Categories
fixer upper handyman special

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

Categories
social media

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.

 

Categories
energy saving lower heating costs Weatherizing a house

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.

Categories
Uncategorized

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.

 

 

Categories
remodeling Valentine's Day

Finding Romance Rehabbing a House

Romance is in the air with Valentine’s Day coming up on the calendar. Makes me remember that there is romance in remodeling. Are the words “romance in remodeling” an oxymoron? Can those two words be in the same sentence? Isn’t it a contradiction to say there’s anything remotely endearing about renovating a house? I remember one incident which felt very romantic.

We were in the process of remodeling a Cape Cod one cold winter and were behind schedule getting new insulation installed in the crawl space. An unexpected cold front rolled in and was dumping piles of snow. When the wind shifted to the north the pressure was on because we knew the lack of insulation and wind direction could freeze the pipes.

It was getting dark outside and we found ourselves crawling around on the gravel in the frigid confines of the 3 1/2 foot crawl space with only a work light to guide us. Gene cut the pink insulation batts and secured them between the floor joists and I followed with a staple gun to fasten them to the wood. We didn’t stop, we didn’t talk, we just moved as quickly as we could in the uncomfortable and frigid conditions. As the last staple went in we were sprawled out on our backs on the gravel, noses running, near frozen to the bone and laughed at the absurdity of the situation. But the good feeling of completing the task, beating the odds, and doing it together, was so real and intense it was a moment I’ll never forget. If that ain’t romance, I don’t know what is.

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

Categories
Contractors

How Come Contractors Make It Look Easy?

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

When we were flipping houses it didn’t take us long to realize that we had a lot to learn. We bought a fixer upper as a summer job to improve and resell in the three months off from our teaching jobs.  We worked like crazy to get it back on the market and soon realized that we hired out much of the work to contractors after attempting (and sometimes failing) to achieve professional results.  We always hired pros for jobs that required a licensed contractor like many plumbing and electrical projects.  But for the work we did the sting of a house looking like an almost OK job wasn’t good enough.

How did contractors make it look so easy to refinish hardwood floors, tile a bathroom wall and install kitchen cabinets when we struggled with the jobs? Well, for a lot of reasons.

In a nutshell, they had experience from doing the work on more than one occasion, unlike us newbie who had to learn to do every project on a first time basis while on the job. I remember the first time I tried to parallel park it wasn’t it pretty, and it took several attempts to get it right.  Just like my initial in hanging wallpaper, practice made perfect

And a wannabe contractor often learns by working with a mentor, or training in an apprentice program, often passing a test for certification. We did every job under the gun with a looming deadline.  We did learn to parse out jobs we could do and those to hire out.

We found a job like painting a room is an ideal first-time DIY job because the tools and material are inexpensive. If we made a mistake we covered it with another coat of paint. On the other hand, hanging a door is riddled with potential screwups.  You can misjudge where to drill holes for hinges in the door frame and have to fill the holes and do it again. Even worse, you can install the hinges on the wrong side of frame or cut off too much at the bottom, or hang it upside down.  These are all lessons learned.

Some will disagree with me that tools can make a difference but professional grade tools designed to drill holes, saw material, finish surfaces and accurately measure in the hands of a contractor make it look easy.  That’s not to say consumer grade or tools designated for do-it-yourselfer won’t do the job, they do and continue to get better, but they won’t stand up to daily use and abuse. Hence the popularity of Harbor Freight and Contractor sections of home centers. I think that’s why so many handy homeowners will rent a professional grade or rationalize buying up to pro grade tools.

The Pros have a playbook and know how to schedule their workload for a job whether it’s small repair work or a major remodeling.  They know the necessary sequence of events beginning with the prep work and ending with cleaning up the jobsite.  We had to learn by doing.

While the motivation for a handy homeowner is saving money and  the satisfaction of remodeling a bathroom or building a deck, a contractor looks at the job as a source of income and pride in workmanship.  He or she is building a business and the success of a job well done will bring a satisfied customer and many new ones.

We learned a lot from the contractors we hired and continue to pick and choose between doing a job or hiring a pro. It reminds me of a line from a Billy Joel song, The Entertainer, that says it all “Things I didn’t know at first I learned by doing twice”.

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

Categories
February Homeowner's Checklist

Easy Does It Home Checklist for February

Now that we all know that the current deep freeze across most of the country is called a polar vortex, many of us are huddled indoors avoiding the dangerously freezing conditions outside our homes.  Since we’re housebound it’s a good time to take steps to keep all its systems of our home working.

These inspections and maintenance chores will keep your heating and hot water systems working at peak capacity and the other suggestions will keep the rest of the house clean and maintained.  Stay warm and stay inside if you can.

Home Checklist for February

  • Replace filters or wash permanent ones in heating system
  • Remove sediment from build up in hot water heater tank; if it’s warm to the touch, cover the tank with a water heater blanket
  • Clean the exterior of range hood and its filter
  • Clean range and oven
  • Reorganize contents inside kitchen cabinets
  • Clean inside and exterior of kitchen cabinets
  • Inspect the attic for signs of roof leaks, condensation or frost build up and clear vents
  • Remove and clean the intake screens of clothes washer water supply hoses
  • Remove snow and ice from evergreens

If you’re considering any home improvement jobs visit us at www.diyornot.com and find the cost of doing it yourself compared with the cost o hiring a contractor.