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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