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Home Improvement

 

January was Radon Action Month, and we thought it might be helpful to provide a little more information about this ubiquitous gas that tests high in about one of every three tested homes in our area. According the EPA, Radon-222 is the decay product of Radium-226, which is part of the long decay chain for Uranium-238. Enough with the chemistry lesson, though — we have all seen enough spy or terror movies with dangerous Uranium-238 to know it is nasty stuff. Because uranium is in the earth’s crust, radon is present in almost all rock, soil and water. How much is the critical question.

 

How much radon is in the soil can vary widely from one subdivision lot to the next depending on the soil chemistry. Radon enters your home through cinderblock basement walls, floor cracks, sink drains, sump pump wells, even the crack between your basement floor and the walls. The soil moisture and porosity along with construction of the house impact how much enters and stays in the home.

 

You can hire a professional service to measure your radon level, which is what is usually done in house sale transactions. The other option is to do it yourself with a kit from your favorite DIY store for usually less than $30. The placement and conditions for conducting the test are very critical to get an accurate read. So, if you are not big on details, you might want to go the professional route.

 

If you detect a high level what do you do? Not much you can do about the soil, but radon mitigation systems that draw gases from beneath the foundation and vent it safely outside the house are available. Typically this is installed in the sump pump well, which is then sealed and a fan and pipe system transfer the gases outside. Mitigation is recommended to be completed by a professional and typically costs between $800 and $2,500.

 

Why should we worry about it? Radon is the top cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Usually, it is being exposed to higher levels that cause a problem. Newer construction homes tend to be much tighter as well so that the radon can be trapped. It is typically at the highest levels if present at all in the lowest level of your home. That is why the testing is always performed in the basement. If you have an exercise room in your lower level and do cardio, it might be wise to check it out. HomeServicesLink provides you with top-notch companies that do both the testing and remediation if necessary. You can contact us at info@homeserviceslink.com or 513-271-1888.

 

 

 

 

 

Whether you noticed it or not, they have been slowly disappearing. Incandescent light bulbs, the kind we have used most of our lives and were invented more than 125 years ago by Thomas Edison, are being phased out for more energy-efficient types. As of January 1, 2012, 100-watt incandescent bulbs will no longer be available except for remaining inventory. Next year the 75-watt bulbs will be eliminated, followed by the 40-watt bulbs in 2014. So, what is a person to do?

 

Well, many will just buy whatever is available that seems to meet their needs and go on. Of course, there are a couple options from which to choose: CFLs, halogen and LEDs, but each comes with a set of advantages and disadvantages.

 

The first and most obvious thing everyone will notice for all three choices is the price. The purchase price for these new, more energy-efficient choices is significantly more than what we have been used to. This increase in purchase price is offset by the reduced energy usage and longer projected life – anywhere from 50 percent longer for halogen bulbs, up to 13 years for an LED (based on four hours-per-day usage), with CFLs somewhere in between.

 

Over the long term, you should save money lighting your home. The other complication that comes with these new options is the correct type for the application along with selecting a color temperature – soft white versus bright white versus another that is pleasing to you. CFLs, compact fluorescent lights, are the most widely available replacement and come in several shapes with a significant performance difference for which my wife doesn’t care. They do not instantly reach full brightness. They grow in intensity over a couple minutes instead of the instant bright light we have grown used to. I have also found she is not alone in her opinion.

 

Another point to be aware of is the use of dimmers. CFLs do not perform well, and in some cases don’t work with dimmers. They can also greatly decrease the life of the bulb. Check the manufacturer’s specifications for these applications.

 

LEDs are the most energy-efficient and long-lasting, but also the most costly to purchase. LED applications up to now are best geared for accent lighting. The halogen bulbs provide bright, crisp lighting more closely resembling what we have been used to with the old incandescent bulb, but they get extremely hot.

 

Whichever way you choose to go, there will be expected trade-offs. So, unless you are a hoarder and managed to stockpile a lifetime supply of 100-watt incandescent bulbs, it is time for a change.

 

Along with the type change, you will also have to familiarize yourself with the new ratings for brightness. You may replace your old 100-watt with a 60-watt of another type and get the same brightness. Again, check out some manufacturers’ information on their light bulbs before venturing out to buy.

 

These changes are for the long term good to the environment and will lessen energy consumption. All change takes some getting used to. By this time next year when the 75-watt bulbs disappear, this will probably be a non-issue. If some of your lighting systems do not appear to be working correctly with different types of bulbs, consult a qualified electrician to check out and possibly update your fixtures.

 

HomeServicesLink encourages homeowners to review products and to look for savings not just in the short term, but as a long-term investment in reducing your consumption and energy bills. Let us know what topics that you’d like to know more about. As always, we’re here for you with contractor referrals for all your home repair and improvement needs. You can reach us at info@homeserviceslink.com or 513-271-1888.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, what are two or three things you have said you were going to take care of next weekend or the next time you clean, but just never seem to get around to? What might this forgetfulness be costing you? I have compiled a short list of common items I have come across that many times don’t get addressed until they cause major problems. See if these are on your “to do” list:

 

Clean the refrigerator coil:The refrigeration system on your refrigerator has a set of coils with fins attach to dissipate the heat generated. The coils accumulate dust eventually if not cleaned, severely restricting air flow and thus the cooling process. At least once per year, depending on how dusty your house may be, you should pull out your fridge and vacuum the cooling fins with a brush attachment, being careful not to bend the fins. Most fridge models are on wheels and can be easily pulled out for this task, and it should only take a few minutes. Maximum air flow will allow your refrigerator to operate more efficiently, reducing your energy bill and extending its life.

 

 

Dryer vent cleaning:This one can be more difficult to accomplish, but the impact of not doing it can be greater. Ideally, dryer vent piping should be smooth metal duct pipe instead of the flexible plastic or foil type. The flexible piping collects a significant amount more of dust over time. This dust build-up restricts the air flow out of the dryer, making the machine work much harder again, using wasted energy and putting more wear and tear on the machine.

 

The bigger impact is the potential for a fire. Cleaning a dryer vent requires moving the dryer, which can be heavy, disconnecting the vent piping and vacuuming it out. Depending on how far your dryer is located from the outside wall that it discharges through, you may have difficulty cleaning the entire pipe. There are many businesses that perform this task, usually HVAC companies and duct-cleaning firms. Just make sure you deal with a reputable company that thoroughly cleans and ideally measures the air flow before and after to show the difference.

 

Change the furnace filter:This is probably the easiest task of the three, but many times overlooked. Depending on the type of filter you use, the frequency for changing can be anywhere from once per month to once every six to 12 months. The impact is pretty obvious for not doing it regularly – higher energy usage and excess wear and tear on your furnace.

 

I recommend putting a piece of masking tape on the side of the furnace, where you can write down the date last changed. Unless you have these things on your calendar for the same day every month, it is easily forgotten until the furnace is not working on a cold winter weekend. I have the filter you replace every six months, and until I started writing down the dates I was very inconsistent.

 

None of these items is costly to perform and will save you money in the long term with reduced energy bills and longer time frames between replacement of the equipment. If you are not able, the furnace filters and fridge-cleaning can easily be done by a handy man. The dryer vent should probably be left for an expert, unless the piping is fully accessible and can be disassembled for cleaning by a handy man as well. If you just don’t have time or don’t feel capable of handling these items, contact HomeServicesLink to have someone take care of it for you. You can reach us 24 hours a day, seven days a week at info@homeserviceslink.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whether or not you are a fan, winter is here and with it usually comes snow and ice. Every year we see the specials on the news evaluating the variety of products on the market. We typically rush out at the last minute and buy whatever is available at the time without giving consideration to the impact the product may have on our driveways and sidewalks as well as the surrounding vegetation. Here are a few quick tips I picked up from my readings.

 

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Follow the manufacturer’s directions:Many people have this belief that if a little works okay, a lot should work even better. Not the case with ice melt products. In fact, too much can actually burn or damage the vegetation along your driveway and sidewalks. I am sure you have seen the shrubs along heavily treated streets in the spring that are brown or yellow and never turn green. You can have the same impact in your yard. You don’t need to fully cover an area. The ice melt dissolves in the snow and spreads to cover the surface. Experts recommend applying ice melt using a handheld spreader for small areas or a walk-behind spreader for large areas. Scoops and shovels almost always cause random application. Some of the higher-end products are now colored to aid in proper coverage.

 

Ice melt should be applied to the ground before the snow or ice falls:This isn’t always feasible, so the product should be spread before things freeze or as soon as possible thereafter. If you have to apply it after a storm, you will need to remove the bulk of the snow first. It does not work well putting it on top of several inches of snow.

 

It is also important to seal the surfaces where you will use ice melt. This will prevent moisture from seeping into the pores and cracks in the concrete. Contrary to popular belief, ice melt does not damage concrete, but ice can. Some materials, such as brick, are especially porous and should not be treated with ice melt. You have probably seen houses that have the face of the bricks that fall off during the winter. This is called spalling, where moisture is absorbed into the brick, and then it freezes, fracturing the brick and the face pops off. If your home is older with these softer bricks, it may also need to be sealed from time to time to prevent this damage.

 

Using the proper kind:Again, not all de-icers are created equal. Usually, the more expensive the de-icer, the lower the temperature at which it will work. Having said that, there is no need around here to buy an expensive material that may work at sub-zero temperatures. Typically, we see plain old rock salt being used in combination with a chloride additive that generally handles our normal temperature range applied to the streets. You have probably also heard the county treating the roads with beet juice additive, a greener and cheaper alternative.

 

I hope you find these tips helpful if you personally handle your snow removal. If you plan to use a service, I highly recommend you arrange for this in advance. You typically only pay if it snows. No snow, no pay. Most snow removal services only staff to handle their clients with contracts, and the masses of neighborhood kids who shovel snow for spending money seem to be a thing of the past.

 

It is also important to clean-up the residual ice melt material at the end of the season, so it does not continue to track into your home. Keep in mind that a good carpet cleaning after the winter months is also recommended for your carpets. HomeServicesLink is here to help you with any of your home repair and improvement needs. Contact us at info@homeserviceslink.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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