Make Your Home Safer…For Years to Come

Our Country Living plan features a zero threshold entrance.

Our Country Living plan features a zero threshold entrance.

Few of you, likely none of you, want to talk about aging, particularly when it means you may not be as energetic as you used to be, you may have limited mobility, or problems getting around and reaching things. The truth is we’re all aging, and many of you will face either needing a home which can support your aging lifestyle or shelling out the big bucks for a nursing home or assisted living facility.

With the sheer amount of baby boomers in our population who are entering retirement age, accessible living is becoming big business. This is a positive change! It means accessible living products have much more flair than past years products, such as designer grab bars in bronze or brushed nickel finishes with detailing similar as what you find on towel bars.

Accessible living doesn’t have to look institutional, or out of place. Many features such as curbless or oversized showers, low shelving and improved lighting are just as relevant for the able-bodied as well as for the elderly. In the case of grab bars, they are multipurpose: your family can use them now if you have young children or even if you have an injury (throwing out your back, etc.), and you can use them when you’re older as well.

The elderly, or even younger homeowners, often don’t want to spend the money on such changes, but again imagine what you’ll pay for a nursing home/assisted living facility instead.

Here’s some changes we recommend to make your home livable for many years to come:

  • Move the washer and dryer to the main level.
  • Install pocket doors or wider doors so if you’re in a wheelchair or use a walker, you don’t have to maneuver around swinging doors.
  • Upgrade to better lighting options both on the interior and the exterior.
  • Install a zero-step entrance outdoors.
  • Install handrails on steps, both indoors and outdoors.
  • Install lever handles on faucets, as well as doors and windows.
  • Choose a cooktop with front controls.
  • Install a curbless shower with grab bars, and a handheld showerhead.
  • Choose products which offer remotes, such as remote-controlled window shades.
  • Install shelves so you can reach into them when standing, without needing to use a stool or ladder.

If you’re building, J. Thompson Builders can offer homes with accessible design. Some of our past projects which incorporate accessible living design include the Country Living Plan and the Tulip Tree Lane Plan.

We also recommend reading the following books:
AARP Guide to Revitalizing Your Home: Beautiful Living for the Second Half of Life »
Knack Universal Design: A Step-by-Step Guide to Modifying Your Home for Comfortable, Accessible Living »
Residential Design for Aging in Place »
Universal Design for the Home: Great-looking, Great-living Design for All Ages, Abilities, and Circumstances »

And these websites are helpful:
A Home for the Next 50 Years »
Practical Guide to Universal Home Design »

Next Steps


How to Do a DIY Energy Audit

352347959_325307f587_zOur last blog told you how to stay green, while also staying warm this winter. As you look at your heating bills for the last few weeks when we experienced some extra chilly weather, you may be contemplating all the options you have to increase your home’s efficiency. The cost of heating has some potential to get worse over the next few months, as February and March commonly see a few low temperature days.

You can call in an energy specialist to conduct an energy audit, but much of it you can perform on your own, at least as an initial evaluation. Once you’ve conducted your own audit, you’ll be more prepared to talk to a professional so you can ensure your home has a thorough audit.

  • Pinpoint some areas where energy may be wasted. Walk through your home and make a list of problems. Record your findings to refer to later, or to share with an energy auditor. Use a simple pen and notebook or type in your notes on a tablet or smartphone. Some local utilities offer a DIY energy audit guide you can use for help. Here’s one from the City of Seattle.
  • Evaluate the condition of your furnace. Do you hire a professional to clean and service your furnace once a year? Do you change the filters on a regular schedule, about once a month to once every three months? If your furnace is over 15 years old, you may want to replace it with a more energy-efficient one. If it’s newer, but you haven’t had it serviced in some time, make sure to include the service as part of your audit.
  • Check all windows, doors and other areas for air leaks, including around baseboards, outlets and between the wall and ceiling. Check if windows and doors close smoothly and lock securely. There should be no drafts around windows and doors, and the weatherstripping around them should appear undamaged.
  • Inspect your attic insulation. The Department of Energy offers a guide to help you understand how to inspect it, check its depth and determine the R-value.
  • Consider energy-saving replacements. For cheap changes replace your shower heads with low-flow heads and replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs. If you have some money in your home improvement budget, replace your old appliances with Energy Star appliances.

Next Steps

Photo Credit, Nils Vik


Stay Green AND Warm This Winter

6511550295_a33752b81f_zThe last few weeks in Iowa have seen arctic temperatures. Around the Des Moines area and throughout much of Iowa, schools have even closed due to the potential hazardous conditions of extreme cold temperatures.

Such severe temperature lows are not only dangerous to human and animal health as they can cause frostbite in a mere minutes, but the low temps also affect our environment. We use more energy during such times, as we use more heating resources, running our furnaces and heating appliances longer and at sometimes higher temperatures.

But even during the lowest lows, it’s still possible to stay warm and green, nurturing the environment by saving energy.

Here’s some tips:

  • Most importantly, tune up the furnace. A yearly service check ensures your furnace is working properly.
  • Replace the filters on your furnace regularly.
  • Take advantage of your programmable thermostat. Most homes now have them, but few homeowners take advantage of their features. They are a great tool to save energy, allowing you to reduce your heat when you’re away from home or sleeping.
  • Set your ceiling fans to run in reverse. This pushes the hot air down into the living space, keeping the rooms warmer.
  • Keep the damper closed on your fireplace (when it’s not in use) to prevent warm air from escaping.
  • Lock and weather-strip all windows and doors.
  • Let the sunshine in during the day. This not only allows for some natural sunlight to increase the temperature in your home, but it is also a natural source of light, allowing you to save on electricity.
  • Block any drafts cheaply by placing a rolled up rag or towel flush against the bottom of the door.
  • Cover windows with thick drapes, and keep the drapes closed at all times when there is no sunlight.
  • Cover floors with thick rugs to retain the heat and keep the walkways underneath your feet warm.

Next Steps

Photo Credit, Marcus Povey


How to Survive a Kitchen Remodel

380982353_673f212f1e_zThe kitchen (second to maybe the bathroom) is one of the most challenging remodels to work around. Your life sustenance (eating and food prep) occurs in the kitchen. And while take-out is appealing on a busy night, indulging should not be an every night occurrence if you want to protect both your waistline and your pocketbook.

So how can you survive a kitchen remodel with the least amount of stress and inconvenience placed on your family. We’re here to tell you!

First of all, consider the scope of the project. A major renovation may take months, while a simple remodel can be completed in as little as a few weeks.

One of the best suggestions we’ve ever heard is to set up a temporary kitchen. You don’t have to sacrifice your kitchen prep and dining space if you just relocate it. You may not be able to arrange for a full kitchen set-up, but move your refrigerator to another room, or set up a mini-fridge. Include a microwave in the arrangement, or if you have the ability relocate the stove as well, and you’ll still be able to prepare most of your meals at home.

Find another area in your home to set up a dining area. Families who eat together build better relationships and are healthier! No need to sacrifice health and happiness while you undergo a remodel.

Use disposable tableware. It’s very likely dish washing chores may occur by handwashing, and if your makeshift kitchen doesn’t include a sink (most won’t), you may be washing dishes in a bathroom sink. You’ll want to minimize the amount of dishes you have to wash as much as possible.

Prepare for dust, dirt and lots of noise. And try not to stress about it. This may mean taking a vacation during the remodel, even if it’s just to a friend’s house or a hotel for a weekend to get away from the action and mess.

Prepare for convenience meals. You’ll want to rethink how you eat while undergoing a remodel. You may decide to budget for a certain amount of times you’ll eat out each week, or use a meal service, or buy prepared meals from the grocery store (pre-made salads, etc), but no matter what the method, know you’ll have to rethink meal preparation in substantial ways, and you’ll need to budget for it as well.

Lastly, choose a contractor wisely. A trusted contractor relationship will go a long way in ensuring your project operates smoothly, efficiently and you end up with a kitchen you’ll love for years to come.

Next Steps

Photo Credit, John Athayde


Home Fires: ‘Tis the Season

5044281763_bae2fc4023_zDid you know home fires happen more during the winter months than any other season? And most home fires occur during the months of December, January and February? The risks of home fires increases exponentially during the winter.

3 reasons: Heating, cooking/entertaining and decorating.

Heating equipment is to blame for 1 out of every 6 reported home fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The use of heating equipment is the second leading cause of U.S. home fires and home fire deaths. As the temperatures drop outside we’re indoors more, and using more heating equipment.

During the winter months we’re cooking more, particularly during the holiday seasons when we’re entertaining. Thanksgiving leads as the biggest day for cooking fires. There are three times as many fires on Thanksgiving as on any other day of the year. Cooking claims the top spot as the main cause of home fires. Unattended cooking is a major reason, but about 67% of fires start when food or another cooking material is ignited (grease fires, etc.).

While a less minimal factor, decorating with candles, Christmas trees and holiday lights increases the chance of a home fire. Half of all holiday decoration fires happen because the decorations were placed too close to a heat source. Two out of every five home decoration fire is started by candles. December has the most home candle fires, with the top three days for candle fires being Christmas, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. In most cases, combustible materials were placed too close to the candles.

Christmas tree fires make up fewer of the winter fire causes, but when they do happen they are serious, resulting in death in about one of every 18 cases. Shorts in electrical lights or an open flame placed too close to the tree are most often the cause behind a tree fire. A well watered tree actually poses very little fire risk, but a dry tree ignites easily when exposed to a flame.

Watch this video to see the shocking flammability of a wet tree vs a dry tree

Watch a short video from the NFPA about their Put a Freeze on Winter Fires campaign to educate the public about the fire risks during winter months. The campaign is meant to educate the public about the fire risks during the winter months. In the next few months the campaign will provide important tips to keep the public safe from fires during the winter months.

For more about winter fire prevention tips, visit the NFPA’s website.

*All facts and figures provided by the NFPA

Next Steps

Photo Credit, Ada Be


Tiny Homes, Big Lifestyle Change

4051897717_e369dab7e9_zThinking of jumping on the “tiny home” bandwagon? You might want to think again. While tiny homes seem like a great concept in theory with their cute designs and smaller ecological footprint, the reality of the tiny home is not so appealing to most homeowners.

In a Today.com article, Leah Atwood, the owner of a tiny home and founder of a startup working to create a village of tiny homes, says “A lot of people romanticize it but the truth is, you have to recognize the challenges, difficulties and hard choices that go along with this lifestyle. In my experience, some people can handle it and some people can’t.”

Some of the challenges she mentions are giving up entertaining (she can only invite two people over at a time), and she also says owning very few possessions is a struggle for most since you can truly only own about one of anything (one pair of shoes, one fork, etc.).

Kristin Moeller, another tiny home owner interviewed for the Today.com article, says the lifestyle is not sustainable for most. “It’s like writing a book. Ninety percent of people say they want to do it, but only about 5 percent actually will.” She admits there must be a zero tolerance policy for clutter in a tiny home, and living with her husband can be challenging in such tight quarters. She recounts one instance where she wanted to write, but she was distracted by listening to her husband talk on the phone.

While tiny homes may not suit most people’s living style, a recent story out of Huntsville, Alabama shows the homes may prove promising to serve a greater need…..housing for the homeless. The fraternity members of Phi Kappa Psi at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) plan to create a tiny home village to house homeless vets. The village will consist of tiny mobile houses of less than 500 square feet, a shared garden to be maintained by residents and a community center. Each tiny home costs about $5000 to build, and one acre of land can support about 30 tiny homes. Other organizations across the world have started similar projects, and the concept (similar to the idea of 3D printing houses for the homeless) seems a cost-effective way to provide housing for the less fortunate.

Next Steps

Photo Credit, Nicolas Boullosa


Smart Homes: Convenient AND Safe?

15011004968_41d2d3e632_zIn our technology obsessed culture, smart homes are all the rage. And why wouldn’t they be? They offer conveniences unheard of just a few years go. Want to lock your doors, close your garage, turn off all the lights AND set the alarm with just the push of a button? Or how about have your home set to do all of that automatically at a certain time of day? Smart homes make it all possible! But with the breaches experienced by big name retailers Target and Home Depot, you have to wonder if smart homes are safe? If a retailer operation employing some of the best technology experts can be taken down by hackers, how easy would it be for the right person to hack into your home?

Smart home hacking is already happening, according to an article published by U.S. News. In the article, Could Your Smart Home Be Hacked?, author Geoff Williams explains situations where hacking is already occurring including incidents where hackers infiltrated a baby monitor and a webcam. In another example, a security company released a public statement about a smart toilet manufacturer, warning a hacker could download an application and cause the toilet to perform any of its function including repeatedly flushing, which would waste water and increase operating costs for the owner.

It’s unnerving to think security vulnerabilities could give the bad guys access to our televisions, toilets, thermostats, refrigerators, lighting systems and other smart home products. Smart home hacking can be as simple as someone hacking into your home and constantly flushing your toilet, or it may cause more serious issues such as someone shutting off your security alarm so he can rob your house. “The real risks are the hackers who gain access to your devices, because if they can get into your thermostat, refrigerator and smart TV and begin listening on your network, then they can begin finding your usernames and passwords, and they can get to your financial information,” says Jerry Irvine, a member of the National Cyber Security Task Force and chief information officer of IT outsourcer Prescient Solutions.

What are some things you can do to minimize the chances your home automation system will be hacked?

First, avoid over-automating. An important principle of home automation should be simplicity. Automation is about people, not technology. It should seek to highlight experiences, not over complicate them. Too much automation IS a bad thing, and offers more opportunities for hackers to find a way in.

U.S. News also offers these other suggestions:
1. Hire only professionals to install your smart home products. Professional installers have the knowledge to ensure your smart home system is protected with a firewall. To that point, change all your passwords after the install so the installer does not have access to your smart devices.
2. Update software. When a device asks you to download an update or a patch, don’t ignore it. The update may protect your equipment from malware or other vulnerabilities.
3. Secure your phone. Smart homes are often controlled by smart phones. Be careful not to lose your phone, but also keep it locked so others can’t access your applications and smart devices.
4. Wait. If you don’t feel confident in the technology, give it some time. As more companies create more smart home products, the expectation is manufacturers will create better software to prevent hacking.

Next Steps

Photo Credit, CODE_n


Top 10 Remodeling Mistakes

3633253847_0b79b95e7b_zOften homeowners are ill-prepared to take on a home remodeling project, but many homeowners will face a remodeling project at some point.

Here are 10 of the biggest remodeling mistakes homeowners make:

1. Failing to research: Whether hiring someone or undertaking the project yourself, research. When hiring someone else you need to know what questions to ask and how to monitor the project so you understand if the contractor is handling the project properly.
2. Going cheap! You know the saying “you get what you pay for?” That’s just as true in the home remodeling world as in any other industry. If you can’t afford to buy quality materials and services, wait until you can.
3. Setting too small of a budget: The largest cost of a remodeling project is often the labor. Many people underestimate what it costs to take on a remodeling project, and they also don’t pad their budget enough to account for any problems they may encounter.
4. Overbuilding: If you put too many upgrades into your home, you may end up with an expensive home in a less expensive neighborhood. You’ll never recoup the costs when it comes time to sell.
5. Improper priorities: A new bathroom or pool may look like a more attractive (ie. fun and appealing) remodeling project, but it shouldn’t come before such projects as your leaking, rotting windows.
6. Choosing projects which do not increase the home’s value: While a home remodeling project can and should aim to enrich the homeowner’s life, resale value is also an important consideration. Some of the projects which may not increase the value of a home include pools, high-maintenance landscapes and high-end upgrades.
7. Choosing products/designs which are too trendy: You want your house to look new and hip, but make it too much so, and its design will only appeal in the short term, again potentially affecting resale.
8. Not making a “living” plan: How will you live while the project is going on? Where will you stay if some of the work requires you to leave the home? How will you handle sharing one bathroom if the other bathroom is unusable for a period of time? Very few homeowners address these issues before going into a project, and instead face them (and much frustration) while they are undergoing a renovation.
9. Doing all, or most of the work themselves (DIYers): DIY is fine for some homeowners, but very few homeowners can do everything. And home improvement books can only instruct you so much. Know your limitations and contract out what you don’t have the expertise to handle.
10. Failing to hire a qualified contractor: Choose a contractor over a handyman, particularly one who is certified, trained and qualified for the work you need completed. And check references, making sure to ask to see a portfolio of work the contractor has done, as well as request to see a list of their affiliations and certifications.

Next Steps

Photo Credit, Brock Builders


First 3D Castle Printed…in the Midwest!

6817c69c61702ea1cc2e4634424fd741Late this summer, articles appeared on the Internet about a Midwestern man who has built the first castle with a 3D printer. Our blog content isn’t new to the discussion of 3D printing. We’ve talked about it previously in our blogs Affordable Housing in Under 24 Hours and The World’s First Commercial House 3D Printer For Sale.

Imagine our excitement to see someone right here in the Midwest, only hours from where we’re located, using this new technology. It’s something we hope to use in our business in the future when the technology becomes more accessible, affordable, and in general once they just have all the kinks worked out.

According to several articles about this project, Minnesota-based engineer Andrey Rudenko built a 12-foot-tall castle using one of the first 3-D concrete printers in the world. Rudenko has a background in engineering and architecture. The children’s play castle was constructed in his backyard, where he built it layer by layer using a 3D concrete printer. Most 3D printers have only produced smaller items such as parts. As of Fall 2014 it was the first concrete 3D castle printed in the world, and the first 3D printed concrete structure in the United States.

Rudenko’s future building plans, according to reports? A 2-story house!

In April 2014 when Rudenko first announced his plans to build a structure using 3D printing (before he’d constructed the castle), he told 3DPrint.com: “A cheap house built in 24 hours is not my goal. My current focus is building well-insulated small or medium-sized homes of a contemporary design, definitely onsite. As an experienced builder, I know that to avoid problems in the future, it is more important to produce homes of a good quality, which may take longer to build than cheaper homes made quickly. It would be more beneficial to print a complete home, including the foundation for the staircase, fireplace, certain furniture (kitchen island etc), columns, interior walls, and any wiring or plumbing that would fit inside the printed walls.”

While Rudenko started with a castle as his first building project, Rudenko’s passion and vision really seems to focus on minimizing the labor involved in home building, as he explained to 3DPrint.com: “3D printing in construction will not wholly replace previous techniques, and materials such as brick will continue to be utilized. Rather, 3D printing will significantly supplement the manual work. The technology aims to considerably lower production cost, provide a safer and more comfortable building process, and allow for much more architectural flexibility. In place of an entire group of construction workers, two people will facilitate the 3D printing process: one with appropriate computer skills in charge of the programming, and one working with the materials (e.g. sand and cement), placing reinforcing steel bars inside the forms, maintaining the machine at the end of the day, and so forth.”

See more photos and information about the project here.

And watch a video about the project here.

Next Steps

Photo Credit, Andrey Rudenko


New Trend: Home Flipper for Hire

1118377655_9c4121204c_zBy now you’ve probably heard of a “home stager.” A professional home stager prepares a house for sale by making it appealing in appearance to attract the highest number of buyers so it sells more quickly and at top dollar. Read more about home staging, and our tips for how to do it yourself in our blog Home Staging: Tips, Do’s and Don’ts.

Now, have you heard of a home flipper for hire? Similar to a home stager, a professional flipper, usually a real estate firm/contractor, renovates the home for sale to make it more appealing to a larger audience of buyers, again ensuring the home attracts more potential buyers and sells for as high of a profit as possible.

With a professional home flipper as part of the real estate sale, the funds for the renovation project typically come out of the home sale.

SF Gate recently reported on this trend explaining move-in-ready homes are more attractive to buyers than ones they have to invest time and money repairing. The problem: most sellers don’t have the cash to finance a renovation. Sellers are often equity rich but cash poor. Additionally many homeowners are unprepared to tackle a complete renovation on their own.

Renovation Realty in San Diego is one such company acting as both a general contractor and a real estate agent, undertaking major improvements to homes before marketing and selling the properties. The company is licensed in both real estate and contracting. “We do everything from $500 in electrical repairs to $1 million in renovations, if it makes sense,” says Cannon Christian, the firm’s president. Median renovation costs around $42,000. Renovation Realty charges a 5.5% commission in addition to construction costs, 2.5% of which goes to the buyer’s agent.

Current low mortgage rates mean buyers can pay more for a move-in-ready home. Most renovation contractors are dealing with homeowners who plan to stay in the home. What they often desire for renovations is not attractive to most buyers. This is where a professional flipper steps in when a homeowner is renovating to sell. They know exactly what appeals to most buyers, which allows them to invest work and money into only what’s required to sell the home quickly and gain the greatest profits.

Next Steps

Photo Credit, Mats Hagwall