How to Clean Quartz Countertops

Excerpts from Susan Pevaroff Berschler, 8/17/2016 via BobVila.com

Quartz. Quartzite. The names sound alike. Yet, although both of these popular countertop materials are derived from the same mineral—quartz—and achieve a similar aesthetic when installed, they are not the same. Quartzite is formed when quartz-rich sandstone is exposed to high heat and pressure over time as a result of natural processes. It’s found all over the world and in a variety of patterns and colors. Engineered quartz, in contrast, is factory-produced by combining quartz with resins, binding agents, and occasionally pigments, depending on the manufacturer.

Unlike natural quartzite, which must be sealed on a regular basis (twice a year, according to some experts), quartz does not require any sealing in order to resist stains, making it a very popular compromise. In fact, resin binders make the material nonporous, so mold, mildew, and stain- and odor-causing bacteria cannot penetrate the surface. Once it’s sealed, though, quartzite, the natural stone, can be cared for and maintained in the same way as its man-made counterpart. Follow these basic guidelines to keep either material sparkling like new for years to come.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS

  1. Mild dish detergent
  2. Soft cloth
  3. Glass cleaner
  4. Nonabrasive sponge
  5. Plastic putty knife
  6. Degreasing cleaner
  7. Goo Gone or comparable cleaner
  8. Trivet
  9. Cutting board

SOONER IS BETTER

Though quartz will resist permanent staining when exposed to liquids like wine, vinegar, tea, lemon juice, and soda, or fruits and vegetables, it’s important to wipe up spills immediately—before they have a chance to dry. Take care of fresh messes with mild dishwashing detergent and a soft cloth. For dried spills or heavy stains, your best bet is a glass or surface cleaner, a nonabrasive sponge (sponges designed for nonstick pans are safe and effective), and a little elbow grease. Keep a plastic putty knife handy to gently scrape off gum, food, nail polish, paint, or other messes that harden as they dry.

 

 

Should you find yourself confronting a particularly sticky situation, your stain-busting might require a couple of extra tools.

  • Remove cooking grease. If dinner was great but the counter took a beating, use a degreasing product that will first loosen then remove the grease from the surface. Follow the cleanser manufacturer’s instructions for use.
  • Erase permanent markers. Permanent markers are supposed to be, well…permanent. When the kids get creative, make sure your counters are protected from their artistry by first putting down placemats or craft paper, so the only thing they leave behind is a happy memory. Should you find an ink or permanent marker stain after craft time, moisten a cloth with Goo Gone or a comparable product, and rub it into the stain. Rinse thoroughly with warm water to remove any cleanser residue.

DEEP CLEANING

Daily wiping and attention to spills and messes will satisfy your countertop’s basic daily maintenance requirements. But experts also recommend an overall deeper general cleaning at regular intervals. For best results, spray a generous amount of a nonabrasive surface cleaner over your countertop and let it sit for 10 minutes. Wipe away with a non-scratch sponge.

AVOID AT ALL COSTS

When it comes to care and maintenance of quartz countertops, the dos are easy and straightforward: Wipe clean with a damp cloth. Use a mild nonabrasive detergent soap for deep cleaning. Preserving your counter’s integrity and appeal is more about adhering to the list of don’ts.

Abrasives and Acid or Alkaline Cleaners

For starters, never use abrasive cleansers and avoid scouring pads, which can dull the surface. Fortunately, soapy water will usually do the trick. If you need a gentle cleanser with a little more oomph to remove surface stains, make sure it is specifically designed for use on quartz.

Beware, too, of harsh cleaning solutions at both ends of the pH spectrum. Culprits include products from nail polish remover and turpentine to drain cleaner and dishwasher rinsing agents. Whether highly acidic or highly alkaline, those chemicals can disintegrate the bonds between quartz and resin. Quartz will tolerate casual exposure to milder alkaline solutions, such as diluted bleach, but high-pH substances, such as oven cleaners and concentrated bleach, will damage the surface. If any of the substances mentioned above come into contact with your quartz countertop, rinse the exposed surface immediately and thoroughly with water.

 

 

Extreme Heat

Trivets and hot pads are your quartz countertop’s best friends. Though the material is heat- and scorch-resistant, the resin used in manufacturing quartz countertops is a plastic and therefore prone to melting in heat above 300 degrees Fahrenheit. A sudden change in temperature or prolonged exposure to heat from a pan left on the countertop may even cause the quartz to crack. To be safe, always use a trivet or hot pad.

Slicing or Dicing Without a Cutting Board

Quartz is a hard surface, but not hard enough to withstand the effects of sharp objects like knives. So, slice and dice to your heart’s content, but make sure to do it on a cutting board to avoid ugly scratches on your quartz countertops.

The Elements

Quartz is not the right choice for an outdoor kitchen. If you install it outdoors, you do so at your own risk, as all manufacturer warranties cover indoor use only. Day after day in direct sunlight will fade colors and lead to warping or splitting.

Combining the best of authenticity and ingenuity, quartz is truly the rock of all ages. Be kind to your quartz countertops with regular attention and cleaning, and they will give you a lifetime of pleasure!

10 Home Maintenance Tasks to Check Off Your To-Do List Before Winter

Excerpts from U.S. News & World Report – Money By Mady Dahlstrom, 12/02/2016

  1. Test all alarms and detectors. Check the batteries in your smoke alarms and test any carbon monoxide detectors or security alarm systems. House fires and heater malfunctions are common in winter, and it’s imperative for your safety that all detectors are working properly. A quick check on each system will bring peace of mind in the case of any fires or holiday break-ins.
  2. Check for fire extinguishers. Make sure your kitchen is stocked with at least one working fire extinguisher to control any small fires that may occur while cooking your holiday meals.
  3. Stock up on firewood. Prepare for a hard winter by stocking up on firewood early, if you have a wood-burning fireplace. If you use a fireplace often during the winter, you’ll want to have enough firewood to last you all season long. Choose seasoned hardwood like oak or maple for a slow-burning and hot fire.
  4. Untangle and test holiday lights. If you plan on putting up holiday lights this season, it’s important to test and inspect all light strands. Prep your holiday lights by safely untangling each strand. Be sure to plug in all lights and check that all bulbs are lit, intact and in good working order.
  5. Check your gutters. Are your gutters clear of leaves, debris and ice dams or icicles? Cleaning and inspecting your gutters before winter weather hits will prevent any potential damage. Without proper care, loaded-down gutters can pull away from the side of your house, or lead to leaks and water damage as water gets under the roof shingles when ice damming occurs. Hire a gutter cleaning service or gutter contractor for a thorough inspection.
  6. Save on heating costs. If you’re worried about racking up heating costs over the winter, try cutting costs with a few simple tricks. Try reversing the ceiling fan, adding weatherstripping to block drafts from doors and windows or lay down rugs to add an extra layer of warmth to your floors.
  7. Prep for snow removal. Make sure you have shovels, de-icers, snow blowers and other ice-melting products before any serious snowfall. Know where everything is located, and have plenty of gas for any snow blowers or other automated tools to help you clear snow during a storm.
  8. Clean your air filters. You’ll want to check your cooling and heating systems before the worst parts of winter to ensure all air filters are clean. Dirty air filters can result in a decrease in indoor air quality and efficiency, ultimately damaging your heating and cooling systems. It’s best to be proactive to avoid a heater malfunction during a snow storm or deep freeze that could lead to other problems in your home, like freezing pipes.
  9. Store outdoor water hoses. Store your water hose for winter by turning the spigot off, unhooking the hose and removing any attachments. Next, drain your hose, coil it up and store in your garage or shed.
  10. Cover outdoor furniture and grill. Properly store your outdoor items by packing up your patio furniture that can be placed in the garage, along with any umbrellas and chairs. By keeping your outdoor furniture out of the winter elements, it’ll be in better shape once spring comes, and you’re less likely to have to replace pieces every couple of years. For larger outdoor items, such as grills and tables, purchase protective covers to keep safe during harsh winter weather.

 

Opportunity to Make Homeownership More Affordable

 

 

 

Excerpts from article by Jon Boughtin @ Realtor.org

 

WASHINGTON (November 15, 2016) — The Federal Housing Administration’s just released(link is external) actuarial report shows that the Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund is on a steady financial trajectory, a finding the National Association of Realtors® believes is an opportunity to make FHA’s low-down-payment mortgage option available to an even broader swath of borrowers.

FHA’s MMIF is responsible for paying lenders if a mortgagor defaults. In a sign of continuing health, the report shows that the fund’s “seriously delinquent” rate is at a ten-year low, while the overall economic value of the fund has increased by $3.8 billion.

Last year the MMIF also achieved a 2 percent capital reserve ratio for the first time since the Great Recession. This marked an important benchmark showing that the fund had strongly rebounded, a finding reinforced by the 2.3 percent capital reserve ratio FHA reported today. FHA also reported a 3.2 percent reserve ratio for the “forward” program, which encompasses FHA’s non-Home Equity Conversion Mortgage portfolio.

According to NAR estimates, the 50-basis-point premium cut announced in January 2015 provided an annual savings of $900 for nearly 2 million FHA homeowners. A recent Federal Reserve study(link is external) also found that the January 2015 reduction in mortgage insurance premiums had a quick and significant effect on FHA mortgage volume.

NAR also supports eliminating “life of loan” mortgage insurance, which borrowers must continue to pay until the loan is extinguished or refinanced. Conventional mortgage products, by contrast, traditionally require mortgage insurance only until a sufficient amount of equity is achieved on the property.

“FHA mortgages are an important option for buyers, but high premiums and lifetime insurance requirements can take that option right off the table,” Brown said. “By lowering premiums and eliminating life of loan mortgage insurance, FHA can expand on their work to serve a broad population of homebuyers. We look forward to working with them in the months ahead to bring these changes to light.”

Home Ownership Key in Retirement

 

 

 

Excerpts from DAILY REAL ESTATE NEWS | MONDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2016 and also from website hud.gov

Older home owners who use the equity in their home may be better off in funding their retirement, according to a new study by the Urban Institute. However, the recession may have hampered many retirees’ abilities to do so.

“Not only does a house meet the basic needs of shelter, but it’s an asset that typically can be used to build wealth as home owners pay down their mortgages,” the study’s authors note. “In fact, many retirement security experts argue that the conventional three-legged stool of retirement resources—Social Security, pensions and savings—is incomplete because it ignores the home.”

Before the recession, home owners aged 65 or older could have used their home’s equity to increase their retirement income by over 50 percent – up to $60,000 -either by borrowing a home equity line of credit, selling their home at a profit, or taking a cash-out refinance or second mortgage. However, the Urban Institute’s study notes that percentage fell to 50 percent – up to $49,000 – by 2012, even though retirees accumulated an average 10 percent more equity than in 1998. Home owner’s equity grew from $117,000 to $166,000 between 2000 and 2006 before falling to $129,000 by 2012.

A reverse mortgage (aged 62 or older) is a special type of home loan that lets you convert a portion of the equity in your home into cash. The equity that you built up over years of making mortgage payments can be paid to you.  However, unlike a traditional home equity loan or second mortgage, HECM borrowers do not have to repay the HECM loan until the borrowers no longer use the home as their principal residence or fail to meet the obligations of the mortgage.  You can also use a HECM to purchase a primary residence if you are able to use cash on hand to pay the difference between the HECM proceeds and the sales price plus closing costs for the property you are purchasing.

With a second mortgage, or a home equity line of credit, borrowers must make monthly payments on the principal and interest.  A reverse mortgage is different, because it pays you – there are no monthly principal and interest payments.  With a reverse mortgage, you are required to pay real estate taxes, utilities, and hazard and flood insurance premiums.

The study’s authors say that older home owners have more opportunity to unlock the wealth potential of their homes in retirement, particularly now with the recession over.

“The majority of older adults, regardless of income, race and ethnicity, and education, own homes that they could use to help finance their retirement,” the authors note.

7 Reasons Fall Might Just Be the Best Time to Buy a Home

 

 

 

Excerpts from Realtor.com, By Margaret Heidenry | Sep 30, 2016

Spring and summer usually get all the real estate glory with lofty accolades as the best time to buy a home—and, of course, the busiest. Meanwhile, their seasonal sibling, fall, often gets tossed to the leaf pile by potential buyers who might think autumn is just about haunted houses and turkey dinners rather than house hunting.

But surprise! Fall is not only a great time to buy a home, it might also be the best season to find the perfect property (and not just because you can browse the listings while cupping a pumpkin latte).

Reason No. 1: Lower home prices

The best month to snag a deal when buying a home? October. This isn’t just some random guess; it’s based on RealtyTrac’s analysis of more than 32 million home sales over 15 years. The resulting data showed that on average, October buyers paid 2.6% below market value estimated at the time for their homes.

For a house that would normally be $300,000, 2.6% translates into a $7,800 discount. Those savings are nothing to sneeze at, so bargain hunters should get hopping once autumn rolls around. (For an even better deal, aim for Oct. 8, when buyers get a home, on average, at 10.8% below estimated market value.)

Reason No. 2: Less competition

Like a beach after Labor Day, the realty market clears out as the days turn crisp. Most summer buyers have already found a home, meaning a fall buyer will have way less competition for the available houses on the market, says  Bill Golden of Re/Max Metro Atlanta Cityside. And don’t worry about those buyers who didn’t close before August, either.

“Many folks will drop out of the market until after the new year,” says Golden, giving a fall buyer even greater room to roam at open houses. There may not be as many properties to choose from, but as Golden says, “a little patience and perseverance could reap big rewards.”

Reason No. 3: Worn-out home sellers

Say hello to your little friend, leverage. Sellers who have their homes on the market in the fall “are generally people who need to sell, which can make for better negotiations for the buyer,” says Golden. And if a home you have your eye on has been on the market all summer, you’re really in the driver’s seat as far as making an offer the seller can’t refuse. The longer a home sits on the market, the more negotiating power the buyer wields.

Reason No. 4: The holidays are around the corner

Not only are most home sellers worn out after the summer selling season, they’re also caught between a real estate rock and a hard place in that the holidays are barreling down on them. If they want to move and settle down in time to host Thanksgiving and put up their Christmas lights, they’ll have to close, fast. So use this preholiday window to your advantage by offering to help them vacate fast if they cut you a deal.

Reason No. 5: Year-end tax credits

No one wants to buy a home purely to make their accountant happy. But there’s a sweet added incentive to closing on a home at the end of the fiscal year. Come the following April 15, you might be able to take some nice tax deductions, including closing costs, property tax, and mortgage interest, to offset your taxable earnings.

Reason No. 6: More quality time with your real estate team

As the year comes to an end, fewer buyers also means you should have the full attention of your real estate agent, mortgage broker, real estate lawyer, and everyone else on your house hunting team. You can take your time to ask all those questions you have about, title transfers, earnest money, due diligence and more without feeling like you’re intruding in their busiest season to turn a buck.

Reason No. 7: Home improvement bargains

Once you close on that home you found in the fall, you may want to upgrade your appliances. Luckily, December is when major appliances—refrigerators, stoves, washers, and dryers—are at their very cheapest, according to Consumer Reports. It’s also the best time of year to buy cookware and TVs.

So once you’re settled in (and provided you have any money left), get ready to renovate!

Margaret Heidenry is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, and Boston Magazine..