Blog :: 01-2011

Self-healing pipes?

Most of the houses in the metro Portland area were built before 1950.  Which means every system in most of our housing stock is over 60 years old (if it hasn't been replaced).  One of these systems is the water supply pipes.

I know you're probably like everyone else... you wake up, and stumble into the shower, and magically, water comes out of the spigot.  Did you ever wonder how that works?   All those pipes in your basement have water sitting in them, under pressure, just waiting for you to release it.  The handle to the sink, or the shower, or any other myriad of fixtures, has a value that opens, and water runs.

There are a number of different piping systems used in construction over the years. In Portland, most of the original water supply pipes are galvanized. And galvanized plumbing itself is a bit magical. What would you say if I told you galvanized pipes are known for their "self-healing" properties? (to a certain extent) Curious, are you? Let me explain.

Let's start with the water itself: there are minerals in the water supply coming into your house. These minerals chemically react with the galvanized steel pipes.  Initially, the reaction is rust, causing deterioration of the interior of the pipes. This causes the very typical loss in water pressure.  If you opened up your pipes, they would look like a web of clogged arteries.

The same chemical reaction between the pipe and water can also "heal" the pipe. Because of the contact with water and the constant pressure in the pipe, when a pin size hole in the pipe appears, it will usually rust over and continue to be serviceable.

Don't get me wrong-you will still need to budget an eventual replacement of those galvanized pipes.  But they're going to last a lot longer than they were supposed to because of a "magical" chemical reaction.

What does Title Insurance really do?

If you've bought any real estate recently, you know there are a TON of closing costs and charges. A big one is title insurance. Do you wonder what title insurance is and when it's used? Honestly, you'll probably never need it. It's a bit like earthquake insurance; it's almost never used, but when it is, it's well worth it. Before we get to the insurance bit, you need to know what "title" is. The most basic explanation of title is it's the trail of legal ownership and possession of real property. Title insurance insures you hold a clear title to your house (excepting, of course, the bank that holds your mortgage). It's particularly important on a house because any organization can file a lien against your property. When you don't pay your taxes, or stiff the contractor you didn't like, or decide to stop paying on those student loans, they all have a right to file a lien. And unlike most debt, the lien is attached to the house, not you. So when you sell that house, and the title company doesn't notice that nasty contractor's lien, the next owner of the house is responsible to pay him, NOT you. Weird and antiquated? Most definitely. And a huge liability risk, if the title company doesn't catch every lien on a property.

Most liens are recorded with the county, so they're relatively easy to discover. To further complicated matters, though, all liens DON'T have to be recorded to be valid. So instead of finding a carpenter's ants' nest, you might get a nasty letter in the mail about the paying that contractor that remodeled the bathroom for the previous owner.

Title insurance guarantees when you buy the house there are no other liens (besides the ones you agreed to pay) against the house. If a lien surfaces after you've closed on the house, the title company has to deal with this. I've only seen it happen once, but it was worth several thousand dollars.

So while were all really hoping against any earthquakes, you'll at least be insured for any title disasters. (Be aware, not all states require title insurance for transfers of property.)

Old growth Fir- Hardwood or Soft?

In my profession, we rely on generalizations. For the most part, they work (did you catch that? Yeah, generalizing is easy to do). One such generalization is that fir floors are soft wood, as opposed to oak or cherry (or a myriad of other woods) which are "hardwoods". Hardwoods are typically more desirable as a floor covering, because they weather abuse better. You can walk around in stilettos or your dog can run on the floor with his un-trimmed nails, and it won't dent or chip the floor. For the most part, this generalization is true. The trees harvested and milled today are barely 30 years old. 30 years isn't very old in the tree world. However, the trees milled to make the wood floors in most of Portland's old houses, were, on average, around 200-300 years old (depending on the year the house was built.) I spoke with a client just the other day, who had done some major remodeling on his house. He'd pulled down an exterior wall, and instead of 2x4's (the lumber typically used to frame a house today) he found 2X6's. This wood looked so interesting and the grain was so tight, he decided to salvage it and send it to a local mill to make wood floors for his remodel. The miller who processed the wood said it was 1000 year old Douglas Fir. He said after 1910, there were no trees left of that age. (His house was built in 1895.)  This fir-which would typically be considered soft-is harder than most "hard-woods" on the market today.

So although fir is most often a soft wood, there are always exceptions to the rule.