Summer Construction for Outdoor Spaces

When the weather turns warm, it’s a great time to get outside and enjoy the outdoor space at your home.  However, it also provides an opportunity to not only rethink your outdoor space, but also to take action and create an outdoor oasis that you will love for years to come.  Before you start building that deck or installing that water feature, though, you need to answer a few questions and craft your project plan.

How do you want to use your space?

You need a plan before building anything, and the first challenge is determining what the project is going to accomplish.  Consider how you currently use your yard and how you might desire to use it differently.  Knowing whether you want more space entertaining or more space for recreation is an important first step to building your outdoor space.

What do you want to build?

After you know how you want to use your space, you can consider what exactly you would like to build.  When it comes to patios, this means choosing whether you want to use poured concrete, paver stones, or a different material.  There are many considerations for decking materials as well, including wood and various composite materials.  A landscape architect or builder can help you consider the pros and cons of different materials in your outdoor space.

How do you want it to look?

There are several resources for homeowners to use for design help.  Houzz.com is one example.  The website has thousands of pictures from real homes, featuring every aspect of a home imaginable, including outdoor spaces.  Using a resource such as Houzz is a great way to determine exactly what you want your patio to look like, or how you want to design your deck.

What do you need to remember?

There are several things to keep in mind throughout your preparation for outdoor construction.  For decks, you need to make sure you understand the local building code for railings around the deck surface.  If you’re going to be planting any trees, shrubs, and flowers, make sure the materials you choose are right for the climate and your personal maintenance capabilities.

The Bottom Line

As with any construction project, the key to successful outdoor construction is planning.  It’s important to iron out all of the details for your project before getting started.  Once you know exactly what you would like to build, and everything that your project will entail, you can hire a professional and get started building the outdoor space you desire.

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Assessing Winter Weather Damage/Spring Tune-Up

As we have entered spring and the weather turns warmer and the days longer, it is a good time to do a walk-around inspection of your property, especially after all the cold, wind, ice, and snow we experienced in the past few months.  Winter weather can do damage to roofs and chimneys, and it can also take its toll on windows, walls, foundations, gutters, and decks.

Be sure to check out the following areas of your home to determine if repairs and/or updates need to be made:

Inspect your roof: Now is the time to inspect the roof and repair any water damage. If you delay, you could find yourself facing water damage inside your home as well.   You don’t need to climb up on the roof yourself.  Just take a pair of binoculars and look for shingles that have shifted, cracked, or are missing.

Clean your gutters: Gutters direct rain away from your roof and home, protecting both in the process.  Clogged gutters can open your home to water damage and there’s a good chance you won’t notice the damage until you need an expensive repair.

Clean driveways, fences, and other exterior surfaces: A pressure washer makes the work much easier.  If you don’t have one, borrow one or rent one from an area home center, or have a professional complete the project.

Fix cracks in your walks, driveway, and the outside of your home: Now is the time to make repairs to cracks in asphalt and concrete around your home.  The sooner you make the repair the better, otherwise the cracks will likely increase in size.

Inspect decks and patios: Look for warped, loose, or splintered boards, and do a good sweep to remove any leaves and debris accumulated in the space between boards.  Whether made with wood, plastic, or composite materials, a deck should be cleaned every year to extend its life.

Repair peeling paint: A good paint job goes a long way in improving the look of your home, while providing a protective barrier from the elements.  Touchup painting is easy to do and inexpensive.

Check seals around windows and doors: Winter weather can crack and harden caulk and other weather seals.  Inspect them now and repair and replace as needed.  You’ll reduce your air-conditioning bill and could prevent water from entering your home and causing damage.

Look around the foundation: When inspecting the exterior of your home, be sure to examine the foundation from top to bottom for masonry cracks.  In this case, routine caulking by homeowners won’t do the job.  If you spot cracks in the foundation, you need to hire a foundation specialist who will use a stronger sealant to rectify the problem.

Take a look inside your attic: Search for signs that indicate insects or animals have entered the space.  Also, search aggressively for mold, which often takes the form of gray or black blotches that look like staining.  Proper insulation and good ventilation will deter mold growth in the attic, so take action now to prevent the problem from developing in the warmer months ahead.

Replace your HVAC filters: You need to do this more often than once a year. A dirty filter forces your HVAC system to work harder, making it inefficient.  It could also shorten the life of your blower motor.

Clean and repair your screens: This is another inexpensive and easy way to reduce your energy bills this summer.  You can keep your house cool at least at night by opening windows.  Gently scrub the screens on a flat surface with soapy water.  Also, patch small holes as needed.

Drain your water heater: Sediment builds up in your water heater tank, so use the spigot near the bottom of the heater to drain it.  By doing so, you’ll prolong its life and reduce your energy bill.

Ways to Treat and Control Basement Moisture

Basement moisture can often cause havoc for homeowners, as it often happens with little warning before it’s a serious problem.  Moisture can cause rust, paint damage, and mold, which can aggravate allergies and cause other indoor air quality problems, creating a whole different set of home issues.

Below are a list of tips on how to prevent, treat, and control basement moisture.

Have the correct dehumidifier with necessary settings

It is very important to make sure you have a working dehumidifier and that it is properly sized for the basement’s square footage.  You should pay attention to square footage ratings when selecting dehumidifiers and ensure the right unit is selected for the space and its relative humidity.  It is best to set the unit to the normal setting and keep it turned on year-round.  The dehumidifier will only operate when there is enough ambient moisture to engage the unit.

Consider purchasing a dehumidifier that drains automatically, rather than units that drain into a bucket and require regular emptying.  If you forget to empty the bucket, it can cause the unit to stop running, and that increases the risk for conditions to produce mold.  A unit that drains automatically keeps the air quality and humidity at the desired level.

Check the sump pump and water discharge

A properly set sump pump will activate when the water level is just below the bottom of the drain tile inlets.  Homeowners are encouraged to check the unit periodically to see that it is operational.  After a heavy rainfall, you should monitor the volume of water that discharges into the sump crock, as it will provide an idea of how often the sump pump should cycle.

You should also invest in an adequate back up pump and generator. A sump pump is needed most during a storm with heavy rainfall, and storm conditions can often cause power outages and fuse shorting.  Investing in a back up pump and power generator can ensure the pump’s job gets done when it is needed the most.

Keep up on Palmer Valve maintenance

Palmer valves were installed typically on homes constructed from 1925 – 1955.  They are a one-way check valve in the floor drain that allows water to drain from the drain tile system into the sewer lateral, taking the water directly to the street sewer.  It should be checked and lubricated once per year.  If the valve is stuck or you aren’t sure if it is working properly, have a qualified plumber inspect it.

Inspect for moisture buildup and seepage

Inspect and monitor the interior perimeter of the basement with a good flashlight to see if there’s any evidence of moisture build up or if there is seepage by the bottom of the wall.  If you discover moisture, it may be a sign that further evaluation by a professional basement specialist is necessary.

You should also monitor the basement’s humidity level.  Ideally you want 50% or less humidity to help to control mold growth.  If you are able to keep the humidity in that low range, it significantly reduces the risk of mold, moisture, and seepage.

Green Building Practices

In recent years, construction methods and materials have become more environmentally friendly and the trend is expected to continue to grow.  Take a look at some of the green techniques and technology becoming more common practice in building and renovating homes.

Solar Energy

An increasing number of buildings constructed today have solar energy panels installed on the roof.  This trend is expected to continue, as more and more homeowners demand alternative energy sources.  In addition to being less harmful to the environment, solar energy fixtures will also help reduce energy costs.  The goal is to create a house that consumes at least 50% less energy than one built conventionally, with a corresponding reduction in heating and cooling costs.  Combining green-building techniques with active solar systems can result in a “zero energy” home, one that produces as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year.

More Efficient Heating and Cooling

Reducing energy consumption has always been a priority in the industry, particularly with regard to cooling and heating and several companies provide more eco-friendly options.  Many homeowners choose to increase energy savings by installing an energy monitor that puts the power in their hands.  By installing this device, you see in real time the energy being consumed and what your monthly bill will be.

LED Lighting

Modern lighting has become much more energy efficient.  LED lights consume 75 percent less energy than incandescent lighting and can last 50 times longer.  Compared to incandescent lights that produce light by heating, LEDs are basically computer semiconductors that illuminate while producing little wasted heat.

Bamboo Flooring

An eco-friendly approach will inform the choice of flooring materials as well, and bamboo is fast becoming a popular option.  A durable and widely available material, bamboo is expected to be a mainstay of home and business construction in the coming years.

Recycled Materials

Although recycled and recyclable materials have long been used in the construction industry, this usage is expected to increase as time goes on.  For an increasing number of people, eco-friendliness also extends to the materials used, and recycled materials are fast becoming a popular option.

Green Products

Choosing the right interior finishes has a huge impact on indoor air quality and consequently the health of the inhabitants.  Many products and finishes are made with chemicals that can give off gas for years in a home.  Contractors have the opportunity to help their clients choose finishes that are environmentally friendly and won’t cause health problems.  You can also choose paint, adhesives, and caulks that have low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chemicals that can trigger a whole host of illnesses.

Energy-Efficient Plumbing

Heating water for domestic use accounts for as much as 30 percent of residential energy consumption.  Wasted water adds up to tens of gallon per day, thousands of gallons per year.  If each home saved 20 gallon of water each day, in one year 7,300 gallons of water would be saved.  Today the potential for plumbing fixtures to save water is greater than ever.  A new more energy efficient water heater will pay for itself over the life of the product.  Additionally, toilets consume more water than any other fixture in the house. Customers will save money on their water bill by installing high-efficiency toilets.  Selecting faucets and showerheads with flow reducers will conserve water as well.

Trends in Kitchen and Bath Design

Bathrooms Are No Longer Basic

Once considered just a functional space, today’s bathroom can be a place of luxury and convenience.  The latest design elements also include technology components.

  • Technology in the Shower – Digital shower-control panels are now available that can set water temperature and save the settings for multiple users.  Music can also be incorporated through speakers in showerheads.  Tubs can also feature built-in speakers that add music and good vibrations to help you relax.
  • Heated Floors – A cold bathroom floor on a winter’s morning may become a thing of the past.  Radiant heat wires can be placed underneath bathroom-tiled floors.  The temperature can be set through an electronic control panel and scheduled to turn on before you get up in the morning and programmed to shut off as you are headed out the front door to work.  This technology makes your morning bathroom experience more comfortable and the timer component ensures you don’t waste energy.
  • Curbless, or Zero Threshold Showers – As homeowners stay in their homes longer, they may have trouble getting in an out of a traditional bathtub and/or shower.  The curbless shower allows for easy access as people get older and begin to experience a decrease in mobility.
  • Custom Sized Showers – A popular remodeling job in recent years is constructing a larger shower.  In the past, homeowners only had a few prefabricated sized showers to choose from.  Today, custom-sized showers are possible and can be designed to fit the available space.
  • Thick and Permanently Sealed Shower Glass – The current trend for showers is installation of 3/8-inch heavy glass.  People are interested in protectants for the glass and permanently sealed glass, so that soap scum and minerals from water are not absorbed over time, which makes them easier to clean.

 

Kitchens Have Become a Centerpiece

Kitchens have gone from small rooms set in the back of the home to the focal point of family life.  They are designed to connect to our largest living spaces and offer a central gathering point for family and guests.

  • Integrated Appliances – One trend in the kitchen that is growing in demand are integrated appliances.  Homeowners want to hide their appliances from view with wood fronts, blending seamlessly with the cabinetry.
  • Hard Surfaces are Popular – Granite and quartz are the most popular materials for countertops.  Granite requires polish for protection and shine, but quartz is popular for its durability and easy to clean surface.
  • Islands Dominate – Kitchen islands are becoming more multi-dimensional, serving as food-prep areas, snack stations, wine storage, and display cabinets.  They are also essential for directing traffic flow within an open floor plan.
  • Splish Splash – Many homeowners choose to add a touch of style and protection to the sink area by installing backsplashes.  Popular material choices include ceramic, porcelain, or glass tile and often they reach all the way up to the bottom of upper cabinets.
  • Wood is Good –  Pre-finished and engineered wood flooring are becoming more popular.  Pre-finished woods provide a hard and durable finish that can compliment wood cabinetry.

How to Select a Homebuilder or Remodeler

Just like any major purchase you make, such as buying a new car or the latest high tech consumer electronics, you need to do your homework and shop around when it comes to selecting a new homebuilder or remodeler.

Do Your Research

The first thing you need to do is to identify the homebuilders and remodelers in your area.

  • The real estate section of your local newspaper is a good place to begin your research to identify local builders.  You can narrow down that list by reviewing the new home ads and finding houses in your price range that fit the style of home you are looking to purchase.
  • Next you can seek out the organizations that monitor homebuilders and remodelers. For every major industry in the country, you can find a professional trade organization that provides certifications for businesses in their particular industry.  The National Association of Home Builders (www.nahb.org) is a good resource for information, and locally, review the Ohio Home Builders Association (www.ohiohba.com) or the Erie County Home Builders Association (www.builderdirectory.net).
  • Another place to seek professional advice would be your local real estate agents.  They are in the business of selling homes and don’t want to be associated with companies that can’t deliver the quality and price they promise.
  • Finally, you should reach out to people in your network of friends and business associates that have worked with homebuilders and remodelers in your area.  They can provide first-hand knowledge of their experience with the companies you have identified.

Try Them On For Size

The Internet is a great tool for gathering information about a company, but at a certain point you have to hit the pavement and engage directly with the homebuilders and remodelers you are considering.

  • When you meet with the company representatives you have found through your research, ask them to provide a list of neighborhoods were they have built homes or done remodeling so you can do your own tour of their work.
  • Ideally a builder or remodeler will have a list of references of clients they have done good work for and offer to put you in touch with them.  You could also visit the homes on a weekend during the day when homeowners are out working on their lawns.  If you ask them directly if they were pleased with the work done for them, they will likely want to share their experiences.
  • As you gather feedback from the homebuilder and remodeler customers, be sure to keep good notes of the positive and negative feedback.

Kick the Tires

  • Homes may look nice from the outside, but when you are narrowing down the field of professionals, you should seek opportunities to examine their work up close.  Often new neighborhoods under construction have a fully finished model home that you can tour and remodelers may offer a tour of the homes they have remodeled.
  • The other thing you should do is look at a variety of homes with different layouts to help you clarify what styles appeal to you and what layouts fit your lifestyle.  If possible, look to tour both unfurnished and furnished home to give you a better idea of the living space.

Home Maintenance for Windows

Taking care of existing windows can save you from costly window replacements, while keeping your home looking good and remaining energy efficient.  The following tips can help ensure your windows last long and properly protect your house.

Sealing windows with caulking is a priority for home window maintenance.  Water seeping through window frames and wall openings will rot wood and cause damage to a home’s infrastructure over time.  Even the smallest openings between the window and window frame need to be sealed.  The area where the window connects to the house structure should also be caulked tightly to keep moisture out.

Window frames with rotting wood can be saved if caught in time by proper cleaning, treatment, and painting.  A screwdriver can be used to dig out any moisture-damaged wood.  Once that is done, you should prep the wood by using water mixed with bleach to clean away mold and mildew.  Any deficits to the window frame can be restored by filling holes and cracks with a suitable wood epoxy, followed by a layer of wood protectant.  The result is a permanent surface, which can be easily sanded and primed for painting.

Keeping window frames painted every couple of years is one of the top ways to protect and preserve your windows.  It is best to use water based acrylic paints, because they  are less likely to peel.

Check weather-stripping between the movable parts of window openings and framing to ensure your home is shielded properly from wind and moisture.  Regular cleaning of weather-stripping helps extends its life and prevents damage to the window frame.  Weather-stripping is available in a range of types from moisture-resistant vinyl to attractive and long-lasting metals.

Cleaning window glass is a simple part of maintaining your home, yet quite a few homeowners do not do it frequently enough or they only clean the interior glass.  Glass can become permanently damaged from etching caused by contaminants that are permitted to remain on the glass for extended periods of time.  The level of dirt, dust, moisture, bird droppings, tree sap, etc. a window is subjected to have considerable impact on how regularly the outside glass should be cleaned.  Hot and cold weather can help bond contaminants to the glass, so in locations with intense heat or cold, the outside glass should be cleaned more frequently.

Windows need to be lubricated after they are thoroughly cleaned and dry.  Lubrication not only helps keep moving components operating smoothly, it also helps prevent moisture from entering mechanical parts.  Too much lubricant can be detrimental by attracting dirt and dust, so use it sparingly and clean up any excess.  A silicon or light petroleum lubricant is recommended for use in windows.