Homeowners Insurance: Things To Consider

By Shannon Roxborough

There was a time when buying homeowner’s insurance was simply a matter of letting your broker know how much you paid for your house and then adding a buffer for inflation—or just paying premiums with the amount automatically tacked onto your monthly mortgage payment and placed in an escrow account.

But when it comes to what is likely your single most valuable expenditure, it pays to give more thought to the insurance that protects your investment.

So, what should homeowners keep in mind?


Typical Homeowner’s Insurance: What’s Covered

The standard homeowner’s package policy has two components: property and personal liability coverage. Policies generally cover damage to structures and personal property caused by smoke, fire or lightning, wind (hurricanes and tornadoes) or hail, explosions, riots or civil unrest, vehicles and aircraft, theft or vandalism, falling objects, the weight of snow, ice or sleet and frozen plumbing, heating, air conditioning or other household systems. It also covers if someone is injured by you, your family or your property.


What’s Not Covered

Flood and earthquake damage is excluded from standard policies and must be covered by a separate policy. (Flood policies are backed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program, floodsmart.gov.) Damage to your house or garage by falling trees or limbs is covered, but not their removal if no damage is done to any structure. Another, potentially costly, exemption is the ordinance or law exclusion, which means that if you discover when replacing damaged property that current building codes require higher standards than your house has (upgraded plumbing, wiring, etc.), you are responsible for the difference in cost between the old and new.


Loss and Recovery

Although homeowners insurance covers your personal property, including the contents of your home and any personal belongings, coverage is based on the value of your home and there are limits on the losses that can be claimed. Items like cash, antiques, jewelry or furs must covered by supplemental premiums. It’s also important to know that standard policies only cover the actual cash value of items (with a deduction for depreciation). Getting guaranteed full replacement cost coverage typically raises premiums 10 to 15 percent.


Contractor and DIY Renovations

You should consider purchasing additional insurance if you make improvements that increase the value of your home—from a bathroom or kitchen remodel to installing new windows. Also, bear in mind that accidental damage that occurs during rehabs account for large claims on homeowners’ policies, and fires started by contractors and do-it-yourselfers are a common source of claims. Because of this, insurers advise homeowners to make them aware of renovations before starting so they can tell you what to look out for and increase your coverage. Many insurance companies have provisions in policies that they will not cover claims resulting from damage during certain home improvement projects if the homeowner does not notify them about renovations in advance.


The Cost of Security

Owning a home in a gated community will generally save you about 10 percent, while rural homeowners who can prove that the local fire department has access to a lake, stream or other water source can receive as much as a 25 percent discount. On the other hand, having a home in a high-crime area (particularly property crimes) will result in much higher premiums. Having an up-to-date alarm system that detects burglaries and fire will shave about 20 percent off premiums.


Other Things to Consider

Houses with swimming pools are treated as higher risk; those with pools that are not protected by a fence, wall or other barrier with a locking gate will not be covered. Renting out your home can push up premiums by 20 percent over the cost of standard home coverage, insurance industry experts say. That’s because most insurers feel your house is at greater risk because renters tend not to take care of a property as well as owner-occupants. However, some insurers provide discounts if you’re a frequent renter (in the case of professional landlords or owners of vacation homes) because occupied properties are less likely to be burglarized, completely burn down or have a plumbing problem causing major damage. You may also want to consider a policy that covers loss of rental income if your home becomes uninhabitable.


When all is said and done, it pays to take a close look at your current policy for possible ways to reduce your insurance bill and make sure you have enough coverage in the event of the unthinkable.


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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.


Considerations For Winterizing Your Garden


by Donna De Palma 

As we wistfully say goodbye to the warmth and glow of summer, here are a few simple tasks for getting your yard and garden ready for the cold weather ahead.  Preparing your garden, and your lawn, for winter is a smart way to ensure they’ll be lush and healthy next spring.

Let’s start with the biggest area of growth: your lawn.  First, find out what type of grass you have.  In Upstate New York, cooler season varieties including fescue, Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass benefit from being fertilized before the snow falls.

Cool-season grasses grow heartily in fall which is why they prefer to be fertilized now.  Use an organic fertilizer to keep your yard habitat-friendly.  You want to look for a winterizing fertilizer to apply in late October through November.  Be sure it contains all 16 essential nutrients.

Grass is fertilized in the fall because with shorter days, and cooler air, the growth of turf grass begins to slow.  Grass returns like a velvety green canopy each spring because of the shift of nutrients to its roots during winter months to fuel its spring revival.  To conserve nutrients, grass shifts food reserves from leaves to roots. Even though air temps continue to fall at this time of year, plant roots remain active in the soil.

By fertilizing grass now you’re feeding active roots so roots have even more nutrients to store for winter.  Grass that’s fed in fall greens up quickly in spring. If you fertilize, you’ll have a thick and lush spread come April.

In our region, fall is also the time to spread cool-weather grass seed in patches of your lawn that have shown the most wear and tear.  Take advantage of whatever warmer days we have to seed. New growth shows best when daytime temperatures are between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mow your lawn for the last time in early to mid-November. Fall is a good time to aerate your lawn to allow air, water, and nutrients to reach down to the roots. This is especially important for high-traffic lawns, which can suffer from thatch buildup, if left untreated.

Maintenance is key to a good lawn come spring.  Removing fallen leaves ensures your lawn’s health.  Raking also removes thatch, a layer of dead grass on top of your lawn that can compact grass. Avoid thatch or else water and nutrients will be prevented from reaching the roots.  Pull weeds before the snow flies.

After your lawn, look to your garden’s pre-winter needs.  As fall progresses and temperatures drop, plants that aren’t killed outright by frost prepare for dormancy. New perennials and delicate shrubs will need some help to get through the winter.  Prepare your garden for cold weather by winterizing new growth plants.

The freeze-and-thaw cycle that root balls face in winter can damage plants. Mulch is a great way to insulate your recently-planted perennials. Mulch helps insulate soil and prevents frost heave, a condition that occurs when soil repeatedly freezes and thaws.  When frost heave occurs, plant crowns and roots can be exposed to freezing air and drying winds. Frost heave will actually push plants out of the soil and can damage your garden.

When adding fall mulch, you’ll need a layer that’s six inches deep. Wait until the ground freezes before adding a layer of organic material as winter mulch. Straw, crumbled leaves, cornstalks, pine needles or clean hay all work as well as commercial grades.

Shallow-rooted perennials are especially prone to frost heave, so be sure to mulch around them. Another option is covering a new bed with burlap.  Mulch bulb beds with evergreen boughs to protect the soil from shifting and cracking during the winter.

Remember, in the fall, newly transplanted trees and shrubs, divisions of perennials, and hardy bulbs are all growing roots, drawing on soil nutrients and moisture around them. Earthworms and microbes in soil are still processing organic materials they find. Create a winter-friendly habitat and one that will provide even temperature for roots.  Once soil is frozen, mulch keeps it frozen.

While you’re in your garden, do some fall cutting. Cut back dry stems of perennials to soil level after frost. Clear out blackened stems and foliage. Pull dead annuals. Cleaning up your garden helps eliminate pests and disease. Be sure to leave any plants that have winter foliage intact.  Compost dead plant debris to create an organic soil conditioner. Active compost piles kill weed seeds and disease pathogens.

Roses require extra attention as winter sets in.  The last feeding of the season should be two months before the first frost.  Stop pruning, and cutting blossoms then too to avoid stimulating new growth which will be killed by the first frost.

Just before the first hard frost, spread fresh mulch of wood chips, shredded bark, or chopped leaves around the base of rose plants, extending as far out as the branch tips.  Once the ground freezes, add more mulch.  Because winter temperatures can drop below zero here, build a mount of mulch, then add more material after every freeze.  Eventually mulch should virtually cover the bush. For an extra step of protection around roses, create a framework using wire, cloth or tomato cages stuffed with leaves or straw to protect plant crowns.

Climbing roses are vulnerable to winter wind and sun. Give them special attention in Upstate NY where winter temperatures go below zero. Wrap the canes with burlap or detach them from your trellis then lay horizontally on the ground. Cover with a mulch of leaves, wood chips, or soil.  All roses or young perennials require protecting plant crowns with a deeper layer of mulch or soil after the ground freezes. Always wait for soil to freeze first before protecting plant crowns.

Evergreen roots freeze in soil and stop taking up water when cold sets in. Winterizing evergreen trees and shrubs means protecting them from winter winds. Erect a burlap screen on the windy side of plants (most often northwest). Drive stakes into the soil before the ground freezes. When temperatures are steadily in the 20s, staple or tie burlap to stakes.  Protect tender bark of young trees from critters that can gnaw by wrapping stems and trunks with wire or tree-guard products.

Bring in any tropical plants whether potted or planted in your garden.  Check for unwanted guests like mealybugs and mites.  To acclimate plants to the indoors, start by bringing them in at night when temps fall below 50 degrees and increase the amount of time plants spend indoors daily.

Finally, clean and store garden tools so they’ll be in good shape for the spring. Don’t leave tools– including hoses–outdoors to be damaged by cold weather.  Empty hoses and bring them into your garage or shed.  Sand wood-handled tools and rub with oil before storing indoors.  Sharpen tools including hoes, shears, scissors, knives, loppers, pruners, and shovels and lubricate with oil before storing til spring.

To sharpen edges, put a drop of oil–either WD-40 or motor oil–on the blade. Then, with a handheld wet stone, file the blade at a 20-degree angle. A file or a motor-driven sharpener also works well.  Store tools in oiled sand, or hang on pegs.

The cold is coming.  Putting your garden and lawn to bed is about cleaning up then covering up.  Remember, fall is the most important season for both your garden and yard.  For a full, healthy garden and lawn next spring, get started now to protect your beautiful blooms, hardy shrubs and lush green grass.





Bob Villa

Martha Stewart Living

Better Homes and Gardens



Kitchen Upgrades on a Budget

by Donna De Palma


You don’t have to spend a fortune to give your kitchen a fresh look.  The average cost of a kitchen remodel is $25, 000.  If your budget is closer to $2,500, do what experts do and transform your kitchen with these budget-friendly makeover ideas.

First, prepare a realistic budget.  Begin with the one item you can’t do without.  To cut expenses, consider working with the kitchen layout you already have.  Most kitchens are one of four basic design footprints: L-shaped with an island, two triangle, two-wall galley or U-shaped with an island.   Tearing out and replacing cabinets and walls, repositioning a sink, or converting a peninsula into an island, can mean big bucks. Instead, inject some love into what you already have.  Use a little DIY know-how and your dream kitchen will become a reality.  Improve flow, give your kitchen an open feel, and make it look like new by following these simple tips:

Open up the space you already have 

By taking doors off cabinets and replacing them with open shelves, you can create an airy, spacious feel in any room. A kitchen with windows offers an opportunity to incorporate storage in unexpected places.  Place a shelf above a window or above the sink.

Put unused walls to work by installing floating wooden shelves with invisible brackets for a contemporary, open feel.

Refinish existing cabinet doors with paint or strip and stain.  If you reface your cabinet doors, remove them first and be sure to refinish them somewhere other than in your kitchen.

If totally exposed cabinetry sounds daunting, consider replacing some of your cabinet doors with frosted glass.  Or, install a row of small clear or frosted glass cabinets above your existing cabinets to display oversized serving bowls and decorative items.  This simple step updates an entire room.

Install new hardware

Tired or worn knobs and pulls on cabinets date your kitchen. Give your cabinets new life with pulls that complement your design scheme.  If your kitchen is traditional, try decorative pewter pulls or select a sleek stainless steel design for contemporary cabinets. Switching out old knobs and pulls can transform the look of your cabinets.

aunt patty - kitchen collage

Do something simple to add counter space and improve workflow

Getting everyday items off your countertops improves workflow.  Hang a magnetic strip to hold utensils so they’ll be within reach.  Look for a short metal rod outfitted with S hooks to hang spoons, whisks, ladles and spatulas.  Pass on the professional-grade stainless systems which can be too pricey if you’re remodeling on a shoestring.

If it’s limited cabinet space you’re trying to overcome, install a pot rack.  Hang a rod above your stove or above an island to keep your pots and pans within easy reach.

Light up your kitchen

Hang a unique pendant light.  Balance style with function by selecting pendants that provide adequate lighting for kitchen tasks.

Switching out an overhead light fixture is easier than you think.  Don’t forget the value and convenience of under-cabinet lighting.  Light up your work space.  A well-lit kitchen is more inviting and functions better.

Replace your countertops

Countertops, especially in an open concept kitchen, play a prominent role in the overall look of your kitchen.  If you’re replacing countertops, quartz is an affordable alternative to marble, granite or other natural stone.  Quartz comes in a wide variety of colors and is low-maintenance.  Laminates are another cost-effective choice and can make a statement even on a budget especially if your look is contemporary.

Look underfoot at your floor

Replace an old, dingy floor with porcelain tile or laminate flooring. Both are budget-conscious alternatives to hardwoods and natural stone.  If you’re using porcelain tile, choose a grout color as close to the color of your tile as possible for a seamless finish.

Wood laminates simulate hardwoods with wood planks and graphic grain patterns and are much more durable than wood.  They’re also easier to install if you’re doing it yourself.

Another wood-like flooring is vinyl planking which has depth and texture and is soft underfoot.  These new vinyls are not what you’d expect.  The look is high-end and comfort factor rates high for children and pets.

Don’t overlook natural materials like cork and bamboo.  Cork comes in rich colors and adds texture to your floor.  Have a professional install cork or bamboo.  If you choose bamboo, buy the highest grade possible for best results.


Add a backsplash

If your kitchen needs some color, pattern, or shine, install a backsplash behind your sink or stove.  A mosaic-tiled backsplash adds character and texture to a plain wall.  Tiling a backsplash is an easy DIY project.  Tiles come pre-attached to sheets of mesh to ensure accurate spacing.

If you want to add color and surface design to a ho-hum kitchen, try a backsplash.  An even more cost-effective choice is porcelain subway tile available in a variety of colors.

Replace an old faucet

Often called ‘kitchen jewelry,’ a faucet draws attention to your sink just as an old, nondescript faucet gives away the age of your kitchen.  A single-handed faucet in an attention-grabbing design can be found for as little as $80.00.  Shop for finish and shape.  A faucet’s shape should be unique enough to draw the eye yet mimic other shapes in your kitchen.  Match the finish of your faucet to your cabinet pulls.


Decorative brackets add detail to the traditional kitchen.  Either in wood or wrought iron, they impart an understated flourish to solid panels of wood on cabinets.  If your kitchen is traditional, search for brackets that match the style of your cabinets.

For a unique take on the traditional bracket, position brackets below your countertops or under the countertop of an island or peninsula. Repurpose vintage brackets from historic house parts or from old furniture to add charm to your kitchen.


Paint, paint, paint

When in doubt, paint.  With so many color choices available in paints that wipe clean, if your kitchen needs color, paint walls so they come alive.  Find a palette that breathes fresh life into your kitchen project.  If you like crisp white, use it as a trim color for molding instead of on an entire wall.

Paint walls and ceilings in warm and cool neutrals for the perfect backdrop to your new color scheme.  Paint an accent wall in a contrasting color to add variety.

Add a rug

Put down a 4’ X 6’ cotton rug near your sink or add a colorful runner alongside an island or in a walk-through area of your kitchen.  A rug draws the eye down to the floor, introduces pattern and a pop of color.


Add softness with window dressing

Keep it light when covering kitchen windows.  Natural light gives your kitchen a clean, fresh look.  Window treatments are a great way to soften your kitchen’s look.

Roman and roller shades, stationary valances and cornices, accent kitchen windows without obstructing views or reducing natural light.

Another good choice is floor-length curtain panels, for large areas of color and pattern, either over sliding doors or a bay window. A swag, over a single window, can be eye-catching too.

Replace your sink

For a seamless look, install an undermount sink.  Match your sink to the scale of your kitchen.  If your sink is large, you may be giving up precious counter space.  Choose a finish that matches your appliances. If you’d rather make a color statement, Kohler has a line of colored sinks that are great for contemporary kitchens.

Swap out kitchen accessories

Update your small appliances, dish towels and oven mitts.  Play off the design elements of small appliances and other accessories stored out in the open. A fire engine red KitchenAid mixer, retro toaster, stainless steel dish rack or a set of navy blue and white striped kitchen towels bring color and style to your new kitchen.

Think surplus

Some fabricators keep off-cuts on hand that are cut from larger pieces of stone.  These are usually sold for a fraction of the cost of the original material.  Ask your contractor for surplus from other jobs.  Tile or laminate from another job can be half the original cost. Look for close-outs.  Shop online for deals on discontinued items.

Don’t ‘live with’ your outdated kitchen.  If you’re willing to be creative, share some of the work with your contractor, and get a little dirty, your dream kitchen can be yours for under $5,000.  You may be working nights and weekends for a while but your new kitchen will be well worth the extra hours when complete.


Style at home

This Old House

The kitchn

About home

Better homes and gardens



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.

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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.

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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.

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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.