Monday, January 22, 2007

We Are Very Cold, But Perhaps Will Stop Having Pneumonia

So, I never did tell you the horrific story of our ridiculously incompetently-installed and maintained air-duct system, although we did have warnings, starting last summer--and it got worse after that.

The three of us, despite those new-generation antihistamines, the new steroidal nasal sprays, and vigorous use of the much-ballyhooed Neti-Pot, have had multiple respiratory infections since moving to this new house. MULTIPLE. Alex, who is prone to pneumonia because of his asthma, had full-blown pneumonia no less than three times in 2006. Bella, who never had a real sick day in her life for her first three years, went through course after course of antibiotics for sinus infections, as did I--I am just NOW finishing up a 10-day course of fluoroquinolones, and my chest is already hurting again less than 48 hours after the last dose.

So. The time came for an evaluation of our heat/air system. It's all electric, run by two heat pumps and two air-handlers. Short story: The whole system sucks. There is rotting ductwork all through the house, full of mold and mildew and dirt from 10 years of total neglect (aside from the occasional duct-taping, shown below). There are entire sections of crappy flex-duct that has rotted completely away, so that we've been blowing heated/cooled air directly into the attic. Nice. Also, the square-footage heated/cooled by one 2-ton, 8-SEER heat pump was just about DOUBLED when a huge room was added on, but the heat pump was NOT upgraded. Not only that, the same people who added the room without allowing for proper heating/cooling also decided to opt out of any form of insulation for this new room. Which is walled entirely on two sides with WINDOWS. Do you see where this is going?

So, since Christmas, when we learned that we're most likely breathing deadly poison of one kind or another anytime we're running our heater, we've had to choose between being warm OR being able to breathe. So mostly we've been huddled up in the master bedroom with a space heater. It's been a fun January.

Cut to the present, in which we've taken out a small loan, and begun the three-day process of ripping out the crappy ductwork--seriously, don't just take my word for it (click images to see flickr notes):

duct crrrrrap

holeee crap

air handler interior
This last one is of the interior of our inside "air-handler" unit. I think this particular part at one time actually functioned as a FILTER. Wonder how that was working for us, air-quality-wise?

And YES, we had a pre-purchase home inspection! In which the inspector did not notice any of this not-to-code, disintegrating ductwork (among many other things in the attic), OR the fact that there was ZERO insulation in the attic! Lack of insulation which, you would THINK, would make the crappy insulation VERY obvious! The name of our home inspection company, should anyone else in central Arkansas (or the rest of the country--they have inspectors everywhere) be dying to employ them now, is "PILLAR TO POST." Go ahead, give 'em a call! I particularly enjoy this passage from their website--apparently "inadequate insulation" they notice, but "NO insulation" just slips through the cracks:

3. Attic issues. Home buyers almost never look in attics but inspectors always do, paying special attention to signs of roof leaks, missing support trusses, pest infestation, illegal venting, illegal electrical wiring, inadequate insulation, etc.

Also, YES, we obtained a Home Warranty when we bought this house! A Home Warranty which specifically covered DUCTWORK...but guess what claim they're refusing? That's right, the claim we submitted upon discovering our criminally inadequate DUCTWORK. Why, you ask? Well, because, since the ductwork was improperly installed before we bought the house, they classify it as a "pre-existing condition." Are you relishing the irony of this situation yet? Are you getting the hearty belly-laughs that we have been? Are you thinking, you foolish thing, as we were, that when you buy a house FROM SOMEONE ELSE, that pretty much EVERYTHING about that house is a "pre-existing condition" for you? And that that is the motivation for BUYING a Home Warranty? Oh, you silly, silly person, you. The name of our wonderful Home Warranty company, should you want to rush out and buy a policy upon your next home purchase, is "WARRANTECH." Oh, and Warrantech's portion of the cost of replacing the non-operative ductwork, had they chosen to honor their policy? About $1,000-1,500, because they have a limit on what they'll cover. WE are paying MUCH more than that, but Warrantech ain't kickin' in their share--pre-existing condition, you know.

So anyway, this is my crazy-eye, from hiding in my bedroom surrounded by poodles while several strange men tromp around in my attic, apparently playing a rousing game of horseshoes or something equally loud and unsettling, for the next three days. Whee.



  1. (HUGS) - hope things improve soon.

    If you need any help with complaints and finding e-mail addreses, let me know.

  2. Uh oh. We also used Pillar to Post (yep, up here in Canada!). We did not buy Home Warranty though. My goodness Belinda...good luck with all of that.

    Also, do not let Y see your eye. It freaks her OUT to see pictures of eyes up close - or maybe you read that already. Ha which case, i hope she squirms - lol!

  3. Oh my gosh!! I'm so glad that yall have figured out what was causing all those health problems before they got any worse! And wow...I won't be recommending Pillar to Post to my customers...

  4. Argh!!! I am so sorry for the frustration...all of it. The home inspection and home warranty companies are completely the "icing on the cake"... just scammers.
    I am sorry. I am glad you are in the process of rectifying things.
    Your internets are sending good vibes, as you know.

  5. Ah man, that stinks. We had our house inspected before we bought it also. A few months later when the weather turned cold and we turned on the furnace it was broken. It was then that we found out it is over 30 years old and that they really only have a life of 20-25 years.

    Who knew? You would think the home inspector would!

    $6000 later we had heat.

  6. That just plain sucks...when you think you are doing all the right things and it comes back to bite you. Unfair, I say!

    I hope it gets fixed quickly so you and the family can come out of bedroom-hiding and feel better.

  7. What a monstrosity that flex hosing is - I'm amazed that it worked at all! I hope getting the air quality problem taken care of makes all of you feel better.

  8. This happened to a close friend of mine, and she figured out a way to get almost all of their costs recouped. Should I get her in contact with you? She's VERY good about getting around the rules, like getting her health insurance to cover some of the cost because her son has asthma. She's a great resource.

    I'm so sorry this is happening to you. I'm clear on how stressful this is after watching my friend go through it too. And her issues were in summer, with no A/C for almost 2 years until they got it fixed. It sucks when the former owners don't disclose this information. Can you sue the real estate broker?

    I was so worried about you. You've been so quiet!


  9. Thanks, everyone. I'm still making noise with the warranty co. and the inspection co., and even if that's all I wind up doing, I'll feel better than if I'd done nothing.

    The realtors have nothing to do with this kind of thing--believe me, they want everything to be PERFECT, and do everything in their power to make sure that it is. I'm sure that the percentage of people who go back to the realtor and complain anytime something goes wrong with their new house is...well, pretty high. We've gone to ours for suggestions as to how to proceed, and she has even done what she could to intercede with the warranty co. on our behalf (and I doubt that that inspector is going to get more business from that source).

    Next up, we address the leak around the chimney, which the inspector ALSO did not catch, and which has formed black mold on the wood all around the chimney. Wheeee.

    I'm 48 hours off my last 10 days' worth of Avelox, and my chest hurts. But with the new filters going in, and the new system, including UV lights on the air-handler to prevent mold/mildew, it should all be better soon. We're being told probably about two weeks until all the "garbage" has been circulated through the new system enough so that we are breathing clean air.

    I feel a lot more comfortable with the guys working in the house today--but we're still holed up in the bedroom, because it gets sun through two large windows, and the rest of the house is FREEZING!! We're supposed to have heat tonight, and the workers should be finished tomorrow sometime.

  10. Thank you for your kind words for your are SO right when you say that we do want the house to be perfect. There is only so much that a Realtor can do since we are not home inspectors or a warranty company. I know you understand this but most of the world does not which leads to questions like....can you sue the Realtor?

    Just know that your Realtor loves you and would do anything in my power to help.

  11. Bad idea Margalit, bad idea! That's my momma you're talkin' bout!

  12. Nope, "sue the realtor" never entered our minds! I'm sure (and I AM sure, because I've heard some ranting over the years) that sometimes people want to "sue the title company," too!

    The way the system is set up in Arkansas is fairly convoluted, but it covers all the bases pretty well as far as protecting all parties, from buyer to seller to realtor to broker to title company and more. The weak link in our situation is definitely the home inspector, but even there, we certainly had the option of spending hundreds of dollars more on detailed inspections of each individual system...but we trusted the inspector (who talked a really good game) to be looking out for our best interests. My emails to him have gone unanswered. Perhaps my emails to his employer will get some response.

  13. gAh that is awful. What shitty luck. Bu think about how warm & clean your house will be when you're done!

    I tried the Neti Pot, but I seemed to wind up spewing water all over the floor/ceiling/etc. Apparently your nose isn't supposed to have water in it??

  14. After JUST pricing out a full install of a heat pump etc, I can imagine that I can feel your pain, without actually "feeling" it, mainly because we don't have the 10 grand to get the system yet.

    I did want to say that you should really consider what margalit said about talking to her friend-recouping some of the cost would be a GOOD thing :)

    Taking the realtor to court? Not so good.

  15. Holy moley no wonder you guys have been sick! Looking at the ductwork it's a wonder any air got through at all and the only response that came to mind in seeing the air handler was "Eeewwww" Imagine how sick you all would have been without the antibiotics to help stave off something worse. Hope you are on the mend soon.

  16. That is terrible, but I am glad that you are getting it all repaired and taken care of now instead of not figuring it out for years to come!!

    My inspector did a great job and when the outdoor unit of my AC went 2 years ago, mainly from being over 20 years old, the warranty company put a new one in for only $50 my cost. If you want more info, let me know and I can give you the name of my warranty company, they have been good and cover a lot more.

  17. #(*&! inspectors. @)(!*()&! rotten warranty insurance.

    Of course, there's a phrase the insurance business doesn't like very much. It's called "Bad Faith." So, check your policy carefully, and if it looks like the warranty company is giving you a load of road apples, send them a nasty lawyer letter to get them to cover you. In cases where the insurance company fails to cover where they should have... I seem to recall that they usually fork out a lot more than the policy limits in those cases, because a jury just loves to get a hold of them and shake them like a dog with a rabbit.

  18. How awful! What you have in your ducts, etc. is the same thing we have been worried about with ours. The house was vacant for 7-8 years, and the insulation around the ducts (just about the only place there Is insulation) was so full of water it sagged and sloshed. We just did a mold test that we bought at Lowes, and it didn't show any mold growth, but I am a little afraid that that is because we didn't do the test right (Ed didn't want to close all the ducts but the one he taped the petri dish to). On the other hand, our higher than usual number of colds, etc. could be because of moving to a cold climate, so our system Could be clean, which would be a good thing, since we have no money to fix it anyway.
    I hope that you find that you all immediately enjoy better health when your system is fixed!

  19. OMG that is so nasty.
    I think your filter gave me this sinus thing I have going on this week. Yes, I will blame you.

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