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So you’re thinking about building a home ..an exciting and scary endeavor for most! Your home will likely be the largest investment you will make so you naturally want to make as informed decision as possible on something that affects not just your future, but your everyday life as well. Upon an out-of-state friend’s request, I’ve put together essential questions to ask any builder you are contemplating using:
Give Your AC Some Space!
The heat is on this hot July and you’re going to want your AC unit working smoothly. Many AC units are surrounded by shrubbery that restricts the airflow needed to make the systems run efficiently and optimally. Take a few minutes to look around your AC’s outdoor unit:
Make sure your gutters can handle the rain, rain, rain..
It’s raining, it’s pouring, and the calendar must be snoring because April showers got moved to May this year! Even though clear days to do yard work have been hard to come by, please remember to get out and check your gutters. Always check for debris and leaves that might be blocking the water ways, but equally important be sure to check for loose gutters that might be allowing rain water to seep down the soffit and into your crawl spaces. Lastly, please check that your downspouts are still turned the correct way and throwing water AWAY from the house, not down it’s foundation. Stay dry my friends!
It’s hard to believe it’s been 40+ years since I built my first home in the mid 1970’s! My college roommate and best friend at Virginia Tech, Charles Aardema, and myself set out to start our own business the year before. As engineers, we loved the construction industry and my time in the Army Corps of Engineers solidified my love of turning architectural concepts into 3-D reality. With two kids in tow and a third on the horizon, Pat & I thought it best to keep my full-time job at Daniel Commercial Construction until our company could sustain both Charlie and I full-time. We started with any projects we could get, building decks, remodeling rooms, and sizeable additions. The first house we actually built was for Charlie. Not only did it lay the ground work for our new home procedures and processes, it opened the door to gaining our very first customer, the Reynolds family. The Reynolds lived in Charlie & Diane’s neighborhood and had become friends with them when both wives met out on a stroller walk one day. They witnessed how we built his home and the painstaking measures we took to ensure top quality work and felt ready to hire us when they were looking to build. As I think back to that first official home for a customer, it’s funny the pieces of it that I remember like yesterday. I remember the roofer’s brother-in-law who was working up on the roof and had a heart attack, but even more so, how irritated the roofer was that the job was going to take longer because of it! I remember the weekends spent with Charlie and I doing as much of the physical labor as we could so as to pinch every penny possible. I remember running out of sheetrock and how my good friend, John Harris, rode with me to NBG (whom we still use) to pick up some more after work one night. I remember building a fireplace wood storage insert so the Reynolds would have a practical place to store their firewood beside the fireplace, a unique “custom” feature back then. I remember the sense of completion and accomplishment when we handed the house over at closing. I remember making a lifelong friendship with The Reynolds whom we are still friends with to this day. As I have reflected on this time, it is not lost on me that our first customer came by way of our personal relationships and referrals and that has been our motto and what has kept us in business ever since. More rewarding than the houses I have built over these last 40 years though, has been the many friendships and memories I have gained along the way.
I love efficiency and saving money, put those two together and it’s a winning combination! Most people believe they have to go out and buy the latest and greatest technology to enhance their appliances’ efficiency. On the contrary, there is much you can do to your current refrigerator to lower it’s present energy consumption and increase it’s efficiency:
So glad you asked, there are steps you can take to protect your home from the upcoming snow:
Answer: The incandescent bulb’s days officially became numbered when Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act back in 2007 (EISA). Since then, many new options have been popping up in the lighting aisle and certainly can be a bit daunting when trying to decide the best one to choose. New lights that promise to last 20 years and save you hundreds of dollars might sound good in theory, but how do you know which one is the right one for you? Let me try to break it down for you.
There are 4 major options available:
LED’s: Average cost: $5 to $25
Average wattage: 4W to 22W
Average life expectancy: 20,000 hours
CFLs: Average cost: $2 to $20
Average wattage: 9W to 52W
Average life expectancy: 10,000 hours
Incandescents: Average cost: $1 to $10
Average wattage: 40W to 150W
Average life expectancy: 1,000 hour
Halogens: Average cost: $2 to $15
Average wattage: 29W to 72W
Average life expectancy: 1,000 hours
When deciding which one you want, I strongly recommend looking at the label on back of the light bulb box. It will look something like this:
Brightness – use the table below to make sure you are getting a light with the brightness you are used to:
Light Appearance – use the table below to select how you want the light to appear in your table lamps and decorative fixtures:
Lastly, look for the Energy Star logo on future bulbs you purchase, the bulbs with this logo will have met quality standards that can add assurance to your purchase.
Use LED holiday light strings to reduce the cost of holiday decorating! LED stands for “light emitting diode.” Recent technological advancements have made them more of a viable alternative than in years past. LED bulbs are more expensive on the front end, but they’re also more durable and most save you money by year #2 of their use. They use far less electricity than both CFLs and incandescent bulbs so they cost less to operate, and furthermore, some models claim to last up to 50,000 hours. You can even find models designed to work with special new dimmer switches. LED’s can help you save some green while spreading holiday cheer!
Answer: Since the average faucet lasts about 15 years according to the NAHB (National Association of Home Builders), it’s safe to assume you are not the only one with this problem. Even one drip a minute from a leaky faucet will waste 34 gallons over the course of a year! With a little elbow grease, most basic leaks can be fixed by the homeowner without needing to involve a more costly plumber. Begin by turning off the water to the sink: usually, the valves are below the sink basin, close to the wall. There should be one for hot and one for cold. Turn both clockwise. Next, open the faucet to release any water left behind in the line, then close the drain. There are 2 basic types of faucets: those with washers (compression faucets) & those without. Most leaking compression faucets just need a new rubber washer to seal the valve. Most drippy washerless faucets need a new o-ring. Determine which kind you have and hit your local home improvement store for the needed parts. If you feel the leak is more than the scope of what you can handle, just remember, calling a plumber is much cheaper than repairing dry-rot, water damage, and mold from leaks that might occur!
Use Insulating Spray Foam to Seal Around HVAC Pipes
The EPA estimates that homeowners can save up to 20% on heating and cooling by air sealing and insulating with spray foam. Foam sealants expand to seal gaps around the pipes entering/exiting your home. The spray foam hardens to create an effective barrier as it keeps heated (or cooled) air in and ensures you get the most out of your standard insulation. Not only will this insulating foam bring relief to your wallet, but to your system as well since it will not have to work as hard as non-insulated systems. Make sure to get a waterproof version and carefully follow the step-by-step directions on the back of the can. You can purchase spray foam at most home improvement stores.
Answer: Most water heaters have a life expectancy of 10-15 years. If you are within this window, then I definitely recommend replacing. If you are before this window, just weigh the fact that most repairs cost 15-25% of the replacement cost. If you are nearing the 10 year mark, I would recommend just putting that money towards a replacement instead.
Keep humidity out and lower your utility bills at the same time! Electrical outlet boxes and switch plates can be a major source of energy loss in your home in both the summer and the winter months. Foam gaskets offer a simple and affordable solution and are also easy to install. Simply remove the box’s cover plate, stick the foam gasket over the box, and then screw the plate back on. This simple process will help eliminate drafts and increase your home’s energy efficiency. I like Duck Brand Socket Sealers – $9 for 16 Outlet sealers & 6 Light Switch plates.
Install a Low-Flow Showerhead
Lower your utility bills instantly with the simple energy-saving trick of using a low-flow showerhead in all your bathrooms! Showerheads are the second-heaviest water users in your home and are also a major energy consumer since 70% of the water used is heated. By reducing hot-water consumption, a low-flow showerhead can pay for itself in just one month as the average family uses 40 gallons of heated water per day in the shower! Also, you won’t have to sacrifice noticeable water pressure as many of today’s water-efficient models use air-infused technology to provide a high-flow feel. Cut your energy bills and hardly notice a difference – that’s my kind of savings!
Answer: If your column is made of wood or fiberglass, I would say yes. If it is made of aluminum or plastic, I would probably recommend not mounting the flag there. You need to be mindful of the weight and size of the flag you are hanging as well as the material the pole is made out of too. A wood column can hold the most weight and should be fine with regular flags, mounting brackets, screws, and hardware. Since fiberglass columns are only 1/4″ thick, I recommend using a steel toggle bolt (like the one shown here) to help distribute the weight across more of the surface area of the hollow column. If your columns are aluminum or plastic, there is too much potential for them to buckle and dent and so I recommend either mounting the flag elsewhere or on a yard stand.
This time of year I frequently get asked when a homeowner should open up their foundation vents? While the good answer is once the temperatures reach 70°F, the even better answer is to use this time to upgrade to Automatic Foundation Vents. I install these automatic vents as standard on the new homes that I build and highly recommend them. As you may know, foundation vents help remove moisture in the summer that can lead to damp rot and costly damage as well as prevent frozen pipes in the winter. Automatic Foundation Vents take the worry out of remembering to open and close vents as the weather changes, so the home can be protected. Be sure to purchase steel or aluminum constructed vents, not plastic. The vent has a bi-metal coil to open and close automatically without electricity. When the temperature reaches 70°F the vent is fully opened to provide fresh intake air, and fully closes at approximately 40°F to conserve energy and protect pipes in the winter. These vents are easily installed and usually run under $20 like the one shown above from Lowes.
Use an Infrared Thermometer to Find Drafts!
Using a thermal leak detector, or infrared thermometer like the one shown above, can easily show you where your home is drafty and losing heat. These devices use infrared sensors to identify spots that are colder or warmer than the surrounding areas indicating an air leak or poor insulation. I recommend using this tool around windows, doors, and attic entryways to determine if it would be beneficial to add weatherstripping and/or additional insulation.
Answer: Craftsman style is a term referring to any house that expresses the early 1900’s Arts & Crafts style ideas through its architecture and design. I am currently building a Craftsman style home in Powhatan and love how rich this home is in its design character. This style is booming in popularity in today’s market as the demand for uniqueness and character have replaced the bland McMansions of the 90’s and early 2000’s. Craftsman style homes include features such as low-pitched and front gabled roofs, tapered porch columns, exposed rafters & beams, wood & stone siding, stone exterior chimneys, wide door casings, natural finishes on wood trim, and focal point fireplaces.
You’ve been waiting all summer..
Time to sweep out the sand and put away the beach chairs – Fall is the perfect time to clean out your garage! With the cold winter months approaching, think about how nice it would be to actually park your car in the garage on those cold mornings to come?! More importantly though, now is the perfect time to start winterizing your spring and summer gas-powered equipment. Make sure that any unused gas in equipment is removed and stored properly. Allowing the gas to sit in the fuel tanks over the winter can cause sediment in the tank and could potentially ruin the equipment.
Spruce Up Your Labor Day Deck Décor!
Nothing adds patio appeal like fresh flowers in a mason jar! This easy do-it-yourself project takes little time and costs only 3 cans of spray paint. Using three jars from around the house, cut out paper stars and tape to one jar, spray painting blue over top. Once the paint dries, remove the taped stars. On the other 2 remaining jars, alternate red and white stripes using tape marked off for clean, crisp lines. Most of all, relax and enjoy this holiday weekend celebrating with friends and family as we honor the hard work you do throughout the year!
Seal Your Driveway!
Having your driveway sealcoated can double the life expectancy of your asphalt! Generally speaking, summer is the safest season to do this as it’s important for the temperature to be consistent and warm enough for the sealant to bond with your driveway. Sealing your driveway provides many benefits such as protection from the elements of rain, snow, ice and harmful UV rays. It also protects from gas, oil, antifreeze and other unexpected spills that could eat away at your driveway.
If you are contracting this job out, be sure your contractor is using quality materials and only hire a contractor with a good reputation and history. Talk to neighbors who have had their driveways resealed and check Angie’s List for reviews. Ask for photos or references of previous work done. Make sure you get the job details in a written estimate. Never pay cash up front. Pay by check or credit card, and only after the work has been completed.
Answer: The frequency of when you need to repaint the exterior of your home depends on many factors:
There are several other factors to consider, but overall if you had a good quality paint job done by a professional crew under normal conditions, I recommend re-painting anywhere from 6-8 years.
Fix Sidewalk Cracks!
While cement walkways are attractive and can add value to your home, they are porous and can absorb water which can lead to unsightly and dangerous cracks. Thankfully, fixing these cracks is not difficult and within the skill set of most homeowners. A crack less than 1/4″ wide is small and can be repaired using a tube of concrete crack filler. For larger cracks, you’ll want to widen the base of the existing crack to help hold your concrete patch in place. Use a cold chisel and a hammer to chip out concrete along the bottom edges of the crack – you want to end up with an inverted “V” shape with the sides of the crack widening out at the bottom. Clean out any concrete chips or dust and soak the crack with your hose so that the concrete around the crack is damp but you don’t want any standing water left in the crack. Apply a concrete adhesive to the walls of the crack so the new concrete will bond solidly with the old. Paint the adhesive along both sides and the bottom of the crack with an old paintbrush and let it sit for a few minutes until the adhesive becomes tacky. Apply your concrete patching mixture with a metal trowel and be sure to pack it tightly into the expanded crack. Smooth the surface and allow the patch to dry for a couple of hours. After a few hours, spray the area lightly with your hose and cover the area with a plastic sheet, removing it once a day to dampen the patch. After 4 days you can remove the plastic and your sidewalk is as good as new and ready for the elements!
Yes! In short, rain barrels offer a great way to save money and cut your utility costs while being great for the environment. A rain barrel works by catching rainwater flowing from your gutters and storing it for future use such as irrigating your lawn and garden. They are also easy to maintain. In the spring, summer, and fall just add one tablespoon of olive oil periodically to keep mosquitos from breeding in your barrel. Disconnect the barrel from your gutters and drain for the winter months to prevent it from freezing and cracking. Rain barrels can save serious money! A single 1-inch rainstorm can produce up to 600 gallons of storm water that flows off of a typical roof! Most homeowners consume 40% of their water usage in spring & summer months for outside water demands that a rain barrel could fulfill. That’s 40% savings off your water bill! More green for the environment & more green for your wallet – now that’s a win-win solution!
Change Your HVAC Air Filters!
With the change in weather coming, your heating & air-conditioning system will run more efficiently if you stay on top of changing out the filters regularly. These can be picked up at your local grocery store, hardware store, or even online. My daughter has her filters set to automatically deliver every three months from Amazon. Another friend sets reminders on his phone. The important thing is to pick a method to remember that you will actually remember to do!
Valentines is always a good reminder to slow down and consider the parts of life that you enjoy the most and hopefully it is your spouse or the ones most close to you. But second to your family for most of us, our career choice is where we spend the most time. So I ask you – do you love what you do? Why do you do what you do?
For me, I absolutely love being a home builder! I love creating something from nothing, from starting with virgin ground and facilitating a homeowner’s vision into becoming a reality. I love taking an artistic doodle on a napkin and turning it into someone’s dream home! I love the custom aspects of my work, of crafting a house to fit a family’s specific needs and then watching them enjoy the impact on their lives in some of the most practical ways.
I love the long-term relationships I develop with my customers. I love visiting their homes years later and refreshing those relationships and seeing how excited they are to show me all the things I knew back in my head months, even years, prior that would be a big deal for them – it’s so fulfilling to share that moment with them! I love seeing how our craftsmanship has aged with time, knowing the meticulous effort so many craftsman often expended to achieve those results.
Friends often ask why I have not retired and my answer is I simply love building. I enjoy hunting, fishing and most anything outdoors, especially those times with my family, now extended through many wonderful grandchildren. But none of those are full time. So when I started considering hobbies, I determined that for me building homes and relationships with my homeowners brought me the most pleasure. It is a career that requires ingenuity, provides fresh challenges, and produces a tangible product at the completion of each journey. And like all careers, there are times when circumstances are not the most enjoyable and some tasks are mundane, but when considered in totality- there is no other profession that I enjoy better than building homes for my clients. Hopefully you can say the same thing for your career!! Have a Great 2014.
Prevent Ice Dams!
If too much heat escapes into the attic, it can warm the ice and snow on the roof. Ice dams are then created when snow melts over a warm section of your roof, flows down to the cold gutter, refreezes and creates a blockage (or dam) which causes future melt runoff to pool and potentially work its way under your shingles and into your home. Adding extra insulation in the attic can help you guard against ice dams. Also, seal areas around recessed lights, the attic hatch, and plumbing vents that may be allowing warm air from the living space below to enter the attic. Proper attic ventilation, adequate attic insulation, and a tight air barrier between the attic and the interior of the house will work together to prevent ice dams.
Reverse Your Ceiling Fan!
We all know that hot air rises, but here’s a little tip on how to put that principle to good use in your home. If your ceiling fan has a reverse switch, use it to run the fan’s blades in a clockwise direction at a low speed after you turn on your heat. The fan will produce a gentle updraft and push down heated air from the ceiling into your room. This is especially helpful in rooms with high ceilings & it might even allow you to turn down your thermostat by a degree or two for greater energy savings.
Prevent Frozen Pipes!
With frosty nights approaching fast, don’t be one of the quarter-million families who experience the expensive devastation of pipes bursting this cold season! Pipes freeze due to a combination of 3 main reasons: quick drops in temperature, thermostats set too low, and poor insulation. Here’s how to combat those factors:
Drain and shut down your sprinkler system (follow the manufacturer’s instructions)
Grill, Eat, & Be Merry!
As we prepare to enter into the holiday weekend and celebrate one last summer weekend with family and friends, I wanted to feature one of the hot new trends many of my clients are requesting – Outdoor Kitchens! What a fabulous way to transform your backyard into an entertaining hotspot that offers bountiful space, easy cleanup, & soaring ceilings!
Answer: Yes! I have one in my basement even though mine is a walkout. Basements are typically cooler than above ground and when you have that contrast in temperature, moisture is inevitable. People talk about relative humidity, but it’s the dewpoint that counts. The dewpoint of the air should be below the temperature of the foundation (about 50-55F) to prevent condensation from occurring. An ideal range is anywhere between 35F – 50F. Moisture doesn’t sleep and dampness can be a major problem in the basement leading to dangerous mold development. You want a dehumidifier that has automatic on/off capabilities. Correct humidity in your basement can prevent the growth of mold spores. Dehumidifiers can also help with that “basement” smell as many offer HEPA and carbon filters to keep the air free from dust and odors and provide air circulation in an otherwise typically poorly ventilated area. By removing excess moisture in the air, you’ll notice your air conditioner works more efficiently in warmer weather also – all great benefits to dehumidifying!