Sunday, May 31, 2009

Take Advantage of Your Windows this Summer

Windows have been getting more attention in the past few years, and with good reason. The first reason is that they can save energy and lower electricity bills by taking advantage of natural sunlight.

The drawback? They can also let in the heat, making your air conditioner work harder and eliminating the savings you achieved on the lighting. unless you've invested in Energy Star low-E windows or installed solar window film.

Either of these two environment-friendly options can also reap you energy tax credits. You'll need them. Most taxpayers have yet to come to the realization that the "tax break" that Obama enacted by reducing withholding tax made no change on the tax owed.

Citizens used to getting a nice tax refund will likely have to cut a check to the IRS since they will have paid in less.

Windows also bring the beauty of the the outdoors inside. To really take advantage of this aspect of your windows, why not build a window seat as a DIY project. If you're not handy yourself, it's easy enough to hire a reliable local carpenter using Angie's List.

Depending on how fancy you want to get, the project can be done is as little as one weekend.

Be sure to update your homeowners insurance policy after making any of these home improvements.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How to Build a Deck Around a Tree

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Spring is here, winter is over, and it's time for outdoor projects. Since the economic downturn has more and more people taking staycations rather than making the journey to Disneyland or Cabo San Lucas, why not combine the two by building a deck where the family can relax and cookouts can carry the day?

What better place to chill out after going for a long training run?

Designing a deck is a fun process. Sometimes, compromises must be made. For example, what if you have a nice shade tree? You hate to cut it down, because the shade makes your home more energy efficient.

Not only that, but the shade on the deck would be welcome indeed. Here's the obvious solution: leave it there! You'll just have to take an extra step.

DIY Tree Service

It's easy enough to frame the deck understructure around a tree. Likewise, a bit of planning makes the decking look just right. The horticultural challenges in this situation? The tree will continue to grow in girth and the topmost roots will threaten to invade the integrity of the deck postholes and footings.

First, estimate how much more girth the tree is likely to gain. If you are not sure, check in with a local nursery or county agricultural agent. Then you can properly lay out the opening.

As far as the lateral root system goes, you really want them to go down, rather than up. This is what I learned on the Randy Lemon Gardenline radio show. Three words: deep root feeding.

Deep Root Feeding

Strictly speaking, the term is a bit deceptive. The process has more to do with watering the tree rather than tree fertilization.

The idea is to poke holes straight down in the soil in concentric circles around the trunk periodically. This gives rain water a route to go deep to feed the tree's root system. The result? The lateral roots will be trained to aim downward, rather than out.

What do you poke the holes with? A length of rebar works well. Do this well before framing the deck and pour some pea gravel down the holes to keep them somewhat open. (For this initial poking, you'll have to use something thicker than rebar for the gravel to fit.)

You will have to cut the worst root offenders before you build the deck, but don't overdo it.

What I'm saying here is that you'll have to devise removeable "panels" in the decking that you can easily remove and replace when you need to.

Now get busy! Having trouble getting motivated? Try Brain Sync. We're burning sunlight here, Homer!

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Finished Installing Radiant Barrier foil in the Attic!

My goal was to finish all my penny-pinching efforts in the attic before the summer really slammed us. And I did it! About three years ago I sprayed radiant barrier paint on the underside of the roof decking. But it was already hot. Boy, did I learn my lesson.

In this book shown on the left, the author goes into why we should take the lead in transforming America to be more energy efficient and develop alternate energy sources. He explains it in a short video that you can see if you click on it.

I won't get into a political discussion about greenhouse gasses here. I'm all about saving money on utility bills and boosting my home equity.

You see, after I did the painting, I noticed an immediate drop in my power usage from the central air conditioner. Being an insatiable fellow, and frugal, I wanted more.

Research indicated that the paint will stop between 10% - 75% of radiant heat from getting into the attic in the first place. The foil, applied to the attic floor, stops 97%. So, is my math off, or is the interior of my home being protected from about 150%? Just joking, I'm not a dolt!

I used Energy Q foil, the best on the market. This is the same stuff NASA uses. In addition to the foil, I also beefed up the attic insulation. In for a dime, in for a dollar, I always say. Do it right the first time.

There's a narrow window of opportunity between the income tax refund and the sweltering heat. I wanted to do it this year because part of the economic stimulus package is higher tax credits.

Have you gone over this energy efficiency checklist to see where you could be saving money. When Cap and Trade kicks in, energy prices are going up, up, up.

So now that I'm done, I'm going to go running, and then it's time to kick back and chill. Literally.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

DIY Carpenter Tips and Tricks

It's been a long time (don't ask) since I went through my carpentry apprenticeship so it goes without saying that I've put a few DIY tips and tricks in my toolbox. Some I picked up from others and some I figured out myself.

These first two are tried and true in the trade and come in handy for lay out.

Use a Water Level Around Corners

I'm a big fan of laser levels, especially since they've come down in price. But since they're optical gizmos, and light only bends for Einstein, it makes it hard to transfer elevations around corners without moving the thing, and that can introduce errors.

Enter the water level. It's a simple device and you can buy one to use if you're working by yourself or just use a length of plastic tubing (about 3/8" ID) if you have a helper. Easy breezy. It works on the principle that water seeks its own level.

Either kind is a lot easier to use if you just add a bit of food coloring to the water. Visibility is key.

Use the 3-4-5 Method for Perfect Square

We owe this on to Mr. Pythagoras, founder of the Pythagorean School of Mathematics in Cortona and all around smart guy.

Like the water level, the 3-4-5 method of squaring is also simple yet precise and relies on basic principles. In this case, A squared + B squared = C squared. And it's expandable, meaning that you can use it with larger numbers for larger projects.

This is an invaluable tool for establishing control lines for walls, concrete forms, or even building furniture if you're so inclined!

Want more tips and tricks? Stay tuned; I'll dig around in the bottom of my toolbox and see what I can find. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going running.

Don't forget to send mom a mother's day gift card! (It's easier than flowers and she can get what she really wants!)

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