Ask Hannah Holmes

Hannah Holmes

Home Rx

Realtor/science writer/self-proclaimed “house geek” Hannah Holmes on conventional versus modular construction costs, fending off wily coyotes, and more.

Illustrations by Christine Mitchell Adams

Have a question for Hannah?

Send your Maine home or garden conundrum to [email protected] and we may feature it in an upcoming column.

What is the difference in cost for stick versus modular construction in Maine?

VIA FACEBOOK
stick-built vs modular construction

This isn’t a problem of comparing apples to oranges. It’s a problem of comparing fruit salad to coleslaw. On the face of it, building a house from factory-built modules is cheaper than building it from a truckload of sticks delivered to your site. A 2014 study from the National Association of Home Builders found that modular building cost averages 9 percent less than stick-built.

However, there are many considerations. Labor costs vary tremendously across the landscape. Once the chunks of a modular home arrive at your site, the house should go up faster, saving labor. But if your site is far from your favorite modular manufacturer, you’ll pay a premium to have the parts delivered. And while modular homes gain their efficiency from using a few large modules, those modules can limit floor plans and complicate future renovations.

If I were to build today, I would opt for the hybrid newcomer, SIPS (structural insulated panels) — super-insulated wall segments that can be joined on-site. These are more adaptable than modular construction, better insulated than stick-built, and speedy to assemble.

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We are trying to decide if a move to Maine is right for us. I am an allergy sufferer, particularly bothered by mold, and am leery of all the greenery and humidity you have.

TERI RADER, ALTO, NEW MEXICO
allergies

Mold is most prevalent in damp conditions. But the surface of the world is so varied in its moisture level, and the winds that carry mold spores are so varied in their direction and intensity, that predicting where mold will occur is impossible. I actually get a mold-allergy reaction during nor’easters, perhaps because the strong gales mobilize mold from trees, houses, and other exposed surfaces.

Climate change is compounding the unpredictable nature of nature, as it scrambles both precipitation and wind patterns. Maine is becoming warmer and wetter, particularly near the coast. Of the 100,000 species of mold on the loose worldwide, most prefer warm, wet weather.

But even one neighboring gardener can alter the contents of the air flowing past your nose. In the olden days, allergy sufferers were often advised to relocate to arid Arizona to escape biological dusts. Then widespread irrigation of the desert led to widespread lawns, shrubs, trees, weeds — and allergenic particles.

All of these factors apply to pollen allergies as well. What’s more, the rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stimulates some plants to spew even more pollen than they normally would. How mold and pollen counts will shift in coming years is anybody’s guess.

That said, the west side of Seattle enjoys famously clean air off the Pacific. But it seems only fair to note that Seattle is not famous for either lobsters or whoopie pies.

We recently had a coyote trot down our private lane when our golden retriever was tied up on the porch. What should we know about coyote encounters with humans and dogs?

LAURA SUSAN FERRISS KOUBA, FREEPORT
coyotes in maine

If only the European settlers, equipped with cheap bullets, hadn’t killed off New England’s wolves. Coyotes can’t invade a wolf-dominated ecosystem because wolves won’t tolerate competition for prey. But with wolves eradicated, coyotes have expanded their range throughout the Northeast. Studies of their droppings show that they occasionally eat cats. And as coyote numbers balloon in residential areas, we’re learning that they will also attack small dogs (usually when no human is present). While they show interest in large dogs, accounts of an attack are rare.

Avoidance is the simplest action you can take to keep peace with your neighbor. Coyotes are diurnal — most active at dawn and dusk. They’re most defensive of their territory (a.k.a. your territory, a.k.a. former wolf territory, depending on your perspective) during their late-winter reproductive season. 

If you should cross paths, the guidance is similar for most large predators. Stand up for yourself, flailing your arms and hollering, so as to appear gigantic and mentally unstable. Shaking a beer can full of rocks is an old favorite. Don’t run, but you can back away if you like, while flailing and hollering and shaking a beer can full of rocks.

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What should I look for as a sign that the original windows in my 1804 home need replacing?

SHONNA MILLIKEN HUMPHREY, HALLOWELL
antique window

As long as the wood stays relatively dry, an antique window can last hundreds of years. It will shrink a bit, which causes older sashes to rattle in their frames. Weather stripping resolves that. The glass is likewise durable if baseballs keep a respectful distance. It’s the intersections of these materials that take a beating.

Each pane of glass is tacked into its wooden frame, then its perimeter is sealed with glazing putty. Countless hours of my youth were spent rolling putty into little snakes, packing it around a fresh pane of glass, and beveling it with a putty knife. Baseballs were so unruly at our house that we kept on hand a big sheet of replacement glass and a nifty little glass-cutter tool for slicing new panes.

But the putty dries and crumbles over time. Then cold air can swim around the glass and into the house and water can penetrate, destroying the wood. So: Rattling sashes and cracked putty signal that your windows need love. To add weather stripping and refresh the putty, you’ll want to remove the whole sash. That’s another story!

If the wood is warped or punky, then the window is due for replacement. A wood equivalent from a millwork shop like Bagala Window Works in Westbrook might run $2,000 installed. Non-historic and non-beautiful vinyl replacements from a big-box store start around $200, and installation cost varies widely.

Hannah Holmes is a real estate broker at Keller Williams Realty Greater Portland and the author of four science titles, including The Secret Life of Dust and Suburban Safari. A veteran renovator of old houses, she blogs about humans and their territorial issues at geekrealtyblog.com.


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