Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Property Tax Levy for Schools

We have an Emergency Levy on the ballot on November 3 for Winton Woods School District. We live and work in the district, and our two children have both received excellent educations at Winton Woods. Everyone agrees school funding in Ohio is a mess. A school district like Winton Woods, with little industry, a transient population, and numerous racial, socio-economic, and special needs subgroups, is caught in the gap created by state mandates and local needs.
We are at a crossroads in the Winton Woods district. Three previous failed levies, numerous budget cuts, school consolidation, restricted bussing, and increased pay-to-play fees have yielded no solutions. The Board has tried it all, and I believe they have managed the money they have wisely. The last resort is the Emergency Levy---or ALL extracurricular activities will be cut. The doors to all school buildings will be locked at the end of the day. There will be no football team, no spring musical, no Student Council, no school dances...none of the things that make kids look forward to going to school.
Sure, the kids will survive. Maybe we "give" them too much anyhow. However, for many kids at Winton Woods, the clubs and teams are a "safe haven"...a place where someone cares about them. I shudder to think how these kids will spend their afternoons and evenings without the added structure offered by coaches, mentors, and club advisors. Maybe if the parents rent an apartment, the lucky ones will pack up and move to other school districts where they can find outlets for their talents and abilities. Most of those who own homes, however, will be unable to move. Who will buy a house in a school district that offers only the basics? Why not choose a neighborhood down the street where the school offers all kinds of "extra" activities?
I hope the residents of Winton Woods School District realize the effect on their property values of another failed levy. Budgets are tight for everyone. School levies are expensive. But raising kids in a community that focuses not only education, but also on raising the "whole child" is priceless.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Let's Build a Deck

Adding a deck can add value to your home. Not only will you see a good return on your investment, but you will also have the enjoyment of additional space for relaxation, family gatherings, grilling, and gardening. Many homeowners think building a deck is a "do-it-yourself" project, and it can be--IF you have as much experience working with building departments as you do working with tools.
Yes, in most jurisdictions, you need to obtain a building permit to build a deck. In order to get a permit, you'll have to have plans and specifications showing the deck has been designed to meet local building codes. Once you get the plans and permit, you'll need to be prepared for several inspections during the building process. If this sounds like more than you'd like to handle, you would be better off calling a professional to work with you on your project.
In your initial meeting with your custom deck builder, you'll discuss your intended purpose for the deck, the space you have to work with, how you want to access the deck, the material you'd like to use, and your budget. Some decks are simple: If the deck is at ground level or no more than 30" from the ground, no guardrails are required. A standard deck like this, about 12'x14', costs about $12-14/sq. ft. in the Cincinnati area and can be built in 2 or 3 days once the permit is issued.
However, if the deck is above ground, things get a little more complicated as you add posts, beams, railings, and stairs. The size and shape of the deck may be determined by any furniture you have or by where you might want to locate a grill. You'll also want to decide whether you'd like to add benches, flower boxes, various levels, or if you have future plans to add a spa or firepit.
The biggest decision you'll make about the deck is to decide what type of material you'd like to use. Decks have traditionally been built of pressure-treated lumber or redwood. Wood products require periodic cleaning and sealing in order to maintain the quality of the wood over the years. A Brazilian hardwood called IPÊ is gaining in popularity because of its durability and resistance to rot, insects, and mold. It's more expensive than pressure-treated or redwood, but with IPÊ, you don't have the maintenance time or money invested over the long haul. Another popular alternative is a composite material such as Trex that resists rotting, warping or splintering completely. The composites cost almost twice as much as pressure-treated, but you have no maintenance. However, if you imagine yourself barefoot on the deck, the composites do tend to be hot in the sun. A composite deck, built above ground with some of the custom options mentioned above, can take as long as 3 weeks to build and can cost as much as $30/sq. ft. in the Cincinnati area. That may sound like a lot of time and money for a deck, but when you think about it as adding an outdoor room to your home, the cost seems reasonable and the value is priceless.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Looking Back at Cincinnati Windstorm 9-14-08

It's the one year anniversary of the Cincinnati windstorm. September 14, 2008 was a day exactly like today---crisp blue sky, bright sunshine, temperature perfect. We heard a "high winds possible" warning on the radio on our way to the Bengals game. As we walked down Elm Street toward the stadium, it felt like a wind tunnel, but everyone was caught up in game-day excitement and no one was concerned. As the game went on, the winds increased, but the sun continued to shine and it just seemed like a windy day. Hot dog wrappers blew around the field and a few paper cups even flew out of spectators hands, but it still didn't seem like anything out of the ordinary.
A few minutes before the game ended, our daughter called to say roads were closed due to fallen trees and she'd have to take a detour home from work. A few minutes after that, she called back to tell us she was afraid to drive and stopping at a friend's house until the wind died down.
As we started home from the game, we began to see the seriousness of the windstorm. Trees and branches were down everywhere, and stoplights were out along our route. As we approached home, our neighbors called to tell us the driveway was blocked with a big tree. As we pulled in, we realized the severity of the situation. A huge ash tree (probably 100 ft. tall) was on our roof. We could see the drywall of our bathroom and bedroom ceilings through the opening. Hundreds of other branches and sticks were scattered around our yard. We had a huge mess that you can see in this video http://tinyurl.com/pgtyks.
I remember entering the house behind Barry. We walked carefully into the bedroom and stood gaping at the branches and leaves that were in our bathroom and closet. Somehow the tree had come to rest on the walls of the house so that nothing was actually crushed. The windows weren't broken; the shower was still intact; the vanity and sink were still there. Yet, the bathroom and closet seemed more like a forest than a house.
It wasn't long until the cleanup was set in motion. Several neighbors appeared out of nowhere to start pitching in. First, a few branches were cut away so that a tarp could be applied over the entire roof. The sun was still shining, but if any rain would have begun, we would have doubled our troubles. Luckily, Mother Nature cooperated for the next 2 weeks as not a drop of rain fell during that initial cleanup time.
For the first 3 days, we didn't have electricity. The only sounds you could hear around the neighborhood were the whirls of chainsaws and circular saws. We quickly discovered that the biggest problem for us was that the tree was balancing on the walls of our house...with no way to get a crane to the area and no way to remove it other than foot by foot. Precise calculations were made each time a cut was made. Take too much off one end, and the whole tree would end up in the house. So after 6 days of cutting and calculating, the tree was finally rolled inch by inch off the house using a spud bar for leverage and chains for safety. http://tinyurl.com/oexgr6
It took 6 more weeks to get everything back to what I would call "normal." Rebuilding was a project no different than any other remodeling project. Once materials arrived, roofers and carpenters followed, plumbing and wiring were completed, drywall followed, and ceramic tile and paint completed the finishing touches.
When I look back a year later, it's amazing what was accomplished in a short amount of time to put our house back together again. I never really worried that we had "lost everything" or that things couldn't be repaired. After 21 years in the building business, we knew plenty of contractors and suppliers who could help us when called. The best thing, however, was how we got so much help from friends, relatives, and neighbors.
It truly was a time to appreciate that a home is much more than a house.

Monday, September 7, 2009

How Much Does It Cost to Remodel a Bathroom?

Bathroom remodeling can range from a simple cosmetic upgrade to a major overhaul. Costs also vary with region of the country. Therefore, it's difficult to estimate cost before sitting down with your remodeling contractor. Barry likes to spend an hour or two initially with a prospective client just discussing needs, wants, and wishes in relationship to budget.
If you're just trying to decide whether or not you can even begin the process with a contractor, you can probably figure between $5000-$10,000 for a standard bathroom upgrade that does not involve moving fixtures or removing walls. This might include new flooring, sink and faucet, vanity, lighting, ceramic tile for tub surround, painting, mirror, and accessories like towel bars and paper holder. If you include tub replacement, you'd be on the higher end of that range.
If you're looking at rearranging or enlarging a bath, you might be in the $10,000-$20,000 range. Such projects could involve multiple subcontractors, moving plumbing stacks, re-wiring electric, and disposing of old fixtures and construction debris. If you opt for features like marble countertops or whirlpool tubs, you can easily spend $20,000-$30,000, more depending on your geographic location and your personal preferences.
A Connecticut company called "Simple Additions" publishes an estimator that can give you ballpark figures to see if remodeling is a possibility for you. http://tinyurl.com/lvqf55