May 15, 2014

A Factsheet on Home Electrical Fire Prevention

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 1:34 pm

Electrical fires in our homes claim the lives of 280 Americans each year and injure 1,000 more. Some of these fires are caused by electrical system failures, but many more are caused by incorrectly installed wiring and overloaded circuits and extension cords.
The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) would like consumers to know that there are simple steps you can take to prevent the loss of life and property resulting from electrical fires.

The Problem
During a typical year, home electrical problems account for 26,100 fires and $1 billion in property losses. About half of all residential electrical fires involve electrical wiring.

The Cause
• Most electrical distribution fires result from problems with “fixed wiring” such as faulty electrical outlets and old wiring. Problems with cords (such as extension and appliance cords), plugs, receptacles, and switches also cause many home electrical fires.
• Light fixtures and lamps/light bulbs are also leading causes of electrical fires.
• Many avoidable electrical fires can be traced to misuse of electric cords, such as overloading circuits, poor maintenance, and running the cords under rugs or in high traffic areas.
Safety Precautions
• Routinely check your electrical appliances and wiring. Replace all worn, old or damaged appliance cords immediately. Do not try to repair them.
• Buy only appliances that have the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
• Major and small appliances should be plugged directly into a wall outlet. Never use an extension cord. Unplug small appliances when not in use.
• If an appliance has a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet. Never force it to fit into a two-slot outlet or extension cord.
• Replace any electrical tool if it causes even small electrical shocks, overheats, shorts out or gives off smoke or sparks.
• Use only surge protectors or power strips that have internal overload protection and have the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
• Keep clothes, curtains, and other items that can catch fire at least three feet from all portable electric space heaters.
• Use light bulbs that match the recommended wattage on the lamp or fixture.
• Avoid putting cords where they can be damaged or pinched by furniture, under rugs and carpets, or across doorways.
• Extension cords are for temporary use only. Have a qualified electrician determine if additional circuits or wall outlets are needed.
• Electrical work should be done only by a qualified electrician. Call an electrician if you have any of the following:
Recurring problems with blowing fuses or tripping circuit breakers
A tingling feeling when you touch an electrical appliance
Discolored or warm wall outlets or switches
A burning smell or rubbery odor coming from an appliance
Flickering lights
Sparks from a wall outlet
Cracked or broken wall outlets

Finally, having a working smoke alarm dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire. And remember to practice a home escape plan frequently with your family.

Home Inspection Issues: 4 potential red flags on older houses and how to address them.

Filed under: Property Inspection — Chuck @ 1:33 pm

Oftentimes it is much more affordable and convenient to buy an existing home, versus building a brand new one. Many people are also attracted to older home because of their vintage appeal. The architectural features may be unique and beautiful, for instance, or the home may have an interesting history or be a home that has been in your family for generations.
But for whatever reason, if you find yourself living in an older home, you need to be aware that there may be some potential problems that aren’t commonly found in new construction.
Here are four common categories of things that often show up on the home inspection report – along with some ways to address them if you are a buyer or seller of an older home.

Building Codes
Home inspectors are often your best allies and your first line of defense against more serious problems. They may, for example, point out things in the inspection report related to local building codes. If your property is not up to code the city may fine you or deem the residence uninhabitable, and you don’t want that to happen. Older homes often fail to meet building code standards, because the standards have become stricter over the years.

But many of these infractions are relatively minor and you may be able to fix them rather easily and affordable. So ask your home inspector to let you know if they notice anything that might violate current building and safety codes. Then address the issues to avoid getting in trouble with the local authorities and – most of all – to avoid putting yourself at risk by living in an unsafe dwelling.

Electrical Wiring
The wiring in older homes is often a red flag that a good inspection report will reveal. Very old wiring, for instance, is not properly insulated or installed, so that it can deteriorate over time and cause catastrophic problems like electrical fires. Even newer wiring in existing homes may be overloaded at the circuit breaker box, for instance, or you may not have proper GFCI outlets to protect you from accidental electrocution when you’re at the sink or in the bathtub.
When inspectors see the potential for electrical problems they will usually advise you to have those items evaluated by a licensed and certified electrician. Don’t ignore this kind of recommendation, because an electrician can usually resolve the problems and make your home’s electrical system functional and safe. But if you don’t heed the inspector’s guidance you could have trouble getting homeowner’s insurance, negotiating a successful sale of the property, or you be inviting problems that compromise your safety.

Outdated Fixtures
Oftentimes the fixtures in old homes are antiques, and while they may look great they are not necessarily as safe as they should be. Old bathroom or kitchen sinks, for example, often have one tap for cold water and another one for hot water, whereas modern fixtures blend the hot and cold into a single faucet. Why is that an issue? If your child accidentally turns on the hot tap they might get scalded, for example, whereas a fixture that blends the water helps to avoid those kinds of accidents.

Light fixtures may also have poor insulation and inferior wiring, which could cause a short circuit that could shock you or start a fire. Meanwhile many of the older style electrical outlets – especially the ones in bathrooms and kitchens that are near sources of water – need to be upgraded for safety reasons. But if the inspection report addresses problems with old fixtures, the solution is generally pretty simple and painless. You just need to upgrade those fixtures to ensure that they are safe and fully operational.

Environmental Hazards
Environmental inspections may reveal the presence of substances such as lead-based paint or asbestos insulation. These can be serious problems, primarily because the safe removal and disposal of toxic substances can be expensive. But the presence of known hazardous elements can threaten the health and well-being of you and your family.
So if you are planning to buy or sell an older home – especially one built before World War II – you should hire an inspector who specializes in environmental issues. The inspector can point out potential problems and make recommendations about how to remedy them. Best of all, if there are no visible problems then the inspection report will provide you with peace of mind and reassurance that you might not otherwise have without the informed insight of a professional.

That is not meant to scare you away. Older homes are not necessarily inferior. In fact, some of them have stood strong for 100 years or more, and will continue to do so into the future – as long as they are well maintained. So the idea is that if you buy an older home and the inspection report lists various areas that need special attention, don’t be alarmed. But do be proactive about taking care of those issues before they become more troublesome.

Real Estate Advice: Understanding Home Improvement Loan Options

Filed under: Real Estate — Chuck @ 1:31 pm

Springtime and summer are the most popular times to embark on home remodeling projects. With interest rates low and real estate values creeping higher to strengthen home equity, many homeowners will finance those improvements with a bank loan.
But before shopping for a loan, it helps to understand which particular financing will best suit your needs.

Banks often call all sorts of different loans “home improvement loans” just because you can borrow money lots of different ways and spend it on home improvements.

• But strictly speaking, a home improvement loan is a particular loan that the bank will offer you that must only be used for approved home improvement projects. The bank will base the amount of the loan on the value of upgrades you plan to do, after reviewing contractor bids.
• If they approve the loan, the bank will also do regularly scheduled inspections of the work in progress. When the work is done correctly, they’ll release funds to pay the contractors.
• So the bank will help you oversee the construction work and keep the contractors on a productive schedule. Once the job is completed you will begin paying off the loan, based on whatever agreement you reached with the bank.

Or if you have equity in your home, you can borrow against that using a home equity loan or line of credit. But be advised that both of these kinds of loans use your home as the collateral to secure the loan, so if you default you can lose your home to foreclosure.

• If you decide to go that route, the home equity loan will be paid in a lump sum up front, and you’ll be charged a fixed rate of interest. You usually have up to 20 years or more to repay the loan.
• A home equity line of credit (HELOC), on the other hand, charges a variable rate, which could potentially rise over time. But you decide if and when to borrow, kind of like you do when using your credit cards.
• With a HELOC you only pay interest on the amount you borrow, and can repay the line of credit over a period of usually 10 or 15 years.

So weigh the pros and cons of each of these approaches if you plan to use home equity financing. You can borrow against a credit card, of course, as long as the project is not a very expensive one. The problem with putting the cost of a project on plastic, of course, is that credit cards typically charge extremely high rates of interest.

• Consider this, for example. If you borrow using a zero-percent interest credit card promotional offer, you may get a great deal that amounts to a free loan.
• But once the promotional period expires – usually within six months or so – the remaining balance will be charged a hefty fee of maybe 15 percent or higher. What’s even worse is that if you make just one late payment, your cheap promotional rate will be replaced with a super high penalty rate.
• That rate – which can be as high as 25 to 30 percent – continues until you pay off the whole balance. A debt repaid with 25 percent interest will double in just four years.

So if you have a home improvement project in mind, talk to your banker about an affordable home improvement loan. If that doesn’t appeal to you, consider a home equity loan. But make sure you can repay it. Otherwise that new kitchen or room addition won’t do you much good because you’ll be foreclosed on and the house will no longer belong to you.

Homeowner Help: Expert tips on prioritizing projects.

Filed under: Home Owner Tips — Chuck @ 1:29 pm

Every homeowner has a wish list of projects they know they need to do around the house. Those can range from simple weekend chores like cleaning out the garage and caulking the bathtub to bigger remodeling jobs like replacing the roof or upgrading the electrical system. But knowing which to do first is not just a matter of what you can budget in terms of your time and money. Not knowing which projects to schedule first can create unnecessary trouble – and can negatively impact your family’s safety or your home’s resale value.

Here are some tips to help you prioritize intelligently, so that delays don’t transform the need for minor repairs into a major problem.

Safety First

If you need to do a repair or make an upgrade because it involves a safety issue, then it’s a no-brainer. Safety trumps everything else, every time. Even if it is not in your budget, you have to give this kind of problem top priority – just as you would give a costly trip to the emergency room high priority if your child fell off the swing set and broke her leg or you collapsed from an unexpected heart attack.

Sometimes this is something simple, like reinforcing a shaky handrail or installing non-slip surfaces on a staircase. Other times it is more complicated, like upgrading the electrical wiring or calling in a professional to hook up an appliance to the natural gas pipeline. But the bottom line is that if there is the potential for an accident, injury, fire, or other serious mishap then you need to take care of the issue, right away.

Structural Problems

Structural problems are those that involve the components of your house that keep it upright and strong. When termites attack the framework of your home, for instance, you cannot ignore that or postpone your response.

When flooding threatens to uproot your home or your foundation is weak, for example, those issues can cause damage throughout the whole structure. Once the house starts to shift and move, your problems just multiply. Similarly, if the roof structure that protects your interior from the elements is compromised, that must be addressed without delay.

Exterior versus Interior

The reason roof problems are so serious is because once the roof stops doing its job, the inside of your home starts suffering. So that is a good example of why exterior problems generally take higher priority that do interior issues. If a door to one of the rooms gets knocked off its hinges, for instance, that can be a real inconvenience. But if the front door to your home is missing that take the problem to a whole different level.

Exterior systems that deserve this kind of priority include the roof, the outside windows that may leak or let heating and cooling energy escape, the gutters that help prevent water damage, and the foundation that supports the whole house.

Cosmetics versus Substance

If your tooth needs to be pulled you need to go to a dentist and have it yanked, not whitened and polished. Similarly, when faced with a choice between a cosmetic fix and one that effects the operation of your home, deal with substance first and cosmetics later. Let’s say, for example, that the framing around a window needs to be repaired and caulked, so that outside air and moisture cannot penetrate into your home’s interior. But maybe you also need to paint that room or install new carpet, because it is looking a bit tired and drab.
You can spend money and time painting it and putting in carpet or flooring. But if you don’t fix the window first, the next big storm may cause water to leak through that window and spoil the paint job while leaving a wet mess on the carpet. So the rule here is to get everything in good shape. Then (and only then) you can think about cosmetic finishes once you’ve taken care of the underlying issues.