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.


Meet DIY Home Improvement Blogger Emily Fazio of Merrypad


By Shannon Roxborough

Call her the DIY maven. Best known for her how-to transformations on the DIY Network blog Made + Remade and collaborations with the likes of Black & Decker, Sherwin-Williams and Delta Faucet, Rochester-based blogger Emily Fazio has helped fuel the do-it-yourself movement by giving everyday people the creative inspiration, can-do confidence and practical know-how to tackle home improvement projects. Here, the creative force behind Merrypad (translation: “Happy Home”), the popular D.I.Y. blog with a broad national following, shares some insights in a quick e-mail interview.

Q. Can you give a bit of background into how you became a DIY home improvement enthusiast?

 A. I grew up with parents who loved their home and gardening. Watching them learn how to get things done was inspiring, and we also spent a lot of time doing projects as a family—painting fences, weeding, gutting bathrooms, redecorating, digging ponds with shovels, all of that. Their property is one I admire for many reasons, most of all because they customized so much of it themselves and we have a lot of memories baked into those experiences.

Q. What do you feel are the easiest DIY projects the average homeowner can tackle?

A.  In my first home, I replaced all of the dingy plastic faceplates on switches and outlets with brand new ones; that offered a huge impact, and can be done inexpensively in just an afternoon. Painting walls and doors are easy ways to update your home too, just indulge in some brand new brushes and rollers. If you’re a little more adventurous, updating floors is something that anyone can do with enough patience—remove that bad carpeting, refinish those hardwood floors or install tiles.

Q. Do you have any advice for people considering doing a project themselves instead of hiring a contractor?

A. Know local codes, and read up on the topic in advance to know what you’re getting into. Planning ahead can help you to troubleshoot various scenarios. And by creating an achievable timeline for yourself, you can help avoid seeing your weekend project turn into a month-long project.

Q. Can you share one of your simple but gratifying DIY how-to secrets?

 A. I don’t know if it’s so much a secret, but it’s OK to not do something yourself. I tell people that my joy in doing DIY projects usually stems from the fact that I’m enjoying the task at hand, and I can find some rhythm or Zen in the process, but there isn’t always that Zen, and sometimes you have to evaluate what’s realistic. Scraping and painting window trim? Lots of people will hire out for that, but my home is a ranch (reachable windows), and I find it relaxing and calming to do that maintenance. Mowing the lawn? I love it because my mower is easy to use, but others hate that chore and spend a lot to have others take care of it for them. That said, when you see something that needs to be done in your home, research the DIY options first. You might realize that home maintenance can be easier than it seems.


For a steady stream of DIY information, tips and advice, read Emily’s blog, Merrypad, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.


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.


Free Apps to Help Around the Home and Garden


By Shannon Roxborough


In an era when there is a smartphone app to make almost anything easier, home- and garden-focused mobile apps take home life and DIY projects to a whole new level. Whether it’s selecting paint colors for the walls or planting the ultimate kitchen garden, this line-up of apps have you covered. So download, log in, and get busy!

Home Depot’s app (for Apple and Android) features a useful calculator that allows you to plug in room dimensions then tells you the amount of paint or drywall and related materials you’ll need. The app’s Toolbox section includes, among other tools, a “Nut and Bolt Finder,” which determines the exact dimensions of fasteners then saves the information for your next trip to the store. The app also has a video section with a few useful tutorials. 

Lowe’s iTunes and Android apps may lack the tools found in Home Depot’s, but it more than makes up for it with a much broader slate of how-to videos that give step-by-step instruction on various DIY projects—from installing hardwood floors to deadbolt locks. And, like its competitor’s app, it also allows you to browse their product offerings, see what’s in stock at your local store, order and pick up purchases or have them delivered to you.

WikiHow (Android, iOS) has a library of thousands of how-to guides with illustrations and videos ranging from DIY and craft projects to quick repairs and life hacks (even a few good recipes).

SnapGuide is a visually-appealing iOS app featuring DIY info on numerous home and garden projects and repairswith detailed instructions and full-page photo guides.

Benjamin Moore’s Color Capture application (for iPhone and Android devices) puts finding the right paint shade a few clicks away. Simply take a photo of your favorite hue (or upload one to your mobile device) and the app will match the colors in the photograph to just the right paint chip (in the corresponding Benjamin Moore color code). It also offers the option of using a retailer locator to find the store nearest you that carries it. Sherwin-Williams’ ColorSnap Visualizer app takes things a step further, helping you to zero in on a palette if complementary shades for trim and moldings.

Diagnosing paint problems can be daunting. (There are many reasons why old paint jobs crack, fade or chip.) The PaintRemedy app can help you identify the cause of the problem before you tackle your next paint job. The app allows you to scroll through dozens of photos of common paint issues to pinpoint the cause, then read about solutions to help you solve the problem.

Anyone who tackled a home remodel or yard overhaul knows that staying organized through the project is half the battle. Evernote (for Android, iPhone and BlackBerry) keeps your digital scrapbook of photos, videos and websites in one place, allowing you to easily search through them, thanks to text-recognition software that can hone in on words you’ve typed as well as text that appears in saved photos.

Looking for the perfect sofa or dining set? The cPro Craigslist Mobile iPhone app puts the online classified site’s complete listing of goods and services right at your fingertips in enhanced, mobile-friendly fashion.

Want a quick floor plan without using a complicated AutoCAD program, MagicPlan (on iTunes and Google Play) lets you take a few photographs of any room and automatically draws an accurate floor plan of it (and the “export” function creates properly formatted files for home or commercial use).


Bubble, with various iterations available for Android and iPhone, turns your phone into a handy level or plumb bob, making everything from picture hanging to determining angles a breeze.


Urban Farming Assistant Starter apps for iTunes and Android provide information on growing an array of vegetables and offer organic solutions to garden pests, plant diseases and other garden-related problems.


Garden Plants Growing Guide in an Android app offers useful care information and photos on 75 of the most popular garden vegetables, flowers and herbs.


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.


Karen Waldron of Sensitive Design on “Jazzing up” a townhome on Calm Lake


By Donna De Palma

For Karen Waldron, interior designer for Sensitive Design—a design firm she founded two years ago—learning about what matters to her clients is job one. “I want to get to know them, what’s important to them.  I want to know what they love in life.  I want to hear their stories.”

Waldron believes that good design means more than just having a beautiful home.  “When you walk into someone’s home, you should feel as if you’re surrounded by the things that are most important to that homeowner,” Waldron says.

When Michael DuPre hired Waldron to “jazz up” his 1500 sq. ft. townhome, he just wanted to replace old kitchen cabinets.  DuPre, a jazz enthusiast who loves bold colors and the city of New Orleans, enjoys entertaining but the layout and decor of his home held him back.

Waldron, who believes in minimal impact design, says, “If something is still beautiful, why toss it in a landfill?”  In that spirit, she consulted with DuPre and decided to start small, selecting a light grey tone for walls as a backdrop for bold color.

Waldron saw there was wasted space in the kitchen.  The open floor plan of the first floor lacked continuity.  The foyer needed a refresher.  According to Waldron, a half wall of wooden spindles in the living room had to go.  The lower level lacked personality and her client’s kitchen needed to be reconfigured to accommodate DuPre’s penchant for entertaining.

Waldron suggested her client replace a peninsula in the kitchen with an island to improve flow.  Now guests can walk around the kitchen without bumping into walls.  She selected a colorful granite countertop with notes of amber, rust and cream, streaked with deep wine red.

To create a cohesive look on the first floor and to reflect the colorful and fun-loving personality of her client, she chose a wine red cork floor throughout. “Cork is a sustainable, easy-to-live-with flooring that provides rich color and texture,” Waldron says.

Her client selected a rectangular charcoal grey sink—made from recycled composite— to offset the bright tones of the room.  Amber glass pendant lights hang above the island to create a warm glow.
To bring the outside in—a view of Calm Lake—Waldron combined cool blues and neutrals in a mosaic backsplash that reflects the water theme.  She plays warm tones against cool for a dynamic color statement.

The homeowner chose custom cherry cabinets and the rich, natural look of hardwood—handmade by Harmut Deeg—with burnished copper pulls to add warmth. A burnished copper faucet finishes the look.

For design inspiration, Waldron headed to the basement where she uncovered a Mardi Gras-themed poster.  References to jazz and New Orleans are sprinkled throughout the home.  A wall sculpture of jazz musicians sits above a reconditioned fireplace.

The designer carried the water theme downstairs to the great room by reclaiming fishing lures—now hung from hooks in the hall— and vintage fishing photos.

“I like to reuse and repurpose old things.  Those “gems” in the basement or attic hold personality. They bring a home to life,” she says.

Waldron, a marathon runner who studied art history, insists that when she enters a home, it speaks to her.  “I have a feeling for what a house needs the moment I step inside. Custom design is a process of discovery; discovering what a homeowner envisions, then sharing your vision with them.”

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Home Improvement Projects with the Biggest Payoff


By Shannon Roxborough


Conventional wisdom states that upgrades and renovations increase the value of a home. But the reality is that all home improvement projects aren’t created equal—some pay off better than others.  Before planning your major projects or giving your contractor the go-ahead on that pricey home makeover, consider thinking small instead of big.  Why? The fact is you can’t always count on recouping your investment, especially if you decide to splurge on an upscale kitchen with custom cabinets and high-end appliances or a spa-like bath with luxury finishes.


According to Remodeling magazine’s 2015 Cost vs. Value Report, an annual national survey comparing the price and resale value of rehab projects, the more you spend on a project, the more you are likely to lose. Spare-no-expense kitchen projects, in particular, only returned as little as 69 percent of the total amount spent on them.  Surprisingly, the survey found that simpler, lower-cost projects netted the biggest paybacks: upgrading to a steel entry door recouped almost 102 percent of its cost; replacing wood, vinyl or composite siding with stone veneer paid back 92 percent; and minor kitchen remodels that included cabinet refacing, laminate countertops and new appliances provided a 79 percent return on investment.


The National Association of Realtors says small and exterior-focused home projects are a better value than pricey, more ambitious renovation projects. And the Appraisal Institute, a professional organization of real estate appraisers, believes homeowners should “choose upgrades instead of major remodeling projects to see the greatest potential return on investment.”


That said, here are eight small to mid-range projects that could pay for themselves—and then some—even if you’re not planning to sell anytime soon.


Do Some Painting Projects

Paint offers dramatic results with little investment, especially if you do it yourself instead of hiring a professional.

Courtesy of Sitka Project.
Courtesy of Sitka Project.


Consider a Kitchen Update

Small changes in the kitchen not have a large impact, they offer the biggest bang for your buck. Think resurfacing kitchen cabinets or replacing olod hardware. Installing a new sink, faucet, appliances and quality but not over-the-top expensive countertops (natural stone counters like granite have dominated the market for a while, but cheaper, durable materials like laminate are making a comeback) can make the entire space feel brand new.


Upgrade the bathroom

New counters, vanities and fixtures (faucets, sinks and toilet), along with updated wall tile and flooring always provide solid returns.


Redo Your Landscape 

When it comes to curb appeal, the front of your house is the first thing people see, so it only makes sense to give some attention to your landscaping. A well-maintained lawn and flowers, shrubs and trees all make a property attractive to potential home buyers down the road.


Build a Deck

More than a place to soak up the sun and have cookouts, decks provide a smooth transition from indoors to out that is appealing to homeowners, guests and future buyers.


Tend to the Basement

For many people, there’s no bigger turn-off than the dreaded damp-basement smell, so a clean, dry underground space can pay dividends. If your basement is prone to moisture, consider using a dehumidifier. If there are leaks or flooding, call in a pro. If you decide to finish your basement with insulation, drywall, laminate flooring or a bathroom, make sure the quality is on par with your upstairs living space.


Replace your garage door

Give your garage a makeover with a door replacement generally pays for itself while making your home more attractive and secure. Even a fresh coat of paint on the doors and entire structure can work wonders.


Replace Your Siding

Vinyl and fiber-cement siding are almost maintenance-free options that improve both the look and energy-efficiency of your home while providing a solid return over time.


The Top 10 Home Improvement Projects with Long-Term ROI

Projects Long-Term ROI
Entry door replacement (steel) 98.0%
Siding replacement (fiber-cement) 83.9%
Minor kitchen remodel (midrange) 81.8%
Siding replacement (vinyl – midrange) 81.5%
Garage door replacement (midrange) 80.7%
Deck addition (wood) 80.6%
Siding replacement (foam-backed vinyl) 79.5%
Attic bedroom remodel 79.3%
Window replacement (vinyl – midrange) 78.6%
Bathroom remodel (midrange) 77.1%

Source: Remodeling Magazine 2015 Cost vs. Value Report


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 Choose the Right Home Improvement Contractor


By Shannon Roxborough


With so many contractors of every stripe out there—the good, the bad and the ugly—finding a competent contractor for your home improvement or repair project can be a hit-or-miss proposition. Here are some guidelines and advice to help you make the right choice.


Get “In the Know” About Contractors

Among the best ways to prepare yourself for finding your ideal contractor is to inform and educate yourself, starting with home improvement terminology. Learning how to talk the talk by mastering industry jargon will help you understand contractor speak, which can be incomprehensible gobbledygook to the uninitiated. Then, learn everything you can about what’s involved with the type of project you’re interested in. Doing so can save you valuable time and money in the long term.


Ask for Recommendations

One of the best places to start is close to home. So, ask for referrals from family and friends who have had positive experiences with their contractors. Another good starting point is the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, a non-profit national trade association. Visit the NARI website for a list of members in your area. Though often officially prohibited from making referrals, ask a building inspector which contractors routinely meet code requirements for the type of work you need. It’s also a good idea to inquire about tradesmen with good reputations at your local Big Box store, hardware or lumberyard. And, last but not least, pick the brain of another home improvement pro. Good contractors in one field likely have professional contacts with other specialties.


Tap Professional Resources

John Hoagland, the owner of Trinity Home Renovations, a Rochester, N.Y.-based contractor with more than 25 years’ experience with a range of home remodeling projects, suggests steering clear of contractors not registered with the Better Business Bureau. Hoagland, who takes pride in his reputation for honesty and quality work, also urges homeowners to ensure that contractors have adequate insurance for all employees and subcontractors and be able to produce a copy of their insurance certificate for verification. And, Hoagland says in states where licenses are required, it’s a good idea to confirm their licensing status with the state government, which can usually be done online.


Conduct Phone Interviews

After you’ve put together a list of good prospects, quickly narrow the pool by calling each contractor and asking them the following questions:


  • Do you take on projects of the size and scope that I need?
  • Can you provide a list of previous clients I can contact for references?
  • Are you able to put me in touch with your suppliers or bank so I can determine your financial standing?
  • Will you handle the job personally or use subcontractors. If the latter, how long have you worked with your subs?
  • How many other projects would you be doing at the same time as mine?


After the interviews, evaluate the contractors’ responses to determine the best candidates and move on to the next phase of the decision-making process.


Schedule a “Free” Estimate

Narrow it down to three or four contractors for face-to-face meetings to discuss details of the project and costs. Contractors should be able to adequately answer all of your questions about any aspect of the job. Get a written estimate and trust your instincts.


Don’t Rely Solely on Cost

It may sound counter-intuitive, but pass on unusually low bids. All too often, lowball estimates mean a less competent contractor, someone who cuts corners or a person who is desperate for work. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


Do Your Homework

Once you settle on the contractor you’re most comfortable with, get in touch with former clients to find how their project went and ask to see the finished product. If at all possible, go a step further and visit a current job site to get a first-hand look at the contractor in action. Take note of contractor-client interaction, the condition of the job site and overall professionalism. Check with the state consumer protection agency and the local chapter of the Better Business Bureau for a history of complaints or disputes.


Sign on the Dotted Line

Put the project in writing in the form of a contract that spells all the specifics of the project: payment terms, start date and proposed timeline, work to be performed and a detailed material list. Also, require the contractor to obtain lien releases from all suppliers and subcontractors, which protects you if they don’t pay their bills.


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.


Smart choices for big savings on energy costs

By Donna De Palma

Looking for ways to save money on energy costs?  First let’s look at your home’s heating and cooling.  As much as half of the energy we use in our homes goes to heating and cooling.  Smart choices about heating, ventilation and air conditioning mean big savings.


-About 30% of your total home energy costs is spent on heating your home.  Follow this tip: get your heating system inspected before heating season begins. Heat loss from a poorly-maintained system adds up fast.  Clean or replace your furnace filter often.  Your furnace uses a lot less energy when filters are replaced regularly.  Make sure that registers and air return ducts aren’t blocked by furniture or carpets. Ceiling fans, when set on a low setting, help push warm air down from ceilings to more evenly heat your home.


-Try not to overheat your home to avoid overworking your furnace.  If your furnace needs replacing, look for one that’s at least 90% energy efficient.  A key to energy efficiency is a programmable thermostat.  When programmed correctly, your home’s thermostat will automatically raise the heat before you get out of bed in the morning, then turn it down when you go to bed at night.  The optimum temperature range is 68 degrees while you’re at home and 65 degrees when your away.  If you install a programmable thermostat before winter sets in, you can look forward to a 20% savings on heating costs the first year. Follow a simple rule of thumb: for every degree you turn down your heat, expect to save 1% to 3% on energy costs.


-The cumulative effect of small leaks in your home has the same effect as leaving a window open all year long. To save money, you can use inexpensive expanding foam or caulk available at a hardware store to seal cracks in areas where cold or warm air escapes like windows and door frames and around holes in walls where pipes enter and exit your home.


-More than 50% of the energy we use for winter heating escapes from our homes because of uninsulated walls, floors, ceilings and attics.  Check your insulation.  Insulation, judged by R-value, has one rule of thumb: the higher the R-value, the better the insulation.  Consider adding insulation in your attic.  It’s a cost-effective way to reduce heat loss.


-Window treatments can prevent heat from escaping too.  Drapery with an insulating liner cuts heat loss by half. Installing storm windows can also cut your heat loss by half.  Look for double or triple-pane windows.


-When cooling your home with central air, clean leaves and debris from your outdoor unit.  Anything that’s too close to a compressor will block airflow.  Make sure your central air conditioning system is the right size for the area you want to cool.  Clean your filter regularly.  Your air conditioner works harder if filters are dirty.


-Set your cooling thermostat to 78 degrees during the day and even higher when you’re away.  Install an attic fan.   An attic fan reduces hot air trapped in your attic and prevents it from sinking into rooms below.


-Operate appliances like your dishwasher, dryer and oven in the mornings and evenings because they can add heat to your home and that makes your central air work harder.


-Homes with light or white roofs require up to 40% less energy for cooling than those with black roofs. Studies show you could save at least $120 per year in cooling costs if you install a light-colored roof.


-Your water heater accounts for about 14% of your average utility bill.  Set your water heater temperature to 120 degrees to cut bills without sacrificing comfort.  Keep your hot water hot by making sure pipes in unheated areas are insulated.  Put an insulating blanket around your water heater to hold heat in.


-Maintain your water heater by draining the tank once a year.  Turn the incoming water on and off—for about 20 seconds each— to clear.  This flushes minerals and sediment from inside the tank to make your water heater run more efficiently.


-Many state and local governments and utility companies offer financial incentives for homeowners to upgrade their appliances to newer, more energy efficient models. Incentives usually take the form of rebate checks for homeowners who can provide proof of purchase.


Energy Star®, the partnership between the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy, identifies energy-efficient products and rates them.  Make sure your major appliances are Energy Star® and check their rating.  A frig with freezer uses more energy than any other appliance in your home.  Upgrade your refrigerator to an Energy Star® model, then set the refrigerator’s thermostat between 38 to 42 degrees and your freezer between 0 to 5 degrees.  Condenser coils remove heat from inside your refrigerator.  They need to be at least two inches from the wall. Clean them twice a year.


-When selecting lighting, LED bulbs are cooler and use less energy than halogen or incandescent bulbs.  A 40-watt LED bulb uses only six watts of power, which is 85% less energy than a standard light bulb.  LED bulbs can be more expensive to buy but are well worth the investment. Depending on usage, a single bulb can last up to 20 years and costs only 72 cents a year to operate.


-Install dimmer switches and three-way bulbs wherever possible.  They’ll use less energy and you’ll have a choice of task lighting in different areas of your home.  Take advantage of the reflective nature of walls and light colors.  Position lamps in corners so light bounces off two walls instead of one.  Place furniture near windows to use natural light, whenever possible.


-For outdoor lighting, try high-pressure sodium bulbs.  They’re more efficient and last longer.


-To conserve water, equip your kitchen with an easy-to-install aerator to minimize wasted water and boost water pressure. An aerator allows you to direct water flow where needed for washing and rinsing food or dishes.


-Toilets account for nearly 30% of an average household’s water consumption and even more if they’re leaky. High Efficiency Toilets (HETs) can help you reduce the amount of water you use.  HETs combine high efficiency with high performance.  An HET uses 20% less water than a standard 1.6 gallon-per-flush toilet while maintaining full flushing power.


-The average American family does almost 400 loads of laundry every year. Energy Star® washers and dryers help cut energy use by up to half, and water use by over 30%.


-Think solar.  Global Solar portable solar panels are an innovative way of taking free energy from the sun and convert it directly into electrical power that can be used to power electronics or charge batteries. These panels eliminate the need to use outlet power that’s often generated by burning fossil fuels.


Kill-A-Watt power meters can help you understand which appliances and electronics use the most energy around your home. This meter is designed to empower you by providing information you need to make decisions about energy use.

Remember, knowledge is power when making smart choices for energy use in your home.  The more you know, the more you can save.




Consumers Energy

My energy.com

US News Money


An attic conversion adds value and style to your home

By Donna De Palma

If exposed beams, roof lines and skylights excite you, an attic conversion may be the ticket to expanding your living space while adding value.  Though attic conversions require some planning, the increased value of a finished loft is well worth the effort.


The top floor of your home can be converted into a spectacular master suite that becomes a private getaway for just the two of you, a quiet home office, or decked-out media room.


Consider adding a dormer window to increase natural light and air circulation.  Dormers create space for built-ins and storage and can add height to a cramped space.  Envision your new loft space with skylights for an airy, open feel.  Skylights bring in more natural light and a view. Or create a gabled ceiling below the roof to draw attention away from the structure above.


Every attic is unique, but a few established practices can guide you to a more useable space.


Whether your house is suitable for an attic conversion depends on a number of factors including your home’s layout, available attic space, roof pitch and type of construction.


Enforcement varies but a ‘Rule of 7’s’ applies to attic conversions.  Codes say that at least half of a finished attic must be 7 ft. high and that this area must be a minimum of 7 ft. wide and at least 70 sq. ft.  A contractor can help you assess how regulations apply to your attic and which modifications are required to bring the space up to standard.


Hire an engineer to inspect your home’s foundation and framing to ensure that it can handle the extra load a finished attic will create.  You may need to strengthen your attic’s floor joists, which can be too shallow or spaced too far apart to handle more load.  Rafters also will need to support drywall, lighting, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC components.

A careful review of your floor plan will help determine the best place to build stairs.  Staircases with straight runs are easiest to construct but take up a lot of area.  If your building a staircase from scratch you may want to try a switchback layout.  It needs a little more room than a straight run but the footprint is square rather than linear, so it will fit in spaces where a straight staircase can’t go.  Make sure your landing is large enough to bring furniture upstairs.  For an attic bedroom you’ll need a staircase that meets code.


Here are a few tips to consider when envisioning the possibilities for your new space.  Plumbing fixtures are available that allow you to build a bathroom almost anywhere in your new room.  Remember, an attic bedroom requires both a window and a staircase to the level below.  For added storage, a closet conversion into a staircase area is a good choice. You might be able to use the space under a new staircase for storage too.


Have fun with finishes for walls and ceilings.  Beadboard panels—in a tongue and groove design—are easy to install, add interest and protect a low ceiling from dings and dents.  V-groove wood paneling is another option.  When unfinished or stained, wood paneling makes an attic with a low ceiling feel cozy.  Vary the look by using boards of different widths. Whitewashing walls and ceilings then adding paneling gives your room a clean, chic, New England feel.


Choose fitted pieces that can work with the geometry of your space for maximum effect. Use the slope of your attic roof to your advantage.  Select fixtures and products designed to complement sloping ceilings and uniquely-shaped rooms.


Challenge yourself to come up with space-saving placements to use every inch of space.  Furniture placed centrally, in front of a window, under the highest point of the eaves, creates an elegant, symmetrical look.


With a little ingenuity and some space planning, an attic conversion is a quick and easy way to add a unique and cozy room to your home.  Remember, your home already has a foundation and a roof.  So finishing an attic can be just a fraction of the cost of an addition or new construction.


If you’re lucky enough to have an attic that’s still untouched, it’s time to make better use of it. Converting loft space can not only provide much needed extra space, but when your project is done well, can provide real financial rewards when it’s time to sell your property.


Follow these simple guidelines to transform your attic from empty space to a charming, chic retreat.


Sidebar:  Converting an attic to a bedroom, bath, media room or office can return more than 77% of your investment.  That’s according to Remodeling magazine’s “Cost vs. Value Report.”




This Old House

Right Move

Remodeling Magazine