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.

SparkleLakeJust recently I had the pleasure of introducing the Hudson River Valley area to a couple who will be relocating here and what a pleasure it was to again remind myself of all the joys my family has enjoyed living here for many years.

In real estate, when we talk about location, normally we are referring to the town, neighborhood, and street address of a property. We should also consider how the natural and cultural resources of our region influence and enhance our lifestyles, not to mention the value of our homes.

This is a somewhat arbitrary, even personally biased, list of attractions and activities which I feel make our region exceptional. It can serve as a starter kit for bragging points about the benefits of living here when we consider marketing our homes, or just as a gratitude list for the simple pleasures we have available to us on a day-to-day basis.

Whenever I’m introducing clients to the region from the city or another part of the country, I like to have them in my car, rather than following me in their cars, so that I can extol the wonders of Westchester and Putnam counties, the areas in which I specialize. In upper Westchester, one of my favorite areas to point out is the Croton Reservoir Bridge on the Taconic. While crossing the bridge, with the great views of water and imposing, wooded mountains, I always say, “Couldn’t you mistake this for Vermont? And here you are, less than an hour from New York City!”

Sure, we have our share of problems projecting the human condition, and a healthy dose of property taxes, but the aesthetic, recreational and cultural opportunities here ameliorate the bitter with the sweet a hundred fold.

We nearly have it all, and anything lacking can be secured readily through our close proximity to the city on one end of the living spectrum and more remote countryside on the other. For business commuting we are situated favorably to the major airports and reliable train lines, as well as beautiful parkways.

Consider our abundance of open space, protected zealously by both Westchester and Putnam through its parks like Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Cross River, land on which the legendary 19th century Leatherman traveled, the Rockefeller State Preserve in Tarrytown, of particular interest to birders and anglers, and the rugged 15,000 acres of Fahnestock Park in Putnam.

We are also beneficiaries of the engineering feats of building reservoirs, the Croton Dam and the Aqueduct, all responsible for great water views and additional, undisturbed space.

We have facilities for swimming in the summer and cross-country skiing and skating in the winter. There are many trails for hikers and bikers, crowned by the North County Trailway, constructed on the former route of the old Putnam railroad line and stretching from Eastview up to the Putnam border. Another long stretch of walking and biking is offered by the Old Croton Aqueduct Trailway, with some sections suitable for horseback riding.

Golf enthusiasts tell me that our courses, both public and private, both cheap and very expensive (courtesy of Mr. Trump) are among the best. Speaking of Mr. Trump, while I dislike having to read announcements on larger-than-needed signs on the Taconic, I do appreciate his donation of 436 acres straddling the two counties, formerly planned for development, and hopefully someday will be available as parkland.

Our preserved farmlands, such as Tilly Foster Farm in Brewster and Hilltop Hanover Farm in Yorktown Heights, provide still more open space and offer education about the way our agrarian ancestors toiled for a living.

There are truly unique recreational activities such as that afforded by the Art Deco gem, Playland, in Rye, and, on the other side of Westchester, the Hudson River towns offer many activities from river cruises to historic attractions maintained by Historic Hudson Valley.

For entertainment, we have the Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford, with productions as good as anything on the Great White Way, the Emelin in Mamaroneck, and truly unique resources like the Jacob Burns Center in Pleasantville, the Paramount in Peekskill, the Performing Arts Center at SUNY Purchase, and the summer Shakespeare program at Boscobel in Garrison.

What I like best about our region is the diversity of people and housing opportunities in our cities, towns and villages. Distinctive small cottages and sprawling mansions can be found in the same communities as capes, raised ranches and split levels, nicely tucked in together, each vying for its own unique value proposition.

And, if things get a little too tight, we are surrounded by a great wealth of facilities to stretch out, both physically, aesthetically and intellectually.

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.

17850238_sJust about everybody I know seems to be on vacation this month and, just coincidentally, the Insurance Information Institute reports that the majority of home burglaries occur in July and August when many people are enjoying time off. According to that same agency, nine out of 10 home break-ins could be prevented if homeowners would take simple steps to burglar-proof their homes.

Of all the years we lived in our home, we didn’t invest in a sophisticated security system until just a couple of years ago. Less than 20 percent of households nationwide have security systems, and the rest of us must take other precautions to discourage break-ins while we’re away from home.

How well I remember the discomfort combined with the relaxation of every vacation while we were traveling, especially if it were for periods of more than a week. In the early days, I remember that we would call home and feel comforted to hear our answer machine just to know that everything was still “there.” And when returning home, there would always be that anxious moment when we were turning on to our street and my wife and I would turn to each other and ask, “Is the house still standing?”

We had good reason to be nervous Nellies, having sustained two break-ins when we lived in the city, so we developed a whole litany of devices to make our home less appealing to burglars which I list here, combined with other ideas combed from other sources, some of which are really creative. For those who don’t have security systems, consider the following:

Lock all the Doors and Windows! This may seem unnecessary to even mention but 28 percent of all burglaries occur without having to use force to gain entry. Burglars simply find an unlocked window or door, so be sure to double check all the windows and deadbolt all exterior doors. Place a metal or wood dowel in the track of sliding glass doors. And, if you have a spare key hidden outside, make sure it’s brought inside while you’re away

Hire a House Visitor/Sitter: It’s well worth the investment to have someone pick up the newspapers daily (if you haven’t had them temporarily discontinued), water the plants and, if you have them, take care of pets.

Invest in Timers: To make your house look lived in, utilize timers to have the lights go on and off at various times throughout the day.

Unplug and Disconnect: Unplug all electronics and small appliances that don’t need to stay on while you’re away. This will save electricity and reduce the risk of fire. Turn off your garage door opener so thieves can’t open it with a universal remote. If you’ll be away for a week or more, turn your hot water heater down and consider turning off the water to sinks, toilets, dishwasher, and the washing machine to avoid possible flooding.

Don’t Close Blinds: Leave them and curtains open. If something valuable is visible through the window, move it.

Light Up at Night: If you have outdoor lighting, make sure that your timer turns it on while you’re away.

Maintain Your Lawn: If it’s an extended trip and you normally maintain your lawn yourself, arrange to have a service take care of it while you’re away.

Leave Your Car in the Driveway: Or, invite your neighbor to pull in and out of your driveway to keep activity going on there during the week.

Don’t Leave a Voicemail Message: Don’t tell the world you’re away by leaving a message to that effect on your voicemail.

Lock Up Valuables: Expensive jewelry should be secured somewhere other than the bedroom or it should be left in a safety deposit box at the bank. Personal documents should not be left in your home office or desk; burglars know where to look for them. Keep copies of important documents at another location – a relative’s home, for example.

Consider Social Media Blackout: I know that we all like to share our vacation experience with our friends, but think carefully about broadcasting to the world that you’re away from your home for a period of time. Unless you’ve invested in either a sophisticated security system or a house sitter, it is a better decision to wait until you’ve returned to share photos from the sites you’ve visited and the experience you’ve enjoyed, but in the past tense.

Invest in a Security System: Of course, the best way to deter thieves is with a high quality, professional security system. Houses without security systems are three times more likely to be targeted by burglars. An intruder entering a home with a security system will generally exit the home immediately upon hearing the alarm, significantly decreasing the risk of loss or physical danger.

Homeowners with home security systems typically enjoy lower insurance rates due to the reduced risk of burglary and fire, and of course, a home security system can be an added selling point when putting a home on the market.

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.

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 6.56.46 PMIn the early days of our nation, settlers brought to our shores many superstitions by which they lived their home lives, many of which remain with us to this day. You don’t put much store in superstitions nowadays, you say? Well, when was the last time you didn’t avoid passing under a ladder set up against the house to remove leaves from the gutter?

Today, many of those superstitions have become traditions and we don’t think much about their origins. One of those lingering superstitions came to mind recently when I saw a porch ceiling painted a pale blue green and wondered whether the owner hailed originally from the deep South or if it were just a coincidence. Where I grew up in Virginia and further south in places like South Carolina, many porch ceilings are painted what is known as “haint” blue, haint being another word for ghost.

In the founding days of our colonies, that color became associated with the superstition that it protected the homeowner from being “taken” by restless spirits of the dead who, for whatever reason, have not moved on from the physical world. It was thought that the ghostly spirits would think that the color was water, and they would pass over it, rather than settle there. Use of the color became a tradition as it was passed from generation to generation.

There are other superstitions associated with the home beyond ladders and blue ceilings observed through the years. Here are a few of the more interesting to ponder.

Earlier generations believed that when you move out of a house, the broom should be left behind because, along with the dust of the home, old brooms carried the negative aspects of your life. A new broom signified a fresh start.

Along with a new broom, bread and salt were brought along from the old to a new home to keep evil spirits away.

According to a Jewish superstition, it’s bad luck to place shoes on a dresser or table According to my mother’s Italian tradition, the no-no was to place them on a bed, but wasn’t that just a good housekeeping point?

Also, there persists a superstition to never open an umbrella inside. That superstition seems to originate in the belief that since umbrellas are used for protection from the sun, this would be an insult to the sun god.

There is a long held belief that moving into a new home on a Friday, Saturday or rainy day is unlucky. According to Indian superstition, the luckiest moving day is Thursday.

It is said that we should never pound nails after sunset or we’ll wake the tree gods. But practically, won’t we annoy the neighbors?

Mirrors have a multitude of superstitions attached to them. We always say to break one will result in seven years bad luck. But the feng shui principle tells us that, placed at a doorway, a mirror will improve the flow of chi. However, a mirror placed facing a bed is strictly taboo in that the spirit of your sleeping soul can enter into the mirror and you may not be able to return to your body when you wake. Scary stuff. I must confess I thought about that when placing a mirror in my bedroom. And I’m not normally superstitious!

During the first week that I owned a “new” 18th century home in Westchester, a descendent of the original owner, a woman in her early 90s stopped by to introduce herself and fill me in on the history of the house. She pointed to two large outcroppings of gnarled lilac bushes, one near the front door of the house and the other at the back door.

“They were planted by my father on my wedding day, 75 years ago,” she exclaimed. “Oh wow,” I said, “How great that will be in the spring with the aroma of lilac wafting through the house.” “It was not for the fragrance that he planted them,” she said. “My father believed they brought good luck into the house and kept evil away.” I was stunned to hear her say that.

By the way, the superstition about the blue porch ceilings warding off ghosts does have a practical side to it in today’s world. Some people swear that the blue paint also repels insects, theorizing that insects prefer not to nest on blue ceilings because they are “fooled” into thinking the blue paint is actually the sky.

Or, a blue porch ceiling might be considered simply because of the way it makes the space look and feel. Blue is a calming color, so using it to paint an area of the house intended for relaxation makes sense. You can simply enjoy that rocking chair and not give a thought to avoiding any nasty spirits in the vicinity.

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.

3596024 - strong wind storm damage in midwest neighborhoodSome years ago I wrote about a freak accident I experienced at my pool that was really dramatic, and it led to my being more aware of taking precautions to avoid getting hurt when working or playing outside the home. Just this week, another incident prompts me to remind myself and readers of safety tips outside the home.

The incident years ago was exceptionally bizarre. I had been in the deep end of my pool finishing up some exercises to deal with a bad lower back. Emerging from the pool, I was heading toward my back door when suddenly I heard the sound of heavy collapse just behind me, followed by an enormous splash. I turned around to see that a major limb from a dead tree near the pool had fallen directly into the pool exactly where my head had been bobbing less than a minute before! It could have killed me.

That old elm, having avoided Dutch elm disease into maturity, died at least three years prior to that incident, and I know I should have taken it down, but it offered a strange beauty in that it had been totally entwined with old wisteria vines that bloomed abundantly each spring. It was probably the wisteria that killed it, but somehow I thought that it would hold the tree up. Dead trees, especially if they are within falling distance of the house, must be taken down.

This time around, quite simply, I didn’t tie the laces to my work shoes properly, tripped and fell squarely and painfully on one knee. How simple would it have been to avoid that?

While most accidents happen inside the home, a great percentage of them happen outside. I’ve had my fair share of them through the years, from accidentally disturbing a wasps’ nest and sustaining multiple stings, to tripping on a vine traveling along the ground (the darned wisteria again) and wrenching my back when I hit the deck.

According to the National Safety Council, there are as many as 33,000 fatalities each year resulting from accidents outside the home and as many as 230,000 serious accidents that require visits to the hospital emergency rooms.

Statistics also show that most outside accidents happen from using tools improperly and that most accidents are related to lawn mowers.

Here are some safety tips for outdoor activity offered by various manufacturers of lawn mowers and other equipment:

Prepare in advance of mowing by walking around the area to remove any objects like sticks, glass, metal, wire, stones and string that could cause injury or damage to equipment. Nails and wire are the most hazardous items that can be thrown by mowers, capable of killing bystanders.

Children should never be in the yard when mowing the lawn and should never ride on the mower. More than 800 children per year are injured by being run over by riding mowers.

Children must be kept totally away from power equipment because many suffer burns to hands and arms when they touch the hot muffler of running engines.

Be sure to know how to operate the equipment, where the controls are and what they do. Dress appropriately for outside jobs. Proper footwear is most important (when I tripped on that vine I was wearing flip-flops and definitely asking for trouble, which I got). Long pants and long sleeved shirts are preferable (and a deterrent to those nasty deer ticks). Eye protection is frequently needed as are heavy gloves, hearing protection and, for women, removal of jewelry, which can get caught in moving parts.

Never work with electric power tools in wet conditions. For protection against being electrocuted, a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) should be used. There are both plug-in types and those that are part of some extension cords.

Handle gasoline carefully, remembering never to fill gas tanks while machinery is operating or when equipment is still hot, and do not fuel equipment indoors.

Something that few people think about: hoses left just loosely in various parts of the garden are an invitation for an accident. It’s best to have them stored in a hose reel.

To prevent back injuries, it’s advisable to use a wheelbarrow for heavy stones, but I find the use of a sturdy two-wheeled dolly perfect for moving extremely large rocks from one location to another.

And when using ladders, they should be firmly set or held by a garden helper.

One final note that I want to share that’s equally important about protecting yourself outside: Remember to block the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays by using sunscreen.

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.

Have you ever had the experience when someone recalls something you’ve said quite clearly, while you’ve totally forgotten it? I was amused at a recent showing of a new condo when my client was disappointed to find that all three bathrooms featured round toilet bowls, rather than those that are elongated in shape.

“They should have taken your advice about keeping the male anatomy in mind when making their selection,” she said. Ah yes, I had forgotten that I made that observation in print some time ago. Specifically, I had commented that, for guys, upgrading to an elongated toilet bowl can be the equivalent of switching from jockey shorts to boxers.

Actually, I’ve written several articles that had some mention about toilets. I don’t think I have some fixation based on early toilet training, but let’s face it, the function of the toilet is probably the single most important development associated with the convenience of modern living. I was reminded of this particularly when I bought an 18th century home that still had the remnants of an original outhouse some 50 feet from the backdoor. I can only imagine what it would have been like to make use of it years ago on a cold winter night.

There was another observation I made when writing about a condo development originally planned for seniors where the toilet specs called for a model that was lower to the floor than the average, a mere 14 inches, which can make a world of difference for aging, creaking knees. I commented that it might have been a better choice to feature one where the seat was higher, perhaps as high as 18”, only to receive an email informing me that a lower position was better for elimination (and the reason for the Squatty Potty finding an investor on Shark Tank).

My interest in the most essential of household fixtures inspired more research. For years, I believed that the toilet was invented in the late 1800s by an Englishman named Thomas Crapper. Many have assumed that his name was adopted to crudely describe both the toilet and the function itself. Seriously. But those old English words preceded Crapper’s flush toilet by some centuries and the connection with his name is purely coincidental, unfortunate though that might be. Actually, Crapper was a Johnny-come-lately, to coin a phrase, to the championing of the flush toilet.

Three hundred years before, another Englishman, Sir John Harington, wrote a treatise of the toilet’s design and peddled its first installation to his godmother who happened to be Queen Elizabeth I. The flushing mechanism consisted of pulling a knob to empty a water cistern which sat above the toilet bowl. A valve then released the water and waste from the stool pot into a collection vault beneath the floor, which had to be emptied routinely. The mechanism is still basically the same, advanced by a number of improvements through the years.

Very honestly, I had rarely thought about how a toilet works, leaving any problems with its operation to my plumber. It’s like my car. I just fill it up with gas and it runs. But it’s actually quite a sophisticated piece of equipment, considering its invention in the 16th century.

Today, a toilet is composed of two main pieces – the tank and the bowl, with the working parts in the tank. When the lever is pushed, it pulls on a chain which in turn pulls up a flush valve at the bottom of the tank, allowing water to rush into the toilet bowl. Immediately after flush begins, the water level in the tank goes down, as well as a float ball. A rod attached to the float allows the fill valve to be opened and water from the house water pipe begins to flow into the tank. So, water is coming in and going out at the same time. When the tank is almost empty a flapper falls onto the discharge hole and seals it again. And water starts refilling the tank. That sitting water in the tank actually serves as insulation from smells and fumes from the pipes for removal.

The toilet’s significant contribution to the environment was further enhanced in 1992 when Congress passed legislation requiring new toilets to drain just 1.6 galls per flush instead of the then 3.5 gallons, conserving water resources.

And, here’s a closing takeaway concerning the toilet seat and its lid. 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.

But these practices will probably continue to require reminders until such time that every toilet comes with automatically closing seats and lids.

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.

Matt Blunt in the process of draining the nearly 100-year old spring-fed pool on the property he and his mother Rebecca restored in Carmel.

Matt in the process of draining the nearly 100-year old spring-fed pool on the property he and his mother Rebecca restored in Carmel.

For those of us who are not lucky enough to have a home on a lake or pond, or one with a river view, there are other ways to enjoy the soothing effects of water, even if we’re landlocked.

It could be as simple as a classic fountain which I’ve enjoyed for many years on my back patio, spewing water from a pump into an upper basin, overflowing into a lower pan with a wonderful splashing sound that dampens occasional noise from the street. Our second opportunity for the sound of water presented itself when we installed an in-ground pool and designed a waterfall to go with it, adding to the pleasure and relaxation of our outdoor experience.

Through the years, many of our friends ventured into the creation of different water features on their properties, from small koi ponds built on their own at minimal expense to elaborate systems designed and installed by professional landscape architects, incorporating a meandering stream and waterfall. No matter the level of commitment, there is a certain lure of water in the garden with proven psychological benefits to the mind and spirit.

Even a marine biologist, Wallace J. Nichols, writing in the Huffington Post, weighs in with the thought that being near water triggers what he calls a “blue mind” — as he puts it, “a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment.”

No matter how simple or elaborate a water feature is planned for one’s property, there are the operational and maintenance factors that should be considered in advance, because they can be considerable.

Just this summer, I encountered the most awesome example of a do-it-yourself water project with the spring-fed pool project of Rebecca and Matt, who asked that I use only their first names.. In 2008, Rebecca bought a 100-year old home in Carmel a short distance from the West Branch Reservoir and found on the deed that there was an “abandoned” natural spring-fed pool on the property.

“It had long ago been filled in and all you could see was the large, oblong outline of rocks on the ground, covered by poison ivy,” Rebecca said. “I particularly remember the poison ivy. I asked my contractor who built the garage and my landscaper who built my walls whether it might be worth the effort to dig up and restore the pool, and they both said, forget it! It was probably good advice. But when I asked my brother, a geologist, he simply said, ‘Oh, sure! All you have to do is dig it out!’”

Taking his advice, Rebecca and Matt went through a long planning process, trying to figure out ways to divert the stream and how to install a series of sump wells to dry out the mud that filled the pool so that it could be dug out. There were endless challenges but they were confident they could get the job done.

It was a formidable job with much trial and error. As they began the dig of the large 38’ x 52’ form, they discovered surprises along the way, such as steep steps at one end. When they finally reached the bottom, they found large broken up slabs of concrete. But rather than pour a new bottom of concrete, which could break up again because it was below the water table, they created a natural bottom with tough fabric used for in-ground swimming pools and covered it with round stones, and it worked.

They added a sediment trap at the point where the stream flows into the pool, which needs to be emptied periodically. A major chore is draining the pool each year which involves removing an expansion plug at its bottom which can take a full day of hard work with a crow bar and brute strength. Overall maintenance is a formidable responsibility.

“Sometimes I wonder if I should have taken my brother’s advice when he said, ‘just do it,’” Rebecca said. But recently when Matt posted photos on Facebook of the pool restored for the season, with Rebecca enjoying a refreshing swim, it seemed to the observer to be well worth the effort.

As for me, I’ll have much greater respect for the owners the next time I encounter a listing that features a “spring-fed pool” by which to relax. And, I’ll be more grateful that I have a trusty pool service to maintain my Sylvan pool, fed by my municipal water supply.

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.

40871193Almost 30 years ago, my wife and I decided to install carpeting in the central hallway, staircase and second floor landing of our home. We must have been feeling particularly flush at the time because we chose the best quality, deep-pile nylon carpeting we could find. Why nylon instead of wool? Because we were convinced by the carpet retailer that it would last forever and in those days, in our naïve youth, we expected everything, like ourselves, to last forever.

To add to the expected comfort of treading across the thick pile, the owner of the carpet store introduced us to the idea of adding foam padding beneath the carpeting. As a result, every person ever visiting our home for the first time always commented on the extravagant experience of walking across – or I should say – wading through that carpeting.

When I shared this story with Mary Fellbusch, proprietor of Absolute Flooring in Yorktown in researching options for “softer” flooring that’s easier on the joints, she responded, “You really don’t want to be bouncing around or walking ‘into’ your carpeting, especially in high traffic areas. The purpose of padding is to help support you. You shouldn’t be disappearing in it.” I guess I made a wrong decision all those years ago because, indeed, I have been disappearing into that carpeting, rather than walking across it. “Walking ‘into’ carpeting creates friction and actually produces wear on its surface,” Fellbusch explained.

The hardness of surfaces underfoot occurred to me as a topic when I was viewing a YouTube interview of Russ Tamblyn who appeared in the film version of West Side Story who related how difficult it was on his joints to dance on the cement sidewalks of New York City. In a way, I related to that because, as the years passed, I find that my feet, ankles and knees are more aware of harder surfaces when I encounter them, especially if it involves standing for extended periods of time.

Fellbusch advised that many factors are involved with selecting the right flooring for the right area, depending on the traffic it receives. When I asked about choices for a “softer” surface, Fellbusch asked a question in return. By softer, did I mean soft to the touch or to the feel? To the feel, I responded. “I want to know what’s easier on the joints,” I said.

That understood, she gave me a perfect example of advice she would give to an older customer seeking a soft but supportive carpeting choice. “For an older person seeking comfort, I recommend a synthetic hair padding beneath the carpet,” she said. “It’s not ‘bouncy’ but it’s resilient. It’s comfortable but easier to walk on. You’re not going ‘into’ the carpet, but ‘across’ it. In the bedroom, however, something softer can be chosen because it’s not high traffic and customers may want something to sink their toes into.”

I then asked about what can be done to make hardwood floors more resilient. Fellbusch responded that wood flooring already has its own resiliency, but that it can be enhanced with the addition of a rosin or tar paper between it and the surface below to make it a little more comfortable.

Where we spend most of our time standing is in the kitchen and historically that is where many homeowners have chosen to install the hardest material of all, ceramic. But that is changing for a number of reasons. When it was time for us to install a new kitchen floor, it was over a surface that was more than 100 years old and very irregular. We had wanted a checkerboard tile pattern, but were advised that our flooring was too soft to support tile. As it was, Fellbusch suggested a new subfloor installation to even out the surface, topped by a high quality vinyl.

“A lot of people like ceramic for the kitchen but you can have a similar look with high quality vinyl, which is very flexible, either with the grout line designed into the tile or with acrylic grout,” Fellbusch said. “It’s more comfortable and easier to clean. Further, it reduces the possibility of either breaking things by dropping them, or having the tiles themselves crack.” And sure enough, once installed, my wife and I found that it was very comfortable to stand on.

Getting older can have its challenges, but with little tricks about easing into it, like doing our joints some good with smarter flooring choices, we can soften the journey a bit. For more information and advice about flooring needs, you can contact Absolute Flooring of Yorktown, celebrating its 30th Anniversary this year, by calling (914) 245-0225.

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.

50101835 - installation on facade of the house panels beige vinyl sidingWhen the opportunity comes to choose the “skin” of a house, the siding, whether for new construction or re-surfacing, you might think that the main factor would be personal preference for its look. But, there are other important matters to consider, namely its cost, energy efficiency, ease of maintenance, and its impact on home resale value.

Whether it’s brick, stone, wood siding, stucco, vinyl, fiber-cement (also known as “Hardie board,” named after its inventor), or a combination of two or more of those possibilities, our approach to new siding demands some study, especially since there are so many options from which to choose.

Our choices today might further be influenced by the region of the country we hail from or, for that matter, the neighborhood of our youth or a certain ideal that sets itself in our minds.

I remember when my family moved from a brick attached row home in Philadelphia to the south, my parents sought a brick home simply because that is what they were used to. When they were told, however, that their new home was merely “brick veneer,” they somehow felt cheated that it was not to be built of solid brick! And having attended college in Colonial Williamsburg, I somehow always envisioned that I’d someday own a colonial with clapboard siding.

If we were all to choose on the basis of aesthetics alone, I suspect that we might select regular wood siding which is the first siding from our nation’s earliest days, but it’s too expensive to maintain. Underneath an additional layer of composition shingle on my 1734 home, I was thrilled to discover those thick original clapboards with remnants of its first paint job in red, probably the combination of milk and oxblood.

Today, for most of us, the main choices for exterior siding are either vinyl or fiber-cement siding, and a comparison of the two options show both benefits and downsides.

Vinyl siding is made primarily from PVC, a rigid plastic material, and is attached to the exterior in a way that allows it to expand and contract with changing temperatures.

Fiber-cement siding is made from a mix of wood pulp and Portland cement that’s formed into long boards or shingles and is attached directly to the structure with nails. It is a popular choice because of its ability to withstand extreme weather conditions and hold paint for extended periods of time. It can be painted or stained, but it can also be ordered pre-painted in a range of colors.

As for maintenance, vinyl siding has advantages over fiber-cement. When fiber-cement is installed, it needs to be caulked and painted (unless you opt for the pre-painted version), unlike vinyl siding, which needs no additional work before or after installation. Long term, fiber-cement needs to be painted periodically and caulking in the joints must be maintained to avoid water intrusion.

Vinyl siding, on the other hand, just needs a power wash periodically, or for DIYers, a spray with a garden hose and some soapy water suffices to retain its vibrant look.

There are some other variables to consider. Some of the lesser quality vinyl products can fade with time, while the color of better quality products is more enduring and virtually impervious to chips and cracks. That’s not the case for fiber cement, which is so rigid that it can crack both during the installation process and after it is attached.

In my own case, I found that after a few years, some areas of my fiber-cement board, which had been behind my downspout and hit repeatedly by rainwater, literally flaked away and needed to be replaced.

As for energy and eco-friendliness efficiency, fiber-cement board has a low R-value (R-O.5) but is more eco-friendly, while vinyl can be purchased with insulation attached.

From a durability and maintenance standpoint, fiber-cement board comes with a 30- to 50-year warranty, and needs to be painted every five to ten years. A positive is that its color can be changed. Vinyl comes with a 25-year warranty but can’t be painted, so the homeowner is stuck with the same color for its lifetime. And, if damaged, vinyl must be replaced.

Considering cost and installation, there is a vast difference between the two products. The installed cost of vinyl siding is, on average, at least a third less expensive than fiber-cement. Fiber-cement is heavy, requiring special cutters and specialists to install.

In addition to saving on the initial cost of purchasing and installing vinyl siding, money is saved over its lifetime because it needs no painting or re-caulking, unlike fiber-cement.

As one would expect, and as confirmed by Mary and Robert Sniffen, proprietors of Miracle Home Improvements in Croton-on-Hudson, vinyl sells twice as much as cement-fiber, “mainly because of the cost factor,” said Mary.

To know more about home siding, Miracle Home Improvements can be reached at (914) 271-9119.

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.

19076056 - man dusting crystal chandelier in homeHave you ever heard of a dust fetish? I reluctantly admit to at least a keen interest in the subject, having alluded to it a couple of times in my column musings. For instance, once I learned that the major component of household dust is our own flaking skin, it gave me license to project that if we’re feeling queasy about not having dusted in a while, we could legitimately claim to be uncomfortable in our own skin.

Just recently I learned about a new study conducted by a group of scientists who had collected dust samples from 1,200 homes across the United States. It revealed that we all cohabitate with a few thousand species of bacteria and about 2,000 species of fungi, most of which originate outdoors and probably come inside via soil particles or as airborne spores. Add to our skin cells other flaky stuff like fabric fibers, dust mite excrement, hair, pet dander, regular dirt, debris and micro particles, and you have a pretty nasty brew that can give people with allergies and breathing problems a real hassle.

For anyone interested in forensic investigation, the study of bacteria and fungi in dust can determine whether a home has dogs or cats as well as the ratio of women to men on the premises.

For those with allergy issues, finding a solution can be a quagmire. While some argue that it’s simply a matter of pulling up carpeting and living with bare hardwood floors to control airborne bacteria and fungi, the authors of this new study, state somewhat extremely that “If you want to change your bacterial exposures, you just may have to change who you live with!” Or better yet, “If you want to change the types of fungi you are exposed to in your home, it may be best to move to a different home (preferably far away).” Well, no wonder we encounter so many people who are sniffling and apologetically tell us, sorry, it’s my allergies acting up!

While dust is inevitable, it horrifies some of us, as though its presence on our furniture and floors tells the world something unflattering about us, not only as housekeepers, but as human beings. And some of us just don’t give a damn.

You are probably familiar with the documentary, HBO movie or Broadway version of “Grey Gardens,” in which Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ aunt and cousin, Edie Beale and her daughter, also Edie, are depicted as living in absolute squalor in a neglected ramshackle house, with garbage strewn throughout and a hoard of cats and raccoons relieving themselves on the floor. When Jackie arrives to help remedy the situation and registers her shock at the condition of the property, Edie dismisses the condition of her living environment by saying simply that her daughter “hasn’t been keeping up with the dusting.”

Is inattention to dust the first degenerative step to chaos in the home? Maybe for some, depending on their mental attitude about it, and in turn, how unkempt homes can affect its occupants.

One survey reveals that 83 percent of us are happier in a clean house and the act of cleaning itself gives 57 percent of the population a feeling of satisfaction. Further it shows that 38 percent of women and 24 percent of men experience real stress living in a messy environment.

It would seem that dusting and cleaning can be therapeutic. Psychologists have found that there is a marked difference in mood before and after doing cleaning, just as with a therapy session.

But beyond the psychological and unhealthy effects of dust, it can do real physical damage to most everything it lands on, from furniture surfaces to those things it clogs up like computer keyboards and vents.

There are both fancy and simple ways to get rid of dust. The fancy way is with an air purifier of which there are two types: those with fans that pull air through filters that trap the dust and those called electrostatic precipitators in which an electrical charge is applied to the dust drawn into the device and captured on oppositely charged plates. Both are available as either portable units or as whole-house systems. Prices range from $100 for a portable model to over $1,000 for a whole-house system.

But, among the houses I’ve listed or sold, I was aware of only one couple who had a whole-house air purifier system. So, unless people are plagued by allergies, I suspect that most of us dust with old-fashioned elbow grease, using either regular rags or one of those new magic dusters to which particles cling. Because the latter option can be expensive, a regular rag can be made just as effective if dampened before use and shaken out frequently.

It’s funny how the exploratory process can affect you. As I sit at my computer, I’m very aware that between the keys of the keyboard is a lot of trapped dust. Are the raccoons soon to follow?

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 iswww.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.