Archive for Construction

My Beef With Tankless Water Heaters.

Tankless water heaters are sexy.  They take up less floor space, they provide an endless flow of hot water, they’re environmentally conscious… and they’re really expensive.   If you enjoy showing off your home’s mechanical equipment to your friends or you’re in to being green at any cost, get a tankless water heater. On the other hand, if you’re in to saving dough, doughn’t buy a tankless water heater.

A tankless water heater will not save you money.

I stopped by my local big orange box the other day to check up on the latest sales pitch for tankless water heaters.  The brochure for tankless water heaters said they can save up to 25% in fuel costs.  That sounds great, but lets examine what that means. I spend about $12 per month for natural gas during the non-heating season, if I don’t include my fixed fuel costs, such as the ‘fuel delivery charge.’  This figure includes the gas for my water heater, clothes dryer, and oven.  Just for the sake of argument, lets also pretend that I don’t have a family of four who uses the clothes dryer all the time, and I don’t use the oven all the time.  We’ll pretend that I spend the full $12 / month just  to keep a 50 gallon tank of water hot all the time.

Fuel savings

If I save 25%, I’ll save $3/month, or $36/year, or $720 over a period of 20 years.  My standard 50 gallon water heater has a 12 year warranty, and so does the tankless water heater I looked at… but the life expectancy for a tankless water heater is apparently 20 years, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it will last that long.

Sizing a tankless water heater

The brochure on tankless water heaters said I should buy the largest tankless water heater they make, based on the number of bathrooms I have in my house – three.   The particular model is the ECOH200DVN.  This unit boasts a 9.5 gallon per minute flow rate at a 35 degree rise in temperature.  With an average ground water temperature of 45 degrees here in Minnesota, that would give me… 80 degree water.  Ha!  That’s useless.  To get 120 degree water, my flow rate would be reduced to 5.1 gallons per minute.  Maybe I’ll need two water heaters. For the sake of argument, lets just say I only need one.  This unit retails at my local Home Depot for $1,427.00.

Installation costs

Plumbers charge a lot more money to install tankless water heaters, because they’re a lot more work compared to traditional storage tank water heaters.  The water supply pipes will need to be re-routed, the venting will need to be completely redone, the unit will need to be mounted on a wall, an electrical outlet may need to be added, and the gas pipe may need to be re-done.  Just for fun, let’s say you were able to find a plumber to do all of this for $1,000.   A traditional water heater might cost up to $500 in labor for replacement, so we’ll assume you’re only spending an extra $500 in labor for a tankless water heater.

The bottom line

A traditional 50 gallon water heater with a 12 year warranty retails for $559 at my local Home Depot.   I would spend an extra $868 to buy a tankless water heater, and at least an extra $500 in installation costs, making this unit cost at least $1,368 more than a traditional water heater.  I would spend at least $1,368 for the potential of saving $720 over a period of 20 years.  If I ever buy a tankless water heater, I won’t be doing it because I’m hoping to save money.


This post was reblogged with the authorization of it’s author Reuben Saltzman, with Structure Tech Home Inspections.


What is a Sewer Scope, Anyways?

A sewer scope is potentially dollar-for-dollar one of the best insurance policies you can buy, when purchasing a home.  By “insurance policy”, I don’t mean that it actually reimburses you in the case of necessary repairs, but I do mean that it may help you save tens of thousands of dollars in the long run.  During a sewer scope, a specialist runs a camera through the sewer line from the house hook up, to the city hook up.  The specialist is basically looking for plant or tree roots that have grown into the sewer line; or cracks, breaks, or detoriation to the pipe itself.  Some minor roots can often be remedied by a roto-rooter company, snaking a cutting blade down the pipe to cut away any existing roots.  However, if the line is completely broken or cracked; depending on where the break is, it could cost upwards of $10,000-12,000 to repair.  This stems from how far underneath the ground the pipe is burried, as well as if it is burried underneath a driveway, sidewalk or city street.  Cutting through concrete can become pretty costly.   The specialist only goes as far as the city hook up, because anything after that point is the city’s responsibility to repair.  However, any issues with the sewer pipe between your house and the city hook up is your responsibility to repair.  Hence, the importance of doing a sewer scope BEFORE you purchase a house.

If you do a sewer scope before buying a house and something major does come up, you may either ask the seller to repair the issue, or simply choose to not buy the house at all.  But if you for go conducting a sewer scope upfront and buy the house anyways, any problems you find with the sewer line after the fact, are your sole responsibility.  That being said, many buyers don’t want to spend the money to conduct a sewer scope before the seller actually agrees to sell them the house.  Because of this it is generally recommended to conduct a sewer scope during the inspection period alloted by the inspection contingency usually included with the purchase and sale real estate contract.  The inspection contingency allows you a certain amount of time to conduct inspections, and exit the contract if the buyer deems the condition of the property insufficient.  However, it is not required by Washington State law to include this clause in a real estate contract.  So if you want this protection, you have to confirm that it is part of your contract.  If you would like to learn more about the inspection contingency, real estaste contracts, or buying your first home in general, go to our Calendar page and register for one of our First Time Home Buyer seminars.


What Era of Home Should I Buy?

Last week I blogged about different eras of homes in “Is New Construction My Best Option?”.  I briefly mentioned the pros and cons between pre-war (before 1939), mid-century (1940-1979) and newer construction homes (1980 and newer).  In this blog I will discuss in which areas these eras of homes predominantly exist.  The easiest way to think about it, is to look at downtown Seattle as the core and all other Seattle neighborhoods radiating outward from it.  So if you look at neighborhoods such as Capitol Hill or Queen Anne you will find the majority of inventory being pre-war.  As you move south into Beacon Hill and Mount Baker, or north into Wallingford or Green Lake you will start to see a transition from pre-war into mid-century.  As you move farther south into Rainer Beach, or farther north into Broadview you will see a transition from mid-century into newer construction.

Older homes eventually get torn down and replaced by newer homes.  So regardless of which neighborhoods you are looking to buy your first home in, you will most likely find a range of construction eras.  But because different neighborhoods may typically tend to be predominantly one construction era over another, you will want to know the numbers before starting your search.  If you want to live in Wallingford, but have no interest in pre-war construction and are only willing to consider newer homes, your options may be limited.  In August of this year, 14 residential properties sold in the Wallingford neighborhood, of which 11 were pre-war construction.  So if newer construction is the only construction era that interests you, you may have to make concessions in other areas such as square footage, number of bedrooms, school districts, etc.  Also, much of the newer construction is being built to larger specifications.  So if you’re looking for a newer construction 2 bedroom/1 bath residence, your only option may be a townhouse or condo.  Of the 3 remaining properties that sold in Wallingford in August, all were newer construction and either condos or townhomes.  There are alot of great options for housing in the greater Seattle area.  However, the more information you can gather up front, the more time you will save yourself throughout the process, and avoid looking for a property that doesn’t actually exist.  If you’d like more information on buying your first home, go to our Calendar page and sign up for one of our FREE First Time Home Buyer seminars.


Is New Construction My Best Option?

In the Seattle area, generally speaking there are three eras of homes. These eras include pre-war construction, mid-century construction and newer construction. We don’t see much construction earlier than about 1890, due to the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. Pre-war construction is generally thought of as 1939 and older (before World War II); mid-century runs from the 1940′s up to the 1970′s; and I consider newer construction from the 1980′s on up.

Each of these eras can have different connotations for first time home buyers. Many people appreciate pre-war construction for the quality of construction and all their period details. Although they are generally built exceptionally well, the systems are often close to a hundred years old and include things like knob and tube wiring, galvanized plumbing and coal heating systems. Sometimes these systems have been maintained impeccably, however often they need to be completely replaced. This may be quite a large undertaking for a first time home buyer.

Mid-century construction was also generally very well built, but the systems are only half as old as their pre-war counterparts. Especially once you get into the 1960′s and 1970′s homes, you will often see newer romex wiring, copper plumbing and electric furnaces. These homes have withstood the test of time, while still having systems that may not need to be replaced right away if maintained properly. Therefore, mid-century inventory may be a more affordable option for first time home buyers in the short-term.

Newer construction is often preferred by first time home buyers, because they have the newest systems of all. Often these include romex wiring, plastic plumbing, and gas or radiant heating systems. It is true that the systems may need to be replaced a lot less sooner than pre-war, or mid-century inventory, however in the late 1980′s many construction materials took a turn for the worse. Materials like old growth wood started to become harder to come by and more expensive, so other more affordable alternatives came to market. Some of these materials such as OSB siding have shown that they are not the dependable construction materials they claimed to be. Because of this it is possible that newer construction overall may not last nearly as long as other options.

The fact of the matter is, every era of home comes with pros and cons. It just depends on what your priorities are and what types of projects you are willing to undertake. Also, there are always exceptions to the rules. So just because a certain era of home is typically built well, it doesn’t mean that every single home from that time period was well built. Furthermore, if a home was built well but poorly maintained, the house may not be worth trying to salvage. Especially if it is your first home and there are major rot, mildew or other types of moisture problems that have arisen from neglect. Quite often it comes down to a case by case analysis. You have to look at every home on an individual basis, and then compare it to your overall options.

If you’re thinking about buying your first home in the Greater Seattle area and would like to gather more helpful information before making your decision, please go to our Calendar page and register for one of our FREE First Time Home Buyer seminars.