Monthly Archives: April 2013

12 Causes and Cures for Common Home Maintenance Problems

12 Causes and Cures for Common Home Maintenance Problems

Many sensory clues give you early warning of home maintenance problems—if you can decode the symptoms.

1. Peeling exterior paint

Cause: Moisture is probably getting underneath the paint, perhaps from a leaking gutter overhead or from a steamy bathroom on the other side of the wall.

Cure: If you catch the problem right away, you might just need to address the moisture issue and then scrape off the loose paint, prime bare spots, and repaint that wall, for a total of a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars. Delay too long and the siding might rot.Patching and repainting the whole house might cost $10,000. 

To prevent a chronically steamy bathroom, consider installing a new ventilation fan with a humidity-sensing switch that automatically exhausts moisture-laden air. Cost is about $250.

2. Flickering lights

Cause: If only a single bulb flickers, it might be loose in its socket or in need of replacement. If lights always dim when the refrigerator or other appliance turns on, the circuit might be overloaded. If groups of lights flicker, connections at the electrical panel or elsewhere might be loose, causing power to arc—or jump—over the gaps. Arcing is a serious problem; it starts fires.

Cure: Anyone can tighten a bulb. Handy homeowners can shut off circuits and tighten loose connections within switch boxes. If you’re not comfortable doing that, or if you suspect an overloaded circuit or loose connection at the panel box, call in a licensed electrician. You’ll pay $150 to $250 for a new circuit, and $500 to $700 for a new electrical panel–way less than what you’d spend to recover from a fire.

3. Rustling in a wall

Cause: Sure, termites usually signal their presence by building pencil-thick mud tubes up from the ground or by swarming from pinholes in floors or walls. But did you know it’s also possible to detect them by sound? Tap on a wall and then press an ear against it. See if you hear rustling that matches recordings of Formosan or other termites. A sound like crinkling cellophane could mean carpenter ants.

Cure: Call a pest-control professional. Cost is $65 to $100 for an inspection.

4. Loud knocking

Cause: If the knocking occurs when you turn off water, you have “water hammer,” caused when fast-moving water comes to a sudden stop and there is no air chamber (a short, specially designed piece of pipe) to cushion the shock wave. If knocking occurs when your furnace switches on or off, metal ducts are expanding or contracting as temperature changes.

Cure: If water pipes are the issue and there is an air chamber near the faucet, it may be filled with water and needs to be drained. You might be able to do this yourself. If you’re not confident of tackling that or if there is no chamber, call a plumber ($65 an hour) to add one. Those snapping ducts? Just get used to them.

5. A toilet tank that refills all on its own

Cause: Worn interior parts may be causing water to trickle through the toilet constantly, causing the water level in the tank to lower and eventually triggering the refill mechanism. A leaky toilet potentially wastes 1,500 gallons a month.

Cure: Untangle or loosen the chain—it may be too tight and preventing the flapper from seating fully, letting water leak out the flush valve. Or, try bending the tube connected to the float ball. If those don’t work, replace the valve and flapper inside the toilet tank (under $25 if you do it yourself, and a little more if you upgrade to a water-saving dual-flush valve).

6. Creaks and groans

Cause: All houses creak and groan a little as parts expand and contract with temperature fluctuations and with changes in levels of humidity.

Cure: None–it’s normal for house to make a few snaps and pops. But don’t ignore really loud groans when there’s been an unusual amount of snow or rain, especially if your house has a flat roof. There may be an excessive or even dangerous amount of weight on your roof. If you suspect that may be the case, be prudent: Get everyone out of the house and call in a professional to check the roof.

7. Musty odors

Cause: Mildew, a fungus, is growing because indoor air is humid enough to allow condensation to form on cold surfaces. Basements are favorite haunts for mildew.

Cure: Keep surfaces dry by one or more strategies: increase air movement with a $20 fan, keep relative humidity below 50% in summer or 40% in winter with a $175 dehumidifier, or make surfaces warmer by adding insulation.

8. Rotten-egg smell when you run water

Cause: Bacteria that produce hydrogen sulfide gas (the scientific name for “rotten egg smell”) are in your plumbing, or there is a problem with your water heater. Fill a glass with hot water, step away from the sink, and take a whiff; if you detect no sulfur smell, they’re in the drain.

Cure: Disinfect the drain by pouring in a $1 bottle of 3% hydrogen peroxide solution, sold at drug stores. A sulfur smell in only hot water points to the water heater as the problem; call a plumber to disinfect the system or replace the tank’s magnesium anode. If hot and cold water both smell, call your water supplier (or health department if you have a well).

9. Strange-tasting tap water

Cause: Mineral content of drinking water varies, so taste does too. But if the water tastes metallic, iron or copper may be leaching from pipes. If you taste chlorine, your water supplier may have overdosed on disinfectant, or a correct level could be interacting with organic material within your plumbing system.

Cure: If chlorine seems high at all taps, or if you taste metals, call your water supplier or have your well water tested. If only one tap has water with high chlorine or if the taste goes away after you run water for a few minutes, flush your system or call a plumber.

An under-the-counter water purifier with a top-quality activated carbon filter will remove heavy metals, bacteria, and other contaminants. In addition, it removes odors and bad tastes. Expect to pay $150 to $200 for a purifier with a replaceable cartridge.

10. Sour milk

Cause: With today’s hyper-pasteurized dairy products, milk doesn’t sour easily. So if it or other refrigerated food spoils unusually fast, the temperature in your refrigerator could be too high.

Cure: Get an $8 refrigerator thermometer and adjust the control so on each shelf stays below 40 degrees. If you can’t achieve this, consider buying a new Energy Star-rated refrigerator. Fridges are pricey, $450 to $2,000 or more, but you’ll save energy as well as food and might qualify for rebates.

11. Trembling floors

Cause: If items on tables and shelve jiggle and shimmy when you walk past, or if your floor feels like it gives under your weight, the floor joists might not be sturdy enough or past remodeling might have removed a support wall.

Cure: Have a structural engineer or experienced contractor see whether you can add more joists, bolster existing ones with an additional layer of plywood subflooring, or add a post to support the floor better. You’ll pay up to $500 for a structural engineer to evaluate your problem.

12. Mysterious breezes

Cause: If a ground-floor room seems drafty, air may be seeping in along the foundation or through an improperly sealed window or door. A drafty attic can make things worse, as warm air currents will rise naturally and exit through any gaps in the attic, pulling colder air in through lower-level cracks.
 
Cure: Starting in the attic and working your way down, seal all gaps.

12 Causes and Cures for Common Home Maintenance Problems

12 Causes and Cures for Common Home Maintenance Problems

Many sensory clues give you early warning of home maintenance problems—if you can decode the symptoms.

1. Peeling exterior paint

Cause: Moisture is probably getting underneath the paint, perhaps from a leaking gutter overhead or from a steamy bathroom on the other side of the wall.

Cure: If you catch the problem right away, you might just need to address the moisture issue and then scrape off the loose paint, prime bare spots, and repaint that wall, for a total of a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars. Delay too long and the siding might rot.Patching and repainting the whole house might cost $10,000. 

To prevent a chronically steamy bathroom, consider installing a new ventilation fan with a humidity-sensing switch that automatically exhausts moisture-laden air. Cost is about $250.

2. Flickering lights

Cause: If only a single bulb flickers, it might be loose in its socket or in need of replacement. If lights always dim when the refrigerator or other appliance turns on, the circuit might be overloaded. If groups of lights flicker, connections at the electrical panel or elsewhere might be loose, causing power to arc—or jump—over the gaps. Arcing is a serious problem; it starts fires.

Cure: Anyone can tighten a bulb. Handy homeowners can shut off circuits and tighten loose connections within switch boxes. If you’re not comfortable doing that, or if you suspect an overloaded circuit or loose connection at the panel box, call in a licensed electrician. You’ll pay $150 to $250 for a new circuit, and $500 to $700 for a new electrical panel–way less than what you’d spend to recover from a fire.

3. Rustling in a wall

Cause: Sure, termites usually signal their presence by building pencil-thick mud tubes up from the ground or by swarming from pinholes in floors or walls. But did you know it’s also possible to detect them by sound? Tap on a wall and then press an ear against it. See if you hear rustling that matches recordings of Formosan or other termites. A sound like crinkling cellophane could mean carpenter ants.

Cure: Call a pest-control professional. Cost is $65 to $100 for an inspection.

4. Loud knocking

Cause: If the knocking occurs when you turn off water, you have “water hammer,” caused when fast-moving water comes to a sudden stop and there is no air chamber (a short, specially designed piece of pipe) to cushion the shock wave. If knocking occurs when your furnace switches on or off, metal ducts are expanding or contracting as temperature changes.

Cure: If water pipes are the issue and there is an air chamber near the faucet, it may be filled with water and needs to be drained. You might be able to do this yourself. If you’re not confident of tackling that or if there is no chamber, call a plumber ($65 an hour) to add one. Those snapping ducts? Just get used to them.

5. A toilet tank that refills all on its own

Cause: Worn interior parts may be causing water to trickle through the toilet constantly, causing the water level in the tank to lower and eventually triggering the refill mechanism. A leaky toilet potentially wastes 1,500 gallons a month.

Cure: Untangle or loosen the chain—it may be too tight and preventing the flapper from seating fully, letting water leak out the flush valve. Or, try bending the tube connected to the float ball. If those don’t work, replace the valve and flapper inside the toilet tank (under $25 if you do it yourself, and a little more if you upgrade to a water-saving dual-flush valve).

6. Creaks and groans

Cause: All houses creak and groan a little as parts expand and contract with temperature fluctuations and with changes in levels of humidity.

Cure: None–it’s normal for house to make a few snaps and pops. But don’t ignore really loud groans when there’s been an unusual amount of snow or rain, especially if your house has a flat roof. There may be an excessive or even dangerous amount of weight on your roof. If you suspect that may be the case, be prudent: Get everyone out of the house and call in a professional to check the roof.

7. Musty odors

Cause: Mildew, a fungus, is growing because indoor air is humid enough to allow condensation to form on cold surfaces. Basements are favorite haunts for mildew.

Cure: Keep surfaces dry by one or more strategies: increase air movement with a $20 fan, keep relative humidity below 50% in summer or 40% in winter with a $175 dehumidifier, or make surfaces warmer by adding insulation.

8. Rotten-egg smell when you run water

Cause: Bacteria that produce hydrogen sulfide gas (the scientific name for “rotten egg smell”) are in your plumbing, or there is a problem with your water heater. Fill a glass with hot water, step away from the sink, and take a whiff; if you detect no sulfur smell, they’re in the drain.

Cure: Disinfect the drain by pouring in a $1 bottle of 3% hydrogen peroxide solution, sold at drug stores. A sulfur smell in only hot water points to the water heater as the problem; call a plumber to disinfect the system or replace the tank’s magnesium anode. If hot and cold water both smell, call your water supplier (or health department if you have a well).

9. Strange-tasting tap water

Cause: Mineral content of drinking water varies, so taste does too. But if the water tastes metallic, iron or copper may be leaching from pipes. If you taste chlorine, your water supplier may have overdosed on disinfectant, or a correct level could be interacting with organic material within your plumbing system.

Cure: If chlorine seems high at all taps, or if you taste metals, call your water supplier or have your well water tested. If only one tap has water with high chlorine or if the taste goes away after you run water for a few minutes, flush your system or call a plumber.

An under-the-counter water purifier with a top-quality activated carbon filter will remove heavy metals, bacteria, and other contaminants. In addition, it removes odors and bad tastes. Expect to pay $150 to $200 for a purifier with a replaceable cartridge.

10. Sour milk

Cause: With today’s hyper-pasteurized dairy products, milk doesn’t sour easily. So if it or other refrigerated food spoils unusually fast, the temperature in your refrigerator could be too high.

Cure: Get an $8 refrigerator thermometer and adjust the control so on each shelf stays below 40 degrees. If you can’t achieve this, consider buying a new Energy Star-rated refrigerator. Fridges are pricey, $450 to $2,000 or more, but you’ll save energy as well as food and might qualify for rebates.

11. Trembling floors

Cause: If items on tables and shelve jiggle and shimmy when you walk past, or if your floor feels like it gives under your weight, the floor joists might not be sturdy enough or past remodeling might have removed a support wall.

Cure: Have a structural engineer or experienced contractor see whether you can add more joists, bolster existing ones with an additional layer of plywood subflooring, or add a post to support the floor better. You’ll pay up to $500 for a structural engineer to evaluate your problem.

12. Mysterious breezes

Cause: If a ground-floor room seems drafty, air may be seeping in along the foundation or through an improperly sealed window or door. A drafty attic can make things worse, as warm air currents will rise naturally and exit through any gaps in the attic, pulling colder air in through lower-level cracks.
 
Cure: Starting in the attic and working your way down, seal all gaps.

Spring Home Maintenance

With spring on its way, March is a good time to consider preparing an air conditioner or cooling unit for the hot days ahead. A few tips include:

  • Always turn off the power before working on any appliance. This can be done by flipping a disconnect switch on the air conditioner, or by turning off power at the circuit breaker.
  • Clean the outdoor condenser coil by vacuuming the fins carefully.
  • Clean or replace the filter indoors.
  • Check the condensation drain for sludge or algae growth and clean if necessary. Make sure the drain port isn’t blocked.
  • Turn off the humidifier if present.
  • Open the blower compartment and vacuum up any dust that has accumulated.
  • Reconnect the power.

Anyone unsure of their ability to do any of the above repairs can call a licensed professional. Regular, annual maintenance can help prevent problems later.

Tips to Prepare the House to Sell

If you’re like most people, your home is one of, if not THE largest investment you’ll ever make and maintaining it is key to protecting its value. With Spring upon us, there’s no better time to put a little sweat equity into your home!
This list is a great start to getting your home in great shape, now, and when you’re ready to sell!
  • Remove and donate unwanted items, reorganize and clean closets, attic, basement and garage
  • Power wash exterior walls, porch floors, deck, patio, driveway and sidewalks
  • Clean outdoor furniture, umbrellas and outdoor light fixtures
  • Clean out gutters
  • Clean out refrigerator and freezer, making sure to vacuum the grill and coil
  • Remove lint from the hose attached to back of clothes dryer
  • Vacuum baseboards, walls and ceilings, wipe down walls
  • Steam clean carpets and area rugs and upholstery
  • Reseal natural stone surfaces (travertine, etc)
  • Reseal and repair grout in bathtubs and showers
  • Clean window treatments, dust and clean blinds and shutters
  • Remove items from all shelves, dust and clean
  • Oil hinges

Explanation on Long and Short Tax Proration in Ohio

Tax proration can be confusing especially in Greene County and Montgomery County, Ohio where I specialize in selling real estate. The Montgomery County method is short while the Greene County method is long and the counties are located next to each other! It can be difficult to explain different tax proration methods to clients. Hopefully, most real estate agents don’t live in an area where 2 different methods are used. But if you list and close deals in both Greene and Montgomery Counties as I do, it’s important to understand both short and long proration.

In both counties, taxes are billed six months in arrears which usually means at a closing the purchasers will be paying a pro-rated share of taxes for a time period that they did not live on the property.

When the purchasers receive the first tax bill in their new residence, they discover it is for a time period way before they purchased the property and they sometimes feel something was mishandled with the tax proration at closing.

At a closing, the purchasers receive a pro-rated share of taxes from the seller. For example, if a closing is at the end of March, the sellers, under the terms of the standard Purchase Agreement, and using the Montgomery County method of proration (short proration), will owe to the purchasers taxes for 90 days (counting January 1 through March 31). This amount will be credited to the purchasers at closing. Then, when they receive a tax bill in June, they will pay the full amount of that bill. The purchasers will be paying the balance of the six-month period but, keep in mind, this June bill relates to the previous July through December as far as the county is concerned.

Other Ohio counties usually do not use the Montgomery County method (short proration) but have the taxes prorated beyond the next bill due (long proration). Traditionally in Greene County, the agreement reached between buyers and sellers is to have the sellers pay taxes for the actual days they owned the property. This is accomplished by having the sellers pay the entire “next” bill after closing and then prorating the bill becoming due six months after that. Using the previous example of a March 31 closing, the sellers would pay the June bill in its entirety and then the December bill would be prorated between sellers and buyers, with the sellers paying approximately 90 days and buyers the remaining 90 days of the six-month period. With the long proration, the sellers are actually paying taxes before they are due. This may be because the buyers are not comfortable with taxes in arrears. Of course, taxes are negotiable and it is important that the closing is consistent with the terms of the purchase agreement so whatever method is agreed upon at the point of a formally accepted offer is what will be performed at closing.

To summarize, there are two common ways of pro-rating taxes – the short proration (Montgomery County method) and the long proration.

Short Proration: Pro-rating the “next” bill will fulfill all requirements of having taxes current, but it relates to six months in arrears.

Long Proration: Pro-rating to actual day of ownership, taxes collected in advance of the bill due. The seller pays the next bill due after closing and pro-rated share of the bill after that.

Keep in mind that if you purchase and sell using the same method, long or short, you will be paying taxes exactly for the number of days you owned the property. The difference is that in the short proration, the number of days does not correspond to the actual days (it’s shifted six months in arrears). In the long proration, it corresponds to the actual days you owned the property. No matter which method is used, it is important that there is a mutual agreement and understanding between the parties regarding the method of tax proration.