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Location, Location, Location: 5 Considerations For Locating Your Sustainable Home

August 11, 2012

When deciding to build a new home, the location is the most important consideration.

Some rules should be followed when searching for property on which to build any type of home. Finding the best location for a  sustainable home requires some very specific considerations.

So why is it that most often, folks pick their spot and then design their home?

When selecting a sustainable location, several basic aspects must be considered:

1. Select a realtor to assist you that has experience with property in your particular area of interest.

This, of course, is true for purchasing property for any use. A knowledgeable agent will be familiar with the history of the property and the area as well what any possible future plans for the area may be. Is there talk of a golf course or a power plant going in next door? In addition, contact the local planning department on your own to get a copy of the area plan. Talk to them about the area.

2. Will the view side have a southern exposure?

If you’ve been researching sustainable aspects, you understand that in the northern hemisphere, you’ll want your Solar PV and Solar Thermal panels facing south where the sun will shine for maximum value.

But you’ll also prefer to have the sun shining in your windows as much during the winter as possible. If south is facing the highway, that’s what you’ll see (and hear) from those solar collecting windows.

3. Hillside construction adds natural insulative value.  Is your hill on the north or south?

The cool north side is ideal for a pile of dirt that will keep the temperature, on average between 55 and 57 degrees Fahrenheit (13 to 14 degrees Celsius) below frost line. But if your hill is on the south side, your home won’t be able to take advantage of that topography.

4. Know the size and location of the, “Building Envelope” , easements, and possible height limits of your property.

Again, true for any property you might consider purchasing. Some properties are sold with what is referred to as a “Building Envelope.” This is the area of a piece of property that your homeowners association or local building authority will allow your home to be built on. Make sure that the size and style home you are picturing will fit on this property, apart from property that might be designated for easements. Some areas have view restrictions that will preclude the construction of a two story home.

5. In a subdivision or properties under 5 acres, as a rule of thumb, know the neighboring property.

If there is not yet a home built on neighboring property, where is the best building site for the neighbor?  Although this is again true for all properties, it is especially important with regard to homes requiring solar energy generation. With different possible scenarios for neighboring construction, will your view or solar exposure be obstructed?


Of course there is more, but with these 5 simple points, it’s easy to understand the value of deciding on some general design aspects for your home design before deciding on where to put it. If you’re planning on living without access to public utilities or off-grid, you’ll want to know if the property will perk for a septic system, how deep is the average well in your area, and general costs for those considerations. What is the road maintenance agreement with surrounding properties? Is there one? Do the neighbors adhere to the agreement? Speak to an excavator who does road work to get cost estimates before making an offer on the property. Does the county building authority require sprinklers in homes without access to fire hydrants or in remote locations? The answers to all of the property preparation questions might require a large enough chunk of your budget that you won’t have enough left over to build your dream home.

Finding a qualified Design-Build Construction firm with a sustainable focus before securing your property can help ensure that you will be shopping for property with a plan in mind. When you find your place to settle, it will be as ideal as possible for your logistical needs as well as your emotional needs.

Did I forget anything important that you have had experience with? Please add your comments or questions below. I look forward to hearing from you!


Why Buy Local?

May 11, 2012

While “buy local” movements have been gaining steam in the food arena, buying local construction supplies seems to be in the dark recesses of people’s consciousness’s. I’ve been trying to better understand just why that is. My thought on this is that home construction materials are bigger ticket items so while we may feel like supporting our communities when it doesn’t cost us much, we’re not willing to part with what we assume will be a lot of money in support of our community values. Most people assume that if they can get items cheaper on the internet than they can at the big box stores, they’re getting the best “deal”. And frankly, buying at the big box stores is better than buying from out of state, but did you know that when buying local, the economic impact of every dollar spent is over three times! But I’m going to surprise you here, I’m not going to suggest that the biggest reason to buy local is to help your community, although I support being a responsible community member, whatever the cost.

There are two personally impact-ful reasons to buy local:

Box stores are ONLY cheaper for stock items.

When you can walk into a big box store and buy a regularly stocked item, it’s going to be hard for a local store to compete with that. That being said, be very careful that it is a like-kind item. Some manufactures have been known to box up a product that looks the same, even has the same make and model label, but the way that the product is manufactured isn’t the same. Plumbing products from reputable manufacturers sold at big box stores have been known to have a plastic base instead of brass. You can feel the difference in the weight. These plastic bodied products will break much more easily and quickly.

Any items that have to be special ordered from your box store are most likely going to be more expensive. It’s where these stores make their money.

Your local distributors and show rooms provide valuable services that you are going to miss when they’re gone.

When we are shopping finished construction supplies, most people enjoy going into a show room so they can “try on” the merchandise. I highly recommend feeling a kitchen faucet to make sure that the shape of the handle feels good in your hand. It’s great to see just how far out into an average sink the water from a faucet will go. When looking at pictures online, it can be difficult to determine size and scale. Many people now go into stores, use their displays to gather information, use the show room personnel to provide information, and then leave to order the merchandise on the internet for a few dollars cheaper. Not only is this short sighted behavior, it’s also self- defeating behavior. By failing to support the showrooms, we fail to support our local economy. We also fail to support a resource that we have shown to be valuable, or we wouldn’t be in there. Would you choose to have a meal in a restaurant on the basis of getting bad service that you don’t have to pay for?

Even if you decided to leave your conscious behind when you clicked onto my website, you might want to think about something else that is going to impact you personally.

As a designer and/or contractor, if I have a problem with an item, I can reach out to that local supplier to go to bat for me with the manufacturer. The supplier has more buying power than me, I have more buying power than you. It’s why I get discounts, BTW. If a manufacturer gets a call from one of their vendors, from a contractor or from a homeowner, who do you think is going to get the fastest most satisfying service? I can give you a hint, it’s not the homeowner.

I wish I could say that the quality of finished lighting and plumbing fixtures has gone up since the recession and sales volume has gone down. Unfortunately, it’s far from the truth. Invariably, there are problems with materials and those problems are almost always found upon installation or with the passage of a little time.

So for self-serving reasons, you don’t want to lose the local show room the vendor supplies. If you don’t want to lose them, support your local businesses!

Do you have any stories or questions relating to this post? As always, we would love to hear from you.

The Business of Team Building

May 5, 2012

Of all the ingredients needed for a successful project, no other is more crucial than team work. In other posts, I’ve briefly mentioned the value of building a good team for any home construction project, but this subject is so vital to success, not enough can be said on the subject.

Any successful venture requires a solid team of individuals that are talented in their fields. But finding talented individuals or even experts doesn’t ensure a successful effort. This is as true for your construction project as for another type of greater effort. Winning teams of every kind are not made of individual all-stars that gather together to do their individual best. Most people realize that this is a fact. Why then, do so many people approach their home construction projects from, frankly, a penny wise and pound foolish approach? We all know someone who’s tried to hire someone to work on their home for the least amount of pay and then try to squeeze every last dollar out of the contract. The reason? It’s just business. Although some of those situations wind up working out OK, from my experience, they never create a stellar result that generates the most value for the investment of time, money and emotion.

Any successful entrepreneur will tell you that business is a team sport. Winning business teams, just like winning sports teams, start with a solid foundation of talented individuals. Those individuals are then gathered together by a leader with vision as well as expertise. Much has been written on this subject that doesn’t need to be re-hashed here, but the bottom line is that without a leader who understands the needs of the individual team members and how they can all personally benefit by contributing to the common goal, there cannot be an optimal outcome for the beneficiary of the effort. All the individuals will be working towards their own goals without understanding that the goals of the team will enhance their individual efforts.  Therefore, the most profitable business ventures are created by a leader  with vision and expertise, who can find the magic mix of human resources and support them with capital and natural resources in the most efficient and effective way possible.

Another key ingredient for good business is long term solid and trusted relationships. It is much more common for people to look to do business with folks they know than a stranger found through a Google search. If you need a new dentist, hair stylist, dog sitter or babysitter, you are many times more likely to call a friend or family member for a name before calling a phone number off the back of a truck driving down the road. There are several good reasons for this. I believe that the most common reason is that if any kind of hiccup in the business dealings occurs, maintaining the relationship will be a catalyst for finding resolution. Good, solid, profitable business that will bring about further profit in the future involves win-win scenarios. And I speak of “profit”, in a much broader sense than dollars and cents.

When selecting contractors to work “for” you on your home, take a giant step back and think about the situation through a larger window.

Ask yourself, what if? What if things don’t go the way you want them to? What if the plans don’t work in the reality? What if ……….

When reality rears its ugly head, how best to find a silver lining than a team, all working together to help make Plan B much better than Plan A ever was? I can’t tell you how many projects I’ve worked on where we needed to pull together the expertise and experiences of several different tradesmen to find a way around an unforeseen road block. A team leader with experience in construction problem solving is invaluable in those circumstances.

Yes, home contracting is, “just business”.  But business in the sense that it involves a knowledgeable and dedicated team of individuals all working together with a common goal of getting the project done in the most efficient, effective and profitable way possible,  for everyone involved. That kind of team work will ultimately result in the most rewarding and profitable result for the beneficiary of that effort: the homeowner.

Do you have experiences with team work, good or bad, that you can share? Your comments are always greatly appreciated.

I suggest reading Bret Simmons post: Goal Setting And Group Performance. Bret writes a Positive Organizational Behavior post that I always find interesting and inspiring.

Another perspective on Team Work  I found interesting is, Increase Your Team’s Motivation Five Fold.

Porcelain Tile Tips

April 28, 2012

Natural stone "rug" set in porcelain tile. Granite Hearth
(C) 2004 Suncrest Builders, Inc.

A creative design using tile is easier than ever today. The growth in the amount of  porcelain tile products now available have been a game changer for designing easily cared for beauty as well as durability. In this post, I’m not going into detail to explain the difference between Porcelain and Non-Porcelain. I’ll only say that while porcelain is a very hard material, ceramic tiles are much more fragile. All porcelain tile is not alike. The difference can be seen by looking at thickness and weight. I’ve provided link to two good informational posts, Baneclene, a cleaning products site, as well as the Tile Council of North America, that provide  facts about differences between porcelains and ceramics as well as cleaning information. What I’d like to offer up here is product and design knowledge that will help you create the most long term value from your tile design.

Porcelain tiles have texture, or not. There are porcelains that look like metal, bamboo and wood as well as slate, travertine, and any other hard surface you can imagine. It comes in many many shapes and sizes. If you like the look of natural stone tile, you can now get that look with porcelain without having the maintenance issues that natural stone has.

While solid surface granite on a counter top is relatively maintenance free, natural stone on a floor is a big maintenance commitment. Some of the softest stones, like travertine, should never be used on a floor unless you’re willing to put in a lot of time and expense for upkeep. Natural stone on a shower floor is a maintenance nightmare! Shower floor tile needs to be smaller, 4”x4”on average to allow the floor to slope the water to the drain. The smaller tiles will also be less slippery on a wet floor. Porcelain comes in sheets of smaller tile that can be used for this purpose or porcelain can be cut to size. The bigger sizes tend to run less per square foot, but by the time your tile contractor charges for the additional labor for cutting, you might break even on this deal.

Porcelain comes in a “through body” style and glazed or unglazed. The advantage of the through

Polished Edge, Thru Body Porcelain Tile
Glass Mosaic Tile Insert
(C) 2010 Suncrest Builders, Inc.

body is that it can be cut and the color runs through the tile. Not all porcelain comes with an interior that is the same as the surface. If your design is going to require a visible edge, you’ll want to pick a material that is the same color as on the surface, even if the pattern doesn’t run through it. This becomes handy when tile is going to be used for baseboard and the edge is polished to create a finished look. The edge of porcelain can also show when wrapping around the outside of a shower or top of a back-splash. Some tile is sold with a pre-polished or “bull-nose” edge. These tiles are sold in 3-4”widths to be used as trim, but there are many applications where the 3-4”size adds an extra grout line that is unnecessary, like a countertop or tub surround.

Porcelain can also be found with a ” rectified edge”. This material is usually more expensive than the alternative, but allows for the smallest grout line, using an un-sanded grout.

One other little thing I’d like to share about porcelain is that I love adding an element of natural stone with it. Not  necessarily on a shower floor, but in a dry area it adds an element of natural material that will make the porcelain look so much more real.

Mosaics come in many sizes and material combinations. They are an inexpensive way to add a lot of style and zing to your tile design. They can be broken into small or larger squares or lines. I love using them as floor transitions between rooms. I’ve put several examples  into this post because, as they say, a picture is worth 1,000 words. Enjoy!

If there’s anything that you’d like to add to this post, please comment below.

Porcelain Tile inset with Red Onyx Mosaic
(C) 2011 Suncrest Builders, Inc.

Porcelain with Glass Bricks and Glass Mosaic.
Etched Porcelain in Center
(C) 2010 Suncrest Builders, Inc.

Marble with Glass and Porcelain Mosaic. Natural Stone Chair Rail.
(C) 2008 Suncrest Builders, Inc.

7 Things To Consider When Hiring A Listing Realtor

April 25, 2012

When it’s time to sell, most of us go to the easiest option for a real-estate sales agent: friend, relative, or neighbor. We all have Realtors in our lives and out of a sense of obligation, most people wind up contracting with people we feel most comfortable with to be responsible for selling our homes. For most people, our homes are the single largest investment we ever make. The sale will be one of the most important financial transactions we are ever involved with. Contracting for the sale of your home is like any other business transaction. Business is most successful when done through established relationships that are well developed. Maintaining that relationship will be due to a series of a win-win experiences over time. When it’s time to sell your home, the structure of this business relationship should be treated in the same way as any other business relationship.

Below, I’ve provided 7 areas of consideration to help facilitate the selection of an agent who is going to be able to do the most efficient and effective job at marketing your home.

1. Remember that your agent will be your partner in the sale of your home.  I use the term partner because it must be kept in mind that until you receive an offer on your home, your agent will be spending a lot of money on your behalf without any promise of a return. You will be investing a lot of time, effort, and be carrying expenses of your own.

2. Interview your agent and check for references just like you might interview anyone else you plan to partner with in business. With family and good friends, this becomes a little more difficult, but with grace, not impossible. Ask your prospective agent for insight on the most successful transactions they have had, as well as the least successful. Check references. You might find some of the guidelines to the interview tips I posted for any contractor to be helpful. Arguably, the most important question you will want to ask previous clients of that agent is, “How was this agent during the negotiation phase of your sale?”  Once an offer for your home is presented, some agents are going to be much better at negotiating than others. Some agents will be negotiating for nothing more than to close the sale. Closing fast is in their best interest and sometimes the seller’s best interest as well, but not always. Failing to consider the negotiation phase of the sale could be the single most costly mistake suffered from picking the wrong agent. Ask your agent for the percentage of their listings that they sell themselves. Find out the average time on the market for their listings and compare that number to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) average time on the market in your neighborhood. Ask your agent for the percentage of their listings that they see through a sale. Finding that they lose a high percentage of their listings to other agents is not a good sign.

3. Use an agent who is familiar with your neighborhood. The agent should be able to go through a list of homes for sale in your neighborhood as your eyes. Homes have considerably different amenities that are maintained at different levels. Although Zillow now has a large following, it is extremely misleading in this regard. When a buyer is looking for their dream home, their agent will provide them with a MLS list of homes in areas that are appealing with all relevant statistical data for making an intelligent purchasing decision.  YOUR listing agent should know what is on that list, in detail.  An agent who is familiar with the “inventory”, is invested in your neighborhood.

4. You should be offered a tour of those homes that will become competition in order to make the most knowledgeable determination for your offering price as well as your private “bottom line” price.

5. An agent with the most listings in your neighborhood will not be able to give you the most personal service when selling your home. Many agents ” farm” a particular neighborhood. These agents are what is called, ” listing” agents. Quite often they have a staff of assistant agents who will handle the daily communications for the sellers on their list. If you are paying full price to be represented by a licensed agent, you are entitled to communication with the actual agent. The relationship that will develop through these communications will be a great help when the sale negotiations begin. Quite possibly, you will get more attention from a Real estate Agency that doesn’t have many listings in your neighborhood.

6. Ask to see the type of advertising that is being done by this agent. Does the agent have consistent promotional campaigns for name recognition? Does the agent advertise for buyers out of your area? Does the agent utilize social media and maintain a strong social community? Ask about the percentage of sales that occur through each medium. Open houses usually produce a lot of traffic from curious neighbors. This is good for advertising the agent, but not necessarily good for the seller. Realtor tours are much better. Working with an agent that has a lot of support from their Broker and agents in their office is vital. What kind of efforts does this agent make to attract other agents to KNOW your home and act as an extended sales force?

Of course there are more considerations, but remembering those 6 basic tips will help empower you to make the best decision possible for this very important transaction. If your friend or family member doesn’t meet any of those qualifications, it will be far better for the long term health of your relationship to use another agent.

Do you have any other advise for would be home sellers? I always love to hear your views.

Take A SIP

April 23, 2012

(C) 2005 Suncrest Builders
SIP Panel Home, Reno NV

For hundreds of years, the structure for European and American homes has been built in the same way. Standard construction is done with 2×6 or 2×4 wood framed walls, with posts and beams over openings. There are some new techniques however, that are becoming more common. Two of these are Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF) and Structural Insulated Panels (SIP).

The ICFs are the Lego© like blocks, which you stack up, and then fill with concrete. Think of the SIP’s as an insulation sandwich, where a block of foam insulation is set between two pieces of plywood, or OSB (the wafer board like material that also comes in 4’x8’ sheets). Both ICFs and SIPs make for strong, efficient and quite structures.

In this post, I’ll try to enlighten you a bit about SIP panels so that if you’re thinking about using them for new home you’ll have a better understanding of what they are, how they can be used effectively and efficiently, and when to start considering them.

SIPs are made in a factory under controlled conditions. Expanded Poly Styrene or EPS is used as the core of the SIP. The thickness of the foam matches the thickness of the wall. A SIP for a 2×6 wall would be 5 ½”thick. A panel of either plywood or OSB is glued to each side of this foam core, and with the proper temperature and pressure applied; a super strong bond is formed. The OSB panel will extend beyond the edge of the foam slightly, to allow for attachment to the basic framing members. SIP’s are usually 4’wide, and generally 8’long, but can be made up to 20’ in length. They can also be manufactured to any specific sizes to create a custom one of a kind structure.

What are the advantages of SIP panels? There are many. SIPs are great for insulation. The EPS foam has an R value of 3.85 per inch. R value is a measure of materials resistance to heat transfer. The higher the R value, the better insulator it is. A 2×6 wall with standard fiberglass insulation has an R value of R-19. A 2×6 SIP panel has an R value of R-23. This may not sound like much of a difference, but add in the fact that there is less conductive heat loss thru the framing members, and no gaps in the insulation as is normal with fiberglass batts, and the SIP’s overall performance is much better. They are also very good at sound insulation. We built a SIP panel house for a client in an area subject to high winds. After a strong weather event, he would ask “Did you hear that wind last night? Well, I didn’t”. The structural strength of SIPs is also very good. Shear is the lateral or sideways strength of a building. Having a solid panel on both the inside, and the outside, makes for a tremendously strong structure. The structural engineers love SIPs.

SIPs are an efficient use of materials. There is very little job site waste.

Lastly, SIP panels can save a lot of time when erecting a house. A base plate is attached to the subfloor around the perimeter of the structure. The SIP simply slips over, and is nailed to this base plate. Vertical members are installed on the ends of the panels, where they are attached to other panels. Openings are left for doors and windows. Time savings for onsite erection of a SIP panel house versus a stick frame house will vary according to the complexity of the design, but the SIP house can be built much more quickly. SIP panels can be used for the floors and roofs, as well as the walls.

Although SIPs can be a more efficient way to build a house, their use is not optimal for all designs. Houses with many small window openings, or numerous corners, making for few large wall areas, are not the best for panelized construction. SIPs become more cost effective when larger sized panels can be used more often. The use of SIPs should be considered while in the design process, not added as an afterthought. With proper design and installation, SIPs can save both time and money, while providing for a stronger more efficient building.

If you have any questions or comments regarding SIP Panel construction, please join the discussion.

7 Things to Consider Before Refinishing Your Kitchen Cabinets

April 21, 2012

(C) 2011 Suncrest Builders, Inc
Successful Counter Replacement

When looking at replacing an old tile or laminate counter, invariably, the question of whether or not to replace the cabinets comes into play. There are cabinet re-finishers in every town that can offer to refinish old worn face frames and cabinet doors. I’ve found that the cost of doing this is substantial. Doors with detail can be very expensive to refinish. Companies selling their services will make a persuasive argument about why their services are a “good deal” compared new cabinets. Sometimes this is true. Sometimes the face frames (front of the cabinet boxes) are worth saving and can be refinished. New doors and drawer faces can be purchased and then stained to match.

When making this decision I recommend the following 7 considerations before being able to determine what decision will produce the best value for your investment.

1. Are the cabinet boxes of a good quality solid wood? If the boxes are a press-board with a veneer finish, don’t throw good money after bad.

2. Are your drawer’s press-board with a stapled box? If so, they are not worth salvaging. One good slam and your drawer fronts will easily break off. I wouldn’t keep those cabinets.

3. Do your bottom cabinets have pull out shelving, or do they have half shelves? If so, you should probably not try to save them.

4. Is the door and drawer hardware of good quality so that the doors are hung squarely and the drawers slide easily. Are the hinges the old exposed style? If you’re finding any of these issues to be staring back at you when you look at your cabinets, it’s time to embrace a new more modern cabinet.

5. Is the wood of good quality? Are the drawers or face frames dry and split. If so, they’re gonners.

6. Does the layout of the kitchen best serve the needs of your lifestyle. Are additional cabinets needed to in order for the kitchen to serve those needs optimally? If so, they need to match. Door styles are always changing. It’s improbable that new doors will match old doors exactly.

7. Are the current appliances older? New appliances may be bigger or smaller and the cabinets will need to be adjusted to those new sizes. In this case, it may become cost prohibitive to save the cabinets and pay for custom cabinetry to fill the spaces or be cut down.

I’ve seen many situations where a beautiful solid surface counter is put on top of old and out dated

(C) 2009 Suncrest Builders, Inc

cabinets. As the saying goes, don’t put “lipstick on a pig”. It doesn’t fool anyone. It doesn’t add to your resale value. It won’t add a lot to the overall value you will get from your investment while living in your home. Save your money until you can afford to take on the entire project that will give you the most value. If you have to wait another year or two to do the project, I guarantee, it will be worth the wait. If you’re thinking that adding the new counter will help for a home that needs to be put on the market, it is still unlikely that you are fooling anyone. Offer an “allowance” in your listing of what the cost of a new counter would be estimated to be. I’ve found that you’ll get much more bang for your buck that way.

Do you have any experiences or insight regarding a beautiful new counter on top of old and tired cabinets? Please share with us.

4 Rules About Paint Placement

April 20, 2012

A little note regarding color selections for walls, ceilings and woodwork.

In previous posts, we’ve covered a lot of general information about paint. After deciding what colors and sheens work in your space, the decisions regarding where to put those colors are quite often just as difficult. Below, I’ve listed 4 rules of thumb regarding paint.

1. It’s not always necessary to have a white ceiling and trim with darker walls. For a dramatic statement, the opposite can work just as well.  I’ve repeatedly found that in a larger room with high ceilings, we can paint the ceiling the same color as the walls. Using flat on the ceiling and eggshell on the walls, the light reflects differently on the horizontal and vertical surfaces giving the illusion that walls and ceiling are different colors.

2. Baseboard does not have to be painted the same color as the door and window casing. If the baseboard isn’t anything to write home about, small and unattractive, why accentuate it? If you have low ceilings and a smallish space, adding a stripe on the bottom of your walls makes the room look smaller. Painting base the same color as the wall, (but in a semi-gloss), makes it go away. If you’ve paid more money to buy baseboard that is big and bold, you’ll want it to be seen, paint it a color that stands out. If you are painting the base other than the wall color, I strongly recommend painting it to match the door and window casing, especially in smaller spaces. Consistency creates harmony.

3. Don’t paint the base one color in one room and a different in another if you can help it. If you’ve been thinking about your “outfit”, all of your colors should work together. The trim color should tie all of your rooms together.  The only exception to that may be that if all of your common area is big (high ceilings or a lot of open space) and all your bedrooms are small, the trim in the common area might be bigger.

4. Should a small room always be a lighter color? The simple answer is, almost always because lighter creates a bigger feeling.  With that said, powerful color in powder rooms can add an accent to the main room, if done properly. Personally, I love the opportunity to use bold color in that fun little room. The room itself acts as an accent to the larger room when the door is left open, which is almost always. If you’re looking for a cozy effect, darker wall colors can speak to that mood. Just be careful with the ceiling. Avoid painting it a color with too much contrast to the walls, and never paint the ceiling the same dark color.

5. In small rooms, I very rarely use an accent color on one wall. It’s done in magazines all the time, but in real life, it doesn’t add to an overall feeling of harmony. There are exceptions, of course. If the colors are of similar tone, but lighter or darker shades, it can be done well on the bed wall, or around a window seat area.

If you anything to add about paint placement, please comment for us. If you have questions, I’m always happy to answer them.

LED Lighting: The Future’s So Bright We Gotta Wear Shades!

April 16, 2012

If you haven’t been living in a cave, I’m sure you’ve heard about LED’s by now. Just what is an LED? The LED or light emitting diode is the biggest change in lighting since the invention of the light bulb.

Our ancient ancestors lit their way with fire. Later came kerosene lamps. Edison help to develop the incandescent light bulb in 1880.  Fluorescent lights followed that. Now we are entering the LED era. Why is this so important? It’s all about the power.

Incandescent bulbs make light by running an electric current through a tiny wire called a filament. The resistance in the wire causes it to heat up, and glow.  Resistance is the evil twin of efficiency. It’s like friction in a wire, slowing down the free flow of electricity.  This is a very poor way to produce light. Fluorescent bulbs are much more efficient than incandescent bulbs.  They produce light by exciting molecules in a gas with an electric current, causing movement, and light. It takes a bit of power to get them going, but once it starts emitting light, it draws very little electricity.  Constantly turning them on and off shortens the life of fluorescents tremendously.  The CFLs (squiggly bulbs) of recent years have not stood up to the test of time.

In simple terms, a diode is an electrical component that allows a current to pass in one direction from the p (positive) side, to the n (negative) side. When an electroluminescent material is used, this process will release a photon, a particle of light. The advantage of LEDs over other forms of light, are lower power consumption, and longer life.

Lumens are a measurement of light intensity. Wattage is a measurement of power consumption. A higher lumen to watt ratio means more efficiency.  A typical incandescent bulb will produce 15 lumens/watt. The most efficient fluorescent light will give you about 100 lumens/watt. A good LED will brighten your day to the tune of 160 lumens per watt.

The life expectancy of today’s LEDs range from 25,000 up to 100,000 hours. They are not affected by constant on/off switching. Fluorescent bulbs have a lifetime of 10,000 to 15,000 hours, and can fail much sooner with constant cycling. Incandescants generally last from 1,000 to 2,000 hours.

Because of their higher efficiency, LEDs run much cooler. They are also easily dimable, and come on instantly. Another plus of LEDs, is the availability of different colors without the use of filters or lenses

Some would argue that a major disadvantage of LEDs is their high initial cost. If you go to your favorite home improvement store to buy an LED for your house, you could be in for sticker shock. The high cost of replacement LED bulbs is partly due to the fact that they need a transformer in the bulb. LEDs run off of low voltage DC current, 12 or 24 volts. Your house (in the USofA), has 120 volt AC current.  The transformer necessary to supply the LED with the proper voltage increases its cost significantly. If you had a system that supplied low voltage DC current directly to your light fixture, as in an RV or residence powered with a renewable energy source, the cost of using the LEDs is much less. This makes LED lighting a perfect choice for an off grid home. But that’s a subject for another day.

If you’re interested in reading more about LED’s, you can go to Fran Sloan’s blog,

Thank you to my husband Greg for his assistance with this post.

If you have any questions, comments, or experience with LED’s, your comments are, as always, much appreciated.

6 Things Your General Contractor Will Know About The Order of Things

April 15, 2012

With the plethora of resources available on the internet, homeowners can find information on just about any topic their inquisitive minds desire.  As we all know, home improvement topics abound and a lot of very handy folks find themselves able to fix a leaky sink, set tile, replace flooring, etc. Most of those projects are done successfully and with a great deal of personal satisfaction. If there weren’t a lot of people capable of doing these projects there would be a lot of empty big box stores and a lot of LONG “honey-do” lists. Doing your own home improvement projects can save a lot of money. After I wrote my post about the importance of hiring a licensed contractor, I got a lot of flack from family and friends about my narrow mindedness regarding do-it yourself home improvement work. I’d like to clear the air here in this post.

There is a big difference between doing a home improvement project involving specific tasks and taking on a multi-layered home construction project. By multi-layered, I mean that there are more than one or two trades (types of work) that need to be coordinated to work together for a successful end result.

To give you an example, just a little garage conversion would include more than 8 trades plus vendors; rough framing, plumbing, electrical, insulation, drywall, finished trim carpentry, and painting.  Then there would be the finished flooring folks, and maybe tile vendor, tile contractor, counter fabrication company, cabinet folks. You get the idea.

All of these trades need to be coordinated and their work inspected to ensure that the project is ready for the next trade to begin their work. Someone needs to know what the finished work is supposed to look like. Efficient scheduling will require knowledge of how long that type of work should take to be done, when to call for the inspection and when the project will be ready for the next trade to begin.

The timing of the schedule is a crucial part of a successful project. It’s a key ingredient that is impossible to Google. Every project is different and every subcontractor works differently.  The material availability is different for every item ordered and every time that same item is ordered the availability of that material can change.

Six Things a Good General Contractor Will Know About Scheduling

  1. The best order of progression for you unique project.  i.e. Should the plumber go before the electrician, in this case? There is the usual way of doing things, but when schedules conflict, knowing which subcontractors can be switched can save substantial time and money.
  2. The Building and Safety Codes in your area. These codes are adopted by the county jurisdiction.
  3. When the county building department is going to require inspections, and what inspections might be able to be combined?
  4. What the project should look like when one subcontractor is done and another should be ready to start.
  5. Who’s responsible for what? It is very costly in time and money to have a tradesman come back to finish do additional work that could have been covered on the first trips.

We know that we don’t know what we don’t know, but sometimes we lose sight of why that’s important. Most people try to be the general of their own projects because they believe that they will save money.

Not knowing how to schedule your project in the most efficient manner can wind up costing much more than the perceived savings. Even if you feel that there is all the time in the world to get your project completed, asking workmen to come to your home when you aren’t ready will cost you. Many contractors will charge a “trip charge“ to cover their minimum time and expense costs for being unable to go to another paying job. With hourly rates of $40 to possibly over $100, these fees can add up.

If workmen show up to do the work and the project isn’t ready because the prior subcontractor didn’t do their job properly, or the materials haven’t arrived or were ordered incorrectly, that tradesman may leave and reschedule at their next open appointment time. Even in this “recession”, good quality tradesmen are busy. Missing a scheduled appointment can delay a job for many days.

Do you have any experiences regarding scheduling? Do you have any questions you would like to share? Please let me know. Your comments are always appreciated.

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