Category Archives: Residential

Fireplace Safety and Care

Fireplaces, whether wood burning or gas, offer homeowners a warm haven during cooler seasons.  Understanding proper safety and operating procedures is important for any homeowner with a fireplace.  Families with children are often concerned about the possibility of accidental burns and increased fire hazard.  No need to fear.  In this article, we will share safety and care tips for wood burning and gas fireplaces to help you enjoy this feature of your home comfortably and safely.  We’ll also point out when it’s important to hire a qualified technician.

Gas Fireplace Safety

Gas appliances have some automatic safety features, but they still require good safety habits from you, the homeowner.  Here are a few helpful safety tips for gas fireplace use.

  • Always obtain and review your fireplace’s model information and manual so that you fully understand how to operate and maintain the appliance.
  • Know exactly where the gas shutoff and control key are located, before operating the fireplace.
  • For direct vent and B-vent fireplaces, practice operating the valve before the fireplace is used for the first time.

What to Inspect

Damper inspection is similar to that of a traditional wood burning fireplace.  Direct vent and B-vent appliances do not have dampers, but still check the flue termination to look for bird or rodent nests or the buildup of spider webs.  Debris from your lawn can also contribute to clogging the horizontal direct vent.

You can contact a local National Fireplace Institute (NFI) professional technician to inspect for leaking seals, loose gas fittings, dirty burners, or anything else that might affect the safety of your gas fireplace.

Wood Burning Fireplace Safety

The National Fire Protection Association recommends chimneys be swept at least once a year, at the beginning of winter, to remove soot and debris by a professional. Here are several safety items you can check yourself.

  • Store wood away from your home’s foundation and bring in what you need to use in small batches.
  • Choose the right woods: dense, hard woods such as oak should be split and stored in a high dry place for about six months.  A mix of seasoned and more green wood is helpful to control how long your fire burns, but avoid soft woods such as pine.  Pine can produce more creosote and eventually create a hazard.
  • Clean ashes out regularly, ensure they are completely cool before dumping them or spreading outdoors.
  • Use a metal-mesh screen or glass fireplace door to prevent hot embers from popping out of the fireplace onto flooring.
  • Ensure young children are unable to reach hot surfaces or fireplace tools.

What to Inspect

Inspect your damper to ensure it is opening and closing properly.  Check the flue for creosote buildup.  Creosote is a chemical mass of carbon formed when wood, tar, or fossil fuels are burned.  Creosote buildup is one of the many causes for chimney fires. Make sure a wire-mesh cap covers the top of the chimney to keep birds, squirrels, rain and other debris from entering and blocking the flue.  Finally, as always, test your smoke alarms to be sure they are functioning properly.

Once a year, before you start using the fireplace, contact a professional to clean and inspect your flue, damper and fireplace.

When you understand how your fireplace works and use basic safety measures, you can enjoy a warm fireside with your family all winter.

Choosing Insulation for Your New Home

Building a new home is an exciting process, but the many decisions that come with it can feel overwhelming. When you’re comparing options, it may not always be easy to determine which option is the best for your family. That’s where we come in. We help you get through the process with as little stress as possible.

There are several options for home insulation. In this article, we’re going to break down the types we recommend for our North Carolina homeowners and why it matters.

Why Insulation is Important

Building insulation is material added to exterior walls, attics, basements, and crawl spaces to create a thermal barrier for the house. It’s important because it provides protection from outside conditions. It blocks outside heat when it’s warm, and traps inside warmth when it’s cold. This makes your home more comfortable and it’s cost-efficient because it conserves energy.

R-Value

The effectiveness of insulation is measured with an R-value. R-values indicate how well a specific type of insulation protects from heat transfer. Things like an insulation material’s density and thickness will affect its R-value. A higher R-value will provide more protection than a lower one.

Types of Insulation

We recommend one of these four types of insulation for our new homeowners.  They are listed below from highest rating to lowest rating.

Spray Foam Insulation

Spray foam insulation is the most protective of the insulation types recommended for Horizons East Homes.  It is more costly than other options, but delivers these key benefits in return:

  • Highest R-value per inch on the market (R-6).
  • 40% more airtight than other insulations and provides an excellent moisture barrier.
  • Designated flood-resistant material by FEMA
Blown-in Insulation

This cellulose (wood or paper-based) product is often made from up to 85% recycled materials and can be considered eco-friendly.  It’s less expensive than spray foam and provides these benefits:

  • Also called loose fill, it conforms to spaces and provides good airflow sealing
  • Treated with Borates, a Class-1 fire retardant
  • Typically rated around 3.5, comparable to fiberglass
  • Quick and easy to install, but if it becomes wet, it’s slow to dry.
Spider Insulation

Spider insulation is a fiberglass system that is sprayed into spaces in a damp form, using a mold-resistant glue.  More economical than the two previous types, it provides these benefits:

  • Fills spaces and gaps well
  • No dry times or settling times
  • Resists mold growth
Batting Insulation

One of the most common and inexpensive options for insulating a home, this is a good option if you’re looking to keep costs within budget and have a durable solution in place.

  • Fiberglass insulation batts are cut to size and installed between studs or joists
  • Durable, moisture and fire resistant
  • Lower R-value

If you’re looking to build in North Carolina, our team is happy to help. For more homeowner tips, visit our blog.

How to Care for Your Countertops

How to Protect Your Countertops

There are some general rules of thumb you can follow to protect your countertops, no matter which type you have.

  • Wipe away spills as soon as possible, especially if spilled food is acidic or has coloring or dyes
  • Avoid standing or sitting on stone countertops
  • Always use a cutting board when preparing food
  • Use trivets to protect your counters from hot dishes while cooking

How to Clean Your Countertops

Granite

Granite is one of the most popular choices for kitchen counters. It is resistant to bacteria, comes in a wide variety of styles and colors, and is a beautiful addition to any new home.

  • Clean daily with warm soap, water, and a microfiber cloth or sponge
  • If stained, make a paste out of baking soda and water and use a microfiber cloth to remove the stain – don’t scrub
  • Don’t use vinegar, windex, or bleach on granite (this will dull the granite and weaken the sealant)
  • Plan on having a professional reseal your granite countertops every 2-4 years

Quartz

This increasingly popular option is engineered to be durable and doesn’t require a sealant because it is nonporous.

  • As one of the easiest countertops to care for, quartz resists stains and scratches, and is not negatively affected by acidic foods.
  • Clean daily with warm soap, water, and a microfiber cloth or sponge
  • Gently scrape any excess buildup of dirt or food with a putty knife
  • Don’t use bleach or harsh chemicals because it may damage the surface

Cultured Marble

Cultured marble is a more affordable counter option than natural stone and it beautifully imitates natural marble. Like quartz, cultured marble is manufactured to be durable and doesn’t require a sealant.

  • Clean daily with warm soap, water, and a microfiber cloth or sponge
  • For gloss finishes, completely avoid abrasives
  • For matte finishes, abrasives are ok when you’re trying to get rid of a stain
    • If stained, make a paste out of baking soda and water and use a microfiber cloth to remove the stain – don’t scrub
  • To maintain the surface’s shine, apply a protective coat of wax every few months

Formica (Laminate)

 The most common brand of laminate countertops is Formica. With laminate countertops, you have more freedom in choosing cleaning products and they are typically easier to maintain than natural stone countertops.

  • Clean daily with warm soap, water, or household cleaner and a microfiber cloth or sponge
  • Avoid acidic cleansers or bleach
  • If stained, make a paste out of baking soda and water and use a microfiber cloth to remove the stain – don’t scrub

If you’re not sure which type of countertop you have, regular dish soap and water will work on almost any surface. The most important thing you can do is clean spills right away to avoid long-term staining or damage to the surface’s finish. Also always avoid scouring pads if you’re unsure of your counter’s surface.

If your countertops are shiny, they are likely sealed so you should avoid using harsh abrasives. You can use baking soda and water for tough spots rather than a scouring pad, but we recommend taking it slow and being careful not to scrub.

For more home maintenance tips, visit our blog.

Homeowner’s Guide to Concrete

Concrete is composed of water, aggregate (rocks and sand), and cement which acts as a binder.

Expansion, Contraction and Cracking Concrete

All building materials expand and contract when exposed to changes in temperature. Concrete expands when temperatures rise and contracts when temperatures fall. Whether it’s a front porch or a highway, concrete expands and contracts along with weather changes and that can lead to cracks. Concrete is extremely strong, which is great for construction, but because it is so strong and the concrete cannot flex during temperature changes, it must crack. It is normal to expect some amount of cracking in any concrete project.

Homebuilders and concrete masons do everything they can to prevent the cracks from forming by placing concrete joints in each project. These joints (like the spaces you see in sidewalks) are meant to help control cracking by encouraging the concrete to crack along specific lines.

Types of Concrete Finishes

If you’re looking to use concrete for your driveway, porch, or slab foundation, there are several options for you to choose from.

Slick Finished Concrete

Usually used for garage floors, slick finished concrete has a smooth surface and like its name suggests, is slick. This option is popular for big box stores and other retail spaces because it is easy to clean.

Broom Finished Concrete

Broom finished concrete is quite literally textured by dragging a special broom across the concrete’s surface while it dries. This effect is visually appealing and provides great traction.

Exposed Aggregate

This finish exposes the little rocks used in the formation of the concrete. A solution is used to remove the top layer of cement and smaller sand particles, revealing the rocks beneath. It provides a decorative look and adds traction.

Stamped Concrete

Stamped concrete is a beautiful finish that is created using large rubber mat stamps in a variety of shapes and patterns. It is a nice option for patios and around pools.

How to Prevent Cracks

Like all driveway paving material, there is some maintenance that should be done if you’re looking to extend the life of your concrete driveways and porches. The best things you can do for your driveway are to seal, clean, and reapply sealer as needed. Sealer helps keep water from seeping into your driveway and then freezing and expanding. We recommend sealing your concrete driveway every two years or so.

In the winter months, it is helpful to use sand for traction rather than deicing chemicals or salt. Harsh chemicals and salt can both cause damage of your porch or driveway’s surface.

If you’d like to learn more about home construction and maintenance, our blog has some great guides.

How Season Changes Affect Your New Home

Image: Wayfair

There is a big learning curve if you’re a first-time homebuyer. We’re here to help you learn the basics of home maintenance so that you can spend less time stressing about how to care for your home and more time doing the things you love in your new space.  One of the first things we tell our North Carolina homebuyers is that seasons have a significant impact on your house. Here we explain how and why that happens.

Expansion and Contraction

Every home deals with the unfortunate phenomenon of expansion and contraction. Changes in temperature cause the materials used to build homes to expand in warmer weather and contract in colder weather. This is true of concrete, siding, wood, etc.

Humidity  

Humidity also causes home maintenance issues. For example, fluctuations in humid air causes wood to swell when humidity is high and shrink when humidity is low. This can affect your doors, baseboards, wood floors, handrails, mantles, and cabinets.

Seasonal Décor

This may be surprising, but seasonal home décor can actually do some damage to your house. For example, large, heavy wreaths can cause your doors to come out of alignment. Hanging up your holiday lights can also damage gutters or shingles (and eventually lead to roof leaks).

Common Problems

These are some common problems homeowners face due to season changes:

  • Slight cracks around windows
  • Drywall nail pops
    • A nail pop is slight bump in a wall where the nail has worked itself to the surface
  • Driveway cracks
  • Slight drywall cracking where boards or corners meet
  • Sticking doors

What You Can do

It’s important to keep in mind that minor shrinkage and swelling is unavoidable. A normal amount of wear and tear on a home should be expected throughout the year and especially as seasons change. Even so, there are a few preventative measures you can take.

  • Try to keep the house at an even temperature all year
  • Manage humidity by using your exhaust fans and monitoring indoor relative humidity with a hygrometer
  • Clean and seal/reseal your driveway every few years
  • In the winter months use sand on your driveway for traction rather than salt or chemicals
  • Avoid placing overhead wreath hangers on your doors, use command hooks instead – over the door hangers, wreaths, and other door decor can cause doors to come out of alignment and not shut properly
  • Try using light clips to avoid puncturing or lifting roof shingles while placing holiday lights

We suggest consulting with a licensed and experienced contractor for any issues as they arise. If you’d like more home maintenance tips, check out our blog.

Laminate vs. Luxury Vinyl Floor Comparison

 

If you’re looking for the right flooring for your home, you may be wondering what the difference between laminate and luxury vinyl is. Laminate and luxury vinyl can both look like hardwood, ceramic tile, or even stone at a more affordable price point. So, what’s the difference? We’ll lay it out for you here:

Laminate

Laminate comes in planks and uses the floating method of installation. Laminate can be installed over wood subfloors or concrete floors. This means it can be installed on any level of the home, including the basement. Laminate can be cleaned with a broom, dry mop, or steam mop. Wet mops are not recommended because laminate is susceptible to water damage. For this reason, it is not suitable for areas with high levels of moisture, which could warp or permanently damage the flooring. Laminate is fade-resistant and comes in a variety of styles, textures, and colors.

Luxury Vinyl

Because luxury vinyl is made of vinyl, it has a firm and elastic construction. Luxury vinyl comes in tiles and planks, so it’s sometimes called LVT or LVP. Either one can be installed using floating or glue methods. Like Laminate, luxury vinyl can be installed over wood subfloors or concrete floors. This means it can be installed on any level of the home, including the basement. Unlike laminate, wet mops are okay to use on vinyl because it is water-resistant.

Luxury vinyl is quieter and softer underfoot. To help these floors last, close blinds and curtains during peak sunlight hours. Luxury vinyl is susceptible to heat from the sun’s rays so keeping the blinds closed protects the structural integrity of the vinyl. Luxury vinyl is resistant to stains, water, mold, and mildew, making it a great option for bathrooms and basements. Some Luxury vinyl options are even completely waterproof. It also comes in a wide variety of styles, textures, and colors.

At Horizons East, we recommend luxury vinyl plank for your home because it’s more durable, more family and pet friendly, and comes in a wider variety of styles.

20 Terms Homebuilders Use

Jargon in any industry can be confusing. This is true for the construction industry as well. If you’re interested in building a home, here are 20 terms homebuilders use to help you have a seamless home building experience.

  1. Spec Home – a “speculative” home that a building company constructs without a purchase contract with the hopes of selling once they’ve started. Some spec homes are complete; others can still be personalized with the buyers’ choices for finishes and fixtures.
  2. Lot – a measured amount of property (land) with fixed boundaries.
  3. Survey – a land survey determines the boundaries of a person’s land.
  4. Framing – the process of putting up a house’s frame which is the supporting structure that acts as the skeleton of a house.
  5. Plumbing Rough-In – the stage of construction where plumbing systems are installed before walls and ceilings are closed.
  6. Footings – these are concrete and rebar reinforcements to support a home’s foundation
  7. Punch List – a to-do list created by the general contractor, project manager, or homebuyers of things that need to be fixed by the contractor. A punch list would include things like missing trim or paint touch-ups
  8. Split Level – a house in which various sections of the floor plan have different floor and ceilings heights.
  9. Balusters – The vertical posts in stair railings
  10. Amore edge – a decorative edge of a countertop
  11. Fireplace surround – the structure or decorative finish around a fireplace
  12. Slab Foundation – a concrete “slab” foundation is a flat, level base of a home
  13. Drywall– also called plasterboard, gypsum board, and sheetrock, drywall is a large building material used in the construction of interior walls and ceilings
  14. Tray Ceiling – also called an inverted or recessed ceiling, a tray ceiling is a decorative ceiling design with a raised section that resembles an upside-down tray.
  15. Wainscoting – paneled wooden lining of an interior wall, usually the lower three or four feet, which differs from the top portion of the wall.
  16. Board and Batten – a type of wainscoting with vertical wood boards spaced evenly around a room.
  17. Builder Warranty – many builders offer a one-year warranty on materials and a ten-year warranty on structural issues. New homebuyers will also have warranties provided by manufacturers and other service providers such as roof warranties, pest control warranties, or appliance warranties.
  18. Certificate of Occupancy – a certificate issued after all inspections have been made by the local jurisdiction establishing that a home can be occupied. Until the CO is issued, no one can move into a new home.
  19. Change Order – a written document that modifies the original plans for the home’s features, floor plan, or finishes. Change orders may add to the price of the home and the length of time it takes to build it.
  20. Closing – also called the “settlement”, closing is the final step in the home financing process. Closing day is when all papers are signed and the ownership of the property transfers from one owner to the next.

We hope this helps you with your home building journey. If you’d like to learn more about the home building process, you can contact us here.

 

Hand of a carpenter pointing at a wood plank destroyed by termites isolated on white

Termites and Your New Home

 

There are two words no homeowner wants to hear: termite damage. Discover why having termites can be so costly; make sure your new home is protected and that you’re doing everything you can to prevent an infestation in the future.

Termite Damage

For many people, purchasing a home is their largest investment. Termites can literally eat their way through that investment, causing thousands of dollars in damage per home. There are several different types of termites and they can attack your home from different entry points. They feed on wood, but they can also consume plant-based materials like fabric and wallpaper.

What makes termites especially unnerving is that they can go undetected for years. By the time they’re found, the damage may already be done.

According to the National Pest Management Association, termites cause more than $5 billion in documented damage each year. Some damage may go unreported however, because homeowner’s insurance doesn’t typically cover termite damage. Those without a warranty through an exterminating company will be paying out of pocket and not through a documented claims process.

Pre-construction Termite Treatment

To protect your new home, a preconstruction termite treatment is applied by an exterminating company. This pretreatment establishes a warranty with that exterminating company. After closing, the homeowner keeps up the warranty with the exterminating company and they work together to keep termites out of their new home.

A termite warranty is an agreement between an exterminating company and a homeowner. Typically, the homeowner pays for a yearly inspection and the exterminating company provides treatment and control if termites are discovered. The warranty may also provide protection if termites are found. This would include either repair of damages or a retreatment covered by the warranty. For a termite warranty to remain valid, the homeowner must keep up with yearly inspections.

In addition to a termite warranty, there are steps you can take to prevent an infestation in your home:

  • Reduce food sources
    • Store firewood away from the house
    • Keep landscaping mulch at least six inches away from your foundation OR replace mulch with a cellulose-free option
  • Remove access
    • Seal off all entry points including cracks, crevices, and gaps around pipes with caulk, foam, or weather stripping
    • Keep hedges and trees trimmed at least 18 inches away from the home
  • Reduce Excess Moisture
    • Reduce moisture in and around your home
    • Repair leaky faucets, pipes, and AC units
    • Ensure downspouts and gutters are working properly
  • Know the Signs
    • Inspect lumber before your DIY project
    • Routinely inspect the foundation of your home for signs of mud tubes
    • Keep your eye out for swarmers – these termites have wings and they look like flying ants

With a good termite warranty in place and a little preventative care, your investment in your new home will be protected and enjoyed for years to come.

3D rendering of a house cross section showing bathroom and sewage system

Getting to Know Your Septic System

 

When we build a Horizons East Home, we take care to ensure you have great details in your home and underground.  For homeowners with septic systems, that includes the use of a quality EZflow® Septic System.  Let’s take a look at what your septic system does and how you can ensure a long life.

How Septic Systems Work

Septic systems essentially work as a self-contained waste-water treatment plant in your own back yard.  They contain two main parts: a tank and a drain field.  The tanks is water-tight with an inlet from the sewer pipe and an outlet to the drain field.  The septic tank treats wastewater naturally by holding it in the tank long enough for solids and liquids to separate.

Wastewater in the tank forms three layers. Solids like greases and oils that are lighter than water float to the top forming a layer of scum. Solids heavier than water settle at the bottom of the tank forming a layer of sludge. This leaves a middle layer of partially clarified wastewater.  Scum and sludge layers stay in the tank to be broken down by bacteria.  The partially clarified wastewater is distributed throughout the drain field through environmentally friendly EZflow® engineered lines.

Benefits of EZflow® Septic Systems

EZflow system showing pipes surrounded by packing material wrapped in netting

Your EZflow® system is and engineered geosynthetic aggregate system designed to replace traditional stone and pipe drain fields.  Because it’s a self-contained perforated pipe surrounded by aggregate that’s held in place with durable, high-strength netting, the system is always clean and free of fines.  It’s made from recycled materials and is cost effective to install.  The system is engineered for optimal storage and absorption efficiency.  It can also be easily contoured around existing trees or other obstacles.   Download the spec sheet to learn more about product specifications.

4 Ways to Maintain your Septic System

The EPA recommends 4 ways to care for your septic system.  The main items for septic system health are:

  1. Inspect and Pump Frequently This depends on the size of your home and system, but most septic systems should be professionally inspected every three years.
  2. Use Water Efficiently Since everything that goes down the drain ends up in the septic system, conserving water helps reduce the load on the system. High-efficiency toilet, washing machines and showerheads all help control the volume of wastewater produced daily.
  3. Properly Dispose of Waste
    Don’t flush any solid waste except for human waste and toilet paper. Make sure grease, oil, wipes, feminine products, dental floss, coffee grounds, and other items are put in the trash not poured down the drain or flushed.
  4. Maintain Your Drain FieldDon’t park, drive or pour concrete over the drain field. Compression will reduce its efficiency.  Ensure other water sources like gutters or sump pumps do not empty into the drain field.

You can learn more about how the EPA recommends you care for your septic system here.  With a little care and maintenance, your EZflow® system will provide safe and efficient disposal of wastewater for your home and family.