Monday, July 21, 2014

The plumbing in your home - an overview

Residential Plumbing System Overview
Plumbing refers to the entire system in which water enters a home, travels to the sinks, tubs, showers and appliances and then leaves once it has been used.
How Water Reaches the House
In general drinking water comes from surface water or ground water.  It is piped to the treatment plant where the water is treated to remove contaminants.  In a typical community water supply system, water is transported under pressure through a distribution network of buried pipes.  Smaller pipes, called house service lines, are attached to the main water lines to bring water to the house. 
The water meter can be located underground and is identified by the water meter cover in the yard.  Water meters can also be found on the inside of a home.  A valve at the meter can be turned on and off by the city. 
Once the water line reaches the house, the main water shut off valve allows the homeowner to shut off the water for repairs.  The main water shut off valve is typically located in the basement or crawl space on the wall closest to the street.

After the shut off valve the water line will branch off.  One branch supplies water directly to the cold water side of your fixtures and the other branch supplies water to your water heater.  Water is piped into the water heater, heated, and then piped back out to the hot water side of the fixtures.
Used water inside the house is sent through the drain and sewer system.  The sewer line is located in the basement, crawl space or in the cement slab foundation.  All sewer and drain pipes connect to the main sewer line which eventually connects to the public sewer line that runs under the ground.
Note: The supply branch and shut off valve for a sprinkler system is normally located immediately after the main water shut off.  (Sprinkler systems require seasonal start up and shut down to prevent freezing and broken lines.)

Sump Pumps In some areas of the country you will find sump pits and pumps in the basements or crawl spaces of homes.  A sump pump is a pump used to remove water that has accumulated in a sump pit. A sump pit is a hole that collects water from a foundation’s perimeter drain or ground water, if the basement is below the water table level. Water collecting in the pit is pumped out and away from the foundation. Since a sump pit may overflow if the pump stops working. A backup system is important if the electrical supply to the pump will be interrupted for any length of time.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Is it worth it to remodel?

Have you been thinking about remodeling and wondering whether or not it's worth it?  First you might want to do a cost-benefit analysis. This analysis is simply a compilation of the costs of a project compared to the benefits you will receive once the project is complete.

The costs of a project are mostly objective, it's the cost of the material and labor required to complete a project.  The benefits, however, are both objective; How much increase in value will my home see as a result of this remodel?, and subjective; How much will this remodel benefit me and my family in terms of convenience, enjoyment or comfort?

Only you can determine the subjective value of a remodeling project but the folks at Remodeling magazine have done a great analysis of the objective cost of a variety of projects for you.  You can download your copy of the Denver report here, Cost vs Value Report, for other areas of the country go here,

Here are a couple examples:

A remodeling project like replacing the siding on your home with cement fiberboard siding may not provide you or your family a big increase in comfort, convenience or enjoyment BUT according to the Remodeling 2014 Cost vs. Value Report (, it has a great return on investment.  If you choose to replace your existing siding with high quality cement fiberboard siding you will spend $13,250 and increase the value of your home by $13,560 which is a 102.3% return on investment!  So if your siding is in need of replacement this choice is easy.

Finishing your basement will likely provide you and your family a significant increase in enjoyment, convenience and comfort.  According to the Cost vs Value Report a basement remodel will cost you $62,131 and will increase the value of your home by $49,082 which is a 79% return on investment (for every $1 spent you get $0.79 in return).  If you're planning on staying in your home for a while, need additional space to accommodate a growing family or want a more comfortable home, the decision to remodel the basement is likely a good one.  If you're planning on putting your home on the market in 6 months, you might want to reconsider.

Check out the report to see how remodeling might benefit you.

“© 2014 Hanley Wood, LLC. Complete data from the Remodeling 2014 Cost vs. Value Report can be downloaded free at”

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

3 Things to do immediately after closing on your new home.

You've closed on your new home and you're all moved in. I know you'd like to take a break but there are 3 things you should consider doing right away.
Change the locks on your exterior doors.  I am a very optimistic and trusting person, however, there is no way for you to know how many friends, neighbors and other strangers may have a key to your new home.  Especially if the previous owner lived there for a long time. Safety First!

Here's a link to an article on how to change door knobs and dead bolts.
Find the shut-offs for all your utilities and fixtures.Make sure you and everyone in your home knows where the shut-offs are located and how to operate them. 
  • Main water shut-off
  • Main electrical shut-off
  • Main gas shut-off
  • Gas supply shut-off valves for water heater, furnace, gas fireplaces and any other gas appliance
  • Water shut-off valves for all sinks and toilets.
Start saving for home maintenance.  I know you feel like you've spent every last dime you have to get into this house but you will be happy in the future if you set aside 1% of the cost of your home each year to use towards home maintenance costs.  If you're home is more than 20 years old, make it 2%.  If you're wondering how much things will cost like replacing a water heater, use this handy reference tool.

How to repair & replace your screens

How to Replace a Window 

Pry out the old spline with an awl or a narrow-tipped screwdriver. Throw it away— spline gets hard and brittle as it ages and shouldn’t be reused.

Lay the new screen material over the frame. It should overlap the frame by about 1 to 2 inches around the entire perimeter.. Cut each corner at a 45-degree angle just slightly beyond the spline groove. The cuts keep the screen from bunching in the corners.

Using the convex (rounded edge) side of the screen rolling tool, press the screen material into the groove in the frame.

Begin installing the new spline at a corner. Using the convex (grooved edge) side of the screen rolling tool to push the spline into the groove. Continue around the frame. If wrinkles or bulges appear, remove the spline and reroll. Small wrinkles should tighten up as you get back to the starting corner.

Trim excess screen material using a utility knife with a new sharp blade. A dull blade will pull the material, not cut it. Cut with the blade on top of the spline and pointed toward the outside of the frame.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Labeling (mapping) your electrical service panel (aka breaker box)

Map Your Electrical Circuits
Mapping the circuits in your home is done to verify or identify which circuit breaker in your service panel controls what branch circuit in your home.  Follow the steps below:
1.     Sketch Your Breaker Box (Service Panel) - Draw a quick sketch of the breakers in your service panel and assign a number to each circuit breaker in your panel.    
2.     Draw a floor plan of your home.  Use a full sheet of paper for each floor.  (see example below)
3.     Note location of all devices - Using the codes listed; record the location of all receptacles, switches and lightsAlso show, by using a dotted line, which switch controls which light.  Note: Make sure all receptacles are working and turn all light switches to the “on” position.
4.     Turn off Breaker # 1 – turn off the power to the first circuit by switching off the breaker. 
5.     Find all devices with NO power - Walk through the house, checking lights and receptacles.  If a light doesn’t work or a receptacle does not light your tester the device is on that circuit.  Note: Do not forget the garage, attic and outdoor lights and receptacles. 
6. Mark on your floor plan - On the map write a 1 (or corresponding number) next to each dead receptacle, switch or light.
7.     Mark your circuit breaker - Write a short description of the circuit on an adhesive label and place it next to the breaker.
8.     Turn the first circuit back on.
9.     Repeat Steps 4 through 8 - Map the remaining circuits by repeating the steps above for each breaker in your service panel.  NOTE:  It may be easier to color code each circuit once you have completed the mapping.
Completed Mapping of Circuits
10.  Store completed map – Place the completed map of your circuits in a plastic sleeve and secure it on the inside of the door to your service panel for easy access in the future.

How power reaches your home - an overview

Residential Wiring – Overview
How power reaches a home - Power plants produce large amounts of electricity.  This electricity is transported to sub-stations throughout a region at a very high voltage.  The electricity eventually reaches a transformer.  The transformer converts the high voltage electricity into 120 volts and is transported via power lines, above or below ground, to the home.


The current enters the home first through the electrical meter and then into your service entrance panel or breaker box.  The service panel contains circuit breakers (also known as “overcurrent protection devices”).  Some older homes have service panels which contain fuses.

The homeowner’s interaction with the service panel should be only to switch off and on either the main power or power to individual circuits.  This is done by actuating the main breaker, which controls all the electricity supplied to the home, or an individual circuit breaker, which controls electrical power to specific areas within the home also know as branch circuits.

Circuits in the home (AKA Branch Circuits)
A “branch” circuit is an individual circuit that “branches” from the service panel (breaker box) to receptacles, switches, light fixtures and other devices.
There are three types of branch circuits in your home:
Lighting Circuits:   general purpose circuits that power all of the light fixtures as well as receptacles.
Small appliance circuits: circuits that power receptacles for small appliances and power tools in the kitchen, laundry and workshop.
Individual appliance circuits: circuits which are each dedicated to a single major appliance such as an electric range, electric clothes dryer or whole house air conditioner.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Maintaining your the 'bones' of your home

Maintaining the Structure of Your Home
Water is probably the greatest enemy of the structure of your home.  Uncontrolled water entry can cause problems from your foundation to your roof.  Most of the maintenance tasks for the structure of your home focus on controlling the accumulation and flow of water to direct it away from your home.
Roof and Gutters
  • Clean gutters and downspouts on a regular basis
  • Check downspouts, landscaping, walks and driveways to be sure that all water flows away from the house.
  • Inspect your roof and make repairs immediately.  You can inspect your roof from outside or look for problems by inspecting from inside the attic.  Check closely around penetrations through the roof surface.
  • Trim back any trees, shrubs or other plants away from your home.  Tree limbs that scrape against your roof in the wind can cause serious damage.

Exterior Walls
  • Check and repair caulk around all doors and windows to improve energy efficiency andprevent water entry.
  • Caulk, maintain and/or repair all outside coverings: siding, brick, stucco etc. to prolong life and prevent water entry
  • Painted exterior surfaces should be repaired and touched up as needed to prolong life and reduce damage to the underlying material caused by water and sun.
  • Trim back any plants that hold water against your house like ivy, shrubs or bushes which can cause premature deterioration of the exterior walls and finish of your home.

  • Modify landscaping to direct all water away from the foundation.
  • Direct downspouts away from the foundation. It is recommended that downspouts be
    extended from 4 to 6 feet away.
      The distance the downspouts extend is not as important as the location to which they direct the water. The extension should direct the water to a portion of the landscaping that will allow water to run away from the house and foundation.
  • Repair cracks in concrete walls, floors, driveways and walkways. This will prevent water entry that can cause additional damage during freeze thaw cycles