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Do you believe everything you read? I hope not because woven into the thousands of messages bombarding us every day, are a lot of false statements. Some are accidental, others plain sloppy and some are intentional, to drive you to take action … like buying a product you don't need, or even one that can do more harm than good. That's why homeowner fact checking is just as important as the fact checking begun by the media in 2015, with amazing claims by the presidential candidates.
When I started my handyman business in 2003, my experience was based on a wide range of homeowner roles. Along with normal home maintenance, we had built one house, remodeled several kitchens and had recently put a 4-story addition on a house built in the 1890s. I knew the lingo but didn't understand the concepts known today as building science. You might say running a handyman business was like getting a degree in home maintenance, learning through the eyes and houses of hundreds of homeowners.
You see many problems were caused by a lack of timely home maintenance, not understanding which products to buy and when they need to be replaced and sadly, faulty installation. Home Tips for Women is my mission, to provide the missing education to empower homeowners to understand their homes so they can effectively maintain and improve them. Misinformation is my enemy, and why homeowner fact checking is so important.
And fact checking isn't just for homeowners. Here are the Truth-o-Meters™ used on Politifact.com, to track the truthfulness of the 2016 presidential candidates.
Why Homeowner Fact Checking is a Challenge
You're not a home expert and your house didn't come with a homeowner's manual. Even if it did, a homeowner's manual would give you instructions to turn off the water where it enters your house and reset a breaker at your electrical panel. It wouldn't explain the concepts of how your home is wired or how fresh and gray water are separated inside your house.
Manufacturer websites are getting better but you should understand their goal is to sell their product menu. For example, DaVinciRoofscapes.com offers a nice comparison of their products to natural slate and competitive slate roofing products. In contrast, GAF takes a broader view of a “Lifetime Roofing System” (watch their video) which includes all materials used except the roofing deck (plywood or OSB) which they don't sell. Their warranties are key, with labor covered when you use one of their certified installers. And there really is a roofing system, which is an integral part of your home's building envelope.
So how do you learn all this? By making time to research the concepts needed to make smart decisions about the building products and materials you're buying, and the home improvement projects you're planning.
Marketing Fact or Fiction
Hopefully you're reading food labels, and you realize it's not as easy. Once upon a time I thought all I had to do was find the yogurt with the fewest calories. That was until I learned how bad sugar is for us, and now buy low calorie yogurt with the fewest grams of sugar.
You'll want to start reading the packaging on home products too. You'll start to realize that great photos and unrealistic promises are fiction, and you've got to dig deeper to get to the facts. The Filtrete label above is the perfect example, showing a father and his son enjoying the healthy air outdoors. The second largest phrase “Healthy Living” is more fiction than fact, and may cause problems described in How the Right Home Air Filter Can Save You Money.
Here's another example of misinformation, received in an email from an HVAC company.
The email links to an article titled How Effective are Your Home Air Filters? The article claims that “… every central air filter has a MERV rating, which measures how efficiently the filter captures pollutants that pass through your heating and cooling systems.” Sadly here are the major problems with these statements:
- Air filters don't prevent air from entering your home. In fact, the wrong filter can cause your HVAC system to suck in air from unconditioned spaces like your attic, crawlspace or garage.
- Many air filters do now publish a MERV rating, and the Filtrete filter above is one example. This makes it difficult to compare brands, so it makes more sense to limit your choices to brands with a published MERV rated filter.
- Air filter efficiency is measured three ways, according to the California Energy Commission. MERV defines the size of the particles trapped by the filter. It does not measure the holding capacity of filters, or the pressure drop which affects how much air passes through the filter.
Homeowner Fact Checking at Home Shows
If you're feeling overwhelmed with all this information, you're on the right track. You probably felt the same when learning to read, ride a bike or drive a car. Think of home ownership as a journey, and over time you'll learn more about different aspects of how your house functions.
The important thing is to keep learning, and you'll have many opportunities to do this. Some will be more fun than others, and you'll know you're on the right path when you can tell someone what information you want (or don't want). And don't be embarrassed when “the guys” try to put you down as it happens to the best of us.
Tina Gleisner, Homeowner Advocate & Home Expert
Marla Esser, Green Home Coach; CEO/Founder, HomeNav.com; NAHB Master Green Certified Professional & LEED Accredited Professional