Housing & Environmental Design

Services offered



Home Ownership Made Easier

Do you dream of owning your own home?  The home buying process can be very intimidating.  For many people, buying a home is the largest purchase they will ever make.  Because it is a major decision and requires a lot of commitment, you should understand what is involved.  This class is designed to navigate you through the home buying process from beginning to end.  The class covers:

  • Financial preparedness
  • Renting vs. buying
  • How much house can you afford
  • Understanding the credit report
  • Insurance including Mortgage, Titles and Homeowners
  • Predatory lending
  • Home Inspections
  • Mortgage Options
  • The process of closing
  • Avoiding foreclosure


Rent Smart

This program is designed to assist individuals who are likely to have difficulty obtaining and keeping rental housing in Missouri.  We can provide information on the Legal Aspects of Renting - Moving in and Moving out.


Aging in place

Are you looking for answers as to how to age in place as abilities change? For many, their homes will not allow them to age in place without making some expensive changes.  Others,  are looking to build a home or to relocate to a neighborhood that will allow them to be more accessible to services they will need.  That is where universal design or the “aging in place” concept comes into focus.  Its features are for everyone…it truly is housing for a lifetime.  This program addresses ways to assist older adults in living independently in their existing homes, or communities/neighborhoods for as long as possible. Participants will receive a copy of the online version of the All Ages Idea Book that was specifically designed for homeowners and renters.


Classes available for the Northwest Region

  • Healthy Homes programming concentrates on health risks by understanding the “Seven Keep Its” to prevent and correct conditions in housing that can make a home unsafe or unhealthy.
  • Energy and Weatherization –  Helps participants identify strategies that can be implemented inside and outside a home to improve household energy efficiency, and investigate cost effective ways to save both natural resources and energy dollars.
  • Home Ownership Made Easier – This class is designed to navigate participants through the home buying process from beginning to end.  The Home Works program designed for first time homebuyers and other homeowners focuses on basic home care, repairs and maintenance necessary to successfully maintain a residence.
  • Rent Smart – This program assists individuals who are likely to have difficulty obtaining and keeping rental housing in Missouri.
  • Other programming available includes programs on Universal Design, green building & sustainability, concerns about falling and dealing with stress.


Saving damaged family treasures

by Connie Neal, Housing and Environmental Design Specialist  

Recent spring storms have left a path of destruction leaving homes demolished and lives upended.  For those families, trying to salvage their treasured possessions can be a challenge.  In these situations, those family heirlooms, photos and other keepsakes become even more cherished.  These items may still be saved even if they are tattered, torn and damp.  The Heritage Emergency National Task Force, a coalition of 42 national organizations and federal agencies co-sponsored by FEMA and Heritage preservation, offers the following basic guidelines from professional conservators for individuals who are searching for, and finding family treasures in the ruins:

  • Due to the health risks associated with disasters, wear long sleeves, sturdy shoes, and plastic or rubber gloves during cleanup.  Protective gear such as goggles and a fitted face mask is recommended if there is mold.
  • You will need to work fast because mold can form within 48 hours.  It is important to reduce the humidity and temperature around your treasures as you proceed to clean and dry them.  If you do encounter extensive mold, use protective gear such as gloves, goggles and an N100 face mask found at most hardware stores.
  • Gentle air-drying is best for all your treasured belongings – indoors, if possible.  Hair dryers, irons, ovens and prolonged exposure to sunlight will do irreversible damage.  Increase indoor air flow with fans, open windows, air conditioners and dehumidifiers.
  • Use a great deal of caution when handling your heirlooms, which can be especially fragile when wet.  Separate damp materials; remove the contents from drawers; take photographs out of damp albums; remove paintings and prints from frames; place paper towels between the pages of wet books.
  • Loosen dirt and debris on fragile objects gently with soft brushes and cloths.  Avoid rubbing, which can grind in dirt.
  • Clean photographs by rinsing them carefully in clean water.  Air-dry photos on a plastic screen or paper towel, or by hanging them by the corner with plastic clothespins.  Don’t let the image come into contact with other surfaces as it dries.
  • Since you may not be able to save everything, focus on what’s most important to you, whether for historic, monetary or sentimental reasons.
  • Damp objects and items that cannot be dealt with immediately should be put in open, unsealed boxes or bags. Photos, papers, books and textiles should be frozen if you can’t get them dry within 48 hours.
  • Sometimes we need to call in a Pro.  If a precious item is badly damaged, a conservator may be able to help.  Be sure to collect broken pieces.  Set your treasure aside in a well-ventilated room until you find professional help.  If a precious item has been exposed to contaminated water, seek a conservator’s advice on salvaging it; your health and safety, and that of your loved ones is of most importance.  To locate a conservator, click on the “find a Conservator” box on the home page of the American Institute for Conservation, www.conservation-us.org .

The Heritage Preservation website at www.heritagepreservation.org  offers professional advice via online video guides demonstrating how to rescue valued items.  The site also offers additional resources for salvaging damaged treasures.


June is National Home Ownership Month

by Connie Neal, Housing and Environmental Design Specialist         

June is National Homeownership Month!  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack kicked it off by highlighting USDA’s record delivery of single-family housing assistance to rural families and encouraging rural residents to purchase or refinance homes in rural areas.  Nearly 3.4 million rural residents have been able to buy homes of their own since the start of the USDA’s single family housing program which began in 1949.   Many of these residents are low-income, first-time homebuyers who are earning a leg up into the middle class.  Vilsack noted that homeownership is a critical step on the ladder of opportunity as it helps build equity and increase assets as it means long-term financial stability and security for rural families.

USDA Rural Development programs that support rural homeownership include:

  • Direct home loans for very-low-income applicants.  Payment assistance is provided that can lower the loan’s interest rate to as low as one percent.
  • Guaranteed home loans for moderate-income families.  The agency works in partnership with private-sector lenders to back the lenders’ loans.
  • Home repair loans and grants to help rural homeowners make improvements or repairs.  Examples include making homes accessible for people with disabilities or removing health and safety hazards like poor wiring or plumbing.

In 2012, USDA launched a rural refinance pilot program in states hardest hit by the housing downturn.  This program allows people with USDA direct or guaranteed home loans to refinance in order to take advantage of lower interest rates and lower their monthly mortgage payments.

USDA is making changes to the guaranteed home loan program to help create jobs, enable more people to participate, spur new home construction and inject more capital into rural areas.  The changes will increase the availability of housing loans in underserved communities, such as those targeted by USDA’s Strike Force Initiative to help alleviate rural poverty.

The changes that will take effect on September 1, 2014 will include:

  • Increased lender eligibility.  Many small community banks and credit unions, which are currently ineligible, will be able to participate.
  • Construction-to-permanent financing.  Currently, only “take-out” financing is permitted once construction is complete.  “Construction-to-perm” financing – also called “single close” financing – will provide funds when construction begins.  This will encourage homebuilders, lenders and borrowers to build more new homes.


Strategies for cooling your home this summer

by Connie Neal, Housing and Environmental Design Specialist

Missouri summers are ever changing from nice to extremely hot and humid.  There are some things you can do to beat the heat without spending a lot of money or using a lot of energy.

Sealing air passages and insulating your home are excellent cooling strategies.  Attic insulation is extremely important as it provides strong protection from the hot sun beating down on your roof.  You also want to make sure you have both eave and ridge vents as they provide a pathway for heat to rise up and out.

There are many times here in Missouri that we can enjoy a refreshing, cool breeze in the mornings and late evenings, especially during spring and autumn.  In an effort to make the most of these cooler times, open doors and windows on opposite sides of your house to let the breeze flow through.  Openings at the highest and lowest points are particularly good natural ventilators.  Don’t leave your house open all day though.  Once the morning coolness is gone, close it up until evening.  It is helpful to use fans to create even more air flow through your housing during the cooler periods.  Using whole-house fans mounted in the attic work best.  Ceiling-mounted paddle fans and portable box fans are other options.  Mounting a box fan in an upstairs window will blow warm air outside, prompting more cool air flow into main-floor windows and doors.

Major appliances can add considerable heat to the inside of your home.  Refrigerators and freezers spill heat into the kitchen as its motor works to keep food cold.  During the summer, open the doors as little as possible to keep your appliance from working overtime.  Cooking outside when possible to avoid generating heat from the oven and burners is another measure to keep your home cool.  Run washers, dryers, and dishwashers at night or early in the morning when it’s cooler.  Lights generate heat as well, so use them sparingly.

By keeping humidity levels down, you will stay cooler.  You can reduce indoor humidity by using an exhaust vent when cooking, bathing and laundering.  Make sure the exhaust is vented to the outside and not into the attic or crawlspace.  Never run your clothes dryer with the exhaust vented to the inside.   Cover pots and pans while boiling foods.

Ventilation is effective in removing moisture that has migrated into an attic or crawlspace.  To be effective, ventilation must provide air movement through the entire area.  The most effective attic ventilation should have inlet vents along the eave and outlet vents near the ridge.  Eave vents must not be blocked by ceiling insulation.   If you have a crawlspace, it is important to keep the moisture in the ground by covering it with 6 mil plastic sheeting.  During mild and summer seasons, crawlspaces should be vented to the outdoors.  If the vents are near a corner, they will permit good air movement through the crawlspace.  In a typical crawlspace, the total vent area should be at least one square foot for each 150 square feet of floor area.  Have an energy auditor or contractor check to ensure that you have adequate ventilation.

As we know, houses warm up fast with direct sunlight pouring through the windows.  It is best to keep the sunshine out by leaving east-side curtains or shades pulled until the sun climbs higher in the sky.  Later on, leave shades pulled on south and west-facing windows to block hot sun.  Curtains and shades with light colors facing outside are the most effective interior sun blocks.  You can also buy special solar screens made of densely woven fiberglass or aluminum to block out up to 75 percent of sunlight.  Even more effective, but less convenient, are exterior shutters or shades as they keep the sun’s heat entirely outside.  Window awnings are another option that lets you block the sun while keeping the curtains open.  Make sure awnings extend at least halfway down the window on all sides.


Winter weather safety

by Connie Neal, Housing and Environmental Design Specialist

During the winter weather season, there are some issues that the cold weather brings with it that can jeopardize our safety.  Knowing what to do to keep yourself and your family safe is very important.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are some indoor safety tips that will ensure your safety.  Many of these you may already be familiar with, but it never hurts to revisit them.

  • Use fireplace, wood stoves, or other combustion heaters only if they are properly vented to the outside and do not leak flue gas into the indoor air space.
  • Never use a charcoal or gas grill indoors as the fumes are deadly.
  • Never leave lit candles unattended.
  • Keep as much heat as possible inside your home.
  • Check the temperature in your home often during severely cold weather.
  • Leave all water taps slightly open so they drip continuously.
  • Eat well-balanced meals to help you stay warmer.

If you plan to use a wood stove, fireplace, or space heater, be extremely careful.  The CDC recommends that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and remember these additional safety tips:

  • Do not burn paper in a fireplace.
  • Ensure adequate ventilation if you must use a kerosene heater.
  • Use only the type of fuel your heater is designed to use – don’t substitute.
  • Do not place a space heater within 3 feet of anything that may catch on fire, such as drapes, furniture, or bedding, and never cover your space heater.
  • Never place a space heater on top of furniture or near water.
  • Make sure that the cord of an electric heater is not a tripping hazard but do not run the cord under carpets or rugs.
  • Avoid using extension cords to plug in your space heater.
  • If your space heater has a damaged electrical cord or produces sparks, do not use it.
  • Store a multipurpose, dry-chemical fire extinguisher near the area to be heated.
  • Protect yourself from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning by installing a battery-operated CO detector and never use generators, grills, camp stoves or similar devices indoors.

We see an increased use of portable generators in winter weather.  Never use a generator inside homes or garages even if doors and windows are open.  Do not use them in crawlspaces, sheds or similar areas or near the air intake of your house.  Deadly levels of carbon monoxide (CO) can quickly build up in these areas and can linger for hours, even after the generator has shut off.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) urges consumers to use generators only outside, and at least 20 feet from the home, away from windows and vents to allow proper ventilation.  It is important to follow the instructions that come with your generator.  The CPSC warns other hazards to avoid when using a generator is electric shock or electrocution, fire and burns.  Every year, people die in incidents related to portable generator use.  Most of the incidents associated with portable generators reported to CPSC involve CO poisoning from generators used indoors or in partially-enclosed spaces.

The CPSC notes that when used in a confined space, generators can produce high levels of CO within minutes.  When using a portable generator, you cannot see or smell CO.  Even if you do not smell exhaust fumes, you may still be exposed to CO.  If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air right away, DO NOT DELAY!  The CO generators can rapidly kill you.

Proper usage of CO-emitting tools is just one vital safety tool.  For this reason, the CPSC strongly advises installing battery-operated CO alarms or plug-in CO alarms with battery back-up in your home on each level of the home and outside sleeping areas following the manufacturer’s instructions.


Energy-efficient cellular shades

Heating and cooling your home uses more energy than any other system in your home.  Heat lost through windows can account for 20% to 25% of your heating bill.  According to one of the leaders in the  window treatment industry, without energy efficient window treatments, as much as 50% of a home’s heating and cooling energy can be lost through its windows.   Energy efficient window treatments can help your home by reducing energy consumption, thus saving on heating and cooling costs while enhancing the comfort of the room(s).   They also provide your home with increased protection against heat loss during the winter and minimize the sun’s heat during the summer.

R-value measures a window’s resistance to air flow.  The higher the R-value, the more effective the window is in reducing heating and cooling costs.  Cellular shades can increase the R-value of a window by adding insulation created by the dead air space.  They are designed to trap air within the honeycomb pockets, therefore, less air escapes through the glass and window frame.   The type of glass, frame and window sash can also affect the R-value of the overall window.

When installed properly, window treatments such as cellular shades can be a simple, yet effective  treatment for saving energy.  It is important to mount shades as close to the glass as possible with the sides of the shade held close to the wall or window frame to establish a sealed air space.  To conserve energy, you should lower shades on sunlit windows in the summer and raise them on southern exposures in the winter during the day.  Dual shades that are highly reflective or white on one side and heat absorbing (dark) on the other side can be reversed with the seasons.  The reflective side should always face the warmest side:  outward during the cooling season and inward during the heating season.  To be effective, they should be drawn all day.

There are several window treatment manufacturers who have designed one, two or three cell cellular shades which feature dead air spaces thus increasing their insulating value.  These shades provide only slight control of air filtration. Many manufacturers also offer specialty shapes and options available for unique window designs.  There are many features available such as top down, bottom up which allows one to adjust the top independently from the bottom.  Cellular shades also come in light filtering fabric as well as room darkening fabric which offers optimal thermal insulation.   Using a reputable manufacturer for custom shades assures consumers of a quality product for many years.


Is decluttering your home part of your New Years resolution?

By Connie Neal, Housing and Environmental Design Specialist

If you made a new year’s resolution to be more organized and decrease household clutter, perhaps this article will be of interest to you.   Clutter can accumulate anywhere in your house, starting in a small space on a counter, in a corner or on a table and eventually spread to take over a whole room, or even a whole house.  Some prime sources of clutter include paper, books, magazines, hobby materials ,toys, games, clothes, shoes, tools, hardware, cleaning supplies and laundry.

According to the University of Georgia Extension, household clutter has a big impact on your health and quality of life.  Out of control clutter can cause people to fall and injure themselves trying to maneuver around the piles of junk.  It can be especially hazardous for elderly people or those with limited mobility.  We spend 90% of our time indoors, a lot of which is spent at home.  Research has indicated that a clean house can positively affect your mental and physical health.  By decreasing clutter, you make room to socialize with the people who matter most to you.

Household clutter can also affect indoor air quality.  Piles of clutter that are left undisturbed for long periods of time can accumulate dust, dirt and allergens, including pet hair and dander, pollen, dust mites and other pests.  Mold can also develop if the area is damp.  If someone smokes in a cluttered home,  furnishings and walls can become tinged with yellow and smell of smoke which is especially hazardous for people with asthma, children and the elderly.

The first thing to determine is if you have a problem with clutter.  If you think you may have a problem with household clutter, the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension has put together the following questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you have to move things around or step over things to get around your house?
  • Are tables and counters filled with so many items that you have few (if any) free spaces?
  • Are your drawers, closets and other storage areas overflowing with “stuff”?
  • Do you have piles of papers that you plan to sort through but never do?
  • Do you lose things and have to search for them several times a week?
  • Do you keep things in a storage facility on an ongoing basis?
  • Are dirty dishes and empty drink cans left out for more than 24 hours?
  • Are you ashamed to invite company over to your house because of clutter?
  • Are your closets full of clothes and shoes that you no longer wear?

If you can relate to any of the above, it is time to take charge and clear your clutter.  Begin by putting together a kit to clean the newly exposed surfaces when you are finished sorting.  You will also need trash bags and containers to help with sorting.  Start by sorting items into separate piles: keep, trash or recycle, donate, sell or uncertain.  Experts estimate that people only use about 20% of the items in their home.  Be honest with yourself about what you really use.  Only keep things that you need and will use or that have a strong personal meaning to you.  Don’t confuse things with memories because our memories of people and events in our past will be with us long after those “things” are gone.   It is also important to deal with sorted items as soon as possible after de-cluttering.

To maintain a clutter free home, it takes everyone to understand that they need to pick up after themselves.  Doing a little cleaning and straightening every day can save you the hassle of going through this whole process again.    Make and use a chore chart by assigning age appropriate jobs for everyone in the house.  Stay firm and don’t do anyone else’s share of the work or you will always do their share and you don’t want the clutter to slowly build back up.  It only takes two weeks for a new chore to become a routine.