Home Improvement Tools Primer: The Jigsaw

By Shannon Roxborough


Named after the puzzle pieces it so easily cuts out, the jigsaw is one of the most versatile tools a homeowner or contractor can use. And no matter which brand, power level or style (corded or cordless), it can handle a variety of cutting jobs with ease.

It may not have a reputation for buzzing through beefy lumber like the standby circular saw, and although it lacks the functional heft of the reciprocating saw that makes demolition a breeze, the humble jigsaw’s flexibility makes it one of the most valuable members of your power tool arsenal.

With a range of uses unmatched by any other portable saw, this under appreciated workhorse is capable of cutting both in straight lines and winding curves in everything from wood, metal and plastic to ceramic, stone and drywall. It is no wonder Family Handyman Magazine calls the jigsaw “the grand master of cutting shapes in a variety of materials.”

Blades attach to the saw with either U- or T-shaped shanks, depending on the model being used. And while jigsaw blades usually have upward-facing teeth designed to cut on the upstroke, the number, size and spacing of teeth determine what they cut. As a general rule, the higher the tpi (teeth per inch) count a blade has, the finer the cut will be. But there’s more to it than simply grabbing a blade based on tooth-count alone.

When using a jigsaw, getting a specific project done right often comes down to selecting the right jigsaw blade for the job at hand.  To help get you started, here’s a basic introduction to commonly used jigsaw blades designed for specific materials or jobs.

t shank jigsaw blades
Different blades for different types of material. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.



Jigsaw blades equipped with large, sharp and widely-spaced teeth are tailor-made for quickly ripping through construction lumber, both thick and thin. Blades with smaller, more closely spaced teeth are reserved for finer wood cuts that leave a smoother finish. For scroll work, look for narrow blades outfitted with a sharp “plunge tooth” for making plunge cuts, eliminating the need to drill starter holes.



Powering through things like sheet metal, pipes and angle iron requires a high-alloy jigsaw blade with hardened, precision-ground and tightly-grouped teeth similar to those found in old-fashioned hacksaws. Durable carbon steel blades make quick work of both ferrous and non-ferrous metals like steel, copper, aluminum or brass.



Tackling plastic, polymers and composites means reaching for a multi-purpose jigsaw blade that can slice through plastics — including PVC, acrylic, polycarbonate and Plexiglas — without chipping, melting or burring the material being cut.



Cutting gypsum-based sheetrock (drywall) or heavy-duty traditional plasterwork with finesse is a job for a specialty plaster/drywall jigsaw blade that is designed to handle stiff wall materials without cracking, crumbing or breaking n the process.



A soft material jigsaw blade allows for smooth, damage-free cutting of leather, carpet, rubber, hardboard, foam and polystyrene insulation and other materials that require a more delicate approach.


Shannon Roxborough is a widely published freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, newspapers and websites. An avid home improvement enthusiast, he has more than a decade of DIY experience and previously ran a property maintenance business.


How to Buy Lumber for Home Improvement Projects


By Shannon Roxborough


Whether you’re tackling a do-it-yourself project or buying materials for a contractor you’ve hired to handle the job, buying lumber can be a confusing proposition.  So, should you head to the local lumber yard or shop the aisles of the good-old big-box store?


An article in SBC Magazine, a trade publication of the Structural Building Components Association, points out big-box stores have made life very difficult for lumber yards. Bolstered by the lure of a broad selection, deep discounts and convenient hours, it’s no surprise that large home improvement retailers have gained a competitive advantage over their smaller, more specialized counterparts.


With their greater purchasing power, the big boys can afford to buy more stock at better prices and subsequently pass along discounts to consumers (lumber can cost 15 to 20 percent less than typical lumber yard prices—although that’s not always the case). But the cost advantage can come with trade-offs—generally, a self-service environment with less knowledgeable staff and hit-or-miss quality, depending on the product (it pays to keep a sharp eye out for cracks, warps, cupping and other flaws).


Because lumber yards usually cater more to building professionals than individual homeowners, they tend to offer products of more consistent quality, along with technical expertise about various wood species and their uses and better overall service.


So, which is the best option? In the final analysis, the proper answer depends on what you’re looking for and how much you want to spend. For some projects, the lumber yard is the only choice; for others, the big-box retailer will do just fine.


If you want a wide selection, know exactly what you need, are informed enough to find it without much help and don’t mind physically carrying and loading your purchases, box stores are probably right for you. If, on the other hand, you require expert advice, assistance loading materials, personal service or want to special-order hard-to-find types of lumber, try your local yard instead.


Finding Just the Right Lumber for Any Job

In an ideal DIY world, all lumber would be flawless: free from knots, cracks, splits and blemishes, and perfectly straight. In reality, however, even the best wood has defects, including lumber crown, as pointed out by This Old House master carpenter Tom Silva.


What Is a Crown?

Even when a piece of lumber appears to be perfectly straight, chances are it has a bit of curvature that causes it to be slightly warped, bowed or twisted. The crown is the arching curve naturally found along the edge of a piece of dimensional lumber, and boards without a noticable crown are few and far between.


Checking for Crown

Grab a piece of lumber, say a two-by-four, and rotate it so that the narrow side is vertical. Hold one end of the board at eye level and allow the other to rest on the floor or ground. Look directly down the finished dimensional edge to determine the direction of the lumber crown (whether it curves up or down).


The Importance of Crowning

For DIYers building floors and walls, it’s important to pay close a attention to the direction of crowns. Ideally, the goal is to ensure that the curvature or crowns of every piece of lumber face the same direction. When framing floors, all joist crowns should face up. This way, after the subfloor and flooring is installed, the weight of furniture and occupants will tend to flatten out the slight hump created by the arching joists, correcting the crown. If you install the joists with crowns facing downward, the floor will inevitably sag. In the case of walls, all crowns should face outward when framing. Failure to do so can result in bulges, an uneven appearance in the wall or, in the worst-case scenario, cracks appearing in the finished drywall over time.


Shannon Roxborough is a widely published freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, newspapers and websites. An avid home improvement enthusiast, he has more than a decade of DIY experience and previously ran a property maintenance business.

Basement Remodeling 101


by Donna De Palma

If you live in an area like Upstate New York where basements are a common feature in most homes, you’re in luck.  It doesn’t take a lot of square footage to make your basement into something sensational.


If built finished out or to be remodeled, your unfinished basement is prime real estate in your home. Think media room, upscale lounge, great room, wine cellar, wet bar, gym, home office, playroom, laundry or guest room–all are popular choices for a basement remodel.  Any would be a perfect addition to your home’s livable space.


Finishing a basement is more that simply selecting fixtures and finishes.  First, determine a budget and design a layout.  Hiring an architect to design the space can save you headaches later on.  If you plan to hire a contractor, have a design in place before you make the call.


Knowing building code is also another consideration.  Regulations like egress windows and ceiling clearances need to be met. Check with your local municipality to see if you’ll need permits before construction begins especially if you’re planning plumbing or electrical upgrades.  Go by the book when it comes to building code and permits.


From what kind of building materials you can use to how much support you need for beams and columns, industry standards focus on specific aspects of a basement remodel. When planning to finish a basement, put time and money into prep work.  If you’re gutting your basement, now is the time to place utility appliances like your water heater and furnace in one location.  Section off a walled area to keep appliances concealed but accessible.


Next, be sure your basement is dry before you start a renovation.  Installing flooring, painting and implementing your design plan comes later.  Some condensation issues due to humidity can be addressed with an automatic dehumidifier, but a better solution is insulating your basement.


Building code often requires insulation and moisture barriers. First, identify any moisture problems.  Look for signs that moisture is seeping in; pooling water or drips appearing through below-grade walls.   Check the ground outside and around your basement.  It should be graded away from the foundation.  If you find cracks in the foundation, repair them before work begins.


Basements are damp.  You want to know where leaks are occurring before framing and finishing surfaces. Remedies can be as simple as rerouting or extending a drain spout, or as expensive as installing a perimeter drain.  Whether you take on this project yourself or have a contractor do it, when adding a perimeter drain, the drain will collect any rising groundwater and carry it away from your foundation.


Choose products designed for basements, such as paneled wall systems. Think like a professional contractor and forgo traditional studs and drywall in this moisture-laden environment. Wall systems designed specifically for basements will insulate and inhibit mold.


After checking for leaks and moisture, you’ll still need a vapor barrier for floors and walls. The best choice is an insulation with a vapor barrier on both sides. Once you lay down a vapor barrier, let it sit for a few days then check underneath to see if moisture is coming through. Even with a vapor barrier, moisture can still be an issue so be alert to signs of water.


Insulate your new space not only to add another layer of moisture protection but to control temperature.  Check your local building code for insulation requirements.


Basements can be dark.  Lighting is key to making your new space inviting.  Recessed lighting spreads even light and it’s easy to install even if you have a drop ceiling.  If you have windows in your basement, maximize exposure to the outdoors by drawing attention to them with show-stopping window treatments.


Write out a thorough scope of work for each contractor you hire.  Depending on the scope of your project, expect it to take six to 12 weeks to complete.


Design and construction

Basement remodeling

There may be local or state building codes for how many inches off-center you can space studs, such as 16 or 24 inches apart, and how much clearance you need for ceilings or landings at the bottom of stairs.  Code may also dictate the height and depth of steps.


Check with your local building department if you plan to make any changes to structural elements like support columns or load-bearing walls. Miscalculation can cause serious structural problems in other parts of your house.  A structural engineer is often required to spec out and approve eliminating columns and replacing them with beams.


Basement walls and floors are usually made of masonry: either cement block or brick.  You’ll need anchors and fasteners for the kind of walls in your home.


Design layout

Layout of your basement is a key component in the remodeling process.

Use a zone system when laying out your space. Choose paint colors and furnishing to cordon off areas by function.   Multifunctional floor plans require some thought to meet all of the new functions of your remodel.  Different wall treatments and wall colors for separate functional areas help define space.


Neutral colors lighten up a space and make it appear more open.  Create the illusion of more space and more windows with floor-to-ceiling drapes even if you don’t have any windows.


Layer lighting to create interesting lighting effects and to brighten the space.


Basement Heating and cooling

Warm air rises, so it makes sense to install heating vents at floor level. Baseboard heat is a good option, but make sure it works well with your design plan and ties in with your existing HVAC system.


Mechanical Systems

Metal doors may be required to separate mechanical areas containing a furnace or boiler, and you might have to bring air into a mechanical room for ventilation.



Keep the area housing your HVAC unit and water heater unfinished. These spaces have specific code requirements for spacing and framing, plus you’ll need access for inspection and/or repairs. If you’re tempted to finish this area off, don’t.  Keep it simple to avoid problems later.


Although a big project for any homeowner, basement remodeling can add space to a house that needs room to grow.   Hours of fun and relaxation in what was once, unused space, can be yours when you commit to a basement renovation.




Home Designing



Martha Stewart Living

Remodeling and Decorating with Reclaimed and Salvaged Wood


By Shannon Roxborough


Designers may be moving toward new, innovative materials, but the current recycling age has made reclaimed wood a popular choice for home improvement and interior design projects.


Beyond being an eco-friendly trend, giving old wood a new lease on life is a great way to make a personal style statement while creating a one-of-a-kind conversation piece with beauty, history and character.


Rescued from century-old-plus homes, barns and factories, reclaimed wood has a history, beauty, quality and patina that is impossible to find in any of the new stock being offered at your local home center or lumberyard.


So, for your next DIY or contractor-done project, consider these creative ideas for reusing and repurposing wood that would otherwise be destined for the landfill:



Reclaimed wood floors have skyrocketed in popularity in the United States, according to the National Wood Flooring Association. Given a beautiful patina by use and the passage of time, reclaimed wood floors, whether painted wide pine planks or stained and finished quarter-sawn oak, convey instant character with a one-of-a-kind new/old presence that can’t be artificially duplicated.



More people are incorporating artfully recycled custom furniture pieces made from salvaged wood into their home decor. With a little (sometimes a lot) of imagination and creativity, old wood is being transformed into unique statement pieces ranging from tables, chairs and beds to chests, benches and ottomans.



Granite and marble may be all the rage, but countertops made from salvaged wood—from light and contemporary to dark and traditional or somewhere in between—are fast gaining ground among those seeking to bring a warm, aged look into their kitchens.



Fireplaces are focal points well suited to the timeworn quality that salvaged wood can add. Whether a simple, old hand-hewn beam or a piece built from a number of antique wood pieces, naturally distressed repurposed mantels bring warmth to rooms with or without a crackling fire.



Moldings, paneling, door and window casings and other millwork made from salvaged wood not only provides an architectural upgrade but helps create a spaces as individual as their owners.



Tracking down wood with a past means venturing well beyond big-box stores and  lumber dealers. If you’re on the lookout for old beams, boards, planks and more, consider these prime sources:


Specialty Retailers

Pay a visit to local retailers like Rehouse Architectural Salvage and Historic Houseparts or for national dealers, do a Web search for “reclaimed wood,” “reclaimed lumber” or “reclaimed timber” to see what pops up.


Demolition and Excavation Companies

Since they are usually the first call made by farmers and developers looking to remove old barns, outbuildings and other structures, excavators are a great resource. Contact a few in your area and let them know that you’re in the market for reclaimed wood. Sometimes, these companies will allow you to reclaim as much as you like at no cost, since less waste translates to less disposal costs.


Remodeling Contractors

Get in touch with a Better Contractors Bureau member and ask if you can haul away any wood they rip out of houses during projects. Just like demo specialists, the more building materials they can get rid of during a project, the less they’ll have to spend on disposing of it at the landfill.


Yard and Garage Sales

These sales are a treasure trove of deeply discounted vintage and antique furniture. Think creatively, and old tables, chairs, chests, cabinets, bookshelves, doors and even windows can be excellent forms of reclaimed wood for DIY projects.


Ad and Networking Sites

Check out the classified ads in your local newspaper for opportunities to snag reclaimed wood or old furniture pieces. Keep an eye on ad sites like Craigslist and join Freecycle.org, both of which are great resources for low-cost (and sometimes free) reclaimed wood. Consider placing your own ad to let people know what you’re searching for. You may be surprised at how many people have some type recycled wood to offer.


For More Information

Salvage Secrets

The blog of DIY Network project designer Joanne Palmisano, author of “Salvage Secrets Design & Décor: Transform Your Home with Reclaimed Materials,” dishes out advice, techniques and tutorials on the finer points of salvage-focused interior decorating and home projects.


Shannon Roxborough is a widely published freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, newspapers and websites. An avid home improvement enthusiast, he has more than a decade of DIY experience and previously ran a property maintenance business.


A Grand Entrance: Design tips for foyers and entryways


by Donna De Palma


It’s not just curbside appeal that makes a home stand out from all the rest.  Smart design choices can make the entryway to your home welcoming, even grand, so family and friends feel at home–and like royalty– when they walk through the door.


Foyers, vestibules or entryways, first impressions matter.  Define your entryway with color, lighting and a few select furnishings to impress.  What you add to your entryway with depend on the amount of available space.  Even with limited space, by choosing the right colors and furnishings, you can make a big impact.


There’s nothing like a spectacular lighting fixture to set the tone in an entryway. Suspend a pendant light or chandelier to add sparkle to existing lighting. A foyer with high ceilings will appear more intimate when you hang fixtures low enough for full visual effect but not too low to cause a hazard.


Color carves out a space and helps the eye separate one space from another.  Warm colors appear welcoming; cool, subdued colors are more relaxing.  Use color strategically to make your foyer look larger or more intimate depending on the space you have to work with.

Foyer 3

Paint crown molding or baseboard molding white or a lighter shade than your wall color to articulate the space.  Mirrors bring a crisp, bright light to any room.  Position a mirror on a wall that reflects light from a window or other lighting source.

unnamed (3)

Select flooring that’s durable enough for wet shoes and boots.  If you specify a floor that can’t take much wear and tear, a carefully-selected runner protects fine surfaces while becoming an important design element. A plush, high-quality runner in a hue you love works best to keep your guests on a path that leads to other areas of your home.

Foyer 1

If you’re on a budget and have a staircase that’s visible from your front door, a fun trick to create another level of interest is to paint stair risers near your foyers in a contrasting color to steps. This draws the eye upward so guests see more of your home upon entering.

unnamed (2)

Selecting foyer-sized furniture that’s inviting and functional is key to a warm welcome for your guests.  Tuck a chair next to a table for a place to stop off on your way into or out of your home.  If pressed for space, consider a floating console that conveniently mounts on a wall to free up floor space underneath.  A long, slender table becomes a perfect choice for small entryways.

unnamed (1)

Add a tasteful table lamp to cast a warm glow.  If you need more seating in your entryway for visitors to remove shoes or boots, try a bench.   Benches make great resting places. Choose one in a color that matches your wall or flooring.  Or make a style statement with a bench in a contrasting color or style to amp up the look.


Even a single piece of artwork can make an entryway memorable.  Make sure yours is unique and says something about who you are and what you like.


And don’t forget the front door.  A front door can make or break the curb appeal of your home.  Invest in a door that’s unique and works with the style of your home.  Hardware matters so be sure knobs and handles have pizzazz– either brass or silver calls attention to your door depending on your home’s exterior.  A brass kickplate adds shine and polish and protects your door’s exterior finish.


Don’t be color shy.  If you have a painted front door, choose a color that stands out from your house.  Find a color that complements your house color but not too conservative otherwise no one will notice your entryway which is, after all, one of the main features of any home.


Design your entryways so it welcomes you each and every time you walk through your door.  No matter what size, it can be grand if you see the design potential in this unique space.




Better Homes and Gardens


Martha Stewart Living

Blooming with color: Planting a perennial garden


by Donna De Palma

For those who crave color in a garden all summer long, planting a perennial garden can be one of the most rewarding outdoor pursuits you’ll ever have.   Picture continuous blooms cycling throughout the growing season.  Perennials, plants with root systems that stay alive underground for years, lie dormant in winter and sprout again each spring.  These plants take time to get established but once established, they provide structure in a garden. Perennials bloom at the same time every year. When you plant a perennial garden, you’ll have flowers you can count on from April to October.  Before starting a perennial garden, ask yourself these key questions to create a garden design that best suits your needs.


What do I want from a garden?

Do you picture yourself in a country setting with meandering paths and walkways or would you prefer a formal garden with a definite structure and pattern? Will you be entertaining in your garden, observing butterflies or just having an occasional breakfast? Have a vision of what you want before you begin.


What style is my house?

Whether your home is contemporary or classic, your garden should complement your home.  A well-designed garden links home and garden.  Consider the views out your windows.  Interiors that open onto views feel expansive.

-Organize your landscape around sight lines you observe by looking out your windows.

-Position your main garden outside a living room picture window or in view of an outdoor deck or patio.  If you enjoy waking up to flowers, a view of the garden from your bedroom window should be part of your plan.

-Plot patios and walks with your home’s style in mind.  Use materials that match your house when laying walkways. Crisscross paths to create areas of interest at intersections in your garden.


Can anything be saved in my existing yard or will I be starting with a clean slate?

Do you have a unique stance of trees, a hedge or berm that could be used as a starting point for planning a design?  Any natural landscaping can suggest where to begin.

-Place a path where your eye naturally moves through your lot.  Create resting spots by placing a bench or decorative pot at points where paths converge or near a shady tree.


What type of light do I have in my yard?

Observe how sunlight moves across your yard, making note of sunny and shaded sections.

Purple flowers and lily pond

How much can I spend to plant a garden?

Spread your planting expenses over a few seasons to keep costs down.  Prioritize purchases.  Select five to ten perennials to start.  Buy small.  Younger plants tend to acclimate better to new surroundings.

-Some considerations before planting: Many varieties of perennials need sun to flower–often six to eight hours a day during growing season.  Check your soil.  Good soil means it’s not too sandy or too sticky and has enough organic matter to allow for good drainage.  That’s the best habitat for plants to root. Test the pH of your soil with a soil testing kit before you plant.

-When you’re ready to begin, draw a sketch or take some photos of your yard—panoramics work best.  Overlay tracing paper and start sketching out your garden design. It will help to visualize where certain features should be.

-To implement your design, begin by separating one area from another with a hedge or shrub border.  You may want to install a trellis or an arbor for climbing vines. Vines are good for creating intimate seating areas and can provide shelter.   If you want varying heights in your garden, haul in dirt or remove dirt to raise or lower terrain. The outdoors is a place to explore so follow the slope of the land to create as natural a flow as you can.

-Next, choose your color palette.  If you like the excitement of hot colors, select vibrant flowering varieties that sizzle with reds, oranges and yellows.  For a peaceful garden setting, choose cool colors such as blues and a variety of greens.  Select silver and white-colored flowers and foliage for a garden that gets light late in the day. They’ll reflect the sun or shine by the glow of the moon as evening descends.  Decide on a group of colors you like, then build a garden around them.

-Group plants that have harmonious colors and textures as well as similar water needs. Create a bold effect by planting in drifts of one or two varieties rather than mixing lots of different types of plants in one area.  Perennials, as a general rule, are low maintenance and if they’re native to your region, will require less care.  Remember the less sunlight you have, the fewer blooms.

-Perennials work well in whole garden beds, when combined with annuals and bulbs or as an accent to trees and shrubs.  They tend to increase in size and coverage each year.  Perennials are well-loved because of their diversity and size and for the variety of colors available.   Use them as flower borders around shrubs and trees.

-A well-planned and well-tended garden is like a fine painting. Your first impression will be fields of color, punctuated by unexpected bursts of more intense color and texture.  Always changing, ever-evolving, the best gardens tell us something about the person who planted and cared for them. They remind us to explore, to discover, and to appreciate, the beauty and bounty of nature.


Ten select perennials to plant


Ajuga  A part sun, part shade, perennial, Ajuga, with its purple flowers, makes a colorful groundcover that looks great most of the year.


Baby’s breath The loose billowy panicles of the tiny single and double pink or white flowers of Baby’s breath adds a light, airy texture to your garden.  This delicate-looking perennial prefers alkaline soil and will drape itself over rock walls.


Bellflower (Campanula) These bobbing, often blue, bellflowers are cottage garden plants.  This part sun, full sun, perennial comes in both a tall variety and a ground-hugging type.


Blue fescue (Ornamental grass)  Blue fecsue is one of the most versatile of the wispy ornamental grasses.  Use it at the base of tall perennials such as lilies for blending with the landscape and to offset other plants and foliage.  Beautiful when planted in a row as a hedge.


Coneflower (Echinacea) Purple coneflower is easy to grow and attracts birds, bees, and butterflies.  Its large, sturdy daisy-like flowers with dropping petals spread easily in good soil with full sun.   Color is most often rosy violet or white with hybrids now in yellow, orange, burgundy and cream.


Coralbells  Known for their spires of delicate reddish flowers, Coralbells have mottling and veining on their leaves.  Because of their exotic foliage, they make fine groundcover and enjoy humus-rich moisture retaining soil.


Hydrangea Comes in types that flourish in sun or shade. This perennial offers huge bouquets of clustered flowers–from mophead to lacecap–blooming from summer through fall.  They differ in size of plant and flower shape, flower color and blooming time.  Hydrangeas thrive in moist, fertile, well-drained soil.  For blue hydrangea, check your soil’s pH and apply aluminum sulfate in spring to lower soil’s pH to 5.2-5.5 range.  Also a climbing variety that produces aerial roots  that grow into walls, fences or the sides of trees.


Iris   This part sun, full sun, perennial was named for the Greek goddess of the rainbow.  Iris comes in a rainbow of colors.  These intricate flowers are constructed with three upright petals and three drooping petals.  Some like alkaline soil and some like acidic.


Lavender  An herb and perennial shrub, Lavender fills the early summer garden with muted purple blooms infused with aromatic fragrance.  Great to plant alongside pathways or near outdoor seating so garden visitors can enjoy the scent.


Peony This part sun, part shade, perennial belongs in almost every garden.  These lush and sumptuous blooms come in single, semi-double, anemone centered or Japanese, and fully-double varieties.  Their vibrant shades of pink and red, and sometimes white, herald early days of spring.  Likes deep rich soil with plenty of humus to avoid dryness.  When well-suited to the climate, peonies can thrive on very little care.







About home

Country Living

Better Homes and Gardens

Martha Stewart Living



A Homeowner’s Guide to Preparing Your Home for Winter


By Shannon Roxborough


With Rochester’s seasonal chill starting to creep in, giving your home some routine maintenance is a great way to keep large repairs at bay over the cold-weather seasons.  Here’s a multi-step plan for prepping your house before Old Man Winter comes knocking:

Clean the Gutters

When handling leaf clean-up, don’t forget that many falling leaves get trapped in the gutters Gutter debris can clog the channel and spouts, causing overflow when the autumn rain starts. Use a ladder or cleaning tools that match the height of your gutters (or your accessibility). To avoid having to repeat the cleaning after the foliage drops, take time to trim any low-hanging tree branches near the house.

Lengthen Downspout Kick-Outs

If the bottom of your gutter downspouts are too short, fall and early winter rains can cause water to pool near your home’s foundation. That water can then infiltrate the foundation, finding its way into your basement and wicking up into your walls—attracting insects and causing rot or deterioration. Look for telltale signs like damp basement walls, wet spots on the basement floor or cracks in the foundation after a rain or widening cracks in the foundation. Solution: Attach a flexible downspout extender to direct water a minimum of 10 feet from your home’s foundation.


Prep Outdoor Furniture

Clean your outdoor furniture and allow it to dry in the sun. If you see any rust, cracking or chips on the surface, spray paint pieces with a high-quality outdoor paint for metal, wood or plastic. Buy a storage tarp at your local hardware or home improvement store to cover any furniture that is stored outside over the winter.

Beef Up Insulation

Additional insulation can significantly cut down on your heating costs.
Additional insulation can significantly cut down on your heating costs.

If the tops of the joists (wood framing that runs across the floor and ceiling of your attic) are visible, you need more insulation.  Add a layer or two of fiberglass batt insulation with a high R-value. If you have existing insulation in place, closed-cell spray foam or blown-in fiberglass or cellulose is the best way to fill any remaining gaps or crevices.

Clean Cooling Appliances

If you have ceiling fans, change their rotation to clockwise to force warm air downward (there is usually a switch on the base to do this), and while you’re up there, dust and wipe down the blades with a damp or tacky cloth. Remove window air-conditioning units, vacuum the coils and filters and store the unit(s) in a cool, dry place, being sure to cover them to keep out dust and bugs.

Check the Furnace

If you haven’t already done so, schedule your annual furnace maintenance call—before it’s time to star using it. Be sure to change air filters and keep an eye out for leaks around the furnace.


Flush the Water Heater

Sediment build-up in the hot water tan can keep your heater from operating at optimum levels. Flush the annually to drain out gunk. Before starting, shut off the heater, let the tank cool, then turn off the water supply. Release the water into a floor drain or bucket until it runs clear.

Look at Your Power Supply

Your home’s electrical system is one of the most overlooked potential hazards, check for loose outlet covers and receptacle boxes. Also be on the lookout for scorch marks around and on the ends of plugs and in the breaker box, telltale signs of dangerous arcing. Plug a lamp or blow dryer into GFCI receptacles and push their test and reset buttons to make sure they turn on and off properly. Finally, install new batteries in all the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Call a Pro

If you’re not comfortable tackling any specific maintenance or repair job, get professional help. A qualified home inspector can tell you exactly what’s going on and a competent contractor can address any issues.


Other Tasks to Perform:



  • Inspect the roof and chimney for cracks and damage.
  • Close or install storm windows.
  • Remove hoses from spigots and drain and store them indoors
  • Test the snow blower and have it professionally serviced (if necessary)



  • Check windows and doors for weather-tightness and install weather stripping where needed.
  • Set traps or call in an exterminator for any problems with rodents and other critters
  • Dust blind and vacuum upholstery and curtains throughout your home
  • Clean kitchen and bathroom cabinets and throw out expired food, medicine and cosmetics


Shannon Roxborough is a widely published freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, newspapers and websites. An avid home improvement enthusiast, he has more than a decade of DIY experience and previously ran a property maintenance business.



A Primer on Wood Flooring

wood flooring

By Shannon Roxborough


With the seasons changing, now is the time to give some time and attention to indoor projects.  One of the most satisfying and impactful DIY or professionally-done projects is installing wood flooring.  Although new and well-maintained wood floors bring warmth and beauty to almost any home, wear, scuffs, scratches and discoloration over time can ruin your wood flooring classic good looks and inherent character.  According to the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), wood floors remain popular options for bringing warmth and beauty to living spaces.


Best of all, wood flooring comes in a range of colors, textures, and styles to satisfy virtually any taste or decorating style, from traditional to transitional to modern.  But, with literally dozens of species, grain patterns, thicknesses, grades and price points — from $.99 to $10 or more per square foot — to choose from, deciding on a wood floor can be daunting.  To help make the process easier, here’s an overview of some of the more common types of wood flooring being used in homes today.


Red Oak

Traditional and naturally beautiful with a bold grain, red oak is the most common wood-strip flooring found in American homes.


White Oak

With a fairly uniform, straight grain (that makes it popular for fine furniture), white oak is strong, hard and shock resistant.


Heart Pine

Knotty with an amber-orange hue that gains a rich patina over time, it’s been a favorite in New England and Southern homes since the colonial era.



Immediately recognizable by its contrasting light and dark color variations, hickory is a tough flooring option that adds striking visual interest.



A naturally blond wood (that is often stained dark) with an interesting yet consistent grain pattern, ash is equally at home in Old World and contemporary settings.


Exotic Species

Tropical offering like Brazilian cherry, Peruvian tigerwood, Australian cypress and black acacia are durable hardwoods with unique grains that are fast gaining popularity among style-conscious homeowners and DIYers.



A beautiful, eco-friendly alternative to slow-growing trees, this plant reaches maturity in about six years, producing an affordable and attractive flooring product that has broad appeal to consumers.


Reclaimed Wood

Salvaged from old houses, barns and commercial properties, reclaimed wood floors have a built-in history and old-world pedigree that make them good-looking conversation pieces that will continue to withstand the test of time.



Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

If you already have wood floors, one of easiest ways to freshen up your home is To give them a little TLC.  Although most hardwood flooring is made from durable oak, foot traffic, spills and furniture can take a toll even the toughest wood species, leaving your floors lackluster with marring, scratches, scuffs, stains and dullness.  Thankfully, there are a few ways to bring tired floors back to life.  Here are three options to consider:



Though this is a time consuming and messy, dust-producing process, the best way to refine hardwood floors involves sanding floors down to the bare wood using a floor sander with progressively finer grits of sandpaper. A brush or roller is then used to apply a protective finish — usually in the form of several coats of polyurethane, a durable, moisture-resistant water- or oil-based coating. Big-box retailer Lowe’s offers step-by-step instructions for DIYers.



If you’re not ready for the work involved to refinish hardwood floors, consider screening. Similar to sanding but not as aggressive or labor intensive, screening is done by making overlapping passes with a floor buffer (polisher) outfitted with 60-, 80-, 100- and (finally) 120-grit screens (clog-resistant sanding disks) to remove the polyurethane. When that is finished, apply a new, clear finish.



For DIY enthusiasts who would rather not screen or refinish hardwood floors, a number of companies make products designed to revive tired hardwood floors and make them look better in the short term. Most of the systems involve prepping the floor with a good scrub and then applying a refresher to the surface with a mop. Floors with no polyurethane topcoat can be rejuvenated by cleaning and wiping on a natural finish, like tung oil or boiled linseed oil which is a penetrating sealant that soaks deeply into the wood’s pores.


Although there are ways to improve the appearance of most hardwood floors, the best way to preserve them is to combat their biggest enemies, dirt and abrasion, by vacuuming regularly and putting down runners and doormats near entryways.


Shannon Roxborough is a widely published freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, newspapers and websites. An avid home improvement enthusiast, he has more than a decade of DIY experience and previously ran a property maintenance business.


The Top Ten Things That Every New Home Needs

new home

by Donna De Palma


If you’ve just purchased a new home, you probably have a checklist of “must haves” to complete prior to moving day.   This top ten list of what every homeowner needs, is a great place to start.


1. Window treatments

Cover your windows.  We all want to let the sunshine in, however, window treatments are essential to a comfortable, stylish home.  Choose versatile treatments that allow plenty of natural light in during the day and privacy when the sun goes down. Whether you choose blinds, curtains, Roman shades, shutters or valances, bring color and pattern into your room by selecting window coverings that set the tone for your room’s decor.  When hanging custom shades, choose a fabric that complements or matches your sofa and chairs in a living room or great room.   Luxurious fabrics like linen or silk make a dramatic statement when floor length curtains are your choice.  The extra length lets curtains puddle slightly on the floor.  Valances can add an additional decorative element to a room.  Layer curtains with sheers underneath in a fresh-colored fabric to create more options for light control.  Have fun with your window treatments.  The right window treatment can turn any window into a stunning focal point in a room or the perfect backdrop for fine furnishings.

new home article

2. Create a place to relax  

Every home needs a special spot to unwind; a serene space to retreat to at the end of your day.  Whether it’s a sunroom, man cave or just a cozy corner where you can enjoy a good read, we all need a place to put our feet up and forget the worries of the day.  Place a comfortable chair near a reading lamp. Don’t forget an end table to put your cup of coffee on.  Groupings of furniture should be cozy and functional.

A bathroom that’s designed like a spa is a prefect place to indulge yourself.  Try a soaking tub in a room that features a soft color palette, dimmers and plush fabrics for a fabulous end to a stressful day.  Choose a room in your new home that will be your well-deserved retreat.


3. Have a color scheme

Integrate the spaces in your home by selecting a color palette that carries throughout.  Choose a palette of neutral tones in subtly-varied hues to create continuity in an open floor plan.  Or select contrasting colors of the same tone to designate different functions for different spaces.  Colors you can live with that work well with your furnishings are key to a comfortable home that you’ll want to spend lots of time in.

Experiment with accent colors. A little bit of bold color goes a long way if you want to add drama to your color scheme.  Remember colors look differently when next to other colors.  They also appear differently when they are in different light so bring samples of your color choices to your new home before committing to a color palette.


4. A place to lay your head  

There is nothing more important in your home than the mattress you sleep on each night.  Your mattress is a great place to splurge on comfort.  Trying out a mattress is essential to a good fit.  Bigger is usually better especially if you’re sharing your mattress with someone you love.  Pillows matter.  And so do sheets, blankets and bed coverings.  Think comfort first, then style.  And don’t forget luxury.  If you want crisp sheets, try Percale.  For a softer feel, Egyptian, pima and supima cottons reign supreme.  Cotton is soft, durable and breathes well.  Thread count matters but highest isn’t always best. Generally, the higher the thread count, the softer the sheet and the more likely it will wear well.  A good choice is a sheet that ranges between a 200 and 800 thread count.

Mix fabrics, textures and pattern to match your style.  When choosing a comforter, coverlet or duvet, touch the fabric to see if it’s something that will be comfortable to lie on.  Pillows come in all shapes and sizes from boudoir to bolster.  Mix them up to add interest.


5. Storage. Storage. Storage

There’s one thing none of us can get enough of and that’s storage. Clutter doesn’t improve the style in any room.  Find containers, baskets, shelves and storage units that take clutter out of sight.  Baskets make interesting accessories to hide excess stuff.  Storage units come in many forms.  Be creative.  Stow away personal items in containers that are easy to access.

Whether it’s bright colors and punchy fabrics or pretty weaves and rustic textures, containers can add style to your space.  Just remember one simple rule.  If your storage units are out of sight, make them strictly functional but if they’re on display, they need to integrate well with the overall design of the room.


6. A Personal Touch  

Your home should be a reflection of who you are.  Create a collection of your favorite things from your family, your travel, or your childhood.   Display your collection on shelves or a wall dedicated to memorabilia.  Find accessories that showcase your personality.  If you love the ocean, search for themes that reflect your love of the water.  If you have a unique vintage collection, group items in a place where they can enjoy center stage.      


7. Remember artwork  

No one wants to live in a furniture showroom.  Artwork adds a personal touch to your home.  Finding artwork you can live with takes time and effort. Hang items on your walls that you will love for years.  Consider subject matter, color palette and style. Your artwork doesn’t have to be pricey, just something you adore.

Rotate artwork on your walls.  A wall of art on a wall going upstairs makes a perfect gallery space.  Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone in small ways with your choices of wall art.

Consider scale.  Artwork shouldn’t disappear on a wall or compete with another center of interest in a room.  Like any accessory, artwork needs to relate to nearby furnishings, wall colors and finishes.


8. Bring the green indoors

Even if you don’t have a green thumb, plants bring life into your home.  There are houseplants that need very little care to thrive.  Plants improve the air quality in your new home and they make a house feel like a home.  Vary the height and variety of plants. Try grouping plants near windows. Taller plants such as a Palm or Ficus, Rubber Tree or even a Norfolk Pine in front of a window add drama to your room.  More exotics like Ponytail Palm and Saguaro Cactus are also an option for a sunny corner of your home.

Some low maintenance varieties of house plant with lush green foliage are Philodendron, English Ivy, Arrowhead Vine, Boston Fern and Jade plants.


9. Create an outdoor space

Expand the possibilities for outdoor living with a deck, patio, outdoor grill or fireplace —even a full outdoor kitchen.  Discovering the joy of outdoor living adds a new dimension to your new home.

Consult an expert when planning outdoor space.  Consider a location for your patio or deck by deciding what function it’s going to fulfill and at what time of day it will get the most use.

If you plan on using your outdoor space for entertaining, position it near an exterior door that’s close to your kitchen. If it faces west and you plan to entertain in the evening, you’ll need a shade structure like a gazebo, pergola or canopy.

Think function to maximize use of your outdoor space. Planting shade trees nearby will block direct sunlight and extend its use.   If your patio will be adjacent to a pool and serve as a daytime escape, remember, it will heat up, so lighter colored materials are best. Dark colors absorb sunlight and will get too hot. If your stone, tile or cement is too light, it can be blinding and far too reflective for our eyes.  Following a few practical guidelines will make outdoor living a feature of your new home you can’t live without.


10. Consider safety for your new home

Fire happens unexpectedly—even in a new home.  Be prepared for kitchen fires with a fire blanket stored conveniently by your stove.  Fire extinguishers are a must in all homes.   Make sure your smoke detectors are functioning effectively and are the best type for your home.  Have an emergency plan in place for family members; a place where your entire family can meet if your home needs to be evacuated.


Finally, to make your new home more than just a place to live but a place for you and your family to thrive, be a good neighbor.  These top ten tips can ensure that your new home will be a safe, comfortable place that everyone can enjoy.




The nest




From graphic designer to interior designer: Mary Anne Brugnoni of Brugnoni Design

by Donna De Palma


Interior designer, Mary Anne Brugnoni, owner of Brugnoni Design, went from graphic designer to interior designer after she redesigned the logo and marketing materials for one of her top clients.


“I created a new corporate identity for the accounting firm, DeJoy, Knauf & Blood, ten years ago.  Every time I visited their office, I’d comment on how outdated their lobby was.  The best way I can describe it is shabby 80’s.  The lobby just didn’t reflect what a great company it was.  Finally, one day, my client asked me to redesign the space—and their conference room and employee lounge—to complement the rebranding,” Brugnoni says.


According to the designer, it was the most fun she’d ever had on a project.  She consulted one of her clients at a local college, hired a business coach to come up with a plan to achieve her new goal, then headed back to school.  In 2012, with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design and a brand new associate degree in Interior Design, Brugnoni set her sites on kitchen and bath remodeling.  After a two-year stint at a bath and kitchen showroom, she developed enough experience to go solo last year.


Self-employed for more than 25 years, Brugnoni has switched from page layout to room layout and space planning, which she says, is one of her favorite aspects of interior design.  “I’m just working on a larger canvas,” Brugnoni says, and her latest kitchen remodel for an 80’s California contemporary, shows her skill and design savvy.


The goal of this kitchen remodel was to replace outdated white laminate wood-trimmed cabinets, improve flow and update fixtures.  “This kitchen had great bones.  Picture a cedar ceiling with six skylights.  One-third of the ceiling is vaulted,” Brugnoni says.


Existing hardwoods in a warm neutral tone meant this room featured lots of wood. “The challenge was to select wood for new cabinets without feeling as though you were in a houseboat.”  Brugnoni suggested two-toned cabinets with lower cabinets from quartersawn oak to match features in an adjacent family room and creamy white upper cabinets to match the paint color of the kitchen walls.

Brugnoni Kitchen Desk FINAL

She specified different pulls for upper and lower cabinets: dark copper for lower cabinets and a brushed nickel for uppers.  “This kitchen had a ‘Bermuda triangle’ of appliances, three separate pantries, and an existing island that had the wrong dimensions for the room.”  The designer moved the frig into one of the pantries and made the island longer and slimmer to create the impression of a more spacious kitchen.


She specified a slate backsplash in grey tones to keep the look contemporary.   The overall neutral color scheme draws attention to granite selections: Yellow Rain granite tops the island with perimeter countertops finished in White Kashmir granite.


A curved, brushed nickel faucet by Hamat and deep Blanco sink in cream add organic elements to this modern redesign.  Brugnoni says, faucets are “the jewelry of a room,” and should make a bold design statement.


“When selecting hardware or fixtures or any design element, it’s good to ask yourself, do you want a monotone look or are you seeking contrast and the drama that provides.  That will guide your color choices and the materials you choose,” she says.


An existing desk in the kitchen was updated with new cabinetry. The designer repurposed a rectangular stool; its seat reclaimed from a vintage 1940’s sewing machine.


A door separating the kitchen and dining room was replaced with a pocket door, circa 1930’s, from Historic House Parts in Rochester, New York.  “This find didn’t even need refurbishing, just new hardware. It’s one of my client’s favorite design choices,” “she says.


The designer, who’s comfortable making color selections after 25 years as a graphic designer, also likes to prepare drawings for her installers. “It’s always better to have project drawings in front of you, even when laying tile, so there are no questions as to how the finished design should look.”


Brugnoni’s design philosophy is simple.  “I like to ensure that the design of your new kitchen or bath will be timeless.  Trends are just that, trends. Good design is a synergy of aesthetic, function and imagination.”

Brugnoni Linked in 2014 copy

Contact Brugnoni Design at [email protected], or at 585.264.9964.