Question: I recently contacted an attorney about a problem I was having with a contractor. He doesn't seem to know much about construction, and the bills are enormous. Are there any solutions?
Answer: When you select an attorney for any type of work, be sure the individual knows the particular field. This applies to the construction industry.
Normally, most attorneys specialize in certain fields, and although they can answer general legal questions outside their specialty, this usually requires them to research the unfamiliar area. This can be costly to you.
You should discuss fees before hiring an attorney, and establish that he or she has experience in the particular field. Also, try to sense if the chemistry between you is right. You must communicate and understand each other well.
Q: In a recent article, you mentioned the General Electric HomeMinder as a computer method of turning on lights. What are its advantages?
A: The HomeMinder controls stereos, radios, televisions and interior lights by following a programmed sequence. Audio equipment can also be turned on and off.
You can have the downstairs lights on during the day, while the upstairs lights are off, and in the evening, reverse the process so that the second-floor lights go on at bedtime.
Unlike simple timing devices, the off and on sequences can vary from day to day without additional programming. From an outside observer, the pattern would indicate that someone is in the home.
Virtually any device that plugs into an electrical outlet can become part of the HomeMinder service. Individual modules, which look like small cubes, plug into wall outlets. No special wiring is required.
Your television functions as the heart of the HomeMinder system, because it can communicate both visually and audibly. Symbols for coffee maker, telephone, lights or temperature gauge flash on the screen to indicate which modules are in use. It displays messages on the memo pad module which can remind you of appointments, birthdays, etc. Using a hand-held remote control, the user selects a desired function from a list of chores shown on the television screen. Times for starting appliances or setting temperatures for the heating system can be keyed in.
The system interfaces with Touch-Tone phones so that the homeowner can direct the system to turn on air conditioning, porch lights and anything else connected to the system.
Messages can also be left in the system's memory. The television beeps or blinks, so that whenever someone comes home, he or she will know that a message is waiting.
Fontaine is president of the Western Regional Master Builders Assn. and a director of the American Building Contractors Assn. He will answer questions concerning home improvements. Phone 213/653-4084 or write him at 6404 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 850, Los Angeles 90048-5510.