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By Carol Duran | Broker in Chicago, IL
  • How to Clean Up Your Garden for Fall & Winter

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Chicago, How To... in Chicago, Home Ownership in Chicago  |  September 17, 2014 11:05 AM  |  18 views  |  No comments

    Growing season is winding down, but your garden still needs your love. Spent vines, stubborn weeds, greens gone to seed are making your garden look sloppy and tired.

    Here are some fall vegetable garden cleanup tips.

    Bury the dead

    Nothing looks sadder than leggy tomato vines, yellow zucchini leaves, and dried-up perennials that long ago displayed their last bloom. So pull and prune the dead or dying plants in your garden.

    Bury spent plants in your compost pile; double-bag diseased and infested plants and place in the trash. (Empty mulch bags are great final resting places for these plants, so be sure to stockpile them in spring.)

    If your tomato vines are still bearing fruit, keep staking and pruning them until the first hard frost, when they’ll likely die. And give the birds a break and leave some seed-bearing but spent blooms for them. They love sunflowers, cone flowers, berries, and black-eyed Susans.

    Pull weeds

    This is the last time this season to pull weeds. Pluck them before they flower and send seeds throughout your garden that will rest in winter and sprout in spring.

    If you have a mulcher, chop the weeds and throw them on your compost pile. If you want to be extra sure that weed seeds are dead, bag weeds in black plastic and place in a sunny place for a couple of months. The heat will kill the seeds. Then throw the cooked weeds on your compost pile.

    Harvest seeds

    One way to cut garden expenses is to harvest and store seeds. One large sunflower, for instance, can provide seeds for hundreds of plants next spring. Here are some seed guidelines.

    • Harvest seeds from heirloom vegetables and standard plants.
    • Disease can spread through seeds, so only harvest seeds from your healthiest plants.
    • Don’t harvest seeds from hybrid plants, which often are sterile or will look nothing like the parent plant.
    • Only harvest mature seeds from dry and faded blooms and pods. Mature seeds are often cream colored or brown.
    • After seeds are dry, store them in envelopes or glass jars in a cool, dry place.

    Gather supports

    Stack and cover metal tomato cages. Bundle wooden or bamboo stakes, and store in a dry place so they don’t rot over winter. And retrieve panty-hose vine ties that you can re-use next spring.

    Instead of throwing out broken cages and stakes, repurpose them. Snip off remaining cage legs to use for pepper supports. Broken tomato steaks will support smaller plants if you whittle one end into a point, so it easily slips into the ground.

  • Fall Maintenance Checklist

    Posted Under: Home Selling in Chicago, How To... in Chicago, Home Ownership in Chicago  |  September 10, 2014 6:23 AM  |  23 views  |  No comments

    1. Stow the mower.

    If you’re not familiar with fuel stabilizer, you should be. If your mower sits for months with gas in its tank, the gas will slowly deteriorate, which can damage internal engine parts. Fuel stabilizer ($10 for a 10-ounce bottle) prevents gas from degrading.

    Add stabilizer to your gasoline can to keep spare gas in good condition over the winter, and top off your mower tank with stabilized gas before you put it away for the winter. Run the mower for five minutes to make sure the stabilizer reaches the carburetor.

    Another lawn mower care method is to run your mower dry before stowing it.

    1. When the mower is cool, remove the spark plug and pour a capful of engine oil into the spark plug hole.

    2. Pull the starter cord a couple of times to distribute the oil, which keeps pistons lubricated and ensures an easy start come spring.

    3. Turn the mower on its side and clean out accumulated grass and gunk from the mower deck.

    2. Don’t be a drip.

    Remove garden hoses from outdoor faucets. Leaving hoses attached can cause water to back up in the faucets and in the plumbing pipes just inside your exterior walls. If freezing temps hit, that water could freeze, expand, and crack the faucet or pipes. Make this an early fall priority so a sudden cold snap doesn’t sneak up and cause damage.

    Turn off any shutoff valves on water supply lines that lead to exterior faucets. That way, you’ll guard against minor leaks that may let water enter the faucet.

    While you’re at it, drain garden hoses and store them in a shed or garage.

    3. Put your sprinkler system to sleep.

    Time to drain your irrigation system. Even buried irrigation lines can freeze, leading to busted pipes and broken sprinkler heads.

    1. Turn off the water to the system at the main valve.

    2. Shut off the automatic controller.

    3. Open drain valves to remove water from the system.

    4. Remove any above-ground sprinkler heads and shake the water out of them, then replace.

    If you don’t have drain valves, then hire an irrigation pro to blow out the systems pipes with compressed air. A pro is worth the $75 to $150 charge to make sure the job is done right, and to ensure you don’t have busted pipes and sprinkler head repairs to make in the spring.

    4. Seal the deal.

    Grab a couple of tubes of color-matched exterior caulk ($5 for a 12-ounce tube) and make a journey around  your home’s exterior, sealing up cracks between trim and siding, around window and door frames, and where pipes and wires enter your house. Preventing moisture from getting inside your walls is one of the least expensive — and most important — of your fall maintenance jobs. You’ll also seal air leaks that waste energy.

    Pick a nice day when temps are above 50 degrees so caulk flows easily.

    5. De-gunk your gutters.

    Clogged rain gutters can cause ice dams, which can lead to expensive repairs. After the leaves have fallen, clean your gutters to remove leaves, twigs, and gunk. Make sure gutters aren’t sagging and trapping water; tighten gutter hangers and downspout brackets. Replace any worn or damaged gutters and downspouts.

    If you find colored grit from asphalt roof shingles in your gutters, beware. That sand-like grit helps protect shingles from the damaging ultraviolet rays of the sun. Look closely for other signs of roof damage (#5, below); it may be time for a roofing replacement.

    Your downspouts should extend at least 5 feet away from your house to prevent foundation problems. If they don’t, add downspout extensions; $10 to $20 each.

    6. Eyeball your roof.

    If you have a steep roof or a multistory house, stay safe and use binoculars to inspect your roof from the ground.

    Look for warning signs: Shingles that are buckled, cracked, or missing; rust spots on flashing. Any loose, damaged, or missing shingles should be replaced immediately.

    Black algae stains are just cosmetic, but masses of moss and lichen could signal roofing that’s decayed underneath. Call in a pro roofer for a $50 to $100 eval.

    A plumbing vent stack usually is flashed with a rubber collar -- called a boot -- that may crack or loosen over time. They’ll wear out before your roof does, so make sure they’re in good shape. A pro roofer will charge $75 to $150 to replace a boot, depending on how steep your roof is.

    7. Direct your drainage.

    Take a close look at the soil around your foundation and make sure it slopes away from your house at least 6 vertical inches over 10 feet. That way, you’ll keep water from soaking the soils around your foundation, which could lead to cracks and leaks.

    Be sure soil doesn’t touch your siding.

    8. Get your furnace in tune.

    Schedule an appointment with a heating and cooling pro to get your heating system checked and tuned up for the coming heating season. You’ll pay $50 to $100 for a checkup.

    An annual maintenance contract ensures you’re at the top of the list for checks and shaves 20% off the cost of a single visit.

    Change your furnace filters, too. This is a job you should do every two months anyway, but if you haven’t, now’s the time. If your HVAC includes a built-in humidifier, make sure the contractor replaces that filter.

    9. Prune plants.

    Late fall is the best time to prune plants and trees -- when the summer growth cycle is over. Your goal is to keep limbs and branches at least 3 feet from your house so moisture won’t drip onto roofing and siding, and to prevent damage to your house exterior during high winds.

    For advice on pruning specific plants in your region, check with your state extension service.

    10. Give your fireplace a once-over.

    To make sure your fireplace is safe, grab a flashlight and look up inside your fireplace flue to make sure the damper opens and closes properly. Open the damper and look up into the flue to make sure it’s free of birds’ nests, branches and leaves, or other obstructions. You should see daylight at the top of the chimney.

    Check the firebox for cracked or missing bricks and mortar. If you spot any damage, order a professional fireplace and chimney inspection. An inspection costs $79 to $500.

    You fireplace flue should be cleaned of creosote buildup every other year. A professional chimney sweep will charge $150 to $250 for the service.

  • Fall Prep! How to Inspect Windows and Doors to Stop Air and Water Leaks

    Posted Under: Home Selling, How To..., Home Ownership  |  September 3, 2014 1:02 PM  |  24 views  |  No comments

    Inspect windows and doors regularly to stop air and water leaks that mean costly energy and repair bills. We’ll show you how.

    Take a close look at your windows, doors, and skylights to stop air leaks, foil water drips, and detect the gaps and rot that let the outside in. You can perform a quick check with a home air-pressure test, or a DIY energy audit.

    Luckily, these inspections are easy to do. Here’s how to give your house a checkup:

    How to Check for Air Leaks

    A home air pressure test sucks outside air into the house to reveal air leaks that increase your energy bills. To inspect windows and other openings:

    • Seal the house by locking all doors, windows, and skylights.
    • Close all dampers and vents.
    • Turn on all kitchen and bath exhaust fans.
    • Pass a burning incense stick along all openings -- windows, doors, fireplaces, outlets -- to pinpoint air rushing in from the outside.

    How to Pinpoint Window Problems

    Air and water can seep into closed widows from gaps and rot in frames, deteriorating caulking, cracked glass, and closures that don’t fully close.

    To stop air leaks, give your windows a thorough inspection:

    • Give a little shake. If they rattle, frames are not secure, so heat and air conditioning can leak out and rain can seep in. Some caulk and a few nails into surrounding framing will fix this.
    • Look deep. If you can see the outside from around -- not just through -- the window, you’ve got gaps. Seal air leaks by caulking and weather stripping around frames.
    • Inspect window panes for cracks.
    • Check locks. Make sure double-hung windows slide smoothly up and down. If not, run a knife around the frame and sash to loosen any dried paint. Tighten cranks on casement windows and check that top locks fully grab latches.

    Some older windows can be repaired and save you money over new windows. However, if you think you'll automatically gain energy savings, think carefully -- there may be other, cheaper ways to cut utility bills, such as sealing air leaks.

    Related: Should You Repair or Replace Your Windows?

    Inspecting Doors for Leaks

    • Check doors for cracks that weaken their ability to stop air leaks and water seeps.
    • Inspect weather stripping for peels and gaps.
    • Make sure hinges are tight and doors fit securely in their thresholds.

    Related: Choosing an Exterior Door

    Checking Out Skylights

    Brown stains on walls under a skylight are telltale signs that water is invading and air is escaping. Cut a small hole in the stained drywall to check for wetness, which would indicate rot, or gaps in the skylight.

    To investigate skylight leaks, carefully climb on the roof and look for the following:

    • Open seams between flashing or shingles.
    • Shingle debris that allows water to collect on roofs.
    • Failed and/or cracked patches of roofing cement put down the last time the skylight leaked.


    Skylight Installation and Costs

    Increase Daylight to Fend off Seasonal Affective Disorder

  • The incomparable Fordham!

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Chicago, Home Selling in Chicago, Home Ownership in Chicago  |  August 28, 2014 9:20 AM  |  32 views  |  No comments

    The incomparable Fordham! The most desirable, large, two bedroom, two bathroom, preferred North West exposure. Select hardwood flooring and recessed terrace. Large kitchen privacy pocket door, a window, pantry closet, top of the line cherry cabinetry, exotic granite countertops and a full backsplash. State of the art appliances: Thermadore double ovens and gas cooktop, 36 inch SubZero refrigerator and Bosch Microwave. Triple bay windows provide maximum natural light, with all West facing rooms having SunScape Select window film to prevent ultraviolet rays from fading furniture, artwork and flooring. This invisible shield also reduces solar heat to ensure greater comfort and reduce energy loss. Second bedroom opens up to the living room. Laundry area with Bosch washer and dryer. Building amenities include: Indoor pool, Whirlpool, Sun Deck, Exercise Room, Entertainment Room with kitchen, Theatre Room, Spa Treatment Room, Sauna, Bicycle Storage Room, Dry Cleaners, Receiving Room and on-site management. Parking included.

  • Are Smart Meters Dangerous?

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Chicago, Home Selling in Chicago, Tech Tips in Chicago  |  August 20, 2014 10:56 AM  |  100 views  |  No comments

    A home owner in Texas pulls out a handgun and tells a smart meter installer to back away from her house. He does.

    A couple in British Columbia covers their already-installed smart meter with a metal hood to block its radio transmissions. The company that makes the hoods is doing a brisk business.

    In Maine, a smart meter opponent brings a lawsuit against the utility company that wants to install the new technology on his house. He wins his case.

    These are just a few of the hundreds of incidents I’ve seen in the media lately about the digital devices utility companies are installing on customers’ homes all over North America (and other continents).

    Utility companies say smart meters will reduce stress on an overworked electrical grid and help limit power outages. They point out that more efficient use of power reduces the need for more power plants and helps keep rates low.

    Smart meters take the place of your meter reader, digitally sending info about your electricity consumption back to the utility. The info gathered by the meters also lets consumers monitor their own power use, adjusting consumption so they can run power-hungry appliances when rates are low. For example, by turning on the clothes dryer late at night instead of the middle of the day.

    But many consumers aren’t convinced their best interests are being served.

    “The utility companies are using smart meters as a way to intrude into our homes,” says Kristine Tanzillo of Myrtle Springs, Texas. “There is no proof that energy costs will be reduced by these meters.”

    So Why the Outrage?

    Basically, the hubbub swirls around three issues:

    1. Smart meters aren’t safe. They emit radio frequency energy that some say is a health risk, especially those with electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS).

    2. They’re an invasion of privacy. Because the meters record and broadcast the slightest changes in household energy consumption, they can pinpoint when houses are empty, even when occupants go to bed.

    3. Smart meters save consumers money. That doesn’t wash with some home owners who claim their utility bills have tripled since the installation of the wireless meters.

    All that’s just skimming the surface. A smart meter argument can get as twisty as an old garden hose.

    It’s hard to understand the health issue, for example, without some knowledge of radio frequency energy, smart meter pulse rates, and causal effects of EHS. And even if you do, somebody in the smart meter debate is bound to say you’ve got it all wrong.

    “We have put a sign and a lock on our meter box to prevent the installation of a smart meter,” says Ingrid Perri, a naturopath in Australia. “I believe they are detrimental to health. A smart meter at my house would be right behind our heads as we sleep, radiating into our brains.”

    That’s a non-issue, insists the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative, a non-profit group that supports smart grid technology. In their publication, “Radio Frequency and Smart Meters,” the SGCC says, “Smart meters don’t produce any negative health impacts. They emit a low level of radio frequency energy that’s both FCC-approved and lower than the level of RF energy emitted by many other devices that are used daily by millions of people.”

    Even if you’re inclined to wear a lead loin cloth and tin foil hat, the reality is that smart meters are already everywhere. To date, about 27 million of the technologically advanced metering systems are installed on homes and apartment buildings, and millions more are scheduled.

    Home Owners: Don’t Tread on Us!

    And now we’re at the heart of the issue.

    The fact is that utility companies misjudged consumer backlash. They failed to understand the passion that home owners have for their personal property, and they didn’t account for the sense of violation that home owners might feel when a power company employee comes strolling into their yards, unbidden, and proceeds to install a device they didn’t request.

    “It’s a search without a warrant,” insists consumer advocate Jerry Day.

    In certain parts of the country, apparently, the law agrees.

    In Maine, home owner Ed Friedman of Bowdoinham brought a lawsuit against Maine’s Public Utility Commission and his local utility, Central Maine Power, charging that smart meters are an invasion of privacy and may cause health problems.

    Speaking to the MIT Technology Review, Freidman summed up his sentiments with simple eloquence: “My home is my castle.”

    Although the Maine Supreme Court didn’t draw conclusions about smart meter technology, it did say that Maine’s Public Utility Commission had failed to adequately address health and safety issues before authorizing installation of smart meters.

    The decision is somewhat moot, given the fact that more than 600,000 smart meters were already installed in the state. Oops!

    Utility Mea Culpa — for a Fee

    To deal with the cat-out-of-the-bag issue, many utility companies in several states are offering customers an opt-out on smart meter installation. For a fee, utilities will allow you to keep your old meter. The fee covers the cost of having a meter read manually, and defrays the cost of reinstalling traditional meters for customers who want their old metering ways back.

    In California, for example, customers of Pacific Gas & Electric will have to fork over a $75 initial fee and a $10 monthly fee. Of PG&E’s 5.4 million customers, about 27,000 have taken the opt-out option.

    To some, that’s unfair. “Customers shouldn’t have to pay more if they don't want a smart meter in their home,” says David Bakke, editor at Money Crashers Personal Finance.

    Meanwhile, Maine’s Supreme Court decision has sobered several utility companies.

    In the Midwest, MidAmerican Energy Company and Alliant Energy have delayed deployment of smart meters until concerns about excessive billings are resolved. Connecticut regulators have put off installation of 1.2 million smart meters while the state develops an acceptable smart meter policy that addresses the issues.

    Maybe the whole controversy is a good thing. You’ve got to admire an issue that transcends political boundaries to unite groups as disparate as the Tea Party faithful and environmental extremists.

    Me? I’m all for more studies to determine the health effects of radio frequency emissions from smart meters. At the same time, I like the idea that a meter reader will no longer be tromping through my rhododendrons to record my monthly energy usage while maybe sneaking a quick peek through my office window.

    I wonder what they’d think if they could see me in my tin foil hat?

    Would you allow a smart meter on your house? Are the concerns myth or reality — or does it even matter?

  • 2nd Quarter Market Update!

    Posted Under: Market Conditions in Chicago, Home Buying in Chicago, Home Selling in Chicago  |  August 13, 2014 11:08 AM  |  53 views  |  No comments
  • Elegant, Luxury Home - The Fordham

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Chicago, Home Selling in Chicago, Home Ownership in Chicago  |  July 30, 2014 9:06 AM  |  66 views  |  No comments

    Spacious, upgraded three bedroom, three bathroom home located in the prestigious Fordham building. Expansive South and West views. Hardwood floors throughout. Open living room/dining room area with bay windows, a gas fireplace, built-in cabinetry and leaded glass doors that lead to one of the two balconies. Kitchen has Sub Zero, Thermador and Miele appliances. Laundry room with side by side washer and dryer. Professionally organized closets. The third bedroom has built in cabinetry for an in home office space. Including two parking spaces and a wine cellar! All this in a highly desirable, full amenity, pet friendly building. Offered at $1,200,000.

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