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Tips for Homeowners

2
May

Looking Out for Water Damage

We got a lot of rain last winter, which is great because we’ve needed it for long! Our drought is getting better, but a lot of homes are suddenly seeing the signs of water damage.

Water leaks are something everyone needs to keep a lookout for—homeowners, renters, apartment dwellers. Water can impact any structure. Because our weather has been so dry, potential water leaks have been allowed to hide for a long time—in some cases, years. Once water gets into a structure, it can go anywhere.

Whether you’re looking for a place to buy or you’re already “at home,” here are a few signs of water leakage.

Stains on walls and/or ceilings:

They can be any size and they look pretty much like you think they would. If you see discolored blotches, it’s a sign that water is saturating the boards, plaster or drywall.

Peeling or bubbling paint/wallpaper:

When a wall or ceiling is saturated with water, paint and wallpaper no longer stick to their surface. As a result, they start to bubble or peel.

Sagging ceilings and distorted walls:

Water is heavy and weighs down anything it saturates, including drywall and plaster. This causes warping and buckling, which is especially dangerous if the ceiling falls in.

Mold:

This one can be obvious, like when you see blotches or fuzzy growth. Sometimes mold simply looks like dirt or discoloration. Other times it’s not as obvious. Unusual smells could indicate mold spores. Be aware that mold might also cause cold- or allergy-like symptoms for the people living in the home, such as coughing, sneezing, irritated eyes, itchy skin or asthma.

 

Floors: There is a saying that water seeks its lowest level and that’s true. No matter where a leak starts, it will eventually start trying to make its way downward. This is can cause damage to floors and subfloors, which will likely need repairing.

Baseboards: When wood gets wet, it swells. When this happens in baseboards or trim, it can actually pull away from walls.

Darkening grout: Grout can turn color when if there is a leak nearby. Sometimes it’s just dirt, but look into it just in case.

Odors: A lot of older buildings have that musty smell and leaking water is often to blame. Stagnating water allows mold and bacterial growth, which smells.

If you see you signs of water leaks, it’s best to get it checked out right away. If there really is a leak caused by rain or pipes, it won’t get better on its own. A professional can help you get your home back into top shape so that it’s sturdy, secure and safe.

27
Apr

Is Open Concept Right for You?

When you work with vintage homes, like we do, we come across a lot of old school closed kitchens. These were built when life was a little more formal than we think of it today. For the last 20 or 25 years, a lot of people are deciding that an open-concept kitchen better fits a modern lifestyle. You know why? They can be pretty great!

Open concept kitchens are famous for many things—allowing light to flow through a house, watching the kids as they play and enabling people to hang out when entertaining. These are definite bonuses for some families and houses.

But we also see a lot of reasons to keep the original structure of a closed kitchen. And believe it or not, a lot of people are realizing they prefer the separation from the rest of the house when cooking.

Before buying an old home and tearing down the walls between the kitchen and living areas, take some time to decide what works for you. Here are some things to consider when it comes open concept versus closed kitchens.

 

Storage: When you remove walls, you’re also eliminating storage. That can mean cupboards, pantry space and even countertops where you place appliances and prep food. Without those spaces, do you have enough storage and prep areas?

Costs: Turning a home into open concept isn’t just about removing a wall or two. It also includes plumbing, electrical work, rearranging the large appliances like stoves and refrigerators, and moving cupboards. Oftentimes people choose this time to completely remodel everything and kitchens can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Depending of the extent of the work, you may have to hire an architect, a designer, a contractor and a construction crew. Another thing to keep in mind when talking to professionals about home remodels is if they have your best interest and budget at heart. Or are they just trying to sell you on products and services because let’s be honest—this is how they make money. There are many great professionals who will work within your budget and treat you and your wallet with respect. But like any industry, be careful of who you work with.

Entertaining: We hear this one a lot. “We like to have people over and I want to be able to talk with my guests!” That’s understandable but it doesn’t work for everyone. Some people love chopping veggies and prepping chips and dips while chatting with everyone in the kitchen. But others have trouble multitasking or simply want to concentrate while preparing large meals, like on Thanksgiving. Sometimes guests are more hindrance in these instances. We also know people who like to surprise guests with what they cooked or want a more formal dining experience. It’s different for everyone. In this case, take an honest look at how often you entertain and what floor plan provides the best functionality for daily use.

Privacy: This applies to both entertaining and a daily routine. When you have an open floor plan anyone who drops by can see your dishes sitting in the sink, the mess from lunch you haven’t cleaned up or your pots boiling over. The same goes for entertaining. While it may seem fun in theory to have friends hanging out with you when you’re cooking, even small meals or snacks can make a mess. That includes dirty pots, pans, dishes and utensils—that are now fully on display as people trying to eat.

Odors: Sometimes a good scent wafting through the air is the best invitation to dinner! But other times it’s just annoying for those in the house. Is this something that you want on a daily basis?

Supervising children: One of the biggest concerns people have is making sure their children are safe. Fair enough. We have three small boys so we understand this one. There are a couple of things to consider though. How old are your kids? How long will they need to be supervised and is it worth the cost to reconfigure a house if they only need supervision for a couple of years? Will they be safe in the next room when you can pop your head in whenever you need? And this leads us to …

Noise: When you’re concentrating on cooking, will the noise of the kids playing or watching TV disturb you? Or will your cooking and clanking around the kitchen bug them? This also goes for others in the house, such as teenagers or adults. And it goes for entertaining as well. If your guests are drinking wine and trying to chat with each other, will the noise put a damper on their conversation, which is usually the highlight of a good dinner party.

Architectural integrity: We love historic homes and buildings! If you have a vintage house, consider whether or not the changes look right and fit into the home’s décor and structure. Everything needs to be updated sometimes, but we’ve walked into houses where modern “remodeling” looks out of place or downright jarring. For those of us who love vintage charm, modernization can kill some very cool character. When you remodel a property with a distinctive or historical look, if you don’t stick to it the updates simply don’t look right. And this is something no one ever talks about: That new modern kitchen will be out of style in a few years anyway. Now you’re stuck with an architecturally ill-suited kitchen that will only need remodeling in a few years anyway. Keeping a unique or distinctive look of a kitchen never goes out of style.

What’s Right for You? Every family and home is unique. Ignore trends when it comes making big, permanent changes to your house. Think about what functions best for you on a daily basis to make your house as happy and efficient as possible. Also think about what your needs will be in the future. We don’t want to suggest something that doesn’t work for your family or make you feel like you’ve been strong-armed into anything you don’t want. Just the opposite! Hopefully, this list helps serve as a guide before making serious commitments of time, effort and money.

25
Apr

Lights! Windows! Action!

 

We never noticed this until someone from the East Coast pointed this out: In California we use Christmas lights all year round. That’s not counting when we forget to take down your house lights outside. We’re just festive people.

But it got us to thinking—lights are fun and really can be used all year long no matter where you live. You can use any window but if you happen to have a large picture window, so much the better. String up some indoor lights so they dangle in front of your window. There are lights actually made for this, so they should be easy to find. Plug in and voila! You have a fun accent.

If you don’t want to bother turning them on and off every night, there is an easy solution to that, too. Hang up lights in your window and then hook up a timer. They go on by themselves every night without even thinking about it. As the sun sets, suddenly there are twinkling lights in the living room.

29
Aug

Old Houses. Old Plumbing.

No one wants to think about it. It’s a pain. But sooner or later every house has to replace the plumbing. We see this a lot in older homes. Did we mention plumbing problems are a pain? We feel you.

Leaking pipes can cause structural and floor damage. Water also causes mold and mildew growth. Not only is all that expensive to fix—it’s unhealthy.

There’s also more than just plumbing wearing out. Houses built before 1986 likely have lead pipes. Lead has been used in plumbing forever, probably because it’s so durable. The problem is that the lead can seep into the water and that’s not great for drinking.

In the 1960s, galvanized and copper pipes became popular. Then in the 1970s plastic pipes starting getting more common. Turns out those plastic pipes didn’t last very long because they became brittle and would break.

Copper pipes are pretty durable and still in use. Copper might be an option when it comes to time to update your house’s plumbing.

Galvanized pipes are actually covered with a protective layer of zinc. The zinc erodes over time, causing corrosion to build up inside the pipes. Clogged pipes cause lousy water pressure and poor quality. They can cause water discoloration and sometimes lead because has built up over the years.

Even in homes that have had lead removed, rusted galvanized pipes have accumulated deep layers of iron and lead that are released in water.

Before purchasing a home, have a trusted plumber inspect all the pipes to see what kind of condition they’re in. They may very well need replacing in the immediate or near future, which creates an added expense. Keep some money saved up to take care of the plumbing when it finally comes up—you’ll be so happy you did.

22
Jul

Older Homes and Asbestos

Older Homes and Asbestos

One of the fun things about watching home renovation shows on television is the demolition. The more dramatically someone swings a sledgehammer, the better the viewing. And make no mistake—demo can be fun! But before you start smashing everything up, there are some things to remember about stirring up the ghosts of a house’s past.

Unless your house was built after the mid-1980s or so, the chances of asbestos turning up somewhere in your house is pretty likely. The older your house, the bigger the chances your house has it somewhere. You’ll want to have your house tested for it and if it turns up, you’ll need to call a licensed and experienced professional to remove it.

So what is asbestos? Asbestos is six naturally occurring fibers that can be separated into threads. These fibers seemed like magic for a long time because they are strong, fire-resistant and do not conduct electricity.

The Problem

The problem is that it’s also toxic and linked to cancer. And yet it was in almost everything, dating back to the ancient Roman buildings. Here in the U.S., asbestos use increased dramatically during the post-war manufacturing boom. Asbestos is frequently associated with insulation, but it goes beyond that. It was everywhere—roofing, cement, plastics, floor and ceiling tiles, paints, wall panels, window putty, stucco, adhesives, vinyl sheet flooring. And on and on. It wasn’t just housing either. Shipyards, schools, offices. You get the idea.

When you start tearing apart a house without removing asbestos, those fibers can break free from where they’ve been hiding and become airborne. Once wafting around in the air, we breathe it in and it sticks to our lungs, causing inflammation.

Before you hit the panic button, here’s something to remember: asbestos products in good condition can usually be left alone because they won’t bother you. The problem arises when the products begin showing signs of deterioration or are ripped out improperly. Or, say, it’s time to change out the insulation.

As long as you take proper precautions, like hiring professionals for testing and removal, you’ll be okay. A little common sense and a good plan before redoing your older home can save a lot of time, effort and your health.