Category Archives: Home Improvement-The Nuts and Bolts Advice, Tips and News

DIY dreaming in the sky….cloud based DIY project planning


Feeling a little out of touch lately since I am not actively involved with dirty hands in a DIY project at the moment.  My husband and I are building a new home and are acting as owner/builder which means doing our own project management.  Crazy maybe, but the reward at the end will be immeasurable.  Like any good project, it requires HOURS of careful planning beforehand to be successful.  Measure twice, cut once right?  I have also found that there is absolutely no way that I would be able to carry a huge binder or boxes of ideas around with me as we go through the extensive design planning process.   Sure formula for going crazy!

So, forget the old idea of magazine clipping and folder making.  Now, anyone can dream with ease by clicking the button on their mouse.  With the explosion of online information and social media, there are lots of sites now dedicated to the online consumer of information.  Even online “bookmarking a page” has gone into the caveman era.  Pinterest, Houzz and similar sites have grown by ginormous numbers that allow consumers to easily share and save socially their ideas, dreams and in the case of Houzz, portfolios of design professionals in your area that can help you.

As a user of both myself, I can tell you, it was love at first click to discover these sites.  These online based idea boards also allow me to also easily identify  a client’s ideas by going to look at their likes and wants on their idea boards online.  Anywhere that I have an internet connection, I can see YOUR ideas as well as my own.

Now to take it a step beyond the “idea board”…..Enter “Evernote” and “Dropbox”**…ahhh true love.  Continue reading

How to replace electric outlets

A very quick and inexpensive update that you can do in your home is to replace outdated yellowed or broken outlets.  You can buy a “contractor pack” of ten or as singles for usually around $.50-$1.30 per piece!  The plastic covers for each can also be bought as a contractor pack for pennies on the dollar.   Can you believe that?!    Most people don’t realize this because they don’t make it a habit to walk up the electric nuts and bolts aisle at the store.    Even better, each outlet only takes a couple of minutes to replace.

** Disclaimer:   I am NOT a licensed electrician.  However, there are many simple projects such as this, that you can do for yourself safely and accurately, as long as you follow EACH step precisely.  Any deviation or questions, should be consulted further before proceeding.

Materials Needed:   flat and  Philips (star head) screwdrivers, wire strippers, plug in style voltage tester (shows proper ground, etc)

How to replace:

1)  First and foremost, the most important thing to do is to turn off the WHOLE house power at the breaker panel.  The “main” switch is usually at the top.  For good measure, I not only flip this one switch but also each individual switch as well to OFF.  Overkill maybe, but it doesn’t hurt anything.  Of course, just to be certain or if there’s a concern, power off AC’s, computers, TV or other sensitive electronic equipment before you flip the breaker.  Some people still like to double check each outlet before they begin by inserting an inexpensive plug in type of voltage tester that shows “no voltage”.  This is perfectly fine if it makes you feel better, but really, if you have turned off ALL breakers, there should be no voltage. Continue reading

How to apply window film

So in my mission to finally finish my 1920′s duplex, I wanted to replace the cheesy plastic mini-blinds throughout the space, especially the floppy one on the back door.  Have you ever been lucky enough to find a window blind that stays in its brackets and even better, ever found one that is short enough that you don’t get lost in a tangle of strings trying to shorten it to fit?  Well, during my hunt, I stumbled across a product from Home Depot called “Artscape” decorate window films.  You can choose from two sizes: 1) 24″ x 36″ for $20 or 2) 36″ x 72″ for $30.   They have a variety of finishes like etched glass, leaded glass (like the one I used), stained glass, rain, etc depending on level of privacy you also want the film to have.  For about the same cost or better than a blind?  Sold!

Here is a picture of the product:

Tools you need:  Measuring tape, straight edge, razor knife, soapy water in a spray bottle; the film itself comes with a squeegee

Here are the steps:

1)  Clean the window-ensure interior of window is completely clean

2)  Measure the area to be covered and cut film on the paper side using a razor knife and straight edge-Before you cut the film, ensure that it will be even on both sides if there is a pattern.  To do this, subtract 50% of the total reduction from each side.  In other words, in my case, my width was 21 1/2″ and the film is 24″ wide; I cut 1 1/4″ from each side.  Repeat the same measurement for length.

3)  Wet the window-Using a spray bottle with water and a couple of drops of  hand soap inside, wet the window generously.  The wetter the window, the easier to work with the film.  Of course, lay a towel down on your floor to protect it from the drips.

4) Apply the film-Starting in one corner, peel the film from the paper backing and press into place and gently continue to roll the paper backing away and pressing the film against the window at the same time.  Be careful not to let the paper come in contact with the window.

5) Squeegee the air bubbles-Using the provided squeegee, start in the middle and work outwards to remove all air bubbles. Once dry, the film should be nicely adhered.

No more blind and a bonus that I now made my 1920′s door look like it has a leaded glass insert.  Love it!  This really was such an easy project that gave me so much reward and was much faster than installing a floppy blind!  I’m going to now use the same film but in etched glass to get rid of the blind in the bathroom.

If you have any questions, let me know…hope you enjoy transforming your window.

Spring Exterior Preventative Maintenance for your Home

Spring weather is a perfect time to get outside and walk around the entire perimeter of your home to check for any signs of needed maintenance.  Houses “settle” over time and are constantly in a state of movement, believe it or not.  It is common for caulk joints to deteriorate over time and a lot of us take it for granted that certain small, but very important areas such as caulking are “out of sight, out of mind”.    Its much easier and less expensive to replace caulk in order to prevent larger and more expensive issues later.  Wood rot and excessive movement however may indicate larger issues that need to be dealt with.

Check for the following:

1) Foundation

Check for any insect intrusion coming into your brick’s weep holes, any cracking of the slab, or soil separation.   Make sure vegetation, mulch and dirt stay at least 4-6″ below the top of your slab

2) Windows

Check your window’s caulking.  An inexpensive tube of caulk goes a long way to keep your windows air and water tight.

3)  Wood trim and siding

Check for any signs of wood rot, mildew or gapping due to settlement.    In our case, Spring brought an overactive squirrel that chewed right through one of our trim boards to take up residence in our attic!  Use binoculars if you need to see the higher points better

4)  Hose Bibs and other Exterior penetrations

Check the seals around any exterior penetrations; again, good seals and caulking help prevent insect intrusion, water issues and the like.

If you are not up to the challenge of getting up on a ladder for 2 story homes, most painter type contractors should not charge a lot for this type of caulking or small wood replacement maintenance.

As always, I am here to help with any questions you have.  Enjoy your Spring!

A little trick for hinges

So I’ve been relocating some doors and building new cabinets and I can tell you, I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to get the silly hinges in alignment with only my two hands!  The hinge slips just as I’m about to drill the screw or worse, the tiny screws that come with some hinges are so hard to work with unless you are able to have two hands free!  Worse yet, some of the screws “strip out” before you can get them all the way in, creating a real headache and a loose screw, literally.  A loose screw equals a loose hinge and doors won’t line up properly.

So here are two little tips to save your sanity when working with new hinges to assure yourself a smooth installation:

1) Stick it and Shim it

To mark the location of the hinge and the location of the screws, use a small piece of double sided tape to secure the hinge temporarily in the proper spot.   The tape will keep the hinge from slipping.   For heavier doors, they make a seriously strong tape and I cheat with this and shims to keep the door in alignment until the screws are in.

2)    Pilot Holes

With the hinge securely in the correct location, always drill a pilot hole with a drill bit just slightly smaller than the screw itself.  This will allow the screw to be drilled in smoothly without stripping out.

Hope my learning curve can save you some time and headaches!

When you just can’t (or don’t want to) do it yourself….7 Tips for choosing a good contractor

After a long summer vacation, I am ready to get back to work!  My latest project is a 1924 duplex restoration and I’m beyond thrilled to get my hands dirty again!   I love a good challenge when it comes to performing my own improvements, but sometimes, there are things better left for a contractor.  Or, maybe you just don’t have the time to do it yourself and need to hire a contractor.  Perfectly understandable.  In my case, the duplex has some foundation and roof work and this is obviously beyond anything I feel the need to be challenged with.  Finding a good contractor can be a tedious task, but its a necessary process that shouldn’t be taken for granted.  Hopefully in the end, its all worth it for both you and your contractor.

There are many great contractors out there, just like there are unfortunately, plenty of bad ones. Here a few tips to ensure a good relationship from start to finish:

1)   Get at least 3 written estimates

You may be surprised that prices will vary between contractors.  I also use the bidding process as an education.  Ask lots of questions about what to expect from start to finish.  This will help you fine tune the other estimates you get.  If you forgot to ask something, feel free to circle back to ensure you have 3 very comparable estimates.  Also, if they show up late for the estimate appointment, take it as a good sign of how they may treat your job.

Also, if a contractor asks you who they are bidding against, politely tell them you won’t divulge that information.  It is my opinion that every contractor should give their best first estimate.  Every industry is a small world and employees and trade secrets move around.  Armed with information that they are bidding against a known competitor, suddenly, you just changed their bid.

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How to Clean Like a Man

Al Roker from the Today Show and Elizabeth Mayhew, Editor in Chief  of “Woman’s Day Magazine” recently appeared together to discuss “How to Clean Like  a Man”.  Men tend to appear very at ease when faced with a challenge and don’t tend to dissect every detail like women do.  They also tend to simplify steps that are required to complete tasks (even though it sometimes results in stopping to ask for directions).  So why do we make cleaning such a mountainous task?  How can we make this task easier?

Here’s what they discussed as to how women can develop a few simple strategies to clean like a man, not necessarily, to make it “man clean”:

Gather the troops! Ever wonder why there were labels for Mr. Clean or Brawny?  It cleans like a man?  Locate all the cleaning supplies you will need to get the task done.   Put the supplies in a carry tote that makes it easy to move from room to room.

Create a Plan of Attack Guys tend to prioritize and function well with a list.  They tend to stay focused better and stay organized.  So make a list and tackle the challenge!  It will feel good to cross off the tasks.

Plan a celebration Men are much better at rewarding themselves than we are.  So when you are done, enjoy a glass of wine, watch a movie or maybe some “me” time.

Here’s some man-friendly cleaning tips (which you might even convince him to do for you since they involve some unsuspecting guy things):

Car wax- spread over tiles on bathroom shower walls (not natural stone) to prevent mildew and soap scum buildup

Leaf blower-attach your vacuum hose to the leaf blower and blow all the trash out of the hose.  You’d be surprised at how much gunk gets stuck in your vacuum hose that makes it less and less efficient.  The leaf blower is also great for blowing off large areas in a short time.

Grade 3 synthetic steel wool-use on stainless steel pots and pans to get built up stains off of your cookware

Tennis ball-spray all purpose cleaner on the ball to remove scuff marks from wood floors.  You can also throw a ball into a dryer to fluff your down comforter

How to maximize your home value with home improvements

Many areas across our country have been hit hard with declining real estate values.  As a result, more and more people are looking at ways to stay in their current home and ride-out the decline.  As I like to say, learn to “love the home you’re with”.  By completing a few critical home repairs or improvements, homeowners can actually add value to their home by increasing its equity and marketability.  Even better, there are many options that can be done yourself that won’t break your bank.  When you can tackle smaller projects yourself, you save even more money.

Invest wisely:

Invest your time and money into wise improvements.  Before tackling larger projects, consider the resale value of those improvements.  Will you get all or most of your money spent back equally in the increased resale value?   Renovating your home can also improve your quality of life.   Any upgrade should reflect your style, but try to choose colors, building materials and furnishings that will bring you maximum marketability for resale. Even low cost improvements like painting can go a long way.

Consider Functionality

Will the renovation serve a purpose for your family?  Does it fit into your lifestyle?  Will it improve the use of a current space?  Consider the size, location and layout of any addition to ensure it blends well into your current surroundings.

Go Eco-Friendly

Let’s face it, with current tax credits available and all the buzz about carbon footprints and going green, this should be a very important part of your investment decision.  Not only do energy efficient improvements save money on utility costs or take advantage of recycled building materials, they are becoming a hot selling factor in homes which increases your marketability resale value to buyers.  Insulated windows, lighting, solar panels or other energy saving features are among the available options to homeowners.    There are also a variety of building materials that are available in eco-friendly options such as flooring, natural fiber carpets, VOC free paints, recycled material countertops, etc.

Popular Options for Home Improvements:

Fresh Paint Inside and Out: By far, this is the least expensive and easiest way to get a lot of bang for your buck.  Don’t overlook door trims, exterior paint, corners and doors.  Chipped or dirty paint in a desirable color does nothing for resale value, but a fresh coat of paint says “welcome in”.  Go over your home inside and out from a buyer’s perspective and ensure your paint is in its best condition and clean.

Landscaping/Outdoor Amenities: As families are getting back outside to enjoy time together and entertaining, patios and decks are a good option for any property. Decks and patio additions can recoup at least 75% of their cost in extra home value.  Flower beds, brick walkways, fresh mulch and other landscaping add instant curb appeal.  Curb appeal will be the first thing any real estate agent will look at when you go to sell your home.

Kitchen or Bathroom upgrade: These two rooms historically bring the best resale value to homes when updated in current finishes.  You might be surprised that by doing even a budget kitchen makeover, it will go a long way on the value you get in return.

Survey your floors and cabinets to determine if they should be updated.  Consider sanding, staining, or painting dingy looking cabinets.  Replacing old cabinet hardware can add a lot of visual appeal for a low cost.  Old and worn sinks and fixtures should be replaced.

For some budget kitchen makeover ideas:

For some budget bathroom makeover ideas:

Make your next DIY project a successful one

“You Can Do It Too”…Make your next DIY project a successful one

I love starting new projects.  I love learning new things.  Each time, I savor the sense of accomplishment by not only completing the task, but  also knowing that I was successful.  The following are tips to help you get the most out of your next home improvement project too:

1.  Have the right tools and the right materials

Before tackling any project, determine the type of tools needed and the type and amount of all the materials for the project.

2. Research and planning

Research the steps necessary to complete the project from start to finish to ensure you will have the know how.  Plan the project in steps so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

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A Home Remodel Series (Part 4-How to install wood flooring)

The finished project

Continuing our series on following the progress at my friend’s home remodel, part of their wood flooring in the dining room had been damaged by a water leak from the adjacent kitchen.

See what all we are covering in this series by clicking the link below:

Wood floors add a lot of warmth and character to any room.  They are exceptionally durable and a good quality wood floor is meant to last for years and years.  Unfortunately, in the case of my friend’s home,  wood and water do not agree and the resulting buckled wood flooring was not salvageable.

Wood floors damaged by water leak

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