1. How to Find a Contractor

A Seattle-area Angie’s List membership (angieslist.com) starts at $4.25 a month, yielding member writeups on 26,000 local companies spanning everything from earthquake retrofitting to lamp repair (and including plenty of nonhome stuff, like health-care providers). These usually include the cost and scope of work performed, which is especially helpful. Tip: Companies that offer a coupon on Angie’s List pay a fee for the privilege of doing so, though they must earn at least a B grade. Asking friends, family, neighbors, or your neighborhood email listserv for word-of-mouth recommendations is another good bet. If you need a specialist (a plumber, floor finisher, whatever), a recommendation from a general contractor is golden. The pros don’t mess around with substandard workmanship.

 

2. How to Turn Stuff Off

In case of an earthquake, gas leak, or other emergency, a home’s main gas shutoff valve is at the meter, where the pipe comes out of the ground. Look for a valve above that pipe with an arrow that is pointing in the same direction. Use a crescent wrench (some people tie an old one to the meter so it’s always handy) to turn it 90 degrees. Do this only if you smell gas or suspect a leak; it can take a while to get it turned back on. Water meters are usually beneath a rectangular steel plate in front of your house (often in the strip of grass near the street). Lift the plate and look for that same type of valve that’s in line with the pipe. To turn it off, the valve and arrow must be perpendicular. 

 

3. How to Wash Windows

Mix liquid dish soap with water and use a soft rag or sponge (rough surfaces can scratch glass) to lather up the windows. Rather than rinsing, most pros use a squeegee; find one small enough to fit the individual windowpanes. Pull it down each pane, from top to bottom, in a single stroke. Wipe the squeegee with a rag after each pull to avoid streaks. Or call professional window washers (see item no. 1), especially if you don’t want to tackle second-story windows. 

 

4. How to Use (and Maintain) a Wood-Burning Fireplace

Winter freezes can cause cracks in masonry chimneys; Marty Ferguson of Around the Sound Masonry (425-742-8559) says a quick annual inspection can identify cracks and should happen before wintertime, when it’s too cold to fix any problems. Tuckpointing (grinding away and replacing damaged mortar) can address these problems before they morph into structural damage. Always use dry firewood to avoid generating extra creosote and particulates and track the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency’s website (pscleanair.org) to make sure a seasonal burn ban isn’t in effect. 

 

5. If Your House Needs Earthquake Retrofitting

Buildings older than 1980 need a good look, and homes built before 1965 are likely to need upgrades, says Roger Faris, a Seattle-based disaster mitigation specialist who works with FEMA. Retrofits usually consist of bolting the house down to the foundation and reinforcing the perimeter “pony wall” that separates the concrete foundation and the first floor. Seattle Public -Library offers free earthquake retrofitting classes for homeowners—a good first step before -deciding whether to hire a contractor or do it yourself. Visit seattle.gov/emergency/events or ask your local emergency management agency about resources.

 

6. Where You Shouldn’t Be Digging

Call the national “Call 811 Before You Dig” service and it will notify your local utilities if you’re planning to plant trees or do any sort of digging or excavating. Within a few days, reps will come to mark the whereabouts of -underground infrastructure on your property so you know what to avoid.

 

7. When to Paint the Exterior

Given the Northwest’s limited window of warmth and sunshine, good house painters book up their summers faster than a hot wedding venue. Ryan Barr, president of Excel Home Painting (excelhomepainting.com), says his crews generally do outdoor jobs May through October, when overnight temperatures stay above 45 degrees. Thanks to improved construction materials, homes built in the past 20 to 30 years can usually go 12 to 15 years between paint jobs, but older homes—thanks to their layers of gnarly, brittle old paint—might need a new coat every five to seven years. Make it last longer by trimming trees or shrubs to keep them from touching the house. Good airflow minimizes dampness and can prevent premature peeling. 

See the full list of things every homeowner should know! 


Published: June 2013

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