Home remodeling isn’t just good for the planet—rejuvenating your home to be more eco-conscious is beneficial to your family’s health and your home’s bottom line. These days, with the majority of homeowners preferring to go green, there are more options than ever to appeal to both your conscience and your aesthetic. [Read more…]
The ‘smart home’ is the new ‘internet of things’, or objects that can serve you better by communicating with each other or directly with you through apps on your smart phone. [Read more…]
Whether you’re putting your home on the market this year or in the next five years, it is a smart decision to start building your home’s resale value now. Here are some ways to create a comfortable home while making it easier to put more money into your bank account on closing day. [Read more…]
Just a friendly reminder to set your clocks back one hour this Sunday. And, don’t forget to change the batteries in your smoke detectors!
Daylight Saving Time was born of necessity during World War I and II. Going to bed hours after sundown, people relied upon artificially generated light, depleting fuel reserves. Germany realized that this precious commodity could better be used to serve the war effort, and instituted the first daylight saving laws in 1915. England followed suit in 1916, and the United States, in 1918.
You’ll be ready for winter’s worst and head off expensive repairs when you complete this checklist of 10 essential fall maintenance tasks.
1. Stow the mower.
If you’re not familiar with fuel stabilizer, you should be. If your mower sits for months with gas in its tank, the gas will slowly deteriorate, which can damage internal engine parts. Fuel stabilizer ($10 for a 10-ounce bottle) prevents gas from degrading.
Add stabilizer to your gasoline can to keep spare gas in good condition over the winter, and top off your mower tank with stabilized gas before you put it away for the winter. Run the mower for five minutes to make sure the stabilizer reaches the carburetor.
Another lawn mower care method is to run your mower dry before stowing it.
1. When the mower is cool, remove the spark plug and pour a capful of engine oil into the spark plug hole.
2. Pull the starter cord a couple of times to distribute the oil, which keeps pistons lubricated and ensures an easy start come spring.
3. Turn the mower on its side and clean out accumulated grass and gunk from the mower deck.
2. Don’t be a drip.
Remove garden hoses from outdoor faucets. Leaving hoses attached can cause water to back up in the faucets and in the plumbing pipes just inside your exterior walls. If freezing temps hit, that water could freeze, expand, and crack the faucet or pipes. Make this an early fall priority so a sudden cold snap doesn’t sneak up and cause damage.
Turn off any shutoff valves on water supply lines that lead to exterior faucets. That way, you’ll guard against minor leaks that may let water enter the faucet.
While you’re at it, drain garden hoses and store them in a shed or garage.
3. Put your sprinkler system to sleep.
Time to drain your irrigation system. Even buried irrigation lines can freeze, leading to busted pipes and broken sprinkler heads.
1. Turn off the water to the system at the main valve.
2. Shut off the automatic controller.
3. Open drain valves to remove water from the system.
4. Remove any above-ground sprinkler heads and shake the water out of them, then replace.
If you don’t have drain valves, then hire an irrigation pro to blow out the systems pipes with compressed air. A pro is worth the $75 to $150 charge to make sure the job is done right, and to ensure you don’t have busted pipes and sprinkler head repairs to make in the spring.
4. Seal the deal.
Grab a couple of tubes of color-matched exterior caulk ($5 for a 12-ounce tube) and make a journey around your home’s exterior, sealing up cracks between trim and siding, around window and door frames, and where pipes and wires enter your house. Preventing moisture from getting inside your walls is one of the least expensive — and most important — of your fall maintenance jobs. You’ll also seal air leaks that waste energy.
Pick a nice day when temps are above 50 degrees so caulk flows easily.
5. De-gunk your gutters.
Clogged rain gutters can cause ice dams, which can lead to expensive repairs. After the leaves have fallen, clean your gutters to remove leaves, twigs, and gunk. Make sure gutters aren’t sagging and trapping water; tighten gutter hangers and downspout brackets. Replace any worn or damaged gutters and downspouts.
If you find colored grit from asphalt roof shingles in your gutters, beware. That sand-like grit helps protect shingles from the damaging ultraviolet rays of the sun. Look closely for other signs of roof damage (#5, below); it may be time for a roofing replacement.
Your downspouts should extend at least 5 feet away from your house to prevent foundation problems. If they don’t, add downspout extensions; $10 to $20 each.
6. Eyeball your roof.
If you have a steep roof or a multistory house, stay safe and use binoculars to inspect your roof from the ground.
Look for warning signs: Shingles that are buckled, cracked, or missing; rust spots on flashing. Any loose, damaged, or missing shingles should be replaced immediately.
Black algae stains are just cosmetic, but masses of moss and lichen could signal roofing that’s decayed underneath. Call in a pro roofer for a $50 to $100 eval.
A plumbing vent stack usually is flashed with a rubber collar — called a boot — that may crack or loosen over time. They’ll wear out before your roof does, so make sure they’re in good shape. A pro roofer will charge $75 to $150 to replace a boot, depending on how steep your roof is.
7. Direct your drainage.
Take a close look at the soil around your foundation and make sure it slopes away from your house at least 6 vertical inches over 10 feet. That way, you’ll keep water from soaking the soils around your foundation, which could lead to cracks and leaks.
Be sure soil doesn’t touch your siding.
8. Get your furnace in tune.
Schedule an appointment with a heating and cooling pro to get your heating system checked and tuned up for the coming heating season. You’ll pay $50 to $100 for a checkup.
An annual maintenance contract ensures you’re at the top of the list for checks and shaves 20% off the cost of a single visit.
Change your furnace filters, too. This is a job you should do every two months anyway, but if you haven’t, now’s the time. If your HVAC includes a built-in humidifier, make sure the contractor replaces that filter.
9. Prune plants.
Late fall is the best time to prune plants and trees — when the summer growth cycle is over. Your goal is to keep limbs and branches at least 3 feet from your house so moisture won’t drip onto roofing and siding, and to prevent damage to your house exterior during high winds.
For advice on pruning specific plants in your region, check with your state extension service.
10. Give your fireplace a once-over.
To make sure your fireplace is safe, grab a flashlight and look up inside your fireplace flue to make sure the damper opens and closes properly. Open the damper and look up into the flue to make sure it’s free of birds’ nests, branches and leaves, or other obstructions. You should see daylight at the top of the chimney.
Check the firebox for cracked or missing bricks and mortar. If you spot any damage, order a professional fireplace and chimney inspection. An inspection costs $79 to $500.
You fireplace flue should be cleaned of creosote buildup every other year. A professional chimney sweep will charge $150 to $250 for the service.
If you live in the Midwest, here are maintenance jobs you should complete in spring and summer to prevent costly repairs and keep your home in top condition.
Certain home maintenance tasks should be completed each season to prevent structural damage, save energy, and keep all your home’s systems running properly. What maintenance tasks are most important for the Midwest in spring and summer? Here are the major issues you should be aware of and critical tasks you should complete. For a comprehensive list of tasks by season, refer to the to-do lists to the right of this article.
When spring arrives in the Midwest, it’s time to clean up your home and yard from the ravages of winter. As the weather warms, you can also accomplish some routine maintenance tasks that are much more agreeable when the sun is shining.
Key maintenance tasks to perform
• Check your gutters and downspouts. “Stuff accumulates even after your fall gutter cleaning,” says Frank Lesh, president of Home Sweet Home Inspection Co. in Indian Head Park, Ill. “Pine needles especially, which fall all year long and are difficult to remove.” Children’s toys, he says, also find their way into gutters between cleanings, as well as nails and other debris from the roof. Look for any signs of wind or ice damage—has the gutter pulled away from the house, or bent so that there are depressions where water can stand? You can usually repair damage yourself for under $50 by adjusting or reattaching brackets and gently hammering out bent areas.
Lesh also recommends examining your downspouts for blockages. “You can’t see inside them,” he says, “so tap them with a screwdriver handle to see if they sound hollow.” If the ends run underground, where animals can build nests or winter debris can become trapped, your best bet is to put a garden hose in the gutter and see where the water discharges. If you have a blockage, you’ll have to disassemble or dig up part of the downspout until you locate it.
• Inspect your roof for winter damage. This is best done from a ladder, but if you’re allergic to ladders, use a pair of binoculars to check your roof from your yard. Look for loose and missing shingles. If anything looks unusual, investigate further yourself or call a roofing contractor.
• Take a close look at your chimney. “Do this even if the winter was mild,” Lesh says. “High winds, rain, and snow can damage a chimney. Look for cracks, missing mortar, loose bricks or boards, and signs of rot.” If any of those things are present, call a chimney sweep certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America for a repair estimate. If the metal flashing and the cap on a chimney are galvanized, Lesh says, check to see if they look brownish, which means they’re rusting and should be replaced. Also, make sure the cap is still present but hasn’t collapsed and covered the flue opening, which could cause a dangerous carbon monoxide buildup inside the house. Expect chimney repairs to start around $200.
• Examine your drainage. Make sure soil slopes away from your foundation at least 6 vertical inches in the first 10 feet on all sides of the house and that there are no areas of standing water. If you have properly sloped foundation drainage but still have areas of standing water, consider a landscaping solution, such as a swales (contoured drainage depressions), berms (raised banks of earth), terraces, or French drains (a shallow, gravel-filled trench that diverts water away from the house).
• Take a look at your siding. Has any of it come loose or begun to rot? Repair any damaged sections before moisture has a chance to set in. No matter what your siding is made of (wood, vinyl, brick), it may need a spring cleaning. The best DIY method for any kind of siding is a bucket of soapy water and a long-handled brush. A power washer is not recommended and should only be handled by a professional cleaning contractor. If you choose to have your siding professionally cleaned, expect to pay $300–$500 depending on the size of your home.
• Schedule your biannual HVAC appointment. Get ready for the air conditioning season with your spring tune-up. If your system wasn’t running well last season, be sure to tell your contractor, and make sure he performs actual repairs if necessary rather than simply adding refrigerant. “He shouldn’t just charge it up,” Lesh says. “That will work for a while, but it won’t last. Freon lasts forever—if your system is low, there’s a leak somewhere, and he should tell you specifically what he’s going to check to fix it.” Expect to pay $50–$100.
Your contractor’s maintenance checklist should include checking thermostats and controls, checking the refrigerant level, tightening connections, lubricating any moving parts, checking the condensate drain, and cleaning the coils and blower. Duct cleaning, while it probably won’t hurt anything, is not necessary; be wary of contractors who want to coat the inside of the ducts with antimicrobial agents, as research has not proven the effectiveness of this method and any chemicals used in your ducts will likely become airborne.
On your own, make sure your filters are changed and vacuum out all your floor registers.
• Check your GFCIs. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that you do this once a month, and it’s a good idea to incorporate it into your spring maintenance routine. GFCIs (ground fault circuit interrupters) are electrical outlets that protect you from deadly electrical shocks by shutting off the power anytime even a minimal disturbance in current is detected. They feature two buttons (“test” and “reset”), and should be present anywhere water and electricity can mix: kitchens, bathrooms, basements, garages, and the exterior of the house.
To test your GFCIs, plug a small appliance (a nightlight, for example) into each GFCI. Press the test button, which should click and shut off the nightlight. The reset button should also pop out when you press the test button; when you press reset, the nightlight should come back on.
If the nightlight doesn’t go off when you press the test button, either the GFCI has failed and should be replaced, or the wiring is faulty should be inspected. If the reset button doesn’t pop out, or if pressing it doesn’t restore power to the nightlight, the GFCI has failed and should be replaced. These distinctions can help you tell an electrician what the problem is—neither job is one you should attempt yourself if you don’t have ample experience with electrical repair.
Spending a weekend or two on maintenance can prevent expensive repairs and alert you to developing problems before they become serious. Be sure to check out the comprehensive seasonal to-do list following this article, and visit the links below for more detailed information on completing tasks or repairs yourself.
Want summer comfort but hate the AC? Follow these tips, and you’ll keep your house cool without frosty air conditioning.
You don’t have to switch on the air conditioner to get a big chill this summer. These tips will help you keep your house cool without AC, which will save energy (and avoid AC wars with your family).
Block that Sun!
When sunlight enters your house, it turns into heat. You’ll keep your house cooler if you reduce solar heat gain by keeping sunlight out.
- Close the drapes: Line them with light-colored fabric that reflects the sun, and close them during the hottest part of the day. Let them pillow onto the floor to block air movement.
- Add awnings: Install them on south- and west-facing windows to reduce solar heat gain by up to 77%, says the U.S. Department of Energy. Make your own by tacking up sheets outside your windows and draping the ends over a railing or lawn chair.
- Install shutters: Interior and exterior shutters not only reduce heat gain and loss, but they also add security and protect against bad weather. Interior shutters with adjustable slats let you control how much sun you let in.
- Apply high-reflectivity window film: Install energy-saving window films on east- and west-facing windows, which will keep you cool in summer, but let in warming sun in the winter. Mirror-like films are more effective than colored transparent films.
Here’s more information about energy-efficient window coverings.
Open Those Windows
Be sure to open windows when the outside temperature is lower than the inside. Cool air helps lower the temps of everything — walls, floors, furniture — that will absorb heat as temps rise, helping inside air say cooler longer.
To create cross-ventilation, open windows on opposite sides of the house. Good ventilation helps reduce VOCs and prevents mold.
Fire Up Fans
- Portable fans: At night, place fans in open windows to move cool air. In the day, put fans where you feel their cooling breezes (moving air evaporates perspiration and lowers your body temperature). To get extra cool, place glasses or bowls of ice water in front of fans, which will chill the moving air.
- Ceiling fans: For maximum cooling effect, make sure ceiling fans spin in the direction that pushes air down, rather than sucks it up. Be sure to turn off fans when you’re not in the room, because fan motors give off heat, too.
- Whole house fans: A whole-house fan ($1,000 to $1,600, including install) exhausts hot inside air out through roof vents. Make sure your windows are open when you run a whole-house fan.
Power Down Appliances
You’ll save money and reduce heat output by turning off appliances you’re not using, particularly your computer and television. Powering down multiple appliances is easier if you connect them to the same power strip.
Don’t use heat- and steam-generating appliances — ranges, ovens, washers, dryers — during the hottest part of the day. In fact, take advantage of the heat by drying clothes outside on a line.
Plant Trees and Vines
These green house-coolers shade your home’s exterior and keep sunlight out of windows. Plant them by west-facing walls, where the sun is strongest.
Deciduous trees, which leaf out in spring and drop leaves in fall, are best because they provide shade in summer, then let in sun when temperatures drop in autumn. Select trees that are native to your area, which have a better chance of surviving. When planting, determine the height, canopy width, and root spread of the mature tree and plant accordingly.
Climbing vines, such as ivy and Virginia creeper, also are good outside insulators. To prevent vine rootlets or tendrils from compromising your siding, grow them on trellises or wires about 6 inches away from the house.
Speaking of shade, here are smart, inexpensive ideas for shading your patio.
Want more tips for staying cool this summer? Substitute CFL and LED bulbs for hotter incandescent lights.
Also, try insulating your garage door to prevent heat buildup.
Published: March 9, 2010
Learn how much your home can appreciate in value if you do regular maintenance — and what the risks are if you don’t.
If you think home maintenance is an unavoidable series of weekend-eating chores, remember the age-old advice of Benjamin Franklin: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The fact is, proactive maintenance is essential to preserving the value of your home—without it, your home could lose 10% of its value. Regular, routine maintenance enhances curb appeal, ensures safety, and prevents neglected upkeep from turning into costly major repairs.
“It’s the little things that tend to trip up people,” says Frank Lesh, former president of the American Society of Home Inspectors and owner of Home Sweet Home Inspection Co. in Chicago. “Some cracked caulk around the windows, or maybe a furnace filter that hasn’t been changed in awhile. It may not seem like much, but behind that caulk, water could get into your sheathing, causing mold and rot. Before you know it, you’re looking at a $5,000 repair that could have been prevented by a $4 tube of caulk and a half hour of your time.”
Maintenance affects property value
Outright damage to your house is just one of the consequences of neglected maintenance. Without regular upkeep, overall property values are affected.
“If a house is in worn condition and shows a lack of preventative maintenance, the property could easily lose 10% of its appraised value,” says Mack Strickland, a professional appraiser and real estate agent in Chester, Va. “That could translate into a $15,000 or $20,000 adjustment.”
In addition, a house with chipped, fading paint, sagging gutters, and worn carpeting faces an uphill battle when it comes time to sell. Not only is it at a disadvantage in comparison with other similar homes that might be for sale in the neighborhood, but a shaggy appearance is bound to turn off prospective buyers and depress the selling price.
“It’s simple marketing principles,” says Strickland. “First impressions mean a lot to price support.”
Prolonging economic age
To a professional appraiser, diligent maintenance doesn’t translate into higher property valuations the way that improvements, upgrades, and appreciation all increase a home’s worth. But good maintenance does affect an appraiser’s estimate of a property’s economic age—the number of years that a house is expected to survive.
Economic age is a key factor in helping appraisers determine depreciation—the rate at which a house is losing value. A well-maintained house with a long, healthy economic age depreciates at a much slower rate than a poorly maintained house, helping to preserve value.
Estimating the value of maintenance
Although professional appraisers don’t assign a positive value to home maintenance, there are indications that maintenance is not just about preventing little problems from becoming larger. A study by researchers at the University of Connecticut and Syracuse University suggests that maintenance actually increases the value of a house by about 1% each year, meaning that getting off the couch and heading outside with a caulking gun is more than simply a chore—it actually makes money.
“It’s like going to the gym,” says Dr. John P. Harding, Professor of Finance & Real Estate at UConn’s School of Business and an author of the study. “You have to put in the effort to see the results. In that respect, people and houses are somewhat similar—the older (they are), the more work is needed.”
Harding notes that the 1% gain in valuation usually is offset by the ongoing cost of maintenance. “Simply put,” he says, “maintenance costs money, so it’s probably best to say that the net effect of regular maintenance is to slow the rate of depreciation.”
How much does maintenance cost?
How much money is required for annual maintenance varies. Some years, routine tasks, such as cleaning gutters and changing furnace filters, are all that’s needed, and your total expenditures may be a few hundred dollars. Other years may include major replacements, such as a new roof, at a cost of $10,000 or more.
Over time, annual maintenance costs average more than $3,300, according to data from the U.S. Census. Various lending institutions, such as Directors Credit Union and LendingTree.com, agree, placing maintenance costs at 1% to 3% of initial house price. That means owners of a $200,000 house should plan to budget $2,000 to $6,000 per year for ongoing upkeep and replacements.
Proactive maintenance strategies
Knowing these average costs can help homeowners be prepared, says Melanie McLane, a professional appraiser and real estate agent in Williamsport, Pa. “It’s called reserve for replacements,” says McLane. “Commercial real estate investors use it to make sure they have enough cash on hand for replacing systems and materials.”
McLane suggests a similar strategy for homeowners, setting aside a cash reserve that’s used strictly for home repair and maintenance. That way, routine upkeep is a snap and any significant replacements won’t blindside the family budget. McLane’s other strategies include:
Play offense, not defense. Proactive maintenance is key to preventing small problems from becoming big issues. Take the initiative with regular inspections. Create and faithfully follow a maintenance schedule. If you’re unsure of what needs to be done, a $200 to $300 visit from a professional inspector can be invaluable in pointing out quick fixes and potential problems.
Plan a room-per-year redo. “Pick a different room every year and go through it, fixing and improving as you go,” says McLane. “That helps keep maintenance fun and interesting.”
Keep track. “Having a notebook of all your maintenance and upgrades, along with receipts, is a powerful tool when it comes to sell your home,” advises McLane. “It gets rid of any doubts for the buyer, and it says you are a meticulous, caring homeowner.” A maintenance record also proves repairs and replacements for systems, such as wiring and plumbing, which might not be readily apparent.
Published: October 15, 2010
Adding radiant heat is an easier remodeling project for your family room, bathroom, and basement than you think.
Any time is a good time to warm your family room, bathroom, and basement with radiant heat. While forced air systems heat the air, radiant heat warms people and objects. Although adding some radiance to your home is easiest when you’re starting from scratch–everything is easier when building new–upgrading to radiant heat when you’re remodeling will work, too. Here’s how to radiate warmth to your family room, bath, and basement.
Heat your family room from the bottom up
Radiant heat is a natural for family room floors. If your basement ceiling is unfinished, installers can snake hot water-filled tubes between floor joists, and then cover and anchor them with aluminum heat-transfer plates. Toasty transfer plates and the warm air trapped within the joists heat the floor above, which radiates warmth to kids leaning on elbows in front of TVs.
Turn your bath into a spa
Stepping out of the shower onto a radiant-heated ceramic tile floor is not only bliss, it’s energy-efficient and easy to accomplish. Install either:
- Half-inch radiant heat plywood panels pre-grooved to hold hot-water-filled plastic tubes. They’ll raise the height of the finished floor slightly, so you may have to adjust doors or add a new threshold to ease the transition.
- Electric radiant heat mats wired to, best of all worlds, a dedicated circuit. Some companies makes a fiberglass mesh mat that is only 1/8 inch thick, so you don’t have to mess with doors or thresholds.
Cozy up your basement
Radiant heat flooring panels, which operate between 150 and 170°F, rid your basement of that dank feeling fast. Installers can lay radiant heat panels over the existing concrete floor (it’s about 30% cheaper than snaking between floor joists) or embed tubing or electric coils within a new pour.
Radiant heat panels are usually 1 inch thick, which could be a problem if you’ve got a low ceiling or a tall family, so measure carefully before deciding. Also investigate local building codes, which may require you to change the tread height of the bottom step or, possibly, redo the entire staircase.
Published: December 28, 2011
An extended power outage in extreme cold can be more than an inconvenience — it could jeopardize your safety. Learn now what to do when the heat goes out.
Bad weather and a power outage often go hand-in-hand, when ice, heavy snow, and high winds down power lines. And when temperatures dip into the nether-regions, losing your home’s heat is no laughing matter — especially when widespread power outages may take days to repair.
Follow this step-by-step plan of action to help you successfully ride out a power outage:
1. Prepare now. Check out FEMA’s guidelines for creating a home emergency preparedness kit and assemble everything you’ll need before you experience a power outage. Your kit should include enough water, dried and canned food, and emergency supplies (flashlights, batteries, first-aid supplies, prescription medicines, and a digital thermometer) to last at least three days.
Use battery-powered flashlights and lanterns, rather than candles, gas lanterns, or torches (to minimize the risk of fire). If power is out as a result of a disaster, know how to shut off your home’s natural gas, electricity, and water.
2. Look out the window. If lights are on in neighboring homes, the power outage may be due to a tripped circuit breaker or blown fuse. Head for your electrical panel and check it out.
3. Report it. If a circuit or fuse isn’t the issue, call your power company and let them know about your power outage. You can find the number on your utility bill or in the phone book. Never call 911 unless there’s an emergency, such as power lines down in your neighborhood. In that instance, alert the power company and stay away from downed lines.
4. Pre-empt problems. Shut off and unplug major appliances and electronics (computers, televisions, stereos) that were in use during the power outage. This step prevents damage to sensitive electronics caused by surges and spikes that can occur when the power comes back on.
Leave the refrigerator and freezer doors closed to help food stay cold for hours. If the doors to these appliances are unopened, food in the refrigerator is usually safe for 4 hours, and 48 hours in the freezer.
Provided you can keep them in an animal-resistant container, putting food outside is a great way to keep it from spoiling during a heat outage in the winter.
5. Layer on. Retain body heat by dressing in layers (sweater, sweatshirt, and a jacket); don gloves and a knit hat too. And keep moving: Physical activity raises your body temperature.
6. Warm safely. Carbon monoxide poisoning is the greatest danger when attempting to heat your home by alternative means. A wood stove or fireplace is your safest bet. Never use heating sources designed for outdoor use inside your home, garage, or crawlspace. Kerosene heaters, barbecue grills, camp stoves, and any device powered by gasoline, propane, or charcoal can emit carbon monoxide and also pose a fire hazard. (Heating with your gas stove isn’t recommended either.)
If you fire up a portable generator outside, locate it away from doors, windows, or vents that could allow carbon monoxide inside. Most portable generators ($500-$2,000) can power the refrigerator, a light, and a small 1500W space heater.
7. Take action. Prevent pipes from freezing by opening cabinet doors under sinks to allow warm air flow. Open faucets to allow a constant water drip. Prevent drafts by closing all the window coverings and sealing the gap at the bottom of exterior doors with rolled-up towels and blankets. Close doors to rooms you aren’t using (unless the room has pipes you’re warming).
8. Snuggle in. Gather everyone in the room with the space heater, fireplace, or wood stove, and close doors to the room, if possible. Wrap up in blankets and get cozy.
9. Set a signal. Flip on at least one light switch so it’s obvious when power is restored.