Egress and your home remodeling project

Posted by Jeffrey Anderson ~ February 4, 2013

What exactly is egress? Should it be a concern when planning your home improvement project?

When discussing residential or commercial construction, egress is defined as a means to exit or escape a room or confined space. The exit signs prominently displayed in movie theaters, restaurants, or just about any building where people assemble are there to meet egress-related building codes. They serve as a guide in the event the building needs to be quickly evacuated. While avenues of exit are very critical in structures where crowds gather, they're just as important in your home -- after all, it's where your family lives.

Home remodeling: Where egress may be an issue

Home improvement jobs that just involve cosmetic changes such as painting or floor coverings rarely affect egress. However, here are two projects where you might want to consult your local building codes:

1. Window replacements

You might think that if your old windows meet exit requirements, putting new units in the same openings should pass code as well. While this is true in many cases, there are times when there could be a problem. If the existing opening size is just over the code minimum, the way a new window is constructed might cause it to fail.

International Residential Code specifies that all bedroom windows need to have a clear opening that is at least 20 inches wide, 24 inches tall, and a total unobstructed area of at least 5.7 square feet. If the bedroom is on a ground floor, an opening of at least 5.0 square feet will suffice. The frame of your new window could encroach into the space needed to meet code specifications. When replacing bedroom windows, always check to ensure the new units meet the minimum requirements for escaping the rooms.

2. Basement finishing

If you're thinking of adding a bedroom when finishing your basement, providing a means of egress in the event of a fire is a necessity. According to the IRC Code, all basement bedrooms must have a window or door that allows an occupant to exit directly to the exterior of the home. The means of exit must meet the same minimum requirements of bedroom windows on upper floors.

Creating a bedroom in a fully in-ground basement can be a challenge, but may be possible by utilizing a bulkhead exit from the sleeping area. If you have a partially buried foundation, adding a sleeping area when basement finishing is often a little easier. Locating the bedrooms against an exposed foundation wall often provides enough space for an egress window or door to be installed.

Many contractors and homeowners get around the basement bedroom egress requirement by calling the lower level room a den or study. However, most building inspectors have wised up to this method of skirting the code -- if the room has a closet, they're probably going to classify it as a bedroom. Egress requirements should be a priority when planning these types of home improvement projects.

Remodeling 2013: 4 innovative products for DIYers

Posted by Jeffrey Anderson ~ January 15, 2013

It's a new year and you might already be abandoning some of your resolutions. Getting more exercise or deciding to become serious about losing weight are admirable goals but not always easy to stick to. As a DIYer, why not make one that you have a better chance of keeping? There are many new materials and tools hitting the marketplace that provide more options for your home improvement projects. Resolve to try a few of these innovative remodeling products in 2013.

Lightweight sheetrock

Spending a day carrying and hanging sheetrock can be a good way to keep that resolution about getting more exercise -- especially if there are ceilings involved. USG Corporation has provided help by introducing a lightweight sheetrock that's about 30 percent lighter than standard boards. That may not sound like much, but at the end of the day your aching muscles should be able to feel the difference. The material is available at many home improvement stores and can be used in place of standard 1/2-inch board.

DeWalt DCT416S1 12V Max Imaging thermometer kit

You've probably heard that getting an energy audit on your home can be a good way to lower heating and cooling bills, but may not be sure how to have it done. DeWalt has made checking for trouble spots in your insulation a DIY project with their DCT416S1 Imaging Thermometer Kit. The tool detects temperature deviations in your exterior walls and attic that are often indications of where energy dollars are escaping your home. The DCT416S1 retails for around $1,000, but could pay for itself in reduced heating and cooling costs in just a few years.

Silca System deck underlayment

If you've always envied your neighbor's slate patio but have been stuck with a deck due to backyard grade, you're now in luck. Silca System structural support panels allow you to convert your deck's wooden surface to slate, pavers, or even stone. The panels attach to the joists in the deck and can be used on stair treads as well. The product is very DIY-friendly and is made with recycled materials.

GAF Monaco Lifetime Designer Shingles

Roofing tile can give just about any home a distinctive and elegant appearance. Unfortunately, tile isn't right for every climate and budget, and the material's weight can sometimes be an issue as well. You can now have the look without the drawbacks by using GAF's Monaco Lifetime Designer shingles on your home.

The roofing has a profile that's very similar to tile and features a limited lifetime warranty. Available colors are based on where your home is located, but in just about every region several hues are offered. The roofing also has a limited wind warranty up to 130 mph.

These are just a few of the innovative remodeling products now offered that can make 2013 the best year yet for home improvement DIYers.

Remodeling contracts: 7 guidelines for homeowners

Posted by Jeffrey Anderson ~ January 7, 2013

You've probably heard it a hundred times: always have a written contract when you hire a contractor to work on your home. But what if the company doesn't provide one -- is there a place where the documents are available? What should be in a home remodeling contract, and how should the price of the job be specified?

If your contractor doesn't use an official contract, checking their references might be in order if you haven't already done so. Just about any reputable home remodeling company should have legal documents if for no other reason than their own protection.

However, if for some reason they don't, the American Institute of Architects website is a good source of contracts for just about any type of project. The documents aren't free, but they can pay for themselves many times over if you have a problem.

What should be in your home remodeling contract?

Most contract forms have spaces where most of the important information concerning the project can be entered. A typical form might ask you to fill in these items:

  • Start date
  • Finish date or time required to complete the project
  • Total cost of the job
  • How payments are to be made -- at the completion of the project or as each phase is finished
  • Whether there will be any retainer and if so, how much and for how long
  • Customer allowances, if applicable
  • Anything the homeowner is expected to provide

There will normally be a space provided for the scope of work to be described in detail. If there isn't enough room, feel free to add an attachment as this is one of the most important parts of your contract. Describing exactly what is to be accomplished during the project can eliminate possible misunderstandings and ensure that you and the contractor are working toward the same goal.

If you add an attachment, specify that there is another document on the primary form. The contractor and you should both sign the attached scope of work.

Types of contracts

There are many different types of contracts used in the construction and remodeling industries. Here are two of the simplest and, therefore, most popular:

  • Fixed sum -- This is where there is an agreed upon cost before the project starts. The advantage of this type of contract is that you don't have any unpleasant surprises when the job is finished. The disadvantage is that the remodeling company comes out ahead if the costs are less than estimated.
  • Cost of the work plus a fee -- These contracts are set up for the homeowner to pay for the contractor's labor, any materials used during the project, and a fee that is usually based on a percentage of the total job cost. This can be a good type of arrangement if you're using a reputable remodeling company that has their labor costs under control. An "amount not to exceed" should also be specified as you don't want your contractor thinking they just hit the lottery.

It's always a good idea to have an attorney check your contracts prior to signing on the dotted line -- especially if the remodeling company makes a lot of changes to the document.

5 great gifts for home improvement DIYers

Posted by Jeffrey Anderson ~ December 13, 2012

Cyber Monday has passed and Black Friday is fast becoming a distant memory … at least for this holiday season. Is your shopping done or do you still have a few hard-to-buy-for gifts to find?

If those remaining presents are for DIYers, one quick trip to your local home improvement store could complete your holiday shopping. Of course, if you've been good this year, there's no reason why a present to yourself shouldn't find its way into the shopping cart.

Holiday gifts any DIYer can useWerner step stand

Regardless of their skill level, here are five gifts that should bring joy to any DIYer on your holiday list:

  1. Werner 3' step stand -- Werner is well known for their high quality step and extension ladders -- many roofing, painting, and siding contractors use them on a daily basis. The company incorporates the same commitment to safety and attention to detail in this handy 3' step stand. The miniature ladder is ideal for home improvement jobs where a little extra height is needed, but a full blown stepladder isn't required.
  2. Paint brush and roller cleaner -- Just about every DIYer enjoys painting, but cleaning up after the job is complete can be another matter. A paint brush and roller cleaner makes drying wet brushes and roller covers a breeze and helps to ensure they're ready for the next project. The tool spins the water used for cleaning away -- much easier on your favorite DIYer's arm than all that vigorous shaking.
  3. Heavy duty stapler -- What do fiberglass batt insulation, low-voltage wiring, and holiday lights all have in common? Installing them and many other items during home improvement projects can be much easier with a heavy duty stapler. Arrow is probably the best known company when it comes to high quality construction staple guns. They offer a full line of manual and electric models that make ideal stocking stuffers.
  4. Multi-tip screwdriver -- Few things can be as frustrating during a home improvement job than realizing you've grabbed the wrong screwdriver for the project -- especially if you're at the top of a ladder or a long distance from your tool box. Save the DIYer on your holiday list from this experience with a multi-tip screwdriver. They're available from many manufacturers and most have an assortment of tips stored in their handles. Switching from a Phillips to a slotted tip can be done in a matter of seconds.
  5. Wood level -- While any type of level makes a great gift for a DIYer, a unit made from mahogany or another wood species can be beautiful as well as functional. Wood levels usually last many years with proper care and can be passed down to the next DIYer in the family.wood level

Holiday shopping is easy when you have DIYers on your list. And if you're no slouch in the home improvement department yourself, putting this list where Santa can see it couldn't hurt.

DIY framing: Don't forget the blocking, nailers, and fire-stopping

Posted by Jeffrey Anderson ~ December 7, 2012

Framing a room addition or finished basement is just about the ultimate in DIY home improvement jobs. You now have justification for all those new power tools on your shelves and another project notch can be added to that tool belt that's beginning to show some wear. You can even go to the hardware store with sawdust in your hair and sporting a band-aid or two that DIYers so proudly wear.

However, as you stand back to admire how straight the walls studs appear and the alignment of the headers, don't forget a framing detail that many DIYers often overlook. The job isn't complete until all the blocking, nailers, and fire-stopping components are in place.

A quick guide to blocking, nailers, and fire-stopping

What is one of the signs of a good framing job? If you ask a trim carpenter, sheetrock contractor, or building inspector, they might say it's whether all the blocking, nailers, and fire-stopping are in the correct locations. What exactly are these framing components and how do you know where they're supposed to go? Here's a guide that should answer those questions:

ceiling nailer

Nailers are often needed at the end of a ceiling.

  • Blocking. Have you ever had trouble locating a stud while attempting to hang a picture? If so, that's a perfect example of why blocking can be so important to a trim carpenter. Blocks are pieces of lumber installed prior to sheetrock to provide adequate support for fixtures and hardware that may be installed later. An experienced framer usually nails in blocking for wall cabinets, handrail brackets, and bath hardware once the room framing is complete. A good rule of thumb is: if you know something is going to be hung on a wall sometime in the future, make sure blocking is there to help carry the weight.
  • Nailers.  These framing components are appropriately named as their function is to provide a nailing anchor for sheetrock, paneling, or any other type of finish material. Installing wall studs at 16-inch centers and ceiling joists every 24 inches provides adequate nailing surfaces in most areas of a room. However, every so often measurements don't quite work out and the end of a sheetrock board is left to dangle -- usually at the end of a wall or ceiling. Installing a nailer to support the end of the board takes care of the problem and you've made your sheetrock contractor's job much easier.

sheetrock nailer

Nailers provide a nailing surface for sheetrock.

  • Fire-stopping. One of the keys to avoiding a total loss in the event of a fire is to slow down the flames until the fire department arrives. The fire-stopping done with lumber during the framing stage of construction is designed to close-off avenues a fire can use to quickly spread. Fire-stopping is normally done at chases that contain ductwork or plumbing and between floor levels. Codes vary by jurisdiction so check with your local building inspector to find out where fire-stopping should be installed on your project.

Installing blocking, nailers, and fire-stopping properly can make the rest of your project much easier. Also, you now have a few more framing terms that can be casually dropped into conversations at your local home improvement store.

Remodeling contractors: 4 tips for a pleasant experience

Posted by Jeffrey Anderson ~ December 4, 2012

Does it seem as if just about everyone has a story to tell about a remodeling experience gone horribly wrong? The contractor is generally depicted as the villain, but, in fact, licensed contractors are typically reputable professionals.

So why is it that working with contractors can be aggravating for so many homeowners? It's possible they might have overlooked a basic tenet for maintaining any good relationship: it's a two-way street.

What you need to know when working with remodeling contractors

As a homeowner, it's almost inevitable that sooner or later you'll need to hire a contractor for an improvement project or to make a repair. Even if you're a dedicated DIYer, eventually there'll be a job that requires the skills of a construction professional. Is there anything that can be done to make the experience more pleasant -- both for you and the contractor? Try these tips for maintaining a good relationship with the remodeling contractor working on your home:

communicate with window contractors

Did you tell your contractor about that window location change?

ordering shingles for the contractor

Did you order enough shingles for the roofer?

  • Communication. Perhaps more than anything else, an open line of communication is key to an enjoyable remodeling project. Your contractor isn't a mind reader; tell them what you hope to accomplish with the improvements and any particulars that might have a bearing on how they do their job.
  • Materials. Purchasing your own materials can be a good way to save a little money on a home improvement project, but don't forget that contractors can't work if what they need isn't on the job. If you're supplying the materials, find out exactly what the contractor requires and ensure that it's all on the jobsite before they start their phase of work.
  • Scope of work. Do you and the remodeling contractor have the same concept of what the scope of work entails? One way to be sure is to ask the contractor to attach to the contract a complete description of all they plan on doing. It can be a good method for ensuring you're both on the same page and for avoiding unpleasant misunderstandings.
  • Scheduling. Home remodeling is full of variables that can affect the completion schedule, especially if it's an older structure. If you have a certain completion date you're trying to meet, make sure the contractor knows prior to starting the work. Remember, circumstances that aren't within their control may affect when the home improvement job is finished. Scheduling is also important when you're acting as the general contractor for the project. Keeping each sub-contractor aware when you'll need them on the jobsite or any scheduling changes should help the project run smoothly.

Follow these tips and you just may have some good stories to tell the next time the subject of remodeling contractors comes up at a dinner party.

Holiday home improvement: show off your DIY skills

Posted by Jeffrey Anderson ~ November 14, 2012

The holidays are almost here and in no time at all your home may be full of family and friends not seen since last December. You probably already have a pretty good idea of how it's going to go: everyone quietly giving your house the once over, anxious to see what new home improvement projects have been completed.

If you don't have much to show for the past year, it's not too late to avoid the disappointed stares. There are a few DIY-friendly projects that can still be completed before the holidays arrive, and those guests are knocking at your door.

DIY holiday home improvement projects

Which rooms do your guests frequent the most during a holiday visit? Unless they're there for an extended stay, your kitchen, powder room, dining area, and living or family room would more than likely top the list. While you don't have a lot of time, there are still a few projects that can reinforce your reputation as a DIYer extraordinaire.

Here are a few easy home improvement jobs that can be done before the guests arrive, and just as important -- shouldn't put too much of a dent in your holiday budget:

  • Paint -- A new color on the walls can revitalize just about any room -- all it takes is a few gallons of paint and a couple of spare hours for a small space. If you want to give your dining room an elegant appearance for the holiday meal, try a darker shade on the walls and bright white on the doors and trim.
  • Trim -- While you may not want to attempt crown molding, chair railing, wide window casing, and two-piece baseboard are usually quick and easy to install. If you plan on staining the trim once it's in place, choose wood that's clear and free of defects.
  • Flooring -- There are many types of flooring that are considered DIY-friendly and depending on the size of the room, can normally be installed over a weekend. Laminates, engineered hardwood, and even solid hardwoods can be good choices for a homeowner application and don't require too many special tools. However, it might be a good idea to steer clear of carpet or ceramic tile unless you have experience with those materials.
  • Fixtures -- Installing a new cabinet and vanity top can give your powder room a fresh look and be done in an afternoon. Add a new toilet paper holder, towel bar, and vanity mirror and you may convince your holiday guests that there's no limit to your DIY skills.

It's not too late -- strapping on your tool belt now may be able to keep your DIY reputation intact for at least another year.

Home remodeling: the science of comparing contractor bids

Posted by Jeffrey Anderson ~ November 13, 2012

Get three bids for your remodeling projects -- you've probably heard the mantra countless times. But now that you have your bids, are the total prices the only important consideration? Well, of course, they can carry a lot of weight when making your decision -- especially if you're operating on a tight budget.

However, that total figure should only be one part of the process when comparing bids from contractors. Examining your estimates in depth can sometimes reveal that the low price isn't always the best choice.

What to look for in your contractors' bids

Large construction projects that use an architect's services leave very little to chance. They usually have very detailed blueprints and specification books to ensure all contractor bids are complete and for the same scope of work. The architect may even specify minute items such as the type of door hardware to be installed and the mix for the concrete in the slab. If a detail is missed when pricing the project, it's the contractor's responsibility to make it right if awarded the job.

Unfortunately, you probably don't have the luxury of spec books and detailed drawings when bidding out your home remodeling project. This means the responsibility falls on you for ensuring each contractor's price covers all aspects of the job. A few items to look for when comparing bids:

  • Work description -- This is where the old adage that "you can't compare apples to oranges" is applicable and in this context, it's very true. Are all the contractors' pricing the same gauge of vinyl siding for your remodeling project? How about exterior landscaping: is putting down sod in everyone's estimate or has a contractor planned on just using seed and straw? These little differences can add up to a big variation in the total price and what you're getting when the job is complete.
  • Completion schedule -- Do all the contractors anticipate finishing your home remodeling job in about the same amount of time? Schedule may or may not be important to you, but if your kitchen is out of service while the project is underway, it may be worth a few extra dollars to get the work done as soon as possible.
  • Proper credentials -- Always check to ensure that each contractor bidding your home remodeling project has proper licensing and insurance coverage. While an uninsured contractor's low price may look attractive, having to pay for any damage they might cause could ruin your day. And don't look for help from your homeowner's policy carrier as they rarely pay for a claim when it involves contractors without proper credentials.

Check the total prices when comparing your three contractor bids, but what's contained in the body of their estimates can be just as important to your remodeling project and its budget.

Building inspectors: don't believe everything you hear

Posted by Jeffrey Anderson ~ November 6, 2012

You've probably heard the horror stories -- especially if you spend much time talking to the contractors on your home remodeling project. Work having to be redone, schedules delayed, and inspections failed -- you'd think they were describing some sort of Halloween goblin. But no, they're just discussing someone you're almost sure to encounter while remodeling: your local building inspector.

So who are these ogres turned loose to terrorize contractors and DIYers just wanting to remodel a home? It's very simple: they're the people responsible for verifying that all the work being done meets building and mechanical codes.

Why are the codes so important? One of the primary reasons they were established was to enhance the safety of the future occupants of the structure under construction. In the case of a home improvement job, those future occupants are you and your family. It just may be possible that those stories were a bit exaggerated or the contractors talking the most had a little problem with their work quality.

What to expect from your building inspector

Just about any remodeling project that requires a building permit is going to warrant at least one visit from your local building inspector. So is there any preparation required? What should you expect when they arrive? While inspection methods can vary depending on the jurisdiction and building department, these tips should help get an inspector's visit off on the right foot:

display building permit

Post your building permit prominently

  • Building permit. Always have your building and mechanical permits posted prominently where they can easily be seen when the inspector arrives.
  • Company. Just about all inspectors enjoy a little company when they make their visit -- you and the contractor whose work is being inspected should always try to be present. When there's someone there to answer questions, it may prevent confusion that could result in an inspection being failed.
  • Notes. Building inspectors don't like the feeling that they're pointing out problems simply for their own benefit -- take notes on what areas may need corrections as it shows that you care. If you're having a framing or mechanical rough-in inspection, a can of spray paint can be used to highlight the problem area for the contractors making the repair.
  • Cleanliness. Most inspectors aren't too happy if they have to worry about tripping over lumber or stepping on nails -- they may even refuse to enter a structure with too much debris. It almost always pays to spend a little time cleaning the jobsite when you have an inspection scheduled -- it can make the quality of the work look better as well.

clean jobsite

Inspectors like a clean jobsite

Regardless of what you may hear, most building inspectors just want to ensure that your remodeling project is built correctly and safely. If you treat them with respect and take care of the issues that require correction, you might discover that they can actually be very helpful.

Home additions: sweating the small stuff

Posted by Jeffrey Anderson ~ October 30, 2012

There's nothing quite like adding on to your house. Just about any remodeling project is exciting, but a home addition can be so much more. It might mean finally getting that garage, family room, or master suite that your house has always lacked.

Once the project is underway, it's often difficult to contain your enthusiasm as each construction phase is finished; you're one step closer to a completed project. But before you get too carried away, keep in mind that rushing through an addition can cause details to be overlooked -- small stuff that almost always returns to haunt you at a later date.

When adding on, the devil is in the details

Whether it's a DIY project or you plan on hiring a contractor, the small details during each phase of construction can make a huge difference at the end of the job. A perfect example is the exterior finishes: installing the shingles and setting the windows means your home addition is now weather tight, but is it really?

While they may not seem like much, missing a few small items can allow your construction project to leak like a sieve. Remember these details when weathering in your home's new addition:

  • Roof flashing -- Everywhere your new roof terminates against a vertical plane such as the existing structure or a chimney, flashing must be installed to close any gaps. Roof flashing is normally metal and may be small pieces or one long strip.

roof flashing
Install roof flashing as needed

  • Plumbing boots -- If your addition has any plumbing, the contractor may need to place a vent stack through the roof. The only problem is that plumbers normally don't do roofing. Get your plumbing contractor to locate where the vent will exit so the roofer can install a flashing boot while applying the shingles.

plumbing boot
Did you remember your plumbing boots?

  • Window flashing -- Do your new windows have a warranty against leaks? They probably do, but if you read the fine print, only when they've been flashed according to the manufacturer's recommendations. This almost always involves installing a weatherproofing membrane over the window's exterior flanges.

window flashing
Flash windows according to manufacturer recommendations

  • House wrap -- If you think your exterior siding will keep the interior of your addition dry, think again. Almost all siding materials allow water infiltration; house wrap can keep it from entering your home. While you may be anxious to see the new siding, taking time to install house wrap may pay off in the long run.
  • Ice dam membranes -- How much do you think it might cost to repair major water damage to your new addition? You may have the opportunity to find out if you live in a cold climate and don't use ice dam membrane on your project's roof. It should be placed at the eaves and valleys prior to the shingles being installed.

As you can see, the phrase "don't sweat the small stuff" doesn't apply to adding on to your home. Paying attention to the details during each construction phase can mean the difference between a successful project and one that's a never ending headache.


{Remodeling Ideas}

{Ask the Contractor}

  • Is this home worth it?

    I am looking at buying a cheap house that needs some major upgrades, including raising the ceiling. I would like to make it a cathedral ceiling. The roof looks like it is sagging and would need to be redone anyway. Is it worth buying a house under 100,000 if it needs these big remodels? Any ideas of what I could expect to pay? Thanks.


  • Is it possible my I-joist is damaged?

    My home had I-joists supporting the plywood floor. I had the plywood replaced, and when the contractors were pulling it up, I noticed they were ripping off a top layer of the joists. I asked them to stop and called the foreman over to evaluate. He says it did not damage the integrity of the I-beam, but I don't know if I can trust his word on that. What do you think?


  • Can I safely move a support post?

    I bought a house with an unfinished basement and there's a support post right in the middle of the I-beam. To properly frame out the room, is it possible to move it three feet off center and not have it cause any issues structurally? It's a two-story home.


  • Whose job is it to measure for a kitchen remodel?

    The design plan of my new kitchen cabinets said the end of the cabinets would terminate with inches of wall space showing. When the cabinets were installed there was a whole foot of wall space. When I questioned my contractor, he said it's not his job to measure - it's my job. Is this true?


  • How can I remove a column from my basement?

    I have a structural beam in my basement that has a 15 foot span with a lally column at seven feet. The beam is three 2x8s pocketed into the foundation on both sides. There are no walls or beams above this beam. How can I remove it?


  • What are the best boards to use for building a deck?

    I want to build a 16" x 16" deck. What size boards should I use?


  • What's the best way to move a washer and dryer?

    If I wanted to relocate my washer and dryer to a newly constructed out building to save a little room in my house, how would I handle the drainage? Also, if I created a rain garden next to the out building, can I drain it into the rain garden?

  • How do I reattach wires going from the thermostat to the fireplace?

    I have a continental gas fireplace, and the wires from the thermostat to the fireplace have come disconnected at the fireplace. There are four wires: yellow, red, green, and black. There are three vertical terminal posts labeled from top to bottom TP TH, TP, and TH. Can you tell me which wires go where? Thanks.