Common House Related Questions And The Answers!

Q: How does room orientation impact natural light?

A: The short answer is that room orientation significantly impacts the kind and quality of natural light a room gets. Pay attention when house hunting.

Natural light - or lack thereof - can play a large part in determining how much one likes a room or a home. Consciously or unconsciously, one is impacted by the level of light. As LA Realtor Matthew Gaskill says, "Light profoundly influences how a person perceives the surroundings and whether the environment affords relaxation, pleasantness, privacy, spaciousness, complexity, and/or visual clarity."

Gaskill has written an excellent blog post on natural light. There, he says the following:

"North-facing rooms are the darkest in the home with diffuse, shadowless, and slightly grayish or neutral light most of the day and year. Most painters prefer to use this light because it is more constant than direct sunlight. Everything in the space will appear and feel cooler on a color spectrum, so it is important to add warm hues through paint and accents to make the room feel welcoming.

South-facing rooms are the brightest in the house, with the daylight being dominant from late morning to mid-afternoon. These spaces, like north-facing rooms, have consistent light all day, but with crisp strong shadows and beams of light. The warm bright light tends to render colors accurately, even to the point of intensifying any color placed within it. Softer tones are preferred here unless you love the energizing effect of intense hues.

East-facing rooms are brightest in the morning, with a light of low altitude and casting long soft shadows. The morning light can vary from a grey-yellow to bright and white, which tends to wash out color. It is important to determine what time of day east-facing rooms will be used and what importance natural light will play. If the function of the room lends itself to afternoon or evening use, a warm palette will help balance the lack of natural light. A saturated palette is usually preferred.

West-facing rooms have their strongest light in the late afternoon and early evening with a light of a a rich gold-orange hue. The light can penetrate deep into a structure and at times be overwhelming. If the space will be used toward the end of the day, you will definitely want cool tones here for balance. Morning use of a west-facing room means more warm tones can be used without the risk of being overwhelming."

Q: What is radon?

A: What is radon?

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. The ground produces the gas through the normal decay of uranium and radium. As it decays, radon produces new radioactive elements called radon daughters or decay products which scientists have proven to cause lung cancer. Concentrations of radon gas are measured as "picocuries per liter" (pCi/l). The EPA recommends that if a radon test results in a reading greater than 4 pCi/l, remedial measures ought to be taken to lower the average annual exposure to radon.

I work in the Cambridge and Somerville market. It is fairly typical for a buyer in the Cambridge and Somerville market to include a radon contingency to test for radon when the property has finished space on the lower level. Here is what a radon contingency looks like in an offer:

Almost always, the radon test is completed prior to the execution of the purchase and sale agreement. Radon testing is usually organized by the home inspector. The two common ways to test for radon are the following:
1) Radon test vials are left in place at the subject property for 48 hours and then mailed to the lab for test results. It usually takes several days for the test vials to arrive via the mail and then a few more days for the lab results to become available. Typically, they are posted online and accessible with a code.
2) A machine that monitors for radon is set up at the subject property for 48 hours. The machine produces a report detailing the radon levels during test period. Results are available immediately at the end of the 48 hour test period.

If there is a high radon reading, radon mitigation is necessary. As noted above, the EPA recommends that if a radon test results in a reading greater than 4 pCi/l, remedial measures should be taken to lower the average annual exposure to radon. In a real estate transaction in the Cambridge and Somerville market, a radon mitigation system almost always falls on the seller's plate and is a seller expense. The solution involves hiring a radon remediation company to install a radon mitigation system. The installed mitigation system increases the home's air ventilation and reduces the radon level. No two properties are the same and the cost varies. In my experience it usually costs several thousand dollars to install a radon mitigation system.

Q: What is Energy Star?

A: The answer is found on the ENERGY STAR website:

ENERGY STAR is the government-backed symbol for energy efficiency helping us all save money and protect the environment through energy-efficient products and practices. Products can earn the ENERGY STAR label by meeting the energy efficiency requirements set forth in ENERGY STAR product specifications. EPA establishes these specifications based on the following set of key guiding principles:

  • Product categories must contribute significant energy savings nationwide.
  • Certified products must deliver the features and performance demanded by consumers, in addition to increased energy efficiency.
  • If the certified product costs more than a conventional, less-efficient counterpart, purchasers will recover their investment in increased energy efficiency through utility bill savings, within a reasonable period of time.
  • Energy efficiency can be achieved through broadly available, non-proprietary technologies offered by more than one manufacturer.
  • Product energy consumption and performance can be measured and verified with testing.
  • Labeling would effectively differentiate products and be visible for purchasers.

Click here to watch a video on Energy Star.

Q: What are the dimensions of my mattress?

A: That's a good question - and one that can come up when you are house hunting and examining bedrooms and thinking about room size.

Twin mattress (sometimes called a single mattress).
Twin mattress dimensions are approximately 38 inches wide and 75 inches long.

Full size mattress (sometimes called a double mattress).
Full size mattress dimensions are approximately 53 inches wide and 75 inches long.
Queen size mattress.
Queen size mattress dimensions are 60 inches wide by approximately 80 inches long.
King size mattress.
King size mattress dimensions are 76 inches wide by approximately 80 inches long.
California king size mattress.
California king size mattress dimensions are 72 inches wide by 84 inches long – 4 inches narrower and 4 inches longer than a regular king.

Remember that your mattress is likely going to have a headboard and rest on frame, and you need to add inches for that as well when imagining how a bed will fit into a space.

Q: With paint,
what is the difference between
flat, matte, eggshell, satin,
semi-gloss and high-gloss?

A: With regard to paint, what is the difference between flat, matte, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss and high-gloss? Melissa Dalton's blog post on Curbed answers this question beautifully. Check out A Guide to Paint Sheens, from Glossy to Matte.

Q: What makes up a window?

A: The short answer is the window glass and the window frame.

There is a lexicon for the elements or parts of a window. Recently, I came across an excellent blog post on HGTV on the anatomy of a window that it is really worth reading.

Key window terms are the following:

Sash - The sash is the frame that consists of the rails running along the top and bottom and the stiles on the sides. The sash holds the glass in place.

Glazing - Glazing refers to the glass in the window frame. It can be single, double or triple thicknesses with air spaces in between. Double and triple glazing is the most energy efficient. Most older windows are single glazed. Most newer windows are double glazed. Windows that are double glazed have two layers of glass with a space between them, and they are designed to reduce heat loss and exclude noise.

Windowsill - Also known as the stool, this part of the window protrudes out like a shelf on the bottom of the window into the interior of the house.

Casing - Casing is the horizontal and vertical molding that surrounds the entire window. It covers the space between the window and the wall. It can be installed inside or outside the house and provides a finished look.

Q: What is the most popular kitchen countertop?

A: Once upon a time, it was granite. Now, it's quartz, otherwise known as engineered stone!

Apartment Therapy has a great blog post on quartz that will answer most all of your basic questions about quartz (engineered stone) countertops. I am seeing them more frequently in new renovations in Cambridge and Somerville. When we renovated our own Cambridge kitchen, we chose Caesarstone (a type of engineered stone) for the countertop and have been very happy with our choice. We even used Caesarstone for our vanity top in our recent bathroom renovation. As the Apartment Therapy blog post on quartz notes, "If you want the look, but not the maintenance, of natural materials like soapstone or marble, quartz is an attractive alternative. It used to only be available as a solid color, or flecked, depending on how coarsely the quartz was ground during the fabrication process. If you liked a very minimalist, manufactured look this was fine, but the overall effect was rather cold and impersonal and didn't resonate with customers. Today, technology can produce quartz with organic-looking variations that resemble real substances found in nature. This makes a huge difference in the look and feel of a room."

Q: What is the most popular choice for hardwood flooring?

A: The short answer is oak and maple.

In my market - Cambridge and Somerville, Massachusetts - oak is definitely the most popular choice for hardwood flooring, with maple a distant second. Other hardwood flooring types we see in Cambridge and Somerville are pine, fir, bamboo, Brazilian cherry and birch - and still others. There are actually a lot of types when it comes to hardwood floors!

Recently, I discovered an amazing online resource all about hardwood floors - There's not much that Debbie Gartner - The Flooring Girl - does not know about hardwood floors. Go girl! In particular, I recommend you check out her post on The Most Popular Choices for Hardwood Flooring.

Q: What are the different types of roofing materials?

A: The most common types of roofing materials in residential real estate are
• Asphalt shingles
• Rubber (for flat roofs)
• Slate and tile
• Wood shakes and cedar shingles
• Metal

In Cambridge and Somerville, asphalt shingle roofs are most common for pitched roofs. Most of the flat roofs here are made of rubber.

Angie's List has put together
a useful blog post on types of roofing

Q: What are the most common types of siding for homes?

AIn the market I work in - Cambridge and Somerville, Massachusetts - wood and vinyl siding are the most common. Many developers doing whole house renovations favor fiber cement siding - it has the look and feel of wood, but it is lower maintenance. Check out this post on Siding Estimator to learn more about the pros and cons for each type of siding for a home.

Q: What are the common types of home insulation?

A: The short answer is the following:

Blankets of Insulation (Fiberglass and Rockwool)

Blown In Insulation (Cellulose and Fiberglass)

Spray Foam Insulation (Open and Closed Cell)

Foam Board Insulation (EPS, XPS and ISO)

Corey Binford has an excellent overview of the types of insulation on his website - see Types of Insulation.

And here's a nice video introduction to insulation from the folks at This Old House.

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