Designing your new space

This month’s topic is home design.  Many times, I meet with homeowners who want to remodel their bathroom or kitchen, but they have no idea what they actually want to accomplish within these spaces.  Typically, I ask what they do not like about this space. The answer varies, but its safe to say they hate everything

OK—a lot of the spaces I see do not work well, meaning the space could be used more efficiently or is dated. This is especially true in kitchens.  In addition to knowing what you want to accomplish in the space, I also need to know your budget.  These two questions can help guide your ultimate design.

Think of it this way, when you go to buy a vehicle, you have an idea of what you want (car, SUV, truck), the amenities (heated seats, hands-free calling) and about how much you want to spend ($25, 000 off the lot, $350/month).  Coming in prepared with these concepts can also serve you well when remodeling a home.

Here are some points to keep in mind when designing the space:

1.  In the design, define wants and needs.  What can I live with and live without.

o   Using the car example above, if you have 4 children, you probably want a larger vehicle, perhaps with built in child-seats and a few screens. You can probably give up lighted mirrors or a heated steering wheel as compromise. If you are single with a dog, perhaps a small hybrid with a dog cage in the back is more beneficial, but a heated driver’s seat is an absolute!

2.  Make design decisions early, changing your mind while in the process may be costly.

o   It is your money, in the end. But changing from tile to wood flooring will not only cost you material funding, it may delay the project or there could be re-stocking fees.

3.  Remodeling takes time.  Be ready for contractors, flooring people, plumbers, and electricians in your home. 

o   It is a process. Often step A needs to be done before step B, and so on. Contrary to television, it is rare that a home renovation can be done quickly without compromising quality and price.

4.  Remember, as part of the demo, we may find things that need to be corrected as part of the project.  This may be an additional cost.  As licensed professionals, we need to follow building code as this is the minimum acceptable requirements.

o    In a future discussion, I will talk about building code and best building practices. 

Many homeowners believe that designing a space is a free service provided by the contractor.  This is not the case with most home improvement contractors.  If they offer design services, this is at a cost. You can always design your space yourself if you are confident and have a strong design aesthetic.  If you are struggling with the design or want assistance with selections, hiring an interior designer is typically money well spent. They can listen to your ideas and help you work out the detail aspects (space, materials, lighting, etc.) of a remodeling project.  They can also help you select products that fit your lifestyle.

Having these items in mind—use of space, budget, materials, and the time involved in the project—go a long way in getting your project started and completed on time and in the desired budget.

It's a bit chilly out there...

January 2018

Welcome to 2018! The year has come in like a blizzard and hopefully goes out just as quickly. As cold and blustery as it has been, there is still a certain beauty about Winter in Michigan. If you’re not outside enjoying ice fishing, skiing, or sledding, that means you are bundled up inside reading, baking, or catching up on Game of Thrones (no rush—2019 is a long way away!)

As a part of our ongoing commitment to you, our customers, we have instituted a monthly blog about the joy and challenges of home improvement. We all know that once your excitement over owning a home wanes, the work begins. But making your home your own—and safe and warm and inviting—is where we come in.

Whether you need a larger kitchen for your growing holiday entertaining, or a warm and inviting bathroom in which to luxuriate during the -12-degree weather, give us a call anytime.

Meanwhile, check in here to read our monthly musings on topics such as this month’s “What to think about in incredibly cold weather” to upcoming months of what we see as trends, what you can do to save energy, and how you can stay ahead of the curve when scheduling updates or maintenance.

Without further ado—let’s look at ways to keep your family and your house warm this very fine January.

Eight things to think about during the cold weather:

· If you have an attached garage, keep the door closed.  This will help keep the wind out and keep the heat radiated from the home in the garage.  This in turn will help keep your home warmer.

· Any plumbing on exterior walls?  If yes, they are most likely in the vanity cabinet.  Opening the door to the cabinet keeps warmer air moving, which can minimize any freezing pipes.

· Storm doors are recommended in both the winter and the summer.  Storm doors not only look good, but create extra space to the exterior door area—adding insulation and stopping drafts. In the summer, they can let air in without letting in all of the outdoors.

· Make sure windows are closed.  I cannot tell you how many times I see windows that are not closed and latched.  Your heat slowly leaks out unless windows are secure.

· Do not set your thermostat below 62 degrees.  The wind can move under siding and freeze pipes on an exterior wall.  Keeping a warm house helps minimize this.

· Your furnace is working really hard when its cold.  Change your filter often during really cold spells (follow the manufactures recommendations).

· A great long-term solution to heating your home during the winter is adding insulation to your attic. Since heat rises, stopping it from seeping through your roof is one step towards keeping it in your space rather than outer space!

· Finally, if you have a fireplace make sure you get it inspected and cleaned. The safer you can make it, the cozier your home can be.

Weatherize Your Home

This is a perfect time to make some changes to your home.  Even minor changes can have a huge impact on your comfort level and reduce your energy bills. Another benefit, you are helping the environment.  How can I do this you ask, read on.

Finding Leaks:  To get started, you need to review your home’s insulation system. Most local utility companies will visit your home and conduct a thorough energy assessment. This can include a blower door test where the home is pressurized and the number of air exchanges are measured, or an infrared camera scan which can show cold spots. Once the leaks are identified, a plan to address them is discussed.  Some common issues are inadequate door and window seals and insufficient insulation in the attic.

Ceilings and Walls:  Insufficient insulation can be hiding behind ceilings and walls. Older homes were built when the building codes for insulation were not as stringent. One simple check for proper insulation is to touch the wall or ceiling; any area that feels colder than others may be lacking insulation. Outlets and switches in exterior walls are common sources for poor insulation.  Careful use of spray foam around these exterior electrical boxes works well. Purchased gaskets can also be used that are placed under the cover plate.

Ducts:  If your basement or crawl space allows access to the duct work, ensuring the connections are good and joints are sealed can save roughly 10% by minimizing lost heating or cooling air.  Tuning your HVAC system for winter and summer can also help.  For example, in the summer, close all registers in the basement.  If you have a two story home, close the registers in the basement and registers in any first floor rooms not being used.  This forces cool air to the second floor bedrooms.

Fireplaces:  When not in use, keep the damper closed, winter or summer. Use glass doors over the opening.

Penetrations for Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC:  In most homes, pipes and wires enter the home above the ground through the band or rim joist. The band (or rim) joist is the area of the basement wall where the floor joists connect to a wood board just above the concrete foundation Check the perimeter of your home to see where pipes are exposed on outside walls. From the inside, caulk or use spray foam to seal around these penetrations.

Doors and Windows:  Gaps between a window or door frame and the wall framing is one of the biggest heat-loss offenders.  These can be corrected by removing the trim and spraying foam in the gap between the window or door frame and the wall studs.  In older homes, there is little or no insulation in this area. For an exterior door, a hollow core door is not only inefficient it is unsafe.  All exterior doors should be at least insulated steel with a lockset and deadbolt. A cracked window pane or a faulty window seal can affect the efficiency of the window and should be repaired.

Furnace Air Filters:  Filters need to be quality products, not the least expensive filters available.  Depending on the type of filter, they may need to be changed every month or at least every season.  If you neglect the filters, the furnace (or AC) will work much harder which consumes more energy and reduces the life expectancy of the device.

Caulking and Insulation: Caulking around windows and doors provides a seal against the weather.  Insulation is the best home improvement you can do for your home.  Adding insulation to the attic is like adding a blanket to the bed in the winter.  In my opinion, blown cellulose is the best insulation to add to the attic.  It is made of recycled newspapers with a fire retardant added.  Blown fiberglass should not be used in the attic as it has known issues with heat loss.  If your basement is accessible, using close cell spray foam on the band or rim joist is a great solution as it seals every crack and crevice. This area is commonly insulated with fiberglass insulation but it is not very efficient.  If you use open cell spray foam, a fire retardant paint should be applied once the foam dries.

By making some or all of these changes, you can increase the comfort level in your home and reduce your energy bills.  In some situations, just adding insulation in the attic can reduce your energy bills by over 25%.  That’s amazing!  

As always, I am here and ready to help you with any of your home remodeling needs.  If you have further questions, please go to the About page and send a request or give me a call at 734.646.8626!

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide what is it and why do I care about it?

Carbon monoxide is a tasteless, odorless, and colorless gas: a silent killer.  It is created by burning fossil fuels such as gasoline, propane or natural gas.  Symptoms are lightheadedness, sleepiness, respiratory irritation, and difficulty seeing.  When you experience these symptoms, you need to immediately get out of the building.  But what if you're asleep when you are exposed to carbon monoxide?  You can die.

This year, numerous deaths have occurred by running a generator inside the home after a loss of power.  Running a generator in this manner is never a good idea.  If you use a gas powered engine, you must run the engine outside, never inside the structure.  Here is a recent example.

Carbon monoxide can also be toxic from using natural gas or propane in a furnace with a cracked heat exchanger or a fireplace that is not vented properly.  When the gas (natural or propane) is burned, one of the emissions is carbon monoxide. 

Current building code requires a smoke detector in every bedroom, outside the sleeping area, and on every floor.  These detectors must be connected so that when one goes off, all of them go off.  Carbon monoxide detectors are also required in the home. I recommend one on every finished floor near the sleeping area.

Smoke detectors are typically good for ten years.  Carbon monoxide detectors are typically good for seven years.  If you look at the back of the detector, there should be an expiration date.  Once this date has passed, I have seen detectors falsely report an issue or randomly go off, typically in the middle of the night.  With a carbon monoxide detector, if it goes off, leave the building and call the fire department.  If you feel this is a false alarm, get everyone out of the building and open some windows.  Most detectors can be easily removed from the ceiling or wall.  Once removed, take the detector outside.  If it still alarms while outside, the detector is no longer working properly.  Note:  Only perform this step if you are confident the detector is bad.  An example would be the detector goes off when the windows are open in the summer.

Please protect yourself and your family from this invisible health hazard.  Buy carbon monoxide detectors and hook them up in your house.  Check your furnaces and fireplaces for any issues.

And remember the difference between a good night out and signs of trouble...

Southeastern Michigan Homeowner Gives Solar Panels a Thumbs Up!

Originally posted on Greenspiration in 2012 Just over a year ago, I was meeting with some fellow remodelers and we were talking about quirky clients, our teenage kids, and renewable energy.  A few of these gentlemen had solar arrays and wind turbines at their homes and spoke highly of the benefits.  Others at the table were adamant that renewable energy was not cost effective.  One remodeler in particular commented how solar was a horrible idea in the 1970s and is a horrible idea today.  That was the moment I decided to act!

After some research about installation options and costs of solar arrays, I left some plans for my own solar array on the kitchen table for my wife to review.  The original plan was to install the solar array on the south side of the attached garage roof.  At our home, the south side of the garage roof is also part of the front of the home.  The roof has a light brown shingles; the siding is beige and white trim.

The first question my wife asked… “What is the color of the solar panels?”

“Dark blue,” I said.

One disapproving look from the woman I love and I knew it was back to the drawing board.

Solar 101 Clearly a home rooftop system was out of the question, at least as far as my lovely wife was concerned.  So was a pole-mounted system, I would later learn, as the president of our homeowner’s association insisted that such would be a violation of the association bylaws.   So what were my options?

I have a nice shed in the back yard, not far from the house.  The roof faced south (a good thing for solar) but it was not large enough for more than five panels.  The solution was clear…. add a structure to the side of the shed with enough of a pitch for solar panels!  The new structure can be thought of as a pergola for solar panels.  Underneath the pergola, I installed paver bricks for a nice, shaded seating area.

Ok, now it’s time for some solar array 101.  When you are planning your array, you need to decide on a grid-tied or standalone system.  For us, the grid-tied system made the most sense. This means power created from the array powers the home and any extra power not used in the home is fed into the electrical grid. The electrical grid is what delivers power from the local power plant to the sub-station and then to your home via underground or overhead electrical wires.

I purchased (11) made in the USA, 245-watt monocrystalline solar panels from one of our local electrical suppliers. These panels convert sunlight into electricity (in nature, think of photosynthesis).  Solar panels need to be pointed to the south, mounted to a structure (roof, pole, side of the building, etc.) and clear of objects the block the sun such as trees.   We installed five panels on the shed roof and six panels on the pergola. I also purchased the appropriate inverter.  The inverter is needed to convert the DC power created by the array to AC power, which the house or local power grid can use.

Making It Look Good Once the array was installed, the landscaping was next.  In order to get power from the shed and build the pergola, we had to dig a trench and postholes, which created some damaged to the lawn.  Our goal was to create an attractive area that could be used for sitting in the shade.  Since this was a fairly large area, I used 16-inch square decorative concrete paver blocks.  These bocks were installed just like paver bricks; however, because of their size I decided to use a larger joint (3/8 inch) between them, similar to installing tile in the home.  To keep these larger joints from washing out due to rainfall, I used a polymeric stone dust.  This product is often used in walkways around flagstone.

What It Cost Me and What I Got in Return The system cost was approximately $15,000.00 to build and install.  This included the cost of the array, taking electrical power to the shed, building the new pergola, landscaping, and permits.  With the local power company incentive and the federal government rebate, my net expense is approximately $3,520.00.  I believe we will see a return on this investment in approximately 3 years.

As a remodeler and green builder, this was a perfect project to prove a number of issues.  First, it validates the technology.  Solar energy will not completely replace our dependence on fossil fuels, but it can help.  My own experiences convince me of this.  The summer of 2011 in Michigan was one of the hottest on record.  Our electric bill for the summer was approximately $50.00 (and yes, we have central air). Second, a residential solar array doesn’t have to be ugly.  With some thought and design, it can be attractive and meet those restrictive homeowner association rules.  Finally, I believe this will increase the value of our home.  As the price of the solar panels comes down (and yes they are coming down) installation costs will decrease, making this energy upgrade even more attractive.

Steve Bredernitz, owner of Bredernitz Professional Services, Inc., is a licensed Michigan builder residing in southeastern Michigan.  Steve specializes in remodeling and home improvement services.  Steve is also a part-time instructor at Washtenaw Community College where he teaches remodeling classes.