Home Reviews

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.

The Doctor Who Helped Defeat Smallpox Explains What’s Coming

Epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, who warned of pandemic in 2006, says we can beat the novel coronavirus—but first, we need lots more testing.

he doesn’t have a crystal ball. But 14 years ago, Brilliant, the epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox, spoke to a TED audience and described what the next pandemic would look like. At the time, it sounded almost too horrible to take seriously. “A billion people would get sick,” he said. “As many as 165 million people would die. There would be a global recession and depression, and the cost to our economy of $1 to $3 trillion would be far worse for everyone than merely 100 million people dying, because so many more people would lose their jobs and their health care benefits, that the consequences are almost unthinkable.”

Read the full article at WIRED…

Originally published by Three Sixty HR – the HR experts, Menlo Park, CA

A Quick Guide for Employers Impacted by COVID-19 “Shelter-In-Place” Requirements

Note: this guide is California-centric. Check your local state rules for nationwide use.

Workplace disruptions and developments in response to COVID-19 are very fluid. There are some commonsense guidelines, augmented by modifications in government programs and requirements, that can help you and your employees. We have created this brief guide to help during this uncertain and unprecedented time.

  1. If you temporarily close and send employees home without work to do…
    • Your employees may use accrued vacation or PTO to continue their pay for as long as possible.
    • Employees may apply online for Unemployment Insurance (UI). CA has waived the seven-day waiting period, but it may take a few weeks for payments to start. You don’t have to terminate employment for employees to be eligible for UI. (edd.ca.gov/Unemployment)
    • Consider augmenting UI, if possible. Remember that UI will only provide partial pay replacement.
    • Continue employees’ medical insurance and other benefits during their absence.
    • Stay in touch with your employees. This is important!
  1. If you temporarily close and send employees home with work to do…
    • Be sure employees have the tools to work from home. If they do not have some or all the tools, you are responsible for providing them.
    • Reimburse employees for use of their personal services (e.g., cellphone, internet) needed to work from home.
    • If employees are in nonexempt (hourly) positions, be sure to reiterate in writing the requirements to take meal and rest breaks, and to accurately record their time worked.
      Be sure to state your policy regarding overtime and checking email and voice mail. Employees may use your automated timekeeping system if they can access it from home. If you don’t have an automated system, we have attached a manual form. Tell employees when and to whom time reports are due. Collect the signed time reports when employees return to work.
    • If employees are in exempt (salaried/management) positions, they will most likely need to be paid a full week’s pay if they do any work during the workweek, including checking email and voice mail. If they request in writing a full day off work, they may use accrued vacation, PTO or sick leave for that day. Otherwise, they need to be paid for a full workweek if they do any work during the workweek, including checking voice mail and email.
    • Continue employees’ medical insurance and other benefits during their absence.

1There is a state notice requirement concerning mass layoffs of 50 or more people during a 30-day period in a facility that employs 75 or more people within the preceding 12 months. An employer who meets this threshold should consult with counsel.

— Stay in touch with your employees. This is important! —

  1. If your business is open but you send an employee home, or s/he self-quarantines, due to exposure to the virus…
    • Will they work from home? follow #2. 
    • They will not work from home, or will reduce their hours while working from home, follow #1 except the employee may apply for State Disability Insurance (SDI). CA has waived the seven-day waiting period. It may take a few weeks for payments to start, but SDI will provide partial pay replacement. Then follow the rest of #1. (edd.ca.gov/Disability/Disability_Insurance.htm
    • If exposure to the virus occurred in the workplace, an employee may file a Workers’ Compensation claim instead of SDI. Employers are responsible for providing the paperwork to employees who need to file a Workers’ Compensation claim.
    • Do not require a doctor’s note confirming the beginning/end of a temporary disability.
  1. If your business is open but your otherwise healthy employee can’t work due to caring for a family member who is ill, or for a child whose school has closed…
    • Your employee may use accrued sick leave, vacation and/or PTO to continue pay for as long as possible.
    • If they do not work from home or work reduced hours while working from home, follow #1 except the employee may apply for Paid Family Leave (PFL) for partial pay replacement. (edd.ca.gov/Disability/Paid_Family_Leave.htm)
    • Follow the rest of #1.

Delivery Services: If your business is such that your employees can be converted to delivery drivers or are delivery drivers (e.g., drivers for restaurant take-out orders), ensure employees have a current driver’s license and proof of insurance. Make sure your company liability policy will cover them as drivers for the business. Have a clear written policy regarding distracted (cell phone, text, email, GPS) driving. Contact us if you don’t have a policy. Track and reimburse mileage, tolls, etc. Ensure employees follow CDC safety guidelines when interacting with customers.

Retaining Staff: Business will resume and employees will go back to work. Your ability to retain valued staff may hinge on how well you communicate with employees and mitigate their financial hardships. If employees sense that you are trying to do everything you can for them and the business, you are more likely to retain staff.

Employees: are concerned about pay, benefits and keeping their jobs. Encourage employees to use all their accrued benefits as well as take advantage of state income replacement programs. Jobs should be held open for employees who held them before the mandatory shelter-in-place and before they missed work due to COVID-19. Keep employees’ benefits in force for as long as possible. (This may be mandated.)

Government: Intervention. Federal, state and local governments are working hard to find ways to lessen the financial impact of COVID-19 on employers and employees. These ideas include everything from cash payments to payroll tax credits to prohibiting evictions. Stay alert to legislation, announcements and news stories. Coordinating multiple relief/benefit programs will be another issue entirely. It is going to take a while to sort all this out.

There may be additional forms of relief offered to individuals and businesses through CA’s Work Sharing Program. It is designed to address a temporary reduction in hours where regular pay is augmented by UI. (edd.ca.gov/unemployment/Work_Sharing_Program.htm)

Bottom line. Be careful, patient and thoughtful. We must do the things we can to help each other. Please understand that things are changing rapidly and that some of this information could be outdated by the end of the day. We hope this information helps.


CDC’s Guidance for Businesses: 

cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/

DLSE FAQs on Sick Leave and Time Off: 


EDD FAQs and Wage Replacement Assistance: 

edd.ca.gov/about_edd/coronavirus-2019/faqs.htm www.edd.ca.gov/about_edd/coronavirus-2019.htm 

i4cp Resource Center: 


Leadership in Uncertainty 


How to Prepare for the Coronavirus

Face masks? Gloves? Hand washing? What is the best way to protect yourself from the growing threats of  the new coronavirus? At HPM we’re committed to keeping our team and clients healthy and safe. To do this, adopted the a number of practices and precautions within our organization for the duration of the problem.

From the eminent pathologist Dr James Robb:

I, as many others do, hope that this pandemic will be reasonably contained, BUT I personally do not think it will be. Humans have never seen this snake-associated virus before and have no internal defense against it. Tremendous worldwide efforts are being made to understand the molecular and clinical virology of this virus. Unbelievable molecular knowledge about the genomics, structure, and virulence of this virus has already been achieved. BUT, there will be NO drugs or vaccines available this year to protect us or limit the infection within us. Only symptomatic support is available.

How to Protect Yourself:

  1. NO HANDSHAKING! Use a fist bump, slight bow, elbow bump, etc.
  2. Use ONLY your knuckle to touch light switches. elevator buttons, etc.. Lift the gasoline dispenser with a paper towel or use a disposable glove.
  3. Open doors with your closed fist or hip – do not grasp the handle with your hand, unless there is no other way to open the door. Especially important on bathroom and post office/commercial doors.
  4. Use disinfectant wipes at the stores when they are available, including wiping the handle and child seat in grocery carts.
  5. Wash your hands with soap for 10-20 seconds and/or use a greater than 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer whenever you return home from ANY activity that involves locations where other people have been.
  6. Keep a bottle of sanitizer available at each of your home’s entrances. AND in your car for use after getting gas or touching other contaminated objects when you can’t immediately wash your hands.
  7. If possible, cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue and discard. Use your elbow only if you have to. The clothing on your elbow will contain infectious virus that can be passed on for up to a week or more!

What to stock in preparation for the pandemic spread to the US:

  1. Latex or nitrile latex disposable gloves for use when going shopping, using the gasoline pump, and all other outside activity when you come in contact with contaminated areas. Note: This virus is spread in large droplets by coughing and sneezing. This means that the air will not infect you! BUT all the surfaces where these droplets land are infectious for about a week on average – everything that is associated with infected people will be contaminated and potentially infectious. The virus is on surfaces and you will not be infected unless your unprotected face is directly coughed or sneezed upon. This virus only has cell receptors for lung cells (it only infects your lungs) The only way for the virus to infect you is through your nose or mouth via your hands or an infected cough or sneeze onto or into your nose or mouth.
  2. Stock up now with disposable surgical masks and use them to prevent you from touching your nose and/or mouth (We touch our nose/mouth 90X/day without knowing it!). This is the only way this virus can infect you – it is lung-specific. The mask will not prevent the virus in a direct sneeze from getting into your nose or mouth – it is only to keep you from touching your nose or mouth.
  3. Stock up now with hand sanitizers and latex/nitrile gloves (get the appropriate sizes for your family). The hand sanitizers must be alcohol-based and greater than 60% alcohol to be effective.
  4. Stock up now with zinc lozenges. These lozenges have been proven to be effective in blocking coronavirus (and most other viruses) from multiplying in your throat and nasopharynx. Use as directed several times each day when you begin to feel ANY “cold-like” symptoms beginning. It is best to lie down and let the lozenge dissolve in the back of your throat and nasopharynx. Cold-Eeze lozenges is one brand available, but there are other brands available.


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.

Carbon Study Determines Remodeling Is Better Than Building New

Architects, designers, magazines, websites and builders all present good arguments for homeowners to build new houses. Unfortunately lowering your carbon footprint is NOT one of them. A new study compares the difference between building new vs remodel carbon footprint.

New vs Remodel Carbon Footprint
New vs Remodeling

While true that a new house can require far less energy to run than an older home, tearing down an old structure and building a new one generates tons of CO2. 80 tons or so actually, and all for just a 1400 sft cottage according to one study. A relatively small home by US standards.

New homes are far costlier to the environment than renovating and maintaining older properties.

Carbon footprint is a horribly abused phrase, so it’s worth spelling out exactly what it means.

When talking about climate change ie global warming,  footprint is a metaphor for the total impact that something has. And carbon is shorthand for all the different greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

The term carbon footprint, therefore, is a shorthand to describe the best estimate that we can get of the full climate change impact of something. That something could be anything – an activity, an item, a lifestyle, a company, a country or even the whole world.

Human caused global warming is a result of the release of certain types of gas into the atmosphere. The largest man-made greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide (CO2). This gas is emitted whenever we burn fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, wood or natural gas) in homes, factories or power stations. But other greenhouse gases are also important. Methane (CH4), for example, which is emitted mainly by agriculture and landfill sites, is 25 times more potent per kilogram than CO2. Even more potent but emitted in smaller quantities are nitrous oxide (N2O), which is about 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide and released mainly from industrial processes and farming, and refrigerant gases, which are typically several thousand times more potent than CO2.

True footprints are heavy

To give an example, the true carbon footprint of driving a car includes not only the emissions that come out of the exhaust pipe, but also all the emissions that take place when oil is extracted, shipped, refined into fuel and transported to the petrol station, not to mention the substantial emissions caused by producing and maintaining the car.

New vs remodel carbon footprint
Typical Scottish cottage

New house footprint

The carbon footprint of building a house also depends on all kinds of things – including, of course, the size of the house and the types of materials chosen. Be sure to see my article on How Many Trees to Build a Home. For this article, the subject homes were based on a study for Historic Scotland.

The estimate of 80 tons calculated above was for the tearing down and reconstruction of simple but energy efficient, brand-new, 1400sft cottages. The homes had two bedrooms upstairs, with two reception rooms and a kitchen downstairs.

The study looked at the climate change implications of various options for these traditional cottages in Dumfries. The options were: leave as it is, refurbish, or knock it down and build a new one. The study looked at the climate change impact for each option over a 100-year period, taking into account the embodied emissions in the construction and maintenance as well as the energy used and generated by those living in the building. 

The results of the study

The worst option by far was to do nothing and leave the old house leaking energy.

The second worst option was knocking down the old structure and building new. This produced about 80 tons CO2e. Eighty tons is a lot of course, but a house may last for a century or more (hopefully). If so the “annual” carbon cost is much less – and for all the new-build options, the up-front emissions from construction work will be paid back by savings from better energy efficiency in 20 years.

The winning option was to refurbish the old house, because the carbon investment of doing this was just eight tons CO2e. Even the highest-specification, highest-cost newbuild option could not catch up this advantage over even a 100-year period. Once the actual cost was taken into account, refurbishment became dramatically the most practical and attractive option. This makes sense because saving the existing structure also saves all the embodied footprint of the original materials that do not have to be mined or manufactured or shipped.


This of course is just one study. But I believe the concept is representative. If so, the bottom line for the new home building industry is clear. Even at the very highest levels of energy-efficiency, newly constructed homes are a step backward as far as saving carbon vs remodeling.  Better is to default to remodeling and save new construction for when there is no other alternative.

Investing in improvements to existing homes is dramatically more cost-effective CO2-wise than building new. Can the same be said of new or electric cars?


This article draws on text from How Bad Are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners-Lee Get it at Amazon Here.

Pacific Coast Builders Conference 2019

I spent last Friday checking out the exhibit hall of this years Pacific Coast Builder Conference for the newest cool building products for 2019. This year the show was held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Here are a few of the highlights for me:

A welcome sight at the entrance to the exhibit hall was a well patina’d old Ford pick-up.


No, it is not a hot tub.  A cutting-edge builder conference needs to display the latest kitchen technology and PCBC did not disappoint. Here is the latest offering from KitchenAid for really BIG families.

cool building products for 2019
Bix mixer

Job Protection

The next thing to catch my eye were these job protection products. Successful builders and remodelers know that nothing exemplifies professionalism more than  showing respect for the clients existing property. At HPS we do this by installing a heavy layer of protection to any area of the home that might be in the path of the work.  Included in this manufacturers line-up was a waterproof, dust-catching protective floor mat. We have already been using the foam corner protectors and they are great. I like them because they install quickly and are tough and reusable. Use these during your next bath or kitchen remodel to both improve your image and save yourself a lot of damage repair expense at the end of the project.


Dog Products

The PCBC show did not leave out Man’s best friend. For those of you contemplating a serious renovation, you might consider adding this dog-washing station to your wish list. It is available on Amazon here. It is free standing and comes ready to be plumbed into your home with your choice of stainless sprayers and a loading ramp for easy in and out. These look great if not a little hospital-like.  I would use them in a garage or outside area or even inside if the area is water-proofed properly and has a floor drain.

cool building products for 2019
Dog washing system

Modular Plumbing

Modular concepts are becoming more mainstream with production builders. Here is a modular lavatory system that bolts between wall studs on a standard stud layout. The module holds are the mountings and piping for attaching choice of faucets and bowls. Currently only offered for commercial applications, I can see this moving into the spec or manufactured home arena next. A neat idea for humans needing to wash up.

Modular vanity system

Schluter Systems

Schluter innovation continues to kick butt in the industry with some of the best systems for waterproofing showers. They also make the best base materials for stone and tile systems, including edge trims and anti-crack mats with integral floor heating. These systems have become extremely popular for curb-less shower systems. I installed two in my home. One in the master bath and the other for my moms bathroom shower. You can order a full range of Schluter products at Amazon.

cool building products for 2019
Shower waterproofing system



One of my favorite new devices is this secure mail and parcel system designed for the “delivered” world we are heading into. This mailbox on steroids is built into the wall fitting neatly between the studs. The outside is accessible via a code to drop off parcels. While the homeowner has access from inside the home. This mailbox is secure. If you own a home and want one, contact me through this website I can arrange the manufacturer to provide one to you.

cool building products for 2019
Secure mailbox
Cool building products for 2019
Contact me if you’re interested in this secure mailbox


Outdoor Kitchens

At the show I found this new line of outdoor kitchen cabinets that are made for the outdoors. All stainless steel, including the hinges. For folks living on the coast, this company will even make these for you out of the fantastic 316 marine grade stainless. Unfortunately the makers of the cabinet drawer slides do not offer them in 316 stainless steel just yet. Too bad as there is definitely a market for them, especially in marine environments. If you are contemplating a new outdoor kitchen be sure to read my post on “outdoor kitchen mistakes to avoid.




That about wraps up the cool building products for 2019 that were present at the PCBC show. It’s good to see that the industry continues to innovate and put out useful new products.


Who killed American Recycling? It’s not who you think.

Homeowners are consuming more stuff than ever and with recycling dead, it’s all ending up in the trash.  

Who killed recycling in America?
recycling dumpster

Almost weekly I read where another US community has stopped recycling. So who killed recycling in America?

I grew up in the late 50’s and all us kids were natural recyclers. We went hunting for that elusive coke bottle along the side of the road because it was worth five cents.  I even remember collecting the little rubber liners from under the Pepsi caps because they were worth a penny each. Our scout troop collected tons of newspaper for recycling too. Very little got wasted.

Master sorters

During the seventies and eighties recycling became more mainstream, and by the nineties, after decades of public-information campaigns, Americans were finally recycling in earnest. All of us knew how to interpret the various recycling symbols at the bottom of product containers.

Architects designed kitchens with recycling centers. Mom’s had separate bins at home for plastic, metal, cardboard and glass. Cans and milk jugs got washed out before being placed in the bins and even the little plastic ring around the necks of bottles had to come off.

Airports, malls, schools, and office buildings across the country had separate bins for plastic bottles and aluminum cans and newspapers. In some cities, you could be fined if inspectors discovered that you hadn’t recycled appropriately.

Who killed recycling in America
Soting recycling properly

Quality products sell, junk does not

As a result of the care put into sorting and collection, the bulk of our recycling product was fairly clean. Clean product in the recycling world means quality. Throughout the 1990’s, the USA produced a high-quality recycle product. The rest of the world wanted it enough to buy it.

Our recycling habit in the US was a good one and old habits are hard to break. To this day many people are still going through the motions of cleaning, sorting and setting out. But now most of that carefully sorted recycling is ending up in the trash. It is enough to make an environmentalist cry!

Recycle right container

What happened?

Ever heard of co-mingled recycling? I bet you have.  Fully comingled or single-stream recycling refers to a system in which all paper, fibers, plastics, metals and other containers are mixed in a collection bin or truck instead of being sorted at the source. Instead the sort takes place at a central collection area where it can (in theory) be sorted more quickly and efficiently. This made so much sense that the idea spread fast from a few test communities in California to nationwide by 2012. By 2013 over 100 million Americans were serviced by comingled recycling. The devilish, time consuming business of sorting glass, plastic and paper waste was now abandoned. Life was simple and easy again. How clever. Not so fast.

Co-mingling is confusing

Turns out that “co-mingling” is mostly confusing. Americans faced with a trash container and a comingled recycling container have no idea the difference.  The result is as you can imagine…a mess!

Who killed recycling in America?
Commingling Advertisement

Because of mass confusion at the source in the collection system, by the time the “co-mingled” material gets to the plant for sorting, it is essentially not much more than pure garbage. The plants are not set up to sort pure garbage and so the system grinds to a halt or puts out filthy product or both. The result is a terrible recycling product and no one, not even China wants to buy it.

Commingled recycling center

So, in ten years the “innovation” of co-mingled recycling has instead murdered the system. Not only are Americans now confused about how and what to recycle but even when they do, the quality is so bad, there is no market for it.

Politicians and the main stream media want you to think that China is to blame. It is not.  Delivering a poor recycling product is our problem. Not China.  If you want to answer the question “who killed recycling in America?” just look for those who introduced and promoted co-mingled waste to the market.

The end of recycling

Waste-management companies across the country are telling towns, cities, and counties that there is no longer a market for their recycling. This is true, but I ask you who really killed the market?

This end of recycling comes at a time when the United States is creating more waste than ever. In 2015, America generated 262.4 million tons of waste, up 4.5 percent from 2010 and 60 percent from 1985. That amounts to nearly five pounds per person a day.

For a long time, Americans have had little incentive to consume less. We love to buy cheap products and then throw them away at the end of their short lives. But the cost of all this garbage is growing, especially now that bottles and papers that were once recycled are now ending up in the trash. It is time to change our thinking.

Companies don’t bear the costs of disposal so they have no incentive to manufacture products out of material that will be easier to recycle. This needs to stop.

The best way to fix recycling is to persuade people to buy less stuff and take better care of the stuff they buy. This would also have the benefit of reducing some of the upstream waste created when products are made. But that’s a hard sell in the United States, where we have a disposable mentality and where consumer spending accounts for 68 percent of the GDP.

Meantime, many municipalities are desperately trying to retrain consumers to recycle properly again. I fully support them and wish them luck, they will need it.  And please no more brilliant shortcuts like co-mingling thank you!


One of my readers, Kerry has asked:  

“Interesting and frustrating article. Frustrating to know that recycling is diminishing. It would be nice to know if persons, cities, HOAs, POAs, townships, etc are being charged by for-profit waste companies for recycling services when their collected material is actually going to the landfills. I call that theft and fraud that needs to be exposed.”

HPM: Thanks for the thoughtful message Kerry.  You have a very good point. A ton of money has been spent on separate trucks, collection bins, sorting centers etc. Who paid for all that, and who is paying for it now?

Who killed recycling in America?
Too little, too late! Recycle properly poster

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.

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!

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.

This is the place to visit if you want information on your home: How to improve air quality; ways to improve the value of your home; what are the best cleaning services; do you really need handyman services; how to plan and execute home renovation and home improvement projects; ways to hire a handyman; what to do during spring cleaning; ways to go about tidying up a messy house; and generally how to be a better homeowner.

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

Help me to help you

Congratulations on taking time to use this free website. I 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.

This is the place to visit if you want information on your home: How to improve air quality; ways to improve the value of your home; what are the best cleaning services; do you really need handyman services; how to plan and execute home renovation and home improvement projects; ways to hire a handyman; what to do during spring cleaning; ways to go about tidying up a messy house; and generally how to be a better homeowner.

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

Thanks again!

Help me to help you

Thank you for taking time to use this free website. I hope you find the junk-free information here fun and useful? Please send me your comments and feedback.

Writing and maintaining the information in this manual 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 happens 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 trustworthy and are the very best resources available. That is why I recommend them personally.

HomePreservationManual.com is the place to visit if you want information on

  • maintaining your home
  • how to improve air quality
  • ways to improve the real value of your home
  • what are the best housekeeping services
  • the problems with handymen services
  • how to plan and execute home renovation and home improvement projects
  • tips for spring cleaning; tidying up a messy house
  • and generally how to be a better homeowner.

Make sure you download your monthly maintenance checklist for this month.

Linking to this site

Do you want to link to anything on this site? Please do! Go right ahead. I appreciate it and am honored to be considered as a resource on your website. Always feel free to link to anything you find helpful. Of course, please never copy anything (everything is copyrighted and registered), but link away and thanks!

Thank you!

Copyright and permission to use information.

If you have questions or just want to say hi, please send me a note. If you are looking for help performing the work described and you are in the San Francisco area, go to HPS Palo Alto Inc.and request a free evaluation.

As a reminder, it is unlawful to make copies including cut and paste or especially in the form of making printouts for reuse. If you wish to make a print for personal use, I will happily grant you one-time permission if you will kindly send me a request in writing.

Thanks again!