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A Greater Green Thumb

Make Your Garden Environmentally Green

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A Greater Green Thumb: Make Your Garden Environmentally Green We hear so much about "going green" in the news today that we sometimes forget that one of the best ways to be environmentally friendly is through a green thumb! Whether through careful design of a major landscape renovation or small changes to a few habits, making your garden green can be as simple or complex as you want. In fact, don't expect to make major changes in how you care for your yard overnight. Instead, consider some ideas you can implement now and then slowly add to them. As you begin to implement new gardening techniques you will also discover that making your landscape environmentally friendly is not just about saving mother nature - it can also save you money! Here are a few quick ideas to get you started on your new green garden: Pesky weeds: Yes, dousing them with weed killer is easier. However, most are not children, pet or nature friendly. Some old fashioned weed pulling can be great exercise or way to get the kids to earn their allowance. - Try to get weeds early in the year as this will mean less pulling later on. - Pulling a little at a time as you walk down a path is much better than a whole day of work. - Putting down mulch can help prevent weeds. - If you have an area that is overtaken by weeds instead of lawn, you might want to consider replanting the area with low native plants that need little attention. Return of the native: Using native plants in your landscaping is a great way of choosing plants that are accustomed to the climate and resistant to pests in your area. Although not foolproof, you will find native plants much easier to care for than many imports. - Also, many imports can be harmful to the native plants of the area. For example, English Ivy may look pretty when you care for it, but left on its own, it is a weed that quickly overtakes native plants and even trees! Research non-native plants beforehand to make certain they are not really noxious weeds for your environment. Homebrewed compost: Adding a compost bin is a great way to recycle food and yard waste and get something in return for it! Composting does take about 3-6 months before you get to use any results, but once you get the cycle going you will have a great way to decrease your garbage and increase your plants. - There are many styles of compost bins from indoor to outdoor, homemade to store bought - you can even find stylized ones that give character to your décor! - If you don't have a garden but have yard removal, check with your waste company's policies, many companies now offer to take the same items you would put in a compost bin (i.e. vegetable and fruit skins). They in turn use this to make compost for city parks. Even if you aren't using the compost, it is a great way to get this type of waste out of the landfill and to areas where it will be more beneficial. Harvest the rain: While your out picking up a compost bin, add a rain barrel too! These barrels can be placed directly under you gutter downspout or out from under the eaves. It is ideal to use the water regularly to keep it circulating. Overall this will help save on your water usage and bills! Water thoughtfully: Watering your plants properly will avoid unnecessary waste. - Use drip hoses for more even watering and to help decrease your water bill. - When watering plants, pay attention to their roots and water them before the sun is high so the plant has time to drink before it evaporates. - Using mulch around your plants can keep natural moisture in. Just make sure the mulch is not too deep and you leave some space at the base of the plant stem. Grow your groceries: What is more green then eating from your own garden? If you have never gardened before, start with a small plot and easier to grow veggies. For local advice, check out your neighborhood gardening associations which often offer free classes. Getting garden fresh foods on your table not only helps the environment but offers you better flavor and ease of mind as you know exactly what went into your produce. - Don't have a large yard? Urban community gardens are a fun way to build a sense of community, get free gardening help and again, harvest some great tasting produce. - Another way to garden in small spaces are through container gardens. Using containers to grow herbs and smaller vegetables like onions or spinach is a great alternative. - As you garden more, you will begin to start your veggies from seeds rather than buying starts at the store. When making starts of your own, use old milk cartons or other containers that you can recycle and use again and again. Invite the birds and the bees: Utilizing plants in your garden that are naturally appealing to beneficial insects and birds is a great way to improve the life of your plants. These good allies will help cut down on bad bug pests and can be fun to watch too! - Plant flowers and plants that are attractive to butterflies, bees and other naturally beneficial insects. Encouraging natural pollinators and cutting down your use of pesticides is a great combo for these natural little friends. - Some nurseries even sell lady bugs as they are a great natural defense for bug problems. - Invite birds into your yard with berry plants, flowers, and a water bath. Birds are some of your best pest reducers. - If you have berries you want to keep for yourself instead of the birds, there are safe netting options out there that don't trap birds but keep them off your berries! Plan your garden: As we have mentioned in earlier articles, planning out a garden can save you a lot of headache and money down the road. But it can also allow you to be more green. When planning your layout you may pay closer attention to what areas of the yard get more sun or rain and install plants that are suitable for different locations. - You can also minimize your gardening chores by planning certain "wild" areas or buffers using native plants that require little upkeep. Hardscapes: Finally, when planning or renovating your yard, consider the non-organic features. From the paths to the containers, consider what impacts the materials you use will have on the environment and your garden's health. - Recycled materials are becoming more readily available for constructing everything from paths to patios. Take a look at all the options and give these recycled materials a chance. - Try to get planters and containers made of recycled material. Some people get very creative with old items that they turn into planters (i.e. an old sink or wheelbarrow). - Try some of the new solar lights to add lighting features to your yard. They are earth friendly and can save you money! Useful Links EPA: Greenscapes www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/green/ Information about going green provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Includes ideas for homes, businesses and recreational areas. USDA Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/ "This section of our Web site will help you find your nearest Cooperative Extension office. The Cooperative Extension System is a nationwide, non-credit educational network. Each U.S. state and territory has a state office at its land-grant university and a network of local or regional offices. These offices are staffed by one or more experts who provide useful, practical, and research-based information to agricultural producers, small business owners, youth, consumers, and others in rural areas and communities of all sizes." This resource will help you find state specific plant information. American Horticultural Society List of Mater Gardeners www.ahs.org/master_gardeners/ "The map below links to Master Gardener websites in the United States. Links to Master Gardener programs in three Canadian provinces are listed below as well. Clicking on the map and links below will connect you to some of the best, regionally-specific advice you can get on gardening." To find out more about classes, gardening tips and the best plants for your area, check out these state sites. Buy Green, Going Green, Green Savvy, Eco Products Green Cleaning Products http://www.buygreensavvy.com Quality green and eco friendly products at the best prices!

The Cleaner Home

Make your home environmentally green

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The old days of harsh bleach and chemicals used to clean around the house are slowly fading out. Along with this trend is a desire of many consumers to adopt more environmentally friendly products for their home. This can be anything from the new countertops and floors to the groceries bought at the local supermarket. In addition to what you bring in (and take out) of your home, the maintenance of your home can is a way to become more green. According to the energysavers.gov website, "Americans spend more than $160 billion a year to heat, cool, light, and live" in their homes. Everyone may not try every option or may find their budget does not allow for all of the products available. However, a few home improvements and informed purchases can not only save you money in the long run, but these changes can also provide a healthier home for your family and the planet. Initially, all the options to create a greener home can be overwhelming. But some tasks are good home maintenance and a few only need to be done once. The headings below is just one way to break down some of the improvements and updates you may make to your home which will effect its impact and performance. Did we say performance? You bet! Making sure your home is running efficiently and smoothly is the number one way to helping the environment! How efficient is your home? Making your home work efficiently to keep you warm, cool and provide you with creature comforts is the perfect way to help other creatures of the world. Taking time to keep your home updated will help reduce the amount of energy you need and ultimately be easier on your wallet as well. Lighting: You can cut electricity costs by taking advantage of natural lighting and choosing carefully the lighting you purchase. Natural light is a great way to improve your home's efficiency. Skylights and easy to open window treatments can help you better regulate where you get your light during the day. Windows facing north and south can offer a great source of natural light and heat. West and east windows will offer light but may produce too much glare as the sun rises and sets. Choose your artificial lights carefully. Selecting a few accent lights and then a concentrated task light for an activity such as reading is a better alternative to lighting up every square inch of the room with florescent bulbs! Using environmentally efficient light bulbs can help reduce energy costs. However, research the bulbs you buy. Some may not work as well for task lighting. Others may not work with your older lamps and you may be better buying a new lighting fixture at the same time. Keep your artificial lights working at their best. Even the simple task of keeping your lamp shades free of dust can improve the light quality in your home. Windows: The windows of your home can be a great ally. Getting the right type of window treatments can help regulate your home temperatures. Drapes: Drawn closed in the winter, these window treatments can help prevent heat from escaping by as much as 10%! Drapes can also help decrease heat coming into the home if closed against direct sunlight in the summer. Blinds or Shades: These can help reduce the amount of heat coming through the window because of direct sunlight. Dual shades can be very useful. Use the light side to help reflect and keep out the warming sun in the summer and the dark side can be used in the winter to draw in more heat. Shutters: Both exterior and interior shutters can be used to keep heat out in the summer. They do not work as well at keeping heat in during the winter. Another perk of having exterior shutters is that they can provide extra security for your home as well. Window Panel: Similar to a shutter, a window panel is a product that pops into the window frame and provides extra insulation in the winter. An inexpensive addition, this may be ideal for windows not used for their light in the winter. Screens: Although these don't really keep any heat in place, using screens on your windows allows for better cooling and airing of your home in the summer. Screens allow you to keep windows and doors open encouraging a natural movement of the air. Using open windows well in the morning and evening can drastically reduce your air conditioning bill. Thankfully this can be done without letting in all the bugs and critters! Awnings: Window awnings can help keep the house cooler in the summer by reducing the amount of heat that is adsorbed. Air Leaks: Get rid of air leaks! Insulation works to improve both the heating and cooling of your home. Check around your doors and windows first. Many leaks escape through these portals the most. Replace weather stripping and caulk where needed. Besides the doors and windows, also check for air leaks around vents, fans, phone and cable lines, and electrical lines. Depending on the materials used in your home, you may also need to check any brick, stucco or cement construction for needed repairs. Not sure if you have a leak? One option is to use an incense stick. The smoke will show any movement caused by air leaks. Another method is to have someone stand on the other side of the possible leak source while you shine a flashlight at the edges. If they can see the light on the other side then some updates should be made. Insulation: Updating or adding insulation to your home, especially an older one, can help reduce costs associated with heating and cooling your home. The attic, crawl space, basement, exterior walls and space around service ducts are the areas that will need the most attention or improvement. Reduce Water Usage: There are many ways to reduce your water consumption around the home. The hot water heater can be an energy hog. Try insulating it if it does not already have at least R-24 insulation. You can also lower the temperature of the water from 140°F to 120°F to save on cost. Make certain to fix any leaky pipes or faucets. Over time these will not only consume water but will also cause damage to the surrounding area. To get better use of water for your money, consider installing low-flow water faucets and showerheads. You may also consider a water (and energy) efficient clothes washer. What do you bring into your home? Whether building a new home or shopping for the weekly groceries, the products you choose to bring home have a great impact on the environment. Taking some time to consider your choices before you buy is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. Renewable Construction: If building or remodeling a home, consider renewable sources for some of your construction needs. You do not have to use all or any of them, however, if you take the time to research some of these options, you may be surprised and find a good fit. Hardwood floors are great in that they keep allergies as bay and are easier on the environment then synthetic carpet manufacture. However, a renewable wood is key here. Renewable floors such as bamboo or cork are much easier to replenish. Another option that has gained in popularity is reclaimed wood. This product is taken from demolition sites - everything from an old house to an old gymnasium floor. Research the product's history as some sealants and paints used on the wood may be toxic. There are more renewable sources available. From recycled glass used as tile to recycled jeans used as insulation. Take a look at our links to the right for more information about these items and possible vendors in your area. Buy Local: There has been a lot of encouragement for consumers to buy local recently. Buying locally should help cut down on shipping and packaging costs. Doing so can also help local farmers and businesses. Not always the cheaper option, trying to purposely buy some items locally can help the economy and ultimately the environment. In fact, some believe buying groceries from local sources provides fresher produce that ultimately could be better for your health. Quality of Product: Being a savvy consumer who expects the best quality in their products is helpful to the environment as well as your pocketbook. Move away from cheaply made items; instead research your purchases and get ones that will perform well for a long time to come. Check Labels: On anything you buy, take time to check the labels and be aware of any impact it may have on your environment - including at home. Consider carefully your choice in chemicals used for cleaning. When working on home improvement projects consider the options you have for glues, paints and other possible hazardous materials. THERMOSTAT: Lower your thermostat by a few degrees. Get a controller where you can specify different temperatures for day and night. LIGHTS: Turn off incandescent lights when not in use. Turn off florescent lights if you will be gone for more than 15 minutes. Optimize your use of natural light with work or reading places near northern or southern windows away from eastern and western sun glare. ELECTRONICS: Turn off power strips if nothing on the strip is in use. Unplug unused electronics. COMPUTERS: Turn off your computer monitor if you will be gone for more than 20 minutes. Turn off both your computer and computer monitor if you will be gone for more than 2 hours. Use the sleep mode if your computer has one. ENERGY: Consider purchasing green energy from your power company such as solar power, wind power, biomass power, geothermal energy or hydropower. If your power company does not have one of these options available, you may still be able to invest in future programs. LAUNDRY: Wash your clothes in cold water when possible. Clothesline dry your laundry on sunny days. Shop for detergents that list which toxic chemicals are not in the product. A generic statement such as "non-toxic" may be gimmick so read the label carefully. GROCERIES: Shop locally. Use a cloth reusable bag for groceries. COOKING: Use cookware that cooks at lower temperatures such as cast iron or clay. Save your baking for cooler hours. DISHES: Only run the dishwasher when it is full. Run the dishwasher at night. GARDEN GREEN: Check out our article on environmentally green gardening. Or see our article about pet safe gardening.

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.

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

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.

Clothes dryer venting. Do’s and Don’ts

Many years ago when I was doing maintenance work for a large property management company, I got a call to look at a clothes dryer that was not working properly.

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Many years ago when I was doing maintenance work for a large property management company, I got a call to look at a clothes dryer that was not working properly. The tenant said that her clothes were just not getting dry no matter how long she ran the dryer. What I found was that the dryer lacked a lint screen, and the flexible vent hose under the house was sagging considerably and had been trapping moisture and lint for a very long time. The more moisture that became trapped in the hose, the more it sagged. The result was that the hose had become completely blocked by an oatmeal-like mixture of lint and moisture. No air could pass through this blockage, and the dryer could not do it’s job. In this case, replacement and proper routing of the vent hose solved the problem. When the proper flow of air is blocked, the clothes dryer has to work harder to dry your clothes, and this could lead to premature failure of the appliance, and in some cases could cause a fire. Whenever you have a home inspection, be sure to ask the inspector to look at the dryer vent hose, and it’s also a good idea to check it at least once a year.