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.

48430435_sWhen my wife and owned an antiques shop early in our marriage, there was a revival of interest in the Victorian style of décor, and I can’t say that we were an enthusiastic part of it. This style from the second half of the 19th century was known for plush, heavily upholstered furniture on rounded, narrow legs, velvety textures, ornate details, and a crammed abundance of plants, glassware and textiles. We were more into the relative simplicity of earlier periods.

However, in the midst of this opulence, wicker furniture at the time offered a refreshing contrast with its airy lightness. The pieces we had sold well back in that time, and I was secretly pleased to “inherit” a few white-painted chairs and a wheeled baby carriage (which we used as an indoor planter) to keep after we had enough of running the store.

Wicker furniture is made from a variety of materials, although rattan is the most traditional. “Wicker” refers to the technique of weaving wet strips of material, such as rattan, willow, paper rush or synthetic materials, in a distinctive basket-like pattern to create furniture and household items. The method itself is ancient, and some of the earliest evidence of wickerwork comes from the Sumerian culture of 4000 B.C. The popularity of wicker furniture surged when the United States and England began regular trade with China. The rattan used to hold cargo in place during the voyage was often left as refuse on the shore. Enterprising individuals gathered up this material and put it to good use, with the hard inner core of the rattan serving as the frames for furniture, and the outer layer stripped and woven to form the seats and backs. Cyrus Wakefield utilized this former waste material so effectively that his business grew into the Wakefield Rattan Company – at one time the largest rattan furniture manufacturer – and the town of Wakefield, Massachusetts, was named for him.

With all the heaviness of the Victorian fashion, wicker furniture was valued for being a hygienic option. In an era that predates vacuum cleaners and dry cleaning, the breathable and nonporous surface of wicker was easier to clean and air out than thickly stuffed upholstery. For this reason wicker was considered especially appropriate for furniture meant for babies, infants, the elderly and the sick.

Coinciding with the Victorian age was the period of British colonial rule in India. Not only was wicker furniture easier to maintain in warmer, more humid environments, but many citizens of Britain wished to emulate the tropical style of those colonies. Wicker furniture was lightweight, strong and easily to clean, but the flexibility of the rattan core and outer fibers made intricate patterns possible. Eventually, Victorian and British colonial styles faded, but wicker endured as a designers’ choice whenever a flexible material was needed. The basket-like patterns were adapted to cover Art Deco and other modern styles.

Wicker furniture may seem like an obvious choice for outdoor spaces, but unless it is crafted from synthetic materials, it would be a mistake to set your wicker furniture outside and forget about it. The sunlight would fade unpainted rattan, and exposure to rain and humidity would cause the natural fibers to rot. Paper rush is literally made from paper, for example, and would obviously not hold up well in the rain. Wicker furniture made from natural materials should remain under the shelter of a sunroom or enclosed porch if you really want it to last. If you want to use wicker for your outdoor furniture, be certain that it is made from a synthetic material specifically designed to stand up to the elements.

Maintaining indoor wicker items is simple. Vacuuming with a soft bristle attachment should do it. Adding cushions is a good idea, because although wicker is strong, it holds up to stress better when the pressure is not all on one point (don’t stand on it, for example). If your furniture needs to be repaired, I advise going to an expert to get the job done. As John Bausert, a master of the craft and owner of Veteran’s Chair Caning & Repair in New York City, said, “The materials cost next to nothing, but it’s labor-intensive.”

While the Victorian era has passed, the warm-weather feel of wicker furniture is still attractive to decorators and home owners, even as their design tastes change.

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.

43128190_sWhen it comes to technology, I may not be cutting edge, but I try my very best to adapt to what’s new as quickly as I can. What choice does one have in today’s business world, or social whirl, for that matter? From the first cube-like Macintosh in my home office to my current social-media presence for business, I have always been ready for the next thing. But what’s this I’m hearing about the benefits of an occasional unplugging of one’s digital devices at home?

The trend of establishing digital-free zones at home or work is small but growing. The New York Times recently reported that there is really no such thing as effective multi-tasking, and those who think they are good at it are really just distracted.

“Monotasking,” formerly known as “paying attention” or “not procrastinating,” is the new buzzword, and some business leaders are making a point of turning off digital distractions to get their work done faster. Without the constant pinging of emails or texts, according to this theory, your focus will be much greater and productivity will soar.

As a real estate agent who wants to respond quickly to clients, the digital-free movement is not one I am willing to embrace, and I imagine doctors, plumbers and parents – anyone who needs to be “on call,” would agree. But then again, I realize that my colleagues and I already limit our screen time when need be, even if we are available to answer all our calls and texts. For example, when I am showing houses, all my attention will be focused on my buyer client, but between houses, if I am in a separate car, I may take or receive other calls. Likewise, when my wife calls when I am working on the computer, I stop for a moment and listen to her completely, and I abstain from simultaneously responding to emails.

In other lines of work, turning off the smartphone and avoiding Twitter and Facebook for a designated block of time each day can make sense, especially if the task at hand is to write long reports, build something by hand, or balance the books. To that end, the programs getcoldturkey.com or freedom.to can help monotask by temporarily blocking internet or social media access.

Establishing digital-free zones in the home is a different matter. The proponents are usually not as concerned with productivity as with emotional connection and quality time with family. I have read of some households where all or nearly all electronic stimuli are banned. They don’t have televisions, tablets or wi-fi. For many families, and I know for mine, such a drastic lifestyle change would be far too extreme. Other variations however, seem more doable. In fact, you may be doing them already:

  • No devices at the dinner table (or during the family activity of your choice). Many years ago, our family had a “no reading during dinner” rule. Sometimes it was hard to resist temptation, but the end result was that we had more evenings of talking together. Today the rule is updated to “no smartphones,” but I admit that we frequently have the television on. Sure, you may want to socialize online, but studies have found that an overreliance on social media can actually increase feelings of loneliness.
  • Unplug during certain set hours. Maybe you have a no-screen-time rule in the mornings to help everyone get out of the door promptly, or maybe you have adopted the advice to turn off devices an hour before bedtime to help sleep better. If this is already working for you, you might add more unplugged time to your schedule (e.g. “Wednesdays from 3 pm to 5 pm”). Adopters of this habit have reported a rekindling of hobbies and interests that had been left to languish once the distraction of the internet entered the home.
  • Make a physical space free of digital devices. This can be a comfortable room in your house without screens or chargers. Some households even set up a basket by the door where you can put your phone before you walk in. The space could be set aside for crafts, reading (on paper) or entertaining, and you might notice a different feeling when the online world is not competing for attention.

I am quite happy to watch my favorite movies whenever I choose, and I never want to be away from my phone, but I am more than willing to unplug if it brings me closer to my clients, family and friends. Now that I think about it, I haven’t practiced playing the piano in weeks. Surely unplugging for an evening will give me the time.

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.

The Home Guru’s longest term home maintenance service provider of over 40 years, plumber Dave Goldberg, here with granddaughter Sarah Marr, who recently arrived at my home within 10 minutes of an emergency call, and he’s allegedly retired!

The Home Guru’s longest term home maintenance service provider of over 40 years, plumber Dave Goldberg, here with granddaughter Sarah Marr, who recently arrived at my home within 10 minutes of an emergency call, and he’s allegedly retired!

According to a survey just released by ServiceMaster, it is reported that a whopping 92 percent of homeowners feel unprepared to address home maintenance needs. How could that be, I wondered? With all the DIY resources we have on television and online, and especially if we’re young homeowners, surely we feel more fortified than that with the tasks of maintenance at hand in owning a home. And if we’re not handy ourselves, what about Angie’s List and HomeAdvisor for professional help?

But ServiceMaster–the company that includes such well-recognized brands as American Home Shield, Merry Maids and Terminix–has released its findings with some confidence, surprising as they may seem.

Conducted among nearly 2,000 adult homeowners and prospective homeowners, the survey indicates that more than half (58 percent) of homeowners and prospective homeowners surveyed say they feel unprepared to address home maintenance needs and 54 percent say they are not very knowledgeable about them.

The survey found that there has been an average of four home maintenance service calls homeowners have made over five years, spending an average total of $2,202.

The survey further shows that most consumers (83 percent) say it would be useful to have one resource to help with multiple home maintenance needs.

As for the most onerous tasks, homeowners feel least prepared to tackle HVAC maintenance, and also unprepared to handle structural repair due to weather damage.

Two-fifths (41 percent) of homeowners and prospective homeowners say they wouldn’t know who to call if they had a home maintenance need in the next three months.

When buying a home, most people think first about the financial responsibility and don’t always calculate the time, labor and expense that maintenance of the home also requires.

It can be overwhelming to think about all the various tasks involved with just one year’s of home maintenance. While much of it can be done on one’s own, which I did when I was younger, it gets to the point where it’s more practical in later years to have the pros come in and do it.

I can understand the prospect of going into panic mode as a first time home buyer. How well I remember my first day in my new, old home when there was a thunderous rainstorm and the roof leaked. My first call was to a roofer and a new roof was my first major expense. That was in the day before the internet and I had to rely on the yellow pages and neighbors’ recommendations in the absence of Google, Angie’s List and HomeAdvisor.

I first learned of the ServiceMaster survey from a blurb in USA Today with the title “It Takes a Village to Maintain a Home,” and I reflected on all of the maintenance providers I’ve collected and relied upon through the years of home ownership, and those that I’ve written about and recommended to readers of this column who have called in.

Below is a list of suppliers I find that I’ve recommended most frequently.

FLOORING: Absolute Flooring of Yorktown, (914) 245-0225, www.absoluteflooring.com, 1735 Front St., Yorktown Heights. When it came time to replace my kitchen floor, owners Mary and son Bryan Fellbusch treated me like family and gave me the best installation job imaginable. Diane Darby in the showroom is terrific for info!

CABINETRY & WOODWORKING: Woodtronics, (914) 962-5205. Jan Efraimsen’s cabinetry work is magnificent.

CONTRACTOR: Franzoso Contracting, (914) 271-4572, whether for windows, siding, roofing or the big contracting jobs, is the home improvement source of distinction.

ELECTRICIAN: P&K Electric, (914) 962-3581. Pete and Ken take good care of me in my offices and at my home. 24-hour emergency service too.

FENCING: Tony Campanella, Campanella Fencing, (845) 628-2200, www.campanellafence.com. The consummate fencer.

INSURANCE: Albert J. Chapman Agency, Inc., Bob Chapman, (914) 962-5778, www.albertjchapman.com. He’s a second generation insurer and the most attentive provider I’ve ever encountered!

LANDSCAPING/LAWN MAINTENANCE: Martino Landscape Contractors, Inc., (914) 962-0757. The Martino family got to know my property and, true to their slogan, take care of it as if it were they own.

LANDSCAPER/SNOW REMOVAL: Fitz’s Landscaping, John Fitzpatrick, (914) 618-1549, www.fitz-landscape.com. Rely on John for total landscaping design as well as lawn maintenance needs.

MOLD REMEDIATION: Oxygen Sanitizing Systems, (877) 224-3080, www.newindoorair.com. When my office library was attacked by mold, owner Valerie Maziarz brought this wonderful service to my rescue.

PAINTER: Joe Pascarelli, (914) 330-3889. “Fireman Joe” not only paints inside and out but can also tell you about fire safety at home and check your smoke detectors!

PLUMBER: Goldberg Plumbing & Heating, (914) 962-3498, www.goldbergplumbing.com. Dave Goldberg may say he’s retired, but he still drives out when there is an emergency! His son-in-law Doug Marr is “The Plumbing Guru” now.

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.

48095785_sIf you find that you have mold in your home and want it removed, you may be in for a surprise by the set of procedures now required to comply with a new law enacted in January by New York State to regulate its remediation.

According to two suppliers in the field interviewed for this report, some aspects of the law seem “a little crazy,” and you may get socked with a bill that is two or three times what it cost in the past.

Recently I attended a continuing education class devoted to the new law known as the Mold Program or Article 32 and overseen by the NYS Department of Labor to establish licensing requirements and minimum work standards for professionals engaged in mold assessment and remediation.

The presenter, Joe Margherita, owner of Fresh Maintenance, a licensed mold remediation company, was most engaging and encyclopedic in his knowledge, but from the outset, it was evident that he had some qualms about the new law and its effects on both the supplier and the consumer.

“In theory, the intentions of the new law are good, but in practice, at least for now…there are some problems that need to be worked out,” he said.

Those intentions as Margherita described them are solid: to protect the public by requiring contractors to obtain appropriate training prior to being licensed to perform mold assessment, remediation or abatement services. It also protects against fraud by prohibiting the performance of both the assessment and remediation on the same property by the same individual; and it requires a post-remediation assessment to make sure the job was done right.

“The law is a little crazy in the respect that, as a remediator, I can’t be the first person on the job,” Margherita said. “In the old days, I would just go there and take care of it. Now a full assessment plan is required before I can do my work, then the assessor must be called back to clear the work. It’s a bit much and that has to get ironed out. Maybe it’s okay for a big job, but for a single family house, it’s not working. Also, there are loopholes that give a lot of room for abuse.”

By the end of the class, I was unhappy about having to advise buyers and sellers of the bad news about mold removal because, except if they own a large apartment building, it looks as though a small remediation job for a single family house could cost them twice if not three times as much as it would have before this law was enacted. The extra cost stems from the separate assessment plan it requires, followed by the post-remediation clearance.

A while back, I had written about a very good experience I had with a mold remediator named Valerie Maziarz of Oxygen Sanitizing Systems who had rid my collection of antique books of a nasty mold problem. Maziarz did not hold back in her criticism of the new law: “It unnecessarily overburdens the consumer,” she said. “In the past, I could walk into an environment, do a report about how to resolve a problem and sanitize it at a reasonable cost. Now the consumer has to involve another party and it’s much more costly.

“This has been an overreaction by the state to a few bad people who took advantage of the situation around Superstorm Sandy,” Maziarz continued. “But that shouldn’t have meant that the world should be turned upside down. I am aware that a few other states have adopted similar laws but are now abandoning them for not working, Texas for example.”

Maziarz estimated that just the first step alone, the assessment plan, would add an addition $500 to $850 minimum to the process, not counting the remediation and the clearance. However, she said that she can still “sanitize” a home and, while she can’t write an official report, she can provide an air sampling following her process that the air is clean. I suppose there are many ways to address the bureaucratic process while it’s trying to find its way.

For instance, I learned from Margherita that as a homeowner the law allows me to simply perform mold removal on my own with a common household detergent. But who would want to risk amateur efforts if members of one’s family were having serious health problems because of it?

My lingering question was, if I wanted to follow the guidelines of the new bill, how would I locate an assessor, as distinguished from a remediator? I googled mold remediation and the first company to appear was ServPro. The representative told me they don’t do inspections but kindly referred me to a helpful assessor, Envirocheck at (866) 244-3254. For more information about remediation, you can talk to the pros Joe Margherita at (866) 543-3257 or Valerie Maziarz at (877) 244-3080.

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.