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Featured Articles

Galvanized Pipes in Older Homes

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

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

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

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

Appliances and GFCI circuits.

Our home inspector said that we should not plug our deep freeze into a GFCI circuit, because it could trip while we are away, and ruin our food. Is this correct?

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Q. Our home inspector said that we should not plug our deep freeze into a GFCI circuit, because it could trip while we are away, and ruin our food. Is this correct?

A. Yes, your home inspector is correct. Appliances such as refrigerators and freezers or medical equipment that must remain running should never be connected to GFCI outlets. The reason for this is that GFCI outlets can trip without warning shutting off power to the appliance. GFCI outlets are very sensitive to changes in their environment, and can trip under various conditions. These outlets when placed outside or in garages can trip during rainy weather, because there is too much moisture in the air. GFCI outlets that are wired to other similar devices can turn off when one of the other outlets trips. Under normal circumstances, GFCI outlets are perfectly suited for such things as small appliances, bathrooms, kitchens and exterior devices such as hedge trimmers and power tools. When used properly, GFCI outlets are life savers, but because they are so sensitive and prone to tripping without warning, they are ill suited for appliances which must remain on at all times.

How to Hire a Contractor

Working as a Team on Your Next Home Project

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You have a great idea of what you want to do but you just don't have the skills to implement it. Whether remodeling the kitchen, a spare room or adding on, some projects are better handled by professional contractors. However, make sure you do not get into an agreement with a contractor on impulse. Instead, picking a contractor should be a selective process that is well researched and prepared. This is not only a financial investment; this person (and their team) will be in your home and working with you on a project that may take days or, more likely, weeks to finish. A sound partnership is important. Below are some suggestions for planning out your partnership with a contractor. Also included are a checklist guide and contract example forms from our partner Lawchek®. All are helpful suggestions and tools before hiring any contractor.

Part I: Overview

The following points may help you in the process of hiring and working with a professional contractor.

Plan out your project.

Whether a full kitchen remodel or a new back patio, make sure to plan out your project in advance. You should know what materials you would like to use and what the end project will look like. If you are uncertain about various options, then consult an interior designer, landscape architect or architect. They can help take the ideas you have imagined and tell you how they can logically work. They can also help you create detailed plans of the project and a list of materials for its completion. Many times they will continue to work with you as the project is being completed as well. Having this type of plan in place before hiring a contractor is essential to ensure clear communication. If you start a project unsure of the final outcome you may cause delays and extra expense if you keep changing your mind. To have a large project planned in advance will help you to remain focused.

Determine the kind of contractor you need.

Will a general contractor be able to complete the whole project or will you need cabinet installer, plumber, electrician, etc.? Preplanning your project should help you answer some of these questions. You can be ready to interview contractors knowing that they either need experience in or will need to sub-contract certain aspects of your job. If they cannot do part of the project, will they expect you to hire a specialist (i.e. electrician) or do they have a partnership with one already established? Consider if they have previous experience with your type of project. Ask if they familiar with the architecture and age-specific concerns of your type of home. How have they met the challenges in the past?

Research any permits that may be necessary. With a plan from your architect or landscape architect in place you will now have an idea of how much you will be changing your home. You may ask these professionals as you work out your plan if the project will need building permits. You may also ask this to your contractor as well. However, keep in mind that although some contractors will handle the building permit process themselves as part of their contract, others may leave it up to the home owner. Some argue that only the contractor should handle building permits as this ensures they follow all codes. If you get the permit and the contractor does not follow the codes you may have a harder time seeking corrections by the contractor afterwards. As a first step, it will be very helpful to know whether you need a permit before even contacting a contractor. This is also key to avoiding any fraud. If you already know that your project requires a building permit but your contractor tells you not to worry about it, you have clear warning that this contractor may not follow local and state building codes, get someone else!

Consider the professionalism of your contractor.

This is the first basic step when looking at different contractors. Check and see how long they have been in business, if they are easy to talk to and if they are able to meet with your timetable expectations. Determine if all of their contact information is current. Also, look for a contractor that is easy to reach; if you are playing phone tag to obtain a quote it is a pretty good indication of what it will be like trying to contact them once your project is started! Find out if they are a member of any trade associations and stay current in their training. As an extra precaution, you may also want to research with the county if they have been named in any past law suits. Contact the Better Business Bureau, Attorney Generals Office, and local consumer protection agency to check on any past complaints.

Verify insurance and licence information.

Insurance: Always make sure the contractor is properly insured. You should receive a certificate of insurance from the insurance agency listing you as the co-insured. It should be original and not a photocopy. The types of insurance you are looking for: General/Personal Liability which will protect your property; Workman's Compensation which will cover the contractor(s) if they are injured while working on your property; and Automobile which will protect you against any claims if they damage another vehicle/object while on your property. All these will protect you from having your homeowner's insurance responsible for any mishaps or accidents that may happen. License: Not all contractors need a license in every state. Also, the cost of a project can sometimes determine if a contractor needs a license or not. In most states the more expensive the project, the more likely they need a license. A good online reference to find out about license requirements in your state may be found at Contractor's License Reference Site. If your state does require a license, make sure it is current.

Ask for references and call them! 

Ask potential contractors for references. Do not do any further business with contractors that refuse to supply references. The references should span both recent and older projects that are all similar to yours. If you are getting a kitchen remodel it doesn't make a lot of sense to talk to someone who had a new deck built. Once you have the contact information, do the most important step - call them! You may even see if they are willing to let you see the project first hand with the contractor or if they have photographs of its progress; your contractor may also have photographs available. Below are some sample questions to ask references:

  • Are you pleased with the project result? When talking to references for older projects ask them how the craftsmanship has handled everyday wear and tear.
  • Did the contractor stay on or close to schedule?
  • Did the contractor stay on budget?
  • Did the contractor follow the written contract? In hindsight, is there anything you would add to the contract?
  • Was the contractor easy to talk to or reach when you had questions or concerns? Did the contractor stay on site to supervise his/her team?
  • Did you get along with the contractor's team? The sub-contractors they used?
  • Where you happy with how the contractor and his/her team treated your home and property? Any messes, etc.?
  • If there were any corrections, was the contractor willing to make changes or did you have to place a formal request or hire someone else?
  • Would you use this contractor again and/or recommend him to someone else?

Review estimates for differences and find out why.

Once you have three or more estimates begin to look at the differences. Why are some contractors lower or higher than others? Ask them to explain their estimate. For example, is an estimate lower because of different materials used and does this translate to difference in quality? Does one contractor have a larger team or expect to hire more sub-contractors? Is a contractor "saving you money" by cutting corners on safety, local regulations, etc.?

Create the contract.

Finally, the written contract you create with your contractor is extremely important. So much so that we have listed factors that should be considered for the contract in a separate section below. To review that section now, click here.

Part II: Checklist

The partnership with your contractor can be very rewarding experience if you make sure to plan ahead. With the items mentioned above in mind, we have compiled an easy to use checklist that will help you when reviewing various contractors for your job. We have listed the items below but you may also print out a PDF checklist by clicking here.

Hiring a Contractor Checklist:

  • Where did I find the contractor? (Phonebook, Online, Friend/Family, Other)
  • The contractor is licensed (if required) and registered as a business in this state.
  • Contractor has all necessary insurance to complete the job safely. Including: Worker's Compensation, General/Personal Liability and Automotive.
  • I researched any complaints with the Better Business Bureau, Attorney General’s Office and other local consumer protections agencies.
  • This contractor does not have too many jobs and can fit my project within my time schedule.
  • I obtained at least 3 references (from each contractor).
  • I have called every reference and asked thorough questions.
  • I reviewed at least one project site from the reference list in person.
  • I have a detailed bid from this contractor. Including: describes all parts of project to be completed, estimated material cost, estimated labor cost, estimated time needed for completion.
  • I understand everything in the bid and what that project will entail. I have asked for clarification on anything I do not understand.
  • I understand the pricing.
  • The contractor clearly lists the types of materials he expects to use.
  • The contractor offers warranties on materials and craftsmanship.
  • This contractor will obtain all necessary building permits.
  • This contractor has provided a sample written contract of a previous project. I understand the wording of the contract and can easily see how to adopt a similar one for my project.
  • This contractor is easy to talk to and has been easy to get a hold of for follow up questions.

Part III:

The Contract The written contract between you and your contractor should be taken very seriously as this will be the roadmap that both parties will use to ensure that everyone is kept on task and happy. The following items are highly suggested to be included into the contract. You may add and remove items as they pertain to your particular project or situation.

  1. The contract should specify exactly what is expected to be done. Besides the project, any clean up, where materials will be unloaded, etc., should also be included.
  2. Specify the dates for commencing and ending the project. It is also a good idea to detail what is expected if delays occur due to weather, material delays, etc.
  3. Detail the materials to be used for the project and their cost; this includes brand names and other identification to make certain there is no confusion. Not recommended, but at the very least, detail an allowance specifically for materials with strict parameters.
  4. The contract should detail the contractor's insurance clarifying that coverage is expected through his/her carrier.
  5. It should be clear who is responsible for obtaining permits and what permits are required for completion of the job. Ideally permits will be obtained by the contractor.
  6. Method of payment and payment schedule should be clear. Never pay for the entire job in advance! Depending on your state there may be a limit to your initial down payment. Usually it is enough to cover any special material costs and initial start of the project. There is usually an agreement to pay by interval as different stages of the project are reached. Again, detail this in the contract. Once written, make certain you both understand the payment terms before either of you sign.
  7. Any warranties provided by the contractor should be detailed in the contract. Identify if they are full or limited warranties and describe exactly what they will and will not cover. If warranties include manufactures, make sure all of their contact information is included in the contract as well.
  8. Finally, a method for dispute resolution should be included in your contract. This should detail how each party should be notified of any grievances. The best means would be mediation or arbitration as this can save you both money. However, if a problem does arise make certain every notice of a problem(s) is done in writing so you have record of your attempts at solving the problem.

As a general rule, be as detailed about the project and all expectations as possible. We have included some sample contracts from our partner site Lawchek®. These are only samples and should be reviewed and changed to fit individual project needs.

  • Subcontractor Performance Agreement for Residential Construction
  • Deadline Extension Amendment

This reference should answer basic questions. The questions recited on these pages are the more commonly asked questions of attorneys when a client first makes contact for the purpose of a better understanding of real estate legal matters. 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. "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 © 2006 byLAWCHEK, LTD."

Feng Shui

Another Look at Interior Design

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Feng Shui (pronounced Fung Shway) has been used in China for centuries and has made a strong entrance into western culture. Best described as "the art of placement" Feng Shui was originally used to determine the placement of temples, official buildings, graveyards and homes in their natural environment. In China, there became many different schools of Feng Shui such as the Land Form School in the southern region and Compass (Fukien) School in the northern region, to name a few. When the western world first came into contact with Feng Shui it was labeled as a form of geomancy which is considered "divination by means of figures or lines or geographic features." Although this may be a misrepresentation of the initial use of Feng Shui, this art is constantly in flux and today there are many different schools, some of which do concentrate on the use of this art as a way to impact ones fate in a favorable direction. With this variation, Feng Shui has found a niche in the New Age market of the western world. This has added some aspects to the art that are not for everyone. However, this art of placement does have some wonderful interior design techniques that everyone could adapt and find beneficial. This article will discuss many of these interior design solutions for cluttered and cramped spaces in the home and office. It is difficult to write about Feng Shui without looking at some of the ideas of balance that have become part of this art form. First we will look at some of the ideas behind the creation of balance and then we will look at some of the practical solutions this art form has for our living and working spaces. For those who are more interested in the practical interior design aspects of Feng Shui, take a look at the third paragraph.

Feng Shui, as the art of placement, is aimed at creating the best balance of elements and flow of chi throughout any space. Chi is considered an energy that surrounds all living things. Feng Shui strives to give chi the smoothest possible flow so it does not become trapped or flow through too quickly causing an imbalance in the energy/vibe of a space. If chi does not flow correctly it is believed to have adverse effects on those living around these imbalanced areas. The elemental balance of a space is reached by balancing five elements of nature: earth, water, wood, fire and metal. These elements are mapped out using a bagua. A bagua is a chart used for IChing that is also used to plot the areas of a home/space. Each direction has an effect on certain areas of life (click on the image to the right for a larger look). The main directions of North, South, East, West and center correspond the five elements of nature. In short, the areas on the bagua effect and are represented by the following:

  • South - Fame - Red, Fire, Birds, Summer
  • SW - Relationships & Marriage - Yellow & Pink
  • West - Children & Creativity - White, Metal, Tiger, Autumn
  • NW - Helpful People & Travel - Gray
  • North - Career - Black, Water, Tortoise, Winter
  • NE - Knowledge & Spirituality - Turquoise
  • East - Family & Ancestors - Green, Wood, Dragon, Spring
  • SE - Wealth - Purple

Keep in mind some of the colors and other symbols may change depending on the school of Feng Shui you choose to use. It is also interesting to note that in some schools the bagua is superimposed over a space (i.e. in a drawing of a room) strictly based on compass direction - the chart's North points the same direction as compass North. In other schools, especially those popular in western adaptation, the bagua is situated according to the main entry to the space. With this method, the South end is always on the same wall as the main entrance so your doorway will always fall into the SE, S or SW section. Once the bagua is superimposed over the drawing of a space you may then see how the various areas of a room or areas of the house are affecting your life whether it be your career or your children. On examining the space you may then pinpoint if something in that space is disrupting the chi of the area and the balance of that part of life. Major problem areas can be fixed with various cures from mirrors to crystals. Changing the placement of objects and adding more lighting can also improve areas (leading into the interior design aspect of Feng Shui). Or if the space is fine but you want to enhance that portion of your life you can add elements and symbols to the space to increase their effectiveness. For example, hanging black and white (gray) travel photos in the NW section may help to encourage travel opportunities. Finally, Feng Shui looks to balance spaces based a symmetry, square and rectangle shapes are ideal. Odd shapes and areas jutting out often can cause imbalance in the chi. For example, if a bedroom falls outside the square or rectangle shape of the house that person will feel detached from the rest of the family and it may lead to arguments or withdrawal. Obviously this is only the tip of all the aspects of Feng Shui and its variances. It takes books to explain these concepts in detail. Let us move on to the more tangible interior design aspects of this art form.

Feng Shui as a interior design tool is truly an art of placement. All placement has an effect on chi and placement should be a conscience act. Many of these placement ideas have very practical reasons and aesthetic appeal to those who may not be interested in the chi aspect of the placement. The following list includes some of the more common aspects of Feng Shui interior design.

Keep places clear of clutter!
One of the basics of Feng Shui is that everything should be kept in its place. Keep areas clear of clutter. Cluttered spaces will trap and slow down chi but will also give you a subconscious weighted down feeling. It sounds simple enough and it is! Clear off your desk, file those papers, go through that stack of books, etc. It will feel like a weight was lifted off your shoulders and you will find that you can think more clearly as there is less subconscious worries about needing to "get to that someday" - get to it today so you can move on!

Doorways 
-All doorways should be in good shape, if they need any repairs, repainting or replacement this needs to be done. Doors should also open into the room rather then out. This will encourage energy to flow in rather then out. -Main Entrance to the Home: Considered the most important entry, the main entrance to your home should be welcoming and positive. Keep the area well lit and free of clutter. Company should come in the doorway feeling welcome.
-Common problems with the main entrance: 1) If your home is a split level you may see stairs going both up and down as soon as you enter. This will cause chi to disperse too quickly and may lead to conflict and bickering in the home as you don't see things the same way. The two stairways also cause a split view which can lead to anxiety. Cures for these entrances include mirrors or a multidimensional picture that illustrates depth. 2) Seeing the back door directly from the front door. This will cause chi to flow too quickly through the home causing missed opportunities. Also, when guests can see the "exit" upon entry it will make them feel unwelcome or impatient to leave. Fixes for this include a screen, curtains or plant to block the direct view; this can also add a rich fullness to the home and encourages people to enjoy what is around them rather then peering through to your backyard right away. More traditional cures use crystals or wind chimes hung between the doors. 3) Some entrances are small and box-like with blank walls. To fix this hang a painting, perhaps one of the outdoors that makes the visitor think of spacious areas.You may add a mirror, but some Feng Shui experts advise against this as startling your visitors (and yourself) with your reflection as one walks in the door can be unnerving and rude. Make sure the area is well lit and bright. You do not want cramped, blank entrance ways to be dark and shadowed. -Other Doorways: Keep the path of doorways clear of clutter. Doorways provide the main pathway for chi and should not be disrupted or blocked - you shouldn't have to tip-toe around a bookshelf, etc when you first enter a room!

Windows
-Like doors, windows in disrepair are not good for the home. Cracked and damaged windows disrupt the chi and should be replaced.

Bedroom
-The bedroom is one of the most important rooms of your house and the placement of your bed is the most important placement in this room. The bed should be a place to rest so you do not want to be disturbed or startled easily. Many consider it ideal to place the bed diagonally facing the door. However, if that is not possible, the following bad alignments should be avoided: 1) Do not have the foot of the bed directly in line with the doorway. 2) Do not have the head of your bed directly in line with the doorway. 3) Place the bed against a solid wall instead of a window or open space. 4) If you have a slanted ceiling the bed should not be under the lowest point.
-Some schools of Feng Shui are against any mirrors in the bedroom. If you do insist on having a mirror in the room make sure it is not directly opposite or viewed from the bed, this set up can cause unease as you will startle yourself when waking.
-Also, electronics such as TVs and stereos should not be kept in the bedroom. These items are usually not conducive for rest and sleep and should therefore be placed in the more awake rooms of the house such as the living room.

Study/Home Office
-The desk is the most important piece in this room. It should be in a command position where you can see the door. Ideal is diagonally so you can see as much of the room around you as possible. Never have your back to the door when seated at your desk. Also, if you sit too close to the door or have a poor view of the room you less control of your surroundings.
-Keep this room clear of clutter. Clutter will work on your subconscious and you will contently be split among several tasks and never be able to concentrate on just one.
-Lighting is important in this room. It should be bright but not glaring. Natural light from a window is good but should not be directly in front of you, instead it should be to your side.

Kitchen
-Another major area of the home the placement of the stove is considered key to this space. The stove should never be placed where you have your back to the main entrance and therefore prone to being startled while cooking! -It is extremely important that this room stays clean
- should be the cleanest in the house! Living Room -Furniture in this room should provide for easy movement. Chairs should be faced towards one another and share a coffee table or stand between them. Empty space between people may cause tension and more conflict, whereas having a table as common ground between them makes them feel more secure and comfortable in discourse. -Many living rooms lead into other spaces such as dining rooms, etc without any real doorway. This may cause an odd or L-shaped room. Again, it is bad Feng Shui to have tangents hanging off the main shape (rectangle/square) of the room. To counter this you may add a screen, open shelves, plants, etc. that gives more structure to the two spaces and keeps them separate. -If your living room or similar room is a sunken room make sure to get floor lamps to brighten the room up. Light will help bring the room up on equal level to the rest of the house and counter the detachment this feature may cause.

Dining Room
-This room should not be overcrowded but more spacious and inviting to groups. Comfortable table and chairs should encourage diners to take their time and enjoy the meal. -Mirrors are great for this room - double the size of your rooms and family!

Obviously this is just a quick sampling of the types of rules Feng Shui has for the placement and design of the home.

Feng Shui, although an ancient art has many practical uses for the modern age. Practical ideas such as having a command position in a room to tackle tasks more effectively can be very beneficial. There is no doubt that the various number of schools and approaches and the New Age aspects and fluctuations of this art form can be a bit confusing and frustrating at times. However, this art, whether you delve into it deeply and adopt its sometimes mystical aspects or if you only want to pull a couple ideas about placement, can still be beneficial and fun to anyone who wants to give it a try.

Fast Fun Feng Shui


- Some schools of Feng Shui believe that each person can be mapped by the bagua as well. Using birth date, the bagua calculators can tell you which directions are more auspicious than others and what areas should be avoided or countered. For an example calculator click here: www.fengshuitimes.com/resources/GuaCalculator/ There is even alterations to the bagua chart based on the astrological year (for year of the dog click here: www.bhargo.com/articles/firedogyear.asp


- Not home much? Feng Shui suggests that homes should always have flowing chi. If you are gone often or for long periods of time make sure to bring life into your home. On vacation - set the radio or TV to create sound while you are gone. Long days at the office or weekend trips - get fish or plants in your home so their energy will keep your space alive.

- Feng Shui isn't just about objects anymore! Have messy neighbors that are cluttering your space and chi? Many modern schools of Feng Shui suggest talking with neighbors and volunteering to help them with clean up projects. Not only will your chi and space feel better, you will also work on you outside partnerships and bring positive energy into your life and home.

- Not all antiques are good antiques. Antiques may have a carry over of bad energy or chi from the previous owner. Make sure to take time to calmly consider and feel the vibe from an antique before purchasing it.

- Cures for your bad Feng Shui: some schools rely heavily on cures. These include chimes, crystals, bagua mirrors, bells, golden arrows and bamboo flutes (to name some of the most common). However, some schools are dissatisfied with the commercialism of these cures. Instead they rely more on rearranging objects already in the homeowners decor or adding ascetic elements such as plants, water fountains and statues.

- My student is an A+ student! Many Feng Shui practitioners believe that you can aid your children's or your own scholarly pursuits through good placement. This could mean having your child's bedroom in the NE sector of the home. Or it may mean placing their desk in the NE sector of the room. Also adding colors of the blue and green/turquoise that represent your child's scholarly interest in the NE sector of the room. For example, blue and green planets on a mobile or pictures of marine life, dinosaurs, etc. where these colors dominate.

- Problems with office politics at the workplace? Work stations should not be directly face to face as this will cause conflict. Sharp angles and corners should not be pointed towards anyone's back other wise they will become the target of office politics and back stabbing. The boss should always have the office furthest from the front door so they are not distracted by everyday events and the distance gives them time to contemplate decisions. If a subordinate is further back then the boss they may feel like they see more and know more.

- Selling your home? Feng Shui can be considered to help aid you sell as well. One example is to make sure you don't have heavy furniture at the base or southern point of your home as this will keep you grounded. Or have a water fountain to help de-stress potential buyers. It is a growing trend and there are programs that offer real estate agents contact hours in Feng Shui training!

Further Reading Online

American Feng Shui Institute
www.amfengshui.com
To correct mistakes committed in various Feng Shui books on the market and to prevent people from being victimized. To help people discern real professional Feng Shui practitioners from impostors, and to set Feng Shui apart from superstition, mysticism, and religion. To apply the fundamentals of Feng Shui to initiate interest and research in the ancient natural science. To utilize Feng Shui correctly such that it benefits all mankind.

Fast Feng Shui
www.fastfengshui.com/articles.htm
We are pleased to offer the following articles on contemporary western feng shui.

Feng Shui Chinese
www.fengshuichinese.com
The Site is made in Hong Kong and China by Feng Shui Experts and is in both English and Chinese Languages. We appreciate your feedback.

Feng Shui Gate
http://www.fengshuigate.com/
Essays on the origin of Fengshui

Feng Shui Society
http://www.fengshuisociety.org.uk/ 
The Feng Shui Society, based in the United Kingdom with links throughout the world, is an independent, non-profit organization established in 1993, run on a voluntary basis by an executive committee elected from the membership. It administers minimum standards for education in feng shui to professional practice level and maintains a register of accredited consultants. 

Feng Shui Times
www.fengshuitimes.com
Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times

World of Feng Shui
www.wofs.com
First Magazine of Feng Shui in the World

Home Improvement Web Sites

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

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

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.