Welcome to my informational blog about residential and light commercial remodeling, maintenance and construction. I’d like to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail your questions for me and our team of experts to answer.
It's been a while since I addressed all of you. Truth is I have been working on something big!
The big news is that I have my own radio show on Newstalk 1130 WISN at 10am on Sundays. I'll be working with Jerry Bott, discussing all kinds of remodeling and construction subjects and answering questions from my blog. Tune in this Sunday for a lot of info and maybe even some fun....
Cost vs value.
So many times I’ll talk with a perspective client about a remodeling project and they’ll ask “the question” It sounds something like this, “How much will this increase the value of my home” or “How much will I get back when I sell” Other times I’ll get “the statement” “Well, we don’t want to over improve” or “We’ll never get our money back” Truth is, who cares? When you go and purchase an automobile, do you make your buying decision based on what the trade in is going to be in five years? Your home is not a mutual fund. Don’t expect your home improvement project to yield a higher than average return on investment. As a Wisconsin licensed, real estate broker, I have studied cost vs value reports til I’m blue in the face and honestly the margin of error exceeds any possible fair validation of the price of a given home improvement project.
As a seasoned professional in the design/ build remodeling business I would offer the following when it comes to cost vs. value comparisons; consider the project. If you are adding a dedicated home theater or a five person sauna as part of your remodeling project it pretty much, stands to reason that these types of amenities are user specific. This doesn’t mean you won’t get a fair portion of your investment back, should you decide to sell, but it does limit your prospects. As a rule, if your existing kitchen or bath is low quality, severely worn or extremely dated, an investment in remodeling will most likely be recovered when the house is sold, providing that the rest of the home is up to par. Trendy projects are all the rage when new, but are usually quick to become dated. An experienced designer should be able to offer advise if they are given accurate information on budget, desired outcomes and how long the client plans to stay in the home.
When considering a home improvement project tempered with a cost vs. value analysis, you might also want to consider that doing less than you really desire may be a total loss. If you decide to only update the countertops out of fear you won’t recover financially from a full blown kitchen remodel, you may not only lose the cost of the tops but drown in disappointment for the remaining years you live in your house. Home improvement projects are typically life improvement projects. With proper planning, logical budget approach and a quality contractor, your outcome should be financially sound and increase your quality of life. For most, the home is the biggest, longest term, material investment. In most cases, you can’t go wrong when investing in your home. One last thought, did you ever wonder how much money Rockefeller left behind when he died?........................................................all of it!
Today so many of the bathrooms we design include a glass shower door in one form or another. More and more, the trend seems to be the larger “walk in’ shower stalls, and in many cases the complete elimination of the bath tub. Personally, I have always thought bath tubs to be archaic for a number of reasons; first, I have this aversion to soaking in a tub of water, that’s usually too short to stretch out in, comfortably and then leave with the peace of mind knowing I’m “clean” when I exit. That’s just wrong for so many reasons. From a green perspective it seems a tremendous waste of water and more importantly, as we age, it seems one is more susceptible to injury, stepping over that tub side. Now I know I could research this and provide supporting numbers, but that’s not the subject of this entry, so cut me a little slack!
Back on point….. as we design more and more bathrooms with natural stone, ceramic or glass tile, those heavy, clear glass shower doors just create that “WOW” effect by showcasing a nice shower surround. As a design build contractor, I did just that in my own home a few years back. I live just outside of Oconomowoc in Town of Summit and we are on well water. Even though we have both a softener and an iron filter, as the years have past, we have been plagued with that white, cloudy, residue that builds up on the surfaces of glass shower doors. This “build up’ consisting mostly of calcium, renders my otherwise beautiful shower door, an eyesore. This “build up” also accumulates on the tile surfaces but is not as visible. Anyway, I wanted to share a few tips to “clearing the fog” so you can tackle bigger and better home tasks.
Removal of the “fog” is sometimes a difficult task. There is any number of household cleaners that state, they are up to the task. Unfortunately, I have found that in extreme cases, the only remedy is good ole elbow grease. My best results have come from compound type cleaners (similar to rubbing compounds) that are made especially for this task. I have had good luck with Bruce’s. This cleaner is applied to a rag and rubbed directly on the glass. By light abrasion, the residue is removed. Now keep in mind, this is not a fun job! If your door has framework, you can also clean it with the compounds but be careful not to remove the finish of the metal. Many shower door frames are made from anodized aluminum and can be damaged if scoured too hard. On framed doors, you may also notice the build up of mildew on the rubber glazing that holds in the glass. I have found the most effective way to get these areas clean is to disassemble the door and soak the rubber channel in a diluted bleach solution.
I know this is a lot of work, but here’s the next step to eternal shower door happiness. Once you have the residue and mildew cleaned off, take Rainex solution, (yes the windshield car stuff) and apply it to the glass surfaces. A thin coat of car wax on the framework will also protect those areas. Lastly, get some paraffin wax (canning wax) and rub the hinge areas with that to minimize corrosion and act as a lubricant. Repeat these steps once every two to three months, and you life will become easier; at least as far as your shower door is concerned. These simple steps can help keep that shower door looking great for years…………………NK
Ice Damming 101
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Ice dam season. I was out on a roof call this morning and “whalah” there it was before my vary eyes …..an ice dam! Now I’ll be the first to admit it’s not quite yet “the perfect storm” but I fear it’s coming. We have had some good ice dam weather but the best is yet to come. This is one of the worst of the winter hauntings, causing roof damage, staining drywall and creating the possibility of mold. So with this in mind I pulled an old but trusty text on the causes and remedies of this wonderland curse. Understanding the what’s and how’s just might save you big dollars and frustration.
What causes Ice Dams?
There is a complex interaction among the amount of heat loss from a house, snow cover, and outside temperatures that leads to ice dam formation. For ice dams to form there must be snow on the roof, and, at the same time, higher portions of the roof's outside surface must be above 32° F while lower surfaces are below 32°F. For a portion of the roof to be below 32°F, outside temperatures must also be below 32°F. When we say temperatures above or below 32°F, we are talking about average temperature over sustained periods of time.
The snow on a roof surface that is above 32°F will melt. As water flows down the roof it reaches the portion of the roof that is below 32°F and freezes. TA DA!—an ice dam.
The dam grows as it is fed by the melting snow above it, but it will limit itself to the portions of the roof that are on the average below 32°F. So the water above backs up behind the ice dam and remains a liquid. This water finds cracks and openings in the exterior roof covering and flows into the attic space. From the attic it could flow into exterior walls or through the ceiling insulation and stain the ceiling finish.
Preventing Ice dams.
Controlling heat loss through ceilings will help prevent the formation of ice dams.
Increasing insulation in ceiling and roof areas will help stop heated air from flowing through the roof and melting snow. Keep in mind, that if the snow no longer melts, your roof will have to carry a heavier “snow load “ Also know that with increased insulation comes concerns related to proper venting and exhausting. Contact a professional if you’re not sure how to carry out these tasks.
What to do if you have an Ice dam.
Remove snow from the roof. This eliminates one of the ingredients necessary for the formation of an ice dam. A "roof rake" and push broom can be used to remove snow, but may damage the roofing materials if not used carefully.
In an emergency situation where water is flowing into the house structure, making channels through the ice dam allows the water behind the dam to drain off the roof. Hosing with tap water on a warm day will do this job. Work upward from the lower edge of the dam. The channel will become ineffective within days and is only a temporary solution to ice dam damage. Another technique is to fill nylons with calcium chloride and tie them in to sausages, then place them on the ice dams to melt channels (don’t use salt, it can damage roof and gutter materials)
Other things to keep in mind; if a new roof is in your future, talk to your contractor about ice and water barrier. This is a protective membrane that is applied to the roof sheathing prior to shingles. Although this membrane will not stop ice dams from forming, it will protect your home from the damaging effects by sealing out the water. An experienced roofing contractor will be able to explain best practices for ice dam protection. Another consideration when dealing with ice dams is personal safety. Understand that you are risking serious injury or damage to your home when performing these tasks. If you have any doubts, contact a professional! As always, I suggest you contact the Better Business Bureau, Milwaukee NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Association) and the Metropolitan Builders Association if you are considering professional help. Understanding the origin of ice dams and how to deal with them is you first line of defense against costly repairs……………………………….NK
Replacement Windows ….Pane Relievers?
I can honestly say, not a day goes by that I don’t see an ad or a commercial pitching replacement windows. It seems everybody is in the window business these days. From a homeowner’s perspective, thinking about replacing windows can be confusing and frustrating. So once again it’s time for the Construction Guru to snap on his cape and come to the rescue! Ok ….no cape and rescue might be a bit of an exaggeration, so how about a few tips on the how’s, who’s and what’s?
We have been replacing residential windows since 1966 so when I talk about windows, I think it’s safe to say I’ve seen it all. So with that in mind, here’s some thoughts:
First materials, windows come in a myriad of different materials. The most popular today are: wood, vinyl, fiberglass and a few weird materials that are a variation of one or more of these three and private labeled to throw you off into thinking that the company your talking with is the only on with the “space age” material. Enter P.T. Barnum. My opinion is that vinyl windows are the best choice in most cases. The reason I say most is because there are applications where vinyl simply won’t work best, like historical restorations and extremely high elevations. So assuming that most of you live in structures other than a historical landmark or a skyscraper…..VINYL. Vinyl works well in Wisconsin because it is a non conductor of heat and cold, it’s impervious to insects and won’t rot, even in the wettest of locations.
As I have said before in other blogs, Wisconsin has a climate unlike almost anywhere else. Our temperature can change by 40 -50 degrees within hours. Also consider we can range from 100 degrees to 15 below zero. These wide and varying changes can have serious consequences on building materials. Wood, aluminum, steel, fiberglass and vinyl all expand and contract at different rates. If you have ever looked at a siding panel made from aluminum, steel or vinyl you probably noticed that there are slotted nail holes at the top of the panel. You may have also noticed that the slots in vinyl are longer that the ones in the metal sidings and may have even noticed they differ from steel to aluminum. The reason that these slots are there is so that the siding can expand and contract for hot days to cold days. The longer the slots, the more the material will move. So the million dollar question, what’s that got to do with windows? Well, many of todays replacement windows are made from a mixture of these or other materials. Many wood windows utilize vinyl tracks, some vinyl and fiberglass windows contain steel or aluminum and there are some metal windows that use vinyl as well. Although these “mixed” material windows may work well in milder climates, they may not be the best choice in Wisconsin because of all those materials moving at different rates and measures.
So if you’re thinking about replacing windows here’s my tips:
1) Look for extruded vinyl frame work. Extruded frames have a series of separate, hollow, cavities similar to a honeycomb. The vinyl should be thick enough so it requires no backers or reinforcements of wood, steel or aluminum. Ask to see a “corner cut” of the window so you can see the interior of the frame work. You should be able to put extreme force on the frame with you fingers with little to no movement.
2) On double hungs, (up and down windows) and slide-by windows, weather stripping should be made from a synthetic pile type that slips in to a channel in the frame work rather then glued or fastened. In my opinion. “fin seal” is the best. Fin seal looks like a fuzzy seal with a plastic fin running down the middle. The fin keeps the seal upright, against the framework. The channeled strip is allowed to move with expansion and contraction and because it’s synthetic, it won’t rot. Channeled weather stripping is easy to replace as well. On casement or awning style windows, I would suggest a rubberized “bulb seal”. This looks much like a gasket. These types of windows lock tightly against the seal much like a refrigerator door.
3) On double hungs and sliders look for an interlock where the two sash (or the movable panels) meet in the center.
4) Look for fusion welded frame work. The corners of the main frame and sash frames should be “welded” not screwed or mechanically fastened. This provides a stronger and air tight seal at the corners.
5) Glass should be insulated or as many of you know as “Thermopane”. On double glazed units I suggest 7/8” units. Triple glazed do offer a slightly better “R” factor, but cost and weight should be balanced against the slight increase in efficiency. Argon gas and Low-e glass has become the standard in high efficiency, but there are some other highbreds out there. Low-e is a special, heat reflective” glass treatment while the argon gas is trapped between the two panes, it is heavier that air so it insulates better.
6) Buy local… Keep in mind that out side of the obvious, buying from a local contractor provides the likelihood that you’ll receive faster service in the event of a problem. Many national companies offer the same window in many climates, you want a window built for Wisconsin. As always, I suggest you consult with the Better Business Bureau, Milwaukee NARI and the Metropolitan Builders Association before hiring a contractor.
7) Installation…. Installation is as important as the window you choose. A good window will offer poor performance of it’s not installed correctly. How long has the contractor been installing windows? Ask about the installation process so you know what to expect. Most window brands have installation instructions available on the internet, get familiar with installation techniques.
Replacement windows are expensive no matter what they are or who installs them. A little due diligence up front will make your view better in the long run.
AKA “The Construction Guru”
With our illustrious government still eager to give homeowners a tax credit for installing energy efficient windows and doors, I been asked more now than ever, what’s the best choice for entry doors. As far as materials, I boil it down to three, wood, steel and fiberglass. There are some mixed material versions such as metal or vinyl clad wood doors and other weird recipes, but I think we should stay with the aforementioned trinity.
When you start mixing too many different materials you’re asking for trouble. In Wisconsin we experience an over 100 degree temperature differential from our coldest day in winter to our warmest day in summer. What’s more is we can experience an over 40 degree change in a few hours. Temperature changes cause materials to expand and contract. Different materials expand and contract at different rates during these changes in temperature so doors constructed from materials that are likely to move a lot might not be the best choice. This is why I tell my clients to be careful when selecting national brand doors, because many are not climate specific. It stands to reason that a door system built for milder climates might not be the best choice for Wisconsin.
All the being said, if you replacing a door consider the following, security, maintenance, efficiency and design. New wood doors look the best, hands down! There’s no end to the design possibilities, paint, stain, panels, glass. There are some applications where wood is the only choice such as historical restorations. Typically wood doors insulate well and can be made secure. The trouble arises a few years down the road. Deferring maintenance on an entry door can compromise everything. Wood doors require continual maintenance, especially on elevations that face the sun. Wood does expand and contract causing paint to check and seals to fail. This is especially true on less expensive wood doors.
Fiberglass doors at first glance, appear to answer all concerns. They look almost identical to wood, appear maintenance free, insulate well and are typically less expensive than there wood counterparts. Personally, I always advise against them for a number of reasons, first fiberglass is not as structurally secure as wood or steel; second every fiberglass door I’ve ever seen requires refinishing almost as often as wood. Unfortunately, it’s much more difficult to refinish. Improper sanding can erase the simulated wood grain finish and compromise the structural integrity of the skin. Many of the fiberglass doors we’ve replaced warped like bananas in the opening. Fiberglass is easily scratched or nicked and difficult to repair.
So that leaves steel. Steel is my choice. I have five steel doors on my home, all of which are over five years old and we have very few issues. Now fair warning, this is going to sound a little bit like a commercial but bear with me. Steel doors are not all created equal.
First security; steel doors answer that concern, better then any. Quality steel doors are installed into a steel “sub-jamb” that surrounds the entire perimeter of the door opening. This means in order to kick in or pry the door open, one would have to move the entire jamb of the door. If you examine you current door, odds are the only thing between you and nature is about a ½ inch of pine where the deadbolt latches into that hole in the side of the wood jamb. One good kick? Maintenance wise, steel is relatively stable through temperature changes so finishes remain intact for years. Fading is a concern but better doors are finished with UV inhibiting paints and stains slowing the process. If refinishing becomes necessary, embossed steel doors are almost indestructible when sanded. Better doors will also be treated or galvanized to inhibit oxidation or rust. These doors typically feature reinforced handle and hinge holes as well.
As far as energy efficiency? This is where you have to be careful! All steel doors are not created equal. Steel is a natural conductor, in other words, heat and cold will travel through the material. If you were to place the tip if stainless steel butter knife into the flame of a stove burner, eventually the heat would travel all the way through to the handle, that’s conduction. High quality, steel doors are manufactured with a non-conducting separation between the steel skin on the exterior and interior. This is called a “thermal break”. Economy priced doors separate the steel skin with the actual wood frame of the door. This is the edge of the door. Wood edges require maintenance and compromise the security of the door. Look for doors where the skin wraps the edges and there is evidence of a thermal break. This typically looks like a thin line of vinyl separating the steel. Better doors are insulated with foam. Foam filled doors are stronger, more energy efficient and the insulation won’t settle with time. Typically replacement doors are glazed with insulated glass units, but you should question the ratings on the glass. The weather stripping on steel doors should be magnetic, with a bellow. This type of weather stripping allows the door to move slightly with interior air changes without breaking the seal. The bottom seal, called a “sweep” is a wear point on the door and should be easily replaced. Typically a type of tongue and groove system is best. I would shy away from sweeps that are glued or stapled in place.
Lastly, consider installation! A 1/16th of an inch gap around your door is equivalent to removing two bricks from an out side wall. Imagine a hole in your wall the size of two bricks on a cold winter day. Also consider that an improperly installed door will wear out faster. Our professional installation takes about eight hours per door, so you can plan on a good days work.
Now some food for thought, think about this, if you only exit your home three times a day, then the door operates six times per day, per person. Now take the average family of four, that’s twenty four times per day, times three hundred, sixty five days in a year, that’s eight thousand, sixty times,……. in 10 years?………..well you know where this is going. Entry doors are important for all the reasons stated but they also offer your homes first impression to visitors. Having a door that looks good and operates well is worth the time, money and effort of doing it right the first time.
NK aka "The Construction Guru"
Well it happens, even to contractors. Here’s the story, we have home built circa 1978 with a septic system. About two days ago, we had a back up in the washroom with indicates that the line from the house to the septic has a clog. I guess I don’t have to tell you that this is not something my wife will wait on, so I immediately called my plumber. I love this guy, and his work is awesome, unfortunately he couldn’t make it until the next day (funny thing about quality craftsman, they are always busy) Needless to say, this couldn’t wait, I had a number of appointments so I was dependent on having someone come out. I pulled out my trusty Yellow pages and called Flat Rate Plumbing. I spoke with a friendly fellow named AJ. I explained exactly what was wrong and asked for the “flat rate” (as their name implies) AJ explained that there would be a $69.00 fee for coming out and then the plumber would access and quote me on site, seemed fair!
After I explained, my dilemma, AJ also suggested that I have the septic tank emptied, so I called my septic guy (Dave Leverenz) and he shot right over and cleaned it out, So far so good. Well after a few scheduling issues the huge “Flat Rate” truck pulled in and another friendly fellow came to the door. I asked if he had been informed of our problem and he had not. We walked in the basement; still a little odiferous and I explained what was going on. He asked if we had the tank emptied, to which I replied affirmatively, and he said, “That will usually take care of it.” I explained that there was about 25’ of pipe to the tank and that I would like it “snaked out” He then pulled out a nicely laminated bound booklet and ran his index finger down a column, and said, “ok that’ll be $412.00 plus the service call fee” ….EXCUSE ME, although a bit shaken, he repeated, $412.00 and the service fee” I excused him at that point. I wrote out a check for $69.00 and handed it to him. “We’re done”, I said, to which he replied, “Hey I’m just a tool box with legs”.
Now step on in my size twelve’s, There’s raw sewage on my basement floor, no showers till this is fixed, we’ve been waiting all day for this messiah, and I’m kicking him out, needless to say, I’m feeling really unpopular. My wife is not happy. Now let’s do the math, this is a two hour job at best. Plumbers run $85.00 to $95.00 on average; these guys wanted almost $500.00!
Of course, I was compelled to call my buddy AJ back and have discussion. AJ explained that they are not plumbers, but an emergency company. Ok that makes perfect sense except that on pages 336 and 337 of the AT&T Yellow pages it clearly states Flat Rate PLUMBING Inc. in about a 100 pt font; furthermore the word “emergency” appears NO WHERE. AJ went on to tell me that they don’t work by the hour, rather by a “flat rate”. I don’t know about AJ but where I come from $500.00 to snake 25 feet of sewer line is anything but “flat”, that “rate” is blowed up real good!
Further discussion with AJ yielded an apology and a desire to make things right. He even offered to let me talk with the boss (he’s probably the guy who laminated that fancy book) I declined, Lastly, I asked the plumber who was on site if they were NARI members, and he said they were. Guess what, they’re not!
I feel a little embarrassed to post this, since I should know so much better. In my defence it was a rough day and I just wanted things back to normal. Lesson learned, when choosing a professional due diligence is paramount.
By the way, it was too late to expect anyone to come out, so my son and I rented a snake and completed the job in about an hour ….with drive time. $54.00 rental fee on the snake. No issues and no fancy laminated price book. If you have an emergency situation, sit back, catch your breath and use your head.
Just another chapter in the comedy we call government. As most of you who read my blog know, the Feds, state and EPA inacted the Renovate Right or lead law on April 22nd of this year. As contractors we all had to line up and be trained in the protocol for renovations done on houses built prior to 1978 that test positive for lead. Even that was a joke since contractors outnumbered trainers about a million to one! (slight exaggeration) Throughout the process of getting “lead certified” I was dumbfounded on how many changes, brochures and commentaries were created, edited and edited again. Adding to the confusion was the EPAs on again, off again attitude toward enforcement. At one point, we were warned that failure to follow the Renovate Right Law could result in an up to $37,500.00 per day fine! Who the hell came up with that number? Later we were told that the EPA would be quite lenient on offences in the early stages of compliance. Confusing? To say the least!
My daily travels take me all over our metro area. As I travel from site to site, I have seen many exterior remodels in progress over the past few weeks and none, again NONE are demonstrating proper lead safe protocol, as I understand it. Suffice to say that the structures I’ve seen being worked on are either all post 1978 or the contractors performing the work are not interested in compliance or ignorant to the law. Sadly, someone’s gonna pay! Let’s consider the possibilities. If you have a pre 1978 home and are considering a professional remodeling service, are you concerned about lead safe protocol? Even if it adds say, 10 to 15 percent to the cost? Would you hire a contractor who is ignorant to the new law? What’s your risk? Unfortunately, I’m not sure what the answers are and I’ll stick my neck out and say I’m not sure anyone is. The government’s poor handling and vague interpretation of exactly what, who and how much complicates matters. More confusing is that the feds and the state don’t agree on safe levels.
I’ve spoken with many of my fellow contractors in regard to this issue. Some have commented that they are simply not doing it yet. They argue that it creates a competitive disadvantage, lengthens the time frame and stresses the client. They further argue that the risk in non compliance, by the EPAs own statements is minimal in these early stages. Others have taken the classes, purchased the equipment and are making a strong effort to comply with a law that is at best, vague. A few were actually unaware of the passage of the law, scary?
As a responsible and ethical firm, we have completed the training. We have purchased thousands of dollars in equipment and expendables to comply. Unfortunately, we can not compete pricewise with non compliant competitors. Another government shortfall (there’s so many) is that most homeowners have no clue this law even exists. I was on a consultation the other day where, after confirming that the house was pre 1978, I explained the lead law and provided required documentation. The client was visibly shaken and explained that NONE of the other three contractors mentioned lead.
Opinion time! First I go on record saying that lead is an issue. There are many health hazards proven to result from inhalation and ingestion but that’s not my area, so suffice to say I buy the dangers. The rub for me is having the government mandate this vague and arduous process, placing ridiculous fines on an already hurting industry and then offering some sort of amnesty in the interim stages. The EPA and the Feds could have just as easily gone to organizations like NARI, and the NAHB, in support of lead safe practices. By educating contractors and consumers, a demand would have been created for compliance. Originally there was an “opt out” choice for homeowners, this was thrown out in the final bill, and surprisingly two contractors I spoke with were unaware of that. This is no surprise to me since the required EPA form originally had the “opt out” clause printed on it.
At the end of the day, this will bankrupt some contractors others will find a niche market. The lawyers will have a field day, and if you have a home built before 1978 you’re going to pay more or run a tremendous risk. The available pool of contractors for homes affected by lead will shrink and demand, with prices, will rise. In the interim, I’m sure contractors will be at war with homeowners and each other, fueled by this law. All I can say is we’re ready, so let the ass kickin begin! By the way, I might suggest that the EPA prioritize their task list, I don’t know about you, but given the option, I rather snort a little lead then be able to run my car on tap water!
Sweet!! It’s summer! Enjoy it, because it’ll be gone quicker that you can imagine! Isn’t that how it goes? Take’s forever to get here, then poof it’s over. Ok I’m done! I just want to drive home the fact that the long days and warm sunny weather won’t last so it’s fair warning that you are going to have to be diligent in getting those home projects done! My best advice is …..well ….incrementalism! That’s what I wrote INCREMENTALISM! (That’s how the government slowly reaches into you pocket to get your last dime) A little at a time, but consistently, like the woodpecker that’s slowly demolishing my deck!
So here’s a game plan! Let’s say you have 12 windows that need exterior painting. Most of us will collect all the materials, and wait until the weather man gives a good solid maybe that it won’t rain all weekend, then waste that great weekend painting while our buddies are out drinking a twelver on the musky boat. Law of probability states, that in Wisconsin we will receive no more that six rain free summer weekends. Paint two windows every morning or afternoon….in six you’re done! That’s Incrementalism! The trick is to set the whole play up ahead of time. Get a bucket of water that can stand for those six days to clean you brush. Have the ladder laying on the next side you’ll be working on. Have all your tools ready and commit to two windows every day until you’re done. Clean out the garage, one section at a time. Clean the gutters, one run per day. Doing a little everyday gets a lot done and done right! Let’s take the “12 windows” example, I guarantee that the last window you paint after a grueling 18 hour weekend of painting is not going to receive the same care and precision that the first one did. By breaking larger tasks in to small pieces, it seems easier and more enjoyable. Sometimes you can become so overwhelmed by the size of a task that you can’t even start it!
When my company takes on a large remodeling project, planning is paramount. Much of the planning process is breaking down the big picture into smaller, manageable tasks. We also plan for setbacks. Having large tarps on site and ready on a roof job insures a safe haven in the event of a weather change. Walking through the process in your mind can help in preparation by ensuring you have the materials you’ll need and help you to visualize possible setbacks. Another technique we use is listing hours. Breaking a bathroom remodel into smaller tasks helps you to allocate labor resources more accurately. Assigning labor hours to tasks helps align your timeframe to completion. Nothing is more frustrating that starting a project and having it go on much longer than you had hoped. Proper planning will avoid that frustration.
A few final tips:
Make a master list of the things you would like to get done this summer.
Prioritize the list.
Take the time to plan each major task by breaking it into smaller, manageable tasks.
Build a schedule based on hours necessary to complete each or the smaller tasks
Determine the level of commitment to the project. How many hours can you work on it and how many hours are you willing to work on it.
Now armed with a plan and schedule, you should have a relatively good view of the landscape. You may even determine that you want to hire a professional.
Have a GREAT summer and remember “it’s not how long it is, it’s how you use it!
With the weather getting warmer and more sunshine in the sky than we’ve seen for a long time, more and more of us are building up the steam to take on the yard work we abandoned seven months ago. To be honest, I enjoy the yard work. It’s kind of like therapy and offers a break from all the dismal news that seems to bombard me on the TV and radio everyday. I can get on my trusty Simplicity, fire up one of my favorite Acid cigars ( It’s a brand not an additive, for those of you who grew up in the 60s) and drive the course. Over the years, I’ve planted lots of hostas. I love these things; they just keep coming back year after year, bigger and better. Anyway, if you’re like me, you probably examine your homes exterior and maybe even make a mental list of things you’re going to need to pick up next time you’re near the local hardware store. Things like caulk, paint, screen cloth, the list goes on. Spring is a good time to take care of the maintenance items that have reared their ugly heads. Mild temperatures and longer days make such jobs easier and let you get them out of the way before summer sets in.
As you would expect from a guy who labels himself as “The Construction Guru” I have made a short list of things you should check as you frolic among nature and reacquaint yourself with the landscape in your kingdom.
Gutters and downspouts: Check you downspout runoffs. These are the extensions at the bottom of the downspouts that move run off away from your foundation. Make sure they are attached and not clogged with last summer’s debris. Check your gutters for leaks and clean out debris. These are a few of the simplest things you can do to insure your basement stays dry as spring showers arrive.
Roofing: Check your roof for loose, missing shingles, or raised shingles. Sometimes nails will push shingles up as they work up from temperature changes that cause expansion and contraction of the substrate below. If you see these “nail pops” simply raise the affected shingles and tap the nail back down. Next take a little roofing cement and glue the shingle back in place. You may need to place a brick on the shingle until the cement dries to keep it seated. Check the metal flashings around chimneys and vent pipes. Make sure they are tightly nailed down. If you see a loose flashing simply nail it down with a galvanized roof nail and cover the nail head with a dot of roofing cement that is about a ¼ inch bigger than the nail head. Glue missing shingles back in place with roofing cement. If you have those black stains on your roof (algae) it can be chemically cleaned. Ask a roofing supplier for the cleaner and instructions.
Check the roof valleys for loose seams or holes; these can be cemented as well. If your roof shingles are missing over 25% of the granules, you may want to consider replacement. By the way, if you do decide on replacement, tear off the old roof. I know there are going to be mixed opinions, but I’ll step into the octagon (where cage match fighting takes place) with anyone who disagrees. Nailing a new roof on top of an old one is just plain STUPID!! If you want all the reasons shoot me an email. PLEASE keep in mind if you are at all apprehensive about walking your roof, don’t do it, call a professional! Most of us will check your roof for a nominal fee and will apply it against any repair cost. Risking an injury isn’t worth it.
Siding and trim: If you have wood siding and or trim check for rotted or loose boards. Nail down as necessary and replace rotted areas. If you have aluminum siding there is very little that goes wrong. Typically the finish wears off or something loosens up. Aluminum siding can be painted; your paint professional can provide the steps. Dented aluminum siding can be repaired with auto body filler and sanded smooth. If siding panels on aluminum or vinyl become loose they can be nailed back on but remember these sidings are not nailed tight, they actually “hang” on the nails to allow for expansion and contraction. Check existing caulking and re-caulk as necessary. Remove the failed caulk, simply”over caulking” won’t last as long. Don’t caulk areas that aren’t caulked now. Assuming the siding was correctly installed; caulking areas that are not caulked now may do more harm than good. Make sure vents in soffit (under part of your overhang) and siding are open, free of debris.
Windows and doors: If you still have wood windows, check glazing putty and replace as necessary. Operate the sash up and down, if they are hard to move try taking a paraffin wax bar and rubbing it in the slide areas. This works for aluminum storm windows, doors and even tight drawers ( not Fruit of the Looms, that will require a responsible diet and excercise). Again, check the caulking and re caulk as necessary. Paint areas that are bare wood, otherwise it will rot!
Well that’s the short list. If you have any specific questions please email…I’m here 4u!!
For now it's back to my trusty lawn tractor...
If you’re considering hiring a contractor for a home renovation project and your home was built prior to 1978, you better sit down! The new lead law goes into effect on April 22nd and it means, among other things more money. The new federal law applies to any renovation on structures built prior to 1978 and although it was thought that there might be an “opt out” option for homeowners who didn’t want to conform, that option has been tabled. As it stands, if a contractor disturbs six feet or more on the interior or twenty feet or more of the exterior on a residential dwelling that has tested positive for lead, they must follow specific protocol when renovating. The challenges contractors will be faced with include: proper testing to determine if lead exists, dust containment if any demolition is necessary, proper clean up and specific notifications and signage. Contractors who perform work on these structures MUST be certified to do so. Now here’s the really scary part… the fines for non compliance are …..ready?...up to $32,500.00 per violation, per day. Now that’s a whole lot of bologna! Conforming with the new law will mean renovation of these structures will cost more but provide a safer environment for inhabitants.
My advice as an owner of a firm that is “lead ready” is, take this stuff seriously! If you’re considering having work done on a pre 1978 structure, only consider a contractor who is certified to do the work. Make sure you understand the steps to compliance and hold your contractor to the standards. You can find out more online at www.heathlyhomestraining .org or get a printable pamphlet at www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/renovaterightbrochure.pdf.
You may also get information by calling the Milwaukee NARI office at 414-771-4071
In the end, knowing the rules and understanding how to minimize the risks will out weigh the additional costs incurred.
Thinking about a remodeling project but don’t know where to start? Here’s a few tips, and fair warning, unlike many of my articles that are written in my light hearted and comical style, this one is tough love! Over 90% of potential clients break the rules and then wonder why they can’t win.
First you need to understand the scope of your project. Is it a simple kitchen update or a complete remodel? Are there structural concerns? Do you need a professional design / build firm? Will it require financing?....... Next establish a budget. Too many times I am asked to give a ballpark estimate based on an hour long conversation and review of some magazine pictures pulled from a manila folder. In today’s economical climate self preservation dictates, that a contractor “lowball” the project in the initial phases, to remain in the game. Now I know how it sounds, but how many times have you heard from someone who has done a project, something like: “It started out at one price, but then it went up and up” Another question, “What’s the average __________remodel run?” Well, you’re not going to like the answer because averages take two extremes and use the mid point. In other words if we use, say a $200,000 rec room as a high, then a $35,000 rec room as the low, the average is, well still quite ugly. I always use this example, if you place one foot in a bucket of ice water, the other in a bucket of boiling water, on average you should be comfortable, but ……well you know the rest. This whole exercise originates from apprehension to share the budget because if the budget is shared, there’s this underlining worry that the estimate will come in at that number. Excuse me, but yeah! Isn’t that the idea? to come in on budget? Here’s another eye opener, if you don’t trust the firm your sharing info with……..DON”T HIRE THEM!!!! Now I warned you this was going to be tough love.
So how do you know who you’re talking to? Two words, due diligence! I suggest you start with organizations and associations. The Better Business Bureau will rate potential contractors from A+ to F. The BBB also has an upper echelon known as Accredited Businesses, the crem de la crem. (French for best) Next, check industry associations The National Association of the Remodeling Industry or NARI (pronounced “narry”) screens member companies and requires adherence to a Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice. MBA or Metropolitan Builders Association also screens member companies. If the firm you’re talking with is not a member of these organizations, you may want to reconsider. Visit potential contractor’s web sites to see if they offer examples of your type of project. This should get you to the short list. Now, trust your gut, yes that’s what I said ….trust your gut! When first meeting with a contractor, I call it the romantic stage. It’s never going to get better than at that first meeting. This is as good as it gets, if you feel you aren’t communicating well here…….bail! Inevitably, there will be rubs and uncomfortable moments in EVERY project, good communication will be paramount during these times, if it’s not present in the beginning, it won’t magically appear as the project progresses.
Another thought I hear often, can you provide me with references. Here’s an industry rule that EVERY contractor abides by……….ready ………….” Don’t give potential clients bad references” Cats out of the bag! Sorry peers, I had to let it out! References don’t mean anything! No contractor is going to give you a bad reference to contact and, let’s face it if they do, they’re simply too stupid to work on your house! Here’s a good question, “How many industry awards has your company won?” Remodeling awards are typically based on these criteria: craftsmanship, compatibility with the home and ability to stay within budget. I’m guessing that maybe, just maybe, you could narrow the three major concerns any homeowner has when doing a project to some form of those three criteria.
Next, remember NOTHING IS FREE! If a contractor is offering free design, free material, free labor or free anything, someone is paying for it, and that someone is their paying customers……accountants call it overhead! Or as I like to put it “you don’t always get what you pay for, but you NEVER get what you don’t pay for. Another thought, if it’s free how can you hold them accountable if something does go south?
Remember remodeling is a practice. There are no remodeling schools or degrees one can earn in our profession. Remodeling contractors learn by doing. As a potential client, you must rely on the reputation, ethical conduct and reliability of the contractors you choose to deal with. Asking questions, is not enough, you have to ask the right questions. I know this was a little rough and I promise to lighten it up on the next one…..maybe faux finishes or textures 101! I think it was Mary Poppins that said something about medicine and sugar, but then again, she never punched a dormer out of a twelve pitch roof, to house a third floor full bath with a whirlpool tub, a 15 hole body spray, glass tiled shower stall and low voltage halogens.
So many times, I’ll look at a newly remodeled lower level, a new recreation room or media room, and there will be these weird drywall boxes or uneven “soffits” that are obviously hiding a heating duct or plumbing pipe. Although many contractors and “do it yourselfers” have been so creative as to wrap rope around a support beam or “box it in” the discerning eye can easily ascertain what “lurks” underneath… Sorry, that’s just poor design! When designing an area laden with mechanicals and structural components, consider the possibilities. Duct work usually runs just below the floor joists and many times tight against a support beam. In these cases, I try to mirror the drop that will be necessary to hide these items around the entire perimeter of the ceiling, thus creating the illusion of a tray type ceiling. Then I might place a crown or similar molding on the inside perimeter about two inches down from the ceiling and hide a rope light behind that molding. Now I have an up-lighted tray ceiling instead of a heat duct with dry wall over it. Another trick I use is to create a series of archways between those support poles. This creates a soft separation and the posts disappear in the wall between the arches. If you must “box” around a pole another sharp idea is to wrap a countertop around it (if space allows), this can create a neat “pub” or bistro” table, then with a couple of stools…wah lah. ( I think that’s French for “awesome)
Sump crocks present another challenge. Not only are they large but you must create access. Depending on the location, build a wood column around the crock with a removable side or front and then copy the same column about six to eight feet away on the same wall to create a nice niche for a flat screen tv. These columns may be used to house speakers or shallow shelves. This technique makes a nice media wall and no ones the wiser.
Many times there’s that one darn duct or lone mechanical that seems to be in the worst place and can’t be moved. Creating a boxed area larger than necessary and symmetrical to the rooms ceiling is a technique I’ve had great success with. Although this will lower the ceiling height, it doesn’t look like you’re hiding anything. Adding a crown or similar molding around the outside perimeter and a few recessed can lights, placed symmetrically in the bottom and now you have a nice design element.
In one project, I designed a book shelf that doubled as an access to under stair way storage area. The shelf was on wheels and push pins held it in place.
Working to remodel a basement especially in an older home can present lots of challenges. Spending a little time and thought on the design can make a good project, great. If you really can’t make sense of the whole design thing, hire a professional to create a plan. Even if you’re going to tackle the project yourself, there are plenty of us out here you can hire for just that aspect of the project. Lastly, take pictures before, during and after so you can show everyone your good work!
One of the least invasive, maximum benefit changes you can make to your kitchen is to change the countertops. In many cases, simply updating old countertops, coupled with new handles or pulls and a fresh coat of paint on the walls will breathe new life in a dated kitchen. Not so very long ago there were only a few choices when it came to countertops. Today there are so many choices, it’s no wonder you can get confused. So many times when designing a kitchen, I’m asked “what’s the best?” The truth is, you have a lot of choices and determining what is best begs a few more questions. Today we have natural stone choices like soapstone, granite, or marble. These materials once available to only the wealthy have become much more affordable and mainstream due in part to new mining and fabricating processes. I typically suggest natural stone in kitchens where my design depends on drama from the countertops. Although some granite choices have relatively consistent patterns, for designs that require a lot of what we call motion (large pattern inconsistencies), granite fits the bill. Other granites can have small flecks of iridescent color that show themselves in different light. Marble can also have beautiful veins of color. One of the most beautiful marble designs I’ve ever seen is in Ixonia at Designs in Marble on a back bar display, it boosts a rainbow of earth tones that resemble branches on a tree. Although natural countertops do require sealing at regular intervals, it is a relatively easy process and can be done by a novice “do it youselfer” Another great choice is quartz. Quartz tops are made from quartz crystal. Because the quartz must be separated from other minerals and then “manufactured” into slabs, one might consider this material a highbred in the “natural” material arena. Quartz countertops are extremely hard and do not require regular sealing. In designs where more pattern consistency is desired, Quartz is a great choice. Another choice, solid surface, offers endless design possibilities. This material is similar to the natural stone products in that it is a solid “slab of material but is man made from polymers. Solid surface tops like Corian (DuPont’s brand name) are available in solid colors, multi colored flecked, swirled and some even resemble metal. I find that solid surface works well in contemporary and light commercial designs. Solid surfaces require almost no maintenance past general cleaning. Scratches, scrapes and even burns can be repaired on site and repairs are virtually invisible. Another benefit to solid surface is installations are seamless because it is actually chemically melted together on site. Typically this material falls in the middle of the price category.
Now the old familiar friend, Laminate. Most of us remember this by one of it’s brand names, Formica. Laminate tops are typically the least expensive. I remember the old 50s Boomerang tops that were present in so many small cafes and diners. These tops have come a long way! Today “high definition” laminate can mimic the look of granite at a third of the cost. There are so many applications for laminates, that design applications are almost endless.
Newer to the market are the ‘green friendly” materials. Paper stone, concrete, and recycled glass materials contain post consumer products making them not only environmentally friendly, but offer very unique design elements. Another possibility in the “recycled” arena, are “novelty” countertops, those made from materials like old barn beams, structural steel elements or slabs of wood. Although you will need to consider health and safety concerns with these types of materials, they can make bold design statements.
In the end, there is a myriad of possibilities when choosing countertops. With a little investigation and help from a design professional you can be sure the choice you make will enhance your kitchen design and serve you well for years to come.
I know I closed out my last post promising to have a discussion on various countertop materials but I ran into something extremely interesting at the Milwaukee NARI Home Improvement Show taking place this weekend at State Fair Park. It’s the Meltwater Project! While I’m not a big fan of the whole global warming theory, I do appreciate good stewardship when it comes to mother earth. While setting up our display,at the show, I was able to walkthrough this high-tech prototype of this “carbon neutral” home and spoke with Greg Adamec from Milwaukee Millwork. Greg serves as President of the Milwaukee NARI Foundation and is also on the show committee. Greg was instrumental in procuring The Meltwater Project’s show appearance. So what is it? Greg explained that Meltwater was designed and built for a world competition of “carbon neutral” homes, meaning that this structure sustains a living environment with little or no impact on the earth eco system. Greg explained that the solar collectors mounted to the roof not only produced enough electricity to sustain all the energy needs of the inhabitants, but surplus that could be sold back to the energy company. How cool is that? The roof is designed so that it directs rain water in to reservoirs that store it for later use in landscape watering and clothes washing. The home is heated and cooled through geo- thermal technology. As I walked through the home, Greg explained how all the materials used were “green friendly” like the bathroom floor and countertops that are made from recycled paper, the cabinets from a type of reed grass and wall treatments “wheat board”. Needless to say I was impressed.
Greg also told me that Meltwater took 20th place in the world, impressive considering the scope of competition. Although it came with a price tag of over $400,000.00, I’m sure most of remember the cost of the first pocket calculator of digital watch. I can see a day when these “carbon neutral” homes are mainstream and affordable. To learn more about the Meltwater Project, go to www4.uwm.edu/uwm_sd09 or google meltwater project.—or google “meltwater project” If you want to see it first hand, come to the Milwaukee NARI Home Improvement Show 10:00 – 9:00 Saturday 2/13 or Sunday 10:00 – 5:00 2/14
Growing up in southeast Wisconsin, I sometimes take our beautiful terrain of rolling hills and deep valleys for granted. A mere 25,000 years ago huge masses of glacial ice moved along our landscape moving earth, sand and stone, leaving us with the lakes, kettles and moraines we enjoy today. Unfortunately, that glacial movement also freed a silent foe…………..Radon. Many of the large stone formations that were moved and broken by the glaciers contained uranium. As that uranium decays in the soil radon gas is released.
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