34269232 - a pipe leaking due to freezing

As I write this in mid-October, my quick question to you is, do you have a water hose still connected to an outside spigot of your home? Other than a fire or tornado, the most damaging event a house can suffer is flooding from a burst water pipe. Yet, most people have just a sketchy knowledge of how to avoid this potential disaster.

One of my most memorable mishaps with burst pipes involved a young couple, buyer clients, who had found the home of their dreams and wanted to close as quickly as possible because the lease on their rental was about to expire. But their dream was dashed, at least temporarily, by a discovery we made when we arrived at the house for the engineering inspection.

We were greeted by an ominous sound of water leaking and discovered in the family room that water was spraying through the seams of the plasterboard walls and half of the ceiling had collapsed. The engineer quickly shut off the water main, but it was too late to prevent the extensive damage to the walls, ceiling, built-in cabinetry and flooring.

As an estate sale, the house was empty, but the selling agent had been very careful to monitor the heating system so that the pipes wouldn’t freeze, so she couldn’t understand what went wrong. The engineer looked around and found that, outside, the garden house had not been disconnected from the outside spigot.  He explained that water in the hose had frozen and backed up into the pipe that traveled through the garage, which was unheated, to the family room on the other side of the garage wall, causing the pipes to burst. When the ice melted, the room was flooded.

When water freezes, it has the force of 2200 pounds of pressure per square inch, according to Dave Goldberg, founder of Dave Goldberg Plumbing & Heating, serving Westchester and Putnam counties. “One of the most common causes of burst pipes is when people forget to detach their hoses for the winter. It should always be done by mid-October,” he said.

“But there are many reasons pipes can burst,” he continued. “It can be a mere draft through a tiny crack in a wall, and if it is cold enough outside, the wind chill factor can cause a pipe to freeze, and it can be anywhere in the house, even over the living room.

He further noted that even if a house is winterized, it can be done incorrectly. “When people had summer houses up here and would close them for the winter, it was easier to drain the pipes because the plumbing was designed for that. Now, with modern construction, pipes wind around beams and go up and down, and there are many elbows that can trap water. If just a drop of water is left in the elbow and it freezes, the pipe can burst,” he said, adding that the best way to avoid this is to have the pipes blown out with an air compressor.

“Things can go wrong even if a house isn’t abandoned,” he said.  “If a family takes a winter vacation, for instance, it’s not enough precaution just to leave the heat on. Suppose there is a power failure or the supply of fuel runs out?”

Goldberg cited the popular use of wood and gas-burning stoves as another cause of burst pipes. “They give you a false sense of warmth,” he said. “It can be 70 degrees inside, but that heat may not get to the outside walls where the water pipes are located.”

As a safeguard, Goldberg recommends to all clients that non-toxic anti-freeze be added to the heating system so that if the power goes off, the water won’t freeze.  “It’s like putting anti-freeze in a car,” he said, “and, it should be checked annually to see that it’s still at an effective level.”

For insulating pipes in the basement or crawl space, he suggests using a heating strip that turns on automatically like a thermostat, and then to wrap both the pipe and heating strip with insulation.

Another safeguard in frigid whether, he said,  is to keep water running from both the hot and cold taps where the pipes are against an outside wall.

If you agree that safeguarding your plumbing from freezing is a good idea, Dave Goldberg Plumbing and Heating offers expert advice and service.  Dave Goldberg himself, who has been my plumber for more than four decades, is now retired, but his son-in-law Doug Maar, will be happy to help you by calling  914-962-3498.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.


Does your home have its own name? If not, maybe it’s worth considering.  More than once, I’ve heard that attaching a name to a home might actually enhance its value.

I first became aware of homes having names in a former life when I was just starting out in the publicity business and did some work in Hollywood. One of my clients was a very senior, world-famous wine expert named Robert Lawrence Balzer, whose home was originally owned by Rudolf Valentino.  Named Falcon Lair, the home had quite a history, considering all the famous guests who had visited it.  I became fascinated by the prospects of that added dimension a name could bring to a house.

But when you think about it, we’ve always attached certain attributes to houses by their names.

In movies, how could Scarlett O’Hara’s character be defined without her unwavering devotion to Tara?  And on television, we remember that the Cartwright family was closely identified with Ponderosa, and J.R. Ewing got shot at Southfork.

While some homes set the stage with visions of great power and influence – Versailles, Buckingham Palace, The White House – even humble abodes can be named to tell their characters.

Here in Westchester, Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12-Step program, appropriately named his Westchester residence Stepping Stones; the actress Helen Hayes called her Nyack home Pretty Penny to convey its price; and I have lived for many years in The Ebenezer White House, named for a Revolutionary War physician and early State Senator.

Sometimes homes share a double bill. For instance, I was involved in the sale of a property in Yorktown known as the Adams-Bernstein House, now poised for renovation by the buyer, and I know the history of those two owners from different centuries, each quite different.  The first was a simple farmer from the early 1800s and the second, a sophisticated New York City physician who bought it in the 1930s.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.

This has always been my favorite time of year to weed because when I yank those nasty invaders, they all stay weeded and I don’t have to worry about the chore again until next spring. But, I speak out of both sides of my mouth, because I actually enjoy weeding. To me it’s therapy, and it’s a compulsive activity.

It never fails. I’ll be in a rush to meet a client, dashing to my garage across my parking area, covered with crushed bluestone, and I’ll spy a tiny fleck of green peeking through the gravel. I must stop to pull it out.

When I bend over, I drop my car keys, my glasses fall out of my breast pocket and, if the weed is deep-rooted, like a dandelion, my hands get dirty, requiring that I return to the house to wash them after the deed is done.

Or, I’m coming home very late, dead tired, and I notice that, almost like spontaneous combustion, that nasty grout weed has all but consumed a clump of perennial geraniums. It’s getting dark but there I am, stooped over again, releasing those delicate flowers from the clutches of that hostile invader.

Worse yet, we might be entertaining guests on our patio and, in my peripheral vision, I detect another unwelcome visitor in a nearby flower bed. Nonchalantly, I’ll push myself out of my glider, perhaps in the middle of a sentence, and conduct an enemy attack without missing a beat. Annoyed, my wife later tells me that I must not have been giving full attention to our guests.

Yes, I confess. I’m a compulsive weeder.

When I first discovered the joys of gardening as a youngster, it was all about planting annuals and seeing quick results. But by the time I was in high school, perhaps in dealing with my impetuous nature, I found that I equally enjoyed pulling weeds to help ease those first bouts of post-adolescent anxiety.

My weeding addiction became full blown as an adult when I moved to Westchester from the city and my responsibilities were upgraded from a small square patch of earth in front of my house, where a sickly gingko tree sprang from the concrete sidewalk, to a verdant acre and a half of lawn and garden.

At the same time, I had started a new job and commuted a long distance every weekday to report to a boss who was the “Mr. Hyde” personality of all time. My weeding activity was especially intense during that period. Every time I yanked a weed, it was as though I was vicariously yanking his head bald, even though he was already bald.

Lest one think that I need intervention, I would say that there are good compulsive habits and this might be one of them.

Considering that a single weed can produce as many as 250,000 seeds, and that those seeds arrive through a multi-level attack from the air, rain runoff and bird droppings, weeding would seem to be a losing battle. But, there are preventative measures that can help diminish the occasion of weeds sprouting.

Just keep up with the following:

* Uproot the offenders and place them in the compost pile before they go to seed.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch. A three to four-inch layer of mulch applied between plants or garden rows can slow down or in many cases prevent the re-growth of weeds.

* In the spring, after preparing the soil for planting, let it set for seven to 10 days. Then work the surface of the soil with a hoe. This will slice off the newly emerged weed seedlings. If you have time before planting, let the soil rest another week or so and hoe again.

* Cover the soil for a short while with black plastic, but don’t leave it on for more than a couple of months, because the soil needs air and water to remain healthy

* Use those vertical barriers, such as wood, metal or heavy plastic edging to prevent grass and weeds from encroaching from lawn to garden.

And, be mindful of what William Shakespeare wrote: “Sweet flowers are slow and weeds make haste.”

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.

Considering that I once lived in a house located directly over the A train subway line in Brooklyn, I’m probably inured to most noises that would emanate from one’s home. How well I remember the look of panic on the faces of first-time visitors when suddenly there would be an approaching clamor and the floor beneath them would start to rumble, and I would have to remind myself that an explanation was in order to quell their fears that we might be experiencing an earthquake.

While noises that most houses make can usually be identified and dealt with, sometimes they can’t. Certainly, with the NYC subway system, all we could do was accept it and grow used to it.

Whether old or new, the houses we live in adjust to conditions and surroundings with many different noises. They can wheeze, knock, moan, whistle, hum, bang, and as we all know from the rare earthquake this region experienced some years ago, they also can shake, rattle and roll.

Beyond the natural settling of a house, especially during its first years after being built on top of a foundation which may or may not have been constructed well, most noises in our homes are caused by temperature change and the resulting expansion and contraction of wood and other materials used in construction.

Add to that the songs of the utilities, equipment and appliances in the house, and we have an entire symphony of possibility.

Weather conditions are another factor. An extremely rainy season for instance can change the condition of the soil and cause a house to creakily adjust to another position.

It was my three-year old daughter who first made me aware of house noises. When we moved into a very old house built in 1734, she announced that she didn’t like the place because the floors squeaked.

When I talked to a carpenter about alleviating those squeaks, he shrugged and said that in such an old house, with some of the rooms featuring a hardwood floor on top of the original wide-board planks supported on hand-hewn logs, I might as well just pull up all the floors and start fresh.

From my awareness of those noises emitted underfoot, an entire orchestra of discordant sounds has since joined the fray.

At those times when I have been able to pinpoint the cause of a distracting noise and do something about it, it has been hugely satisfying, like the burping sound my bathroom sink made when I turned off the spigot. But other sounds were just a matter of acceptance, with no hope of eliminating them. These include the chime from the pipe to my oil tank when it is being filled, the swishing sound from the waste pipe, the occasional banging from a fireplace wall, and the whistle from the release valve of my steam radiators.

Usually the short cut to solving the problem of knocks within a wall is a good plumber who like a pipe whisperer can recognize the problem and know its solution just by listening to the noise itself.

Much noise can be caused by a common upgrade to a home: replacing old windows with new ones. The two generations of materials can argue a bit as they adjust to each other with the expansion and contraction caused by heat and cold.

And let us not forget the added element of little critters that might enjoy our homes as much as we do, especially in winter. And because animals bring their food supply with them, it can sound like a soccer game is being played with nuts above your head.

With those pesky floor squeaks, there are different techniques to silence them, depending on whether you have access from below. If so, another person would be asked to walk across the floor and tap on the area where the squeak emanates. Then, a thin wood shim coated with carpenter’s glue can be gently tapped into the space between the joist and subfloor, being careful not to drive it in too far or it will raise the flooring.

And in cases of noise from critters seeking warmth in winter, quickly search the yellow pages for an animal control expert, rather than wait until spring for the furry guests to return to the great outdoors.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.

36226843 - yellow maple leafAutumn in the garden and yard can be the most gratifying time of year as deciduous trees and perennials start to yawn, preparing for a long winter’s sleep, accompanied by that sweet smell that comes from plants releasing their chemistry and the crisp, clean sound of decaying leaves falling to the ground.

It forecasts the fleeting months of shorter days, much like when the children are asleep. The only outdoor chore that remains is clearing walkways of snow and ice.

While spring is probably everybody’s’ favorite time in the garden, helping its rebirth after being pummeled by winter, the fall signifies the very finiteness of garden chores. When a weed is pulled, it stays pulled and doesn’t replace itself with double the aggression. When perennials are deadheaded, the gardener can take a furlough from assuring that they are properly fed and watered, but will welcome them back in spring after they both have rested.

The very proportions of any garden change as the perennial and annual growth are whacked back, which makes the vistas more open from one bed to the other. Also, it eliminates many of the planning mistakes from one season to the next, as errant plans are abandoned and bulbs and perennial roots are moved to other locations.

More creative joy comes from choosing which mums to feature as the color transitions from fall to winter. While you will see drifts of mum plants on some properties that have every color in the fall palate, I always liked to stick to one color or at the most, two.

For the longest display of mum flowers, it’s best to buy those where most of the plant is still buds. When the mums fade, just leave them where they are; they maintain a nice mound throughout the winter, and you can cut them back in the early spring. If you’re lucky, they may return, but sometimes they don’t, depending on winter conditions.

My most gratifying fall job, as well as a good aerobic/resistance training exercise, has always been building up the mulch beds to make them look well-tended, as well as to keep the perennial roots from heaving. I always asked my tree service provider to send me a truck load of wood chips if they are very clean (no leaves) and processed into smaller chips. Truly, it’s as good as expensive mulch. In fact, I like it better because it offers more texture and somehow looks more natural to me.

Here are other garden tips at this time of year:

  • Harvest any vegetables left on plants. It’s important to pull out all of the crops because debris left over the winter can cause diseases to enter the soil and re-appear the next spring.
  • This is the time when you can add horse manure or compost to the soil, because that allows plenty of time for them to break down.
  • For those who like to bring houseplants inside, they should all be gathered into a shady area for a few days to get them used to low light level conditions. Make certain that they are clean and free from little critters.
  • Perennials that are overcrowded or growing in a large ring with the center portion missing means that it’s time to subdivide. You’ll become popular with your neighbors if you share the excess. Cut back the remaining perennials to a height of three to six inches.
  • Prepare for brilliant displays of daffodils, tulips and crocus in spring by planting bulbs now. Do not plant them in tidy rows but rather “broadcast” them in drifts on the surface, and plant them where they land for a more natural look.
  • For those who have the patience to endure the rigors of rose maintenance, it is time to prune dead branches and cut off any old flowers. Rose bushes should be mounded using topsoil or mulch and the canes should be cut back to six to twelve inches. For even better protection, the bush can be covered with a bushel basket.
  • Also, this is the best time to transplant shrubs or young trees to new locations.

I don’t advise readers here about preparing lawns in the fall for next spring because I must confess that for years I didn’t aerate and thatch the soil, and I didn’t fertilize. Because my property was first cultivated in the early 18th century, I felt that I got a free pass to a very naturalized lawn accepting both crabgrass and dandelions with grace. But then, I engaged a wonderful lawn care service who takes care of all those great chores that I say I was too busy to do. I do hope that it wasn’t because I was too lazy.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.

48284009_sNot everyone can afford homes costing in the millions located in some of our more affluent communities close to the city, but in this region, a small investment in commuting time – say 15 or 20 minutes – can make all the difference in affording a million dollar lifestyle at less than half the cost.

It’s probably the same around the country as it is in the New York metropolitan area. Here, as you travel north from Manhattan into Westchester and Putnam counties, houses tend to spread out from each other and offer more bang for the buck, trees are more in evidence and there’s more sky to see.

Sometimes it takes someone else to articulate the lifestyle differences we experience that are more in the northern reaches. For the real estate agent, we are told, it also requires a different kind of communications with buyer clients who are moving from the city.

“Remember, you’re not just selling a house, you’re selling a lifestyle, you’re selling the whole community and what it offers,” we were told recently by Jason Wilson, newly appointed Vice President, Regional Director of Operations at William Raveis Real Estate when he visited our office in Yorktown Heights.

“For those who can’t afford the tonier communities within a half hour to the city, an exchange of time in commuting, say 15 or 20 additional minutes, can buy as good a lifestyle, but that requires a different kind of selling by realtors with their buyers,” he said.

“We must share with our clients that, here, we get more home for less money, and at the same time, we get all the facilities and services of the community,” he continued. “Here, there’s a bigger difference in the way we connect with our neighbors. In lower Westchester, it might be more through private clubs, while further north, it’s more through community activities, sports and the schools.

Wilson has lifestyles experience on both sides of what he calls “the big divide,” Route 287, which intersects Westchester midway. Born and raised in Yonkers, he moved to Yorktown Heights in 2002 and has lived there since, but six years ago, he took a real estate management position in Scarsdale while continuing to live in Yorktown.

“So I know the difference with the way people connect in different communities,” he said. “Here, we meet at the school football games and town pools to hang out with friends and family. South of the ‘divide’ it’s a different social setting. Here we have big, special events that bring the community together like in my town of Yorktown, for instance, we have the largest Relay for Life in Westchester, the Firefighter’s Carnival, The San Gennaro Festival, and the Yorktown Chamber of Commerce Fall Festival and Street Fair.

“And don’t forget, we can do apple picking right here, and when I tell people that, they think I live way upstate!” he said amusingly.

Wilson further listed great shopping as an advantage further north, with special stores like Turco’s and nearby, the largest shopping center in Westchester, Cortlandt Town Center. “We also have the convenience of multiple highway and parkway options up here,” he pointed out, “while some communities further south have only one way out of town, we have multiple options. If the Taconic is backed up, you can take 100, or 9 or 684.

“There is also the option of better parking at the train stations for either the Hudson or Harlem lines,” he said, noting that in Croton-Harmon, the waiting list for a parking space is only a year, while further south along the lines, that wait time can be as long as seven years.

Wilson emphasized that by investing some extra time in commuting, home buyers are not letting go of something, but gaining something. “They are getting a better deal on home value, mortgage cost, taxes and quality of life.

“If we go to a school football game and don’t arrive early, we’re not likely to get a seat, but we don’t mind standing because we get to hang out with our neighbors, be part of the community and support the team,” he said. “It’s the same way at the town pools or at the parks.

“And, because of the open space we have, you can truly appreciate the foliage, the snow and experience the seasons, from the leaves coming on and off the trees, to the snow on the ground. And, our snow plowing is the best. When I lived in Yonkers, you could be out of luck because most people park on the street. You would dig your car out and then be plowed back in. Here, it’s easier to get out!”

From Wilson’s point of view, however, it sounds best just to stay.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.

fallentreeThis article might well be titled “The Joys and Agonies of Being a Tree Lover.”

The subject of planting trees comes to me each year as we enter into early fall because it is the perfect time to plant both deciduous and evergreen trees as they enter into dormancy. And, lord knows, I have done my share of planting trees through the years, even though I bought a property that was more than half wooded.

The idea of planting small, manageable green things and watching them develop over a period of time into sculptures of beauty reaching to the skies in graceful forms, providing shade, has always appealed to me.

When I saw an ad in The New York Times for what turned out to be my dream house in the country, I called the owner and asked if it had privacy, noting that I preferred not seeing any neighbors. He answered, “No matter which window I look out of, all I see is trees.”

How wonderful, I thought, considering that when I looked out of my window in the city, all I saw was one scrawny Gingko that had been hit repeatedly by cars vying for the parking space in front of it. The last time I visited the old neighborhood, I noted that it had finally lost the battle to the cars and hadn’t been replaced.

But my one and a half acre property in upper Westchester was laden with generous thickets of sugar maples, honey locusts, ash, black walnuts, cherries and many other species I never bothered to look up. Besides that, former owners had planted some old dogwood, ornamental flowering trees and a long row of hemlock.

Having grown up in an urban setting with no trees, I just enjoyed looking at them – often reminding myself of Joyce Kilmer’s poetic turn, “I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree,” and becoming somewhat of an expert in shade gardening.

It wasn’t long, however, before the reality set in. I learned that trees, especially the big ones, can fall! Or, they get sick and have to be removed.

As recently as this past weekend when I was returning from vacation, I couldn’t turn on to my street because a large maple on the edge of my corner property, which had looked in perfect health, fell across the road, taking with it the telephone, electric and cable wires with it. Thankfully the utilities companies, then my wonderful local highway department, took care of the damage, otherwise my wallet would have been set back quite a bit.

I can’t even calculate the amount of money I’ve spent through the years to have fallen or diseased trees removed from my property. Early in the ‘70s, during a very wet season, my dogwoods were all wiped out by a fungus infection. In the 1980s, my hemlocks fell to woolly adelgid. Then, a number of my largest maples was infested with thrips and slowly withered away. One evening we heard a thunderous noise as a half dead pine fell just inches from our house. Each calamity involved the very expensive proposition of dealing with tree removal. I started to feel cursed.

Having become good friends with my tree service provider, I asked him why it seemed that I had such bad luck with trees. He answered simply, “It’s just because you have so many of them!”

If there’s any moral to this story, I guess it would be to consider the responsibilities that go with a wooded property and, if a property is lacking trees and you want some shade, consider their variety and manageability when planting and their distance from the house.

There are certain trees that have been very popular either for their beauty or fast growing habits that, from experience, I would not recommend. Chief among them are the weeping willow, the Barlett pear and the white pine.

Most people know that the weeping willow’s roots are ready to suck all water out of the soil and don’t like anything else planted near them, so unless you have a wetland area on your property and lots of space, avoid it.

Many homeowners and professional gardeners regard the Bradford pear as desirable for its pyramidal shape and lovely white flowers in spring, but that characteristic shape also makes it very fragile and its branches tend to break during storms or strong winds.

The same goes for the Eastern white pine. I have had bad luck with them in that, while they grow fast, they shouldn’t be planted close to the road because they suffer from salt burn and, further, they suffer damage in winter when their branches become laden with snow and break.

My favorite tree plantings have been the flowering ornamentals – particularly my crabapples and weeping cherries – that are contained in size and offer the joy of flowers in the spring, greenery until late into the fall, and not a lot of clean up to worry about as you put your garden to bed. They offer color, some shade, and no danger of a big fall to cause damage and an expensive take-away. The best of all worlds.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.

59095809_sThis week I reprise some musings based on both practical and absurd observations made from past columns. For an index of previously published Home Guru articles, visit www.TheHomeGuru.com.

About the common complaint of noise from neighbors: No man is an island, but there were a couple of occasions, especially when I lived in an apartment building that was not well insulated for sound, when I wished I were. Noise is the biggest complaint we have about neighbors. According to a survey by Trulia, 67 percent of us like our neighbors. Should that leave us to assume that the other 33 percent of us don’t like them for some reason?

Why has the great American front porch disappeared? Blame the advent of television and computers that keep people inside. The society that created the need to socialize with neighbors and passersby on the street has vanished. Those who still build front porches are expressing a longing for the way things used to be. Understandable in today’s fast paced world.

But, if you have a front porch, paint the ceiling blue. The theory here is that the insects are fooled into thinking the blue paint is actually the sky where they can’t nest. In the old south, folks believed the sky color warded off evil spirits. In any event, blue is a calming color, so using it to paint a ceiling in any area intended for relaxation makes sense. You can simply enjoy that rocking chair or chaise lounge and not give a second thought to any nasty spirits lurking around.

He’s boiling, she’s freezing: What to do? Men have more insulating muscle than women do, so sometimes people living in the same household have a hard time agreeing on a room temperature. To the rescue are the home heating/air conditioning systems with several zones. But what about in a shared bedroom? An electric blanket with two controls is the answer.

St. Joseph strikes again: I’ve told several stories about the lore and techniques attached to burying a St. Joseph statue on the property of a home seeking a buyer. My favorite is about a home owner who tried several underground locations and positions for the statue, but none worked. Frustrated, he threw the statue in the trash, only to learn a week later that the town dump had been sold.

Will we all return to dust? Did you know that household dust is composed mostly of our own flaking skin? If we are uncomfortable when our house is dusty, is that being uncomfortable in our own skin?

Why is there an elongated toilet? The design of the elongated toilet bowl surely was designed to accommodate the male anatomy. Trading up from a circular bowl to an elongated one is for a guy like going from jockeys to boxer shorts.

Not to belabor the point about the toilet, but… While we would all agree that it’s the gentlemanly thing for guys to return the toilet seat to the down position out of courtesy to the women of the household, most times the practice requires reminders. However, we should all engage in the practice of also lowering the lid before we flush in that it prohibits the spray of bacteria into the air and onto surfaces around the toilet.

A bathroom practice I’ve never understood: I’ve always wondered about the idea of placing a basket of magazines or even books on the tank or next to the toilet. It seems to me that anyone who has to sit long enough to read a magazine article waiting for that final stage of peristalsis to take place should be thinking about visiting a gastroenterologist.

Of death and taxes: We’ve all heard the expression that the only certainties in life are death and taxes, and, while we can’t do anything about the inevitability of death, we can try to negotiate property taxes by grieving them. If a tax grievance is in your future, I wish you good luck. And if somehow you manage to negotiate the inevitability of death, write and let me know how you did it.

A mattress tale: My wife tells a cute story about mattresses. When she took her 88-year-old mother to buy a new mattress and the salesman noted that it came with a 20-year guarantee, her mother said, “At my age, I only need a five-year guarantee. Can I get a better price for that?”

Too much shorthand in real estate! If you’re buying or selling a house, you’ve certainly encountered such abbreviations as FSBO (for sale by owner), AO (accepted offer), CMA (comparative market analysis), EIK (eat-in kitchen), SLD (sliding glass doors), etc., and sometimes it seems that our whole world, especially with texting, has gone much too far into shorthand degeneration. When making an admittedly low-ball offer on a house and told that the listing agent would “follow up” after speaking with her clients, you can imagine how startled I was with her return email when the subject line was abbreviated simply to “FU!”

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.

11840300 - house hunting and searching for real estate homes for sale  that need to be inspected by a home inspector concept as a magnifying glass inspecting a model single home building structure.

It’s happened to many of us in the real estate business. The “engineering” or house inspection prior to a contract signing can kill the sale of a house. I remember the very first time I heard the complaint of a realtor whose engineering resulted in a failed septic system and the bank refused to give a mortgage.

“With a failed septic, it’s considered a non-functioning house!” my colleague told me. It was quite an expensive ordeal to get the house into functioning order and to move the transaction along.

A bad engineering report can either be a negotiating point or can put the kibosh on the purchase of the house, but in the best case scenario, buyers are assured that they are getting their money’s worth and that hopefully there will be no surprises once the deal is done.

The inspector’s job, under the standards of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) is to inspect all readily accessible systems. Inspection includes the foundation and under floor crawl space, the floor structure, walls, ceilings and roof structure.

On the exterior, the inspection is conducted on all exterior wall covering and flashing, all exterior doors, attached decks, balconies, stoops, steps, porches and their associate railings. Also included are the eves, soffits, and fascias. Property inspection also includes vegetation grading, surface drainage and retaining walls when any of these are likely to adversely affect the building, as well as walkways, patios and driveways leading to dwelling entrances.

Systems included in the inspection are: plumbing, vent systems, flues, chimneys, fuel storage and fuel distribution systems, drainage pumps, sump pumps and related piping. Also included are the electrical system, heating, air conditioning systems, insulation and ventilation.

The “biggie” concerns among homebuyers are the “famous five” which are active termite damage, mold, septic, well water and radon. Because most consumers know the least about radon, and because there are such divergent opinions about it, that particular aspect of home inspection warrants further exploration.

If you research radon on the internet, the information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can scare the heck out of you. It cautions that every year, radon is estimated to cause about 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States among citizens who don’t smoke. Further, the agency estimates that one out of 15 homes in the United States (as many as 1 of 3 homes in some states) have high radon levels.

However, some critics say that the statistics given by the USEPA are a vast exaggeration. One local home inspector with whom I researched the subject some time ago, who chose to remain anonymous, said that he had serious misgivings about those dire statistics. He explained to me that when he went online to the Center of Disease Control and checked out their statistics on lung cancer and radon, he felt that its statistics suffered from some serious omissions. He said that almost everything the CDC had to say about lung cancer addressed the issue of smoking, stressing that smoking causes most of the preventable deaths.

“The stuff I read made it seem that smoking accounted for 86 to 90 percent of the deaths and radon was accountable for the rest, by default,” he said.

“Frankly, I wonder if most people would not be better off spending their money on something else, because I don’t think it is as cut and dried as the USEPA makes it sound,” he continued.

The engineer’s understanding was that only 10 to 15 percent of the houses in the country have substantially elevated levels of radon and that even in those houses it would take many years of exposure to develop a serious risk of lung cancer.

The average family stays in a house about eleven years. Stretching the issue to the absurd, the inspector concluded: “It seems that what the USEPA is searching for is that one family in the high radon house that will stay there for seventy years and stay indoors eighteen hours a day!”

The first time I heard the term radon, it was when I bought a country home in 1990, and at that time, I had no idea what it was. But I found that the relatively new home had a high level of it on the lower, partly below-grade level and I decided to have a system installed to mitigate it.

When I called the New York State Department of Health, I was told that when a house is sold, the seller must disclose to the buyer if he or she is aware of elevated levels of radon in the structure, but neither the seller nor the buyer is required to install a mitigation system.

Whatever side of the controversy one may be on, most real estate agents suggest to their buyers that they consider including a radon test in the home inspection. While it is only recommended, I always say, better safe than sorry. Maybe it’s because I’m old enough to remember when asbestos was considered the top choice for insulation.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.

34956197 - noisy neighbors upstairsNo man is an island, nor would he or she wish to exist as one, but there were a couple of occasions, especially when I lived in an apartment building that was not well insulated for sound, when I wished I were. According to a survey by Trulia, 67 percent of people like their neighbors. Should that leave us to assume that the other 33 percent of us don’t like them for some reason?

The nature of neighbor complaints depend on the type of domiciles involved. If we live in apartments or condos, they might be mostly about noise above or through contiguous walls. If we live in single family homes, they are probably more about trash handling or visual blight.

I remember that years ago there was a case considered visual blight on my block that was both controversial and amusing at the same time. There was a very colorful free spirit living midway down the block who was a taxidermist. Somewhere along the way he had acquired a large promotional statue of an Indian chief, close to 20 feet tall that stood majestically at the end of his driveway, one hand outstretched to the sky. It could be seen from a distance as you drove down the street. Some of us considered it a welcome landmark. Others were not amused.

When it came time for the house to be sold across the street, the homeowner was distressed that the outlandish yard embellishment would discourage all prospects. As it happened, a young couple with whom we became friends fell in love with the house and felt welcomed by the Indian chief across the street extending the hand of friendship. To each his own.

My last report on the subject of neighbor complaints was based on a survey taken from the annual log of my hometown code enforcer, listed in order of frequency as follows:

Complaint #1: Trash. Surprised? I was. The complaints deal with how trash is handled, bundled, where it is placed or whether it blows on to other neighbors’ properties.

Complaint #2: Fences. There can be trouble when a fence is constructed with the “ugly” side facing a neighbor, when town codes usually specify that the decorative side must face away from the house. This complaint is so endemic that fence manufacturers have invented the fence where both sides are decorative.

Complaint # 3 and #4. Trees. Part A of the complaint is when a tree on one person’s property is hanging over a neighbor’s yard, casting shade or dropping leaves or limbs. Part B is removing mature trees when they significantly change the landscape. Most towns have tree ordinances to prevent this, but it happens anyway.

Complaint #5: Visual Blight. This is a broad category and can involve anything from excessive numbers of vehicles in driveways to non-repair of a home’s exterior or any pile of stuff that is covered with that horrible shade of blue plastic.

Complaint #6: Noise. This covers several categories. There is noise from loud music, mostly yard parties with amplifiers. Lawnmowers or leaf blowers used after dinner time are particularly challenging to neighbors staying friendly.

Complaint #7: Signs. The ubiquitous “tag sale” signs attached to telephone poles, which is a patently illegal place to place them. The double dip of annoyance is when the offenders fail to come back to remove them after the sale.

Complaint # 8: Dogs. Continuous barking is the main issue with dogs, and some towns have specific allowable time frames considered acceptable to let dogs bark. In my town, a resident can complain after 15 minutes of continuous barking.

Complaint # 9: Water Runoff. When a new construction project creates water runoff on another property, the complaint usually goes first to the code enforcer, but then to the town board and town engineer to try to get something done about it.

Complaint #10: Outdoor Lighting. This is a distant last category. Perhaps because of security measures or safety, there seems to be more outdoor lighting used today, which sometimes is pitched directly at neighbors’ bedroom windows.

For those facing neighbor problems, here are a few suggestions gleaned from various sources of expertise to ward off explosive situations. Basically, sound advice is to talk it out. Call ahead and plan a time “to talk.” Meet in neutral territory, on the sidewalk or property line. Don’t accuse; explain the problem and ask how it might be solved together.

If that doesn’t work, check local noise and disturbance ordinances and write a personal letter to the neighbor, offering a solution. If you have a condo or block association, they can send a standard letter citing a code or by-law. The best resolution is to alleviate the problem through open communications without having to call the local precinct or filing a complaint in court.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.