Monday, May 4, 2015

Should you DIY or hire a pro?
By Jeanette Pavini

Should you tackle that home improvement or maintenance project yourself, or should you hire a professional?

It’s time for spring cleaning and home maintenance after a long hard winter, and time to get ready for summer. For some of us, it doesn’t matter whether it’s changing the fixtures or remodeling the bathroom. We call in the professionals. For others, home improvement and maintenance is a hobby or a necessity. Deciding whether to hire a professional or to do it yourself depends on the project and the most important question: what’s it going to cost?, a local services home improvement marketplace, released its 2015 True Cost Guide Report, which gives some insights into cost comparisons and trend data surrounding home projects. The survey found that when homeowners hire out, they spend an average of $3,100 on home improvement project. At an average of $500, home maintenance projects come cost less, but more homeowners hiring out for this type of project.

The report also took a look at why people research projects costs. One-third do so to find out if they received a reasonable bid, a quarter search to help with budgeting, and 20% are researching to help them decide if they should do the project themselves.

They also found that millennials are more inclined to tackle a DIY project. Sixty-four-percent (more than any other age group) will attempt to complete the project themselves if they think hiring a professional is too expensive. Another reason people decide to DIY? Because price information isn’t available. Almost half of all homeowners will attempt a home improvement project on their own when they can’t find reliable cost information.

But cost isn’t the only factor that should determine whether you hire a pro or do it yourself. It’s important to realistically assess your abilities before tackling a project yourself. A fumbled attempt can cause costs to skyrocket if you have to hire a pro to come in to undo and redo your work.
The Internet can make DIY project looks a lot easier than they are. Start small. Instead of painting your entire house, start with one room and see if the time investment, skill required and results are worth it to you. Look for projects that you can reasonably complete in one day and with tools you already have on hand. Think very carefully before taking on a project that requires permits or messing with plumbing, electrical or the structure of your house.

If you do decide to hire a professional, the Federal Trade Commission suggests that you get several written estimates. Don’t automatically go with the lowest estimate. Ask for the reason behind the price difference. Find out how many projects similar to yours they have completed. Get a list of references, preferably from similar projects. Check their qualifications like licensing and insurance they carry. Find out if your project will require permits. Ask if they will be using subcontractors and if so you will want to check on the subs licensing and insurance coverage. Be sure to find out if they use subcontractors is there a fee that they tack on as the contractor. Many times you can save money if you get the estimate locked in as opposed to going with Time & Material rates.

From doing it yourself or hiring a contractor to avoiding home improvement scams, check out the tips and advice at the FTC website.

Save money but get the job done right. Do your research before you DIY.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Websites, apps make home improvements easier

Glenn Haege

You have heard me say that it is important to visit showrooms to see products and get ideas for your home remodeling projects. But today, the showroom may actually be online or on an app. Here are some websites and apps that can help you plan and visualize your home improvement projects:


DIY Network ( HGTV’s sister network has a website loaded with home remodeling and decorating ideas, along with tips on how to actual do the projects yourself.

HGTV ( The cable network that provides plenty of home remodeling inspiration also has a good website that supplies lots of decorating tips and allows you to browse decorating and remodeling ideas and photos room by room based on styles and color schemes to help you with your home remodeling projects. You also can check out designs by your favorite HGTV hosts and other top designers. HGTV also has a Folio app for iPad designed to provide additional home decor ideas.

Houzz ( Houzz was started as a side project by a couple when they were remodeling their home but has become a community of more than 25 million homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals. The site provides a place to find photos of various home projects for every room in the house and even enables users to buy products for a project. Houzz also has an app to make it easy to use on a smartphone or tablet. ( One of the most popular home remodeling projects is re-doing the kitchen. So this website dedicated to that room provides lots of design ideas, articles, blogs, photos and a product guide section to help you plan a kitchen remodeling project.

Pinterest ( Sometimes the best inspiration for a home project are other people’s finished renovations. Pinterest, a content sharing service that allows members to "pin" images to their pinboard, features a Home Decor section that is filled with photos of decorating ideas and projects from experts or plain old do-it-yourselfers. You can also download the Pinterest Apple or Android app.

Zillow ( Many people go to Zillow to check on the price of homes in their area, but the website also offers a Home Design section with home decorating photos and ideas from professionals and home stores. You can look at ideas for various rooms in the home based on style, color and cost, and you can also click on various products in the photos of rooms to learn more about the products. Zillow also has a Zillow Digs app available for iPhone and iPad to let you access home design ideas on the go.


Color Snap (Sherwin Williams), Color Capture (Benjamin Moore) and Color Smart (Behr) apps from these major paint manufacturers can help you match up color combinations to your project without having to bring home paint samples. The apps are available for both Apple and Android-based devices.

Home Design 3D: This Apple and Android app allows users to import any architectural or hand-drawn design plan and then change every element of the house (walls, objects, furniture)

Homestyler Interior Design: With this app you can use your iPhone or iPad to snap a photo of the room you want to transform and then use its 3D features to see how furniture and decor products will look in the space before you buy them.

Home Depot, Lowe’s and Menards: All of these stores has its own app that allows you to do everything from search the store's inventory, scan UPC symbols and watch how-to videos. The apps are available for both Apple and Android-based devices.

Of course, when you are looking for valuable online information for your home projects, don’t forget my website at With all the prior planning you can do from the comfort of your kitchen table or favorite coffee shop using your laptop, tablet or smartphone, it is easier than ever to move to the front of the home improvement class.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Expert tips for choosing the right window for your kitchen remodel

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, February 25, 2015

A professional home inspection is a must-do

What you don’t know could hurt you – at least in the case of a real estate transaction. That’s why every homebuyer should ensure a contract is contingent upon a satisfactory home inspection.

Especially for older construction, building standards and construction materials have drastically changed. Plus, many properties on the market now have been vacant or in disrepair due to the foreclosure crisis and economic downturn.

With those uncertain variables in play, it’s critical to hire a professional home inspector.

“A home inspector in the early 1970s didn’t have to concern themselves with lead-based paint or asbestos – those materials had yet to be deemed unsafe,” says Reggie Marston, president of Residential Equity Management Home Inspections in Springfield, Virginia. “In the early 1980s, no one was concerned with radon gas or anti-tip brackets on stoves. In the early 1990s, mold was not on everyone’s high priority list, and composite building materials were just starting to be installed.”
Those are just a handful of the problems that today’s home inspectors can detect. It’s also essential to check staples like the HVAC system, wiring, roof and foundation.

In addition, home inspectors are uniquely qualified to catch hard-to-see problems like code violations.

Hidden hazards can include improperly spaced balusters on railings, defective garage-door safety features and inoperable windows that reduce the number of fire exits in a residence, says Kurt Salomon, past president of the American Society of Home Inspectors. Once, he says, an inspector found residual chemicals in a house that had been used as a secret meth lab.

And, the rash of repossessed homes has only made their jobs harder. Since many foreclosed properties have sat vacant for months – even years – damage from water, mold, deterioration and vandalism are prime concerns.

According to a 2012 poll conducted by ASHI, nearly 90 percent of all American homeowners surveyed said home inspections boost their confidence in a home purchase. Eighty-four percent said they would be more likely to purchase a foreclosed or short-sale property if it passed a home inspection.

“The purpose of a home inspection is not to assemble a list of normal wear-and-tear or cosmetic items but to identify the home’s most pressing problems to be addressed in an effort to save the buyer money in the long run,” Salomon says.

After the inspection, the buyer and seller negotiate to see if any of the problems will be fixed or if there will be price allowances for necessary repairs. Even if the contract doesn’t change, Salomon says, “The buyer will still benefit from having the knowledge of defective or unsafe components and systems.”

Some sellers will have a home inspection completed prior to listing a home, says Susan Aviles, broker with Aviles Real Estate Brokerage in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

In other cases, a real estate agent may insist that a home inspector of the buyer’s choice conducts the inspection. Either way, Aviles says, she would never recommend that a client forgo a home inspection.

Regardless of the age of the structure or appearance, an inspection is necessary. Even brand-new homes could have issues with builders cutting corners or recent DIY home improvement projects gone awry.

When shopping for a home inspector, choose one who meets state licensing/certification regulations (visit for more details). He or she should have several years of experience and come highly referred by someone you know.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why You Should Start Your Year With These 5 Housing Projects

New Deck

Every January, eager homeowners try to determine what home remodeling projects they should consider the upcoming year. While remodeling the bathroom or adding that new kitchen island you always wanted may be the most desirable, they may not bring the highest return on your investment.
Home improvement projects never bring a return on investment over 100%. In fact, the average ROI the past few years is down to just under 60%. This means that most homeowners are only recouping 60% of the money they put into a remodeling project after the home is sold. Nonetheless, this does not mean you should be afraid of remodeling. Besides the ROI, you will of course reap the benefits while living in the home. On the other hand, if you’re looking for projects that have proven to bring a strong ROI, you may want to start your year with these five home remodeling projects.

Front Door

1. Replace the Front Door

Surprisingly enough, new front doors bring the highest ROI among any home remodeling project and when you break it down, it makes perfect sense. Safety is one of the most important factors when someone is planning to buy a new home. A new front door is not only going to give the house a better curb appeal, but it will also make any potential buyer feel safe. This combination ultimately allows a new door to bring a 73% return on investment.

According to ImproveNet, it costs between $400 and $850 to replace a front door.

2. Build A New Wood Deck

In a day where everything is online and out in the open, many of us enjoy the silence and privacy that wood decks bring to our backyards. Fortunately, not only are they DIY-friendly, but they also bring back a strong ROI.

The average cost of building a deck is $6,148, but a new deck will roughly bring a 70%ROI.
Once you decide, make sure you come up with a design, choose the right type of wood for your area, know all future costs (sealing) and determine the required maintenance time throughout its lifespan.
New Windows

3. Replace the Windows

More and more homeowners are going green and a terrific way to make your home more energy efficient is by replacing your old windows. Not only will your home be warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, but you will also save on HVAC costs down the road.

Window installation can get expensive, jumping all the way up to $5,000, but just know, on top of the HVAC savings, know they tend to bring a ROI of 70%.

To lower costs, many homeowners prefer single pane windows as opposed to double hung or storm windows. However, while the upfront cost may be substantially less, more expensive windows are usually much stronger and can hold its ground even in the worst of storms.

4. Replace the Garage Door

Just like the front door, homeowners associate safety with their garage doors. Since the garage door is typically the most common entry point, it’s just as, if not more, important to your home’s safety than your front door.

Both high-end and mid-level garage doors have been found to bring an estimated 71% ROI, but the high-end garage door is going to cost about twice as much to purchase and install.

According to ImproveNet’s numbers, the average price to install a garage door is $964.
Updated Kitchen

5. Update the Kitchen

Finally, while the kitchen may not bring the strongest ROI, it does attract new buyers.
The kitchen is where life happens and has been known to make or break a sale. Rather than spend upwards of $20,000 on a kitchen remodel, invest wisely in a few DIY projects you can do over the weekend, such as:
  • Replace the knobs on the cabinets
  • Paint the cabinets
  • Add a backsplash
  • Change the wall paint
  • Install lights under the cabinets
People like new and these projects give any kitchen the new look and feel they desire.

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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Winter Fire Safety Tips

With temperatures dipping close to zero degrees this week, remodeling contractor Somerville Aluminum would like to remind homeowners to be diligent about home heating and smoke alarm safety.

Home fires are the most common disaster the American Red Cross responds to, sending volunteers to the scene of fires at all hours of the day and night to help those affected. In 2013, one home structure fire was reported every 85 seconds, with home fires occurring most often in the winter season when people may use unsafe heat sources. With this in mind, Somerville Aluminum would like to provide the following safety tips:

Keep all potential sources of fuel like paper, clothing, bedding or rugs at least three feet away from space heaters, stoves, or fireplaces.
Portable heaters and fireplaces should never be left unattended. Turn off space heaters and make sure any embers in the fireplace are extinguished before going to bed or leaving home.
If you must use a space heater, place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
When buying a space heater, look for models that shut off automatically if the heater falls over as another safety measure.
Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
Keep fire in your fireplace by using a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.
Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys, and furnaces professionally inspected and cleaned once a year.
Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas.
Teach your children what smoke alarms sound like and what to do when they hear one.
Once a month check whether each alarm in the home is working properly by pushing the test button.
Replace batteries in smoke alarms at least once a year. Immediately install a new battery if an alarm chirps, warning the battery is low.
Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years. Never disable smoke or carbon monoxide alarms.
Carbon monoxide alarms are not substitutes for smoke alarms. Know the difference between the sound of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms.

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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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