Lancaster County Home Improvement Professionals
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Wine storage is becoming a frequent
addition to new homes and remodeling
projects. Would I be able to integrate wine
storage in my new kitchen remodel or do I
need to have space in the basement or cellar? What are some of my options?
Answer provided by: Michael Martin | Designer & Consultant | MK Designs, LLC
Wine cellars or storage is a valuable addition to
any home. We have seen a tremendous increase
in our wine storage manufacturing over the past
year or more. While a lot of our wine enthusiasts
dedicate a room in their basement to storing wine
you can easily include this in other areas of your
Before going further, here are some questions you
may want to consider.
Am I actually going to be storing my wine for
aging purposes? If this is the case it would be
best to dedicate an area in your basement.
Designer & Consultant
MK Designs, LLC
Aging or collecting wine and keeping it for
long periods of time requires a relatively dark
and controlled atmosphere. Temperature and
humidity are very important as well as the
If you are not aging or storing wine for long
periods of time (years) the question would
be how many bottles do want to have? What
sizes are the bottles you want to store or
display? Standard wine bottles 750ml average 3”-3 1/4” round x 12”-13” tall while
Champagne & Burgundy bottles can be up
to 3 3/4” round. Magnum style bottles 1.5
liters average 4”-4 1/2” round x 13 1/2” tall.
Jeroboam style bottles average 5”-6” round
and 19”-20” tall.
In the kitchen there are many ways of adding
wine racks, square cubbies and some exciting
new storage products to cabinetry. We frequently
design cabinetry for this purpose. This application would be good for 6 bottles to 18 bottles. If
you buy wine in cases or a large variety of bottles
to keep on hand you have some simple options
that can look very attractive while not being cost
The frst place to consider would be any closet or
pantry space. With the variety and versatility of
Cellarium racking systems we can easily ft hundreds of bottles of multiple sizes in small spaces.
Changing the door of a closet to include a glass
panel and adding LED accent lighting makes a very
impressive looking wine collection with very little
investment. If a controlled environment is needed
there are several self contained units that can be
installed to maintain the ideal temperature of 55
degrees and 70% humidity.
A couple other options would be adding a tall pantry cabinet with cubbies and glass doors. We have
built many wine locker cabinets, some as small as 18”W x 15”D x 84”H, that could ft most anywhere.
There are some really attractive wood or metal peg
systems as well that can be installed on any wall
space. These can be left open or have a simple
glass enclosure. Again adding LED lighting really
makes your wine bottles an attractive conversation
piece. Our LED lighting comes in many different
applications and you can change the lighting to
any color of the rainbow with just a touch from your
If you have any questions please do not hesitate
to call me at 717.824.5965 or by email at mike@
mkdpa.com. Either way, I'd be happy to share my
wine cellar expertise with you.
An ER nurse friend of ours told us recently of an injury they treated as a result of a faulty automatic garage door. Is this something homeowners should be concerned about and, if so, what precautions can we take?
Answer provided by: Steve Baugher | Business Manager | Shank Door
Yes, it’s hard to imagine that your garage door could pose a safety hazard—but it can and does happen! In fact, injuries caused by automatic garage doors are responsible for asignificant number of emergency room visits each year. Thisisn’t to say that garage doors are inherently dangerous,but they must be treated with plenty of care and caution.The following six tips will help ensure that your garage doornot only remains in excellent condition but also stays safeenough to use without injury.
KEEP YOUR HANDS AND FINGERS AWAY FROM PINCHPOINTS. Your garage door features a variety of joints andcrevices that could serve as pinch or crush points. Theseinclude areas where garage door panels join together. It’s all too common for homeowners to inadvertently place their fingersbetween panel sections while attempting to manuallypull down the door, resulting in serious hand or finger injury.If you ever need to manually close or open your garage door,it’s much safer to do so using the garage door’s attachedhandles or by grabbing a safe gripping point as indicated bythe garage door manufacturer. It’s also a good idea to avoidplacing your hands and fingers between cables, hinges andother sections of the garage door that could pose a crush orpinch hazard.
KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR GARAGE DOOR CABLE. Like otherparts of your garage door, the cables can get worn out withenough time and usage. Rusted, frayed and/or kinkedcables are often a ticking time bomb, with each day bringing them closer to the brink of failure. Steel cables in thesestates lack the structural integrity needed to support youropen garage door.
If your garage door cables appear to be in bad shape, youshould have them replaced by a professional as soon aspossible.
MAINTAIN AND TEST YOUR SAFETY SENSORS. A typicalgarage door weighs anywhere from 250 pounds to 400pounds — that’s a lot of weight for your automatic garagedoor opener and your garage door springs to support. Asyour garage door closes, the last place you want to be is inits immediate path, since the sheer weight alone could posea crushing hazard for anything or anyone underneath.For this very reason, just about every garage door openercomes equipped with a built-in auto-reverse feature. Thisfeature uses a pair of infrared safety sensors to detectobjects within the garage door’s path, allowing the doorto automatically reverse direction and avoid crushing anyobjects that happen to be in the way.
It’s important to have your safety sensors checked andtested on a regular basis to ensure that this feature remainsfunctional. Over time, the safety sensors can get coveredin dirt and grime, which could allow the garage door toreverse on its own.
HAVE YOUR GARAGE DOOR’S BALANCE CHECKED. Keepingyour garage door properly balanced is also importantfor preventing injuries. A garage door can lose its balancedue to a gradual loss in spring tension, often resulting inone side of the garage door falling farther than the other.This causes the garage door to get hung up in its own tracks as it opens or closes. Too much tension due to improper spring adjustment can also cause the door to driftopen.
If your garage door appears crooked or you’re having ahard time opening and closing it, you may want to haveyour technician check its balance. If necessary, the techniciancan also rebalance your door, restoring it to its safeoperation.
LEAVE SPRING-RELATED REPAIRS TO THE EXPERTS. Youmay be tempted to adjust or even replace your own garagedoor springs, but there’s a good reason why you shouldleave these tasks to the professionals. For the averagedo-it-yourselfer, performing maintenance on garage doorsprings can be a dangerous task due to the potential forinjury.
Torsion springs are especially dangerous to handle sincethey’re kept under tremendous tension. A sudden breakagecan easily result in serious injuries, especially if it occursduring the middle of an adjustment or removal.
If you need new springs, you’re better off having yourgarage door technician take care of the installation andmaintenance. Your technician will have the tools and trainingneeded to safely deal with your garage door springs,plus you’ll have peace of mind knowing that the job wasdone correctly the first time around.
DON’T SKIP OUT ON REGULARLY-SCHEDULED MAINTENANCE.Skipping out on regularly-scheduled maintenancefor your garage door not only makes it unsafe to be around,but it can also shorten its overall lifespan. A properly designed andwell-maintained garage door can last for several decades. For this reason,it’s usually a good idea to have a technician take an up-close lookat your garage door at least once a year.
For more information on improving garage door safety, get in touch with the helpful pros at Shank Door today.
Although we purchased an older home, we are first-time homeowners.Having never had to worry about home maintenance, what advice do you have for us especially for these cold, wintery months?
Answer provided by: Tracy Joe, Senior Customer Service Agent, Engle-Hambright & Davies, Inc.
Preparing your home for winter is a very important annual ritual for homeowners. Tuning up your heating system now can help prevent more costly emergency repairs at the height of a storm. The following winter maintenance tips can help you prepare your home to withstand another cold season:
- Have your furnace checked and serviced before the heating season begins.
- Clean or replace the furnace filter
- Have your chimney, fireplace, wood or pellet stove inspected and cleaned by a licensed chimney specialist.
- It is good to keep your fuel tank filled, keeping an eye on the levels throughout the winter.
- You should keep the heat set no lower than 55 degrees. Open doors to unoccupied rooms to keep an even temperature throughout the house.
- Inspect and upgrade insulation as needed
- Add extra insulation in the attic to help guard against ice dams
- Add weather stripping around doors and caulk windows to reduce draft and heat loss.
- Check for water leaks and fix any problems immediately. Wrap water piping in heat tape.
- Know where the main water supply is located in the case of emergency.
- If you are going to be away for an extended period of time, consider shutting the water supply and draining the pipes.
- Trim trees and remove dead branches so they do not damage your home or injure someone.
- Keep gutters clear of leaves, sticks and other debris. This will allow melting snow to drain.
- Repair steps and handrails to make them safer in the ice & snow.
- Check smoke detectors and fire alarms and replace batteries if necessary.
- Make sure there is nothing obstructing the outside vent to the dryer, stove, furnace or fireplace.
- Be sure to keep the area around a fireplace, wood or pellet stove clear of debris.
- Consider adding a water leak detection and automatic water shut off system. This will detect unusual flow rates in your plumbing system, sound an alarm, and automatically turn off the main water valve.
Know the risks of carbon monoxide. Anything that burns fuel produces this toxic-by-product. If your home is not properly vented, inhaling carbon monoxide can trigger serious health issues and at higher concentrations, even death.
- Keep vents clear
- Do not run engines in a closed area
- Install and regularly maintain CO alarms
Taking the time to perform these tasks can greatly reduce the chance of a loss or bodily injury over these cold, wintery months.
EHD is one of the region’s largest and most trusted privately held insurance brokers, providing the resources, experience and people to help orga- nizations manage risk, control losses and protect their interests and assets. If you have questions or for more information, call EHD at 1-800-544-7292 or visit ehd-ins.com.
Why would I want to buy Equipment Breakdown Coverage? Doesn't my homeowners insurance cover that?
Answer provided by: Tracy A. Joe, Senior Account Representative, Engle–Hambright & Davies, Inc.
The answer to this question is a
complicated one. Your homeowners
policy might cover some types
of losses that can occur to equipment,
however the cause would
need to be a covered loss as stated
in your policy or a cause of loss
that is not excluded.
Equipment Breakdown Coverage,
if purchased, would protect your
household equipment for losses
that are normally excluded under
the homeowners policy, such as
mechanical, electrical and pressure
system breakdown. The coverage
would not include normal wear and
tear that occurs over a period of
time. A mechanical breakdown is
generally a sudden occurrence.
Some of the equipment that can be
covered by this endorsement would
be, but is not limited to: A/C units,
garbage disposals, swimming pool
equipment, home security systems,
water heaters, well pumps, furnaces,
dryers and Jacuzzis.
Some examples of losses that
would be paid under Equipment
Breakdown, but not the standard
homeowners policy are:
• your A/C system had an electrical
short and the compressor
needs to be replaced;
• a voltage spike damages a
• the low water cut-off switch fails
causing the boiler to overheat
and crack; and
• the circuit board in a freezer arcs
and the unit has to be replaced.
These are just a few types of claims
that would have been covered had
Equipment Breakdown Coverage
been purchased. The time of loss is
no time to find out if you will be covered
or not. You will need to contact
your agent to find out if Equipment
Breakdown Coverage is available
through your insurance company
and what the cost would be. The
cost, compared to a home warranty,
is minimal for having peace of mind.
For more information, don't hesitate to call us at 717.394.5681 or visit
us online at ehd-ins.com.
Why is the renovation on my home taking so long and cost so much more than the renovations I see on DIY and HGTV?
Answer provided by: Kris Ross, COO/Owner, K&R Contractors
Shows like 'Love It or List it', 'Property
Brothers', and even my favorite 'Fixer Upper'
are fun to watch but very unrealistic
when it comes to the amount of time and
money that it takes to do the jobs that
A General Contractor is like a conductor,
making sure that everything goes smooth
and that subcontractors are on the job
during the times that they are needed
and not there when they are not. Sometimes,
in remodeling, this can be the
greatest challenge because you cannot
predict unforeseen issues until you are
down to the studs. When things like this
happen, there are changes which may or
may not present themselves as change
orders to the customer but ultimately this
means that you now have to wait until
the issues have been dealt with before
moving forward. These are things that the
home improvement shows do not fully
explore. More often they gloss it over like
it is a mere bump in the road when in fact
most times this involves more inspections by the township or possibly even engineer approvals. However
there are times that it can be simple, but most times,
especially in older homes, it is not just a quick fix. Things
like this will take time.
As for the unrealistic cost of these jobs, it all comes down
to one word. Sponsors! All of the commercials that interrupt
your viewing pleasure have donated or provided free materials
at some point in the job that you are viewing. Contractors
are also encouraged, even bullied, to work for the
network at discounted rates in exchange for the publicity
that they receive. It is unrealistic for homeowners to believe
that after taking out a wall for that new open floor plan that
everyone wants today to accommodate a new kitchen with
quartz countertops, glass mosaic tile backsplash, hardwood
floors, and new top of the line appliances, that you are only
going to pay $30,000. Homeowners should know that if
they can buy something at their local home improvement
store for the same cost, or close the same cost that is being
shown in these home improvement shows, that in
all probability, the TV installer didn't get paid for
their time and effort.
It should come without saying, but I find myself
explaining more times than not, that although the
homeowners on the shows are presented with
fully furnished homes, some even with "specialty
made furniture for the homeowner", that these
are not in the price of the remodels. As in the
case of "fixer upper", if the homeowner chooses
to not pay for these pieces, they are taken to
Joannes Gaines shop, Magnolia, for future sale
and not just given to them as a gift. The homes
are "staged" to help the homeowner, and viewers,
to get that WOW factor and appreciate the
space that has been transformed.
I feel as though renovation shows have their
place in our industry due to the fact that they
encourage people to change things up and keep
their spaces fresh and new. It provides people
with ideas, and gets the juices flowing so to
speak to get out there and either do the work that they can for themselves, or hire a contractor to bring
them the WOW factor that they are so looking for in their
homes. And although, while these shows can create fun,
entertainment, and inspiration for viewers, they neglect
to provide them with realistic expectations of the cost and
time it takes to get the job done. So remember the next
time you hand your contractor your "must have list" with
your "tiny budget" and an "unrealistic time frame in mind",
that your contractor is working with a realistic budget and
time frame for your project, and not one that is made for TV.
Next time you watch your favorite DIY show and have an
inspiration for your home, or even want to consult on your
upcoming home improvement, give us a
call at 717–284–0444.
We just came back from visiting friends who built a beautiful new home on the Carolina coast. Of the many great features they included in designing their home, the one that makes me most green with envy is their central vacuum system. Wow, talk about convenience! Is this something that can be installed in an existing home or do we need to build a new one?
Answer provided by: Jonathan Allgyer, Owner, Thermal Logistics, Inc
Ah...great question! Somewhere
along the line, a myth got started
that if the builder didn't install
vacuum tubing in the wall during
construction, there is no way to do so
after the fact. Or that to do so would
cost an arm and a leg.
And because many associate central
vacuum systems as being a very
high–end luxury item seen almost
exclusively in upscale new home
construction, it must be very, very
expensive. When I actually get the
chance to talk to people about the
convenient ways to keep their homes
clean and discuss the other reasons
for centralized cleaning, I often get
a surprised reaction when the price
is revealed. And that goes for those
building new as well as those doing a
retrofit into an existing home.
Another common misconception is
the belief that doing a retrofit will
require major drywall cutting, a lot
of dirt and dust, not to mention a
new interior paint job. Such thinking,
incorrect as it is, causes many to
give up on the idea as it just doesn't
seem worth it. If all those problems
were in fact true, I would have to
agree. The truth is, in addition to
a central vacuum system's affordability,
doing a system retrofit in an
existing home like yours is easier and
less intrusive than you'd think.
As you observed at your friend's
home, the convenience aspect of using a centralized cleaning system
is simple to understand. You no longer
have to drag around that ankle
biting canister vacuum. Especially for
some of our older customers, carrying
a heavy upright vacuum up and
down the stairs is awkward and can
be dangerous. With our retractable
hose technology, you have powerful
cleaning right where you need it and
when you are done, the hose just
retracts back into the wall and out
of the way. In addition to full-home
use on all surfaces including steps, a
central vac system is the ideal solution
for vacuuming garages as well
So while convenience is certainly a
major motivating factor in purchasing
a central vacuum system, there
are other factors that appeal strongly
to homeowners. Chief among them
are the health benefits in terms of
dramatically improved indoor air
quality, the return on investment, as
well as doing the right thing for the
environment by no longer filling our
landfills with disposable cleaners.
The central vacuum system that I
carry, VACUFLO, is three to five times
more powerful in terms of actual
cleaning ability than most disposable
vacuums. This is due to the power
of the electric motor, which because
you aren't carrying it throughout the
house, can be and actually is much
larger. In this application, large motors
are better than small ones.
Additionally, unlike a portable
vacuum, with a quality, properly
operating central vacuum system,
100% of the vacuumed dirt and
dust is either collected in the power
unit's dirt bucket or vented outside
so those in the home won't have to
breath it! With a portable vacuum,
many have experienced the foul odor
left behind from running and storing
the vacuum. Some describe the odor
as that of a wet dog.
Let's face it, a strong portable
vacuum with mediocre filtration will
clean fairly well, but then you have to breathe what comes out of the
back end of that vacuum—the nasty
stuff just collected (dirt, dust, mold
spores, pet allergens). Thus, the
odor. Alternatively, a well-filtered
portable vacuum will have limited
airflow which means it won't be able
to pick up much of the offending
particles—leaving them in the carpet
or on the floor. Not good either.
While I can't guarantee that a central
vacuum system will make you fall
in love with cleaning, my goal is to
introduce you to the most convenient
and powerful way to get your home
clean and dramatically improve your
In terms of investment, a centralized
cleaning system can be a great value
over the life your home. Consider
that the average American home
has 3.4 vacuums in it. This speaks
to the disposable nature of these
things. Most likely 2 or 3 of them
are sitting broken or in pieces in a closet or garage. Many times it costs
more to repair them than replace
them and over a few decades, that
expense will total more than the cost
of a central vacuum.
Should you decide to sell your home
down the road, your central vac
investment will be a nice draw for
discriminating home shoppers and,
thus, add value to your home. I know
for certain that all the disposable
vacuums you sent to the landfill over
those years will pay you absolutely
For more information, please don't
hesitate to call me at
Although our home can be saved, we just had a devastating house fire. What can I do to expedite
the process of my disaster restoration project?
Answer provided by: Jason Garman, Owner, ReNew Fire & Water by Garman
The sooner you call your insurance
agent, the sooner your claim
will be filed and assigned an
adjuster to review your damage.
They will likely recommend you to
a professional disaster restoration
company, however you are
not obligated to hire the firm they
referred if you have another preference.
The first couple of hours are critical
to maintaining the integrity
of your home after experiencing
wind, water, or, in your case, fire
damage. Ensure the best results
and limit other damage to your
home by selecting a restoration
company that can provide you
with high quality work and get
started immediately. They should
be able to arrive at your property
within two to four hours of your
call and begin the process of evaluating
and stabilizing the environment
to prevent further loss.
Once the property is stabilized
and safe for entry, you can make
progress while waiting for the insurance
adjuster to arrive:
• DOCUMENT — take photos or
videos of the property damage
inside and outside, as
well as damaged possessions.
• RESCUE — find and protect
the "irreplaceable" valuables
such as money, jewelry, insurance
papers, photos, and
family heirlooms. Relocate
them to a safe place. Paper
items should be air dried
within 48 hours to prevent
mold. Non—porous items,
like wood furniture, should
be moved to a safe area for
drying or cover them with
heavy–duty plastic and place
aluminum foil below the feet
to prevent staining. Dry metal
objects and rub or spray them
with oil to prevent rusting.
• ORGANIZE — separate damaged
and undamaged belongings
and store them for the
adjuster to examine.
• VERIFY — locate receipts,
canceled checks, or proofs of
purchase for high cost items
like major appliances, if possible.
name; serial and model numbers;
price; location and date
of purchase; and a description
of the items.
• DISCARD — health hazards
like rotting food or debris
should be thrown away as
soon as possible. Porous
items like mattresses, pillows,
and particleboard furniture
are likely to not be saved
and can be removed. Notify
your adjuster of these recorded
losses prior to trashing
• PLAN — if relocation is necessary,
determine where you'll
live while clean up occurs.
Verify that your financial institution
has everything they need to
keep the process moving. If your
mortgage holder is listed on your
insurance policy, you will need
their approval to cash the insurance
claim check. Make sure your
loan will not be affected if you repair
damage. Ask if they can offer
financial help such as deferred
interest payments for a month or
two. You may need to apply for a
second mortgage to cover costs.
Some homeowners prefer to pitch
in with the restoration process to
reduce cost and further speed
the process. This can be helpful for items like clothing, linens, kitchen items, documents,
books, yard or lawn work, and minor debris.
Tasks that should be left to the professionals are:
• Structural repairs
• Restoring electrical service
• Wallboard taping and finishing
• Checking the water system to ensure that it is
safe to drink
• Major debris removal (such as tree cutting)
• Electrical and gas appliance and motor cleaning
• Cleaning leather, furs, upholstered furniture, and
• Major flood proofing projects such as moving or
elevating a home
Once cleanup is complete, renewing the property to
pre–loss condition can begin. Hire local and reputable
contractors that can provide references, a written
estimate, and a signed contract.
After the construction commences, it is important
to make and finalize your selections early in the process
so that any necessary special order items don't
slow down progress.
Finally, let your project manager or adjuster know
right away if you have any concerns throughout the
construction process. This enables them to quickly
address time-sensitive items, limits unpleasant surprises,
and puts your mind at ease.
Renew Fire & Water By Garman can handle any
disaster recovery easily and quickly. We're a full–service
restorations and renovations company and coordinate
directly with your insurance company to file
your claim and lessen unnecessary stress. As another
Garman company, we honor the same long–standing
values as Garman Builders and Renovations By
Garman. When disaster strikes, call us to get your
life back to normal — 717–733–1606.
Do I really need flood insurance?
Answer provided by: Tracy A. Joe, Senior Account Representative, Engle–Hambright & Davies, Inc.
It is a tough question to answer. Many homeowners are unaware that their homeowners
insurance does not provide coverage for flood losses. Flood insurance is
written as a separate policy and is sold by the government. You may believe that
because you are not in a high risk area you will never have a flood loss. The Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports that approximately 25% of all flood
claims happen in low to moderate risk areas. Just because you haven't experienced
a flood in the past doesn't mean you won't in the future. FEMA continually updates
the flood maps, so even if you were not in a high risk area before, you could be now.
You might ask the question, what is the definition of flood? According to the National
Flood Insurance Program, a flood is a "general and temporary condition of partial or
complete inundation of two or more acres of normally dry land area or two or more
properties (one of which is yours) from:
- overflow of inland or tidal waters;
- unusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source;
- mudflow; or
- collapse or subsidence of land along the shore of a lake or similar body of
water as a result of erosion or undermining caused by waves or currents of
There are many causes of flooding. They include flash floods, heavy rains, ice jams,
mudflows, new development, snow melt, tropical storms and others. Could one of
these happen where you live? The answer is yes, it could. Floods can happen just
about anywhere. Flooding is the most common and most expensive natural hazard.
There are many misconceptions with regards to flood insurance. One is that you
must be in a "high" risk area to purchase flood insurance. As long as your community
participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, you should be able to purchase
flood insurance. Participating communities must agree to adopt and enforce
floodplain management regulations, including construction and zoning laws minimizing
the risk of flood damage. Contact your agent to find out if your community participates.
Another misconception is that the government will bail you out if there is a
flood and you do not have flood insurance. Don't assume that this is true. Even if federal
disaster assistance is available, the loan must be paid back and with interest!
If you are in a low to moderate risk area, you may qualify for preferred flood rates
which are lower than you might think. The maximum limit of insurance that you can
purchase for your home is $250,000. If your residence value is more than that, you
should discuss excess flood insurance with your agent. If you are considering purchasing
flood insurance, keep in mind that coverage does not take effective until 30
days AFTER you purchase the policy.
For more information about flood insurance, visit FEMA's website @ www.floodsmart.
gov. For insurance questions, don't hesitate to call us at 717.394.5681 or visit us
online at ehd-ins.com.
Although we are in no position to put on an addition to our home, we desperately
need more space. Every room and closet in our house looks cluttered and disorganized. We can't even park our cars in the garage anymore. Any
Answer provided by: Jacey Lyn Ross, M.B.A., Interior Designer, California Closets
Wouldn't it be nice to snap your
fingers and your dream space
would appear? Imagine your home
free of clutter and your to do lists
clear of any organizational projects.
California Closets of Central
PA can make your dreams a reality.
Most households are busting at
the seams with clutter and there is
often little time to tackle these organizational
projects at once or on
your own. The good news is that
you don't have to let these spaces
run (or ruin) your life anymore. We
have design consultants specifically
trained to simplify your life
one space at a time.
If your disorganization dilemmas
are with your clothes and coat
closets we can make sure you
have the appropriate heights
for hanging clothes and enough shelving space for items that really
should be folded or in bins, baskets,
Is your pantry
snack bags or are canned goods
falling all over those wire shelves?
You can spice up your pantry by
utilizing our pull out shelves, wire
baskets, wine racks, and vertical dividers
for baking sheets, trays, etc.
For office and entertainment
, we focus on functionality
first, but these are areas where
we can really have a lot of fun with
decorative door inserts, built-in
shelving, lighting, and even hidden
If there is a handy person in your
family or you are just looking to declutter
to make space
for vehicles, we can install closed
cabinets, work benches, and slat
wall so we can really take advantage
of the vertical space. Of course there are oodles of accessories
to enhance each of the
designs, as well as various finish
and hardware options to make
sure the space is just your style.
Are you imagining your own dream
Our process starts with a free, inhome
design consultation where
we will measure and evaluate your
space, take inventory of current
items, and discuss how you would
like your space to change. Next, we
use our design software to draw
layouts, elevations, and 3D renderings
which make it easy to view
your new space makeover from all
Once we have agreed on a design,
finishes, accessories, and price,
the manufacturing process begins
and an installation date is set.
After the installation is complete,
we will follow up to ensure you are
happy with the end result.
At the end of your organizational
makeover, we know you will feel
like you gained new spaces without
having to build an addition to
your home. We encourage you to
check us out online at californiaclosets.com to see photos of our
latest designs. If interested in setting
up a consultation, please call
We recently purchased a
home with an unfinished basement and are considering finishing it. What is involved in the process?
Answer provided by: David Stokes, Owner, DM Stokes Home Renovations
Remodeling your basement can
present certain challenges and can
be more difficult than remodeling a
room above ground—however, if done
correctly, the rewards could be well
worth the effort. With proper planning
and being aware of the challenges
beforehand, your project can be done
with few surprises along the way.
Before you start your project, identify
your needs and how you want the
space to function. Will it be an entertainment
area, game room, guest
quarters or an enlarged family space?
Perhaps a combination of several?
While some homeowners have the
capability of doing their own work, for
those that don't, we strongly recommend
hiring a reputable contractor.
As R&A Magazine has consistently
preached over the years—get it done
right, hire a professional.
Regardless of who is doing the
work, knowing what is involved in
the process and code requirements
will make for a much smoother
• Secure a Building Permit. Yes,
you are required to have a permit to
finish your basement. Not acquiring a
permit can cause problems down the
road should you ever decide to sell
your home. Having inspections during
the remodeling will not only ensure
that the work is being done properly,
but will ensure that all safety issues
are being addressed. You or your
contractor will need to check with
your township and your municipality
as to what inspections are required.
After each inspection you will be able
to move on to the next step. Common
inspections will include: rough–in inspections
which will include framing,
fireblocking, plumbing and electrical.
After the rough–in inspections are
complete, the insulation work is completed
and an insulation inspection
is required before drywall is installed.
Drywall finishing cannot begin until
the drywall hanging inspection is
• Assess the moisture. Moisture
in your basement can make it smell
musty, create mold and can damage
drywall and flooring. If your basement
is damp you will need to apply good
quality basement water proofing
paint or wall coating. Depending on
whether your basement is just damp
or if it gets water in it, further waterproofing
may be necessary.
• All basement remodels require
fireblocking above the top plates
of framed walls and treated wood
bottom plates. Treated wood materials
are to be installed wherever
wood touches masonry. Metal track
and studding are also permitted as
acceptable construction techniques.
Standard 2x4 Batt insulation is required in all framed walls along the
• Fire safety and the ability to escape
in case of an emergency are a
must! To meet PA Basement Codes a
form of direct egress (an exit directly
from the basement to the outside)
must be in place or added. If you are
adding a bedroom, an egress window
must be installed in the bedroom.
Your individual tastes, creativity,
finishing selections, colors, cabinetry,
woodwork, and flooring will all
impact your space.
• Adequate lighting can present
a particular challenge. Most basements
have few windows and provide
little light. Recessed lights, track
lighting and pendant lights help to
provide adequate lighting.
• There are different flooring options
that work well in basements:
vinyl, ceramic tile and carpeting are
a few. If you choose to put carpet
in your basement you will want to
consider installing a carpet pad.
Investing in a thicker carpet pad will
help smooth out irregularities in the
existing concrete floor.
• Consider how you will heat your
basement. You can add registers
or expand your current HVAC duct
work, add baseboard heating or a
• If you are considering adding a
bathroom, shower, wet bar or kitchenette
sink, this can easily be done
by installing in-floor pump tanks,
under counter pumps and sani–flo
While finishing a basement can be
challenging, it doesn't have to be a
nightmare. Proper planning and working
with a qualified professional can
simplify the process. Once the project
is finished and you are enjoying your
newly finished basement, you will find
that it was more than worth any challenges
Should you have any questions,
please don't hesitate to give us a
call at 717.284.2184 or visit us
online at www.dmshr.com.
My spouse and I recently purchased a property
at the shore as an investment and possibly plan to rent it to guests. Our financial advisor suggested we talk with a tax accountant on the tax implications of property rental, and in
addition, tabulating cost basis for tax savings on an in–progress renovation with a residential contractor. What's your advice?
Answer provided by: Robin L. Bodine, CPA/Partner and Donald Sauder, CPA/Senior Tax Accountant
Trout, Ebersole & Groff LLP
First, since you are working with a residential contractor on
the remodeling project, tracking cost basis should be relatively
easy. Remodeling projects that add value or prolongs
a property's useful life increase the property cost basis. As
the project progresses, whether with the intent to rent or
not to rent, it will be easy to summarize in the appropriate
categories the increases in property cost basis. Examples
may be i) additions, ii) interior improvements, iii) new roof,
iv) swimming pool, or v) peripheral projects, like landscape
lighting or a fish garden.
Benefits from renting your property accrue most significantly
to you when renting your property for fewer
than 15 days per year, or in excess of say
200 days per year. If personal use of the
property is less than 15 days per tax year
(this incorporates days rented to family and
friends at less than fair market value) and
is rented to guests at fair market value for
more than 15 days per year, the activity
is in compliance with the passive activity
rental rules. This is to say, you can deduct
expenses in excess of passive rental
revenue on your tax filing, barring certain
income and activity rules in the Internal
Revenue Code (any net loss not currently
deducted is passed forward to future tax years.) The Internal
Revenue Code also permits you to deduct a depreciation
expense on the cost basis of the real estate structure and
interior furnishings, but not the cost basis of the residential
lot. If renting the property, you can expense such items as
management fees, cleaning, interest, and real estate taxes,
subject to an allocation for personal occupancy days. Deductions
are not permitted for personal occupancy similar
to your personal residence.
If personal occupancy is more than 14 days or 10% or
greater of days rented, then your property is a hybrid rental.
For instance, if you occupy your rental property for personal
use 19 days during the tax year, and rent it to guests for
150 days, the deductible expenses are limited to rental income
exclusively, except mortgage interest and taxes. Why?
Because personal days exceed 10% of days rented. This
causes expenses and depreciation not deductible from the
allocation to be passed forward to offset future revenues.
If the property is occupied personally say 45 days during the
tax year and rented for less than 15 days, all rental income
is nontaxable. You can rent your property to guests up to 14
days per year, compliments of the Internal
Revenue Codes special limited rental use
rule, without paying any tax on the revenue.
If you choose to rent your property, and
have additional tax inquires, we would be
happy to answer any further questions.
Feel free to call us at 717-569-2900 and
mention you read this article and we can
discuss your tax questions with an exclusive
no obligation conversation.
Why is my insurance company telling me that I have to insure
my home for $350,000 when I only paid $290,000 for it?
Why can't I decide how much coverage that I would like to
Answer provided by: Tracy A. Joe, Senior Account Representative, Engle-Hambright & Davies, Inc.
This is a question that insurance agents are asked every day. Your home is
more than likely, your biggest investment and most valuable asset. That is
why it is important that your homeowners policy will cover 100% of the cost to
either replace or repair it in the event of a loss.
The first thing to consider is that the real estate market fluctuates, whereas
the cost of building materials and labor costs continue to increase. A home's
market value will reflect the economic conditions in the area, taxes, value of
the land, the school district, location and other factors that have nothing to do
with the actual cost of rebuilding your home. Some other factors to consider are listed below. These items can
sometimes add 20–30% onto the
rebuilding cost of your home.
Engineers and architect fees
— these services are typically
required when applying for building
Building code compliance
may need to make upgrades to
comply with new building codes.
Most homeowners insurance policies
provide some coverage for
this, but be sure to check your
policy for the coverage limit.
Cost of Temporary repairs
is the first step when a loss occurs
to prevent further damage from
the elements or from vandals.
Demolition and debris removal
— removing and hauling
away debris must be done before
rebuilding can begin. These costs
can be significant.
— although rarely
destroyed as a result of fire, they
often need to be replaced due to
"sprawling". This happens when
moisture inside the concrete block
heats up and affects the integrity
of the foundation.
To ensure that there are no surprises
at the time of a loss, you
should review the reconstruction
cost of your home and your coverage
regularly. You can do this by
calling your insurance agent. They
will estimate the replacement cost
by gathering information about
your home's construction and
entering that information into a
replacement cost estimator program.
There are several factors
that might contribute to your home
not being adequately insured,
such as making improvements to
your home, finishing a basement,
adding a deck or porch or upgrading
If you have any outbuildings on
your property, you should review
the coverage for Other Structures
with your agent as well. Most
homeowners insurance policies
include at least 10% of your dwelling
coverage for any other structures.
This limit may or may not
be sufficient to replace or repair
your damaged outbuildings. Other
Structures can include garages,
sheds, carports, gazebos, swimming
pools, cabanas and barns. It
is very important to let your agent
know about any outbuildings on
your property. Depending on how
they are used, you may or may
not be covered for damage to
For more information, don't hesitate
to call us at 717.394.5681 or
visit us online at ehd–ins.com.
We're looking to build an addition to our home but are having a hard
time choosing a contractor. Everyone says they use quality products and do quality work. Are there other factors to consider that will help us in
making this decision?
Answer provided by: Philip Eby, Owner, Eby Exteriors, Inc.
Before I answer the question about "other factors" let me first say this, "Just because someone says they use quality products and do quality work doesn't mean they do!" It will be important
for you as a homeowner to do a bit of research on any contractor you might consider hiring. Ask
for references and photos from recent projects and even drive by some jobs to take a look at
the work they've done. Ask to see a written copy of their labor warranty. Check to see if they are
members of the local building association or other trade organizations. Visit their website. Does
it look professional? If they don't make the effort to have a professional website will they really
care enough to build your addition with pride? Ask them about the products they prefer and
why they like them. This can include everything from cabinets, to windows and doors, flooring,
foundations, etc. True building professionals know what products they prefer and why. Find out
how long the company has been in business? Ask to see copies of their insurance certificates
and make sure they are properly covered. Once you have made certain that the contractor
you're considering truly does use quality products and do quality work, you can then move on to
the "other factors."
I believe that two of the most important (and often overlooked) "other factors" to consider
when hiring a contractor are these; 1) Do you like them? and 2) Who will be working in my
house? It is extremely important that you like the people that will be building your addition! Depending
upon the size of the project, you will be working closely with these people for anywhere
from a couple of months to six months or more. It's simply no fun dealing with people you don't
If you like the salesperson or initial contact person/s you're off to a good start. However, find
out who your "primary contact" will be during the project. If it's someone you already met,
great. If it's not, ask to meet that person and have lunch with them or discuss your project with
them, just to see if you "connect" with them. Understand that almost all remodeling projects
come with some level of challenge and upheaval. Walking through that with someone you get
along with helps to ease any potential stress. Going through that with someone you don't particularly
like only magnifies the problem! Remember, you're going to be dealing with this person
for as long as the project takes.
The second factor, "who will be working in my house," is a bit more difficult to learn but also
very important! When looking at references and testimonials, pay particular attention to any
comments about the workers and if the clients appreciated them. The list of workers in your
house could include masons, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, painters, drywall and flooring
installers just to name a few. Ask the contractor about the type of people that will be working
on the project. Does he choose sub-contractors simply based on price or does he have a
relationship with the company and their people? Does the contractor have any rules for the
workers while on site such as, no smoking, daily clean up, no foul language, etc. Again, you will
be dealing with these people for at least a couple of months so as much as you can make sure
that the people coming to your house are people that you will enjoy having around.
As my company was wrapping up a recent addition, the homeowner made a comment to me
that couldn't have made me prouder. She said, "Phil, you have a great team of guys! We've
been so surprised by how much we've actually enjoyed getting to know many of them. They all
cared so much about what they did and were very friendly." In my opinion, that's what makes
a great choice in a contractor. Someone who will deliver the quality you desire, and make it a
positive experience along the way.
I really want a railing with the raw, wroughtiron look. Is it possible to have the unfinished
metal look and still minimize or eliminate the material's tendency to rust? I want my railing to match one from the Historic Louvre.
Answer provided by: Kendall Shrock, Designer & Estimator, Shrock Fabrication
Is this an interior railing or an exterior railing? The raw
metal look can be achieved, but it is tricky for exterior
spaces and will require more maintenance. The tendency
for rust is very high on an exterior railing.
Your railing can simply be cleaned with a degreaser and
clear coated with a lacquer or clear powder coat. However,
during the manufacturing process, welding is usually
required, and some grinding to smooth & hide the
welds, which will result in a large variation in color.
Some people like that look, as in a rugged industrial
theme; however, most clients prefer the next option.
This is where we take the finished product and lightly
blast it. Any forgings in the railing design will keep their
nice fine texture. We then apply a special chemical
mixture with a precise method of application to the raw
steel to turn the steel black. Our process of blackening
is not like a painting, which gives a uniform opaque
color. The blackening process shows highlights of the
metal through the finish for some natural variation, but
not as much as simply clear coating raw steel. Also,
blackening is not really a coating, as the metal itself is
changing color and the piece stays
the same size. This is why the fine
details are so very visible after this
Depending on the situation, there
are numerous finish options. If this
is in a highly climate controlled
room such as a living room balcony
or inside a museum, and the metal
will not be extensively rubbed, a
few coats of Pledge will do as an
invisible protective layer to prevent
rust. Another, more authentic
option is for us to use the ancient
technique of oiling the metal and
then heating until the excess oil
smokes off. Then it is heated again,
and coated with a very light coat of
a special clear wax which becomes
a hard coating that is barely visible.
If it is a metal handrail that will be receiving heavy use, we suggest a more permanent
clear coat, followed by the use of Pledge polish rated for
metal. I know a man who came from France as a highly
skilled metal artist to work on the Statue of Liberty's
copper, and has refinished a steel doorway entrance for
a very prominent figure with the permanent clear-coat
method described above. He gave instructions for the
doorman to maintain the finish by wiping it down with
Pledge about quarterly. That has been years ago, and in
his words, the door "still looks like a million dollars". This
gentleman gave us our training in blackening steel and
For those exterior projects where the raw, wrought-iron
look is desired, the permanent clear-coat is a viable option,
although we could not guarantee against rust. For
coastal areas, due to the salt in the air, a regular steel
railing won't be able to resist rust very long, even with a
permanent clearcoat. What I would suggest is a lightly
blasted and powder coated high grade of stainless steel.
Stainless will resist rust much better than regular steel
or aluminum corrosion, and it can be blackened to look
similar to regular steel.
If you or your clients are looking for a unique railing
that will really provide a lift to your property, consider a
custom built, one-of-a-kind railing, or perhaps a Titanic
staircase or other prominent historical replica. Any quality
iron shop will offer custom samples or 3D renderings of your project for a small fee. This allows you to really
visualize your project in place before committing to a
specific design. We also offer 3D design, consultation,
and third-party engineering services to architects for
custom architectural and light structural metal work.
Feel free to contact me at 717.397.9500 with any questions
about your own custom project. We make metal
They were forecasting a tropical storm to hit our area last
night. There was a concern about heavy rains and wind with
the possibility of flooding. We knew that our homeowners
policy covers water damage, so we should be covered if our
basement floods, right? In the morning, we found 4" of water
in our finished basement. After calling our agent to report
the loss, we were advised that we might not be covered for
this loss. How can this be? Our homeowners insurance premium
goes up every year, so why would they not cover this
Answer provided by: Tracy A. Joe, Senior Account Representative, Engle–Hambright & Davies, Inc.
The answer is that the policy might or it might not cover the claim. Many homeowners
assume that water damage is water damage, no matter the cause.
Unfortunately that is not the case. A homeowners policy will cover damage that
results from accidental discharge of water from a plumbing, heating, air conditioning,
fire protection sprinkler system or household appliance, with a few
The first step is to report the loss to your insurance company or agent. It is very
important that the water be cleaned up immediately to prevent mold and mildew.
There are professional restoration companies that can do this for you. When the
claims adjuster comes to look at the damage, they will determine how the water
came into the basement. How the water got there and the coverage that you
purchased, will determine if the claim will be paid.
The first scenario is that your sump pump failed due to a power outage, mechanical
failure or it could not keep up. This claim would be covered IF you purchased
additional coverage for "Sump Pump Failure". Check with your agent to find out if
your policy covers this type of water damage and if so, to what limit.
"What if the claims adjuster says that the water came in through the basement
walls because the ground was saturated with rain water? Will my policy cover it?"
Your homeowners policy will not cover this claim. If you elected to purchase a
flood insurance policy, you might have coverage under that policy if a flood, as
defined in the policy, has occurred. Be sure that you understand the complex
definition of a flood as it applies to the policy. Your agent can explain if you are
unsure. You will also want to discuss what is and what is not covered in your
basement, as a result of a "flood". Not all property in your basement is going to
As always, it is very important that you consult with your agent if you have
questions or concerns about your homeowners insurance coverage. Additional
coverage may need to be added to provide the coverage that you need.
For more information, don't hesitate to contact us at 717.374.5681 or visit us
online at ehd–ins.com.
I want to get iron railings at my home to spruce it up. Is there
a way I can get away from the maintenance requirement that is
typical of iron? I've been told that aluminum doesn't rust, but I
don't appreciate the aluminum railings that I have seen.
Answer provided by: Kendall Shrock, Designer & Estimator, Shrock Fabrication
First of all, you are choosing well to go with a custom railing to compliment your architecture
and increase your home value. Custom iron or custom aluminum railings
offer extreme flexibility in design options. A custom railing can be made to compliment
your home whether it be Victorian, Colonial, European, Modern, or Tudor just
to name a few. The options are so vast in iron work, that if you don't already have an
idea of what you want your railing to look like, I suggest going to a metal shop that
has professional designers on board who can guide you in the right direction.
As for your material options, you are correct, aluminum does not rust as conventional
iron does. However, if you are close to the sea shore, aluminum will still react
to the salty environment. You should ask your custom metal shop a few questions,
such as, "What coating are you using?" "How many salt spray hours is the coating
rated for?" and "Will the product be blasted before coating?" These questions will
help you ensure that you are indeed getting a high quality coating.
You mentioned that you don't like a lot of the aluminum railings on the market. Know
that all aluminum railings are not created equal! Most production aluminum railings
are made of thin, hollow tubing. Custom railing should be made with solid materials
for two reasons. The first reason is strength. Why spend for a custom railing if it is
flexible and cheap after it's done? The second reason is that hollow tubes tend to fill
up after some years with moisture from condensation and freeze, causing the posts
to expand and crack. I have replaced more of these than I can count. Many times
this problem also causes the concrete around the posts to crack. If a hollow post is
necessary, request a weep hole at the bottom to allow the moisture to escape.
Another rust-resistant option you have is to use steel and have it sand blasted,
primed with a zinc/epoxy, and powder coated with a super durable exterior coating.
I only suggest this if you have no fancy scrolls or other hidden corners that are difficult
to get completely coated. Remember when using steel that if you can't get coating
to the corners, it's guaranteed to rust.
Steel railings can also be hot dip galvanized, and then given several coats with a
special paint called Vinylast. It's an imported zinc rich paint that is formulated to
work with galvanizing, hardens into an almost baked-on finish, and lasts for many
years. This combination, when done properly, is expected to last for centuries with
proper maintenance. It has been used heavily in Europe and provides excellent
longevity to a project. The down side to hot dip galvanizing is the rough finish and
cleanup requirement before painting.
The best options for an anti-rust but strong railing are to build it out of stainless
steel, brass, or nickel silver. The latter two will develop a natural patina over time or
they can be maintenance polished.
In summary, here is a list of the primary options in approximate order of low-to-high
1. Steel blasted, zinc/epoxy primed, powder coated with a super durable top coat
2. Aluminum, blasted and powder coated with a super durable top coat
3. Steel, hot dip galvanized & painted with a zinc rich
4. Aluminum brushed, anodized
5. Stainless Steel, raw
6. Stainless Steel, blasted and powder coated
7. Stainless Steel, Brushed Finish #4
8. Stainless Steel, Mirror Finish #8
9. Brass Railing (actual alloy is typically a 385 bronze)
10. Nickel Silver Railing
If there are more questions regarding high quality metal
work, feel free to contact me at email@example.com
or call me at 717.397.9500.
We are starting to think seriously
about a major home renovation project.
What advice do you have for us to
minimize the unavoidable disruption
during the period our home is being
Answer provided by: Fred Heim,
Project Manager, Renovations by Garman
Many homeowners when embarking on a home
renovation project ask the questions; How will
this project impact my life? How will this project
affect my day-to-day activities? How will it affect
my children's lives or my pet's lives? No matter
how big or small of a project you are doing
the one thing you can be sure of is that there
will be some impact on your life. This is why we
feel it is very important to set clear and realistic
expectations up front with your selected contractor.
There are a few areas that should be talked
about in detail PRIOR to any contracts being
signed or any work being done: schedule; working
hours; access to your home; handling of pets;
room availability; and storage or staging of items.
This is one of the most important
items to have clear up front - prior to any work
starting. Your contractor should provide you
with a list of activities with associated dates to
begin and complete each task, as well as a start
and completion date for the entire project. You
need to know how long this project will last and
be able to plan ahead for pivotal points in the
While this will tie in hand and
hand to the schedule it is important to know
when your contractor will begin work each day
and how late he will work. Also, will he be working
weekends, if so which days? It is a good idea
to project ahead for any vacation/holidays that
might fall into place over this time. Having a clear
understanding of this up front will allow you to
feel confident and more comfortable about when
people will be in your house working.
A clear plan for accessing your home is
crucial. Things to think about: Will the contractor
have a key to your home to access it daily? Will
you be there to let him in on a daily basis? What
doors will they use to access your home? We like
to have a clear access plan established so that
there is only one point of entry. Often times we
recommend installing a temporary construction
lock that is keyed differently from the rest of the
house and used only during construction. This
eliminates the need for the customer to ever give out a key to their home. There are
many ways to work through this, what
is most important is that however
you and your contractor determine to
accomplish this that you are comfortable
with the solution.
If there are pets in the picture it
is essential to talk about how to keep
them safe. Most contractors will not
be responsible for your pets. It is important
to establish a room or rooms
in the house that will be used for the
pets during working hours. In some
cases, due to noise and new people
in your home it makes more sense to
board your animals during the day.
Depending on the
type of project being done there could
be times when crucial elements of
your home are in non-working order.
If you are planning to live in your
home during the renovation project
it is important to know that a fully
functioning bathroom will be available
at all times. If your kitchen area is
being affected you will need to know
when and for how long. You will want
to ask your contractor if he is staging
the project in a way to allow usability
of these necessities. In most cases
this can easily be done, however it
may end up adding to the cost of the
project. For instance, if you are having
both of your bathrooms remodeled
and you decide you will need to
keep one functional at all times, your
contractor will need to have the same
trade partner come back at least
twice as opposed to coming out once.
This type of scheduling will usually
result in a higher cost. For some large
renovation projects it may be necessary
or more cost effective to move
out during certain times of the project.
This is important to know up front
so that you and your family are able to
Storage and Staging:
as to what items in your home will
need to be moved or relocated is a
very important task. Take the time
with your contractor to walk through
your home room by room and find out
what needs to be relocated and start
to plan where you will go with it. If several
rooms are affected and storage
is an issue it may be a good idea to
think about a mobile storage unit. You
will also want to ask your contractor if
he needs space in your home to store
any items during the process.
Asking these questions up front can
help make your project a more enjoyable
experience. For more information,
don't hesitate to contact us at
As newlyweds, my husband and I are seriously considering purchasing
a home. However, from what we are hearing in the news about the possibility
of the elimination of deducting mortgage interest, we're starting
to have second thoughts. What is your take on this issue?
Answer provided by: Barry Huber CPA,
Trout, Ebersole &
A combination of large budget deficits, an election year and high numbers of bank foreclosures
on residential real estate make for an interesting combination of events and current
discussions about proposals coming out of Washington DC. The search for ways to raise
significant tax revenues to try and partially eliminate a portion of the ongoing budget deficits
has resulted in proposals to eliminate or restrict deductions to an area long off limits to
politicians. A reduction in both mortgage interest on personal residences and real estate tax
deductions has been entered into various proposals to try and reduce deficits.
With the housing markets still not fully recovered from recent lows and bank foreclosures
continuing to run at a higher than normal pace, any tax policy changes that might negatively
affect the health of the housing market would seem to have little if no hope of being seriously
considered. However, in today's strange world of political maneuvering where the word
compromise and common sense seem to have little meaning, nothing can be considered
As a matter of fact, both the mortgage deduction and the deduction for real estate taxes on
a personal residence already are subject to certain limits that can affect certain taxpayers
due to the amount of the deductions or their level of income. In the next several paragraphs,
we will discuss those limits and the general rules concerning both mortgage interest and real
Real estate taxes are deductible on your personal residence, but only to the extent that one
is able to itemize deductions. The Internal Revenue Service gives a taxpayer the option of
using the standard deduction or itemizing deductions. The higher of the two amounts can be
deducted from income prior to calculating the federal tax. Two of the major components of
the itemized deductions are taxes, state and local income tax and real estate tax on one's
residence, and mortgage interest. There is no dollar limit on the deduction of real estate taxes
but the deduction can be eliminated if the taxpayer is subject to the alternative minimum tax
which will be discussed briefly later in this article.
Mortgage interest is deductible to the extent that it is paid on what is termed the taxpayer's
"qualified residence". This term is defined in Internal Revenue regulations and is basically the
residence that is used as the taxpayer's principal residence, although certain second homes
can be designated as such. Only acquisition indebtedness that meets certain dollar limitations
and was used to acquire, construct or substantially improve the taxpayer's qualified
residence qualifies. The aggregate amount of debt that may be treated as acquisition indebtedness
for any period can't exceed $1,000,000. The debt must be secured by the personal
residence. While this amount may seem high consider the cost of housing in other areas of
the country such as New York or California.
In addition to acquisition debt, home equity indebtedness, which is any debt other than acquisition
indebtedness that is secured by the taxpayer's qualified residence is deductible to the
extent the aggregate amount of this type of indebtedness does not exceed $100,000. In the
case of both acquisition indebtedness and home equity indebtedness, there are a number of
other rules that need to be met in order to deduct the interest. These will not be discussed in
detail in this article. See IRS Publication 535 for more details.
After meeting all the requirements previously listed there is still a possibility that the deductions
may be eliminated or reduced by the imposition of the alternative minimum tax calculation. A simple way of describing this tax is that it is a
"flat" tax that is calculated by adding back to taxable income
certain items referred to as tax preference items and calculating
a tax at a flat rate (depending on your income level)
on this higher adjusted taxable income number. The higher
of the regular tax or the tax arrived at under the alternative
minimum tax calculation, is the tax you pay for the year.
One of the items added back for the calculation is state and
local taxes including real estate taxes on your residence.
Another add back is the tax on home equity indebtedness.
Many people pay this alternative minimum tax and do not
realize that it has in effect eliminated a portion of the tax
and mortgage interest deductions that they thought were
being generated by their personal residence. When preparing
your tax return or having it prepared by a professional,
ask what the true tax savings generated from your personal
residence is for the year. In many cases it may be substantial but in others, it may not be as much of a benefit as you
Should you have additional questions, don't hesitate to call
us as 717.569.2900.
With every year's resolutions,
one of my top three ALWAYS
includes getting better organized.
Needless to say, it'll be
on this year's list—AGAIN.
And it's not just my closets
that need help–my garage is
a mess, as is my attic, and let's
not even mention the basement.
It's obvious the task
before me is too daunting to
be tackled alone...what can a
professional storage system
specialist offer me?
Answer provided by: Jeffrey Orr,
It's true that every year "being better
organized" is near the top of many
New Years' Resolution lists. And each
year we try. And each year we are only
moderately successful. Why? Typically
because we don't start out with a comprehensive
There is a reason why several times per
year the Big Box stores display those
large plastic containers right near the
door. It's an "impulse buy". But did you
measure the things you want to store
IN the bin before coming to the store?
Did you determine HOW MANY bins you
need to solve your problem? Did you
measure to see IF the bin will fit in the
space you want to put it. Those are just
a few of the elements that are often
overlooked when the urge to get organized
hits. And that is only addressing
the use of containers.
Additionally, there is a huge difference
between cleaning out the garage and
organizing the garage. And this holds
true regardless of whether it's your
garage, laundry room, home office,
pantry or closets. It's likely that these
areas have been cleaned up before but
the clutter just crept back in. And guess
what? It will creep back in again if you
don't create adequate storage spaces
and systems that will allow you to successfully
maintain the organization that
you are working so hard to achieve.
Need a hand in creating the plan and
customized storage systems that will
enable you to be organized once and
for all?...then let us help!
At California Closets, we are committed
to providing you with the highest
possible level of quality products and
services. Our professional Design Consultants
will assist by carefully analyzing
your space, your "stuff" and your
budget then working with you to create
the custom storage solution that meets
all your needs.
So give us a call, stop by our showroom
or check out our website at www.californiaclosets.
com to request your free
in–home consultation and to see more
tips and organizing ideas. We'll help
you get organized!
I am looking to get some
home improvements done,
how do I choose the right contractor?
Answer provided by: Chad E. Miller,
M&E Roofing LLC
Any home improvement project can
be a big investment and you want to
make sure it is done correctly by a
qualified contractor. When choosing
a contractor there should be multiple
credentials that you the consumer
should analyze. There are two items
that should be looked at first and
foremost. Is the contractor licensed
by the State of Pennsylvania and do
they have the proper insurances. The
PA contractor license means that the
contractor is registered with the State
of Pennsylvania to perform services
within the state and that they have to
abide by certain rules and regulations.
The second item of having the proper
insurance is a protection to you the
consumer. This is a very important
item that is often overlooked. Without
the proper Liability insurance and
Workman's' Compensation insurance
the consumer shoulders all of the
liability for the work being performed
and the workers performing the job.
After you have checked on these
items, now you get down to the nitty
gritty about the contractors abilities.
How long have they been in business?
Can the contactor provide references?
Have they done similar jobs to mine?
Do they have any additional certifications
for my particular home improvement?
What are their guarantees/warranties?
What is the bottom line price?
As you can see price is the last item
on my list. Don't get me wrong, price is
very important in your decision, but it
should not be your sole discretionary
"Fly by night" contractors are prevalent
in the home improvement industry. A
pickup truck, ladder racks and a hammer
and you are a contractor. They
are here one day and gone the next.
Keep in mind that when they leave so
do your warranties. This also can be
the same for the "storm chasers". This
is why years in business can be an
important thing to look at.
Completing similar projects to yours
helps you to determine the contractor's
on existing homes
can be challenging
at times. Past
similar jobs can
the only thing the
contractor has to
rely on in coming
up with solutions
quickly and accurately.
It also helps
you to feel comfortable
that the contractor
everything in the
original quote and
not keep having
to cover missed
items. (With that
being said you
will always have
for extras due to
hidden conditions that are not identifiable at the time of
Additional certifications can also be
helpful in the overall knowledge base
of the contractor. These additional
certifications help to show that the
contractor is willing to keep up with
the changing products and installation
Guarantees/Warranties speak for
themselves. If the contractor is not willing
to stand behind their work, I would
not want them working on my home.
Once you have looked at all of the
above items you can now look at the
price. Quality, experience and proper
insurance do not always come at the
cheapest price. As I said before price
does matter, but it should not be your
sole decision maker. Get 2–3 quotes
from reputable contractors, weigh all
of the above factors and then you can
make an educated choice on whom
best to work on your home improvement
If you are looking for a reputable contractor
to handle any home improvement
project, do not hesitate to give
us a call at 717–626–4253 for a free
My husband and I are planning to add a major addition
to our home and we are about to start talking to builders.
What are the advantages of working with a company that
offers BOTH design and build services?
Answer provided by: Jared M. Erb, Designer, Custom Home Group, Inc.
There are many advantages to working with a company that offers both inhouse
design and construction services. Here are a few items to consider:
One of the biggest advantages of working with a
design/build company is the ability to design within your budget. Most
designers dream of being freed from the restraints of construction costs
and product availability, but that is typically not reality. Every client has a
budget. It only makes sense to review financial goals and move forward
with a home improvement project focused on a budget that is realistic.
Recently, a potential client came to us with a full set of construction plans
that had already been designed. The homeowner had every design wish
and dream laid out artistically on plans. Once we met with him and presented
an estimate based on these plans, the anticipated price more
than doubled the cost of his desired budget. Because the client had been
focused on the design only, the estimated cost to build came as a complete
surprise. He spent several months and thousands of dollars for a set of
plans that now had to be re-designed.
The beauty of working with a company that offers both design and build
services is that the entire project can be managed from start to finish
based on your budget.
A Teamwork Approach.
Another advantage of working with a design/build
company is the ability these companies have to offer a client cost-saving
product alternatives. Builders work with and install various products daily.
Designers typically recognize what products will be the most aesthetically
pleasing. If builders and designers can work together as a team during the
design process, a client can be advised based on a full spectrum of expertise
from both fields.
As you work through the design of your floor plans and exterior elevations
it is never too early to talk about products and building materials. Some
products may carry specific framing or wiring requirements. You want to be
sure that you are considering those items early in the process. A design/
build company will be able to offer recommendations from both a design
and a construction point of view.
A third advantage of working with a design/build
company is a smoother transition from the planning stage to the field construction.
When one company not only helps you to design your project, but
also brings it to life through construction, the possibility of losing any aspect
of your vision in translation is minimized. Inevitably, questions, issues or
possible concerns will arise over the course of building a new home or addition.
In working through these matters with one company that excels in
both design and construction, a resolution can be reached promptly.
Working with a design/build company is an excellent choice
for clients who value accountability to their budget, cost savings
based on a wide range of expertise and seamless
transition from vision all the way through construction.
For more information about our design/build process, please
visit our website at www.customhomegroup.com.
I am planning to have my
house repainted but I'm a
little uncomfortable about
opening my home to strangers.
What advice do you
Answer provided by: Joel Buch, Owner, Joel's Painting
As a local painting contractor I am
constantly reminded of the trust that
my clients put in me as they willingly
open their homes and properties to
me and my crew. I often wonder how
many homes are being exposed to
unscrupulous contractors and tradesmen
that are not committed to the
work ethics and business practices
that homeowners should expect.
How do you as a consumer protect
your home and family from opening
the door to a company that does not
have your best intentions in mind and
should not be trusted in your home
or on your property? It is amazing
to me how much time and energy is
spent on protecting our homes from
the evils of the outside world. All of
us feel safer when our doors are
locked and our alarms are set. So why
do people willingly open their doors
to contractors who may be making
promises that cannot be kept; who
may not be qualified to be doing the
work for which they were hired; or
who have a poor track record for customer
satisfaction and staying within
the agreed upon budget?
I understand the need for a good deal
and for searching out a bargain, but is
it possible that homeowners are falling
prey to the contractor who does
not play by the rules—causing more
harm than good as problems arise in
the performance of the work and the
Beware! Regardless of the state of
the economy, you still get what you
pay for. Yes, now is the time to expect
a fair price but how do you know you
can trust the company that you let on
your property or in your door. Asking
a few standard questions and putting
a little time in the research of your
perspective contractor could protect
you and your family from a problem
waiting to happen.
Please allow me to give you a few suggestions
that will help protect you on
your next project you choose to have
done around your home. Don't set
your mind on the lowest bid before
the prices come in. Not all contractors
do work the same way and a little
extra money paid may be the answer
to getting the job you want. If the contractor
you choose can pass the tests
I list below and they are the price that
you are looking for then you may have
a deal on your hands.
First off, look for companies that you
have seen in the community. Committed
local companies are a treasure
and the owners are highly protective
of their image to the public. Google
your contracting needs. Reputable
contractors will have a website that
clearly defines their company and
services provided. It will also include
their PA Contractor Number which
must be used by all contractors that
operate in Pennsylvania.
Look for affiliations with local trade
organizations that give credibility to
the services they offer. A company
that is willing to invest in their business
even in a weak economy is one
that believes in itself and is here to
Make sure that the contractor is
adequately insured—it is not safe
to assume that anyone giving you a
bid is so. In this economy people are
cutting corners any way they can. A
safe coverage limit most contractors
carry is at least 1,000,000.00 of
General liability insurance. Also, ask
your prospective contractor if subcontractors
will be used to perform any
of the work—and are they adequately
insured? Aside from the insurance
issue, depending on the work being
performed, you may not want to have
your home exposed to people who are
not directly employed by your contractor.
Lastly, ask for references. Calling a few
past clients could separate the wheat
from the chaff very quickly. In today's
cyber age some companies also have
online video testimonials that can
be very helpful in determining the
integrity of a contractor. We all want
to spend less and get more. So make
sure that your bases are covered and
you can rest easy knowing that your
home is safe and sound in the hands
of a professional you can trust.
For more information, I invite you to
visit my website at www.JoelsPainting.com
After weighing all the options, we have decided to build an
in-law’s addition to our home for my mother. She is currently
independent enough on her own, yet we would like to plan
for any future challenges as she grows older. What should we
be considering in terms of the space and design so that we can
make her transition comfortable, yet still be prepared for the
Answer provided by: Laura Duff Schroeder, Marketing Director, Duff Builders
Like many homeowners, you have chosen to adapt your home to meet the needs
of an aging parent in lieu of alternate options. Designing a space to meet the physical
needs of your loved one, while at the same time offering comfort by threading
bits and pieces of the "familiar" throughout, requires thoughtful deliberation. Will
you be adding on to your home or simply renovating existing space? Before you
jump into building an in–law's quarters, you may want to consider the following:
Ease of Accessibility.
Keep the location of the in–law's quarters on ground level
whenever possible. Even if your parent is fit and agile enough to handle stairs, it
is important to plan ahead for any health issues that might come down the road.
While an unfinished bonus room over a garage or basement area might seem
like a ready-made space, it could potentially create difficulties with accessibility.
Consider how your parent will get into the home most often. If the in–law’s quarters
has a separate outside entrance, you may want to install a ramp (or at least prepare
for one in the future).
This particular room is full of opportunities to provide comfort to your
loved one while maintaining important functional features. First, making the room
spacious prepares you for the possibilities of walkers, wheelchairs, even home
health care nurses who may be needed. Once walls are up, you're not going to
want to renovate again! Knowing that our joints are not going to be as limber as we
get older, you might want to opt for a shower in lieu of a tub-shower combo. While
there are many models of showers available, take your time in looking at various
showrooms or speaking with a contractor about the advantages and disadvantages
of each. A shallow-step shower unit, for example, fits well with the lifestyle
of an aging parent and can still be easy to use if they require some assistance.
An ADA-approved shower is typically useful for the loved ones who require more
regular at-home assistance. While installing an ADA-approved toilet at the time
of construction is generally a good idea, grab bars could be installed at whatever
point is essential to your loved one's safety. If deciding to hold off on those in the
beginning, plan to install your paper holder and towel bars in locations that would
not affect future grab bar installation.
Kitchen or Kitchenette.
Every township or municipality has its own requirements
for what is acceptable when it comes to secondary living spaces, especially kitchens.
Your contractor should be able to assist you in determining your options. If
you get the green light for moving forward with a kitchen and/or kitchenette, spend
some time learning how your parent moves around and functions in a kitchen. Ask
yourself, would an island be more of a hindrance if a walker or wheelchair were
introduced? Perhaps widening the space between the island and other cabinetry
would be a suitable compromise.
A small but important thing to keep in mind is how our eyesight diminishes
as we age. Having a well-lit living space would add to the comfort that you are trying to create for your loved one.
Contemplate where it would be most
beneficial to have ample lighting, for
example kitchen countertops, bathroom
vanities, over the shower, hallways and
Recreate Design Elements.
it. Your aging parent is probably going
to experience a mix of emotions with
moving into an in–law’s quarters in your
home. Having the design reflect their
lifestyle will likely decrease the anxiety
about making this adjustment. If your
loved one couldn't live without that
special spice rack in their last kitchen,
why not include one here? If they loved
how their favorite recliner faced the
television from a certain angle, try to
accommodate the layout and electrical
outlet placement accordingly. If there
was a special piece of furniture that just
cannot be parted with, now is the time
to think about window and door placement.
Spending a little time thinking about the
functionality of the space and how you
can create the feeling of familiarity and
comfort through design will ease the
transition for both you and your loved
one. Here at Duff Builders, we know the
importance of family. If you would like
more information on building an in-laws
quarters or any other project, please
call us at 293.5100 or visit us at www.
"The full impact of the loss...you know, it did not really
hit us until the next day. Standing outside what was left
of our house, we knew we'd have to rebuild. But, we had
home insurance, so we could handle it, right? Wrong! When
we added the extra sunroom, we knew we were improving
the value of our home, but we didn't think about how that
would impact our insurance. Yes, we're rebuilding, but it
is going to cost us a lot more than we expected. In fact, we
will be paying out of our pocket for that extra sunroom— again!!!"
Answer provided by: Christine I. Jensen,
CPIW, AIS, API, CISR,
Engle-Hambright & Davies, Inc.
Unfortunately, this scenario is not uncommon. Many clients are so busy with
the planning of a new addition that they fail or forget to discuss the changes
with their insurance agent. You should always notify your agent once you
decide to make ANY changes/improvements to your home. They work in your
best interest and will determine a revised accurate replacement cost of your
home. Additional credits may be available such as a central alarm installation,
or using "green" products.
But the market value is much lower than the replacement cost, why do I
need to increase the coverage?
The market value represents the price you may sell your home for today which
is not the same as replacement cost. The replacement cost is the amount
needed to rebuild it as it exists prior to your loss. This value may be higher
than the market value because it includes several factors such as availability
of materials originally used, debris removal, the cost of construction labor in
your area, or changes in building codes that may require updated, more costly
It is important to insure up to the replacement value of your home to avoid a
coinsurance penalty in the event of a loss, even a partial loss. If you insure
lower than the new replacement value of your home, you may not be paid the
full amount of your loss.
My house was completely destroyed by fire. I am trying to collect on my
personal property that I had in the house, but the insurance company is
telling me I need an inventory. Can they require that?
Yes, whether your policy pays for the replacement or just the actual cash
value, the company is only obligated to pay for the personal property that you
can show you owned at the time of loss. It is a very good idea to keep an up
to date inventory in an off-site, secure place. Also, to help you remember what
you had, it is helpful to take pictures or a video of each room and keep them
with your inventory.
Always consult with your agent if you have any questions or concerns about
your homeowner insurance as they prove to be a valuable resource. You
should read over your policy and discuss additional coverage that may be
available such as identity theft, water back-up/sump pump failure, and flood.
My wife and I are hoping to add an addition to our home and
maybe some renovations. One thing we're really not clear on
is financing. What are the various funding options and is this
a good time to be financing a home improvement project?
Answer provided by: Jeffrey S. Bankert, Senior Executive Vice President, Retail Banking,
Interest rates have remained at record lows for some time now, which would
make this a GREAT time to consider that addition or renovation to your home
that you've been contemplating.
While there are many design decisions to make so your renovation or addition
turns out just as you've pictured it, one of the most important decisions you will make is how to finance your project.
This decision can be intimidating
and sometimes even confusing.
There are many options, but with the
right information you can make the
financing decision that best suits
The three most popular home improvement
financing options include
a refinance of your existing mortgage,
a home equity loan or a home
equity line of credit.
To finance your project you may
decide to refinance your existing
property. In this situation, the lender
will give you the money you need to
pay off your existing mortgage and
then disburse the remaining funds
as your project progresses. Interest
is charged only on the amount that is disbursed so you won't be making a
full mortgage payment until after the
project is completed and all funds
have been used. Alternatively, some
lenders will give you the money you
need to payoff your existing mortgage
but then deposit the funds for
the project into an escrow account to
be disbursed as the project proceeds.
In this situation you would
start making a full mortgage payment
shortly after settlement. The
benefits to refinancing are that you
will have one loan and your monthly
payments can be stretched out for as
long as 30 years.
Another option would be to finance
your project with a home equity loan
or line of credit. Both options allow
you to borrow against the value of
your home and the interest you pay
may be tax-deductible. Chances are
one may make more sense than the
other based on your individual situation.
A home equity loan provides you with
financing for a specific, one-time
purpose such as a home renovation
or addition. You receive an up-front
lump sum to pay for your home renovation
or addition. The benefits of a
home equity loan are that the interest
rate and term on a home equity
loan are fixed, making your monthly
principal and interest payments a set
A home equity line of credit enables
you to borrow funds only as you need
them, repay them, and borrow again
if you wish, much like a credit card.
The interest rate on a home equity
line of credit is typically lower than
a home equity loan, however the
rate fluctuates with the Prime Rate
and therefore your monthly payment
amounts may vary depending on the
current rate. The main benefit of a
home equity line of credit is that you
can borrow funds on a revolving basis.
There is also a newer home equity
line of credit product that is a hybrid
of the home equity loan and the home
equity line. This new financing vehicle
works like a line of credit, but gives
you the option at any time to fix the
interest rate and payment on all, or a
portion, of your balance. This option
may be ideal for financing your home
renovation or addition because you
can enjoy the benefit of advancing
funds only as you need them and
have the option to move your balance from a variable rate and payment to a
fixed rate and payment at any time.
With the wide array of financing options
available in the market today,
making the right decision can seem
like a big challenge. But finding a
lender who takes the time to listen
and understand your goals can make
the process less intimidating. In the
end, the satisfaction and enjoyment
you receive from a new addition
or renovation can be worth all the
effort—and now may be the perfect
time to start the project you've been
For more information, you can contact
me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My husband and I are considering
purchasing an older home in a lovely neighborhood with the idea of some home improvement projects down the line. Not knowing much about home loans, can you give us an overview?
Answer provided by: Michael P. Kennedy, AVP-Home Loan Manager, Countrywide Home Loans, A Division of Countrywide Bank, FSB
Whether you are purchasing a home or refinancing an existing mortgage, including refinancing to finance home improvements, shopping for a mortgage
in today's market can be an interesting experience. The mortgage industry has gone through many changes with regards to available programs and qualification standards. With the end of the
Low FICO, High LTV loans, borrowers now have to qualify the old fashion
way--they need to show and prove their income and have a better FICO score. (FICO is the acronym for Fair Isaac Corporation, a publicly-traded corporation that created the best-known and
most widely used credit score model in the United States. The FICO score is
calculated statistically, with information from a consumer's credit files.)
The good news is, there are still 100% financing programs available for those who qualify, and there is an abundant appetite to lend money--just with more
realistic standards. Having a better understanding of what lenders are
looking for, and what effects your FICO score could literally save you $1000's
of dollars on your mortgage during the life of the loan.
Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re going to buy or refinance any time soon. These best practices not only affect your FICO score, but also
How is my FICO score calculated?
There are five main areas that make up a person's score, and each area
has an associated weight to it.
1. Payment History: 35% weight. (payment
2. Outstanding Debt: 30% weight.
(amount owed on accounts)
3. Length of Credit History: 15%
weight (length of time established)
4. New Credit: 10% weight (number of
new accounts recently opened)
5. Type of Credit: 10% weight (type of
new accounts and how many)
Credit Inquiry Myth: Do multiple credit inquiries hurt my credit score? No, Fair Isaac's risk scoring software takes the appropriate steps to make
sure a score is not lowered because of multiple inquires such as when you are
shopping for a car or mortgage.
Quoting Interest Rates Today: Why
is it so hard to get a simple quote
over the phone? Risk has always been priced into the interest rate over the
years. But now it has been micro managed down to specific key components
of the loan. Lenders basically need a mini profile of the transaction and borrower
before they can accurately quote a rate. Here are the key areas or questions
we need to ask to quote a lockable mortgage rate:
• FICO Score: the higher the score, the better the rate.
• Loan To Value: (how much down or equitable position)
• Mortgage Program: alternative programs are priced differently
• Property Type?: condo's, investment properties, second homes, etc.
• Property Locations? soft markets effect terms now.
Without these factors specifically defined, a lender can only quote you a
range of rates.
Qualifications: What are lenders looking for today when I apply for a loan?
Basically, lenders are looking at five general areas of a borrower's profile.
1. FICO Score:
720 – 800 (excellent credit)
680 – 719 (good credit)
620 – 679 (average credit)
580 – 619 (challenging credit)
2. Job Stability: Basically looking for 2 years in same line of work.
3. Cash to Close: Is there a saving pattern or are reserves available.
4. Appraisal: Will the subject property be suitable collateral.
5. Debt-to-Income Ratio: Is the borrower buying within their means.
Our Countrywide Underwriters will look at every scenario on its own merit and
make every effort to find a way to help the borrower if the transaction still
Shopping Smarter, not harder! Staying
well informed, managing your credit and buying within your means will keep
your long-term goals in check and much
easier to achieve.
Asking for written estimates of the terms up front will allow you to easily compare viable options prior to making your final decision.
At Countrywide, we originate your loan, process it, approve it and close it all here at our local Lancaster Branch. This type of service delivers much faster decisions and results for our clients. For a free pre approval or consultation, please contact me at 717.581.2202 or Guy Fry for assistance.
We’re considering a security system but don't know much
about them. What questions should we be asking to make an informed decision?
Answer provided by: Kevin Stauffer, Owner, 3T Security
Choosing a quality security system is a
very critical decision for you and your family. Here are the most common
questions we get from our customers along with our response.
What does a typical system cost and
should I own the system or rent? For
a variety of reasons, we recommend
that you purchase the system. Costs
range from $1,100- $1,400.
What are the monthly monitoring
fees and how long is the term of
the service/monitoring contract?
Our standard monitoring is one of
the lowest in Lancaster County,
starting at around $15/month. Each
contract is for an initial term of 1-3
years and automatically renews for
1-year periods. Beware of long-term
How often does the system report in
to the central station and why is that
important? We program our panels
to test every couple of days. This is
a programming feature that allows
the system to “check in,” testing
the communications with a central
station to verify that signals can be
sent. Most people think that a security
panel is always “connected” to the
central station and that a loss of the
phone line will prompt a dispatch or
phone call to the site, but that is not
true with a land based phone line.
Daily tests can be performed at an
What happens if the phone line is
cut? What are my alternate choices?
Is the communication two-way?
If the phone line is cut, the panel
has no means to communicate the
signals it is trying to send to a central
station to dispatch the fire or police
assistance. As a security feature,
we program our panels so that if cut
while armed, the siren will go off. For
added protection, we have systems
that are totally wireless and do not
need to have a phone line. This type
of system that we use also allows you
to communicate with your panel for
remote arming and disarming of the
system without a phone line. This is
not possible with a more common
cellular backup unit.
What is a lockout code and why is it
used? A lockout code is a number
that allows only the person authorized to service your system to gain access
to the programming. This is a way that
companies keep competitors from
taking over “their” system. We believe
that our customers deserve choices
and will never lock you out of your
system. If a company needs to protect
their customers in this manner, it is
probably not a wise decision to deal
How much experience and/or training
does a technician installing/servicing
my system have? Are subcontractors
used to install the system? AT 3T, all
personnel have a minimum of 3 years
experience with others having more
than 10 years, with factory training,
NAAA certification, AFAA training
and an understanding of NFPA 72
standards. We provide more than
just on the job training, we provide
several hours of classroom training
every 2 weeks. We understand that
you may feel guarded about letting
someone into your home, which is one
reason we do not use subcontractors
and each employee is in a company
uniform with an identification badge
and driving a company marked
What is the term of the warranty and
what does it cover? We warranty our
work for 2 years. It covers all parts and
labor during normal business hours.
Does the central station that is
monitoring your system have a backup
location in case of a disaster or an
evacuation at the primary site? Is it
UL listed? Yes. The central station that
we are involved with is able to transfer
information and services in the event
of a disaster without missing a beat.
The central station is a UL listed
Is each security device on an independent
zone to reduce or eliminate the
potential for false alarms? Is the system
expandable? Yes, it only makes
sense. If you were to have a group of
windows on one zone and it set off a
false alarm, you wouldn't know which
individual window it was. How much
have you saved when you are paying
the false alarm fine, having to bypass
that entire side of the building leaving
it unprotected, and/or paying a service
technician to locate that one window
within an entire group? Yes, all of the
systems we install are expandable. We
do try to size your system to current
needs and future demands.
To learn more, please give us a call at
We would like to coat our garage's concrete floor, but how do we ensure it will hold up long term?
Answer provided by: Mike Mincemoyer, General Manager, PremierGarage of Central Pennsylvania
Coating a garage's concrete floor is a great way to protect it from road salts and other chemical attacks, improve the garage's overall appearance, ease surface cleaning and improve the home's sales appeal and price.
Whether the concrete is new or decades old, the longevity of any coating system begins with the preparation of the con-crete surface prior to the application of the actual chemicals. Acid etching, while a common preparation technique, lacks the ability to prepare tightly toweled surfaces and cannot remove any existing paints, sealers or contaminants, all of which decrease or negate a coating's ability to stick to the concrete. A mechanical preparation method, such as diamond grinding or abrasive blasting, ensure the entire surface provides the proper surface profile to allow maxi-mum adhesion by the coating.
Many paints are available for concrete floors, but they will not hold up against “hot tire” peel as paints lack the bond strength to resist the pull from the tires. A high quality coating system designed for a garage floor will provide superior bond strength to any floor paints. Most of these coating systems are made from epoxies, polyurethanes or blends of the two.
Better coating systems will feature multiple layers, where the first layer, or “base coat”, is designed for high adhesion to the concrete and may also be the binder for decorative chips or quartz. The last layer, or “top coat”, should be formulated for UV stability, abrasion resistance and high chemical resistance. This will keep the coating looking good year after year, ensuring that it does not discolor from exposure to direct sunlight, weather and chemicals.
While the coating should hold up well to normal vehicle traffic, frequent removal of stones and other debris will greatly extend the life of the coating system. After years of daily use, even the best coating system displays signs of wear, so ensure the coating system provides the ability to re-apply the top coat layer to later rejuvenate the floor.
The options available for coating a garage floor have never been broader. Since the garage floor sustains greater abuse than the other floors in the home, ensure any coating system selected pro-vides the characteristics we have de-scribed. We invite homeowners considering a garage floor coating to contact PremierGarage of Central Pennsylvania toll-free at 888.577.0452 or visit our web site at www.PremierGarage.com.
I suffer from Seasonal
Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that affects a person during the cold, bleak winter months. Experts think
it may be caused by a lack of sunlight. Could light from a sunroom provide me with a mood-altering remedy?
Answer provided by: Gregory Biscoe, VP, Operations, Sunspace Designs, Inc., dba Four Seasons Sunrooms
Yes, I have heard time and time again
from customers that the light from their sunroom lifts their spirits during the cold and dreary days of winter. In fact, winter is one of the busiest times of the year for many sunroom companies due to the desire for customers to escape the cold wind for a relaxing retreat where they can immerse themselves in the tranquility and beauty of the season
To take full advantage of your escape from the elements, the most important consideration is to ensure you get the most energy-efficient glass available. The wrong glass can make a sunroom too cold in winter putting you right back where you were with your patio or deck.
Consider a room for year-round use with high-performance, heat-reflective glass. Heat-reflective glass reflects winter heat back into the addition allowing for comfortable year-round use of the sunroom.
During the cold days of winter, I would suggest you look for a product with Energy Star qualification from the United States Department of Energy. Energy Star qualification will alert you that a product is more efficient helping to save on the price of heating your new addition! When you choose a company with Energy Star qualification, you should specifically ask if the sunroom in which you are interested is an Energy Star product. Look for high center of glass R-values for more insulating power.
The elements that make these rooms great are lots of light, nice views, and good access. A sunroom will brighten up your living space as it allows light to spread to adjoining rooms.
As a Four Seasons Sunrooms franchise, we specialize in designing and building sunrooms that can be used in all seasons. Visit our web site at www.PAsunrooms.com for complete details on ConservaGlass Plus, our exclusive, heat-reflective glass designed for year round use.
I had an addition designed for
my home and I can understand the floor plans, but am having trouble visualizing what it will look like. I like the floor layout, but I don't want to have an addition that makes my house look bad or takes away from the value. How can I be sure I am doing the best for my property?
Answer provided by: Todd Good, Professional Residential Designer, A.I.B.D., Goody's Home Design
This is a very good question and a legitimate concern. An addition can be a very large expense and you want it to be something not only you enjoy but will also be visually appealing and add to the value of your home. Computer CAD programs currently allow for this “design issue” to be solved. A designer can take your existing house
and draw it on the computer. From
there he can add the addition, trees, sidewalks, garages, etc. and you have a 3D model of the finished project. You can sit down with the designer, view it on the computer, take a virtual tour of the home, and tell him your likes and dislikes.
If you don't like the overall design, you can erase it and start again or make changes so it fits into the architecture of your house. This, of course, would be very expensive to do on site, but on the computer it is much more affordable and only takes a few clicks of the mouse. It also saves money because it helps the designer and homeowner find problems in the design prior to even getting a building permit.
You no longer need to rely on someone else's opinion of the design. Instead, you can make that judgment for yourself. The peace of mind knowing that you will like the final product will make the whole building process much more enjoyable.
I hope this answers your questions and helps the process of building your home go smoothly. Feel free to call me with any more questions or visit my web site at www.goodyshomedesign.com.
Do you have suggestions on how we can finance a major renovation project for our home?
Answer provided by: Gail Johnson, Assistant Vice President, Residential Mortgage Loan
Today there are mortgage financing options specifically designed to fund major renovation projects. In the past,
the only choices for most families were home equity loans and home equity lines of credit. These can be useful
tools, but have their limitations. Most home equity loans are limited to shorter terms of 15 to 20 years, resulting in higher payments. Rates on most long term home equity loans are considerably higher than residential mortgages. Home equity lines of credit are usually based on a variable rate, which means your payments will vary and can go higher. Another significant limitation is that these products are based on the current value of your home, so you need to have significant equity in your home to finance a major project.
Mortgage lenders can now offer a longer term fixed rate mortgage solution, specifically designed to fund major home improvement projects. These renovation loans allow you to finance your project based on the future value of your home. This is achieved by completing an appraisal that establishes the new value of your home, based on the planned improvements.
With a renovation loan you can combine your existing mortgage and the cost of the improvements into one loan with one monthly payment, at today's low fixed rates. You can lock in the rate at the beginning of the project, and take as much as 12 months to complete the work. And with terms up to 30 years, you can have the home of your dreams while maintaining a comfortable and affordable payment.
We are considering a sunroom
for year-round use. What are some important product features?
Answer provided by: Gregory Biscoe, Vice President, Operations
Sunspace Designs, Inc., Four Seasons Sunrooms
You should pay special attention to the glass which constructs your sunroom. Many sunroom companies use low-e glass, found in your home's windows, which gets very hot in summer. (For a home's windows, low-e glass is okay because it is a low percentage of the total wall surface.) Tinted glass, also popular, darkens a room but also gets very hot. Your car's windows are tinted, and in summer, you can feel the heat inside your car!
Consider purchasing a sunroom with heat-reflective glass. This will reduce the relative heat gain, glare and UV damage that many sunroom companies can't effectively combat with regular glazing's. Heat-reflective glass reduces summer heat gain and reflects winter heat back into the addition allowing for comfortable, year-round use of the sunroom.
I also recommend that you look for a product with Energy Star qualification from the United States Department of Energy. Energy Star qualification will alert you that a product is more efficient. Beware that when you choose a company with Energy Star qualification, you should specifically ask if the sunroom in which you are interested is an Energy Star product. Look for high center of glass R-values for more insulating power and low BTU/ HR/SQ. FT of relative heat gain.
Look for a company that has been around for a long time and installing the same product brand. Unfortunately, many companies switch brands and can not service their old product lines. Many sunroom companies do not survive for more than five years; it is a very competitive business.
One final word of advice is to watch for a transferable warranty with your new purchase. As a Four Seasons Sunrooms franchise, we specialize in designing and building sunrooms that can be used in all four seasons. Visit our web site at www.PAsunrooms.com for complete details on ConservaGlass
Plus, our heat-reflective glass designed for year-round use.
One of the many things I like about Lancaster County is its residential architecture. I especially like the look of stone and would like to incorporate it in our design plans for giving our
home a facelift — providing it's not going to blow our budget. How expensive is it?
Answer provided by: Jeffrey B. Hess, President, Signature Stone, Inc.
Because of its natural beauty and charm, it's easy to fall in love with the look of stone. Unfortunately, natural stone can be very pricey. When you consider how scarce stone is and that each stone has to be quarried, delivered,
fitted, and installed separately, it's not surprising that natural stone is beyond the reach of most homeowners. There is, however, a popular and more affordable alternative—stone veneer.
Stone veneer is manufactured stone that can be created, delivered and installed at a fraction of the price of natural stone. Equally important, a quality veneer will look as beautiful and authentic as natural stone. At Signature Stone, our stone is designed by local expert mill workers, most of whom have worked with natural stone for decades. Handling and installing stone has given them a keen sense of what stone should look and feel like. In fact, our signature line of stone is well researched. Rather than offer any type of stone on earth, our stone is based on what's available locally—to match the look of other homes that use natural stone. Lancaster County and its surrounding area is a great source of inspiration for 200 year+ old homes. Our stone is very closely matched to that stone in texture, size, shape, color, and method of installation. In fact, many of our molds are handcrafted and custom designed so each piece looks different. Also, the color of our stone can be tinted to match existing natural or manufactured stonework on your home, or in the area.
While not all stone veneer is created equal, a quality veneer will look and feel real. A quality veneer will also be durable and should come with a warranty to back it up. (At Signature Stone, we offer a 30-year warranty ensuring that our product is built to last and retain its beauty.) Most importantly, keep in mind that from a durability and professional looking standpoint, the most critical part of the project is the installation. A quality firm will ensure that each detail, corner and edge of the product is perfectly installed.
As for applications, the most popular use of stonework is on exteriors where it can be used in conjunction with existing stone, brick or brick veneer, stucco, siding, etc. Stonework can be designed to be used to cover large areas, or just accent windows and doors. Other applications that are gaining in popularity include fireplaces and mantles where the stonework becomes the centerpiece of a great room. Another area of the home where we are seeing increased interest in stone is in outdoor spaces including pool areas, decks, patios, walkways, and staircases. Mailboxes, entryways, fences, and gates are other popular applications as are garden planters.
To see for yourself just how authentic stone veneer can be, we invite you to visit our showroom. We think you’ll be amazed at its beauty, variety, and price.
In evaluating remodelers, what
should i be looking for to ensure that I'm hiring a professional?
Answer provided by: Bill Patrick,
2007 President, Building Industry Assn. of Lancaster County
There are four critical characteristics that should be carefully evaluated before hiring a remodeler. I’ll address
each one separately.
• Experience. Ask how long the remodeler has been in business. Longevity suggests financial stability, which is necessary for the remodeler to finish the job and still be available if problems crop up after the job is completed.
Also, the more jobs the company has completed, the more expertise the remodeler will bring to your project and the hidden surprises that remodeling typically entails.
• Reputation. Look to the remodelers’ former and current customers to gauge the company's reputation. Obtain the names and phone numbers of customers you can call to get their impressions of the company's work and customer service. Call them and make personal visits to see the work they had done. Even better, get references from customers whose projects were similar to the one your family is planning. Also, go visit one of the company's jobs in progress to evaluate how they manage the
construction process and how tidy they keep the job site. Ask whether these homeowners would hire the company again.
• Business Credentials. A good place to start your search for a remodeler is with
your local builders association and its affiliated Remodelors™ Council. Groups like these help to keep their members informed about new products, construction techniques, business practices and industry issues. Participation demonstrates a remodeler's commitment to professionalism and to the remodeling industry. Many trade groups also confer professional credentials, such as Certified Graduate Remodelor (CGR), to those who meet their requirements, which is a positive indicator of the remodeler's reputation.
• Insurance. It is also important to verify that the remodeler carries workers’ 36 - R&A MAGAZINE - SPRING 2007 compensation and liability insurance. Have the remodeler show you copies of both insurance certificates to protect yourself from liability in situations involving job site injuries or property damage resulting from the work being done on your home. If your goal is a professional remodeling project, then your best bet is to hire a professional remodeler. The extra cost will pay for itself in the satisfaction you receive while the project is in progress and during the many years you will enjoy the completed project.
We’re planning a major renovation
project and would like to include a security system — which we know very little
about. What can you tell us?
Answer provided by: Jim Durkin, President,
Choice Security Services
Basically, an intrusion and fire alarm system works off a CPU board, similar to a computer, which is placed in a control panel. At Choice Security System we attempt to locate the control panel
in the basement out of sight. A keypad controls the CPU board and is located in a convenient location for the customer,
such as near the garage entry door or bedroom. The keypad arms and disarms the system using a four digit number that the customer chooses. The fire system is always on and cannot be shut off. The control panel is also
connected to the customer's telephone line.
When the siren is activated, it's
loud—by design. At the same time, the CPU dials our monitoring station and we receive a signal informing us what
device went off. In most cases, we dial the customers location, identify who we are and ask for their password. Once we identify that the proper password is given, we proceed accordingly. If an improper password is given, we dispatch
the proper authorities.
With regard to fire systems, Pennsylvania passed a law that requires new
residential homes to have a smoke detector in every bedroom and one on every floor. We also recommend placing a heat detector in the garage, near the furnace and attic. Placing a smoke detector in a garage may create false
alarms with vehicle gas fumes. Smoke detectors are the best device for early warning of fire.
The siren must be heard clearly in the bedroom with the bedroom door closed. Most building inspectors have a device
that measures the loudness of the siren. Our approach is to install smoke detectors that if one smoke detector
goes off, they all go off. The objective of the siren is to wake everyone so that they can take appropriate action.
We also install smoke detectors that can be attached to our control panel. Therefore, if a smoke detector goes off and no one is home, a fire signal is still sent to us. We will then be able to dispatch the fire trucks. Fires can spread quickly, timing is everything.
With regard to an intrusion system, each home is different. We can accommodate whatever the customer wants. In any case we give the customer recommendations and options which allow them to make an intelligent decision.
If you read the police statistics, most break-ins occur through doors or
through unlocked windows. Some basement windows are very easy to kick in and then unlock. Our approach is to alarm every door that leads to the outside and into the garage. If the burglar attempts to come through the door, the
alarm goes off and the intruder usually leaves quickly.
Today, windows are double-paned and
have two locks. i can tell you that 50% of the homes I survey for potential customers, I will identify an unlocked window. If the intruder comes through an unlocked window, we can identify them with motion detectors. I usually
recommend one motion facing the stairs leading to the 2nd floor and one in the rear of the house. If appropriate, I sometimes recommend a motion detector
for the basement.
As for your renovation project, we recommend that you contact a security company early enough so that they can coordinate their work with the other
trade partners involved in your project. At Choice, we usually install after the electrician and the plumber and before the drywall goes up. If that doesn't happen, there is enough wireless equipment
that we can utilize.
Before signing a contract, how can we be assured that we are picking the right contractor? And once we decide, how can we minimize the stress and disruption that comes with the project?
Answer provided by: Joe Duff, Owner, Duff Builders
In selecting your contractor, the first thing you need to do is ask your prospective
contractor for customer references—including phone numbers.
The second thing you’ll need to do is make those follow-up phone calls.
Past customers will be great resources for your decision. Don't be afraid
to ask your contractor to visit an ongoing and/or finished project. It's a
great opportunity for him to show you firsthand his workmanship. Trust is
essential between the homeowner and contractor, and references are an
important step in gaining that trust. Ask the references if the contractor
fulfilled his obligation and how he resolved problems. And lastly, communication
is key. You and your contractor will be working together as a team,
and having a strong communication base is vital to the success of your project.
In fact, how carefully you selected your contractor and how well you work as a team will play
large roles in minimizing the stress and disruption of your project. The expectations of both
the contractor and homeowner are important to discuss before getting started. More decisions
and selections will be asked of you than you ever dreamed, so start early and get it out
of the way as soon as possible. This will enable you to handle the few unexpected decisions
that pop up—and still enjoy watching your project being built. Last minute decisions cause you
and your contractor to play fire drill. Nothing quite compounds the stress for both homeowners
and the contractor like having to make a decision in the 11th hour when panic starts setting
in and you end up settling for something you really don't want. Changes to the scope of a project
often alter the time frame and budget, so make sure you discuss with your contractor how
he handles these decision changes. Again, make sure you communicate your expectations
up front and ask for the same in return. A trusting, communicative relationship that goes both
ways is often the best way to a wonderful building experience.
We just completed a major kitchen renovation and while everything was beautiful at first, we quickly noticed spots on the faucets that just won't
come off as well as stains on the granite countertops. Could this be the
effect of hard water that we hear so much about lately, and if so, what can
Answer provided by: Don Mumma,
Haller Enterprises, Inc.
Hard water is caused by the presence of dissolved minerals,
like calcium or magnesium, in the water, which is very prevalent
throughout Lancaster County. Many locals don't know about the
effects of hard water because it is something they have lived with
all their lives. You on the other hand, have now seen first hand the
residue (also called scale) that hard water can leave behind.
Over time, hard water scale can clog your plumbing, which eventually
reduces water pressure. It damages water heaters, dishwashers,
washing machines, coffee makers and virtually all appliances
through which water passes. The scale leaves spots or streaks on
dishes, glassware, faucets and countertops. It also dulls the look
of clothing, floors, sinks, tubs and even your hair!
Hardness is measured in grains per gallon (gpg). According to the Water Quality Association,
ratings of 3.5 gpg are treatable. To put that into perspective, you should know that the average
rating for water in Lancaster and surrounding counties is about 15 gpg, although some areas,
Lititz for example, can be as high as 21 gpg!
Haller Enterprises most often recommends Lancaster Water Treatment's Electronic Metered
Water Softener. The softener is available in several models, which one is determined by the
needs of your family and the hardness level of your water. All of these easy-to-operate units deliver
softened water that washes brighter, rinses cleaner and feels a whole lot better.
When was the last time you had your water tested? If you have concerns about your water
quality or taste, cal lour Service Department to schedule a free water test. Whether you have
municipally treated or well water, we can test for iron, pH level, hardness and TDS (total dissolved
solids) and propose treatment options.
We're hiring a professional plumbing contractor to remodel
our kitchen and one of our bathrooms. Would we save money
by supplying the materials for our project ourselves?
Answer provided by: Bill McDevitt,
Before responding directly to the question, let's look at it from a different
perspective. Could you save money by taking your own food to a restaurant and
requesting that the chef prepare it for you? Or, could you save by taking mail ordered
auto parts to the car dealership and asking their mechanic to install
them? Well, actually, you'd likely consider those scenarios laughable, but you're
not at all alone in wondering about your remodeling project.
To answer your question as straightforwardly as possible, based on industry
experience, there would be little to no savings on the overall expense of your
project by supplying your own materials. There are various reasons for this, as
described below. However…that does not mean you shouldn't be involved in the
selection process! By all means, you need to make informed decisions about
what you want, because you'll be living with those decisions for years to come.
Plumbing professionals have historically done an outstanding job of connecting
the links between them, the homeowner and their suppliers to provide the best
quality products in the most efficient way. Do they make a profit in that process?
Yes, but it's well-earned, and in the long run, it's minimal. They assume many
responsibilities in that process, such as proper sizing, integration with existing
systems, order scheduling, and most importantly, product warranties. They
don't warrant something they haven't sold, and in the case of water-bearing
products, warranties are EXTREMELY important!
So, in this age of Internet shopping, mass retailers, big-box home centers and
buying clubs, you may find what you believe to be better deals on job materials,
but in the long run, you'll save money and time by scheduling a visit to a local,
professional showroom, and then letting your contractor take it from there.
Hajoca Corporation's Kitchen & Bath Showroom on the Fruitville Pike has been
serving this community for decades, and though Hajoca recently celebrated its
150th anniversary, their showroom is cutting-edge for today's discretionary consumer.
Work with professionals, save yourself the headache, then go out and
enjoy a delicious, chef-prepared dinner!