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New Home Warranty

Make sure you fully understand terms and conditions.

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Q. About six months ago we bought a new home and the builder provided a one year home warranty. Recently we discovered a defect, but when we contacted the builder, he said that because we did not discover the defect during the final walk-through that it would not be covered under the warranty. Is this common practice?

A. No, this is definitely not common practice. Most builders will repair defects that are found at any time during the warranty period, provided that they are covered by the terms of the warranty, and are obviously the fault of the builder. Read your warranty contract carefully to see if you are indeed bound by the condition your builder is citing. He may be counting on the fact that you have not thoroughly read the contract. In any event, you may want to seek the advice of an attorney. When inspecting a new home, I always advise my clients to discuss the terms of the home warranty with the builder before closing, and to make sure that they fully understand those terms and conditions.

Homecheck Autumn Harvest

Fall is traditionally associated with harvesting and stocking up for the winter ahead.

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Fall is traditionally associated with harvesting and stocking up for the winter ahead. However, many locations in the U.S., even those accustomed to getting heavy snow in the winter, may embrace the fall as a great time to extend their garden harvest and continue to play with their landscape. Gardeners may continue to plant a regular 'salad mix' and root vegetables through November. Fall is also a great time to plant bulbs and other plants for the following spring. Landscapers who think ahead may already have some great flower varieties showing off their colors in the fall. Finally, fall is a great time to take advantage of mild temperatures to prepare the plants and soil for the winter ahead. There are many projects for the fall garden to keep all green-thumbs happy!

"Autumn, the year's last, loveliest smile." ~ William Cullen Bryant

Part I: The Garden

• There are many quick growing vegetables that enjoy the milder fall temperatures. There are also some longer growing vegetables that don't mind a little frost and may be planted early fall for a harvest in November/December. Some of those that can help keep your green thumb busy are: Arugula - Beets - Broccoli - Cabbage - Carrots - Cauliflower - Leeks - Mustard - Radish - Scallions - Spinach - Turnips - Winter Squash (click on each for more information)

• As you enjoy your fall vegetable garden, keep some of these tasks in mind to prep the soil for your spring planting.

  1. Remove dead plants. If you keep them there they may become a hiding place for pests. Instead, collect healthy remains and place them in a compost bin or discard completely. Also remove old stakes and twine, this will just get messy over the winter and become more of a headache to clear out come spring.
  2. You may till some dead leaves and compost into the soil to add nutrients over the winter. However, be careful not to have too much as you do not want to mat the surface. Tilling your soil in the fall can also expose any pest larvae to freeze in the winter. Finally, take a soil sample; fall is a great time to add lime or sulfur to adjust the soil pH for spring.
  3. If you have a mild enough winter, you may want to consider cover crops such as clover and rye grass (ask your local garden store for localized suggestions).
  4. Do not fertilize as this will wash away before your spring planting - save your money!
  5. Use time in the fall and winter to sketch out next years garden. Doing this early will help you decide if you should make any adjustments or amend soil in certain areas now.

Part II: The Landscape

• Looking for a little color around your house in fall? try some of these plants to add color to your home with their vibrant fall colors and blooms: American Cranberry Bush - Chrysanthemum - Burning Bush - Iris (re-blooming) - Kale - Pansies (click on each for more information) 

• Or perhaps you are considering your spring flowerbeds. These plants can be planted in the fall to make sure they are established for a spring awakening: Allium - Crocus - Daffodil - Hyacinth - Iris - Tulip (click on each for more information)

• Fall is also a great time to introduce new plants to your landscape. Many of your large plants such as trees and shrubs do best when planted in the spring or fall. Planting in the fall allows them milder temperatures to get established before the winter.

• Now is also a good time to relocate plants that may not be happy in their current location. Also, perennials such as Daylilies, Geraniums, Irises, Lambs Ears, and Peonies may be divided and spread in your landscape for a new bloom next year. Now is the time to clean up your landscape and prep your plants for the winter ahead.

  1. Water all your plants - it may be wet, but they will appreciate a good drink before the ground freezes.
  2. Cut away - cut back perennials and add to the compost bin. If you have any question about the health of the plant, discard the cuts instead. Also cut back any evergreens and shrubs; at this point you are mainly cutting out dead or diseased stems on the plant.
  3. Clear debris such as leaves and pine needles from the base of your plants. Crushed dried leaves can be used to make mulch or compost. Some gardeners may also use pine needles for mulch, however, pine needles can make a more acidic soil.
  4. Dig up the annuals - they have had their moment of glory, add them to your compost bin.
  5. Lawn care - continue to mow your lawn until it stops growing. Make sure to rake leaves to prevent molding and dead spots. You will also want to fertilize the lawn once in the early fall and again after it stops growing.

Water Problems

Garage had suddenly developed a mildew problem which had never occurred in the 100 plus year life of the house.

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Recently I was asked to inspect a vacation home in North Carolina. The owners said that the garage had suddenly developed a mildew problem which had never occurred in the 100 plus year life of the house. What I found was that water was running under the walls of the garage and collecting in the storage closet area. Since the garage had been closed for about four months, the mildew problem was quite severe. The owners said that they had never had this problem before, so I started by asking them what, if anything, they had done to alter the lot drainage. It turns out that they had hired an architect to design a screened porch on the flat roof of the garage, and had hired a local contractor to build it. My first question was; did the original garage have gutters? They said that it had some kind of drain in the flat roof which drained the water off the back corner of the structure. The original garage did indeed have a scupper feeding into a downspout which drained the water downhill from the structure, but this was abandoned when the porch was built. It didn’t take me long to realize that all the water falling on the gabled roof of the new porch was draining along the sides of the garage and running under the old walls. They solved the problem by installing gutters along both sides of the garage with downspouts to channel the water away and downhill from the structure. Gutters can sometimes be difficult to keep clean, but they do a very good job of keeping water away from the house.

Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home-Part 4

This month’s we will discuss tips for once year maintenance.

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Welcome back to Rocky’s Corner! Last month we started Part 3 of an 8 part series of Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home when we recommended maintenance tips to use every 6 months. This month’s we will discuss tips for once year maintenance. Every Year SHUT-OFF VALVES: Review the location of all of the shut-off valves in your home with all your family members so you will be prepared for emergencies. Whole-house water shut-off valve: The main shut-off valve should be beside the meter if you are on City water. If you use a well, the shut-off valve will be on the house side of the pressure tank. You should also cut power to the tank. Whole-house hot water shut-off valve: There should be a valve on the hot water outlet of the water heater, which controls all of the hot water to the house. Toilet shut-off valve: Show your entire family how to shut off the toilet by turning the ribbed oval handle under the tank if it ever starts to overflow. Sink shut-off valve: You should have handles beneath the sinks or within the cabinets; the one on the left is usually for hot water, the one on the right for cold water. Dishwasher shut-off valve: Look under the kitchen sink for a reducer coupling and shut-off valve leading to the dishwasher on the ½ inch hot water sink supply line. It could also be between ceiling joists just below the appliance if you have a basement. Washing machine: Valves are usually where the washer hoses meet the house supply lines. However, washer hoses are notoriously weak, so consider changing them routinely every year or at least close the valves when leaving home for an extended period of time. Gas hut-off valve: Identify location and show entire family how to shut off. Electrical Panel/Breaker box: Identify location and show entire family how to shut off main breaker in an emergency, or flip any circuits back on after an overload. GAS-FIRED, FORCED-AIR CENTRAL HEATING SYSTEMS: Inspect the thermostat, electrical components and controls. Check the heat exchanger, flue, ducts, airflow and air fuel mixture. Adjust the burner and oil the motor and circulation fan. Arrange for service calls before the start of heating and cooling season to get better attention and have more flexibility when scheduling appointments. HEAT PUMP: Schedule an annual service call to have a certified professional to inspect the wiring, check belts and replace if needed, and oil the moving parts. Arrange for service calls before the start of heating and cooling season to get better attention and have more flexibility when scheduling appointments. OIL-FIRED BOILERS: Schedule an annual service call for flue cleaning, a fuel-filter change cleaning and adjustment of the jets. Arrange for service calls before the start of heating and cooling season to get better attention and have more flexibility when scheduling appointments. FIREPLACES AND CHIMNEYS: Have your wood burning fireplaces and stoves inspected annually and cleaned and repaired as required to prevent chimney fires, carbon monoxide poisoning and mortar and flashing failure. Water leaks can also cause your mortar to deteriorate prematurely. Consider installing a chimney cap to protect your chimney from water, debris and critters. CLEAN CARPETING, UPHOLSTERY AND DRAPERIES: Have your carpets, upholstery and draperies cleaned regularly, once every 12 to 18 months to remove the dirt and grit that can wear them out prematurely. APPLIANCES: Inspect appliance hoses and ventilation according to the owners’ manuals. Replace if necessary. Vacuum the coils behind your refrigerator and freezer (found behind or under the appliance) to increase energy efficiency. GARAGE DOORS: Clean and lubricate hinges, rollers, and tracks; tighten screws. Join me next month for Part 5 of our series on Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home. We will be discussing tips for every 2 years. Visit us at www.freminshomeimprovement.com

Setting Your Budget

Your next step is to create a project budget.

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You have evaluated the neighborhood and find that your improvement is consistent with general aesthetic and size parameters. You plan to remain in the house for some time. You find that a second mortgage payment will not strain your current monthly budget. You feel you can devote a certain amount of time towards planning the project. And finally, you are really sick of waiting in line to go to the bathroom in your own house!

Your next step is to create a project budget. Decide how long you plan on staying in your home. The length of time you intend to stay in a home will affect how much money you should invest in it. If you are going to stay in the home for more than ten years, you should spend as much as you are able to create the home of your dreams. Make a list of all your debts. You should include any debts you pay on a monthly basis, such as mortgages, car loans, credit cards, and any other items with a fixed monthly payment. This list should not include payments for groceries, utilities, telephone services, or other general expenses. Call this list your monthly expenses. Determine your total gross monthly income. Include all sources of income that you would list on a loan application.

You are ready to determine a project budget. Use the following steps for this process; I have plugged numbers into the formulas to demonstrate how each works.

STEP 1
Lenders use a simple Debt-to-Income (DTI) ratio to determine if a homeowner can afford the additional debt of a remodeling project. DTI Enter Your Total Monthly Expenses $2,860.00 Add the Estimated Monthly Payment for the Project +$775.67 Total $3,635.67 Divide the Total by Your Gross Monthly Income $7,950.00 DTI = 45.7% Each lender will approve loans at a specific DTI percentage (most lenders will tell you what their set DTI ratio is, if you ask). In this example, let us assume that the lender accepts DTI ratios of 45 percent. You are right at the cusp of qualifying. Provided your credit rating is good and you have plenty of equity in your home you will most likely be approved for this loan.

STEP 2
The next step is to determine the maximum monthly payment you can afford for remodeling. Multiply your monthly gross income amount by the lender's maximum DTI allowance, and subtract your current total monthly expenses, excluding the estimated remodeling payment. Gross Monthly Income $7,950.00 Lender's DTI ratio x.45 Subtotal $3,577.50 Less Total Monthly Expenses -$2,860.00 Maximum Affordable Payment = $717.50 Use this figure to determine the maximum available to you to borrow. In this case we assume that the home improvement loan is a fifteen year note at seven percent. The maximum you can borrow is forty-seven thousand dollars for your project given this monthly payment. There are many different options you can explore with your lender during this process. These options can sometimes increase the amount you can borrow; it is best to discuss this thoroughly with lenders. We discuss financing in more detail in the next section.

STEP 3
The final consideration for your budget is if there is any available cash to supplement what you borrow for the project. These are funds not being set aside for future financial obligations such as retirement, college, or other major purchases (like a new car). They are not required for monthly or general expenses as well. In this example let us assume that you have three thousand dollars in excess funds available for the project. This brings your maximum project budget to fifty thousand dollars. The budget now becomes the overriding parameter that drives the project. Every decision from this point forward is made according to the limits set by the budget. The next thing to consider is the percentage of the budget necessary for contingencies. Contingencies are unexpected items that present themselves during the course of the project. The guideline is to set aside between five and twenty percent of your budget for contingencies. The actual percentage depends upon the complexity of the project. For instance, a new roof generally does not require other ancillary items be repaired or altered in order to install the roof. Therefore the minimum contingency of five percent is usually sufficient. On the other hand, a large addition to your home involves many more trades and materials that likely require the maximum contingency of twenty percent. As a rule if any portion of your existing walls, floors, or ceilings must be demolished or opened up in order to install the new materials you need a contingency towards the maximum. Although a professional architect and/or contractor have vast knowledge of the construction process he or she does not have X-ray vision. Often times there are situations that complicate construction contained within these areas that cannot possibly be known about until the area is opened. For our example we will assume you are putting on a small kitchen addition (referred to as a “bump-out”). Since you will have to open up an existing wall but the work area is concentrated to a small portion of the house a contingency of fifteen percent should suffice.

This means that the budget for actual construction that you present to the architect is forty-two thousand five hundred dollars. This is the parameter you want your design professional to use. You hold the seven thousand five hundred dollars in reserve to address any unforeseen expenses that occur once the project begins. You protect yourself from scrambling for extra funds in the middle of the upgrade; if you do not use all of the contingency, and there is no rule that says you have to, then you complete your project under budget (heretofore an unheard of occurrence in remodeling)!

Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home-Part 6

This month we will begin with Part A - tips for Spring.

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Welcome back to Rocky’s Corner! Last month we started Part 5 of an 8 part series of Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home.

This month we will begin with Part A - tips for Spring. Every Spring-Part A

APPLIANCES:

  • Vacuum coils under or behind refrigerators and freezers.

 AIR CONDITIONING UNITS: Central Air Conditioning

  • Make sure the condensing unit located outside is not covered up with leaves, newspaper, etc.
  • Change or clean the filters regularly.
  • Be sure all access panels are secure, with all the screws in place.
  • Set the thermostat in the cooling mode.
  • Run your air conditioner for a few minutes now, before you need it.
  • Schedule a maintenance call before it gets hot to have a technician check the following items:
  1. Check for proper refrigerant (Freon) levels. A low level indicates a leak, to be found and repaired before adding Freon.
  2. Check all electrical components and controls.
  3. Clean evaporator and condenser coils, as needed.
  4. Oil motors as needed.
  5. Calibrate thermostat.
  6. Check condenser for cracks.
  7. Check filters.

AIR CONDITIONING UNITS: Evaporative Air Conditioning

  • Clean unit; check belt tension and adjust if necessary; replace cracked or worn belt.
  • Clean or replace air filter; clean condenser or evaporator coils and condensate drain; remove debris from outdoor portion of unit. AIR

CONDITIONING UNITS:  Wall and Window Air Conditioning

  • Have your unit checked out to make sure it is working properly before you need it.
  • Clean dirt, insects and debris from the grills and cooling fins.
  • Replace dirty filters.

ATTIC:

  • Make sure all your gable, soffit, and ridge vents are open to allow proper ventilation.
  • Make sure insulation covers the entire attic floor; look into hiring a professional to add more to meet recently updated building codes and reduce future cooling and heating costs.
  • Check to make sure your attic and/or whole house fans are working properly; consider installing attic or whole house fans.

CARBON MONOXIDE AND SMOKE DETECTORS:

  • Change batteries and check to make sure they are operating properly.

CAULKING AND GROUT:

  • Inspect caulking and grout around tubs, showers and sinks; considering replacing if necessary.

CLEAN CARPETING:

  • Have your carpets cleaned regularly to remove the dirt and grit that can wear them out prematurely.

DOOR SILLS, WINDOW SILLS, AND THRESHOLDS:

Fill cracks, caulk edges, repaint; replace if necessary.

DRAIN-WASTE AND VENT SYSTEMS:

  • Flush out system.

HEAT PUMP:

  • Lubricate blower motor.
  • If you didn’t have an annual check-up done last fall, schedule one now to have a certified professional to inspect the wiring, check belts (replace if needed), and oil the moving parts.

HOT WATER HEATING SYSTEM:

  • Lubricate circulating pump and motor.

PEST CONTROL:

  • Termites can cause thousands of dollars worth of property damage before the homeowner even realizes they have an infestation and other pests can threaten your family members and pets with bites and diseases
  • Contact a pest control specialist for a free inspection and evaluation of your risk; and for hiring a regular service to keep your home free of all pests; including insects and rodents.

SCREENS FOR WINDOWS AND DOORS:

  • Clean screening and repair or replace if necessary; tighten or repair any loose or damaged frames and repaint if necessary, replace broken, worn or missing hardware; tighten and lubricate hinges and closers.

WATER HEATER:

  • Every six months you should turn off the power source and drain it completely until it is clear of sediment.
  • Also inspect flue assembly (gas heater); check for leaks and corrosion.

ANTENNA:

  • Check antenna and satellite dish supports for possible leak source.

BASEMENT AND FOUNDATION:

  • Check grading for proper slope away from foundation wall. Inspect for cracks and moisture and repair if necessary.

DECKS, PORCHES AND EXTERIOR WOOD STRUCTURES:

  • Check all decks, patios, porches, stairs and railing for loose members and deterioration, such as cracks, splintering, decay, and insect damage; treat wood, set nails and repair or replace rotted boards, as needed.
  • If professionally cleaned, sealed and maintained, it should only be necessary to refinish and/or stain your wooden decks every two or three years.
  • It is also necessary that surfaces be thoroughly cleaned and dried before adding another coat of stain or protective finish.
  • Remove mold and mildew, fungus, tree sap, grease and bird droppings with the appropriate commercial deck cleaners (or homemade mixtures) and a stiff brushed broom.
  • Clean mildew and fungus by mixing one cup of chlorine bleach per gallon of water; scrub and rinse well. Sodium bicarbonate works well to remove dirt, mildew and the weathered gray residue from sunlight degradation.
  • Oxalic acid will remove metal stains around nails and dark tannin stains often found on redwood, cedar and oak.
  • Use care and follow manufacturers’ directions when using these products, wear eye protection, long pants, long sleeves and gloves; cover surrounding vegetation with plastic and rinse well.

DRIVEWAY CRACKS:

  • For asphalt, remove dirt and weed debris from cracks, spray with a high-pressure hose sprayer; treat with weed killer and patch with a special patching product.
  • For concrete, the only alternative for cracked driveways and garage floors used to be removal and replacement, but these days there are overlayments that may be professionally applied to cover surface cracks as long as the concrete is still structurally sound.

Join me next month for Part 7 of our series on Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home. Visit us at www.freminshomeimprovement.com