Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) and Zinsco Breaker Panels in Many Older Homes Are Considered a Fire Hazard

A recent email from Alpine Building Performance LLC addressed an issue which is well known to long-time real estate brokers like those of us at Golden Real Estate, and worth sharing with owners of older homes. If your home has a Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) or Zinsco breaker panel, you can expect it to be an expensive inspection issue raised by your buyer’s inspector. Here’s the full email message from Alpine’s owner, Andrew Sams:

What is the cost to replace one of those electrical panels? The blog post suggests a price range of $4,000-$7,000, but my clients have seen much lower prices from the electricians I have recommended. In a typical home, the replacements I have overseen for my clients were in the $2,000 to $3,000 range using my lone eagle electricians.

Follow-up on Last Week’s Post About Potting Soil Being a Fire Hazard

From reader Jim Borland:

Yes, nitrogen fertilizer can be used to make a bomb à la Oklahoma City bombing, though I doubt that the nitrogen fertilizer in Miracle Gro’s potting mix contributed much if anything to the fire that resulted from the insertion of a cigarette butt into the soil. What you missed in taking a picture of the package was the other part of the contents besides the fertilizer. All potting soils these days are made of synthetic products including those made by Miracle Gro. In the case of this particular potting mix it consists of forest products (shredded and chipped wood and bark), coir (shredded coconut husks), composts, peat, sphagnum peat moss, perlite and wetting agent.

All but the perlite and wetting agent are flammable, especially when dry. In this case the soil was undoubtedly not moistened as most soils are that have live plants in them. The nitrogen part of the fertilizer is contained within prills or small plastic coated spheres, here called Osmocote, that release nitrogen with each watering. After a couple of waterings the nitrogen is gone, leaving only the plastic capsule behind. Even with no fertilizer, this and other artificial soils are flammable, and care must be taken when located in a place convenient for snuffing out cigarettes. 

Did You Know? Potting Soil Presents a Fire Hazard

Earlier this month, a Jefferson County home almost burned down. Thanks to a quick response by the local fire department, damage was contained and is estimated at $30-50,000.

Here’s what happened, as documented by surveillance cameras: A person tried to put out a cigarette by sticking it in the soil of an indoor potted plant. Unfortunately, the plant was in potting soil that contained nitrogen, and within a few hours the soil started smoking and quite suddenly burst into flames.

When told of this, David Dlugasch, one of our broker associates, told me that the exact same scenario caused his own house which he had sold in Gunnison to be burned to the ground the day after he sold it.

This issue was new to me, so I wanted to share it with readers. Below is a picture I took of the ingredients in a commonly available potting soil. Nowhere on the package does it mention that it is flammable and could cause a house fire.

The “helpful hardware man” at Ace told me he was aware of the danger and reminded me that nitrogen fertilizer can be used to create a bomb, as in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Comcast’s TV Remote Can Be Programmed to Have a 30-Second Fast Forward Button

Last week I complained that Comcast’s remote, unlike Dish Network’s & DirecTV’s, does not have a button for skipping forward 30 seconds on recorded programs. A reader sent me instructions for reprogramming the 5-minute FF button to 30 seconds. Briefly, to enable a 30-second skip, do the following: “While watching a channel, press the Exit button thrice. Press 0030 on the keypad.”  Click here for more detailed instructions.

Here Are Some Ways to Make Your Home More Accommodating to Seniors

Even if you live in a home with stairs, there are ways to make your home more senior-friendly, so you can age in place instead of moving.

Stairs are the single biggest reason that most seniors want to downsize into a ranch or patio home, but almost any staircase can accommodate a stair elevator — a chair which can transport you from one floor to the next, even around curves. We had a stair elevator on the stairs to our basement in the ranch home we sold last year. We used it mostly for transporting heavy items to and from the basement, including those big purchases from Costco which didn’t fit in our kitchen cabinets or pantry. The seat on a stair elevator folds up so you can walk past it easily.

Some new homes are built with 4-foot square closets one above the other which could be sacrificed later on to install an elevator. If you’re having a custom home built, consider that idea. Even if you never make that conversion, it’s a feature that could raise your home’s resale value.

A handyman can often design and build ramps onto your front porch, into your back yard or from your attached garage into the home.

Rita and I are big fans of “chair height” toilets, which cost no more than regular toilets and can be swapped out by a handyman, making it a pretty affordable enhancement. A handyman can also install grab bars in multiple places around your home, especially in bathrooms.

Other easy and affordable improvements could include installing lever door handles to replace door knobs. Another might be to install a video door bell so you can see who’s at your door from your chair (or from afar when on vacation — a stranger ringing your bell wouldn’t know you’re not home).

There are also internet-connected electric deadbolts which you can lock or unlock using a smartphone. Speaking of security, you can also install internet-connected cameras which not only give you a live view of your interior or exterior spaces but also store that video in the “cloud” for later viewing or sharing.

You might have the handyman install motion-sensing light switches in your garage or bathrooms to turn on those lights when you enter. A photocell light switch can turn on your porch light at sunset. You can purchase both types of those switches at any hardware store.

One reader suggests a countertop microwave oven as being more convenient than a wall-mounted one for a wheelchair-bound senior. 

For bathing, you can buy a walk-in bathtub, but that’s a pretty expensive improvement that won’t necessarily improve your home’s resale value. It could even hurt it. Most seniors prefer a shower, and one that you can roll into is best.  At least build a walk-in shower with a bench and hose attachment.

A home with zero outside maintenance is ideal for seniors, but “patio homes” are few and far between and sell quickly when they come on the market. I’ve had clients lose bidding wars for a patio home.

The primary feature of a patio home is that the HOA takes care of all outside maintenance, mowing unfenced front and back yards, removing snow up to your garage door and porch/front door, trimming trees and bushes, etc. Many patio home HOAs even take responsibility for repainting your home’s exterior on a schedule (typically 6 years) and have a master insurance policy covering the structure and your roof. You purchase renter’s insurance instead of homeowner’s insurance.

No patio home? You can hire vendors to mow your lawn and shovel the snow. We had a wonderful Vietnamese family which not only mowed our lawn as needed but did a spring and fall yard cleanup for a reasonable fee. Of course, now that we live in an apartment, we have none of those expenses, and I’m a big advocate of doing what we did — cash out by selling your home if it will produce enough cash to live out your remaining years.

‘Cord Cutting’ Becomes More Common; Here’s Our Story

Over the years, Rita and I have bounced around from cable TV to DirecTV to Dish Network because of the astounding increases in monthly fees. Add some premium channels and the cost can approach $200/month, which is $2,400 per year, just for TV!  Perhaps your story is similar.

A year ago, when Rita and I moved into a 55+ rental that only offers Comcast TV and doesn’t allow satellite dishes, we finally did what so many have done before us: we abandoned both cable and satellite TV, or “cut the cord,” as it’s called.

So now we only stream, and our primary TV provider now is YouTube TV, not to be confused with YouTube. And I recommend it as an affordable solution. We get all the channels we were getting before, both local and cable.

We have Comcast/Xfinity for our home internet, which is a business expense for me, and their basic internet speed is fast enough for streaming YouTube TV (which is $64.99/mo.) and Netflix.

I love two things about YouTube TV. First, it has unlimited cloud DVR storage. (No equipment for us; just connect to our WiFi signal.)  Second, like Netflix, I can watch it on my laptop, phone or iPad, such as at the office or when I’m traveling anywhere in the U.S. (I watched some Denver programs while I was in Hawaii recently.) Rita can watch one program while I’m watching another.

We don’t watch any programs live anymore, because we want to fast forward through commercials. We preferred Dish and DirecTV over Comcast because they have a 30-second fast forward button. Comcast has no such button. YouTube TV has a 15-second button, which is good enough. Here’s a screenshot of from logging in to YouTube TV just now:

Each of those programs (and countless others) are recorded online and we never have to worry about running out of DVR space.