EPA concerned about DIY use of spray foam insulation
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced plans to address the potential health risks to consumers of certain chemicals contained in spray foam insulation, sealing concrete and finishing floors. These chemicals, methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI), toluene diisocyanate (TDI) and other related compounds, are known to cause severe skin and breathing responses in workers who have been repeatedly exposed to them, according to the EPA. The chemicals have been documented as a leading cause of work-related asthma, and in severe cases, fatal reactions have occurred.
“There has been an increase in recent years in promoting the use of foams and sealants by do-it-yourself energy-conscious homeowners, and many people may now be unknowingly exposed to risks from these chemicals,” said Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.
Contractors and other professional workers who use these chemicals are regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which sets permissible workplace exposure limits. But there is very limited information available about the use and exposure patterns of consumers, who may be exposed to products containing uncured MDI and TDI. The EPA plans to carefully consider the potential risks from consumer exposure to these chemicals under the authority of the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Actions to address concerns associated with TDI, MDI and related compounds include issuing rules to call in data on any past allegations of significant adverse effects, obtain unpublished health and safety data from industry sources, require exposure monitoring studies for consumer products, and possibly ban or restrict consumer products containing uncured MDI or TDI. The EPA said it will continue to work with other federal agencies, the polyurethanes industry and others to ensure improved labeling and provide comprehensive product safety information for polyurethane products containing uncured compounds, especially in consumer products.
Mortgage bankers see slow-going in 2011
Arlington, Va. — Key housing metrics are in for a slow ride in 2011, and a quick upturn in 2012, according to the forecast from the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA).
Delivering the MBA’s forecast here at the Home Improvement Research Institute’s (HIRI’s) Spring Conference, Michael Fratantoni, the MBA’s VP single-family research and policy development, said that along with pent-up demand for housing, "there’s a lot of pent-up supply out there."
The MBA expects 2011 housing starts of 595,000, compared with 585,000 in 2010. In 2012, the forecast is for 850,000.
Existing-home sales, which were at 4.907 million in 2010, are forecast for 5.087 million in 2011 and 5.450 million in 2012.
Economic signals still mixed at HIRI conference
Arlington, Va. — The data was flying fast and furious here at the Home Improvement Research Institute’s (HIRI’s) Spring Conference.
The series of seminars carried the theme "Understanding Today’s Home Improvement Industry" and kicked off Wednesday morning with a detailed examination of some unpleasant and lingering macroeconomic trends. Other charts presented by the day’s seven presenters picked up where last year’s conference left off by establishing a worst-is-behind-us view of the home improvement industry.
"I think the main message we heard is the market is improving," said Fred Miller, managing director of HIRI. "And it’s often the smaller projects or the spontaneous emergency projects that are helping to boost home improvement spending."
Michael Fratantoni, VP research and economics for the Mortgage Bankers Association, pointed to the slightly improving picture of employment — predicting the unemployment rate would slip to 8.5% by the end of 2011, and dip under 8% by the end of 2012. Still, a return to employment normalcy will probably have to wait until 2015, he said.
"We have seen an improvement in the job market above what I had expected six months ago," he added.
With starts slumping at 585,000 in 2010, the MBA’s housing starts forecast calls for a slight improvement to 595,000 in 2011, and a more significant jump to 850,000 in 2012.
Mary Myers, director of custom research in the home industry sector for The NPD Group, presented research from NPD’s active panel of 750,000 consumers that showed the percentage of people planning projects in March 2011 is at 49.0% — that’s up from 48.3% last year and unchanged from the figure two years ago.
The NPD Group’s Economic Perception Indicator showed mixed results in its recent March reading. "While we are in a better position than we were in March 2009, consumers are still concerned," she said.
And what would a research conference be without mention of social media? Jim Longo, VP client development and marketing for iTracks, asked that question, and then addressed it. He described social media as a tool that’s here to stay and an effective method of identifying influencers. He added: "It’s important to understand how your brand is being viewed on Facebook and Twitter."
The daylong HIRI event attracted about 70 research professionals — members as well as non-members — from a wide variety of home improvement companies. HIRI is a non-profit organization that pools resources to provide high-quality industry research for members.