Choosing the Best Remodeling Contractor

Don’t be fooled when it comes to choosing the best remodeling contractor for your next remodeling project.

Top 8 Pro Tips on How to Hire a Contractor

This Old House general contractor Tom Silva shares eight tips to selecting and working with a qualified contractor

Get Recommendations

Contractor recommendations PHOTO BY TETRA IMAGES/GETTYIMAGES

  • Start with your friends and family and then check in with the National Association of the Remodeling Industry for a list of members in your area. You can also talk with a building inspector, who’ll know which contractors routinely meet code requirements, says This Old House general contractor Tom Silva, or pay a visit to your local lumberyard, which sees contractors regularly and knows which ones buy quality materials and pay their bills on time.

Do Phone Interviews

Phone interview PHOTO BY JONNY LE FORTUNE/GETTYIMAGES

Once you’ve assembled a list, Tom recommends that you make a quick call to each of your prospects and ask them the following questions:

• Do they take on projects of your size?

• Are they willing to provide financial references, from suppliers or banks?

• Can they give you a list of previous clients?

• How many other projects would they have going at the same time?

• How long have they worked with their subcontractors?

The answers to these questions will reveal the company’s availability, reliability, how much attention they’ll be able to give your project and how smoothly the work will go.

Meet Face to Face

Face to face meetingPHOTO BY DAVID SACKS/GETTYIMAGES

Based on the phone interviews, pick three or four contractors to meet for estimates and further discussion. A contractor should be able to answer your questions satisfactorily and in a manner that puts you at ease. Tom says that it’s crucial that you two communicate well because this person will be in your home for hours at a time. On the other hand, don’t let personality fool you. Check in with your state’s consumer protection agency and your local Better Business Bureau to make sure contractors don’t have a history of disputes with clients or subcontractors.

Investigate the Facts

Build sitePHOTO BY COMSTOCK IMAGES/GETTYIMAGES

Now that you’ve narrowed your list, put your research to use. Call up former clients to find how their project went and ask to see the finished product. But Tom says you shouldn’t rely on results alone. Even more important, visit a current job site and see for yourself how the contractor works. Is the job site neat and safe? Are workers courteous and careful with the homeowner’s property?

Make Plans, Get Bids

Remodels plans PHOTO BY GHISLAIN & MARIE DAVID DE LOSSY/GETTYIMAGES

You have your short list of contractors whose track records seem clean and whose work ethic looks responsible. Now it’s time to stop looking back at past work and start looking forward to your project. A conscientious contractor will want not only a complete set of blueprints but also a sense of what homeowners want out of a project and what they plan to spend. To compare bids, ask everyone to break down the cost of materials, labor, profit margins and other expenses. Generally materials account for 40 percent of the total cost; the rest covers overhead and the typical profit margin, which is 15 to 20 percent.

Set a Payment Schedule

Meeting with contractor PHOTO BY DAVID SACKS/GETTYIMAGES

Payment schedules can also speak to a contractor’s financial status and work ethic. If they want half the bid up front, they may have financial problems or be worried that you won’t pay the rest after you’ve seen the work. For large projects, a schedule usually starts with 10 percent at contract signing, three payments of 25 percent evenly spaced over the duration of the project and a check for the final 15 percent when you feel every item on the punch list has been completed.

Don’t Let Price Be Your Guide

Meeting with architect PHOTO BY COMSTOCK IMAGES/GETTYIMAGES

“Throw out the lowball bid,” says Tom. “This contractor is probably cutting corners or, worse, desperate for work”—hardly an encouraging sign in a healthy economy. Beyond technical competence, comfort should play an equal or greater role in your decision. The single most important factor in choosing a contractor is how well you and he communicate. All things being equal, it’s better to spend more and get someone you’re comfortable with.

Put it in Writing

Signing a contract PHOTO BY FLYING COLOURS LTD/GETTYIMAGES

Draw up a contract that details every step of the project: payment schedule; proof of liability insurance and worker’s compensation payments; a start date and projected completion date; specific materials and products to be used; and a requirement that the contractor obtain lien releases (which protect you if he doesn’t pay his bills) from all subcontractors and suppliers. Insisting on a clear contract isn’t about mistrust, Tom assures us. It’s about insuring a successful renovation.

Finally, remember that as soon as a change is made or a problem uncovered, the price just increased and the project just got longer. The four most expensive words in the English language? “While you’re at it….”

Affordable Big Impact Home Winterization Tips

Affordable Big Impact Home Winterization Tips

Although you may prefer to forget, last winter’s subfreezing temperatures may not be an isolated occurrence. Weather experts are already discussing if El Nino and arctic air from a polar vortex will cause colder than normal winter weather throughout the country. Is your home ready to withstand the chill?

Smart homeowners are taking time now to prepare their homes for the harsh weather. Winterizing not only helps maintain comfortable temperatures inside, but also helps lower your energy bill. Fortunately, some of the improvements that have the biggest impact are also easy to do and surprisingly affordable.

1. Seal gaps and cracks

The average midsize U.S. home has a half mile of gaps and cracks according to www.energystar.gov. Cold air infiltrates through those spaces causing your furnace to work overtime. An easy way to combat the problem is to use Great Stuff(TM) Gaps & Cracks to fill openings around electrical outlets, plumbing pipes, doors, dryer vents and more. Sealing your home takes just a few hours whether you do it yourself or work with a contractor. Visit dowgreatstuff.com/winterize to learn more.

2. Reverse fan blades

Your ceiling fans aren’t just valuable during summer – they can help reduce energy costs by circulating warm air that rises to the top of rooms. To ensure your fan is circulating the air correctly, you need to reverse the blades. Most modern ceiling fans have a handy switch that controls the blade direction. During the winter, set the blades to spin clockwise to help warm rooms and set to counterclockwise during summer for cooling breezes.

3. Eliminate drafty windows

Have you ever felt a draft as you walked by your window? Gaps around windows are a major source of heat loss. Seal out those drafts with Great Stuff(TM) Window & Door Insulating Foam Sealant. This specially formulated low-pressure sealant is easy to apply and insulates the window without bending the frame when properly applied. Another great tip is to open the curtains during the daylight hours on south-facing windows so the sun can help heat your home naturally. Close curtains when the sun sets to reduce the chill.

4. Install an adjustable thermostat

An adjustable thermostat is an effective tool for maintaining a comfortably warm home and cutting heating costs. If you have one but don’t have it set, now is the time to learn how. By adjusting the temperature down while you’re sleeping or away, you can save plenty of money. In fact, by turning your thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees for 8 hours, you can save 5 to 15 percent a year on your heating bill, according to energy.gov.

5. Tune up your furnace

If meteorologists’ predictions are correct, your furnace will be working hard this winter. Make sure it is working effectively and efficiently by scheduling a tune-up now. A qualified technician will check the coils and clean and lubricate important mechanical parts. Some utility companies offer free checkups to customers, so be sure to ask about your options. In addition to a tune-up, remember to change your furnace filter once a month during the heating season to maintain proper air flow.

For more great home winterization tips, visit CiprianiRemodelingSolutions.com. One of our award-winning designers would love to have a conversation about conservation. (BPT) 

Editor’s note:
®™ Trademark of The Dow Chemical Company (“Dow”) or an affiliated company of Dow.

3 Simple Ways to Add Nostalgia During the Holidays

3 simple ways to add nostalgia during the holidays.

Fond memories of holidays past are one of the many gifts of the seasons, and it turns out a bit of nostalgia is good for you. It can make you feel less lonely, bored or anxious, and more generous, tolerant and happy, according to a New York Times report on nostalgia research.

You don’t need research to know that remembering good times makes you feel good. This holiday season, why not foster a sense of nostalgia? Here are three ways to bring some of the best things about bygone holidays back into modern holiday celebrations.

Decorating with a touch of yesteryear

It’s easy to evoke a sense of nostalgia with holiday decor. Retail and specialty stores carry a variety of decorations that evoke the look of past decades, from the roaring ’20s to the sparkly ’70s and beyond.

Choose light strands with larger bulbs to mimic the look your grandparents enjoyed in the 1950s, or candolier bubble lights for a ’60s or ’70s flare. Glass ornaments in intricate shapes also recall an older era, as do tabletop ceramic trees with mini lights.

A simple online search will yield many nostalgic decorating options, or you can often find vintage pieces at yard sales and flea markets. The important thing is to look for items that remind you of a favorite holiday memory.

Finding nostalgia in favorite holiday foods

Everyone has that time-honored family recipe that is the showpiece of holiday feasting. Certain foods and flavors, like peppermint candy canes, turkey with all the trimmings, pineapple-topped ham, and frosted sugar cookies are delicious musts for holiday celebrations. If it’s been a while since you made your family favorite, dust off the recipe this year. Or, you can try something that’s both new and nostalgic at the same time, like this recipe for Goji Ginger Popcorn Balls from Frontier Co-op:

Goji Ginger Popcorn Balls

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1/3 cup organic popcorn kernels

1/2 cup Frontier Organic Crystalized Ginger, diced into small pieces

1/2 cup Frontier Goji Berries

1/2 cup brown rice syrup

1/2 cup sunflower seed butter

Directions:

In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, heat coconut oil until melted. Add popcorn kernels and cover pot with lid. Heat popcorn, shaking the pot occasionally, for about 3-5 minutes, until popping slows and the majority of the kernels are popped. Remove from heat.

Pour popcorn into a large bowl, removing un-popped kernels. Add crystallized ginger and Goji berries. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine brown rice syrup and sunflower seed butter, stirring occasionally. Continue to heat mixture for about 3-4 minutes, until contents are well combined and easily pourable. Pour mixture over popcorn and, using a wooden spoon or your hands, coat popcorn. Lightly wet your hands and form popcorn into 18 3-inch balls. Serve as soon as possible.

If desired, substitute non-sweetened or sweetened sunflower seed butter for the unmodified sunflower seed butter, but expect a slightly different consistency and taste.

Reliving memories with music

What holiday party would be complete without festive music playing in the background? While you may love modern holiday tunes, vintage music is a great way to create nostalgia during the holidays. Whether you’re a fan of traditional carols or favor rock reinventions of traditional tunes, music is a great way to create nostalgia at the holidays.

Technology has made it easier than ever to find and enjoy music from every era. Why not put together a play list of holiday music that was popular during some of the happiest holiday seasons you remember? Can’t recall what was playing the year you finally got that skateboard you dreamed of? Check with your parents – your mom probably remembers! And even if she doesn’t, you’ll have a good time reminiscing together. (BPT)

 

5 Easy Steps to Winterize Your Outdoor Living Space

Cipriani Remodeling Solutions shares 5 easy steps to winterize your outdoor living space.

Ahh, the backyard – it’s served you well all summer. But now the seasons are changing and colder weather is on the way. Which means you need to prime your property from the ravages of winter. That’s right, it’s time to winterize!

Since you can finish your indoor winterizing as temperatures get cooler, it makes sense to winterize your outdoor living space first. With that in mind, here is a five-point checklist to help safeguard your home from Jack Frost for another year:

Prep your deck. Your beautiful deck has been a source of outdoor enjoyment all summer long, so now it’s time to protect your beloved structure before winter rears its ugly head again. Of course, the amount of work you have to put into winterizing your deck depends on your decking material. For example, a durable, long-lasting material such as beautiful Western Red Cedar requires the least amount of maintenance. That said, all decks require some upkeep.

So to preserve your deck’s luster, start by cleaning it with a warm soapy solution and a soft bristle brush (never power wash). It’s important that you remove all dirt and debris from both the surface as well as in between the boards during this process because the more ventilation your decking has through the colder months, the better it will look come springtime. Next, inspect the deck for the presence of mold. If present, wash the deck with a mild oxygen bleach solution and leave on the surface for 30 minutes before rinsing thoroughly. Finally, remove anything that might leave marks on the deck’s surface from inconsistent weathering – think outdoor furniture, movable planters, door mats etc. As for finishing your deck with a fresh coat of stain etc., that’s really more of a spring job (i.e. you’re off the hook for another six months).

Inspect your windows. Take a stroll around your home’s exterior and inspect each of your windows to see if any gaps or cracks are present. If you find some, apply caulking to the openings and this will prevent cold air from seeping through these cracks during the winter, which in turn, will cut down on your heating bills!

Protect those planters. These days, most planter boxes are made with Western Red Cedar. That’s because it’s naturally resistant to rot, decay and insects; and therefore, doesn’t require treatment from potentially dangerous chemicals that can leach into your soil and plants. But like all garden beds, Real Cedar planters need protection during the winter months. Start by removing all soil and cleaning the boxes as you did the deck. Then if possible, store your emptied planters in a garage, shed, under the porch etc. If you can’t, then cover them with a water repellent tarp to protect from moisture buildup – but make sure you don’t seal the tarp. As with decks, it’s very important that you allow for proper ventilation.

Trim those trees. As you walk around your house inspecting your windows for cracks and gaps, this is also a good time to take a look at your trees. Look for trees that are old, appear weakened or diseased. In addition to the trees themselves, you should also check for any dead branches, particularly those hanging near or over your home. As snow accumulates over the winter, the weight may be enough to bring a diseased tree or branch down, potentially damaging your home. You can eliminate this risk by removing any dead trees or branches now before the first snow starts to fly.

Guard the grill. If grilling is one of your favorite summertime activities, you don’t have to abandon it just because winter’s coming. A Real Cedar BBQ cover can protect you from the elements, allowing you to grill all year long. And because the cover is made from a naturally resilient wood like cedar, you’ll be BBQing in all kinds of weather for years to come. You can find free plans to build your own BBQ cover in Real Cedar’s outdoor section.

For extensive project plans, maintenance tips & design inspiration, visit Real Cedar.com. Or if you like to “DIY on the Fly”, download the new Real Cedar Mobile Toolkit app for fast and easy building facts. Available for free from Google Play Store and coming soon to iTunes. (BPT)

For more information about winterizing your outdoor space, contact one of our award-winning remodeling consultants at CiprianiRemodelingSolutions.com.

How to Select Roofing Shingles

The 3 C’s of choosing diamonds and shingles: Knowing more means paying less.

Shopping for an engagement ring can be confusing. But knowing the 4 C’s of picking a diamond – Cut, Color, Clarity and Carat – can help consumers get the best gem for their money. Shopping for roof shingles can be confusing, too. But knowing the 3 C’s of buying a new roof – Cut, Color and Coverage – can help consumers choose the best roof for their home and make the entire process easier and less expensive.

1. Cut

Cut refers to the shape of the shingle and can have a huge impact on a roof’s appearance. Depending on the cut, specialty laminated asphalt shingles, like shingle manufacturer TAMKO Building Products’ Heritage Woodgate line, can give the illusion of wood shake shingles. Other options can resemble stone, slate or tile. Shingle cut can also give a modern or vintage look to a home, so it’s important to choose a cut that fits the style of the rest of your house. The shingle cut can also affect the installation speed and the cost of your roof. The shingle application method shown here http://bit.ly/1dORpuC can help speed installation and reduce waste.

2. Color

When you think of shingle color, you probably think brown, gray and black. And while those traditional colors are still very popular, in recent years asphalt shingles have been introduced in a wide variety of colorful hues. Color trends include high-contrast options like Rustic Evergreen and Glacier White, as well as a popular move toward natural colors emulating the vibrant tones found in nature. “People are getting creative with their roofing – it’s not just utilitarian anymore,” says Stephen McNally, vice president of sales and marketing at TAMKO Building Products. “People are seeing it as a palette – one of the first things visitors notice about the house.”

When choosing a color, take into account the exterior color of your home, including siding, shutters, porch and front door. If the lots are close together, also consider the colors of the exteriors and roofs of the homes on either side of yours. Some options include contrasting colors, complementary colors or analogous color schemes.

3. Coverage

It’s important to understand the warranty on your roofing system. Coverage includes which items are under warranty, under what circumstances the roof is warranted and for what amount of time. Most roof warranties don’t guarantee your roof will last 30-50 years, but do provide options if you experience a manufacturing defect during the warranted time frame. Look for a warranty with longer “upfront” coverage, as these typically offer more time during which both materials AND labor to install replacement shingles would be covered (tear off, removal and disposal is typically not covered). Manufacturers’ warranties don’t cover regular wear and tear of your roof and weather damage is also not typically covered by manufacturers, which is where your home insurance comes into play.

Also, many times problems with a roof are the result of improper installation, so make sure to choose a reputable local roofing contractor, preferably a preferred installer who has received training from the company that manufactured the shingles. Also, ask whether your contractor offers a separate warranty for the installation of the product and for what period of time.

Understanding these three C’s of roofing can help you buy a “gem” of a roof and hopefully save time and money. For more tips on choosing the perfect roof for your home, visit www.TAMKO.com. (BPT)

To see more finished roofing projects and for more information about how to select roofing shingles, contact CiprianiRemodleingSolutions.com. One of our award-winning design consultants would be happy to have a roofing conversation with you.

SPACE MAKERS

The object of most home remodeling design is to get the most from the space you have. Unless we have the means to have custom cabinetry fabricated, we are left with basic sizes of cabinets and appliances which seldom add up to the exact dimensions you need. As a result, we can end up with filler pieces and wasted blind corner space that we wish could be useful. Those days are over. Today, there are accessories that render wasted space a relic of the past. We all know there never seems to be enough space for the stuff we accumulate.

Rev a Shelf, a company based in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, has tackled nearly every space-eating problem any kitchen ever had. From bind corner slide-outs to filler pull-outs, Rev a Shelf seems to have covered, not only how to make wasted space usable, but how to make access to the space you have functionally smoother and more organized. While their kitchen accessories are the answer to many storage issues, they offer similar products for bathrooms and closets as well.

Mixer 1        IB       cabinet org

Sink bases, because of the plumbing, in both kitchens and baths often become a repository for everything that we either have nowhere else to put, or we want to hide. Rev a Shelf makes use of that normally shelf-less space. A normal pantry or linen cabinet always seems to be much larger than the things we can store in them, and then, 80% of the stuff we stuff in them is not accessible unless we take the front half of the stuff out. …So 4 years later, when we can’t stand it anymore and decide to clean it out, we discover those petrified marshmallows, the pirate balloons from our 6-year-old’s second birthday, or that holiday serving dish we re-bought last year

Hamper                             BC   Pantry

From ironing boards that store in vanity drawers, to tall linen or pantry cabinet pull-outs that not only utilize every inch of space, but allow you to see and access everything, to blind corner storage that allows you to use space never before accessible, and a ton of like ideas that will make your home more comfortable and your space more usable. Rev a Shelf is available in many colors and finishes, and works with your existing cabinetry. Whether you are considering a home remodeling project, or want to retro-fit space saving accessories, think about these. Many cabinet manufacturers offer similar add-ons, but Rev-a-Shelf has it all.

 Mixer2                         pant rack

Look for yourself! Visit http://www.rev-a-shelf.com

Green Remodeling

You can be deluged with “green” building and remodeling tips if you do even some rudimentary research.

 

Although there is some overlap, there are 3 primary categories of “green.” These are energy, recycling, and health. All three of these are areas can be addressed during a home remodeling project, and the greenness of your home can be enhanced as part of the overall remodeling design.

 

The first, of course, is energy conservation. This has to do with leaving the smallest possible “carbon footprint.” The considerations reach farther than the energy used in your home after the remodeling project is complete. It also considers what kind of energy it took to; a. procure the raw materials, b. transport and process the raw materials. c. manufacture the product, d. package the product, and e. transport the product to your site. If you really care about being green, then you have to include the global carbon cost in your overall green project calculus. Over and above the energy savings you are apt to experience in your home, the number of years these savings will take to offset the global costs to get it into your home must also be considered. Some manufacturers are finally catching up to consumers in sophistication regarding this.

 

The recycling and repurposing of material that will otherwise end up in an already overburdened waste stream is another critical aspect of reducing your carbon output. Producing waste is something for which we Americans have become very proficient. In fact, we’re number 1! Recycling, repurposing, and energy conservation can work hand-in-hand to reduce the amounts of energy and water it takes for us to live. Reusing “gray” water is becoming a popular mode of conservation. Collecting, storing and using rain water is also a cost effective and common-sense approach. There are many roof gardens in action today—especially in cities where open soil is scarce. These not only use rain water in a productive way, but also can be beautiful while providing insulation benefits as well. Simply collecting rain water for use in our own gardens and lawns is an easy and beneficial way to be green.

 

While our planet and its sun provide us with much energy in nearly unlimited quantities, the solar, wind, nuclear, and geothermal options have their trade-offs. This trade-offs manifest themselves in prohibitive costs and perceived danger. Until the technology becomes economically attainable for the masses and can be proven to be safe, the best we can do as people, businesses, and communities, is the best we can do. The U.S. Federal Government has enacted several incentives for families to get greener. Some State Governments do still more. However, these incentives are erratic and dependent on the solvency of the respective institutions. Keep an eye on the available incentives if you are leaning this way.

 

The third class of “green” is concerned with how healthy the materials are that we are putting in our home. Again, this is not just about us, but also the human manufacturing cost. Many commonly used material in construction off-gas unhealthy toxins to which many of us unknowingly expose our families daily. Adhesives, binders, dyes, and coatings are all around us. Many of these can be harmful to people and animals. Beyond that, there are many materials whose hazards are most suffered by the people working in the manufacturing end.

 

Many are under the mistaken impression that you have to be building a home from the ground up in order to go green. There are many, many ways to lessen your carbon footprint in an existing home. From the materials being used to the methods in which they are employed have everything to do with reducing your carbon footprint. While you may not be addressing the whole of your home, the areas you are addressing can most certainly enhance your greenness.

 

A kitchen remodel, for example, usually entails the demolition of the existing kitchen. As the wallboard on the exterior walls is removed, the insulation material and method you choose to replace the existing can be your start to a greener life. If not otherwise specified, the common faced, batt insulation used by most contractors, while an effective insulator, contains formaldehyde. You can choose formaldehyde-free insulation, insulation made from recycled materials, or you can super-insulate with closed cell, spray foam. Care taken to seal off gaps in the exterior wall substructure can help a great deal with heat loss. If you are replacing or installing new windows and doors as part of your kitchen remodel, the careful selection of those units will also help with heat loss. From there, paperless drywall, zero VOC drywall and subfloor adhesives, cabinetry made from sustainable materials such as bamboo or cork, counter tops made from recycled glass, sustainable flooring, energy star appliances, water conserving fixtures, LED lighting, and zero VOC paint will considerably green up your act.

 

“Greenwashing” is the term used for a material that may have one “green” advantage, but then other elements that are not so green. For example: the aforementioned recycled glass countertops. While recycling glass is very green, the binders and adhesives used to produce the top can be extremely unhealthy. Do your homework. It can be difficult as so much marketing is at odds with the facts. One great website to begin sorting through the mire of factoids and truth is http://www.greenwashingindex.com  . There is a wealth of information there to help navigate the “green” forest.

If the Design Fits…

CHOOSING THE RIGHT DESIGN FOR YOU

While much home remodeling is need driven, a primary purpose of home improvements is to enhance the quality of life for you and your family. In order to gain this you must first address the design. The form, as well as the function, must be carefully considered before delving into your remodeling project. Advice and ideas on planning a remodel can come from many sources: your imagination, pictures in magazines, images and articles on the internet, a friend’s home, a remodeling contractor, an architect, or an interior designer. There are likely too many options for you than too few. When you distill the subject, however, it all boils down to you—to you and your family’s unique way of living. This is not to say, of course, that you’re weird, but that by virtue of being human, you are unique, and so are the people that live with you. Call it “exceptional” if you like.

The best design for you may not be the best design for your neighbor. In the most fundamental sense, a good design makes the best use of the space in question. “Best,” however, is a largely subjective term. Outside of a handful of rules, practices, principles, legalities, and ambiguous “rules of thumb,” ” best use” is little more than an opinion. You may be familiar with the “kitchen work triangle,” for example. This is a principle used in kitchen design since the 1940s. It involves the area between the sink, cook top, and refrigerator. With the advent of new appliances, such as microwaves, mixer lifts, pot fillers, dual fuel wall ovens, and multiple sinks, the kitchen work triangle has evolved into a polygon of ever-increasing complexity, with ever-expanding options. Likewise, not so long ago, a 3 piece bathroom was the norm. Now, it’s fast becoming extinct. A basement used to be where we kept our furnace, hot water heater, and stored our old paint. Now, the hot water heater can hang on a wall, the furnace can go in the attic, leaving the basement available for a home theater, bar, game room, master suite, or a combination of all of the above—and anything else you can dream-up. We used to have to go to a place of worship to see cathedral ceilings. Now, we may have one in our sun room, foyer, or any other room that doesn’t have a floor above it. We can have a fireplace and entertainment center in our bathroom if we choose. The emphasis on open space in homes has rendered the clearly-defined division between rooms obsolete in many cases. This is accomplished more today with furnishings and decorating accoutrements than with walls. The options are so endless, it’s hard to know where to begin.  This is not your grandfather’s home improvement project.

The evolution of residential remodeling design has progressed in leaps and bounds in the last few decades, and what formerly were details worked out between a home improvement contractor and a homeowner, (often while the project was in progress) are now refined by remodeling design professionals. A remodeling design professional can help in countless ways: advise you on alternatives, cost-effectiveness, and logistic reality, but it will be you making the final decisions, and it is you that has to live with those decisions. You need to be steering this process—especially early on. It could be a mistake to allow a relative stranger to make such personal judgments. Regardless of your experience (or lack thereof,) you are uniquely qualified to meld the design and your life together. No one can know more about what you need, want and prefer than you.

It’s unwise to put the cart before the horse. Before decisions regarding cabinetry style, flooring material, tile mosaics, paint colors, etc. are addressed, the fundamental spatial layout should be worked out. It’s crucial that the design works for you and your family. Approaching this yourself, beforehand, will save you time, money and much trial-and-error aggravation. Your best bet is to do whatever it takes to get your planning ideas as close as possible to what you envision–to communicate your ideas. Involve your family. Sketch your ideas out on graphing paper. If need be, make scaled, cardboard cutouts of furniture, cabinetry, islands, etc. Move them around until you achieve the desired effect. Clip, or print photos of things you like. Then call an architect, designer, or home remodeling professional for additional suggestions, costing advice, to finalize design, and produce the project, but do yourself a huge favor—start with you and the people that live with you. The best design is the one that best reflects you. 

*Below are the existing layout and 3 basic floor plan options for a bathroom: The object is to gain space in currently cramped area. The homeowners want to do away with the large whirlpool tub and half of a double entry door, replacing the large tub with a stylish claw foot tub that also leaves the option of an expanded shower with a frameless glass enclosure and possibly a second vanity bowl.

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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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