Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
701 W. Market Street
Perkasie, PA 18944
Office Phone: 215-453-7653
Toll Free: 800-440-remax
May 3, 2012 5:54 pm
As homeowners rev into full spring and summer entertaining season, everyone should make time to check their decks for safety concerns that could lead to accidents and injuries.
"Many of us have delayed home repairs and improvement until they are absolutely essential," says Rob Haislip, vice president of Archadeck. "Even then, sometimes homeowners don't have enough information to decide when something is optional or truly a safety hazard that could result in an injury."
To help ensure safety, especially for decks that are more than 10 years old, Archadeck is sharing seven deck safety inspection guidelines with the acronym of "BE SAFER":
Boards: Look at the condition of your deck boards. While most wood will show some minor cracks and splits over time, boards should be good and not rotting or damaged.
Every Connection: Decks should be built using a variety of fasteners and metal hardware connectors. Check every connection on the deck to make certain that they are not corroded or compromised. Look for nails backing out, red rust and other signs of corrosion that can weaken the integrity of the deck.
Structure: If visible, look at the posts, beams and joists that provide the structural framework of the deck. Is there any noticeable sagging between supports?
Attachment: The attachment of the deck to the house is where most deck failures occur. Ensure that the deck is properly attached to the house with bolts and is properly flashed for water protection. Nails should never be used.
Foundation / Footings: The foundation / footings support the weight, also known as the load, on a deck and the columns that bear on them. A footing that is sinking may cause a noticeable sag in an area or a column to separate from a beam.
Exits: Check the areas where people exit from the deck, usually stairs. Check the condition of the material used on the stair stringers, stair treads and risers. Do the stairs require a handrail? Is there adequate lighting to safely use the exits at night?
Rails: Look at the condition of the rail posts and sections of railing to make sure that they aren't loose or wobbly. Verify that the pickets/balusters are fastened securely and spaced no more than four inches apart.
May 3, 2012 5:54 pm
Encumbrance. Any impediment to a clear title. It can be a claim, lien, zoning restriction, or other legal right or interest in land that diminishes its value. The report of the title search usually shows all encumbrances.
May 3, 2012 5:54 pm
Q: Where can you find fixer-uppers?
A: They are literally everywhere, even in wealthy enclaves. What sets them apart is price. They have lower market value than other houses in the immediate area because they have either been poorly maintained or abandoned.
To determine if a property that interests you is a wise investment will require a lot of work. You will need to figure out what the average home in the area sells for, as well as the cost of the most desirable ones.
Experts suggest that novices avoid run-down properties needing extensive work. Instead, they recommend starting with a property that only needs minor cosmetic work – one that can be completely refurbished with paint, wallpaper, new floor and window coverings, landscaping, and new appliances.
Also, keep in mind that a home price that looks too good to be true probably is. Find out why before pouring your hard-earned money into it.
When looking for a fixer-upper, some experts suggest you follow this basis strategy: find the least desirable home in the most desirable neighborhood. Then decide if the expense that is needed to repair the property is within your budget.
May 2, 2012 5:52 pm
As a parent, you want your child to get the best grades possible—and sometimes, that means finding a tutor if you believe your child is falling behind.
Basically, there are three options for choosing a tutor, notes Pennsylvania education writer Tristan Andrews. Since the child’s cooperation is critical in order for any tutoring to be effective, the wise parent will consider how comfortable the child seems with a specific tutor as well as the tutor’s teaching proficiency:
• Learning centers – National and local tutoring centers, such as Sylvan, employ many tutors specializing in various subjects. Rates are generally standardized and the tutoring is usually accomplished at the learning center rather than at home. The best thing about such a program is that you can take the child to the studio to meet several possible tutors—and trust your child’s sense that he or she can relate to one in particular.
• Private tutors – Parents who prefer to find an independent or home tutor will find that many retired teachers choose to do some tutoring in order to supplement their income. Some advertise in local papers or post flyers at local schools or libraries. Others rely strictly on word of mouth, so check with friends and neighbors about the tutors they employ. Scheduling for private tutors is flexible, they will almost always come to your home, and prices may be more competitive than those at learning centers.
• College students – College students, too, often rely on tutoring jobs to help supplement their income. Youth and enthusiasm for their studies may make them good role models as well as good tutors with whom your child can relate. Here again, scheduling is flexible and pricing may be the most reasonable of all. Find student tutors by checking with the employment office or Student Union at colleges in your area—and, as always, set the stage for success by choosing a tutor with whom your child feels comfortable
May 2, 2012 5:52 pm
With heavy spring rain comes the potential for flooding. When water enters a home, it can cause damage to your property and belongings. Below are some practical steps, provided by Hiscox, to help prevent water entering your property, minimize any damage, and keep your family safe.
• Move anything of value including furniture, electrical equipment and valuables (including photographs and sentimental items) to upper floors
• Prepare an emergency kit in case you are trapped or need to evacuate - this should include blankets, torches, waterproof clothing, food, water, a shovel and a first aid kit
• If you don't know, find out how to turn off the electricity supply (in the dark if necessary)
• Prepare a list of important emergency phone numbers, including emergency helplines for your local water company and insurance company.
• Make copies of all your important documents and store them in a dry safe place which is easily accessible
• If there is a known or recurring problem, prepare for flooding by placing sandbags around the perimeter of your house, especially doorways and places where water can easily seep in
• Relocate your cars to safer areas
May 2, 2012 5:52 pm
For homeowners without a basement, a slab leak—or a leak directly under the home’s foundation—can cause extreme damage. Shifting soils stress homes from the ground up including the pipes under your home. By listening to your home, you may be able to find a slab leak early on.
Why is a slab leak a concern? Water accumulation under your home can damage your foundation. According to the Guidelines for Pipe Bursting TTC Technical Report, prepared for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, leaks under slabs will cause localized ground displacement or heaving around the leak. This can cause cracking in the slab, as well as tiles, walls and floors. In addition to possibly having to pay for repairs and seeing an increase in your water bill, you may have to deal with the sanitary issues that increased moisture causes, such as mold and mildew.
Many events and conditions cause slab leaks. Here are a few:
• Bad pipes
• Poorly assembled fittings and pipes
• Electrolysis causing pinhole leaks
• Ground movement from expanding or contracting soils
• Commercial waste pipe cleaners that actually eat through pipes
Homeowners’ insurance may help offset the cost of repairs, but why go there when you can take preventative measures? Early leak detection can minimize repair costs and prevent the need to file claims.
Luckily, there is a six point check list on how to find an under slab leak:
• Check for water noises under the concrete slab.
• Check your water bill for any unexplained increases is usage.
• Check floors for increased humidity or wet spots.
• Check floors for warm spots (warm water pipes leaking).
• Check floors for cold spots (cold water pipes leaking).
• Check for cracks in floor, bubbles in linoleum, cracks in walls and baseboards.
If you think that you have a leak, try shutting all water use off in your house. Then read your water meter. Write down the time, date and usage. In an hour, re-read your meter. You may have a leak if there is a difference in the numbers. Keep in mind leaking sprinklers, toilets and faucets also mean you are using water.
Finding a leak in a water line is a science. Do you think you have one? Consider calling a plumber in at this point.
May 2, 2012 5:52 pm
(ARA)—Ceiling fans are the jacks-of-many-trades, useful in nearly every home space and in virtually every decor. They are also a necessary element for homeowners looking to cut utility bills. If you need a new ceiling fan, it's easy to get lost in the many available options, which is why some tips from lighting professionals can be helpful.
The American Lighting Association offers the following tips about how to use ceiling fans, integrate them into a decorating scheme, and size them specifically for your rooms.
The many uses of ceiling fans
Ceiling fans serve three primary purposes; the first is, of course, air movement. "In summer, ceiling fans create a 'wind chill' effect that makes the room feel 6 to 8 degrees cooler than the actual ambient temperature," says Joseph Rey-Barreau, AIA, IES, associate professor in the College of Design at the University of Kentucky. "In winter, the direction of the blade movement can be set to a counter-clockwise direction, which will help to move the hotter air at the ceiling toward the edges of the room and then downward. This helps to distribute the heated air more efficiently."
That is key to consumers' interest in—and need for—ceiling fans. "That air movement can help reduce heating and air conditioning bills in homes," says Maria Scutaro, president of Murray Feiss Lighting/Monte Carlo Fan Company.
Manufacturers have also adapted ceiling fans to fit the smallest of spaces - even in closets - with a single blade and minimal motor that leaves the ceiling fan able to hug the ceiling. In addition, ceiling fans are a decorative element and focal point for the interior design - a big change from the 1990s.
"There is an unlimited range of fan styles and designs ... as well as fans that are part of a 'family' of lighting fixtures," says Rey-Barreau.
Finally, as a light source, ceiling fans "can range from a night light to ambient light to a fully directed light source," says Scutaro. "LED technology is bringing light and additional energy efficiency to fans."
The energy efficiency of ceiling fans
Much like the Energy Star label gives homeowners guidance about appliances that will save on utilities, ceiling fans can also be rated Energy Star compliant. To do that, those ceiling fans must use efficient motors and advanced blade design to meet or exceed minimum requirements for airflow efficiency set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Energy Star ceiling fans also carry three warranties: a minimum 30-year on the motor, a one-year on other components, and two-year on lighting. "Lighting for Energy Star-qualified fans also uses efficient compact fluorescent sources that use two-thirds less energy and produce 70 percent less heat than incandescent bulbs," says Rey-Barreau.
The three location ratings of ceiling fans
Ceiling fans used indoors in protected spaces differ from those used in semi-protected or exterior spaces. An "indoor use" rating means a fan can be used only indoors; those rated "damp use" can be used outdoors if in a covered spot, such as a porch. An "outdoor use" rating means the fan can be used in a location where it will be exposed directly to water, such as over a patio that is located underneath a deck.
A common mistake made with ceiling fans
"The better quality fans do not cost much more than the most inexpensive fans," says Rey-Barreau. "A consumer should purchase a fan that has a good motor, and that is energy efficient. Buying a very inexpensive fan can be problematic in terms of performance." Be sure to purchase your fans from an ALA-member retailer. They carry high quality lighting and fan products, and have professionally trained staff available to help you select the best products for your home.
Ceiling fan sizing basics
In order for a ceiling fan to effectively heat and cool a space, it must be sized for the square footage of the room. Use these measurements as guidelines:
Less than 50 square feet - 29-inch fan
75 square feet - 36-inch fan
100 square feet - 42-inch fan
225 square feet - 52-inch fan
300 square feet - 56-inch fan
More than 300 square feet - a 60-inch fan or two 56-inch or 52-inch fans
May 2, 2012 5:52 pm
Encroachment. A building or other improvement that extends beyond its boundary and intrudes upon the property of another.
May 2, 2012 5:52 pm
Q: When is the best time to sell a home?
A: The best time to sell is when you are ready, or when you must. That is, when you have outgrown the space in your current home, or you prefer to trade down to something smaller. Perhaps your marital status has changed, which necessitates a move, or you need to relocate for a job.
Market conditions also play a role, as do seasonal conditions. For example, your chances of getting top dollar for your home are more likely in a seller’s market, when demand outweighs supply, than in a buyer’s market.
Local and national economic factors also may dictate when to sell. If a major employer in your area is laying off workers, it may not be a good time to put your home up for sale. People will be cautious about buying when the future seems so unpredictable or bleak.
Most agents agree the best time to sell is in the spring. This is when the largest number of potential buyers hit the market. Your home is likely to sell faster and at a higher price, although sales begin to pick up as early as February and start to slack off in July, the slowest month for real estate transactions.
May 1, 2012 5:50 pm
I have promoted a number of programs and tips on saving energy, cutting costs and saving the planet. But this month, the Alliance to Save Energy (ase.org/efficiencynews) is trying to help homeowners understand which energy-efficient home improvements are eligible for federal tax credits, and which forms you’ll need to claim them.
According to the ASE, you can get up to $500 back on your 2011 income tax return if you installed energy-efficient products in your home last year.
To claim the non-business energy property credit the ASE advises:
• For your records, keep your receipts and manufacturer’s certifications from the energy-efficient products that you installed. You don’t have to submit copies with your tax return, but you will need them if you are audited.
• Download IRS Form 5695 and fill it out.
• Take your total number of credits at the bottom of Form 5695, and enter it into line 52 of Form 1040.
• Attach Form 5695 to Form 1040.
• Submit these forms with your 2011 taxes by April 15, 2012.
Remember, the Residential Energy Credits also include an incentive for geothermal heat pumps. This credit, called the “residential energy efficient property” credit, provides 30 percent of the cost of these systems, as well as renewable equipment like solar water heaters and small wind systems.
If you have questions on how to claim your energy-efficient home upgrades, the ASE recommends reading more about Form 5695 paying special attention to the well-written “General Instructions” on the final pages.
If you still need help, consult a tax professional—and remember that neither the Alliance to Save Energy nor your Consumer Confidant are experts on taxes!