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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.

Charity 101

How to choose the best & avoid scams.

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Giving to others in need seems to be a natural impulse the world over. Many of us enjoy giving to causes, programs or research that we agree with and believe in; however, sometimes we are caught unaware and are asked to give by volunteers. We may love the idea of the cause but know little about the organization. Or we may like the idea, but prefer it were handled differently. So where do you go to find the best fitting charity and how do you determine if they are legitimate? Below we have compiled some things to consider when choosing a charity, such as when to give, how to avoid scams, and other ways to give to the community rather than a cash donation.

Before you Give

What Touches You? - It may sound simple (and it is) but one of the best gauges for which charity to choose should be what you are passionate about. What causes mean the most to you? What charities benefit research, education or programs you believe in? This should be your first consideration when choosing a charity. It will help narrow your choices and there is nothing better than having pride about the organization you choose. Who knows, that initial donation could lead to volunteering and becoming actively involved in something you really care about.

Take Control - Be proactive about the charities you choose to support. Don't wait for someone to come knocking at your door or spend money on reminders in the mail. Instead, take the first step by actively searching for charities that give to the causes you believe in. To begin your search, check out some of these sites: Charity Navigator | Guide Star | IRS Search

Money 101 - Find out where your donation goes and how it is spent. Most organizations offer easy charts and/or percentages detailing how much money goes to the cause, administration, events, publications, etc. Although you may like the ideas behind an organization, you may not agree with how they choose to spend the money. The only way to know is to check them out and if you can't find the information, practice our next point and ask questions!

Ask Questions - Don't be afraid to ask questions! Perhaps how they spend money on fundraising events is worded ambiguously to you. Or you are not certain if the funds will stay local or move nationally. Any questions you have are okay to ask. Sometimes people don't want to ask as they think they are pestering the volunteers and wasting their time - that is not the case! By thoroughly answering your questions, volunteers know they are ensuring your continued loyalty, confidence and support for their organization. If they don't want to answer, then consider someone else - there are plenty of charities to choose from.

Reputation - Find out about the charity's reputation. Have there been complaints about your charity? Are there accolades for your charity? Take some time to see what others are saying about the charity of your choice. Better Business Bureau | Charity Navigator

The Quick List - If you don't want to spend the time researching the charities out there, take a look at some of these lists to see how they are already ranked by organizations. American Institute of Philanthropy | Charity Navigator

When You Give

Dust Off the Checkbook - It is best to donate by check rather than cash or credit card. This way you can specify the money only goes to the organization. Always write the check - don't give any information directly to your bank account. Credit card is okay online if you really know the source is reliable. But be very cautious!

Guard Your Information - As with your bank account information, keep most of your information private. As you will read in the 'Signs of a Scam' section below, caution is unfortunately the best practice when donating money.

Ask if Your Gift is Tax Deductable - Not all charities actually count as a tax deductable donation. Although we realize this is not usually the impetuous behind giving to a charity, it is something to keep in mind if you do plan to claim it on your taxes - especially if it is a sizable donation. The charities won't be offended, just ask.

Get a Receipt - Even if your donation is not tax deductable, get a receipt. This will help you track your records and if you are ever unfortunately caught in a scam, it might help in developing a case against the criminal.

Think Ahead - Consider giving to the charities of your choice once a year or up to a certain amount every year. This will make it easier to choose a charity that you know rather than off the cuff impulse. Also, it will make it that much easier to say no to those who solicit your donations if you know you have already given as much as you want/can for the year.

Signs of a Scam

Appearance is Not Enough - Charity scams can be everything from a person with a jar asking for a particular cause to elaborate schemes that include personnel, office space, logos and image branding - all the signals of a legitimate operation. Thus, we say it again, it is important to do your homework before you give.

Know the Name - Many charity scams are set up using names very similar to bigger and better moderated charities. Be careful and take the time to double check that the organization you are donating to is the one you are really thinking of.

The Copycat - Unfortunately, even knowing the correct name of the charity may not be enough. Some scammers (especially in person) will claim to be from an organization they are not. The best option is to check with the charity to see if they are running a drive in your area before you donate.

Opportunity Knocks - The primary means for charity scams to get your money is by approaching you in person (i.e. at the grocery stores or going door to door), spam emails, and even telemarketing. To be safe, take the information about the charity down but wait to give until you have had a chance to check them out. If they turn on the high pressure "sale" when you mention researching them more, simply walk away. Instead, a legitimate charity will be happy to give you the information about their organization and where to find out more. As for emails, donating to unsolicited emails is never a good idea. Email is only a good option if it is from an organization with which you already have a relationship (usually a reminder to come donate again) or someone you personally know (i.e. participant fundraising for a benefit walk/run/etc.).

Too Much Pressure - Yes we just wrote it above, but it is worth mentioning again - high pressure "sales" from charities is a huge no-no. If they turn up the sob story, guilt trip, or state the need is now or never - be wary and just walk away. Most legitimate charities avoid high pressure tactics and have guidelines for volunteers against such tactics as they are just as glad to have raised the awareness if not always the cash.

Registration Please - It is good practice to ask a charity if it is registered and has a registration number. You can then use this number to look it up with the Better Business Bureau.

Misery Loves Company - Be very careful when giving after a large natural disaster or another event which rocks the community. At these times it is usually best to give through charities that have a standing reputation for helping. But again, make sure to check the name is not a quasi copycat. Be careful how you give the money - even when memorial charities are set up for a local family, you can donate through a bank with an established trust. Try not to let the headlines in the news sway you to give to the wrong person!

Allocation of Funds - Although this is not necessarily a scam item, some donators feel scammed when they find out so little of their money actually goes to the cause of their choice. To avoid this, research the charity to see how they allocate their funds. As we stated above, every charity is different in how it will choose allocate the funds raised. Some charities have high administrative costs and use fundraising to pay staff salaries. Others spend a great deal on advertising campaigns. Although neither is illegal, you may want to see if you agree with the amounts spent. You can find details on the individual charity websites or directories, such as Charity Navigator and Guide Star.

And the Winner Is - Another scam to look out for is the offer of a entry for a prize with your donation. This can usually be related to a scam, but also some legitimate organizations use this tactic. In this instance you may want to consider how much of your donation is going to fundraising gimmicks rather than to the cause at hand.

Other Ways to Give

Your Time is Worth Money - Don't have a lot of cash to give? A little of your time can help just as much or even more for some charities. Many organizations need voluntary workers to make their goals a reality. Most Americans consider donating around November and December when the image of helping out the local soup kitchen is etched in our minds. However, many organizations need help the rest of the year. Contact the charity you are passionate about and ask when you can be the most helpful. Have time but don't know where to participate? Try some sites like these to find volunteer opportunities in your area. Many of these sites let you search by interest - if volunteers get to share the love of one of their hobbies they are more likely to enjoy the experience and spend more time helping. | | |

Take a Volunteer Vacation - Some college students have made headlines by taking volunteer vacations during spring break instead of heading to a party hot spot. But these vacations are not just for college students! Many seasoned travelers find these vacations a great way to learn more intimately about other cultures and give a little back in the process. Whether your passion is people, the environment, culture, language, or all the above, this might be the next vacation for you. | | |

Play on the Web - Some online stores and searches will donate to charities if you use their interface. So why not take them up on the free offer? Do Great Good | The Hunger, Breast Cancer, Child Health, Literacy, Rainforest & Animal Rescue Sites |

Consider Giving a Loan - A different way of 'giving' may be to actually lend capitol to the working poor. A new idea in micro financing gives funds to poor families who need a small loan to make their business ideas work. Loans can be as low as $25 and are actually paid back (unlike email schemes). The forerunner in this area is who started in 2005 primarily connecting lenders with 3rd world entrepreneurs. To find out more, visit their website This year, Kiva partnered with ACCION USA and the Opportunity Fund to offer micro loans here in the United States as well. For more on this option, please visit or

Slab verses crawl space

Some are built on a slab, and others have crawl spaces. Is one better than the other?

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Q. We are looking at new homes in South Carolina, and we noticed that some are built on a slab, and others have crawl spaces. Is one better than the other?

A. Traditionally, houses in South Carolina have been built on raised foundation walls to keep the structure away from the ground, but with the advent of newer technologies, more and more builders are choosing to build homes with concrete slab foundations. Briefly, a house with a crawl space has a wooden floor built on foundation walls and piers that can be anywhere from about two to six feet off the ground depending on the slope of the lot. In this type of house, the utilities such as plumbing, electrical and HVAC can be run under the floor, and are accessible for repair or renovation. The crawl space has fresh air ventilation, but is closed to insects and animals. This type of construction requires stairs for access. A slab-built house, or patio home, is built directly on a reinforced concrete slab foundation. This slab rests directly on the ground, and the utilities are run under the slab and brought up into the structure wherever needed. The heating and air ducts are routed through the attic in most cases. This type of construction requires no stairs for access. With a house built up off the ground, modest amounts of water entering the crawl space during rainstorms is not usually a problem, because it runs right through or evaporates through the fresh air vents. With a slab house, there is very little tolerance for water draining against the structure, because it will find its way into the house. If you are considering buying a patio home, pay careful attention to the lot drainage. The choice between the two types of construction is largely a matter of personal preference unless someone in your family has difficulty climbing stairs in which case, a slab-built home would be your best choice. Regardless of which type of house you choose to purchase, it would be wise to get a thorough home inspection from the most competent inspector in the area.

Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home-Part 6

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

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

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


  • Vacuum coils under or behind refrigerators and freezers.

 AIR CONDITIONING UNITS: Central Air Conditioning

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

AIR CONDITIONING UNITS: Evaporative Air Conditioning

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

CONDITIONING UNITS:  Wall and Window Air Conditioning

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


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


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


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


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


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


  • Flush out system.


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


  • Lubricate circulating pump and motor.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

How to start a Neighborhood Watch

A neighborhood watch can help police cut down in crime.

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Many people are skeptical when they hear about neighborhood watches. Many think it involves a lot of effort with minimal impact or effect. However, most police departments will inform you otherwise. A neighborhood watch can help police cut down in crime as you are going to notice suspicious, out of place behavior in your neighborhood before they will. An example that is often used is the scenario of the stranger hanging around your neighbor's car. You look out your window and notice a stranger at your neighbors car and know they do not belong to that car. However, when a cop car drives by the stranger casually looks up and waves hello. The officer cannot tell that person does not belong to that car or neighborhood, he/she may wave back and simply drive ahead. Obviously a call from someone in the neighborhood would inform the police of the stranger's suspicious behavior and they can question them. So how does a neighborhood watch work? How do you set one up? How can you and your neighbors reduce crime and help the police in your area?

Why should our neighborhood start a watch?

Still haven't convinced you? Fair enough, lets look into the benefits of a neighborhood watch a bit more. Unfortunately, most neighborhoods don't consider a neighborhood watch until there is already a problem with thefts, burglaries and/or vandalism. Today, many households have two working parents and kids gone at activities so the home is empty a majority of the day making it a target for thieves. A neighborhood watch helps to place other sets of eyes on your home when you are away. Your neighbors get an idea of who belongs there and will more easily recognize something out of the ordinary. The neighborhood watch will also help build a community partnership. Neighborhoods today are more isolated, people do not know their neighbors so it is more difficult to identify normal behavior for a household. Some neighborhoods have taken this a step further and used the watch to help community in the time of an emergency. Recently in Saucier, MS a neighborhood watch group used their ties to make a list of all those staying behind when Hurricane Katrina came ashore. After the storm, members used this list to make sure everyone was accounted for and also used the list to set up aid for the community including food, water, clothing and other necessities (Neighborhood Watch Needs You, National Crime Prevention Council). In addition to building a sense of community, a neighborhood watch can also help keep the community informed. A neighborhood watch sets up a phone tree system so you know if someone has had a problem in your area. Without this system you may not hear about vandalism or some other problem until a much later date or not at all. Finally, a neighborhood watch helps the police in you area do a better job. As in the example in our introduction, neighbors are the ones that can inform police of suspicious behavior that would not be obvious to them. Also, neighborhood watches may help police build a case on crimes. For example, in one neighborhood, there was a vandal who was slashing tires. In most cases this would only have been a "slap on the wrist" with little real consequence to the vandal. However, with the neighborhood watch, they were able to document that 80 tires were slashed in the neighborhood during the same crime spree. This made it much easier for the police to build a case for stronger prosecution of the vandal (Open Letter to Watch Groups in Kent). These are just a few examples of ways a neighborhood watch can help your community.

What does a neighborhood watch involve?

Meetings - The last thing anyone wants is more meetings to attend! With a neighborhood watch there are really only two major meetings that need to be done.

The First Meeting - The first initial meeting with your neighbors is to see who is interested in joining. This is a vital meeting in that it is where everyone learns what is involved and expected of participants. Once people find out how little time is involved, many neighbors will express an interest. At this meeting you will want to cover setting up a map, a phone tree, and electing a captain and co-captain(s). You may also want to distribute information on programs like Operation ID or other crime prevention programs that your community may find beneficial (your police department can help you find materials or you may also look to the organizations listed in ourMore Info on the Web section).

Yearly Social - After a watch is in place, there should be at least one neighborhood social per year. This may be a BBQ, Community Garage Sale, Neighborhood Picnic, or some other type of family friendly, all-inclusive gathering. At these social events, captains and co-captains may easily give quick highlights and goals for the year. This could be done as a speech or flyers handed out at the event. This would also be a good time to check and see of any changes in information for the watch - such as a change in phone number, etc. After a quick recap of watch business the rest of the social is a community building experience. It is a chance for neighbors to get to know one another and put faces with names. It should be fun - not tedious!

National Night Out - National Night Out (NNO) is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch. It is an annual event for neighborhoods to participate in to promote safety and awareness in their community. Taking place on August 1st of every year, the identified goals are: "heighten crime and drug prevention awareness; generate support for, and participation in, local anti crime programs; strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships; and send a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back." Again this is organized around some social activity such as BBQ, block party, or flashlight walks, to name a few. A neighborhood watch can register their event with NNO and receive helpful information about how to set up their event. To find out more visit their site at

Captain & Co-Captain - Captains and co-captains are those who help organize records and keep track of the changes in the neighborhood. Captains are the contact point for people to notify of changes such as phone numbers or new residents. Usually captains will organize a welcome for any new residents welcoming them and informing them about the neighborhood watch to see if they would like to participate. And most importantly, captains are informed of any problems in the area. It is assumed the effected party would have notified the police. However, the captain can also track events and report it to their contact with the police department; as in the example above, it was a captain who brought it to the attention of the police that over 80 tires were slashed in one crime spree. Keep in mind the police don't have a database that would track minor crimes like this, thus a neighborhood watch can help collect this useful information. Captain should be by no means be an exhaustive position! Instead, they are helped by co-captains and can have their duties covered by co-captains when gone. Many neighborhoods will assign more than one co-captain to help share responsibility. One example is to have a captain designated as the main police contact and then multiple co-captains for each block or cul-de-sac for neighbors to report to.

Phone Tree - A phone tree is the easiest and fastest way to help notify the neighborhood of important events. Like other phone trees, each person only calls a few people and then the next group calls the next so no one person is calling everyone. After a crime has happened a phone tree may be used to help notify the neighborhood a certain type of crime at a specific location occurred. Today, some may opt for an email instead of a phone call. However, make sure to somehow include all that want to be involved. Some residents may not want to use email and still need a mini phone tree.

Newletter - This is not the quickest way of giving out information but it is effective. Either pamphlets or emailed letters will help give the neighborhood updates of what has been going on the last couple of months. Unless there are major concerns, newsletters may be quarterly or every couple of months. Many times these newsletters can also inform residents of local events or holiday related safety and laws; for example, safety tips and local laws for the use of fireworks on the 4th of July. If working with a police department representative they may already have a newsletter available to which you may tack on neighborhood info before distributing. Newsletters are not required for a watch, but some do find them useful.

Map - The map is a extremely useful tool for the neighborhood watch. A standard map will show the streets involved in the watch, the homes, names of residents, phone numbers, emergency in-state and out-of-state contact numbers and email. This information is always voluntary. However, many residents will find the extra security worth it. Most of us will not know an address of our neighbors, instead we know 'it is three doors down' or 'just around the block'. This map will help get the exact address if the need arises to notify the police and neighbor of a problem. This map may be used in a number of ways. This can be used by a neighbor who sees someone prowling outside a window at night to call the neighbor and the police. If there is smoke from a house, a neighbor can tell the fire department the exact address and notify the resident if they are not at home. Or it might be used with the phone tree to raise the alarm in a neighborhood. One example of this is a vandal just broke the front window of the house but was scared off and got in a car and drove off down the street. You can call the neighbor down the street and see if they saw which way the car turned or can see the license plate. All this will help police track them down. This is a good time to note, that a neighborhood watch is used for information gathering - at no point should neighbors be running out in the street as vigilantes to stop crime. Instead they use the phone tree, map and neighborhood connections to track events and relay information to the police!

Operation ID - Operation ID is a way to encourage citizens to inventory their valuables. Residents mark or engrave valuables with a special number. Usually a driver license is used as this is public information and also identification back to you. If you use your driver license number, then make sure to put your state initials before the number and DL after so the number cannot be changed and will help police identify out of state items. NEVER use your social security number! Valuables may be marked with your identification number with invisible marker or engraved. Keep an inventory list of all items marked and store in a secure location such as a lockbox or fire proof (locked!) safe. Once you have inventoried items you may get some decals from the police for your windows and items. If your police department offers these decals it is usually a limited number. You may have to purchase more decals for all your items. Many neighborhood watches purchase an engraver for the neighborhood and then check it out to neighbors. They also then get decals for all participants so the neighborhood is covered and burglars are deterred. **If you sell an item with your ID, then cross it out with one line and initial it. Also make sure to note it on a bill of sale for the buyer. Keep a copy for your records.

Going the Extra Mile - Make an effort to look out for each other on a daily basis. Help each other better protect their homes and the neighborhood by encouraging neighborhood participation in activities.

  • Get all neighbors to turn on porch lights at night.
  • Help older neighbors or others who may need help with the safety of their home. For example, help trim high bushes in front of their door/window or change light bulbs in high outdoor lights.
  • Have clean up parties to help clear out vacant lots, playgrounds/parks or abandoned cars. Help clean graffiti right away.Work together to beautify the neighborhood, let would be criminals know you care about where you live!
  • Recognize captains, co-captains and other participants who go that extra mile to help others!
  • Use the neighborhood watch to sponsor safety events. For example, invite fire fighters to a meeting to help better prepare residents against fire.

How do we start a neighborhood watch?

So how do you start a neighborhood watch? First, contact your local police. Not all departments have facilitators to help set up a neighborhood watch, but they will have resources available. Even if they do not have an official representative, ask the department if an officer may be able to stop by the meeting, many times something like this can be arranged in advance. Next, set up a meeting with your neighbors to give out information and see who is interested in participating. This should be a meeting place accessible to all, maybe a school or church in the neighborhood. As mentioned before, this is the vital meeting where you explain to others what is involved and expected for participation. You will find that many neighbors will express an interest, especially after they find that it does not require a great deal of time or effort. At the first meeting get as much information as possible as it is harder to get the information later. Nominate a captain and co-captain, hand out a form for residents to submit information for the community phone tree and map. Find out if residents are interested in meetings every few months or general meetings about fire safety or if they want to stick with one annual meeting per year. Once the first meeting is over and the information is gathered, the captain and co-captains can compile the phone tree and maps. These will then be given to every participant in the neighborhood. And that was the major bulk of the work. Now it is up to residents to keep information up to date and work with their neighbors on community projects or socials. That's it! 

There are many benefits to a neighborhood watch program. Start the dialogue with your neighbors and see if you can start one in your community. It is a great way to build community, cut down on crime and rethink what a "neighborhood" is all about!

GFCI circuits in older homes

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

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Q. We recently bought an older home which has undergone some renovation. The sellers installed three-pronged outlets throughout the house and GFCI circuits in the kitchen, bathrooms and on the exterior. Our home inspector said that the house wiring is the original two wire non-grounded system, and that even though we have three-prong plugs they are not grounded. He also said that the GFCI receptacles would not function correctly, because there is no ground wire. Do you agree with his assessment?

A. Your home inspector is correct in telling you that your outlets will not be grounded. A third or ground wire is necessary for proper grounding of receptacles and fixtures. Having a two-wire system is not a problem in and of itself unless you are using electrical equipment specifically designed to be grounded. The three-prong plugs are more of a convenience since nearly all electrical devices now come with a grounded plug. Regarding the GFCI (Ground Fault Interrupter Circuit) outlets, they need not be grounded in order to work properly. Simply put, the GFCI is a safety device that protects people from electric shocks by sensing current moving in a way that it should not, and instantly shutting down the circuit. On a grounded circuit, it does this by sending the current to ground. On an ungrounded (two-wire) circuit, it does the same thing by sending the current back to ground through the neutral wire. A properly wired GFCI will work just fine on a two-wire circuit. The GFCI outlets have test and reset buttons on their face. To test for proper operation, simply push the test button. If you hear a snap, the circuit has tripped, and you can test it by plugging in a lamp or radio. To turn the power back on, simply push the reset button. If you are still not sure, call a qualified electrician and have him check all your GFCI receptacles.