April 19, 2011

Home Security and High-Tech Surveillance Options

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 5:12 pm

Lots of homeowners hope to get away for a vacation this summer, but they may be somewhat apprehensive about leaving their house and property unattended and vacant. There are lots of steps that can be taken to help ensure the safety and security of your home and valuables while you are away, and one category of options that many people are exploring is high-tech surveillance equipment.

There was a time not too long ago when these kinds of technological tools were really only available to law enforcement agencies, commercial businesses, or actors in James Bond movies. But with the widespread use of the Internet and a proliferation of technological breakthroughs in the field of wireless communications and digital imaging, camera-based surveillance systems are now affordable to almost everyone. Homeowners can set up a system or have a qualified contractor install it for them and then check on their home, their belongings, and even their pets while away – using simple, easy-access Internet connections via a basic laptop computer or similar Internet-enabled device.

The system from the company Avaak Vue, for example, includes a camera and a motion detector. Each part of the system costs about $200, and additional cameras can be added for about $100 while an outdoor camera capable of withstanding the elements will cost about $150. So if you wanted to install a camera on each floor of a 2-story house plus an outdoor camera – and attach motion detector systems to each camera – the whole package would run approximately $1,000. Once it’s up and running you can get mobile alerts sent to you via e-mail or cell phone to let you know if something has activated your motion sensors and cameras.

All of the cameras are battery-operated, which makes this particular system easy to install, and wireless info is transmitted to you via your network router. You can then view the images on a secure website page.

The Logitech Alert system, on the other hand, costs a bit more (about $300 more per camera) and uses your home electrical system to power itself. The software runs on your home computer, and you can get alerts and other info sent to you for about $80 per year in additional service fees. Similarly, there are lots of other systems in the marketplace from companies like Schlage – the same enterprise that is known for making padlocks and dead bolt systems.

One of the most evolved home camera surveillance systems is made by Cernium, a business that is responsible for many of the security cameras in places like public airport terminals. The home equipment with a 4-camera configuration costs around $1,500. The resolution on the Cernium Solo System is superior to that of most home camera systems, so that instead of seeing rather blurry or grainy pictures you can expect a crisper and sharper image.

This comes in handy, for example, when you are trying to determine whether the object moving around the room is a person or your Saint Bernard or whether the car in the driveway belongs to your friend, your neighbor, or a vehicle that you’ve never seen before that is driven by a complete stranger. Communications from the cameras go to the company’s server by using your Wi-Fi network or Ethernet connection. You can check in remotely as with other systems, but while the system is a bit more sophisticated that those offered by other companies you will also pay a small monthly maintenance fee for Cernium’s service.

Of course there are many, many other options for creating a system that helps you keep an eye on things while you are away, and your local security companies or electronics retailers can provide you with more detailed information. But the idea is that you can go away without being out of touch. Just because you cannot see your home from a café in Paris, your rented beachfront condo, or that fishing lodge hideaway up in the mountains, in other words, there is no reason why you can’t beam it up through your portable computer and check your home while you also check your email and Facebook accounts.

Home Maintenance Tips: Reduce Your Carbon Footprint and Yard Work Expenses

Filed under: Home Maintenance — Chuck @ 5:07 pm

American households spend, on average, $2,000 per year in energy costs, and much of that can be recaptured by doing such things as insulating places inside the home that leak air conditioning or heat and by using weather stripping and caulk around door frames and windows. But you can also take practical steps to help save energy doing yard work.

Unfortunately there are not a whole lot of tips and advice to offer regarding the kind of elbow grease energy that gets expended when you are outside all weekend sweating away in the garden or tackling a problematic lawn. The rewards there are a feeling of a job well done, another task you can check off the to-do list, and a tangible improvement in your home’s curb appeal thanks to your own pride of ownership. But what can be addressed in ways that might save time and money – so that you can spend those on the things you really enjoy – is the issue of yard equipment and how that impacts your carbon footprint, your household budget, and your yard work efficiency.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates, for instance, that running just one small lawn mower can generate about the same amount of air pollution and harmful carbon emissions as 40 cars operating on the highways. Most Americans are surprised – and really rather shocked and dismayed – to learn that. But knowing that lawn equipment is a potential culprit when it comes to your family’s carbon footprint is a good thing, because it allows you to proactively address the problem. Keep in mind that shrinking your carbon footprint doesn’t just make the environment greener, either, but it almost always translates into financial savings due to the cost of energy.

Here’s a great example of how that works in practical terms. The EPA reports that every year plenty of gas and oil is accidentally spilled onto the ground by people using home yard equipment that is gasoline-powered. We all know that, because everyone has tried to fill a weed eater or lawn mower with gas when the gas tank is in an odd spot and the spout on the gas can is either uncooperative or has mysteriously gone missing just when you need it the most. Spills pretty much go with the territory, and it is always a good idea to keep an old rag handy in order to wipe off any gasoline or oil that might get splashed or smeared on the outside of a piece of equipment. That keeps it tidy and clean and it also helps to prevent accidental fires that can easily erupt when volatile liquids or highly flammable gas fumes come in contact with hot metal on a blazing hot day.

To avoid using more energy than required to get the job done outside, follow these helpful tips that are based on recent EPA guidelines:

Avoid spills:

Preventing spills and overfills is an easy and effective way for power equipment owners to cut down on pollution and also cut down on the cost of gasoline – which seems to be getting pricier all the time. Use a gasoline container you can handle and hold easily, and pour slowly and smoothly. Oftentimes it is easier and more manageable to use a plastic funnel, even if your gas can already has a spout, because the opening of the funnel is much larger of a target than the opening of the gas port in the equipment. For added safety and to avoid spontaneous combustion, always transport and store gasoline and power equipment out of direct sunlight in a cool, dry place.

Maintain equipment:

Changing the oil and replacing dirty air filters and old spark plugs can ensure that your equipment last longer and uses much less fuel, since poorly maintained equipment burns lots of extra gas and oil. Use the recommended fuel to oil mixture in 2-stroke engines, get periodic tune-ups, maintain sharp mower blades, and keep the underside of the mower deck clean. You’ll get better performance, save time and money, and work smarter – not harder.

Reduce mowing time:

This is the tip everyone loves, because nobody is really happy about extended mowing time. If you use low-maintenance turf grasses or grass/flower seed mixtures that grow slowly they will require less mowing. So check with your local agricultural extension service or lawn and garden center about what is appropriate for your region. You can also shrink your yard area by planting additional trees and shrubs. Strategically located shade will reduce the energy costs of heating and cooling your house and native wildflowers and plants require little to no maintenance after planting.

What lots of homeowners do not realize the sheer volume of gas and oil that gets spilled each year in yards all over America. The EPA estimates the figure out right around 17 million gallons. If that sounds like an awful lot, it is – even compared to catastrophic spills. When the Exxon oil tanker Valdez had its historic accident in the waters off the Alaskan coastline, for example, approximately 11 million gallons of oil got spilled. That’s about six million gallons less than what will seep into the ground – and possibly into the groundwater that later winds up coming out of our kitchen faucets – from accidents when using power equipment in the back yard.

Choosing a Qualified Home Inspector

Filed under: Property Inspection — Chuck @ 5:05 pm

There are plenty of reasons why you may want to use the expert services of a licensed and trained home inspector. But before picking up the phone to call one it helps to narrow down your choices to make selection easier and more successful. That will save you time and will help ensure that you don’t hire the wrong kind of inspector and end up paying for a service call that might not have been exactly what you wanted or expected. You can also use these tips and guidelines to determine which inspector is best in terms of his or her track record and approach to solving your problem or addressing whatever issues may concern you or be of concern to your property.

• First of all, try to isolate exactly what you hope that the inspector will do or accomplish for you. Most of us think of two main categories or specialties when we think of the home inspection business. Those are general home inspectors – the folks who help us evaluate the condition of a home before we decide to buy it – and pest inspectors, also commonly known as termite inspectors. But beyond the scope of termite and buyer-ordered real estate inspections there a many other areas of professional specialty and expertise, and being aware of those will help you immensely when it is time to call a professional inspector.

• If you’re buying a home you’ll want a licensed professional home inspector, for example, but to get the most for your money you may want to narrow down the selection based on the specific type of home you are planning to purchase.

• If it is new construction, for example, you’ll want to talk to potential inspectors about their experience with inspecting brand new houses. While some specialize in new structures, there are also going to be others inspectors whose emphasis is on working with clients who are buying a foreclosure.

• Typically these homes are more susceptible to deterioration or neglect because they are often left empty for extended periods of time. Previous owners may have even gutted them or taken away important pieces of HVAC or plumbing systems, and a foreclosure inspector knows how to protect you from such things by evaluating the home and reporting on its actual current condition.

• Likewise there are inspectors whose field of expertise and educational background prepares them to look for environmental hazards or similar threats to your health or the well being of your home. They can use sophisticated instruments and methods to look for the presence of such things as toxic radon gas, potentially lethal mold, airborne asbestos, or the presence of harmful chemicals like formaldehyde.

• There are also professional inspectors to help you figure out how to make the home you are planning to buy or the one you already own more energy efficient. They can do an energy inspection or an energy audit, for instance, and use gadgets like thermal imaging cameras to highlight places in the home that are losing heat in winter or leaking air conditioning during the hot months of summer.

• Sometimes, for example, a person will own a home without realizing that one section of the wall is inadequately insulated. Without ripping open the walls it may seem impossible to ascertain the condition or location of the insulation, and that is certainly not a feasible or affordable method of investigation. But many new high-tech tools allow inspectors to monitor energy loss and even print out thermal image photos that show in vivid color where drastic temperature changes are happening. That highlights the energy loss and gives you telltale signs to pinpoint the hidden places where your home lacks insulation – solving the problem without unnecessarily wasting money or creating extra work in the process of discovery.

• Many of these energy audits pay for themselves quickly by showing you practical ways to save energy – and therefore start saving significant amounts of money on utilities each month. You can reduce your overhead while also minimizing your family’s carbon footprint.

Interview inspectors in your area, check their licenses and other official credentials, and then check their references and evaluate their track records through agencies like the Better Business Bureau. Select an inspector who has the right skill set to match your needs and who is able to communicate with you in a way that answers your questions and gives you comfort and reassurance. You’ll be glad you did, and they will appreciate the opportunity to earn your business and serve you in whatever professional capacity they can.