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Featured Articles

Becoming a Landlord

How to be a Good Landlord

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Perhaps you inherited property or purchased property as a new investment and now you are contemplating becoming a landlord. If you decide to rent an extra piece of property, you should know some ground rules. In this months article, 'How to be a Good Landlord,' we will discuss some of the basics that every landlord should know. We will discuss what it takes to be a landlord, what makes a good rental property, what are your responsibilities as a landlord, how to advertise your property, how to avoid legal pitfalls and how to evict a tenant if the relationship deteriorates. Overall, this is a short list, hopefully it will help you start with a little more direction and know-how.

Do you have what it takes to be a landlord?

The decision to become a landlord should not be taken lightly. Contrary to popular belief, this is not the type of job where you just sit back and watch the cash flow in. Regardless of the challenges, more than half of landlords are self-employed. Doing it yourself will mean you take on the responsibilities of a small business owner. You need to have great communication skills. You will be working with all types of people; sometimes even the difficult ones. Being an effective communicator in person and in writing is vital. You are an accountant. This includes everything from rent payments and deposits to repair and maintenance costs. You are a manager. You may have staff to train and watch over. Their professional behavior reflects upon you and your property. If they are inconsistent with your policies they can damage your business or even get you into legal trouble. You may also need to contract repair or maintenance jobs you cannot complete on your own. You will need to project manage these items through to completion. You are a marketing director. Getting your place advertised and your units filled is an ongoing challenge. Advertising also includes many legal regulations that you should know (more on this below). Your knowledge of this business should also include legal knowledge. Consulting a lawyer is recommended for anyone starting as a landlord, especially since every state has specialized landlord/tenant laws. But in addition to this, you will be responsible in making sure any staff or contractors you use also know the laws when working with tenants. You should be dedicated and patient. Being a landlord is a tough road to start. You should be prepared for hard work with a slow, trickle-in type of income, especially at the beginning. On average, a landlord should only expect about a 10% profit annually. The rest of the monies will be recycled into items such as mortgage payments, taxes, repairs, management costs, insurance, advertising and a rainy day fund (to name a few). There are tax breaks available to landlords, however, these are not enough to turn your profit margins sky-high. These qualities listed above will help you become a great landlord.

Perhaps there is a trait above that gives you pause. "I really don't want to manage all the accounting." or "I don't want to live onsite or nearby." All is not lost. You can hire a property manager. Doing so will cost you about 10%/month of any monies the property takes in. However, it can be a wonderful way to manage your business. When looking for a project manager, treat it like any other contracted service. Perform rigorous interviews, check references and make sure you have the same ideas about responsibilities of each party. Find out if they are insured, if they already have working contracts with maintenance and repair companies, and if they charge any extra fees for these contacts. Once you decide on a property manager, be certain to create a detailed contract covering all responsibilities. As with any of your other endeavors with your rental property, keep all your records and agreements in writing! Other professionals you may use to help manage your property include accountants, maintenance specialists, marketing directors and lawyers. Of course all of these will eat into your profit, but be honest with yourself and utilize these people when you need them. You can save yourself headaches down the road if you strengthen any weaknesses at the beginning.

What makes a good rental property?

When purchasing a rental property, there are some important questions to ask:

Do you have a enough for a down payment? Because rental property is viewed by lenders as a higher risk, you may be asked to put as much as 25-40% down on the property. Lenders calculate about 75% of your mortgage payment will come from renters. This leaves you with 25% to make up and even more if you cannot rent all the units. They may give you the option for a lower down payment at a higher interest rate. However, the higher interest rate may defeat any benefits.

Could you live on the property? If you use one of the units as your own residence this will help lower the risk factor for lenders. Lenders can offer a lower down payment and you can learn the ropes of being a landlord without being far from your investment.

Can you get the rent you need for the mortgage? Take a look at the neighborhood and compare the rental costs. Your rental rate needed to cover mortgage should not be too far above the market or you will lose your ability to rent units. - If you inherited or already own the property, you should consider if you can meet current mortgage payments. It may be more beneficial to sell the owned/inherited property and reinvest in another neighborhood.

Is the building up to code? Make sure to hire a home/building inspector before purchasing the property. Make sure the inspector is aware that you hope to rent the place as this may change some safety and code requirements. Take time to make yourself familiar with codes for your locality. This will help you ask better questions and understand any improvements you may need to make.

Is the property maintained? At first you may think it won't be a problem to repaint, re-roof, update the wiring and plumbing, etc. until your list becomes too long for the investment to be worthwhile. Again, hire a home inspector and make certain you know what needs repair and the estimated cost of repairs before you buy.

Is the property secure? Review reports on neighborhood safety. Check for ample lighting, especially at entrances and in parking areas. Make sure windows and doors are solid. Consider the cost to change all the locks and add window locks. Think about the security of your tenants in the property.

What are the responsibilities of a landlord?

Let's assume you are going to take on most of the business yourself and have found a wonderful property to rent. Now, what are some of the responsibilities you have as a landlord?

Tenant Screening: Your first interaction with possible tenants will be the background check that includes a financial review and calling references. Overall, you must perform background checks fairly. You should not do the check on one person and not on the other as this favoritism, or "trusting your gut feeling," is a disservice to all involved. You owe it to yourself, possible tenants and current tenants to perform fair background checks. For yourself, you can avoid headaches with tenants that don't pay the rent or have caused problems, such as costly repairs, in the past. For possible tenants, you may be providing that reality check - can they really afford your rental? For your current tenants, consistent background checks let them know you are looking after your investment giving them a sense of security. On average, working with an agency, this will cost you about $20 per check; an investment well worth the cost.

Clear, Consistent Communication: To avoid any misunderstandings, make sure all your interactions with tenants are clear.

  • HAVE A CONTRACT! Make sure you supply the tenant with a copy of the contract so they may reference it if any questions arise. Review the contract with a renewing tenant and discuss any questions they may have over the language or meaning.
  • Collect rent on a schedule. Keeping consistency with your tenants is imperative. If you are too lax one month, you may have a hard time collecting rent the next month. Or, if you are lax with one renter and not another you can create tension or even a legal issue.
  • Always provide written notice before entering a tenants space. This varies from state to state. However, for good business practice and common curtsey, let the tenant know when you need to enter the property they call home.
  • Use signs, flyers or other WRITTEN communication to inform tenants of policies and policy changes. Provide all tenants with copies and/or make clear postings around the complex.
  • Serve notices and warnings in writing. Verbal notices will not protect you if a situation deteriorates. Make certain to give your notices in writing and make yourself available for questions or discussion. Serving a notice and then disappearing from sight does not offer clear communication and can aggravate a situation!

Provide a Safe and Maintained Environment: Every landlord should offer tenants a living space that is up to code, safe for habitation and in working order. Even if you decide to contract out maintenance services, you should provide your tenants with repairs in a reasonable amount of time. Make good relationships with contractors that understand the nature of the work and are willing to come out after normal working hours. Save money for a rainy day so you can pay for emergency repairs when they arise. Maintaining the property will encourage tenants to take pride in their home and maintain their surroundings. Also, strive to make your tenants safe. You cannot control all conditions. However, changing locks, providing ample lighting for parking and having emergency procedures written and distributed are a few of the ways you can keep your tenants safe.

How do you advertise a rental property?

Advertising a rental property is important for getting units filled. Today you can use everything from word of mouth to online sites to advertise your property. In larger cities, you may even use "finding agencies" or real estate agents/brokers to advertise. When advertising your property, keep a clear list of amenities and useful services in the neighborhood. When composing your advertisement you must watch your wording as you cannot exclude any demographic. There are many federal laws/protections that regulate how you advertise your rental. The fair housing laws make it illegal "To make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published any notice, statement, or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin, or an intention to make any such preference, limitation, or discrimination." (Source: U.S. Code Collection - Cornell University Law School). In addition to this clause, many states and cities may also prohibit discrimination based on marital status and sexual orientation. Most landlords have good intentions to rent to all qualified tenants. However, there are certain ways of wording advertisements which may be perceived as discriminatory. For this reason, you should carefully choose your wording when advertising your rental property. Avoid words and phrases such as: prefer, suitable for, ideal for, ethnic neighborhood [or other cultural identifiers]. For a good list, take a look at the Pennsylvanian Human Relations Commission's Reading Between the Lines: A guide for housing and commercial property advertisements as they include a list of terms to avoid. Another resource for examples is the Guidance Regarding Advertisements Under §804(c) of the Fair Housing Act by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Keep in mind this good rule of thumb: always describe property, never describe people.

What are some legal pitfalls to avoid?

There are a lot of legal concerns when renting out property. As we have seen, the law influences advertisements of rentals. In addition to this, you create a contract agreement with your tenants every time you rent. Therefore, it is important to have sound legal advice as a landlord. Establish a relationship with a lawyer who you may hire for any contract questions or possible representation. No one ever wants anything to get as far as a lawsuit. So here are some ways to avoid legal pitfalls in the first place:

  • Always perform background checks with every possible tenant.
  • Call tenant references.
  • Treat every tenant the same in process; never cut a corner for one tenant because of a "gut feeling" or personal relationship.
  • Keep all notices in writing. 
  • Keep all due dates consistent from month to month and from tenant to tenant. 
  • Always perform background checks on any staff.
  • Make certain all staff are trained. They should know what they can and cannot do for tenants. If they are handling rental paperwork or advertising, they should know fair housing laws.
  • If you contract out maintenance work, make certain they treat your tenants professionally. Although they don't work for you full time, they do represent you since you hired them.
  • Keep housing up to code and safe for living.
  • Investigate any complaints against your staff immediately.
  • If a situation arises, consult a lawyer. Know how to legally proceed before taking any action.

How do you evict a tenant?

Evicting a tenant is one thing all landlords would rather avoid. However, sometimes circumstances deteriorate and eviction is the only feasible solution. If you have tried open communication but cannot get the tenant to pay rent or obey rules of the property it may be time to start the eviction process. The rules behind evicting a tenant vary from state to state. It is therefore imperative you discuss your options with a lawyer. Indeed, for the best security, you may want to do the whole eviction process through your lawyer. Regardless of the ups and downs involved with evicting a tenant, make certain to always maintain a professional decorum. Do not allow personal emotions to collide as this can only lead to further legal issues. Keep all of you requests in writing. The first step to any eviction is to send a written notice for them to pay back rent, fix problem behavior or move out. For example, in some states you may send a Demand for Rent or Notice to Quit form to a tenant who is behind rent payments. Or you may send a Notice to Cure Breach of Lease to inform the tenant that they must fix behavior that is contrary to your rental agreement. A Notice Regarding Termination of Lease may be used in some states when there is no chance for reconciliation. For example, the tenant is involved in illegal activity on the premises such as drug trafficking. If problems have not be rectified after notices have been given, then a suit is filed against the tenant. Upon winning this, it is law enforcement personnel who deliver written notice when the tenant may remove their items from the premises. You should never remove a tenant's items yourself. Using the police will ensure that you cannot be accused of taking or damaging any of the tenant's property. Essentially, make certain to obtain legal advice, serve warning notices required by your state, keep all notices and communication in writing and use local law enforcement to help keep you protected from any accusations of unfairness.

None of the above is a substitute for legal advice. An attorney should be consulted.

FREE Rental Agreement Forms

In cooperation with our partners at Lawchek® and Lawsonline™, Homecheck is pleased to provide a sample Rental Agreement Forms for FREE. This is not a substitute for legal advice. It is never recommended that an individual undertake his or her own representation in such matters as real estate law, even though most states do permit such activity. Any individual who is serious about proper real estate transactions would want to have capable legal assistance. An attorney must be consulted.

  • Blank Rental Agreement Form Example Rental Agreement Form
  • Blank Apartment Lease
  • Blank Notice to Quit "

This work is protected under the copyright laws of the United States. No reproduction, use, or disclosure of this work shall be permitted without the prior express written authorization of the copyright owner. Copyright © 2008 by LAWCHEK, LTD."

Resourceful Links

Fair Housing by CivilRights.org
www.fairhousinglaw.org 
The Fair Housing National Multimedia Campaign is designed to increase public awareness of the Fair Housing Act and its protections, encourage the reporting of fair housing discrimination to the appropriate agencies, and provide information and resources to help communities and institutions support individuals and families who exercise their fair housing rights.

Landlord.com
www.landlord.com
In early 1998 the decision was made to spin Landlord.com off as a separate entity, dedicated to providing services to landlords and other real estate professionals on-line.

National Fair Housing Advocate Online
www.fairhousing.com
The National Fair Housing Advocate Online is a resource designed to serve both the fair housing advocacy community and the general public with timely news and information regarding the issues of housing discrimination. Find local organizations to help with any Fair Housing questions: http://www.fairhousing.com/index.cfm?method=agency.search

National Fair Housing Alliance
The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) is the only national organization dedicated solely to ending discrimination in housing.

US Department of Housing - Home & Communities
www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/
The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) administers and enforces federal laws and establishes policies that make sure all Americans have equal access to the housing of their choice. We can help you with your housing discrimination problem. If you feel your rights have been violated, let us know.

US Department of Justice - Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 3601 et seq., prohibits discrimination by direct providers of housing, such as landlords and real estate companies as well as other entities, such as municipalities, banks or other lending institutions and homeowners insurance companies whose discriminatory practices make housing unavailable to persons because of: race or color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability.

Pest Control

Reclaim Your Home From Pests!

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Bugs are a part of life and rodents often come wandering through. These animals are part of the environment and serve their purpose in the great chain of things. However, they can become a nuisance and may even be dangerous if they take over our homes. They are then more aptly called 'pests' and need to be dealt with. This quick article will give you some preventive tips about how to battle common pests. You may adjust many of these tips to various bug and critter problems.

ANTS

Seeing ants around a home is usually taken for granted; however, an ant colony in your home can become a serious issue and should not be ignored. Identifying the species will be important to identifying the type of problem you have. A black ant may be something you can live with when moderated but a carpenter ant is just as dangerous to your home as termites. So what attracts these pests? Food scraps, crumbs, sugar spills or pet food are just a few examples of the type of foodstuffs that will attract many ants. Also, leaky pipes and other sources of water will also help keep the ants happy. Some ants, like carpenter ants, will go for rotting wood. How do you know if you have ants? Well, in most cases you will see them. Soldier ants will make not secret of their presence as they march through your kitchen looking for goodies. In a large indoor infestation you may also see the swarming of winged ants as they search for a new place to colonize in spring/summer. In cold winter months, if you see ants indoors, they are probably in your home rather than coming from outdoors. Finally, how do you get rid of them? First step is to follow their trail to their home. This may lead you to breaks in the baseboard, window, etc. showing you how they are approaching from an outside nest. In this instance, simply seal up entry points. If you find their nest is in your home or you cannot locate it for certain, then baiting is the best option. Ant colonies can sometimes be hard to locate and spraying may just encourage them to pack up and move to another corner of your home. Instead, baiting lets them take poison back to the colony themselves. Baiting is also considered less toxic than spraying. However, make sure it is out of the way or ignored by curious children and pets.

BEES/HORNETS/WASPS

Bees are essential to the eco system, helping plants spread pollen. Wasps, although they look similar to bees (have a thinner waistline), actually survive both on eating nectar and other insects which make them just as beneficial to the ecosystem. Although bees and wasps look the same on the outside they have many behavioral differences. However, one thing that does remain certain is that they all should be handled with caution. When both move too close to our home they can become a problem. So what attracts these pests? Both are attracted to areas that do not receive abundant traffic. This is why you may discover them on your property in areas used less often such as near sheds or side storage awnings. Bees and wasps may build their colonies in the ground, old tree trunks, cracks/openings in buildings and generally other quiet, out of the way places. Paper wasps make the nests in limbs, under eaves of houses and other high places. A good source of food and water and bit of piece and quite offer ideal conditions. How do you know if you have a bee problem? With bees you may not know until your at the area with a hive in the ground. Nests of paper wasps and hornets you can usually spot up in a high corner or nook. Again, bees, hornets and wasps can be beneficial to the ecosystem around your home and if they are not causing a danger may be left alone to work their magic for the summer. However, if they are in structures of your home or too close to where the family may stumble on their territory you should seriously consider getting rid of them. Finally, how do you get rid of them? Be very, very careful when going after any of these groups. Especially in the case of underground hives you may not know how large the hive could be. The biggest threat will be swarming. To protect yourself, make sure to cover you body as much as possible; use gloves, hat, scarf, etc. Also, try to get the nest at dusk or later when most wasps/hornets are back at the nest. There are many specialized chemical sprays on the market that can help eradicate these nests. Again, just make certain to proceed with caution or contact a professional if in doubt.

COCKROACHES

Cockroaches are notorious household pests. These bugs colonize rapidly and can contaminate everything they touch with diseases and allergens. They can spread sickness and irritate those with allergies. Not to mention they can overtake an area with a colony and cause physical damage to your home. So what attracts these pests? Cockroaches are attracted to damp and unsanitary places; sewers, drains, kitchens, bathrooms and storage areas to name a few. How do you know if you have a cockroach problem? If you don't see the cockroach directly, you can usually find signs of their damage and fecal matter. If you suspect cockroaches, setting up traps where you think they are active will help get an idea if they are in your home. Finally, how do you get rid of them? Sanitation is going to be the first key step. Getting messy, mildew ridden places clean will help minimize their romping grounds. Another step is to set up traps so you may better pinpoint their home(s). You will then need to set up a monitored program that may include baits, dusts, sprays and more traps. Keep track of your progress, if the problem persists you should enlist professional help. Also, the extermination program may vary depending on the species of cockroach in you home. A professional will know how to identify the species, find the colony (or colonies) and set a program to fully eliminate the intruders.

FLEAS

Fleas are usually a pest pet owners are the most aware of. These insects live off mammals, biting them and laying their eggs on them. The eggs eventually drop off onto sleeping areas and other areas frequented by the pet and continue their development there. Some animals and people are allergic to their bites, most however, just find them annoying. So what attracts these pests? You do, and your animals too. These pests survive off eating blood from mammals. Pets that are inside and outside will be the likely carriers of this pest into your home. They will bring them in and usually the fleas will concentrate in their dog/cat beds and other areas they sleep. How do you know if you have a flea problem? Usually targeting pets the most, you'll notice if they are itching and scratching a lot. You'll also may come to notice bites of your own. If allergic you will see red welts develop. Finally, how do you get rid of them? To get rid of fleas many times you will have to exterminate them in the yard as well as your home. Fleas spend most of their time on your pet or other animals. They lay eggs there as well, but these usually fall off into the surrounding area, such as your carpet! This is why when you eradicate your home of these pests you need to first clean these areas. Concentrate on where you pet sleeps and spends the most time indoors. Also vacuum, clean any pet bedding, rugs, blankets and anything else the pet has been near. From here you may then use over the counter insecticide to treat these areas to kill off as much as possible. You will need to apply these more than once as any flea pupae are immune to these sprays when in their protected cocoon. At the same time, any pets should also be treated. You can use flea baths in conjunction with various flea medications or collars. Be certain to read directions carefully as many of these are species specific (i.e. for cat or dog only) or also weight specific; ask your vet for recommendations. Finally, for your yard, there are pesticides you may spray on, again, concentrating on pet kennels, dog houses, runs and other areas they use the most. As with all these pests, you may also hire a professional if in doubt or if a severe infestation arises.

MICE & RATS

Mice are much smaller than rats. However, they are similar in that they have poor eyesight and find their way into your home through cracks and openings, following their nose. These openings may be in the foundation, roof, floor (if unfinished) or anywhere else that has an opening 1/4-1/2" in size. So what attracts these pests? Food and shelter are big draws. Many times it is stored food that you may not directly associate as a problem. An example would be stored seeds or camping supplies. Don't consider your items stored in the attic are any safer, roof rats got their name for a reason! How do you know if you have a mouse or rat problem? If you don't see these pests directly you will hear them and often see their damage. There may be gnawing on holes or entry points in walls or cabinets and gnawing on food boxes and similar items as well. You may also find droppings in the home. Most likely if you see these pests you will see them at night or when it is more quiet in the home. Finally, how do you get rid of them? First eliminate how they are entering your home. Any holes should be closed off with tough metal mesh or sheets. The harder the material the better as these pests can work their way through anything soft, like wood! Remove the temptations like stored food or piled garbage or clutter. For stored foods consider moving items into plastic or glass containers instead of cardboard (depending on how accessible these items are). Next you may use traps or poison or a combination of the two. Most poisons are taken by the mouse or rat back to their burrow, so you may end up a with a dead mouse/rat in the wall of your home - this will not smell good! Also, mouse/rat poison will make pets and humans very sick if ingested, make sure to keep it away from pets and children. Check with a professional if you have a large infestation or are uncomfortable using traps and poisons on your own.

MOSQUITOES

Mosquitoes are annoying! They buzz in your ear and inflict bites that itch and seem to appear out of nowhere. It has always been known that some mosquitoes can transmit diseases. They have received more attention in the news lately due to their carrying the West Nile Virus. It is important that you keep repellent on you when camping and enjoying the outdoors. Here is some additional information about what do you do when they become a pest in your yard and home. So what attracts these pests? These pests lay their eggs in standing water. This can be a pond, a rain barrel, old tire or a tin can (to name a few). As long as there is a bit of water or moisture many species of mosquito can survive. Some will even lay eggs in low vegetation/ground cover that is damp and secluded. What attracts them to you and your pets is your blood supply. However, this is only the females as the male mosquito eats nectar from plants instead. How do you know if you have a mosquito problem? You will know if they are pestering you! Also, if you have standing water or a pond you can sometimes see their activity in the water. Finally, how do you get rid of them? You can start by eliminating standing water on your property. However, this may not rid you of the pest entirely as they can travel distances and may be breeding somewhere away from your home. Next you can get various repellents for your yard and home. However, keep in mind that it will be an ongoing treatment since this pest may be coming from outside your property. Oftentimes, personal protection such as sprays for the skin are your best defense against these pests.

SCORPIONS

These pests are more of an issue in southern states but do inhabit some northern states. They have two large pinchers and a stinger bulb at the end of their tail. Usually they will leave you alone unless provoked. However, if they are hiding in your home you may run into more problems than if they were only living outside. So what attracts these pests? They usually can come into the home like many other pests, through cracks and other openings. The are usually looking for bugs, moisture and dark places to hide. Directly outside the home they may be in wood piles or under rocks. How do you know if you have a scorpion problem? You will most likely see these pests at night when they are out hunting. It is also possible, if they are in your home, that you will find them in closets, bathrooms and other dark and/or damp areas where they are comfy. Seeing one does not mean you have an infestation, however, it does mean that they are getting into the house somehow and you should do an inspection of your perimeter to make sure you can keep others out. Finally, how do you get rid of them? Remove firewood, rocks and debris too close to the home which may offer them their first hideaway. If you have areas of your home prone to moisture problems, then get these areas fixed and dry them out. Regular bug control will help as well as you will be removing their food source. There are chemicals on the market, but you will want to rid your home of hiding places before using these. Seek professional help if you are uncertain. Also, make sure to wear protective clothing when searching them out such as gloves and boots. Most scorpions are not lethal to humans, but their sting will hurt like a wasp or large honey bee.

SPIDERS

Spiders are a part of home life. They can be good friends in combating unwanted insects and aid in pest control. For example, big colorful garden spiders may look intimidating, but they can prove a valuable ally in getting bugs out of your yard. However, all spiders can become pests themselves when they become too abundant or invade your home. So what attracts these pests? Most spiders are attracted to an area with many bugs to feed on. They usually want a high or low corner where they can remain undisturbed. Spiders that build webs, will do so where it can remain undisturbed but will also trap bugs as they wander about. Some spiders, such as wolf spiders, do not build webs but instead go out on potrol hunting for bugs. These spiders will hide out during the day and come out when it is quieter. How do you know if you have a spider problem? You may notice too many webs and in some cases, molted shells within the webs. You may also find egg sacs that are full of tousands of eggs that you will want to dispose of carefully. To squeeze one of these too hard is not a pleasant experience! Also, you may notice spider bites. These small bites will let you know that they are too abundant. Finally, how do you get rid of them? Like many of our other pests mentioned, getting rid of debris around and inside the house will help. Also, getting rid of their food supply - if you keep you other bugs out they won't have food to find in your home. Make sure you identify a spider before acting. If it is a poisonous spider, such as a hobo or brown recluse, you may want to get professional extermination. If it is a garden spider you may want to just trap them and put them outside in your garden where they will become a very good ally.

TERMITES

The most common pests that like to devour your home are termites. These pests alone are estimated to cause $5 billion a year in damages!* These pests will literally eat you out of house and home if left unchecked. Like many pest issues, the damage they can do to your home is devastating and unfortunately not covered by homeowners insurance. Therefore it is important when buying a home to get a inspection for bug problems. So what attracts these pests? Moisture is a big draw and they like to keep the humidity levels up. Keep the foundation of your home dry by ensuring all your drainage is working properly; make a point to check for moist spots so you may correct the drainage ahead of time. It is a good idea to keep a gap between any wood and dense plants and the soil around your home. Along these same lines, you should make sure gutters are kept clean of debris. If they become clogged these too will attract termites to your home. Keep firewood stored elevated off the ground and away from your home. You should not let unused firewood just sit and rot as this will become a termite haven. If building a new deck, fence, etc. make sure to use treated wood and seal it from water. Also, using sand around posts, under decks and other areas will make it more difficult for most termites to tunnel their way in. How do you know if you have termites? If you begin to see flying termites in your home and wings discarded in window sills, doorways, spider webs, etc. this may be a good indication that there is a colony in your home. One of the tell tale signs is pencil sized "mud-tubes" that are part of the network termites build. These tunnels in wood are soft and can easily be crumbled with a knife. Finally, how do you get rid of termites? There are three types of treatments a professional inspector can offer: soil treatment which uses a diluted poison placed in the soil to protect the perimeter and serves for long term protection from termites (this is usually used in cooperation with one of the next two treatments); wood treatment which treats the wood directly effected and surrounding area with poison, and finally bait treatment which draws the termites out which gather the poison and take it back to the colony. Whichever of these you choose, it is highly recommended that you consult a professional to get this type of job done correctly. One item you may want to ask a professional you hire concerns the chemicals they will use. Many of these are toxic well after applied. Make sure they are aware of children and pets in your home and might be able to offer alternatives if necessary.

Bathroom Remodeling Homecheck

Your bathroom is where you prep to start your day and where you wind down at the end of the day.

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Your bathroom is where you prep to start your day and where you wind down at the end of the day. From a nice hot shower to an at home spa, the bathroom is an important room in every home and to our daily lives. However, it can be the room most overlooked when it comes to decoration and/or remodeling. It shouldn't be. According to Contractors.com, remodeling your bathroom can yield an 80-90% return in the value of your home. Adding a new bathroom can also easily give you a 90% return in the value of your home. Improving this room can, therefore, be a savvy investment in your property. But it can be more than just a wise investment. Updating your bathroom can make this at home retreat more inviting and invigorating. Take the time to make a bright, friendly room to jump start your busy work day, and a calm, peaceful room to help you wind down in your own do-it-yourself spa retreat. Below, we provide some hints and tips for your bathroom makeover. Whether just changing a few decorations or completing a major remodel, we hope you will find something beneficial for your bathroom remodeling project.

Part I: Decoration Makeover & Small Remodel - This decoration makeover includes simple, do-it-yourself solutions for a quick update. Many of these changes could be done in one to two days. Some of these remodel items may take longer.

Make a Plan - The fist step to any decoration makeover or remodel is to set out a plan for the project.

  • Determine your budget and time. Both will help determine what you can do. You may need to consider doing the project in stages or altering your original ideas. Planning ahead will help make certain you do not end up with an unusable bathroom for weeks or even months!
  • Consider what the bathroom is lacking such as do you have enough functional space, storage space, lighting, etc.
  • Does the room have any items that need updating? This can anything from the toilet to the outdated wallpaper on the walls.
  • What do you envision for the space? Do you want a Zen retreat or a homey B&B feel to the room. Consider what you want the completed room to look like. Do you have anything in there that fits this idea now? Or will it be better to start from scratch?
  • How much experience do you have with remodeling. Are you limited to painting the walls and changing hardware? If some of your ideas seem over your head, you may want to consider hiring a contractor, plumber or electrician. For more information about a major remodel projects, see below.
  • Finally, if you want a change but are drawing a blank with ideas, consider hiring an interior designer. Some people are hesitant about hiring an interior designer because they think they have to use them all the way through. But indeed you can work with them to make a project plan and project manage the remodel yourself. Or you can also hire them to follow the entire project from start to finish.

Cabinets and Storage - You may want to replace or add to your existing bathroom cabinets.

  • Changing a mirror to a medicine cabinet can help add space above your sink.
  • Adding cabinets can help you store essentials for the bathroom from towels to extra soaps and supplies. There are many styles of cabinets available.
  • You can get stand alone cabinets or wall cabinets that fit above a sink or toilet that provide quite a bit of extra space. You can also consider changing your sink cabinet. A new design can offer an updated look and add more storage space to your bathroom. **You may wan to consider hiring a contractor for this type of work!

Walls - Is the paint or old wallpaper making the room too dark, out of date, or showing damage or spots from mildew?

  • Determine your new color scheme or theme for the room before painting or wallpaper goes up.
  • Give a fresh coat of paint on the walls! Wash the walls down first and check for mildew. Any light mildew will need sanding and bleaching. Then clean the entire surface to be painted with TSP solution. Although a bit shiner, you may want to consider a satin or even semi-gloss paint as these will make your walls easier to clean and more resistant to constant cleaning. Just keep in mind, the more glossy paint will show imperfections in the wall itself.
  • If you decide to wallpaper a bathroom, keep in mind the moisture content of the room. Also consider how often you may be cleaning certain walls near a sink or bathtub.
  • Consider combining a new coat of paint with a wallpapered trim!

Lighting - Again, how bright is the space? Is it too dark or too bright and harsh?

  • Replacing the light fixtures can help you add more soft light in your bathroom. Try to avoid glaring harsh lights as these can be very unappealing.
  • Consider two light switch options for the room: one to soft light for general use and the other to brighter light for applying makeup, etc.
  • Consider adding a solar tube or skylight for more natural lighting in the room. **You may want to consider hiring a contractor for this type of work!

Windows - If your bathroom has a window, consider if there are any updates needed to the window when coming up with your redesign plan.

  • If an older window, you might consider replacing the window with a newer one. Or you may want to add additional windows or change the style to bring in more natural light. **You may want to consider hiring a contractor for this type of work!
  • Does the window give enough privacy? You may want to consider updating blinds, curtains or frosting the window to provide more privacy to your bathroom.

Fan - If you have any problems with mildew or don't already have a fan, you may want to consider adding one to the room.

  • Many fans now include overhead lights and can add a more welcoming feature to the room than the loud eye-sores of past models.

Shower Curtain or Door - You can brighten your bathroom by changing your shower curtain or door.

  • Replacing an older shower curtain is a cheap way to help update the decor of your bathroom.
  • Installing a bath/shower door can help lighten the space of the room. This can also help make cleaning easier and cut down on mildew or damp spots if this has been a problem. Many times shower curtains will let condensed water sit or runoff the corners of your tub or shower. A well sealed bath/shower door can help.

Hardware - Changing out your old hardware can be one of the easiest updates to the bathroom.

  • Add a new towel rack or completely change the set to start a new color scheme with a brushed nickel, bronze etc.
  • You can add a spa feel to your bathroom by adding little upgrades like heated towel racks!

Faucet - Updating your sink faucets can help give the bathroom a facelift.

  • Sink faucets can be relatively easy to change out. If uncertain, take a class at a hardware store or hire a professional.
  • Changing the faucets in your bathtub can be a littler trickier. However, again a class or professional can help with this change.
  • If you have a showerhead, this can also be changed out to complete your new look and perhaps add a more spa like feel to the room.

Sink & Countertop - You may want to replace or refinish your sink.

  • If you are already replacing your sink cabinet you may replace the sink at the same time if you get an all-inclusive unit.
  • Consider adding another sink if you have the space. Many new vanities include a two sink option.
  • You may also consider changing the countertop if the sink itself is fine. There are many styles of laminate to choose from or you may change the template completely with a new cabinet.

Mirrors - A mirror is an essential item to every bathroom.

  • Consider updating your mirror if crackled or out of style.
  • How do you use your mirror? You may want to consider mirrors that hinge out to provide angles or depth when needed or one that offers different strengths of magnification.
  • Mirrors can also be decorative items! Mirrored sconces or tiles on the wall can help to give a dark corner light or a narrow space depth.

Refinishing & Liners - Refinishing or lining your tub can be a great way to make it look new once again.

  • You can refinish your own tub, but you will need a respirator, spray gun, sander, chemical cleaners and will need to also purchase an acrylic top coat. The actual refinishing product can be purchased as a kit. Keep in mind that there will be a 30-60 minute wait between about three coats of acrylic and a 24 hour set time. Needless to say, this will be a time consuming project that will take patience, clear ventilation, patience, time, and patience. **You may want to consider hiring a contractor for this type of work!
  • Another option is inserting a bathtub or shower liner. This is a task you can do by yourself with some careful planning and a few extra helping hands. There are also many dealers offering liners and installation for reasonable rates. **You may want to consider hiring a contractor for this type of work!

Tiling - Does your tiling need replacing? If you have the time and skill, this can be a great update to any bathroom.

  • Again, consider your timeline, budget and skill before taking on a task of this magnitude. Consider a deep clean. Giving your tile a good clean can help breathe new life into them. Some also find it beneficial to selectively replace specific tiles and re-grout lines rather than replacing the whole wall.
  • Consider this option if you are on a tight budget.
  • Make arrangements to be without your bathtub for a while if you plan to retile this area. Although the tiles and grout may set at specific times, you may need longer to work it out if taking it on as a do-it-yourself project.
  • If tiling/retiling a floor, consider how you are going to move the toilet and sink/sink cabinet or if you are going to tile around them.
  • Be patient with any tiling project, take it slow as this is something that should last a long time.

Vinyl Flooring - If tile flooring is not for you, you may want to consider replacing your existing vinyl flooring with an updated vinyl.

  • As with tile flooring, consider your timeline, budget and skill before taking on this task.
  • Consider how you are going to move the toilet, and sink/sink cabinet or if you are going to tile around them.
  • Again, consider taking a class at a local hardware store or hiring a professional if uncomfortable with this kind of work.

Part II: Major Remodel - This makeover includes major structural changes and updates. You may be more likely to need professional help. Also, this type of remodel may include obtaining specific building permits from your city or county.

Make a Plan - The fist step to any major remodel is to create a plan for the project.

  • Determine your budget and time. Planning ahead will prevent unforeseen expenses and help you obtain better estimates from professionals you may need to hire for the project.
  • You may need to get a building permit for some of your changes, especially if you are making major structural changes to the room.
  • Consider what the bathroom is lacking such as do you have enough functional space, storage space, lighting, etc.
  • Does the room have any items that need updating? This can anything from the plumbing to the sink fixtures. What do you envision for the space? Do you want a Zen retreat or a homey B&B feel to the room. Consider what you want the completed room to look like. Do you have anything in there that fits this idea now? Or will it be better to start from scratch?
  • How much experience do you have with remodeling. Are there some aspects of this remodel that you are confident you can complete on your own? Perhaps you don't want to install the sink but have no problem putting in the tile backsplash. Mixing contracted work with do-it-yourself work can be a great way to save money if you have the time.
  • You may want to consult with an interior designer for a major remodel project. They could bring up considerations for the space you may not have thought about.
  • What kind of professional help will you need? Will you need a general contractor, electrician or plumber? Often times even a general contractor may hire out certain tasks (i.e. electrical work) under their supervision. If you know what tasks will need to be done then you will have a better idea of who will need to be hired on to help.

Hire a Contractor - With a major remodel you will very likely need professional help.

  • Interview several contractors and get estimates from each. Ask questions and be bold enough to ask why estimate are different - i.e. if they are using different materials, this is good to know in advance!
  • Many contractors will help obtain the necessary permits for your project. Check and see if any you are interviewing will help with this process. Avoid any contractors who say this or that permit, "isn't really needed."
  • Check to see if the contractor will be sub-contracting certain aspects of your project such as plumbing, electrical, tiling, etc.
  • Find out what they expect from you in getting sub-contractors access to work site, etc. For even more information, please see our article How to Hire a Contractor: Working as a Team on Your Next Home Project.

Permits - Many overhaul projects that effect the structure of your home will need permits from the city or county.

  • If you are removing or adding any walls this may be affected by local or state building codes.
  • You may not be aware of all the aspects in your project that may need a permit. Check with your contractor or if you are doing it alone, check with your local government for guidance.

Cabinets and Storage - You may want to replace or add to your existing bathroom cabinets.

  • Adding cabinets can help you store essentials for the bathroom from towels to extra soaps and supplies. With a major remodel you may have the opportunity to include built-in wall cabinets/closets in your new bathroom. Otherwise, there are many styles of cabinets available. You can get stand alone cabinets or wall cabinets that fit above a sink or toilet that provide quite a bit of extra space.
  • You can also consider changing your sink cabinet. A new design can offer a updated look and add more storage space to your bathroom.

Walls - Do you have room to expand your space?

  • Taking down a wall to add space can do wonders for a small bathroom.
  • Think outside the box. Replace a dividing wall with glass blocks to allow more light throughout the bathroom. Insert small alcoves within the walls to add little retreats for mirrors, candles and other decorative items to make the space more inviting. Some redesigns are using tiles on the walls as a protective "wainscoting" design. Other designs include half walls to offer definition of space without enclosing it. The possibilities can be endless.

Lighting - How bright is the space? Is it too dark or too harsh?

  • Replacing the light fixtures can help you add more soft light in your bathroom. Try to avoid glaring harsh lights as these can be very unappealing.
  • Consider getting an electrician to add light switches. Add one for soft, every day light and another for brighter, utilitarian light for applying makeup, etc.
  • With the help of an electrician you can add recessed lighting, track lighting, or other design lighting updates.

Windows - If your bathroom has a window, consider if there are any updates needed to the window when planning your redesign.

  • If an older window, you might consider replacing the window with a newer one. You can add a special feature like stained or frosted glass. Or consider built in blinds for a combo of extra privacy and easy cleaning. You may also consider making the window larger or adding an additional window to the room.
  • Consider adding a solar tube or skylight for more natural lighting in the room.

Fan - If you have any problems with mildew or don't already have a fan, you may want to consider adding one in the room.

  • Many fans now include overhead lights and can add a more welcoming feature to the room than the loud eye-sores of past models.
  • Consider working with an electrician to get a more powerful fan with more options and better ability to clear moisture from the room.

Shower Door - You can brighten your bathroom by changing to a shower door.

  • Installing a bath/shower door can help lighten the space of the room. This can also help make cleaning easier and cut down on mildew or damp spots if this has been a problem. Many times shower curtains will let condensed water sit or runoff the corners of your tub or shower. A well sealed bath/shower door can help.
  • Another alternative to a shower door is using glass blocks or a tiled wall to separate the shower from the larger room. This adds a decorative feature and more light for the room overall.

Faucet - Updating your faucets can help give the bathroom a facelift.

  • Sink faucets can be relatively easy to change out.
  • Changing the faucets in your bathtub and the showerhead can help complete a new look for you bathroom.
  • If remodeling an older home, a major remodel may be a good time to consider reviewing the pipes and improving water pressure and usage. There are many water saving devices available now that can still offer a good amount of water pressure.

Sink & Countertop - You may want to replace or refinish your sink.

  • If you are already replacing your sink cabinet you may replace the sink at the same time if you get an all-inclusive unit.
  • Consider adding another sink if you have the space. Many new vanities include a two sink option.
  • You may also consider changing the countertop if the sink itself is fine. There are many styles of laminate to choose from or you may change the template completely with a new cabinet.

Refinishing & Liners - Refinishing or lining your tub can be a great way to make it look new once again.

  • Refinishing your tub is an alternative to replacing or lining it. This process will need at least a 24 hour set time. This should be considered if working with more than one professional as work will have to be suspended as the acrylic is applied and sets.
  • Another option is inserting a bathtub or shower liner. Many companies offer the liner and installation for a reasonable cost.

Tiling - Finish your spa retreat with professional tiling.

A major remodel is a great time to get the bathtub, shower, floor and even walls all done at once.

If you want to keep the old tiling, consider this a time to get damaged tiles replaced and grout redone.

New Big Items - A major remodel may also include getting a new bathtub, toilet, sink or custom made shower.

  • If you are doing a different style design you may want to consider changing some or all of your big items.
  • If you are updating an older home, this would be a great time to get a more efficient toilet or better fixtures to aid with water pressure.
  • This is your own spa, maybe it is time to replace that old bathtub with a jetted one!
  • A custom built shower can offer a neat new design and multiple shower spray option for a more spa-like experience.

Final Thoughts

Whether you are considering a small or large remodel, the short list above makes it obvious the possibilities are endless. In both cases, make certain to plan ahead and really consider how you want your new bathroom to function and feel. Have fun, get carried away, and then look at what you can turn into a reality. Get help from the professionals whether it be an interior designer or a general contractor. Or get in your hours at your local home improvement store's classes and put your patience and creativity to the test. Either way, the best part of a bathroom remodel is that once it is done, you can reap your rewards by enjoying your mini spa retreat everyday!

Homes fo the Future

Smart homes and integrate technology.

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What better way to open the new year with a look at the future. In particular the technology and innovation behind homes of the future. There is no doubt that as technology changes so many aspects of our lives it will soon also effect our personal sanctuary. Last year we looked at how computers were changing how we watched television. Other simple pastimes such as reading are also affected by computers and software notebooks that change our libraries. Music collections can now be slimmed down from plastic CD to bits of data on our computer. But what about the home structure itself? How will new technology effect how we use energy, water, communications and the natural environment surrounding the home? What might the homes of the future look like? Below we take a look at some of the more fast approaching changes to residential buildings that we might see take hold in the next few years.

Homes with a Brain - The new smart homes integrate new technology while keeping flexible for future innovations. A central command for everything from lights, security, and temperature control to entertainment features such as TVs, computers, and music are all connected to one central powerhouse that can be accessed from anywhere in the home. Programming options will allow you to set the home to various tasks based on the time of day. Imagine waking as the blinds open to the sun in your room, the kids are all woken for school by the house using lights and/or radio alarms, the coffee is already brewed and the security system turns off the evening protections so you don't set it off as you grab your morning paper. At the end of your day, the house checks that all the lights are off for you, all the doors and windows are locked, the security system is on, and maybe the refrigerator tallies its contents so it can remind you in the morning that you are running low on milk.

  1. Automated Climate Control - Homeowners with newer heating and cooling systems already know the benefit of automated temperature control. Currently the system can check the temperature and adjust to the ideal climate you preprogrammed. In the future, these systems will be even smarter. Look for future heating and cooling systems to respond to more than just temperature. They will also adjust according to sunlight and wind - perhaps your shades will automatically close against a setting sun. Climate control will also become easier by zone or area. You can control heating to the bedrooms at night in the winter while balancing the rest of the house so you are not paying to heat empty rooms.
  2. The Efficient "Big Brother" - Smart homes of the future will help us monitor how we use energy and resources. With a fully integrated home, families can examine how they are using and wasting energy, water, etc. They can then easily determine where they can make changes to make their homes more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.
  3. Smart Appliances - These futuristic appliances can tell when your dishes are clean and will stop washing automatically. Your laundry will also only run until the rinse water is clean which will moderate water use and shorten cleaning time. Or better yet, instead of running the whole timed 60 minutes, the dryer will stop as soon as your clothes are dry.

Solar Energy - Recent oil prices and environmental concerns have created a resurge in the use of solar power. The new solar panels are not the same ones from the 70s. Instead, new solar panels on the market collect more photovolatic energy and are easier to install. Many homes are already including a few solar panels on the roof to offset energy costs. Setting the panels at the right slop towards where the house receives the most sun exposure is key. Even in a sunny state like California, consumers should realistically expect only a 50-75% savings at this time. But this is still substantial! Just imagine, as technology improves, so will our ability to use the sun's energy.

Wind Energy - Harnessing wind energy for a single urban residence is in a much more experimental/infancy stage than solar energy. But in the future, wind energy may help offset your energy costs just as much. Traditionally, wind power has been on a large scale and usually used rurally because the size of the turbines. But there are innovative thinkers already creating compact wind turbines for the urban resident. A recent example is the Clarian Jellyfish that is no more obstructive than a TV antenna on the roof.

Wireless Energy - Various forms of wireless energy are still under experimentation. Some are already proven to work in models - such as the WiTricity created by MIT Professor Marin Soljacic. In the future, using electromagnetic induction, microwaves or even lasers, energy may be transferred without the use of wires. In cases such as electromagnetic induction, the transmitting energy is reportedly safe to humans as energy moves from the power source to the receiver at a resonant frequency that matches each other but not other items in the environment. At this point the idea is that homes will still be connected to the city power grid, but all the devices in the home would be powered without wires. Imagine never having to charge your cell phone again or hanging a television on the wall without any wires. To read a bit more, click here.

Phones - Will your home in the future have a standard phone line? Many customers have been dropping phone line use in favor of wireless options - in fact, last year it was estimated that one in every five homes only uses wireless phones.* In addition, homes are now using more Internet phone and communication options such as video conferencing. Homes in the future may not be built with a standard phone line as more users switch to an IP based or wireless phone plan. Already many businesses are cutting costs by either not upgrading or not installing these phone lines for reconstruction or new construction projects. Starting with the business sector first, it may only be a matter of time when the phone line becomes optional for new homes.

Security - Many of the gadgets from the movies are now a reality for the everyday consumer. It is becoming easier to set up cameras around your home that you can access from any computer on a secured site. Add to this new electronic locks that allow you to lock/unlock your home online - perhaps you forgot to lock the doors this morning but can now do so from work or you want to let your neighbor in to bring in the paper while you're on vacation. And yes, these new locks will let you track which doors are opened, when and, in the future, by whom. You can already get fingerprint readers that will limit access to computers and/or your home. Some of the new model homes also include iris scans that make keys almost unnecessary.

Space - In the cities our available living space can be limited and will be even more so in the future. For urban living, therefore, it makes sense that our living spaces take on multiple functions. Tucking away what is not in use and creating efficient use of space is a common element many urban homes are adopting. For example, compact, built-in furniture features can help turn a living room into a bedroom or dining room. Perhaps suburban and even some rural homes will adopt some of these innovations as they give evidence of their cost effectiveness. Homebuyers may use urban designs to lower energy bills and the cost of building or remodeling a home. However, large homes will not disappear overnight and design will not change in most of the country until these slim urban concept designs prove their efficiency without sacrificing comfort.

Plants - Plants can help make a room more appealing and complete. In the future, plants may also be used to facilitate cleaner air in the home or to help clean waste water. Plants already can act like a carbon filter and help in taking gases such as carbon monoxide and formaldehyde out of the air.* Maybe start this today and get a spider plant which is reported to work on both of these gasses. Currently plants may also be used around the home to help slow chemicals from storm runoff, safely adsorbing chemicals and creating clean waste. In the future, as more ways to treat water through phytoremediation are developed, this technology may become more accessible and plants may take a greater role in helping remove toxins from the water coming in and out of our homes.

Sprinklers - Okay, so not as impressive as say wireless energy, but the new sprinkler systems are still pretty neat - and cost effective. New systems allow for thinking sprinkler systems that will water the lawn only as needed. Set to read the amount of rain already received - you won't see automated sprinklers on during a rainstorm again!

GFCI circuits in older homes

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

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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.

Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home-Part 4

This month’s we will discuss tips for once year maintenance.

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Welcome back to Rocky’s Corner! Last month we started Part 3 of an 8 part series of Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home when we recommended maintenance tips to use every 6 months. This month’s we will discuss tips for once year maintenance. Every Year SHUT-OFF VALVES: Review the location of all of the shut-off valves in your home with all your family members so you will be prepared for emergencies. Whole-house water shut-off valve: The main shut-off valve should be beside the meter if you are on City water. If you use a well, the shut-off valve will be on the house side of the pressure tank. You should also cut power to the tank. Whole-house hot water shut-off valve: There should be a valve on the hot water outlet of the water heater, which controls all of the hot water to the house. Toilet shut-off valve: Show your entire family how to shut off the toilet by turning the ribbed oval handle under the tank if it ever starts to overflow. Sink shut-off valve: You should have handles beneath the sinks or within the cabinets; the one on the left is usually for hot water, the one on the right for cold water. Dishwasher shut-off valve: Look under the kitchen sink for a reducer coupling and shut-off valve leading to the dishwasher on the ½ inch hot water sink supply line. It could also be between ceiling joists just below the appliance if you have a basement. Washing machine: Valves are usually where the washer hoses meet the house supply lines. However, washer hoses are notoriously weak, so consider changing them routinely every year or at least close the valves when leaving home for an extended period of time. Gas hut-off valve: Identify location and show entire family how to shut off. Electrical Panel/Breaker box: Identify location and show entire family how to shut off main breaker in an emergency, or flip any circuits back on after an overload. GAS-FIRED, FORCED-AIR CENTRAL HEATING SYSTEMS: Inspect the thermostat, electrical components and controls. Check the heat exchanger, flue, ducts, airflow and air fuel mixture. Adjust the burner and oil the motor and circulation fan. Arrange for service calls before the start of heating and cooling season to get better attention and have more flexibility when scheduling appointments. HEAT PUMP: Schedule an annual service call to have a certified professional to inspect the wiring, check belts and replace if needed, and oil the moving parts. Arrange for service calls before the start of heating and cooling season to get better attention and have more flexibility when scheduling appointments. OIL-FIRED BOILERS: Schedule an annual service call for flue cleaning, a fuel-filter change cleaning and adjustment of the jets. Arrange for service calls before the start of heating and cooling season to get better attention and have more flexibility when scheduling appointments. FIREPLACES AND CHIMNEYS: Have your wood burning fireplaces and stoves inspected annually and cleaned and repaired as required to prevent chimney fires, carbon monoxide poisoning and mortar and flashing failure. Water leaks can also cause your mortar to deteriorate prematurely. Consider installing a chimney cap to protect your chimney from water, debris and critters. CLEAN CARPETING, UPHOLSTERY AND DRAPERIES: Have your carpets, upholstery and draperies cleaned regularly, once every 12 to 18 months to remove the dirt and grit that can wear them out prematurely. APPLIANCES: Inspect appliance hoses and ventilation according to the owners’ manuals. Replace if necessary. Vacuum the coils behind your refrigerator and freezer (found behind or under the appliance) to increase energy efficiency. GARAGE DOORS: Clean and lubricate hinges, rollers, and tracks; tighten screws. Join me next month for Part 5 of our series on Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home. We will be discussing tips for every 2 years. Visit us at www.freminshomeimprovement.com