Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tips on what to expect during kitchen remodeling

Planning to remodel your kitchen? Those of us who have been there are happy to share advice. Most of these tips would apply to any remodeling project.

Take your time picking a builder, contractor or design-build firm. Interview more than one, ask many questions (and pay attention to not just the answers, but to how the answers are given), check references, listen to your gut. And then when you have a contract, read it line by line, word by word, and get all of your questions satisfactorily answered before you sign.

Expect upcharges, and build them into your budget. Some change orders will be beyond your or your builder's control (surprises discovered during demolition, requirements imposed by your municipality's architectural review board), and others you will initiate as new ideas come forth or you change your mind. (You will change your mind, most certainly more than once.)

Beware: These projects have a way of leading one to the next. As long as they were having their kitchen remodeled, Carol Moresco-Goniu and her husband, Richard Goniu, figured they might as well re-do the powder room, too. And then, the master bathroom suddenly looked ripe for a redo. Lisa Ziolkowski also replaced the front door and gave the front hallway, powder room and sun porch a facelift and had the living room and dining room repainted.

Try to stay ahead of the game. If you're told you won't have to empty your cabinets for another month, do it in two weeks.

Plan to spend lots of time online, where choices in everything from lighting fixtures to furniture and kitchen accessories are endless.

Pick what you love. Know what the trends are, but don't let them influence you unduly.
"It's important to have an idea of what you're after," said Moresco-Goniu, "but be open to suggestions."

"You've got to do a little bit of homework," advised Goniu.

Anticipate problems. You can't get discouraged. Referencing the problems they had with their cabinets, Goniu said, "Most people would get angry. I was disappointed, but we made the decision not to push (the builder) to get it done. We said, 'take your time and do it right.' If you get upset and angry, you'll have nothing but disappointment."

"Stay calm," advised Ziolkowski. "Your life is in disarray, but when it's done, it's so worth all the time and headaches."

10 decisions to consider before a kitchen remodel

Choices, choices. For some people, it's a fun opportunity; for others, a stressful chore. Given the cost of remodeling, whatever you choose — whether it's appliances, cabinet color, floor style or countertop — you'll have to live with it for a long time.

So it's best to have a pretty good idea of what you want (or at least, think you want) before you begin.
Here are 10 core decisions you should think through in advance when planning to remodel your kitchen:

1. Footprint. Will you work within your kitchen's current dimensions, or do you want the room to be bigger? In which direction would you expand, and what are the ramifications for the rest of the house?

2. Cabinets (looks). Custom or prefab? Wood species, stain and glaze color, door style — all these decisions and more will need to be made.

3. Cabinets (configuration). For lower cabinets, you could do doors and shelves (pullout or stationary), or you could go with deep drawers. You probably want some of each, but how many and where? Will you have any pantries? How many and what size? Any pullout cutting boards? And how do you want to handle those pesky corners?

4. Countertops. Granite, quartz, laminate, concrete, wood or a combination. They all have their pros and cons. If going with granite, you'll need to pick a pattern, then your specific slab(s), as well as weigh in as to how the slab will be cut for the various portions of countertop in the room. All of this takes time. Take as much as you need.

5. Floor. Hardwood is still popular, but durable luxury vinyl tile, ceramic tile and bamboo are other choices to consider.

6. Appliances (if buying new). Will you replace all of them, or only one or two? Will you match the color of existing appliances or go with what you eventually want them all to be? Do you want one oven or two? There are too many choices to list here, but keep in mind some of the newer options like a small beverage fridge and a microwave-convection oven combination.

7. Placement of appliances. It can be hard to picture yourself in a whole new space cooking dinner, but it's worth making the effort. Moving the stove or fridge over a few inches could make all the difference.

8. Lighting. Pay close attention to where the can lights are placed in the ceiling. We ended up adding one directly above the sink that wasn't in the original plan and are so glad we did. Also think through where you want light switches (every doorway is a good start). Do you want dimmers? What kind of under-cabinet lighting?

9. Colors. The good news is, wall colors can easily be swapped out. Not so with tile backsplashes, lighting fixtures or other colorful features you choose.

10. Miscellaneous: How hard could it be to pick out cabinet hardware? They're just knobs and handles, after all. Answer: harder than you think. Other decisions you'll need to be ready to make include the type of sink (material, one basin or two, built-in soap dispenser or not, etc.), type of faucet and color of outlets and switchplates.

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Monday, May 11, 2015

6 Eco-Friendly Tips For The Home


Carlisle Wide Plank Floors
By: Anne Reagan, Editor-In-Chief of
Earth Day celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, and looking back over the past 45 years and what we know now about climate change, sustainability, energy efficiency and how our actions impact our planet is alarming but also empowering. We now understand that what we choose to purchase or produce, or what we choose to use or waste, can have a direct impact to the health of our planet as well as the health of our bodies and surrounding environment.

Nowhere is this extraordinary potential seen more than in the decisions we make with our homes, and particularly with home improvement. Even a small DIY project like painting a wall gives us the opportunity to choose a product that doesn't negatively impact our health or our environment. And when it comes to major home remodeling or improvement projects, homeowners have a wide array of choices that can ultimately make a positive, rather than a negative, impact on the environment. As we celebrate Earth Day, let's take a look at some of the best ways to approach your next home improvement project that not only makes your home look beautiful, but adds value to your property, your health and the planet.

1. Get educated about sustainability
Before starting any remodeling or home improvement project, become educated about which materials and supplies are "green" and which ones you might want to do without. Reclaimed wood or cork seem like obvious flooring materials for your next green project, but did you know that linoleum has one of the lowest manufacturing emissions of any flooring product?

You may know that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are bad for your health, but did you know that VOCs are emitted by thousands of products you might already have in your home like paints, cleaning supplies, building materials, craft materials, and furnishings? Smart homeowners looking for earth-friendly home products will also want to consider which products might be negatively contributing to the overall health of their home, and also look at how products are manufactured and their overall impact to our environment. It may be an overwhelming process to become educated on this topic, but understanding your options will make you feel like you are truly adding value to your home, as well as your environment.

2. Tour green homes
Touring a green building or home is a fantastic way to see first-hand how other families have incorporated green building practices within a budget. Very often the builders are on-site to answer questions you might have about costs, practicality or longevity. Another great example of green building and how it works in real life is the Bullitt Center, a commercial structure recently built in Seattle, Washington. Not only did they incorporate the usual eco-conscious materials like solar panels, composting and energy efficient fixtures, they required that no materials used in building the structure (including paints, sealants, fasteners, and insulation) contain any "red list" hazardous materials like PVC, lead, mercury or hormone-mimicking substances, all of which are commonly found in building components. In a sense, they have built a building that is healthier for the environment, healthier for the builders who worked on the project and healthier for the employees who work there every day.

3. Work with eco-friendly brands
Some manufacturers and brands pride themselves not only on the quality of their materials, but on their commitment to sustainable business practices. Carlisle Wide Plank Floors, based in New Hampshire, sells reclaimed and antique wood flooring. After 45 years of working in the wood plank flooring business, Carlisle is the most-requested supplier of reclaimed wide plank flooring in North America. In fact, in 2014 their mill recycled 4.4 million pounds of sawdust, which was turned into wood pellets (called BioBricks), which can be effectively used for heating and is a clean burning choice for fireplaces and wood stoves. Their finishes have no measurable volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and there is no off-gassing on site. Their sourcing is also conscientious: their made-in-the-USA products use mostly local wood and will not deal with any suppliers who engage in clear-cutting. Taking the time to research your suppliers can be an excellent way to become educated about the products available to you, as well as make you feel better about where you are spending your money.

4. Shop at green stores
Shopping for green building supplies is easier than ever, even for the average homeowner on a tight budget. Suppliers and stores are getting better at labeling the "ingredients" of typical materials and some stores are implementing policies with regards to the types of materials they will stock. Much like a health food store, these green building supply companies want their customers to feel educated and empowered when it comes to comparing products. Stores like Treehouse, Green Depot, and Green Building Supply encourage homeowners to think carefully before buying home building supplies. Many of these stores supply a wide variety of typical project materials like paint, insulation, drywall, cabinets and countertops as well as tools and other housewares. Some stores even offer in-store classes or consultations to make your learning curve go faster.

5. Hire green contractors and builders
If your project requires a contractor or builder, you can narrow down your search by hiring a pro that is trained in green building practices. Organizations like the Building Performance Institute certify professionals, like contractors, in the field of energy efficiency for the home. This means that they lend expert advice and solutions for homeowners wanting to ensure important home safety functions like mold prevention, carbon monoxide, solar solutions, geothermal or other types of energy upgrades.

The National Green Building Standard (NGBS) is another organization that helps homeowners understand the value of using green methods when remodeling or building a new home. An NGBS certified home goes beyond energy efficiency. It measures remodeling or new building construction in site design, resource efficiency, water efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality and building operation and maintenance. It's a holistic approach to home remodeling or new home construction and helps homeowners understand the cost benefit analysis of choosing green construction over standard practices. You can read more about the NGBS certification process here.

6. Recycle, Reuse, Repurpose
The three original "R's" of Earth Day still ring true today. One of the simplest ways to reduce your waste is to recycle what you already have, reuse it in another way or repurpose it. Many local organizations accept donations of unwanted building materials like cabinetry, countertops, stone or other materials. Better yet, many of these places sell those pieces at a discount, perfect for homeowners looking for a creative DIY project or a vintage piece that lends character to their home. When removing or tearing down an existing structure or room, work with your contractor to save or recycle what you can. Even if you can't reuse these materials, chances are another organization or homeowner can. If you choose to purchase older materials for your home, make sure that they are free from lead, asbestos or other known hazardous materials.

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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.

To order your copy of Remodeling Hell, CLICK HERE
For more information about Remodeling Hell, CLICK HERE
For more information about the Summit Murder Mystery series, CLICK HERE
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