Author Archives: Tom Terrific

St. Louis County Tax Receipts

I received a recent notice enclosed with my latest County Real Estate notice.

“IMPORTANT: You will no longer receive a mailed receipt. Official receipts may be printed from our website or obtained in person at one of our offices.”

If you go to their website, nothing says anything about receipts.

I also called, but after 20 minutes on hold I gave up.
I did find a solution by doing a search.
Go to this site…
https://revenue.stlouisco.com/IAS/SearchInput.aspx

Fill in the information about your property and then choose Tax Info & Receipt and the Year.

Click on the “Print 2021 Tax Receipt”

DIY Gutter Guards

This is not as flat as it looks.

If you’d like to add gutter guards to your gutters, but are put off by the high cost, usually thousands of dollars, here’s an alternative.

I bought the gutter guards from Costco, but you can also get them on Amazon. I got them for $1.53/ft. on sale. That means my two story house would cost around $300 in material cost.

Here are the main tools I used. A leaf blower to clean out the gutters, a drill with a clutch, and various pliers and cutters. I found the aluminum hard to cut and tried various options including a hack saw, Dremel and bolt cutters. Use whatever you have and whatever works for you.

I used both ladders, but the extension ladder worked well most of the time.

For the easy straight sections, I can install a four foot section in five minutes. The ends and the angles take more time.

I found the screws harder to put in than their description – “hot knife through butter,” but just used constant pressure to get them in.

In general, you want the gutter guard at an angle, so the leaves will blow off more easily. You do that by putting the gutter guard under the shingles.

The tricky parts are the end which requires you to cut off the aluminum and fold the screen down over then end to cover the opening.

When you register, they supposedly send you a brush which you can use to brush off the gutter guards when necessary.

I did pay someone to do the 2nd floor, but he only charged $225.00.

Below are a couple good videos about the process. I’d watch them to see the process.

Roofing Notes

I’ve decided to have a new roof put on, so I’m sharing my notes about the process.

Not all roofing contractors are the same.
One company never showed up to meet me twice and had incorrect information on the contract.
One contractor came by twice, talked to me, showed me pictures of the roof and a potential problem
I only contacted roofers with a BBB accreditation and an A+ rating, plus good reviews on Google.
Being trustworthy and have good reviews is very important to me.
I’d encourage you to get at least five bids and also check with friends for referrals.
I ended up using a roofer recommended by a friend.

Chimney
Have them inspect the chimney – does it need tuckpointing?
Yes – I needed tuckpointing. Ideally have the tuckpointing done before the new roof is put on.
Ask if the roofer has a tuck pointer they recommend or if anyone on their crew does tuck pointing.
Are they just reusing the old flashing or putting in new flashing?

Contract
Some contracts are quite simple and some are quite detailed.
I prefer the contract which goes into the exact details of what they are going to do.

Down Payment.
One contractor did not need a down payment, one wanted $500 and many wanted 50% up front.

Drip Edge
Most places online recommend a drip edge. It appears to be part of the local code.

Flashing – Base
My old aluminum flashing is pulling out.
One roofer recommended using screws to hold it down plus a caulk on top of the screws.

Ice and Water Shield
First layer around edges, Valleys, plumbing pipes, chimney.

Nails per shingle.
Most recommend four nails per shingle, some put in five.

Nail versus staples
Most people recommend nails versus staples.

Pricing
Prices have quadrupled in the last 17 years. What cost me $3000 in the past is now $12,000.00
Low cost is not the most important thing to me, but it’s a factor.
I did find a roofer I trust will do a good job for $3000 less.

Ridge Vent
Most roofer recommend this.
I have roof vents already on the roof and vents in the gables so I’m not putting in a ridge vent.

Shingles
Cost of most good shingles seems to be about the same.
Most of the contractors in St. Louis recommend Certainteed Landmark.
I prefer the Owens Corning Duration brand. It has a higher rating on Consumer Reports. I also like its nailing strip.

Shingle Starter Course
They usually make specific shingles for the first row of shingles.

Underlayment
There are a number of options.
Most roofers use a synthetic felt. Some use a 15# felt which is the old type.
One roofer recommends 30# felt.

Vents – Air
I have roof vents installed already.
All roofers will install new aluminum vents.

Vents – Plumbing
Most install new flashing.
One installs a lead flashing versus the rubber boot most use.

Vent – furnace flue
Have them paint this.

Keeping Your Garage Safe and Secure

Rather than use a clicker that I kept on the car’s visor, I’ve decided to try a keychain clicker. The cost is around $33 each and was easy to install.

I read about cars being broken into almost every week in our community. If you have a garage door opener on the visor, then the bad guys have easy entry into your house if they get into your car.

Note – while I have a Chamberlain opener, I’m sure most companies have their own brand of keychain opener.

Here is another type of physical lock that I use during vacations.
You attach it with four metal screws and it prevents the door from being opened.

Free Classes Every Day

What I’ve recently discovered is the plethora of free virtual classes available at our local library. While this is specifically the St. Louis County Library system, it is open to anyone and I’m guessing that this type of resource is available at other libraries. You don’t need a library card or be part of the SLCL system.

Here’s the link to get to the Calendar – enjoy.

IRS – Pin and Sign-Up

Brian Krebs is reporting that starting in January of 2021, all citizens can get a pin number for use when filing their federal taxes. He also suggests that people now setup an account with the IRS. It took me ten minutes to setup an account, but then they send you a letter which you use to activate the account.

The only question I have is, “Does my wife need her own pin or can my pin work for both of us since we file jointly?
The answer I got from an accountant friend was, “In the past, the IRS issued an IPPIN to the person who had been compromised. If both spouses were compromised, each received an IPPIN.”

Replace Your Watch Battery

When my wife’s watch needed a new battery, I checked with a local watch repair and they wanted $27.00 to put in a new battery. Since a new watch only costs $25.00, I thought I’d try to replace the battery myself.

The watch make is a Skagen, which is a bit more upscale then our usual Timex.

I bought a $12.00 kit on Amazon which had a number of pieces. I wasn’t sure which piece would actually work. The knife-like tool worked to pop off the back. The notch for the knife was barely visible.

Notch for the Knife

You can also notice above the black line which I put on the watch. This is to mark the spot where the watch should line up with the turning mechanism. You might also notice the dirt and dust around the edge. I’ll clean this off with a vacuum and alcohol swab.

A 20 pack of batteries was available on Amazon for $5.99.

I tried to just press the back on, but didn’t have any luck. I ended up buying an inexpensive press which worked after a couple of tries.

Here’s a video showing the process.

Frost at 38 degrees

This frost caught my attention on October 4th since it was not supposed to be that cold that night.

According to weather records, the temperature only got down to 38 degrees.

The process that causes ice to freeze when the temperature is above freezing is called radiative cooling. Below is a video which talks about the process.

Can you make ice at 40 degrees? Give it a try.

Replacement Windows

Since I need to replace a few windows in my house, I thought I’d share my research. It’s interesting that I talked to eight different companies and only made my choice after talking to the eighth company.

First – it’s complicated. and there are a lot of factors to consider.

Material

You have to figure out what material you want your windows made out of. You can choose:

  1. Wood
  2. Wood covered with vinyl or aluminum
  3. Fibrex – wood and vinyl
  4. Vinyl
  5. Fiberglass.

Wood – the windows I’m replacing have rotted at the bottom, so I’m not a fan of all wood windows. They take a lot of maintenance – painting at the minimum.

Wood covered with vinyl or aluminum – this seems to be the ideal since you eliminated the maintenance factor. Pella had a lawsuit against them for water getting behind the aluminum and rotting the wood. Again – wood will rot if it gets water damaged.

Fibrex – this is an Andersen Windows product. They combine wood fibers and pvc. This results in a stronger product and theoretically shouldn’t rot.

Fiberglass – a more rigid window which won’t rot, but may need painting.

Vinyl – there seem to be lots of brands and quality types with vinyl. Consumer Reports rates vinyl windows on wind and rain resistance and gives out score from 91 to 54.

Installation

This is a biggie since poor installation can cause problems with even the most expensive window. I even have doubts about one installation I heard about from a big box store where they had complaints that the window stuck out past the vinyl. It’s the Pella 350 which is about an inch larger than their 250 model. The Pella dealer said that they installed theirs so that the window never went past the vinyl siding on the outside of the house.

Price

As you can see by the table below, prices go from $850 to $4730 for two windows. For my whole house, the price would from $9775 to $54,395.

Elite Exteriors – vinyl – Corvus 1000$850
Home Depot – Andersen 400 wood covered vinyl
Home Depot – Andersen 100 composite
$3983
$2760
Home Depot – Simonton 6100 vinyl$1772
Lowes 250 – vinyl
Lowes 350 – (CR-93)
$1449
$1945
Marvin – Elevate – fiberglass$3170
Mills – Pella 350 vinyl (CR-93)
Mills – Great Lakes Comfort Smart vinyl
$2264
$1482
Pella 250 vinyl
Pella 350 vinyl (CR-93)
$1745
$2132
Window World 4000 (CR-67?)$1148
Renewal by Andersen$4730
Wilke Window – this is to fix two windows and replace one.$1140

Consumer Reports (CR) gives ratings on wind and rain resistance. They don’t give advice on how well the windows hold up over a number of years.

The two windows I am replacing have rotted on the bottom. They are 100% wood windows, but they have lasted 30 years. My other windows seem to be holding up ok. They do need regular maintenance.

Your income, what you can afford and how long you plan on living at your current residence are all factors when you consider price.

Models by Manufacturer

Each windows company has a number of models which they sell. Each different model has a different price point and different features. Some are single hung versus double hung. Some tilt-in and some don’t. Some have the grill between the glass and some don’t. Some have a full screen and some have a half screen. What you have to figure out is what are the features which are most important to you and what are you willing to pay extra for.

Marvin – fiberglass – one thing I didn’t like about the sales presentation was that he did not have any models or displays to show me the different series and what the difference was between them. He didn’t even have a brochure. You have to go online to download or request brochures or go to their show room.

Pella 350 – This model is an inch thicker than the 250 and has an extra weather strip. This is also the model highest rated by CR. While Lowes has a good price on the 350, especially for veterans, they don’t have their own installers, but contract it out.

Renewal By Andersen – RBA – these are the most expensive. While I do like the RBA windows and their service, I don’t like their high price.

Window World – Model 4000 – this is the model recommended by the sales person. It has a couple of unusual things I noted. 1. You can’t open the bottom window all the way since there is a piece of trim which sticks out and stops the window. This piece of trim also showed a hole which water might enter. 2. For some reason instead of the water just following the natural path and leaving down a sloped piece, it has a small lip at the bottom to hole the water in and only has a small “weep” hole on the side which is covered up by the screen. I can see the water getting backed up and/or the weep hole being blocked. On the other hand, I have a friend who has bought a number of these windows and likes them.

Weep hole on both sides – Screen covers up the hole.

Other Considerations

Every person’s situation is different so there is not one right answer for everyone. You need to look at all the ratings, the price, the installation and all the features you want and make a decision that is right for you.

Other Factors

I like to use the Consumer Reports ratings as a basis for my decision. I currently have Andersen windows in my house and want to match the look and finish of these windows. The Pella 350 seem to come close to matching the look of the Andersens. The Pella 350 also has a nice inside finish than other vinyl windows and is larger. It also has the grills between the glass and has the tilt-in feature.

My Solution

While almost all companies were more than happy to replace my windows, a couple suggested that my water problem was related to factors other than my windows. That seems to be the case. A couple suggested just replacing my lower sash with Andersen replacement windows. I ended up choosing Wilke Window to replace the lower sash in my two windows and also replace another window in my kitchen for a price of $1140.00.

Mat Fraser – Crossfit Champion

I ran across Mat Fraser in a YouTube video and was impressed with his level of fitness for a relatively small man. At 5’7″ he’s my size, so right away I relate to him and hope I can learn a bit from him.

Here are some notes from the video below.

  • He doesn’t follow any one type of diet.
  • He doesn’t eat out much.
  • He eats food from the outside of the grocery – meats, vegs, fruit,
    Usually nothing from a package.
  • He eats white rice with almost every meal.
  • “You can’t out train a bad diet.”
  • He doesn’t take multi-vitamins
  • He takes whey protein, Extend BCAA (Branched Chain Amino Acids), and CBD,
  • CBD in morning – Beam Clarity and at night Beam Dream
  • C4 pre-workout – has caffeine and beta-alanine
  • Lots of sleep. Turn off all electronics. Sleepy time tea.
  • I have also seen him use Ice Water baths – questionable?
  • Interesting he did not mention any anti-inflammatory drugs.

Bushes – Trees in the Yard

Since Crestwood is hopefully going to receive some free bushes-trees from Forest Releaf, here are some notes on each species from the Missouri Botanical Garden website.

Aromatic Sumacs Rhus aromatica

Height: 2.00 to 6.00 feet
Spread: 6.00 to 10.00 feet
Bloom Time: April
Bloom Description: Yellow
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Dry to medium
Maintenance: Low
Flower: Insignificant
Leaf: Fragrant, Good Fall
Attracts: Birds, Butterflies
Fruit: Showy

Smooth Sumac – Rhus glabra

Zone: 3 to 9
Height: 9.00 to 15.00 feet
Spread: 9.00 to 15.00 feet
Bloom Time: June
Bloom Description: Yellowish-green
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Dry to medium
Maintenance: Medium
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Good Fall
Attracts: Birds, Butterflies
Fruit: Showy
Other: Winter Interest

Black Chokeberry – Aronia melanocarpa

Zone: 3 to 8
Height: 3.00 to 6.00 feet
Spread: 3.00 to 6.00 feet
Bloom Time: May
Bloom Description: White
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Hedge, Naturalize, Rain Garden
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Good Fall
Attracts: Birds
Fruit: Showy, Edible
Tolerate: Wet Soil

Deciduous Holly  – Ilex decidua

Zone: 5 to 9
Height: 7.00 to 15.00 feet
Spread: 5.00 to 12.00 feet
Bloom Time: May
Bloom Description: Dull white
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Rain Garden
Flower: Insignificant
Attracts: Birds
Other: Winter Interest


Eastern Ninebark – Physocarpus opulifolius

Height: 5.00 to 8.00 feet
Spread: 4.00 to 6.00 feet
Bloom Time: May to June
Bloom Description: White or pink
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Dry to medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Hedge
Flower: Showy
Tolerate: Drought, Erosion, Clay Soil, Dry Soil, Wet Soil, Shallow-Rocky Soil, Black Walnut

Eastern Wahoo – Euonymus atropurpureus

Zone: 3 to 7
Height: 12.00 to 20.00 feet
Spread: 15.00 to 25.00 feet
Bloom Time: June
Bloom Description: Dk. purple
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Rain Garden
Leaf: Good Fall
Attracts: Birds
Fruit: Showy
Tolerate: Black Walnut

False Indigo – Baptisia australis

Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Fabaceae
Native Range: Eastern United States
Zone: 3 to 9
Height: 3.00 to 4.00 feet
Spread: 3.00 to 4.00 feet
Bloom Time: May to June
Bloom Description: Indigo blue
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Dry to medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Naturalize
Flower: Showy
Attracts: Butterflies
Fruit: Showy
Tolerate: Rabbit, Drought, Erosion, Clay Soil, Dry Soil, Shallow-Rocky Soil

Roughleaf Dogwood – Cornus drummondii

Zone: 5 to 8
Height: 6.00 to 15.00 feet
Spread: 6.00 to 15.00 feet
Bloom Time: May to June
Bloom Description: Yellowish-white
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Maintenance: Medium
Tolerate: Deer

Silky Dogwood – Cornus amomum

Type: Deciduous shrub
Family: Cornaceae
Native Range: Eastern North America
Zone: 5 to 8
Height: 6.00 to 12.00 feet
Spread: 6.00 to 12.00 feet
Bloom Time: May to June
Bloom Description: Yellowish white
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Hedge, Rain Garden
Flower: Showy
Attracts: Birds
Fruit: Showy
Tolerate: Deer, Erosion, Wet Soil, Black Walnut

Hospital Go-Bag

If you are ever heading to either Urgent Care, the Emergency Room or the Hospital, one item that I suggest you always bring with you is the Hospital Go-Bag.

The items in the bag may differ a bit for each person, but you can change the list to fit your needs.
Here is our list.

 

Last Minute

  • book or kindle
  • extra clothes
  • glasses case
  • health record –
  • snacks/cookies
  • watch
  • tums, tylenol, prilosec
  • wallet
  • medications for both people (bring pill cases)
  • phones and chargers – our phone frequently doesn’t work in many hospital locations.

Always in the Bag

  • AA batteries – TV remotes at the hospital frequently need new batteries
  • paper and pens – take notes on everything that happens
  • Toothpicks
  • Underwear
  • Urinal

 

Read ID in One Hour

The standard old Missouri drivers license will no be valid for airline travel as of  October 1, 2020. Here is the process we just went through to apply for the new license.

  • Cost – $5.00
  • Time – it took us an hour of waiting.
  • Documents we needed – drivers license, passport, social security 1099 and bank statement with your name and address.
  • There are other document options so make sure you read the entire document below – https://dor.mo.gov/forms/5754.pdf
  • You get back your old license and give you a temporary license until your new Real ID license comes in the mail.
  • You cannot extend your drivers license, but will keep the expiration date on your old license.
  • For more information click here.
  • Tip – the office is open late a couple of days per week. I’ve been told that coming on those days at a late time and you can get right in.

Electricity Is Out!

Staying comfortable and safe when the electricity goes out.

Every year the electricity goes out in our house. In many cases it’s just for a couple of hours, but in some cases longer. Today the electricity went out at 2:30 a.m. and at 11 a.m. it’s still off.

The trick to staying comfortable and safe is to have the right backup amenities to keep things civilized.

Some of these recommendations may be expensive, but you will appreciate them in the long run.

Uninterruptible Power Supply
I use these on our computers so that when the power goes off, the computer will beep. It will also give you 30 minutes of backup power to keep your computer working for a short time. The beeping on the UPS is what woke us up, so it also serves as a warning bell that the electricity is off.

Surge Protectors
When you have bad storms, surge protectors will keep your electronics like TVs, computers etc. protected from electric surges. This is not 100% safe but better than nothing at all. Another tip is that when your electricity is off, unplug your big ticket electronics. This way when the electricity does come on it won’t burn out any electronic devices.

Flashlight with lots of batteries.
I like the inexpensive flashlights that use one AA battery. I put them on a lanyard and have them all over the house for emergencies. I also have extra large packs of batteries in case the emergency is a long one. I like to keep a flashlight on my bed stand so it’s easy to find in the dark.
Also remember that your phone has a flashlight function so learn how to use it.

Gas is a Must.
I see many houses and condos with just electricity and no gas connection. In an emergency having gas is a must.

Gas Fireplace
As I write this my gas fireplace is on and is radiating heat into the living room. It’s keeping the room at a cozy 72 degrees although it is 38 degrees outside.

Gas Hot Water Heater
You still have hot water with gas.

Gas Stove
With a BBQ lighter, it’s easy to cook and have a hot breakfast, dinner or lunch.

Percolator Coffee Pot
I have an old one from my camping days, but I’m going to upgrade to a new stainless steel model.

Sump Pump Backup
I use a water powered backup for my sump pump. It’s comforting to hear it run every few minutes and know that my basement will stay dry. If you have a battery backup, make sure you have it on your calendar to check on a regular basis. I have had neighbors on both sides of me have a water logged basement because their battery backup failed and they didn’t know it.

Garage Door Battery Backup
Buying a garage door which has a battery backup is a nice feature to have when you need to an appointment while the electricity is out. While you can open the garage door manually, it won’t be locked when you leave.

USB Backup Power
Having a usb power brick or two is handy for your phone. Without electricity, your phone is your only link to the outside world.

Car Battery Power Backup
While this is not a necessity, it will fill in as a usb power backup and a flashlight. I could have used one of these when my battery died. I now have one in my trunk.

Gas BBQ
It’s nice to have a gas BBQ you can use to cook outside when the electricity is out.

Phone Hotspot – wifi from your phone.
This is a feature that you may have on your phone so take some time to learn how to use it. On T-Mobile, the free hotspot is VERY SLOW, but it’s fast enough for email and writing this article.

Phone – keep it charged.
Have your phone charging overnight so it will be ready if you wake up without power in the middle of the night.

Computer with USB-C
While this is not strictly necessary, it’s nice to have a Chromebook which allows charging via a USB battery backup. Couple this with a fast hot spot and you can keep the kids entertained with Netflix. I’m writing this article on my computer linked to my phone’s hotspot.

Generator
Another somewhat expensive option, but it may be worth it if it keeps your pipes from freezing. The limiting factor is being able to buy gasoline to keep the generator running.

If you have any other tips to be prepared when the electricity goes out please share them with me.

Saving on Taxes and Give to Charity

Here is a tip from my favorite CPA, Brent, on a way to save taxes and still donate to your charity.

If you are 70 1/2 and have to take a Required Minimum Distribution, RMD, one way to give to your favorite church/charity is via this RMD.

Have the firm/trustee liquidate a specified dollar amount from your IRA and have them mail/wire the amount directly to the charity.

You will pay no taxes on those withdrawals and still benefit from your standard deduction.

Any amount processed as a QCD, Qualified Charitable Deduction, counts toward your RMD and reduces the amount of your IRA distribution.

You can only make the tax free transfer from an IRA, not a 401(k) or a 403 (b).

 

Air Filter and Box Fan

air-filter-box-fan

Here’s an option for the people affected by the smoke in California. I use this on a regular basis. I use a very good air filter and tape it to a box fan. I used the Filtrete  Healthy Living Elite Allergen Reduction Filter, MPR 2200. These cost about $15 on Amazon.

As you can see from the picture, this simple setup is doing an excellent job at filtering our the small particles in the air.

While you could use this in your furnace, I’ve found that it reduces the air flow quite a bit.  I ended up putting one of these filter fans upstairs and one downstairs.

 

Dudes Playground – Veterans Day

There is a new lake/park in Waterloo Ill. which is being dedicated to veterans on Sunday November 11th.
It will start at 1:00 p.m.
5301 Kaskaskia Road Waterloo IL 62298

The featured speaker will be a rear admiral Lee Metcalf, retired. There will be a band, barbecue and free beverages for the afternoon.

The eagle will be there and available for photos. Bring your camera or cell phone for great pictures. A donation to World Bird Sanctuary would be appreciated.

 

Gas Explosions

Jeff Rossen Reports had some good information on the latest gas explosions and what the home owner should do if they smell gas. I will list them below, but noticed that he omitted what I would consider to be an obvious action to take.

Turn off the outside gas valve. This is something I learned in my CERT training and is fairly easy to do. There is a video below which shows how to do this. I’d recommend getting a LARGE wrench since the valve can be a bit hard to turn.

Here are the actions that are recommended by the show.

  1. Check the stove to make sure none of the knobs are on.
  2. Don’t use the light switch or any electric appliances. The spark could ignite the gas.
  3. Open the window/windows. They only vent one window and leave the door open.
  4. Don’t start your car. It might cause a spark.
  5. Get 350 feet away from the house.
  6. Call 911.

 

No Fees for Freezing Credit Reports

Brian Krebs did a great article on the change in fees for freezing and unfreezing your credit reports.

Starting Sept. 21st. the three large credit reporting agencies cannot charge for freezing your credit accounts.

Here is the entire article. https://krebsonsecurity.com/2018/09/in-a-few-days-credit-freezes-will-be-fee-free/

Brian Ettling – Climate Change

brian-ettling-globe - EditedFriend, author, speaker and expert on Climate Change, Brian Ettling, is coming back to St. Louis for a couple of weeks this fall.

He will be teaching his continuing adult ed Climate Change 101 class for St. Louis Community College at Meramec Campus on Saturday morning, October 13th.
NATR:734 | $19 | Age 60+: $17
F01 | Sa 9 am-12 pm | Brian Ettling | Oct 13 | MC – SO, 107
For additional information, contact the Office of Continuing Education at 314-984-7777.

He is also willing to give a couple more talks while he is back in his home state of Missouri in mid-October. You can message Brian through his Facebook page if you’d like him to talk to your group.
https://www.facebook.com/brian.ettling