What You Should Know Before Buying a Vacation Home

It’s summer, and the appeal of warm weather, the sand between your toes, or just the fresh air, makes you want to capture these days permanently. Some people choose to purchase vacation homes as a way to escape from the midwest’s cold weather, or others want vacation homes in more remote locations, or places that hold the recreational activities they enjoy (think fishing, hunting, golfing, etc.).

While vacation homes are no doubt a great way to hold a residence in an area you want to visit often while keeping your main home, it’s a big decision and owning a vacation property does not come without some issues.

One of the best, insightful articles we’ve seen on what to consider when buying a vacation home is from Forbes.com. We’d like to share some of their tips (along with our own thoughts) to help you if you’re pondering a vacation home purchase.

Spend time in the area: Personally, we recommend spending lots of time there. Without a doubt you need to know this is an area you would want to visit often. Once you purchase a home, you’re committed to spending lots of time there.

Know what the costs are: Don’t get in over your head on a vacation home purchase. You’ll want to understand all costs associated with owning the home including utilities, maintenance, association fees, property taxes, insurance, etc.

Plan for someone to watch the home while you’re away: Because you won’t spend much time at the home, it’s best to hire a property manager to keep an eye on the home.

Know that time spent at the home is not always going to feel like vacation: With a vacation home comes the upkeep. You’ll likely spend some of your vacation time working on the home before you can actually enjoy it.

Consider renting the property: While it’s nice to keep the home all to yourself, it’s usually a wise financial decision to rent the home out when you’re not using it. Renting the home provides a source of income which can offset your costs and the extra funds may allow you to pay the home off quicker. Keep in mind that tourists will likely want to rent the home during high seasons, which means you may have to stay flexible on when you use the house.

Take safety into consideration: Research the crime rate for the area. In areas of high crimes you may not want to leave a home unattended for long periods. Regardless of the crime rate, you should always have a security system in operation on a home which is left unattended for days, weeks or months at a time.

Is the vacation spot accessible?: Ideally a vacation home won’t take hours to reach or the likelihood that you’ll use it very often becomes less.

Read the full article at Forbes.com

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Photo Credit, nathanmac87


The World’s First Commercial House 3D Printer For Sale

Earlier this year we told you about 3D printing, and it’s remarkable capability to build a home within one day. The technology is also called contour crafting and can build a 2,500 sq. ft. home in about 20 hours. In our blog, we highlighted Behrokh Khoshnevis, the professor of the Manufacturing Engineering Graduate Program at the University of Southern California, and his layered fabrication technology which uses 3D printing. A computer program guides a robot to apply layers of concrete, and construct walls. It even has the ability to construct straight or curved walls, and allow for gaps for plumbing and windows.

One important facet of this technology is its ability to quickly build homes after natural disasters or even to provide adequate shelter to those throughout the world who are homeless for various other reasons. The construction process in 3D printing reduces waste and offers less noise, dust and emissions.

The technology is versatile as all you have to change is the computer program if you want to make a modification to the plan.

At the time our post was published the technology had not arrived on the commercial market.

But at the end of May 2014 an article in International Business Times announced soon you can buy the world’s first commercial house 3d printer. A Slovenian firm BetAbram has designed a 3D printer for printing houses which they plan to release in August 2014. It will retail for approximately $16,000 and roll out under the name BetAbram P3.

However, the first 3D printer the company plans to roll out can only print buildings measuring 12 square meters; the company has thus far only produced miniature houses and sculptures using the printer. BetAbram plans to follow up by releasing other 3D printers in September which will print structures up to 144 square meters.

This is a technology we plan to keep our eye on. As it develops and becomes more widely available, we expect it could change how J. Thompson Builders builds homes.

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Photo Credit, BetAbram


5 of the Coolest, Newest Bathroom Technologies

Not all of these products have made it to the marketplace quite yet, but we sure hope they do soon!

Door Handle With Self-Sterilization System

One of the dirtiest parts of a bathroom is the door handle because everyone touches it. Wash your hands, and then ensure they stay clean, or ensure you don’t pick up too many germs on your way in or out of the bathroom. The self-sterilizing door handle from Yanko Design uses a UV light to kill any germs living on the handle. The light stays on when the door is shut, and when you push the handle down to open the door, the lamp shuts off. Read more.

One Liter Limited Faucet

The One Liter Limited Faucet helps you use only the water you truly need. Its design looks similar to a test tube, with the tube holding one liter of water, which is the sufficient amount for a handwash. Bathroom users waste about six times that typically when washing their hands, while they only actually USE one liter. Once you use the one liter of water, you must turn off the faucet until the tube fills up again. Read more.

Tulip Bath/Shower

Small bathroom owners struggle with finding space saving products. But the Tulip Bath/Shower is about as compact as you can get for a shower/bath combo. Its pod structure opens up just like a flower. In its upright position the bathroom fixture operates as a shower, preventing splashing and containing steam. When open, the vertical piece offers a place to lean against. It even offers a few frills, including hydromassage and whirlpool functions. There’s little info currently available about the Tulip, besides that it’s in conception. Read more.

Kohler’s Numi Toilet

Kohler’s Numi toilet was created with a compact, modern design. But the coolness factor of this toilet doesn’t end there. It has a motion-activated seat/lid, a bidet with multiple options for the water pressure/temperature PLUS an integrated air dryer, illuminated panels, a deodorizing charcoal filter and a foot warmer. As well, you can play music on the toilet’s built-in speakers. Read more.

Oras Eterna Smart Shower

The Oras Eterna Smart Shower is designed to facilitate water conservation. An integrated thermostat allows you to precisely adjust the water temperature. But the most effective feature is the EcoLed signal light: a green light means you showered within two minutes, while a red light warns you that you’ve exceeded your ecological time limit. Read more.

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5 Newest Home Cleaning and Care Technologies

We scoured the web and trade show offerings for some of the newest, coolest products in home care and cleaning, providing some of the most cutting-edge technologies.

  1. Seems like everyone is using campaigns like Kickstarter to fund their projects. We think this campaign is pretty cool. Th Alima Smart Indoor Air Quality Monitor is expected to come out this fall after its creators reached their fundraising goal. It’s an environmental sensor which detects benzene, formaldehyde, ethylene glycol, carbon monoxide, acetone, carbon dioxide, temperature and relative humidity. It also tracks your environmental habits, locates pollutant sources and offers suggestions to help improve indoor air quality via an iOS or Android app. Read more about Alima.
  2. The Leviton Humidity Sensor and Fan Control detects excess humidity and activates a fan to reduce condensation levels. The sensor’s state-of-the-art technology works to continually monitor room air and automatically turns on the fan whenever it detects a certain humidity level. The product retails for under $40. Read more about the Leviton Humidity Sensor and Fan Control.
  3. Unlike most conventional dishwashers where water only partially sprays the dishes, Samsung’s WaterWall technology offers 100% coverage. Samsung unveiled its new dishwasher, the DW80H9970, earlier this year at CES 2014. It features Samsung’s innovative WaterWall technology. Most dishwashers use a rotary sprayer located on the dishwasher bottom. WaterWall uses a sprayer that sweeps back and forth, providing corner-to-corner cleaning, resulting in a more effective cleaning process to thoroughly clean your dishes. Read more about the DW80H9970, and watch a video to see it in action.
  4. Other products unveiled at CES 2014 include Samsung’s new high-capacity washers and dryers. The front-load washer (WF9000) and the front-load dryer (DF9000), offer capacity sizes large enough to wash and dry two king-size comforters. The washer has a technology called SuperSpeed that cuts washing time down to 30 minutes. A PowerFoam feature dissolves detergent before the cleaning cycle to wash clothes more effectively by spreading it out evenly among clothes. Both the washer and dryer have LEDs in the drums so you can see better. Read more about the washer/dryer pair’s release.
  5. Cleaning robots have been around since as early as 2002 when iRobot released the Roomba. iRobot has evolved its product over the years making it more precise and powerful, and creating other products that mop floors or clean pools. Other manufacturers have followed suit and created similar products. Neato Robotics robotic vacuum cleaner uses a laser to scan the room and intelligently clean it. Even newer to the robot cleaning scene is Moneual’s Rydis H68 Hybrid Robot which dry vacuums and wet mops. It has a mapping technology to take an image of the ceiling and outline the room, ensuring it cleans every corner. You’ll find the newest robotic cleaners to be smarter, quieter and more effective than earlier models.

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Photo Credit, moneualusa


Dealing With Movers

As a follow-up to our last blog post, Surviving Relocation, we wanted to bring you another blog with some tips on how to deal with movers. Finding a good moving company you can trust with your valued belongings can be a daunting process. Once you find a company you feel is sufficiently qualified, you still need to know how to make the moving transition as smooth as possible. Fortunately, this blog can help you with both.

Who to Hire?

  • It should go without saying, but get recommendations. Talk to friends and family.
  • Screen the moving companies. Contact the Better Business Bureau or read reviews on movingscam.com or ripoffreport.com. Call the FMCSA’s Safety Violation and Consumer Complaints hotline (888-368-7238) to ask if the company has any complaints filed against it.
  • Contact at least three companies for estimates. Ask for a written binding estimate, or specifically a binding not-to-exceed estimate, so that the estimate has a guaranteed cap.
  • Show the estimator EVERYTHING you want to move. If you leave out anything the mover can argue against the estimate, and may refuse to move your stuff for the original amount. Ask the estimator how long the moving company has been in business, and make sure to gather vital information such as the the company’s name, address, phone number, references, insurance card information and license numbers.
  • Keep all estimates together to compare. After deciding on a mover keep the chosen mover’s estimate handy to refer to when moving.

Moving Tips

  • If you request a packing crew, supervise the crew.
  • Pack any valuables that you would like to move yourself, and make sure they stay separated out from the rest of your belongings.
  • Keep fragile items together and make sure they are labeled as fragile when packed.
  • Keep an inventory. Take photos of your household goods, and note their condition, in case a dispute occurs. If you need help creating an inventory, we offer a simple, affordable solution to inventory the property assets of your home. Find out more about our service.
  • Review the bill of lading or contract carefully before signing it. Keep a copy.
  • Give the van driver clear directions to the new home, and make sure you have the driver’s name and phone number.
  • Sketch a floor plan to direct the movers where to place furniture.
  • Supervise the crew while they are unloading and inspect each item. Keep a list of damaged or missing items. If you sign a contract acknowledging receipt before you unpack (as you’ll most likely do), make sure you specify that it’s subject to inspection first. Then promptly report any missing or damaged items to the moving company.

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Photo Credit, cambodia4kidsorg


Surviving Relocation

Spring – after kids get out of school – and the end of summer – right before kids start the school year — are popular times for families to relocate. They are also some of the more ideal times for anyone to plan a move because of weather conditions. Who wants to move during the winter? Whether you are facing a move in the near future or there is any potential you could relocate in the future, you may want to take heed of some relocation advice.

We’ve compiled some of the best advice from Ted Stimpson, president and CEO of MyMove.com, and Move In Move Out, a relocation services company.

As you prepare for relocation…..

  • Organization is key. Being disorganized creates stress. Instead, to minimize stress, stay organized and keep to-do lists.
  • Know what relocation services your company offers. Most offer some services. Some companies pay for house hunting expenses, job placement for spouses, car transportation, and other services.
  • If your employer doesn’t offer relocation services, negotiate it in the terms of employment. Research relocation costs to present to the employer.
  • Visit the new location, if you can, as often as you can before you move. Become familiar with the area and the neighborhoods.
  • Don’t commit to living in a certain area. It’s usually better to rent or take advantage of corporate housing until you’ve lived in the area long enough to decide what neighborhoods are best for your lifestyle.

Once relocation is underway…..

  • Clean out closets, shelves, cupboards, the attic and the garage at least 4-6 weeks before your move. Discard everything you can to make the move easier. If you haven’t used it within the past year, you probably don’t need it.
  • Notify all service providers, the post office and any subscription publications of your moving date.
  • Register children at their new school, and transfer school records.
  • Contact all utilities about 2-3 weeks before your move to arrange for shut-off. Notify utilities at your new residence as to when to shut on services.
  • Consult with your physician or ask your friends for referrals in your new area. Transfer medical records and have all necessary prescriptions ready before the move.
  • One week before you move prepare a box with all the essentials you’ll need for your kitchen and bathroom along with all medications and a first-aid kit.
  • The day before your move, leave keys with the new owners or a real estate agent or landlord. Alert the police if the home will be left unoccupied. Leave an itinerary with a close friend or relative in case of an emergency.
  • After you settle into your new home, obtain a new driver’s license, register to vote, register your car, and restart subscription services.

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Photo Credit, CarbonNYC


Futuristic Appliances: The Kitchen of 2020

The International CES is a globally renowned electronics and technology trade show taking place every January in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Earlier this year at the 2014 International CES, the vendors’ focus seemed to be on making it easier to turn your home into a smart home. Shortly after that show, the industry was buzzing about the newest home gadgets and even we talked about several in our blog post, 8 of the Coolest Futuristic Home Gadgets.

At the 2014 International CES, Whirlpool introduced its interactive cooktop concept, calling it the kitchen of 2020, since it’s not yet a reality. But the idea is that once the cooktop concept comes to fruition it will integrate hands-free devices and touchscreens, allowing you to have a stovetop surface that also serves as a place to check the weather, search for cooking tips or find recipes on Pinterest. The kitchen of 2020 will allow you to multitask, integrating cooking and other activities, saving you and your family time.

Watch a video about Whirlpool’s Interactive Cooktop at CES 2014

Also on display at CES was Whirlpool’s upcoming refrigerator which streams music from Bluetooth-enabled devices. It features Harman/Kardon speakers and can play music, podcasts or other audio through the refrigerator from your tablet or smartphone.

The home appliance landscape is definitely changing as technology evolves. It’s hard to even imagine what our home kitchens will look like within the next 10, 20, or even 50 years. We’re headed straight towards living like the Jetsons. What we predict is definitely a more connected world within every part of the home, but as the Whirlpool product introductions at the 2014 International CES show, appliances will definitely be more connected in future kitchens. What kinds of technologies would you like to see?

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Photo Credit, DerrickT


The Fair Housing Act: What You Should Know and What Most Don’t Know

As we enter April, we celebrate the 46th anniversary of the 1968 landmark Fair Housing Act. The act came shortly after Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination. Its goal is to eliminate housing discrimination, creating equal opportunity throughout every community. It keeps communities free from housing discrimination, meaning anyone regardless of color, race, national origin, religion, sex, disability or familial status has access to housing and quality schools.

What You Should Know

More specifically, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) says this is what is prohibited under the Fair Housing Act:

In the Sale and Rental of Housing: No one may take any of the following actions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap:

  • Refuse to rent or sell housing
  • Refuse to negotiate for housing
  • Make housing unavailable
  • Deny a dwelling
  • Set different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling
  • Provide different housing services or facilities
  • Falsely deny that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental
  • For profit, persuade owners to sell or rent (blockbusting) or
  • Deny anyone access to or membership in a facility or service (such as a multiple listing service) related to the sale or rental of housing.

In Mortgage Lending: No one may take any of the following actions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap (disability):

  • Refuse to make a mortgage loan
  • Refuse to provide information regarding loans
  • Impose different terms or conditions on a loan, such as different interest rates, points, or fees
  • Discriminate in appraising property
  • Refuse to purchase a loan or
  • Set different terms or conditions for purchasing a loan.

In Addition: It is illegal for anyone to:

  • Threaten, coerce, intimidate or interfere with anyone exercising a fair housing right or assisting others who exercise that right
  • Advertise or make any statement that indicates a limitation or preference based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap. This prohibition against discriminatory advertising applies to single-family and owner-occupied housing that is otherwise exempt from the Fair Housing Act.

What Most Don’t Know

In late 2013, the National Association of Realtors published a blog detailing some of the more interesting things most may not know about the Fair Housing Act. Here are a few:

  1. The federal government was instrumental in inventing redlining. Redlining is the act of drawing a “red line” on a map around a neighborhood to signify an area in which a financial institution does not want to offer financial services, making it impossible for inner-city residents to borrow money. While the practice is associated with private lenders, it was initially the Roosevelt administration that backed loans to encourage home ownership, but only to the right groups. They refused to back home loans to people in redlined areas.
  2. Walter Mondale wasn’t quite as supportive of the Fair Housing Act as some may think. It was President Lydon Johnson who encouraged him to take on the project because everyone else was turning him down. Mondale wasn’t so happy about the decision when it became an issue among his colleagues. Some lawmakers felt it made them look like hypocrites considering segregation was still a large problem in some cities.
  3. The Fair Housing Act wasn’t the first of its kind. A year after Lincoln’s death the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was signed into law. It prohibited racial discrimination in the rental or sale of property, but it did not contain federal penalties for violators.

Read more about your rights under the Fair Housing Act on the HUD website. If you think your rights have been violated the HUD website also provides instructions on how to complete and submit a complaint form.

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Photo Credit, Seattle Municipal Archives


Google Buys Nest: What Does It Mean?

In our past blog, “Home Efficiency: Smart Home Ideas,” we talked about some of the smart home products available on the market. One of the products we touched on is Nest, a “smart” thermostat, which you can control from your phone. It comes with a whole host of other features including programmed schedules and energy history reporting. What particularly makes it a smart thermostat is that it can build a programmed schedule automatically based on the temperatures you select at different times of day. It tracks your preferences and adjusts accordingly. It even has a sensor that can detect when you’re not home so it can adjust the temperature and save energy.

The Nest company also offers a smart smoke and carbon-monoxide detector.

What may be surprising is that Google acquired Nest for $3.2 billion in early January 2014. What interest would Google have in smart home products, particularly the Nest devices?

Mashable reported that at the International CES tradeshow there were plenty of companies showcasing their smart appliance products. In fact, the market is expected to grow rapidly, by as much as 24 million units by 2017, according to ABI Research.

The Nest company (before the Google purchase) marketed itself as wanting to make everyday household products smarter and Internet-connected. There are other companies developing outstanding smart products including Philips’ smart light bulb, but Nest appears to be gaining more of the steam and Google has taken notice. The Nest acquisition may put Google at the head of the class in the marketplace of smart home appliances. Nest is reported to be shipping up to 50,000 of their devices each month.

Additionally Google may have another angle with the Nest acquisition. As pointed out by nymag.com, Nest is a data collector. Once it’s installed it can pick up all kinds of information including when people come and go, when lights are turned on or off, and how energy is used. Then the information can be used in multiple ways. Google has previously been interested in a similar type of data collection when in 2011 they had a project named PowerMeter (which shut down) that tracked energy usage.

Now Google has an evolved version of the PowerMeter with its obtainment of Nest. Smart thermostats are only used in about 1% of U.S. homes, but with their expected growth, Google is on the cusp of the technology and poised to ride it through the next step as homes become more and more Internet connected.

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Photo Credit, David Berkowitz


What Happens During a House Fire

The temperatures drop and the amount of home fires increase. Home fires occur more during the winter than any other season. Approximately 905 people die each year in winter home fires, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. The administration also reports that $2,091,000,000 in property loss occurs during winter home fires. About 67% of winter fires develop in one- or two-family homes, with the prime fire time taking place between the hours of 5 to 8 p.m.

The folks at This Old House (TOH) offer a great explanation of what happens in a typical kitchen fire. Since cooking fires are the cause behind about half of all fires, they use a stovetop fire to describe what happens from beginning to end.

Ignition: The fire ignites. In the TOH example the fire occurs when a pot or pan boils over, causing oil to spill directly onto the stovetop flame or burner. It only takes a few hundredths of a second for fatty substances to ignite.

First 30 Seconds: It only takes a few seconds after a flame-up for the fire to spread. Flames will travel across the stove. The oily residue on cooking utensils can ignite, and any other combustible materials around the stove, including paper towels or dish towels, will begin to burn. This is a critical point to extinguish the fires. Remember never move the pot/pan, or use water to attempt to extinguish the flames. Instead cover the pot/pan with a lid.

30 Seconds to 1 Minute: The fire spreads igniting more objects including wooden cabinets, wallpaper and curtains. A dense plume of hot, smoky air develops, which can burn your breathing passages. The fire generates poisonous gases like carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide, and it only takes a few breaths of it to cause someone to pass out.

1 to 2 Minutes: The flames intensify, spreading heat to other parts of the kitchen. Cyanide and carbon monoxide levels increase. In an enclosed fire room, the typical level of these gases is 3,400 parts-per-million, which cuts survival time to less than one minute. The poisonous smoke begins to travel, and once it reaches a vent or the top of a doorway it can begin to travel through halls and up stairwells.

2 to 3 Minutes: The fire continues to burn cabinets, countertops and shelves and anything within them including dry goods, containers and cardboard boxes. This generates more heat, making the upper level of gases rise up to 400 degrees F, which is hot enough to kill someone. The smoke may now include other toxic components from the items being burned including arsenic (a wood preservative), lead (from paint) and other toxins such as ammonia and hydrogen chloride. The fire is now hot enough to spread not only by direct flame contact but also by auto-ignition. Objects spontaneously begin to burn without even touching the flames.

3.5 Minutes: The heat reaches as high as 1100 degrees F and flashover occurs. Everything in the room can burst into flames. Oxygen is sucked out of the room. Windows shatter and balls of fires shoot out of them. Upper level rooms fill with thick, hot smoke, and because of the high flashover temperatures, all of the rooms throughout the house are at risk.

3.5-4 Minutes: Flames begin pouring through the doorway into neighboring rooms setting carpet and furniture on fire. In the kitchen the fire penetrates the walls and ceiling, sending flames to the second floor.

4-5 minutes: Flames can be seen from outside the home as they travel through doors and broken windows. At this point, it’s much more difficult to rescue anyone on the second floor. Rooms neighboring the kitchen flashover. The materials used in construction impact the damage. Synthetics including polystyrene and PVC auto-ignite at temperatures between 850 and 1075 degrees. Steel plates used in roof trusses start to buckle at 1000 degrees F. The roof may begin to collapse as the blaze burns uncontrollably.

Firefighters Arrive: Firefighters take immediate aggressive action if flames are visible from the outside when they arrive. They’ll use as much as 3,000 gallons of water to extinguish the flames. They may also use dry chemicals to extinguish flames, and they may break open windows or cut open the roof to vent off smoke and gases.

After the Fire: Extensive property damage is incurred. Even if flames did not touch a room, the high heat softens glass and melts plastics. Most appliances are ruined as their interior parts are likely melted. The burned or melted plastics and other synthetic materials will off-gas toxins. There are unseen weaknesses in the structure. It is unsafe for anyone to be in the home.

Returning Home: You’ll need permission from the Fire Marshall to enter the home. Smoke damage is severe and permeates everything, leaving an odor that is difficult to remove. Water damage can cause mold to grow rapidly. It will likely take weeks or months to sufficiently cleanup and repair the home to a state that makes it safe and comfortable enough to live in again.

Next Steps

Photo Credit, State Farm