Help Pets and Family Make It Through the Winter

Gene and Katie Hamilton
http://www.diyornot.com

The calendar may tell you that Spring is just around the corner but that doesn’t seem to be the case in this extremely cold and snowy season. While we wait it out it’s a good idea to remember how to make our homes safe and sound throughout what’s left of the winter season.

The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute and TurfMutt have some suggestions about how to keep everyone in your family – including your pets – safe. These common sense strategies are easy to implement and important to remember as you live through snowy winter storm conditions.

Here are 5 suggestions to follow until the weather turns warm.

Clear a Path with a snowthrower or shovel to clear your sidewalks and driveway and give your pet a path to their favorite spot.
Bring Pets Inside during cold weather. When they’ve been outside wipe their paws and bellies after they’ve been outside and check for ice between paw pads and remove any accumulation of a de-icing agent.
Pick Up Debris before it snows and remove items in the yard like toys or hoses so they don’t obstruct shoveling or a snowthrower.
Ventilate a Portable Generator and place it outside and away from windows, doors and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.
Be Careful Operating a Snowthrower and keep kids and pets away from the equipment. Never put your hand in the chute or auger to clear a blockage. Turn the machine off and always use a cleanout tool.

Visit us at www.diyornot.com to compare the cost of doing an improvement yourself with hiring a contractor.

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Be Safe from a Fire – Advice from the Experts

Here’s advice from the insurance experts at Erie Insurance to protect your home and family and stay safe.

1. CLEAN YOUR DRYER DUCTS

A survey from Erie Insurance conducted online by Harris Poll, shows one in five Americans (21 percent) admit they never clean their clothes dryer ducts, unless they have a problem. Laundry is part of life’s weekly grind. But did you know that dryers cause roughly 15,500 home structure fires, 29 deaths, 400 injuries and $192 million in direct property loss each year? The most common cause of dryer fires is failure to do a thorough cleaning. Because a lint trap is not a foolproof method for catching all the fuzzy stuff from clothes, lint can build up and catch fire in the heating element or exhaust duct.

2. FIX UP YOUR FURNACE

In cold weather it’s important to get your furnace checked, not just to make sure you have heat when frigid temps set in, but to make sure it’s in tip-top shape. From 2009-2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 56,000 structure fires per year in homes that involved heating equipment. These fires resulted in annual losses of 470 civilian deaths, 1,490 civilian injuries, and $1.0 billion in direct property damage. Thirty-six percent of homeowners have their furnaces inspected and serviced at least once a year.

3. SWEEP YOUR CHIMNEY

Nearly half (46 percent) of people who own a home with a fireplace never have their chimney cleaned (swept), unless they have a problem. Unclean chimneys are a leading cause of structure fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association, which recommends an annual chimney inspection. The NFPA research shows the leading factor contributing to home heating fires (30 percent) was failure to clean, principally from solid-fueled heating equipment, primarily chimneys. In the 2009-2013 period chimneys resulted in $25 million in direct property damage each year. Improper cleaning can also lead to other serious issues including potential for carbon monoxide, fumes and possibly soot to enter the living spaces of your home.

4. GRILL WITH CAUTION

Grill fires can start in a number of ways. To prevent a fire, clean the grill after each use. You should always keep it a safe distance from your building (at least 10 feet away) and away from trees. Place the grill on a solid surface that can’t burn, such as concrete or asphalt. And never walk away from the grill while cooking, as a spark or small flame can easily spread. Use long-handled spatulas, wear flame-resistant mitts and never wear loose-fitting clothes near an open flame.

Visit us at www.diyornot.com to compare how much it costs to do a home improvement yourself with hiring a contractor.

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March Home Task List

Gene and Katie Hamilton
http://www.diyornot.com

      • Depending on where you live the month of March can be more of the same snow and ice and cold temperatures or the first inkling of Spring with tulips and crocus peaking out of the soil and buds sprouting on bushes. Use this month to think about your house and making it as comfortable and convenient as you can.
    These 9 items concentrate on making sure the systems of your home are in good working order and keeping them in that condition. Inside jobs involve getting rid of things you don’t use and cleaning and freshening things that you do. If weather permits you can go outdoors and prim and trim tree branches that may have fallen and prune away any dead or broken limbs.
    • Replace filters or wash permanent ones in heating system
    • Flush vinegar through clothes washer to remove soap scum
    • Unclutter clothes closet
    • Clean out refrigerator
    • Clean and organize bathroom cabinet, drawers and closet
    • Check batteries in emergency flashlights
    • Lubricate, test and clean sump pump in basement or crawl space
    • Clean, oil and sharpen lawn tools
    • Prune dead and broken tree limbs

Visit us at www.diyornot.com to compare the cost of hundreds of improvement projects and decide to do it yourself or hire a contractor.

Posted in March Home Maintenance, Monthly Home Maintenance | Leave a comment

Living in a Handyman Special


Is living under construction worth the hassles and inconveniences? Only you can decide, but it’s always worked for us through various stages of our lives, whether we were a young married couple teaching school, self-employed writers and entrepreneurs, employees of a large corporation, or a couple phasing into semi-retirement.

Our first properties were small, and we learned by doing, either tackling home improvement projects ourselves or looking over the shoulder of the plumber or electrician that we hired. When we had stopped teaching and were working on houses full-time, our permanent residence was usually in the process of being renovated, and we usually had a project house under way. Yes, this could get very complicated and unsettling at times, but as long as we had a few rooms that were complete and livable, we seemed to take it in stride.

In retrospect, we were often more concerned about the condition and storage of our tools and equipment, which became considerable when we started working on houses full time. A garage became a key feature when we looked at houses to occupy, because we needed a safe, dry storage space for the tools and gear we were accumulating.

Kids Are a Real Concern

Living with children in a house that is under construction is another issue completely. It can be daunting and even dangerous to have little ones scampering around unfinished floors and playing in less-than-ideal circumstances. And, of course, there are real dangers of lead poisoning and asbestos in an older houses that is being remodeled.

The Environmental Protection Agency has a pamphlet called “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home” and others available through the National Lead Information Center (800-424-LEAD). The agency’s Web site, http://www.epa.gov, includes information about lead, asbestos, and mold in the home, where it may be found, and what should be done about it. If you’re considering a major rehab and you have children, do some research before you make a decision.

All children and most adults appreciate structure in their lives, and the unpredictable nature of rehabbing can be very stressful. If rehabbing takes you from one house to another, consider the effects on kids changing schools – this can be unsettling. Many families get around this by narrowing their scope of investment properties to houses within a particular school district so that their kids don’t have to change schools.

A Second Job

We think of a house that we are living in and working on as a second job that costs us money in the short term, but in the long run generates a substantial profit. It provides a place for us to hang our hats (and store our tools), and at the same time requires either our time or our money or both. But if we choose the property wisely and improve it with care, our investment will pay off. That’s true for a single owner or two married wage earners who have full time jobs that can support the cost of improvements when they are required. If you’re considering buying a house to renovate but are strapped for time, consider buying the house with a long term plan and letting the value of the property rise over time. When writing about home improvements led us to building an online business, we stayed where we were and turned all our time and energy to the business instead of completing the house and buying another one. We converted bedrooms to workstations and worked at home until we found an office, all the while letting the home slowly grow in value. If the economy is strong, that’s a strategy that works. But if the real estate market cools off as all markets eventually do and, during this time your job forces you to move, you’re vulnerable – not a good position to be in. Experience has taught us that you’re in control if you don’t have to sell and can wait out adverse conditions so that you can take advantage of a seller’s market that will eventually return.

Excerpt from Fix It and Flip It by Gene and Katie Hamilton, McGraw-Hill

Posted in fixer upper, handyman special | Leave a comment

A modem and a BBS, not Mark Zuckerberg, created social media 

Gene and Katie Hamilton
http://www.diyornot.com

Tim Berners-Lee and researchers at the U. S. government’s Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) are credited with the technology that launched  the World Wide Web leading to the Internet. That may be so, but I think the Smartmodem deserves credit for bringing the Internet into the lives of everyday people. In the 1990s the small black box connected a home computer to a telephone line allowing early adapters to download free software called “shareware” and send messages to others and subscribers to listservers connecting users across the globe.

As modems improved and increased their baud rate speed the bulletin board system (BBS) connected a community of early computer enthusiasts. These communities spurred software developers to create technical businesses and services that developed into commercial enterprises and social groups.

In 1991 we created HouseNet BBS, a special interest board distributed by modems and modestly supported by subscribers. The focus and content was based on our magazine articles, books and Do It Yourself or Not, a Tribune syndicated column that analyzed the cost difference between hiring a contractor compared with doing it yourself.

At BBS conferences sysops (system operators) like us learned about faster modems and developing software and shared advice, often surprising others that our board was about home improvements since many of the most profitable boards offered downloads of pornography.

It’s almost laughable that even today’s slowest Internet speed connection measured in micro seconds is light years faster than early connections measured in minutes.

When we launched HouseNet on the Internet we found our online content – words and pictures – had value. In a 1995 issue of Newsweek magazine we were featured in an article “Online on a Shoestring.” Not long after, the site became part of America Online as their home improvement channel with chatrooms hosted by contractors, who we offered free time on AOL. As part of AOL’s Greenhouse program we were in good company with early adapters like The Knot and The Motley Fool.  It was a frenetic time as special interest boards, led to website, led to the dot-com boom.

Early modems may have introduced people to the online world, but they’ve long been replaced by media companies to provide that link. The ability to talk to others about your passion, your life and challenges spurred countless niche sites  and the Internet became a part of all of our lives. Organizations of every ilk went online, manufacturers and publishers soon followed.  Many of their initial forays were unsuccessful because their initial return on investment was less than expected because their sites replicated their print content. Missing was a key ingredient – connecting potential site visitors with the real people behind their organization who could answer questions and allow them to voice their opinion.

And then social media and all its permeations evolved into what it is today and will become. The influence of the social network as a dynamic part of the online experience – where it’s been and where it’s going – makes me wonder if the early creators and adapters only saw the upside of that connection.  As we go forward and see the impact – good and bad – of that social encounter, it’s difficult to predict where we’re headed.

Gene and Katie Hamilton created HouseNet BBS with a 1200 baud smartmodem in 1991 and later sold to R.R. Donnelley & Sons.  Today they produce Do It Yourself or Not, a weekly column syndicated by Tribune Interactive and www.diyornot.com.

 

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Try These Upgrades for a Drafty House to Keep Warm

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According to the U. S. Department of Energy, the typical family spends almost $1,300 a year on their home’s utility bill. You can lower your energy bill by 10% to 50% with simple and inexpensive improvements that button up your house to keep cold air out and warm air inside.

First, try these no cost improvements. Rearrange furniture so it doesn’t cover the cold air returns in the floor so heated air can flow freely. In sunny side rooms open draperies and raise shades to let Mother Nature heat the space and close them at night. Use a heavy window shade or drapery to keep cold air out in north-facing rooms. And when you’re not using a fireplace, close the damper. Feel cold air coming from electrical outlets or receptacles on exterior walls? Remove the plate covers and insert an inexpensive foam switch and wallplate sealer that cuts down the draft.

Inspect the condition of weatherstripping and replace material if it’s old and worn. Look at exterior doors, windows, on a door or access panel to an unheated attic, crawl space or attached garage.

Look at the thresholds of all exterior doors. The gap between the bottom of the door and the threshold should be tightly sealed with a gasket in the threshold or on the bottom of the door. If you can see light or feel a draft replace the gasket.

At the first sign of cold weather install storm windows or replace screens with storm panels in combination storm doors and windows.

To seal a drafty old window try this quick-fix. Get an inexpensive interior storm window kit, which has enough plastic sheeting and double-faced tape to cover the average size window. Apply the tape around the window, press the plastic film in place and use a hair dryer to shrink the film for a clear, tight fit.

If the loose fill insulation in your attic isn’t 12 inches deep add rolls of poly-wrapped fiberglass insulation. Cut the rolls to size with a heavy scissors and lay the pieces on top of the existing insulation.

Use a foam sealant to fill the gaps and cracks around joints in the siding, electrical outlets and water spigots on the exterior of you house. And replace old caulk around window frames with a cartridge of good quality caulk.

The Alliance to Save Energy says you can expect to save about 3 percent on your winter heating bill for each degree you lower your thermostat. Install a programmable thermostat and set it to automatically lower the heat at night and when no one is home and raise it in the morning or before the family returns home.

Have an annual tune up by a heating professional for an oil fired unit and at least every other year for a gas fired unit. Remember to clean or replace air filters in a forced air system once a month so it runs efficiently. And if you plan to replace windows, a furnace, heat pump or appliances look for the Energy Star label on the product to assure you it meets energy efficiency standards.

Visit us at www.diyornot.com to find the cost of hundreds of improvements and compare doing it yourself with hiring a contractor.

Posted in energy saving, lower heating costs, Weatherizing a house | Leave a comment

A Modem and BBS, Not Mark Zuckerberg, Created Social Media

Gene and Katie Hamilton
http://www.diyornot.com

Tim Berners-Lee and researchers at the U. S. government’s Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) are credited with the technology that launched  the World Wide Web leading to the Internet. That may be so, but I think the Smartmodem deserves credit for bringing the Internet into the lives of everyday people. In the 1990s the small black box connected a home computer to a telephone line allowing early adapters to download free software called “shareware” and send messages to others and subscribers to listservers connecting users across the globe.

As modems improved and increased their baud rate speed the bulletin board system (BBS) connected a community of early computer enthusiasts. These communities spurred software developers to create technical businesses and services that developed into commercial enterprises and social groups.

In 1991 we created HouseNet BBS, a special interest board distributed by modems and modestly supported by subscribers. The focus and content was based on our magazine articles, books and Do It Yourself or Not, a Tribune syndicated column that analyzed the cost difference between hiring a contractor compared with doing it yourself.

At BBS conferences sysops (system operators) like us learned about faster modems and developing software and shared advice, often surprising others that our board was about home improvements since many of the most profitable boards offered downloads of pornography.

It’s almost laughable that even today’s slowest Internet speed connection measured in micro seconds is light years faster than early connections measured in minutes.

When we launched HouseNet on the Internet we found our online content – words and pictures – had value. In a 1995 issue of Newsweek magazine we were featured in an article “Online on a Shoestring.” Not long after, the site became part of America Online as their home improvement channel with chatrooms hosted by contractors, who we offered free time on AOL. As part of AOL’s Greenhouse program we were in good company with early adapters like The Knot and The Motley Fool.  It was a frenetic time as special interest boards, led to website, led to the dot-com boom.

Early modems may have introduced people to the online world, but they’ve long been replaced by media companies to provide that link. The ability to talk to others about your passion, your life and challenges spurred countless niche sites  and the Internet became a part of all of our lives. Organizations of every ilk went online, manufacturers and publishers soon followed.  Many of their initial forays were unsuccessful because their initial return on investment was less than expected because their sites replicated their print content. Missing was a key ingredient – connecting potential site visitors with the real people behind their organization who could answer questions and allow them to voice their opinion.

And then social media and all its permeations evolved into what it is today and will become. The influence of the social network as a dynamic part of the online experience – where it’s been and where it’s going – makes me wonder if the early creators and adapters only saw the upside of that connection.  As we go forward and see the impact – good and bad – of that social encounter, it’s difficult to predict where we’re headed.

Gene and Katie Hamilton created HouseNet BBS with a 1200 baud smartmodem in 1991 and later sold to R.R. Donnelly & Sons.  Today they produce Do It Yourself or Not, a weekly column syndicated by Tribune Interactive and www.diyornot.com.

 

 

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