Technology gives homeowners an extra eye to help keep their children and property safe

Keeping an eye on your children, your property and your valuables around the home can be a lot easier today if you have another set of eyes.

The eyes of security cameras.

Mention the words “security camera” and most people think of banks, stores and office buildings. And until the last few years, only estate-size homes tended to be outfitted with cameras.

But a number of factors societal, financial and technological have changed that.

Home security cameras don’t just check on intruders anymore. They’re used as much to keep an eye on children. That’s where the “secure” in security comes in. Busy parents who have to do something around the house while the kids are in another room can feel secure if they can check in through a camera. New parents could use a security camera to keep an eye on a sleeping baby.

Cameras often are used at the front door or a front gate.

Residential security cameras have become increasingly popular in two states California and Florida because of an increasing number of gate entries.
Price is one of the most important factors in the growing popularity of security cameras. A basic system, with one camera near the front door and a monitor, costs from $900 to $1,000. A more complex system can run from $2,000 to $5,000 and up.

Those prices might seem high, but in a survey by Builder magazine  the official publication of the National Association of Home Builders trade group  more than half the shoppers queried said they would pay $1,500 or more for a home-security system.

Technological improvements in residential security cameras also have made them more popular.

They’ve gotten smaller. They don’t have to be the big, old clunky things you used to see. They can be very subtle, blending in with a home.

Picture clarity has certainly been improved, and what makes that much better sometimes is the ability of some cameras to move. It’s now possible with some systems to sit in front of a monitor and operate a control which moves the camera. Instead of having someone or something on the edge of the picture  perhaps out of focus  you can move the camera to have what you want to see in the middle of the picture.

The video systems are most easily installed when a home is being built. Problems can arise if the camera and monitor wiring is too close to a home’s electrical wiring. In existing homes, that problem is compounded by existing walls.

In homes under construction, it’s a lot easier to cope with problems such as these. But even the installer has to know what he’s doing.

About satellite TV and cable television

One TV per system: A dish services only one TV. To get the service on other TVs requires a converter that can cost as much as another dish. Some companies that produce DSS gear are designing new dishes and second tuners for multiple-room applications; these are likely to run about $225 when they go on the market.

Satellite dishes provide only one signal, so you can’t feed a signal to your VCR or another TV without buying a second system. Moreover, the common practice of recording a TV program with a VCR timer (called time-shift recording) is not possible if satellite TV is your source, unless you buy new-model VCRs (Toshiba and RCA, for example) that are designed to do it.

The situation with cable is not entirely dissimilar.

Most cable TV signals can accommodate splitting the signal two ways to serve a couple of TVs or a TV and a VCR. Split it more than that and picture quality drops.

So, if you have four TVs and want a good picture, you’ll need to pay for a second cable line. Worse, if you need a third cable line to feed six components, you have to pay the cable company $40 or so for an amplifier to strengthen the signal that comes to you.

No local TV: Digital satellite systems do not receive local TV stations. So consumers who want to join the digital-satellite revolution and still check out the local news and weather can either go back to rabbit-ear reception, use an outdoor TV antenna or pay a local cable company about $13 a month for bare-bones service that includes the local channels. Surveys show that about 30 percent of dish owners retain basic cable TV service anyway.

Those problems aside, digital satellite’s advantage over cable is twofold:

Superior picture and sound quality: Cable’s mediocre analog signal can’t compete with the stunning resolution of a digital signal source. Cable companies will continue to lose customers who are moving to big-screen TVs and adopting the home-theater concept until all cable signals are converted to digital, which may take three years.

Programming: Satellite vendors owning space on high-powered satellites can offer consumers more channels and better values than cable companies can provide. DISH Network Coupons will save your money significantly.

A building permit is needed to convert deck into sunroom

I have an elevated deck that opens off the living room at the back of my house. One side of the deck is attached to the house and the other two corners are supported on posts sitting on concrete pads. I am thinking of enclosing the deck to make an insulated sunroom suitable for year-round use. Can you tell me how to do this?

The first thing I have to tell you is that you need a building permit to convert your deck into an enclosed sunroom attached to the house, and to get this you will have to submit plans and specifications of the work to be done. I cannot provide that, and recommend that you call in several contractors for suggestions and prices.

If you decide to do the work yourself without a building permit, and a neighbor objects to the addition, you will very likely be required to dismantle it entirely. I have known this to happen. Check with your local building department before you start anything.

Are wood posts safe?

The wood posts supporting our cedar deck have developed some large vertical cracks. Should these be filled or must they be replaced?

There is no need to do anything to the posts. Vertical splits do not weaken them significantly; there is still just as much wood there to support the weight.

Chalking paint

Our 21-year-old split level house is faced with white brick and white aluminum siding. The windows have black aluminum shutters, and the color is washing off these and staining the brick and siding below them. What can we do to correct this?

All exterior paints chalk as they age, and the chalked paint carries the color pigment with it as it is washed off by the rain. I suggest you scrub the chalked paint off the shutters, brick and siding with a stiff brush and a solution of one rounded tablespoon (15 mL) of dishwasher detergent to a litre of water. Then repaint the shutters in a lighter color, using a semigloss or satin latex paint, which does not chalk as much as an alkyd or oil-based paint.

Painting vinyl

I would like to paint my white, vinyl-clad patio doors to match our yellow siding. I have been told this cannot be done. Is that true?

This question does not have a clearcut, Yes or No answer; it is more of a “maybe” or “sometimes” answer. It is true that vinyl doesn’t accept paint too well, but neither does glazed ceramic tile, and I have seen many tiled bathrooms that were painted without a problem.

If you take the following steps, I don’t think you will have any problems. 1) Wipe the vinyl first with a cloth moistened with isopropyl alcohol. 2) Apply one of the special primers made for hard-to-paint surfaces . . . such as Easy Surface Prep (Flood Company), Prime-It, (Swing Paints), and XIM Primer/Sealer (XIM Products). 3) Apply two coats of a top-quality (the highest price in any brand) satin or semi-gloss exterior alkyd enamel. I can’t offer any guarantee, but this is what I would do if I wanted to paint a vinyl door.

Ghost lines on ceiling

When we moved into our 30-year-old, one-storey house about a year-and-a-half ago, there were dark, shadow-like marks on the smooth, flat ceiling underneath all the ceiling joists. I repainted the ceiling to cover these marks, but now they are forming again on the white ceiling. I checked the attic and found that there is six inches of fibreglass insulation between the 2×6 joists. What causes the marks and how can we prevent them?

The ghost lines on the ceiling are caused by differences in the temperature of the ceiling surface. More dust particles will land on cold surfaces than on warmer ones. (If you want more information about this, look up Brownian Movement in a high school physics book or a science encyclopedia.) And because heat escapes through six inches (150mm) of wood faster than it does through six inches of fibreglass, the ceiling directly under the joists will be a little cooler than the ceiling under the insulation, so shadow marks will form on the ceiling under each joist.

The only way to stop this happening is to lay batt insulation over the top of the ceiling joists. This will eliminate the cool areas that have been attracting dust particles under the ceiling joists. The same phenomenon often causes a ghost pattern of wall studs to appear on painted or papered frame walls.

Shower problem

The shower diverter valve on our bathtub spout is not working properly. When I lift it to divert water from the spout to the showerhead some of the water still comes out of the spout. Is there any way I can fix this?

There may be a lime deposit on the diverter plug inside the tub spout, preventing it from sealing properly. The only way to get this off the diverter plug is to unscrew the spout, put it in a pot and cover it with straight vinegar or other lime remover. Leave it there for a couple of hours, then rinse, dry, put a joint sealing compound on the threads and screw the spout back in place.

To remove the spout without damaging the chrome plating, put a metal bar up inside it and use this as a lever to unscrew the spout, counterclockwise. A large screwdriver or the handle of an 8″ or 10″ adjustable crescent wrench or “monkey wrench” should do it. If soaking the spout in vinegar does not correct the problem, install a new diverter spout.

Drywall Repair

Even though gypsum drywall, which has powdered rock as its main component, can be nearly indestructible in commercial applications, the 1/2-inch-thick panels nailed over studs in many houses can become torn, chipped, cracked, fractured or punctured. Here are some of the drywall repair techniques you can use to deal with problems ranging from small surface scrapes to large cave-ins.
Corner damage. On corners that protrude into a room you can patch small nicks with drywall compound. But for more protection, install a corner guard, an L-shaped metal strip with a narrow, neat corner edge that is nailed over drywall panels where they meet at a corner.
With a corner guard in place, spackling is simple because you can work on each side of the corner independently. Spread compound with a spackle knife supported on one side by the drywall and on the other by the metal corner. Joint compound will cover the perforated flange where nails attach the guard to the wall. Spackle over each side of the guard in at least two stages with light sanding in between as needed. The compound, or “mud,” should cover all of the metal guard except a narrow strip at the corner, which can be painted.
Surface paper tears. Once the surface paper on wallboard is torn you should remove it to make a permanent repair. If you try to spackle over the tear, dry spots underneath and frayed edges often cause the tear to work loose. Get better results by neatly trimming torn surface paper to a straight edge with a utility knife, then filling in the shallow exposed section with compound.
Small surface fractures. First determine whether minor damage is so widespread that patching would not be cost effective. Although there is no hard rule about when to re-cover and when to repair a room that is in really bad shape, bear in mind that re-covering an existing surface, even with 1/4-inch or 3/8-inch panels, is almost as much work as installing the first layer of wallboard.
Extensive repair work can be time consuming, but usually is preferable to resurfacing because small depressions are easy to fix. Simply apply successive coats of a spackling compound, allowing each coat to dry before re-coating. On deeper cracks and holes, fill the damaged area in stages to avoid cracking instead of applying one thick coat.
Large gouges and holes. Through-the-wall holes can be repaired three ways. On minor punctures, you might get away with stuffing chicken wire or screening into the wall cavity to provide support for layers of compound. This quick-and-dirty system is the least likely to last without cracking.
On larger holes, make a more durable drywall repair Austin by cutting out the damaged area and making a two-layer drywall patch. Start by cutting out a rectangle around the damaged area, then make a piece of drywall bigger than the cutout that will just barely fit through the rectangle when you insert it diagonally. Attach a string to a nail or dowel and slip it through a small hole in the backer panel so you don’t lose it in the wall cavity, then butter the edges that will overlap the hole on the inside with construction adhesive. Next, slip the backer into the hole, rotate it and pull on the string to cement the backer in place. After the cement dries, you can butter the edges of a second patch piece cut to fit exactly into your rectangle. It will be supported by the backer piece and its edges can be spackled and sanded flush with the wall surface.
To repair very large holes or fractures use the third repair method. Cut out a section of the drywall panel up to the center lines of wall studs – normally set 16 inches on center – on each side of the damaged area. Then a new piece of drywall can be nailed or screwed in place using the edges of the studs for support.
To make cuts in drywall, even a sharp drywall knife has to be drawn along the cut lines repeatedly before it slices through 1/2-inch gypsum panels. The blade is likely to bind and may require a lot of pressure, which can lead to accidents. The job is easier and safer if you cut a narrow V-shaped trench through the panel.
Chronic cracks. Many houses move enough seasonally to disrupt wallboard joints on a regular basis. There are two possible solutions to these chronic cracks. The most drastic is to bury them under molding, for example, by creating a lattice pattern on ceilings.
But if standard compound and paper tape drywall patching hasn’t held in the past, try to close the crack with a stronger patch before burying the problem. Scrape down the edges of the crack, fill it with compound and spread an embedding coat on the surface. Instead of using conventional paper tape, substitute fiberglass gauze that is used by roofers to close flashing seams against flat and low-slope roofs. The fiberglass has more holding power than paper and may keep the crack closed.

Soft rental market in Singapore seen for condominiums

Around the already congested River Valley area alone, close to 2,700 apartments are due for completion in Valley Park, Mirage Tower, UE Square, the Anchorage and Aspen Heights.

Upper Bukit Timah, a new residential district, will have at least 3,000 new units, mostly in the Hume Park and Hillview developments.

DTZ Leung’s Amos Koh said: “Rentals will be under pressure but they’re not going to move down too quickly. So far our agents have not had to reduce rentals to get expatriate tenants.

“For the next six months or so, rentals will probably remain flat. I don’t see them going up much but I wouldn’t say they will go down.”

While official statistics show that island-wide rentals fell 5 per cent last year, consultants say prime rentals are not coming down but are flattening out.

Whether rents will fall depends on how firm expatriate demand is. It also depends on what proportion of available units is taken up by owner occupiers.

But the completion of large projects like Aspen Heights and Valley Park “will definitely have an effect on rentals in district 9”, said Knight Frank’s Peter Ow.

He added: “If the apartments are not in prime areas, we would expect rentals to dip.”

Supply may also be enlarged slightly by “speculators-turned-investors” – those who have decided to hold on to their properties to lease out rather than sell in today’s quiet market.

Apartments in prestigious districts 9, 10 and 11 can fetch rents up to 20 per cent higher than other popular areas like the east, and up to 40 per cent higher than the west.

According to Richard Ellis, average prime rentals as of March are at S$3.60 per square foot per month, 3 per cent up from December.

At the end of last year, prime rentals were at S$3.50 psf/mth, up 6 per cent from the third quarter. Third quarter numbers were unchanged from the second quarter, when rentals were 6 per cent lower than the first quarter.

A recent Knight Frank study of selected apartments in prime areas gives an interesting breakdown.

For the first few months of this year, gross rents for two-bedroom apartments rose by 8.7 per cent, roughly the same amount as in 2010.

But for larger apartments, rents are rising much slower in 2011 then they did in 2010. Whereas rents for three and four-bedroom units rose by 11-13 per cent last year, they are up by about 8 per cent so far this year.

Knight Frank’s study looked at monthly rentals in upmarket developments like The Claymore, Holland Hill Mansion and Leonie Gardens.

DTZ Leung’s Dr Koh observed a new leasing market emerging for suburban developments where a nearby MRT station gives easy access to the city. “What we’re seeing is very senior management expats living in the prime areas, with middle management going for outlying areas,” he said.

“Family-sized” apartments near MRT stations could fetch $2,000-$3,000 a month, he said. A new project like Dover Parkview, due to be completed this year, should be able to lease for at least $3,000, he said.

Manhattan Beach Apartment Rentals in the prime districts are holding up and will probably stay flat for the rest of the year.