Black is the new orange

Decorating trends come and go. I can easily tell when a house was decorated by the color of the walls, rugs, and furniture. In the last few years gray has been popular.  Even though the trend is dying it isn’t unusual to see an entire home interior painted in shades of gray with gray flooring.

I don’t disapprove of gray but not on every surface. I have heard designers talk about colors that will “pop” in a gray room. I guess I don’t expect popping to be going on in my house.

In the last few years, all-black exteriors have become a trend.  The white snow will make the black house “pop” all winter.

In color psychology, black means power and control. Black is intimidating, unfriendly, and unapproachable. Knowing that helps me understand.

An all-black exterior isn’t going to be easy to paint over when white becomes the new black in a few years.

black house with black trim
Forepaughs Mansion on Exchange Street in St. Paul.

Lilac blossoms, to pick or not to pick


The lilacs are starting to bloom. They are one of my favorites. Here are some tips for picking lilacs. They don’t last long in a vase.

  • Pick them when it’s cool out.
  • Pick them after they have opened up. They won’t open much if at all once picked.
  • Remove the leaves
  • Cut the stem just above a set of leaves. The stem should be long enough so to be recut every day.
  • Make a 1 to 2-inch vertical slit in the stem and remove the bark.

The newly cut branches should be put in a bucket of water or a vase and left in a cool dark place for an hour or two. Keep the flowers in a cool place, and add water every day.

At most, the flowers will last 3 to 4 days. Leaving them on the bush makes sense, but I can’t resist picking a few to enjoy indoors.

If you plan to sell your house soon take a picture of those beautiful lilac bushes blooming.



Buying a house and making repairs

brick turretMost of the houses I sell are old because St. Paul has mostly old houses and that is mainly where I work. My own house is over 165 years old. I have sold new houses and new construction too.

One mistake old house buyers commonly make is to try and fix and or upgrade everything right away. That isn’t a good idea. A home buyer can end up spending too much money.

The best approach, and this advice is from a Realtor® and an old house owner is to come up with a plan. Prioritize repairs and upgrades and create a budget. Start with a big list and break it down into a 3 or 5 year plan.

Also have an emergency fund. Things wear out in any house. It helps to have funds available to replace major appliances.

It is important to keep in mind that everything doesn’t have to be fixed right away.

Owning an old house, or a historic house like mine isn’t for everyone but all houses require maintenance and periodic repairs. Most everything in a house can be upgraded.

Got Lead Based Paint?

I write some version of this every year. Our housing stock in St. Paul is old. Some folks consider houses built in the 1950’s old, but in St. Paul they are newish. 43% of the houses in St. Paul were built before 1939.

Any house that was built before 1978 could have lead-based paint in it. Since about 80% of the houses in St. Paul were built before 1978 it is safe to assume unless proven otherwise most St. Paul houses have lead-based paint in them.

Lead is harmful to human beings, especially to children and Federal law requires that persons buying or renting a home that was built before 1978 receive a disclosure that states that the home could have lead-based paint in it. Homebuyers can have the paint tested for lead but they almost never do.

Buyers are given a pamphlet about how to protect their families from lead-based paint. 

Washing hands and covering chipped or peeling paint is recommended. Having paint tested before removing it is also recommended.

One of my clients had a child who had an elevated level of lead in his system. Lead was found in the finish on an old built-in buffet in a home built in the late 1930s.

We are in a strong seller’s market and In multiple offer situations, sellers are likely to reject the offer in which the buyer plans to have the paint tested for lead.

Unless the homeowner has test results that prove there is no lead-based paint in the home or the home was built after 1978 please assume that there is lead-based paint and take appropriate precautions.

Epa lead-based paint
From the EPA

Lead From Paint, Dust, and Soil Can Be Dangerous If Not Managed Properly

FACT: Lead exposure can harm young children and babies even before they are born.

FACT: Even children that seem healthy can have high levels of lead in their bodies.

FACT: People can get lead in their bodies by breathing or swallowing lead dust, or by eating soil or paint chips with lead in them.

FACT: People have many options for reducing lead hazards. In most cases, lead-based paint that is in good condition is not a hazard.

FACT: Removing lead-based paint improperly can increase the danger to your family.

Also, consider that if the exterior of a home is or was wood and it has been scraped and painted there could be lead in the soil, and before unleaded gasoline became the norm there was lead in our gas tanks too and some of it ended up in the air and sold. There is more but I think this is enough for now.

Information about lead-based paint testing

Also, get healthy home information from the Minnesota Department of Health. 

Now considering a heat pump

Summer heat

Our central air conditioning unit is almost 21 years old. When we bought the house it did not have central air. It is running fine but for how much longer? I started doing some research on replacing it with a heat pump. It is always best to replace central heating or cooling before they become and emergency.

Heat pumps are more energy efficient and they can also help heat the house in the winter.

A heat pump can be used with a furnace in the winter. They are set to cut off at a certain temperature and at that point the heat pump goes off and the furnace comes on.
Heat pumps are more energy efficient and currently there are tax incentives and rebates for making a home more energy efficient. We don’t replace central heating or air conditioning often which is why it is important to choose wisely.
I called a few heating contractors that I have worked with before and they all had reasons why I should not buy a heat pump. I am still doing research to find a company that can install a heat pump. I found a resource: Air Source Heat Pump Collaborative ASHP
The Air Source Heat Pump (ASHP) Collaborative was formed in 2019 by nonprofit Center for Energy and Environment and is a joint effort with Minnesota Utilities to promote heat pump adoption across Minnesota. The MN ASHP Collaborative strives to establish heat pumps as the preferred option for both customers and contractors when upgrading their heating and cooling systems, offering an efficient and eco-friendly alternative to traditional air conditioners.
So far contractors are giving me all sorts of arguments against installing a heat pump and none of those reasons make sense. I think that at this point most HVAC contractors do not install heat pumps. Stay tuned.

January is for Radon awareness

January is National Radon Awareness Month. There is a lot of misinformation out there about radon and where it could be hiding. We can not see it or feel it or hear it but that doesn’t mean it isn’t in our homes, offices, and schools.

The winter months are one of the best times to test radon levels and we have lots of radon in Minnesota.

Homebuyers should always have a radon test as part of the home inspection.  It doesn’t matter if the next-door neighbors have tested and do not have radon or if no one knows of anyone in the neighborhood who has ever had a positive radon test.

When buying or selling a house the radon test should be conducted by a professional. 

Most homeowners have never tested for radon even though it is estimated that nearly half of all Minnesota an estimated 40% of homes have elevated levels of radon.

I’ll never forget the time the real estate agent told the buyers that she had never heard of radon in the neighborhood. It just doesn’t work that way.

Radon gas can be anywhere and everywhere. Radon is a colorless and odorless gas that comes from the soil. When inhaled these fine particles can damage the lungs. Exposure to radon over a long period of time can lead to lung cancer.

The average radon level in Minnesota is more than three times higher than the U.S. radon level. This is due to our geology and how our homes are operated. Minnesota homes are closed up or heated most of the year, which can result in higher levels of radon. In Minnesota, more than two in five homes have radon levels that pose a significant health risk.

Radon can be mitigated.  Sometimes when houses have high levels of radon in them the sellers will agree to pay for a mitigation system.

Learn more from the Minnesota Department of Health

Info graphic national radon hotline 1-800-sos-radon