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Featured Articles

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

So, who's afraid of the big, bad Home Inspection?

No matter whom you talk to that is involved in a home sale transaction, whether it be the owner, buyer or real estate agent, everyone has a certain amount of reservation concerning a home inspection or “termite” inspection.

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No matter whom you talk to that is involved in a home sale transaction, whether it be the owner, buyer or real estate agent, everyone has a certain amount of reservation concerning a home inspection or “termite” inspection. But why, all that it entails is basically a visual inspection of the home and a short written report, right? So, who’s afraid of the big, bad home inspection? Everyone it seems!

Let me start by making an obvious observation. For most all of us, the single biggest investment we will make in our lifetime is the purchase of our own home. Not only is it an investment that we can’t have go sour, but we must make a comfortable, safe place out of the dwelling to protect and grow our families that we can live in happily and call “home”. And when we’ve outgrown or want a new/different home, we need to realize the equity we have built up in the property to help us purchase our next “home”. “OK”, you say, “I know all of this. What has this got to do with being afraid of home inspections?” Everything, actually, because it is well known that buying or selling a home is probably the second biggest stress we will encounter in our life. All the uncertainty and suspicions begin to “bubble to the surface” as the home sale process grinds on which skews our thinking, and sometimes our common sense. So, let’s look logically at what a home inspection has to offer for each participant in the home sale process. I want to start with the home owner who is thinking about moving and about to list his/her property for sale, because usually they are the ones that think they have nothing to gain from, and everything to loose from a home inspection. Nothing could be further from the truth.

No matter what “shape” the owner feels his/her property is in (good, bad or in between), the smartest thing they can do is spend the few dollars necessary for an accurate home inspection and “termite” inspection. Spending these few dollars in the beginning will save you major dollars and stress in the end. Possessing this information prior to listing your home for sale not only enables you to plan, but to price your property accurately. The information gleaned from the reports allows you to take care of any repairs that you feel you want to on your time schedule, and to obtain bids from various contractors for repairs you don’t want to tackle yourself, which could save you a lot of money in the process. When you do list your property for sale, you do so empowered with the knowledge that you know of, or have taken care of any repairs, and, you can go into negotiations with the buyer straight on because you have a “heads-up” on what the condition of your home is. This negotiating strength will allow you to realize as much of your equity as possible to be used to purchase your new home. Most real estate agents will appreciate this situation also because it takes most all the uncertainty and stress out of the equation, because, normally the inspection results are revealed shortly before escrow is to close and there is no time for obtaining bids or alternative actions, which can result in a “blown” deal with everyone unhappy.

Most everyone thinks that a home inspection and “termite” inspection are only for the “protection” of the buyer. That is only partly true. Sure the inspections are ordered to reveal any unknown/undisclosed issues. But, the buyer didn’t order and pay for the inspections to make the property out as garbage! The buyer likes and wants to spend and invest their hard earned money on the property and want to make it their “home”. As a prospective purchaser of a home and property, you want the inspection(s) to validate your decision to purchase that piece of property. You want to know what you are buying. You, of course, want to know what the big issues are, if any, but you also want to know the little things that will be an irritation or money drain before you sign the contract of sale. You want to make up your own mind as to what is acceptable as is, and what is not and needs to be negotiated with the seller. And just about as important, the home inspection is actually your first in depth “get acquainted” look at your new home because it covers information on so many of the homes’ components, systems, utilities and their locations. But even that is not all, if your home inspector is like most concerned inspectors’, he is your source for information you can turn to long after the close of escrow when everyone else involved in the deal has disappeared.

OK, I’m to the real estate agent and what the home inspection and “termite” inspection has to offer them. How about peace of mind? How about the good feeling inside that you have put together a home sale in which both the buyer and seller are happy and there is not going to be a bad case of “buyers remorse” now that escrow is closed? How about the fact that you are looked up to as an agent that demands full disclosure and still can close the deal BECAUSE EVERY BODY KNOWS WHERE THEY STAND AND WHAT THEY CAN EXPECT OUT OF THE DEAL! In the years I have been involved in inspecting homes, I can’t tell you how many times I have seen buyers follow through and close a sale of a home with major issues because they not only like the home, but because they are fully aware of its’ short comings and are mentally prepared to take it on. With truth and knowledge everyone comes out ahead. As I’ve been preaching for years, your buyer today is your seller tomorrow.

So in closing, there is absolutely nothing to fear from a home inspection or “termite” inspection except fear itself. These are “tools” to be used in a positive way to bring about a positive home sale experience, if you choose to use them in that way.
Ron Ringen owns and operates Ringen’s Unbiased Inspections, which is located in Sonora, California. Ringen’s Unbiased Inspections serves the beautiful gold country of California that includes the foothills and Sierra Mountains in the counties of Tuolumne, Calaveras and Amadore. Ron has been involved with the Structural Pest Control business for 43 years and has been a licensed Structural Pest Inspector in California since 1968. Ron is a licensed General Contractor (B) in California and has been since 1977. Ron is certified with the American Institute of Inspectors as a Home Inspector, Manufactured/Modular Home Inspector and a Pool and Spa Inspector.

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.

Feng Shui

Another Look at Interior Design

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Feng Shui (pronounced Fung Shway) has been used in China for centuries and has made a strong entrance into western culture. Best described as "the art of placement" Feng Shui was originally used to determine the placement of temples, official buildings, graveyards and homes in their natural environment. In China, there became many different schools of Feng Shui such as the Land Form School in the southern region and Compass (Fukien) School in the northern region, to name a few. When the western world first came into contact with Feng Shui it was labeled as a form of geomancy which is considered "divination by means of figures or lines or geographic features." Although this may be a misrepresentation of the initial use of Feng Shui, this art is constantly in flux and today there are many different schools, some of which do concentrate on the use of this art as a way to impact ones fate in a favorable direction. With this variation, Feng Shui has found a niche in the New Age market of the western world. This has added some aspects to the art that are not for everyone. However, this art of placement does have some wonderful interior design techniques that everyone could adapt and find beneficial. This article will discuss many of these interior design solutions for cluttered and cramped spaces in the home and office. It is difficult to write about Feng Shui without looking at some of the ideas of balance that have become part of this art form. First we will look at some of the ideas behind the creation of balance and then we will look at some of the practical solutions this art form has for our living and working spaces. For those who are more interested in the practical interior design aspects of Feng Shui, take a look at the third paragraph.

Feng Shui, as the art of placement, is aimed at creating the best balance of elements and flow of chi throughout any space. Chi is considered an energy that surrounds all living things. Feng Shui strives to give chi the smoothest possible flow so it does not become trapped or flow through too quickly causing an imbalance in the energy/vibe of a space. If chi does not flow correctly it is believed to have adverse effects on those living around these imbalanced areas. The elemental balance of a space is reached by balancing five elements of nature: earth, water, wood, fire and metal. These elements are mapped out using a bagua. A bagua is a chart used for IChing that is also used to plot the areas of a home/space. Each direction has an effect on certain areas of life (click on the image to the right for a larger look). The main directions of North, South, East, West and center correspond the five elements of nature. In short, the areas on the bagua effect and are represented by the following:

  • South - Fame - Red, Fire, Birds, Summer
  • SW - Relationships & Marriage - Yellow & Pink
  • West - Children & Creativity - White, Metal, Tiger, Autumn
  • NW - Helpful People & Travel - Gray
  • North - Career - Black, Water, Tortoise, Winter
  • NE - Knowledge & Spirituality - Turquoise
  • East - Family & Ancestors - Green, Wood, Dragon, Spring
  • SE - Wealth - Purple

Keep in mind some of the colors and other symbols may change depending on the school of Feng Shui you choose to use. It is also interesting to note that in some schools the bagua is superimposed over a space (i.e. in a drawing of a room) strictly based on compass direction - the chart's North points the same direction as compass North. In other schools, especially those popular in western adaptation, the bagua is situated according to the main entry to the space. With this method, the South end is always on the same wall as the main entrance so your doorway will always fall into the SE, S or SW section. Once the bagua is superimposed over the drawing of a space you may then see how the various areas of a room or areas of the house are affecting your life whether it be your career or your children. On examining the space you may then pinpoint if something in that space is disrupting the chi of the area and the balance of that part of life. Major problem areas can be fixed with various cures from mirrors to crystals. Changing the placement of objects and adding more lighting can also improve areas (leading into the interior design aspect of Feng Shui). Or if the space is fine but you want to enhance that portion of your life you can add elements and symbols to the space to increase their effectiveness. For example, hanging black and white (gray) travel photos in the NW section may help to encourage travel opportunities. Finally, Feng Shui looks to balance spaces based a symmetry, square and rectangle shapes are ideal. Odd shapes and areas jutting out often can cause imbalance in the chi. For example, if a bedroom falls outside the square or rectangle shape of the house that person will feel detached from the rest of the family and it may lead to arguments or withdrawal. Obviously this is only the tip of all the aspects of Feng Shui and its variances. It takes books to explain these concepts in detail. Let us move on to the more tangible interior design aspects of this art form.

Feng Shui as a interior design tool is truly an art of placement. All placement has an effect on chi and placement should be a conscience act. Many of these placement ideas have very practical reasons and aesthetic appeal to those who may not be interested in the chi aspect of the placement. The following list includes some of the more common aspects of Feng Shui interior design.

Keep places clear of clutter!
One of the basics of Feng Shui is that everything should be kept in its place. Keep areas clear of clutter. Cluttered spaces will trap and slow down chi but will also give you a subconscious weighted down feeling. It sounds simple enough and it is! Clear off your desk, file those papers, go through that stack of books, etc. It will feel like a weight was lifted off your shoulders and you will find that you can think more clearly as there is less subconscious worries about needing to "get to that someday" - get to it today so you can move on!

Doorways 
-All doorways should be in good shape, if they need any repairs, repainting or replacement this needs to be done. Doors should also open into the room rather then out. This will encourage energy to flow in rather then out. -Main Entrance to the Home: Considered the most important entry, the main entrance to your home should be welcoming and positive. Keep the area well lit and free of clutter. Company should come in the doorway feeling welcome.
-Common problems with the main entrance: 1) If your home is a split level you may see stairs going both up and down as soon as you enter. This will cause chi to disperse too quickly and may lead to conflict and bickering in the home as you don't see things the same way. The two stairways also cause a split view which can lead to anxiety. Cures for these entrances include mirrors or a multidimensional picture that illustrates depth. 2) Seeing the back door directly from the front door. This will cause chi to flow too quickly through the home causing missed opportunities. Also, when guests can see the "exit" upon entry it will make them feel unwelcome or impatient to leave. Fixes for this include a screen, curtains or plant to block the direct view; this can also add a rich fullness to the home and encourages people to enjoy what is around them rather then peering through to your backyard right away. More traditional cures use crystals or wind chimes hung between the doors. 3) Some entrances are small and box-like with blank walls. To fix this hang a painting, perhaps one of the outdoors that makes the visitor think of spacious areas.You may add a mirror, but some Feng Shui experts advise against this as startling your visitors (and yourself) with your reflection as one walks in the door can be unnerving and rude. Make sure the area is well lit and bright. You do not want cramped, blank entrance ways to be dark and shadowed. -Other Doorways: Keep the path of doorways clear of clutter. Doorways provide the main pathway for chi and should not be disrupted or blocked - you shouldn't have to tip-toe around a bookshelf, etc when you first enter a room!

Windows
-Like doors, windows in disrepair are not good for the home. Cracked and damaged windows disrupt the chi and should be replaced.

Bedroom
-The bedroom is one of the most important rooms of your house and the placement of your bed is the most important placement in this room. The bed should be a place to rest so you do not want to be disturbed or startled easily. Many consider it ideal to place the bed diagonally facing the door. However, if that is not possible, the following bad alignments should be avoided: 1) Do not have the foot of the bed directly in line with the doorway. 2) Do not have the head of your bed directly in line with the doorway. 3) Place the bed against a solid wall instead of a window or open space. 4) If you have a slanted ceiling the bed should not be under the lowest point.
-Some schools of Feng Shui are against any mirrors in the bedroom. If you do insist on having a mirror in the room make sure it is not directly opposite or viewed from the bed, this set up can cause unease as you will startle yourself when waking.
-Also, electronics such as TVs and stereos should not be kept in the bedroom. These items are usually not conducive for rest and sleep and should therefore be placed in the more awake rooms of the house such as the living room.

Study/Home Office
-The desk is the most important piece in this room. It should be in a command position where you can see the door. Ideal is diagonally so you can see as much of the room around you as possible. Never have your back to the door when seated at your desk. Also, if you sit too close to the door or have a poor view of the room you less control of your surroundings.
-Keep this room clear of clutter. Clutter will work on your subconscious and you will contently be split among several tasks and never be able to concentrate on just one.
-Lighting is important in this room. It should be bright but not glaring. Natural light from a window is good but should not be directly in front of you, instead it should be to your side.

Kitchen
-Another major area of the home the placement of the stove is considered key to this space. The stove should never be placed where you have your back to the main entrance and therefore prone to being startled while cooking! -It is extremely important that this room stays clean
- should be the cleanest in the house! Living Room -Furniture in this room should provide for easy movement. Chairs should be faced towards one another and share a coffee table or stand between them. Empty space between people may cause tension and more conflict, whereas having a table as common ground between them makes them feel more secure and comfortable in discourse. -Many living rooms lead into other spaces such as dining rooms, etc without any real doorway. This may cause an odd or L-shaped room. Again, it is bad Feng Shui to have tangents hanging off the main shape (rectangle/square) of the room. To counter this you may add a screen, open shelves, plants, etc. that gives more structure to the two spaces and keeps them separate. -If your living room or similar room is a sunken room make sure to get floor lamps to brighten the room up. Light will help bring the room up on equal level to the rest of the house and counter the detachment this feature may cause.

Dining Room
-This room should not be overcrowded but more spacious and inviting to groups. Comfortable table and chairs should encourage diners to take their time and enjoy the meal. -Mirrors are great for this room - double the size of your rooms and family!

Obviously this is just a quick sampling of the types of rules Feng Shui has for the placement and design of the home.

Feng Shui, although an ancient art has many practical uses for the modern age. Practical ideas such as having a command position in a room to tackle tasks more effectively can be very beneficial. There is no doubt that the various number of schools and approaches and the New Age aspects and fluctuations of this art form can be a bit confusing and frustrating at times. However, this art, whether you delve into it deeply and adopt its sometimes mystical aspects or if you only want to pull a couple ideas about placement, can still be beneficial and fun to anyone who wants to give it a try.

Fast Fun Feng Shui


- Some schools of Feng Shui believe that each person can be mapped by the bagua as well. Using birth date, the bagua calculators can tell you which directions are more auspicious than others and what areas should be avoided or countered. For an example calculator click here: www.fengshuitimes.com/resources/GuaCalculator/ There is even alterations to the bagua chart based on the astrological year (for year of the dog click here: www.bhargo.com/articles/firedogyear.asp


- Not home much? Feng Shui suggests that homes should always have flowing chi. If you are gone often or for long periods of time make sure to bring life into your home. On vacation - set the radio or TV to create sound while you are gone. Long days at the office or weekend trips - get fish or plants in your home so their energy will keep your space alive.

- Feng Shui isn't just about objects anymore! Have messy neighbors that are cluttering your space and chi? Many modern schools of Feng Shui suggest talking with neighbors and volunteering to help them with clean up projects. Not only will your chi and space feel better, you will also work on you outside partnerships and bring positive energy into your life and home.

- Not all antiques are good antiques. Antiques may have a carry over of bad energy or chi from the previous owner. Make sure to take time to calmly consider and feel the vibe from an antique before purchasing it.

- Cures for your bad Feng Shui: some schools rely heavily on cures. These include chimes, crystals, bagua mirrors, bells, golden arrows and bamboo flutes (to name some of the most common). However, some schools are dissatisfied with the commercialism of these cures. Instead they rely more on rearranging objects already in the homeowners decor or adding ascetic elements such as plants, water fountains and statues.

- My student is an A+ student! Many Feng Shui practitioners believe that you can aid your children's or your own scholarly pursuits through good placement. This could mean having your child's bedroom in the NE sector of the home. Or it may mean placing their desk in the NE sector of the room. Also adding colors of the blue and green/turquoise that represent your child's scholarly interest in the NE sector of the room. For example, blue and green planets on a mobile or pictures of marine life, dinosaurs, etc. where these colors dominate.

- Problems with office politics at the workplace? Work stations should not be directly face to face as this will cause conflict. Sharp angles and corners should not be pointed towards anyone's back other wise they will become the target of office politics and back stabbing. The boss should always have the office furthest from the front door so they are not distracted by everyday events and the distance gives them time to contemplate decisions. If a subordinate is further back then the boss they may feel like they see more and know more.

- Selling your home? Feng Shui can be considered to help aid you sell as well. One example is to make sure you don't have heavy furniture at the base or southern point of your home as this will keep you grounded. Or have a water fountain to help de-stress potential buyers. It is a growing trend and there are programs that offer real estate agents contact hours in Feng Shui training!

Further Reading Online

American Feng Shui Institute
www.amfengshui.com
To correct mistakes committed in various Feng Shui books on the market and to prevent people from being victimized. To help people discern real professional Feng Shui practitioners from impostors, and to set Feng Shui apart from superstition, mysticism, and religion. To apply the fundamentals of Feng Shui to initiate interest and research in the ancient natural science. To utilize Feng Shui correctly such that it benefits all mankind.

Fast Feng Shui
www.fastfengshui.com/articles.htm
We are pleased to offer the following articles on contemporary western feng shui.

Feng Shui Chinese
www.fengshuichinese.com
The Site is made in Hong Kong and China by Feng Shui Experts and is in both English and Chinese Languages. We appreciate your feedback.

Feng Shui Gate
http://www.fengshuigate.com/
Essays on the origin of Fengshui

Feng Shui Society
http://www.fengshuisociety.org.uk/ 
The Feng Shui Society, based in the United Kingdom with links throughout the world, is an independent, non-profit organization established in 1993, run on a voluntary basis by an executive committee elected from the membership. It administers minimum standards for education in feng shui to professional practice level and maintains a register of accredited consultants. 

Feng Shui Times
www.fengshuitimes.com
Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times

World of Feng Shui
www.wofs.com
First Magazine of Feng Shui in the World

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.

The Cleaner Home

Make your home environmentally green

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The old days of harsh bleach and chemicals used to clean around the house are slowly fading out. Along with this trend is a desire of many consumers to adopt more environmentally friendly products for their home. This can be anything from the new countertops and floors to the groceries bought at the local supermarket. In addition to what you bring in (and take out) of your home, the maintenance of your home can is a way to become more green. According to the energysavers.gov website, "Americans spend more than $160 billion a year to heat, cool, light, and live" in their homes. Everyone may not try every option or may find their budget does not allow for all of the products available. However, a few home improvements and informed purchases can not only save you money in the long run, but these changes can also provide a healthier home for your family and the planet. Initially, all the options to create a greener home can be overwhelming. But some tasks are good home maintenance and a few only need to be done once. The headings below is just one way to break down some of the improvements and updates you may make to your home which will effect its impact and performance. Did we say performance? You bet! Making sure your home is running efficiently and smoothly is the number one way to helping the environment! How efficient is your home? Making your home work efficiently to keep you warm, cool and provide you with creature comforts is the perfect way to help other creatures of the world. Taking time to keep your home updated will help reduce the amount of energy you need and ultimately be easier on your wallet as well. Lighting: You can cut electricity costs by taking advantage of natural lighting and choosing carefully the lighting you purchase. Natural light is a great way to improve your home's efficiency. Skylights and easy to open window treatments can help you better regulate where you get your light during the day. Windows facing north and south can offer a great source of natural light and heat. West and east windows will offer light but may produce too much glare as the sun rises and sets. Choose your artificial lights carefully. Selecting a few accent lights and then a concentrated task light for an activity such as reading is a better alternative to lighting up every square inch of the room with florescent bulbs! Using environmentally efficient light bulbs can help reduce energy costs. However, research the bulbs you buy. Some may not work as well for task lighting. Others may not work with your older lamps and you may be better buying a new lighting fixture at the same time. Keep your artificial lights working at their best. Even the simple task of keeping your lamp shades free of dust can improve the light quality in your home. Windows: The windows of your home can be a great ally. Getting the right type of window treatments can help regulate your home temperatures. Drapes: Drawn closed in the winter, these window treatments can help prevent heat from escaping by as much as 10%! Drapes can also help decrease heat coming into the home if closed against direct sunlight in the summer. Blinds or Shades: These can help reduce the amount of heat coming through the window because of direct sunlight. Dual shades can be very useful. Use the light side to help reflect and keep out the warming sun in the summer and the dark side can be used in the winter to draw in more heat. Shutters: Both exterior and interior shutters can be used to keep heat out in the summer. They do not work as well at keeping heat in during the winter. Another perk of having exterior shutters is that they can provide extra security for your home as well. Window Panel: Similar to a shutter, a window panel is a product that pops into the window frame and provides extra insulation in the winter. An inexpensive addition, this may be ideal for windows not used for their light in the winter. Screens: Although these don't really keep any heat in place, using screens on your windows allows for better cooling and airing of your home in the summer. Screens allow you to keep windows and doors open encouraging a natural movement of the air. Using open windows well in the morning and evening can drastically reduce your air conditioning bill. Thankfully this can be done without letting in all the bugs and critters! Awnings: Window awnings can help keep the house cooler in the summer by reducing the amount of heat that is adsorbed. Air Leaks: Get rid of air leaks! Insulation works to improve both the heating and cooling of your home. Check around your doors and windows first. Many leaks escape through these portals the most. Replace weather stripping and caulk where needed. Besides the doors and windows, also check for air leaks around vents, fans, phone and cable lines, and electrical lines. Depending on the materials used in your home, you may also need to check any brick, stucco or cement construction for needed repairs. Not sure if you have a leak? One option is to use an incense stick. The smoke will show any movement caused by air leaks. Another method is to have someone stand on the other side of the possible leak source while you shine a flashlight at the edges. If they can see the light on the other side then some updates should be made. Insulation: Updating or adding insulation to your home, especially an older one, can help reduce costs associated with heating and cooling your home. The attic, crawl space, basement, exterior walls and space around service ducts are the areas that will need the most attention or improvement. Reduce Water Usage: There are many ways to reduce your water consumption around the home. The hot water heater can be an energy hog. Try insulating it if it does not already have at least R-24 insulation. You can also lower the temperature of the water from 140°F to 120°F to save on cost. Make certain to fix any leaky pipes or faucets. Over time these will not only consume water but will also cause damage to the surrounding area. To get better use of water for your money, consider installing low-flow water faucets and showerheads. You may also consider a water (and energy) efficient clothes washer. What do you bring into your home? Whether building a new home or shopping for the weekly groceries, the products you choose to bring home have a great impact on the environment. Taking some time to consider your choices before you buy is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. Renewable Construction: If building or remodeling a home, consider renewable sources for some of your construction needs. You do not have to use all or any of them, however, if you take the time to research some of these options, you may be surprised and find a good fit. Hardwood floors are great in that they keep allergies as bay and are easier on the environment then synthetic carpet manufacture. However, a renewable wood is key here. Renewable floors such as bamboo or cork are much easier to replenish. Another option that has gained in popularity is reclaimed wood. This product is taken from demolition sites - everything from an old house to an old gymnasium floor. Research the product's history as some sealants and paints used on the wood may be toxic. There are more renewable sources available. From recycled glass used as tile to recycled jeans used as insulation. Take a look at our links to the right for more information about these items and possible vendors in your area. Buy Local: There has been a lot of encouragement for consumers to buy local recently. Buying locally should help cut down on shipping and packaging costs. Doing so can also help local farmers and businesses. Not always the cheaper option, trying to purposely buy some items locally can help the economy and ultimately the environment. In fact, some believe buying groceries from local sources provides fresher produce that ultimately could be better for your health. Quality of Product: Being a savvy consumer who expects the best quality in their products is helpful to the environment as well as your pocketbook. Move away from cheaply made items; instead research your purchases and get ones that will perform well for a long time to come. Check Labels: On anything you buy, take time to check the labels and be aware of any impact it may have on your environment - including at home. Consider carefully your choice in chemicals used for cleaning. When working on home improvement projects consider the options you have for glues, paints and other possible hazardous materials. THERMOSTAT: Lower your thermostat by a few degrees. Get a controller where you can specify different temperatures for day and night. LIGHTS: Turn off incandescent lights when not in use. Turn off florescent lights if you will be gone for more than 15 minutes. Optimize your use of natural light with work or reading places near northern or southern windows away from eastern and western sun glare. ELECTRONICS: Turn off power strips if nothing on the strip is in use. Unplug unused electronics. COMPUTERS: Turn off your computer monitor if you will be gone for more than 20 minutes. Turn off both your computer and computer monitor if you will be gone for more than 2 hours. Use the sleep mode if your computer has one. ENERGY: Consider purchasing green energy from your power company such as solar power, wind power, biomass power, geothermal energy or hydropower. If your power company does not have one of these options available, you may still be able to invest in future programs. LAUNDRY: Wash your clothes in cold water when possible. Clothesline dry your laundry on sunny days. Shop for detergents that list which toxic chemicals are not in the product. A generic statement such as "non-toxic" may be gimmick so read the label carefully. GROCERIES: Shop locally. Use a cloth reusable bag for groceries. COOKING: Use cookware that cooks at lower temperatures such as cast iron or clay. Save your baking for cooler hours. DISHES: Only run the dishwasher when it is full. Run the dishwasher at night. GARDEN GREEN: Check out our article on environmentally green gardening. Or see our article about pet safe gardening.