Sunday, May 31, 2015

Self-Storage Tips for Long-Term Travel

Traveling is a passion—a way to make lifetime memories and see the world at the same time. Unfortunately, determining what to do with your stuff while you travel can be stressful. Whether you’re headed on a European adventure or an RV trip across the United States, worrying about your belongings back home is the last thing you want to do. Don’t default to storing your prized possessions in a musty, unsecured basement. Instead, consider the benefits of using self-storage to secure your items while you travel.

Storing Your Belongings
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote, “He who would travel happily must travel light.” Because it’s just not possible to take all your precious belongings with you when you travel, determine what you need, and then bring versatile items to meet your needs while allowing you to pack light. To keep the rest of your items secure, store them in a self-storage unit during your absence.

When deciding what to do with your stuff while you’re away, consider your needs. According to the writers at Apartment Therapy, “You need to have a good idea of what and how much stuff you’re going to store. Don’t just rent a space with the idea that you will fill it up with stuff as time goes on.” Do you need a small unit to store your unsecured outdoor equipment while you travel? Would you prefer to store all your belongings to eliminate having to pay rent on your apartment? Storage units come in all sizes to fit your needs.

The Details Matter
Properly packing and storing your belongings will help make sure they’re secure while you’re away. Aaron J. Moore, RN, MSN, with AMN Healthcare provides some recommendations for traveling nurses, but they’re guidelines anyone can follow in preparation for a trip. “If you have things you truly care about, wrap them carefully before boxing and storing, stack boxes and containers carefully, and, if possible, use a pallet to keep your things off the floor (in case the guy in the next unit has something that leaks),” Moore writes.
Belongings that are climate sensitive, such as electronics or wood furniture, should be stored in a climate-controlled unit. These do cost a little more, but the increased cost may bring peace of mind, knowing your belongings won’t be subjected to extreme temperatures while they’re in storage. If space is more of an issue than temperature, there are units to meet those needs as well. There are even units large enough to store vehicles.

How to Keep It Secure
To add an additional layer of security, look into insurance for the items you store while you’re away. “Typically, standard homeowners and renters insurance policies do include off-premises property protection for theft and damage from fires and other disasters,” says Insurance Information Institute Vice President Loretta Worters. “Generally, things like flooding, earthquakes, and mold and mildew if the storage unit is poorly maintained are not usually covered,” she adds.

You might want to appoint a local person who can visit the storage unit on your behalf if the need arises. This person would be able to ship an item to you from your storage unit if you decide you need it while you’re away. He or she would also be able respond quickly if there were any type of problem.

When it comes to paying your self-storage bill while you’re traveling, you can set it up on auto-debit or you can use your bank’s bill payment feature and pay it online. “Schedule bills that you know will come due while you’re gone, such as your cable bill or cell phone bill. With bills like these, you should know roughly how much they’ll be,” writes Teresa Dixon Murray in the Plain Dealer. “If today’s the 16th, you should be able—today—to schedule your cell phone bill to be paid Feb. 28 and schedule your cable bill to be paid on March 5.”

Traveling light takes on a new meaning when you decide to store your belongings in a self-storage unit. You’re free to bring only the items you need, but you can also leave worry and stress at home when you know your prized possessions are well cared for.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Wood Frame and Steel Sheathing Tornado Safe Room

A tornado safe room made from wood frame and steel sheathing can be made from common construction materials and finished similarly to any other wood-frame structure with sheet rock, texture, or paint.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Masonry Concrete Block Tornado Safe Room

A concrete block or masonry tornado safe room is reinforced by fully grouting the cells of the block and reinforcing them with vertical rebar. Concrete masonry is made in a variety of textures and finishes providing many options for complementing the look of new or existing construction.

Monday, May 25, 2015

NFPA Grilling Fire Safety Tips

This grilling season, NFPA tests your knowledge and demonstrates the proper way to use your grill safely to prevent fires.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Ungrounded Electrical Receptacles

Grounding of electrical receptacles (which some laypeople refer to as outlets) is an important safety feature that has been required in new construction since 1962, as it minimizes the risk of electric shock and protects electrical equipment from damage. Modern, grounded 120-volt receptacles in the United States have a small, round ground slot centered below two vertical hot and neutral slots, and it provides an alternate path for electricity that may stray from an appliance. Older homes often have ungrounded, two-slot receptacles that are outdated and potentially dangerous. Homeowners sometimes attempt to perform the following dangerous modifications to ungrounded receptacles:

  • the use of an adapter, also known as a "cheater plug." Adapters permit the ungrounded operation of appliances that are designed for grounded operation. These are a cheaper alternative to replacing ungrounded receptacles, but are less safe than properly grounding the connected appliance;
  • replacing a two-slot receptacle with a three-slot receptacle without re-wiring the electrical system so that a path to ground is provided to the receptacle. While this measure may serve as a seemingly proper receptacle for three-pronged appliances, this “upgrade” is potentially more dangerous than the use of an adapter because the receptacle will appear to be grounded and future owners might never be aware that their system is not grounded. If a building still uses knob-and-tube wiring, it is likely than any three-slot receptacles are ungrounded. To be sure, InterNACHI inspectors may test suspicious receptacles for grounding; and
  • removal of the ground pin from an appliance. This common procedure not only prevents grounding but also bypasses the appliance’s polarizing feature, since a de-pinned plug can be inserted into the receptacle upside-down.
While homeowners may be made aware of the limitations of ungrounded electrical receptacles, upgrades are not necessarily required. Many small electrical appliances, such as alarm clocks and coffee makers, are two-pronged and are thus unaffected by a lack of grounding in the building’s electrical system.

Upgrading the system will bring it closer to modern safety standards, however, and this may be accomplished in the following ways:
  • Install three-slot receptacles and wire them so that they’re correctly grounded.
  • Install ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). These can be installed upstream or at the receptacle itself. GFCIs are an accepted replacement because they will protect against electric shocks even in the absence of grounding, but they may not protect the powered appliance. Also, GFCI-protected ungrounded receptacles may not work effectively with surge protectors. Ungrounded GFCI-protected receptacles should be identified with labels that come with the new receptacles that state:  “No Equipment Ground.”
  • Replace three-slot receptacles with two-slot receptacles. Two-slot receptacles correctly represent that the system is ungrounded, lessening the chance that they will be used improperly.
Homeowners and non-qualified professionals should never attempt to modify a building’s electrical components. Misguided attempts to ground receptacles to a metallic water line or ground rod may be dangerous. InterNACHI inspectors may recommend that a qualified electrician evaluate electrical receptacles and wiring.
In summary, adjustments should be made by qualified electricians -- not homeowners -- to an electrical system to upgrade ungrounded receptacles to meet modern safety standards and the requirements of today's typical household appliances.

by Nick Gromicko

From Ungrounded Electrical Receptacles - InterNACHI

Thursday, May 21, 2015

How to Create the Perfect Paint Palette

Designer Genevieve Gorder explains how to create the perfect paint palette for any room in your home.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The effects of lightning and electrical surges

Power or voltage surges are brief bursts of energy caused by a sudden change in the electrical conditions of a circuit. Wherever electrical or electronic equipment is used, power surges can and do occur. While often lasting only a millisecond, power surges can raise the voltage in electronic circuits from a few hundred to as much as several thousand volts. They are one of the most severe, common and immediate dangers to modern, sensitive electronic equipment.

The resulting damage can range from loss of expensive electronic equipment to structure fires that destroy an entire house.

What Causes Power Surges

  •     Lightning can create strong electromagnetic fields, which can induce a power surge.
  •     Risk factors include your location and frequency of lightning and thunderstorms.
  •     See the map 1997-2007 Average U.S. Lightning Flash Density Map to determine your exposure to lightning flashes.
  •     Homes in areas subject to an average flash density of 10 to 14 fl/sq km/yr or greater have a severe exposure to lightning.
Local Power System Problems
  •     A common source for externally generated surges in home is the local electric company. Problems and points of failure include faulty wiring by a utility, equipment breakdowns, downed power lines, grid shifting (reallocating stored energy to match demand), and capacitor switching (a routine, daily event).
  •     Homes connected to power grids that may include industrial parks and manufacturing facilities have increased exposure to power surges.
  •     Large users connected to the same power line can also create power surges.
  •     Large electrical equipment that frequently turn on and off, such as high-powered motors, production equipment, heating/air conditioning equipment, etc., can create sudden, brief demands for power that can upset the steady voltage flow in the electrical system and result in power surges affecting everyone connected to the same power line.
  •     Externally generated surges may also be caused when two power lines come into contact with each other as a result of vehicle crashes damaging power poles, fallen tree limbs, ice storms or animals.
Reduce risk of damage from lightning and electrical surge
  •     For protection from lightning strikes in the general area of your home and externally produced surge, a whole-house surge protector is the best starting point for reducing the risk of damage or a fire.
  •     It is important to make sure that it is either a secondary surge arrestor tested to IEEE C62.11 or a transient voltage suppressor that has been tested to UL 1449, 2nd Edition.
  •     The protector should be installed in accordance with Article 280 or Article 285 of the National Electrical Code (as is applicable) and must have a working indicator light.
  •     A number of power companies have programs to provide and install the whole-building surge protection.
  •     If this is not available in your area, consult a licensed electrician.
  •     Protection should extend beyond the whole-building surge protection.
IBHS strongly recommends the following:
  •     Install additional protection for important or expensive electronic equipment.
  •     This should include localized surge protection for power cords to the electronic equipment and any telephone and cable/satellite TV lines connecting to the equipment.
  •     These devices are available at most home improvement and electronics stores.
  •     It is important for the home’s electrical system to be properly grounded in accordance with Article 250 of the National Electrical Code. Also, all utilities (telephone, electrical, and cable or satellite TV) should be bonded to the same grounding point and preferably all enter your home within 10-feet of each other. This will ensure proper operation of the surge protection system and prevent ground potentials from developing between various elements of the electrical and communications systems.
  •     Have a licensed electrician determine whether your incoming line and disconnect box is properly grounded. If not, have them provide the proper grounding.
  •     Have them also review the power, telephone, electrical and cable/satellite TV connections to your building and improve the grounding if necessary.
Note: Whole house surge protection will not protect you from a direct strike on your house. For added protection from a direct strike, you would need to add receptors on the roof and cables that would help direct the strike away from the interior of your house. Homes in areas subject to an average flash density of 10 to 14 fl/sq km/yr or greater as defined in the Figure – “1997-2007 Average U.S. Lightning Flash Density Map” shown above have an increased exposure to lightning. Homeowners in these areas and those in other areas who are particularly concerned about a direct lightening strike should consider installing a lightning protection system.

Lightning protection systems are designed to protect a structure and provide a specified path to harness and safely ground the super-charged current of the lightning bolt. The system neither attracts nor repels a strike, but receives the strike and routes it harmlessly into the earth, thus discharging the dangerous electrical event.

If a lightning protection systems is to be installed for the home, it should be designed and installed in accordance with:
  •     National Fire Protection Assoc. (NFPA) 780, Standard for the Installation of Lightning Protection Systems
  •     Underwriters’ Laboratories, Inc. (UL) Standard 96A, Installation Requirements for Lightning Protection Systems
  •     Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) Standard 175, Standard of Practice for the Design – Installation – Inspection of Lightning Protection Systems
  •     All materials should comply in weight, size, and composition with the requirements of the UL 96 Materials Standards.
  •     All equipment should be UL listed and properly labeled.
  •     Equipment should be the manufacturer’s latest approved design of construction to suit the application where it is to be used in accordance with accepted industry standards and with NFPA, LPI, & UL requirements.
  •     Standards and References for Lightning and Surge Protection
  •     Underwriters Laboratory 96A Standard For Safety-Installation Requirements for Lightning Protection Systems
  •     Underwriters Laboratory 452 Standard for Safety- Antenna Discharge Units
  •     Underwriters Laboratory 497A Standard for Safety-Secondary Protectors for Communication Circuits
  •     Underwriters Laboratory 498 Standard for Safety-Receptacle and Receptacle Plugs (Including Direct Plug-In Devices)
  •     Underwriters Laboratory 544 Standard for Safety-Medical and Dental Equipment
  •     Underwriters Laboratory 1283 Standard for Safety-Electromagnetic Interference Filters
  •     Underwriters Laboratory 1363 Standard for Safety-Temporary Power Taps (Power Strips)
  •     Underwriters Laboratory 1449 Standard for Safety-Transient Voltage Surge Suppressors
  •     National Fire Protection Association 70 National Electric Code
  •     Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) Standard 175, Standard of Practice for the Design – Installation – Inspection of Lightning Protection Systems
  •     Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers – C62 Collection of Guides and Standards for Surge Protection
  •     Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers – C62.41 Guide for Surge Voltages in Low Voltage AC Power Circuits
  •     Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers – C62.45 Guide on Surge Testing for Equipment Connected To Low Voltage AC Power Circuits
  •     Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (std 1100) Emerald Book
  •     Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Emerald Book (std 1100) FIPS 94
  •     Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers C62.41 Manufacturers (Allan Bradley, Motorola, other suppliers)
  •     National Electrical Manufactures Association LS-1 Low Voltage Surge Protective Devices
  •     National Electrical Manufactures Association LS-1

© 2012 Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Home Inspector's Tools

Here are some of the tools I commonly use during a home inspection. I will be providing a show on my environmental tools coming up.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Cast-in-Place Concrete Tornado Safe Room StrongHomes

A cast-in-place tornado safe room is built with removable forms assembled on site. Rebar is placed into the forms and then they are filled with concrete to create a very strong reinforced wall assembly. Once the concrete has hardened the panels are removed leaving the concrete exposed. The panels can be fitted with liners to create concrete surfaces that look like brick, siding, stone, or other residential finishes.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Toxic Molds - What, Why and How to Deal with Them!

Toxic Molds in Homes, Stachybotrys chartarum Molds in Your Home Can Cause Health Problems and Structural Damage The home buying and selling community is abuzz with talk about insurance and liability issues involving stachybotrys chartarum, also known as black mold or toxic mold.

Some homeowners have even burned down their homes, and everything in them, because they felt it was the only way to eradicate toxic mold from their surroundings.

Juries have awarded huge sums of money to homeowners who initiated lawsuits against their insurance companies, with most awards given to people whose insurer did not pay for moisture-related repairs in time to prevent severe mold problems. Awards have also gone against home builders when juries felt that shoddy worksmanship contributed to the mold.

Most homeowner policies now include a clause that excludes or limits payments for mold-related issues. While mold is a problem, in most instances its growth can be prevented or stopped before it causes excessive damage.

What is Mold?
Molds are fungi that reproduce by releasing tiny spores into the air. Spores that land on moist objects may begin to grow. There are thousands of different types of mold and we encounter many of them every day, in our homes and outdoors.

What is Toxic Mold?
Toxic mold is a type of mold that produces hazardous byproducts, called mycotoxins.
While individuals with asthma and other respiratory problems may have reactions to many types of mold, it's thought that mycotoxins are more likely to trigger health problems in even healthy individuals. These toxins are believed to be linked to memory loss and to severe lung problems in infants and the elderly.

Floating particles of mold are invisible to the naked eye, so it's impossible to see where they might have landed until they begin to grow. Loose mold particles that accumulate on items within a house are easily inhaled and can be a constant irritation to the people and pets who live there.

The toxic mold we hear most about is Stachybotrys chartarum, a slimy, greenish-black mold that grows on moisture-laden materials that contain cellulose, such as wood, paper, drywall, and other similar products. It does not grow on tile or cement.

Even if the mold in your home is not toxic mold, it can still be a problem, because any mold growing on organic materials will in time destroy them--and too much mold of any type smells bad and degrades air quality.

Mold thrives in damp, humid conditions:
  • Bathrooms with poor ventilation. Install an exhaust fan if possible.
  • Leaky water pipes. Repair them immediately.
  • Roof leaks. Repair them right away.
  • Flood aftermath. Repair as soon as possible. See: EPA's Flood Info
  • Clothes dryers and exhaust fans that vent under the house or back into the room. Vent them to the outside.
Flood Damage
Houses that have been flooded are at serious risk for molds, especially in areas when are high humidity and temperatures provide the mold with the perfect place to reproduce before cleanup begins. The houses flooded by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina--some still sitting in water--are the perfect example of homes that will likely suffer extreme damage from mold.

Help Discourage Mold Growth:
  • Install a dehumidifier in chronically moist rooms.
  • Don't carpet rooms that stay damp.
  • Insulate pipes and other cold surfaces to discourage condensation.
  • Install storm windows to eliminate condensation on glass.
  • Cover crawlspace dirt with plastic and ensure that the area is well ventilated.
Cleaning Mold
Make sure the room is well ventilated before you begin. If the mold covers a small surface area it isn't too hard to clean it with detergent and water. Allow the space to dry, then apply a solution of 1/2 cup bleach per gallon of water to help kill the remaining spores. Never combine bleach and ammonia because the mixture produces a toxic gas. There are products available that are designed specifically for mold. The Centers for Disease Control offers many tips for mold cleanup. Remember that the mold will very likely return unless you eliminate the underlying problems that caused it.

Professional Mold Removal
If your mold problem is severe you will likely need the help of a mold remediation company, someone who specializes in mold removal.

Before You Buy a Home
In the past, air quality testing was ordered primarily to detect radon gas, but mold spore tests are becoming more common. Your home inspector might not perform mold tests, but can probably help you find someone who does. In my area mold testing costs between $300-$500 dollars.

If mold is in the air, find out where it's coming from. Mold should be removed and repairs should be made to ensure it won't come back. Talk to your real estate agent or to an attorney to determine if a special contingency should be inserted in the contract that will allow you to back out of the deal if toxic mold or other molds are detected and cannot be thoroughly eliminated. Many standard forms used by real estate agents include the option of a mold contingency.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Covered Patio Decorating Ideas - The Home Depot

Caitlin of Desert Domicile explains how she turned her covered patio into a cabana-inspired outdoor living room for The Home Depot's Patio Style Challenge:

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Easy Curb Appeal Ideas - The Home Depot

Caitlin of Desert Domicile came up with these easy curb appeal ideas for The Home Depot's Patio Style Challenge:

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Color Advice from Designer Patrick Hamilton

Patrick's passion for color and interior design inspires his clients to try colors they never would have before. He knows that color can greatly improve a space, but he also understands the fear of choosing a color you don't love. His favorite solution? The Valspar Love Your Color Guarantee*.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Molding Profiles, Patio Repair, Stripping Wallpaper | Season 3, Episode 16

General contractor Tom Silva shows host Kevin O'Connor a few ways to recreate different moulding profiles. Then, landscape contractor Roger Cook heads to Skokie, Illinois to help a homeowner with a sinking brick patio. Tom and Roger are joined by plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey and host Kevin O'Connor to guess "What is it?" Painting contractor Jim Clark demonstrates a new way to strip wallpaper.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

How to Choose a Manufactured Home

Manufactured homes no longer have to be the simple, rectangular, boxy trailer homes of the past. Depending on the size of your home site, you can choose from single-section or multi-section designs. Homes range in size from 900 to 2,500 square feet, and can be customized to meet your needs and preferences. 
What features are available?
The interior design of your home can include many of the custom features available in a conventional home. Because most manufacturers use computer-assisted design, you'll have flexibility in choosing variations of floor plans and décor. You can also choose from a variety of exterior designs, depending on your taste and budget. Exterior siding comes in an array of colors and materials, including metal, vinyl, wood and cementitious sidings, which are virtually fireproof. Awnings, enclosures around the crawlspace, patio covers, decks and steps also are available.
How much can I expect to pay for a home?
Depending on the size, floor plans and any custom features, a new home can cost anywhere from $15,000 to more than $100,000. This price doesn't include land.

What financing options are available?
Your retailer usually can provide information about financing. You can also check with lenders in your area. Just as there are choices when you buy a site-built home, there are a variety of financing options when you buy a manufactured home. Down payments and loan terms are similar to conventional loans (5% to 10% of the manufactured home's sales price), and loan terms from 15 to 30 years. Most lenders offer fixed- and variable-rate loans, and most have programs that allow you to "buy the rate down." If you own or plan to purchase the land where you will place your home, traditional mortgage financing can often be arranged.

What other costs can I expect to pay?
While your mortgage payment may be your biggest expense, you'll have other regular and periodic payments which will vary with your circumstances. Regular expenses may include utilities, property taxes, land rental fees, insurance, routine maintenance, and other service fees, such as water and sewer. Today's manufactured homes are built to meet new national energy standards set by HUD. The energy-conserving features found in manufactured homes help reduce monthly energy costs.

How much maintenance will my home need?
Your homeowner's manual outlines maintenance requirements, and it's important that you follow them. Failure to follow them could void your warranty, as well as erode the value and shorten the lifespan of your home. Additional maintenance, systems and safety information can be provided by an InterNACHI inspector during your next scheduled inspection.

What warranty coverage is offered on the home, its transportation and installation?
All manufacturers offer a written warranty which should cover:
  • structural workmanship;
  • factory-installed plumbing, heating and electrical systems; 
  • factory-installed appliances, which also may be covered by separate warranty; and 
  • appliance manufacturer warranties.
There are important differences among warranties. For example, manufacturer warranties usually do not cover installation (also called "set-up") and transportation of the home, although you may be able to get this coverage through the retailer or installation contractor. Although you may never need such warranty services, it's a good idea to check the coverage on any warranties offered before you buy.
InterNACHI-certified home inspectors know where to look for defective work. Whether you’re buying an existing home or considering a new home, allow the inspector to use his/her special knowledge to help protect you by finding defects while the home is still under warranty, and before they cause damage or injury to you or your family.

Where can I locate my home?
Many homes are placed on privately-owned property. If this option appeals to you, find out about zoning laws, restrictive covenants, and utility connections. Your retailer can give you more information. Another option is to place your home in a land-lease community specifically designed for manufactured homes. Here, you own the home but lease the land. Placing your home in a land-lease community involves fewer siting considerations, such as utility connections. A third option is buying the home and land together in a planned subdivision where siting issues are handled by the developer.

May I move my home?
Yes, but it's not a common scenario. The transportation of a home can place considerable stress on its structure and components. Nevertheless, if you do plan to move your home in the future, make sure you check with the appropriate state authorities about transportation and zoning regulations. States have restrictions on weight, size and width that may prevent you from moving your home. If you relocate, make sure you use a professional transporter; never try to move the home yourself. It's also important to check the climate zone maps for your home. These maps tell you the wind, snow and thermal zones for which your home was constructed. Use them to determine whether your home is suitable for the new location you’re considering.

The actual overall costs connected with moving are another consideration. In addition to transport expenses, which include licensing fees to take your home through a state, you'll have to pay for a new foundation, installation, and utility hook-ups.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Gorgeous Low Maintenance Backyard Makeover - The Home Depot

See how Caitlin of Desert Domicile turned her yard into a beautiful low maintenance outdoor space for The Home Depot's Patio Style Challenge: