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Was Snoqualmie Ridge Habitat for Humanity home built too fast?

 Beverly Olsen, an eight-year resident of a Habitat for Humanity of East King County house, relies on an electric space heater for warmth. She shut off her faulty furnace after exterior carbon monoxide leaks were found. Olsen was told the furnace was installed incorrectly. - Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record
Beverly Olsen, an eight-year resident of a Habitat for Humanity of East King County house, relies on an electric space heater for warmth. She shut off her faulty furnace after exterior carbon monoxide leaks were found. Olsen was told the furnace was installed incorrectly.
— image credit: Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record

Snoqualmie resident Beverly Olsen’s family is using blankets and space heaters to stay warm this winter.

Olsen, who owns a home built by Habitat for Humanity of East King County in the Koinonia neighborhood of Snoqualmie Ridge, has avoided turning on her furnace due to carbon monoxide fears. A furnace repair worker told her that the furnace was improperly installed.

Now eyeing repair costs, Olsen wonders whether her home, among the first batch of Habitat houses on the Ridge, was put up too fast.

“I think this is because of the blitz,” Olsen said. “They were rushing to put everything in.”

Responsibilities

Olsen’s home was among 19 built at Koinonia in August of 2001. With the other families, Olsen moved in that winter, happy to be in a place of her own.

“You don’t notice the problems that first year, you’re just excited to have a home,” she said.

Habitat for Humanity of East King County provides a path for low-income families to become homeowners. Houses are built by volunteers or contractors who donate their time and money. Homeowners put in 500 hours of “sweat equity,” adding their own labor to build a home.

According to Tom Granger, Habitat’s Eastside executive director, buyers have a warranty allowing one year to report any problems they encounter in their home. During that year, Habitat is responsible for repairing or replacing problem items.

After that first year, the homeowner is responsible for maintaining the interior of their home, while the Habitat neighborhood homeowner’s association maintains the building’s exterior.

New Habitat homeowners receive education on maintenance, repair, decoration and budgeting.

In cases like Olsen’s, homeowners should contact Habitat for help finding professional services or resources to solve their problems, Granger said.

“If something is installed incorrectly, we’ll take care of it, but we need to know about it,” Granger said. “But if we find out about it, it’s all on a case by case basis.”

Bad job?

When water started dripping from her kitchen ceiling last fall, Olsen thought she had a leak in her roof. After calling a repair company, she was surprised to learn that the leak was coming from her attic furnace.

This isn’t the first time the furnace has caused her trouble. The furnace was inspected and pronounced off-level by a Lynnwood-based company in February of 2008. In November of that year, it was red-tagged by another company due to a faulty heat exchanger.

Olsen said she knows she should have paid attention then, but wasn’t clear on what to do. She paid the repair companies for their work, and the furnace stayed on.

“As first-time homeowners, a lot of us don’t know these things,” she said.

Olsen said she was surprised to find that her furnace wasn’t put in right.

“The city sends people out to sign off on this,” Olsen said. “How do we know it’s actually done?”

Habitat homes are inspected by the Snoqualmie Building Department before move-in. The final inspection ensures exit requirements are met, fire safety issues are addressed, and that plumbing and furnaces work properly.

Snoqualmie building official Dan Thomason said code tells inspectors to follow two different standards, either minimum code standards or the manufacturer’s specifications.

The code will cover any unlisted products and give minimum specifications for installation. Most of the time, in new homes and retrofits, Thomason sees listed products, tested by approved agencies. Listed product manufacturers provide specifications of how everything is to be installed. If not installed according to their specifications, warranties may be voided on those products.

The city also asks mechanical and sub-contrators to provide a manual with specifications, which they use to inspect homes.

“When we look at it, it’s got to be according to that spec or we don’t pass it,” Thomason said.

Unlike custom homes, which far exceed building codes, and spec homes, built with the idea that they will sell by the time of completion, a Habitat for Humanity house is a minimum code-built home.

“It’s going to have the bare basics,” Thomason said. “It doesn’t have to have a furnace that has got a lifetime warranty from the manufacturer. You may have a furnace that has a warranty of five years.”

“It’s all up to the contractor,” Thomason added. “In the case of Habitat, it’s what they desire to put in there.”

Olsen said she was quoted $1,300 to replace the faulty heating exchange unit in her furnace.

“This is something I can’t personally handle,” she said, “This year, it’s bad. Because of the economy, there are several of us in this home that have been laid off, so things are very tight.”

That means the space heaters remain on, for now.

Warm homes

For the most part, maintenance issues seem confined to older homes in the neighborhood. Several Koinonia residents told the Valley Record that newer Habitat homes seem trouble-free. All were thankful for the chance to own their own single-family homes in a safe neighborhood.

Jennifer Chapman, a two-year resident of the Koinonia Ridge neighborhood, said she is grateful for her home. She moved from Bellevue, where her rent took half of her income.

Today, the single mother lives with her son and daughter in a three-bedroom house. Her mortgage and homeowner’s dues never add up to more than 30 percent of her income.

Chapman said homeowners must keep up on routine maintenance, such as changing furnace air filters every three months.

“I feel safe here,” Chapman said. “It allows my children, who are eight years apart, to have their own rooms.”

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