Are You Plugged In? Part 2: Social Media

In this 21st Century world, being digital and online is a must for growing your business. Yet many of us, who did not grow up “plugged in,” find it difficult to know where to start in generating a presence online. But from customer service to lead generation, the internet is really one of your best resources for building your reputation, name-recognition and ultimately business. Let’s take a look at how you can get started … with Facebook and Twitter Social Media.

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Social Media: Facebook and Twitter

SOCIAL MEDIA: What do you think of when you hear the words, “Social Media?” While the thought of communicating through this medium can be a bit intimidating, you can use Social Media to advertise, network, inform, update and do customer service. Each Social Media platform has strengths in one of these areas. Some platforms which might be useful to you as a builder include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Flickr.

FACEBOOK: Facebook has over 10 million users, so it is a quite powerful resource to get your name out there, to an audience that is targeted to need your services. Before you can create a company page for your business, you must first have a personal Facebook profile.

To set up your personal Facebook profile, you will need to provide contact information, such as your phone and email, your work history, your website(s) and your photo. Some info is optional. Next, use the “search” option to find people you know and click on the green “Add Friend” button. After you’ve found 25 “friends,” you will be able to create a company page. Just a caveat – your business page will be related to your personal page, so don’t post anything on your personal page that you wouldn’t want potential customers to read.

The company page is called a “fan page” on Facebook. To create one, go to your main news feed and scroll down the page. Look on the left side for a menu called “Pages,” and under that, click on “Create a page.” This will take you to a page with 6 icons. The one you should click on is the first: “Local Business or Place.” It will ask you what category your business fits into. Select the closest to what you do. You will not be able to change this after the page has been created! Next, you will need to input information about your business, such as business name, address and phone number. Then, click on “Get Started.”

After creating the page, you will be able to customize it with links, video, photos and contact forms. When your page looks and works the way you like, start to collect fans! First, click on “Suggest to Friends,” and choose the friends you know might be interested in your page. Also post the link on your personal page by clicking the “share” button. Finally, email customers to like the page by the “send a message” link. When you are gathering fans, keep in mind that although you may have other builder friends, they probably are not the best to be fans of your business page. Instead, target those who are realtors or existing homeowners who have been happy with your work.

TWITTER: Twitter is a far more succinct and brief platform. A post on Twitter is called a “tweet.” You have only 140 characters to express yourself. If you add a photo or a link to your tweet, that addition will take away characters from the 140 total, so you will necessarily need brevity in what you post.

To get started in Twitter, create a new account. Choose a name that makes sense in relationship to your business. Your name may only use 14 characters, so again, think short. Next, complete your profile with your name, your website address, a background about your company and what you do and your logo or photo representing your brand.

When you are ready to tweet, try to be catchy. Tweet about your business, about maintenance tips, about business news, and ask questions and engage in conversations. If you post a link to your site, make it shorter at TinyURL or at Bitly. That way, it will not use up all of your character limit! Don’t make everything you post an advertisement. People will grow weary of those posts and unfollow you.

To get followers, look for people who have bought a home from you, Realtors and title companies to start with. You will notice that, as you post tweets, people and companies will begin to “follow” you. Do not automatically return the favor by “following” them – investigate first to see if following them will benefit your sales and business.

If you see an interesting and relevant tweet by one of your followers, you can “retweet” it by clicking the icon with two arrows in a circle. You may comment on it by clicking the single arrow below it. You can also “like” it by clicking the heart icon under the tweet.

A final facet of Twitter is the hashtag (#). When you put a hashtag in front of a word, it will file your tweet under that tag. Then people searching for a specific subject will see your post. For example, you might begin with “#Homebuyers” in your tweet. Your message would then appear, along with any other tweets that contain the hashtag, #Homebuyers.

Check back tomorrow for insight into the other Social Media platforms of LinkedIn, YouTube and Flickr.

Are You Plugged In? Part 1: The Website

In this 21st Century world, being digital and online is a must for growing your business. Yet many of us, who did not grow up “plugged in,” find it difficult to know where to start in generating a presence online. But from customer service to lead generation, the internet is really one of your best resources for building your reputation, name-recognition and ultimately business. Let’s take a look at how you can get started … with a website.

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WEBSITE: Does your business have a website? It’s easier than ever before to get a professional looking website to give your customers an easy way to contact you. While you could hire a web design company to make a flashy site, if you have just a smidge of tech savvy, you could build it yourself. Hosting sites such as GoDaddy, WordPress and Webs all have gorgeous templates that are simple to customize by dragging, dropping and typing in the text you’d like to use. Plus these hosting sites provide the place to “store” your site so others can access it. To get started, all you need is a valid email address and an idea of what you’d like to say. Of course, there are fees involved with creating the website, but they are quite minimal (and are tax deductions!). You will need to rent a domain name (the name people type into their browser to go to your site) and you will need to pay for web hosting (the place your site is stored online).

If you don’t have an email address, you can set up a free account at Gmail, which is Google-based email or Hotmail, which is Microsoft-based email.

Another consideration when you are creating your website is whether the hosting site allows you to create a site which is responsive. What that means is that the site will resize and look great even on mobile devices, such as tablets or smartphones. More and more people prefer mobile devices over desktops, so it makes sense to be sure your new site is responsive.

To get a little more advanced, once you have your email and your website set up, consider adding a contact form to your site. This will allow not only current customers to get in touch with you, but will give new customers a way to reach you as well. In addition, be sure to offer potential customers YOUR contact information, such as your phone number, your mailing address and your location.

Website templates also often have a place for photos. This is a great place for you to brag about your work! Why not post pictures of your best work, along with customer testimonials? They do say that a picture is worth a thousand words.

A final step to take in creating your website is to add SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. Hosting sites, such as Webs, will prompt you in setting up the SEO, so don’t panic if you have no idea how to do it. Basically, you add “hidden” words, called tags, to the photos and posts in you site – hidden to a person viewing the site, but viewable by search engines so that when someone searches for those words, your site is one of the results they receive.

Over the next few posts, we’ll examine others ways you can “plug in” and utilize all the internet has to offer to expand your building business! ‘Til then, happy website building!

Building for Boomers

As America’s population ages, the demographic which needs accessible housing is increasing. The Baby Boomer generation, one of the largest generations, is entering their retirement years. This increase in the aging population means that more accessible homes are needed. In addition, an estimated 56 million Americans – not just the elderly – have some sort of disability. What are you, as a builder, doing proactively to accommodate the needs of this generation?

Handicapped

While the Americans with Disabilities Act mandated requirements for accessibility in public places, it has no bearing on private residences. Nonetheless, it is to your advantage as a builder to think about accessibility as well as to incorporate it into your construction.

CUSTOMIZATION: You may get a customer who realizes they need a house with accessibility. In this case, work with them to ascertain their specific needs and create a home which meets those needs. Whether it’s wider doorways, a bathroom which could accommodate a wheelchair or a plan which avoids a second story, you likely would be able to help them.

But what if you get a customer who is not disabled? Would you build in the same features for them? Probably not. You should, however, ask these customers if they might have a need for accessibility in the future. Perhaps a mother-in-law will need to live with them a few years from now. In that case, they should think about her needs. Do they intend to stay in this house for the rest of their lives? If so, they would likely eventually need accessible features. In the long run, your customers will appreciate your raising these questions, as it shows you are thinking about what is best for them.

TOO PRICEY? You might think that adding accessible features as a standard will drive the price of your homes higher. This is not necessarily true. If you are building a 2-story home, why not put a master bedroom on the first floor? This would provide ease of access in the event of a future disability which could prevent use of stairs. Another easy and relatively inexpensive idea is to not have a step up or down into the garage. This is a small thing, yet it will help anyone who has difficulty doing stairs. (If local codes do not permit this, you may want to discuss how this can be approved with code officials.) Also think about the size of a wheel chair. Could you make doorways wide enough to accommodate that, perhaps 3 feet wide? Could you make thresholds between rooms smooth, with no lip? Could the bathroom have a walk-in, no lip shower that could allow a wheelchair to roll into it? Adding “smart” features, such as Wi-Fi controlled outlets and light switches, can allow voice control of appliances and lighting. Small modifications such as these can increase accessibility options, but have low impact on overall cost.

Thinking outside the box in terms of accessibility will set you apart as a builder. Start now to take steps to provide for the needs of an older population. Your increased business will thank you!

Ideas in this post gathered from Building Homes With Accessibility in Mind by Andy Stauffer, Builderonline Jan 20, 2016, and Tips on Building an Accessible Home by B. Duerstock, Purdue.edu.

 

Something Old, Something New …

You’ve done the groundwork in preparation to buy your first home. Your credit is impeccable, your debt-to-income ratio is low, and you have a mortgage preapproval in hand. As you start looking at building or buying, you must decide if you would like to go with a new home or with an older one. Each has its pluses and minuses to consider.

choices

NEW HOMES: Whether the new home you are considering is being custom-built just for you, or if it’s an already-built new home being sold, new homes have some facets which are positive and others which should be considered.

Pluses: A new home is … well, NEW! That means that every system and every part of the structure, if well-built, should last a substantial time before needing replaced. Appliances and systems come with a manufacturer’s warranty, whether it’s your refrigerator or your AC. The framing is built to modern codes and standards, the electrical wiring is up-to-date and the foundation is likely water-tight. In addition, if your builder offers a 10-year warranty, you know that you have protection, as stated in your warranty, for 10 years.

New homes generally are in the suburbs, rather than the city. Probably, unless your new home is custom-built, your development has a homogenous style of home; not identical, but similar in appearance and design. New homes in a development may offer community amenities, such as a community pool or a common playground.

A new home will likely have updated technology, such as Bluetooth-controlled systems and sufficient outlets to accommodate modern living and technological needs. It will also be energy-efficient and well insulated.

Minuses: Your new home is probably not going to look like the incredible model home you may have toured in the development. Keep in mind that a model home will often include optional upgrades. The baseline model with no upgrades may not be as same cosmetically. And every upgrade comes with a price tag.

New homes also will likely have immature landscaping. Your lawn will not be full and lush immediately, and your trees and shrubs will look small and scrawny until they mature and grow. You also might choose to not complete your entire landscaping at first in order to save money.

Another consideration with a new home is that with any new construction, you might have some settling and subsidence to some degree, which depends a lot on your soil type. Land which has been excavated takes some time to stabilize. This settling may cause a few cracks or separation of trim in some spots.

OLD HOMES: An old home is one which has been previously owned. It might be a Craftsman from the early 1900’s, or it might be a ranch from the 1960’s. Again, like new homes, old homes have benefits and drawbacks.

Pluses: To many people, an older home has charm and personality that newer homes lack. It may have plaster walls, beautiful wood trim, hardwood floors, coffered ceilings, stained glass windows and other attractive features which would be unaffordable in new construction. Some older homes were hand built and have painstaking and artistic craftsmanship. Generally, older homes are unique and distinctive from the others around them.

If it has been updated with modern wiring and systems, an older home may be a good option for some. The construction has already settled, so no new cracks should appear.

The yard and landscaping of an older home is mature. Trees tower and provide shade. The lawn is full and lush. Often, the yard of an older home is larger than that of a new one.

Minuses: If it has not been updated, an older home may have systems and appliances that need to be updated. Perhaps the electrical service hasn’t been upgraded. This would be a problem if you have modern electronics which draw a heavier load on the wiring. There also may not be as many outlets.

Additionally, pipes may need replaced. Over time, galvanized piping may have rusted. Whether it’s asbestos insulation on your furnace pipes or lead paint on the walls, older homes also may contain dangerous materials. The basement may not be waterproofed, and you might get water when it rains. And those mature trees you love in the yard may have invasive roots which could have damaged the exterior underground water and sewer pipes.

In an older home, rooms are often smaller and have less storage space. If you were to decide to add on, you might run into code violations and construction problems which would require additional money to update.

The bottom line is if you do decide to buy an older home, be sure to have it inspected so there are no surprises.

IN CONCLUSION: It really comes down to your taste and your economic goals. Evaluate the homes, both new and old, you view in the areas of taste, such as function and aesthetics, and in areas of economics, such as initial cost, maintenance cost, location and energy efficiency. Also consider the investment and how it may increase in value over time. Then, choose a home you like which suits you best in those areas.

This information is being provided as a courtesy for those considering buying a home. Be sure to consult professionals for legal, financial and real estate advice.

When It’s Time to Take the Plunge …

Perhaps you’ve been on your own for a while, renting and trying to save some money to buy your own home. You are finally at the point where you think you’d like to move forward, into the realm of home ownership. But the task seems daunting! Where do you start? Here are some tangible steps you can take to prepare for a stress-less entry into being a homeowner.

Counted Cross Stitch

EVALUATE YOUR FINANCES: Even if you’ve been saving diligently, conscientiously paying your bills on time and faithfully paying off credit card debt every month, you need to take a look at your finances and your credit rating. Your credit score will have a great impact on your qualifying for a mortgage. In addition, your debt-to-income ratio will influence any lender in approving you. A high amount of debt in comparison to your income or in comparison to your credit limit will make your lender cringe. Start by paying off any debt you are carrying. After you’ve removed your indebtedness, check your credit score. There are various ways to find your credit score – one option is to check your credit annually for free at Annual Credit Report.com. Carefully examine the report for mistakes, dormant accounts, unpaid accounts or collections being levied. Take care of any problems on your credit report immediately. Because repairing and improving credit can take some time, allow yourself at least 6 months before beginning to search for a house to do the credit repair work.

CREATE A BUDGET: After you’ve evaluated your credit and debt-to-income ratio, examine your budget. If you have never lived on a budget, this is a great time to begin. As you are waiting those 6 months for your credit to recover, begin tracking your monthly income and expenses. Figure out how to allocate your income over the month to successfully pay your expenses on time. Also add an allotment for personal spending into your budget, and be disciplined to not exceed that amount. While having a budget sounds as if it would be a drudgery, it actually frees you, because it gives you the security of knowing how your money is spent and that you will have enough. Here is a free tool to help you start a budget: Make Your Budget Work for You.

GET PRE-APPROVAL: Now you know your credit score, your debt-to-income ratio and you have a budget. At this point, you should choose a lender and seek pre-approval. Lenders may include banks, credit unions or private mortgage firms. Choose a lender by comparing interest rates, asking friends for recommendations, looking at customer reviews and examining business ratings.

Your lender will begin the pre-approval process by asking you for several recent pay stubs, several years’ tax returns and W-2s and several months of bank statements. The lender will take that information, along with your credit score and your debt-to-income ratio and will decide if you qualify to get a mortgage. He will calculate not only if you are pre-approved, but also will tell you the price range of homes for which you qualify. The pre-approval allows you to begin working with a builder or realtor to find your perfect home! Some realtors prefer that you have the pre-approval already done.

PREPARE FOR A DOWN-PAYMENT: Now that you know your price range, you should gather a down-payment. If you find a home that you really like, you will first need a deposit, sometimes called earnest money. This deposit can vary and may range from $1000 to $2000. It will become part of your down payment if you go forward with the purchase. If the seller cancels the purchase, you will get this deposit back. If YOU back out of the sale, the seller will have the choice of whether to return the deposit or to keep it.

Next, determine the percentage of the sale price you’d like to do as a down-payment. This can vary from 0% on a VA or USDA loan to as high as you’d like to go. An FHA loan has a minimum down payment of 3.5%. Keep in mind that, depending on the type of loan you acquire, you may have to pay an additional fee of some type of mortgage insurance each month as a part of your mortgage. This insurance will protect your lender in the event that you default on your loan. For example, with an FHA loan, you will pay a Mortgage Insurance Premium (MIP) with every mortgage payment for the life of your loan, unless you have a 10% down payment. If you have a 10% or greater down payment, the MIP is waived after 11 years. With a USDA loan, you will pay a Guaranteed Fee with each mortgage payment, for the life of the loan. In a Conventional loan, the insurance is called Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI), and is based on your down payment. If you have a 20% or greater down payment, there is no PMI. With less than a 20% down payment, you will pay PMI until you have 22% equity in your home, and then the PMI will disappear. A VA mortgage has no monthly mortgage insurance payment, but will have an up-front charge called the Funding Fee.

GO FIND YOUR HOME, SWEET HOME: Finally, you are ready to look for that perfect place to call your own. You know your budget, you know your pre-approval amount, and you know your down-payment. With this information, you can make intelligent choices in your home-buying, without stress or fear. Happy house-hunting! (Keep watch for our next blog post on whether to buy a new home or an old home)

This information is being provided as a courtesy for those considering buying a home. Be sure to consult professionals for legal, financial and real estate advice.

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Does your new home need a warranty? We can help! Visit American eWarranty to find out more!

Maximizing the Millennial Market

As you may know, Millennials are the generation which was born between 1980 and 2000. They currently range in age from 16 to 36. A large portion of them are just hitting the age when they start to consider buying a home. Statistically, this market is even larger than the baby boomer demographic was. How can you, as a builder, make the most of marketing to this up-and-coming generation?

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The first consideration is communication. Because they have grown up with technology as an integral part of their lives, Millennials do not enjoy talking on the phone as much as they are comfortable with texting. In addition, when they search for a builder, they will use the internet to not only locate, but also to evaluate your work. If you do not have a solid online presence, you must develop that to capture this budding market. Also include testimonials from satisfied customers. Keep in mind that when they search online, they will likely do it from a tablet or smartphone, rather than a traditional desktop computer. Be sure that your website is mobile-friendly by having it converted to a responsive site.

The second consideration is technology. Having technology incorporated into a home will entice and pique the interest of Millennials. While there are whole-house technology hubs which control everything in a home, from lighting to security to utilities, if you’d like to just start small in the tech-savvy home building market, a few easy upgrades will make your homes much more appealing to this demographic.

First, consider installing a Nest thermostat for the heating and cooling systems. This type of thermostat can be synced and controlled by a smartphone. Not only that, but it also is intuitive – it “learns” what the homeowner likes as the temperature and programs itself to accommodate that. It also will light up when it senses a person nearby. A smart thermostat will appeal to eco-conscious Millennials in a huge way!

Next, while most of these are not a hard-wired device, consider installing a few smart outlets in strategic locations. Smart outlets plug into a normal wall outlet and feature the ability to turn on and off or dim lights from a smartphone app. Some brands also include programmability, motion sensing and built-in surge protectors.

A third technological venue to increase Millennial appeal is having keyless entry doors. Some keyless entries use a numeric pad, others use a fingerprint sensor, and still others have a remote fob. The appeal of a keyless entry is twofold. It frees the homeowner from fumbling with keys. It also adds security against unauthorized entry.

The third consideration is eco-score. Millennials have grown up with the admonition to protect the environment. They like to think that the home they are buying will help, rather than harm, that effort. Install a home energy monitor, which will track energy consumption from every electrical device in the home. Also, document the eco-score of your windows, insulation and other home components so the buyer can see the efficiency. Millennials love data!

If you follow these steps, you will set yourself apart from the competition in the Millennial home-buying market.

M2=H2: A is for AC

While we realize it’s still pretty cold outside in much of the US, warmer weather will arrive before too long. To prepare for those sweltering summer days, start now to think about how to get your system in top condition for the weather ahead.

Ice

It is super easy to keep your home’s AC in great shape to give you years of dependable cooling. Here are areas which you should regularly check.

FILTERS: Almost every central air system has a filter installed to remove allergens, such as pet hair, dust and other undesirable substances, from your air. Often, this filter is replaceable – just check the dimensions and numbers on it to make sure the replacement you are getting will fit correctly. Occasionally, homes will have a filter which is washed or vacuumed rather than completely replaced. Follow your AC’s instruction manual for the proper way to do this. Filters should be changed/cleaned every 3 months.

VENTS/REGISTERS: If a room is not being used, close the registers in that area. In addition, always keep the air return intakes clean of debris. If you adjust these return intakes seasonally, you will save on your heating and cooling costs. In the summer, open the top vents and close the bottom ones. Hot air will rise to exit at the top, and cool air will stay in the room. In winter, reverse the process: open the bottom vents and close the top ones. Cold air will exit and hot air will remain.

INSPECTION: Once per year, you should have your AC system checked and cleaned by a professional.

What’s a 10 Year New Home Warranty and Why Do I Need It?

Your home is one of the largest investments of your life! If you bought a new, big-screen TV, and 8 months later, it stopped operating, would you expect the manufacturer to fix it? Of course you would, because you received a written warranty that stated the TV would work for longer than 8 months. So why would you accept a 1-year implied warranty on your new home? It only makes sense to ask your builder to provide a limited written 10-year warranty from American eWarranty.

Construction Site

WHAT IT IS: When your home is being built, you trust that your builder is doing high quality work in the basics of laying the foundation, pouring the walls, building the framing and other structural aspects. If your builder verbally implies that he will warrant his work, you have no real protection if something goes wrong. A far better choice is to have a written, express limited warranty, such as American eWarranty’s 10-year Warranty. In our warranties, you know exactly what is covered, how long it is covered and how to get help if you need it. In addition, we offer both warranties approved by HUD for FHA/VA loans and for conventional loans.

With the standard 10-year new home warranty, the builder agrees to correct defects in workmanship and materials as specified in the written warranty. Generally, this addresses call-back items typical in a new home (often referred to as a 30-day or 11 month punch list.)

Keep in mind that it is a limited warranty, not a maintenance contract. Homeowner obligations and responsibilities are clearly stated. This will help you know how to handle any problem which might arise.

In the second year, defects to the delivery portions of these major systems are warranted: pipe system, septic system, electrical wiring system and HVAC ductwork.

Specific structural defects are warranted for 10 years. Be sure to refer to the specific warranty provided by your builder for details of the warranty, including definitions, exclusions and limitations that apply.

WHY YOU NEED IT: An express written warranty from American eWarranty will give you wonderful peace of mind. You know exactly what will be covered by the warranty and for how long. You can also see what items are considered homeowner maintenance.

Even quality builders can fail financially for reasons beyond their control. If your builder goes bankrupt, American eWarranty’s insurance carrier steps in to cover the builder’s warranty obligations.

Our warranties are completely transferable. If you decide to sell your home within the first 10 years of your home ownership, the remaining portion of the warranty automatically transfers to the subsequent owner. This transferability makes your home more appealing when it’s placed on the market.

Finally, if a future impasse should arise between you and your builder, the warranty includes an arbitration process to resolve the issue(s), saving you litigation expenses.

Don’t forget – our warranties are HUD, FHA/VA and USDA-approved, saving you and your builder time and money!

Visit our website at www.americanewarraty.com to see how an American eWarranty new home warranty can be yours!

Painter, It’s Cold Outside

As a builder, you likely build homes year-round. In the not-too-distant past, certain finishing details, such as painting outdoor trim, could not be done under a specific temperature. But times are changing …

Cold paint

Cold Weather Painting: Original article by Ted Cushman, Feb. 1, 2008, published in builderonline.com.

Q: I have some homes that need exterior painting, and cold weather is closing in. My painters say they can paint outdoors when it’s as cold as 35 degrees F. Should I be worried?

A: Things are always changing in the world of house paint. Just a decade ago, labels on exterior-paint cans warned not to apply the paint unless temperatures were at least 50 degrees F. But in the past few years, most manufacturers have brought out acrylic latex paints with a much wider application temperature range, allowing painters to work in temperatures as low as 35 degrees F.

Flexible Formulas

What’s changed in paint formulas? Acrylic paints are a carefully crafted mix of a few key ingredients. There’s the pigment, which gives the paint its color and protects the substrate from sunlight. There’s the binder; in acrylic latexes, that’s acrylic, a plastic polymer molecule, which chemists can adjust for hardness, flexibility, or other desired properties. (Cheaper formulas may use vinyl along with the acrylic.) There’s the solvent, or carrier; in latex paints, the solvent is primarily water. There are also surfactants, basically soaps, that lower the surface tension of the liquid paint and (along with other flow agents) affect how smoothly the paint loads up on the brush and flows out, or how readily it sprays and lays down. And there are small amounts of coalescents—nonwater solvents that remain in the fresh paint a little longer as the water dries out, helping the acrylic binder molecules to soften and melt into each other to form a strong, flexible, ­continuous film.

Designing a good mixture is something of an art form, and paint makers invest major dollars in researching and experimenting with different blends. To push the application temperatures lower, formulators have mostly been tweaking the acrylic binders and the coalescent components of the paint, says paint chemist Stewart Williams, Ph.D., technical director of The Paint Quality Institute in Spring House, Pa. The institute is an educational service of chemical company Rohm and Haas, a firm that supplies most of the paint industry with acrylic resins and other ingredients. “To lower the temperature where a film can form, you can go to a softer binder,” explains Williams, “but if you push that too far, you can run into a problem with good hardness development. So part of the solution is to add extra coalescing aids.”

Does it work? There’s no question that the new formulas have opened up a wider comfort zone for cool-weather painting. If temperatures are hovering in the 40s, you can now paint without worrying.

But there’s always the temptation to push your luck. Many ­products get fussy in cold weather, notes Nigel Costolloe, who runs Brookline, Mass., custom painting company Catchlight. “All exterior materials, from epoxies to spackles to caulking to paint—everything is retarded by cold temperature,” says Costolloe. “It can stretch the production schedule out almost infinitely. Here in New England this [past] fall, we had a succession of reasonably mild days followed by pretty cold nights, and then rain every three to four days, and there really wasn’t a window in there to get some exterior painting done for weeks.”

Pushing the Envelope

To keep things moving through the year, says Costolloe, “I would say that just about every painting contractor at this point pushes the envelope. They start painting earlier in the year, and they finish up later in the year. Or at least they keep their fingers crossed that they can finish projects later on. ”

But the closer you get to the edge, the greater the risk. “No question,” says Williams, “there’s more of an opportunity for things to go wrong [when you’re] painting in extreme conditions [rather] than under normal conditions.” South Woodstock, Vt., painter Charles Gilley Jr. has little choice: “If we only painted when the weather was perfect,” he jokes, “we’d paint maybe three days out of the year.” But Gilley, owner of Restoration Painting, says, “If you exercise caution, you’re going to be fine. It’s when you really start pushing that envelope—it’s 36 degrees F, and I’ve got two or three hours, and then all of the sudden it’s due to go down to 15 degrees F tonight—that’s not good. [Then] you’re asking for trouble.”

What kind of trouble? In mild cases, it’s not too bad. “What typically happens is that you get a surfactant leaching on the paint that can usually be washed off without much damage to the actual paint film,” says Costolloe. “It can show up as a chalkiness on dark paint that will require a visit in the spring to resolve. It will certainly hang up closing out a project.”

“You see it if the walls don’t cure enough before the dew hits them,” says Gilley. “The dew brings out the surfactant, and the stuff will start weeping down over the siding like little icicles running down the faces of the clapboards. Eventually the weather will wash it off, but initially it’s an objectionable trait.”

Occasionally the problems are more serious. “You can get into worse trouble by compounding mistakes,” says Costolloe. “Applying a primer, for instance, and applying a top coat and another top coat on that one with insufficient drying time between coats. If you have an overnight minimum of 35 degrees F and daytime temperatures in the mid-40s, you’re still retarding the drying and the curing process. And so trying to achieve the same production rates as you expect in warmer weather just won’t work. You need to extend the drying time, especially when you have shorter days, longer nights, and a closer dew point.”

Multiple coats applied too quickly in cold weather may show bubbling and blistering. “You could end up with a more catastrophic failure where intercoat adhesion would be an issue,” says Costolloe, “and you’d have a paint coating that would need to be removed. That’s worst case.”

Precautionary Measures

What steps should you take before venturing out in the cold with paint? Our experts offer these tips:

  • Make sure the paint is actually rated for 35 degrees F. Many common house paints and stains are still restricted to 50 degrees F and up.
  • Pay special attention to the substrate. “You really want to know the moisture content of your substrate,” says Williams, “and priming is critical.” Check the wall’s temperature with a non-contact infrared thermometer, too, not just the air temperature—both should be above the label-specified minimums.
  • Work midday. Focus on prep work in the early morning and late afternoon, and apply paint between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., advises Williams, to allow surfaces to warm up and to allow time for curing before dew falls.
  • Follow the sun. “In summer,” says Gilley, “the rule is, don’t paint in the sun—follow the shade around the house. But in cold weather, it’s the opposite. Because we want the paint to set, we do paint in the sun.” What about the north side? “That makes it difficult,” says Gilley.

If it’s just too cold but you really need to paint, there’s always the option of shelter. “You can set up scaffolding, wrap everything in plastic, and heat it,” says Gilley. “But I would never do that. I would just say the heck with it. There’s always next year.”

The “Dirt” on … Dirt

You have a new home! It’s just as you envisioned, and it’s squeaky-clean and lovely. How do you keep it in this pristine state, when you have kids and pets and all sorts of potential messiness and dirt? Read on!

Dirt 2

SHOES: You would be amazed at how much dirt you track in on your shoes. Even if you have a doormat or rug at your entrances, shoes still retain not just grit and grime, but they can harbor bacteria and other disgusting things too. Do you really want that spread on floors your little toddler crawls on? A better idea is to keep a shoe bin of some sort at the main door and ask your family to remove shoes at the door. Ideas for a shoe bin: wicker basket, shoe rack, wooden box, plastic tote or plastic tray.

DOORMAT: A doormat will catch any dirt on those grimy shoes as they are being removed. It’s best to have one outside your door and then another inside the door. A rug inside the door will also work well, as long as it is non-slip. Be sure that whatever you choose, that it is washable and easy to clean.

PETS: If you have dogs or cats that spend time inside and outside, you know that they, too can track in a substantial amount of dirt. Keep an old towel near the door and wipe their paws before releasing them into your home. In addition, most pets shed fur and dander. Keep up with these sorts of allergens with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter.

AIR FILTERS: If you have central air or forced hot air heat, you will have an air filter on your blower unit. These filters need to be cleaned or changed regularly, as they will collect dirt particles that get airborne. Check every 1-2 months to keep your air in fresh, clean condition.

REGISTERS AND VENTS: Any system that uses air filters also has vents and air returns. Again, as air passes through these, dirt and dust will start to build up. Pet fur will definitely collect on them as well. To prevent a strain on your system, and to keep your air clean, vacuum and clean these every time you dust and sweep.

WINDOWS: Although it is glorious to let a fresh breeze circulate through your home, keep in mind that outside air will bring in any pollutants and dirt that is in your area. It will also circulate pollen and mold spores that can cause allergies.