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Perkasie, PA 18944
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Tom's Blog

Q: What are the best home improvement projects to maximize ROI, or Return on Investment?

October 19, 2012 5:46 pm

A: Experts agree that any remodeling project that brings your home up to the level of your neighbors’ is a worthy investment. However, some improvements offer a greater return than others. It depends on the type of work you have done. Remodeling magazine publishes an annual “Cost vs. Value Report.” The most recent report, based on the top 16 home improvements for a mid-range home, says the highest remodeling paybacks have come from vinyl siding replacement (with 87.2 percent of the cost recouped), wood window replacement (85.3 percent), minor kitchen remodeling (85.2 percent), bathroom remodeling (84.9 percent), and vinyl window replacement (83.7 percent).

10 Surefire Ways to Raise Healthy Kids

October 18, 2012 5:38 pm

With parents away at work in most homes, and kids routinely tempted by sugary treats, questionable friends and increasingly engaging electronics, it isn’t easy to raise healthy, responsible kids. But getting them off to a good start, and instilling an awareness of good habits and choices, may help them avoid some obvious pitfalls as they grow toward adulthood.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), offers these ten tips for parents who want to raise healthier kids:

Keep them covered –
from earliest childhood, generous use of sunscreen, hats, and protective clothing will help protect them from sunburn and skin cancer.

Keep meds out of reach – Kids are curious. Store all medicines, household products, personal care products, and other dangerous substances in locked cabinets that are out of reach of small children.

Make nutrition important – From infancy, serve a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Omit high-fat, high-sugar snacks and help kids understand the connection between healthy eating and good health.

Get their teeth checked – Dental decay is one of the most common chronic infectious diseases among children and often leads to other illness. Use fluoride toothpaste, and oversee vigorous brushing twice daily.

Stress the importance of hand-washing – Good hygiene, including frequent hand-washing is one of the simplest ways to avoid disease. Show kids how to sneeze or cough into their elbow and encourage frequent hand-washing.

Teach pedestrian safety - Set limits on when and where your children walk and cross streets. Teach them about street safety, what traffic light colors mean, obeying traffic signals, and watching for cars.

Get them off the couch – At least 60 minutes a day of exercise helps build healthy bodies. Get kids involved with regular sports programs and/or bike-riding or other exercise.

Use antibiotics wisely – Antibiotic resistance, which occurs from overuse, can cause longer illness, more doctor visits and other problems. Use them only when your doctor has determined they will be effective.

Be generous with compliments – Complimenting your kids when they do something good encourages good behavior and keeps the lines of communication flowing more freely.

Be involved – Take an active interest in your kids’ daily activities – and talk to them. Involved parents can, without preaching, be a positive influence in their children’s resistance to alcohol, tobacco, and other poor choices.

From Patch to Table: the Many Uses of a Pumpkin

October 18, 2012 5:38 pm

(BPT) - While pumpkins are most often associated with holiday pies, don't underestimate this favorite of the squash and gourd family. Not only is the mighty pumpkin delicious, but it is also quite the multi-tasker.

“Pumpkins are incredibly versatile. They can be used in virtually any application,” says Chef Joseph Brown, culinary chair at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Raleigh - Durham, a campus of South University. From sweet to savory, desserts to dinners, Brown and Chef Arthur Inzinga, culinary instructor at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, offer tips and ideas for making the most of your pumpkins.

Pumpkin can be added to a variety of dishes to provide textural elements as well as flavor. “When pumpkin is cooked down it is very similar to mashed potatoes, but more sweet and flavorful,” says Brown. “It brings a sweetness to the table, which is its most unique aspect.” He adds that anywhere a potato is being cut up and cooked, pumpkin would be a good addition and/or substitution.

Pureed pumpkin can be added to a variety of sauces and soups, and according to Inzinga, “pumpkin is used a lot in conjunction with pasta.” He recommends using it as a filling in gnocchi: “Typically, gnocchi is made with potato puree. You can substitute pumpkin puree.” Brown also notes it can be used as a filling for ravioli.

Adding the bold flavor of pumpkin to a variety of dishes can be achieved with some simple substitutions. Pumpkin chili can be created by augmenting some of the stock and tomato with pureed pumpkin. “This brings a richness to the chili. The pumpkin is going to be as much a textural component as it is a flavorful item,” says Brown. He also adds that pumpkin and tomato go together beautifully. This can be seen in autumn or pumpkin pizza, where the pumpkin becomes part of the sauce. Brown likes to top his pumpkin pizza with barbequed chicken. Inzinga recommends juicing some of the pumpkin pulp and using it as the cooking liquid for risotto or mixing equal parts pureed pumpkin to mashed potatoes. “It can be used as an ingredient in pancakes and waffles to replace some of the liquid and add flavor,” he says.

Pumpkin can also take center stage in dishes such as pumpkin-based bread puddings and ice creams and pumpkin butter. Inzinga says pumpkin butter is much like apple butter and can be created by adding pumpkin pie spices and cooking the pumpkin down until it is a spreadable consistency. He also recommends pumpkin/apple smoothies made with pureed pumpkin, apple juice and a bit of yogurt.
Enjoy the full flavor of the pumpkin by dicing and roasting with other root vegetables, sauteing it to bring out its natural flavors or even putting it on the grill. Brown says the slow heat of the grill brings out natural sugars, removes moisture and condenses the flavor.

Don't forget that the flesh isn't the only part of the pumpkin that can be used. The seeds can be roasted and used as a garnish on breads, muffins or on pumpkin soup; added to homemade granola; or pureed into sauces and pesto. According to Inzinga, the flower blossoms can be battered and fried or stuffed and baked. Both chefs even recommend using hollowed-out pumpkins as bowls and tureens for chili or soup.

“It's important for people to realize that when you go pumpkin picking, those pumpkins are grown for their size and shape, not necessarily flavor,” says Brown. The large pumpkins are less sweet. He says there are hundreds of varieties of pumpkins, and you can get more sweetness and flavor if you are more selective. He recommends as a reference for the characteristics of different types of pumpkins.

Tips for roasting a pumpkin:
To roast a pumpkin, Brown recommends roasting it at 350 to 375 F for a medium-length roasting time. The flesh will brown a bit. For a more concentrated flavor, roast at 300 F for a longer period of time and bump the temperature up to 425 F for the last 15 to 20 minutes. Pumpkins are a lot like potatoes - you can tell if they are done by touch. They will get softer the longer they cook.

Button-Up Your Home for Winter

October 18, 2012 5:38 pm

(BPT) - As the leaves turn and fall to the ground, it's time to start thinking about “buttoning up” your home for winter to keep you and your family healthy and comfortable, your belongings safe and high energy costs at bay.

Heating accounts for 34 percent of all annual utility usage, according the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). One of the most cost-effective ways to improve the energy efficiency and comfort of your home is to seal and insulate the “envelope” - outer walls, windows, doors and roof. By doing so, ENERGY STAR estimates that a homeowner can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs, the equivalent to lowering up to 10 percent of total energy costs for the year.

Here are a few ways to keep you and your family healthy, your belongings safe and help lower your heating bill:

Preventing the draft

Old, drafty windows and doors can account for home energy loss of up to 30 percent, according to the EPA, which means paying more in the winter to heat your home. By replacing non-performing windows and doors, homeowners can drastically reduce heating costs. A typical home that replaces its single-paned, clear glass windows with energy-efficient windows can realize up to $501 in annual savings, according to the EPA.

“Windows are a great source of natural light, and a great way to admire the picturesque snow-covered trees and lawns while avoiding the brisk winter air; however, they can also be the site of the biggest energy efficiency offender,” says David Harrison, chief marketing officer of Champion Windows, one of the nation's leading home improvement companies. “By installing our Comfort 365 Windows, homeowners can watch their heating bills drop and rid their homes of cold drafts.”

Additionally, old or improperly installed siding can also be the cause of drafts. However, by installing new, energy-efficient vinyl siding and underlayment, homeowners can increase a homes' R-Value, a measure of insulation's ability to resist heat traveling through it.

“Installing energy-efficient siding can help insulate your home against the cold, reduce the amount of air flow into your house, and make it easier to keep warm air in the winter,” says Harrison.

However, even the best windows, doors and siding can be drafty, if they are poorly installed. So it's important to make sure your home improvement is completed by a quality contractor who has a long history of being in the business so you can be sure they will be around if you have any issues down the road.

Prevent moisture

Water leakage from snow, ice and rain can cause damage to the exterior and interior of your home. This can result in costly damage to framing, structure and insulation, more importantly it can cause issues - like mold - that can be harmful to the health of your family.

The roof is often the site of leaks in homes; however, by installing a new roof and taking the proper precautions, leaks won't be a problem, especially with Champion's Comfort 365 Roof System, which uses a flexible, self-healing barrier in all leak vulnerable areas and is guaranteed with a limited lifetime warranty.

“Your home will settle and shift over time and extreme weather can be an issue,” says Harrison. “It is important to have barriers to provide protection against leaks caused by roof setting and extreme weather. Unlike many companies who only use this on the north side of a home or treat it as an upgrade, Champion uses a flexible, self-healing barrier anywhere your home's roof joins and at all attachment points.”

Other ways to improve the seal of your home to prevent moisture damage, drafts and improve energy efficiency include:

  • Sealing leaks
  • Adding insulation
  • Sealing ducts

“Now is the perfect time to make these improvements,” says Harrison. “Since it's the offseason, homeowners can find great deals and attractive financing to 'button up' your home for winter.”


Word of the Day

October 18, 2012 5:38 pm

Zoning. Procedure that classifies real property for a number of different uses: residential, commercial, industrial, etc. in accordance with a land-use plan.

Q: What Should I Know about Zoning Issues and Approvals?

October 18, 2012 5:38 pm

A: Zoning regulations establish how the land can be used, either for residential, industrial, commercial, or recreational purposes, or sometimes a combination thereof. Designed to protect property owners and communities from undesirable, or inappropriate, land uses and/or construction, zoning laws can be very rigid and inflexible. On the other hand, they can protect your property value and ensure against the stationing of a mega-store right next to your home. Before you begin any remodeling job, determine how your local zoning laws might affect your project. You can visit your local zoning office, city hall, or some other local planning board to get a copy of your local ordinance and determine how you will need to seek approval for your project. Take nothing for granted; some communities even require approval to erect fences.

From the Gutter: Maintenance & Cleaning, Part II

October 17, 2012 5:34 pm

The second part of my series ‘from the gutter’ provides some important advice on gutter maintenance. According to inventor and all around gutter guy Robert Lenney, whose company has cleaned out more than 5 million feet of gutter – this important maintenance should be done at least twice a year, once in the fall and again in the spring.

One main reason for cleaning out gutters is to eliminate the possibility of water damage from rainwater runoff due to a clogged gutter. Another reason is to reduce the possibility of rust corrosion.

Even though it may not rain during the summer, if there is debris in the steel gutters, the rusting process can speed up. It’s difficult for rust to speed up with clean gutters. The faster the rusting process, the sooner new gutters will be needed.

Speaking of rusting, recommends you stay away from using a metal scoop for cleaning because the bottom of the gutter and seams can be damaged. Scraping the bottom of a steel gutter can introduce areas to rust, and if the bottom of the gutter is already rusting, the rusting process could speed up.

Using a metal scoop can also damage seams in the gutter because the motion of scraping can damage the caulking that seals two ends of a gutter together (called a seam).

To ease the dreaded chore, a quality gutter guard can actually eliminate the need for cleaning out gutters. Consider carefully, however, the manufacturer’s claims before purchasing a gutter protection system that keeps out leaves and pine needles.

Lenney has invented the popular micro-mesh gutter guards LeafBlaster and Gutterglove, which keep out leaves, pine needles and roof sand grit from gutters. Check his website to learn more.

Low Cost Curb Appeal Boosters

October 17, 2012 5:34 pm

When it comes time to list a home for sale, there are a number of different ways sellers can increase the curb appeal of their home substantially – at a relatively low cost. One of the improvements is a fresh coat of paint on trim, windows, or wood siding. Although some painted areas are small and often hard to see from the street, unsightly chips in window trim or worn and discolored paint on window shutters often alert potential buyers to how poorly a home has been maintained no matter how green and weed-free the grass or how well-trimmed the walkways are.

Pillar To Post inspectors suggest some tips for real estate professionals to pass along to their sellers in an effort to get the best offers on their homes.

The first thing to do is to make a visual walk around the exterior of the home, which can take a few minutes but should be thorough and not rushed. Sellers should use the same mindset as buyers and look for any possible things buyers will use to negotiate a lower the offer on the home. For example, water damage around door frames and windows can often indicate a problem, even if the problem has been addressed and repaired.

Water-damaged wood may not need to be replaced but it certainly needs to be cleaned and painted.

Mold and mildew can also leave telltale signs that a simple clean-up and a fresh coat of paint can remedy. Even well-maintained homes will show their age over time and dull or discolored paint can be easily covered with a new, fresh coat.

Once identified, sellers can determine if a professional painter can do the best job or if it only requires a little extra elbow grease – whatever fits the household budget. If they choose to use a contractor, homeowners should get references and specifics as to length of job and all additional charges. Ideally, all costs and job specifics should be in writing. But in most cases, simple paint jobs won’t require a contractor. Most homeowners can be “do-it-yourselfers” with a can of paint, paint roller, paint brush, some tape, and plastic tarps – and a lot of patience. Any painting tips are readily available online or at local hardware stores.

A beautiful lawn, new garage door, flower bed or neatly trimmed shrubs can all add to the curb appeal of a home. But an unsightly, peeling window sill can quickly negate all of the good physical attributes. If homeowners want a quick “SOLD” sign on their lawn, a fresh coat of paint can go a long way!

For more information on Pillar To Post inspections visit

Word of the Day

October 17, 2012 5:34 pm

Yield. What an investment or property will return; the profit or income.

From The Gutter: Designs & Materials

October 16, 2012 5:34 pm

Once in awhile, I have to get down into the gutter to get the job done. So in this first of two segments, we will provide some important advice on gutter design.

Build (, a residential and commercial architecture firm in Seattle, says certain gutter styles can really cheapen an otherwise well designed home. As negligible as gutters and downspouts seem to the overall look of a project, they matter, according to the firm.

Some of the points Build offers on gutter and downspout design include:

  • Match the color to the roof
  • For a deliberate look, align the bottom of the gutter with the flashing joint of the metal fascia.
  • A quality installation can make up for the structure’s inequities. Hire an experienced tradesperson who knows when to follow the lines of the building, and when to let the gutter slope.
  • Locate downspouts on less prominent faces of the structure.
  • Situate downspouts away from lines of sight and out of view from windows.
  • Camouflage them with screens or exterior walls.

The U.S. Rain Gutter Institute ( provided this insight about some unique and popular gutter materials:

Wood gutters - these are rare, except for restoration work, and expensive at $12 to $20 per linear foot installed. The original wood gutters were made from old growth cedar, a product that is rarely available today. And its substitution with new growth cedar or hemlock gutters has proven inadequate.

Copper - it's handsome, never rusts and never needs painting. And while copper is expensive, it adds a sense of visual appeal and value to your home. Copper requires less maintenance than aluminum or other materials, however, copper gutters will oxidize and turn green over time unless they are treated. There are several sealants available that can be applied to keep copper gutters looking golden and shiny.

Vinyl - a commonly used material, easily installed by a homeowner or contractor. It can be susceptible to damage by heavy ladders, as well as long-term deterioration by ultraviolet light from the sun. Quality vinyl gutters retain their color; remain flexible; are relatively easy to repair or replace; don't rust or corrode; have a greater dent resistance than lightweight aluminum and can be painted, if desired.

Next time, we’ll look at gutter maintenance.

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