Thursday, January 29, 2015

6 Home Projects That Are Easier Than You Think

It never fails that the weekend DIY projects you expect to be a breeze end up costing you hours of frustration and disillusion and broken nails. (Remember that time you set aside some time to hang those IKEA shelves only to find out that your walls were actually made of brick?) Meanwhile, the jobs you decide to hire out almost always end up being the ones you could have totally tackled on your own.

What's done is done, but we'd like to help manage your expectations down the road. To do so, we asked "This Old House" host, Kevin O’Connor, just how difficult some common home improvement projects really are, and when it's time to forgo the heroics and make a call instead. Here's what he had to say:
Installing A New Faucet
kitchen faucet
Photo: Getty
This is an easy fix because an old faucet and a new faucet both probably attached to your sink in the same way. The physical attachment happens under the sink with a nut onto a threaded end. This hasn’t changed much in 70 years. Next, there are usually one to three holes in the sink top to receive the faucet and the hot and cold handles. When you buy a new faucet try to get one that uses the same number of holes with the same distance between them. Your sink has three holes but the shiny new faucet only uses one? No problem, most replacement faucets come with a flange that will cover all three.

WATCH: How to Replace an Old Faucet

Re-Caulking A Bathroom
First, let’s get our materials straight because caulking is often confused with grout and they are two different things with two different fixes. Caulking is flexible and it goes around the perimeter of the tiled surface and makes the connection between the tile and the tub, or the wall, or a counter top. Grout is hard, and it goes between individual pieces of tile.

Because it’s designed to stay flexible, caulking is easier to remove. Often times it can be pulled out in long stringy strips like old gum from the sole of your shoe. If that doesn’t work you can dig it out with a small pointed object, (plastic is preferred over metal) and they sell plenty of $5 devices for just this purpose.

They also sell plenty of chemicals that will help with the job. Once the old caulk is removed, clean the surface, let it dry, and reapply. It takes a steady hand to get the new bead of caulk smooth so practice first and have a damp cloth standing by to wipe away any mistakes.

Replacing Light Fixtures
changing light bulb
Photo: Getty
Scared of electricity? Good, you should be. But if you turn off the power, then you’re in control and there is nothing to fear. The key to replacing a light fixture is reverse engineering. Ceiling fixtures, for example, aren’t attached to the ceiling but rather are attached to the ceiling electrical box, and that stays behind, ready to receive your new fixture. Once the old fixture is unscrewed, take a picture of how it’s wired (black to black, white to white wire, that sort of thing) and then disconnect those and remove it completely. The new fixture gets re-wired the same way as the old fixture (don’t forget the ground wire). Most fixtures have standard openings and threaded rods so fitting a new one into the old ceiling box should be a snap. Put it all back together and turn the power back on and you’ll know instantly if you did it right.

Two tips: buy a pencil-type electrical meter, it will always tell you if a wire is live or not. And second, ceiling electrical boxes are rated for weight so if you’re replacing an old fixture that doesn’t weigh much with something heavier, like a ceiling fan, make sure it’s secured to an electrical box rated for the additional weight.

Molding And Trim: Adding Or Replacing
This is pretty easy, but it requires some tools. A decent miter saw is a huge help, if you don’t have one borrow or rent one. If you can’t do that, you might be able to limp along with hand tools.

Baseboards go along the bottom of your wall around the perimeter of your room. In most cases all you have to do is make a straight cut and get the length perfect. You’ve heard the saying measure twice, cut once? Well, I say measure twice, cut twice –- cut once a little long, dry fit it and then nibble it down a hair more until the length is perfect.

Crown molding is a bit more challenging, so if you throw in the towel here, no shame. If you keep going, then remember the trick to crown molding is to cut it “upside-down and backwards.” Crown molding has a detailed profile and when one profile meets another those details have to go together. So it’s important that you cut the 45-degree miter of two adjoining pieces the same way they lay on your wall and meet your ceiling. The trick is to lay the modeling on your miter saw “upside down and backwards” as if the base of your saw is the ceiling and the fence of your saw is the wall.
In either case, get yourself some extra trim, you’re going to need it.

Installing Hardwood Floors
install wood flooring
Photo: Getty

Those beautiful, gleaming hardwood floors must be a job for the pros, right? Not so fast. The thing that makes a wood floor so nice is the finish, and you can lay down a wood floor yourself and leave the finish to the pros. Here’s how: There are generally two types of wood floors. Either the unfinished, nail down type or the pre-finished engineered type. If you chose the first, the unfinished variety, buy the wood from a supplier and rent a compressor and pneumatic floor nailer from the same place or the home center. Get the special nails from them too. Start with a clean surface, make sure the first row is perfectly straight and square, and you’re off. One row gets nailed into the prior row. Stagger the joints, mix long and short pieces and take your time around the edges and you’ll be fine. When it’s all down, call in the pro to sand it smooth, apply the stain and the poly coat. That professional finish will make your hard work look awesome.

If you chose the second option, the engineered version, you can either nail it down like above, or you can use the floating floor variety. A floating floor means the individual strips of wood click or are glued to one another and are not nailed down. Since it's not secured directly to the sub-floor below it this floor “floats.” This is an easier and more forgiving installation than the nail down variety, in some cases it’s as easy as snapping it together. And here’s the kicker, that professional finish is already part of the floor; it’s pre-finished. So once you’re done clicking the floor is done.

Adding A Kitchen Backsplash
The key to a good backsplash is the backer. Tile likes to be set on something durable, like a cement board instead of dry wall. And good backer boards come in all types and names -- Hardiboard, Durarock, Wonderboard, etc. –- but the thing they have in common is their cement base.

Once you find the one you want you have to decide if you want to lay it on top of the existing drywall or cut away the old drywall and replace it with the backer board. I’d cut away and replace if it was my house. Once the backer board is in place trowel on a layer of thin-set (look it up) and set your tile in place. The key here is not to spread too large of an area at any one time. Slow goes it. Spread thin-set, insert tile, check your lines, straighten tiles, move on, and repeat. Once the tile is in place, go over the entire surface with grout. Use a rubber float, overspread, and wipe off the excess with a damp sponge.

The key to this project is to take you time. Mix only the amount of thin-set and grout that you need, get the layout right, check and re-check to make sure everything is level and straight.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Expert Tips for Choosing the Right Window for Your Kitchen Remodel

(BPT) - What are the hottest updates for homes in 2015? The kitchen is one of the most popular rooms in the home to remodel, and for good reason. According to HGTV and Trulia, a kitchen update is one of the secrets to selling your home.

When it comes to remodeling your kitchen you must consider many aspects - cabinets, counters, floors and appliances - but you may not have thought about windows. According to’s 2015 Cost Vs. Value Report, window replacement - whether wood, vinyl or fiberglass - provides a good return on investment compared to other replacement projects, increasing the value of your home financially and aesthetically. So whether you’re making small updates or completely gutting your old kitchen, including window replacement in your project is a smart addition.

Here are three key elements to keep in mind when choosing a window for your kitchen:

Kitchen windows are often placed above counters or sinks, making them hard to reach and prone to moisture. Choosing a window style that is easy to open and close, such as an awning, sliding or casement, is a smart move.

Awning windows - which can be pulled in or pushed out - are perfect for ventilation, which can be especially helpful in a hot kitchen. Since hot air from the oven or stove typically rises, awning style windows perform the best when placed close to the ceiling or above eye-level.

Sliding or casement windows - which use a crank out method for opening and closing - are two good options for hard to reach areas, like above the counters or behind the kitchen sink. Pella motorized blinds and shades are also ideal for hard to reach window locations and can be controlled with the touch of a button.

Material type
With window placement above counters or sinks, moisture and staining can occur, so choosing an easy-to-clean material like vinyl or fiberglass, is equally important. Fiberglass windows can withstand extreme heat and cold, are energy efficient and can have the same quality look of painted wood. Vinyl windows are easy to care for, don’t require painting or staining, and stay looking great for years.

However, if wood makes more sense for you and the style of your home, then make sure to select a finish that will hold up against stains and moisture, and be prepared to do a little more cleaning and up-keep.

Features and options
Whether your new kitchen is traditional, modern or rustic, your new windows should complement the space. Window designs offer a variety of features including colors, hardware and grilles. Pella’s Designer Series windows even offer a between-the-glass solution that keeps blinds and shades located behind sinks from getting splashed. With so many options to choose from it’s easy to design a window that’s unique to you and the style of your kitchen.

Visit Pella Windows and Doors on Pinterest or Houzz for design inspiration or visit to begin designing your new windows.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Remodeling Pleasure and Pain: Five Survival Tips

by Huffington Post

I'm a remodeling maven.

I've remodeled three separate kitchens, three bathrooms, two living rooms and a added two half bathrooms all in one home.

What kind of mansion do I live in? Well, it's about 2500 SQ, two story big old box built sometime in the 1940's.

It used to be a single family and sat in the middle of 2 acres in the suburban community of Palo Alto. Now it is on a corner 10,000 sf lot with driveways on both sides.

Things change over time. The original owners sold off several parcels as the area began to suburbanize from the little ranchitas with fruit trees gave way to multi-housing zoning and apartment buildings.

However, the house stayed intact with enough land around it for plenty of fruit trees and lots of area for kids to play football on the expansive lawn.

After the kids grew up and moved away, Mom and Dad decided to get some income out of the "big old box" and began to add on and carve up a couple of apartments in the home, keep the top 1250 sf for themselves and rent out the bottom.

With large rooms and tall ceilings, the upstairs still felt like a full house while downstairs managed one two bedroom apartment of 800 SF and a large 450 sf studio. The laundry room was accessible of from outside so everyone had access to the laundry room.

The inside stairwell that connected the floors was walled up so each apartment has it's own entrance from the outside. Each feels like a separate home on the small piece of land.

When I took over, 60 years later, it was time to upgrade. Hence remodel all the kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms and add a couple of half baths. It was a vertical learning curve. In the beginning I was overwhelmed with too many decisions and a lot of insecurity.

What would other people think of my choices? What is everyone else doing? What's new? What's right? Should I use porcelain or natural stone tile? Go contemporary or traditional?

Here is what I learned: It doesn't matter. What matters is what I think is right and the way to go about a multi-room remodeling is to break it down.

1. Focus on one room at the time. Get the full concept and materials picked out for one room. Number the rooms after that, such as Bath #1, bath #2 etc.

2. Consider a theme for the project. Is your home contemporary or transitional? Think of theme in terms of a fully spare architectural feel or more traditional in a Victorian sense or is your home somewhere in between.

3. When considering materials, keep one thing in mind: Will you get tired of looking at something. Does "it" look cute now, but after a month you will wonder what you were thinking?
4. Don't go with trends. Something may be big now, but is the design going stand the test of time. A trendy backsplash will scream what year it was installed.

5. There are no rules, no good, bad, right or wrong. What is "right" is what you want. It's your house and your money. Don't let anyone else tell you what you should pick or spend.

As I progressed in my multi-room remodeling experience I became much more adept at project management as well. I learned a very important lesson after the first bathroom: Always, always have all your materials waiting for the contractor, not the other way around. Have every towel rod, door handle, trim piece picked out and waiting to be installed. If the contractor doesn't give you at least one month to pick your materials or can't tell you how many square feet of tile you need for a room, get another contractor. Those are basic to a successful job and a professional contractor.

Finally, never remodel with what you think other people will want when you sell your home. No one buys your home because of the color of paint you used or the tile you chose for the bathroom. No matter how beautiful you think your choices are, no one else cares or they are going to wonder, "What was she thinking?" People buy homes for the location and number of bedrooms and bathrooms. Everyone is going to put their own finger print on the house, so do what you want.

Trust your decisions. It's your house and your money.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tackle Tough DIY Tasks Like a Pro

(BPT) - Have you been putting off some seemingly hard-to-handle home improvement projects? If so, there’s still time to tackle do-it-yourself tasks like a pro – from painting high ceilings and stairwells to repairing garage and basement floors. With the right tips and tools, you can accomplish these home improvements in a snap.

Reach new heights
When it comes to sprucing up foyers and great rooms, painting may appear to be a challenge for most homeowners – especially when it comes to the ceiling. But it doesn’t have to be. Start by covering furniture and floors with drop cloths or plastic sheeting, or removing furniture from the room entirely.
Start the painting process from the top. A fresh coat of paint on a ceiling can transform a room. Grab a ladder and be mindful of necessary safety precautions. Before painting, shield your eyes by wearing protective goggles. Lightly sand your ceiling and remove any dust with a damp rag or sponge. Then, edge around your ceiling with a paint brush to line the perimeter of the ceiling.

Looking for an easier way to paint the main portion of the ceiling? Select a lightweight and durable extension pole such as the new Purdy Power Lock extension pole, which eliminates pole-to-frame wobbling. The Power Lock pole features a universal tip that connects to nearly all roller frames and rollers, including Purdy Marathon rollers.

Start painting in one corner of the ceiling and form a “V,” then roll the paint out and around. Work in 4-foot sections and always roll into the wet edge of the section you were previously painting. Wait for the ceiling to dry completely and apply another coat.

Safely painting stairwells
Many two-story foyers are accompanied by stairwells with equally tall walls. These high-traffic areas are very visible, yet may be the last place homeowners care to spend time updating. While most areas of the home can be painted with a roller or brush and a basic stepstool, stairwells may pose a safety risk. There are few ways to carefully cross this potentially tricky task off of your to-do list.  

A sturdy extension pole that allows for smooth length adjustments is a must. Power Lock extension poles enable the user to safely and effectively paint areas in and out of reach. You can also utilize an extension ladder on the side walls of a stairwell with a ladder leveler. Simply place one leg of the ladder on one step and the other leg, with the ladder leveler attached, on the step below it. Adjust the ladder leveler so that your ladder is resting evenly, and you’re ready to update the walls and ceiling in this space.

If you find yourself in a spot where the results are less than ideal or the job is simply too complex, don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional for assistance.

Repainting basement and garage floors
Has repairing and/or repainting the floor of your garage or basement made your to-do list for years but never seems to be your No. 1 priority? Make this year the one where this project gets done. First, pick up protective eyewear and gloves for the job as it will involve paints and cleaners, and be sure the area is well ventilated. Before beginning, it is best to remove stains by using a three-parts water to one-part bleach mixture. For tougher stains, consider using a pressure washer. Be sure to thoroughly rinse the area. Once the floor is clean and dry, repair any cracks in the concrete using concrete/mortar-repair compound for smaller cracks or concrete patch for larger ones.

Next, you will want to apply a thin primer coat using a paint roller attached to an extension pole like the Purdy Power Lock to ensure you don’t paint yourself into a corner. After eight hours, start with a coat of the floor paint and allow the first coat to dry for one full day before applying the second. Wait about 24 hours before walking or driving on the newly painted surface.

By following these helpful tips and using the proper tools, you can complete lingering projects in no time. You'll then be able to enjoy great looking, long-lasting results.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

The Gift of Stylish Decor

The month of December is a whirl of activities that all center around home and family and for many that means opening doors to guests. And while the idea of sharing space with family and friends conjures up feelings of warmth and sentiment it can also bring out the insecurities of incomplete projects and outdated décor.

Clearly there is no time to renovate or undertake a major decorating task but there are a few DIY projects that you can pull off in a short time. Adding a pop of colour with paint will do wonders to dress up space and create an updated feeling within your home.

First it’s important to consider the existing colour scheme so that the new blends in with the old and doesn’t look out of place. The idea is not to create a whole new look but to help enhance the current décor. Next consider what trends are coming for 2015 and how you plan on implementing them. Is there a colour you have had your eye on? Tones are going to be more muted in the next year; there is an earthy influence with undertones of brown showing up in paint colours.

A starting point would be to take a version of your existing accent colour and tone it down a shade or two. Vibrant blues and greens have had strong influence on the décor scene. A simple decorating project would be to paint your powder room in a muted tone of the electric blue that has been so prevalent for the past few years or for even more “wow” add a trending shade like pantone’s colour of the year, “marsala red”.

Now, until December 20th, CIL Paint is offering up tester sizes for $3.97 at The Home Depot stores, so budgets won’t feel stretched by a simple, yet stylish DIY painting project. CIL paints “Deep Garnet” is the perfect version of the new on trend colour.

Looking to dive in a little deeper with an update that will create big impact? Tackle an accent wall in the guest room. The guest room is definitely an underused space and often gets overlooked when it comes to adding style and then panic sets in as guests are making their way for a holiday visit! Little touches go a long way to making visitors feel welcome. Fresh flowers and magazines on the bedside table, a cozy robe hanging on the door tells your guests you’re happy to have them. Go the extra mile and add some pizazz to the space and paint one wall in a calming soothing tone that says the room has style, all the while being a restful sanctuary!

The accent wall is typically the first wall you see when you walk into a room, but this rule can bend for bedroom décor and the wall where the bed rests is a perfect place for a pop of colour. CIL testers are just the right amount of paint for this minor project. Try CIL’s “Lakefront” for a soothing pop of colour.

There is still time to bring your space up-to-date. Plan for a half-day DIY project, crank the Christmas music and get to work. The new look will be appreciated long after the tree has been put to the curb and guests have made their way back home, consider it a gift to you this holiday season!

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Lowe's Uses Vine and Instagram to Showcase DIY

In addition to a new set of Vine videos, the home improvement chain is using Instagram videos as trailers for its DIY projects that are popular posts on its Pinterest page.

Lowe’s has launched a video marketing campaign, using social media to teach consumers how to do home improvement projects.

With BBDO New York, Lowe’s used Vine to showcase the projects – a shelf made of pipes, a backyard fire pit, and a tile backsplash for the kitchen – from start to finish, with detailed how-to steps. With two taps at a time, users can pause on each frame, lingering on each instruction for as long as they need.

The campaign also uses Instagram, whereby videos are made with the Hyperlapse app that allows users to make time-lapse videos. These serve more as trailers for some of the home improvement brand’s more popular Pinterest projects, such as under-bed drawers, a lattice picture display, and the aforementioned pipe shelf.

Using video, the goal is to inspire people in a way that a static image couldn't by showing them the project from start to end, says Bob Estrada, senior vice president at BBDO New York.

"I think when you see [the project] in six seconds, you see that it's achievable and it demystifies it a bit," Estrada says. "Seeing someone else enjoying the final version of the project in their home may bring people closer to action and spur someone to do the project themselves."

Estrada thinks social media is a fun way to engage consumers - Lowe's is extremely popular on Pinterest, with nearly 3.5 million followers - but for Kate Ryan, vice president of integrated communications firm Diffusion, using these video platforms is also a smart way to engage the coveted Millennial demographic, in particular.

"Lowe's use of Vine and Instagram is a smart move in reaching today's younger consumers with notoriously small attention spans," Ryan says. "Millennials love bite-sized content, but to truly engage them long-term, marketers need to take them seriously and develop content that's authentic to the way they live their lives."

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

8 Tools to Help You Manage Projects at Work and at Home

Post-its. Whiteboards. Hand-written to-do lists.

Keeping projects organized, whether at home or in the office, used to require a whole lot of ink. In today's world of digital, however, staying on top of your work is more "swipe" and less "write." A constantly regenerating crop of apps and programs has emerged to help keep you organized.

Below is a list of eight project management hacks, both for the home and for the workplace; absolutely no BICs or Uniballs required.


Image: Flickr, Cory M Grenier
  • Podio: Whether you're a freelancer, small business owner or corporate manager, Podio lets you view all of your tasks in one place. The software, which runs on desktop, mobile and tablet, allows users to create workspaces where they can mark off completed tasks, assign projects, share files and even auto-generate comments.Additionally, Podio handles CRM, sales leads and recruiting — saving small businesses time and precious seed money. Wish Podio could do more? The software has a drag-and-drop development tool that even non-programmers can master.
  • Asana: Asana is a technological godsend for those who dread rummaging through a cluttered inbox. The app eliminates excessive back-and-forth emails, allowing team members and managers to create project cards, update assignments on-the-fly and communicate inside the program — without sending superfluous emails and IMs for "status updates."
    Asana works especially well for companies with loose structures and minimal red tape
    Asana works especially well for companies with loose structures and minimal red tape; users are able to freely establish sub-projects within larger assignments, and post updates without altering the card or getting manager approval. Users can also structure Asana tasks by date, or make them dependent upon the completion of other assignments.
  • Planet Soho: Planet Soho aims to be a Jack-of-all-Trades tool for small business owners and freelancers, though its core competency lies in accounting and invoicing. To make sure that small enterprises don't dedicate outside resources to filing and sending, Planet Soho can draft and auto-send online invoices. The company will also send paper invoices for you if that's the method you prefer. Planet Soho's software also features project management, inventory control, CRM and email and calendar functions. For managers, Planet Soho features budget-setting and task-assignment functions, like other popular task management tools.
  • Flow: If you feel overwhelmed by multi-faceted task-management programs that seemingly let you do anything under the sun and prefer a simple interface, check out Flow. The software allows managers to assign, organize and prioritize tasks while also controlling who can see what. That means managers can give outside contractors access to a team's Flow while also controlling what they can see. For a more hands-off experience, Flow is able to send notifications of upcoming tasks and set repeating tasks.


Image: Flickr, Flattop341
  • HomeRoutines: Homemakers know all too well that the best laid plans most often go awry. A manageable to-do list? Sounds nice in theory, but when mini-crises loom around every bend (especially when you have a toddler), a parent can easily lose track of what needs to be done, parlaying a half-complete to-do list into an insurmountable task sheet.
    HomeRoutines, a mobile app, helps you stay on task without having to make dozens of notes
    HomeRoutines, a mobile app, helps you stay on task without having to make dozens of notes that could get lost. The app lets users set daily and weekly checklists that can be repeated, so if they want to clean the bathroom and closets again in two weeks, HomeRoutines will present them with the same to-do list when the time comes. Users can select a daily focus (e.g., restock fridge) or plan ahead, like assigning a different cleaning zone for each week of a month.
  • Houzz: Have a home improvement to-do list? Normally, you'd have to jump around to multiple sites and professional recommendation services like Angie's List. Houzz, on the other hand, is a one-stop-shop for home and office design ideas — it houses thousands of articles and photographs that could be the inspiration for your next professional or DIY project — and the professionals who can pull off the job. If you see a bathroom design that you like, for example, Houzz can help you find and vet a nearby remodeling specialist.
  • Lift: Don't confuse Lyft, a ride-sharing service doing battle with Uber, with Lift, a mobile and desktop app that lets users set, track and complete goals. It doesn't matter whether your goal (a.k.a. the "lift") is small — let's say taking more vitamins — or large, like running a marathon or decluttering your entire home;
    Lift is there to record your progress and keep you on track with "momentum" graphs and "check-ins"
    Lift is there to record your progress and keep you on track with "momentum" graphs and "check-ins" to celebrate your perseverance.The most powerful and unique part of Lift is its community aspect. The app allows you to connect with its entire community to cheer each other on. Try inviting a few friends or colleagues onto Lift to create a more personal enclave of reinforcement within the larger community.
  • Snapguide: Are there a few home improvement or beautification projects you'd like to undertake, but worry you don't have the wherewithal or financial resources to complete? Snapguide is a handy mobile and desktop DIY guide to a smattering of projects that you probably thought were impossible without professional help. Snapguide users are encouraged to carouse the site for tips and how-tos, and even create their own content with photos and videos of their projects.

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