Yearly archive - 2012

Looking for Leaks

Looking for Leaks

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Water is a tricky substance, which is why diagnosing a leak is often such a hassle. There is the all too familiar sound of a drip-drip, or the sight of warped wood, but the ugliest, most immediate sign of water damage is the sight of damp discoloration on the ceiling of the room below your bathroom. In most Westchester homes, this is a clear sign that there’s something wrong with your upstairs bathroom or kitchen’s plumbing but this is not 100% true. Water knows how to travel, and the water damage could just as well be from piping leading from your attic or roof or other second-story plumbing.

Lets look at showers and baths in any Westchester home as an example for pinpointing and differentiating between various leak sources. Leaks from baths and showers are as common as those from faucets or toilets, so its worth knowing how to zero in on the trouble spots. The most common origin spot is the grout around the tiles, which can shrink and allow water in behind the tiles.

Other popular spots are the tub’s filler, which may have a worn-out washer or an improperly sealed valve threads, and the tub itself, which might similarly suffer from improper sealing or cracks that are (usually) easily identifiable. Less likely but possible culprits include a problem with the overflow pipe (worn-out or shoddily installed overflow washer) or the drain (clogged outlet pipe).

For the drain, a simple way to test is to run a length of tubing (black rubber will do) from your vanity faucet fixture to your drain and send water down the drain for anywhere from 10-20 minutes. If the leak doesn’t show up, you know the drain and the attached plumbing is secure. And unless the leak is constant throughout the day, the hot and cold-water valves are not the culprits.

The next suspects are the tub and the tub filler. The latter is easy enough to check: Just fill your tub and look for a leak from the filler (the tub faucet). This usually denotes broken piping, usually on a copper elbow. As for the tub overflow, close your tub drain and fill the tub to the overflow and look for your leak; if this ends up being your trouble, it likely will require the replacing of the sealing or the washer on your overflow.

The most complex check for Westchester homeowners is the plumbing behind the showerhead. You’ll need to take off the showerhead and cap the stem with a threaded cap before running the water. After 10 to 15 minutes, check the leak area. If this turns out to be the problem, you will need a plumber to look at the rest of the stem and the piping behind and below the showerhead.

The very last check is the most common: The grout. The DIY check requires you to run water over each wall of your shower individually for ten minutes, either using the showerhead or a hose from another water source. A plumber will likely be needed, regardless, but the more information you have to give him makes the job quicker and the price, in most scenarios, at least minutely less expensive.


Set Your Sights to Siding Repair

Set Your Sights to Siding Repair

There’s no doubt about it: winter is the harshest season for your siding. Wind, rain, sleet, snow and hail all leave their mark, and can cause damage that ranges from minor to major. Vinyl siding repair should be done in the spring or summer to address the damage done by extreme winter weather. We’re just getting into the days of winter, but it’s never too early to prepare for repair.

Vinyl can be a great option for home siding. It is economical, costing less than other popular siding materials, such as wood, and doesn’t require the same level of maintenance. Because the pigment is mixed into the vinyl during manufacturing, the color will not chip or fade over time, as is the case with paint applied to the surface of wood or aluminum siding. The manufacturing process uses less energy than aluminum or wood, making it an environmentally friendly choice. Although it is easy to maintain for many Westchester homeowners, vinyl siding repair may still be necessary at some point.

Even though it offers many advantages – it is economical, versatile and environmentally friendly – vinyl siding has one major downfall: cold temperatures can cause it to become brittle, and more susceptible to damage. When temperatures drop in winter, vinyl siding loses much of its resilience, making it particularly vulnerable to damage from impact. Hail storms are the primary concern when it comes to vinyl siding, but any impact when it’s cold outside can do damage. Rocks, baseballs, and anything else that hits your Westchester house when the weather is cold can hurt your siding.

Vinyl siding repair should be performed in the spring or summer by Westchester homeowners, after the danger of frost is past. Once the weather warms up, there is much less chance of damage to your siding, meaning that the repairs should stand you in good stead until bad weather hits again.


Wiping Out Weak Water Pressure

Wiping Out Weak Water Pressure

A common yet often ignored problem, low water pressure in a kitchen faucet is caused by a myriad of issues. On occasion, low water pressure will need the experience of a professional, but even in those cases, identifying the problem will help greatly in getting the repair finished quickly.

There are several ways to determine why your kitchen faucet has low water pressure. First, if you have recently remodeled or done any construction that has included new water fixtures, the issue is likely low delivery and can be fixed by upgrading your main pipe. In the case of a single clogged spout, you can simply unscrew the spout on the troublesome faucet and check the aerator for build-up. On the other hand, if you’re having pressure issues throughout the house, consider adding a supplemental booster pump to the main line. These are all moderately easy fixes.

In the case that the low pressure is only occurring in the kitchen, the problem is equally easy to work on. You’ll likely find a screen at the end of the faucet spout where the water comes out. Unscrew the spout by hand and check for any build-up; this is much like dealing with a clog. Remove apparent blockage is a no-brainer but you might also find sediment, which takes a bit more time. You must first unscrew the aerator, take it apart, and soak all the individual parts in a mixture of warm water and vinegar. If the crud won’t budge, get thee to a hardware or department store and get a commercial calcium remover and soak the parts in that. In either case, after the build-up is removed, dry the spout, reassemble and reattach the aerator to the faucet before testing.

Here’s where things get interesting. Sometimes, the faucet’s cartridge, which allows water to pass through the spout, can malfunction and cause low pressure. If this is the case, you must remove the faucet head, find and unscrew the screw under the faucet spout, and lift off the faucet head. You should see the cartridge right there and it should be open. If not, remove the housing and clean everything of debris or calcium build-up. Replace the thin housing and faucet head before testing the solution.

The worst-case scenario is build-up in the faucet piping. With galvanized piping, the issue is likely build-up from age and sediment. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can diagnose this by unscrewing the riser from the basement and then back up the fitting in the basement to ensure the attached pipe or fitting does not break. Put a bucket below it and have a friend or family member turn the water on to check the flow and pressure of the removed pipe. If it’s not good, you’ll want to look into getting your entire home re-piped (sorry!), as this is an issue far beyond cleaners. If everything seems good, you likely just need one of the prior fixes. Thank your lucky stars.


A Little Luck for a Broken Lock

A Little Luck for a Broken Lock

Some things you just can’t prepare for. You drop your air conditioner while taking it out of the garage and crack a tile or damage hardwood floor; there’s no real way to expect that, other than asking the brawny neighbor to help you out. A rock hits your windshield on the way to work and you get a crack; what could you have possibly done to deter that? As Elvis Costello (and yeah, okay, a lot of more people before him) said, accidents will happen.

Having your key break-off in a lock is about as common as having your windshield cracked by some rebel pebble flicked off the pavement, and it is, by every measure, something that can be handled without professional care. You’ll need WD-40, or a similar spray lubricant; even spray olive oil could work in this situation. Besides that, you will need utensils for removing the key, chiefly any sort of thin saw blade and something to pick the protruding key piece out of the lock. Tweezers or pliers are your best bet and are easy to find around the house usually.

Begin by spraying the lock with the spray lubricant, to give you some help when it comes to dislodging the key piece from the lock. Thin saw blades are best for this situation, as the blades can easily hook into the grooves of the key. On one side of any key (take a look at one right now), the indent of the grove is more uneven, less smoth, and has a greater indentation. That’s the side you’re going to want to insert the saw blade into the lock. Once its in as far as possible, twist it a bit and try dragging out the key with the saw blade; you really only need a little bit but get as much as possible.

Once you get a little bit out, you should be able to grab the lodged key piece with the tweezers or pliers and presto! Now, in some cases, the key piece just will not budge from its place. This is likely because your lock isn’t in neutral position. Twist the saw blade a bit and it should solve the issue.  If it still won’t budge, only then should you consult a licensed and insured locksmith to help you out, as the locking mechanism likely has a bigger issue. And, as always, it’s easier to prevent this issue with preparation: check your keys every few months to see if there are any cracks or major bending that would signal a possible break. Sure, its an easy enough issue to solve, but wouldn’t you rather be able to crash on the couch instead of performing surgery on a doorknob?


Preparing Your Pipes for Winter

Preparing Your Pipes for Winter

At first, frozen pipes seem like a homeowner’s smallest worry. That is until one breaks. Suddenly, your walls, ceilings, floors and personal possessions, stored away in the basement or any crawl space, are utterly ruined. Even if you have home insurance and the damages are covered, you’re home will be invaded by a small crew until the mess gets repaired. Best to ensure it never happens in the first place.

Before you get the winter jackets out, shut off the valves supplying your outside water lines. Individual outdoor supply lines will usually have a shut off valve on the inside, around where the outdoor supply starts. Open the tap to allow any small deposits of water left in the line to freeze and expand without damage. Leave it that way until it finishes draining.

The real trouble comes from pipes that aren’t used often. When cold and unused pipes warm up suddenly, water flows out of the broken pipes into the walls and down through ceilings. To prevent this from happening, go further and shut off both your hot water tank and the water supply to your entire home before opening the taps and draining the water. So, even if your furnace does stop working while you’re away, there isn’t any water to freeze.

Any water pipes that run close to outside or in unheated nooks should be checked as well. Fiberglass insulation should be installed between any outdoor pipes and closest walls to help keep them warm. Pipe sleeve insulation is a bit expensive but the best choice for pipes in unheated nooks, and be sure to insulate both hot and cold water pipes.

If a cold spell hits before you have time to take such precautions, a quick short-term solution can be to leave a tap running at extremely low flow. It might cost you a little extra when your water bill arrives but its guaranteed to be less expensive and a lot less annoying than fixing a frozen and/or ruptured pipe.


Fixing Tiles on a Fixed Budget

Fixing Tiles on a Fixed Budget

Installing tiles is something that needs to be planned out carefully on various levels. One has to pick out color and design, consider how it will look in the designated area, make decisions as to what the rest of the kitchen will look like and then, inevitably, there is the task of actually putting down the base, the mesh, the tiles and the grout. Nothing can really be left to chance or ignored.

In contrast, damaging tiles is often done with the most minor and ignorable of actions: Erosion from constant wear, scrapes from furniture and other harsh edges, dirt rubbed and ground in, dropped items both weighty and sharp, and certain chemical cleaners. Naturally, replacing damaged tiles is something that comes up frequently, especially in kitchen floors and bathrooms. You’ll need the following items:

  •       Colored Masking Tape
  •       Replacement Tiles
  •       Nails & Hammer
  •       Chisel
  •       Trowel
  •       Grout & Grout Float
  •       Sponge
  •       Set Mortar
  •       Gloves (optional)

Begin by taping off the surrounding area of the tiles with the masking tape, being sure to cut the tape before the grout, as that will be getting replaced as well. So, the damaged tile(s) and the grout directly surrounding it should be taped off. Take a nail and hit it into the center of the damaged tile(s) to shatter the tile and make it easier to pick up in pieces. Use a chisel to clear out every last trace of the old tile, so that you can lay the new tile on an even surface. (You might want to use gloves while picking up the small shards to make sure you don’t get cut.)

Once the space is clear, take your replacement tile(s) and put a very thin layer of thin set mortar on the bottom of the tile with a trowel. Make sure it is just enough to set the tile in place, as you don’t want to have any mortar squeeze up around the sides of the tile. Let it dry (six to eight hours, to be safe) and then lay down some grout using a grout float to make sure it gets deep into the surrounding area.  When you’re done, use a sponge to clean up any unwanted grout on the tile(s). Let the grout dry and pull up the tape to take a look at your brand new tile(s). It’s just one more thing to ensure you don’t have to call in an armada of contractors to fix a minor problem in your home.


Kitchen-Sink Cleaners and Cleaning

Kitchen-Sink Cleaners and Cleaning

In all likelihood, you’ll have at least one weekend in the near future devoted to scrubbing, sweeping, picking up, dusting off and tossing out scraps around your home. Between trash bags and scrubbing brushes, new appliances and garden supplies, you’re spending enough, so why not concoct some easy DIY air fresheners and cleaning supplies instead of loading up your shopping cart and depleting your bank account? Here are a few tips:

  •    An easy way to keep your kitchen smelling great is to take a few oranges, lemon, or any major citrus fruit, cut them in half, and boil them in a pot with water filled up about halfway on a stovetop. If you want a more homey smell, add mull spices to make your kitchen smell like hot cider.
  • In your more troublesome smell areas, place small bowls and fill them with freshly ground coffee. Ground coffee is a potent, deep and pleasant odor and it also acts as an excellent absorber of all your most funky and foul stinks. If you live with a smoker or just have one lying around, an ashtray is the perfect place to put the grounds.
  • Not all that keen on spending more money on clog remover? Pour a cup of baking soda, a cup of white vinegar, a cup of salt (generic or sea) and then pour about two-to-three cups of boiling water down, as a reactant. The resulting mixture will likely dissolve any small-to-medium-size clog you’re having trouble with.
  • For window cleaning, mix about a quarter-to-half-cup of vinegar, a tablespoon or two of cornstarch and a quart of hot water. This mixture is a surefire way to get all those annoying streaks off of your windows or your patio doors in a jiffy.
  • Mix a quarter-cup of baking soda and a quart of hot water for a perfect all-purpose cleaner for your floors, countertops, walls and tables. If you want to add some fresh scents, squeeze half a lemon into the mixture or add a few drops of your favorite essential oil. This way your house will smell and look fresh, and you can use the money saved on some colorful pieces for your unique décor.

Trees and Shrubs Are No Trouble in Winter

Trees and Shrubs Are No Trouble in Winter

The best time to plant shrubs, along with trees and long-growing flowers, is right when it turns colder; this goes double when you consider that gardening centers and supplies stores hold sales regularly in these times. Roots are given time to grow and establish, and by the time Spring saunters in, you’re looking at the beginning of a healthy, long-lasting set of trees and shrubs. As the man said, all you need is water.

To be clear, cold months are a good time to plant your shrubs, trees and perennial flowers, not fertilize them; wait for the spring and summer to do your pruning and fertilizing. Before you go to the store, do some heavy research on fall/winter gardening. Plot out where you’ll want to plant, how tall and what the spread of the mature plant would be, and what plants are habitable and easy to grow in your region. It’s important to be both careful and reasonable when selecting the plant as well: look for healthy plants but forgive them if they are a bit frayed, imperfect or discolored, as it is the end of the season after all.

Measure the root ball at the bottom of your plant. The hole you plant it in should be approximately three times that size to allow for healthy growth and sturdy roots. Carefully remove the tree and loosen the roots if the ball comes in a container, and cut twine from any branches; if its just burlap, plant it with the burlap still attached. Regardless, it is essential that the roots are loose when planting when you place the tree or shrub into the hole and backfill. For ground with more clay, mix soil evenly with peat moss and be sure to tamp the soil down after planting.

To ensure and promote great growing, you can create a saucer around the edge of the planting by building up a 2” barrier to prevent water from escaping before it soaks into the ground. A layer of compost spread around the top of the tree or shrub, not at the roots, to enrich the native soil. Make sure that the soil around the plant stays moist until the ground freezes. Adequate water supply is crucial to the plant lasting through the winter as the soil freezes over; water bags are a good item to ensure that they get enough water through the fall. So, when the warm weather comes back, your trees and shrubs will be ready to burst into visible life.


Examining Your Electrical System In New Homes

Examining Your Electrical System In New Homes

A home inspector’s work is never done. Whenever a new home is being prepared for purchase, an inspector will likely be scheduled to inspect the house and perform a number of check-ups: outstanding code violations and safety issues are their bread and butter. As laborers, however, they are human and can miss certain problems, and electrical issues are their most prominent blunder. Studies made in the last few years have suggested that 20% of U.S. homes have a wiring problem of some sort. Some of these problems can come with a serious price tag, so it’s good to know what to look for, as a double check for busy home inspectors.

When it comes to old homes, undersized electrical services are the norm. When they were built, there was one television in the home, usually, and no one knew what an internet was. So, make sure the electrical panel is capable of supporting your electrical needs, whenever dealing with an older home, by making sure the amps on the electrical panel are 200 or more. If you are a technology lover, you may even need an upgrade from 200. And in these older homes, it’s not uncommon to find the entire home wired with fiberglass-insulated wires. These fiber-insulated wires are famous for fraying and can bring on rodent infestation in certain cases. If you find any wires in your basement that go through joists, inspect them for any sign of damage, including fraying.

If you are planning on keeping some of the seller’s appliances, smart move but do your homework. Find out when the appliances were purchased and if they have ever been serviced. This will ensure that this gesture isn’t just to raise the price a bit or cut down on moving costs. Some appliances require dedicated circuits straight from the electrical panel, so it’s important to check that your panel has dedicated wiring to the stove, fridge,  microwave and dishwasher. One should also be sure to buy or borrow a voltage tester to ensure each electrical outlet in the home is grounded and working popularly; plug-in testers are best for these scenarios. Check the electrical outlets to make sure each one has a ground prong and then use a plug-in voltage tester to make sure they are grounded. Most homes now require a three-prong outlet and, in areas that are prone to moisture (bathrooms, kitchens, exteriors etc.), GFCI outlets must be installed. This will also gauge whether the polarity is wrong and if you have lost neutral or feed.

To quickly check your lights, install new light bulbs in all of the permanently installed fixtures in the home. Do the bulbs dim or blink when you put them in? This will check for voltage drops or loose connections in those particular circuits. And whenever dealing with a junction box, take a look inside but do NOT touch the wires inside. Do not touch the wiring, just look at it to see if the connections look good. If a connection looks faulty or loose to you, call an electrician in to check or, after turning off the breaker, carefully inspect the connections yourself. This is also an opportune time to check that the home has an adequate amount of smoke detectors (one on each floor, outside bedrooms, smaller rooms and/or kitchens) and a carbon monoxide detector. To check if they work, simply install a new battery (usually a 9-volt) and run a test.

Finally, if you find any scorch marks on any outlet or if it smells like something burnt, then that circuit has gone through a dead short. Ask whether the circuit was repaired and if the plate or outlet was replaced, and if the seller is dodgy, ask a professional electrician to double check. Some of these things will, in fact, be checked by more attentive inspectors but when buying a new home, its best to check for issues early, before you get a slew of extra electrician bills tagged onto the original price.


Paving Your Patio with Precision

Paving Your Patio with Precision

Having a patio on which to place furniture, enjoy summer barbecues and relax on warm days is a great advantage. It allows you to expand your house from the inside out, giving you additional living space and a place to enjoy the outdoors from the convenience and comfort of your home. However, if your patio space is unpaved, it won’t be nearly as nice! Bare dirt and gravel from an unpaved patio can easily be tracked into the house, creating a mess that you’ll have to deal with day in and day out. An unpaved area is also much more susceptible to erosion from the elements, and can get muddy after rain or snow. In order to truly enjoy the patio of your home on Long Island, patio paving is absolutely necessary.

Once you decide that you want to pave your patio, selecting a paving material is the first step. There are many paving materials to choose from: flagstone, brick and concrete are all great choices that allow you to customize your patio to suit your tastes and preferences. Whether you’re going for a classic, understated ambiance, or you want to make a bold statement with your patio, brick, stone and concrete are all versatile materials that allow you to create your own unique look. For residents of Long Island, patio paving is a great opportunity to beautify your home and showcase your personal style.

When you decide to pave your patio, you have a couple of options. If you have experience with home improvement projects and you have some time on your hands, patio paving is a project you can do yourself. It does, however, require time, patience, dedication and attention to detail. Hiring a professional means that all the work is done for you – and that you can count on professional results. Whichever route you take, patio paving is well worth it. If you want to give new life to the backyard of your home on Long Island, patio paving is a great way to do so!