Home Reviews

Building Industry Trips Over Fall Safety Requirements

roof safety for workersOSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) rule 1926.501 states that any work performed at a height of 6’ or more above a lower level shall have proper protections that safeguard workers from fall injuries. Note that the rule is not just describing roofs. This can also mean walking surfaces, trenches, pits, retaining walls or any place with an edge that drops 6’ or more to another level. The law calls out the requirements and obligates employers to identify needs and provide these protections to ensure roof safety for workers.

Acceptable fall protection can be provided using any of the following three methods:

  1. Guardrails
  2. Fall Arrest Harnesses
  3. Safety Nets

roof safety for workersGuardrails and/or safety nets are good protection options during initial construction, but these devices are too cumbersome and expensive for general maintenance and repairs. For post-construction applications fall arrest systems are the way to go. What this means is that anyone working without a ladder on any part of a home over 6’ above the ground, (such as the roof) may not do so unless they are trained and provided with harness fall arrest equipment.

Harness systems are designed to arrest falls in progress, but they do not actually prevent them from happening. It is a safety mechanism of last resort, like an air bag in a car or climbing a mountain with a rope. The system includes a body harness that is worn by the worker, a connection lanyard with clip, and a firmly attached anchor point on the roof to secure the lanyard to. The system is designed with lanyards to be long enough to allow some free movement, but short enough to prevent the wearer from either free falling more than 6’ or from hitting the ground should a fall occur.

roof safety for workers

PFAS Personal Fall Arrest System

Initially, fall arrest harness systems feel a bit cumbersome, but with repeated use they become manageable and comfortable and just another part of the job. Like a tool belt. On low sloped or flat roofs some workers complain that the lanyard tends to get in the way and can perhaps become a trip hazard on its own. This complaint is quickly offset on steep or slippery surfaces where the system provides an obvious improved margin of safety plus elevated confidence to the wearer that can in fact increase work speed and quality.

Fall accident statistics

OSHA’s requirement for fall protection has been law since 1994 and considering the stats listed above, it no doubt has the potential to save both injuries and lives.
roof safety for workers

So why isn’t it embraced?

Every home in America falls under the OSHA rule, yet have you ever seen a residential roofer using the system. I have inspected thousands of homes over my career and not one has been equipped with the roof anchors that are needed to use the harness system. Every home needs to have the roof maintained occasionally so why is this the case? Why has the building industry been so slow to make this lifesaving law a mandatory part of everyday use?

At the time of this article, few if any building departments have enacted requirements for installation of the roof anchorages needed for fall protection. This would be an easy “mark-up stamp” requirement on permits for repairs, reroofs or new construction, like what was done to encourage use of smoke detectors. It seems logical to me that if a federal law requires the use of safety harnesses when working on roofs, then all structures should be constructed with the anchors needed for them.


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In California, the use of fall protection systems is almost non-existent. Residential contractors, roofers and handymen all seem blissfully ignorant of the law. Perhaps this is because the building departments are not currently requiring it and OSHA doesn’t seem to be enforcing it. Fines are substantial and can range from $13,653/each for the first serious violations up to $136,530/each for repeat violations.

Hint for contractors and roofers

It’s time to lead the way by adding fall protection safeguards to your business plan. Provide a safer place to work for your employees and save yourself some money in fines before the feds catch on.

Hint for homebuilders and developers

Home builders and developers are missing out on a golden opportunity to differentiate themselves. How enlightened would it be to advertise that your offerings come with built-in features that make the property easier and safer to maintain? Roof safety for workers can be a great marketing tool.

Summary: Roof safety for workers

In 2020, there were 351 fatal falls to a lower level out of 1,008 construction fatalities (BLS data). These deaths represent 35% of all construction fatalities and are preventable.

Since 2012, OSHA has partnered with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) – Construction Sector on the Fall Prevention Campaign to raise awareness among workers and employers about common fall hazards in construction, and how falls from ladders, scaffolds and roofs can be prevented.

Employers must PLAN to get the job done safely
When working from heights, employers are required to plan projects to ensure work safety for workers. Begin by deciding how the job will be done, what tasks will be involved, and what safety equipment may be needed to complete each task.


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When estimating the cost of a job, employers should include safety equipment, and plan to have all the necessary gear and tools available at the construction site. For example, on a roofing project, think about the different potential fall hazards, such as holes or skylights and around any edges, then plan and select fall protection suitable to that work, such as personal fall arrest systems (PFAS) to provide roof safety for workers.

PROVIDE the right equipment
Workers who are six feet or more above lower levels are at risk for serious injury or death if they should fall. To protect these workers, employers must provide fall protection and the right equipment for the job, including the right kinds of ladders, scaffolds, and other safety gear.

Use the right ladder, scaffolding or other accessories to get the job done safely. For roof work, if workers use personal fall arrest systems (PFAS), provide a harness for each worker who needs to tie off to the anchor. Make sure the PFAS fits, and regularly inspect it for safe use.

TRAIN everyone to use the equipment safely
Every worker must be trained on proper set-up and safe use of any equipment they use on the job. Employers must train workers to recognize and avoid hazards on the job. See educational materials and resources page for posters, factsheets, and other training materials.

How to Make More When Selling Your Home

Make more when selling your home

This year homeowners across the county are experiencing tremendous increases in the value of their home. Single family houses in prime neighborhoods with attractive, well-maintained homes in move-in condition are just killing it. Many of these homes are receiving multiple cash offers above asking price, with no contingencies, short closing cycles and minimal inspections. Now is the time to learn strategies for how to make more when selling your home.

This is truly a homeowner’s dream. Unfortunately, the bounty is not being distributed equally to every seller. In fact, some are getting way less than others and it has little to do with location, age or the configuration of the home. The biggest hurdle to making a killing on the sale of your home is poor condition, caused mainly by poor maintenance and neglect.

Homeowners with houses in disrepair are losing out on a rare windfall that could have been. You see, buyers in this market have money and are willing to pay but they are also smart, picky and they are opportunistic. They will be especially demanding if they smell blood in the water and if your home is a wreck, you might lose out without even knowing. You may still sell quickly and get more than you thought, but you will suffer greatly compared to your neighbor whose been living in the well-maintained home next door.


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You ALWAYS end up paying for home negligence

The truth is, if you are selling a home that is un-maintained and falling apart, you have been suffering for a long time prior to this point. You have likely been living with components that either don’t work or are obsolete or perhaps are just outdated. You no doubt have had to deal with more than your share of emergency breakdowns, accidents, and costly surprise repairs. Your insurance premiums have been higher than necessary and the operating costs for energy, water and gas will have been much higher too because leaky windows, bad weatherstripping, inefficient appliances and old equipment are wasteful.

You ALWAYS end up paying for negligence to your home. Selling a home in poor condition will net you a lower cash price compared to a nicely kept one, but the real insult and suffering will have occurred while you owned the home…in the way you have been living. 
Wondering when the next surprise disaster or leak or untimely breakdown is going to strike can be stressful and worrisome, and bad maintenance cam be unsafe as well. No homeowner should have to live that way, and it is unnecessary. Next time do it differently. You don’t have to be rich, just smart.

The biggest hurdle to making a killing on the sale of your home is poor condition, caused mainly by poor maintenance and neglect.

The trick is simply to maintain your home. Inspect and service it regularly. Keep it in proper working order, replace components when they are obsolete or no longer appealing and when something breaks-fix it properly. This way the home is always ready to sell and YOU get to enjoy it in its best possible condition.

The rich worry less about these things because they have the money to make bad situations go away quickly. This makes things seem better than they really are. In other words, they can afford to make mistakes and get away with it. The rest of us don’t have the luxury to be that wasteful. We average folks have to be smarter. We must do some planning, but every homeowner who follows this advice can live like a rich person…only better.

Start when you buy the home. Unless you are a professional builder, avoid fixer-uppers. Always buy a home that is in the best possible condition. Get your own inspector to be certain of getting the facts. Never rely on the sellers’ inspections and especially not the realtor’s opinion.


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Strategies to make more when selling your home

If you already own a home, continue reading as this advice applies to you especially.

When deciding to purchase a home, make sure you can afford to maintain it. Don’t ignore this and don’t go by some stupid government statistic. Have at lease $1.50 per square foot per year available for recurring preventive maintenance. In addition, you should also have a fund set aside for unscheduled repairs. In addition, you should have money available for the eventual replacement of critical old, worn-out, obsolete components. Most folks know that a new roof is expensive, but they may not know how much it will cost or when it will really need to be replaced. Nearly every component of your home has an expiration date. These dates and costs are important to know and budget for.

I want to emphasize again, do not buy a home that you cannot afford to maintain. The home will likely be your single biggest and most valuable asset. To get full value, you MUST maintain it properly. Do so and you’ll be a happy homeowner who can sleep well at night…and eventually… a rich one too!

Learn How Many Trees it Takes to Build a House?

There are many good reasons to take care of your home and saving trees is one of them. You would be surprised at how many trees it takes to build a house. Good maintenance helps protect the environmental investment that is 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. Learn how much timber and future homes were lost in last years fires.

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.


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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.


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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.

So how many trees does it take to build a house? 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.


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Summary: Trees are high value asset

Catastrophic fires impact the availability of lumber for 200-300 years to come.

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? Check out how many homes could be built with the timber we recently lost.

The value of our forests are truly priceless. They are worth managing properly and protecting. Homeowners can help by making sure their 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 find out how many trees would it take to build your house, go to Zillow.com, enter your address and add the square footage, (plus any garage footage) for the total. Then divide the total square footage by 120.33 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 will 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!

Why attic fans don’t work well and what to do instead!

With the summer season upon us, now is a good time to review an uncomfortable topic. Hot attics, and why traditional attic fans don’t work well enough to cool them off! Continue reading to learn why…or just skip ahead to learn how to cool them off here.

A very hot problem

Last week we had some warm weather for the first time this year. One of our clients called to say that their second floor was extremely hot and requested we install a larger and more powerful attic fan. The client had decided a new fan was needed to replace a solar unit they had installed several years ago. The solar fan  “didn’t seem to be working as it should.” Compared to the rest of the house, the second-floor rooms were extremely hot and impossible to live in during the afternoon and evening.

Attic construction

Why attic exhaust fans do not work
Attic exhaust fan

On inspection, I found the villain in the attic exactly as the customer described.  A single, roof mounted, solar powered attic exhaust fan. It was working.

There was no other ducting or HVAC equipment in the attic. Insulation was a 6”-8” layer of blown-in fiberglass on the top of the ceiling, plus random pieces of R-19 fiberglass batts tossed askew atop the blown-in material, but not fully covering the space.

The 2×6 roof rafters with 4” skip sheathing, and ½” plywood shear was all fully exposed to view. 6”x24” eave vents were installed around the perimeter every 8’ and vents were clear and unblocked by the insulation. The temperature of the roof sheathing inside the attic was 147 degrees. The 45’x24’ (approx. 4500 cubic foot) attic space was very hot.

I explained to our client that the idea of attic fans to remove hot air from the attic area might seem logical. But they actually might need a bigger and better solution

Anatomy of attic heat

Imagine yourself laying in the sun on a beach in Cancun. All is good for about 5 minutes then you start to feel hot. You go and get a big fan and set it up to blow air over you. Ah, feels better for about another 5 minutes. Soon even the blowing air feels hot, so you exchange the fan for an air conditioner and let that blow cold air on you. Feels great now so you stay out in the sun till you notice that your skin is red and blistered and burned to a crisp.

What happened? You got zapped by UV rays, a form of invisible radiant heat! It’s why you can still get a terrible sunburn even on a cold or cloudy day. Radiant heat zips right through cold air without any affect and cooks your skin. So, what does that have to do with your house?

Attic exhaust fans
Radiant heat transfer

The roof structure of your home is like your skin. Radiation from the sun heats the surface of the roof. From there, the entire mass of the roof (roofing, roof paper, nails, sheathing, rafters) warms up through conduction. Soon the roof’s structural mass is so hot that it will radiate heat on its own (like the sun). This radiant heat passes down through the attic space and hits the material on the surface of the ceiling structure (insulation, wood joists, drywall, ducting etc.). Very quickly the entire mass of the ceiling structure also becomes a giant heat radiator. This heat moves back up towards the roof again and will continue to radiate heat well after the sun goes down. If your ceiling is not sealed airtight and extremely well-insulated, much of this heat is going to radiate downward into your home too.

Hot air

Air in the attic that comes in contact with the surfaces of the hot framing, will become heated through conduction. This creates a kind of hot air sandwich formed between the roof and ceiling structures. The warming of all these surfaces is why the attic interior gets so much hotter than the exterior temperature.


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Trapped air and heat in the attic would cause problems for some roofing materials. It could also cause  condensation leading to mold issues. This is why attic spaces are required to have ventilation built into the structure. Air openings are placed along the lower eave areas and the upper roof ridge or gable end. These openings allow fresher and cooler outside air to circulate naturally via convection up from the eaves and out at the gable or ridge vents.

Mechanical attic fans

This is where an attic fan can help. A mechanical fan working in an attic space equipped with adequate ventilation openings can move hot air out and increase the flow of air through the attic. This will indeed help reduce the temperature in the attic, but only marginally unless the incoming air from outside is substantially colder (not likely in the summer till nightfall) You also need to exchange the air quickly. For instance, if the attic is 150 degrees and you circulate air through it that is coming in at 110 degrees from the outside, then you can expect that the cooling effect may bring the attic temperature down to perhaps 125-130 degrees. The faster the air changes, the closer you can get to the incoming air temperature. But you cannot get lower than 110. There are formulas for this that engineers use in determining heat transfer and the proper amounts of air flow needed.

The problem with attic fans is in how they are marketed. Homeowners need to know that fans can only be effective if sized properly and mated with the proper amounts and placements of ventilation openings. Even then, they will not “cool” a home in the way most homeowners understand the term. Fans will only lower temperatures a bit in the attic, and will require some power to do so. Still, a little improvement may be better than nothing. If you consider using an attic fan, you will need to also decide (as with any solution suggested here) if the benefits are worth the cost in installation and operation.  This will be a topic for another article.

Equipment and ducting suffer greatly in a hot attic

A hot attic space is bad enough. But if you have equipment, ducting or piping up there, working in elevated temperatures, you can expect a stressful and likely shortened life for those items.

If you have ductwork, furnaces, air conditioners, water heaters, water piping etc. in your attic, it would be a good consideration to:

  1. Move the ducting and equipment to the crawlspace or the interior of your home.
  2. Meticulously seal seams and add reflective insulation around your ductwork
  3. Convert your attic to a conditioned space. Do this by moving a radiant barrier and insulation  to the sloped roof assembly. Spray foam insulation makes this possible but you will need to create and follow protocols to avoid trapped moisture and ventilation issues with the existing roof framing.

The point here is that if you have a hot attic space, it is going to shorten the life of any equipment residing there.

Attic Fan problems

Even though an attic exhaust fan can incrementally lower the temperature of a very hot attic, using a fan does not stop the source-radiant heat. During the day, any cooler air brought in by the fan will be heated up immediately by the surrounding structure. Most fans cannot keep up. At night, after the sun’s radiation source halts, the structure will continue to be hot for some time.  Any cooler air brought in from outside will eventually lower the the attic structure temperature, but that will happen VERY slowly. As soon as the sun rises in the morning, the radiant heating process will start again.

In the example of our client’s solar fan above, the unit was way too small to have an effect. It was only rated at 1000 CFM meaning it would take forty five minutes to replace all the hot attic air with outside air just once. It could not keep up with the radiant heat gain.

In some worst-case instances, attic fans can actually create more problems than they solve.

  • If there are not enough soffit, gable or ridge vents, a powerful attic exhaust fan can pull the air from your home through the ceiling if it is not perfectly sealed off.
  • Strong attic fans can actually back draft furnaces or water heaters by pulling combustion gases out of their burners and into the home.
  • Good attic ventilation is excellent for preventing moisture and condensation but it is usually not enough for cooling in the summertime.


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A retrofit example that works

I believe the best solution may be a combination of radiant barrier to stop the sun’s heat from warming up the attic structure to begin with along with proper ventilation, attic exhaust fan(s), insulation and air sealing.

1. Seal off any air leaks at the ceiling. This prevents air/dust movement from living space to attic. This will also prevent excessive moisture from migrating in and out of your attic.

2. Install additional insulation to bring the total to over R-30 everywhere-even over the access hatch. Cover the tops of any wood ceiling joists by at least 3 inches.

3. Make sure the eave, gable and ridge vents are wide open and unobstructed.

4. Install radiant barrier foil between the rafters. You will need to allow the foil to “sag” at least an inch below the sheathing to allow an air space. You can get radiant barrier foil from Amazon here.

A reader Ken from Tennessee sent in his experience:

On my attached pictures I’m showing around 30 degrees on the sunny side and only 3 degrees on the shaded side.. I have a ridge vent and roof edge vents, because the contractor forgot to put soffet vents onto the house. Pictures were taken on December 12 2015, in eastern Tennessee. No attic fan.

Southwest “sunny” side of roof no insulation 105 degrees 12/15
1 rafter bay over with radiant barrier 71.9 degrees 12/15

On the shady side of the roof, the results were as follows:

Northeast “shady” side of roof 78.9 degrees
Northeast side with radiant barrier 74 degrees


If you your house has a hot attic and ceilings during the summer, the solution is a system and not simply a powered attic exhaust fan or ventilator. To eliminate a hot attic you should consider a plan that includes radiant barriers and proper ventilation This is always best done when the home is under construction. Once constructed it may be difficult or impossible to retrofit this without major work to the structure.

What you must do is prevent heat from migrating down into the home. Your plan will likely require a completely sealed ceiling, a very thick layer of insulation, radiant barriers (reflective foil layers) above the insulation (preferably between the rafters) to block the radiation and isolate your hot attic from your cool house, additional ventilation openings and possibly a powered attic fan to remove warm air from the attic at the proper exchange rate.

Consider another, even better solution, the conditioned-space attic. Our client from above eventually opted to create a conditioned-space in their attic using a foam insulation applied to the pitched roof. This created a completely cool attic, dramatically reduced power bills and easy to maintain temperatures in the second floor rooms. Although their plan cost a bit more, this solution delivered a totally cool and comfortable second floor.  I will publish more details on this option later.

“Must Have” Items for any Dream Home

Whether you are building a new dream home or just renovating your existing digs, here are eighteen home features you absolutely must include in your plans:

      1. Motion activated video doorbell

        Motion doorbells are not new by any stretch, but today they are so affordable, useful and easy to install that every home should have one. There are many choices and options available so check to see what fits best for your budget. I personally have a Ring at the front door of my home and several at doors around my office. What’s great about these is they monitor and record anything that happens at your front door, plus you can interact with visitors to your home remotely using your phone.

        Find video doorbells on Amazon
      2. Video monitoring system

        Internet connected video cameras can easily be set up to monitor your entire home.

        Find video monitors on Amazon
      3. Power outlets at every toilet

        Toilets can now be equipped with electronic controls and attachments that require an outlet for power. The outlets are inexpensive and easy to install during construction but expensive and difficult after. For this reason, contractors and remodelers should install one as standard equipment at every toilet area.

      4. Consider Washlette toilet seats

        These are the famous “butt-washer” mechanisms pioneered by Toto over the years. At one time they were only available on the expensive top-of-the-line Toto toilets. Now they are sold as replacement seats and can be adapted to almost any existing toilet. Prices and availability are much improved over the last two years, and these adapter units can even be had at your local Costco. Washlettes are amazing pieces of engineering for your dream home that provide seat warming and air drying. They are said to improve cleanliness, hygiene and can even reduce TP and we all know how valuable that is now.

        RELATED: Baby Wipes are NOT a Replacement for Toilet Paper!.

        Find Washlette toilet seats on Amazon

      5. Touchless kitchen faucets

        Now this is an item that you might not consider until you use one a while.  We have two in our kitchen now and find we really love being able to wash messy hands without touching the handles. Washing dishes is easier too as most have a front sensor that automatically turns on the water when dishes are waived in front. The temperature can be preset. These are affordable and offered in stylish models. I believe ours is made by Delta.

        Find touchless kitchen faucets on Amazon
      6. Whole house water filters

        Water everywhere is becoming questionable. A whole house filtration system not only can prevent a long list of pathogens it can help remove sediments from your plumbing system that can shorten the life of your fixtures.

        Find whole house water filters on Amazon
      7. Demand water heaters

        This is another product that has been around for ages but has recently evolved to become a total must-have. Demand water heaters save water, energy and last longer than the old tank-type units. If properly plumbed, the newest versions can circulate water to be instantly available at every fixture in the dream home. Maintenance is required once a year and involves a flushing of the system to remove calcium and sediment.

        RELATED: Get Payback for your Energy Conservation.

        Find demand water heaters on Amazon
      8. Counter-depth refrigerators

        Refers in this configuration are less imposing and take up a smaller footprint. Since they don’t protrude from the cabinets, they can be made to blend into the design instead of becoming the focus point. I like them because the shelves are not so deep, you can see the contents clearly and the beers are easier to reach.

        Find counter depth refrigerators on Amazon

      9. Pantries in lieu of upper cabinets

        Upper cabinets tend to block views and close in on the space around you at head height. High shelves are also hard to use. Design some space for a pantry instead.

      10. Outlets with USB charging ports

        There is no way around it, we are a population of portable electronics users. Installing outlets with built-in USB ports saves having to hunt around when a charge is needed. Just grab your cord and plug in anywhere.Put these handy outlets at every countertop and work area.

        RELATED: No More Hunting Down Device Chargers.

        Find USB wall outlets on Amazon
      11. Patio fire pit and/or patio heater

        This sounds like a luxury item although a fire pit can be used to practically expand your living space into the outdoors. Fire pits are sexy, warm, inviting and fun. You can get free standing models that are gas, propane and even wood burning. Follow instructions and be safe.

        RELATED: Fire Pit Safety Tips.

        Find fire pits on Amazon
        Find patio heaters on Amazon
      12. Standby generator

        We have become more and more electricity dependent over the years, while our main power sources have become prone to unexpected outages. These outages are not only inconvenient, but they can also cause serious damage if they persist. Back-up power systems are becoming mandatory. Even a small system consisting of a portable gas generator can help avoid disaster when the problem arises.

        RELATED: 10 Reasons Every Home Needs a Back Up Generator.

        Find standby generators on Amazon
      13. Garage storage and organization

        There never seems to be enough storage room. Using the space in your garage smartly can provide loads of storage capacity. Many designers and vendors specialize in making cabinet/closet/bench systems for your garage that work efficiently when it comes to storing and organizing your stuff.

        Find garage storage solutions at Amazon
        Find garage organization solutions at Amazon
      14. Work-from-home office areas

        As we all learned during the Covid-19 epic, working from home is something we need to be prepared for. Good designs will ensure you have plenty of light, desk space, outlets and places for computers, printers, files and most importantly big monitors.

        Find home office solutions on Amazon

      15. Outdoor living space

        Creating a place for outdoor entertaining can instantly make your dream home look and feel bigger and more luxurious. Unused patios or empty yard areas can be converted into little oasis of enjoyment with just a little creative effort.

        Find outdoor living solution on Amazon
      16. Excellent WIFI

        To function in today’s living environment requires high-speed internet coverage everywhere in and around the home. People working from home may need to stay connected as they roam around the house and yard with their tablets and laptops. Appliances, video doorbells, outdoor lighting, irrigation controllers and even garage door operators can all require fast connections to the internet. A good router system is mandatory.

        Find mesh routers at Amazon
      17. Moisture and leak detection system

        Water leaks around areas of the home where water lines are located have caused enormous and costly property damage over the years. Now there are systems that will detect leaks and moisture as it occurs and automatically shut off the water and alert the homeowner to take further action. Remote moisture sensors are located at each potentially critical location (under sinks, behind washing machines, below refers with ice makers, etc.) When these sensors are triggered, a valve turns off the water supply. Long overdue, these systems have improved and become very sophisticated over time. The good news is many homeowner insurance policies will provide discounts if you install these systems.

        RELATED: New products that can prevent major water leak damage.

        Find leak detection systems on Amazon
      18. Warm floors

        These are one of the nicest and most luxurious additions to your dream home. If you are contemplating any major renovation or remodel to kitchen, bathroom or bedroom, you absolutely must consider adding warm floor heating to the budget. I have them in my home which is super insulated and just the warm floors alone are enough to keep the home toasty warm all winter. In the three years we have lived in the home, we have yet to use the forced air furnaces.

Estimates vs Bids?

What homeowners need to know?

Estimates vs bids
Bids and estimates are not the same

Estimates vs bids

Do you know the difference between an estimate and a bid? The terms are often used interchangeably when in reality they mean vastly different things, especially to contractors. If your quest is to get a handle on the potential cost of a project, you need understand what an estimate or a bid really is, and when each is appropriate to use. 

Here goes…

An estimate is a forecasted approximation of the cost of work. It is usually stated in a range from best case to worst case i.e. $5,000-$7,000.

A bid is a promise to deliver work at a firmly fixed amount i.e. HPS proposes to replace your irrigation system for $8,425.

So, which is better?

The answer to that question depends on several factors:

  • What is the situation? Is it urgent, or do you have plenty of time? 
  • Is the project big or small?
  • Is the project simple or complex?
  • Who are you working with? Someone you know and trust, or an unknown? 
  • What are you trying to accomplish? Quality, Speed, Budget or?  
  • What is your comfort threshold for risk or cost fluctuations?  High or Low?

With a good set of plans, the physical materials needed to do a job can be measured and calculated fairly accurately. On the other hand, even with excellent plans, the labor hours needed to complete a particular job are widely variable and can only be estimated.

Here’s are some examples 

  1. You may be planning to undertake a very large and complex back yard swimming pool project two years from now. Before you spend lots money to hire an architect and develop the highly detailed plans and specifications needed, you would likely want to get at least a rough estimate beforehand to confirm that the project is even feasible. Later, when the plans are complete and your architect has recommended contractors for the job, it may be better for you to get bids from the contractors for comparison. This is especially helpful if you do not know the contractors. You should absolutely never make a decision based upon money alone, but having bids from each one covering exactly the same plans and specifications can help you begin a dialog and eventually narrow down which you feel most comfortable going with. 
  2. On the other hand, if the situation is a broken pipe flooding your kitchen, and any delay will cause more damage and higher costs, you may opt to forego bids and estimates altogether and just get the flooding stopped as soon as possible–cost be damned.
  3. Another situation may be when you have a good relationship with a skilled contractor and are comfortable with his virtues.  (This is a good situation because it can cut out a lot of expense and time that would otherwise be needed for a bid. This can minimize having to hire someone to create detailed plans and specs and eliminate most of the time-consuming bid process altogether.) In this instance the contractor can supply a range of estimated costs based upon a simple scope of work and so long as the scope and estimate are acceptable to you the project can move forward. Work under this arrangement is billed out by the hour at whatever rates are agreed upon. The exact final cost of the work is not known for certain, but as long as it falls within the original estimate range who cares?  This approach speeds up the process and ensures your contractor is focused on quality rather than cutting corners to survive.  
  4. In another scenario, perhaps you are just in a hurry and need to get the project underway as quickly as possible. In this instance again, a rough estimate may be all you need or have time for. In this case make sure you thoroughly vet the contractor. 

Accurately determining the costs of projects

With a good set of plans, the physical materials needed to do a job can be measured and calculated fairly accurately. On the other hand, even with excellent plans, the labor hours needed to complete a particular job are widely variable and can only be estimated. Why? Labor time is always variable because conditions are different on every job. Workers will come with differing skill levels and aptitudes, and worksites and conditions will be different. Weather can affect production, as can temperature, complexity, and the quality requirements of the work. Only experience and a controlled environment can provide any level of productivity expectations and along with it the ability to accurately forecast labor costs.

Labor time is always variable because conditions are different on every job. Workers will come with differing skill levels and aptitudes, and worksites and conditions will be different.

When talking about the projected cost of a job, a big deal is often made about accuracy. The problem with getting truly accurate cost forecasts is the fact that there are unknown factors to consider. For example, attempting to replace a GFCI outlet only to find that the breaker panel is unlabeled making it difficult to shut off the power. Unknowns are surprises that complicate, delay and make the job more expensive and time consuming. 

There are two kinds of these surprises. Known unknowns and unknown unknowns.

These were made famous by past defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Known unknowns are those surprise issues that have been experienced before on past projects. You can document these and be aware that they may manifest. Unknown unknowns are the surprise repairs that you have never experienced before and perhaps cannot even imagine…and yet you know they could be waiting for you.

Some say that estimates are not as accurate as bids. I say that if you are trying to determine the actual cost of a project, accuracy is not the real objective. The objective is honesty and estimates are more honest than bids. Estimates approximate the cost of something in a more realistic manner because they are truthful about the fact that some costs are unknowable ahead of time.

A bid is the least truthful of the two.  In fact, the more accurate a bid is, the higher the final projected price, because many possible surprise items (known unknowns) will need to be factored in at the worst possible case, in spite of the fact that they may not occur.  This is necessary to reduce the contractor’s risk level. In addition, on very large, complex and difficult projects the contractor will also need to consider that there may be the infamous unknown unknown surprise issues to account for. (Example: lumber prices soar thanks to a bark beetle infestation in the forest.) Considerations such as these will also inflate the bid. If the contractor is awarded the job based upon a bid such as this and none of these “surprises” occur, the contractor pockets the savings, not the owner. In this case the owner loses and contractor wins.

The most dangerous situation of all is the “inaccurate” bid proposal. This is a fixed bid proposal from a contractor that has not accounted for any of the unknowns or risk items that are inherent in every project.

The worst scenario

The most dangerous situation of all is the “inaccurate” bid proposal. This is a fixed bid proposal from a contractor that has not accounted for any of the unknowns or risk items that are inherent in every project.  These proposals are extremely dangerous to both the homeowner and the contractor and unfortunately, they happen all the time. They are especially frequent when an inexperienced contractor meets with an inexperienced homeowner. 

Here’s why they are dangerous. The inexperienced homeowner sees a miraculously low price and jumps on it thinking they have stumbled onto the best deal ever. The inexperienced contractor is proud to have landed a new job, so he promptly buys a new pickup. Soon he begins work only to discover that the project is way more difficult than he thought and is taking longer and requiring more labor than he budgeted for. Also, the costs for materials have jumped unexpectedly and he needs twice the amount that he calculated.  His contract is for a firmly fixed amount and almost all of it has been spent. Now he is trapped. He’s halfway through the job and losing money. What are his options? Will he go borrow money from his rich aunt so that he can finish the work in a stellar, excellent manner? Or will he start to cut corners?

Then what’s the real cost?

The truth is no one will know the real cost of a project until the job is done. I hear from clients all the time “I just want to know how much this is going to cost.” What they are really saying is “I want to know how much I will have to spend.” For most people knowing is better than not knowing. Therefore, they prefer a fixed bid over an estimate… even though the bid (because of the unknown factors mentioned above) will likely result in higher price and a lower quality. We are strange animals.

A bid will always take more time, be more expensive and will be less honest. But they do provide maximum price certainty. Bids can be useful when a project is large/complex and an exact spend amount is critical, or when the customer is working with unknown contractors and simply wants several bids to compare.

An estimate on the other hand may not provide as much certainty and emotional security up front about how much the final cost will be, but it is fast, more honest and is perfect for projects that need to be approved and acted upon quickly. 

Types of project cost projections

Ballpark estimates

A rough estimate, sometimes called a “ballpark” is a quick, educated guess as to the cost of an imagined project. It is usually needed in advance of all the facts being known and can serve a useful purpose in quickly screening a projects feasibility.  A ballpark estimate is certainly not a promise and depending on the experience of the source, may not be a very accurate prediction of the final actual amount.  The whole purpose of an estimate is to provide some idea of the cost without taking the time and going to the great expense of fact finding and creating enough documents to get a bid. An estimate from an experienced contractor should be accurate enough (within a given variance of say 15-20%) so as to help a potential client feel secure enough about moving forward with the work.

If the ‘ballpark” estimate for the project looks feasible, one cross-check may be to use an industry-standard cost per foot multiplied by the number of square feet although this is not always possible on small projects. 

The next estimate level would be more refined estimates that break down the work considering each separate component of the construction project. Foundations, flooring, roofing, windows, and sanitation, for example, will all require different levels of material, labor and subcontractors, compared to the general ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach of the square foot ballpark estimate. The problem is many times there are no plans to go by so the specifications for each of the components may have to be determined before this can be done well. 

Fixed Bids

A bid represents an offer or promise to perform a very specifically described amount of work, for a fixed amount of money. Usually, a bid is also tied to a schedule for the performance and completion of the work.  In order to request comparable bids, one must be able to describe the work in detail, exactly the same to all bidders.  All of the facts that may affect the cost of the work must be presented including a precise description of the scope of work, plans, accurate measurements, specifications for the components, materials and any special construction processes, and an expected timeline. These are called the “bid documents”. To produce the bid documents necessary to solicit comparable bids takes considerable time and effort that translates to money.  

Actually, creating a bid is also a labor intense process where the available information about a project (plans and specs) is analyzed in depth to determine how much it all will cost. This is a lot of work as the components needed for the project must be identified, calculated and priced.  First a design and scope of work must be created to quantify the job. This usually requires an architect or designer. From the various bidders the material quantities must be calculated and priced. Quotes from subcontractors must them be solicited for any specialty work. Finally, the labor needed to assemble the materials and manage and produce the end result must be estimated and summed to a total. Waste factors, equipment rentals, inflation, material shortages, non-uniform labor skills/efficiency and weather are all considered, and allowances (padding) must be made for inevitable inaccuracies and variables. 

Bids on larger projects are so time consuming and expensive that most contractors will not produce them unless there is a guarantee of fairness to the participating bidders. That means a uniform set of plans and specifications, a formal public bid opening at a fixed time and date, and a guarantee that the project will actually be awarded to the winning bidder.

An advantage to the owner is that a bid allows for knowing the maximum cost. This creates a psychological split between owner and contractor. Once a bid has been accepted and the work begins, the owner’s focus will shift to things other than money like quality or speed of delivery.  

On the other hand, once work begins under a bid agreement, the contractor is locked into a price that cannot change. His focus shifts from quality to minimizing expenses since that is the only way to insure profits. This is not just human nature is it necessary in order for the contractor to survive.  If the bid is too low quality will suffer. Quality is important to every professional, but it will always take a back seat to survival. 

As a result, the bid scenario creates a situation where there is a winner and a loser. If the bid is low, the owner is happy to get a cheap price but if it is too low the contractor may go broke. If the bid is too high, the owner will pay too much, and the contractor will reap a windfall.  Neither situation is equal or fair, and further it sets up the possibility for animosity and disputes. 


Proposals, also known as design/bid proposals are yet another type of service offer that homeowners should know about. A proposal is a bid based upon a scope of work and a set of documents prepared by the bidder. These can be tricky so watch out! Homeowners must be very careful in reviewing work proposals as they may not reflect exactly what is needed or wanted. Proposals cannot be compared to each other on the sole basis of price because there are too many other variables at play such as slightly different work scopes, varying cost of any equipment or material provided, work speed, job cleanliness, differences in workforce skills, the overall quality of the work and the contractors ability to warrant the job. Anyone considering a proposal must fully understand what is being offered and analyze it diligently prior to making any decision.


Determining the price of a home improvement project is never perfect or easy. As the requirements for accuracy go up, so will the time, information and expenses needed to produce the estimate. The three most used forms of pricing for residential projects are Estimates, Bids and Proposals.

  1. Estimates are the fastest, easiest and most honest as some unknowns are contemplated and disclosed. Performance contract is on an hourly fee plus any expenses so you only pay for what it costs. If you need the work done now and can stomach some variations in the end cost, estimates are the way to go.  

Estimate characteristics:

    • Do not require an exact scope of work
    • Are an approximation of cost based upon someone’s past experience
    • Estimates are about labor not material
    • Can be calculated quickly
    • Are low cost to produce
    • Extremely efficient when working with contractors that you trust
    • Are least accurate so usually described as a range of costs from x-y.
    • Total transparency
  1. Bids are a formal promise to complete a specific project at a fixed price. Bids take time and are expensive to produce as they require detailed plans and specifications. “Padding” is often added to the final bid price since bids contain risks for the contractor. Most contractors will not provide them “free” unless there is a high probability of getting the job. Work is performed on a fixed price. 

Bid characteristics:

    • Based on an exact and fixed scope of work that someone must provide
    • Requires a detailed plan
    • Requires detailed specifications
    • Take the most time to produce
    • Are the most expensive to produce
    • Provides a set price for a project. All savings accrue to the contractor.
    • Are unsuitable for small projects/repairs because they are not cost effective ie. They can cost more than the repair.
  1. Proposals are similar to a bid in that it is a promise to complete a specific project at a fixed price. The difference is the contractor provides a description of the scope of work. A proposal might be a good way to go if you know the contractor and are familiar with their quality and reputation. Caveat: the owner must be very diligent in examining the proposal to ensure that the description of the work to be completed, i.e. the materials and scope provided are in fact what is wanted. If you have a project you want to get moving on quickly, consider finding a contractor with a good reputation and request a proposal. You must satisfy yourself that the details of a proposal actually meet your needs and that prices are acceptable. If you decide to go with a proposal, be sure that it also complies with the contract requirements of your state. 

Proposal characteristics:

    • Can be produced quickly
    • Most contractors will provide free of charge
    • Contractor produces his own scope of work and specifications
    • Much like a bid but based upon the contractors work scope, not owners.
    • Cannot be used to price shop as proposals are unique and normally not comparable to others
    • Usually is combined with a fixed price contract. All savings accrue to contractor.
    • Little transparency

A Better Way To Work

Estimates combined with negotiated contracts are called Design/Build agreements. If there are long-term relationships with your contractors I feel that these are a better and more fair way to perform repairs and construction work. The key is to come to an agreement on a reasonable rate or value for the contractor’s labor, then add a percentage fee on the actual costs for managing the work and for profit. This way, the owner gains total transparency to the actual costs of the job, while the contractor is assured that he will survive the process and can then focus on producing quality work for the owner.

No more hunting down device chargers!

Built-in device chargers
Built-in device chargers make life so nice!

Install new Leviton USB outlets everywhere you want device chargers. Kitchen, office, living room, patios or anywhere! Convert any existing home outlet location into a fast-charging station with this powerful built-in smart chip technology.

The Type A and Type-C USB Device Charger/Tamper Resistant Receptacle (shown above) offers superior charging power for smartphones, tablets, laptops, monitors, printers and more. Two high powered vertical USB Ports, one Type A and one Type-C, deliver a combined total of 5.1A charging current and 25+ watts of power. Smart chip technology recognizes and optimizes the charging requirements of individual devices and the Type-C Port enables the cables to be inserted easily in either direction. The Type A and Type-C USB Charger/Tamper Resistant Receptacle is a powerful solution to help keep your devices charged with ease and style. Use your lightning cable and charge up to 60% faster.

Outlet Features

  • Smart chip recognizes and optimizes the charging requirements of individual devices including Apple, Samsung, Nexus, Pixel and more
  • Type-C Port provides up to 59% faster charging power over competition using Lightning cable on Type-C Port with iPhone 7, iPad Mini 1, iPad Pro 9.7
  • Combined total of 5.1 A charging capacity – Type-C Port can charge a maximum of 3 Amps and the Type A Port can charge a maximum of 2.4 Amps
  • Two high-powered charging ports with 25+ watts of power
  • Type-C Port permits the cables to be easily inserted in either direction

These outlets are also available in dual Type-C, and in six colors. Contact us at info@homepreservation.com for installation or more information.

How to burn your house down without even trying!

Do you own a magnifier mirror? If so, we recommend you be careful where you mount it because it could be a fire danger!

Ever heard of a “mirror fire”? In the photo below, see the dark diagonal lines on the window trim? Those are burns etched more than 3/8” into the wood. They were caused by sunlight reflecting off of a magnifier type make-up mirror. You can see the chrome mounting plate for the mirror which we removed.

Here’s a closer view:

mirror fire

As you can see, the burning happened several times. Some of the burns even show smoke stains where the wood was clearly on fire or close to it. Our lucky HPS Stewardship customer did not even know.  

If there had been anything more flammable in the area, like curtains or a paper blind the house would surely have gone up in flames. Mirror fires are not something you hear a lot about, but there you are.

If you want to avoid issues like this, get help from HPS Palo Alto Inc. at www.homepreservation.com . We’ve seen a thing or two, too!

EarthTalk: Environmentally Friendly House Gutters

When new gutters are needed, consider green choices

Originally published in the Christian Science Monitor


By The Editors of E Magazine

Q:We will need to replace our house gutters soon. What are our best options from an environmental perspective?
– Jodie Green, Dallas

A: Use a material that is the most durable for your climate. Ultimately, the longer your gutters last, the less environmental cost there will be – from manufacturing to recycling. A cheaper product that degrades twice as fast as another would not be the best choice, even if it has a greener production process. Also, the extra cost of having to fix your water- damaged home could make a “cheaper” gutter in reality much more costly.

“Galvanized steel, copper, and aluminum are preferred gutter materials,” reports Austin Energy, the Texas capital’s community-owned electric utility. Copper is a more expensive, high-end gutter material, as are stainless steel and wood, although wood is used mostly in historical restoration.

According to home improvement expert Don Vandervort, who writes for ThisOldHouse.com, galvanized steel and aluminum each have big pluses. Steel is sturdy, while aluminum will not rust. Copper and stainless steel are sturdy and lasting, too, says Mr. Vandervort, but they can cost three to four times as much as steel or aluminum.

“Steel gutters can stand up to ladders and fallen branches better than aluminum,” he says. “But even thick galvanized steel eventually rusts.” He advises buying “the thickest you can afford.” Austin Energy says that gutters should be a minimum of 26 gauge galvanized steel or 0.025 inch aluminum.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is also used for gutters, but “can get brittle with age or in extreme cold,” says Vandervort, and they cannot carry as much snow load as metal gutters. PVC is also not a very green-friendly choice. When produced or burned, says the Center for Health, Environment and Justice , PVC releases dioxins.

Replacing your gutters can provide an environmental opportunity, because the way you handle your roof’s water is important. Consider linking your gutters to a “rooftop catchment system” that captures rainwater in a cistern or rain barrels and can then be used to water nonedible plantings.

Efficient water use is a guideline in the US Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for homes standard for certifying green-built homes.

Finally, if you have a problem with debris in your gutters, consider a RainTube. This recycled-plastic gutter insert (which won the 2008 Sustainable Product Award from Green Building Pages) keeps gutters clear of debris, preventing overflow into your house. Of course, cleaning your gutters now and then is probably the best environmental option because it may head off any need for replacement or modification.

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