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Stinky Bugs

Apparently, stink bugs don’t like the cold and will be happy to find a place to roost inside your home this fall. Supposedly, they don’t pose a risk to your health or damage your property, but they provide a good shock when you come upon them unexpectedly.  They look like miniature Klingon aliens from Star Trek.

This bug was accidentally introduced into the United States from China or Japan, by hitching a ride as a stowaway in packing crates or on machinery.  They actually did not make their way to CT, NY, and the Northwest Corner until relatively recently.

The recommendations to keep the bugs out of your house are the same as for general winter maintenance:     

    1) Sealing off little cracks around your home - but most of our homes are so old we could spend a lifetime caulking for little improvement!

    2) Definitely repair storm windows.

    3) Like almost every other bug in my woods, they like light, so turn off outside lights at night.

    4) Finally, make sure there isn’t standing or leaking water outside or in your basement.

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    Election Day - Tuesday, November 6

    Election Day is coming up, this Tuesday, November 6. We are fortunate to have some very capable people running for office in our region,

    Regardless of your political party or stand on any of the issues, Election Day is our chance to vote for the people we think will best represent us.

    To quote President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944:

    "Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves—and the only way they could do that is by not voting at all."

    "The continuing health and vigor of our democratic system depends on the public spirit and devotion of its citizens which find expression in the ballot box."

    "Every man and every woman in this Nation—regardless of party—who have the right to register and to vote, and the opportunity to register and to vote, have also the sacred obligation to register and to vote. For the free and secret ballot is the real keystone of our American Constitutional system."

    Please be sure you take time to vote on Tuesday!

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      Your Mind In The Gutter?

      Probably not, but roof gutters need your attention at least twice a year.

      They need cleaning and care in the spring and fall to work properly.

      If you don’t have a gutter system, your home needs a ground drainage system that will handle rain and snowmelt dripping (and sometimes cascading) from your roof eaves.  Either system prevents a buildup of water at your foundation; this is particularly important for older homes that might not have the advanced waterproofing coatings that have been available for the last several years.

      Gutters and downspouts are meant to carry water away from the house, so the base of each downspout should extend away at ground level for a least six feet. “Splash blocks” only help minimally.  Another solution is in-ground pipes that take water from downspouts away below grade and discharge a safe distance away. These systems also diminish “splash back” from water hitting the ground, which will add life to your siding and trim.

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        What Am I Drinking?

        Well, municipal, or spring water? It may be a good idea to occasionally test the drinking water coming out of your faucet.  It’s one of the home chores you’d like to get ahead of before you end up asking yourself  “I was drinking what?!”

        The Torrington Area Health Department office provides water tests. A basic $135 kit tests for general chemistry, hardness and alkalinity, toxic and heavy metals, nitrate and nitrite, plus Coliform and E. coli. An advanced test ($110+) will include VOCs (volatile organic compounds) such as diesel fuel, home oil fuel, dry cleaning and degreasing chemicals. There is a two-week turnaround.

        There are also companies offering testing online. Tap Score is one endorsed by The Water Systems Council, a governmental group focused on safe well water.  Join their “Wellcare” group for updates, blogs, and discounts on well testing. Tap Score has a 5-day turn around. Their advanced testing kit is $219, or with the “Wellcare” discount, under $200.

        Do-it-yourself kits are also available, as are tests for individual components. It’s such an important test, I’d tend to stick with the professional options.

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          Being Festive!

          Halloween is a perfect time to practice your arts and crafts skills. Whether it is making costumes for the kids or creating a graveyard in your front yard, everyone appreciates your efforts, especially if you let the kids join in.

          Don’t let the pressure of making something perfect stop you because, unless you’re a pro, nothing will be. The heads will be misshapen on your ghosts, the jack-o-lantern may not illuminate the way you saw in Southern Living magazine, and the monster claws you YouTubed and tried to recreate may end up with two right hands. That’s all part of the process and the fun!

          Decorating for the holidays can spread as much revelry as a smile spreads joy. So head out to the nursery and get some mums and cabbage for an autumnal front porch display or to Goodwill for ghost-making materials and let the season inspire you.

          And be sure to take a stroll through the festive towns of Salisbury and Lakeville to view all the scarecrows the businesses have created for some inspiration!

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            Do Solar Panels Add Value To Your House?

            It’s complicated.  Appraisers will not attribute any value to them whether you are buying or selling. Real estate agents never recommend installing panels to make your house more salable.

            Solar panels are a big investment —average installation costs can range from $15,000 to $26,000 which can be reduced by an assortment of rebates and tax credits, depending on your state.  An installer can estimate the number of years to reach break even, but the answer can range from 8 to 15 years to recoup your investment.

            Solar panels will usually save you money immediately on your electricity costs. Some people have seen their electric bill cut in half and feel great that they are helping the planet. While the economics of solar panels are murky, it would be a good idea to turn your thermostat down in the winter and turn out the lights to save energy before you put your house on the market whether or not you have solar panels. Buyers do look at electricity costs.

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              35th Annual Northwest CT Crop Hunger Walk

              The 35th Annual Northwest Connecticut CROP Hunger Walk is this Sunday, Sept. 30. Registration and check-in begin at 1 pm in the Housatonic Valley Regional High School parking lot (246 Warren Turnpike, Falls Village, CT). At 1:30 pm, walkers will begin their 10k trip along the beautiful Housatonic River. Have a dog? Dogs on leashes are welcome!

              The NW CT team page can be found online . On that page, you can create your own team or join an existing one, register as an individual walker, sponsor a walker, or make a donation.

              CROP Hunger Walks support grassroots hunger-fighting efforts around the world. Up to 25% of the funds raised from the NW CT Walk is allocated to hunger-fighting programs in our own local community via the Northwest Connecticut Food Bank. The Food Bank provides food vouchers and gift certificates to area grocery stores for those in need.

              In the past 30 years, participants have raised more than $732,000, with about $200,000 allocated to our local area.

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                Northwest Corner and Tourism

                On my family getaway this past summer, we visited several small fishing towns on the Maine coast. Each town busier than the last, tourists from all over were sightseeing, shopping, and filling themselves with all the deliciousness Maine oceans have to offer.

                I started thinking about home and comparing Maine to our little corner as a getaway for vacationers. We may not have lobster rolls on the menu, but our restaurants can hold their own with any in Maine. And sightseeing? Our NW corner is one of the most beautiful areas in the world. Between the mountains, lakes, and incredible sunsets, it’s a nature enthusiast’s dream come true.

                Which brings me to my next point--shopping. You may have heard that online shopping is going to put retail shops out of business, but I don’t think retail shops will become obsolete. Why? Because shopping is America’s favorite pastime. Show your support to our local shops because we have so many talented owners/buyers running them -- and go shopping!

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                  Air Conditioning an Older Home

                  Many old homes don’t have a convenient space to install ductwork for the traditional central air-conditioning systems found in newer homes.

                  Today there are air-conditioning systems that don’t need the bulky ductwork. Mini-split systems use individual cooling units placed room by room requiring only a thin refrigerant and power line connecting them to an outdoor air-conditioning compressor and fan. They offer an economical compromise: You can install cooling units in just 1 or 2 rooms, creating an oasis to retreat to during the dog days of summer. But make sure your installer chooses a compressor that will allow you to expand at a later date.

                  Another alternative is high-velocity systems which use 2” tubing to deliver chilled air that can be snaked through existing walls and ceilings in an old home to deliver cool air where needed. The registers are unobtrusive discs placed around the perimeter of the ceiling, or high on the walls.

                  A properly sized air-conditioning system is the most important factor for a comfortable home. A professional installer is crucial to comfort; ask to see the sizing calculations for your house.

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                    Buying a View

                    If you intend to clear undeveloped land to open a vista or just to clear a spot for a house, it’s best to look in autumn after the leaves have fallen to check the views, or better yet, in winter when there aren’t any ticks. It’s the best way to see the view.

                    Checking surveys, drone videos, and topographical maps are a critical next step. Before you fix on your future home site and start cutting down trees, check on local regulations about ridgelines, stump and brush removal, etc. and any restrictions if there is a conservation easement on the property.

                    Consult an arborist about the age, types, and health of trees, and have a forester assess their value. Some species, like black walnut, are very valuable and can be selectively harvested and sold. And leaving a few specimen trees is preferable to clear-cutting. The mid-range cost of clearing land can range from $4,000-$7,000 an acre and could rise to over $12,000 if all the stumps are removed and the land reseeded.

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                      Electricity In The Air

                      If you have a lightning strike near your home, it can be a very expensive ordeal. Electricity in the air can randomly strike unprotected electronics in your home.   

                      We had a strike near our house that blew the sound card in my laptop, crippled my bluetooth mouse, shut down the Netgear extender (connected to a professional grade surge protector), and blew the fuse to the spring house. Apparently, my lightning defenses needed updating. The first thing we checked was the ground rods and wires. They had corroded, were painted over, and loosened by gardening and mowing.  Make sure to have a professional review your system periodically.   Second is to think about installing a surge protector designed to attach to the breaker box, cable line, and phone line. The last defense is to have surge protectors for individual items, such as computers and TVs.

                      For personal safety, FEMA reminds us that, during thunderstorms, we should stay off corded phones, computers, and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity. Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths, and faucets, and stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.

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                        Enjoy Our Farmers Markets!

                        Farmers markets are one of the many special perks of living in in the tri-state area.  They offer products ranging from locally-grown fruits and vegetables to organic meat and poultry to vegan food to fresh baked goods to crafts. If you’ve never been to one, there’s still time this summer to check them out!

                        Here is a sampling from our area:

                        Salisbury - Saturdays, 10am-1pm, Scoville Memorial Library lawn. scovillelibrary.org

                        Millerton - Saturdays, 10am-2pm, Millerton Methodist Church at Dutchess & Main. millertonfarmersmarket.org

                        Amenia - Fridays 3-7:30pm, Town Hall parking lot, Rt. 22. ameniafarmersmarket.com

                        West Cornwall - Saturdays 10am-1pm, Wish House lawn. cornwallfarmmarket.org

                        Cornwall - Saturdays 9am–12:30, Town Green on Pine St. cornwallcoopfarmarket.com

                        Norfolk - Saturdays 10am-1pm, 19 Maple Ave., live music.  NorfolkFarmersMarket.org

                        Stop by, enjoy the freshest food, and support your friends, neighbors, and local farmers!

                        Visit our Farmers Market page for a more complete listing of local Farmers Markets.

                         

                         

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                          Habitat Tag Sale This Weekend!

                          This very special, annual event is not to be missed! Incredible deals abound on furniture, home decor, tools, sports equipment, and so much more. Better yet, the proceeds benefit Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Connecticut as they promote home ownership by building houses in partnership with residents in need of adequate, affordable housing.

                          For 2018, the Habitat Tag Sale is back at The Hotchkiss School’s Mars Athletic Center on Route 112 in Lakeville, CT.  The Preview Sale ($10 donation) takes place on Friday, August 10 from 6-8 pm. There is no admission charge for the Main Sale on Saturday, August 11 from 9 am-3pm or on Sunday, August 12 for the Bag Sale from Noon-3 pm.

                          Habitat for Humanity of NW CT has been helping families in our region since 1991. Please help their work continue by supporting this event! For more information, visit habitatnwct.org.

                           

                           

                           

                           

                           

                           

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                            Landscaping -- Added Value To Your Home?

                            Does a landscaped yard add value to your home? The short answer is, it may… I’ll explain. Done correctly, a properly installed landscape can add up to 15% to your home’s value—some sources claim even more.

                            Our local area has an impressive selection of landscape companies whose services range from design to maintenance to installation and everything in between. And just like most home improvement companies, you’re going to get what you pay for.

                            Great selling features of a property are sophisticated and mature plantings with an outdoor space to enjoy them. A negative would be a poorly planned design and unnatural appearing garden beds.

                            If you want to try your hand at landscape design, I would suggest keeping plantings basic using green shrubs, low maintenance perennials, and simple ground covers. Regardless of whether or not you’re adding value to your home, enjoy the process and the beautiful abundance of nature we live in!

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                              Water Softeners and Brine Discharge

                              If you have a water softening system that requires salt pellets, you probably have a small hose that discharges a fluid known as “brine” two or three times a week. This fluid contains minerals and other components that remain from the water softening process and needs disposal for the system to work properly.

                              Where does this fluid go?  Often, this ends up in your waste lines, and ultimately into the sewer or septic system.  No problem if you’re on town sewer, but if you have a septic system, chemicals in the brine can erode your concrete septic tank and other concrete components of the leaching system.

                              The State of CT has never allowed this, but often installers either ignored or weren’t aware of the regulations. Check your system! This is an issue in selling your home, and buyers need to be aware of this concern also.

                              CT adopted new rules for brine discharge recently, and if you’re considering a new water softener, make sure it’s installed correctly.

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                                Black Bears Everywhere?

                                According to a report from the CT Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection, from May 2017-June 2018, the black bear population loves suburban areas. The numbers are a bit skewed as a suburbanite is more likely to call in than someone living in the country. Farmington reported 403 sightings, while Avon reported 427.  In contrast, Norfolk reported 77, Sharon 74, Salisbury 71, Cornwall 44, and Falls Village 1! We just don’t report them. I’ve seen too many to count recently. We had a young adult scratching at the office door last week (which we didn’t call in to report). I only reported the one who had the nerve to come into my house!

                                There are helpful tips on the CT DEEP website, e.g. bring bird feeders inside and don’t put sweets in your compost. The tip to get into your car if you encounter a bear while hiking made me smile—as if I am in proximity to my vehicle in the middle of the woods! The suggestion to be aggressive and on the offensive if a bear charges you is counterintuitive to every instinct I have, so I’m glad to know that now. I’m definitely a runner and that’s the wrong thing.

                                For more black bear info, visit CT.gov/DEEP.

                                 

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                                  Is a Smart Home a Smart Move?

                                  There are some wonderful devices available  to make our homes “smarter”—from adaptive thermo-stats, to smart home speakers that use artificial intelligence to provide services and information, to doors that you can unlock and lock from afar with your smart phone.   

                                  But what is the cost of this convenience? There are clearly privacy issues. Gadgets can be susceptible to hacking as proven when a British security researcher installed malware on an Amazon Echo turning it into a surveillance device.Sophisticated thieves have been known to hack smart home gadgets leaving no evidence of their break in.

                                  In Oregon, an Echo device “thought” it heard the “wake word” to record and send a message to a contact, leading to a disturbing mistake. In real estate, there are reports that some sellers have used their security systems to watch or listen to potential buyers visiting their home. So weigh the pluses and minuses before you go full on high tech!

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                                    Are You a Lakefront Buyer?

                                    Lakes are sociable places and attract people who like visitors, friends, and family. A house on a lake is much more public than a house in the woods or surrounded by fields. Every lake, like each town, has a personality.

                                    Sporty Copake Lake and Twin Lakes allow water skiing and motorboats. Lake Wononscopomuc, aka Lakeville Lake, Connecticut’s deepest natural lake, is quiet, with motorboats restricted to 10 HP or less and no jet skis. Sailing, canoeing, paddle boarding, and kayaking are popular in the summer with skating and cross country skiing in the winter.

                                    Each lake has its own special zoning restrictions. Lakefront properties command a high purchase premium, even in less expensive markets like Pine Plains. In Salisbury, lakefront can add up to a million dollars to market value; however, these properties appear to maintain their value even during real estate downturns. Ponds, rivers, and access to a lake do not command the same premium.

                                    Just remember that they aren’t making any more lakefront.

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                                      Killer Vines

                                      There are numerous species of vines which grow on trees and slowly strangle them. Vines on older trees compete with tree roots and rob them of moisture and nutrients. If the vines aren’t removed, there is a good chance the tree will fall.

                                      The goal is to kill vines without damaging the tree. To do this, sever the vines around the base of the affected tree. Do not try to pull the vines from the trunk or limbs of the tree—you risk severely damaging or even removing the bark. The vines will wither and die once cut. Tip: Use gloves and protective clothing in order to avoid skin reactions from the vines.

                                      Once the vines have been cut, pull the roots up. This is easiest to do when soil is moist from watering or rainfall. Clear out a ring of about two feet around the tree. Mulch this area about two inches thick, keeping it three inches from the tree trunk.

                                      If you need help getting vines removed, your local tree professional will be able to assist you in preserving your tree, and eliminating future growth.

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                                        Getting Your House Ready To Sell

                                        Getting ready to put your house on the market?

                                        Here are some tips:

                                        First, find a real estate agent who is best suited to your needs. Most agents will have testimonials and biographies on their website or professional platforms. You will be working closely with this person, so choose someone that you feel is a good match to your needs and desired outcomes.

                                        Next, declutter your house, removing all personal items, creating a space that is neutral, clean and bright. Consider hiring a home stager if you don’t have a knack for home decorating.

                                        Repair anything broken, take care of scuffed paint, and consider updating any faded/outdated colors, keeping colors neutral to allow potential buyers to envision their own decor.

                                        To avoid delays when you have an interested buyer, make sure the house is inspection ready.         

                                        Make the outside of your home look welcoming—first impressions are everything! Adding a little color with annuals or holiday decor goes a long way. 

                                        And did I mention you should clean your house? If this isn’t your strength, call in a professional. It will be worth it in the long run.

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