Q&A: Andrew Wynn on virtual home maintenance

Jul 16, 2020

Andrew Wynn is the Director of Hippo Home Care which helps homeowners proactively care for their homes to catch issues before they become costly repairs. Homeowners talk virtually with a home expert to troubleshoot. When there is a project that requires professional service or repair, Hippo Home Care can help book a vetted provider for a fixed price. Prior to founding Sheltr, which was acquired by Hippo Insurance and is now Hippo Home Care, Andrew worked at Instacart.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, Marie Kondo, the Property Brothers or Amy Astley, editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest, answer your decorating, design and decluttering questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and organizing. For more than 20 years, our Thursday Q&A has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share your own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small.

Many of us have put off home repairs due to the pandemic. Andrew Wynn, director of Hippo Home Care, can help identify which problems require immediate attention. His company specializes in virtual preventive maintenance tips. Send in your questions on what's worrying you right now.

Hi Everyone, my name is Andrew Wynn I'm thrilled to be here today answering your home maintenance and repair questions. I can’t wait to show you how simple and easy it can be to stay ahead of unexpected home repairs with a few simple steps and routine home care. 

I have a rotted window that needs replacing - the outside part is totally shot and you can put your finger through the wood. I'm not excited about having people in to measure etc. If I delay too long, what might happen?

This is one of those things that you should get a professional in to look at as soon as possible. The longer you leave the rotten window, the more chance water has to make its way inside your house and cause much more damage and rot. Depending on how long it's been like that, you may already have water damage inside of your walls. Reputable professionals are taking an abundance of caution, including wearing masks, when in homes. 

I never had my annual AC check this year. Do I still need to or can I skip it?

We recommend getting your HVAC system looked at annually as it's the best way to proactively mitigate potentially disruptive and expensive issues. Nobody wants the AC to go out on the hottest day of the year so an annual tune up goes a long way. Much of your AC system is outside which limits the inside interaction you'll have with an HVAC technician. 

There are so many sites now that claim they’ll “hire” your pro whatever you need done. It’s so overwhelming. How do you sift through it all. I know experts say to ask friends and relatives but most of the time they haven’t done the repair, maintenance or renovation that I need done.

This is a really common problm people struggle with. Asking for recommendations from friends and family is a good start but doesn't always work out.

We recommend using independent guides like Diamond Certified, BBB, Yelp, and Google Reviews to create a short list of pros you think are well suited. From there, it's worth talking to them and providing a lot of context on the job to see if they are the right fit for you and your job. 

So what exactly happens in an AC tuneup? I've literally never gotten one.

An AC tuneup for your system is equivalent to an oil change for your car. The HVAC tech will inspect all of the crucial elements for signs of wear, rust, water damage, etc. Additionally, the HVAC tech will replace the filters, lubricate the moving parts, test the electrical system, clean the condenser coil, and clean the condensate drains. 

This helps catch issues (like a broken shut off switch) from becoming huge problems (like water through your ceiling).

Does your service help homeowners do fixes themselves? Or just connect them with service people? I'd like to do things myself whenever possible, but I am not particularly handy.

 

I'm a DIYer at heart as well so we understand the desire to want to do it yourself, not to mention saving money. At Hippo Home Care, our Home Pros will do everything they can in order to help resolve issues with virtual help. However, when these issues require in-person help, Hippo Home Care will connect you with a licensed, certified professional to help you get the job done.  

Do you recommend those "covered" gutters that say they will not allow pine needles and leaves to clog up your downspouts? Isn't there a chance that they can get stopped up by particularly pine needles? Thanks.

Gutter covers are really helpful for keeping your gutters and downspouts free of large debris but they certainly aren't set it and forget it. It's still important to clean off the screens regularly - once or twice a year depending on your home. If you're really struggling to keep your gutters cleaned, it may be a sign that you should trim back overhanging branches. Heavy branches hanging over your roof can cause much bigger problems that just clogged gutters.

If I want to put up some walls to make an open floor plan less open, do I need an architect for that? A design/build firm? I wouldn't be removing walls, so I don't think there'd be concerns about load-bearing etc.

Given you're adding walls, it's likely you won't need an architect since they won't impact your home load-bearing structure. That said, it will depend on your project and space so we recommend bringing in a licensed and insured general contractor to assess your project and determine any engineering and permit needs. 

For context: We are in Phoenix AZ The shut off valve on our AC was triggered recently by a blocked condensate drain pump. Our tech came out the following day and replaced the drain (not sure that was necessary, but hey it was 115F outside I wasn't going to dispute his expertise) Monsoon season is here and so that drain will be working hard. Is there anything I can be doing daily/weekly during this season to keep the drain and pump working so that it doesn't get blocked again?

Sorry to hear about the issue but glad the shut off switch did its job and you didn't have to deal with water damage in the sweltering heat. 

You should definitely be keeping an eye on it and checking for standing water. If you are seeing standing water, that likely means another blockage. To keep it clear, you can periodically run hot water or distilled vinegar through the drain line. 

So now that it looks like I'll be working from home for the foreseeable future, it seems time to turn my table into an official office space. Is this a bad time to have someone come in to assess and do a few built-ins?

A better time than ever in my opinion! Reputable, licensed, pros are taking all of the right precautions when entering homes and given it's summer you can run fans and keep your windows open while they are there to keep air circulating. 

How do you hire someone to take a look at your windows and honestly tell you what needs replaced? We have a mixture of old and new windows, thanks to prior owners. (Some are difficult/impossible to open.) And is that something we could have done in a socially distant way?

We recommend contacting a vetted, reputable, window professional out to come and take a look or consult virtually. Taking measurements is typically pretty quick thanks to today's 6-point laser measurements. A lot of the evaluation can also be done from the outside which will help reduce exposure too.

We have a nicely designed entry courtyard composed of repurposed street pavers and bluestone sidewalk slabs. Over the fifty years the house has been in place, the courtyard has gotten to look kind of shabby -- weeds growing between the bricks, the slabs no longer straight, etc. I think the whole thing needs to be torn out and reset. What kind of company does this kind of work? Do I need a landscaped designer or where do I start?

There is a subset of landscape companies called hardscaping contractors who are experts in masonry and outdoor contracting. They typically can help design the space and build it out. 

We have a sunny spot that we've been planting with perennials, including daisies and some others. However, we're finding that many of our flowers are getting eaten by cottontail rabbits. Is there any list of flowers that are not liked by bunnies? I'm specifically thinking about black-eyed susans? We live in the Chicago areas.

I wish I could help with this one but I don't have a green thumb. We've found the best resource for specific, regional gardening questions are local outdoor centers and internet forums like Houzz. 

Producer here! I asked our gardening columnist, Adrian Higgins, for his advice on this one. Here's what he said.

 

Herbs including silver leafed plants such as curry plant are naturally distasteful. The most effective solution is to install wire fencing, partially buried, which can be stapled to an existing fence. 

My basement floor is very uneven. I don't want to use self-levelling compound because there is a drain in one corner and I want the floor sloped toward it. This is more than I want to take on myself right now, but what kind of contractor should I be searching for? Someone in my neighborhood recommended a basement waterproofing company. Is that right? What else to try?

This will depend on how you plan to use the space. A waterproofing company is definitely the right choice if your goal is to run all of the water out and drained properly. That said, if you want to use the space in other ways a masonry contractor will have the knowledge and expertise to help out. 

How often should you have your gutters cleaned?

This depends on your home and how many trees you have. Typically, our Hippo Home Care pros recommend twice a year cleaning - once in the spring and once in the fall - to ensure proper drainage year round. 

Are attic fans a good idea in an old house if you don't have any insulation between the attic and top floor - or are they just a waste of money?

This is a topic of much debate so you'll get a few opinions. That said, an attic fan isn't effective unless you already have proper soffit ventilation in your roof which is unlikely in a very old house. If you don't have any existing passive ventilation adding a fan will just use electricity moving hot air around and not cool your house. 

is it not good idea to paint outdoors if it is over 90 degrees?

For the painter or the paint? :) 

Higher temperatures will typically cause the paint to dry faster in your painter's bucket. We recommend painting on a cooler day so the paint doesn't thicken before it's brushed on. 

Any way to find out the color in the photo of table legs (green) and door (blue)? Thank you!

email me your question at konciusj@washpost.com

Hi, I share a common wall with a noisy neighbor. What do-it-yourself steps can I take to minimize what I hear through the wall? He plays classical music, which is nice, but the wall does nothing for fidelity. Thanks!

This can be really frustrating! 

Without adding another wall, thick wall hangings made of fabric can really help. There are curtains that are specifically designed to reduce sound carry but that will largely be an aesthetic choice. 

How do you know you need a dehumidifier? Where is the best place to put it?

Dehumidifiers are generally good in areas in areas where the humidity level is consistently over 60%. This is common in basements and in humid climates. 

How can you find good replacement windows at a fair cost? What are the things to look for in terms of quality? What should a basic window cost?

This will depend on what quality you're looking for and the size/type of windows you're installing. Window prices are influenced by a lot of factors like material type, thickness, size, etc and can cost as little as a $200 and easily go upwards of $1,000. Installation prices are determined by the type of replacement, location, size, etc.

We recommend consulting with a reputable window contractor who can help assess your needs and specific home.  

What is the most long lasting kind of outdoor fence to put up?

Longest lasting isn't always compatible with our aesthetic ideals. 

Metal and vinyl fences will be long-lasting as are stone walls. However, if you prefer a classic wood fence we suggest cedar or redwood as they are the hardiest woods (despite not lasting as long as other materials). 

I have a concrete patio - what's the best way to clean stains off of it - power washing?

Power washing is definitely the best step for heavily stained stone and patios. Be careful of harsh cleaning materials as they can sometimes cause damage. We suggest starting with a baking soda mixture (1/2 cup per gallon) scrubbed in with an outdoor broom and then rinsing off with a power washer. 

Do you think it's necessary to flush home hot water heater? If so, how often do you recommend this be done and can I do it myself?

Yes, this is an important maintenance item that is often overlooked by homeowners. Flushing water heaters helps keep sediment from building up in the bottom of your water heater and premature rusting. This extends the lifespan of your water heater as well as prevents potentially really costly leaks from a rusted tank. 

It's definitely something you can do yourself. Hippo Home Care's Home Pros can help with this during one of our Virtual Home Checkups available at www.hippohomecare.com

Thank you all for the fun and interesting questions! I hope this was helpful and if we weren't able to get to your question today we can help at Hippo Home Care (www.hippohomecare.com)

 

Similar to a service-check for your car or your annual physical, Hippo Home Care delivers this same level of proactive care, but for your home. Currently, homeowners experiencing a home repair or issue like a leaking sink or unfamiliar noise in their pipes can go to Hippo Home Care website and select an appointment time - the majority of appointments can be arranged in less than 24 hours. During your 30 minute appointment, you’ll be connected with a vetted Home Pro through video who can guide homeowners through DIY repairs, or inspect home care issues and determine the appropriate next steps.

Going to call my gutter cleaner right away - thanks Andrew for sharing your expertise today. We switch to a different topic next week with our guest Capricia Penavic Marshal, former social secretary at the White House and former Chief of Protocol. We will be talking about covid manners and how to be diplomatic in  time of great anxiety and awkwardness in our social interactions. See you then and be safe.

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Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily Twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering and organizing.

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