HouseLogic Articles

Friday, May 21, 2010

Quick tips for patching chimney

Leaky basement calls for thorough inspection

Bill and Kevin Burnett
Inman News

Q: After a hard rain, we found water in our basement near where our chimney attaches to the house. We noticed that the caulking between the chimney and the house is dry and cracking. We also noticed that the basement's ceiling has water spots, which leads us to believe it has happened before.
Is there a special caulk we can use after we remove the old material? And some of the mortar between the bricks is cracked. Our house is about 30 years old.

A: A 30-year-old chimney needs a good inspection. You can do the inspection on the outside yourself. But we recommend that you get a chimney sweep for the inside.

Over time, creosote, a byproduct of wood, builds up in the chimney liner. Creosote buildup is the main cause of chimney fires. If you use the fireplace regularly during the winter, an annual inspection and cleaning is a must.

As for the chimney's exterior, get on a ladder and take a look. Pay special attention to the joints, where the chimney meets the siding. Cracked caulking means water penetration for sure, but also pay attention to where the roof meets the chimney.

Is the flashing in good shape? If not, this could be a cause of leakage, too. Recaulking is in order, but first take a look at the mortar.

Given that you have cracked mortar joints, we suspect that the mortar is beginning to fail. Test the joints by trying to remove some mortar with a teardrop paint scraper. If mortar comes out in a granular mass, it's time to repoint the chimney, which means replacing the decayed mortar with new mortar.

First, scrape about an inch of mortar from the joints. You can either do all the scraping at once or you can scrape as you go. While you're at it, scrape out the old cracked caulk where the chimney and the siding meet.

To replace the mortar, you'll need a pointing tool and some mortar. A point tool is a handheld metal tool about a foot long with two half-round sides on the ends. Mix the mortar to the consistency of thick peanut butter. If you use packaged mortar mix, we suggest you enrich it with some additional Portland cement.

Brush the joint with a wet brush. The added moisture will seep into the existing mortar and allow the cement to seep in. This will provide a stronger bond between the old and new work. Pick up some mortar in one hand and coax it into the joint using the pointing tool. The first few times you'll lose a good bit of mortar. Don't worry, pick it up and use it on the next joint.

Let the mortar dry for 20 minutes or so. Then tool the joints with the pointing tool. The tooling produces a smooth finished joint. Let the mortar dry for a few days before caulking the joint between the siding and the chimney.

Caulking brick should be done with paintable clear caulk. Paintable clear caulk goes on white but dries clear after a few hours. Unless you're perfect, white caulk can make a mess on brick. If clear caulk is not available, choose an elastomeric caulk. Use blue painter's masking tape on both sides of the joint to get a crisp, clean line.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

36 hours in Kansas City

Steve Hebert for The New York Times. A Misty Gamble sculpture at the Sherry Leedy Gallery. The New York Times By Charly Wilder

KANSAS CITY is known for its barbecue, bebop and easy-does-it Midwestern charm. But a decade-long effort to revitalize the city's downtown has transformed this former jazz mecca, which straddles the Kansas-Missouri border, back into a culturally rich metropolis. The city's standing will be further bolstered next year when the much-anticipated Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts opens, giving a sleek new home to the symphony, opera and ballet. True, Kansas City is no backwater, but don't expect high polish. In fact, it's the city's unvarnished grit that may be its best asset.

Friday 4 p.m.

Industrial stagnation and suburban exodus in the 1960s left the Crossroads neighborhood nearly deserted. But thanks to the recent efforts of arts advocates and city tax breaks, the Crossroads Arts District ( is now home to some 70 galleries. Two pioneering mainstays are Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art (2004 Baltimore Avenue; 816-221-2626;, which specializes in midcareer artists like Jun Kaneko, and the Byron C. Cohen Gallery (2020 Baltimore Avenue, Suite 1N; 816-421-5665;, representing several artists from China, including the photo-artist Huang Yan. If it's the first Friday of the month, many galleries hold open houses until about 9 p.m.

7 p.m.

Debates over the best barbecue rouse as much passion here as religion or politics. Some swear by the old guard like Gates Bar-B-Q ( and Arthur Bryant's (, both of which have multiple branches. Others cross the state line into the Kansas side, to a relative newcomer, Oklahoma Joe's (3002 West 47th Avenue; 913-782-6858;, which opened a second location in 2005. It serves up pulled pork and beef brisket piled high on white bread, in a sauce that may just be the perfect amalgam of sweet, smoke and vinegar. At a little under $19, a full slab serves two or three people.
11 p.m.


If the city's indie music scene hasn't garnered the same hype as those in other Midwestern cities like Minneapolis or Omaha, it's not for lack of guts or artistry. Homegrown bands like Ssion, a gender-bending art-punk music collective that has built a following with over-the-top live shows, cut their teeth in downtown galleries and dives. Hear up-and-comers at the Record Bar (1020 Westport Road; 816-753-5207; and the Brick (1727 McGee Street; 816-421-1634; One of the newest spots is the Czar Bar (1531 Grand Boulevard; 816-221-2244;; it's owned by John Hulston, who also runs Anodyne Records, which counts the Meat Puppets, the BellRays and Architects among its better-known acts.
10 a.m.

Kansas City is said to have more fountains than any other city except Rome. One of the loveliest can be found at Jacob L. Loose Park (51st Street and Wornall Road), a Civil War site, where the Laura Conyers Smith Fountain, made of Italian stone, is encircled by thousands of roses in some 150 varieties. The park is popular with picnicking families and bongo-playing teenagers on furlough from the suburbs.

If last night's barbecue has you yearning for a salad, head to Café Sebastienne, an airy, glass-covered restaurant at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art (4420 Warwick Boulevard; 816-753-5784; A dish of seasonal greens with cucumber, red onion, grape tomatoes, sheep's milk cheese and grilled pita is $11. After lunch, pop inside for a quick look at the Kemper's small but diverse collection of modern and contemporary works by artists like Dale Chihuly and Louise Bourgeois, whose gigantic iron spider sculpture looms over the front lawn.
1:30 p.m.

In 2007, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (4525 Oak Street; 816-751-1278; was thrust into the national spotlight when it opened a new wing designed by Steven Holl. The Bloch Building - which holds contemporary art, photography and special exhibitions - consists of five translucent glass blocks that create what Nicolai Ouroussoff, the architecture critic of The New York Times, described as "a work of haunting power." The museum, which is free to the public, also unveiled a suite of American Indian galleries in November. It's an assemblage of about 200 works from more than 68 tribes, considered one of the most important collections of its kind.
4 p.m.


The Crossroads cultural awakening extends beyond art and into fashion. Three boutiques carrying the work of up-and-coming designers occupy a former film storage unit on West 18th Street. Peregrine Honig and Danielle Meister handpick lingerie and swimwear to carry at their shop, Birdies (116 West 18th Street; 816-842-2473; Kelly Allen selects a quirky cross-section of locally designed clothing and accessories at Spool (122 West 18th Street; 816-842-0228). And Peggy Noland (124 West 18th Street; 816-221-7652; sells Day-Glo spandex bodysuits in a space covered floor-to-ceiling with stuffed animals.
7 p.m.

Stay in the Crossroads to sample modern Mediterranean-style tapas at Extra Virgin (1900 Main Street; 816-842-2205;, the latest restaurant from Kansas City's culinary titan, Michael Smith. The fare is more playful and adventurous than that of his formal restaurant next door. And if the loud, euro-chic décor, replete with a floor-to-ceiling "La Dolce Vita" mural, seems to be trying a little too hard, the crowd of unbuttoned professionals enjoying inspired dishes like crispy pork belly with green romesco and chick pea fries doesn't seem to mind. The menu is diverse, as is the wine list. Single plates range from $3 to $25.
10 p.m.


Love it or hate it, the flashy new Kansas City Power and Light District (1100 Walnut Street; 816-842-1045; offers a wide range of bars, restaurants and clubs that can feel like an open-air fraternity party. A smarter alternative can be found in the West Bottoms, an industrial neighborhood that draws a more urbane crowd. The R Bar (1617 Genessee Street; 816-471-1777;, which opened in September, features live jazz and bluegrass, as well as old-time cocktails like Moscow mules and mint juleps. When midnight strikes, head to the Mutual Musicians Foundation (1823 Highland Avenue; 816-471-5212; The legendary haunt opened in 1917 and public jam sessions are held every Saturday until around 6 a.m. For $8, you can catch impromptu sets by some of the city's undiscovered musicians in the same room where Charlie Parker had a cymbal thrown at him in 1937.


11 a.m.


As any resident will tell you, Mexican food is a big deal here. One of the most authentic spots is Ortega's Restaurant (2646 Belleview Avenue; 816-531-5415;, tucked in the back of a mom-and-pop grocery store in midtown. On Sundays, Ortega's draws a lively mix of churchgoing families and hung-over art students with its $6 huevos rancheros.


Kansas City has great secondhand shopping. Bargains are easy to find, and flea markets have yet to be ransacked by collectors from the coasts. Grab a copy of The Kansas City Star ( or search Craigslist ( for current listings of auctions and estate sales. Better yet, take a drive through the sprawl of surrounding suburbs on the lookout for garage sales. Even if you don't find that perfect antique, an afternoon spent chatting with the friendly residents of this changing city will remind you that some things don't need making over.

Continental, Delta and Midwest Airlines fly nonstop from New York City to Kansas City International Airport. According to a recent Web search, round-trip fares start at about $325 for travel this month. A car is recommended for getting around, though to paraphrase an old song, if you have to walk, you'll get there just the same.
The Raphael(325 Ward Parkway; 816-756-3800;, a 126-room hotel in a neo-Renaissance manor overlooking the Country Club Plaza, recently finished a major renovation, with black marble bathrooms, flat-screen televisions and two spacious conference rooms. And with standard rooms going for as little as $139, it's one of the city's best bargains.
The 120-room Q Hotel + Spa (560 Westport Road; 816-931-0001; opened in 2007 in the historic Westport district and bills itself as the city's first green hotel, offering eco-friendly hand soap, energy-efficient lamps and in-room recycling service (unused paper is given to a school next door). Standard rooms start at $107, if booked 23 days in advance; otherwise $137.
This story was taken from the New York Times.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Electronic Signatures?

FHA has approved Docusign. What are your thoughts on using electronic signatures? I am starting to use them with some clients and thus far I have had good reviews. Let me know your thoughts.

DocuSign®, the leader in on-demand electronic signature solutions, today announced that e-signed third-party documents, including real estate contracts, are now being accepted by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). DocuSign spearheaded an industry-wide effort to move the FHA to formally recognize e-signed third-party documents. The April 8, 2010 dated FHA mortgagee letter is the first in what is expected to be a series of responses to this initiative. With this policy statement from the nation's largest mortgage insurer, real estate professionals can use DocuSign to get real estate contracts, addenda and other documents signed electronically, and their buyers can apply for FHA insurance with confidence. The FHA mortgagee letter can be found at

"We commend FHA's action today. By clarifying its position on electronic signatures, the process of buying, selling and financing of homes across the country will be greatly improved," said Ken Moyle, chief legal officer at DocuSign. "Buyers, sellers and agents can use DocuSign's online process to eliminate the time, expense and environmental impact of printing, delivering and signing large stacks of paper documents, and mortgage lenders can take comfort in knowing that DocuSign's e-signature process is designed for legal compliance in all 50 states and is fully evidenced by a comprehensive audit trail."

Real estate agents can quickly access the DocuSign e-signing service from any laptop with Internet access, drag and drop familiar yellow StickEtabs® onto the contract and send the envelope. The recipient immediately receives an email notification that can be accessed through a computer or any Web-enabled mobile device, including Apple® iPhone®, RIM® BlackBerry®, Google® AndroidTM, Windows Mobile®, adopts an e-signature and signs the document. Once completed, an email notification is sent to all parties with a link to the final executed document. The result is a legally binding, fully ESIGN-compliant document supported by a comprehensive audit trail.

As on-demand software-as-a-service (SaaS), DocuSign requires no additional software or hardware purchases and no downtime for training. DocuSign eSignature service offers users one of the easiest, most simple to use and safest electronic signature experiences available today. For more information on DocuSign, visit