Mudroom Revivals

Posted by Woodrow Aames ~ August 22, 2010

Mudrooms are commonplace in the entryways of homes in the cold and wet north and northeast of the country, where families deposit their muddy boots and coats before entering the house. But they've become common here in horse country where I live in California, too. People can remove muddy or soaked work boots instead of tracking them across wood floors or carpeting. You can install a mudroom at your front entry way or, as many do, at the kitchen door.

A mudroom is like the airlock in a space station; it separates outside conditions from the clean comfort of your home interior. Common elements include heavy-duty, durable flooring; coat racks or closets with hooks, shelving; and storage nooks for scarves, socks, house slippers, and towels that people can use to transition from the elements into your home.

Mudrooms Becoming More Common Additions

Lowes reports that mudrooms are rapidly becoming a building requirement for families with young children and animals. Usually, homeowners choose the less-formal entry, where they usually come in after work or school, rather than the formal entry where they greet guests.

Key elements include:

  • Flooring. Choose easy-to-clean flooring that won't show dirt, like tile or linoleum. Other flooring options include concrete or pressure-treated wood. Concrete floors can be treated with common waterproofing products to provide a membrane against mold and mildew.

  • Storage. Consider the size of your family, the climate, and your outdoor needs. Racks and bins are great additions for storing slickers, rain boots, umbrellas, and gloves. In colder climates, you can store mittens, skates, and snowshoes. Providing great storage makes for a great way-station between wet snow, hay, and mud, and your nice kitchen floor. Heating the mudroom allows your family to warm up while changing out of wet clothing. Be sure to consider a changing stool or bench where family members can sit to pull on or remove their boots.

  • Walls. Homeowners use everything from vinyl, moisture-resistant wall paper to high gloss paint. Add a mirror to expand the light and sense of scale in the room.

  • Plumbing and fixtures. Some people combine their mudroom with a laundry room, doubling up on utility. A sink is a nice addition so family members can do a quick wash-up before entering the house. Small indoor-outdoor taps and drains are great for showering off pets or muddy bare feet before tramping into your house.
The best part about mudrooms is they can be as simple or elaborate as you choose.

Weekly Digest of Reliable Remodeler Tweets 2010-08-22

Posted by Hugh Ly ~ August 22, 2010

Remodeling Goes to the Dogs

Posted by Woodrow Aames ~ August 20, 2010

It happened early in August. The venerable New York Times ran an article by Sonia Zjawinski noting that homeowners were "remodeling with their pets in mind." That's like the tail wagging the dog when it comes to home improvements, isn't it? Not so, claims Zjawinski, who writes that simply laying out feeding bowls and water dishes on the floor is fashionably outre.

The piece, reprinted in the San Jose Mercury News, claims that "animal-friendly design" is part of interior design's latest wave. Consider the Cape Cod resident that asked her designer to include specs for embedding niches and alcoves for pet feeding dishes in the newly ordered kitchen island, along with roll-out bins for doggy treats and kibble.

One new idea is to create doggy doors and cat doors of proportionate sizes that lead to alcoves or feeding areas, segregating pets by their width. That keeps the terrier out of the kitty food. A Brooklyn family added a kitten walk of shelving that runs around the wall over their kitchen cabinets to create a place for their confined feline to stretch a little. Add bright, color-coordinated paint, and the kitchen gains fresh additional trim.

Planning Around the Litter Box

A Boston couple asked their home designer to create a bathroom space that demonstrates, as Zjawinski cleverly says, "Thinking outside the litter box." The kitten comfort room was confined into a sliding drawer space that opened from the bathroom wall, creating a separate exhaust vent for evacuating the smell. Bravo!

Homeowners are planning everything from roll-away dog beds and living room turtle ponds to outdoor bird homes with interior heating elements.

If you have an existing space, there are options in kitchen designs that can incorporate pet doors into the remodeling scheme. There are weather doors for pets that help keep your interior temperatures constant, blocking air leaks. For example, Pet Safe has a door with a triple-flap system that the manufacturer claims offers energy efficiency that is 4 ½ times more effective than traditional single-flap swinging pet doors.

The products are sold by the estimated weight of your pet and range from $43 to $129.99, depending on the flap opening and materials.

In Kobe, Japan, there's an architectural firm that specializes in animal-centered home design. The concepts take into consideration the feng shui that is said to influence the spirit of the animal. It gives one paws.

Looking to Kill Your Lawn?

Posted by Woodrow Aames ~ August 16, 2010

Most likely, you're not. Typically, I prefer to write about the need for testing your soil pH, amending the chemicals, aerating your lawn, and mowing just the right height to avoid having to use pre- and post-emergent weed killers. But here in the Sacramento area where I reside, we're in the midst of another hot summer and lawns all around are tending toward brown...or dead.

The local weekly, The News and Review, called on owners to do a gut check on whether it's worth the water waste and trouble to keep their lawns green in this relentless summer heat. A reporter drove around (wasting gasoline) to see if most green lawns had kids on them after school. When I was young, that's where you went in the summer to run through the sprinklers and keep cool.

No such luck across the greater Sacramento area. Empty lawns everywhere, with little rainbows where the sprinklers had come on, and not a soul to be found. "Lawn grass," the newspaper reported, "is America's largest irrigated crop." Of the 25,000 gallons of water per year dumped on Sacramento lawns, a third goes into the air or down the street into the drain.

No Lawn? No Way!

Even where lawns are heavily spotted, Sacramento denizens keep the water flowing. This year, the California State Fair (hosted in Sacramento) gave locals a look at some options to growing grass. In this Mediterranean, Central Valley climate, fair exhibitors said, you can grow succulents, varieties of grasses that require little water, daisies, Russian sage, and black-eyed Susans. And you won't need to fire up the fuel-intensive lawn mowers and weed trimmers every week or so.

Earth Easy reports that using up fuel is not the only issue with lawns. There's mower exhaust sent into the already hazy sky and pesticides and fertilizers flushed into the local water supply.

You can reduce your lawn size with pavers and put in a flowerbed or two to reduce the size and extent of mowing and watering. Choose low-maintenance ornamental grasses, varieties that seldom need much fertilizing or watering. Oddly enough for Sacramento residents, ornamental grasses adore hot, sunny locales.

Sure, they're positively not the lush green lawns that kids love to slip and slide across when then sprinklers are going. But kids today are more interested in spending hot summer days inside, texting their friends, or in the backyard, splashing in the pool.

Weekly Digest of Reliable Remodeler Tweets 2010-08-15

Posted by Hugh Ly ~ August 15, 2010

A Second Look at Cork Flooring

Posted by Woodrow Aames ~ August 13, 2010

I've been reading more and more articles about cork flooring. Is it that the green, alternative product is gaining in popular use among homeowners, or are home-improvement bloggers just beginning to discover the properties of these natural products that are kind to the foot? Some 70 percent of harvested cork is still used to create bottle stoppers for wine and other table products. Most of the cork production comes from Portugal.

As far as non-toxic, sustainable wood goes, cork has an excellent track record, which explains why it's increasingly cited among candidates for eco-friendly floors. The trees are definitely sustainable--under harvesting rules, bark is not stripped from cork trees until they're 25 years of age, and it won't be stripped again for nearly another decade. As I reported earlier, the planks used to create cork floors cost between $3 and $22 per square foot.

Consumers and Builders Are Still Evaluating Cork

Home owners and home improvement contractors continue to weigh the assets and drawbacks of cork flooring. The Pure Contemporary blog says that cork is a great insulator, making it a solid option for people who want to walk quietly in consideration of family members or neighbors. The writers add that cork is exceptionally forgiving, healing itself when cut by a dropped kitchen knife.

If you spend hours standing in your kitchen, cork can make for happy feet. While it's not completely impervious to stains, it does have a natural resistance to water. You can also coat it with a premium water-based finish that repels moisture, mold, and insects. Cork floors won't crack when you drop glassware on them.

On the negative side of the scale, cork flooring can be chewed or pawed into chunks by house pets. It can't be repaired as easily as a wood floor that only requires sanding and refinishing. Depending on the manufacturer's quality, dark colored cork can also lighten or fade over time if exposed to bright sunlight. If heavy furniture has been sitting for some time, it can leave dents from the legs when you move it. You can prevent this by using furniture pads under the feet of chairs, tables, and islands.

There's nothing entirely novel about the idea of cork flooring. According to Demesne, Frank Lloyd Wright used cork floors in many of his designs during the 1920s. The product was used in both commercial and residential buildings.

If you're thinking of new flooring, cork definitely deserves a second look.

Energy Efficiency in the Laundry Room

Posted by Woodrow Aames ~ August 9, 2010

Unless you ship your bedding, towels, and clothing items off to the dry cleaners, you're going to have to use water in your laundry room. If you're an energy and water-conscious consumer, there are ways to reduce your water use and still come out clean in the end.

First, if your water bills are excessively high, you may need professional help to diagnose a laundry room flooding problem. If there are no leaks, then you may have an old washer that's an energy and water guzzler. But before we tackle buying a replacement appliance, let's look at your current washing habits.

One way to cut your operating costs is to change the habit of using hot water to clean all your clothing. Some 90 percent of the energy use in washing goes to heating water. Reserve that privilege for essentials like underwear and towels. Find a laundry detergent that does the job nicely in warm or cold water. Depending on where you live, you might go old school and dry your clothes outdoors on warm, sunny days. Household Essentials sells a five-line retractable clothes dryer that you can mount indoors or outdoors and hang your garments to dry. If you haven't dried clothes outdoors, you're missing the fresh smell that comes without dryer strips.

Smart Washing and Drying

Old habits die hard, but you can save water and energy by waiting until you have a full load before running the washer. You don't save energy by washing small loads. Keep your dryer energy efficient by cleaning the lint filter after each load. And follow the dryer vent to where it exits your home and clean the balls of lint that can accumulate there.

If you really want to upgrade to a green machine, consider your laundry room as part of a home energy efficiency system. The Daily Green reports that new EnergyStar washers use "50% less energy and water, saving $110 a year."

If your washer is more than a decade old, chances are good that you're wasting resources. The average family, according to EnergyStar, does 400 loads of laundry every year. During the life of a new EnergyStar-compliant washer you'd save enough money to pay for an EnergyStar dryer.

What's new about these modern washers is they don't use a water-gobbling central agitator. And the newer models have motors that spin your clothes up to three times faster than older ones, which cuts your drying time.

Weekly Digest of Reliable Remodeler Tweets 2010-08-08

Posted by Hugh Ly ~ August 8, 2010

Openness and Natural Woods for the Hopper House

Posted by Woodrow Aames ~ August 6, 2010

After Hollywood actor and director Dennis Hopper passed away this May after a long bout with cancer, his house went on sale. The Hopper compound--located on Indiana Avenue in Venice, CA--includes the main house, guest cottage, and a trio of two-story condominiums and it's for sale at $6.245 million.

Hopper, who had been a serious student of fine art and an aficionado of Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein, owned one of Andy Warhol's soup can paintings. He had the condos designed by legendary architect Frank Gehry.

The main house, offered by Jade Mills Estates, has 4,800 square feet, eight bedrooms, and seven baths on a 15,500-square-foot lot not far from the beach. According to Yahoo, there's a lap pool at the back of the main house, a living room (pictured) with a projection screen and white sofa, a glass-enclosed bathtub, and platform bed with "ornate Oriental rugs, earthy-looking carved wood tables".

Getting Ready for Sale

According to sales agents, you can buy the entire property or you can purchase the individual units. The corrugated metal exterior gives a false impression of the lofty vaults, strong wood beams, and spacious interior beyond. Perhaps it's a perfect metaphor for the man who lived in the place.

Hopper, who hit a home run with his very first film, Rebel Without a Cause, often portrayed characters with a mean, hard exterior. His drug-whacked characters in Easy Rider and Apocalypse Now brought him fame. Later, in films like Hoosiers, he revealed a troubled man with a warm and spacious heart.

But let's talk about you. Even if you can't afford a company like Jade Mills to put your house on the market, you're certainly encouraged to do all you can to increase your home's curb appeal.

That may mean dressing up your entry with fresh hardware and lighting or installing new pavers and planters that lead the buyer's eye to the front door. Touch up the paint on the trim and front door. Bring in your lawn-care expert to green up the lawn, add planters, trim unsightly trees, and fashion unkempt shrubbery.

Even if you can't create a paradise four blocks from Venice Beach, you can create a little spot of joy in your street, beckoning would-be buyers to your driveway.

Sustainable Options That Might Floor You

Posted by Woodrow Aames ~ August 2, 2010

The range of materials and prices in the latest flooring products should create enthusiasm for homeowners looking for something different than the same old carpeting or tile coverings. With prices dropping on many flooring products and environmental products on the upswing, you really do have choices today. Imagine this--54 percent of hardwood flooring sold today is made of engineered hardwoods.

That's a far cry from carpeting, which still holds a 52.5 percent market share, according to a recent flooring report from The Sacramento Bee. Among the hardwood options, homeowners still prefer oak. And exotic woods from Malaysia and Brazil are part of a growing trend.

Floors Are Going Green

Cork flooring and bamboo--the growing favorites among sustainable flooring options--are capturing more of the market each year, according to The Bee. Cork flooring is especially sustainable because it can be created from recycled bottle stopper materials or harvested from a living tree without damaging the source. That's as renewable as it gets.

Here's a update on the lowest current per-square-foot prices for a range of flooring products, as reported by the newspaper:

  • Hardwood: $4, installation extra. (Not sustainable, is expensive, but elegant.)

  • Bamboo: $4, installation extra. (Sustainable, but can be dented. Growing in popularity.)

  • Reclaimed Hardwood: $15, installation extra. (Unique floor patterns and colors. Pricey to install.)

  • Laminate: $2, installation extra. (Imitates any number of natural stones.)

  • Engineered Hardwood: $4 , installation extra. (Created in alternating layers for durability.)

  • Cork: $5, installation extra. (Soft under your feet and mold resistant.)

  • Clay or Quartz Tile: $8, installed. (May require sealing, but is known for durability.)

  • Stone (marble, granite, slate): $15, installed. (Lasting value. But, don't try installing it yourself unless you've done it successfully before.)

  • Rubber: $2, installation extra. (Sustainable. Great for rec room.)

  • Linoleum: $3, installation extra. (Old favorite now in vogue. Newer products made of biodegradable linseed oil and pine resins.)

  • Vinyl: $2, installation extra. (Now with embossed patterns, textures, and color choices. Easy to clean.)

  • Concrete: $15, installed. (Gaining popularity. Durable, but requires sealing.)
Take your time and talk to professionals to help you choose the best flooring for your home. Many contractors that specialize in one flooring material may be happy to give you the names and contact numbers of their recent or former clients. Take a look--and a walk--on the flooring options to see which make your feet happy!


{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.


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