Skip to main content
home check map image

Search such categories as , , ,


, ,


, , , ,

Featured Articles

Setting Your Budget

Your next step is to create a project budget.

Article Thumbnail Small

You have evaluated the neighborhood and find that your improvement is consistent with general aesthetic and size parameters. You plan to remain in the house for some time. You find that a second mortgage payment will not strain your current monthly budget. You feel you can devote a certain amount of time towards planning the project. And finally, you are really sick of waiting in line to go to the bathroom in your own house!

Your next step is to create a project budget. Decide how long you plan on staying in your home. The length of time you intend to stay in a home will affect how much money you should invest in it. If you are going to stay in the home for more than ten years, you should spend as much as you are able to create the home of your dreams. Make a list of all your debts. You should include any debts you pay on a monthly basis, such as mortgages, car loans, credit cards, and any other items with a fixed monthly payment. This list should not include payments for groceries, utilities, telephone services, or other general expenses. Call this list your monthly expenses. Determine your total gross monthly income. Include all sources of income that you would list on a loan application.

You are ready to determine a project budget. Use the following steps for this process; I have plugged numbers into the formulas to demonstrate how each works.

Lenders use a simple Debt-to-Income (DTI) ratio to determine if a homeowner can afford the additional debt of a remodeling project. DTI Enter Your Total Monthly Expenses $2,860.00 Add the Estimated Monthly Payment for the Project +$775.67 Total $3,635.67 Divide the Total by Your Gross Monthly Income $7,950.00 DTI = 45.7% Each lender will approve loans at a specific DTI percentage (most lenders will tell you what their set DTI ratio is, if you ask). In this example, let us assume that the lender accepts DTI ratios of 45 percent. You are right at the cusp of qualifying. Provided your credit rating is good and you have plenty of equity in your home you will most likely be approved for this loan.

The next step is to determine the maximum monthly payment you can afford for remodeling. Multiply your monthly gross income amount by the lender's maximum DTI allowance, and subtract your current total monthly expenses, excluding the estimated remodeling payment. Gross Monthly Income $7,950.00 Lender's DTI ratio x.45 Subtotal $3,577.50 Less Total Monthly Expenses -$2,860.00 Maximum Affordable Payment = $717.50 Use this figure to determine the maximum available to you to borrow. In this case we assume that the home improvement loan is a fifteen year note at seven percent. The maximum you can borrow is forty-seven thousand dollars for your project given this monthly payment. There are many different options you can explore with your lender during this process. These options can sometimes increase the amount you can borrow; it is best to discuss this thoroughly with lenders. We discuss financing in more detail in the next section.

The final consideration for your budget is if there is any available cash to supplement what you borrow for the project. These are funds not being set aside for future financial obligations such as retirement, college, or other major purchases (like a new car). They are not required for monthly or general expenses as well. In this example let us assume that you have three thousand dollars in excess funds available for the project. This brings your maximum project budget to fifty thousand dollars. The budget now becomes the overriding parameter that drives the project. Every decision from this point forward is made according to the limits set by the budget. The next thing to consider is the percentage of the budget necessary for contingencies. Contingencies are unexpected items that present themselves during the course of the project. The guideline is to set aside between five and twenty percent of your budget for contingencies. The actual percentage depends upon the complexity of the project. For instance, a new roof generally does not require other ancillary items be repaired or altered in order to install the roof. Therefore the minimum contingency of five percent is usually sufficient. On the other hand, a large addition to your home involves many more trades and materials that likely require the maximum contingency of twenty percent. As a rule if any portion of your existing walls, floors, or ceilings must be demolished or opened up in order to install the new materials you need a contingency towards the maximum. Although a professional architect and/or contractor have vast knowledge of the construction process he or she does not have X-ray vision. Often times there are situations that complicate construction contained within these areas that cannot possibly be known about until the area is opened. For our example we will assume you are putting on a small kitchen addition (referred to as a “bump-out”). Since you will have to open up an existing wall but the work area is concentrated to a small portion of the house a contingency of fifteen percent should suffice.

This means that the budget for actual construction that you present to the architect is forty-two thousand five hundred dollars. This is the parameter you want your design professional to use. You hold the seven thousand five hundred dollars in reserve to address any unforeseen expenses that occur once the project begins. You protect yourself from scrambling for extra funds in the middle of the upgrade; if you do not use all of the contingency, and there is no rule that says you have to, then you complete your project under budget (heretofore an unheard of occurrence in remodeling)!

TV Reinvented

How Television is Adapting to the Internet

Article Thumbnail Small

As many of us look to stretch our dollar a bit further our money spent on entertainment is often cut. However, entertainment is a good way to relieve stress and get a quick break from the real world. Increasingly, the fee paid for an internet connection is offering a bigger return on the entertainment dollar. Improved connection speeds have created a mushroom of online content that allows users to watch streaming news broadcasts, missed TV shows, webisodes, viral videos (i.e. YouTube), free online games (and competitions), blogs and chat rooms - to name a few. Everywhere you turn, everyone is trying to get their movie, TV show, 15 minutes all noticed on the web. Television alone has morphed from episode summaries and casting lists on a single webpage to deluxe sites with missed episodes online, behind the scenes footage, games, screensavers, additional back stories and character development, and much more. So who is leading the pack with the best sites and content? Who is side-stepping the pack altogether? You might be surprised!

The Usual Suspects
Below is our ranking of the major broadcasting stations that are easiest to use and include extra online content.

  1. NBC has a slick and clean menu and you can easily find episodes of your favorite shows. A great plus is that you can watch a whole season if you got lost a while back and need to catch up. Also, you don't have to watch the show the same week it originally airs. Videos load quickly and offer chapter selection to jump where you left off or skim through with ease. 
  2. The website is clean and easy to navigate. A big disappointment is that not only does the user have to sign an agreement but then download a special plug in just to watch online episodes. The entire site has a much more proprietary feel to it. However, they did redeem themselves a bit by allowing access to episodes from previous seasons for one of their most popular (and confusing) shows 'LOST.'
  3. CBS has a fairly easy menu. The best is to go by show as viewing directly by video is a bit more messy and makes it harder to find past episodes. The option to watch TV and chat at the same time is slow to load (I gave up after two minutes of the loading icon spinning). Video without chat loads quickly and is just as fast as the other stations. Plenty of content about shows but the webpages have an older point-and-click menu that takes a bit longer to navigate. There wasn't a lot of clarity in the order of episodes if you were trying to catch up for the season.
  4. A slick moving website that is easy to navigate. However, FOX allows access to fewer full episodes then the other stations. The individual show websites offer a lot of extras but are not as clear to navigate.

Cable Networks
So if you don't subscribe to cable, who gives you the best online?

  1. Discovery Communications Group Discovery Channel - | The Learning Channel - Animal Planet - | Science Channel - This family of websites has a similar menu and limited selection of full episodes like FOX. However, the fact that current shows with new content is available is a plus compared to other cable stations. Overall, a great way to get highlights of what you're missing for chats around the water cooler. Also, the extra games are a nice touch.
  2. Comedy Central Full episodes are available for most shows. The individual shows do keep separate URLs which made it a little harder to navigate back to Comedy Central. However, all offered complete sites with extra content.
  3. Disney TV This site has a slick design and offers plenty of content including games and fan pages for their most popular shows. One negative is there is almost too much content. Many 'teaser' videos play when the user enters a new page without being selected. Although some full episodes are available online, they are not necessarily in discernable order.
  4. Nickelodeon Plenty of fun games and video bites for kids. Like Disney, there is background content that loads as soon as you enter a page. The pages are busy and harder to find content.
  5. A&E TV Not the easiest navigation at first. However, more episodes and clips of episodes are offered then on some comparable cable sites.
  6. USA Network A couple to a handful of episodes available of USA original shows. Some are available without commercial interruption which is a nice touch. However, not all series offer episodes for online viewing.
  7. Bravo Some behind the scene information and recaps. Videos are offered with some full episodes. However, the navigation of videos is not user friendly and is geared more towards a fan who knows what they are looking for on the channel.
  8. Again a required download of a plug-in before being able to view videos. Basically a collection of a few variety shows and reruns. There is not access to the movies, only their schedule.

A Brand New World
Sites without a presence on television but offering television/movie entertainment.

  1. There is definitely more content on this website then some of its competitors. This site has a larger variety of shows and even news broadcasts are easy to search and view here. offers an easier navigation if you want to find information and summaries of a particular television show. However, the video interface is not as friendly.
  2. Hulu offers episodes of series from all different TV channels. Episodes are separated by genre rather than channel, but an easy search will help you find your favorite quickly. Interestingly, some episodes will load directly from Hulu whereas others will take you to the home website making Hulu act more like a search engine. An added plus are the movies. Many of your re-run favorites from Sunday afternoon can be found here. Load time is good, even for full movies.
  3. Boxee This is a free membership website that dose require users to download their program. It checks all your media on your computer and then creates a one stop area for everything from photos to music. With an open source code it is intended to be manipulated by users so they can add user generated content. However, it is not really ready for all computer systems at this time and was overall frustrating to install. PC to TV or TV to PC? Considering the competition for your entertainment dollars, it should be no surprise then that many TV's offer WiFi connection to your computer to make certain you can enjoy all these extra goodies from the comfort of your couch. However, some computers are also pushing their new models of All-in-Ones aimed at being one-stop entertainment centers. These new computers are offering bigger and better viewing screens, more compact CPUs and easy plug and play for cameras, music players (iPod, Zune, etc.), and much more. Depending on your budget and your pocket book, there are some wonderful choices on the market already.

Water pressure. Too much or too little

I recently bought a home in Columbia, South Carolina, and my home inspector said that the water pressure was too high, and should be set to between 40 and 80 PSI. Why is this so?

Article Thumbnail Small

I recently bought a home in Columbia, South Carolina, and my home inspector said that the water pressure was too high, and should be set to between 40 and 80 PSI. Why is this so? A. The plumbing in your home is designed to function with water pressure between 40 and 80 pounds per square inch (PSI). If the pressure is too low, the water flow in the toilets, faucets and other fixtures will be weak, and if you are running your washing machine and trying to take a shower at the same time, you may not have enough pressure. On the other hand, if the pressure is too high it could cause leaks in the system, and in an extreme case could burst a pipe or fixture. This is especially true in older homes with pipes that may not be in the best condition. I once inspected a house that had a water pressure of 100 PSI, and the owner told me that his garden hoses were always blowing apart. A water pressure of 60 PSI is usually just right for most houses. If your local water supplier will not or cannot adjust the pressure to your home, a plumber can install a pressure regulator between the meter and the house.

GFCI circuits in older homes

We recently bought an older home which has undergone some renovation.

Article Thumbnail Small

Q. We recently bought an older home which has undergone some renovation. The sellers installed three-pronged outlets throughout the house and GFCI circuits in the kitchen, bathrooms and on the exterior. Our home inspector said that the house wiring is the original two wire non-grounded system, and that even though we have three-prong plugs they are not grounded. He also said that the GFCI receptacles would not function correctly, because there is no ground wire. Do you agree with his assessment?

A. Your home inspector is correct in telling you that your outlets will not be grounded. A third or ground wire is necessary for proper grounding of receptacles and fixtures. Having a two-wire system is not a problem in and of itself unless you are using electrical equipment specifically designed to be grounded. The three-prong plugs are more of a convenience since nearly all electrical devices now come with a grounded plug. Regarding the GFCI (Ground Fault Interrupter Circuit) outlets, they need not be grounded in order to work properly. Simply put, the GFCI is a safety device that protects people from electric shocks by sensing current moving in a way that it should not, and instantly shutting down the circuit. On a grounded circuit, it does this by sending the current to ground. On an ungrounded (two-wire) circuit, it does the same thing by sending the current back to ground through the neutral wire. A properly wired GFCI will work just fine on a two-wire circuit. The GFCI outlets have test and reset buttons on their face. To test for proper operation, simply push the test button. If you hear a snap, the circuit has tripped, and you can test it by plugging in a lamp or radio. To turn the power back on, simply push the reset button. If you are still not sure, call a qualified electrician and have him check all your GFCI receptacles.

Got Attic Mold? How to Diagnose Common Sources.

It happens to countless homeowners around the end of the year – you make the annual visit to your attic to collect the holiday decorations and what do you find?

Article Thumbnail Small

Got Attic Mold? How to Diagnose Common Sources.
By Mark D. Tyrol, P.E./Battic Door Energy Conservation Products

It happens to countless homeowners around the end of the year – you make the annual visit to your attic to collect the holiday decorations and what do you find? Spots and blotches covering the bottom of the roof sheathing. Worse yet – it turns out to be attic mold! What does energy conservation have to do with mold in the attic? Well if you take a step back and consider how the house behaves as system, they are often directly related. Building science experts have long been using the “house as a system” approach to diagnose the cause and origin of building defects. For example, ice dams. These are often caused by warm air seeping into the attic which causes the snow and ice on the roof to melt. The water drains to the edge of the roof (which is colder than the rest of the roof because it is an overhang and not warmed by the attic), freezes and creates an ice dam. As this process is repeated daily, the ice dam grows larger. Eventually water is forced under a shingle where it can seep into the house. Understanding how the house behaves as a system and the various causes and effects is necessary to diagnose most building related problems. But how about that attic mold? How did it get there? Mold requires chronic moisture to form and to thrive, so source(s) of moisture must be present. Possibly the moisture came from outdoors. The roof is newer and a quick check of the roof shows no obvious damage or leaks. Possibly the moisture came from indoors. During the heating season, the interior of the house frequently has high moisture levels, especially bathrooms and kitchens. A quick check shows that all bathroom fans, kitchen vents, etc. are properly ducted completely outdoors and not into the attic. The amount of insulation looks good and the attic is well ventilated. Don’t give up – you are almost there! Remember the house as a system? You know that warm, moist air is in the house, but how is it getting into the attic? By air leaks! Air leaks are the leading source of energy loss in most houses, and a frequent source of chronic moisture that can cause attic mold. Most homeowners are well aware of air leaks around windows and doors (especially old ones), but many overlook the numerous gaps leading directly into the attic! Have a look around the attic and you may find large gaps around recessed lights and fans, holes where wires or pipes are installed, even large gaps around the chimney. And don’t overlook the whole house fan and especially the folding attic stair - a big, uninsulated hole in your ceiling that is often overlooked! These gaps can add up to a large hole that allows warm, moist air from the house to flow right into the cold attic. The warm moist air condenses on the cold roof sheathing, creating chronically damp conditions that can lead to attic mold growth. And the energy loss – it can be like leaving a window open all winter long! Seal these air leaks and you stop a significant moisture source. And just think of all the energy you can save and the cold drafts you can stop! Mark D. Tyrol is a Professional Engineer specializing in cause and origin of construction defects. He developed several residential energy conservation products including an attic stair cover and a fireplace draftstopper. To learn more visit

Cracks in the sidewalk

Our home inspector said that parts of our sidewalk are a potential trip hazard.

Article Thumbnail Small

Q. Our home inspector said that parts of our sidewalk are a potential trip hazard. We think that he is being too picky and splitting hairs. What do think about cracks in sidewalks?

A. Simple cracks in a concrete sidewalk are not necessarily a problem unless they become large enough to catch the heel or toe of a shoe or the tip of a cane. Cracks normally indicate movement in the sidewalk, and are fairly normal. Most sidewalks that are more than 20 years old will have some cracks. On the other hand, upheavals in sections of the sidewalk can be a liability. Concrete sidewalks typically will have expansion joints at regular intervals. These individual sections of concrete can rise or fall as much as three inches in some extreme cases. The most common reason for upheaval is tree roots. The opposite problem is caused by subsidence where the ground beneath the slab sinks. An upheaval of more than one inch can become a dangerous trip hazard, and a liability to you as the home owner. This type of trip hazard is particularly dangerous at night. In my practice, I always explain this to the client, and encourage them to make repairs.