Home Care

Summer Projects Worth Doing!

Another Northampton summer is finally upon us. For many people this means, among other things, that new light may be shed upon various projects required to improve your home or property, which weren't apparent during the winter months. 

I love finding encouragement to support a hard won decision. We finally decided to green light our screened in porch construction after two years of hemming and hawing -- and we are super excited that we will have an outdoor space which keeps the bugs out! In addition, look at the words of wisdom I happened upon from the wonderful Apartment Therapy website below - this just happens to suggest that our decision was a good one!

Summer Projects That Will Give You Good Return on Investment

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

You don't have to do a total renovation to increase the value of your home. Simple home improvement projects — like landscaping, new doors or shutters, or just a new paint job — can do wonders, majorly transforming the look of your house and bumping up its value.

Landscaping

It's well-agreed that boosting your home's curb appeal will pay off when it's time to sell — though estimates range from 100 to 1,000 percent ROI. Regardless of the exact numbers, it's clear: You'll likely get out more than what you put in. Realtor.com has some ideas, ranging from weeding and maintenance to planting trees (which almost always add value).

Painting

A freshly painted home can get you a 5 to 10 percent premium when you go to sell. It's a no-brainer to paint over those rooms that are scuffed or really need it, but if you're looking to sell in the near future, you can also use paint to appeal to buyers and command a higher sale price for your home. For instance, a recent study from Zillow found that blue is a color likely to bump up the selling price of a space.

Decks and Patios

If you were thinking about getting a deck, patio or porch already, good news: It offers a 90.3 percent average return. You also get a good return if you revamp the deck you already have. You want to make sure all the boards, railings and stairs look sharp and are in safe working order. No one wants a deck that looks like a hazard to have their kids around. And adding things like lighting, planters and gates can up the value even more.

New Doors

Both garage door and entry door replacements have a high return on investment, at 80.7 percent and 98 percent, respectively. Spicing these up can increase the curb appeal over traditional, drab doors. It'll give your place something unique that other homes won't have.

by Sarah Landrum

Jun 23, 2017

The Joys of a Properly Finished Basement

This time of year, better known as the "spring market" to Northampton Area realtors, we find ourselves showing a lot of houses to potential buyers. With all of the rain we've been having, the dryness (or dampness) of a basement is at the forefront of the minds of home buyers. There are many factors that can add to or take away from the potential livability of a basement space. Inheriting moisture problems from a previous owner is something one hopes to avoid when purchasing a home. 

A few years ago, friends of mine purchased a ranch in Florence. It was in solid shape, with a damp basement. They intended to ultimately turn the basement into living space. The advice they received from their contractor was to demo the space and live with it for a year to see if/where/when/how water was getting into the basement. This was great advice! They eventually found an area where water was seeping in - not from below ground, but from the outside. They put in a perimeter drain, and diverted the downspouts from the gutters away from the house. Presto! No more water in the basement. Now they have begun the project of finishing their basement properly. 

The article below, from the RAPV newsletter, gives good advice about how to properly finish a basement.

How to Finish Your Basement Right!

 

Like most things, planning a basement renovation is easier when you have all the right tools at your disposal. Read on to learn about a few tips and tricks you can use to make your project as quick and inexpensive as possible.

Tip #1: Find a good contractor.

Finding an experienced contractor can help make the renovation proceed as smoothly as possible. The contractor will be able to help you acquire all the necessary building permits that might be required by your city. This person's business network and connections can also be a huge asset when you are arranging subcontractors to help you with specific parts of the basement renovation. 

Tip #2: Choose the right materials.

You will have to order or purchase the building materials for each phase of your basement upgrade, and it is important to make sure you choose the best materials for the job in every scenario. A good contractor will be able to help you make the right decisions about each of your building materials. 

Tip #3: Increase airflow.

The basement tends to be the coldest room in the house. Many homes have the furnace at one end of the basement, making the opposite end chilly by comparison. Consider installing ducts with an in-line fan in order to even out your basement's temperature.

Tip #4: Check for signs of possible water damage.

Before you proceed with the renovation, check the foundation for cracks and check the basement floor for any pools or drips. Repairing any potential problems before you begin to renovate can save a lot of time and money down the road. If you live in a particularly damp climate, you might want to consider adding a vapor barrier before sealing off your walls and floors. Another way to reduce moisture in your basement is to offset the interior walls from the home's exterior walls. This can be done using thin strips of wood or metal, and can also be used to balance out an uneven exterior wall.

Tip #5: Add additional insulation.

Most basements are not as well insulated as the home's other levels, so if you are planning to start spending more time in the basement, it might be a good idea to add some extra insulation to your basement's walls.

Tip #6: Sand down your ceiling joists.

Many older homes have ceiling joists that are beginning to sag, and this can cause problems if you are installing a new ceiling in your basement. Sanding or planing these joists can help make your ceiling appear as smooth as possible. You can easily do this yourself by using a level and an electric sander. 

These basic steps can help give your newly finished basement a solid foundation to grow from and become an integral part of your family's life.

Houseplants that Improve Indoor Air Quality

Who knew that having a green thumb could help with air quality in your own home? As the winter months set in, we are sealed up inside of our ever-more energy efficient homes. The "tighter" the home, the less fresh air that will naturally circulate within that home. I know that in our household, it seems my family members and I take turns feeling lousy this time of year. We live in an energy star rated home with a circulation system to keep fresh air moving through the house - but still, access to fresh air is limited as compared to warmer months. I have often thought that the lack of fresh air can lead to this increase in illness or allergic responses. The following article from Northampton's The Daily Hampshire Gazette on Tuesday, January 17th, makes helpful suggestions about how homeowners can keep indoor air cleaner during the winter. I love that adding beautiful plants to your home has the added benefit of making the air cleaner!

Plants, techniques to keep indoor air clean in winter

  • Peperomia, seen at Hadley Garden Center, is a plant said to purify air.

  • Poinsettias, seen at Hadley Garden Center, are plants said to purify air

  • Chinese evergreen, seen at Hadley Garden Center, is a plant said to purify air.

  • English ivy, seen at Hadley Garden Center, is said to purify air. GAZETTE STAFF/Jerrey Roberts - Buy this Image

  • Orchids, seen at Hadley Garden Center, are flowers said to purify air.

  • Angela Karlovich, who works at Hadley Garden Center, beside a display of plants that are said to purify air. At left a close-up of a Chinese evergreen. Gazette staff/Jerrey roberts 

  • A spider plant, at Hadley Garden Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS 

  • Angela Karlovich, who works at Hadley Garden Center, holds an aloe vera plant, one that is said to purify air, Dec. 12, at the store.

  • Chinese evergreen, seen at Hadley Garden Center, is a plant said to purify air


By LINDA ENERSON
For the Gazette
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
 
The ravages of winter drive us inside, where we take comfort in a warm home well protected and insulated from the elements.

But while a weather-tight home is great for saving energy and resources, that efficiency often comes at the expense of indoor air quality. 

When the windows are closed for the season, a variety of indoor air contaminants can accumulate and bother residents. Some of these contaminants are allergens such as mold spores or dust mites. Others are toxic organic compounds off-gassing from furniture, building materials or carpets. 

Dr. Jonathon Bayuk, medical director of allergy services at Allergy and Immunology Associates of New England, says there are many things homeowners can do to clean indoor air. 

Getting rid of allergens 

Air purifiers can remove allergens and other air contaminants, including dust mites, smoke and mold particles. Bayuk advises buying one that is big enough for the area of the room and uses a HEPA filter to trap contaminant air particles. He cautions against products that utilize blades. This type of air purifier creates ozone by generating tiny electrical sparks when the blades strike a contaminating particle. While each spark generates a minimal amount of ozone, over the course of a day, the ozone can accumulate to toxic levels. 

Keeping the relative indoor humidity below 50 percent helps to discourage mold growth, according to Bayuk, but it’s important not to let humidity drop too low as dry skin can often become a problem when relative humidity drops below 35 or 40 percent. 

Mold growing on a hard surface, such as a tub, can be relatively easy to clean (Bayuk recommends a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water). However, porous objects, such as a box of books in the basement, may need to be disposed of in order eliminate that source of mold spores in the home. 

Dust mites are another common indoor allergen that can cause year-round problems for people with a sensitivity to the enzymes they excrete.

Dust mites feed on the dead skin cells that humans and pets naturally shed, as well as dust, pollen and other organic material. They live in areas where they can find food, sufficient moisture and warmth. 

Carpets, couches, and mattresses are common areas where dust mites live and breed. As these surfaces are porous, they gather below the surface of the fabric, making it difficult to get rid of them. 

Bayuk says a mattress cover is a great place to start in curbing dust mites. The cover is made of a very tight fabric the mites cannot penetrate. Cleaning the cover on a weekly basis keeps them from piling up on these surfaces.

Reducing clutter and keeping a house clean can also reduce the number of dust mites. Bayuk recommends using a high-efficiency vacuum with a HEPA filter to remove mites and their food sources from carpets and sofas. 

Dust mites are fairly easily removed from hard surfaces as they stick to a damp cloth. Bayuk says using a feather duster is virtually useless, and simply moves the mites and the particles they feed on to another surface.

Chemical contaminants 

Organic compounds off-gassing from dry-cleaned clothes, and from newly applied paints, lacquers and varnishes, as well as from newer furniture, carpets and building materials are another source of indoor air pollution. 

In the late 1980s, NASA conducted a series of experiments to see if indoor plants could be used to purify the air of future space habitats. The agency’s final report on the experiments showed that some of the most common and easily cared-for houseplants were surprisingly effective at decreasing levels of the most common organic compounds found circulating indoors. 

Hadley Garden Center stocks many of the plants named in the study. Greenhouse manager Angela Karlovich is familiar with the NASA study, and can lead customers to a wide variety of air-cleaning plants that perform well in a wide variety of indoor settings. 

Karlovich says that many of the plants cited by NASA can thrive in low-light conditions, which makes them versatile and easy to care for indoors, including: 

Dracaena: Several varieties were tested by NASA and were found to be effective at removing trichloroethylene (TCE), benzene and formaldehyde.

Spider plants: effective at removing formaldehyde. Spider plants are also non-toxic to pets. 

English ivy: removes TCE, benzene and formaldehyde 

Chinese evergreen: removes formaldehyde and benzene 

Bamboo palm: removes TCE, benzene and formaldehyde. Bamboo palm is non-toxic to pets. 

Golden pothos: removes formaldehyde 

Philodendron: removes formaldehyde 

Peace lily: removes TCE, benzene and formaldehyde 

While sun-loving Gerbera daisies are usually planted outside, these plants removed the most TCE and benzene of all the plants tested at NASA. They are also non-toxic to pets. 

Bayuk says like all plants, those mentioned above also add to indoor air quality by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen.

 

Winter Projects for Homeowners

This time of year, many of us find ourselves homebound on our days off (some of us choose to be homebound on our days off :)). Winter is a great time to attack our indoor homeowner to do list - since we certainly can't do any landscaping in the cold, wet, windy winter months of the Pioneer Valley. This recent article by Jolie Kerr makes great suggestions for indoor cleaning/organizing projects, best done when you don't feel like being outside!

 

 
Quick, Not Dirty: Four Projects You Can Do in 45 Minutes
 
By Jolie Kerr 
 
Quick, Not Dirty
 
(Timor Davara)

Welcome to “Quick, Not Dirty,” cleaning and organizing projects from expert Jolie Kerr. These discrete jobs are easy to pick off and will earn you the satisfaction of seeing a task to completion without an enormous amount of effort. (Read previous columns here.)

Do you ever have a day where you don’t feel like leaving the house, not out of laziness but because the weather is frightful or because the thought of having to interact with another human being is more than you can bear? I don’t mind admitting that I do! On those days, I like to survey my domain to identify a task in need of doing that will help me justify a day spent indoors. These are the kinds of projects that may not be high on your psyched-to-do list but that are well worth the time investment to make your life and your home less chaotic and more lovely. 

Mail-Pile Triage

It’s tempting to fool ourselves into thinking that in this, our golden digital age, piles of bills, magazines, and catalogs are no longer a thing that plague humanity.

Not so. Lennys, may I level? This one is so personal for me. I’m drowning in catalogs. Dear Scully & Scully catalog, you are so lovely, but from whence did you come? And would it be possible to get buyer data on the Sleek Black Walking Sticks? I must know who is buying these beauties. 

Instead of suffering under the yoke of unwanted mailings and a recycling bin in constant need of emptying, I finally sat down one day with a pile of catalogs that I’d been setting aside for just this purpose, and set about unsubscribing myself from them. Should you feel moved to do the same, here are some tips to get you on your way. 

Bills: You know that one stray bill you’ve been meaning to convert from paper to electronic? Go ahead and do it now. I’ll wait.

Catalogs: Catalog Choice can unsubscribe you from even the most insidious mailers (I’m looking at you, Pottery Barn). Are you more of an app kind of gal? PaperKarma allows you to snap a photo of the offending junk-mail label and will contact the mailer to remove you from its list.

Magazines: Head straight to the magazine’s website, where you’ll find instructions for canceling subscriptions in the customer-service or frequently-asked-questions section of the site.

Credit-Card Offers: Use OptOutPrescreen to remove yourself from unsolicited preapproved credit-card-offer lists. 

Miscellaneous Junk: Sign yourself up for the National Do Not Mail List

Personal Mail: It’s nice to get personal mail, but it’s also worth acknowledging that there’s a cap on how long you should allow it to linger willy-nilly in your home. Thank-you notes, holiday cards, birthday wishes — they’re all lovely, but unless they’re especially sentimental, give yourself a time limit for how long you’ll hold on to them. A day? A week? A month? All are fair. Just pick a window that seems reasonable to you and be diligent about purging (or filing, if you plan to keep it) personal mail before it becomes clutter.

Deep Clean the Fridge

You know those fake holidays like National Pet Your Dog Day and National Eat a Pound of Bacon Day? They’re fun and all — who doesn’t love petting a dog, or eating a pound of bacon?! (Cat lovers and vegans, I suppose.) But they’re made-up and, often, are just marketing schemes created by brands like Iams or IHOP. There is, however, one very real “national holiday” that occurs on a specific day, for a specific, if terribly United States–centric, reason: November 15 is National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day, falling as it does just before Thanksgiving to account for the demands the holidays make of your icebox.

Now, you don’t have to wait until November 15! Regardless of when you decide to tackle the fridge, here are a few tips that will help you on your way.

1. Take everything out. Everything. All of it. Nope, don’t leave the bottle of ketchup in the door, or the box of baking soda on the bottom shelf in the back. Everything comes out. Highly perishable items can be stashed in the freezer or a cooler while you scrub.

2. The choice of cleaning product, whether it’s a commercial all-purpose cleaner, a white-vinegar solution, or diluted bleach, is entirely up to you and what you feel comfortable using in a place where you keep food.

3. You should, however, get yourself a Dobie Pad, which is super handy for scrubbing dried-on splatters and spills without scratching the plastic interior of your fridge.

4. You can (and should!) wash removable shelves and crisper drawers the same way you would dishes, using dish soap and hot water. If your kitchen sink isn’t big enough to accommodate such an operation, the bathtub is a good alternative. If you have outdoor space that allows for it, shelves and drawers can also be hosed off.

5. For spills that have congealed egregiously, make a compress of sorts by wetting a rag, sponge, or thick stack of paper towels with very hot water, wringing it out, and pressing it on the sticky substance. Repeat as needed until the spill begins to loosen, then wipe it up.

6. Before putting condiments back, wipe off the exterior of bottles and tighten the caps (you may also want to open infrequently used jars to check for mold!)

If you feel so inclined, we would be tickled if you’d share before and after photos with us, like this set that a reader who wishes to remain anonymous granted us permission to share with you. If you’d like to share your own set, email me at joliekerr@gmail.com, tweet photos to me @joliekerr, or tag me on Insta @joliekerr. We may even feature the fruits of your fridge-cleaning endeavors on Lenny’s Instagram account
 
“Fridge

God, isn’t that so satisfying?!

Clean and Style a Bookshelf

Now that it’s winter, many of us look forward to getting back in touch with our inner indoor kid. You know, the one who much prefers to have her nose stuck in a book while the other kids are outside making mud pies? Sure you do, and if you identify with that description so hard, have I got a project for you! 

Cleaning and styling a bookshelf is a straightforward endeavor, but it’s still a process — and a dirty one, at that. Books, and the shelving in which we store them, are dust magnets, so be prepared for this to be a grimy job. And because the shelves themselves get so dirty, like scrubbing out a refrigerator, doing a thorough cleaning of a bookshelf requires that you remove everything from its place, rather than trying to clean around things.

Other than that one piece of advice, there’s not much to a shelf-cleaning project. But here’s a list of what the order of operations may look like: 

â— Gather your supplies, such as rags or dusting cloths, dusting spray (if using), and a vacuum.

â— Take a photo of the current arrangement if you plan to re-create it.

â— Remove all books and knickknacks from shelves.

â— If it’s a freestanding unit, move shelves away from the wall so that you can dust from the top down and vacuum the floor underneath and behind the unit.

â— If you need or want to pare down your collection, assess what you’ve got by first grouping like items together, then systematically deciding what stays and what goes.

â— Wipe dusty books with a rag or dusting cloth.

Now comes the fun part, because once your shelves are clean and bare, you can begin putting everything back in a way that pleases you. How you style your bookshelf is entirely up to you, and one of the great joys of this kind of project is getting to spend some time with your beloved books and the collection of shiny dimes that makes no sense but brings you joy nonetheless and those decorative geodes that remind you of your great-aunt Linda’s house, with its conversation pit and creeping spider plants. 

Deep Clean the Tub, Shower, and Grout

Now that you’ve spent so much time with your book collection, remembering old favorites and digging out titles you always meant to get around to, wouldn’t it be nice to grab one of those tomes and settle into a lovely bubble bath with some reading? Sure! Except maybe your tub isn’t looking so inviting? I can help with that.

Doing a deep clean of your tub, shower, and surrounding grout isn’t complicated, but let me be really straight with you and tell you that it is hard work. You will sweat, is what I’m trying to warn you of. You’ll also get a pretty righteous shoulder and back workout, so that’s nice. 

For this endeavor, you should invest in a good scrub brush (Casabella and Rubbermaidare brands that offer a variety of scrub brushes for bathroom cleaning) and a heavy-duty cleaning product — save the tea-tree oil for regular cleaning, and opt for a more powerful product, like X-14 or Zep, that will do a lot of the work for you. Not all bathrooms have the same needs, so instead of going into super detailed instructions on how to clean grout, or glass shower doors, or a porcelain tub versus a fiberglass one, I’m going to leave you this link, in which you will hopefully find answers to every bath-cleaning quandary you may encounter, and some you hopefully never will

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. Her weekly column “Ask a Clean Person” appears on esquire.com, and its companion podcast is available on AcastiTunes, and Stitcher.
 
 

Arctic Temps Expected to Hit Northampton Area!

Well, it looks as if winter has finally arrived to the Pioneer Valley, and she means business! It seems we can expect possible power outages due to the high winds. Make sure to have your flashlights powered up, and back up power and heat sources ready to go, should we lose power. It's also extremely important to dress appropriately for the weather if you need to be outside for any period of time.

Real Estate Reminder: Remember to keep your heat on low if you have to be out of town during the cold snap. Burst pipes can lead to very expensive plumbing and cosmetic fixes!

Here's the report from the Daily Hampshire Gazette today:

 

Cold snap expected to arrive in Pioneer Valley

By EMILY CUTTS
@ecutts_HG

Thursday, December 15, 2016

 

Snowy Trail

Photo credit: Allegro Photography

An Arctic front is expected to hit the region bringing with it cold temperatures, high winds and snow, according to the National Weather Service in Taunton.

Thursday morning’s high temperature in the 20s is forecast to drop throughout the day to the mid-teens, according to Bill Simpson, a spokesperson with the weather service.

Winds will gradually increase with wind gusts reaching up to 40 mph in the afternoon bringing with it wind chills dropping near zero, Simpson said.

“One good thing – it’s a relatively short period,” he said.

The highest winds and lowest wind chills are expected in the evening and could hit 10 to 20 below zero in Western Massachusetts with some locations even colder, according to Simpson.

Moving into Friday, winds are expected to die down and temperatures are forecast in the mid-teens.

Snow is expected to arrive following the evening commute and could drop four to five inches in the Connecticut River Valley.

“Dress appropriately. We have a wind chill advisory out once you get below zero to minus 20,” Simpson said. “Hopefully people are dressing appropriately.”

Simpson also said people should prepare for possible power outages because of the high winds.

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.

Artic Temps Expected to Hit Northampton Area

Well, it looks as if winter has finally arrived to the Pioneer Valley, and she means business! It looks as if we can expect possible power outages because of the high winds. Make sure to have your flashlights powered up, and back up power and heat sources ready to go, should we lose power. It's also extremely important to dress appropriately for the weather if you need to be outside for any period of time.

Real Estate Reminder: Remember to keep your heat on low if you have to be out of town during the cold snap. Burst pipes can lead to very expensive plumbing and cosmetic fixes!

Here's the report from the Daily Hampshire Gazette today:

 

Cold snap expected to arrive in Pioneer Valley

By EMILY CUTTS
@ecutts_HG

Thursday, December 15, 2016

 

snowy trail

Photo credit: Allegro Photography

An Arctic front is expected to hit the region bringing with it cold temperatures, high winds and snow, according to the National Weather Service in Taunton.

Thursday morning’s high temperature in the 20s is forecast to drop throughout the day to the mid-teens, according to Bill Simpson, a spokesperson with the weather service.

Winds will gradually increase with wind gusts reaching up to 40 mph in the afternoon bringing with it wind chills dropping near zero, Simpson said.

“One good thing – it’s a relatively short period,” he said.

The highest winds and lowest wind chills are expected in the evening and could hit 10 to 20 below zero in Western Massachusetts with some locations even colder, according to Simpson.

Moving into Friday, winds are expected to die down and temperatures are forecast in the mid-teens.

Snow is expected to arrive following the evening commute and could drop four to five inches in the Connecticut River Valley.

“Dress appropriately. We have a wind chill advisory out once you get below zero to minus 20,” Simpson said. “Hopefully people are dressing appropriately.”

Simpson also said people should prepare for possible power outages because of the high winds.

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.

Time to Check Your Fire and CO Alarms

Another handy-dandy safety-related blog post from Maple and Main Realty! Fire safety is no joking matter. Many of us New Englanders have back up heating systems such as wood-burning stoves, pellet stoves, fireplaces, and the like - all of which come with the need for proper maintenance. As we hunker down for the winter, it's imperative that your house be as fire-safe as possible. Proper disposal of live ashes from fires, making sure your chimney has been swept recently, making sure your furnace and/or boiler have been recently serviced, checking on batteries in your fire and CO alarms, etc. All of these measures should be on your pre-winter to-do list. The following article is a repost from a recent piece in the Daily Hampshire Gazette about fire safety concerns.

Home fire safety concerns increase with cold weather

  • A Greenfield Fire Department engine at a fire. File photo/Shelby Ashline

By TOM RELIHAN
For the Gazette
Thursday, October 06, 2016

It’s getting colder, and that means we’re looking for ways to keep warm.

So, it’s a good time to think about protecting the home from fires, which increase in Massachusetts during the winter months.

The state Department of Fire Services has some tips.

Next week is Fire Prevention Week, according to DFS spokeswoman Jennifer Mieth, and this year’s theme is “Don’t Wait, Check the Date.”

She’s talking about smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. They’re the two devices that homeowners rely on to warn them when a fire has broken out, or when colorless, odorless carbon monoxide is building up. “You should replace smoke alarms every 10 years — the sensing technology degrades over time, and you may not be able to rely on it when you need it the most,” Mieth said. “Even if you put new batteries in and hear that beep, it still might not detect smoke.”

Recently, a grant program in Lynn to install new detectors saw officials finding one more than four decades old in a home. Lack of smoke detectors in general led to numerous fatal fires last year, Mieth said.

The Department of Fire Safety is also running its “Keep Warm, Keep Safe” campaign this time of year, as residents begin turning on the heat. 

Mieth said it’s important to regularly have your furnace inspected by a licensed professional.

“A clean, efficient furnace is cheaper to run and less likely to cause problems,” she said.

Heating systems are also the leading source of carbon monoxide in the home. Mieth said its important to have working CO detectors, and they need to be replaced even more frequently than smoke alarms — most only last five to seven years, unless it’s a newer model rated for up to 10 years.

If heating by wood, regular cleaning of your chimney by professional is crucial. Accumulated material in the chimney is the leading source of chimney fires, and cracks along the shaft could let fire contact the building’s main structure.

When disposing of the fire’s ashes, Mieth said, a metal container with a lid, stored outside, is the only safe way to do it.

“Do not put them in plastic recycling containers. Do not put them in paper or plastic bags,” she said. “Don’t store them under on the breezeway. Put them outside in a metal, lidded container. You touch the ashes and they may seem cold, but single embers can stay hot for a long time.”

When the winter chill really sets in and furnaces have a hard time keeping up, many people turn to space heaters to keep toasty. But Mieth said it’s important to know how to operate them safely.

They should always have a three-foot “circle of safety” around them, free of anything that can catch fire. Also, don’t use extension cords –— Mieth said extension cord failure is the most common cause of space heater-related fires.

“Any heat-generating device draws a lot of electricity, and if you’re not using the right kind of cord that can be really dangerous,” she said.

Tom Relihan can be reached at trelihan@recorder.com.

 

Choosing the Right Siding for your Home

We lived in a 100 year old house with clapboard siding for 8 years. We loved the look of painted clapboards, but we quickly tired of the upkeep and expense of the exterior paint job. 2 years ago we bought a new home, with Hardie Plank siding. The exterior paint has shown no signs of wear and tear since it was painted. In fact, the paint job looks new! 

Here in the Northampton area, we realtors sell a mix of +/- 100 year old homes with clapboard siding (or clapboards covered over with vinyl siding, aluminum siding and, sometimes, asbestos shingles), as well as mid-century homes with aluminum or vinyl siding, and, lastly, some new construction which usually has vinyl or Hardie plank siding. The Daily Hampshire Gazette recently ran a special section on homes, including this interesting article about choosing the right siding for your home. If you are a homeowner who is thinking about residing your current home, or you are building a home and wondering what siding might be best for you, this article should come in handy.

Here is an example of Hardie Plank siding.

Vintage Farmhouse, www.jameshardie.com

Deciding on siding

GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

Tim Uhlig, pictured in photo at left, from Wilcox Builders in Hatfield, primes a new edge on a fiber cement soffit

board being installed on a home in the Village Hill development at Northampton. At right, and below, Michael

Cendrowski, works on the soffits while Uhlig cuts the siding, shown above right.

4 HOME MAGAZINE, Wednesday, September 14, 2016

 By LINDA ENERSON

For the Gazette

Siding is just one element of a home, but it’s an important one, as siding is often the first thing people notice when

they walk up to or drive by a home —and there’s a lot of it. If, for some reason, you don’t like the siding you’ve picked

out for your new or renovated home, it’s pretty hard to overlook it. Siding is made from a variety of materials,

some of them time-tested, like vinyl and wood, but there are also some newer products on the market, such as

fiber cement and OSB. With so many options to choose from, it can be a confusing task for homeowners to pick the siding

option that will serve their needs best.

Wright Builders constructs new homes and commercial buildings around the Valley using all kinds of siding. Roger Cooney, vice president

of design, sales and estimating, helps customers make decisions about what siding they want based on price, environmental impact,

aesthetics, durabilityand maintenance. According to Cooney, the key to picking

the right siding is for homeowners to understand their own priorities. For example, how critical is it for their home’s

siding to be eco-friendly, and what price point will their budget allow?

Vinyl

Vinyl is the least expensive siding option. When it comes to the environmental impact, “it’s pretty nasty,” Cooney said. Vinyl siding is largely

composed of PVC (polyvinyl chloride). During the manufacturingprocess of PVC, dioxin (a carcinogen) and other toxic gases are

produced, which are harmful to the  health of workers, as well as people and animals in the surrounding area. Dioxin and other toxins are 

also released when vinyl begins to  break down through the natural weathering process or when the siding materials finally make their way 

to a landfill. And Cooney said that in the unfortunate circumstance of a house fire, vinyl can actually melt, releasing more toxic chemicals.

Fiber cement

Fiber cement siding is a composite material made from cement, cellulose and sand. It is produced in a variety of styles, including shingles,

lap siding, vertical siding, and panels, and like wood, can be easily painted or stained, though unlike wood, it is impervious

to water and termite damage. Cooney said his company is installing fiber cement on many of the homes and commercials they build

because it is very durable, reasonably priced (about $3 per square foot at R.K. Miles), and more aesthetically pleasing than vinyl, as well

as fireproof. Fiber cement siding is used on all of the homes that Wright Builders recently constructed at the Village Hill developmenton the

old State Hospital grounds in Northampton. In terms of the environmental impact of fiber cement, Cooney said that while it is inert once

produced, fiber cement siding does require a fair amount of energy to manufacture. During installation, workers must wear a respirator to

prevent inhalation of silica dust when they cut the product.

OSB (Oriented strand board)

(OSB) is a siding product made of many glued layers or strands of wood. The price point of OSBproducts is similar to fiber cement siding

materials. According to Cooney, when it comes to durability and environmental impact, OSB scores less favorably than fiber cement. “It’s

has a lot of formaldehyde and glue in it,” he said.

Wood

The old standard, wood clapboard siding is still among the most environmentally friendly siding available, as long as it is sourced from

companies that practice sustainable forestry. Cooney said consumers should look for The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo, which

certifies that responsible forestry standards have been maintained in the production of wood products bearing that label. Consumers

should also be aware that FSC certification adds cost. While not FSC certified, most locally harvested wood products are managed 

suitably and sustainably, according to Cooney. Pine and cedar are the two types of wood siding. Both can be sourced locally, as Eastern 

cedar and Eastern white pine grow in the Northeast. Pine is relatively inexpensive. Clogston says pine clapboards run between $1.50 and 

$2 a square foot at R. K. Miles. Cedar, which Cooney said holds up to the elements better than pine, showing less discoloration from

weathering, is the most expensive of all siding. Clogston said cedar runs in the range of $5 to $7 per square foot. The problem with wood

is that it requires a new coat of stain or paint about everydecade. According to Cooney, the best way to preserve wood siding is to paint or

stain all sides of it including any cuts made during installation, and install it over a drain plane to allow rain and other “bulk water ” to exit. 

But maintaining wood is only a problem if you don’t like to paint. Cooney recentlypainted his own house over Labor Day weekend. 

“Personally, I find it meditativeand satisfying … I’m sure I’m unusual in enjoying that type of work!” he said.

Keeping Up with the Needs of your Home

It's hard to pinpoint the moment at which your newly renovated kitchen or bath starts to feel and look dated. As the months and years go by, something shifts. Is it that the paint has faded? Is it that the white square tile just isn't as timeless a choice as white subway tile would have been? Are you wishing you had chosen oil-rubbed bronze fixtures vs. chrome? Whatever the case may be, time does take it's toll on our homes - both stylistically and actually. As realtors, we are often pointing out to sellers, that when faced with what to focus on with regard to house updates for resale, it's the systems that should come first. Roofs, windows and trim, HVAC systems, gutter cleaning, moisture management in basements -- all of these items may be less compelling than a gorgeous bathroom renovation - but aesthetic choices are subjective. For instance, If you spend a lot of money on a kitchen renovation in lieu of replacing an aging roof or aging HVAC system - buyers may not like your design choices; they would therefore be less likely to buy your home than a home with a slightly dated kitchen but a new roof and updated HVAC system.  Giving a house or room a fresh coat of paint can liven up the space without spending a lot of money.

The following article from the Daily Hampshire Gazette gives sound advice about the "whens" and "whys" to start taking on home improvement projects in an aging home.

 

 

Living Smart: Projects for your home’s difficult teen years



As your house approaches 20 years old, consider steps to improve window efficiency. (Summer Galyan/Angie's List/TNS)

By Michele Dawson Angie’s List (TNS)
Thursday, November 5, 2015


When it comes to home improvement projects on your house that’s coming of age, there’s no denying that your roof, windows and air conditioning and heating units might be getting moody, temperamental or give you the silent treatment altogether.

As your home ages, it will require more upkeep and improvements. It’s especially important to stay on top of some of the more potentially troublesome elements of your home — ones that can cause you massive headaches and put a huge dent in your wallet.

Many changes both small and large can increase energy efficiency and cut down on electricity or gas bills, as well as increase home value if and when you plan to sell your house.

If your home’s age is in the double-digits, some of the home improvement projects on your to-do list will include:

Roof repairs, shingles and gutters


While staying on top of roof maintenance should take place regardless of the age of your home, it becomes even more important in the teen years. The National Roofing Contractors Association says you should examine the condition of the shingles. Any sign of blistering, buckling or curling means it’s time to replace them. You should also check the chimneys and pipes for wear or anything that seems to be coming apart. Also, check your gutters for any shingle granules. If you’re finding healthy amounts in the gutter, that means they’re not on the shingles and your roof is missing out on ultraviolet ray protection. If you find any of these problems, consider a roof repair by a licensed roofing contractor.

Gutter cleaning plays an important role in protecting your gutters, downspouts and foundation. Keep a clean gutter by regularly hiring a gutter cleaning company, and consider adding gutter guards to further protect them.

Window replacement and repair

As your windows age, they’re bound to lose the battle with draftiness or become stubborn and stick to their frames, and you’ll likely see your energy bill increase. Checking your windows for drafts and caulking is an easy solution that can be completed in a weekend and with minimal expense. Or you might consider new replacement windows with high energy efficiency. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says you’ll save 7 to 15 percent on your energy bill, and your home’s temperature will be consistent. No more drafts if you’re sitting by the window or rooms that feel too hot in the summer. A vinyl window overhaul can cost you upwards of $10,000 to $15,000. But the good news is that you’ll recover about 78 percent of that when you sell your home, according to Hanley Wood’s 2014 Cost vs. Value Report.

Heating and cooling

Life expectancy in HVAC units is typically 10 to 15 years. Units produced today are much more energy-efficient than the models just a decade ago. If you’re constantly calling an HVAC contractor, your unit is noisy, it’s humid inside your house, your energy bills are rising, or your unit’s SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) is less than 13, then it’s time to consider replacing your heating and cooling unit with a model that boasts higher energy efficiency. A licensed HVAC contractor can perform a load calculation that gets the most efficient model for your money.

Landscaping, tree service

When your house was new, the trees and landscape were so young and nonthreatening. As the years pass, the trees have matured and provide shade and beautiful aesthetics. But your gutters are getting clogged with leaves and you start to notice bumps and bulges in the path of tree roots, heading straight to your block patio. You’ll need to start cleaning those gutters more frequently. And if your tree roots are presenting problems, you can consider installing a barrier to the roots or dig and place pack material to discourage the roots.

A tree service professional can help ensure the best health for your trees by careful pruning and maintenance.

Painting and home décor


An easy way to help your home decor retain a youthful appearance is by livening it up with a new paint job. For both the interior and exterior, a fresh coat of paint can bring a crisp, clean, bold appearance. As walls get dingy and dirty, painting a room can do wonders. And introducing new colors can make a room or exterior of your house feel new again.

Staying in tune with your house during its tumultuous teen years is especially important if you plan on selling in the near future. Buyers tend to navigate toward homes that have been properly maintained and sport newer, more energy-efficient features. And exterior work such as regular tree service and fresh paint can increase curb appeal for a better home value.

 

Clean That Roof!

As realtors, we can all confirm that condition of the roof of a house is a hot bed issue for home buyers. Maintaining the life of your roof is important for protecting your investment, whether you plan to stay put in your house for good, or whether you intend to sell at some point in the future. Living in the Northampton MA area, our homes go through many types of wear and tear with the changes in season. From the potential for ice dams in winter (and roof leaks), to the potential for algae growth in humid weather, or on shaded areas of your roof.

The following article from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, written by Angie Hicks of "Angie's List" - addresses the issue of algae growth on your roof, and how to remove it. Good stuff!

 

By ANGIE HICKS


You may have the most attractive landscaping, beautiful windows and charming mailbox, but black streaks running down your roof can ruin your home’s curb appeal.

What causes those dark marks, and what can be done to eradicate them?

Roof experts who are highly rated by members of Angie’s List say the source is an algae called Gloeocapsa magma. And depending on the age and condition of your roof, cleaning may be the most cost-effective solution, since it’s about 5 to 10 percent of the price of a roof replacement, which can be as much as $10,000.

Algae-caused marking isn’t preventable but can be removed, though not always permanently. The algae survive through photosynthesis and by feeding on limestone filler used in asphalt shingles.

Black marks became a problem about 20 years ago, when manufacturers began adding limestone granules to add weight to material used to coat shingles.

Roof experts tell our researchers that though other components are being added to shingles to hinder algae growth, they still get calls to deal with black marks on relatively new roofs. They say that while shingle manufacturers offer products treated with copper or zinc to inhibit algae growth, their effect wears down over time.

Most black streaks form on the northern slopes of roofs, where it’s darker and wetter - ideal for algae growth. 

Areas of the country with low humidity have fewer instances of roof streaks, while the problem is relatively common in the Southeast, where it’s more humid and warm. 

The algae appear blue-green when the organisms form an outer coating to protect themselves from ultraviolet rays. Algae turn black when it decays.

While the dark streaks are unsightly, experts tell our team that the greatest danger to the roof is from moisture retention or root damage that algae and other life forms can cause. Also, algae and fungus can grow together to form lichen, the roots of which can wrap around and feed on the granules covering the shingles. Once established, lichen is not easily removed. Even if it dries out, it can come back to life with the next rain. Scrubbing or power washing lichen will only cause more damage.

Before determining whether having your roof cleaned is the right option, be sure you have a sense of your roof’s age and condition, and compare costs accordingly. 

A cleaning can cost around $200 to $1,500, depending on the size of the roof, its pitch and height.

When hiring a company to clean your roof, consider this advice, gathered by our research team, which talked to multiple highly rated roofing experts:

? Make sure the cleaners don’t use high-pressure washing systems, which can remove granules coating shingles, and lower their life expectancy.

? Ask what kind of cleaning solution the company uses. One highly rated roofing expert said he uses a chlorine-based chemical wash with a soaping agent. Also, make sure the company has a plan for preventing possible damage to your home or landscaping from runoff. That same roofing expert said he has one worker apply the cleaner while another saturates nearby areas with water to prevent damage.

? Ask how long the cleaning method should keep the roof algae-free. A range of two to five years is normal.

As with hiring any contractor, ask family and friends for references or check online consumer reviews from a trusted source, get several bids, seek and contact references, and confirm liability and workers’ compensation insurance.

And then, prepare to once again enjoy how your home looks without those dark ugly roof streaks.

Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie’s List, a resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care.