seller’s real estate agent, the Texas homebuilder or all of the above. Most Texas inspectors first entering the business have a license and no clients. The fastest way to find clients is through real estate agents. Many agents willing to refer new inspectors do so with certain strings attached. Worse yet are the agent’s preferred vendors. These are vendors like lenders, title companies, appraisers, surveyors, and including inspectors, who pay a monthly or annual fee to be referred. These Texas inspectors dance to the tune of the referring agents.

6. Your Texas home inspector is not required to carry liability insurance. Licensed Texas inspectors are required to carry professional liability insurance, but no general liability insurance. If the inspector damages the seller’s property and the inspector is not insured, he may go after you for damages.

7. Your Texas home inspector is not omnipotent. Many aspects of a house or the property upon which it is sited do not fall under the purview of the home inspector. These aspects include, but are not limited to, onsite sewage treatment facilities (septic systems), swimming pools and spas, the presence of radon gas, the presence of lead-based paints, the presence of mold, et al. Many of these items require special knowledge, skill sets and separate licensing by the state of Texas.

8. Your Texas home inspector is not an appraiser or surveyor. Appraisers are in the business of assessing property values, while the surveyor’s job is to determine the metes and bounds or property lines. Both of these professions require separate licenses not related to the licenses required by Texas home inspectors.

9. Your Texas home inspector may not be licensed. Engineers are allowed to inspect houses in the state of Texas without a license. It matters not if they are trained to design bowling balls or brassieres and know nothing of structures. Even many structural engineers are poorly suited to inspect residential structures. These are almost never addressed in engineering schools. And, a competent structural engineer commands a much higher salary in the commercial realm than does a home inspector in the residential realm. So, one might ask, why would an engineer be inspecting houses?

10. Your Texas home inspector may be inexperienced. Your inspector may be a newbie. The American Society of Home Inspectors requires 250 verifiable completed inspections prior to certification. A consensus among veteran home inspectors reveals that number should be a minimum of 1500.

What Does Code Certification Entail?

Aug 21, 13 • Building Codes, News

When you are buying or selling a house you will hear a lot of discussion about the building codes. Many homeowners are unclear as to what the significance of these codes is. That uncertainty extends to home builders and real estate professionals as well. So, let’s take a minute to discuss these.

Builders and real estate agents often mistakenly think (and sometimes deceitfully espouse) that the codes are in place to insure quality construction. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Simply put, building codes are the worst that you can build a building by law. You read that right. Building a building strictly to the codes, and not more, will not guarantee a durable, high quality building. The codes only seek to insure that a building is reasonably safe.

Most home buyers expect homes that have greater durability, performance, and quality than the building codes alone dictate in their minimum requirements. Contrast that with the fact that home builders are only required to build to the minimal requirements of the codes and the municipal inspectors inspect for compliance only with these minimal codes. This is the point at which the proverbial stuff hits the fan.

Let’s go a bit further down the rabbit hole, shall we? The Texas Real Estate Commission licenses home inspectors. They not only do not require that these licensed inspectors know anything about the building codes, they specifically exclude any requirement for such knowledge in their published standards of practice for professional inspectors.

Now let’s put this in perspective, if we can. Homeowners expect and demand quality, durable homes. The municipalities and their inspectors only require that the builders build to the bare minimum standards, insuring neither quality nor durability. The independent inspectors the state of Texas foists upon the homeowners are not even required to be familiar with the minimal requirements. What’s wrong with this picture?

Your only hope in assuring a safe, well-constructed home is to hire a professional inspector who is certified in the building codes and has extensive home construction experience. Code certification consists of becoming intimately familiar with the massive amount of information contained in the building codes, sitting for a battery of examinations, and then maintaining proficiency in this knowledge by continuing education.

The International Residential Code is a 904-page volume which contains an extensive list of referenced standards.

The International Building Code is a 690-page volume which also contains an extensive list of referenced standards.

The National Electrical Code, NFPA 70, is an 870-page volume which also contains an extensive list of referenced standards (see Annex A, Product Safety Standards).

These are the core references any inspector of new or existing homes must be intimately familiar with in order to achieve and maintain competence as an inspector.

And, did I mention that each of these codes is significantly rewritten every three years? Hence the requirement to constantly study the codes in order to maintain certification. 

In short, if your inspector is not code certified he is unable to perform a competent inspection. 

Ten Things You Don’t Know About Your Texas Real Estate Agent

1. Your Texas real estate agent may not assist you in finding a competent Texas home inspector. In fact, they may purposely steer you away from the best Texas inspectors. Many agents will not allow a thorough Texas home inspector to kill their deal. They go to great lengths to insure that you choose an inspector that either is new to the business and knows little to nothing about inspecting or has been in the business long enough to become friends with all of the local agents in order to get their referrals. Meticulous and technically-oriented Texas inspectors are blackballed, especially in neighborhoods with pricier homes.

2. Your Texas real estate agent may not even really be working exclusively for you. If you contact the agent on the yard sign of a house you are interested in and contract with this agent to represent you, you are likely making a huge mistake. This agent’s first loyalty and duty is to the seller, and not to you. What was once somewhat accurately referred to as “dual agency”, is now operating under the more PC name of “intermediary relationship”. This is essentially where the agent is representing both parties to a resale contract. Or, simply put, it is like using your opponent’s attorney to represent you in a civil suit.

3. Your Texas real estate agent may not be licensed. Agents who work for home Texas home builders are not even required to be licensed. Since they have no standards of practice or code of ethics to be concerned with, they can lie to you about anything and everything, and often do.

4. Your Texas real estate agent may be practicing law without a license. While prohibited by the Texas Real Estate Commission, some agents choose to attempt to interpret the resale contracts for their clients without the use of an attorney. 

5. Your Texas real estate agent’s commission is negotiable. This tidbit will, of course, never be offered up to you without some significant prying on your part. 

6. Your Texas real estate agent may tell you that your home warranty (service policy), or homebuilder’s warranty will cover everything your inspector finds during his inspection. This is simply not true. Home warranties cover only certain parts of some major systems. As with all insurance policies, exclusions abound. Read the fine print.

7. Your Texas real estate agent may not be a trained or competent negotiator. The one essential skill required to be a competent agent is negotiation. This issue is only lightly touched upon in their required training. If your agent does not come to the profession with these skills there is little chance they will acquire them through osmosis. Any reasonably skilled negotiator would understand the value of a thorough inspection and a long, detailed inspection report when dealing with a seller, home builder or their agents.

8. Your Texas real estate agent may not be autonomous. Many real estate teams, consisting of a lead agent and their many minions, have delegated responsibilities for the different aspects of the sales or purchase process to underlings. They follow procedure and are often just going through the scripted motions while dealing with buyers like you.

9. Your Texas real estate agent may tell you that items found by your Texas inspector are not an issue because they are “grandfathered”. This term indicates that the issue was allowed at the time of the construction of the house, but is no longer considered appropriate or safe. The Texas Real Estate Commission does not recognize this as a valid concept. No safety or other issues are grandfathered.

10. Your Texas real estate agent may be incompetent. Napoleon Bonaparte is attributed with the saying, “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence”. Having said all that, many agents are indeed competent. In the final analysis it is likely better to venture forth into a real estate transaction with even a moderately competent agent than with none.

Ten Things You Don’t Know About Your Texas Homebuilder

Aug 2, 13 • Texas Home Builders

1. Your builder is unlicensed. Homebuilding is an unregulated industry in Texas, and always has been. Considering how complex the homebuilding process is, how serious the consequences are if it is done incorrectly, and how much of the consumers’ money is at stake, you might expect Texas homebuilders to have to answer to scrupulous regulatory authority. But, Texas homebuilders are not regulated by the state.

2. In order for your Texas homebuilder to build the large houses with all the amenities the home buying public is demanding, corners must not only be cut, but mangled. Low-quality and substandard construction techniques have always plagued the production Texas homebuilding industry, but the recent collapse of the homebuilding market, combined with the ever-increasing costs associated with construction have greatly exacerbated the problem. Now that the Texas real estate market has begun to rebound, labor and material shortages are even further decreasing the quality of new homes.

3. Your Texas builder will build your house on land that is, in the words of the United States Geological Survey, “not suitable for urban development”. The burgeoning North Texas population and consequent urban sprawl means that all of the best land for building houses has already been taken. The highly expansive nature of the North Central Texas soils makes them useful for some agricultural applications and practically useless for the building of homes.

4. The municipal Texas inspectors will not protect you from your builder’s substandard work. City inspectors in Texas are tasked with enforcing the minimal building codes adopted by their cities. They are basically tax collectors in disguise, collecting their permit fees while performing often less than thorough inspections. Your Texas builder often dictates what the municipal building inspection department enforces. Through political pressure on high the builders and developers mold the enforcement of the adopted building codes to suit their bottom line. The result is what is referred to as selective code enforcement. This is where the building official arbitrarily decides which portions of the adopted building code to enforce and which portions to let the builders slide on.

5. Your new Texas home third-party warranty (that’s right, your builder farms these warranties out to others) is not worth the paper it is written on. Texas builders really hard-sell their 10-year warranties, as if they have considerable value. Read the fine print. Did you know that your structural warranty will only actually cover anything if the distress causes the house to become uninhabitable? One of the most popular warranty companies lists over 70 exclusions.

6. Your Texas builder is not selling you a custom home (99% of the time). True custom homes are designed by architects and constructed on property already owned by the person having the home built. All the rest are off-the-shelf production houses that bear little, if any resemblance to their custom cousins.

7. Your Texas builder’s “Builder of the Year” award is a farce. There are too many organizations to count that award these bogus titles. Most are either Texas builder organizations or subsidiary companies formed just for the purpose of distributing phony awards to their members. Much like the “(Your City) Magazine” top-10 lists, the awards are voted on by the members who paid to advertise in that issue.

8. Your Texas builder does not hire skilled craftsmen to build your new home. Most construction crews working for production builders are hired on a low-bidder basis. Many are crews headed by one quasi-knowledgeable tradesman and populated by laborers picked daily from the local taqueria parking lot or labor pool gathering place.

9. Your Texas builder does not know the building code. Along with all of the other negative aspects of being unregulated, your builder is not required to be certified in the adopted building codes. He relies upon his unskilled subcontractors to know how to perform the work at hand.

10. Your Texas builder will often attempt to convince a buyer that his own independent third-party inspector will be inspecting your new house in an attempt to prevent you from hiring your own Texas inspector. Say what? How independent can the builder’s inspector be if the builder is paying him?

Books About Houses

Aug 1, 13 • Books to Read

The following is a list of books that may interest you: 

Bad Move – Linwood Barclay (Read this first if you ever had the urge to do away with your less-than-talented Texas builder . . .)

Walden – Henry David Thoreau

At Home – Bill Bryson

A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder– Michael Pollan

Poetics of Space – Gaston Bachelard 

Experiencing Architecture – Steen Eiler Rasmussen

The Ten Books on Architecture – Vitruvius Polli

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction – Christopher Alexander

The Timeless Way of Building – Christopher Alexander

The Production of Houses – Christopher Alexander

Home: A Short History of an Idea – Witold Rybczynski

House As a Mirror of Self: Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home – Clare Cooper Marcus

House Thinking: A Room-by-Room Look at How We Live – Winifred Gallagher

Tiny Houses – Lester Walker

A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf

Books by Christopher Alexander

Home: American Writers Remember Rooms of their Own, Sharon and Steve Fiffer

Thoughts of Home: Reflections on Families, Houses, and Homelands, Elaine Greene 

The Experience of Place: A New Way of Looking At and Dealing with Our Radically Changing Cities and Countryside, Tony Hiss

A Place Called Home: Twenty Writing Women Remember, Mickey Pearlman

Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values, Yi-Fu Tuan

Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, Janine Benyus

Vaastu: The Indian Art of Placement, Rohit Arya

Vastu Living: Creating a Home for the Soul, Kathleen Cox

An Introduction to Vaastu Shastra, P.N. Ramachandra

The Vaastu Workbook, Talavane Krishna, M.D.

The Practical Encyclopedia of Feng Shui, Gill Hale

Feng Shui Made Easy: Designing Your Life with the Ancient Art of Placement, William Spear 

Feng Shui: Step by Step, T. Raphael Simons 

Feng Shui: Arranging Your Home to Change Your Life, Kirsten M. Lagatree 

Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui, Karen Kingtson

Dwelling in Possibility: Searching for the Soul of Shelter, Howard Mansfield

Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild, Lyanda Lynn Haupt

The Forgotten Room, Lincoln Child

House, Tracy Kidder