Home Reviews

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.

Disposing of Stuff? Get Ready To Pay!

Disposing of stuff, get ready to pay!
Decluttering big time

Managing your possessions

Caring for your home takes more than just checking maintenance items off that to-do list. An often-overlooked task includes managing the growing possessions within your home.

If you accumulate lots of stuff, one day you or your heirs will have the daunting challenge of disposing of it. The truth is, no matter how attached you feel about an item today, at some point, it will no longer be wanted or needed.

Whether it’s a lifetime collection of small personal items, large furniture pieces, household hazardous waste (unused paints, chemicals or expired drugs,) or building materials, you may be surprised by the cost and chaos of getting rid of it all.

My friend Helen Ingwersen knows a lot about this problem of “stuff” disposal. Helen owns a company called T-O-P Move Management – www.topmovemgmt.com and she helps people deal with this very issue all the time. According to Helen, there are some things to think about that may help.

Bequeath it

The very first thing you need to do is talk to your family. Offer things to the people you think will most enjoy or best take care of them. The way you want. Ask around and see if there are family members that might want things before you move on to the next steps.

Sell it

The best option, will always be to sell your best stuff, especially if you need the money. Unfortunately, the only way this works well is if you can sell it before you HAVE to sell it.

Get real about prices

This is a tricky business since we collectors all think we are going to live forever. Plus we tend to place a high value on the things we like vs the rest of the world, so selling things we have an attachment for is slow and painful. But it must be done.

Selling may be painful emotionally, and it may take time and effort, but you may actually discover that you can get a reasonable amount for good stuff. And as a bonus some items you thought of as junk may just be worth real money to collectors.

What’s in demand

Have you watched Antique Roadshow or American Pickers? They know what’s in demand. Check collector-oriented websites or eBay to get clues about values, then advertise the items on-line. Craigslist, NextDoor and Facebook all have free local on-line selling platforms. Study up on how to safely sell valuable items on-line. Some large or delicate items are best sold locally if possible.

Although some select mid-century items are quite sought after and very valuable, you may be disappointed to learn that most of the heirlooms and collectibles that were once so important to your parents, are no longer wanted. Baby Boomers inherited tons of household and family goods, but now that they are passing away, the Next and Millennial generations don’t seem to want it.

What’s not

Tastes have changed. For example, quaint maple or oak dining table and chair sets that were once highly popular in the 1980’s, now cannot be given away. As a result, there is a glut of that stuff on the market.

You can forget consignment centers unless you have really large, rare or expensive items. These places are literally filled to overflowing with goods right now. Most are very, very selective and the prices for consignment goods are low and dropping. Even thrift shops have become picky about what they allow to take up space on their properties.

Yard sales

The last alternative for selling is a yard sale. I don’t care for these personally because they are a lot of work and don’t make much money. Plus they might attract unwanted strangers. But if you don’t mind any of that, have at it.

If your stuff doesn’t sell, don’t worry, you simply learned the market’s opinion of the value  You still have some alternatives, and there is a chance that someone may at least pick it up and haul it away for you.

Donate it

Posting a sign that says “Free” or “Take Me” and putting it on a street corner is not a good idea. Doing so will very likely anger your neighbors, break city ordinances and you could even be cited for littering while the debris sits exposed waiting for the perfect bargain hunter to drive by. Before defacing the neighborhood, learn about on-line websites and forums that have sections for free goods. Give them a try.

Non-profit donations

The next option is to wait for a non-profit donation pick-up, such as those offered by HOPE Services, veterans’ groups, Goodwill and the Salvation Army. While this is a great solution for getting service to your door, these groups will require your patience as they are busy. Most are also quite selective about what they will accept. Rejected items include mattresses of any size, large appliances, personal care items, building materials, cribs, car seats and some types of televisions (needy folks apparently only want flat screens). Be prepared for some rejection when they come to your home. 

Building materials

For building materials, you can work with ReStore a non-profit home improvement and donation center run by Habitat for Humanity. They heroically divert 7,000 tons of waste each year from landfills by accepting items like leftover construction materials, fixtures, home accessories and some furniture and appliances. ReStore sells this stuff back to the public at a fraction of retail price. In addition, ReStore proceeds help to fund many Habitat For Humanity homes each year. They tend to want newer and good condition material. Like most non-profits these days, they have very specific needs & criteria and do not take everything. Learn more at: http://restore.habitatebsv.org/donate-items/donation-criteria/

Recycle it

One of the best ways to keep items out of landfills is to recycle them. Be sure to contact your local public recycling center to see what items can be picked up, what items can be dropped off and what can be bought-back (think glass, cans & cardboard to name a few).

With regards to HHW (household hazardous waste), virtually all cities & counties have drop-off centers; note that nearly all require appointments and have very distinct increments of product they will accept at a time, as well as limits on what types of chemicals, paints and medications are allowed. 

Don’t forget to check if your area has a Freecycle Network. This grassroots organization exists in over 5,000 communities with 9 million members around the world. By striving to get and give within their neighborhoods, Freecycle members strive to reuse and limit landfill usage.

Dump it

If you have ruled out all the other options, it’s time to consider a hauling service. Got Junk and others will come to your address, pick up the material and off it goes. Once again, nothing is free. Haulers charge based on truck size & capacity. They are subject to labor, equipment, gas, travel time, and of course, those landfill fees!

Landfill space is becoming a premium and there has been an increase in closures since 2005. There are few remaining municipalities with the space, desire or money to build more landfills, so the trend is towards dump closures within small communities and trucking the waste to large regional centers. The result is that it will only cost MORE to get rid of your stuff as the years go by.


The easiest solution to this dilemma of course is to not have a lot of stuff to begin with. This is easier said than done. I know this first hand because I am what you would call a nostalgic collector. I have an urge to acquire great old things that I could never afford when I was growing up. Also, I cannot stand to see a quality item head for the dump before its time. The reason I started HPS after all was to try to make houses last longer.

Even so, now that I have personally experienced the effort and costs for disposing of my parents stuff, I have lot less incentive to collect more of my own. “Dying with the most toys” might be a cool T-shirt slogan, but it can sure create hell for those left behind to deal with it.

Hopefully knowing all this will help change some thinking about the constant accumulation of material. At the very least you might set some realistic expectations about what it will take in terms of cost, time and energy to completely clear things out when the time comes.

Our article on Living With Fire: Minimizing Fire Risks has been featured in the website Elemental Green.

Elemental Green. is a digital media company with a mission to make green home building and renovation the status quo. There’s no reason not to and every reason to make it the norm. (Did you know buildings account for 70% of electricity use and 40% of CO2 emissions in the US?) Plus, green building is exploding! New products and technologies are entering the market all the time and they are more accessible and affordable than ever before.

Whether you’re building from scratch or making some minor renovations, you can browse for the perfect products, get inspired from other people’s projects, and learn why and how sustainable solutions are best for your home. Whatever you’re searching for, spend some time looking around the site. We can almost guarantee you’ll find something you never knew existed for your dream green home!

Image of home under repair
Control Your Home upkeep costs

Six step system to master home upkeep costs

If you always feel behind and overwhelmed when it comes to home repairs, maybe you’re unaware of all the costs of homeownership? Here’s a system to accurately identify and budget the repair and maintenance expenses for your home. At the same time, this exercise should eliminate most surprises and reduce total home upkeep costs to a bare minimum.

  1. Start by establishing the ultimate condition you want for your home. Use that “dream” condition as the goal. Suggestion: for maximum enjoyment and durability, keep your home in like-new and readily salable condition-even if you do not intend to sell.
  2. Next learn the true condition of your home. Have a professional inspection done to create a list of the repairs and deferred maintenance items needed to meet the goal above. Get estimates for all the items and establish a schedule to get them done. The idea is to complete all these items and get your home into ultimate condition ASAP.
  3. Begin performing a system of normal preventive care. This is the ongoing maintenance needed to keep your home functional and in top condition. A list of the required tasks can be found HERE. For budgeting add in any weekly landscape, pool and housekeeping costs as needed. (Example: house maintenance $300; landscape/gardening $250; pool service $175; Housekeeping $400. Total $1125 per month)
  4. Create an emergency repair fund-for unexpected breakdowns, accidental damage and failures. Some say $10-15K should be in this fund. I will provide another post in the coming weeks discussing how to calculate this.
  5. Establish a fund for proactive replacements (link)-for normal wear and tear. Estimate the replacement cost of the major “wearing” components and divide the estimates by the remaining years of life. This will determine the annual amount to put aside for the eventual replacement of these items. Major “wearing” components include: the roof system, paint, fencing, appliances, equipment, flooring, plumbing fittings, landscaping etc. I will be providing a follow-up post soon with step by step instructions on how to do this. Keep tuning in.
  6. Think about upgrades. Put some money aside in investment-type accounts for eventual improvements or remodels/additions you may have in mind. Talk to contractors or architects about rough budgets for these upgrades.

Add all this up and you will have an excellent handle on the requirements and costs associated with owning and caring for your home. You will also have virtually eliminated surprises and disasters, minimized your total home upkeep costs and provided a much more enjoyable home to live in, all through diligent property stewardship.

If you live in the SF Bay Area and want help with this kind of program contact Steve at HPS Palo Alto Inc. 

Image of magazine cover named PUNCH
Punch Magazine

HPS Palo Alto is proud to be a charter advertiser in a new magazine venture founded by my friend and fellow Silicon Valley entrepreneur Sloane Citron. Just as Home Preservation’s Stewardship philosophy is working to enhance and revolutionize home ownership, Sloane started PUNCH magazine to explore the meaning of “living well” on the San Francisco Peninsula…a place we both feel is the center of the universe!

A fresh perspective!

PUNCH magazine is full of fresh ideas about how to live a life that is more engaging and authentic, be it through personal adventures and what we feed our bodies and souls, to the culture that fulfills us and the traditions and new discoveries that are offered here on the Peninsula. It is about appreciating and finding the richness of where we live and how that understanding can enhance our lives and make them more fulfilling, and happy.

When I heard about PUNCH, I immediately wanted HPS to be part of it. Why? Because our goals are the same. HPS does not simply maintain houses, we provide services that turn a home into a place of refuge for the family members within.

During a recent visit with Sloane, he shared some of his thoughts about living on the Peninsula and the career path that led to the founding of PUNCH.

“Publishing was always in my blood. Throughout school, I was the kid who started magazines, edited the newspapers, and missed a lot of class time as a result. It did lead me to a career. After getting my MBA from Stanford, I started a publishing company called Westar Media that published such titles as Peninsula and Northern California Home & Garden. After selling that company, I launched 18 Media and we published Gentry, California Home & Design and a host of other publications.

Upon selling my half of that company, I made an effort to buy Sunset magazine, and when that did not materialize, I decided I would take my sincerely crafted plan for Sunset and create a fresh, exciting magazine for the Peninsula, the place I have lovingly called home for more than 30 years since coming here to go to school.

PUNCH is a monthly magazine devoted to the culture, people, food, and discoveries of the true Peninsula, a magazine about how to live a life that is more engaging and authentic; about appreciating and finding the richness of where we live and how that understanding can enhance our lives and make them more fulfilling and happy.

We have had a great response to our first issue and look forward to bringing many great stories and exquisite photography to our Peninsula readers.”

We wish Sloane and PUNCH magazine the very best, and with him HPS looks forward to helping create better lives for all who live on this fine west coast Peninsula. The center of our universe!

Sloane can be reached at Sloane@punchmonthly.com and you can read PUNCH online at www.punchmonthly.com

Smoke Detector Recall

A smoke detector recall was announced by the consumer product safety commission. The recall  concerns about 500,000 Kidde dual sensor smoke alarms due to possible failure to alert properly. Check to see what you have and replace any of the covered units ASAP.


image of Smoke detector recall of Kidde dual sensor smoke alarm
Smoke detector recall

Product Name:

Kidde dual-sensor (photoelectric and ionization) smoke alarms – models PI2010 and PI9010

Hazard Cause:

A yellow cap left on during the manufacturing process can cover one of the two smoke sensors and compromise the smoke alarm’s ability to detect smoke, posing a risk of consumers not being alerted to a fire in their home.


Check, ID and replace

Recall date:

March 21, 2018


About 452,000 units were sold in the U.S. (In addition, about 40,000 were sold in Canada.)


This recall involves models PI2010 and PI9010 of Kidde dual sensor (photoelectric and ionization) smoke alarms. “KIDDE” is printed on the front center of the smoke alarm. The model number and date code are printed on the back of the alarm.


How To Take Better Care Of Your Home

How to take better care of your home
Maintaining your home is good

Starting today let’s begin to look at homeownership differently and learn how to be a better homeowner. It’s well worth it.  Your home represents an enormous amount of expended energy and material. It is also a huge and hopefully growing financial asset. You likely saved for it, searched for it, financed it and now, hopefully are enjoying it.

Whether this home is your first or your retirement dream home, one thing is true – now that you have it, you need to take care of it.  A well-cared-for property has many proven benefits. It will last longer, cost less to operate, is safer, looks better, is worth more and is way more fun to live in. Sound good?  

Let’s get started right now

 Home Preservation MANUAL

Like kids and spouses, most homes don’t come with instructions for daily use. Nor are there any directions for long-term care. Home Preservation Manual or HPM was created to provide that information. It will help you become a better homeowner and in the process extract full value and enjoyment from your investment. 

Your Homeowner’s User Guide

www.homepreservationmanual.com  is the missing “User Guide” for your home.

Use this site as your primary resource to learn about your home and develop a repair and maintenance strategy.  Then begin systematically and proactively caring for it. Return here regularly to refresh and learn more as we continue to explore new ideas and concepts around homeownership.

Topics And Information

My intention is to share valuable, first-hand information with you on what works and what doesn’t as it applies to your home. Design, construction methods, energy, sustainability, and leisure are all things we will explore…and more! Each week I will contribute new items to this growing knowledge-base. Check back for posts on new and interesting ideas, testing new tools and products, and posing stimulating questions.

If you have ideas or suggestions for topics or information you would like to see or have me explore… please send me a note here.

Much of the information found here comes from 30-plus years of real-world service experience gathered by running HPS Palo Alto Inc.* (www.homepreservation.com). If you are fortunate to live in the Palo Alto/Los Altos area, HPS can perform all this for you, and more.

Regardless of where you live, much can be accomplished on your own. If you are a fan of DIY, use the tools available to you in this manual and you should have all the information needed to become a better homeowner. 

You can do it! It is worth it.

*HPS Palo Alto, Inc. (Home Preservation Services) was founded in 1993. HPS is a full-service provider of proactive Stewardship and licensed general contracting services for fine homes in the Palo Alto/Los Altos area of California.

The purpose of these postings is not promotional. I am simply sharing information developed and tested over many years and adaptable to virtually any home. 


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!