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Be Aware of Asbestos

Be Aware of Asbestos

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Around the late 19th century, the use of the minerals known as asbestos was hitting its peak, at least in the United States and Canada. It started as a healthy mining business that begat uses in Westchester home construction and insulation, flame-and-acid-retardant materials, endless building materials (brick, concrete, drywall, flooring etc.) and even lawn furniture. In Japan, a few decades later, it was even used to help rice production, but even at that point, the alarming dangers of asbestos had been largely accepted and were commonly known in the UK and U.S., though the later was tragically late to the party in terms of regulation and education of the dangers.

So, it’s been a little over 70 years since the U.S. caught up to the UK, but the danger the material can cause to your loved ones is hardly a past matter: Cases of cancer in people who work with asbestos or live in close proximity to it are astonishingly higher than the norm. Asbestos is made of long thin fibers and looks similar to fiberglass in consistency. Because of the strengthening, heat resistance and soundproofing qualities, asbestos was used to mold a myriad of materials used in homes in Westchester and elsewhere, including tiling and pipe insulation; it is even commonly found in the production of brake pads. Today, a little less than 850,000 homes, offices and schools can be found to include asbestos and over 20,000 people will die each year for the next 30 years from asbestos exposure. These are not good numbers.

It’s not easy: Asbestos is a notoriously tricky substance. If pained over, asbestos is not easy to locate in a regular home. Scraping and home construction can send asbestos particles into the air, where it can be breathed in by anyone. Even a second layer of wallboard shakes fibers loose, allowing the fibers to drift into the air you breathe. And sadly, this is one of those precautions that depend on professionally trained individuals being paid to do their job.

New coatings techniques enhance the encapsulation of asbestos in walls and ceilings, and have proven highly effective in diminishing the toxic elements of the material. Home asbestos test kits are available at most major home improvement stores, typically include 2 sample collectors, and are dependent on lab analysis, which will run you less than $20. Popcorn and textured ceilings, ceiling tiles, floor tiles and pipe insulation are major culprits and should be collected and tested as soon as possible. The laboratory test identifies asbestos fibers to as little as 1 percent content by weight and is more sensitive than the current EPA standards. So, take an afternoon, collect the samples while following the directions on the test kit closely, and send them into the lab. You’ll have your answer within two weeks and by that time, know if its time to give your Westchester home an overhaul or call the real estate agent.

Where Does The Wind Go?

Where Does The Wind Go?

It’s been a few windy days out here in Queens and the damage being done might be ignored. As much as precipitation might have the upper hand in terms of what can be done to your Westchester home, big gusts of wind can do similar long-term damage that will have you paying an arm and a leg down the road for roof repair or, worse yet, total roof replacement. There are ways to avoid this or, at the very least, make the damage more manageable, but first it’s good to understand how strong winds hurt your roofing.

Usually, shingles are simply nailed to the top of the roof and layered to create a seal to protect from water damage. Now, when high-speed wind gusts hit your roof, they not only does it loosen the shingles placement, but also break that seal. A single, strong gust of wind can lift a loose shingle off the roof completely. So, after any major storms or weeks with high wind velocities, it’s not such a bad idea to check your shingles to make sure they are solidly in place.

As a concerned Westchester homeowner, it would not be wise to simply take roof damage as a minor concern, such as weeds or crab grass or a squeaky door hinge. The roof on a home is like a shield against water and once that shield is broken, the amount of damage that can be done is frankly tremendous. If there is even one shingle loose, then the rain, snow or hail has an access point into the home, and if you know anything about home repair, you know that water is often public enemy number one when it comes to home damage. Water can travel throughout the roof area and cause rotting and a leak, and often the rot or the leak will be on the other side of the home from the entry point.

When wind damage is added to other home or weather factors (clogged gutters, winter mix etc.) that are common in Westchester, it can be the perfect storm for a genuine home repair emergency. Wind damage plus water pooling gives liquid ample opportunity to access the weakness in the roof. In fact, in these cases, a rainstorm is preferable to pooling. Whereas the water only has time to enter until it hits the gutter during a storm, pooling allows the water to take its time and really do a number to your roof.

If wind damage is caught early or only minor in scope, all that really needs to be done is shingle replacement, which is relatively inexpensive. Left unchecked, however, wind damage can cause havoc with the entire roof structure and you may need to do an entire overhaul, which could put a hurt on your bank account, whether it’s you doing the work or a contractor. And if you’re going at it DIY style, why give your back that sort of grief when you could just simply check the shingles and replace a few on occasion.

It doesn’t take much time to survey your roof after high-velocity winds or a rainstorm and this simple act can end up saving big money in the long run. Be vigilant and attentive and you might just find yourself in a constant windfall.

How Many Coats of Paint Does It Take?

How Many Coats of Paint Does It Take?

In many cases, the wish to find a personal, creative color scheme for your Westchester home dissolves within minutes of entering the paint aisle. What finish? What shade? How many coats?! It can be exhausting and it’s easy enough to just throw your arms in the air and say “Lets just go with off-white!” No hit against off-white (its popular for a reason), but with a little knowledge, picking the color to match your dream interior is easy as pie.

In most cases, it is the focus on color and neglect of finish that throws many Westchester homeowners. Paints come in a variety of colors, sure, but they also come with different finishes and other elements that create a unique look. Matte paint, for instance, is the most common type of paint, which gives no shine or sheen when dried. It’s a relatively cheap choice but matte paint also requires at least two coats of painting and damage is often highly visible. Matte enamel is a good alternative, as it rarely requires touch-ups.

Gloss paint is also popular, boasting a finish that provides a high shine, but it similarly requires two or more coats and fails to hide damage. There’s also semi-gloss, which is more common on trim than walls because it offers a hard finish and is easy to clean. On the other hand, satin gives a finish that’s lands somewhere between matte and gloss and only requires one coat. It provides a low, soft sheen and is easy to clean.  Eggshell finish has a muted shine, but without the satin smoothness.


Even before you get to painting, however, a coat or two of primer will likely be required before you dip your brush in some color. If you don’t have the time or inclination to paint the same room four times, however, look for paints with built-in primers, which will likely only require two coats total. And when locating your chosen color, take a closer look and examine the color’s undertones. The undertones of your color will help guide you to a more clear, streamlined color scheme in your home and rooms.

Every color has a mass tone and an undertone. The mass tone is the color your eyes pick up first. Undertones are visible only when placed next to other, similar colors; the differentiation will bring out the undertones lurking below the surface color. You’ll suddenly see small, surprising differences between the seemingly near-interchangeable colors. If you’re looking at neutral colors, place your neutral swatch next to a pure color (red, yellow, green, blue, etc.). If your neutral has a specific undertone, a pure swatch of the opposite color will bring it to light. Now, your Westchester home colors will express everything that is you, not just your frustration and exhaustion.

Let’s Talk About Lumber

Let’s Talk About Lumber

For Westchester homeowners looking to get more into the DIY lifestyle, lumber is a material that provides a myriad of uses and can offer a major gateway into understanding how one can build on one’s own terms. Knowing what you want to build and what you want to do with your lumber, however, is only the beginning, as there are several types of popular lumber that can be used for many different projects. One type of lumber is good for small Westchester home jobs, while others are better for big jobs, and it’s important to know the difference.

Western lumber is perhaps the most well known, used for most general building projects and framing, and there are some 15-20 commercially important species of Western softwood. Douglas fir and Hem fir tend to be the most popular and can be classified in three terms: high-quality appearance, general-purpose board or radius-edged patio decking. When looking for western lumber, make sure the brand you purchase has the logo of the Western Wood Products Association (WWPA), which has excellent quality standards and a thorough, check process. Lumber with “WWPA Rules” stamped on it, however, merely indicates the lumber has been graded according to the WWPA rules, but not inspected.

Redwood has two major grades: heartwood and sapwood. Either comes in a variety of grades including a fine finish or a rougher, less attractive finish. Heartwood fends off termites and decay naturally, making it an obvious choice for projects involved in nature or underground. Sapwood, on the other hand, should not be used in contact with the ground, but is good for many Westchester home projects. Architectural redwood is, of course, the strongest redwood, often kiln-dried and used for structural and finish applications. Lastly, garden redwood comprises lower grades and is used commonly for decks, fences, and, you guessed it, gardens.

Less prominent but highly valuable is southern pine. It boasts high strength, resistance to wear and is perfect for projects that require fasteners be used with wood. Southern pine is graded 1-4: 1 has the highest quality and best appearance, 2 has tight knots but usually has no holes, 3 is serviceable sheathing, and more popular than other grades, and 4 contains usable portions of 24 inches long. Then there’s treated lumber, which is resistant to weather, termites and fungus. ACQ and copper azole are the current popular chemicals used to treat lumber, which is used in outdoor consumer projects (decks, etc.). Treated wood isn’t waterproof, but is decay-proof, and comes largely from ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, Hem-fir and southern yellow pine. Be certain to wear respiratory protection when cutting it.

Finally, there is pine shelving, Pieces of pine shelving measure about 1-inch thick and at varying widths and lengths. Shelving is a favorite for those doing touch ups in garages or basements; it’s sometimes referred to as simply “garage shelving.” Consumer-grade pieces measure up to 12 feet long but most consumer sales will come in at 4 and 6-foot lengths. It’s the most economical wood, which is where a beginner would most likely want to start, but now that you have some idea about lumber, you can start anywhere you like, really.

How’s the Heat with the Hot Water?

How’s the Heat with the Hot Water?

Let us now say a prayer for forced air heating systems. They were good for awhile and kept many Westchester homes warm through the years, but let’s now leave these noisy relics in the dust and embrace the wonders of hot water heating systems. To say nothing about the ease of control, hot water heating offers a more evenly held heat and a more palpable heat, seeing as it is based on moisture rather than dry air. Hot water heating makes any home more comforting and welcoming during winter.

The furnaces used in hot water heating can be powered by gas, oil, coal, wood, or electric coil. Typically gravity fed or pumped, the heated water in the boiler travels up to the radiators, and as they disperse the heat, the cooler water travels down to the boiler to be reheated. More expensive systems even have hot water tubing under the floorboards, which provides uniform heat.

The radiators, however, are the key component and there are three basic types. First, there’re cast iron radiators, which are actually still very efficient despite their basicness. Radiators fitted with metal covering are similar but often include tubing covered with fins that provide additional convection heat. These fins increase the surface area of the heated parts, and boost energy efficiency. Lastly, there are baseboard heaters, which are more prominent in modern homes and actually provide the most efficient heating on the market. Along with the fins, the placement ensures whole room is heated from the bottom up, which is far more economical.

The issue is that hot water heating systems eventually get air in them and most don’t offer vents. As such, Westchester homeowners must “bleed” their hot water heating systems occasionally to ensure efficient use of heat. System valves are easily opened with a key wrench and all you have to do is put a cup, can or bucket under the valve, and open it up. Eventually, water will start running out of the valve, hence the bucket. In multi-story buildings or houses, it’s best to start on the top floor and make your way down, continuing until all floors have been taken care of.

There’s really only one more thing you have to do, and that is to drain out all the water in the system yearly. Begin by turning off the water supply valve, allowing the water cool completely down before moving ahead. Next, find the release valve on the boiler and attach a hose to it. Run the hose outside and completely drain the system, unless you can’t run a hose outside, in which case use drain the system via filling and emptying buckets. This process gets rid of the built-up minerals and rust in the system. Afterwards, open a bleeder valve on the highest radiator and refill the system. This way, your Westchester home will remain cozy and you won’t be nervous about the energy you’re using unduly jacking your energy bill up.

Warming Up to HVAC

Warming Up to HVAC

HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and there isn’t a residential or commercial building in the nation that doesn’t have some version of HVAC. Without it, all Westchester homeowners would be at the whims of Mother Nature all year. At the end of the day, however, the comforts of heating and air conditioning are lesser to the hygienic needs of air circulation HVAC provides. Trust me, if any part of your HVAC system falters, it’s not hard to notice.

Like your Westchester neighbors, you should always get to know your HVAC systems. Homeowners know where the thermostat is and can see the vents, but, for most, that’s where their knowledge of HVAC ends. Following the vents will lead you to your heating and cooling systems and knowing how they should be operating will help you prevent malfunctions and identify them. And like most things, some light reading is needed. Central heating/AC systems come with a guidebook and, yeah, I’d rather be reading Elmore Leonard too, but reading it will help you figure out where to find vent entry points and other useful information. In fact, any manufacturer will surely have it available to download via their website. If your unit is outside, you should clear it of any debris as regularly as once a week.

Back inside! In many cases, vent filters need regular upkeep; once a month is totally respectable. Pop open the vent at the entry point and check to see that the filter isn’t caked with dust. You should also replace your filters twice a year, once in summer and once in winter. Any home improvement store worth its salt will have filters in stock.

Vent areas where moisture is prevalent can also lead to mold. Scrubbing off the mold with a solution made with equal parts bleach and water will solve that issue and evaporator coils wipe down at 10-15 times a year. After rain or snow, be sure to check for any standing water and tend to it immediately. It’s also important to keep an eye on the fans, as they tend to accumulate dust and grime. Fans should be wiped down bi-weekly, or monthly at the very least. If at all possible, it should become as normal as mowing the lawn.

These are easy ways to avoid problems, but there are some things that just require training and that professional touch. Every two years or so, get a certified HVAC technician to give your entire system the once over and they will give it the real buff and shine, to ensure circulation efficiency in your Westchester home. In these bitter days of winter, heating is crucial and a little cleaning beats icicles on the ceiling.

A Blender Blunder

A Blender Blunder

Seeing as big companies make them, appliances can often seem as much more complicated as devices than they really are to Westchester homeowners. This is as true of blenders as any other appliance, and fixing a busted blender is surprisingly an easier task than you would expect.

There is three typical causes for blender malfunction: motors that become burnt-out, blades that get clogged, or an interruption has occurred in your electrical connection. The first two causes are easy to diagnose and fix, but in the case of diagnosing an electrical interruption, you will need a voltmeter and a contact sprat solvent, which are handy tools to have in your Westchester home regardless.

To test the blender’s electrical, disconnect the electrical cord and turn the blender switch on. Set the voltmeter on the RX1 scale and carefully place the meter’s two probes onto the two metal prongs of the plug. While watching the meter’s readings, test out each of the blender’s switches, one at a time and note the markings.

Low readings indicate a normal switch that is functioning perfectly. What you want to look out for is an infinity reading on the meter, which is indicative of an electrical defect. To investigate further, you will need to expose the screws that hold the switch housing cover in place. While the device is still unplugged, remove the plastic faceplate that covers the housing and, subsequently, the screws that attach the plate to the housing.

Now that the mechanism is exposed, use the contact spray solvent to clean the contacts, openings and terminals at the rear of the switch block. After you have cleaned out the mechanism, plug it back in and test the switches again. This usually fixes the mechanism, but if the blender continues to not work, unplug it again and find the fuse, which is usually located at the end of a wire lead coming from a terminal connected to the power cord.

With your voltmeter still set to RX1, clip the probes ends to the two lead wires or terminals. If the reading is high again, disconnect the probes and look on the metal cap of the fuse to find the size and write it down, as it will need to be replaced. This will almost certainly fix a purely electrical issue but if the issue is with the blades, that’s another story. While the machine is still unplugged, carefully try turning the blade shaft. Debris will usually be very easy to see and easy enough to dispose of but in rare cases, you may have to replace the coupling.

If none of this works, you more than likely have a burnt-out motor, which will require you replacement, but considering the cost, you will likely just want to buy a new blender for your Westchester home. Otherwise, replace all screws and plates, and get some ice, tequila and margarita mix, and whip yourself up a congratulatory drink.

Cleaning Out Showerhead Crud

Cleaning Out Showerhead Crud

For Westchester homeowners, replacing a shower washer is one of the simplest and quickest plumbing repairs you can undertake and it is usually the source of many leaks one finds in regards to showerheads. While performing the repair, you’re also able to clean and maintain basic parts of the shower and de-scale the showerhead to ensure that you won’t have to fix or replace the washer again for a while.

To begin, turn off the water to the area where you will be working. This may involve turning off the water at the main supply. Let the shower run until no more water comes through and turn it off, and then remove the showerhead, either by using a wrench to loosen it from the shower pipe or screwing it off. You can use the same wrench to loosen the nut from the faucet and then remove the tube. When you loosen the showerhead and remove it from the hose, you might find a build-up of lime or scale, which can be cleaned easily enough in the process.

If you want to be diligent Westchester homeowner and keep these situations from happening again, you should clean the showerhead and washers once a year. To do this, fill a large bowl with vinegar and submerge the showerhead in the vinegar for an hour. When it’s done soaking, empty the bowl and clean the showerhead with water. Once it’s free of lime, you should be able to take apart the showerhead easily. First, however, take out the old shower washer to a hardware store to find an exact replacement. Upon returning, take apart the showerhead and secure the replacement before screwing the showerhead back together. You can use Teflon tape on the shower-arm thread to ensure no leaks. When screwing the showerhead back onto the arm, be careful not to screw it on too tightly, as this can lead to further showerhead issues.

Many Westchester homeowners have hand-held showerheads. For a hand-held shower, you should replace both washers. Its not particularly necessary, but it is better to be cautious. In this case, use the Teflon tape on the threads of the hose where the showerhead screws on, and also on the threads of the faucet where the hose attaches. In either case, when you’re finished, turn the water back on and run the shower for a minute or two and then turn it off to ensure the leak has been fixed. If there is an issue, tighten the connections a little more but otherwise, you should be able to use your shower without any subsequent drips.

Looking for Leaks

Looking for Leaks

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.