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“The work Community Homeworks has done for us? We never could afford it.”

Paul and Sharon returned to Kalamazoo five years ago to be closer to family. Since then, they’ve been adjusting to the challenge many older homeowners face – figuring out how to deal with home maintenance and repair issues on a fixed income.

FullSizeRender (2)Their small home on Kalamazoo’s Eastside was built in 1915 and like all older homes, when it needs repair or maintenance, it can be a challenge. Paul and Sharon first contacted Community Homeworks in the summer of 2014 with some plumbing and electrical issues. What they didn’t expect was the care and attention that they experienced from both our office staff and the field techs and subcontractors who visited their home.

“Eric, Denny, and Jason from Budget Drain were so kind and compassionate, and they provided unbelievable skill and patience in solving our problems. Robin is amazing – she’s so easy to work with and what a coordinator. Everyone is so dedicated there.” 

Our techs are always looking for other issues homeowners might not be aware of, and also keep an eye out for homes that could really benefit from weatherization improvements. Some simple repairs and air sealing around their front door made a big difference as cold weather set in, and when we launched our special Furnace Program last fall, Paul and Sharon applied and qualified. Their new high efficiency furnace was installed in November of 2014, and the savings were immediate. “Our high bill went from $285 to $139!” according to Sharon. They are now enrolled in our whole-house weatherization program and will have the additional air-sealing and insulation completed this fall, sure to produce even more savings.

It was through the Furnace Program that Paul and Sharon first found their way to our Education workshops. Everyone who received a new furnace agreed to attend 6 education workshops as part of their participation. What have they liked about the workshops? Everything. The topics are interesting, the instructors are helpful –

“The workshops are great. Even if we can’t do the work ourselves, we know what needs to be done. It makes us more informed and confident when we have to hire someone.”

We love partnering with families to help them keep their homes safe, affordable and sustainable, and we look forward to continuing to work with Paul and Sharon!

DIY Home Repairs for September

Fall is in the air! As kids head back to school and the weather cools down, here are some simple things you can do to keep your home in shape for the season:

  • Clean your gutters and downspouts. This should be done twice a year—in the spring, to clean out any leftover debris, and in the fall after leaves have begun to accumulate. This will prevent the gutters from filling with ice once the weather is colder. If you live in a one-story or two-story home, you can probably do this work yourself; if your house is taller, you should consider hiring a service to clean your gutters.
  • Prepare your lawn and garden for the winter.  Now is a good time to pull up and compost any dead plants and plant any bulbs you want to sprout next spring. autumn-201414_640
  • Take care of your seasonal tools. Get your snow blower tuned up before winter starts to avoid the long waits as other homeowners get their own appliances serviced. Tune up your lawnmower if you haven’t done so already this year, and don’t refill it all the way with gas if it runs out—you’ll need to store it with the gas tank empty this winter, or else add a stabilizer to prevent the gas from freezing.
  • Buy any seasonal tools and supplies you may need—both summer and winter ones. Summer tools such as lawn mowers may be on sale as the season winds to a close. Winter supplies such as snow shovels, snow blowers and salt for sidewalks may be in short supply as people begin buying them more frequently, so take stock of what you have and plan to buy any needed items before the weather gets cold.

Project of the Month: Winterize your Home


Many of Kalamazoo’s beautiful historic homes are over a century old. While these iconic buildings provide a sense of character in our neighborhoods, one downside is that many of them lack the sort of energy-saving features present in more modern homes. Even newer houses can lose a lot of heat during the winter. Fortunately, there are some simple energy-saving measures any homeowner can take to save on heating costs this winter.

As with other seasonal supplies, it’s best to buy weatherization items early before the weather gets cold and other homeowners rush to purchase them. A small upfront investment in window plastic, rope caulk, foam pads for electrical outlets, and other easy-to-install supplies can save money in heating costs this winter. More labor-intensive tasks, such as installing insulation in walls and attic floors, can be more expensive initially, but will continue saving you money for years to come.

Community Homeworks is Growing!

We’re very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish with a small team over the last few years, but it is time to build up our capacity to keep responding to the needs in our community. We’ve just posted three new positions to expand our construction department:

Construction Manager: this new full-time position will manage, oversee, and evaluate the Critical Home Repair and Whole House Weatherization Programs for up to 200 families per year.

HVAC Service Technician: full-time position to assist in performing heating and water heater repairs as well as new installations of energy efficient heating systems.

Weatherization Field Technician: full-time position to assist in performing whole house weatherization, including air sealing, insulating, mechanical work, whole house testing, and other duties.

You can download full job postings from the links above – we are seeking qualified candidates who are committed to making a difference in Kalamazoo.


DIY Home Repairs for August

August is a good time to catch up on miscellaneous home tasks that get put off when summer months are too hot.

  • Show your floors some love. In addition to sweeping and mopping tile floors on a regular basis, you can keep them looking great by cleaning the grout lines periodically. If any of the tiles are broken, replacing them is a relatively simple process. Try waxing or refinishing wood and linoleum floors that are showing signs of wear.
  • Clean your refrigerator coils. Do this safely to save money by allowing the refrigerator to run more efficiently.
  • Repair and repaint your porch and steps. Their paint jobs are often damaged during the winter, and painting will help protect the wood.


Project of the Month: Ventilation Check-Up


It is easy to take our home ventilation systems for granted. Many of the problems that occur with these systems are not necessarily the result of a single instance of damage, but instead can result from long-term deferred maintenance. Taking a few simple steps a few times a year can aid healthy  air circulation, help avoid problems such as excess moisture, and save money by reducing energy use and preventing costly repairs.

To ensure that moisture doesn’t build up in your home, check that the ventilation fans in your kitchen and bathrooms are working. To do this, turn on the fan and hold a piece of paper towel or toilet paper up to the fan vent. If the fan holds the paper up under its own power, it is working properly; if the paper does not stick, the fan is not generating enough air pressure to ventilate your room. Good ventilation is necessary to prevent mold and other moisture-related problems in your home. Try cleaning your exhaust fan. If the fan still doesn’t pass the paper test after being cleaned, you may need to replace the motor or buy a new fan.

It’s also a good idea to clean your air conditioner at least once a year, whether it’s a window unit, central air, or any other sort of system.

DIY Home Repairs for July

Summer is here! Here are some simple things you can do to care for your home this month:

  • Schedule a furnace tuneup with a furnace technician before the weather starts to get cold. This service, which should be done yearly, costs around $100-$125, but it will save you money on heating costs and prevent problems that are much more expensive to fix.


Project of the Month: Common Door Repairs

Fairy_door_at_Red_Shoes_Ann_Arbor_MichiganIt’s easy to overlook a sticking or warped door when you have more pressing maintenance problems. Often we grow used to a door’s problems over time, and don’t realize that a few minutes of maintenance can make the door much easier to use and prevent future problems. It’s especially important to make sure exterior doors are working well, both for security and to prevent heat from escaping in the winter.

Inspect and tighten hinges, door hardware, and locks.  Install extra long screws to secure strike plates and latches to increase their ability to provide security.  Realign and insure proper operation of storm doors.  Inspect and replace weatherstripping.


DIY for June – No More Water Issues

PlumberWater, water everywhere it’s not supposed to be!

Perhaps the biggest threat to a home’s integrity is water where it doesn’t belong.  From roof to basement, the keys to staying dry and damage free are preventing exterior moister from seeping in, reducing interior moisture, and making sure all water conveyances remain leak free.

Water in the wrong places can cause wood rot (porches, eaves, soffits, floorboards, supports), water stains on ceilings and under cabinets, and mold. Damp wood invites termites and carpenter ants. Left unchecked or unnoticed (hidden), moisture can cause damage over time that can become a serious and expensive repair and even an unsafe situation. Keep an eye on your monthly water bill. A sudden or significant increase could indicate there is a leak somewhere.

Below are some tips for preventing the most common issues that can contribute to water damage. Additional detail can be found in this handy, printable brochure.


Your roof is your first line of defense. Inspect it annually for loose or damaged shingles and flashing around the chimney, vent pipes, skylights, and any other roof penetrations.  Check the condition of chimney caps and the brick mortar. Check inside the attic for signs of water damage.  Make any necessary repairs.

A clogged gutter can send water spilling into your home’s foundation, through the roof, or down to your basement.  Keep your gutters clear, repair them if they are sagging, and extend downspouts at least 10 feet away from your house.


Prevent water from backing into your home and basement by diverting it away. Grade the land away from your foundation to increase proper drainage. Trim back trees and bushes so that moisture can evaporate, rather than damage your siding or window trim.


For windows and doors, repair or replace caulk, weather stripping, window glazing and seals, and door seals. Examine your exterior siding and replace any missing or damaged fasteners or screws. Repair or replace punctured or broken siding. Seal around protrusions such as faucets and furnace and water heater vents.


High humidity can cause condensation on surfaces due to insufficient venting. Use exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens to remove moisture to the outside. Vent your clothes dryer to the outside. If you hang wet laundry in your basement, offset that by using a dehumidifier.

Increase air circulation by using fans and by moving furniture from wall corners to promote air and heat circulation and keep doors open between rooms. Open your drapes and window shades to let window condensation evaporate.


Flush your water heater tank to remove sediment at the bottom of the tank. A rusted bottom could lead to leaks or failure.

Caulk the tub surround and on the outside where the tub meets walls and floor. Always tuck in your shower curtain.

If your toilet rocks or there is water at its base, replace the wax ring.  Make sure the tank’s inner workings function and the flap seals.

Check faucets and under-cabinet plumbing for leaks and have them repaired.  Dark pots, stains, mold, calcifications, and spongy wood are some signs of leaks.

Don’t pour cooking grease down your sink.  It will solidify and clog your pipes, which could cause backups.  Best to pour your grease into an empty can and let it sit. Once it hardens you can toss it in the trash.

Know where the main water shutoffs are. Install water shutoff valves on water lines under sinks and toilets and water lines leading to outside faucets.  These will help you react quickly to a situation and isolate the shutoff rather than having to stop the flow to the entire house.


Your appliances that use water can cause damage due to ruptured or leaky hoses or improper connections. Inspect condition of hoses and connections to your washing machine, refrigerator, and dishwasher.

In-window air conditioners are prone to condensation and drips.

Don’t run your appliances while you are away.

DIY for May – Tiny Gardens, Big Results

Have you heard the news, it’s all over town.  If you haven’t heard it, well, you better sit down.  Grab a hold of something, hold on tight.  Container gardening is outta sight!

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could put food from your own “farm” on your table? You would have fresh, better tasting food, in season and with higher nutrients. Well, you don’t have to live on 40 acres to be able to grow your own edibles.  Container gardening and raised bed gardens could be a way for you to have fresh food at your fingertips.

Small spaces are also good for planting for flowers and even attracting beneficial creatures or discouraging harmful ones.

IMG_2447Community Homeworks presented a workshop on Grow it Yourself Day at People’s Food Co-op in Kalamazoo.  Participants learned ways to take advantage of whatever space they have for growing edibles and flowers.  Hands-on demonstrations showed how to build a raised bed and even reuse materials for container plantings.  As a result, folks came away with skills and knowledge they could immediately put to use as well as a garden-ready bucket!

Here is how to build a container that takes the guesswork out of watering. These instructions are courtesy of Trybal Revival Garden.  Check them out, as well as the gardening community Common Ground for additional information and resources.Bucket


Here are some upcoming free workshop offerings in the Kalamazoo area that can help you get started.

Common Ground          Wenke Greenhouses          MSU Extension

Your local garden centers and greenhouses are good resources. Some offer free workshops on a variety of gardening topics that help you grow-it-yourself. These places can provide help on herbs, fruits, vegetables, pest-resistant plants, pest control, seasonal foods, and fertilizers.  Co-ops and garden networks are also good sources of information and skill building.  And, there might even be ways to get involved in community gardens that have the capacity to grow on a larger scale. They provide opportunities to socialize, contribute to the vitality of neighborhoods, and share what is produced.


Little Library Build Day at Community Homeworks

Little Library Build Day at Community Homeworks
Little Library Build 4-11-15 (2)

With several stations set up for building, one station for power tools and one for a table saw to be used by trained experts only, there was room for everyone to get to work.

Community Homeworks was happy to host a four hour building workshop on Saturday, April 11, as part of the Little Lending Libraries in Vine project. By the end of the day, teams from Kalamazoo Collective Housing, Kalamazoo College, Oak Street Garden and Community Homeworks had built beautiful Little Library boxes ready to enhance their neighborhoods. Special thanks go to Hannah Knoll for organizing the event and to Little Library expert Tammy Wilson, KNHS construction supervisor Matt Milcarek, and Community Homeworks Executive Director Shaun Wright for providing technical supervision and expertise.

Bounlad Jones, a future Kalamazoo Valley Habitat for Humanity homeowner and a regular participant in Community Homeworks Education Workshops, helped design and build a Little Library that will go in front of her new home.   With the help of Tammy, Matt and Shaun, her Little Library evolved into something that is more “up-to-code” than any other Little Library we’ve seen. Complete with soffiting, asphalt shingles and full caulking, Bounlad’s Little Library is sure to keep her neighborhood books dry, and the brick-look exterior will look great with her new brick home!

Little Library Build Day 4-11-15 (5)

Matt and Tammy talk about the next step toward reaching Bounlad’s vision.


Little Library Build Day 4-11-15 (8)

Bounlad measuring shingles for her little roof.

Boundlad's Box (5)

Bounlad’s constructed box; we can’t wait to see her finishing touches!


DIY Home Maintenance for April

What’s Bugging You?

It’s spring once more, and plants and animals alike are being revived.  Time to turn your attention to those pesky bugs and other critters that can begin to invade your home at this time of year. There are some simple things you can do to prevent and treat the critter problem.


The best defense is good offense. Remember, pests are attracted to food and water. Take these steps to reduce the opportunities for pests to enter your home in the first place.Ant

  • Be tidy. Keep food in containers, and keep your kitchen, countertops, and other areas free of food waste.
  • Take out the trash regularly.
  • Remove water sources: repair leaky faucets and pipes, divert water from your foundation, keep your gutters clear.
  • Trim back the trees and bushes from your home at least 12 inches, reducing your home’s contact with the bug freeways.
  • Seal all entry points. Caulk outside around doors, windows and utility lines/pipes. Repair cracks in cement floors and foundation.
  • Keep wood chips, lumber, and firewood away from the house. Remove stumps and debris near your home.


Help keep the mosquito population at bay by removing sources of standing water: kids toys and wading pools, puddles, birdbaths, yard items that collect water, and even your pet’s water dish.


If you do need to fight back an invasion, here are some tips for doing that.

  • Buy the right product for the pest. Baits, traps, and poisons are specific to the ant, spider, bee, rodent, etc. and have specific application methods.
  • Read and follow the directions carefully.
  • There are treatments for your exterior foundation to prevent entry, such as sprays and granules can that can be applied using a lawn spreader.
  • Call a professional for termites (chemicals are regulated), and larger rodents such as squirrels and raccoons.

Remember to keep all poisons out of the reach of children. Keep the phone number for poison control posted on your refrigerator.

Here are some non-toxic alternatives for pest control.

DIY Home Maintenance for March

Window Views

WindowCan’t do outdoor yard work yet?  Well, from inside, you can dream about your upcoming spring plantings and beautification projects – fun stuff like putting out potted flowers and creating focal points in your yard.

Did you know that you can plant and beautify strategically so that there is something blooming, providing color, or providing interest all year long?  Certain plants can attract butterflies and birds that are fun to watch.  Some shrubs and trees have colorful fruit or leaves that linger on the limbs through the winter. Regardless of the season, there can be something in your yard that you can enjoy.

Most often we think of outdoor projects as adding curb appeal – what others passing by will appreciate.  However, what about what you look at from indoors?

Here is a fun winter pastime. Stroll through your home and look out your windows.  Imagine what you would like to see when the sun is shining or when the snow abounds. Each window frames a view.  What could be in that view?  A shapely tree? A picket fence? A fountain or bird bath? A large clay pot or hanging basket draped with flowers? A rock garden surrounding a tree under which grass never seems to grow? A bird feeder? Whimsical yard art?

Whether you want curb appeal or a pretty window view, your spring projects don’t have to be grand or expensive to perk up your outdoor spaces.  They just need a little thought and a plan.  Your neighborhood garden center, nursery, or hardware store can help you with your specific needs.

Speaking of Plans…

Are you emerging from your winter hibernation with visions of fix-it tasks?  Don’t know where to start?

For March, focus indoors on:

  • Checking for plumbing leaks
  • Maintaining your appliances
  • Cleaning and sharpening your garden tools; prep your lawnmower

When the snow thaws, you can begin outside on:

  • Inspecting your roof
  • Cleaning the gutters
  • Checking for proper water drainage

These tips will help you plan your last few weeks of winter and get you thinking about the spring months.

You can also check your annual maintenance calendar for what’s coming up.  Here is one straightforward approach to creating such a calendar if you haven’t already.

And, for one more planning tool, here is a basic home inspection checklist.  It is nicely categorized, so you can start in one area, indoors for now, then work your way around the house throughout the year.

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