Your home's chimney needs to be properly constructed, regularly maintained, and annually cleaned to avoid chimney fires. This may sound like it is a hassle but really it's fairly simple and painless.
1. Proper Construction: This is a little tricky for a homeowner to determine but generally you will know if the construction is substandard since the chimney will fail inspection at closing. If you have someone build you a chimney make sure you are dealing with a professional mason and DO check references of other home owners they have constructed chimneys for. If there is anything your not sure of call your local building inspector and ask their opinion.
2. Regular Maintenance: Your chimney and fireplace will tell you a lot just by looking at them. Are there cracks? Are there areas of missing material? Did the chimney cap fall off? Take a critical peek at everything at least once a year. If you can, take a look at the flue pipes from the roof. There should not be separation or cracking in your flue pipes. Similar to the fire brick your fireplace should have flue pipes are the first defense against heat escaping your chimney.
3. Annual Cleaning: Have a pro clean your chimney annually. Set it up for the same month every year. Usually the guys who do this work are pretty savvy with being able to spot problems so be sure to ask questions. If you'd like to DIY this part a good source of info on how to do it will be your local fire department.
Also: Do not dispose of hot ashes without first watering them down. The wind can, and will, blow them around and start fires. Your best bet is to let them become cold before disposal. Visit our Chimneys page for more information.
Fireplace and Chimney Tips for Fall
1. If you have any concerns about your fireplace or chimney, contact us. We will be glad to give you our professional opinion.
2. Hire a great chimney sweep for a thorough chimney cleaning.
3. Monitor your chimney and chimney cap for any changes during the burning season. If you see something concerning, call us.
Enjoy the rest of your summer!
I know there are a zillion how to articles on home improvement websites that deal with this topic but I’d like to add my two cents anyway. We meet people of all walks of life every week. We have worked in this industry in our little corner of the world for over 12 years now and I've seen some patterns that leave consumers unhappy at the end of their project. Here are my top 3 ways to have a happy construction project.
Consumer Tip #1 – NO NOT shop by price only! To many home owners fall into the lowest bid trap. All contractors are not created equal. Their experience, process, and the materials used will make the price of a project fluctuate. You may in fact find that the lowest proposed price is the best option for you. You may find that the highest price is the worst quality..... BUT you will only know this if you are comparing apples to apples and not apples to oranges.
For example: If you need your front step repaired and you get three proposals (I say proposals because they are hard numbers and not akin to estimates which are a faster guessed type of price) and those proposals are $500, $1,000, and $1,500. Ok so what you need to know is why there is a price spread. Do not assume that the plan for repair is the same across the board. It may be very likely that the $500 proposal is to caulk the steps. That may be it. Just caulk. You could caulk it yourself for about $30. The $1,000 proposal may be for joint repair where that contractor is planning on repairing all the joints. This is a good thing! This is a better long term option than the $500 proposal so it will save you money over time. Now the $1,500 proposal may be repairing all the joints PLUS fixing the water issue that caused the problem in the first place. That is even better! Ideally (budget allowing) this is what you want to have done.
Proposals are not always as straight forward as I described. The caulk contractor may be the $1,000 person and the joint repair may be the $500 person because they live a mile away and the overhead is less. So to be able to compare apples to apples ask to have a description of work and materials used in the proposal. Those items need to be in the PA contract anyway so it’s not a big deal to ask for a quick summary on the proposal. Most contractors work up these numbers between work, kids, household responsibilities, emails and phone calls so it’s easy to leave it off simply to be timely in getting the price to the consumer who is often in a rushed state. Which brings me to #2…..
Consumer Tip #2 – DO NOT be in a rush! Plan early when you have a project in mind so that you can shop for the best contractor to work with. On numerous occasions we have had customers that decide on …oh say… Thursday that they want to have a chimney repaired by Sunday. So they call a list of names they find on the internet and just hire whoever has the time to do it. These are the Home Improvement Gamblers. They MAY get lucky. They MAY get a reputable person who happened to have the time to fit you in but the odds are against them. The most likely scenario here is that the consumer will find a person who is not busy, because they have a poor work history or little work history, or they will find someone whose plan is to send over an inexperienced crew member just so the job can get done and the monies collected. Do not be a Gambler. Simply plan ahead a bit. If you find you do have a more urgent need but the contractor you liked the best is busy for a few weeks ask them if they can do a short term repair to prevent more damage. It may simply need a tarp put on it or have some temporary supports put in. Maybe the temporary fix will be nominal charge (and possibly credited back in the contract) to cover costs but in the long term it will likely be money well spent…..and well spent money is spent LOCALLY.
Consumer Tip #3 – BUY LOCAL! Your local small businesses are your best bet to avoid problems. There are a number of reasons for this but I will elaborate on my top five.
A) Small local businesses care about their communities. You want to hire a person who owns a home in your general area such as your county or a neighboring county. They will have a vested interest in staying established and doing things well to maintain a good reputation. Look around you. Look for contractors you see at school functions, at local government meetings, at the local stores, at the doctor/dentist/vet, etc.
B) Do you see someone who is a good potential business? Learn about them online. Hopefully they have a website with some information. Check their PA Home Improvement Contractor status. ***Check to be sure they have NOT changed business names very often!!*** I have seen this numerous times up here. If someone changes their business name from Bill Pearn Masonry (a sole proprietor name) to Pike County Masons LLC that is OK. They upgraded from a sole proprietor to a corporation. That is certainly a normal course of business. If they change it from something like Pike County Masons LLC to something like Pocono Masons LLC be very wary. It is costly to do a lateral type change like that so it is likely that it means they went bankrupt. Now bankruptcy is not necessarily their fault. Things like injuries/illnesses and divorces can cause issues where financial reconstruction is necessary, but, I know one home improvement business up here that has changed names FIVE times in 12 years. Do not EVER hire someone like that. The nice thing about local businesses is that it is easier to look this stuff up. Out of state guys….well, you never know ……..
C) Big box stores are a rip off. Period. They will only sell you products they inventory and they only hire the lowest bidder. Then you pay their percentage markup on all of that. You’re paying a medium price for a lowest bid product.
D) Hire someone you like. Good tradespeople do not necessarily make good business people because they have been hard at work learning their trade. Good business people do not necessarily make good tradespeople because they have been learning to sell and not learning how to actually build things. You need to find a person who you like overall and whose vision is in line with yours.
E) Check references, check references, check references! You’re looking for local references with projects done over a span of years. Maybe one person had work done this year, one was last year, and one was five years ago. That is a good span because it lets you find out if the work holds up over time and if the long term customer service level is in line with what you’re looking for.
For the full list of top home improvement projects for 2016 go to http://www.remodeling.hw.net/cost-vs-value/2016/middle-atlantic/
5 Tips for preventing frozen pipes:
1. Drain the entire house's systems if you won't be using it for the winter and the heat will be off.
2. If your home will be unattended and you'd like to keep the heat on - keep it at a minimum of 55 degrees.
3. Drain all unused outside lines such as hoses and hose spouts.
4. Insulate or add heat tape to all hot and cold water lines in unheated or poorly heated areas of your home.
5. Keep access doors and windows close but do open cabinet doors under sinks.
5 Tips for dealing with icicles:
1. Whenever possible remove snow from your roof with a snow rake.
2. Keep gutters, drains and downspouts clear of buildup.
3. Knock icicles down with a long pole and use personal safety precautions.
4. Do not use open-flame or electrical heating devices to melt the icicles.
5. Consider roof ice melt systems the next time your roof is replaced.
Wood burning fireplaces are a common upgrade to many Pocono homes. Proper chimney care will protect your home's value and enhance its appeal.
This stone chimney was in need of some repairs to bring it back to its natural beauty and proper functionality.
While our freeze/thaw cycles will affect all areas on the exterior of your home, in this case, the lack of a proper cap had accelerated water penetration in the joint areas between the stones. This made the chimney more vulnerable to the elements.
Previous joint repair attempts needed to be removed, so we dug pretty deeply to remove the joints. Straps were used as a safety measure to be sure the stones stayed in place.
Then a proper chimney cap was formed and poured while the joints were repaired in a more long lasting manner. Both of these measures will greatly enhance the lifespan, and therefore the value, of the chimney.
At this point, our portion of the project is completed. The only area of concern, from our point of view, is the chimney cricket. That particular cricket is small for the placement and chimney size. A better design should be considered when there is roofing work done.
Do you have any problems with your fireplace or chimney? Give us a call, or email some photos. We will be glad to take a look at it for you!
Call Now! (267) 226-8293
We've all tried the DIY route and we've all tried the low cost route. For a lot of home improvements these are cost effective ways to handle minor repairs.
As we see in the image above, masonry repairs are usually more specialized and benefit from more advanced skills. The handyman who repaired these steps before us only succeeded in adding additional costs to the repair work.
Proper repairs of masonry materials far extend the lifespan of the improvement and therefore maintain its value over a longer period.
1. Once you notice problems don't ignore it. They are not likely to go away. If your busy, or just not sure if you need to pursue it, just take some pics and email them to us. We will be glad to give you a free opinion.
2. Water penetration is one of the biggest concerns in freeze/thaw cycle areas. This is where proper masonry repairs are essential. Short term repairs, such as caulk, will only increase the costs of, and possibly complicate, a proper repair.
3. Masonry projects have an incredibly long lifespan. Don't be easily persuaded to rip them out in lieu of newer materials. That 1960's chimney, properly maintained, will still be beautiful and functional for our great grandchildren at minimal cost.
4. Improper chimney repairs can, and will, burn your home down with your family in it. The kicker here is, it is NOT costly or complicated to maintain a wood burning chimney. You simply need to maintain it in a timely manner with a knowledgeable chimney mason.
5. Only hire a mason with experienced. Don't pay someone who says they do masonry. Hire an ACTUAL mason who is experienced in the repairs you need.
Call us today!!
Everything you do, and don’t do, to your real estate can affect its value somehow. This principle makes it imperative that home owners have a sense of awareness about how their home’s value will change when they decide on, or decide to forego, home improvement projects.
One of the many long term perks of masonry construction is the lifespan of the materials. Well installed masonary materials have an incredibly long lifespan compared to wooden, or newer composite materials.
The lifespan is important to appraisal value, for example:
Home Owner A
Both home owners maintain their walkways in a sufficient manner and in 10 years both decide they want to retire to a sunnier climate. Who can blame them!
Anyway, here is what happens at home appraisal time when the walkways are considered:
Home Owner A
Now, here is another possible scenario:
Home Owner A
Home Owner C likes Home Owner A’s walkway but finds a less expensive ‘deal’:
Again, both home owners maintain their walkways in a sufficient manner and in 10 years both decide they want to retire to a sunnier climate.
Home Owner A
Home Owner C
While the initial project budgets are different, in both scenarios the loss on the investment is greater when insufficient materials and installation methods are used.
Careful spending on your home improvement projects will benefit you greatly in the years to come.
Have a project idea? Contact us!
How Home Fire Sprinkler Systems Work
We recently found that a mouse had chewed electrical wires running through our floors from the basement. We had live bare copper wires running through the sub-flooring. Not good! So we started thinking about installing a fire sprinkler system in our own home.
Watch this video about the effectiveness of residential sprinkler systems. Pay close attention to the time lapse and watch how fast the smoke detectors fail and how fast the temperatures become deadly.
This video is just one of the hundreds of public service announcements that fire departments have produced to discuss the benefits of residential fire sprinkler systems.
Given the potential benefits, it is rather shocking that more homes are not built with, or retrofitted with, fire sprinklers. It feels like common sense to do this. So, why are residential fire sprinklers so rare? Here are some of the myths we learned about:
1. Myth - The cost is to high.
Fact - In years past the cost of these systems were in fact quite higher. Right now the average costs in new construction is roughly $1.35 per square foot sprinkled. That is one of the cheapest home improvements EVER. Retrofitting can run about $2.00 per square foot sprinkled.
2. Myth - My well pump won't handle it.
Fact - Residential sprinkler heads are not designed the same as commercial heads. The reason they require less water per minute is because the room sizes are much smaller so less water is needed. Many existing water supplies produce enough water to handle the needs of a sprinkler head. To reduce costs while retrofitting a home, a stand alone tank can be inexpensively installed to boost the water supply.
3. Myth - All the heads will accidentally go off and flood my house!
Fact - This is not even remotely possible regardless of what movie you saw it in. Sprinkler heads are heat activated, BUT, each unit must experience approximately 150 degrees before it goes off. The heat creates a physical change in the head that allows the water to flow out. Only heads that reach 150+- degrees will go off.
4. Myth - They won't look nice in my home.
Fact - You have less than 4 minutes (per my firefighter friends) to get everyone out of your home! The concealed units are less unsightly than smoke detectors are! Don't risk your family's lives by thinking this way. Here is an example of a concealed sprinkler head.
According to the Pennsylvania Fire Commissioner, in the mid 1970's the state had a total of 300,000 volunteer firefighters.
Some videos about residential fire sprinkler systems.
Newly constructed homes:
The retrofitting process. A three part video series:
A few more words on protecting your community with home fire sprinklers.
For further reading and videos visit:
Post a comment below! We'd love to hear from firefighters/EMTs as well as fire survivors and home owners. Let us know, if you are interested in a home sprinkler system, if you have one (we'd love to hear your experience with it), or if you'd like to follow our progress while we install sprinklers in our home.
Stay safe everyone!
Before you rip out that concrete walkway or patio read this entire blog! A good majority of concrete products do not need to be completely ripped out to beautify and improve them.
Concrete resurfacing is an option for any concrete where the surface has been damaged in some way. You have the option to: re-top the surface, use a concrete overlay, or apply epoxy coatings. Your solution depends on the type and scope of the damaged area(s).
As with all repair work, it is important to keep a keen eye on the design of the repair so that the end product is visually appealing.
Concrete Crack Repair
Cracked concrete repair solutions depend on the types of cracks and the purpose of the concrete. Basement floor cracks need more care than walkway repairs. Historically, homes in our area have often been constructed without proper vapor barriers under the basement floors. Therefore cracks in these floors can allow both water and radon intrusion unless they are properly repaired with methods such as urethane or hydrolic cement. The necessary solution will depend partly on the age of the home and the use of the area.
Concrete walkways are somewhat less complicated to repair. It is often possible to cut out the effected area and re-pour it with concrete. Multiple cracks can be cut out and filled in a way that creates a custom walkway design.
Whether part of a repair project or part of a home improvement project, concrete stains and sealers can be used on virtually any concrete surface regardless of its age. These products can be customized to incorporate the general aesthetics of the home and durable enough to withstand heavy traffic areas. They are also a wonderful option to camouflage repaired areas.
Top 4 Reasons to completely replace your concrete:
If you are undecided about where to spend your home improvement money in 2015 this report breakdown can be a great tool for you.
These annual reports are the result of a collaboration between Remodeling Magazine and the National Association of Realtors.
For Middle Atlantic (PA, NJ, NY) home owners, here are the lists of projects, with the percentage of investment return at resale, with our notes, for midrange and upscale projects.
$$ Midrange Projects $$
1) Steel Entry Door Replacement - 88.5% - This is the least costly of the listed projects and has been #1 for three years running. Pair it with some stone veneer and you can't go wrong.
2) Manufactured Stone Veneer - 78.1% - This is the first new addition to the list in at least three years and with so many wonderful options and applications it is a must do project!
3) Garage Door Replacement - 77.5% - Similar to front doors, this is a very visible project and also a less costly one to undertake.
4) Wood Deck Additions - 69.9% - More cost effective than composite decking and also consistently holds a better value. I would argue that this would be #3 in our area.
5) Vinyl Siding Replacement - 68.6% - A very good choice when upgrading from T1-11 and beautiful mixed with Manufactured Stone Veneer.
6) Attic Bedroom - 68.5% - A consistently decent return on investment over the last three years. Probably this is a good project to undertake when you already need roofing work done. This is the most costly project in the top 10.
7) Minor Kitchen Remodel - 68% - No change from last year with the return and still slightly higher than 2013's number of 66.2%.
8) Fiberglas Entry Door Replacement - 66.4% - More costly than steel and less desirable. This option consistently performs lower than steel doors.
9) Wood Window Replacement - 66.1% - Slightly more costly than vinyl with very similar returns over the last three years. It's a toss up.
10) Vinyl Window Replacement - 64.8% - Slightly less expensive than wood with similar returns. Consider overall aesthetics with these choices.
11) Composite Deck Addition - 62.2% - Much more costly than wood and consistently has a lower return. Not as popular as wood in our area so this would probably rank lower locally.
12) Major Kitchen Remodel - 60.6% - Consistently returns in the lower 60's over the last three years but took an also 4% hit from 2014's report. For the amount of money involved that translates into a decent pinch but if your kitchen is circa 1975 it is probably a good way to go.
13) Bathroom Remodel - 58.3% - ROI is lower than 2014 but still higher than 2013. Like kitchens, if your bathroom hasn't left the disco era than it will be money well spent.
14) Basement Remodel - 57.9% - The average job cost on this will fluctuate wildly based on what you have now. If you have ever seen water in your basement or have mold, those issues need to be addressed first.
15) Roofing Replacement - 57% - If you have a chimney make sure it is flashed correctly and the roof has an adequate chimney cricket.
16) Backup Power Generator - 56.3% - This project took a huge hit from 2014 when it was 77%! Unless we have another storm like Sandy in the near future the money spent for this project (avg. job cost $12,445) is probably better spent on other things.
17) Garage Addition - 55.4% - These are tricky if you will only have your home a short time and it's not something you need. If you not going to use it for yourself but your resale value demands it, absolutely add a garage.
18) Family Room Addition - 55.3% - You usually will not go wrong with adding additional living space. This one has hovered in the mid to upper 50's for three years so it is no exception to that rule.
19) Two-Story Addition - 54.4% - The most costly of the midrange projects. As with any project you need to be sure you will get value for the money. If this is improperly done the ROI will be extremely lowered and due to the average cost ($169,889) that will translate into a big dollar loss.
20) Master Suite Addition - 53.9% - The second most expensive project on the list comes in with a dismal return compared to the others.
21) Bathroom Addition - 47.1% - Locally I see this one as being much higher on this list. It is not uncommon to find a three bedroom one bath home locally. Adding an attic bedroom (or basement remodel) and a bathroom addition would greatly increase the value of those homes.
22) Sunroom Addition - 41.3% - This should be, in my opinion, also higher on this list in our local area. Due to our abundant natural beauty, a sunroom (or 'Pocono Room') added onto a wood deck is NOT a 41.3% return. It is practically expected.
23) Home Office Remodel - 38.7% - This is consistently the lowest returner. Better bets would be to add an attic bedroom and use that as an office or finish the basement and use that area. Both of those items will perform better for you than a dedicated office area.
$$ Upscale Projects $$
1) Fiber Cement Siding Replacement - 71.9% - This was also number one on the 2013 report. Pair this with some stone veneer siding and you can't go wrong.
2) Garage Door Replacement - 71.8% - This was number two in 2014 and being a visible project it is certainly a big boost to any property. It also enjoys being the lowest expense on this list.
3) Foam Backed Vinyl Siding Replacement- 68.4% - Another great pairing with stone veneer that enjoys a good return in the high 60's year after year.
4) Vinyl Window Replacement - 63.1% - These upscale windows have dropped in resale value since 2013. If it doesn't make a difference in the home's aesthetics the midrange windows perform better.
5) Wood Window Replacements - 60.8% - These too have dropped lower than their 2013 numbers. As with number four, if you can go midrange you will get back more of your investment.
6) Fiberglass Grand Entrance - 59.6% - If your home's value calls for it then you can't go wrong.
7) Roofing Replacement - 52.5% - Upscale roofing has a similar return to the midrange version but a much higher price tag. Take into consideration the visibility of your roof when making these decisions.
8) Composite Deck Addition - 52.1% - This has a lower return than 2013 and I would expect it to be lower on this list locally. Wood is the way to go in our area.
9) Major Kitchen Remodel - 51.9% - This return is lower than the 2013 percentage for upscale projects. The midrange projects are performing better.
10) Bathroom Remodel - 51% - Hovering around 50% for three years but with more than double a midrange project's price tag......maybe somewhere in between is the best bet.
11) Bathroom Addition - 50.8% - Added square footage is not a bad thing. Adding very expensive square footage needs to be thought through. Most homes in our area will benefit from a new bathroom so this item will likely perform better in our local market but I'd stay near the midrange price.
12) Master Suite Addition - 46.3% - The most expensive project on the upscale list is almost dead last. It was last in 2014 and 2013. Your money may be better spent in other areas until we see where this number goes.
13) Garage Addition - 45.7% - Upscale garages aren't performing regionally and I would not suspect them to perform any better locally. Stick to the midrange options unless your home's value demands all the bells and whistles.
Eight ways water can get into your basement.....and subsequently ruin family heirlooms, floors, walls, your real estate value ........and possibly your life. OK, maybe not your life, but, we can all agree that any unrestrained water in your home is a disaster so here goes:
There are two routes water takes and some possible ways to remedy the situation:
- Route A: water coming down above aka surface water
- Ventilation vents - your best option is just to remove these.
- Windows and window wells - remove, replace, or change the outside grade.
- Steps, Bilco doors - usually you can change the door or change the outside grade.
- Downspouts - run them away from the home.
- Route B: water that comes up from below aka ground water
- through the floor - if you have a dirt floor pour a concrete floor, if you have a concrete floor there are a few ways to fix this but it depends on how the floor was installed so it is a tougher issue to talk about here, call us for that one.
- through the sump pit - a bigger pump, deeper pit, or backup electric can fix that.
- through the walls - probably you will need to dig out the foundation, repair, tar or parge the walls, and install drains, BUT, depending on the amount of water you may be able to paint on a water sealer.
There are a lot of variables to how to repair these things. Your foundation type is a big factor as well as the outside grade. Feel free to call or email photos of your particular problem. Often the issues can be remedied with a simple inexpensive fix. Once in a while the situation calls for going full tilt and installing everything known to man to keep the water at bay. Those situations are not the norm though.
Softscaping items such as plants and mulch add immediate beauty to our yards, but, going beyond that will create a wonderful living space and a great return on your investment. A clean well designed landscape will take into consideration the natural beauty of the property, the layout of the home and, importantly, create seamless connections between those two areas.
As a rule of thumb, keep this in mind: You'll want to spend approximately 10% of your home's value in landscaping. Upon resale, that investment should add approximately 20% to your home's value. That is a great area for ROI! But, you need to spend wisely. A well qualified professional will assist you in the decision making process.
5 things to consider in landscape design:
1) Consider not only what landscape features the home has now, but also the present and future use(s) of the home. Ex - long term vacation home vs. full time home.
2) Take into consideration and current or near future needs to maintain the structure. You do not want to pave a driveway in the spring if you want to add a concrete patio in the fall.
3) Hardscaping should come before softscaping so that nothing needs to be redone and each penny spent has something to show for it. That is just makes good economic sense.
4) Current trends all point to outdoor living spaces as having the best future monetary return. This makes sense. If you can use areas of your yard all year round you just theoretically increased the footprint of your home.
5) Keep a thought on tick resistant landscaping throughout the project. Anything that you can do to keep these pests away will increase the health and happiness of your family.
Visit our Landscaping page for more information.
Bill Pearn Masonry Blog
Quality construction does not only build structures, it also builds: town pride, small business opportunity, beautiful neighborhoods, home equity, and ultimately better lives.
More articles are available on the individual topic pages.
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