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TIPS FOR STAYING SAFE THIS WINTER

“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of    regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.”                         – Jim Rohn

Residential fires take their toll every day, every year, in lost lives and destroyed property. The fact is that many conditions that cause house fires can be avoided or prevented by homeowners. Taking the time for some simple precautions, preventive inspections, and concrete planning can help prevent fire in the home — and can even save your life should disaster strike.

  • All electrical devices including lamps, appliances, and electronics should be checked for frayed cords, loose or broken plugs, and exposed wiring. Never run electrical wires under carpet or rugs as this creates a fire hazard.
  • Wood-burning fireplaces should be cleaned by a professional chimney sweep each year to prevent a dangerous buildup of creosote, which can cause a flash fire in the chimney. Cracks in masonry chimneys should be repaired, and spark arresters inspected to ensure they are in good condition and free of debris.
  • When using space heaters, keep them away from beds and bedding, curtains, papers — anything flammable. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use. Space heaters should not be left unattended or where a child or pet could knock them over.
  • Use smoke detectors with fresh batteries unless they are hard-wired to your home’s electrical system. Smoke detectors should be installed high on walls or on ceilings on every level of the home and inside each bedroom. Statistics show that nearly 60% of home fire fatalities occur in homes without working smoke alarms. Many municipalities now require the use of working smoke detectors in both single and multi-family residences.
  • Children should not have access to or be allowed to play with matches, lighters, or candles. Flammable materials such as gasoline or kerosene should be stored outside the house.
  • Kitchen fires know no season. Grease spills, items left unattended on the stove or in the oven, and food left in toasters or toaster ovens can catch fire quickly. Don’t wear loose-fitting clothing, especially with long sleeves, around the stove. Handles of pots and pans should be turned away from the front of the stove to prevent accidental contact. Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher within easy reach.
  • Have an escape plan. This is one of the most important measures you can take to prevent death in a fire. Your local fire department can provide detailed recommendations on escape planning and preparedness. In addition, all family members should know how to dial 911 in case of a fire or other emergency.
  • Live Christmas trees should be kept in a water-filled stand and checked daily for dehydration. Needles should not easily break off a freshly cut tree. Brown needles or lots of fallen needles indicate a dangerously dried-out tree, which should be discarded immediately. Always use non flammable decorations in the home, and never use lights on a dried-out tree.
  • Candles should be placed in stable holders and placed away from curtains, drafts, pets, and children. Never leave candles unattended, even for a short time.
  • Christmas or other holiday lights should be checked for fraying or broken wires and plugs. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines when joining two or more strands together, as a fire hazard could result from overload. Enjoy your indoor holiday lighting only while someone is home, and turn them off before going to bed at night.

Your local Pillar To Post office wishes you and your clients a happy and safe holiday season.

A big thank you to Karl for sending this article my way.

Karl Spitzer
karl.spitzer@pillartopost.com
www.pillartopost.com
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SETTLING IN: PRE-MOVE POINTERS FOR TAKING STOCK

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SETTLING IN: PRE-MOVE POINTERS FOR TAKING STOCK

“Even a minor event in the life of a child is an event of that child’s world and thus a world event.” – Gaston Bachelard

Despite all of the hassle moving represents, when the anxiety is gone and the dust has cleared, most of us have to admit that it’s a liberating experience. It forces us to rid ourselves of the clutter accumulated in the house we’re leaving. Whether or not you buy new furniture for your new residence, the motions of packing up and heading for different surroundings is a positive experience for most movers. It’s an opportunity to start over.

Before you move, it’s a good idea to take inventory of your belongings and consider what place they’ll have — if any — in your new home. After all, when you moved into your current home, your family’s needs were different. Since then, its occupants have become older, hobbies have been abandoned, tastes have changed, and now, suddenly, items you once thought you’d die without don’t seem that wonderful anymore.

* Taking stock of your furniture is a good place to start; after all, if you decide to get rid of a piece or two, you can save yourself the considerable expense of moving them. In addition to your furniture, take a good look at your lamps, rugs, pillows, and other accessories — particularly the ones you’ve stored away for months — and decide whether they really reflect your tastes anymore. Some of them may serve little purpose other than to clutter your closets and collect dust. Rid yourself of them, while reminding yourself that everything you pack means more boxes, more packaging and labor costs, and more to unpack later.

* An effective strategy is to draw on paper the floor plan of your new home. Sketch in the designated spots for your furniture, making sure you’ve noted where such obstacles as fireplaces, windows, built-in shelves or desks, etc., are located. Remember where your electric outlets, telephone jacks, and television hookups are located, and make sure you’ve considered the direction in which your doors open. If you’re looking for a more exact plan, with square footage taken into account, take a note from Better Homes and Gardens Online, which suggests using graph paper to draw your rooms to scale. Each square translates to one foot of available space.

Here’s where your creativity takes over: After measuring the size and shape of each major piece of your furniture, draw them on graph paper using the same one-square-per-foot scale as you did for the rooms in your new home. Then cut the shapes and arrange your miniature furniture within your various room floor plans. Once you’ve made a decision about what suits you and where, attach the shapes onto the page.

While this process requires a little patience and a little more creativity, planning ahead enables you to avoid either moving heavy furniture yourself, long after the movers have left; or having your movers pause upon entry into a room, shouldering a heavy load as you decide where that 300-pound dresser should be placed. (Of course, you’d be lucky to find such a tolerant mover.) You’ve got a plan of attack that makes your life and your movers’ lives easier. You can point them in a direction and move on to the next item. The bottom line is that you’re paying by the hour, and a little sketching and cutting now will save you labor costs later. Take the trouble to draw only your major pieces of furniture; your smaller items and accessories can be placed anywhere for now, until you have time to consider the perfect spots for them.

This strategy also allows you to experiment with various arrangements that you may have considered in the past, but abandoned because it seemed like too much effort to pursue. And trying out new configurations is a consolation for not being able to purchase new furniture. Even if you’ve resigned yourself to a sofa that doesn’t thrill you anymore, arranging your furniture in a different manner may provide you with a completely new outlook on belongings that once seemed tired. That variety, combined with a new place of residence, is bound to inspire you. And don’t restrict your furnishings to the rooms in which you’ve traditionally placed them. For example, the chest of drawers sitting in your bedroom might look even better in your new living room. This move is your big chance to experiment — and you don’t even have to move the furniture yourself.

And while you’re laying out your plans on graph paper, you might want to determine the focal point of each room first — a fireplace, a large window, anything that grabs you when you first enter the room. Then arrange your furniture around that focal point. And while it’s a given, it’s well worth repeating that you should consider how each room is going to be used before you design its layout. For example, when you’re planning your living room, if you plan to spend a lot of time entertaining there, you’ll want to place chairs and/or sofas close together and provide plenty of walking room, as well.

After you’ve taken inventory of your current home, take stock of your home-to-be, starting with the kitchen and its appliances. With any luck, you’ll have ensured that all of those kitchen appliances are in good, safe, working order long before your move. Make sure the hot water system is both working and the correct size for your family’s needs. If the answer to either of those questions is no, replacing the unit will save you both considerable energy and money. Then investigate your new home’s heating and cooling system, which is going to represent a predominant percentage of your monthly energy expenses. To figure out if it’s running in top condition, determine the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating for your air conditioning and heating unit. The higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the system. A rating under 8 is considered relatively inefficient. Also check your ductwork to ensure that its size is appropriate and that it’s clean. Finally, make sure your thermostat and controls are operating correctly.

Home owners often forget that clothes washers and dryers eat up energy, particularly when stackable units are involved. Because users can’t fill them with much clothing, they’re forced to run more loads though the units, resulting in increased energy consumption and subsequent expenses. On the other hand, units that are too large may use excess water or heat. Regardless of the type of unit in your new home, make sure that the washer drains properly and that your dryer is vented out of your home.

And speaking of energy consumption, study all doors, windows, vents, and other passages to the outside for cracks. If you see any gaps or if you feel any air streams, seal them either with caulk or weather stripping. And check your windows to find out if they’re double-paned and fit tightly.

Finally, if you can’t paint your new home’s interior prior to your move-in date, don’t unpack until you do. And be sure to consider the direction of light in your home — where it hits the walls and the shadows it creates. Painting your dining room a deep shade of forest green, for example, could backfire on you if your lot is heavily treed, or if the room generally doesn’t receive much sunlight. The color that seemed vibrant in the can may leave you simply depressed once it’s covering the walls of an already dark room.

Written by Courtney Ronan
May 27, 1998

REMODELING YOUR KITCHEN

REMODELING YOUR KITCHEN
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”  –  Oscar Wilde
 

The prospect of a newly remodeled home, while certainly tempting, often ignores the requisite headaches that come with the territory. Take, for instance, the kitchen, one of the most frequently remodeled rooms by virtue of its functionality and the amount of time families spend there.

Homeowners rarely stop to consider the imminent chaos that will befall them when they decide to remodel their kitchens. For starters, you’ll be asked to remove everything in your cabinets and drawers. That means all silverware, plates, cups, pots and pans, cookbooks, and depending upon whether or not you’re a pack rat, possibly other items, as well. Before long, your kitchen is draped in plastic, your forks are sitting on your living room coffee table, your spices are in the bathroom cabinet, and now the contractors are moving your refrigerator to the dining room so that they can reach the wall behind it. Need to microwave your breakfast? You’ll have to head to the spare bedroom. That’s where the microwave is now. It’s balanced precariously on a bar-stool by the computer desk. And you’ll need to figure out where to wash your breakfast dishes, because your kitchen sink is either filled with construction dust and tools, or it’s not there altogether. Your dishwasher is sitting in the foyer, so you won’t be able to use that, either. Garden hose, anyone?

No, it’s not a pretty picture. The chaos can be exacerbated by the time of year. For families with school-aged children, it’s probably best to begin remodeling jobs during the school year. Otherwise, you’ve got the kids underfoot, and it’s a matter of time before your patience is wearing thin. If you’ve never lived through a remodeling job, and you’re about to begin the process in your own home, you’re undoubtedly experiencing some trepidation. Aside from the obvious money-induced butterflies, you may be asking yourself to what extent your home life will be turned upside down during the remodeling process, which — depending upon the project — could last anywhere from several weeks to several months.

How on earth are you going to retain your sanity during this messy period? You could go with the obvious answer, of course, and find yourself a motel room with a kitchen or even a reasonably priced corporate apartment if you’re looking at several weeks’ worth of chaos. But that’s assuming you have disposable income left, and that’s a big if with most of us who are embarking on what could very well be one of the biggest investments of our lives. If it’s within your means to stay at a motel for even a short period of time (you may want to wait until the messiest phase of construction begins if you’re on a limited budget), just make sure that you find yourself some accommodations near your home so you’ll be able to make frequent and unannounced visits to monitor progress. If you’re lucky, you might have family or friends in the area who will either volunteer a spare bedroom or two, a sofa, or at least an occasional respite from the sawing, hammering, drilling and dust.

No, you’re going to stay and tough it out, you say, and so will the kids. It’ll be a character-building experience for everyone involved. Yes, it will, but you can make it easier on everyone by attempting to carve some semblance of organization into an otherwise haphazard household. If you have a spare bedroom, convert it into your temporary living quarters. Move the furniture against the wall, and set up your microwave and a card table and chairs. If you don’t already own inexpensive shelving, purchase some temporary shelves to store your plates, cups and silverware. You may want to seriously consider using paper plates, cups and utensils for the time being, because the question of where to wash your dishes can be a hassle to solve. If you own a dorm-sized refrigerator, move it into the bedroom. Purchase bottled water. Resign yourself to eating out as much as possible within the constraints of your budget, electing to spend breakfast in your makeshift kitchen, giving the kids lunch money for school, and then heading to an inexpensive restaurant for dinner.

It’s important to note, however, that if you decide to stick around during the remodeling process, you’re going to reach a point at which your absence is required. Many paints, glues and other materials commonly used in the construction process contain fumes that could be harmful to your family if inhaled. Ask your contractors up front when they plan to use materials that emanate potentially hazardous fumes. Plan to clear the house at those times — overnight, if necessary. This may, indeed, be the occasion during which you head to a motel for the sake of your family’s safety. Make sure that before you leave, you speak to your contractors about keeping your home properly ventilated before, during and after the application process.

Another reason you should keep a close eye on your contractors — regardless of whether or not you’re going to be remaining in your home during construction — is that you’re going to have to take steps to protect your home from damage. Even the best contractors have been known to scratch or cause other damage to a wood, tile or linoleum floor or track mud onto the carpet. Cover as many of these sensitive surfaces as possible before construction begins, and check to make sure they remain covered throughout the project’s duration. In addition, your breakables and other valuables — including fine China, vases, artwork and even your television, stereo and other electronics — should be removed from the immediate area and stored until the project is completed.

While these measures won’t inoculate you from the temporary inconvenience inherent in the remodeling process, they’ll help you keep your lifestyle as normal as possible until the dust has cleared and the plastic is lifted on your brand-new kitchen. And regardless of how long you have to wait for that moment, it’s nearly always worth the headaches required to get there.

GETTING SETTLED IN YOUR NEW HOME

GETTING SETTLED IN YOUR NEW HOME

“The indispensable first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: decide what you want”. – Ben Stein

Relocating to a new community involves a lot of planning and attention to detail. Much attention goes into getting moved out, but getting moved in is just as important. Here are some of the things you’ll want to do once you arrive at your new home:

# 1: Unpack the essentials
With a little planning you can create an “open first” box or two that will have your essentials for the first few days. If you’re not moving everything yourself, plan for the possibility of arriving before your stuff does. Toiletries, medicine, a few changes of clothes, and basic kitchen items (such as a can opener, wooden spoon, cutting knife, one pot and one pan) are good examples of must-have items.

# 2: Help your pets acclimate
A move can leave pets excited and scared. If possible do not leave them unattended in the yard. Staying in their presence will be calming and lessens the chance of runaways.

# 3: Get the kids settled
If your things have arrived, help each child set up their bed and unpack one box of toys. Otherwise, get them excited about “camping” in their new home. Make sure you have a bag with their few favorite toys, or for teens and pre-teens some CD’s and books or magazines.

# 4: Go to the grocery store
Consider eating out the first night, and buy essential groceries on the way home. Focus on easy-to-make foods and quick snack items. Buy any cleaning supplies that you need (most chemicals should not be transported anyway). If you have a pet, buy any food and supplies not already in your “essentials” box.

# 5: Cover the windows
If your home doesn’t yet have the proper window coverings, hang sheets up to add privacy and security.

# 6: Set a finish line
Make a list specifying the order in which you will unpack and complete other moving-in tasks. Creating a time frame in advance will help keep you from feeling overwhelmed.

# 7: Get the lay of the land
Walk through your new home to check the heating, air conditioning, and electricity, as well as all appliances. Take your family on a walk through the neighborhood to learn your surroundings, and if possible meet your neighbors.

This is by no means everything you need to know about getting settled, but it’s a good place to start. I have more resources on relocation located on my website. If you have any questions about settling in to your new community, please give me a call.

 

TEN IMPORTANT QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR HOME INSPECTOR

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TEN IMPORTANT QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR HOME INSPECTOR

“All blame is a waste of time. No matter how much fault  you find with another, and regardless of how much you blame him, it will not change you.” – Wayne Dyer

1. What does your inspection cover?

The inspector should ensure that their inspection and inspection report will meet all applicable requirements in your state if applicable and will comply with a well-recognized standard of practice and code of ethics. You should be able to request and see a copy of these items ahead of time and ask any questions you may have. If there are any areas you want to make sure are inspected, be sure to identify them upfront.

2. How long have you been practicing in the home inspection profession and how many inspections have you completed?

The inspector should be able to provide his or her history in the profession and perhaps even a few names as referrals. Newer inspectors can be very qualified, and many work with a partner or have access to more experienced inspectors to assist them in the inspection.

3. Are you specifically experienced in residential inspection?

Related experience in construction or engineering is helpful, but is no substitute for training and experience in the unique discipline of home inspection. If the inspection is for a commercial property, then this should be asked about as well.

4. Do you offer to do repairs or improvements based on the inspection?

Some inspector associations and state regulations allow the inspector to perform repair work on problems uncovered in the inspection. Other associations and regulations strictly forbid this as a conflict of interest.

5. How long will the inspection take?

The average on-site inspection time for a single inspector is two to three hours for a typical single-family house; anything significantly less may not be enough time to perform a thorough inspection. Additional inspectors may be brought in for very large properties and buildings.

6. How much will it cost?

Costs vary dramatically, depending on the region, size and age of the house, scope of services and other factors. A typical range might be $300-$500, but consider the value of the home inspection in terms of the investment being made. Cost does not necessarily reflect quality. HUD Does not regulate home inspection fees.

7. What type of inspection report do you provide and how long will it take to receive the report?

Ask to see samples and determine whether or not you can understand the inspector’s reporting style and if the time parameters fulfill your needs. Most inspectors provide their full report within 24 hours of the inspection.

8. Will I be able to attend the inspection?

This is a valuable educational opportunity, and an inspector’s refusal to allow this should raise a red flag. Never pass up this opportunity to see your prospective home through the eyes of an expert.

9. Do you maintain membership in a professional home inspector association?

There are many state and national associations for home inspectors. Request to see their membership ID, and perform whatever due diligence you deem appropriate.

10. Do you participate in continuing education programs to keep your expertise up to date?

One can never know it all, and the inspector’s commitment to continuing education is a good measure of his or her professionalism and service to the consumer. This is especially important in cases where the home is much older or includes unique elements requiring additional or updated training.

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