Monday, December 13, 2010

Keep the sink from clogging

I often get asked "How do I keep the sink from clogging up all the time?" and the short answer is to stop dumping stuff down the drain. 9 out of 10 times they are referring to the bathroom sink so food does not apply but the main culprits are usually hair and food. The bathroom sink drain gets full of hair and kitchen sink drain gets full of food. If you could keep hair and food out of the drain you would prevent 99% of the clogs before they happen.

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

Home maintenance needs to be included in our budgets

It never fails. Every year I get a few estimate requests where the homeowners can’t afford to do the work on their home. If the work is an emergency and they can’t afford to hire us then they usually start searching for a cheaper contractor. As a homeowner and someone who is adjusting to life in this new economy I can understand why folks don’t have the money set aside for these unexpected problems. In fact, most first time homeowners are having a hard time coming up with a down payment let alone extra money for the inevitable repairs that will be necessary within the first few years of buying their home. Let’s face it, most first time homeowners are not buying luxury homes in pristine condition so there is going to be plenty to spend their money on in short order. After paying the mortgage, car payments and living expenses, there is seldom anything left to set aside for vacation, eating out and especially HOME REPAIRS. A home is the single biggest investment most people will ever make and if it not maintained regularly it loses value quickly. Nothing demonstrates this quicker than when someone tries to sell their run-down home and they receive low-ball offers or no offers at all. This will be a painful lesson for most.

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?