Ways to dress up your bath without drowning

  1. Vintage washstand
    Set between matching pedestal sinks, a tiled-back washstand creates a his-and-hers vanity for a lot less coin than a new dresser-style model. Expect to pay about $250 for a similar washstand at antiques or thrift shops.
  2. Wall-Hung Mirrors
    Easy-to-hang flush-mount mirrors don’t require wall-busting construction like recessed medicine cabinets do. Find similarly elegant round models with colored mirrors.
  3. New vanity light
    Instead of a dressy sconce, a caged fixture, like those on farm buildings, offers a lot of light— and style—for just a little money.
  4. Bold Accents
    Scatter glass or other accent tiles within a field of moderately priced field ones. Lake Garda glass subway tiles, about $31 per square foot; ¾” glass Mosaics about $22 per square foot.
  5. Sideboard vanity
    A mirrored dining room buffet replaces both a run-of-the-mill medicine chest and a sink cabinet. Paint it the same color as the walls to give it a built-in look. Find a buffet for your bath at flea markets for about $400.
  6. Utility light
    Instead of a dressy sconce, a caged fixture, like those on farm buildings, offers a lot of light— and style—for just a little money.
  7. Natural stone counter
    A soapstone top, with its river rock color and matte finish, has a warmer look than polished granite. Cut one to your specs using woodworking tools. Slabs start at about $25 per square foot;
  8. Towel cubby
    Better looking than a plumbing access door, a wood-lined niche with a removable back panel stores extra towels. Box-in a void at the end of your tub surround using hardwood plywood and trim for about $50.
  9. Vertical tile wall runner
    Mix small quantities of discounted odd-lot hexagonal mosaics, skinny “liners,” and over sized subways to create a distinctive vertical back splash. Save 60 percent over custom tile orders.

Ways to Update Kitchens on a Buck

Kitchens are the center of your home activity. Adding character to your kitchen doesn’t have to put you in the poor house: The secrets in the details. See how fresh paint, new lighting, and smart use of colorful tiles and vintage accents can personalize the hub of your home.

Lighting: Put pendants above a kitchen island. They’re classier than track lighting or recessed cans, and can cost less. The large-scale aluminum ones can echo the shine of the faucet and cabinet hardware, tying the kitchen’s details together. Repro lights can cost more than the real deals. You pay for new wiring and the ease of not having to troll salvage yards. But these days many dealers refurbish their old lights, and the search is half the fun. Find ready-to-install vintage industrial pendants.

Color: Reinvent dark wood or white cabinets by painting them a refreshing pale sage green hue or whitewash. A pale sage green reminiscent of vintage Jadite dishware can balance the intensity of a newly added floor made of an old-school material: linoleum. It’s easy to clean, naturally antimicrobial, and comes in more than a dozen shades, such as this vibrant red. Use premium grade paint like Benjamin Moore.

Hardware: Updating cabinet hardware is an easy way to change the overall appearance of your kitchen without investing much money or time. Plus, there is a wide range of stores and online resources for finding the perfect pulls, knobs and handles to match your style. Pulls seam to be the in-thing. 

Make Your Home Appealing With New Exterior Trim

house1When it comes to your home, first impressions are everything. And, nothing makes a worse initial impression than exterior trim that is cracked, rotted, peeling or falling apart. Today, homeowners and remodelers are turning to advance building materials to get long-term performance from their exterior trim.

Wood, one of the traditional trim materials, may look fine when first installed, but it can split and swell, and is prone to knots and defects. Other materials, like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and fiber cement trim have performance limitations and may pose installation

Treated Exterior Composite Trim offers the ideal combination of the beauty of wood and the durability of an engineered product. It provides the perfect accent to any exterior cladding your house may have: vinyl, fiber cement, brick, OSB, stone, stucco, wood or hardboard.

The Science

With a clear, wood grain texture on one side and contemporary smooth finish on the other, MiraTEC is ideal for any home style. Some engineered wood products, like MiraTEC, are manufactured by physically and chemically bonding resins with wood under heat and pressure. They offer increased durability (they are harder and more dense than some species of wood), are consistently straight, and are engineered to resist shrinking, checking, warping, cupping and splitting. In addition, they are widely available and pricing is stable.

The process used to make MiraTEC includes a factory-applied mildew-resistant primer on four sides. The end result is a trim board that offers a unique combination of moisture, rot and termite resistance not found in other materials.

It looks and handles like wood, and offers superior performance over PVC and fiber cement trim. MiraTEC costs half as much as PVC trim and, unlike PVC, it accepts paint beautifully and is not affected by temperature extremes.

Compared to fiber cement trim, MiraTEC is available in longer boards (16 feet vs. 10 or 12 feet) but the best part is it does not require any special installation tools, making installation easier and more cost effective. Plus, fiber cement costs about one-third more than MiraTEC, and it is harder to cut and nail. Fiber cement also absorbs over five times more water than MiraTEC (based on industry standard 24-hr. soak test), which can lead to mold and/or mildew problems if the trim gets wet enough.house2

Because of its durability and low maintenance requirements, I like using MiraTEC in a variety of applications. I have found it to be an excellent complement to fiber cement siding applications. To me MiraTEC is better than wood, is easy to install and paints well. Plus, I really like how it holds up to the weather and that it offers termite resistance. MiraTEC Trim looks authentic and is flexible to work with because it machines easily.
If you’re looking to add curb appeal or are remodeling your home, look for MiraTEC trim at most local building material suppliers.


What About Design & Functionality…

It’s easy to get a builder and assign the team to create a structure, but after that there is design and functionality to worry about. What should be the primary function of your entrance, back yard, deck, pool house or gazebo?

The function will determine the types of outdoor furniture you will need. Because of space issue, outdoor furniture will serve as both function and decor. You should also think about if is it more of a party, entertainment center of your whole compound? Or will it be a more leisurely, relaxing environment where you can spend your hours in quiet? All these things should serve as a guide or a map on how you will plan out your ideal outdoors areas. One of the best outdoor furniture that adds romance and sweetness to a patio or garden are gazebos.

Your back deck is an essential part of your home. It’s a place to relax and entertain, your own private paradise. This outdoor living space adds value to your home–or takes it away, depending on what shape your deck is in. But probably the most important outdoor area is the entrance. Is it attractive and inviting? Can visitors walk safely and comfortably to the entrance without hindrances? Is lighting a concern at night? One of the more attractive considerations is a flagstone entrance.


What To Consider…

Remodeling someone’s home is invasive, messy, and will interrupt virtually every routine homeowners are a custom to.  When considering a remodeling project, homeowners are putting one of their biggest assets, their castle, at risk.  You will frequently spend thousands of dollars to have work done on this primary asset.  When a project starts, varying degrees of deconstruction take place where floors and walls are torn away.  This is followed by a period of reconstruction, where a parade of strangers comes into your home to do a variety of projects homeowners don’t really understand.

Homeowners understandably get very uneasy during this process.  Most have never gone through a major remodeling project, so they don’t know what to expect.  A good remodeler will help homeowners understand the steps involved in this difficult process and guide them through what does not have to be a difficult time.  Helping homeowners deal effectively with this process and make it a fun time is one of our biggest jobs.

Homeowners who were very happy with the results of recently completed remodeling projects described some personal characteristics of remodelers stating four attributes:

  1. Honesty, integrity
  2. Good communication skills
  3. The ability to empathize
  4. Long-term relationship oriented

In the same interviews, homeowners were asked to describe what attributes were present in the companies these successful remodelers ran.  Here are the attributes they described:

  1. Quality construction
  2. Clear builder specifications
  3. Good company organization
  4. Ability to provide “price checks”
  5. Ability to provide value engineering
  6. Company responsiveness
  7. On-time performance
  8. Fair price

At the completion of these successful projects, price was only one of eight important considerations these homeowners identified.  Having the benefit of hindsight, they understood the value of the service they received.  Price was not their primary consideration.  Good service was.  Remodeling is a relationship business, not a numbers game.

Aging and Your Home

As we age we don’t hear so well, we sometimes forget or get confused and we can even outlive doctor’s predictions about our longevity. So as long as we persist in growing older, why not arrange our homes to accommodate our reality. Incorporate memory triggers into the way we arrange cabinets and counters, Add soft fabrics to muffle background noises, change appliances to better accommodate our short-comings and make our homes senior-friendly.

The aging process is blamed for many problems seniors may encounter with daily activities. However, quite often it is the home that creates the difficulties. Most residential housing is geared to young healthy adults. Builders do not take into account age-related conditions such as reduced mobility or limited range of reach. Hence, dwellings do not support the physical and sensory changes that older adults encounter as they age. What appear to be insignificant home features can have a significant effect for a person with even minor aging issues.

Many seniors avoid home modifications and helpful technology items designed for people with disabilities because these products have an industrial appearance. No one wants to have their home look like a hospital. Consumer demand and computer technology have pushed institutional products to be redesigned to be more acceptable in the home. Some of these include:

  • Chairs designed for easier in and out
  • Enhanced high and low frequency tones for doorbells and telephones
  • Grab bars and hand rails with decorator colors
  • Hospital type beds with wooden headboards and footboards
  • Items that are easier for arthritic hands to handle,
  • Larger print for declining eyesight
  • On/off buttons with color contrasts
  • Walkers in bright hues

The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC) states that falls are the number one cause of home injury, and studies suggest that a significant proportion of all falls are due to environmental factors.

The three leading causes of home injuries, according to the NCIPC, are: falls, burns and poisoning. Seniors are especially susceptible to these types of injuries. One of the bigger challenges is to identify safety issues that may be unique to an individual based on their particular aging status and conditions. While research via books and the Internet can help focus on such issues, the use of a good checklist in assessing the home environment is helpful. Call today for your NO-COST Aging In Place Check-up. This easy-to-read checklist is specially designed for senior homeowners who wish to “age in place” in their residences and want to have their homes inspected for potential updates to address safety, convenience and accessibility concerns.

Three Fundamental Rules for Houses

I’ve noticed over the years how some people will tolerate things like an engine dash board light or a dripping faucet because of their fear of learning how it works.

Sound familiar? I am not a technically minded guy, so I don’t succumb to this same fear. I have worked on cars growing up. I even rebuilt a 1967 fastback Mustang and sold it in Hot Rod Magazine. Boy, I wish I still had it. So I know how an engine works. I learned through hands-on experience (kinesthetic) what it really meant to ‘throw a rod.’ No, it’s not a dance step.

Picture of Mustang before I sold it!


Most of us live in some kind of building, but how many actually know how buildings work? You might think that anyone who works on houses knows how houses work, but you’d be wrong. Builders and trade contractors know their part of building and repairing homes, but most lack knowledge of the fundamentals of building science.

The good thing is, it’s not rocket science. Yeah, you can study engineering or physics and go as far as the outer limits with this stuff, but I’m going to focus the telescope to three fundamental rules for understanding.

A house is a system.

Not unlike the body is a system, a family is a system, a business is a system and so forth. This is the first thing that a lot of people who work on houses don’t understand. A house is a system built with many interacting components: framing, electrical, plumbing, HVAC…, each with its associated trade system. Mostly, these trade contractors look at a house with blinders on; they see what affects their work and not much else.

house system

In terms of how a house performs, we can break it down into weather shell, building envelope, and mechanical systems.

  1. The weather shell keeps the elements out but isn’t usually the boundary between conditioned and unconditioned spaces.
  2. That would be the building envelope (or the thermal envelope), which comprises:
    1. continuous air barrier and
    2. insulation that’s right up against the air barrier. There are many ways that the building envelope gets compromised, and even spray foam insulation isn’t a panacea.
    3. Mechanical systems have a huge impact on how a home performs. We know they increase the temperature difference between inside and outside, but did you know that they also can create a big difference in moisture content and air pressure between inside and outside? As you’ll see in the last rule below, those things can have a huge effect on comfort, durability, health, and efficiency. For best performance, you want heating and cooling systems that are properly sized and have distribution systems that are designed and installed for optimal efficiency.

Build for your climate.

Ever pick up a home improvement magazine or watch a TV show about renovating your home? (I hate the TV shows because they over dramatize everything.) And when they installed that vapor barrier, did they tell you what climate zones that works for and where you should never use one? I didn’t think so. As it turns out, you can’t build the same house to the same specifications in all climates, period. You actually have to pay attention to whether your climate is wet or dry, and whether it’s hot, mixed, or cold.

That vapor barrier, for example, may be a good idea in Chicago or Tampa, but forget it in Memphis. It’s OK in a one-way climate, since the purpose is to limit the diffusion of water vapor from humid air into a wall cavity. In Chicago, the humid air is mostly inside the house, so the vapor barrier goes on the inside. In Miami, it’s mostly outside, so it goes outside. In Memphis, if you choose a side for the vapor barrier, you’re going to be wrong for half the year.

Control the flow of moisture, heat, and air.

Ever hear of the laws of thermodynamics? Heat, air, and moisture all naturally flow from an area of more to an area of less. Moisture moves from wet to dry. Heat moves from hot to cold. Air moves from high pressure to low pressure. That’s from the second law of thermodynamics, and any attempt to go in the opposite direction must be done with the utmost care.HVAC

You can see that all three of these rules are related to one another. To control moisture, for example, you have to consider what kind of climate the house is in, which determines how you treat the building envelope and what kind of mechanical systems you install. It’s all interconnected much like much of life is, you know.

Forget Resale Value

Homeowners want comfort now!

According to the latest Home Remodeling & Repair Index, even as requests for additions and remodels have continued to slip (down 22% nationally), homeowners are still looking to invest in home improvement projects that increase their home’s energy efficiency and contribute to better overall living quality. So what exactly are homeowners demanding?

  • Solar power (+52%)
  • Sheds/Enclosures (+48%)
  • Handyman Services (+40%)
  • Heating & Furnace Systems (+34%)
  • Outdoor Playground (+27%)
  • Paving (+19%)
  • Air Conditioning (+14%)

As energy costs continue to rise and new financing and incentive programs become available throughout the country, homeowners are highly motivated to do what they can to save money on energy bills. In fact, the survey reveals that at 35%, energy savings is the top galvanizing factor for home improvement projects, with protecting the environment and improving home comfort following closely behind at 25% and 23% respectively.

Additionally, quality of living continues to be a motivation for homeowners as 82% said they are investing in home improvement projects to increase overall living quality versus home projects that increase the home’s value or curb appeal.

Tile Trends

You want to tile your kitchen floor, backsplash or bathroom, huh? Here are a few tips based on tile trends.

I’ve been doing tiling even before I started my company for many years now. When I went to the initial meeting with prospective clients, I would bring magazines with pictures of possible designs or pictures of jobs I did. This visual helped me to give them ideas to find their likes and dislikes.

With the Internet, the world of tile is literally at your fingertips. I say take advantage of the multitude of great websites and outlets for tile designs out there. Get yourself a cup of coffee or bottled water and click your way to tile choices, faucet designs, cabinet colors, paint finishes, etc. – decisions that need to be made before you take out the sledge hammer!


Many of today’s bathroom tile trends lean toward simple lines, bold colors and ease of cleaning. Larger tiles with less grout maintenance rise to the top of the wish list. Glass accents are popular to get that elegant feeling and to create beautiful splashes of color. Floor tiles also are getting bigger; 18×18 porcelain tile is not uncommon, with 9×18 being the most popular size. With these larger tiles there are a few things that must be addressed. Large format tiles, any tile measuring 15” or larger on any one side, must have a flat substrate surface. The tile trade industry says the floor can’t vary more than 1/8” in 10 ft. Also, the tiles must be structurally supported: Double plywood with a cement board underlayment is recommended with some tiles. Check with the manufacturer of the tile you select for details.

Also popular in today’s market are “uncoupling membranes;” I’ve been using Schulter’s Ditra (orange waffles) for some time now as the underlayment. Uncoupling membranes allow for slight movement in the sub-floor without being transferred to the tile. This means no cracked grout or tiles, something to consider in your budget at the planning stage.


Courtesy of Schluter Systems

 The big bathroom tile trend is electric floor heat. Electric floor heat comes in two forms: Mats with heating wires already attached are great for mostly square rooms. They may be cut and trimmed to fit. Secondly, there are cable systems; this type of system utilizes guides and free wire cable. These systems work well with irregular-shaped rooms and have a larger degree of flexibility. I’ve never had a client say, “I wish I hadn’t put in the floor heat,” but I have had many say the opposite.

Courtesy of WarmlyYours

 So, there are many options available for consumers. Take your time with your decisions. Plan your design and then go for it. A newly remodeled bathroom adds value to a home as well as improved quality of life.

Energy Retrofits – Return on Investment Myth

The most recent issue of Remodeling magazine’s cover story was about retrofitting houses with energy improvements.

One part of the story listed the 10 Reasons to Retrofit. It said, and I quote, “Some people invest in energy retrofits because they want to help achieve energy independence or reduce greenhouse gases or reverse climate change. For everyone else here are 10 more tangible reasons.”

The first reason listed was:

Save Money

It then said, “Savings on energy bills vary but are immediate and will likely grow over time as prices increase.”

WRONG! Stop the train! That’s a very misleading statement, and I see many publications say it all the time. I hear home improvement TV hosts say it. I hear it on home improvement radio shows. It’s a half truth. It’s bunk.

Here is what I’ve said for years about saving money on energy improvements:

You do NOT save money on energy improvements or retrofits UNTIL SUCH TIME as you pay yourself back all the money, PLUS interest, you spent to do the improvement or retrofit. You pay yourself back with the lower utility bills. After you have paid yourself back the money you spent, THEN you finally start to save money.

Does that make sense?

One of the retrofits they used as an example was a tankless water heater. Do you think you’ll save money with one of those bad boys?

“Just the facts,” as Jack Webb on Dragnet would say! It takes the same amount of energy input to heat water no matter what type of device you use. Ask any thermodynamic engineer and they will tell you that you must expend one Btu of energy to raise one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. This simply means that a tankless heater and a traditional storage tank heater must each burn the same amount of energy to heat the water in your home. But, each heater has a different efficiency rating. The tankless heaters are more efficient, but not as efficient as you might think.

The burner on a traditional storage tank water heater does NOT burn 24 hours a day. Do not confuse a water heater with a pot of water heating on a stove. If you turn the stove off, the water in the pot cools. In a traditional storage tank water heater, the high-performance foam insulation keeps the water hot for many hours before the heater needs to turn back on to raise the temperature.

The numbers do not lie. Look at your own utility bill. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you typically do not use any gas during summer months for heating your home. The usage in these three months gives you a very good idea what you spend each month to heat water. Granted, some gas goes for cooking and clothes drying if gas fuels those appliances.

Also, you will spend more money to heat water in the winter as the incoming water is colder and needs more energy to raise the temperature of the water. But this is also true of the tankless heaters, so it is a wash with respect to cost.

Some people who have tankless heaters have reported their utility costs stayed the same because they used more hot water. Why? Since there was now an unlimited supply of hot water they stayed in the shower longer. Not only did they use more gas, but they also used more water than they would normally—now that’s saving the environment. Do not rely on numbers printed in a brochure. Those are average or blended costs. You are simply concerned with how much gas will you use with a tankless heater vs. a traditional tank heater. Every person needs to compute their own usage and cost.

You NEVER experience savings until you pass the break-even point. In other words, if you pay $400.00 more for a tankless heater and think you are “saving” money the instant it turns on, you are foolish. You must first get back the extra money you spent plus the interest on that money. Once you get all of that back, then you can talk about saving money. It could take you years and years to achieve the break even point.

Tankless heaters have governor gas valves. This means that the amount of gas burned is a function of the rate of flow. If you just turn on your vanity hot water valve a little bit, then the gas valve supplies the needed gas to heat that smaller flow of water. Tankless heaters come in various sizes. Many are rated for just one fixture. This means, you get an unlimited amount of hot water if just one fixture is asking for water. This is great if you are single or have no kids. But always pay attention to the flow rate! See how much hot water can flow through the heater before it is overloaded.

Some people remove flow restrictors. It is a common practice. The low flow shower heads can be turned into a high flow fixture in about 3 minutes. Some fixtures/sinks have huge flow rates. A laundry sink where you fill buckets of water to wash cars, windows, etc. has a standard valve on it. If I open just the hot water valve alone to full flow, it consumes an astonishing 4.2 gallons of water a minute. That single faucet could overload a high capacity tankless heater on a cold winter day. If you have a large whirlpool tub, place a 5-gallon bucket in the tub and turn on just the hot water for one minute. See how much water is in the bucket 60 seconds later. These tubs often have high flow valves.

Another problem is that the “on demand” only applies to the gas and not the hot water. This means that we are now letting the water run longer in order to get “hot” water. Compared to our ugly old tank water heater, we must wait up to 60 seconds or longer in some instances to finally get “hot” water—instant?

Forget about making up the cost in energy savings … you can purchase 3 conventional water heaters at $700 each that combined will last for at least up to 30 years. Just taking into consideration the debt the in initial cost for a tankless water heater compared with a conventional water heater, your energy savings would have amounted to $1400 before there is any payback. Assuming that a tankless water heater lasts for 12 years, that’s $120 per year or $10 per month. Even if that were achievable, it may be time to replace that tankless water heater. The replacement costs should be less since the initial installation has been done, so assume $1200 for tankless heater number 2. This time it’s probably only $1400, which for some people may be possible (I don’t see how). You tell me, where is the energy savings?