Monday, July 27, 2009

AK’s Care And Maintenance Newsletter (In Blog Form)

We know new spaces, new rooms and new designs are not a possibility for everyone right now. No matter how much we want it! But something we can all do is give the current features of our home a little TLC .

When things are looking and working at their best, it sure helps us feel our best. Yeah, we’re in the business of renovating your home; but, we’re also in the business of keeping you satisfied. And that is by far our company’s most important role!

Below you will find: Natural Stone Care, Wood Floor Care, Fiber Cement Siding Care and Amazing Uses For Bleach & Vinegar! We hope you learn something this month about care and maintenance for all the beautiful features of your home, and let us know how else AK can help you!

(Might we recommend that you print this blog? Keep it with your cleaning supplies so the information is at your fingertips when you most need it!)

Natural Stone & Granite

Normal Maintenance: Common care for granite involves only periodic washing with clean, potable water and a neutral (PH7) detergent soap or cleaner. Following the manufacturer’s directions, wash in small, overlapping sweeps. Rinse thoroughly with clean, potable water to remove all traces of soap or cleaner solution. Dry with a soft cloth and allow to thoroughly air-dry. **Soap, while the most gentle choice, can leave a residue. Even when you rinse and dry. You may want to try a special granite cleaner every 3 months or so to restore the shine!**

Stain Removal: Natural stone is a porous material susceptible to staining. Granite is much less porous than the other natural stones, and is therefore much less likely to stain. The level of porosity in the stone dictates the degree of ease or difficulty in removing the stain. In order to remove a stain, the staining process must be reversed. Originally the stone absorbed the stain; now the stain must be broken down chemically and reabsorbed into a different material. This different material is what we call a Poultice, which is a white powder and the appropriate chemical required to reactivate the stain. This is why it is important to identify the stain, thereby choosing the correct chemical. We recommend if you get to this point you call AK or another granite professional to consult on the project!

Wood Floors

  1. Do not use sheet vinyl or tile floor care products on wood floors. Self-polishing acrylic waxes cause wood to become slippery and appear dull quickly.
  2. Use throw rugs both inside and outside doorways to help prevent grit, dirt and other debris from being tracked onto your wood floors. This will prevent scratching.
  3. Do not wet-mop a wood floor. Standing water can dull the finish, damage the wood and leave a discoloring residue.
  4. Wipe up spills immediately with a slightly dampened towel.
  5. Do not over-wax a wood floor. If the floor dulls, try buffing instead. Avoid wax buildup under furniture and other light traffic areas by applying wax in these spots every other waxing session.
  6. Put soft plastic or fabric-faced glides under the legs of furniture to prevent scuffing and scratching.
  7. Avoid walking on your wood floors with cleats, sports shoes and high heels. A 125-pound woman walking in high heels has an impact of 2,000 pounds per square inch. An exposed heel nail can exert up to 8,000 pounds per square inch. This kind of impact can dent any floor surface.
  8. When moving heavy furniture, do not slide it on wood flooring. It is best to pick up the furniture completely to protect the wood flooring.
  9. For wood flooring in the kitchen, place an area rug in front of the kitchen sink.
  10. Use a humidifier throughout the winter months to keep wood movement and shrinkage to a minimum.

Fiber Cement Siding
While fiber cement siding is a low-maintenance product, it does require some care to maintain its appearance. Insect nests and accumulated dirt can easily be removed by power washing. Inspection of caulked joints between butt ends of boards, windows, and doors is recommended each year. Gaps that open when caulk pulls away can easily be filled with a high quality acrylic, latex, or urethane caulk. A well maintained fiber cement siding product generally requires repainting every seven to fifteen years.

Fiber cement product installations are typically not suited for do-it-yourself projects. Special tools and expertise are required to install the product. A builder or siding contractor with experience is recommended for a quality installation.

Keep Your Fiber Cement Siding Clean:
Fiber cement siding should be cleaned yearly using a power washer. When cleaning your siding, use the following procedure:

Look around. Inspect the siding thoroughly, keeping an eye out for accumulations of debris, dirt or mold. Also, check around windows and doors and at all corners for loose or missing caulk. Damaged siding may have to be replaced. Check with your dealer for matching styles and sizes.

Time for a trim. Now is a good time to trim back trees and bushes that have grown up against your house. Remove any branches that hang over or rub against your siding.

Use a little elbow grease. Use a lightweight wire brush to remove accumulated dirt or bird droppings. Mix one cup of bleach in a gallon of water with two tablespoons of dishwashing detergent and use this mixture to remove any mold or mildew stains.

Amazing Uses For Bleach

Plastic Cutting Boards: mix 1 TBSP of Clorox® Regular-Bleach with one gallon of water, soak prewashed cutting board 2 minutes, drain, air dry.

Wooden Cutting Board: mix 3 TBSP Clorox® Regular-Bleach per gallon water, pour solution over prewashed cutting board, stand 2 minutes, rinse with 1 TBSP Clorox® Regular-Bleach per gallon of water. Do not rinse or soak overnight.

Cut Flowers: add 1/4 teaspoon Clorox® Regular-Bleach to each quart of water used in your vase to extend the life of your freshly cut flowers.

Amazing Uses For Vinegar

Clean the hoses and unclog soap scum from a washing machine. Once a month pour one cup of white vinegar into the washing machine and run the machine through a normal cycle, without clothes.

Keep a garbage disposal clean and smelling fresh. Mix one cup of vinegar in enough water to fill an ice cube tray, freeze the mixture, grind the cubes through the disposal, and flush with cold water.

Prevent misty spots on glassware. Place a cup of white vinegar on the bottom rack of the dishwasher, run for five minutes, then run though the full cycle. A cup of white vinegar run through the entire cycle once a month will also reduce soap scum on the inner workings.

Deodorize a stale lunch box.Soak a paper napkin in vinegar and leave it inside the closed lunch box overnight.

Prevent cracked hard boiled eggs. Add two tablespoons of white vinegar per quart of water before boiling to prevent the eggs from cracking. The egg shells will also peel off faster and easier.

Unclog a shower head. Unscrew the shower head, remove the rubber washer, place the head in a pot filled with equal parts vinegar and water, bring to a boil, then simmer for five minutes.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Are You Under House Arrest?

Ok, so maybe “house arrest” is a little dramatic, but it’s true most of us have been spending A LOT more time at home. We’re taking fewer vacations, eating out less, making fewer trips to the mall, taking in less movies, concerts and shows. So what’s left to do? Stay home! Renting movies, playing board games, backyard baseball and cards, cooking out, piecing together a puzzle, even reading a book – all our new economical forms of entertainment. All centered around one special place.

Our house, our casa, our abode, maison, heim, huis, 家….shall I go on? (Nevermind, I don’t think I can.) Well we’ve always known it’s where our heart is, but these days the rest of our body is making an appearance too. Did you ever notice what happens when you suddenly start to spend a lot of time at home? You start saying things like “How did that get there?” “How long has that been broken?” “I don’t remember this room feeling so small.” “Can’t I get some space for myself in here?” “Who are these kids and why are they calling me Dad?”

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and now that we’re all home so much our fondness can fade. So what to do? Selling, buying, moving….not practical or realistic. Redecorating? Remodeling? Now you’re on the right track! Residential Design & Build Magazine published a piece this month about early signs of economic recovery. They are basing these signs of economic revival on the 16% increase in spending by “affluents” on home luxuries. I’m not sure who they’re calling affluents, but I am fairly sure the so-called home luxuries have to do with what I was talking about – Redecorating. Remodeling.

The president of Unity Marketing, who conducted this study, said the following:

“Whether drawn to shop for home furnishings by retailer promotions and sales or the need to spruce up their living spaces after spending more time at home because of the recession, affluent shoppers increased spending on luxuries for their home in the first quarter. While affluents spent more on home furnishings and decor, they spent less on luxury experiences like dining out that take them out of their home,” Danziger reports.

“Affluent consumers are digging in to weather the rest of the recession in a nice environment, especially in areas in which the housing market has made buying a new residence impractical. And just when we thought the recession may have plateaued, the country has been hit with worry over a potential flu pandemic, if not now then in the fall. This may contribute in future quarters to an even greater reason for affluents to stay home, potentially good news for home luxury marketers but disastrous for experiential luxury marketers in the restaurant and travel sectors.”

Well, I found it interesting anyway… Interesting that those mysterious “affluents” out there are feeling a little stir crazy under house arrest. And that maybe the “non-affluents” are feeling the exact same way and maybe they deserve some options for their home, too. Light bulb moment, right? You knew we’d tie it back to AK somehow. Yes, AK CAN help everyone that’s feeling a little bit of “home sickness” – I am a Home-Medic, you know…


As a Home-Medic my Hippocratic duty is to ensure you receive the ultimate level of service while providing the quality construction necessary to complete your renovation project; ultimately helping to bring your family closer together.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Name Your Own Price (Not Just For Insurance Anymore!)

Have you seen this commercial? People shopping in this surreal bright white store staffed by an all-knowning insurance obsessed woman named Flo. In this particular commercial Flo is working with a man who is looking for insurance he can afford:

Man: So I tell you what I want to pay?

Flo: And we build a policy to fit your budget.

Man: I feel so empowered.

Flo: Power to the people!

What this insurance company is promoting is the ability to name your own price. Sounds like a pretty unique option, right? Actually, not really. We might not have been advertising it on TV, but AK has had this option since it’s inception. What the real key to this ability is, is to realize how it works – both in the insurance and remodeling world.

What naming your own price really means is that you tell AK what you want to spend, and like the insurance company, we build you a new space to fit your budget. Does that mean you can tell AK to build you a $25,000.00 kitchen and then receive marble floors, SubZero appliances and Cherry cabinets? Of course not. But it does mean that AK can tell you exactly what you can get for your price. It’s then up to you if you want to increase your budget to get those cherry cabinets you have your heart set on; or, if you want to stick with your lower investment amount and enjoy the kitchen facelift that it can buy you. The power is yours.

Feeling Empowered,


Making Sense Of The 2009 Tax Credits

Are you as confused as we are about this new tax credit? The economic stimulus package signed into law in February revived and expanded tax credits for energy-efficient home improvements that expired in 2007. We know that doing a home renovation in 2009, that improves your home’s energy-efficiency, is going to pay off more this year than in previous years. But just how much more? What is eligible for the tax credit? Here’s a little breakdown:

  • Energy efficiency tax credits have been raised from 10% of cost to 30%
  • The maximum tax credit has been raised from $500 to $1500 on individual efficiency upgrades
  • More expensive upgrades, such as solar panels, solar water heaters, and geothermal pumps are not limited to their previous $1,500 maximum
  • The $200 tax credit cap on efficient windows has been removed (however, the standards are also more stringent!)

From what we can figure, all this means that it is a good time to upgrade, insulate and/or weatherize your home. You may consider adding AK’s Home Maintenance Services to keep up with the upgrades; and we’ll also try to help you keep up with ever changing tax laws regarding them!


Product Category

Product Type

Tax Credit Specification

Tax Credit


Windows & DoorsExterior Windows and SkylightsU factor <= 0.30

SHGC <= 0.30

30% of cost, up to $1,5002Not allENERGY STAR labeled windows and skylightsqualify for tax credit.

More information

Storm WindowsMeets IECC1in combination with the exterior window over which it is installed, for the applicable climate zone30% of cost, up to $1,5002Manufacturer Certification Statement3will list classes of exterior window (single pane, clear glass, double pane, low-E coating, etc.)4 that a product may be combined with to be eligible in specific climate zones.
Exterior DoorsU factor <= 0.30

SHGC <= 0.30

30% of cost, up to $1,5002Not allENERGY STAR doors will qualify.

More information

Storm DoorsIn combination with a wood door assigned a default U-factor by the IECC1, and does not exceed the default U-factor requirement assigned to such combination by the IECC30% of cost, up to $1,5002
RoofingMetal Roofs,
Asphalt Roofs
ENERGY STAR qualified30% of cost, up to $1,5002All ENERGY STAR metal and asphalt roofs qualify for the tax credit.

Must be expected to last 5 years OR have a 2 year warranty.

InsulationInsulationMeets 2009 IECC & Amendments30% of cost, up to $1,5002For insulation to qualify, its primary purpose must be to insulate. (example: vapor retarders are covered, insulated siding does not qualify).

Must be expected to last 5 years OR have a 2 year warranty

HVACCentral A/CSplit Systems:
EER >=13
SEER >= 16

Package systems:
EER >= 12
SEER >= 14

30% of cost, up to $1,5002For a list of qualified products, go to theConsortium for Energy Efficiency product directory , click on Air Conditioners, then in the “CEE Tier” enter “Residential Advanced Tier 3” for CAC Split Systems, and “Residential Tier 2″ for CAC Package Systems and ASHPs.

Note — not all ENERGY STAR products will qualify for the tax credit. View ENERGY STAR criteria.

Air Source Heat PumpsSplit Systems:
HSPF >= 8.5
EER >= 12.5
SEER >= 15

Package systems:
HSPF >= 8
EER >= 12
SEER >= 14

30% of cost, up to $1,5002
Natural Gas or Propane FurnaceAFUE >= 9530% of cost, up to $1,5002For a list of qualifying products go to the Gas Appliance Manufacturing Association

Not all ENERGY STAR products will qualify for the tax credit. View ENERGY STAR criteria.

Oil FurnaceAFUE >= 9030% of cost, up to $1,5002
Gas, Propane, or Oil Hot Water BoilerAFUE >= 9030% of cost, up to $1,5002
Advanced Main Air Circulating FanNo more than 2% of furnace total energy use30% of cost, up to $1,5002
Water HeatersGas, Oil, Propane Water HeaterEnergy Factor >= 0.82
or a thermal efficiency of at least 90%.
30% of cost, up to $1,5002Not all ENERGY STAR gas storage and gas condensing water heaters will qualify for the tax credit. All ENERGY STAR gas tankless models will qualify.

All ENERGY STAR gas tankless water heaterswill qualify.

View ENERGY STAR criteria.

For a partial list of qualifying products go to the Air Conditioning, Heating, and refrigeration Institute (AHRI)

Electric Heat Pump Water HeaterSame criteria as ENERGY STAR: Energy Factor >= 2.030% of cost, up to $1,5002All ENERGY STAR electric heat pump water heatersqualify for the tax credit.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Maintaining Your Home’s Value

The continued “Bad News” coming through our TV’s, radios, newspapers, etc. inspired me to say a little something about home values. Yes, there is a lot of bad news out there – but there is also some good news too. While home values may be down, it’s not going to last forever. Homeowners who are making smart investments in their homes are going to ride out these tough times without a problem. So what are smart investments in your home?

One of the most agreed upon value-boosting activities is MAINTENANCE! Many insurance companies, like State Farm, recommend seasonal or quarterly home maintenance to their clients. State Farm says that these regular activities can “pay off in peace of mind, utility cost savings, durability and even resale value.” Home inspectors also recommend to all of their clients that they undertake regular preventative maintenance; which is vastly different from repairing an already broken item. Preventative maintenance can avoid repairs, extend the life expectancy of many components and in some cases, reduce energy consumption.

The home inspection society makes some recommendations on their site regarding home maintenance: “Hiring a handyman to perform maintenance inspections and minor repairs is not unwise. Ideally, preventative maintenance inspections should be performed semi-annually in the spring and fall. However, some components require more or less frequent inspections.” These facts, in combination with how critical home maintenance has become in our economy, I decided to found a new function for our company…

AK Home Maintenance Services

Our goal is to provide you with comfort and peace of mind knowing that your home is being well cared for by professionals solely. AK Home Maintenance Services will take care of your home so you don’t have to…we’re sure you have better things to do. Please check us out and let us help you protect your homes value until and after this economy turns around. We all may be in our current houses a little longer than we had originally planned; so we’re doing our best to make your current house as comfortable for your family as possible!


Home Renovations That Make Sense (And Cents) In Today’s Economy

We recently posted an article on our site about the “Nine Renovations Projects That Make Sense For 2009.” It’s not that in the near future we’re headed to some strange new 2009 world where kitchens are suddenly outmoded and overlooked. It’s because so many people that we hear from really really want to change parts of their homes but they are just terrified of making the investment right now. And, I can’t blame them. Most of us have been touched by the recession in one way or another and are spending less and spending smarter. And for most of us, that change was a good thing! So good can come out of bad…but what to do about that house?

While I sheepishly consider myself an expert in the field of remodeling, I would not say I’m the person you want making all your investment decisions. So when a client wants to spend thirty thousand dollars, sixty thousand dollars especially two hundred thousand dollars on my services I want to help them understand that they are making a smart and sound investment. (That’s how AK won the award for MarketPlace Ethics from the Atlanta Better Business Bureau, but we’ll save that story for another day!) This assurance has become even more important over the last 6-8 months. So if you don’t feel like reading the whole article above, let me tell you a little about what it says.

  • Americans are expected to spend $217 billion on remodeling in 2009, according to Gopal Ahluwalia, staff vice president for research at NAHB. That’s up from the $210 billion spent in 2008 and not far off from the $218 billion spent in 2007. That’s pretty good, right? Funny we haven’t heard that encouraging statistic on the news!
  • Siding replacement and window replacement. This is one of the main reasons AK has now devoted a whole page to this #1 investment decision! Throughout the country, both projects ranked among the highest in terms of “cost recouped,” , according to Remodeling magazine. In the Midwest in particular, that numbered hovered around the 70 percent mark for both projects.
  • Kitchen remodel. “What sells the house is the kitchen and bathrooms,” says Ahluwalia at NAHB. Indeed, Remodeling magazine’s “cost recouped” figures bear that out with Midwesterners realizing 66.5 percent cost recouped on major kitchen remodels in the midrange price level—the minor remodels capturing nearly 70 percent.
  • Bathroom remodel. Like the kitchen, a house with good bathrooms is gads more saleable than one without. And no, the glorious master bedroom bath is not dead, according to our experts. It just looks a little different these days. Skip the giant tub (few people actually use them and they are water guzzlers). Opt instead for a fantastic body spray shower and a smaller soaking tub, Sevon says. If your budget allows, go for mosaics or stone or fancy tilework in that shower area.

So, in a nutshell, there are still things you can do – and do well – that will be a good investment in your home while also making it more livable for your family in the here and now.