Monday, August 30, 2010

Moen: Trade Tips and Trend Articles - Welcoming Touches

Guest bathrooms tend to be afterthoughts, but little touches can go a long way toward making them more inviting. This article was featured in this months Moen Trade Resources publication and features AK's Ed Cholfin!

 We've all seen what serves as a guest bath in most homes: a plain room with a 30-inch vanity, unframed mirror topped with a three-bulb light bar, toilet, shower/tub combination and towel bar. But it doesn't have to be that way. Here are seven ways to make a basic guest bath a place that's both useful and inviting to a tired traveler.

  • Storage niches. Haley Hougen, president and CEO of Dallas-based HD Remodeling, includes two shampoo niches in nearly every bathroom he remodels. "It saves a ton of space in the there," he says. they're equally handy outside the shower as a place to tuck away towels, books and decorative items.
HGTV Dream House
  • The right lighting. Ed Cholfin, president of Atlanta-based AK Complete Home Renovations, says that in a guest bath, he typically adds lighting directly over the sink area and adds a can light or a combination light/exhaust fan over the tub area. "If it's a can, we can control it with a dimmer if they want to have a relaxing bath," he says. "We like to add mood lighting in addition to work lighting." He says that dimmers are also a perfect way to offer guests a night light in unfamiliar surroundings.
  • A curved shower rod. These easy-to-install shower rods are standard in upscale hotels because they provide bathers with extra elbow room in the shower.
  • A high-quality ventilation fan. "I think our strongest sense is the sense of smell," says Denver-based designer Judy Pepper, principal of Pepper Design Associates. She says a good ventilation fan will ensure fresh air, and that guests will be more likely to use it if it's quiet.
  • A towel bar hook. A simple but ingenious amenity, a towel bar hook provides a convenient place to hang everything from a nightgown or necklace to a toiletries bag. Moen offers decorative hooks that snap securely into place on round towel bars, and come in matching chrome, brushed nickel, or old-world bronze.
  • Accent tiles. Fancy accent tiles that would be cost-prohibitive in a master bath can be quite affordable on a smaller scale. Cholfin likes to add mosaics, medallions and tiles with texture. They not only add visual impact, but they also make wet floors safer. Placing floor tiles on the diagonal will make the room look larger.
  • A towel warmer. This is a feature typically found only in master baths, but with retail costs of low-end units starting at less than $200, it's an affordable upgrade. And it would make anyone feel pampered. "Your guest would love that," Hougen says. "They'd probably go home and buy one of their own!"

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Chicago Daily Herald Reports: How To Find A Remodeler Who Won't Cut Corners

 (Way to go Arlene Miles & The Daily Herald! We know that this piece was a nice promo for some local firms, but we really couldn't agree more with what you said! From finding the "right price" not the "low price" to encouraging clients to check references, to look for awards won and advocating homeowners make payments per stages of completion - All AK practices! Thank you for calling attention to the practices of reputable remodeling firms!)
  It's no secret that owners are staying longer in their houses these days and it's no secret that people remain cautious about spending. Yet fixtures wear out, d├ęcor becomes outdated and home remodeling becomes crucial. With today's economy, many people think it's safe to go with the lowest bid for a remodeling project because contractors are hungry for the work and this guarantees a good job.
  Wrong. That couldn't be further from the truth, many in the remodeling industry say. In fact, because of our economic climate, homeowners ought to be doubly wary of choosing the lowest bidder, especially if there is a wide difference in price for what you think will be the same work, building contractors said.
  "It starts out with the scope of the work," said Mike Pudlik, owner of Legacy Design and Construction Inc. in St. Charles. "What the client thinks they're getting and the scope of what the contractor is offering can be different." If one quote for a bathroom or kitchen redesign is $10,000 less, there's probably a good reason for it. The first thing homeowners need to do is compare apples to apples, which means take the quotes for the proposed job and compare them thoroughly. Go through every line item and ask questions.
  "Not every contractor details specifications, but what a contractor should detail is what's included in the price," said Bryan Sebring, owner of Sebring Services in Naperville. "If you ask them upfront and they don't want to give you details, then they will never be honest with you." Although methods differ, reputable contractors are thorough in how they quote. Daniel Murphy, of Murph's Customs LLC in West Dundee, includes three sections in his contracts.
  "The first is a summary page that includes base cost, what's included in that, and allowance items," Murphy said. "The second page is work order specifications that may include demolition, concrete, excavation, plumbing, electrical, HVAC (heating, air conditioning and ductwork), and any finishes that may be involved such as tile or paint work." In addition, Murphy includes documents that provide legal protection for both his company as well as the potential client.
  Savvy consumers will take a look at line items and question why they're not included in a particular quote. Joan Baltusis of Naperville had her kitchen, master bedroom and bathroom in her townhouse remodeled by Sebring. In comparing quotes, she found a lot of discrepancies. "I asked one contractor about the under-cabinet lighting in the kitchen and the response I got was, 'Well, you didn't ask for it,'" she said. "It's not just the hourly rates or quality that's not detailed, it's whole pieces that are left out."
  One area where there may be considerable differences is in the allowance portion, which is basically materials that a customer must choose, such as tile, flooring, countertops, cabinets and the like. Even here, though, you can work with your contractor and indicate you only want to spend a specific amount of money on items that will be purchased. 
  Not knowing what you want going into a project is an almost universal problem, and one that contributes to the sense that the homeowner is being cheated in the end. Most people only know they want a new bathroom or an addition. They have no idea what goes into doing the work. As a way to offset this, your contractor should ask you specific questions pertaining to how long you plan to stay in your home.
  The scope of a project for someone who plans to sell in several years will be different than for someone who plans to stay in the home indefinitely. The project's scope can affect the way the project is quoted, too...
  Another area that people should check out is whether the contractor actually does good work....Experience and certifications, which speak to the contractor's knowledge, also come at a price. That was important for Dan and Kay Jones of Warrenville when they selected Legacy to perform the renovation on their kitchen and master bathroom. In addition to considering pricing, Dan Jones said it was important for he and his wife to see that the company was reputable.
   "Pricing was definitely a consideration and we got references on work," Jones said. "But we also checked out and saw that Mike (Pudlik) had won some awards. That was important, too."
  Check references, too. What others say about your contractor is important and could be the make or break point for accepting contractor services. Not only may you want to check other clients, asking other businesses such as suppliers is a good idea. That's what Joan Baltusis did before she agreed to a contract to have Sebring Services remodel several rooms of her condominium....
  Two other areas homeowners may want to consider when selecting a contractor are making sure you understand that unforeseen circumstances may raise the final cost, and, secondly, ensuring the payment schedule fits the work being done.
  Murphy included an "unforeseen circumstances" explanation in his contract to build an addition for Dave and Rayelynn Damitz of Schaumburg, which calls for a trench foundation. "If for some reason the walls of the foundation walls start caving in after the concrete is poured, you have to do additional work and this raises the cost," Murphy said. By putting such a clause in the contract, the contractor is letting the consumer know that such an event could, but is not guaranteed, to happen. Thus, there are no surprises.
  Similarly, Murphy usually specifies five or six payments in his contract. "You want to have progressive payment based on what's being done," he explained. "I always hold back 5 to 10 percent of the total cost until after completion until the client has gone through everything and puts their furniture in. This gives the homeowner the security of knowing that I'm not trying to get out and run with the money."
  Even with taking all of these precautions, there are still things that can go wrong. "There are so many ways that (contractors) can be chintzy that the consumer won't know what you're doing," Sebring said. "When you get details, you have less of a chance of that happening."
  Trust is a huge factor. Rayelynn Damitz said there was a big difference in the way she received her quotes from contractors bidding to build her addition. "One dropped it off, the other e-mailed it to us," she said. "Daniel sat down with us for two hours, going over every detail of the quote. I could tell that he's not in it to make a buck and really cares about his customers." Baltusis agreed. "How do you put a price on trust? You can't."
  Nevertheless, the process of selecting a contractor is difficult, as Baltusis noted. "It was a bit daunting to do all of the research," she said. "I didn't realize how important trust was in the process."
  Sebring said potential clients are always asking for him to cut them a deal. "You can either use the experience of a contractor to help you or to hurt you," he said. The bottom line, however, always comes down to the homeowner. Obtain the most complete quote possible, then educate yourself by doing research and asking questions. Doing so will help eliminate surprises and increase the chances of having a good experience with your chosen contractor.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Is The Era of Huge Homes Over?

From CNBC & Yahoo Finance
They've been called McMansions, Starter Castles, Garage Mahals and Faux Chateaus but here's the latest thing you can call them - History.

In the past few years, there have been an increasing number of references made to the "McMansion glut" and the "McMansion backlash," as more towns pass ordinances against garishly large homes, which are generally over 3,000 square feet and built very close together. 

What sets a McMansion apart from a regular mansion, according to Wikipedia, are a few characteristics: They're tacky, they lack a definitive style and they have a "displeasingly jumbled appearance."   Well, count 2010 as the year the last nail was hammered into the McCoffin: In its latest report on home-buying trends, real-estate site Trulia declares: "The McMansion Era Is Over."

Just 9 percent of the people surveyed by Trulia said their ideal home size was over 3,200 square feet. Meanwhile, more than one-third said their ideal size was under 2,000 feet. "That's something that would've been unbelievable just a few years back," said Pete Flint, CEO and co-founder of Trulia. "Americans are moving away from McMansions." 

The comments echoed those made in June by Kermit Baker, the chief economist at the American Institute of Architects.

"We continue to move away from the McMansion chapter of residential design, with more demand for practicality throughout the home," Baker said. "There has been a drop off in the popularity of upscale property enhancements such as formal landscaping, decorative water features, tennis courts, and gazebos."
"McMansions just look and feel out of place today, given the more cautious environment everyone's living in," said Paul Bishop, vice president of research for the National Association of Realtors.

And homebuilders are heeding the call: In a survey of builders last year, nine out of 10 said they planned to build smaller or lower-priced homes. Even in Texas, the land of go big or go home, they're downsizing.

Diane Cheatham, owner of Urban Edge Developers in Dallas, said today, the average size of home they're building is 2,200 square feet, down from 2,500 in 2005 - which was considered small for Dallas back then.
She said the trend there is more toward building green homes instead of big homes. Right now, they're building a 1,200-square-foot uber-green home for a couple that's downsizing from 3,000-square feet, Cheatham explained.

1,200? Some of the hair in Texas is bigger than that! "We've never built one that small," Cheatham confessed, but added: "I think that's just a good example of the trend right now." For a little historical context, 1,200 square feet was the average home size in America in the 1960s. That grew to 1,710 square feet in the 1980s and 2,330 square feet in the 2000s.

What's more, many in the real-estate business say they think this trend of downsizing, or "right-sizing," as Flint likes to call it, is here to stay.

"This is absolutely a long-term effect," he said. "Think of families with small children who've been foreclosed upon ... When these teenagers are in a position to buy a home, they won't want to go through these experiences they saw their parents go through."

Of course, the question becomes, what do we do with all these McMansions that have already been built?
It's tempting to make jokes about what you might do with a former McMansion but with crime on the rise in neighborhoods littered with abandoned McMansions, Christopher Leinberger, in an article for the Atlantic, asked a sobering question: Is this the next slum?

Luckily, people are starting to get creative: A film collective in Seattle has taken over a 10,000-square foot McMansion there, using it for both living and work space. They turned a wine closet into an editing room and tossed a green screen in the garage. And in a suburb of San Diego, one couple turned a former McMansion into a home for autistic adults.

The demise of the McMansion has stirred a growing chorus of murmurs in the real-estate community about the possibility that it may force a dramatic redesign of the suburban McMansion tracts into mini-towns of their own, turning these icons of excess into more practical spaces like offices, banks, grocery stores and movie theaters.

Though, given some of the poor quality of materials and craftsmanship, it begs the question, would it be better to just tear them all down and start from scratch?

Have some thoughts on what to do with former McMansions? Leave a comment below!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

End Of Summer Home Maintenance

Thanks to our friends at The Roofing Company in Virginia for sharing much of this great information below!

   August is a transitional month. Summer is winding down, and preparations have begun for the school year. Now is a great time to examine your home and take steps to get ready for colder weather.

  • Check the exterior of your home for problems that should be repaired before winter. Make sure the outside walls of your home are free of debris. Lumber, ladders, or toys stacked against the house can attract spiders, mice, and insects. As colder weather arrives, these pests have incentive to enter the warmth of your house.
    • A popular exterior repair prior to winter here in Atlanta is siding repair! Do you have any rotten siding that needs to be replaced? When clapboards or shakes are rotten or broken, your home's siding can no longer do the job it's meant to do. Damaged siding lets air, water, dirt, and insects through to the inside. It also allows decay and further damage in the wood around it.
  • If you stock firewood for the winter, something we don't do too much in the south, don’t stack it against the house. Besides attracting wood-boring insects and other pests, it can prevent air circulation and trap moisture against the house. This can rot siding or trim. Store firewood 2 feet from the house and elevate it 18 inches above the ground.
  • Check your hot water heater and the surrounding areas for leaks, rust, or corrosion. Check lines and connections. Look underneath the tank with a flashlight. If you see water or signs of moisture, replace the tank.
  • Hot water tanks have a safety feature called a pressure release valve. If the pressure in the tank gets too great, this valve allows hot water to escape to keep the tank from exploding. Test this valve yearly for proper function. (Do this test during regular business hours in case you need help.) The valve has a small handle and is located on the top of the tank. A section of pipe is attached to allow the water to drain onto the floor. Put a bucket under the pipe before you test the valve. Carefully, because the water will be hot, pull the handle to open the valve for 5 seconds, then close the valve. A small amount of water should drain into the bucket. If the valve doesn’t close or if no water drains out, the valve may not be working. Call a plumber immediately.
  • Cover your water heater with a fiberglass insulation blanket to retain heat, particularly if you have an older water heater that has less-efficient built-in insulation. Do not cover heater controls.
  • Have your furnace systems inspected and serviced before winter. Use a qualified HVAC contractor.
  • Check sinks for slow drains. Each household sink is equipped with a J-trap—the pipe section underneath the sink with a J-shaped bend. This trap seals the drain with water to keep sewer gas from entering your home. The J-trap is a common place for clogs. To clean the drain, mix equal parts salt, baking soda, and vinegar. Add the mix to the drain, and then add two quarts of boiling water. You can also physically disconnect the J-trap and clean it with a garden hose or coat hanger. There will be water and other material in the trap, so wear protective gloves and be ready to catch the spill.
   Another option? Make one phone call to AK! AK provides an innovative service for homeowners; in-home maintenance offering a comprehensive preventive maintenance program to preserve and enhance the value, life, and beauty of your home. AK’s service was established to meet the needs of today’s busy homeowner and provide our customers with the precious gift of extra time; extra time to spend on things more enjoyable and important to you.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Baby Boomer's Fairytale

   A colleague of ours, and a fellow CAPS, wrote a fantastically humorous piece about her own experience with aging-in-place. Our friends at BuildingMoxie...the blog posted it. Their first ever fairytale! Universal design and aging-in-place are near and dear to our hearts at AK - we aim to approach all our clients' remodeling projects from this standpoint. If only we'd been there to help our wonderful colleague before her fairytale began...
A Baby Boomer's Fairytale

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

  "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...Ev'rywhere you go..." 
No? Not feeling the Holiday spirit creeping up on you? 
Maybe it's just us remodelers!

   The end of summer and the beginning of fall are the times when we start looking at projects to be completed for the Holidays. We make it a habit of asking new clients when they want the project completed. NOT when they want the project to begin. We need to know what plans they have that will effect the remodel - or vice versa. Maybe it's an upcoming wedding, out-of-town guests, a new baby, an older relative moving in. If we know when the project needs to be done we can tell our clients when they need to start!
    After all, we have to allow time for design and selections, not just the construction process. There's a lot to think about! And after 15 years in the industry we have a pretty good idea of appropriate time management; but even we get surprised once in a while! Who would have thought that we would find where a previous contractor had dumped trash behind a wall in a client's home - and then sealed it up - but we did. Surprises are lurking everywhere, so we always count on a few. That's how we're able to deliver in time for Christmas - just like Santa!
   If you're thinking of any type of home improvement project that you'd like completed in time for the holidays - start now! Remember that a complete kitchen renovation can take two months for construction and you certainly don't want to feel rushed or pressured to make your selections in time to "beat the clock." It's a popular time of year to start projects as well, so planning ahead will reserve you time on your remodelers' schedule so you can be sure all of the resources will be properly allocated for your project!
   You're not the only household that would love to bake Holiday cookies in a new convection oven , or have the basement turned in to a guest room so Uncle Don's snoring doesn't keep everyone up again this year!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Today's Home Trends Stand the Test of Time

Whether you need to reduce spending or want to get more value, the economy likely is driving your choices when it comes to home improvement. When times are tough, we choose practical products that will last a long time. They're durable and their design is timeless.
  • Bigger rooms: We're spending more time at home — cooking, enjoying our families and entertaining. So homeowners continue to favor large, open spaces and less-formal rooms. Those with dining or TV rooms separated from the kitchen are removing walls to create "great rooms" like the ones you'll find in so many newly built homes.

  • Bare floors: People are ripping out their carpeting and installing harder floor surfaces, including ceramic tile, hardwood or engineered wood, and laminates. The hard surfaces are easier to keep clean, more stain repellent and less likely to collect dust. One exception: the bedroom, where carpet is still a popular choice.

  • Reuse: In remodeling, reuse trumps recycling. If you're replacing your kitchen countertops with something higher-end, perhaps you can use that old vinyl slab in a craft room or laundry room. When expanding your patio, you might be able to mix old with new, and embellish the patio with new furniture and accessories.

  • Product knowledge: Homeowners pay attention to price as well as news about product recalls, defects and durability. They're asking where their drywall was manufactured and how the look of a wood cabinet will change as it ages. They're asking more questions and doing more product research.

  • Kitchen upgrades: If you can freshen only one room in your house, it probably will be the kitchen. People investing in their homes are looking for the greatest value, and an upgraded kitchen gives back. It's a selling point when putting your house on the market, a convenience if you plan to stay and a point of pride when family and friends visit.

  • Simpler designs: Less is more in 2010. Homeowners are getting back to basics with clean, simple, timeless designs that create a comfortable home that's less ornate and easier to maintain. They are choosing updated products and styles that are affordable and functional.

  • Going green: How green a homeowner gets still depends on how much more they might have to spend for an energy-efficient or environmentally sound product. Still, more are looking at such products as tankless water heaters and dual-flush toilets, which save energy and water.

  • Muted colors: Dusty blues, muddy browns and muted purples are pushing greens, golds and bright colors from indoor and outdoor design palettes. Homeowners are gravitating toward calm, comforting colors and are embracing such shades as gray, eggplant, taupe and earth tones.

  • Paying cash: More homeowners are saving for projects so they can pay as they go.

Courtesy: Pensacola Home & Garden