Friday, February 27, 2009
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Thursday, February 19, 2009
I went down to Biloxi to do some true volunteer work-to clear the cobwebs from the brain, and to do something that had nothing to do with life back home. I was expecting hard work and blisters (I don't ever swing a hammer any more unless the wife makes me), but there was also fun, great food, seeing New Orleans for the first time, and I got to pitch in with a bunch of strangers with fabulous attitudes. I thought it would be somewhat of a depressing experience, but instead it was amazingly spirit-lifting. My wife noticed the bounce in my step and a changed perspective when I got home.
As soon as I returned home I knew I was going to have to go back. There are still so many houses that need to be rebuilt and the debate of whether they should rebuild will go on forever. The sponsor group Project Rehab, under the auspices of Habitat for Humanity, knew what they were doing, and the whole effort was very well organized. I got to work with some terrific Americorps kids as well. In April of 2008 I was able to organize a group of 6 to go back down for another work vacation. Two strangers, a client, my attorney, my wife and myself made the trek down and had the good fortune to work with a Vietnam Vet whose home was almost completely destroyed. He managed, with the help of other Project Rehab volunteers, to get the home rebuilt and our team finished off the trim work, installed the kitchen cabinets and hung all the doors. Again, it was a very satisfying week and for those that have not participated in a work vacation I would strongly urge you to do it as it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
I was just reading today's National Geographic and there was a story about Darwin's theory of evolution and how the strong and most adaptable animals survive. It is so true with us human beings as well. With the current economic situation bearing down on us, there are many similarities between General Contractors and the flock of robins. For example, my company is taking on smaller and less profitable jobs these days because they are like the berries. Maybe they are not our first choice but they'll get us through the lean times until the worms come back. I am optimistic that the remodeling outlook is bright and that shortly the demand for good remodeling contractors will be quite high, especially for necessary projects like painting, roofing, rot repairs, energy upgrades, kitchens and baths. Inevitably there are going to be some remodeling companies that insist on living on worms only and cannot adapt to eating berries. Fortunately the boys at Meadowview have been snacking on berries for years now so we don't so much mind the taste.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
I got a great question the other day so I thought I would post it for everyone to see. Please feel free to write me with any questions you might have and I would be happy to answer it the best I can. See the question and answer below.
Question: Several of the doors on the inside of my house like to open/close themselves, or even sit in between open and closed. It got worse after I used some WD-40 on some of the squeaking hinges. (The doors to some of the kid's rooms squeaked so bad, we could wake them up just trying to check on them.)
I'd like to know what the trick is to adjust the hinges on a door to keep it from closing on its own, or opening on its own, or even sitting half-way opened.
Answer: Here is a simple fix to you problem that is a permanent solution. Take out the bottom hinge pin (easier to get to, is the only reason). Place the pin on a hard surface and hit the pin with a hammer to bent it slightly. Then reinstall it,(you might have to tap it into the hinge with a hammer) and the little bit of a bend in the pin will hold the door open or make it a little more "stiffer".
I know....it sounds crazy and ridiculously easy but it really works great. Go try it and let me know how it worked. Cheers!
Monday, February 16, 2009
· My existing 19 windows lose about 17.4 million BTU's of heat each heating season
· The annual cost of this lost heat is about $130
· New highly efficient ENERGY STAR rated vinyl replacement windows would lose about 2 million BTU's of heat annually. The annual cost of this lost heat would be about $16.
· If I install the vinyl replacement windows the total annual savings on my heating bill would be about $114.
· To realize this annual $114 savings I would need to invest $8000 in vinyl replacement windows.
Spending $8,000 to save a little over $100 per year is not a good method for saving lots of money on heating bills. And vinyl windows will subtract from the beauty of my older home, rather than add to it as my older windows do. In addition, there are other less expensive options available to me for reducing loss of heat through my older windows.
Simple, quick steps for tightening up an older window:
Replace cracked/broken window panes. Even cracked pieces of glass will let in lots of cold air
Replace missing/deteriorated glazing. This prevents air from entering from around glass panes and is also very important for long-term maintenance. Always paint the glazing after it has cured, and remember to overlap a thin line of paint onto the glass. This will help to keep moisture from running down the outside of the glass and getting under the glazing where it can eventually rot the muntins.
Make certain that a sash lock is present and in good working order. A proper fitting sash lock has significant impact on the air-tightness of a double hung window. The lock should pull the upper and lower window sash tightly together, and at the same time push the bottom sash down and the top sash up. You may need to spend some time cleaning the back meeting rails. Often dried paint drips will prevent the top sash from fully contacting the bottom sash at the meeting rail. Make certain those surfaces are flat and smooth for a good seal.
Wide window sash may require 2 window locks to get a tight seal across the full width of the meeting rails.
Adding a thin piece of foam weather stripping to the sill and head jamb to improve the seal when the windows are closed and locked will further increase air tightness, which increases energy efficiency.
Putting a thin bead of caulk where the interior casing touches the interior walls may also increase air tightness.
There are special gaskets made that are designed to fit over counterweight pulleys. They are made in such a way so that they allow the pulley to turn and allow the sash cord move, but still seal out the cold air that may be infiltrating from a poorly sealed counterweight cavity.
Replace excessively worn parting bead (the narrow vertical piece of wood that separates the upper sash from the lower sash) to increase air tightness between window sash and window jam. The parting bead must be removed if you need to repair counterweights for the upper sash. Removing the parting bead will also allow you to take the upper sash out. This may be helpful if you need to replace much of the glazing in that sash.
There is a local company that we recommend to restore old wood windows called Window Woman.
A far more inexpensive but temporary option is to use a product from DAP called Seal 'N Peel. Apply it around all the cracks using a caulking gun and when the spring rolls around you can peel it off easily. It emits some nasty smelling fumes so be prepared to exit the room for a while. The caulking is stocked at Home Depot or you can buy the caulking online at Amazon
Sunday, February 15, 2009
According to www.biggreenswitch.co.uk, around 10-15% of every household’s energy usage is for lighting. This usage can be dramatically reduced by swapping traditional bulbs (known as incandescent bulbs) for energy-efficient bulbs.
Whenever a bulb needs replacing, always swap it for an energy-efficient bulb. But the sooner you change, the better – so it pays to swap even before your old bulbs blow.
Energy-efficient bulbs are no longer the large and cumbersome objects they once were. You can now buy them in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit almost all light and lamp fittings/shades.
Most also now come on as fast as standard bulbs and provide the same quality and level of lighting as a normal bulb - both common complaints about low energy bulbs in the past. Low energy light bulbs use up to 80% less energy than a traditional incandescent bulb while still emitting the same level of lighting.
This is because the old incandescent bulbs waste up to 90% of their energy through heat being emitted by the bulb rather than light. The low-energy bulbs also last up to 10-12 times longer than traditional bulbs so, although the initial shelf price of the low energy bulbs may be higher than traditional bulbs, they more than pay for themselves over their lifetime.
Bulb disposal: Please remember to dispose of your used low energy light bulbs safely and correctly. Similar to other items such as used batteries or printer cartridges, CFL bulbs can contain materials which may be harmful to the environment if simply placed in your normal waste bin and sent to landfill. Always take care to dispose of your bulbs at a suitable recycling facility. Home Depot recently started a CFL recycling program and you can read about it here:
Here is a spreadsheet showing the cost savings you could achieve by switching from standard incandescent light bulbs to either Compact Flourescent or LED light bulbs. The comparison is based on $.23 per KWh but you will need to plug in your actual current cost for electricity which I think is closer to $.13 per KWh in the Boston area http://www.productdose.com
Here is a simple Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Energy Savings Calculator that will show just the energy savings that you can expect to achieve if you switch over to CFL from incandescent. It does not factor in the cost of the bulbs but it is helpful to know that the cost is dropping all the time and currently is about $3 for a CFL that is equivalent to a 75 watt incandescent bulb.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
I guess I just assumed that we would bring him in to our home, provide him with the things he needs to live and he would instantly bond with us. Wrong answer! I can’t recall how many times we’ve gone into someone’s home to do a remodeling project and we just assume everything will go well and that they will trust us as if we are part of their family. Most times it goes that way but every so often we encounter a cat (read as: client) who does not immediately trust us. It is hard not to take personally because deep down inside we know we are “trust worthy” and overall good people. How could anyone not trust us? I think the builder/client trust is something we just take for granted some times and it is something that has to be earned and not assumed. For the time we are working in their homes they are at the height of vulnerability with little privacy and few places to escape to. Having gone through a major renovation on our own home 3 years ago I can honestly say that I do know how stressful it can be and let's face it, it stinks.
Trust means being able to predict what other people will do and what situations will occur. If we can surround ourselves with people we trust, then we can create a safe present and an even better future. I can imagine Benny feels this way in his own little kitty way. Generally I find that a failure in trust may be forgiven more easily if it is interpreted as a failure of competence rather than a lack of honesty. Therefore honesty is one area I place the greatest importance on and I really like to show how much I care about my clients by my actions and not by how much I know. It is easy to get sucked into trying to “show off” in front of a client by blurting out all that I know and how great our crews are and what awesome subcontractors we have. I love the following quote - “People Don’t Care How Much You Know, Until They Know How Much You Care”
Friday, February 13, 2009
Buying in bulk seems like a way to save money but I am convinced that it a waste for the most part. Buying bulk has its own time and place. Buy only in bulk if you know you are going to use all of it. For example, I buy toilet paper in bulk. I am 100% sure that there will be a day when I run out of toilet paper. In fact, it seems that the more I buy, the quicker I run out. Paper towels are one thing that I avoid using whenever possible. It is so easy to unroll 5-6 sheets to wipe up a small spill without even thinking of it. My wife and I arrived at a compromise by purchasing the select-a-size paper towels that have half-sized sheets for those smaller messes and I still shy away from using them.
Speaking of waste…..who needs so many designer handbags? I doubt that it really makes a difference if someone has a generic one or seven Louis Vuitton bags. How can this possibly improve the quality of one’s life? I like coffee as much as the next person but is the premium cost for Starbuck’s worth it when I can get a Dunkin Donuts coffee for about half the cost or better yet, Folgers home-brewed for about 10 cents a cup. I realize my time is worth a lot to me and sometimes I am willing to pay the premium. Bottled water, in my opinion, is one of the worst things we could have ever started buying in mass quantities. There is just no meaningful benefit to us or the earth by consuming it other than the fact that it’s very convenient. Water is free. Let’s start to conserve it a little more and we’ll have more to drink instead of throwing the plastic in the trash. Of course they are recyclable but if they weren’t made in the first place then we wouldn’t have to recycle them.
Payback period seems to be on everyone’s mind when making purchases that are better for our environment. One item with a small financial payback is getting a new low flush toilet but the amount of water it saves is huge. For our customers we are starting to put in these new dual flush toilets by Toto where it has a smaller flush for #1 and a regular-sized flush for #2. It’s the next best thing to the old saying “if it’s yellow let it mellow….if it’s brown flush it down”.
With my personal investment portfolio taking a big hit this year, I am naturally looking at ways to save money as I am sure that most Americans are these days. I know that paying rent for an apartment is the only option for many folks but there has never been a better time to be able to invest in real estate. You owe it to yourself to at least look into it if you can somehow muster up some initial start-up money. I have a good friend who teaches small groups of investors how to find properties, renovate them and then rent them for positive cash flow. Sounds like a no-brainer to me. Let me know if you want more info and I can connect you with him. I am going to go check the mail now to see if my economic stimulus or bail-out check has arrived.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
I understand that gift cards are basically a gift with a guarantee and that they are very convenient gifts for the person who has everything, but I want to get a bargain or buy something on sale. Have you ever seen gift cards on sale? I DID find a website that offers discounted gift cards for restaurants in your area. The truth is, approximately 20% of gift cards never get used which amounts to huge profits for these businesses. A gas card is one that I would surely use but I feel bad for all the folks who got Circuit City gift cards recently. Since I stash most of these gift cards and certificates away where I will never find them it is a bummer that many of them have expiration dates.
So how did gift cards get so popular? Somehow in our twisted sense of giving, we gave up on buying meaningful gifts for other people. Cash seems tacky for some reason, so instead we try to pretend to know what people would like at one store or another. "Mike likes gadgety crap, let's give him a Best Buy card."
The ones I really like to receive are to local restaurants since they are usually to places I have never been. My wife and I visited 9Elm in Danvers, MA this week and were pleasantly surprised at how nice the place was including the food and nice wait staff. Had I not received the gift certificate perhaps we would never have visited and now we have a new local favorite. It is interesting to see how some restaurants give you cash back and some just give you a credit for a future visit. What if I hated the food and didn't want to come back? The $18.46 that was remaining would be pure profit for them while losing a return customer. The other one I always look forward to is from Amazon since I am such a book junkie. Never have I not been able to use one of these and they usually get redeemed on the same day I receive them. Thankfully Amazon has a nice checkout system where you can log in, buy the item and be done in about 2-3 minutes. What a great business model and getting a slightly used book for $1.50 is great, but the shipping is always $3.99. I guess they lose so much on shipping large items that they have to make it up by charging 4 bucks to ship a book which usually shows up in an envelope with $1 postage. I think UPS or the USPS should demand a greater percentage for doing all the dirty work.
Maybe I should consider offering gift cards for use at Meadowview Construction. Just imagine how excited your sister would be if you gave her a $50 gift card to be used toward a $300,000 renovation with a 6 month expiration date. Or maybe we could even set up a web page for wedding registries. Forget that china set for 8 and go for the kitchen renovation. Here's a little tip for anyone wanting to get me a gift or a gift card. GIVE ME CASH. Gift cards cost just as much as cash and they are far less useful.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Being an avid birdwatcher has given me a new perspective on many of life's situations and I think the thing that keeps me interested in birdwatching is how similar it is to people watching. I really like people watching - I do it wherever I go. There is something calming to me and peaceful about taking a seat on a busy boulevard and watching people live their own lives in public. It is kind of like a cross between public voyeurism and reality TV. When I camp out at my kitchen window to watch the birds congregate at the birdfeeder I just never know what will happen, what kind of birds will show up, and how aggressive the squirrels will be that day. Pecking order exists not only with birds, horses or cats, but everywhere in society. Seeing the birds argue, bicker and scaring the weaker ones off while some are very passive and content to just eat seed by themself off in the corner is so consistent with human society. I see it every day in the workforce, with my personal relationships and also my client/builder relationships. Who has ever worked at an office where there hasn't been one person who wants to dominate every conversation? How is this any different from a horse that needs to control every other hay pile besides her own in the paddock? If that horse just spent the same energy worrying about her own hay pile then all the other horses could eat their own hay and everyone would be happy.
It also seems like every kind of bird has its own little quirks. Some birds prefer to eat from a perch while others can only pick at loose seed from the ground. We switched the bird seed in our feeders this year with some unexpected results. Having used a small inexpensive blend of seed for years we decided to buy a bag of raw shelled nuts so there would be less waste to clean up in the spring. It was very expensive but after the sticker shock faded we realized that it also attracted a wider variety of birds. We kept a seperate feeder with the generic seed and although it gets its fair share of visitors, most birds (clients) seem to be attracted to the gourmet seed and the generic seed seems to outlast the gourmet seed by 2-1. My guess is that the gourmet seed tastes better, is less effort to eat and the work-to-calorie ratio must be lower. They can sit there stuffing their bellies while consuming more food in less time. And here I thought only humans were lazy. Maybe this frees up their time for more important bird activities.
I can't help but compare the quality of the food at the bird feeders to the way we need to market our companies in this current market. Wouldn't logic suggest by putting out the most appealing seed catering to the kind of birds (clients) we want to see at our feeder, that perhaps we might start to see more of those kind of birds.? If I want to see a red-bellied woodpecker feeding from my feeder then I would make doubly sure to hang a suet feeder and if I wanted to attract a specific type of clientele then I would surely make sure to install the correct kind of feeder with the most appealing seed. As I see it, the Cardinal Rule in marketing a business (or most other things in our lives) is to be specific about who you are trying to attract. Fill up your feeder with the right kind of food and you will likely see more of those birds. I am off to check on the birds...
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
What excites me when I watch a baseball game are the special moments in the game where a player makes an amazing play or when a pitcher gets himself out of a bases loaded situation with no runs scored to preserve the lead. I have to believe that our fans (read as: clients) also appreciate when we pull off the unimaginable or when we act quickly to avoid a major problem on the job site. Now that I think of it, what could possibly go wrong on one of our job sites? Believe it or not, just about everything has and it’s happened more than once, even with our talented bullpen of starting pitchers (read as: lead carpenters) and well-intentioned coach (read as: production manager). The truth is, sometimes things go wrong and it is critical to have the correct people in place to deal with these eventualities. I’d like to think that we go about as far as any company would go to please their clients on day to day basis. And we don’t “Cheat”.
Monday, February 9, 2009
There are basically 2 types of exhaust fans to consider in a bathroom. The most common is a ceiling mounted fan where all the fan parts are mounted just above the sheetrock. We try to stick with fans made by Panasonic because they are both quiet and efficient but Broan also makes a good exhaust fan which detects excess moisture automatically. The other type is called an in-line exhaust fan made by Fantech and the difference is that the actual fan housing and motor get mounted up in the attic away from the bathroom so the noise is far less, sometimes inaudible. Both types can more than adequately remove humidity from a bathroom but only if they are left on for about 15-20 minutes after you leave the bathroom. Many people forget to turn on the fan before they start their shower which is going to lead to mildew in no time. Here is the best way to deal with the fan switch scenario. We like to use a switch by Energy Federation Incorporated called a timer delay switch. Turn the switch on and both the lights and the fan will turn on. Turn the switch off and the lights will turn off but the fan will continue to run (user settable up to 60 minutes). The adjustment screw is on the face of the wall switch, but will be behind the cover plate, so once you set it you won't have to think about it again. You can also use a conventional timer switch but unless you get the $40 electronic switch you will be annoyed by the ticking of the basic $18 switch. I suggest spending $40 on the timer delay switch and end all worries. If the fan is quiet enough to begin with then it won’t be an issue when it comes on along with the light every time you enter the bathroom. I would suggest wiring the fan up with the main light you turn on when you enter the room. It is not necessary to connect it to every light in the bathroom.
There are a few other factors to consider such as appearance, air suction (CFM), options such as heater and light. Some fans do not have a light and some have both a light and heat lamp. I stay away from the units that have every option because they seam to be noisy and lower quality units. The inline fans are nice because the round ceiling register is only 6” in diameter and blends in nicely with the ceiling. The register can also be adjusted to allow for different air flows. This would be important if you had a large bathroom with two or more registers. When you have multiple registers you sometimes need to adjust them individually so they don’t whistle or make noise. This is because the ducts tend to be different lengths leading to the registers and unbalanced air flow can lead to excess noise.
Whatever fan you choose you need to make sure that the exhaust is vented directly to the outdoors and not into the attic space. This could lead to excess humidity in the attic which translates into mold and condensation. Many novices use the flexible white dryer vent which is a no-no. It is critical to use insulated ductwork in the attic because the warm moist air that is being exhausted could condense in cold un-insulated ductwork and turn into water which will end up finding its way back into the bathroom in the form of drips.
Here are a few final tips to improve the performance of your fan. Check the gap under the bathroom door. There should be about ½” space under the door to allow air from the rest of the house to enter the bathroom. If there isn’t adequate air entering the bathroom from the rest of the house then the fan will not be able to pull the moist air out of the bathroom. This is called make-up air and is often overlooked. Also keep the register clean and free of dust. The sign of a properly operating fan will be an accumulation of dust around the register. You can remove the register and rinse it off or vacuum it off. If you are not sure how well your fan is working try one of these two tricks. Take a single sheet of toilet paper and hold it up to the register. If the fan is working properly it will hold the tissue tight against the grille when you let go. You can also puff some baby powder into the air next to the register and a good fan will instantly suck all the powder out of the air.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Saturday, February 7, 2009
I suspect this situation will probably put many small companies out of business as they struggle to pay their bills with no money coming in. Undoubtedly, much of the work was probably covered by homeowners' insurance so the home owners are still probably fighting to see some money from them which then can be turned over to the electricians, carpenters, roofers and tree trimmers. It is an unfortunate event which at the time seems like a gold mine. Time will tell how it shakes out.
Here at home (Meadowview Construction) we are getting our share of calls these past few weeks from home owners who are experiencing major roof leaks due to ice dams. This is a subject that I could dedicate several blogs to so I will defer it to tomorrow's blog. Let me just end by saying that most ice dams are a perfect storm consisting of heat in the house and poorly insulated/ventilated attics.
Friday, February 6, 2009
I think it mostly relates to being held accountable so that builders don't falsely claim to be performing green work. When a builder falsely claims to be doing green work or when a company represents its products as being green or eco-friendly when they really aren't, it is considered Green-Washing. Although having a GCP designation next to my name may not be as widely recognized as being a LEED-AP, the main benefit that I can see is that my knowledge will be verified by an independent organization ensuring that I have the knowledge needed for the job.
The study group will be hosted by the Sterritt Lumber company in Watertown and is facilitated by the local NARI chapter. Two certified contractors (Paul Morse and Daniel Glickman) will be leading the study group and I look forward to spending the next 11 weeks with some of my peers in the industry. At the end of the 12 week study group I will have the option to actually take the GCP exam which, if I pass, will mean that I am officially certified. Until then I guess I am just a wanna-be GCP, or just plain certifiable.