Home Care

Green Cleaning Your Home

I've always thought it interesting that even once I had graduated from college, I was still attuned to the school calendar, combined with the seasons, in informing my perspective on the day to day. For those of us with school-aged children -- having the house back to ourselves when the kids are off certainly has it's benefits. For those of us who don't, even the change of season leads us to start focusing more on the interior vs. exterior of our homes, I would venture to say. Homeowners (and residents alike) in Northampton who prefer to use clean, green, non-toxic products in our homes are in good company! To that end, I was recently perusing my daily Apartment Therapy email and came upon this article about cleaning your washer with vinegar. Let's not focus on the fact that I am at a point in my life where this information is EXCITING to me! Instead, let me say that I followed the steps below and my Energy Star, front-loading workhorse of a washing machine was gleaming and odor free after doing so. The moral of the story is, keep a large container of white vinegar, and some clean household rags on each floor of your home to keep things clean and sparkly!

You Should Pour Vinegar into Your Washing Machine—Here’s Why

by DANA MCMAHAN

(Image Credit: Brittany Purlee)

Is there anything you can’t handle with vinegar? Really, I wonder why I bother buying so many assorted cleaners when vinegar is basically the magic sauce that does everything. (Have you tried the trick with setting a saucer full of vinegar out to get rid of stink in a room? It totally works!) Here’s another fun thing is does: It cleans your washing machine.

Yes, your washing machine needs cleaning. Out of sight, out of mind, maybe, and it’s getting cleaned every time you use it, right? Well, no. Just like your sink and shower need cleaning, so too does the hard-working washing machine. 

And it turns out you don’t need any fancy, special “washing machine cleaner” (seriously, that’s up there with an avocado slicer as a uni-tasker). My Maytag wants me to use a branded products so badly it slaps the brand name of the recommended cleaner right on the dial! The cleaner is two bucks a pop (not a box, each!). No thanks. According to the internet, all you need is good ol’ vinegar. 

But just because you read something on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true, so I checked with an expert. And Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly company, gave me the lowdown. 

“It might seem counter-intuitive to have to clean a machine that does the cleaning, but over time soap scum and detergent buildup can start causing problems,” he says. “Your washing machine—and your clothing—will benefit from a periodic cleaning.”

So why should vinegar be your go-to? Well for starters, we all probably have a jug of it in the kitchen anyway. And “instead of using a bunch of harsh chemicals to force your washing machine into cleanliness, vinegar is recommended as a more natural and inexpensive way to clean your appliances,” Shimek said. 

Here’s his step-by-step guide to cleaning your washer with vinegar. 

First, spray vinegar around the rubber gasket and use a rag or toothbrush to remove soap scum, mildew, and detergent buildup. Make sure to scrub all the nooks and crannies, and take out and soak any removable parts such as soap and fabric softener dispensers. 

Next, start an empty wash cycle using the largest load size and hottest water. Add two cups of white vinegar and let the cycle run. (If you have a front load washer, pour the vinegar into the detergent dispenser.) For an extra-clean washing machine, repeat the cycle with a half-cup of baking soda. You’ll also need to hand-wash the top portion of the agitator and basin above the water line.

Finally, spray the front or top with vinegar and wipe it down. 

Confession: I only did the second step, and my very heavily used washing machine (you do a LOT of laundry when you run a full time Airbnb) looked brand new and shiny inside when the wash cycle finished, so I didn’t do the rest. But when I’m in a real cleaning fever kind of mood, I’ll come back to it. Shimek said this is something you should do every six months to keep things clean and running smoothly, which is totally manageable.

Time to Declutter and "Spark Joy"

OK, I admit it, I've written about this topic a time or two in the past. The truth is that this is an ongoing issue in my own household. Many of us in the 21st find ourselves surrounded by too much stuff, at a loss for how it got there, and how to (responsibly) dispose of it. In addition, as a realtor and self proclaimed homebody, I know how important it is to me that my living space be a peaceful haven. When I have too much clutter, it makes me feel stressed! There are professionals right here in the Pioneer Valley whom you can hire to help you deal with your personal clutter (contact your Maple and Main Realtor for some recommendations if this is of interest). To that end, I direct your attention to the following article from the Daily Hampshire Gazette. I admit, I'm a Marie Kondo fan. She is the "spark joy" woman from Japan who is referenced in the following article. I also admit that I, too, was bothered by how the show doesn't reference how to responsibly dispose or (or recycle) the items you choose to get rid of. Luckily, the following article makes many good local suggestions. Don't overlook the Hartsprings Foundation and Salvation Army who will come pick up your unwanted items! Also ThredUP. OK, I've got to go fold my clothes into tiny little squares now!

Declutter, donate or dispose? The trend of tidying up hits Northampton

  • Jean Pao-Wilson drops off donations at the Cancer Connection Thrift shop with Chris Hannon, a volunteer organizing donations. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Staff Writer

 
Published: 1/11/2019 12:15:52 AM

NORTHAMPTON — As more Americans turn to decluttering as a way to not only improve their living spaces, but to enrich their lives, some local thrift shops are seeing a spike in donations. 

Author-turned-Netflix star Marie Kondo’s “KonMari” method, which emphasizes only holding onto items that bring joy, is playing a role in increased donations, according to management at Cancer Connection Thrift Shop in Northampton. So is post-holidays winter cleaning.

“We do notice upticks in donations at certain time of the year, but I’ve heard a lot of people mention the tidying up thing, so that could be part of that,” said Christine Quinn, assistant manager at Cancer Connection, who has seen a few episodes of Kondo’s new Netflix series, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” which premiered on Jan. 1 and applies many of the ideas from her bestselling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” 

Busy times of year include long weekends, holidays and the start of a new year, she said. “Generally, when people have time to sit at home and reflect on how much stuff they have.”

Nancy Case, manager at Cancer Connection, also noticed an uptick in donations, adding that the store hasn’t always been this busy in past years

“We used to have a downtime,” Case said. “We no longer do have a downtime.”

Susan Drzewianowski, manager at Hospice Shop thrift store in Northampton, has also noticed Kondo’s ideas catching on among her clientele. While Hospice Shop “normally sees a drop in traffic after Christmas,” donations have been going strong this month, she said.

Customers mention “a couple times a week” ideas commonly championed by Kondo, such as “I have too much... it brought me joy,” Drzewianowski said. “It’s something I’ve never heard here before.”

Case said she’s “not entirely convinced” surges in donations are only related to Kondo’s Netflix show, but noted that several patrons have mentioned the show as an inspiration for decluttering their lives.

But Case believes that the influx of donations seen at local thrift stores goes “beyond trendy.”

“People are just becoming more aware,” she said.

Jean Pao Wilson of Easthampton, a customer and donor at Cancer Connection, said that she has been making an effort to donate more often in general as a way to declutter her own life without being wasteful.

“A lot of us have a lot of stuff, and I like to simplify and donate rather than throw it in the trash,” Pao Wilson said.

“It’s like a muscle,” she added. “The more you use it, the easier it gets.”

Decluttering responsibly

Quinn said that she had read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” and watched a few episodes of Kondo’s Netflix series in response to its recent buzz. She agrees with Kondo on many concepts. But simply tossing clutter in the trash doesn’t necessarily warrant a pat on the back, Quinn said, adding that Kondo’s book could use more emphasis on how to properly dispose of unwanted items.

“It’s simply focused on the people themselves clearing out their house,” Quinn said of the book. “They never address where things are going to, so it seems like people could be throwing things in the trash, which sort of bugs me, because people are throwing out things that could be going to good use.”

Susan Waite, waste reduction and recycling coordinator for the Northampton Department of Public Works, also stressed that “the greenest item is the one that already exists.”

“The whole popularity of decluttering is wonderful, but there are people that can use some of the material, so I wince when people say just get a dumpster and toss everything,” she said.

At the same time, people should be mindful of what can and can’t be donated, Quinn said, adding that some people will bring in items that are broken, moldy or otherwise unhealthy or unsafe to handle, believing they can be refurbished by the store. But especially with smaller organizations, such as Cancer Connection, this often isn’t the case.

Wendy Taylor-Jourdian, manager of The Parson’s Closet thrift store in Easthampton, said that her shop has also experienced issues with people dropping off items that the store can’t accept, which leads to the donations endingup in the dumpster.

The volume of donations is “cyclical” at Parsons, Taylor-Jourdian said, although the holiday season can sometimes see people donating unwanted gifts or decluttering in preparation of the giving season.

But while people should take care that they are donating appropriate items, thrift shops such as Cancer Connection are always depending on new donations from patrons, Case said.

“Just because (a donated item) doesn’t spark joy for them doesn’t mean it won’t spark joy for someone else,” she said.

 
 
Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.

Questions for your Home Inspector

It's the beautiful fall season here in the Northampton area - and the real estate market is on an upswing! As Thanksgiving and the December holidays approach, there are buyers and sellers out there still looking, buying and selling before the quiet of winter descends. So, for buyers out there, even if the home you are considering is in tip top condition, the home inspection process is an important learning tool. Your realtor can help you to prioritize issues, and come up with a list of reasonable requests for the seller, once you have your inspection report in hand. Having personally attended home inspections with clients in recent weeks, I thought this article was timely.

Home Inspection's Complete? Here's What You Must Ask Afterward

By  | Oct 9, 2018
 
home-inspector-questions
fstop123/iStock

What are some questions to ask a home inspector after he's finished the inspection? Because, let's face it, just staring at that hefty report highlighting every flaw in your future dream home can send many buyers into a full-blown panic!

Know the right questions to ask a home inspector afterward, though, and this can help put that report into perspective. Here are the big ones to hit.
 

'I don't understand [such and such], what does it mean?'

Just so you know what to expect, here's how it will go down: A day or two after the inspection, you should receive the inspector's report. It will be a detailed list of every flaw in the house, often along with pictures of some of the problem areas and more elaboration.

Hopefully you also attended the actual inspection and could ask questions then; if so, the report should contain no surprises. It should contain what you talked about at the inspection, with pictures and perhaps a bit more detail. If there's anything major you don't remember from the inspection in the report, don't be afraid to ask about it.

'Is this a major or a minor problem?'

Keep in mind, most problems in the house will likely be minor and not outright deal breakers. Still, you'll want your home inspector to help you separate the wheat from the chaff and point out any doozies. So ask him if there are any problems serious enough to keep you from moving forward with the house.

Keep in mind that ultimately it's up to you and your real estate agent to determine how to address any issues.

"The inspector can't tell you, 'Make sure the seller pays for this,' so be sure you understand what needs to be done," says Frank Lesh, executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors.

'Should I call in another expert for a follow-up inspection?'

Expect to have to call in other experts at this point to look over major issues and assign a dollar figure to fixing them. If your inspector flags your electrical box as looking iffy, for example, you may need to have an electrician come take a look and tell you what exactly is wrong and what the cost would be to fix it. The same goes for any apparent problems with the heating or air conditioning, roof, or foundation. An HVAC repair person, roofer, or engineer will need to examine your house and provide a bid to repair the problem.

Why is this so important? This bid is what your real estate agent will take to the seller if you decide to ask for a concession instead of having the seller do the fix for you. Your inspector can't give you these figures, but he can probably give you a sense of whether it's necessary to call somebody in.

'Is there anything I'll need to do once I move in?'

Wait, you're still not done! It's easy to forget the inspector's report in the whirlwind of closing and moving, but there are almost always suggestions for things that need doing in the first two to three months of occupancy.

Lesh says he sometimes gets panicked calls from homeowners whose houses he inspected three months after they've moved in. Although he'd noted certain issues in his report, the buyers neglected the report entirely—and paid for it later.

"I had a couple call and tell me they had seepage in the basement," Lesh says. "I pulled up their report and asked if they'd reconnected the downspout extension like I recommended. Nope. Well, there's your problem!"

Everything you didn't ask the seller to fix? That's your to-do list. Isn't owning a home fun?

 
Audrey Ference has written for The Billfold, The Hairpin, The Toast, Slate, Salon, and others. She lives in Austin, TX.
 

Natural Drain Cleaner, Yup!

Let's face it, we all have recurring themes of disagreement that arise when living in the same household with other people. For example, clogged drains have lead to repeated domestic arguments in my own household. I am impulsive, and I want the problem (any problem) addressed immediately. My partner is slow and methodical, and he needs to take his time when responding to problems. My impulsivity leads me to want to reach for the Drano, in the face of a clogged drain, and nip the problem in the bud. My partner historically puts his foot down (firmly) in response to this solution. And, in this case, I have learned that he is correct. The chemicals in liquid drain cleaners can eat away at one's pipes, and cause long term damage. Not to mention the fact that they are dangerous and toxic, and just not a good thing to leave lying around one's home. At this point, to be honest, I almost always reach for the white vinegar when it comes times to clean most anything in my house. As I was perusing Apartment Therapy this morning - which I tend to do on a regular basis, I came across this recipe for how to make non-toxic drain cleaner. I think that all home owners should bookmark this page and remember to use it the next time your pipes get clogged. Happy Housekeeping!

 You Should Know How to Make Your Own Drain Cleaner

Ayn-Monique Klahre

Sep 30, 2018

Dead skin cells, soap scum, random food scraps, human hair, pet hair, and just regular ol' dirt—these are all the things you regularly wash down your sink or tub's drain. And if they sound gross now, image how much worse they are once they've congealed into a stringy, slimy ball of gunk inside your pipes. Yuck!

 

You want to prevent any of this gunk buildup before it becomes a real problem—especially in homes with older pipes or large families. The first sign of a growing clog? A gray ring around your tub or sink from the water sloooooowlydraining, giving soap bubbles ample time to attach and dry to that formerly clean porcelain. Another sign is water pooling around the drain. If you can actually see the slow drainage, it's time to act!

There are strong chemical cleaners designed to tackle truly clogged drains (and boy, do they smell like they're working!), but for prevention and regular maintenance, a DIY unclogger (a professional term!) will do. This method combines a couple products—with surprising cleaning powers—that you already have in your cabinets.

 
 
1/5 Run the hot water: Turn your sink or shower on at full-blast hot and run it for a few minutes, then allow it to drain. If your water doesn't get super hot (which it might not, because the EPA recommends you keep it at 120 degrees for both energy efficiency and safety), boil a big pot of water on the stove, then pour it down the drain. Wait for the water to drain; this is the first step in loosening the gunk.
Image credit: Christine Han

How To Make Your Own Drain Cleaner

Ingredients

  • Boiling-hot water
  • Baking soda (about a cup)
  • Fresh-squeezed lemon juice (about a cup)

Equipment

  • Spoon or funnel (optional)
  • Tub stopper or rag
 

Instructions

  1. Run the hot water: Turn your sink or shower on at full-blast hot and run it for a few minutes, then allow it to drain. If your water doesn't get super hot (which it might not, because the EPA recommends you keep it at 120 degrees for both energy efficiency and safety), boil a big pot of water on the stove, then pour it down the drain. Wait for the water to drain; this is the first step in loosening the gunk.
  2. Pour in the baking soda: Slowly send about a cup of baking soda down the drain, using a spoon or funnel as necessary. Do it little by little so it's not all jammed at the top of the drain.
  3. Add the lemon juice: Slowly pour the lemon juice on top of the baking soda. Brace yourself for some action: This will cause a fizzy, bubbly chemical reaction. 
  4. Cover and wait: Use your tub stopper or a rag to cover the drain, and wait. Give the mixture enough time to work, about a half hour, and keep it covered the whole time. 
  5. Run water again: Uncover the drain and send piping-hot water down it (again, either from the faucet or heated on the stovetop), letting it run for a few minutes. Wait for it all to drain. Is it draining faster than before? If not…
  6. Repeat as necessary: If your drain is super clogged, it may take a few rounds before it clears up. But with proper maintenance (repeat this process two to four times a year, depending on your household) you can prevent those big clogs from building up again.

 

Thinking Ahead - Landscape Design and Climate Change

During the summer, Northampton area residents are often banned from watering their lawns between 9 am and 5 pm due to drought conditions. The recent/current rains were much needed. I'm happy not to be spending countless hours watering my lawn in the sweltering heat. But it is also noticeably still humid and hot, despite the rains we have been experiencing. One can't help but think of climate change with the strange weather patterns happening around us.

It pays to think ahead when it comes to climate change and your landscaping choices. This recent article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette discusses some choices an Amherst landscape design firm has made when designing an eco-friendly garden for the Amherst Historical Society. The points made in the following article could easily be applied to homeowners as well.

Amherst designer suggests cooling gardens to prepare for climate changes

  •  

  • By ANDY CASTILLO
@AndyCCastillo
Thursday, July 19, 2018

It’s sweltering under the bright sun beating down on the lawn of the Amherst Historical Society’s Strong House on Amity Street, but take a walk down a narrow stone path into a shaded garden area in the back and the temperature noticeably drops by a few degrees.

Over the next 30 years, New England’s climate will become hotter, making the shaded areas in the Strong House’s 1800s garden an important design element, says Andrew Kilduff, ecological designer and co-founder of TK.designlab in Amherst. His firm was hired by the Historical Society to create a conceptual eco-friendly design for the garden that takes into account projected changes to New England’s climate.

"In many respects, shrubs that grow between five, 10, and 15-feet-tall create a different environment," he said, while looking over the shady area from the front lawn one recent afternoon.

The garden features plants like globe thistles, trilliums, peach-leaved bellflowers, dictamnus plants and garden phlox, according to Denise Gagnon, a member of the Amherst Garden Club, which takes care of the public garden. Another member, Meredith Michaels said the flowers were selected based on what would have grown natively in the region when the garden was created 150 years ago.

Keeping in mind what would have been available in the 18th century, and in addition to perennials already there, she said, “We add a few annuals in spaces that have become denuded of whatever was supposed to be there.”

The area is a cut-through for commuters passing from Amity Street into the center of town, and connects to the garden at the nearby Jones Library. And, so, because the garden is such a visible spot, Kilduff and his firm say many different plant species should be included with adequate irrigation to showcase practical ways home gardeners, too, can prepare for climate change.

"As landscape designers, we thought what might be an interesting way to re-conceptualize the garden, and to play around with some ideas as to best honor the history here, and create a space that's reflective of the changing conditions, not only in the town, but in the region and the world as a whole," Kilduff said.

Hot, dry, stormy

Kilduff, who has a master’s degree in ecological design and planning from the Conway School of Landscape Design, notes the difference in temperature between the sunny spots and the garden’s shady areas is as much as 10 to 15 degrees, which will be particularly significant when the climate heats up.

He points out a stone patio connected to the house where rain barrels and catch basins can be placed. The collected rainwater could be redirected to irrigate the flower beds to reduce the amount of water and physical labor needed during prolonged dry spells, he says.

When the climate is warmer, the growing season will be longer, Kilduff says, and there will be more intense storms. Because of those changes, plant species that thrive in the area now might not be able to survive anymore, and others will become more suited to the climate.

As an example of one species that’s being affected as temperatures warm, Kilduff noted research by Smith College Biologist Jesse Bellemare that shows a steady migration of umbrella magnolia trees into New England.

And, he said, "The vegetables here will be more proliferous. You'll be able to start seeds earlier. Farmers will be able to, hypothetically, instead of reaping one or two mows a year for hay, do three, four, or perhaps even more."

While the design is intended to show what a garden in the year 2050 might look like, he noted that some elements his firm proposed already appear in contemporary gardens, such as the rain barrels and long depressions, called swales. In the Strong House Garden design, he says, a swale could be dug at the back of the property to drain rainwater from the flower beds in the event of a heavy storm.

Existing plants, such as the thistle globes and trilliums, would be bolstered by the other species that could survive in hotter conditions, with ferns like Ostrich or Cinnamon ferns planted near the house, flora that thrives in wet conditions such as Red Columbine, Blue Flag Iris and switchgrass in the swale, and hardy flowers that can withstand intense heat like umbrella magnolia in areas exposed to the sun. Kilduff said that because the designs are so preliminary, his firm hasn’t yet fully researched the exact kinds of flora that would be best adapted to future climate changes.

Another proposal included in the design is space for community gardens, and a suggestion to shade areas of the garden currently exposed to direct sunlight.

Think ahead

"Plant a tree, because it pulls up water out of the ground, it shades, and reduces the heat stress of you and your pets and the plants around you," Kilduff said, noting that, if a tree is planted now, it will become mature by the time changes have taken place.

In planning for the future, he recommends that gardeners study their plots and think about ways to efficiently maintain them in a hotter environment.

"If you're watering often, it's possible that you could have a small rain barrel, and that alone may offset those one or two trips," he said. Connecting a hose to the barrel to create a drip irrigation system would make the watering job easier.

In addition to shade trees and shrubs, add a few ground-covers in the garden, Kilduff says. “They're attractive, and have a functional purpose. They reduce the soil loss, allow other plants to be able to suck up water more easily, and you'll find yourself weeding less."

Change is coming, he said, and gardens will either suffer or thrive depending on how area gardeners prepare and adapt.

“Land is something that we interact with virtually at every waking movement of our lives,” he said. “Even when we're in our homes and offices, we're subject to the conditions present outside the envelope of the building. "

A summer heat wave in 2050 could last for weeks, he says, and shade trees outside of a house, go a long way in providing some comfort for those inside.

"If you find yourself boiling the moment you walk in the door, perhaps add shade trees or some shrubs along the side of the house," he said. The time to plan for coming changes is now, he says. “It's worth further investigation.”

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@gazettenet.com.

 

 

 

DIY Repair Your Deck This Summer!

Now that the sun in shining, the birds are singing and the flowers are blooming - the spring real estate market is upon us! I so enjoy seeing all the new "inventory" in the Northampton area with my buyer clients. Houses seem to double in size when you include the yard, and any outdoor living spaces, such as decks, patios, pools and the like. The flip side of this increased sense of space, is that outdoor areas actually require upkeep, and this can be time consuming and expensive. It's a good idea to take stock of all that needs doing, and decide which items/projects you are willing and able to pay for (yard clean up? gutter cleaning?), and which projects you prefer to do on your own (planting new perennials?, mulching your garden beds?).

In the past week, I've happened upon a number of houses with decks in need of TLC. My first impulse as a homeowner, would be to hire a professional to deal with a weathered deck. But, in reading this piece from todays' Daily Hampshire Gazette, it seems as if freshening up ones' deck is actually a manageable DIY project!

How to repair a splintering deck

By HomeAdvisor

Thursday, May 31, 201
 
Splintering decks are usually the result of neglect — occurring after a deck remains untreated and unsealed for a number of years. The lack of protection allows water to soak into the boards, eventually causing them to splinter and crack.

Fortunately, all is not lost. It may be hard to get that brand new look back completely, but following a few simple steps can help you bring your neglected decking back to life.

Your first order of business is the easiest. Mix up a solution of half bleach, half water and spray down your entire decking. If you see areas of deck mold (not unlikely if it's been a while since your deck's been treated), hit those especially hard and work at them with a scrub brush until the mold has been removed.

Finally, wait for the deck to dry before moving on to the next step.

The bleach does two things: It kills deck mold and mildew, and it bleaches the wood to a uniform color, preparing it for treatment. If you treat a deck that's at the point of splintering without applying bleach, you'll end up with dark, unattractive decking. Using bleach will bring out the natural wood look you're trying to recover.

Once the bleach solution has dried off the deck (it's a good idea to give it about 24 hours, just to be sure), you can move on to sanding. Since splintering decks mean lots of painful slivers for bare feet, it's important that you sand down your deck so that you're once again working with a smooth surface. Renting a large floor sander will certainly speed up the job, though the railings, banisters, steps and other hard-to-reach places will probably need to be done with a hand sander or sandpaper. Finally, rent a power washer and clean off the deck. It's going to be covered in a fine layer of dust from the sanding, and you'll need to get rid of that if you want your sealer to take properly.

Once the deck has dried out a second time, you're ready to treat the deck. Using a power sprayer drastically reduces the time it takes to treat a deck, though it can be done with paint rollers and brushes if you've got the patience. Just be sure to watch out for drips and runs, and to brush them up quickly. Waiting until after the deck is dry to try to get rid of them is almost impossible. Finally, remember to treat your deck on a regular basis (at least every few years). It's the only sure-fire way to prevent problems like splintering, cracking, rot and mold.

While it's possible to repair decking yourself, it's a time-consuming and laborious job — especially if you don't have the right tools. A decking contractor is experienced enough to repair decking of all sorts, and they will also have the supplies and know-how to get it done right in a fraction of the time. For this reason, many homeowners find hiring a decking pro to be worth the extra cost.

 

Visit HomeAdvisor.com.

Time to Winterize Your Home!

Yes, it's that time of year again when your friendly neighborhood realtors remind you to make sure your home is properly winterized. Although we haven't yet seen snow in the Northampton area, history suggests we can count on it's arrival at some point in the not-too-distant future. It makes sense to have your ducks in a row before the first big snow storm and low temperatures descend upon us. To that end, I include the following article from the Realtor Association of the Pioneer Valley website. It provides a thorough laundry list of how to prepare your home for winter.

Avoid Costly Repairs With These Winter Maintenance Must-Dos

Failure to prepare your home for the upcoming winter months can have dire consequences on your wallet, as well as pose a safety hazard for others. Even those in warmer climates will want to be careful this time of year: Everyone can benefit from an annual maintenance tune-up, and even in the South a winter frost can come as a nasty surprise.

Fortunately, there are some relatively easy preventative measures you can implement in the fall months to help ensure a smooth winter. The list below provides a few of the low-cost measures you can take now that will save you from the hassles of repairs and from the cost of winter issues.

Winterize pipes and outdoor spigots. As the temperatures start to dip below freezing, any water that is exposed to the lower temperatures will freeze. When water freezes, it expands; water left in a hose has nowhere to expand to. The copper piping that feeds the water to the hose will eventually split because of this expansion.

 

The easy fix here is to remove all the hoses and make sure that there is no water left in them. Also, for more protection, you can place a foam box over the spigot.

Additionally, if you live in a place where the temperatures drop dramatically or stay cold for an extended period of time, you need to make sure the pipes inside the home are protected. This is very important if your home has a crawl space underneath the house with exposed pipes. Simple and inexpensive foam pipe covers can accomplish this.

Clean roof gutters. If your home has gutters you need to make sure that you inspect how they are attached to the roof and that they are clear of debris. You want to make sure no dams or clogs are created. The best time to check is after all the fall leaves have dropped and then again during the spring thaw. Cleaning the drains will help ensure that the drains do not get ripped off from the roof and that water will not back up, which can cause a leaky roof.

Remove foliage and potential tree hazards. Trees and foliage provide great shade for your home in the summer and help keep the heat at bay. However, you want to make sure that you do not have branches and other foliage over your roof or potentially covering electric lines, cable, gas or any other cables you may have running to your home. It is easiest to trim back or remove any potential problems in the fall. Snow on branches can weigh them down and potentially cause utility problems or even roof damage.

Inspect your furnace. Winter typically requires the use of a heater. Schedule an inspection of your furnace to make sure it is venting properly and will not be obstructed by winter weather. Check and/or replace your carbon monoxide alarms, which is a low-cost fix that may just save your life.

Dryer exhaust.  Much like your furnace, inspect your dryer vent. Make sure no lint is backing up the exhaust and that winter weather will not cause any issues. A backed-up exhaust can lead to house fires.

These few safety precautions will help ensure that the winter months pass safely and that your home is protected. Take a few minutes and make your home as safe as possible for you and your family.

The Benefits of Adding Solar Power to Your Home

In our development in Florence, MA, just 2.5 miles from downtown Northampton, MA, it seems that solar panels are going up on yet another neighbor's home on a weekly basis. We started the process of interviewing local solar providers last year, but had to put the project on hold for a variety of reasons. Now we are ready to open this can of worms once again. Luckily, our neighbors have done a lot of research, which they are happy to share. The following article from Apartment Therapy does a nice job of explaining the costs and benefits associated with installing solar panels on ones' home. The good news is that buyers do seem to be willing to pay more for solar power - so you needn't stay in your home long enough to see a direct return on investment. 

Can Solar Power Pay Off? One Homeowner Crunches Real Numbers

By Julie Sprankles 

Aside from the obvious benefit of helping the planet, solar power can be pretty enticing to homeowners who are tired of paying an arm and a leg for their electric bill every month. Given that outfitting a home with solar panels comes with considerable costs upfront, though, is doing so practical from a financial standpoint? Can solar power in fact pay off?

For starters, it's worth noting that the benefits—as well as costs—of installing solar (also called photovoltaic) power systems will vary from house to house. This makes sense, right? Your house might be much larger than my house. My house may be in an area where solar power is more readily available and therefore more affordable. The variables go on and on.

In general, however, there are a few universal benefits of installing solar power: it lowers your electric bill, minimizes your carbon footprint and, depending on where you live, it can even bump up your home value.

On the flip side, you'll need to drop a pretty penny upfront in order to buy the equipment and pay for the installation. The big question, of course, is whether the potential savings will outweigh those upfront expenditures—or, more pointedly, whether you'll actually be able to save money (or make money, if the value of your house goes up considerably) should you invest in solar power.

How much does solar power cost to install?

Let's talk numbers, shall we? A solar power system for an average-sized house in the U.S. can run anywhere from $15,000 to $40,000. If those figures give you a serious case of sticker shock, don't fret just yet—many companies allow you to "lease" the equipment, which dramatically reduces your upfront costs. But should you decide to purchase outright, you may qualify for government incentives that cut the cost of the system. In all 50 states, installing a solar power system qualifies the homeowner for the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit. This tax incentive allows you to claim a credit of 30 percent of qualified expenditures for your system and, most importantly, helps to shave down the time it would take for your savings to equal out or exceed your initial investment.

If you're the type that likes online calculators, you'll be particularly happy to learn that Google has come up with a handy little number-cruncher to give you an approximation of the costs and savings you can expect with solar in your own home. Called Project Sunroof, the tool relies on high-resolution aerial mapping to calculate your specific roof's solar energy potential. According to Google engineer Carl Elkin, the site "figures out how much sunlight hits your rooftop through the year, taking into account factors like roof orientation, shade from trees and nearby buildings, and local weather patterns."

Technology... crazy, huh?

When I plug my home's address into Project Sunroof, it spits out an aerial thermal image of my street that is, if we're being honest, pretty damn impressive in its detail. The fact that my roof is glowing bright yellow clues me into the fact that sunlight is aplenty, but the site spells it out for me, too.

By their estimate, my roof receives 1,606 hours of usable sunlight per year. Based on 3D modeling of my roof and nearby trees, the site figures I have 564 square feet of roof available to be outfitted with solar panels—and they recommend an 8-kilowatt system, which would cover 40 percent of our household electricity usage.

What does all of this mean for my bottom line and, theoretically, yours? That, yes, a solar power system can pay off.

With the system covering around 40 percent of my household electricity usage, my 20-year benefits of utilizing the system would total $37,000. If the upfront cost of a system after tax incentives amounts to $17,000 and we deduct that from the benefits, the 20-year savings comes out to $20,000. In other words, it would take nine years to pay back that initial investment.

You may be thinking, "Yeah, but this only pays off if I actually stay in the home for nine years." In which case you may be relieved to learn that research conducted by the Department of Energy in 2015 showed that buyers are happy to pay more for homes with solar power systems.

The study, which was cited by The New York Times, revealed that buyers were willing to pay a premium of $15,000 for a home with a solar power system, compared to a similar home without one. The only caveat is that these findings apply to systems that are owned, not leased.

So although there's no hard-and-fast rule for whether or not solar power systems will pay off in every unique situation, they can certainly save you money immediately on your electrical bill whether you buy or lease. And if you have the capital to make the full investment upfront, you could be looking at paying off the system in less than a decade and enjoying sizable savings and a big ROI in the long-term.

Lighting Updates to Attract Home Buyers

One of the many services that we realtors provide our seller clients, is to preview their homes and make suggestions about affordable updates that can give a dated home, or room, a fresh appearance. It rarely makes sense for someone who is planning to sell their home to make a deep pocket investment such as a total kitchen or bathroom renovation. Style choices are subjective, and expensive renovations that a new buyer would want to "undo" can actually negatively affect the bottom-line sale price.  Sometimes a fresh coat of paint and some new light fixtures can go a long way towards making a space feel updated and attractive.

Since we do tend to have a fall upswing in home sales here in the Northampton area, now would be a good time to call your realtor for an opinion about which affordable updates to make before putting your house on the market. This recent article from the Boston Globe gives sound advice about light fixture choices:

Ask the Stager: Tips for choosing lighting that attracts buyers

   

Inspired by factories and older buildings, industrial-style fixtures are now used in contemporary kitchens.

Inspired by factories and older buildings, industrial-style fixtures are now used in contemporary kitchens. Tim Lee Photography/Staging by Staged To Move

Kara Woods - Globe Correspondent

August 15, 2017 11:00 pm

Updated interior lighting is one of the most efficient ways to get a potential buyer’s eyes to light up. Just like a fresh coat of “greige’’ (a color between beige and gray) paint, lighting has the power to change the entire feel of a room instantly. It’s an affordable fix with maximum impact.

We’re currently using the transitional style of lighting to get our clients’ homes showcase ready. A mix between traditional and contemporary, its streamlined and sophisticated look tends to appeal to the broadest audience.

Here are a few of my go-to transitional-style light fixtures:

Dining room/kitchen

The “orb,’’ or round fixture, is replacing the traditional six-candle chandelier. In addition to a dining room or kitchen, these fixtures also light up a foyer.

The Solaris 6-light sphere chandelier by Crystorama Lighting. —Photo by David Turner;Staging by Stage To Move

Kitchen pendants

When updating or installing kitchen pendants, it can be tricky to determine the size fixture you’ll need and how many will fit in the space. The rule of thumb is to space the lights 30 inches apart and 30 to 36 inches above the island surface.

Popular styles that will make your kitchen shine include:

Industrial 

Inspired by factories and older buildings, this style is now used in contemporary kitchens. Industrial-style lighting is common in Restoration Hardware designs.

Glass or clear pendants in a transitional style

Selected for its clean, linear lines, this style creates visual impact without taking up a lot of visual space. A favorite among stagers, potential buyers are able to move their eyes easily over, and through, the entire space. Stick with a polished nickel or chrome finish.

The kitchen pictured below had outdated bronze lantern-style fixtures that felt heavy and blocked the view of the large kitchen and eating area. When we installed these lighter glass fixtures, they opened up the space and showcased the full potential of this beautiful kitchen. (We also painted the cherry cabinets white, which also brightened the space.)

Bronze lantern-style fixtures that felt heavy were replaced with transitional-style glass fixtures, Birch Lane by Northport Pendant, that opened up the space. —Photo by Anthony Acocella; Staging by Staged To Move

Bathroom

Sconces

  • Stick with straight, clean lines and a polished nickel or chrome finish.
  • Avoid the glass shades that look like a bell — in other words, pronounced curves.
  • Stay away from sconces with mini shades.

Stick with clean, straight lines for bathroom sconces. Shown here is the Hewitt single sconce. —Courtesy of Pottery Barn

Overhead

  • Stick with the same rule of thumb as the sconces — opt for straight, box-like lines.
  • Stay away from curves or bell shapes.
  • Select polished nickel or chrome finishes. For overhead bathroom fixtures, select polished nickel or chrome finishes. Shown here is the Alcott triple sconce. —Courtesy of Pottery Barn

Hallway

This situation typically calls for a semi-flush-mount light, meaning there is a small gap between the ceiling and the fixture.

Hallway lighting typically calls for a semi-flush-mount light, meaning there is a small gap between the ceiling and the fixture. The fixture pictured here, by Progress Lighting, features a low-slung shade. —Courtesy of Progress Lighting

Final thoughts

A couple of things to keep in mind as you select lighting and prepare your home for sale:

1. Be sure to combine the new lighting with existing fixtures. For example, if the sconces in the hallway are brushed nickel, pick a semi-flush fixture in the same material so they coordinate.

2. Focus your staging budget on high-priority areas, which include the first floor (or public spaces), the master bedroom, and the master bath.

Kara Woods, an award-winning home staging and design professional who specializes in the luxury market, teaches at the Academy of Home Staging and serves as Northeast regional vice president of the Real Estate Stagers Association. Send comments and questions to Address@globe.com. Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter at pages.email.bostonglobe.com/AddressSignUp.

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