Contractor Tips Blog


Are Nanny Cams Legal?

Many parents are interested in installing hidden surveillance cameras in their homes but are concerned about the legal ramifications.  Hidden surveillance cameras, often called nanny cams because they are often used to monitor child care providers, are a useful addition to any home security system. These cameras are easily concealed anywhere in your home and the video can be easily accessed remotely from the internet.

In addition to monitoring child care providers, they can be used to monitor workers in your home, elderly care providers, older children, elderly or infirm family members, or even pets.  If you have to be at work or away from home, you can still keep an eye on what’s going on in your house.

Used properly, video surveillance cameras are legal throughout the United States when they are installed in your own home.  They can be hidden in common areas, living rooms, dining areas, and most other areas of the home.  The one caveat is that cameras cannot be hidden where a person would reasonably expect privacy.  The bathroom is an excellent example, but there may be other areas such as a bedroom that could be stretching the limits of legality if not morality.

Another concern is that while video recording in your own home is legal, in many states surreptitious audio recording is prohibited.  Be sure to check the laws in your state and if in doubt, use a camera system that does not include audio recording.  You can also protect yourself by informing your caregiver, maid service, and any other authorized visitors to you home that a video recording system is in use.  It may seem counter-intuitive to let people know that a monitoring system is in use, but you don’t have to specify exactly where each camera is hidden and it is an effective way to prevent to prevent illegal activity in your home.


Nanny Cam Pros and Cons

Advances in video surveillance technology and on-line monitoring capability have made using video surveillance cameras easily within the reach of most parents.  These “nanny cams” offer many advantages for concerned parents, but before you decide to use a nanny cam you should consider the downside potential as well.

A nanny cam can offer additional protection for your child.  The existence of numerous cases of child abuse by nannies caught on video surveillance cameras proves that they work.  Parents have been able to catch and stop abusive behavior toward their children using a nanny cam.

Less dramatic but just as useful is that a nanny cam helps insure that your nanny is doing the job as expected.  You can be sure that your nanny is properly caring for your child and following your instructions such as feeding, bathing, and bedtime instead of spending her time on the phone or watching television and feeding your child a dinner of potato chips and ice cream.

Nanny cams are also great for protecting your property.  They can be used to monitor workers in your home such as a maid service or any other work you are having done in your home.  The flip side is that the nanny cam even protects these workers as well as your nanny from false accusations.  If you suddenly can’t find your best earrings or other property, you can use the nanny cam to quickly eliminate the possibility of theft and focus instead on where you may have misplaced them.

One potential downside of video surveillance is running afoul of the law.  These systems are legal when used properly, but take care to make sure you are not exposing yourself to legal action.  The main concern is usually audio recording which is illegal in many states so be sure to check the laws in your state.  Another downside is that your nanny may become resentful if she finds out that you have the system installed.  One way to avoid this problem is to let the nanny know up front that you have the system and point out that the system is not installed due to a specific distrust of her, but to provide better protection and security for your home, your child, and everyone else in the home including the nanny.


Safe Gutter Cleaning

Posted in Gutter Cleaning

It’s that time of year again to get the summer’s worth of leaves, dirt, pine needles, and other debris out of your gutters.  Get them cleaned out now and they will be ready to go for winter and when the spring rains come.  Don’t let all those leaves and other gunk clog your gutters.

Gutters do a very important job by directing water away from your home.  Water that accumulates around your home can cause basement leaks, settling and cracking of your foundation, and provides a moist environment that attracts bugs.  Moisture that accumulates in the gutters can cause wood rot in your roof and fascia.  Gutters prevent these problems by collecting the water that runs off your roof and channeling it safely out into your yard, but they won’t work if they are clogged with leaves and other debris.

There are a lot of devices on the market that claim to make gutter cleaning “fast and easy”.  Unfortunately, the reality is that the best way to ensure your gutters are thoroughly cleaned is to climb up there on a ladder and clean them by hand.

Be sure you take the appropriate safety precautions before you climb up the ladder to clean your gutters.  The ladder should be the right height for the job and be securely and evenly positioned.  Have someone on the ground to help steady the ladder. Don’t lean or stretch to reach the next section of gutter.  Instead, climb down and move the ladder so you can comfortably reach the area without leaning or stretching.  Always stay well away from power lines, including the lines that supply power to your home.

If you are uncomfortable at all while working on a ladder, it is well worth it to hire a gutter cleaning service to do the job.  Every year, thousands of Americans are injured or even killed falling from ladders.  Don’t take unnecessary risks when there many excellent gutter cleaning services who can get the job done safely for a reasonable price.


The Importance of Gutter Cleaning

Posted in Gutter Cleaning

Keeping you gutters clean is an important home maintenance task for almost every home.  Gutters do an important job of collecting rainwater runoff from your roof and directing it safely away from your home’s foundation.  If you allow your gutters to become clogged with leaves and debris, the gutters will overflow with water which can cause some serious problems.

Rainwater that accumulates around your foundation can leak into your basement or lower level and cause flooding, mold, mildew, and other issues.  Water also weakens the support for your foundation which can lead to cracking and settling.  In addition, moist soil around the home is haven for bugs and termites.  Keeping your gutters clean will allow them to do their job of directing water away from your homes foundation and keep the soil around your home relatively dry.

Clogged gutters can also lead to roof damage.  Moisture an enemy of your roof.  Clogged gutters not only allow water to pool in the gutter, the leaves, pine needles and other debris hold moisture.  These damp areas can lead to rotted wood deck and fascia.  The excess moisture also harms composition asphalt shingles by promoting the growth of mold and mildew.  Water that gets under shingles causes wood rot and can lead to ice dams and other problems.

You can avoid all of these problems by cleaning your gutters whenever they show signs of clogging, but at least twice a year.  You will need to clean them more frequently if you have a lot of trees in your area.  If you are not comfortable cleaning the gutters yourself, have them cleaned by a reputable gutter cleaning service.


Outdoor Fire Pit vs. Outdoor Fireplace

Posted in Landscaping

With fall in the air, you may be thinking about adding an outdoor fire pit or fireplace for outdoor entertaining and enjoyment.  Both of these are excellent alternative for providing a warm, attractive focal point for gathering and enjoying the crisp fall weather.  Imagine an evening under the stars sharing cocoa with friends and family next to a warm, inviting fire crackling in your beautiful stone fire pit or fireplace!

Outdoor fireplaces and outdoor fire pits both have advantages.  The right one for you depends on your situation and what you plan to do with it.  A fire pit can be made in a wide range of attractive styles. There are portable fire pits made of copper or cast iron, but a permanent fire pit is usually made of stone or brick and since they offer 360 degrees entertainment, they often become the centerpiece of an outdoor entertainment area such as a patio.

Fire pits offer warmth and the ambiance of soft lighting and can even be used for cooking if equipped with a grate.  Fire pits are generally less expensive to build than fireplaces and require little, if any maintenance.

An outdoor fireplace is generally a more dramatic outdoor hardscape feature.  They are larger and more expensive than fire pits, but in addition to being freestanding, they can be incorporated into other structures including covered outdoor entertainment areas such as screened porches.  Like fire pits, they provide warmth, light, and ambiance and can easily be equipped for cooking.

An outdoor fireplace usually offers 180 degrees of entertainment although they can be constructed with the front and back open and placed in the middle of an area rather than the side or corner.  Fireplaces are less affected by breezes and less likely to blow smoke and ash on you and your guests.


Considerations for Outdoor Kitchens

Posted in Landscaping

Outdoor kitchens are all the rage these days and for good reason.  A custom outdoor kitchen is an excellent addition to any home for outdoor entertaining.  They add beauty and value to your home while providing years of enjoyment and pleasure.

Before you call your contractor, take a few minutes to consider what you want to get from your outdoor kitchen.  Careful planning now can avoid overspending for an outdoor kitchen that is more elaborate than you will ever need or failing to incorporate features in your outdoor kitchen that will limit your enjoyment.

First, think about how much you plan to use the outdoor kitchen.  Will it be for regularly entertaining large numbers of guests or just occasionally entertaining a few friends and family?  An outdoor kitchen can cost anywhere from one thousand to fifty thousand dollars depending on the size and amount of equipment included in the design.  You want a design that complements the beauty of your home, but try to align your budget with the amount of enjoyment you anticipate getting from the outdoor kitchen over the years.

Next, decide where you want to put the outdoor kitchen.  Most outdoor kitchens are located close to the home to allow for convenient outdoor entertaining and to minimize wiring and plumbing considerations.  However, try to place the grill where the smoke will tend to blow away from the house and your guests.

As you begin construction, don’t try to cut corners on the equipment, plumbing or electrical installations.  Outdoor equipment has to withstand exposure to the weather and your plumbing and electrical components should be specifically designed for outdoor use.  An experienced outdoor kitchen contractor will be able to help you design and build a beautiful, durable outdoor kitchen that meets your needs within your budget.


Kitchen Remodel Survival Guide

Once you have settled on the perfect kitchen design, hired a good remodeling contractor, and set up your budget, it’s time for the contractor to tear your old kitchen apart and start installing your beautiful new kitchen!  It’s an exciting time, but also a messy, inconvenient time.  Unlike on television, a major kitchen remodeling project will not be completed in an hour or even a weekend.

Your remodeling contractor will be able to give you a more accurate estimate, but depending on the scope of your remodeling project, plan on being “kitchenless” for at least several weeks while your contractor gets the job done.

Work with your contractor to minimize your kitchen downtime.  Try to put off demolition until most of the new fixtures and materials have been delivered.  Special order items like custom cabinets can take weeks for delivery and there is no sense in getting started until they have been delivered or at least until they are nearing the delivery date.

The easiest way to deal with living without your kitchen is to take a vacation or move into a nearby hotel for a while.  Unfortunately, moving into a hotel or going on vacation is not a practical or cost effective solution for most people.  However, you may be able to schedule the renovation to coincide at least partially with a vacation or a visit with family members.  Just a few days away from the mess and inconvenience of the renovation can provide a welcome “sanity” break.

During the time that you will be living with the remodeling project, you will probably be eating out a lot or living on take out or delivery food.  You can cut down on eating out by creating a “mini-kitchen” with a microwave, coffee pot, toaster, and small refrigerator in whatever space you can find such as an extra bedroom or a corner of the living room.  You may be able to temporarily put your old refrigerator in a garage or other area so you can use it during the remodeling. In addition, this may be a good time to consider brushing up on your grilling skills.

No matter how inconvenient, remember that your remodeling project will be done in a few weeks and you will be able to enjoy your new kitchen for years to come.


Planning a Kitchen Renovation

A kitchen renovation is a great project that can add value to your home and provide years of enjoyment.  Planning your renovation involves more than wandering through the aisles of your local home improvement center. For anything beyond a minor project, you will need to choose a good kitchen designer and a kitchen remodeling contractor.  Sometimes these are the same person or firm.

You may have a good idea of what you want to achieve from your remodeling project, but working with a great kitchen designer is usually worth every penny.  They know from experience what works well together and how to achieve the look and functionality you desire.  They will also have insights into the materials and fixtures that are available and will be able to offer suggestions for the design that you may not have even thought of that will result in a fantastic new kitchen that exceeds your expectations.

Some kitchen designers also function as the remodeling contractor.  If not, you will need a good contractor with experience in kitchen remodeling.  The contractor deals with and all the tradesmen who will be involved with the job.  You can attempt to do this yourself, but kitchen remodeling involves many different trades including plumbing, flooring, electrical, cabinet making, countertops, tile, masonry and general carpentry.

Finding and coordinating all these trades is much more difficult and time consuming than it seems.  A good remodeling contractor has the organizational skills and experience to efficiently manage your kitchen remodeling project.  They also have a good set of contacts and know who they can depend on to do good work.

When choosing your kitchen designer and remodeling contractor, you will want to be sure they have the appropriate qualifications and a good reputation.  Ask for and follow up with references and be sure the contractor is licensed and has sufficient liability insurance coverage.


Advantages of a Central Vacuum System

A central vacuum cleaning system is a great choice for almost any home.  Modern central vacuum cleaning systems can be installed in most existing homes by a professional installer in less than a day without damaging your walls and they have many advantages over portable vacuum cleaners.

A central vacuum cleaning system is much more powerful than a portable vacuum so it does a far better job of picking up dirt, dust, mites, dander, and other debris.  The size and power of the motor in portable vacuum is necessarily limited to keep the weight of the vacuum down.

A large powerful motor would be too heavy for a portable vacuum cleaner.  A central vacuum cleaner does not have this problem.  The motor for a central vacuum cleaner is permanently installed in one place and can be as large as necessary for powerful vacuum performance.

Central vacuums are much more effective at cleaning due to these powerful motor and also because the exhaust and dust is directed outside the living area.  A portable vacuum works by attempting to capture the dust and dirt in a canister or bag and uses filters to try to limit the amount of dust and dirt exhausted back into the room.  The problem is that there is a limit to the efficiency of these systems and some dust and dirt will simply get stirred up and blown around the room.

A central vacuum does not have this issue.  All of the exhaust and dirt is sent to a central location outside the living area, typically in garage, storage area, or other space.  As a result, the air in your home is much cleaner when you use a central vacuum system.  Allergy sufferers in particular find that their symptoms are much reduced after installation of a central vacuum system.


Consider a Central Vacuum System

Once considered a high end luxury item, central vacuum systems have become more affordable and are now considered a cost effective home cleaning solution.  Prices of good quality portable vacuum cleaners have increased as more and more features have been added.   Meanwhile, the cost of a fully installed central vacuum system has declined.  The result is that the gap between the cost of a central vacuum system and a portable vacuum has decreased to the point where a central vacuum system should be seriously considered when purchasing a vacuum.

The initial cost of an installed central vacuum system will be several times the cost of a good quality portable vacuum cleaner, but a central vacuum will last far longer than any portable vacuum.  Central vacuum systems typically last at least ten to twenty years with minimal maintenance.

During that time, most portable vacuums will have been replaced many times making the total cost of the central vacuum system the same or less than purchasing several portable vacuum.  In addition, the central vacuum system increases the value of your home and provides far superior cleaning.

Central vacuum systems are not just for newly constructed homes.  In fact, most central vacuum systems are installed in existing homes.  An experienced professional vacuum installer can install a complete system in most homes in less than a day without having to destroy walls or any other damage.  Central vacuum systems are specifically designed for ease of installation in existing homes.

Some homeowners have even installed central vacuum systems themselves, but for an effective, powerful system that will look professional and last for years, it’s well worth the cost of professional installation.  Get estimates from two or three reputable central vacuum system contractors and make sure the contractor you choose is experienced and fully licensed and insured.

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