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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)!

Insurance Coverage in an Economic Recession

Limiting Your Risk When Cutting Costs

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Lately, when we turn on the news, we hear about a troubled economy and an unstable job market. The constant barrage of bad news has encouraged most of us to cut spending wherever possible. Perhaps a household will cancel cable TV for a year, limit their cell phone plans, reduce the number of times they eat out as a family, or tackle another cost reducing option. As many different "belt-tightening" measures are taken, everyone should be careful they don't cut the essential items. One annoying essential is the cost we pay for insurance - there is no guarantee we will need it in the near future (in fact, we hope to need it as little as possible), however, if an accident does happen and we don't have coverage, the costs could send us into bankruptcy. Understandably, if a bread-winner of the household loses their job, it is tempting to cut costs where we cannot see the immediate need. This said, it is far better to reduce coverage than to go with no coverage at all.

Before we discuss insurance any further, let us get this down now - it is not worth the risk to eliminate insurance coverage completely.

  • For homeowners insurance, your mortgage lender will require that your home is at least minimally insured. However, it is possible to let your insurance coverage lapse if you don't pay your bills or mortgage. A few months lapse does not mean you lose your insurance right away. However, letting it go longer than a couple of months will leave your home uninsured. When you then try to reenroll your coverage, the insurance company may charge you as much as 2 or 3 times more depending on how long you went uninsured - you have become a higher risk client. If you do not reenroll and let your insurance continue to lapse, your lender can take action to protect their investment. A lender may enroll the house in an insurance policy which they then add to your loan payment. However, they will be the party to receive funds if the home is damaged (i.e. fire). Essentially, you will be forced to pay for an insurance of their choosing (maybe at a higher rate) but you will not receive the benefits of the original coverage under your name.
  • Basic automotive insurance is required by law in most states. If you are driving uninsured, you could be faced with a lot of out-of-pocket expenses as well as legal fines if you are ever in an accident. Again, if you drop insurance coverage and reenroll later, the insurance company may charge you as much as 2 or 3 times more depending on how long you went uninsured as you are a higher risk client. For a chart detailing the amount of coverage required in your state, click here to visit Insure.com. Before you cut your auto insurance to the bare minimum listed, consider some of our insurance shopping tips listed below that may help you lower your costs.
  • Finally, what about health insurance? It is estimated that this year the number of Americans without health insurance is as high as 52 million. Most Americans rely on their employers to help cover some of their health insurance cost. However, as premiums rise for companies, they are forced to increase the contributions of their employees. So in today's economy, both those with jobs and those who have lost their jobs are struggling to keep affordable health insurance. Everyone should have health insurance to offset the astronomical cost of emergency health care. Those without insurance may find that the ambulance ride alone may break the bank and leave them with more debt than they can possibly afford to repay. Below we have provided some strategies for obtaining cheaper health insurance.

The above said, let us see how you can cut some of your insurance rates!

Cutting your insurance costs does not mean you should go without coverage. Instead, be a savvy consumer and do your research and shop around. Recently an insurance company ran an ad where they asked consumers how long they shopped for their car and received answers from a week to even a couple of months. When they then asked how long they shopped for insurance, there was a pause and the usual answer of, "Er, uh, less than an hour." This commercial proved a good point about how many people approach shopping for insurance with less care than the big ticket items to be covered. Here are some shopping tips to help you find the best price and coverage.

Strategies for obtaining discounts on home, automotive, and health insurance

SHOP before you DROP your money! As the commercial we used as an example above, and as we keep mentioning over and over, nothing can beat comparison shopping. Use the web to your advantage as there are so many quote and comparison sites available. If you aren't comfortable with the web, do some calling around to your local agents. It is worth your time and money! 

Considering the online insurance option? You may give up on some individualized care, but the cost savings may be worth it. Consider these PROS and CONS before you buy online insurance coverage:

The PROS - There are many benefits for utilizing online insurance:

  • Easy Comparison Shopping: Using insurance websites, you can compare coverage and prices on almost any type of insurance. You can also browse the individual insurance carrier websites once you have narrowed your search. Almost all companies now have libraries and tools for you to learn more about their services online.
  • Your Time Is Money: Shopping for insurance online can be done at any time of day. It is hard to get time away from your daily schedule to sit down and comparison shop with insurance brokers, or indeed, individual agents.
  • Low Pressure: Let's face it, many people find it easier to stand firm without the person-to-person contact. Users feel they can be more savvy and better informed when every option is at their fingertips rather than relying on an agent's account.
  • Save Money: Due to the time needed to comparison shop, the pressure to stay loyal to one company, and the uncertainty of other companies, some may lose money by staying blindly loyal to their insurance carrier. The online market allows for easy comparison shopping, less pressure, and research tools to learn more about other companies. By becoming well informed, you can work out a better rate with your current provider or move to a new provider who offers better coverage for your dollar.

The CONS - Be aware of these complications when purchasing insurance online:

  • Understanding Coverage Options: Without an agent to explain 'insurance speak,' you may not know all the coverage you may need. This is especially the case for those getting insurance for the first time. However, if you have discussed options with an agent before and have a generally good idea of the type of coverage you will need, this may be something that is manageable with a little extra research.
  • Is that quote really a deal: All quotes may not be equal. Take care to examine all the coverage included with quotes. The online quotes may help you narrow your search, but should not be taken at face value because not all companies offer the same 'comprehensive' coverage.
  • Buying Insurance Coverage In Your State: Not all states allow you to purchase insurance online. Some allow you to get quotes but still require you to meet with an agent before signing any contracts. Also, because the Internet clouds locality, you will need to make sure the insurance carrier is licensed in your state.
  • Individual Customer Care: Do you really want to push 1, then 2, then 4 to talk to someone about your insurance coverage? Working with a local agent still offers the advantages of individualized customer service. They will also have a better knowledge of the coverage their carrier provides and can help you understand all of your options. They may also be aware of more discounts available to you that you may not know to ask for online. In this way they can offer better individualized care.

For more information about purchasing insurance online, read our article 'Online Insurance: Is Online Insurance Right for You?'

  • Look for and Ask about Discounts: All insurance companies offer discounts, however, not all of them will offer a discount if you don't ask. Since not all insurance companies are upfront with all the discounts they offer, it is best to shop with this at the top of your list of items to ask about. Discounts are available for all types of coverage and include everything from being a long-time client to paying your policy in full (rather than monthly). Homeowners can get discounts by making certain upgrades to their home that make the home more secure and/or energy efficient. Automotive insurance often has the most selection of discounts ranging from a good driving record, a short daily commute, or even a high grade point average (for those student drivers in the house). Health insurers will give discounts for clients in good health - if you lead a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, no smoking or drinking, you may find completing a health survey will save you money on your premium.
  • Raise your Deductibles: By raising the amount you pay out-of-pocket in the case of an emergency, you can lower your rates substantially. Higher deductibles will mean that you may have to pay as much as $1000 or more out-of-pocket per event. However, it does provide a safer gamble compared to no insurance at all. For health care you may consider a high deductable plan for "emergency" or "catastrophic" insurance. These plans will only cover a major accident but, if you are in good health and don't need a lot of medications, this plan can help offset high rates. However, keep in mind that you will have to pay over $1000 out-of-pocket and these plans will not cover routine doctor visits. Instead, combine this insurance with a Health Savings Account for the best rounded coverage.

MORE Strategies for obtaining discounts on home and automotive insurance: Flood damage is not covered by homeowner insurance. The National Flood Insurance Program is a partnership between FEMA and isnurance companies that offers coverage. 

  • Bundle to Save: Using one insurance provider to cover your home and vehicle can help save you money as most insurance companies provide a discount to get your business. This will save you money if you check with your current provider, but don't be shy, take advantage of online comparison sites or do some calling around. You may be surprised at the differences!
  • Review your Policy: Make certain you review your policy at least once a year. There may be adjustments you can make in coverage. For example, as your car gets older and subsequently worth less than when you first bought it, you may find you need less coverage. For your home, you may find you have sold high insured items from your household or take inventory and realize you don't need to cover that old computer or entertainment center for as much as you did before. Examining your Personal Property Value may lead to areas you can logically cut coverage.

For more information about homeowners' insurance, read our article 'Understanding Homeowners Insurance.'

Insurance Company Rankings

• AM Best Company - Insurance Reports http://www.ambest.com/homepage.asp
• Consumer Reports (requires membership for ratings) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/money/insurance/index.htm Standard & Poor's Ratings http://www2.standardandpoors.com/
• US News & World Report - Top Health Insurance Companies http://health.usnews.com/sections/health/health-plans/index.html

Online Insurance Comparison Sites

• Insurance.com www.insurance.com
• Quicken http://www.quicken.com
• InsWeb www.insweb.com Insure.com www.insure.com
• eHealthInsurance www.ehealthinsurance.com

 

SELLING YOUR HOME? USE THESE TIPS!

Increase The Curb Appeal Of Any House.

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Clean up the outside.

  • Curb appeal is the first impression of your house. Keeping the grass cut and the area tidy will help make a great first impression.
  • Paint or wash the exterior of the house (including window casings, shutters, and doors).
  • Wash the windows inside and out.
  • Check the gutters and chimney.

Increase The Curb Appeal Of Any House. Simple, low-cost curb appeal and house makeover improvements that anyone can do in a weekend. Or, there are many landscaping companies that can help with the job if time is an issue.

Touch up the interior.

  • Put a fresh coat of paint in the most used areas of the home. This will clean as well as brighten up the rooms.
  • Wash the walls where paint is not appropriate (i.e. wall paper, paneling).
  • Wash all floors and bathroom tiles.
  • Shampoo dirty carpets.
  • Get rid of clutter. Clean out your closets, garage, basement, and attic. Use shelf storage if necessary.
  • Replace air filters to help keep the dust down.

Replace bathroom and kitchen fixtures that are worn or leaking.

  • People will notice a leaking or worn-out faucet. By replacing these items, you will give a new look to the room.
  • Clean under the sinks. If there are any leaks, fix them. Then clean up the damage using contact paper or paint.

Home Improvement Contractor. Find and research local contractors, and get free no obligation quotes on your home improvement projects.

Get rid of any bad smells in your home.

  • Pay attention to pet or cigarette odors.
  • Place scented potpourri around the house.
  • On the day you're expecting a potential buyer, pop a batch of frozen cinnamon rolls, home-made bread, or an apple pie into the oven for a great aroma.

Pest Control

Reclaim Your Home From Pests!

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Bugs are a part of life and rodents often come wandering through. These animals are part of the environment and serve their purpose in the great chain of things. However, they can become a nuisance and may even be dangerous if they take over our homes. They are then more aptly called 'pests' and need to be dealt with. This quick article will give you some preventive tips about how to battle common pests. You may adjust many of these tips to various bug and critter problems.

ANTS

Seeing ants around a home is usually taken for granted; however, an ant colony in your home can become a serious issue and should not be ignored. Identifying the species will be important to identifying the type of problem you have. A black ant may be something you can live with when moderated but a carpenter ant is just as dangerous to your home as termites. So what attracts these pests? Food scraps, crumbs, sugar spills or pet food are just a few examples of the type of foodstuffs that will attract many ants. Also, leaky pipes and other sources of water will also help keep the ants happy. Some ants, like carpenter ants, will go for rotting wood. How do you know if you have ants? Well, in most cases you will see them. Soldier ants will make not secret of their presence as they march through your kitchen looking for goodies. In a large indoor infestation you may also see the swarming of winged ants as they search for a new place to colonize in spring/summer. In cold winter months, if you see ants indoors, they are probably in your home rather than coming from outdoors. Finally, how do you get rid of them? First step is to follow their trail to their home. This may lead you to breaks in the baseboard, window, etc. showing you how they are approaching from an outside nest. In this instance, simply seal up entry points. If you find their nest is in your home or you cannot locate it for certain, then baiting is the best option. Ant colonies can sometimes be hard to locate and spraying may just encourage them to pack up and move to another corner of your home. Instead, baiting lets them take poison back to the colony themselves. Baiting is also considered less toxic than spraying. However, make sure it is out of the way or ignored by curious children and pets.

BEES/HORNETS/WASPS

Bees are essential to the eco system, helping plants spread pollen. Wasps, although they look similar to bees (have a thinner waistline), actually survive both on eating nectar and other insects which make them just as beneficial to the ecosystem. Although bees and wasps look the same on the outside they have many behavioral differences. However, one thing that does remain certain is that they all should be handled with caution. When both move too close to our home they can become a problem. So what attracts these pests? Both are attracted to areas that do not receive abundant traffic. This is why you may discover them on your property in areas used less often such as near sheds or side storage awnings. Bees and wasps may build their colonies in the ground, old tree trunks, cracks/openings in buildings and generally other quiet, out of the way places. Paper wasps make the nests in limbs, under eaves of houses and other high places. A good source of food and water and bit of piece and quite offer ideal conditions. How do you know if you have a bee problem? With bees you may not know until your at the area with a hive in the ground. Nests of paper wasps and hornets you can usually spot up in a high corner or nook. Again, bees, hornets and wasps can be beneficial to the ecosystem around your home and if they are not causing a danger may be left alone to work their magic for the summer. However, if they are in structures of your home or too close to where the family may stumble on their territory you should seriously consider getting rid of them. Finally, how do you get rid of them? Be very, very careful when going after any of these groups. Especially in the case of underground hives you may not know how large the hive could be. The biggest threat will be swarming. To protect yourself, make sure to cover you body as much as possible; use gloves, hat, scarf, etc. Also, try to get the nest at dusk or later when most wasps/hornets are back at the nest. There are many specialized chemical sprays on the market that can help eradicate these nests. Again, just make certain to proceed with caution or contact a professional if in doubt.

COCKROACHES

Cockroaches are notorious household pests. These bugs colonize rapidly and can contaminate everything they touch with diseases and allergens. They can spread sickness and irritate those with allergies. Not to mention they can overtake an area with a colony and cause physical damage to your home. So what attracts these pests? Cockroaches are attracted to damp and unsanitary places; sewers, drains, kitchens, bathrooms and storage areas to name a few. How do you know if you have a cockroach problem? If you don't see the cockroach directly, you can usually find signs of their damage and fecal matter. If you suspect cockroaches, setting up traps where you think they are active will help get an idea if they are in your home. Finally, how do you get rid of them? Sanitation is going to be the first key step. Getting messy, mildew ridden places clean will help minimize their romping grounds. Another step is to set up traps so you may better pinpoint their home(s). You will then need to set up a monitored program that may include baits, dusts, sprays and more traps. Keep track of your progress, if the problem persists you should enlist professional help. Also, the extermination program may vary depending on the species of cockroach in you home. A professional will know how to identify the species, find the colony (or colonies) and set a program to fully eliminate the intruders.

FLEAS

Fleas are usually a pest pet owners are the most aware of. These insects live off mammals, biting them and laying their eggs on them. The eggs eventually drop off onto sleeping areas and other areas frequented by the pet and continue their development there. Some animals and people are allergic to their bites, most however, just find them annoying. So what attracts these pests? You do, and your animals too. These pests survive off eating blood from mammals. Pets that are inside and outside will be the likely carriers of this pest into your home. They will bring them in and usually the fleas will concentrate in their dog/cat beds and other areas they sleep. How do you know if you have a flea problem? Usually targeting pets the most, you'll notice if they are itching and scratching a lot. You'll also may come to notice bites of your own. If allergic you will see red welts develop. Finally, how do you get rid of them? To get rid of fleas many times you will have to exterminate them in the yard as well as your home. Fleas spend most of their time on your pet or other animals. They lay eggs there as well, but these usually fall off into the surrounding area, such as your carpet! This is why when you eradicate your home of these pests you need to first clean these areas. Concentrate on where you pet sleeps and spends the most time indoors. Also vacuum, clean any pet bedding, rugs, blankets and anything else the pet has been near. From here you may then use over the counter insecticide to treat these areas to kill off as much as possible. You will need to apply these more than once as any flea pupae are immune to these sprays when in their protected cocoon. At the same time, any pets should also be treated. You can use flea baths in conjunction with various flea medications or collars. Be certain to read directions carefully as many of these are species specific (i.e. for cat or dog only) or also weight specific; ask your vet for recommendations. Finally, for your yard, there are pesticides you may spray on, again, concentrating on pet kennels, dog houses, runs and other areas they use the most. As with all these pests, you may also hire a professional if in doubt or if a severe infestation arises.

MICE & RATS

Mice are much smaller than rats. However, they are similar in that they have poor eyesight and find their way into your home through cracks and openings, following their nose. These openings may be in the foundation, roof, floor (if unfinished) or anywhere else that has an opening 1/4-1/2" in size. So what attracts these pests? Food and shelter are big draws. Many times it is stored food that you may not directly associate as a problem. An example would be stored seeds or camping supplies. Don't consider your items stored in the attic are any safer, roof rats got their name for a reason! How do you know if you have a mouse or rat problem? If you don't see these pests directly you will hear them and often see their damage. There may be gnawing on holes or entry points in walls or cabinets and gnawing on food boxes and similar items as well. You may also find droppings in the home. Most likely if you see these pests you will see them at night or when it is more quiet in the home. Finally, how do you get rid of them? First eliminate how they are entering your home. Any holes should be closed off with tough metal mesh or sheets. The harder the material the better as these pests can work their way through anything soft, like wood! Remove the temptations like stored food or piled garbage or clutter. For stored foods consider moving items into plastic or glass containers instead of cardboard (depending on how accessible these items are). Next you may use traps or poison or a combination of the two. Most poisons are taken by the mouse or rat back to their burrow, so you may end up a with a dead mouse/rat in the wall of your home - this will not smell good! Also, mouse/rat poison will make pets and humans very sick if ingested, make sure to keep it away from pets and children. Check with a professional if you have a large infestation or are uncomfortable using traps and poisons on your own.

MOSQUITOES

Mosquitoes are annoying! They buzz in your ear and inflict bites that itch and seem to appear out of nowhere. It has always been known that some mosquitoes can transmit diseases. They have received more attention in the news lately due to their carrying the West Nile Virus. It is important that you keep repellent on you when camping and enjoying the outdoors. Here is some additional information about what do you do when they become a pest in your yard and home. So what attracts these pests? These pests lay their eggs in standing water. This can be a pond, a rain barrel, old tire or a tin can (to name a few). As long as there is a bit of water or moisture many species of mosquito can survive. Some will even lay eggs in low vegetation/ground cover that is damp and secluded. What attracts them to you and your pets is your blood supply. However, this is only the females as the male mosquito eats nectar from plants instead. How do you know if you have a mosquito problem? You will know if they are pestering you! Also, if you have standing water or a pond you can sometimes see their activity in the water. Finally, how do you get rid of them? You can start by eliminating standing water on your property. However, this may not rid you of the pest entirely as they can travel distances and may be breeding somewhere away from your home. Next you can get various repellents for your yard and home. However, keep in mind that it will be an ongoing treatment since this pest may be coming from outside your property. Oftentimes, personal protection such as sprays for the skin are your best defense against these pests.

SCORPIONS

These pests are more of an issue in southern states but do inhabit some northern states. They have two large pinchers and a stinger bulb at the end of their tail. Usually they will leave you alone unless provoked. However, if they are hiding in your home you may run into more problems than if they were only living outside. So what attracts these pests? They usually can come into the home like many other pests, through cracks and other openings. The are usually looking for bugs, moisture and dark places to hide. Directly outside the home they may be in wood piles or under rocks. How do you know if you have a scorpion problem? You will most likely see these pests at night when they are out hunting. It is also possible, if they are in your home, that you will find them in closets, bathrooms and other dark and/or damp areas where they are comfy. Seeing one does not mean you have an infestation, however, it does mean that they are getting into the house somehow and you should do an inspection of your perimeter to make sure you can keep others out. Finally, how do you get rid of them? Remove firewood, rocks and debris too close to the home which may offer them their first hideaway. If you have areas of your home prone to moisture problems, then get these areas fixed and dry them out. Regular bug control will help as well as you will be removing their food source. There are chemicals on the market, but you will want to rid your home of hiding places before using these. Seek professional help if you are uncertain. Also, make sure to wear protective clothing when searching them out such as gloves and boots. Most scorpions are not lethal to humans, but their sting will hurt like a wasp or large honey bee.

SPIDERS

Spiders are a part of home life. They can be good friends in combating unwanted insects and aid in pest control. For example, big colorful garden spiders may look intimidating, but they can prove a valuable ally in getting bugs out of your yard. However, all spiders can become pests themselves when they become too abundant or invade your home. So what attracts these pests? Most spiders are attracted to an area with many bugs to feed on. They usually want a high or low corner where they can remain undisturbed. Spiders that build webs, will do so where it can remain undisturbed but will also trap bugs as they wander about. Some spiders, such as wolf spiders, do not build webs but instead go out on potrol hunting for bugs. These spiders will hide out during the day and come out when it is quieter. How do you know if you have a spider problem? You may notice too many webs and in some cases, molted shells within the webs. You may also find egg sacs that are full of tousands of eggs that you will want to dispose of carefully. To squeeze one of these too hard is not a pleasant experience! Also, you may notice spider bites. These small bites will let you know that they are too abundant. Finally, how do you get rid of them? Like many of our other pests mentioned, getting rid of debris around and inside the house will help. Also, getting rid of their food supply - if you keep you other bugs out they won't have food to find in your home. Make sure you identify a spider before acting. If it is a poisonous spider, such as a hobo or brown recluse, you may want to get professional extermination. If it is a garden spider you may want to just trap them and put them outside in your garden where they will become a very good ally.

TERMITES

The most common pests that like to devour your home are termites. These pests alone are estimated to cause $5 billion a year in damages!* These pests will literally eat you out of house and home if left unchecked. Like many pest issues, the damage they can do to your home is devastating and unfortunately not covered by homeowners insurance. Therefore it is important when buying a home to get a inspection for bug problems. So what attracts these pests? Moisture is a big draw and they like to keep the humidity levels up. Keep the foundation of your home dry by ensuring all your drainage is working properly; make a point to check for moist spots so you may correct the drainage ahead of time. It is a good idea to keep a gap between any wood and dense plants and the soil around your home. Along these same lines, you should make sure gutters are kept clean of debris. If they become clogged these too will attract termites to your home. Keep firewood stored elevated off the ground and away from your home. You should not let unused firewood just sit and rot as this will become a termite haven. If building a new deck, fence, etc. make sure to use treated wood and seal it from water. Also, using sand around posts, under decks and other areas will make it more difficult for most termites to tunnel their way in. How do you know if you have termites? If you begin to see flying termites in your home and wings discarded in window sills, doorways, spider webs, etc. this may be a good indication that there is a colony in your home. One of the tell tale signs is pencil sized "mud-tubes" that are part of the network termites build. These tunnels in wood are soft and can easily be crumbled with a knife. Finally, how do you get rid of termites? There are three types of treatments a professional inspector can offer: soil treatment which uses a diluted poison placed in the soil to protect the perimeter and serves for long term protection from termites (this is usually used in cooperation with one of the next two treatments); wood treatment which treats the wood directly effected and surrounding area with poison, and finally bait treatment which draws the termites out which gather the poison and take it back to the colony. Whichever of these you choose, it is highly recommended that you consult a professional to get this type of job done correctly. One item you may want to ask a professional you hire concerns the chemicals they will use. Many of these are toxic well after applied. Make sure they are aware of children and pets in your home and might be able to offer alternatives if necessary.

Galvanized Pipes in Older Homes

My husband and I are buying an 80 year old home in Columbia, South Carolina, but we are not sure about the galvanized water pipes under the house, What is the life expectancy of these pipes?

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Galvanized pipes have a general life expectancy of 50 years, but this can be shortened considerably by the amount of minerals in the water supply. Columbia has naturally soft water, and galvanized pipes here tend to last longer. Other areas of the country such as Southern California have rather hard water, and as a consequence, galvanized pipes won’t last as long there. Two things happen to galvanized pipes as they age.

First, minerals tend to slowly build up on the inner walls of the pipe decreasing the inside diameter. In extreme cases, this can slow the water flow to a trickle.

The other common problem with galvanized pipes is corrosion at the joints. In the process of cutting the threads for the pipe fittings, the protective galvanizing is cut away exposing bare metal. Over time, these threaded joints will corrode and eventually break. In the case of your 80 year old house, if the pipes are original I would definitely consider replacing them. If you are not sure how old they are, I recommend that a qualified home inspector examine them and look for signs of corrosion at the fittings, and check for low water flow at all of the faucets.

Winter Driving

Safety, Tips and the Law

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A little groundhog has told us to expect another six weeks of winter! Already a tough season, many of us experienced firsthand or saw news coverage of winter storms bringing cities and counties to a virtual standstill. Whether you live in a winter weather state or are just visiting, snow and other winter weather can drastically effect your ability to get around and keep to your plans. Learning some basic driving safety measures and coping tips can help alleviate some of the aggravation. Also, although varying by state, understanding winter related laws or ways laws are interpreted to include winter conditions is vital to enjoying a safe winter. Below is some safety information we hope you find useful and keeps you safe and warm this winter.

Winter Driving Safety & Tips

Winter Inspection: Prepare you car ahead of time for winter road conditions. Check the levels of antifreeze, oil and wiper fluid. Examine your windshield wipers for wear and replace them if necessary.

Got Wheels? Review your tire tread. If you get snow tires or studs, get your appointment scheduled before the tire stores are inundated. If you are in a state where you may use chains or cables, inspect these when you pull them out of storage. Take time to review how to put them on before the snow comes.

Journey Prep: Before driving out into a winter wonderland, make sure you are prepared. Clear you car of any snow and ice so you can see clearly - this includes any snow around your headlights and break lights. How much gas is in the tank? If you are getting low, plan your route to make this your first stop. Stop and consider your physical condition, are you awake and alert?

WEK: Don't be weak - have an Winter Emergency Kit! Some items to include in your kit are:

  • First Aid Kit T
  • Travel Tool Kit
  • Blanket(s)
  • Gloves, Hat, Scarf, Sweatshirt, etc.
  • Jumper Cables
  • Flashlight and Spare Batteries
  • Road Flares
  • Matches
  • Sand and/or Salt
  • Ice Scraper and Snow Brush
  • Small Shovel
  • Water
  • Energy Bars or Other High Calorie Foods (Nonperishable)
  • Cell Phone and Charger

Dress for Success: As we hop from one heated building to the next, we don't often consider how we are dressed for the winter weather. Adjust your wardrobe for unexpected winter weather. If you insist on traveling in the car in flip flops because the are comfy, make sure you pack thick socks and hiking boots in the back seat in case your car does break down. Dress in layers and have spare gloves, a hat, and a scarf in the car.

Know before you go! Check for road condition updates and possible closures. Before driving in winter weather make certain to check the local forecast. Some of the key weather words are:

S-L-O-W: Everything slows down: accelerate slower, brake slowly, turn slowly, and travel at slower speeds. Enter the time warp willingly and keep your patience and wits about you. Trying to rush through anything during poor winter weather is the number one reason people slide off roads or skid into other cars.

Personal Bubble: Allow those around you plenty of space. Do not crowd other cars and increase the car lengths between you and the next car.

It's Ice Ice Baby! If there is ice rain the best option is not to be on the road period. But there are other patches of ice and black ice that may pop up when you consider the roads drivable again. Keep in mind that ice forms quickest on bridges and overpasses. Also, as the temperatures begin to rise the thawing ice will be much slicker as it melts. If you see the ice ahead of time keep your speed slow. DO NOT hit the breaks! If you suddenly can't hear the road, often the case if you hit black ice, continue forward and take your foot off the accelerator. DO NOT hit the breaks!

Look Up! Many times the winter weather makes us concentrate on the road in front of us so much that we forget to look ahead. During this weather is exactly when you should be looking up and ahead; look farther then you may normally. This will give you more time to react to possible sliding cars or hazards in front of you.

Keep it on Main Street: Plan your routes on main roads. These will be traveled more and are the first to be cleared and sanded.

Share the Road: Give plows and sanders plenty of space. Three car lengths is the standard suggestion. Be patient, many will get over to let traffic pass. Always pass with extreme caution and never pass them on the right as that is where all the sludge is going!

Double Your Time: As a general rule, double your travel time for all your commutes and usual destinations.

Tell Your Peeps: Let others know of your travel plans - especially for long distances or during a weather event. Let either family or friends know where your are going and the route you expect to take.

No Cruising: As you shouldn't in heavy rain, do not use cruise control on winter roads. If you begin to slide you may not be able to get out of cruise control quickly. Also, depending on the slide/skid, tapping the break may be the last thing you should do!

Find Your Pack: Have a commute group for severe weather. You can alternate drivers as you battle the extra stress and fatigue of driving in bad weather. Encourage it in your community and this can help keep more cars off the road.

Think Outside Your Car: Consider other modes of transportation altogether. If available, consider the bus or train. Get really inventive - do you like to cross country ski? Just stay on the sidewalk!

Flex Time: Check to see if you employer will let you change your hours or work from home. Wait until the plows have had a chance to move through the neighborhood and go in late. Or plug in the computer and work in your PJs and fuzzy slippers.

The Great Melt: Still be cautious after the snow begins to melt away. Puddles can easily be hiding monster potholes that grew under the ice during the storm. Not only jarring these can do some real damage to your car. Besides potholes, be careful of hydroplaning as well. As the water melts it may be caught between mounds of slush leaving the perfect amount of water to send your tires for a little ride.

If the Worst Happens: "If a blizzard traps you in your car, pull off the road, set hazard lights to flashing, and hang a distress flag from the radio aerial or window. Remain in your vehicle; rescuers are most likely to find you there. Conserve fuel, but run the engine and heater about ten minutes each hour to keep warm, cracking a downwind window slightly to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Exercise to maintain body heat but don't overexert. Huddle with other passengers and use your coat for a blanket. In extreme cold use road maps, seat covers, floor mats, newspapers or extra clothing for covering--anything to provide additional insulation and warmth. Turn on the inside dome light so rescue teams can see you at night, but be careful not to run the battery down. In remote areas, spread a large cloth over the snow to attract the attention of rescue planes. Do not set out on foot unless you see a building close by where you know you can take shelter. Once the blizzard is over, you may need to leave the car and proceed on foot. Follow the road if possible. If you need to walk across open country, use distant points as landmarks to help maintain your sense of direction." (Tips provided by FEMA)

Legal Concerns

The Car Snowball: When your car is covered with snow it makes for safer driving if you clear all the snow off - but are you required to legally? Technically, in most states, there is not a "snow on the car" law. Instead, other laws may be interpreted to include snow. Be safe and get your car uncovered completely so you can clearly see around you and don't inadvertently cause hazards.

  • In many states you can be cited if your windshield, rear window and windows are obstructed so you cannot see the road. This is often interpreted to include snow, ice and fog that disrupt the drivers view.
  • How about the snow on your roof or hood that you left there? In many states you will not be cited for this alone, however, if this snow flies off and damages another car (i.e. smacks into and cracks the windshield of the car behind you) then you are liable for any damages. Some states are clever and cite snow falling from your car as littering! 
  • While you are at it, make sure to clear any snow from your headlights and break lights. This not only helps you light your path, but no doing so may be a citation waiting to happen in some states.

Snow tires, studs, and chains, oh my!

NOW TIRES: Standard in many snowy states usually there are not penalties for having these tires on past a certain date. Check with your local tire stores as they will often store your summer tires during the winter season and vice versa. STUDDED TIRES: States that allow these tires for winter travel often have a set timeline when they may be used (i.e. In Alaska they may be on by September 15th and are due off by May 1st - most states in the lower 48 will have a shorter time allotment). This information can be found at your state Department of Transportation website (see list to the right) CHAINS: Especially if traveling in mountainous states, learn if chains are often required, make sure you have them and learn how to put them on before you go. Some flat states also allow chains under certain conditions. Check with your state Department of Transportation for specific requirements or limitations. The following YouTube video illustrates how to put on cable style chains. It is sponsored by the Oregon Department of Transportation (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8RVbDuyOcY):