Ep 9: Landscaping Considerations

House At Work Home Repair Clinic

Jim and Peter discuss common pitfalls and solutions to landscaping your yard.

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Jim Salmon:                      Now live from the home improvement capital of the world this is the HouseAtWork.com home repair clinic podcast. My name is Jim Salmon and his name is Peter Schick. How are you today?

Peter Schick :                    Fantastic. It’s a beautiful day today. It’s a really nice day.

Jim Salmon:                      Now are you a millionaire?

Peter Schick :                    No. No, nowhere near?

Jim Salmon:                      Well, today’s subject folks going to be talking a little bit about landscaping and how to improve the curb appeal of your house. You were just telling me the story of how did you say it? It was so thick with leaves and stuff that it looked like a-

Peter Schick :                    We bought this house, well, we got it … so I’ll tell the story. Initially this guy, he wanted to list this house and, well, the thing was he had a, it was what do you call it, it’s where you have permission to do the actions on behalf of someone else? A power of attorney, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      A power of attorney.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, there you go. I don’t know why I couldn’t get that out, so he had a power of attorney for his mom. His mom was getting old and he pretty much just wanted to get rid of the house and so he came to us. He wanted to list it. I start walking through it, and it was in really rough shape, everything, but you saw the potential. Yeah, I saw past it because the thing was the big pieces were there, like a good furnace, good water heater, good roof. Those are the real-

Jim Salmon:                      That’s the holy grail right there.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, if that’s all aligned you could pretty much do some of the other cosmetic stuff and make it work. One of the things that was in really, really bad shape was the lawn. It was in horrendous shape. It was just mud. It was literally in the back yard I remember having the flooring guy come in. We were getting some new flooring in the kitchen and bath and he just looked in the back yard, “Oh my God!”

Jim Salmon:                      What a mess.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, he just looked through the window and then he did this double-take, like, oh my God. He said that-

Jim Salmon:                      What did you do? Rake it out and seed it or-

Peter Schick :                    Well, yeah, and the thing was you could tell it hadn’t been raked in years. This was an archeological dig with the leaves. You’d see there’s different layers from different years and it was still wet-

Jim Salmon:                      Oh, what a nightmare.

Peter Schick :                    … and it was really bad. It was easily two feet. There’s this one part in the back yard where there’s this blue stone kind of patio area and I didn’t even know it was there until we got all the leaves off.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s a bonus. You’ve got a patio.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, wow, here we go. Look at this, this is beautiful, sweet. Yeah, we had to get rid of all of the leaves and then it was just pretty much mud. Because it was really shaded, there’s a lot of trees in the back yard. We needed to get a certain kind of seed to put down.

Jim Salmon:                      That’s tough to do, yeah.

Peter Schick :                    The thing is you can’t just use any seed because it’s a very heavily shaded area. If you used regular seed it’s going to come in all patchy. It’s not going to really work out. You have to get a special kind that’s made for being in a heavily shadowed, like an area with a lot of shadows. It came in beautifully. It came in really well, and had to do a lot of work, too. We put in a bunch of perennials, too. This is a debate. Some people like the annuals because they have a lot of really nice color, it’s really boom, there’s the color. Then you have to do that every year. Perennials, it’s just hey, fire and forget. There you go. I put it in and-

Jim Salmon:                      It keeps coming back.

Peter Schick :                    … you know, it does its thing. It just does its thing. I prefer those. Yeah, a little more expensive. Usually towards the end of the summer, like right now it’s August, maybe right after Memorial Day, well, you’re playing with fire with that if you start planting right after that. You’ll know if it’s actually going to take or not before it gets cold, but you can usually get some deals from what I’ve seen.

Jim Salmon:                      That’s great. Flipping a house is a lot of fun. It’s not for everybody.

Peter Schick :                    No, it’s not.

Jim Salmon:                      I hear horror stories all the time about people lost everything they have.

Peter Schick :                    Here’s the thing. This is me and my wife. If we can’t, we’re just going to live in it for a little while, so that’s how we look at it. I looked at it like, “Hey, Babe, if we wouldn’t have a problem living in this if we can’t,” so it’s really not a big deal in terms of us.

Jim Salmon:                      [Crosstalk 00:04:14] cash out of it it’s all good, too.

Peter Schick :                    Exactly, so that’s how I look at it as well.

Jim Salmon:                      One of the biggest expenses nowadays in landscaping is the walkways, patios, and so forth.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Old concrete, stone, even the blue stone is old technology.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Now we’re into these beautiful modern pavers. There’s hundreds of them, different colors, different designs, and a lot of landscape folks also do hardscape.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Oh gosh, there’s a science to that and they’re so much to learn about that.

Peter Schick :                    Yes there is.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s all about the base.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      I had a paver driveway installed and the base is 20 inches thick.

Peter Schick :                    Really?

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, they excavated it out-

Peter Schick :                    Oh, Jesus.

Jim Salmon:                      … and then they bring in this approved sand and then it’s tamped.

Peter Schick :                    I didn’t realize there was that much work with it.

Jim Salmon:                      Well, the driveway may be different than say a front walkway, that might-

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, because the driveway’s taking a lot more weight and it’s going to settle over the years, so I can understand you got to have the different layers with the sand and everything and put drainage and the settling. Yeah, I can see that. Coming after five or 10 years if you don’t do it right, you’re going to notice it.

Jim Salmon:                      Spending money on a paver or a concrete block-type retaining wall or things like that that modern pavers bring to the table are absolutely gorgeous. They add value, they bring the house into the 21st Century. You can still find masons that will pour you a sidewalk, but for the curb appeal and if you were into the whole outdoor kitchen thing like I am-

Peter Schick :                    Like you are, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      … oh my gosh, it’s over the top.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, it is. That’s beautiful what you’ve got, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      I still love it. We had an annual concert out at the Salmon Ranch where I live a couple of days ago and we had a 10-foot bonfire in the fire pit, which is eight feet in diameter, and it fell over onto the patio. It was a great time, great time.

Peter Schick :                    It sounds like it. You were mentioning with retaining walls. That is a really expensive … That could become a nightmare really quickly from what I’ve heard in terms of … We had one where it was right on the property line so the city had to take care of the retaining wall and thank God.

Jim Salmon:                      That’s a win.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah. Thank God they did because I wouldn’t want … It was getting to the point where it was we were going to have to replace it, but since the city had it, they took care of it.

Jim Salmon:                      We have had in the past couple years some unbelievable storms and copious amounts of rain and hundred-year rains we get every three years and that kind of thing. We have an area around here called the Finger Lakes in New York; Canandaigua Lake, Keuka Lake, Cayuga Lake, Seneca Lake, and these are all glacier formed back a hundred million years ago or whatever it was. The banks and the mountains above all of those lakes are made out of a shale/clay mixture and it’s extremely powerful. It’s a hydraulic pressure you can’t even imagine. Many of these folks have had lots of problems with these storms and areas eroding away. The landscape contractors are just going crazy installing retaining walls to try to keep those mountains away from the cottages and so forth around the like.

Peter Schick :                    Oh yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      These walls are all engineered. The company that sells the products to the landscaper, there’s a design staff, engineers, that design each one. Okay, you got to do it like this, and if you do it like this we back it, and our products, we back that up. Those walls are ungodly expensive.

Peter Schick :                    I can only imagine.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s the way to save your property.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, you get put in this really tough spot and it’s probably one of those things you’re not thinking of when you buy a cottage on one of the Finger Lakes. Thinking, aw, awesome lakefront, this is great. Little do you know, you got to put God knows like I don’t know, what would it be like, $50,000 or something for one of those retaining walls? I can only guess.

Jim Salmon:                      Oh, yeah. That’s sometimes that’s just getting started.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, I can imagine. Even the cost of the house could be … to just have the retaining wall, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      I teach continuing education for home inspectors. New York State requires a certain amount of education every couple of years and when you renew your license and one of the courses I teach is home inspector safety. In the wintertime yards are like a minefield. You don’t know what’s under there. There’s a woodchuck hole over here. One of the things I cannot stand the most are yard ponds. Now some people love these things. You can go out and buy all kinds of configurations of these black plastic ponds and get them in there and whatever. Of course, some people try to leave them in over the winter with the pump [crosstalk 00:09:27]-

Peter Schick :                    [Crosstalk 00:09:27] water flowing, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s nuts, it’s ludicrous. These things I’m always stepping in them in the winter because you don’t see them if there’s two feet of snow. Then there’s the goldfish in there.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, yeah. I have a great story.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s so much work.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, I was taking a client around. She was interested in buying a house around the [inaudible 00:09:51] area. We go to this one and we come in and it looks nice. Then we go in the back yard and it’s like this several ponds with all these koi carp and a waterfall and all this. Of course, it takes your breath away. It’s like, oh wow! It has a bridge going over the pond. Then you start thinking and reality starts setting.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah.

Peter Schick :                    How much does it cost to maintain this?

Jim Salmon:                      This homeowner lady doesn’t work. She’s home all the time. Her passion is plants and ponds and all this stuff and there’s 10,000 different kinds of plants out there. She looks at them and weeds them and she trims them. People come to look at this house and they go, “Oh my gosh, this is absolutely beautiful.” Then like you said, reality sets in. Who’s going to maintain this? It’ll be overgrown in a giant mess that you’d have to mow with a brush hog in no time if somebody wasn’t putting their time to it.

Peter Schick :                    Exactly, because that’s the first thing I think of when I see some beautiful landscaping or like you said, the ponds. The ponds almost scare me because it’s you got to filter that water. You got to feed these fish. Some of those fish they get really big. At this particular house I was showing a client, they were big. They were easily over a foot and there were 10 of them. I don’t know how they survive in the winter. Do you keep it heated? Now you have to pay for the heat for these ponds. Now especially up here, I could see that … That’s like keeping your windows open in your house in the middle of winter and still keeping the heat revved up. It just seems like you’re throwing money out the window.

Jim Salmon:                      Sometimes I’ll come to a pond, I’m inspecting a house in the winter. I’m walking around the house and you walk up to the pond and there’s the fish, frozen solid like an ice cube, frozen stiff, froze stiff.

Peter Schick :                    I guess it wasn’t deep enough.

Jim Salmon:                      No, it probably wasn’t. I’m always complaining about trees and bushes that touch or hang over the house. When it comes to landscaping your house, young couples, unless they had parents that had them along with doing that stuff, they really don’t know a lot about that. Your air-conditioner compressor cabinet, for instance, I find those things … Where is it? It’s over there and it’s in the middle of an arborvitae and most people like we said in other podcasts think that air-conditioning somehow magically makes cold air and blows it into your house. What it’s actually doing is taking the heat out. If that compressor cabinet is where it’s trying to give off that heat is all packed solid with growing stuff, it can’t happen, it can’t function. It’s very inefficient that way.

Peter Schick :                    When you’re discussing the branches overhanging a roof, that could become a pretty significant issue because if you start having a windy day, say a windy day comes, now you have this branch scraping against your roof.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, nothing worse than that.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah. Now it starts scraping against your roof shingles come off. Shingles come off now water is going to get in. Water comes in now, it compounds [inaudible 00:13:02]. It goes from a minor concern to a very major concern very quickly. I’ve seen that. I almost had that. It started to and I just got to bite the bullet and get it cut.

Jim Salmon:                      There are many houses here in New York State where we are right now that still have aluminum siding on them from the ’50s and ’60s. It was real popular in the ’60s. If a bush is up against that, there’s a little half moon streak about two feet long of tin foil and it’s perfectly polished. Obviously, it’s ruining your siding. No plants or trees should touch or hang over the house. I happen to love pine trees. As a kid I spent a lot of time up in the Adirondacks and mountains north in New York State. Today when I drive up there and I get past the tree line, I just love it.

Peter Schick :                    You’re going into a different world. I always love that.

Jim Salmon:                      Another great world.

Peter Schick :                    Like I just went out West or something when I go there.

Jim Salmon:                      Absolutely, but the problem is pine trees are filthy with stuff. They have lichen and moss growth and roof algae.

Peter Schick :                    You could maybe verify this. This is a rumor I heard. Are their root systems weaker than say an oak or anything else?

Jim Salmon:                      Well, I don’t know. Well, yeah, the wood-

Peter Schick :                    [Crosstalk 00:14:32].

Jim Salmon:                      The wood of the root is the same thing as the wood of the tree. It’s a fairly soft wood, but the root structure of pine trees from my experience don’t go down very far. That’s why every once in a while you’ll see a two-foot diameter [crosstalk 00:14:46] foot tall tree.

Peter Schick :                    This is getting my memory jogging with the wind storm back in March we had here.

Jim Salmon:                      80 miles an hour.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, back then we didn’t have trees on any … Excuse me, we didn’t have leaves on any of the trees, but the pine trees, they’re evergreen so they caught that wind a lot better than say a normal tree. Because they’re evergreen, it acts like a sail when you have the wind during those times.

Jim Salmon:                      They were hundreds of them on their side.

Peter Schick :                    I would say three out of four of the trees that fell, that I saw that fell, they were pine trees, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah. Well, it makes good firewood. It’s a shame, especially if the tree is a really nice tree, it’s well maintained and it’s not all lopsided or whatever and you like it. It’s a shame when they go, but that’s what you have your wood stove for.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, exactly.

Jim Salmon:                      There’s another tree at the nursery you can maybe change it up a little bit and plant an oak tree. Now I’m 62 and when I bought my house in 1985, we planted some two-foot-high pine trees which are now 102 feet.

Peter Schick :                    Really? That’s pretty cool.

Jim Salmon:                      If I’m planting an oak tree today, I’m not going to be around to see it.

Peter Schick :                    You’re not going to see that, yeah, or your kids when they’re your age, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      I did make one big landscaping mistake. My mother about, I’m thinking it’s got to be 15-18 years ago, gave me a beautiful red maple tree, which I love. The leaves are not green, they’re just purpley-red, it’s a beautiful tree, and I planted it in my front yard. When I planted it it seemed like the right spot, but now the thing is a foot and a half in diameter and it overhangs the front porch and it’s too close to the house. Now, I’m not going to cut it down because I love the tree and mom’s gone.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, exactly.

Jim Salmon:                      It is a beautiful tree, but it’s too close to the house. What it does is it produces a fair amount of dirt and leaves and extra gutter cleaning and maintenance from me, but it is what it is. The bottom line to that is think that out where you’re putting it. Just because it’s two feet today doesn’t mean it’s going to 102 feet.

Peter Schick :                    It’s going to stay that way, yeah. No, very true.

Jim Salmon:                      That’s a tough one. I love to do my own landscaping work although I’m getting older and when it comes to mulching I have 20 different beds that need to be mulched every year and they look so beautiful after that happens.

Peter Schick :                    Then a few weeks later the grass starts coming.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah.

Peter Schick :                    It’s a never-ending battle is one of the things I’ve noticed.

Jim Salmon:                      I hire my local landscape guy and he comes over with 15 yards of mulch and a pickup truck and they have four guys and they weed everything, they mulch it, and you pay them and you’re done.

Peter Schick :                    Bing, bang, boom. There you go.

Jim Salmon:                      Every year at the Salmon Ranch we have some kind of a giant party or a wedding, so I always hire them again to come and do a tuneup so it has to be perfect when all those people are there.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Landscape guys are really good and quick at that and I’m finding it a little more difficult to bend over all day long and pull weeds and stuff, so …

Peter Schick :                    No, no, that’ll get old and the thing is it never ends. What you do today you’re going to have to redo three weeks from now, especially in the summer and warmer climates.

Jim Salmon:                      When it comes to relandscaping your yard or maybe making some changes, I’m always saying this statement to people that I’m walking around the house doing a home inspection and I quote, “Nobody ever rips out their 50-year-old shrubs.”

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Now, their shrubs have overgrown. They’re halfway through the sidewalk. It’s time. You can’t cut them back because you would have then firewood that would be visible, so it’s just time. You get a good four-wheel drive pickup truck with a chain and yank them out. Go to your local nursery. These folks know what grows well here in our area and is it on the north side of the house? Is it shady? They know what grows.

Peter Schick :                    That’s a very good consideration, like I was alluding to earlier with the grass selection for the back yard at that place and, yeah, the shade is going to be a big portion. Like I said, a plant that thrives in the shade, does it need constant sunlight? There’s a lot of different considerations for that, like if it’s a vegetable garden, there’s going to be different considerations for that than say a perennial garden. You’ve got to think that out. A lot of time what me and my wife will do is we’ll just okay, we’ll draw a picture of it. Okay, this is what we want to have here, here, here, and this looks like it’s more shaded on this part of the plot and this one’s a little more sunny. Now you can plan it out. You can start figuring out, hey, how are we going to attack this and make it so it’s sustainable, too? What I mean by sustainable is I don’t have to keep replanting every year year after year. Like I said, that’s why I’m a big fan of perennials. You plant it and then it does its thing.

Jim Salmon:                      All you need to do maybe is an occasional trim or whatever-

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      … and, yeah, that’s good. Well, I used to have two big cedar trees outside my front door and we chopped them down to put in an extended porch out there at one point. I remember when we ripped them out of there, there was a pretty significant negative grade the first three or four feet that sloped towards my foundation. I used that as an opportunity to bring in a couple of yards of dirt. I don’t want to use cocoa shells or pine bark nuggets because water penetrates that. You need to put soil in those areas to reslope it away so you maintain a good slope away from the foundation. Keeps a dry basement and crawl space.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, we were discussing that some during our wet basements episode, I believe. We discussed that. Now you mentioned the cocoa shells. I’ve used those before. Now it wasn’t in the same way that you did it where you’re concerned about the water penetration. Have you ever used them before?

Jim Salmon:                      When I was a little kid one of my worst memories was I was forced to help my parents spread cocoa shells, because that’s what was used back then back in the late ’50s and 1960s into the ’70s. Cocoa shells were in abundance. I don’t know, Nestle’s Quick maybe or whatever it was, but they were these giant burlap bags of cocoa shells and we’d spread them all out and I had to do that. At some point mulch and pine bark nuggets took over, so I don’t …

Peter Schick :                    Did you hate it because of the smell or did you hate it because you just had to do it?

Jim Salmon:                      [Crosstalk 00:21:45] labor.

Peter Schick :                    Oh yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      No, I actually liked the smell and we would use those, as little kids, we’d use those burlap bags. We’d cut eye holes in them and put them over our heads. It was great. We’d run around and scare everybody in the neighborhood.

Peter Schick :                    It’s funny that you mentioned the cocoa shell piece because my parents, they live in Wisconsin, and they had cocoa shells in their garden. Then my wife sees that and she’s, “Peter, I want that. I want that.” Of course, they don’t have any of those around here.

Jim Salmon:                      Well, you could probably get them, but they’re probably pretty pricey.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, they are, but in Wisconsin for whatever reason they weren’t very … It was $8 or something a bag at this one place. We’re, okay, so we bought a few bags of it.

Jim Salmon:                      You brought them back here?

Peter Schick :                    That’s what she wanted. I was, “All right, we’ll do that. You want it, Babe.”

Jim Salmon:                      Peter, you’re not a dope. You know what the priorities are.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Happy wife, happy life.

Peter Schick :                    That’s right. Yeah, we brought those back and we put them in and after the first rain you could just smell it, you could smell that cocoa smell and it’s looks really nice, too. I like how it looks, too, because it matted down. It’s not like with a lot of the, say you get like a black mulch or the brown mulch, it kind of has that color. It maintains the color for a while, the cocoa shells do, and I like the look of it. It’s an acquired thing, too, the smell. I think people either hate it or love the smell from what I’ve heard.

Jim Salmon:                      I can’t even talk to somebody that says I don’t like chocolate. That just doesn’t work. One of the issues though with mulch and pine bark nuggets, and I had to do research on this to find this out, are an entity called projectile spores.

Peter Schick :                    What?

Jim Salmon:                      You know the speck that a fly leaves when they poop on something?

Peter Schick :                    Really?

Jim Salmon:                      You know what a fly speck is?

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Well, the projectile spores leave just about an identical thing on your siding and whatever as a fly speck would, maybe just a hair smaller in diameter. They come out of certain mulches. It’s a spore that just goes pfft. There’s like 20 of these little things and they stick to the siding and they’re very difficult to get off. You have to use a bug and tar remover to get them off.

Peter Schick :                    Huh, now is that different from the fungus where if you hit it it shoots out all those spores? It looks like a ball and it’s different than that?

Jim Salmon:                      It’s different than that, yeah.

Peter Schick :                    It’s different than that, okay, because that’s what was in my head when you were describing it.

Jim Salmon:                      Projectile spores.

Peter Schick :                    Projectile spores.

Jim Salmon:                      I go up to the house and inveritably maybe my client will be standing there by me and he’s looking at all those specks. Wow, they have a lot of flies here. Ah, projectile spores. That’s pretty funny.

Peter Schick :                    Interesting.

Jim Salmon:                      Well, you can improve the look of anything with some ground cover stuff like mulch and-

Peter Schick :                    That gives it some renewed life, but, of course, that lasts a few months until it starts wearing off.

Jim Salmon:                      I brought back some good old sort of memories there.

Peter Schick :                    Good old memories of manual labor that Jim had to do.

Jim Salmon:                      It was tough back then. I was into building things when I was a little kid, too. In fact, I might have been eight or nine years old and we didn’t have electricity in the detached garage. It was a one-story garage, maybe 25-

Peter Schick :                    You had to manually open it and everything?

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah.

Peter Schick :                    Okay.

Jim Salmon:                      There wasn’t power there. I asked for permission from my folks to see if I could run power out there. Somehow I got some wire, I don’t even remember if it was UF wire or not, I dug a trench, and I got about halfway out and, of course, the wire wasn’t long enough so I spliced it together. Now I’m eight or nine or 10 years old maybe.

Peter Schick :                    I’m surprised they let you do that.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, my folks didn’t pay much attention to me.

Peter Schick :                    They’re just like, “Yeah, Jim. You just do whatever you’re going to do.”

Jim Salmon:                      You know what it was like. Well, maybe you don’t because back then we weren’t worried about being abducted every five minutes. We left in the morning and maybe we came back when they yelled and screamed for us at night.

Peter Schick :                    Oh yeah, I tinkered in stuff. I built tree forts and stuff. I wasn’t wiring electric to my garage.

Jim Salmon:                      What I did was, and this is pretty good ingenuity for 10 years old, I took a can and I cut the bottom off of it, maybe a dog food can or a soup can. I think it was probably a Campbell Soup can because we used a lot of that when I was a little kid, and I put the can over the wire and I wired it together with some wire nuts. I wrapped the whole thing with electrical tape and then I ran the can up to where the splice was and I electrical taped it, put it in, wired the garage, and everything worked fine.

Peter Schick :                    Oh wow.

Jim Salmon:                      Now, that garage is still there. Now that would have been maybe 1963, ’64-

Peter Schick :                    Right after the Cuban Missile Crisis or something.

Jim Salmon:                      Absolutely, John Kennedy and all that.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Well, how long is that? Almost-

Peter Schick :                    A long time.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s a long time.

Peter Schick :                    It’s a long time is what that is.

Jim Salmon:                      That garage is still there and I’m dying to stop at that house someday.

Peter Schick :                    Just knock on the door and be like, “Hey, I want to see-”

Jim Salmon:                      Just say, “Hey, underground here in your landscaping is that.” It’s pretty funny.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, you jerry-rigged the electric to the garage.

Jim Salmon:                      That garage-

Peter Schick :                    If it’s still running that would be-

Jim Salmon:                      That would be a feat right there.

Peter Schick :                    You need to check this out [crosstalk 00:27:41].

Jim Salmon:                      That garage is still there and I remember this just like it was yesterday. We were sitting in the kitchen and there was a bay window there, and I’m a little kid, right? You look out and you see the garage. My grandfather was there and the window was open and a rat came out from underneath the garage and my father handed my grandfather a double-barrel 12-gauge shotgun and my grandfather aimed that thing out the window and shot that rat dead right then and there at the kitchen table. That was the funniest thing I’d ever seen in my life. Ol’ pop got that rat.

Peter Schick :                    Boom.

Jim Salmon:                      It was great. Things are a little different now. In the middle of the city we don’t shoot rats.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, you can’t discharge firearms in the middle of the city, but yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      That’s too funny. Well, I think we’ve talked a pretty good talk on landscaping today, folks.

Peter Schick :                    We have.

Jim Salmon:                      If you have a suggestion for a show you’d like to hear or you’d like to weigh on this topic, Peter’s going to tell you how to get a hold of us on email.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, go ahead and email us at [email protected]

Jim Salmon:                      Well, thank you for listening to this HouseAtWork.com home repair clinic podcast. We’ll see you on the other side with another fine broadcast and we’ll see you then.

Ep 8: How To Select A Contractor

House At Work Home Repair Clinic

Jim and Peter discuss ways a homeowner can safely and effectively select a home improvement contractor for their projects.

Do you have a home improvement question? Email us at [email protected] and we will do our best to get it answered for you! Do you need help with a home improvement project and live in the upstate New York region? Go to www.houseatwork.com and click “Find Contractors“.

Jim Salmon:                      And now, live from the home improvement capital of the world, this is the houseatwork.com, home repair clinic podcast. My name is Jim Salmon and he is …

Peter Schick :                    Peter Schick.

Jim Salmon:                      Morning sir, or good afternoon, how are you?

Peter Schick :                    Good, good, good, good, just another day, you know?

Jim Salmon:                      Another day in paradise and I love doing these podcasts, they’re a lot of fun.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, I like it too.

Jim Salmon:                      Today’s subject you picked, which is great, how to hire a contractor.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, how to select one, kind of go through the entire process.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah.

Peter Schick :                    I think because home improvement projects aren’t something that you undertake on a fairly regular basis, its not like I need to replace my roof every few months. It’s usually something you do it once, its like selling a home, you’ll do it every few years or something a lot of the time. It’s something that a lot of people don’t necessarily know a lot on.

Jim Salmon:                      Good point, and that’s the key right there. You’re a good real estate guy. The next guy’s a good accountant, the next lady’s a good factory worker, but when it comes to remodeling your house, that’s the guy you want and you don’t know that world so it’s important to do your homework.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, your average homeowner doesn’t necessarily know exactly what to look for and that’s why we’re having this.

Jim Salmon:                      I make a living, I don’t know if I should say this, but I’m gonna do it anyway. I make a living helping people who have had or are in the process of having a problem with their whatever.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Their roofer, their remodeling guy, their wet basement guy, or whatever and I have these conversations with people all the time. The number one first thing is to select the right guy or gal.

Peter Schick :                    Yep, it’s the personnel piece. That is the biggest piece, that’s the biggest decision point as far as I’m concerned.

Jim Salmon:                      Nobody that I know of proactively checks people’s references. They might go on the internet, they might-

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, that’s actually a good point-

Jim Salmon:                      Go to the Better Business Bureau or something like that but nobody really calls people. “Hey, Joe Smith did your roof, he used you as a reference. What do you think of him?”

Peter Schick :                    Well, let’s say for a roof, though, say they could be like, “Well, we did the roof at this address.” You could even drive by and be like, “Oh yeah, you know, that doesn’t look bad.” In terms of exterior work like that, I mean, you could almost, it’s visible from the street a lot of the time.

Jim Salmon:                      We have this world now that we’re in where communication through texting, through emails, Facebook, Instagram, all that stuff, is all good but when you’re hiring somebody to doing something at your house, you wanna look ’em in the eye.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, I agree.

Jim Salmon:                      You wanna meet with them at the property, you should like the people that you’re dealing with you.

Peter Schick :                    You should get a good vibe off of them. I think that’s a very important thing too. You initially meet with them and I think you could get a lot more of a feeling for somebody, like you said, if you meet ’em in person instead of just doing everything on the phone. To be quite honest, if they’re not giving you a quote, if they’re giving you a quote without seeing it, chances are it’s going to be very inaccurate.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah.

Peter Schick :                    They’re more or less rolling the dice.

Jim Salmon:                      There is a relationship between quality and price.

Peter Schick :                    Yes.

Jim Salmon:                      A big one.

Peter Schick :                    This is a big thing that most homeowners don’t realize.

Jim Salmon:                      If you are the type of person that is always looking for everything down and dirty, the cheapest thing you can get, you’re into screwing people. You want the lowest that’s what you get.

Peter Schick :                    That is exactly what you get. Actually, that is one of the prime complaints I get from contractors when they actually interact with homeowners.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah.

Peter Schick :                    There needs to be some way of educating them to understand, “Okay, if I want low price, I’m gonna get, of course, correspondingly lower quality. If you have a higher price, you’re gonna get, of course, correspondingly higher quality. That is one of the things when I talk to contractors that are on house at work or just in general, that is one of their chief complaints, is this education process with the homeowner, is being able to explain that or articulate that in a way that they’re actually gonna understand. I don’t know if anybody, it’s really, that’s a sales pitch to be quite honest. That’s all how the contractor really pitches themselves and shows their value proposition to the homeowner.

Jim Salmon:                      We’re sitting here in Rochester, New York, right now. We’re in New York state. New York state does not license contractors, which kind of boggles my mind because they love to license everything.

Peter Schick :                    That’s actually very interesting. Even across the country, there are only a very few municipalities that actually do that.

Jim Salmon:                      Right, right.

Peter Schick :                    I think you can see some. I think GC is licensed, I wanna say, in New York City. Maybe certain cities have that-

Jim Salmon:                      Well, yeah, there are certification processes in certain cities but as far as the state is concerned, I mean anybody can show up.

Peter Schick :                    No, they don’ care.

Jim Salmon:                      Like if you’re out in the country or whatever, there are no rules.

Peter Schick :                    No. Oh, no.

Jim Salmon:                      New York state does have a very specific contractor agreement between contractors and the homeowner or their client. It’s very clearly spelled out. It has to contain specific information about the job and the payment scale.

Peter Schick :                    Yup.

Jim Salmon:                      It has to have a start and stop time, a completion date to it.

Peter Schick :                    The state actually has a form contract that is supposed to be used. Is that what you’re saying?

Jim Salmon:                      No. They don’t do that and that would be a good idea, in my opinion, but they don’t.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, because real estate agents have that.

Jim Salmon:                      Everybody makes up their own-

Peter Schick :                    Real estate agents have that with purchase agreements and stuff, where it’s like, Greater Rochester area realtors, there is a purchase contract that everybody uses.

Jim Salmon:                      Everybody used the same one. Right.

Peter Schick :                    Yup. That actually would make a lot of sense for a contractor.

Jim Salmon:                      It would. Everybody, every contractor, has their own little bid sheet, contract, invoice, or whatever you wanna call it. It has their name and address on it. It’s supposed to. Some of the more unscrupulous contractors have just a phone number, no address, so people can’t find them.

One of the things in New York state, too, is that when you write a check to a contractor, it has to go into an approved escrow account.

Peter Schick :                    Yup.

Jim Salmon:                      They can’t just take it and cash it and spend it.

Peter Schick :                    That is actually one of the things that I’ve heard the most from homeowners. When you hear about, “Oh, homeowner X gets scammed,” It’s usually, “Oh, but I paid it all upfront and then they disappeared.” [crosstalk 00:06:36] Have you ever watched that show, American Greed, on CNBNC?

Jim Salmon:                      Oh, yeah, I know, yeah.

Peter Schick :                    One of the things you always hear on that is, “Okay, I gave everything I have, all of my money to this guy and then it disappeared.” No, you can’t just give everything up front. You can’t do that.

Jim Salmon:                      Recovering it or getting it back-

Peter Schick :                    Clawing it back won’t happen.

Jim Salmon:                      It is so difficult and so expensive. Once thing gets into the legal world, you know the lawyers are winning.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      You certainly try to stay in the driver’s seat on the money. My own personal policy is I don’t put any money down for any project under 20,000 dollars. All the roofing companies that I know of-

Peter Schick :                    If they can’t sustain that, initially-

Jim Salmon:                      Right!

Peter Schick :                    They have some financial issues to begin with.

Jim Salmon:                      There’s two big red flags on that. “I have to have money to pay my people and I have to have money to buy materials.” If you’re dealing with a contractor that needs the money you’re paying him right now to go buy the stuff for your job, run! Run in the opposite direction!

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, there’s an issue right there. I always use that as kind of a- That is a huge red flag, if they can’t sustain that kind of financial, if they don’t have the finances to be able to cover that initially, that’s a problem.

Jim Salmon:                      Across the country, there are some accreditation organizations that provide a standard of practice and some training and things like that, certification in certain things like ADA compliant bathrooms.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      There’s all kinds of training like that. When you’re getting ready to hire a contractor, you look at all those little abbreviations after their name and ask them, “What is this stuff?” “What do you, you know-”

Peter Schick :                    Yeah. You gotta ask ’em, kind of dig into it. You can’t just take it as surface value, whatever they say.

Jim Salmon:                      The NAHB, National Association of Home Builders, is a big one.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, they are. They’re all about education.

Jim Salmon:                      Absolutely.

Peter Schick :                    From what I understand.

Jim Salmon:                      Whenever they went in the toilet, in 2008, and all the home builders in the country were saying, “Okay, what are we going to be doing the next year, too?” A lot of those folks shifted over to doing home remodeling. Then the word “staycation” came into play.

Peter Schick :                    Yup.

Jim Salmon:                      Now, obviously things are better than they were back then, now, and they’re building houses like crazy again. Some of those organizations provide some excellent training and those are good things to look for when you’re trying to hire somebody.

Peter Schick :                    Definitely agree. Definitely agree.

Jim Salmon:                      Everything you do with your contractor should be in writing.

Peter Schick :                    I agree.

Jim Salmon:                      First of all, there’s a contract to begin with that spells the scope of the job.

Peter Schick :                    Yup.

Jim Salmon:                      One of the big complaints I get as a home inspector, is when a system breaks down, people say, “Gee, he gave me another bill for all these things and it’s not itemized or whatever.” That’s the time, at the beginning, to get as specific as you can.

Peter Schick :                    Yes. Especially if there’s gonna be a change in scope. This is something that you see either with new home construction, you’ll see this a lot, where somebody will be like, “Okay, yeah, we agree on the plans,” and now all of a sudden, “Oh, I want a different ceiling fan or I want these different light fixtures or no, no, no, I want the switch here, not here.” Those little things start to add up and it starts to become a change in scope eventually.

Jim Salmon:                      Every one of those things need to go on an official change order.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Every contractor should have that form. I can’t tell you how many times, at the end of the job, somebody would say, “My contractor gave me another bill for 1,171 (eleven hundred and seventy-one) dollars for all this stuff and I didn’t know anything about it.” There wasn’t any change order that went along with these things. That whole system wasn’t created at the beginning.

When you’re sitting, negotiating the initial job with your contractor, any changes, and changes happen-

Peter Schick :                    Yes, they do. There’s things you can’t foresee, especially with remodeling some of these older homes. They don’t have X-ray vision to see through the walls. Once they broke open that wall and they see some wiring that’s all jacked up-

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah.

Peter Schick :                    It’s a lot of the time, it’s incumbent upon them to fix it.

Jim Salmon:                      Right.

Peter Schick :                    That’s something that needs to be taken into consideration. They’re not just trying to, in a lot of the cases, it’s not, because it’s starting to go over price for whatever reason, it’s not them just trying to twist your arm. Sometimes it is a very legit thing that popped up on the job that couldn’t be foreseen.

Jim Salmon:                      I talked with a lady yesterday. Peter, you’re gonna love this story. She hired a window company and a lot of window companies do siding projects too.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      She hired a window company to replace the windows on her house and to replace the rear siding of her house. Apparently, she had done vinyl siding on the front and the sides and not the back.

Peter Schick :                    Really?

Jim Salmon:                      Now, which, you know, whatever, money drives this stuff.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, that’s very true.

Jim Salmon:                      She had a contract, the salesman came out. They were ordered all up, removed the existing siding, replaced it, do the windows, trim the windows, whatever. The dumpster comes and the people are there, they’re getting ready to do it.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      All of a sudden, the guy says, “Well, wait a minute. I think there’s asbestos in that siding back there.”

Peter Schick :                    Ooh.

Jim Salmon:                      Then they had to have it tested and yes, it has asbestos. Now they want her to pay six thousand more dollars.

Peter Schick :                    Ahhh, geez.

Jim Salmon:                      She called me and I said, “Absolutely not.” The salesman came out and sold you and wrote right on there and you paid him.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      The foreman came out and measured the windows and he could’ve seen it at that time. It’s their job to pull that siding off and replace it. I don’t care how much it costs them because they made the mistake. These things happen all the time.

Peter Schick :                    Yes, they do. Yes, they do especially with it. Aww, that almost feels like, that almost feels like-

Jim Salmon:                      It’s horrible.

Peter Schick :                    That they kind of almost engineered that, that almost sounds like.

Jim Salmon:                      That is a classic bait and switch, in my opinion. That’s what it smells like. It might’ve been some kind of-

Peter Schick :                    It could be incompetence because I’ve seen stuff with incompetent, where it’s like, “Okay, we’re agreeing upon this price for this scope,” and then a week before it’s done, “Oh, yeah, we’re still within scope, we’re still within price,” then you get the bill and it’s double.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah.

Peter Schick :                    What ended up happening, it’s the GC was not keeping track of costs. He didn’t have a handle on his subs and the subs just ran crazy. He didn’t have any mechanism of control or accounting. That’s another thing. It’s a piece on organization as well. If they’re not organized, you could be the one paying for that.

Jim Salmon:                      Sure.

Peter Schick :                    It’s not always nefarious, it could just be flat out incompetence perhaps.

Jim Salmon:                      Another scenario I see every once in a while, this is the homeowner that has 30 grand to spend.

Peter Schick :                    Yup.

Jim Salmon:                      They meet with their contractor and, “Okay, we wanna remodel our kitchen and oh, we want this, we want that. This cabinet, that countertop. All this stuff.” Well, now it’s 50,000. The hard part of that is sometimes you sign on for 30 and you add on things and you get to 50.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah. Well, they add on to, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      You have to know, you have to be careful and stay within your budget.

Peter Schick :                    Yup. That’s kind of a double edged sword there because the homeowner, when they initially agreed to something, I can see them being like, “Okay, this is what I want.” Then as the project goes, they could kind of start seeing it unfolding and they start seeing, they start getting the vision of what it really could look like.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah.

Peter Schick :                    Now they start changing their minds.

Jim Salmon:                      Ugh.

Peter Schick :                    Now it starts being all these other change orders. Maybe the GC doesn’t know to say, “Hey, look, this is gonna cost more. Hey, look, this is, we’re starting to get to the edge of your budget at this point.”

Jim Salmon:                      One of the things that contractors dislike the most is homeowner indecision.

Peter Schick :                    Yes. Yes.

Jim Salmon:                      You know, and gosh, I can’t tell you how important it is to have a good relationship with your contractor to try to figure out as much as you can about everything upfront.

Peter Schick :                    Yup.

Jim Salmon:                      The other big problem that arises is many jobs require building permits.

Peter Schick :                    That is true.

Jim Salmon:                      A deck. A swimming pool.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      You’re changing a door opening or you’re adding windows or you’re moving a wall. All of these things-

Peter Schick :                    Yup. We’ve discussed this piece about windows before with certain historical areas, right?

Jim Salmon:                      Right.

Peter Schick :                    You can’t just replace the windows. You need to keep the original windows, the lead stained glass ones or whatever. Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      One of the systems that breaks down is the permitting process.

Peter Schick :                    Yup.

Jim Salmon:                      The best thing always is for the contractor to obtain the building permit then he or she is responsible for compliance, staying within the budget of it, and doing what’s right and having it inspected and signed off by the town.

Peter Schick :                    Yup.

Jim Salmon:                      What happens many times is the contractor will say, “Nah, you get the permit,” and then the homeowners involved.

Peter Schick :                    They don’t necessarily know what they’re doing.

Jim Salmon:                      Right, then if there’s an impasse between the homeowner and the contractor, the contractor can walk away, and the homeowner is still responsible for everything to be in compliance. Sometimes these things can cost a lot of money to make it right.

Peter Schick :                    Oh yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s always best to have the contractor get the permit.

Peter Schick :                    Yup.

Jim Salmon:                      There are people that do things without permits. Now, I won’t say that I’m one of them.

Peter Schick :                    Uh-huh.

Jim Salmon:                      I like to keep the government out of my life as much as possible.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, you don’t wanna give them an excuse to start putting their nose in your business.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah but if it’s a safety thing, like wood stove installation, things like that. It’s very important to be done professionally.

Peter Schick :                    I agree.

Jim Salmon:                      And signed off on.

Peter Schick :                    I think a lot of people are sometimes reluctant to get permits because they feel like it’s a tax grab.

Jim Salmon:                      Mm-hmm.

Peter Schick :                    It’s kind of the way the city is now going to be able to reassess the work you’ve done and now they could reassess your property at a higher value. Higher value means higher taxes.

Jim Salmon:                      I know.

Peter Schick :                    Higher taxes, more money out of your pocket.

Jim Salmon:                      You gotta think that out.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, I think that fear that a lot of people have with the permitting process. But like you said, when it comes to the safety piece, that’s really what a lot of it is for, is the safety piece.

Jim Salmon:                      Right. Right. May not just be for that homeowner. You sell that house, you take a wall out, you don’t put the right beam in there, somebody else buys the house, moves in and the wall falls. That kind of stuff happens.

Peter Schick :                    Well, it could hurt you also when you try to resell it, when you try to sell it after you’ve done that work. It could come bite you in the butt.

Jim Salmon:                      There are four kinds, in my experience, there’s four kinds of homeowners that hire contractors.

There’s the person that says, “I don’t care much about anything. You just do your job, just do it, and whatever, I’m happy.” Then there’s the homeowner in the middle, “I wanna make sure I’m getting a good value, I wanna make sure that it’s being done and whatever.” And then there’s the picayune person that’s, “Wait a minute! There’s a nail in the driveway! Wait a minute! There’s a little part of this dry wall that wasn’t finished right.” And then, number four, is the insane person who is hovering over con-

Peter Schick :                    You will never make the insane person happy.

Jim Salmon:                      Oh my God!

Peter Schick :                    In business, I’ve had them, as far as a real estate agent, I’ve had those.

Jim Salmon:                      Oh, yeah?

Peter Schick :                    I think that’s just business in general, I think you could probably break it down into those four different categories.

Jim Salmon:                      Madison Avenue says that, in New York, that’s where all the advertising agencies are, they say that there’s seven percent of the people that hire people to do work that you can not satisfy under any circumstances whatsoever.

Peter Schick :                    Yup. That’s why a lot of companies when they say, “Hey, we shoot for 90 percent satisfaction rate,” and they say, “Hey, if we try to do 95 percent satisfaction rate, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.”

Jim Salmon:                      Right. Yeah.

Peter Schick :                    It’s gonna cost all this money to just get that extra five percent and what are you really getting out of it? Yeah, no, I totally see that.

Jim Salmon:                      One other aspect too is that, all right, say you have one of the nitpitcky wives that are living in this house.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Okay, and we’re doing, I don’t know, let’s just say we’re doing a kitchen remodel, okay. She’s not prepared for it, never been through it. She’s not prepared for drywall dust, stuff on the floor, I mean she’s an immaculate house keeper.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, once you actually start getting into it, she’s blaming you.

Jim Salmon:                      Right. She’s pulling her hair out ’cause her house is a mess. It might only be for two or three weeks while they’re doing a project. You have to really do your homework on that stuff as homeowner. You have to know that there’s going to be plastic hanging on your walls. It’s somewhat obtrusive, especially in the demolition phase.

Peter Schick :                    Yes. That’s very true. The homeowner needs to understand that but also the contractor needs to explain that, too, kind of walk through the process and understand, I would say almost in a way, they should have an idea that this person is probably picky to begin with. You should know within the first ten to fifteen minutes of talking to them. Heck, five minutes. I could tell when I’m talking  to a potential client, within five minutes I’ve a pretty good idea.

Jim Salmon:                      You’ve got a good idea.

Peter Schick :                    I’ve a pretty good idea what kind of person you are, like if you’re gonna be a pain in my butt, what the expectations are. I’ve a pretty good idea. I’ve sized you up. I think the contractors needs to do that as well. If they start seeing, hey, picky person, hey, you need to saturate them with information. You need to cut it off at the pass and make sure they fully understand the scope and everything else like you were discussing.

Jim Salmon:                      Some homeowners are just badgering their contractor get started. “Let’s get started! Let’s get started!” Okay, fine, we don’t have the cabinets in yet but we’ll be over and tear your house apart and do the demolition and now we’re sitting for three weeks. Use your head on that stuff.

Try not start that demolition until you have all the pieces ready to go.

Peter Schick :                    Exactly. There’s a reason for it.

Jim Salmon:                      And some of the stuff is custom ordered and you have to wait for it and whatever, you know.

Peter Schick :                    You have to look at it from the GC’s perspective here. They have a lot of moving parts they have to coordinate. It’s like an orchestra essentially that they’re trying to make happen. That comes down to just discussing the timeline. I totally agree. Somebody that’s impatient, they don’t totally understand all the pieces that actually go into that process.

Jim Salmon:                      I had a, I helped a friend of mine paint his house. I happened to have one of those old time Wagner power painters, right? This was just a little rental house, and it was a little ranch. He got five or ten gallons of just cheap house paint or whatever. I went over there to help him and we loaded it up, started spray painting. The wind was blowing fifteen miles an hour.

Peter Schick :                    Oh.

Jim Salmon:                      Lincoln Continental in the next driveway.

Peter Schick :                    Oh no! I see where this-

Jim Salmon:                      Spray paint all over, right? Be courteous to your neighbors when things are under construction.

Peter Schick :                    Yes.

Jim Salmon:                      Especially if you’re doing a landscape job or something.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Go talk to your neighbor and say, “Hey, this guy’s gonna be running around my house, regrading with a Bobcat. If we get a little bit on your lawn, I want you to know we’re gonna seed it and we’ll take care of it and whatever.” Be courteous to [inaudible 00:21:54]

Peter Schick :                    I wanna hear what happened about this paint issue.

Jim Salmon:                      I got in the car and ran. No. We wiped it right off. It took some mineral spears and wiped it right off.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, wow. You noticed it right away.

Jim Salmon:                      Oh, yeah.

Peter Schick :                    It wasn’t like the neighbor came to you like, “What the heck, Jim?! What are you doing?”

Jim Salmon:                      No. It was one of the biggest cluster f’s in my life. It was really funny.

Peter Schick :                    That’s great. That’s great. Oh boy.

Jim Salmon:                      One of the biggest mistakes, and I know I’ve said that like forty times already, ’cause there’s so many mistakes you can make.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      If you’re a homeowner and you hire a project done, especially building a new house, you have to be there and look at things.

Peter Schick :                    Like supervise.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, well, a lot of builders don’t want you involved in saying, “Hey, what’s with that?” Or “How come that’s there?” They don’t want you micromanaging it but if you aren’t there and observing-

Peter Schick :                    Observing. Observing.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah. If you’re not there and keeping an eye on things then when a problem happens, you don’t get to see things.

Peter Schick :                    Yup.

Jim Salmon:                      I’m a firm believer in taking pictures every day of a remodel.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah and just ask a few questions. Don’t be intrusive. You still have to hold them accountable to a certain, to the timeline and to the scope and to kind of like, “Explain to me.” I always try to have it where it’s almost a Socratic method, where I just ask questions, then they explain and I ask another question then another question. Then if I get kind of the warm and fuzzy, like okay, you know, they seem to, things seems to be handled here. Okay, cool, and then I’ll walk away.

Jim Salmon:                      And number forty two of things that happen …

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      We’re almost to the end of the project. There’s twenty things that you don’t like and that the contractor didn’t do right.

Peter Schick :                    The punch list, yep.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah. He didn’t finish this or than and the other thing. Now he’s coming at you and he wants to be paid. Standard, always owe as much as you possibly can-

Peter Schick :                    Towards the end.

Jim Salmon:                      At the end.

Peter Schick :                    Yep.

Jim Salmon:                      That way, in a nice way, you can walk through and take a little roll of that blue or green frog tape and you put a little piece here. This is missing, you need to work on this and you work the punch list and you get it done.

Peter Schick :                    Yup. I think that is the best way, you keep a certain amount towards the end. I can’t emphasize that enough because it’s not gonna be perfect. If you pay them everything before you’re fully satisfied, you’re not gonna ever be, chances are you’ll never be fully satisfied.

Jim Salmon:                      Right.

Peter Schick :                    They’re not gonna come back and do those. Always gotta hold a certain amount, as much as possible that you could agree upon towards the end.

Jim Salmon:                      If things become contentious between you and your contractor, here’s a couple of good suggestions. Never, ever meet him or her by yourself. Always have somebody else there.

Some of these guys are very good at what they do. They can rack stuff, they can rebuild it, they can build beautiful things but they have people skills that aren’t as good as they could be.

Peter Schick :                    Now, this is a big thing, yeah. A lot of contractors I’ve worked with, they might not be the best salesman but they’re awesome craftsman. That’s the thing. Sometimes the person who’s very technically inclined isn’t necessarily gonna be the person who’s awesome at pitching and selling something and vice versa. The person who’s awesome at pitching and selling something might not be the best craftsman, might not have those technical skills.

That’s why you see some of these guys who have salesmen, who take care of the issue, like you were talking about with the siding thing. The salesmen, they close it, and the craftsmen come in and they execute it accordingly.

Jim Salmon:                      I think there’s once in a while, there’s a situation that comes up where a contractor gets in your face. It happens a lot. I hear about it all the time.

Peter Schick :                    I hear about that.

Jim Salmon:                      “He scared me. He came at me and said that I need to write him a check right now.” Sometimes the people just do it just to get him away. That’s why you should never meet if there’s any contention at all, any friction between you and your contractor, you should always, always, always have somebody right there with you.

Peter Schick :                    Yup, have a disinterested third party.

Jim Salmon:                      It could be a friend or family member or something like that just so that you aren’t mistreated and it happens.

Peter Schick :                    It does.

Jim Salmon:                      Once that becomes an issue, you should immediately just ask the people to leave and work it out later.

One of the things that happen with people though is they’re not happy with the workmanship, they have a contract with the guy, and they say, “Outta here! I don’t want you here.” Okay, what you just did is you broke the contract because you have a contract between the contractor and you. The first thing they’re gonna say is, “Well, wanted to finish but they wouldn’t let me back in to do it.” So don’t do that kind of thing. I mean, if he gets physical or there’s a big problem, that’s another matter.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      And then you need an attorney to help you sort it out. We do a lot of these workmanship investigations and sometimes that kind of stuff comes up.

Peter Schick :                    You’ve done some inspections that were part of like workmanship kind of pieces?

Jim Salmon:                      Oh, hundreds.

Peter Schick :                    Really?

Jim Salmon:                      Hundreds. I mean-

Peter Schick :                    What’s the most common thing you usually see? Is there like a theme in terms of- What was the thing that was done where that typically was being investigated? Or?

Jim Salmon:                      Um, a lot of roofing.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, that’s, that’s [crosstalk 00:27:27]

Jim Salmon:                      Anybody can be in the roofing business-

Peter Schick :                    That’s very true.

Jim Salmon:                      Because there’s no licensing.

Peter Schick :                    Yup.

Jim Salmon:                      There’s no certification.

Peter Schick :                    I always say, I always say this. A hairstylist needs a license to operate in New York state but a roofer doesn’t.

Jim Salmon:                      Doesn’t.

Peter Schick :                    For whatever reason, I don’t know why but that’s how it rolls.

Jim Salmon:                      There’s some specialty roofing out there like stone coated steel metal roofing.

Peter Schick :                    Metal roofing, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      There are some giant companies out there that are hard sell companies and they broker these out to various metal roof crews that are not metal roof crews and they’re hatchet men. They’re absolutely horrible. There’s jagged edges and cuts.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      They leave ’em open at the bottom for bees to get in. You really need to know-

Peter Schick :                    They sub it out to the cheapest guy and the cheapest guy, like we were saying before, you have of course, bonding amount of quality for what’s being spent there.

Jim Salmon:                      This particular situation, the company is, the salespeople are salespeople extraordinaires. They’re not roofing folks, they’re professional sales people. When you call, say you call, and then say, “I’d like to get a price on a roof,” and they go through, “Okay, I can do it at the time, whatever. Now, you’re both going to be there right?”

“What do you mean?”

“The husband and the wife will be there at the same time ’cause we’re not gonna me with you.” They don’t want you to be able to say, “Okay, well, I’ll think about it.”

Peter Schick :                    I’ve got to talk to my spouse about this.

Jim Salmon:                      And that’s one of those little red flags that should go up. It’s important to do your homework.

The internet is a wonderful thing for negatives.

Peter Schick :                    It is. Now, we were talking about those four different types of customers. The person, that’s why you have to take some of the reviews that you see with a grain of salt, especially some of the negative ones.

Jim Salmon:                      Exactly.

Peter Schick :                    You have to put in a little more perspective ’cause sometimes it’s gonna be that fourth type of customer  we’re talking about that’s never gonna be happy and is just a hater.

Jim Salmon:                      Well, everybody can figure the seven percent. So, you know …

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, so, if you’re reading it, just try to take it with a grain of salt. See, hey, you know what, is this person just one of those seven percent that we’re talking about or does this actually sound legit? If your contractor actually gets a review like that, respond to it. Put it into context so when there is somebody who is reading that, they can kind of see the other side of the coin there. I see a lot of guys who don’t do that and that is actually critical to respond to negative reviews as well as positive reviews.

Jim Salmon:                      One of the most troubling situations that I run into is older folks trying to navigate the contractor world.

Peter Schick :                    Oh.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s very easy to be taken advantage of.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      I don’t want to assign an age to it ’cause everybody’s different. Certainly if you’re older and you live alone and you need something done, you should really involve an advocate person with you, too. There’s lots of them out there, free, or with a very small fee, or nothing be able to help you navigate the contractor world and stay out of trouble.

I did an investigation of a siding job a couple of years ago. The gentleman that sold the job is well known as one of the original Tin Men. You ever seen that movie?

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      He’s about as close to a weasel and a woodchuck as you could possibly get.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, wow.

Jim Salmon:                      He sold this eighty five year old gentleman, living by himself, this siding job. He would show up every few days and try to get another 5,000 dollar check from him. He wound up getting like 25,000 dollars on a 14,000 dollar siding job.

Peter Schick :                    Ah, geez.

Jim Salmon:                      The guy gets confused a little bit.

Peter Schick :                    Is it because he’s an older guy?

Jim Salmon:                      That’s what this situation was.

Peter Schick :                    Ah! That’s-

Jim Salmon:                      Most older folks- and I’m getting older too, I’m sixty.

Peter Schick :                    When were you born, like in the 50’s?

Jim Salmon:                      In the 50’s! Yes!

Peter Schick :                    Eisenhower was president!

Jim Salmon:                      Everybody wants to think that they can still drive their car and they can manage their affairs on their own. They don’t want their kids involved in their finances and I get all that.

Peter Schick :                    It’s a pride thing.

Jim Salmon:                      Right. It is. It is very much a pride thing. When it comes to this kind of work, it doesn’t hurt to have a second opinion or someone to help advocate for you. We do a lot of that in my office.

Peter Schick :                    I agree. I think that’s a big piece, that’s a really big piece there. Especially if you’re older, having a family member there like your kids or whoever there as well.

Jim Salmon:                      You think we’ve covered this?

Peter Schick :                    I think we have.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s a great topic.

Peter Schick :                    It’s a really important topic.

Jim Salmon:                      If you’d like to weigh in or send us an email on it, Peter’s gonna tell you how to get a hold us of here at the houseofwork.com Home Repair Clinic Podcast.

Peter Schick :                    Please email us if you have any questions, comments, or any suggestion at [email protected]

Jim Salmon:                      Another houseatwork.com Home Repair Clinic podcast in the can. We’ll see you next time right here.

Ep 7: Rental Property Considerations

House At Work Home Repair Clinic

Jim and Peter discuss common problems experienced by owners of rental properties.

Do you have a home improvement question? Email us at [email protected] and we will do our best to get it answered for you! Do you need help with a home improvement project and live in the upstate New York region? Go to www.houseatwork.com and click “Find Contractors“.

Jim:                      Hello everybody, and welcome to the HouseAtWork.com Home Repair Clinic podcast. Jim Salmon here along with …

Peter:                   Peter Schick.

Jim:                      How are you today?

Peter:                   Doing good, doing good. Another day, another day.

Jim:                      You know, we were going to talk about rental … We’ve dabbled in it, a little bit. About rental property and the landlord business. Everybody in America wants to be a landlord.

Peter:                   Yep.

Jim:                      “Oh, instant millionaires!” You know?

Peter:                   Yeah, everybody says that but there’s a lot more to it, and we’re gonna get into that. There’s a lot more that goes into being a landlord, buying rental properties. Some of the considerations you have to take. I’ve had some as well, I don’t know about you, Jim.

Jim:                      I have one rental property right now. I have divorced myself of that whole business.

Peter:                   (laughs)

Jim:                      But I have one. And okay, the tenants been there forever, and they pay.

Peter:                   Yeah, why not?

Jim:                      And I did all the modernizations years ago, so I’m good. I make money on it. But it’s not for everybody.

Peter:                   No, it’s not.

Jim:                      As a home inspector, I do a lot of inspections on doubles, triples, four families, big apartment complexes.

Peter:                   Yeah, big commercial complexes. Yeah.

Jim:                      And even, like, a double. People don’t realize the minute they buy that house that has a tenant in it, they’re responsible for a hundred things. The locks on the door, for instance. You know, when a house changes hands …

Peter:                   You’ve gotta change the locks!

Jim:                      You change the locks. If you don’t, you don’t know who has keys.

Peter:                   Exactly.

Jim:                      I mean, that’s a no brainer. If somebody breaks into somebody’s house, the day of closing, you now own it. They’re suing you for five grand, for their stuff is gone. And, you get into court and the first thing the judge says is, “Well, did you have control of the keys?”

“Well, no. I was gonna get to it.”

Boom, done. You’re guilty.

Peter:                   Yep. Boom.

Jim:                      And the same thing goes for safety issues. How many times every year do you see a video of a house fire where they’re going through, and the smoke alarm is hanging down?

Peter:                   Yeah, they don’t check the fire alarms, or the smoke alarms, or even something as simple as people slipping on the sidewalk. Or on the stairway, or something. Anything like that you can be held liable. Well, not trying to scare anybody from it, but just realize there’s risks associated.

Jim:                      No, we’re just trying to lower the price of property so we can buy them.

Peter:                   Yeah, exactly.

Jim:                      One of the things too, that I tell all my clients buying rental property is that, well, first of all smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors. And there should be a fire extinguisher mounted to the wall in every kitchen.

Peter:                   Yep. I provide that for each one of the units, is they have a fire extinguisher. Say, “Hey, keep this in the kitchen here.” I should have a wall mount for it, but typically I’ll come and visit them every now and then, and I’ll see it in there. They’re usually pretty good with it.

Jim:                      You know, I love it when I’m going through and inspecting a building that’s a rental property, my client buying it is there, and typically the person… Sometimes the person that’s selling, not the real estate agent, but the guy that actually owns it now that’s selling it is there too. And you walk into a house where the utilities are half separated. The people pay for the gas …

Peter:                   (laughs) They’re paying for somebody else’s!

Jim:                      Yeah, they pay for gas, heat for their furnace. But the electrical isn’t separated, so it’s electrical for the whole building. Landlord pays electrical.

Peter:                   So, it would be … I’ve seen it where you have, say, it’s a duplex. And then you have the electric separated quote, unquote. But, you’ll have one of the units have electric that has like, plugs that’s attached to the other units.

Jim:                      The other side, that’s shared metering.

Peter:                   Yes.

Jim:                      And that can be an expensive proposition.

Peter:                   Yes, it can.

Jim:                      To change, or if somebody discovers it, how do you litigate who owes who what?

Peter:                   Exactly.

Jim:                      But the one that I love the most is that the gas is separated. So, there’s just … Say, it’s a double. There’s two gas furnaces, two gas meters. So everybody pays their own. But there’s one electric service for the house, and the landlord pays the electric as part of the rent. So I go in there and on one side, there’s five electric wall heaters plugged in.

Peter:                   Oh, yeah, and the windows open.

I mean, you’re setting yourself up as a landlord to just get screwed over if you are the one whose paying the electric, or even sometimes the heat. Like, “Let me turn the heat all the way up to 80 in the middle of the winter, and then leave the windows open and everything else.”

Jim:                      Yeah, people just … when they’re not responsible for the buck, they don’t give a rats rear end.

Peter:                   Yeah, they don’t care. They will just totally, yeah. You’re paying for it, so they could care less as far as they’re concerned.

Jim:                      The other thing with being a landlord. Do you allow pets, or don’t.

Peter:                   Yeah. That’s actually and interesting question, because I’ve had it where I’ve allowed pets, and there’s been times where it hasn’t been an issue. And then there’s been times where I really, really, really regretted it. And it’s kind of a case by case basis.

And the reason it’s case by case, usually I meet … It’s really how I feel about the tenant, like what the price point is for the apartment. If they’re somebody who seems responsible, who has a good job, who … It’s not a puppy, that’s a big thing. Like if it’s a puppy, or a young animal. A kitten or something.

And guess what, it’s gonna learn how to get housebroken in your place. And that’s gonna cause issues.

Jim:                      You don’t want that.

Peter:                   Yeah.

Jim:                      If an apartment has hardwood floors or something, it’s easier to repaint.

Peter:                   Yeah, it’s much easier.

Jim:                      Carpeting? Forget about it. Animals ruin carpet.

Peter:                   Yeah, forget about it. They destroy it.

Jim:                      Permanently.

Peter:                   My animals destroy my carpet. (laughs) I mean, I have to replace some of my carpet because of them. Yeah, no, it’s pretty case by case. Like, if I get a good feel for it and I meet the animal. If I do accept it, I wanna meet the animals kind of deal.

Because I don’t want make sure there’s some vicious … I’m letting some vicious dog or something stay in my house. I wanna make sure it’s personable, and it’s older, and it’s everything else.

Jim:                      One of the real important things, if you’re getting into the landlord business, is to be somewhat hands on. To be visible there. It’s the one where people run into trouble. Where the guy lives in California that owns this building, and they have property management companies.

Peter:                   Now, there’s a lot I need to … I could talk about this all day, especially with these guys who have property management companies that are running their stuff. These property management companies, they’re incentivized for turnover in many ways. So, say I live in California. I have an apartment complex in, I don’t know, Detroit or whatever.

Most property management companies, they get paid to fill the unit, and then they get paid to evict a tenant. And then they’re getting paid between eight to ten percent of your gross, whatever you make on it. So, if they just keep kicking out a tenant, putting in a new one, kicking out a tenant, putting in a new one …

Jim:                      They’re making a fortune.

Peter:                   Oh, yeah. They’re making money hand over first while the person who owns it, they’re getting screwed. I see that all the time. I mean, it’s like it is kind of a perverse incentive they have, to have a lot of turnover.

And that wears on the place, and that causes all sorts of other issues as well.

Jim:                      I’ve been in a couple of houses where … A four family particularly comes to mind, and so I’m over there doing the inspection. I go through three of the apartments, and I get to the fourth one and there’s police tape on the door.

Peter:                   Oh, jeez.

Jim:                      Meth lab.

Peter:                   (laughs)

Jim:                      Former meth lab.

Peter:                   Are you joking me?

Jim:                      No, I’m not! I’m dead serious.

Peter:                   A meth lab. Like, there’s a ‘Breaking Bad’ meth lab. Oh, wow.

Jim:                      Like, “I’m not going in there! This home inspection stops right here at that door! I’m not going in there.”

Peter:                   Done.

Jim:                      Well, first of all I know nothing about drugs. I mean, give me drugs, I’m not into that.

Peter:                   Yeah.

Jim:                      But the chemicals and things they use contaminate everything!

Peter:                   Oh, yeah. That’s done.

Jim:                      I mean it’s the walls, the carpeting.

Peter:                   That could contaminate the entire house. Actually, from what I understand, that kind of puts it in a strange legal standing, the ownership of that house.

Jim:                      Yeah, there are some states that the real estate folks are not even required to, even if they know about that stuff, they’re not required to. But an ethical person would, I mean, you wouldn’t want to not tell somebody that.

Peter:                   I wonder what the court case that actually created that, in some states, where it requires you …

Jim:                      We live in interesting times.

Peter:                   Yeah, how did it get to that point, you know?

Jim:                      Well, we live here in and around Rochester, New York and the city of Rochester is anti-business. There’s no question about it. Right down the middle.

Peter:                   Well, it’s really high taxes is what it is. The property taxes are incredible here. Monroe Country, it’s like four percent. I mean, that’s almost unheard of anywhere.

Jim:                      I will say, within a mile of this building we’re in, there’s gotta be fifty zombie houses.

Peter:                   Oh, yeah. Maybe even more.

Jim:                      You don’t have the incentive to buy them, to fix them up, to rent them. Because the city comes down on you with a thumb like crazy. Then we have this thing here called the net office. And I look at that as nothing more than jackbooted thugs, I mean they’re nuts. Those people are crazy. And all they want to do is live out some dictatorship type of thing. I just wanna choke them all!

Peter:                   Why don’t you tell us how you really feel, Jim?

Jim:                      Drive me nuts.

Peter:                   What gets me is that we want to create, and we’re getting into some of the local stuff. We’ll move on quickly. I just want to state one point that I’ve noticed is they keep wanting to create more housing. It’s like, “If you build it, they will come.”

If we make this really nice apartment, really nice condos over here, it’s going to make the neighborhood better.

And it’s not housing shortage here, I think there’s plenty of housing. I mean, it’s just a matter of an economic thing. It’s a matter of bring more jobs here, so then there is more demand for housing.

That’s one of the things I’ve seen.

Jim:                      Alright. You know what, right now I’ll leave that one alone.

Peter:                   We’re gonna go off on it, I wanna hear. It’s another one of those money taking schemes that you were talking about.

Jim:                      I don’t know about you, but I have a fair amount of pride in my house.

Peter:                   Oh, yeah.

Jim:                      And, you know, I have my …

Peter:                   You have to, that’s your castle, you know?

Jim:                      I have my wife mow the lawn frequently.

Peter:                   (laughs)

Jim:                      And I take pride in it. And when I come up on a house where clearly pigs live here …

Peter:                   Oh, yeah.

Jim:                      … And it drives me nuts! I get there to do a home inspection, there’s dishes piled up to the ceiling, place is a mess.

Peter:                   That’s even worse with multi families, because like we had eluded to earlier, if somebody’s not there it’s like, “What do I care?”

And some of these people, it’s so bad. Where, okay, yeah. Say I do keep the security deposit, that’s not gonna cover the damage a lot of the time that you’ll see when somebody lives like that.

Jim:                      I come to a house and it looked like wallabys lived there, and it’s torn up. Everything’s a mess, there’s junk all over the place. And there’s a sign that says, “Please remove your shoes.”

I don’t think so.

Peter:                   Yeah, I’m gonna step on something.

Jim:                      You know as a landlord, what I see happen all the time especially in the lower income rentals is people get in trouble a lot. I go to court a lot and testify for people, and sometimes I have to sit through a bunch of landlord/tenant stuff downtown.

Peter:                   Yeah.

Jim:                      And municipal court and it’s like, sometimes the system breaks down, and people don’t have money to pay and whatever. But they’ll put out every stop. Like, “I can’t afford my rent, but there’s lead paint here and it’s all friable and I’m having my kid tested for lead.”

So it’s going back and forth.

Peter:                   See, the thing is with the lead piece, it’s the disclosure. You just have to let the tenants know a lot of the times. Part of federal law, where it’s, you give them that little pamphlet. Like, “Hey, this is how you deal with lead.”

If your house is built before 1978. It’s 1978, right?

Jim:                      Yeah.

Peter:                   Yeah, if it’s built before then, there’s a chance that there’s lead. You just have to have them sign that disclosure and give them the packet and be like, “Hey, look. There could be lead paint here, just FYI. If we have any tests, here’s the tests.”

But that doesn’t necessarily stop somebody from trying to twist it around.

Jim:                      What they do is that if they get behind, sometimes they’ll try to do anything they can to stave off the eviction deal. So they’ll call the net office and say, “There’s friable lead here! The window seals are all peeling, my kids are here, and I found my kid playing with a paint chip.”

And the other thing is asbestos. And there’s a ton of that out there.

Peter:                   Yes, you see that wrapped around pipes and everything else. I’ve seen that in a bunch of the places I’ve been in.

Jim:                      So, that’s a tough one.

Peter:                   I mean, as long as you can seal it. A lot of the time that’s the big thing. It’s not necessarily abatement of the asbestos, it’s especially around pipes. If you just seal it, get somebody to seal it, exactly.

Jim:                      There’s paints, there’s approved encapsulating tapes that you can use.

Peter:                   Yeah.

Jim:                      They’re clear, we’re not trying to hide that it’s here, but we’ve encapsulated it. That’s fine.

You know, one of the things too that drives me nuts is a lot of these buildings have old windows. Single strength glass windows.

Peter:                   Yep.

Jim:                      From the 50’s, 40’s, 30’s, 20’s, whatever.

Peter:                   Oh, yeah. I’ve seen that. I have one of mine that is still like that, yeah.

Jim:                      And they’re all painted shut.

Peter:                   (laughs) Well, they do that because of the certificate of occupancy. Because a lot of the time the inspector is going to go in there, and that is where they look for the chipped paint.

Jim:                      No peeling paint!

Peter:                   Yeah, and so they’re like, “Well, maybe if I just paint it shut they’re not gonna look in there.”

That doesn’t really solve the problem, you know?

Jim:                      When I walk in a building, my main concern for all my clients is security. That’s the number one thing.

Peter:                   Yeah, of course.

Jim:                      Safety and security.

Peter:                   That comes first.

Jim:                      So I’m thinking, there’s a house fire in the kitchen. The only door to get out in that area of the house is the kitchen door, so you’re not going that way. The house is on fire, it’s full of smoke, whatever. You go over and the windows are all painted shut, you can’t get out any of them.

So, what I tell everybody is that I want to see that window open and operating. Now, I don’t care if you go and buy a new vinyl replacement window. That up to you if you want to do that.

Peter:                   Yep.

Jim:                      But, that’s gotta be operating. You’ve got to be able to get out the windows in an emergency.

Peter:                   I agree you have to have that. And that’s just people cutting corners from what I’ve seen.

And to get, I know here in Rochester, to get that certificate of occupancy you need to have the operating windows. That’s not just your standard, that’s also the city standard. And like I said, I just think that people try to bypass. Because it a lot of work to scrape all that paint, and then repaint it.

Because you have to take apart the window to be able to do that, a lot of the time.

Jim:                      Yeah, it’s terrible. And you still have a window with an R value of .5, and your cheapest vinyl replacement window starts at 3.0, so it’s …

Peter:                   Yeah, you know, you’re losing heat on it, and it’s just all around a big issue. So people are just, “Oh, I’m just gonna paint it shut.”

Jim:                      I think that eventually the code will, and we’re very close to this in New York State now, that sprinkler systems will be required for certain multi family homes.

Peter:                   Like how many units?

Jim:                      I don’t know specifically on that, but I’ll have the crack staff at Home Repair Clinic … Get back to the wonderful staff at HouseAtWork.com.

Peter:                   I’ll take a look, I’ll do some research on my end.

Jim:                      Yeah, we’ll research that.

Peter:                   Because that’s interesting. Because that adds another whole can of beans that you have to consider, for the larger units.

Jim:                      Many times I come to inspect a rental property for somebody, whether it’s a double, triple, whatever it is. And the utilities aren’t separated, so it can be expensive to do electrical. It can be expensive to do gas.

Peter:                   And that’s going to make it harder to sell, because that’s another liability that the landlord’s gonna have to put up with. They’re going to be covering that, and it’s going to come from somewhere.

Jim:                      And the building’s for sale, the guy’s had it for 20 years. He’s milked it like a sow, and then he’s done nothing to it.

Peter:                   Oh, jeez.

Jim:                      The fire escapes are all rusted and loose.

Peter:                   Yeah, seen that.

Jim:                      And my client isn’t requiring the current owner to get the certificate of occupancy needed by the city, at closing. And I’m looking at him going, “Have you lost your mind?”

Peter:                   I don’t understand that. I don’t understand that. I have people who don’t even do engineer’s inspections who’re like, “Hey, this is a 20 unit building. Yeah, you know, no engineers inspection.” I just kind of have to do a facepalm. I don’t understand why, I don’t even know if I want to really ask, whatever.

But it really confuses me because I can’t even imagine myself throwing down like seven figures for a place, or more, and not even doing an inspection. Whatever, different strokes, different folks.

Jim:                      And if you’re buying, it’s normally accepted, say it was built in the 50’s. Just for the sake of a time frame. And now, the first 20 years the bathrooms and kitchens, we came up to 1970, and ’70, ’75 when they were remolded. So now we’re way into the 2000’s and they still have these 1970 kitchens and bathrooms in there, it’s time to upgrade them.

And if you’re buying a building with 30 units, it could easily …

Peter:                   You’re looking at five to ten for each of one of those units. Five to ten grand.

Jim:                      Right, exactly. I mean, that’s a monumental amount of money to spend to upgrade these.

Now, you might be able to take the rent from 800 to 1200, and that’s a whole nother matter. But still, it’s like any other investment you have keep it going.

Peter:                   You have to put a little back into it to get more. And one of the things that I’ve seen, from working with clients or people who are interested in buying rental properties, or income properties. Or whatever you want to call them is they say, “Well, I want it in a really nice neighborhood.” But they always want a really high cap rate, so a really high ROI.

It makes like, “I wanna see like a 10, 15 percent cap rate on that.” You mean, it’s just gonna make 10 to 15 percent of it’s value every year. And you’re just not gonna have it in a really nice area.

Jim:                      Yeah, very rare.

Peter:                   It’s risk, reward. It’s that balance. If you want really high returns, you’re going to take a lot of risk. If you don’t want to take a lot of risk, you’re not going to get very high returns. And that’s a pretty fundamental things that I always feel like I have to educate clients on.

And they’re like, “Oh, well, I want really high returns!”

I’m like, “Look. Are you fine with being a slumlord? If you’re fine with that, and you’re fine with taking on a lot of risk. Somebody maybe tearing out all the copper piping in your duplex.”

Like, one day I could show you a bunch of places.

Jim:                      There you go.

Peter:                   But, I don’t know if you really wanna take that. Because it’s a bit deceptive, those high returns. Because you’re going to be spending a lot more in maintenance, you’re going to be spending a lot more in turnover. You’re going to be spending a lot of money on pretty much all of those little ankle biting issues that you’re gonna have, if you own a place like that.

Jim:                      The one I like the best is the guy or gal buying their first rental property.

Peter:                   It’s a trial by fire.

Jim:                      Exactly. Some are good, some have done their homework. But my best advice to people like that is go downtown to your courthouse in the city. And go into landlord/tenant court, and just sit there for a day and watch what happens. You get a big time education.

It’s very difficult to collect money sometimes if somebody hasn’t paid you, they go back and plead with the judge. I mean, they could be there months.

Peter:                   Oh, yeah.

Jim:                      And now they’re just accumulating all this debt with you.

Peter:                   I could tell you a million different stories about nightmares with tenants. One of them was in our previous episode, about mine.

Jim:                      That was a great one, yeah.

Peter:                   That one, and that just focuses. That makes me want to bring up the point, you have to screen, screen, screen. Alright? You have to check the credit, you have to check their income.

Now, a way to check income. Say, it’s like a one bedroom. For like 600 a month, that individual should be making around 1800 a month in take home income for them to qualify.

So that’s one of the things that a lot of people don’t understand. If they’re spending over half their paycheck on their rent, chances are they’re going to default on you.

Jim:                      At some point, some emergency is gonna happen, or whatever.

Peter:                   Yeah, something is gonna happen and you know what? They’re not gonna prioritize you. They’re gonna prioritize whatever else they have going on in their lives.

So, no more than a third of their income should be going towards rent. And dependent on the kind of unit, the credit score piece could be flexible. If it’s a really nice unit, I’d say above 650, 700. But if you’re starting to look at something that’s, ahhh, I’m usually above 600 I’ll go for that.

But there’s no hard and fast rules. I’ve heard a bunch of people like, “Oh, I don’t take over 700.” But the thing is, is that if you do have a really good credit score, why are you renting to begin with?

You could buy your own house, kind of deal. So it runs into some other issues.

Jim:                      Well, some people don’t want the responsibility or they’re short termers in a certain area, or something.

Peter:                   That’s true.

Jim:                      But you’re right on that. You know, nightmare scenario, the landlord number 12, is you rent to somebody and the next week there’s like six people living there.

Peter:                   (laughs) I’ve had that happen.

Jim:                      That’s a nightmare.

Peter:                   And, the thing was, he was a former military guy.

Jim:                      There’s a trend, there.

Peter:                   Well, actually, I’ll say this. These guys are the bad apples. This is the one bad apple. The other guys, one was an active duty recruiter I rented to. He was amazing. I mean, he paid on time, very clean and everything.

I had another active duty navy guy. Awesome, great dude. This guy, he retired, and he was from the army. And he lived with his girlfriend, and the next thing I know, his cousins living there.

Jim:                      Yeah.

Peter:                   And his brother. And I’m like, “Hey, man. You just, you gotta move on.”

Jim:                      You gotta have a good lease to cover that stuff.

Peter:                   And I’m like, “Look, your lease is expiring here really soon, so I don’t feel like I’m going to renew you. This isn’t working out.”

Jim:                      Boy, I’ll tell you. You can tax a building services too, to a horrible level, when you have so many people in a building like that. And it’s not designed for that stuff.

Peter:                   And the thing was, I started seeing these people moving in the last few months of their lease. And I’m like, “Okay, this is … I see where this is going.” You know? Just gonna cut this off before it gets any worse, here.

Jim:                      Well, I think that you cannot be squeamish as a landlord. You have to be … There’s two types of people in the world. There’s type A people and type B. And there’s a few type AAA people.

Peter:                   (laughs)

Jim:                      Which are ultra whatever. A type B person, laid back, non-confrontational. Doesn’t make a good landlord.

Peter:                   No, you’re gonna get stepped on.

Jim:                      You need to know what you’re doing with this.

And I’m not trying to talk anybody out of it, because there’s lots of good opportunities there. It’s a business decision like anything else.

Peter:                   Yep.

Jim:                      But, the city’s against you, the tenants against you, everybody’s against you. Your insurance company’s against you.

Peter:                   It’s all about finding the right person, I find. If I can actually get along with the person, and they make good money, and they have good credit, it’s gonna be fine most times.

What I’ve seen … actually, I have one of my places. The two tenants are very good tenants, but they don’t get along with each other. And now I start getting …

Jim:                      Yeah, that can be really bad.

Peter:                   Now I’m getting stuck in this stupid shouting match between these guys. It’s like, “You know what, can you be adults?” (laughs) “Can you just kind of work things out?”

Yeah, it gets annoying.

Jim:                      One of the things that drives me crazy. Say, you have a little house in the city. It’s a one family house and you rent it, okay?

Peter:                   Yep.

Jim:                      So you rent it out, and you tell the guy, “Okay, new lease. It says you’re responsible for the lawn maintenance. You’re responsible for your own snow removal.”

Peter:                   Yep.

Jim:                      Like, “It’s your house.”

Peter:                   What I really like is if you say, “Hey, you’re responsible for your snow removal.” Oh, then the first big snow comes and it’s like, “Well, are you gonna come here? Is a plow coming?” No, man.

Jim:                      No plow, you’re the plow.

Peter:                   We talked about this, dude. Yeah, get your shovel, bro.

Jim:                      But you know, in the city if you let your lawn grow they’ll give you a ticket.

Peter:                   Yep.

Jim:                      I had a house once where I would routinely park on the lawn. It was my own house, I wanna park on my own lawn.

Peter:                   Yeah, exactly, why not?

Jim:                      And I got a ticket. From the net office.

Peter:                   (laughs)

Jim:                      You can’t park on your lawn, you can’t.

Peter:                   You’re gonna tell me what I can do? Oh, yeah.

Jim:                      If we were on my radio program I would have my producer pull up these machine gun sound effects, and explosion sound effects. I’d go nuts! I mean, it’s nuts.

Peter:                   I don’t understand why you can’t do that, park on your own lawn.

Jim:                      It’s … I don’t know.

Peter:                   I can understand like, you’re not pulling apart a car and you have all the car parts all over your lawn or something.

Jim:                      That’s where it all starts, I think. Working on cars in the road, and out in front of houses and that kind of thing.

Peter:                   Yeah, I’m sure something happened. Somebody got hurt, and then here we go.

Jim:                      The problem with that deal, was Mrs. Peabody Nosey kept calling the net office and saying, “They’re parking in the front yard again!” Well, you know, I think she just disappeared one day. And I didn’t do it.

Peter:                   There’s always people like that where like, “Oh, you can’t do this.” I’ve actually been called about almost the exact same thing. I had a tenant who parked his motorcycle on the lawn, and the people from across the street called in on that.

A motorcycle, you know, really.

Jim:                      There was an incident not too long ago that I got involved in. I get involved in some landlord/tenant stuff, too. Somebody will hire me to prove something one way, or whatever. So, I get over there and it’s a 30 unit apartment. Old building.

Peter:                   Yep.

Jim:                      The people that own it, I know them. THey’re good folks, and they run a nice, tight ship. Good maintenance. They do it how I’d like to see it done. And there’s a fence between their parking lot, and the house behind them.

And this fence was an old fence, it was 25 years old. It was kind of in dispute who really owned the fence.

Peter:                   Yeah, it was kind of right on the line. You weren’t sure which one it was.

Jim:                      But the people in the house said it was their fence.

Peter:                   I see.

Jim:                      So, these folks had their parking lot repaved. And somehow the guy that owned the house, said that the fence is now leaning over. That the paver guys ruined his fence. Of course, the people that owned the building said, “No, that fence has been like that forever.”

So I go over there and I analyze it, take pictures, write a report and all that. And then they go to court, and it’s a horrible situation.

Peter:                   He said, she said, that’s all.

Jim:                      Yeah, but the system is stacked against business people in the cities. Period. I don’t care what city it is.

And I know it is here. Well aware of that.

Peter:                   And they’re tenant friendly, is often what it is.

Jim:                      Tenant friendly this, as far as I’m concerned.

Peter:                   Yeah.

Jim:                      First of all …

Peter:                   I’m not saying I agree with it. I don’t like it any more than you do.

Jim:                      Perhaps I did go over the top with that. But, you know, it is one of those things where business is always evil. As far as, not getting into politics at all, but a lot of these cities are run by folks that believe that people should have everything handed to them.

Peter:                   And you don’t earn it.

Jim:                      And I’m not on that, I’m not on that plane. But these things sometimes it’s preconceived deal. You go to court even with good information and you end up losing, so.

Peter:                   Yeah. I can’t even understand why they would even hire you about the fence thing. I don’t want, say, you hire a surveyor to figure out whose fence it actually is. Because that alone even seems like it’s in dispute.

Jim:                      What happened was they went to court and lost the first time. Then they appealed.

Peter:                   Oh, jeez.

Jim:                      And when you go to appeal, the judge isn’t really judging the case again. She’s judging the judge, and how the previous judge handled the case.

Peter:                   Yeah, I see.

Jim:                      And this particular judge that they pulled downtown, I’d been in front of her ten times. She’s insane. But I have to give her credit, she will not let those people leave without solving this.

What happened was, at the bottom line of the fence was the folks that owned the property agreed to replace the fence, and then take ownership of it.

Peter:                   I see.

Jim:                      And the other guy doesn’t have to worry about it. He gets a new fence to look at, whatever.

Peter:                   There you go.

Jim:                      They solved it, my folks had to pay money obviously, for a fence. But there was no monetary award then.

Peter:                   Oh, okay.

Jim:                      They sued them for 3,000 dollars or so in small claims court.

Peter:                   Oh, jeez.

Jim:                      So it was, you know. But that judge is … Well, you know. Interesting. Let’s put it that way.

Peter:                   You do have some interesting judges in Rochester.

Jim:                      Yeah, there’s an old guy that is a judge. He’s way in his 80’s, he’s part time. And it’s downtown in the city. It’s a real court. But he is wonderful.

He listens to my radio show, so every time I go in there to testify for somebody.

“Hey, Jim! How yeah doing?”

And of course the other sides looking over like, “Hey, that ain’t right.”

Peter:                   We want want another judge, yeah.

Jim:                      Pretty funny. So, you know, the bottom line with landlord/tenant relationships is building relationships.

Peter:                   Yeah, exactly.

Jim:                      And you’re a pretty easy going guy.

Peter:                   That is the key. That is the key, is building that relationship. It’s having that report. Because if they look at it as, it’s a transactional piece, they’re not going to really care that much about actually taking care of your property.

If they feel like, “Hey, I respect this person and I almost consider them my friend. But it’s not like a friend-friend, buddy, whatever.” It’s like, “Hey, I actually kind of respect you, and I understand you.”

They’re not gonna destroy your stuff. Well, most cases. If you have a good report, good relationship, they respect you, it’s gonna be fine. 90 percent of the time I would say.

Jim:                      You know what happens, though, too. This is a business.

Peter:                   Yep.

Jim:                      Being a landlord’s a business, and sometimes a landlord will become too close of a friend.

Peter:                   That’s why I was trying to put that emphasis.

Jim:                      Going over and drinking with somebody, or whatever.

Peter:                   No, it’s almost like a professional relationship.

Jim:                      Horrible, horrible thing to let that happen.

Peter:                   I would say it’s a professional relationship. In many ways. It’s like having a good relationship with your boss.

You know, I’d rather have a good relationship with my boss than a bad relationship.

So I’d rather have a good relationship with my tenant, but not a bad one.

Jim:                      There you go.

Peter:                   And it’s kind of like you mentioned right there, like I’m not going to go drinking beers with you and all that noise.

But, I’d rather have there be mutual respect. Because that’s going to carry on in how they treat my property, and the place they live.

Jim:                      And the very, very worst thing that you can do. Say you’re a single guy. You have properties. Is to start a relationship with a single woman, or a woman with kids, living in one of your apartments.

Peter:                   Ah, yeah.

Jim:                      Oh my God. Those are extremely explosive situations.

Peter:                   Oh, boy. Yeah, you’re getting everything tangled in that.

Jim:                      “Where’s your rent?!”

Peter:                   It’s like, I gotta put my landlord had on. Jesus.

Jim:                      That’s horrible.

Peter:                   And you know what? You get yourself in that situation, I mean …

Jim:                      You deserve what you get.

Peter:                   Yeah, you had it coming.

Jim:                      It’s like owning a bar. You don’t drink in your own bar. You just don’t do that.

Peter:                   Yeah, if you like to drink a lot. You probably shouldn’t own a bar to begin with.

Jim:                      (laughs) Good advice.

Peter:                   That’s how I see it.

Jim:                      Well, buddy, we’ve reached the end of this wonderful HouseAtWork.com Home Repair Clinic podcast. And, hope everybody enjoyed that. Peter’s going to give you the email address if you’d like to weigh in, you’re more than welcome to send us an email with suggestions for topics. Or a particular specific question about something, you’re more than welcome to do that.

Peter:                   Yeah, go ahead and email us at [email protected]

Jim:       Hey, thanks for listening. We’ll see you again down the road for the next HouseAtWork Home Repair Clinic podcast.

Ep 6: Most Interesting Stories From Home Inspecting and Real Estate

House At Work Home Repair Clinic

In Episode 6 Jim and Peter discuss some of the most interesting stories they have encountered in their careers a home inspector and as a real estate agent.

Do you have a home improvement question? Email us at [email protected] and we will do our best to get it answered for you! Do you need help with a home improvement project and live in the upstate New York region? Go to www.houseatwork.com and click “Find Contractors“.

Jim Salmon:                      Hello everybody and welcome to the HouseatWork.com Home Repair Clinic podcast. Jim Salmon here.

Peter Schick :                    Peter Schick here.

Jim Salmon:                      How are you today?

Peter Schick :                    You know, I’m doing good. I’m doing good. I can’t complain.

Jim Salmon:                      Weather’s hot, and it’s a good time for home repair. Now, I love it when you send me a little text during the week and you say, “Hey, what about this podcast? Can we…”. Well this is a great idea. Home inspector stories, which come from me, and real estate agent stories, which come from you.

We covered the whole fight between the two, but these are actual examples of great stuff that has happened to me and happened to you over time. Now who wants to start, you?

Peter Schick :                    Well, first thing I wanted to do was some of our listeners had sent us some emails, and so if you recall the wet basement episode, we had a listener, his name’s Joe. He had a question for us. Here it is. It says, “Hello, I usually catch a show on WAM radio, and I just listened to your wet basement podcast. Great stuff. Guess what? I have a wet basement that really needs help. The house is near Salmon River in Polosky. It sits for the most part on top of a hill, but there’s water running through the basement. Most of the year I can actually see a current in the channel. I am installing new gutters and grading, but I am also thinking that I want to install drainage tile so that I am not just diverting the water to a different part of the yard, or worse, I don’t want it to flood my septic tank. My question is how deep should I place the drainage tile? I’m planning on using six inch perforated black polyline. The soil in that area is sandy loom. Should I also backfill the trench with some stone before filling it back in with soil?”

Jim Salmon:                      That’s a tough one because sand allows water penetration quicker and faster than anything else. Clay, not so much. Sand just passes through. It’s like the bottom of an aquarium. The right thing to do is go to the bottom of the foundation. With sand, you’ve got to dig yourself a 12 foot hole out. It’s not like you can just dig a trench, put it in and fill it back up again. The problem is water passes through the sand at a pretty good clip, and if you don’t get all the way down then you’re wasting your time. If you put it down two feet or whatever, you’ll get a little bit from runoff and whatever, but it’s not gonna do the job.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, I agree.

Jim Salmon:                      When you hire a landscaper guy to lay these things out, to use a transit, they figure out where it should go, he’s right. You don’t want it anywhere near your leech field, or your septic area. I see it all the time.

Peter Schick :                    Oh yeah, then you have a host of other issues there.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, and that’s up there. Polosky is up there in the Adirondacks sort of, and there’s all kinds of-

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, it’s like Tug Hill area.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, there’s a ton of contractors up there that would do something like this. Now, if he’s doing it himself, my advice to him is to go out and talk to people first. I’m all for do it yourself, all for do it yourself, but-

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, but if you’re in over your head, you’re just gonna cause more damage.

Jim Salmon:                      You have to do your homework, and even start with YouTube. There’s tons of videos on how to do this type of thing.

Peter Schick :                    That is always where I go to if I have some issue, if I’m doing a DIY thing. That’s just where I go. Most of the time they’ll be able to answer I’d say 80% of my questions.

Jim Salmon:                      I like the idea that he’s using six inch perforated [inaudible 00:03:28] instead of four inch. Captures a lot more water and if it’s pitched and properly set up, it’s a great way to drive a moisty basement, especially on a hill.

Peter Schick :                    Nice, nice. Okay, great. That answers Joe’s question and then I’ll go to another one. There’s another comment we had from our household pests episode. A listener said, “Jim and Peter, I just listened to your episode five and the part about what to do when you trap an animal. A few years ago I had a problem with chipmunks and bought a half a heart trap which turned out to be very productive. I got rid of a whole colony of them that had built condos underneath my AC compressor. Anyway, when I bought the trap, the young lady at the store mentioned that they had a similar situation there, and they were catching chipmunks on a regular basis. I asked her what they did with them and she answered rather sheepishly they’re not very good swimmers.”

Jim Salmon:                      Yes exactly. I love it.

Peter Schick :                    “I got a chuckle out of her response. A five gallon pail of water does the trick, and you don’t have to take them miles away to release. By the way, our son lives in Massachusetts and he says that if you catch them there, you have to kill them. There’s a significant fine if you get caught doing a catch and release. I guess there’s a concern about spread of disease. I’ve read in the paper about mice and chipmunks being primary carrier of ticks.”

Jim Salmon:                      That’s actually a good idea. Now, in New York state it’s not like that.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, I don’t think so-

Jim Salmon:                      If they catch you with a live thing, you’re taken to a judge. You’re found guilty immediately, the sentence is death to be carried out instantly.

Peter Schick :                    Repossessing your house, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s against the law in New York State to transport wild animals, but it isn’t against the law to take a chipmunk to heaven, and you take a five gallon, I have one of these things, it works wonderful. I use a six gallon bucket because it gives a little longer weigh and you can get more peanut shells in there. You fill it up about half way, you run a dowel across there with a little ramp, and you sprinkle the peanuts in there, regular unshelled peanuts. They dive in there, boom, done. It’s great. Sometimes it’s a multiple deal.

Peter Schick :                    Okay. I guess that’s really based on the homeowners preference then.

Jim Salmon:                      I mean I’ve seen people harvest them with darts.

Peter Schick :                    Wait, you mean like one of those blow from the Amazon or something-

Jim Salmon:                      No, but that’s a great idea. They’re championship darts. You know, I mean-

Peter Schick :                    Like throwing darts at a bar or something?

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, like at a bar, yeah. You can hone your dart throwing skills by chipmunks.

Peter Schick :                    I’ve got to give it to you. If you could actually get a chipmunk with a dart, and not just wound it but like boom, done, lights out, that takes some skill. That takes some skill. That’s our listener feedback there. Getting back to what we were discussing before. Interesting stories, how do you feel? I could start if you want?

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah go ahead. Fire away.

Peter Schick :                    Okay, so I’ve got to give a little background information on this first. Me and my wife, we live in a three unit home. We live in a triplex, and we live in a two bedroom apartment in that triplex that we own. This was like beginning of 2014, and another background piece is I was in the Marine Corp for 12 years. I did Iraq, Afghanistan, did all that, got out at beginning of 2014, so I had just gotten out of the Marine Corp, we’re living in our three unit in one of the units, and the upstairs apartment becomes vacant, so we’ve got to find somebody else to rent it to.

Typically what I do is I give like a military discount, or a firefighter, police, whoever. I’ll usually take some money off their rent-

Jim Salmon:                      ‘Cause that’s your value. Yeah, absolutely.

Peter Schick :                    Exactly. They’re usually very reliable people, they pay on time, and also they’re just yeah, exactly. I think it’s just a good thing.

Jim Salmon:                      You have a common interest, and a common-

Peter Schick :                    Exactly. I think it’s just the right thing to do. We advertised that on Craigslist, on Zillow, and all the other places where you typically advertise an empty apartment. We have this one couple come through, and he says, “Oh yeah, I’m military. I’m a commander in the Navy, I’m getting stationed here.” And all this, and I’m like oh, okay. He had the swagger of him and he really spoke.

Jim Salmon:                      Clean cut, hair cut and the whole better.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, but the thing was he was a little overweight, but the thing is I’ve seen overweight people in the Navy before, so I’m kind of like well, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not in. It just means whatever, you just stopped caring, or I don’t know, your command is not really enforcing things. I’m kind of like alright, that’s weird, but okay. I’ve seen overweight people even in the Marine Corp, so that’s not like okay, whatever. That just kind of rolls of my back.

Then he also says he’s a pilot too, he was a pilot but then he has glasses on, too. Then I’m like well, you know-

Jim Salmon:                      Not to many military pilots wearing glasses, right?

Peter Schick :                    Maybe he’s a navigator, I don’t know. You know what I mean? As good of sight to be a navigator. But he really, he talks it up, and we usually screen our tenants, and my wife she usually does that part, but for this case she didn’t. I guess she just felt that the compliments-

Jim Salmon:                      Comfortable and whatever. Somebody was standing there, it’s all good.

Peter Schick :                    Exactly. So I guess she got the same vibes I was getting and she didn’t do what we normally do, which is screen everybody to check the credit, references, all of that. We’re like okay, cool let’s do this. Yeah, you can move in here. The other kind of red flag when I looked back on it was he was moving in with his girlfriend who he knew for like two months, which is kind of like wow, things are moving pretty quickly. Two months, that’s pretty quick to be moving in with somebody. Although-

Jim Salmon:                      Well, let’s table that part of it and we’ll analyze that again.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, that’s another piece there.

Jim Salmon:                      All right, now Peter continues.

Peter Schick :                    Yes. He moves in, and so we’re getting, it’s been a few weeks and now the first months rent is due, and so he gives us a check, and so I go and cash the check and it bounces. I’m like okay, there’s something wrong with, there’s something really wrong with this picture.

Jim Salmon:                      Did he sign a lease with you?

Peter Schick :                    Yes, he did.

Jim Salmon:                      Okay, how long was the lease?

Peter Schick :                    One year lease.So I knew there was something wrong here. He said he was a commander in the Navy who had like 30 years, and … Commanders in the Navy don’t bounce checks. The thing is-

Jim Salmon:                      They only do once, then they’re not-

Peter Schick :                    Exactly, that doesn’t happen. Especially if he has a security clearance and all this other stuff. If he has so much debt where a $900 check is causing problems, he’s done-

Jim Salmon:                      There’s a bigger problem.

Peter Schick :                    Exactly, there’s some real issues. Then the next thing was I see him and it was like a Thursday night or something, he’s going out to dinner in his uniform. He puts on his full dress uniform, just after work going out to dinner in his uniform, which is highly unusual. When I was in, it’s like okay when I come home, I’m-

Jim Salmon:                      Gone with the uniform.

Peter Schick :                    I’m just gonna be a normal human being, put on regular civilian attire and do whatever I’m gonna do. But he’s purposely putting this on and then going out. It’s not so much that piece that really did it for me, it was all of his decorations. He just had this massive stack of them and they made no sense. It was like-

Jim Salmon:                      You know what decorations are-

Peter Schick :                    Yes, I know all the medals and everything, this guy would’ve been like a living legend. This guy would’ve-

Jim Salmon:                      Medal of honor, the whole bit.

Peter Schick :                    It was a silver star, and a few other ones, and it was, I would’ve heard about this guy. It was so many where I was, I would’ve heard about him before I would’ve met him kind of deal. At that point I’m like this guy’s bogus. Everything just kind of … It was just so many things, and so then after the rent check bounced, I’m like hey I need to talk with you.

He comes to my apartment and I’m like hey, yeah, I don’t think you’re actually in the Navy and he kind of started getting really dirty eyed and then he gives me, “Well, I’ve got my military ID here.” He gives me a fake military ID. I’m like are you joking me? You know, it’s clearly a fake. I take a picture of it, I’m like here you go. Well, we’re gonna do this, you never gave us any of the documents for your rental application, I want them now.

Then he ended up giving his pay stubs, which are his called the leaving earning statement, and he made that up. It was a fabrication, but it was an incredibly good fabrication. I couldn’t tell that it was a fake one it was so good.

Jim Salmon:                      This is elaborate stuff here.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, this guy obviously spent like six hours spending on this and everything. What really got me was why, who has the time to do that? Why are you going through all these elaborate measures to live out this lie? I thought there was something more to it, so I contacted the authorities, they ended up finding out that he was just, this is something he had been doing for years-

Jim Salmon:                      It’s against the law.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah it is, well the stolen valor thing, it’s only against the law if from what I understand is if you use it for your own personal gain, for like monetary gain, which he kind of did for the with getting the discount, but not really. What they really nailed him on was making the fake IDs.

Jim Salmon:                      So he did get charged with fraud or whatever-

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, that’s what he got slammed with because if you went around say in a uniform and you had a bunch of medals and stuff that weren’t yours, if you just walked around town like that, I guess it’s considered free speech, but if you try to use that, say you falsely have this, you won these awards and you try to do it for a monetary benefit, then it falls under stolen valor.

Jim Salmon:                      What do they call it again?

Peter Schick :                    Stolen valor.

Jim Salmon:                      Stolen valor, okay.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah. That’s-

Jim Salmon:                      Wow what a story. What happened, he move right out, or-

Peter Schick :                    He got sent to jail for a while.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, but what happened with the apartment? How long were-

Peter Schick :                    We were like you’ve got to go and he left and then we actually found another couple to move in there and yeah-

Jim Salmon:                      Wow, what a story.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, I couldn’t believe it. The thing that got me was conmen, that’s short for confidence men. It was just he had the confidence, he had the swagger, and he was able to talk the talk, but it was just … He took it too far is what it really was. He tried to say he was more than he really was. It was just too many things piled up that made me really be like okay, this is bogus.

Jim Salmon:                      But if you weren’t military-

Peter Schick :                    I would’ve never known.

Jim Salmon:                      You would’ve never known anything.

Peter Schick :                    The thing that really gets me is why would he … He really put himself in a bad position to where oh, I’m gonna live in the apartment above a guy who just got off active duty. He’s just setting himself up to get … Think about the balls on him to do that. Don’t you think it would, that would be the last place I would want to move if I was trying to live this fake fantasy whatever. I think he was just starting to believe his own lies kind of deal. He’d been doing it I guess for over 20 years.

Jim Salmon:                      Really?

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      An older guy, then.

Peter Schick :                    Oh yeah, this guy was in his, he was in his 50s.

Jim Salmon:                      Oh gee yeah, that’s a fossilized-

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, he was in his 50s. Yeah, and apparently he had been doing this, he got thrown out of the Navy back in the early ’80s or something, and then I guess his dad was in the military, so he didn’t have the guts to tell his dad, so he just kept his-

Jim Salmon:                      Keep going, next thing you know the lie keeps going-

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, it just turns into its own thing.

Jim Salmon:                      What does it say about a woman that lives with a guy like that forever? I mean come on, she had to know that he was a-

Peter Schick :                    Well the girl that was living with him only knew him for a few months. When he finally did get taken away, it was a big surprise to her. The thing was, the really funny thing was that before he ended up getting arrested and everything, he was saying, “Oh I’m gonna be going on deployment soon.” So it’s like wait, if you’re going … Where are you going? You’re not actually in the Navy. If you’re going on deployment meaning you’re gonna go somewhere for seven months, where are you going?

I think what he was probably doing was he was probably scamming the woman that was living with him. He was probably gonna run off with their money and just disappear or something.

Jim Salmon:                      What a nightmare. Well, I’m glad you caught up with him. That’s horrible.

Peter Schick :                    It’s what the heck? I can’t even believe it. I tell that story to people and they’re like, “That happened?” I’m like yeah, that happened.

Jim Salmon:                      That’s a great story.

Peter Schick :                    In my own house.

Jim Salmon:                      Well, it teaches you one lesson, and especially if you’re in the landlord business, you know that everybody’s gotta be screened.

Peter Schick :                    Screen, screen, screen. I cannot emphasize that enough. The one time, the one time we didn’t, we learned our lesson.

Jim Salmon:                      The internet is a wonderful place to check on people. Without a doubt. Any time we hire a new employee at the home inspection office or whatever, my wife usually does all the screening stuff and she’s out on Facebook checking their Facebook page, and their Twitter accounts and all that stuff. It’s great.

Kind of reminds me of a story. As a home inspector, I have a couple of clients that live in California, and they just buy apartment buildings around here, and they buy them by looking online. They buy them looking at the pictures.

Peter Schick :                    I have that a lot. I have a lot of out of state, even out of country investors who invest in Rochester.

Jim Salmon:                      They call me and they say, call the real estate guy and set up an inspection, inspect it for me, send me the report and whatever. I was in this one house in downtown Rochester, and it was a 12 unit apartment building. An old building, there’s a million of them down there. The rents are three to four hundred bucks a month or something like that. It’s not a high end-

Peter Schick :                    It is what it is, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      But the building was in somewhat of a huge state of disrepair. Let’s put it that way. That’s when landlord folks sell their properties is when they’ve milked the living hell out of them.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, they’ve gotten every little less dollar, they’re not gonna put anything into the maintenance of it, they don’t care. Just give me the rent.

Jim Salmon:                      And that’s when you find these things up for sale, when they need new furnaces, and they need … There’s 12 furnaces, and a new roof and whatever. I met with the guy that owns the building, and he’s a slimly little dude. He’s just whatever, okay, but he’s the one letting me in the apartment. We go in this one apartment, and there’s a woman laying on the living room floor, just living there, and there’s a couple other people sitting around. The guy goes off on the guy that rented the apartment. He was also sitting there, and he goes, “I told you to get that crack whore out of here.” Apparently it was-

Peter Schick :                    Classy joint here.

Jim Salmon:                      Really, so I’m like oh my god I’m stunned, and she’s laying there and I’m looking at her and I go, “Is she okay?” I’m not gonna be in an apartment where somebody’s laying there dead. That’s not gonna happen to me. I’ll go right downstairs and call 911.

So he goes up to her and he starts kicking at her. Then she made some noise and whatever and I said, “I’m not doing this anymore. I’m out of here. This is craziness.”

Peter Schick :                    Done, wash my hands. Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s like anything else, you run into those types of things that whenever I think that I’m the best that ever lived at what I do and I’ve seen everything, I turn around and something brand new happens to me.

Peter Schick :                    Fate is going to put you back in your place.

Jim Salmon:                      Exactly.

Peter Schick :                    I’ve seen that time and time again in life.

Jim Salmon:                      I’ve had so many weird experiences, especially with animals. I went up a stairway to an attic area, and it was finished off, little knee walls, and my 70 year old lady client is right behind me and there’s a door at the top of the stairs that goes into the knee wall area, and I open it. Out runs this giant silver squirrel out around me, between me and her, back in the whole. Scared the living crap out of me.

Peter Schick :                    It just didn’t know what to do.

Jim Salmon:                      Right. I close the door real quick, and you hear him, he’s running around in there, and then at the end of this thing, there was a hole to the outside, and he right out, jumped on the tree and left, but it goes to show you that the varmints can get in anywhere. I climbed up on a relatively low pitch roof, maybe three and a half, four, twelve pitch on a ranch, and my client insisted on coming up the ladder with me.

I get up there and there’s this big, long chimney. Three feet wide, and eight feet long, massive brick chimney, but only maybe three or four feet above the top of the roof. I got up there and there’s like four flutes in there, and he’s right there, the roof’s covered with antennas, and guy wires, and all this stuff-

Peter Schick :                    Satellite dishes, all yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      The whole nine yards, and I shine my flashlight down into the chimney, and up is coming this mother raccoon about 80 miles an hour.

Peter Schick :                    It’s like hissing at you?

Jim Salmon:                      Remember that movie Alien where those things are crawling-

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, where the aliens are crawling through the-

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah they’re coming down the ceiling, that’s what it is.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, he looks open over the ceiling tile, he opens it up and yeah the aliens are coming at him, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Well the mother raccoon scared the living crap out of me and I backed up, my client was too close, he fell over, I turned and was running for the ladder and I tripped over a guy wire. It was so funny. But you know, that’s … We run into a lot of animals in some of those.

Peter Schick :                    Oh I believe it, especially when you go into those attics or something else, or basement, yeah you’re gonna run into something.

Jim Salmon:                      People get, I like my own space.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, it’s like arms length. Arms length.

Jim Salmon:                      Some people gotta be right there or whatever, okay fine.

Peter Schick :                    Some people they come into your zone and it’s like hey, hey, hey I’m feeling uncomfortable you know.

Jim Salmon:                      I usually start on the outside of a house and work the outside and then climb the roof, then I head into the garage, and then into the basement. One of the first things I do in the basement is especially if it’s in cold weather is I fire up the furnace. I go into this house, and I fire up the furnace, and I’m down in the basement and it didn’t smell right, and everybody’s down there. The father-in-laws there, there’s five or six people down there and something just didn’t seem right so I get out my carbon monoxide detector, and boom off goes the alarm. 400 parts per million carbon monoxide. I’m screaming, “Everybody out! Out, out, out, out, out!”

I go running upstairs, and it was about 200 parts per million CO on the first floor. It’s a mess. I went outside, got fresh breath, came back in, opened all the windows, the back door, the front door,-

Peter Schick :                    Were people living in this place?

Jim Salmon:                      No, it was a vacant house.

Peter Schick :                    I was about to say, oh that’s-

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, but it only took, that furnace might’ve been running for six or seven minutes before there was that much carbon monoxide. First-

Peter Schick :                    Was it just not venting out, or?

Jim Salmon:                      The vent was completely plugged solid by a bird nest. The other component of it was it was an old furnace from the early ’80s, and those are natural draft furnaces and not a fan induced draft. Once you let them go without cleaning and maintenance, they are burning so dirty that there’s such a production of carbon monoxide.

Peter Schick :                    That just builds up super quickly before you even realize it.

Jim Salmon:                      Right. 400 parts per million, you can wind up very much in the hospital.

Peter Schick :                    Oh wow, good thing you had good spider senses there. That could’ve been bad news. It was just you, or there was somebody else with you?

Jim Salmon:                      It was just me doing the home inspection, but there was a whole bunch of other people that were my clients.

Peter Schick :                    I see, I see.

Jim Salmon:                      It was one of those deals where the realtor opened the door and left.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, they’re like oh yeah, good luck bud.

Jim Salmon:                      He didn’t want to die, so-

Peter Schick :                    He’s like yeah, good luck buddy.

Jim Salmon:                      I’m standing there and I’m thinking okay, what am I gonna do? I’m not going back into this building where there’s any CO to it. I’m in a house frequently where the occupants of the house smoke cigarettes, and I can go in a house like that, turn on my carbon monoxide detector, and there’s 15 to 20 parts per million carbon monoxide just from the cigarettes.

Peter Schick :                    And there was 400 in that basement.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, and it was 200 on the first floor.

Peter Schick :                    That puts it a little more in perspective for somebody who doesn’t necessarily know okay, what’s a part per million kind of deal. I can see now exactly what you’re talking about.

Jim Salmon:                      The table is pretty bad headaches at 200, 300 you’re really sick and diaphoretic. You’re sweating like crazy. At 400 you can lose consciousness.

Peter Schick :                    You could just black out.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah. 5,6,7 you’re in bad trouble. 1,000 you’re dead. You’re dead quick. That’s a tough things that gets in every cell in your body and it really messes you up. That’s why we preach cleaning and maintenance of stuff.

Peter Schick :                    Exactly. So many people think they can get a house or whatever and it’s gonna oh you know, done wash my hands of it. It’s like no, no, no, no. It’s not quite like that. It’s always maintenance and upkeep.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s always the older furnace that runs amuck too, because I remember once I was in a house, my client was 80 years old, nice little old lady. Why she was buying a house at that point instead of assisted living or one of those beautiful senior apartments or whatever was beyond me, but some people are extremely independent.

Peter Schick :                    Maybe she wanted like a one floor, like a ranch or something without the steps.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, and that’s what it was. She was a very feisty, fun, friendly, I could joke around with her, whatever. So I go down in the basement, we’re down there and I’m doing my thing, and water penetration, and plumbing, and whatever. I fire up the furnace, I’ve got to go upstairs, turn the furnace up, and then go back down. I go up, hit the thermostat, turn it up, I go back down, I open the panel to the front of the furnace and the whole thing’s on fire. I mean just flames shooting out like crazy.

She’s standing there and I go, “Ill be right back!” I ran upstairs to turn the thermostat down, and she thought I was leaving her there. So she’s [crosstalk 00:26:24]-

Peter Schick :                    What are you doing Jim?

Jim Salmon:                      She’s halfway back up the stairs, and I go running past her again and I’m down there and I have a fire extinguisher in my truck, and I’m going all over the thing with a fire extinguisher and whatever. It was just so badly out of calibration and had sooted up so bad that the flames rolled out the front, it caught the wiring on fire, what a mess. Absolute mess.

Peter Schick :                    I had another interesting story. I had a lead for a buyer. I got it through Zillow. We advertised on Zillow once and we got this buyer through there, and they’re like, “Oh yeah, we want to view this place.” And it’s on lockbox so it’s pretty easy to, if it’s on lockbox it’s pretty easy to show.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, anybody can go there.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, anybody could go there so just call up the listing agent. I hadn’t met these people yet, so now we’re meeting them at this house, and it’s me and my wife, we’re there. It was later in the evening, we both went, and so the couple shows up and you could tell they’d been drinking. They’d been day drinking hard.

Jim Salmon:                      I love that when my clients are hammered. I just love it.

Peter Schick :                    Day drinking hard. They’re like, “Hey how’s it going?” Slurring their words, stumbling, oh my god, and so they’re walking through the place, looking around, one of them puts in a cigarette, lights it. I’m like, “Just put it out.” I’m like just meeting these people, I’m like, “What are you doing? What are you doing? Just put it out.”

Jim Salmon:                      You don’t just walk into a house and start smoking.

Peter Schick :                    Just go outside. Just go outside please. That was really interesting. They actually turned out to be, we did a follow up meeting with them, and-

Jim Salmon:                      When they were sober.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, they were so apologetic. They’re like, “Oh my god, I’m so sorry.” Blah, blah, blah, we’re still looking for a place, we’d like for you guys to help us. I’m like-

Jim Salmon:                      That’s great stuff.

Peter Schick :                    All right, sure, yeah, no problem. They turned out to be good clients.

Jim Salmon:                      I’ve had clients show up three sheets to the wind. It’s just, you wonder though if it’s a 9 o’clock in the morning appointment, what are they doing?

Peter Schick :                    Did they just party through the night, or did they just start that morning?

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, one of the best radio broadcasts my partner John and I ever had was a party where we were out all night and then went right to the studio.

Peter Schick :                    Right there, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Don’t remember much of it, but it was a good-

Peter Schick :                    It made for good radio. Yeah, that was interesting, but those were probably the first two that come to mind real estate stories.

Jim Salmon:                      We’ll have to schedule another segment on stories ’cause I’ve got a million more of them and so do you, so-

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, me too. Oh yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      We want to thank everybody for listening to this HouseatWork.com Home Repair Clinic podcast. If you’d like to participate in the program, we would encourage you to write in. We have an email address which Peter’s gonna give you.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah. Just send us any questions to [email protected]

Jim Salmon:                      There you go. We’ll see you next time here on the HouseAtWork.com podcast.

Ep 5: Common Household Pests and How To Deal With Them

House At Work Home Repair Clinic

In Episode 5, Jim and Peter discuss some of their experiences with dealing with mice, ants, termites, and squirrels in homes as well as common ways to address different types of pest problems.

Do you have a home improvement question? Email us at [email protected] and we will do our best to get it answered for you! Do you need help with a home improvement project and live in the upstate New York region? Go to www.houseatwork.com and click “Find Contractors“.

Jim Salmon:                      Hello everybody and welcome to the Houseatwork.com Home Repair Clinic podcast. My name is Jim Salmon along with Peter Schick. Good morning, sir.

Peter Schick :                    Howdy.

Jim Salmon:                      Or good afternoon or whatever it is.

Peter Schick :                    Good afternoon. Yeah, it is afternoon.

Jim Salmon:                      I shouldn’t say what time of the day it is because people then … Who knows what time they’re listening to the podcast?

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, it could be like the middle … It could be 2:00 in the morning or whatever.

Jim Salmon:                      Well, anyway, hello everybody. We are going to talk home repair and we also have a website where you can go and send us an email, if there’s a particular topic you’d like to talk about. Send us a question and Peter’s going to tell you what that is.

Peter Schick :                    Yep. Just send us any questions you want us to talk about at [email protected]

Jim Salmon:                      All right. Today, this subject of this podcast, is pests. Now, I’m not talking about your wife or your girlfriend.

Peter Schick :                    Not talking about you, Jim.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah. Or particular people you know in your life. We’re talking about pests that try to get into your house. It is you versus them. It’s the mice, it’s the carpenter ants, in certain parts of the country including here, it’s termites. It can be raccoons, groundhogs, and whatever.

Peter Schick :                    Raccoons, yep.

Jim Salmon:                      I bought a rental house a few years ago and there were five little baby groundhogs that were living in this crawlspace. My buddy, the plumber, would drive by and he goes, “Yeah, your whole family of these … ” He’s needling me. “Your whole family of groundhogs is eating your grass.” It’s you versus the pests and our goal with this podcast is to try to talk you down off the ledge on some of that stuff. I’m a firm believer in do-it-yourself, but when you get in trouble with termites or carpenter ants, it’s off the wall.

Peter Schick :                    That would be a major issue and it really depends on how far along it is. Say, if it’s just, hey, I have a trail of ants going through my kitchen or whatever. Hey, find out where they’re going and get rid of the food source is typically the first thing you want to do.

Jim Salmon:                      Right.

Peter Schick :                    If it’s actually these termites or carpenter aunts are burrowing into the wood in your house, now that’s a whole other issue.

Jim Salmon:                      That’s another matter.

Peter Schick :                    That’s a whole other problem, that’s a whole other you need to take completely different considerations with that.

Jim Salmon:                      Now, what I do for a living is I’m a home inspector. You hire me to go inspect a house before you sign off finally on it and buy the house. I don’t, too many times, get to find where the carpenter ant nest is, but one in a while I get lucky. They need a food source and they need water. The band joist area in the basement, sometimes I’ll take my little probe and flick some insulation aside and there’s 50,000 ants up in there.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, really? They’ll actually make a colony within the house?

Jim Salmon:                      Right. There’s a colony somewhere.

Peter Schick :                    Okay.

Jim Salmon:                      Now, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s in the house. I can be in a stump out in the backyard or a particular tree.

Peter Schick :                    Yep. That’s what I’ve seen a lot of. You’ll see the ants, they’ll have a colony in the backyard or close to the house, and then they send their little scout guys inside to find food. Then, of course, they leave their little trail, their pheromone trail. Pretty much they leave these chemicals on the ground for their buddies to follow.

Jim Salmon:                      Follow along, yeah.

Peter Schick :                    Then get the food and bring it back. Yep.

Jim Salmon:                      One of the more fun things that I’ve seen in my career is there’ll be a telephone line, old land line. A phone line is like a flat strip of wire and it goes from the pole over to the house. I’m looking up there and you see carpenter ants, one right after another, they’re about a quarter of an inch apart, and there’s 5,000 of them and they’re heading right in on that landline. In a previous podcast, we were talking about siding, holes, rot, and whatever.

Peter Schick :                    Yep.

Jim Salmon:                      They’ll find entry points, and get in there, and the thing with carpenter ants that separates them from termites is carpenter ants don’t eat the wood.

Peter Schick :                    They just burrow.

Jim Salmon:                      They burrow in it to next. You’ll see these little piles of, it looks to me like, in the old days when we sharpened our pencil in school and you dump that out. It’s called carpenter ants frass and that looks just like that.

Peter Schick :                    Now, carpenter ants are larger than most other ants. Say, like …

Jim Salmon:                      Well, yes. If it’s mature colony, yes, but they start out small to begin with.

Peter Schick :                    Okay.

Jim Salmon:                      It isn’t always people look at that ant and they’ll go, “Okay, that’s not a carpenter ant because it’s too small.” Well, hold on a minute.

Peter Schick :                    Well, fire ants are … Well, there’s not many fire ants, here, but say in the south or something. A lot more fire ants. Those are tiny little guys.

Jim Salmon:                      They bite, too.

Peter Schick :                    They hurt. The carpenter ants you can usually say they’re around, I’d say, maybe a quarter of an inch. Quarter up to maybe half an inch if they’re a really big guy.

Jim Salmon:                      The biggest ones are about a half an inch. Yeah, I would agree to that.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Now, the thing with carpenter ants is you can’t always find the nest. Neither can the home inspector or neither can the pest guy.

Peter Schick :                    The exterminator, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      What they do do is they treat and like every other cycle of life, there’s the nest, the egg, or whatever, and then they’re born, then the cocoon and all that other stuff.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      You have to treat it once per quarter for proper carpenter ant treatments. It’s usually $300-400 a shot, so you’re spending $1,000 to $1,500.

Peter Schick :                    I’ll even go over for any pests, whether it’s a mouse, whether it’s ants, whether whatever. This is what the exterminator does.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah.

Peter Schick :                    They seal out where they’re coming in, they put poison down, and then that’s pretty much it.

Jim Salmon:                      There you go.

Peter Schick :                    Then they say, “Give me $300.”

Jim Salmon:                      That’s exactly right. In our area of the world, which the northeast, western New York, we don’t have a lot of the California termites here. We do have some subterranean termites.

Peter Schick :                    Actually, I was going to ask you about that because I haven’t seen much. I have seen carpenter ant damage, but I haven’t seen termites. I haven’t seen too many of them, at least here, upstate New York.

Jim Salmon:                      I have a termite map, if you will, that I didn’t make it. One of the local pest guys made it. Of course, I plagiarized it and stole it from him. I said, “Oh yeah. Look at my map.” Anyway, in and around Rochester, New York, where we are here, there’s a town called Irondequoit. On Ridge Road going a mile or so towards Lake Ontario, there is a cluster of subterranean termite damage.

Peter Schick :                    Interesting.

Jim Salmon:                      I was in this one house, doing a home inspection, and the pest guy was there doing his thing at the same time. He said, “Jim, come over here and look at this.” There was a four foot by four foot section in the corner of this subfloor that was just eaten away. They had also gotten into the stair stringer, going down to the basement, and had eaten away-

Peter Schick :                    Oh my gosh.

Jim Salmon:                      -the left hand stair stringer. You could push on it with your finger and it was like wallpaper.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, geez. It was like balsa wood.

Jim Salmon:                      Oh, it’s horrible.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Unlike carpenter ants, termites eat the wood. They digest it for some reason. My goal is to put as much pressure treated to them as I could, but anyway, those repairs are not only killing the termite colony or whatever you call it, but it’s also repairing the damage that they’ve done. Sometimes carpenter ants will do the same thing, but it’s usua-

Peter Schick :                    I can’t imagine the remediation, especially if there’s the colony that’s inside the house and it’s the termites. Getting rid of them at that point. First, you’ve got to get rid of them, then you’ve got to do all the remediation.

Jim Salmon:                      Right.

Peter Schick :                    I can only imagine the remediation for that.

Jim Salmon:                      Well, out in California, and the South, and other parts where climates are different and they have different types of termites, they tent the whole property. Then they spray it and you’re out of there for hours anyway, if not days. It’s supposed to kill them all. Now, that’s ungodly expensive work.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah. Not to mention the [crosstalk 00:08:08]-

Jim Salmon:                      That’s why we live here in New York. That was pretty funny. My goal as a home inspector is I’m not a pest inspector, so I’m not doing a pest inspection, but sometimes that damage crosses into my world.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah and you just got to report it. It’s like, “Hey, by the way, I’m seeing a carpenter ant colony here. Maybe you should talk to a pest guy.”

Jim Salmon:                      The other thing is rodent activity. Mice are a nightmare sometimes, especially around September when things-

Peter Schick :                    When it starts cooling off.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah. Their goal is to get warm too.

Peter Schick :                    Yep.

Jim Salmon:                      I’m always nitpicking about the electrical panel box and all of those little knockouts in there. If you don’t have those in place, the mice get in there, because that’s a nice warm spot. Crazy!

Peter Schick :                    Another thing is little windows in the basement. Say, if you don’t have glass blocks, say you have those old kind of swinging windows in the basement?

Jim Salmon:                      The old metal ones?

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, the old metal ones. You have a little gap, it doesn’t take much. It doesn’t take much, they’ll get in through that.

Jim Salmon:                      A mouse can get through a quarter of an inch. The smaller they are the smaller the-

Peter Schick :                    Yeah. They’ll squeeze right through it.

Jim Salmon:                      I did some research not all that long ago because I’m adept at this whole show prep thing. A mouse cycle is 21 days between fornication and being born. It’s 21 days.

Peter Schick :                    Within three weeks they could already be multiplying within your house.

Jim Salmon:                      They can have up to 20 babies. You think about that. There’s a certain percentage that won’t live and whatever. They’re all over the place. Certain types of insulation in your home, like blown in cellulose, blown in fiberglass, old rock wall, and sometimes even regular fiberglass bats and rolls and so forth. The mice love that.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, yeah. They’ll make their little nests in that. I think one of the big things you’ve got to look for too is a lot of the time they’ll come in through the basement, or they’ll find some way, and now you have, say, the pipes coming up to your sink in your kitchen

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah.

Peter Schick :                    The Good Stuff, it’s actually called, The Good Stuff, the spray foam, that’s not put in there, and actually they’ll chew right through that. You’ve got to use, what’s that, steel wool.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, I see steel wool and sometimes Brillo pads jammed in there or whatever.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah. That’s probably one way you could treat it yourself. You find any of these small little gaps or you find any of these little potential entry points around your house, put steel wool in there. They won’t be able to chew through that.

Jim Salmon:                      There is closed cell polyurethane foam you can get, too. That works. It’s a lot harder than regular, but they still … If they have tenacity they can get through that.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Silicone works good too to try to seal things out. You were right in saying that one of the big things that you can do to keep mice out of your house is to exclude them. That’s not always as easy as thought. You have to lay on your side and look up along your foundation wall outside.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Caulking.

Peter Schick :                    You’ve got to really know what you’re looking for, too. I’ve seen it a few times and I see the exterminator going around the house. He’ll just find a tiny crack. He’s like, “They will fit through that.”

Jim Salmon:                      There you go.

Peter Schick :                    Puts the steel wool in there. I’m like, “Oh wow, okay. That’s what I’m looking for is anything like that. All right.”

Jim Salmon:                      I have a million, as you do, real estate stories. I have a million home inspector stories. This wasn’t all that long ago either, a few months ago. I’m standing in a basement, it’s an older lady thinking of selling her house, and a lot of my clients hire me to inspect a house before it’s in the real estate transaction just to find out what the deal is.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      We’re standing in the basement and I’m going and looking at the insulation in the band joist area right by the foundation. There’s all these little tube holes where you know mice have been in there. I said, “Gee, there’s a lot of rodent activity here.” She said, “No, I don’t have any mice.” Just as she said that, right behind her head come out of the insulation, stuck the head of a mouse. I broke out laughing. She goes, “What are you laughing at.” I said, “Well, just as you were talking about that there was a mouse head.” “No, you’re kidding me.” It was really funny. Mice, you can’t find them either. Once they get in that stuff, the only way to deal with that is bait it and then there’s the smell thing. The dead-

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, they dive behind a wall or something.

Jim Salmon:                      Right. Snakes.

Peter Schick :                    Snakes?

Jim Salmon:                      Snakes, all the time. Milk snakes. We were talking about that in another podcast. I was in a house once where there was milk snakes all over the place. The brown and white ones? They’re striped. They get in through a half inch little gap somewhere. The culprit, a lot of times is the front step where it buts up against here.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      A lot of people don’t know those areas are rotted and the snake figures out how to get in there.

Peter Schick :                    I seen that and also chipmunks get in that way, too.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s all about exclusion. You’re absolutely right with that.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah. The exclusion piece and then once you exclude them, you can start baiting it. I think that’s really the process. Exclusion, baiting, at that point.

Jim Salmon:                      Couple other quick interesting stories. I’m on a stairway going up to the second floor. My client is an older lady and she’s kind of right behind me. Right at the top of the stairway is a door that gets me into a knee wall attic. I open the door, now bear in mind, she’s right behind me, a step or two down. I open this door and out comes a squirrel. He comes out, he runs around me, behind me, and then around and back in the hole, right? It stunned me, right? I go backwards, I run into her, she kind of falls backwards and grabs a hold of the railing. It was really funny.

Peter Schick :                    I got a really good story. That just reminded me of this. One of the things I do is I also rent out apartments. If I have a client, a lot of the time I work with-

Jim Salmon:                      Like property management.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, property management. Sometimes I’ll have a client and they’ll be, “Okay, can you rent out these apartments?” I’m like, “Okay, cool. Yeah. I can do it.” There’s this place downtown that I’m renting out. I find a guy for it. It’s like a small … It’s a studio. Like $500 a month kind of thing. I rent it out to him. We do the lease signing, everything, great. He has a cat too. I’m like, “Okay, cool. Awesome. Done.” A few weeks later he calls me up. He’s like, “I’m done. I’m moving out.” I’m like, “What’s going on?” He’s like, “Something chewed through the wall, attacked my cat, ate all of its food, and left.” What we found out.

Jim Salmon:                      It was a rat, right?

Peter Schick :                    It was a raccoon.

Jim Salmon:                      Oh, raccoon.

Peter Schick :                    A raccoon. Just imagine this. A raccoon chewed through the wall, came in, like the cat was probably hissing or whatever at it, attacked it, he had to take the cat to the vet. It got really hurt by whatever this was.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, raccoons are tough. Boy, they’ll fight you to the death.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, they’re nasty. They are nasty. Really hurt this cat, ate all the cat’s food, and then just disappeared.

Jim Salmon:                      That’s [crosstalk 00:15:30]. Raccoons, oftentimes, live in chimneys. I’m up on a roof, and I’m taking my flashlight, and shining it down into a chimney. Every once in a while they’re right there and they don’t stay there either. They come right out.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, they’ll come running at you.

Jim Salmon:                      It was nuts. I have some stories on that too. Red squirrels are the worst form of squirrel vermin that you can come up with.

Peter Schick :                    Now, why would you say red squirrels?

Jim Salmon:                      Because they’re small, they’re rat-like, and they can get into smaller openings, and they’re extremely destructive. Now, I respect the big gray squirrels, and the flying squirrels, and there’s black squirrels out there. They’re absolutely beautiful and they have a … They’re in the woods, and they have a season of hunting, and they valuable. Red squirrels, not so much.

Peter Schick :                    I got a good gray squirrel story for you after that. After you talk about the red squirrels.

Jim Salmon:                      Yesterday morning, my goal is to get them all. Yesterday morning I shot myself my 27th red squirrel.

Peter Schick :                    Nice.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah.

Peter Schick :                    There you go.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s me versus them, it’s you versus them.

Peter Schick :                    No, you’ve got to take care of it. Actually, talking about squirrels, there is a place that we had a house and we were remodeling it. It had, above the front porch was a little roof and it had a little roof over the front porch. There was a big hole that some critters chewed through in the corner in between the roof and then the house. There’s some critters living right below the roof there. We put out a trap, it’s not a trap that kills it, it’s one of those live traps.

Jim Salmon:                      A Havahart type of thing.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Okay.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, one of those. It turned out there were some squirrels living in there and I caught one of the gray squirrels. It was funny. We come there and we’re like, “Oh, we got the squirrel.” Then we see on the other side of the trap, there’s another squirrel just sitting outside the cage. He was just hanging out there. He wouldn’t leave his buddy. It was like he was just staying there right next to his buddy. I’m like, “Oh, that sucks.” His buddy got caught and he’s-

Jim Salmon:                      Don’t tell me you let it go. Come on, I’m begging you. Well, my wife doesn’t like me to kill stuff. The red squirrels-

Peter Schick :                    Oh, my wife’s the same way.

Jim Salmon:                      They really aggravate-

Peter Schick :                    “Peter, come on.” Meh, meh, meh.

Jim Salmon:                      I take the chipmunks and stuff. I take them five miles away and drop them off.

Peter Schick :                    That’s what we did with the gray squirrel, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Then a guy told me, he said, “That’s not far enough. They’ll come back on you.”

Peter Schick :                    They’ll come back.

Jim Salmon:                      Well, I’m not going to drive to Toronto to let the …

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, exactly.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s in New York state, it’s against the law to trap the stuff, throw it in your car, and take it somewhere. It’s against the law.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Not that I’d let that bother me or slow me down.

Peter Schick :                    I want to see the cop that’s going to ticket you for having a squirrel. “Well, you’re in violation of code, whatever the heck that is.”

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      The Wild Kingdom Act or something. Anyway, if you’re going to transport them you’ve got to take them a long ways away. I have another woods I take them at about five miles away.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, I took them to a park. I’m trying to remember which park it was. It was by on the edge of Monroe county. I know it was way, way out there. I forget the name of the park. I just let him go.

Jim Salmon:                      Now, we’ve had a problem this year, and the last couple years actually, with these boxelder bugs.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Millions and millions of them. They have this kind of orange star on their back or red sometimes.

Peter Schick :                    Yep.

Jim Salmon:                      They’re a beetle that is supposed to be harmless, but they’re a big time nuisance. We had a big problem with them in our sunroom. I’d vacuum up 100 of them at a time every day.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah. I’ve seen that and then, I want to say, two years ago we had issues with shield bugs, too. Or shield stink bugs, you know what I’m talking about? Those guys?

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah. Stink bugs are … Well, they stink.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah. I remember we had that too and it was at the same time when it started getting warmer. That transition of the seasons we started seeing them popping up.

Jim Salmon:                      A few years ago it was ladybugs. A version of the ladybugs.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      There were millions and billions of those. I called Cornell Cooperative extension to get an idea of what their suggestion would be on how to eliminate them. A professor guy got on the phone said, “Just vacuum them up, and take them outside, and let them go.” I go, “No. I want to mow them down by the hundreds of thousands. I want to use fazers. I want to hang them. Whatever.” It’s crazy.

Peter Schick :                    Don’t kill the bugs, man.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah. Well, I’ve not had real good luck with the Health Department or Cornell, but we had a … It’s a long story but there was a dog tied up on the farm across the street and all of a sudden I heard this commotion. Little kids running around and there was a raccoon in the tree during the day.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, wow.

Jim Salmon:                      That’s not a good thing.

Peter Schick :                    I’ve got another raccoon story like that.

Jim Salmon:                      I go over there and I take my 12 gauge and I dispatch the raccoon. He falls down, the dog grabs him, the kid runs over and starts petting the dog. I go, “This can’t be happening!”

Peter Schick :                    You just made it so much worse.

Jim Salmon:                      I’m trying to get the people out there to get the kid away, to get the dog away, to whatever. I call the Health Department. I said, “Okay, this is what happens.” It was the day before Labor Day. Labor Day was on a Saturday or something and it was a Friday. The guy actually said this, and I quote, “Put it in a garbage bag and put it in your freezer because we’ll come and pick it up on Monday.”

Peter Schick :                    Why would I do that?

Jim Salmon:                      I hung up on him. Like I’m not going to put a rabid-

Peter Schick :                    Who does that?

Jim Salmon:                      -raccoon in-

Peter Schick :                    Yeah. Let me put a wild raccoon into my freezer with all of my other food. Yeah. That doesn’t sound like a terrible idea at all. This was actually the other week. I was walking my dog and it was pretty early morning. I was around 6:00-ish kind of deal. I’m walking and I’m kind of in a suburban area. I’m not out in the sticks like you are.

Jim Salmon:                      In the middle of nowhere, yeah.

Peter Schick :                    If I see something I can’t just be like … If turkeys are in my backyard, I can’t be like, “Hey, I got dinner now. I’m going to go shoot these guys.”

Jim Salmon:                      Right, exactly.

Peter Schick :                    It’s in the middle of developed area. I’m walking and I hear this, “Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah.” Like this noise. There’s a baby raccoon running in these circles in this driveway across the street. It’s around like 30 feet from me and my dog. Then I see the big mama raccoon come from the backyard. This thing was almost … I have pitbulls. I have a small pitbull female and then a larger male one. This raccoon was almost the size … This was the biggest raccoon I’ve ever seen.

Jim Salmon:                      Ever seen.

Peter Schick :                    I don’t know if it’s just because it had just a thick fur coat or what it was, but it was huge. I’m like, oh, I’m going to go.

Jim Salmon:                      Did it see you?

Peter Schick :                    It was looking at us because I think it was the mama raccoon. What am I going to do? I can’t shoot it or anything. It’s in a neighbor’s yard. I’m like, well, if my dog … I don’t want my dog getting in a tussle with this thing.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, get out of there.

Peter Schick :                    I’m going to turn around now.

Jim Salmon:                      Those mama raccoons are extremely protective of their young and you don’t want to piss them off. You really don’t.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah. It was big.

Jim Salmon:                      They have teeth, they can scratch you. A gentleman I worked with at News Radio WHAM 1180 years and years ago was a guy named David McKinley. Dave went on to be a TV reporter in Buffalo for one of the Buffalo stations. I remember him doing a live story back in the day where he was narrating. This lady was in her front yard doing some gardening. A raccoon came up and started just attacking her. Dave’s there. As she laid there in the yard, the raccoon gnawing on her leg.

Peter Schick :                    Oh my god.

Jim Salmon:                      I remember laughing my head off, bu this is one of those things, you try to beat it off and then you head right to the hospital for rabies shots.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, they do that stuff in your stomach. Well, they say that. That’s like a wives tale, isn’t that?

Jim Salmon:                      They don’t. They don’t do that anymore, but they do certain muscle groups. That’s like anytime you’re getting a shot, it’s uncomfortable.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Nobody wants to get shots, but it’s very effective. The antidotes are great. The vaccines are figured out. The problem is, once the animal’s dead a period of time, they can’t test it for rabies. They really need it harvested right away or the best thing to do is capture it fresh and let them deal with it. They can get right into the brain and figure out whether it had rabies. That’s a nasty, nasty disease.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, it is.

Jim Salmon:                      Every once in a while I’m driving down the road and there’s a mouse running in a three foot circle in the street. Now, you know something’s on there.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, you know something’s wrong.

Jim Salmon:                      There’s normal activity.

Peter Schick :                    That’s how I felt with that one baby raccoon running around. I don’t want my dogs … My dog will run after it. He has really strong hunting instincts. He sees something, he sees a squirrel, he wants to go running after it. Sometimes I’ll let him. He almost caught one once. Almost. It wiggled out of his mouth.

Jim Salmon:                      Oh, really?

Peter Schick :                    Yeah. It wiggled out of his mouth. I think it’s like a dog that catches a … It chases after a car. It doesn’t know what it’s going to get when … It doesn’t know what it’s going to do if it actually got one. I think that’s how he was with the squirrel. He’s like, “Oh, I actually got it,” and it wiggled out of his mouth.

Jim Salmon:                      I think we’d be remiss in our discussion of pests in the house if we didn’t talk about rats.

Peter Schick :                    Yes.

Jim Salmon:                      Anything but rats. Rats are filthy. People that have rats for pets need psychological evaluation. Really.

Peter Schick :                    Those things, it just … Just the long tail. I just think of that tail and it’s just how big they are. Mice, okay, they’re these little guys. You’ll catch them with the little trap or the glue, or whatever, the bait. A rat, you see those rat traps, huge. It’s like, what is it? Eight by like three inches or something, those traps?

Jim Salmon:                      They’re big.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Rats aren’t all that stupid either. Sometimes they figure the traps out, sometimes they don’t. I shoot them. I shoot them right out the window. I blew the window sill apart once. This was another whole long story.

Peter Schick :                    I can see what your wife would say to you.

Jim Salmon:                      Every once in a while she gets really pissed at me, she’ll open that window and say, “See that hole? That’s a beautiful vinyl replacement window with a hold in the sill.”

Peter Schick :                    What did you use? Did you use like a .22 or something?

Jim Salmon:                      I was using a .22 with a scope. I was inside and the rat was right out there under the bird feeder. I aimed down and the scope threw me off a couple of inches and I blew a hole in the sill. Of course, I missed the rat.

Peter Schick :                    That’s funny.

Jim Salmon:                      Fortunately, we had a farm for years across the street from my house. A working dairy farm. They were milking 100 cows or whatever and they had silos and corn and all that. Those things are just the perfect storm of what a rat needs to live high on the hog. No pun intended.

Peter Schick :                    Exactly. They have all the food they need. They got the shelter and everything. Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      I come home one day, the guy sold the cows, sold the land to a quarry, and they burnt the house down, took all the stuff away, and where’d all the rats go? Over to my house.

Peter Schick :                    They came over to your house, yep.

Jim Salmon:                      At one point, one night, my son Jamie and I were going to go out and hunt rats because there were some in this old barn we had. Went out there at night, shined the flashlight, and there were millions of them. They were going like worms. Oh my god.

Peter Schick :                    It’s like you flash the flashlight and they all kind of scatter kind of deal? Or they’re just like, bold, screw you, I don’t care.

Jim Salmon:                      I told him, I said, “Buddy, we can’t hunt rats because we’ll just blow holes in everything no matter where we shoot.” What I did is I went on a bait thing and I baited that whole barn. We were finding rat carcasses for months. Poison is the best way, but you have to be very careful that you don’t bait where dogs and cats can get to it.

Peter Schick :                    Yes.

Jim Salmon:                      If you care about that.

Peter Schick :                    Actually, the thing you bring up about dogs and cats, that’s one of the things that bring a lot of the critters is their food, if you have their food just sitting on the floor there. My dog does this thing where he’ll take a bite of food, he’ll eat some of it, but then he spits a little out and he spits it on the floor. Then, okay, what’s that going to attract?

Jim Salmon:                      What’s that going to … Yeah. Right.

Peter Schick :                    That’s going to attract the ants, that’s going to attract the mice.

Jim Salmon:                      Sure.

Peter Schick :                    You’ve got to have something where you’ve got a have their food elevated or on a pad or something. Or you just got to be proactive with it and clean it up.

Jim Salmon:                      Clean it up.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Dogs and cats living together. I have videos, because we live out in the middle of the country. I have videos of one of those round hog feeder pans with cat food in it or dog food or both. Three or four cats there, a raccoon, and an opossum. All in there eating at the same time.

Peter Schick :                    They don’t care. They’re just like, don’t mess with me.

Jim Salmon:                      They don’t me. You’re right. They’ll attract all kinds of pests. Their goal, especially in September, is to get into your house.

Peter Schick :                    Yep. They need to get warm.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah.

Peter Schick :                    They’re thinking about when winter comes.

Jim Salmon:                      They spend their whole life procreating and searching for food.

Peter Schick :                    Now, have you seen … I know this is probably more of like down south, you’ll see more cockroaches. I’ve seen a lot of cockroaches down south, but have you seen a lot here? I haven’t seen too many unless it’s a really bad place.

Jim Salmon:                      I find a lot in the city.

Peter Schick :                    Yep. That’s the only place where … In the really bad parts of the city.

Jim Salmon:                      When cockroaches are in a house, they’re everywhere. If I see one, I know that there’s an issue. They live in the smallest places. They live between the range hood and the bottom of that cabinet. On top and behind the stove, the refrigerator, any little area. The band joist area in the basement. It sometimes can be daunting to … It can be a couple of grand to treat for cockroaches.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, yeah. I believe that. It’s not just the typical $300 or whatever for mice that you typically see. Yeah. I’ve heard nightmare stories about that too.

Jim Salmon:                      Then, on top of all that, there’s bed bugs. Bed bugs are the most annoying thing, especially … I have some friends who are in the landlord business and the bed bugs, be in one apartment, and they go nuts on the other.

Peter Schick :                    Yep. Even after you say you fixed that one tenant, they’re still going to be in there. There’s still a very good chance that they’ll be there.

Jim Salmon:                      Oftentimes you can’t figure out what tenant it is either.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      They all lie to you and they say-

Peter Schick :                    “No, it’s not me.”

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, right. You go in there and you look under the coach and there’s a bed bug treatment thing there. When you get involved in carpenter ant infestations, termite infestations, bed bugs, stuff like that, it’s best to involve an exterminator. Believe me, I live my whole life trying to be a do-it-yourselfer guy, but when it comes to that stuff, it’s really important-

Peter Schick :                    No, I definitely agree. When you start talking, especially with bed bugs, cockroaches, some of these other critters, yeah, just get an exterminator. Sometimes you can DIY it, but don’t expect it to actually work every single time.

Jim Salmon:                      Then I know we’re getting close to the end of this podcast, but I wanted to talk a minute about bats.

Peter Schick :                    Bats.

Jim Salmon:                      All over the place.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      In the city of Rochester, in the big chimneys, in these old houses.

Peter Schick :                    I’ll see them in attics.

Jim Salmon:                      All kinds of bats.

Peter Schick :                    I’ll see them in attics a lot too, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Bats are a good thing for the environment, they eat a lot of insects, they do have an occasional rabies issue, I think. They also have some kind of mite thing that’s reducing the population right now.

Peter Schick :                    Now are they really going to cause damage to the house? Or is it just a nuisance?

Jim Salmon:                      Bats don’t really touch the house except for getting in it.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      They’re in attics.

Peter Schick :                    I’ll see them near the gutter or something and they’re just chilling. Just clamped on there just doing their thing. It’s like, well, do your thing bat, as long as you’re not destroying my house.

Jim Salmon:                      You don’t want them in the house, because of the rabies thing.

Peter Schick :                    Oh yeah. Totally. Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      You just never know. We’ve had bats in our house for a long time and it’s all about exclusion. It’s an old house, there’s plenty of holes, and as we’ve sided it and spray foamed it and all that stuff we’ve pretty much excluded all the bats. Bats are easy to find out where they are because in the morning just as it’s starting to get light, they come back because they’ve been out all night. You stand outside your house and you just sometimes you-

Peter Schick :                    Yeah. You have a light on. You can see them.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah. You just see them coming in.

Peter Schick :                    I remember as a kid we’d have them kind of near our house and they’d be flying around right at dusk and I’d throw a rock up or something. They’d all come right at the rock. They’re thinking it’s a bug or something.

Jim Salmon:                      Giant bug, yeah.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah. Then they realize it’s not and fly off. Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      The thing with bats is that you try to exclude them the best you can. I remember when I went from the old siding I had on my house to beautiful vinyl siding, the guy started in the front and he’s working his way around clockwise. He said, “I’m going to be over on this side where the chimney is,” and I know there’s bats and stuff in there because we’d seen them coming and going. He said, “You got about two days before I get over there to get those bats out of there.” What I did was I took a tarp and I nailed it onto the roof. It hung down on that side, so the bats would come out-

Peter Schick :                    They would just hit the tarp.

Jim Salmon:                      -run into the tarp and drop down. The cats would line up like taxis at the airport and they’d pick them off and whatever.

Peter Schick :                    That’s clever. I would have never thought of that.

Jim Salmon:                      Some of them would … Yeah, it works well. There’s always … it’s not a perfect science. There were a few of them that got sided in.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, some of them were probably like not going to fall for that.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, it was pretty funny.

Peter Schick :                    That’s clever and then the cats just dispatch them. There you go.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah.

Peter Schick :                    Interesting.

Jim Salmon:                      I don’t know what a bat tastes like, but I’m not interested in finding out either. I think we’ve pretty much exhausted our conversation on pests.

Peter Schick :                    I think we have.

Jim Salmon:                      This is the Houseatwork.com Home Repair Clinic podcast, Jim Salmon and Peter Schick. We do have an email address if you’d like to write in and suggest a topic to talk about, or something you’d like us to visit, or you have a specific question about something. Our goal is to get you to say something that’ll ruin your life and it’s all good, but we’ll be glad to help you out. Peter’s going to tell you how to get a hold of us.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah. Go ahead and email us at [email protected]

Jim Salmon:                      All right. We’ll see you on the next Houseatwork.com Home Repair podcast. Thanks. At the end I think we’re done.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      We’ll see you next time on down the line another podcast. Thanks for listening.

Peter Schick :                    All right. Have a good one.

Ep 4: Home Siding Considerations and Tips

House At Work Home Repair Clinic

In Episode 4 Jim and Peter discuss the different types of siding that are available to homeowners as well as the pros and cons for each kind.

Do you have a home improvement question? Email us at [email protected] and we will do our best to get it answered for you! Do you need help with a home improvement project and live in the upstate New York region? Go to www.houseatwork.com and click “Find Contractors“.

Jim Salmon:                      Hi, everybody. Welcome to the houseatwork.com, home repair clinic podcast, where we discuss all things home repair, life in general. We’re marriage counselors.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, pretty much anything that pops in our head essentially.

Jim Salmon:                      We can handle it all. My name is Jim Salmon.

Peter Schick :                    Peter Schick.

Jim Salmon:                      How are you today?

Peter Schick :                    It’s another day, man.

Jim Salmon:                      Another day.

Peter Schick :                    It’s raining, it’s kind of crappy out, but it is what it is.

Jim Salmon:                      What are you going to do? Well every house needs to keep the weather out, so we thought we would dedicate this podcast to siding. Riveting stuff, right?

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, really riveting here.

Jim Salmon:                      I’m a home inspector. You hire me to go in and talk to you about houses, and you’re a real estate guy, and you try to keep me from doing that.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, exactly. You keep trying to make my life miserable.

Jim Salmon:                      Yes, exactly. There’s a lot of different kinds of siding here in the northeast. There’s wood siding, which is shingles and clapboard, horizontal stuff and then wood shingles.

Peter Schick :                    Now, I always think with wood siding, what is the point of that, because most of the time unless it’s treated with something, I always feel like you’re not getting what you need out of it. It’s actually, it’s even more maintenance as far as I’m concerned. You might as well just, you’re going to have to paint over it, you’re going to have to do something with it.

Jim Salmon:                      Without a doubt. You remember the movie The Graduate?

Peter Schick :                    Yes.

Jim Salmon:                      Or The Candidate? Which one was it?

Peter Schick :                    The Graduate, is that the one, Mrs. Robinson or whatever.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, I think so. The quote in there, it’s Robert Redford. He’s sitting there, and some old guy’s telling him, it’s plastics. Trying to get him to invest. Anyway, before plastic was wood, and so for hundreds of years, starting with logs, starting with stones, actually. It’s been wood cedar shingles or clapboard, and it’s a nightmare. Now, I get all kinds of hate mail from the landmark-type folks. Oh, that’s beautiful, you gotta restore it the way it was. Nobody wants to paint anything anymore.

Peter Schick :                    That’s definitely true, because now, you’re going to have to worry about that in around five years from now too.

Jim Salmon:                      Absolutely.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, great, you’re going to keep it to how it was historically and everything, and unless you live in some historic district that says …

Jim Salmon:                      You have to do that.

Peter Schick :                    You need to do this.

Jim Salmon:                      Oh, that’s a nightmare in itself.

Peter Schick :                    That’s a nightmare. I see that with windows where they’re like, no no no no, you can’t replace the windows, can’t replace the windows. You gotta keep it how it was in the 1890s. It’s like, well how it was in the 1890s, it creates drafts in my house.

Jim Salmon:                      Once a cedar shingle becomes unsightly, it peels, and then the prep work becomes so much, it’s crazy. You never get it back to nice and smooth. Then you paint it and you look at it like oh my gosh, it’s peeled, but it’s got a coat of paint on it, but it’s still ugly.

Peter Schick :                    You put a band-aid on it. That’s essentially what it is.

Jim Salmon:                      I’m a zero maintenance guy. Anything I’m doing today, on any kind of house, I don’t want to visit again as long as I’m alive.

Peter Schick :                    I feel the same way. That’s why I like vinyl siding. I like metal roofs, metal roofs sound awesome.

Jim Salmon:                      That’s wonderful.

Peter Schick :                    That is, you never have to worry about it for the rest of your life. Big fan of both of those.

Jim Salmon:                      One of the things with wood siding too is it doesn’t perform well on some buildings that don’t process moisture well. The moisture comes right through the wall, goes through the shingle, between the paint and the shingle, blisters.

Peter Schick :                    What do you mean by processing the moisture?

Jim Salmon:                      The house has excess moisture and it can’t get out quick enough. It’s not ventilated right.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, I see what you’re saying.

Jim Salmon:                      Every once in a while, I’ll see little [loovers 00:03:51] cut into the siding or whatever, trying to do this, and what we’ve learned on vinyl siding is, and if you look at vinyl siding from the bottom up, it’s full of holes. That’s what’s supposed to happen, the water comes through the wall, condenses on the siding, drops down, goes out the holes, and it’s a system. It’s a good thing to do. Now, there’s also an awful lot of cement siding out there that was fibrated with asbestos. Now, people call it asbestos siding, and it’s not asbestos siding, it’s fibrated with asbestos. There is a component of it.

Peter Schick :                    Is that like how tiles used to be put on the ground with that?

Jim Salmon:                      Exactly.

Peter Schick :                    Okay, so that’s essentially the same thing, where it’s not necessarily airborne unless you start peeling that back, and it’s not really going to create a threat.

Jim Salmon:                      If a golf ball hits it, snowblower wings some stones up against it, it’ll crack. Now you’ve got some friable asbestos, because you can look at the edge of it sometimes and see the little fibers coming out of there.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, you can see the fibers coming.

Jim Salmon:                      It was a wonderful siding, let me put it to you that way. I had it on my house when we bought the house, and then eventually I …

Peter Schick :                    When did you buy your house?

Jim Salmon:                      1985.

Peter Schick :                    It had the old asbestos, how old is your house then?

Jim Salmon:                      150 years old. It was built in the 1860s.

Peter Schick :                    150 years. I thought mine was bad, it was built in like 1890. If you look at the title, the street that it’s on, the street that it’s named on, the streets that it’s named, the street name is in the title.

Jim Salmon:                      That was that guy.

Peter Schick :                    That was that guy.

Jim Salmon:                      I painted it maybe twice, and then it’s old wood trim and whatever, so then when I could afford to side it, you can’t go over asbestos fibrated cement siding. It’s like cement. If you try to nail a screw into it, it would break apart and fall down behind your work and whatever. There are contractors that try to put that over this kind of siding, which is nuts. It’s craziness.

Peter Schick :                    That almost sounds like, would that be considered an abatement if you had to remove that though?

Jim Salmon:                      Yes. It’s funny how that worked. In the 80s, when you tore it off, it had to go to an approved landfill. Then there was a time frame between 1988 and ’95 or so, where no, it’s fine. It can go right into a landfill by itself, there’s no special rules. Then somehow or other, it got changed to oh my god, it’s asbestos.

Peter Schick :                    Everybody’s losing their minds.

Jim Salmon:                      Now it has to be dealt with properly, you have to plastic coat the ground. You put it in an approved dumpster, it goes to an approved landfill where it’s disposed of as asbestos.

Peter Schick :                    That seems bizarre to me, approved landfill. Who’s wandering around a landfill, I’m going to get cancer because I’m wandering around this landfill all day.

Jim Salmon:                      Well, once it’s buried in the ground, I think that’s the thinking is that there’s nothing else.

Peter Schick :                    It’s sealed.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, and then you’re gone. There are only certain places that that goes. It’s like anything else, in government, in whatever, it’s a money grab. It costs an average, say you have 200,000 square foot house.

Peter Schick :                    We’re going to need to hear your top three money grabs by the government.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, we were touching about that with the AC.

Peter Schick :                    I’m going to need to hear that from you, Jim, because I think it’s going to be pretty interesting to hear.

Jim Salmon:                      We can do that. You take this stuff and you put it in the landfill, and the average 2,000 square foot house is 15, 1800 bucks to throw away the siding.

Peter Schick :                    Oh jeez, just that.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, and then you go from there.

Peter Schick :                    You could almost find somebody, I wouldn’t say it would be 15 to 18 to paint a house, probably be more like 2,000 plus.

Jim Salmon:                      Well, to paint, I was just on a …

Peter Schick :                    Well, I would say if you hire someone. If you do it yourself, then whatever. It’s your own labor and time.

Jim Salmon:                      What I’m talking about is throwing away the siding, taking it off and throwing it away. It’s usually a couple of grand.

Peter Schick :                    I’m just making a comparison between okay, these are the options. You could keep it as is, or I could throw it all away, then do the vinyl siding or whatever.

Jim Salmon:                      Now, I have met with a few people that were able to take their asbestos fibrated cement siding, figure out how to take it off without breaking it, pile it up on palettes, put it on Craigslist or Ebay, and there is a market for this stuff.

Peter Schick :                    Interesting.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, some of it’s kind of unique. It has striations or fluted parts to it.

Peter Schick :                    That’s interesting.

Jim Salmon:                      If your a historic district and you’re looking for this stuff, there’s a market for it.

Peter Schick :                    I could see that, because in some historic districts, like you know the lead stained glass and things like that, I could see people actually paying big bucks for that. If you try to get that custom made, it’s a lot more expensive than just finding something, hey, I’m getting rid of this. I totally see where you’re going with that.

Jim Salmon:                      In our part of the world, which is the northeast, more particularly, what are we, western New York, I guess.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, western New York.

Jim Salmon:                      We have a centrally located base of cobblestone homes. They’re made out of stone, obviously. They were built between 1820 and 1830, in that area. There is an entity called a cobblestone society. I remember, now these folks are pure, put it back to the way it was in 1820, so they invited me to go give a little talk, give a speech at their convention or whatever, and it was a dinner and whatever. I got up there and I started talking about vinyl siding. They start throwing tomatoes at me.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, they’re getting their pitchforks out and their torches.

Jim Salmon:                      It was great. I said look, we have to understand, I don’t mind old, and that’s good. I’m not saying vinyl side stone, but I’m saying modern electrical, modern heating and air conditioning, modern spray foam on the inside.

Peter Schick :                    Were they even against that?

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, some of them are obstructionists when it comes to that stuff. The one guy gets up and he goes, I’m not doing that. I’m going to do whatever I can, every one of these houses I can, I fix it up fast so the vinyl siding guy doesn’t come along and bastardize it. You had to be there. I’m a firm believer in keeping old, keeping some of the architecture, if you will, but you blend that with modern technology and energy efficiency. Improves your safety, energy efficiency, and everything’s good.

Peter Schick :                    Now, even with those cobblestones, that seems like you would never really have to worry about it again. That almost …

Jim Salmon:                      Well, it’s all about, any stone, I mean, you think about the cobbles are about the size of a fist. There’s a mortar joint around there, so there’s four billion mortar joints on every one of those.

Peter Schick :                    I see, it has to match the mortar color and everything.

Jim Salmon:                      Right, and the water wants to get in there and to freeze and thaw, and the corners in particular.

Peter Schick :                    I could see that being a nightmare, now that you mention it.

Jim Salmon:                      If you get it back and you do normal maintenance, normal maintenance on a house like that, on a normal house would be, say in a track would be about 2500 bucks a year. You’re doing gutter cleaning and furnace cleaning and all the stuff that keeps you clean. With a cobblestone house, it might be six grand a year, just to say ahead of everything.

Peter Schick :                    I could see that, now that you mention that.

Jim Salmon:                      Otherwise you wind up then, all of a sudden I have a bigger problem and it costs a lot more to rebuild something.

Peter Schick :                    I didn’t realize the stones were that small. I was thinking bigger stones, and that was the image in my mind, but something that small, I could see that being a headache.

Jim Salmon:                      The cobbles, I wrote an article on this, this is the only reason I know anything about it, because I did some research. They made this box out of wood, and they had a couple of kinds, back in 1830, a couple of size requirements for some of these cobbles. They had holes in this board, and if the stone fit through there, it was this cobble. If it fit through this hole, and they’d hire the local kids. They would just stay there all day long and get 20 cents at the end of the day or whatever it was, and they’d make these piles of cobbles. Then the mason contractor would come and put those together.

Peter Schick :                    Interesting.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s funny, the tools that were made for this were all handmade out of wood. They could only build about a foot a day, because if they got any higher than that, they were using a natural lime mortar which didn’t have any [inaudible 00:12:30].

Peter Schick :                    Oh I see, it’s going to kind of collapse on itself.

Jim Salmon:                      They’d only go a foot a day. Think of how long it took to build those cobblestone houses, and there’s about 1,000 of them in the northeast.

Peter Schick :                    Wow, that takes some patience right there.

Jim Salmon:                      It does. Back to regular siding here a little bit, there of course is aluminum siding, which was very popular coming into the 50s and all through the 60s and into the 70s before vinyl took over. You can still buy aluminum siding, it’s ungodly expensive.

Peter Schick :                    I see that fairly often, yeah. I see that, I’ve seen that with a few houses. Actually, I’ve also seen with some of the aluminum siding how, after a long period of time, if it’s been on there for a while, the sun will almost bleach the color of it. I’ve seen that with a few houses where this back in the day, I don’t know how long ago, it used to be green, but now it’s puke green.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s puke yellow.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, it’s this puke yellow-greenish, it’s like ah, that looks ugly, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Now, the drawbacks on aluminum are that it corrodes, and we’ll find heavy corrosion sometimes up under the eave where there’d been ice damming or water got in behind it. Now, remember, vinyl siding processes that and aluminum siding really don’t. Aluminum and water don’t mix very well, it’s not rusting, but it is corroding, and sometimes you’ll see these little specks of corrosion that worked their way to the surface of the siding, and there’s nothing you can do about that. You can’t scrape them off. You can paint it, but it’s still …

Peter Schick :                    No, you’re just going over it essentially.

Jim Salmon:                      It dents. Like vinyl siding, if a rock goes up against it and it doesn’t break, maybe there’s a little dimple, but then it’ll smooth itself out a little bit. Not so much with aluminum. Once it dents …

Peter Schick :                    It’s there, it’s done.

Jim Salmon:                      I also, there’s this big class action lawsuit that was the insurance companies hate hail. Hail drives them nuts.

Peter Schick :                    We were just having some hail the other day.

Jim Salmon:                      Were you really?

Peter Schick :                    Did you see that?

Jim Salmon:                      Oh yeah, yeah yeah.

Peter Schick :                    That was just like two days ago. I walk outside, and it’s like marbles hitting me in the head, trying to get inside.

Jim Salmon:                      You feeling okay?

Peter Schick :                    Oh, I’m good, yeah yeah, I haven’t lost my mind yet, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Well, there’s this class action lawsuit that there was about a hundred people that got together, because the insurance company was just taking the old aluminum siding and replacing the damaged sections. You know, 20 year old siding, it’s not going to match. That isn’t right, so these people all got together, they sued the insurance company that was involved in this, and they won.

Peter Schick :                    Oh really?

Jim Salmon:                      A lot of people don’t know that if you have an insurance claim that you can push back, it isn’t always just what they tell you. My goal is to make every one of those claims uncomfortable for the people coming out to my house. That’s another whole story. By in large, hail will damage aluminum siding where it wouldn’t really damage vinyl siding.

Peter Schick :                    Interesting.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, it’s pretty interesting. Anyway, those of you with aluminum siding, it’s easily painted. Most of it is not fluted, there’s very little scraping to do. It sprays easily.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, now is there a certain kind of paint you need for that aluminum siding?

Jim Salmon:                      They sell, wink wink nod nod, they sell aluminum siding paint. You’re nuts if you get sucked into that.

Peter Schick :                    Is it just like they charge a premium for it?

Jim Salmon:                      It’s all about the prep work, and if you go up to an average house with aluminum siding on it and run your finger across it, you come up with this chalky stuff on your hand. You have to really do a good cleaning of it first. You have to power wash it usually, and power washes are great for any kind of siding, but there’s a learning curve on that. You don’t want to blast into it or inject it in yourself.

Peter Schick :                    You have to have the right pressure when you’re actually using them.

Jim Salmon:                      Regular house paint is fine for that. They invent things just to make money. Money grab number five, money grab number five. Then there’s hardboard siding. Oh, what a nightmare. One of my first jobs was working for a Wix lumber and building supply, little home center, down in Panorama Plaza in Penfield, New York, right out of high school.

Peter Schick :                    When was that, back in the ’20s or something?

Jim Salmon:                      Well, no, I’ll tell you. I think I started work there in 1970.

Peter Schick :                    1970. Oh wow.

Jim Salmon:                      I was making $1.60 an hour. I thought I was a millionaire. Back then, my first car payment was 50 bucks. Anyway, we sold 12 and 16-foot lengths of this one by 12 hardboard siding. Now, hardboard is masonite, basically. It’s a masonite product, and there’s a tempered version and an untempered version. This siding was a complete failure from minute one, and there’s millions of houses still with this stuff on there. It has about a 25-year life expectancy, and that’s maintaining it perfectly. The edges, the bottom of the overlap, it’s like a clapboard overlap, and the bottom part would wick up water and then it would expand, and then these little …

Peter Schick :                    Oh wait, I’ve seen that before, I’ve seen that before.

Jim Salmon:                      Horrible stuff. The good part is, it’s cheap, you can still buy it. You’d be insane if you used that stuff, because it doesn’t have longevity like vinyl would. Anyway, there were class actions suits on that too, lots of them. There was a big-time settlement on that. If I show up at a house to do a home inspection, and it’s covered with that stuff and it’s all water damaged, you’re looking at re-siding the house. Of course, the real estate people don’t want to hear that. Money grab number 10.

Peter Schick :                    You’re going to kill this deal, Jim.

Jim Salmon:                      Yes, exactly. Well, there’s a compliment. Anyway, hardboard siding isn’t, we don’t use that anymore. We don’t want to use it anymore. We wish it never was here to begin with. Anyway, modern cement siding is I believe fibrated with fiber glass, which will be the next asbestos, but anyway, for right now’s sake, modern cement siding like Hearty Plank, there’s a couple other, Allure, there’s a bunch of others.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, I’ve seen those, the Hearty Plank.

Jim Salmon:                      It really, really depends on who installs it, whether that’s pulled off right, because you’re putting a fastener into a piece of cement, so it’s easy to have it look ugly, and the fewer nails, the better, so I’ve not really seen that pulled off well too many times, although it’s a popular siding, people like it.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, I feel vinyl’s siding’s probably most bang for your buck, and ease of installation as well, it seems to me. Yeah, if you have the right tools and you have a little training, I mean, a lot of people could do that. It’s not necessarily a difficult, in terms of all the other options you’ve been speaking of.

Jim Salmon:                      In a track home situation, where he’s building number 18, number 20, number 24. There are some institutional builders that build very frugally, and I’m taking it easy on them, the vinyl siding is installed just based on what the vinyl siding is. J-channel’s used around the windows and doors, whatever, but when it’s your home and it’s time to re-side, the extra money that you should spend on having the windows picture-book framed with coil stock as opposed to the standard J-channel makes a huge difference in how the vinyl siding project looks. It’s absolutely beautiful when it’s done like that.

Peter Schick :                    What is the cost difference between those, then?

Jim Salmon:                      It’s probably about, it’s less than $100 a window.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, okay.

Jim Salmon:                      Some houses have 30 windows or more, and that winds up being another two or three thousand dollars.

Peter Schick :                    I could see what you mean with those track homes too, where they try to sell it for these outlandish prices, but then they use the cheapest flooring. They’re the tiles I could find at Mr. Second’s or something where they’re super cheap tiles, and now they’re trying to sell it for 300,000.

Jim Salmon:                      I can’t tell you how much better the job will look, the vinyl siding job, if you just spend a little extra money around the windows and doors and have them picture framed. Not to, one of the unintended consequences is you get a nice wide flashing at the trim that goes back behind the siding, instead of that little J-channel that’s about an inch. I spend my whole life trying to track down leaks, and sometimes it’s leaks, vinyl siding has lots of holes in it, but so does the trim around windows. Once in a while, somebody didn’t get it right on the outside when they installed the J-channel, and it’s a pathway of water right into the basement. It’s important, not to, you’re only as good as your worst sub-contractor, so when you hire a siding guy to do your house, you want to make sure that the guy that’s selling you the job is the guy that’s doing it, is the company with his thumb on the button.

Peter Schick :                    Exactly.

Jim Salmon:                      There are fiberglass sidings out there, which are also horrible-looking. They’re asbestos-fibrated, some of them, in addition to fiberglass. I think we have, the one I just didn’t want to even talk about was T1-11 siding, which is nothing but plywood.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, I’ve seen that too.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s exterior rated. There’s 3-8 cents, there’s 5-8 cents, there’s eight foot sheets, there’s nine foot sheets, there’s Z strapping, Z flashing, if you need to put one on top of the other, but it only lasts X amount of years, and then it becomes a perfect base to hang vinyl siding on.

Peter Schick :                    At least there’s that, you know.

Jim Salmon:                      I find a lot of rot-damaged T1-11 siding during my home inspections. I was in a house this morning that had wood cedar shingles on it, lots of holes from critters trying to bore their way in. It’s you versus the squirrels, the chipmunks, the carpenter ants, the …

Peter Schick :                    Mice.

Jim Salmon:                      The termites, the mice.

Peter Schick :                    Raccoons.

Jim Salmon:                      Everything. There were, you could see the claw marks where they’re trying to get in at the [inaudible 00:23:28]. They take a bath in the gutter and then, you’re not cleaning your gutter, and then they’re gnawing away at your fascia board until they get into the overhang, and they’re happy as hell. There was a lot of rot on this house. My estimation I think for rot damage was I think $3,000 worth of repair. It was an 1800 square foot Cape Cod, so do you spend the $1800 bucks to fix that, or do you fold that over into a vinyl siding project? That’s a no brainer for me.

Peter Schick :                    That makes a lot of sense.

Jim Salmon:                      A good siding guy can cover up a multitude of problems. You don’t have to replace every ugly cracked or chipped board. You do have to have a good starter strip and a good base, so if you have some rot damage, you’re replacing some of that, but by in large, they can cover up and make your house look great, and you don’t have to paint it. As I was talking with my client this morning, it’s going to be about seven grand to paint this house. It’s busy, there’s a lot of trim work, there’s dormers, there’s the perfect storm of painting contractor. A lot of prep work because there’s a lot of peeling.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, just the scraping alone is going to be the big part right there, just the prep work.

Jim Salmon:                      If it was seven to paint it, it might be 10 to side it. There’s no …

Peter Schick :                    You’re going to have to paint it in the future again. Say fast-forward five years, going to have to paint it again.

Jim Salmon:                      It makes sense. It’s easy for us to sit here and talk about other people’s money, without a doubt, but that’s what we do, and we do it pretty well actually. Some of the vinyl sidings that are out there now are absolutely gorgeous. There are sidings that look like cedar shakes and wood shingles. Now, you’ve introduced quite a bit more cost in that discussion, but they’re absolutely beautiful if they’re applied correctly.

Peter Schick :                    Nice, nice.

Jim Salmon:                      I’m definitely into the whole zero maintenance thing. Anything I visit today I don’t want to do again.

Peter Schick :                    I’m the same way.

Jim Salmon:                      Unfortunately, not everybody sees it that way, or it’s like hey, I only got X amount of dollars in the bank. I’ll just do a temporary fix, there you go. Well, we’ve come to the end of this wonderful houseatwork.com home repair clinic podcast today. If you’d like to send us an email with a suggestion or a question you have, Peter’s going to tell you how to do that.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, just send it to [email protected]

Jim Salmon:                      We’ll see you on down the road for the next houseatwork.com home repair clinic website, podcast, whatever it is. We’ll see you down the line.

Peter Schick :                    Have a good one.

Ep 3: Wet Basements-Causes and Solutions

House At Work Home Repair Clinic

In Episode 3, Jim and Peter discuss many of the common causes for wet basements and solutions ranging from the very simple to more complex.  Topics discussed are ways to manage drainage around your home, sump pump installation and use, potential mold issues arising from having a wet basement, and considerations to take when hiring a contractor to fix a wet basement.

Do you have a home improvement question?  Email us at [email protected] and we will do our best to get it answered for you!  Do you need help with a home improvement project and live in the upstate New York region?  Go to www.houseatwork.com and click “Find Contractors”.

Ep 2: Home Inspectors vs. Real Estate Agents

House At Work Home Repair Clinic

In Episode 2, Jim and Peter discuss the often adversarial relationship between home inspectors and real estate agents.  Topics covered include how home inspectors procure their clients and the potential effect this can have on the accuracy of the inspection, understanding a report given by a home inspector, and how to properly pick a home inspector.  Jim and Peter go further in exchanging several personal stories regarding past home inspections and some of the more interesting challenges they have run into.

Do you have a home improvement question?  Email us at [email protected] and we will do our best to get it answered for you!  Do you need help with a home improvement project and live in the upstate New York region?  Go to www.houseatwork.com and click “Find Contractors”.

Jim Salmon:                      Hi everybody, and welcome to the houseatwork.com podcast. My name is Jim Salmon, I’m a home inspector. His name is Peter Schick.

Peter Schick :                    And I’m a real estate agent. Welcome back again, we’re going to have a great time today talking about the relationship between home inspectors and the real estate agent.

Jim Salmon:                      How’s that?

Peter Schick :                    Now, this is a very unique relationship, because you’re often at odds, and actually brought up before the show that a lot of home inspectors, they actually get a lot of their leads through real estate agents too.

Jim Salmon:                      Absolutely.

Peter Schick :                    It’s almost like ah, I gotta take care of my client, but then again, I want to keep getting these leads. Really interesting relationship, we’ll be able to talk about that dynamic today.

Jim Salmon:                      You know, I’ve been a home inspector since 1993, and when I first got in business, I was gung-ho. I went to the real estate office’s meetings and passed out my stuff. I was the best home inspector in the world. What happened to me was not seen by me. I didn’t predict it to begin with. It was the better the job I did, the less referrals I got.

Peter Schick :                    That is interesting.

Jim Salmon:                      I had to decide really quick who my client was. Was it the guy sending me the work, the real estate agent, or was it my client who’s paying me? I’m somewhat challenged in that aspect, because I’m fairly honest. Immediately it was like okay, I have to represent my client. There’s no question about that.

Peter Schick :                    Now that’s interesting, because the thing is is being able to procure those clients through real estate agents I think would be a lot more cost-effective. Am I mistaken?

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, the derogatory terms I hear all the time is, well Jim Salmon’s a deal killer. He’s a pitbull, he’ll kill your deal. If you want this house, don’t hire him, because he’ll find too many little things wrong.

Peter Schick :                    I have heard that many times myself, without a doubt. You’re not just saying that, it’s very true.

Jim Salmon:                      A funny part about that is, and it happens every week almost, is when a real estate agent’s mom or dad or son or daughter, or them, are buying a house, I get the call, which means okay, I’m doing something right. Maybe my personality doesn’t lend to the fact that I’m as much of a player in the sandbox as I should be with that stuff. That validates that I’m doing something right.

Peter Schick :                    That’s interesting, that’s interesting.

Jim Salmon:                      I have to represent my client. It drives me nuts when I’m not.

Peter Schick :                    You feel like many other home inspectors, they don’t necessarily do that, because they’re concerned that their source of leads, their source of referrals is essentially going to dry up if they are honest.

Jim Salmon:                      Absolutely, and that’s what happens, so that is the truth. If a home inspector gets the reputation that he’s too nit-picky, and nit-picky could be even a roof replacement to a real estate agent, but once they get that talked about in the wink-wink moments of the real estate meetings and things like that, it affects their business. I’m a supreme believer in you’re responsible for your own marketing. Therefore I have a different way of getting the word out, otherwise I don’t know what I’d be doing for a living. It wouldn’t be home inspections.

Peter Schick :                    That’s really true, because I know I get email blasted from home inspectors, being an agent myself, like hey, you need to have somebody do home inspections, hey, use me. I’d say I at least get one or two a week, because you can easily get the email list for local real estate agents and just shoot those out. Then again, I have my handful of guys I work with. Honestly, unless, I usually ask my clients, be like hey, you find the guy. You find whoever your home inspector. I could refer, but usually they find it themselves.

Jim Salmon:                      Or you give them a list that has everybody on it, and they can pick and choose their own thing.

Peter Schick :                    Exactly, they could do their own research and they could go from there.

Jim Salmon:                      One of the things that happened to me, I became a home inspector in 1993. In New York state, there were no licensing requirements. Home inspectors were not licensed in New York until 2006.

Peter Schick :                    Interesting.

Jim Salmon:                      Then governor Pitaki signed the home inspector licensing act, which licensed home inspectors.

Peter Schick :                    Now, before you go on, essentially anybody could’ve been a home inspector.

Jim Salmon:                      And was, and was, yes.

Peter Schick :                    I could just say hey, I’m a home inspector, and I could just be a charlatan, essentially, and say whatever pops in my head.

Jim Salmon:                      In New York state, things tend to happen when they happen down towards New York city, so an assemblyman or somebody down there had a bad experience with a home inspector.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, he got ripped off.

Jim Salmon:                      We gotta license them. As home inspector professionals full time, we want and welcomed licensing, because it was supposed to raise the bar a little bit.

Peter Schick :                    Exactly, so your name isn’t getting dragged in the mud by some of these other guys who are just opportunists.

Jim Salmon:                      At least there would be some requirements and some testing and whatever. To be a home inspector in New York, you have to have, I think it’s 140 hours of classroom experience and then so much field experience, and there are home inspector colleges around that teach that stuff. You also, there’s a $250 per licensing period, two years, licensing period fee, and you have to have insurance. They force you to have $150,000 worth of accident licensing insurance.

Peter Schick :                    Right, just in case something happens when you’re in someone’s home.

Jim Salmon:                      Then another $5,000 worth of liability insurance. If a ladder falls off onto somebody’s brand new Viper or something like that, I’m covered.

Peter Schick :                    You’re covered.

Jim Salmon:                      In my career a few times, I’m kind of notorious at leaving ovens on and stuff, because I check all the appliances.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, because you do that with the washer, the dryer, you gotta check all the appliances.

Jim Salmon:                      I don’t want to burn any houses down, but so the insurance requirement’s a good thing. I’m fully on board with all of that. Now in 2006, with the licensing law, it created what was called the New York state home inspector advisory council, which was a council of, it’s supposed to be seven people, a public member, and then six other home inspector type folks or somebody in the business, maybe a real estate person or whatever. They were to advise the secretary of state’s office on all things home inspector licensing. Politics being what it is, only five of them got appointed them. Fortunately I was one of them from the Rochester area, and there were a bunch of other guys from around the state, which was great. We’d go to Albany once a quarter and we’d have our meetings. The first council, it took us two years to finalize the code of ethics and the standards of practice for the home inspectors for the state. That was the council to be on is that first one, and I want to thank the governor personally for appointing me to that.

Peter Schick :                    Which governor was that?

Jim Salmon:                      Governor Pitaki.

Peter Schick :                    Okay, so we’re still talking 2006 time frame, okay.

Jim Salmon:                      The home inspector advisory council was abolished three or four years ago in an attempt to eliminate all advisory councils, extra spending or whatever.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, so you guys just got caught up in a wave of something else, some other …

Jim Salmon:                      New York state politics.

Peter Schick :                    Quote-unquote, some way of trying to cut the fat in spending.

Jim Salmon:                      Anyway, that first council, I’m pretty proud of the fact that we came up with a wonderful code of ethics and standards of practice. To this day, there’s a very active policing of home inspectors and other licensed people.

Peter Schick :                    Now, how does that work, typically?

Jim Salmon:                      If a complaint is filed against a home inspector or real estate person, or any of the other 29 things that are licensed in New York, like hair cutters or alarm guys or whatever, then there’s a process that that goes through. It’s assigned to an investigator, and he calls the home inspector and he calls the people that filed it and he gets both sides, and then he decides if there was a violation. Most violations don’t result in loss of your license, but the state of New York hands out $1,000 fines just like that, constantly.

Peter Schick :                    I see, so is there a certain threshold that the issue has to be for them to initiate an investigation typically?

Jim Salmon:                      No, they’ll investigate any complaint, but most of them are dismissed as non-violations, most of them.

Peter Schick :                    I see, so it’s usually just a communication issue between the homeowner and the home inspector.

Jim Salmon:                      I mean, for instance if the home inspector, there’s an agreement, there was something there that went wrong after the fact, that he couldn’t see or whatever reason, and now the people want him to pay for it. Most of them are like that, but that’s not covered in that stuff. It’s mostly a procedure thing. First of all, did you inspect what you were supposed to, what the state says you have to inspect? Home inspectors …

Peter Schick :                    Now, what is that? What do they require you to inspect?

Jim Salmon:                      A lot. First of all, it’s a visual inspection of things you can see. We’re not mind readers, we can’t see through walls.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, you can’t see through the walls, you can’t see the wiring a lot of the times. Maybe you could actually plug something in, see if the socket’s working, but you can’t tell how the wiring is.

Jim Salmon:                      That’s the reason to hire an experienced home inspector, somebody with some intuition, because that’s where those hidden things get discovered more than not. I always, I teach this course on home inspector ethic, and we place all these scenarios out there. It’s funny, because I don’t rely on real estate people a lot to refer me, although I have some of that. I’m the least popular guy in Rochester, I’ll admit that, with the real estate folks. I get most of my leads because I do a radio program that’s very popular and I’m out there all the time.

Peter Schick :                    I can imagine you get a lot of word-of-mouth referrals too from happy customers.

Jim Salmon:                      Yes, exactly. I do the kids, the fathers, the grandfathers. I’ve been around a while. I always represent my client, and that’s the best thing to do. I’ve had real estate people come up to me, I’m their 15 minutes, and they come up, how much longer? I just started.

Peter Schick :                    It’s going to take an hour or two at least. That’s what I had to set aside. If somebody says hey, how much longer, you’re a rookie as far as I’m concerned.

Jim Salmon:                      They’re serious, they want it in and out. Everybody wants the deal signed off on. I have a line. I have a line that’s pretty high, and I’ll give somebody one shot at me, and maybe second shot at me. At the third shot, there’s some in your face stuff, and nobody wants that.

Peter Schick :                    I don’t blame you for that.

Jim Salmon:                      I go over to my client who’s there, and I say to him, I apologize for what’s about to happen, but I gotta have some words with this guy.

Peter Schick :                    I’ll tell you from my point of view, the thing that gets me is sometimes the homeowner doesn’t necessarily know the severity of some of these things, and maybe a home inspector finds something, and the homeowner, because they don’t go through this a lot. You do this every day, day in, day out, doing home inspections. They see something, and now they don’t understand the severity of it. Automatically they go high and to the right and think, oh, we gotta get this taken care of. We’re going to kill this deal because of this issue.

Jim Salmon:                      Happens all the time.

Peter Schick :                    Yes, that’s a thing that I experience, and I have to talk them off the ledge. It’s like no no no no, this isn’t a bad problem, this isn’t that big of a deal, or they get this big, thick report from you, and it says all these things that are wrong. It almost overwhelms a lot of homeowners. I’m there for the negatives.

Jim Salmon:                      Now, I always weigh in, because I stick my nose into everything, but I always weigh into a house that’s really well-maintained. The ones I hate are the ones that have had no real estate agent intervention or advice. You get there, dishes piled up to the ceiling in the sink, there’s stuff all over the place. You as a real estate person, I mean, I know how you operate. You sit down with people, you say okay, look, when a home inspections going to come, I want to sell this house for you. Make sure everything’s nice and clean, declutter, and all that good advice.

Peter Schick :                    Yup, that’s true, that’s true. There’s only so many things you can do for some clients, to be quite honest. I could say hey, have it cleaned up. Hey, I need you to be able to take care of this. Whether they do it or not, that really, it boils down to them.

Jim Salmon:                      A marketing genius that I trust, he told me, there’s seven percent of the people you will never satisfy.

Peter Schick :                    That’s very true.

Jim Salmon:                      If I can knock off 93, I’m good.

Peter Schick :                    There’s something that I heard somewhere where it said, to get 95 percent customer satisfaction, like you said, that two percent that are within that, they’re the ones that cost all that extra money. It’s almost like, is the juice worth the squeeze? Some people will just never be satisfied.

Jim Salmon:                      I think right now the percentage, certainly in our areas, about 85 percent of the people have home inspections. We’re in a great real estate market right now for you guys. It’s going up.

Peter Schick :                    It’s crazy.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, I’ve seen prices go really high, at least up here in Rochester, I’m seeing a lot of stuff going on, active. The people that don’t have a home inspection, it might be a little bit more right now because things go so quickly. Houses are sold immediately because there’s not a lot of inventory.

Peter Schick :                    Then again, I don’t even know of an excuse where I wouldn’t get one.

Jim Salmon:                      Bingo.

Peter Schick :                    That’s the thing. I recommend it no matter what, it’s like just do it. Why not? You’re going to be able to discover those issues, and you’ll be able to cut it off at the pass. It’s better in the long term. I can’t think of a situation where I wouldn’t tell a client not to get one.

Jim Salmon:                      I have a brother-in-law in the real estate business, and he’s like the family real estate guy, so you’ve gotta use him. He’s the black sheep of the family, you know how they are. No, actually, I am. My wife’s best friend, buying a house, her first house, my brother-in-law’s a real estate agent. They’re looking at a bunch of houses, and I kept telling her, make sure I inspect that house, make sure I inspect that house. Brother-in-law goes oh, this house is fine. They buy the house, whatever, everybody’s all excited. They move in, and I’m helping them move in. Of course, I always bring my little ladder with me. I pop up in the attic, all charcoal. Massive house fire. Nobody knew about it, all merchandise cleaned up. I go well, I’m not one to say I told you so, but I told you so.

Peter Schick :                    That’s a really, I don’t get that.

Jim Salmon:                      Don’t let that stuff happen. That’s crazy.

Peter Schick :                    That’s terrible.

Jim Salmon:                      I have good relationships with most people in my life. I can be a little bit on the difficult side and whatever, but most real estate people I can get along with. There are a few, a couple of good stories. I’m inspecting a cottage down in [Kenicious 00:15:50] Lake, a beautiful lake, good community, fairly reasonable type price. My client and his wife were there, they’re great people, we’re going through and whatever, and their real estate person was there. The listing agent, which was from another real estate office, I won’t get into what, well, the balloon, but anyway. We’re coming through the living room and her phone rings. You know how your cell phone, when somebody’s on it, sometimes you can hear the whole conversation. She answers it, she says hello, and it was the listing agent. He goes, we got a big problem here. That Jim Salmon’s a minor league asshole.

Peter Schick :                    What?

Jim Salmon:                      Everybody heard that.

Peter Schick :                    It was that loud on the phone, or was it on speakerphone?

Jim Salmon:                      It was that loud. I break out laughing, right, and I said, welcome to my world. My client lady turned to me and goes, what was that all about? That wasn’t very nice. I gotta stop and I gotta explain that I’m here for them, and the real estate guy, that guy doesn’t like me because I’ve inspected 50 of his listings, and there’s always a list. It is what it is.

Peter Schick :                    That’s part of the job though. I mean, I’m expecting things, and you know what, if I’m selling a place and buyer has an inspection, I’m totally expecting them to come back with something and be like, well, there’s this, that, and the other. That’s just, that is part of the issue. That is part of the job, and I’m not going to fault the guy, but then again, it’s like hey, now it’s my job to start going into that negotiation mode. That’s really what it boils down to. It’s like a sailor complaining about the sea. That’s how I see that.

Jim Salmon:                      Just because sometimes I like to make sure that what I’m thinking about is known to those types of people, I called the managing broker, who I know, and I said, not for nothing, but that was pretty unprofessional. This is what happened. This is what he said. Well, you do have a target on your back. I go, well okay, I’m done with you. The thing is, and I’m not talking about you, because you’re a good guy, but they spend billions of dollars trying to convince everybody that they’re ethical, and that everything’s right. One little situation like that, and I had to explain to the poor lady, anyway, I’m done with that rant.

Peter Schick :                    It makes everybody else look bad.

Jim Salmon:                      Okay, it’s your turn.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, it is my turn. Like I said, like I was alluding to earlier, the thing that gets me is okay, we get the report back, and now I just feel like with that report, there’ll be some minor things in there and they’ll twist my arm, keep twisting and keep twisting, like I want $1,000 off of the price or I want a $500 credit. Now it’s like the entire deal could just go down, it could sink into, or it could blow up in my face. This will be a $200,000 home or something, over a $500 credit. That’s that.

Jim Salmon:                      I see deals broken for 100 bucks. People dig in.

Peter Schick :                    Is it really worth it, is it really worth it? Then now it’s like me talking to them and being like okay, okay. We have gotten this far, we’ve gotten this far. This is the house you really like, is it worth it for the $500? Is it? If it is, that they want to kill it over that, a lot of the times I’ll be like, look, I’ll take a little out of my commission. Let’s just do this. Let’s just do this and move forward.

Jim Salmon:                      Get her done.

Peter Schick :                    Get her done. If that’s really what you’re getting hung up on, if you’re just grinding your feet into the ground and just not moving, we’ll do what we gotta do. That’s the thing that gets me. Yeah. I know a lot of agents who wouldn’t even do something like that. I’ve had to do that before. It gets ridiculous.

Jim Salmon:                      Some of the unethical practices that have gone on here in the Rochester area, some of the bigger real estate companies have come up with these lists of preferred contractor type folks and home inspectors and lawyers and furniture, the movers and stuff. Anything like that in a retail setting is acceptable as far as I’m concerned. A lawyer, no, a home inspector, no. Any other professional, maybe an appraiser, no. You can’t pay to be on a list at so-and-so real estate.

Peter Schick :                    I’ve seen that before.

Jim Salmon:                      The state of New York did away with all of that, but it’s still out there. Every once in a while somebody will send me something where …

Peter Schick :                    I still hear about that. I still hear about that, actually fairly regularly, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      You cannot pay the real estate company to send you home inspection leads. That is absolutely unethical.

Peter Schick :                    I agree, I totally agree.

Jim Salmon:                      Now, as a home inspector, we’re required to take continuing education courses. It’s 12 hours a year, 24 over the two-year license period, and I teach courses on home inspector safety. That’s so much fun. I feel out of a cherry tree and broke both of my legs.

Peter Schick :                    Ah yeah, that wasn’t too long ago. That wasn’t too long ago, was it?

Jim Salmon:                      No, it wasn’t. You hear about home inspectors all the time that fall off a roof, or some get cooked up in an electrical panel. I mean, I’ve been shocked a million times. Sometimes you open a panel and there’s water running out of the bottom of it.

Peter Schick :                    They even have those safety courses for real estate agents too.

Jim Salmon:                      Do they?

Peter Schick :                    Because say if you’re just alone showing a client, or you’re going there for a listing appointment, somebody attacks you or whatever, I think that happened actually not that long ago where some incident like that happened. Yeah, we go through a similar thing.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, I was inspecting a house a few years back, and the real estate lady and I were in the house. It was a vacant house, my client was there, and the guy across the street apparently was the power of attorney for the house, it was an estate, and he somehow didn’t know the home inspection was supposed to go on. He comes running in there with a stick, a baseball bat, and is chasing us out of the house. This can’t even be happening.

Peter Schick :                    You can’t make that up.

Jim Salmon:                      So many bizarre things like that that happen. The ones I love the best are, I usually do the outside first and then I’ll go inside and do the garage, then into the basement. The ones I love the best are you open the basement are, and there’s the water level.

Peter Schick :                    It’s right there.

Jim Salmon:                      Six inches, the whole basement’s full of water. That’s happened a dozen times in my career. Of course, we’re done now.

Peter Schick :                    It’s like oh, I guess this isn’t happening.

Jim Salmon:                      That makes a short home inspection. Then there’s the critters. Oh my gosh, the raccoons in the chimney and the squirrels. You can’t even make it up. It’s a hazardous job.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, I ran into one in a basement one.

Jim Salmon:                      A raccoon?

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, it just hissed at me or whatever. I’m like okay, going upstairs, I don’t want to get rabies or whatever that thing has.

Jim Salmon:                      Early in my career when I wasn’t expecting anything like that, now when I look in, I’m …

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, you’re not surprised.

Jim Salmon:                      This is the part where I don’t know what’s going to run out at me. I’ve opened little attic doors and my client’s behind me and a squirrel comes flying out. I go backwards and we all go down the stairs. I try to be prepared for that stuff.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, you just gotta brace yourself before you open the door. I could see that.

Jim Salmon:                      Now, how’s money these days? I mean, can just about anybody get a mortgage right now?

Peter Schick :                    It’s not like ’07, where yeah, pretty much anybody could. There’s a lot more, they have to really check out the income requirements. The income requirements is a big thing, and the amount down that you have to put. Like 20 percent down typically for your regular conventional mortgage. If it’s an investment property, 25 percent, you’re going to see that. Unless you have a VA loan or something, you’re not going to get these very low or zero down unless it’s VA loan or FHA.

Jim Salmon:                      Now, you’re a military guy. Do you have a specialty in that, a lot of your clients …

Peter Schick :                    I’ve done it before. I don’t specialize in VA, but I can, because I’ve used the VA loan before, so I know all the steps you gotta go through towards that. I can, but usually the thing I specialize in is income properties and investments. That’s the big thing that I specialize in. The reason I like that is unlike finding a single family or typical residential real estate with single families, I find that it’s not as an emotional thing with an investor. It’s usually hey, this is what I’m looking for, this is the returns I want.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s all about the numbers.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, it’s essentially about the numbers. There’s not as much of the managing of the emotions that I was talking about earlier, especially with the single family piece, because it’s a huge thing for 99 percent of families out there. That’s going to be the most expensive thing they own.

Jim Salmon:                      Ever.

Peter Schick :                    Ever, and of course there’s going to be a lot of emotions tied into it, and it’s a very emotional process. I find that as an agent, I’m spending a lot of my time just managing that more than anything else. Finding the place and getting to know a client’s tastes and what they’re interested in, that isn’t very difficult. Reading their emotions and everything else, that’s not difficult, but managing it, that’s a whole other game. That’s a whole other game. That really boils down to the relationship you have with them.

Jim Salmon:                      When I first got in the home inspection business, the company I was working for went out of business. I found myself without a job, so I thought well, I’ll go take some home inspector courses. Always wanted to do that. I’ve been in the lumber business all my life, and people threw money at me back then. It was like, you could have as many credit cards as you wanted, business loans. It was an environment that was created by, I don’t know what.

Peter Schick :                    Well, it created a bubble, and that bubble broke.

Jim Salmon:                      It sure did.

Peter Schick :                    I’ll tell you that much. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that they have some income requirements and credit requirements where maybe before it would be like hey, you got a 600 FICO. You’re going to be spending over half of your income to pay off your loan, the interest and the principal. Yeah, here you go. The bank, why would you do that? They’re going to default, it’s all that’s going to happen.

Jim Salmon:                      It was a mess, and I think it took a while for things to settle out and recover a little bit, but once real estate started back up, I mean, it was just a little bit of a hiccup. It wasn’t that bad in 2007, 2008.

Peter Schick :                    Well, that’s the Rochester area. Some other areas would beg to differ.

Jim Salmon:                      Florida and whatever.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, Florida, Las Vegas, and there’s some other ones that got slammed. Here, Rochester, it was a little dip, but it recovered fairly well. I think we’re a little more insulated here than say some of the other places.

Jim Salmon:                      Well, I think that it’s important that people know that the home inspector that they get and the real estate person that they get needs to represent them. An interview with people and, it’s all good. You can learn an awful lot with a 10-minute conversation with someone.

Peter Schick :                    It’s very true, and like I said, that boils down to that personal relationship you have with that, with your agent, with your inspector, and the biggest thing with that relationship is knowing that hey, even that they are going to have your back, even if it is one of those small little details where it’s a few hundred dollars that you’re arguing over, because a lot of agents, the ones who are just hey, I just want my commission and move onto the next thing, onto the next one, they’re not going to care about that. They just want to get their check and move on with life. It’s all about that relationship.

Jim Salmon:                      You know, I’m in crawl spaces and dirty areas and places rats wouldn’t want to go all the time, and I can give you folks one good piece of advice. If your home inspector shows up with a suit and tie, that’s a problem. Well, I think we’ve pretty well exhausted this conversation, although we could go on and on with stories and stuff like that.

Peter Schick :                    No, I got plenty of other stories that we could go on, but yeah. All about the relationship, and all about just making sure that they keep your best interests in mind for both of them.

Jim Salmon:                      There you go. Well, and with that, we’ll close up this edition of the houseatwork.com home repair clinic podcast. If you would like to email us, Peter’s going to give you the email.

Peter Schick :                    If you have any questions, or you want anything that you want us to discuss or bring up, you can contact us at [email protected]

Jim Salmon:                      That’s great. We’ll see you next time, folks. Thanks for tuning in.

Ep 1: Water Heaters and Air Conditioner Selection and Considerations

House At Work Home Repair Clinic

In Episode 1, Jim and Peter discuss the pros and cons of different types of water heaters and air conditioning units as well as the associated maintenance and considerations for each.  Topics include what kind of what heater works best for your home, when you should replace your water hater, as well as common problems and solutions with water heaters.  The discussion then transitions to air conditioners for residential homes where Jim and Peter discuss air conditioner selection, maintenance, and tips.

Do you have a home improvement question?  Email us at [email protected] and we will do our best to get it answered for you!  Do you need help with a home improvement project and live in the upstate New York region?  Go to www.houseatwork.com and click “Find Contractors“.

Jim Salmon:                      Hi, everybody. Welcome to the houseatwork.com Home Repair Clinic. My name is Jim Salmon.

Peter Schick :                    I’m Peter Schick.

Jim Salmon:                      And you’re Peter Schick.

Peter Schick :                    Yes, I am. Here I am.

Jim Salmon:                      Today we’re going to talk about home repair, water heaters, air conditioning, maybe a little wet basement action as we’re going along?

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, it’s a lot of the things we’ve been hearing on your show.

Jim Salmon:                      Absolutely.

Peter Schick :                    Especially the water heater piece. Like, selection of it, maintenance of it. Pretty much anything, whether it’s a tankless, or one that has a tank. Whatever it is, we’ve just been getting a lot of questions on that, so we’ll just be figuring out what knowledge we can drop on you.

Jim Salmon:                      There you go. Pretty much everybody has a water heater. We’ll get into that here in a second, but I thought we’d take a minute or so and introduce ourselves. Peter Schick, why don’t you star with that, and tell folks who you are.

Peter Schick :                    So, I’m Peter Schick. I’m a real estate agent here in Rochester, New York. I mostly focus on income properties, and also flips. I do some of the work myself, for the flips that I do. I do some residential work, in terms of representing clients for single family stuff, but mostly in income properties and flips.

Jim Salmon:                      So, basically what you just said there, is you have a lot of money.

Peter Schick :                    Well, yeah, no. The bank helps me out on certain things. I wouldn’t go that far.

Jim Salmon:                      That’s a great subject, too, is to talk flips, because a lot of people are doing that, but I’ll just take a minute and introduce myself. My name is Jim Salmon, and I am a home inspector here in Rochester, New York. I’m also-

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, you’re one of my nemesis’, as a real estate agent.

Jim Salmon:                      That’s going to be great. Therein lies a show. So, I do home inspections. Pre-purchased home inspections for people that are buying a house. Or people that are getting ready to sell their house. Or people that are buying commercial buildings, or whatever. You hire me to go in there and look at it for you. We meet, and talk about it, whatever, and it’s all good.

Peter Schick :                    Well, let me just tell you one thing about Jim here. I have heard through the grapevine, throughout town, working with other home owners, working with other agents, this guy’s a nightmare for a lot of them. He will point out these tiny, minuscule things, and then the next thing you know the buyer’s getting something saying, from the engineer’s inspection, “This needs to get fixed.” And they always remember it. It makes guys like me want to pull my hair out, when I have to deal with some of these little fixes. Like, come one, let’s just close this. Let’s just get on with our lives.

Jim Salmon:                      Whenever I show up to do a home inspection, the real estate folks are usually there, my client’s there, who I usually haven’t met. And they don’t know whatever, so I start out, and I make everybody calm and explain that I am here for you. I represent you. And you should see the agents eyes rolling. “You’re not here for him!” But anyway. So, therein lies another show. I’m also a, for the past 30 years almost, the host of the Home Repair Clinic radio programs on News Radio WAM 1180 in Rochester, New York. You can listen to those shows on wam1180.com, or my website at jimsalmon.com. Also, run the website, which, as you do, too. So, we’re busy guys.

Peter Schick :                    Yep, making it happen.

Jim Salmon:                      So, we thought we’d come in here and start it off today with water heaters.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, as we discussed.

Jim Salmon:                      On a radio program we get tons and tons of people calling in, “My water heater makes noise. It leaks. It didn’t last long. Or, how long will it last?” All great questions, so we thought we’d cover most of them today.

Peter Schick :                    Definitely. One of the things I’ve heard a lot, and I’ve actually experienced this, is when it starts leaking. To me, that’s … I mean, so many people, they don’t want to bite the bullet, but there’s only so much you can do at that point. That, to me, now, you have more experience with this. But, to me, that signals, that’s a big red flag to me. This thing needs to get replaced.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, when it leaks, it still may be working for a few days after that, but if it’s leaking out of the bottom that means there’s a pinhole in the bottom of the tank inside, and people think, “Wow, how can it leak? It’s glass lined.” Well, you don’t understand. It’s not like a thermos bottle with this big, thick glass liner. It’s just got a little bit of stuff sprayed on the inside of the tank, and some of that just wears away, and some impurities sometimes, and it leaks on the floor, and you’re done.

Peter Schick :                    And there’s only so many years these things are going to last. I mean, I think if you got maybe a dozen years out of it, it’s gone it’s course. It’s run it’s course.

Jim Salmon:                      That’s exactly right. Twelve years is the average life expectancy of a modern gas water heater. Now sometimes you can squeeze a little bit more out of an electric one by replacing elements or whatever, but usually it’s twelve, in and out, with gas.

Peter Schick :                    Now, this is a good thing to kind of dove tail off of. The electric one. Because, the place I just got has an electric one in it. They say, because that hurts your utility bill, meaning that’s going to cost a lot more to actually have an electric one over a gas one. That’s what I’ve heard. Is that just a myth? Or is that more kind of like, yeah, that’s more grounded in fact.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s not a myth. It is true, but it’s not true in every parts of the country. Some parts of the United States of America electricity is extremely inexpensive, and it makes sense. But other parts, like our area here, where the municipal electric rates are very, very high, unless you get into an area that has … A town, if you will, that has its own municipal electric. Sometimes there you can really save money and it makes sense.

Peter Schick :                    Like here in Rochester, Fairport Electric is kind of a … That’s a big deal there, where that’s a good reason to move there.

Jim Salmon:                      I think we have three or four of those around here, Fairport, New York, Churchville, Holly, New York, all have their town municipal electric companies that were set up years ago. They buy their own power and the folks get the benefit of the reduced price on that. I still think, though, that natural gas fired water heaters, natural gas being very, very inexpensive right now. It’s been that way for years, and I don’t see that changing too much. So, gas is usually the way to-

Peter Schick :                    Now, is there more of a … Is there efficiency concerns with that? Namely between electric and natural gas? I’ve always been led to believe, I’ve been to believe-

Jim Salmon:                      An electric water heater is 100% efficient, because every watt, a watt is a watt. It comes in, it comes out, and for every electric whatever that goes in there, you get the same amount of heat back.

Peter Schick :                    Interesting, because I heard kind of this myth going around where it’s more of gas is more efficient.

Jim Salmon:                      That’s not true.

Peter Schick :                    Okay.

Jim Salmon:                      That’s because it has a-

Peter Schick :                    That actually makes sense because it’s radiating.

Jim Salmon:                      There’s a waste bi-product of it. Even though modern, power vented water heaters, and even on-demand water heaters are extremely efficient between 90 and 97% depending on the ones you buy, that still means there is some waste that comes out of there. So, it’s not 100 like electricity.

Peter Schick :                    That’s actually very interesting, because that is a very commonly held thing that I’ve heard from many people. Many home owners I talk to. “Oh, yes. The natural gas is so much more efficient. I want that.” But, that’s not necessarily true.

Jim Salmon:                      No, it isn’t. But, most of the time it makes more sense to do gas then it does electric, unless you live in one of those towns that we talked about. Now, there’s several kinds of water heaters. A regular atmospheric drafting water heater. They’re still available, and the building codes changed a little bit, so we’re not on three inch flues anymore. They all have to be four inch, and those need to vent into a chimney. Then there’s power vented water heaters, which use up, they’re so much more efficient, that what’s left is about a 90 degree temperature flue gas, and you can vent with plastic. You can go right out the side wall, you don’t need the-

Peter Schick :                    Ah, so you don’t need to worry about connecting that to a chimney, or anything else. Pretty much you could treat the flue, essentially like, how you treat a dryer vent, more or less.

Jim Salmon:                      Right. The only draw back with that, though, is that we grew up with atmospheric water heaters, and when the power goes out the water heater still worked. With a power vented water heater, there’s a fan on top of it that blows the flue gasses out, and if that’s not operating the gas valve won’t turn on, so thus, you don’t get hot water.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, exactly. That actually brings up an interesting point, because here in Rochester a few months ago we had this really bad blackout. What was it, March or so? Because of the wind storm.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, it was out, some of the houses were out for two weeks.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, and we weren’t the only ones. I want to say it’s … Because I have family who live in Wisconsin, and they had a windstorm there, and that windstorm came here like a week later. Because my folks had, they were living in Madison, Wisconsin, and they had a power outage, too, and that preceded ours by a few days. I remember during this, I had the water heater you’re mentioning, and I was like, “Thank you, so much. I still have hot water right now. I might not have heat, but I have hot water.” Because that was the one thing. If I didn’t have the hot water, I’m getting a hotel. I was already contingency planning for that.

Jim Salmon:                      If you get too cold because the furnace isn’t on, you can get in the water heater, you can get in the shower and get warm, at least.

Peter Schick :                    Exactly, you have that working for you. I always thoughts about that, and I was like, “Well, if this goes, I’m going to a hotel.” That was kind of like the decision point.

Jim Salmon:                      Now, the evolution of water heaters, of course, have gone to on-demand water heaters.

Peter Schick :                    Yep.

Jim Salmon:                      Which are vastly different. They’re square, rectangular boxes that mount to the wall.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, it doesn’t take up nearly as much space.

Jim Salmon:                      Europe has had these types of water heaters for 50 years. Of course, we’re a little slow on this. When they started here, 10/15 years ago, they were all vented with metal, which was a challenge. Once we got to high efficiency on these, now they’re all vented with plastic, and a typical house, a 2,000 square foot house with two and a half bathrooms, 180 to 200,000 BTU on demand water heater is what I see, a lot of times, out there as a home inspector.

Peter Schick :                    That’s interesting, because-

Jim Salmon:                      Now, there are some problems with it, but, like anything else.

Peter Schick :                    What are some of the problems? Because everybody talks up the on-demand ones.

Jim Salmon:                      I’m not a big fan of on-demand water heaters, I’ll be honest with you. You take a family of five, okay? I don’t know about your house, but you’re a little younger than I am. But, when the kids are running around and the dogs, and the whole stuff, whatever. Showers, there’s the dishwasher, the laundry’s going every single day. Sometimes you get into this a little bit, and the on-demand water heater can’t really keep up like you would like it to. So, you have to have rules. Like, when somebody’s in the shower the d-dub isn’t running.

Peter Schick :                    So, it’s not necessarily as warm as you would potentially like it to be? Is that what you mean?

Jim Salmon:                      No, it’s a volume thing, too. It can only process so much hot water at once. When it’s working, it’s constant. But if you have three or four things on, sometimes it just, it just can’t-

Peter Schick :                    Oh, I see. So, there’s only so much stress the system can take, in terms of-

Jim Salmon:                      But you’re right, though. It does turn into temperature. If there’s three things running, and then you put a fourth thing on there and it’s not able to keep up with that, the water won’t be as warm. Then there’s a point where the on-demand water heater needs a certain amount of pressure and volume flowing through it to actually turn on. So, sometimes you run into issues with that.

Peter Schick :                    I see. I think another issue that’s actually worth bringing up with that is, now up here we don’t have issues with water. We have tons of, we have no issues with that.

Jim Salmon:                      Actually, we have too much water.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, exactly. We’ve had too much water, recently. I will definitely say that much. I think our friends on the lake will agree with us, but say if you’re … I’d say around a year ago, like California, Texas, they were going through a pretty severe drought. So, now water consumption’s going to start becoming more and more of a concern. Now, I would assume that having an on-demand water heater would make it where you wouldn’t necessarily think about your water consumption as much. Meaning, kind of like if you have a water heater tank, you start running out of hot water, it makes you think, “Well, I’m not going to use as much water.”

Jim Salmon:                      You know, I’ve never thought about that before, but now that you mention it, that’s not a bad idea. Because I have friends that routinely drain down, clean their hot tub and refill it with their on-demand water heater. Which is ridiculous. Only an idiot would do that. Some people try to get the swimming pool up to the right temperatures with an on-demand water heater. And you think, if money’s no object, whatever. But, it does give you the ability to not have to worry about all you have is 40 or 50 gallons, and you’re out. This thing will go forever. So, from that aspect, maybe you do things you wouldn’t normally do.

Peter Schick :                    Where there isn’t that kind of check where, “Okay, I’m running out. I’m not going to run the hot water.”

Jim Salmon:                      People ask me all the time, “What do you think of those on-demand water heaters?” I go, “Okay, if you’re situation is good for that, then that’s okay.” What would make it good? Okay, maybe you’re not home a lot. Maybe you go to Florida for six months. Perfect. You’re water heater’s on, you don’t have standing … You use no gas in the six months you’re in Florida. You come back, you fire it up, and away you go. Now with a tank water heater, you have the ability to put it on vacation setting, but you’re still-

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, but how many people actually do that? That’s the other thing. It’s only as good as the home owner’s knowledge of the actual thing. Because I’ve done that before. I have, but not very often. It’s not one of the things that’s on top of my checklist when I’m going on vacation.

Jim Salmon:                      We can do a whole show on what to do when you’re gone for a few months, and your house, and you’re right. That does happen, but I think that when it comes to on-demand, it has to be perfectly tailored for your family. For one or two people, perfect.

Peter Schick :                    I agree.

Jim Salmon:                      One of the biggest complaints I get about water heaters is the noise they make. There’s a ton of different noises that water heaters make. An electric water heater, for instance, produced a humming noise.

Peter Schick :                    Yep, I’ve heard that one.

Jim Salmon:                      That’s normal. There’s not a lot you can do with that. The older the element, the more you might find that it makes humming noises. You always have the ability to change out the elements, which are 25 bucks a piece. They’re not that expensive. Rumbling, popping, and cracking noises are all usually associated with a gas water heater. Those are mineral deposits, and stuff on the bottom of the tank. Every once in a while I’ll show up at a house, do a home inspection, and the home owner’s so proud of his 1954 John Wood Penfield water heater that’s … What he doesn’t understand is you’re heating through eight inches of slag in the bottom of that tank before you get to any water. So, it’s grossly inefficient.

Peter Schick :                    Super inefficient, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Calcium, lime deposits make those noises. Rumbling noises. Some water heaters produce a little bit of hydrogen gas from the heating process, which can pocket at the top of the water heater, then when you turn on a hot faucet you get that gas coming out, and it’s spitting. That’s not a rural, but it does happen sometimes.

Peter Schick :                    One thing, and you mentioned, kind of, some of the noises it might make. I think, I don’t want people to necessarily mistake that with like, say, if you have a boiler. That’s a whole different, that’s a whole other animal there, because you’ll hear the clanking and everything else, but that’s more from air in the line, or whatnot. So, you hear that noise, that’s not necessarily your water heater, that’s your boiler.

Jim Salmon:                      I’ve been in buildings where the water heater is actually screaming, and it’s like a sizzling, very annoying. Then I’ll go up to a valve, and the valve’s like halfway shut for some reason. I’ll open a valve and it completely stops. Screaming noises with water heaters come from water passing through a smaller opening for some reason. Every once in a while your kid climbs up on a ladder and he shuts a valve halfway off, or something like that.

Peter Schick :                    Or you’re trying to shut off something else. Say you’re putting in a new vanity or something, you shut off the water and then forget, yeah. Yep.

Jim Salmon:                      Water hammers happen a lot, and so does thermal expansion, with water heaters. There’s a temperature and pressure relief valve on the side of the water heater, with a discharge tube that’s supposed to take it down to about six inches to the floor. In my career, three or four times, I’ve had those just go off in proximity to me, and that’s scalding water, that’s why the discharge tube.

Peter Schick :                    Yes, the discharge tube, that’s really important. That it’s actually going all the way to the ground.

Jim Salmon:                      I think that if … I used to work in the home center business, and people would come in, “The temperature and pressure relief valve leaks.” And they thought it was the temperature and pressure relief valve. So, they buy another one, take it home, then they bring that one back and say, “This one’s bad, too. It leaks, also.” But it’s doing what it’s supposed to do. There’s nothing wrong with it.

Peter Schick :                    Yes, relieving the pressure. Now, there could be issues, what I’ve seen with some of the pressure release valves, where the o-ring, the rubber o-ring that’s on that. Like, if you don’t … It could start getting, over time that starts drying out, starts cracking. Then it’s always going to be kind of leaking. Have you seen a lot of that, before?

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, we see that once in a while. Especially if your water heater’s very old, and it’s never leaked, and nobody’s ever flipped it, don’t touch that switch. Don’t touch that handle on there, because once you do that it’s … You know it’s going to continue to leak, and then you’re into an issue. But the thing that happens with these is, when you heat water you create pressure, right?

Peter Schick :                    Yep.

Jim Salmon:                      And, some houses have back flow preventers near the water meter. It’s either in the pressure reducing valve, or whatever, and it won’t allow water that’s already been in your house, the pressure to exceed the pressure and push that water that’s already been in your house back down to the municipal system where it goes to your neighbor. That’s not potable, we don’t want to do that. So, many houses have back flow preventers that won’t let that happen, but the downside of that is, some plumbing systems, you heat water and it creates enough pressure to bring it up to 150 pounds, and it weeps off on the TMP valve on the water heater. And, I see people put caps on them, we don’t want that.

Peter Schick :                    No, let it do it’s thing.

Jim Salmon:                      Every once in a while, every year there’s a couple of water heaters that blow up in the United States, and you see pictures of the thing, like a rocket, going through the second floor and out the roof. The TMP valve is there to act as the first line of defense against the thing sticking on wide open and then blowing up, like a pressure cooker. Anyway, don’t ever put a cap on it. But, certain houses have this thermal expansion issue, and it’s solved very easily by installing a one gallon exteral tank, or a pressure tank. It has a bladder in it that’s about half full of air, half full of water, and that absorbs the fluctuations in pressure.

Peter Schick :                    So, it’s an expansion tank essentially. Okay.

Jim Salmon:                      You install that as close to the hot site as you can, and that just acts as a protector on that. Once you install that, I would say that maybe 10/15% of the houses that I inspect have expansion tanks near the water meter.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, I think that’s, yeah. I see that fairly regularly, too. Now, one of the things that, I think, if you’re a layman, and you have one of these, and the pressure release valve does weep a little water. I think a lot of people, the problem is they think that, like you said, it’s broken. So, then, I plug it up. But, no. That isn’t the case. Don’t do that. Let it do it’s thing. It’s actually, it’s working its magic, is what it’s doing.

Jim Salmon:                      Also, those pressure tanks will help if you have a water hammer problem.

Peter Schick :                    Yep.

Jim Salmon:                      Especially those of you which have Pex plumbing, which is a plastic evolution of plumbing.

Peter Schick :                    Yep, I’ve been seeing that a lot more lately.

Jim Salmon:                      Pex is great. There’s all kinds of brands of that, but Pex is the main brand that we have around here, the fittings and whatever. I have a plumber buddy who, whenever I need plumbing work done, I just borrow his Pex tools. And there’s a little tool chest here with all the fittings in there, and I don’t know how much they are because I never have to pay him, so.

Peter Schick :                    Well, yeah, I’ll tell you this is a lot cheaper than, say, copper pipe.

Jim Salmon:                      Oh yeah, it is. Copper’s nuts right now.

Peter Schick :                    I will go with that all day long. I’ll go with the flex piping.

Jim Salmon:                      But that pressure tank can also help you with water hammer noises. The reason I brought up Pex is that sometimes with plastic plumbing they seem to, maybe on a bathroom vanity, or a kitchen sink, or whatever, you develop a water hammer noise. Which is like that machine gun type sound.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, I know that one.

Jim Salmon:                      Most of the plastic plumbing companies like Pex make a little shock absorber that can be installed under the sink for those. So, that’s … Sometimes the one you install in the water heater will help throughout the house with water hammers.

Peter Schick :                    Okay, that’s good to know.

Jim Salmon:                      Have we exhausted water heaters? Should we move on to-

Peter Schick :                    I don’t know. We went really long with the water heaters there.

Jim Salmon:                      Well, there’s a lot of … This would be a good time to introduce ourselves again. My name’s Jim Salmon, his name is Peter Schick, and houseatwork.com Home Repair Clinic is what you’re listening to. We do have an email address where if people would like to write in, we’ll deal with these answers on the podcast.

Peter Schick :                    Yep, if you write us at contactus, all one word, at houseatwork.com, you send us your question and we’ll do our best to answer it for you, and there’s a good chance we might actually bring it up on the podcast.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah. Now, this time of year, being early June, we’re starting to think about, especially around here, the temperatures in the 80s. Air conditioning is firing up.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, exactly. Summer finally came here. And it’s been pretty cold up to this point. Well, I’d say, unseasonably cool, we’ll call it. I won’t say cold, but unseasonably cool. Now everybody’s starting to think, of course, it’s not a problem until it is. Now people have their mind on AC units, fixing their AC if it’s not working right now. So, yeah, as you said.

Jim Salmon:                      After, I don’t know. How do I put this? After winter time, when all the covers are now off of the air conditioner compressor cabinets that are outside, you look for the ones that have the u-shaped dent in them from the ice stand that fell off the roof.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, from the gutter, and it just smashes it.

Jim Salmon:                      Those are done. That’s a replacement type of thing. I’ve seen them where the dents go ten inches into the top of the cabinet. It’s just crazy.

Peter Schick :                    What an interesting question would be, would insurance cover that? That’d be …

Jim Salmon:                      Gosh, good question.

Peter Schick :                    Because you’d think, well, it was an ice stand that formed on my gutter, and it fell. What are you going to do about it? It’s kind of like if a tree falls on your house.

Jim Salmon:                      I would say yes, to that. I think so.

Peter Schick :                    That’s kind of what I was leaning towards, as well. If I had my home owner’s policy I’d call them up, say, “Hey, I had an ice stand fall on my AC unit. Can I get a new AC unit?” If they didn’t cover that, I’d be kind of scratching my head.

Jim Salmon:                      Now, if it was an asteroid or something, that’s another matter. They don’t cover that, I already know that. If your air conditioner has some damage, and obviously all you have to do is take a quick look at it, if it has some damage then you get a heating professional in there to check it out, because most home owners are not … 99.9% of the home owners are not qualified to do anything to their AC.

Peter Schick :                    No, I wouldn’t even touch it.

Jim Salmon:                      The only thing you could do, I noticed this week, in our area, the cottonwood trees are producing … And cottonwood floating around can take an completely cover, and mat over, an air conditioner compressor cabinet. Most people think that air conditioners are somehow making cold air magically, and bringing it in.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, you just have some elves working in there. Just turning a few wrenches, making the fan spin.

Jim Salmon:                      When in reality, what an air conditioner does is take heat out of your house, out to that compressor cabinet and giving it off. Thus cooling your home. You take the heat out, it gets cooler. So, if these, the little fins, like radiator fins around the outside of the compressor cabinet, are all filled up with cottonwood and matted over, it can’t give off as much heat. So, therefor it becomes much less efficient. If your AC unit is, oh, let’s say 12 to 15 years old, it’s in the last, certainly quarter of its life.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, I’ve seen some that have lasted 20 years, and they’re still on Freon, and everything else, and it’s like … People asking, “Hey, can I salvage this?” It’s like, “You can’t even buy the coolant anymore, for that.”

Jim Salmon:                      It’s a behemoth. It’s an albatross.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      Freon is r22 coolant. And r22 coolant was what we used for 50 years. It was great. Well, let me put it this way. It was cheap, and it was available, and it made air conditioning for most Americans since the 40s. It’s called a hydrochloral fluorocarbon.

Peter Schick :                    That’s a mouthful.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, it’s a big mouthful. The chloral part of it, the way I understand it, and I’m not a scientist guy. Which, you probably can already tell. That’s, they say, destroys the ozone layer. So, now in comes more modern coolants, which are actually hydro fluorocarbants instead of hydrochloral fluorocarbants.

Peter Schick :                    I almost feel like you’re really splitting hairs, but I’m sure there’s some really big difference, like you stated, between those.

Jim Salmon:                      As far as I’m concerned, it’s a government money grab. Every air conditioner eventually needs to be replaced. Every refrigerator coolant got changed. It was a money grab, and I’d love to know who started it. The ozone layer? Okay.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, they’re rolling in the dough, now, whoever they are.

Jim Salmon:                      I don’t sign on to a lot of tradition things that a lot of people sign on to. So, if you’re listening to this, and you do believe in the whole global warming thing, and the fact that the ozone layer was destroyed by Freon, then I apologize. Please don’t take it personally. It’s just my opinion. But, you know, r22’s no longer available.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard. The only way you can get that is if like, I don’t know.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s like 200 and something dollars a pint now, too. So, if you have an old-

Peter Schick :                    It’s very rare. You have to go out of your way to find it. And if you do find it, is it really worth it, to actually … You might as well just bite the bullet, get the new one.

Jim Salmon:                      The other part of that is, most of the coolants that we’re using now … The coolant we’re using now is r410a, which is actually better than Freon. It can transfer more heat, in the chemical process, from your house to the cabinet, than Freon could. But it has other things. People ask me all the time, “Well, can I use the long copper tubes that go from my furnace, from the A-coil above my furnace, to the compressor cabinet outside. Can I re-use that?” The answer is no. It’s contaminated with the oils, and the Freon, and the stuff that was in there to begin with, and it’s not compatible at all with the new refrigerants, and the oils that they use to lubricate them. So, that, unfortunately-

Peter Schick :                    So, it’s not as easy as just wham, bam, thank you, ma’am. Here’s a new AC unit. There needs to be actually some significant plumbing work that’s actually going to have to take place.

Jim Salmon:                      The A-coil above your furnace, and you can’t see it, because it’s in a plenum, if you will. What that does is, it allows the heat that comes through that plenum to be transferred through the copper, into the coolant, where it’s then pumped outside, and given off at the compressor cabinet by the fan. None of that can be re-used. That means they have to take apart that plenum and replace the A-coil. The A-coil can’t be re-used, and then the whole compressor cabinet. One of the biggest differences between r22 and r410a is the pressure in the system. I don’t know exactly how much more, but r410a is a lot more. Yeah, so what that meant is the folks trained in [inaudible 00:28:48] and all those guys making modern compressor cabinets, had to make a better compressor.

Peter Schick :                    It has to withstand those additional pressures now.

Jim Salmon:                      Exactly.

Peter Schick :                    Okay. I did not realize that. I didn’t realize there was that much difference in the plumbing that have to be worked on.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s 50% more pressure in that line, r410a, than it is r22.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, wow. That is significant. That is really significant.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s all good, but the coolants work today. They work very well. And as long as the system’s properly installed, that’s a mouthful, too, because that doesn’t always happen. As a heating guy, you have to start somewhere. So, learning how to put this all together is not a perfect science. You want to do your research, and find out who’s the best in your town when it comes to installing that kind of stuff.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, I definitely agree with that. That’s not something you, on the job training, you’re really going to do.

Jim Salmon:                      Like anything else. You had to start out day one writing your first real estate offer, and I had to do my first home inspection. I know right where that house is, too. The bottom line on that is you get lots of estimates, you do your homework. We’ll talk about sear rating here, in a second, but as far as maintenance is concerned, when they install that compressor cabinet outside, first of all it has to be level. There’s a coolant sensor in there that, or coolant heater, that maintains a certain temperature of the heater, so that when you turn it on it works properly. That’s why, if you turn the breaker off to your air conditioner, in the winter time, before you operate it. You can’t just flip the switch and go, you need to make sure its on a day, so that everything can be even.

Peter Schick :                    Exactly.

Jim Salmon:                      When they install that cabinet compressor, you don’t want it right up against the house.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, you need a little space.

Jim Salmon:                      What I operate on is about two feel all the way around. That way that can give off the heat, and be as efficient as it possibly can.

Peter Schick :                    That makes sense.

Jim Salmon:                      I find ivy growing all over them, and [inaudible 00:30:55], and people plant shrubs on either side because they don’t want to look at it. I get that, but it’s all about how much it costs you to operate it, and whether it really cools your house or not.

Peter Schick :                    Exactly, exactly. Now, when you’re selecting who to go with, in terms of installing one of these. Like, an HVAC contractor, what are some of the things that you can kind of look for to make sure, “Hey, they’re kind of doing the right thing.” Say I’m a layman, I don’t really know. What are some things, basic things, that you should look for?

Jim Salmon:                      All right, here’s the deal. A guy shows up. You call him, makes an appointment, he showed up on time, which is good. He walks down to the basement, and he looks at the furnace. He goes out and looks at the compressor cabinet. You have a three ton unit, and your house is, let’s say, 2,500 square feet. He says, “Okay, we’ll quote you a three ton unit.” That’s a mistake. What is in there, in a furnace, and what is in there, in an air conditioner, isn’t necessarily the right one for that house. Things have changed a lot. If you have a house that was built in 1950 and had one inch of insulation in your attic, and then two years ago you tore that all out of there and had your house spray foamed with [inaudible 00:32:06] polyurethane-

Peter Schick :                    That’s a lot more efficient, yep.

Jim Salmon:                      Whoever comes to your house to quote a heating or air conditioning system needs to do some heat loss calculations on your house and make sure the right one is there. Especially with furnaces.

Peter Schick :                    Very, very true.

Jim Salmon:                      100 thousand in, 100 thousand out. Many times not. The design efficiencies have changed, too.

Peter Schick :                    Exactly. The same thing with the efficiencies of the AC unit itself. In the past ten years they’ve gotten better, and same thing with the furnace itself. They’ve gotten more efficient. They’re going to need less power to be able to do more, essentially.

Jim Salmon:                      Right.

Peter Schick :                    They just need an energy audit, is essentially … Energy audit, would that be the best way to describe it?

Jim Salmon:                      That’s one way, although most experienced heating contractor guys and gals can look at a house, inspect what they need, and be able to determine what goes there. I would trust their intuition on a particular house, too. That’s part of what you’re paying for, is the guy’s got to know what the right one is to put in your house. The installation should be pretty. It shouldn’t be ugly. There’s shouldn’t be jagged edges of things, and it should be sealed up nicely. I can tell, every once in a while I’ll walk into a house and I’m thinking to myself, “Wow, who put this in? This is really great.” Or then, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got to be careful I don’t get cut.”

Peter Schick :                    Spray foam all over the place, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      So, it’s … A lot of that … A bigger company isn’t necessarily the best, because they have 25 trucks, and you’re only as good as your worst, or newest guy. You know, I’m not sure that the biggest company is always the best, but then you don’t want a guy that just doesn’t have a good reputation, either. There’s plenty of ways to check people’s reputation. The internet’s a wonderful thing.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, it is.

Jim Salmon:                      One of the misconceptions about air conditioning is, people think that somehow it uses the coolant. Like it burns Freon, or it burns r410a.

Peter Schick :                    I’ve hear that one, too. I’ve heard that one a lot.

Jim Salmon:                      I represent Train heating and air conditioning systems on my radio program, and Train did a study, if you will, about why systems fail, why they leak, and all of a sudden you have low coolant, because it’s a closed system. It doesn’t use coolant. It’s supposed to just continue forever. What it turned out to be was formaldehyde in every house. Every house has a ton of formaldehyde.

Peter Schick :                    Really?

Jim Salmon:                      You don’t know it, and some more people are sensitized to it than others. Kitchen counter tops, and lead particle board-

Peter Schick :                    Oh yeah, this was the same thing with Lumber Liquidators, a little while ago. They had very high amounts of formaldehyde in the flooring that they sold.

Jim Salmon:                      Right, that is part of what’s going on here. But it doesn’t even have to be anywhere near the action levels for having too much of this. It can be just a very small amount, and somehow it is attracted to the A-coil inside, because the cold air return is passing air-

Peter Schick :                    Interesting.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, and it created these little teeny weenie pin holes in the A-coil, which then leaked extremely slowly. The next thing you know you’re out of coolant.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, there you go. So, that’s how a closed system … I see now.

Jim Salmon:                      And your heating guy shows up, right? And he’s got a little detector that he can check for coolant leaks, right? And he’s tightening all the fittings, he’s looking at all the usual suspects, and he goes, “I don’t see any leaks here.” So, he takes out the coolant and he fills it back up again, and it might be a week later, it might be two years later, you’re right back where you started because it has these little teeny holes-

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, the original problem never got fixed. The coil never got replaced.

Jim Salmon:                      Right.

Peter Schick :                    When it was just, “I’ll do what the customer is telling me, replace the coolant.” That’s not necessarily the problem, the underlying issue. So, it makes sense.

Jim Salmon:                      Anyway, don’t believe that your unit uses coolant at all, because it doesn’t.

Peter Schick :                    You know what? You learn something every day, and wow. I didn’t realize that. Especially with the formaldehyde piece.

Jim Salmon:                      The next thing we probably ought to talk about, while we’re on air conditioning, and … How are we doing time wise? We all right?

Peter Schick :                    We’re like at, yeah. Wow.

Jim Salmon:                      We’re having fun.

Peter Schick :                    We’re doing it. Doing it to it.

Jim Salmon:                      Air conditioners are rated by what’s called the sear rating. Seasonal energy efficiency quotient, or something like that. [crosstalk 00:36:45].

Peter Schick :                    Quotient, whatever man! It’s something like that.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s interesting because the government, man, when they stick their nose in stuff-

Peter Schick :                    Oh, you and your government mandates, I know you love them, Jim.

Jim Salmon:                      They mandated a sear rating of 13 or better.

Peter Schick :                    Okay, so, how does this … Yeah, well you’re about to tell me how this actually works.

Jim Salmon:                      So, and I have to go backwards and re-read this thing. It’s all done on a calculation of how much money it costs to cool something to a certain degree.

Peter Schick :                    Okay.

Jim Salmon:                      So, they come up with these ratings, and for years we were in the 13 to 15 range. When the 16s came out, maybe eight years ago, that was great. Now we’re in the 18, 20, 22, and 23 sear ratings. Which, seasonal energy efficiency ratio.

Peter Schick :                    There you go, ratio.

Jim Salmon:                      That’s the proper term. The older you get, the small print, you know. You know, most people are buying the 13 to 16s because they’re pretty inexpensive. For those folks where money’s no object, or you’re buying a new house and you fold it into your mortgage, or whatever. You buy as efficient an air conditioner as you can get your hands on. These systems can be 10/15 thousand dollars.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, wow. That much?

Jim Salmon:                      And the 13s can be in the 65 to 85 range. I’m talking doing furnace and air conditioning.

Peter Schick :                    Okay, I was about to say. I was thinking, AC alone … I was thinking, okay. I’m thinking the number’s like four thousand, five thousand, something like that. Depending on square footage, you know.

Jim Salmon:                      There’s always the low end, and there’s always somebody out there, because this is America and this is how we operate, the better price sometimes wins. There are air conditioners, the whole thing start to finish for 25 hundred. Then you stick a furnace in there, so maybe you’re at 44/45 hundred.

Peter Schick :                    This is one thing that I always, when I talk with a lot of home owners, that they need to understand. It’s very seldom you’re ever going to get quality and low price. This is one of the things I’ve always heard, “I’m going to get the rock bottom price, but I’m also going to get the highest of quality.”

Jim Salmon:                      The thing I disagree with that on is wine.

Peter Schick :                    Wine?

Jim Salmon:                      But I think, by and large, when something’s less expensive, you’re right. When something’s less expensive, there’s something not there.

Peter Schick :                    Well, wines are a little different when you bring that up. I saw some show where they talked about this guy who just re-bottled like, some box wine, and then sold it for double the price. Or he made it seem like it was some vintage, like 1950 whatever, and sold it for like $1,000. Okay, there’s an exception. That is an exception right there, Jim.

Jim Salmon:                      All right. You’re listening, folks, to the houseatwork.com Home Repair Clinic. Hope you enjoyed our podcast. My name’s Jim Salmon.

Peter Schick :                    Name’s Peter Schick.

Jim Salmon:                      And we will be back with another podcast soon, tune in.

A Renewed Bathroom

By Peter Schick

Vanity Selection and Lighting

My initial thought when selecting a new vanity was to have something that would provide additional storage space below it.  I always like having that space for storing toiletries, cleaning supplies, etc.  Unfortunately, this is a small bathroom.  Within a few feet of the vanity was the toilet.  Increasing the size of the vanity would take away valuable real estate in the bathroom and potentially make it much more cramped.  So a larger vanity would not work and decided to stay with a pedestal.  The question now was whether to keep the original in place or to get a new one.  The old vanity seemed to be haphazardly hung to the wall and one of the two pillars that supported it in the front was no longer attached.  It’s days were numbered, so replacing it seemed like a requirement.  Some of the plumbing would have to be adjusted to


shower remodel
Shower remodel before (left) and after (right)

Initially, I thought I would be able to salvage the current shower by cleaning the grout and changing out  the lever and shower head.  After 3 days of cleaning, I found that the tiles had been discolored to a point beyond which I could clean.  I could have re-grouted the shower, but with the tiles looking as bad as they did, it made sense just to redo the entire thing instead of doing a half-assed salvage.

The demolition of the old shower was fairly simple, except for the shower base.  The base was a metal basin filled with concrete with a hole drilled in the center for the drain.  The concrete was over four inches thick below the tile, making it a real pain to break up and remove.  The sides of the shower were tile done over dry wall.  There was some water damage near the transition areas between the shower base and the side tiling, so I was sure to keep this in mind when designing and building the new shower.

Now before I describe what I do next I have to explain a little more.  From the pictures, it looks like that this is a standard standing shower only.  But it isn’t.  Its actually pretty strange.  The shower is a standing shower but instead of being 36” X 36” its actually 40” X 60”.  This creates a fairly unique problem since this space too small to put in a tub (it would have required significant remodeling to do this), and height of the shower was too tall (over 8 feet) for the usual shower side paneling (typically around 6 feet).  Based on this, I decided that tiling the walls made the most sense, though I would have to spend more.  Fortunately, a 40” wide standing shower base fit in this area (barely) so I didn’t have to get too outside the box with a solution for that.  One of the small things I feel I could have done differently with the shower remodel is using a brushed nickel shower head and handle instead of a dark bronze set.  I went with the dark bronze set namely because I thought it looked good with the tiling and it was deeply discounted at Home Depot (I got it for over 60% off, I think someone returned it for whatever reason).


The old flooring was this dingy, cheap vinyl that I felt was in desperate need of replacement:

The crappy flooring I needed to replace.

The floor space was very small within the bathroom so installing tile wouldn’t break the bank and would also be a considerable improvement.  I selected a light gray tile color that I felt worked well with the white trim and blue walls.  Installation was very easy and didn’t run into any snags considering it was one of the first things I did when remodeling the bathroom.