Archive for Building Materials

Low-Maintenance Exteriors – Our Top 5

Posted in I Wish I'd Thought About That, Renovation, The Drawing Board with tags , , , on May 31, 2011 by Kevin Fox

Unless you are a born and breed handyperson type, you would probably want to have the exterior of your home as maintenance free as possible.  While no exterior material is truly maintenance free, you can have a low-maintenance home.  Here’s our Top 5 for low-maintenance exteriors:

5. Silicone Caulk

Not much excitement here, just good old-fashioned performance from a high-tech product.  When it comes to the exterior of your home, water is the number 1 enemy.  Individual materials can be very resistant to water damage, but their weakness is where they meet another material.  Sound construction techniques and caulking are key components for most of these situations.  Silicone caulks are long lasting; up to 35 years in some cases.  Silicone caulks are not perfect: they’re expensive and most can’t be painted.  There are, however, enough colors available to fit most any color scheme.

4. Metal Roofing

Metal roofing is certainly more expensive, initially, but can last 2 to 4 times as long as asphalt shingles.  A properly installed metal roof can last 50 years or more.

3. PVC Trim

If the design of your home calls for painted trim, consider PVC trim.  While initially more costly than wood, PVC trim out-performs wood in many ways:

  • PVC trim is insect resistant
  • PVC trim won’t rot, splinter or check
  • PVC trim has no knots
  • PVC trim does not have to be painted.  If you choose to paint it, the paint will last longer because PVC trim does not absorb moisture.

2. Clad Windows and Doors

Some windows with vinyl cladding rely on caulk joints where the individual cladding components meet.  Inspect these yearly.  Weather stripping can fail, especially the threshold sweeps on doors.  Otherwise little maintenance is required

1. Full Masonry Exteriors

Brick and stone exteriors do not require much in the way of maintenance:

  • Don’t allow vines to grow on them
  • Don’t allow weep holes to be blocked. Weep holes, located at grade level, above doors and above and below windows, allow moisture to drain from behind brick veneers.  Over time, mulching in landscape planting beds can block weep holes, which, in turn, can lead to spalling (damage to the face of brick occurring during freeze-thaw cycles)
  • Over time mortar will degrade and needs to be repaired (pointed up).  Generally mortar will last between 25 and 50 years before needing to be replaced.  The areas most vulnerable are near grade where splashing from rain keeps the brick and mortar wet

It’s all in the Details

Posted in Around Your Home, I Wish I'd Thought About That, Renovation, The Drawing Board with tags , , , on March 8, 2011 by Kevin Fox

Whether you are building new or just remodeling, here are a few ideas worth considering.  These fall into the category of quality over quantity, a new and much needed trend in home building today.

  • Shutters

In most parts of the country shutters are simply decoration.  They are commonly used, but unfortunately have suffered from ‘track building syndrome’ or the application of ‘cheap and uninformed’.  To function properly, shutters must be sized correctly – a pair should cover the window, and be hinged.  Assuming your home has properly sized shutters, why not consider installing them with hinges and shutter dogs (to hold them in the open position).  Shutters mounted in this fashion just look right.  They add shadows to your elevation because they aren’t nailed solid to the building.  A small touch, but worth the small extra expense.

  • Tile rugs

This idea is just a detail to break up large areas of tile flooring.  Typically you might do in a bathroom.  They can be elaborate with special tiles or just executed with tiles of a contrasting color.

  • Shower recesses

This idea is an alternative to the typical corner shower shelf.  Install these in a shower wall stud space backed with plywood.  This works better in a 2×6 wall.  Don’t try this in an exterior wall, however.  If you make the recess tall enough you can create intermediate, 12” high shelves with scrap pieces of marble or solid surfacing material.

  • Pocket offices

Busy homeowners need a spot to keep mail, bills, records, and etc. all in one central location.  Traditionally a Kitchen or Library desk has fulfilled this need, all be it poorly.  A desk usually doesn’t have enough storage and who wants to look at a metal 4-drawer file cabinet?  The answer is the pocket office.  A tiny space adjacent to one of the living areas in the home with enough space for a small desk and a file cabinet.  Ideally, there is room enough for a computer.  Another must have feature is a wall cabinet with mail cubbies for storing supplies, sorting and prioritizing mail and bills.  A small window would be a nice addition but not necessary.  A must-have feature for the pocket office to work properly is a door; if possible it should be a pocket door.  You must be able to close it off as they tend to be messy and unsightly.

  • Drop lockers

Kids, backpacks, boots; the list goes on. You only need about a 12” x 48” space to make this detail happen.

  • Master closet islands

These make sense if combined with smaller Master Bedrooms because they reduce the need for bedroom furniture and help consolidate most of the clothing in a single location.

  • Master Bath Book Niche

You know you need this.  Why live with a pile of books or magazines on the floor when you can organize!  These can be recessed or carved out of a thickened wall.  They can also be built with storage for toilet paper or extra reading material.

8 Reasons to Invest in Your Home

Posted in Around Your Home, Worth Repeating with tags , , , , on February 17, 2011 by Kevin Fox

(from MONEY Magazine, By Josh Garskof) — Not long ago, you could have your big remodeling project and get your money back too. Owners recouped an average of 87% of home improvement costs at resale in 2005, according to Remodeling magazine.

But by 2010 the magazine had pegged the typical payback at just 60%. Hardly the right time to tackle the new kitchen or master bathroom you’ve been dreaming of, right?

Not so fast, says Kermit Baker, senior research fellow at Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

“In many cases, these projects make more sense now than they did at the height of the market,” he said.

Assuming you like what you can’t change about your home — the neighborhood, the school district, the proximity to things that matter to you — and you’re planning on staying for five or more years, improving your home is a smart move. Here’s why.

1. Funding is cheap

The current economic climate sweetens the pot for people on solid financial footing.

Should I spend $60,000 to renovate my house?

“The Fed doesn’t want you to save — it wants you to put your dollars into circulation,” said Keith Gumbinger, mortgage market analyst at

Today’s historically low interest rates mean that most home-equity lines of credit are charging their floor rates (your HELOC’s probably is around 3% if you’ve held it for a couple of years, 4% or 5% if the loan is more recent).

And with the typical bank account and money fund paying far less than 1%, drawing down your savings barely costs you anything in lost income — just don’t jeopardize your safety cushion.

2. Eager contractors are discounting

Although the construction industry rebounded somewhat last year, business is still slow. Remember when getting a contractor to call you back was a challenge?

Now the best pros in town will happily bid on your job — and they’ll probably offer you prices that are 10% to 20% below what you would have paid when real estate was going gangbusters, according to Bernard Markstein, senior economist for the National Association of Home Builders.

3. Materials have come down

The cost of building supplies has tumbled too. Plywood is down 23% since its peak in the mid-2000s. Drywall is off 29%, framing lumber 35%.

Not all raw materials prices have fallen that much: Asphalt roofing, which is made from a petroleum byproduct, is down only 7% over the past two years. Insulation — which has been in high demand because of energy rebates and high fuel prices — is down a mere 2% since 2006. Still, on the whole, construction supplies are bargains right now.

4. You’ll cut your energy costs

You don’t have to hire a green builder to see energy savings from a renovation. In a prewar house in the high-energy-cost Northeast, for example, a standard kitchen remodel could cut your utility expenses by $400 a year thanks to new insulation, windows, and appliances.

Even years of such savings will never come close to covering the project’s price tag, but think of your lower electric and heating bills as an annual dividend.

5. Fixing up costs less than trading up

With the median home price down 22% since 2006, you might think this is an opportune time to trade up for the new master bathroom or other modern feature you want. After all, why not buy somebody else’s remodeling headache at a discount.

But you can’t assume that you’ll easily sell your house in this tough market and then find a new place that has the exact features you want (and not a bunch of stuff you don’t want). And moving remains far costlier than improving, said John Ranco, past president of the Greater Boston Association of Realtors.

For starters, commissions and fees to sell a $400,000 home could run $25,000.

“You can get a lot of remodeling done for that kind of money,” said Ranco. “And that doesn’t even include the higher price you’re paying for the new house, the moving costs, or the inevitable painting and window treatments the new place will need.”

6. You can keep that sub-5% mortgage

As long as you’re not underwater and haven’t wrecked your credit, you’ve been able to take advantage of recent rock-bottom interest rates to lock in a fixed-rate mortgage below 5%.

Move several years from now, and you’ll have to give up that loan, probably for something in the sixes or sevens, said Harvard’s Baker. That’s not bad, but it could mean hundreds a month in added interest costs.

“If you can remodel your way into staying put long term, you can hold on to that once-in-a-lifetime rate,” says Baker.

7. Smart projects still add value

In the post-boom era, the rule of thumb for gauging the potential payback from a home improvement is simple: If you’re bringing your house in line with similar homes in the area, you’ll most likely earn back the lion’s share of the cost when you sell. If you’re surpassing the neighborhood, you probably won’t.

“Remodeling a 10-year-old kitchen because you don’t like its style doesn’t pay anymore,” says Thomas Collimore, director of investor education for the CFA Institute. “But replacing a 1960s kitchen is a different story.”

At least for the foreseeable future, buyers will either lowball their bids or pass on your house entirely unless you’ve already tackled this kind of deferred renovation.

8. You get to enjoy the results

When it comes time to sell your place, chances are you’ll probably wind up having to do the sorely needed renovations you didn’t take care of earlier. Not only does that add a huge amount of stress to the process of putting a house on the market, but you still end up spending the money (quite possibly when contractor, materials, and borrowing costs are higher).

Why not get the benefits of a new furnace or an updated powder room for you and your family instead of buying them for the house’s next owners? And why not do the projects soon so you get as much time as possible to enjoy the results?

Unlike vacations, luxury cars, or other discretionary expenditures, your remodeling project might recoup a significant chunk of its cost someday.

Even so, home improvements aren’t purely investment decisions — you shouldn’t redo a kitchen or bathroom in the hopes of making a profit. But if you want to upgrade the quality of your home life and you can afford the cost, it’s money well spent.

Metal roofs – Worth a Look? Green Enough?

Posted in Green Building, I Wish I'd Thought About That with tags , , , on January 5, 2011 by Kevin Fox

Asphalt shingles have been the choice of most people for residential roof covering here in the Midwest for many years.  The popularity of asphalt shingles is due, in large part, to the relatively low initial cost.  As a Green product asphalt shingles do not fare well:

  • Production of shingles is not environmentally friendly
  • Shingles are heavy, so there are additional costs for shipping and for roof framing
  • Since shingles are a petroleum product, they don’t qualify as sustainable
  • Although asphalt shingles can be recycled, a sizable percentage end up in land fills
  • Asphalt shingles have an average life span of about 17 years – not a sustainable characteristic, nor particularly cost effective either

If you have an upcoming remodeling project or are building a new home, perhaps you should consider some alternative roofing materials.  Some choices and their Green resumes:

  • Slate
  1. Very expensive material and labor – experienced labor may be hard to find
  2. Heavy, so more costly framing and transport
  3. Lasts 100’s of years, although the fasteners may last only 100 years.  High marks for sustainability
  4. Slate is highly recyclable
  5. Comparatively low environment impact from manufacturing
  6. Can be very green if available locally to your project
  7. Non-leaching so water collection is viable
  • Clay or concrete tile
  1. Both are heavy and require more substantial framing
  2. Both are non-leaching, so good for water collection
  3. There are significant environmental costs for the production of cement tile
  4. Clay tile production can be environmentally friendly if made by hand
  • Metal – steel, aluminum, copper, etc.
  1. Metal roofs qualify as sustainable due to their 50 year or more lifespan
  2. Light weight so framing and shipping costs can be less
  3. There is some debate whether water runoff from copper and galvanized roofs is safe for the environment
  4. Metal roofs are highly recyclable and also contain high percentages of recycled material. Aluminum in particular is easy to and very energy efficient to recycle

There are additional reasons to consider a metal beyond the Green benefits.  Metal roofs are fire-resistant, so they may qualify for discounts on Homeowner’s Insurance.  Metal roof systems can provide the look of shingles, shakes, tile, slate as well as the traditional looks of metal such as standing seam.

The initial cost of installing a metal roof may be high compared to a conventional shingled roof, but over the life of the roof the costs even out.  Metal roofs can be installed over 1 or 2 layers of shingles, which can save the cost of shingle tear-off in a remodeling application.

Some types of metal roofs can be noisy during rain or hail storms.  Some finishes are subject to peeling, fading, chalking, chipping or scratching.  Metal roofs can be slippery, so caution must be taken when undertaking maintenance projects than entail walking on the roof.  The slipperiness of metal roofs can be advantage as it prevents ice dams from forming during the winter

Metal roofing is a Green solution you should consider for your new home build or remodel.  For more information visit The Metal Roofing Alliance

Why Build a New Home?

Posted in Housing News with tags , , , on November 3, 2010 by Pat Hansen
  • It’s NEW! No one else has lived in it before. Everything is clean and brand new; no need to worry about expensive repairs or replacements of out-of-date, damaged or worn materials.                                          
  • Old, obsolete homes may not address the way we live today. New homes have floor plans designed to facilitate interaction with family and friends.
  • State-of-the-art kitchens, bathrooms with double vanities, whirlpool tubs, large showers, ample closeting and family rooms open to the kitchen, are features which are often lacking in used homes.  A new home can be right sized to fit your needs exactly                   
  • You can customize your home to your liking and needs. Hire a reputable builder and become part of the team that will create your new residence. 
  • Hazardous materials, such as asbestos, formaldehyde and lead have been eliminated from new home building products. New homes must conform to the newest and safest building codes and regulations.

  • Energy efficient windows, better insulation technologies, better control of air infiltration, modern heating and cooling systems all result in healthier indoor air quality.
  • New homes accommodate electrical needs that did not exist just a few years ago, enabling you to take advantage of the latest communication, security, home office and entertainment technologies.
  • New homes are less expensive to maintain. They come with warranties, including direct manufacturer warranties on new appliances you don’t receive when buying a used home. There are no old parts or appliances to fix. New building products are more durable and require less maintenance.

  • Monthly costs are less, due to improved technology. This can mean big savings on utility bills.
  • Pride of ownership of your new home which you helped design, expresses your lifestyle and taste.
  • Building your home enables you to take advantage of rolling the cost of upgrades into your mortgage; therefore paying a small amount for them over the life of the loan.
  • Lastly, new homes are often built in newly developed communities where everyone in your neighborhood just recently moved in. This makes it easy to build new and lasting relationships.
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