OUTHOUSE to OPULENCE

While I’ve heard the ancient Romans, Chinese, and Indians supposedly had forms of indoor plumbing, that technology was largely lost during the dark ages, and just began making a comeback at the end of the 19th century. It’s hard to believe that in a single century we have come from a hand pump and an outhouse to what we call a bathroom. As indoor plumbing evolved and became common, we thought of our bathrooms, primarily, as a utilitarian space. We all know why we need them, and some of us still take them for granted. However, over the past few decades, the American bathroom continues to evolve, and has become far more than a place to do our bathroom business. The home improvement industry is constantly developing and expanding the usual bathroom necessities to the point where the bathroom is fast becoming the focal point for a family’s luxury and comfort. Plumbing fixtures and devices come in every conceivable size, shape, configuration, feel, look, finish, and function.

With the advent of thermostatic control systems, people can program the temperature and volume of the water flow to their personal specifications from a device that used to just be a faucet. Bathtubs can now be purchased with built-in entertainment and communication systems, and can include massaging features for comfort or therapy that would render most of us reluctant to ever leave the bathroom. Yes, refrigerators within the tub unit are available as well. What used to be just a toilet can be an adventure with the addition of a state-of-the-art bidet seat—but I won’t go into nature of those adventures.

Perhaps the greatest bathroom strides have been made in showers. Your imagination (and your bank account) is the only limit to what your shower can be. Endless lighting options, rain heads, steam generators, thermostatic controls, frameless glass enclosures, and the multitude of available body sprays can transform what we used to call a shower stall into a full-blown personal spa with boundless possibilities.

While as functional as ever, the bathroom sink area can easily be a work of art. Back-lighted vessel bowls with waterfall touch faucets and tops made of natural stone are appearing in more and more homes. In-floor heat, electric and hydronic, is also becoming commonplace. As low-voltage, LED lighting has broadened in both application scope and availability, new bathroom lighting options are exciting and also nearly limitless. Bath accessories are not excluded from the advances made in bathroom technology. Towel warming towel bars, air blade hand dryers, automatic soap dispensers with motion sensors are all available to residential homes now, and are all manufactured with artistry and style. Ultra-modern, or designed to mimic past style periods, such as Art Deco, Victorian, American Empire, etc., form and function has never been so integrated and diverse.

Once reserved for the very wealthy, bathrooms with opulence and true luxury are now available to the masses. Of course, even a basic bathroom remodel isn’t cheap, and the fixtures described above cost at least twice as much as your basic fixtures—and, unfortunately, there is no upper limit where cost is concerned. Americans pay a lot of attention to their bathrooms. The largest portion of home improvement dollars are spent on bathroom remodeling in the U.S. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010, nearly 7% of all home remodeling work was either in remodeling an existing bathroom, or adding a bathroom—by far, the highest percentage of all home improvements. A bathroom remodel is also well known to have a very high cost to resale value ratio.

 

Below are photos from a recent bath remodel:

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Common, but Still Dangerous

Asbestos in the Home

 

The dangers of asbestos are common knowledge to most people. Once hailed as a “miracle” material for its insulating, strengthening, and most of all, its fire resistance properties, asbestos was used in nearly all building materials that it could possibly be put in. These include wire insulation, plaster, drywall, roof and siding shingles, flooring and ceiling tiles, and all types of insulation. It was even mixed in cement products for added strength. There is barely a manufactured building material that hasn’t at one time or another contained asbestos.

There’s evidence that American manufacturers knew about the inherent respiratory dangers in mining and working with the material long before the rest of us did. The UK began regulating ventilation and the protection of workers involved in the use of asbestos in the 1930s. In fact the very first medical diagnosis of asbestosis was in England in the 20s. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the U.S. began restricting its use, and the banning and general phasing-out of the material was began in 1989. You may be surprised to learn that there are still consumer products on the market today containing the mineral.

Should you be worried? Well, it depends. It depends largely of the form the asbestos is in, the concentration involved, and how prone it is to becoming airborne. Materials such as floor tiles and siding are the least dangerous, as the asbestos is mixed in with other materials to form a cohesive, solid piece. In order for the asbestos to become airborne in these materials, the pieces would have to be pulverized. As long as reasonable care is taken when removing siding, floor tiles, or roofing shingles, there is little danger. Even when the asbestos is in a form in which it can easily become airborne, in most cases, it poses little threat as long as it isn’t disturbed. The most common, dangerous, and easily identifiable use of the mineral is in duct and pipe insulation. It usually appears as a whitish, fibrous wrap, often encased in another material, such as sheet metal or fabric. As long as the material is intact and covered, there is no reason for concern. However, when you see suspect materials flaking and falling, it’s time to act.

When you decide to remodel, or add onto your home the risk of encountering asbestos issues will almost certainly arise. The altering, demolishing, and replacing of asbestos-containing materials nearly always becomes necessary during these operations. While most experienced contractors are aware of the potential presence of the mineral based on the age of your home, few are trained in the identification, containment, disposal, and remediation of these materials. A competent contractor should stop when he encounters a questionable component and consult with a specialist for testing and obtaining costs for removal or encapsulation if needed. The removal of asbestos can be expensive, requiring the services of licensed professionals, and its best to know the potential costs before they arise as a surprise. It’s wise to have your home tested prior to beginning a home improvement project if you suspect the presence of asbestos. This way a plan can be developed to deal with the problems and costs ahead of time, and possibly an alternative to avoid the problems altogether can be established. Don’t depend on your contractor to know how much, and where the asbestos is in your home. If your home was built in the late 19th century to the early 20th century there is probably asbestos everywhere. This is not most contractors’ area of expertise. They will, however, know what will and what will not need to be disturbed.

Take care to protect your home and family. Always do the homework before jumping in.

 

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Beware the Stucco

Masonry Exteriors

Stucco, stone, and stucco-like exterior finishes cover buildings and facades all over the world. And why not? It’s attractive, colorful, sometimes even spectacular—and relatively cost-effective to boot. Stucco’s bastard nephew, E.I.F.S. (Exterior Insulation and Finish System) has been a popular subject of litigation for decades. The most recognizable manufacturer of E.I.F.S.  is Drivit®. Like Kleenex® or Trex®, Drivit®, while a brand name, is often used as the catchall name of the system. While properly applied stucco and E.I.F.S. can enhance your curb appeal and last for decades, all too often, however, it is not applied according to manufacturer’s instructions or even according to common sense. The improper installation of these materials can prove disastrous to a building, especially on wood-framed buildings—like most homes. This is mostly because the problems may not become apparent for years. Thankfully, a slow moving change is taking place, wherein municipal building inspectors are requiring a separate inspection prior to the application of masonry finishes. This is a welcome change for consumers, as countless homes are slowly rotting beneath their beautiful facades.

Moisture is the primary enemy of all buildings. In fact, most construction operations on exteriors involve steps that are designed to keep water out of a building. Of these steps, nearly all are beneath what you can see on the finished product. It’s usually some level of negligence beneath the surface that’s at the root of a moisture issue. If there’s a way for water to get in—it will. Special attention has to be paid to openings in a building like windows, doors, and plumbing and exhaust vents, and also at transitions between roofs and walls, cornice and walls, or roofs and other roofs.

Because all masonry is permeable to some degree, a clue that moisture is making it through the masonry surface of your home is after a rain, when the house is drying, there are areas that take significantly longer to dry than the rest. These areas are often beneath windows or around pent roofs. An area remaining wet after the rest is dry is where moisture is trapped behind the surface. That’s if you’re lucky. Because of the permeability of masonry, the membrane behind the surface has to be what keeps the water out. When it fails to do so, these types of moisture infiltration issues often don’t manifest symptoms until there is a great deal of damage. Moisture on the wrong side of a wall or roof also can entice wood-munching insects to infest the home, as well as provide an optimum climate for molds and fungi galore.

If you are considering the purchase of a home with a masonry exterior, do some homework. If you don’t get an independent home inspection report, buy a moisture meter (you can get one at your local home center for less than $30), check the moisture content outside on the masonry, any exposed wood surfaces around doors or windows, and on exposed wood framing in the basement, closest to the masonry area as possible. If these readings show excessive moisture—keep looking. If you are considering buying a newly constructed home with this kind of exterior, ask questions—find out about the installation methodology, and see if you have any legal recourse if there is a moisture envelope failure in the future.

 

Photos: The damage shown below is from a home built 8 years prior. While the damage was mostly isolated to around windows and doors, the entire stucco facade had to be removed, as well as the windows, doors and quite a bit of sheathing. In this case, the client opted to replace the stucco with vinyl siding (bottom photo). The top photo shows the home before the work.

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2013 MAME Awards

Congratulations to our dedicated team members that received awards at the 2013 Builders League of South Jersey MAME Awards:

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Salesperson of the Year-Cindy Cipriani

Cindy Mame

 

Rookie of the Year-Tammy Collins

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Project Manager of the Year: Shawn Mertz
(Shawn and Lauri Mertz)

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Renovation Award: Robert Kramer

Robert Mame

 

Special Project Recognitions:

Best Residential Addition/Alteration
Project: Kilgannon Family, Collingswood
Remodeling Consultant: Cindy Cipriani/Project Manager: Jim Zuchowski

Best Master Bath Design- SF Detached Home
Project: Miller Family, Woolwich
Remodeling Consultant: Tammy Collins/Project Manager: Shawn Mertz

Best Renovated Bathroom
Project: Fad Family, Swedesboro
Remodeling Consultant: Jim Rumsey/Project Manager: Shawn Mertz

Best Special Feature Room Renovation
Project: Stadelberger Family, Mickleton
Remodeling Consultant: Robert Kramer/Project Manager: Rob Walters

Best Renovated Bathroom
Project: Landis Family, West Deptford
Remodeling Consultant: Tammy Collins/Project Manager: Don Snowdon

Whole crew Mame