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Warm and safe; Insulation installation permit rules to ensure proper jobs.

Byline: Brian Lee

After years of requiring limited knowledge of insulation work, the state will soon begin testing and licensing insulation installers who work on one- and two-family homes and small buildings.

Industry leaders, the Department of Energy Resources and others - through testimony at public meetings and conversations - convinced the state Board of Building Regulations and Standards the commonwealth would be better served by developing and implementing an exam on the duties typically performed by insulation contractors, according to Terrel Harris, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.

Previously, in order to perform insulation work, insulation contractors were required to have either a restricted or unrestricted construction supervisor license, as well as home improvement contractor registration, Mr. Harris said.

The unrestricted and restricted construction exams contain questions about insulation techniques and energy conservation issues, but most of those questions are about other aspects of building construction not within the purview of an insulation contractor, such as framing techniques, Mr. Harris said.

Also, now is the time to offer such a program, as more people look to re-insulate homes, said Thomas M. Riley, code development manager to the Board of Building Regulations and Standards.

By introducing an insulation licensing program, the state can "evaluate and control, identify those folks who either don't understand or don't care or otherwise don't do well what the license requires them to do," Mr. Riley said.

"Without licensure, we have no idea who's out there and what they're doing," he said.

A grandfathered license is available by application to contractors with five years of experience supervising insulation work, and who have done it well. Exempted from licensing are owners who live in their one-family or two-family homes. They may continue to do insulation work themselves, said Mr. Riley.

Difficulties associated with improper installation of insulation products include mold and mildew accumulation in areas that were not appropriately ventilated, as well as fires caused by insulation installed too close to light fixtures, Mr. Harris said.

Mr. Harris said it is impossible at this time to estimate the number of people who will take the test or seek the exemption.

Insulation made of foam plastics and cellulosic products are combustible. The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., where 100 people died in a fire six years ago, was insulated with foam, Mr. Riley noted.

Southbridge Director of Inspection Services Nicola Tortis said the bad weather and a worse economy make it a good idea to re-insulate homes.

But if the job isn't done right, often the case with untrained contractors, a lack of ventilation in a building causes ceilings to turn black and green from mold and moisture, among other problems. Thousands of dollars in repairs is not out of line, he said.

Clinton Building Commissioner Tony Zahariadis said he's seen instances of insulation put in backward; in other cases, installers blew in insulation without care on knob and tube electrical wiring.

Mr. Zahariadis said he's heard of unwitting customers asking insulation installers to "put a little extra" insulation on top of bad jobs, creating more problems.

When demand was up, some companies sought helpers off the street. If they weren't allergic to fiberglass they had a job, Mr. Zahariadis suggested.

"Someone's paying money to get this stuff put in and they're not getting their benefit from it," he said. "They're losing heat. Who wants to pay for something and it's not done right?"

Testing insulation contractors aligns with a stricter energy code the state is working on, the Clinton official said.

Going forward, contractors will have to maintain continuing education units, just as municipal building officials do, said Mr. Zahariadis, a member of the Massachusetts Federation of Building Officials, the Massachusetts Building Commissioners and Inspectors Association and president of the Wachusett Area Building Officials.

Contractors in various disciplines will have to stay abreast of changes in order to keep their licenses, he said.

"That's a good thing because there are a lot of problems between us and the contractors," Mr. Zahariadis said. "We're constantly going to these (seminars), learning, getting updates, and these people never get them. There's a disconnect, and we're the only mechanism to tell them."

The insulation test, from which the state will derive new revenue, will be multiple-choice and cover practical knowledge and code requirements.

Administered by a private company, Prometric, the computer-based test will cost the test-taker $100. A successful candidate will pay another $150 for a public safety-issued license, renewable every two years for $100, said Mr. Harris, the spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.

Mr. Zahariadis said experienced insulation contractors should be able to pass the test.

Contractors who can prove their proficiency during a five-year span can get the license without taking the test, Mr. Riley said. This grandfathering period, which the state yields for any new license, costs $150 and must be applied for by May 29.

Robert F. Morus, owner of Heatsavers in Worcester, is exempt from the test and doesn't need to apply for a grandfathered license because he holds a construction supervisor license and a home improvement contractor registration. He has been doing insulation work for 28 years.

Also exempted are owners who live in their one- or two-family buildings. They may continue to do insulation work themselves, Mr. Riley said.

Mr. Morus said the lack of accountability with insulation work is illustrated with the voluntary insulation installers' certificate he received from the state in 1983. The piece of paper "doesn't really mean anything" because it mentions nothing about procedures or equipment, he said.

Mr. Riley said it isn't coincidental the insulation program's launch is soon after home heating oil reached an all-time high of more than $4 per gallon.

"Because of the direction of energy costs of a year ago, and the expected rise of energy costs eventually, there will be a continued demand for insulation contractors," he said.

Incentive programs from utility companies give another reason to start licensing, Mr. Riley said. The companies give discounts for upgraded energy performance through re-insulating of a building.

Mr. Morus said 90 percent of his work these days is through rebate programs from National Grid and NStar.

Contact Brian Lee by e-mail at



CUTLINE: (1) Robert F. Morus, owner of Heatsavers in Worcester, dumps cellulose insulation into a hopper for insulation work at a Worcester home. (2) An employee of insulation installers Heatsavers, Ken W. Turner of Worcester fills a wall with cellulose insulation at a house in Worcester. (CHART) What Consumers should know
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 6, 2009
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