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History Lost Lot by Lot ………….. by Alex Guthrie

As I traveled down the streets of my childhood recently it was easy to return to the past; paper routes, yards that I mowed, basketball in this driveway, football in that yard. Imagine houses with yards big enough for the kids to actually play football, houses that were designed to fit the lot properly; a large house on a large lot or a small house on a small lot. Houses that people bought not with a 5 year plan but a lifetime plan, a house they wanted to leave to their children and so on. The occupants of these homes were indeed my friends and many as close as family, we played together, went to school together, and many of us remain friends to this day.

Unfortunately my memories are outliving the houses as one by one they are being removed for newer versions and our history is being left behind with them.

History is a funny thing, it can bring us great joy and at the same time great pain, a glimpse of the past and a lesson for the future. It can teach us the stories of who came before us and teach us the evolution of our times.

The depression era houses were constructed by the old European master craftsmen, everything built on site without the aid of power tools. Old country techniques that used the natural surrounding and the forces of nature as a guide; plaster that cooled in the summer and north or south facing houses that utilized the predominate wind for cooling and heating. Many of these houses stand today like beacons from our past inviting us to learn from those that came before.

Prior to World War 2 houses were built primarily with all wood often including the foundation; you could order an entire house from the Sears and Robuck catalog and it would be delivered by rail ready to assemble. Many of those houses remain today referred to as kit houses. A reflection of the times they often were adorned in Victorian trim and were built by the owner. There was no such thing as central air conditioning , dish washers wore shoes, and the clothes dryer was a rope in the back yard.

As the war effort went into full swing in the 1940’s builders had to find alternative and resourceful ways to build houses. Standard building materials were being used in the war effort and the work force were off fighting, so concrete houses and innovative engineering became the norm.

Often when looking at remodels, I get caught explaining to a younger client that most things were planned around wars, weather, and railroads. That many towns were built a day’s horse ride from each other and what is a highway today was wagon trail first.

It’s not uncommon that we will find notes, scribbles, and old newspapers buried in the walls of the old homes we’re remodeling. These pieces of the past  are pure treasures and can never be replaced. Little time capsules teasing us to look deeper. Through wars, the great depression, disasters and boom times our past is there for us to see, reminding us where we came from and when we got here.

And so our history becomes a victim to the times as we tear down the old and replace with the new; like an old tree that is blown down by a storm or a vacant lot that is now someones home. Time goes on and we go with it, but wouldn’t it be nice if occasionally we took a step back and saved a piece of the past.


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Mysteries Solved by Alex Guthrie

Some mysteries just aren’t fun; like the time I was trying to find a clients water meter and even with the assistance of 2 plumbers could not locate it. This shouldn’t have been difficult, it’s a relatively simple thing, find the water meter cover; open it and turn off the water. Only problem, no one including the property owner realized that the water meter had never been hooked to the water supply. The house was still hooked up to the temporary water supply from when the house was built years before; and buried underground. It occurred to me, what if there had been an emergency and the water to the house needed to be turned off? In fact it was odd that that hadn’t occurred!

It surprises me that homeowners aren’t more in tune with how their house operates, especially potentially dangerous things like gas and electrical. Unfortunately, many times this isn’t a priority for the builder and most cities don’t regulate the accessibility to these services. So you may have to run to the street to turn off your water or to the ally to turn off your gas. Your sewer clean-outs may be buried in the garden and your electrical panel might be in the garage or a closet or the outside wall.

Air conditioner compressors ( the big noisy thing outside) are supposed to have a disconnect on the wall with-in reach of the unit but occasionally don’t.  It’s a good idea to know how to turn this off just in case.

Not all water meters are the same but there is a simple and inexpensive tool called a meter wrench that you should have ready to use in case you need it. This tool has a key on one end that unlocks and opens the meter cover and a 2 pronged wrench on the other end for actually turning the water valve on or off. Be aware that fire ants and other critters sometimes love nesting in meters.

Your gas meter will normally be in the alley but in some older neighborhoods are in the front of the house. Learn which position is off, the water meter wrench might work for this or a pair of channel locks (pliers).

You can save yourself a lot of unpleasantness by knowing where your sewer clean-outs are located in the yard and in the exterior wall of the house. Normally these are in key locations and are simple to open. Look for white PVC caps sticking up near the house or in a wall. If you suddenly have a sewage back-up open these caps and often the sewage will come out before it’s in the house.

Some houses have multiple electrical panels; know where they are and how to turn them on and off. Also, learn how to turn off or reset your smoke and fire alarms.

Mystery solved!

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Staying in Place………………. by Alex Guthrie

Ruben and Mary Alice were in a conundrum, deciding what to do with their house of 30 years. In need of numerous repairs and updating, plus it was inefficient and would need total upgrades in windows, air conditioning and electrical.  They had plans drawn to enlarge and modernize the home where they raised their children and grandchildren.  But still the decision to go forward was a tough one. Would it be worth the investment?  Should they move?  What about building a new house?

As we are living longer, and in most cases healthier more active lives, we see ourselves as more independent in our later years. The need to leave a house and neighborhood we feel comfortable in is less appealing.  But father time will catch us all sooner or later, so planning for later is a good idea.

As our body’s age, simple things that we used to take for granted become physically challenging and in some cases next to impossible.  Stairs can become our enemies.  Too low or too high cabinets make removing and replacing things difficult.  And if a walker or wheelchair is required, narrow doorways become unusable.  In the bathroom, arguably the most dangerous room in the house, slippery floors, cold hard surfaces, and tubs and showers that require us to climb in and out of while wet, cause many injuries.


One client, whose husband was unable to speak and was confined to a wheelchair, told me how he would fight the caretaker every time they were headed to the shower.  Having dealt with wheelchair bound clients before; I knew he was probably trying to tell them he was cold. Wheelchair bound people may experience a loss of circulation in their bodies making the world a very cold place.  Based on previous very successful experiences with two other clients, I recommended they install a separate heating system to service the rooms used frequently by her husband.

Another client was having a hard time getting items out of her kitchen cabinets because of the pain she experienced bending over to search the back of shelves. Converting the shelves to slide out to expose the entire contents meant she wouldn’t need to sit on the floor anymore to find her favorite frying pan.

Installing a pop up shelf sturdy enough to handle the weight of her KitchenAid mixer helped another older client continue to do what she and her grandkids loved – bake.

The Double Drawer

Building a small shallow drawer inside a larger deeper drawer is a great way to maximize a limited space by allowing you to store things you use every day in one organized drawer. Think about opening a drawer; in the top is the silverware, slide back the top drawer and the place settings are stored underneath.

Raising the height of a dishwasher 12” off the floor, lowering the adjoining countertop and opening some lower cabinet areas will enable a person in a wheelchair to function more easily in the kitchen

Widening doorways and hallways, lowering switches, raising outlets, and installing hard surface flooring allows a wheelchair bound person to thrive in a normal house.

Showers with rollover thresholds and well placed grab bars are beneficial for older folks and care providers that may be assisting them.

Handheld shower fixtures and well lit showers are added safety as well as convenience.

What did Ruben and Mary Alice decide?  After considering everything and when put to a vote with their children, they decided to stay and upgrade.  A well planned house or remodel can become a benefit for now and later years — for young and old alike.





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Big Changes at House Talk Today Radio Show

Check out the updated House Talk Today web site ( and see our new changes and another new station. Click on the station and you can hear it live.Very cool!

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Confusing Signals

The normal signs that would indicate a strong recovery simply aren’t there and being a re-election year makes it hard to believe anything you hear from the politico’s. Focus on your own survival don’t look for any real help from the gov’t – they have their own problems and will soon have to take measures for their own survival.

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The Best of Intentions by Alex Guthrie

Everyone needs to start somewhere and sometimes they need a hand up; I understand this as well as anyone, however when you’re about to make a huge investment to your house, be careful who you hire.  Hiring out of work friends or family will ruin an otherwise good relationship faster than you can believe. Feelings get hurt and expectations don’t get met and it gets personal, if its a purely business relationship you can deal with it totally different than a family member or friend. I have learned this lesson time and again through my clients and my family. Many years ago I had to put my foot down with family and friends and learn how to just say no, explaining that I care too much for our relationship and time has taught me that the tough times will take of themselves eventually. It’s usually much better to help them find a job then to hire them to do your project.

A business relationship that is based on cost verses value is an inherently impersonal and manageable partnership between two parties. You hire me based on the value I bring to the project, you pay me according to our agreement for services provided; nothing personal and nobody has emotions tied into the agreement. If I don’t meet your expectations you can tell me exactly how you feel and you don’t have to worry about me moping at the next holiday dinner or not speaking to you for 6 months,you and I have fiduciary responsibilities, me to meet your expectations and you to pay me for that work …period.

Now replace the word business with personal and you have  totally different expectations and possible outcomes. You hire your cousin who was laid off and is having a hard time paying his bills, it is a noble and considerate thing to do and it helps you feel secure because you know he would never steal from you or lie to you, so you can let your guard down and let him do his thing. After all it’s just a paint job and anyone can slop paint on a wall. The problem is that he can’t work normal hours because he’s looking for a job and his wife needs a break from watching the kids so he must relieve her of her duties for a couple of hours a day; of course you’ll understand because your related and he’s giving you an incredible deal since your buying all the supplies. Now, would he be able to do that if we was back working at the bank, heck no. Good will, patience, and compassion are great and valuable things, but they don’t get the paint on the wall and when you’re living in the house that’s being worked on you want it done quicker than now!

The truth is that it would be much better to help your friend find a job that will provide the things they need for their family for the long term and hire a professional that has a pure and compelling motive to do a great job in a timely manner. There is no greater motivation than profit and no greater sense of pride than good workmanship.

Remember that is difficult to say who do you the most harm enemy’s with the worst intentions or friends with the best.

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Cost vs Value (What does it really mean) by Alex Guthrie

Yesterday during the show Chris and I discussed the recent cost vs value report that was published in Remodeling Magazine. Some surprising things caught my eye such as the overall loss in value reported in virtually all but a few categories and it seems smaller projects have a higher return than in the past.

It is apparent that the housing industry is still in a very bad state and the recovery has yet to take hold. Unfortunately for the industry, it  probably will remain flat until after next years Presidential election and then it will take quite some time to gain any real traction. The home building industry is directly affected by the employment picture and consumer confidence, consumer confidence is directly affected by the unemployment numbers and so on and so on.

My take on the cost vs value report is that property values are still dropping and until we hit the bottom in more markets and start a real rebound with housing values increasing we will remain stagnant.  This will require existing foreclosure inventories to get sold, unemployment to stabilize and reverse it’s present course, and the politicians to to start acting like grown ups again.

It should be a great time to remodel with the competitiveness that is so pervasive in the industry. So don’t be too intimidated by all the news but be smart with the dollars.

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First Cold Day

Finally it feels like autumn, first cool day with sunshine; albeit a little windy. Maybe soon we’ll start getting the moisture we need so desperately. Really enjoy staying cuddled in chair with dog and blanket watching movies.

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A New Adventure

In the next few days I will be embarking on a new venture in broadcasting. I will begin recording podcasts and some live broadcasts on internet radio – Spreaker. This will be part how to, part updates on projects I’m doing,and part general info and discussions with listeners and followers. Ultimately I would like to develop  my own distinctive style and I feel that AM radio is rapidly being replaced by internet. As I learn how to use all the aspects of internet  broadcasting I eventually will be able to combine video, skype, podcasts, and blog. My show will be accessible on facebook,, and eventually my website.

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First cool morning in a while

Finally a morning. The a/c hasn’t come on yet and it’s almost 8 am.  Getting my head ready for my morning bike ride, this time it will really feel good. I’ll try for 12 today.

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