Best time to clean gutters

As spring cleaning is on our minds I’m getting more questions about “When is the best time to clean my gutters?”  Chances are you may be asked as well as you’re out looking at houses with your clients.  Honestly, the best answer is probably “Whenever you have the motivation to do it safely.”

Late fall after all the deciduous leaves have dropped is a common (and valid) recommendation.  But around here we have pine and spruce needles that drop all winter, and I don’t have to tell you we get a lot of rain in the summer as well.  This makes cleaning one’s gutters as worthwhile in the spring as it is in the fall.

More important than when is that you do clean them once a year.  If debris builds up in gutter systems water can cause major problems for rot on fascia, rafter tails, and even siding.   There are a lot of systems for cleaning gutters, including one of the $300 gutter robots pictured here:


My recommendation however is the $5 scoop below.  Life, and home maintenance, just doesn’t need to be that complicated!


Turn, Turn, Turn

For everything there is a season.  If you pay a little attention to your ceiling fan however it can serve you well year around. 


Now that colder weather is upon us you want the front or leading edge of your ceiling fan to be lower than the back.  This will push warm air that gathers at the ceiling back down to your living area.  In the summer warmer months of course you want it the other way around – leading edge higher than the back so you experience a bit of wind chill effect and are cooled by the air pushing down around you.


Most modern fans have a reversing switch located on the hub or center housing.  Watch the fan closely as it starts up and you’ll quickly see which way it’s turning and if it’s not what you want push the switch to the other side and try again.

It’s that simple to stay just a bit warmer using a little less energy.  So now you can go play in the snow (if we get any more this winter).

Love’s Pure Light

There is a pretty song by that title, and this holiday season your front yard may look like it with all the holiday decorations.  So it’s a good time to remind you to be careful about overloading your electrical circuits.


With all the modern safeguards in our electrical systems there is little danger of creating a fire, but there is a great danger of creating serious inconvenience inside your house.  Every electrical circuit can only carry a prescribed amount of amps before it will trip a breaker.  Everything might be working fine until the holiday meal when the microwave and the crockpot and electric oven AND that line of highly illuminated reindeer all come on at the same time. 

Most strings of lights and yard ornaments will show you how many amps they draw.  Looking at the breakers in that electrical panel in the garage will tell you the max for any given circuit.  A little thought as you are putting together your decorations can save a lot of hassle during the season.  Enjoy the holiday, and be well in the new year.

Insulate Your Water Heater?

You’re a responsible homeowner so are always looking for a way to save energy and utility costs. Some sources claim you can save up to 16% annually on your hot water bill by insulating your water heater.  Is there anything to that?  Unlikely, and I’ll tell you why adding an insulating jacket to your water heater is a bad idea.


Electric heater insulation wraps can block air flow for a gas heater and cause a fire.  It’s happened far more often than you would think.

Wiring can overheat on any water heater if it was not designed for the additional layer of insulation.

Your warranty will be void if you wrap it.  This is the case with pretty much all manufacturers today.  Since around 2000 they have been designing their tanks to be well insulated, and adding anything else on the outside will at best do no good.  It could do a lot of harm.

So if your water heater is newer than 17 years old, which virtually everyone’s is, hum that old Beatle’s song in your mind and just Let It Be.

How often should I change my furnace filter?

This question is asked by many of my clients who are first time home buyers.  It probably should be asked by many seasoned home owners as well.


There are a hundred variables to the answer, like how many people and pets live in your house, how dusty is it around your home, and most important, what kind of filter do you have?  But a simple rule of thumb is a basic 1” filter should be changed every 3 to 6 months at least, and the thicker 4” media filters should be changed at least once a year.

Keep in mind that dust and dirt is everywhere, and that is what clogs the filter and reduces air flow.  Dirty filters cause your furnace to work harder, use more energy, and push around less healthy air.  So use those timeframes as a guide, and when you first buy that new home get in the habit of checking your filter every few months to see how it’s coming along so you can develop a maintenance routine that works for you.

Your home inspector DID show you how to change the air filter right?

Second Looks and First Impressions

As a home inspector who regularly works from Kirkland to Arlington, I get to see a lot of houses.  Sometimes I'm asked to come back to a home for a follow-up re-inspection, and I've learned a lot about second looks that pertains to buying a house. 

You MUST get in to see the house as many times as you can while you're deciding if it's the one for you.

I know in this crazy market things move fast.  But I can guarantee you the second or third time you walk through a home you'll see things you'll know were not there the last time.  There is just so much to take in that our brain shuts down and only processes a small percentage of what it sees.

So ask to see the house at least a couple times, take a camera and snap photos of everything, and maybe even take a few notes.  That will help you decide if that first impression was right, especially if you are a first time home buyer and everything is new.

Did they really add that light switch since the last time you were there?

Let's talk about dirt

Not the kind you use to eat when you were a kid.  Well, actually I guess it is the same kind.  Ok, not the kind you have to wash out of your clothes every Friday when you do laundry.  hummmm.. I guess it really is all the same.  The issue is where it's located.

If I were into statistics and ran the numbers on my reports I believe the single most repeated comment would be "Siding too close or in contact with ground.  Recommend soil be 6" below siding to prevent moisture intrusion and pest access."  It's called a conducive condition, meaning bugs and fungus just LOVE to find it on your house. 

Having dirt piled up against your siding, or having a wood column from your deck buried in the dirt is just about the fastest way to start rot.  And everyone knows rot on siding or a deck support is bad.  Right?

The good thing about dirt is it's easy to move.  Get a shovel and dig.  Does it have to be a full 6" below any wood surface?  Probably not, but that is the industry suggestion.  Don't let that stop you though if you can't get that low.  3 or 4 inches below your siding is way better than heaped up against it.

A little bit of time spent walking around your house looking for dirt in places it shouldn't be can save you a lot of time replacing deck piers or that entire bottom row of siding.  Plus you might come up with enough good topsoil to fill that planter you've always been wanted to build.

Remember your P's and I's

Buying a new house is an exciting process.  You might hop online to one of those free slick mortgage calculators to see how much your mortgage and principal payment will be for that dream home you just saw this weekend.  In the height of all that fun don't forget to include P.I.T.I. in your calculations and thought process.

In banking jargon, P.I.T.I. stands for principal, interest, taxes, and insurance.  It's those last two that can surprise you - taxes, and insurance.  And that surprise can raise your monthly payment significantly so it's good to think about them in advance.

Lenders typically set up an escrow account to collect for taxes and insurance on a monthly basis, so when the bill comes in it will be paid automatically.  It's easy to check your county web site to look up property tax which can frequently be several thousand dollars.  

The insurance we're talking about here isn't homeowners, its private mortgage insurance or PMI.  If your down payment doesn't get you to 20% equity in the house it's a given the lender will require you to add PMI insurance to your monthly payment.

If you're aware and planning for it these are not scary numbers.  It's just good to take as many surprises out of the home buying process as possible, so when you're doing your calculations, remember your P's and I's!

“Better locks just means better burglars.”

Despite the leading quote by author Marty Rubin, if you are buying a new house you will do well to think about replacing the locks.  There are a LOT of keys swirling around during a real estate transaction.  And you never know if the Seller turned over all the keys they had to begin with. A few dollars spent replacing or re-keying all your locks will add a lot of security and peace of mine to your new home.

Let There Be Light (when you get there)

Packing Tip: Before you pack that floor or desk lamp be sure to remove the bulb and pack it separate.  You might think the safest place for the bulb is screwed inside the lamp, but experience by professional movers has proven this isn’t the case.  And who wants to try and remove that jagged broken base after the fact?

And an extra tip – empty egg cartons make great packing boxes for those light bulbs. 

Driving Eyes Wide Open

Home Buying Tip:  Americans will put up with anything provided it doesn't block traffic. --Dan Rather

If you're anything like me by the time you've ridden around in the back of your beloved real estate broker's car for a few hours you probably don't know EXACTLY where you are or how you got there.  Which is one reason why it's a good idea when you get serious about a house to be sure you do some test driving between your new dream house and where you work.  And best if you can do that test drive during high traffic hours which is probably what you will be commuting in.  It's best to know what you're getting into on the road early on in the process.

Pack Pillows not Books

Moving Tip: Well ok you have to pack both of course.  But in VERY different boxes. This is probably obvious to everyone but I'm passing this tip along because it's a mistake I made (seriously).  After college my wife and I were moving to our new home.  We had a LOT of books.  We found a couple of used pillow boxes in dumpsters behind stores.  Big boxes + lots of books = perfect solution.  At this point it probably goes without saying we pretty much couldn't move the boxes after they were loaded and taped shut.

So be wiser than I young Padawan.  Find a few nice sturdy boxes that are probably no larger than 16 x 16 x 16 and your move will go MUCH smoother than mine.

Appliance Insurance, or How to Gamble without Gambling

Home Buying tip: Given that you’re going to be moving into a new home soon there is a better than average chance you will be buying some new major appliances in the near future.  There is just about a 100% chance that appliance salesperson is going to offer you a "great deal" on appliance insurance.  It isn't unheard of for these appliance protection plans to cost nearly 1/4th as much as the appliance itself.  Be sure to give your response some serious consideration before you get to that point in the transaction.


If you have a bit of financial discipline, consider telling the sales person no thank you.  Set up a savings account and deposit the same amount you would pay on your premium into it every month.  You may be surprised how quickly you'll have a fund that will more than cover any future repairs.  And if that washing machine doesn't break (which it probably won't), you can treat yourself to a bonus at the end of the year.