Entries in home (24)

Thursday
Oct022014

HOME SECURITY TIPS & FACTS: PROTECTING YOUR HOME FROM BREAK-INS

Protect Home From Break-ins

Did you know that every 15 seconds a home in the United States is burglarized? That's why it's essential to secure your home and protect your family against break-ins. For a more secure home read these common myths about burglaries and get the facts to protect your home:

Myth: Burglars break in through discreet areas, like the back of the house.

Fact: Securing the back of your house is important, as first floor windows and the back door are among the top targets for burglars. But shockingly, the most common point of entry for home burglaries happens to be through the front door. Install deadbolts on the front door and any exterior doors, as they are harder to pick. Put strong locks on glass doors and lock-up whenever you leave the house. The garage is another common area for burglar access – don't share your garage door code with others, and don't leave the garage door opener in your car – it's a quick way for thieves to gain access to your home.

Myth: Most burglaries happen at night.

Fact: Most burglaries actually occur during the day while homeowners are away from home and at work. Locking doors before you go to bed may be a common practice, but ensure your home is also secure during daylight hours too. 

Myth: If you're running out for a few minutes, it's okay to leave your door unlocked -- no burglar could get in and out that fast.

Fact: Burglars are faster than you think. The average burglar spends only a few minutes in your home. So, lock the door no matter how soon you're planning to be back. Burglars can also make fast work because they know common hiding places – the key under the doormat, the jewelry in the master bedroom. Leave your spare key with a neighbor and consider putting valuables in a safe.

Myth: You don't need a home alarm system if you live in a safe area with a low crime rate.

Fact: Even if you live in a relatively safe neighborhood, homes without security systems are 2 to 3 times more likely to be broken into, says the Better Business Bureau, yet few U.S. homes are armed with one. According to the Alarm Industry Research & Educational Foundation, 74% of burglaries are prevented by having an alarm in place, and can go a long way in protecting your home and giving you added peace of mind.

Author: Sharon Hurley Hall, Liberty Mutual 

Thursday
Sep182014

Fall Maintenance Checklist

You’ll be ready for winter’s worst and head off expensive repairs when you complete this checklist of 10 essential fall maintenance tasks.

Fall checklist


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. 

John_Riha John Riha

has written seven books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He’s been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Follow John on Google+.



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Thursday
Sep042014

How to Make Sure Your Fireplace is Safe

Here’s what to look for to ensure your fireplace is safe and up-to-snuff.

How do you keep your fireplace safe? The best tools you have are your eyes.

With regular visual inspections both inside your home and out, you’ll make sure your fireplace is in good shape for the burning season.

Checking From the Outside

Examine the chimney to make sure a chimney cap is present and in good repair. The metal cap keeps animals, rain, and snow out of the chimney, while acting as a spark arrester that prevents hot embers from landing on your roofing.
 
If you have a multi-story home or a steep roof, play it safe and use a pair of binoculars to check the chimney cap from the ground.

While you’re at it, make sure:

  • There’s no bird nest or debris buildup on the cap.
  • There are no tree limbs above or near the chimney.
  • The mortar and bricks on the chimney aren’t crumbling or missing.
  • The chimney rises at least 2 feet above where it exits the roof.
  • The chimney crown — the sloping cement shoulders at the top of the chimney — is beveled, which helps air flow.
  • The flue liner is visible above the chimney crown.
  • The chimney is plumb and not leaning to one side or the other.
  • The roof flashing is tight against the chimney.

If you spot anything amiss, call a licensed chimney professional or mason to remedy the problem. For pricey jobs, make sure to get a second estimate.

Looking Inside Your Home

With a flashlight, inspect the flue damper to make sure it opens, closes, and seals properly. 

“If the damper doesn’t seal well, you’ll lose a tremendous amount of heat from the home when the fireplace isn’t in use,” explains Gary Spolar, a licensed sweep and owner of Century Chimney in northeast Ohio.

With the damper open, check the flue for combustible material such as animal nests or other foreign objects. You should be able to see daylight at the top.

Inspect the fireplace surround, hearth, and firebox to make sure there are no cracked bricks or missing mortar. Damage inside the firebox is serious — have a professional fireplace and chimney inspection. An inspection costs $79-$500.

Also, check for obvious signs of moisture inside the firebox, which could mean a faulty cap.

Inspecting a Gas-Burning Fireplace

We enjoy gas fireplaces because they’re low-maintenance — but that doesn’t mean they’re no-maintenance. You should:

  • Inspect the glass doors for cracks or latch issues.
  • Check that gas logs are in the proper position.
  • Turn gas off at the shut-off valve and test the igniter.
  • Ignite the fire and look for clogged burner holes. If present, turn off gas and clear obstructions with a pin or needle.

 

Friday
Jul252014

The 8 Most Financially Savvy Home Improvements You Can Make

These budget-friendly home improvements will help you enjoy your home more today — and sell it for the most value tomorrow. 

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When it comes to home improvement, some dollars stretch more than others. And if you’re on a limited budget, it becomes even more important to spend those dollars wisely. 

Here are eight affordable (under $5,000) home improvement projects that’ll help you enjoy your home more today and provide excellent financial return in the future.

#1. Add the Finishing Touch of Molding

Chair rail molding

Image: Crazy Wonderful

Decorative molding is a classic touch that’s been around since the ancient Greeks and Romans first installed it to add grandeur to their buildings.  Centuries later, molding is still one of the most dramatic ways to dress up a room. It’s a budget-friendly improvement that trims a room for a finished and expensive look.

Today’s wood moldings come in hundreds of options — from simple to ornate — that you can stain, paint, or leave natural. You can also find moldings in flexible materials, such as foam, that make installation a whole lot easier. Some moldings even include lighting that casts a soft, ambient glow.  

Buyers consistently rank both crown molding and chair railing in their list of most desirable decorative features they seek in a home (#3 and #7 respectively), according to the annual National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) survey, “What Home Buyers Really Want.”

And at $1.50/foot if you DIY it, or $8 per foot if you hire, it’s a no-brainer in terms of personalizing your home while adding value. (Although we don’t recommend DIY unless you’ve got above-par mitering skills.)

A few tips about molding:

  • Use crown molding to make a room seem bigger and taller. But be careful about proportions. If your ceiling height is 9 feet or less, go with simpler styles to avoid overwhelming the room.
  • Don’t forget entryways, doors, and windows: Bump up the trim around these areas to give rooms a completed and expensive feel.

Related: Stunning Transformations with Crown Molding

#2. Install Quality Ceiling Fans

Ceiling fan in nursery

Image: Kate from This American Wife

If crown molding and chair railing were #3 and #7 on buyers’ decorative wish lists, what was #1? 

Ceiling fans. 

Over the years, ceiling fans have become quite the crowd pleaser. Once they were just a cheap solution to rising energy costs — ugly, wobbly, noisy eyesores endured because they were cheaper than air conditioning.

Today, ceiling fans have evolved into an essential component of American homes as energy prices continue to rise. And since designs have caught up with the times, they come in a variety of styles and colors to complement any room.  If your ceiling fans are old and outdated, new ones (coupled with a fresh paint job and crown molding) could give your rooms a refreshing update while saving money.

Some tips about ceiling fans:

  • Ceiling fans should hang 7-8 feet above the floor. If you’ve got a low ceiling, buy a hugger ceiling fan that’s flush-mounted.
  • Size matters more than the number of fan blades. Go for the biggest Energy Star-rated fan that will fit the space.
  • Choose quality. You’ll get better cooling results, less noise, and good looks at a digestible price point of $200-$600.

#3. Plant Some Trees

Apple tree in yard

Image: M. Williams

Say what? Adding trees doesn’t instantly pop into your head when you think of adding value to your home. But trees are moneymakers that get better with age.

A mature tree could be worth between $1,000-$10,000, says the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers. A 16-inch silver maple could be worth $2,562, according to a formula worked out by the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service.

In urban areas, money really does grow on trees. A recent study of home sales by the Pacific Northwest Research Station of Portland showed that street trees growing in front of or near a house boosted its sale price by an average of $8,870 and shaved two days off its time on the market. 

There’s more. Trees also:

  • Save $100-$250 annually in energy costs
  • Lower stress
  • Prevent erosion from downpours and roof runoff
  • Protect your home from wind, rain, and sun

But don’t just run out and plant trees willy-nilly. Here are some tips:

  • Follow the sun. Plant shade trees on the south side of the house where the sun beats strongest and longest.
  • Follow the wind. Plant windbreak trees, which can lower winter energy costs by 30%, on the north and northwest sides of your property.
  • Don’t plant too close. If you do, branches can scrape roofs and siding, causing expensive damage. Rule of thumb: Don’t plant trees any closer than the tree’s mature height plus one-fourth of that height. So, for example, if a tree reaches 40 feet, it should be planted at least 50 feet from any other trees.

Related: Good Landscaping Adds HOW MUCH Value to My Home?

#4. Install a Patio

Patio adds value

Image: Suzanne Davis at bebehblog

Patios are a great cost-effective way to increase your home’s living space without actually adding on. Plus you’ll recover 30% to 60% of your investment. A $2,000 patio would return around $900 at resale. 

But don’t go crazy and trick out your patio with high-end amenities, like an outdoor kitchen — especially if you’d be the only one on the block with one. When it’s time to sell, you won’t get back much — if any — of your investment on kitchens and other high-end amenities. Instead, keep it simple and functional. (And, really, how often would you use an outdoor kitchen?)

Some wise advice when planning a patio:

  • Check property for slope, sun, and shade patterns.
  • Remember ‘dig alerts’ that utilities provide free of charge.
  • Don’t skimp on patio lighting. It can make all the difference in functionality and beautification.

Related: How to Plan a Patio for Your Home

#5. Pump Up Your Home Security

The peace of mind that comes with installing a home security system is priceless.

In reality, price varies. You can buy and install it yourself for $50 to $300, or a security company can sell and install a system from $0 to $1,500. The “zero” is the hook companies use to lure you into signing a multi-year monitoring contract that ranges from $95 to $480 per year. 

If a monitored system suits your needs, you’ll also get a break on your home insurance. Most companies will discount your annual rate 15% to 20% if you have a security service.

Home security systems also make your home more marketable: 50% of homebuyers (in the NAHB survey) say a home security system — particularly security cameras — tops their list of most-wanted technology features.

You can go over the top and install high-tech security gadgets, like smartphone-operated locks and a laser trip wire. Or you can keep it simple with a keypad that communicates with sensors and motion detectors throughout your house. 

Tips:

  • If you do decide to go with a monitoring system, choose a company with a 10-year track record to ensure reliability.
  • Don’t rely on any system as your sole means of security. Locking doors and windows is still your best first-line of defense.

Related: Cost and Tips on Installing a Security System

#6. Do Almost Any Energy-Efficient Upgrade

The value of energy-efficient houses just keeps going up and up. A UCLA study examined the sales prices of 1.6 million California homes from 2007 to 2012 and found that homes with Energy Star, LEED, or GreenPoint certification had, on average, a 9% higher price. 

That finding is echoed in NAHB’s report that surveyed homebuyers across the nation: Nine out of 10 potential buyers would select an efficient home with lower utility bills over a less efficient home priced 2% to 3% less.

One energy-saving home improvement project that not only saves energy but gives you tons of enjoyment, too, is converting a wood-burning fireplace into a gas one. If you like to crunch energy numbers, gas fireplaces have energy-efficient ratings as high as 77%, compared with wood-burning fireplaces that convert only 15% of wood’s energy into useful heat. 

In fact, 39% of homebuyers say a gas fireplace is an essential or desirable feature of the next home they purchase. So when it comes time to sell your home, more than one-third of potential buyers will be looking for a gas fireplace.

In the meantime, it’ll be paying for itself in reduced heating costs.

Some tips for converting to gas:

  • direct-vent gas insert most closely replicates the wood-burning experience at a cost of about $3,000 to $4,000, installed.
  • If you don’t have an existing fireplace, you can install a direct-vent (vents directly outside so you don’t need a chimney) gas fireplace for about $5,000 (installed and finished).

Related:

#7. Add Some Creative Storage

We don’t have to sell you on the value of storage and built-in organization. Since when have you heard someone complain about too much storage? Never, we bet. 

Adding storage is a no-brainer, but it does take a little brainpower to find your home’s hidden storage. 

Here are a few ways to think outside of the toy box:

  • Open drywall to create storage cubbies between your wall’s studs. See how.
  • Install platform storage that hangs from your garage ceiling.
  • Even stairs can give you more storage. One clever mom repurposed an old chest of drawers and created storage within a basement staircase. See how she did it.

Related: 7 Storage Solutions You Didn’t Know You Had

#8. Light Up the Outdoors

Exterior lighting makes your home shine in the evening, accents features you like most about your house, and helps keep burglars away. A hard-wired lighting fixture can cost $150 to $250 to install. On the plus side, you could get a 50% return on your investment, says Judith Patriski, a Cleveland appraiser and REALTOR®. Installing motion-detecting lights can even lower some homeowners’ insurance premiums. (Check with your agent).

And with technological advances in solar lighting, it’s easier and more cost-effective than ever to boost your home’s nighttime curb appeal.

Plus, 90% of buyers say outdoor lighting is on their list of desired home features. 

Tips:

  • Place accent lights under your favorite trees to show off your landscaping’s top earners.
  • If your lights are hard-wired, put them on a timer so you don’t waste energy running them during the day.
  • Choose a warm white light. It’ll make your home look and feel welcoming.



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Thursday
Jul172014

Building for the Future

Innovative construction materials are both eco-friendly and resilient.

 

It’s easier to adopt new techniques when you’re building from scratch, so the new-home market tends to have more than its fair share of inventive products to offer.

Before these new products come to market, they often come to Michelle Desiderio. As the vice president of innovation services for Home Innovation Research Labs—a wholly owned, independent subsidiary of the National Association of Home Builders—she works with manufacturers to test building products and appliances. At the manufacturer’s request, the lab’s technicians will do everything from open and shut a door 10,000 times to drop cast-iron pans onto sinks to build a model house to test the impact of high winds on a new framing technique. “Our goal is to remove barriers to innovation in the housing industry,” she says.

So what kinds of advances are buyers looking for? “Builders often are under the assumption that consumers are focused on green products exclusively, but study after study shows that’s not the case,” says Desiderio. “Durability usually ranks very high.”

Brent Ehrlich, products editor at publishing company BuildingGreen, which examines environmentally friendly construction, says that manufacturers are taking notice of the desire for resilience. He’s also seeing more use of natural materials such as stone and cork, which he says represents the “what’s-old-is-new phenomenon” taking hold. One example of this trend is the use of mineral wool for insulation. Ehrlich says this material is replacing spray foam insulation systems that “contain some fairly nasty chemicals.” Also, the natural alternative is both flame-retardant and difficult for insects to penetrate.

Another product Ehrlich is excited about is fungal mycelium. A company called Ecovative combines what are basically mushroom roots with agricultural byproducts in controlled lab conditions. The product that emerges is currently being used as an eco-friendly packing material, but the company is working to market it as a strong, lightweight, flame-resistant insulation for homes and commercial buildings.  

But Ehrlich warns that in the effort to make homes more energy-efficient, home owners need to be careful not to seal the structure’s envelope too tightly. He’s says he’s seen cases where home owners try to retrofit their insulation for energy efficiency and end up having to tear it all out and start over because they hadn’t considered healthy air exchanges and letting a building breathe.

Innovators in new construction are also looking for ways to protect home owners from catastrophic events. “Many places in the country have experienced one natural disaster after another,” Desiderio says. “So we have this relatively new goal of how to make homes more resilient in a disaster.”

Ehrlich says that, despite the great work of Home Innovation Research Labs, no amount of testing can fully replicate the pressures of real-world use for some of these brand-new products: “We really don’t know how they’ll last. Longevity is still going to be a question.”

Because defects in new homes can directly affect the entire system of a house, builders tend to be wary about new products. “As a society, we change phones frequently, but product manufacturers have a much more difficult time getting their clients to switch in the world of home construction,” Desiderio says.