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This might come as a surprise to you, but according to Remodeling Magazine’s 2017 Cost Vs. Value Report, there’s only one home improvement project that returns over 100% of its cost to the homeowner: adding insulation to your attic! Before the heat of summer begins, take time now to ensure your attic is properly air sealed between the conditioned and unconditioned areas. Also, the goal is to have your attic insulation up to R-30 value thickness, so add additional fiberglass loosefill on top of existing insulation anywhere needed. You’ll reap the savings both this summer and next winter as you keep more of the air you pay to condition in the rooms you want it in!
Make Sure Your A/C is Ready for Summer!
As the warm weather nears, now is the time to ensure your A/C is in good operating condition. For outdoor exposed units, I always recommend first cleaning off all debris and leaves that may have gathered on it in the previous winter months. Next, turn your A/C on and let it run for 30 minutes. Walk around to your different registers to ensure ample air is being blown out of each one. You should feel a noticeable temperature difference in your home by the end of the 30 minutes. If there are any issues, go ahead and schedule a service call before the demand (and price) increases. Chances are that a little routine maintenance might be all that is needed to get your A/C back up and running well before the summer heat arrives.
For those who own any stainless steel appliances, you know it takes a little to work to keep them looking bright and polished and clean. Despite its name, stainless steel can stain and certain cleaners are too be avoided and even plain water can leave spots if not used correctly. The first bit of advice I typically give is what not to do. Do not use abrasive cleaners, steel wool pads, chlorine bleach, any products containing chloride, or hard water which can leave spots. Instead, I find it best to spray the surface with vinegar, and then use a soft cloth to clean the vinegar off in the direction of the stainless grain. Start at the top of your appliance and work your way down to the floor. To bring out that factory shine again, periodically buff your stainless steel surface by applying lemon oil with a soft cloth, also in the direction of the grain, and then buffing off with a different lint-free cloth. You’ll be back to that brilliant shine you originally fell in love with in no time at all!
I was recently asked this question by two separate homeowners and my answer to each of them was different based on their unique circumstances. While I myself, as a builder, have never used a professional cleaner for my air ducts, there are times when I do recommend it. It all depends on the current condition of your ducts and vents. The MOST important thing you can do for your air duct system is to regularly change out your filters. I will say this again: changing out your filters regularly will keep dust and other junk from building up in your ducts over time. With that being said, a lot of your ducts’ current condition is a result of how the builder left them after the construction process. One of the services I provide in every home I build is to thoroughly clean each duct during the final post-construction cleaning. I don’t just have them vacuumed out, I have them wiped down and even any paint sprayed into them cleaned up. If your builder skipped this step, you’ll know it once you remove a few of your air registers and see built-up lint, dust, and construction debris that can be up to an inch thick. In those cases, I recommend spending the avg. $300-$400 to have them professionally cleaned. For most of my customers who don’t have to deal with construction debris, a simple occasional vacuuming out and wiping off registers should be suffice. Just please, please, please – change out your air filters regularly!
Clean Your Oven Hood Filter
I like using the winter months to do interior home maintenance. Once the warm weather breaks, usually in the next month, I want to be outside and tend to focus on exterior items. Using the cold winter months to knock out some equally important inside tasks will keep you from neglecting these often over-looked maintenance items. Let me start by asking you: “when is the last time you cleaned your oven hood filter?” Exactly. We all tend to forget this one! While these filters can be a bit overwhelming with the amount of grease and crud they accumulate, follow these easy steps to get the results in the picture above:
I’m going to start out by asking you a question for this one: do you use too much laundry detergent? Most people think not, after all, you’re only following the directions on the detergent packaging (keep in mind this is from the people who only make a profit when you keep buying more of their product). When it comes to cleaning your clothes, more soap is better, right? Many homeowners are surprised to learn that most of their problems with their washing machines can be traced back to using too much laundry detergent. Energy saving federal regulations in recent years have stipulated washing machines use much less water per load. Less water and too much detergent makes it harder for your machine to break down the soap which can leave harmful residue in the machine basin and cause many problems. If the washer basin feels slimy, if the machine doesn’t drain properly, if you notice a foul odor, or if you begin to see rust and/or dark spots on your clothes, all these point to too much detergent being used. A general rule of thumb is to use about a tablespoon of detergent per regular sized load. Of course, I recommend reviewing your machine’s manual and the manufacturer’s recommendations on not only how much soap to use, but what kind of soap detergent to use as well. Newer HE (High Efficiency) machines use specially formulated soaps that prevent too many suds. If you do not use specialty HE detergents in your machine, you’ll need to reduce the amount of regular soap you use by at least 1/3 of the recommended amount. Lastly, I recommend using machine cleaner tablets monthly to dissolve any soap residue that might be building up in your machine basin. Now, you’ll have clean laundry and a clean machine that can run more smoothly!
Answer: Yes! I am a big fan of Christmas decorating that does not leave damage behind on the exterior of your house. Always opt for clip on hooks rather than drilling, nailing, or screwing holes into your gutters, fascia, and soffits. I tend to think the simpler the better, like the one pictured above from ChristmasLightsEtc.com . I really like this store as they also offer clip on hooks for brick siding. Lastly, if you are looking to hang wreaths, garland, or the like across vinyl siding, try these easy low profile siding hooks available at Amazon (about $6 for 2). May your decorating be merry and bright (and not damaging)!
Turn Off & Drain Outdoor Faucets
To prevent freezing & potentially bursting pipes in the coming cold winter months, take a few minutes to turn off and drain your outdoor faucets. First, shut off the water supply to your outdoor faucets (typically found in either your mechanical room or crawlspace). Next, go outside and turn those faucets to the on position to drain thoroughly. When water is no longer running out of the outdoor faucet, turn it to the closed position so that the cold winter wind does not have any opportunity to enter your home. Don’t forget to disconnect and drain any water hoses you may have attached as well. I recommend doing this before the first frost in your area!
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!