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Clothes dryer venting. Do’s and Don’ts

Many years ago when I was doing maintenance work for a large property management company, I got a call to look at a clothes dryer that was not working properly.

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Many years ago when I was doing maintenance work for a large property management company, I got a call to look at a clothes dryer that was not working properly. The tenant said that her clothes were just not getting dry no matter how long she ran the dryer. What I found was that the dryer lacked a lint screen, and the flexible vent hose under the house was sagging considerably and had been trapping moisture and lint for a very long time. The more moisture that became trapped in the hose, the more it sagged. The result was that the hose had become completely blocked by an oatmeal-like mixture of lint and moisture. No air could pass through this blockage, and the dryer could not do it’s job. In this case, replacement and proper routing of the vent hose solved the problem. When the proper flow of air is blocked, the clothes dryer has to work harder to dry your clothes, and this could lead to premature failure of the appliance, and in some cases could cause a fire. Whenever you have a home inspection, be sure to ask the inspector to look at the dryer vent hose, and it’s also a good idea to check it at least once a year.

Appliances and GFCI circuits.

Our home inspector said that we should not plug our deep freeze into a GFCI circuit, because it could trip while we are away, and ruin our food. Is this correct?

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Q. Our home inspector said that we should not plug our deep freeze into a GFCI circuit, because it could trip while we are away, and ruin our food. Is this correct?

A. Yes, your home inspector is correct. Appliances such as refrigerators and freezers or medical equipment that must remain running should never be connected to GFCI outlets. The reason for this is that GFCI outlets can trip without warning shutting off power to the appliance. GFCI outlets are very sensitive to changes in their environment, and can trip under various conditions. These outlets when placed outside or in garages can trip during rainy weather, because there is too much moisture in the air. GFCI outlets that are wired to other similar devices can turn off when one of the other outlets trips. Under normal circumstances, GFCI outlets are perfectly suited for such things as small appliances, bathrooms, kitchens and exterior devices such as hedge trimmers and power tools. When used properly, GFCI outlets are life savers, but because they are so sensitive and prone to tripping without warning, they are ill suited for appliances which must remain on at all times.

Slab verses crawl space

Some are built on a slab, and others have crawl spaces. Is one better than the other?

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Q. We are looking at new homes in South Carolina, and we noticed that some are built on a slab, and others have crawl spaces. Is one better than the other?

A. Traditionally, houses in South Carolina have been built on raised foundation walls to keep the structure away from the ground, but with the advent of newer technologies, more and more builders are choosing to build homes with concrete slab foundations. Briefly, a house with a crawl space has a wooden floor built on foundation walls and piers that can be anywhere from about two to six feet off the ground depending on the slope of the lot. In this type of house, the utilities such as plumbing, electrical and HVAC can be run under the floor, and are accessible for repair or renovation. The crawl space has fresh air ventilation, but is closed to insects and animals. This type of construction requires stairs for access. A slab-built house, or patio home, is built directly on a reinforced concrete slab foundation. This slab rests directly on the ground, and the utilities are run under the slab and brought up into the structure wherever needed. The heating and air ducts are routed through the attic in most cases. This type of construction requires no stairs for access. With a house built up off the ground, modest amounts of water entering the crawl space during rainstorms is not usually a problem, because it runs right through or evaporates through the fresh air vents. With a slab house, there is very little tolerance for water draining against the structure, because it will find its way into the house. If you are considering buying a patio home, pay careful attention to the lot drainage. The choice between the two types of construction is largely a matter of personal preference unless someone in your family has difficulty climbing stairs in which case, a slab-built home would be your best choice. Regardless of which type of house you choose to purchase, it would be wise to get a thorough home inspection from the most competent inspector in the area.

Understanding Homeowners Insurance

Many of us obtain our homeowners insurance when we purchase our home.

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Many of us obtain our homeowners insurance when we purchase our home. After this initial purchase, we do not give this insurance another thought. It is not until the roof is damaged during a violent thunderstorm, a major appliance fails and floods our basement, or the neighbor's kid slips and fractures their wrist in our living room that we dust off the policy and ask ourselves, "Am I covered for this?" Don't wait until damage or an accident happens to discover what your insurance policy covers. Instead, you should have a good idea of what you are covered for and what is not included. Every year you should assess if your coverage should increase or if there is any optional coverage you may want to add. The purpose of this article is to point out some general characteristics of homeowners insurance and help in determining if you have the right coverage. Obviously this cannot substitute for a consultation with your insurance provider, but it will give you a better idea of what questions to ask. Image of home, crutches and turning road sign.

There are five popular topics concerning homeowners insurance that we will discuss below: types of damage covered, determining replacement cost, determining personal property value, understanding liability coverage, and ways to save money on your policy.

Homeowner insurance policies typically cover damages such as: fire and smoke damage, storm damage (i.e. lightening, wind, hail, ice and snow), water damage (other than flooding as this is separate), explosion, vandalism, theft (some companies are now offering an identity theft coverage option as well), civil unrest, and damage by aircraft and vehicles. You should discuss with your insurance provider any additional hazards you may face in your location such as earthquakes or floods. There may also be hazards you are not immediately aware of that could effect your insurance cost such as your neighborhood crime rate or if you own a Flood damage is not covered by homeowner insurance. The National Flood Insurance Program is a partnership between FEMA and isnurance companies that offers coverage. Click here for more.pet that is considered to be a high liability risk (i.e. certain breeds of dogs). Depending on the probability of need, you may be required to get additional coverage for these hazards by your insurance carrier and/or mortgage lender. To find out about special hazards in your area, talk with your insurance provider or contact your state insurance commissioner. If you run a home business, you will need to get separate insurance to cover business items such as computers and liability, i.e. if you run a daycare, your standard homeowners will not cover any accidents. Other items that are not covered by your homeowners insurance but may be covered by additional or alternate policies are: tenants, multiple family dwellings, land, theft by those covered in your insurance policy (i.e. recently separated spouses), and cars. Take a look at your policy and review your coverage. Consider how you use your home or where your home is located. Do you need additional or special coverage? This is a question you should review every year.

When choosing a policy, it is important that you consider the replacement cost of your home. The replacement cost is the amount it would take to replace your home. Replacement cost is not the same as the market value of your home as the market value includes the property it stands on and the current housing market. Because of this, it may not be equal to your outstanding mortgage. You can get estimates for replacement cost from appraisers, your local builder/craftsmen association or your insurance agent. Once you have determined how much your home replacement cost should be, you should review it and make any needed adjustments every Condos usually have a Master Policy that covers liability and property for common grounds. Individual policies then supplement personal property, liability and immediate structure.year. Most insurance companies will include an increase of coverage every year to match inflation. However, other items may also require you to adjust your replacement cost. Major remodels to your kitchen or bathroom or room additions can drastically effect the replacement cost of your home. If you use special materials or there is a housing boom making building materials scarce in your area, these too may affect your replacement cost. Another item that may effect your replacement cost is the change in building codes since when the house was built. Even with partial damage, it may be necessary to take the whole area/structure down to bring it up to code. If you own an older home, you should definitely discuss this with your agent. You may also get an extended replacement policy that will help you if your replacement coverage is below what you need. However, it is more economical if you take the time to review your policy and change your replacement cost coverage each year. Finally, keep in mind your policy should also include coverage for living expenses while the home is rebuilt or repaired. With the structure insured for major repairs, you can now consider your possessions.

Determining the personal property value depends on how much time the homeowner wants to invest in itemizing their property. Traditionally, most homeowners are covered at 50% of their home's value to cover personal property. Some pay a bit extra and get 75% of the homes value. Replacement costs like this cover like items, not necessarily the same make and model. You can also make an itemized actual cash value list that will cover items' actual cost minus depreciation. Many opt for percentage replacement coverage and then add a "floater" that will cover individual inventoried items. Major items should be inventoried with make, model, original cost, and documentation by picture or video. Items like jewelry and antiques should also have an appraisal. The documentation of these items should be kept in a secure location like a safe deposit box or a fireproof safe. Even if you opt for the general 50% coverage, you should have a list of your most valued possessions in case theft as this may help in tracking the items down (see more in our Home Security article).

Liability coverage protects you, your family, house guests and pets if they should accidentally hurt someone on your property or hurt someone or damage property elsewhere. On average, liability insurance usually covers up to $100,000 per incident. However, with lawyer and medical costs high these days, many homeowners also add an umbrella which allows for greater coverage at reasonable rates. Although most think of medical coverage as part of their liability coverage, it is actually categorized separate from liability because it pays for minor injuries that do not need to prove fault or negligence to be covered. An example would be someone twisting their ankle at your home. Liability is an important coverage that you will want to discuss with your agent.

Finally, there are a few things you may do to ease the cost of homeowners insurance. One way to lower your overall insurance cost is if you know you can take a higher deductible. If you can pay $500-1000 instead of $300 for each instance, this will lower your premium. Some decide to do this as the probability is that they will not claim or use the insurance very often. In addition to this, you may also pay your premium in larger and fewer payments. Another method to lower costs is to itemize your insurance to only the hazards you think most probable to happen. However, this option may not be available if you still owe a mortgage as the mortgage company may want more inclusive coverage. Also, you may check and see if there are any improvements you make to the home that may reduce your premium. Installing a home security system for example. Finally, combining policies with one carrier will also help you get lower premiums. If you combine your home, auto and life insurance policies, many companies will give you a preferred rate. Talk with your agent for further ways you may able to save money but maintain sound coverage on your home.

Conclusion
     There are a lot of options for your homeowner's insurance policy.  When setting up a policy, shop around and talk to different insurance companies to find one that works well with you.  Find out if they have a good reputation with the state insurance commissioner and consumer reports.  Find one that is fast, offers great service and handles claims fairly (you don't want to end up with a company that argues every claim).  Hopefully this overview has helped equip you with a better idea of the coverage you may need for your home.  You should have a better idea what to look for in a policy when you contact an agent to set up your homeowner's insurance.

More Resources

Household Checklist

There are a number of checklists available online; many are available from individual insurance providers. We found the following booklet from the University of Illinois to be the most comprehensive. www.ag.uiuc.edu/%7Evista/abstracts/ahouseinv.html

Household Papers/Records:
Taken from our earlier article about Home Security, here again is a checklist of important papers you should safeguard and how long you should keep them:
- Keep in Safe Deposit Box/Fireproof Safe: Birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce legal papers, adoption papers, citizenship records, and other documents that are government or court related. A copy of a will, although your attorney will keep the original. Investment and business papers, government bonds, deeds, titles and copyrights to name a few more. General rule is, "Put it in if you can't replace it or if it would be costly or troublesome to replace."
- Taxes: IRS can audit up to 6 years back. However, you can get rid of pay stubs if you have your W2. Cancelled checks you will want to keep if they are related to anything you claimed on your tax return.
- Medical Bills: Keep at least 3 years.
- Household Inventory: You should have a comprehensive list for each room and what of importance is in there. This will help you claim losses in event of burglary or fire. The details of this list should be shared with your insurance carrier to make sure of coverage. It is recommended that you review this list once every 6 months.
- Deposit, ATM, Credit Card and Debit Card Receipts: Save them until the transaction appears on your statement and you've verified that the information is accurate. Then they may be shredded.
- Credit Card Statements: If there are not purchases related to taxes you may shred them once every year. However, if you have larger purchases on the card you may want to keep hold of these older statements. Special Note: Credit Card Agreements should be kept as long as the card is active!
- Loan Agreements: Keep as long as the loan is active.
- Documentation of Stocks, Bonds nd Other Investments: Keep while you own the investment and then 7 years after that.

Useful Links

National Association of Insurance Commissioners
www.naic.org FEMA: Homeowners and Renters www.fema.gov/individual/home.shtm

Open electrical splices

In the course of inspecting a home, I often find open electrical splices in the crawl space and attic, and I cite them in my report.

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In the course of inspecting a home, I often find open electrical splices in the crawl space and attic, and I cite them in my report. A splice, in layman’s terms, is a connection between two or more wires. These splices are normally made with a small plastic device resembling a thimble that is called a wire nut. The wire nut is twisted onto the wires, and holds them tightly together for a good connection. In accordance with accepted electrical practice, all splices must be inside an approved electrical box with a cover, and this box must be attached to the framing of the house and accessible. These boxes are either metal or plastic. The reason why splices must be inside a covered box is very simple. When electric wires become loose or overloaded, they can get very hot, and, in some cases, throw off sparks. If the wires are out in the open, they can drop sparks onto combustible materials or otherwise cause them to ignite. The electrical box is designed to contain the heat and sparks long enough for a fuse to blow or a breaker to trip. Crawl spaces are not very nice places to work, and the person doing the wiring is probably in a hurry to get out of there, and not interested in going back to place a cover on each box. Open splices are an invitation to disaster, and should be corrected as soon as discovered. If you suspect that your home has open splices in the crawl space or attic, have a qualified electrician correct the problem as soon as possible.

Famous Haunted Homes

Perhaps it wasn't the wind that slammed the door shut or there really is no one to match the footsteps down the hall?

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Perhaps it wasn't the wind that slammed the door shut or there really is no one to match the footsteps down the hall? Or maybe it is a great marketing ploy for bed and breakfast inns and historical societies? Or maybe people are comforted or enjoy the idea of hauntings? Okay, so not all of us believe in ghosts, but the stories and histories behind many haunted homes can be just as unique as their "spiritual" residents. For a little fun and change of pace, we have compiled a short list of famous haunted homes and buildings in America. Dim the lights, sit back and enjoy a little Halloween-flavored fun and learn a little history too!

*Many haunted houses seem to get their start from murder or untimely death. Although we have not gone into graphic details here, please note that if you follow any of the links to the right, some of these sites do go into much more (sometimes gruesome) detail!

Alcatraz Island - San Francisco Bay, CA

The History: Not a house per se, but people "lived" there right? Anyway, Alcatraz started as a military fort in 1850. It was used as a military prison and then a federal prison after 1934. In 1963 the prison was closed due to the cost of operations. As a prison, Alcatraz had a reputation of being a hard place to live in which prisoners were there to be shut away rather than rehabilitated. Punishments could be harsh such as restricted diet, solitary confinement, and hard labor. There were the now infamous solitary cells like the "strip cell" and the "hole" that even made the most hardened prisoners think twice about breaking any rules.

The Haunting: This place was creating ghost stories before being shut down. Guards retell odd tales of ghosts attacking inmates or making noises. Today, there are still many haunting "hot spots" on the island. There is the utility corridor where three escapees were gunned down; this doorway is now welded shut but many say there is the sound of clanging against the door; perhaps something wants out... There are also reports of running in the corridors, voices in the cells and medical ward and screams from the dungeons and isolation units.

How to see it: Tours are available of the island and complex. Depending on the time of year, you may have to use different ferry system to the island. 

Driskill Hotel - Austin, TX

The History: Jesse Lincoln Driskill opened this hotel in 1886. The hotel was grand and luxurious, funded by his success as a cattle baron. In 1888, the family lost its fortune due to drought and a cold winter that killed most of the cattle. The hotel then changed from owner to owner with the most recent change of hands in 1995.

The Haunting: Driskill is claimed to still wander the hotel, puffing cigar smoke and turning lights on and off. There is the ghost of a small girl, daughter of a Senator who was left unattended and fell to her death while playing with her ball - she can still be heard bouncing the ball today.

How to see it: The hotel is open to guest today and offers all kinds of luxury and pampering. 

The History: Hannes Tiedemann built the house in 1865. Unfortunately, they lost four children in a short amount of time leading to some speculation of unnatural deaths. The house architecture aids in the mystery of the house as there are secret passageways and hidden rooms throughout. There are also rumors of Tiedemann having affairs that lead to jealousy and ultimately, to murder. One of the most tragic tales is that of Tiedemann hanging his niece to put her out of misery from her insanity or to punish her for her promiscuity.

The Haunting: Past residents have heard a small child crying and heard footsteps out in the corridor. There is also claim that the tower room where the "woman in black" can be heard choking. Lights also swing around and some objects have been moved or thrown.

How to see it: Today the mansion houses a private club restricted to members and their guests. It was rumored at one time they would eventually start tours to the building, however, nothing is posted on their website about this yet.

Heceta House - Yachats, OR

The History: This house accompanies a lighthouse on the Oregon coast built in 1894. Many families occupied the house complex over time which included a post office, school and the light house. But it is only the keeper's house that has tales of hauntings. Many believe this is the mother of child who fell off the cliffs back at the turn of the century.

The Haunting: The ghost named Rue is said to be an extra caretaker of the house. She makes it known if she is displeased with any activity in the house. One of the more humorous accounts was of her screaming in the middle of a card game, she didn't want them playing cards in her house!

How to see it: This house is now a bed and breakfast. It also has guided tours from its interpretive center. Although the current owners don't play up and advertise the ghost they have said guests have told them of strange encounters. 

Hickory Hill House - Equality, IL

The History: This house was built in 1842 by John Crenshaw. Although it was illegal to own slaves in the state of Illinois, it was legal to lease slaves from slave states to work in salt mines. John Crenshaw leased slaves from nearby states to work in his salt mines. It is also said that he would kidnap free blacks and force them to work in his mines and eventually sell them into slavery. All the slaves where kept in the upstairs attic in horse stall-like cells that opened to one large corridor. John Crenshaw had a particularly nasty reputation for cruelty and abuse.

The Haunting: The house opened as a tourist attraction in 1930 and many claimed to hear the rattling of chains and muffled cries from the attic. The home had the reputation that no one could spend the night. In 1978, a reporter named David Rogers was the first to spend a whole night in the house.

How to see it: Currently the house is protected by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and closed to the public. A grant was received in late spring 2006, hopefully it will be able to reopen soon!

Lemp Mansion - St. Louis, MO

The History: This house was purchased by William Lemp around 1864 to use as a residence and office for the family brewery. William's father had used a family recipe/method to create a lager beer. This beer quickly became popular and William's father abandoned his grocery store to become a full time brewer. The beer continued to be made by the family until 1922 when family mishap and prohibition forced them to shut down and sell for good. The mansion itself has a sorrowful history with one brother dying under mysterious circumstances and three other men of the family committing suicide inside.

The Haunting: With three suicides one can easily guess where the idea of ghosts haunting the mansion started. However, the families odd history of tales also leads to the idea of more ghosts. There is the rumor that William Lemp had an illegitimate son with down syndrome who was kept hidden in mansion attic his whole life. He is now said to be seen haunting the mansion and has the nickname "Monkey Face Boy." Tales of haunting first started after 1949 when the mansion was sold and turned into a boarding house. Strange knocking and footsteps throughout the mansion scared the tenants away so the house started to run into disrepair. In 1975, the mansion was saved and renovated and turned into a restaurant and inn. All types of sights and sounds have continued and are still reported today.

How to see it: Spend the night! Or take a tour if you're too scared... The mansion is a bed and breakfast that offers tours and a restaurant to those who don't want to spend the night. They also host a Halloween Party and Murder Mystery Dinner Theater. 

Lizzy Borden House - Fall River, MA

The History: As with so many haunted homes, this story begins with a murder. On the morning of August 4, 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were murdered by ax in their home. Their eldest daughter, Lizzy was tried and latter acquitted of the murders. However, she was ostracized from the community for the rest of her life. Some consider that she had a split personality, even those close to here recall erratic and violent behavior. And of course there was the creation of the rhyme: Lizzie Borden took an ax Gave her mother forty whacks; When she saw what she had done Gave her father forty-one!

The Haunting: There is a strange woman who tucks guests into bed and perhaps the same woman can be heard weeping in the night. Objects move on their own and electrical equipment such as lights and cameras have some interference. Many claim the most active room is Lizzy's old bedroom - which you can stay in if you want...

How to see it: The home is now a bed and breakfast. You may spend the night, take a tour or even spend a weekend at Ghost Hunter University! To find out more,click here.

Myrtles Plantation - St. Francisville, LA

The History: This home was built by David Bradford in 1794 but stories of hauntings did not start until the 1950's. The house had a long history with many different owners. There is only one recorded murder of William Winter in 1871. However, there are many tales that are told about the home to justify the hauntings. Most of these seem to be fabricated tales, but many say that is just because the house is so haunted, people needed to make up some kind of explanation.

The Haunting: Among the haunting activity is the ghost of a woman in a green turban who some believe to be the ghost of a slave killed for poisoning the head mistress and her two daughters. Others claim that there is a woman but she is not a young slave but an older, unknown woman. There is also a little girl who has appeared as well as a frustrated piano player who continuously practices the same cord over and over on the old piano.

How to see it: You can dine in the restaurant, take a tour or spend the night. The choice is up to you. 

Villisca Ax Murder House - Villisca, IA

The History: On June 10, 1912, the Moore family and two overnight guests were brutally murdered. The ax murder of two adults and six children horrified the community and its story still horrifies people today. Regardless of the unprecedented effort of police, detectives and neighboring departments at the time, the case remains unsolved to this day.

The Haunting: The most common account seems to be of children's voices in the house. Things will also move unexpectedly and lamps won't stay lit regardless that there is no breeze in the home.

How to see it: Tours of the home are available through the Olson Linn Museum. They also offer night tours, but these must be arranged in advance.

Waverly Hills Sanitarium - Louisville, KY

The History: Okay, not a house, but since it has such a grand reputation of being haunted, we thought to include it. Waverly Hills opened as a hospital for tuberculosis patients in 1926. Tuberculosis was a dreaded killer of the time and most of the patients who entered would die there. It is estimated that at the height of the epidemic a patient died every hour. This large complex had a long tunnel nicknamed the "body chute" where the bodies were transferred to a train at the bottom of the hill. It was covered so patients would not be disheartened by seeing the number of dead being removed from the hospital. Because Tuberculosis was not well understood, there were many experiments that occurred, some were beneficial and some were more brutal leading to tales of mistreatment and abuse. In 1982, the hospital was shut down under allegations of abuse.

The Haunting: The tales of hauntings started after the hospital was shut down and allowed into disrepair. Transients, vandals and kids would break in. Stories began to spread of small children playing in the halls, lights going on when there was not power, doors being slammed, voices crying out, and various other ghoulish activities. One specific spot, room 502, is on the floor where the mentally ill tuberculosis patients were housed. This room was the nurses station where two nurses committed suicide on separate occasions for reasons unknown.

How to see it: There are tours run by the Waverly Hills Historical Society. Tours must be arranged as this is a private site and trespassers will be prosecuted. Overnight tours can also be arranged in advance.

Whaley House - San Diego, CA

The History: This house was a home, granary, court house, theater, ballroom, billiard, school and polling center. It was also the site where criminals were hanged before the house was built. Once built, it also had the tragic history of one of the Whaley girls committing suicide inside.

The Haunting: There are many ghosts in the Whaley House. There is "Yankee Jim" who was one of the criminals hanged at the site. He now stomps around the house with a heavy step and even the first family, the Whaley's, reported hearing him in the house. Thomas Whaley, the first owner of the house has been seen lingering around the upper landing. Thomas' wife, Anna, also wanders the downstairs and the garden. There are a few other apparitions and even a little fox terrier ghost dog that is seen on occasion!

How to see it: This house is now a museum and is open for tours on most days. Their website has more details about times and price;

White House - Washington D.C.

The History: The White House became the home to our presidents in 1800 with President John Adams being the first resident. There have been many presidents and first ladies in the home and some have decided not to leave...

The Haunting: President Abraham Lincoln is the most popular ghost with the most sightings. The first to see him was First Lady, Grace Coolidge. He has also been spotted by guards and guests. Other presidents that like to make an appearance are President Benjamin Harrison, President Andrew Johnson, President John Tyler and President Andrew Jackson. First Ladies that have made appearances include Abigail Adams and Dorothea Madison. There is also the apparition of a black cat which has been said to be seen before national tragedies such as the stock market crash of 1929 and before the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963.

How to see it: Of course you can still visit the White House today.  Winchester Mystery House - San Jose, CA

The History: Sarah Winchester, daughter-in-law of Oliver Winchester, manufacturer of the Winchester rifle, began the construction of this house in 1884 and kept the project going until her death 38 years later. The legend says she constructed the house continuously to confuse the bad spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifle. In the end it had 160 rooms, 47 fireplaces and various oddities such as doors leading to a sudden outside drop or staircases leading to the ceiling.

The Haunting: Some of the ghosts are said to have been invited by Sarah Winchester as she is said to have held a séance with them every night to determine the construction for the next day. Reports of footsteps, doors closing and opening, cold spots, and other paranormal behavior have been reported. However, some skeptics in the ghost hunting world believe the mansion is more of an oddity than a true haunting ground. Guess you'll just have to go to find out for yourself!

How to see it: The mansion is open to tours today. You can select a standard tour and see 110 rooms and their various oddities and details or you can also do a behind the scenes tour to see how the house functioned.