Home Remodeling: Tips for Hiring A Contractor

You don’t often buy a car without testing out a few different models. Why would you do anything different when contemplating a major overhaul to your home, or even a room or two.

It does not matter if you’re doing an overhaul of electric, plumbing or adding a new porch to the exterior of your home, when it comes to changing things up in the most important investment of your life, you need to know you’re hiring the right kind of professional(s) to do the job.

The Rule of Three

Get at least three different proposals and estimates, no matter the type of work. Three formal estimates will show you the highest, the lowest, and a “moderator” price—the one that most closely matches one of the other two. Chances are, the one that stands out as the over or under price is the one to avoid, either due to over-inflated pricing or inexperience, either or which could result in poor quality or drawn out work.

Meet the Manager

Before hiring any contracting company, meet personally with the boss, the general contractor; he/she will be the one managing the entire project—the buck truly does stop with them. Get all details in writing; don’t leave it to a verbal agreement. Get drawings; get quotes, down the the brick or flooring strip. And ask how the contract will be affected if the job goes over the projected amount—chances are, there will be unexpected things that crop up once the work has started: unanticipated pipes buried in walls; flooring that is uneven; rooms that are not quite square.

Pick their brain on how they will approach your particular project in relation to similar projects they’ve completed. Don’t neglect taking into account the contractor’s personal dress, personality or demeanor upon entering your home. Oh, and the type of vehicle they drive is another factor to consider. Do they drive a wreck, or is the car/truck/van in good condition, and does it publicize the business?

Get it in Writing

Get a firm timetable, within 5 to 7 days, of when the project will be completed. Confirm start and end times for each day’s work, and ask how workers will clean up after themselves after each day’s work. Ask for several (3 to 5) references who will agree to speaking with you about their satisfaction level with the contractor before starting your work. Any contractor worth their price will agree to this immediately. Ask to see credentials and ensure the contractor will be securing all necessary contracts, both local and/or county. Check with the Better Business Bureau to ensure there are no grievances filed with the contractor.

Final points

Read the contract. Ask questions about any details you do not clearly understand. And if you have special requirements, such as pets that need to be watched so they don’t escape during the remodeling process, or a child or older adult with special needs, make sure this is part of the up-front discussion before signing the dotted line.

Energy Saving Home: Keeping Cool this Summer

Reducing your energy consumption this summer will save you money and conserve our power resources. Suggested ideas to keep the air conditioner turned down or turned off during a hot spell. In time we are able to acclimatize our bodies to the outside temperature; however, we have become accustomed to cooler temperatures in the summer and the warmer temperatures in the winter.

Cooling Down Tips

  • Replace the heavy dark fabrics from windows, beds and sofas with soft light colored fabrics
  • Keep the drapes drawn during the day.
  • Open the windows in the early evening to let the fresh night air flow through the home.
  • Put a small fan near the open windows to help with circulating the air.
  • Install water fountains in the living room or family area. Chose a size suitable for the area. Install more than 1 if you have space. The sound of the water will lower your temperature. You can play tricks on the body to cool yourself.
  • Have a fan circulating the air near the water fountain. It gives a nice breeze.
  • Play music with water in the background. If it is an extremely hot day, play winter music to bring you back to the coldness.
  • Fill spray bottles with distilled water. Periodically mist the room and yourself.
  • Wear light colored clothes made from natural fibers. The synthetic fibers make you sweat more because it blocks the body from sweating freely.
  • Keep the body well hydrated. Increase your water intake from 8 to 10 on those very hot days. Stay away from sugary drinks.
  • Eat light meals such as salad and soups. Limit starch as it makes the body feel heavy and causes you to feel warmer.
  • Embrace the warm weather. Work with it, not against it. Keep chores to a minimal in the summer. The heat makes your body slow down.
  • Imagine yourself sitting on a glacier in Alaska on those very hot days. Jump through the sprinkler.
  • Place a cool facecloth on the back of your neck or mist it with your spray bottle.
    The Art of Keeping Cool Meditation

The key to keeping cool in a home environment with no air conditioner and limited fans is powered by your mind.
Cool Meditation Exercise

Lie on the floor or on the ground with your head supported if desired.

Ceramic floors are ideal if you do this inside the home. Outside of the home, stretch out on a flat surface that provides you with some shade.

Close your eyes and just relax the entire body. If a part of the body feels tense, gently squeeze the muscle and release.

Breathe slowly and softly.

After the body has begun to relax, begin the cool meditation. Do not become anxious, if you are still thinking about your worries; just let it flow through you.
Cool Meditation Visualization

Visualize a waterfall that is deep within a forested region. The falls are cascading down and you are being sprayed by the cool mountain water as you lie on your back in this natural setting. Just experience this feeling and be calm. Try and remember a time when you felt refreshed on a hot sunny day and try and recapture the moment in your mind.

The key is to relax and really experience this moment.

This exercise will cool the body and make the heat less unbearable. As you release the image, be sure to feel the coolness of the mountain water and keep it with you throughout the day.

What Does a House Say About its Owner?

Buying New or Fixing Up? A Home Can Speak Many Languages

If a home could talk, what would it say about the owner? With any dialect, it takes practice to be able to speak the language. Experts say that homes go way beyond “comfy and cozy” these days. Thoughtful designs can incorporate many other important personality traits.

What Does a Floor Plan Communicate?

A home’s floor plan can be likened to a road map of how homeowners live. Kitchens are a great example. People who want more than one cook in the kitchen will choose open kitchen floor plans with areas for people to gather, such as hearth rooms and seating near an island.

open kitchen floorplan

For busy families who need to be organized, mud rooms with built-in cubbies for kids’ backpacks and sports supplies make living at home easier and more comfortable. Today’s homeowners are demanding a home that works with their lifestyle and complements their daily living.

The Conversation Starts Outside

beautiful home exterior

In addition to floor plans, a home’s exterior appearance has become a revealing characteristic of a homeowner’s personality. In addition to landscaping, driveways, sidewalks and even garage doors have their own abilities to communicate. Backyards have become popular venues for homeowners to interpret their lifestyle priorities. Outdoor living spaces offer extended areas to relax or take the party outside. Fire pits, outdoor kitchens, fountains, screened porches, patios and courtyards contribute to a homeowner’s ability to entertain or just enjoy the natural surroundings.

What’s Being Said Behind Closed Doors?

How a home functions is revealing as well. Energy efficiency is a top priority for homeowners right now. Green is “in”, and not just Crayola’s version. Green building offers many opportunities for homeowners who want to live in a home with environmentally friendly products and utilize techniques that help the home function more efficiently. Homeowners who choose green building and energy efficiency more than likely are environmentally conscious in other aspects of their lives as well.

If a home could talk, what would it say about the owner? With any dialect, it takes practice to be able to speak the language. Experts say that homes go way beyond “comfy and cozy” these days. Thoughtful designs can incorporate many other important personality traits.

If a home hasn’t quite found its voice yet, don’t worry. In many cases, all it takes is a fresh coat of paint, some new landscaping and updated design elements. However, for buyers considering learning a whole new language of homeownership, there are some incredible new homes on the market that offer creative floor plans and unique extras that make them stand out from the rest.

Finding a Home That Speaks in Today’s Housing Market

Currently, homebuyers have a large selection of existing homes on the market in a variety of neighborhoods across the country. The increased supply of homes available offers plenty of options, and low interest rates make it affordable.

Asbestos Testing

How to Test for Asbestos in the Home

While asbestos has been banned from building materials for decades, and manufacturers have voluntarily stopped producing it, it remains in the tiles, insulation, paint and shingles of many older homes. People exposed to asbestos fibers are at risk of developing health problems such as lung cancer, mesothelioma (cancer of the chest lining), and asbestosis (scarred lung tissue).

If asbestos is present, but won’t be disturbed, it’s fine to leave it as is: it’s only dangerous when the fibers become loose and are inhaled. If a remodeling project is about to begin, though, it’s best to test for asbestos if it’s suspected to be part of the structure. The US Environment Protection Agency also recommends that any area suspected to be asbestos be treated with caution as though it is confirmed asbestos.

It’s best to call in a professional for asbestos testing, as accredited and trained individuals can ensure that the tests are conducted safely, without any risk for the homeowners. However, a homeowner can take a sample and then send it away to the EPA for testing. Here’s how to test for asbestos.

Asbestos Testing at Home

asbestos testing

The key to remember is that any asbestos fibers released into the air are hazardous, so precautions must be taken to ensure as few fibers are released as possible.

Before the asbestos sampling is done, look into local and state requirements for cleaning up and disposing of asbestos. These rules are necessary to follow for any of the equipment used to do the asbestos test.

Here are the recommendations to follow for asbestos testing according to the American Lung Association.

  • Have only one person do the asbestos sampling so that fewer people are at risk. Other inhabitants should not be at home.
  • Wear disposable gloves and a mask, and wash hands thoroughly when finished.
  • Ensure all heating and cooling systems are turned off, as are any fans, so that any released fibers won’t be blown around.
  • Take a very small sample so that as few fibers are disturbed as possible.
  • To prepare the area, place a plastic sheet on the floor, and spray a mist of water and detergent on the material to be cut. The mist will also prevent fibers from blowing around.
  • Use a very sharp knife to cut the sample, and work very carefully. Place the sample into a clean container that can be tightly sealed.
  • Clean up the area by washing it with paper towels, and then dispose of the towels and the plastic sheet according to the local regulations.
  • Patch the hole created in the material using duct tape.
  • Label the container with the location and date, and send to an EPA testing laboratory.

Asbestos testing is important to ensure health risks are reduced or eliminated during a remodeling project, or even a task as simple as drilling a hole in a wall to hang a picture.

Asbestos Testing and Removal

If the asbestos test results come back positive, a professional should be called in to evaluate the material. Trained professionals can make recommendations on how to remove or deal with the asbestos, and will make sure it’s done safely.

There are three main options offered: sealing, covering, and removing asbestos. Sealing it binds the fibers together so that they can’t be released. Covering it can also be an option that prevents asbestos from being disturbed. Finally, removal gets rid of asbestos for good, but the process involves increased health risks, so it should only be undertaken by a professional. Because of the health risks, asbestos removal is expensive, but it may be the only option if the asbestos is in an area that will be remodeled or otherwise majorly changed.

Asbestos testing is a serious endeavor; while the asbestos itself is dangerous, the sampling process has its own risks, too. A professional is the best person to deal with the job, but whether a professional does it or the homeowner, all precautions should be followed to reduce the possible health consequences.

A Heated Floor and a Warm Home

Radiant Heat and Floor Heating Systems

Having a warm floor on a cold winter morning is an attractive idea. So is having an effective way of warming the whole house from the floor up. Whether the goal is to have a warm bathroom floor, or to warm the entire home, learning the difference between radiant heat and floor heating systems can help ensure that the right choice is made.

What is Radiant Heat?

There are different types of radiant heat; air, electric and hydronic. As the first two are not extremely cost effective in residential settings, and are therefore less used, this article will focus on hydronic radiant heat.

Hydronic, or liquid, radiant heat systems pump hot water through tubing laid in the floor. Water is heated in a tank, and sent through tubing to continually circulate and warm the area above it through convection. More efficient than baseboard heating, radiant heat uses heat transfer to warm people and objects in the room, rather than heating the air, and therefore uses less energy, allowing the homeowner to set the temperature lower than with conventional heating methods, while still maintaining comfort.

Radiant heat can be installed under any floor covering, and will make the floor, the room, and the people in it feel warm. The cost of installation will vary depending on the size of the house, the cost of labor and the type of subflooring used.

What is a Floor Heating System?

floor heating system

A floor heating system, such as NuHeat, is a mat inlaid with wires which is laid over the subfloor, but under the final floor covering such as tile. Used primarily to warm a bathroom floor, it uses approximately the same amount of energy as a light bulb. This system will only warm the floor, not the people or other objects in the room.

Many electric floor heating systems are available with a timer which will turn the system on and off during hours of peak use. For instance, if the homeowner typically uses the bathroom at 6:00am and departs the house at 8:00am, the timer can be programmed to turn on the floor heating system at 5:45am and shut itself off at 8:15am. Multiple times of day can be programmed, as the bathroom is used by different people.

The cost of installation is usually lower, as the mat is installed at the same time as the tile floor, and the tile installer will work together with an electrician to wire the system.

When to Choose One System vs Another

It may make more sense to install radiant heating, if a total home renovation or new home construction is underway. Because the subflooring and final floor covering is involved, it makes more sense to undertake this installation if both are already in the process of being replaced or laid. If the home is undergoing an overhaul of the heating system, this may be another instance in which radiant heat should be considered.

Electric floor heating system are easier to install, and therefore can be put in during a bathroom renovation just prior to the laying of the bathroom floor tile, or even just during a floor installation, if a mudroom floor is the desired choice to heat.

Whichever system chosen be sure to use certified installers that have worked with this material before. Many electric floor heating system retailers will have a certification course for installers to take before working with the product. Always ask to see credentials and examples of previous work if unsure.

How To Prepare For A Wet Weather Season

As a home owner you need to prepare yourself for all weather season especially the wet season. This is because during this season your house can incur massive damage due to the harsh cold and rain and it will be hard to go out in the cold and try to make repairs while it is raining. Therefore you are advised to take your time during the dry season and try to make repairs because you can easily access areas that are vulnerable to the elements without disturbance. Here are a few tips to help you prepare for this season.

  • Gutter cleaning

Rain gutters are essential part of the roofing system that help to get rid of water that can damage the system. If they are not regularly cleaned they will get clogged and will not carry out their functions as expected. Try and make sure that you clean your gutters a few weeks before the rainy season or else you will incur a lot of expenses for something that could have been prevented easily.

Gutter cleaning isn’t a task that can be completed by just anyone. You need someone who understands what should be done when it comes to gutter cleaning. Perhaps a gutter cleaning professional is the best option. He will first inspect the gutters, estimate the extend of cleanliness required, get the right cleaning equipment, and get the task done.

After cleaning, the professional must inspect the gutters again for any faults that need to be corrected. For example, holes, and cracks must be fixed as early as possible to avoid further damage.

  • Seal holes in your roof

If you don’t inspect your roof regularly you will fail to realize that the shingles get loose and even fall off. Before the rains start to fall you should check that the shingles are tight in place and if there are some missing replace them or use appropriate material to seal the hole to avoid leakage when it rains. Rainwater greatly damage the ceiling because water can spread and lot the ceiling creating a big hole on your ceiling which will be very expensive to fix or even replace if the damage is extensive.

Preparing your home for a rainy season is a simple task which should not be overlooked. This will greatly help you to avoid serious home damage.

How to Get Rid of Household Mold

get rid of household mold

Tips for Preventing and Eradicating Mold in Your Home

There’s nothing worse to you as a homeowner than discovering you have a household mold problem. Because its ugly presence can be a nightmare, it’s important to both recognize a mold problem before it grows worse, and take preventative measures so you won’t have household mold in the future.

Not only is household mold ugly and destructive to your house, it’s also bad for your health. You could be suffering from a household mold problem and not even realize it. Symptoms may range from anything from breathing difficulties to sinus congestion, watery eyes, and throat irritations to nausea, vomiting, fatigue and rashes.

How Molds Enter Your Home

Although mold growing outdoors is the natural result of breaking down dead organic matter such as fallen leaves, it’s detrimental to both your home and family when growing indoors. Mold spores, which are invisible to the naked eye, circulate through the air, looking for a wet surface to land in your home. Once they find it, they begin to grow. Therefore, to prevent molds growing in your home, you have to check for moisture.

household mold

Hidden Mold

Although molds usually grow on fibers, woods, and damp paper, sometimes it’s not easy to know if you have a mold problem, as it could be lurking in your house without your even seeing it.

Even black mold isn’t visible at first. However, a few warning signs may include musty smells (although you can’t see it growing.) This is the result of widespread water damage, such as a burst pipe within a wall.

Too often mold is mistaken for common mildew. If you try to remove what appears to be mildew with bleach and water and it still comes back, chances you may have black mold, which is a bigger problem. If you suspect your home has this kind of toxic mold, call a trained professional because you don’t want to agitate mold spores, creating more damage.

Preventative Measures – The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) recommends a number of preventative measures to keep mold from growing.

Repair all leaks – Immediately repair and dry any water leaks within 24 hours.

Clean hard surfaces – Regularly clean hard surfaces with bleach-based products that not only kill mold but also destroy and neutralize any allergy-inducing spores. If you suffer from allergies or asthma, then have someone who isn’t sensitive do the cleaning.

Aerate all crawlspaces – Besides making sure all household crawlspaces (such as in attics and basements) are well ventilated, also place plastic over dirt in outside crawlspaces to keep out moisture.

Use exhaust fans – To guard against moisture in rooms such as your kitchen and bathrooms, install and use exhaust fans.

Use caution with humidifiers – Although humidifiers are needed, especially during the dry winter months, be sure to turn them off if you see condensation on your windows as that’s a sign of moisture.

Use dehumidifiers – Be sure to use a dehumidifiers in your basement, especially during hot humid weather.

Don’t carpet bathrooms and basements – If you already have carpeting installed over concrete, regular check for any signs of mold. Rather than carpeting your basement, it’s best to install flooring with area rugs that be taken up and washed. Installing a vapor barrier over concrete is also advisable.

Although finding mold growing in your home is not good news, at least you can feel good that you discovered it before it grew worse. Just take a deep breath (not literally) and do what you now know to do to get rid of it. If the problem reaches beyond your expertise, then find some dependable professionals who can take care of the problem. Most of all, take steps to prevent it from happening again.

Tools Every Homeowner Should Have

repair tools

Tools to Tackle Any Basic Home Repair Project

Hand Tools

repair tools

Screwdrivers Both flat and philips head screwdrivers, in a couple of sizes, will cover most small jobs around the house. These will be used mostly for things like tightening knobs, small electrical jobs, and assembling furniture. In some cases, you can buy one screwdriver that has a reversible “head” with the philips on one end and flat on the other. These are good space savers.

Pliers It’s a good idea to have a slip-joint pliers and a needlenose pliers on hand.

Wrenches A couple of wrenches, one of which is a pipe wrench, will come in handy.

Hammer For hanging pictures, installing mouldings, or even something as ambitious as building a deck, a hammer is a must. Hammers are available with both wood and fiberglass handles. It’s really a matter of preference. Fiberglass-handled hammers tend to be lighter, so you get fatigued less quickly. The best way to choose a hammer is to pick them up in the store and see how they feel.

Hacksaw These are lightweight, inexpensive, and indispensable for many small jobs. Hacksaws can be used for anything from cutting mouldings, to pipes, to tree branches.

Utility Knife A utility knife with plenty of sharp blades is necessary for all kinds of jobs, from cutting drywall to repairing window screens.

Level A basic torpedo level will help you hang artwork and moulding straight, as well as level patio stones or porch railings.

Tape Measure A tape measure is a must-have. Get one at least sixteen feet long.

Power Tools

power tools

Cordless Drill/Driver These are an absolute must! They are such a timesaver compared to manual screwdrivers, and the fact that you can use it as a drill makes this a great tool. They are available at just about any price level. In general, a 14.4 volt drill/driver is good for home use. Anything lower than that may not be strong enough, and anything higher may be overkill, unless you see some pretty big jobs in your future.

Miscellaneous Tools

miscellaneous tools

Plunger When that clog strikes in the middle of the night, you won’t want to be without a plunger. There are a couple of different styles, from your typical “cup” type plunger, to a flange plunger, also called a toilet plunger, to plungers that look like accordians. If you have to just choose one, get a toilet plunger. The flange can be pushed up into the plunger to make it into a “cup” plunger.

Safety Glasses and Work Gloves Safety is important. Have these on hand, and use them.

Storage

tools storage

A typical, metal or plastic toolbox is a good choice for storing your tools. A five-gallon bucket will also do a great job of holding your tools. You can even buy “aprons” to wrap around the bucket to hold tools and removable trays that fit inside to hold screws and nails.

By having these tools around, you’ll be ready for any home improvement, whenever inspiration or necessity strikes. And, if you know someone who is moving into their first home, these tools, presented in a nice toolbox, would make a great housewarming gift!

Hanging Objects on Walls

How to Fasten a Picture Frame (or Almost Anything Else) to a Wall

When you go to hang something on your wall, you’re worrying about two things; (1) minimizing the number and size of holes in your wall, and (2) being sure whatever you’re hanging doesn’t fall off the wall some day.

hanging objects on wall

What makes it complicated is determining what type of fastener to use, and trying figure out if you really need to find a stud for your fastener or not. So let’s uncomplicate it.

For the most part, you don’t need to find a stud unless you’re hanging something over 50 lbs. (and in some cases things that people are going to be pulling on such as a handrail or grab bar.)

Oops. Missed the Stud

To find a stud, everyone tells you to tap the wall listening for the sound of a stud or to buy a stud finder. These methods work for many people some of the time. That leaves a lot of times you’ve just driven a nail into the wall expecting to find a stud and didn’t.

When that happens, the first thing to get over is your guilt about making little holes in the wall. They fill in easily with spackling, and most are going to be hidden behind what you’re hanging anyway.

With that in mind, you can find your reclusive stud by moving three-quarters of an inch to one side and driving the nail again. If you don’t hit it, alternate sides and continue driving the nail at three-quarter inch intervals until you hit the stud.

(Yes, you’ll have a series of holes in the wall, but you already had one hole you were going to have to patch. You can patch a dozen more just as easily as one.)

To be sure you haven’t pinpointed the edge of the stud instead of the center, drive one more hole three-quarters of an inch further over. If you don’t hit anything, the previous hole is probably centered on the stud. If you do hit the stud again on the second hole, mark the center of the stud between the two holes.

When you’re fastening into studs, favor screws over nails. Screws can be easily removed when needed whereas removing nails from studs later may cause additional wall damage.

Now, when hanging something 50 lbs or lighter, your fastener choice is determined primarily by the item’s weight.

Lightweight Items

Take for example a small photograph or painting 12 inches by 12 inches or smaller. This often weighs just a few pounds. You can usually get away with a small nail or screw fastened into the wall at a downward angle, as long as it’s not wobbly after you set it. You can also use a picture hanger, which simply adds a strip of metal bent into a hook-shape held by a similar nail.

For those lightweight items, don’t go overboard using plastic wall anchors. You’re just needlessly making larger holes to patch later. Though patching is easy, patches over larger anchor holes tend to be more obvious after painting than patches over smaller nail or screw holes.

Bigger Frames or Heavier Items

If what you’re hanging is 5 to 25 lbs, plastic hollow wall anchors are usually fine. One type requires you to drill a slightly smaller hole in the wall to hammer the anchor into, and one type actually screws itself into ordinary drywall.

If you use the anchor type that requires you to pre-drill a hole, don’t make the hole too large or you’re going to be hanging your picture an inch off in a different direction because the anchor fell out of its hole. The self-drilling type is generally stronger and more fail-safe in installation.

Hint: Once in a while, you’re going to hit a stud where you intended to put your hollow wall anchor. When that happens, forget the anchor and just fasten a screw directly into the stud.

Even Bigger or Heavier

Between 25 and 50 pounds, you should be looking at rated fasteners that advertise how much weight they can hold. Large, self-drilling plastic anchors and some picture-hanging systems are up to the task.

As for the “butterfly” type hollow wall anchors that have a clip that springs open after it’s pushed into the wall, use these if you’re comfortable with them. They require large holes and some care in installation. As an alternative, the self-drilling plastic anchors can usually match them in holding power and are a lot easier and faster to install.

Wall Types

Whether your walls are drywall or plaster will make a small difference in your fastener selection if you’re not anchoring directly into a stud. Plaster walls are often up to an inch thick because they have a thin gypsum board or wood lath backing, while drywall is only one-half to five-eighths inch thick. Though you might get away with a one-inch screw into a stud behind drywall, that short of a screw will never reach the stud through a plaster wall.

Sometimes you might drive a screw into the wood lath plaster backing and think it’s a stud. If you really need to find a stud, don’t be fooled. But a screw fastened to the wood lath usually has better holding power than a screw supported only by plaster or drywall.

Sometimes old plaster is dry and brittle and crumbles when you try to use nails, screws, or plastic anchors. This is when the “butterfly” type hollow wall anchors are best.

Get Over Making Holes

If making extra holes really freaks you (or someone else in your household) out, take a hammer, nail and a little spackling into your closet. Drive a couple of holes where no one will see them, then touch them up with the spackling. If you have light colored walls, you’ll be amazed by how effectively they disappear.

If you have darker accent colors, be prepared to dab a little touch up paint over your spackling. If you use a fine art brush and just hit the spackling with it, it will be barely noticeable and you won’t end up repainting the entire wall.

And that’s what you were really worrying about all along, wasn’t it?