Month: October 2013

Keeping your home safe for trick-or-treaters

Halloween is coming up Thursday, October 31. If you’re going to give treats, it’s important to keep your home safe for the kids who will be visiting. Here are some tips to help the trick-or-treaters feel welcome and safe.

Let there be light

Make sure you’ve got the exterior well lit, including porch light and spotlight if you have one. (And if you don’t, you should consider installing a light with a motion detector.) If you’re not going to be home, or if you’re not giving treats, make sure to turn off the porch light.

Clear the way

Make sure the walkway, driveway and porch are free of obstacles. Remember that kids don’t always pay attention to where they walk. They will walk across the yard, too. So make sure to remove anything they can trip over such as flowerpots, tree limbs and garden hoses.

Be aware of the dog

You may have the nicest, most well-behaved dog in the world, but with knocks and the doorbell ringing non-stop for a few hours, they may get over-excited and make an escape when you’ve got the door open. Keep them in a separate room or kennel just to be safe.

Flame off

If you’ve got jack-o-lanterns on the porch, consider replacing candles with electric or battery operated lights.

Don’t advertise

Avoid posting on social media if you plan to be away from home on Halloween. At best, nothing will happen. At worst, you just let everyone in the area know you won’t be home.

Open up

If possible, keep your curtains and door open so they’ll know you’re home and they’re invited to the door. This will also make more light available on the porch and walkway.

Know the audience

Not trying to cut your enjoyment of Halloween, but don’t try to scare the daylights out of the kids when they come to the door. A costume is fine, but a scary mask or walking out in full Texas Chainsaw Massacre regalia is over the top.

Don’t give out homemade candy

It’s a waste because most parents won’t let their kids eat it anyway.

Don’t invite children inside

Unless you know the children very well, don’t invite trick-or-treaters inside. Although you mean well, this teaches kids it’s OK to enter strangers’ homes.

A little preparation will help you to enjoy seeing the kids and make them feel welcome and, more importantly, safe when they visit your home on Halloween.

Four home improvement projects you shouldn’t do yourself

Many homeowners have good intentions when they start a home improvement project. They want to save money, for sure; and there’s a lot of satisfaction to be had when doing it yourself.

There are occasions, though, when even a DIYer with better-than-average know-how is overmatched. If you’re looking around the house at an extensive honey-do list, here are four projects that you may consider doing yourself, but should probably hire a professional.

Refinishing hardwood floors

This is not a job that you want to do by hand or with a handheld or belt sander. Yes, you can rent a floor sander and buy everything you need, but if the equipment is not calibrated correctly, or if you make a mistake, it could cost you MORE to have a pro come in to fix the damage that you did. Floors that are not properly finished are easy to spot. Hardwood floors are very desirable these days, and can increase the resale value of your home.

Installing a water heater

Whether you’re installing a traditional water heater, or a tankless system, most municipalities require a building permit to complete the job. A traditional tank heater requires water and gas connections, which means hiring a licensed plumber. A tankless system has the added challenge of an electrical connection. The advantage of a tankless water heater is that it heats water as you use it, instead of heating and storing the water, which means that your hot-water supply is essentially endless. There’s no bulky tank taking up a corner of the basement; there’s no pilot light, so it’s safer; and it will very likely lower your utility bills. Oh, and you’ll never run out of hot water because a tankless system will heat 180 gallons of water per hour.

Installing a lamppost

Any time you have to add new wiring, the project is best left to a professional electrician. They will know and adhere to building codes, which makes it easier to pass inspection. This is a very involved project, requiring drilling a hole in your home to run new wiring, digging a trench for the cable, pouring a concrete base and running the cable through the base.


This is one of those jobs that seems very easy, but requires a high level of workmanship. Not only does it require more than one able-bodied person to put the sheetrock in place, mudding is involved, usually more than one application. Drywall compound dries very quickly and requires sanding, which kicks up dust. A professional gets it done quickly without the mess, which means it’s ready to paint more quickly (a job you can definitely do yourself.)

There are plenty of projects to keep DIYers busy around the house. These are just four projects that are best left to the pros. What did we miss? What projects have you started only to realize that you should hire a professional?

Home improvements that could hurt the sale of your home

Homeowners who are ready to move sometimes think that they need to make some quick improvements to either add value to the home or increase the likelihood that it will sell quickly.

Although it may add perceived value to the current homeowner, prospective buyers are not likely to be impressed with the new renovations and sure aren’t going to pay for your sweat equity and monetary investment.

Here are some projects that you think add value to your home, but don’t.

Adding a pool

Swimming pools are expensive to build and maintain, will add to your insurance premiums and can be a deterrent to families with young children. Sometimes, the buyer will write in a contingency that the pool be filled in or dismantled.

Overbuilding for the neighborhood

Some improvements and additions will not add value if it causes the home to stand out as “too good for the neighborhood.” If the average home in the area is $150,000, potential buyers aren’t likely to pay $225,000 for yours if you’ve added a major addition. The house will seem overpriced even if it is more desirable than the surrounding homes.

Speaking of a new addition

If you need an addition to improve your life in the home, then go ahead with the project. If you’re only doing it to increase the value at the time of the sale, you’ll never recoup the investment. Buyers are unlikely to increase their offer to cover the amount that you paid for the major renovation.

High-end upgrades

Remodeling the kitchen and bathrooms will add to the value of your home and the expense and effort of doing so are worth the investment. However, many prosepective home sellers make the mistake of overdoing it by installing new stainless steel appliances, imported ceramic tiles, or state-of-the-art electronics in the media room.

New carpeting

Removing the carpet and restoring wood floors to like new condition is usually a more profitable investment than putting in wall-to-wall carpeting. It may clash with the new owners’ tastes and furniture. It’s expensive and you’re unlikely to recover your investment.

Green improvements

While making your home more environmentally friendly is a good thing, prospective buyers will not care that you’ve made the improvements unless they find eco-friendly homes as important as you do. You’re better off sinking any investments on green renovations into your new home.

Invisible improvements

Invisible improvements are usually costly and usually expected to be up to snuff by any new owner. (Think plumbing, HVAC.) A buyer is unlikely to pay extra just because you did this type of project.

Upscale landscaping

A lush, green lawn with nice landscaping is one thing; shaped bushes and ornate trellises are another. It’s best to keep it simple with native plants, adding a little color so the new homeowners can see how good the yard can be by adding plants and bushes that fit their tastes.

Driveway expansion

A common mistake made by homeowners is tearing up the front lawn to make room for another automobile. Not only is it expensive, it actually detracts from your home’s aesthetic.

If you’re considering a renovation and plan to stay for several years to enjoy it, that’s one thing. Making home improvements to increase the likelihood that it will increase the value of your home is another. You’re unlikely to recoup your investment and could actually hurt your home’s value to a prospective buyer.

Six warning signs of termite damage

Termites can cause a significant amount of damage to your biggest asset – your home. Damage can be minor to major, up to and including structural damage. Because the damage can be so extensive, it’s important that you know what to look for in order to avoid the high cost of repairing the damage that termites can cause.


Termite colonies have different categories of workers, similar to ants. If you’ve got termites, the first thing you may notice is the swarmers. They look a little like winged ants with a thick middle and straight antennae. Swarmers have left their colony looking to start their own.

Discarded wings

The problem with swarmers is that you may see a couple of individuals but not see the swarm. When they find a place to mate and start colonies, their wings fall off. The places to look for wings are where they are likely to congregate – in spider webs and corners of window sills, just to name a couple.

Wood damage

Wood damaged by termites sounds hollow when you knock on it. If you think it may be termite damaged, you might even be able to push your finger through the affected piece.

Cracked wood surfaces

Swarmers can enter wood through very small openings. Make sure to look for cracks in your home’s foundation, near roof siding, vents and windows. Make sure to seal any cracks.

Mud tubes

Termites build air-tight mud tubes out of soil and plant life to protect themselves from sunlight. Check the foundation of your home around joists and beams for mud tubes, which will be a brownish color and about a centimeter in diameter.


Frass is the droppings produced by drywood termites as they eat their way through infested wood.

Termites pose a serious threat to your biggest investment – your home. If you’re considering selling your home, a positive termite inspection can cost you a sale.

If you spot any of the signs, call an exterminator immediately to analyze the extent of the damage. A termite specialist will recommend a customized treatment and prevention plan, which may include liquid repellants, wood treatments, baits and fumigation of the entire structure. It is absolutely essential that you not let a colony become established in your home.

Get your lawn and landscaping ready for spring this fall

Fall is probably more important to the overall health and beauty of your landscaping than what you do in the spring. What you do now sets the tone for the spring growing season.

Here are a few things you can do this fall to help your lawn.

Don’t skip a late season mow

Most experts say to cut the grass short, but not too short. Shorter grass is a deterrent for disease, but grass makes most of its food in the upper blade. About 1.25 inches is optimal, depending on your climate and type of grass.

Feed your grass

Until the ground reaches about 40 degrees, grass roots keep growing. Healthy root system equals healthy grass, which means your grass will get green earlier in the spring.

Aerate the lawn

Rainfall pooling in the yard is an indicator that you have compressed soil. Water and nutrients aren’t able to reach the roots. An aerator is not something that every homeowner has, of course, but they can be found at most businesses that rent equipment.

Trim existing trees and shrubs

Dead tree branches are more likely to fall under the weight of snow and pressure by winter winds. Falling limbs can cause damage to your home. For trees, you’re better off calling a professional tree trimmer, but you can help small trees and bushes by cutting cracked or diseased limbs. This will promote new growth in the spring.

Replace and replenish mulch

Nature provides a bounty for your flower beds in the leaves that fall from the trees every autumn. Mulch the leaves and combine them with straw and other organic matter and till it into the soil. The best time to do so is after the first light frost but before the ground freezes. Not only will this help feed your plants over the winter, it will help stop soil erosion.

Install new plants

If you plan to add new plants in the spring, consider doing it in the fall. The cool, moist fall soil helps new shrubs to establish their root systems, which means that it will grow more in the spring.

TLC for your flower beds

Get rid of any annuals that are in the process of dying anyway. Trim back perennials will help the plants to use energy better by sending it into the roots rather than into the leaves, which means your plants will get off to a better start next spring.

Make your own compost

One of the best nutrients you can give your lawn is free and naturally void of chemicals, yet most homeowners waste it. We’re talking about leaves. Rather than sending it off to the dump or paying a compost company to haul it away, build a small compost pen and dump your leaves into it. Give it a turn every week or so and you’ll be making the best compost you can have for free.

Taking the time and making the effort this fall means you’ll have less work and more time to enjoy your lawn and landscape next spring.