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Thinking tankless?

By our favorite South Austin contributor–Patti P. 

One night last week I planned on cooking pasta for dinner—knowing what time the family would most likely be home and ready to pounce on their plates—and being that it was my turn to cook—I started the big pot of pasta water before everyone was home and let it simmer on the stove, figuring I could turn up the flame as soon as the front door opened to get the pot to a rolling boil quickly.  Thus dinner would be served, consumed, cleaned up in record time and we could hop right on to evening events. 


Instead of being an organized time saver, I unwisely wasted quite a bit of energy keeping that pot of pasta water on simmer.  Yep, I’m a noodle head in more ways than one. 


But simmering that pot of water is no different than the traditional water heater that you probably have in your house.  It keeps your water heated 24 hours a day—when you’re sleeping and even when you’re not home.   Wasting energy?  Yep you are.  Which may make you a noodle head too. 


An energy efficient but not necessary economical alternative to those continuously heating water tanks is the tankless or “demand” water heater that has been common in Japan and Europe and has gained some popularity in the U.S. since the “go green” movement started leafing out in the early 1990’s.   


Tankless water heaters heat water on demand with a heating device that kicks in when a flow of water goes across the internal sensors (you’ve opened the hot water valve).  The flow sensors turn off when the flow detector detects that you’ve turned off the hot water valve.  Tankless water heaters are about the size of a briefcase; no storage heater with drip pan needed.   


Traditional storage water heaters rise and maintain hot water temperature and have to turn on sporadically to store and maintain your set temperature 24/7.  And they are much much bigger than a briefcase. 


There’s a plethora of information out there on tankless water heaters, and the pros and cons differ depending on whether the source of information is a green energy company, a utility provider, a consumer organization or a tankless water heater manufacturer.  To help you decide if going tankless is for you, I’ve combined all the major pros and cons from the sources above and will leave it to you to weigh your “greens”: energy savings vs. green dollars. 


Tankless pros:  energy, baby

·     Tankless heaters run by cleaner* renewable gas (with electronic ignitions) use about 20% less energy than traditional gas run storage water heaters based on an average usage of 78 gallons of hot water a day (which is about 3 showers, 1 laundry load, running dishwasher once and the faucet 9 times).  Does this reflect your typical household usage?  This percentage of savings is according to the October 2008 issue of consumer reports.  Manufacturers tend to claim 30%-50% energy savings, and the green guide comes in at 34% (which is the average of all claims above).  *Cleaner than electricity. 

·     Tankless do not have energy “standby” losses which can represent 10-20% of a typical household’s annual water heating costs.  Standby loss means that traditional storage heaters have to keep heating water in the tank as it cools off. 

·     Tankless take up only a small space: again the size of a briefcase as opposed to a small water holding silo.  Great feature for smaller house living. 

·     With a tankless you don’t have a huge tank of water sitting in your house with a drip pan underneath…and drip pans are for… 

·     Tankless are less likely to leak or rupture (good news if your water heater is in your attic like my last one was). 

·     Reportedly tankless are less prone to mineral and sediment build up—which makes sense because you’re not storing up water. 

·     Once the tankless water senses the hot water faucet is turned on, you’ll have a limitless supply of hot water (based on your water wise conscience and ability to pay for the gas that is heating your water). 

·     Tankless last about 20 years vs. 10 years for a traditional storage heater (helping to cut down on waste in the landfills). 

·     You can save $70-$80 a year on your household energy bill (based on conventional bill of $200 a year for gas storage heater and $450 for an electric storage heater).  

·     You may be able to qualify for utility company rebates and state tax credits by installing a tankless heater.  Go to  This is a data base of state incentives for renewable energy. 

·     The greenguide says that tankless can provide hot water in as little as 5 seconds as opposed to 30 seconds that it takes some storage heaters to send that warm liquid your way.  Some consumer reports contradict this statement (which is coming up in the cons…)

Tankless cons: green conscience vs. green dollars 

  • Upfront costs for a tankless water heater are high: $800-$1,500 compared to $300-$400 for traditional storage tanks.  The greenguide tested what they claim to be the most efficient systems and these run as high as $3,920 down to $850 depending on size of house and proximity of main tankless to farther faucets/bathrooms.   
  • Installation costs run around $1,200 (compared to $300 for a storage water heater) because tankless need electrical outlets for the fan & internal electronics, upgraded gas pipes and a new ventilation system.   
  • OK, based on the cited initial costs of installing a tankless, it would take you about 22 years to recoup your initial investment (which might be superfluous at this point as tankless have a life expectancy of 20 years. 
  • In order to have enough water available on demand, you may have to have a central unit for the house and then additional POU “point of use” units installed in bathrooms and farther faucet.
  • You may find inconsistent hot water temperatures with an on demand water heater; e.g. if you just need a tiny trickle of water so you can shave, there may not be enough water passing over the internal sensors of the tankless heater to know to start heating.  So, in this case you could end up wasting water by letting the faucet run at a higher rate just to get hot water to lather up your mug. 
  • The faster the flow of water, however, that passes over the internal sensors the less time the water spends in the heating element.  So, particularly in the shower, you may find yourself mixing some cold and some hot water until you can fine tune the temperature.  Could take a little practice.   
  • And, this is where my eyes started glazing over with facts and figures: depending on your ground water temperature for your area (no I do not know mine) your tankless may not deliver sufficient hot water if the ground water is cold.  Like in Vermont where hairdryers are used more for thawing frozen pipes than they are for creating high hairdos.   


So, there you have it.  The pros and cons of going tankless.  If saving energy is important you, the expense may be worth it.  If you want to take baby steps toward saving energy—insulate your current water heater well and reduce your use of hot water. 


Thanks for reading.  Patti P.




September 23, 2008 at 2:25 am 4 comments

Got exemplary kids?

By our favorite South Austin contributor–Patti P.

Keep them accountable in smart Austin boundaries… 

I live in an exemplary school boundary in SW Austin—without looking at school ratings, this I guessed simply based on overhearing my neighbor’s elementary school kids having a serious conversation about the diminishing world rain forests and the effect this may have on the world chocolate supply.  Delivered by Andrew in a somber voice; “Catherine, I have bad news for you…we might not have chocolate ice pops much longer…”


Thinking about buying a home in Austin?  Want to keep your kids in smart public school boundaries?  Schools in the Austin Independent School District (AISD) are rated each year based on results from Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests.  Children in elementary and high schools are tested in the areas of reading, writing & math as well as science and social studies skills. 


Based on scores in all the above areas, schools then receive a rating—from highest to lowest they are: “Exemplary”, “Recognized”, “Acceptable”, or “Unacceptable”.


Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know whenever any test is administered, controversary works its way into the equation.  I figure the tests at least give us a teacher’s apple to teacher’s apple comparison which is a start–let the worm wiggle away…


If education is important to you, before you buy a home in the Austin Independent School District check out the AISD website to learn about school ratings and assignment areas:  You can also buy a school assignment area map for $8.50 + $1.50 shipping cost from the office of student services. 


Because boundaries can be redrawn, if you are getting serious about a certain Austin home at a Austin certain address, call the AISD district office at 512.414.1726 to ensure that your dream home falls within exemplary or recognized school boundaries—for your children as well as resale value.  I dislike sounding so calculating, but hey, your home is probably your biggest purchase and your kids—they’re priceless.


School begins on August 25 for the 08-09 school year.  Set your alarm clock 20 minutes early to help beat the doubled morning traffic, pack a lunch for old times sake (for better memories leave the shells out of the egg salad), have an ice pop–preferably chocolate–for dessert and ponder the fate of the rain forests.


Better yet, contact your local school and inquire how you can volunteer your talents: guest speaker, mentor, lunch relief…


Happy exemplary school year,

Patti P.

© Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Reatly, 2008-2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Realty with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

August 6, 2008 at 8:59 pm Leave a comment

What if Freddie and Fannie were named Ferris and Faoiltiama?

By our favorite South Austin homeowning contributor–Patti P.

What if Freddie and Fannie were named Ferris and Faolitima?  Or Ferris Marc and Faoiltiama Madge, loosely translated in Norse and Irish origins as the warrior wolf that tried to eat the sun, and the wolf lady who soaked her nails in dishwater… 

Do you think “Ferris” and “Faoiltiama” would have endeared themselves enough to Congress and the Feds to amass over 1/2 of the U.S. mortgage debt at the tune of 5 trillion in mortgages?

Because the names Freddie Mac & Fannie Mae sound so gosh darn cute and friendly, I believe their agencies were allowed to grow to such mammoth proportions because Congress and the government did not take them too seriously.  But sun eating wolf and wolf lady with claws in dish soap (and a bow clipped charmingly above right fuzzy ear) aka Ferris Marc and Faoiltiama Madge by the mere mention of their austere names— may have earned more immediate & constant scrutiny.

Well, too late for name changes as Freddie and Fannie are certainly being scrutinized now—albeit being “bailed” out of their own perceived credit availability problems while being “scrubbed”.   I’ve tried to grab a pen and paper each time the radio gives an update on these government backed mortgage agencies so I could gain some very basic understanding and pass it on to you.  Here’s what has piled up in my hastily scribbled notes—it’s been a heck of a task but I’ve kept pecking away, attemping to understand, because I want wanna-be home buyers to feel comfortable in investing in homeownership in this great city of Austin Texas (#2 in the nation as best city to purchase a home).

Who/what is Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae?

FM and FM are government “backed” or insured mortgage agencies that are a rare breed; e.g. they act like private companies with private management, boards of directors and shareholders, but they also have a sort of government status as the federal government provides private backing or insurance on the mortgages that these agencies have made to mostly low & moderate income families.

For the record, Fannie is much older than Freddie.  Fannie was born in 1938 to Roosevelt and his new deal after the depression.  FDR created Fannie to provide local banks with federal money to finance home mortgages in order to make more people home owners rather than box car riders.

And then Freddie came along in 1968 (which puts him in…what…the class of 1986)?  Freddie is considered a GSE (government sponsored enterprise) with lovely protections from the feds in the form of lines of credit through the U.S. treasury, exemption from local and state income taxes and no review by the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission).  Sweet deal that.

What’s the big hub bub about FM and FM and why all the news now?

Freddie and Fannie “float” bonds in debt markets and they use the money they raise from this floating to fund mortgages and guarantee mortgages.  FM & FM need investors to back these bonds, but investors have become a little nervous lately because of all the press about high foreclosure rates and consequently these investors have slowed their investments in Freddie and Fannie.   The government has recently announced that a line of credit will be extended to FM & FM and they will be able to continue to support the mortgage market.

Will people planning on purchasing a home be affected by the current FM and FM situation?

Yes, in a good way now that FM & FM have received a credit extension.  For sure, the credit markets are tighter now due to so many homes in foreclosure in large part due to mortgages that were made without proof of income, or not enough proof of income to support the mortgage, but as long as you heed some very basic advice from my years of home ownership (read this but find a professional mortgage lender for clarification & verification) you should be happy and cozy in your new home for as long as you are able to pay your monthly mortgage payments.

·          Don’t consider an ARM (adjustable rate mortage) with initial low rates and low monthly payments because you’re SURE you’re going to get that BIG raise right around the same time that your rate is due to rise.   Remember: stuff happens.

·          Do your own “Can I afford it?” worksheet; be honest with yourself about all your debts and all your income.  Remembering “stuff happens”,  build in some “what if” scenarios.

·          Shop for mortgages and work hard to understand what you are signing before you sign and accept a mortgage.  Don’t pretend to understand what you don’t understand.  You’re not asking for travel directions, you’re buying a home.

·          Don’t ignore the reality of your mortgage rate and live in a dream world with the help of your new extra large plasma TV, because then, stuff will happen and you won’t know it until it’s kind of late to turn the stuff around.

I wish you well in finding your new home and obtaining a mortgage backed by Freddie and Fannie—or perhaps Ferris and Faoiltiama.  Find a good Realtor to work with and an equally good mortgage professional–they’ll help you understand the entire home buying process.

Thanks for reading.  Patti P.  (Perhaps this is a good time to reveal my own complex surname that earns me a little scrutiny from time to time: for the record, it’s PRZYBYLINSKI.)

© Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Reatly, 2008-2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Realty with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

July 28, 2008 at 12:44 pm Leave a comment

SXSWclick Shorts Film Festival finalists announced

06.30.08  From the

Finalists for the 2008 SXSWclick Online Shorts Festival have been announced, and you can watch them all on the festival’s website. The selected shorts are competing for various prizes, and a slot at the 2008 SXSW Film Festival. The finalists are divided into five categories: “Old School Shorts”, “Really Real Shorts”, “Animate-It”, “Sound Checks”, and “What the F*#!?”. This year’s judges include Jeffrey Tambor, Don Hertzfeldt, Doug Benson and Eugene Mirman among others–but the general public is also invited to watch and vote for the “Popularity Contest” award (which we recommend you do). Winners will be announced on August 1st.
[See the finalists here]

source credit:


© Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Reatly, 2008-2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Realty with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

July 1, 2008 at 6:09 pm Leave a comment

Thatch is for huts not for lawns…

By our favorite South Austin contributor-Patti P.

Gasp; let your soil breathe already…sheesh.


Having ears like radar, dragging hoses across our Austin lawn this weekend I swear I heard little gasping noises coming out of my grass.  And I was totally sober.  Once I determined the little wheezers weren’t coming from the hose or my not so little bowsers, I started to leap like a gazelle with thighs across the rest of the lawn in fear that thatch was going to link around my ankles and wrestle me to the ground leaving my husband to find me tied to the lawn like Gulliver (picture a smaller Gullivette in a pretty embroidered tunic—thank you).


Making it to the garage I turned on the computer and quickly “wikied” what might make my soil gasp.  I quickly came to the conclusion that I’m suffering from compaction & thatch.  My soil that is.   Serious problem with a semi-simple cure.  Read on.  Especially if you’re looking for a greener lawn to frame your home which you’re getting ready to put on this competitive real estate market for sale…


Thatch is meant for huts not lawns.

Thatch is usually dried botanical material (straw, reeds, rushes or heathers) layered on roofs to shed water from material that lies below.  So if you have thatch (layers of live & not so live organic material lying between your semi-green grass and the soil surface) it’s going to be very hard for any precious water, nutrients and vital air to penetrate the thatch and feed your soil.  Thus the audible gasping.


How do you know you have thatch? 

Moisten a patch of lawn (don’t make it WET, just moist) and wiggle a screwdriver down into the soil.  If the screwdriver goes down a few inches with ease, you’re probably thatch less and don’t need to read on…oh but do.  I promise to entertain as I love your company.


OK, you’re still with me.  Which means I’m wicked persuasive and/or you tried the screwdriver test and it did not penetrate the soil easily.  Did you hear the gasping too?  You have thatch and most likely compacted soil. 


In Austin, summer is the time to treat the thatch on St. Augustine and Bermuda grass, so make some lemonade, put on your best brimmed sun hat and get to work; preferably early in the morning when soil is just moist—again not wet—if you work with wet soil, you’ll just make compacted soil balls.


Notes to the compulsive and short-cutters:


DON’T try MORE water as over watering probably caused your compaction and thatch in the first place.  Once your lawn is compacted water will just run off to your least favorite neighbor’s yard or the street (wasteful) and hits you in your wallet.


DON’T add more fertilizer as this probably caused your grass to grow too fast, thus the compaction and gasping for air.  Your grass is suffering from a post- Thanksgiving dinner.


DO go to your favorite gardening center (mine is the Natural Gardener in Austin) and purchase a sod corer for $25.


What is a sod corer?

A sod corer looks a like an aluminum pitchfork except a corer has only two tines and they are hollow.  This lightweight corer has a bar above the hollow tines where you can place your foot to push the corer down into the moist soil.  The hollow tines push up tubes of soil just like a play dough maker pushes out stars and hearts and moons.  Leave the little tubes of soil lying on top of the lawn and keep moving along pushing up more tubes.  It is kind of meditative or at least brings you back to good Play dough memories…as long as you didn’t eat the stuff. 


Note: if you are trying to “aerify” a large lawn you may want to consider renting a commercial rotary sod corer at your local hardware store.  I’m going to continue with my Play dough/aluminum manual sod corer as I don’t want to spew gas or pay for gas to allow my lawn to breathe.


Benefits of using the sod corer:

  1. your lawn will breathe again because you are loosening up compacted soil
  2. the corer will make nice breathing holes in the compaction and thatch
  3. coring will stimulate new grass growth & will save you $$$ by reducing water running off
  4. your lawn will start to look lush as the corer cuts through roots; just like a starfish, the grass will quickly grow back new “arms” to cover any open spaces


So, liberate your grass this Fourth of July!  Let it breathe!  Drop us a line and let us know how your coring fared.  Thanks for reading–Patti P.

© Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Reatly, 2008-2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Realty with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

July 1, 2008 at 3:26 pm Leave a comment

22 reasons to ditch the suburbs & move to a downtown Austin LOFT.

By our favorite South Austin contributor, Patti P. 

Lofts are rising all over Austin overnight like a newly planted bean seed—pushing up clumps of earth in the “clubby” warehouse district, trailing up in the refreshing work/live East side, winding tendrils on vibrant South & North Lamar, reaching for the sun in the heart of SOCO, and promising to become some beautiful “beans” on swanky West 5th.

These lofty plans have names covering the alphabet from Alloya, Avenue Lofts, Austin City Lofts, Bel Air, Brazos Lofts, Bridges on the Park, Brown Building, Caswell Lofts, Guadalupe 31, Milago, Nokonah, Plaza Lofts, Satillo Lofts, The Rail Yard, Village on Congress, Waterstreet…(these are just a few). Some have innocuous identifiers: 1305 Lofts, Twentyone24 Lofts; but at least one is very direct: “6th & Brushy Lofts” …easy address for a dinner party…

The mayor of Austin reports that in the next 10 years over 25,000 people will move into our lovely downtown area—most likely in one of these fresh lofts. How about you? Ready for loft living?

I know there are at least 22 reasons why a person would thrive in an Austin loft…and here they come from the top of my bean pole:

1. You’ll be nicely positioned to jump on a bike spinning off any cobwebs to & from Zilker Park for the entire ACL Festival weekend. And you’ll be toned when you make it there for the tunes.  Then in the spring you’ll be totally giddy with all the SXSW happenings on your doorstep.  Nirvana.

2. Your grin will widen, and your endorphins will rise from more frequent attendance at area theatres. You’ll laugh more and extend your life.

3. You can send out-of-town visitors out (operative word: out) club hopping comfy with knowledge they are within crawling distance of your elevator… or doorstep in the case of a street side loft.

4. Your horizon will broaden–get a view already…seen any spectacular Texas sunsets in your suburb lately?

5. Your brain will expand, your dendrites will grow as you slip out your door and into the world of art show openings, CD release parties, edgy fashion shows, museum mixers, not to mention marveling at modern dance gracefully dangling from building frames–stunning.

6. The Saturday downtown farmers’ market will provide fresh food & flowers to last your entire week—you can hop right down there and oh yeah, no need for one of those wobbly wheeled shopping carts that always pulls to the right. And you won’t lose your car in a parking lot.  And you’ll be supporting local farmers.  And eating wisely with the seasons. Sweet.

7. You can easily fulfill our lofty Austin goal of attending a live music performance at least twice a week—Austin can only keep the title of “live music capital of the world” if we all do our part to support the musicians (who reportedly haven’t had a raise in 20 years). Go to a show. Now.  Even before you move into your loft. Thanks!

8. Parades. Parades. Parades. Always wanted to watch the Aggies march down Congress Ave to the Capitol the day after Thanksgiving but didn’t have the “drive”?  Step lively out of your loft and join the parade.  But always Hook ’em-grin.

9. First Night Festivities. Oh my. Your head will spin with the multitude of great venue choices within skipping distance…and Austin weather is mild so you won’t have to put on 3 layers of long johns like I used to when attending First Night in the north.  Yeah, I was a little stiff.

10. No more need/pressure to deck your exterior with extensive holiday decorations; no more ladders and lights—save energy. Go spin under the Zilker Tree and make wishes.

11. Limited need for trick-or-treat candy…no more suburban sized candy budgets. The party is on 6th street—you can walk right over (or hop if you’re a mummy). Austinites consistently come up with fantastic costumes.  I love techies letting their hair down…

12. No more yard chores—major woohoo! No need to water or rake leaves (that fall all year from our diversity of trees in Austin) and no power washing.

13. The sun won’t beat on your roof, unless you scored a penthouse loft in which case you can afford the energy bill. (Hopefully these new lofts are being built green & wise and extra insulated).  Or, perhaps your builder consulted the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center and got the scoop on tried & true water wise plants for rooftop gardening.  In which case the concrete around your building–and you in your penthouse–will be cooled.  And cool.

14. Your dog (if you have one or two) will lose weight and be happier. We moved our dogs from suburbia to a chi chi apartment home without a yard, and now we’re back to suburbia again. The dogs were much happier having a million walks a day and Austin as their backyard. There’s at least one leash-less park right downtown if your dog is not an escape artist.  I briefly watched a gleeful dog meet, greet & sniff this morning in a lakeside downtown park.

15. No more neighbor cats spraying your front bushes with their rank musk and sharpening their claws (and fangs) on your new cedar fence.  Sorry cat lovers.  They’re furry stink bombs.

16. No more vendors taping and rubber banding menus and service flyers to your front door (and making your animals go wacky). Our Irish wolfhound pushed out a brand new transom window when a telephone book company unwisely delivered their new books at 2 am.

17. No more pollsters, religious mean-wellers, and eager “save the environment” college students pressing their noses on your front door during dinner (and making said dogs go bonkers again). Sheesh, we just got our DO NOT CALL telephone request kicking in…

18. No more high school kids sitting out in their car next to your driveway smooching away with the bass cranked up.  OK, yeah, I was younger once but I lived in a rural area with plenty of “parking places” far away from my own driveway-duh.

19. No more fear that your home will lose value because your neighbor’s house looks like a garage sale (every day).

20. No more cricks in your neck from pivoting around constantly when backing out of your drive to ensure you’re not running over the neighbor’s toy trikes…or (gulp) tyke.

21. You’ll expand your language skills by learning Morse code to flash communications to your lofty neighbor across the street.

22. You’ll have more time to become the person you want to be. Or maybe you’re already complete in which case dance around your loft with pure abandon.

There you have it. 22 mostly good reasons for ditching the suburbs and getting thyself into a downtown Austin loft. And we haven’t even discussed the interior options… or all the gas money you’ll save by luckily living/working downtown.  Or at least spending your weekends on the hoof. 

Happy lofting. Patti P.

© Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Reatly, 2008-2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Realty with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

May 9, 2008 at 12:19 pm 2 comments

Power washing is too much pressure!

By our favorite South Austin contributor–Patti P.

I have a really hard time aiming a leaf blower in the right direction.  My last attempt sent leaves blowing backwards up against our window screens.  And, yep, the windows were wide open.  While the dogs on the inside got a kick out of snuffing up & identifying all the lovely leaf particles plastered on the screens (“Yo, Dusty, Rikki the spaniel left her calling card on our lawn-woo hoo!” ) I aimed the blower toward the sky and yelped for help. 

So when I recently entertained the idea of renting a power washer to scrub the exterior of our home, my husband replied (and with kindness), “are you nuts?”  Hmmm, no, not nuts but we both know I am dyslexic (right is left, back is forward, off is on and up is down…) so being armed with a power washer kicking out water at 2500 PSI (pounds per square inch) would definitely be a little too much pressure for my cross-wired noggin. 

But since I’ve already researched quite a bit about power washing, I shall pass some good tidbits on to you–the DIY’er who is without directional challenges and a possesses a phlethora of common sense.

Why power wash your home? Well, why exfoliate your face?  According to power washing experts, grit on the exterior of your home can “grind away like sandpaper in the wind & rain”.  Ouch.   So whether your goal is to rid your house of cobwebs, bird doo, mold & mildew to give it a face lift and make sparkling ready for sale or just performing regular maintenance, power washing sounds like a must-do.

Planning on doing it yourself? Some important tips:

1.You can use a power washer on houses made of stone, granite, bricks, steel, aluminum and vinyl…but be especially careful if using on wood-sided homes.  Be sure your wood is wood and a hard wood at that.  Cedar can be too soft, and fiber board would surely look like swiss cheese after a few well aimed water shots.  If your house is sided with horizontal slats, don’t spray the water under the slats–you’ll end up lifting them right up (and maybe off!). If your house is hard wood and painted, be very very careful to move the hose along the house; don’t hold the spray gun at one point for extended periods–this is how contractors REMOVE paint from homes for repainting!  Have lead paint?  Call in a professional for safe removal.

2. Use a power washer that sprays between 1800-2500 PSI (again, pounds per square inch).  You can go a little lower than 1800, but lower than 1200 won’t do the trick and higher than 2500 has potential to blast holes in your house.  To give you an idea of the pressure behind these pounds, your average garden hose flows at 60 PSI.

3. You’ll experience some recoil from the water pressure so you’ll need your feet planted firmly on the terra. Don’t ever stand on a ladder using the power washer.  I’m serious.

4. Power washers filled with clear water (and not mixed with chemical cleaners) will still do a good job of cleaning your house.  You certainly would not want to drench your lawn & shrubs around the house with any chemical cleaner coming out of the power washer.  Even using just clear water, you may want to put some plastic cloths over any tender plants near your foundation…(but you know here in Texas not to be planting right up to your foundation, don’t you?).  Another “Don’t”: never put bleach in the power washer–it can damage parts of the washer.

5. In Austin, you have to use a cold water power washer.  Because we live on Aquifer recharge zones (natural underground water resources: see  hot water power washers are reportedly illegal–the hot water releases too much dirt into the sewer systems.  Using a hot water power washer in Austin is reportedly a fineable offense at the tune of $10,000 fine to the contractor (if you hired someone to do it) and another $10,000 fine to you–the hiree or homeowner.   Hint: if you are dead set on using hot water in your power washer in Austin, you can ONLY use hot water with a filtration system (that removes the dirt before the drainage heads for the sewers).  You’d have to be really compulsive though as filtratrion systems cost about $4,000.  And you’d have to be really hard hearted to let hot water pour down on your plants & shrubs.  So hot water in Austin is only for the compulsive and cold hearted and deep pocketed.

6. Never point the power washing wand (it’s not Darth Vader time) at a person or animal.  Again, I’m deadly serious.  (Notice how I switch from puns to severity?  It’s not intended to make your head spin, and I sincerely hope you can keep up…)

7. DO NOT operate the power washer close to overhead power lines–stay at least 10 feet away, and have a buddy with you to ensure you are clear of power lines at all times.  I lost a high school buddy who tried working alone after school–he died instantly when his machinery touched a low power line.

8. Prepare first:

  • Cover all electrical outlets & avoid outdoor lighting fixtures–water in the fixtures could cause a short circuit and you could blast holes in glass fixtures.  Use plastic bags over your light fixtures and seal good with duct tape.
  • Take off all shutters (and watch out for spiders and wasps when removing).
  • Seal any tiny holes in the exterior of your home.
  • Notice any black spots on your exterior?  Test it first with some bleach.  If the black spot fades, then you have mold(a blasted fungus that I am becoming all too familiar with–in my nose, not my house).  In the case of correctly identified mold, you’ll have to get out goggles, repirator mask, rubber gloves, bleach/water, wear funky clothes or put a plastic garbage bag over your clothing, and grab a scrub brush.  If your test reveals that the black spot does NOT fade, then you just have dirt which can be removed with the power washer.
  • Practice BEFORE you attempt to wash the house–use the driveway (without cars & kids) as a practice ground.  Start with lowest pressure until you get the handle…

9. Ready to wash? (I so admire you!).  Make sure you pick a good day (not a windy day). Back away 3-4 feet and use a downward spray (a 15-25 degree nozzle reportedly is best).  Start power washing from the bottom and work your way up.  And, no, this is not a misprint.  I admit my cross-wired brain had to question this method for a minute.  When you wash from bottom up you eliminate all the dirty streaks that would come streaming down your house siding.  When you’re ready to rinse, THEN you wash from the top down.  If you have used any detergent in your washer (make sure it’s biodegradable and kind to people, plants & pets) you need to rinse within 10 minutes.

10. Oh, and never spray at your windows or you’ll soon be like little house on the prairie (with quaint little calico fabric pieces waving in the breeze in place of your former glass windows).

Whew!  Think you can handle the pressure? 

Best of luck to you with your power washing project.  Please be safe and use your head.  If you rent the washer, make sure you get a complete demonstration before taking it home.  Me?  I’m destined to call in the professionals.  And if you have any hesitation at all–please consult a professional.  Thanks for reading.  Patti P. 

© Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Reatly, 2008-2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Realty with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

April 30, 2008 at 1:09 pm 27 comments

Got fire ants? Invite them to tea…

So are you ready for Fire Ant Week? 

By our favorite South Austin contributor, Patti P.

Here in Austin it’s kind of the reverse of Cow Plop Bingo…you DON’T want the plops, or in this case mounds (of fire ants) on your “grid” of the neighborhood.  Of course your neighbors don’t want ’em on their lawn either.  

But if your neighbor works her magic ant herding brew on her lawn before the whistle blows and drives the dreaded red imported fire ants over to your pad when you’re not ready, you won’t be yelling BINGO (unless you have kids under 3 and are really trying hard to clean up your language).

My SW Austin neighborhood (Shady Hollow) has fairly declared May 4-10 to be Fire Ant Week.  Which means cancel all vacation plans, move your birthday to June, start limbering up, and get out your favorite ant baits & killer brews. 

It’s time to protect your turf from Fire Ants which–if they’re not already there–will be attempting to breach your green stuff from the north, south, east & westerly neighbor’s yards.  If you tend to get dizzy from turning full radius, now’s the time to get some balancing pills from your doc; you’ve got to be on an even keel all week–leave a hole in your flank and you’re toast (jam & tea) to waves of evil stinging fire ants.  

My sister from Long Island is so terrified of these critters that she mistakenly or maybe aptly referred to them as “snapping ants” on a recent visit when questioning a tour guide in San Antonio…in Long Island accent: “Hey, you, do you have any of those snapping ants around here?” But I digress, back to the battle…

Fire Ants are for real and are a serious problem.  They smuggled in to Texas around the 1930’s in soil piled in the bottom of ships from South America to help keep them balanced.  Red imported fire ants eat almost any animal or plant and do major damage to electrical systems & mowing, tilling & harvesting equipment.  When disturbed (oh, excuse me for stepping on your precious mound) the ants will emerge aggressively from their pile of soft soil around the queenie ant and they WILL sting you.  Many at one time often leaving white pustules on your skin.  Lovely image, no?   

Many a realtor in Austin has battled fire ants while pounding a FOR SALE or SOLD sign on clients’ lawns–seems the vibration of the sledgehammer disturbs close by mounds and up the leg or into the shoes come waves of fire ants.  One of my favorite rookie (at the time) realtors did not discover he was invaded by fire ants until he was driving his car up the Capitol of Texas Highway…he reportedly pulled his car over to the shoulder and proceeded to disrobe right there on this busy highway.  He drove home in his boxers.  I’d say commission earned.

So how do you battle these non-native fire ants?  In the case of realtors & brief/boxer encounters, I would recommend bringing baby powder, vinegar, baking soda or comfrey in your tool kit.  At the very least, sprinkle a little baby powder on the legs of the sign–reportedly the ants can’t get good traction on baby powder.  If stung, the vinegar, baking soda and comfrey can help soothe the sting.  Of course, if  you’re highly allergic to fire ant stings, get to a doctor immediately.

When participating in your week-long neighborhood mound moving battle,  I’d recommend using organic concoctions rather than synthetic chemical brews (which you surely want to keep out of the water system that you brush your teeth with, eh?).

Your local natural organic gardening center will be a good source of recommended baits & brews.  Some will offer a fresh compost tea (made from manure that is wrapped in a huge tea bag/pillow case over a bucket of water/ teacup).  This “tea” can be mixed with some molasses and citrus oil as a control method.   (You can make your own citrus oil by soaking citrus peels in equal ratio with water for 10-14 days…)

During battle week, many Texans swear (often) by the “two-step” fire ant control method. 

Step 1 is to spread an organic bait laced with a bacteria called “spinosad” on your yard.  Feeding ants will bring the bait back to the mound.  The bacteria in the bait paralyzes the nervous system of the ants and they die–sorry, but they are fire ants.  (But get this, before you spread the bait, you want to be sure that fire ants are on your property and are ready to eat…because the bait can kill the native (good) ants too.  Please don’t kill the beneficial/ good ants unnecessarily because you THINK you have fire ants.  A piece of potato chip or (ugh) hot dog left out near suspected infestations will give you direct evidence that fire ants are present & ready to feed if you soon find it crawling with fire ants.)  Check out pictures of red imported fire ants on the web so you can be sure in your identification.  Then spread the bait.

Step 2 is to directly treat any visible fire ant mounds.  On mounds, an organic method is to use “d-limonere” which is an extract of orange oil.  The oil reportedly destroys the wax coating of the ant’s respiratory system and it suffocates.  Again, I’m sorry but these are Fire Ants. 

If you’re from or in Texas, you surely have some anti-red-imported-fire-ant brews and teas of your own.  Best of luck using them in your reverse neighborhood BINGO. Hopefully your “teas” are organic and you’re willing to share your most successful recipes.  Give us your tea!  We’d love to hear from you.  Thanks.  Patti P.


 © Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Reatly, 2008-2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Realty with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

April 17, 2008 at 6:18 pm 5 comments

South Austin: where you can be weird and have chickens too.

A gaggle of teenagers strutted into a convenience store in South Austin yesterday sporting various t-shirts…the tag line on the back of one boy left me silently applauding…”Old Austin hasn’t died.  It just moved South.”  Kudo’s to the unknown author–s/he is definitely a keen supporter of the philosophy that makes Austin so appealing: Keep Austin Weird.

When relocating from Vermont to Austin in 2000, the idea of living in a city that prided itself on being weird wasn’t on my list of criteria for a good match.  However, having lived here for the past eight years I’ve come to understand, totally support and am completely hooked on the notion of Austin’s “weirdness” and can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Weirdness in Austin means freedom to wear flipflops on Christmas Eve and not feel underdressed or disrespectful–you belong and are more important then your footgear.  Seriously.

Weirdness in Austin allows you to celebrate Spam AND Eeyore’s Birthday with pure endorphin-releasing abandon.

Weirdness in Austin means looking forward to sitting with friends & neighbors on the banks of Lady Bird Lake watching for millions of bats to leave their bridge home for evening snacking (right over your head).

While this delightful weirdness occurs throughout Austin, it is especially celebrated South of the Lady Bird Lake, thus South Austin. 

In real estate terms, South Austin includes many neighborhoods including Barton Hills, Bouldin Creek, Cherry Creek, Dawson, Galindo, Horseshoe Bend, South Lamar, SOCO, South Creek, Travis Green & Zilker. 

The further south you go, the more lenient the Home Owner’s Assocations seem to be.  One of my favorite Austin columnists has lived in South Austin for 30 years and frequently amuses with accounts of his creative South Austin neighbors… one neighbor reportedly has a large peace sign on his front lawn–very large–we’re talking trampoline turned on its side with a painted peace sign large.

If freedom of expression is very important to you, you may want to explore some of Austin’s South Austin neighborhoods.  Go online, search on “South Austin” which offers links to many neighborhood associations; read their newsletters and check out the neighborhood school(s).   Check in with your favorite Austin realtor who will be a great source of  information about South Austin neighborhoods.

South Austin may be your new home.  You may even find yourself with your own flock of chickens.

… From our favorite south Austin contributor, Patti P …

© Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Reatly, 2008-2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Realty with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

March 28, 2008 at 8:53 pm Leave a comment

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© Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Reatly, 2016-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Realty with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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