Saturday, December 29, 2007

Drywall Texturing Made Easy

Most DIY homeowners can follow instructions for framing a wall. When it comes to hanging the drywall - no problem. Taping and floating drywall is a breeze after a bit of practice. Everyone can paint a finished wall or ceiling (although most find it tedious).

The one step that can be intimidating is drywall texturing. It need not be so! When terms like "crow's foot brush", "stomp", "orange peel", and "California knockdown" are bandied about, the process sounds a bit exotic.

Taking the Mystery out Texturing

Actually, texturing drywall can be as simple and inexpensive as you make it. There's no real reason to rent a compressor and hopper or buy expensive texture additives. There are simple texturing techniques using just a paint roller, pan, and drywall compound.

But my favorite method involves a texture knockdown tool that I made about ten years ago. It only took about twenty minutes to brainstorm, a few bucks spent, and an hour to build. Since it's a custom tool, the resulting texture pattern is unique.

In the years since, the end results have been remarked favorably on by customer after customer !

Why Texture at All?

Why indeed? There are several reasons. First, residential wood framing is not perfect. Some studs are bound to be slightly warped. Unfortunately, what seemed a minor defect initially becomes a major eyesore later.

Do you have the time or inclination to float and sand a dozen times? No, I didn't think so!

The next reason involves your choice of paint. If you plan to use a gloss, semi-gloss, or satin sheen paint, any imperfections are visually amplified. A texture will make them unnoticeable.

Finally, a creative texture adds character to any wall or ceiling. Subdivisions may be awash in cookie-cutter homes and your homeowners association may veto external modifications, but you can still make the interior scream, "Hey, this is my house, and I've got style!"

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Flooring - Laminate or Hardwood

It's no wonder that floors are right up there in the top ten when homeowners are ready for a bit of a remodel on the old homestead. Not surprisingly, one question I often get from my DIY readers at Suite101 is, "Which is a better way to go, traditional hardwood flooring or laminate flooring?"

Well, in a nutshell the answer is, "It depends". Not trying to be vague here, but it depends on a number of factors. Both hardwood floors and laminate floors have their pros and cons. Let's look at a few of them...

Hardwood Flooring, Pros
  • Installing hardwood flooring. Installing tongue and groove planks is a bit easier than laminate because because you only have to deal with mating up on the long side.
  • Maintenance. Unlike laminate planks, you can wet-mop properly-sealed hardwood to your heart's content.

Hardwood Flooring, Cons
  • Finishing hardwood flooring. Unless you go with the more costly prefinished planks, you will have to sand, perhaps stain, and apply a finish. This significantly adds to the cost and labor. If you're looking for a weekend DIY project, you'll be disappointed.
  • Cost. Prepare to pay more for material. This wood is the real thing.
  • Maintenance. Caring for hardwood floors is straightforward. Although not mandatory, hardwood looks better with a periodic waxing.

Laminate Flooring, Pros
  • Installing laminate flooring. On the bright side, laminate weighs next to nothing. Moving it around will not leave you sore the next day.
  • Maintaining laminate flooring. The prefinished laminate planks are very tough and scratch resistant. As a matter of fact, it's not recommended to wax them.
  • Cost. Laminate is cheaper than hardwood. It's cheaper to produce and since competition is fierce, there's always a sale somewhere.

Laminate Flooring, Cons
  • Installing laminate flooring. As I found out, installation is a bit trickier than the instructions let on. Especially when trying to snap long runs into place. It had me talking dirty on more than one occasion. Two person installation and laminate installation tips are recommended.
  • Maintenance. Since the mating joints aren't sealed, you should never wet-mop laminate or use cleaners of any kind. You can only damp-mop it. And never spill liquids on it. Not recommended for a bathroom or kitchen.

As you can see, the choice boils down to preference and how the floor will be used. Choose wisely, new flooring is an investment.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Concrete Kitchen Countertops

Over on my DIY home improvement site I wrote an article on building concrete kitchen countertops. The first time I heard about concrete countertops, I let out a mystified, "Huh?" Of course the picture in my head was something like those concrete picnic tables in a public park. You know, the ones with ketchup stains and juvenile graffiti.

Boy, was I wrong. The ones on the market today are very impressive. They rival granite countertops when it comes to looks. They come in stone looking patterns, solid colors, and even new age art (for lack of a better term).

They aren't without their drawbacks though. You have to be careful not to cut on them directly or set hot objects on them. Oh, the concrete is durable enough; it's the sealer finish that damages easily. But I see the day when someone develops a better finish. Then, I'm betting that concrete countertops will really take off.

I'd like to make one myself but I think it would be a good idea to start with a smaller DIY project first. Maybe a coffee table top. From all I have read, these aren't the easiest things to get just right the first time.

What I'd really like is 3/4 concrete countertop and 1/4 butcher block countertop. Now that would be mighty fine.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Merry Christmas, Folks!

Here comes Christmas! Halloween and Thanksgiving were great but Christmas is my favorite holiday. There are many reasons for this - hanging out with the family, great grub, and exchanging gifts with the family and friends.

Christmas in Panama

But unlike most of you, I don't associate Christmas, or winter for that matter, with the cold and snow. Although born in Texas, I grew up in Panama. Christmas day was usually hovering around 90 degrees. And, coming at the end of the rainy season and beginning of the dry season, morning precipitation was somewhat iffy.

DIY Christmas Articles for You

But I digress. I wanted to talk about all the great things you can do for Christmas with your family. Over at Suite101 where I'm the Home Renovation and Repair Feature Writer, I've put up a few holiday DIY articles lately. (Yes, there are some good "hint" articles to show the significant other if you're lusting for new tools as Christmas presents!)

Christmas and Holiday Articles of all Stripes

But, I'm not the only writer who's ponied up some killer Christmas and holiday related articles. The Feature Writer for Crafts offered to take on the gargantuan task of organizing the links to these articles. They come from a vast array of writer's specialties. You can get the details at my latest DIY blog there.

So, let me leave you with these thoughts as we approach Christmas and Chanukah - focus on your family, do something for the troops, and stuff some cash in the Salvation Army bell-ringer's bucket.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Basement Waterproofing and Remodeling

Now that our DIY projects are closing the door on Fall and coming indoors for Winter, it's time to consider what to work on first. Have you thought about reclaiming that wasted basement space and turned it into something useful? Would you like to install a home theater? Family game room? The first thing to consider is basement waterproofing. Then, and only then, let the basement remodeling begin!

Fundamental Basement Waterproofing
Studies show that over 90% of basement leaks happen where the wall meets the floor. At least that bit of trivia tells you where to concentrate your focus. This is where hydrostatic pressure makes your basement the most vulnerable.

But the walls and the floor need to be completely cleaned first. This will reveal the problem spots. Use a quick-dry cement to patch cracks, holes and floor/wall joints. The next step is to apply a waterproofing coating system to prevent the passage of water under hydrostatic pressure.

Basement Remodeling Design Steps

  • Begin with a design plan for your basement remodel.
  • Consider installing a suspended acoustical ceiling. It's easier to install than drywall and you can use drop-in fluorescent light fixtures.
  • Plan for any plumbing. Will you install a wet bar? Incorporate a small bath?
  • Plan for electrical connections.
  • Decide where the home theater will be located. (Another good argument for the suspended acoustical ceiling.)

Frame the Basement Walls

  • First frame the exterior basement walls.
  • Frame any interior basement walls and doorways.
  • Be sure any plumbing and electrical runs are installed.
  • Hang the drywall.

The Finishing Touches

  • Paint the basement walls.
  • Install the flooring (laminate flooring, carpet, etc.)

You're done! Except for furniture and that big screen TV!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Install a Ceiling Fan for the Winter Weather

You're probably thinking, "What? I thought ceiling fans were for the warm weather." Well, you would be correct. But they're perhaps more important in cold weather. Want to know why? Read on. And, go here for detailed instructions on how to install a ceiling fan.

Most homes have the air registers from the ductwork above the ceiling. In the summertime, the air conditioned (cold) air is blown out of the registers and begins traveling down. Sure it is being blown, but do you remember the old lesson you learned in school?

That's right! Warm air rises and cooler air drops. Of course it tends to blend so the air conditioner works harder to keep the air about shoulder-high at the right temperature. (That's the level where your thermostat does its sensing job.)

Enter the ceiling fan. It blows the cool air down faster, giving it less time to absorb heat from the air traveling up!

So when the central heater is running, that warm air wants to stay at the ceiling. Now how hard does the heater have to work to make the hot air do what physics explicitly tells it not to do?

The answer? A ceiling fan with a reversible motor. That's right. In the winter, reverse the motor so that the air is forced to the ceiling, is pushed to the walls, down the walls to the floor where the updraft rises again. The heater has just had a load taken off it.

Fortunately, installing a ceiling fan is a good project for a DIY type of homeowner. The best brands? Look for a Hunter ceiling fan, Hampton Bay ceiling fan, Casablanca ceiling fan, Emerson ceiling fan, or a Harbor Breeze ceiling fan.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Fall DIY Project - Laminate Flooring

Now that the days and evenings are finally getting cooler, the lawn has stopped growing. So what does that mean? Well, I can use all that lawn mowing and assorted yard work time for something else.

The first priority is to finish installing the laminate flooring in my house - a project that has dragged out far too long already. Actually, I was surprised at how easy laminate flooring is to install and maintain.

Compared to the traditional hardwood floors that I've installed and refinished in the past, installing laminate is easy and breezy. Of course some of it is a bit tedious; such as undercutting the door jambs and trim. I found through trial and error that a coping saw works best. I tried a hacksaw and dovetail saw but found the coping saw best due to the thin blade and diminutive teeth.

The other interesting thing was bringing the base boards home from Home Depot. They're about 18 feet long! What the heck do folks without pick up trucks do?

Anyway, I guess I'm just procrastinating. I'd better get to it...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Do Space Aliens Want Kucinich to Be President?

That may very well be the case if you believe Shirley McLaine. In her new book, Sage-ing While Age-ing, Shirley relates a tale of Dennis Kucinich's close encounter with an other-worldly spacecraft.

"Kucinich had a very close sighting over my home in Graham, Washington when I lived there," she writes, "Dennis found his encounter extremely moving. The smell of roses drew him out to the balcony where, when he looked up, he saw a gigantic triangular craft silent, observing him. It hovered, soundless, for ten minutes or so."

Imagine. I would find that extremely moving as well. But the aliens have avoided me so far.

But what would lead us to speculate that the little green men would want Kucinich to grab the Democratic nomination and boldly go where no Kucinich has gone before? Good question.

Shirley tells us that, "He said he felt a connection in his heart and heard directions in his mind."

OK, now were getting somewhere! We finally know why he is so opposed to having weapons in space. He got his marching orders from the aliens on that lovely rose-scented evening.

But here's what I can't quite figure out. If the aliens are set on having an inside man in the White House, why didn't they visit Hillary or Obama? I'll be sure to ask them when they visit me to download instructions. I'll get back to you.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Tax Cuts, Income Tax, and Who Pays Their Fair Share

As the presidential debates and monologues intensify, tax cuts, income tax, and who pays their fair share is once again a popular topic. Which side of the fence are you on?

On the liberal side, the mantra is that the richest income earners should pony up more income tax because they can afford it. On the conservative side the mantra is that singling out high income earners is a punishment for hard work and innovation.

Let's look at the cold facts.

The following figures and statistics come from Stephen Moore via the Glenn Beck radio show last week. Mr. Moore is a highly regarded economist whose writing can be found in the Wall Street Journal.
  • The top 1% of wage earners contribute 39% of the total income tax paid in the U.S.
  • The top 5% of wage earners contribute 59.9% of the total income tax paid in the U.S.
  • The bottom 50% of wage earners contribute only 3% of the total income tax paid in the U.S.
So it seems that who contributes their fair share is spelled out in black and white already. The top 6% already bear the brunt of funding the government coffers. Of the bottom 50%, shouldn't 3% compared to 59.9% be considered fair? Well, it is, unless unless Marxist philosophy is the guideline.

But this isn't about that.

This is about the implications of putting more of a burden on the top 5% of wage earners. The fact of the matter is that 2 out of 3 that fall into this category are small business owners. Small business owners create more jobs than any other sector. Well, except for maybe Walmart? And the government?

The realistic implication of taxing them further is that they will lose the incentive for expanding the market, pushing technology, and creating jobs.

The moral implication of taxing them further is punitive, not "fair". They took the risk, they worked the long hours to get the business off the ground. So why deny them the reward?

Without subscribing to any particular political agenda, this is a common sense issue. Why do people emigrate to the U.S. and work eighteen hours a day building up their business to claim their share of the American pie?

And please, show me one senator out there who raves about taxing high wage earners who doesn't seek out every tax deduction at the end of the year and declines the lucrative insurance programs and retirements that we can't get.

Please, show me just one.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What is Nancy Pelosi Thinking? Turkey Bashing?

What on earth is going through Nancy Pelosi's head? She is threatening to open debate and pass a resolution in the House of Representatives over the question of the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Empire.

Which happened at the beginning of the last century. By the Ottoman Empire. Not Turkey. But the end result of the resolution is to chastise Turkey, our allies.

She has inferred that the reason she plans on going forward with the issue is because President Bush hasn't called her to solicit her opinion What?

Imagine that. One would think she would make such a move either from a moral conviction or for political reasons. But no, she sounds like it's because her feelings are hurt. Poor Nancy.

This is not exactly the right time for a snit. For one thing, Turkey has its own immediate concerns. They are massing troops and equipment on the border to repel attacks from the Kurds.

Additionally, angering the Turks will most likely have the effect of diminishing the assistance they now give us. We stand to lose fuel sources and supplies for our troops serving in Iraq. At best we will be forced to go, hat in hand, to offer the Turks some sort of compensation (read bribe) to support our troops.

It's no secret that Polosi's ire at administration is deep and wide. But to sink to the level of endangering the troops and trying to shame our Turkish allies on the world stage is indefensible.

Monday, October 8, 2007

La Salle Bank Chicago Marathon – A Death March

Unbelievable. If you are a marathoner, this is the last place you wanted to be yesterday, October 7, 2007. Unless, of course, you were on the sidelines. The toxic combination of the heat and the humidity in the Windy City overwhelmed a number of runners.

In fact, one runner didn't complete the 26.2... due to death. The diagnosis was mitral valve prolapse. Was heat a factor? That's not for me to determine. An additional three hundred marathoners had to be treated for heat related conditions. The temperature soared to 88 degrees and the humidity bathed the runners so heavily that there was no relief from sweat evaporation.

The last time I saw marathon conditions even close to this was a few years ago at the L.A. Marathon. A beautiful course, and I enjoyed it because I did my fair share of walking. I don't need to be a hero. This is a lesson I have learned well, having run six ultramarathons.

Still, my hat is off to all who completed the Chicago Marathon yesterday. Also to the race director and his staff. Although the race is today being criticized for the water tables being understocked, I would not be too quick to judge.

Race directors for these major marathons rely on past data to project needs and prepare accordingly. If one race day's weather is uncharacteristically “off”, logistics can preclude playing catch-up.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Will it beHillary Against Newt?

Will we see Hillary pitted against Newt Gingrich in the upcoming Presidential race? Of course, it is a little early to tell. Rasmussen today tells us that Hillery is pulling in a substantial 39% compared to her nearest rival in the Democrat camp, Obama, at an anemic 22%. And forget pretty boy Edwards; he's in the quicksand at just 14%.

Anything can happen to Hillary, but the question is, does it matter? Her supporters hardly care about questionable contributions or the ethics that drove her to take those souvenirs when she departed the White House. And she's got many supporters. So given that, the smart money might be on her in the primaries. A Teflon coating and having the ability to let Bill out when it is strategically viable maybe her two best attributes.

The question is, who will oppose her from the GOP? There's a lot of strong contenders, to be sure. As Glenn Beck stated last week, Giuliani has "fire in the belly". That's certainly one quality America admires as presidential. On the other hand, Romney is quieter but arguably the best of all the candidates to handle the economic situation the next President will be served up for breakfast at the White House.

Will Newt run? Only if he gets the money. If he does, there is no question. He has the experience as an insider, having served as Speaker of the House. He has vision. And he has intellect. All this makes him Hillary's worst nightmare.

So will Newt get the money? Time will tell. His American Solution initiative is certainly getting him into the limelight.

What goes on when they're out stumping is one thing. But when the two of them share the same stage and go toe to toe on issues of national policy, it will take a very strong supporter to defend Hillary when her shrieking and cackling laughing contrast with Newt's style.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Not Fall Yet, Lazy Meter Readers

OK, so I was wrong... those in the know are predicting 90 degrees high at least until the end of the week. But that's still a good message for my electric bill... if I could ever get that straightened out.

I recently switched to TXU from Reliant to get a better deal. It turns out that the deal isn't that sweet. Forget the "great KwH rates", the thing is the fuel adjustment charge they choose to use. In the end you get hosed.

My problem this time was that was that they obviously estimated my bill rather than have a person do it in person. They claimed I used almost 3000 KwH in a one month period. When I read the meter about three weeks from their "read" I had only used 160 KwH. Hello?

When I talked to them on the phone (a couple of levels of management) they acted as if they were doing me a favor to "extend" my bill. I wanted someone to come read my meter to work it out but their poor overworked readers couldn't make it out for 15 days! Oh yeah, I live for this kind of customer service!

Well, what can you do? I need to train my dogs to run in one of those cages hooked up to a dynamo...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Looking For Fall

Well, it looks like the worst of the summer has passed us by; the highs are now in the mid 80s instead of the high 90s. Still abiding a bit of humidity harassment - but then again, you can't have everything.

Also, no hurricane or major tropical storm thus far. Having said all that, I suppose it's safe to say that we've had a benign summer.

What am I looking forward to? Mostly some crisp morning air so I can get off that treadmill and start running outdoors again. I know, I know; what a wimp. Oh well, time marches on, I get a bit older, and I find myself trading boredom for a higher quality workout.

And when I finish writing my latest batch of articles, I'm going to load up the kayak and head to the bay...