August 24, 2010

Tips for Home Safety

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 1:08 pm

Here are some handy home safety tips that will help to ensure that you, your family, and your property are better projected from fire, theft, or accidents that can cause damage or serious injury.

Fire Safety

Although it may shocking to realize it, about 80 percent of all structural fires start in the home, and fire departments in the USA respond to an alarm about every 15 seconds. The first step in preventing your house from becoming one of those unfortunate statistics is, of course, to install smoke alarms and test them periodically to make sure they are working properly. A good way to ensure timely inspections of your alarms is to schedule the checks to coincide with “springing forward” and “falling backward” with daylight savings time. When you’re resetting the clocks just also check the smoke detectors to make sure they are working.

Keep fire extinguishers handy, on every floor of the house, and make sure that they are properly rated for the kinds of fires you might anticipate. Having an extinguisher that is rated for trash, wood, and paper is a good idea if you have a garage full of newspapers you plan to recycle. But unless it is also rated for electrical fires it might not be appropriate for a fire that ignites in the garage due to faulty wiring in the circuit box. You should also use carbon monoxide detectors to avoid illness or death due to such things as a faulty furnace, a running car enclosed in the garage, or a fireplace that leaks dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.

To know where to place smoke detectors, carbon monoxide alarms, and fire extinguishers – and which kinds are best for your home – just ask your local fire department. Firefighters are eager to help you practice home safety because it is much easier and safer to prevent fires than it is to fight them once they have already started.

Electrical Safety

Meanwhile one of the biggest sources of house fires is electrical appliances. The majority of fires that start in the home occur because of faulty cords, overloaded circuits, or improperly used electrical space heaters or other potentially dangerous gadgets. But many of these fires can be avoided if you are careful to visually inspect appliance cords and plugs for wear and tear.

Check for any frayed or crimped spots on the cord, any wires coming loose from plugs, or bent or otherwise damaged prongs. Don’t overload circuits by plugging lots of cords into one plug – which is easy to do if you use outlet strips or adapters that allow you to plug several gadgets through a single wall socket. Also make sure that when using a 3-pronged plug in an outlet that the electrical connection is actually wired for all three prongs. Sometimes the faceplate has three holes in it, for example, but the actually wiring connection behind the faceplate lacks a ground wire connection – which is needed for safe use of 3-pronged appliances.

It is worth the investment to hire an electrician or qualified building inspector to go through the house and check for this kind of discrepancy. It’s a simple process that will give you lots of peace of mind – and otherwise your home’s electrical system could be a tragedy just waiting to happen.

Door Locks

Of course another area of safety is locks, because although no lock can completely stop a determined burglar most criminals prefer the path of least resistance. The more you can do to make your house a difficult target for break-ins the safer it will be.

It is possible to buy relatively inexpensive and secure door and window locks and have them professionally installed. Use a deadbolt system, and also be careful not to place window panes within reach of your doorknobs. That’s because even if you have a fancy deadbolt lock it is easy to break into the house if a window pane is nearby. Just smash the window, reach inside, and unlock the door from the inside of the house. So if you have a back door and the whole upper half of the door design is comprised of window panes, for example, consider replacing it with a solid door that instead has a peephole.

Avoid leaving a “hide-a-key” in a fake rock in the flower bed or under the doormat. Even if you disguise it well you can’t prevent a crook from watching the house and seeing someone retrieve the key – which gives them an open invitation to mischief.

Follow these tips, use common sense, and also set up procedures like fire drills to train your children how to respond in the event of a 9-1-1 emergency. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially when it comes to protecting your property, your belongings, your pets, and your loved ones.

Home Maintenance and Your Appliances

Filed under: Home Maintenance — Chuck @ 1:07 pm

When most homeowners think of home maintenance chores they think of such things as cleaning the gutters, caulking the windows, repairing a leaky faucet, oiling a squeaky cabinet hinge, or tightening up a loose doorknob. But home maintenance also applies to your home appliances. Keeping those well maintained can ensure that they last longer, look their best, and deliver optimum performance without unnecessarily taxing your utilities and raising your monthly energy costs.

Here are three suggestions to help you create your own appliance maintenance checklist:

* Clothes Dryer:

One of the easiest home maintenance chores also happens to be one of the most important, because cleaning the lint filter and vent on your clothes dryer can help you prevent a house fire. Sometimes lint will build up in a machine and then combust due to heat from an overworked motor or damaged wire. So train everyone in the home to clean the lint screen before turning on the dryer. This simple procedure is explained in the owner’s manual and usually takes not more than 30 seconds to do. If clothes are not drying as they should it might also be because the outside air vent is blocked with lint. In that case check the outlet where the clothes dryer vents the warm air outdoors. It is usually covered by a plastic or metal hooded flap. If there is lots of lint on the flap or inside the pipe that leads to it then it is time to clean out that vent pipe or replace it with a newer and safer one.

* Air Conditioning System:

When it comes to air conditioners, most homeowners inadvertently waste huge amounts of money while also working way too hard to stay cool and comfortable. That’s because most air conditioners have inexpensive filters that need to be cleaned or replaced regularly, but many homeowners seldom, if ever, do this easy maintenance task.

The A/C filter usually looks kind of like a large paper or aluminum picture frame about an inch thick that holds synthetic fibers or a cardboard honeycomb to trap dust, dirt, and lint. They sell for just a few bucks and can be purchased at any home improvement store. But dirty ones dramatically reduce the ability of the A/C unit to cool the home while they simultaneously cause you to use more electricity to run the air conditioner. So dirty air filters cost you double, whereas clean ones are relatively cheap and will ensure that you stay comfortable and that the air conditioner last longer without costly repairs.

* Appliance Settings:

Another really easy way to save some serious cash is to monitor the settings on the appliances in your home. Maintaining them on energy-saving settings ensures that you don’t pay more than necessary to operate them, and it also helps to reduce your carbon footprint and conserve our natural resources. You can adjust settings on the dishwasher, for example, to let dishes dry by themselves instead of using the automatic drying setting which burns more energy. Or you can be sure that you only use the energy necessary when you wash small loads of dishes or do a light load of laundry in the washing machine. That saves on water bills as well as gas or electricity bills, and it is another environmentally responsible habit. The same goes for the water heater and the refrigerator. Adjust those appliance settings so that the water is hot enough to suit you but not any hotter than it needs to be, for example, and that the fridge is cold enough to keep foods and beverages nicely but is not colder than necessary. If you go on vacation be sure to take advantage of the vacation setting on your water heater, too, because that will ensure that the appliance doesn’t keep reheating water (and costing you extra money) the whole time you are gone.

Of course every major appliance in your home deserves a little routine maintenance, so consult the owner’s manuals for these units. Then use a calendar to remind yourself when it is time to check them. The time it takes to keep appliances in tip-top shape amounts to just a few minutes a month, on average, but it can save you a substantial amount of money in terms of energy bills

Home Inspections: One of the better values in the real estate industry.

Filed under: Property Inspection — Chuck @ 1:05 pm

While the prices of homes and the availability of mortgages have fluctuated wildly within the past decade, the value of home inspections has remained a solidly reliable and affordable investment. Without the helpful expertise of licensed and trained home inspectors sellers would have much too little guidance when negotiating repair allowances and buyers would likewise be in the dark regarding the condition of the houses they tour when shopping for a home.

The most common type of buyer-ordered inspection is the “limited visual inspection,” which takes approximately two to four hours to complete – depending upon the overall condition of the house, its size, and its age. This type of inspection generally costs between $200 and $800 – again depending on the size and nature of the structure. The inspector looks at the various components and systems in the home such as the appliances, electrical outlets, heating and air conditioning units, and the roof and foundation.

He or she will study the general condition of these items and others in order to determine whether or not they are performing the job they are intended to do. An inspector will turn on the kitchen oven, for example, and check to see if it heats up properly. He or she will make sure the dishwasher cycles as it should, and that the electrical outlets near the sink are rated for safe use near water. If the inspector sees evidence of a more serious problem – such as improper gas connections or inappropriate wiring – then that will be noted in the inspection report and it will be recommended that an appropriately skilled contractor be called in to fix the problem or at least bid on the cost of repairs or upgrades.

If the inspector is able to see that roof shingles are missing, for example, he or she will then look closer for any signs of water damage coming through the attic, walls, or ceilings. Likewise when telltale cracks that are signs of structural shifting or settling are discovered in the brickwork or around doors and windows, the inspector will point these out in the report so that a prospective buyer can have a foundation contractor or structural engineer take a closer look, if so recommended by the home inspector.

The buyer also has the option to order a more comprehensive inspection. This is often done before buying a home with more complex systems or features such as fire suppression systems, or elevators that also fall under special regulatory guidelines. A comprehensive inspection can also be technically exhaustive, as well as invasive to the point of some minor destructive testing. The buyer may also hire a specific type of inspector to follow-up on recommendations made by the home inspector who is a “generalist”. If the home inspection report mentions symptoms of termite infestation, for example, the homeowner can bring in a termite inspector. In the event that there is insulation material that resembles asbestos or mold that could potentially be toxic, the general inspection report may urge the homeowner to contact a licensed environmental inspector for a more exhaustive investigation.

By taking advantage of the services provided by home inspectors, in other words, a buyer can gain insight into issues of concern that might otherwise go unnoticed. The relatively minor problem of peeling paint might be ignored as merely aesthetic or cosmetic, for instance, and postponed for a few years until the homeowner is ready to repaint the house. But an experienced inspector may point out that the paint could be peeling because it is made of toxic lead that could easily sicken small children. An environmental inspector can come to the home, test for lead, and give the homeowner a conclusive answer.

Similarly, a homeowner could be frightened by the presence of what looks like wood devouring insects but an inspector might realize that they are a different species that poses no real threat to the home. Or a homeowner may see scorch marks on an electrical outlet, which normally indicates faulty wiring. An electrical inspector can use professional instruments to determine whether it is actually faulty wiring that might cost thousands to remedy – or if it is instead just an old faceplate which can be replaced with a new one for the cost of one or two dollars.

So while the price of a home inspection represents just a fraction of the cost of the home, it can potentially save a buyer from making a terribly expensive mistake and purchasing a “lemon.” Inspections can also help buyers avoid the error of passing up a perfectly good house due to unwarranted fears or concerns. Regardless of what kind of home it is or what the overall real estate market may be doing, home inspections are well worth a small investment because they offer invaluable assistance to both buyers and sellers.