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Frost Advisory!

Winter is almost officially here and that means our weather apps will be showing us more of those little snowflake icons and sub-freezing temperatures.

I say let’s embrace the seasonal change and make a list of simple tasks that will ensure our preparedness for the white stuff, and create a cozy and more efficient home. Check your shovels, snow blowers, and scrapers. Get those driveway stakes in the ground early and mark your propane tank so it can be found under the snow! Fill the oil tank and get your wood delivered. Check your windows and doors for any gaps that may allow warm air to escape.

If you’re not naturally handy (like me), watch a YouTube video  - "How To Use a Caulk Gun" - it’s easier than you think. A fresh bead of silicone around leaky windows and improved weather stripping around a door can really make a difference. Call the pros to assist with the important tasks like servicing the furnace, cleaning the chimney and your gutters. Disconnect and store garden hoses and drain the water lines.

Then buy your ski passes, dig out your Yaktrax, and check the laces on your ice skates!

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    Holidays in the Northwest Corner

    December flies by so quickly for most of us, especially if you have little ones or are entertaining family from out of town for the holiday season. The Northwest Corner oers an abundance of activities to keep spirits high during the holidays.

    Throughout the month, one can find holiday markets which feature local artisans, wreath-making workshops, musical events at our local theatres, tree lightings, and parades, along with botanical gardens illuminated for festivities such as Santa visits and much more. You can also visit your local library for special events including author lectures, story time, and holiday movies for children.

    For more specific information about your town’s tree lighting and festivities, check out Compass (Lakeville Journal/Millerton News) for the most up-to-date listings and enjoy the season!

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      Electronic Pest Control

      What could sound better? Instead of trying to catch something already inside your home, why not try to deter it from entering in the first place? The challenge is finding a reliable product.  There are so many electronic “ultrasound” devices flooding the market that it’s hard to know which one, if any, works.      

      There was a very funny headline from a September court case where the judge ruled against the manufacturer. “Judge cites pictures of mice resting on pest control device in ruling.” Apparently, the frequency of the device determines its effectiveness.

      An exterminator recently explained to me that if you set the device at an incorrect frequency, you could be luring mice inside! It seems that there is a frequency targeted to each particular pest. Do your homework and research which frequency is needed to deter which pest, then Google to see which ultrasonic device provides that frequency. 

      Avoid any device that claims it serves to deter all pests. Also handle with care, as the devices are delicate, and any jostling could impact preset frequencies.

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        Getting Ready for Winter

        As the beautiful fall season has apparently come to an end in the Northwest Corner of Connecticut and surrounds, it is the perfect time to prepare your house for winter. 

        Here are a few things you should have on your checklist:

        1) Order good, seasoned firewood.

        2) Have your gutters cleaned after the leaves have fallen.

        3) Have your chimney swept and inspected. It should be cleaned every one to three years depending on how many fires you have.

        4) Have your furnace serviced and filters changed.

        5) Rather than rake your leaves, use a mulching mower which is better for your lawn.

        6) Trim the branches of any large trees that might pose a danger to your home in a winter storm.

        Then sit back and enjoy the winter and snow!

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          Get To Know Your Assessor

          Your local town assessor determines the tax assessment on your home. This assessed value is used as the basis for calculating local government property taxes and school taxes you must pay.

          Check the assessor’s office hours and visit or call to understand the public information they have available—both online and in their office files. Here are links to a few assessor offices in the Northwest Corner: Salisbury CT, Sharon CT, Falls Village (Canaan) CT, Canaan (N. Canaan) CT, Cornwall CT, and Millerton (Town of Northeast), NY).

          You should make sure that the assessor has accurate up to date facts on your own property’s features, structures, land, and zoning. You may be overpaying for land or a patio you don’t own.

          If you feel your assessed property value is excessive, discuss adjusting the assessment and avoid going through the annual public grievance process. Assessors can also give you an idea of what is happening in the real estate market and provide you with recent sales figures.

          Most importantly, assessors can advise you on the availability of agricultural, forestry, veterans, seniors, and other exemptions that you might qualify to receive. These exemptions could lower your assessment and your tax bill every year. It’s worth a visit to get to know these experienced professionals.

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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

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                        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

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                            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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