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Home Improvement

 

When catastrophe strikes, will you be prepared for your insurance claim? Workplace or hobby – what do you have and what is it worth? In the event of a fire, flood, theft or other natural disaster, would you be able to recall from memory everything you own in your home or business? Would you be able to provide proof of ownership and value to substantiate your insurance claim? After the fact can be a challenging time to reconstruct this information. Emotional distress can cloud memories and disastrous events can destroy records.

 

When planning your estate, an inventory of your personal property can be both a valuable tool and a comfort to your family, heirs and executor. Insurance documentation and estate planning are but two of many reasons you should have a complete, up-to-date personal property inventory safely stored outside your home or business. We all know this is a good idea, but few have taken the time to get it done.

 

How much time and effort does it take to compile a proper inventory? That is really dependent on how much stuff you have and especially the amount of collectibles and valuable pieces you might have acquired. A professional with the right equipment and software can inventory an average home in three to four hours.

 

You will need to be present to provide some guidance and details on specific pieces, but they do the bulk of the work. If you have heirloom pieces or special collectibles, you can usually provide a narrative detailing the history and value of the pieces. All of this can become extremely important when trying to settle a claim with your insurance company. The inventory can also be used proactively with your insurance company to make sure those valuable items are properly covered. They may require a special rider. Better to know in advance instead of being upset and disappointed after a loss. When it is all finished you typically have a video along with a detailed listing that can be stored in a safe place and updated as needed.

 

HomeServicesLink recently located a local vendor providing this service that has spent several years in the fire and water restoration business. He has experienced the pain and agony homeowners went through trying to fairly settle an insurance claim from a disaster without adequate documentation of their belongings. He decided this was a needed service for the Greater Cincinnati area. We have recently partnered with him, making the service available to our client members. Let us know if you would be interested in learning more or actually having your home inventoried. We can be reached at info@homeserviceslink.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year, and now it’s time to tackle those resolutions of what to change this year! Some of the old standards are exercise more, lose weight, save more. Some people aspire to learn a new skill, travel more or spend more time with their families. Whatever your dreams or plans for this year, use the many resources available to you to make it a reality.

 

As a subscriber to Cincy Chic you have an abundance of resources at your disposal. HomeServicesLink is just one of many that can provide you with a variety of options to achieve your dreams. So, let’s take a look at a few resolutions and how our resources can help starting with that very common one of losing weight and exercising more.

 

You have several paths you can take. You could join a gym to have access to an exercise facility and personal trainers. Our client members can join TriHealth Fitness and Health Pavilion at group rates. You could convert a spare bedroom or other surplus space in your home into an exercise room utilizing one of the many contractors at your disposal through HomeServicesLink.

 

What about saving more? Our client members have access to a wide range of discounts and special offers from contractors, local entertainment, fine dining and recreational facilities in the area. In addition to these savings, many of the other feature columnists provide great values to our readers.

 

Helping you spend more time with the family is right up our alley. Use our services to handle many of those time-consuming home repair and maintenance items that you dread after a hard week’s work. Free yourself for more leisure activity like a bike ride or round of golf along with time to spend at your children’s many events.

 

If your dreams are more extensive, like learning to be a chef, HomeServicesLink can help you create that new kitchen you will need to prepare your culinary masterpieces. Whatever your resolutions for the new year, there are many resources available through Cincy Chic to make them a reality. HomeServicesLink can be reached at info@homeserviceslink.com or 513-271-1888. Happy New Year!

 

 

Did you get some cool tech toys for Christmas? There are probably some really great sales to step your home up a notch or two, making it more convenient. What are some of the latest trends in technology available to consumers, you ask? Where do you begin?

 

You could look at the recent popularity of 3D and HDTVs that are becoming as thin as your new iPhone. Maybe it is the trend that all this technology out there is getting better and the prices continue to drop. Add to that the current explosion of people wanting and being able to control everything from everywhere, and you have some interesting trends developing.

 

The days of technology being expensive and complex are steadily becoming but a memory. More and more products are coming to market, which offer the value and simplicity folks are looking for. Custom home control used to be reserved for the wealthy. Now with the help of products like Control 4, the days of needing to be a multi-millionaire to afford a control system and a rocket scientist to understand it have come and gone. With affordable home control systems like Control 4, we can enable your iPad or smartphone to control audio, video, lighting, HVAC and doors, including the garage door.

 

And the trend toward faster cell phone networks and the growing number of Wi-Fi hot spots allow you to maintain control (no pun intended) while on the go. Now you can send a signal to turn down the thermostat, turn off the lights and lock the door – the one you forgot to lock while running late this morning – from your phone or iPad.

 

Having the ability to send this signal just ensured your home is secure and saved you a little money on your utility bill. And I don’t know about you, but I’ll take saving money, even a little bit, anywhere I can get it.

 

As trends in home control have changed, so have trends in other areas such as controlling and listening to music. In my day, the cutting-edge technology for listening to music was a CD player. I am not seeing too many people buying CD players these days. Instead, we use Rhapsody or that little-known company and its iTunes software. iTunes allows us to download, control and listen to all of our favorite music from a computer, iPhone or iPad. Add a company like Sonos to the mix, and you have a very affordable, easy to control audio system that will work with all of these and many more.

 

From the way we listen to music to the way we interact with our home, the current trends in technology have enhanced our lives. A client once asked me when he would be able to have a Jetson’s home with all of the futuristic marvels. Well, aside from having a robot for a housemaid, we’re getting closer!

 

This week’s feature was provided by our audio, video and home control industry expert, Brian, a 15-year veteran in the field. If you would like to tap into his vast array of knowledge and experience, just drop us a line at info@homeserviceslink.com. He can also help hook-up that new equipment you got from Santa. Brian is offering free in-home consultations to all HomeServicesLink clients.

 

 

Fogged Windows
What causes the glass in insulated windows (double- and triple-pane units) to get cloudy or foggy? The fog comes from the seal between the panes failing. So, how do you fix this problem? The only proper solution is to replace the sealed glass unit within the window sash or replace the whole window. The majority of the time, it only requires replacing the glass unit.

 

Don’t be fooled by services that say they can repair the problem clearing the fog in your current window. Their solution typically involves drilling holes in the seal between the panes and flushing the glass clean, giving the impression of a proper repair. The appearance will be short-lived, and the insulation value of the window has been destroyed. Remember the only proper solution to this problem is replacing the sealed glass unit. There are a couple very affordable, high quality repair services in the area. Give us a call at HomeServicesLink for fast service for your window repairs.

 

Wine Stains
It is hard to get through holiday parties without at least one incident of spilling red wine on a carpet, linen tablecloth or your clothes. If you do, don’t despair. There is a wonderful product out there called Wine Out. It is available locally at places like Bed, Bath & Beyond. It can also be purchased online. It also comes in a handy pocket size version to take with you to events. If you don’t have any with you, you can try the old seltzer water technique.

 

Gutter Cover Confusion
The leaves are pretty much off the trees collecting in your gutters creating a situation that can cause major damage to your house if not addressed. Once the wet mass freezes in the gutter, it is not coming out until a good thaw. Water can do very expensive damage very quickly. Gutter cleaning is not a fun task, and depending on your house style and terrain, it can be dangerous.

 

If you live in a wooded area, you may require multiple cleanings per year. One solution to avoid this regular task or hiring someone to do it is to install gutter covers, but which type do you chose? There are so many varieties, all making their claims to be wonderful and letting you never have to clean your gutters again. Plus, there is a very wide range in costs for the different systems.

 

First of all, I have yet to find a system that works perfectly. I have also learned that higher cost in this category does not necessarily mean better performance or bettter value. I have found the best value in this area comes from a couple of the lower cost systems that provide a basic cover with very small holes to not allow the pine needles and small maple tree seeds to pass through.

 

This system typically runs about $6 per foot installed, which is significantly less than helmet and fine mesh systems. This in my opinion is a worthwhile investment for the peace of mind knowing your gutters are not blocked when those heavy rains are coming down and not having to remember to schedule gutter cleaning a couple times per year. We would be happy to talk further with you on this subject if you would like to pursue gutter cover options or just need them cleaned out. Call us at 513-271-1888 or email info@homeservicslink.com.

 

I hope all of you have a safe and wonderful holiday season from all of us at HomeServicesLink.

 

 

Water. Heaven knows we have had plenty of it so far this year, with some amount of rain almost every week throughout the spring, one very dry month this summer and back to the rain this fall. Lawns are lush and green, but what unseen issues are lurking from this excess moisture?

 

Much of the soil in this area has a high composition of clay, which is termed an expansive soil. Too much water causes the soil to swell, exerting pressure; not enough water causes the soil to shrink as it did last summer, resulting in potential foundation-shifting issues from differential movement due to variations in soil moisture. Cracks appeared where they had not been before or hairline cracks opened up, allowing water to enter your basement as the rains began in the fall. The effects of excess moisture are most evident in houses with block foundations or built on a slab, where heaving can occur. The hydrostatic pressure and soil swelling will lift slabs and bow block walls.

 

An important step is to maintain the moisture level throughout the dry spells with a watering program that begins well before the cracks from drought appear in the soil. A soaker hose about three feet from the foundation seems to work best at keeping the soil moist all year long.

 

Another item to consider that impacts the soil moisture is the vegetation around your home. Trees with shallow roots systems remove a lot of water from the soil, so either don’t plant them close to your home, or be prepared to keep the area well-watered.

 

It is also important to have proper drainage away from your foundation. All gutter downspouts should either be piped underground well away from the house, or if above ground they should discharge at least four feet from the foundation. Also critical is the grade around your foundation. Water should never be allowed to pocket along the foundation, which can create the excess moisture condition. Periodically check after a heavy rainstorm to ensure you do not have standing water.

 

What are some of the signs to look for that might indicate you have a foundation problem? The obvious ones are gaping cracks in foundation walls, cracks in bricks and mortar, doors that won’t open and close and diagonal cracks projecting from the corners of windows and doors. Other damage such as cracked ceramic floor tiles and plaster cracks can be signs of foundation problems, but could also be just cosmetic damage.

 

I would recommend involving a structural engineer before determining if it is a foundation problem and how to best resolve the issue. Also, keep in mind that foundation repair and waterproofing are different technologies. The solution to a problem many times is a combination of the two, and determining which to do first is best left to the experts. Using a quality contractor for this kind of work is critical to the outcome. Quality doesn’t mean the most expensive either. Experience and reputation are better qualifiers.

 

If you need help finding a good structural engineer, foundations repair contractor or waterproofing contractor, let us know. A structural engineer evaluation typically runs in the $200 to 300 range, while foundation repair and waterproofing is usually in the thousands of dollars, so you want to make sure you are attacking the correct problem. HomeServicesLink has several very reputable contractors in this category.

 

Don’t be scared into signing a contract by some of the bigger name companies in the area. Usually it is a tense period when dealing with basement flooding or large cracks, so be aware of salespeople capitalizing on this anxiety and using “special” discounts to get you to sign on the spot. If you do sign a contract, remember you have three days to cancel it before the work begins if you change your mind. A couple evaluations are usually good with major issues like this. Hopefully you never have to deal with these problems, but if you do, you can contact us for help at info@homeserviceslink.com.

I write this week’s article based on a personal experience that hopefully none of your families will ever endure. A lot of holiday decorating is going on both in and outside your homes. Gutters are being cleaned, windows washed, etc. This week I want to address the subject of safely working at heights. My doctor tells me you can break a hip falling from a height as little as two feet. The impact of a fall can be devastating.

I speak from experience having just recently celebrated the one year anniversary of a fall of my own. I was doing something simple early on a Friday evening shortly after arriving home from work. We had just had our leaves cleaned up that day getting ready for winter. I have gutter guards to eliminate the need for gutter cleaning but there are a couple valleys that accumulate leaves and I went up to quickly clean them out to finish the task. I went up on my porch roof about 10 feet off the ground, walked to the valley, bent over to clean it out, stood up to walk back to the ladder and that is the last thing I remember. I blacked out a fell to the sidewalk below, breaking my back, damaging my spinal cord taking out my legs. My wife prevented me from trying to get up when I came to or I would be paralyzed. Some great surgical work and rehab have returned most use of my legs but things will never be the same; not playing golf or riding my bike. The doctors still don’t know why I blacked out. It could have been something as simple a blood sugar levels since I had not eaten in a while. This was a task I had performed many times with out incident. I have been told how fortunate I am to be alive.

The message I want to pass on to all of you is life can change in an instant. Let the professionals that do these things for a living work at heights. Even after my experience I still have friends that go up on their roofs, clean out, their gutters, etc risking their livelihood. Just think about what would happen to your family if you were not able to do your day job.

Now I also know that many of you will think that won’t happen to me. So if that is the case and you must climb make sure you use the proper equipment starting with ladders. If anyone still has an old wooden or aluminum step ladder around the house, throw it out. You know the kind I am talking about. They creak and sway as you climb them. Make sure you use a ladder properly rated for your weight. The good fiberglass ones are color coded for different load limits starting with green at 225 pounds on up through blue and orange. If you are working on uneven surfaces, they make adjustable leg extensions for ladders. Please don’t stack up items to level out the ladder. If you must get on a roof, look into a safety harness. In most industrial environments OSHA requires fall protection equipment when working more than four feet off the ground. They do that for a good reason.

You want to enjoy the holidays with your families all in one piece and healthy. Let people with the experience and proper equipment take care of your work at heights. Home Services Link can provide you with qualified people so you don’t put your livelihood at risk. We can be reached at info@homeserviceslink.com or (513) 271-1888. Enjoy the holidays.

 

The cost of changes will vary depending on how much rework needs to be done and what types of delays are introduced into the project. Will different materials need to be ordered? How much completed work will need to be torn out? Moving a wall can be fairly easy if it does not contain wiring, plumbing or HVAC, has not been covered in sheetrock or is not load bearing.

 

The effort to remove what has already been completed can be more than the time needed to build it again. Changes at the later stages require calling back the subcontractors, like the electrician or plumber usually for more than one visit. One to take it out and then again to re-install. Some changes may even require a review by the area planning department, adding weeks to the delay.

 

The delays in schedule that result from having to order different materials can be costly as well, especially if other scheduled jobs for the contractor will be lost if delayed. You may run the risk of having to wait until these other jobs are completed before the contractor will come back to resume your project.

 

The planning phase is very important to minimize changes and should not be rushed unless you are very certain on what you want. Part of the planning can involve creating models to better visualize your end product. Laying out new room dimensions with tape on your garage or basement floor to see if your furniture will fit where you planned can also help visualize the space and is less expensive than a model.

 

Make sure you identify things like window and door locations. Is the space actually as large or small as you had envisioned? Are the electrical outlets and other utilities where you need them? Sometimes you need to just take some time to step back and have a fresh look at what has been designed to see if it really meets your needs. The contractor has this in mind when he appears to be moving slowly and you want to get started. You want to avoid as many surprises as possible to make the project flow smoothly.

 

Now, what about contractors getting rich on change orders? Usually this is not the case. They don’t have leverage with their subcontractors when they need them to come back to make changes to get the best price. Schedule impacts are probably the most costly to the contractor. They either have employees sitting around doing very little waiting for materials and the changes to be completed, or they are rescheduling other jobs and potentially losing jobs due to the delays.

 

Design changes throw a wrench into everyone’s plans. Experienced contractors are very good at efficiently scheduling their people and time to make their target profit margins. Rework and changes cut into those profits so, no, they are not getting rich on high-priced changes.

 

If anything, the changes cause tension between the contractor and homeowner, making the project more stressful. Most contractors will do what the customer wants, because the customer is always right (even when he or she is not). They will work to accommodate your changes as much as possible, but don’t place the blame on the contractor when the project gets extended by weeks or months and the budget is blown.

 

Using capable, quality contractors for your remodel and construction projects will greatly enhance your odds for minimal stress and a great end result. Home Services Link is your local resource to make finding good contractors easy. Give us a call with any questions at 513-271-1888 or send us an email at jim@homeserviceslink.com.

 

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.

 

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 jim@homeserviceslink.com.

 

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 info@homeserviceslink.com or 513-271-1888.

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