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Featured Articles

One roof or two?

My 1950’s home has recently developed ceiling cracks running lengthwise through all of the rooms.

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Q. My 1950’s home has recently developed ceiling cracks running lengthwise through all of the rooms. Recently, I had a new shingle roof put on, and the roofing contractor told me that I could save a little money by putting the new shingles on top of the old ones. I wonder if this could be contributing to the cracking of my plaster ceilings.

A. The new roof over the old is most likely the reason for the ceiling cracks. Some roofing contractors will put new shingles over old ones because it saves them time and money, but this is no benefit to the home owner. Your house was framed to handle the weight of one shingle roof, but not the weight of two. The extra load on the structure is placing stress on the rafters, braces and ceiling joists, and causing stress cracks in your plaster ceilings. At this point, your best option is to just live with the cracks, because if you patch them without relieving the extra load on the roof, the cracks will just come right back. Next time you are ready for a new roof, insist that the roofer remove all of the old shingles, felt, tar paper and any other materials right down to the plywood or boards and start from scratch. This will not only eliminate the extra weight problem, it will give you a better looking, tighter and longer lasting roof.

Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home-Part 6

This month we will begin with Part A - tips for Spring.

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Welcome back to Rocky’s Corner! Last month we started Part 5 of an 8 part series of Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home.

This month we will begin with Part A - tips for Spring. Every Spring-Part A

APPLIANCES:

  • Vacuum coils under or behind refrigerators and freezers.

 AIR CONDITIONING UNITS: Central Air Conditioning

  • Make sure the condensing unit located outside is not covered up with leaves, newspaper, etc.
  • Change or clean the filters regularly.
  • Be sure all access panels are secure, with all the screws in place.
  • Set the thermostat in the cooling mode.
  • Run your air conditioner for a few minutes now, before you need it.
  • Schedule a maintenance call before it gets hot to have a technician check the following items:
  1. Check for proper refrigerant (Freon) levels. A low level indicates a leak, to be found and repaired before adding Freon.
  2. Check all electrical components and controls.
  3. Clean evaporator and condenser coils, as needed.
  4. Oil motors as needed.
  5. Calibrate thermostat.
  6. Check condenser for cracks.
  7. Check filters.

AIR CONDITIONING UNITS: Evaporative Air Conditioning

  • Clean unit; check belt tension and adjust if necessary; replace cracked or worn belt.
  • Clean or replace air filter; clean condenser or evaporator coils and condensate drain; remove debris from outdoor portion of unit. AIR

CONDITIONING UNITS:  Wall and Window Air Conditioning

  • Have your unit checked out to make sure it is working properly before you need it.
  • Clean dirt, insects and debris from the grills and cooling fins.
  • Replace dirty filters.

ATTIC:

  • Make sure all your gable, soffit, and ridge vents are open to allow proper ventilation.
  • Make sure insulation covers the entire attic floor; look into hiring a professional to add more to meet recently updated building codes and reduce future cooling and heating costs.
  • Check to make sure your attic and/or whole house fans are working properly; consider installing attic or whole house fans.

CARBON MONOXIDE AND SMOKE DETECTORS:

  • Change batteries and check to make sure they are operating properly.

CAULKING AND GROUT:

  • Inspect caulking and grout around tubs, showers and sinks; considering replacing if necessary.

CLEAN CARPETING:

  • Have your carpets cleaned regularly to remove the dirt and grit that can wear them out prematurely.

DOOR SILLS, WINDOW SILLS, AND THRESHOLDS:

Fill cracks, caulk edges, repaint; replace if necessary.

DRAIN-WASTE AND VENT SYSTEMS:

  • Flush out system.

HEAT PUMP:

  • Lubricate blower motor.
  • If you didn’t have an annual check-up done last fall, schedule one now to have a certified professional to inspect the wiring, check belts (replace if needed), and oil the moving parts.

HOT WATER HEATING SYSTEM:

  • Lubricate circulating pump and motor.

PEST CONTROL:

  • Termites can cause thousands of dollars worth of property damage before the homeowner even realizes they have an infestation and other pests can threaten your family members and pets with bites and diseases
  • Contact a pest control specialist for a free inspection and evaluation of your risk; and for hiring a regular service to keep your home free of all pests; including insects and rodents.

SCREENS FOR WINDOWS AND DOORS:

  • Clean screening and repair or replace if necessary; tighten or repair any loose or damaged frames and repaint if necessary, replace broken, worn or missing hardware; tighten and lubricate hinges and closers.

WATER HEATER:

  • Every six months you should turn off the power source and drain it completely until it is clear of sediment.
  • Also inspect flue assembly (gas heater); check for leaks and corrosion.

ANTENNA:

  • Check antenna and satellite dish supports for possible leak source.

BASEMENT AND FOUNDATION:

  • Check grading for proper slope away from foundation wall. Inspect for cracks and moisture and repair if necessary.

DECKS, PORCHES AND EXTERIOR WOOD STRUCTURES:

  • Check all decks, patios, porches, stairs and railing for loose members and deterioration, such as cracks, splintering, decay, and insect damage; treat wood, set nails and repair or replace rotted boards, as needed.
  • If professionally cleaned, sealed and maintained, it should only be necessary to refinish and/or stain your wooden decks every two or three years.
  • It is also necessary that surfaces be thoroughly cleaned and dried before adding another coat of stain or protective finish.
  • Remove mold and mildew, fungus, tree sap, grease and bird droppings with the appropriate commercial deck cleaners (or homemade mixtures) and a stiff brushed broom.
  • Clean mildew and fungus by mixing one cup of chlorine bleach per gallon of water; scrub and rinse well. Sodium bicarbonate works well to remove dirt, mildew and the weathered gray residue from sunlight degradation.
  • Oxalic acid will remove metal stains around nails and dark tannin stains often found on redwood, cedar and oak.
  • Use care and follow manufacturers’ directions when using these products, wear eye protection, long pants, long sleeves and gloves; cover surrounding vegetation with plastic and rinse well.

DRIVEWAY CRACKS:

  • For asphalt, remove dirt and weed debris from cracks, spray with a high-pressure hose sprayer; treat with weed killer and patch with a special patching product.
  • For concrete, the only alternative for cracked driveways and garage floors used to be removal and replacement, but these days there are overlayments that may be professionally applied to cover surface cracks as long as the concrete is still structurally sound.

Join me next month for Part 7 of our series on Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home. Visit us at www.freminshomeimprovement.com

Budgeting for the Holidays and Special Events

Big events and holidays can often mean big spending. A little pre-planning can help to ease and avoid financial pain.

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Big events and holidays can often mean big spending. A little pre-planning can help to ease and avoid financial pain. To the left are some worksheets that may be used when planning holiday or big event spending. In the meantime, here are some other tips for not overspending:

Set a Limit - Before any spending spree begins, make sure you know your limit. Set your cap a bit below as last minute expenses may arise. Did you account for mailing the gift? Gift wrap? The unexpected can creep on you before you know it! Also, take a look at how much you have spent in the past. Was it too much? What expenses surprised you? Asking questions like these will help you plan for the holidays and events to come.

Make a Gift List - Instead of hoping for something to catch your eye, keep a list of gift ideas. This way you will know what you are looking for and be able to better preplan the budget. This will also prevent buyers remorse - sometimes that gift that seemed like a great idea when you were in the store may not be so great when you sit down to gift wrap it.

Pay Cash - Credit cards are easy to use but not all of us are good at paying them off as soon as the bill comes. Taking cash helps you stick to your budget. Another alternative is the prepaid credit cards that you load with a limited amount in advance. Many also find these pre-paid credit cards a nice alternative to use for online purchases for extra credit protection.

Shop Early or Late - Depending on how far in advance you like, plan to shop either in advance of the holiday season or post-holiday season with the next year in mind. This will allow you to stick to a budget and not get caught up in last minute buys. It will also relieve a lot of the stress that comes with shopping during the busiest shopping days of the year!

Allow Time for Shipped Gifts - Plan ahead if you are shipping gifts to friends and relatives far away. Waiting until the last minute will mean more expensive postage to get gifts to the door on time.

Take Time to 'Comparison Shop' - Some of us get our list together and then just want to get it over and done with. Be patient, compare store prices and options before you go out to buy. This will help stretch that budget further.

Be Creative - Have fun with your gift ideas. Consider homemade or crafted gifts; however, don't forget the time involved making these items! Or make your own gift baskets - know a lot of chocolate lovers? Instead of buying a pre-made gift set - make your own basket of local chocolates or goodies.

Cracks in the sidewalk

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

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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.

Interior Design

What to Look for in Interior Design Schools

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The interior design industry is growing and is expected to grow 17% by 2014.* Those interested in this career should have strengths in interpersonal communication and project management. Interior designers work on a regular basis with business and home owners, architects and various trades professionals from carpenters to electricians. Planning these projects will take good communication and the ability to plan around various schedules. Interior designers should also have an artistic and creative mind. Many times they will need to "think outside the box" to make a space work with both function and aesthetic design. Most interior designers work through the following steps: assess the needs of the client, make a plan for review, calculate the estimated cost, select materials to be used on the project, contact architects and other trade professionals if needed, set a timeline, and coordinate all materials and labor for the project thru to completion. It is quite a list, but many enjoy the challenge all the same. Does interior design sound like something you would enjoy? Then time to sign up for classes! This month we look at interior design schools, what to look for in the school and where they are located in your state. Perhaps it is time to begin that new career.

Part I: What to Look for in Interior Design Schools

The recommendation is that those interested in interior design get a postsecondary degree for most entry level positions. Besides a school education, many interior designers also do anywhere from 1-3 years of apprenticeship in the field. Gaining this "real-world" experience can be just as important as the school education. Therefore, consider schools that help prepare you for work inside and outside the classroom.

  • Here are some items you should consider when choosing an interior design school:
  • Take a look at class size and curriculum. The school should offer both theory and hands-on experience in labs, internships or other projects.
  • Set up an interview with faculty and/or students along with a visit to the school. Some schools may let you sit in on a beginning level class for the day to get a feel for the school's culture and program style.
  • Consider the area of interior design you want to specialize in when choosing a school. Some schools may have more experience or strengths in different specializations. Areas of specializations vary: Commercial Design, Residential Design, Hospitality Design, Healthcare Design, Green Design and so on.
  • Get to know the faculty members via online bios or in-person interviews. Does their experience and expertise fit in with the type of interior design you wish to pursue?
  • If required in your state, the school should help you prepare for the state interior design certification/competency exam.
  • Check to see if the school you selected did the voluntary accreditation with the Council for Interior Design Accreditation or the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
  • Find out what type of apprenticeships are available or if students must arrange their own outside "real-world" experience.
  • What kind of employment opportunities are available to graduates? The school should offer data about employment rates and a list of they types of employers their graduates work for.
  • Does the school offer continuing education classes that you may take after graduation? You may need access to these types of classes to learn about innovations in the field or keep an active professional certification or license in your state.

Useful Interior Design Sites

American Society of Interior Designers
www.asid.org
ASID is a community of people—designers, industry representatives, educators and students—committed to interior design. Through education, knowledge sharing, advocacy, community building and outreach, the Society strives to advance the interior design profession and, in the process, to demonstrate and celebrate the power of design to positively change people’s lives.

ASID: List of Registration Laws
Currently, 25 states and jurisdictions have licensing requirements for interior design practitioners. In many of these states, you cannot even call yourself an interior designer unless you meet or exceed a certain level of accredited education and in some cases pass the qualifying exam administered by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification. Regulation of interior design practice continues to become increasingly wide spread.

Careers in Interior Design
This website has been created by professional organizations as a service to individuals pursuing a career in Interior Design.

Council for Interior Design Accreditation
ww.accredit-id.org
The Council for Interior Design Accreditation is an independent, non-profit accrediting organization for interior design education programs at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.

Interior Design Educators Council, Inc.
www.idec.org
The Interior Design Educators Council, Inc. (IDEC) was founded in 1963 and is dedicated to the advancement of education and research in interior design. IDEC fosters exchange of information, improvement of educational standards, and development of the body of knowledge relative to the quality of life and human performance in the interior environment.

The Interior Design Society
www.interiordesignsociety.org
The Interior Design Society (IDS) was founded in 1973, and is the largest design organization exclusively dedicated to serving the residential interior design industry.

International Interior Design Association
www.iida.org
The International Interior Design Association (IIDA) is a professional networking and educational association of more than 10,000 Members in 8 specialty Forums, 9 Regions, and more than 30 Chapters around the world committed to enhancing the quality of life through excellence in interior design and advancing interior design through knowledge.

The Library of Congress: Architecture and Interior Design
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/gottscho/
The Gottscho-Schleisner Collection is comprised of over 29,000 images primarily of architectural subjects, including interiors and exteriors of homes, stores, offices, factories, historic buildings, and other structures.

US Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics
ww.bls.gov/oco/ocos293.htm
Statistics and review of the Interior Design profession.

Understanding Homeowners Insurance

Many of us obtain our homeowners insurance when we purchase our home.

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Many of us obtain our homeowners insurance when we purchase our home. After this initial purchase, we do not give this insurance another thought. It is not until the roof is damaged during a violent thunderstorm, a major appliance fails and floods our basement, or the neighbor's kid slips and fractures their wrist in our living room that we dust off the policy and ask ourselves, "Am I covered for this?" Don't wait until damage or an accident happens to discover what your insurance policy covers. Instead, you should have a good idea of what you are covered for and what is not included. Every year you should assess if your coverage should increase or if there is any optional coverage you may want to add. The purpose of this article is to point out some general characteristics of homeowners insurance and help in determining if you have the right coverage. Obviously this cannot substitute for a consultation with your insurance provider, but it will give you a better idea of what questions to ask. Image of home, crutches and turning road sign.

There are five popular topics concerning homeowners insurance that we will discuss below: types of damage covered, determining replacement cost, determining personal property value, understanding liability coverage, and ways to save money on your policy.

Homeowner insurance policies typically cover damages such as: fire and smoke damage, storm damage (i.e. lightening, wind, hail, ice and snow), water damage (other than flooding as this is separate), explosion, vandalism, theft (some companies are now offering an identity theft coverage option as well), civil unrest, and damage by aircraft and vehicles. You should discuss with your insurance provider any additional hazards you may face in your location such as earthquakes or floods. There may also be hazards you are not immediately aware of that could effect your insurance cost such as your neighborhood crime rate or if you own a Flood damage is not covered by homeowner insurance. The National Flood Insurance Program is a partnership between FEMA and isnurance companies that offers coverage. Click here for more.pet that is considered to be a high liability risk (i.e. certain breeds of dogs). Depending on the probability of need, you may be required to get additional coverage for these hazards by your insurance carrier and/or mortgage lender. To find out about special hazards in your area, talk with your insurance provider or contact your state insurance commissioner. If you run a home business, you will need to get separate insurance to cover business items such as computers and liability, i.e. if you run a daycare, your standard homeowners will not cover any accidents. Other items that are not covered by your homeowners insurance but may be covered by additional or alternate policies are: tenants, multiple family dwellings, land, theft by those covered in your insurance policy (i.e. recently separated spouses), and cars. Take a look at your policy and review your coverage. Consider how you use your home or where your home is located. Do you need additional or special coverage? This is a question you should review every year.

When choosing a policy, it is important that you consider the replacement cost of your home. The replacement cost is the amount it would take to replace your home. Replacement cost is not the same as the market value of your home as the market value includes the property it stands on and the current housing market. Because of this, it may not be equal to your outstanding mortgage. You can get estimates for replacement cost from appraisers, your local builder/craftsmen association or your insurance agent. Once you have determined how much your home replacement cost should be, you should review it and make any needed adjustments every Condos usually have a Master Policy that covers liability and property for common grounds. Individual policies then supplement personal property, liability and immediate structure.year. Most insurance companies will include an increase of coverage every year to match inflation. However, other items may also require you to adjust your replacement cost. Major remodels to your kitchen or bathroom or room additions can drastically effect the replacement cost of your home. If you use special materials or there is a housing boom making building materials scarce in your area, these too may affect your replacement cost. Another item that may effect your replacement cost is the change in building codes since when the house was built. Even with partial damage, it may be necessary to take the whole area/structure down to bring it up to code. If you own an older home, you should definitely discuss this with your agent. You may also get an extended replacement policy that will help you if your replacement coverage is below what you need. However, it is more economical if you take the time to review your policy and change your replacement cost coverage each year. Finally, keep in mind your policy should also include coverage for living expenses while the home is rebuilt or repaired. With the structure insured for major repairs, you can now consider your possessions.

Determining the personal property value depends on how much time the homeowner wants to invest in itemizing their property. Traditionally, most homeowners are covered at 50% of their home's value to cover personal property. Some pay a bit extra and get 75% of the homes value. Replacement costs like this cover like items, not necessarily the same make and model. You can also make an itemized actual cash value list that will cover items' actual cost minus depreciation. Many opt for percentage replacement coverage and then add a "floater" that will cover individual inventoried items. Major items should be inventoried with make, model, original cost, and documentation by picture or video. Items like jewelry and antiques should also have an appraisal. The documentation of these items should be kept in a secure location like a safe deposit box or a fireproof safe. Even if you opt for the general 50% coverage, you should have a list of your most valued possessions in case theft as this may help in tracking the items down (see more in our Home Security article).

Liability coverage protects you, your family, house guests and pets if they should accidentally hurt someone on your property or hurt someone or damage property elsewhere. On average, liability insurance usually covers up to $100,000 per incident. However, with lawyer and medical costs high these days, many homeowners also add an umbrella which allows for greater coverage at reasonable rates. Although most think of medical coverage as part of their liability coverage, it is actually categorized separate from liability because it pays for minor injuries that do not need to prove fault or negligence to be covered. An example would be someone twisting their ankle at your home. Liability is an important coverage that you will want to discuss with your agent.

Finally, there are a few things you may do to ease the cost of homeowners insurance. One way to lower your overall insurance cost is if you know you can take a higher deductible. If you can pay $500-1000 instead of $300 for each instance, this will lower your premium. Some decide to do this as the probability is that they will not claim or use the insurance very often. In addition to this, you may also pay your premium in larger and fewer payments. Another method to lower costs is to itemize your insurance to only the hazards you think most probable to happen. However, this option may not be available if you still owe a mortgage as the mortgage company may want more inclusive coverage. Also, you may check and see if there are any improvements you make to the home that may reduce your premium. Installing a home security system for example. Finally, combining policies with one carrier will also help you get lower premiums. If you combine your home, auto and life insurance policies, many companies will give you a preferred rate. Talk with your agent for further ways you may able to save money but maintain sound coverage on your home.

Conclusion
     There are a lot of options for your homeowner's insurance policy.  When setting up a policy, shop around and talk to different insurance companies to find one that works well with you.  Find out if they have a good reputation with the state insurance commissioner and consumer reports.  Find one that is fast, offers great service and handles claims fairly (you don't want to end up with a company that argues every claim).  Hopefully this overview has helped equip you with a better idea of the coverage you may need for your home.  You should have a better idea what to look for in a policy when you contact an agent to set up your homeowner's insurance.

More Resources

Household Checklist

There are a number of checklists available online; many are available from individual insurance providers. We found the following booklet from the University of Illinois to be the most comprehensive. www.ag.uiuc.edu/%7Evista/abstracts/ahouseinv.html

Household Papers/Records:
Taken from our earlier article about Home Security, here again is a checklist of important papers you should safeguard and how long you should keep them:
- Keep in Safe Deposit Box/Fireproof Safe: Birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce legal papers, adoption papers, citizenship records, and other documents that are government or court related. A copy of a will, although your attorney will keep the original. Investment and business papers, government bonds, deeds, titles and copyrights to name a few more. General rule is, "Put it in if you can't replace it or if it would be costly or troublesome to replace."
- Taxes: IRS can audit up to 6 years back. However, you can get rid of pay stubs if you have your W2. Cancelled checks you will want to keep if they are related to anything you claimed on your tax return.
- Medical Bills: Keep at least 3 years.
- Household Inventory: You should have a comprehensive list for each room and what of importance is in there. This will help you claim losses in event of burglary or fire. The details of this list should be shared with your insurance carrier to make sure of coverage. It is recommended that you review this list once every 6 months.
- Deposit, ATM, Credit Card and Debit Card Receipts: Save them until the transaction appears on your statement and you've verified that the information is accurate. Then they may be shredded.
- Credit Card Statements: If there are not purchases related to taxes you may shred them once every year. However, if you have larger purchases on the card you may want to keep hold of these older statements. Special Note: Credit Card Agreements should be kept as long as the card is active!
- Loan Agreements: Keep as long as the loan is active.
- Documentation of Stocks, Bonds nd Other Investments: Keep while you own the investment and then 7 years after that.

Useful Links

National Association of Insurance Commissioners
www.naic.org FEMA: Homeowners and Renters www.fema.gov/individual/home.shtm