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Making the Move to Birmingham, Alabama? Here’s What You Should Know!

In the beginning, farmland ruled the lone stretch of land around that railroad crossroad in Alabama. But once it merged with the surrounding towns, the Magic City saw tremendous growth. Since then, this hotbed of history played a major role in the Civil Rights movement and changed the iron manufacturing game. Today, it’s known for its flourishing art scene, Roll Tide and making a mean gourmet popsicle. It’s no surprise you’re thinking of making the move to this charming southern city. But with any big change in life, being prepared and arming yourself with knowledge always makes the transition significantly smoother. Let’s dive in to some need-to-know info about the city of Birmingham.

Prepare to Have More Cash

You’ll be happy to know that your potential new home is easy on the wallet. You can expect an extremely low cost of living compared to other metro areas in the United States. Birmingham scored a 126 on Expatistan’s cost of living price index. New York City, on the other hand, scored a whopping 229.

So you get to enjoy all of the big city vibes without having to live in a flat where the kitchen doubles as a bathroom. If fact, Forbes ranked the Magic City as No. 1 in the U.S. in value for your money. That means the typical resident earns more and spends less on necessities.

Don’t Go in Weather-Blind 

Let’s make sure you don’t end up walking in without the necessary information. The weather in Alabama can require a bit of getting used if you’re from a dry climate. Summer months see temperatures around the 90’s. Occasionally the city will experience temperatures in the triple digits. It’s not unusual for temperatures to drop below freezing in the winter but it mostly toggles right around the 50’s. Any time of year expect high humidity.

Job Opportunity

There are many options for job opportunities in Birmingham. Magazines such as Cooking Light, Southern Living and Coastal Living are all published here. If you want to pursue a career in writing or photography but you’re not sure if you’re ready for the hustle and bustle of New York City, this might be the place for you.

There are several banks that call the Magic City home. It’s a central hub for national banks such as Regions and BBVA Compass. The University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical Center is one of the leading international medical centers as well as one of the largest employers in the state. Aside from these three hotspots, there are plenty of other opportunities to check out.

It’s a City of Culture

Now that we have the nitty-gritty housekeeping out of the way, let’s jump into the fun stuff. Art, music and culture in general are a major facet of life in Birmingham. If by some chance you’ve always dreamed of seeing live music at a renovated 20th century blast furnace, Birmingham is the right place! Sloss Furnace is a somewhat creepy yet utterly unforgettable historic site, event center and music venue. Be sure to pass through to learn more about the city’s legacy of iron production and industry.

Maybe you’re into art that grows from the ground. Lucky for you, the Birmingham Botanical Garden has you covered with all the topiaries and rose gardens your heart desires. And the best part is, it’s free year-round. Birmingham is certain to provide you with endless history to learn, art to admire and cool indie music to jam out to on the way to work.

Sports and the Like

Everybody knows that Birmingham and Roll Tide go hand-in-hand. Come fall, lines are drawn and War Eagle fans are kicked over to the other side. The rivalry is as real as you’ve heard. But even when football season winds down, you can expect to see sports and an active lifestyle rule all year long.

Baseball season is a highly celebrated time. The Barons are Southern League Champs and they always draw a massive crowd on Thirsty Thursdays. GoKickball is a Birmingham rite-of-passage you’ll surly participates in regardless of your athletic status. It’s a great way to get a feel for the Birmingham social scene.

You might be surprised to hear that this urban city has a lot to offer the nature-loving soul too! Whether you’re into paddle boarding or hiking, you’ll have no problem getting your fill of the great outdoors.

A Food and Drink Scene to Die For 

At this point you’re probably getting a grasp of how amazing this city truly is. The list of things to do in Birmingham is endless. You might have guessed this but there’s no shortage of great places to eat or grab a drink. There’s an impressive brewery scene. And, as mentioned before, Steel City Pops has a simply exquisite selection of popsicles. Pepper’s Place Farmers Market might be right up your alley if you want to prepare your own meal with a harvest of farm-fresh goodies. Just about every taste palette can find a home in Birmingham.

While making a move can be stressful, there’s no doubt you’ll be happy with you new home in Birmingham. With this knowledge, you’ll take the city by storm and fit in just like a local in no time.

Abigail Golder

Appliance Cleaning Guide

When it comes to cleaning our houses, most of us will concentrate on dusting shelves, vacuuming the carpets and disinfecting the sinks, but we often forget about the appliances we use every day. Making sure appliances such as washing machines, refrigerators and stove tops stay clean does more than keep your home looking its best. Cleaning these appliances regularly can be essential for keeping them in their best condition and ensuring that they run efficiently. For example, refrigerator condenser coils can become covered with dust and lint. Thus, they have to work harder to keep your refrigerator running and could result in your fridge burning out before its time. In the case of washing machines and dishwashers, many people might believe that they don’t have to clean them. Yet giving the insides of these appliances a regular cleaning is important for ensuring dirt and other contaminants aren’t lingering in the nooks and crannies.

It’s easy to figure out how to dust a shelf or clean a window, but the right way to clean a major appliance isn’t always so obvious. Fortunately, cleaning your appliances can be easily done with items you probably already have around your home \’97 as long as you know what you’re doing. In most cases, a simple concoction of vinegar and baking soda can do the job of just about any expensive chemical cleanser. For example, cleaning your top-loading washing machine is a simple matter of running the heaviest load cycle, then filling it with 1 quart of white vinegar and 1 cup of baking soda before it’s finished. After letting the mixture sit for an hour, finish the cycle and then run another hot-water cycle to rinse. Your washing machine will be clean and free from detergent sludge that can clog it and cost you performance.

Getting your house its cleanest takes a lot of hard work. However, don’t forget that your appliances deserve some extra attention for all the hard work they do every day. Take a look at the following guide for some basic tips on how to give your hard-working appliances the deep cleaning they need.

SOURCES

http://www.moneymanagement.org/Community/Blogs/Blogging-for-Change/2016/September/Five-ways-cleaning-your-appliances-will-save-you-money.aspx

http://www.styleathome.com/how-to/renovations/article/how-to-save-money-by-cleaning-your-appliances

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Top 10 Tools for New Home Owners

I meet with a lot of home buyers (obviously for my profession), and a large majority do not have even a basic set of tools. However, new home owners especially first time buyers tend to have one common problem; they just bought a house and have no money. I could have drawn up a list of 100 or even 1000 tools everyone needs! I don’t usually have a problem justifying the need for more tools, and most guys that grew up similar to me don’t.

Before we get in to the mix of tools to start with let me make one point clear. Nothing drives me crazier then to have people use my tools because they don’t want to mess there’s up. Tools were meant to get used, beat up, and banged around. Care for them, but use them! Don’t shy away from using them for their intended purpose, and always remember you use the 1 right tool not 3 wrong tools.

I tried to put these in some type of order to buy the ones you need first but don’t stress about that. Get the ones YOU need immediately first but preferably all 10 at one shopping spree.

1. Every home owner will be hanging pictures, tapping rusted and worn hinges, and in general beating stubborn objects. My number one pick is a quality hammer; I use it more then just about any tool in my shop and they cannot be substituted without sacrificing precision, finesse, and fingers!

Working construction as a teenager my foreman told me once that when I buy my hammer only buy brands that start with a V. Not knowing what he meant I went to the nearest hardware store and learned that the V he was speaking of was Vaughan, score one for me at less than $20 for a hammer and I’m set. Though Vaughan is not the best hammer out there it is a quality hammer and the best bang for the buck. My hammer has built many houses since then and it still has the original handle.

Now you ask “what type of hammer do I need?” A framing hammer tends to be the most versatile and can be used for any job but is only perfect for framing. I’ll be honest I cheat here and rarely ever grab another hammer over my framing hammer. Choking up on the grip gives you good support for driving finishing nails and all the way back will remove a rusted wheel rotor.

Grips change preference by many people, though most prefer a curved wood handle. Wood is easy to replace and lasts a long time, fiberglass handles cant always be replaced. Wood handles also seem to balance and generally feel better in your hand. Plus there’s just something that makes you feel like a man holding something your ancestors could have been using to pound their way through history! $24.95

2. Ok so technically 2 tools but since they really go as a pair or set screwdrivers will be considered 1 tool. For basic jobs you need a flat head and a phillips and they will likely cure anything that ails you. However, an 8 piece Craftsman set is $14.99 and well worth the cost. This set will cover most anything you need it for and will take apart almost anything in your home.

A quality screwgy will do everything from hanging a TV mount and removing the remote battery screw to changing a will socket. My old Drill Sergeant told me there’s 3 rules a man needs to live by: Don’t ever mess with another mans kids, never take his money, and the last beer in the fridge belongs to the one who bought it. Since then I’ve added a fourth one… buy quality screwdrivers! There’s nothing worse then the tip breaking in the middle of a job forcing your immediate surrender.

3. Needle nose pliers, can grab about anything you have in the house and can even assist you in reaching those hard to get areas. Believe me the list is endless as to what you will use these for! Wires will need to be re-routed, clasps pinched, and rusted knobs turned. This list truly needs to have more then 1 number 1, because tools like this are invaluable and impossible to substitute.

4. Now some of you reading this are asking why I said needle nose pliers instead of regular pliers and here’s why. You truly need both but when starting out you can accomplish most tasks with a decent set of channel locks and needle nose pliers.

Channel locks cannot be substituted with pliers but pliers can be substituted with channel locks. You cannot use pliers to open a beer bottle, it’s simply uncivilized! But Channel locks provide the necessary torque and mannliness required for such a task and you then upgrade from uncivilized to truly barbaric!

Ok in seriousness, channel locks provide more versatility for a home owners tasks then do pliers and you always have the needle nose pliers when they cannot be used.

A lower end but still quality set of channel locks can run you about $15 until you can afford something a little higher end. However I would urge you not to purchase Husky pliers, they seem to break when you attempt to pick up a pudding pack. Stanley may not be the best brand anymore but their channel locks will rip the legs off a bear.

5. Adjustable crescent wrenches are not necessarily fun but a 20 inch one does complete your art of manliness starter package. But lets dial it down for just a bit and look at a 12 inch adjustable crescent. They can fit in to almost any space your home provides (admittedly they can get a little tight in an engine compartment) and are up to the task of most home maintenance projects.

If you’re really in a jam you can always grab your channel locks and framing hammer and then rip the door out of its frame and you can just hang a blanket. Again it’s another item that falls into that $15 range.

6. This item could have easily gone higher on the list but a tape measure is invaluable. I like a Stanley Fat Max 25’ or 35’ but you don’t necessarily need that much of a hog to carry around. Fat Max is nice if you use it a lot because the wider tape makes it easier to span distances without support, I’ve had that bad Larry out to 14’ unsupported!

You can stick to the 25’ tape as this will suffice for home repairs but when you start doing framing and landscaping a 35’ is nicer. Buy a second one when the time comes right now you just want to handle repairs.

A Fat Max will run you about $30 but you can get a knock off 25’ tape for around $15 at your local hardware. The choice is yours and unlike Highlander their can be more then 1! One last thing to consider is the tape measures with the magnetic tip. They can be very handy when you’re working alone, so its worth a little extra.

7. Next you need a torpedo! Every guy reading this is salivating right now running to their spouse with their well thought out excuse to buy an underwater projectile that explodes on impact. Unfortunately We are talking about a level that you can use to plumb pictures.

These levels can be substituted for longer ones by strapping a straight edge to it. Though guys do not tend to care if the Wolverine mount in their man cave is level, or if it looks like you bolted it to the wall while you were drunk with a rabid ferret clawing at your genitals, your spouse will thank me for this one and your marriage will likely last at least another 6 months. It’s all about sacrifice…

Look for a level with a magnetic strip on one of the sides because when you actually start using it to do minor repairs and remodels the strip is invaluable. Plumbing a metal fence post will never be easier than with two of these with a magnet.

Now you may be tempted to buy the electronic calibrated level for $735 (I’m not joking this really exists) you can pick up a normal duty use level for $15 – $30 depending on the brand. Again though this is another great item to go with Stanley, I’ve had mine for over 10 years and I use it constantly.

8. Ok so I hate to even stick this one in there but it has to be said, because it blows my mind how many people do not own a flashlight. You’re home repair tool box should have a decent flashlight. $20 gets you an LED Maglight that is perfect for repairs, I love Surefires too but this isn’t weapons training 101, just get what you can afford and Maglights are a good bang for the buck.

The reasons for the flashlight should be fairly obvious; bottom line here is that you cannot do anything if you can’t see. Not to mention often when you are doing home repairs you have to shut off the electricity so you have no light from the inherent light source of the room. So when you pull out your straight razor in the morning and go to trim the neck line of your 2 and a half foot beard and the power goes out, you can immediately wash the razor and realize that shaving is second priority to to swinging a hammer for 8 hours in the dark!

9. Allen wrenches are unfortunately one of those things that seem to be on every mechanical piece in your home and there is truly no substitute. Everything from your furnace to your sink will have them and you need it to really get anything done. A quick tip if you haven’t yet purchased your allen wrenches and you desperately need them you can always pound the furnace cover like Thor with your hammer and rip the cover off with the channel locks. This again can be something to anger the beast wife I recommend you spend the $14 for allen wrenches.

10. Lastly, A ladder though not fun or mannly they keep you from breaking both your legs instead of balancing a bucket on a chair on the hood of your wife’s Honda while your best friend moves it forward as you clean the debris out of the gutters.

This is the most expensive item on this list and brings up the price for the list as a whole. An articulating ladder is best if you’re only going to own one and can accomplish almost any home owner task unless have an extremely high roof. 17’ or 19’ articulating ladder is ideal for the home owner and allows you to the highest peaks of 90% of homes. If you do have an exceptionally high roof you can get a 25’ extension ladder and get your man card back from your neighbor who uses an articulating ladder.

The Little Giant is the gold standard for these types of ladders but they are overpriced and knock off brands can be had for less then half the price with the same material quality. You just have to lower your standard of aesthetically pleasing. Northern Tool often has them on sale for $125 delivered to your door, or a little cheaper in stores.

Do New Homes Need an Inspection?

One question I get asked regularly is, do I need a home inspection with a new construction home? At first glance the answer would seem like a ‘no.’ You’re likely thinking you had code inspectors come out and you have a reputable contractor. In reality your assumption could not be further from the truth.

A new construction home actually needs more then 1 home inspection! The first issue here being there’s a significant difference between a home inspection and a code inspection; the second issue is contractors are not inspectors and also have a biased opinion (reasonably so); third it will be beneficial in law suits and home warranty claims.

Code inspections monitor the building process for governing codes, home inspectors monitor buildings for building standards of practice. The difference meaning codes are the minimum requirements while standards of practice are based on best building practices.

Additionally home inspections monitor system functionality. If you imagine building a car the quality control inspector ensures that everything is put together properly and is similar to a code inspection; the home inspection is more in line with a test drive, we drive the car checking brakes, turn signals, transmission function etc. There is some overlap here because best practices aline with codes and home inspectors are reasonably familiar with codes and base inspection on those as well.

I have personally never inspected a home that passed the code inspections but passed the home inspection. The most recent home inspection I did on a new construction home cost the home buyer $385, for their money I found $7,000 worth of defects from a reputable contractor. The contractor now had to fix those issues and saved the client thousands on future repairs and issues when listing the house.

Contractors do inspect their work, but even good crews get anxious at 5 o’clock on Friday. Ordering inspections in process at key stages may cost you an extra few hundred dollars but ensures your home is built properly and issues cannot be hidden. We can also save the contractor money by conducting those inspections so they are not fixing them after it is built.

Small things that the code doesn’t require, the inspector can recommend that the contractor fix providing you the ability to get the work done at no cost to you. Codes don’t necessarily require counter flashing but the home inspector will require these to be put in. Now you no longer have to rebuild the wall when you go to sell the house because the contractor had to fix it. If he refuses and you have issues in the future you now have a report backing the claim recommending them.

If you order an inspection at 11 months after the house is built you then have a report backing all warranty claims (even things you don’t have an issue with yet). For the price of an inspection you saved thousands because you are no longer the one responsible for fixing the issues.

The last issue is some clients ask the professionals they’ve hired to tell them whether they need an inspection. The professional doesn’t get paid until you buy the house so of course they will tell you ‘no’ so they can push the deal through. A decent professional with their clients best interest truly in mind will advise you to get it done; whether that’s the lawyer, insurance agent, realtor, or builder they should recommend you have it performed.

The recommendation for a new construction home is to have several (usually 2) in process inspections, one full inspection on completion, and another full inspection with mold test at 1 year. This can obviously add up but the return in savings is well worth it, remember this is the largest asset you will ever own have the foresight to get it inspected correctly.

Tips to Your First Home

Alright so you’ve just purchased your first home… the excitement is overwhelming and you are still in shock at the simplicities that come with it. You no longer have to ask a landlords permission to paint or make cosmetic changes, the money spent on them is now going back in your pocket, and every time you walk in to the house the realization hits you that you own it.

There is almost no greater feeling in the world then purchasing your own home and more specifically your first home. However, with that purchase come some pitfalls and shortcomings that can be scary and intimidating.

Don’t Remodel Yet!

When you bought the home it may have been outdated and ugly or maybe just not your style. You went through it with your spouse (or those of us that are single with your dog) and dreamed about all the changes you “needed” to make to it.

Realize first that those changes are “wants” and not “needs” overspending right now can you lead you right back on the path to being an apartment dweller by defaulting on your loan. Remember the Les Brown quote; “the quickest way to get back on your feet is skip two car payments!”

Believe me I get it the shag carpet is horrible, the velvet Elvis is permanently mounted to the wall, and the grey flowered wall paper absolutely has to go. Keep in mind you just made a huge downpayment, paid for a home inspection (if you were smart), and have all these maintenance items to care for first.

Bottom line her is take care of your maintenance items and savings account first, then you can begin your upgrades.

Leading us to the second point… Maintenance!

I cant tell you how many homes i’ve inspected that simply have drastic deferred maintenance with them. I’ll write a brief maintenance article over the next few weeks but in short don’t forget that your HVAC filters need to be changed monthly, HVAC needs serviced annually, shingles need patched, siding needs cleaned and painted, windows need caulk, the list literally goes on.

These things begin to add up and can cost you a significant amount over the course of the year. In general I budget $100 a month for maintenance, this is excessive for most months but on the occasion where you need a new AC, furnace or hot water heater the money is already there for it. Don’t be foolish save the money now and take care of these issues before they become bigger problems.

One thing that no one ever wants to admit they need is an annual maintenance inspection. Most home owners, especially the do-it-yourselfer believes they have the knowledge to identify issues. In part they can, which is why annual maintenance inspection can run significantly cheaper then a standard inspection. In realty, it takes a trained inspector to identify issues you aren’t yet having or the ones you cant see… like water leaks behind a wall.

Pay for Quality

When it comes to home maintenance, repairs, and remodels nothing seems scarier or more outside the realm of possible then getting a quote from a qualified contractor. 1st contractors can be hit or miss and they are not created equal (much like home inspectors).

It’s difficult to find good contractors even more so to find good ones with decent prices. As it appears the ones that are good usually know it and charge a premium for their services. I recently had a client that purchased services from a contractor, in short the work was screwed up miserably and the client is facing a lengthy court battle; to win a case that she will likely never see a return on her money because the failure bankrupt the general contractor.

What’s the point here? Shop quality services for your home not price. The same holds true with inspections. People call me all the time price shopping and asking if I will match another inspectors price. I tell them simply ‘no’ because my inspections will be much more thorough and in depth. As an example, I did a home inspection last week that was an average size home with no special features besides a pool to add to the price. That inspection took me 5 hours plus an additional hour to complete the report; had I completed it to the minimum required standard I could have easily been finished in 2 to 2.5 hours. That is simply not the way I do business, I provide a high quality service and charge accordingly.

Track your information.

Keep track of everything in a binder or online (clients of Timberline Inspections receive a lifetime subscription to Home Binder). Save receipts! Save everything! When you come back in 5 years and need to match the paint to fix dings, it will save you the trouble of repainting, try to match a broken tile without it and you’ll feel my pain.

On that same note buy and save extra on everything it’s good to have leftover originals to do repairs in 5 or 10 years. Store them in your attic out of the way and leave it if you ever sell the house. Remember products get discontinued and suppliers go out of business, so don’t wait until it’s too late to match it. Even if you knew that wouldn’t happen it’s still imperative because different batches can produce different coloring and a new one 10 years late likely wont match.

Don’t skimp on insurance

Being an inspector I deal a lot with property inspection for insurance claims, some companies are better then others and the only two I would ever use are Nationwide and USAA. Are they the cheapest? Certainly not but guess what! When there’s a claim they just pay it…

I’ve dealt with both companies and both seem to be great, as a Veteran I’m slightly biased to use USAA but having gone through the claims process with them on several occasions they just pay up. Neither of those companies try to sneak by with technicalities and get themselves out of paying you.

Pick a deductible you can afford, if you only have $1000 in your emergency fund then your deductible should be no more then half that. Imagine if you picked it at $5000 and then had a major fire or storm damage… How will you cover the added expense? and even so doing you will then be out of money completely. There’s time to save on the premiums later just get one you can afford now and pay for a disaster.

Fixing The Whirlpool Oven Lock

I’m writing this article because Whirlpool thoroughly ticked me off with my oven/microwave combo! Since owning this oven I used the self clean for the first and last time and will never purchase one of these again.

Now for those of you reading this to find the fix for this ridiculous issue keep reading it’s at the bottom of the article. Let’s first discuss the problem so we are all on the same page. After running Whirlpools Gold Accubake Micro/Oven Combo in self cleaning mode for the first time I was excited to see how well it cleaned (a hole in the tinfoil caused a meal to leak fat all over the bottom of the oven). So I scrubbed and scraped until only the residue was left and thus entered the nightmare of self cleaning mode.

During that mode the door locks and you cannot use your oven for several hours. After completion the lock releases and you should be able to wipe out the oven and be done. This was not the case for myself, and based on the online research many, many others!

The door lock wouldn’t release, and after several hours of reading posts and struggling through Whirlpools (waste of time) troubleshooting guide, the only thing I managed to learn was that I had multiple faults from E0-F1 through E7-F5. What this told me was that Whirlpool had figured out ‘Every’ way to ‘F*&%’ me 5 times.

I then read that on some models the code that I was pulling meant the wiring harness was loose in the back and the cover needed to be removed. I doubted this was the case since it happened during the self cleaning, but at this point in time what the hell! Next I learned that you cannot remove the panel without opening the oven door to remove two screws, which I obviously couldn’t do since it was the door lock that was not working… am I in the Twilight Zone?

So to no avail I was on my last result, of calling Whirlpool; if you’ve ever dealt with customer service you understand my hesitation here. I wasn’t in the mood to spend an hour on hold being redirected to different departments to finally get tech support that would then ask me to turn off the oven and turn in back on (FYI this is what Dish Network does, can’t wait to be out of my contract there… but I digress). Afterwords I would get scheduled for a technician to come out and billed $300, only to tell me I need a new oven… but they will apply the $300 for a 2.5% discount at purchase.

Now on to the fix!

As a home inspector in Birmingham I’m reasonably familiar with appliances and thought maybe I had enough knowledge to fix the guts of the oven. (as a disclaimer I should tell you under no circumstances should you attempt this. You could void the warranty, damage the oven, or subject yourself to injury or death from electrocution).

As I looked in between the oven and microwave I realized the vent lead to some of the internals. Inside there is a small piston that activates the door lock. Since the oven doesn’t use the lock for anything except cleaning, this was a relatively useless feature. With a metal coat hanger (piece of plastic would be better with the electronics, but be sure you disable the power before you attempt anything,) I was able to easily depress the piston and release the lock. ​

Since the lock is not used the code immediately reset, with the power being off, and did not come back on. As you have it I have a working oven again for the low price of one coat hanger. I haven’t tried the self cleaning feature since and don’t intend to use it again, but the oven works fine now and saved me a service fee or a new oven. Moral of the story here is don’t buy Whirlpool Gold appliances, normally I would chalk this up to a lemon until I found that so many people had the same issue and Whirlpool did nothing to help. Disappointing too because Whirlpool was a brand I was always fond of prior to this experience.


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Making Use Of Scrap Materials

Introduction
A lot of things accumulate around your home including keys and chargers in your junk drawer, or even Cheerios in every nook and cranny imaginable if you have children. Some of this junk can be useful, most importantly the spare hardware that could be hiding in every room or leaning up against the shed in the backyard. The old wooden door by the tool shed, loose nails, hooks, screws, doorknobs, and hinges, all of these are useful treasures that you can make repairs with in and around your home. For the purpose of this article I will use as an example the half door that my wife requested for Christmas, to keep the dogs out of the kitchen. Keep in mind the project described here will not be detailed because the goal is for you to figure out what you can do with your spare materials to improve your home without a big price tag and thin out the junk piles in the process.​

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My wife’s request
In our house we have three “fur babies” and although we love them, they stay underfoot. This is not normally a big deal, however the one place it really bugs my wife is in the kitchen. Leaving the house through the back door meant fighting back 3 fuzzy sharks attempting to escape when they smelled freedom.  To remedy this, she requested a door to keep them out but did not want it to feel completely closed off. With that in mind we decided a half door was the only viable option. This simply meant cutting a door in half as if to make a Dutch door but leaving the top half off.
My wife and I live in a beautiful craftsman style house built in 1922 which means a lot of things with our own experiences differ from most. One perk is that a century of existence combined with solid concrete walls, (something unique for the age and style) has caused the dwelling to accrue a plethora of assorted hardware. To avoid special drill bits and mounting options, the owners over the years had opted to hang decor from the ceiling (or so I assume judging by the number of hooks in the tongue and groove). The windows and doors being original, had mix match pieces of locking mechanisms, which made for a rather interesting collection. I decided to tackle the project using the homes accumulated surplus not only for the satisfaction of building something for my wife, but also to keep cost down and preserve the style of our house. By the way yes, for those thinking it, I have been accused of being cheap many times.

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The build
   I began with an old undersized door that had been removed years before and had taken up residence in my tool shed. All the original hardware was still attached with a few missing parts, so I removed them and soaked them in 50/50 white distilled vinegar and water to clean off paint and rust. I then turned my attention to the door. My wife wanted to keep some of the patina, so I sanded and Scraped off only the loose and flaking paint on both sides. The kitchen side received a clear coat to seal and preserve the weathered look, and the dining room side got the turquoise treatment that the rest of our dining room/ living room doors had been given by a previous owner. When it came to the desired height she simply stood in the door and showed me where she wanted it to be, I took a measurement and then cut the door to size.
The hinges I robbed from some old removed built-in doors. They were undersized but were adequate for the project and will eventually be upgraded. All of the hinges and other hardware were fastened using screws but for the top cap, made from spare wood, I used trim nails to avoid splitting. The next step after mounting was to install a knob. This part was simply cosmetic since it did not have the ability to latch, and to keep the door closed I repurposed a hook latch with a screw in eyelet. However, I turned to the doorknob collection once again provided by our house and chose one that was glass.

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It works! 
The door turned out great, and matched the style and color scheme of the house. My wife loved it and it kept the dogs out of the kitchen. The best part was discovered the next time we left the house, when we moved to block the fuzzy sharks from running out the door and remembered they weren’t there. That part she loved the most. As I mentioned, the project used spare hardware that was no longer being used therefore not everything was a perfect fit. At certain times during the build I had to backup and rethink, or alter parts. With common knowledge and a basic set of tools, however any obstacle encountered during the project can be overcome. Also parts that need upgrading can always be improved after completion.
Even if you don’t think you can take on building or fixing something because you don’t have the know how, countless books, and websites, have been created about taking on tasks around the house. There is a certain sense of accomplishment creating something, or repairing something for oneself, no matter how big or small. The goal of course is to learn as much as you can so you can do the job correctly if it’s something that can drastically affect the wellbeing and condition of your home. My wife’s door could have been constructed better with newer store bought materials but that door does not degrade the structure and operates as intended.
Wife approved, dogs restrained, mission accomplished. Good luck on your projects!Cody McCandeless
Timberline Inspections LLC
Greater Birmingham Area Home Inspector


8 Tips to Prepare Your Home For A Storm

In Alabama we get a significant amount of storms, everything ranging from small rainstorms, tornadoes, blizzards and even hurricanes and tropical storms. It comes as no surprise that we have to be prepared to weather a storm.

1. Trim and Clear. I see this on just about every list online, trim and clear trees back from your house. In areas of the country with prominent forest fires keeping a fire barrier between the wood line and your house is often a building code requirement. Though its not a requirement in the South East United States it still passes the common sense test to do the same.
Blown down trees will damage power lines, roofs, and even structural supports of your home. One heavy log can cause thousands in damage, and don’t forget you wont be able to cosmetically match paints and shingles very well, so you’ll likely be viewing the mismatch until it’s time to completely redo it. Any home owner with a chainsaw and a ladder can get trees and limbs cleared up so nothing is over-hanging your house.
Required materials: Ladder, Chainsaw or limb saw, pruning shears, rope

2. Clean your gutters. This seems like a minor issue but it’s worth noting because a backed up gutter will push rain water under the eaves and into your house. This can get significantly worse in a snow storm when the ice starts damming up and the water has no where to go.
While you’ve got the ladder out you’ll want to inspect the roof and replace any broken or damaged shingles. This is also a good time to inspect your flashing and place another bead of roofing joint compound to reseal them. Mastic wears over time and cracks, causing leaks you’ll never know about until it’s coming through your bedroom ceiling.  You still have to do this same step even if you have a metal roof.
Required materials: Caulk gun, roofing nails, roofing sealant, hammer, utility knife, gloves, trash bag.

3. Walk the yard. Grading is important and with the amount of home inspections we do in a year in Birmingham I can tell you one of the most common causes of moisture issues is grading and gutters. Even if the site was fine last year, its important to realize your land settles and it may not be graded correctly anymore; It doesn’t usually hurt to go more but a rule of thumb for the minimum is 1 inch every 10 feet from the house.
At the same time you should check the gutters discharge too. We see a lot of houses during inspection that discharge water immediately next to the house. Short term this can cause water entry in a bad storm, but long term you’ll start to rot the wood all around it, and even damage masonry. Even if it’s not touching the brick, concrete foundation and mortar all soak it up and absorb it into the surrounding area. This causes a significant amount of damage over time.
Required materials: Shovel, fill dirt, 6 foot level, tape measure, splash blocks.

4. Back Ups: Two is one, and one is none. During a bad storm is not the time to have things quit working on you. However, this is the time we can almost guarantee some things will. I live out in the country, it’s pretty well a guarantee that anytime we have a decent storm ill lose power for a short term, and during the snow storms ill lose it over night. if not longer This is a minor irritant unless you have a freezer stocked full of food and rely on electricity for your heat.
As home inspectors we always recommend two sources of heat for just this reason… even in the South! Im not suggesting you have two types of furnaces, but2 days below 30 degrees with no heat can be deadly. If you have electric heat and a gas log fire place you can at least get some heat in the house. Whether you have backup heat or not, having a generator is invaluable. It can run a freezer so food doesn’t go bad and allow you to use your electric cook top, microwave, or oven. More than that if you have a basement or problematic crawl space it will allow you to run your sump so you don’t get flooding.
On that same note sump pumps are inexpensive enough it doesn’t hurt to have a back up, and it doesn’t need to be a high quality backup. They’re cheap and having one you’ll never need is good insurance against a flooded basement with $10,000 in mold and water damage. Required materials: Sump pump, generator, back up heat system, back up cooker, propane.

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5. Have your emergency supplies ready. I wont give a huge list here, there’s lots of experts on the subject and an entire blog post could be devoted to just this. I will, however, through some basic principles on the subject. Food, water, shelter (meaning clothing and blankets), and comfort should be readily available. A plastic tub of some sort stored in a convenient area (somewhere you can get to without a light) filled with necessities can handle any number of issues, FEMA recommends 3 days worth. Include in this tub:

  • Flashlights W/ Batteries
  • Candles
  • Warm clothing and shoes
  • Food (with cooking appliances)
  • Propane Camp stove, pots, utensils, etc.
  • Bottles of water
  • Copies of important document

You may be wondering about some of these items and why we recommend keeping it in a tub. Earthquakes, hurricanes, and severe tropical storms can have you leaving the home. Having everything you need to do so, packed in a water-resistant container offers obvious advantages should the need arise. But even in things as minor as power outages it is safe and secure to have everything in a place you can get to without the lights on.
You may keep your important papers in one secure place like a safe. In the military it was common practice to have what was referred to as an “I love me” book with all this information in there. Any documentation that would be needed to start life over on a move: land deeds, vehicle titles, court documents etc.
Flooding, forest fires, tornadoes all can force you to start over. During that mess is not the time to be hunting down birth certificates, passports, marriage certificates (or divorce decrees) etc.


6. Check with your insurance provider to ensure you’re covered against any issues that may arise. Rebuilding a home from cash while paying off your mortgage to a house you no longer live in, all because you didn’t know it wouldn’t be covered sounds like a horrible way to spend the next ten years of your life.

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7. Service your equipment: Having a GOOD HVAC technician review your equipment and verify it’s working correctly can save you $1000’s. At a minimum they should top off your freon, check the lines, acid wash the coils, and take temperature readings.
This is also a good time to have the hot water heater serviced but this is something you can do yourself with minimal knowledge. We will publish a blog soon on how to do that.
The bottom line is that during a storm is not the time to have your heater go out. As I mentioned if you are on electric you will likely lose it anyways, so do all that you can to avoid the loss.

8. Put your plumbing on drip: This is one of the things we tend to neglect if we are home but can save a significant amount if your heat goes out while you’re asleep. Blankets and the brandy you were drinking will likely ensure you a solid nights sleep even if it gets a little cold. Put a tap on drip because even if you have freeze proof exterior hose bibs, the plumbing in your walls can still freeze. This is true even with the heat on and you at home!
Give the water a little room to expand and you can sleep easy knowing it cost you less than $0.05 to run the drip all night and your pipes can release pressure.

Ventless Fireplaces: Are You Safe?

What is it?
Ventless gas fireplaces are self explanatory but for our yankee friends up North, who have no idea what Im talking about let me explain. In the South ventless fireplaces are far more common, this is because our winters are so much more mild in comparison that our fireplaces tend to be mostly aesthetic.

The further North you go the more people tend to fully rely on there fireplaces, growing up in Idaho we used wood to heat, and our fireplace was far from aesthetic. In Birmingham when performing home inspections we rarely come across a functional wood burning stove, and only slightly more common,  is a well maintained wood burning fireplace.

The predominant component we see, and the one taking the market by storm with new construction homes is ventless gas fireplaces. They are significantly cheaper to install, since running a flue pipe can get expensive in a hurry, cheaper to purchase in general, and are fairly easy and carefree to operate.

Are they safe?

The question we often get is “is this safe to operate? what about Carbon Monoxide?” First I will say that I wouldn’t operate one in my house without a Carbon Monoxide detector nearby. Second, I would make sure and have an annual inspection performed by Timberline Inspections (If you need an inspection in Birmingham) because we will check the gas lines and ensure there’s nothing leaking. Third, what I’m about to explain is not from a physics background and incorporates a B- understanding of thermodynamics.

Ventless fireplaces combust in a process called “complete combustion,” during which essentially the harmful elements are not present. In this process the oxygen in combination with your natural gas combine to create two virtually harmless byproducts, H2O and CO2. Carbon Monoxide is present in only trace amounts and is generally not a concern.

These units are virtually safe to run provided there’s no issue with the combustion process; the combustion process can become incomplete when the available oxygen is depleted, the gas supply is interrupted, or the unit is just old and not functioning at top condition from age.

Oxygen can get depleted from a number of causes, multiple stoves running in unison, candles or oil lamps being burned in a power outages, a wood stove running in another area of the house, even a tightly sealed home can allow the unit to theoretically burn oxygen faster than it can replace it. This lack of oxygen can, unknowingly, change the combustion process causing carbon monoxide levels to soar. Even more scary, deadly levels of carbon monoxide can accumulate and not be enough to trigger your detector. When was the last time you checked your batteries? Is yours hardwired in?

Modern fireplaces are built with oxygen depletion sensors, that help to prevent potential issues. In theory, these should shutdown the fireplace when the oxygen levels get low, causing “incomplete combustion.” Unfortunately there’s not really a good way to test these and ensure they are functioning, and depending on the manufacturer date of your unit, it may not even have it.

University of Illinois commissioned a study that found 20% of homes observed, had levels of carbon monoxide greater than what is approved by the EPA and WHO.

Water vapor being the other byproduct is also a danger and one that is overlooked. Growing up in the dry areas between Alaska and Idaho a little extra moisture in the air hardly ever hurts. In fact dad used to leave an old cast iron pot on top of the wood stove just to add a little moisture in the air.

Down South we have the opposite experience, our moisture content is already high and increasing it here is never a good thing. We love our air conditioning so much more in the south because it removes the moisture from the air. Northern people don’t often know what the condensate line does on their HVAC system, in the South we have to have drainage setup for it.

Increasing water vapor inside the house in winter causes condensation on cold surfaces, windows are particularly susceptible and we will often see moisture running down them and hitting the sills in winter. We don’t usually notice until the sill is rotten and we are replacing windows and framing. But that’s not the worst part. a significant amount of that moisture is condensing behind your wall and not being allowed to dry. This causes mold and mildew, which can lead to pungent smells and health hazards. It’s reasons like this why we recommend mold testing regardless of whether we see indicators of mold.

This is one of the reasons that most manufacturers give a recommended run time of 2 hours or less. Also to avoid the buildup of carbon monoxide.

To Vent Or Not To Vent?

Should you go ventless really depends on you. Me personally, Ive never understood the point of aesthetically pleasing fireplaces and would rather have something functional for wintertime heat. However, if I was going to install a gas fireplace I would almost certainly get a ventless system. The reason being they are cheaper, safe when installed and used correctly, and less to maintain and worry about. Birds and pests nest in flue pipes, why have it if you don’t need it?

Your take aways to operating your fireplace safely and keeping your family from being one of the horror stories we hear on the news is to, first purchase and PROPERLY install CO detectors. Second, units are cheap replace them when they are outdated and make sure they have plenty of combustion air. Third, if you’re in Birmingham call us to get an annual home inspection, or call your local provider. annual inspections are cheap quick and painless and a good inspector can make sure you’re operating in a safe manner.

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