Working from Home

Finding a place in your home from where you can truly get some work done is difficult unless you planned to have a home office from the beginning.  It is hard to just “carve out” some space in your home for work activities when most people have already commandeered every nook and cranny for other things or storage. That is why the dining room, which people say they never use, has become the defacto home office. Big workspace. No TV. Probably a nice location in the home with a big picture window. Much better than working in a corner in the basement or in a little-used guestroom on the second floor.

If you are considering remodeling your home, in any capacity, think about how the space could also be reconfigured for some other home business activity as well. Whether your are in online marketing, finance, the trades or do consulting of some kind, there might be an opportunity to think outside of the box and create that dream workspace you have always wanted.

Our preference is for spaces that do double duty and we especially like hidden offices that are super functional during the day and hideaway at night. Not many of us work 24/7, nor do we work 7 days a week, but using a space for two functions allows you to receive the maximum amount of benefit from every inch of your home. So many businesses that operate primarily on the phone or online can have a remote workforce that is able to work at home and appear seamless to clients and customers. This works for both the employer and the employee and saves both money…the employer because it doesn’t need to allocate square footage for the employee and the employee because it saves commuting time and the cost to commute which is not insignificant.

Consider incorporating these hidden assets into your next remodeling project. Think about it…creating more space from thin air is a pretty magical thing.

What Insulation?

In the era of cheap energy, people did not take insulating into account when building their homes. Sure they put something in between the studs, but not to the extent we do today. Energy is expensive now. Saving a hundred dollars a month on heating and cooling bills is real money at the end of the year.

Cheap energy characterized the period before the energy crisis in the early 1970s. Gas for your car, leaded of course, was just 29 cents a gallon meaning you could fill an entire tank for under seven bucks. Home heating bills were around $30 a month for a decent sized house. Then, our dependence on foreign oil caught up to us and the oil producing countries figured that they could get wealthier just by joining together and dictating oil production and price through a cartel. Fair? It is their oil after all.

So enter the era of insulating homes and putting a better barrier between the inside and the outside. Any home built before energy prices skyrocketed has become a candidate for retrofitting more than just the kitchens and the baths. If you watch the home and garden shows on television almost every one of the remodels they profile has a focus on how to make the home more energy efficient and cost efficient in the future. Insulation is a big part of that equation. Whether it is batt insulation that fits between the rafters or floor joists or wall joists, or sound insulating barriers between units that also provides a fire separation to spray foam insulation which is the ultimate in air and vapor barrier, there is a solution that fits the budget as well as fits the particular location where needed. Discover more about insulating your home by viewing the video that is located below this text. You can learn a lot about what kinds of insulation there are, how they are used, and what benefits accrue to the user no matter which type you choose. And, at the end, you will find how much money you save and over time, that can really add up to a lot.

Wall Insulating Video

Countertop Trends

Winterizing Your Home
Last winter was especially cold and long. If you can believe the Farmer’s Almanac, which is as reliable as any prognosticator, then this winter will be colder than last. While the weather is still moderate enough, it’s time to start to think about winterizing your home before the first snow flies. Getting your house ready for cold, blowing winds, snow and ice is essential for making sure your home stays warm and comfortable on the inside. This has the added benefit of lowering energy bills and extending the lifespan of the parts of your house that are susceptible to weather damage.
There are many little things that you can do that don’t require a contractor. Many you can detect just by walking around the outside of your home and taking a good, close look. You wouldn’t think of driving a car that hadn’t been winterized with antifreeze, new windshield wiper blades and a thorough check of tire treads and pressure. Your home needs the same attention so that it can perform for you all winter long, too.
Remodeling Your Kitchen
We’ve prepared a checklist of things you can do inside and outside to keep ahead of the storms that are certainly coming our way. You can even involve your children in the examination process. Teaching your kids about home maintenance will serve them well in the future and their “eagle eyes” may spot a few places Mom or Dad might miss.
Windows, Bricks and Doors
• Small leaks around your windows and door frames can cause major damage to the interior of your home. There are many types of exterior caulk and you’ll want to use the right product for each application. Caulk should last a few years when applied properly so every window or door won’t need it every year. If there is weather stripping that has degraded over time, replace it so that your windows are not only sealed well, but will look good, too.
• The same attention should be paid to brick mortar which has cracked or broken off over the years. For small gaps, there is a caulk that will work for your particular repair.
• Don’t forget basement windows. Basement windows without window wells are particularly vulnerable to water and wind damage. Check for places air and water can penetrate around your basement windows and caulk in those locations.
• During the winter, you will want to keep snow away from entry doors and your garage doors so it doesn’t damage the wood and penetrate into your home.
Garden, Lawn and Deck
• Inspect your deck for excessive splintering, decay and damage from insects. Treat these areas so that they don’t deteriorate even more over the winter.
• Leaves, dirt and tree needles can accumulate between deck planking. They will promote mold and mildew growth if left over the winter so you will want to clean these out of the crevices before the first snowfall.
• Turn off your hose bibs from the inside so they don’t freeze and burst in the excessively cold weather which is forecast. Drain water from outdoor pipes, valves and sprinkler heads.
• Now is a good time to aerate your lawn and reseed bare areas. You can apply a winterizing fertilizer to your grass now to encourage root growth in the spring.
• Clean, dry and store your patio furniture in a shed or covered area to protect it from the elements this winter.
• Empty clay pots and other planters and store them in your garage. Clay is susceptible to damage over the winter if it is wet and freezes. The best way to store clay pots is on their sides in a cardboard or wood carton.
• Water your shrubs throughout the fall and up until the ground freezes. Winter winds are drying and will suck all the moisture out of the leaves so you will want to hydrate your plants while you can.
• To protect your arborvitae and other shrubbery from snow damage, tie up the branches with jute twine so that snow cannot blow open the top. An alternative is to create a wind barrier using burlap for your shrubs which is also recommended for new plantings.
• Mulching with bark mulch will insulate your plants and keep the ground much warmer for as long as possible.
• Professionals recommend spraying all shrub leaves with an anti-desiccant every month until the temperatures get to below 40⁰ F. This will give each leaf a waxy coating that will prevent drying out when applied to the top and bottom of the leaf. This is easily done with a garden pump sprayer starting in November.
Gutters, Roof and Drains
• Clean leaves and debris from your gutters to avoid backups. Check to make sure that all gutters and downspouts are fastened securely as snow and ice will pull loose gutters away from the house. Downspounts should discharge at least 5 feet from the foundation of your home to keep water away from your home.
• Examine your roof for missing or broken shingles and replace them before a leak starts.
• Roof flashing around chimneys, walls and skylights is susceptible to loose joints. Using roofing cement or caulk, seal any joints where water can penetrate.
• Lawn drainage pipes should be cleared of debris to prevent blockages during the winter.
• Any vent pipes or other openings should have secured screening to prevent animals from nesting in your chimneys, bathroom vents or exhaust pipes.
The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is certainly applicable when it comes to preparing your home for winter. Take time to fix small issues before they become big ones and you will stay warmer and more comfortable all winter long indoors and enjoy the wintery scene outside your windows without worrying about winter damage to your landscape.

Roofing Questions

Ten Things You Need to Know About Your Roof

 

Putting a roof over your head is not a one-and-done deal. Roofs not only stand between you and the elements, but they are part of the overall structural support of your home. We’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions with answers that will help you keep a good roof over your head.

  1. What are the factors that have an effect on the durability and longevity of roof shingles?
  • The side of your roof that faces the worst weather is the side where the shingles will fare the worst.
  • A low pitched roof that collects leaves and debris that hold moisture against shingles will deteriorate faster due to the growth of moss and algae.
  • The sun’s rays are extremely hard on the side of a roof that get the sun’s full impact.
  • A roof that is vented properly will have a longer life span than one where heat builds up beneath the roofing.

 

  1. What is the best underlayment to protect a roof from leaking?

 

A good roofer will place an ice and water shield over the entire roof which is a polyethylene and rubberized product. It keeps water that has worked its way under shingles from getting inside the house. It is recommended to have two layers of this ice and water shield on the lowermost sections of a roof near the eaves and also along dormers and chimneys.

 

  1. What is the purpose of felt paper used on a roof?

Black felt paper comes in long rolls and is used as a barrier between shingles and the plywood layer which is installed on roof rafters. At one time, sap used to leech out of the wood and it would destroy the underside of asphalt shingles, hence the need for a protective barrier. The use of engineered plywood has negated the need for this protective layer. Now it is used as another layer of water protection just in case your shingles blow off in a storm to keep rainwater out of your attic.

 

  1. What are the black streaks that appear on my roof shingles?

The black streaks are caused by algae that live and feeds off of minerals in some types of shingles. To remove these streaks, use one part bleach to two parts water in a garden pump sprayer and apply to the entire roof. Make sure you protect foundation plantings with a tarp before you start as bleach can kill these plants. Safety first: make sure you do this from the ground or a ladder, not standing on your roof.

There are certain shingles that come with algae-inhibiting granules so the next time you need to reroof your home, look for this feature.

 

  1. How many layers of shingles are acceptable on a roof?

Because of the weight of shingles, professionals advise just one layer. So if your home needs a new roof, make sure the contractor knows to take off the existing layer. Many pros will advise that two layers are the most any roof structure should support, but one is the preferred number. Usually you will see two layers close to your gutters – this is normal as the starter course for shingles is usually two thick then tapers to one layer all the way up to the roof ridge.

  1. Is there a way to tell when your home needs a new roof?

The easy way to know if your home needs a new roof is if the roof is approaching 20 years old. Most shingles will need replacing when they get to that age.

Younger roofs can fail, too, so it is advised that you check your roof once a year. This can be done from the ground with a pair of binoculars. Look for shingles that have curled edges, lifting up, cracking or are missing. If shingles are smooth, then the granules have worn off and this is a sign that the roof has outlived its useful life.   A visit to your attic on a sunny day will reveal places where light is shining through and if widespread, it is a good indication that your shingles are failing. Also, the underside of your roof will show several wet areas after a rainstorm if your roof needs replacing.

  1. What shingles are best?

Generally, the longer the warranty on shingles, the better they are. Similarly, heavier shingles last longer and cost more.

 

  1. How do you keep cedar shakes looking light and new without ruining their Class C fire rating?

All wood will turn grey over time so it is not possible to keep that just-new look of cedar shingles and shakes. Keeping your roof clean will do the most to preserve the longevity of the cedar and keep moss from growing on the shingles. If you want to add a preservative treatment to your roof, make sure that the chemicals are compatible with the fire retardant that is applied to the individual shingles during their manufacture. These chemicals will provide UV protection, water repellency and a wood preservative.

 

  1. Are there any special considerations when using natural or synthetic slate shingles?

Both types of slate shingles are pretty smooth and will release large avalanches of snow at once. These snow shifts can damage gutters, porch roofs and pedestrians who may be passing under the roof at an inopportune moment. If you are considering a slate roof, real or synthetic, you will want to install snow guards which will contain the snow in one place, away from the eaves, so that it melts slowly in place instead of discharging all at once.

  1. How can you stop the frost on the nails that protrude through the roof in your attic?

When the temperature is cold, as we experience here in Lincolnshire in the winter, warm air from the inside of your home escapes into the attic and condenses on the steel nail tips. It freezes immediately upon hitting the cold metal. This is a problem not just for the nails, but it can encourage mold growth in your attic and lessen the insulating power of your attic insulation. To fix this issue, you need to seal the interior of your home from the attic better. Use a thermographic imaging camera to detect the places that moist interior air is leaking into your attic. Also check to make sure your attic is vented properly and that the vents are not blocked by snow or loose insulation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wood Underfoot

All About Hardwood Floors

You just have to knock on wood to know that you have really good floors in your house…knock on wood floors, that is. Wood floors are homeowner and home buyer favorites for good reason. They are long lasting and naturally good looking. There is also nothing like wood to warm up a room’s atmosphere and appearance.
Wood flooring comes in dozens of species from which you can choose the right look for a new home or to replace flooring in an existing home. The best wood floor for your home could be a domestic species such as maple or oak, or you can choose from exotic imports such as bamboo or hardwoods from Brazil.
You can choose the width of flooring based on your decorating preferences. Narrow widths are typically associated with more traditional interiors, whereas wider width floors are found in more casual and rustic spaces. Random-width flooring permits even more decorating personalization allowing you to dial the exact look and feel you want for your spaces.
The stain color choices offered for wood flooring are endless, from rich, dark shades of walnut and wenge to lighter maple and blonde stains. Although darker stains are typically associated with traditional interiors, you can also pair dark wood tones with more contemporary spaces that have exposed beams and bricks. Similarly, dark tones marry particularly well with stainless steel appliances and other reflective surfaces such as glass.
Thanks to advances in engineered wood flooring, you can now have the luxury of wood flooring where you could never have it before. Modern adhesive technology has enabled wood floor installation over radiant-floor heating – nails and fluid filled pipes have never been a good idea. Engineered floors can even be installed in basements and over concrete slabs thanks to the holding power of specially-formulated glues that work well with their sandwiched-veneer construction.
The costs for wood flooring vary by species, wood grade and the thickness of the planks ranging from $2.00 per square foot upwards of $12 per square foot for exotics. Installation will cost $2 to $4 per foot depending on the location of the installation and how many square feet. Solid ¾” wood floors can last 100 years or more and can be refinished up to 10 times in many cases. Pre-finished solid wood flooring, that is flooring that is finished in the factory before installation, is available with up to a 50 year finish warranty while engineered wood finishes are warranted for ten to thirty years on average.
Laminate flooring is the most economical option for a wood-look. It is made with a photo of wood which is glued to a fiber board base and snaps together to install. The disadvantage of laminate flooring is that it cannot be refinished once it is worn and needs to be replaced.
SELECTING THE RIGHT FLOOR
Knowing how much traffic and moisture your wood floor needs to tolerate will determine your wood flooring options. High traffic areas such as kitchens, foyers and mudrooms call for hard wood species that can handle constant use. Oak, maple and hickory are suitable choices for these rooms. Bedrooms, on the other hand, are lighter use areas and are great candidates for softer wood species.
Below grade rooms and basements have a higher humidity level and require engineered woods that won’t warp as easily. Bathrooms with tubs and showers are not good candidates for wood flooring. Powder rooms, on the other hand, are perfectly suitable for most hardwood flooring and wood can elevate the décor of these small spaces.
Most any kind of hardwood floor can be installed over a plywood subfloor. This includes glue-down, nail-in, click-together engineered floors or even floating cork floors. If you want to install new wood flooring over existing wood flooring, choose a thinner plank with a factory finish that will transition easier to other floors in other rooms of your home without a thick threshold. Over tile or a concrete slab you will want to choose flooring that clicks together or a glue down floor as nails are not an option.
Hardwood flooring is graded by each mill. Naturally, the fewer knots and color variations the more expensive the wood although the grading does vary by wood specie. Select finishes have very few or no defects. Natural finishes have a few defects that add some character. The most character from knots and color variations are found on rustic grades of hardwood.
FINISH OPTIONS
Hardwood floors can be finished on site or come pre-finished from the factory. On site finishing ensures a smooth, level finish with no variations. It takes a few days to sand, apply stain, and then a few days for the finish to dry before you can walk on them. An oil-based polyurethane finish is the most durable, but takes longer to cure and the pungent odor from the curing process is frequently intolerable for long periods of time. This type of finish holds up best to pets and claw marks. Water-based polyurethane has no odor and requires up to three days to cure.
Pre-finished floors can be installed and walked on the very same day. Each plank, however, has a beveled edge which does give the floor a slight variation in appearance. Factory applied finishes are much harder and more durable that site-applied finishes due to the fact that they are cured under UV lights.
In addition to stain color, hardwood floors can be finished with a matte or shinier finishes. Many species are available with hand-distressing for an aged or weathered look. Even more interesting are hand-scraped floors that have the look of well-worn, reclaimed lumber.
Even tile manufacturers are getting into wood. You can now find porcelain tile that mimics the appearance of wood floors – perfect for spa baths and basement stairs. Don’t underestimate the impact that wood floors can have on your décor and the value of your home. They are one of the most sought-after features that buyers look for when purchasing a home and will outlast most other flooring options. Beautifully.

Spring Fare

Lighten Up

 

The first signs of spring – robins chirping in the trees, emerging daffodils and crocus – can fill one’s soul with the expectation of renewal. One can only marvel at the earth’s willingness to get out of bed and start all over again. Although it is just early March and spring does not officially arrive for a few weeks, it seems that the worst of winter is behind us and we anxiously await the day when we turn the seasonal corner – whenever that exact day occurs.

Along with warmer weather comes a light-hearted take on entertaining and décor. Gone are the heavier winter colors of red and green and in their place are the spring pastels that we yearn for all winter long. Spring decorating takes its cue from Mother Nature, mimicking the shades of yellow found in daffodils, the violets and pinks of crocus, and the rich pastel hues of tulips in their infinite variety.

Your spring table should provide an opportunity for you to mix it up and use the whimsical and fanciful items in your china cabinet. When looking for a theme for your decorations, gather inspiration from the produce section at the grocery store, a candy box, silk ribbon or even a magazine photo. Recall spring bonnets from decades past and let your heart be your guide as you layer pastels one atop another.

Keeping a light-hearted spring table in mind, here are a few pointers to make your next table a rousing success.

Flowers

When using daffodils for cut floral arrangements, keep in mind that they exude a sap that clogs the stems of other flowers and will shorten their life. To mix daffodils with other flowers in an arrangement make sure that you trim the stem and hold it over a candle or gas flame to sear the end and stop the flow of sap. Then you can mix them with tulips, crocus, roses or any other spring flowers you choose.

The process of selecting other flowers for your centerpiece begins by evaluating each blossom for what it can contribute to the vase in terms of color and form. It seems a shame to create all white arrangements in the spring, but a vase of lilies of the valley, white daffodils, peonies and anemone makes a light as air vision for your table.

Combine different shades of lavender lilacs with fringed tulips or lily-shaped tulips in your centerpiece and you will not only get a striking arrangement, but fragrance one can only experience in the spring. And one shouldn’t forget the charm of potted pansies for a spring breakfast table. One thing about pansies that is worth remembering: they love to be picked and the more you pick them, the more they will flourish.

Table Décor

From your china cabinet, select colors and form first and assemble your choices together in one spot. Let your creative juices flow and layer patterns and colors together and try and duplicate the riot of pastels and exuberance that spring offers. Your original table creation will be much more interesting to your family and guests when you break from tradition and combine mismatched items and that includes assorted shapes, sizes and designs. And don’t think that your spring table settings have to match one another….blend different china patterns together and vary the arrangement from placesetting to placesetting for something truly interesting.

Lighter fare

Spring menus exhibit the transformation to lighter fare, replacing the heavier dishes that we crave in the cold winter months to warm us from the inside.   Use pansies and viola to decorate an angel food cake – the flowers’ colors will make a pleasing accent for the lighter-than-air nature of the delightful dessert. Let the foods of the season – rhubarb, strawberries and asparagus- dictate your menu with fresh flavors that have a just-picked taste. Enjoy varieties that you haven’t seen in the stores since last year and experiment with new recipes and serving dishes – you will feel as refreshed and renewed as your menu.

Spring teaches us the inevitability of renewal. No matter how grim the winter, the earth will come alive again in a glorious display of optimism. We come to count on spring’s reliable glad tidings as it is one of life’s only unchallengeable acts of joyful continuity.

 

Half-hour Angel Food Cake

Serves 8

1 ½ cups egg whites

¼ t. sat

1 t. cream of tartar

1 c. granulated sugar

1 c. confectioners’ sugar

1 c. sifted Swansdown cake flour

½ t. almond extract

1 t. vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Heat a 10-in. ungreased tube pan in the oven while making the batter.
  2. Beat egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until stiff but not dry. Sift in granulated sugar, 2 T. at a time.
  3. Sift flour and confectioners’ sugar together 5 times. Fold the flour and confectioners’ sugar by tablespoons into the egg-sugar mixture. Fold in flavoring extracts.
  4. Pour batter into the hot tube pan. Bake for 23 minutes, no longer. Cool in inverted pan.

Icing

1 cup sugar

1 egg white

½ t. salt

¼ t. cream of tartar

½ t. almond extract

½ t. boiling water

Put sugar, egg white, salt, cream of tartar, and almond extract in a mixing bowl. Start mixer and add the boiling water. Beat until of spreading consistency.

 

White Asparagus Vinaigrette Mimosa

Serves 6

2 pounds fresh white asparagus

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

½ t. Dijon mustard

1/3 cup white wine vinegar

Salet and freshly ground white pepper to taste

1 T. chopped parsley

2/3 cup olive oil

2 hard-cooked eggs, finely chopped

 

  1. Clean the asparagus and remove woody ends. Steam for 3 to 5 minutes (depending on thickness) or simmer in a skillet of water and drain well. Cool.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together garlic, mustard, vinegar, salt, pepper and parsley. While whisking, add olive oil in a steady stream and continue to whisk until an emulsion is formed.
  3. Pour vinaigrette over asparagus and marinate for 15 minutes. Garnish with chopped egg and serve.

 

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

4 cups fresh rhubarb, 1-inch diced (4 to 5 stalks)
4 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and halved, if large
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup quick-cooking (not instant) oatmeal, such as McCann’s
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
Vanilla ice cream, for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. For the fruit, toss the rhubarb, strawberries, 3/4 cup of the granulated sugar and the orange zest together in a large bowl. In a measuring cup, dissolve the cornstarch in the orange juice and then mix it into the fruit. Pour the mixture into an 8-by-11-inch baking dish and place it on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.

3. For the topping, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, the remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar, the brown sugar, salt and oatmeal. With the mixer on low speed, add the butter and mix until the dry ingredients are moist and the mixture is in crumbles. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit, covering it completely, and bake for 1 hour, until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden brown. Serve warm with ice cream.