Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Baby Boomers, Gen Y, and the Recession Shift Long-Held Housing Tastes and Trends

The economy and jobs are reshaping the household picture, a ULI panel says, as Gen Yers delay buying and boomers age in place. Among all groups, walkability and transit dominate the wish list.
By:Katy Tomasulo

As the housing industry continues to claw its way out of the downturn, the recession and unemployment picture are dramatically influencing the way consumers view homeownership, according to the “Housing in America” panel during ULI’s fall conference in Washington, D.C. As the country’s two largest demographic groups—baby boomers and Generation Y—reassess priorities, household formation is down; tastes and demands are shifting toward walkable, transit-oriented communities; and the overall buyer profile within age groups is simply not as cut-and-dried as it once was.

Even as housing recovers, we’re not going to return to the same trends and tastes, says John McIlwain, senior resident fellow at ULI. “What people will want … will be substantially different.”

Among all age groups, the economy continues to be the chief driver. The jobs outlook is not only impacting sales and inventory, but also household formation, which has dropped to 25% of the norm, McIlwain reports, stemming from a decrease in immigration and the recession forcing young adults to live with their parents (or even vice versa). This trend, he says, won’t reverse until unemployment begins to drop.
Though the recession hit everyone hard, its impact on Gen Y will likely have the most long-lasting influence on housing trends. With 83 to 85 million people born from 1981 to 1999, it’s the largest demographic group the country has ever had, and therefore has massive buying potential. Problem is, they’re also the most economically constrained, McIlwain says, with a 30% unemployment rate and an average $23,000 post-college debt. They’re not saving for a down payment, and their parents, struggling to recover their own retirement savings, can’t help.

As a result, this age group’s view of the American Dream of homeownership is vastly different. “People in the youngest generation have seen the struggles family and friends are going through, and the assumption of the house as a wealth generator is very different,” says Marty Jones, president of Corcoran Jennison Cos.

Richard Koss, director of economics at Fannie Mae, found similar changes in consumer surveys conducted during the past year. In January, 70% of consumers surveyed viewed homeownership as a safe investment; by July, that percentage had dropped to 67%; in 2003, confidence was as high as 83%.

The combination of these factors, McIlwain says, will likely lead to unprecedented rental rates during the next 10 years.

To meet the challenge, developers and builders must find a way to provide products that Gen Yers can afford in locations they desire. Among their wants and needs:

Urban settings or, if suburban, walkable town centers and mixed-use communities. They desire smart growth and density, and are willing to accept a less ideal home if they can walk to work and retail.

A focus on work-life balance and connectivity.

WINKs: Woman with income, no kids. This group, typically 26 to 29 years old, is highly educated. They’re renters, but are likely to buy before marriage. Like others, they desire walkable neighborhoods near transit.

More young adults are delaying marriage; 85% of household growth will be households without kids, says Charles Hewlett, managing director of real estate advisor Robert Charles Lesser & Co.

Baby Boomers begin turning 65 next year. Here is how this group will continue to impact housing trends:

They’re retiring earlier than previous generations; however, many still work, either part-time, in a lower-level position, or as a consultant.

Many will age in place; however, in 10 years, we will see increased demand for seniors housing as the first wave reaches the mid and late 70s.

The earlier prediction that baby boomers will move to downtown urban areas has not happened, Hewlett says. But they are looking for what he calls “safe urbanism”—walkable, denser areas with transit.

They want locations with an affordable cost of living and quality healthcare. Both of these factors trump climate, Hewlett notes.

They look for communities with opportunities for continuing education, culture, and an active lifestyle.

They still count Florida and Arizona among the top five retirement locations, but the Carolinas, with slightly cooler temperatures and lower threat of hurricanes, are becoming their new Florida, Hewlett says.

Among the challenges and trends across markets:

Golf course communities are out; conservation communities with passive open space and trails are in.

Walkable, transit-oriented communities or those with town squares are “going to be a key part of creating projects that attract interest,” says Jones.

Immigration will continue to be a huge housing influencer; however, where previous generations settled in urban areas, many new immigrants are heading straight for suburbs, says Hewlett.

In the rental market, green is still being driven more by investors than consumers, Jones reports.

The U.S. will grow by another 100 million people by 2040, and 60% of that will come from just 20 metro areas, primarily in the coastal areas and the south.

Finally, there’s the question of what will happen to the McMansion. In new construction, too-large houses have fallen out of favor—but what about existing homes? The vast gap in numbers from baby boom to Generation X, along with continued economic woes and shifting tastes, left one panelist to wonder who will buy baby boomers’ larger houses and what further impact those properties will have on buying trends over the next few years. Stay tuned.

Katy Tomasulo is Deputy Editor for EcoHome.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Favorite Home Shows of 2010

Those of you needing a shot of home decorating inspiration this year needed to look no further than your TV remotes. From home renovations to painting advice and cheap fixes, there were plenty of shows to inspire. The Nate Berkus Show debuted in September, and the preview of Secrets of a Stylist has everyone excited for its premiere in 2011! HGTV is the go-to channel for the majority of home decor shows, but there are several other shows that are not to be missed, including Planet Green's The Fabulous Beekman Boys.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Focus on Fire Safety: Holiday Fire Safety

Decorating homes and businesses is a long-standing tradition around the holiday season. Unfortunately, these same decorations may increase your chances of fire. Based on data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), an estimated 250 home fires involving Christmas trees and another 170 home fires involving holiday lights and other decorative lighting occur each year. Together, these fires resulted in 21 deaths and 43 injuries.

Following a few simple fire safety tips can keep electric lights, candles, and the ever popular Christmas tree from creating a tragedy. Learn how to prevent a fire and what to do in case a fire starts in your home. Make sure all exits are accessible and not blocked by decorations or trees. Help ensure that you have a fire safe holiday season.

Christmas Trees
What’s a traditional Christmas morning scene without a beautifully decorated tree? If your household includes a natural tree in its festivities, take to heart the sales person’s suggestion – “Keep the tree watered.”

Christmas trees account for hundreds of fires annually. Typically, shorts in electrical lights or open flames from candles, lighters or matches start tree fires. Well-watered trees are not a problem. A dry and neglected tree can be.

Caring for Your Tree
Do not place your tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace or heat vent. The heat will dry out the tree, causing it to be more easily ignited by heat, flame or sparks. Be careful not to drop or flick cigarette ashes near a tree. Do not put your live tree up too early or leave it up for longer than two weeks. Keep the tree stand filled with water at all times.

Disposing of Your Tree
Never put tree branches or needles in a fireplace or wood-burning stove. When the tree becomes dry, discard it promptly. The best way to dispose of your tree is by taking it to a recycling center or having it hauled away by a community pick-up service.

Holiday Lights
Maintain Your Holiday Lights
Inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up. Use only lighting listed by an approved testing laboratory.

Do Not Overload Electrical Outlets
Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe. Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Make sure to periodically check the wires – they should not be warm to the touch.

Do not leave holiday lights on unattended!

Holiday Decorations
Use Only Nonflammable Decorations
All decorations should be nonflammable or flame-retardant and placed away from heat vents. If you are using a metallic or artificial tree, make sure it is flame retardant.

Don't Block Exits
Ensure that trees and other holiday decorations do not block an exit way. In the event of a fire, time is of the essence. A blocked entry/exit way puts you and your family at risk.

Never Put Wrapping Paper in the Fireplace
Wrapping paper in the fireplace can result in a very large fire, throwing off dangerous sparks and embers that may result in a chimney fire.

Candle Care
Avoid Using Lit Candles
If you do use lit candles, make sure they are in stable holders and place them where they cannot be easily knocked down. Never leave the house with candles burning.

Never Put Lit Candles on a Tree
Do not go near a Christmas tree with an open flame – candles, lighters or matches.

As in every season, have working smoke alarms installed on every level of your home, test them monthly and keep them clean and equipped with fresh batteries at all times. Know when and how to call for help. And remember to practice your home escape plan!

After the holidays, don’t throw your natural tree away! Here are some tips on what to do with your tree after the holidays. In general, you have these options:

Curbside pick-up for recycling - Most areas will collect trees during their regular pickup schedules on the 2 weeks following Christmas. There are often requirements for size, removing ornaments, flocking, etc; see below for details.
Call for an appointment to have a non-profit in your area pickup your tree. Some boy scout troops are offering a pickup service for a small donation (often $5).
Take your tree to a drop off recycling center. Most counties have free drop-off locations throughout the county. Usually, you may take up to two trees to any of the following drop-off locations at no charge.
Cut the tree to fit loosely into your yard waste container.

Monday, October 4, 2010

What’s Cooking in Appliances

What’s Cooking in Appliances
Remodeling clients look to appliances to make life easier with a wider range of options and efficiency
By Jon Minnick from Qualified Remodeler Magazine

Remodeling clients are spending less on projects these days and, when it comes to appliances, they’re spending more time researching their options. They want appliances that will perform flawlessly, look great, make cooking and cleaning easier, be efficient — and not cost a lot of money.

“One of the key trends that you see across the board is consumers looking for energy and water efficiency,” says Carlos Johnson, senior brand manager for Amana. “Consumers want to feel like they’re being greener and are effectively managing their appliances. There is more demand for Energy Star and green certified appliances, and going forward it will get even stronger.”

GE Appliances has addressed this trend as well. “To give you an idea of how efficient our products have become,” says Steve Anderson, contract marketing and specialty manager of GE Appliances, “one of our 16-cu.-ft. refrigerators will use fewer kilowatts than an 80-watt light bulb. That’s how far we’ve come.” About 18 months ago, GE began testing demand response appliances that reduce electrical consumption during periods of peak energy consumption.

Technology and Features

Technology goes beyond efficiency, however. “Appliances are all about technology to make tentative cooks better cooks,” says Ellen Cheever, CMKBD, ASID, CAPS, Ellen Cheever and Associates, Wilmington, Del. “I think that 10 years ago you had consumers who thought a commercial high-BTU gas range would make them a better cook. Today, I think they are saying, ‘How can you make it easy for me to be a good cook?’

“Jenn-Air’s oven, for example, is specifically designed to help a tentative cook select the right pan and the right temperature. The concept is to make the controlling mechanism easy to operate and fail safe,” she says.

Remodeling clients are asking for real innovations that make cooking and cleaning easier. In the professional-grade appliance category, it’s not just about making a statement or having the most powerful range in the kitchen. What’s important to consumers are real cooking innovations such as Thermador’s Sensor Dome, ExtraLow Simmer and patented Star Burner, a star-shaped design that allows for greater heat coverage and a smaller cold spot than a conventional round burner.

“The result is 18,000 Btu on every burner, more even heat across any sized pan and faster time to boil,” says Zach Elkin, director of the luxury division, Thermador Home Appliances for BSH Home Appliances, Corp. “Also, the new Star Burner design coupled with the porcelain Quick Clean Base allows for easy access and cleanup.”

“There are a lot of gimmicks on appliances, but consumers are not interested in features with no real payoff. They want features they can use,” says Scott Davies, marketing manager for Fisher & Paykel Appliances.

“Ergonomics and efficiency are features that have a real payoff ,” adds Davies “Cycles on a clothes washer, like an allergy cycle, or a tall dish drawer which fits large 13-in. platters, aren’t just novelties; they provide a real and usable benefit,” he says.

GE Appliances has also introduced innovative features. On some of the higher-end refrigeration models, a bottom drawer can be temperature adjusted to cool down wine or beer quickly. The same drawer can be used to defrost meat over the course of a day while maintaining it at a safe temperature.

There is also GE’s Advantium Speedcook oven, available in above-the-range and wall units. The 240-volt version can cook up to eight times faster than conventional oven and still maintain oven-quality results.

In the washing area, GE’s SmartDispense dishwasher only has to be filled with detergent once every three moths. The dishwasher will determine the amount of detergent needed based on the soil level in the water and the hardness of the water. There is a similar product in GE’s laundry line where a six-month supply of detergent and softener can be stored in the washing machine to be dispensed during the wash cycle.

Appearance and Style

Another trend that is hitting appliances is color. The sea of white appliances is starting to fade. Black and stainless steel appliances are growing in popularity, particularly on the high-end side.

Whirlpool has gone beyond this and is bringing color into the kitchen and laundry area.

“In the laundry room color is taking over,” agrees Carlos Johnson of Amana. “There are now a lot of greens, reds and other interesting colors that consumers are asking for.

“In the kitchen, Amana also has been experimenting with colors in top-mount refrigerators. Right now we offer red, silver and midnight blue with a bit of a speckle, and this spring we’re launching a green tea color that has an almost metallic finish with a leafy pattern on it. We’re finding more consumers want to express their personality with non-traditional colors,” Johnson says.

Although stainless steel remains the top alternative pick to traditional white appliances, more and more manufacturers are offering different design options in finishes, especially on higher-end products. For example, Dacor offers floating glass options in Anthracite Gray, Sterling Gray, Titanium Silver, Blue Water, Slate Green and black. Similarly, Jenn-Air offers two different stainless steel lines — Euro Stainless and Pro-Style — in addition to an oiled bronze finish and black and white floating glass options.

Flexibility and Placement

Both GE and Jenn-Air spokespersons indicate that there is growing interest in products that offer flexibility of placement. This includes beverage centers, warming drawers, dishwasher drawers and drawers for refrigeration and freezing. This creates greater design element ideas and offers multiple placement options to better suit usage patterns.

“Consumers are feeling less tied to traditional notions of kitchen design,” says Juliet Johnson, Jenn-Air manager of brand experience. “For example, those who entertain frequently are increasingly opting for two dishwashers or two cooktops or placing beverage centers and drawer dishwashers in entertainment areas outside the kitchen.”

Looking Forward

Demanding remodeling clients will continue to expect more from their appliances — more performance, more innovation, more style and greater value. At the same time, manufacturers will continue to design appliances for those that are passionate about cooking and entertaining at home.

Use the E-Inquiry Form for more information on the following appliance suppliers:

Amana Type #11 in E-Inquiry Form

Dacor Type #12 in E-Inquiry Form

Fisher & Paykel Type #13 in E-Inquiry Form

GE Appliances Type #14 in E-Inquiry Form

Jenn-Air Type #15 in E-Inquiry Form

Thermador Type #16 in E-Inquiry Form

Whirlpool Type #17 in E-Inquiry Form

Helping Customers Choose

The first thing to ask a homeowner when thinking about a new appliance purchase is how they use the product. How do they use the appliances they have today? Do they do lots of cooking and like to cook large dishes? If so, they might want to look at an appliance with a convection oven or dual elements. Do they cook small meals, trying to get it done as quickly as possible and it’s not about the experience? Then a different appliance might be better for them. Next they should think about how important styling is to them. Do they want to make a bold statement or do they want something more subtle that fades into the kitchen or laundry room? Then, based on those two things they should begin looking around in the marketplace, do research on what is available, and find what meets their needs.

“I think one of the first things to do to qualify the consumer is to ask whether they are interested in a free-standing product or a built-in product,” explains GE’s Anderson. “Then, you want to find out how big their family is and their interests in cooking. Whether they cook occasionally, or they do a lot of cooking. How much entertaining do they do? Then, we have to find out what they’re CTQs are, which stands for Critical to Quality interests. Whether it’s efficiency, design, a specific feature, how many children they have in the family — all those things would determine what sort of feature pack or brand we would work with them on.”

As a remodeler, the biggest thing to consider is cutout size of the appliance. Some companies try to maintain the same or similar cutout size to their appliances in order to make replacing them someday as easy as dropping in the new appliance. As innovation continues, though, it’s safe to say that there could be some variation on a product’s depth, width or height, especially if changing brands, and this should be looked at closely before a product is purchased.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

2010 EchoHome Design Awards

Grand Award - Hillside House
- From EchoHome Magazine

Nestled on an ultra-steep infill lot near downtown Mill Valley, Calif., the Hillside House was designed to work in concert with the parcel’s topography, as vertically connected spaces interplay with an abundance of covered porches, decks, and balconies to form a dwelling that is as in tune with nature as it is tied into it.
Telescoping doors provide seamless transitions from indoors to outdoors, which the judges praised for making the house seem larger than its 2,116 square feet suggests. Even the master bathroom makes use of the surrounding trees and view: A glass wall separates the indoor shower from an outdoor bathtub, transforming an “intimately scaled bedroom and bathroom into a majestic space,” says project designer SB Architects.

With nearly 20% below grade, the LEED-Platinum home reaps the ground’s natural insulative benefits, while the integration with the exterior allows for abundant daylight and natural ventilation; the layout also provides optimal positioning for the roof- and trellis-mounted 3.75-kW solar arrays. Spray-foam insulation, energy-efficient appliances, water-conserving fixtures, FSC-certified lumber, and zero-VOC paints are just a few of the home’s numerous resource-conserving features.
Wood siding and beams combine with metal accents and purposeful symmetry to lend a rustic yet sophisticated feel to this “modern cabin,” as it is described by architect and homeowner Scott Lee, AIA, while locally crafted and sourced elements, including recycled-content ceramic tiles and custom benches made from fallen tree trunks, support Lee’s desire to highlight sustainability as well as the town’s artistic roots. Interior designer Erin Martin repurposed chalked-up, discarded scaffolding boards into one-of-a-kind stairwell walls and transformed buoys from Washington’s Puget Sound into vibrant pendant lights.
“It’s comfortable and familiar because of the palette of materials,” says Lee, “but it appeals to our sense as designers because [of its] modern elements.”

Project Details
Hillside House, Mill Valley, Calif. | Size: 2,116 square feet | Cost: Withheld | Completed: January 2010 | Certification: LEED-Platinum | Architect: SB Architects, San Francisco | Builder: MCD Construction & Development, Oakland, Calif. | Verifier: Davis Energy Group, Davis, Calif.

Green Highlights
Energy: Bay Systems spray-foam insulation / solar hot water / radiant floor heating / Colorado VNet home automation system / Lutron automatic shading system / Luminas LED Lighting / Whirlpool and Jenn-Air Energy Star appliances / Solar City 3.75-kW PV system | Resources: 63% construction waste diversion / 30% fly ash foundation / FSC-certified New World Millworks cabinetry / Restoration Timber recycled timber / Heath recycled-content ceramic tile / Concreteworks recycled concrete-and-glass countertops | IAQ: Zero-VOC Mythic paint / Fantech and HVACQuick ventilation systems | Water: drip irrigation / drought-tolerant landscaping / Kohler WaterSense faucets

Monday, July 26, 2010

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Remodeling Tips

Remodeling Tips
No one likes to cut a budget, especially when it's his or her own. But when it comes to planning a remodeling project, homeowners must establish a realistic budget . . . and actively manage it.

Preparing for a remodeling project is a lot like preparing to buy a car. You may know the room and style you want, but the options you choose may drive the price higher than you can reasonably afford. But there are ways to stretch the remodeling budget and end up with stylish results within budget.

Getting Started
The most important step is finding a professional remodeling contractor for your job.

Hire a professional contractor who is familiar with the building codes in your area. Updating work that does not meet code can be extremely expensive.
A well–written contract can prevent costly mistakes or additions to the scope of your project. It is a critical step in maintaining your budget.
Save money by planning ahead. Go through the design process first and choose everything you want to include in the new room(s), from appliances to light fixtures, etc. This will define your budget and prevent hasty (and costly) decisions later in the project. Be sure to include all your product and material selections in the contract to avoid confusion and unnecessary change orders. Include the model, size, color, and other specifications. It is also wise to save 10–20 percent of your budget to allow for items added to the scope of work.

The number one way to decrease the cost of your remodeling project is product choices. Look around to determine whether you can achieve a similar look with a less expensive product.

In addition, pay attention to how labor intensive some design features may be, for example laying ceramic tile on kitchen countertops and the backsplash.
Compare products and their prices carefully before you make final decisions. And keep an open mind when you discuss product and design ideas with your contractor.
Make decisions based on value and quality, not just price.
Think about staging the work being done to minimize the initial financial impact. It is often easier to create a more manageable budget by starting small and adding to the project at a later date. This will break the work into several jobs instead of one large project. The down side of staging a remodel is that you may end up paying more in the long run.

General Remodeling Tips
Be creative. There are often multiple solutions to accomplish a design objective, some more expensive than others. Discuss various options with your contractor.
If all the room really needs is a facelift, make the most of changes with paint, as opposed to structural changes. Changing the color of a room can revitalize it. This is the easiest way to bring life to a room on a budget.

Attempt to keep windows in their existing places during a remodeling project. Moving windows is not a cost–saving endeavor.

Creating more space can be a big budget buster. Once you add square footage to a home, the price increases significantly. One alternative is to borrow space from a neighboring room (called space reconfiguration). A great place to steal space for a bathroom expansion is from the linen closet. You can make up some of the lost storage by finding small spaces in between wall studs for small niches or built–in shelves.

You can also try borrowing space with optical illusions. There are many ways to make a small room appear larger. To transform a small bath, install a bow window or a skylight. Vaulted ceilings can be a nice touch, too.

If you are going to expand outside the existing home, consider a small bump out of two to four feet. This may allow you to cantilever the floor joists and eliminate the need for excavation and foundation. If possible, be careful not to extend beyond the roofline, which might require a new roofline to your job.

Whenever you are adding on new space to a home, have a heating/cooling contractor determine whether your existing heating/air conditioning system can accommodate and heat/cool the extra space. If the heating/cooling system is damaged, you will be forced to replace the existing units.

In the Kitchen
If at all possible, reuse existing appliances, and build your new cabinets around them. This could save you anywhere from $1,500–5,000 easily. However, be aware that appliances, like anything electrical, are sensitive to change and may develop problems if they are moved. Should you decide to avoid potential appliance "burn–out" and purchase new appliances, choose energy conscious models for a reduction in your utility bills.
Maintain present location of major fixtures, appliances and utilities relative to the plumbing, gas and electrical outlets. This could even apply to the location of the telephone. Moving plumbing, wiring and jacks can be extremely expensive.
The faucet can be a costly item. The least expensive selection is chrome. Even a high-end chrome faucet is considerably less than a mid-range brass or porcelain version. A standard two-handle faucet generally costs less than single handle. Faucets and handles are sold separately, so you may want to choose a chrome faucet with brass or porcelain handles for a different look. Faucet caution: The price variances in faucets reflect the various internal and external features. Always choose a faucet with replaceable internal parts. You won't want to have to replace the entire faucet if it breaks – it's simply not cost-effective.
Choose neutral colors in fixtures, appliances and laminates. They are less expensive initially and wont look dated when the color trends change. White and almond sinks are much cheaper than color varieties. And neutral laminate colors for countertops are less than custom colors or textures.
Good floor covering is important. It ties one room to another and provides visual consistency. Familiarize yourself with the prices of the various flooring materials to make the best decision for your home. To get you started, vinyl or laminate flooring is less expensive than wood, tile or slate.
Use the existing floor covering if it is still in good condition. If the kitchen has old vinyl flooring, there may be a hardwood floor underneath that could be sanded and refinished, avoiding the need for a new floor entirely.
If you currently have a vinyl floor covering and wish to update with a newer version, you can install synthetic floor leveler material over the existing vinyl floor and lay the new vinyl flooring on top, rather than tearing the old flooring off to install the new.
Consider your cabinet options carefully. Those choices will drive the overall price. You can add some options at a later date to defray some of the initial cost. Some that are easy to add include tilt front doors, spice racks and slide out wire baskets. However, if you decide to wait, make certain that the option you want will be available and can be added after installation. Note of caution: Waiting will cost you more in the long run. Adding new cabinets often requires installing a new floor. Refacing existing cabinets not only eliminates the need for new flooring, countertops and appliances altogether, it is a major savings in any kitchen remodel.
Go with a simple design in the kitchen employing single height wall cabinets, blind corner cabinets rather than those with Lazy Susans, and other standard options. Watch your upgrades.
Use standard cabinetry instead of custom cabinets, or use a combination of the two if they are compatible.
Choose cabinets that can be operated without the addition of hardware (those that are finger–pulled).
Install cabinets without soffits to decrease the labor cost. Also consider cabinets without trim moldings or with simple trim.
If you are going to put in new wood trim (in your crown molding, trims, and door casings) to match the new cabinets, order pre–finished trim instead of having the painting or staining done on–site. This will decrease labor cost. Ordering finger–jointed vs. clear vertical grain also will save you money.
Consider stenciling on the backsplash instead of using tile.
Laminate countertops are the least expensive choice among solid surfacing, tile and granite. You can dress it up with wood or tile trim for a more innovative look.
Connect fluorescent light fixtures to the existing ceiling fixture box instead of installing new recessed lighting, which may require a new ceiling because of the recessed features.

In the Bathroom
Consider reglazing a tub instead of replacing it, especially if it is still in relatively good condition. This can save you more than half the cost of a tub replacement and minimize the dust at the same time.
Cultured marble sheets are a good choice for tub surrounds, instead of ceramic tile. You will save considerably on labor costs and the marble sheets are much easier to clean.
Fiberglass surrounds are also less costly than tile.
Examine how you are utilizing space. You may be able to steal some space from a neighboring room or closet. If your overall space is limited, purchase a jetted tub and shower combination or install a pedestal lavatory instead of a vanity cabinet with a sink. Understand that while pedestal lavatories do eliminate the need for vanities and save space, some models may cost more than a separate vanity cabinet and sink.
Cultured marble lavatories can be a great budget choice since it is an integrated sink bowl and countertop sold in one easily installed unit.
Define what is truly needed in the bathroom. Sometimes an extra bath is planned when installing a double sink in an existing bath would meet the need.
If you are going to add a large jetted tub to your project, consider adding a water heater dedicated to that tub. A large jetted tub can hold up to an average of 75 gallons or more, which can easily overextend your existing water heater and cause problems in the future.
When revamping yesterday's bathroom to fit with today's homeowners' expectations for luxury, homeowners can familiarize themselves with the latest options in home spa advancements. One such indulgence is an electric warming system beneath your new stone or tile floor.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Spring Home Tune Up Checklist

Inspect siding and stucco: Check for any chipping that can leave it open to moisture and seal as required.

Replace old or rotted siding or trim.

Clean gutters and downspouts and make sure they are directing water away from the house.

Inspect the roof for any issues that could lead to leaks.

Inspect the chimney: A qualified home inspector can also do this for you.

Check the attic: Look for vent blockages, damaged soffits, wet spots in the insulation or leaks. Also check for proper ventilation.

Check the heating or air exchanger unit: Change filters and clean the air purifier.

Change the batteries on all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Prune trees and shrubs and check for proper drainage.

Inspect the concrete: Spring is the best time to seal cracks in the driveway or any other concrete.

Inspect the deck for rotting wood and insecure railings.

Make windows and doors weatherproof.

Sprucing up your home in the spring doesn't take a lot of time, but it can save a lot of time and money in the end. Since many large home repairs start out as small, minor issues, inspecting the house after a long winter can make the difference between a small problem and a major home emergency.

Sacramento Mid-Century Modern Home Tour

The EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule

In an effort to reduce lead paint exposure, the EPA has issued a rule for work that disturbs potentially contaminated painted surfaces. Is your business affected by the EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Program Rule?

As of April 22, 2010, all professionals working in pre-1978 homes will need to comply with EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting rule. Your business is affected by this rule if your company performs work that falls under one or more of the items below:
Your company works in residences built before 1978
Your company works in buildings occupied by pregnant women or children under the age of six built before 1978
Your company renovates, repairs, or paints in areas more than six sq.ft. in an interior room or twenty sq.ft. on an exterior wall
Your company replaces doors and/or windows
If your company is performing this type of work and is not compliant, your company is subject to penalties up to $37,500 per day, per violation.

Know your facts, keep your home lead-safe
The EPA requires remodelers to become certified to work in pre-1978 homes
Des Plaines, Illinois, March 15, 2010—The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) is making homeowners aware of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) regulations that will take effect April 22, 2010, requiring remodelers working in homes built before 1978 to follow practices designed to minimize the exposure of residents to lead hazards.
“Long-term lead exposure to children under the age of six can cause developmental brain problems,” says Rich Cowgill, CR, GCP, of Cowgill Builders, Inc. dba Vision Design and Build, Inc. Cowgill is not only a Certified Renovator but also an EPA/National Center for Health Housing, Accredited Lead Trainer for Public Health and Safety, Inc. in Chicago. According to Cowgill, it doesn’t take a lot of lead to be hazardous to one’s health. Long-term exposure leading to 10 micrograms (µg) of lead per deciliter in an individuals’ blood lead level (BLL) is enough to permanently harm a child’s development.

According to a report by the President’s Task force on Environmental Health and Safety Risks to Children, approximately 24 million pre-1978 U.S. dwellings were at risk for lead-based paint hazards. In light of these prominent health risks, contractors must go through an 8-hour training to certify at least one person to supervise the renovation of target housing (pre-1978) homes, and the contracting firm must be a Certified Firm with the EPA if they intend to work in pre-1978 homes.
“Lead training through an accredited program consists of six hours educational learning on the dangers of lead and required lead-safe practices as identified by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD),” Cowgill says. The remainder of the day includes two hours of hands-on training—the procedure of setting up the containment area, improved cleaning methods, the cleaning verification test and the disposal of hazardous materials. Finally, certification is provided pending a written exam.

Contractor firms who intend to work in pre-1978 homes are required to register with the EPA. Both the Certified Firm registration and the Certified Renovator supervision are required under the RRP rule. Homeowners must be cognizant that these certifications reflect the state that work is being conducted and are accessible from the work site at all times. Note that states are able to require more stringent criteria in addition to the EPA’s criteria, and homeowners should be aware of the law’s in their state by contacting their State Departments of Public Health’s Lead Division. Find your state’s health department and services here

“Certified Renovators are legally allowed to provide others (employees) with a less formal onsite lead training as long as they supervise the lead-safe renovations,” Cowgill says. “The law requires the Certified Renovator to be physically present during the posting of the signs notifying the public of the work site, during the work area containment and during the final clean-up portion of the project and the Certified Renovator must be available by phone throughout the duration of the project.”
Contractors are required to document the lead-safe work practices used during the project and keep those documents on file for a minimum of three years after completion. The EPA’s “Renovate Right” brochure must be signed by the homeowner to signal their awareness of lead safety and practices in their homes before work begins. Homeowners can insist on having the Certified Renovator test for the presence of lead in their homes, and then the Certified Firm must give homeowners a copy of the test results within 30 days of the completion of the RRP work.
Cowgill adds that pre-renovation testing is not required by the homeowners, as everyone must adhere to the lead-safe practices whether or not lead testing proved that lead exists in the home. The current test only proves the absence of lead, not the presence of lead-based paint. It is best to presume the possibility of lead.
The following is a checklist for homeowners living in pre-1978 homes:
Verify that your contractor’s firm is registered with the EPA.

Verify at least one person is a Certified Renovator and has documented the training of the work crew and is supervising the work being completed in the home.
Know that these certifications are accessible at the work site at all times.
Firms must post signs before renovation begins, clearly defining the work area and warning occupants and other persons not involved in renovation activities to remain outside of the work area.

Make sure you understand and sign the EPA’s “Renovate Right” brochure.
Remove all belongings from the immediate area of the renovation. Notice if your contractor is using plastic sheeting that is taped 6 feet beyond the perimeter of surfaces undergoing renovation; reusable cloth coverings are not acceptable.

Renovators should be cleaning up and mopping daily to minimize dust contamination.
Contractors must use HEPA vacuums and/or wet mopping to remove lead particles.
Depending on the scope of project, renovators may be wearing disposable suits, to minimize their exposure to lead. All contaminated materials should be placed in heavy duty plastic bags before your contractor disposes of them.

As a homeowner, if your renovator is skipping any steps of the checklist, you may want to contact the EPA to file an official complaint. Contractors who fail to comply with the RRP rule, are eligible for a fine of $37,500 per day.

The EPA also recommends that homeowners have the remodelers specify what the final lead inspection entails. Currently, the RRP rule requires contractors to conduct a cleaning verification test that consists of wiping an area with a damp cloth and comparing the results with a cleaning verification card to ensure the sample matches or is lighter than the required sample. If the surface within the work area is greater than 40 square feet, the surface within the work area must be divided into roughly equal sections that are each less than 40 square feet and wiped separately.
If a homeowner has any doubts about the quality of lead safe practices being conducted in their homes, they can call (800) 424-LEAD. To read the full RRP rule, visit

Saturday, March 20, 2010

JPL Wins 'Green Building Award'

March 19, 2010
JPL's environmentally friendly Flight Projects Center received a "Green Building Award" at the fourth annual Green California Leadership Awards, held during this week's Green California Summit.

The awards, presented in eight categories, recognize environmental achievements by government organizations. A reception was held March 16 at the Sacramento Convention Center.

The green Flight Projects Center at JPL houses space exploration missions in the early design and development phases. It is NASA's first Gold-certified building under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, set up by the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council. The building's green assets include: a "living roof" of desert plants, low-flow faucets and toilets, a "smart" heating and cooling system, showers and bike racks for bike commuters, outdoor lights that reduce light pollution and many more.

More information about the building is online at:

More information on the California Green Summit is at:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Remodeling Your Home in a Not So Big Way

There are three options for remodeling your home in a Not So Big Way.

1. Work within the existing footprint. When people think about remodeling, they often begin in the wrong place. They immediately assume they have to add on and that it will cost more than they can afford. But there are literally thousands of small alterations you can make to your house as it is, without having to change the original footprint. Removing or opening up a wall, adding storage, or rearranging the way you move through a room can solve all sorts of spatial problems without resorting to added square footage.

2. Bump-out. If you’ve considered every possible change within the existing structure and can’t accommodate your needs, consider a bump-out or two. Any time you alter your home’s exterior envelope, you’re likely looking at a bigger investment of remodeling dollars. This is because the exterior surface is the weather barrier—the home’s raincoat—and it consists of an intricate combination of components that usually make it significantly more challenging to remodel than an interior space. But extending a space just a couple of feet can make a big difference to a room’s utility and aesthetics, so it is important to understand where a minimal modification to the existing footprint is worthwhile.

3. Add on just a little. This is the last step in a Not So Big remodel, and yet it, too, is often overlooked as an option by people planning to modify their houses to fit them better. It is a solution that inevitably costs more money because it involves increasing square footage. But when it is accomplished in a Not So Big way, a small addition can be a cost-effective strategy when compared with the alternatives—a substantial addition, moving or building new.
The concept of proportion—the harmonious relation of parts to each other or to the whole—is one we’ve all but forgotten in much of what we build, eat and otherwise consume these days. When it comes to houses, start with the proportions of your own body. If you are 6 feet tall or more, you’ll likely want different dimensions for the spaces you inhabit than will someone who is 5 feet tall. That is as it should be. Houses that feel comfortable to a shorter person may feel cramped to a taller individual, and vice versa. The point is that your house should first and foremost fit you and the other members of your household.

House feels too big?
A few simple strategies can help cure your home of a case of Too Bigness.

1. Create a hierarchy of ceiling heights. A ceiling height hierarchy simply means that different areas of your home have lower or higher ceilings based on their functions. On the interior of a Too Big House, the first step should be to identify areas that would benefit from a lower ceiling. Although it is often difficult for homeowners to believe that less volume will mean more comfort, a ceiling height hierarchy can completely transform the home’s interior if done well.

Here’s a list of things I’ll typically do to improve the ceiling height hierarchy:
■ Create a distinction in ceiling height between the main gathering places and hallways and alcoves; the larger spaces should have the taller ceilings, and the subordinate spaces should have lower ceilings.
■ Consider establishing a third, in-between ceiling height for spaces such as kitchens, informal eating areas and small alcoves. Alternatively, use the same ceiling height in these spaces as you would use in the hallways.
■ Consider running a dropped soffit around the perimeter of the main gathering places. I will often make this continuous soffit the same height as either the middle ceiling height described above or the height of the hallways.

2. Include some more intimate spaces. If your house is too big in its horizontal dimensions, look for places that would benefit from some downsizing. With space to spare, you can actually increase the thickness of some existing walls in order to sculpt new rooms and alcoves within the existing space.
We usually build our interior walls out of 2-by-4s, so the finished wall is around 4 inches deep. It is economical to do this because we typically want to maximize space. But if space is not an issue, your walls can be any thickness you want, and they can define a differently shaped space on one side than they do on the other. You can give each new place its own unique form and character, making some cozy and intimate.

3. Make the exterior less monumental. Many large houses have little or no grace to their exterior composition. Their various surfaces are a random assemblage of windows, doorways, vinyl, and brick or stone veneer, sometimes with a couple of Palladian windows and some extra-tall columns thrown in on the front façade.

Step into sustainability with these great home-improvement products....
If this is your challenge, you’d be well advised to hire a professional to help you. The remedy will take someone with a practiced eye for composition to help manifest your home’s true potential. The art of it usually requires some paring away of the unnecessary, some reorganization of the surface components and some newly introduced design elements to help break up the massive surfaces into more bite-sized pieces.

Green is beautiful
When you do a remodel of any size, you have the opportunity to make your house more healthy, affordable and earth-friendly by increasing its energy efficiency and choosing sustainable materials. You should also focus on creating a beautiful, inviting space. “green” refers not only to sustainable construction materials and the energy efficiency, indoor air quality and durability of the structure, but also to the appropriateness of its size and its innate beauty. Not So Big should be the first step in sustainability because, when a house is the right size for its inhabitants, beautifully designed and crafted for everyday inspiration, it’s efficiently performing its current function and is also likely to be cared for by future residents. Beautiful things tend to be well cared for by all owners over time. But somehow this simple and rather obvious truth has been overlooked in much of modern construction.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Earth Hour 2010

On Saturday, March 27, 2010, at 8:30 pm, we are taking part in Earth Hour—an event sponsored by World Wildlife Fund in which millions of people around the world will turn out their lights for one hour to make a bold statement of concern about our planet and climate change.

Earth Hour started three years ago in Sydney, Australia and is now the largest event of its kind in the world. Nearly one billion people from 4,100 cities in 87 countries on seven continents participated last year and, with your help, Earth Hour 2010 can be even bigger.

During Earth Hour, international landmarks including the Golden Gate Bridge, Empire State Building, Eiffel Tower and Great Pyramids have gone dark alongside the city skylines of Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Tel Aviv and more.

But Earth Hour isn’t just for big cities—anyone can participate. I hope you will join us for this amazing event and help send a message that the time for action on climate change is now. To sign up and start spreading the word, visit www.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Importance of Resilience

By Chris Stanton
The Remodeler's Advisor Newsletter

The Importance of Resilience We live in a time of accelerating change full of hope and great opportunity. But it's also obvious that we also face significant challenges - personal, social and global. This newsletter primarily focuses on the business of building and remodeling but none of us check our souls at the office door. We have families, we listen to the news, we get flipped off on the way to work. Some of us have even surrendered to the 24/7 electronic dashboard that keeps us running adrenaline way beyond formerly sane levels.

Stress is one of the primary byproducts of a lifestyle inundated with change and stimuli. And while stress in and of itself is not necessarily bad, there is a plethora of evidence that too much stress and/or poorly managed stress are leading causes of illness, accelerated aging, irritation, distractedness and excess wear and tear. No earth-shattering news here. But how we respond to stress and the constant roar of change is critical.

One key to adapting more quickly when too much stress is occurring is learning how to increase and maintain your resilience - the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions. Resilience gives you the power to prepare yourself in advance of a potentially stressful event. It also gives you the power to reset your system and to recoup or bounce back faster when experiencing unexpected challenges. Resilient individuals have the sustained capacity to create an energetic cushion that helps reduce the stressful effects of overload, time demands and resistances more effectively. Building a reservoir of resilience is also essential if we want to effectively serve others and make valuable contributions towards creating a new and better world. A portion of my coaching always focuses on building this capacity. But the solutions are also simple (with a caveat) and readily available. Love and care and appreciation and kindness and compassion and laughter and meditation and breathing and exercise and resting and being in nature all work great. Simply stopping for a moment to catch oneself in an internal rant and gently shifting your energy to a more positive (heart) space does too. The world is not going to slow down. In fact, I suspect it's actually speeding up right now. People won't need you less. In fact, most evidence points to accelerating stress across the planet.

So why not start increasing your effectiveness and health by taking better CARE of yourself? Here's the caveat: because it's so damn hard to remember to stop long enough to remember to stop-for a minute or so, a few times a day-and escape the "tyranny of the immediate", all those "have-to's" and never-ending "to-do lists". Learn this one habit and change your life-radically!!!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Banned From Your Can

Did You Know?
Did you know that batteries, compact fluorescent light bulbs(CFLs)and fluorescent light tubes are banned from being thrown in your garbage can?
Banned From Your Can
City Implements Door-to-Door Collection of Batteries and Light Bulbs
Many of us don't even think about throwing our old batteries and compact fluorescent light bulbs in the garbage cans. But since 2006, these items, along with fluorescent light tubes have been banned from garbage cans by the state of California.

Realizing that residents often don't have any quick and easy options for disposal of these items, the City of Sacramento Department of Utilities is implementing a new residential door-to-door collection of these items by appointment.

Participating is easy! First, collect batteries, compact fluorescent light bulbs and fluorescent light tubes. Then call the City of Sacramento Department of Utilities at 808-5454 to schedule an appointment. On your appointment day, place the items out for collection. Please put batteries in a closeable freezer bag, put light bulbs in a container and wrap the light tubes to prevent breaking. Place the items on your driveway, away from the street and curb and City crews will collect it.

For more information about proper disposal of household hazardous waste, recycling, green waste or solid waste services, please visit or call 808-5454.