Posts Tagged NARI

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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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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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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It’s Hotter Than ……….by Alex Guthrie

Seems like the heat wave of 2011 doesn’t want to go away, it’s hot inside, it’s hot outside, it’s hot if you’re moving, and it’s hot if you’re just sitting. Here’s a couple of ideas to help inside and out.

Close some doors – every house and building have non-air conditioned rooms; closets and bathrooms, storage rooms and breezeways. Your a/c system isn’t necessarily designed to provide air for these areas and is using return and supply that could be going to other areas. Close the doors to these rooms and let it flow.

If you’re planning on building or covering an outside porch, consider using radiant barrier decking for the roof. Preventing ultra violent rays from penetrating gives you many more days and weeks – sometimes into late summer-of comfort.

Cook more meals outside, they’re healthier and they won’t heat up the house. Most outside grills allow you to cook on multiple burners.


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Winning !!!!!!! by Alex Guthrie

 Finding the right balance between your budget and your expectations is tricky when the economy is good and very frustrating when money is tight. Older houses are particularly difficult when the inevitable happens and you have to make a decision whether to invest more money in them. Top that off with an anemic housing market, high energy costs, and escalating construction costs; well it kinda makes you want to move to a cabin in the mountains.

In our current financial climate houses are steadily  losing value with no end in sight, so the idea of investing for a quick profit may not be as dependable as it once was. We used to feel confident that investing in a kitchen or master suite would have a better than 50% return at resale but now those assumptions may not be so reliable. This has created a paradigm shift from dream designs to practical, from money is no object to it being the object, from decisions made on the fly to carefully planned and executed projects.  You may end up in your home longer than you planned so the path you choose may have larger consequences than in the past.

But the real challenge is the balance between this years investment vs next years budget; investing more now vs recovering those costs down the road. Meeting all these requirements can be daunting  but it is doable if you plan and execute timely.

The best method is to create a master plan that reflects all the areas in the house you want improved or changed and implement a strategy to get the project completed over the shortest period of time.  A master plan will enable you to not only do the project in phases but also make purchases at optimum times as well.  This will also give you greater flexibility in cost and design.

Phasing projects is a smart and reliable way to control your budget while moving forward at a manageable pace. This is not for everyone since it prolongs the length of time your house is under construction and some people simply aren’t suited for the constant and continuous upheaval; on the other hand, some people enjoy the process.  Selecting the start and finish areas can be simply a matter of practicality and lifestyle; if you have kids at home for the summer it might be best not to start the kitchen first, but with a good plan in place you can certainly start somewhere else and work towards the kitchen. This also gives you an opportunity to buy appliances , cabinets, lighting, and plumbing fixtures on sale and store them until you need them. Taking careful notes and keeping a project file complete with pictures of products and features you want helps everyone throughout the life of the project.

At a time when budgets are tight and the market is unstable, a good well executed plan is the best way to be the winner at the end.

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By Alex Guthrie

Building sciences and technologies have changed the way builders and contractors view their professions. New building codes and products are forcing changes in attitudes and practices. These professionals are being required to reexamine the very rules by which they’ve operated and considered acceptable for many years. The price of making the wrong decisions is too high in an increasingly litigious society and an educated consumer, exposed to all the ideas they can handle, is more demanding than ever.

Many of the old building methods that performed well for their era are not adequate for the way we live our lives today and have been reviewed and in many cases coded out. Most of the older builders have had to relearn things we’ve understood as the proper way and try new methods and materials.

The cost of energy which includes the environmental cost of producing it has forced us to take a closer look at the entire energy chain from production to the end user and examine how it affects us all. This leads to a basic theory of physics, the more we use the more we need and the more energy we produce, the worse our air becomes. This also needs to be viewed as a regional issue since we are all sharing the same air and water, our neighbors do effect our environment. If you think about it, being in the northern part of a state that has primarily southern winds blowing off the coast; all of our neighbors to the south are affecting our air and ultimately our water.

So now comes the hard part, devising methods and practices that reduce our energy requirements and ultimately help control air and water pollution. Many very intelligent people from very diverse backgrounds met for many months in Austin and other regions to come up with a plan that would address these problems. Spurred by threats of monetary penalties by the feds, a plan had to be devised and presented to insure that funding for highways and other project weren’t lost.

A great example is the use of energy efficient windows and doors. Until recently these were optional and used only in certain areas of the house, today because of the new residential energy code, we use them as a standard and in fact some municipalities by virtue of rewriting their codes dictate to us that they be used.

What we regard as the “Envelope” of a house or exterior walls, roof, and foundation are looked at differently as we try to meet the new Home Energy Ratings System or “HERS” ratings. This formula was developed to determine the energy consumption of our houses and by using various methods we can determine what needs to be done to make the envelope more efficient.

Products like radiant barrier plywood combined with new techniques such as sealing the attic and crawl spaces are helping to reduce energy consumption and create more comfort. Focusing more on the performance of the walls by sealing window and door openings and reducing air infiltration means our heating and air conditioning systems work less.

Sealing the exterior of your home is the best way to start the efficiency cycle; air penetration into the wall cavities from the outside has a tremendous effect on how well you can control the temperature inside. You may not realize it but the little things will really add up. The dry air inside your home attracts the moister air outside; this attraction can trap moist air inside your walls and create a haven for mold. Small holes, penetrations such as electrical outlets, vents and plumbing faucets can let a lot of air inside that has to be heated or cooled. Seal these small openings with caulk or expanding foam and you will help prevent air as well as moister leakage.

By reexamining our practices and gaining knowledge from all sides of the equation, we have learned many things as an industry that will benefit us all. For instance, we learned that we save energy and create more comfort in our homes by making sure our air conditioning ducts are properly sealed. Many times I’ve climbed in an attic in the summer only to find it was as cool as the house. And the same thing occurs under the house, it is common for us to find broken and crushed ducts that are leaking excessively. The old method of sealing duct joints with tape will not comply with current code; we now seal these joints with applied compounds that prevent air leakage.

One new technique that is gaining in popularity is to seal the entire duct system with foam insulation; sprayed on the ducts in a liquid form the foam creates a super insulated duct system much like a Styrofoam cooler and you can imagine how much more efficient this can be.

Insulating has become a science of its own, where once we simply stapled batts of insulation to the walls and ceilings, we now have many options that include environmentally friendly cellulose or recycled paper, closed cell foam, and a variety of other choices depending on our needs. We now inspect our insulation to meet minimum standards; a new requirement of the energy code.

The less energy we use, the less we must produce, saving our natural resources and creating less pollution. Sealing the outside walls, proper ventilation in the attic, applying the right amount of insulation in the right areas, and making sure your air-conditioning system is working properly not only provides more comfort, it saves the environment we all share.

By working together and listening to each other’s concerns, the building industry and the science community are developing new techniques and creating ways to benefit us all.

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By Alex Guthrie
So you interviewed more than one contractor for your project, you checked references, and inspected their work. Two of the contractors seem as though they could do a good job, now who do you choose and why?

My clients sometimes tell me that they struggled with this very decision and although I sympathize with them, I consider it a small victory to be on their short list. Even though I would prefer to never have to compete and I feel I’m always the most qualified for the job, the real world isn’t so kind and sure. It only makes sense that this decision would be difficult if all things are equal, so it may come down to comparing the proposals and making the best deal.

First of all, compare the contracts, are both contractors including all necessary insurance and permits and has the contractor included all the elements that you expect them to purchase. Depending on the project, the scope and cost, there should be ways to sharpen the proverbial pencil and become creative. Contractors have different ways of achieving this, everything from sharing discounts on certain items to allowing their customers to make purchases directly with some vendors.

Beware of the inherent risk associated with purchasing your own fixtures, you are responsible for the delivery and condition of the products and you will have to deal with the warranty. Most contractors are sensitive about releasing detailed pricing so you should get a detailed job description instead. This will enable you to determine that both of your choices are bidding the same project and help you decide whether you need more information. You might learn a lot about your contractors at this point, such as their tolerance and patience; it can be very frustrating to have to stop and research pricing. Ask for pricing on a few major items so, that you can decide whether the cost is compatible with your priorities. Things such as windows and appliances can really affect a budget and can vary greatly.

How the presentation is prepared is important; this will tell you something about the organizational and business skills of the individuals. A well-prepared and clearly defined scope is all you have to go by, don’t fall into the trap of making assumptions, you’ll get burned and disappointed every time. Everything should be in writing, and this means rewriting if necessary.

How do you know if the job description is complete and how detailed should it be? After all, you don’t know the intricacies of construction or you would do it yourself.

First look at the basic information, and the obvious and ask questions. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what is being proposed and that you feel comfortable with it. After all, you will be living with the results for a long time.

Check the math. If you are paying in draws, get a schedule of payments and add it up. If there is a mistake, work it out, don’t try to get sneaky. Products and services cost what they cost and aren’t normally negotiable for the contractor so they won’t be for you either. It’s far better to be prepared for the reality than try to force a bad decision or an honest mistake. Many problems could be avoided if we just looked them in the eye and tackled them. My strongest advice to my clients is to only do what they can comfortably afford, there are too many potential problems in remodeling to try and cut your budget too close. Have an amount equal to 10% of your budget available for potential problems and insist on written change orders. Verbal changes have a way of being misunderstood by everyone. If you are paying in multiple draws insist on a statement periodically say, every 4th draw. The statement should include all the draws and change orders to date.

Remember to use common sense and reasonable judgment and you can work the best deal and hire the best person for your project.

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