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How to Clean Up (and Forget the Nightmare) of Basement Flooding

September 11, 2018

Rain, rain, go away. And sewage backups. And burst pipes. All y’all can GO. AWAY. Especially if they turn your wet bar into a soaking wet bar and your ping-pong table into an island.

Flood design Free Vector

Every homeowner with a basement imagines that horror. If basement flooding should happen to you, don’t retreat into a fetal position on your couch and hope for a miracle, no matter how much you want to. You can deal with the soggy disaster. Here’s how.

4 Things to Do Right Away

Don’t wait until you’ve reached the fifth stage of grief before addressing a floodFast action can minimize a rising, rank situation — and the money it’ll cost to repair.

1. The first thing to do is really a “don’t,” says Glenn Gallas, vice president of operations at Mr. Rooter Plumbing. Don’t ever, everstep into standing basement water. “You could be shocked or electrocuted,” he says. Who wants to venture into that murky mess, anyway? Turn the power off or call an electrician to be safe.

2. Then stop the flow of water.How you do that depends on what the source is:

Water Source What to Do
Broken or malfunctioning pipes Turn off your water’s shut-off valve. If you don’t know where that is, scope it out now — before the worst happens. Some valves are buried in the ground and require special tools to turn off.
Sewage backup Stop flushing toilets and running faucets. Your local sewage authority may offer pumping services or let you submit a reimbursement claim. If you have a septic system, though, it’s on you. Call the septic company to have your tank pumped ASAP.
Groundwater Sorry, that’s bad news. You can’t turn off Mother Nature. The good news: Groundwater flooding might not stink as badly as sewage. Get references for a waterproofing pro or a structural engineer because you could have a foundation problem.

Groundwater was the culprit for Nancy Friedman and her husband when their St. Louis home flooded back in 2014. They knew they had a tiny wet spot in their basement, but “I didn’t think too much of it,” Nancy Friedman says. “Going downstairs is not an everyday occurrence for us,” she says, especially since they both travel a lot.

That tiny wet spot soon became a full-on flood in their basement, causing thousands of dollars in carpet damage – not to mention the cost to repair the structural issue that allowed water to seep in in the first place.

3. Find a plumber with a high-capacity pump. This is not a job for a DIYer. It needs to get done fast. You need a professional-grade pump. “The longer that water sits, and the longer your drywall spends under water, the more long-term damage,” Gallas says. The more damage, the more it costs to clean up.

4. Make your smartphone earn its keep. Take photos and video, then back them up in the cloud, so you’ll have them for insurance purposes.

DIY Some of the Basement Flood Cleanup to Save Money

Once the water is pumped out, the rest can be a DIY job. Just make sure to protect yourself with:

  • Gloves
  • Rubber boots
  • Eye protection
  • A mask (especially if you’re dealing with a sewage backup)
  • A nose plug if the smell is really bad

Then suck up the remaining muck with a wet-dry vac. You’ll also need an army’s worth of paper towels and plastic bags to dispose of the mess.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to say goodbye to all rugs, carpets, and upholstery, which will soak up floodwater contaminants and bacteria, regardless of the flood source. (Seriously sentimental items might be restorable by a professional, but don’t get your hopes too high.) That’s what happened to Friedman. “The first thing we had to do was pull up the carpet.”

Other restoration steps:

  • Open all windows and doors, and run large fans and dehumidifiers.
  • Scrub water-contaminated walls, floors, cabinetry, or hardware with a soapy solution. Ventilate again.
  • Make a bactericide by adding 1.5 cups of DIY TipBleach doesn’t kill mold and mildew. It kills the bacteria that they feed on, but doesn’t destroy the nasty fungi itself. Use soap to zap it.bleach and a few drops of liquid soap to a gallon of water. Spray on the walls; let air dry.

But Don’t Feel Like a Wimp if You Want to Hire a Pro

In fact, both Gallas and Friedman recommend hiring a restoration service, as long as the company you hire is trustworthy and affordable. A small flood might cost as little as $500 to pump out and dry, but a large flood can cost up to $10,000.

“There’s a lot of companies out there that put a guy in a truck and think a high-powered fan is good enough to dry a basement,” Gallas says. Improper technique, like not allowing the home to dry for long enough or failing to properly treat drywall, puts your home at risk for mold or mildew in addition to the flooding damage.

So just be sure to do your homework on who you hire.

Don’t Assume Insurance Will Cover Your Repairs

Friedman’s first call when her basement flooded was to her insurance company. “They told me, ‘You don’t have flood insurance,’” Friedman says. “I thought everybody had flood insurance!”

Standard home insurance often doesn’t cover all types of floods, especially groundwater.

“If I could do a speech on floods, it would be: Do you know this very moment, for sure, if you have flood insurance?” Friedman says. “Call your insurance agent right now and ask.”

But the best scenario is no flood at all.

Related: What Does Regular Home Insurance Cover?


5 Things To Do So You’ll Never, Ever Flood Again

  1. Install a leak detector and high-water alarm. These small devices notify you before a small leak becomes a disaster, either via an audible alarm or a text message.
  2. Insulate your pipesThawing pipes are one of the leading causes of basement flooding.
  3. Maintain your backwater valve. It prevents sewage from seeping from the septic or sewer system to your home.
  4. Consider a sump pump. Every basement should have one of these flooding saviors. “I think sump pumps should be wedding gifts,” Friedman says.
  5. Flush and dump with caution.Dumping anything besides waste and toilet paper down your toilet or drains is a big no-no — from tampons to grease. These clog the system, causing backups.

Home owners win two important tax benefits in the fiscal cliff deal

January 5, 2013

To-Do List - Win - Dry Erase BoardThe fiscal cliff deal Congress passed this week lets home owners keep the tax deduction for private mortgage insurance payments. It also says troubled home owners won’t owe income tax on amounts forgiven during a mortgage workout or foreclosure.

PMI is what you pay your lender each month if you put down less than 20% on a home, which protects the lender if you default on the home loan.

Without mortgage cancellation relief, home owners who have a portion of their mortgage forgiven as part of a workout plan, short sale, or foreclosure would have to pay income tax on the forgiven amount.  This will keep the market moving forward!

In addition, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 lets home owners continue to keep up to $500,000 ($250,000 for individuals) in home sale profits tax-free. Only home sellers whose income is $450,000 or above (or singles earning $400,000 or more) and who net more $500,000 on the sale of their home would pay taxes on the excess capital gains. For the vast majority of home sellers, there’s no change.

For those earning above the $400,000-$450,000 threshold, the cap gains rate would rise to 20% from 15%.
Congress extended the tax deductions for all mortgage insurance premiums and for state and local property taxes, which, along with the mortgage interest deduction, are important tax considerations for home owners and buyers.


Stink Bug Invasion! It’s as Bad as You Think

September 27, 2012

Stink bugs are coming (again)! In fact, they’re already here, and the government is searching for ways to wipe out the little stinkers.

An army of stink bugs has marched into 38 states, and the federal government is scrambling to find ammunition to take them down.

Brown marmorated stink bugs, a Chinese import, are invading homes, orchards, and vineyards; eating fruit, buzzing overhead, and staying warm until they can emerge and lay eggs in spring.

If last year’s stink bug invasion wasn’t bad enough, this fall’s invasion is the second one this year — which presages an even bigger onslaught in 2013, says Tracy Leskey, an Agriculture Department entomologist.

“This has been a very good year for the stink bug,” Leskey told the The Examiner in Washington, D.C.

Entomologists are deep into R&D to find ways to wipe out the stink bug. Front-runners include baited traps and natural stink bug enemies, such as the wheel bug, a bug assassin that injects a paralyzing enzyme that turns stink bug innards into porridge, which the wheel bug sucks up.

The best way you can keep stink bugs at bay is to seal your home up tight, like you do in winter to lower your heating costs.

  • Close doors and windows
  • Fill cracks in siding, window screens, and HVAC vents
  • Install weather stripping
  • Plug outdoor outlets

If stink bugs already have invaded your home, grab them with toilet paper and flush them down the toilet. Or, drown them in a jar of soapy water.

Do not squish them, which will release the stink that inspired its name, or vacuum them up, which will make the machine smell.

I gun down stink bugs in my house with my trusty Bugzooka.

Have stink bugs invaded your home? How do you get rid of them?

Why does home ownership matter to you, your wallet, your community and the economy?

November 25, 2011

Housing is a significant driver of the national economy— it accounts for more than 15% of the gross domestic product. In addition, six of the last eight recessions have ended as a result of robust housing markets; war spending ended the other two recessions.   Home ownership is strongly tied to jobs in this country. For every two homes sold, one job is created in this country. In addition, each home purchase generates as much as $60,000 in economic activity over time.

It Pays to Support Responsible Home Ownership
Understand the role that home ownership plays in our economy and the programs that help make it attainable and sustainable for responsible home owners.

Your Mortgage Deduction: Turn Tax Savings into Home Value
There’s savings to be had when you own a home and take the mortgage interest deduction each year. Here are some smart—and fun—ways to use your accumulated tax savings.
Benefits of Home Ownership
Being a home owner is more than just having a roof over your head. It offers important social benefits, like higher academic achievement, more cohesive communities, better connected families, improved health and safety, and a stronger economy.  Thinking of buying home?  Let me know!

What Would MacGyver Do? In an Emergency, Reach for the Duct Tape

November 21, 2011

Get yourself out of a home repair jam with this common household item famously used by our favorite handy hero: MacGyver.

We’ve all had them: the clogged drain, the ripped vacuum hose, the unsightly hole in the wall. Home repair emergencies like these are the last thing you need when you’re running out the door, running after the kids, or fielding other household chores. Channel your inner MacGyver by taking advantage of one common household item the classic action hero made famous: a roll of duct tape.

What MacGyver did:
Used duct tape to seal a hole in a hot air balloon, allowing him to escape his pursuers.

What you can do:

  • Fix a slow-running toilet. Clear the clogged flush passage with wire, then empty the water tank and seal the passage hole with duct tape. Fill the tank with a quart of vinegar and leave overnight.
  • Weatherproof windows. Use strips of duct tape to make windows air tight until you can fix or replace them.
  • Make a temporary roof shingle. Wrap strips of duct tape across a ¼ inch thick piece of plywood cut to size.
  • Tie off loose wires. Wrap small, thin strips of duct tape around exposed ends.
  • Patch holes and tears in duct work, dryer vents, and a torn vacuum hose to temporarily seal leaks.

Who doesn’t love a good MacGyver episode??

Appliance Maintenance: Clothes Washer & Dryer

March 11, 2011

This is a big one for me because I do a lot of laundry.  Apparently I have an abnormally large wardrobe.  I’m okay with that!  Recently it was brought to my attention that I am creating a fire hazard with the dryer exhaust because it is too long and can trap lint.  Keep your clothes washer and dryer running efficiently and reliably with this simple maintenance routine.

Here’s a list of maintenance tips to keep your washer and dryer running smoothly and safely:

  • Replace vinyl dryer exhaust ducts with metal ductwork to reduce fire hazards.
  • Before every dryer load, clean out the lint filter.
  • Every three months, wash the lint filter with detergent to remove invisible chemical residues that can restrict airflow.
  • Every month, visually inspect the dryer exhaust duct for crimps, obstructions, and unnecessary bends.
  • Yearly, remove and clean out the entire exhaust duct line from dryer to exterior.
  • Replace rubber washing machine hoses with braided-metal ones to reduce the risk of bursting. Expect to pay about $8 per hose.
  • Monthly, inspect washing machine hoses for tight fittings, bulges, cracks, and leaks. Tighten loose fittings. Replace damaged hoses.
  • Always ensure that the washing machine is level and on firm footing.
  • Always use the proper type and amount of detergent for the machine and load.
  • To prevent washing machine odor in front-load machines, always allow the interior to dry before shutting the door. Families with small children, however, should not leave the door ajar. Instead, use products specifically intended to eliminate odor-causing residues.

Appliance Maintenance: Refrigerators

March 9, 2011

Maintaining your home is vital…but so is maintaining what is inside your home!  Appliances can be very expensive depending on what you choose when you purchase them – make them last!

This week I am focused on keeping your appliances running smoothly.  Your day-to-day life will be less stressful in the long run!  Your refrigerator is an essential to your kitchen and life, keep it running efficiently and reliably with this simple maintenance routine.

Here’s a list of maintenance tips to make sure your refrigerator stays cool and calm:

  • Every three months, vacuum the fan and condenser coils on the rear or bottom of the appliance using the brush attachment. Families with shedding pets should clean the coils monthly.
  • Every three months, clean the door gasket with warm soapy water and towel dry. Inspect the seal for snugness all the way around. Replace when loose, cracked, or torn.
  • Every six months, replace the unit’s water filter (when present) to ensure clean water and ice, and to prevent clogs and leaks.
  • Always keep food covered to prevent odors from migrating throughout the fridge and freezer. An open box of baking soda ($1) will absorb odor-causing acids for up to three months.
  • Always maintain an adequate amount of clearance on all sides of the appliance except for those that are zero-clearance or front-vented.
  • Every month, empty out the icemaker bucket and start fresh, as old cubes can absorb odors.
  • Every three months, verify that the appliance is level both front to back and side to side to ensure both proper door movement and ice maker operation.

Now stock it up with tons of yummy food and invite me to dinner!

2011 Energy Tax Credits: What You Need to Know to Collect

February 11, 2011

Yes, taxes continued.  I know, I know…how could we make Friday any more exciting?

The Energy Credit has been a great way to save net money on your home improvements.  Looking ahead to this time next year, make sure you are choosing the right places to invest your green money.  Washington is giving you less green for going green, as the feds reel back the 2011 energy tax credits from a lavish $1,500 to a paltry $500.  Keep your receipts and be ready this time next year.

Other limits on energy tax credits besides $500 max

  • Credit only extends to 10% of the cost (not the 30% of yesteryear), so you have to spend $5,000 to get $500.
  • $500 is a lifetime limit. If you pocketed $500 or more in 2009 and 2010 combined, you’re not entitled to any more money for energy-efficient improvements in the above seven categories. But if you took $300 in the last two years, for example, you can get up to $200 in 2011.
  • With some systems, your cap is even lower than $500.
  • $500 is the max for all qualified improvements combined.

Certain systems capped below $500

No matter how much you spend on some approved items, you’ll never get the $500 credit–though you could combine some of these:

System Cap
New windows $200 max (and no, not per window—overall)
Advanced main air-circulating fan $50 max
Qualified natural gas, propane, or oil furnace or hot water boiler $150 max
Approved electric and geothermal heat pumps; central air-conditioning systems; and natural gas, propane, or oil water heaters $300 max

And not all products are created equal in the feds’ eyes. Improvements have to meet IRS energy-efficiency standards to qualify for the tax credit. In the case of boilers and furnaces, they have to meet the 95 AFUE standard. has the details.

Tax credits cover installation—sometimes

Rule of thumb: If installation is either particularly difficult or critical to safe functioning, the credit will cover labor. Otherwise, not. (Yes, you’d have to be pretty handy to install your own windows and roof, but the feds put these squarely in the “not covered” category.)

Installation covered for:

  • Biomass stoves
  • HVAC
  • Non-solar water heaters

Installation not covered for:

  • Insulation
  • Roofs
  • Windows, doors, and skylights

How to claim the 2011 energy tax credit

  • Determine if the system you’re considering is eligible for the credits. Go to Energy Star’s website for detailed descriptions of what’s covered; then talk to your vendor.
  • Save system receipts and manufacturer certifications. You’ll need them if the IRS asks for proof.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but isn’t intended to be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice, and remember that tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

Ack, I want help filling out Form 5695!

February 10, 2011

What is a Form 5695??  Your energy tax credit! This is a great tax credit that encourages energy upgrades in our homes.  Sidestep snares in the complex IRS Form 5695 to get all the 2010 energy tax credits you’ve got coming.

Fill out the right part of Form 5695

What type of system did you install? If it’s one of the following, complete Part 1 for Nonbusiness Energy Tax Credits.

Max credit: 30% of the cost of the improvement, up to $1,500.

If you installed one of these souped-up systems, complete Part 2 for Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit.

Max credit: 30% of the cost, with no limit except for a kilowatt limit on fuel cells.

What do I need on hand to fill out Form 5695?

  • Receipts that show the amount you spent. The feds won’t pay for installation for some items. For those, the receipts must separate out the labor so you can add just the cost.
  • Manufacturers’ certifications indicating that the improvements are eligible for the credit. Store them in a safe place in case the IRS asks for them in the future, but no need to file them with your return.

Coordinate with Form 1040 and other forms

For Part I, it’s pretty simple: Just enter the total of all this part’s credits (as shown on line 11) on Form 1040, line 52.

For Part II, it can get complicated because other credits, claimed on other forms, can affect the amount of your Part II credit.

If you need to fill out any of the following forms, have all the information needed to complete those at hand, because Form 5695, line 25, coordinates with all of them. (In fact, you’ll find it simplest to prepare all these forms more or less simultaneously.)

  • Form 1040—lines 47 through 50, which refer to other credits you may be eligible for
  • Publication 972—the child tax credit
  • Form 8369—mortgage interest credits you may have
  • Form 8859—tax credits applicable only to residents of the District of Columbia
  • Form 8834—electric vehicle credit
  • Form 8910—alternative motor vehicle credit
  • Form 8936—electric drive motor vehicle credit
  • Schedule R—care for the elderly or disabled

One form that’s irrelevant to completing 5695: Schedule A. That’s only for deductions, not credits. And you don’t even need to itemize to claim energy tax credits.

The pitfalls of Form 5695

You’ll find many places you can go wrong in both parts of the form:

Adding ineligible amounts into the form. Just because a product has an Energy Star label doesn’t mean it’s eligible for a credit. Check the details of what’s eligible for the credit and what’s not at Energy Star and make sure the product comes with a manufacturer’s certification.

Failing to keep track of this year’s energy tax credits for future years. Hang on to your tax credit paperwork (including receipts, certifications, and a copy of your completed Form 5695), because if you sell your house you’ll need to record the tax credit amount for tax purposes.

  • Say you bought your home for $100,000 (the basis) and sold it for $400,000. Your profit is $300,000. But by taking tax credits, you lower your basis, so when you sell the house, you increase your profit in the eyes of the IRS. If you’re in your home for a long time and it appreciates, you increase your chances of getting hit with capital gains. Still, there’s little cause to worry: The government gives married couples selling a home a free pass on up to $500,000 of profit.

Failing to file this form at all—or only partially. If you’re eligible for a lot of different tax credits, you can conceivably reduce your tax liability to zero. If that’s the case and you want to tack on the 2010 energy tax credit, you’re out of luck. The feds consider it nonrefundable. If it were a refundable tax credit, the IRS would write you a check.

  • Loophole only if you added a Part II improvement: You can carry the energy tax credit forward to 2011—or even beyond, at least as far as 2016. Even if you’re not eligible this year because you reduced your tax liability to zero, file Form 5695 anyway to make it easier to do the carryforward next year. Or just hold off installing that wind turbine until a year when you anticipate you’ll have fewer tax credits.

Forgetting certain credits that affect Part II—and vice-versa. Pay special attention to line 25: Certain other credits may ultimately affect your ability to fully claim Part II credits—just as Part II credits may affect other credits. Follow the line-by-line instructions in each form carefully. It’s easy to forget a number here.

Ack, I want help filling out Form 5695

If you find Form 5695 exasperating, you may be eligible for free tax preparation help from the:

  • Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program
  • Tax Counseling for the Elderly
  • IRS at 800-829-1040.

Major tax preparation software, such as TurboTax, include this form in their packages.

New Kitchen Cabinet Hardware—Low-Cost Ways to Jazz Up Your Style

January 8, 2011 2 Comments

Replace old kitchen cabinet hardware and gain an instant style update that’s simple to do and easy on the budget.  It’s a quick way to really make an impact on the room and express yourself.  I am all about expressing my individual style and if you take a few moments in this aisle at your local Lowes, you will be amazed at all the choices you have.

Measuring for kitchen cabinet hardware

Replacing kitchen cabinet hardware is a job you can do yourself. But note there’s a wide range of sizes when it comes to the spans between screws on kitchen cabinet hardware. You’re in luck if your doors feature a knob with a single screw that secures to the door or drawer front, and you want to replace it with the same.

Otherwise, you’ll need to measure precisely the spread between screws. Use a measuring tape to measure from the center of one screw hole to the center of the other. Write the measurement down and count the number of pulls and/or knobs that you need. If you’re making your purchase at a home center, bring the handle and dimensions with you.

If you opt for handles that don’t match up with existing holes, fill holes with wood filler and camouflage the repair with fresh stain or paint. Or you can cover the fix with a backplate that fits behind the new handle.

Hinges can be tricky

Hinges can be difficult to switch out because there are so many different types and sizes. If your kitchen cabinet hinges match the finish on the new hardware or if the hinges are hidden anyway, you can keep the originals.

Otherwise, before removing all the hinges, remove just one and then shop around—online or at a home center—to make sure you can find one that will work for your installation.

Installation tips for kitchen cabinet hardware

  • If you need to re-drill your cabinet drawers and doors, speed up the project either by making a jig or buying one. You can make a jig from scrap plywood following directions available online. Or purchase a plastic jig from a home center or online for about $7.
  • As you drill, keep the bit perpendicular to the door or drawer face. You can position an 8-inch tri-square next to your drill as a visual guide. If you’re inexperienced using a power drill, there are a number of drill guides available, starting at about $17.

This a really fun way to the spend the afternoon!  It gives a brand new look to your kitchen and it’s easy to do.  We will be talking about this in up-coming events at a Lowe’s location in Worcester County – ask me more about it!