Monday, December 13, 2010
Kitchens - Keeping food out of the kitchen sink drain is easy if you have a sink strainer. Most strainers are the basket type with holes but I prefer the screen style which just sets over the drain opening catching all the big food particles. You simply lift out the screen and dump it in the trash when it's full or when the water won't drain. Anything that will slip past this screen is small enough so it won't cause a back-up. I bought this strainer at Home Depot for about $3 and it has proven invaluable in keeping my drain clear.
Bathroom (sinks and tubs) - When it comes to the bathroom sink (or tub), the main culprit is hair and unfortunately there is not a screen that fits a bathroom sink. Bathroom sinks, unlike kitchen sinks, usually have a pop-up drain assembly with a lever right behind the faucet to lift and lower the stopper. The best prevention here is to wipe up loose hair before it enters the sink drain. You will occasionally need to remove the pop-up in order to clean out the hair. It's a messy job but one that needs to get done or you'll be calling the plumber at $100/hr. I found this Hair Stopper at Bed Bath & Beyond which sits on top of the bathtub drain and catches all the hair before it enters the drain. Some tubs have a fixed metal screen and some have a loose rubber plug. If you have a fixed drain cover you'll need to remove this cover so the Hair Stopper will fit.
Final thoughts - Over the years the inside diameter of your drain pipes get smaller and smaller. You'd be shocked if you could see inside your pipes but this is an indicator of the health of your pipes. There are a number of drain cleaners on the market both organic and caustic but I would only use these as a last resort as they are not very good for the environment let alone the water supply.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
What I propose is that monies be set aside every month to cover maintenance costs. Many experts suggest we set aside at least 1% of the home’s sale price annually to cover repairs. Some even suggest 2-3% as a more accurate number. This may seem like a lot and some years it will be but when your roof needs replacing the $10,000 bill will show you what I mean. You could start saving 1/12 of your annual repair budget every month and having it put in a special bank account or even deducted from your pay check. This sounds logical but what happens if you just bought a home and the boiler goes? The $167 you just set aside in month one will not cover the $7,000 plumbing bill for a new boiler. It might make sense to make a larger initial deposit (2-3% of sale price) into the account to get the ball rolling with subsequent monthly contributions to keep it growing.
Most of us buy cars using credit and we think of our cars as costing $349/month and not $20,000. This concept can be applied to home repairs. For example, the average roof will last about 25 years so if it costs $10,000 then that’s $400 a year for 25 years or $34/month. If you move in and your roof has 5 years left then that cost becomes $2000/year or $167/month. When you start adding up the boiler, roof, exterior painting, landscaping, windows, and all the annual cleanings it starts to add up quickly.
If you honestly planned to spend the rest of your life in this home then the 2-3% might be a reasonable number but if you only plan to spend a certain number of years then you might want to have a professional help you generate a spreadsheet for all the major maintenance items around your home with associated ballpark prices and how many years before each item will need to be done. That way you will know much to set aside each month. The truth is, if the house is in bad shape and you only plan to spend 3-5 years there you may need to come up with much more than 2-3% per year. Adding a little extra safety margin would be wise especially since things come up.
If you have emergencies you will have to come up with the money one way or another by borrowing from your IRA, credit card, cash or relatives. The bottom line is that it is less painful when you plan for it so setting aside a little each month is a great way to lessen the pain or sticker shock. You will either have to spend the money when you go to sell or take a loss because the home is in bad shape (or both). So I always look at it this way….why not spend the money while you are living there and enjoy the home’s function and beauty instead of spending it right before you sell it?
Monday, November 1, 2010
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
1. Prep and paint ceiling (one or two coats as needed)
2. While ceiling is drying, remove all outlet and switch covers, door hinges, locksets and windows locks.
3. Prep and paint window sash, trim, casing and baseboards. (doors can be done now or as you have time in between coats) Wash out brush while waiting to apply 2nd coat. I like to use a stiff hand scrub brush to clean the brush. It removes all the excess dried paint from the brush.
4. It is much easier to cut in the wall to the trim as opposed to cutting the trim up to the wall. Cut in a nice 3" + wide strip all around so the roller does not get close to the ceiling and apply first coat of wall color with a 3/8" nap roller cover. I like to cut in and roll it out right after so there are minimal brush strokes on the wall. Many people like to cut in a whole room first but I stay away from that method. While you are waiting for the wall color to dry it is a good idea to wrap the roller cover in Saran Wrap to keep it from drying out.
5. Cut in and apply 2nd coat of trim paint slightly overlapping the wall color, just enough to barely see it on the wall. Avoid painters tape and use a nice wide 2-1/2" or 3" angled sash to do all the cutting in.
6. Repeat Step 4 and apply 2nd coat of wall color.
7. Clean up trash, apply outlet and switch covers (and all hardware that was removed).
Stand back and admire a job well done.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
- Glass storm doors act like an oven when they get direct sun all day. The space between the storm door and the main door heats up to very high temperatures and this causes the plastic trim around the glass to melt. There is also a bead of caulking around the glazing which can be melted as well and it oozes out and drips down the door.
- The color that you paint the door can have a big impact. Dark colors absorb the UV rays from the sun causing a heat build up in the trim. The higher the temperature of the trim the greater the expansion. Excessive heat absorption could lead to heat distortion of the door and its components. Colors are listed on the Light Reflectance Value index (LRV) and it is a good idea to stick with a paint with an LRV of 55% or higher. Some manufacturers will void the warranty on the door if the door is painted a color with an LRV lower than 55%. What the LRV means is the paint color's ability to reflect light and therefore reduce the surface temperature. Check out this LRV link for more info
If you insist on using a darker color you must assume the risk when it comes time to replace the door. One suggestion I sometimes make is to take out the glass in the storm door and install the screen year round. Even in summer the door will heat up like an oven because the sun is lower and there are no leaves on the trees to block the sun's rays.
Metal doors are the biggest culprits because they get so hot they can burn your skin if you touch them. Most metal doors come with some glass with plastic trim around the glass. If you have a south facing door I might suggest avoiding a metal door/storm door combination and certainly avoid dark paint colors. Even fiberglass doors can experience some of the same problems when painted dark especially when there are glass windows. Wood doors have less problems but what I often see is the wood expands so much that when it shrinks back to its normal size the panels tend to crack and then there is an ugly paint line all around the panels. Some door companies have counteracted this problem by making the panels double thick with two panels floating back to back so if the outer panel cracks at least the 2nd panel will keep out the air.
I guess the bottom line is to use common sense and to err on the side of caution. If you are not sure about a particular door and its pros and cons don't hesitate to ask me any questions.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Sunday, July 18, 2010
While some granite counters have been found to give off trace amounts of radon, very few granite countertops pose a real threat. The EPA has even issued a statement saying that there is insufficient evidence to suggest that granite countertops are a source of radon. EPA lists a safety limit of 4 picocuries per liter of air so if you are worried, pick up a home testing kit for about $25. If you see levels above the EPA's limit, call in a specialist.
I have included a few web links that explain this topic in more detail.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Another tactic that originated hundreds of years ago is to install more expensive wood clapboard siding on the front facade while using lesser expensive cedar shingle siding on the other three sides. This made sense back then but not in today's labor market. Back then it was difficult to get long straight pieces of wood clapboard so it was reserved for the showy side of the home while the easier-to-manufacture shingles would suffice. With today's labor rates so high it is far more costly to install wood shingles because the average house has about 25,000 shingles and 50,000 nails to install. Do the math!
Many new homes have a stucco or faux brick front facade with vinyl siding on the other walls. this seems like more of a McMansion feature including the 25 foot tall white columns.
When investing in landscaping I bet that most people start with the front, probably to give a positive first impression to visitors. How many people actually spend any time in their front yard if they also have a back yard? The general feeling is to shift all the activities out back where the deck or patio is. I would love to experience the feeling of the old days when people actually preferred to sit on the front porch and interact with their neighbors. There is nothing like a well-designed front porch to enjoy the morning coffee and newspaper. Does anyone still get the newspaper?
When budgets get challenged I have often seen windows get scaled back by using a traditional divided lite pattern on the front windows and the other windows are a cheaper alternative with less detail. Who are we fooling? Besides, the back needs loving too. It's funny because sometimes I see homeowners try to paint their own house and they start on the front facade. If it was me and I didn't do a lot of painting I would make sure to practice out back where nobody can see the ladders set up for months on end. Then if I wanted to hire someone they wouldn't have to redo the entire front of the house to fix up my mistakes while my neighbors watched.
I think Maine has a different culture because I have never seen so many spare cars sitting on front lawns with trees growing up through their rotted-out carcasses. Perhaps there is not as much pressure to conform to a certain "look". Several local neighborhoods in my area even have rules about what you can have in your front yard, even excluding the overnight parking of vehicles in the driveway. One feature I like to see on homes is a boldly-painted front door. It is a nice departure from the norm and it shows a little personality without going over the top.
One thing I noticed on a recent trip to Newport, Rhode Island was that the ocean-front mansions consider the back the front. Logic would suggest that as you drive in the front gates that this would be the front but in fact the front was the side that faced the ocean. This must be so that all the people on their boats can see what an impressive house they had built. If you ask me it's all just a big front.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Tips for washing towels (and bed sheets):
- With energy conservation on everyone’s mind I am seeing people switch over to all cold water for their wash cycles. Cold water is not good at killing or removing bacteria from towels. If your machine has a hot rinse cycle I would recommend this or maybe saving up all the towels (and bed sheets) and running an entire load of just hot water for these. Hot water (120 degrees or greater)kills bed bugs where cold water doesn’t.
- Never use liquid fabric softener on towels or dish rags because water just sheets off instead of being absorbed.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
This Magic Eraser is an amazing scientific discovery which became available in stores around 2003. I think the formulation was originally intended for another purpose but someone must have discovered that it worked well at removing dirt and the rest is history. The box says you can use it in the kitchen for appliances, counters, faucets, tile and grout as well as just about any other place in the house like the bathroom. After you squeeze out the excess water you rub the eraser on a dirty surface and watch with amazement as the dirty lifts off like magic. It works great on pencil, pen, markers, crayon and grease. I would caution not to rub too hard on painted, glossy or shiny surfaces because it might create some microscopic scratches.
Where it really shines is removing soap scum from glass shower doors. Soap scum is hard to remove with common household chemicals so I can’t believe it works so well. When using it on glass you can try two things. First drench the eraser and don’t squeeze it out before rubbing over the soap scum. The soap scum tends to be hazy and if the sponge is too dry it spreads the haze all over the glass. After you sponge the entire glass surface you can finish up with some paper towels or dry newspaper (newspaper works great on glass in lieu of paper towels). Another option is to pour some Dawn dish soap on the Magic Eraser which will give it a little extra help to clean those stubborn streaks. The soap seems to lubricate the surface nicely and you’ll need to rinse it down with clean water. Hot water works best as it will evaporate quickly with no need for paper towels. If you want to kick it up a notch you can also add a coating of Rain-X after the glass is dry. If you’ve ever used Rain-X on your car windshield you know how well it repels water.
I now keep plenty of Magic Erasers on hand at all times including in the work vans. You never know when you’ll have a mess to erase. I am sure there are hundreds of other uses and I’d love to hear of them if you’d like to leave a comment.
Monday, July 12, 2010
-A bubble in the water hose means that the inner portion of the hose has been breached and it is only a matter of time before the thinner outer wall of the hose will burst. A burst washer hose can release about 500 gallons of water an hour and they never burst when you are home. They always burst when you are at work or worse yet, vacation. You can only imagine how much damage this $8 hose can cause. First off, make it a point if you haven’t already, to replace the black rubber hoses with the new braided stainless steel hoses which are virtually burst-proof. The black hoses are about $14 and the braided stainless hoses are $20. If you ask me the $6 is a cheap insurance policy. Second, have your plumber install one of these manual shut off valves so you can quickly and easily shut off the water whenever you are done washing your clothes. Get in the habit of shutting it off each time you are done. Make extra sure you shut it off when you go away for any length of time. There is an even better option which I recommend whereby an automatic valve opens up the supply of water once the washing machine is turned on. The valve senses the flow of electricity and opens automatically while closing after the machine shuts off. You can even get an optional sensor which sits on the floor by the machine that can sense if any water is leaking and tells the valve to shut off if the machine is mid cycle.
-These days most clients want their washer and dryer on the second floor closer to the source of the dirty laundry but what happens to the rooms below if the machine leaks? I have repaired many a ceiling due to leaky washing machines so what I recommend is to install a pan below the washing machine which is attached the the main drain in your home. It doesn’t take more than a trickle of water to create a stain on the ceiling below and mildew or mold is possible too. The pan can be basic plastic with a PVC connector or a custom copper pan which would made up by your plumbing supplier. A pan basically drains away any water resulting from an internal leak or overflow but I have never seen an overflow. The washing machine we moved today appeared to have an internal leak which was not obvious but the water that was on the floor was pretty minor so we installed a plastic pan which will collect any drips. The plan is for the water to evaporate on its own but it warrants keeping a close eye on in case it gets worse. If the valve is shut off after use then there will be no chance of the machine leaking other than when it is in use. That is where the water sensor comes in handy. The water pan will do nothing to collect any water that leaks from a burst hose so the auto shut-off valve is the key defender here.
- If you have a front loader the seal around the door is airtight so it’s a good idea to leave the door open for a while so you don’t trap in the moisture causing a musty smell
- A machine that is not leveled properly will probably shake and wobble. Take the time to adjust the leveling feet and get it as close as possible
- You can buy this vibration control platform which will supposedly reduce vibration up to 95%
- Some washing machines have a balancing device called a Snubber which can wear out over time. Check out this link for some good info about replacing a worn-out snubber.
In a future blog I will discuss dryer safety tips
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
I have a 5 step system that I recommend to my clients (and friends/family) to start recycling at home which I will address in a future blog but the first step is to admit that there is a problem with the current system. If you are currently doing nothing to address the lack of recycling in your household then that would be a great place to start. Without admitting there is a problem it is unlikely you will be able to effectively address the problem. Many towns are starting to make recycling mandatory which is great for many reasons but unless you have a good system in place it can be a huge inconvenience. I have even heard of some municipalities who have fines if you don’t recycle. Some trash pick-up companies won’t even take your trash if they see any items in the trash which can be recycled. It is hard to enforce but if the trash trucks refuse to empty your trash then what choice do you have? Every family will have to come up with a system that works for THEM which may be different that their neighbors. I can testify that in the end it is pretty easy to implement a system which works well for you. If you are having trouble getting started then I would be happy to do a consultation either by phone or at your home. Please take that first step by admitting that there is more we can do and do some research because there are so many resources available online.
Monday, July 5, 2010
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Proper air flow is important so recessing the TV in the wall is not a great idea and when you want to upgrade from a 42" to the new 50" model you will have to rip the wall apart and enlarge the opening. Having the TV up so high puts it well above the optimum viewing height so you will need a good sturdy mounting bracket which can be tilted. If you have ever been in a sports bar you know what I mean as all the TVs seem to be staring down at you from the ceiling. Although it's fine for a while, watching a TV with your head tilted back might cause some neck fatigue so be prepared for this possibility. Optimally you want the center of the screen at eye level when seated in your comfy couch or Lazyboy. On the flip side, maybe one way to get the children to watch less TV is to make it less comfortable by placing it high on the wall.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
I often get called into to figure out why a product installation failed and floor tiles are a common installation that fails. First I have bullet pointed a list of problems I commonly see and below that there are more some detailed points Here are some of the things I find and why I think they happen:
- Inadequate subfloor and improperly secured cement board substrate leads to cracks
- Tile choice can impact the final outcome. A better grade tile improves chances of success
- Choose the correct size tile for the existing floor conditions
- Failure of adhesive. I suggest a high quality thinset mortar instead of pre-mixed mastic
- Don't tile over a cracked concrete floor without using a crack isolation membrane
- Cracks are telegraphed through the tiles which indicate where the subfloor has movement (not a good thing). Usually when I see a linear crack that travels across several tiles it indicates that there is an improperly sized and/or secured plywood subfloor. If the plywood is too thin it will deflect under foot traffic and will transmit a crack through the tile. It all comes down to deflection and another way to prevent deflection is to use a cement board substrate and sandwich a thin layer of thinset mortar between the wood sheathing and the cement board. It needs to be screwed down but it is not critical that the screws hit the floor joists. The thinset mortar acts as a gap filler and an adhesive. I never see perfectly flat wood sheathing so thinset takes up the space under the cement board that would otherwise settle therefore creating movement up into the tiles. Thinset makes the whole floor much more stiff which means a less bouncy floor. Less bounce means less movement which also means less grout cracking. I would never adhere tiles directly to plywood or "luan" which was common back in the 80's and 90's. Although cement board is not waterproof, it does make a very good surface to adhere tile to if the cement board itself is properly secured to the subfloor and does not deflect too much. Cement board is very flexible so it will conform to a bouncy floor. Another reason a floor might be too bouncy is that the framing is under sized. You might need to stiffen up the framing before it is capable of being tiled. Staggering the seams of the cement board over the subfloor joints is also important.
- Often times the crack could have been avoided by simply choosing an appropriate floor tile. Most folks group all types of tile under the term "ceramic tile" but there are two types of commonly available tiles and they are Ceramic and Porcelain. They are made using a different combination of materials and Porcelain tends to be stronger and harder. Both types of tiles are Graded and come in Five different grades from 1-5 (or I,II,III,IV and V). You will find the grade of the tile on the bottom of the tile and it corresponds to its hardness or wear rating. Tiles with a V grading will be much more durable than a I but tiles with a V rating are usually reserved for high traffic commercial use and come in limited styles and colors. I would never choose a floor tile with a Grade less than III so it's important to look at this when buying the tiles. Grade I and some Grade II tiles are primarily for walls and backsplashes and are much easier to work with and cut. Porcelain tiles are harder to cut and require special tools.
- If you have a room with an uneven floor and a little bounce I would highly suggest you avoid large tiles. Selecting a large tile (12x12 or larger) will increase the odds of it cracking, especially with a weaker product like natural marble tile. Any deflection at all in the floor will also crack the larger tiles easier. Keeping the surface of all the adjacent tiles is difficult if you have an uneven floor and even more so with larger tiles. Marble tiles have a very small beveled edge so the margin for error is tiny as opposed to some ceramic or porcelain tiles with a larger beveled edge.
- Another thing I see is people using the premixed mastic on floor tiles. This is an absolute no-no and will almost guarantee a failure over time. I always use a thinset mortar. Thinset is available in many forms such a plain or modified and can contain additives to improve strength and elasticity. It is important to mix the mortar properly for it to work right. If it is too soupy it won't lay down right with the notched trowel. If it is too thick you won't get the adhesive properties you need to hold down the tile. If it is too dry the mortar won't stick to the back of the tile and will fail which will usually show itself by cracked grout lines all around the tile. You need to mix mortar in a bucket with a slow RPM drill and a proper mixing paddle. If you mix too fast you will introduce too much air and it will weaken the mix considerably. After the mortar is mixed it should sit for a few minutes and then give it a final mix just before you use it. This is considered allowing it to "Slake". Make sure there are no dry clumps in the mortar and it is best to put the water in the bucket first and then add dry mortar. Using the correct sized notched trowel is also important so you can refer to this chart for more info http://http//www.custombuildingproducts.com/HowToTile/notchTrowelSizeGuide.aspx?user=dis&lang=en
- Often times I see cracks in the tile where it is installed over a concrete slab. This is almost always because there was a crack in the slab before the tile was installed. The tiles are not strong enough to hold the slab together and prevent it from moving so a Crack Isolation Membrane should also be used when tiling over a cracked slab. The membrane only needs to be used over the cracked area if it is flexibly roll-on material. There is also a product made by Schluter which comes in a roll and serves a similar purpose but needs to cover the entire floor area http://www.schluter.com/6_1_ditra.aspx A crack isolation membrane is also critical when the tile will be installed over two adjacent and dissimilar materials such as concrete and wood subfloors. This is a crack waiting to happen because both materials move and flex at different rates.
I have seen many tile floor failures and I would be happy to help you troubleshoot a project. If you have any questions feel free to comment or find me at http://www.mvconstruction.com/ where you can email me any questions.