29 April 2010

Sensible Remodels for a Flat Housing Market

Market Watch
With housing values in the tank and any substantial price appreciation in the distant future, sinking money into a remodeling project is a tough sell for many homeowners now.

In general, you won't recoup as much of a project's cost at resale as you might have several years ago, according to estimates from Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value Report, which weighs the costs of various improvements against their resale value. And while labor costs might be more negotiable in today's market, materials aren't getting any cheaper, said Sal Alfano, editorial director of the magazine.

"Homeowners right now are a little shell-shocked. Houses, up to three years ago, were like a bank account... people were spending money freely on sunrooms and outdoor decks and they were always getting it back," said David Lupberger, home improvement expert for ServiceMagic.com, a Web site that connects homeowners with prescreened home service professionals.

Those who are remodeling are generally opting for fewer frills and less expensive finishes, Alfano said. Instead of building large additions, they're trying to better utilize space they already have. They're seeking energy-efficiency upgrades and low-cost cosmetic improvements that make a home more comfortable and appealing.

Added Alfano: "Instead of saying 'Yes, I want the best of everything,' they're making choices right now. They realize they have to make a decision on materials they want to use for counters and backsplashes and ironing centers. Their budget can't cover the best of everything.

"People are back to tradeoffs, projects are smaller."

The little things

Even if resale isn't your top consideration, a check of the Cost vs. Value Report will still give an idea of projects that pack a punch. Home improvements that tend to excel on this list are those that have universal appeal -- and a reasonable price tag.

In terms of cost recouped at resale, seven of the top 10 projects in the 2009-2010 report were exterior-replacement projects, including windows, doors and siding.

A steel exterior door-replacement was the highest-ranked project on the list. It was also the least expensive, Alfano said. For an estimated cost of $1,172, real-estate agents who were surveyed for the report estimated that 128.9% would be recovered at resale. View the Cost vs. Value Report.

"If you have a door that really needs help, you're not spending that much money and you're vastly improving the first impression" of a home, he said.

Painting, replacing older fixtures, and cleaning carpets also are inexpensive ways to spruce up a home without hiring a large home remodeling company -- whether you're planning on selling it soon or not, Lupberger said. "There are a lot of cosmetic things we postpone because of how busy we are," he said.

For budget-conscious homeowners, changing door handles and putting a new finish on interior doors can also make a huge difference, said David Mackowski, of Quality Design and Construction in Raleigh real estate, N.C.

Remember, too, that improvements that make a home more efficient can cut down on utility bills, saving money over the long term. Some products that improve efficiency are eligible for federal tax credits through the end of 2010, and certain appliances qualify for state rebate programs as well.

26 April 2010

Citing Costs, Contractors Fight New Lead Paint Rules

Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel

Green will mean something a little different this Earth Day - at least for contractors required to follow stricter practices for controlling lead paint when doing even minor projects in homes built before 1978, under a new rule that takes effect on April 22.

Trades groups around the country have sought to block the scheduled implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency rule, arguing it will increase the price of renovations by thousands of dollars and cost them work. They predict homeowners will either forgo renovation projects because of the higher costs or find workers willing to ignore the rules and risk fines.

To date, the EPA has maintained the rule will go into effect on Thursday.

If that holds, homeowners should be prepared to pay more for window replacements, kitchen remodeling, siding jobs and small plumbing and electrical projects - any work where lead paint would be disturbed. Owners of apartment buildings also will pay more for similar work, and property managers will need to comply with the new requirements.

"Nobody is very happy for a more restrictive policy, and I don't like to have to charge my customers more," said Kevin Anundson, owner of the OAR Group in Elm Grove. "It could make or break a project. It shouldn't, but it could. We have to conform.

"We have to follow the policy," he said.

Anundson serves as first vice president of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, Milwaukee Chapter, which has been working to help its members comply with the new lead-safe standard.

The rule applies only to buildings that pre-date 1978, when lead paint was banned for residential use. One estimate puts the number of buildings covered by the new rule in Wisconsin at 756,000, including day-care centers and schools.
Bathroom renovation work, particularly the demolition portion in those older buildings, disturbs old paint and releases dust containing lead. The toxin poisons roughly 1 million children per year across the country, and the rule is intended to reduce the exposure to poisonous dust.

All interior projects that disturb an area of six square feet or greater fall under the rule. The threshold for outdoor projects is 20 square feet. Any window replacement is covered by the clean work site requirements.

The new standard does not apply to homeowners doing their own work.

In Wisconsin, the Department of Health Services implemented its own version of the federal rule and has been overwhelmed by contractors seeking to meet the new training and certification standards by the looming deadline.

That rush, however, follows two decades of legislative and regulatory work to eliminate lead paint poisoning in children. Congress authorized the EPA to draft the rule 20 years ago, and the EPA published the order in 2008.

The new standard requires:

•  At least one worker on a project must be certified as a "lead safe renovator." Certification requires a one-day training course, typically costing $250, and a $50 fee paid to the state every two years.

•  Businesses performing home repairs and renovations also need to be certified. In Wisconsin, the certification costs $75 and is good for five years.

•  On-site, workers will be required to upgrade their practices to protect against the spread of lead dust. They will have to post warning signs, use respirators, goggles and disposable plastic drop cloths, and clean the area with HEPA vacuums and wet washing. The area must be checked with special cloths to ensure the lead dust left behind is below the threshold set in the rule. Power tools also will need to be outfitted with special shrouds.

The vacuums with high-efficiency particulate air filters cost roughly $500 each.

The EPA has calculated the stricter practices, which include additional record-keeping, will add an average of $35 to the cost of a renovation project, and has set the range at $8 to $167.

Some home remodeling contractors scoff at those figures. Others merely question them.

"Now the requirement is to leave the area in a dust-free environment on a daily basis," said David Pekel, owner of Pekel Construction and Remodeling. "To that end, putting a price tag on the financial implication per job is going to be hard to get our hands around initially."

John Brannon, owner of Exact Exterior and Interior Remodeling, in Greendale, has a more abrasive view of the new standard.

"You took an industry that was down because of the economy, and now let's make it even tougher yet," he said. "These had to be the dumbest people collectively on God's green earth that put this rule together."

Brannon called the rule a huge tax increase on homeowners, and estimated the need for extra equipment, cloths, masks and barriers would add $1,000 to $1,500 to a bathroom or kitchen remodeling.

Counter to what Brannon suggests, however, the rule does have a purpose.

Lead poisons 1 million children per year across the country, according to the EPA. Household dust containing lead from old paint is believed to be the most common source of the poison. Children easily ingest the dust when putting their hands and fingers in their mouths.

The heavy metal is particularly harmful to children under 6, decreasing intelligence and hindering the ability to learn. Research has found that the poison also impairs academic performance and contributes to increased rates of juvenile delinquency.

In the early '90s, Congress passed the National Toxic Substances Control Act - the legislative basis for the new rule - with the intent of eliminating lead poisoning by 2010.

The number of children age 6 and under found to be poisoned by lead in Milwaukee has decreased from 3,456 in 1997 to 815 in 2008, according to the City of Milwaukee Health Department.

That reduction, however, is not a cause to claim victory, said Paul Biedrzycki, director of disease control and environmental health with the city department.

"Now, it's time to fine-tune and refine our strategy," he said. "There's still a lot of lead paint in Milwaukee, particularly because of the older housing stock - primarily lower-income and rental housing.

"I think this standard will improve our ability to further reduce lead levels in children."

The effort has been hampered somewhat by a shortage of training opportunities, and the slow response by the contractors and businesses required to follow the new rule.

In Wisconsin, roughly 20,000 to 30,000 individuals - plumbers, painters, carpenters and others - are estimated to require the training and certification, according to Shelley Bruce, manager of the safe-lead program in the state Department of Health Services.

Through Friday, 1,024 certifications had been issued. Another 2,000 applications are being processed, she said.

There are six certified training providers for Wisconsin workers, and the classes have been filled to capacity for the last several months. Across the country, a lack of accredited courses has been a problem for contractors looking to comply with the new rule.

Bruce estimated compliance of only 8% to 10% in the first year in Wisconsin. She expects that to increase to 50% in five years and 70% by 2020.

Violations carry penalties up to $1,000, but Bruce said the initial enforcement would focus on helping contractors meet the new rules. Fines wouldn't be levied unless the violators continued to ignore the rule, she said.

23 April 2010

Sustainability a Major Theme at Kitchen Show

Medill Reports Chicago

Innovation, sustainability and high-end amenities were themes of the 2010 Kitchen and Bath Industry Show at McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago April 16-18. Nearly 700 vendors hawking leading industry brands Dacor, Kohler, GE, Moen and many others presented the latest in kitchen and bathroom trends.

Debuting the latest trends in sophisticated, contemporary designs for the home, exhibitors displayed affordable luxuries as well as products that might be out of reach for the average consumer.

“Consumers are more conscious of where their money goes now,” said Bob Quasius, head of exhibits and displays for Kohler Co. “They come looking for high quality but value as well.”

Cast iron baths with chromatherapy and bubble technology, tankless toilets, etched bronze sinks, undercounter refrigeration units, electric cabinets, water-saving rain shower heads, ironing centers, and mirrors with built in televisions were some of the eye-catching items on display.

Though official attendance figures won’t be available until next week, Wagstaff Worldwide, Inc., public relations for the show, projected a 40 percent increase compared with last year’s show in Atlanta. Brian Pagel, vice president of Kitchen and Bath Group at Nielsen Expositions, the show’s production company, said there was a positive buzz on the show floor.

“We believe that this is a sign that the market has begun to stabilize and hope that it is an indication that market conditions will continue to improve,” Pagel said.

The jump in attendance might be due to more movement towards sustainability in renovation as the economy begins to recover from the recession, according to Sarah Barnard of Sarah Barnard Design, a Los Angeles firm specializing in eco-friendly design.

“In years past, we really had to promote these ideas to the clients and beg them to get on board,” Barnard said. “Now everyone is asking for them.”

Barnard said she is seeing a lot of what she calls “piecemeal” home improvements now, rather than “whole house attacks,” mainly from people who have been in their homes for some time and are finally ready to invest in renovations.

“Frankly, they’re tired of not spending and not having,” Barnard said.

For average consumers, the goal is to buy the best they can afford in a remodeling project, and that creates “a lot of pressure to make the right choice,” according to Barnard.

Although homeowners can sometimes get caught up in that, it’s important to be realistic when making a plan to remodel, she said. Barnard advises consumers to look to shows like this one more for inspiration, and not necessarily splurging on the high-end luxury items displayed. She gave the example of a high-tech toilet with buttons, a heated seat and motion-sensing lid that lifts automatically when someone enters.

“On the show room floor with a smooth-talking salesman, it seems like something that your dream bathroom can’t live without,” Barnard said. “But really, it’s a toilet. You have to keep it in perspective.”

The average household in the Midwest spends about $10,600 on kitchen appliances and bath remodeling jobs, according to a 2009 research report issued by the show's sponsor. However, the Midwest lags behind other regions including the West, where average spending per household tops $18,000.

The same research found that just over 6 percent of households in the region are planning a kitchen and bathroom remodeling job this year, ranking second only to the Northeast with about 8 percent planning remodels.

“Financing is just not as readily available for new construction, so most people are just upgrading the homes they have,” said Keresa Richardson, national president of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing.

Typically, homeowners can expect their home value to rise by 80 percent to 90 percent of the amount they spend to remodeling a kitchen or bathroom, according to Richardson.

“Most people want to know, is it worth the money to remodel my home? And most of the time, it is,” Richardson said.

She went on to say that it's also worthwhile to invest in energy-saving products for the home because they bring a lot of value that people want, including savings on energy and water bills.

Next year’s Kitchen and Bath Industry show will be held in Las Vegas April 26-28. The show was held in Chicago in 2006, 2008 and 2010 and Atlanta in 2009. It was at the Las Vegas Convention Center in 2005 and 2007.

22 April 2010

Business Booming at Habitat ReStores

Tidewater News (Virginia)

Organizers with Southampton/Franklin Habitat for Humanity didn’t quite know what to expect when they opened the ReStore in downtown Franklin last September.

“We have had an overwhelming response in the donations from the community and also the customers,” said Shanda Bittick, a member of the executive board and chairwoman of the Restore Committee. “It’s really exceeded our expectations.”

The ReStore supplies overstocked, discontinued, and new and used building materials donated by manufacturers, stores, Pennsylvania remodeling contractors and individuals. The store started with an International Paper Co. grant and donations from Wal-Mart and Lowe’s.

The ReStore features furniture, electronics, appliances, fixtures, kitchenware, books and most things related to homes.

“We don’t do clothing or used mattresses,” said Jean Stephenson, another member of Habitat for Humanity’s executive board and chairwoman of the Family Selection Committee.

The donated items are either sold to the public from the ReStore at 109 W. First Ave., or used in construction for Habitat for Humanity homes.

Donations from businesses or individuals are tax-deductible. ReStores are located across the country, but Bittick said other stores often struggle to get donations; that hasn’t been a problem here.

“They have just been coming and coming and coming,” she said. “I think that this store just shows the spirit of Franklin in general.

Stephenson said it’s a great place to find bargains. New items are typically sold at about 50 percent of retail value and used items can be priced anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of retail value.

“I work for social services and I see it as a place where my clients can come and get very nice things for home remodeling at very affordable prices,” Stephenson said. “To me it helps everybody in the community.”

Bittick said the store is a “win-win” for everyone. Not everyone shopping the ReStore is just looking for bargains. Bittick said some people come in looking for interesting or unusual items to decorate their homes.

Frank Rickman, the store’s manager and only paid employee, said volunteers are the backbone of the store.

“I’ve worked for a lot of different charitable organizations, and I’ve never seen volunteers like the ones here,” he said.

Rickman said he was preparing to retire from his job at International Paper Co. and wanted to do something to help the community.

“What could be better than helping a family have a home?” he said.

Organizers said volunteering at the store is “addictive” and volunteers come from a wide variety of backgrounds including teenagers with the Southampton High School Key Club to senior citizens.

“It’s just an interesting eclectic group,” Bittick said of the volunteers.

Habitat officials are looking to expand the store’s hours. Currently it is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays and Wednesdays. On June 1, those hours will expand to 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. By the fall, they hope to add a third day of operation.

“We want to go to the next level of opening more hours and to do that we need to expand our volunteer base,” Bittick said.

Organizers are targeting civic and church groups looking for a place to volunteer.

The Southampton/Franklin Habitat for Humanity is preparing to build another house, “and this store has a lot to do with the funding of that,” Bittick said.

Stephenson said the home would be built on South High Street in Franklin. The home will have an interest-free mortgage, and the buyer is required to put in 300 hours of “sweat equity.”

“Our hope was to be able to find that partner family so we can go ahead and start this summer,” she said.

Rickman said working at the store is a good way to help the community as the International Paper mill shuts down.

“I don’t want to see Franklin go down because the mill is going down, and this is an opportunity to help not just Franklin, but Southampton and Isle of Wight…this whole area,” he said.

Organizers are also planning to hold a community yard sale at the store on July 24.

18 April 2010

Ideal for Meditation

San Francisco Chronicle
Twice a week, The Chronicle features a local home on the market that caught our eye for its architecture, history or character.

Address: 177 W. Blithedale Ave., Mill Valley

Asking price:
$1.895 million

Description: Located a half-mile from downtown Mill Valley, this renovated home in Blithedale Canyon sits on a level lot with numerous redwood trees growing in the landscaped backyard. An open kitchen features a center island and built-in table, as well as Sub Zero, Fisher & Paykel and Bosch kitchen appliances. Four sets of French doors provide access to the deck and rear yard from the kitchen and family room, as well as the master bedroom and an additional bedroom. The home also has three skylights, an office and a spacious laundry with ironing center, storage and mechanical room.

Don't miss: A meandering path in the backyard leads to a detached "Zen Tea House" perched beneath the redwoods.

Size: The four-bedroom, 2.5-bath house sits on a 5,600-square-foot lot.


16 April 2010

Here's what you Need to Know Before you Start that Kitchen Remodel

Wausau Daily Herald

Kitchens are where we live. Where we gather in the morning as we prepare for our day and where we return at the end of it to share a meal, talk about our experiences, do our homework or simply enjoy a quiet cup of tea. We ask this room to do so much for us that when it doesn't quite suit our needs we naturally turn our thoughts to making changes and we might even utter that dreaded word -- remodel.

A walk through the kitchen section at any building-supply store can send the most stalwart homeowner's head swimming with the possibilities. Where do you even begin? Add to that all the horror stories of scamming contractors, snowballing budgets, failing inspections and do-it-yourself projects that never end, and you begin to think maybe a coat of paint is all you really need.

Put fear and confusion to rest with these top tips from area experts.

1. Start by examining what you have.
Sara Jehn, an interior designer at Inner Piece Interiors in Wausau, said a great kitchen all comes down to function.

"Aesthetic changes won't matter if the kitchen isn't working for you," she said.

Think about how you use your kitchen now. What do you like about it? What do you dislike? What more can it do for you? No problem is too small. Sometimes it's the smallest changes that make the biggest difference.

2. Build a wish list. Rob Perez, owner of Hatley Lumber and Supply in Hatley, advises customers to plan for what they really want.

"This isn't something you do every day. So make it the kitchen you want it to be because you spend so much time there," he said.

Perez said you can always back your plan down later for budget or space considerations. So start with those functional changes you'd like to make, then think about styles, materials and colors. But look for styles that suit your home as well as your tastes.

"A modern kitchen doesn't work in a traditional house," Jehn said. "Be prepared for a discussion of the pros and cons of everything you're looking for."

3. Develop a budget. Shelly Knopse, kitchen sales associate at Stone's Building Center in Wausau, needs her clients to know how much they can spend.

"Costs vary significantly in materials and add-on components. Have a budget in mind, then let the designers guide you toward getting all the items you want," she said.

Remodeling a kitchen is an investment, so look at your budget from the angle of your pocketbook and the value of the house.

"Think down the road," Perez said. "Will the market bear the cost? Should you put a showcase kitchen in a $50,000 home?"

4. Design the layout.
Begin with the work triangle and place your refrigerator, stove and sink in a comfortable working arrangement. The National Kitchen and Bath Association defines the work triangle as the straight line drawn from the center of the sink, to the center of the refrigerator to the center of the cooking appliance. Experts vary some on recommendations for the total of those three distances added together, but general good design suggests less than 26 feet total. That means that if your stove is ten feet from your sink, it should take you sixteen feet or less to go from the stove to your refrigerator and then to your sink. Having other major kitchen appliances within the radius is a good idea.

5. Time your remodel.
Consider the length of time the remodel may take and schedule it for the best time of the year to be without a kitchen. Don't schedule a kitchen remodel three weeks before a big family event. Look for a time when it will cause the least hardship and allow extra time for unexpected delays in completion. Perez cautions do-it-yourselfers to be realistic with time requirements.

"Doing it yourself will take three to four times longer than a professional. If you think it's going to take three months, plan twelve months," he said.

6. Hire a professional.
"People don't understand that you don't actually have to tear apart your whole kitchen," Jehn said. "As an interior designer, I can show you ways of making a remodel cost-effective without tearing everything down. There are easier ways to make a difference without spending thousands of dollars."

Dave and Wanda Zuege of Shantytown had family who had been scammed in the past by a bathroom remodeling company, and admitted they would never have started their kitchen remodel if it hadn't been for finding a contractor they could trust.

"We found our home remodeling contractor through a very particular friend. Dave and I hired him for a small project (before we started our kitchen), and we really liked the way he worked with us. He gave us a bid and then stuck to it. He worked with us to cut costs. Whenever we wanted changes, he would tell us the charges up front," said Wanda Zuege, 56.

Dave, 57, said to get referrals, ask for references and check them. Ask to see work that they've done.

7. Expect surprises.
"Once you get the old cabinets out, don't ever assume everything will be hunky dory underneath," Knopse said. "Everything works on paper, but not always in practice."

Crooked walls, unlevel floors, poor wiring, patching and repairing all mean extra work, extra time and extra money to your kitchen remodeling company.

15 April 2010

Remodeling in Stages Fits a Family Budget

Oregon Live

Kerri Hoyt-Pack and her husband, Dan Pack, love living in Southeast Portland's Sellwood neighborhood. Dan can ride his bike to his teaching job at The International School. Kerri's favorite yoga studio is just blocks away. Best of all, daughters Hadley, 10, and Emma, 8, can go to a neighborhood school with their horde of neighborhood friends.

"It's like living in a small town with all of the advantages of a city," says Kerri.

The one disadvantage: Their 1909 one-bathroom house was cramped and lacked the kitchen Kerri wanted to whip up the breads and pies she loves to make. So when the price of adding onto the house and remodeling the kitchen exceeded their budget, the couple were motivated to find a solution that would keep them in their beloved neighborhood.

Enter Anne De Wolf, who owns Arciform, a firm that specializes in design, restoration and remodeling, with her husband, Richard. It would be possible to build the addition and make the necessary structural changes to the kitchen, Anne convinced Kerri, but the kitchen remodel could wait. A major change -- removing a kitchen wall and the stairway behind it -- would create more room for the future remodeled kitchen but would leave the area in disarray until the full project was completed.

"Anne is the only person who could have talked me out of doing the kitchen remodeling first," says Kerri, who is the global media director for Nike. "It's amazing what you can get used to," she adds, gesturing toward a kitchen wall where holes in the lath and plaster create a construction-zone feel.

The discipline of Kerri and Dan's decision to upgrade their home remodeling in two phases will pay off not only because it gives them time to save to cover the extra cost, but also because the entire project was designed as a unit. That's unlike the unsettling results often seen when houses undergo a series of remodels and additions with no cohesive plan.

Meanwhile, the addition and outdoor decks at the back of the house has become the new center of their lives. With 500 square feet added to each of the home's two floors, the family has created a space that is ultra kid-friendly and stylish. An eclectic blend of Asian, modern and antique furnishings complements the existing house, and a master suite is at once practical and luxurious.

On a recent weekday after school, Hadley and Emma come in through the new entryway and rush across easy-to-maintain Marmoleum tiles to hang their backpacks inside the roomy pantry -- where afternoon snacks share shelf space with cooking supplies.

At one end of the adjoining family room, a large table, desk, computer and bookshelves are ready for their homework, a steady stream of arts and crafts projects and plenty of neighborhood friends. At the other end, the TV is hidden behind a sliding Chinese screen and surrounded by a sitting area comfortable for kids and adults.

The staircase off the new entry leads to the second story, where the girls' attic-style bedroom stayed intact but gained a bright-pink powder room in what had been the eaves of the old house. It sits plumbed and ready for Dan to finish, another budget-saving move.

The new master suite, Dan's favorite area of the house, boasts windows on three sides, making the room feel larger than it is and linking its occupants -- as least psychologically -- with the treehouse a few yards away.

The master bath remodeling smartly places the shower in a separate room with doors to both the master suite and the hallway. The arrangement, which Anne suggested, makes the shower enclosure accessible to all four family members and eliminates the need for a second shower upstairs.

Kerri credits Arciform -- particularly Anne, who created the design -- for the fact that the project came together so well. That's no small task given that the family was living in Shanghai, China, while the work was being done. Kerri, who was there on a work assignment for two years, said she came back to Portland a couple of times, but mostly they relied on teleconferences via Skype and photos to stay abreast of the six-month project.

That arrangement was comfortable, the couple says, because Arciform had remodeled the house next door so they knew the quality of the workmanship they were getting, and Dan had talked extensively with the remodeling project manager. The magic, however, was between Anne and Kerri.

"Anne and I just hit it off," says Kerri, "She understood my priorities."

Well, maybe not the kitchen priority. Kerri shrugs, saying it will be about a year before she's mixing up bread dough in her new kitchen, but now she has the time to make all of the decisions required of a kitchen remodel.


It may have been a quirk of design fate that Kerri Hoyt-Pack was working in China while her home was being remodeled.

It allowed her to pick up some distinctive pieces that she blended with other finds from neighborhood antique shops and elsewhere to create a unique and stylish decor with the help of Anne De Wolf of Arciform.

ASIAN SCREEN:  Kerri's husband, Dan Pack, and their daughters, Hadley and Emma, salvaged the screen from a construction site in China and gave it to Kerri for Mother's Day. Kerri stapled the chartreuse fabric to the screen's back and purchased sliding-door hardware from Krown Lab so that the screen could hide the TV.

SALVAGED DOORS:  Kerri and Anne found doors at Hippo Hardware on East Burnside Street for the pantry and a doorway leading to the basement. Stripped and painted white, the salvaged doors help tie the old and new parts of the house together.

SHUTTERS:  Kerri found blue shutters at Stars Antiques in the neighborhood and liked the way the color worked with the Chinese red ceiling.

14 April 2010

Tips on Pricing Windows

Reed Construction Data

Windows with wood and vinyl frames are priced preglazed. The usual configuration for these wood and vinyl windows is a double glaze as insulating glass. In addition there may be coatings for low e, tints, films or possibly triple glazing all to enhance the insulating value and to control the sun’s rays. The configuration is different whether you are in a Southern or Northern region.

Metal framed windows either steel or aluminum may be priced preglazed. These same metal frames maybe priced as a frame only and then you would have to add in the price of glass and glazing to have a finished material for installation, ensuring you have added in labor for both the window and glazing.

As to additional items such as locks, screens and grilles, all of these may come as a package with the window, but be aware that packages are basic add-ons with higher grade or security grades as an additional cost.

Other considerations when choosing glazing in addition to insulating value are:

Tempered glass:
Toughened glass is two or more times stronger than annealed glass. When broken, it shatters into many small fragments which prevent major injuries. This type of glass is intended for glass fa├žades, sliding doors, building entrances, bath and shower enclosures and other uses requiring superior strength and safety properties.

Impact glass: The Miami-Dade Building Code requires that every exterior opening — residential or commercial — be provided with protection against wind-borne debris caused by hurricanes. There are two types of impact-resistant products: large-missile resistant and small-missile resistant.

Blast resistant:
Security-glazing include laminated glazing materials, and applied films. In order to specify the appropriate security glazing solution, it is necessary to make assumptions about the level of performance required to resist the anticipated threat.

12 April 2010

Style, Paint and Win: Coast Home Advice

Goldcoast Australia

TO renovate or not to renovate?

That's the question Gold Coast home owners are asking after new research revealed expensive revamps were not guaranteed to boost a property's sale value.

Instead experts have suggested splashing a lick of paint on the facade or using a 'property stylist' to shuffle furniture to reap greater financial rewards.

PRDnationwide Mudgeeraba agent Karl Grossman warned owners to be cautious following the latest advice 'to stay put and renovate'.

"There are two things to take into account, whether you are doing it for lifestyle or financial gain," he said.

"If someone is going to spend money for the purpose of selling, they would want to get at least double back."

While owners might get their money back for bathroom or kitchen remodels, spending $2000 on exterior touch-ups and landscaping could reap a $10,000 increase in the sale price.

Mr Grossman said to mitigate risk, owners should never exceed the median value of their suburb when combining the purchase price and renovation costs.

Instant Interiors Gold Coast owner Helen Farquhar said property stylists could remodel a home and increase market value in just a few days.

Tricks of the trade include removing personal items, shipping in classy furniture, linen and even bathroom soap to ensure the house is aesthetically pleasing.

"A few thousand can put 15 per cent on the value of the property and they sell faster as they ... have the wow factor," said Ms Farquhar.

"It's definitely a growing market because people are beginning to realise perception is reality when it comes to selling property. It's whether people make an emotional connection to it."

Artcraft Design owner Phil Andrews said his California bathroom renovation business had been quiet due to the global economic downturn.

But he said owners of luxury properties were still looking to renovate.

Canadians Colin and Lila Eicher completely gutted the luxury Main Beach apartment they bought last year.

"We took everything out and rebuilt the whole thing from top to bottom, three bedrooms, laundry, kitchen, all new tiles, new airconditioning, windows, all new kitchen appliances," said Mr Eicher.

Mr Eicher, who plans to retire in Australia, said he believed the property was a sound investment and felt confident he would make a profit when he went to sell.

"I think we will easily get it back when we sell," he said.

ACME Joinery and Cabinets owner Perry Nelder said he had experienced an increase in clients in recent weeks, with most wanting new kitchens and bathroom remodeling.

"Most plan to stay, some are thinking of selling," said Mr Nelder.

"I'd say most spend about $20,000 to $30,000 and they know that whatever they put in they are going to get back."

Top tips to attract buyers:

    * 1) De-clutter - remove family photographs and personal items.
    * 2) Clean - ensure your house is spotless.
    * 3) Curb appeal - the external appearance will be a deciding factor as to whether buyers step through the door.
    * 4) Odour control - ensure the house smells fresh and inviting, no pets.
    * 5) Space - move furniture to create an illusion of space.
    * 6) Lighting - carefully placed lamps can ensure the house looks bright and inviting.
    * 7) Temperature control - ensure the house is cool, switch on airconditioners.
    * 8) Make repairs - everything should be in working order.

08 April 2010

DIY: Installing a Toilet

North Jersey.com

Before the recession, bathroom remodeling projects typically came in the form of exorbitant overhauls. Today, consumers have become unwilling to part with their dollars, and many are pulling the plug on expensive renovations. There’s been a resurgence in DIY installations and/or repair jobs.

Installing your own toilet or replacing one that has seen better days, for example, is becoming commonplace.

"There’s a real change in focus," said Sandy Torgersen, a sales manager with Hardware, Bath & Spa, a showroom of high-end, decorative bath and kitchen fixtures in Fairfield. "People are looking to economize. They’re discovering that there’s a satisfaction to accomplishing something big on their own."

"One reason for installing your own toilet, of course, is money," Torgersen said. "When you hire someone, you have to pay for the service. You could also pay for their drive time and could pay for them to come during off hours.

"When you install it yourself, it’s on your own time. It’s relatively easy and it can all be completed in one day."

To start, follow these steps:

* After turning the water off, flush the toilet to empty most to the water. Remove the remaining water with a sponge and a water bucket. Then disconnect the supply line from the base.

* To remove the old toilet, pop off the trim caps at the base. Next, remove the nut and washers on the closet bolts securing the bowl on the floor.

* Use a putty knife to pry up and remove the old wax seal. Install the new wax seal and hook the new closet bolts into their slots on the flange.

* With the closet bolts and seal in place, you can attach and assemble the toilet. Slip the tank bolts through the opening in the bottom of the tank. Line up the shank of bolts with holes in the bowl and drop the tank into place. Secure the tank to the bowl by tightening a nut onto each tank bolt.

* Set the toilet onto to the flange, making sure that the closest bolts protruding from the floor line up with the holes in the base.

* Secure the new seal and lift onto the bowl with mounting bolts. Use clip joint pliers to reconnect the supply line at the bottom of the tank.

05 April 2010

For the Dishwasher’s Sake, Go Easy on the Detergent

NY Times

I’VE been writing on some weighty topics lately — too little money, too many choices, too few jobs. It’s time, I decided, to move on to some questions that haunt me almost every day.

How much soap should I put in my washing machine and dishwasher?

Do I need to do more for my dryer than clean that little pull-out lint catcher?

Should I rinse my dishes before putting them in the dishwasher?

Most of us learned how to use a washing machine or dishwasher in our parents’ house many years ago and haven’t really changed our methods, even though most appliances have evolved radically since then. We rarely, if ever, read the manuals when we buy a new one or glance through the instructions on the box of detergent or bottle of dishwashing liquid.

But because we’re probably using these appliances incorrectly, our dishes and clothes may not be coming out as clean as they could be. And we may also be damaging the machines.

Let me start with soap. The No. 1 sin, according to repair people and appliance experts, seems to be adding too much soap to washing machines or dishwashers.

“Nobody thinks they use too much soap,” said Vernon Schmidt, who has been a repairman for almost 35 years and is the author of a self-published book, “Appliance Handbook for Women: Simple Enough Even a Man Can Understand.” But apparently most of us are in denial.

Washing machines and dishwashers are made to use far less water now than older models and, therefore, need less soap. And detergents have also become increasingly concentrated. So a little goes a long way.

“Most people use 10 to 15 times the amount of soap they need, and they’re pouring money down the drain,” Mr. Schmidt said.

Following the instructions on the soap container is a good first step. Christina Saunders, a spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble, which makes Tide, Cheer, Gain and other laundry detergents, said researchers at the company did thousands of loads of laundry to determine the right amount of soap needed.

She said the caps were changed on liquid detergent containers a few years ago to make the lines specifying amount of soap needed for different size loads easier to see.

Mr. Schmidt, however, argues that depending on how hard or soft your water is, one-eighth to one-half of what is usually recommended should be adequate.

Too much detergent can make your clothes stiff and shorten the life of your machine. An excess of soap can also cause a buildup of mold and mildew, said Jill Notini, a spokeswoman for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, a trade group.

With high-efficiency machines — which includes all front-loading machines and any top loader that specifically states that it’s high efficiency — it’s a good idea to use detergents specifically made for them, she said. The detergents usually have H.E. on the front of the container. But don’t expect to see a lot of soap action.

“If people see suds, they think their clothes are getting clean, but that’s wrong — it means you’re using a lot of extra detergent,” Ms. Notini said.

Here is Mr. Schmidt’s test to determine if you’re oversoaping. Take four to six clean bath towels, put them in your front-loading washing machine (one towel for a top loader). Don’t add any detergent or fabric softener. Switch to the hot water setting and medium wash and run it for about five minutes.

Check for soap suds. If you don’t see any suds right away, turn off the machine and see if there is any soapy residue. If you see suds or residue, it is soap coming out of your clothes from the last wash.

“I’ve had customers that had to run their towels through as many as eight times to get the soap out,” Mr. Schmidt said, who lives in Indiana. He offers other handy advice on his Web site, refrigdoc.com.

Too much soap is also a problem in dishwashers and can cause dishes and glasses to look filmy. Again, check the detergent container for recommended amounts — you definitely don’t have to fill up the entire soap container in the dishwasher.

Also, if your plastic items come out still wet, that doesn’t mean your dishwasher is not doing its job. Most dishwashers today emit less heat than the older models, so plastic doesn’t dry completely.

Loading the dishwasher right will also get your dishes cleaner. When I was growing up, apparently only my mother knew the right way to load. But since my mother can’t get to all your houses, Consumer Reports offers these much-needed tips on its Home and Garden blog. (Please don’t e-mail me if you disagree about these suggestions — like religion and politics, we all have our own views on this matter.)

Load large items at the sides and back of the dishwasher so that they don’t block water and detergent from reaching other dishes.

Place the dirtier side of the dishes toward the center of the machine for more exposure to spray.

Load silverware in the individual silverware slots most dishwashers now include. If you have an open basket, mix forks, spoons and knives to prevent them from sticking together.

Also, remove baked on food and large chunks, but for the most part, everyone I spoke to said prerinsing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher was not only unnecessary, it wasted thousands of gallons of water and could actually result in dirtier dishes.

“The soap needs something to work against to get the dishes clean,” said Lou Manganiello, who owns Household Appliance Service in Hawthorne, N.Y., and has been doing repairs for 23 years. For full disclosure, he has also ably repaired my kitchen appliances from time to time.

Now, on to dryers. I don’t happen to use those fabric softener sheets, but if you do, practice restraint, Mr. Manganiello said.

On the theory that if one is good, five must be better, people throw in a bunch of the sheets. Those liquefy when the dryer gets hot and can gum up the dyer, becoming “almost like tar and feathers,” Mr. Manganiello said.

Also, clean the lint below the removable filter. I bought an item at my local hardware store that looks like a bottle brush, but is longer, denser and has a kind of thin nose. It reaches down and removes lint you can’t get to otherwise.

And think about cleaning lint off the dryer where it vents outdoors.

Of course, the best way to extend the life of your dryer is to use it less often by hanging out your laundry on a clothesline when the sun is shining.

One last bit of advice on an appliance — your oven. Use the self-cleaning mode more than once a year — otherwise, so many food particles have built up that when they burn off, smoke will billow throughout your entire kitchen. But don’t clean right before a big holiday dinner, Mr. Schmidt advised.

That’s because ovens heat so high during cleaning that any weak part will give.

“If it’s ever going to fail, it will then,” he said. “Every holiday we get swamped with calls.” 

01 April 2010

Taking Care of your Little Green Patch

Daily News Online (NY)

A thriving lawn is more than a soft, friendly playground. It can help cool the environment and clean the air. And it's not hard to practice a little backyard environmentalism - here's how it works and what you can do to ensure good lawn care.

Keeping It Cool

Have you ever noticed that temperatures in town are often higher than in outlying areas? That's due to what's commonly called the Urban Heat Island Effect. Pavements retain heat, so the more pavement there is instead of grass, trees or shrubs, the more an area "bakes" in the heat.

Through its natural processes grass releases water to stay cool, much the same way our bodies stay cool through perspiration. Water evaporating from your lawn or body absorbs excess heat to keep a constant cool temperature. (Just like the big fans with water mist sprayed in the air at amusement parks and ball games!) Because your lawn stays cool the air above it can be as much as 30 degrees cooler than it is above your driveway, patio or sidewalks.

Cleaning the Air

An average lawn has over 11 million individual grass plants. These little green machines work 24/7 to trap dirt, dust and impurities from the air. And like all plants, grass absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen, making it possible for us breathe a little easier.

How to Have a People and Earth Friendly Lawn

    * The Most Important Thing for Your Grass Is Feeding Regularly: Well-fed lawns are strong and vibrant. In general, feeding two to four times a year will build a lawn that is ready to stand up to weeds, heat, drought and insects. So how do you decide? Well it's pretty easy. If your lawn doesn't get much activity from the kids, pets or parties, 2 to 3 feedings is enough. Feeding a couple of times a year also applies if the spring and fall seasons where you live are only a few months long.

      On the other hand, if your grass is used for ball games, Slip'n Slide or parties, you'll want to feed 3 to 4 times a year so the grass can regenerate and withstand wear and tear.

      So when should you feed your lawn? That's easy too! Anytime grass is growing and you are mowing is a good time to feed.

      Some fertilizers are designed for lawns, some aren't. Choose a fertilizer that says "for lawns" on the bag and has a spreader setting. All-purpose fertilizers don't have the right nutrient balance for lawns and may not even have spreader settings to apply the right amount!

    * Mow High: Set your reel mower to one of the highest cut settings to give your grass an advantage over heat, drought, weeds and bugs - and make lawn care simpler. Mowing high means more grass leaves and therefore more deep roots that reach water in the soil better. Longer grass blades crowd out weeds, capture rain water better and reduce moisture loss from the soil. Not only does longer grass look better, it's greener! Why? Because you see more grass leaves.

    * Keep Clippings: Mow and feed your lawn at the same time by leaving grass clippings from your push reel mower on your lawn. These break down quickly and recycle nutrients back into the soil.

    * Clean Up: Sweep any fertilizer and grass clippings that land on driveways and sidewalks back into the lawn to keep nutrients where the grass can use these for food.

Watering Optional!

In many parts of the country, Mother Nature provides enough water for your grass to survive. Well-nourished lawns are particularly good at bouncing back from dry spells. These tips should guide you to deciding if you need to water.

    * Sometimes when it's hot and dry, the lawn will go dormant and turn brown. Don't worry. Grass will bounce back again once it rains, especially if you've fed it well and mowed high. Properly fed grass survives on Mother Nature's drinking fountain.

    * If you use your lawn as an extension of your living space, then your grass will let you know when it needs a drink. It will turn dull in color and footprints appear.

    * If rain isn't expected soon, water using a sprinkler that shoots the water in a jet fashion, low across your lawn, and in the morning to reduce water loss from evaporation.

    * Compared to unfed lawns, properly fed lawns tolerate heat and dry weather better than unfed, weak lawns. That's because they have better roots and stored energy reserves to bounce back when rainfall or water returns. Keep your lawn well-fed and let nature be your primary sprinkler.

Feeding Menu
Grass is like any other living thing, it needs nutrients to grow strong. Just like humans need several small meals, so does your lawn. Here is a menu to help you make your green space great.


Think of fall as the breakfast for your grass: the most important meal of the day.* Many experts say this is the single most important lawn feeding of the year. Feeding right before the winter months gives your grass nutrients to recover from summer damage and increase nitrogen storage for an early spring green-up next year. (*Except for Southern grasses which benefit from lawn fertilizing during the rainy season in June-July.)

Early spring

Feeding your lawn in the spring is the lunch that strengthens roots and gets it off to a good start before the heavy growing season. If you have had crabgrass in the past, now is the time to apply a combination fertilizer with a pre-emergent to control it.

Late spring

Grass is busy growing and using up stored energy. If you are bothered by the dandelions and other weeds popping up, use a weed and feed combination product that gives the lawn nutrients and helps control broadleaf weeds. If your lawn has only a few weeds, use a liquid spot weed treatment. If weeds don't bother you, a dinner of lawn food is great to continue keeping your lawn strong.


Heat, drought, foot traffic and insects can stress grass out. Your lawn might appreciate a snack to help protect and strengthen it against these problems.

If weeds or bugs don't bother you or aren't a problem in your lawn, you can substitute an application of a straight lawn fertilizer for any of the meals on the menu above.

Follow these easy tips to make good lawn maintenance a breeze.