Remodeling projects: making a list and checking it twice

Posted by Jeffrey Anderson ~ October 19, 2012

Have you ever returned home from a shopping trip only to realize a much needed item never found its way into your cart? Okay … maybe it's just me, but I've found that a hectic daily life full of small details can make it tough to remember everything.

At least that's where I'm placing the blame … there's absolutely no way that my age could be contributing to the problem. In any event, during my remodeling projects one tool is always within reach: a well-used yellow legal pad.

remodeling project lists

Have you called your electrician?

Stay on top of the details with remodeling lists

Regardless of size, just about every remodeling project requires coordination and paying attention to the details. Keeping on top of everything can mean the difference between a job that runs smoothly and one that seems to have no end. Here are a few situations where a remodeling list can come in handy:

  1. Questions -- Do you have anything that needs to be discussed with contractors, building officials, or material vendors before or during the project? Putting questions down on paper as they occur to you can ensure none go unanswered.
  2. Materials -- A project can come to a screeching halt if the contractors run out of the materials needed for their phase of work. Make a list of what needs to be picked up or ordered to keep the job moving forward in a timely fashion. Don't forget to make note of what materials may have a lengthy lead time when the order is placed.
  3. Scheduling -- How much notice do you need to give your roofing contractor and did you remember to call the plumber? Keep a list of the contractors that will be used on your remodeling project, their contact information, and how much lead time each needs to meet your schedule. Keeping each apprised of the job's progress can help them plan ahead and may go a long way toward getting them at the project as needed.
  4. Inspection items -- Walk with building officials when they inspect the project and write down any items found not to meet code. While many inspectors provide a list of discrepancies, taking notes often demonstrates that you value their time and expertise. Maintaining a good relationship with your local building officials is always a good idea -- especially when you have a remodeling project.
  5. Punch-lists -- Carry a tablet when inspecting each contractor's work and make note of any problem areas that might need a little more work. Give the contractors a copy of your punch-list that they can provide their crews and use the original to check off items as they've been corrected

remodeling lists include ordering windows

Is there any lead time for your windows?

While a yellow legal pad has always worked for me, there are many methods for making lists -- in a pinch I've even used a scrap of framing lumber but you might prefer an iPad. When you have a hectic lifestyle, it's usually best not to rely on just your memory during remodeling projects.

Building material terms: what do they mean?

Posted by Jeffrey Anderson ~ October 5, 2012

How much do you know about building materials? When tackling a project around the home, you probably take a little time to consider whether you have the skills to successfully complete the task -- or at least you should. But what about the materials required for the job? They're as much an integral part of the project as the labor.

Getting the right products in the correct quantities on the job-site can make any DIY project easier and save trips back and forth to your local home improvement store. It can also help you reduce the cost of the job -- one of the primary reasons many homeowners take on DIY projects.

buy shingles in squares

How many squares of shingles do you need?

The language of building materials

Professional construction estimators spend many years learning their trade. While you may never have their knowledge, understanding how a few basic building materials are ordered can save a little embarrassment at the local home improvement store. After all, you want the salespeople to at least think that you're a seasoned DIYer with numerous project notches on your tool belt.

These building material terms -- along with how quantities are figured -- might help with your project:

  • Squares. Depending on your age, you may have used this term during your younger days. However, its meaning is a little different in the construction industry: a square is the amount of material required to cover 100 square feet of area. Many roofing materials and just about all exterior siding products are figured in squares.
  • Dimensional lumber. This is the wood that's used for heavy framing such as the structural components of a house or deck. Dimensional lumber is usually at least 1 ½ inches thick and can vary in width from approximately 4 inches up to about 12 inches. Common lengths run from about 8 feet up to about 20 feet, but longer pieces are available. Dimensional lumber is normally sold per piece.
  • Sheet. Plywood, composite board, and sheetrock are usually figured as to how many sheets will be needed for the job. In most cases a sheet is 4-feet-by-8-feet, but some varieties of sheetrock may be longer. The thicknesses of all three products can vary depending on their use.
  • Yard (concrete). While it could refer to the grass around your home, in the building material industry it's a term used for figuring concrete quantities. A yard of concrete is the amount needed to fill a cubic yard container. Even when pouring 4-inch sidewalks, the amount of concrete required is computed by the yard.
  • Yard (flooring). Just to keep things interesting, yard is also a term used to estimate many types of flooring -- although in this situation it's the amount of material needed to cover a square yard. Carpeting and vinyl are figured per yard, but hardwood and ceramic are estimated by square foot -- just to keep things interesting.

plywood sheets

Estimate plywood quantities by the sheet

Knowing these terms probably won't get you a job with a general contractor. However, they may make it a little easier to figure the materials required for your DIY project or read your contractor's estimate.

3 must-have power tools for your DIY workshop

Posted by Jeffrey Anderson ~ October 3, 2012

According to a recent article on PRNewswire.com, the sales of power and hand tools in this country are expected to expand by about 4.8 percent each year through 2016. The grand total for annual sales is predicted to reach about 13.1 billion dollars that year. Manufacturing power and hand tools is a big business led by major players such as Milwaukee, Bosch, Makita, and Porter-Cable.

Cordless drill for the DIY workshop

While a large percentage of the power tools sold each year go to professional contractors, DIYers are buying their fair share. I know that a part of my monthly budget goes toward helping keep several tool manufacturers afloat. My philosophy has always been that there's no such thing as a power tool that I don't need -- it's sure to be used at least once in a while.

The crowded tool aisles at Lowes and Home Depot every weekend are proof enough that I'm not the only homeowner who follows that line of thinking. If the DIY trend continues at its current pace, tool manufacturers may be seeing that 13.1 billion mark in their rear-view mirrors well before 2016.

But when it comes right down to it, what power tools do you really need for home improvement projects? While it's nice to have specialty tools for whatever might pop up, there are several that should be able get you through just about any DIY project.

3 power tools that can handle most home improvement projects

Which three power tools would I keep if necessity required downsizing my collection? While just considering that possibility causes me to cringe, these are the three that get the most use:

rotary saw

  • Circular saw. If you've ever cut a lot of dimensional lumber with a handsaw, you're well aware of how much time the power models can save on projects. Whether you're doing framing, interior trim, or putting up a deck, a circular saw is just about a must-have DIY power tool. When shopping for a saw, look for a model with an electric brake - the blade stops spinning when you release the trigger.
  • Cordless drill. Cordless tools have come a long way since their early days. Back then you practically needed a helper to carry all the batteries required to get through a job. New models are light weight, easy to use, and a fully charged Lithium-Ion battery can provide enough power for just about any project.
  • Jigsaw. When it comes to delicate or shaped cuts, it's hard to beat the convenience of a jigsaw. They're also handy for making cut-outs in sheetrock or wood for electrical boxes, plumbing cleanouts, or any other item that needs a hole. Mine gets as much use as my circular saw during DIY projects.

While every experienced DIYer has their favorites, these three power tools are the ones I consider most important for my typical home improvement projects.

Autumn home maintenance can help avoid expensive repairs later

Posted by Jeffrey Anderson ~ October 1, 2012

There are primarily two classifications for remodeling projects you may encounter as a homeowner. The first type can improve your home and may even increase its value, but the second usually isn't quite as much fun: the renovations required to repair damages. While everyone enjoys giving their house an upgrade, working just to get back to where you started can seem like time and money wasted -- especially when the damage was caused by a lack of proper maintenance.

Autumn brings a respite from summer heat and the knowledge that winter is just around the corner. Depending on your locale, there are a few home maintenance tasks that you might want to work into your October schedule. Taking care of them now can prevent expensive damage to your house when cold weather arrives and even if you happen to live where it's always warm, it never hurts to give your home a quick inspection.

3 autumn maintenance tasks

In many parts of the country, winter means cold temperatures and plenty of freezing precipitation -- a drastic change from recent summer weather. You can be ready by digging that heavy coat out from the back of the closet, but your home needs a little preparation as well. Taking care of these three autumn maintenance tasks should be a good start:

  • Gutters and downspouts. Summer thunderstorms with torrential rain and high winds can wreck havoc on your home's gutters and downspouts. Autumn's falling leaves aren't a big help either. Take an hour or so to inspect your home's gutters and downspouts to ensure they're secure, have proper fall, and aren't clogged by leaves or debris. A heavy snow can pull loose guttering off the side of your house and blockages can create ice-damming -- both of which can lead to expensive repairs.
  • Hose bibs and hydrants. Freezing temperatures and outside water lines that haven't been drained aren't a good mix - ask anyone who has ever had a pipe burst. Before the mercury begins to drop into the freezing range, drain the water out of all outside hose bibs and hydrants; and if you have a lawn irrigation system, that should be emptied as well.
  • Furnace. When was the last time you used your furnace? A lot of time has passed since last March or April and the last thing you want on a 20-degree night in January is for your furnace to stop working. Autumn is a good time to change your HVAC filters and schedule for the equipment to be serviced by a trained technician. Keeping your furnace in good shape can mean not having to add a new one to your holiday shopping list in December.

While you may have leaf watching and pumpkin patch visits on your autumn agenda, making time for these maintenance tasks may help avoid the bad type of remodeling projects later.

Foundation additions: 3 tips to prevent leaks

Posted by ~ September 28, 2012

It might begin as a musty odor that can be bothersome, but is hardly cause for loss of sleep. However, when the dampness and water spots begin to appear, you could be about to experience every homeowner's nightmare: a foundation water leak. They're bad enough in unfinished spaces, but a leak in a living area can cause the room to become unusable and could lead to the growth of mold and mildew.

If a foundation leak appears in your basement, prepare for some detective work and repairs that can be costly. However, if you're planning a home addition that has a basement, as the old adage goes: "an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure."

3 methods for preventing concrete foundation leaks

While you may be using a concrete contractor to pour your foundation, it never hurts to ensure the job is being done correctly. After all, if a leak occurs in the future, it will more than likely be you who has to deal with the problem. Here are a few items to watch for:

1. Waterproofing

At the very least, all parts of the foundation wall that are below grade should be sprayed with an asphalt based waterproofing compound. Keyways are the metal strips that hold the forms together when pouring concrete walls. When the forms are removed, the ends of the keyways are visible in the concrete and can provide an avenue for water intrusion. All keyway ends below grade should be covered with tar for added protection when using a basic spray waterproofing.

If site drainage away from your addition might be an issue, applying a waterproofing membrane system such as CertainTeed's Platon can help keep the inside of your basement dry.

2. Cold joints

Very few foundation walls can be poured with a single truckload of concrete. When a significant amount of time passes between when a truck drops its load and the next truck shows up, a cold joint can be created between the two pours. A cold joint may affect the exterior cosmetics of your wall and can be a prime location for foundation leaks. Tell your concrete contractor that you don't want any cold joints in your addition's foundation walls.

3. Drain tile

Your foundation walls sit on a concrete footing and while waterproofing can help prevent moisture from entering at this seam, it's sometimes not enough. The concrete contractor should install drain tile around the exterior of the foundation wall where it meets the footing.

The tile needs to be surrounded with gravel to assist drainage and should be protected with filter fabric to keep soil from clogging the pipe's perforations. If you have a walk-out foundation, the drain tile should be daylighted in an area where it's free from obstructions.

While these tips can't guarantee that your addition foundation will be leak-free, a little bit of prevention can go a long way toward avoiding the expense of future cures.

DIY-friendly project? Only you can judge

Posted by Jeffrey Anderson ~ September 26, 2012

Is it a DIY project? It's a popular question these days as the trend of families performing their own home improvements and maintenance tasks continues to grow. Working on your own home can be a great way to save a little money and it's hard to beat the sense of satisfaction that enjoying the fruits of your labor can bring.

However, inquiring whether a job is DIY-friendly might not be the best way to ask the question when contemplating a project. Is the task within your abilities to complete safely and competently could be better phrasing and the bottom line is that only you can provide that answer.

What's the definition of DIY-friendly?

When it comes right down to it, there are only a few remodeling tasks that are off-limits for homeowners. They're determined by your local building code officials and usually include trades that require licensing such as working with electricity, gas, HVAC equipment, and doing major plumbing work.

Other than the jobs regulated by your local jurisdiction, whether or not a project is DIY-friendly depends solely on your abilities and experience level -- what might be a DIY project for your neighbor could be quite a bit beyond your current skill level.

Every DIYer starts somewhere

I had to chuckle when reading a recent article on stylelist.com entitled "The 10 Home Remodeling Projects You Should Not DIY." My guess is that the article was written for homeowners who would have a tough time finding a hammer if they needed to drive a nail.

I totally agree that projects such as doing electrical, plumbing, and roofing work belong on the list. However, I hardly think that installing exterior siding, putting in windows and doors, or laying driveway pavers should have made their top ten. While masonry or stucco may be beyond your skill level, even beginning DIYers shouldn't have too much of a problem with installing vinyl, fiber cement, or wood siding.

The same is true when considering a window or door upgrade to your home. You may not want to attempt the installation of a picture window in the upper section of a two-story wall, but placing replacement windows in existing openings can normally be DIY-friendly. And I have known numerous homeowners who did outstanding jobs on their paver driveways and patios -- you'd never know they weren't put in by a professional.

When wondering whether a project is DIY-friendly, take what you read or what other people have to say with a grain of salt. Be honest with yourself as to your abilities and skill level -- if you feel that you can do the project safely and competently, buckle up your tool belt.

Green kitchen remodeling: 3 eco-friendly countertops

Posted by Jeffrey Anderson ~ September 12, 2012

Have you ever wondered what happens to all the materials you so diligently recycle? You do recycle right? In this time of seemingly endless droughts, catastrophic floods, and record breaking heat, we should all be doing our part to help the planet. Many homeowners make their houses more energy efficient during a remodeling project, as these improvements can lead to lower utility costs.

However, the materials purchased during a renovation can be just as important -- products that aren't manufactured in an environmentally responsible manner may be contributing to those dramatic climate changes. That's why I'm constantly on the lookout for new eco-friendly building products, and what could be greener than kitchen countertops made from recycled materials? Consider these three options from environmentally conscious companies for your kitchen remodeling project.

Recycled glass

You now have the perfect excuse for all those wine and beer bottles in the recycling bin out at the curb -- they're contributions toward your new kitchen countertops. Vetrazzo gathers used glass bottles and jars and creates durable countertops in numerous designer colors. The tops are 100 percent recycled glass and can be used for a kitchen remodeling project or anywhere in your home where an eco-friendly countertop could complement your interior décor. Vetrazzo is located in Tate, Ga. and has showrooms and distributors across the country.

Recycled paper

Where does recycled paper go? One place is to PaperStone, a company that uses paper to manufacture kitchen countertops and other building materials. The PaperStone combines the 100 percent recycled paper with resins to form a durable material that's extremely strong. The countertops have a non-porous surface and are resistant to stains and moisture damage. The end-product is so strong that a thinner top with a built-up edge can be used for your kitchen remodeling project -- an option that can be a little more budget-friendly than full-thickness tops. Their solid surface countertops are offered in nine colors. PaperStone is located in Washington state and suggests calling their main office to locate the dealer closest to your home.

Recycled wood

If you want a truly unique eco-friendly countertop for your kitchen, look no further than Windfall Lumber in Tumwater, Wa. They use FSC-certified and reclaimed wood to make some of the most beautiful countertops I've ever seen -- of course, I'm partial to the look of natural wood. Many of their tops are made using the end grain of the lumber, which gives the surface the appearance of a patchwork quilt.

Studies show that eco-friendly remodeling and new construction isn't just a fad -- green homes are expected to comprise close to 38 percent of the residential market by 2016. Do your part by choosing one of these or the many other options offered by environmentally responsible countertop manufacturers.

Upgrade your home's exterior appearance with one simple change

Posted by Conrad Neuf ~ August 21, 2012

I've been involved in the construction of many, many new homes over the years and can let you in on a little secret: most large builders don't spend any more on a house than is absolutely necessary. Of course, this doesn't include custom builders who will do just about anything the customer wants and then adjust their price accordingly. The home builders I'm referring to are the big national or regional companies that offer customers several house models from which to choose if you wish to live in a particular community.

Each model might have three or four front elevation variations to select from and if you're fortunate, the sales person may allow you to choose siding and exterior paint colors from an approved list. However, other than those few differences each house on your street probably looks pretty much the same and there's a very good chance that they each have a steel six-panel front door.

A front door switch can instantly upgrade your home's curb appeal

So if you happen to own one of these cookie-cutter houses, what can you do to make your abode stand out from the rest and perhaps jazz-up its curb appeal a bit? Every time a homeowner asks me that question my answer is simple: change the front door. Don't get me wrong — there's absolutely nothing wrong with a six-panel metal door. They offer security, easy maintenance, and are budget-friendly, but what they usually don't provide is pizazz and that's what catches people's eyes. An upgraded front door can completely change the exterior look of your home.

Standard front door sizes can make switching easy

What are the options if you decide to tackle this remodeling project? Actually there are quite a few as steel six-panel front doors are usually the same standard sizes as their more flashy relatives. Fiberglass units that can be stained for a wood look or doors containing glass lites are both good alternatives that can improve your home's exterior appearance and are available in the same sizes as steel doors.  Rough openings might vary slightly, but pulling out the old door and installing the upgrade is usually an easy switch. Keep in mind that adding sidelights or a transom may involve additional work if your old door doesn't have those options.

My personal recommendation is to replace your steel six-panel door with a unit containing beveled glass. While they can be expensive, it's hard to beat the touch of elegance the decorative glass can add to your home's curb appeal. And as an added bonus, the latest cost vs. value report from Remodeling Magazine estimates that you might be able to recoup about 56 percent of the costs involved with a front door remodeling project when it comes time to sell your home.

4 effective ways to finance your home remodel

Posted by Admin ~ August 14, 2012

These days, it's often more affordable to improve your existing home – or even do major renovations – than it is to move into a new home. Not only can improving your home's aesthetic and functional appeal increase resale value, but it also makes your home more pleasant to live in.

However, financing such projects isn't as easy as it used to be. Here are four ways you can get financing to remodel your home:

1. Home equity loan
A home equity loan can be a good way to finance a remodeling project if you have sufficient equity in your home and a good credit score. Many people prefer this option to a home equity line of credit (HELOC) because a home equity loan comes with a fixed interest rate. With a HELOC, however, the rate is variable.

2. Home improvement credit card
Lowe's and Home Depot often offer a 0% introductory APR on their credit cards, as well as other promotions to cardholders throughout the year. Create a plan to pay off the entire balance within the introductory period on any card to avoid high interest charges.

However, if the introductory period is too short with a home improvement credit card, see if you qualify for a card with a longer introductory period. For example, the Citi Simplicity Card offers a o% APR for the first 18 months.

3. 401k loan
Borrowing from your 401k is not something you want to do without serious consideration. Be sure to understand the terms and conditions of your plan provider, as you must pay interest on the money you borrow. Furthermore, you have to pay it back within the time specified; otherwise, you'll pay a hefty 10% penalty and taxes on the amount you owe. Still, if you don't qualify for other forms of financing – or only qualify at high interest rates – this may be your best option.

4. Roth IRA withdrawal
If you've been contributing to a Roth IRA, you can access your contributions at any time without paying a penalty or taxes. This is because with the Roth IRA, you've already paid tax on those contributions. However, if you make withdrawals in excess of what you contribute, you will be charged taxes and a 10% penalty on that amount.

Technically, you are not borrowing the funds, but are making a withdrawal. Therefore, you do not need to put that money back into your account. Therefore, it's extremely important to implement a plan to return the amount you withdraw within a defined period of time, and to hold yourself accountable to it.

Final thoughts
In order to finance your home improvement project, you need to have an idea of how much it's going to cost you. Before you begin, do the necessary research, establish spending limits, find a good contractor, and then hold them to their proposals – cost overruns can kill you.

Next, start paying the money you borrow back right away. To save extra money to put toward your debt, clip coupons to save at the grocery store, adjust your thermostat to save on home energy, and drop your landline phone if you can get by with just a cell phone. Not only will these measures help you pay your loan off quicker, but they'll help you save money in the long run.

What other financing methods have you used to remodel your home?

David Bakke is a contributor for Money Crashers Personal Finance. He provides tips for managing money, planning for retirement, and saving for big expenses like home improvements.

3 Reasons to give spray foam insulation a try

Posted by Conrad Neuf ~ August 14, 2012

As one of those people who are resistant to change and think most new technology will probably end up as a passing fad, I'm always a bit dubious when a new building material happens along. Needless to say, I was less than enthusiastic a few years back when a private home inspector, for whom I was doing a remodeling project, wanted to use spray foam insulation in his home's exterior walls rather than good old-fashioned fiberglass batts.

I had used the spray foam insulation available in small aerosol cans to fill in gaps around windows and doors in the past, but had never seen the product used to insulate an entire home. However, never let it be said that I'm not willing to broaden my horizons — by the end of the project I was a convert to the benefits spray foam insulation could provide homeowners and contractors.

Say goodbye to air infiltration

One of the most frequent warranty issues I've had to deal with as a remodeling contractor is air infiltration or drafts and a large percentage of the time it's due to loose, missing, or torn fiberglass insulation. The insulation in the exterior walls can look perfect during a close-in inspection, but all it takes is one careless sheetrock hanger to invite outside air into the home. Spray foam insulation can pretty much eliminate that problem as it may look like the wall has been slimed, but it's there to stay.

Lower heating and cooling costs

These days every penny counts so when the government's Energy Star site states that homeowners may be able to save up to 20 percent on their heating and cooling costs by upgrading their insulation and ensuring the home is properly sealed, it may be worth a listen. The advantage of spray foam insulation is that it fills every nook and cranny in your exterior walls — even those that the insulation contractor feels are too tight to chink with fiberglass. Spray foam can be used to seal around plumbing vents, utility penetrations, and even around electrical outlets to eliminate pesky drafts.

Do big things in small places with spray foam insulation

Fiberglass batt insulation is a great product and has been used in many homes, but the R-value it can provide is dictated by the thickness of your exterior walls. If your home has 3 1/2 inch outside framing, standard batt insulation is normally R-13. However, using closed cell spray foam in the same space may be able to increase your insulation protection to R-22 or even higher depending on the product's composition.

Don't be a Luddite like I was — if you're planning a remodeling project or just an energy saving upgrade, give serious consideration to spray foam insulation.


{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.