Edible gardens beautify and satisfying

Flowers aren’t just for weddings anymore. When planting an edible garden, flowers, trees, bushes and plants can provide a beautiful landscape as well as add flavor at the dinner table. Roses, tulips, red clover and violets can add a slightly sweet flavor as a garnish or in a salad. Daylilies mimic the taste of a summer squash and borage has a cucumber like flavor.

Flowering bush’s also produce edible flowers, like hibiscus, produce orange, red, or purplish red flowers that taste like cranberry and have citrus overtones. White elderberry flowers are sweet to the taste.

When planning the location of  an edible garden, sun is the most important factor. A space close to the kitchen and visible from a kitchen window is helpful. When a garden is easy to see a access, it will serve as a visible reminder to head outdoors when it needs attention. Soil quality is important, and poor soil can be mediated with organic matter, or even by creating raised beds on top of the poor soil. A 20 foot by 20 foot plot will allow for a variety of spreading plants, but a 10 foot by 12 foot still provides room for a profusion of greens, herbs, peppers, beans, cucumbers and edible flowers. Both edible and non-edible flowers are good to include in the garden, not only for their beauty, but as a way of attracting bees and other beneficial insects.

If designing from scratch, plotting the garden on paper is helpful, dividing the area into sections and adding the names of plants that will be assigned to various spots. To make the most of the available sun, the garden bed should have an east to west orientation, the tallest plants placed on the north end. This will reduce the chance of tall plants shading shorter ones. Once a healthy topsoil of 8 to 10 inches is prepared, it is decision time. Beans, squash, tomatoes, lettuce and Swiss chard are some of the easiest plants to grow, and can be good crops for novice gardeners. In early spring, plants that can be grown directly from seed or directsow crops such as beets, carrots, parsnips, peas, radishes and spinach can be planted. The seedlings adapt to cooler spring temperatures and grow particularly fast from seed. Warmer weather vegetables such as beans, cucumbers, corn, and squash can be direct sown a little later in the growing season. To fully enjoy an edible landscape, it’s important to research carefully the types of plants are planning to serve. Some flowers contain substances that can cause an upset stomach, rashes, or headaches. Pollen can cause allergic reactions. Even edible flower should be eaten in moderation.

Experienced gardeners will discover interesting ways of maximizing the planting space. For example, quick maturing crops, such as lettuce, can be planted around slow growers, such as broccoli. The lettuce will be harvested by the time the broccoli needs the space. In addition of flowers, vegetables and herbs, bush and bramble fruits such as blueberries and raspberries, are another easy way to expand the harvest from the landscape. Compared with fruit trees, bushes are easy to grow, rarely require spraying for pests, and begin bearing some fruit the year after planting. By their third season they should be in full production. Perhaps most important, they’re very space efficient.

Easy updates for a tired bath

There is a good reason to start redecorating projects in the bathroom – -it’s small. What ever upgrades are considered will cost less, and if they look isn’t quite right, there will be time and money left over to allow a do-over or two.

For example, painting the walls is inexpensive and will provide an immediate change in the look and style of the room. Faux techniques can be tried, and if they don’t work, can be repainted the next day. Soft shades of purple, pink, lime green and turquoise are trendy paint colors this year, but gray can serve as a neutral, allowing for bright colored accents. (Bathroom formula paint should always be used to help prevent mold and mildew).

When a homeowner isn’t ready to replace the bathroom floor, there is the next best option to consider… Divert attention upwards. To get the look of old fashioned tin ceilings, there are several ceiling tile wallpapers available which are paintable. This textured wallpaper gives the impression of embossed plaster and will keep visitors looking upward. Another option is a ceiling sized stencil, some paint and crown molding, to create a one of a kind ceiling space.

Staying at ceiling level, a space saving addition to consider is a narrow shelf, over the doorway, just wide enough to hold extra rolls of toilet paper. A 6 inch deep shelf can be supported directly on the door frame, held in place by small bracket. This small shelf can also be used to house decorative items that take up too much space on the vanity tops.

Even with a new ceiling, the bathroom floor can’t hide forever. Wood floors are a popular option in most homes today, But homeowner shy away from wood floors in a wet environment such as a bath. Today, it’s possible they have both the warm look of wood and the durability of vinyl. Vinyl planks are available from most Home Supply Stores and come with textured finishes that simulate real wood. Finishes include oak, maple, bamboo and other exotic woods. Cost can range from $1.00 to $4.00 per square foot, and the small size of the room makes it possible to lay a new floor in a day or two.

If the bathroom floor is vinyl, but one that is looking tired and worn out, a coat of paint and 5 to 6 applications of polyurethane can give a floor a whole new look. To do the job, the floor needs to be primed first with a specialty primer. It can then be painted using a stencil to mimic a tile pattern or to create a border. One decorator has experimented with using brown paper bags to create the look of leather or stone on a bathroom floor. She suggest tearing off irregular pieces of the bag, gluing them to the floor and topping with 4 to 6 coats of polyurethane.

Even a change as small as replacing hardware to the bathroom and much needed a lift. Toilet handles, cabinet handles, and or hardware and towel racks can all shine brightly and give the bathroom some sparkle.  You can even change the hardware and trim on a shower stall from gold to a trendier color, and without removing doors are other shower hardware. It can be done using 220 grit sandpaper, steel wool and elbow grease, for starters. Once the hardware has been thoroughly scraped, spray on automobile primer needs to be applied. Metallic spray paint in black or another color goes on last. The technique can even be applied to shower fixtures. One caveat – lay in an adequate supply of painters masking tape.

Simple things like a new toilet seat and a pedestal sink are relatively easy and inexpensive fixes.

 

For Sale By Owners: Positives and Negatives

When deciding how to go about the undertaking of selling their homes, homeowners should carefully consider the pros and cons of hiring a real estate agent. While most sellers choose to hire an agent to advise them with the sale, a minority of them choose to sell it themselves. In 2006, these “for sale by owner” (or FSBO) sellers totaled 12% in 2006, according to the National Association of Realtors. FSBO sellers stand to protect an enormous amount of money, but to do this effectively, they must be proficient and shrewd in a territory which they may find strange.

In the U.S., real estate agents typically take 4 – 6% of the value of the home, which many home owners view as unjustifiably large, considering the agent puts none of their own money into the home and comparatively small amount of their time. Yet, sellers must take into account that this fee is usually split between the buyer’s agent and seller’s agent, and the brokerage must be rewarded too. After taxes, the average real estate agent makes a humble living. Although, understandably, the seller doesn’t care about how the fee is split up, as they’d much fancy to pocket the whole amount.

There are also psychological considerations why homeowners choose to sell their homes themselves. Some people enjoy the feeling of being in control of the transaction and unencumbered by the potential problems or ulterior motives of professionals. The agent might want to accept a low offer because they’re in a hurry to sell the home, get their fee and move on, even if the seller is in no rush and desires to proceed at their own tempo. Moreover, the balance of the commission will be impacted very little by a change in the final sale price, leaving the agent with little incentive to dicker over a couple thousand dollars.
Of course, many sellers will easily pay a real estate agent a hefty commission, especially in buyers’ markets, when the seller can’t acquire sufficient attention to sell the residence on their own. Also, the thought of a property transaction– perhaps the most significant financial move of someone’s life – without having a professional may be unsettling to both the buyer and the seller. Brokers understand what agreements must be signed and which laws must be observed (such as disclosure requirements), decreasing a lot of hassle for the buyer and seller, and keeping them both out of the courtroom. A real estate agent will also operate as a shield between the buyer and seller, who could very well feel uncomfortable interacting with one another directly.

Potentially the finest reason to use the services of a real estate agent is that they know how to price a house, and, without their support, the seller may waste months trying unsuccessfully to sell an overpriced house, or, worse, sell the residence for too little. When selling a home devoid of an agent, owners will be accountable not only for making sure they pay the fees charged by numerous professionals, but they will also be responsible for finding these business people in the first place. A knowledgeable real estate agent will know to not skimp on the home assessment, for instance, by exclusively hiring InterNACHI inspectors.

Sellers can save thousands of dollars by avoiding the services of a real estate agent, but to do this adequately, they are going to have to earn that money. The subsequent tips are a good start for FSBO home sellers:

Don’t skimp on your own home preparation. Your selected house will be in competition with houses listed by agents who coach their clients on how to organize their house for showings. Be trained about legal requirements for disclosures in your location. If you do not reveal certain information to the buyer, they might be able attack you later in court. Familiarize yourself with the documents and contracts required by a real estate transaction. It usually pays to hire a lawyer to check the contract. Study ad and marketing tools available to you on the Internet. There are a number of sites that will even help you develop a video tour of your home. Hone your negotiating skills and be equipped to turn down some offers. Real estate agents are skilled negotiators, and the buyer’s agent might try to take advantage of your lack of experience.
In summary, it might make sense to seek the services of a real estate agent to aid with the sale of a home, but knowledgeable, responsible homeowners can save a great deal of money by selling their properties themselves.

Pending Sales of U.S. Existing Homes Rise by 8.2% – Triple Forecasts

Even though the housing market is still extremely weak, it was nice to read the sales of existing homes beat analyst estimates for May. This article touches on that and also briefly explains how new home sales and prices fell for the month of May.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-29/pending-sales-of-u-s-existing-homes-rise-8-2-.html

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Home Prices Get Boost From Seasonal Swing

It’s good to see some positive news when in comes to the current state of our housing crisis. Even though the numbers aren’t seasonally adjusted it just may be a sign of positive momemtum. Only time will tell and there are still many questions to be answered.

http://www.builderonline.com/home-prices/home-prices-get-boost-from-seasonal-swing.aspx?cid=BLDR110628003

Private Water Wells

If your family gets drinking water from a private well, do you know if your water is safe to drink? What health risks could you and your family face? Where can you go for help or advice? The EPA regulates public water systems; it does not have the authority to regulate private drinking water wells. Approximately 15% of Americans rely on their own private drinking water supplies, and these supplies are not subject to EPA standards, although some state and local governments do set rules to protect users of these wells. Unlike public drinking water systems serving many people, they do not have experts regularly checking the water’s source and its quality before it is sent to the tap. These households must take special precautions to ensure the protection and maintenance of their drinking water supplies.

Basic Information

There are three types of private drinking water wells: dug, driven, and drilled. Proper well construction and continued maintenance are keys to the safety of your water supply. Your state water-well contractor licensing agency, local health department, or local water system professional can provide information on well construction. The well should be located so rainwater flows away from it. Rainwater can pick up harmful bacteria and chemicals on the land’s surface. If this water pools near your well, it can seep into it, potentially causing health problems. Water-well drillers and pump-well installers are listed in your local phone directory. The contractor should be bonded and insured. Make certain your ground water contractor is registered or licensed in your state, if required. If your state does not have a licensing/registration program, contact the National Ground Water Association.

To keep your well safe, you must be sure that possible sources of contamination are not close by. Experts suggest the following distances as a minimum for protection — farther is better (see graphic on the right):

  • septic tanks:  50 feet;
  • livestock yards, silos, septic leach fields:  50 feet;
  • petroleum tanks, liquid-tight manure storage and fertilizer storage and handling:  100 feet; and
  • manure stacks:  250 feet.

Many homeowners tend to forget the value of good maintenance until problems reach crisis-levels. That can be expensive. It’s better to maintain your well, find problems early, and correct them to protect your well’s performance. Keep up-to-date records of well installation and repairs, plus pumping and water tests. Such records can help spot changes and possible problems with your water system. If you have problems, ask a local expert to check your well construction and maintenance records. He or she can see if your system is okay or needs work.
Protect your own well area. Be careful about storage and disposal of household and lawn-care chemicals and wastes. Good farmers and gardeners minimize the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Take steps to reduce erosion and prevent surface water runoff. Regularly check underground storage tanks that hold home heating oil, diesel, or gasoline. Make sure your well is protected from the wastes of livestock, pets and wildlife.

Dug Wells

Dug wells are holes in the ground dug by shovel or backhoe. Historically, a dug well was excavated below the ground water table until incoming water exceeded the digger’s bailing rate. The well was then lined (cased) with stones, brick, tile, or other material to prevent collapse. It was covered with a cap of wood, stone or concrete. Since it is so difficult to dig beneath the ground water table, dug wells are not very deep. Typically, they are only 10 to 30 feet deep. Being so shallow, dug wells have the highest risk of becoming contaminated.To minimize the likelihood of contamination, your dug well should have certain features. These features help to prevent contaminants from traveling along the outside of the casing, or through the casing and into the well.

Dug Well Construction Features
  • The well should be cased with a watertight material (for example, tongue-and-groove pre-cast concrete), and a cement grout or bentonite clay sealant poured along the outside of the casing to the top of the well.
  • The well should be covered by a concrete curb and cap that stands about a foot above the ground.
  • The land surface around the well should be mounded so that surface water runs away from the well and is not allowed to pond around the outside of the wellhead.
  • Ideally, the pump for your well should be inside your home or in a separate pump house, rather than in a pit next to the well.

Land activities around a dug well can also contaminate it. While dug wells have been used as a household water supply source for many years, most are relics of older homes, dug before drilling equipment was readily available, or when drilling was considered too expensive. If you have a dug well on your property and are using it for drinking water, check to make sure it is properly covered and sealed. Another problem relating to the shallowness of a dug well is that it may go dry during a drought when the ground water table drops.

Driven Wells

Like dug wells, driven wells pull water from the water-saturated zone above the bedrock. Driven wells can be deeper than dug wells. They are typically 30 to 50 feet deep and are usually located in areas with thick sand and gravel deposits where the ground water table is within 15 feet of the ground’s surface. In the proper geologic setting, driven wells can be easy and relatively inexpensive to install. Although deeper than dug wells, driven wells are still relatively shallow and have a moderate-to-high risk of contamination from nearby land activities.

Driven Well Construction Features

  • Assembled lengths of 2- to 3-inch diameter metal pipes are driven into the ground. A screened “well point” located at the end of the pipe helps drive the pipe through the sand and gravel. The screen allows water to enter the well and filters out sediment.
  • The pump for the well is in one of two places: on top of the well, or in the house. An access pit is usually dug around the well down to the frost line, and a water discharge pipe to the house is joined to the well pipe with a fitting.
  • The well and pit are capped with the same kind of large-diameter concrete tile used for a dug well. The access pit may be cased with pre-cast concrete.

To minimize this risk, the well cover should be a tight-fitting concrete curb and cap with no cracks, and should sit about a foot above the ground. Slope the ground away from the well so that surface water will not pond around the well. If there’s a pit above the well, either to hold the pump or to access the fitting, you may also be able to pour a grout sealant along the outside of the well pipe. Protecting the water quality requires that you maintain proper well construction and monitor your activities around the well. It is also important to follow the same land-use precautions around the driven well as described under dug wells.

Drilled Wells

Drilled wells penetrate about 100 to 400 feet into the bedrock. Where you find bedrock at the surface, it is commonly called ledge. To serve as a water supply, a drilled well must intersect bedrock fractures containing ground water.

Drilled Well Construction Features

  • The casing is usually metal or plastic pipe, 6 inches in diameter, that extends into the bedrock to prevent shallow ground water from entering the well. By law, the casing has to extend at least 18 feet into the ground, with at least 5 feet extending into the bedrock. The casing should also extend a foot or two above the ground’s surface. A sealant, such as cement grout or bentonite clay, should be poured along the outside of the casing to the top of the well. The well should be capped to prevent surface water from entering the well.
  • Submersible pumps, located near the bottom of the well, are most commonly used in drilled wells. Wells with a shallow water table may feature a jet pump located inside the home. Pumps require special wiring and electrical service. Well pumps should be installed and serviced by a qualified professional registered with your state.
  • Most modern drilled wells incorporate a pitless adapter designed to provide a sanitary seal at the point where the discharge water line leaves the well to enter your home. The device attaches directly to the casing below the frost line, and provides a watertight sub-surface connection, protecting the well from frost and contamination.
  • Older drilled wells may lack some of these sanitary features. The well pipe used was often 8, 10 or 12 inches in diameter, and covered with a concrete well cap either at or below the ground’s surface. This outmoded type of construction does not provide the same degree of protection from surface contamination. Also, older wells may not have a pitless adapter to provide a seal at the point of discharge from the well.

Hydrofracting a Drilled Well

Hydrofracting is a process that applies water or air under pressure into your well to open up existing fractures near your well, and can even create new ones. Often, this can increase the yield of your well. This process can be applied to new wells with insufficient yield and to improve the quantity of older wells.

How can I test the quality of my private drinking water supply?

Consider testing your well for pesticides, organic chemicals, and heavy metals before you use it for the first time. Test private water supplies annually for nitrate and coliform bacteria to detect contamination problems early. Test them more frequently if you suspect a problem. Be aware of activities in your watershed that may affect the water quality of your well, especially if you live in an unsewered area.

Human Health

The first step to protect your health and the health of your family is learning about what may pollute your source of drinking water. Potential contamination may occur naturally, or as a result of human activity.What are some naturally occurring sources of pollution?

  • micro-organisms:  Bacteria, viruses, parasites and other microorganisms are sometimes found in water. Shallow wells — those with water close to ground level — are at most risk. Runoff, or water flowing over the land surface, may pick up these pollutants from wildlife and soils. This is often the case after flooding. Some of these organisms can cause a variety of illnesses. Symptoms include nausea and diarrhea. These can occur shortly after drinking contaminated water. The effects could be short-term yet severe (similar to food poisoning), or might recur frequently or develop slowly over a long time.
  • radionuclides: Radionuclides are radioactive elements, such as uranium and radium. They may be present in underlying rock and ground water.
  • radon: Radon is a gas that is a natural product of the breakdown of uranium in the soil and can also pose a threat. Radon is most dangerous when inhaled, and contributes to lung cancer. Although soil is the primary source, using household water containing radon contributes to elevated indoor radon levels. Radon is less dangerous when consumed in water, but remains a risk to health.
  • nitrates and nitrites: Although high nitrate levels are usually due to human activities (see below), they may be found naturally in ground water. They come from the breakdown of nitrogen compounds in the soil. Flowing ground water picks them up from the soil. Drinking large amounts of nitrates and nitrites is particularly threatening to infants (for example, when mixed in formula).
  • heavy metals: Underground rocks and soils may contain arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and selenium. However, these contaminants are not often found in household wells at dangerous levels from natural sources.
  • fluoride: Fluoride is helpful in dental health, so many water systems add small amounts to drinking water. However, excessive consumption of naturally occurring fluoride can damage bone tissue. High levels of fluoride occur naturally in some areas. It may discolor teeth, but this is not a health risk.

What human activities can pollute ground water?

bacteria and nitrates: These pollutants are found in human and animal wastes. Septic tanks can cause bacterial and nitrate pollution. So can large numbers of farm animals. Both septic systems and animal manure must be carefully managed to prevent pollution. Sanitary landfills and garbage dumps are also sources. Children and some adults are at higher risk when exposed to waterborne bacteria. These include the elderly and people whose immune systems are weak due to AIDS or treatments for cancer. Fertilizers can add to nitrate problems. Nitrates cause a health threat in very young infants called “blue baby syndrome.” This condition disrupts oxygen flow in the blood.
concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs): The number of CAFOs, often called “factory farms,” is growing. On these farms, thousands of animals are raised in a small space. The large amounts of animal waste/manure from these farms can threaten water supplies. Strict and careful manure management is needed to prevent pathogen and nutrient problems. Salts from high levels of manure can also pollute ground water.
heavy metals: Activities such as mining and construction can release large amounts of heavy metals into nearby ground water sources. Some older fruit orchards may contain high levels of arsenic, once used as a pesticide. At high levels, these metals pose a health risk.
fertilizers and pesticides: Farmers use fertilizers and pesticides to promote growth and reduce insect damage. These products are also used on golf courses and suburban lawns and gardens. The chemicals in these products may end up in ground water. Such pollution depends on the types and amounts of chemicals used and how they are applied. Local environmental conditions (soil types, seasonal snow and rainfall) also affect this pollution. Many fertilizers contain forms of nitrogen that can break down into harmful nitrates. This could add to other sources of nitrates mentioned above. Some underground agricultural drainage systems collect fertilizers and pesticides. This polluted water can pose problems to ground water and local streams and rivers. In addition, chemicals used to treat buildings and homes for termites and other pests may also pose a threat. Again, the possibility of problems depends on the amount and kind of chemicals. The types of soil and the amount of water moving through the soil also play a role.
industrial products and waste: Many harmful chemicals are used widely in local business and industry. These can pollute drinking water if not well-managed. The most common sources of such problems are:

    • local businesses: These include nearby factories, industrial plants, and even small businesses such as gas stations and dry cleaners. All handle a variety of hazardous chemicals that need careful management. Spills and improper disposal of these chemicals and other industrial wastes can threaten ground water supplies.
    • leaking underground tanks and piping: Petroleum products, chemicals and waste stored in underground storage tanks and pipes may end up in the ground water. Tanks and piping leak if they are constructed or installed improperly. Steel tanks and piping corrode with age. Tanks are often found on farms. The possibility of leaking tanks is great on old, abandoned farm sites. Farm tanks are exempt from the EPA rules for petroleum and chemical tanks.
    • landfills and waste dumps: Modern landfills are designed to contain any leaking liquids. But floods can carry them over the barriers. Older dumpsites may have a wide variety of pollutants that can seep into ground water.

household waste: Improper disposal of many common products can pollute ground water. These include cleaning solvents, used motor oil, paints, and paint thinners. Even soaps and detergents can harm drinking water. These are often a problem from faulty septic tanks and septic leaching fields.
lead and copper: Household plumbing materials are the most common source of lead and copper found in home drinking water. Corrosive water may cause metals in pipes or soldered joints to leach into your tap water. Your water’s acidity or alkalinity (often measured as pH) greatly affects corrosion. Temperature and mineral content also affect how corrosive it is. They are often used in pipes, solder and plumbing fixtures. Lead can cause serious damage to the brain, kidneys, nervous system, and red blood cells. The age of plumbing materials — in particular, copper pipes soldered with lead — is also important. Even in relatively low amounts, these metals can be harmful. The EPA rules under the Safe Drinking Water Act limit lead in drinking water to 15 parts per billion. Since 1988, the Act allows only lead-free pipe, solder and flux in drinking water systems. The law covers both new installations and repairs of plumbing.

What You Can Do…

Private, individual wells are the responsibility of the homeowner. To help protect your well, here are some steps you can take:Have your water tested periodically. It is recommended that water be tested every year for total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids, and pH levels. If you suspect other contaminants, test for those. Always use a state-certified laboratory that conducts drinking water tests. Since these can be expensive, spend some time identifying potential problems. Consult your InterNACHI inspector for information about how to go about water testing.
Testing more than once a year may be warranted in special situations if:

  • someone in your household is pregnant or nursing;
  • there are unexplained illnesses in the family;
  • your neighbors find a dangerous contaminant in their water;
  • you note a change in your water’s taste, odor, color or clarity;
  • there is a spill of chemicals or fuels into or near your well; or
  • you replace or repair any part of your well system.

Identify potential problems as the first step to safe-guarding your drinking water. The best way to start is to consult a local expert — someone who knows your area, such as the local health department, agricultural extension agent, a nearby public water system, or a geologist at a local university.

Be aware of your surroundings. As you drive around your community, take note of new construction. Check the local newspaper for articles about new construction in your area.

Check the paper or call your local planning and zoning commission for announcements about hearings or zoning appeals on development or industrial projects that could possibly affect your water.

Attend these hearings, ask questions about how your water source is being protected, and don’t be satisfied with general answers.  Ask questions, such as:  “If you build this landfill, what will you do to ensure that my water will be protected?” See how quickly they answer and provide specifics about what plans have been made to specifically address that issue.

Identify Potential Problem Sources

To start your search for potential problems, begin close to home. Do a survey around your well to discover:

  • Is there livestock nearby?
  • Are pesticides being used on nearby agricultural crops or nurseries?
  • Do you use lawn fertilizers near the well?
  • Is your well downstream from your own or a neighbor’s septic system?
  • Is your well located near a road that is frequently salted or sprayed with de-icers during winter months?
  • Do you or your neighbors dispose of household waste or used motor oil in the backyard, even in small amounts?

If any of these items apply, it may be best to have your water tested and talk to your local public health department or agricultural extension agent to find ways to change one of the practices which can affect your private well.

In addition to the immediate area around your well, you should be aware of other possible sources of contamination that may already be part of your community or may be moving into your area. Attend any local planning or appeals hearings to find out more about the construction of facilities that may pollute your drinking water. Ask to see the environmental impact statement on the project. See if the issue of underground drinking water sources has been addressed. If not, ask why.

Water Quality

Drinking Water

The United States has one of the safest water supplies in the world. However, national statistics don’t tell you specifically about the quality and safety of the water coming out of your tap. That’s because drinking water quality varies from place to place, depending on the condition of the source water from which it is drawn, and the treatment it receives. Now you have a new way to find information about your drinking water if it comes from a public water supplier (The EPA doesn’t regulate private wells, but recommends that well.  owners have their water tested annually.) Starting in 1999, every community water supplier must provide an annual report (sometimes called a “consumer confidence report”) to its customers. The report provides information on your local drinking water quality, including the water’s source, the contaminants found in the water, and how consumers can get involved in protecting drinking water. You may want more information, or you may have more questions. One place you can go is to your water supplier, who is best equipped to answer questions about your specific water supply.

What contaminants may be found in drinking water?

There is no such thing as naturally pure water. In nature, all water contains some impurities. As water flows in streams, sits in lakes, and filters through layers of soil and rock in the ground, it dissolves or absorbs the substances that it touches. Some of these substances are harmless. In fact, some people prefer mineral water precisely because minerals give it an appealing taste. However, at certain levels, minerals, just like man-made chemicals, are considered contaminants that can make water unpalatable or even unsafe. Some contaminants come from the erosion of natural rock formations. Other contaminants are substances discharged from factories, applied to farmlands, or used by consumers in their homes and yards. Sources of contaminants might be in your neighborhood or might be many miles away. Your local water quality report tells which contaminants are in your drinking water, the levels at which they were found, and the actual or likely source of each contaminant. Some ground water systems have established wellhead protection programs to prevent substances from contaminating their wells. Similarly, some surface-water systems protect the watershed around their reservoir to prevent contamination. Right now, states and water suppliers are working systematically to assess every source of drinking water, and to identify potential sources of contaminants. This process will help communities to protect their drinking water supplies from contamination.

Where does drinking water come from?

A clean, constant supply of drinking water is essential to every community. People in large cities frequently drink water that comes from surface-water sources, such as lakes, rivers and reservoirs. Sometimes, these sources are close to the community. Other times, drinking water suppliers get their water from sources many miles away. In either case, when you think about where your drinking water comes from, it’s important to consider not just the part of the river or lake that you can see, but the entire watershed. The watershed is the land area over which water flows into the river, lake or reservoir. In rural areas, people are more likely to drink ground water that was pumped from a well. These wells tap into aquifers, the natural reservoirs under the earth’s surface, that may be only a few miles wide, or may span the borders of many states. As with surface water, it is important to remember that activities many miles away from you may affect the quality of ground water. Your annual drinking water quality report will tell you where your water supplier gets your water.

How is drinking water treated?

When a water supplier takes untreated water from a river or reservoir, the water often contains dirt and tiny pieces of leaves and other organic matter, as well as trace amounts of certain contaminants. When it gets to the treatment plant, water suppliers often add chemicals, called coagulants, to the water. These act on the water as it flows very slowly through tanks so that the dirt and other contaminants form clumps that settle to the bottom. Usually, this water then flows through a filter for removal of the smallest contaminants, such as viruses and Giardia. Most ground water is naturally filtered as it passes through layers of the earth into underground reservoirs known as aquifers. Water that suppliers pump from wells generally contains less organic material than surface water, and may not need to go through any or all of these treatments. The quality of the water will depend on local conditions. The most common drinking water treatment, considered by many to be one of the most important scientific advances of the 20th century, is disinfection. Most water suppliers add chlorine or another disinfectant to kill bacteria and other germs. Water suppliers use other treatments as needed, according to the quality of their source water. For example, systems whose water is contaminated with organic chemicals can treat their water with activated carbon, which adsorbs or attracts the chemicals dissolved in the water.

What if I have special health needs?

People who have HIV/AIDS, are undergoing chemotherapy, take steroids, or for another reason have a weakened immune system may be more susceptible to microbial contaminants, including Cryptosporidium, in drinking water. If you or someone you know fall into one of these categories, talk to your healthcare provider to find out if you need to take special precautions, such as boiling your water. Young children are particularly susceptible to the effects of high levels of certain contaminants, including nitrate and lead. To avoid exposure to lead, use water from the cold tap for making baby formula, drinking and cooking, and let the water run for a minute or more if the water hasn’t been turned on for six or more hours. If your water supplier alerts you that your water does not meet the EPA’s standard for nitrates, and you have children under 6 months old, consult your healthcare provider. You may want to find an alternate source of water that contains lower levels of nitrates for your child.

What are the health effects of contaminants in drinking water?

The EPA has set standards for more than 80 contaminants that may be present in drinking water and pose a risk to human health. The EPA sets these standards to protect the health of everybody, including vulnerable groups like children. The contaminants fall into two groups, according to the health effects that they cause. Your local water supplier will alert you through the local media, direct mail, or other means if there is a potential acute or chronic health effect from compounds in the drinking water. You may want to contact them for additional information specific to your area. Acute effects occur within hours or days of the time that a person consumes a contaminant. People can suffer acute health effects from almost any contaminant if they are exposed to extraordinarily high levels (as in the case of a spill). In drinking water,microbes, such as bacteria and viruses, are the contaminants with the greatest chance of reaching levels high enough to cause acute health effects. Most people’s bodies can fight off these microbial contaminants the way they fight off germs, and these acute contaminants typically don’t have permanent effects. Nonetheless, when high-enough levels occur, they can make people ill, and can be dangerous or deadly for a person whose immune system is already weak due to HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy, steroid use, or another reason. Chronic effects occur after people consume a contaminant at levels over the EPA’s safety standards for many years. The drinking water contaminants that can have chronic effects are chemicals (such as disinfection byproducts, solvents, and pesticides), radionuclides (such as radium), and minerals (such as arsenic). Examples of these chronic effects include cancer, liver and kidney problems, and reproductive difficulties.

Who is responsible for drinking water quality?

The Safe Drinking Water Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the responsibility for setting national drinking water standards that protect the health of the 250 million people who get their water from public water systems. Other people get their water from private wells which are not subject to federal regulations. Since 1974, the EPA has set national standards for over 80 contaminants that may occur in drinking water. While the EPA and state governments set and enforce standards, local governments and private water suppliers have direct responsibility for the quality of the water that flows to your tap. Water systems test and treat their water, maintain the distribution systems that deliver water to consumers, and report on their water quality to the state. States and the EPA provide technical assistance to water suppliers and can take legal action against systems that fail to provide water that meets state and EPA standards.

What is a violation of a drinking water standard?

Drinking water suppliers are required to monitor and test their water many times, for many things, before sending it to consumers. These tests determine whether and how the water needs to be treated, as well as the effectiveness of the treatment process. If a water system consistently sends to consumers water that contains a contaminant at a level higher than EPA or state health standards regulate, or if the system fails to monitor for a contaminant, the system is violating regulations, and is subject to fines and other penalties. When a water system violates a drinking water regulation, it must notify the people who drink its water about the violation, what it means, and how they should respond. In cases where the water presents an immediate health threat, such as when people need to boil water before drinking it, the system must use television, radio and newspapers to get the word out as quickly as possible. Other notices may be sent by mail, or delivered with the water bill. Each water suppliers’ annual water quality report must include a summary of all the violations that occurred during the previous year.

How can I help protect my drinking water?

Using the new information that is now available about drinking water, citizens can be aware of the challenges of keeping drinking water safe and take an active role in protecting drinking water. There are lots of ways that individuals can get involved. Some people will help clean up the watershed that is the source of their community’s water. Other people might get involved in wellhead protection activities to prevent the contamination of the ground water source that provides water to their community. These people will be able to make use of the information that states and water systems are gathering as they assess their sources of water.  Concerned citizens may want to attend public meetings to ensure that their community’s need for safe drinking water is considered in making decisions about land use. You may wish to participate when your state and water system make funding decisions. And all consumers can do their part to conserve water and to dispose properly of household chemicals.

Air Quality in the Home

Indoor air quality is generally worse than most people believe, but there are things you can do about it.

Some Quick Facts:

  • Indoor air quality can be worse than that of outdoor air.
  • Problems can arise from moisture, insects, pets, appliances, radon, materials used in household products and furnishings, smoke, and other sources.
  • Effects range from minor annoyances to major health risks.
  • Remedies include ventilation, cleaning, moisture control, inspections, and following manufacturers’ directions when using appliances and products.

Research has shown that the quality of indoor air can be worse than that of outdoor air. Many homes are built or remodeled more tightly, without regard to the factors that assure fresh and healthy indoor air. Our homes today contain many furnishings, appliances and products that can affect indoor air quality.

Signs of indoor air quality problems include:

  • unusual and noticeable odors;
  • stale or stuffy air;
  • a noticeable lack of air movement;
  • dirty or faulty central heating or air-conditioning equipment;
  • damaged flue pipes and chimneys;
  • unvented combustion air sources for fossil-fuel appliances;
  • excessive humidity;
  • the presence of molds and mildew;
  • adverse health reaction after remodeling, weatherizing, bringing in new furniture, using household and hobby products, and moving into a new home; and
  • feeling noticeably healthier outside.

Common Sources of Air Quality Problems

Poor indoor air quality can arise from many sources. At least some of the following contaminants can be found in almost any home:

  • moisture and biological pollutants, such as molds, mildew, dust mites, animal dander, and cockroaches;
  • high humidity levels, inadequate ventilation, and poorly maintained humidifiers and air conditioners;
  • combustion products, including carbon monoxide, from unvented fossil-fuel space heaters, unvented gas stoves and ovens, and back-drafting from furnaces and water heaters;
  • formaldehyde from durable-press draperies and other textiles, particleboard products, such as cabinets and furniture framing, and adhesives;
  • radon, which is a radioactive gas from the soil and rock beneath and around the home’s foundation, groundwater wells, and some building materials;
  • household products and furnishings, such as paints, solvents, air fresheners, hobby supplies, dry-cleaned clothing, aerosol sprays, adhesives, and fabric additives used in carpeting and furniture, which can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs);
  • asbestos, which is found in most homes more than 20 years old. Sources include deteriorating, damaged and disturbed pipe insulation, fire retardant, acoustical material (such as ceiling tiles) and floor tiles;
  • lead from lead-based paint dust, which is created when removing paint by sanding, scraping and burning;
  • particulates from dust and pollen, fireplaces, wood stoves, kerosene heaters and unvented gas space heaters; and
  • tobacco smoke, which produces particulates, combustion products and formaldehyde.

Remedies to Indoor Air Quality Problems

Living Areas

Paneling, pressed-wood furniture, and cabinetry may release formaldehyde gas.
Remedy: Ask about formaldehyde content before buying furniture and cabinets. Some types of pressed-wood products, such as those with phenol resin, emit less formaldehyde. Also, products coated with polyurethane or laminates may reduce formaldehyde emissions. After installation, open windows. Maintain moderate temperature and humidity.

Biological pollutants can grow on water-damaged carpet. New carpet can release organic gases.
Remedy: Promptly clean and dry water-damaged carpet, or remove it altogether. If adhesives are needed, ask for low-emitting ones. During installation, open doors and windows, and use window fans or room air conditioners. Vacuum regularly. Consider area rugs instead of wall-to-wall carpet. Rugs are easier to remove and clean, and the floor underneath can also be cleaned.

Some floor tiles contain asbestos.
Remedy: Periodically inspect for damage or deterioration. Do not cut, rip, sand or remove any asbestos-containing materials. If you plan to make changes that might disturb the asbestos, or if materials are more than slightly damaged, contact a professional for repair or removal. Call your local or state health department or the Environmental Protection Agency.

Moisture encourages biological pollutants including allergens, such as mold, mildew, dust mites and cockroaches.
Remedy: If possible, eliminate moisture sources. Install and use exhaust fans. Use a dehumidifier, if necessary. Remove molds and mildew by cleaning with a solution of chlorine bleach (1 cup bleach to 1 gallon water). Maintain fresh air with natural and mechanical air circulation.

Your fireplace can be a source of carbon monoxide and combustion pollutants.
Remedy: Open the flue when using the fireplace. Have the flue and chimney inspected annually for exhaust back-drafting, flue obstructions, cracks, excess creosote, and other damage. Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

An air conditioner can be a source of biological allergens.
Remedy: If there is a water tray, empty and clean it often. Follow all service and maintenance procedures, including changing the filter.

Gas and kerosene space heaters can release carbon monoxide and combustion pollutants.
Remedy: Never use unvented kerosene or gas space heaters. In the room where the heater is located, provide fresh air by opening a door to the rest of the house, turning on an exhaust fan, and slightly opening a window.

Tobacco smoke contains harmful combustion and particulate pollutants, including carbon monoxide and combustion byproducts.
Remedy: Do not smoke in your home or permit others to do so, especially near children. If smoking cannot be avoided indoors, open windows and use exhaust fans.

New draperies may be treated with a formaldehyde-based finish and emit odors for a short time.
Remedy: Before hanging, air draperies to ventilate odors. After hanging, ventilate the area. Maintain moderate temperature and humidity.

Paint manufactured before l978 may contain lead.
Remedy: Leave lead-based paint undisturbed if it is in good condition. Before removing paint, test for lead. Do-it-yourself lead test kits are available from hardware and building supply stores. Do not sand, burn off or remove lead-based paint yourself. Hire a person with special training to correct lead-based paint problems. For more information, call 1-800-LEAD-FYI.

Many animals create airborne allergens, such as dander, hair, feathers and skin.
Remedy: Keep pets outdoors as much as possible. Clean the entire house regularly. Deep-clean areas where pets are permitted. Bathe pets regularly.

Biological allergens caused by dust mites can trigger asthma.
Remedy: Clean and vacuum regularly. Wash bedding in water hotter than 130 degrees F. Use more hard-surface finishes; they are less likely to attract and hold dust mites.

Kitchen

Unhealthy and irritating vapors may be released from chemicals in household cleaners and similar products. Remedy: Select nonaerosol and non-toxic products. Use, apply, store and dispose of them according to manufacturers’ directions. If products are concentrated, label the storage container with dilution instructions. Use up a product completely before discarding its container.

Pressed-wood cabinets can be a source of formaldehyde vapor.
Remedy: Maintain moderate temperatures (80 degrees maximum) and humidity (about 45%). When purchasing new cabinets, select solid wood or metal cabinets, or those made with phenol resin; they emit less formaldehyde. Ventilate well after installation.

Unvented gas stoves and ranges are sources of carbon monoxide and combustion byproducts.
Remedy: Keep appliance burners clean. Have burners periodically adjusted (blue-flame tip, not yellow). Install and use an exhaust fan. Never use a gas range or stove to heat your home.

Bathroom
Organic gases are released from chemicals in some personal care products, such as deodorant, hair spray, shampoo, toner, nail polish and perfumes.
Remedy: Select odor-free or low odor-producing products. Select nonaerosol varieties. Open a window, or use an exhaust fan. Follow manufacturers’ directions when using the product and disposing of containers.

Air fresheners can release organic gases.
Remedy: Open a window or use the exhaust fan. Follow manufacturers’ directions. Select natural products.

Bedroom
Humidifiers and cold-mist vaporizers can encourage biological allergens, including mold, mildew and cockroaches, that can trigger asthma, and encourage the spread of viruses and the growth of bacteria.
Remedy: Use and clean these appliances according to manufacturers’ directions. Refill daily with fresh water.

Moth repellents often contain the pesticide paradichlorobenzene.
Remedy: Avoid breathing vapors. Place them in tightly sealed trunks or other containers. Store separately, away from living areas.

Chemicals used in the dry-cleaning process release organic gases.
Remedy: Bring any odors to the attention of your dry cleaner. Try to air out dry-cleaned goods before bringing them indoors. Seek alternatives to dry cleaning, such as hand washing items.  Consider using green dry cleaners who use newer, non-toxic solvents and methods to clean garments.

Utility Room

Unvented gas clothes dryers produce carbon monoxide and combustion byproducts and can be a fire hazard. Remedy: Regularly dispose of lint around and under the dryer. Provide air for gas units. Vent the dryer directly to the outdoors. Clean the lint trap, vent and ductwork regularly.

Gas and oil furnaces and boilers, and gas water heaters can produce air-quality problems which include back-drafting of carbon monoxide and combustion pollutants.
Remedy: Have your heating system and water heater, including gas piping and venting, inspected every year.

Asbestos pipe wrap and furnace insulation can release asbestos fibers into the air.
Remedy: Periodically check for damage and deterioration. Do not cut, rip, sand or remove any asbestos-containing materials. If you plan to make changes that might disturb the asbestos, or if materials are more than slightly damaged, contact a professional for repair or removal.

Basement
Ground moisture encourages biological allergens, including mold and mildew.
Remedy: Inspect for condensation on walls, standing water on the floor, and sewage leaks. To keep the basement dry, prevent outside water from entering indoors by installing roof gutters and downspouts, by not watering close to the foundation, by grading soil away from the home, and by applying waterproofing sealants to the basement’s interior walls. To prevent the accumulation of standing water, consider installing a sump pump. If sewage is the source of water intrusion, have drains professionally cleaned. If moisture has no obvious source, install an exhaust fan controlled by humidity levels. Remove mold and mildew. Regularly clean and disinfect the basement floor drain.

Radon is an invisible, radioactive gas which poses the risk of lung cancer.
Remedy: Test your home for radon. Do-it-yourself kits are inexpensive and easy to use. Have an experienced radon contractor mitigate your home if your radon level is 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher.

Chemicals in hobby products, such as solvents, paint, glue and epoxy, release organic gases. Remedy: Follow manufacturers’ directions for use, ventilation, application, clean-up, and container storage and disposal. Use outdoors when possible. When using indoors, open a window or use an exhaust fan. Re-seal containers tightly. Clean tools outside or in a well-ventilated area.

Garage
Car and small engine exhaust are sources of carbon monoxide and combustion byproducts.
Remedy: Never leave vehicles, lawn mowers, snowmobiles, etc., running in the garage.

Paint, solvent and cleaning supplies may release harmful vapors.
Remedy: Provide ventilation when using them. Follow manufacturers’ directions. Buy only as much as you need. If the products contain methylene chloride, such as paint strippers, use them outdoors. Re-seal containers well. Keep products in their original, labeled containers. Clean brushes and other materials outside.  Opt for non-toxic green products whenever possible.

Pesticides and fertilizers used in the yard and garden may be toxic.
Remedy: Use non-chemical methods whenever possible. Follow manufacturers’ directions for mixing, applying and storing.  Wear protective clothing. Mix or dilute these products outdoors. Provide ventilation when using them indoors. Store them outside of the home in their original, labeled containers. After using the product, remove your shoes and clean your hands and clothing to avoid bringing the chemicals into your home.

Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

  • Install a smoke detector in each bedroom or in the adjacent hallway.
  • If you have gas or other fossil-fuel appliances in the house, install carbon monoxide detectors in these locations.
  • Combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are available.
  • Check the batteries frequently, at least annually.

Amount of Ventilation

If too little outdoor air enters a home, pollutants can accumulate to levels that can pose health and comfort problems. Unless they are built with a special mechanical means of ventilation, homes that are designed and constructed to minimize the amount of outdoor air that can “leak” into and out of the home may have higher pollutant levels than other homes. However, because some weather conditions can drastically reduce the amount of outdoor air that enters a home, pollutants can build up even in homes that are normally considered “leaky.”

How Does Outdoor Air Enter a House?

Outdoor air enters and leaves a house by infiltration, natural ventilation and mechanical ventilation. In a process known as infiltration, outdoor air flows into the house through openings, joints and cracks in walls, floors and ceilings, and around windows and doors. In natural ventilation, air moves through opened windows and doors. Air movement associated with infiltration and natural ventilation is caused by air-temperature differences between the indoors and outdoors, and by wind. Finally, there are a number of mechanical ventilation devices, from outdoor-vented fans that intermittently remove air from a single room, such as the bathroom and kitchen, to air-handling systems that use fans and ductwork to continuously remove indoor air and distribute filtered and conditioned outdoor air to strategic points throughout the house. The rate at which outdoor air replaces indoor air is described as the air-exchange rate. When there is little infiltration, natural ventilation or mechanical ventilation, the air-exchange rate is low and pollutant levels can increase.

Indoor Air Pollution and Health

Health effects from indoor air pollutants may be experienced soon after exposure or, possibly years later.

Immediate Effects

Immediate effects may show up after a single exposure, or it may take repeated exposures. These include irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, headaches, dizziness and fatigue. Such immediate effects are usually short-term and treatable. Sometimes, the treatment is simply eliminating the person’s exposure to the source of the pollution, if it can be identified. Symptoms of some diseases, including asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and humidifier fever, may also show up soon after exposure to some indoor air pollutants.

The likelihood of immediate reactions to indoor air pollutants depends on several factors. Age and pre-existing medical conditions are two important influences. In other cases, whether a person reacts to a pollutant depends on individual sensitivity, which varies tremendously from person to person. Some people can become sensitized to biological pollutants after repeated exposures, and it appears that some people can become sensitized to chemical pollutants, as well.

Certain immediate effects are similar to those from colds and other viral diseases, so it is often difficult to determine if the symptoms are a result of exposure to indoor air pollution. For this reason, it is important to pay attention to the time and place that symptoms occur. If the symptoms fade or go away when a person is away from home, for example, an effort should be made to identify indoor air sources that may be possible causes. Some effects may be made worse by an inadequate supply of outdoor air, or from the heating, cooling or humidity conditions prevalent in the home.

Long-Term Effects

Other health effects may show up years after exposure has occurred, or only after long or repeated periods of exposure. These effects, which include some respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer, can be severely debilitating or fatal. It is prudent to try to improve the indoor air quality in your home even if symptoms are not noticeable.

While pollutants commonly found in indoor air are responsible for many harmful effects, there is considerable uncertainty about what concentrations or periods of exposure are necessary to produce specific health problems. People also react very differently to exposure to indoor air pollutants. Further research is needed to better understand which health effects occur after exposure to the average pollutant concentrations found in homes, and which occur from the higher concentrations over short periods of time.

In summary, indoor air contaminants can be a source of ill health. Hire an InterNACHI inspector trained in air quality to perform your next home inspection.

NAR: resale real estate prices to fall 2% in 2011

Just read an interesting article that covered the National Association of Realtors index that tracks pending home sales, median sales price of existing homes, new single family home sales, and the national unemployment rate to name a few.  The article stated that pending sales of existing homes rose 5.1 percent in March but dropped 11.4 percent compared to the same month last year. The NAR also anticipates a 1.8 percent drop in the median price of U.S. existing homes in 2011, to $169,800, followed by a  3.9 percent increase, to $176,500, in 2012. The article can be read in it’s entirety at this link – NAR: resale real estate prices to fall 2% in 2011