Key Measurements to Make the Most of Your Bathroom

“Winter is a great time to be planning your renovations.  Here are some great tips if you’re looking to upgrade your bathroom.”

Denise Buck & Ed Johnson – DC Metro Realty Team

How to Find a Good Contractor

“Finding a good contractor can be tough.  We have worked with many over the years and can help, but this article gives great tips on question to ask when getting initial estimates.”

Denise Buck & Ed Johnson – DC Metro Realty Team

Originally published by American Home Shield

How To Find A Good Contractor: Top Questions to Ask During the Repair Inspection

Finding a reliable home repair contractor is important. Learn what questions to ask to screen contractors before work is ever done and how to evaluate the repair.

questions to ask repairman

When it comes to an issue in your home — especially a broken appliance — it’s important to know how to find a good contractor to ensure the repair is made accurately and efficiently. Here’s what American Home Shield suggests asking home repair contractors vying for your business to build a better sense of awareness and experience during the repair inspection.

What Familiarity Do You Have Working With This Issue?

Of course you want to find home repair contractors with experience. That goes without saying. What you really need to assess, though, is each potential contractor’s experience with your issue at hand, in particular.

How Long Could the Repair Take?

If something in your home isn’t working — especially something that you use on a daily basis —  you want that product to be repaired quickly. Ask how long the repair will take so you can make necessary adjustments to your routine to accommodate the problem.

Is There a Guarantee on the Repair?

There’s nothing worse than getting something repaired only to have it mysteriously stop working or malfunction again shortly after. Ask if there is a warranty on what is being repaired, so you’ll know if another breakdown in the near future will, in fact, cost you even more money.

Are There Any Simple Repair Tricks I Could Do If This Happens Again?

If you could easily fix the problem yourself, it could obviously save you time and money. Ask if there is a DIY repair trick you should consider in the future rather than calling a professional, if you feel comfortable in your DIY abilities.

How Much Will It Cost?

Cost of repairs is one of the most important things to know upfront. If you can’t afford the repair, finding out as soon as possible could help you find alternatives. At AHS®, we connect our customers with a network of contractors at a discounted price. Therefore, considering a home warranty could save you time that would otherwise be spent looking for a repair person as well as money, since we have those discounts and contractor connections. And communicating the pricing upfront will ensure you won’t see surprises on the invoice later.

Would It Be Cost-efficient to Replace Whatever Isn’t Working Properly?

Why fix an appliance if the repair cost exceeds the price of buying a new one? Make sure to ask for all suggestions and prices as they relate to your repair. Also, it doesn’t hurt to do your own research. Surprisingly, it may be cheaper to simply start over with a new appliance.

Related: Money Matters: Budgeting for Unexpected Home Repairs and Expenses

Bonus Questions (to Ask Yourself)

  • What overall impression did the contractor give you?
  • Did the repair person show up when you were expecting him or her?
  • Did you feel like he or she was being honest?
  • Was he or she being respectful of your home? (For example, did the contractor mention anything about cleaning up after the job is done?)
  • Did the repair person document your conversation, to ensure he or she received all the details?

7 Holiday Events that Better Your Community

“The holidays are a perfect time to get together with others in your community.  Here are some great ideas that can bring you together.”

Denise Buck & Ed Johnson – DC Metro Realty Team

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How to Care for Your Christmas Tree

“If you’ve put up a ‘Live Tree’ you want it to last as long as possible, and you don’t want a ton a needles to clean up during and after Christmas.  Read on for tips on how to care for your tree.”

Denise Buck & Ed Johnson – DC Metro Realty Team 

A Fall Checklist of 10 Things You Gotta Do Before Winter Sets In

“Now that the weather is turning colder be sure that you are ready before the winter freeze.”

Denise Buck & Ed Johnson – DC Metro Realty Team

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When to Switch from Cooling to Heating

“It’s probably finally too cool to leave the A/C on, but is it cool enough to turn on the heat?  Read on to see what makes sense according the experts.”

Denise Buck & Ed Johnson – DC Metro Realty Team

Originally posted by American Home Shield 

Turn on the heater or turn off the A/C? As summer becomes fall, temperatures fluctuate from hot to cold. Use these tips to keep heating and cooling costs in check!

Temperature changes outside

Whether you choose to describe it as being “up and down” or as “running hot and cold,” as a homeowner, you know that autumn weather can be unpredictable. Autumn temperatures that veer between extremes can make keeping your home comfortable a real challenge. As the season’s warm days turn into cool nights, how do you avoid running back and forth to adjust your thermostat — or even switching back and forth between your air conditioning and heating systems? Here are some tips to help when switching from cooling to heating as the seasons change.

  • Change your filters regularly. Your air conditioning system has gotten you through the worst of the summer, but September and early October can still be torrid. Don’t tax it any more than you have to. To keep your HVAC system running efficiently, change its filters regularly. Consider these general guidelines for filter changes.
    • If your home is occupied by multiple people and pets, change your filters every 30 to 45 days.
    • If your home is occupied by multiple people and only one pet, change your filters every 60 days.
    • If your home is occupied by multiple people but no pets, change your filters every 90 days.
  • Get an automatic or programmable thermostat. If you don’t already own a programmable thermostat, hire a professional to install one. Set the baseline temperature within your home to ensure your preferred level of comfort, then back off that temperature setting by a few degrees, especially for those hours of the day when you aren’t actually at home. According to the United States Department of Energy, you can save as much as 10 percent a year in energy usage (and on your utility bills) by making smart adjustments to your thermostat.
  • Pile on the cozy bedding.This may seem low-tech, but that’s just another way of saying it’s a tried-and-true solution. If your house feels a little too cool at night, snuggle up under an extra blanket or two until it’s time to turn on the heater full-time.
  • Have your heating system serviced.Before completely switching from cooling to heating, have a professional HVAC technician make sure your heating system is operating properly before the full blast of winter arrives. During this inspection, have the technician check for any signs of carbon monoxide leakage. Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that is potentially deadly. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), every year nearly 400 Americans die from carbon monoxide poisoning, and more than 4,000 Americans are hospitalized due to carbon monoxide exposure.
  • Make sure your home is sealed.Check around your windows and doors for drafts. If you feel air moving or a disparity in temperature in these areas, use caulk or weather stripping to block the exchange of air between the interior and exterior of your home. Improperly sealed homes can easily cause your energy bill to increase by as much as 10 to 15 percent.
  • Lower the temperature on your water heaterYou can save between 3 and 5 percent in energy costs for every 10 degrees you lower the high-temperature setting on your water heater. Keep your hot water simmering at about 120 degrees and insulate your water heater and its exposed pipes to reduce heat loss.
  • Change out your light bulbs.As the days grow shorter and nights longer, replace standard incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent (CFL) or LED bulbs that use less energy and have a longer lifespan. Non-incandescent bulbs also give off less heat, meaning cooler temperatures inside a well-lit home during those days when winter still seems a long way off.

Dress Up Your Mantel for Fall and Thanksgiving

“Fall is almost here, so it’s time to get some fresh ideas for decorating.  Change your mantel or other focal points for some new and interesting looks.”

Denise Buck & Ed Johnson – DC Metro Realty Team

An Uncomplicated Way to Upgrade Your Kitchen: New Hardware

“Not that long ago we wanted to freshen up the Kitchen.  One of the first things we did very inexpensively was add cabinet and drawer hardware.  A trip to the local hardware store and a few hours on a Saturday afternoon and we were done!”

Denise Buck & Ed Johnson – DC Metro Realty Team

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Fall Fireplace Tips and Tricks

“Soon the weather will be cooling off and you’ll want to have a fire in the fireplace.  But you haven’t used it in 6 to 8 months.  Do you know what to check before you start using it again?  Check out this article and you’ll be ready!”

Denise Buck & Ed Johnson – DC Metro Realty Team

Original posted by American Home Shield

Is Your Fireplace Ready for Fall?

Is your fireplace ready for fall and winter weather? Before temperatures drop, learn what to do to prepare it, regardless of what type of fireplace you have.

Fireplace preparedness

Unless you live in a state where spring and summer temperatures can be frigid, chances are your fireplace is not getting the attention it needs right now. You may have dusted the pictures on your mantle, cleaned the brick facing or even spruced up your fireplace with a clean, modern design. But let’s face it – during the warm months, it’s easy to forget about your home’s hearth.

Once temperatures begin to drop, however, the best way to use a fireplace is to let it get back to doing what it does best. And that’s warming your rooms, creating a cozy environment and providing toasty indoor comfort on a wintry night.

Whether you have a gas or wood-burning unit, the following fireplace tips and tricks can help you make sure your fireplace is ready to go well in advance of the change in seasons.

Preparing your fireplace for use

Proper fireplace maintenance is always essential. Keeping your chimneys clean and clear – including the flues, smoke chambers, dampers and vents – is the best way to ensure your fireplace is ready for immediate use once the first cold snap hits.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends all homeowners have professional chimney cleaning done annually and before you light the first fire of the season. If you live in a cold climate or use your fireplace more often than average, noted home maintenance experts recommend a good cleaning after every 60 to 80 fires.

Professional chimney cleaners will also perform the kind of detailed inspection that you may not have the time or tools to do on your own. Their work helps keep your fireplace chimney free of buildup or debris that can impair its most critical functions – channeling smoke, carbon monoxide and airborne ash away from your home.

Wood-burning fireplace tips

A traditional wood-burning fireplace can be one of your home’s most attractive features. If you live in an older home, several wood-burning fireplaces may even be scattered throughout, warming and adding ambiance to different rooms.

While traditional fireplaces are generally safe, they also carry certain risks if not maintained properly. Before lighting the first fire of the season, be sure to check your fireplace for the following conditions.

  • Creosote buildup. Creosote is a toxic and highly flammable byproduct of burning wood that should be cleared if it is discovered in your chimney. If it ignites, the ensuing fire may quickly get out of control. Exposure to smoke from a creosote fire is also dangerous and can be harmful to your lungs and other organs.
  • Cracks or loose bricks. Hire a masonry professional to ensure your fireplace and chimney repairs are completed properly. Your mason can recommend brick and mortar materials designed to withstand extreme heat.
  • A missing or damaged chimney cap. If your chimney cap is not present or in good working condition, it may not prevent stray embers from igniting your home’s roof. The cap also deters birds from building a nest in the chimney and keeps out other animals and debris. If you have a multi-story house or your roof line is steep, check for the cap with binoculars and let the professionals climb up on the roof to replace it if needed.
  • Trees blocking the chimney. To keep tree branches and new growth from blocking the chimney and sending smoke back into your living room or bedroom, trim trees back as far as possible.

Gas fireplace tips

A gas-burning fireplace is simpler to use and maintain than its wood-burning counterpart but also requires annual inspection and attention — especially if it has sat idle for some time. The Chimney Safety Institute of America reports that gas fireplace vent issues are common. These issues can prove deadly if they are not addressed. Carbon monoxide can enter the home when fireplace vents are blocked or do not operate as expected.

If you notice any of the following signs, your gas fireplace may not be venting properly.

  • Dampness inside the home, specifically on walls (peeling wallpaper, paint blisters, etc.). Blocked vents can cause water vapor to condense inside the cooler flue.
  • Stains on the outside of the chimney, especially if they are white.
  • Erosion around mortar joints or crumbling bricks.

If you suspect a vent issue, don’t use your fireplace until it can be inspected by a professional. Visual evidence of a problem could be a signal that carbon monoxide is building up inside the house, so take action quickly.

How to heat your home with a fireplace

Some homeowners like the look, feel and sound of a fire, but view their fireplaces as more ornamental than functional. Other homeowners may rely on fireplaces for winter warmth and comfort. The best way to use a fireplace is mostly a matter of personal preference. If heating your home with a fireplace (or several) is a high priority, here are a few more fireplace tips and tricks to consider.

  • Make sure the flue damper is in good shape. If the damper doesn’t seal well, your home can lose a tremendous amount of heat, even when the fireplace isn’t in use.
  • Install a tempered glass door at the front of the firebox instead of using a movable screen as a barrier. Closing the doors will seal off the fireplace, keeping the warm air inside your home from being drafted back up through the chimney.
  • For wood-burning fireplaces, clean the inside of the firebox occasionally to remove sooty buildup and prime the area for additional fires. Doing so will ensure that accumulated ash and debris do not limit the amount of space left for new logs inside the firebox, allowing you to build bigger fires at colder times of the year. It can also help keep piled dry ash from drifting when the fire is out, staining your floors or carpets.

Not that you made the proper preparations, you should be ready to enjoy your fireplace. You should also be ready to read up on the other great pieces of advice available here on the “Home Matters” blog, such as how to build the perfect fire and how to give your fireplace an autumn makeover.

To-Dos: Your September Home Checklist

“Fall is right around the corner, so it’s time to start taking care of a few things around the house.  Check out these great tips for preparing for the colder weather to come.

Denise Buck & Ed Johnson – DC Metro Realty Team