Annual Home Improvement Checklist: Interior


By Shannon Roxborough

Cold weather has fully set in, and now is the ideal time for your house to have a once-over, before the snow, ice and deep freeze arrives.  This is the second installment, here’s a roundup of everything interior items that should checked out, watched closely or repaired.




-Check for loose door hinges and doorknobs.


-Inspect the walls and floors for popped nails, loose boards, loose tiles and soft spots that could be a sign of problems.


-Examine ceilings for stains, which could indicate a roof or plumbing leak.


-Make sure ceiling fans and still secure and haven’t worked their way loose with use.


-Make sure ceilings, floors and areas above doors aren’t sagging or cracked in new places, which could mean a foundation or other structural issue.


-Check that the stair newel post is sturdy and note any loose banisters or balusters.


-Use a flashlight to check out the fireplace and up the chimney, looking for loose bricks, cracks, signs of animal nests, or excess soot that could cause a chimney fire. Be sure the damper works properly.


-Test smoke and CO detectors and replace batteries as needed.





-Look for loose outlet covers, receptacles, and boxes.


-Check outlets and the main panel for scorch marks, which could be a sign of loose or damaged wiring.


Test all GFCI outlets by plugging in a lamp or radio then hitting the test and reset buttons to make sure they work.





-Check pipes and shutoff valves for signs of rust, corrosion or leaks.


-Check the water pressure. Low pressure could indicate buildup in the line, faucet aerator or shower head.


-Check drains for speed of drainage. A slow drain may have a clog or a blocked vent pipe.


-Flush the toilets to make sure they operate properly and stop running. If not, open the tank and look for worn or damage parts.


-Drain the hot water heater to remove sediment or hire a professional to do it for you.


-Look for loose or cracked tiles in the shower or around sinks.


-Check the condition of caulk around the tub and shower and check for signs of mildew.


-Slide open and close shower doors to check them for sticking, rust or obstructions. Take a look at the gaskets around the door glass for gaps and tears.


-Turn on the shower and bath faucets and check for leaks around handles and valves. Make sure set screws around escutcheon plates and tight.


-Unscrew the shower head and look for collected sediment in it that could be effecting water pressure.


-Examine vent fans for obstructions or dust and clean them.


-Check washer hoses for signs of aging (cracks or brittleness) or leaks.


-Check dryer vents for tears. Remove vent line and vacuum or brush out lint in hose. Be sure to also to so around the lint screen inside unit.


Heating System


-Check registers and vents for loose or missing covers and screws.


-Check around radiators for leaks or floor damage.


-Use a flashlight to look into the furnace flue and for soot buildup or corrosion. Tap on it to see if rust falls. It it does, there may be an issue with condensation, which is caused by an inefficient unit. Have a HVAC contractor to service the system.


-Inspect the furnace for overall deterioration, rust, loose parts and other sources of potential problems.




-Test sink drainage and look for signs of faucet leaks.


-Look at all the cabinet doors and drawers to make sure they open and close properly. Check for loose hinges or sticking drawer slides.


-Turn on the garbage disposal and listen for signs of obstructions and motor problems.


-Try the stove burners for proper operation.


-Check the oven door gasket for signs of wear and tear.


-Make sure the gas shutoff valve is working. It should be able to turn completely (until it’s completely perpendicular to the pipe).


-Open the dishwasher and spin and lift the washer arm by manually to make sure it isn’t stuck. Be sure that nothing has dislodged the drain hose (it should arc up to prevent backwash from the drain into the dishwasher).


-Look for signs of leaking under and around the dishwasher.


The Attic


-Look around the attic space during daylight hours, with the lights turned off. Look for holes in the roofing that let light in.


-Examine joists and rafters for structural damage.


-Inspect vents for gaps.


-Check out fan motors for frayed wiring or loose screws.


-Check insulation for damage or damp spots.


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.


5 Home Upgrades That Are Worth The Money

by Donna De Palma


Looking to maximize the resale value of your home before putting your house on the market?  Not thinking about selling, but considering the impact of a home upgrade on resale value?  Not all remodeling projects are created equal.  Here are the top five upgrades that pay back when you decide to sell:

First impressions are lasting impressions. Outdoor maintenance that enhances curbs appeal can have a strong effect on resale value.
First impressions are lasting impressions: Outdoor maintenance that enhances curbs appeal can have a strong effect on resale value.

1. Curb appeal

Spruce up your home’s exterior to get the most bang for your buck.  Landscaping and minor exterior improvements pay back 100% of the money you invest.  If you’re going for a complete makeover, you’ll spend $3,500 for new sod, flowers and shrubs, a new walkway, enhanced porch and front door upgrade.  If you’re just refreshing what you already have, plan on $1,500 for cosmetic improvements like paint, garden upgrades and porch touch-ups.

Easy fixes like freshening up trim paint and replacing old awnings go a long way in restoring your home’s curbside appeal.   If the paint on your front door is peeling or your front steps are in need of repair, prospective buyers question how much effort you’ve put into maintaining your home.

Decorative planters on a front porch bring color front and center.  Replace overgrown shrubs by your entrance with flowering plants in varying sizes and colors.  Select blooms in one color and group them together for the most impact.

Plantings can be used to emphasize a home’s best features or to hide some of its flaws.  Placed alongside a natural wood door or near columns by the entry to your home, flower pots or planters bring attention to that all-important entrance.  Your home’s entry is also more inviting with outdoor furnishings that complement your style.

If your porch seems a little too basic, add columns to introduce an architectural element. Visit a nearby historic house parts store to repurpose old columns or start from scratch detailing new columns with a clever mix of moldings in different widths for more detail.

Major outdoor improvements can increase the value of a home over time.
Major outdoor improvements can increase the value of a home over time, such as adding a wood deck.

2. Major exterior improvements  

Vinyl siding, house painting and updating your front entry can pay back on average 95% of your cost.   Plan to pay $7,000-$8,000 to replace vinyl siding on an average home.  Painting your entire house can set you back between $2000-$4000 for a 2,100 sq. ft. home.

When selecting exterior colors, eliminate the guesswork by going one step further than color swatches or paint color cards.  Paint a small section on your house with your top three color choices, then paint trim color on a small section of trim close by.  Finally, paint larger swatches of your door color choices right on your front door.  For a splash of color, go bold with a door color but stay within the overall color scheme of your home.

Look at colors in different light and at different times of day before painting your entire house.  Hot pink or bright chartreuse may not add to the resale value of your home like a soft palette that has universal appeal would and one that suits the style of your home. To estimate supply costs, remember this rule of thumb: one gallon of paint covers on average a 400 sq. ft. surface.

Replace or repair old and worn shutters.  A pair of custom-made wood shutters can cost up to $500.  Raised-panel vinyl shutters start at $70.00.  Add on another $100 for hardware plus installation costs, if you hire a pro.  Wood or vinyl, new shutters will give your home a brand new look.

Replace an old front door with a new, mid-range steel door with clear dual-pane half-glass panel and a new lockset for $1,100.  Your garage door can be replaced for $1,500.

Surprisingly, adding a 16’ X 20’ wood deck costs about $11,000.  Decks only recoup about 90% of cost so add a deck only if it’s something you can’t live without.  Instead, add an interesting gate to a courtyard or a decorative fence to enclose a front yard.  Replace a porch railing or introduce outdoor lighting to make your exterior pop.

The front entry is taking on new importance these days.  Outdoor furniture–rugs, table, decorative outdoor lighting, even a loveseat–make a porch an inviting, outdoor space. Play up your home’s first impression with lush outdoor furnishings that draw attention to your home and garden.

Window and door replacements are still a good investment particularly in our climate.  With an average return of 89% on investment, replacing ten 3’ X 5’ windows with new double-hung wood or vinyl windows runs $10,000-$11,000.

3. Minor kitchen upgrades 

Kitchens are one of the first things home buyers look at when they consider purchasing a home.  It’s important not to go overboard with a kitchen remodel though.  A high-end kitchen remodel can price your home out of the local market and put a big dent in your wallet.

Major kitchen remodels are not likely to have as good of ROI as minor remodels.
Major kitchen remodels are not likely to have as good of ROI as minor remodels.

Basic kitchen upgrades–up to $15,000–return on average 98.5% of your cost.  Anything beyond that cost and the return takes a sharp drop, down to 66%.

You don’t have to re-do your kitchen from the ground up if it’s already functioning well.  A budget of $15,000 will allow you to re-face cabinets, replace an outdated oven, cooktop, sink, lighting fixtures and countertops with modestly-priced alternatives. You can also install new flooring (other than hardwoods) within budget.

Genuine hardwood flooring costs about $2.50-$3.00 per sq. ft. and another $3.00 per sq. ft. for a pro to install.  That’s about $1,100 for a 12’ X 15’ room not including subflooring costs.  Refinishing an existing hardwood is more cost effective: only $400-$500.

Instead of hardwoods, DIY a “floating floor” of wood or laminate for $1.25 – $2.00 per sq. ft.  No nails needed and the pieces snap together.

Brighten up your kitchen by sanding and painting existing cabinets.  Install new hardware.  Select mid-priced appliances, an updated sink and faucet, glitzy or trendy light fixtures for a little bling, Corian or quartz countertops and a new vinyl or wood veneer floor and you’re within budget.

A granite countertop, stainless sink and faucet will run between $5,000-$8,000.  Synthetic stone materials look as good as granite for a fraction of the cost and wear better.  Skip the backsplash for a whopping $2,000.  A backsplash can date your kitchen and the chances the next owner will approve of your color and design selections are pretty slim.  Design and product selection are key to keeping your minor kitchen upgrade from becoming a major renovation.


4. Major bath remodel

The latest trend in creating an at-home retreat is all about the bath.  A spa-like bath remodel returns on average 93% of your investment.  Plan on $26,000 on average to replace your tub and toilet and to add designer sinks and faucets, a linen closet, lighting, ceramic tile floor and exhaust fan.  Also included within this price tag is relocating your tub and expanding the space in a 5’ X 7’ bathroom.

Replacing old floors with tile or stone pays back.  Cut corners by making an old vanity look new again with new countertop.  Hang a designer mirror or two on your wall for a more contemporary look.

Many buyers looking at three-bedroom homes want two full baths.  It’s sometimes a better idea to bump out the powder room into a full bath rather than remodel an already ample master bath that can be refreshed with cosmetic upgrades.

Just add a shower to a powder room and suddenly it’s a full bath.  Rainfall showerheads will cost you about $200, handhelds with gadgets, $500. Since bathrooms are especially prone to looking outdated, pick neutral colors and finishes.


5. Attic bedroom 

Is the space in your home feeling a bit overcrowded?  Want a place to retreat to at the end of a busy day?  How about an attic bedroom?  Adding additional square footage to your house has big impact when it’s time to sell.  Beware though: attic remodels are one of the most expensive remodeling projects you can undertake.  Tucked away in the rafters, an attic bedroom costs about $39,000 to complete but returns 93.5% of its value when you sell your home.

Attic conversions are a good way to add additional square footage, but can be costly.
Attic conversions are a good way to add additional square footage, but can be costly.

Included at this price is a 15’ X 15’ bedroom, 5’ X 7’ bath with shower, 15 ft. dormer, four windows and a closet.  Add-ons may include insulation, vapor barrier for moisture, a possible addition to your HVAC to accommodate another room and an attic fan.  Depending on the finishes you select and your existing space, cost can vary from $30,000 to $39,000.

Will your renovations pay off and give you the best return on your investment?  Just because a project is expensive, doesn’t mean it will pay you back.  Don’t exceed the ceiling for your neighborhood or you won’t get your money back.  Do your homework before planning and budgeting for a home upgrade to ensure it pays you back when that ‘For Sale’ sign goes up in the front yard.

What’s popular now may not be in style in five years.  Consider how long you plan to be in your home before beginning a renovation.  Wise choices mean a better return on your investment.






This Old House

US News Money

Remodeling Magazine

CBS Money Watch



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

8 End-of-Summer Tasks for Homeowners

By Shannon Roxborough

Summer can wreck havoc on your home, both outside and in. Soaring temperatures and high humidity cause surfaces to crack, chip and separate, contribute to dust, dirt and debris build-up, and create a breeding ground for harmful bacteria, mold and mildew.

With the season winding down and fall just around the corner, now is the time for homeowners to get ready for the cooler months and avoid potentially costly fixes down the line.

Here are eight preventative maintenance tasks to keep your home in tip-top shape as summer fades:

Protect the Porch, Deck or Patio

Give outdoor areas a good general cleaning then inspect them for signs of damage or deterioration. Repair holes and cracks in wood with a quality epoxy-based filler. For brick and stone surfaces, use the proper mortar or sealant to keep damage to a minimum. Sand or scrape flaking or chipping paint or stain, then recoat the surface before fall rains arrive to keep moisture at bay.

Repair Outdoor Surfaces

Fill any cracks in your paver, concrete or asphalt driveway, walkways and paths to minimize trip hazards and prevent the coming rain (and eventual snow and ice) from causing more damage. For concrete cracks less than a half-inch wide, run a bead of acrylic latex repair compound into the seam then smooth with a putty knife. For larger cracks, trowel on a vinyl concrete patching compound and let it cure (a full day before foot traffic; three days for vehicles). Repair blacktop with asphalt filler or patch. And remember to always start with a clean, dry surface.

Weatherproof Windows and Doors

Use latex or silicone caulk to seal gaps larger than ⅛ inch around windows and doors to keep the elements out and reduce your seasonal heating bill by up to 15 percent. Use foam weather-stripping on the sides and top of doors, and install a door sweep on the bottom to keep drafts out. For windows, use adhesive-backed closed-cell foam on the bottom of the sash. For looses sashes, install plastic V-channel weather-stripping in the groove the sash fits into, then secure it with finish nails.

Inspect the Gutters, Roof and Attic

end of summer projects home improvement rochester ny

Leaky gutters and overflow due to debris clogs can result in water damage to the foundation and basement or crawlspace walls. So, Take a good look at the gutters and downspouts and repair problem areas with a waterproof sealant. Check your roof for leaks and water damage before the rainy season to keep minor issues from becoming major ones. Address small roof leaks with tri-polymer elastomeric sealant in a caulk tube. From inside, inspect the attic on a bright, sunny day or during a steady rain to look for rays of light or water infiltration.

Check Your Appliances

Thoroughly clean your stove and oven, being sure to use a degreaser to remove any build-up from the range hood or vent fan. Vacuum behind and underneath the fridge to remove dust, dirt and pet hair from the coils, which can interfere with performance. Check the washer to make sure that it is level and plumb, and clean the dryer vent of accumulated lint with a long-handled brush.

Tend to the Air Filter

Summer humidity causes moisture that spawns bacteria, mold and mildew on dusty air filters. Wash your reusable HVAC filter and leave it to air dry in the sun. For disposable furnace filters, buy a replacement at your local home improvement or hardware store (be sure to write down the size printed on it) or order an upgrade—a hypo-allergenic, mildew resistant filter—online.

Give Bathrooms the Once Over

Pathogens tend to build up faster in bathrooms during the humid summer months. Use a strong soap scum remover on your sink, tub, tile and shower surfaces. Spray any mold or mildew with a bleach-based killer (or 10 percent bleach solution—1¼ cup of household bleach per gallon of water). Allow cleaned grout to dry completely then repair any cracks with new grout or reseal with silicone caulk.

Clean the Kitchen Sink, Garbage Disposal and Dishwasher

Pour garbage disposal cleaner down the drain to remove small clogs and disinfect the line. Tackle any food stains or rust in the sink with bleach or a calcium, lime and rust remover. Take out the dishwasher filter and soak it in warm, soapy water for 15 minutes. After replacing it, add two cups of distilled white vinegar to the bottom of the dishwasher and run it empty for one heavy cleaning cycle.

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.