December 17, 2012

Safe Emergency Electricity for Your Home

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 12:13 pm

Millions of people across North America will face unexpected power outages this winter, and you will most likely be one of them. Having at least partial backup electrical power in that kind of situation can be really helpful and convenient – and can, in some cases, save lives.

The options and techniques for providing “off the grid” electrical power are numerous – and the topic is a huge one that can quickly get complicated and highly technical. But one aspect of the fascinating subject is relatively simple, and fundamentally critical – namely, safety. So here are some helpful tips for staying safe when using emergency sources of electrical power in your home.

• Gas Generators and Carbon Monoxide

When operating a gas-powered generator, one of the most dangerous threats is carbon monoxide poisoning. Every year people die because they place their generators too close to their living space and inhale the odorless but deadly fumes. Don’t use a generator in a garage, for example, or in close proximity to a window or door.

• Automotive Battery Safety

Using vehicle batteries for extra power is a good way to provide backup electricity, and you can do that with devices such as electrical inverters that change direct current (DC) to common household alternating current (AC). But standard auto batteries give off fumes including volatile hydrogen. So unless you want to accidentally create a hydrogen bomb in your home, don’t ever store or use one of these batteries in an enclosed space. They need to stay in a well ventilated area – otherwise a spark, flame, or static electricity could cause the battery to explode.

• 12 Volt Chargers

There are small 12 volt gadgets you can use to tap into your automobile battery’s electrical energy source, and these are useful for recharging flashlights, smart phones, laptops, and other low-wattage accessories. You just plug one end into your car’s electrical port (what used to be commonly referred to as the cigarette lighter). The other end plugs into your gadget to charge it. You can use these without actually cranking the car’s engine, but be careful not to drain your car’s battery by doing that for extended periods of time.

• Juice Up

Charging through your car will only work if you have a fully charged battery, so maintain your auto battery – especially in winter when batteries exert lots more energy in order to crank an engine. Auto batteries have a limited shelf life, so check the date on your battery and replace it if it has lost its power and become inadequate. Your car battery will also get drained when it sits idle for long periods or when you drain the juice off of it with charger gadgets.

• Gas Up

The good news is that by driving your vehicle the battery will get recharged, as long as it is not too severely drained and it is not otherwise defective. Of course running a vehicle depletes the fuel in its tank – which can create other problems, especially in an emergency. So the first thing to do if you expect a storm is to charge all your portable electrical gadgets such as cell phones and fill up the gas tanks in all your vehicles.

There are plenty of compelling reasons to have a safe backup system for your electrical grid. But telephones that work, a radio or TV to keep track of the news, a DVD player to keep you entertained, or a laptop that puts you in touch with the rest of the world is more than just handy. That small amenity in your household can actually make you and your family feel much less vulnerable and isolated – and that is a priceless asset in an emergency.

Even an inexpensive 12-volt gadget charger that works in an automobile or a reliable flashlight can have a really positive impact during an extended power outage. So do some research, come up with a plan you can afford, and then invest in your own electrical backup system. You’ll be glad you did when the lights suddenly go out this winter.

December Home Maintenance Checklist

Filed under: Home Maintenance — Chuck @ 12:12 pm

December is still not that cold in some regions, offering one last chance to do home maintenance chores before the severe deep freeze sets in for January and February. Don’t miss this slim window of opportunity, or it will be gone in the blink of an eye.

Locate the Main Water Valve

Frozen pipes are one of the most common problems homeowners experience during winter. When a pipe bursts it creates instant chaos and the longer the water continues to flow inside your basement or other part of the home, the more damage is done. To help prepare for this kind of emergency, make sure you know where the find the cutoff value and have the right kind of wrench to turn off water to your home. Show other members of the family how to do it, too, so that they can move into action in case you aren’t around when the pipes crack.

Check Your Space Heaters

Always check your space heaters to ensure that the cords are in excellent condition, that the outlets they are plugged into are in proper working order, and that the heating units are not near anything flammable. Keep them away from curtains, for example, while also making sure they aren’t in an enclosed space with materials like household chemicals. Storing gasoline or car batteries in a garage that you heat with a space heater, for instance, can be hazardous.

Keep Christmas Trees Hydrated

If you put up a Christmas tree make sure that you keep the basin filled with water and the tree firmly placed on a balanced, strong tree stand. Otherwise the tree will be unhealthy and the green sprigs and needles will turn an unattractive rusty brown. They they’ll also become a potential fire hazard, since a dried tree installed in your home is just like keeping a pile of fresh kindling in the living room. It could be tipped over onto a candle, a fireplace, or a heater and suddenly burst into flames.

Clean Salt from the Driveway

Salting the driveway can be a great solution for helping you get the car out during a snowstorm. But after the ice and snow melts the residue left behind from the rock salt can corrode your vehicle’s carriage. That’s an expensive outcome that will shorten the life of your car or truck and lower its resale value. To help keep that from happening, always sweep up the leftover salt as soon as the weather permits. Don’t just brush it into the lawn or flowerbeds, though, because salt can kill grass and plants and make the soil infertile. Instead use a dustpan and discard of the salt in a trash can where it can’t impact your landscape.

Seal Masonry Cracks

While the weather is still cooperative, police your property and look for cracks in the masonry – especially in the driveway and along your walkways. Those small openings will fill with ice across the winter season, and each time they do it weakens the concrete. Freezing water becomes a strong wedge, in other words, and by the time spring arrives those little cracks will be expanded and widened significantly. Buy an appropriate sealant or caulk at your home improvement store and fill in those voids and gaps now. Doing so won’t take long but will substantially extend the lifetime of your masonry features like the driveway and sidewalk.

During December most households are totally consumed with holiday entertaining, guests, and celebrations. But if you can tear yourself away from all the fun and festivity for a few hours to attend to the important tasks on this list, you’ll be glad you did. The real winter is right around the corner. Get ready for it now and then you can rest easy – all the way through until spring once again thaws things out across North America.

Homeowner Tips: Houseplants and your health.

Filed under: Home Owner Tips — Chuck @ 12:11 pm

Many people suffer from the winter doldrums, which is only natural. We are accustomed to spending much of our time outdoors in the bright sunshine. But as winter sets it we find it more difficult to get outside and enjoy recreational activities. The days are shorter, the nights are longer, and we get far less sunlight.

Counteract the Winter Blues with a Little Green

Staying cooped-up in our houses all winter can soon begin to exact a physical and psychological toll – triggering symptoms that can range from a lack of energy and enthusiasm to outright sadness or depression. But you can help to counteract some of the winter gloominess in a simple, easy, and affordable way. When it becomes too cold to be outside, bring some of the outdoors into your home in the form of houseplants.

Air Purification

Having plants growing inside your home does a whole lot more than just provide an attractive décor. One of the great advantages of having actual plants versus cut flowers in vases, for example, is that living plants continue to purify the air in your home. As the plant breathes it consumes carbon dioxide, filtering and cleaning the air inside the rooms of your house. That ensures that the indoor environment is healthier – even though the house is mostly closed up and sealed tight to keep you warm in winter.

But plants also help keep the air inside your home from drying out, which is particularly important in the wintertime. Running the furnace or using your fireplace is necessary to combat the cold. But those toasty and cozy indoor temperatures are coupled with drier air that can cause discomforts like itchy, scaly skin or scratchy throats and sinus problems.

Monitor Your Light

Cultivating plants across winter can, of course, be a bit of a challenge – especially for those who aren’t confident that they have a green thumb. But there is no need to worry. There are many different kinds of houseplants that will thrive inside, even in low light conditions. Many beautiful houseplants require less light or indirect sunlight, in fact, and your local nursery can make expert suggestions.

Just measure how many hours of average sunlight you get in your house, and decide where you can place the plants. If you tell a nursery approximately how much sunlight you get and whether it is direct or indirect, they can recommend the right plants.

Recycling Poinsettias

Many people are surprised to learn that holiday poinsettias actually make great year-round houseplants. Most garden shops sell them at huge discounts as soon as Christmas passes, too, so you can buy them for ridiculously low prices. Just repot them after you purchase them, because many plants in places like home improvement supercenters may have outgrown their pots and become root bound.

If the roots are wrapped around and around you can gently break them up and then put the plants in a larger pot, where they will likely expand and renew themselves. With a little care, regular watering, and sunlight they’ll last for a long time. So if you see your neighbors tossing them out you may want to reclaim them from the curb and give them a new lease on life.

Other Great Houseplants

Other houseplants that will be easy to take care of in winter include rubber plants, Norfolk pine, and peace plants. You can also get the children involved in indoor gardening by planting sweet potatoes in a small pot in the kitchen window or other sunny spot. Just wait until the eyes of the potato have begun to sprout. Cut off the section that contains the sprouts and bury it under a thin layer of potting soil. Keep the soil slightly moist, and as the sprout grows longer continue to cover the stalk with more soil until it’s an inch or two long. Eventually a healthy sweet potato will grow a long leafy vine that is both fun and attractive.

Real Estate News: Why you should hire your contractor now.

Filed under: Real Estate — Chuck @ 12:09 pm

Anyone who is planning to use a home contractor, builder, inspector, or other real estate and construction industry professional may want to call them now. Why? There are a couple of good reasons worthy your consideration. One is a seasonal effect that generally applies to people within real estate related industries and fields in the majority of North American locations. The other is not seasonal but cyclical – and is fueled by the current housing market.

Let’s have a look at these two factors so that you can include them in your planning if you happen to be in need of homeowner or real estate services.

Springtime Bottleneck

First of all, the winter months are typically the slowest time of the year for real estate and construction – simply because the weather in most places is inhospitable. Buyers don’t want to go out shopping for a home in freezing temperatures with ice and snow on the roads. Sellers don’t want to put their home on the market when they lack curb appeal thanks to flowerbeds, lawns, and trees that look drab and dead.

Many contractors yearn for work, but despite their eagerness to accept jobs there are many projects that have to be postponed until warmer weather. Doing extensive landscaping or house painting, for example, may be more labor intensive or downright impossible in frigid weather. Using concrete to pour a driveway, build a brick wall, or create a home foundation is hampered and often halted. That’s because concrete or mortar generally don’t set up and cure as well or as predictably when the temperatures are cold.

Of course as soon as the weather gets warm enough to cooperate, you’ll have a reversal the seasonal slowdown. Busy picks up, and quickly. That creates a bottleneck in springtime.
Unless you have already hired your contractor or builder you’ll be left standing in line behind all the other homeowners who are in a hurry to hire.

Prices and Rates Trending Upward

But this year that seasonal impact will coincide with a significant fundamental change in the direction of the housing market itself. Whereas last year at this time the market was just starting to gain traction, this year’s market has already found its legs and is moving into stride.

Permits for building are expected to continue increasing over the coming months, as underlying home prices add to gains already made and slowly but steadily rise. Interest rates on mortgages are still in record-low territory, but as the economy improves those rates will also start to ratchet upward. At the first signal that higher rates are on the horizon, potential buyers will jump off the sidelines, lock in bargain rates, and finalize their purchases.

That means that there will likely be longer backlogs and processing times at mortgage companies and banks, which are still understaffed following a deep recession. Your closing could be delayed, which will subsequently push back any dates for making repairs or improvements to a home or for breaking new ground on a new home construction project.

Scheduling Priorities and the Bottom Line

Taken collectively, this means that we can expect that the coming springtime of 2013 will be a busy or rather labor intensive one for the real estate industry. If you haven’t lined up your contractor ahead of time, you should anticipate that their calendar will already be full – and that to schedule work at the last minute will cost you a premium.

Those who plan ahead by making their building and remodeling plans now – when contractors are in the midst of a slowdown and are sitting hoping the phone will ring – will come out ahead. Don’t wait until winter ends and the industry emerges from hibernation. Start working with contractors now so that the wheels are already in motion and you’re just waiting for the weather to change. You’ll have the reassurance that your contractor is already committed to your project, and you’ll also have an opportunity to negotiate better prices for the work they will perform.