Five Key Takeaways from LakewoodAlive’s “Knowing Your Home: Bathroom Remodeling” Workshop

October 24, 2016

Longtime contractor Gary Lack glanced at the assembly of people before posing the question: “How many of you are living in a house built prior to 1940?”

LakewoodAlive Knowing Your Home Workshop

Contractor Gary Lack leads the discussion during Saturday’s workshop at Cleveland Lumber Company.

When nearly every hand shot up, Lack immediately knew his audience.  “This must be a Lakewood crowd.” It was a packed house and a Lakewood group indeed when 40 attendees gathered for LakewoodAlive’s “Knowing Your Home: Bathroom Remodeling” workshop on Saturday morning, Oct. 22, at Cleveland Lumber Company.  Lack led an insightful discussion regarding best practices for upgrading a residential bathroom.

If you happened to miss this particular workshop, we’ve got you covered.  Here are five key takeaways from “Knowing Your Home: Heating System 101:”

1. Play the waiting game.

It’s been said that patience is a virtue, and this famous proverb often applies to remodeling.  Lack recommends new homeowners refrain from undertaking a major project, bathroom-related or otherwise, during their first year within their residence and instead take that time to learn about the house.

2. Plan ahead.

When it comes to your bathroom remodeling project, planning is incredibly important.  The average bathroom project takes 18 business days to complete, according to Lack, but adequate planning must occur prior to that.  Whether hiring a contractor or embarking upon a DIY project, be sure your design plan is drawn out in advance.

3. Be prepared for additional costs.

There are unknowns involved with a bathroom remodeling project.  As such, it’s necessary to plan for unexpected costs.  This is especially true when you opt to demo rather than maintain the existing framework of your bathroom, as you simply don’t know what awaits behind walls and under flooring.

4. Seek expert help when necessary.

Design accuracy is particularly important in small spaces like bathrooms, where there is little margin for error.  If your project involves altering the footprint of your existing bathroom, it’s probably worthwhile to seek guidance from a design builder or architect.

5. It’s okay to take a gradual approach.

Sometimes you need to complete a bathroom remodeling project piecemeal due to budget constraints.  This approach typically works fine – so long as you plan ahead and map out the project in appropriate phases.  By taking a gradual approach, you can stay on budget and ultimately enjoy a much-improved bathroom.



Three Key Takeaways from LakewoodAlive’s “Knowing Your Home: Heating System 101” Workshop

October 11, 2016

When the weather starts to turn cold, it becomes a hot topic.  How can you succeed with heating your home in an efficient and affordable manner?

LakewoodAlive Heating System Workshop

Dave Slife, owner of Slife Heating & Cooling, has extensive experience with heating systems utilized in Lakewood. (Credit: The Lakewood Observer)

Dave Slife of Slife Heating & Cooling led a discussion regarding heating system options during LakewoodAlive’s latest homeowner education workshop on Saturday, Oct. 8.  “Knowing Your Home: Heating System 101” saw attendees gain insight into everything from furnace filters to steam heating to insulation.

If you happened to miss this particular workshop, we’ve got you covered.  Here are three key takeaways from “Knowing Your Home: Heating System 101:”

1. Change your furnace filter regularly.

For those with forced air heating systems, one of the most important maintenance tasks involves changing your furnace filter regularly. This will help ensure cleaner air, prevent your furnace from overworking and improve your HVAC system’s efficiency.  A good rule of thumb is to check your filter monthly during the heating season and to change it whenever it’s dirty.

2. Be knowledgeable about your hot water and steam heating system.

Some older homes, such as those found in Lakewood, have hot water and steam heating systems with boilers and radiators.  Such systems have both pros (fairly durable if maintained, provide clean and dust-free heat) and cons (less efficient and less even heating) associated with them.  Regardless of whether you ultimately opt to maintain your steam heating system or seek to replace it with forced air or another system, it’s worthwhile to have it inspected by an experienced technician prior to the start of winter.

3. Adequate insulation goes a long way.

Ensuring your home is sufficiently insulated represents one of the top ways to save on energy costs.  Through the end of the year, Dominion East Ohio is performing Home Energy Assessments for $25 (normally $50), which includes evaluating your heating system, insulation levels, water heater, windows and doors.  Dominion East Ohio will perform a blower test to check for leakage and will test combustible appliances.  For more information, call 877-287-3416 or visit



Five Key Takeaways from LakewoodAlive’s “Knowing Your Home: Wooden Step Repair and Replacement” Workshop

October 4, 2016

A group of area homeowners took the first step towards upgrading their porch steps on Saturday, Oct. 1, when they attended LakewoodAlive’s latest home maintenance workshop. Led by seasoned builder John Turner, “Knowing Your Home: Wooden Step Repair and Replacement” featured an on-site presentation providing a step-by-step approach to repairing and replacing wooden steps.  Participants gained valuable insight into the design and implementation of a step replacement.

If you happened to miss this particular workshop, we’ve got you covered.  Here are five key takeaways from “Knowing Your Home: Wooden Step Repair and Replacement.”

LakewoodAlive Wooden Steps Workshop

Builder John Turner leads an onsite presentation regarding wooden steps.

1. Weigh various factors when determining whether to attempt a DIY project.

If you opt to replace your wooden steps yourself, plan to purchase 20 percent more materials to account for mistakes, and be prepared to invest in necessary tools, such as a power saw.  In some cases, these don’t represent worthwhile investments and you’re better served to hire a contractor.

2. Know the specifics pertaining to Lakewood.

When it comes to repairing or replacing wooden steps in Lakewood, it’s important to note that the City of Lakewood does not require a permit, since the use of footers will not be necessary for this particular project.  Additionally, in Lakewood it’s worthwhile to recognize that the northwest corner of buildings tends to stay damp, and thus you might require extra protection from moisture if you’re working with steps located in this cardinal direction.

3. Follow the 7-11 rule for steps.

A good rule of thumb for step construction involves adhering to the 7-11 standard, meaning a 7-inch rise and an 11-inch run.  This guideline has long been considered consistent with the average human stride.  Utilize an online calculator to assist with determining rise over run ratios.

4. Implement a negative pitch to your steps.

It’s generally considered a best practice to incorporate pitch into your steps to encourage water drainage.  But rather than utilizing a positive pitch, consider implementing a negative pitch.  This will help minimize the risk of a slippery slope occurring when ice forms on your steps during winter.

5. Wait to paint your steps. Allow your new treated wooden stairs to age a bit and turn gray, then proceed with priming and painting them.  When installed properly, a wooden staircase can last 10-15 years or more, affording your home both tremendous functionality and aesthetical value.



Five Key Takeaways from LakewoodAlive’s “Knowing Your Home: Windows – When to Repair & When to Replace” Workshop

September 26, 2016

It was a window into the future of, well, windows. Homeowners in attendance at LakewoodAlive’s free workshop on Thursday, Sept 22, entitled “Knowing Your Home: Windows – When to Repair & When to Replace” were treated to a crash course regarding windows led by seasoned builder Fred Cortright.  With a focus on wooden windows, this workshop covered topics ranging from the anatomy of a window to how to maximize your windows’ efficiency to determining whether to repair or replace your old windows.

If you happened to miss this particular workshop, we’ve got you covered.  Here are five key takeaways from “Knowing Your Home: Windows – When to Repair & When to Replace.”

LakewoodAlive Window Workshop

Builder Fred Cortright shows off a wooden window during LakewoodAlive’s workshop.

1. Adequate insulation is of paramount importance.

When it comes to energy efficiency in the home, achieving proper insulation should be your top priority as a homeowner.  Insulation is where true energy cost savings occurs, and without having adequate insulation your windows won’t accomplish anything for you.  Consequently, it’s worthwhile to pursue a home energy assessment.  Dominion East Ohio’s audit program takes a comprehensive approach to help boost your home’s comfort and long-term value, while keeping your energy bills in check.  For a special rate of $25 through the end of September (valued at $500), your home will be evaluated as one interconnected system to understand exactly how it’s using energy.  Visit for details.

2. Older can be better.

Most Lakewood homes were built prior to 1950 and were constructed from old-growth wood.  The trees utilized for construction grew for a long time, and thus produced more durable wood.  Homes built since 1960 are typically composed of new-growth wood, which was grown quickly and lacks comparable durability.  By maintaining your home’s old-growth wood windows, you can help ensure your residence is equipped with durable windows that should last for a long time.

3. The best investment is often investing in the windows you already have.

Generally-speaking, it’s more cost-effective to repair your existing old-growth wooden windows rather than replace them with new windows.  On average, replacement windows (including installation) nowadays cost approximately $800 per window.  If you were to restore or repair your wooden windows, you’d likely save several hundred dollars per window and maintain windows that could potentially last another 100 years.   There are often simple fixes to modernize your existing windows and make them more effective.  In addition to the financial benefits, window replacement also wins out from an environmental standpoint.

4. Storm windows are your friend.

The most significant cost savings typically occur from installing storm windows and maintaining them properly.  Storm windows serve as a buffer for preventing wind and other elements from impacting your home.  While homeowners previously only had exterior storm windows, interior storm windows now represent a viable option as well.  In order for your home’s storm windows to prove truly effective, they should be professionally installed with airtight sealing.

5. Keep perspective, budget properly and be ready to prioritize.

There’s no magic formula when it comes to determining how to handle your home’s window needs.  Since new windows tend to be expensive, it’s worthwhile to developing a prioritization plan with a gradual approach based on your budget should you opt to pursue window replacement.  Additionally, it’s important to maintain realistic expectations.  New windows won’t save you hundreds of dollars in monthly energy costs when you don’t spend that time of money of energy costs to begin with.  But when you succeed with making the best decision based upon the various factors impacting your home, you can better ensure your windows work for you.



Five Key Takeaways from LakewoodAlive’s “Knowing Your Home: Roofing & Insulation Options” Workshop

August 25, 2016

What’s overhead at your home?  A group of homeowners and industry professionals spent an evening last week seeking to get on top of this question.

LakewoodAlive Knowing Your Home Workshop

LakewoodAlive’s latest “Knowing Your Home” workshop tackled roofing and insulation.

LakewoodAlive partnered with 1st Choice Roofing and Pure Seal to host “Knowing Your Home: Roofing & Insulation Options” on Thursday evening, Aug. 25.  The 10th installment of 2016 for LakewoodAlive’s popular workshop series featured discussions regarding energy efficiency, innovative roofing materials and the benefits associated with equipping your home with modern insulation technology.

For those who missed this informative workshop, here are five key takeaways from “Knowing Your Home: Roofing & Insulation Options.”

1. Secure an energy audit for your home.

If you haven’t done so already, now’s the time to pursue a home energy assessment.  Dominion East Ohio’s audit program takes a comprehensive approach to help boost your home’s comfort and long-term value, while keeping your energy bills in check.  For a special rate of $25 through the end of September (valued at $500), your home will be evaluated as one interconnected system to understand exactly how it’s using – and wasting – energy.  Your auditor will review your home’s heating system, water heater, insulation levels, windows and more.  Visit for more details.

2. Consider installing energy-efficient shingles.

Ideally, your attic and roof surface temperatures should remain within five to eight degrees of the remainder of your home, even when your attic is not being utilized as a living space.  For many homeowners, however, this temperature consistency does not exist.  Americans spend billions annually to air condition buildings.  By installing energy-efficient roofing shingles that deflect more of the sun’s rays, you can decrease the amount of heat entering your home through the roof and dramatically reduce your roof’s surface temperature.  This will enable you to achieve more consistency between your home’s temperature and that of your attic and roof.

LakewoodAlive Knowing Your Home Workshop

The latest installment of LakewoodAlive’s workshop series featured a discussion regarding innovative roofing materials.

3. Make sure your roof has an effective ice and water shield

An ice dam is an ice build-up on roofs of buildings which may cause water damage to the building if the water leaks through the roof.  By ensuring your roof features a modern ice and water shield, you’ll have peace of mind knowing a waterproofing membrane is in place to help prevent ice backup on your roof during the winter.

4. Be wary of DIY insulation projects. Don’t attempt a DIY insulation project unless you truly know what you’re doing, or have the assistance of someone who does.  Torsten Hansen, owner of Pure Seal, a Mentor-based foam insulation company, indicated he has witnessed numerous occasions in which homeowners were forced to spend thousands of dollars to undo improper insulation work.  A professional insulation service will evaluate your need, provide homeowner consultation and utilize a proven technique such as foam insulation and air sealing to insulate your home.  Contractors also have insight and knowledge regarding various types of insulation, best practices and return on investment, helping homeowners make informed decisions.

5. In general, Lakewood homes are well built.

Good news, Lakewood homeowners – generally-speaking, your homes are well built.  There’s a reason many Lakewood homes have existed for close to 100 years or more.  Much of the city’s housing stock was built with intentionally-porous materials that allow for adequate air exchange, keeping the wood comprising a home’s structure healthy and dry.  When implementing insulation to improve energy efficiency, it’s important to recognize that your home’s air exchange must be maintained.  An increased moisture level can ultimately cause problems for beautiful, old homes like those found throughout Lakewood.


Five Key Takeaways from LakewoodAlive’s “Knowing Your Home: Living Roofs” Workshop

June 17, 2016

An eco-friendly idea is sprouting in urban areas, and area homeowners might have an opportunity to participate. While much ground-level greenspace within our cities has already been utilized, acres upon acres of untapped potential for greenery exist overhead.

LakewoodAlive Living Roofs Workshop

The latest installment of our home educational series explored the benefits and challenges associated with living roofs.

Prior to Thursday night’s Cleveland Cavaliers’ victory, LakewoodAlive hosted its “Knowing Your Home: Living Roofs” workshop at The University of Akron Lakewood. The ninth installment of 2016 for this free home educational series explored the benefits and challenges associated with living roofs – those building roofs that are covered with vegetation and a growing medium.

Following introductions by LakewoodAlive Board Member Kerri Rodgers and LakewoodAlive Housing Outreach Director Allison Urbanek, the podium belonged to J. Meiring Borcherds, Program Coordinator for the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, who spent more than an hour discussing the merits of this emerging green technology. The green roof concept has gained momentum in our region’s commercial building industry, yet few residential examples exist so far among Northeast Ohio homeowners.

“Everyone wants the Earth to be a happier, healthier place, and this evening we’re venturing into a green strategy that’s relatively new for our city,” Urbanek told the Lakewood-area homeowners in attendance. “Thank you for caring about the environment and thinking forward.” Lakewood Garden Center furnished an array of succulent plants for Thursday’s workshop to serve as prime examples of living roof vegetation.

For those who were unable to attend Thursday, here are five key takeaways from our “Knowing Your Home: Living Roofs” workshop:

1. The environmental benefits to living roofs are numerous.

From reducing stormwater runoff to filtering pollutants from the air to creating natural habitats for wildlife, the environmental advantages to living roofs are as diverse as they are plentiful. Borcherds described how living roofs help mitigate the “heat island” effect often experienced in urban areas by radiating heat away from buildings and reducing the temperature in the immediate environment.

2. Various examples of living roofs already exists in Northeast Ohio.

Although the potential for living roof installation by homeowners in our region remains largely untapped, there are many examples of commercials buildings already boasting this green technology. These include the Cleveland Convention Center in downtown Cleveland, the Cleveland Metroparks’ Watershed Stewardship Center in Parma and the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes in Shaker Heights, to name a few.

LakewoodAlive Living Roofs Workshop

Lakewood Garden Center furnished an array of succulent plants for Thursday’s workshop to serve as prime examples of living roof vegetation.

3. Lakewood’s steeply-sloped roofs are capable of supporting this green technology.

Many buildings with living roofs have only minor slopes, yet this technology can also be accomplished with Lakewood’s older housing stock, much of which features steeply-sloped roofs. Need proof? Simply consider Germany, which has a reputation as a leader in living roofs despite having many homes with roof structures similar to that of Lakewood’s housing stock. Please contact Urbanek at 216-521-0655 for recommendations regarding which local roofing companies can supply and install living roofs.

4. There are potential economic benefits to living roofs as well.

In addition to positive environmental impact, living roofs can also assist homeowners economically. It’s anticipated that cities will increasingly impose stormwater runoff fees in the future, and a living roof could help you manage this expense. Moreover, Borcherds estimates living roofs can last 10 years longer than traditional roofs because of the insulation and protection these roofs are afforded.

5. The emerging popularity of living roofs is…through the roof.

Like a classic Lakewood home with strong bones, the living roof concept is not going away anytime soon. According to Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC), the green roof and wall industry association, the living roofs industry grew 18.5 percent in 2015, with its popularity expected to continue skyrocketing in the coming years.



Five Key Takeaways from LakewoodAlive’s “Knowing Your Home: Solar 101” Workshop

June 12, 2016

The potential of that fiery orange sphere in the sky is nearly limitless.  When it comes to energy efficiency, the sun has the power to be our greatest ally as homeowners. That was the premise behind the “Knowing Your Home: Solar 101” workshop held Saturday morning, June 11, at a private residence at 2147 Dowd Avenue within the Historic Birdtown Neighborhood.  Approximately 30 area citizens attended the latest installment of LakewoodAlive’s home educational series seeking to explore the merits of outfitting a home with solar power capabilities in order to harness the sun’s energy-emitting rays.

LakewoodAlive Knowing Your Home workshop

Rob Martens, President of Bold Alternatives, led a presentation during Saturday’s workshop.

Following opening remarks by Mike Foley of the Cuyahoga County Department of Sustainability, Rob Martens, President of Bold Alternatives, the largest solar installer in Northeast Ohio, provided a presentation regarding solar energy solutions and best practices available to homeowners.  He received assistance from Myles Murray, President of AAT Solar, another locally-based solar power provider. Throughout their presentation and the ensuing tour of the host residence that had been equipped with solar power by Bold Alternatives, Martens and Murray imparted knowledge detailing the many benefits associated with solar power, explaining why this green technology represents the future of electrical energy.

“This is an industry that’s growing with no end in sight,” said Murray, emphasizing both the economic and environmental advantages to solar power.  “I like to tell my customers: ‘The best time to get solar was last year, and the next best time is right now.’”

Here are five key takeaways from LakewoodAlive’s “Knowing Your Home: Solar 101” workshop:

1. The sun produces an incredible amount of energy.

It’s difficult to grasp the enormity of the energy potential the sun affords our planet.  According to Martens, the amount of solar energy that hits the Earth’s surface in 40 minutes equals the total annual energy consumption of all the world’s people.  Or put differently, 27 years’ worth of worldwide energy consumption equals only one day’s worth of solar energy reaching the Earth.  However, only a fraction of the sun’s potential energy production is currently leveraged as an energy source for electricity.  “If we could convert some greater portion of the sun’s energy to electricity, that would be a tremendous benefit to society,” said Martens.

2. Our region is actually well-suited for solar power utilization

Northeast Ohio may experience its share of overcast days, but make no mistake: Our region is positioned well to capitalize on solar power.  Although our solar power generation is approximately 20 percent less than that of Florida, our capability is about 20 percent more than that of Germany, which represents one of the world’s leading countries for solar power installations.  Moreover, even though solar production is slightly less efficient in Ohio when compared to other parts of our country, solar panels tend to last longer here since they don’t endure exposure to intense sun or saltwater.

LakewoodAlive Solar 101 workshop

The residence at 2147 Dowd Avenue with solar power capability is expected to go on the market in the coming weeks.

3. The advantages associated with solar energy are indeed numerous

The benefits of solar power range from longterm cost savings to durability to reduced environmental footprint.  Solar power systems typically have a service life of 30-50 years, yet only require approximately a decade of usage to realize a return on investment.  Solar energy has proven safe, quiet, reliable and low-maintenance.  Additionally, installation of solar panels can have a significant impact on home value.  A study conducted by the National Appraisal Institute indicates that for every $1,000 saved in your annual energy costs, $20,000 is added to the value of your home.

4. There are ways to reduce the cost burden of solar power

There’s no denying that solar panel installation represents a sizable investment that can cost homeowners $15,000 or more.  However, between financing options, federal investment tax credits and community cooperative discounted solar purchasing programs such as those offered by Bold Alternatives and AAT Solar, many strategies exist to make the upfront cost of this alternative energy technology more manageable.  The cost burden for achieving solar power need not be insurmountable.

5. The home at 2147 Dowd Avenue will soon be on the market.

Want to take advantage of solar power without having it installed at your current residence?  Well, you might be in luck.  The City of Lakewood purchased the home at 2147 Dowd Avenue in 2013 and has spent the last several years converting it from four apartments into a single-family home, as well as creating an energy-efficient residence through the installation of solar panels.  The City of Lakewood anticipates putting this home up for sale within the next month.  Despite the massive renovation, 2147 Dowd Avenue retains its century-home charm and continues to fit well within the fabric of the Historic Birdtown Neighborhood.



Five Key Takeaways from LakewoodAlive’s “Knowing Your Home: How to Contract a Repair” Workshop

May 21, 2016

Lakewood’s known as the “City of Beautiful Homes,” yet as many residents have discovered, maintaining our renowned-yet-aging housing stock requires more than a little TLC on the part of homeowners. It’s for this reason that LakewoodAlive hosted its annual free workshop – Knowing Your Home: How to Contract a Repair – on Thursday evening, May 19.

The latest installment of the home educational series drew area homeowners to the Lakewood Public Library-Madison Branch to share home repair insights and learn from past horror stories. Where should you turn upon discovering your residence requires a professional repair job?  It’s a question many Lakewood homeowners have pondered.  But rather than blindly searching the Internet, it’s worthwhile to start by contacting Allison Urbanek, LakewoodAlive’s Housing Outreach Director and host of Thursday’s workshop.

“First and foremost, I’m here to serve as an advocate for you and your home,” Urbanek told attendees.  Formerly employed by the Home Repair Resource Center in Cleveland Heights and now the proud owner of a “fix-upper” in Lakewood, Urbanek has extensive experience with assisting Lakewoodites through the repair process.

Knowing Your Home Lakewood

Allison Urbanek, LakewoodAlive’s Housing Outreach Director, addresses attendees at Thursday’s Knowing Your Home workshop.

Thursday’s workshop focused on seeing through a home repair project from start to finish, including how to approach the potential minefield that is selecting the right contractor for your job.  Here are five key takeaways from Knowing Your Home: How to Contract a Repair:

1.  Do Your Homework

It’s imperative that you learn as much as possible about your project before contracting a repair.  Being knowledgeable helps safeguard you from being taken advantage of and guides your vision for a desired finished product.  Know where you fall along on the scale of lowest price vs. best quality.  Contact the City of Lakewood’s Division of Housing and Building to determine if your repair requires a permit.  Utilize LakewoodAlive, Angie’s List or the Better Business Bureau to research prospective contractors.  Seek at least two contractor estimates and be sure to request and call references.  Your preparedness will ultimately save you time, money and sanity.

2.  Get It In Writing

We can’t stress this enough.  When you seek estimates for a repair job, get the prospective contractor to detail the specifics in writing.  Have a list of items you want repaired, ask questions and make sure the estimate addresses the full scope of your desired repair services, including any warranties that exists for materials or labor.  Doing so helps ensure the finished product lives up to your expectations.  An estimate that’s not in writing is like a home with strong curb appeal but a shaky foundation – it might seem fine from the outside but it likely won’t stand the test of time.

3.  Sleep On It

When it comes to your home, major decisions need not be made hastily.  Whether you’re seeking an estimate or preparing to submit a final payment to a contractor, sleep on your decision first, so you can reread the fine print or re-examine the finished product with a fresh set of eyes.  Are you happy with how the job turned out?  Although a down payment may be required, most contractors should be willing to grant you 24 hours following the project’s completion to submit final payment.  If you encounter a contractor who’s pushy, pressuring you to make decisions, chances are that’s not the right partner for your project.

4.  You’re The Boss

There are many instances in life where you’re likely at the mercy of the decision making of others.  Thankfully, your home represents an exception to this rule.  As a homeowner undertaking a repair project, you get to call the shots.  Work with your contractor to tailor the project to meet your needs and tastes.  Request a project timeline and hold your contractor accountable for sticking to it.  Don’t be afraid to require approval for any additional work that arises during the project, or to require notification if subcontractors will be utilized.  You’re the boss, after all, and the buck stops with you.

5.  Be Proactive Rather Than Reactionary

Positive outcomes tend to occur for homeowners who take control of their repair situations rather than simply responding to a repair need after it arises.  Practice preventative medicine and learn to anticipate upcoming home repair requirements.  Set aside home repair funds when possible and seek out banks offering low-interest home improvement loans.  Have a preferred contractor who’s licensed and bonded in mind before your next home repair need presents itself.  By taking a proactive approach to your home and its future repair needs, you can enjoy the myriad benefits home ownership entails while minimizing your stress level.



The Housing Outreach Program is your one-stop for your housing repair needs. Lakewood’s homes are beautiful and they are old. Basic home maintenance can avoid costly repairs later down the road.

Knowing Your Home- Workshop #2 March 12, 2016 Knowing Your Home: Pruning Tree & Shrubs in your Landscape

By Allison Urbanek-

This was the second year that we have partnered with Bob Rensel, Arborist, to present a workshop about tree and shrub pruning in our landscapes. Bob presented an easy to follow presentation starting from the basics of the anatomy of trees and shrubs and then presented tips and tricks on when to do what with our trees and shrubs. A few tips are:

  • Start with research on what trees and shrubs  you have in your yard. If you’re not sure try doing internet searches or head to your local garden center to ask a few questions and share a few photos.
  • By knowing what you have in your yard, you can be aware of what to search when looking for more information regarding diseases, pruning tricks, longevity etc.
  • When pruning, the best job is when you cannot tell that you’ve pruned. In any one season, never remove more than one third of the plant at one time.
  • Do your homework when you are shopping for trees and shrubs. Know how big they will get- make sure that you are planting what you want, where you want so that your home doesn’t get swallowed up!
  • Poor air circulation is not good for your plants, so make sure to clean out and thin out your plants, allowing for growth, sunlight and air to move through your plants.
  • When to prune?
    • Prune plants now ( March/April) when they don’t have leaves
    • They are coming out of dormancy
    • Plants that have flowers that bloom before July 1st prune them late fall- their buds set early
    • Plants that bloom later, go ahead and prune early spring
  • Landscaping should compliment your house, not cover it.
  • Please review the handout and the powerpoint from the workshop

Tree Pruning & Shrubs Pruning Powerpoint

A very big thank you to Bob Rensel for another wonderful presentation.


Knowing Your Home- Workshop #1 February 25, 2016

By: Allison Urbanek

Last week we hosted our first workshop of the season at Buckeye Beer Engine on Madison Avenue. Each year we kick the season off with a workshop that provides an overview of our housing stock and highlights the major systems of our homes. This year we partnered with Aaron Westerburg of Inspection Tech.  Aaron has been in the home inspection business for over 10 years. He has a wealth of knowledge about  the main systems of the house and did an awesome job explaining and highlighting them.  He also included home repair information for people who are looking to buy or sell a home, providing examples of the dos and don’ts of repairs to explain where you get the most bang for your buck! Here are a few of tips that he shared with the group:

  • There are 12 major systems of a house
    • Exterior
    • Roofing
    • Garage
    • Attic Spaces
    • Interior Rooms
    • Bathrooms
    • Kitchen
    • Appliances
    • Foundation and Structure
    • Electrical System and Panel
    • Plumbing System and Water Heater
    • HVAC System
  • When considering a roof replacement, you need to take your materials into consideration-i.e. if you have a slate roof has it been maintained well? Perhaps  with a proper maintenance plan it can be affordably maintained or if it hasn’t been maintained, is the cost to repair it going to be a realistic repair?
  • Attic Spaces- If you are considering a new roof, make sure to research ventilation options and what will work best for your home- Box vents, ridge vents and do you have proper soffit ventilation?
  • Bathrooms- Do you have proper ventilation? Do you have a fan to take out the heat and moisture? Does the vent go outside or does it vent into your attic space causing mold and mildew?
  • Structural Issues- Do you have cracks in your foundation? Are they vertical or horizontal? Horizontal cracks are concerning, call a professional to come and have a look at them. Vertical cracks may just be the house settling. Keep an eye on them and notice what is happening around them- is there water after a big rain? Are you seeing efflorecence  or other bubbling, peeling or buckling?

These are just a few tips and thoughts for consideration. Below you will find the full presentation.

Feb 2016 Knowing Your Home-Inspection Tech

Don’t hesitate to reach out to Allison, our Housing Director or Inspection Tech with any questions you may have regarding your home repairs.


That pesky draft finally did me in!

I know, I know. I have written probably way too much about drafts. I IMG_20150216_194920have preached about the importance of finding them and dealing with them. Well, the draft that did me in was one behind my bathroom wall. You may be saying to yourself “The bathroom wall?” Yes, the bathroom wall. Sunday night, why do these things always happen on a Sunday night? This past Sunday on our fourth day of sub zero temperatures Dave went to take a shower and there wasn’t any hot water. He tested all other faucets and they all had hot water, so he Googled it and no problem, it was a simple fix. All we had to do was change the cartridge in the shower handle. So we loaded up, went to the store, bought a new cartridge and watched a YouTube video on how to replace it. This took five minutes, we were so excited, high fiving one and other and turned it on and still no hot water. At this point we removed the access panel to the area behind the shower. When I say access panel, I mean enough space to reach your head in but not enough space to get a flashlight and your head in at the same time, helpful right? So, I reach my hand back there and touch the pipes (we have CPVC pipes) and they were pretty warm until I followed the pipe down to the elbow. It was so cold! Drafts from two different directions just blowing away directly on the pipe. The icing on the cake-the freaking icing on the cake- was that the pipe elbow was sitting, SITTING on the soil stack which is metal. For those of you who don’t know, the soil stack is metal and starts on the outside of your roof and goes all the way down to your basement. So the cold air travels down your soil stack, basically the outside temperature tends to be what your soil stack will feel like. So, my plastic pipe that was not insulated was sitting on top of a bend in my soil stack which caused the pipe to freeze. This was the reason that we didn’t have hot water in the shower. I share all of this information because there are multiple layers here that needed to be attended to. First of all, who installed this pipe and allowed it to rest on the metal soil stack? I don’t know the answer, but shame on you! Secondly, we had to figure out how to defrost the pipe doing our best to not let it burst. We were able to put a small electrical heater in the access area. It is a newer one so it was cool to touch and if it fell or tipped it would shut off (safety first). We also turned up the heat in the house and kept the access panel off to allow for warm air to fill the space. We shut off the hot water to the bathroom, but left the tub faucet open to allow for drips as the pipe thawed. We specifically did that so if the pipe burst there would only be the water in the pipe that would go through the ceiling and wall minimizing any damage.  We basically had to hurry up and wait. It took about 18 hours to thaw the pipe out. Finally, once we did the happy dance that the pipe did not burst and we could shower again, we insulated the access area. As I mentioned there were two drafts that were blowing outside air directly on to our pipes. We filled the cracks in the wood with spray foam. This is a great product because it expands and fills these areas well. We then placed pink fiberglass insulation on the outside walls. This method prevents any further drafts. Next, we purchased insulation tape for the joints and bends in the pipes. This is a sticky insulation tape (it is shiny) that will stick to those hard to reach areas as well as provide extra coverage to those delicate areas. We then used the foam tubes to insulate the actual pipes. At the end of the day, I had foam insulation in my hair and on my hands and face, I lost our only flashlight in the wall (don’t ask) but we were able to tackle this terrible situation and come out swimmingly at the end. One of many lessons learned throughout this debacle, wear gloves when using spray foam, trust me. All of the items that you need can be purchased at our local hardware store and  are surprisingly low cost items that have a huge payback. For more detailed information, check out this helpful article from diy network. ~ by: Allison Urbanek

Repair vs. Replacement for Your Household Appliances

I don’t know about you, but appliance shopping stresses me out almost as much as car shopping. When should you throw in the towel and just replace something instead of trying to fix it? Around my birthday last year my dishwasher stopped working. We weren’t sure how old it was but thanks to technology we were able to google the product number and determine that the model itself was over 20 years old, which would make sense because the beast sounded like a freight train. To repair or to replace became the hot topic around the house. My husband kept tossing around just waiting a little while to do anything, (gee…I wonder why… dishwashing is not one of his household chores.) Waiting was definitely not an option. Upon further examination, my dishwasher had been leaking slowly down to the basement and actually rusted out one of the valves on my plumbing pipes, so replacement went out the window, it was time to replace the inefficient hunk of metal. Now, I am not sure if you’ve shopped for a dishwasher recently but they’ve come a long way in the past twenty years. The most noticeable difference is how light they’ve become, I think that my grandma could have lifted the machine over her head. Ok, so that is a bit of an exaggeration, but it was alarming to me how light they were. So this added to the stress questions like “How much should we spend?,” “ Do we need LED lighting and stainless steel on the door?” All of these questions kept floating through my head. So we decided to begin the online research and window shopping approach, commission vs. noncommission shopping also became a focus. I became very disappointed with the commissioned sales people, I would give them my budget (which was $300-$700) and they automatically tell me that they had nothing in my price range and to check out this model that happened to be over $1,000. We figured out the bells and whistles that we wanted- a ‘clean’ light, front panel buttons and a ‘delay’ button allowing me to load up and forget it and it could run while we were sleeping. We did our research online and found a brand and a look that worked for us and began our search for the best price. We found that most stores will price match with proof from the other store. We also really liked the floor model option because it offered a great discount and allowed to try out the dishwasher to see how we liked it. We ended up right in the middle of our budget and even got a smudge-proof stainless door (score!) The moral of the story became that we needed to do a lot of front end research, and with most things, know what we were looking for before we got there. The noncommissioned sales people stores were very helpful and were willing to sit with us as long as we needed to all of our questions answered. Check out a few helpful websites that will help you take the guess work out of appliance shopping. Consumer Reports can be helpful, while it is a pay website, you can still gain access to helpful information without paying the subscription fee. Good Housekeeping prides themselves on their seal of approval. Their website has a lot of great info on several types of appliances. Houselogic has a very handy guide to determine if you should repair or replace your appliance.

Tip#1 How to Unclog a Drain Without Chemicals

Here is an easy to use and inexpensive tool designed to unclog that drain. It is called the Zip-It tool check out this cool video (don’t click if you are eating or anticipate eating soon, trust us). This product is easy to use and doesn’t require harmful chemicals to work. It is under  three bucks and is probably one of the best purchases you will make all week. You can find this handy tool at Lakewood Hardware and other retailers in the area. Watch how it works

Tip#2 Keeping Your House Cool During the Warm Weather

Check out these helpful tips.

  • Keep your windows closed and your shades pulled during the day to keep out unwanted heat and humidity
  • Utilize a power vent or attic vent fan to help pull the warm air up and out of the house
  • If you do use an air conditioner, make sure to have it routinely maintained and always check the filter to make sure it is clean.


Tip#3 April Showers bring May flowers and green grass

Here are a few tips to help you naturally maintain and improve your yard.

  • Mow high, set the deck on your mower to the highest setting
  • Test your soil, this is a great way to find out what your soil needs
  • Use a healthy and friendly fertilizer

Check out this helpful article from This Old House and make sure to stop up and see our friends at Lakewood Hardware and Lakewood Garden Center to find earth and family friendly products.

Tip#4 And if your lawn gets too carried away…

Here are some earth and family friendly grass killers that will help you maintain your gardens and sidewalks Ways to kill grass

  • Boiling Water
  • Vinegar
  • Salt

Check out this article from the SF Gate to find out how to make your weeding life a little easier.