Home Improvement & Maintenance Ideas

New Rules Allow Fences In Penn Estates

Scotts dog picPhoto Credit: Scott Ryan, Penn Estates

Let’s face it, our pets are important to us, and keeping them happy, healthy, and safe is a huge factor when we decide where to live. The Board of Directors of the Penn Estates Property Owners Association wisely decided to address the concerns around fences within the community and have approved a new set of regulations which allow property owners to erect fences for whatever reasons, including their precious doggies’ comfort :)

The fencing of your entire property is still prohibited because of aesthetics and safety of the wildlife, but now you may have a fenced in area of your yard as follows:

Fences in the community must be constructed of wood or vinyl in a natural wood or color that matches the house or trim. Chain link, stone, wire, and stockade fencing are all prohibited in order to preserve a natural aesthetic. Fences can be no more than four feet high and have slat separation between two and four inches.

The fence footprint shall only be located in the rear of the house, and shall extend no further than five feet into the side yard. Fence lines shall be generally straight, and shall be adjusted to avoid trees. Tree removal for the purpose of fencing will not be approved.

These are the basics of the new fence rules. I highly recommend you contact the Administration office for the official rules on fencing before you plan your project. And don’t forget that a permit is required to ensure your fence meets the guidelines.

Free Penn Estates home search here via the MLS/IDX

Ok, one more cute dog enjoying the Pocono lifestyle....

Scotts doc pic2Photo Credit: Scott Ryan, Penn Estates

Spring To-Do List For Penn Estates Homeowners: 5 Things You Should Do Outside To Impress Your Neighbors &/or Prepare Your Home For Sale

Keeping a tidy property is the cornerstone of being a good neighbor and projecting good cDaffodils_web_sizeurb appeal. This short list will have you well on your way in no time. Plus it will get you out of the house as the weather breaks and get your winter-weary body moving again.

1) Clean the Yard & Decks
Pick up & dispose of litter and 'stuff' accumulated this winter; pick up sticks and branches, and remove dead vegetation as necessary; blow leaves away from house & off of driveway, walkways and landscaping.

2) Clean your Culvert
The culvert pipe under your driveway at the street, as well as the drainage ditch along your property, is your responsibility and very important to the welfare of the drainage system of Penn Estates. If your pipe clogs, it can cause back-ups and flooding in places we don't want it, and ruin driveways, landscaping and roads. A clean culvert will keep the water flowing where it should and show that you care about your neighbors and community! Mark your calendar to do this again in the Fall, after the leaves come down.

3) Clean up after the Dog
Most people don't stay on top of this chore through the winter months so when spring hits, and BEFORE the heat sets in, it is time to break out the shovel. Nothing ruins a picnic or a showing of your home like a shoe full of doo-doo.

And speaking of it, don't forget to take your baggies along when walking your dog. Remember, Penn Estates Rules require you take your puppy-prizes home with you.

4) Wash the Windows
Inside and out, panes and screens. And if they are foggy between the panes, have the panes replaced.

5) Identify Yourself
It is very important that your Lot & Section be clearly visible from the street, so take care of that now. You will want people to be able to find your house if they are visiting, delivering a package, or (most important) in case of an emergency!

Did you know:

Stroud Township Spring Cleanup for 2008
Thursday, April 24th through Sunday, April 27th 8 AM to 4 PM - Gaunt Rd. Maintenance Yard
Stroud Township residents are invited to bring unwanted junk and clutter from their properties to our Gaunt Road Township Maintenance Yard, located ½ mile north of the Stroud Mall on Rt. 611 from April 24th through 27th between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m..  Accepted items are: furniture, car batteries, automotive waste oil, car tires, appliances and yard waste (brush, leaves, clippings).


Fees: Car Load $5
Van or Pick-up load $10
Utility trailer load $50
One-ton truck load $75
Tires: Car $4 each, Truck $5 each
Tires on rims or wheels $5 each
Appliances requiring freon removal are $20 each


COMPUTER & ELECTRONICS RECYCLING! Drop off up to 2 of the following items at no charge: computers, fax machines, scanners, keyboards & mice, main frames, VCRs, stereos, monitors, printers, telecommunications equipment, speakers, wire, televisions, DVD players. ($5. charge for each piece exceeding 2 free units)

If you are only bringing the following items, there is no fee: car batteries, waste oil, yard waste, branches, brush, grass clippings


Materials NOT accepted:
No hazardous materials such as paint solvents or thinners, paint cans with contents, pesticides, herbicides, or chemicals will be accepted. (Monroe County Waste Management (570-643-6100) is working on ways to dispose of these items. No construction debris.)
Also not accepted: automobiles, dirt, cement, loose nails or screws. NO CONTRACTORS REFUSE!

Can You Cure A Wet Basement?

from the desk of
Richard A Hetzel
Architect (NY) Home Designer (PA)

Water in your basement or crawl space?  Dampness?  Musty odor?  Mold?  Structural decay?

Our area of the Pocono Mountains is blessed with all manner of natural and man-made water features...lakes, ponds, streams, rivers and bogs, all with their own surrounding wetlands and resplendent flora and fauna. But all these natural resources also mean that we face some special challenges in balancing our love of our specialness with what is best for our health, well-being and property.

How do we live with the sometimes inevitable eventuality of some water and/or dampness in our crawlspaces?  Well, it's only inevitable if things weren't done right when the house was built, or if needed repairs aren't made.  The overwhelming majority of damp or wet foundations can be cured, and most times for only moderate expense.

If it's only dampness, and not water, the first thing is to be certain there is a vapor retarder on or beneath the floor.  Often crawl spaces have earth floors, and often, someone has rolled out some polyethylene film on the floor and thought that they had installed a vapor retarder.  Well, they missed a couple of items.  First, all seams between sheets of film should be lapped at least six inches and taped.  Second, the film should be turned up against all walls and other penetrations (such as pipes, columns, posts, etc.) and taped to the wall or penetration.  Only then is the vapor retarder complete and fully effective.

Then, look to see that there are sufficient vents in the crawl space, and be sure the vents are open.  The total free area of all the vents should be one square foot of vent free area for each 150 square feet of crawl space floor area.  It is difficult to determine the net free area of existing vents, but generally, if you assume that the free area is about 50% of the area of the vent, you'll be close.  If you can find a manufacturer's name and model number, you may be able to find the net free area on the manufacturer's website.

Now, what if you have water?  If you have water, it is entering from outside the foundation.  If someone gives you baloney about hydrostatic pressure under your floor, show them the door.  If someone tells you your foundation was waterproofed when it was built and it didn't work then and it won't work now, show them the door.  There is a difference between "damp-proofing" and "waterproofing", and almost no homes are "waterproofed"...some, in fact, are not even "damp-proofed", especially homes that are maybe 20 years old or older in the Poconos.  Dampproofing is meant to keep minor moisture from wicking out of the soil and into the foundation wall, and that's all.  Waterproofing is meant to stop the infiltration of water completely.

Water enters a foundation in the following ways:    

     1.  Cracks in the foundation
     2.  A failure in the parging (plastering) of the foundation
     3.  A failure of the damp-proofing of the foundation
     4.  Open tie rod holes in concrete foundations

What causes cracks in the foundation?

     1.  Insufficient wall thickness and/or reinforcing for the height of soil supported.
     2.  Improper backfill (rocks, construction debris)
             {what?? rocks in the Poconos?? do you believe that??}
     3.  Tree or shrub roots
     4.  Heavy equipment or vehicles running near the wall, either during construction, or after
     5.  Hydrostatic (water) pressure in the soil outside the wall

This is important: Do not select a solution to the problem BEFORE the cause is determined!!  Also important is the fact that where water is seen entering your basement may not indicate where it is entering on the outside,  It is possible, and frequent, that there is a crack outside which won't show up inside.

One can determine the cause by first performing a hose test. With a garden hose, start at one point outside your foundation, and lay the hose on the ground so that it runs full blast at the foundation.  Let it run for about 45 minutes, and see if water appears inside the basement or crawl space.  Then move the hose about six feet and repeat the process, and continue doing so until you've gone all around your foundation.  Keep careful notes about where the water enters.  Now you know where the problem is, but you don't know why yet.

Now comes the hard part.  Dig, or better yet, have someone dig at the locations where your hose test showed that water enetered.  If your foundation is more than about three feet below grade, it's best to leave the digging to professionals who can recognize soil types and predict their behavior, because the risk of a cave-in becomes greater as the excavation gets deeper.  Let the pros take that risk.  If you dig yourself, do not pile the excavated soil at the edge of the excavation!  That could cause a cave-in.  Take it away by wheelbarrow.  The dig should extend out from the foundation wall about 18 inches.  By the way, the digging should be by hand, and not by machine, so that the walls aren't stressed or damaged by machinery operating close to the walls.

Having duFoundationcrackg, you should be able to see the problem...a crack (see photo - putty knife inserted in crack for illustration), a hole, chipped parging, insufficient or absent damp-proofing...could be any of those.  If it's a crack or hole, clean it as best you can and patch it with hydraulic cement.  Then, apply a THICK coating, preferably two coats, of bituminous dampproofing compound (black sticky tar), and in the final coat, embed a sheet of 6-mil polyethylene sheet in the dampproofing, extending from finished grade down to and over theWaterproofedfoundation footing. (The second picture shows the same foundation waterproofed) Finally, backfill with pea gravel up to within a few inches of finished grade.  If you only had one place of water entry, that's all you have to fix.

A word about "inside" drainage systems:  rarely are they the right answer to a wet basement.  They are a one-size-fits-all solution to a problem that has not been defined.  Yes, they may keep water off your floor, but they won't keep it out of your basement, and they won't stop the entry of vermin, insects or radon gas, all of which can enter through the crack or whatever is letting water into your basement.  They will not reduce dampness, which is why those who sell them often recommend dehumidifiers.  Finally, they can cost many times the cost of fixing water problems where they should be fixed, and that is outside the foundation.  You may find that companies who sell such systems apply high sales pressure, and you may find that those companies also have many unsatisfied complaints with the Better Business Bureau.  Yes, they offer a "lifetime guarantee", which, if read carefully, doesn't guarantee very much.  You will also find that these companies frequently go "out of business' and then re-open under another name, and there goes the "lifetime guarantee".  Beware of such companies and their high-pressure sales tactics.

If you follow the steps outlined here, you will be able to diagnose and, yes, solve almost all wet basement/crawl space problems, with only moderate expense, and minimum disruption to your home and yard.  Usually, they can work behind landscaping and leave it in place undisturbed by the repair work.

Finding the Perfect Home ... or Husband

Face it, finding the perfect house is tough. Even with all of the choices out there today, it can be hard to find the one that is 'just right.' My famous line to buyers is this: Finding the perfect house is kind of like a woman looking for the perfect husband...if you could take a little piece of each one and put it all together then, voila, perfection.

Lion_tamer But let's be realistic, honey...that ain't happenin' !

So what is today's cultivated woman to do? Lower her standards? Never!

My advice is, figure out what faults you can live with and then TRAIN HIM.  ( =) c'mon guys, stay with me here)

Finding the perfect house can be approached in the same way. Find that one that has the best combination of must-have features and lack of fatal flaws, and then fix it to your liking.

Better still, save your cash and finance the alterations!

Enter the FHA 203(k) Streamlined Mortgage.

This  program has been around for a couple of years but has been very under-utilized. Recent changes in the loan limits, guidelines and processes for FHA loans in general have made it a much more desirable program, especially in today's lending environment. What makes the Streamlined(k) mortgage so special is its ability to facilitate 'simple' repairs or improvements to a home...up to $35,000 worth.

Eligible improvements include some of the most common home repair issues we encounter here in the Poconos like:

Other improvements which could be financed include:

  • Basement waterproofing
  • Window and door replacements and exterior wall re-siding
  • Weatherization, including storm windows and doors, insulation, weather stripping, etc
  •   Accessibility improvements for persons with disabilities
  •   Lead-based paint stabilization or abatement of lead-based paint hazards

Basically the rule of thumb is, as long as there are no structural changes or proposals that require engineering or architect reports, they are probably finance-able under this program. Simply providing bids, estimates or projected invoices is all the additional documentation required for this loan. An appraisal will be done to ensure the as-fixed value of the property, and the program allows up to six months after closing to complete the work.

There ya have it, the solution to your house-hunting dilemma...it's easier than teaching your husband to put his socks in to the hamper!

For more information on the FHA Streamlined(k), please contact Bill Cullen at Hometown Security Mortgage (570)424.1289.

Haul the Deck?

This is good information for homeowners to be aware of - for your own safety and in preparation for selling your property. Decks are very common areas of concern on the home inspection reports that most buyers obtain as a condition of the purchase contract. These issues, if severe enough, can jeopardize a sale all together or seriously affect your bottom line because these problems are often perceived as huge and costly to the average buyer, prompting demands for large concessions. Addressing the issues prior to listing your home allows you the time to properly plan and evaluate the costs of correction in order to make sound decisions in the negotiation process. Even if you don't actually DO the work ahead of time, having professional advice and estimates are in your best interest. - L

From the Desk of:Deck1
Richard A Hetzel
Architect (NY) & Home Designer (PA)

Well, let’s put it this way…much construction in the Poconos older than a few years is not the best, and decks may top the list of substandard construction.  Those buildings and decks were built when there was no particular building code, and inspection quality varied considerably.  The adoption of the Pennsylvania statewide building code in 2004, and the training of building officials have brought welcome change in quality and enforcement. Let’s look at some of the common problems of older decks.


Starting with the ground, we find many decks which are not built on foundations which extend below the frost line, generally required to be 3 feet 6 inches below the surface.  Such construction risks frost heave, as such decks are commonly built on concrete blocks lying on the surface.

While we’re down there, look at the bottoms of the deck posts.  They should be anchored by galvanized steel or cast aluminum post bases which keep the end of the wood post from contacting the concrete foundation.  The post bases should have an anchor bolt which extends into the concrete.

Moving up a little, the posts themselves are often 4x4 wood, but if the deck is a full story above the ground, 6x6 posts are a better choice.

Then we move up to the girders that support all the deck joists.  There is no way to suggest what these girders should be made up of, because it depends on the exact design loads they are carrying.  The problems in this area arise because many decks were just thrown up by carpenters who simply guessed at the girder requirements.  We frequently see girders with very visible sag or deflection, which may indicate that they are inadequate for the loads.

Deck2 Deck joists may or may not be undersized, and again, we would have to see the specific deck to evaluate them.  Current building codes require that the joists be attached to the girders using “hurricane clips”, inexpensive galvanized steel plates which prevent uplift of the deck in high winds. These were not required on older decks (pre-2004), but are very easy to install on an existing deck.

If your existing deck does not conform to current codes, you cannot be required to update it, unless it was recently built without a permit, when a permit was required.  However, if it has any of the deficiencies described, you may elect to improve it to the extent you feel will be safe and reasonable. Additionally, keep in mind that if you are adding to, or roofing over, or doing any other major changes to your deck, you may be required to bring the entire deck up to current code standards, including footings and foundations.


All the wood used so far in our deck should be pressure treated with preservative, or woods with natural decay resistance such as cedar or redwood.  Older deck lumber was treated primarily with Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA), but this chemical has been phased out for residential use in favor of Alkaline Copper Quat (ACQ). Fasteners used with ACQ must be hot dip galvanized or stainless steel to prevent corrosion.

The decking itself (the “floor”) can be any of several products.  Older lower-quality decks have floors of pressure-treated lumber.  Better decks have cedar floors, and exquisitely expensive decks can have floors of teak or other exotic woods.  There are also several synthetic deck floor products on the market, most made of a combination of recycled plastics and wood fibers.

Surrounding the deck is a railing, which, since 2004, is required to have no space greater than 4 inches in width.  Many older decks have simple two-rail railings which would not meet current codes.  You are generally not required to upgrade older decks to new code requirements, but you may consider it, especially if you have very small children.  Railings can be made of pressure-treated wood, or naturally decay-resistant wood, vinyl, or exotic items like glass or plastic-sheathed cable.  Railings should be 36 inches high.

The place where the deck connects to the house is another potential trouble spot.  Usually a board is fastened to the house, and the deck joists connect to the board.  Very old decks might have a small ledger strip, such as a 2x2 nailed to the board on the house, and the joists rest on the ledger strip.  Newer decks connect the joists to the board with galvanized steel joist hangers.  The board itself should be lag-screwed into the house structure, with ½-inch diameter bolts not more than 32 inches on centers.  Existing decks can easily and inexpensively be retrofitted with both lag-screws and joist hangers, if they do not exist.

Finally, there should be metal flashing with extends up behind the siding, and out over the top of the attachment board.  Many older decks do not have this flashing, but it can be added with moderate expense.


There are many stories of deck collapses, some with tragic consequences, and most could have been avoided with careful inspection and upgrading. Older decks should be checked for the presence of the features described, and missing elements added if possible.  It’s easy to add most of the features, and doing so will improve the safety and longevity of your deck, and you won’t have to “haul the deck” to the garbage dump.

Here’s an excellent link to a good compilation of building code requirements for residential decks.  Building codes change every three years, and the current code may differ somewhat from the linked document, but it won’t be by much.


For information on permits and building requirements in your Monroe County home, contact your municipality.