Home Reviews

Avoid being a real estate loser

How Homeowners Can Avoid Being Real Estate Losers

A strategy for maximizing the value of your home…and enjoying it more too!

If you’re thinking about selling your home and wondering what you should do to fix it up, I’m afraid I have bad news.  It may already be too late.  I hate to tell you that you are about to lose time, money, and any enjoyment the sprucing up of your home would have brought you.

It’s true, even if you rake in a ton of equity from appreciation, you are still losing out because you will not be getting anywhere near what you could and should have. The reason is simple and it’s a lesson that most homeowners learn too late.

The more marketable your home is kept, the more value it has.

Here’s the secret: Even if you do not intend to sell your home…having the ability to market it quickly makes it more valuable. In other words, the faster it can sell, the more it is worth.

Your home is not a “liquid” asset and getting money from one is not like cashing a check at the bank. Selling a home is complicated and takes time…and time is money.  Once you have decided to sell, you will need to hire a realtor, have the home inspected, perhaps fix it up, set a price, advertise, market, hold open house, entertain offers, open escrow, allow buyer inspections, repair problems, negotiate the price further and hopefully the buyer can secure their loan and finally, actually close the sale. All this can take months even if your home is in perfect condition…and it probably is not.

Today’s home buyers want homes that are in good, and preferably excellent condition. Fixer-uppers are not desirable and will be avoided or heavily discounted at best. If your home needs work the selling process will take longer, and there will always be more work than you expect.

Your home has to be exceptional as it will be competing with others for buyers and these days home shoppers are very sophisticated, more demanding and much less handy than in the past.  Buyers will be hiring professional inspectors who will pick your home apart if it is not in good shape. Splashing a little black paint on the front door and replanting a few dead shrubs is not going to cut it if you really want to get top dollar. And you do!


Waiting around till the last minute to fix up your home for sale is the worst possible strategy.


don't be a real estate loser

Bottom line, having your home ready to sell at any moment makes it more valuable. Conversely, waiting around till the last minute to fix up your home for sale is the absolute worst possible strategy.

“Fixing up” will cost more than you think. It will also take longer than you want, and as a final insult, you will not get to enjoy the benefits from any of the improvements. Those will go to the lucky buyer.

Forget about enjoying the new paint, carpet, water heater, cooktop, oven and shower etc. …you waited too late.

Here’s my tip. The way YOU can get maximum value from your home is to do something almost no homeowner ever does…start planning for the eventual sale the minute you take ownership.

With my strategy, you can avoid falling into this money losing trap while enjoying a nicer home too, but you need to start now.   This is what I call the “live like royalty” strategy. Keeping your home in palace-like condition all the time.

Start living better!

And here’s the really good part.  In order to make your home more valuable you must start living better.  Yes, you have permission.  You must stop delaying repairs, stop avoiding replacing those aged appliances, stop deferring maintenance and start enjoying your home more while keeping it at top value at the same time. It means everything about the home is maintained proactively and kept in excellent condition. The way it must be to sell. And you get to enjoy living in it that way!

Why don’t most homeowners do this? Good question.  Many can barely afford to buy the home and perhaps do not have the resources to care for it. Some simply do not know how. Some have no time. Others are just misinformed and think that this big expensive home will never wear out.

It will.

I’m sure there are other reasons why homeowners don’t do this, and I am trying hard to inform them otherwise… but seriously who cares? As long as you know better… your home will be more valuable and more fun to live in… and that is what matters.

If you have $500,000 in cash, the best way to keep it from drifting away is to put it in a bank vault. Unfortunately, you can’t put your home in a vault, so the best way to maintain its value is to keep it in perfect condition… through a smart Stewardship strategy from HPS.

Want to know more?  Keep reading this website or go to www.homepreservation.com and learn how they can do it all for you. This year HPS is celebrating 25 years of service to Silicon Valley’s finest homes and smartest homeowners.

 

How fast does a new home deteriorate?

The answer is much faster than you think!

Your new home needs maintenance
Welcome to your new home! Now get to work…

A brand, new home is truly a wonderful thing. It’s all yours! No other human has ever lived there. Everything from the kitchen to the garage is fresh and clean and shiny. Doors and windows work smoothly, and the paint is still clean and free of marks. Even the cabinets are empty and waiting for your things to arrive.

False security: New homes need maintenance too!

Along with a fresh smell, the new house also brings to the new owners a fresh feeling of confidence and security. Like a new car. You are certain nothing can go wrong now. After all, everything around you is new. And it has a warranty. Right?

Actually no!  This line of thinking is a big mistake.

Deterioration starts early

Your new home is largely an organic entity, so even before it was completed things were starting to go south.  Wood was beginning to lose moisture and shrink. Some timbers were beginning to twist or crack. More than a few bugs, including termites and other organisms were already finding a home in your new structure.

How do I know that? I know these things because this is my business. I witness these goings-on all the time. But rather than lecture you with anecdotal truths, I’ve decided instead to document and report the deterioration of my own “new home”. A kind of case study in attrition and chaos theory.

A case study 

To document how even a new home needs maintenance, I’ll perform regular inspections and record all the things that I find going wrong. I’ll then report them to you by posting them on this website. I’ll include images and even tell you the things that went right. In addition, I’ll also report on why it happened, describe the various repairs needed and report the cost in both time and money.

We finished our new custom home in October 2017.  Me, my wife, and our dog Bella moved in just in time to have our first Thanksgiving dinner in the home. We were ecstatic to say the least… especially after two years of planning and construction.

At this point, I think some context about the construction of my home is important.  First, I built my house with durability in mind. I hired the best contractor and designer in the area. They in turn hired and supervised the best support team and subcontractors. We also used top quality materials. Not exotic materials, just top quality. Then we carefully selected where to use them to maximize durability and ease of maintenance.

Quality and durability

 Everyone on our build team did their best to produce a home that would last for ages. And the completed home is a jewel. It has won a number of awards for excellence including the Peoples Choice and Best Home awards from its entry into the home builders show in 2018. It also won an award for the best driveway paving in the state of Oregon for 2018.

I think you will be as surprised as I have been at how many things have needed attention despite all the planning and effort. Some fails were quite major and expensive. Also notable is that the first twenty six items all occurred in the first 22 months that we lived in the home. I think it will be an interesting study.

Follow along

If you are already signed up with www.homepreservationmanual.comto receive our checklists or newsletters you will get automatic notifications as more items are found. Please sign in if you have not done so. Or simply check back often to see how things are going! 

…and DON’T ignore your home every. Even a brand new home needs maintenance!

Chronology of issues:

Move In

October 15, 2017

Move In

Inspection discovers a stucco crack

January 15, 2018

Inspection discovers a stucco crack

The first thing to fail was a large 6’ long horizontal crack in the stucco on the front of the home. We reviewed construction photos and found no reason for the crack. The contractor removed the entire area of stucco and redid the work. It has been fine since. N/C

Roof protection tape

January 25, 2018

Roof protection tape

New metal roofing comes with a blue protective plastic coat to keep it from scratching during installation. By the time the material for the barn was installed it had been sitting for nearly a year. When the clean-up crew tried to remove the protection, it would not come off.  Half of the barn roof was replaced N/C

Inspection discovers a failed IGU

March 14, 2018

Inspection discovers a failed IGU

During the first winter we discovered that the insulated glazing unit (IGU) of the center kitchen window had failed. Pella replaced the unit at no charge.

Inspection discovers the main line from septic tank to leach field has failed

April 24, 2018

Line appears to have had a weak glue joint in the line. This would not have been found without an inspection that noted the excessive moisture on the ground. Original contractor makes repair at no charge.

Change air filters

April 24, 2018

Scheduled change of filters 2x/year for two furnace air-handlers. Cost: ½ man hour plus $75 for four filters.

Housekeeper reports problem with vacuum hose:

June 15, 2018

Housekeeper reports problem with vacuum hose:

Hose will not retract into the wall as designed. Turns out this was caused by housekeeper not understanding how to work the system properly. Subcontractor trains housekeeper and makes repair at no charge.

Install power shades to prevent sun damage

June 19, 2018

Install power shades to prevent sun damage

Large west facing windows collect too much heat in the afternoons. Installing electrically operated shades cut the heat by 80%. Cost $3600

Window cleaning difficulty

June 20, 2018

Window cleaners report that high windows require scaffold to clean safely. We strike a deal with the window washing firm to clean/dust/inspect the entire upper ceiling area (exposed beams, large fan, window-sills, etc.) at same time that windows are cleaned in order to get full use from the scaffold cost. Upper reaches of the home would not otherwise get needed attention. The first inspection reveals peeling paint, spider nests and webs and heavy accumulations of dust. The peeling paint was touched up by original contractor at no charge. Cost

Change water and air filters

October 24, 2018

Scheduled change of air filters 2x/year, and water filters 1x/year. Cost: 1.5 man hours and $251 for filters (one of our water filters is expensive)

Inspection finds batteries missing in the fireplaces

February 26, 2019

Inspection finds batteries missing in the fireplaces

An extended power outage left the house without heat. Attempts to start the fireplaces failed and it was discovered that the back-up batteries had not been installed. Cost: ½ hour labor plus eight AA batteries $6.

Snow Damage

February 27, 2019

Snow Damage

Inspection finds snow collapsed a tree onto the wood fence shattering a post and breaking four redwood fence boards. New boards were installed by homeowner. Cost: 3 man hours and $100 fence rail material

Snow bends the gutters

March 3, 2019

Unusually heavy snowfall had accumulated on the roof for a week. As it melted and slid off, parts of the perimeter roof gutters were damaged. This has not yet been repaired.

Inspection reveals that snow/cold has killed three cacti in the landscape

April 15, 2019

These will not be replaced as we will have cold weather again and feel this particular  plant would not hold up well.

Inspection finds that the main barn sliding door is stuck

April 15, 2019

Inspection finds that the main barn sliding door is stuck

Homeowner adjusted the door hardware and to prevent dragging and door works fine. Cost: 2 hours labor

inspection finds that one of the window frames in the kitchen is delamination on the exterior

April 17, 2019

We reported this to our contractor who determined it to be a factory defect.  The window manufacturer has agreed to repair. Unfortunately the window is a small cost as the window will need to be ordered (six weeks), the old window must be carefully removed and the new window installed with patching to blend into existing finishes. This is no easy job as the existing

Change air filters

April 24, 2019

Scheduled change of filters 2x/year for two furnace air-handlers. Cost: ½ man hour plus $75 for four filters.

Window cleaning firm finds spiders up high in beams on both interior and exterior

June 15, 2019

Window cleaning firm finds spiders up high in beams on both interior and exterior

These are difficult to see or clean from below. Contractor agrees to clean and dispense a spider insecticide. Cost: $150

Inspection finds that hall closet shelves have collapsed

June 30, 2019

The pins holding an upper shelf came out of their pockets and allowed the top shelf to fall onto the shelf below starting a chain reaction. There was nothing stored in the closet yet and no damage was done. Contractor has agreed to repair at no cost.

Inspection discovers that the stain has failed at entry exterior wood beams structure

June 30, 2019

Inspection discovers that the stain has failed at entry exterior wood beams structure

This area takes full sun most of the day. The beams are equipped with metal top shields to prevent rot and damage from above. Failed stain means the expensive wood material is susceptible to deteriorating sun and rain damage. The entry beams were recoated with several coats of matching stain. Cost: $3500

Inspection discovers that the dead cactus reported earlier has come back to life and is sporting new growth!

June 30, 2019

Inspection discovers that the dead cactus reported earlier has come back to life and is sporting new growth!

Inspection reveals that an LED downlight had quit working in the entry beam system

June 30, 2019

This has yet to be replaced. We estimate an hour of electrician time and a new fixture approx. $250

Dog has accident on carpet

July 13, 2019

Dog has accident on carpet

Thankfully it was a throw rug and we were able to take it outside and wash it down!

Inspection revealed that the runs for the three horse stalls are not draining properly

July 15, 2019

Inspection revealed that the runs for the three horse stalls are not draining properly

An analysis of the material shows us that the wrong type sand was used. We had specified a large grain, washed, river sand. The material delivered was a crushed, softer material that breaks down quickly under horse pressure and clogs up the drain system.  We do not know who caused the mistake. The sand was removed and replaced with proper material.  Cost: $4200

Inspection finds that mites have killed a small tree planted a year earlier as part of the landscape project

August 16, 2019

Inspection finds that mites have killed a small tree planted a year earlier as part of the landscape project

The tree was removed immediately to prevent spread of the mites. A new tree will be found for the spot. Cost: Labor 1.5 hours plus tree budget of $250.

Inspection finds that the finish has failed on half dozen exterior sconce lights

August 16, 2019

Inspection finds that the finish has failed on half dozen exterior sconce lights

These are out of warranty and will need to be replaced. Cost: $1200

Inspection reveals that the horses have chewed on some posts in their stall runs

August 16, 2019

Note: All posts and wood surfaces have been protected by aluminum angle iron. In these areas the clever horse has found a way to get to the back side of two unprotected areas.  A long reach. The repair is minor and will leave as is in honor of the great effort expended to get to this exposed wood.

Inspection notes that caulking has failed along trim areas at the barn siding above and below the large side windows

August 16, 2019

Inspection notes that caulking has failed along trim areas at the barn siding above and below the large side windows

If not found early this is an area that could develop rot. Any failed caulking must be replaced immediately while the weather is hot and dry. Cost: 2 hrs labor and $45 material.

Inspection shows that the paint/stain on the big rear patio beams has failed just as it did earlier on the front beams

August 16, 2019

These are under a roof protection so they have lasted longer than the front entry stain, but will still need to be done soon.

Refinish covered patio beams

September 16, 2019

Refinish covered patio beams

These beams are large and require scaffold to work on safely, The cost to refinish all four was about $2500. they now look like new again and the wood was much less porous this time.

Siding joints look bad

October 18, 2019

Siding joints look bad

After a couple years we started to notice the caulking joints between the siding members starting to look bad.  Turns out the contractor did not do a good job cleaning the joints when they were installed.  Cost to repair $700

Ring Doorbell Dies

April 13, 2020

Ring Doorbell Dies

Ring doorbells are designed to work wirelessly using a rechargeable battery for power. That’s great except when the battery dies you have to remove the doorbell and recharge it. To get around that problem, you can run the normal bell wires from the door button location to a transformer in order to keep the battery charged all the time. We have now learned that a normal doorbell transformer will not work because they only put out 12-18 volts. Use only a 24vAC transformer. Ring sells transformers for this but many hardware stores do

First cracks appear in concrete walks

May 15, 2020

First cracks appear in concrete walks

It took two years, but the first cracks finally arrived. It’s a very small “hairline” crack and considering there is over 10,000 square feet of slab, I consider this miraculous. Bravo to our concrete contractor!

Door gaskets deteriorated

June 25, 2020

Door gaskets deteriorated

Our exterior doors have a rubberish gasket at the bottom that helps seal out the weather. The gaskets are failing now after just two and a half years. Cost to replace $600

Cement backer board

The new kid under your tile 

To say that the home building industry adapts to changes in technology a bit slowly would be a vast understatement. Professional builders have to warrant their work, and they are also concerned about their reputation. As a result, they adopt new techniques only when they are fairly certain that the change won’t end up as a call back.

cement backer board
cement backer board

By building industry standards, Cement (backer) Board came onto the scene fairly recently. The first time I recall seeing it was in the mid 90’s when it appeared on the rack at one of our lumber yards. Cement board is a combination of concrete and reinforcing fibers formed into 3-foot by 5-foot sheets. These sheets are 1/4 to ½-inch thick and are typically used as a backing board for tile installations.

Cement board can be nailed or screwed across wood or steel studs. This creates a fast, really flat substrate for vertical floor tile or attached to plywood for stone or tile kitchen counters and backsplashes. It can also be used on the exterior of buildings as a base for exterior plaster (stucco) systems and sometimes as the finish system itself.

Cement board adds impact resistance and strength to the wall surface as compared to gypsum boards. Fabricating cement board in thin sheets allows bending for curved surfaces.

Thin set tile

Before cement board came along, many bathrooms in “tract” homes or spec-builds used a tiling method called “thin-set”. When it first got started, it was crap! Thin-set eliminated the traditional mortar layer beneath the tile. This saved time and material and required less skill. Thin-set was applied directly to a water-resistant version of gypsum sheetrock called “green” board because of its greenish color.

cement backer board options
Water resistant gypsum board

 

Unfortunately, “green” board did not resist impacts well nor did it stand up as a water-proof backing to the tile. Tile cracks, caulking or mortar failure could lead to water damage and sometimes mold.

Backer board makes Thin-Set tile acceptable

As a tile backing product, Cement Board has far better long-term performance than paper-faced gypsum core products. It is concrete after all, not gypsum. As a result, it will not mildew or physically break down in the continued presence of moisture or leaks. Also, cement board provides a stronger bond and support with tiles than typical gypsum board.  Cement Board has made thin-set tiling an acceptable building practice.

cement backer board
Thin set tile diagram

Tough but not waterproof

Cement board resists water damage but is itself not waterproof. It will actually absorb moisture, but it has excellent drying properties. In areas continually exposed to water like spray from showers, a waterproofing material is required behind the sheets, Plastic waterproofing sheets can be used or perhaps a trowel-applied liquid membrane.

Weight and installation

One major disadvantage of cement board is the weight per square foot. It is approximately twice that of gypsum board, making handling by one person difficult. Cutting of cement board must also be done with carbide-tipped tools and saw blades. Due to its hardness, and brittleness, pre-drilling for fasteners is recommended. Cement board is hung with corrosion resistant screws or ring-shank nails.

Cement board has very little movement under thermal stress. Still the boards are usually installed with a slight gap at joints in shower pans, bathtubs, and each other. These joints are then filled with silicone sealant  or the manufacturer’s taping compounds before applying a finish. Joints are taped like conventional gypsum board, but with fiberglass tapes that provide additional water resistance.

Summary

Combined with a water impermeable finish, cement board is a stable, durable backing board. Cement board is slightly more expensive than water-resistant gypsum board but will certainly provide better long term value.

Your Home is Both Refuge and InvestmentThis Pandemic reminds us that home is both refuge and investment.

At HPS, we have always promoted the home as serving two valuable functions for the family. First, your home is a refuge. A trouble-free, safe, comfortable place where you and your family can retreat, reconnect and reenergize. Second, your home is a financial investment, an asset that should be protected and kept at its highest marketable value at all times.

Since most of us have been confined at home to help control the spread of this pandemic, the last seven weeks have offered a good opportunity to assess how your home is serving you. Has your home been a comfortable refuge? Do you feel the home is in its top marketable condition?

Make your home both a refuge and investment

If the answer is no to either of those questions, it is time to allow HPS to provide some more help. Here’s how we do it:

Getting the home into top marketable condition is a matter of inspecting the home, preparing a list of defects, repairs and worn out items and creating a prioritized plan to get them fixed as quickly as your budget allows. Once the repair list is fixed, our quarterly Stewardship maintenance will help to keep the home in top condition.

To turn your home into more of a refuge for you and your family requires a more personal approach. Bottom line, you should love being in your home, even after seven weeks. If you don’t, the solution is to make a list of things that you don’t like or that irritate you or make you uncomfortable. Then let HPS help you create a strategy to change those things.

It’s amazingly easy to implement change once you have developed a plan to make your home is a refuge and investment.  Just let HPS follow through with quality planning, estimates and repairs!

The last several weeks have given us all an opportunity to learn more about our home. Let’s use what we’ve learned to better care for it. Contact HPS and let us help you create and implement a plan to take better care of this most valuable family refuge… and investment.

Disinfecting sheets are helping keep us safe from Coronavirus, but do NOT flush them down the toilet!


Are disposable wipes flushable?
Disposable wipes for everyone…

You’ve truly come a long way baby. Disposable wipe products are now available for use as enhanced toilet paper, antibiotic disinfectants, leather conditioner, glass cleaner, electronic equipment dusters, make-up removers and for many other applications. But seriously are baby wipes flushable? The short answer is no. All these products are super convenient and disposable, but none of these wipes should ever be flushed.

Super TP

It’s very common now for households to have baby wipes (aka flushable wipes) available in every bathroom for babies of all ages who like things shall we say, “super-clean.” Disposable wipes are soft, moist, nice smelling and leave you feeling really fresh. Because of these things they have become very attractive. Personally, I find them surprisingly cold.  They have for many now come to serve as a super enhanced toilet paper and naturally after use, they end up in the toilet.

To flush or not to flush

Unfortunately, your sewer system does not find them as nice as you might. Don’t trust the ads and labels that scream these baby wipes are safely flushable. Wipes may in theory be successfully flushed, but in practice they are actually not. This is thanks to the rough internal surfaces and uneven joints and connections found in everyday waste piping.  This means some of the wipes, that are flushed (like tampons) will hang up in the piping and seriously clog up the works. Wipes are especially damaging to systems that rely on sewage ejector pumps.  The wipes can sometimes get tangled up in the float switch and cause the ejector to overflow.  In the worst cases they can jamb up the pump itself.

are baby wipes flushable
Cosmetic remover wipes

Non-biodegradable

Flushed wipes are not “processable” by the municipal sewage treatment plant. This is because the wipes are not biodegradable. Most are made up of a high percentage of polyester plastic that will not break down for a hundred years or more. These disposed wipes end up increasing the amount of trash just like cigarette filters, plastic caps, condoms, tampons and other debris that are routinely flushed and have to be filtered out by the treatment plant. Once removed from the sewage stream, it has to be taken to the land fill.

Chemicals

Wipes are also loaded with all kinds of chemicals. If you flush these wipes, the chemicals end up leaching into the water stream. Many of these chemicals cannot be removed during the sewage treatment.

Are baby wipes flushable?
Read the disposable wipe label?

Septic tank issues

For homes served by a septic tank system, the problem is even worse. Nothing should ever be flushed into a septic tank that will not decompose in just a few hours. Flushable wipes do not decompose. They end up in the tank and clog up the solid side and can even hinder the pumper when it is time to clean the tank. This is also why kitchen garbage disposers should be used with extreme caution if you are on a septic tank system.

So what to do?

 

If you like the super cleanliness that the wipes produce (and who wouldn’t?) good alternates include toilets equipped with Toto’s “washlette” features, or good old-fashioned bidets. The French and Japanese always seem to be ahead of us when it comes to hygiene.

If you plan to stick with the wipes, you need to provide a separate trash can to dispose them in along with the tampons and other un-biodegradable bathroom products.

are baby wipes flushable
Toto toilet with optional Washlette seat
Alternatives to disposable towelettes
Toto washlette remote control

Is your washer contaminated with mold?

Do your clothes smell terrible no matter how much you wash them or what kind of detergent you use? It’s not likely your clothes. Rather, there could be nasties in your washing machine where it’s probably growing hidden colonies of mold and bacteria.

I’m talking mainly about front-loading washing machines. These are some of the most popular models from the biggest appliance companies[1]. They can harbor a mildew called Erysiphales that makes your clothes and towels stink, and it is tough to get rid of! Because, bacteria lurks in the detergent drawer, rubber seals, and inside the washer drum itself. 

Front load washing machine gasket
Looks clean right? Wrong!
Mold growing in washing machine
Hidden mold growing in washing machine

So, what is the problem with front loaders?  On top-loaders any moist air naturally rises out of the machine and it quickly air dries. But a front-loader is built around a sealed environment, so the water and the moisture stay trapped inside. It’s a very humid environment … and it’s perfect for growing mold.

In front-loader machines too, the rubber door gaskets are designed in a way that always traps moisture and lint materials. This design provides all kinds of places that are hard or impossible to clean or sanitize so inevitably grows mold.

I’ve read that some “experts” claim you just need to leave the appliance door open when not in use. Not true! Others recommend wiping down the door seals in your machine with a 10 percent bleach solution. This might work fine on areas you can see. Unfortunately, there are many folds and weep holes in the seal that make it impossible to thoroughly clean. In the worst cases you may need to replace the entire door seal. This is a labor-intensive task and can be expensive.

The problem is obviously difficult to cure so it is best to prevent. About the best you can do is religiously wash your washing machine once a month from the time it’s new. Then always dry the seal and leave the door open to allow air to circulate. These preventive measures are about the only ways you can keep your washing machine gunk-free and reduce your family’s exposure to mold, germs and infections.

Here’s an effective cleaning process you can follow:

  • Physically clean and remove any soap or lint build-up from the rubber gasketing all around the door. Use a rag and a cleaner that contains bleach or a 1:10 solution of bleach and water, or a 1:1 solution of vinegar and water. This is not easy because there are many folds and holes and they go all the way around the seal.
  • Fill the bleach dispenser with liquid bleach and run the empty washing machine through a cleaning cycle set to “sanitize”. If you’re sensitive to bleach, use baking soda and vinegar instead. Dilute and pour in 1/2 cup of baking soda and 2 cups of distilled white vinegar. 
  • Leave the door or lid open overnight after the cleaning cycle is complete. Make sure the interior has completely dried out before you do your next wash.

Be especially diligent about sanitizing your washer if you live with an elderly relative, a newborn, or if you have an ill family member. Also be wary of public washing machines and machines kept in humid environments such as garages or sheds, since these are the perfect environments for bacteria to thrive. 

Carefully choose wash settings on a case-by-case basis depending on how your clothing became dirty. Regular home laundering will adequately remove normal levels of grease, dirt and other soil. However, if fabrics are contaminated with blood or body fluids, the laundering process should be enhanced with disinfecting solutions such as hydrogen peroxide, bleach, or Borax, and in water that’s at least 160°F. Many newer washers have a “sanitize” setting that will bring the wash water up to these higher temperatures. 

Germs such as E. colisalmonella, and Klebsiella oxytoca can cause pneumonia, skin infections, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea, especially in people with compromised immune systems.

Odor causing bacteria will even grow on the clothing itself.  Some, like Micrococci, can give you BO. It likes to live on polyester and wool but is less likely to grow on fleece and viscose. Polyester textiles seem to be a great place to live for Micrococcus, for Enhydrobacter, and for Propionibacterium. These all play an important in creating bad odors from excreted sweat compounds. Another bacteria, Staphylococcus epidermidis grows like mad on both cotton and the polyester textiles used in popular lines of fitness clothes.

Washing machine mold
Hidden mold in your front-load washer
Washing machine mold
Washing machine mold

Want a permanent stink-free solution?  You can get an old fashioned, top-load washing machine. These almost never have the mold problems associated with the front-loading units. Or, there is a cheaper and even more effective germ killer people can employ to keep pathogens and nasties out of their clothes: an old fashion clothes line. One of the best germ killers is simple exposure to the sun. That way you can get rid of your dryer entirely.

Here are some clothes washing tips:

  1. Clean your washing machine: Your washer holds moisture, which leads to bacteria, mildew growth and musty-smelling clothes. Clean and sanitize it monthly.
  2. Do not overload the washer: packing your washer may actually be preventing your clothes from getting clean. Part of what helps clothes get clean is their ability to move around freely and generate friction with each other. Wash smaller loads
  3. Add less detergent: More detergent doesn’t necessarily mean a better clean. In fact, too much detergent can cause your clothes to hold onto dirt and bacteria. Read the clothing label and carefully measure out the detergent.
  4. Rotate hot/cold water settings: If you wash everything in cold water to reduce energy use and hot water bills it may not always be the best choice for getting clothes really clean. For the fabrics that can handle it, washing clothes in the highest water temperature possible can kill odor-causing bacteria and result in a better clean. Always read clothing labels to ensure fabrics are hot-water safe.
  5. Use a deodorizer: A fabric softener doesn’t neutralize odors. The slightly acidic nature of vinegar acts as a great deodorizer. Add one or two tablespoons of vinegar per load to remove odors. It will also prevent fading. 
  6. Take clothes out to dry immediately: While your clothes are sitting in a dark and damp environment, bacteria and mold are setting up shop. Move your clothes into the dryer as soon as the wash is done. If you forget and they’ve been sitting more than two hours, run the clothes through a hot rinse cycle, then immediately dry them.
  7. Hang your clothes in the sun: The UV from the sun will kill most pathogens and the fresh air will make everything smell crisp and clean.

[1] Front loaders have become popular because they claim to be more efficient and they appeal to designers trying to eliminate the space required above the top-loader machines.

The world is ready for these new products that can prevent major water leak damage.

Catastrophic damage from accidental water leaks has been a major source of anxiety for both homeowners and insurance companies. As a result, new high-tech products for monitoring water use and the prevention of leaks are finally coming on line.

Moving plumbing into the home has certainly made modern living much more convenient. But this convenience comes with a very high risk of eventual water damage. To complicate matters, plumbing is not reserved for sinks, showers and toilets anymore. All kinds of appliances are now hooked up to a water source. Refrigerators, ice makers, water dispensers, humidifiers, dryers with steam, coffee makers, steam cookers, dishwashers and clothes washers all come with water hook ups.

More water connections means more risk of leaks

Leak prevention products
Water leak from burst pipe

As more appliances are connected to water sources in your home, the risk goes up that something will go wrong. When it does, many times the leak can go unnoticed for a long period of time. A broken refrigerator fill line can spew a lot of water and cause horrendous damage overnight while you are sleeping. We have seen entire homes destroyed by leaks that went unnoticed while the occupants were away

According to the Insurance Journal, water leaks from plumbing and appliance problems account for 20% of the claims filed with insurance firms.

For years HPS has been promoting water control systems for the protection of your home. HPS was one of the first to encourage the development of moisture sensors for use at mission critical areas of the home. We are also an advocate of proactively replacing bad or aged plumbing like corroded valves, old water lines, rubber washer hoses, water heaters over 10 years old etc. We have for years been lobbying insurance companies to support homeowners who wish to be proactive in preventing leaks. Finally now, some insurance companies are offering premium discounts of up to 25% for customers who install equipment for gas and water leak prevention.

Stopping catastrophes

Although the industry is still in infancy, today we have some effective products available for all the above leak issues. Many more products are on the way. One very effective solution that has been tested now for at least three years is called the whole house water flow monitoring system.  Computer based, these “Smart” products  learn the water use patterns for your home and will shut the water main if an anomaly is detected. A company called Leaksmart makes one of these products, as does Leak Defense System or LDS.

Moen is also offering an affordable monitoring system that can detect abnormal leakage and shut down the flow. The Moen/Flo water monitoring system https://amzn.to/392YVAp comes with leak detection and an automatic shutoff valve. It is also a “smart” system as it can monitor your system right from your home via any smart phone.

Typical water leak prevention system features

  • 24/7 protection: Turn your water on/off from the app manually, or will automatically turn off the water for you to protect the home from catastrophic water damage
  • Daily testing: Proactively monitors the home’s entire water system (including behind walls and in foundations) to identify leaks as small as a drop per minute (e. g. pinhole leaks, etc. )
  • Optimized water use: The devices optimize water savings by understanding the homes water use to each home
  • Dashboard: Monitor in real time how much water you’re consuming daily and set conservation goals to encourage saving water and money
  • Retrofit to existing plumbing: Adapts to 3/4″ to 1 1/4″ pipe diameter (consult a professional)
  • Smart compatible: Alexa skills, Google Assistant and IFTTT; no smart hub or system required; requires Wi Fi connection; requires standard AC/DC power connection

These are sophisticated products that will be trusted and relied upon to prevent disasters. Professional installation by licensed plumbers is recommended. Install time is only a few hours for homes that meet the manufacturers’ installation requirements. 

But wait!  Don’t run off and start buying parts just yet. These products must be installed by qualified plumbers. To assure warranty coverage, plumbing materials should always be ordered and purchased by the installer. Warning: There are parts on sale for these products at Amazon but they are often older, early generation products that are at least 5 years out to date. Many important advancements have been made since then so skip the bargains and get the best.

Contact us at HPS if you would like further general information or info on installation.

You can also contact Caroline K. Graham at LeakSmart at (980) 205-5295, or grahamc@leaksmart.com for product specific information.

CALIFORNIA TITLE-20

AS of January 1, 2020, all General Service Lamps (home light bulbs) are subject to the 45 LUMENS PER WATT (“LPW”) requirements and any product that does not meet this standard is subject to “stop sell” restrictions prohibiting the sale within the State of California.  This means that any light bulb that does not provide at least 45 lumens per watt may no longer be sold in California.

The lamp groups below had been exempt but are now included:

  • Many decorative lamps (Torpedo and Flame tip)
  • Globes (G16.5, G25, and G30)
  • Three-way or multi-watt lamps (any)
  • Reflectors – R20, BR30, BR40 and Halogen PAR20, PAR30 and PAR38

Previously labeled as “stop sell”

  • PAR16 and MR16

What this means is that replacements for the above bulbs will only be available in LED versions.  Sometimes the color renditions of the new replacement LED’s do not match that of the existing bulbs. If you would like a uniform appearance we recommend replacing all non-conforming bulbs at once with replacement LED versions.


Ten Reasons Every Home Needs a Back-up Generator

back-up generatorAmericans use a lot of electricity. Last year in fact the total was almost four trillion kwh. That is more than 16 times greater than the electricity used in 1950. This is why a back-up generator  is becoming an important option for the modern home. 

Over the last seventy years electricity has moved from being a novel and interesting source of light, to an essential and often life supporting part of modern life. Americans are more reliant now on electricity than ever for their health, heating, cooling, refrigeration and for appliances, computers, electronics, tools, and even cars and public transportation systems.

When the power grid goes away, we are in trouble. This is why every home needs a back-up source of power. 

The ten most important reasons you should have a back-up generator:

  1. Life support: breathing machines, C-pap’s, powered wheelchairs, home dialysis and other medical devices need power either directly or through batteries that must be recharged.
  2. Water: Homes that rely on wells use electric pumps to extract and distribute water to the home.
  3. Food preservation and cooking: Without power the refrigerators and freezers in your home can only keep food from spoiling for a couple of days. If you only have an electric cooktop you will definitely want a generator or some alternative way to cook. Perhaps a propane or gas camp stove would help.
  4. Drainage: Sump pumps require electricity to move water out of low-lying areas to prevent flooding. These are especially important during heavy storms when the power is most likely to be disrupted.
  5. Sewer systems: Basement sewage ejector pumps, or septic system elevator pumps will stop working in a power outage.
  6. Communications: Your power may be out, but your phone may still work if the cell tower is on. Use a generator to keep your phone charged and internet modem working.
  7. Hot water: Gas and electric water heaters need power for circulation.
  8. Security: Security cameras and alarm systems need power.
  9. Heating systems: Most high-efficiency furnaces have electronic exhaust and fan blowers as well as igniters.
  10. Spa: During a power failure with below freezing temperatures, an electrically heated outdoor spa will actually stay warm for about three days. After that, it will quickly cool and begin to freeze around the 7th day. A generator can help keep the spa from freezing and bursting pipes.

If you own a home, you need a back-up generator! So get one, and install and use it safely. Your life may depend on it. Here’s how to select the appropriate generator for your needs.


Selecting a Generator For Your Home

Selecting a good generator for your home can be a lifesaver! If you’ve ever experienced a prolonged power outage, especially during extreme weather then you understand how dependent modern life has become on the electrical grid. When the power is gone, many things you took for granted are no longer there. And this usually happens during the harshest weather conditions. Darkness and extreme temperatures can make every minute without power uncomfortable and can actually endanger children and the elderly. Add in shock, spoiled food and lost communication, and an inconvenience can suddenly spiral into a disaster.

You may not be able to prevent the natural disasters that can take down the power grid, but help is available. It’s called an emergency generator. These are proven and practical appliances that produce back-up electricity, making your home livable until your power grid can be restored. The process of selecting and installing a generator can take time so you need to get started now.

If you think you can just go into your local hardware store when your area is already in the grips of a major power outage, you are already in trouble. You may not be able to get to an open hardware store and if you did you would find the generator isle well picked-over by the time you got there

The time to act is now, Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late! Emergency generators are for disasters, so plan to get one before the next power outage happens. Here’s how:

Determine your needs

Make a list of what appliances you cannot live without during a power outage. Which appliances and devices you’ll want to use is entirely up to you. Your list might include medical devices, refrigerators, certain lights, a source of heat, etc. Most homeowners will certainly prioritize their refrigerator to avoid food spoilage. If you are tough and resilient, you might only need a few hundred more watts to power some lights and chargers for electronics.

If you have a larger budget, there are generator systems that can keep your whole home running without skipping a beat.

See my post on why you need a generator for a good list of items you might need.

Once you have your list completed, you will need to determine your wattage requirements. Electrical loads are measured in watts. Each appliance uses a certain wattage, so as you compile your list of essential appliances, you’ll need to note the wattage of each. Some appliances will list a normal use and surge use wattage. Use the surge numbers to avoid overloading your generator. Owner’s manuals are great sources for this information. If you don’t have the manuals, you can make an estimate, by using the Department of Energy’s appliance energy calculator.

If you want a more accurate count, hire an electrician to conduct load measurements of every appliance on your list. You will certainly want to do this if you are considering a whole-house, back-up generator system. For smaller generators this is unnecessary since we will add in a fudge factor at the end to make sure your needs are fully met. You do not want to run short of power during a disaster.

Generator types:

When selecting a generator, they can be categorized in two basic types, Portable and Stand-by.

Selecting a generatorPortable generators:

The first and most common type is the portable generator. Portable generators tend to be smaller, lighter and more easily portable so that they can be delivered and operated wherever needed. Since they are portable, they must be manually connected to your electrical system when there is a power outage. You may need to have heavy-duty extension cords ready as portable generators must remain at least twenty feet away from your structure. A special connection or transfer switch may also need to be installed by an electrician in order for you to quickly connect the generator to any built-in appliances during. Portable generators normally run on gasoline or diesel so you will need to safely store enough fresh fuel (and some oil just in case) on hand to get you through the emergency.

Portable inverters:

There is a second choice available in portable generators called inverters. Inverters are much lighter and quieter than portable generators and they use the same fuel sources. Inverters are quite popular as portable power units and are often used for camping or RVing as well as for emergencies. The most powerful inverter generators only produce around 6,000 watts which is much less than the largest portable generators although they can be daisy chained together to satisfy higher wattage if needed. If you like a quieter and more versatile power unit an inverter may be worth the slightly higher cost. I personally have two Honda 2200 units for our RV that I have used several times for emergency.

Stand by:

Selecting a generatorStandby generators are the big boys. These are large heavy-duty systems that are permanently wired to your electrical panel. During a power outage these units automatically kick in and begin providing electricity. They can be designed large enough to handle an entire structure or just a few important circuits. The key function of the standby system is it is automatic. Therefore, a standby system will need to be professionally designed and installed. In addition, a fuel source must be considered that can be relied upon during the forecasted length of an emergency. Natural gas and propane are the most common fuel sources chosen for standby generators because these fuels have longer shelf lives compared to gasoline or diesel.

Extension cord safety

If you opt to use extension cords, it is important that you read information about proper cord safety. Also read the generator manual carefully to determine the exact length, gauge and plug type you’ll need for each cord. Because your generator must be at least 20 feet from your home, these cords will be very long. Major appliances like refrigerators will require special cables. There are functional and safety considerations to take into account when using extension cords. It’s a good idea to include their costs before making a final purchase decision.

Once you have set up your perfect emergency generator, you should practice using it and make a detailed plan of action for an actual emergency. This way you will know exactly what to do when an emergency arises. Remember, during a disaster you may be in shock or perhaps distracted or otherwise not thinking at your best. A good place to start is by following the advice in your owner’s manual.

Other important considerations

Some other important considerations to make when selecting a generator include the place you will store the equipment, and where to set up the portable generator for operation. Also, how and where to ground the generator, how you’ll protect the generator from the elements and where you can safely store your fuel reserves.

Most importantly, generators will require periodic maintenance. The most sophisticated standby generators make this easy by conducting automatic test runs. These tests perform diagnostics and will even send you text messages when service is required. Portable generator systems require you remember and perform a maintenance schedule. Whatever maintenance is called for, DO IT! There is nothing more useless than an emergency piece of equipment that does not work during the emergency. See safe generator operating rules.

See Part 1 in this series: 10 Reasons Every Home Needs a Back-up Generator


Moen thinks better lighting makes a better disposer… I agree!

Better lighting makes a better disposer
Moen EX Series Garbage Disposal

Every now and then someone comes up with an idea that is so cool you wonder if all the prior product engineers were just sleeping at their jobs?  This idea did not come from a kitchen designer or an architect or even a clever custom builder. The innovation came from some design genius at plumbing fixture manufacturer Moen.

Where all homes look the same

At HPS Palo Alto we have a company joke that goes: “No matter how different homes appear from the street, they all look the same under the sink.” Well thanks to Moen, that’s not true anymore. Now every homeowner can see what’s really going on under there.

The great innovation for this new disposal has nothing to do with improving the process of grinding garbage in your sink. The innovation is the addition of light. Lights on the lower motor unit, inside the cabinet… under the sink.

Better lighting makes a better disposer
Moen illuminated garbage disposal

Shedding light on a bad situation

So what’s the big deal with that? The big deal is that this new product illuminates an area that in most households is quite frankly a total wasteland. The under-sink cabinet is normally a dark, possibly smelly and damp area, stuffed with unused cleansers, old rubber gloves and an open box of rusting SOS pads. Moen is shedding light on a shabby and neglected area of most homes. I don’t think better lighting makes a better disposer, but hopefully it will lead to taking better care of under-sink areas.

If you’ve read the Home Preservation Manual’s section on disposals, you know that I am not a big fan of the way most of them have been marketed. What I love about this one is the product is less about the grinding and more about the light.  How it took so long for anyone to come up with this one is a mystery… but I’m glad it happened.

If you want to clean something up…shed some light on it. Thank you Moen! Now could you also make one for my crawlspace?

EX Series 1HP Moen Illuminated Garbage Disposal:

  • Motion sensing technology activates 6 LED lights when cabinet door is opened
  • 1 horsepower VORTEX motor has professional grade grinding power to tackle the toughest kitchen scraps
  • Universal Xpress Mount fits Moen and most existing 3-bolt mounting assemblies, including InSinkErator® brand*
  • High speed 2800 RPM VORTEX permanent magnet motor reduces jamming
  • SoundSHIELDprovides sound deadening insulation
  • 10-year limited warranty with in-home service
  • Compact design is lighter weight and frees up valuable (and visible) space under the sink
  • Continuous feed technology with stainless steel grind components
  • Compatible with properly sized septic tanks

Not only does better lighting make a better disposer, it will make you a better homeowner. Order one here:

Rain chains are destructive to your home.

Here’s why…

The roof, flashings, gutters and downspouts on your home all play different but important roles in shedding and controlling rain water off of and away from your home.

The rain shield system

The roof and flashing systems are the first lines of defense. They serve to shed the water and to keep it from penetrating into the structure by moving it downhill via gravity to the roof edges.

The gutters are the next defensive line. They capture the water as it sheds off of the lower edges of the roof. Once the water is collected, it is moved (again by gravity) through the slightly-sloped gutter to a downspout opening in the bottom.

Next, it is the downspout’s job to deliver the water downward in a safely-controlled manner either to the ground or to a drain system.

The weak link

Rain chains are used frequently on homes as a substitute for downspouts. This usually takes place in locations where a normal downspout would be ugly or just doesn’t work mechanically. The main issue I have with rain chains is they do not control the water very well.

In theory rain chains provide the water a pathway to trickle out of the gutter and then run down the length of the chain to the ground.  Unfortunately, rain very seldom happens in trickles or during nice calm, wind free days.  Usually rain happens during storms with wind blowing and water flowing.

Rain chains cause damage
Heavy duty rain chain installation at valley

In storm conditions rain chains are useless and no better than if they were not there at all. Water is usually blown all over the structure in a wide arc of destruction.  If it lands on the ground, it may end up in places you do not want it, like at the base of your foundation. I have seen a lot of damage to siding, windows doors and foundations caused by relying on rain chains.

Rain cups, the better option

An alternative, and much better solution is to utilize “Rain Cups” instead of chain. Rain cups are a vast upgrade in both looks and in how the water is controlled during its decent to the ground. You can search for Rain cups on the internet by looking for custom or decorative rain chains.

Rain chain alternative
Rain cups

Rain cups come in a vast array of decorative materials and shapes. Get large cups 3-4” in diameter or larger if your area is subject to heavy rains. Don’t get cheap versions with tiny cups. These are as worthless as chains and not worth the time to install.

Rain chains
Use appropriate sized rain cups for the application

Rain cups fit under the downspout opening in the bottom of your gutters. They normally come pre-assembled, with instructions and are fairly easy to install, but you will need a tall ladder so be careful. Anchor rain cups at the bottom so they cannot be blown around in strong winds and cause damage. Anchoring can be done simply enough with a stake or even a heavy rock placed in the bottom cup.

Summary

If you already have rain chains or are considering them for your home, I highly recommend you abandon the idea and go with a rain cup version instead. Rain cups control the water well and can be a very attractive addition to your home. They will even create a pleasant water feature during an otherwise gloomy storm if placed in a good location. Check out the video below to see some 3″ copper rain cups in action.

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