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.