Monday, July 11, 2011

HOME MAINTANENCE: From weather to mold, homeowners today face a host of modern challenges

The American dream can keep you up at night.

Beyond anxiety that your biggest investment may be losing value while you sleep, owning a home presents a host of challenges previous generations never pondered. From a rising potential for extreme weather to fears about toxic building materials, there’s plenty to disturb the modern homeowner’s rest.

Rising storm threats - Few home buyers would imagine when they’re signing a mortgage that climate change might threaten their personal castle.

But the rising frequency of storms and floods makes that a growing possibility. In the 1990s, there was an annual average of 46 federally declared disasters. That rose to 56 in the next decade. Last year, there were 81 disasters declared, and so far this year, 46.

Insurance companies paid out record amounts for claims related to storms and tornadoes in each of the last three years, and 2011 is expected to bring another high. Claims in the last three months alone are forecast to top $15 billion, more than twice the amount in the same period last year. Higher claims mean higher premiums. It is estimated that homeowners’ insurance rates rose between 4 percent and 5 percent in 2010. That’s compared with a more typical 2.2 percent in 2009.

Growing toxic hazards - Water damage can lead to any number of headaches for homeowners, but few are as upsetting as the sight of mold. Unchecked, mold can spread throughout a house and cause health issues, such as breathing problems.

The trouble is that homes offer a perfect environment for mold to grow. Paint, wood, and other building materials can all provide nutrition for various types of mold.

Water seepage has also become a concern in recent years for homes with stucco or stone exteriors that were applied incorrectly. In the worse cases, water can seep behind the facade and wood can rot. Homes built like this have a major problem that comes with a hefty price tag for repair - and it’s also usually not covered by insurance.

Facing new choices -Renovating a house these days often means going green. Homeowners are choosing eco-friendly projects, like adding solar panels or converting to gas from oil heat, in a nod toward reducing their home’s impact on the environment.

Although it may take nearly a decade to recoup the $20,000 to $30,000 expense of installing solar panels, such measures can make a home more appealing to a buyer. Some costs can also be offset using federal tax credits and often state or local tax breaks. Visit for details.

Another move that can make smart financial sense is to upgrade a home’s wiring to provide more electric capacity and to accommodate digital age electronics. Prices for such a project can range widely, from a few thousand dollars to $15,000 or more.

Eileen AJ Connelly Boston Globe Associated Press July 7, 2011

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