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Online Insurance

Is online insurance right for you?

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The Internet is a powerful tool for the savvy online consumer. You can review products, compare prices, research companies and purchase almost anything. Following this trend is the increase availability of insurance online. Insurance companies are providing coverage information, quotes and even contracts online. This includes automobile, homeowners, life, medical and even pet insurance. Insurance has traditionally been a high customer service field with direct human contact with your insurance agent. Because of the change in customer contact, the migration towards providing insurance online has not always been a smooth one. Instead companies are finding some tools work and others only cause frustration or confusion. Indeed, the availability of insurance online is still fluctuating and developing. Below we have compiled a few of the ways you can utilize online insurance options and determine if it is the right tool for you. Researching and obtaining insurance online is much easier today. Many websites now offer comparison tools that will provide quotes and coverage information (some of these sites are listed below). Keep in mind if you choose a carrier from these searches, you will then be contracting with that carrier for your insurance, not the original site. This will either be done by forwarding you to the carrier's website or the comparison site will forward your information to the insurance company and they will then contact you. Many insurers still prefer to have a representative call you and discuss your coverage over the phone. Although not the same as meeting with a personal insurance agent, it allows them to make certain you understand the coverage provided. Also, because buying insurance online is new, many companies believe that individualized customer care is still the best way to get your business and a follow up call still provides some of this customer service. The Pros There are many benefits for utilizing online insurance: Easy comparison shopping: Using insurance comparison websites you can compare coverage and prices on almost any type of insurance. You can also browse the individual insurance carrier websites once you have narrowed your search. Almost all companies now have libraries and tools for you to learn more about their services online. Your time is money: Shopping for insurance online can be done at any time of day. It is hard to get time away from your daily schedule to sit down and comparison shop with insurance brokers, or indeed, individual agents. Low pressure: Let's face it, many people find it easier to stand firm without the person-to-person contact. Users feel they can be more savvy and better informed when every option is at their fingertips rather then relying on an agent's account. Save money: Due to the time needed to comparison shop, the pressure to stay loyal with one company, and the uncertainty about other companies, some may lose money by staying blindly loyal to one insurance carrier. The online market allows for easy comparison shopping, less pressure, and research tools to learn more about other companies. By becoming well informed, you can either work out a better rate with your current provider or move to a new provider who offers better coverage for your dollar. Buying Auto Insurance? Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Click hereThe Cons Be aware of these complications when purchasing insurance online: Understanding coverage options: Without an agent to explain 'insurance speak' you may not know all the coverage you may need. This is especially the case for those getting insurance for the first time. However, if you have discussed options with an agent before and have a generally good idea of the type of coverage you will need, this may be something that is manageable with a little extra research. Is that quote really a deal: All quotes may not be equal. Take care to examine all the coverage included with quotes. The online quotes may help you narrow your search, but should not be taken at face value as not all companies offer the same 'comprehensive' coverage. Buying insurance coverage in your state: Not all states will allow you to purchase insurance online. Some allow you to get quotes but still require you to meet with an agent before signing any contracts. Also, because the internet clouds locality, you will need to make sure the insurance carrier is licensed in your state. Individual customer care: Do you really want to push 1, then 2, then 4 to talk to someone about your insurance coverage? Working with a local agent still offers the advantages of individualized customer service. This agent can offer coverage that speaks to your locality as it is more likely they live in your community. They will also have a better knowledge of the coverage their carrier provides and can help you understand all of your options. They may also be aware of more discounts available to you that you may not know to ask for online. In this way they can offer better individualized care. Whether you choose to shop for insurance online or not, you should look at your insurance carrier websites. Insurance carriers now offer detailed information about coverage online. In fact, once you have settled on a carrier you can often answer coverage questions, pay bills, get updates on claims and find useful tip sheets and information on how to better protect yourself and your property. A primary example of this is your health coverage. Most health insurance carriers still prefer you to sign up through your employer or an agent. However, once you have your coverage, they offer information about doctors, medical options, prescriptions, and claims. Considering health care is one of the most complex types of insurance used, their increasing online presence is an invaluable tool. To explore online insurance options more, please see the links below. More Information Online Insurance Comparison Sites Insurance.com http://www.insurance.com/ Quicken https://secure1.insweb.com/cgi-bin/gic.exe?id=UzB94xbaYQ-wpGWHlZbh8l8ZtxL&page=/gic/Quicken.htj InsWeb http://www.insweb.com/ Insure.com http://www.insure.com/ Insurance Company Rankings AM Best Company - Insurance Reports http://www.ambest.com/homepage.asp Consumer Reports (requires membership for ratings) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/money/insurance/index.htm Standard & Poor's Ratings http://www2.standardandpoors.com/portal/site/sp/en/us/page.topic/ratings_fs_ins/2,1,5,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0.html?lid=us_fo_ratings_insurance US News & World Report - Top Health Insurance Companies http://health.usnews.com/sections/health/health-plans/index.html State Insurance Regulators http://www.consumeraction.gov/insurance.shtml Online Insurance articles. http://www.onlineinsurance.com/ When purchasing any product online you always want to make certain it is an authentic website representing a verifiable company with a good reputation. Here are some tips for a safe and rewarding online shopping experience: Be assertive in getting answers about an online company you have not worked with before. Learn as much as you can about them and ask tough questions. Check reviews online, in magazines, with your Secretary of State/Attorney General, the Better Business Bureau, or by word of mouth. Call them up and talk to their customer service. If they don't list a contact number be careful. Review posted company information, policies and the privacy policy. If they do not provide this online, you can move on or call them up to ask why. Make sure any payments are made in a website with https or other secured system. Keep a printed copy of every online transaction. Consider using one credit card for your online purchases/payments. This way you know which to cancel in case of fraud. Also, make sure the card is not linked to any bank account. Some prefer getting a pay as you go credit card for any online transactions. These can be found at any grocery store and can be refilled as needed. Keep your computer updated with anti-virus software, browser updates and spyware programs. NEVER provide personal information from an email they supposedly sent to you. This is a common phishing scam. Everything in the email will look legit but lead to a false site collecting your information. Instead call the company with the number on your contract - not the number given to you in that email! Initiate contact yourself. Go to their website yourself from the address they gave you on your contract. To be on the safe side, never go to their website from an email. Don't give account information to anyone. Your online providers have this information and if anything will be emailing you a forgotten password - never vice versa! Change your account passwords often; every six months to once a year. Use strong passwords with numbers, symbols, changes in case and at least 6 characters.

Eco-Friendly Home Improvement Tips

Every day people are looking for ways that they can make a difference.

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With all of the environmental problems our world is facing today, every day people are looking for ways that they can make a difference. Earth conscious individuals everywhere are recycling their paper, plastic and glass, purchasing hybrid and electric cars but what more can people do in their day-to-day lives to make a difference? When it comes to earth-friendly home improvement measures, you'd be surprised at the amount of "small stuff" you can do that really adds up in a big way. Here are a few of my favorite eco-friendly home improvement tips.

1.) Change a Light Bulb, Change the World: One of the smallest things you can do with one of the biggest potential impacts is changing one, single light bulb in your home from an incandescent to a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL). According to the U.S. Department of Energy, if every American home replaced just one bulb, we could save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year. That translates into savings of over $600 million in annual energy costs. Additionally, by changing just one light bulb, we could prevent the release of greenhouse gases equivalent to emissions of over 800,000 cars! That's incredible! While CFLs do cost a bit more up front, they last up to 10 times longer and produce about 75% less heat. The best part is, you don't need to buy all new lighting! CFLs can be used in most standard light fixtures. While the impact of every American switching one light bulb to a CFL is staggering, why not change a couple? It's recommended that a CFL be installed into any fixture that is used for more than 15 minutes at a time, including fixtures in the living room, bedroom and kitchen.

2.) Paint The Town Green: If you have a painting project on your list of "to-dos," consider using low or no VOC paints. VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds) are low level toxic emissions that are released into the air during the painting process and sometimes, for years afterward. While zero VOC paints are ideal, these can cost on average, about $30 a gallon. If you are on a budget, low VOC paints are a suitable option, costing about the same as a regular gallon of paint. Many of these low and zero VOC paints are also odor free, which is a plus. You can also purchase low and no VOC stains and varnishes for your woodworking projects.

3.) If You Build It Green, They Will Come: When it comes to purchasing furniture for your home or apartment, it’s a good idea to be thorough when shopping around. I'm not just talking about shopping for the best price - I'm talking about shopping for the "greenest" manufacturer! Take bedroom furniture manufacturer, Lifestyle Solutions, for example. Lifestyle Solutions has its manufacturing process certified for compliance by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) guidelines for sustainable management of tropical forests. Every single product they produce is constructed from plantation-grown imported hardwood to help ensure a sustainable use of timber. Bedroom furniture manufacturer Vaughan-Bassett on the other hand, employs a One For Program, in which the company replaces every tree used in the manufacturing process, with a new one. By shopping with a more earth-friendly company, you feel especially good about your investment - and let’s face it, good furniture is definitely an investment.

4.) Clean Living: When you clean, have you ever stopped to look at the bevy of chemicals found in most household cleaning solutions? I always go by the mantra of "if you can't pronounce it, it can't be good." By using natural cleaning products, you eliminate both direct contact with your skin and you help the environment at the same time. Since most conventional dish and laundry detergents are petroleum based (non-renewable resource), with fragrance that contain phthalates (potentially harmful chemicals), you should try and use "fragrance-free" products and cleaning products with a citrus-oil base. Home-made concoctions are also great ways to clean a more eco-friendly way. Remove stains by soaking fabrics in water mixed with borax, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, washing soda or white vinegar. Baking soda can be used in place of traditional cleanser for cleaning countertops and stovetops. Try adding one-quarter cup of white vinegar or a tablespoon of lemon juice to a spray water bottle and clean your windows. By taking a pot of boiling water and flushing it down your drains, you help prevent drains from clogging. If your drain is already clogged, try a mixture of baking soda and vinegar. Sprinkle one fourth cup of baking soda into the offending drain and then pour a cup of vinegar, letting it sit for 15 minutes. Flush it out with boiling water and repeat as necessary. When it comes to the day to day tasks and basic home improvement, there are plenty of eco-friendly ways that you can make a difference. While some of these things might take some extra time and cost a little more money, it's probably worth it in the long run. More information at: http://www.BedroomFurniture.com

Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home-Part 2

Periodic checklists.

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Welcome back to Rocky’s Corner! Last month we started Part 1 of an 8 part series of Preventative Maintenance Tips for your Home. Series 1 dealt with maintenance checks that are recommended every month. Series 2 will combine a periodic checklist for every 2 months and a periodic checklist for every 3 months.

Every 2 Months
If you have a pressure type oil burner inspect and clean Range Hood Fan: Clean grease filter. This may be done more often than every 2 months depending upon the amount of cooking and or fry foods. If you find that the filter is corroded, you may need to consider replacing it.

Steam Heating System:
Test relief valve and replace if necessary, check pressure and drain expansion tank if necessary. Wall Furnace: Clean grills. Clean or replace filter.

Every 3 Months

Faucets:
Clean aerators-unscrew, disassemble and wash out debris. Fix leaky faucets quickly; a leak wastes up to 20 gallons of water a day and can ruin a faucet set. Consider replacing older faucets with new ones with washer less valve cartridges instead of rubber washers.

Dishwasher:
Professionally have the strainer, spray arm and air gap cleaned.
Pest Control: Consider hiring a pest control service to protect your home and family from insects, vermin and termites damage to your property.

Hot Water Heater:
Do not set any combustibles near water heater. Drain a quart of water from the tank four times a year to keep your water heater in peak condition. If you suspect a leak, you may have rusting through the bottom of the storage tank. Consult a professional.

Floor Drain Strainer:
Clean out debris and scrub strainer.

Tub Drain Assembly:
Clean out debris; inspect rubber seal and replace if necessary.

Join me next month for Part 3 of our series on Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home. Visit us at www.freminshomeimprovement.com

Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home-Part 7

This month we will conclude our Spring season tips.

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Welcome back to Rocky’s Corner! Last month we started Part 6(a 2 part Spring) of an 8 part series of Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home. This month we will conclude our Spring season tips.

Every Spring-Part B

EXTERIOR CAULKING:

  • Inspect caulking and replace if deteriorating.

FLASHING:

  • Check flashings around all surface projections and sidewalls; replace if necessary.

GUTTERS AND DOWNSPOUTS:

  • Clear/install/repair gutters and downspouts and make sure the runoff is directed away from your home so it can’t erode the soil around the foundation or run into your basement or crawl space.
  • Install gutter accessories to divert water, channel underground drain lines into existing yard drainage or storm sewers, or consider installing a dry well at the end of the drainpipe to slowly distribute the water to surrounding soil.

LANDSCAPING:

  • Clean out the flowerbeds, removing fallen leaves and blossoms to avoid potential fungus and molds.
  • Cut back and trim all vegetation and overgrown bushes from structures.
  • Trim non-fruit trees before they start to grow and both fruit trees and Rose bushes before they start to bud to improve their production.
  • Consider a lawn renovation to eliminate the brown spots and crab grass left over from last summer and reseed bare spots. Contact a county extension service or gardening service for advice about proper lawn and garden care for your area.
  • For all of the above items, a prescreened pro may be your best bet. PIPES: Remove insulation around outdoor water pipes. Check for leaking around the outside hose bibs and evidence of rust or a white line deposit that may indicate a leak is starting.

ROOFS:

  • Inspect roof surface for warping, aging, moss, and cracking, making sure that shingles, shakes or tiles are sound; repair or replace as needed.
  • Inspect the flashing around chimneys, skylights and vents.
  • Seal cracks or openings where water could penetrate.
  • If you see significant damage or wear, contact a roofing specialist to give you a bid on a roof replacement.
  • Check eaves, and soffit for signs of water damage or deteriorating paint.
  • Repair, repaint or consider wrapping with maintenance-free vinyl or aluminum soffit and fascia.

SIDING:

  • Inspect siding (especially on the south and storm sides of the house) for evidence of deterioration, including cracks, splintering, decay, and insect damage; clean, treat and repair as needed.
  • Remember, paint protects wood and stucco surfaces; postponing necessary painting will require more extensive and expensive preparation (scraping, sanding, and priming) and repairs before repainting in the future.
  1. Brick and stone: check joints between wood and masonry. Waterproof, repair or repaint if necessary.
  2.  Wood: look for lifting or peeling paint, splitting wood or areas where the wood grain is separating or “checking” because water is getting into the siding.
  3.  Stucco: a chalky residue that rubs off on your hand is evidence of oxidation, a deterioration of paint or color coat that reduces stucco’s insulating value. If the stucco is cracked, this allows water to get in around windows and doors. If this is the case, have your stucco professionally repaired.
  4. Trim: look for peeling paint on the fascia boards, window sills and sashes that could allow water in to form mildew and fungus on the interior of your home behind curtains, blinds and window coverings. Consider installing maintenance-free vinyl or aluminum trim.

SPRINKLERS:

  • Check lawn sprinkler system for broken heads, leaky valves and exposed lines and contact a sprinkler service if necessary.

WATER WELL:

  • Consider having well water tested for safety. Join me next month for our final Part of our series on Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home. Visit us at www.freminshomeimprovement.com

ONIONS

Wood pests, wood destroying organisms, structural pests, termites and dryrot, or, fungus, whatever or however you refer to them, they are the uninvited, unwanted guests that can degrade the wood structure of your home, or, the home you are interested in purchasing.

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Wood pests, wood destroying organisms, structural pests, termites and dryrot, or, fungus, whatever or however you refer to them, they are the uninvited, unwanted guests that can degrade the wood structure of your home, or, the home you are interested in purchasing. What is interesting is how these conditions are addressed in the various states. Some states allow Home Inspectors to identify and report on these issues if the inspector is properly certified/licensed. Meanwhile, other states (California is one) do not allow Home Inspectors to identify wood destroying organisms unless that inspector is also licensed as a Structural Pest Inspector, of which there are very few. But, if the inspector is properly licensed, then the reporting will be done on a report form mandated by the Structural Pest Control Board located in Sacramento, and the reporting process falls under a whole slew of regulations administered by the Structural Pest Control Board. In California, a Home Inspector can only mention a “wood pest” or “white growth” condition and note it in his or her report, and then, can only refer/defer to a licensed Structural Pest Inspector/Company for further details, proper identification of the wood pests involved, and, recommendations necessary to correct/repair the issues present.

This practice is unfortunate as that process breeds (in California anyway) a huge conflict of interest situation that revolves around the home sale/purchase activity. In California, the Structural Pest Companies perform the “termite” inspections (the term commonly used to describe a Structural Pest Inspection) for little or no money with the intent of getting their “foot in the door” to do the chemical treatments and repair jobs, which can be very expensive. So, lets peel off the first layer of the onion. The scenario goes: The inspector/company you call to make the inspection is the same person/company who provides you with a report that outlines the repairs and chemical treatments that he/she says are needed, which is the same person/company shoving a pen and a work contract into your hands to sign, which is the same person/company that sends out their repair crew to perform the work, which is the same person/company that “inspects” the completed work and then issues a Notice of Completion and certifies the property “free and clear.” I don’t know about you, but in my opinion, that is a big conflict of interest.

But wait, lets take it one more step further. Lets peel off the next layer of the onion. How about the fact that many of the “termite” companies pay their inspectors straight commission on WORK PERFORMED/COMPLETED! Might that smack of a little conflict of interest? How comfortable would you feel having your home inspected under those conditions? How objective and impartial do you feel the outcome of the “termite” report will be, knowing that the “termite” company/inspector lost money the moment the tailgate of the inspectors’ truck went through the shop gate on the way to the inspection and now they need to recoup?

Time to peel the next layer off of the onion (are your eyes watering yet?). Now lets throw the real estate agent into the mix. The agent calls the “termite” company for his client (purchaser) and orders the inspection. All fine and good unless this agent happens to be one of those who has a predetermined idea as to what the outcome of the inspection should be in order to close the deal quickly and with no hassles even though the inspection report may have no basis of reality as to the conditions present. This is why, on occasions too numerous to count, two inspections of the same home are worlds apart. The rule is: both/all reports of the same home should contain the same findings, but the recommendations to repair may differ as inspectors may have different methods to correct the conditions found. It is very disturbing when comparing two reports of the same home, that, the diagram, as well as the findings, are as if the two inspectors looked at two different homes. But, this occurs all too often because of the pressure applied by the agents by “black balling” inspectors that are perceived to be “deal busters” because they actually do their job and accurately report conditions present.

Please don’t feel that this discussion is saying that all real estate agents or termite inspectors/companies are “shady.” More are good than bad, but the questionable still exist and you need to be aware and "do your home work” so you don’t end up in a situation for which you didn’t bargain.

So, lets peel another layer off of that onion, but in a positive way this time. ALWAYS, I REPEAT, ALWAYS interview the real estate agent before engaging them. Just because the agent meets you at the door of the office doesn’t mean you are “stuck” with him/her. If the agent is the listing agent of the property, be especially wary. They will not legally be working for you or have your best interest at heart. That is where the questionable termite inspector/company may suddenly appear. You want to ask the hard questions and get the proper answers! You want to know names and phone numbers---- not of sellers, but of purchasers of property handled by the agent so you can find out how their (the purchaser) experience was. Of course, this is a good time to find out how satisfied they were with the pest work that was performed. You would be surprised by how many buyers are very unhappy with the quality/completeness of the pest repair work but don’t have the stamina to “fight the system.”

In closing, referrals from qualified sources are your best way to find the inspector and real estate agent that will best serve you. Remember, the ones charging the least are most likely the ones to give you the least. A home purchase is probably the single largest investment any of us will make in our lifetime, so don’t shortchange yourself by falling into the age-old trap of the “cheapest.” Ron Ringen owns and operates Ringen’s Unbiased Inspections, which is located in Sonora, California. Ringen’s Unbiased Inspections serves the beautiful gold country of California that includes the foothills and Sierra Mountains in the counties of Tuolumne, Calaveras and Amadore. Ron has been involved with the Structural Pest Control business for 43 years and has been a licensed Structural Pest Inspector in California since 1968. Ron is a licensed General Contractor (B) in California and has been since 1977. Ron is certified with the American Institute of Inspectors as a Home Inspector, Manufactured/Modular Home Inspector and a Pool and Spa Inspector.

Mold and mildew in older HVAC systems

Air conditioning systems should keep us comfortable and mildew free.

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In South Carolina where the summers are hot and humid, We rely on our air conditioning systems to keep us comfortable and keep the inside of our houses dry and mildew free. A great many homes in this area have what is commonly known as a Gas Pack system with an air conditioning condenser unit on the outside of the house, and a gas furnace and air conditioning evaporator coil in the crawl space under the house. The evaporator coil becomes very cold, and air that passes over it is cooled and looses its moisture in the form of condensation. This process cools and dries the air in your home so that you feel comfortable. In a very humid climate, the amount of condensation can be considerable. This moisture typically drains into a pan under the coil and is then either pumped or drained by gravity out of the crawl space and away from the structure. If the drain line becomes clogged, or the pump fails, or a pipe fitting comes loose, water backs up in the tray and/or drains onto the crawl space floor. Standing water in a dark, hot and humid crawl space is an invitation for mold and mildew to form. Many older HVAC systems are not airtight and allow crawl space air to enter the system, and where the condensation drainage is interrupted, mold and mildew can be pulled into your HVAC system. If, during an inspection, I find a broken, leaking or obstructed drain line, I report it to the home owner with a recommendation to have it repaired. It’s not a bad idea to have an annual heating and air conditioning check up, and to ask the technician to pay careful attention to the drain pan and pipes, and to make sure that the ductwork is in good condition with no splits, holes or gaps. If you suspect mold, contact a certified mold inspector.