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Water Problems

Garage had suddenly developed a mildew problem which had never occurred in the 100 plus year life of the house.

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Recently I was asked to inspect a vacation home in North Carolina. The owners said that the garage had suddenly developed a mildew problem which had never occurred in the 100 plus year life of the house. What I found was that water was running under the walls of the garage and collecting in the storage closet area. Since the garage had been closed for about four months, the mildew problem was quite severe. The owners said that they had never had this problem before, so I started by asking them what, if anything, they had done to alter the lot drainage. It turns out that they had hired an architect to design a screened porch on the flat roof of the garage, and had hired a local contractor to build it. My first question was; did the original garage have gutters? They said that it had some kind of drain in the flat roof which drained the water off the back corner of the structure. The original garage did indeed have a scupper feeding into a downspout which drained the water downhill from the structure, but this was abandoned when the porch was built. It didn’t take me long to realize that all the water falling on the gabled roof of the new porch was draining along the sides of the garage and running under the old walls. They solved the problem by installing gutters along both sides of the garage with downspouts to channel the water away and downhill from the structure. Gutters can sometimes be difficult to keep clean, but they do a very good job of keeping water away from the house.

Charity 101

How to choose the best & avoid scams.

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Giving to others in need seems to be a natural impulse the world over. Many of us enjoy giving to causes, programs or research that we agree with and believe in; however, sometimes we are caught unaware and are asked to give by volunteers. We may love the idea of the cause but know little about the organization. Or we may like the idea, but prefer it were handled differently. So where do you go to find the best fitting charity and how do you determine if they are legitimate? Below we have compiled some things to consider when choosing a charity, such as when to give, how to avoid scams, and other ways to give to the community rather than a cash donation.

Before you Give

What Touches You? - It may sound simple (and it is) but one of the best gauges for which charity to choose should be what you are passionate about. What causes mean the most to you? What charities benefit research, education or programs you believe in? This should be your first consideration when choosing a charity. It will help narrow your choices and there is nothing better than having pride about the organization you choose. Who knows, that initial donation could lead to volunteering and becoming actively involved in something you really care about.

Take Control - Be proactive about the charities you choose to support. Don't wait for someone to come knocking at your door or spend money on reminders in the mail. Instead, take the first step by actively searching for charities that give to the causes you believe in. To begin your search, check out some of these sites: Charity Navigator | Guide Star | IRS Search

Money 101 - Find out where your donation goes and how it is spent. Most organizations offer easy charts and/or percentages detailing how much money goes to the cause, administration, events, publications, etc. Although you may like the ideas behind an organization, you may not agree with how they choose to spend the money. The only way to know is to check them out and if you can't find the information, practice our next point and ask questions!

Ask Questions - Don't be afraid to ask questions! Perhaps how they spend money on fundraising events is worded ambiguously to you. Or you are not certain if the funds will stay local or move nationally. Any questions you have are okay to ask. Sometimes people don't want to ask as they think they are pestering the volunteers and wasting their time - that is not the case! By thoroughly answering your questions, volunteers know they are ensuring your continued loyalty, confidence and support for their organization. If they don't want to answer, then consider someone else - there are plenty of charities to choose from.

Reputation - Find out about the charity's reputation. Have there been complaints about your charity? Are there accolades for your charity? Take some time to see what others are saying about the charity of your choice. Better Business Bureau | Charity Navigator

The Quick List - If you don't want to spend the time researching the charities out there, take a look at some of these lists to see how they are already ranked by organizations. American Institute of Philanthropy | Charity Navigator

When You Give

Dust Off the Checkbook - It is best to donate by check rather than cash or credit card. This way you can specify the money only goes to the organization. Always write the check - don't give any information directly to your bank account. Credit card is okay online if you really know the source is reliable. But be very cautious!

Guard Your Information - As with your bank account information, keep most of your information private. As you will read in the 'Signs of a Scam' section below, caution is unfortunately the best practice when donating money.

Ask if Your Gift is Tax Deductable - Not all charities actually count as a tax deductable donation. Although we realize this is not usually the impetuous behind giving to a charity, it is something to keep in mind if you do plan to claim it on your taxes - especially if it is a sizable donation. The charities won't be offended, just ask.

Get a Receipt - Even if your donation is not tax deductable, get a receipt. This will help you track your records and if you are ever unfortunately caught in a scam, it might help in developing a case against the criminal.

Think Ahead - Consider giving to the charities of your choice once a year or up to a certain amount every year. This will make it easier to choose a charity that you know rather than off the cuff impulse. Also, it will make it that much easier to say no to those who solicit your donations if you know you have already given as much as you want/can for the year.

Signs of a Scam

Appearance is Not Enough - Charity scams can be everything from a person with a jar asking for a particular cause to elaborate schemes that include personnel, office space, logos and image branding - all the signals of a legitimate operation. Thus, we say it again, it is important to do your homework before you give.

Know the Name - Many charity scams are set up using names very similar to bigger and better moderated charities. Be careful and take the time to double check that the organization you are donating to is the one you are really thinking of.

The Copycat - Unfortunately, even knowing the correct name of the charity may not be enough. Some scammers (especially in person) will claim to be from an organization they are not. The best option is to check with the charity to see if they are running a drive in your area before you donate.

Opportunity Knocks - The primary means for charity scams to get your money is by approaching you in person (i.e. at the grocery stores or going door to door), spam emails, and even telemarketing. To be safe, take the information about the charity down but wait to give until you have had a chance to check them out. If they turn on the high pressure "sale" when you mention researching them more, simply walk away. Instead, a legitimate charity will be happy to give you the information about their organization and where to find out more. As for emails, donating to unsolicited emails is never a good idea. Email is only a good option if it is from an organization with which you already have a relationship (usually a reminder to come donate again) or someone you personally know (i.e. participant fundraising for a benefit walk/run/etc.).

Too Much Pressure - Yes we just wrote it above, but it is worth mentioning again - high pressure "sales" from charities is a huge no-no. If they turn up the sob story, guilt trip, or state the need is now or never - be wary and just walk away. Most legitimate charities avoid high pressure tactics and have guidelines for volunteers against such tactics as they are just as glad to have raised the awareness if not always the cash.

Registration Please - It is good practice to ask a charity if it is registered and has a registration number. You can then use this number to look it up with the Better Business Bureau.

Misery Loves Company - Be very careful when giving after a large natural disaster or another event which rocks the community. At these times it is usually best to give through charities that have a standing reputation for helping. But again, make sure to check the name is not a quasi copycat. Be careful how you give the money - even when memorial charities are set up for a local family, you can donate through a bank with an established trust. Try not to let the headlines in the news sway you to give to the wrong person!

Allocation of Funds - Although this is not necessarily a scam item, some donators feel scammed when they find out so little of their money actually goes to the cause of their choice. To avoid this, research the charity to see how they allocate their funds. As we stated above, every charity is different in how it will choose allocate the funds raised. Some charities have high administrative costs and use fundraising to pay staff salaries. Others spend a great deal on advertising campaigns. Although neither is illegal, you may want to see if you agree with the amounts spent. You can find details on the individual charity websites or directories, such as Charity Navigator and Guide Star.

And the Winner Is - Another scam to look out for is the offer of a entry for a prize with your donation. This can usually be related to a scam, but also some legitimate organizations use this tactic. In this instance you may want to consider how much of your donation is going to fundraising gimmicks rather than to the cause at hand.

Other Ways to Give

Your Time is Worth Money - Don't have a lot of cash to give? A little of your time can help just as much or even more for some charities. Many organizations need voluntary workers to make their goals a reality. Most Americans consider donating around November and December when the image of helping out the local soup kitchen is etched in our minds. However, many organizations need help the rest of the year. Contact the charity you are passionate about and ask when you can be the most helpful. Have time but don't know where to participate? Try some sites like these to find volunteer opportunities in your area. Many of these sites let you search by interest - if volunteers get to share the love of one of their hobbies they are more likely to enjoy the experience and spend more time helping. www.idealist.org | www.volunteermatch.org | www.1-800-volunteer.org | www.getinvolved.gov

Take a Volunteer Vacation - Some college students have made headlines by taking volunteer vacations during spring break instead of heading to a party hot spot. But these vacations are not just for college students! Many seasoned travelers find these vacations a great way to learn more intimately about other cultures and give a little back in the process. Whether your passion is people, the environment, culture, language, or all the above, this might be the next vacation for you. www.globalvolunteers.org | www.volunteerabroad.com | www.globeaware.org | www.earthwatch.org

Play on the Web - Some online stores and searches will donate to charities if you use their interface. So why not take them up on the free offer? Do Great Good | The Hunger, Breast Cancer, Child Health, Literacy, Rainforest & Animal Rescue Sites | www.searchkindly.org

Consider Giving a Loan - A different way of 'giving' may be to actually lend capitol to the working poor. A new idea in micro financing gives funds to poor families who need a small loan to make their business ideas work. Loans can be as low as $25 and are actually paid back (unlike email schemes). The forerunner in this area is Kiva.org who started in 2005 primarily connecting lenders with 3rd world entrepreneurs. To find out more, visit their website www.kiva.org. This year, Kiva partnered with ACCION USA and the Opportunity Fund to offer micro loans here in the United States as well. For more on this option, please visit www.accionusa.org or www.opportunityfund.org.

Home Improvement Web Sites

These days you can find a web site that covers anything. Included in this trend are home improvement web sites.

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These days you can find a web site that covers anything. Included in this trend are home improvement web sites. Some of these helpful sites may be related to a television program (as discussed in our April article 'Home Improvement Television'). However, there are also many that are mostly web based that offer great home improvement hints, tutorials and visual aids. Below is a list of some of these web sites. We have included the web site message to the consumer, our short review and our ranking of the practical features (such as navigation) to the right. Web sites are listed in alphabetical order. Hopefully you will find some information here that may help you on your next home improvement project! About.com Home Repair http://homerepair.about.com/ Web Site Summary: [About.com contains areas maintained by experts in the field; the only description we found about this section was about the expert.] Bill Lewis is a professional electrician. He has also been a carpenter, a contractor, an editor, a publisher and an urban planner. Bill focuses in this site on repairs and improvements with an eye to saving money and adding value. Homecheck Summary: Helpful articles about various projects and home repair issues. A good article reviews the pros and cons of do-it-yourself work. Overall the articles are quick and to the point. No illustrations are offered but the advice is good and well written. Would like to see more topics and visual aids. Al's Home Improvement Center http://alsnetbiz.com/homeimprovement/ Web Site Summary: Als Home Improvement Center is the site for do it yourself and how to tips covering all aspects of residential home repair, home improvement, remodeling, and renovation projects around the house. Featuring tips, advice, how-to articles and step-by-step information to help you maintain and improve the value of your home. Homecheck Summary: Random. This web site is primarily made up of links to other home improvement sites. However, there are some written guides and tutorials. The web site itself is basic in appearance and has few visual aids. However, some of the tutorials do offer step by step pictures. The site may be hit and miss but does seem to have some hidden gems. Ask the Builder www.askthebuilder.com Web Site Summary: Once you are in my new cool web site, here is what you will find: Over 400 Step-by-Step Guides- these contain the extra content, how-to instructions, links to manufacturers, etc. that the newspapers didn't have the room to print when they ran my original columns. Numerous TV Video Clips - watch me show you new products and cool tricks on how to do things. Over 150 Radio Shows - These radio shows have been stripped of the boring commercials. Each show is broken out into the individual callers. I explain in great detail how to do things as I talk to callers. You can listen to the segments or shows as often as you want. Each week I add the latest radio show for your listening pleasure. Email Questions and My Answers - Live questions from visitors just like you along with my responses. [This description is what a premium, paid for membership includes, some of these materials are available for free on the web sit as well.] Homecheck Summary: This web site does offer some good articles about home improvement. A paid for membership will give the user access to much more. Good content in the articles and Q&A, but not very many visual aids. Some of the material is for geared towards those with advance knowledge of home construction. A good site to review and would be even better if you want to pay for the membership; check out what a paid membership get you, click here. Better Homes & Gardens www.bhg.com Web Site Summary: BHG.com is focused on decorating, building and remodeling, crafts, entertaining, cooking, and gardening. It also has extensive information for women and families. In addition to providing useful tools and advice, BHG.com's trusted experts keep visitors up to the minute with information on the latest developments and trends around home and garden. BHG.com was designed with real people in mind. It has easy-to-use interactive tools; clear visuals; specific, step-by-step instructions; and money saving suggestions. It makes life easier and more enjoyable. Homecheck Summary: One of the first things you'll notice are the pop up ads on every page; incredibly annoying and overused! This site does have home improvement and restoration articles available online. However, the articles are brief and some do not have pictures. The Tools & Guides are useful and easy to use. These tools include planning the layout and painting rooms to calculators for figuring out the cost of materials in advance. Overall this site is better for stimulating decoration and remodeling ideas but does little to tell the do-it-yourselfer how to tackle these projects. BobVila.com www.bobvila.com Web Site Summary: Online and on the job site, home improvement pro Bob Vila helps homeowners build their dreams. Homecheck Summary: This web site offers a lot more information than just TV listing times. It is easy to get around, however, there is so much information available the choices at first can be a bit overwhelming. Articles are very practical and thorough, fix its include diagrams and photos, and the videos are a great way to review topics if you missed the television show. Design tools and the bulletin boards do require a sign up, but it is FREE! These tools are great and easy to use. Overall this site is one of the most informative and generous internet sites offering expert advice. DoItYourself.com http://doityourself.com Web Site Summary: N/A Does list a great deal of quotes from media sources and what they say about the site. Homecheck Summary: This web site really uses the point and click method. Once inside, most of the pages show all possible selections at once leaving the user to scroll and review at will. For shopping this works best. Once in the home improvement section, each topic has How To, Q&A and Tips. All are written concisely and use some pictures when applicable. Some How To's are more informative than others. Depending on the topic, users may find not all their questions answered as the subject may only have an introduction/summary instead of a full tutorial. More diagrams and drawings for some of the How To sections would be nice as well. Finally, a collection of manufactures and suppliers are listed by area of expertise or in advertisements throughout the site. (For professionals interested, listing on these pages begins at $30.) DoItYourself Network www.diynetwork.com Web Site Summary: DIY Network is your television source for the latest do-it-yourself projects, including Home Building; Home Improvement; Automotive & Boating; Crafts; Gardening; Living; and Woodworking. Informational and entertaining, DIY's programs and experts answer your most sought-after questions, plus offer creative projects that will inspire you to do something out of the ordinary - yourself. DIY's web site, DIYnetwork.com, features step-by-step instructions for all that you see on-air, totaling more than 15,000 projects online. Homecheck Summary: The tutorials do point out the television show times. However, if you miss the show, a step by step detail with pictures from the project are available online. Not all the show reviews are meant to be tutorials of how-to but instead are examples of what may be accomplished; a sort of idea bank. Overall the tutorials are clear and easy to follow. There are also some project planners available, but these are borrowed from the Lowe's web site. Home Decoration Concepts www.homedecorationsconcepts.com Web Site Summary: Homedecorationconcepts.com is a site that has been built to ensure you have all the information you want when you build your own house. The information presented here covers various aspects of home decor ranging from individual articles on decoration bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms etc to general articles on furniture &furnishing the house. The site even provides you with articles based solely on how to paint and maintain your house. In short, Homedecorationconcepts.com can be your first step towards your dream house! Home Depot www.homedepot.com Web Site Summary: The Home Depot is the world's largest home improvement retailer and second largest retailer in the United States. We help our customers build their dreams by being more than a store. Learn about Home Depot and our other subsidiaries that specialize in everything from flooring, lighting and interior decor to landscape supply. See how we're making your community a better place to live. Find a career with a Home Depot company or invest in your future as we drive to establish wealth and financial security for our investors. Homecheck Summary: An extension of the store, this site is intended to sell products. However, it also has some tips and ideas for using the products available. The tutorials on this site do come with difficulty rating and photographs of the project steps/procedures. An easy tool included in the tutorials is a printable shopping list so you may know exactly what you need (and where to buy it!) for any project. The only downside is the planning tools are brand based and only show painting color schemes, shelving layouts, etc. using one particular brand. Home & Garden TV www.hgtv.com Web Site Summary: At HGTV.com, you'll find even more of what you love about HGTV: instructions for thousands of home and garden projects, video tips, an interactive Program Guide and episode finder, Calculators, Message Boards and more. Just click on your favorite topic—Decorating, Remodeling, Gardening, At Home, Crafts—to learn the latest on enhancing your nest. And be sure to visit the HGTV Store for unique home and garden gear. Homecheck Summary: The How-To tutorials are great. They take you through step-by-step with audio and visual review. After watching the segment you may print out written instructions as well. It does work best with a high speed internet connection. Only negative comment is we wish there were more! But these are sponsored by Lowe's and users may always click on the advertisement to go to their library as well. The Home Improvement Web www.the-home-improvement-web.com Web Site Summary: The New Home Improvement Web Directory - Tips, Design, Decorating, Repair and Improvement Information For The Consumer and Professional! Find Improvement Tips, Products, Professionals, and Services in Canada, United States, and United Kingdom! Homecheck Summary: Some great articles about home maintenance and repair. However, there are no illustrations. Many of the articles are submitted by other web sites/sources, but the quality of the articles seems to stay about equal. HomeStore.com www.homestore.com Web Site Summary: Homestore, Inc. is a leading supplier of media and technology solutions that promote and connect Real Estate Professionals to consumers before, during and after a move. Homecheck Summary: This site is primarily geared to those looking for realtors, homes, apartments and other real estate listings. To find home improvement articles go the Home & Garden tab at the top right. Here you may find decorating and some guides to home improvement projects. The tutorials are borrowed from the Creative Homeowner text and include great pictures with the step by step guide. Finding the tutorial you are looking for can take a little time through the different menus. It is easy to click on another feature and be taken to another site; although the new site is owned by the same group, why you went there may not be clear at first. Again, do-it-yourself home improvement is not the main feature of this site so unfortunately there are not as many articles and projects; but the articles it does offer are easy to follow and have good visual aids. HomeTime.com www.hometime.com Web Site Summary: Welcome to Hometime.com your online source for home improvement, remodeling, and repair information. Here is where you’ll find project advice, information about current and past TV episodes, behind-the-scenes Hometime information and a variety of products to help you with all your project needs. Homecheck Summary: This site has project advice, information about the show and a variety of products to help you with all your project needs. Also find lists of vendors and their contact information for materials you see used on the show. The how-to tutorials on the web site are basic. Check out the archives to find past episodes that relate to your own projects. Copies of programs can be bought and usually cover one individual tutorial or the whole series related to construction of one house project. Home Tips www.hometips.com Web Site Summary: Home Tips is your free one-stop resource for help with home improvement, remodeling houses, home repair, decorating, and buying appliances and other home products. Homecheck Summary: This site has some lengthy articles and some quick summaries. Very few pictures and a lot seems to point towards purchasing material through the site. That is not to say the information isn't valuable; many of the articles/buyer's guides offer good reviews of the materials available to the consumer. There is a section of D-I-Y Instructions that offers a bit more insight. But again would like more step-by-step, illustrated instructions. Lowe's Home Improvement www.lowes.com Web Site Summary: [Well the closest we could find!] Lowe's has been Improving Home Improvement ® for more than 59 years. In 2005, Lowe's earned several notable industry distinctions, including: Ranked 43 on the FORTUNE 500; Named 2003, 2004 and 2005 ENERGY STAR Retail Partner of the Year; Operates more than 1,100 stores in 48 states Homecheck Summary: Offered by the retail store as an extra feature, the primary goal of the site is to get information about and/or purchase products for sale. Prompted for your Zip Code, this information is used so you may search for products available in your area (this includes plants!). Navigation is easy, however some pages heavy with images may take longer for some computers to load. Most of the tutorials suggest certain products, which is to be expected. However, these tutorials do still prove to be helpful and diagrams are provided for more complex tasks. Check out their 'In-Depth Microsites' for more information and online tools such as the Garden Planner. The Garden Club has really useful tools with great information about plants. Overall, this site does prove helpful to the home improvement weekend warrior. Michael Holigan's Your New Home www.michaelholigan.com Web Site Summary: Michael Holigan’s Your New House, seen on broadcast stations and cable by more than 2 million viewers every week. We promote tips and advice on how to build, buy and remodel the home through our TV show...serve as a source of expert advice and information for consumers on topics relating to: New home construction, The purchase and financing of new and existing homes, The purchase and financing of manufactured homes, Residential remodeling, Home improvement Homecheck Summary: Tutorials are available through online copies of show transcripts or broken down into step-by-step online tutorials. The use of photos help illustrate the steps of the projects. If you have a good connection you may also watch video excerpts from the show. All around great advice and direction. Just can't wait for there to be even more topics available. MSN House & Home http://houseandhome.msn.com/ Web Site Summary: [Could not find one for this section, but everyone is pretty familiar with MSN.com for which this is an extension.] Homecheck Summary: Tutorials and content is provided by Better Homes and Gardens. Articles are short and to the point. Most have drawn illustrations. Start Remodeling www.startremodeling.com Web Site Summary: StartRemodeling.com’s Roots began in 1997 as an interactive sales tool for Lone Star Specialty Remodelers, a Houston, TX based remodeling contractor, in business since 1982. The site, still owned and operated by Real Remodeling Professionals, was transformed in 1999 to bring visitors to the Internet an informative and easy to navigate site that will allow them to locate anything and everything they may need to improve their homes. Homecheck Summary: Some good short articles and how-to's are in the Interior and Exterior Showcases. The remodeling values article is a nice hidden gem as it was the first we saw of someone illustrating how that major home improvement project may effect the resale value of your home. Overall, the articles are bit hit and miss and could use more visual aids, but there are some definite gems to look over in the archives. This Old House/Ask This Old House www.thisoldhouse.com Web Site Summary: Homeowner Know-how: Our extensive database of do-it-yourself articles and step-by-step instructions help homeowners execute a wide range of home improvement tasks. Organized by topic, this section covers everything from kitchen and bath to yard and garden. Homecheck Summary: Some free tutorials available online. However, most information is only available to magazine subscribers ($4.93/3 issues & presumably much more through online access). The guides that are offered for free are well written, have great photographic visuals and are easy to follow. It may make the subscription worth it to those who want expert guidance and help. TrueValue www.truevalue.com Web Site Summary: True Value, operating worldwide, has been a leader in the hardware industry since 1948. With its broad and deep product selection and helpful customer service, True Value is a trusted resource for do-it-yourselfers in big cities and small towns alike. Homecheck Summary: The web site for the retail store, this site has some good directions for home projects and improvements. The tutorials are very detailed. Drawn pictures serve as visual aids; it would be nice if there were more of them for some of the projects listed. Well written and easy to follow articles. Don't forget to check out the expert Q&A where you may submit questions or review the archive or questions asked. Toolbelt Diva http://media.home.discovery.com/fansites/toolbeltdiva/toolbeltdiva.html Web Site Summary: As the feisty host of Discovery Home Channel's new series Toolbelt Diva, Norma pairs up with female homeowners to tackle a variety of home-improvement projects. Toolbelt Diva proves that any woman can take on just about any home-improvement project, and it also has plenty of information and insight for the man of the house as well. Homecheck Summary: A fun twist to the usual home improvement shows, this tv show's web site also offers video clips and written guides reviewing projects handled on the show. Wish there was more material available online as the topics covered are still rather limited.

Back to School Basics

Tips and Tricks to Save $$

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In our area, the made-up snow days at the end of the school year made this past year seem long. Therefore, it's a bit jarring to be thinking about back to school supplies already. However, planning ahead can help prevent a lot of the headache in back to school shopping. Many times the quest for new supplies and clothes can seem like an endless scavenger hunt that quickly eats through money in the bank! Below we have compiled a few tips on how to keep the costs low, as well as things to consider when deciding on which supplies will best fit your student's needs. We have also taken a look at a few of the activities you can still be doing the final days of summer to keep your child's mind sharp and ready to jump into the next grade. Students on average lose a month of learning during summer vacation and can lose over two months of learning for harder subjects.* Luckily, there are ways to battle the summer brain drain while still having fun! *"Summer Vacation Slide" by Barbara Pytel

Back to School Supplies Armed with a supply list provided by the school, it is time to begin the scavenger hunt. As you look for supplies for your children, below are a couple items to keep in mind.

  • Waste Not, Want Not Take a look through left over supplies from last school year. Did older children leave something the younger ones can use? Where certain supplies never used or still have some life left in them? Do some supplies just need new batteries, lead, erases or other refills? Also, check older items that may be spruced up a bit with stickers, photos, etc. - it makes for a fun project for the younger kids and can help get them excited about going back for the next year.
  • School Supply Closet If you don't already have one, set up a supply closet/space where you can keep old and new supplies all year round. Here you can keep packets of pencils and stacks of paper or notebooks that you know will be used throughout the year. Buy commonly used items in bulk and you will save in the long run.
  • Collect Year Round Now that you have a School Supply Closet set up in your home, you can more easily take advantage of deals as they arise during the year. With a place to neatly keep school items you will have a better idea of what you need more of as you shop. Although Back to School sales can be good, you may find even greater bargains at the end of the season or during clearance sales.
  • "Ouch! My back!" Backpacks are often overloaded with school supplies and can cause back pain and muscle soreness for students of all ages. A backpack should only be 10-20% of the student's weight. If a smaller student is expected to carry a lot, then you may consider getting a rolling backpack.
  • "But everyone else has one..." The plaintive cry of so many children around the country. But be strong - get only what your child really needs for school. Get supplies that are basic and therefore timeless. Fancy cartoon or pop-icon covered supplies are short lived. If you do get them, only get a few that you are certain your child will use before they become "unfashionable."
  • Quality is still #1 You can shop cheap without going so generic all you get is poor quality. You don't want to buy supplies that will break, leak, rip, or fall apart before the end of the first week. (I still remember a black glued notebook I had in high school that literally just fell apart at the seems with paper scattered about the floor - not fun!) Make sure there is some quality in the products you buy. Keep in mind how roughly binders may be handled, how pens may be shoved at the bottom of a backpack and how that same backpack will be tossed, dropped, kicked, lugged, shoved and zipped/unzipped more times than worth counting.
  • Batteries not Included Avoid gimmicky and flashy supplies that twirl and light up. Teachers find these are very distracting in the classroom. If you do get a fun item like this, keep it at home where it can make the homework blahs a bit more fun.
  • Accounting 101 As your children get older, include them in the budget planning. Working together on budgeting for supplies will teach your students how to prepare and why all the flashy supplies may not be worth it. You will soon find your child will learn to appreciate the cheaper supplies so they may budget for one or two more fancy items.
  • Organization 101 Along the same lines as Accounting 101, sit down with your older children and take the time to recall what worked or didn't work last year for their learning. Did they find note cards useful and need more this year? Did color coding subjects help or would an all in one binder be more useful? Are they still struggling and need to try something new?
  • Munch a Lunch Increasingly, online access allows parents not only to review the menu but to check their child's account and upload more funds when necessary. Many schools are also adopting healthier menus. If you don't have a picky eater, this may be the most convenient option. However, if you do have a picky eater in the house or if your child has any food allergies or dietary restrictions, then packing a lunch is the better way to go. Buying food and snacks in bulk has decreased the grocery bills of many households. With a bit of pre-planning, you may actually save money if packing lunches with items you know your children will eat. For growing teenagers with insatiable appetites, giving them as many snacks as possible can help curb the fast food purchases and the extra expense of impulse hunger-buys. Packing Get a good, strong lunch bag. Brown paper bags don't hold up well and are not environmentally friendly. A good lunch bag will protect other items from spills and with a small ice pack can keep food at a safe temperature until eaten. Free Tupperware is good (i.e. sandwich meat containers) however they only have so long to live after being tossed around in a lunch bag. Good containers is a worthwhile investment as they will be used 5 days a week to pack a healthy and full meal! Munchies Include your children in planning lunches for the week. Do this on a regular basis as they may have been all about bananas the last two weeks but are now sick and want a different fruit or veggie. Find out if lunches are satisfying - are they still hungry or brining extra home? If they are brining a lot home, find out if they are preferring a food/snack served in the cafeteria. If you are trying to save money by buying in bulk, you may be able to buy this favorite to pack in their lunch or find a healthier alternative instead.
  • Free Shipping Shopping for school supplies online is not out of the ordinary anymore. Many office supply stores and their competitors are allowing parents to shop from the computer. Compare shipping rates - you might even get free shipping with purchases at a specified total.

Back to School Clothes Most kids grow out of their clothes and shoes at an amazing rate. Keep their closets full with basics and not the trendy fashion of the day. Keep clothes practical and you won't break the bank!

  • Basics, Basics, Basics Keep the clothes to the basics as much as possible. Going for trends and fads will only hurt the checkbook when your child refuses to wear them again. This doesn't mean you can't get trendy clothes if it fits your budget. One way to make this easier is to get your child involved in the budget process. Let them know how much is budgeted for the season and then shop together for some basic items while saving for a few "gotta have" fun items.
  • Playground Attire (At Every Age) Can you run, jump, play and have fun in those clothes? Make sure your kids try moving around in the clothes they want to buy. Oddly cut pants are no fun for young kids to play in and skinny jeans will not be as appealing to that middle school student once they try to sit in a chair hour after hour of class. Make sure your children on aware of the functionality of their clothing choices. Finally, make sure you check out what is allowed at the school. Funky, trendy, or skimpy may not be practical and they may get your child sent home too! Take care to read slogans on t-shirts, ambiguous language or even blatant references to questionable or illegal subjects (i.e. drugs/alcohol) may not be allowed as well.
  • Hand-Me-Downs (Even with the Neighbors!) If you have more then one kid, hand-me-downs can be great. Especially if you stay with the basic and timeless classics, it will be easier for the younger kids to use what their older siblings can no longer wear. With how quickly they grow through clothes, most of the clothes will be in great condition and you can't beat the price! If you don't have older siblings, consider roving the local garage sales. Or talk with parents at the school, some parents plan exchange nights where they all bring clothes their kids can no longer wear and exchange with each other - again, you can't beat the price of a good barter in kind!
  • Consignment & Charitable Stores Both consignment and charitable stores can offer a great way to fill your kids closet. Get your children involved. At the consignment store they can make their "own" money by turning in old clothes for cash or store credit. Going to charitable stores, children can learn early how to stretch their dollar. Especially when shopping for items they know they will not be using often - so they need a white dress shirt for choir but will only wear it one season - a charitable or consignment store is a great fit. For the really creative kids, this can be a great way to mix and match and create their own style for cheap.
  • Shop In and Out of Season Without a doubt the department stores and outlet stores will run great deals and back to school sales. But also keep a look out for seasonal closeouts. Items you may not use this year might be used the next - just be aware you may have to do some good guessing on future sizes! Again, when shopping seasonal or end of the year sales, make certain to go for basic and timeless styles - the trendy may be a good bargain, but may not be worn by a stubborn teen next year.

Back to School Learning As mentioned in the intro above, research has shown that children lose about a months worth of knowledge over a 3 month summer vacation. For more difficult subjects this loss may be even more. There are ways to keep your kids mind sharp and even learn new things over the summer while keeping it fun and relaxed.

  • Homework Hour Okay, I know we just said to keep it fun and relaxed...it still can be with a scheduled time at night for quiet "study" time. Try to leave an hour open twice a week (or more) for a homework hour where you and your kids play a challenging game, watch a documentary, quietly read, or they can play an educational computer game - there are many online covering everything from dinosaurs to foreign languages. It will help keep you child's mind sharp and attuned to concentrating on one task like they will have to when real homework starts again in the fall. Of course this is generally for the older student, younger kids wouldn't need to do a whole hour - something more comparable to what they do in a school activity. The idea is not to sit them down with a chart to fill in or tables to review. Instead, get them to apply some of their learned knowledge in an activity.
  • Summer Reading If not done during homework hour, summer reading can be done daily. Read to the younger kids, read along with the older ones and read quietly next to the tweens and teens. The idea is to again make the environment conducive to some reading time. Take a trip to the library once every two weeks to stock up on books. Perhaps an older kid might be interested in entering one of the many reading contests that happen every summer. Read the same book as a family and compare opinions. Read books related to an upcoming summer vacation. Read books with a movie fast approaching and compare them to each other. Read non-fiction books as well. Simply put - read!
  • Inquiring Minds Want to Know Consider making national pastimes a chance to learn - How do fireworks work? What creates a thunderstorm? Why do we celebrate July 4th? Which constellation is that? How does a camera work - perhaps put it on manual and figure what different apertures and shutter speeds can do. Or turn a family road trip into a chance to learn a bit more - stop at a national park or try a different cuisine from what you get around home. Challenge yourself to look at items we take for granted as possibilities for learning and experimenting.
  • Did we say Experiments? What better time then summer to make a mess in the backyard. Make a homemade volcano, your own play dough, or put together a model car/airplane/ship/dollhouse. Get your kids involved in projects - perhaps you are doing a home improvement, although you child may be too young to help with the tools, they might be able to help you figure the square footage as you plan your project. Need help in the garden? Don't make them the "weed puller" - instead let them help you tend soil, plants, discover bugs, create a sculpture or taste some ripe berries off the vine.

HOMEOWNER’S TIPS

IMPORTANT HOME INSPECTION TIPS

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IMPORTANT HOME INSPECTION TIPS

1. Order a home inspection soon after your purchase offer has been accepted. Real estate contracts typically allow a limited number of days to complete a home inspection (and then to request repairs, if applicable). 

2. Reputation is important. Choose a home inspector who is known for competence and professionalism — a referral from your lender or realtor is a good place to start. Make sure the inspector you select has access to ongoing technical support and offers you post-inspection advice, if needed.

3. If the home has been vacant, ask the seller to have all utilities turned on during the home inspection. Failure to do so may require a second trip to the home and may involve additional fees. To properly evaluate the home, an inspector must be able to operate all systems.

 4. If your inspector recommends a further evaluation, have a specialist in that area conduct a more extensive examination prior to closing.

5. Be sure you understand all conditions identified in the inspection report and reported defects/and or areas of concern have been resolved to your satisfaction before closing. 6. Your inspector can arrange for other services such as radon screening, termite inspection, water analyses, lead-based paint testing and septic/well system evaluation. Take advantage of your inspector’s contacts when necessary to further minimize unexpected after-sale problems or hazards in your new home.

More information at: http://www.southernhomeservices.biz/index4.htm

Galvanized Pipes in Older Homes

My husband and I are buying an 80 year old home in Columbia, South Carolina, but we are not sure about the galvanized water pipes under the house, What is the life expectancy of these pipes?

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Galvanized pipes have a general life expectancy of 50 years, but this can be shortened considerably by the amount of minerals in the water supply. Columbia has naturally soft water, and galvanized pipes here tend to last longer. Other areas of the country such as Southern California have rather hard water, and as a consequence, galvanized pipes won’t last as long there. Two things happen to galvanized pipes as they age.

First, minerals tend to slowly build up on the inner walls of the pipe decreasing the inside diameter. In extreme cases, this can slow the water flow to a trickle.

The other common problem with galvanized pipes is corrosion at the joints. In the process of cutting the threads for the pipe fittings, the protective galvanizing is cut away exposing bare metal. Over time, these threaded joints will corrode and eventually break. In the case of your 80 year old house, if the pipes are original I would definitely consider replacing them. If you are not sure how old they are, I recommend that a qualified home inspector examine them and look for signs of corrosion at the fittings, and check for low water flow at all of the faucets.