Author Archives: BHS Contributor

Avoid Costly Home Repairs with These Five Household Maintenance Tips

If there is anything to say about home maintenance it’s this: maintenance is measured in pennies per square foot while home repairs are measured in dollars per square foot. A little preventative home maintenance each month can help homeowners avoid costly repairs that might occur due to neglect. In fact, with these simple and cost effective home maintenance tips, you’ll not only be able to prevent more costly repairs later on down the road, but you’ll also help lower utility bills and other operating costs associated with your homes health.

Air Filters

8560741926_e7f67e2c37_b_air-filtersOne of the easiest yet most neglected parts of home maintenance involve the many air filters that help keep your homes appliances and other gadgets in top working order. Replacing and cleaning filters isn’t a difficult job and can be done using basic household materials and tools.

Air conditioning and heating equipment are one of the biggest energy consumers in your home—as well as one of the most costly items to repair. As air conditioners and heaters condition the interior air in your home, they draw in the indoor air through an air vent known as an air return. As the tiny particles of dust accumulate at the return, it passes through a filter where it becomes trapped. This prevents these nasty particles from entering into the furnace or air handler where they can cause serious damages to the working components of your system.

When filters become clogged with dust and dirt, they cause a heavy strain on these costly heating and cooling systems. This not only increases the amount of work your air equipment must do (thereby increasing your utility bills) to properly heat and cool your home, but they also increase the chance that a break down will occur during the peak seasons of use. Be sure to replace air filters for your heating and cooling equipment every 30 days to prevent damages that might end up costing you and arm and a leg during peak repair season.


refrigerator clean photoBut it’s not just air conditioner and heating equipment that can be damaged from the dust and debris of a clogged air filter—your appliances can also become damaged over time due to poor maintenance of the filters. Refrigerator coils that are covered in dust are certain to work harder doing their everyday job of keeping your food cold. Use a vacuum cleaner hose with a thin nozzle to reach underneath of your refrigerator to clean any dust from the ventilation and coils once a year.

Range hood vents and bathroom ventilation fans are also susceptible to dust and debris accumulation. It’s important to remove the covers and vacuum away any visible dust from within the motor housing and ducts annually to extend their life. Keeping ventilation clean and free from debris also lowers the risk of fire hazards caused from clogged ventilation ducts and motor housings.

Dryer vents are also fire hazards in the wait and should be taken care of at least once a year. You’ll want to remove any lint from the vent shaft and the duct itself. For hard to reach dryer ventilation ducts, it’s a good idea to hire a professional dryer vent cleaning crew to ensure the entire ventilating duct is clean. You’ll lower your risk for fires, increase the life of your dryer and decrease your utility bills in the process.

Exterior Visual Inspection

2277625061_581fb9c92d_b_cracked-foundationTwice a year—preferably spring and fall—it’s a good idea to take a stroll around the exterior of your home and do a visual inspection for damages. Minor problems that are visible before the harshness of summer and winter weather takes hold should be repaired immediately. Once the wet weather of winter or the dry heat of summer take their toll on minor home problems, they quickly become large and expensive ones.

This is especially true for roofing problems. While you’re walking around the exterior of your home looking for foundation cracks, soffit damages or peeling paint, it’s a wise idea to take a look at your roof. Keep an eye out for loose, broken, cracked or cupped shingles as these are all signs of roofing problems that can be significantly accentuated as the weather changes for the worse. A little preventive maintenance on your shingles now can prevent costly roof leaks.

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter

8560713440_154dfe7d88_b_termite-damageA ground fault circuit interrupter or GFCI outlet is designed to work in wet locations such as in your bathroom, kitchen and even outdoors. With the additional protection of a breaker, a GFCI circuit can prevent fires and deadly shocks when water and electricity mix. A basic test of the circuit can be performed by simply pressing the “test” button located on the face of the receptacle. If it depresses in fully, clicks or turns on the small LED light on the face of the outlet, you know the breaker is working correctly. Power up the outlet by pressing the reset button. If your outlet is not working correctly, then you’ll need to replace it with another GFCI outlet. You’ll avoid damages to your appliances, prevent dangerous shocks and lower your risk of a fire with a properly working GFCI outlet.

Termite Treatment

5685676890_c15c963da0_b_termite-damageNo matter where you live in the world, there is a species of termite that is ready and waiting to devour the wood in and around your home. Termite treatment programs by a professional service once a year is recommended to ensure your homes wood and cellulose products are protected from this costly pest. Even if you treat the area around your home yourself, it’s also important to inspect the area for signs of termite damages and deal with them immediately before more serious problems have a chance to develop.




Photos by HomeSpot HQ, Mark Florence, cbb4104, HomeSpot HQ,

Why Having Your Roof Cleaned Is Important

roof cleaner photoToo often, cleaning the outside of the actual house is overlooked until it’s overrun with gunk, mold, and embedded dirt from years back. With materials like vinyl siding, a quick once-over can restore luster with no permanent damage from the settled dirt being done. There’s an area of the house though that almost never gets cleaned unless it’s hit in a heavy downpour – the roof. The reasons why the roof rarely gets cleaned are simple; it’s hard to access, nobody ever sees it, and what’s the worst that could happen anyway? The truth is it’s very important to get on the roof and survey the area, and the reasons go well beyond keeping it clean.

To Save Your Shingles

Shade trees are a nice addition to any property but unfortunately when they’re planted too close to the house, they harvest the growth of mold and algae on your shingles. This spore like feeding on the composites of shingles anyway and providing them with a cool location that doesn’t dry after it rains is like creating a Sandals Resort for them. Eventually they eat apart and disintegrate the shingles causing them to peel up and break apart. Cutting down the shade tree shouldn’t be a choice so instead get your roof cleaned and treated so the algae is kicked out of their vacation home permanently.

To Help Your Utility Bills

Another type of mold and allergen that grows on the roof is the always attractive and ominous sounding black algae (Gloeocapsa Magma). This black growth not only looks unsightly to passers-by it also feeds and expands until it creates almost an impervious surface. The sun obviously is absorbed by this black algae which then makes cooling the home that much harder. Whatever is spent in roof cleaning could basically be considered a wash from lower utility bills.

To Be Healthy

Spores on the shingles and roof might seem harmless but the presence of them is anything but. If left untreated they’ll eventually seep their way into the attic, down the walls, into the duct work of the house, and basically to anywhere they see fit. Plus the presence of algae and mold on the shingles just makes any other moisture trap around the house that much more susceptible. Soon eyes will be watering, residents will have headaches, and guests will leave within minutes (not always a bad thing) just because a homeowner allowed mold to fester on their roof.

To Stay Insured

While you might receive some rolled eyes from neighbors who see the mold loft growing on your shingles, they are for the most part harmless. Not the case when your insurance company drives by to do a random audit and sees the majority of a roof that has become an algae playground. The insurance company rightfully assumes that the spores have invaded other parts of the home and might find it in their best interest to cancel your policy before the mold infestation is too much of a liability. Then good luck getting a reasonable rate from the next adjuster that comes by to peruse your house for a new policy.

So Your Home Can Sell (Someday)

One reason you may be putting off getting your roof cleaned professionally is because you’re going to be selling soon anyway. The truth is any inspector that notices extensive mold damage on the shingles is going to give his or her client the benefit of the doubt and say the whole roof needs to be replaced, knocking thousands of dollars of your sale price whereas it only would’ve cost a couple hundred to have it cleaned and treated.

To Keep Gutters Clean

It’s not just mold spores that can enter the house when it’s allowed to run ransack on your roof. In fact when the problem gets too bad the mold will eventually start to bog up and cause shingles to rot away which might end up clogging your gutters. Clogged gutters don’t allow water to run off where it’s supposed to and it instead overflows down the side of the house near the foundation. Soon the foundation is commandeered and the water enters your basement, destroying a priceless baseball card collection and opening up the pool and spa for mold and mildew to grow once again.

To Keep Your Roof Accessible

While algae formation might be unsightly and damaging, it’s also very slippery. This causes a huge problem if a homeowner wants to climb onto their roof and adjust a satellite dish or clean out gutters to protect their baseball card collection. Roofs are hard enough to scale as-is but a misstep on an algae filled roof could be catastrophic.

When a roof is cleaned professionally it’s not just for aesthetic reasons, it’s treated so that mildew is less likely to return in the future. Service technicians use special cleaning formulas and tools that are both safe for them but also so they don’t tear up your roof. Looking at the potential damage that could be cause by simply doing nothing, having a roof cleaned every couple years really is a no-brainer.

Photos by JAHLUKA,

Photos by JAHLUKA,

Photo by JAHLUKA

Contractor Bonds Explained

contractor bondUnscrupulous contractors have given more than their fair share of headaches. Besides not performing work up to local and state building standards, some dishonest contractors have even abandoned a job in mid-project, leaving some homeowners with a pile of bills to pay suppliers and subcontractors, all the while still wondering how they will ever complete their half-finished building project. To protect consumers against problems associated with deceitful building practices, a contractor bond is issued to safeguard the client against any problems caused by the builder.

A contractor bond is basically financial assurance that a contractor will complete the job to the satisfaction of the client, the building department and the subcontractors/suppliers that work with the contractor. If the contractor fails to complete the job as required by the contract, then the company that issued the bond will be required to pay out appropriate compensation.

Why is a Contractors Bond Important?

More often than not, your contractor will likely do a good job and complete the project according to the building code, the financial lending institutions and your specifications. However, if a contractor does not pay for materials or labor in a timely fashion, homeowners may find that their structure has incurred a lien against the property and structure. While a bond is specifically designed to protect a homeowner from paying for subcontractors or suppliers who were not paid by the contractor, they are also useful for protecting the client from damages to the property/structure during construction as well as lost or stolen materials from the jobsite.

For most contractors around the world, a bond is required to obtain and maintain a current builder’s license. The contractor is responsible for keeping the policy current, paying premiums and ensuring a bond is active for each project.

A contractors bond is purchased by the contractor through a surety company. Depending upon the builder’s credit history, work history and amount of the required bond, contractors can pay a varying amount for premiums associated with the surety bond.

Although it may seem like a contractors bond is only useful to the client, it is also very useful to the contractor as well. A bonded contractor ensures clients that they will be protected against financial problems in the event that the job runs into troubles. Many clients prefer contractors who hold a bond, but it’s also suppliers and subcontractors who are also protected against financial disarray should the contractor fail to complete the job and many suppliers require a contractor possess a bond before services or materials will be sold on credit.

A contractor bond may not be required for all building projects in every state. However, all federal construction jobs require that the contractor have an active bond throughout the project. If you’re unsure of whether or not your builder has a contractors bond in place, you can verify the bond numbers and certification with your local building department to prove the bond is active. This information is particularly useful to the client in the event that a claim against the bond needs to be made.

Making a Claim

Homeowners who find themselves in a compromising position with the contractor can take up a claim against the bond with the surety. In the event that a contractor fails to fulfill the terms of the bond, a homeowner is required to provide proof that in fact the contractor did not complete the requirements of the bond. This may include unpaid bills, damages filled by the insurance company or even police reports. In the event that a contractor leaves the job, an independent party is required to verify that progress on the job has come to a standstill and the contractor has refused multiple attempts to make contact with the client and surety.

Unlike an insurance claim, a claim against a bond falls back to the contractor to make payments to the surety. Because a surety will not absorb the loss like an insurance company, an indemnification clause is often underwritten into the bond contract so that financial responsibility falls back to the contractor and the surety will not lose money in the process. This opens the legal door for the surety to take legal action against the contractor in the event of a bond claim.

Bonds vs. Insurance

When many contractors advertise, they often say they are both bonded and insured. While both are a necessity to protect the client against problems associated with the building project, insurance acts as protection against accidental damages, workers compensation and other builder’s risk that typically affects the contractor more than the client.

A bond acts to protect the client against reimbursement actions from another company that might not have had a face-to-face relationship with the homeowner themselves. In the event that a subcontractor or supplier is not paid on time or the full amount, they will send a notice to owner that claims the owner of the property is responsible for the overdue bills. If the owner does not pay the late bills on time, a lien can be placed on the property. If the bill remains unpaid, legal action can be taken against the homeowner and the property foreclosed upon.

No matter whom you hire for your next construction project, be sure to verify they are licensed, insured and bonded to protect you and your property from unscrupulous contractors.

Photos by USACE Europe District,

Why You Should Consider Replacing Your Windows

window replacementMany homeowners look at replacing windows as a job they can put off until absolutely necessary. If the windows aren’t cracked or a noticeable eyesore what’s the harm in replacing them at a later time? The truth is every year put off changing out old, inefficient windows means one more year of paying exorbitantly higher utility bills than necessary. Granted window replacement is a pretty big investment…it also offers a significant return of investment that goes well beyond keeping cold air out and warm air in.

To Be More Comfortable

A drafty night can be nice in September but not so much in the middle of January. Having old windows that have broken down on the edges and sides lets a supply of cold air in that’s surprisingly noticeable. Conversely there’s nothing like heating up a room on a cold night only to have all that warm air be conveniently delivered to outside the house. Granted insulating the side of the windows and doors as well as fixing up exposed areas of boards and siding will help, but it’s a lost cause if the windows are inferior.

To Lower Utility Bills

Along the same lines of being comfortable, when a thermostat is set to 70 degrees in the winter it should be enough to stay warm. Unfortunately when all that heat escapes through thin windows a person has to jack up their thermostat to 75-78 degrees just to compensate. Calculate this extra drain on a heating bill over the course of a winter, and then over the course of 7 or 8 winters, installing new windows almost pay for themselves.

To Avoid Replacing a Furnace and Air Conditioner

You’ll see that having inferior windows has a trickle-down effect that can be very costly. First you were cold (or warm) so you had to adjust the furnace or air conditioner. In turn the utility bills continued to rise but in doing so the HVAC system was working harder to meet demands that they weren’t designed or engineered to meet. This constant stress on a furnace or a/c just to save money from replacing windows eventually leads to a blower motor failing, then a compressor, then a condenser until the parts can no longer be repaired, they need replaced. The costs continue to rise.

So Your Belongings Don’t Get Damaged

To be fair most homeowners are well aware of the energy deficiencies caused by a lack of replacing windows. There is much more to the story though considering that older windows have standard glass that is not treated to reflect UV rays. This doesn’t just make the house hotter, the light source starts to fade couches, recliners, carpet, and anything else that it beats down on for 6+ hours a day. So far holding off on replacing the windows has cost higher utility bills as well as a new furnace, air-conditioner, and now carpet!

For Less Outside Noises Interrupting You

The fading of your furniture could be considered a long-term nuisance but noise that echoes from the outside world through your single pane windows has an instant effect on quality of living. Thicker windows won’t quiet the sound of a barking dog or a rambunctious playground baseball game completely but they’ll be surprisingly effective. Two-fold when you’re inside jamming out to 1980’s hair ballads the thicker windows will muffle some of the sound so that your neighbors are less inclined to call in the authorities.

For Safety and Security, Inside and Out

Single pane windows could shatter if a fit butterfly hit them just right so imagine how easy access is for a thief with bad intent. Double or triple pane windows will at least make the criminal work for entrance or may be enough to deter them altogether. With new windows you’ll not only be safe from outside forces, but to leave in a hurry from the inside if needed. Old windows have a tendency to stick from shifting over the years or have latches stick which could be very dangerous in a fire or other emergency exit situation.

New Windows Just Look Better

Curb appeal and functionality are the desired result of almost every remodeling project and window replacement accomplishes both of these. Crisp, clean, bright window borders have a way of ‘popping out’ against the color of a home’s siding adding a real sharp look to an older home. The new windows are easier to clean and keep streak-free and add a vibe to a house that is almost indescribable.

Old Windows Are Inconvenient

When something breaks on an old window (as is apt to do more frequently), it can be hard to find replacement latches and levers. The homeowner is faced with losing the functionality of a window or cobbling it together with toothpicks and popsicle sticks. Newer windows have a part number and replacement pieces available at nearby hardware stores or under warranty directly from the manufacturer.

It’s understandable that budget concerns can put off window replacement for longer than planned but seeing the benefits of a switch out it may be time to start saving.

Photo by Andersen Windows

Pros and Cons of Various Driveway Surfaces

Home driveways are a weird animal, they’re often overlooked unless sparkling brand new or old, chipped, and run down. In actuality driveways perform a great surface marking a clearer route to our homes and garages and present a place for storage and function without tearing up a yard. Whether you’re thinking about laying a driveway that currently isn’t there or aiming to replace a pathway that is well past it’s prime, here are some things to take into consideration when deciding between the different driveway surfaces.


450203126_cccb4de812_b_stone-drivewayGravel is a very common material used for long driveways on country roads. It’ a more unique choice for a driveway inside city limits but still very much in abundance. Perhaps the biggest benefit of a gravel driveway is that it’s cost effective. Granted gravel is still going to cost in the neighborhood of $200 per load but for long driveways it really is the only feasible option at that price. Another benefit is that gravel needs little to no maintenance. On the other hand, gravel can give you issues year round as it dirties up cars and potentially chips them – plus you better have a snowplow driver you can trust in the winter or he or she will scoop your gravel away with the white stuff.


asphalt driveway photoAnybody who’s ever laid asphalt in a driveway will tell you its number one con – it soaks up seemingly every ounce of sun in a 3-mile radius. Granted asphalt does get pretty hot but that’s actually a by-product of what makes it such an enticing driveway material, the fact that the petroleum base in it flexes instead of cracking. Most homeowners in the market for an asphalt driveway are usually narrowing down their decision between it and concrete. If price is the major decision swayer than asphalt usually wins out since its costs are about half as much as concrete. The upkeep is a little more on asphalt as it needs to be resealed every 3-5 years and the lifespan as a whole is only about 12 years. Still in cold weather climates, asphalt wins out because it won’t crack like concrete – and if it does it’s much easier to fix.


13452432094_a34e794480_b_concrete-drivewayThose who like a concrete driveway do so mostly because they can set it and forget it. The average lifespan of a concrete driveway is 30-40 years, upwards of 3 times that of asphalt. Concrete is basically maintenance free besides the occasional sweeping and pressure washing for surface’s sake. Where concrete does become a liability is when it’s towards the end of its life cycle or in extreme weather conditions. Cracks will start to form from the cold and they can be both costly and unsightly to repair. Plus the light color of concrete means every gas stain or oil spill is noticeable for life, whereas in a black asphalt driveway they’re virtually undetectable.


4773627897_9215a3c132_b_home-drivewayIf budget is not an issue, it’s hard to argue against cement pavers as the material of choice for a driveway. There are not many products that can emulate the old-world feel of a paved driveway with a surprisingly modern touch. Besides looks cement pavers have functionality too. They are virtually maintenance free, can last up to 50 years, and can be DIY installed with a little time and effort. Unfortunately that price hurdle is often too big of a one to jump over as the pavers themselves can cost between $3 and $10 each. That amounts to about $40 per square foot to lay a driveway when in comparison asphalt can be done for $5 – most people just don’t have those kinds of resources to invest in a driveway.


permaturf grass drivewayIt’s definitely an unconventional choice but there could be some credence to the fact that grass driveways are the wave of the future. To be clear, grass driveways are an intended design and involve much more than driving a Camaro on the lawn and letting it sit there for 4 years. Grass driveways are constructed of high-tech plastic pavers who snap together and create a load bearing surface so the vehicle doesn’t soak into the wet ground. Green driveways are more environmentally friendly and porous but they can be hard to maintain in harsh winter climates and oil spills actually do more harm than if they were on concrete.


driveway photoBrick is another interesting driveway choice that definitely boosts curb appeal. A brick driveway is reminiscent of yesteryear when the sound of horse drawn carriages could be heard clogging down the streets. Unfortunately there are some drawbacks to brick that can’t even offset it’s highly unique look, the first of which being price. Although much less expensive than using concrete pavers, a brick driveway is still well out of the price range of asphalt or traditional driveways. The brick is much less durable too, breaking away in inclement weather if not sealed a couple times a year. Brick pavers are permeable to let water through which is nice, but they’re also very attractive to weeds which will grow through and need constant tending.

Some other driveway surfaces include shells, recycled materials, and different types of concrete. Out of all of them which one the consumer decides depends on a lot of things – budget, upkeep, home style, city ordinances. Either way, it’s nice to have choices and the looks of a driveway is a bigger one than most think.

Photo by hollidaypics

Photo by julianmeade

Photo by julianmeade

Photo by positionmktg

Why Cleaning Your Gutters Is So Important

clean gutter photoGutters and the downspouts that the wick water away from your structure are more than just fancy pieces of aluminum that keep the water from dripping down your back. Gutters and downspouts are essential to your homes wellbeing. Water that flows from your roof as it rains can easily damage your foundation, driveway, landscaping and lawn when not controlled properly by a gutter and downspout system.

When these systems are in perfect working order, they do their job without much notice. When your gutters are neglected, they can easily clog with debris, causing water to back up inside of the roof, down walls, under foundations and into your home. Even when the water can trickle down your downspouts without causing a leak, if they are clogged with debris, it’s the perfect place for insects to make their home.

Clogged Gutter Troubles

If water is not allowed to flow correctly out of your gutters downspouts, it can easily back up and flow over the edge of the gutter walls. This can allow water to flow back into the fascia and under the drip edge. When water is able to penetrate beyond the protection of your fascia and drip edge, it can create disastrous effects that can easily ruin wood sub fascia, plywood and joists for good.

As water reaches the interior edge of your structure, it not only destroys the wood and metal components of your roof, but it can also attract insects, mold and fungus. Termites, fungus and mold all need a source of water to live and if your gutters and downspouts are allowing them access to it, they are sure to thrive and expand further and further up your roof line. Soft spots, sagging roof lines and major discolorations are all signs that something is wrong with the flow of water from your gutters.

But it’s not just the roof that can be affected by gutter clogs. Major problems with the walls, foundation and basement can easily take place when water is not properly wicked away from the base of the structure. As water is allowed to flow down beside the edge of the foundation walls, it can quickly cause soil to compact, creating sinkholes, dips and pits around your foundation. This will undoubtedly lead to step cracks in block and brick walls.

Basements are particularly susceptible to this phenomenon and great care should be taken to reduce water infiltration around the base of the home. By extending downspouts away from the foundation, you’ll also prevent fungus and mold growth on interior basement walls.

Basics of Gutter Maintenance

With the potential to cause hundreds if not thousands of dollars in damages, clogged gutters should be cleaned biannually to ensure that they are clear and free to allow water to flow down and away from your home. It’s important to clean your gutters from major debris both during the fall season after trees have dropped their leaves and during the spring when pollen and buds form and fall.

gutter cleaning photoCleaning a gutter can be a tough job for many homeowners and that’s often why they end up becoming neglected. Being up on a steep roof or a high ladder is not the best place for the unexperienced homeowner. Gutter cleaning equipment such as extended hose nozzles, blowers and even robotic gutter cleaners are great ways to help maintain gutter and downspouts twice a year. However, they are not the answer to neglected gutters that are clogged with leaves and sticks.

When gutters are heavily clogged with debris, it’s best to hire a professional gutter cleaner to safely and carefully remove the debris. Not only is it dangerous for homeowners to climb unsteady ladders and navigate slippery roofs but if the job isn’t done correctly, severe damages to your roof, drip edge and fascia can occur. Be sure to hire a gutter cleaning crew that has plenty of experience performing gutter cleaning work as well as proper liability and workers compensation insurance to make certain your gutters will be cleaned properly and without damages.

While gutters and downspouts clogged with tree litter is very serious and should be cleaned each spring and fall, people with limited tree cover around there home should also worry about clogged gutter problems—even if there are no trees directly over the roof. Pollen, dirt and dust can quickly accumulate in gutters far from trees. Gutters with little tree cover should at least be checked each year for debris build up. That’s because a shingle roof can create debris as the gravel that covers asphalt shingles comes loose and clogs gutter channels.

Once gutters and downspouts are clean and the water can flow properly, it’s a good idea to install a series of gutter covers or leaf guards to reduce the amount of debris that accumulates in your gutters and downspouts. Leaf guards come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors and styles so no matter what type of gutter system you have installed, you can be sure to find a leaf guard for your gutter with ease. This will allow you to cut gutter maintenance down to a once a year event.

No matter how large or small your gutter system is, be sure to inspect it for clogs and damages each year to prevent more costly repairs later on down the road.

Photo by Tony Buser Photo by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region

The Benefits of Building with Masonry

Little Whelnetham  house build photoFor countless generations, building with masonry has been a vital part of construction. From the ancient pyramids of Egypt to the towering modern skyscrapers of New York, masonry has been the driving force behind these enduring and timeless structures. Natural, durable and attractive, masonry products such as block, brick and stone have and continue to be one of the most popular building materials used around the globe.

Building with masonry products offers many unique benefits that other building materials lack. Strength, durability and affordability are just a few of the many reasons this amazing product has been so popular in more recent times. Whether constructing a small residential building or erecting a huge commercial structure, masonry has many benefits that make it attractive to architects, builders and owners alike.

Natural Resistance

One of the major reasons masonry construction is in such high demand is its ability to resist natural damages such as fire, weather and insects. Noncombustible materials found in masonry products ensures that if a fire occurs within the structure, building egress is properly protected, fire spread is limited and the integrity of the bearing structure can be maintained before and after a fire. In some masonry construction methods, fire walls can have an hourly safety rating of up to four hours, allowing fire personal to safely contain a fire before it has a chance to spread to other areas of the structure.

Heavy wind loads play an important role in designing any structure and masonry products are considered one of the more stable materials used to resist dangerous weather conditions such as hurricanes or tornados. Even when dangerous weather conditions don’t factor into the construction of a building, weather conditions such as snow, rain and even sunlight can create dimensional changes in a structure. A properly constructed masonry wall can easily accept the changes in dimensional load without becoming damaged over time.

Natural phenomenon like termites, ants or even fungus has a difficult time affecting a masonry building. With no cellulose products to cause decay, masonry buildings have the ability to easily resist the effects of insects, mold and fungus. Since masonry construction is nearly air tight, outdoor contaminants like pollen, mold and fungus have little effect on the occupants of the structure, thereby increasing indoor air quality considerably.

Lower Overall Costs

While initial residential wood-frame construction methods virtually cost the same as masonry residential construction, the overall costs of a masonry project are much less than wood frame construction—especially over time.

Unlike wood products which require significant maintenance as it ages (termite and fungus protection), masonry products are virtually maintenance free. In fact, masonry materials such as brick need very little in the way of maintenance. The masonry joints in brick may require repointing or tucking every 50-100 years whereas wood construction requires pest and fungus control applications every 8-10 years. Exposed wood products will also need to be painted every 4-6 years while masonry stuccoed walls may need repainting every 10-15 years.

But it’s not just about maintenance costs that make masonry products cheaper in the long run. When concrete block construction is combined with thermal mass insulation systems, it can lower utility bills more so than other construction methods. That’s because masonry stores thermal energy which allows the structure to absorb sunlight and hold higher temperatures during the winter. In the summer, the opposite effect takes place as masonry stores cooler energy temperatures releases them slowly throughout the day, thereby reducing air-conditioning costs in the process.

Even after the structure is complete, masonry constructed buildings keep reducing costs of the structure. Lower insurance premiums can greatly reduce the overall costs of a masonry building. Because masonry products are more secure, resistant to natural damages and are fire resistant, many insurance companies will discount homeowner’s insurance costs for the masonry building owner.

Masonry buildings also allow for a higher resale value than many of their other construction counterparts. Due to the low maintenance/high strength abilities of masonry products, many masonry built structures sell for more money long after construction, particularly when compared to wood-framed structures.


Unlike other building materials, masonry products can be found in nearly all facets of the construction process. Masonry products have a versatility that other building materials such as steel or wood can’t compare to. Whether masonry is used for a foundation or as a driveway, its ability to come into contact with the ground without decay makes it the number one application for structural construction.

But masonry certainly isn’t limited to structural applications. When combined with wood fibers, foam or polymers, materials like exterior siding, tile backer boards and even roofing products can be created using masonry materials. Because masonry products aren’t affected by moisture like wood or steel materials, they can also be used to hold water as well such as in swimming pools and tubs as well as repel it.

Since masonry products can be manipulated into virtually any shape, design or style, they offer an aesthetically pleasing appeal that no other building material can match. Whether you’re remodeling in the bathroom or you’re working on a bridge overpass, masonry plays an important role in the success of nearly every construction project built today.

Photo by Martin Pettitt

How to Find and Hire a Quality Plumber

hire a plumberIt’s important in life to get in good with people in a varying array of services and talents. For example, a trusted ‘car guy’ will save you hundreds of dollars in repairs over the years and your ‘radio contest call-in friend’ is a great source of free concert tickets and band tour t-shirts. As far as your home goes, there’s perhaps nobody more important than a quality plumber. Once you find a plumber you can trust you know they’ll be there in a drop of the hat in emergency situations and will teach you the tips and tricks for DIY that won’t require their services.

Unfortunately you may have to go through a few lemons before settling on the ultimate plumbing service. Here are some tips and suggestions to limit the time spent courting a plumber and instead start focusing on getting your house’s pipes up to par.

Check If They’re Licensed

Making sure a contractor is licensed is a no-brainer whether you’re looking for a plumber, electrician, roofer, etc. Being licensed shows that the plumber is well-versed on the most recent codes and practices and has passed a test to prove it. Hiring a licensed contractor is the homeowner’s responsibility and failing to do so could leave you liable from your insurance company or building code department.

Ask If They’re Insured

Most municipalities require contractors to be licensed before they can get insured so checking for contractor’s insurance essentially kills two birds with one stone. Make sure to ask questions about the insurance to as it pertains to what they’re liable for and what their limits are. It’s not inconceivable to think that a plumbing catastrophe could cause upwards of $500,000 or more if a whole house receives water damage and priceless heirlooms are lost forever. A plumber with minimal insurance would only be responsible for a fraction of that leaving the homeowner over their head in water, literally.

What Is Their Experience?

All the licenses and insurance coverage in the world still doesn’t make up for cold, hard, experience. Granted a company that is only a year or two old still needs to get their break somehow but save them for minimal jobs until they get their name built up. Even if a greenhorn company hasn’t had an issue in their first two years in the industry, it doesn’t mean there’s not one lying in wait. As unfortunate as it sounds, there really is no substitute for a hardened plumber that’s seen it all in his 25 grizzled years in the field. You’ll pay a premium labor price for these individuals but you’ll rest easy in their work.

Read Online Reviews or Ask Around Town

Even though some Yelp or Angie’s List reviewers are impossible to please, there’s always an inkling of truth in the word of the majority. It’s only being a responsible consumer to check out what others are saying before you hire a service, whether it be a plumber, pizza delivery, or cab company. Likewise a neighbor who stands tried and true with a company for all their plumbing needs is a voice you can trust…unless they’re related to the shop owner but that’s a chance you have to take.

Get Extra Quotes and Bids for Your Own Good

Even if you’re leaning towards a plumber that has said and done everything right so far in the bidding process, get a couple extra quotes just to be sure. Bringing in another company or two to do an estimate will give you a good idea that they’re all diagnosing the same problem and solution. Ideally the price range of the quality plumber will fall right in the middle of the other quotes but what you’ll likely find out is that there’s a premium for quality work.

Do Their Rates Vary (Time & Materials Only or Fixed Quotes)

Another sign of a quality plumber is if they give you options in their bid. A company that only works based on time and materials is a little skeptical because they could legitimately milk the clock to drive up your bill. Most homeowners like seeing a fixed price both so they have an estimate on what the service will cost them and for something to show the insurance company or bank before the work starts.

Do They Back Their Work

A quality plumber will always stand by their work, mostly because they’re arrogant in the fact that ‘nothing ever goes wrong when I’m on the job.’ Insurance will cover major catastrophes but if a plumber comes to the house to fix a leak and the pipe still drips water after they leave, return calls should be free until the problem is fixed. A homeowner shouldn’t have to pay for every trip back to the house just because the plumber did it wrong in the first place.

There are other ways to find a good plumber like asking other professionals such as an electrician or roofer who may have worked on a job site with them. Unfortunately the best way might be the trial and error process – hopefully the trial ends before too many errors are committed.

Photos by University of the Fraser Valley,

What to Expect When Consulting a Quality Remodeling Expert

remodeling houseRemodeling a house has a number of advantages. It offers an investment that has a direct return when and if the home is ever put on the market. Besides financial gain, there’s the increased quality of living that comes from an extra bathroom or a finished basement that makes the renovation well worth the price to most people. Once the decision has been fretted over and the time has come to get the wheels rolling on a remodeling project, it’s time to contact the contractor.

Many people have a love / hate relationship with their remodeling expert. It’s important to remember that this person usually serves as the middle man/woman between the homeowner and the service providers. The homeowner wants work done at a certain schedule while the framers, drywallers, and painters encounter issues at the same time, causing the general contractor to paint a happy picture between the two. In actuality for all the horror stories that have been circulated about remodeling, the process really isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be. Here’s what to expect when consulting a remodeling pro.

An Honest Timetable

Too often contractors fall into the trap of telling the client only what they want to hear, whether that be about the project price, timetable, process, etc. The contractor is then left to back pedal later on which only leads to stressing him or her out while growing the frustrations of the homeowner. Most homeowners would agree that they’d rather hear the truth up front rather than an excuse later (avoid the it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission approach).

When talking with an expert remodeler they should give an honest timetable with buffer time actually built in to prepare for the unexpected. Just because a homeowner wants a new bathroom in a day doesn’t mean they should promise it…be realistic on both ends.


The truth is there’s an easy way and a hard way to do every job, whether it’s remodeling, fixing an automobile, or completing a paint-by-numbers piece. An expert remodeler will give the homeowner options, regardless of how big of a burden it’s going to be on them and their crew. Of course the remodelers shouldn’t have to do this work without some recourse, mostly in the form of increased labor costs but also a longer timetable. The ultimate goal of the remodel process should be to leave the homeowner 100% satisfied…or close to it.

A Detailed Plan of Attack

When talking with a remodeling pro you can trust, it’s not outside the realm of possibilities for them to give you a detailed approach about how they’re going to get the job done. Since it’s your house it’s nice to know if and when plumbing will be replaced, if windows are going to be moved, if new drywall is needed, etc. For large projects they should have an estimate by the week of when demolition is completed, when the wiring will be done, when the painters will come in, and so on.

Answers On The Spot

A great way to tell if a remodeling expert is quality is if they can give answers up front and in person. Sure there are going to be issues he or she will have to check on with outside subcontractors but a contractor shouldn’t have to ‘call my guy’ with every little question you may have. In fact even if they’re fudging the truth (BS’ing) the homeowner has some reassurance they’re dealing with a pro. Remodeling time can be very stressful to the homeowner and the general contractor should go out of their way to make them feel secure about the project and that their money is being spent wisely.

A List of Drawbacks To a Certain Approach

There are pros an cons to every aspect of remodeling and homeowners won’t get their feelings hurt when a list of negative aspects of their desires are presented to them. For instance something like “you can install a metal roof but it’s going to be harder to walk on” is better heard before the construction starts instead of when preparing to navigate to adjust a satellite dish.

Green And Environmentally Friendly Methods

When talking with a remodeling expert it’s also expected for them to give you a list of environmentally friendly alternatives. Green building can have significant government kickbacks and although more money will be spent up front, sometimes the sound piece of mind of lowered carbon footprint is more rewarding than money…sometimes.

For Them To Answer Your Call

Finally you should always expect the remodeling expert to answer your call or to at least get back with you. Sure problems arise during the job but it’s better for them to face you than to hide for a couple weeks while the crew receives the brunt of your rage only to show up and collect a check at the end. A homeowner will find out they’d rather spend more and work with somebody whose cordial and in contact compared to somebody bids inexpensively but is kind of flighty.

Photo by Charles & Hudson

How to Find the Best Contractor: What to Look for and What to Look Out For

how to find a contractorWhether you’re searching for a building contractor to do a little repair project or you’re looking for a builder to create a custom home for you and your family, hiring the best contractor for the job is crucial to the project’s success. No matter what company or individual you hire for your construction project, it’s up to you to do the research to find the best contractor in your area.

But finding a reputable contractor in your area can be tough when there is nearly an endless list of contractors to choose from. To make matters worse, some contractors only work on specific projects such as kitchen remodeling, custom homes or basic repairs, making finding the right contractor for your project difficult at best.

While the work of finding a good contractor solely rests upon your shoulders, with a little research, some basic background checks and the following tips and techniques, you can be sure you’re going to find the right person for the job. Be sure to ask yourself these important questions before agreeing to any work and you’ll be sure to make the right choice when it comes to choosing the perfect building contractor.

Can they Perform the Services you’ve Requested for Your Project?

Because not all contracting services are the same, you’ll want to make sure that your contractor can do the work required for your particular project. While a general contractor might be able to install your windows, a contractor who specializes in window replacements will have more experience, knowledge and connections required for the job. Knowing if your contractor specializes in your type of project can help you to better mate their capabilities with your home improvement project.

Do they run a Reputable Company?

Getting basic background information on any person is fairly simple these days thanks to the internet. In just a few minutes and for a small amount of cash, you can instantly check the criminal history, work history and filed complaints of any contractor in the business.

Another important step to identifying a reputable construction firm is to make a quick call to your local building department as well as the Better Business Bureau. These city, county and state entities will let you know if any complaints have been made by past customers against the contractor. A building department will also have up to date information on a contractor’s license, bonds and insurance.

What Have Past Customers Said?

Always be sure to ask your potential contractor for at least five contactable references from past customers. It’s also prudent to ask for at least three references from current building material suppliers to make certain your impending contractor has paid their bills on time. With a long list of past satisfied customers and suppliers, you can become more certain that they run a respectable business and treat customers, subcontractors and suppliers with respect.

Who’s Actually Going to do the Work?

Many contractors tend to hire out for specific jobs and it’s rare that a building contractor will do all of the work themselves. That’s why it’s important to find out what subcontractors are going to perform work on your construction project. This will allow you to find out licensing and insurance data, important background information and what qualifications they have to do the work. It’s in your best interests to compile a list of all subcontractors who will be working on your job. It’s also a good idea to verify customer references, licensing and criminal background info before you sign any contracts. In many locations where a permit is required from the building department, subcontractor information is supplied by the contractor and can easily be referenced by the homeowner.

What’s in the Bid?

After you ensure that a contractor is reputable, it’s time for them to make a bid on the job. It’s sensible to have at least three contractors bid on your project to help you get the best deal possible. However, when receiving multiple bids from multiple contractors, it can be difficult to determine who has the best deal simply by looking at the price. While some contractors charge by the hour, others charge by the job, making it hard to compare apples to apples. Ask your bidding contractor to provide you with a cost breakdown list of materials and labor charges. This will help you effectively compare bids by allowing you to see exactly what is going into the project – and what is not.

What’s in the Contract?

After choosing the best bid for your project, you’ll be ready to sign a contract to start the project. Although not everyone is a lawyer when it comes to reading contracts, it is important to have a second party take a look over everything before you sign any contracts to help ensure you didn’t miss anything critical. If your contractor has offered you any specials deals, guarantees or warranties on materials or labor, make certain it’s written into the contract before you sign your name on the dotted line.

With a little bit of time and effort, you’ll be sure to avoid any headaches and troubles with unscrupulous contractors and find the best contractor for your construction project.

Photos by USACE HQ,