Ranch House: 8 advantages to build one

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Ranch style houses have a lot of advantages compared with a 2-story plan.
  1. No stairs (the lazy factor)

If you’re a fanatic for exercise, you like stairs.  If you’re like the rest of us, stairs are a hassle to go up and down. Some people also have disabilities, and is very difficult to handle with stairs, as we discuss below.

  1. Less noise (from above)

Noise from above, footsteps included, is not good.  The majority of 2-story homes aren’t built with perfect noise proofing between floors – mainly because it is expensive for builders to work with that feature.  Some are better than others but I’ve yet to be in a house where I don’t hear noise from above.

  1. Great for mobility issues

At some point stairs are more than a hassle: they’re an obstacle.  Many people with mobility issues sell their home because they cannot go up and down stairs.  If you’re building or buying your forever home, this is a good consideration.  At some point many of us will not be able to navigate stairs.

  1. More renovation flexibility

Load bearing walls make knocking down walls a problem.  Beam-work can replace a load-bearing wall, but it’s expensive. When you have a rancher, it’s much easier to knock down walls and add on extensions because there’s much less weight to consider.  Consequently, it’s easier to create open concept living areas.

  1. Easy to add skylights

In fact, it’s not only easier, it’s pretty much possible anywhere you like.  You simply punch a hole in the roof and create the skylight.   This is not possible when you have a second floor. The potential for adding natural light is enormous.  This can be a very nice benefit if you like a light-filled home such as a light-filled kitchen or bathroom.

  1. Easier for exterior maintenance

To maintain a single story home over a two-story home is also a huge advantage.  Imagine you cleaning gutters 20 feet in the air, and compare with a 10 feet up (it isn’t so bad, don’t you agree?). Thing goes with washing a house, cleaning windows and performing any roof maintenance.

  1. High cathedral ceiling

It’s far easier to add cathedral or tall ceilings to an existing single story home than it is to a 2-story home. Cathedral ceilings are very nice interior design features, and you can easily incorporate them in any plan for a single story house.

  1. More deck/patio potential

With a single story, you have more rooms from which to add a deck or patio.  Just create a door and a patio and you’re done.  It’s not so simple from a second story. It will be also more expensive to do it in a 2-story house.

Of course you have some “not so good” points when dealing with planing for a single story house. In other post we will talk about that.

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3 Easy Ways to Seal Air Leaks

Good insulation is the secret for a comfy house. Remember that the winter is coming again (every year we have it), and if you suffered last year and forgot to revise your insulation remember to check these topics:

Insulate around recess lights

The majority of the recess lights have vents that open into the attic. This represents a direct route for heated or cooled air to escape. Some houses can have more than 50 fixtures like that, and some researchers already pinpointed them as the leading cause of air leaks. Lights labeled ICAT (Insulation Contact and Air Tight) are already sealed – look for the label next to the bulb. If you don’t see it, assume yours leaks. An airtight baffle is a quick, 10-second fix (normally they cost around 10-25 dollars). Remove the bulb, push the baffle up into the housing, then replace the bulb.

Progress Lighting P88-ICAT
Picture of an ICAD recess light

 

Use the Foam in Medium-Size Gaps

Once the biggest attic gaps are fixed, move on to the medium-size ones. Low-expansion polyurethane foam in a can is great for plugging openings 1/4-inch to 3 inches wide, such as those around plumbing pipes and vents. A standard 12-ounce can ($5-6) is good for 250 feet of bead about 1/2-inch thick. The plastic straw applicator seals shut within two hours of the first use, so to get the most mileage out of a can, squirt a lubricant such as WD-40 onto a pipe cleaner and stuff that into the applicator tube between uses.

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Great Stuff ® (is a well-known foam used for sealing

Caulk small gaps

Caulk is the best gap-filler for openings less than 1/4-inch wide. Silicone costs the most ($8-9 a tube depending on the brand) but works better next to nonporous materials, such as metal flashing, or where there are temperature extremes, as in attics. Acrylic latex caulk (around $2 a tube) is less messy to work with and cleans up with water.

If you have some time this weekend and would like to study a little bit more about air sealing we recommend the Department of Energy website (https://www.energy.gov/). They have great information about how to save energy and also you can learn a lot in their SAVE ENERGY, SAVE MONEY section. Enjoy.

Common spots for air leaking in a house

Propane or Natural Gas: what is the best option for my home?

Most people don’t understand the differences between natural gas and propane when thinking about energy source for a house. We will explain here the main concepts of both products.

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Photo source: https://www.rsandrews.com

Natural Gas

Natural gas occurs deep beneath the earth’s surface, and consists mainly of methane, a compound with one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. Natural gas also contains small amounts of other hydrocarbon and non-hydrocarbon gases, and today is one of the most clean sources of energy. Geologists who study the structure and processes of the earth are the ones that helps companies to locate the place on earth to find the rocks that are likely to contain natural gas deposits (some areas are on land and some are offshore and deep under the ocean floor). If a site seems promising, an exploratory well is drilled and tested. Once a formation is proven to be economic for production, one or more production (or development) wells are drilled down into the formation, and natural gas flows up through the wells to the surface. In the United States and a few other countries, natural gas is produced directly from shale and other types of rock formations that contain natural gas in pores within the rock. The rock formation is fractured by forcing water, chemicals, and sand down a well. This releases the natural gas from the rock, and the natural gas flows up the well to the surface. Wells drilled to produce oil may also produce associated natural gas.

Natural gas reach your house by a complex pipeline system, with different pressurization areas – you can read more about that clicking here. It is a cheap option compared with oil and electrical sources of energy.

Propane

Propane is a three-carbon alkane with the molecular formula C3H8. It is a gas at standard temperature and pressure, but compressible to a transportable liquid. A by-product of natural gas processing and petroleum refining, it is commonly used as a fuel. Propane is one of a group of liquefied petroleum gases (LP gases). The others include butane, propylene, butadiene, butylene, isobutylene, and mixtures thereof.

To use propane as your source of energy for your house you need a tank and an agreement with a company that will provide you the gas whenever is needed (some companies also provide a rental service).

Propane vs. natural gas BTU comparison

Propane contains more than twice the energy of natural gas – one cubic foot of propane = 2,516 BTUs (British Thermal Units), while one cubic foot of natural gas = 1,030 BTUs,.

Propane is much more efficient than natural gas. Just as an example, in one hour a 100,000 BTU natural gas furnace burns around 97 cubic feet, while a propane furnace burns only 40 cubic feet.

Propane vs. natural gas cost comparison

Most of New England’s gas is piped via New York from points south and west through a limited number of pipelines. The transport system is not built up to meet consumption levels in New England. The constraints are now becoming evident, particularly in the high-use winter season. On cold days, the “spot”, or daily market price, can go through the roof: on some days over the past few winters, it was twice as high in Boston as in New York.

You have to do some math if you want to find out what is the best option for your house. If the natural gas cost is $15.00 per 1,000 cubic feet, for example, the same $15.00 will purchase around one million BTUs. This is the equivalent of slightly over 11.20 gallons of propane. If propane costs $2.50 per gallon, in this example, natural gas is the cheaper alternative.

The difference between natural gas and propane

While they are similar in many aspects, natural gas and propane also have differences. Although propane is a fossil fuel, it’s a hydrocarbon and over 95 percent of the propane used in the US is produced in North America. Like oil and coal, natural gas also is a fossil fuel. Natural gas was created millions of years ago from ancient plants and animal matter which decayed under the pressure and heat underground on planet Earth. Natural gas is known as a “clean energy alternative,” since it’s clean-burning, producing less harmful emissions than other fossil fuels (oil and coal).

Although natural gas is a greenhouse gas when released into our environment, propane is not on the same level, as it has no toxicity to harm the environment. That’s why propane may be the better choice if you value “green fuel” more than greenhouse gases. Propane also is called “liquefied petroleum gas,” or LP gas for short, like natural gas, it’s odorless so processing adds an odor so people can detect its presence.

How to calculate the energy you need

You can work together with your engineer, but you can also finds some valuable information at the internet. The residential energy calculator in this website is a very good place to check it. You can use this calculator to compare natural gas versus other fuels and discover the environmental advantages of using natural gas in your home.

Remember to check your appliances

When planing for your final home setting remember the type of energy you will choose.  Appliances can work on either natural gas or propane, but the two are not interchangeable; each fuel source requires special gas utilization fittings. If you want to switch between the two, you’ll need a conversion kit for the appliances’ manufacturer for the installation process. For electric appliances like heaters, ovens or water heaters, there isn’t a conversion process; you’ll need to replace the appliance with one specifically made for natural gas or propane.

Interactive Intelligent House

Imagine this: your home warms before you rise, the song you’ve been obsessing over builds into existence early in the morning, the shades slide up and fresh sunlight spills into your room. No, this isn’t a movie scene, it isn’t Tony Stark’s new tower, nor is it the new TV series persuading us that only billionaires can live comfortable lives. This is a dream brought to life. What does your dream home look like? Let us help you make it a reality.

smarthome Aria Systems

Illustration from Arya Systems webpage (https://www.ariasystems.com)

Of course, technology is expensive, but it’s doable, reliable and depending on your dream lifestyle, worth it. Intelligent homes are, in short, houses with “appliances, lighting, heating, air conditioning, TVs, computers, entertainment audio and video systems, security, and camera systems that are capable of communicating with one another and can be controlled remotely by a time schedule, from any room in the home, as well as remotely from any location in the world by phone or internet” (Smart Home https://www.smarthomeusa.com/smarthome/.

These intelligent homes can do a multitude of things, including but not limited to:

  1. Giving you the ability to control lights using your Apple Watch, cell phone, or other electronic device.
  2. Giving you the ability to control your bath and water system before arriving at home.
  3. Playing your favorite songs when you wake up.
  4. Opening your shades.
  5. Exterior lights automatically fading on and off at customizable times of day.
  6. Playing music when prompted, like while cooking.
  7. Quick-Commands (a short phrase or word you select to be the trigger for a series of specific tasks) can prepare your home for dinner with friends. For example: saying or selecting (depending on your system) “prepare for dinner” could turn on a specific song or playlist, the lighting would change, your driveway lights would turn on, and other little surprises as well.
  8. Good morning and good night functions can do whatever you want to save money for example (decreasing and increasing the air conditioning use has been done).

Savant is a company that specializes in lighting home experiences (for more info, click here). Products like Wink Hub 2 are designed to provide a hub for the integration of all your home features such as lighting, sound systems and security cameras all while maintaining affordable prices.

It’s a whole new world, but in our opinion, it’s one to look forward to and one that’s here to stay.

What’s wrong with my grass?

These are the most common types of weeds that can damage your grass:

1.  Creeping Charlie (aka Ground Ivy)

creeping charlie cedar rapidsCreeping charlie is a very stubborn weed. It is most commonly identified by it’s purple flowers and round leaves. This weed grows low to the ground and quickly spreads across the lawn, choking out grass and small plants in it’s path. Creeping charlie thrives in shaded areas. Trimming back trees and shrubs will introduce more sunlight to the area and help thin out the weed. Keeping a healthy lawn is the best way to prevent a creeping charlie, or ground ivy, invasion. Thick, healthy grass will crowd out the weed, giving it little opportunity to grow.

2.  Dandelions

Like creeping charlie, dandelions grow best in open, sunny areas and they spread very easily. When trying to manually pull dandelions, if the entire root is not removed it will regenerate and produce again. Dandelions are also known for their white seeds that blow in the wind and spread the weed. Not only will a regular lawn treatment program keep dandelions out of your lawn, it will also keep dandelions from neighboring lawns from spreading to your lawn.

3.  Foxtail

foxtail weed cedar rapidsFoxtail is hard to identify when it first starts growing because it has wide leaf blades that are very similar to turf grass. However, it will grow shoots with 3 to 10 inch seed bearing flowers. These flowers are yellow-brown with a fuzzy texture. This weed grows in both moist and dry soil and is tolerant to a wide range of conditions. Foxtail rarely grows in a well-kept lawn, however applying a pre-emergent herbicide is the best preventative.

4.  White Clover

white clover cedar rapidsWhite clover is most commonly found in lawns with sparse, weak grass.  It typically has 3 leaves and grows a white flower with a brownish-green center. It is a low lying weed that spreads across the lawn. Clover grows best in soil that has low nitrogen levels. Keeping your lawn well fertilized will help your existing grass become stronger and more resilient and also make conditions less desirable for clover. You can also keep white clover out of your flower beds by maintaining a thick layer of mulch around your plants. While you can hand pull these weeds, the best treatment for killing clover is regular herbicide applications.

5.  Crabgrass

crabgrass cedar rapidsCrabgrass thrives in bare, sunny areas in your lawn. It sprouts in late spring and continues to grow all summer long. Crabgrass is killed off in the fall by cold weather, but by this time the seeds have already spread and are preparing to continue reproducing next spring. There are various ways to treat for and prevent crabgrass, including: maintaining proper mower height, over seeding the lawn to reduce barren spots, hand pulling the weed and applying a herbicide treatment, and maintaining a lawn fertilization program to keep the good grass strong and healthy.

(From the website https://www.lawn-tek.com)

How to lower the cost of electric water heating

This decision is an important one when building a new house: how can you manage the costs if you decide not to use a water heater fuel as natural gas or oil. If you decide that your house will have an electric water heater the increase in your monthly bills can drive you crazy, believe me.

Voltex® Hybrid Electric Heat Pump 80-Gallon Water Heater
Voltex Hybrid water heater tank (AO Smith)

First of all, you have to look for Energy Star systems, that can save you money because they have different functions. The Voltex® Hybrid Electric Heat Pump, for example (A.O.Smith) reduces water heating cost by up to 58% through an innovative design that pulls environmental heat while dehumidifying and cooling the ambient air at the same time.

It delivers good savings by generating heat through the heat pump technology instead of the heating elements. These tanks also offers user-friendly display, vacation mode to save money while you are away, and a heavy duty anode that protects your tank for 10 years. this model also has two heating elements that help the water heater recover quickly during periods of high demand. The tank has a 80-gal capacity, pretty nice number if you like to use your tub frequently.

If you are thinking about take advantage of the new solar panel credit program available by the government this can also help you in terms of electrical bill costs. Between financing and incentives, customers are usually cash-flow positive in their first year, and the system itself can be paid off after 3-5 years on average (depending on a lot of factors, of course – some some systems only break-even after 10 year, be aware of that).

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Solar panels and energy bills: you can save a lot with them

Massachusetts has one of the strongest solar incentive programs in the country. In addition, federal tax credits and low-interest solar loans contribute to a positive cash flow. You can also sell some energy in the market, and have positive incomes that helps you decrease your bill expenses.

 

Septic system troubleshooting: the easy way to help you

Septic systems can represents a big problem for your house if they are not working properly. Here you have some practical rules to avoid bigger problems and also how to diagnose them early:

  1. Check the capacity of your septic tank: normally residential septic tanks range from 1,000 – 2,000 gallons, with the great majority of them being 1,500. So, they are easy to be filled up by liquid. A family of 4 people normally spend 150 gallons of water per day – so in 10 days your septic tank will be full, and the water will have to flow to the distribution box and then to the leach field. With no problems in the way a septic tank like this one here has to be drained every 18-24 months depending on your use
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Diagram of a septic system (Photo credit: click here)

2. Don’t throw away solid waste in your sink / toilets: paper towel that are specific for septic tanks are available in the market, and you have to use just this type. If you have an in sink garbage disposal take care not to put meat and egg shelves on it. They can clog the filter in the tank.

3. If your grass are very green close to the septic access riser you probably have water from the sink in the ground – normally this is more visible during the spring and summer time, and it is a signal that the grass is being “fertilized” by the components of the waste material coming from the sink.

4. Toilet and drain backup – this is normally a late phase of a problem. Before that other signs were missed by yourself. Odor and liquid flushing near the riser is normally present before you notice a backup water in your sink or toilet. Call a service as soon as possible to pump your septic – they will also clean the filter, that is normally the problem if the septic system is a new one.

5. Distribution box problems: remember to check the trees close to the system. The tree roots could be blocking one or more pipes, or even the entire D-box sometimes. Remove roots and seal joints where roots entered if possible. Remember that an uneven D-box will not effect leach bed as severely, because water will find its own level through stone.