You are going to own a home with mold in it

It is true. Mold is everywhere and anyone who owns a home owns one with mold inside and out.

I drew this myself

There is a 100% chance that the home you live in and the one that you buy in the future has mold in it.

This is what the Minnesota Department of Health has to say about mold testing:

Poor reason for testing #1 “To find out if there is mold”

A complex mixture of mold particles normally exists in all occupied indoor environments. If appropriate testing is done, it is expected that molds will be found.

There is, however, an important distinction between the normal presence of mold particles, versus mold growth and accumulation indoors.

Unfortunately, even when it is done well, testing may not be able to distinguish between “normal” and “problem” conditions and it may even give misleading results.”

To lessen mold growth in your home, seal up any leaks, dry everything out. Clean or remove moldy surfaces. The Minnesota Department of Health website has information about how to clean up mold using bleach and water. 

wood, coal, oil, gas or propane?

I try to keep up with technology as it relates to housing. We are going to see a shift in how housing is heated and cooled. Here in the Twin Cities, natural gas is by

far the most common fuel used to heat our homes.

Before natural gas, there was fuel oil. In some homes, we can see where the tank is that held the oil. A truck would come by with the oil and hook up to the fuel tank from outside the house and fill it. In the mid-1970s during the oil crisis, many homes were converted from oil to natural gas. Natural gas is cleaner the oil and at the time it was less expensive.

Before fuel oil, many homes in the area were heated with coal and before that wood. There are properties that use propane heat too and some are heated with electricity. Central heating may become a thing of the past.

We won’t always be heating our houses with natural gas.  Electric heat will likely replace natural gas and eventually solar and wind power will replace electricity. Our houses will need to be greener too. Our survival as a species depends on it.

Gas appliances will also become less and less common. If I were to replace my stove today I would opt for a conduction cooktop and a convection oven. I have used both for cooking and they are nothing short of amazing. We know now that having an open gas flame in a house probably isn’t the best practice for safety or for clean air.

Houses can be retrofitted for different types of heating and appliances. Emergy use in Minnesota in the winter is particularly high and this year it is going to be more expensive than ever to heat our homes.

Old boiler

The houses are old and this isn’t California

So many of the “how to sell a house” articles come straight from California. Probably because California has more real estate agents per capita than any other state. Many of the tips apply to most markets but there are a lot of differences too especially for the closing and inspection processes.

Real estate is local and that does complicate things a bit. The process of selling a house differs by state and somewhat by the city as far as what kind of inspections are required and sometimes even where the for sale sign can be placed.

Selling an old house in say St. Paul Minnesota isn’t the same as selling a house that was built in the last 50 years in the suburbs. In fact, if you go check out some of those websites where homeowners can get instant offers they often stipulate that the house has to be built after 1970 or sometimes 1940.

In St. Paul, the median age of our houses is about 99 years old. Older homes offer a little more complexity to the buying and selling process. We don’t know what kind of repairs an old house might need. and it probably has lead-based paint. Older homes are more likely to have asbestos too.

Pricing and old St. Paul house takes experience. There won’t be a house that was built the same year that is the same size just down the street that recently sold that we can use as data to estimate the value. We have to look at sales prices in the area and make adjustments. To be honest some of it is at least partly a hunch based on experience.

age of houses
Age of housing stock

Personally, I believe that the best houses were built before 1960.  I like to think of St. Paul as the city of historic housing.


Old house meets cold snap

It looks like that subzero weather is going to be with us for a while. As the owner of an ancient house, I have had to deal with frozen pipes a few times. We have a sink with


plumbing inches away from the northwest corner of the house. My goal is to keep it from freezing so that I don’t have to thaw it out. Right now I have a short piece of heat tape wrapped around the pipe and I check it frequently when the temperature gets to -8 or less.

The last time the pipe froze was when the temperature dropped to -27. We turned the faucet on and after about 10 hours the pipe thawed on its own. The best way for a homeowner to thaw a pipe is with a hairdryer. It takes patience but it works. Turn the spigot on and aim the hairdryer at the frozen pipe. Be patient it takes time.

Having a plumber thaw the pipe is an even better idea but when we get the super cold weather plumbers are busy and they charge that extra emergency fee too.

Drains can freeze too. They can’t freeze unless there is water in them. A faucet that drips can cause a drain to freeze. Putting a stopper in the drain or putting something under the drip to catch the water will work as a temporary fix.

I have toured houses that were damaged after the pipes were frozen and burst as they thawed. It isn’t a pretty sight and depending upon the circumstances homeowners insurance may not pay for the repairs.

Homeowners who plan to have their vacant house on the market in the winter should have it winterized. Most plumbers can do this and some homeowners do it themselves. Winterizing involves turning off the water and draining the plumbing and water heater.

Homebuyers should insist that the water be turned on prior to a complete home inspection. I like to put the request right in the purchase agreement.

When I sell my house I will need to disclose that we have had frozen pipes.

Also, see It is never too late to winterize


Those darn ice dams!

Bathrooms demystified

If you are looking for a house to buy you may want one that has more than one bathroom. You may find a listing for a home that has two bathrooms only to find that one of the bathrooms is a 1/4 bath which consists of a shower in the basement.

It is helpful to understand bathroom definitions.

A full bath, which counts as one bathroom has a shower, tub, toilet, and sink.

A three-quarter bath has a toilet, and a sink, and a shower or a tub and counts as one bathroom.

Most half baths sometimes called a “powder room” have a toilet and a sink and counts as one bathroom.

Quater baths which also count as one bathroom may have a toilet, or a sink, or a shower, or a tub.

In the older parts of the city quarter baths in basements are more common than they are in other parts of the region.

The most unusual combination of baths I have ever seen in a house was one where there were a tub and a sink on the second floor and a toilet and a sink on the first. That house had 2 half baths and was listed as having two bathrooms.

Bathroom definitions are likely local so don’t take this too seriously if you are house-hunting outside of Minnesota.


Bathroom – full

In St. Paul we have old houses

The wonderful thing about houses is they can be retrofitted. I live in a house built in the 1850s.  It didn’t have wifi back then and there was an outhouse in the backyard. Central heating was added at some point and so was a water heater.

Today it has “smart home” technology, which in most cases is super easy to install and use.

Understanding old houses is an important part of my job. I have rarely met an old house that I don’t like. Sometimes people ruin them when they remodel so that the house has some character from the turn of the century and some from the 1980s.

The oldest houses in St. Paul are those that are the closest to downtown. The newest houses are in the Eastern and Western edge of the city. There are newer houses here and there and even some new construction.  Half of all houses in St. Paul were built before 1920. The chart is a screen print from a city of St. Paul planning report.

age of houses
Age of housing stock

The house I grew up in was a beautiful craftsman-style house in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood. It was built in 1926 and is the newest house I ever lived in. It had an ancient boiler that burned oil.  I well remember the great oil shortage and taking turns with my dad hauling containers of diesel fuel from the local gas station and using it as fuel for the boiler. That same boiler was later converted to natural gas.