Category Archives: Advice

10 Rental Tools for DIY Home Projects

If you don’t own the right tools for tackling a remodeling or maintenance project, you have the option of renting them or buying them outright. The decision is usually based on how often the tool will be used and its cost. If you need something like a drill, it makes more sense to buy one because it is a good basic tool that will be used over and over. If the project is a one-time occurrence, such as installing large porcelain tiles, you may want to rent a large tile saw instead of buying one. Here are some other projects for when rental tools can help make the job a success. Continue reading

Home maintenance for September

Here are some great suggestions for September home maintenance tasks!

  • Clean and vacuum dust from vents, baseboard heaters and cold-air returns.
  • Check the heating system (include filters, pilot lights and burners) and have it serviced by a qualified professional.
  • Inspect storm windows for deterioration and repair as necessary.
  • While it’s still warm enough to leave the windows open, it’s a good time to paint indoor rooms and shampoo or replace carpets.
  • If you have window air-conditioning units, remove and store them. If they are not removable, cover them to protect them over the winter.
  • Check to make sure that soil around the foundation slopes four to six inches for a distance of three feet out from the foundation.
  • There are often year-end close-out sales on lawn and garden equipment in the fall. Look for a few bargains.

Roof maintenance

If your roof isn’t too steeply pitched and has material that won’t be damaged by walking on it, AND you are mentally and physically fit to do so, carefully inspect it in good weather. Look for broken or missing shingles, missing or damaged flashing and seals around vent pipes and chimneys and damage to boards along the eaves. Shingle damage up-slope will often cause water damage far downhill. Check the chimney cap and screen and look down the flues for obstructions or animal nests. If you can’t or don’t want to get on the roof, you might want to use a ladder around the perimeter. Pay close attention to valleys and flashings; these are the primary leak-generators. Some simple, easy fixes now can prevent thousands of dollars of water damage later.

Selecting a heating system

Selecting a new heating system can be complex. However, if you do your homework and talk to licensed heating/cooling professionals, a new system can make your home more comfortable and reduce energy costs.

Hints:

  • Usually it is more energy- and cost-efficient to replace systems older than about 15 years.
  • The system you choose will depend on local climate, home size, amount of insulation, and the heating/cooling usage patterns.
  • Look for an ENERGY STAR® label.
  • Furnaces are rated by annual fuel-utilization efficiency (AFUE). High-efficiency units are rated above 90 percent.
  • If choosing an air-source heat pump, look for one with a SEER of 13 or greater and a heating season performance factor (HSPF) of 7 or more.

Cleaning burners on electric stoves

The burners on an electric range get dirty with caked-on messes, often after a single use. The best way to keep your burners clean is to clean them after every use. Messes are much easier to remove when they are fresh. Make sure the burners have sufficiently cooled before attempting to clean. Use a kitchen towel to wipe the cool burners clean of any spills after use. Rubbing alcohol will remove caked-on messes and sanitize. For more difficult messes, soak a kitchen towel with rubbing alcohol and set it on top of the stain for an hour or two. This will soften the mess and make it easier to wipe away. For a detailed, soap-and-soda approach to clean the burners, see this Ehow article.

How To Repair Drywall Holes

While you are going about your winter preparation tasks this September, you might be in the mood to tackle that big hole in the drywall that you haven’t gotten around to yet. The DIY Network has easy, step-by-step instructions on how to repair seriously damaged drywall that will show you how to: cut out the damaged area, cut out the patch, attach cleats to wall studs, fit the patch into cleats and studs, apply fiberglass tape to the seams and finish the wall surface.

Home Maintenance Tips for Summer

Here’s some great information about Home Maintenance that can go a long way to ensuring a clean home inspection.

ManageMyLife.com has some suggestions for home maintenance:

  • Kitchen, bathroom: Check under your sinks for signs of leaks from supply pipes and waste pipes. Also check for rust on the bottom of enameled steel sinks and water damage to the countertop.
  • Structure and exterior: Check your home’s exterior wood for paint or wood stain needs.
  • Vinyl siding: Assess vinyl siding for cleaning needs. It requires less maintenance than most other sidings, but it still needs occasional cleaning.
  • Plumbing: Getting cold showers? The sediment in your water heater might be lowering your water temperature and the amount of available water. Flush sediment from your water heater.
  • Electrical: Inspect your outdoor electric wiring. While you’re outdoors during warm weather, take a few moments to inspect your outdoor electric outlets, lighting and wiring.
  • For more complete details and step-by-step guides see the article.

Greening Your Inspection Business

by Nick Gromicko and Kate Tarasenko, InterNACHI
Most small business owners have their hands full just trying to stay on top of their current workload, as well as marketing themselves for more work, and inspectors are no exception.  But everyone can make some simple and painless improvements to their workplace and work habits that will minimize their carbon footprint, save money, and even appeal to prospective customers as marketing tools.

Here are some tactics that you can start using today:

•  Use recycled paper for your inspection reports and marketing materials, and make sure you use a logo that tells your customers so.  “Printed on 90% post-consumer waste” (or whatever applies) can provide your prospective clients with a positive heads-up that you’re environmentally conscious.  Recycled paper and cardstock are also generally cheaper, which can lower your costs for office supplies.  Also, if you must print out something and it’s for internal use only, use the reverse side of paper that you would otherwise throw away.

•  Recycle your printer cartridges.  Most printer service and retail outlets will accept these and reward you with a discount on your next purchase.

•  Get organized.  Maximize your time by minimizing your driving trips around town.  Shop online, when possible.  You’ll save wear and tear on your vehicle, and you’ll spare the air of your emissions.

•  Pay your bills online.  This decreases what you spend on postage, and cuts down on the mail you receive, much of which winds up in the trash anyway, such as promotional inserts and window envelopes.

•  If it’s cold in your office, add a layer of clothing, rather than turn up the heat.  Likewise, if it’s warm, open a window instead of turning on the A/C.  If ventilation to the outdoors is not practical, consider running the A/C intermittently rather than continuously throughout the day.  Be sure to use fans to assist with air movement, as well as shades to block the sunlight through windows.

•  If you don’t already have a low-flow toilet at your office, place a brick in the tank of your toilet to save on water used for flushes.

•  Find ways to let natural light into your workspace to cut down on the use of electric lights.  Where practical, change your incandescent bulbs to energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) and T8 fluorescent bulbs, which can reduce your lighting energy costs by up to 75%.

•  Use cups, plates and silverware in your office kitchen, rather than paper products.  If you buy disposable products, consider purchasing the newer biodegradable plastics made of corn.   Also, purchase paper supplies in bulk, which will reduce your shopping trips, as well as your expenses.

•  When upgrading tools and equipment, donate what you no longer use, if selling is impractical.  Many thrift stores, including outlets run by Habitat for Humanity, will gladly accept a worn tape measure, flashlight, and even work boots.  Just make sure that items such as ladders are safe before passing them along.

•  Many office supply stores that sell tech, such as Staples, OfficeMax and Kinko’s, will accept your outmoded cell phones, computers and printers to dispose of at bulk savings to them, or they will refurbish them for resale or donation.  Tech hardware disposed of in landfills is among the most toxic sources of soil and groundwater contamination today because of the chemicals contained in their components, and the results of the biochemical breakdown of their materials.  If you don’t want to pay a fee to dispose of these items responsibly, take them to a recycling center or retail outlet that will gladly take them off your hands.

•  Before hauling something out to the Dumpster, consider re-purposing it.  An old door can be converted into a work table, and cork and foamboard can be used as a message board.  Old t-shirts make handy rags for the office and work truck.

•  Make sure your computers, printers and copiers are set to energy-saving or sleep mode when not in use for extended periods.  Also, consider routinely unplugging electrical items at the end of the day, since coffee makers, lamps and power strips that are turned off but remain plugged in continue to draw current.

•  Before making a purchase, look online at websites such as Craigslist and Freecycle to see if you can find what you need for less than new, or even free.  Several different categories on such sites offer building supplies and materials, tools, and office equipment and products at second-hand prices for sometimes brand new items, which can save you money that you can put toward more meaningful purchases.

•  If you must buy new office furniture, consider buying chairs, desks, tables and bookcases made from wood that has been reclaimed or that originates from sustainably harvested forests.  Look for certifications on wood products from the Forestry Stewardship Council and the Rainforest Alliance.  In addition to sparing living trees, reclaimed and sustainably harvested wood has the advantage of being free of formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which is better for your health, as well as the planet’s.

•  Make your inspection website robust.  Take advantage of InterNACHI’s many marketing tips and tools so that your prospective clients can find the information they need about you and your services online.  This will save them time (and aggravation), and will impress them with your technological savvy.  For many people, using technology to its fullest potential is equivalent to being green, and this method of marketing yourself can set you apart from your competition.  Consider producing your own online video commercial through NACHI.TV to give your prospective customers a genuine sense of yourself and your (green) business ethic.

Asset Protection for Inspectors

by Nick Gromicko and Kate Tarasenko, InterNACHI

An asset is anything of value in your name, such as a house, a vehicle, your business, and even your bank account.  Unfortunately, if you are successfully sued by someone who is unhappy with the results of home inspection that you performed — regardless of whether the lawsuit has merit — attempts will likely be made to tap some of your assets as compensation if you wind up on the losing side.  In order to protect your home and personal property from being exposed to such liability, along with your business assets beyond your E&O insurance, it’s important to safeguard all your assets through a collection of techniques known as asset protection. Taking some of these urgent precautions will ensure that, in the event that you lose a lawsuit brought against you and your inspection business, your home, personal vehicle and other personal property will be exempt from garnishment, repossession or seizure.  It will also provide you with the opportunity to rebuild your business.

Approximately 50,000 lawsuits are filed daily in the United States, which equals one lawsuit for every 17 Americans, annually. In professions that are predisposed to litigation, such as home inspection, medicine, law and business, the chances of being sued are considerably higher, although unscrupulous opportunists may target anyone who they perceive as having deep pockets. And there are plenty of ways besides litigation that unprotected assets can be taken away, such as through identity theft, divorce, death, healthcare costs, probate, auto accidents, home fires, floods and bankruptcy, to name a few. Any of these events can ruin someone’s finances if they lack proper asset protection.

The first things every new small business owner should consider include the following:

  • Incorporate. Incorporating a business limits the owner’s personal liability in lawsuits filed against the business because a corporation or LLC is considered under the law to be a separate legal entity from its owners. However, the “corporate veil” can be pierced in certain circumstances, such as when it can be proven that the business owners did not obey corporate formalities.
  • Use a family limited partnership (FLP). Family limited partnerships are specially designed partnerships that consist of general and limited partners. The FLP allows an individual to maintain full control and enjoyment of their property while separating themselves from actual legal ownership. A creditor of a single partner cannot reach the assets owned by the partnership because the partnership, as an entity, owns the asset.  This does not prevent the partnership from being sued, but it will keep certain assets separate and unexposed to legal liability or claim.
  • Purchase professional liability insurance (E&O). The costs of insurance premiums are generally small compared to defending a lawsuit.
  • Keep major assets encumbered.  If you own property free and clear, you can imagine how attractive that is to a judgment creditor.  Many home inspectors lease their company vehicles to prevent them from becoming a target.
  • Check your state’s homestead exemption. Homestead property protection laws help protect your home from creditors (as well as help provide survivors with a home after the death of the primary wage earner).

To be effective, asset protection should be performed years before you find yourself in financial trouble. Any transfer of ownership of property after the emergence of a significant claim may be deemed fraudulent, which can result not only in seizure of the asset anyway, but significant civil penalties. After a claim arises, you need debtor and possibly pre-bankruptcy planning, as asset protection becomes more difficult as legal proceedings progress. Most importantly, have an attorney and an accountant guide you through the process of asset protection. You need these experts to make sure that asset protection planning is performed competently and, even more importantly, within the parameters of the law. Professionals will make sure that you use appropriate legal structures to safeguard your assets without deliberately defrauding creditors.

In summary, inspectors should invest in legal asset protection strategies to keep their business assets separate from their personal assets, and also to ensure that, should they face a tough legal battle, they will be able to re-establish themselves when the dust settles.  CLICK HERE to read about ways to avoid lawsuits altogether.

Gardening to-do list for August

About.com Gardening says, “For many gardeners the month of August begins the downhill slide into off season. Warm climate gardeners have a second chance, but some don’t have a second wind after summer’s heat. Your garden is hardier than you think and there are plenty of gardening tasks for August that will keep your flower and vegetable gardens going longer, as well as opportunities to get a head start on next year’s garden plans.” Here’s a Garden To-Do List for the sultry month of August.