Thursday, July 21, 2011

Do Foreclosures Boost The Remodeling Industry?

What can we learn from West Virginia? Besides the latest in logging, coal mining and caving? According to the WV News & Sentinel, we can learn that the remodeling industry is picking up significantly; and the news & sentinel credits the high foreclosure rate with this boost! So are cities with more foreclosures actually seeing higher remodeling numbers? What are you seeing in your city?

Construction pros: More opt to remodel

January 30, 2011 - By ASHLEY HILL Special to The News and Sentinel
A report recently released by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies indicates the U.S. home improvement industry will grow in the future, and some local folks in the business agree the industry has a bright future.
Keith Malone, owner of Marietta, WV-based Malone Renovations, said he's been "very busy" lately. "Things have been really good," he said. "We are getting a lot of calls for home improvements and remodeling." The report, titled "A New Decade of Growth for Remodeling," is the sixth and most recent report in the Improving America's Housing series, published by the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center for Housing Studies.
According to the report, remodeling spending was over $325 billion in 2007. By 2009, remodeling spending dropped 12.5 percent from that figure because of the housing crash and economic recession. In the next five years, spending on remodeling is anticipated to grow at an average annual rate of 3.5 percent. There are a number of reasons why the industry is expected to make a comeback, the report says.

For one thing, many houses that have been foreclosed are in need of improvements. Additionally, more homeowners are making improvements to their older homes, rather than moving to new ones. The study also points out that household income is supposed to increase. Malone acknowledged that folks are renovating more than they're building new these days.
"Remodeling across the board has been very strong, but I'm getting very few calls for new construction," he said.
Denver Horn, owner of Belpre-based A1A Home Improvement, said he's experiencing the same thing.
"I used to build a lot of homes, but the homes business has slowed down and we're doing more remodeling," he said. In fact, Horn said, the remodeling business is "booming" right now. He said folks are asking for bathroom and kitchen remodels, as well as room additions, but they're also getting new siding, roofing and windows installed.
"That's the main thrust of our business," he said. "It's something you can get into and get out of pretty rapidly - I can do a roof in a day, day-and-a-half. With bathroom remodels, you're looking at a month to do it." According to the Harvard University study, homeowners will focus on improvements that will pay off in the long run, such as making energy efficient retrofits.
CBS' Money Watch website,, features a list of the most popular remodeling trends for this year, and "going green" is among them. While they acknowledged that the home improvement business is strong right now, both Malone and Horn said some folks are still cautious with their spending.
"People are being cautious - they're getting bids," Malone said. "People are still willing to pay for quality, though - quality work and quality components."
"They say, 'I'm not building a new house, but what I do in my remodeling and renovations, I want it top-notch,'" Malone added. Horn said he's seen both sides of the coin. "I think that people are still cautious, but some people say, 'It's the last hurrah, I'm gonna make it as nice as I possibly can' - it depends on the customer and their attitude," he said.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Best New Kitchen and Bath Products 2011

Our Favorite New Product Picks
  • Luxe for Less

    With home centers expanding their lines and prestige brands striving to offer value, high style at a low price is more available than ever.

    Small, Dark, and Handsome
    Flatter your cabinets with Amerock's rich-looking Candler Collection knobs and pulls in a new finish called Caramel Bronze (available in September).
  • Retro Pendant

    With its bulbous glass shade and atmospheric Edison-style bulb, this Past is Present pendant (#198671) has the graceful look of pricey reproductions. Hang one over the sink or three in a row over the island.

  • Lots of Mirror, Low Cost

    The door on Robern's R3 Series 14-by-18-by-4-inch cabinet is mirrored on both sides, opens 108 degrees for a wide view, and shuts with a soft close. The mirrored interior brightens items stored on its glass shelves.

  • No Chimney Needed

    Add a fireplace to your cook space without calling a mason. Hang The Outdoor GreatRoom Company's Inspiration Fireplace on a wall indoors or out and enjoy flames fueled by clean, low-cost gel. It comes in a brushed stainless-steel finish that will marry well with kitchen appliances.

  • Bath-Fan Bonus

    It's hard to find a vent-fan light fixture that doesn't look geeky or sound like an airplane. NuTone's sleek LunAura not only blends in, it has the company's quietest and most powerful motor yet. It also features a blue-glow LED night-light that's designed to not wake you in the wee hours.

  • Universal Dimmer

    Get maximum light control from the bulb of your choice. Lutron's Skylark Contour C.L. Dimmer handles all dimmable bulbs, from CFL to LED to incandescent.
  • Counter Declutterer

    Stash extra-long utensils out of sight with MasterBrands' diagonal Diamond Drawer Insert—ingenious!

  • Nonslip Foor Tile

    Faux-wood-grained porcelain Nocchio "planks" by Ann Sacks meet Americans With Disabilities Act standards for horizontal surfaces in a wet environment. Colors include (from left) Burnt Walnut, Yellow Birch, and Antique Hickory.
  • Soak in Style

    The 70-inch Toulouse tub from Victoria + Albert has an updated vintage look and a soft-white finish. It's cast from a solid composite that is half powdered volcanic limestone and half resin, so scratches can be polished out. And at 194 pounds, it's lighter and easier to install than cast iron. 

  • Rustic Tap

    Try keeping your hands off the Danze River Rock lav faucet. Its pleasingly pitted surface and light-reflecting Medium Bronze finish are sure to add warmth to any sink.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Safe & Stunning Bathroom Designs

By Mary Jo Peterson, CKD, CBD, CAPS

As designers, when describing an exquisite bathroom, we may not always include the word safety. Likewise, when we see references to bath safety, our expectations may not include positive aesthetics. But of course these must go hand in hand.

Recently I worked with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) on a bath design Webinar, targeted at people in the 50-64 age range. The content offers this chance for a review of a few of today’s concepts and products that can help us put beauty and safety in our bath design efforts.

The Entry
Beginning with the entry, safety calls for a generous opening, and beauty and privacy require that we handle it with care. Sometimes the desired privacy can be created by the arrangement of the space with no door necessary, but for the many times that a door is required, two options are pocket doors that disappear or barn doors that strengthen the design statement. They eliminate the need to clear the door swing and allow easy entry from either side should someone behind the closed door need help.
For those wishing for a large doorway into the smaller bath, the pocket doors can be split, using two French-style pocket doors, and obscure glass can allow light to pass through while providing privacy. To meet the challenges associated with opening and closing these doors, we now have attractive hardware that is easy to grasp when opening or closing the pocket door.

The Toileting Area
In the toileting area, size, shape and characteristics of the user and the fixture impact safety and aesthetics, as does the support provided. With these issues in mind, today’s designs often include reinforcement in the walls to allow for the addition of support when and where needed, and there are some wonderful options in decorative support.
We are seeing more comfort-height toilets and more wall-hung toilets, which can be placed at the right height for any given client. They are also a good choice when space is tight, as they offer a net savings of 4" to 5" in depth, but the change in plumbing can be a significant cost.
From child-size seats layered into the cover to integrated washlet or bidet systems, there are unlimited features and accessories available today. My favorite may be the integrated night light that glows to help guide the way for safe nocturnal visits.
 The Vanity
Trends, concepts and products are making it hard not to attend to safety and beauty in the vanity area. The trend toward open knee spaces makes it easier and safer for most to operate at the vanity, especially when dual vanities are placed at varied heights. Whether it’s storage for the step stool for a child or seating for a grooming station, a knee space adds flexibility.
Lighting is a major issue in this high-task area, and in the past, custom design concepts were often the best way to get lighting without glare or shadowing. However, thanks to innovations in LED and other technology, there are now vanity mirrors that provide non-glare, no-shadow lighting that projects from behind the mirror.

The Tub
The most universal safety challenge with the tub is, of course, getting in and out. Providing a deck, whether through the design of space or by specifying a fixture with built-in seating, greatly reduces the risk of falling. If the deck is on the room side of a built-in tub, it doubles nicely as a place to sit while bathing a child, or for a book or glass of wine for a long soak. Another step towards ease of entry is the explosion of tubs with doors, a product worthy of a design column all to itself.
Whatever the style and installation of the tub, this wet area calls for support for safe use, so reinforcement throughout the walls is a minimum step. And, we have some tubs today with integral support that truly fits the subtle aesthetic many are looking for.

The Shower
Safety and beauty combine perfectly in the no-threshold shower, a look long popular in Europe and catching on here, thanks in part to the products that have come on the market to make it easier to design and install. One example that comes to mind is the trench-style drains, which eliminate the need to pitch the floor in two directions, making it easier to maneuver from a safety standpoint. This allows for the use of larger format floor tiles in the shower, an aesthetic benefit. Of course these larger tiles would need to be slip resistant, and we’d add seating and support, which would bring us closer to that goal of safe and beautiful showering.
These are just a few thoughts about current design practices and products that may help reinforce the combination of beauty and safety in your bath design work. You might be interested to know the questions that came in from the bath Webinar. After the always-asked questions regarding cost, most questions focused on where to get the grab bars that were shown and how to do a no-threshold shower, with and without steam. I take this as a positive change in attitude.

If this brief overview and teaser regarding safety and beauty in the bath has captured your attention, you’re welcome to take a closer look at the Webinar. You will be able to find the Webinar online at

AK Complete Home Renovations is a certified CAPS remodeler. (Certified Aging In Place Specialist)  Whether you're remodeling due to a disability or just planning for the future, keeping safety and accessibility in mind is always AK's policy. You can read and learn more about safe bathroom design, universal design and aging in place on AK's website:

Friday, July 8, 2011

5 Types of Green Insulation That Reduce Utility Costs and Are Gentler for the Planet

Courtesy WellHome Blog

If you want to make an investment with a big eco-impact, upgrade the insulation in your home. It’s one of the best ways to get the biggest green bang for your buck. We’ve gathered five of the most interesting and eco-friendly insulation options on the market today, all of which will reduce your monthly utility costs for heating and cooling your home.

Recycled Paper Cellulose Insulation

Paper is a huge waste problem for Americans. In fact, paper and paperboard make up the heftiest portion of the municipal solid waste stream in the U.S. Thankfully, about 89% of all newspaper was recovered for recycling in 2009 (the highest recycling rate for any type of paper product), adding to the 43 million tons of paper and paperboard recycled in the country that year. [1]

Some of this recycled newsprint is sent for recycling to insulation manufacturers who turn it into one type of cellulose insulation. Believe it or not, using newspaper to insulate a 1,500-square-foot house uses the equivalent of newspaper read by one person over a 40-year span. That means that if all new homes in the U.S. were insulated with this recycled newsprint, 3.2 million tons of the recycled newsprint would be effectively re-purposed. [2]

But recycled newspaper insulation has several other important environmental benefits. Most importantly, some studies have shown that cellulose insulation can be up to 38% more energy efficient than fiberglass insulation by sealing a building envelope more effectively against air infiltration than conventional insulating materials. Cellulosic insulation also holds its R-value better than loose-fill fiber insulation at low temperatures.
Plus, the embodied energy in recycled newspaper insulation is much lower than mineral fiber insulation, which requires high-temperature furnaces powered by natural gas. This means a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Some studies show that it takes 15 to 30 times more energy to make conventional fiberglass insulation compared to cellulosic insulation.
Recycled newsprint insulation is also manufactured using locally generated waste material, meaning it travels shorter distances from supply to factory to your home, which further reduces the embodied energy. And because cellulose insulation is so effective at insulating a home, it can reduce utility costs by between 20% and 50%. [3]
So how is recycled newspaper insulation made? Newspaper is turned into insulation by shredding it into small granules until it is a fluffy consistency. This material can then be blown or sprayed into the desired location to fill the spaces. There are two main types of cellulose insulation, including:
Spray-in cellulose: Often referred to as wet-spray or wet-cell cellulose insulation, this is used for new home construction or attic insulation projects. The newspaper nodules are mixed with a bonding agent and then sprayed into the cavities to fill the space. The wet consistency causes the insulation to stick to the surfaces, so it works great for even vertical wall cavities. It is often over-filled and then shaved down to size.
Dry, loose-fill cellulose: This method is generally used to retrofit older homes. It is installed by drilling a hole into the top of a wall and then blowing the loose-fill cellulose into the spaces. This method can often be used by a do-it-yourself home improvement expert.
In addition to the many environmental benefits of cellulosic newspaper insulation, there are other advantages to using this material for your home. First off, the installation options are much more versatile than traditional insulations. That’s because it can be used in hard-to-reach locations and around obstructions, making it easier to install, too.
Recycled paper insulation also provides great sound insulation against exterior noise over fiberglass batts. And since boric acid is used to make most cellulose insulation, the material is naturally resistant to mold and insect pests.
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Hemp Batt Insulation

If you’re looking for a renewable insulation material, then hemp fiber is the way to go. Made by binding together hemp straw into batts and sometimes combined with cotton or polyester materials for reinforcement, hemp batt insulation is similar in form to fiberglass insulation and is therefore used in many of the same applications – loft spaces, between rafters, in walls and floors, and in attics. [4]
The environmental benefits of hemp as a plant and as a building material are many. To start, hemp insulation provides an R-value of approximately 3.5 per inch of thickness, which is similar to other fibrous insulations. [5] Not only that, but hemp insulation can be recycled into other materials or composted, so that deconstruction of it is much less destructive than conventional insulation materials, which often end up in landfills.
But growing hemp for insulation is also incredibly eco-friendly. For instance, hemp plants sequester carbon much more quickly than trees and other plants, making hemp a fighter against global warming. Hemp is also eternally renewable, making it an abundant material that won’t run out as other resources dwindle. And since hemp can be grown organically without pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides, it won’t pollute waterways and soil and is healthier for those harvesting, manufacturing, and living with it.
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Beyond the environmental benefits, hemp has many other benefits to offer. Most attractive is the fact that hemp batt insulation is non-irritating. Because hemp fibers are non-irritating, they can be installed by anyone without the need for protective clothing or gear.
Once installed, hemp insulation offers many advantages over fiberglass and other traditional insulations. It is insect-resistant, often because it is treated with salts or soda to provide nontoxic insect resistance. That means it doesn’t need to be treated with chemicals. This also provides fire-retardant properties.
Hemp batt insulation also provides excellent acoustic insulation, much like newspaper insulation, which provides a more comfortable living environment. With hemp insulation, you don’t need to worry about moisture or mold. Because hemp fibers are hygroscopic, they soak up moisture evenly, providing excellent vapor regulation. And, finally, because hemp insulation is expected to last nearly forever if properly installed, replacement costs are dramatically less over the life of your home.

Walled Paper-Interior Insulation Panels

Turning an oft-hidden building material – concrete – into something that can be shown off while providing insulation is a tall task, but it has been done. Called walled paper, this concept is similar to wallpaper in that it adds a decorative touch to an interior space, but it’s made of concrete panels instead of flimsy, sticky paper.
The difference is that unlike wallpaper, which is, well, just paper, walled paper adds insulation to a home to reduce heat transfer. These concrete panels are installed over existing walls that would otherwise be next-to-impossible to insulate. It’s an instant update to improve the look and the thermal feel of an indoor space.
These panels are also:
  • Fire Resistant
  • Sound Insulating
  • Corrosion Resistant
  • Waterproof
  • Durable
Each concrete panel is created with either a pre-set design or customized graphics and artwork. The designs are printed directly onto the surface of the concrete with a variety of colors and finishes from which to choose.
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Recycled Denim Insulation

Another cellulosic insulation material is that made from recycled denim jeans. Denim insulation, as it is often called, is generally created by using bits of post-industrial denim (the stuff left on the factory floor), which is mixed with a boron-mixture for fire retardance and polyolefin fibers that act as a glue. This material is then formed into insulation batts (much like fiberglass or hemp insulation).
Recycled denim insulation has many of the same environmental benefits of other cellulosic insulations. Perhaps most obviously, this makes use of a waste product from the manufacturing industry. That means less space used in landfills and fewer greenhouse gases from decomposing organic matter (cotton fabric). In fact, one recycled denim insulation manufacturer diverts more than 300 tons of scraps from landfills every month! [6]
Making insulation from a recycled material is also more energy efficient. Since most of the denim travels a short distance from jean-factory to insulation-factory, it’s locally sourced so transport emissions are minimal. Not only that, but because of the 85% recycled content, denim insulation uses minimal energy during the actual manufacturing stage. And like other cellulosic insulation materials, this cotton insulation provides a great R-value for your home – about 3.4 per inch of thickness. [5]
Recycled denim insulation is also better for your health. Though it is treated with a fire retardant, it’s a natural one. So that means no fire hazards and no VOCs in your home. And unlike fiberglass insulation which may cause the itches, recycled cotton denim insulation is non-irritating so it can be installed without protective gear.
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Bio-Based Spray Foam Insulation

One final green insulation option is bio-based spray foam insulation. Made from natural ingredients like soy oil or from recycled soda bottles, these water-based polyurethane formulas are installed by spraying  foaming in place or pouring or injecting a liquid into the desired cavities of your home. When the liquid is exposed to air, it expands up to 100 times in size to fill every nook and cranny in a matter of seconds, yet it remains soft and pliable so it won’t harm the integrity of your home’s structure. It is then trimmed to be flush with the building’s framing.
Though this type of insulation must be installed by a trained professional using protective clothing, it is is an excellent choice for the green homeowner. Most significantly is the fact that spray foam insulation creates an air-tight seal to prevent air leakage and moisture infiltration. This results in a non-drafty, quieter indoor environment. Since spray foam insulation grows to fit its environment, it is easy to install around obstructions and in hard to reach places.
Bio-based spray foam insulations also perform very well and efficiently. They can seal off a home better than batt-type insulations so that there is even less heat transfer. In fact, they seal so well that you will likely need an upgraded ventilation system with this type of insulation to maintain a healthy interior atmosphere. A good seal helps to lower greenhouse gas emissions related to heating and cooling. Green versions of spray foams (not all are) are also made without CFCs and HCFCs – refrigerants used to make foam products that contribute to climate change.
Spray-foam insulations have a similar R-value per inch to batt insulation materials. [7] Over time, this insulation also maintains its R-value, unlike most other insulations that become less effective in certain temperatures and climate conditions.
As with the other natural insulations mentioned here, bio-based spray foam insulation is better for your health than conventional insulations, too. It is made without formaldehyde, so won’t offgas VOCs into your home. And since it helps to prevent mold and drafts, it means a safer home for asthmatics as well.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Four Affordable Ways to Improve the Energy Efficiency of Old Windows

by Peter Yost 

There are many reasons to replace windows, but energy efficiency is not the best reason. Replacing the windows in an older house is one of the most expensive energy upgrades you can make. To improve performance of existing windows, consider storm windows, window films, and exterior roller shades before buying replacement windows. 

But which option is the best bang for the buck? 

1. Replacement windows -- the most expensive option
You have three options when replacing windows: full window replacement, insert windows (the old sashes come out and a whole new window inserts into your old window frame), and sash replacement (primarily for double-hung windows, this option requires jamb liners into which new sashes are installed). A typical full window replacement (a window 30 inches wide and 60 inches tall) will run about $400 to $600**; insert replacements cost about $300 to $400, and sash replacement kits cost around $250 to $300.
For the time being, tax credits are likely to be available for some window replacements (those with glazing that meets IRS requirements) and a few other window attachment options.
Remember that you might not need to replace your windows unless they are actually falling apart, if they are unsafe, or if they no longer operate. If your windows are sound and function well, consider other window attachment options.

2. Low-e storm windows deliver a lot of performance
Newer, airtight storm windows with low-e coatings can rival the performance of just about any window replacement. Interior units are easy to install, although exterior units do a much better job of protecting your existing windows. And now you can buy low-e storms with high solar heat gain for colder climates and low solar heat gain for warmer ones. Double- and triple-tracked storms come with operable screen panels so you can easily operate your windows for natural cooling.

For that same size window (30" by 60"), you can get a low-e storm window, installed, for about $60 for interior plastic single fixed panel (not low-e) to $160 for exterior low-e triple-tracked storm windows.

3. Window films can be temporary or permanent
There are two primary types of window films: more permanent, surface-applied films and the stretch-plastic that you install temporarily to interior window trim. Surface-applied films are now rated by the National Fenestration Rating Council and have a wide range of performance properties: U-factor, solar heat gain coefficient, and visual transmittance. Standard solar control window films run about $80 installed while spectrally selective films are about $125 per typical window.

The stretch-plastic seasonal film kits you tack onto window trim can be installed relatively airtight for better thermal comfort and reduced heating in cold climates and typically run about $15 at any local building supply or hardware store.

4. Exterior roller shades keep the sun out
If keeping the heat out is your main concern, the most effective window treatment options are exterior; you keep the sun out before it gets in. While retractable awnings and even fixed awnings tend to be a bit pricey, economical exterior roller shades are available for as little as $25 per window.

New information resource on window attachments
While the best place for clear, unbiased information and guidance on replacing windows is the Efficient Windows Collaborative, there is a new resource dedicated to information and guidance on window attachments. The site includes information on products to purchase as well as a Q&A forum where you can post any question, including questions (and then get answers) for your particular situation.

Special note: What about lead-based paint?
While most window attachments can be installed without any sort of lead-based paint disturbance or legally-required management, don’t let the issue of loose and peeling lead-based paint slide as you work on any aspect of your home(s), but particularly windows. For more information on managing the lead-based paint hazard, see EPA resources.