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Getting Your Home Ready for Winter Checklist



Here is a quick checklist to help you prepare your home for the winter season.

  1.   Prepare your lawnmower for storage by adding Sta-bil gasoline stabilizer and sharpen blade.
  2.   Store your garden hoses and turn off outside water.
  3. Turn off underground sprinklers and winterize the system.
  4. Caulk around doors and windows to keep winter drafts and moisture out.
  5. Clean your gutters and downspout extensions.
  6.  Inspect your roof for loose shingles and flashing.
  7. Check your chimney and chimney cap.
  8. Install heat tapes on roof and in gutters if necessary.
  9. Have your furnace checked.
  10. Close fireplace damper.


If you really want to be on top of the your home maintenance for the entire year, fill in your email address below and I will send you as my gift to you the Contractor John “ Home Maintenance Yearly Checklist.
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Installing a Saddle Valve for Humidifier or Ice Maker

This time of year in the Midwest bring many changes to our lives. Changing the clocks means leaving and returning home in the dark. Another change is the indoor air quality in our homes. The cold dry air of winter reminds us it is time to turn on the humidifier.

I just received a call from a relative who just turned on the water supply to the humidifier and it was now leaking. After a couple of questions, followed by a suggestion the problem was remedied in a few minutes. This phone call got me to thinking about those troublesome saddle valves that supply water to a humidifier or ice makers.

Safety first, NEVER EVER use a saddle valve for any kind of gas, only water. A saddle valve gets its name from the way it looks, like a saddle on a horse. They are an inexpensive way to get water to a humidifier, or ice makers, etc. There are several slightly different versions but all have the same parts and are installed the same.

You will be working on a live water pipe so before you begin locate the water shutoff in your home, just in case you need to quickly turn the water off.

Take a look at the picture below and carefully look at the parts of the valve I have labeled.


The saddle is the part that wraps around the pipe, and is held together by 2 screws or bolts. The seat of the valve is where the needle valve (or stem valve) travels through and punctures the pipe. Between the seat and the pipe is a rubber gasket that seals the area around the needle valve puncture. The needle valve works well on copper and plastic pipe, but not very well on galvanized pipe.

The first step to install the valve is to clean the pipe all the way around where the valve is going to be installed, generally with a light sanding. Next position the valve around the pipe, with the output connection and top of the needle valve in a position that you can easily access both.


Take into consideration where the output line has to run to. When positioning the saddle valve around the pipe be careful to make sure the gasket is seated properly. One trick is to screw the needle valve down until it barely touches the pipe, allowing you to properly center the gasket. When you have the gasket properly seated tighten the saddle valve, evenly, alternate with a couple turns on each side until good and snug.

Next connect the output line to the saddle valve, leaving plenty of extra length and place the end in a bucket or floor drain. You are now ready to turn on the water. Slowly turn the needle valve so it pierces the pipe. When you cannot turn it by hand anymore slowly back twist it backwards. Water should now begin to come out of the end of the output pipe. If not then repeat turning it in to pierce the pipe.

Once you see water coming out the output pipe close the valve and connect the output line to your humidifier, ice maker, etc. now turn it on one final time, checking for leaks.

If it does leak from the needle valve stem, then you needs to very slowly tighten the nut (packing nut) that surrounds the needle valve (refer to picture). If it leaks from the gasket area, check to make sure the screws holding the saddle valve to the pipe are tight.

A common practice is to turn the saddle valve off when you turn off the humidifier in the spring. If you do this, it is likely in the fall when you turn it back on it will leak from the needle valve stem. Not to worry, just turn the packing nut slightly until the leaking stops.

If you need to ever replace the entire valve, turn the water off and open the faucets of a sink at a lower level to drain water from the pipes. Remove the saddle valve and take it to the store with you to make sure you purchase a new one with the same size needle valve. Follow the above steps to install the new saddle valve with one additional step. When you fit the saddle valve to the pipe, lining up the gasket and needle valve will be next to impossible unless you extend the needle valve, then apply the gasket and insert the protruding needle valve into the existing hole. Then continue following the steps as outlined above.

Follow the above steps and you will have a successful installation of a saddle valve.

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Creating The Perfect Backyard for Summer

Creating the Perfect Backyard for Summer

By Mary Sauer

Summer has a way of infusing our lives with a carefree nature, so that we give up on rigid schedules and early bedtimes in exchange for late evenings spent with barbecues or drinks on the patio. And that’s why the addition of a backyard space, designed specifically to your needs and lifestyle, is the perfect way to embrace the very best of the summer season. Whether you plan to entertain, or are simply looking for a quiet outdoor space to enjoy iced tea and a good book, your backyard can be transformed into a relaxing place to spend your free time with friends and family. Creating a summer backyard sanctuary doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive—here are a few tips for getting started.


Design Your Backyard to Fit Your Lifestyle

The first thing to consider before starting your backyard remodel is how you hope to spend your summer days. Do you like to entertain large groups of people? Or do you prefer to spend quiet evenings with a book and a glass of wine in hand? As with any home improvement project, function is just as important as beauty. If you plan to entertain, include plenty of room for seating, space for a grill, and consider adding a fire pit or a pool if your budget allows. If a solitary retreat from the busyness of everyday life is what you desire, a comfortable set of patio chairs, a hammock, and a pergola decked out with climbing plants can create the perfect atmosphere.

Know When to Hire a Pro

Chances are high you will be able to tackle a lot of your backyard remodel yourself, since basic lawn care and landscaping can be learned by most. However, there is a time and place when hiring a pro is necessary. If you plan to add hardscaping to your backyard, such as a patio, deck, or fire pit, consider the benefits of finding a skilled contractor for the job. Hardscaping requires the ground to be properly prepared and any structures installed will need to be weatherproofed if you hope to get years of enjoyment out of your backyard space. A hardscaping expert understands the unique demands of your specific climate and will have the necessary required training.

Consider the Health of The Earth and Your Family

Lawn care can be beneficial to your health and the health of the environment, but it can also be incredibly harmful if you are not careful. Before selecting any chemicals for your lawn, research the products being used and the effects they could have on your health and your lawn. At Home Improvement Leads, we prioritize green living and have been thrilled to find there are many environmentally-friendly lawn products. If pesticides or weed killers cannot be avoided, make sure you understand how long you or your pets should stay clear of your lawn to avoid exposure to harmful chemicals.


It is too easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of everyday life, running to and from work or driving kids to their next activity. Embrace the slow pace of summer—because it’s over before you know it—and get started with a backyard retreat you can enjoy with your friends and family all season long

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Do You Have a Fresh Air House?


All houses are drafty to some extent, although older homes seem to have more “fresh air” flowing through them.  When talking drafts,  most people are referring to winter time cold air drafts. They seem to forget if the cold air enters in the winter then the hot air will enter in the summer when you are using the air conditioning.  Stopping the drafts is a great way to save energy and therefore energy dollars.


To find a solution we must first know if we are talking about an already completed house or a house that is under construction. If you are talking about an existing completed house, the answer is yes you can improve or correct some of this air infiltration, but not all of it. If it is a new home under construction, there are various construction products and methods that can be used to virtually eliminate these pesky drafts.


Please take note that you can go too far, making the house “to tight”. Indoor pollutants such as cleaning products, scented candles, etc., or off gassing from carpet, furniture finishes, etc. can contaminate the air inside a home.


There are several ways to calculate and measure the air transfer/leakage inside your home. The official measurement method is called “Air Changes per Hour or ACH.  In the average built home the ACH is generally in the 4 to 6 ACH range. The recommended Air Changes per Hour (ACH) is 1.5 to 2.5, with an absolute minimum being .5 ACH. In my opinion an ACH of .5 or even a 1.0 ACH would have the stuffy feeling, or stale and stagnant air. Also keep in mind the more times the exterior door is opened the more air is exchanged, and this will in part depend on how many people are in that space.


It is best to test and find where the major drafts are coming from and correct the worst areas first. Pick a windy day and use an incense stick, or a wooden matchstick to “see” the draft. The smoke trail is the trick, hold it next to windows and electrical openings, really any opening. Now observe how the smoke reacts, obviously the more movement of the smoke trail the stronger the draft.  After identifying the major areas, use the appropriate material to seal that area.


Sealing your home and saving on energy is a great way to save energy dollars, but not the easiest to prove exactly how much you saved, because the outside conditions are constantly changing. Rest assured the less the furnace and air conditioning actually run the more money you will save.
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First Time Homebuyers: 5 Critical Questions to Ask


It’s the American dream, own your own home and raise your family in it. Buying your own home, actually the home buying process is a difficult and often confusing one. Here are 5 questions you need to ask yourself and discuss with your partner before you buy.


  • How Much Home Can You Afford?

This can be a tricky question to answer, but the best answer seems to be about 25% of your net income, that is after taxes. Lenders will typically calculate using your gross salary. Somewhere between 25% and 30% is the safe zone. Anything approaching or above 35% is the danger zone. You need to have some flexibility if other household costs unexpectedly increase, or 1 person loses their job, it should still be manageable so keep it close to 25%. Preferably you should obtain a 30 year mortgage. This will keep the maximum payment low in case of hardship, but still allows the flexibility of pre-payment of principle l to decrease the loan length and thus the interest dollars you are spending.


  • Am I Ready To Own A Home?

Home ownership also comes with a lot of responsibilities and costs. We will talk about costs associated with the purchase later. What I am talking about here is asking yourself questions, and answering honestly, questions like am I fiscally responsible, can I follow a budget, am I an impulsive spender, and am I able to perform normal home maintenance. Is your job stable and conducive to home ownership?


  • What Are The Other Costs?

There can be other significant costs involved in securing your loan, such as down payment, loan fees, moving expenses, utility deposits, to name a few. One word about loan fees, specifically loan origination fees and/or points. Do not pay them, you can do better; shop around for a better loan program.


  • What Are My Lifestyle Needs?

Make yourself a list of needs and wants. Things I must have, such as close to public transportation, access to area expressways, area restaurants, shopping, schools, etc.  I suggest you make a “test drive” from your new home to your place of employment during your normal commute time and back again.


  • What Are My Long Range Goals?

This question requires you to look into your crystal ball and foretell the future. If and when you start a family is this where you want to raise your children? Are the local schools the schools you would want your children to attend? If you will be starting a family does this house have the necessary bedrooms and space to start a family?  Will you be the caretaker of an elderly parent, what if they had to move in with your family, is there enough space.

The above questions are by no means all inclusive. Hopefully these questions have started you in the right direction and have pushed you along the road to successful home ownership.
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Warning Signs of a Faulty Foundation


We have all have heard someone defending a house by saying “but the foundation is solid. Could you notice the early warning signs of a failing foundation? A complete inspection of the foundation and the ability to see signs of a failing foundation are critical. Following is an outline of what to look for.

Cracking, bowing and off setting are three types of conditions that should be monitored. We will begin by taking a look at cracking.
SmallHairlineCrackFRAMEMinor cracking can occur in poured concrete and cinder block foundations. These are caused by the drying and curing process and should be no reason for alarm. These hairline cracks generally stem from a corner of a foundation window or beam pocket in a concrete foundation and mortar lines in a cinder block foundation. Examine and monitor any existing cracks for signs of shifting either in or out, where the surface on either side of the crack is not on the same plane. Monitoring of a crack over time will allow you to notice any movement or growth in the size of the crack.

The second type of failure is foundation bowing. Concrete foundations rarely bow and when they do it is a major failure. Cinder block foundations are more prone to bowing. Bowing or leaning of the foundation would be a telltale sign of foundation failure.BowingFoundation


Excessive water leakage through the foundation wall is an early sign of impending failure. Early signs of this would be any sediment, flaking of the paint or finish, would be a sign of water infiltration and possible failure. LargeCrackEffervesence

Cracking can be repaired but first you must address the reason for the ongoing cracking. This will require consultation with a foundation expert of structural engineer. Bowing can also be repaired, through several methods, but the visual effects of the repair can decrease the future re-sale value of the home.



For the regular everyday homeowner I would advise you stay away from homes with either of these conditions unless you receive a significant discount.

If you are absent any of these warning signs you can be reasonably certain of a strong foundation.
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6 Must Haves for Move Up Home Buyers


As a move-up home buyer you have had time to figure out your lifestyle. What works for you and your family and what doesn’t. Here are 6 tips to help you select that new home for you and your family that will make life more enjoyable.

  • Technology: USB wall outlets, WiFi friendliness, Bluetooth addressable security systems and heating systems. Smart energy usage appliances, are a few of the must haves in technology.
  • Spa Like Master Baths: Open and spacious, large showers with body sprays, seating and a steam room option. Heated floors, heated towel racks, and in wall televisions for this multi tasking generation.
  • Large Kitchens: Large social gathering areas think multi tasking. Islands cannot be too large. Seating at the island is crucial and versatility in these area are essential to the move up buyer.
  • Laundry Rooms: Compact and efficient stack-able laundry units on the same floor as the gathering areas are what makes multi tasking easier.
  • Open Floor plans: This has been a trend for quite a while, because the versatility it offers works for so many people. Gone are separate living and dining rooms, except in the most formal and largest homes..
  • Outdoor Space: Obviously this space isn’t usable in many regions year around but it is still a must have. Social gatherings, and multi generational homes make this area an inexpensive addition to “living area”.

Top Ten Home Buying Tips!


  1. Do not ask everyone’s opinion about the house, it’s not your mom’s house or your BFF’s, it’s going to be your home and you’re going to be living in it.
  2. Do ask everyone who will be living there for their opinion, such as your children.
  3. Do not negotiate yourself out of a great house by pinching every dollar out of the sales price. A few thousand dollars will be insignificant when added to the mortgage payment.
  4. Understand how your mortgage works and by adding to the monthly payment you can dramatically affect the length of the mortgage and the interest you will pay.
  5. Location, Location. Location
  6. Do your due diligence with regard to schools even if you do not have children. Quality schools will add thousands to re-sale.
  7. Use a professional full time realtor that is well versed in the area you want to live in.
  8. Always take into consideration the age of the house and what routine maintenance items will it be necessary to replace in the next 5 to 10 years, like the roof, water heater, furnace, etc.
  9. Familiarize yourself with all the players in the home buying game, such as home inspector, realtor, Title Company, etc.
  10. Spend time educating yourself about the entire home buying process, talk to others who have just purchased their home, what did they do right and what would they do differently. Attend a home buying seminar, you will always learn something.

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Video Surveillance: Know The Rules and Your Rights


I am straying  a little from “home” today, but I thought this topic is an important one and needs some attention. I hope you agree, or disagree. Feel free to comment below.

I think George Orwell had it right. In his book “1984” George talks about a futuristic society where among other things our every move is being watched by “The Party”. It seems like every place you go now days there is a video surveillance camera recording our every move. Am I the only one who wonders if this is legal, and where does it stop?


They tell us it is to protect us, to keep us safe, but where does that effort and our rights to privacy begin? Looking into  the delicate subject of video surveillance in this day and age is somewhat confusing, but I will try to bring some clarity to  it.

Video and audio recording are two separate issues when it comes to the law. We will begin by talking about video first.  Generally it is legal to record in your home, where the use of “nanny cams” has exploded. The exception to this would be  where a person would expect privacy such as a bathroom or a bedroom when the nanny or person is living there. You  must also remember it is illegal in every state to record someone with the purpose or intent of blackmail.

The same general rules apply outside your home and in most public places. Steer clear of areas where people might have a reasonable expectation of privacy.  Examples of these areas are but not limited to restrooms, locker rooms, changing rooms and other “private areas”. One confusing area could be your yard. If the camera’s field of vision also included your neighbor’s yard, and depending on any fencing or privacy screens that you by passed by the location of your camera.

In the workplace especially small businesses it is legal to have camera’s and not tell the employees. In larger businesses this may be a negotiating point with the appropriate workers union.

Audio recording is a little clearer than video.  It is illegal to record a conversation by voice recorder of video camera with sound unless at least one person consents to the recording in most states. Those states requiring both parties to consent are California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington. Hawaii has a double standard, requiring one person consent in a public place but both parties consent in a private area.

It is almost always illegal to record a phone conversation even in your own home without the recorded person/s consent, federal wiretapping and all.

One other really confusing area and one that will need a lot of clarification is the use of and recording of from drones. Probably a safe bet to follow the same requirements as if you were recording from a “land based” video camera.

There you have it, a general outline of the laws as they currently stand. Remember Big Brother is watching you! Please comment below!!

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Building Your Home; Finding The Perfect Lot

Finding a lot to build on is simple right?
Not so fast. First of all please understand I am not putting down sellers, or Realtors, but I have seen it happen time and time again, sellers relay incorrect information to the Realtors and or buyers such as, “utilities are on the lot” or “the lot is ready to build on” when it is anything but. A while back I signed a contract to purchase a lot and during the process the seller stated that the sewer was available to the lot, and you guessed it I found out different. During the due diligence period I found out sewer was available to the lot but only after I installed a $20,000 lift station! Fortunately I found this out early enough and was able to get out of the contract and renegotiate it. Let the buyer beware. The following is a checklist, and a to do list. Hopefully you have found this article before you have actually purchased your lot, as some of the items below are best done before the actual purchase of a lot. Evaluate your financial situation and obtain mortgage pre-approval, to set your building budget.
1.  Narrow your search to areas within 10% to 15% of your target price.
2.  Start developing a list of what you must have, what you would like, and what you do not want in your new home.
3.  You can select a builder at this point or at any point in the future and he can help guide you through the process.
4.  Is the lot in a development that has conditions and/or restrictions on what and how you can build?
5.  Do these conditions raise the price of your new home out of your price range?
6.  Is the lot of sufficient size to hold your home with all the setbacks intact?
7.  Is there public water, and sewer on the property and within close range of where the house will be built?
8.  Are electric and gas service on the property and within close range of where the house will be built?
9.  Are the soil conditions suitable for building a home?
10. If needed is the lot of sufficient size and are the soil conditions conducive to a septic system?
11. Is it in a floodplain, are there wetlands?
12. Were there any buildings previously built on he site?
13. Is there anything buried on the land?
14. Define the build-able area of the lot
15. Select an architect to design your new home
16. Share your budget and list of wants with the architect.
17. If you have not selected a builder, you should do so now.Talk to friends and ask for referrals
18. Drive the area you want to live or where you own your lot, looking for builders.
19. Be open and honest with your builder, share your budget, and time frame.
20. Communication is the key to any building project, make sure the builder you select has good communication skills.
This list is by no means all inclusive, it is a starting point and a general guide, to get you thinking.
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