Start Digging!… NOW!!
For those of us in the Midwest, one of the many forms of “a perfect storm” for basement flooding is setting up right now. No, we are not expected to get the 5th “100yr Rain” in the past six years. Yet… rain is coming. We have just come off days of sub-zero temps and we have at least a foot of snow on the ground. The temperature is rising… the snow will be slowly melting… the rain is going to begin. What is the problem?… Our gutter downspouts, sump pump tubing and sump pump bubblers are covered in snow. In addition, although the temperature is rising the many inches of top soil are frozen.
The snow on our roofs will begin to melt and melt fast. The rain water that falls will have no soil to soak into. The snow that melts will have nowhere to go. All this water will take the path of least resistance and history tells us that path is to your basement.
Aid the flow of water away from your home by digging out your gutter downspouts. Even if your downspouts run into the municipal sewer system, clear these areas where the downspout goes into the ground. If you have a really fancy system it is possible your downspouts go into the ground but the tubing leads to a “bubbler” somewhere out in your lawn. The bubbler looks like a large (usually green) oversized golf course sprinkler head. When water flows out to the bubbler the top cap floats up and releases the water spreading it out over your lawn. These bubblers should be located and snow/ice cleared with as large a diameter you can.
For those of us with sump pumps we need to dig out the ejector tubing if the tubing exits the house and dumps onto the property. It is possible that there is frozen water already in the tubing. By digging out now and clearing the snow and ice away from the tubing you might be able to facilitate thawing as the air temperatures rise TODAY. Many of you also have your sump dumping outside into tubing that terminates in a bubbler in your lawn. Clear these.
In any event… do NOT be a passive homeowner today and this weekend. Just like during the deep freeze of the beginning of this week you checked frequently that your furnace was running, the house was heated and you may have even occasionally checked for leaking or bursting pipes. I know many of you unfortunately found those leaks. Now we need to be a different kind of diligent.
- Dig out your downspouts.
- Do you have an outside exit from your basement? Is there a drain at the bottom of the exterior basement stairs? Dig out this stair well and keep an eye on that drain.
- Ice damming is a freak and fact of nature. It is for the most part unavoidable but watch for the water stains on ceilings. I personally do NOT suggest heat wire in your gutter system. Sharp ice and squirrels can cut the wires that could eventually spark and cause a fire.
- Shovel the slush out of your garage. Melting of this can wet the base of the structure and lead to wood-rot. .
- As the ground table water rises your sump well will fill with water. Test to make sure the sump pump is operational by briefly lifting float.
- Sump system wells are an extreme drowning hazard if not properly covered. Make sure to replace covers securely!!!
So I have decided to start a new trend here on my photoblog… “Just A Photo Friday”. Friday’s (maybe not every Friday) I will post a photo… maybe a title to the photo and that is it! No descriptions… no stories… no EXIF data! For you email subscribers you will need to click through to the actual blog site to see the photo. Hope you enjoy! Steve
You want to sell your home. You or your agent comes in… takes some pictures… makes note of the home’s features… and then throws it on the multiple listing service. Heck! those photos may even be by a professional photographer showing your beautiful rooms and lush green and flowering exterior. But is that enough to separate you from all the other homes that got tossed on the multiple listing service that day? You’ve visited sites like Trulia or Realtor.com… You know how fast you rip through those house photos. What is going to separate you from every other Victorian or Bungalow or Colonial on the market and on those sites?! You (really it is your agent’s job) need to find something in your home that stands out.
It is my belief that every single home has something special to photographically showcase. Take a look at the very top door knob photo. (Those of you who subscribe to this blog by email need to click the actual link to view the whole blog. Sorry, WordPress has no fix for this yet.) The one with all the very intricate details. This was the inside original knob for the homes main front door. It was tiny! Maybe an inch and a half diameter at most. But when I put this house on the market the clicks I tracked to that photo were unbelievable. Higher than any other.
Original glass door knob in the colonial at 1140 Edmer, Oak Park.
Everything starts with the multiple listing service. After some unspecified number of hours that data and all the photos that go with your home will get catapulted out to other websites like Zillow, Trulia, ChicagoTribune.com, Homes.com and more!!… (If your agent pays for that extra special marketing.) I preach over and over… “Everything needs to be perfect and completely ready for the moment the listing enters the multiple listing service. The MLS is the catalyst that starts the show… creates the hype… creates ‘the legend’… and ultimately brings the buyer or maybe… buyers.
I like to use door knobs and simple hardware when I list a property. Knobs are easy to shoot as they are at an easy tripod level. And I am not sure why but even in the most simple plain homes I have found beautiful intricate door knobs. I think that if a home has been altered over the years the door hardware is something that hardly ever gets replaced. Look at the above wooden door knob found only on the 2nd floor of an Oak Park grand Victorian. Builders often spent the money on precious metals like bronze and brass for the 1st floor where the guests would enter. Look at the door knob plate behind the wood knob. This is some form of “pot metal” which was just a mixture of whatever metals the metal-smith or caster had available.
It isn’t just door knobs that can be showcased. Get up close and personal with other details in the house. Above is a tile surround on a Victorian fireplace. This particular tile was most likely made by the American Encaustic Tiling Co. out of Zanesville, Ohio. (c.1891) (see TileHeritage.org) I rarely see these but when I do they are front and center in the home’s marketing. The photo shot needs to be up close and dramatic. Remember, try to be different and catch the eye of the buyer on the internet. “Click” optimization!!
This art-glass window in a South Oak Park home on Kenilworth showed great. Art-glass windows can be difficult to shoot for even the most experienced enthusiast photographers. The bright outdoor sunlight behind the glass and a dark interior will require some post processing.
Some homes are so full of details to shoot you don’t even know where to begin. This was the case for one of my favorite sales… 239 S. Grove, Oak Park. This Farmhouse Victorian was certainly not original on the outside with it’s years of stucco over the original clapboard but the inside had so much amazing woodwork and added detail. Even little stuff like this bronze sun face on the stair’s newel post.
Remember, there is more to showcasing a home in this digital age than just a bunch of room photos. Get creative! There are details in your home you take for granted everyday. Details that some buyer is going to absolutely love. Stop. Look. Try to view these details as a more macro photograph on a website that is showcasing your home. Now experiment with the photography and post processing. Go get the attention of those buyers!
Winter In Oak Park… Just in case you forgot how awesome it looks. And although the snow is coming… the OPRF Spring Housing Market is right around the corner. Want to put your house on the market in 2014? Need to start thinking about that now because houses start coming on the market the day… I mean THE DAY… after the Superbowl.
This is a photo project on knob and tube wiring; a form of electricity delivery of days old. For some reason, I have seen more knob and tube wiring this year than in any other of the past 14 years… combined. (If you read my “About” page you would know I am a full-time residential real estate agent in Oak Park/River Forest, Illinois.) To stress to you the danger of knob and tube I have purposely given this project… shall we say… a seasonal theme. Hope you like it.
Here is a photo of some of the ceramics that I found in my Victorian (c.1891) in Oak Park before I removed them for the below photo. This wiring is located in my basement. They were attached to one of the main support beams. Notice how the traditional knobs (round) were not used in this location. These square shaped wire holders were called “cleats” and to the left is a ceramic fuse box. From what I have read, this fuse box could possibly have been a neutral fuse; a fuse that when it blew due to overload still left a live hot wire somewhere in the system!
So what is Knob & Tube Wiring, anyway? Simply, knob and tube wiring is one of North America’s very first electrical systems for building structures. Most commonly used in these parts from about 1880 to the 1930’s, knob and tube (aka K&T) remained an inexpensive form of electrical wiring even as newer safer technologies developed. In the early 1900’s as electrical wiring techniques improved, K&T was half the cost of covered or protected (in pipe) wiring systems.
So the above photo is really scary. Yes, that is what we discovered in the original plaster ceiling when we removed the false ceiling this year. The home’s original lighting was provided by gas fixtures. Brass gas pipes were throughout the home feeding various fixtures that burned for light. When electricity for homes came along (knob and tube) it was easiest to fish the wires along the same path as the gas piping. You need to be careful with these gas pipes if you find them in your walls for they could still be connected to the homes gas main.
The name, “Knob & Tube”, refers to the fact that the system utilized ceramic “knobs” (mostly round) to wrap coated wiring around and then run to another knob where the wire may have made a turn and then run to another… until it reached its destination of a light fixture or switch. The knobs have holes in the center. The knobs would be hammered with long nails into floor joists, building studs within walls before the plaster was installed, or on roof joists in attics. When you needed to get a wire through a piece of wood in the building’s structure then the electrician or home builder used ceramic “Tubes”. The craftsman would drill a hole in say a wall stud, place the ceramic tube in the hole and then run the coated wire through the tube on to its next destination. Basically, the ceramic tube is protecting the wood from being touched by an unprotected electrical wire.
I found these traditional knobs in my home’s attic. The attic kinda creeps me out. you know?… like you are not really alone? Anyway, what is even more interesting are the protruding wires. See them? This is most likely the central electrical feed. The main would have entered the house from outside up into the attic. Then the main was split off into several branch circuits and snaked throughout the home.
OK, Steve, what’s with the little scary characters. Those are actually finger puppets I got at Pumpkin Moon in Oak Park. These photos I use the puppets in are a “hat tip” to a very awesome photographer out of Italy, Luca Rossini.
So why is it (knob & tube) SCARY!?!?!?! Well, it is very scary to have this type of wiring still existing in a home as a source of electricity. Chuck Allen, a licensed home inspector for National Property Inspections, serving the Chicago area, ,tells me K&T wiring is dangerous for a number of reasons. “(Wire) insulation becomes brittle and falls off exposing energized wire. Energized circuits may prove hazardous to human health (electrocution) and in some cases poses a real fire hazard since the connections of wires is generally loose and can arc.” says Allen.
This type of ceramic K&T fixture is called a cleat. It is just another form of wire anchoring and feeding within a home. I found cleats used in my open unfinished basement area only. Look at how long that nail is. And look closely at the nail head. That is a type of clothe padding used under the nail head so that it didn’t damage the ceramic.
Now, my own home had K&T wiring when we moved in the house in 2000. We immediately had a professional electrician (Ron LaRosa of R&L) come in and clean it all up. But here is something Chuck told me I was never aware. This old form of transmission of electricity around the house relied on the air gaps in the walls where the wires ran to provide additional cooling for often overloaded circuits. As a real estate professional that is around old homes everyday this means you better make sure you have no live knob & tube when you go to blow in insulation in your old home’s walls.
This is a classic shot of the wires running through the ceramic tubes. The tubes protect the wire from rubbing up against the wood and possibly causing a fire.
Ok… so if you have read the “About” page of this photo blog you will know that only about 60-70% of the material is dedicated to homes or older homes in the Oak Park/River Forest Area. All topics will touch upon photography but there will be times when the subject matter of the photography is random… or another interest of mine. And today’s “other interest of mine” is… car racing!! Yes, I am a huge fan but not just of any racing. I am a huge fan of the annual 24 Hours of Le Mans in France and the cars that race there… the world’s oldest active sports car race of endurance racing. The race has so many different classes of cars and so many drivers and involves so much effort. It is really an amazing event. Well, I currently have no plans to be able to go to France to see this beautiful event but we can all head to our own little racing oasis, Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. This historic racing venue is a four mile road course sitting on 525 acres of beautiful Wisconsin rolling hills.
Every year my good friend, Rich Drab, and I travel north to see the American (ALMS) version of the race at Le Mans. Many of the cars that we actually see in Wisconsin did race earlier in the year in France. This year the ALMS race was on Sunday and there was a Grand-Am race Saturday… PERFECT! It is this year that I decided I would photograph the race for my photo blog and the concentration is on… things in motion or photographing things in motion.
I can tell you now this is one of the hardest “explores” or “projects” I have yet to tackle. For me… getting a perfect shot of something in motion does not mean I want to shoot at the highest shutter speed and stop the subject matter. For me the perfect shot is capturing the subject in motion so vividly and clearly but at the same time… letting my viewer see that the subject is indeed… IN MOTION!!
The Alpina in the P2 category.
The shot of this 551 Siemens Alpina is one of my favorite. The car and driver a so clear and detailed but the scenery and road are blurred with pure speed. And getting this exact combination is what was absolutely the hardest part of this project and the two days of photography.
Katherine Legge brings the DeltaWing out of Canada Corner and up Thunder Valley.
And what am I trying to capture here? The Miata that just lost it’s nose? I don’t think so.
The BMW Z4 replaced the M3.
I used the NEX 7 and the Sony SEL 18200 lens. This lens has a 35mm equivalent of about 27-300mm. The challenge in shooting these subjects in motion is to while keeping the shutter speed low enough to have all but the car blurred and on a sunny day this is not easy. So you are constantly holding the camera up to your eye and capturing the car and moving your whole body with the zooming speed of the car as it goes by. The shutter setting is so that when you depress the shutter release button it will continuously shoot photos while you have depressed. The NEX can shoot 10 frames per second. 10!! That is fast. After watching a lot of the pro’s out on the track I learned that next time I will need a monopod to help steady the camera as I turn thus reducing the chance that at that slow shutter speed of 1/50 or 1/60 the subject (car) will be blurred as well as the stationary setting. OH!!! And for this project the best part about using the NEX 7 was!!!… The cameras built-in electronic viewfinder. Absolutely amazing! After I would take a series of shots I could go to “play” mode and out in the sunlight just look in the viewfinder to see how the shots turned out. It is like a tiny HD TV you can look at to see how you’re doing immediately after taking the photo. The camera is… the best.
Duct Tape is awesome!
One of the GT3 Porches
DeltaWing driver, Katherine Legge, after her stint in the car.
A side-note about Katherine Legge, professional race car driver and one of the Delta Wing Co-Drivers. So Rich and I look forward to this event every year. We actually have lost count of how many years we have been taking in a race together at RA. We go for the cars, the sounds, the fans, the spectacle… Rich is a race driver himself and has spent so much time on this track for various club events so between the two of us we know the track well. We are open to all kinds of racing. We are NOT race groupies and rarely do we really pay attention to the drivers and say… “Oh, I hope this guy is here this year.” We don’t stand in line for autographs nor make a point to try and see if any specific driver will be at the meet and greet on the paddock before the race. But there is one driver Rich and I have an attachment to and that is Katherine Legge of Great Britain. See, the last time Rich and I saw Katherine at Road America she was doing about 180mph down the track… in her safety roll cage. For it was on that warm September 24th day in 2006 that Katherine, at age 26, would literally walk away from what will most likely go down in history as one of motorsport’s most visually violent single car accidents. Yes, it is her job and it is entertainment and exhilarating and… But accidents are not what we are there for. And when you sit for more than 20 minutes wondering if this driver is going to be OK it is an event you always remember. It is one thing to be on your couch and see the race accident on TV. It is another to actually be at the race and have to sit through the silence in between the announcers updates over the PA. I’m sure if Katherine is reading this she is going, “Really, Steve!… Try being the one in the cage!” Obviously… she is the one who remembers every time she exits the “Kink” and heads down “Kettle Bottoms” toward “Canada Corner”. So Rich and I always reminisce that day and this weekend we were thrilled to learn Katherine would be co-driving the beautiful Delta Wing #0 car!!! Oh… and we got an autograph.
I have been fortunate enough to have Door County be a part of my life for more than 30 years. Only a four hour drive from Chicago, the peninsula that juts out of Wisconsin into Lake Michigan is really indescribable. Really. You read your travel articles about Door County, Wisconsin… the “Cape Cod of the Midwest!!” they proclaim. The articles are good but do they really paint the picture for you? People tell you “Oh I have been there and it is amazing… and… “ And what else do they say? Did they go for a quick trip? Did they do touristy things? There are some fantastic tourist attractions! Did they stay for more than a couple nights? What season did they go during?!?!… Because “The County” changes with every season. Did they… get detailed in their description? See? Again… indescribable.
Did that person tell you about getting off one of the two main highways and venturing into the middle of the county? Did they tell you that the famous Wilson’s Ice Cream Shop in the town of Ephraim has more to offer than just ice cream? Did they mention the home made root beer for cryin’ out loud!!!
… Go see Lautenbach’s Orchard Country and walk the cherry orchard while the trees are in bloom above you and dandelions are at your feet?
Did they tell you about waking up at 5am on an August morning and heading out to the beach with your oldest daughter to photograph the sunrise over Lilly Bay?
Did they tell you of all the colors of Lake Michigan?
Did they get to tell you how when at dusk most nights you look out over Lake Michigan and the water is like glass to the point where you cannot tell where the water ends and the sky begins.
Those of us who spend our nights on the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula don’t get the actual sunsets. (Thus the need to wake at 5am to see the sunrise!) But we do get to see how the setting sun sets the eastern clouds on fire. This photo is an HDR (see HDR Photography) and it is heavily edited and developed further in Lightroom but the real experience is just as vivid.
So… do them travel articles ever talk about timing your vacation just right so you can experience the County Fair in Sturgeon Bay? Indescribable.
The Farm!!! You regulars know what I’m talkin’ about!
People you have met who have been to Door County… Did they visit the most awesome petting farm in the entire United States, “The Farm” just outside of Sturgeon Bay? Itself a true farm that cares for many of The County’s young animals that belong to other local area farms. Did they tell you if they had a chance to meet and chat with “The Farm’s”… farmer? I call the above photo “Sleeping In Piles”.
Door County grows mostly tart cherries like those used in pies. They are Montmorency cherries and they are harvested in late July. There are other cherry varieties as well. The process of harvesting is amazing. Orchard Country has a good info page about harvesting on their website but you can also get a tour of the orchard. Although I have a personal bias toward the Lautenbach’s and their beautiful orchard I have to say there are many beautiful family owned orchards in The County. You could easily spend a weekend visiting them all.
This year we have spent a good amount of time in Sturgeon Bay. This was not always the case. Sturgeon Bay was for shipbuilding, fishing and a place to dock your boat. As a non-local and mostly short-week or weekend visitor the urge to head north to scenic little places often puts you right past Sturgeon Bay. Don’t make this mistake. The transformation of the town over the past 30 years is really something. Great dining, beautiful shops, parks, a great farmers market, friendly atmosphere… I could go on.
I think we managed to hit all of our favorite dining establishments this year but for a couple. The Inn at Kristofers is always a special treat and this year Julie and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary there with family. Over the Labor Day weekend we made certain to have a late lunch at the Bayside Tavern in Fish Creek. This is always such a festive place to be on an active holiday weekend. But as Julie and I know it is a great place to be in the off season… especially on a cold winter day! I already mentioned Wilson’s Ice Cream. Oh!!… and you have to get to your favorite supper club! For our family that is the Nightingale in Sturgeon Bay. And this year we got adventurous and tried a new place. How rare of us. We liked our brunch the first time we visited the Bluefront Cafe in Sturgeon Bay so much that later in the season we went back for dinner. What a fantastic place. Great friendly service, very nice Sturgeon Bay atmosphere and very tasty and fresh food and ingredients.
This Roasted Tomato Soup with Pesto was excellent at Bluefront.
So you all keep reading the travel articles and talking to people who have been there… but it is time to take the plunge… time to go visit The County. The ride is not that long. You get go through beautiful Milwaukee and the rolling fields just north of Port Washington. I have the scenic route saved somewhere here on the computer. Just ask and I’ll send it to you or you can always just head straight to Green Bay and then take the Hwy 57 exit to Sturgeon Bay. You’ll get there.
And when you get there don’t forget to drink all the different kinds of…