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Thomas Skiffington,  CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
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Perkasie, PA 18944
Phone: 215-453-7883
Office Phone: 215-453-7653
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email: tom@tomskiffington.com
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Tom's Blog

5 Ways to Ensure a Healthy Lawn and Garden This Year

April 12, 2012 5:06 pm

With unseasonably warm temperatures across the nation all winter long, early spring looks a bit different this year with lush grass, budding trees and flowers blooming sooner than usual. New growth is a welcome occurrence for lawn and garden enthusiasts, but it also begs the question: should yard care be done differently this year?

According to Troy-Bilt®, a manufacturer of outdoor power equipment, the answer is yes.

"It's difficult sometimes to resist the urge to mow the lawn and plant new flowers as soon as the temperatures rise," says Heidi Ketvertis, director of marketing communications for Troy-Bilt. "Warm temperatures earlier in the season can cause many plants and grasses to begin growing sooner, but there's also more time for them to be exposed to damaging freezes, which could still come throughout spring." 

Troy-Bilt offers five tips for making sure your lawn and garden are healthy this year:

1. Don't plant annuals or fruit- or berry-producing plants early. Annuals and fruit- and berry-producing plants are especially susceptible to being killed off or damaged by frost. If you have these kinds of plants already in the ground, keep them well-watered. If you know the temperature will be dropping dangerously low on a particular night, cover the plants with mesh netting.
2. Begin pest and insect control earlier than usual. Cold winter temperatures keep pests and diseases in check, but this year many of those pests and diseases may not have died or gone fully dormant. Also, it's possible the warm winter could have thrown off the life-cycles of various insect species, which may mean the good insects we count on to gobble up the bad insects that harm grasses and gardens were born too early to do the job—so keep an eye out for new problems.
3. Protect ornamental bushes and shrubs that are out of their native range. Ornamental bushes and shrubs that are on the border of growing in their climate zone are usually more susceptible to blooming early at the first sign of warmer weather. If they do and there's a freeze, it's likely they'll lose their flowers for the season or produce fewer flowers this year. Protect them by watering well early in the season.
4. Begin weed maintenance earlier than usual. Your grass and garden aren't the only things growing sooner this year. Weeds had an early start as well. If you don't get an early start on weeding this year, your lawn or garden may get choked off and not grow as well this season.
5. Stay off the lawn, and resist the urge to cut the grass too short too early. A growing lawn is more susceptible to freezing than a dormant lawn. Staying off the lawn keeps the stress down on the grass and helps protect it if the temperature suddenly drops. Also, don't cut more than a third of the blade at a time. If you go lower and a freeze comes along, it could shock the grass and stunt its growth. 

Once you're ready to pull your lawn mower out of the shed for the first time this year, take some time to tune it up. If you've used your mower for more than a year, it may be time to sharpen or replace your blades. Also add fresh gas and oil. If your mower needs to be replaced, now is the time to start researching and hitting the stores. Not sure what kind of mower you need? Consider the following choices to find the mower best suited to your needs:

Walk-behind mower – If you have less than an acre of land or many obstacles in your yard, a reel, push or self-propelled walk-behind mower may make the most sense. 

Lawn tractor – For larger yards that would be difficult to cover on foot, consider a riding mower.
 
Zero-turn rider – If you're looking for faster mowing and easy maneuverability, a zero-turn rider may do the trick. A zero-turn radius enables quick turns and trimming. 

Source: Troy-Bilt
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Feeling Dirty? Prepare Your Home for a Visit from Cleaning Professionals

April 12, 2012 5:06 pm

It might seem absurd to have to prep your home to be cleaned. However, a friend once confided that a service couldn't clean her home well because it was too "dirty." The service wasn't talking about removing dirt, grease or pet hair; it was pointing out the difficulties of deep cleaning because of the surface clutter.

There are many ways to ensure that you'll get the most from professional cleaners. Consider a few of the following:

Clutter, clutter everywhere
Cleaning specialists focus on eliminating dirt, contaminants and allergens; they are not in the business of organizing. Piles of papers on the countertops, books stacked in the corners, or clothes in a heap on the floor should be removed to allow workers to thoroughly clean every surface. Since most services work around these objects, there will places in the home that don't benefit from a deep cleaning. And, in turn, that means you won't get the full benefits of paying for a service.

If you are short on time, throw the items in boxes and place them in the garage or basement. "Clutter" might include dishes in the kitchen sink, items on shower floors or bathtub ledges, clothing and toys, pet items, and piles of books, magazines or papers. 

Some services may consent to move piles around, but this takes time and likely will cost you more money. And because workers don't know where these things are meant to go, you may find yourself wasting time trying to find what they've put away or have placed in an unfamiliar stack.

Private matters
Save anything you don't want the workers to see, including bills, personal documents, or other items that should remain private. This precaution protects both you and the workers.

Special requests
If there is something special you want done, call the service several days before the scheduled visit to make arrangements. Leaving a note likely won't produce the desired results because workers might need extra time or additional cleaning products to comply with the request.

Give feedback
Once workers have cleaned your home, be sure to tell the service how you feel about the results. Building a relationship with the service and your cleaning professionals is the best way to ensure your continued satisfaction.

Source: The Maids, www.maids.com
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Top 5 Spring Fix-Up Tips

April 12, 2012 5:06 pm

 Spring has arrived, meaning it's time for home repairs. Spring fix-ups are a necessity after houses have been bruised and battered throughout the long winter months.

To help you get your home ready for the warmer weather, Mr. Handyman has released a list of the top five actions homeowners should take to get their houses in shape:

1. Gutter Installation/Cleaning – Gutters, one of the most underrated aspects of any home, will extend the life of the roof, soffits and fascia of a house. For the integrity of the roof, having the gutters cleaned is highly recommended.

2. Window Frame Repair – It's time to let in the fresh air and cool breezes. This is especially tricky with a busted window, which happens frequently when the weather is cold.

3. Power Washing Services – Getting the house, deck, and patio furniture professionally power washed can really increase curb appeal. Not only does power washing reduce wear and tear, it makes everything look good as new.

4. Deck Repair – Perform a careful inspection of the deck to determine areas that will need attention. Are railings solidly fastened? Is the surface splintered or have nails exposed? Does any framing need to be replaced? Make a list of all the work to be done to stay safe this summer.

5. Wood Rot Repair – Wood rot usually means there is underlying damage caused by water leaking behind the siding or between seams. Oftentimes, the leaking and rotting began years before, hidden from sight. Underneath, however, soaked wood has begun to rot and may be infested with insects.

Source: MrHandyman.com.
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Spring Gutter Cleaning Tips, Part 2

April 12, 2012 5:06 pm

Yesterday, we reviewed a handful of tips to clean out your gutter this spring season. Below is a continued list, offered by gutter cleaning expert Robert Lenney, helping you protect your home and prepare it for the rainy spring ahead. 

Rubber Shoes: If walking on the roof is necessary to perform gutter cleaning, it is good to use rubber soled shoes. Rubber soles tend to adhere best and prevent slipping and falls. Roof tops tend to be moist in the morning, so it is best to walk on the roof after the sun is well up in the sky and has dried up all the moisture. Late mornings or early afternoons are the best times to walk on a roof. 

For wood shake roofs, an excellent option is to wear special spiked roofing shoes called Korkers, which have small, metal spikes similar to golf shoes, helping attain a good grip when walking on the roof.

However, if the gutter cleaning project is bad enough to warrant Korkers, it is probably best at that point to use a professional gutter cleaning company. Wearing Korkers can be tricky, and slips can still occur. 

Downspouts Unclogged: Make sure the downspouts (leader pipe) are clear. After all the gutters are cleaned out, run the water hose down the downspout at full pressure. If the water backs up out of the top, a clog is present. Normally, it can be unclogged by tapping on the side of the downspout. But if that doesn’t work, the downspout and back need to be removed, and it should be flushed from the bottom. If a clog is present, and the downspout is connected to an underground drain, it is best to disconnect the bottom of the downspout from the underground drain. Otherwise, the clog may move to the underground drain. 

Caution: When unclogging the downspout, make sure protective eyewear is being used, because anything can escape from the downspout at high speeds once the clog is being removed. 

Downspout Chain: If the downspout makes an annoying dripping sound during or after a rain storm, a special decorative chain can be installed to hang down in place of a traditional downspout. The rainwater runs down the chain gracefully and looks rather beautiful, like a decorative fountain. 

There are also magnetic sponges available that stick to the side of the downspout and absorb water to stop the dripping sound. In place of a sponge, people have tried using men’s underwear and socks in downspouts for just this purpose, but it is not recommend.

Clean Gutters Two Times a Year: Make sure gutters are cleaned 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. 

Power Line Hazard: When cleaning gutters around a power line cable that drops from the power pole to the roof of a home, conduct a visual inspection of the electrical cable where it connects to the roof. This is to ensure that the protective wire insulation hasn’t rubbed off through years of wear-and-tear by weather and nearby trees. If the cable appears to have damage, do not attempt to repair it. Call a licensed professional electrical contractor to fix it. 

If it’s raining and there is an electrical wire problem, do not attempt to clean out the gutters until the wires are fixed. Water is a dangerous conductor of electricity. Whether it’s raining or not, it would be a good idea to have the electrical wiring repaired before cleaning out your gutters. 

It is not advisable to use a metal ladder near power lines when cleaning out your gutters. A fiberglass ladder is a better safety solution in this situation. 

Gutter Guards: Using a quality gutter guard can eliminate the need for cleaning out gutters. Consider carefully the manufacturer’s claims before purchasing a gutter protection system that keeps out leaves and pine needles, because many promises are made that can’t be delivered. An excellent website that lists over 100 gutter guards is www.GutterGuardReview.com. 

According to Lenney, he and his staff have found an amazing collection of items while cleaning gutters, including men’s underwear, diapers, socks, pigeon droppings, golf balls, tennis balls, syringes with sharps, dead animals, aluminum cans, children’s toys, live adult rats with babies in the nest, small and large frogs, wasp and bee nests, snakes in areas like Florida, books, newspapers, nails, and tile pieces. These are in addition, of course, to the usual debris, such as leaves, pine needles, seed pods and sand grit. 

Lenney can’t turn this annual tedious job into a Disneyland experience, but he can make the job easier with these few simple cleaning tips and tricks while keeping safety in mind. Happy cleaning! 

Robert Lenney is the owner and founder of the Rocklin California based company Gutterglove, Inc. 

Sources: Robert Lenney, www.TapeOnGutterguard.com, www.Gutterglove.com
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Word of the Day

April 12, 2012 5:06 pm

Cooperative. Land and building owned or leased by a corporation which in turn leases space to its shareholders, who are also part owners of the building and have a proprietary lease. In lieu of rent, they each pay a proportionate monthly or quarterly fixed rate to cover operating costs, mortgage payments, taxes, etc.
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Question of the Day

April 12, 2012 5:06 pm

Q: What is Universal Design and how does it relate to remodeling? 

A: Universal design is an approach to design that focuses on making all products and environments as usable as possible by as many people as possible regardless of age, physical ability, or situation. In recent years, the housing industry has recognized the importance of a "universal" approach to residential design that modifies standard building elements to improve a home's accessibility and usability. This allows for more equitable, flexible and simple use. Many books exist on the subject, including Residential Remodeling and Universal Design: Making Homes More Comfortable and Accessible, a resource guide offered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

HUD’s guide provides technical guidance on selecting and installing universal features during home remodeling or renovation. The modifications can range from expanding doorway dimensions to replacing kitchen appliances. The guide emphasizes eliminating unintentional barriers and using designs and features that could benefit people with a broad range of needs.
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Counter Culture: Pros and Cons of the Top Countertops for 2012

April 11, 2012 7:00 pm

If your 2012 home improvement project is going to include new countertops, you will be happy to note that I recently learned about a great resource through the First Weber Wisconsin real estate & Wisconsin living blog. That blog introduced Alabama home writer Lisa Frederick who is featured at www.houzz.com.
Frederick produced a comprehensive look at the options and costs of 11 different types of countertops. Among the variety of materials are: 

Paper Composite - Created from paper fibers mixed with resin, this surface is eco-friendly and a whole lot more durable than it sounds. 

Pros: Paper composite evokes the look of solid surfacing or laminate but with a warmer sensibility. It's surprisingly hardy and can withstand heat and water admirably. It's also a great deal lighter than natural stone or concrete. 

Cons: The material isn't scratchproof and is susceptible to chemical damage. It needs an occasional rubdown with mineral oil, and even sanding, to refresh it. Although it sounds as though it would be a lower-budget option, it isn't (unless you install it yourself). 

Cost: $85 to $125 per square foot, installed 

Soapstone - Although it's in no danger of overtaking granite, soapstone has come into its own as a counter top material. It offers subtle, nuanced beauty yet feels humbler than granite or marble.
Pros: Soapstone has a natural softness and depth that fits very well with older and cottage-style homes. Although it usually starts out light to medium gray, it darkens with time. (Most people enjoy the acquired patina, but you may consider this a con.) 

Cons: Soapstone needs polishing with oil to keep it in top shape. It can crack over time, and it can't handle knife scratches and nicks as well as some other types of stone. The natural roughness of its surface can scuff glassware and china. 

Cost: $45 to $100 per square foot, installed 

Butcher Block - Butcher block has a classic appeal and always looks fresh. It's especially fitting for traditional, country and cottage-style kitchens. 

Pros: Many homeowners like butcher block's warm, natural appearance and variegated wood tones. Although knives scratch it, many people like the shopworn look it develops — after all, it's what chopping blocks have been made of for years. But you can also sand scratches down with ease. 

Cons: Wood swells and contracts with moisture exposure, and butcher block is no exception. It harbors bacteria and needs frequent disinfecting. Oiling is a must to fill in scratches and protect the surface.
Cost: $35 to $70 per square foot, installed 

Check out the feature to see all the various counter top options available, here.
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5 ‘Bad’ Habits That May Not Be So Bad

April 11, 2012 7:00 pm

Flying off the handle is rarely productive, and drinking too much is a no-no. But there are ways to turn some bad habits into actions that improve your life and health. 

From behavioral therapists reporting in Woman’s Day, here are five ‘bad’ habits that may not be so bad if you can turn them into positive life adjustments: 

• All that morning coffee – Caffeine is a stimulant, and if it makes you hyper, you may be ingesting too much. But caffeine also helps activate brain chemicals that elevate mood, like dopamine and serotonin. It is also a source of antioxidants and other compounds that may help protect against cancer. So if you don’t feel any ill effects, give yourself permission to drink that second cup. 

• Mild bouts of depression – Nobody needs to be Pollyanna all the time. But if you let yourself regularly wallow in despair, it’s time to figure out why. Once you identify the cause— too much debt, no time for yourself, or whatever— make an effort to take the steps that will not only chase away your sadness, but make positive changes in your life. 

• A beer after work - Beer is rich in antioxidants and provides a dose of energy-revving iron – and some pale ales contain as much or more silicon than oat bran, a good source of bone-protecting minerals. Like a glass of red wine with dinner, one is, at worst, a harmless indulgence. But beer is high in calories, so figure it into your diet and stop after one. 

• Skipping your workouts – You need to work out hard only three or four days a week to reap the benefits of exercise, most experts agree. If daily gym workouts bore you, allow yourself to supplement visits with lunchtime walks, weight-bearing home exercise or a swim a couple of days a week. 

• Procrastinating by reading jokes in your email – Blood vessels expand up to 50 percent when you laugh—and a hearty laugh releases nitric oxide which can help reduce blood pressure. Laughter also boosts levels of pain-relieving, feel-good endorphins—so don’t feel guilty about taking a little work time to laugh at the jokes in your mailbox. You may be doing your employer a favor with a cheap way to stay healthy!
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TOP 5 RC - Spring Gutter Cleaning Tips, Part I

April 11, 2012 7:00 pm

It’s that time of year when a second gutter cleaning is almost always needed, especially with the new shedding of leaf debris from newly spring budding branches. Recent winter storms can also blow leaves, pine needles and roofing debris into your gutter causing potential rainwater overflow, which in turn can cause landscape erosion and water damage to your home. 

According to Robert Lenney, gutter cleaning expert whose company has cleaned out more than six million feet of gutters since 1996, “cleaning out your gutters is a dangerous task, and it’s sad that deaths occur every year because of it.” 

There are a variety of gutter cleaning tips that can bring sanity into this tedious task.

Some of the basics are listed below: 

Ladder Safety: Always let someone know you will be using a ladder to work on your roof or gutters. Use a safe and sturdy ladder, preferably with a small shelf strong enough to hold a five-gallon bucket to collect gutter debris. Make sure to secure the bucket with a lanyard. I recommend a four-legged step ladder for a single story home, and an extension ladder for a two-story home. An orchard ladder is not recommended because there are only three legs for support and they can become unbalanced. 

A wooden ladder is also not recommended because they are often wobbly and difficult to safely balance. Fiberglass ladders seem to be the sturdiest, but are also the heaviest. If you are cleaning gutters for hours upon hours, muscle fatigue can set in from moving the heavy ladder numerous times. If this is the case, you should try using an aluminum ladder, which is the second-choice option for strength and support. 

Inspect the ladder for defects, dents or loose parts before climbing. If your ladder is fastened together with screws and bolts, make sure all parts are tightened. When opening up a step ladder, make sure the extension-hinge arms are fully extended and locked in place. 

Before climbing the ladder, lightly jump on the first rung a few times to make sure the ground is secure. Sometimes the soil is soft, or there might be a gopher hole underneath one of the ladder legs. Either condition could cause the ladder to collapse with the combined weight of the ladder and a person. A piece of half-inch plywood can be placed under the ladder legs to keep it level and steady. 

When climbing the ladder, always remember the “Three Point Rule.” As much as possible try to have both legs and one hand firmly secure on the ladder at all times to provide stability and balance while cleaning. Conversely, do not lean out from the ladder balancing on one leg while using two hands to clean debris from the gutter. Oftentimes, it is this stretching and reaching for that last scoop of debris that lands a person in the hospital. Lastly, if at all possible, have someone hold the ladder to provide additional safety while climbing. 

Garden Hose: Use a garden hose with a pistol-grip trigger spray nozzle. This type of spray nozzle allows you to adjust the water pressure with the use of just one hand. This style of spray nozzle comes with a handy pistol-grip trigger, allowing it to be easily hung over the front edge of the gutter while moving the ladder, or while using a gutter scoop. This type of spray nozzle can be purchased at any hardware store. 

Spraying out the gutter is generally best when most of the larger debris has already been removed. It’s difficult to spray out leaves and pine needles that have piled up over the summer and fall. Spray toward the downspout (leader pipe) so the small, murky debris flows down the downspout. If the downspout is connected to an underground drain that goes out to your street, the base of the downspout needs to be disconnected so the debris can be released at this point, preventing a potential clog further down the system under your lawn or driveway. 

Gutter Scoop: Scooping out the leafy debris seems to be the best overall method for cleaning out the gutter. An excellent tool for this job is the bright orange plastic “Gutter Getter” scoop, which can be purchased at most hardware stores. This tool is unique because the front scooping edge is very thin and it forms itself to the bottom of the gutter trough, making it easy to scoop out even the toughest of debris in any size gutter system. 

Stay away from using a metal scooping tool 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 scooping tool can also damage seams in the gutter because the motion of scraping out the bottom of a gutter with a metal tool can damage the caulking that seals two ends of a gutter together (called a seam). 

An extension pole can also be attached to the gutter scoop for reaching farther to clean the gutter, reducing ladder moves. 

Wear Gloves: Gloves can help protect hands against dirty, rotting leaf debris that often contains bird, pigeon and squirrel droppings that are ridden with bacteria. Gloves can also prevent painful cuts from the torn metal shards of an old, ragged gutter. Cotton gloves can soak up dirty water that exposes skin to bacteria. Leather gloves are not as maneuverable and tend to shrivel up when they dry after cleaning. Rubber gloves can get poked or torn by metal shards in the gutter. Thick, suede glove material is recommended because it is superior to cotton, thin leather or rubber gloves. 

Protective Eye Wear: Eye protection is a must because one never knows what might fly out of the downspout when cleaning gutters. People have experienced rats, birds, frogs, wasps and bees leaving at high speeds once they start removing a clog, and the last thing they want to have happen is an eye injury. 

Rake off Roof: Rake all debris off the roof first. Otherwise, the next rain will wash all the debris down into the clean gutter, clogging it up again. Also, debris left on the roof can lead to water damming up in valleys or around the chimney, which can cause erosion and roof leaks over time.

Robert Lenney is the owner and founder of the Rocklin California based company Gutterglove, Inc. 

Sources: Robert Lenney, www.TapeOnGutterguard.com, www.Gutterglove.com
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Spring Cleaning Tips

April 11, 2012 7:00 pm

It's that time of year again. The sun is shining, the sky is blue— and it's time to clear out the old so you can make way for the new. Rhymes aside, spring cleaning can be a tough task for most homeowners, but there are a few house cleaning tips that we can offer, which are very effective. You can spring-clean your own home like a professional maid service would. All you need are a few simple tools and a spring cleaning strategy.

One of the most effective spring cleaning tips that we can offer is that you should ensure that you have all of your cleaning tools with you at all times. Fill up a tote or a basket with all of your housekeeping supplies, so you can carry it around the house with you as you clean from room to room.

Next, go about cleaning one room at a time. Do not move on to another room until the one you're currently working on has been completely cleaned. In the kitchen, be sure to clean and wax the floors, clear out the fridge and all drawers, wipe all of your cabinets and put away your dishes. In the washroom, clean all surfaces (including the toilet and sink), remove clutter and wax the floors. The living room and bedrooms should require the least amount of work: vacuum or mop, eliminate clutter and clean all surfaces. Also, be sure to get rid of any items you no longer need, including clothing, furniture, linens and documents.

Source: Merry Maids
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