Archive for the ‘Home Office’ Category

Invisible Hazard: Carbon Monoxide

Thursday, January 28th, 2016
Losing Oxygen

Losing Oxygen

According to the Small Business Administration, there are 23 million small businesses in the United States, of which 52 per cent operate in the homes of their owners. The benefits include reduced overhead costs and improved quality of life. But this arrangement is not without risk and, as I discovered, unknown hazards in my live-work space presented life-threatening risks to which I was exposed sometimes in excess of 20 hours daily.

I rented a two-story, two-bedroom town home condominium with an option to purchase it. The property appeared run-down for lack of proper care, but I did not appreciate how dangerous it was until I had a home inspection performed. The landlord had presented me with his purchase and sales agreement that stipulated “no inspection – as is”, a very big red flag. As the legal right to a pre-purchase home inspection cannot be waived, and as I had not (and never did) sign the purchase and sales agreement, I decided to have a home inspection performed in the property where I had lived as a tenant.

I hired a well-regarded military veteran who is a “Certified Master Inspector”, one of only five people in the state to have attained that level of professional standing. He spent a day at the property and produced a 49-page report identifying serious violations of the housing code. These violations represented threats to my health and safety and to the health and safety of the other building residents. He found multiple sources of carbon monoxide leaks and the absence of carbon monoxide detectors, as required by state law. With respect to the latter hazard, there were detectors in the home that appeared to be dual-use smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, but they were mis-labeled. The units detected only smoke. Or, I should say, they would have detected smoke if they were working – they were over ten years old and not functioning. I was unaware of that hazard. I had no way of determining the age of the smoke detectors (the home inspector did) and as I had replaced the units with fresh batteries, I believed all was well.

Many of the housing code violations were not visible to me, making this home inspection a good investment as it helped me avoid serious problems that would result from purchasing the property. The home inspector found that the water heater exhaust pipe had improper pitch and was not properly sealed. This condition caused the back flow of combustion air that prevented the system from heating the water as it was designed to do. The perforations in the exhaust pipe discharged carbon monoxide into the living space. We contacted the manufacturer of the water heater and after checking the serial number of the appliance, learned that the property owner had installed the water heater himself. The city housing inspector confirmed that the property owner/landlord had done this work without the legally required permit.

Because the city had not issued a permit, the city inspectors were unaware that the work had been done and so did not inspect the heater after the installation, as is their practice. The landlord had told me that the water heater had only recently been installed, just before I moved in. According to the records of the manufacturer, the installation had been performed eight years prior, meaning that previous tenants (and one was a divorced man with three children) also experienced chronic exposure to carbon monoxide without being aware of the risks.

My primary physician, upon learning this information, ordered tests to check the levels of lead and carbon monoxide in my blood. As I don’t work in a profession that exposes me to toxic environmental risks, and as Rhode Island has laws requiring carbon monoxide detectors in all residential properties, my physician had ruled out possible carbon monoxide exposure as the cause of my malaise.  As someone who works in the field of risk management/insurance, I was embarrassed to find myself in this situation. I was stunned to learn that Rhode Island does not require rental permits or property inspections prior to leasing a residence. And I learned that over the past ten years, the tenants living in the property had all kinds of problems. According to my doctor, while you can improve your symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure after a walk in the fresh air, the signs of the exposure can be detected for some time thereafter through blood tests.

Enabling your business to be disaster-resilient requires time and care to the safety of your home and the homes of your employees. You cannot give your full attention to the business if you are worried about the safety of your home and family. And if you work from a home office, you have an additional risk factor to consider, one that is more difficult to manage if you lease, rather than own, the property.

Today is National Clean Your Desk Day

Monday, January 12th, 2015
Tidying Up

Tidying Up

Today is National Clean Your Desk Day. It is also National Kiss a Ginger Day and National Marzipan Day, but since a clean desk is relevant to me, and to this blog, I’ll stick with the desk. And, in keeping with today’s theme, I have been following the publishing phenomenon that is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of De-Cluttering and Organizing, the international bestselling book that has sold over two million copies to date. Author Marie Kondo promises that if you organize your home once, you will never have to do it again. (Maintenance is easier than the initial process of organizing and de-cluttering.) I suppose the same principles apply to your office and to your desk. Kondo has an infectious enthusiasm for the calm and motivated mindset a tidy home can inspire. I find it less stressful when the clutter is gone and I do feel motivated to start tasks when I don’t feel overwhelmed by looking at piles of stuff.

So in the spirit of January 12, I cleaned my desk. I also took to heart Kondo’s advice to only keep those items that “spark joy”. My desk and my office have pretty organizing clips, attractive and festive folders for sorting paperwork and my favorite fountain pens. There are a few national retailers that offer name-brand desk accessories that may cost a few dollars more than the generic versions, but they are affordable luxuries. And they make starting work each morning even more pleasant, so I see these items as a good investment. While Kondo surely didn’t have business resilience in mind when she wrote her book, a resilient business is de-cluttered and organized. In an emergency situation, you don’t want to waste time searching for an important file. You don’t want to waste that time on such needless tasks in your normal business day, either. So now that my desk is clean, I will resume work!

Inspiring Image

Saturday, January 10th, 2015
Iris Watercolor

Iris Watercolor

Many people have asked me how I came up with the name for my business, Prisere LLC. It was not an easy task. The challenge was to come up with a name that is unique, memorable and available (meaning no one else is using the name in commerce and the URL is available to register a website – the Facebook, Twitter and other social media handles must also be available). I put together a spreadsheet and generated over 400 naming concepts before finally coming up with Prisere.

The concept of the business name derives from the vesper iris, the most resilient flower. It can thrive in all climates and even bloom in the absence of sunlight. Indeed, the vesper iris would blossom as the faithful were going to their evening prayers, or vespers; hence, the name. Of course, the iris also enables vision by allowing light to enter the eye.

Prisere is an anagram of the vesper iris, minus the letter “V”. Variations of the iris include the Louisiana iris and the fleur-de-lys, the symbol of New Orleans, and the Japanese iris, significant as both Louisiana and Japan are associated with renewal following major disasters. The Siberian iris can even bloom in the frozen tundra. The prisere is the ecological succession to the climax community, in which populations of plants and animals remain stable and exist in balance with each other and with their environment. It reflects the concept of sustainable development. As such, Prisere is the name of the business and the iris is featured in the logo.

The tagline (“Deep rooted. Farsighted.”) refers to the deep roots that enable us to weather the storm the foresight to prepare for the storm, again reflecting the word iris as representing both a flower and a part of the eye. Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP did masterful legal work in registering trademarks for the name Prisere and its logo and tagline. The Twitter  and Facebook pages for the business both show the iris blooming in the frost.

This beautiful watercolor of the iris is displayed in my home office. It is the work of Ms. Suwannee Sarakana, a Thai artist whose paintings have won a number of international and regional awards including first prize at the International Watercolor Competition in Rome. Her paintings are included in the collections of the National Gallery of Thailand, the National Gallery of Singapore and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Bangkok. I find the imagery inspiring and I hope others will, too.

Moving Back Home Is Not Without Risk

Friday, September 18th, 2009
Home Office

Home Office

With the recession putting pressure on increasingly scarce resources, many small businesses are foregoing leasing office space to return home. While this may result in cost savings, improved lifestyle and no commuting expense, there are several issues to consider. The first concerns compliance with your lease or homeowner’s association rules. You could inadvertently cause a violation of your lease or city codes. One issue that might be problematic is if your home-based business attracts a steady stream of visitors that may violate your reasonable use clause. Or constant shipments via UPS or FedEx for an eBay sales business could be considered a quality of life violation for your neighbors.  Some businesses, such as food-service businesses, could be considered health code violations and others may require special permits. So investigate the requirements for your business to make sure you are in compliance.

School Holidays

Saturday, May 30th, 2009
Danger - Children at Home

Danger - Children at Home

Summer holidays typically begin for school children the week after Labor Day. This means that you and your employees may have children home for the summer months during business hours when you may be working from a home office on a temporary basis or perhaps as part of a longer-term telecommuting arrangement. If you have teenagers who want to use your computers, you will need to ensure that safeguards are in place. Social networking hubs and music download sites that are especially popular with teenagers are often vectors for viruses or mal-ware. You wouldn’t want those to infect your home computers and certainly not the computers you use for your small business. So make certain that your business computer is used for business purposes only. This will also make your tax reporting easier, since there will be no question about the purpose of the computer. Insist that your employees do the same. And you may want to take appropriate cautions to teach your children about computer safety as these are good habits to learn as they become more proficient with technology.