5 Tips for Inspecting and Maintaining Your Garage

Article From HouseLogic.com

By: G. M. Filisko
Published: March 15, 2010
Routine maintenance will help your garage retain its value and keep it trouble-free for decades.

If you're like many homeowners, you cruise in and out of your garage without giving the space much thought. While your garage is low-maintenance, it's not a no-maintenance part of your home. Here are five tips for preserving your home's value by keeping your garage in top shape.

1. Keep your garage door running smoothly

Most newer garage doors (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/garage-doors-guide-options/) come self-lubricated or with plastic parts that need no oil, according to builder Fred Cann, owner of JRS Solutions in Melville, N.Y. You'll need to annually oil older doors with metal rollers, hinges, and tracks. "Use a leaf blower to blast all the grit, grime, dust, cobwebs, and dead bugs from the door's parts," advises Mark Secord, brand manager for PremierGarage in Mobile, Ala.

Occasionally check the rubber seal on the bottom of your garage door. It can harden or chip away from wear and tear, allowing the elements to seep under your door. Replacing the seal costs less than $100. Your door may be hitting the ground too forcefully and jarring all the parts, crushing the rubber seal, or allowing light to peek through at the bottom when the door is at rest. To correct those problems, says Secord, use a screwdriver to alter the travel limit adjustment located on the door opener's control box.

Regularly test the garage door's sensors to be sure they still prevent it from closing if something-like your child or pet-is in the way.

2. Clean your garage floor

Hose down your garage floor annually to prevent slip hazards, stains, and pockmarks caused by road salt and auto fluids, recommends Secord. You may notice hairline cracks in your concrete slab, but those are generally no cause for concern, says Paul Fisher, owner of Danley's Garage World in Chicago.

If there's a serious trip hazard because of concrete that's crumbled or separated ¼-inch or more, take action. You can try a do-it-yourself patch with a $5 concrete mix from your local hardware store. But patched concrete often doesn't adhere to the original slab, says Fisher, especially if a car regularly passes over the patched area. If necessary, ask a licensed concrete contractor for an estimate on replacing your slab, which typically costs about $5 per square foot.

Experts disagree on whether to treat a garage slab with a sealant. "Sealants don't protect the slab at all; they're just for aesthetics," says Cann, who worked as an engineer for the city of New York for 10 years. "We had more problems after we sealed and painted garage slabs. The paint would chip, discolor, or become slippery. I'd leave concrete alone."

Secord, however, sells garage floor sealants and says they protect the concrete, prevent discoloration, and are easier to clean than bare concrete. Do-it-yourself sealants for an average two-car garage cost about $800 to $1,200 and need reapplication every three to five years. One-time, professional applications cost $1,500 to $2,000, says Secord.

3. Monitor your garage walls and foundation

Inspect interior and exterior walls and the foundation twice a year for moisture and cracks. If you see discoloration or mold, moisture is seeping in from the roof or the walls. Call a building or roofing contractor for an inspection and repair estimates.

Wall and foundation cracks smaller than ¼-inch wide that aren't causing water damage are typically harmless. "Anything larger than a hairline crack is something to be concerned about," says Cann. "If one side of your ceiling appears a little lower than the other, the foundation or footing has settled." That's sometimes hard to evaluate with a visual inspection; if necessary, get out your level.

Structural concerns (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/understanding-foundation-problems/) require an expert evaluation. Cann suggests hiring a structural engineer, who will charge $200 to $300 per hour but won't hype potential problems to secure the repair work.

4. Clean interior doors and gutters

Once a year, clean and inspect the interior door. Make sure the door is properly weatherstripped and that the threshold seal fits snugly against the bottom of the door.

Most building codes require the door allowing entry to your home to be fire-rated and self-closing. If the door is damaged or the self-closing mechanism has failed, repair or replace it. You'll pay $250 to $300 for a new fire-rated door, plus $25 to $75 for installation.

If your garage has gutters (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/fast-fixes-common-gutter-problems/), clean them every spring and fall and inspect them for damage. While you're at it, check your roof for damaged or missing shingles or tiles.

5. Watch for pest invasions

Insects like termites and carpenter ants can furtively damage your garage walls. Inspect dark, cool, and moist spots, especially where garage walls meet the foundation, for borings from carpenter ants or termites. "Termites digest the lumber, but carpenter ants tunnel it," says Cann. "If you see trails of sawdust, it's carpenter ants. If you see chewed wood, it'll likely be termites." Call in pest-control experts for an inspection and treatment.

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who oversaw the renovation of her condo association's five-space garage so a sixth space could be added-for her. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Fast Fixes for Common Gutter Problems

Article From HouseLogic.com

By: Pat Curry
Published: December 04, 2009

Maintaining gutters is the most important thing you can do to prevent water from damaging your house, and keeping them in shape is an easy homeowner task.

Gutters are designed to do one thing-channel water away from the foundation-and they're critical to protecting the structural integrity of your house. But in order for gutters to do their job properly, they have to be kept in shape and free of clogs, holes, and sags.

Luckily, most common gutter problems are easy for homeowners to fix themselves. And it's worth the effort. "Gutters are one of those things where routine maintenance and inspecting them can really prevent bigger problems down the road," says Jason Stutzman, director of home maintenance and repair for Brothers Redevelopment in Denver.

Here are the gutter problems that the pros see most often, and the recommended solutions.

Clogged gutters

This is the most common problem of all. Left untended, gutters and downspouts get so clogged with debris that they're rendered useless. The excess weight of leaves, twigs, and standing water can also make them sag and pull away from the fascia.

Clean them at least once a year, and twice a year if you have a lot of trees nearby. Gary Mindlin, managing partner of New York City-based Top Hat Home Services, schedules gutter maintenance four times a year, with additional checks after big storms.

You can clean your own gutters if you're comfortable on a ladder, don't mind getting wet and dirty, and don't have an extremely tall house. After you've cleared the muck, flush them with a garden hose to make sure they're flowing properly. If you'd prefer, you can hire someone to do the job for you for between $50 and $250, depending on the size of your house.

Another option for dealing with chronically clogged gutters is to outfit them with gutter covers. These include mesh screens, clip-on grates, and porous foam. They still need regular maintenance, though, and the cost can be more than the gutters themselves.

Sagging gutters and gutters pulling away from the house

This is usually a problem with the hangers, the hardware that secures the gutters to the fascia. They might have deteriorated over time, the fasteners may have backed out of the wood, or they're spaced too far apart to support the weight of full gutters. The cost to fix it yourself is cheap; hangers generally cost $10 or less apiece, and the fasteners run about $1 each.

Leaks and holes

Leaky gutter joints can be sealed by caulking the joint from the inside with gutter sealant, says John Eggenberger, vice president of training and corporate development for the Mr. Handyman franchise of home repair companies. A tube costs about $5. Very small holes can be filled with gutter sealant. Larger holes will require a patch. If you can't find a gutter patching kit at the hardware store, you can make a patch from metal flashing.

Improperly pitched gutters

Gutters need to be pitched toward the downspouts for the water to flow properly. You want at least a quarter inch of slope for every 10 feet. Get on a ladder after a rainstorm and look in the gutter; if there's standing water, it's not pitched properly.

To correct this yourself, you'll need to measure from the peak to the downspout. Snap a chalk line between the two and find the spots where the gutter is out of alignment. You might be able to push it up into place by bending the hanger. If that doesn't solve the problem, you might need to take a section down and rehang it. If you have seamless gutters, call the company that installed them to correct the problem.

Downspouts draining too close to the foundation

Downspouts need to extend several feet from the house, or they'll dump right into the basement. Gutter extensions attached to the bottom of the downspout will discharge water well beyond the foundation. They're inexpensive and easy to install. "I like the downspout material extended four or five feet and screwed on," says Reggie Marston, president of Residential Equity Management Home Inspections in Springfield, Va. Cost: less than $20 per downspout.

Missing gutters

If your house has no gutters at all, consider investing in a system. The cost depends on the material. Most residential gutters are aluminum, which is lightweight and durable. "Unless an aluminum gutter is damaged by something, it will last forever," says Scott McCurdy, vice president of Jacksonville, Fla.,-based disaster repair contractor Coastal Reconstruction. Vinyl, galvanized steel, and copper also are available options.

Aluminum gutters range from about $4.50 to $8.50 per linear foot installed. On a 2,000-square-foot house with about 180 linear feet of gutters, that's roughly $800 to $1,500.

Serial remodeler Pat Curry is a former senior editor at BUILDER, the official magazine of the National Association of Home Builders, and a frequent contributor to real estate and home-building publications.

Outdoor Lighting for Curb Appeal and Safety

Article From HouseLogic.com

By: Dave Toht
Published: March 18, 2010

Well-planned outdoor lighting improves curb appeal, safety, and security for your home.

Think about it: Most of your guests (and if your home is on the market, many would-be buyers) see your home only in the evening, when its best features may be lost in the shadows. Well-executed outdoor lighting enhances architectural detail and plays up landscape features, casting your home in the best possible light and adding an abundance of curb appeal.

Outdoor lighting also adds value. Judith Patriski, an appraiser and owner of Quad Realty Co. near Cleveland, estimates that for upper-bracket homes, an investment in outdoor lighting can yield a 50% return. "When you pull into a driveway and see a gorgeous home, you're going to pay more for it," says Patriski.

And she emphasizes that it's not only about aesthetics: "In all price ranges, lighting for security is important"--both to protect against intruders and falls. Here are the elements of successful outdoor lighting.

Mimicking moonlight

Much of the success of exterior lighting hinges on its design. Hang around lighting designers long enough and you'll hear a lot of talk about "moonlight effect." That's a naturalistic look that features light no more intense than that of a full moon, but still strong enough to make beautiful shadows and intense highlights.

Other techniques outdoor lighting designers use:

Highlight trees: Whether illumined from below or given presence by a light mounted in the tree itself, trees make stunning features.

Use uplights: Uplighting is dramatic because we expect light to shine downward. Used in moderation, it's a great way to highlight architectural and landscaping features.

Have a focus: The entryway is often center stage, a way of saying, "Welcome, this way in."

Combine beauty and function: For example, adding lighting to plantings along a pathway breaks up the "runway" look of too many lights strung alongside a walk.

Vary the fixtures: While the workhorses are spots and floods, designers turn to a wide range of fixtures, area lights, step lights, and bollards or post lights.

Stick to warm light: A rainbow of colors are possible, but most designers avoid anything but warm white light, preferring to showcase the house and its landscape rather than create a light show.

Orchestrate: A timer, with confirmation from a photocell, brings the display to life as the sun sets. At midnight it shuts shut down everything but security lighting. Some homeowners even set the timer to light things up an hour or so before dawn.

Adding safety and security

Falls are the foremost cause of home injury, according to the Home Safety Council. Outdoors, stair and pathway lighting help eliminate such hazards.

Often safety and security can be combined. For example, motion-detecting security lighting mounted near the garage provides illumination when you get out of your car at night; the same function deters intruders. Motion detecting switches can also be applied to landscape lighting to illumine shadowy areas should anyone walk nearby.

Even the moonlight effect has a security function: Soft, overall landscape lighting eliminates dark areas that might hide an intruder, exposing any movement on your property. Overly bright lights actually have a negative effect, creating undesirable pockets of deep shadow.

Switching to LEDs

Once disparaged for their high cost and cold bluish glow, LEDs are now the light source of choice for lighting designers. "They've come down in price and now have that warm light people love in incandescent bulbs," says Paul Gosselin, owner of Night Scenes Landscape Lighting Professionals in Kingsland, Texas. "We haven't installed anything but LEDs for the last year."

Although LED fixtures remain twice as expensive as incandescents, installation is simpler because they use low-voltage wiring. "All in all, LEDs cost only about 25% more to install," Gosselin says. "And they'll save about 75% on your electricity bill."

Another advantage is long life. LEDs last at least 40,000 hours, or about 18 years of nighttime service. With that kind of longevity, "why should a fixture have only a two-year warranty?" asks Gosselin. He advises buying only fixtures with a 15-year warranty, proof that the fixture's housing is designed to live as long as the LED bulbs inside.


The growing popularity of exterior lighting has led to innovative fixtures. Here are some bright new ideas:

Solar lighting: When first introduced, solar pathway lights produced a dull glow that rarely made it through the night. They do much better now that they are equipped with electricity-sipping LEDs, more efficient photovoltaic cells, and better batteries. Still, they have yet to measure up to hard-wired systems.

Hybrids: Porch lights now come equipped with LED lighting for all night use, and a motion sensor that clicks on an incandescent bulb to provide extra illumination as you approach the front door. Hybrids use about 5% of the power a solely incandescent fixture requires.

Barbecue light: Tired of grilling steaks by flash light? Now you can buy a gooseneck outdoor light, ideal for an outdoor kitchen.

Estimating the cost

Total outdoor lighting costs will vary according to the size of your home and the complexity of your lighting scheme. Expect to pay about $325 for each installed LED fixture. LEDs also require a transformer to step the power down from 120 volts to 12 volts, running about $400 installed.

A motion detector security light costs about $150 installed. Porch lights and sconces range from $100 to $250 installed, depending the fixture and whether running new cable is necessary.

Contractor-installed outdoor lighting for an average, two-story, 2,200 sq. ft. house might add up as follows:

•7 fixtures to cover 100 feet of LED pathway lighting: $2,275

•Transformer: $400

•4 LED uplights to dramatize the front of the house: $1,300

•2 LED area lights for plantings: $650

•2 motion detector security lights: $300

Total cost: $4,925

Dave Toht has written or edited more than 60 books on home repair and remodeling, including titles for The Home Depot, Lowe's, Better Homes & Gardens, Sunset, and Reader's Digest. A former contractor, Dave was editor of Remodeling Ideas magazine and continues to contribute to numerous how-to publications.

Save Water and Money with a Rain Barrel

Article From HouseLogic.com

By: Laura Fisher Kaiser
Published: December 17, 2009

Using rain barrels to harvest rainwater from your roof is a simple, low-expense solution for conserving water and saving on your water bill.

Why pay to pour thousands of gallons of municipally treated tap water on your lawn and garden every summer if you can irrigate for free? That's the thinking behind the growing interest in rain barrels, which let you conserve water, protect the environment, and save money at the same time.

Considering that an inch of rain dumps 500 gallons on the roof of a typical 2,000-square-foot house, it's possible in most parts of the country to collect more than enough runoff for basic landscape irrigation needs. A rain barrel will save about 1,300 gallons of water during the peak summer months, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (http://www.epa.gov).

In a national survey by DC Urban Gardeners (http://www.dc-urban-gardener-news.com/rain-barrel-roundup-the-s.html), a rain barrel lowered water bills by about $35 a month in the summer. For as little as $100 for the barrel and downspout fittings, a rain-harvesting system can pay for itself in just a couple of seasons.

How much rain can you collect?

The first step is to figure out the potential runoff amount from your roof. Multiply your area's average annual rainfall (http://www.nationalatlas.gov/printable/precipitation.html#list) in inches by the square footage of your roof. If you don't know exact roof area, it's fine to use the dimensions of your house's footprint. Then multiply that number by 0.623--the amount of water in gallons needed to fill one square foot of space to a depth of one inch. The result is the number of gallons you can harvest. (Keep in mind, though, that most rain barrel systems are set up to collect only a portion of that, depending on irrigation needs.)

If your main goal is to water flower beds or run soaker hoses during dry spells, one or two 55-gallon barrels will suffice. If you want to turn off the garden tap all together, you'll need multiple barrels or a cistern, a large tank that stores from 300 to 3,000 gallons. But cisterns cost considerably more (up to $2,500) and are more complicated to install and use, which makes them best suited for larger-scale rain harvesting systems that include such indoor uses as flushing toilets.

The cost to set up a rain barrel system

Commercial barrels cost between $50 and $200, though you can also make one yourself from castoff food-grade containers. One couple linked together five 55-gallon syrup drums they bought for $10 apiece from the local Coca-Cola bottling plant. Their blog (http://futurehousefarm.blogspot.com/search/label/rain%20harvester) is an amusing and instructive rain-harvesting primer.

A typical system consisting of one or two barrels and off-the-shelf parts such as spigots, downspout extensions, mesh screens, and soaker hoses costs between $35 and $600. Cobbling it all together might take a weekend or two, but it's not rocket science. The Maryland Environmental Design Program (http://www.dnr.state.md.us/ed/rainbarrel.html) offers easy step-by-step instructions for building your own barrel with about $15 worth of supplies.

Unfortunately, most rain barrels are not very handsome, and it's not always easy to camouflage them. Some people like the folksy wooden water barrel look, but generally speaking, the more water you're trying to capture, the bulkier the containers--and the harder they are to make inconspicuous or tuck behind bushes, especially since they need to be located near a downspout on your house.

Safety requirements and caveats

Rain barrels work via gravity, so the barrel must be level, stable, and elevated to allow water to move out of the tank. You'll want two spigots, one at the bottom to connect a hose and the other about two-thirds of the way down to fit a watering can or bucket underneath. If you want to move water to a higher level, you'll have to add a small pump ($50 to $150, depending on type).

You'll also need to take a few other precautions for safety:

Covers and screens: A secure cover keeps children, pets, and wildlife out. Fine mesh screens prevent mosquitoes from breeding (a mosquito dunk, which kills mosquito larvae but is non-toxic to plants or other animals, is also not a bad idea) and block leaves and twigs from clogging the works.

Organic growth: Water that sits for days or weeks, especially in hot weather, can start to grow algae. Try adding a capful or two of bleach to the tank and letting it stand for a few days before using. If that doesn't work, you may have to drain and scrub the inside periodically.

Overflow: A 55-gallon barrel (or even two) will quickly fill up, especially during intense downpours. An overflow system that diverts water to a storm drain or into a moisture-tolerant part of the garden is essential.

Restricted uses: Although good for plants and perfectly fine for washing cars or garden tools, water that comes off the roof is far from pure. It may be contaminated with dust, insects, bird droppings, pine needles, pollen, and other pollutants. Be sure to clearly label all rainwater-supplied fixtures as "Non-potable--Do Not Drink." Nor is it safe to mix fertilizer or garden chemicals in the barrel, even for garden use.

Benefits that go beyond saving money

Collecting rainwater has numerous benefits apart from low-cost irrigation. Free of chlorine and sodium, naturally soft rainwater is superior for plants. Capturing roof runoff also lowers the risk of flooding and reduces the burden on storm sewers and local watersheds.

That's one reason why a number of local and state governments are offering tax breaks or rebates for rainwater harvesting systems. A few, such as Washington, D.C. (http://www.green.dc.gov), San Antonio, Texas (http://www.saws.org/conservation/programs/homeaudit.shtml), and San Jose, California (http://www.sjwater.com/conservation/audit.jsp), will even conduct a rainwater audit of your property, make recommendations, and implement rain barrels or other storm-water runoff strategies at a subsidized rate.

Laura Fisher Kaiser is a contributing editor to Interior Design magazine and a former editor at This Old House Magazine. The secret to her Washington, D.C., garden is blood, sweat, tears, and mosquito repellent.

Saving Electricity: Reduce Standby Power Consumption

Article From HouseLogic.com

By: John Rebchook
Published: August 28, 2009

It doesn't take much effort to reduce standby power consumption; and you could save the equivalent of a few tanks of gas a year.


You're already paying a bundle every month to your cable and Internet providers. Why fork over even more money to the power company for the standby power consumption that TVs, computers, and cell phones eat when they're plugged in but not in use?

Standby or "vampire" consumption accounts for about $100 of your electricity bill annually, says Energy Star (http://www.energystar.gov). But you can save at least some of that money by using a few simple tactics, if you're willing to form new habits and do a little investigative work.

Buy a portable energy meter

A great first step: Identify the biggest energy vampires in your house. A portable energy meter-$22-$100 online (some super-precise meters can cost big bucks) from such retailers as Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com) -can help you pinpoint hot spots and pay for itself in less than a year. Some libraries may even loan them. These devices measure voltage, electricity cost, and electric consumption. They can tell you how much it costs to operate everything from your refrigerator to your computer-both when using standby power and when operating at full blast. They'll even calculate the expected payback time when you replace older equipment with more energy-efficient models.

Madison Gas & Electric Co. (http://www.mge.com), a public utility in Madison, Wis., followed a three-member family in Madison, who used a monitor to track 29 electrically powered devices in their home. The family calculated that vampire consumption cost them at least $134.97 annually. The single biggest culprit was a high-definition cable TV box, sucking up 20.7% of their standby electricity.

Other devices that the family found were heavy standby energy users:

Standard cable TV box, 11.8%

Computer, 10.5%

VCR, 8.9% for one and 4% for the other

Stereo subwoofer, 6.6%

Make it easy to manage standby consumption

Once you know your energy culprits, start unplugging items routinely. Make that easier by plugging devices close to each other- such as computers, monitors, printers, and desk lamps-into a power strip or surge protector.

Homeowners Gary Kenigsberg and Marsha Koschik of Pittsburgh put their TV, VCR, DVD, stereo system, two computers, and all of their peripherals-such as a scanner and an electric microscope-on surge protectors. When they're not using the devices, they turn off the strips. More than six months after they began using the power strips, Gary says his monthly electric bill payments have dropped into the $40s; before they had been in the $60s and $70s.

You can also invest in smart-power strips-about $20 to $40 through online retailers. When you power down a primary device, such as a home computer, the strip automatically shuts down related peripherals. The strips include "always on" outlets for devices that you don't want to turn off completely, like TiVo, so you don't miss your favorite show. And if DVRs/TiVos and satellite or cable boxes stay on, you won't wait for them to reboot. Depending on how many devices you attach, you could recoup your cost in a few months.

Like most people, you probably leave your cell phone charging over night. But most charge in about 90 minutes, amounting to about seven hours of lost energy. You might not feel guilty if you know that charging each unit longer than necessary costs only a few cents per year. But if blowing any money makes you cringe, remember to unplug them or charge them in your car's cigarette lighter.

Bottom line: You won't pay for that vacation to Cancun by reducing standby consumption, but you might save the equivalent of three or four tanks of gas each year. And you'll know you're doing your part to help the environment. Without vampire electricity, the U.S. could shutter 17 power plants and eliminate 27 tons of carbon dioxide in the air, according to Lawrence Berekely.

Alternatives to saving on standby energy

If battling standby consumption seems like more trouble than it's worth, there are alternatives for saving energy.

•Opt for Energy Star appliances, if you're in the market to buy new.They're 10% to 50% more efficient than standard appliances.

•Wash clothes in cold (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/7-tips-saving-energy-laundry-room/) rather than hot water.

•Buy compact fluorescents (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/7-tips-for-saving-energy-home-lighting/) rather than traditional incandescent bulbs.

•Use rechargeable batteries (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/5-tips-saving-energy-family-room/).

•Better use and maintain your kitchen appliances (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/10-tips-for-saving-energy-kitchen/).

•Take charge of your home office power consumption (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/12-tips-saving-energy-your-home-office/).

John Rebchook has covered the housing industry, including energy efficiency, for 26 years. From 1983 until early 2009, Rebchook was the real estate writer and editor for the now-shuttered Denver-based Rocky Mountain News. His own energy-efficient home improvments include switching to CFLs, using liquid sealant around windows, and investing in a Watt-A-Meter to learn where he's losing electricity.