Spring Cleaning and Oily Rag Fires

Now that Spring is starting to make an appearance, many folks will be getting ready to refinish weathered outdoor decks, wood trim and furniture to look beautiful again. Be careful!  You need to know about some very real fire risks when with working oil finishes.

Fires from oily rags
Gorgeous refinished teak outdoor furniture

A while back we had a fire break out on one of our jobs in the middle of the night. Fortunately, it was confined to an exterior area where it could not affect the main property. Even so, it destroyed some tools and a wood fence and brought out the fire department. We were very lucky. If it had happened adjacent to the main structure, or if it had occurred during the dry summer months, things could have been much, much worse.

We were shocked and disturbed that such a thing could happen on one of our jobsites. We are meticulous about keeping safe working areas. Everyone on the crew is safety conscious and we have regular safety meetings. We clean-up at the end of every day.

How does this happen?

My project manager and the fire department explained to me what happened.  A painting station had been set up on the grounds outside in order to pre-finish a large quantity of IPE deck material. We had been using the station to hand apply a widely used material called IPE Oil to all sides of the deck boards. We would clean and coat the boards in the station, then transfer them to racks for drying.

Before transferring the treated boards to the drying rack, we would wipe off any excess oil with clean cotton rags. Our safety protocol was to place all used rags into a water-filled five-gallon bucket at the end of the day and seal the top before leaving. Although protocol had been followed that day, one rag apparently got left out. Turns out the questionable rag had only been used once and our employee thought it looked clean enough for continued use the next day. Wrong!

Preventive Maintenance-spontaneous combustion dangers
IPE finishing and drying racks

The rag was left on a bench next to the plastic paint station and sometime during the night it had caught fire. Once the rag was in flames it quickly spread to the plastic and that in turn caught the fence and tool box on fire. What a mess.

Spontaneous fires

The most common type of Spontaneous Combustion Fires are caused by improperly disposed of oil and stain soaked rags. As we have learned, the rags do not have to be “soaked”.

The products to be careful with are any oil-based paints, stains, teak and especially linseed oils. Varnishes, polyurethane and paint thinners are also problematic.

As I have learned the hard way, spontaneous combustion is not some interesting but freaky theory like ancient aliens. It is a real and predictable phenomenon. It WILL happen very predictably when cloth with any of the above oils on it is slowly heated to its ignition point through oxidation. This occurs over the course of only 3-6 hours.

Oxidation and heat

Oils and stains are designed to “oxidize” (interact with the oxygen in air) in order to dry properly. Apparently, any substance will begin to release heat as it oxidizes. When the material is spread out thinly on a board, the heat build-up is miniscule and not a problem.  But, if this heat has no way to escape, as happens inside a wadded or piled-up stack of rags, the temperature will raise high enough to ignite the oil and the cloth. Once a fire actually catches, look out. It can spread quickly to any other combustibles in the area and as you might imagine cause great damage to your home or property.

Prevention of spontaneous combustion fires begins with education about the risk. You and your employees need to understand how this works and take it seriously. Next, you must require really good housekeeping around the work area and strictly follow an oily rag protocol. A clean work area can prevent a fire from spreading and getting bigger by not allowing the fire fuel to burn.

Fully understanding the potential risk is the key step in eliminating these preventable fires.

Oily Rag Disposal Protocol

According to our local Los Altos Hills Fire Department you must take the following steps:

  • Use a container with a tight-fitting lid. A metal can is preferable, but a plastic can or even a zip lock bag can work if nothing else is available.
  • Place soiled and used rags inside and then fill the rest the way with water, seal the top and do not open it. This will prevent the oils from oxidizing, and thus keep the rags from heating up and igniting.
  • Contact your local garbage disposal company for their policy on disposal of both the can/bag etc., and its contents. Some companies will actually permit disposal in the regular household trash, but you need to check first.

I would emphatically also add to the list above, that if you are working with any of these volatile oil materials, only do so in areas free of combustibles, that would be safe even if a fire happened to develop.

Thinking “fail-safe” will let you sleep better at night.

Help me to help you

Congratulations on taking time to use this free website. I truly hope you find the information here fun and useful? Please send me your comments and feedback. Writing and maintaining this site is a lot of hard work. By sharing these pages with your friends, you help me to continue the effort.  You can easily share these pages to all your favorite social media sites via the shortcut buttons on the sidebar. You can also simply email the page link to your friends. Please share often.

The very best way to help me occurs when you use the embedded links to buy things. Using a link is easy and free, yet it provides a great source of support for this site. The vendors I’ve chosen to link to have proven to be the very best resources available so that is why I recommend them personally.

If you have questions or just want to say hi, please send me a note.

Thanks again!

Learn how many trees it took to build your home?

There are many good reasons to take care of your home and saving trees is one of them. Good maintenance helps protect the environmental investment that was made in your home. Sustainability folks refer to this as the embedded environmental footprint of the home. This footprint signifies that in addition to the monetary cost of your home, constructing it extracted a toll on the environment and removed value from our future natural resource bank account.

How many trees to build a home?
Big timber trusses from second growth forests

Land had to be cleared, prepared and dedicated to a house rather than the natural environment. Materials had to be mined and manufactured into useable components all of which took labor and energy to produce. The making of concrete, glass, petroleum, metals, plastics, fiberglass, paint, asphalt, appliances and wood products all extract costs on the environment and many of these are non-renewable. Let’s take a deeper look at just one example of the environmental costs to build an average home. The number of trees that went into its construction.

How many trees to build a home?
Old log barn from 1800’s in Yosemite National Park

You can save trees by taking care of your home.

Today lumber comes in pre-cut, ready to use pieces of wood that no longer resemble the trees from which they came. But that wasn’t always the case. Houses were originally built by hearty folks who had to actually harvest the trees themselves. Many log homes were built with minimal sawn lumber because cutting trees down, then sawing them up was hard and expensive. Knowing how many and of what size to cut was important. It is way too easy today to forget that lots of trees are needed to build our modern homes.

Board footage

Learning about board footage is a simple forestry exercise. We can use it to determine the number of trees needed for the lumber to build our home.

The amount of wood in a tree is referred to as board footage. A board foot is 1”x12”x12”. Since there are 12 board feet in every cubic foot, you just need to determine the volume of a tree to understand its useful wood yield. Since most lumber comes from cylindrical shaped, coniferous trees, you can do this by measuring the height of the tree and multiplying by its average cross-sectional area.

How many trees to build a home?
Old growth trees

The height of a tree can be calculated very accurately from the ground by using a tape measure and basic trigonometry (yes, you finally get to use some high school math,) or more roughly by measuring shadows. Learning how to do this is a fun exercise and videos and descriptions can be readily found online. For our purposes we will simply use the average height of currently harvested trees which is eighty feet.

Next we need to determine the diameter of the tree. Foresters use a standard place to measure diameter at chest height, or about 4.5 feet above the ground. This following may sound complex but it is not.


Using a tape measure and the formula Diameter=Circumference/3.14 you can calculate the area of the diameter of the tree. You’ll need to divide the diameter by 2 to get the radius for the rest of the calculations, and you’ll want to divide this radius by 12 to put it in feet rather than inches! From this area we can figure out cubic feet using Cubic Feet=(Area x Height)/4, where 4 is used to account for the taper of the tree from the base to the top. With this volume known, all you have to do is multiply it by 12 to get board feet!

Now that we know how to figure out the amount of wood per tree, we just need to know how much wood we will need to understand how many trees we will need to cut down.

Mature Trees Needed Per Home

The precise amount of lumber required to build a wood-framed house varies slightly across the nation, but a good average would be 6.3 board feet for the structural framing materials in every square foot of house. According to the Census Bureau, the average American home built in 2013 was 2,600 square feet, meaning it would have required 16,380 board feet of lumber to build!

Homeowners should know the trees needed to build a home
An ancient, old-growth log. I lost count of the rings at 825. It started growing about the time the Magna Carta was signed.

What does that mean in trees? For the sake of discussion, consider an average mature fir or pine tree with a height of 80’ and a diameter of 2’. Using the calculation detailed above, you will find that its lumber yield is about 754 board feet. And if you require 16,380 board feet to frame the average home, almost 22 mature firs will be needed.

Another 22-24 trees will be needed for the rest of the house and its finishes. Hardwood floors, cabinets, siding, roofing, paneling etc. could more than double the number of trees needed to complete the home. In total, building a home today will consume forty-four mature trees for every 2600 square feet. Be sure to include the garage when adding up your square footage. 

Trees take time to grow

The problem with trees is it takes a long time to make one. To put the environmental value into perspective, each 80’ tall fir tree takes about 6 decades to grow to that size. Forty-four of these beautiful trees represents 2,640 tree/years of growth. All this for just a single average American home. To be available today, these trees must have begun growing just after World War II.

The sacrifice of trees is a big environmental investment in your home. Especially when they are used to make in a structure that perhaps through a combination of fickleness, change of fashion and poor care may only last 50 years. From a tree’s perspective every year a structure can be extended, counts–times 44!

Trees in history

In addition to habitat, trees furnish essential requirements like clean water, food and oxygen. As humans evolved and migrated around the globe, trees also provided additional necessities such as energy, shelter, medicine, tools and transportation in the form of wheels and ships. A primary motivation to explore the new world was to find more trees as they had become scarce on the European continent. Running out of trees, as happened on Easter Island can be devastating and have irreversible consequences.

Trees and climate

Trees contribute directly to the environment by providing oxygen, improving air quality, climate amelioration, conserving water, preserving soil, and supporting wildlife. During the process of photosynthesis, trees take in carbon dioxide and produce the oxygen we breathe.

Trees help to control climate by moderating the effects of the sun, rain and wind. Leaves absorb and filter the sun’s radiant energy, keeping things cool in summer. Trees also preserve warmth by providing a screen from harsh wind. In addition to influencing wind speed and direction, they shield us from the downfall of rain, sleet and hail. Trees also lower the air temperature and reduce the heat intensity of the greenhouse effect by maintaining low levels of carbon dioxide.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen. This is enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.” Trees, shrubs and turf also filter air by removing dust and absorbing other pollutants like carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. After trees intercept unhealthy particles, rain washes them to the ground.

Summary: Trees are high value asset

It took at least sixty years to grow each of the forty four trees needed for your average home today. Post-harvest replanting continues to increase and the industry is very conscious of sustainability of the yield. Still, trees are slow to grow and replace themselves. Combined with slow replacement, the destruction of thousands of forest acres that now burn up every summer lead me to wonder how many will be left for tomorrow’s homes?  

How many trees to build a home?
Catastrophic fires impact the availability of lumber for 200-300 years to come.

The value of our forests are truly priceless. They are worth managing properly and protecting. Homeowners can help by making sure your home is well-maintained. As an example, the average wood deck will only last 10-15 years. Is it worth it to harvest 100 year old redwood trees to make a deck that will only last 15 years? With good design, construction methods and maintenance that deck could easily last 30 years. That is double or triple the life of an unmaintained deck and makes the calculation much more sustainable. Still, trading a 100 year old tree for a deck that only lasts 30 years still appears to me to be a poor trade.

Bottom line:

It takes more than 20 full-grown Douglas Fir trees to build every 1,000 square feet of structure. To learn how many trees for your home, go to Zillow.com, enter your address and add the square footage, (plus any garage footage) for the total. Then multiply the total square footage by 20.33 to arrive at the number of trees needed for your home. Then multiply the total number of trees by 60 to find out the number of tree years it took to grow all those trees. You may be shocked?

So make sure you build your home to last, then maintain it properly. Even incremental improvements in durability can affect a big difference in sustainability. Make the most out of the trees we use… and the trees we have left. If you need help with improving your maintenance program, you can read more here at www.homepreservationmanual.com or contact the folks at HPS Palo Alto Inc. They can answer questions and point you in the right direction!

Help me to help you

Congratulations on taking time to use this free website. I truly hope you find the information here fun and useful? Please send me your comments and feedback. Writing and maintaining this site is a lot of hard work. By sharing these pages with your friends, you help me to continue the effort.  You can easily share these pages to all your favorite social media sites via the shortcut buttons on the sidebar. You can also simply email the page link to your friends. Please share often.

The very best way to help me occurs when you use the embedded links to buy things. Using a link is easy and free, yet it provides a great source of support for this site. The vendors I’ve chosen to link to have proven to be the very best resources available so that is why I recommend them personally.

If you have questions or just want to say hi, please send me a note.

Thanks again!



How many trees to build a house?

Homeowners, are you ready for a disaster… at work?

Homeowners should prepare for disasters at work
A door survives a fire

Most homeowners have had many reminders lately to be prepared for an unexpected disaster. Frequent wildfires, floods, mudslides and power outages are present enough in most of our lives to drive the message home to “be prepared” at home. We have published several articles in the past relating to both individual and family disaster preparation

Being prepared at home is great for the twelve hours a day or so that you are there. But what happens if the disaster strikes when you are at work? Do you know what to do?

Most large corporations have detailed plans in place for employees to follow if an emergency might occur during the work hours. But what if you are self-employed or work in a small office with fifty or fewer employees?

Get started

If you are an individual working in a small environment such as this, you need to bring the need for an emergency/disaster plan to the attention of the manager. It could be a matter of life or death.

Preparing for disasters at work
Disaster recovery in Paradise CA

Here is how to start creating a plan:

Meet with your staff and co-workers as soon as possible. Make them aware of the need. Put someone in charge and set a date for starting and completing the disaster plan.

The plan should include:

  • Research likely disaster risks: Fire, flood, earthquake, tsunami etc. and plan for most likely events
  • Physical preparations to harden the work space: securing furniture, providing for emergency food and water rations, first-aid material, back-up power, blankets, lights, gas shut-off location etc.
  • Determine taking cover, sheltering in place, meeting-up and safe refuge areas
  • Prepare a communication plan: Make an updated roster with contacts, learn how to get news, what to do if phones and internet are out
  • Map out an evacuation plan
  • Design a survival in place plan
  • Create and post an emergency checklist to follow
  • Notification plan to all employees and families
  • Conduct regular drills

Make it a priority to follow through and get the plan up and running.

If you need help, there are great resources available at: https://www.homepreservationmanual.com/emergency/


Use the Fema guidelines at: https://www.fema.gov/disaster/4085/updates/developing-emergency-plan-workplace 


Help me to help you

Congratulations on taking time to use this free website. I truly hope you find the information here fun and useful? Please send me your comments and feedback. Writing and maintaining this site is a lot of hard work. By sharing these pages with your friends, you help me to continue the effort.  You can easily share these pages to all your favorite social media sites via the shortcut buttons on the sidebar. You can also simply email the page link to your friends. Please share often.

The very best way to help me occurs when you use the embedded links to buy things. Using a link is easy and free, yet it provides a great source of support for this site. The vendors I’ve chosen to link to have proven to be the very best resources available so that is why I recommend them personally.

If you have questions or just want to say hi, please send me a note.

Thanks again!


Create a Fabulous Home – Senior Style!

Here is a checklist for fabulous senior living at home. Today’s my 65th birthday and I feel great! I am celebrating not miserating. So, I promise, not to write another depressing article about bolting handrails all over your bathroom.

For me, “the senior lifestyle” is now very personal. It’s mainly about living comfortably, in whatever style you prefer, and staying healthy while you do it. I built my new house in the context of senior living because I see this as my last home. And now I can use this post to share what I learned. If you are creeping up to senior demographic, or if you just like to plan ahead this may be good information for you. In either case I hope you find it helpful and use it to go about arranging your home in ways that will help you meet those needs.

Making a cozy-home for seniors

I’ve heard that 60 is the new 50 and all that is great. But even though we are healthier and hopefully happier, none of us in this age group, are the same spritely people we were growing up. Still, every one of us is unique and has aged in their own way. I have bad hearing in one ear, lousy vision and I sure don’t have much flexibility since my back operation five years ago, but otherwise I feel great! Your issues may vary more or less, but we all have some and we are likely to have more in the future.

The point here is this: For me, living in a hospital-like environment is not going to happen, at least as long as I have a choice. If you are comfortable in your existing home, like me, why not live out your life there safely and peacefully? If that sounds appealing, here is a checklist of things you can do to help make that possible.

Senior cozy-home checklist

  • Arrange for a maintenance/repair service team for the home. This is important to keep your home safe and retain its value high. You want to be enjoying your time and not climbing on ladders doing these tasks.
  • Arrange for good housekeeping to the extent you can afford
  • ID and print a map of all your home’s utility shut-off locations: Water, electricity, gas and sewer.
  • Arrange for food, shopping and pharmacy delivery. This can be cheaper than going in person.
  • Arrange for online bill paying
  • Learn to use your smart phone contacts and calendar for appointments and reminders
  • Create two disaster plans: 1) escape, 2) survival in place. Don’t take these lightly. Mother Nature and other problems can and will sneak up on you. Being prepared if something happens will make you feel real good.
  • Declutter: Start seriously transferring “stuff” to others.
  • Make upgrades to the structure (see below)

Helpful senior upgrades for the home:

    • Improve your home’s lighting and electrical

      •          Switch to LED’s
      •          Get a back-up generator like this one from Honda
      •          Add outlets- get rid of extension cords, toilet outlet
      •          Safety lighting at steps and closets
      •          Landscape/parking lighting at walks and steps
      •          Reading lights
      •          Work lights at key areas
    • Improve your home’s plumbing

      •          On-demand natural gas water heater
      •          Toilets with senior height seats and “Washlette” by Toto-get one here.
      •          Tub and shower grab bars, strongly and securely mounted
      •          Hand wand for your shower or tub fixture
      •          Thermostatic temperature control for shower/tub fixtures
      •          Lever handle fixtures
      •          Replace all angle stops and fixtures with new if possible
Preventive maintenance for seniors
Well equipped senior shower
  • Replace your appliances

    Get your appliances into new or like-new condition with warranties. You don’t want to be worried about these operating as they should.

  • Upgrade cabinets with self-closing cabinets and drawers

    Self or soft-closing hardware keeps the doors and drawers closed and out of the way. They are quiet also which is nice.

  • Provide seating benches at key areas

    •          Closet bench
    •          Shower bench
    •          MBR bench
    •          Porch/entry  bench
    •          Garage bench
  • Garage improvements

    •          Plenty of room to maneuver around cars
    •          Weatherproof garage doors and operators with emergency back up power
    •          Slip resistant floors
    •          Install parking bumpers, to prevent running into the back of the garage
    •          Have your AAA numbers handy
  • Ground floor storage

    You will always need some small of storage space. Make it easily accessible on the ground floor somewhere. Not in an attic or basement.

  • Security and entry

    •          Keyless locks
    •          Install lever handled hardware at doors
    •          Remote doorbell
    •          Video surveillance
    •          Mail vaults
  • Laundry and trash

    Arrange the housekeeping staff to do the laundry and trash hauling if possible

  • Design changes

    Here are some things you can consider to make your home even more senior friendly

    • Elevators and dumbwaiters
    • Eliminate steps wherever possible
    • Retrofit to a curb-free shower if possible
    • Install strong, secure grab bars at key locations
    • Provide room for future walkers and wheelchairs and their storage
    • Back-up generator-this is a high priority item for any power-outage situation

Preventive maintenance can make homeowners money

preventive maintenance makes money
Maintaining a light fixture

Study shows preventive maintenance efforts return high yields.

Is maintenance really worth the effort? Does preventive maintenance make money? No matter how obvious some things appear, often these same things remain very difficult to prove. Consider the simple act of taking care of your stuff. At a gut level we all understand that if you take care of an object, it will last longer. But how much longer will it last? If it lasts longer, what is the value of that? How much extra does it cost to take care of an object versus not?

Until now the economic value of preventive maintenance has been elusive to prove because it has been difficult to both study and calculate. Now a long-awaited study published by Jones Lang Lasalle has finally quantified the facts some of us have suspected all along. Preventive Maintenance is a killer investment. Yes!! Preventive maintenance is not only a nicer way to own and care for a home…it makes money.

Study results are stunning

The study showed that the money spent on preventive maintenance produced a whopping 545% ROI.  The returns came solely from energy savings and extending the useful life of the equipment and infrastructure. Any homeowner knows that those are not even attributes where the REAL value resides.

Bigger returns await you

The biggest values to most homeowners are in 1) disaster avoidance and 2) making the home more beautiful or fun to live in. What is the value in money saved if your water heater never floods your home?

The 545% return would actually have been much higher still if it had been able to account for the very real value of the breakdowns, disasters and emergencies avoided.

Cleaning a metal roof
Maintaining a metal roof

If you are a homeowner what are you waiting for? Start spending some money on maintenance and get rich… in comfort!

Read the Study

You can read the full study here:http://www.sitemason.com/files/b2tJra/Preventive Maintenance.pdf


Help me to help you

Congratulations on taking time to use this free website. I truly hope you find the information here fun and useful? Please send me your comments and feedback. Writing and maintaining this site is a lot of hard work. By sharing these pages with your friends, you help me to continue the effort.  You can easily share these pages to all your favorite social media sites via the shortcut buttons on the sidebar. You can also simply email the page link to your friends. Please share often.

The very best way to help me occurs when you use the embedded links to buy things. Using a link is easy and free, yet it provides a great source of support for this site. The vendors I’ve chosen to link to have proven to be the very best resources available so that is why I recommend them personally.

If you have questions or just want to say hi, please send me a note.

Thanks again!


NEWS Flash!

Home Depot drops some install programs
Home Depot

Home Depot reported that it is eliminating roofing, siding, insulation, and gutters from its installation service categories.

“We’re only exiting these four programs,” said Home Depot spokesperson Stephen Holmes in a prepared statement. Eleven installation categories remain in the company’s offerings, including an “exterior home” category, which now covers fence, pergola, deck, solar panel, generator, and solar water and pool heater installation.

“Going forward, we will focus our efforts on installation categories that enable us to deliver the best customer experience, while simplifying processes and business structure,” Holmes stated. 


HD is going to focus on easier, less risky work, that can result in higher profits and less angry customers.

The action resulted in layoffs, with Home Depot placing the number of jobs lost at “fewer than 1,000.” It appears the downsizing is primarily happening in California, Florida, Georgia, New England, and Wisconsin.

Home Depot did not reply to requests for further comments beyond its initial statement for this story.

American Honda Recalls Portable Generators Due to Fire and Burn Hazards


The portable generator can leak gasoline from the fuel valve, posing fire and burn hazards.



Recall Date:

March 20, 2019

This recall involves Honda EU2200i, EU2200i Companion and EB2200i portable generators. The recalled portable generators were sold with a red or Camo cover. The names “HONDA” and the generator model name are printed on the control panel. The serial number is located on a lower corner of one of the side panels of the generator. The following model numbers and serial number ranges are being recalled:






Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled generators and contact a local authorized Honda Power Equipment service dealer to schedule a free repair. Honda is contacting all known purchasers directly. Incidents/Injuries: Honda has received 19 reports of fuel leaking from the fuel valve. No injuries have been reported.

Sold At:

Authorized Honda Power Equipment Dealers and The Home Depot and other home improvement stores nationwide and online from February 2018 through February 2019 for about $1,100 to $1,300.


Thai Honda, of Thailand Importer(s): American Honda Motor Company Inc., of Torrance, Calif. Manufactured In: Thailand Recall number: 19-088

Consumer Contact:

American Honda toll-free at 888-888-3139 from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET Monday through Friday or online at https://powerequipment.honda.com/ and click on “Recalls and Updates” at the bottom of the page for more information.


I just learned that I have one of these recall units. My generator got me through a terrible six day power outage without a single glitch and with no sign of the recall problem. Still, I’m taking it in to the local Honda place for a fix.

American Honda Generator Recall
Location of serial number

I’ve recommended these Honda units in the past and will continue to do so. These are great little generators. The small size, quiet operation and portability make them a great addition to any emergency back up plan.

Harvard JCHS study shows record spending on US remodeling as new homebuilding slows.

Spending on remodeling hit a record of nearly $425 billion in 2017. This according to Improving America’s Housing 2019, a report produced every two years by the Remodeling Futures Program at Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, .

Difficult credit hampering growth

The record remodeling year occurred despite the homebuilding industry still struggling following the Great Recession. With credit more difficult to acquire, the industry is having trouble meeting the housing needs of the country. More than 50% of the remodeling expenditures were paid for using cash from savings. Even greater activity could be available if access to funds were more easily available through credit. Lack of credit is also hampering new home building.

An aging population and aging housing stock

According to Abbe Will, associate project director of the Remodeling Futures Program. With new construction slowly recovering from historic lows, 40% of the country’s 137 million homes are at least 50 years old. The aging of the housing stock has been a boon to the remodeling industry, with spending surpassing investment in homebuilding every year for over a decade.”

Renovating for aging in place

House prices have escalated in many markets. High prices, combined with an aging population are driving increased spending on home improvements and repairs. Older households have higher homeownership rates than younger households. They also have the resources to afford major renovations. Households 55 and over account for half of all improvement spending by homeowners today.

Expanding the ability of owners to pay for improvement projects over time would generate considerable growth in the remodeling industry and help preserve and modernize the nation’s aging housing stock. Source: JCHS Improving America’s Housing 2019.

“Over the next decade, the strong preference of older homeowners to age in place and the increasing difficulty of building affordable housing in many markets will continue to hinder the construction of new homes,” said Kermit Baker, director of the Remodeling Futures Program. “The remodeling industry will therefore retain its critical role in helping the country meet its housing needs.”

Paradise hero saves 28 lives during fire.

An unsung hero saves 28 lives during the Paradise Camp Fire… but he did not set out to do so.  On November 8th, with the wildfire racing towards him, Russel Moore of Magalia, CA did something daring. He collected 28 neighbors who could not escape the flames on their own, then hid them in the safest place he could knew…his church.

That decision turned out to be a godsend, literally.  As Moore and his followers took cover, the fire burned completely over and around them destroying everything except… miraculously, the church where they were hiding. When they finally dared to emerge from the structure on the  November 9th, they could not believe what they saw, or that they had survived.

Moore and the 28 lucky folks he helped are happy to be alive, even though every one of them lost their home and all of their possessions.  So what is Mr. Moore doing now? Helping survivors at the church of course. What else? 

Listen to the story here in his own words. Check out the images below of areas around the church. See how to create a plan for dealing with disasters.

Paradise hero saves 28 during fire
Camp fire recovery center at miracle church

Hero saves 28 during Paradise fire
Destruction surrounds the church

Hero saves 28 by hiding in church
Paradise church a sanctuary during fire

Paradise Camp Fire-Toxic To Everyone!

Disasters high costs

As of today, the toll from the fire started last week in northern California, is 71 fatalities and 150,000 acres lost. The fire is only 55% contained but fortunately it is slowing down.

Paradise fire toxic to everyone
Paradise Camp Fire

Many older homes have toxic material embedded

The recent count of structures burned in the Camp Fire in Paradise CA is now over 12,000. Many, if not most of those destroyed were older stock built prior to 1979. The problem with older structures is they contain toxic materials like lead and asbestos from earlier (and now banned) construction methods.

Here’s a brief rundown on the paint and other coatings used on most of those structures 

From the 1940’s to the 1970s PCB’s were widely used in paints and preservatives. Most paints used until 1978 contained lead. Paints contained mercury until 1990. These heavy metals were used to improve flow, durability, flexibility and ironically, to improve resistance to fire damage and moisture. When plastic is burned it also releases toxic chemical fumes (like dioxins, furans and styrene gas) into the air that are really bad for both humans and the environment.

Burning can release toxics into air and soil

According to health scientists, burning wood and other materials coated with paint containing PCBs, Lead, Mercury and other heavy metals results in exponentially higher exposure to those harmful chemicals.

An even greater concern is the danger of exposure to Dioxins and Furans, which are produced when PCBs are burned at lower temperatures. Old stains can also contain toxic ingredients. Some new paints include ingredients which should never be burned. Paints containing Teflon produce a very hazardous gas if burned.


Lead affects practically all systems within the body. At high levels it can cause convulsions, coma, and even death. Lower levels of lead can adversely affect the brain, central nervous system, blood cells, and kidneys.
The effects of lead exposure on fetuses and young children can be severe. Effects include delays in physical and mental development, lower IQ levels, shortened attention spans, and increased behavioral problems.

Children are most at risk

Fetuses, infants, and children are more vulnerable to lead exposure than adults. Lead is more easily absorbed into growing bodies, and the tissues of small children are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Compounding the problem, children have higher exposures since they are more likely to get lead dust on their hands, then put their fingers or other lead-contaminated objects into their mouths.

Paradise Camp Fire
Paradise Fire Aftermath

Get your child tested for lead exposure. To find out where to do this, call your doctor or local health clinic. For more information on health effects, get a copy of the Centers for Disease Control’s, Preventing Lead Poisoning in Young Children (October 1991).


If you are in or near the affected area, by all means take precautions to filter your breathing air. This is serious stuff and lord knows what the long-term ramifications are going to be. We are all part of this disaster.

Today’s Economy and Home Repairs

todays economy and home repairs
Contractor superheros

Contractors are in short supply

Quality contractors have always been hard to find, but right now ANY contractor breathing is like a celebrity. If you have a relationship with a quality, honest, humble and hardworking general or trade contractor, you best treat them like the stars they are. Contractors are in short supply.

A thriving economy combined with the rebuilding needs of disaster-ravaged areas is turning the contractor pool into a limited but highly sought after resource. This shortage became apparent in hot growth areas of California a couple of years ago, but now has spread all across the US.

So, why is this happening, and more importantly, what does it mean for the average homeowner?

Supply vs demand

The answer to the first part is that there are not enough skilled tradespeople available. Nationwide we’ve been cranking out accountants and computer science engineers for years but neglecting to support the building trades. The number of seasoned general contractors, carpenters, plumbers, heating/cooling experts and electricians is dwindling and there are not enough to go around.  And since it takes many years to make new ones, we are stuck with a shortage… at least for a while.

The answer to the second part is that consumers are naturally in for a hit. Industry-wide, prices are on the rise while response time and quality is suffering. Basic economics dictates that as demand rises on a fixed supply, you’ll see an increase in price. The bigger problem is that substandard and inexperienced contractors will be trying to cash in on the situation. This will have the effect of lowering the average quality level of service. This is sad because the industry had a less than stellar reputation to begin with.

The HPS advantage

If you are fortunate enough to be an HPS Stewardship client, you can expect to be sheltered from most of the negative effects. Since HPS only provides contracting services to our client base, the demand on our team is much less volatile. Also, HPS only works with the best, most stable and proven trade contractors in the area. These contractors were vetted long ago so quality and response will remain unchanged. Unfortunately, there is likely to be industry-wide upward pressure on material prices for the next year or so, but our high volume of work means we continue to get priority pricing and treatment for our clients.

Advice for non-HPS homeowners

For non-Stewardship customers seeking construction and repair work, my advice is to be patient and stick with contractors that have a proven history of quality and performance…even if you have to wait. Companies like ours that are more service oriented will always find a way to balance things out and make time for their preferred clients. In any event, you should try your best to be patient being mindful there is a scarcity of skilled trade labor available.

The price of anything building related, especially in California is higher, so budget your construction accordingly. It is wise to get a couple of estimates for comparison. If you like to negotiate, the odds are not in your favor in this economy. Because the demand is so high, most Contractors will just move on to the next customer.


Homeowners should make sure to give yourself plenty of time to both plan your project and wait for the right resources. Build relationships with your contractors. It’s always good to get to know the people who will be doing work for you. Let contractors and vendors know if you have an emergency to deal with. Good vendors are also good people and will normally go out of their way to help you in an emergency, no matter how busy they are. It’s a good idea to ask for the contractor’s rate sheet up front along with an approximated cost range for the repair. Request a detailed report of the completed work once finished.