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Fall Homeowner Tip #14

September 24, 2020

Take Measures to Prevent Home Fires

According to the American Red Cross, home fires are on the rise since 2000.  Most home fires happen during the fall and winter seasons, on weekends, and in between the times of 6pm – 7pm.  As you begin to prep for your home for the fall, no other homeowner tasks could be as significant or potentially life-saving as the following list:

  • Smoke Alarms
    • Make sure there is a smoke alarm in every sleeping room
    • Make sure there is a smoke alarm on every level of your home
    • Replace smoke alarm batteries once every year (Fall is the perfect time!)
    • Push the test button to make sure each alarm is functioning (replace smoke alarms after 10 years as they begin to lose sensitivity)
  • Fire Extinguishers
    • Purchase a fire extinguisher for every level of your home
    • Have each household member practice using the extinguisher
    • Replace per manufacturer’s guidelines (most are only good for 5-15 years)
  • Create a Fire Escape Plan With Your Household
    • Discuss at least 2 ways to escape from every room of your house
    • Select a safe central location to meet up once everyone has escaped the house
    • Practice the plan!

Question: How can I tell if my AC unit needs repair?

August 27, 2020

If your air conditioner is not performing as well as it once did, it might be time to get it serviced.  Here are 5 signs it might need to be repaired:

  1. Bad Odors  – If you notice foul odors coming through your air vents, immediately change your air filters.  If this doesn’t solve the problem, your a/c unit may need a professional cleaning.
  2. Noise – A noisy a/c unit might indicate a broken fan inside of it in need of repair.
  3. Condensation  – A new and sudden increase in condensation on the exterior of the unit can signal an internal temperature issue or a pressure leak.
  4. Inconsistent Temperatures  – If you detect fluctuating temperatures, especially cold and warm spots on the same floor, your duct work might need inspecting as this could be a sign of leaking and/or blocked duct work.
  5. Higher Electric Bills  – If your electric bills are much higher than previous summers and you’ve kept your thermostat the same, chances are your a/c unit is overworking and not running efficiently.  I recommend an energy audit and professional inspection to ensure your unit is running at its top performance capability.  The cost of the visit may very well pay for itself the next month if there is a simple fix to be had!

Summer Homeowner Tip #21

July 31, 2020

Abolish Wasps, Mosquitos, & Other Insects..

Insect activity usually peaks in late summer, August in most places. Wasps especially can become more aggressive and more likely to sting during this time.  I recommend locating the wasp nests you find and immediately spraying to eliminate them.  Some nests will require you to spray them for up to 3 days in a row for the whole nest to die. As far as mosquitos are concerned, scan your yard for places with stagnant water which act as a breeding ground for these most unwanted insects. Birdfeeders, planters, and kiddie pools are common areas where rainwater collects and mosquitos thrive. Drain all stagnant and standing water you find.  As far as prevention measures go, you can use citronella candles, mosquito traps, and bug zappers (if you can find one that doesn’t annoy you more than the insects do!).  Also, many pest control services now offer spraying for mosquitos.  I’ve seen prices range from $125/single treatment to $500/summer plan.  If you are interested in such a service in the Richmond Metro area, just contact me and I would be happy to connect you with my preferred pest control service.


Summer Homeowner Tip #20

June 25, 2020

Tips for Hanging Outdoor String Lights..

Nothing adds ambiance to your back deck, patio, and yard like outdoor string lights!  This relatively inexpensive lighting option can add a finishing touch upgrade to any outdoor living area. Here are three major factors to consider when hanging up string lights:

  • What type of lights you will use – whether you choose the popular cafe lights, globe lights, edisen bulb string lights, or any other variety, be sure they say “For EXTERIOR Use.”  These can be picked up at any local home improvement store and are also available online. (My daughter loves the $15 lights she bought from Target that are still working after 10 years of ice, snow, and summer storms!)
  • Will you need a guide wire – this depends on how many light strands you are stringing together and if they are over a large area. If you feel your string lights are sagging too much over a large open area, use a 1/16″ wire rope to attach to both end mounting points and then wrap your string lights around the wire rope to maintain desired tension.
  • How will you mount them –  there are many options for mounting your lights to existing structures (roof lines, gutters, rails, etc): gutter hooks, cup hooks, zip ties, adhesive outdoor hooks, screw hooks, and nail in telephone wire hooks.  If no existing structures exist, you’ll need to get more creative.  Trees serve as a great natural mounting anchor point but in their absence, decorative posts made of wood, aluminum fencing, painted rebar, and even copper piping can be functional and beautifully erected.

Question: Which home improvement projects have the best return on value?

May 14, 2020 1 Comment

It’s sometimes daunting trying to figure out which home improvement projects should take priority over others when it comes to increasing your home’s overall value.  According to the latest 2020 remodeling research study I’ve seen, here are 5 of the top  return value projects for the Southeast region of the country:

  1. 94% avg. cost recouped – Adding Manufactured Stone Veneer to the exterior of your home.  This assumes replacing at least 300SF of your existing front exterior vinyl siding with stone veneer including around the front entry door.  Average cost of project is around $9,000.
  2. 88% avg. cost recouped – Garage Door Replacement.  This assumes replacing your old 16×7 garage door with a new, high strength steel door with heavy-duty galvanized steel tracks, windows along the top panel of door, and foam insulated to at least R-12 in the latest on trend carriage door design style.  Average cost of project is around $3,600.
  3. 77% avg. cost recouped – Add a Deck.  This assumes adding a 16×20 pressure-treated wood deck complete with steps to grade, a built in bench, posts, railings, and balusters.  (Another option is to add a composite deck but be aware they return slightly less with 66% of their costs being recouped.)  Average cost of project is around $12,800.
  4. 76% avg. cost recouped – Midrange Kitchen Remodel.  This assumes remodeling a functional but dated 200SF kitchen with approximately 30LF of cabinetry and countertops, leaving existing cabinet boxes in place but replacing fronts with new shaker-style wood panels & drawer fronts & new hardware. This also includes replacing the cooktop/oven range and slide-in refrigerator with new energy-efficient models, replacing laminate countertops, installing a midpriced sink & faucet, adding new resilient flooring, and finishing by painting walls, trim, and the ceiling.  Average cost of project is around $22,000.
  5. 67% avg. cost recouped – Replace Front Entry Door with steel replacement.  This assumes removing existing 3-0/6-8 door and replacing with a 20 gauge steel door that includes a clear, dual-pane half-glass panel, jambs, and aluminum threshold as well as replacing existing lockset.  Average cost of project is around is $1,800.

Spring Homeowner Tip #16

April 21, 2020

Check Your Shingles!

The month of April is a great time to inspect your roof and look for damaged shingles that may be loose, buckling, worn, curled, or missing.  Winter snow and ice storms can take a toll on your roof and cause damage to shingles.  Likewise, the hot attic air of summers can cause the shingles above them to buckle and curl.  Ideally you should be checking your roof twice a year – each spring and fall.  If you find more than 1/3 of your shingles are curling, it’s time to replace the entire roof.  If you find loose or missing shingles, have them replaced immediately lest water seep through your roof with the next April shower.  If you have asphalt shingles, look to see if most of the little gravel-like granules are still on the shingles or if a good number have fallen into your gutters indicating the shingles have limited life left.  Lastly, look for areas on your roof covered in moss or piles of leaves as both of these can be extremely damaging since they trap moisture which can seep into the sheathing underneath your shingles.  An ounce of prevention with your roof goes a long way in saving potential costly rot and repairs later!

Question: Can Air Filters Help with Preventing Coronavirus?

March 27, 2020

You have asked and I feel compelled to respond with my best understanding, but please note, I am not an expert in this field and you are receiving an opinion, not a recommendation. That said, the short answer is likely:  Yes, to a certain extent, air purifiers & filters CAN (but are NOT guaranteed to) help prevent viruses from spreading throughout your home, according to some sources.  Those sources claim the best HEPA air purifier filters can trap up to 99% (See Remi Halo site noted below) of viruses circulating through your air by using a system involving a complex weave of tiny fibers that carry an electrostatic charge.  This charge then attracts bypassing particles and acts more like a magnet than a net. The smaller the fiber with the greater charge coefficient, the greater the likelihood of trapping even smaller particles.  Although HEPA is a Department of Energy specification, testing and manufacturing protocol in the consumer sector varies to the extent that no filter brand should claim they can completely protect people from COVID-19 or other viruses.  Home HVAC air filters have MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) ratings.  Every air filter has holes that allow air and particles to pass through. The smaller the holes, the fewer particles that passes through. Higher MERV ratings indicate smaller holes, and therefore a more efficient filter.  The Dept. of Energy recommends households use filters with a MERV rating of 8 or higher. Click here for an example of a MERV 16 filter for purchase on amazon.

A product that claims to be highly effective is a Remi Halo Ultraviolet Light that can be installed inside of your current HVAC system and, according to the product advertisement, has been thoroughly tested to show impressive results killing MRSA, e-coli, & Norwalk viruses to name a few.  If you would like more information concerning this product and live in central VA, you may wish to call Classic Comfort, an established HVAC firm, or another HVAC company that you prefer.  Classic Comfort indicated to us that you should expect to pay $700-$900 to have one of these systems installed in your current system.   I see these filters as an additive protective measure, especially helpful to those who might be more at risk, but understand that nothing that I know of is guaranteed to kill all the viruses, bacteria, & pollutes that may be air borne.

Question: What is the Modern Farmhouse design?

February 25, 2020

We answered this question in last month’s newsletter and it stirred up quite a buzz! We love this new trend that has started to debut across the country and have just had our first two clients inquire about building a modern farmhouse design! Much like the Craftsman style of the last decade, the Modern Farmhouse style is wrapped in old charm character with updated, fresh lines achieved through:

  • black window grilles
  • interior shiplap trim
  • barn style lighting and doors
  • wide plank floors distressed or stained
  • white exteriors
  • vertical board & batten siding
  • simulated wood (not steel) front doors
  • covered front porches
  • carriage style garage doors
  • & signature metal roofs

For further design elements, we recommend browsing the modern farmhouse plans available at Don Gardner.  If you are interested in building your own modern farmhouse, we’d love to talk to you!

Renew, Rejuvenate, Remodel!

January 16, 2020

We’ve taken great enjoyment in our recent remodeling jobs as shown in the picture above. We love helping homeowners update their dream homes to stay current with their new stage-of-life demands and desires!
Whether it’s building that screen porch you’ve always wanted, converting your bonus room into a movie theater, installing a guest pool barn/house, or giving your bathroom or kitchen a new makeover, we stand ready to help your remodeling dreams come true! Give us a call to discuss pricing and scheduling for the upcoming months!

Winter Homeowner Tip #10

December 12, 2019

Chestnuts (not termites) Roasting on an Open Fire!

Tis the season for warm holiday fires but be sure to store that firewood for woodburning fireplaces away from the home!  Too many homeowners make the mistake of stacking firewood up against their homes and while the shorter walk may be convenient, they are unknowingly increasing the risk of termite damage to their homes.  Instead, be sure to stack and store firewood at least 20 feet away from your foundation…a simple holiday tip that can keep you merry and warm!

Fall Homeowner Tip #13

October 18, 2019

Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning by Installing and/or Checking Your CO Detector

Carbon monoxide (CO) can pose a serious danger and the sources producing it can be found in most homes today.  For years I have made it mandatory in the homes I build to include a CO detector as most can now be purchased in a combo unit with a smoke alarm.  Carbon monoxide is a dangerous odorless gas that can be found as the byproduct of gas furnaces, space heaters, stoves, dryers, back-drafting from unvented appliances, & generators to name a few.  Since CO is lighter than air, the detectors need to be installed on ceilings.   If you already have a CO detector, be sure to regularly check the batteries.  Lastly, keep an eye out for the following symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning :

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Breathlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of Consciousness


Question: Can I put pumpkin seeds down my garbage disposal?

September 30, 2019

The short answer is no!  You should not put fibrous vegetables such as pumpkin, kale, celery, and asparagus down your disposal because of how easily they get tangled up in the unit and often jam the motor.  Here’s a helpful list of what should and shouldn’t go in your garbage disposal:


  • soft foods
  • liquids
  • some hard vegetables and fruits as long as they are chopped up

Should Not:

  • coffee grounds (they clump together in a thick mass that can clog drains)
  • pasta, rice, & other starchy foods that expand when wet
  • egg shells
  • potato peels
  • nuts
  • meat remnants
  • bones
  • shells of seafood fish
  • grease, oil, & cooking fat (these can solidify in pipes and cause serious clogs)
  • fibrous vegetables (as mentioned above)
  • seeds from peaches & mangoes
  • apple cores

Labor Day Weekend Special Project – Aerate Your Yard!

August 27, 2019

If you want a luscious lawn in the spring, fall is the time to take action!  Whether you hire a landscaper or do it yourself, aerating your yard provides multiple benefits to the grass and soil below by perforating small holes that allow water, air, and nutrients to penetrate them.  Aeration alleviates soil compaction, a condition that worsens over time and prevents new grass from being able to grow.   Most professionals recommend the following order of steps:

  1. Aerate – early fall
  2. Fertilize – immediately after to put nutrients into your soil
  3. Seed – over entire yard or problem areas

Be sure to mow your lawn before aeration and do not cut it for at least a week after.  One last helpful hint: lightly water your lawn after mowing and before aerating because aeration is most effective when the soil is slightly moist.


Summer Homeowner Tip #19

July 25, 2019

Vacuum Refrigerator Coils..

Keep your refrigerator running longer and more efficiently by vacuuming the coils annually.  Remember to unplug the refrigerator first, then pop off the base grill if necessary, and vacuum to your heart’s content (you might be surprised by what you find)!


Summer Homeowner Tip #18

June 27, 2019

Dust Ceiling Fan Blades & Check Direction..

Now is the perfect time to change the direction of your fan blades and clean them at the same time!  As I had advised in winter to have your fans run clockwise to distribute heat more evenly, now I recommend changing the direction to counterclockwise in summer as this will push the air straight down and help you stay cooler!


Question: What’s the best way to clean a Trex deck?

May 23, 2019

Memorial Day weekend is the perfect time to get your deck set up if you haven’t already! Like any outdoor structure, your Trex deck needs to be cared for and cleaned well to maintain it’s optimal beauty and life.  Early generation Trex decks do not encourage power washing, just soap and water and a soft bristled brush.  The Transcend, Enhance, & Select Trex products allow for pressure washers with equal to or less than 3100 PSI and recommend holding the tip no closer than 8″ from each deck board.  Never use cleaning products with Acetone in them; but rather, use a Magic Eraser to try to remove any stains you may have.  Also, never sand a Trex deck.  Lastly, as a reminder for next winter,  never use a metal shovel on a Trex deck, only plastic should you need to remove snow and/or debris. For now, happy deck season!

Spring Homeowner Tip #15

April 17, 2019

Remove dead trees & shrubs!

The month of April is a great time to evaluate your yard and remove any dead trees and shrubs for both safety and aesthetic purposes.  With the upcoming summer thunderstorms trumpeting our way, dead trees can easily be blown over and cause costly, if not deadly, accidents.  Dead or unsightly shrubs can be removed during this time allowing for freshly planted ones to take advantage of the spring soil.  As always, whenever any of your projects require digging, I strongly urge you to call 8-1-1 to find out where your utility lines run underground.  You can also visit their website to find out more information (

Spring Homeowner Tip #14

March 29, 2019

Test your water heater pressure release valve

I recommend homeowners check their water heater pressure release valve every year.  Diminishing water pressure, no water pressure, and hammering noises within your walls are all indicators that your pressure reducing valve is going bad.  I like to recommend a great 3 min. video that Roto Rooter has prepared to demonstrate how this is done, although you can skip to the 1:30 mark to get straight to the point.  Click here for that video.

Winter Homeowner Tip #9

February 21, 2019

Check your bathroom caulk!

I like to remind my homeowners to do one last interior winter check before the weather turns warmer and everyone wants to head outside:  check the caulk in your bathrooms.  Most homeowners remember to check the caulk by their windows and doors as they are naturally motivated by the cost savings benefit of performing those checks.  Often forgotten, but just as important, is to remember to check and repair the caulk around sinks, bathtubs, and toilets.  Not only will it keep your bathrooms looking fresh and new, it can prevent costly leaks and plumbing calls.

Question: Why do you recommend changing the ceiling fan direction in winter?

January 31, 2019

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 (most do), use it to run the fan’s blades in a clockwise direction in winter 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.

Merry Christmas!

December 20, 2018

Winter Homeowner Tip #8

November 30, 2018

Close your foundation vents!

Once the seasonal temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, I recommend closing your foundation vents to prevent the crawl space pipes from freezing.  An easy way to do this is to simply use the mechanism on your vent to close them or you can plug them from the outside with foam blocks made specifically for this purpose as well.  Another easy alternative is to replace your traditional vents with automatic ones which self close at 40 degrees and open at 70 degrees.  Regardless of which method you prefer, be sure to remember this one & mark it off your winter checklist as done!

Question: How Do I Find My Property Lines?

October 25, 2018

Good fences make good neighbors…unless they don’t

All home and property owners today need to know their property lines, especially if they’re looking at constructing a fence or outdoor structure, doing landscaping, putting in outdoor security cameras, and definitely if selling their home.  In today’s highly litigious society,  knowing your property lines can help avoid costly situations & headaches involving your neighbor’s trees, roots, etc.

Hiring a surveyor to come to your property would get the job done, but this option is costly and I recommend pursuing other options first:

  • Refer to your home/property purchase records – there should be a copy of the home location survey that clearly depicts the location of your home & any other structures in relation to your property lines
  • Check county records – there is a high probability that your county has an official survey on record.  You can usually access these records by either searching online at your county’s website or in some locations by visiting the county office and requesting them.

At the end of the day, if neither of these options work, hire a surveyor.  It’s absolutely worth it when you’re considering any home improvement project.  After all, you want to make sure the property that you’re improving and protecting is actually yours.  When it comes to your property, it’s either know it or lose it!


Fall Homeowner Tip #12

September 28, 2018

Change Your Furnace Filter

The change of seasons is always a great reminder to change your furnace filter.  Your heating system will run much more efficiently this winter if you do so!  A few things to keep in mind when replacing your filter(s):

  • Don’t forget to set the thermostat to “off” while you change it.
  • On the new filter, find the arrow that indicates the proper air flow direction.  The arrow needs to face toward the furnace and away from the return duct.
  • How often?  An average home is fine to change their filter 4x/year.  I like changing it each season in Virginia because it’s an easy ongoing rhythm reminder.  However, if your household has pets or allergies, consider replacing filters every 45-60 days.

Summer Homeowner Tip #17

August 24, 2018

Protect Your Deck & Patio Before Fall..

The hot summer sun can be brutal on outdoor decks and patios! First, clean away dust and debris from the surfaces of your deck, patio, and porch spaces. Next, look for signs of cracking, chipped paint, or holes that need to be repaired. Use wood putty or stone filler to repair any areas that have been damaged. Make sure to repaint or restain and seal the surface before the wet fall weather begins and the ice of winter comes!


We Made the Top 5! Vote Now for Top Homebuilder!

July 23, 2018

As many of you may have seen in the newspaper yesterday, we made the Top 5 as one of Richmond’s Best Homebuilders! Thanks to your nomination votes back in the Spring, AHI broke through the historically all-production-builder ranks and grabbed a spot in the Top 5 of the annual Richmond Times Dispatch’s “The Best of Richmond” competition. We know this is because of you, thank you!


If you feel like voting again,the competition is now to the final phase and will be narrowing the list down to the Top 3 to be announced at a ceremony in October. You can vote daily, at the link above! (You’ll find Best Homebuilder in the Home and Garden section).

We appreciate your support!

The AHI Team

Question: Help! My kitchen drain is clogged, any ideas before calling a plumber?

July 10, 2018

Yes! There are several at home remedies I recommend trying before calling a plumber for clogged drains.  Try following these steps:

  1. Try to remove any standing water from the sink with a cup or small pot.
  2. Check your garbage disposal if you have one.  Turn it on and make sure it’s working properly.    If the disposal was clogged and overheated as a result, flip the switch on the bottom or side of the unit to restart it.
  3. Mix about a cup of baking soda with a half cup of salt and pour down the drain.  Let the mixture sit for an hour and then flush with boiling water.  (You can swap the half cup of salt for a full cup of white vinegar if you prefer).
  4. Use a plumber’s snake – this handy tool reaches down your drain until you feel resistance at the spot the clog.
  5. Lastly, if you feel comfortable opening the sink’s P-trap (the curved pipe underneath your sink in the cabinet below), you can try to clear any debris you find there.

If the drain is still clogged after these 5 steps, I think it’s time to call the plumber.

Question: What does the noise from my AC unit mean?

May 10, 2018

Most of today’s high-efficiency AC units keep noise levels below 55 decibels.  So, if you hear an unusual or loud noise, don’t ignore it and turn a potentially minor issue into a major expense.  Below are the most common AC unit noises and what they may mean:

  • Screaming – if you hear a high-pitched whistle or scream like noise, this could indicate a refrigerant leak in your unit or high internal pressure inside your compressor.  Both of these situations are dangerous for your family, shut the unit off and call a professional.
  • Rattling – a rattling noise could mean that your unit is either starting to deteriorate, some of its parts are becoming loose like the fan, or that twigs or debris could be clogging it.  Check for loose screws and bolts in the unit, change the indoor air filter, and clean the condenser coils.
  • Humming – if your compressor hums and refuses to start, more than likely there is an issue with your motor but first check the wiring as a loose wire would cause the same humming sound.
  • Clicking – your AC unit will make a normal clicking sound as it starts up and shuts down but be aware if this clicking noise becomes constant,  it could indicate a defective control or failing thermostat.
  • Banging – if you hear banging, something in your AC unit is not functioning properly and needs to be fixed right away before the problem causes more expensive ripple effects.  Banging indicates there’s a broken or loose part in your compressor system or that your indoor blower might be unbalanced.  Call a professional while there is still time to repair that one part and not have to replace the whole unit from the damage it caused!

Spring Homeowner Tip # 13

April 24, 2018

Clean Your Gutters!

With the weather finally turning warm, many of us are anxious to get outside and start our spring cleanup projects!  I always like to remind homeowners that cleaning your gutters first is a great place to start.  The wind and debris from winter storms can fill your gutters with unwanted deposits so you’ll want to be sure they’re not clogged as the season of spring showers begins.  As this often times is a somewhat messy endeavor, I recommend cleaning your gutters first and then power-washing or cleaning your home’s exterior afterwards to maximize spring cleaning efficiency.