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Winterizing a Vacant Home

 
Whether you are shoring up a shore house for the winter, battening down the hatches at your summer cabin, or simply planning to leave your home for an extended period this winter, there are a few must-do steps to take that will help ensure your spring or summer return is not met with disaster.

Plumbing System
The single most important chore is to prepare your plumbing system for freezing conditions by thoroughly draining all pipes and tanks. First, locate and turn off the main water valve, usually located at the water meter. If you are unsure where the valve is, simply call your plumber or do a little internet research to find it. Next, working from the top floor down, open all sink faucets. When in the basement, open laundry tub faucet (where all upper faucets eventually drain) and empty hot water tank. Return to upper floors, open all tub and shower faucets and flush toilets. After just a few minutes, all pipes and drains should be fully cleared and ready for the winter freeze. An added measure for homes in climates with extended freezing periods, pouring a little antifreeze into the drains is a good idea. Some homeowners choose to be extra cautious and blow air through the plumbing systems with an air compressor, but this can be a somewhat involved process. Calling a professional for this task is usually the best way to go, and generally only costs a couple hundred dollars if the system is drained beforehand. Don't forget to shut off the valve for outdoor plumbing (if it is separate) and drain outdoor hoses.

Heating and Power
Even if you plan to visit the home periodically, it is best to disconnect any propane tanks and all natural gas in the home (must be done by the utility company). It is always a good idea to leave the electricity on with light timers and motion detectors, as this discourages potential burglars, but if you must turn off the electricity, be sure that battery operated smoke detectors are functioning properly.

Other Indoor Considerations
To avoid critters setting up shop, be sure to close and seal (with plastic and/or duct tape) all fireplace dampers, dryer vents and, of course, any pet doors. Stuffing spaces around plumbing pipes (especially under sinks) with steel wool is a great way to keep out rodents and scattering mothballs throughout helps to deter a variety of pests. Finally, unplugging and thoroughly cleaning the refrigerator (and leaving the doors open) will avoid molds and mildew from growing.

Outdoor Considerations
Locate and remove any overhanging branches to avoid potential roof damage and clean gutters/downspouts thoroughly. Removing fallen leaves from under or near the home and storing firewood a safe distance away helps to keep mildew, termites and other pests from getting too comfortable. Scheduling regular plowing or snowblowing is always a good idea, as it sends the message that the home is not vacant for an extended period. It also helps to avoid potential liability if there are shared sidewalks or if the home is being shown by realtors.

If money is no object and security is a looming concern, you can consider outfitting your home with smart technology. Remote surveillance and control can help ease your mind and also be very convenient if you're not doing a full-on shut down. You can raise the heat before a visit and operate lights and a security system from wherever you are. Whatever your plans, following the simple steps listed above will avoid a whole host of potentially costly problems and allow you to relax over the winter months.





Gearing Up for Cold Weather Ahead

 
There are very few places in the U.S. that weren't hit hard last winter. Even the generally calm, suburban Philadelphia neighborhood where I lived was plagued with multiple ice storms that down many power lines and rendered the roads impassable.

Folks in Boston faced record snowfall at 108.6 inches and one storm has come to be known as the January 2015 North American Blizzard (unofficially named Winter Storm Juno). To predict this early in the fall what we'll face this winter would be an exercise in futility, but being prepared for whatever comes is never a waste of time.

When asked what they wished they had done to better prepare for last year's historic storms, homeowners in the northeast part of the country tell me the following, in order of importance:

Purchase a Generator:
Losing power for even a day or two can be a hardship. Heat and hot water is lost at the time when it is needed most and the food on which you so diligently stocked up can be spoiled in just a few hours. Last year, millions of people across the U.S. lost power for a week or more and in some cases, it cost human lives. Whether you live in an area prone to tornadoes, tropical storms or severe snowfall, owning a generator will never be a regrettable decision. Since operating a generator is much more than plug-and-go, click here for a basic guide to purchasing the right machine for your needs.

Purchase a Snowblower:
While shoveling snow is an excellent cardio workout, it can also be dangerously strenuous for those not already in relatively good physical shape. The second most popular lament from ill-prepared homeowners was that they wished they had a snowblower for the storm of 2015. As one property owner tells us, It's not just the lazy factor - it's removing the snow quickly and thoroughly from driveways and sidewalks to avoid potential injury to those walking about. "It just gets to be too much," another makes note. "Sometimes it's better to just wait until all the snow has fallen and get it in one fell swoop."

Better Insulate the House:
Even for those homeowners who never lost power, the hardship came in the form of hefty energy bills. With furnaces working overtime and more people stuck in the home, heating and energy bills can be a disaster of their own kind. One very simple and affordable way to avoid energy loss is to pick up a few tubes of caulk and find the areas around the house where air is entering or escaping. Hovering a candle around door and window frames is the tried and true way to locate drafts, and sealing them up will make a marked difference in your level of comfort and your energy costs over the course of the winter. Another very simple and effective trick is to wrap your water heater to avoid heat loss. Quilted moving blankets are a great choice, but any old blanket will do.

Maintain the Gutters:
If cleaning the gutters is something that ends for you after the first major dropping of fall leaves, you may want to reconsider your plan. When snow and ice amounts surmount what your gutters can handle, it is important that they are as clear and free as possible. In addition to leaves, there is a lot of dirt and debris that can accumulate in your gutters - debris that can cause major problems once frozen in the system. A thorough initial cleaning at the end of October is a great start, but taking a peek once a month through the end of February can help avoid damage to the gutters - as well as to the roof. There are some inexpensive gutter tools out there that will avoid the dreaded ladder, but the first major cleaning should ideally be done by hand.

While we can never truly outsmart Mother Nature, we can surely be better prepared to take her on. We wish everyone a happy 2016 winter and hope that these simple tips can help make it as safe and comfortable as possible. Let it snow!




Catching Up with the Latest Design Trends

 
While cutting-edge, luxury home design may seem quite irrelevant to the average homeowner, keeping up with the latest trends is actually a valuable tool in maintaining or increasing the value of one's current home regardless of the price range.

Just as those crazy, exaggerated fashion runway trends trickle down to the everyday consumer in a more subdued manner, so too do home trends set the standard for what will eventually become mainstream. Understanding these trends can help guide homeowners when it comes to basic repairs and renovations - keeping their home up-to-date, relevant and ultimately salable. And, if keeping your home for a lifetime is the plan, knowing the most up-to-date design and building trends can help increase the quality of everyday living by providing smart and often simple solutions to practical problems.

Boston real estate power duo Tom Matthews and Joanne Taranto share some of what they see happening in the world of home design and building on TomandJoanneteam.com and the range of ideas is rather impressive. From simple color schemes to high-tech advances, the following trends are sure to spark the imagination and offer-up some practical home design solutions.

Color Palettes:
We still have a few months to wait for Colors of the Year from the folks at Pantone and Sherwin Williams, but 2015 showed the continuation of a long trend of vibrant color. Sherwin Williams unveiled a stunning coral and Pantone named Marsala - a deep, rich coral brown as their choice of the year. If you're willing to lay out $750 for Pantone's color planner for 2016, you can get a preview of what's to come, but for the rest of us we will have to sit and wait.

Practical Solutions:
"Specialized storage" is an interior design trend to look for in the coming years. Losing ground are stuffed attics, basements and closets in favor of storage space that is built-in and in closer proximity to the actual living space where items can be more easily accessed. Mudroom bins for pet food and supplies are particularly hot and underseat storage may soon be standard fare.

High-tech Trends:
Smarthomes are dramatically increasing in popularity as the technology becomes more accessible. Features such as keyless entry, remote security, lighting on demand and temperature control are all finding their way into the average home by way of smartphone apps. Even technophobes are coming to understand the ways in which many of these trends can save time and money and increase quality of life. And, since wireless technology makes for easy retrofitting, many of these features are more affordable than ever before.

3D printing is perhaps the most new and enigmatic building trend out there, but it actually has very practical applications. It is best explained by imagining your home computer printer on a massive scale. And, instead of releasing ink onto paper, 3D printers release materials such as plastic or molten metals into whatever shape they were programmed to create. This process will enable builders to fabricate durable building materials on site with more precision, less waste and eventually at a lower cost.

The one trend for all homeowners to look out for, is solar conversion. On the fast track in development are solar shingles and solar glass windows - features that experts say will eventually become standard offerings. By converting solar energy into usable power in the home, these innovations have wide appeal not only to environmentally conscious homeowners, but to folks looking to save money in energy costs and see a higher return on their investments.

So, the next time you come across an article illustrating cutting-edge, luxury trends that appear to have no bearing on decisions you make for your home - take the time to check them out. As far-fetched or complicated as some may seem, most are grounded in practical solutions for better, more simple living.




A white roof in Philadelphia.

Paint It White

 
Are black roofs accelerating climate change? There's no question that the density of black roofs and the ubiquity of pavement in urban settings are the main contributors to the "heat island effect," in which city temperatures are hotter than the surrounding rural areas. But just how big a difference would it make if all those black roofs were painted white?

A pretty big difference, according to a recent article in The Atlantic Cities.

Citing a study by Concordia University, the article suggests that if we were to paint a mere 1 percent of the white roofs or roads in the urban world (which in turn make up a mere 1.3 percent of the land area of the planet) we could reduce the amount of CO released into the atmosphere by as much as 130 billion tons over the next 50 to 100 years.

It looks like Philadelphia was onto something!




Make sure your contractors are recycling those old shingles.

Pledge to Recycle Shingles

 
If you are planning to do some re-roofing this spring and summer, be sure to look into a shingle recycling program. According to the Northeast Recycling Center, as much as 10 million tons of recyclable shingles are removed from roofs of homes and businesses every year in the U.S.

To help in this endeavor, Owens Corning is encouraging homeowners to take the Shingle Recycling Pledge as a way to keep old roofing materials out of landfills and to work with contractors who believe in sustainable building.

Homeowners who want to take the pledge can go to www.roofing.owenscorning.com and click on "Recycle Now." You'll be connected with local contractors who recycle shingles and you'll also receive a reusable tote bag (while supplies last).

Sign up today!




Happy Father's Day!

Happy Father's Day

 
From all of us here at Renovate Your World, have a great Father's Day Weekend!

If you really want to make Dad feel special, help him out with these weekend around-the-house projects:

  • Tune up the Lawnmower. The last thing any homeowner wants to do is spend unnecessary money on lawn care equipment. Mowers, trimmers and weed whackers can cost a pretty penny and that's money better spent elsewhere. Help keep Dad's mower in working order by giving it a much-needed tune up.

  • Put money in Dad's pocket with some energy upgrades. Nothing says "I love you, Dad" like a lower utility bill. Spend an hour or two going around Dad's windows and doors and adding some weatherstripping and caulking to help seal the house up. He'll save money on air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter. It might mean an extra gift for you on your birthday!

  • Bring Dad's grill up to peak performance. Turning the burners to high after a grilling session for a quick food burn-off isn't maintaining a grill. Grilling times and consistency suffer when the grill isn't properly cleaned from top to bottom. Be sure to follow the step to clean out the burner feed tubes of spider nests.

  • Feeling extra appreciative of the Old Man? Try out these more involved projects. He'll never again threaten to disown you:

  • Boost his home's curb appeal. That rotting, tilting mailbox has to go. Thank your Dad for being as consistent as the mailman by installing a new mailbox post. Skip this if you've got a bad back and don't forget a pair of work gloves.

  • Give Dad's property a good washing. Remember those times he washed your mouth out with soap? Thank him for the gesture by taking a pressure washer to his property. Clean off the siding, patio, deck and walkways till it all sparkles like your smile after a bout with a bar of Dial.

  • Get his mind out of the gutter. Dad's too old to be climbing around on the roof. Get up there for him and give his gutters a good inspection and repair. This will help keep moisture from getting into the home's foundation and causing even bigger headaches down the road.

  • However you choose to thank Dad for all his fatherly devotion and advice, we hope it's a great weekend for all.




    TruSlate's tile's, installed with a special clip to keep them on even in hurricane winds.

    User-Friendly Generators on Display at IBS 2011

     
    Our man Greg down at International Builders Show 2011 in Orlando is making the rounds on the showroom floor, reporting back on the cool and interesting products and advances in home building and renovation. He's taken a look at a few interesting products, including:



  • Generac's user-friendly and easy-to-install generators.

  • Gaf's "TruSlate" shingles that install with a special clip and come with a 50 year warranty and 130 mph wind warranty.

  • Huber Engineered Woods' AdvanTech products for sheathing and flooring.

  • Looks like Greg might pop in from 3-5pm tomorrow to try to meet Norm Abram. We'll keep everyone posted on his success or failure in securing an autographed floor board.

    Follow the action on the IBS 2011 here.



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