A Clean Sweep

Annual chimney inspection and cleaning extinguishes fire hazards


"It was awfully scary," says Cliff Whitehead of the sudden flue fire that roared up the chimney of his Des Moines house one autumn evening. "We had a regular fire going, then there was this tremendous noise. It took a moment to figure out what was going on."
"People don't always know they're having a chimney fire," notes certified chimney sweep Dan Hughes of Chimeney Cricket in Des Moines. A chimney fire doesn't always burst into flames with a thunderous bellow. "It can smolder and sizzle for an hour or more. You could be sitting around watching the football game and not even know you've got a fire," Hughes says.

Chimney Cleaning
Beware of creosote buildup
The culprit is creosote – a black or brown residue of combustion that collects on the inner surfaces of a flue liner. Creosote is highly flammable. If allowed to build up, it can catch fire, reaching temperatures of 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. These high temperatures can crack "fireproof" brick, stone or clay flue liners, allowing heat to reach nearby wood framing members and other combustible materials.
Make sure your flue is free of creosote by inspecting your chimney once a year, preferably in late spring or early summer when heating season is over, Hughes says. That way, you'll have enough time to complete any repairs before the heating season begins in the fall.



Do-it-yourself inspections and repairs
  • Wear old clothes and equip yourself with a dust mask or respirator and a pair of safety goggles.
  • Check the firebox for damaged brick and mortar that is crumbling or missing. These defects usually can be repaired with refractory cement – a tough, heat-proof sealant available through fireplace dealers.
  • Open the damper completely. It should move freely and fit snugly against the smoke shelf. Use a flashlight to check the damper for cracks, pitting or rusted-out sections. Broken or corroded dampers should be replaced by a professional. Look for any debris that may restrict air flow and remove it.
  • Check for broken or damaged bricks or flue liners. Vertical cracking in the liner is a sure sign of a previous flue fire and should be considered a serious problem. Consult a professional chimney sweep or a masonry contractor who is familiar with fireplace repairs.
  • Finally, inspect for creosote deposits. If it has built up to a thickness greater than 1/8 inch, remove it. If you can't see the entire flue from below, you'll have to get up on the roof and inspect the flue from above. Don't get up on the roof unless you are completely confident of your abilities. By attaching ridge hooks to the end of a section of ladder, you can make a safety ladder that lays flat and secure against the roof surface.
Shopping for a chimney sweep
To find a chimney sweep, start by looking in the Yellow Pages of your telephone directory under "Chimney Cleaning." Or contact the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) at (800) 536-0118 or visit the web site at www.csia.org. You can also visit the site for the National Chimney Sweep Guild (NCSG) at www.ncsg.org.
Determine professional qualifications, especially of those found in the Yellow Pages or through referrals. Chimney sweeps are not regulated or licensed by government agencies, but many sweeps apply for certification by CSIA or membership in the NCSG. These organizations promote professionalism in the industry by testing applicants and offering continuing education opportunities to keep members up to date on changing technology and fire safety.
Ask what services are provided for fees. For $90 to $150, a professional chimney sweep will thoroughly clean your fireplace and chimney and check for defects. Many sweeps lower video cameras and lights into chimneys to provide a close look at walls and liner surfaces, and to take a visual record of the chimney's condition for the homeowner.
Other key questions: Are they qualified to complete necessary repairs, and if so, what are the additional fees? If they aren't qualified, will they recommend a professional masonry contractor to do the job?

Posted on April 23, 2014 at 4:19 pm
Debi Bloomquist | Posted in Home Improvement, Homeowner News, Real Estate |

Senior Citizens Boost Mental Abilities with Exercise Even in Old Age, Two Studies Say


April 10, 2014 – It’s a good day for senior citizens worried about dementia and diminishing mental abilities. Two studies out today offer real hope. One says that regular exercise can help senior women boost the size of the brain area used for memory and learning. The other found that exercise after middle age seems to slow dementia in old age and is most effective for those who are overweight. The key point being it may never be too late to boost your mental ability by exercising.

Older women boost memory area of brain with aerobic exercise

The study of older women involved women between the age of 70 and 80 that were living independently at home.

Regular aerobic exercise appeared to boost the size of the area of the brain (hippocampus) involved in verbal memory and learning among these women whose intellectual capacity had been affected by age.

The hippocampus has become a focus of interest in dementia research because it is the area of the brain involved in verbal memory and learning, but it is very sensitive to the effects of aging and neurological damage, according to the report on the study published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The researchers tested the impact of different types of exercise on the hippocampal volume of 86 women who said they had mild memory problems, known as mild cognitive impairment — and a common risk factor for dementia.

Roughly equal numbers of them were assigned to either twice weekly hour long sessions of aerobic training (brisk walking); or resistance training, such as lunges, squats, and weights; or balance and muscle toning exercises, for a period of six months.

The size of their hippocampus was assessed at the start and the end of the six month period by means of an MRI scan, and their verbal memory and learning capacity was assessed before and afterward using a validated test (RAVLT).

Only 29 of the women had before and after MRI scans, but the results showed that the total volume of the hippocampus in the group who had completed the full six months of aerobic training was significantly larger than that of those who had lasted the course doing balance and muscle toning exercises.

No such difference in hippocampal volume was seen in those doing resistance training compared with the balance and muscle toning group.

There was one result from the study that raised a red flag. Despite an earlier finding in the same sample of women that aerobic exercise improved verbal memory, there was some evidence to suggest that an increase in hippocampal volume was associated with poorer verbal memory.

This suggests that the relationship between brain volume and cognitive performance is complex, and requires further research, say the authors.

But at the very least, aerobic exercise seems to be able to slow the shrinkage of the hippocampus and maintain the volume in a group of women who are at risk of developing dementia, they say.

And they recommend regular aerobic exercise to stave off mild cognitive decline, which is especially important, given the mounting evidence showing that regular exercise is good for cognitive function and overall brain health, and the rising toll of dementia.

Worldwide, one new case of dementia is diagnosed every four seconds, with the number of those afflicted set to rise to more than 115 million by 2050, they point out.

The research was made available by the BMJ-British Medical Journal.

Second Study

 Risk of dementia in old age reduced by physical exercise in old age

The of the second study suggest that the window of opportunity for physical activity interventions to prevent dementia may extend from midlife to older ages, according to researchers from the University of Eastern Finland..

Physical activity in midlife seems to protect from dementia in old age, they report. Those who engaged in physical activity at least twice a week had a lower risk of dementia than those who were less active. The protective effects were particularly strong among overweight individuals.

In addition, the results showed that becoming more physically active after midlife may also contribute to lowering dementia risk.

Several modifiable risk factors for dementia have been suggested, but further refinement of this information is essential for effective preventive interventions targeted at high-risk groups.

Leisure-time physical activity particularly important

Leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) is a particularly important due to its broader effects on health in general and cardiovascular health in particular. Previous research has yielded inconsistent evidence on the association between LTPA and dementia, possibly because of short follow-up time, intensity of physical activity or population characteristics such as sex, body mass index, age or genetic risk factors of dementia.

Recent findings from the Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging and Incidence of Dementia (CAIDE) Study demonstrated that those who engaged in leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) at least twice per week had lower risk of dementia in comparison to less active individuals. Although these protective effects were observed in the entire study population, regardless of their sex or genetic risk factors, they were particularly strong among overweight and obese individuals.

Becoming physically active after midlife may still lower the risk of dementia

In addition, staying physically active, or becoming more active, after midlife may also contribute to lowering dementia risk, especially in people who are overweight or obese at midlife. The findings were not explained by socioeconomic background, age, sex, genetic risk factors, obesity, weight loss, general health status or work-related physical activity.

Results from currently ongoing trials, such as the Finnish multi-center trial FINGER may give more detailed information about the type, intensity, and duration of physical activity interventions that can be used for preventing late-life cognitive decline.

The study was conducted at the University of Eastern Finland, Department of Neurology and published in Alzheimer's & Dementia.

The authors included Anna-Maija Tolppanen, Alina Solomon, Jenni Kulmala, Ingemar Kåreholt, Tiia Ngandu, Minna Rusanen, Tiina Laatikainen, Hilkka Soininen and Miia Kivipelto.

From SeniorJournal.com

Posted on April 23, 2014 at 3:55 pm
Debi Bloomquist | Posted in News For Seniors |

Here’s How Much Real Estate A Million Dollars Buys You In Every Major US City

How much housing you can buy with a million dollars very much depends on what city you are looking to buy in.

According to Knight Frank data cited by CNBC's Robert Frank, a million dollars goes a lot further in Cape Town than it would in Monaco.

But what about in the U.S.?

We looked at housing list price data from real estate brokerage Movoto.com and real estate marketplace Zillow.com. The diagram below shows the number of square feet of housing that you can buy for $1,000,000, based on the median price per square foot in each city:


With a median list price of $666 per square foot, San Francisco's real estate boom limits a million dollars to buying about 1,500 square feet. On the other end of the spectrum, the median list price in beleaguered Detroit is just $12 per square foot — 55 times cheaper than in San Francisco.

Considering all five boroughs, the median price per square foot in New York City is $424. Looking just at Manhattan however, that price jumps to an astronomical $1,538 per square foot, leading to $1,000,000 buying just 650 square feet.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/us-city-real-estate-price-chart-2014-3#ixzz2zdlMj0mm

Posted on April 22, 2014 at 6:16 pm
Debi Bloomquist | Posted in Economics, Home Finances, Home Improvement, Homeowner News, Real Estate, Uncategorized |

Thinking of Buying a Vacation/Retirement Home? Why Wait?

The sales of vacation homes skyrocketed last year. A recent study also revealed that 25% of those surveyed said they’d likely buy a second home, such as a vacation or beach house, to use during retirement. For many Baby Boomers, the idea of finally purchasing that vacation home (that they may eventually use in retirement) makes more and more sense as the economy improves and the housing market recovers.

If your family is thinking about purchasing that second home, now may be the perfect time. Prices are still great. If you decide to lease the property until you’re ready to occupy it full time, the rental market in most areas is very strong. And you can still get a great mortgage interest rate.

But current mortgage rates won’t last forever…

According to FreddieMac, the interest rate for a 30 year fixed rate mortgage at the beginning of April was 4.4%. However, FreddieMac predicts that mortgage rates will steadily climb over the next six quarters.

Let’s assume you want to purchase a home for $500,000 with a 20% down payment ($100,000). That would leave you with a $400,000 mortgage. What happens if you wait to buy this dream house?

Prices are projected to increase over the next year and a half. However, for this example, let’s assume prices remain the same. Your mortgage payment will still increase as mortgage rates climb to more historically normal levels.

This table shows how a principal and interest payment is impacted by a rise in interest rates:

Keeping Current Matters Blog

Posted on April 18, 2014 at 6:36 pm
Debi Bloomquist | Posted in Everett, Home Finances, Home Improvement, Homeowner News, Real Estate |

Don’t Have a 20% Down Payment? Check Out These Alternatives

You want to start climbing the property ladder. You want to buy your own home. But there’s just one problem: You don’t have the cash for a 20 percent downpayment.

What should you do?

First, let’s assess your current situation: Are you a first-time homebuyer? Or do you currently own a home? If you’re already a homeowner, you might be in a better position than you realize.

You might not have $40,000 laying around in a bank account to make a 20 percent downpayment on a $200,000 home. But you do have equity in your existing home.

When you sell that home, you can use the equity to pay for your next home. The key is to write an offer that’s contingent on the sale of your current home. This is a common contingency, so your real estate agent will easily be able to include it in your contract. And because this type of contingency is so popular, the seller shouldn’t balk (unless you’re in a hyper-competitive market.)

But what if you’re underwater on your mortgage — or a first-time homebuyer? Read on.

#1: Apply for an FHA Loan

The Federal Housing Administration, or FHA, insures loans for qualified first-time homebuyers. These are known as “FHA Loans.”

The FHA itself doesn’t issue the loan. Rather, a financial institution such as a bank or credit union issues the loan, which is then insured by the FHA. This protects the lender from loss. Because the lender carries less risk, they can offer the loan at rock-bottom interest rates.

The result: you get a mortgage loan at a low interest rate with as little as 3.5 percent down.

However, there are two drawbacks or limitations to taking out an FHA loan.

First, you’re only qualified to spend 31 percent of your gross monthly income on all housing-related expenses, including your mortgage, property taxes, insurance, plus any homeowner’s association (HOA) fees. In other words: If you gross $5,000 per month, you can spend no more than $1,550 per month on housing.

Of course, that’s not entirely a “drawback.” Yes, it’s a limitation. But it’s a limit that will prevent you from tackling a mortgage that you can’t afford.

Second, you’ll be required to pay private mortgage insurance, or PMI, until you reach 20 percent equity. The rates vary, but as a rough ballpark, expect to pay an additional $40 – $50 per month on every $100,000 of mortgage that you carry. (This will be lumped into your 31 percent limitation.)

#2: Look to City Programs

Many cities offer downpayment assistance to its residents. For example, a program called Invest Atlanta offers $10,000 – $20,000 in mortgage assistance (in the form of an interest-free second mortgage) to people who buy a home with City of Atlanta limits. Likewise, the City of San Francisco will lend first-time homebuyers up to $200,000 to put towards their downpayment.

Some of these city programs mandate that you must be a first-time homebuyer; others don’t. Some programs are capped at certain income limits; others aren’t. Research the city, county and state programs in your local area to find out the details of what’s in your neighborhood.

#3: Get a VA Loan

Qualified military veterans can obtain a mortgage with zero downpayment, thanks to a program administered by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

Like an FHA Loan, a “VA Loan” is a federally-insured loan that’s issued by a traditional financial institution, like a bank. VA Loans are given to veterans who maintain good credit, meet income requirements, and have a “Certificate of Eligibility” through the VA.

These loans don’t require any downpayment, and as an extra bonus, the buyers don’t need to pay PMI, either — making them an even better deal than FHA loans. Furthermore, the VA restricts the amount that the lender can charge for closing costs, which means you’ll have built-in protection from getting ripped-off by ancillary fees.

#4: Apply for a USDA Loan

Not an urban-dweller? You may be able to take out a loan that’s insured by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These “USDA Loans” are designed to encourage homeownership in rural areas.

To qualify for a USDA loan, your income can’t be more than 115 percent of the median income within the area in which you reside.

Like the VA loan, USDA loans allow you to purchase a home with zero downpayment. However, unlike the VA loan, you will need to pay monthly PMI.

There are two drawbacks. First, the USDA only approves certain houses, which means your pool of potential new dwellings will be limited. If you have your heart set on a specific house, and it’s not USDA-qualified, you won’t be able to use this loan to buy that particular abode.

Secondly, you’ll be limited to spending no more than 29 percent of your gross income on all housing-related costs (including PMI), and no more than 41 percent of your gross income on all of your combined debt payments, including your mortgage, car payments, student loans, and more.

The Bottom Line

Don’t have a 20 percent downpayment? Don’t sweat. Regardless of whether you’re a city-slicker or a country-dweller, a first-time homebuyer or a military veteran, there are plenty of options you can explore.

originally posted on Truila Tips by Paula Pant, March 21, 2014

Posted on April 15, 2014 at 6:16 pm
Debi Bloomquist | Posted in Economics, Home Finances, Home Improvement, Homeowner News, Real Estate |

Senior Services Link

I am always on the lookout for resources to help you and your families navigate the changes that come with growing older.

Senior Services is a comprehensive non-profit agency serving older adults and their loved ones in Washington State. Their mission is to promote positive aging for thousands of seniors and their families each year through an integrated system of quality programs and senior centers. More than 2,800 volunteers, together with 250 employees, make our work possible and efficient.

The link to their website below offers a wealth of information and assistance for seniors.





Posted on April 11, 2014 at 9:25 pm
Debi Bloomquist | Posted in News For Seniors |

Why You Need A Real Estate Agent

Written by Jensen and Company Realtors on 

Now that the housing market is finally on the upswing, many people are looking into buying a new home. One of the first things they have to consider before they begin the home buying process is if they are going to use a real estate agent or not. Everyone is going to be different but we put together this inofgraphic to give the American public some ideas about the importance of Real Estate Agents. Feel free to let us know what you think in the comments and don’t forget to share this with your friends.

Posted on April 7, 2014 at 3:44 pm
Debi Bloomquist | Posted in Economics, Everett, Home Finances, Homeowner News, Real Estate |

The Windermere Foundation is now accepting donations for the Oso, Washington Relief Fund.

We are deeply saddened by the events that have unfolded over the last week due to the landslide in Oso, Washington. We have heard from many of you who wish to support and provide emergency relief for those that have lost their homes and loved ones. 100% of the funds designated to the Windermere Foundation's Oso, Washington Relief Fund will go directly to the families affected by the slide, through the Darrington Emergency Task Force for immediate assistance.

You can donate online at https://store.windermere.com/content/foundation-donation. The Windermere Foundation will match the first $5,000 donated.

A special thanks to the Windermere office in nearby Arlington, owned by Gene Bryson, for raising awareness and starting the fundraising effort.

Our hearts go out to all the families affected by this disaster.

Thank you for your support.

Christine Wood | Executive Director

5424 Sand Point Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105

OFFICE (206) 527-3801
FAX (206) 393-3444

Posted on March 27, 2014 at 5:00 pm
Debi Bloomquist | Posted in Economics, Everett, Home Finances, Home Improvement, Homeowner News, Real Estate, Uncategorized |

How to Get the Best Home Loan for Your Needs


Location, school ratings, number of bedrooms, outdoor spaces. These are the things potential homeowners focus on when they start house hunting. They’re all important factors, for sure. Even more crucial: How will you pay for your home?

Home loans are not a one-size-fits-all proposition. They differ based on their type, such as fixed or adjustable rate, and their loan term. Loans also vary in interest rate and annual percentage rate (APR).

To ensure you’re getting the best home loan for your situation, you’ll want to do your homework, talk to reputable credit counselors and lenders and follow these tips:

Fixed or adjustable?

There are two main types of mortgages: fixed rate and adjustable rate.

Most homeowners today opt for fixed-rate mortgages. With a fixed-rate mortgage, you are locked in to a set interest rate, resulting in monthly mortgage payments that remain the same for the entire term of the loan. The No. 1 benefit of this type of mortgage is inflation protection. If mortgage rates go up, your rate will not follow suit. Conversely, if rates drop, your interest rate will not drop. (Of course, you could refinance your mortgage if rates dropped significantly.)

Most lenders offer 15- and 30-year fixed mortgages, and some also offer 20-year terms. The longer the term of your fixed mortgage, the lower your monthly payment because you’re paying over many years. With a 30-year term, however, you will end up paying more interest over time.

A 15-year fixed mortgage will have a higher monthly payment because you’re paying for fewer years. On the other hand, you’re building equity at a faster rate and will pay less interest over the life of your loan. The shorter the term of your loan, the lower your interest rate will likely be.

An adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) is a loan with an interest rate that will change over the life of the loan. ARMs have adjustment periods that determine how often their interest rates can change and they have initial “fixed” periods during which their interest rates won’t change at all — most often 3, 5 or 7 years. After this period, rates can readjust. These loans are often considered riskier because the interest rate and payments can increase when the loan adjusts. However, if you’re planning to live in your home for a shorter period of time, these loans may make sense for you, especially because you’re likely to obtain a lower interest rate than with a fixed mortgage.

Clear up your finances and credit rating

Even before you start shopping for a mortgage, you need to take a good, honest look at your finances. Most financial experts agree that your mortgage payment — including taxes and insurance — should not exceed 30 percent of your take-home pay. Yes, you may get a raise down the road — or you may not. Your mortgage payment should correspond with your current financial reality.

You’ll also want to check your credit rating. Why? Because your credit rating may be the most important piece of financial information you have to obtain a mortgage at the best possible interest rate. Checking your credit rating before you find your ideal home will give you time to correct reporting errors and to clean up less-than-spectacular ratings. It can take up to 90 days to get erroneous information off your report, so don’t delay.

Shop for several quotes

Home loans are available from commercial banks, mortgage companies, thrift institutions and credit unions. You’ll want to get quotes from several different lenders to make sure you’re getting the best price. If you don’t want to shop for loans yourself, you may decide to work through a mortgage broker. Rather than lending money directly, brokers find lenders for clients. Working through a broker may give you access to an even broader selection of loan products and terms. Brokers are not obligated to find the best deal for you unless they have a contract with you and are working as your agent. Consequently, if you go the broker route, you’ll want to talk with several, just as you should with banks or credit unions.

Get ratings and reviews

After you’ve narrowed down the list of lenders or brokers you’re interested in working with, you should check into their backgrounds. How long have they been in business? If found online, are they accessible? Can they provide third-party reviews and ratings? This unbiased feedback from people who have worked directly with the lenders can prove invaluable when separating the great from the not-so-good.

Once you settle on a lender, you’ll want to get pre-approved. Through this process, the lender will determine how much you can afford to spend on your new home. You can get a pre-approval letter in minutes through Zillow. Fill out this form, pick your pre-approval lender, and if you meet the lender’s guidelines, you’ll get your pre-approval letter that you can print and email. In a competitive market, pre-approval letters are almost essential. If you make an offer on a house without a pre-approval, your offer will not be taken as seriously as an offer from another person with a pre-approval and you could lose your dream home. Most bank-owned properties require a pre-approval letter from a lender before an offer can be accepted.


Posted on March 14, 2014 at 9:32 pm
Debi Bloomquist | Posted in Economics, Home Finances, Home Improvement, Homeowner News, Real Estate |

Not Your Typical Tahoe Ski House

Architects, interior designers, and more ∨

From Shabby Chic home decor to contemporary furniture and mirrors, browse thousands of decorating ideas to inspire your next home project.
Search for a fun counter stool, clock, sectional and storage dresser to spice up your basement.

Posted on March 5, 2014 at 11:27 pm
Debi Bloomquist | Posted in Home Improvement, Homeowner News, Real Estate |