Thursday, August 21, 2008

Real Estate Downturn? Remodel Your Bathroom!

With the real estate slumping and the market flooded with foreclosed homes, it's no time to sell. Smart homeowners are turning this into an opportunity to remodel and add to their property's equity.

Money is not Being Spent on Summer Vacations

It's true! Most people are avoiding visiting the gasoline pump. Fuel is just too expensive, prompting folks to take "staycations". It makes for a golden opportunity to do some work around the house. Bathroom remodeling is particularly popular.

Floors can be a challenge. Laminate flooring like Pergo or Armstrong is not a good choice - it doesn't do well around water. Regular carpeting has the same problem. So are you stuck with tile? Nope. I read an article not long ago where a woman put in seagrass.

Seagrass Carpet Flooring?

I'd never heard of the stuff. But I found that because it comes from the water, it does well around water. Plus, it's a green building material and will be a sustainable resource as long as the oceans are around.

Walls? Paint or Wallpaper

These are the usual options. In one bathroom remodel I recently did, I removed wallpaper, floated the walls, used a knockdown drywall texture, and then painted.

So if you're looking for something to do as summer winds down, hang out at home and add to the value of your property.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Don't Let Credit Debt Control You

Debt. It's not a fun thing. The simple fact of the matter is that it's easier than ever to get stuck behind a mountain of bills. And like a snow covered mountain, at some point the avalanche is going to come tumbling down on your head - unless you do something proactive about it.

What can you do? Other than stopping eating, you can make a budget and get some credit counseling. It's fair to say that this is a happier strategy than the way it was taken care of in the old days: debtor's prison.

Been There, Done That

I found myself in this situation a few years back. After getting laid off from the IT industry, I decided to go into the handyman business. After all, I had the background and many of the needed tools.

I registered my DBA, let the state know I was going to be sending them money in the form of sales tax, bought some tools on credit, and started advertising. I owed Home Depot money for tools and material, and owed the local paper money for a weekly ad in the business card section.

Things slid downhill financially from there on. I hadn't taken into consideration that business in the handyman world didn't work like other businesses. It's unregulated, staffed by folks that don't collect or pay taxes.

Bottom line? I ended up living on a tight budget, not using any more credit, and finding other sources of income. But the upside is that I learned a lot about managing my finances.

The contents of this blog are sponsor supported.

Landscaping and Bathroom Remodeling

There's a Hurricane over in Florida and although it's too far away to affect me, I'm getting rain anyhow. And that's a welcome thing because the ground has been far too dry.

Removing a Tree Stump

The wet ground will make it easier to remove a tree stump in my yard. I've got other landscaping chores to do as well - if I can make the time. My neighbor is a real champ at working in her yard so it makes me look pretty bad by comparison.

Bathroom Remodeling

I'm still finishing up my bathroom remodel, but at least the end is in sight. The knockdown drywall texture I put on the walls and the blue color of paint that my daughter picked out came out looking pretty flashy, if I do say so myself.

What's left? Towel racks, baseboard, and door trim. At some point I'll change out the light fixture but it's fairly low on the to-do list.

Not too long ago I wrote an article on monorail pendant lights that has proven very popular. Perhaps I'll go that route. Light fixtures are like mattresses and plumbing fixtures, the sales mark-up are way out of line.

I guess I'm in the wrong business. Nah, writing is too much fun.

Kelly Smith

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Health Insurance: Are You Covered?

As they say, two things are certain - death and taxes. But don't forget the middle ground: injury and illness. Is the health care system important? You bet. Just look at the current and past political hype. The medical care system is one of the central issues.

There's no doubt about it; you need insurance. Traditionally, medical insurance has been underwritten by employers. But the work landscape has been changing radically. More and more people are self-employed or work for companies that provide no coverage.

Luckily, there are options. Take Kaiser Permanente Colorado and Kaiser Permanente Georgia for example. How is Kaiser different? They operate like a credit union in the sense that they're a non-profit company with no shareholders to lean on them for dividends. They leverage these savings to make health care insurance affordable for small company employees and self-employed workers.

I count myself among the self-employed. Luckily, I'm covered by my wife's plan, but what would happen I she lost her job? With Kaiser Permanente California I could take advantage of one of many options, such as a copayment plan, a deductable plan or a PPO plan, among others.

The bottom line? Make sure you've got coverage. Don't forget the middle ground between death and taxes! A portion of this blog's content is sponsor supported.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

How About Those Tankless Water Heaters!

Jeeze, you wouldn't think that in the middle of the Southern summer I'd be concerned about a hot shower. But I am!

Whether I'm lathering up up at the gym or just trying to be a bit more, um, sociable, at home, I really like my hot showers. But did you know that hot water production eats up to 14% of your home utility bills?

Try a Tankless Water Heater

So what the heck can you do about it? Well, you can stop bathing, but I don't think that's going to garner you many fans. Why not cut your losses with a tankless water heater?

These are also known as on-demand or instantaneous water heaters and have long been popular in Europe. Lately they have been getting a wider fan base is North America due to high energy costs.

For the past 30 years or so they have been growing in popularity. Coupled with an alternative energy plan, this option could really save you some similar bucks.

DIY Install or Pro?

Do you want to do the job yourself? Good question. It's not really a hard job but you might get installation for free just for doing the deal. Also, if you are installing a gas-fired water heater, you'll probably need an inspection.

If you can sweat copper pipes (pretty simple for my intrepid DIY readers!) you're on your way. Otherwise, pressure your dealer to install for free. Believe me, if he doesn't want to make the sale, you don't need to be doing business with him!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Using a Contractor Directory

Face it, there are times when even the most intrepid DIY'er has a task that he or she just doesn't want to tackle. Don't have the equipment? Don't have the time? Just don't want to dive into that septic tank? Your solution might just be using a contractor directory.

Build a Professional Relationship

Some of these services are very regional but the best ones stretch far and wide and are very comprehensive with respect to the trades they represent. Take Portland Contractors for example. The upside of using a directory like this is that you can develop a relationship with one company, rather than a new one every time you need help.

Look for a Range of Services

You might think changing out a toilet is the only task you don't want to handle but what happens when you're out of town and a pipe bursts? You need a plumber anyhow. Sheetrock repair? Simple job but once again, if you're out of pocket, well, you are.

Bottom line? Keep your DIY hat, but hook up with a contractor Directory as well. A portion of this blog's content is sponsor supported.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Wrestling with a Wireless Network

Since I find myself vying with my daughter for the computer's pilot seat this summer while school's out, I decided to set her up a box of her own. I had an old Compaq Proliant sever gathering dust, so I set that up.

Why Linux? I'm cheap!

I was always a UNIX/Linux guy when I was coding, plus I'm cheap, so it made sense to use an open source OS rather than a Micro$oft product (the server wasn't formatted). So I put Ubuntu on it.

Plenty of games. Yay! However, it only took about five minutes to hear, "Awwww, there's no Internet!"

OK, so I installed a Linksys broadband router between cable modem and my primary PC. So far, so good. Now I've just got to get the Linux box to see it. Challenges, challenges.

But Back to Work...

But I can only spend so much time pulling my hair out fussing with drivers and cables. Still got to make a living so I wrote an article on installing suspended acoustical ceilings. There was a time when I used to do that for a living.

So I've done blue collar gigs and white collar gigs in my time. Which one's better? It depends on how you look at it. Desk jockeys make more money, but construction work can't be outsourced overseas. Not yet anyway.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Gotta Love Home Improvement Shows

My wife spends a lot of time watching those popular home makeover shows. Are they reality shows? Are they personality shows? Are they educational shows? Are they thinly-disguised shills for Home Depot and Lowes?

All of the above, I'm afraid. But that's alright - it gets homeowners busy doing their own home makeovers. That's aces in my book because that's the business I'm in: showing homeowners how to DIY and tackle remodeling projects.

They Sometimes get it Wrong...

Many times I catch myself walking through the room when one of these shows is on, and I overhear myself saying, "No, that's just wrong!"

I'll be the first to admit, sometimes I'm partly wrong too. Well, not wrong, just of another opinion. In most projects, there's more than one way to skin a cat. For example, one time, the macho DIY guy was doing a backyard project.

He was going on and on saying, "We're using Red Cedar for this project because it's weather resistant and it's a renewable resource!" What?? So since when isn't pressure-treated pine not weather resistant and a renewable resource?

Bottom line is that a whole lot of people are going to go out and spend extra money they don't need to because they think they're saving the environment.

Keep it Simple

Another time, they advised the viewers to go out and rent a compressor and hopper to texture a room. Ow! Messy, expensive, and not needed; not when there are simple ways to texture drywall.

Turbo-Speed Home Makeover

Another thing I find interesting about those shows is the speed with which they complete the projects. Never worked for me! For one thing, I always run into something unexpected that demands a clever workaround.

I usually need something I don't have or decide I want and end up going to the local home improvement center. (OK, I just like shopping there!)

Anyhow, TV networks, keep those shows coming! You inspire us all and give emerging designers a platform for exposure. And my wife keeps me busy...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Attic Ventilation Lowers Utility Bills

Sure, you've maxed out your attic's recommended insulation R-value. But don't start loafing quite yet; there's still work to be done to take the load off your AC and wallet.

Categories of Attic Vents

Installing an attic vent is a simple DIY project and in most cases you can be done in a couple of hours. There are two categories of vents/fans. The first kind is passive roof venting. This includes turbine or whirlybird fans as well as ridge vents.

The second category is the active vent. These are electrical; either home-wired or solar powered. These are activated and shut off by thermostats and occasionally, humidistats. These are mounted either on the roof top or on the gables.

Installing Attic Vents

Ridge vents run the length of the roof ridge and are best installed during new construction and when doing a re-roofing job. The shingles on the vents will match the roof shingles so the look is very slick.

Turbine and power vent installation can be done at any time. It involves computing the attic CFM requirement, cutting a hole in the roof, and installing the unit. Some wiring is required on electrical powered units.

Are Solar Powered Vents Worthwhile?

Sadly, the answer at this point is no. While we would all love to adhere to green building practices, the pennies just don't add up here. Why? Solar powered units are expensive and direct-wired ones use very little juice compared to what they shave off utility bills.

Of course, if you just install a whirlybird (turbine), there is no external electricity involved. The fins on the globe spin in the wind and draw cooler air through your soffit vents and hotter air out of the attic.

Modern ones have sealed bearing races. They never need lubing and run silent, like a submarine in stealth mode.

Which ever way you decide to go, your options are wide open. Chill out.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Anitques: Not Just Used Furniture

When my sister lived in Europe, she told me that many folks there considered antiques to be just "used furniture". Not so here in the USA. We like out antiques although we do have our share of used furniture. Shabby particle board comes to mind there!

So why do we have such a different view of antique pieces? It probably has a lot to do with the relative young age of our country compared to our European cousins. We also have strong feelings for our immigrant roots, while Europe is where, well, where we emigrated from.

Restore and Refinish Your Antiques

What can you do to preserve the value of your pieces? Refinish your antique furniture, that's what! There are a few important considerations. Most importantly, you must use authentic period materials.

For example, in almost all cases, you'll have to use hide glue if gluing is required. Got surface crazing? You're going to want to leave that.

To Use It, or Not to Use It; That is the Question

There's always that question and it depends on the individual. I have a fondness for vintage fountain pens (an obsession actually; just ask my long-suffering wife). The same question arises in the pen world. Use them or put them in display cases?

I use all of mine. Right now I've got my Parker Vacumatic (plunger filler) in rotation; having just set aside my Eversharp Skyline. But I digress. I favor using antique furniture too. It will still be around when I'm reduced to dust, and I could care less if anyone faults me for using it.

Should you use yours or showcase it? That's your decision. But whatever you decide, take the time to bring it back to life. It's likely made from better materials than you'll find in new furniture.