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Examining Your Electrical System In New Homes

Examining Your Electrical System In New Homes

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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.


Make Those Squeaky Floorboards Silent

Make Those Squeaky Floorboards Silent

Squeaky floorboards are one of those things that most people consider a necessary evil of homeownership. Some people think it’s a sign that the entire floor is about to give way, or that a poltergeist is secretly creeping around, or that they really need to hit the gym. In reality, this is a natural deterioration of the floorboards that have dried out after awhile and are now sliding and grinding against each other; there’s also the factor of unstable subflooring. Bare hardwood floors tend to be the main culprits but the squeaks are still perceivable in carpeted areas and tiled areas.

Fixing these common annoyances is an easy enough project for an active home improvement weekender. In any situation, the first thing to do is locating the squeak and mark it with some electrical tape. Now, the toughest situation is when you have no way of getting under a bear hardwood floor and must fix it from above. This will require a drill, breakaway screws, matching screwdriver bit and a depth-control fixture. (O’Berry’s makes a handy counter-snap kit for this sort of job.) Drill a pilot hole (approximately 3/32 in.-dia) and use the depth-control fixture provided in the kit to drill one of the provided screws into the hole until it snaps off. To conceal the work, fill the hole with wood putty.

Carpeted floors that need to be looked at from above can be similarly fixed. In this case, I highly suggest a squeak-no-more kit, which contain everything you’d need for this job, including breakaway screws and a pilot screw for locating joists. If you have a joist locator, it’s a bit easier and quicker. Using either, locate the joist that is in closest proximity to your squeak and mark it. To ensure your carpet doesn’t get damaged, wrap the special breakaway screw with scotch tape when you drive the screw through the fixture. Screw it in and then use the fixture’s side to break off the top of the breakaway screw. All of the work you’ve should be concealed by the carpeting.

The more common and easier task is fixing squeaks from underneath, through a basement. Have a member of your family or a friend walk over the squeaky area while you’re below. Take a thin wooden shim, cover it with carpenter’s glue and tap it into the area between the closest joist and the subfloor. Follow this up with a drywall screw driven through the joist, the shim and into the subfloor at an angle. This is an easy enough fix, but for a more secure fix, get your hands on a hold-down bracket – the most popular one is the Squeak-Ender. This usually consists of a steel mounting plate being held next to the trouble spot’s closest joist, screwed into the subfloor and then tightened via attached nuts so that the joist and the floor are brought closer together.

Floorboards make noise, so don’t get out your kits and tool belt every time you hear the faintest utterance of sound. Be reasonable, but there’s no denying the sound of a floorboard that needs attention. Now, at the very least, you’ll be able to walk across your home without wanting to run for the scale or checking the notches on your belt.


Be Yourself With A New, Personalized Backsplash

Be Yourself With A New, Personalized Backsplash

Kitchen renovations are expensive, obviously, but that doesn’t mean that one’s kitchen has to remain a dull workspace for home cooking. A very popular way to give a kick of color and personality to a kitchen is installing a new kitchen backsplash with some personally chosen tiles. And whether you currently have a backsplash or merely painted drywall in your kitchen, the job is, as it turns out, relatively easy from a DIY standpoint, though removing old backsplash can get a bit messy to say the least.

In the case of painted drywall, you can start by sanding the area to rough up the surface for installation. If you already have a tile backsplash, however, you need to get rid of it completely, which tends to involve cutting out and getting rid of both the drywall and the attached tiles before putting the new backer board onto the studs; cement backer is best but green drywall is ultimately almost as good.

Now, its measuring time! You’ll need to get the length of the backsplash and measure the distance from the top of your counter to the bottom of your top cabinets to calculate what will be your tiled area. Now, this is where you begin to have fun. Use graph paper and draw a scale outline to see how you’ll want to set-up your tile pattern. 4 x 4, 6 x 6 or 3 x 4 subway tiles tend to be the favored types but using 1 x 1 tiles attached to a back mesh has become just as popular over the years. Calculate your tile quantities from there but be sure to tack on 10-15% for cutting and wastage and be sure that you’re using glazed tiles.

So, when you get back from the Home Depot or local hardware store, it’s time to install. First, remove the stove or range hood, outlet or switch cover plates, and anything else that will be in the way of a precise tiling job. (Also, be sure to turn of the electricity to that particular area!) If you need to, install the backer board first by using galvanized drywall screws. A 1/8″ gap between the edges is a solid distance when installing the boards. Use mesh wire and filler to cover. In case of any gaps (ex. the range area), use a temporary ledger board along the base of your tile line to help hold your tiles in place. Find, mark and draw a visible startling line with a level at the central focal point of your design. This is to line up your tiles vertically in the correct way.

It’s best to lay your tiles out somewhere open, just to have the design set in your head, and then get ready to place the tiles. From the center, begin with the bottom row. You will need tile mastic or thin-set mortar to set the tiles. Add a little of either to a small section of the wall using a trowel, preferably grooved. Put the edge of the first tile on the starting line you made and remember to leave a 1/8″ gap on the bottom for caulking. Press the first tile into place, then put in a temporary 1/8″ spacer vertically and continue on like this.

At one point, you will likely have to cut a tile to fit certain areas and for this, you will need a scoring cutter, which can be rented or purchased. Mark on the tile where you will need to cut before putting the tile in the tool and scoring said mark on the surface. Used properly, the cutter will break the tile along the scored line. In the case of an electrical outlet, you may be need to cut two tiles and then use tile nippers to cut out the opening and put them on each side of the outlet. After the tiles are in place, apply a mixed sandless grout with a rubber float. Make sure to push it down into the gaps between the tiles and remove any excess grout. Then, just let it set for about an hour or so.

Use and regularly rinse wet sponges for the cleanup and it doesn’t hurt to employ a clean dry cloth to give the tiles a good buff and shine. 
Your electrical outlets will likely need box extenders before you place the cover plates back on and then, finally, apply caulk, preferably the same color as your chosen grout, all along the bottom seam where the backsplash meets the countertop. With this, your kitchen should not only be a workspace but will emanate the feeling of a distinct place for friends and family to take a moment and share a story or take a peak at what you’re preparing.


Correct Composting for Caring Gardeners

Correct Composting for Caring Gardeners

There are many facets to living Green that, at first glance, seem a little annoying or even outright preposterous. Why exactly should I pay substantially more for a light bulb that looks like a curly fry if my neighbor is already doing it? Is it really that important that I resize all my doors and windows, and install bamboo instead of hardwood floors? Well, the light bulbs are, at the end of the day, easy to replace and last longer, so it’s worth it in the long run. As for the bamboo and the house-wide resizing, they really are for the best but aren’t urgent and do require some planning.

In between these two ends of the Green-living spectrum lies the relatively simple act of composting, which, despite its reputation as an activity solely for those with dreadlocks and more than one piece of Phish merchandise, is a hugely beneficial practice that takes very little time to enact and keep up. For gardening enthusiasts and anyone even remotely interested in sustainable living, it should be a no-brainer. Oh, and did I mention it’s incredibly simple?

So, what is a compost pile? To put it simply, it’s waste, piled on top of waste, for the purpose of making the waste usable. Most of this is natural waste: dead leaves, branches, twigs, grass clippings, fruit scraps, old vegetables, vegetable waste and, lastly, coffee grounds. The committed composter maintains a healthy, even balance between the “brown” (leaves, branches, twigs) and the “green” (everything else), and regularly waters the pile.  This makes an ideal mixture of carbon and nitrogen, which are the major elements in compost.

Keeping up an ideal level may not be easy for most people, but as in most things, one need not be ideal in practice to see results. Set your compost pile or bin in a dry, shady spot in your backyard. Place it as close to a water supply as possible, as you will want to moisten the materials as you add them; it’s even suggested that you place a tarp over the pile or bin to ensure the mix will remain moist.

Whenever adding new materials, try to break down larger pieces into much smaller material, through shredding or other means; this will help ensure healthy, regular breakdown throughout the pile. And, if possible, the top of the pile should be mostly “brown” material. Mix the material regularly, either with a pitchfork, a shovel or even your hands and make sure to put fruit waste about a foot beneath the top of the pile, as well as grass clippings. Mixing should occur about 3-4 times a month to distribute air and moisture.

The bad news is that compost can take up to 18 months to reach its desired state, but this is only in rare cases. Most of the time, if you tend to it correctly, the process of composting should be ready in 2-6 months. When the bottom of the pile is a dark, damp color, you’re ready to use your compost, whether it be for agriculture, horticulture or even to lessen the impact of erosion on topsoil. There are various things that should not be put into compost (diseased plants, pet waste, lawn waste treated with pesticides recently) and a little research will provide a longer list of these things to watch out for. But even with stipulations, the act of composting offers several beneficial results, not the least of which is healthy soil for gardening, regular, if minor exercise and a simple way to help the earth with little to no damage done to your wallet.


Thoughtful Lighting

Thoughtful Lighting

You’ve just dropped off to sleep, abandoning the worries and cares of waking life to rest your body and mind for the day to come. Suddenly, your slumber is interrupted by a loud crash coming from the back yard. Jumping out of bed, you open the blinds and peer out the window – into complete and total darkness. There is no moon, and you can’t see a thing. Do you a) step outside with a flashlight to look for the source of the commotion, b) cower under the covers, tossing and turning in sleepless anxiety until morning, or c) call the police? None of these options are pleasant, or even particularly reasonable. For residents of Westchester, outdoor lighting can help you avoid this type of dilemma!

Outdoor lighting is wonderfully useful for a number of reason. It can help you to see what’s going on g around your house, even at night, deterring crime and giving you peace of mind. It can also be tremendously helpful when you arrive home late and need to navigate to your front door without trippinor stubbing your toes. Outdoor lighting can also facilitate outdoor entertaining by allowing you to keep things lively even after the sun goes down. If you want to make a great improvement to your home in Westchester, outdoor lighting is a great idea.

For homeowners in Westchester, outdoor lighting installation presents many options. You can use standard outdoor lights, that you can turn on and off at will, motion sensor lights, which come on when they sense movement in the area, or lights on a timer, that come on automatically at a set time. If you’re overwhelmed by the sheer variety of choices, it can be extremely helpful to speak with a lighting professional. Getting someone’s expert opinion can help you to narrow down the choices and pick the outdoor lighting that’s right for you!


Safety First, Money Second

Safety First, Money Second

Buying a home is an incredibly exciting, and important, experience, particularly for first-time homebuyers. When you look for a new house, you want to make sure that you’re getting exactly what you want – and getting the most for your money! While many prospective homebuyers know exactly what they’re looking for, they may not know exactly what to look for. For prospective homebuyers in Westchester, home inspection is an indispensible part of the purchasing process, and can help you to get the most for your money, avoiding costly and potentially dangerous problems down the road.

For homebuyers in Westchester, home inspection is not a place to skimp! While many people think that simply looking a house up and down is enough to tell them whether or not it’s in good condition, there are many things that a well-qualified home inspector will catch right away that might not be apparent to the untrained eye. When you’re buying a new house, you want to make sure that it’s safe, secure and worth the purchase price. A skilled home inspector can help you to answer these questions and make sure that you and your family will be safe and happy in your new home.

For homebuyers in Westchester, home inspection can help you to insure that you won’t get any unpleasant surprises. Because a house is perhaps the most important purchase you’ll ever make, it’s essential to find a home inspector – or two – who is good at what they do and will help you to make the right decision for you and your family. When it comes to home inspectors, cheaper is not usually better – you really do get what you pay for! When seeking out a home inspector, make sure to pay attention to their qualifications. Certifications and accreditations can help you to insure that your home inspector is properly qualified; reviews and referrals from satisfied clients can also help you to make an informed decision. Having two inspectors is often advisable, as two expert opinions can help you to make an even better choice.


Tame Those Trees

Tame Those Trees

Trees can be a magnificent addition to any yard or outdoor space. Their majestic presence adds beauty and grandeur while inspiring feelings of calm and tranquility. No matter how small or large your yard is, one or more trees can change it for the better, giving you a place to sit in the shade, a habitat for animals and birds and a lovelier view. Trees also help to prevent soil erosion and promote clean air by recycling carbon dioxide into oxygen. Mature trees can make your home more desirable, improving the character of your neighborhood and boosting your property values. If you want to take good care of the trees in your yard in Westchester, tree pruning should be performed on a regular schedule to keep them healthy and prevent problems.

For homeowners in Westchester, tree pruning may seem like a fuss, but will actually save you hassle down the road. When trees are well pruned, they can be shaped in a way that is pleasing to the eye and will maximize the amount of sunlight received by the leaves. Trees that become wildly overgrown not only look scruffy; they are less healthy than trees that are well maintained. In fruit trees, pruning insures that fruit will develop evenly, and be larger and tastier than it would be otherwise. In addition to promoting fruit production and making trees look better, selectively removing branches can help to make trees stronger. By removing dead, damaged or weak branches, you can help give your trees superior disease resistance, as well as allowing them to devote all their energy to the healthy branches.

For residents of Westchester, tree pruning can also improve your family’s safety and help to prevent property damage. Removing branches that are likely to fall on buildings, cars, or even people can give you more peace of mind while helping your trees to look their best. If you lack confidence in the garden, not to worry – there are plenty of professional arborists available to help keep your trees in top shape!