Product Recall: Thermador Brand Built-In Ovens Fire Hazard

Thermador Built-In Oven

BSH Home Appliances and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a recall of 42000 Thermador Built-In Ovens Friday. Consumers are advised to not use the oven’s self-cleaning mode and contact BSH Home Appliances to schedule an inspection. Repair, if needed, will be at no charge to the consumer.

Incidents/Injuries: BSH Home Appliances has received ten reports of incidents including one which resulted in a fire that caused extensive property damage. No injuries have been reported.

Description: This recall involves Thermador® Brand built-in single ovens and combination models which have a conventional oven and a microwave. The model numbers of the single ovens are C271B, C301B, SEC271B and SEC301B. The model numbers of the combination models are SEM272B, SEM302B, SEMW272B and SEMW302B. The ovens have date codes between FD8403 and FD8701. The model number and date code can be found on the underside of the control panel.

For more details, see the Consumer Product Safety Commission press release.

Read Thermador’s safety notice about the matter. For enquiries, call BSH Home Appliances at 1-800-701-5230 between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

Product Recall: Lasko ceramic space heaters

Lasko Ceramic Space Heater

Lasko Products has recalled 1.2 million ceramic heaters produced in 2005. These heaters are a fire hazard as “localized heating may occur in the power cord where the cord enters the base of the unit“.

Chances are you aren’t using your heater right now. Still Lasko advises consumers to stop using the affected heaters immediately.

As of the recall date, the manufacturer had received 28 reports of failed power cords, with six reports of minor property damage. No injuries have occurred.

The recalled models are the 5132, 5345, 5362, 5364, 5420, 5532, 5534, and 5566; all except the 5420 are “tower” heaters like the one shown above. You’ll find the model numbers on the bottom of the units or at the rear of the base of the heaters, which were made in China for Lasko Products Inc., of West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Source: Consumer Reports Home & Yard blog.

Check for your model and get full replacement instructions online at the Lasko Product Recall page or call Lasko Products toll free at 1-800-984-3311 for replacement.

Sued for bad reviews on Angie’s List – what happened? (Updated)

Back in March I wrote a post about homeowners getting sued for bad reviews on Angie’s List and have been wondering what happened … I hadn’t seen any follow up stories until reading Eric Goldman’s Technology & Marketing Law blog. Since then I’ve found more info and this post has been appropriately updated.

To recap, home improvement contractor Stephen C. Sieber ( SCS Contracting Group ) launched multi-million dollar defamation lawsuits against 2 homeowners who wrote negative reviews (with F ratings) on Angie’s List, as originally published in this Washington Post story.

So what happened? According to the recent John Kelly article, Sieber dropped the lawsuits against the home owners. The lawsuits (Sieber v. Mattera and Sieber v. Hammock ) were settled and dismissed without prejudice a month after filing meaning that they agreed to settle but without setting any precedents. Sieber could technically sue the homeowners again for the same reason. From answers.com:

A plaintiff is not subsequently barred from suing the same defendant on the same cause of action when a court grants a dismissal without prejudice of his or her case. Such a dismissal operates to terminate the case. It is not, however, an ultimate disposition of the controversy on the merits, but rather it is usually based upon procedural errors that do not substantially harm the defendant’s rights. It effectively treats the matter as if the lawsuit had never been commenced, but it does not relieve a plaintiff of the duty of complying with the statute of limitations, the time limit within which his or her action must be commenced. A dismissal without prejudice is granted in response to a notice of dismissal, stipulations, or a court order.

Meanwhile, Monica Hammock’s $83,000 civil lawsuit against Stephen Sieber for damage done during her home renovation is still ongoing.

Interestingly, it seems that Sieber has been representing himself in the proceedings as his lawyer is listed as “PRO SE”. Maybe business has been a bit slow lately? Lawyers are pretty expensive.

Sieber wasn’t going to initially sue Angie’s List (as reported in the Washington Post) but ended up doing so for “malicious interference”. He was upset with the “consumer alert” Angie’s List sent out about him and charges that it

“was used solely as a public relations ploy to gain more market exposure and revenue for Defendants, at the expense of the business and reputation of SCS Contracting Group and Stephen C. Sieber personally.”

“I’m standing up for all the service providers who this will not happen to, ever.”

You can see the full details of the lawsuit at www.angiegotsued.com.

Several Angie’s List principals were named as defendants in the suit (including Angie Hicks herself) but they were subsequently dropped. Sieber is still suing Brownstone Publishing however; Brownstone “does business as” Angie’s List. You can monitor the online court records by going to:

https://www.dccourts.gov/pa/

and searching by case number.

  • Sieber v. Mattera – Case # 2007 CA 002063 B
  • Sieber v. Hammock – Case # 2007 CA 001726 B
  • Hammock v. Sieber – Case # 2006 CA 006940 B – pending
  • Sieber v. Brownstone Publishing -Case # 2007 CA 002549 – pending

Are antibacterial household products breeding superbacteria? Or are we?

Concerns about antibacterial household products have been voiced over at Scientific American as the number and variety of antibacterial products continues to expand in the marketplace.

Body soaps, household cleaners, sponges, even mattresses and lip glosses are now packing bacteria-killing ingredients, and scientists question what place, if any, these chemicals have in the daily routines of healthy people.

Unlike these traditional cleaners, antibacterial products leave surface residues, creating conditions that may foster the development of resistant bacteria …

The scientists cite the old adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”; the bacteria left behind to reproduce are the ones with the greatest resistance. So you produce “stronger” bacteria that are not only resist the antibacterials but related antibiotics as well.

As bacteria develop a tolerance for these compounds there is potential for also developing a tolerance for certain antibiotics. This phenomenon, called cross-resistance, has already been demonstrated in several laboratory studies using triclosan, one of the most common chemicals found in antibacterial hand cleaners, dishwashing liquids and other wash products.

These products aren’t recommended by medical professionals, other than for people with reduced immune system capacity, nursing homes, etc. And studies indicate that antibacterial soaps don’t prevent disease any better than regular soap.

So why are antibacterial products on the rise? How did we get here? The trend started back in the the 1990’s in the bathroom with antibacterial cleaners. In 2000, respected organizations like the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association warned consumers of the perils of antibacterial products and advised the FDA to “closely monitor and possibly regulate the home use of antimicrobials“.

Of course, there are dissenting views. The Soap and Detergent Association has this to say on the matter:

Q. Do you believe that the expanding use of antibacterial ingredients in consumer hand and body wash products could lead to “superbugs” that are resistant to antibiotic drugs?

A. No. In the more than 30 years that antibacterial wash products have been used by consumers and medical professionals, we have not seen any evidence that their use contributes to antibiotic resistance. If there were a link between antibacterial use and antibiotic resistance, experts believe it would have been seen by now in settings, such as hospitals, where antibacterial products are used extensively to stop the spread of bacteria and antibiotic resistance is closely monitored. In fact, two independent hospital infection control researchers recently presented studies to the FDA showing that triclosan-based wash products controlled and reversed outbreaks of resistant bacteria infections. .

- SDA FAQ: Some FAQs About Bacterial Resistance From Antibacterial Wash Products

So what happened? Did no one listen? Are we all mindless pawns of the Soap and Detergent Association? I think not.

Unfortunately the American consumer is at war with all bacteria. According to the Soap and Detergent Association (too bad its acronym couldn’t spell SUD), more than three-quarters of liquid soap and more than a quarter of bar soaps on supermarket shelves contain triclosan, an antibiotic that kills most bacteria, both good and bad.
- livescience.com’s Bad Medicine

It would be easy to blame the marketing machine of the soap and detergent industry. But 75% of the liquid soap on the market is a lot of soap. If all the manufacturers ditched the antibacterials, we’d still be be buying just as much soap because we’d still need to wash our hands so demand wouldn’t fall. That’s not it.

Controversial as it may be, I believe that consumers like things the way they are. We look at the world and draw our own conclusions. If antimicrobials are good for hospitals, they must be good for us. I don’t need advertising to want an antibacterial product. The proliferation of antibacterial products is an evolution, from consumers selecting antibacterial products over non-antibacterial products when given the choice over time, time and time again. All the industry did was pay attention and give us more of what we wanted.

I believe the proliferation of the antibacterial products is also tied in with the psychology of cleaning – people actually feel better about themselves when they have a clean house. Some people really need that feeling but using good old-fashioned bleach is a pretty harsh way to get it!

Finally, antibacterial products are a “security blanket” of sorts, real or imagined. They protect our possessions (wet mattress anyone?), let us be lazy (you can wash those dishes later, much later) and enable our bad habits (you can chew on that pencil without fear now that it’s antibacterial).

I don’t buy a lot of antibacterial products. I’ve studied microbiology and molecular genetics. I’ve studied food hygiene. I’ve swabbed & tested stuff for a living. I should know better. But when it comes to my antibacterial bathroom and kitchen cleaners? To quote Charlton Heston, “from my cold dead hands“.

Probably because I’ve swabbed stuff for a living.

The last word:

In general, however, good, long-term hygiene means using regular soaps rather than new, antibacterial ones, experts say. “The main way to keep from getting sick,” Gustafson says, “is to wash your hands three times a day and don’t touch mucous membranes.”

Not that we’ll listen. Because it’s not just about “getting sick” anymore.

How I got on this subject: Antibacterial Cleaners Do More Harm Than Good on treehugger.com

What if a green household product isn’t so green after all?

Interesting post on the Consumer Reports Home & Yard blog about “eco-friendly” products that don’t live up to their claims.

Consumer Reports Senior Editor Doug Podolsky discovered that Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwashing Gel … is not “biodegradable,” a claim that appears on the front label of the 45-ounce container. The gel contains a petroleum-based ingredient that’s listed on the bottle as a “non-toxic acrylic polymer.” The presence of this polymer means that the gel is not biodegradable, as the company defines the term.

Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwashing Gel ... Not so ecofriendly after all

The article offers a little insight into how this happens, and how companies respond.

Read When ‘green’ claims reveal a gray area on ConsumerReports.org.

Visit Eco-labels.org (by Consumer Reports) for more information on environmental labeling of household products.

160 Home Improvement Contractors nabbed in Connecticut Spring Sting

News earlier this week from Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection. The DCP’s 7th sting operation netted 150 unregistered contractors. 10 other contractors were cited for illegal contracts or contract language violations.

The unregistered contractors will be notified by mail of their violations, pay $500 in fines, and have to register with the state according to the Connecticut Post. The Post article also raises some valid concerns:

That so many were caught is a sign consumers need to be wary when hiring contractors, according to consumer protection officials and business leaders. But, they added, the very regulations being violated might also be driving up the costs for legitimate businesses and opening up the opportunity for a sort of black market of home improvement services.

But the last word should go to DCP Commissioner Jerry Farrell Jr.:

“These operations also serve as a reminder to consumers that while the Department administers the Home Improvement Guaranty Fund which provides up to $15,000 to victimized consumers, the money is only available to homeowners who have used a registered contractor. That is why it is so important to verify your contractor’s registration before signing any contract or giving them any money.”

Props: The Connecticut Post.

Read the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection press release.

Pennsylvania – stronger protection from home improvement fraud is on the way

Pennsylvania has new legislation in process to establish better consumer protection for homeowners.

Bill highlights:

  • a state-wide home improvement contractor database
  • written contracts required for all jobs over $500
  • the scope and cost of work be set out in the contract and clearly understood by the customer
  • makes home-improvement fraud a criminal offense
  • with stiffer penalties for scammers who target seniors

Although receiving senate passage is promising, the bill won’t become law until approved by the House of Representatives and Governor Ed Rendell.

Pennsylvanians should also note the gotchas:

For a contract to be enforceable against a customer, it would have to be signed by the customer and dated, and disclose the approximate time frame of the work and materials to be used, as well as the specifications and description of the work. It would also have to include the total sales price.

In addition, a contract would be voided if it has a clause that releases the contractor from building code requirements or liability, or that strips the customer of legal rights.

Source: phillyburbs.com.

The Top 5 Unexpected Pitfalls of being your own General Contractor

Acting as your own General Contractor is a DIY option which sounds good on the surface. What a great way to save lot of money on your renovation (typically 15%) by replacing the General Contractor. How hard could it be?

Hard. Here are your responsibilities as your own General Contractor:

  • managing the details of the renovation project,
  • securing the required building permits,
  • hiring, firing and scheduling subcontractors,
  • ordering building materials & supervising installation,
  • inspecting the work of subcontractors,
  • coordinating formal building inspections (with the permit office),
  • ensuring work is done to code, and
  • troubleshooting design or logistics issues.

That’s a tall order. It should be clear from the job description that not every homeowner is suited to being a General Contractor.

Acting as your own general contractor works best if you’re highly organized, detail-oriented and have a clear idea of what you want in your home.
- Bankrate

Even if you’re “organized”, you still need to decide if it’s truly worthwhile as the pitfalls may eat up your savings handily and then some.

“Don’t do it just to save some money,” he said, “because it’s a lot of work and a lot of research. If you’re not interested in the process, if you don’t want to learn more about construction than you thought you’d ever want to know, then don’t do it.”
- Graham Irwin from Remodel Guidance, SFGate

Ok you’re highly organized, good at planning and management, and really want to learn the ins and outs of construction. Most people understand that they will pay more for supplies which seems to be an acceptable trade off for the control they gain over the process. And everybody knows they have to do their research when hiring subcontractors. But are they aware of the surprise gotchas?

Here are my Top 5 Unexpected Pitfalls of being your own General Contractor.

1. Not having the same relationship with Subcontractors

A reputable general contractor usually has a good long-standing work relationship with the subcontractors, the ones who actually do the work. The general takes care of them and the subcontractors make an extra effort to do a good job on schedule.

If you are your own general contractor, the subcontractors will not have the same allegiance, so you can plan on running behind schedule a little. This can eat up at least 5 percent of the savings
- Ms Builder

That’s 5% gone …

2. Not having the time to closely monitor the project.

You need to be available to spend time on site. When needed. Could be anywhere from 10 to 40 hours per week, depending on the stage in the process. If you have a demanding full time job, be prepared to take time off. You must also

… have an intimate knowledge of the plans so that you notice any accidental deviations. If you miss something early, repairing or modifying the plans later, to accommodate the error, can use up much of your 10 percent savings. …
- Ms Builder

Ok so now your 15% savings could be gone and maybe some of your vacation time. What’s next? Ah yes …

3. The Building Permit Maze

Many people underestimate the time it will take to get building permit approval.

“Sometimes half of the project is just getting the permits … Go into the permit office as early as possible in the process to find out the restrictions. That way, you’re not spending time and money developing plans that you can’t get permits for.”
- SFGate

This homeowner relates how his building plan estimate went south because of permit problems stemming from a lack of awareness of the local building regulations, among other things. “My conservative estimate of six weeks for plan approval was woefully inadequate”.

4. Liability Insurance, Workers Compensation & Lien Laws

When you act as your own General Contractor, you become responsible for any third party injuries that may occur on your property or damage to property by subcontractors. If they aren’t covered the claim could end up landing on your homeowners’ insurance … or worse. Also, if your subcontractors don’t pay their suppliers or subcontractors, a lien could be filed against your property.

And finally, on a personal note …

5. It can KO Your marriage.

Anderson, the Oakland homeowner, remembered a book that “quoted a higher than normal percentage of DIY construction couples ending in divorce,” he said. “Be sure you’ve got a strong relationship and that you’re in 100 percent agreement about doing it yourself.”
- SFGate

Summary Judgment:

This testimonial summarizes the pitfalls very well:

While we learned many things while serving as our own GC, the top three lessons are as follows: first, if you are looking to save time, don’t be your own general [contractor]. We can easily say that the project took twice as long due to our lack of experience and limited time. Second, be sure that you and your spouse can work together and are like-minded when it comes to what you are looking for in a finished product. Last, what we saved in money we paid for in sleepless nights worrying about what needed to be done before the next subs arrive, lack of free time, and lots of other unforeseen costs.
- Jonathan Norling

How can you act as your own General Contractor, get around these pitfalls and sleep better at night? I would suggest hiring a Renovation Advisor to help bridge the gaps in your knowledge and experience. Yes it’ll cost you a few bucks but in return you might be able to keep more of your General Contractor savings, a good return or payback on your consulting investment.

New York’s Consumer Protection Board investigates Home Improvement Industry

I love New York. The New York State Consumer Protection Board’s Home Improvement Initiative is on. The CPB hopes to better protect consumers while encouraging opportunities for contractors through a multi-step process.

Phase one involves online surveys for both homeowners and home improvement contractors plus making a comprehensive hire-a contractor tips complete with model contract package available online. Phase two, the public hearings, are now in progress.

Watch the video report or read the source story on News 10 Now. Plus another news report on Channel 9.

Read about New York’s Home Improvement Initiative on the New York State Consumer Protection Board website or call the Board directly at 1-800-697-1220. You can still have your say – take the CPB Homeowner Survey online. If you are a home improvement contractor, you may want to take the Contractor Survey.

I do admire the CPB for the effort. But if I was a contractor, I might not be enamored with the Contractor Survey questions which are all about qualifications / credentials; the survey reads like a reference check more than a way for contractors to join in a constructive discussion on how to improve the situation. What contractor in his right mind is going to put down he’s an unlicensed contractor then his name and address in case they want to contact him??

But it’s the thought that counts right?

Mike Holmes, Marketplace & Max Pies – How not to get nailed by bad contractors

While researching hiring home improvement contractors, I stumbled on this insightful online video featuring Mike Holmes of Holmes on Homes on CBC Marketplace, a Canadian consumer affairs / investigative journalism show.

How not to get nailed … No one sees more renovation ripoffs than Mike Holmes. Marketplace uses hidden cameras to expose a contractor responsible for the latest disaster he’s fixing.

Marketplace sets the Sting

“The real deal on Home Contractors … Home Improvement Horrors … Hidden Camera Job Quotes … Who to trust … One very questionable character.” Oh boy, I can’t wait.

The show seemed to have 2 goals. First to set up a “test” to illustrate to viewers how to weed out the good from the bad contractors, what to look for. And second, to “bait a trap” for one particularly bad contractor (Leo Dos Reis of Max Pies Home Improvements), who crops up time and time again in complaint email to Mike Holmes from disillusioned homeowners.

The contractors job quote and interview segment is instructive and revealing but not terribly surprising. None of them quite measured up to Mike Holmes’ wish list … but then his standards are pretty high.

The Max Pies expose and sting operation, however, is brutal. Mike Holmes investigates the job and points out how the home is now unsafe, how the room built for the family baby could endanger her health, and how the house doesn’t meet building code.

Wendy Mesley of Marketplace interviews unhappy homeowners. And investigates the misleading Max Pies web site which is revealed to use photos of work by other contractors without their permission. How one contractor has tried repeatedly to have his photos removed even to the point of engaging a lawyer, without success.

A Very Questionable Character Caught in the Act

Leo Dos Reis, the owner of Max Pies Home Improvements, is the “very questionable character” mentioned in the teaser. FYI, Max Pies Home Improvements in Canada is not affiliated with the similarly named US flooring company.

Leo Dos Reis - Are you licensed?

The piece de resistance is the video sting of Dos Reis in action – the sales pitch, the misleading actions and statements about his license and qualifications, the customers he claims to have worked for who’ve never heard of him, the protestations about his reputation, the over-priced estimate, and the high pressure sales tactics.

Turns out Mr. Dos Reis has been charged with 14 counts of fraud. Marketplace tried to meet with him but he beat a hasty retreat when he saw the cameras. Apparently, he was supposed to be in court again last week. I checked out the local home improvement rating & reviews site and he has a solid 3 Star Rating in spite of the above. Interesting. Very interesting indeed.

Summary Judgment

Five Star piece of reporting by Marketplace, irrespective of the city you live in; highly recommended viewing if you are considering hiring a home improvement contractor.

The episode originally aired in January but you can see all the videos on the Marketplace site – including a March update on the story. Apparently Dos Reis is now running Platinum Home Renovations – with the same photos and content. He is still also going to court. All of which makes him Canada’s poster boy for bad home improvement contractors. You can find out more about the charges by searching the Consumer Beware database for “Max Pies” then clicking on DOS REIS, LEONARDO. Searching for “leo dos reis” won’t bring anything up, due to the way the search is designed.

DOS REIS, LEONARDO
CRIMINAL CODE – CCC – FRAUD, 13 CHARGES ON 2006/05/03
CRIMINAL CODE – CCC – ATTEMPT FRAUD, 1 CHARGE ON 2006/05/03
CRIMINAL CODE – CCC – FRAUD, 1 CHARGE ON 2007/04/04

For more info about crusading contractor Mike Holmes check out the Mike Holmes -Wikipedia entry and the Holmes on Homes website. Holmes on Homes airs on the Discovery Home channel in the US and HGTV in Canada.

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