How to Protect Your Family from Allergens and Irritants in the Home

Many people know to take precautions outdoors to protect themselves from common allergens like pollen when the seasons change. However, when the weather gets colder and you start spending more time indoors, you are exposing yourself to many indoor allergens like pet dander and dust mites. These are often overlooked, but should be taken seriously to protect the health of you and your family.
Family members spend a lot of time in confined spaces in the home which contribute to significant and chronic health problems. As a result, we must take steps to limit their exposure to mold and other allergy producing irritants. These simple procedures will help to keep your home free of these allergens and irritants:
  • Have heating and air conditioning system serviced regularly.
  • Replace air conditioning filter with small particle or HEPA filter. Make sure that the filter holder is airtight to prevent air bypass.
  • Encase pillows, mattresses and box springs in dust mite proof covers.
  • Spread aquarium gravel over the dirt in plants to help contain mold and be careful not to spill water on the carpet when watering the plants to prevent mold growth in the carpet.
  • Avoid using wood burning fireplaces and make sure that gas fireplaces vent to the exterior.
  • Use the exhaust fan in the bathroom to reduce moisture and mold buildup while bathing and showering. Leave the fan running an hour to two after showering.
  • Don’t allow smoking in the home.
  • Remove shoes prior to entering the home to prevent contamination from mold or lead dust.
  • If home is equipped with a front loading washer, make sure the door gasket is cleaned with bleach frequently to prevent a buildup of mold.
  • Use tapered candles instead of jar candles to prevent spreading soot particles.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to prevent spreading dust particles throughout the home.
  • Avoid running your automobile in the garage for an extended period of time to prevent combustion gases from entering adjacent living spaces.
  • Keep doors and windows closed during warm weather and use air conditioner and dehumidifiers to keep moisture in the home at a minimum.
  • Clean the refrigerator drip tray annually to avoid spreading contaminants that have collected in the tray.
  • Avoid using scented laundry, cleaning and body products which contain chemicals that contribute to allergies.
  • Control pest infestations from cockroaches and mice by utilizing inexpensive traps. Seal any cracks or holes where mice could enter.  Remove allergy triggering insect and mouse residue by thoroughly vacuuming carpet and washing hard surfaces.
By following these suggestions, you should significantly reduce your family’s exposure to allergy causing irritants. To further protect your home from harmful allergens, schedule an appointment with our experienced and certified home inspectors. You can reach us at 800-822-7200 to learn more about our extensive inspection process.

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Prepare your home for summer: Part 2 [Video]

Welcome back! Here are more tips for getting your home ready for the hot months of summer. Arguably, among the few negative aspects of summer, none are quite as irritating as insect bites and stings. You’ll want to check for the same kind of cracks and gaps in your walls, attic, foundation, doors and windows that cause air leakage – as they also let bugs in. For an extra layer of protection, spray the areas you just caulked or weather-stripped with a pesticide that’s safe for home use, on both the inside and outside. If you don’t relish the idea of handling all these tasks yourself, though, you may simply want to bring a home inspection professional to assess every aspect of your house and recommend the best course of action. Thanks for watching!

Avoid the trend of waiving home inspections

As a homebuyer near the end of the highly complex process of seeking out, finding and closing on the perfect home, it's understandable if you feel some fatigue, and perhaps some eagerness to get everything over with. This isn't abnormal. It's akin to the last hour of work on a Friday for those with nine-to-five jobs, or how students feel just before summer starts. The papers are signed and the house is virtually yours. Any last steps regarding the property are probably just formalities, right?

"Some buyers are waiving their right to a home inspection before completing sales on new houses."

Sadly, this is not the case. If you haven't already done so, having your soon-to-be new home inspected by an expert from an established home inspection company is without a doubt the last piece in the puzzle of new homeownership. But despite this generally accepted truism, an alarming trend has surfaced in certain segments of the U.S. real estate market of late – numerous buyers waiving the right to a home inspection before the completion of a deal on a house for sale.

Let's look at the disconcerting development and explain in no uncertain terms exactly why an inspection is essential: 

Inspection waivers stemming from buyer desperation 
According to the Tacoma News Tribune, impatience and fierce competition among buyers are the factors motivating a significant amount of hopeful homeowners to eschew the option of having home inspectors conduct surveys of a property for safety issues, damages, general cleanliness – and, if requested, specific tasks such as an energy audit.

For example, if two buyers come to a real estate agent, or directly approach a property owner, with offers that are essentially identical except that one demands a home inspection and one doesn't, the seller or seller's agent is more likely to choose the no-inspection buyer. It speeds up the process by which they earn their revenue. There's nothing unscrupulous about this – it's part of the business – but problems that aren't found before the sale is closed can cause major headaches for buyers down the road.

Real estate agent Karla Wagner confirmed the risks for buyers resulting from a waived home inspection.

"There's just so many things that can go wrong," Wagner told the News Tribune. "What if it's [a problem that costs] $10,000? What if it's whatever, and then you don't have a way out? You don't need to force anything, or be risky, and then end up with a huge problem on your hand and a money pit."

Although the News Tribune piece specifically focuses on the Tacoma, Washington metropolitan area, evidence shows that this trend exists in markets across the country – including Arlington and other areas of Virginia, according to Arlington Now.

Avoid the trend of waiving home inspectionsBuyers shouldn't neglect to receive the professional home inspection to which they're entitled.

Major advantages of undergoing an inspection
The ability to develop leverage in real estate negotiations is one of the most pragmatic benefits a home inspection affords a buyer. If a home inspector finds a structural issue that isn't a deal-breaker but still constitutes a problem – windows in need of replacement, or an attic that's supposed to be insulated but isn't – you can haggle. You're in a position to tell the seller or seller's agent that you'll take the property, but only with a few thousand dollars cut from the listing price. Some sellers might not budge at this, but many are willing to make a deal.

"Some sellers are more willing to accept buyer offers that don't require an inspection, but this shouldn't sway you."

Beyond that, the simple fact of being able to uncover hazards within a home, such as badly wired electrical infrastructure, leaky water pipes and significant structural damage, is ultimately worth more than the price-haggling it allows. It helps ensure your safety and that of your spouse and family, and by extension guarantees peace of mind. 

Remember what to look for
As noted in Reuben Saltzman's real estate blog for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, sellers should know what your inspector – and you, by proxy – want to see. All essential utilities should be activated, and appliances such as the boiler or furnace and hot water heater must be readily accessible so they can be examined. Garages and any crawl spaces should also be open.

Finally, don't forget your contingency form. Typically attached to home purchasing agreements, this document details buyers' rights in this context and constitutes written proof that you can call off buying the house without incident or penalty if the inspection is unsatisfactory.

Finding a compromise
Writing for Arlington Now, real estate agent Eli Tucker pointed out that you can find middle ground between yourself and the seller on this issue. The typical contingency period for a home inspection is seven to 10 days, but if you reduce it to five, you can allay a seller's apprehension while still getting your new home properly inspected.

Mobile apps to aid your home improvement tasks

Take a look around your home today. Chances are good there are some basic upkeep tasks you could stand to get done – or maybe there's a more serious problem, like loose shingles on your roof that are causing leakage. Or perhaps you're planning to sell the home at some point in the near future and it's repainting, renovations and additions you've got in mind.

All of these are equally important. Whether you want to make your home look better for your benefit or to attract the eyes of a buyer, it isn't always the easiest responsibility to shoulder, especially if you consider yourself a DIY individual and plan to handle much of the work on your own. 

Naturally, you should look for help wherever you can get it, from episodes of HGTV to consultations with home inspection contractors. And considering how thoroughly mobile devices have become intertwined in the fabric of our lives, why not use your smartphone or tablet to your advantage, to make your home improvement responsibilities somewhat easier? Check out some of the ways in which various apps can benefit the home repair and renovation process:

Mobile apps to aid your home improvement tasksMobile apps to aid your home improvement tasks

Brainstorming and shopping
You might know exactly what changes you're going to make, or which problems to solve. But even if you do, what materials do you want you use? Is the design you want to incorporate right for a particular interior space? Likely as not, you don't have it all figured out just yet. (Few of us do, in most contexts. Don't fret.)

This is where lifestyle apps come in. According to consumer advice expert Clark Howard's blog, Pinterest can be a big help for interior and exterior design. The lifestyle social network's app lets you dedicate specific "pinboards" to individual projects, each serving as a space for photo inspirations, products you plan to use and more, and by sharing your boards, you can get feedback and tips from other homeowners or designers. In a similar vein, Houzz's app helps you find photos of successful renovations similar to yours as well as blog posts explaining how they were done.

Finally, it's time to buy any tools and materials you need. You might want to stick with Houzz's online marketplace if its blog served you well, but other major home goods retailers like Lowe's and Home Depot also have useful apps. The former, in addition to its e-commerce and project management app, recently released an augmented reality app to make in-store navigation a breeze. It essentially creates your shopping list for you. Lowe's did this to catch up with its major competitor, which already had an augmented reality offering. Home Depot's app lets you view products as they might look in your home.

Apps for design
Pinterest has its limitations, and won't necessarily help with the nitty-gritty of design. But there are other apps for that. For example, Home Design 3D has a leg up on the augmented reality features of the Home Depot and Lowe's apps, as it visualizes the way your additions will look in full 3-D, which is how professional designers make their plans. It's available in both free and premium versions, the latter offering users more freedom in sharing their plans with others. 

Magic Plan fills a similar role. It incorporates data from photos you take of your house's interior and allows you to place virtual objects or features in a simulation of the space to get a sense of different looks. And if you're going to be painting, multiple apps serve this need alone, including Adornably, TapPainter and Home Depot's Project Color. 

Measurement and labor-assisting apps
When you're down to the physical work of home improvement, apps can be of help here too. iHandy Carpenter turns your phone into one of five tools – a protractor, ruler, plumb bob, bubble level and surface level. Android smartphone and tablet users can download Handyman Calculator to determine measurements and make conversions as necessary, while Builder Calculator serves the same purpose for those who use Apple iOS devices. 

What if you run into problems? You guessed it – there are apps for that as well. The e-commerce apps named above all have advice sections, and HGTV Magazine's mobile version serves as a great source of building, painting and renovation troubleshooting tips. Last but not least, if all else fails and you can't get everything done on your own, you can use the Angie's List app to take full advantage of the home improvement contractor listings site wherever you are and bring in a professional to handle the toughest jobs. 

The basics of insect infestation prevention

Spring has officially sprung, putting all the cold, snow and slush of winter in our collective rearview mirror. However, it's important to remember that spring comes with its own particular set of potential difficulties for homeowners to face, and if you aren't prepared to meet them head-on, they can quickly become overwhelming. 

Insect prevention and control definitely fall under the umbrella of home issues to address in the spring. This is because much of the wear and tear that the recently departed winter weather can put on your house might also make it easier for troublesome insects to work their way inside in troubling numbers. In fact, April has been designated as National Pest Management Month by the National Pest Management Association.

With that in mind, search for certain clear indicators of insect infestation and consider having a professional exterminator take a more thorough look. This can turn out to be one of the most vital tasks you turn over to home inspection contractors this spring!

Having an exterminator check your house for termites or other insects is a big part of spring home upkeep.Having an exterminator check your house for termites or other insects is a big part of spring home upkeep.

Looking for the signs
Right when spring starts and the last remnants of snow have melted, survey your house's exterior and interior. According to the NPMA, certain signs of damage that insects can use as an entry point include the following: 

  • Any cracks and holes in siding, stucco or brick.
  • Compromised areas near pipes, electric meters, natural gas meters or cable TV connections.
  • Shingles on your roof that are rotting due to snow or are otherwise damaged.
  • Weather-stripping around windows and mortar surrounding the foundation. 
  • Excessive dampness and/or poor ventilation in your basement or attic.

Basic methods of prevention
If you encounter any of the issues noted above, you can handle a few tasks on your own to mitigate them. It may still be worth your while even if you didn't encounter those signs.

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends using caulk to patch up any cracks or holes you find around your siding, windows, foundation, baseboards and cabinets. Empty spaces around pipes, meanwhile, can be packed with steel wool. If you encounter mold in small amounts, you can use water-diluted bleach to remove the black or gray stains it leaves, and install a dehumidifier down there to help limit moisture and prevent future mold buildup.

Home-use pesticides can also help. Many are only suitable for outdoor or indoor use, so be sure to limit them to their designated areas. Also, according to the EPA, if you're using pesticides not contained in bait or trap products, only spray them on areas that are probable ingress points for insects, rather than throughout an entire room. Finally, be sure to keep your children or pets away from these substances and the areas you've used them for several hours. 

Bring in the professionals
If you already have enough of an insect issue or other problem to make you feel overwhelmed, don't panic. It's time to call in professional exterminators and let them do their job. 

This principle holds particularly true for leaks and other plumbing issues that could be facilitating insect infestation. Let a properly experienced plumber handle such problems. The same goes for mold testing and inspection – if your attic or basement is seriously mold-damaged, don't try dealing with it yourself.

Top deficiencies uncovered during home inspections: Part 4 [Video]

Both buyers and sellers should welcome home inspections. They identify key areas of improvement, making the home buying and selling process more transparent. Here are the final two deficiencies inspectors may uncover during the process: Poor electrical wiring can be a serious fire hazard. Some of the most common electrical problems are overburdened systems, exposed wires, risky extension cords, and splice wires. Hire a professional electrician to fix these problems right away. Home inspections may also find examples of inadequate upkeep or general wear and tear. This may include raggedy carpet, scratched flooring, peeling paint, landscaping issues, and crumbling driveways or walkways. Thanks for watching our series!

Top deficiencies uncovered during home inspections: Part 3 [Video]

Home inspections are the ideal process to know either what you’re getting into as a home buyer, or know what to fix as a seller. Here are two more top problems discovered during these inspections: If homeowners don’t pay attention to their heating and cooling system, they may become clogged, dirty, or a general safety hazard. Inspectors can point this issue out and homeowners may choose to get their ducts clean, upgrade certain components, or install a new HVAC system altogether. Poor plumbing is another main cause for concern for home buyers and sellers. Clear signs of this issue include poor water pressure, leaks, and slow drainage. Thanks for watching! Tune in later for the last part in this series.

Top deficiencies uncovered during home inspections: Part 2 [Video]

Home inspections can make homeowners nervous, especially if they don’t know what to expect. Here are two more common problems professionals uncover during these inspections: Any type of water damage should be an instant red flag for any homeowner. This includes everything from damp basements to clogged gutters to leaky pipes. Home buyers don’t want to invest in a house that may have serious water problems in a few years, so make sure to address it right away. Next, inspectors frequently discover structural flaws. This issue may include cracks in the foundation, broken window frames, and creaky doors. Thanks for watching! Tune in later for the third part in this series.

Top deficiencies uncovered during home inspections: Part 1 [Video]

Buying or selling a home can be a stressful process for most people. Home inspections provide the peace of mind buyers need to know they’re making the right investment, while sellers can conduct minor to major repairs to boost their sale price. The following series will cover the top deficiencies home inspectors uncover during their work. First, drainage or grading issues are a serious, yet common problem. When water does not properly drain away from your home, it can get trapped in your basement and foundation. In most cases, installing effective gutters will direct water away from your home. Next, leaky or improperly built roofs are another concern. This problem could vary in terms of severity from simple loose shingles to significant water or mold damage. Most realtors say a new or repaired roof can boost your sell price quite a bit. Thanks for watching! Tune in later for the second part in this series.

5 steps you must take to get ready for an open house

Hosting an open house is a necessary step in the home selling process. Not only do people rarely purchase a home without spending ample time within its walls, but it also allows you to open up your house to wider market of potential buyers. If your home is inviting during this event, your chances of selling your house in a reasonable timeframe skyrocket.

Getting ready for an open house these days is a lot more than tidying up and pulling freshly baked cookies out of the oven. Not only are there more houses on the market these days, but home buyers are becoming smarter about the various tricks sellers use to draw them in. To increase your chances of finding buyers at or above your listed price, consult your real estate agent and use these tips to get ready for your open house:

"Hire a professional cleaning service."

1. Clean (or hire a professional cleaner)
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a seller is to show off a messy, dirty home, according to Bankrate. Throwing a successful open house should involve more than just picking up toys and sweeping the floor. You need to conduct a thorough, deep clean of your home. If you're not the most talented cleaner, hire a professional cleaning service to come in the day before to make things look spotless for potential buyers.

2. Get rid of the clutter
You might love all your knickknacks and personal items, but your visitors at your open house will not. After all, how can they envision themselves living in the home if they are constantly bumping into unnecessary furniture pieces or seeing rows and rows of family photos? There is nothing inherently wrong with a comfy, cluttered home, but this is not the image you want to project to homebuyers. Consider de-cluttering and putting certain accessories and furniture into storage for a little while, suggested.

3. Don't forget about the exterior
You might not be a gardener, but this doesn't mean your landscape shouldn't look well-groomed. Buyers likely won't make it through the front door, if they are first greeted with peeling paint, overgrown flower beds, an unmowed lawn and other unappealing elements. Hire a landscaper to spruce up your home's exterior and consider investing in nice patio furniture for your front porch. This way, your home is as inviting from the outside as it is on the inside.

"Consider bringing in a professional home inspector."

4. Spread the word on social media
Yard signs and real estate advertisements are still solid ways to market your open house, but they shouldn't be your only choices. With the rise in modern technology, you have plenty of social media platforms and innovative online tools at your disposal to spread the word that your home is for sale. U.S. News & Word Report wrote that social media advertising for open house is a dynamic approach that may draw in many more potential buyers. Even if your friends are looking to purchase a home, they may know or reach someone who is hoping to buy.

5. Conduct a home inspection
When you have plenty of eager homebuyers at your open house, you don't want them to notice your leaky plumbing, inconsistent air conditioning or drafty windows. This occurrence could be even worse if potential buyers ask your realtor about an electrical wiring or siding problem they didn't realize you had. To avoid this embarrassment, consider bringing in a professional home inspector to go through your house and point out any potential issues. This way, you know what issues you face, and your realtor can answer your buyers' questions honesty and comprehensively.