Tips for Homeowners


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.


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.


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.


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.


A Quoin for Your Thoughts?

A Quoin for Your Thoughts?

Have you ever noticed those masonry blocks that appear on some buildings’ corners? We see them a lot, especially with some older, more stately places that we work on. Those block things actually have a name—they’re called quoins, which is pronounced coins. Quoin is a French word that just means corner. Sounds fancy though!

There was a time when those blocks were functional and provided walls with strength and stability. They were also used as decorative features that could add some panache to a corner or give the illusion of strength. Building technology has improved to the point that they’re no longer necessary for the structural support. Today quoins are pretty much used as a way to add visual emphasis or contrast. Quoins are usually uniformly cut blocks (or imitation blocks that are cast) that alternate evenly between long and short lengths, though sometimes they’re all square or some other variation.

Quoins were originally popular in Europe in various incarnations. They can be seen in ancient European buildings, including in windows to add strength, and was especially favorable in the 1600s England and France—so the French term makes sense. The look found its way to the United States in the 1800s when we were a new country and our architectural styles were heavily influenced by Europe. We still see them today, especially with European-style houses that are popular these days.


Landscaping for Four-legged Family Members

When you move into your dream home, chances are you’ve also taken your pets into consideration before signing on the dotted line. If you have a dog, your yard is probably a pretty important part of selecting a house. Some people call landscaping with pets in mind “petscaping” or “dogscaping” but the fancy names don’t mean you have to do anything complicated. Making a few easy adjustments to your backyard with your pooch in mind can make everyone a little happier. Here are just a few suggestions to get you started.

A Place to do their Business

Homeowners often complain that they spend a lot of time watering their lawns only to have dog urine make brown dead patches. That’s the ammonia in the urine and, really, it’s not like the dog can help it. We all have to answer to Mother Nature. But you can easily “spot train” a dog to go in a designated place, so long as it’s clean and comfortable on their paws.

A Place to Run

Many dogs have an instinct to “patrol” the yard and protect it. (Of course, some dogs just need to run and burn off energy!) It’s a sweet gesture but some dogs are so diligent that they wear “tracks” around the yard where they like to run. Keep in mind that by nature dogs are territorial and pack animals so they innately want to protect their homes and their packs—that would be you. Trying to fight or curb a dog’s natural instincts usually just leads to frustration. It’s much easier to incorporate their needs into the landscape and have it look good. To create a running area or track, watch for the areas where dogs like to run and turn them into paths with surfaces like decomposed granite, mulch or pavers. Without any sort of surface the soil can get worn down and that’s a bummer.

Digging Pit

Many dogs love to dig so if you have pooches that like to get down and dirty, do them and yourself a favor and provide a digging pit. You can easily train them where they are welcome to dig or you can go an extra step and make them an area. Dig a couple of feet down and place things like sturdy toys and chews in the hole for them to discover. Reward them so they know they’re allowed to dig in “their” spot and keep replenishing the goodies so it’s always fun for them. If there is an area you don’t want them digging in, placing smooth rocks over the area can help discourage them. Or you can even bury the rocks a little bit so that when they start to dig and hit the rocks, they can go no further. (Please do not use anything that a dog can catch its nails on or possibly injure itself.)


All dogs need adequate fencing to keep them safe and inside your yard. Unfortunately, some dogs love adventure and are prone to hop fences. To help keep dogs from escaping, consider an extra tall fence that helps discourage jumpers and climbers. Similarly, keep the bottom of the fence secure and make sure the foundation is deep so they can’t dig out from underneath. Anything that they can use as a springboard, such as picnic tables or lawn chairs, should also stay far, far away from fencing. Dogs are clever and it’s amazing what they can come up with when it comes to bolting out of a yard.

Swimming Pools

Safety fences around swimming pools have become popular in the last couple of decades and for good reason—they help keep children safe. But they can also keep dogs safe! Dogs can get tired when swimming, have trouble climbing out of a pool or even fall in unexpectedly. When supervision isn’t available, a secure gate can add an extra layer of security. Also, remember that not all dogs know how to swim. Please be very, very careful if your dog shows interest in swimming.

Organic Pesticides

Unlike humans, dogs walk around their yards without shoes, which means their feet can pick up whatever is on the ground. At some point, of course, dogs clean themselves and lick their paws. To keep lawns green and healthy without sacrificing pet safety, try topdressing with topsoil, grasscycling or using organic fertilizer. Because fertilizers need some time to dissolve, irrigate immediately.

For Older or Special Needs Dogs

Dogs age like humans do, which means mobility might be hindered as they get older. Similarly, some dogs require wheelchairs or have medical issues, such as hip dysplasia. A flat, smooth walking surface is best for these dogs.

You don’t need to be a master gardener to landscaper to create a backyard oasis for your dogs. Just some essentials and you are good to go!

Dogscaping basics:




Space to exercise

Potty area

Access to clean water