McAnally helps others get most out of their homes
Over the years in various housing and construction-related careers, Bill McAnally has seen plenty of housing horror stories.
Once he was in a house in southeast Iowa, in a very small house owned by a woman who moved here from Guatemala.
“She had paid for this house, and the utility bills were crazy. Little teeny house,” McAnally said. “Finally a buddy went over there and took a stepladder. He lifted the (ceiling) panel, and the hole that went into the attic had never been covered. All those years she had lived there, all that cold air had been going right out. In the winter all that warm air was going out of the attic.”
That’s one of the reasons inspections are so important–and why consumers need to be educated.
McAnally spends a lot of his time these days as a consultant for utility companies, inspecting sites, giving seminars on building practices. He also works with Iowa State Extension and Outreach, with their partnership with the Center on Sustainable Communities.
Before his “retirement,” McAnally spent 20 years at Iowa Central Community College, first as an instructor, later as department chair for Industrial Tech.
“The good thing about being from Iowa Central is we were able to build residence halls,” he said. “They’ve been looked at around the country as far as their energy efficiency and their design.”
The students built 11 of 15 residence halls, along with area contractors, starting in 1996, he said. They used such novel techniques, much of the industry still hasn’t really adopted them.
“We were able to try a lot of different methods, products that even now we use in presentations, because they’re still basically considered cutting edge,” he said.
McAnally hopes that Iowa Central can partner with Iowa State Extension and the COSC.
“One thing we’re looking at with Prestage coming in, there’s going to be a serious lack of quality housing, so we’re looking at doing some trainings,” he said. “One of the things is we’re going to try to bring Iowa Central into the mix, because that particular area — especially Webster City is in our area, and Clarion.
“We’re looking at possibly doing contractor trainings. We’ve already been doing that around the state, not so much in the Fort Dodge area.”
He also said they could possibly build a demonstration home.
There are a lot of good contractors, especially in this area, but statewide McAnally sees builders all the time who don’t follow best practices.
“Kind of my hobby is building failures, finding out what we did wrong so we don’t do it again,” he said. “Windows put in wrong is probably one of the biggest things right now.”
He’s seen this from major contractors, even one who was helping McAnally make a video.
“Everything was perfect except I said, do you realize you put the windows in wrong?” McAnally said. “He said, ‘I’ve been doing it like this for’ — ‘Yeah, I know that,’ I said. ‘So grab the instructions, let’s look at page 2. What does this show you, in pictures?
“It doesn’t show the way you put the window in.
“So I said, who’s going to honor the warranty? He said, ‘What do I do?’ I told him you either need to take them out, or you get the window manufacturer to say you’ve slopped enough caulk on here that hopefully it’s going to work.”
Attics also don’t get sealed properly, McAnally said, and then moisture can come up from the house. Some houses run all the fans from kitchens and bathrooms straight into the attic, assuming the air will just flow out the attic vent, but it doesn’t work.
“The other thing is we’ve learned that especially attics, if you don’t air seal your attic before you add more insulation, you get so many problems with moisture in the attic. You can actually have ceilings fall down,” he said.
That’s why training for builders is important, and inspections are important, he said.
“In some of them it’s just amazing how the house, on the inside you would think is the greatest builder ever,” he said. “The quality of the workmanship, the trim work, the cabinets, everything; but when you get to the bones it’s just junk.”
Consumers and builders alike can download the “construction instruction” app, McAnally said, which shows how things can be put together and installed. Builders should also refer to the “Green Streets” criteria from the Iowa Economic Development Authority.
“Anyone who’s going to build a new building or a new home should just download a free copy. If you did that, you did construction instruction, you’d feel pretty good,” he said. “Like with Iowa Central, hopefully … if we are able to do some of these trainings down the road, that will basically be our textbook guidelines.”
Training is also needed because technology and materials change all the time.
“Construction technology, I can hardly believe it, but building technology changes about as fast as computer technology,” he said.
McAnally has now joined the board of directors for Friendship Haven. Before that, he contracted with them, and said the new Adult Daycare building was built to impressive green standards.
“I think that was the first (community development block grant) building we did that came in on time,” he said.
Often, the COSC gets a grant to upgrade a building’s energy efficiency, but nearly all the money is spent just making it safe, he said.
“It’s really scary some of the houses we’ve been in,” he said. “The first thing you go into is you look at the wiring, the plumbing, lead and asbestos. You want to make the home safe for the families living there. Some of these older homes still have the wiring and plumbing from the early 1900s.
“So that’s all brought up to speed, and sometimes by the time we bring them up to minimum housing standards, we don’t have a lot of money left with grants to put a whole lot of energy efficient standards in.”
McAnally grew up in Fort Dodge. He went to school at Iowa Central, Northland College in Wisconsin, and completed the carpentry program at Western Iowa Tech in Sioux City.
He’s also working on an instructional video series through Cornbelt Power Cooperative and Touchstone Energy, which will be available online.