As you probably know, it's easy to lower the costs of a renovation. Just hire
an inexpensive, fly-by-night contractor — and hope for the best!
Chances are, you won't want to take that risk. So how do you ensure you get
quality work while keeping your budget in check?
Here are some tips:
• Get estimates from at least three contractors. Often prices can vary
widely, even amongst contractors with similar reputations and
• Narrow the project focus. If you're getting a bathroom renovated, for
example, decide whether you need the contractor to paint the new
walls. Can you do that yourself?
• Shop around for the building materials. Yes, contractors often have
access to wholesale prices. Still, you might be able to find a bathtub
and vanity at a lower cost or at least avoid any markup the contractor
• Negotiate. Sometimes a contractor is willing to lower the price for
concessions, such as quick payments or more time to complete the job.
• Schedule the renovation during a low-demand season. For example,
deck contractors charge more in the spring than the fall. It's supply and
demand. More people want their decks done in the spring.
Keep in mind that spending a little more for a skilled and reputable contractor
can save you money in the long run. The renovation will have fewer, if any,
"issues" (that may require an expensive fix) and will last longer.
Here's a surprising statistic. Less than 30% of window replacements are the result of the old windows being worn, broken or otherwise in need of replacement.
Clearly, there are other good reasons to consider new windows!
One of the most popular motivations is cosmetic. Brand new windows have a huge impact on the overall look of a home, both on the inside and the outside. New windows can improve curb appeal — an important element when you sell a home. From the inside, new windows can dramatically improve the look of a room.
Another reason to replace windows is to address energy costs. Modern windows are packed with technologies that lower heating/cooling bills. From low-e/argon to special spacer bars to high-insulating construction, these technologies can provide savings you'll notice, especially if you're replacing very old windows.
A third reason is window style and characteristics. Simply put, you may not like your current windows! You may want more glass and less frame to enhance your view. Maybe your windows pull up (vertical sliders) when you'd rather have them open like a door (casements). Perhaps you'd like fancy blinds in-between the panes of glass. Replacing windows lets you get exactly the look and features you want.
Will new windows boost the resale value of your home? They might, at least a little. But there's one thing for certain: upgraded windows definitely make your home look more appealing to buyers.
Is your home office the dining room table? Is it anywhere you can sit down undisturbed with your laptop? If so, you might be interested in converting a room or nook into a dedicated home office. Depending on what you do for a living, there could be a tax advantage to creating this space too.
The first step is to pick a spot. Ideally, you want an area where you can work without too many distractions.
Next, make sure the spot you’ve chosen can accommodate a desk and any other furnishings you’ll need. Think about what you want within easy reach of your work area. Will you need a place for books and other papers? An extra chair for client meetings? A flipchart? A filing cabinet? Think about all of the options in advance.
Then, you’ll want to make sure the spot you picked has the electrical outlets you need, especially if you’re going to have a printer, special lighting, a computer and other items that need power.
Finally, you’ll want your home office to be a place where you can enjoy working. So decorate it with that in mind. If you like plants, get plants. If you enjoy golf, have your golf trip pictures hanging on the wall.
With a little work, you can quickly create a home office space that is comfortable, functional and enjoyable. It sure beats the dining room!
If you want to transform a room into something that’s functional, beautiful and perfectly matched to your taste, then you might want to hire an interior designer.
It’s an interior designer’s job to come up with imaginative ideas that will wow you.
It’s a myth that interior designers just deal with paint colours, décor and furnishings. In fact, according to the Interior Designers Institute, these professionals have the training needed to handle all aspects of a renovation or remodeling project, including selecting and managing contractors. They can direct a project from beginning to end.
If you want to renovate your basement into a stunning home theatre and gathering place, an interior designer can:
• Draw out several concepts for you to choose from,
• Purchase the best building materials,
• Hire the contractors, and
• Manage the project.
He or she can even pick out classic movie pictures for the walls!
There are many professional associations that have “Find an Interior Designer” links on their websites. In Canada, check out the Interior Designers of Canada (www.idcanada.org).
Some people don’t give hallways much thought when painting and decorating. Instead, they focus on rooms.
The fact is, a great looking hallway can have the same, if not more, impact than the most eye-catching family room or bedroom, especially when you need to go through the hallway to get there!
Here are some painting tips that can bring a dull hallway to life:
• Paint the hallway the reverse of the rooms around it. If the rooms are dark, use light colours in the hall. If the rooms feature simple colours, consider being more dramatic in your choice of hallway paint.
• In a longer hallway, using two shades of the same colour on perpendicular walls can make the space seem less tunnel-like. (The darker shade goes on the shorter walls.)
• Darker colours can work well if the space is well-lit and there are few, if any, shadows cast.
• If you decide to paint the halls white, select an off-white or eggshell white. Avoid stark white as it will reflect light in a way that’s unpleasant.
One more tip: Pictures can go a long way in making a hallway look inviting,
regardless of the wall colour.
Good luck with the painting!
There has been a lot of emphasis lately on the importance of “going green”. That simply means being environmentally-responsible. You likely already recycle, use energy-efficient lights, and turn down your thermostat when no one is home.
Yet, most of us don’t think about the garden or flower bed when we “think green”.
We should. Here are a few practical things you can do to tend to outdoor plants — without negatively impacting the environment.
• Pull weeds instead of using a weed killer.
• Avoid strong pesticides. (Products that target only one or two types of insects tend to be less harsh.)
• Don’t use flower bed ornaments (i.e. gnomes) that might bleed colour dye into the soil. (Ask your garden centre before you buy.)
• Be careful not to leave hand spades, trowels, and other garden tools lying around, especially over winter. They can rust, which contaminates the soil.
These tips may seem minor, but if you want to be environmentallyconscious,
every little bit helps!
Decorative moulding is one of the most eye-catching ways to upgrade a room. You’re probably accustomed to seeing standard baseboard moulding installed where your floor meets the wall. But, there are many other types.
• Crown moulding for ceilings.
• Panel moulding for a southern colonial look.
• Chair rail moulding, which is very distinctive on walls.
• Apron moulding for window sills.
• Entablature moulding for above doorways.
Decorative moulding comes in a dizzying array of styles. Interior designers
recommend taking home samples, just as you would take paint swatches, to test out ideas.
In addition to style choices, you also need to select the material you prefer. Moulding can be made of wood, plaster, laminate, composite, fiberboard, vinyl and other materials. There are pros and cons to each.
Generally, the higher-priced options are more attractive and durable. (If you select wood, you typically have the additional option of “finished or unfinished”. If you choose unfinished, you of course, will be painting it yourself.)
Choosing the right moulding for the look you want is the toughest part of the job. Installation is a lot easier and most people with DIY experience have no problems.
So if you want to add some magic to your walls, consider decorative moulding. It can turn a room from standard to stunning.
If you’re paying a lot of money for a new washing machine, wouldn’t it be nice to know how long you should expect it to last? There is, of course, no exact formula for figuring that out. Every brand and unit is different. There are however, some broad estimates.
According to an article in Consumer Reports, a washer and dryer will hum along just fine for about 10 years, with a likelihood of needing a repair during the last two to three. Leading brands offer a parts and labour guarantee for at least a year. So, if something goes wrong during that period, be sure to contact themanufacturer right away.
The National Association of Home Builders released a report a few years ago on the longevity of kitchen appliances. They found that refrigerators can last up to 13 years under normal use. Dishwashers and ovens will start to show their age after nine years. The worst record is for trash compactors, with a life expectancy of only six years before repairs or replacement is required.
Microwave ovens last an average of nine years. However, the door seal should be checked often. Otherwise, the unit will quickly lose efficiency. (You’ll notice this when your food doesn’t heat up as quickly and evenly.) All experts agree that the best way to keep home appliances functioning properly is to follow manufacturer’s instructions for use and maintenance. If you’ve lost your user’s manual, you can download a new one (which may contain important updates) from the manufacturer’s website.
You don’t have to freeze in the winter or start reading by candlelight to reduce your electricity bill. There are many simple ways to use less power with little, if any, impact on your lifestyle.
A good place to start is with your electronics.
According to the David Suzuki Foundation, “Any gizmo that has a clock, digital timer, remote control or standby mode is sucking energy when it's not being used (it's called 'phantom electricity' — and it's scary how much of it there is).” So keep them unplugged as much as possible. Also, unplug charger cords for phone and computers when not in use. Even when not connected to the device, they still suck power.
Another easy change to make involves your lights. Switching to compact fluorescent (CFL) or LED light bulbs can save you a lot of energy. They’re 75% more efficient.
Finally, the old-fashioned method of insulating doors and windows can work wonders for lowering your electricity bill. In fact, some particularly drafty homes can lose up to 40% of their heat. Check for drafts regularly and repair or replace insulation as needed.
None of these ideas will impact your day-to-day living. Yet, they could potentially save you a bundle.
You’re standing by your window admiring the view. Then you notice it. Moisture has built-up around the edges of the glass. Should you worry?
It all depends on the reason for the build up.
Assuming you have traditional double-pane glass in your windows, there are a few things to look for if you notice moisture.
Often, moisture at the bottom of the windows is simply caused by too much humidity in your indoor air. If that’s the case, simply adjust your humidifier.
If the moisture is on the exterior of the window, typically there’s also no problem with the window itself. It may have rained recently or the outside humidity may have spiked causing the accumulation. Generally, there’s no reason for concern.
However, if the moisture is in between the two panes of glass, the seal has broken and surrounding air – along with its water content – has made its way in. This disrupts the thermal barrier of the window, reducing its energy efficiency. In fact, the glass might feel noticeably colder than your other windows on chilly days. In that case, you’ll need to replace the pane.
Similarly, if the moisture is coming in through only one spot — the bottom right corner, for example — then you might have a leak. If you have a wood frame or sill, you may also notice a growing water stain. It’s important to get leaks fixed quickly. There may be water damage occurring within the frame that you cannot see.
A pantry is the ideal nook for storing extra food and other items ordinarily crammed into the kitchen. It’s also a nice design feature, as it harkens back to the days of country kitchens with spacious pantries.
You might be thinking, “That’s nice, but our home doesn’t have a pantry.”
That’s okay. These days, there are many ways to create a pantry in your home – even if it doesn’t have one! Here are just a few suggestions:
• Add shelves to the laundry room. If you have the space, this is the
ideal place to create a mini-pantry.
• Purchase a portable pantry. There are many available on the market. Some are even disguised as cabinets you’d expect to see in living and dining rooms.
• Purchase a movable pantry. These units are on wheels and can slide in and out of the kitchen with ease. Some are short enough to slide conveniently under a kitchen table.
• Make use of an unused closet. These are rare in most homes, but if you have a closet that isn’t being used, it can easily be converted into a pantry.
As you can see, there are plenty of options available. You don’t necessarily need to build an extra room!
You can’t call yourself a dentist unless you have specific hard-earned credentials. Just about anyone, however, can hang a shingle and call himself a home improvement contractor. That’s why choosing a reputable one is so difficult. Here are some tips:
• Find out if he or she is truly in business full-time. A part-time or occasional contractor may not have the experience necessary to do a great job.
• Ask about licenses and other credentials. Some contractors have accreditations from professional and trade associations.
• Review his or her project portfolio. A reputable contractor will have photos and other evidence of work completed for similar clients.
• Check online for reviews. If there are more than five poor reviews within the past three years — that’s a red flag.
• Ask for references. Then, call at least one.
Finally, the best contractors are those that get recommended by people you trust.
Looking for a contractor recommendation? Call me today and I would be happy to provide you with a list of tried and true professionals.
Comedian George Carlin’s most memorable routine was, “A place for my stuff.” In it, he talked about dealing with the increasing quantity of items we accumulate throughout life.
George was funny. The problem is not.
Here are some low-cost ideas for quickly creating storage space for your stuff.
• Attach a cloth pouch or thin plastic basket to the inside of cupboard doors. This is a great way to store Tupperware lids, cosmetics, etc.
• Install hooks inside the foyer closet for loose items such as hats and scarfs.
• Use egg cartons to make effective storage inserts in drawers.
• Fashion stores often put purchases in stiff, high-quality boxes. Placed on their sides, these make effective storage compartments. (Especially shoeboxes.)
• Consider using suitcases for out-of-season clothing. In addition to storage, they also provide protection.
• Never throw out an old wine rack. There are numerous ways these can be used for storage. (Example: for tools.)
By thinking creatively, you can probably come up with many other simple ideas for creating more storage. The reward is a home that looks neater and more spacious.
There are few things more beautiful than cut flowers in a vase. They instantly brighten any room. That is, of course, until they wilt and die. So how do you make cut flowers last as long as possible? Here are some ideas:
• Cut the bottom of the stems before you put the flowers in the vase. An angled cut is best as this will enable the flower to draw in more water.
• Add a fertilizer to the water. Most flower shops include a pouch with the order. Follow the directions carefully. Don’t use too much.
• Make sure the vase is high enough to support the flowers. Too much strain on the stems will cause the flowers to die sooner.
• After a couple of days, re-snip the stems. This will add an additional day or two to the life of the flowers.
• Flowers last longer if you put them in the fridge (in water) overnight. That’s why florists store cut flowers in cool rooms.
Finally, watch the water level and top off as required. Older cut flowers will die quickly when starved of water — even for just a couple of hours.
Many homeowners think there’s not much they can do about telephone, heating, water and other utility expenses. Sure, you may grumble about a high heating bill one month, but what can you do about it? Turns out, you can do plenty. There are several ways to reduce monthly utility costs that can save you tens or even hundreds of dollars. For
• Shop around for a better phone plan. Then contact your phone company. They might match the rates.
• Turn down the thermostat on your water heater. You likely don’t need tap water to be that hot.
• Clean the screen on your outside air conditioning unit regularly. (Gently with the water hose.) Dirt and leaves can build up on it, reducing the unit’s efficiency.
• Leverage the sun. Open curtains in the winter to gain heat. Block direct sunlight in summer to keep the cool air inside.
• Scrutinize your bill. There may be extras you’re paying for that you don’t need.
• Play with the thermostat. Experiment with setting the temperature a couple of degrees lower. You might not notice any difference.
It’s worth paying attention to your utility costs. Just a few smart moves can save you some serious money.
You may love animals, but with the exception of your family pets, you don’t want them in your home. Here are some tips for keeping the wildlife around your property where it belongs: outside.
• Don’t place bird feeders too close to your windows. Doing so may cause birds to associate a window with food and therefore try to peck their way inside.
• Make sure window screens are secure. If you can push a screen loose with your hand, so can a bird or other animal.
• Check screens on dryer vents and chimneys. If they are damaged, fix or replace them.
• To determine how animals are entering your home, stuff wadded paper in the suspected entry point. If the paper is disturbed the next day, you’ll know where they got in.
• Never leave food outside, unattended. After a barbeque, for example, take all remaining food inside. If you do find an animal in your home, never try to pick it up. It may bite or have rabies. Instead, call a professional.
You’ve no doubt noticed the occasional news report about a product being recalled for safety reasons. For example, a car model with a brake problem, or a children’s toy that, under some circumstances, may cause injury. You may not know that these news reports are merely the tip of the iceberg. For each product recall you hear about in the media, there are dozens that get little, if any, publicity.
That means there may be products in your home that have been recalled — and you don’t even know about it. It’s a scary thought. How do you find out about recalled products that may affect you? Here are two tips.
1. Always complete the registration that comes with many products. This is typically done by mailing in a registration card or filling out an online form. When you register, you’ll be alerted by the manufacturer if the product is recalled for any reason.
2. Both Canada and the United States have agencies that list recalled products on their websites. In Canada it’s the Healthy Canadians website at www.healthycanadians.gc.ca. In the United States it’s the Consumer Product Safety Commission at www.CPSP.gov. It’s a good habit to check these sites every season.
If you discover that a product in your home has been recalled, contact the manufacturer immediately. Never assume that the reason for the recall won’t apply to you.
There are many reasons why the air quality in your home may not be at its best. A faulty furnace or an aged carpet are just two potential culprits. Until you get those issues addressed, how do you make your indoor air healthier — today?
Here are some ideas:
- Check the furnace filter. This is one of the most overlooked maintenance items in the home. Any furnace repair person can tell you stories about filters they’ve seen caked in dust. Make sure those aren’t yours. Air passes through those filters before circulating throughout your home. Replacing a filter takes less than five minutes.
- Clean the drains. Drains are a surprisingly common source of odour in the home. Most people only clean them when they’re clogged, but they should be flushed thoroughly with a good-quality cleaner at least once a season.
- Turn on the bathroom fan. Not only do bathroom fans remove odour, they also reduce moisture build-up. About 50% of air pollutants originate from some type of moisture; mould being the worst. Professionals recommend you keep the bathroom fan on for at least 30 minutes after a shower.
- Clean your doormat. Even if your doormat doesn’t smell, it can be a source of air pollutants. When people wipe their shoes, they transfer pesticides and other outside ground pollutants from their shoes to your mat.
Of course, you can always open a window. That’s the most popular way to freshen the air, and it works.
If you own a car, you know there’s more to the cost-of-ownership than just finance payments and gas. You also need to budget for maintenance and repairs. If your car is older, those costs are going to be higher. That’s just common sense.
The same is true of your home. It’s wise to budget for anticipated repairs and maintenance. Otherwise, you might be caught by surprise when you find that your furnace stops working and needs to be replaced. That can easily be a four-figure expense.
Experts recommend that you set aside 1% of the value of your home for repairs and maintenance. For a $500,000 property, for example, that would be $5,000. That is, of course, merely a rule of thumb. If your home is older, you may need to budget more.
Another recommended method is to budget $1 a square foot. If you have a 2,500 square foot home, that would be a budget of $2,500. Again, that number would need to be higher for older properties.
When budgeting, consider things that are getting old and will likely need to be replaced within the next three years. Examples include roof shingles, furnace, A/C unit, deck, fence, plumbing, and windows. Depending on the size and model, a new A/C unit will cost at least $5,000. Anticipating that expense will help you plan accordingly and avoid the shock of an unpleasant and costly surprise.
Keep in mind that budgeting $2,000 for repairs and maintenance doesn’t mean you’ll actually spend that money this year. But, if needed, the budget will be there, and that’s peace-of-mind.
Do you have a renovation project in mind – and wonder how much value it will add to your home? Remodeling Magazine recently did a study of renovation projects, comparing costs to added value. Here are some of the results:
Replacing a main entry door has a return on investment of over 95%. After all, the entrance to a home is one of the first things a prospective buyer notices.
Adding a new deck also adds a lot of value. Depending on the materials used, you can expect to get back three-quarters of the money invested.
Another high-payback project is the garage door. This once again demonstrates the importance of a home’s “curb appeal.”
If you’re tackling a big project, such as a basement renovation, you’ll be glad to know that, according to the study, a project like this adds a lot of value.
Finally, minor improvements to bathrooms and kitchens – such as adding new countertops or cupboards, can also be good investments that mostly pay back when you sell your home.
Of course, these figures are averages and can vary widely depending on location, type of property, and other factors.
Need help determining how a particular home improvement might impact the selling price? Call today.