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Preparing Yourself to Buy or Sell a Home

    There is nothing like going through the Real Estate sales experience as a buyer or seller to grab your full attention and maybe a few sleepless nights.

    The technical issues surrounding buying and selling property are much simpler than the emotional issues. Is the home safe? Is it in good shape? What needs fixed? What is the best way to repair the building? That’s the easy part.

    Living through the “people” issues is much more complicated. From listing to closing, it is a roller coaster ride with ups, downs and gut wrenching turns and bumps. Uncertainty abounds in the whole process.

    It starts with the fact that the reason behind buying or selling a home is usually a life changing event. It may be marriage, divorce, having a family, having a family grow up, getting a job, promotion, transfer or losing a job. You get the picture. A fundamental life change in life starts the stress. Hang on as you go through the Real Estate process.

Understand the Challenges and Take Action Step by Step

· Get a feel for the house you are interested in. Internet viewing and Open Houses will help. Do a list of what are “wants” and “needs.” Then be prepared to see that list change.

· Deal with your household “stuff.” Sort and throw or give away unneeded items to make the sale and move easier.

· Decide if you are more comfortable if you first find a new house or sell the old home. Be prepared that it may not work out that way.

· Select a lender where you are comfortable…….or maybe just not too uncomfortable. The lending process is invasive, arbitrary and sometimes downright humiliating at times.

· Obtain a “pre approval” amount and letter to qualify for a mortgage

· Obtain a realistic sales price for your home for listing the home.

· Select a Realtor, Real Estate attorney or “For Sale by Owner” method that meets your needs. Then take the time to find a professional that fits your personality and needs.

· Understand the cost of moving into a new house. Issues like needing to purchase appliances can influence your Real Estate transaction.

· Explore and consider the value that may be added by completing renovations or repairs on your home before listing.

· Obtain an occupancy inspection. That will need to happen before closing no matter what, and you do not want expensive surprises like needing a new sewer line as a condition of closing.

· Consider a Pre-Market home inspection. That can increase the chance of selling a home without the deal falling apart or getting hit with a big price reduction after a buyer’s home inspection.

· Clean house, de-clutter, get rid of odors and any other distraction

· No matter what happens, focus on the deal, not the people. Do not let bad behavior keep you from making the best decisions for your needs.

· Changing and picking your utilities. The good news is that we have choices. The bad news is that we have choices and they are complicated.

· Be prepared for a stressful closing. It will be a difficult day.

Get Rid of the Fears

        Most buyers and sellers react to fears. If you have a preapproval mortgage letter, a seller does not need to fear that you can’t obtain a loan after they accept an offer. If you have a pre market inspection, the potential buyer does not need to fear losing all of their inspection and appraisal money if there are hidden problems.

Rid Yourself of Uncertainty

If you know where you stand on the issues you can make better decisions in less time. When your ducks are in a row, it is easier for the other side in a transaction to accept a deal with you at your terms. This can be a make or break advantage in a deal.

To Work With a Realtor or Not

        The first big choice is to decide if you are working with a Realtor. “For Sale by Owner or FSBO transactions are more and more common than ever. With a FSBO, the internet has made marketing a house much easier. However you’re stuck with dealing with buyers and navigating the issues by yourself.

        A Realtor’s job is to be counselor, therapist, interpreter, facilitator and messenger. Most of the items in the “to do” list above can be facilitated by a professional Realtor. Please take a very serious word of advice. Do not call a Realtor because their name is on a sign of a home you like. Make sure that the Realtor that you select is a good match for you.

        The sales commission can be a good value. Proper handling of the sale can increase the chance of a sale closing. Commission fees include advertising, the time to show a home, preparing the paperwork, answering questions, and dealing with the other side of the transaction.

        If you are on the edge of deciding whether to list a home of sale or try the FSBO pathway, there is another option. That’s a “Transactional Agent”. In this option, a Realtor is hired to provide a part of the services as needed for a fee. Some Real Estate Attorneys also offer this service.

Girding Yourself for the Closing

           For most buyers, this will be one of the worst days of their life. The closing officer will fill out a form that will have at least one surprise for you. Will the deal that has to close so that your buyer will be able to close yours actually happen? Will there be a mistake you miss on one of the papers you sign? Will you have enough money on that day? It is just a difficult time that you will always remember.

Let me give you two suggestions for getting yourself ready for buying and selling. Watch HGTV and take the time to research and interview the people you work with in this important endeavor. Have a good team of professionals to help you get from the start to the finish line.

Interior French Drains Can Create New Problems

Wet basements are a very common household problem. They can result in mold, odors, and damage to stored personal belongings. They can affect property value and make sale of a property difficult. In a single word, wet basements are "yucky!"


Interior French Drain Systems Simplified

The contractor jack hammers up the floor. He then drills holes in the walls to collect the water running through the foundation walls into a four inch pipe with holes. There is some gravel poured around the pipe. The pipe is then connected to a covered plastic basin with a pump. The pump then sends the water outside of the house through a plastic pipe. The top concrete is then replaced. The customer then writes a very big check and cleans up concrete dust for the next month

When you leave an opening in the floor to allow water to go down, the gases, mold and radon can come up from those openings a house acts like a chimney pulling air from low areas into upper areas. That is how radon and other gases that are under a basement floor get into the living area of homes.

In most systems of these systems, there is a plastic corrugated material installed between the concrete floor and block wall. This is installed to allow water to run into the drain. This is referred to as "egg crate." There are also systems with other materials and shapes that are similarly open.


Common Problems Created by Open Interior French Drain Systems

Moisture and mold: The soil surrounding the pipes and gravel installed under the concrete is always wet. Wet soil will grow mold. The mold spores, odor and evaporating moisture will travel into the house through the opening in the french drain system.

Radon: Radon normally enters homes from small cracks and openings in a concrete floor. A french drain system has a big opening along the entire perimeter of the foundation. This opening allows radon to more readily vent into the home. If you already have a radon system installed, a french drain system can pull combustion gases from your appliances back into a home.

Improper water discharge points: Installers of all types of systems often take the discharge pipe to outside the basement to directly at the foundation edge. This saves installing the extra pipe which would get the water down hill away from the foundation. As a result, the water drains into the wall and then into the drain system. It then gets pumped to the pipe outside the wall and the process starts all over again.


Damaged footers: Most contractor web sites, drawings and proposals will show a pipe system that is installed beside a footer. The worker with the jack hammer has a different perspective. That person needs to haul broken concrete out of the basement and mix and place new concrete. The smaller amount of concrete that is removed from the basement results in less work needed to haul out and replace it. Oopps, the worker often decides to take out the footer.

Best Advice Before You Buy an Interior French Drain System

First determine if an interior drainage system is even needed. If you can fix the water problem before it enters your home, you will save money and not have the disadvantages of a system. Run downspout drains away from the house. Seal gaps at driveways, patios and sidewalks where they meet house walls. Grade surface water away from the house walls. If water is still entering the basement, then consider a french drain system

A warranty is only as good as the company. Many companies come and go in the dewatering business. A company warranty is not worth the paper it is written on when a company goes out of business. Make sure the warranty is underwritten by an insurance company.

Have a sealed french drain system with an exhaust fan installed, not an open system.

Add a battery backup for the pump. Power most often goes out when it is raining. Guess when you need your system the most?

If you have a radon system in the home, make sure the warranty for the system will still be honored. Confirm that the system will be restored by a certified radon professional. If you have not had a radon test, be prepared that an open french drain system could increase the radon in your home.

Make sure that the footings will not be disturbed. Many installers remove portions of the footer to reduce the amount of concrete work they need to do. The IRC code specifies minimum footer sizes in section R403.1.

What to Do If You Already Have the Problems Caused by Open French Drain System

All is not lost, even If you are one of the countless thousands with one of these systems already installed and shaking your head singing a chorus of "A fine time to tell me Lucille."

Find an independent engineer, contractor or property inspector that understands the systems and solutions to the problems created by a french drain system. Mold, radon, moisture, odor and structural damage are all potential problems that may need resolved. Adding the features of a sealed system can resolve many of the sources of the problems. Additional advice may be needed to resolve the consequences of the original system such as mold and structure defects.

There are new systems that the better contractors now use that are "sealed" systems. What that means is the perimeter of the system is sealed at the lid and walls so that moisture, mold and radon do not vent into the basement. Sealed systems also avoid the issue of combustion gases from hot water tanks, furnaces and gas dryers back venting into the home. You will find links and information about those improved systems in the online copy of this article at:

"It's Not the Heat, it’s the Humidity" Oh My

No matter how old you are, you have certainly heard, and probably said: It's not the heat, it's the humidity. This year has been a time of high humidity, but not a lot of heat. It's also been a season of allergies, rashes, increased asthma, swollen eyes and other health irritations.

If you have been feeling" yucky", the contaminants made worse by dampness could be the reason. This dampness can come from humidity, leaks or hidden condensation. It may surprise you to know that the medical community has discovered that dampness can make most contaminants worse. Understanding why this happens in your home can be worth a look for you and your family's health and comfort.

You may think that when we talk about your health and dampness in your home, we are simply talking about leaking basements and mold. That could not be further from the truth. According to AAAAI (American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology) studies, "dampness" inside of buildings is responsible for a host of increased illnesses.

High moisture can increase the presence, viability and transmission risk from:

· Insects

· Dust Mites

· Pollen

· Bacteria

· Viruses

· Germs

· Off Gassing of Toxic Chemicals

· and of course, Mold

When it comes to your health and dampness, it has been difficult to get the medical community, their patients and home improvement professionals to understand each other. The medical professional focuses and talks in terms of health and the body, but not construction.

The homeowner cannot describe hidden problems and complicated building and chemical issues to the medical practitioner. Heck, how can they talk about these issues that building scientists are just now beginning to understand?

The contractor hired to build and remodel buildings does not understand the 290 page Public Health Study document prescribing environmental goals relating to a healthy home.

Reducing dampness reduces the levels of contamination. The technical medical term for reducing the level of health risks is "Avoidance." Simply put, as examples, if you have allergies, reduce the cause of elevated allergens, if a patient has a condition making them susceptible to a particular mold, it needs remediated to be avoided. "Avoidance" needs considered for hundreds, if not thousands of contaminants.

The problem with actually achieving "Avoidance" as a proper medical treatment is that the doctor cannot go home with all of the patients. They therefore do not know what conditions and contaminates are in a patient's home, school or workplace for them to avoid. The bottom line is that the best single defense to improve health in any home is reducing and controlling the moisture. Having an assessment for dampness and other environmental hazards and implementing improvements to reduce those conditions is the best plan of action.

There are many tools and solutions available for reducing unhealthy exposures in buildings. These vary depending upon the type of contaminants present and the conditions in the building. There are experts available who understand testing and solving these conditions.

There is a plain English explanation of how moisture can be a year around problem in just about any building including your home. We tend to think of moisture in the home as a spring problem. That's not how that works.

Think about the windshield in your car. In winter your window fogs up on the inside. We turn on the defrosters and bingo, bango the window clears up as we warm the windshield.

Let's now think about summer. We turn on the air conditioner in the car and the outside of the windshield fogs up as the window gets cold. We can't heat all of the outside air, so we turn on the windshield wiper and wipe away the condensate on the outside of the cold windshield.

What that teaches us is that when there is elevated moisture in air and a temperature difference between objects or materials, there can be condensation and moisture. It can be on the outside of the walls, or the inside of house walls, inside air conditioner ductwork, in attics, crawl spaces or any other cold area near a warmer area. Water will condense on available colder surfaces just like condensate collects on your glass of ice water on the Fourth of July.

Your home always has moisture created when you breathe, shower, cook, or do anything else that involves water vapor. In summer, your house may be room temperature, but materials around air conditioner ductwork can become wet. In winter, you could have a warm interior of the house, but exterior walls will be cold and become wet inside.

Your Home Improvements and Dampness Can Make You Sick

Installing new windows, doors, insulation, weather stripping and other improvements increases the dampness in the home by trapping more moisture in the home. Improperly sized or high efficiency heating systems can also have the negative effect of adding significant dampness in the home. New roofs or changes in venting can create moisture problems where they never existed.

What Do We Do Now?

· Control and monitor relative humidity to between 40% to 50%

· Add a dehumidifier. Consider a whole house dehumidifier or a portable unit connected to a continuous drain.

· Add an ERV (Energy Recovery Ventilator) to your furnace to add fresh air, control moisture and reduce heat or cooling loss.

· Run forced air HVAC systems with the blower fan set to "on" instead of "auto" for better distribution of moisture through the entire home

· Have HVAC systems property sized

· Identify and correct areas of dampness

· Look at the condensation issue when making home improvements

· Eliminate hidden areas of condensation such as those in unheated areas

· Have an assessment of your home to identify contaminates and hidden moisture areas

Go to for more information and links to important references on the topic of Healthy Homes

So You Think You will Become a Millionaire by Flipping Houses
It's the middle of the night and there it is…the ad for the CD set, seminar or book that will guarantee your financial freedom. In your semi-comatose insomnia, you imagine your life on the luxury boat that you will be able to buy. For the cost of your time to read this article, I will give you a home flipper's secret that you probably never heard of before. Just hang in there and keep reading.

I must admit that I did attend one of those seminars that would make me grant me that magic of Real Estate riches. It was interesting and exciting to hear the crowd oh and ah at all of the success stories as the seminar host took testimonial after testimonial. The sad news for me was that I did not take the next step. For a mere $ 6,000.00 entry fee, I could join the program and have my own coach and team of experts that would assure my success. I never should have asked myself "why is this guy running seminars every Thursday night when he can make all the money he could ever use by implementing his system." That one question spoiled the magic on the evening.


Understand the Real Cost of Flipping a House

Back to: Who is making what money? A $200,000 flipped house sale is not profitable if it cost $ 200,000 to get to the settlement table. You get what money is left at the end of the line. The tax man, bank, Realtor, insurance man, contractors, and others get their money before you do. The bottom line is that you need to look at all of your costs before you start this endeavor. The cost of getting to the final settlement includes

· Contract price to purchase the home

· Closing costs to purchase the house

· Cost of repairs

· Cost of your time. Your time has value.

· Costs of selling the home including another settlement

· Utilities, fees and real estate taxes for the period of the ownership

· Cost of professional services and advice you will require

· The cost of your personal tax obligations

· The impact on your quality of life.

· If waiting for the sale creates stress, that is a cost too.

Here is the advice I told you probably never heard. If you are buying a home in a neighborhood where there have been several foreclosures, all of the other homes will have a depressed appraised value. What that means to you is that the house you thought would sell for $200,000 may only sell for $175,000. The appraisal for the buyer of the home you spent your time and money improving is critical to your sales price.

The Real Secrets of Buy Low and Sell High

Start with an ugly house in a desirable area. The ideal house to flip is one that only needs cleaned, painted and new flooring. Keep it simple until you learn your way through the flipping process. Risk less and you will lose less and gain an education.

Be realistic and informed about why a house is selling for a low price. There is a reason something is a bargain and you are depending upon being able to change those conditions at a profit. If you do not have a background in the issues, hire an expert or inspector that does have that experience. Not all inspectors have the background education you may need.

Select a house that is not the most expensive house in a neighborhood after improvements and expenses. The least expensive home in an area will sell easier than the most expensive. People want to live in the best neighborhood that they can afford. A good rule of thumb is that the least expensive house benefits by 10% and the most expensive house loses 10% of its value in any neighborhood.


Be careful of the big issues: mold, foundations, furnace, venting, structure, infestations, water problems, sewer are a few of the problems to avoid unless you are uniquely qualified in those areas. A problem such as mold could make a home unsellable.

Develop a budget for the home before you purchase the home. You see the experts on HGTV open walls and discover a major budget problem. Know your numbers ahead of time and allow for unexpected expenses. They will occur.

Be certain to take care of the defects that can stop a sale before you have a buyer in hand. When a house is put on the market, there will be a pool of persons interested in that property. If your sale falls through because of a major or hidden defect, all of the persons who had originally considered your property may not even consider buying the property. This could add months to the time it takes to sell the home.


Understand the local requirements for the area where you are buying. As one example there are several municipalities where the sewer must pass a camera test to be sold. Failing this test could cost you thousands of dollars when you try to sell the property.

Build a good home improvement team. Too many times house flippers land up in court after a closing because of bad contractors. Legal costs can cost you more than you make on a home and involve years of stress and pain. As a corollary to this point, never, ever lie on a disclosure or to a buyer. Lying on a disclosure is like begging to be in court.

Price the home correctly to sell and select a good sales team. Failure to do so is a common mistake that could cost you additional months of time on the market and your profit.

The Very Best Advice

Find a mentor. My father is not with us anymore, so I would go to James A. Huet. Jim learned to flip homes decades ago. That was long before flipping was an industry. His incentive was four sons needing college educations. He has made four generations of my family laugh with his sense of humor and warmed our hearts with his friendship. That aside, he also knows what he is doing in Real Estate and will help anybody who asks. For the price of lunch at Massart's Restaurant you will get better advice from him that you would from those big money seminars. Wait! We just saved you $6,000. Buy him desert too!

Having the Right Home Inspector

Dan Howard Explains to KDKA That All Inspectors are not the Same

Buyers Beware of Flipped Houses


Wow, everything looks shiny and bright. The carpet smells like new. Heck, the paint is so fresh you want to touch it to see if it's still wet. Everything is so up to date that you are ready to move in tomorrow without even a home inspection. 

The bottom line is that no matter how good the house looks now, every flipped house starts with a home that's in distress. The distress could be the result of foreclosure, short sale, owners with health challenges, fire or major insurance loss. In almost every instance, the property was in bad condition and you are in the hands of someone with unknown skills and ethics to sell you a quality house to call home. 

Imagine the perspectives of the flipper and the contractors that work on the house. The flipper knows that on the day of closing, any short cuts and cover-ups become the buyers problem and not theirs. From the contractor's point of view, the buyer does not matter. The contractor works for the flipper and there is no warranty for their work past the day of closing. Some contractors may do a good job, but not every flipper or contractor is motivated to sacrifice profit for doing a quality job.

Most Common Defects Found in Flipped Homes

Badly done work: This can range from decks and steps not properly secured to a house wall to improper plumbing and wiring. The work is only as good as the person doing the work will do on any particular day .

Mold: Houses that are flipped were often empty for extended periods of time. Fresh paint and open windows do not undo mold growing inside or behind the walls of a house. Mold can affect future resident's health and cost tens of thousands of dollars to correct. Finished basements and interior french drains are examples of high risk conditions for mold.

Basement Leaks: If I had a dollar for every flipper who claimed that there were previous water problems, but adding a downspout or coating a basement wall with waterproofing has solved them, I could take a month off work. It usually doesn't work that way. Have a skilled and experienced professional check out those claims

Sewer Problems: These are not easy to find. Flippers can have the sewer snaked out before putting a home on the market. There is no way short of having the sewer checked with a sewer camera for any buyer or home inspector to recognize a damaged sewer. If the house has high risk conditions such as terra cotta sewer pipes or trees in the yard, having a plumber check the sewers with a camera could be the best $250.00 a buyer can spend.

Odors: Sewer backups, fires, pet urine, improper plumbing and furnace installation can each be a source of odors. Open windows or temporary deodorant treatments can hide odors that you do not want to live with. Cold weather is another condition that could cover up a nasty warm weather surprise of a smelly or unhealthy house.

Gas Leaks and Gas Line Defects. Leaking pipes, missing gas valves and improper materials are all examples of these serious and dangerous problems.

Improperly Installed Vent Systems: Hot water tanks that do not have proper flue liners installed after a high efficiency furnace is installed are probably the most common example of this defect. Loose vent pipes and blocked chimneys are two other examples common to flipped houses.

Electrical Issues: Hidden connections, dangerous splices and improper wiring above suspended ceilings are common. Shortcuts that occur when an amateur adds on to existing wiring can be a fire waiting to happen.

Drug Houses: The manufacture of illegal drugs in a home can leave toxins that can poison a family moving into a home. Meth houses are an example of foreclosures that become flipped houses.

Advice for Buyers Considering a Flipped House

. Look at the quality of the work that is in the house before it becomes your home

If it smells, the smell will not get better on its own. If the house is cold or the windows are open when you view the home, make sure that you visit the home while it is closed up and warm.

New does not mean right. Improper installations, improper products chosen for a solution or defective materials can be in any home.

Consider hiring an experienced inspector with construction experience before you purchase the house.

Sometimes a bargain is not a good deal for buyers. Be a skeptic when considering flipped homes. The flipper is off the hook the day of closing when all of the covered up defects become the new homeowner's. A flipper's financial incentive is to spend the least amount of their money to get the most of yours.

Great Radon Information Sites

Home Buyer’s Guide to Home Inspection

You have invested your time and energy and found the new home of your dreams. You have plunked down hand money and told your best friends about the house. You have already invested a little bit of your heart into the home. At this point, you don’t want problems. The seller and the Realtor who has spent the last eight weekends with you in their car don’t want any problems. Then enters the home inspector and you are overwhelmed with a primal fear that your dreams are about to be crushed.

The term “Deal Killer” is unfortunately alive and well when discussing good home inspectors. This may surprise you, but most home inspectors don’t want your heart broken. What they do want is you and your family safe and your investment protected. You want an inspector able and willing to recognize and identify issues head on. After all, you still get to decide what you do with the information from the inspection. Even if someone complains that your inspector “too picky,” as Fox News says: “We report, you decide.”

What to Expect From an Inspection

In formal language, home inspection is “an objective visual examination of the physical structure and systems of a house.” It is a bonus to have an inspector who can discuss preventive maintenance and explain how the systems in a home operate. The goal of an inspection is to find accessible, visible conditions that a buyer should not be expected to know or have knowledge about before the inspection

What Not to Expect From Your Inspection

It is also good to know what is not included in an inspection. Access panels are permitted to be removed, and ceiling tiles lifted, but inspecting anything nailed or sealed in place is off limits.

The cosmetic features are also off limits for the purpose of the inspection. Torn carpets, nicks in walls and cabinets are not considered. All homes will have those things, but they do not affect your health, safety or investment. By the way, ugly or worn doesn’t count either.

Inspectors Widely Differ On Inspection Inclusions

The scope of an individual inspection can vary widely. The level of service varies as much as the level of service can vary from one restaurant to another. As examples, some inspectors only check to see if the furnace turns on, others also check for important items such as venting and gas leaks. Some inspectors will lift ceiling tiles, others will not. Some inspectors check every electrical outlet and appliances for recalls, others don't.

Fireplaces are a Major Cause of Residential Fires.

You can pretty much count on seeing house fires caused by fireplaces the first cold weather snap. Many of the fires are the result of minor defects that go one day too many without repair. Metal fireboxes and flues can develop holes from rust. Masonry fireplaces can have loose mortar and bricks from repetitive heating and cooling. Heat rolling out of the firebox can first char and then ignite mantles, flammable trim, flooring or decorations sitting too close to the firebox.

Have fireplaces and chimneys cleaned and then checked with a camera. Have any needed repairs made before the first use each season. An opening in mortar the size of your little finger can be the cause of your home burning down.

Install a spark screen and cap on fireplace chimneys. The cap should prevent water from leaking back into the chimney to cause damage.

Check for combustible materials too close to the firebox. Look under the mantle for charring.

Electrical hazards are too easy to ignore. “If it turns on, it must be OK” could not be further from the truth.

 A common electric fire hazard is improper or damaged extension cords. Never, ever run extension cords under carpets. Do not use damaged cords. Make sure that any extension cord is rated to carry the electrical load you are putting through the cord. Old extension cords do wear out and then become fire hazards. If any electrical item is charred or causes a shock, replace it NOW!

Loose connections at switches and outlets are top causes of electrical fires. If you see melted switches or plugs or smell melting plastic or fire, shut off the power and locate the cause.

If a motor stops working, hums loudly or gets hot, disconnect or unplug the device. Attic fans, paddle fans, overhead garage door motors and damaged garbage disposal motors are a few examples of this problem.

Circuit breakers are not intended to be used as switches. They are designed to shut off power before the house wiring turns into a “toaster wire”. If you have repetitive tripping, the circuit breaker can wear out. Repetitive tripping is your warning that there is a problem that needs immediately repaired.

Incandescent light bulbs above closet shelves and too high wattage light bulbs in low wattage fixtures are major fire risks. Check the label on the fixture for proper sizing. Use florescent bulbs above shelves.

No basic fire safety article would be complete without mention of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. You may be surprised to know that CO detectors may not sound the alarm to protect you at the toxic level of 100 parts per million, and smoke detectors vary in effectiveness. For more information manufacturers will not tell you about detectors and other links go to


Fireplaces are a major cause of residential fires.

You can pretty much count on seeing house fires caused by fireplaces the first cold weather snap. Many of the fires are the result of minor defects that go one day too many without repair. Metal fireboxes and flues can develop holes from rust. Masonry fireplaces can have loose mortar and bricks from repetitive heating and cooling. Heat rolling out of the firebox can first char and then ignite mantles, flammable trim, flooring or decorations sitting too close to the firebox.

Have fireplaces and chimneys cleaned and then checked with a camera. Have any needed repairs made before the first use each season. An opening in mortar the size of your little finger can be the cause of your home burning down

Install a spark screen and cap on fireplace chimneys. The cap should prevent water from leaking back into the chimney to cause damage.

Check for combustible materials too close to the firebox. Look under the mantle for charring.

Homeowners, landlords and parents: We are entering the peak season for house fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. It is time to talk about some safety risks that you may have never heard or thought about

According to the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association), heating equipment is the second leading cause of home fire fatalities after smoking. It is also the major cause of carbon monoxide in the home. There are some simple safety precautions you should take.

You already know that you should have your furnace serviced each year. The operation and venting of furnaces needs checked. Complex new furnaces can be put out of commission by failure of a simple part. Maintenance can avoid that “ice cube for a house feeling”. As a bonus, you will probably save fuel costs with a properly adjusted furnace.

Coast to Coast Freezing Weather Makes Frozen Pipes a Reality

Record cold temperatures have stretched across the country from one end to the other. We are just hitting the first official weekend of winter and have already had “way too much” record breaking freezing weather.

Now, for those that have never had the experience of frozen pipes, be thankful for the lack of familiarity! You have missed out on a big mess usually accompanied by heartache and thousands of dollars in damage.

Power outages can turn the best furnace into a hunk of useless metal and your home into an oversized freezer. Newer furnaces are sized to barely keep up with heating a home as a way to save energy. They are not sized for unusually cold weather and the time between a furnace failing and pipes freezing can be very short. Crawl spaces and garage areas are at very high risk for freeze damage even when the furnace is operating properly.

A new or a well-insulated house is not a guarantee against frozen pipes if we have extreme cold, particularly if it is coupled with a high wind. Keep in mind that we do not get warning of extreme cold ahead of time making advance preparation the best defense. Even in a house that is well insulated, a hole in a wall, a loose board, or a missing piece of insulation in a wall can result in freezing pipes.

All of us have seen a plastic milk jug bulge when the milk has frozen. No force on earth can prevent water from expanding 10% when it freezes. If the expansion occurs in an enclosed area such as plumbing pipes, a hot water heating system, toilet bowl or sink drain trap, they will burst.

Understanding Homeowners Insurance and Frozen Water Pipes

Photograph and document the damage. It will make the insurance claims easier to process. It may also provide additional information that can be used to avoid the recurrence of the problem.

Promptly notify your insurance agent of a claim. In times of severe cold, you will not be alone in having this problem and you will be better off at the front of the line to receive service than instead of the end.

Take reasonable action to minimize the claim. You have a duty to perform whatever is within your power to protect the property from additional damage.

Understand this important fact: Homeowners insurance is not required to make corrections to avoid recurrence of the claim. They will correct the damage, but not solve underlying problems. The homeowners that had gutter leak issues two years in a row learned that lesson the hard way.

Though you may take solace in the fact that the damage is covered by homeowners insurance, I have yet to meet the person believing that the claims process was good entertainment. Having the cause of the problem corrected is the very best plan.

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Prevention is the Best Protection from Frozen Pipes


Open faucets in areas that pipes have previously frozen. Warmer water from the water system moving through pipes will not freeze as fast as standing water.

Disconnect your exterior garden hoses from outside spigots. Garden hoses hold water in the hose and the valve. The pipes connected to a hose will split with even a moderate freeze.\

Open the doors to vanities, kitchen sinks and other plumbing access panels. Plumbing near outside walls and over crawl spaces and garages is most likely to freeze. Adding warm room air to cold plumbing inside of sink and closet areas can only help.

Cut access panels and cover with a door or vent in areas of plumbing that have previously been freezing problems. A grill installed into a wall to allow the convection of warm air can prevent freezing pipes.

Add heat tapes covered with insulation to exposed pipes. The warmth of the tapes can prevent freezing. Place the heat tapes on a switch with a pilot light. Only turn on heat tapes in times of cold weather to extend the life of the tapes. Check the tapes for warmth every season because heat tapes only have a life expectancy of one to 5 year.

Add insulation in the right areas. Look at both the objects you are insulating and the heat source. Do not place insulation between the heat source and the protected area. Improperly placed insulation resists the flow of heat from the inside of the home to the plumbing that is “past” the insulation.

Purchase a simple thermometer to leave in garages or crawl spaces. For under $25.00 you can purchase a thermometer that is designed with a remote sensor to tell you outside temperatures. Put the outside sensor in the area that may freeze in severe cold weather. Move it back outside for the rest of the year.

The First Step to Winter Preparation is to Assemble Your “Cold Weather Team.”

One of the first members of the team should be a good furnace company that will service “no heat” calls for their regular customers. The most important part of that sentence is the “regular customer” part. You do not want your first contact with a furnace company to begin with the sentence: ”You do not know me, but I don’t have any heat.”  The story here is to call a reputable company, have them service the furnace for winter and become a part of their customer list. Your bonus is that with proper service and adjustment fuel costs go down and the safety and life expectancy of a furnace go up.

If you have a fireplace you plan to use, have it cleaned and checked with a camera system before you use it.  There will be house fires started with fireplace use and you do not want the picture of your burning home to be on the 11:00 PM News.

Find a “house buddy” for your Cold Weather Team.  This can be friend, relative or neighbor. This is a simple concept. You are away from home on a winter vacation, the power goes off.  You want your house looked in on.  You call your house buddy and they make sure everything is Okey dokey, or they call in the cavalry, whichever is appropriate. You do the same for them. With today’s digital doorknobs, you don’t even need to swap keys. The door combination is all that is needed.       


Toughen security in the home

Install door and jamb reinforcement plates such as the ones manufactured by Armor Concepts or Rebar Security Device. These metal plates are easy to install and make it very difficult to break into a door. These are available starting at $ 30.00, which is much less than the cost of replacing a door.    


Install an alarm system for the home. offers a wireless security system including motion sensors, alarm, cellular monitors and electronic notification of events. The easy to install system is available for $ 250.00 in equipment and from $15.00 to $ 25.00 a month for monitoring. This product does not require any contract and can be cancelled when the home sells. It can also be moved to another home. You may want to add a freeze alarm in cold weather at a cost of $30.00


Install exterior floodlights on sensors.  Light is a criminal’s enemy. If you want to make a lasting impression on a thief, use a strobe or rotating light such as on emergency vehicles instead of using a regular floodlight,  
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Install a video camera system. If you do not want the expense of a functional system, install a fake system with lights such as made by UniqueExceptional. These are available for less than $20.00

Leave sound on in the home. A loud source of music or television robs the thieves of the ability to tell if someone is at home in another area of the house. That uncertainty can end a criminal attempt.   


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Finding and Correcting Lead in the Home

Lead can be found in stain, varnish, shellac, batteries, pipe solder, lead water supply pipes, and lead solder in copper pipes.   Imported cookware, toys, crayons,  cosmetics and food crops can be a source of lead exposure. Lead acetate is added to many foreign paints and is used as an insecticide on crops.  The evil  of  lead acetate is that it tastes very sweet. It was used as a  wine sweetener in the Roman Empire and is  credited with being the source of the physical and mental decline of the empire.  Paint on a lead acetate painted  toy  with  will taste good.

            Paint, dust in the home, water in the home, and any bare soil outside the home are all items you may need to have surveyed for lead. The problem still remains that  the exposure that raises a child’s lead level could be  caused by  contaminated toys at a day care center or other source.  Without proof of that fact, the owner of an apartment  may still be required to pay for alternative housing, testing and remediation of the living space. 

            Lead based residential  paint in the United States was banned in 1978 by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. This was done after the  failure to control lead dust from paint in housing.

            The initial efforts at dealing with lead based paint in the home relied upon  paint removal as a way to eliminate contamination. Unfortunately, the process of stripping, sanding and removing lead paint usually put more lead into the home. Sealing  contaminated surfaces,  dust removal, and  protection of high friction  surfaces such as windows, and  good housekeeping  were the most effective means of reducing lead exposure. Cleaning floor, wall and window  surfaces will reduce lead levels.

What to do about avoiding “Touch Points”

First and foremost, you will not be able to completely avoid touch points. The message in this is to carry hand sanitizer. One person who put his hand out to me thereby putting me in the position of feeling like a dufus if I did not shake his hand told me: “ Don’t worry, I only have a cold, not the flu.”

Good manners kept me from saying “Darn it ! What on earth makes you think it is OK for you to give me a cold?” I have better manners than he has and just shook his hand. However, I did pull out the hand sanitizer. Let me share with you what I say when someone puts out their hand to shake when I have the cold:” I have a cold…and I will gladly shake your hand twice when I am not giving one to you.” I do not think that has ever offending anyone, and you should see those hands shoot back away from me…..just like they are attached to a rubber band.

When we go on a trip we carry foil wipes. We love cruises and really do not want one of those viruses. The same applies when we go to a hotel. One brand we like is “Wet Ones”. We wipe the door knobs, faucet handles, phones, spigots, TV remote, lamp switches, light switches, tables where we would place things, where we touch on chairs….if you can touch it, we wipe it. We start in opposite sides of the room. It takes us less than 15 minutes. Let’s see the math here. Trade 15 minute of time for staying healthy on a trip….Good deal !

When we get up in the morning at home, we wipe the kitchen table and counters. Then we hit random touch points since we have the wipe I tour hands anyway. It’s a habit, and takes minutes.

Here’s the trick in public restrooms. Wash your hands and grab a paper towel. If you need to touch something other than the towel, pull the towel out before washing your hands. Open the door with the paper towel in hand combined with a good old fashioned butt push, turn around and throw the towel into the waste basket, get out of Dodge, do not pass GO and do not touch somebody’s flu germs.

Touch screens, keyboards, doorknobs, microwave handles…..especially when you are around sick people….. grab one of the small foil wrapped wipes before touching food or your face. Let me tell you, breaking that “touch your face” habit is tough.

As a final thought: I noticed people wearing masks In Japanese crowd scenes. I figured that what was happening was it was socially OK for people to protect themselves from ot