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Home Improvement


So, you have dreams of a new kitchen or bathroom remodel. It may be a new master suite addition to your home with a new A/V system. Or maybe you just need a new furnace. What are some of your options to fund these projects other than the good old cash you might have saved up?


One good option to consider if you live in Ohio and plan to incorporate some energy-saving improvements in the scope of the project is the ECO-Link program. ECO-Link is a partnership between the state treasurer of Ohio and participating state banks that provides a three percent interest rate reduction for five or seven years on bank loans when completing energy-efficient upgrades in your home. Through this program, ECO-Link invests in Ohio’s environment and communities while fostering economic growth. The maximum loan amount the interest rate reduction can be applied to is $50,000. At least 50 percent of the loan must be used for energy efficient products. A homeowner can opt for a seven-year rate reduction if the loan is for more than $25,000.


The other option is a home equity loan or a line of credit. These types of financing can be obtained from your local bank or credit union. A home equity loan will be subject to an appraisal for the current market value of your home and how much equity you currently have in the property. It’s also worth looking to see if you can refinance your existing mortgage to get a better rate and free up some cash.


A line of credit is usually not as large as a home equity loan, but also is a much simpler process to work through. Obtaining financing these days can be much more challenging than in the past, so allow sufficient time in your project schedule. Credit unions now have the capability to provide financing for these types of projects with the added benefit of typically in-house local decision making on approvals and less bureaucratic government guidelines than those imposed on banks. HomeServicesLink is a member of Emery Federal Credit Union, providing access to all of its products and services with that small-town bank feeling.


Any way you choose to fund your dream project or necessary replacement, make sure you are getting good value for your money. Use quality materials and quality contractors, and try not to over-invest in your home, especially if you plan to sell in the near future. Material prices continue to rise at historical levels, but labor prices have come down. Advances in technology have also made items like home automation and audio/video systems in reach for many more home owners. If you are planning a project, remember we’re here to help. Just give me a call at 513-271-1888 or email at


Did you know if you use a method other than steam cleaning for your carpet, your warranty may be voided? What about applying tinted film to your windows? This usually voids the warranty as well.


Let’s look at the home warranty provided with your home purchase. What about that "lifetime warranty" the contractor included in his sales pitch to close the deal? It’s important to sort out the fact from the fiction.


Let’s start by dealing with the "lifetime warranty." First of all, I coach the contractors in my network to not offer lifetime warranties, because they represent an indeterminately long time to stand behind their work. Providing the legal maximum, I believe 10 years should be sufficient. Too many factors come into play over a lifetime over which they have no control. Think about it – the term is frequently used by companies, but there is no standard definition. That works for the marketers exploiting the term, but not for you, the consumer.


A good place to start is looking at what lifetime the warranty covers. Is it the purchaser’s lifetime? The manufacturer’s? The product’s? The answer is that it depends. The duration and applicability of a lifetime warranty depends solely upon the person or company who is offering the warranty. A consumer’s expectation of that warranty is completely irrelevant.


Home warranties can be tricky as well. Usually now, one is included in the transaction of purchasing a home. It usually has a deductible for each claim as well as limitations on what will be replaced and usually requires specific service people to do the work, not the people you might want.


Make sure you read the fine print to know if an item’s replacement value is depreciated over the normal useful life of an item. That several thousand dollar furnace may not be covered if it is beyond its useful life. My mother has a warranty service for her retirement home at the cost of several hundred dollars per year. It gave her peace of mind, but when her refrigerator needed to be replaced, they only provide a white appliance. She needed stainless steel for which she had to pay extra.


Economically, it made more sense to save the annual premium and purchase new items when they fail. A home warranty may be right for you. Just make sure you read all the fine print before signing.


Product warranties can be just as tricky. They usually stipulate how something must be maintained to be covered. So, how does the average homeowner know what to do? The key is to purchase quality items from reputable businesses so as to minimize the possibility of a warranty claim. If a claim does need to be filed, a reputable business will usually stand behind its work because its reputation is important. Remember the old saying, "You get what you pay for." Shopping purely on price usually brings problems.


Our local business called Home Services Link screens contractors for homeowners, checking background, insurance and monitors performance over many jobs to establish a longer term performance trend, increasing your probability of a quality job. This is not to say that just by using quality people you won’t have a punch list or a follow-up item or two, but a quality contractor will be there to take care of it. Feel free to give us a call or send us an email with any questions or home improvement and repair needs you might have.


Have you been awakened by a consistent chirping noise only to realize it is the low battery indicator for your smoke detector? But did you replace the battery or remove it and go back to sleep, thinking that you’ll take care of that later? Many people do the latter and then forget about it. Hopefully, tragedy won’t strike their homes before they remember.


October slipped by without us mentioning that October is fire safety month and appropriately so – as we approach the holiday seasons, devices like fireplaces and fire pits are put into use with the cooler weather. Prevention is the best method to protect you and your family, so let’s cover a few of the top ones for your list.


First of all, let’s talk about anything involving fire – candles, fireplaces, fire pits, kerosene heaters and so on. Make sure all combustible material is a safe distance from the flames. Never leave burning candles unattended even, if they are inside a jack-o-lantern that’s outdoors. Dry leaves can blow against the pumpkin, causing it to catch fire and transfer the fire to your home. Fire pits left to burn out overnight without a spark screen are even more dangerous. Interior fireplaces are safer, but again should include a spark screen to prevent hot embers from popping onto a close-by carpet.


Along with the obvious, the flue of a chimney should be checked for obstructions such as bird’s nests that can catch fire, possibly igniting creosote build-up and doing major damage to your chimney. If you use your fireplace frequently, you should also consider a chimney sweep each year to clean out the build-up before experiencing a flue fire. You will know when you have one. It sounds like a jet engine in your chimney, followed by cracking noises as the flue tiles crack from the rapid heating. These are your obvious sources of a house fire.


Some of the less obvious but just as dangerous year-round are excessive lint build-up in the dryer vent, unattended cooking and electrical fires. You can easily check your dryer vent by feeling the amount of airflow coming out of the exhaust opening outside your home. If it is questionable, pull your dryer out, disconnect the ducting from the back of your dryer and look in the duct for build-up. Most HVAC companies can check and clean this for you if you have any doubts about your own capability.


So, you have done everything you know to do to prevent a fire – how do you protect your family if you have one? Properly working smoke detectors are still the best warning devices. Properly working involves more than just making sure they have fresh batteries installed.


There are two main types of smoke detectors: ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Each has its purpose and a complete system usually involves both. Ionization detectors usually respond more quickly to flaming fires, but photoelectric detectors are better for smoldering fires. Many times with a smoldering fire, occupants have died from lack of oxygen before an ionization alarm ever sounds. Photoelectric detectors are not as common, especially in rental properties because they are more costly than ionization models.


A combination of the two along with a heat detector provides the best protection. Ionization detectors should also be replaced about every 10 years as the radioactive particles that make them work deteriorate, reducing the sensitivity. The proper type and charged fire extinguisher should also be handy to put out small fires. Along with warning devices, it is important to have a means of exit from upper levels and a designated meeting place once outside to insure everyone is safe, so firefighters do not unnecessarily risk their lives searching for someone already out of a building.


Fire can be both beautiful and devastating. Hopefully you never have to experience the devastating side. If you ever do, though, Home Services Link can assist you with emergency clean-up and restoration services. We also can provide the chimney sweep or duct cleaner or even the handyman to change the batteries in your smoke detectors so your preventative measures are in place. We can be reached at or 513-271-1888.


Old man winter is not far away, and the predictions are for a cold and snowy one. So how do you stay toasty warm and minimize the shock when the utility bills arrive? You can attack this problem from several angles, depending on your needs and budget.


Let’s start with how you heat your home. The very first thing is to make sure your furnace is cleaned and serviced to perform optimally including regular cleaning or replacement of filters. A dirty blower and filter along with a poorly tuned system has to work much harder to maintain the temperature you desire.


The efficiency of your system will also have a significant impact on your energy costs. I had an old Williamson gas furnace in one of my homes. It was built to last almost forever, but was only about 60 percent efficient, meaning about 40 percent of the energy went up the flue or somewhere other than into heating my home.


Newer high-efficiency furnaces can operate as high as 98 percent, creating a payout in a few years with much lower energy bills. It will be a significant investment, but may be well worth it.


The other aspect of your system is the thermostat. Ideally, you have a programmable unit that allows you to vary the temperature when the house is not occupied. It is important to not make drastic swings in temperature, unless the house is to be vacant for days. You can spend more trying to reheat your home with the system running full blast for an extended period. Usually, a drop of three to four degrees is better, and you will see savings. Installing a programmable thermostat is not a costly task.


Now how about prevention? Make sure the seals and weather-stripping around doors and windows are stopping the drafts – both hot air out and cold air in. If you use a traditional fireplace, make sure the damper is closed when it’s not in use. Better yet, install a set of glass doors to reduce the drafting of the heat from your home up your flue. Fireplaces look great, but don’t really help in the heating of your home unless they’re sealed units.


How is the insulation in your attic? Whether you have blown-in insulation or batts, you probably should have at least 12 inches to obtain an acceptable R-value for this area. Insulation should be installed by a skilled person that understands attic ventilation. Blocking vents with insulation can do serious and costly damage to your home.


The last area we will address deals with items we typically don’t think about to save energy, but they can be energy hogs. Look at turning off and even unplugging cable boxes and TVs. Most TVs these days are instant-on, which means they are consuming energy even when the picture is not on. Computers are also energy hogs. Consider plugging these devices into power strips or surge protectors where you can turn everything on and off with the flip of a switch and unplug those cell phone chargers when not in use. Every little bit helps.


If your home needs a little work to get ready for the upcoming season or possibly a replacement furnace, HomeServicesLink is here to help. Take advantage of the discounts and special offers available to you through your association with Cincy Chic. When the cold really sets in, remember you can always wear layers to stay warm, following the guidance of our flair columnist.


It’s time for people to get their homes ready for fall and winter.


DIY (Do-It-Yourself) and DIR (Do-It–Right) are not always synonymous. These days Do-It-Yourself is everywhere, and it is made to sound like anyone can handle any project. Whether it is due to the tightening economy or just the feeling that it can not be that difficult, many more people are trying to tackle projects themselves instead of getting a professional involved. If you are so inclined to go it alone and do it yourself, here are a few elements to consider before jumping into the task.


First of all, ask yourself – do you have the necessary time to complete the project within the targeted time frame? Many DIY projects take significantly longer for someone not having experience. What is the value of your free time? What impact will taking twice as long to complete the project have on you and your family? Many DIY remodel projects go on for months, occupying every available free evening and weekend. Some never get completed. Some cause a divorce. Is this project worth the risk?


Second point to consider – do you have the necessary skills to complete the task with the expected level of quality? The book or the video may make installing tile or finishing drywall look simple until you try to mix the thinset (tile mortar) to the correct consistency or attempt to mud and tape drywall joints. Poor quality work can decrease the value of your home or at a minimum cause a potential buyer to question the construction quality.


The third consideration deals with tools. Do you have the right tools and equipment to do the job with high quality? Professional power tools and specialty tools can be very expensive when purchased for a one-time job. Many times, good quality tools designed for the work make the job much easier and result in a better finished product.


The last and most important consideration deals with safety for your home and yourself. Are you knowledgeable of the required safety and building codes for your project? This is particularly important if your project involves electrical or plumbing modifications. Other code violations like stair riser heights or light fixtures in closets can come back to haunt you later when you decide to sell your home and the inspection identifies some of these outages. The other risk is if someone gets hurt due to your modifications not being to code.


So, is it really less expensive to do it yourself? It probably is if you have the necessary tools, some experience with the task you are about to tackle and knowledge of building codes. It really comes down to the value of your free time in this case. If you don’t have some experience and tools, it can cost you well beyond your planned budget investing in tools and/or either re-doing items that did not turn out as expected or having to bring in a professional later to re-work or fix the project. You are essentially paying double in this case, because they will most likely re-do a lot of what you have done, plus the time and money you have already invested in your attempt.


Professional craftsmen have typically invested in the proper tools and equipment to do a job efficiently and with good quality. They expect to recoup that investment over years of using the equipment. Just as with good tools and equipment, the same goes for the quality of professional contractors that you select. Many people go looking for the best deal – lowest price. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. Finding quality, reliable, insured contractors can be a time-consuming task but a worthwhile one to put significant effort into to make your project proceed smoothly.


The task can be more difficult with the tight economy as many contractors offer special deals to get work to stay in business, undercutting other bids to survive. Playing one bid against another can be risky. You may feel great that you negotiated a lower price, but if the contractor is barely breaking even or losing money on the job, he or she may disappear before the work is complete or take shortcuts that you may not be aware of until later.


They may also go out of business in the middle of or after finishing your work with no recourse for problems identified later. A contractor that has been in business for awhile and is reputable will not accept work where he knows he can not make any money. He or she typically walks away from jobs when the game of playing one bid against another begins.


Selecting a contractor based solely on price usually results in a bad experience. Make sure the scope of the work and what you expect is well defined and in writing. This alone will not protect you from a less-than-capable contractor, so make sure you check out some of his or her prior work similar to your project needs and talk with some prior clients. The other key point is to make sure he or she is insured, which requires more than just asking to see his or her certificate. This may seem like a lot of work and the project has not even started, but this is necessary to increase the probability of a successful project.


Knowing that all of this work needs to be covered does not need to scare you away from your pet project. There is a service right here in our area that does a lot of the leg work for finding good contractors for people. At HomeServicesLink we check out their insurance, their quality, their reliability and continue to track the performance from job to job making sure it stays up to our standards to remain in the preferred provider network.


Many times these are smaller contractors, not the big names you see on television or with big ads in magazines. These smaller companies typically have lower overheads, and thus can be more competitive when bidding your project usually with the business owner present on the job and doing the work.


I know I told you last week we would cover DIY or DIR, but the weather is turning, and I would hate for you to not be ready. Getting the home ready for winter is usually not very high on people’s priority lists. You always think you have another week or month before you need to get things buttoned up, and then surprise: A cold wave or the unpredicted snow storm rolls through. So, what are the items you can get away with procrastinating on, and which items are critical?


Critical Tasks
You will probably be amazed, but one of the most critical items to take care of is cleaning your gutters. If you put this off and the wet mass of leaves freeze, you are stuck with them until spring or an extended warm spell in mid-winter thaws them. Once frozen, there is no removing the mass without doing major damage to your gutters. This is a fairly inexpensive job to hire out and much safer especially if you have a two-story house. My doctor informed me a fall from two feet off the ground is enough to break a hip.


The only other critical item I have on my list deals with caulking and painting. You want to make sure any open channels in the exterior envelope of your home that can allow moisture penetration are sealed. The damage can come in a couple ways. Expansion as the moisture freezes can cause damage as the material swells or the material will rot from the extended exposure to moisture for three to five months. It will be well into spring or possibly the summer months before things dry out enough to caulk and paint.


The next item on my priority list is to service the furnace. This would include cleaning the blower, replacing or cleaning filters and checking that all systems are functioning at optimum levels. Annual furnace service does two things: It maximizes the life of your equipment and potentially saves money on your energy bills. Replacing or cleaning filters is something you can do on your own. Proper checking and service of the system usually requires the skill and diagnostic equipment of a professional. The most cost-effective way to handle this is with an annual service agreement.


Another item people wait too long to address is winterization of an irrigation system. Once it begins to cool off, don’t hesitate to have the system drained and blown out. It’s definitely much less expensive than replacing the damaged components.


Less Important Items on the Checklist (That Still Deserve Your Attention)
Now that the key items are taken care of, here are a couple more to consider. If you have a wood-burning fireplace and plan to use it, you should consider having the chimney cleaned, especially if it has been a couple years since it was last inspected.


Also, make sure you disconnect the hoses from your outside hose bibs. Even though the water is turned off, water in the hose can freeze and back up into the faucet, splitting the faucet stem. You won’t know it happened until you turn on the faucet next spring and water floods into your house.


Finally, I would check the weather stripping and seals around the doors and windows to keep the cold winter air outside where it belongs. It is inexpensive to replace weather stripping, compared to the increased energy costs from the drafty doors and windows. If your windows and doors are drafty, the proper solution may be replacement windows and doors. This is a more costly solution, but these usually also enhance the curb appeal of your home.


These few items should prepare you for old man winter. The past couple years we have also seen many homes with ice damming issues, resulting in water staining of interior walls and ceilings. Ice damming occurs when heat escapes from the house into the attic, melting snow on the roof, which then freezes again in the gutter area, forming a dam holding water on the roof. The water works its way under the shingles and leaks into the attic and soffit. Preventing ice dams is accomplished with better insulation in the attic installed properly. If you have seen large icicles hanging from your gutters in past years, you may be vulnerable to ice damming.


So, getting your home ready for winter is not that big of a task and one that you should not put off. It doesn’t hurt to be ready early. If you require professional assistance with any of these items from quality service providers, Home Services Link is here and ready to help you. Stay tuned, as next week we will debate the issue of DIY or DIR.


Do you have visions of a dream kitchen where you can both cook and entertain? Kitchens have been the gathering spot in the home for many years, but over the last decade or so, kitchens have become a critical item in the buying and selling decision process.


Depending on your particular situation, you have a variety of options when it comes to creating your dream kitchen while still being fiscally responsible. Let’s focus this week on the small, fairly inexpensive things you can do to step it up a notch on a tight budget – and possibly recoup your investment if you sell in the near future.


Many older homes just have painted drywall or possibly a basic, four-square-inch ceramic tile. You can make a significant change in the look of your kitchen with some of the newer tile options. Glass tiles or combination glass, metal and ceramic tiles typically come in mesh sheets and are fairly easy for the amateur Do-It-Yourself person to install with a minimal investment in tools.


This is probably the easiest change to make. Get rid of the plain chrome or brass knobs and drawer pulls for something more stylish like brushed nickel. If you are not replacing cabinet fronts, it is best if your replacement hardware utilizes the same holes or covers the old holes. Also, consider replacing your faucet with something matching your new hardware.


Replace that old fluorescent ceiling fixture with can lights or some new pendants. Another great addition is under-cabinet lighting. This may be a little beyond the scope of the average homeowner from a safety perspective. It is also best to do before you install that new tile backsplash, as you will need to locate existing wiring or run new wires in the walls.


There are many options for countertops these days, but in staying with the theme of controlling expenses, consumers have a couple choices. The least costly is to paint your old laminate counters. Kits are available for this purpose. I have not personally used them and would consider the wear and tear put on your counters to decide how long it may hold up. As with any painted surface, it requires maintenance.


The other option is new laminate. The color choices are endless with many of the new options replicating granite at a fraction of the cost. You could always of course go with real granite.


Vinyl flooring used to date a kitchen, but not any longer. Vinyl tiles are available that replicate ceramic, hardwood, stone and other types of tiles. They are easy to install and fairly inexpensive compared to hardwood or ceramic tile, and they’re much easier to maintain.


Beyond this, you could consider painting your cabinets or even have them re-faced. You are stepping up the cost quite a bit with re-facing, but this may be your only option. Another item, which is usually more expensive, is replacement appliances. The important thing to remember if you are doing this to sell your home is whether you will get your money out of the investment. You also need to consider if the improvements will make your overall house more appealing and thus sell quicker in today’s market. Home Services Link is available to assist you with finding trustworthy people to handle your project needs.


Check back in next week when we address D-I-Y or D-I-R projects. You can also visit our website for more information, request help or access special offers and discounts.

Welcome to the first of many informative features to assist you with making home improvements and repairs safe and simple. Life is hectic enough these days without having to checkout or track down contractors to take care of your needs around the home. Hopefully when a need arises we can help take a load off your shoulders.


No one wants to get taken advantage of but it happens on a regular basis in the home improvement arena. The recent news story featuring Mr. Burchett, a contractor from Amelia, who is being prosecuted for theft and theft from the elderly, points out how easily it can happen. You need some work done. You call up a local contractor that you find in a directory or maybe hear about through a friend. You think because he advertises or a friend used him in the past he must be legitimate. The problem with this thinking is that the contractors that operate like Mr. Burchett don’t have a conscience. They don’t think twice about taking your hard earned money many times without doing any work at all. Usually it is more a matter of sub-standard work that they won’t come back to fix or complete.


So what should you do when you need a contractor so this does not happen to you? Once you have identified a contractor or two that appear to meet your needs request their insurance information. You would be surprised how many contractors operate without insurance especially some sole proprietors that have gotten into the contractor business because they can’t find work elsewhere. If the contractor provides you with a certificate of insurance, the next step is to contact the insurance agency to verify the policy is in force. One scam used is to purchase insurance, get the certificate and then cancel the policy getting a refund on the premium. They can then use the certificate for the length of the original term. If you catch one in this game get as far a way as possible and maybe report him to the BBB.


The BBB is another good check point to see if any and how many complaints have been filed and if so have they been resolved. The old grading system gave a company high marks for resolving complaints. That is all well and good but I would rather work with a company that does not get complaints to begin with. Similar to this you may want to check some references provided by the contractor recognizing no smart person is going to give you the name of an unhappy client. Better yet you should ask to go see some of their completed work to see for your self if it meets your expectations. Many people will go with a friend’s recommendation without knowing if your standards and expectations are similar. You could run a background check; see how long they have been in business; check where they have been located and on and on.


Beyond this you want to get their proposal in writing with as much detail as necessary to make sure the scope you have requested is adequately covered should he said-she said issues arise down the road when something is not as you wanted. If changes are made along the way make sure they are documented as well and the cost impact noted. Sounds like a lot of work because it is. Now if your job is a low cost simple repair it may seem that all of this is not necessary but the impact of bad work can get very costly.


My intention was not to make hiring a contractor a frightening experience but more so make you aware of the games an unscrupulous contractor may play to take advantage of you. Once they take your money it can be very difficult if not impossible to get it back. I have won judgments in small claims court and never received a dime. They just fold the company and move their money to another account so you can’t find it. Then they start back up with a different company name and do it over again. I started my business after retiring from P&G to make it much easier for people to locate quality, insured contractors without having to do everything I mentioned earlier each time a need arises. We do the screening and checks up front but also maintain an on-going performance record from each job to track the contractor’s consistency as well so we are much more than just a referral source.


As part of our new partnership with Cincy Chic, we are offering a 20% discount to new members through the end of 2011 when you used the offer code: CCHIC. The discount reduces the annual membership fee from $29.99 to $24 (about $0.065/day). You will save much more than that by utilizing just one of the discounts and special offers that will be available to you. Visit our website at to enroll and request a service or go to our sister site for Your Home Improvement and Repair Guide for Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Submit any questions you would like addressed to