BUYING A HOME – INSPECTOR, CONSULTANT OR BOTH

The process of buying a home puts a lot of stress on potential home buyers, largely caused by the size of the financial commitment involved. Added to this, of course, comes the stress of selecting the right place from all the properties you’ve considered, checking out a bunch of school systems, commuting options, shopping convenience, banks, lawyers, etc.

Buying a home is clearly a big, scary deal and, aside from the stress of the process there’s also the unsettling prospect that you’ve missed something that’s going to come back to haunt you.  The dangers of buying the classic ‘white elephant’, however, can be dramatically reduced by tapping into the expertise of professionals – a structural inspector and a (pre-purchase) planning consultant. These simple, low-cost steps are appropriate for any home purchase but are particularly valuable for an older home and/or a place where changes are contemplated.

THE ROLE OF A STRUCTURAL INSPECTOR

The principle job of a home inspector is to help you avoid the near-term ‘white elephant’ by ensuring that the home’s structure and major systems are sound and operational.  In other words, inspectors take a detailed look at everything inside & outside and raise a red flag when they discover any major problems.  (see What Does A Home Inspector Look For? A Whole Lot at Realtor.com for more details)

Having your prospective home inspected is sufficiently important that it should be included as a contingency in your offer to purchase. In fact, your bank may require an inspection as protection on its financing. If the inspection turns up a major problem, it should be the responsibility of the seller to fix it, reduce the price, or let you walk away with your deposit.

THE ROLE OF A PLANNING CONSULTANT

A pre-purchase planning consultant has two principle jobs that help you avoid the long-term ‘white elephant’.  First, they provide a professional reality-check on how a home will be able to satisfy your custom requirements over time.  Second, they assess the feasibility/budget for ideas you have regarding ways it might be improved, plus provide options from a professional’s perspective.

Unlike a home you designed & built yourself, essentially any house you purchase will have some aspect that you’ll want to – someday – change. Even if you really like the place you’ll undoubtedly have some future projects kicking around in the back of your mind – adding another bathroom, finishing the basement, expanding the kitchen or adding a garage.

Before committing to a house, these ‘someday’ plans need to undergo a reality check by a professional. Particularly for older homes, add-on projects that transform a good home into your dream home may sound wonderful in your head but can turn out to be egregiously expensive, ergonomically ill-advised, or structurally impossible.

As you narrow down your list of potential homes, a brief walk-through with a building professional will not only correct misconceptions (the ‘buzz-kill’ portion of the consultation) but can elicit suggestions and options that never occurred to you (the ‘great idea!’ portion).

In selecting a planning consultant, it’s important to select a respected and experienced contractor rather than the classic ‘brother-in-law-who’s-good-with-a-hammer’. You need someone who has references and a portfolio of work that proves their knowledge & experience.

THE BOTTOM LINE

You may not notice that the roof of your prospective home is beginning to sag or the edges of the hardwood floor are warped indicating water damage but a good inspector will.  Likewise, a good home consultant may tell you that there simply isn’t enough space for your vision of a bathroom tucked under the staircase, or the city will never approve a garage on your lot, or that expanding the kitchen will be prohibitively expensive because of extensive structural work.

Their job isn’t to bring you glad tidings, it’s to provide a realistic picture of your prospective home even if it means killing the deal.  Hire them and listen to them – in the scheme of things it’s real short money and it could save you a bundle.

 

 

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3 REASONS TO PLAN NOW FOR A SPRING OR SUMMER PROJECT

As the end of Winter appears on the horizon, many homeowners start to think about renovations. If that sounds familiar, the time to plan for a Spring or Summer project is NOW – if you haven’t already started, don’t wait for the crocuses to begin peeping through. At that point, as Bill Belichick recently noted, “you’re already five weeks behind.”

Planning is the most important part of any project, and experience indicates that it can be the most timeCouple redecorating their home consuming. In order for things to proceed promptly, you will need to make most of your design decisions and material choices well before any work begins. Also, of course, a key goal for any project is to minimize disruptions to your family’s daily life, and the first step to accomplish this objective is good planning.

Here are three of the more pragmatic reasons for getting your detailed planning process started sooner rather than later.

The Design Process

Depending on the size and type of project you are planning, you may decide to go-it-alone or, alternatively, you may require the help of a design professional. For smaller projects that you’d like to handle on your own, e.g., a partial update in a kitchen or bathroom, you may opt to either fly solo or tap into a good interior designer, kitchen designer or tile showroom professional.

The important point is that even a smaller Spring or Summer project requires that you start your detailed planning NOW so as to minimize spur-of-the-moment, ill thought out decisions later on when work is underway and money is being spent.

If, on the other hand, your Spring or Summer project involves structural changes you absolutely need to get your planning underway NOW – the clock has already started.  For example, if your goal is to add a new addition, or a dormer, or anything requiring changes in the foundation, this qualifies as a major project requiring significant, detailed planning.

Depending on the specific project, you probably will need to hire either an architect, a structural engineer, or a surveyor – sometimes all of the above.  All of this takes time.

Finding a Contractor

Whatever the project is that you’re considering, eventually you will need a good contractor. Make this your first planning step.

Construction team on siteWhether it’s your brother in law, a contractor working in your neighborhood, someone recommended by a friend or the result of a Google search, bring them on board ASAP. A good contractor will be enormously helpful in developing a comprehensive and realistic project plan based on your preferences and budget.

Also, as the first member of your construction team, your contractor can lead you to the other professionals that will be necessary to complete your project.  Using this approach provides you with a coherent group of professionals that is much more likely to work seamlessly as a team, thus providing you with a smooth process that yields an on-time, on-budget successful project.

Why Start Everything Now?

The primary reason to emphasize early planning is that Spring is the most popular time to start a major construction project in New England.  Due to the historically harsh Winters we suffer – snow, frozen ground, bitterly cold temperatures – the construction process has a limited window during which it can be productively undertaken…and that window is NOW.

All New England design and construction professionals are aware of this limited window and, understandably, budget their time, work, and commitments accordingly. Because of this, building a cohesive team that works & communicates well can become a challenge as the weather gets warmer and key team members are less available.

Bottom Line

Good planning, a cohesive team, and good communications are the keys to success on any project.  And it all starts with good planning, so do your part and start NOW.

Best of luck, and as always let me know if I can help you out!

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WHEN A CONTRACTOR IS HIS OWN CLIENT

contractor client-diningAfter recently completing a major renovation on my own house, I thought it might be helpful for homeowners to see how an actual contractor approaches his own long term renovation planning to meet his family’s changing requirements over time.

Everyone’s needs & preferences will be different, of course, but the key to success is anticipating what your family will need and then planning accordingly. And remember, think long-term-process rather than quick-fix.

For Starters

When we purchased our home about sixteen years ago, it was a modest three bedroom split-entry ranch on a beautiful lot in a great child safe neighborhood – perfect for our three young children and ready to move in.  At that point the contractor in me started thinking about the future because – best of all – this was my own blank canvas!

Before closing on the property, therefore, I had future renovations & expansion in mind so I made sure that zoning and septic would allow for us to grow as a family. The beginning of a ‘master plan’ if you will.

Moving Forward

The first priority was a family room.  The kids needed a space that would allow them to be safe, contractor client-dencreative and studious and, not unimportantly, my wife and I needed a place to watch the game.

I took time to consider a variety of options, and when I stepped back at project’s end I had created the perfect space by combing the existing undersized family room with the one car garage at the lower level.

Family rooms need to evolve with the changing needs of the family so I’ve made several minor renovations to this space over the years, and now that the kids are no longer kids, yes, it qualifies as a man cave.

The Next Step

My daughter had her own room, but as the two boys got older it became clear that each needed his own space. Sounds simple right? Just add on another bedroom. But don’t forget I’m a contractor, unlikely to settle for a small scale renovation when a more serious upgrade provides the best long term solution.

contractor client-exteriorFive years after turning my one car garage into part of the family room, therefore, it was time for a two car garage with a master bedroom suite above, complete with a sitting area, walk-in closet and huge bathroom.

While the new master bedroom was great, what my wife really wanted was an exercise room which, of course, she got. Building another addition in the front of the house enabled me to enlarge the two boy’s bedrooms and add a farmer’s porch to complete the facade of what was no longer a split-entry ranch.

The Latest Phase

Remember my master plan? You might have noticed that I haven’t used that magic renovation word KITCHEN yet. Aside from the areas already discussed, the upstairs living space included a decent sized living room, an average dining room, and an average kitchen connected by the usual undersized doorways.

Through the years we made the best of our kitchen, dining room, et al, and had some great times & memories. But I’d been planning a new kitchen renovation in my mind and on paper for sixteen years, and now with college tuition done it was time.

contractor client-kitchen1I’ll bet at least some of this sounds familiar: the relationship of the dining room to the kitchen was ok-not-great. The living room was isolated and barely ever used, except for holiday meals when it became the dining room annex. Our typical family gathering involved a big crowd of people, most of whom invariably stood somewhere in the kitchen while we attempted to prepare the feast.

Not anymore. My goal was an open layout so I tore down all the interior walls and started from scratch – the dining room built-ins were all that remained. The new kitchen layout was a labor of love – and lots of planning. The large island allows for seating, as well as conversation, while cooking. A new look for the fireplace wall and a new front entry and open stairway complete the open layout.

Let’s face it, family requirements evolve, styles change, and people just don’t live the way they did 20 years ago. I think my formerly blank canvas is ready to be framed…but you never know. Remember, I’m a contractor and I build things.

contractor client-open2

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AUTUMN CHECKLIST – 7 INTERIOR TO-DOS

living-room2aWhile autumn brings glorious colors and, unfortunately, that dreaded march back to Standard Time and darkness, it’s also the season for homeowners in the Northeast to start thinking about surviving those long, cold months of home-confinement ahead – otherwise known as a New England Winter.  The following article, ‘7 Interior To-Dos’, is the second of our 2-part Autumn Checklist series for homeowners (see also our earlier ‘5 Exterior To-Dos ‘).

Make A Focused Interior Inspection

The first of the interior to-dos is an inspection focused on prevention, as in making sure the critical systems are ready to prevent the worst of winter from getting inside your house.  Here’s a list of the major items you absolutely should check out:

Heating Systemfurnace-repair-sioux-falls

The first stop on your preventative maintenance tour is your heating system.  This maintenance item is a must-do and really needs to be conducted by a professional, since they will have the correct parts (filters, valves, fittings) and will also check out your entire system.

The details of what needs to be done will vary depending on your fuel source (oil, gas, electric, propane, etc.) and your specific system (radiator, forced hot air, baseboard, etc.). HVAC maintenance is NOT a big tag item, so don’t skip it because you did it last year – a functioning system not only involves your family’s comfort, it involves their safety.

Generator

generator1Sustained power outages due to winter storms are unhappily a yearly occurrence and can result in exceptional disruption for homeowners – no heat, no refrigeration, no internet, etc., all of which amount to inherent dangers to your family.

If you have a back-up generator, GREAT, just make sure it’s charged or gassed up and ready to go.  If you DON’T have a generator, give it some consideration NOW, not after the 3rd blizzard when everything is sold out.

Whether you go with a small portable unit or a stationary model that restores power throughout the house, generators are a great investment that pay for themselves many times over.

tank-type-snWater Heater

Water heaters are probably the easiest thing on this Checklist to inspect since conventional models have a production/expiration date (usually 5-10 years after installation) listed on the outside.

Unfortunately, water heaters are a ‘blind item’ – you can’t inspect the rusting that’s going on inside so, just like a carton of milk, ignore that expiration date at your peril. In this instance that peril consists of the tank’s bottom falling off, flooding your basement with hot water – just what you want to deal with on a snowy January morning.

Weather Seals

No matter how efficient your heating system is, if your home isn’t sealed up tight it’s going to be both difficult and expensive to keep it comfortably warm during winter.  A key group of Interior To-Dos, therefore, involve weather seals.

Attic insulation1

A correctly insulated attic is the starting point for sealing your home, since in most instances this is where heat loss is greatest.  Additionally, poorly insulated attics are the primary culprit in winter roof damage and ice dams. Succinctly stated, correctly insulating your attic can pay for itself in one heating season and, in addition, can potentially avert much more costly damage.

Because the specific design of your house will determine the best solution, it’s strongly advised that you bring in a professional to assess your requirements. They will determine what you need, and where, and whether permanent solutions like spray foam insulation on the roof rafters is feasible in your attic.

Doors & Windows 

Close behind your attic as sources of heat loss are your doors and windows.  Storm doors & windows are the traditional doors-windows2approach, and advances in insulated doors and double/triple paned windows have largely solved the heat-leakage problem. If you are considering an upgrade to more efficient doors/windows, get moving since you want to get this done in the fall not the spring.

If you’ve got storm doors/windows and are still having a problem, good old weather stripping can be an effective do-it-yourself seasonal fix.  Also, if you can fit it into your décor, window treatments involving, e.g., lined drapes or blinds (venetian, slats, fabric, etc.), can help keep the heat in and the cold out.

Fireplace 

Often overlooked, a fireplace can account for an enormous amount of heat loss, i.e., it’s essentially an open window.  Install glass-doors or other solutions that close it up when not in use.

BOTTOM LINE

The items on our Interior Checklist primarily focus on warmth, efficiency, and safety for the upcoming winter. Autumn is unquestionably the best time of year to go through this type of inventory, since waiting until preventable things go wrong should never be an option. Winter is a great season – as long as you keep it outside!

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AUTUMN CHECKLIST – 5 EXTERIOR TO-DOS

autumn-home 3Back-to-school, shorter days, much cooler nights – for New England homeowners the seasonal roll-over from summer to autumn means more than a wardrobe change, it means “Get ready for winter”.  It’s that time of year, therefore, for us to offer our 2-part Autumn Checklist, with ‘5 Exterior To-Dos’ leading off followed by ‘7 Interior To-Dos’ .

Start With A Thorough Exterior Inspection

Preparing your home for winter begins on the exterior, which is your first line of defense against the rigors of cold temperatures, wind, snow, and ice.  The objective here is preventative maintenance – finding & fixing an exterior issue in September or October is way easier and more pleasant than doing it in January or February, not to mention, way cheaper.

Your first task, therefore, is to conduct a thorough inspection of exterior areas that can cause the biggest problems.  Here’s a breakdown of some critical major areas you should be inspecting:

Roofroof1

Starting at the top of your house, take a hard look at the condition of your roof.  First, you are looking for missing or loose shingles, and if you find any you can rest assured that winter winds and ice will find them too.  In other words, fix them – NOW.

Next, once you’re sure the roof is at least intact and functional, take the next step and inspect the condition of the shingles.  If they are beginning to deteriorate – mold, algae, brittle, splits – your decision boils down to answering the question, “Can these make it to next spring?” Don’t roll the dice if you’re in doubt.

clogged-gutter-2Gutters & Downspouts

First, make sure all your gutters are securely attached to the house.  The weight-stress on gutters from snow, ice, melting, re-freezing can be significant, so make sure the entire gutter run is tightly secured to the eaves.  Also make sure all the downspouts are securely connected and clog-free.

Second, confirm that the gutters will be able to perform their drainage function during harsh winter conditions, i.e., that the gutters are clear and sloped properly. This will almost always mean that built-up gunk and leaves have to be removed, a nasty job that should wait until the leaves have fallen.

 

Siding 

siding & trimNext on your Autumn Checklist is your home’s siding and trim.  Particularly in older homes, look closely for rotting boards or shingles and any evidence of insect infestation.  Once again, if you find anything, fix it now since it will be too late when the snow is flying.

Also, it’s well known that Autumn is the best time for exterior painting, so if you find heavy paint wear or chipping on the siding or trim, consider having it repainted now since it’s only going to get worse during the winter.

Home Access

Walking into your house or driving into your garage is pretty straightforward during warm moths but can become a potentially dangerous challenge in winter.

image_23531Cracks in your sidewalk or steps will expand during the many freeze/melt/freeze cycles ahead, so a little bit of attention now can help prevent a big (and dangerous) problem later.  Also, if you have railings – which all tend to loosen over time – make sure they are tightly anchored and won’t give way just when you need them most.

Of course the garage door will open – until it doesn’t, most likely during a howling snow storm.  Make sure it’s working properly and maintained as required.  Also, if it’s attached, make sure to weather seal both the garage door itself and the interior door to the house.

BOTTOM LINE

Fall is the best time of the year to take stock of your home’s exterior and plug any gaps that you find.  The weather is still nice enough for you or your contractor to get fix-up projects out of the way quickly & cheaply so that you’ll be able to sleep soundly during those long winter nights around the corner.

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NOT YOUR FATHER’S BATHROOM RENOVATION

Bathroom Renovation2

Considering A Bathroom Renovation?

Has it been a while since you have renovated or added a bathroom? Well, times have changed…considerably! Today, the cost of remodeling a bathroom is driven by materials, and in today’s global economy that means TONS of options – plumbing fixtures, light fixtures and tile are available from all over the world, which means a myriad of choices are available to you.

Your Basic 3 Alternatives

 

Bathroom Renovation3

Big Box Store

One way to address the “myriad of choices” issue is to go with a packaged solution from a big box store which will dictate the materials that will be used.  In other words, since you’ll be buying everything from one place, you’ll be accepting the materials choices already made by the store.  While there may be some limited options available within those materials, in order for this to work from the store’s perspective the basics will be predetermined based entirely on the materials they sell.  So much for all those options out there and that personalized bathroom renovation!

Bathroom Renovation4Do It Yourself

Perhaps after watching a great HGTV show you may get inspired to take on the bathroom renovation yourself.  My threshold advice is simply, “Don’t Underestimate What You’re Getting Into!”  First stop on this path will be the internet to nail down all that fixtures & tile stuff – this is going to take LOTS of time even for a seasoned handyman.  And then there’s the actual installation part.  Even if you can get help from a buddy, bathroom renovations are ALWAYS a real bear – hugely frustrating and ENORMOUSLY time-consuming.  And even worse, all too often the finished product resembles a project from Shop Class.  In other words, really think it through before choosing this alternative.

Professional Help

The final alternative involves bringing in some professional help, which will be most appropriate if you are looking to make your bathroom renovation something special.  In this regard, “Special” will require your involvement re: tastes, style & Bathroom Renovation1preferences, but the results can be spectacular!

The first step is to consult with a local General Contractor who knows the process and has been through it many times. This professional will help you through the planning stage, which is the most important step in the whole process since it will lay the groundwork for everything that follows.  Here’s a short list of additional areas where having a professional involved can prove indispensable:

  • Selecting materials and suppliers will be a critical next step in the process, and the professional can lead you in the right direction with recommendations of reputable suppliers that are appropriate for the requirements.
  • Once suppliers have been selected, the professional will ensure materials are ordered in advance, which is crucial to avoiding unnecessary mid-project delays.
  • Anticipating pitfalls is crucial. For example, if you’re moving fixture locations, it’s important to work with a Bathroom Renovation5contractor who is structurally knowledgeable, can explain the pros and cons, and can foresee any potential problems.
  • Tile and stone choices have come a long way, even in the last ten years. Researching colors, styles and trends online can be fun, time consuming and frustrating, and professional guidance will streamline the process. Quality is not always obvious, and always make appointments before visiting showrooms to ensure that you receive the complete focus of the salesperson recommended to you.
  • As mentioned earlier, materials will drive the cost of your bathroom renovation so have a budget in mind before shopping. People are attracted to the highest priced materials, so if that’s not in your budget be careful. Again, working with a contractor throughout the process will provide you with a sense of reality at every turn.

 

The bottom line is to HAVE FUN!  A new bathroom is a very exciting undertaking and probably something you have been thinking about for a long time.  My best advice: USE A PROFESSIONAL AND ENJOY THE RESULTS FOR YEARS TO COME!

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DON’T TEAR ME DOWN

Please, don’t tear me down.Don't Tear Me Down1

I’ve been here for 150 years.  Six families have called me home.

Hundreds of immigrant craftsmen created me with their own hands, without the use of power tools.  Stone that was quarried locally is my foundation.

My gas lights have been replaced with electricity. The coal furnace that heated me for years was converted to oil, then natural gas. I’m thinking about going to solar.

My bones are still strong and my character is irreplaceable. All my owners have made exceptional efforts to preserve these.

Don't Tear Me Down2So why am I about to end up in a landfill?

They don’t build things like they used to, and once they’re gone, they’re gone for good!  Developers are too quick to discard part of our heritage and replace it with town houses or McMansions.

This is true not just for historical homes but smaller homes as well. Quality housing stock in family communities is systematically being eliminated. Young families are being priced out of neighborhoods – in many cases the same neighborhoods they grew up in – by cookie-cutter, quick-flip developers without a second thought given to the character and history that exists there.

So what alternative am I suggesting?

Renovating, adding onto, and in some cases historically restoring existing homes should be considered as a first option by homeowners as well as developers.

Don't Tear Me Down3This won’t necessarily involve any financial trade-offs and, in fact, will generally cost less up-front, interject more personality into the work, and provide a more satisfying finished product sooner.  In other words, this shouldn’t be a simple math question: it needs to be an essay question that requires thought and the balancing of multiple factors.

We live in a ‘disposable society’ that fosters replacement over repair or renewal – which maybe makes sense with broken toasters and TVs, but…our homes and neighborhoods?  With so much talk about going green and the importance of sustainability, we sometimes overlook the obvious.

If we don’t destroy and discard our existing housing, there is no need to cut down trees to replace it, right?Don't Tear Me Down4

Or to continuously expand our landfills to accommodate debris that isn’t really debris, right?

Simply stated, my alternative is to slow down & consider the consequences of what we’re doing.  Respecting the integrity and character of an existing home isn’t always easy, but believe me, it is always rewarding.

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A HOMEOWNER’S THREE CRITICAL ALARMS

In your struggle to fight the elements this winter, don’t overlook three critical alarms in your home – smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide.  Please do not assume that, because these are required as a matter of code, your home is “all set”.  Also, of course, don’t assume you’re in the clear once spring arrives.

Alarms1

Issues To Consider

While these alarm systems don’t prevent the underlying dangers, they can play a crucial role in protecting your family and limiting damage to your home.  In other words, EVERY HOME NEEDS TO HAVE THESE SYTEMS UP-AND-RUNNING.  Here are some issues you should consider:

Pay Attention to Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide alarms are mandated for your home and, although smoke/fire alarms have been required for a much longerAlarms2 period of time, there is at least a chance that your house falls into a potentially fatal ‘black hole’ for structures that pre-date 2005 when the CO regulations took effect.  The ‘black hole’ in this instance is simply unawareness of the regulation by the homeowner.

Because CO is a ‘silent killer’, there is essentially no way to detect it without an alarm.  Every floor in your home needs one, and the regulations specify an alarm within 10 feet of every bedroom.  Sound draconian?  You bet, and for good reason.  Unlike exposure to smoke or fire, CO poisoning is pretty much ALWAYS deadly.  It’s you & your family – not your house – that’s at risk.

Hardwired or Battery (wireless)

The primary advantage of hardwired alarms is that you’re guaranteed they’ll work as long as the power is on, and most of these systems include battery back-up in the event of a power interruption (which, of course, means you need to keep these Alarms3batteries fresh).  These systems merit strong consideration in new construction, and represent a top-of-the-line solution in existing structures.

Battery-powered alarms are generally quite inexpensive and easy to install, but require more hands-on attention (fresh batteries & testing periodically).  While most of these alarms begin to ‘chirp’ when the battery power runs low, the best practice is to install new batteries on a specific date annually, e.g., when the time changes or your birthday, and to test them every three to six months afterward.

Interconnected or Standalone

With standalone systems, the unit that detects the smoke, fire or carbon monoxide is the only one that sounds an alarm.  With interconnected systems, all units sound an alarm if any unit detects a problem.

The larger or more spread-out your home, the more likely it is that you should consider an interconnected system.  The key objective of these alarm systems is to alert you to a danger in your home quickly so you can protect your family and get help as soon as possible.  The choice between systems, therefore, involves potential delays in being alerted, e.g., can you hear the alarm in the 1st floor den from your 3rd floor bedroom?

What Happens If You’re Not Home?Alarms4

What good is a detection system if you are not aware of a problem?  In the past, your safest bet was an alarm company that monitored your system and notified the local fire department, plus called and/or texted you, when there was an alarm.  Now there are a variety of apps available for your phone or tablet that may work with your existing systems to perform these same notification functions – worth checking out.

Bottom Line

Murphy’s Law tells us that if anything can go wrong, it will.  The critical alarms discussed above don’t contradict Mr. Murphy, but they do provide a layer of protection against disaster when things start to become seriously dangerous.  These systems don’t require any heavy lifting or major expense – just your attention.  Your family & home will definitely be safer.

 

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9 PERFECT WINTER PROJECTS FOR YOUR HOME

Despite the weather outside, it’s actually the ideal time of year to undertake some smaller scale improvements inside your home – here are some good reasons to consider doing something now, plus some ideas about Perfect Winter Projects.

Winter_traffic2Winter Gets a Bad Rap

To begin, let’s all agree that winter in the Northeast is a huge hassle.  It’s cold outside and dealing with snow & ice on your car, driveway, walks, and roofs can be a miserable job.  Then, of course, just getting around becomes a challenge – the roads are a mess, schools get cancelled, and driving essentially anywhere can become dangerous.

The understandable conclusion of many homeowners is to reorder priorities and say, “I’ll just wait until spring to deal with home improvements.”  From a long-time industry professional, however, this can be exactly the wrong conclusion – here are some factors you should consider:

Availability of Quality Contractors

General contractors (the good ones, at least) are already planning their larger-scale projects – additions, major renovations – for the spring. Good luck trying to hire a quality contractor for smaller-scale inside jobs when the snow has melted.

Contractor Responsiveness

It’s a fact-of-life that most contractors are busier in the spring & summer than in the winter.  Even if you’ve hired a great contractor, this means that their ability to deliver exactly what you want, when you want it, won’t be burdened with as many competing demands in the winter.

family kitchenEnjoyment Delayed Is Enjoyment Lost

For most folks, the central reason to improve your home is to enjoy it…as soon as possible.  Getting the project done now means it’s ready to be used in the spring – waiting until spring could mean that the Red Sox aren’t the only thing that could darken your summer mood.

Spring Is the Best Time to Sell – Not Improve

For homeowners with an eye towards selling, there simply is no question that inside projects should be the priority this winter.  When this spring’s home-buying-frenzy hits. “ready-to-move-in” is a much better selling point than “ready-soon”.

A List of 9 Perfect Winter Projects

Your focus should be on smaller-scale inside projects – here’s an idea-list of some popular ones:

 

RENOVATING OR EXPANDING LIVING SPACE
attic makeoverbasement family room

  • Bathroom Remodels
  • Kitchen Renovations
  • Family Room Renovations
  • Basement Makeovers/Renovations
  • Attic Makeovers/Renovations

 

IMPROVING FUNCTION & CONVENIENCE
built-in-closet-shelving-ideasdiy-built-in-closet-ideas

  • Garage Storage Solutions/Organization
  • Closet Solutions/Organization
  • Adding Built-Ins
  • Adding Insulation

 

Winter Project Unease

An uncomfortable feeling many homeowners have with winter projects centers around the following question: “Do I really want contractors tracking through my house in the winter and will they actually show up?”

The answer, of course, depends on your contracting decisions.  The key to a professional, non-disruptive project is hiring an experienced local contractor with a track record of quality work and satisfied customers, e.g., a contractor like CBS.

Such contractors, and the sub-contractors they hire, prioritize your convenience and the protection of your home during their work – and dealing with bad weather is just an inconvenient part of what we do.

Bottom Line   If you’ve got an inside project in mind, hire a quality contractor and go for it!  Why watch that show on HGTV when you can have the live production come to your house?  You might actually enjoy it, and I know your children will.

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HOMEOWNER’S OUNCE OF PREVENTION

Ben Franklin “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  While Ben Franklin was referring to fire prevention in Philadelphia, over the years this homespun adage has come to reflect a universal truth about life – it’s better to avoid a disaster than clean up afterwards.

‘Ounce of prevention’ wisdom is all around us – brushing, flossing, dieting, exercising, fire drills, airport security, and maintenance on our cars. But what about our biggest asset?  What about our homes?

Our homes are literally begging for preventative maintenance, and all we have to do is PAY ATTENTION – unforeseen disasters can be avoided by having your three major ‘Can’t Fail’ systems checked on a regular basis.

System #1 – Heating/Cooling

Loss of control over your home’s temperature can be a huge pain in summer and a total disaster in winter.  Have your HVAC contractor service your equipment prior to each heating and cooling season.

  • Cleaning – Whether your system is fueled by natural gas, propane, oil or electricity, keeping it clean and lubricated is very important regular maintenance.
  • Bleeding – If your system is hot water radiation, bleeding any air out of the system will increase efficiency.
  • Flushing – With a steam boiler, flushing the system, as you would a car radiator prevents rust build up and future leaks.
  • Filters – In a hot air system, changing your filters twice a year will both improve efficiency and increase air quality.heating_cooling

I cannot over emphasize the importance of hiring a professional to perform this maintenance, even if you’re a do-it-yourselfer and YouTube is your best friend.  A professional mechanic will not only perform the maintenance properly with quality parts but, equally as important, will perform a detailed inspection of your entire system.  They will spot & replace questionable valves or fittings before they fail and start the ‘disaster ball’ rolling.

System #2 – Hot Water

water tank corrosionConventional hot water heaters have expiration dates on them, usually 5 or 10 years. It’s a good idea to keep a record of this and check the date at least once a year.  Anyone who has had a hot water heater blow while they were away or at work will tell you what a disaster this can cause. If you need an incentive, just picture coming home to a basement filled with hot water on a bitterly cold February night.

If it’s time to replace your hot water heater, you may want to consider alternatives to the conventional system.

  • Super saver hot water storage systems work off of your existing boiler. The water is preheated in your existing boiler and fed into a stainless steel storage thank which then brings it up to the required temperature.
  • Longer Life – This system operates at a much higher efficiency & has a much longer life span.
  • On Demand – On demand hot water systems have no storage tank and eliminate the flood worry. You only heat the water when you need it. It goes in cold on one side and comes out hot on the other. You are never storing hot water “in case you need it.” Now that is energy efficiency!

System #3 – Electrical

Your electrical system is involved with essentially everything in your home and is not something to take for granted.

  • Grounding – Are your kitchen, bathroom and outdoor outlets ground fault circuit interruption protected (GFCI)? You don’t want to find out the hard way that the answer is no. Electricity needs a path to the ground. Preferably not you.2co_alarm
  • Detectors – What about smoke, heat and carbon monoxide detection? Is your system up to date? Here, we are not taking about a flood or an inconvenience; we’re talking about the safety of your family.
  • Venting – In addition to the usual producers of carbon monoxide, direct vent heating and hot water systems also produce this deadly gas. Making sure that the vents on the outside of your house stay clear is very important, but don’t stop there. Upgrade your system of detection.
  • Surge protection – Lightning strikes are more common than you think. You don’t really want to replace all of your electronic devices do you? I’m not talking about those power strips you’re plugged into with the littlewhole-house-surge-protector-1 button that is supposed to protect you. I’m talking about a whole house surge protector attached to your electric panel to protect your entire house. All good reasons to bring in your electrician for an inspection.

In addition to these three main systems in your house, here’s a short checklist of other items that merit an ‘ounce of prevention’:

  • Roofing – Don’t wait until it leaks
  • Dryer Ventilation – Periodic cleaning will prevent lint fires
  • Chimney Inspection – Keep your flue clean if you are burning wood
  • HVAC – Air ducts and bathroom fans need to be kept clean
  • Trees – Now is a good time of year to inspect for dead limbs or even dead trees before they land on your house.

Hopefully, this ounce of information will give you a pound of motivation.

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