28 September 2011

Open House Chicago, Oct 15 - 16

Chicago Opens Its Doors 
Following in the footsteps of a growing number of cities around the world—including London, Melbourne, Barcelona, Dublin, Toronto, New York or Denver—Chicago will launch its own Open House weekend October 15 and 16. 

Emil Bach house (1915), by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo © Caroline Stevens
 Sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Open House Chicago offers architecture buffs the chance to see, free of charge, more than 100 sites, including many that are normally off-limits to the public.
Details and a list of upcoming Open House events worldwide, for the Globetrotter in you, here.

An Open House event also takes place nationwide (!) throughout Germany every year in June, next time June 23 and 24, 2012. More about that here.

Via Arch Record Daily

26 September 2011

Vote for Kronish House / Modernism lecture in Fort Lauderdale Sep 29

  • Please vote for the Kronish-house by Richard Neutra (below) as Wall Street Journal's "house of the week". Your vote counts! A status update on the Kronish house demolition alert is here.

23 September 2011

Slideshow: customizing a modular home

From the NYT, an interesting and appetizing slideshow on how one couple customized a–somewhat modernist–modular home. Enjoy!

– In the meantime over at ModernSouthFlorida.com: the newest housing data for SE Florida for August.

16 September 2011

Security Check for (Modern) Homes V: Security Systems

Another missive from the Dept. "Boring but Useful" – an overview of home security systems:

Home security systems can provide a powerful deterrent. They send the message that yours isn't the weakest house on the block and give crooks a strong incentive to target another place.

You'll pay about $35 to $75 a month in monitoring fees for that peace of mind, but home security systems also save you money: Insurers will shave 5% to 20% off your premiums every year you own your home. With an average national premium of $800, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, that means a basic security system can pay for itself in as little as three years.

Before you call a pro

Sign me up, you say. Not so fast. Before you call an installer, take the time to give your doors, windows, and other entry points a thorough once-over (see posts I - IV, links in the right column). It doesn't pay to install new security equipment if you need to upgrade your doors and locks. Once you've completed your security audit and addressed the places where your house is most vulnerable, it's time to get estimates from security companies.

Security system basics

Home security systems typically consist of a keypad mounted in the entryway that communicates with smaller contact sensors and motion detectors attached to doors and windows around the house. The brains of the system--the control panel--is installed in the attic or utility room.

If an intruder breaks a window or kicks in a door, the sensor sends signals to the control panel, which in turn uses your phone line to contact an off-site monitoring station staffed by security personnel. (It also sets off an ear-splitting siren.) Staffers ring the house right away and prompt you or your family members to provide a password. If there's no response, or if the person who picks up the phone gives the incorrect password, they'll notify local law enforcement.

System setup and monitoring costs

Equipment costs vary widely, from around $250 to as much as $700, depending on the options you choose. Some security companies may offer a basic package at a deep discount, or even for free, just to get your business.

After all, they make their real money on the monthly monitoring fee, which ensures that someone is keeping an eye on your home 24/7, even when you're not around or out of town.

Choosing an installer

You may have a choice between hiring a national firm or a local company. Do you want the monitoring center to be in an entirely different state or just around the corner? The national firms boast that their call centers are fully redundant, which means if a center in OshKosh loses power, the center in Vancouver can pick up the slack.

Nevertheless, some home-security pros, like Chris McGoey, of Los Angeles-based McGoey Security Consulting, think it's better to go with local installers, who may have more experience with the equipment than a representative of a large national firm.

"Choose someone in your area who's been in the business at least 10 years," he says. If you go local, however, it's smart to quiz your provider about what provisions it has made in case, say, a blizzard shuts down power or a bug going around your local schools sidelines half their staff.

Wired or wireless?

Installing a basic system usually takes a pro about three hours. If you're building a new house or an addition, you have the luxury of running the wires through open walls. Retrofitting an older home takes more time, because the installer will have to snake wires for the keypad and control panel though existing walls. (Sensors can be wired or wireless.)

A typical approach is to run all wires into the attic or utility room, and tie them into the main electric box and the local phone company line. A battery backup is usually available in case you lose power.

Another option is to go completely wireless. In this case, every component of the system, including the keypad and control panel, houses its own AAA or lithium battery that provides just enough power to enable it to communicate with a remote cellular network. If you're a mobile-only family without a hard-wired phone line, have a VOIP phone, or if you live in an older house, you might be a good candidate for a wireless system. You'll need to check if this technology is available in your area. If it is, you may pay slightly more to install it.

A world of add-ons

Sensors or detectors can be added to the system to address just about any household danger, from fire to flood to carbon monoxide poisoning. Elderly homeowners can even get a wearable "panic button" that will communicate with the control panel in case they fall or need assistance.

"Consumers want these extras," says Bob Tucker, a spokesman for ADT Security, an industry leader. Just bear in mind that each add-on will up the cost of the system and push your monthly monitoring fee toward the top end of the range.

The weakest link: You

Burglars don't defeat security systems; homeowners do. If you view the system as a nuisance, or only use it when you're away on vacation, you're more likely to forget how to operate it and inadvertently trigger a false alarm. That can result in fines from your local law enforcement agency. Resolve to learn how to arm your system, use it daily, and teach your kids as well.

Report your new installation to your insurance company to claim your discounted premium. And don't forget to affix stickers and signs broadcasting your new system in your windows and front yard. "That's 90% of the deterrent right there," says McGoey. "That sign in your yard tells an intruder that he could potentially set off an alarm."
©HouseLogic; article by Joseph D'Agnese, journalist and book author who has written numerous articles on home improvement. He lives in North Carolina.

03 September 2011

Happy Labor Day Weekend!

Outside Port Everglades/Fort Lauderdale, FL, February 2011. Photo© tckaiser

02 September 2011

DIY Security Check for (Modern) Homes IV: Home Office

Making a home 100% burglar-proof is not totally impossible, but it would be outrageously expensive and overshoot the target (more on that in an upcoming post–stay tuned).

Certainly a professional home security system can prevent losses.

But you better also prepare for burglars once they entered your house. Not taking a few extra steps – by protecting personal data, computer equipment, electronics and such from theft, fire and other dangers – is asking for trouble. Let’s highlight the hot spots:

Make sure you're insured

Take a look around your office. Are you properly insured for all of your equipment and possessions? Don't assume that your umbrella homeowner's policy is sufficient. Most policies will cover replacement of computers only up to a specific dollar amount, say $1,000 or $2,500. You'll bear the rest of the cost, unless you add a rider to your existing policy. (Riders tend to be inexpensive; you may pay an extra $50 a year to cover all your camera equipment, for example.)

Equipment that you use solely for business may not be covered at all by your homeowner's policy, necessitating a separate commercial policy. The cost of these policies varies widely, depending on the type of work you do and the value of the items. Equipment on loan from your employer, such as an office laptop, should be covered under your employer's policy.

Back it up–twice!

There are two types of computers users: those who lost data and those who will loose data.

So are you are currently backing up your data to an external hard drive? If you are, good for you. But you can't rest there. If you lost both computer and backup drive to theft or fire, you'd be SOL (...out of luck). Use a cloud-based storage such as DropBox, Wuala, Spideroak or Sugarsync, or a service like CrashPlan, which charges $100 a year to constantly back up all your critical data to a remote server.

Another inexpensive option is off-site storage, where you back up to a rotating number of external hard drives, such as small portable a 1 TB (T stands for truckload of storage... just kidding) USB3 drive by WD, recently offered at Costco for $89. Keep at least one drive always off-site, means in another location not afflicted by the chaos that befell your house.

Paper documents are slightly trickier than the digital variety, because they're usually one-of-a-kind. That's why important data–insurance policies, Social Security cards, passports, auto titles, a list of your family's credit card numbers, etc.–should be stored off-site in a safe deposit box ($50 to $75 a year), or in a fireproof safe bolted to your basement slab. Better is to scan these documents as a PDF to keep them handy, but be sure to back up the digital versions, too.

Bear in mind that digital media, such as DVDs and CDs, can still melt in a fireproof safe. Media safes constructed by companies such as FireKing are built to block heat transfer, but only for a certain time and you'll pay for the extra protection. A 650-pound, 1.5-cubic-foot safe that can hold 140 CDs might run you $3,000; smaller ones that hold 20 CDs cost about $400. (I have once seen a whole house burn down, and I bet a safe with 2 or 4 hours of fire protection won’t cut it. That’s why I prefer off-site storage).

Avoid data and identity theft

Backups are fine, but they won't keep prying eyes off your data if your computer is stolen. Most computers have built-in security features--controlled via their system preferences panel--that you probably aren't using. For example, you can drag your most sensitive data into a single password-protected folder. And you should, by all means, "disable automatic login" so the computer can't boot up or wake up from sleep without a password.

If you want to go whole hog, activate your built-in encryption program (comes with Mac OS X as well as Windows 7) or install a third-party program such as the free download TrueCrypt that will scramble every file on your computer. Without the password, no one can access a single file.

The downside: If you lose or forget the password, adios data. If you're not comfortable with high-tech data security measures, then the best advice is probably the simplest: Install a solid office door with a good lock. And don't forget the office windows (see previous installment).

Protect against power surges

Electronic equipment that you use every day should be plugged into surge protectors ($40 and up). These devices, which look like high-end power strips, guard against occasional fluctuations in electricity coming from your local power company, or from electrical appliances cycling on and off inside the house.

Surge protectors can't make up for improper wiring or insufficient power coming into the house. If you're unsure of your home's power capacity, consider hiring an electrician to do a wiring inspection. Ask him to check how many amps your electrical panel carries (200 amps is typical of most modern homes).

Even if a wiring upgrade isn't in order, ask him to clamp a whole-house surge protector onto your electrical panel and to any other incoming transmission lines, such as cable or data lines. These units, which cost between $200 and $300 installed, can stop a 40,000-amp surge in its tracks.

Not even a top-of-the-line surge protector, however, can guard against a direct lighting strike. As an added measure, unplug all sensitive appliances during a lightning storm, or if you're leaving your home for a lengthy period of time.
Next installment: Home surveillance.

Have a happy and relaxed Labor Day weekend!

Based on an article series by Joseph D'Agnese, journalist and book author who lives in North Carolina, for the National Association of Realtors®.