How to Avoid Choosing the Wrong Front Door

dooooor

Good looks and value — what’s not to love? Not only does replacing your front entry door kick up your curb appeal, it’s a solid investment with a decent payback.

Steel Entry Door

If you’re looking to save money, a steel door is a great choice, especially if you have the skills to hang it yourself.

A simple, unadorned steel door can sell for as little as $150 (not including hardware, lock set, paint, or labor) and typically runs as much as $400 at big-box retailers.

Steel offers the strongest barrier against intruders, although its advantage over fiberglass and wood in this area is slight.

Still, the attractive cost of a steel door comes with an important compromise: It probably won’t last as long.

A steel door exposed to salt air or heavy rains may last only five to seven years. Despite steel’s reputation for toughness, it actually didn’t perform well in “Consumer Report’s” testing against wood and fiberglass for normal wear and tear.

With heavy use, it may dent, and the damage can be difficult and expensive to repair. If your door will be heavily exposed to traffic or the elements, you may be better off choosing a different material.

Fiberglass Door

Fiberglass doors come in an immense variety of styles, many of which accurately mimic the look of real wood. And if limited upkeep is your ideal, fiberglass may be your best bet.

Fiberglass doesn’t expand or contract appreciably as the weather changes. Therefore, in a reasonably protected location, a fiberglass entry door can go for years without needing a paint or stain touch-up and can last 15 to 20 years. Although it feels light to the touch, fiberglass has a very stout coating that’s difficult for an intruder to breach; and its foam core offers considerable insulation.

Fiberglass generally falls between steel and wood in price; models sold at big-box stores range from about $150 to $600.

Wood Exterior Door

Wood is considered the go-to choice for high-end projects; its luxe look and substantial weight can’t be flawlessly duplicated by fiberglass or steel — though high-end fiberglass products are getting close. If your home calls for a stunning entry statement with a handcrafted touch, wood may be the best material for you.

Wood is usually the most expensive choice of the three — roughly $500 to $2,000, excluding custom jobs — and requires the most maintenance, although it’s easier to repair scratches on a wood door than dents in steel or fiberglass.

Wood doors should be repainted or refinished every year or two to prevent splitting and warping.

If you’re concerned about the environmental impact of your door as well as its energy efficiency, you can purchase a solid wood door certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which assures you that the wood was sustainably grown and harvested.

Tracing the environmental impact of a particular door — from manufacturing process to shipping distance to how much recycled/recyclable content it contains — is quite complicated and probably beyond the ken of the average homeowner, notes LEED-certified green designer Victoria Schomer. But FSC-certified wood and an Energy Star rating are an excellent start.

A final note on choosing a door based on energy efficiency: Because efficiency depends on a number of factors besides the material a door is made of — including its framework and whether it has windows — look for the Energy Star label to help you compare doors.

Plant Trees to Save Energy and Grow Value

tree house

The most tangible bang from your bark comes from energy savings. Trees properly placed around your home can reduce your air conditioning needs by 30% and save 20% to 50% in heating costs, according to the USDA Forest Service. The U.S. Department of Energy says three properly placed trees could save you $100 to $250 a year. Plus, says the Forest Service, healthy, mature trees add an average of 10% to your home’s value.

Do’s and Don’ts to Get the Most Value from Trees:

Do:

  • Plant deciduous trees on the west side of a house to provide cooling shade in the summer and warming daylight in the winter they lose their leaves.
  • Plant evergreens on the north side of your home to block icy winter winds.
  • Think about the tree’s full-grown size and shape before you dig.

Don’t:

  • Plant below power lines. Falling trees and branches can cause power outages.
  • Plant too close to your home’s foundation. Roots can damage the foundation or block sewer lines.
  • The wrong tree in the wrong place could actually lower your home’s appraised value if it’s deemed hazardous, says Frank Lucco, a real estate appraiser with IRR-Residential in Houston.

 

7 Ways to Mimic Moonlighting in Your Yard

moon

  1. Highlight trees. Whether illumined from below or given presence by a light mounted in the tree itself, trees make stunning features.
  2. Use uplights. Uplighting is dramatic because we expect light to shine downward. Used in moderation, it’s a great way to highlight architectural and landscaping features.
  3. Have a focus. The entryway is often center stage, a way of saying, “Welcome, this way in.”
  4. Combine beauty and function. For example, adding lighting to plantings along a pathway breaks up the “runway” look of too many lights strung alongside a walk.
  5. Vary the fixtures. While the workhorses are spots and floods, designers turn to a wide range of fixtures, area lights, step lights, and bollards or post lights.
  6. Stick to warm light. A rainbow of colors is possible, but most designers avoid anything but warm white light, preferring to showcase the house and its landscape rather than create a light show.
  7. Orchestrate. A timer, with confirmation from a photocell, brings the display to life as the sun sets. At midnight it shuts shut down everything but security lighting. Some homeowners even set the timer to light things up an hour or so before dawn.

Home Hacks That Make Maintenance Easier

chalk

#1 Tuck Chalk in Your Toolbox to Stop Rust

You can keep the metal tools and hardware in your toolbox rust-free with blackboard chalk. How so? Chalk is a moisture-sucking material that traps dampness. When you place several pieces throughout your toolbox, its porous nature will protect items prone to rusting.

Bonus tip: Got a musty closet? Fill up a small muslin or cheesecloth bag with chalk and then hang it inside. It will absorb the dampness and stinky odor.

#2 Spray Your Mower’s Blades to Keep Clippings From Sticking

If you have a lawn, mowing is one of those must-do drudgeries. Fortunately, cooking spray can make the chore problem-free. When applied to a mower’s undercarriage and blades, it can help prevent grass clippings from sticking.

Bonus tip: You can prevent ice from building up in your freezer with cooking spray. Just spray a thick layer over spots prone to icing, and let it sit for five minutes. Afterward, use a towel to wipe up the oil.

#3 Grab a Makeup Sponge to Repair Drywall Holes

Typically mesh or paper tape is used to fill small holes in drywall. But a cosmetic sponge will get the job done, too. Just stuff it into the hole (you may need to cut it down to size) and spackle.

Bonus tip: A little baking soda added to a dollop of strong, fast-acting glue, such as Krazy Glue, will fix a small wall crack. When the mixture is dry, it forms a hard plastic that can easily be sanded down to a smooth surface.

#4 Apply Nail Polish to Fill a Hole in Your Window

Found a tiny hole in your glass window? Repair it with clear nail polish. Apply a coat then wait for it dry. Repeat those steps until the layers of clear nail polish are flush with the glass surface.

Bonus tip: Clear nail polish can also fix torn window screens. You’ll need to apply multiple layers until you create a substantial barrier.

Signs You Have a Drainage Problem

gutters

Finding drainage problems when they’re smaller and easier to fix can save you thousands of dollars and plenty of headaches down the line. You don’t have to be a geophysicist to know that puddles in the basement or a lake on the front lawn are signs of drainage problems. But many drainage problems aren’t so obvious. Here’s how the pros read some of the more subtle signs of bad drainage, and why you’ll save big bucks if you tackle these problems now instead of later.

Sign #1: Gushing Gutters

A mini Niagara over the edge of your gutter means dead leaves and debris are blocking the flow. But you don’t need a live gusher to tell you you’ve got problems: Vertical streaks of dirt on the outside of gutters, mud spattered on siding, or paint peeling off the house in vertical strips are other sure signs. If you don’t take action, overflowing gutters can rot siding, ruin paint jobs, and cause structural damage.

Best case: Leaves are clogging the downspout, and you just need to clear them out or hire a pro to do it (about $75).

Worst case: Gutters are undersized or improperly pitched and need to be replaced or reinstalled. That could run a few thousand dollars, but it’s still cheaper than new siding.

Sign #2: Downspouts That Dump

Each inch of rain that falls on 1,000 square feet of a roof produces more than 600 gallons of runoff—enough to fill 10 bathtubs to the brim. Dumping that much water too close to the foundation can send it right into the basement, where it can ruin furnishings, flooring, and all the stuff you swore you’d put on shelves one day.

Best case: You can add gutter extensions (about $10 for a 10-foot length) to carry the water at least 5 feet away from the house.

Worst case: Too-short downspouts continually dump buckets of water around your foundation. The water seeps deep into the soil and puts pressure on your foundation walls, eventually cracking them. A foundation contractor comes out and gives you an estimate of $30,000 to excavate around your foundation and fix everything. You begin to cry, dumping buckets of water into the soil around your foundation.

Sign #3: Water Stains in the Basement

Depending on where a stain shows up, you can tell if the problem is caused by surface water, which can be easy to deal with, or water traveling underground, a potentially bigger headache.

Best case: You see stains high on your foundation wall, meaning that water is coming from an overflowing gutter, or that surface runoff backed up against your house because the soil around your foundation doesn’t slope adequately (6 inches for every 10 horizontal feet is best).

Worst case: The stain extends in a line around the basement. If that’s the case, you may be looking at a high-water mark caused by a fluctuating water table. Or, your basement floor lies below the level of municipal storm drains that back up during heavy rains. In either case, an interior drain system and sump pump (around $3,000) will pump any seepage out of our basement, keeping your old bowling trophies dry.

Sign #4: Cracks in the Foundation

Foundations often have small cracks that appear as houses settle over time. Most are harmless, but bigger cracks bear watching. Keep an eagle eye on cracks larger than 1/8-inch wide by marking the ends with an erasable pencil line. Measure the width and jot it down. If you notice the cracks are growing, you’ve got potential problems.

Best case: A crack appears where the builders finished installing one load of concrete and began pouring the next. Such cracks usually don’t penetrate all the way through. And even if they do, as long as they’re stable you can patch them with hydraulic cement or polyurethane caulk for less than $20.

Worst case: Cracks are continuing to widen, indicating that a drainage problem may be ruining the foundation. Call a structural engineer (not a contractor or waterproofing expert) to diagnose the problem, assess the risk, and suggest a repair. Expect to shell out $300 for a structural engineer’s diagnosis.

Sign #5: Flaking and Deposits on Walls

If you see areas of white or gray crust on the basement walls, that’s efflorescence—mineral deposits left behind by evaporating water. Or the wall may be flaking off in big patches, a condition called spalling.

Best case: The efflorescence points to a place where moisture is condensing. It doesn’t cause structural problems, but you may want to check out your gutters, downspouts, and the grading of the soils around your foundation. Scrape off the crust if it looks ugly.

Worst case: The wall is spalling because water is getting inside the masonry. Spalling can be just superficial, but if it’s deeper than ½-inch and widespread, it may be a sign of improper drainage that threatens the integrity of your foundation.

5 Things You Should Ask Yourself Before Remodeling Your Kitchen

kitchen

Are you making these common kitchen renovation mistakes? Before you start ripping out your cabinets and shopping for new appliances, answer these 10 key questions that can save you time, money and heartache.

1: Are you loving or listing?

Unless a homeowner is about to put their house on the market in the next 12-24 months, any rehab project in the kitchen should be with their personal lifestyle in mind. 
I see so many clients spend tons of money remodeling their kitchen for a supposed resale and they have no intention of selling any time soon.
And if you are listing, be advised that most potential buyers are more concerned with the condition of the roof than the types of counters you have.

2: Are you respecting the home’s architectural integrity?

If you’re flipping, look at comps in the area. You’d be surprised how much people will pay for an avocado-colored kitchen with all the original appliances.
When it doubt, go on eBay or Etsy and see what your burnt orange oven you’re so eager to kick to the curb is fetching. And make sure your new kitchen flows with the rest of your home. This is important for resale as well.

3: Are you skimping on cabinetry?

Putting in cheap cabinetry is not the way to go. 
Cabinetry should be one of the biggest investments in a kitchen even it’s a rental property. No one wins if particleboard ends up in a landfill.4: Do you really need top-of-the-line appliances?

4: Do you really need top-of-the-line appliances?

While investing in quality appliances is always advisable, assess all your needs before going cuckoo with that 24-month same as cash credit offer. Do you really need a chef-grade six-burner stovetop? Probably not, but having a large family does merit the need for the Cadillac of dishwashers.

Consider how often you use them and how much wear and tear they will get. Choose appliances offering you the most features that you’ll actually need to suit your lifestyle, remembering to be honest with yourself.

5: Do you trust your contractor?

Do your research before hiring a contractor. It can easily turn into a complete disaster if you don’t. When was the last time you got a job and you weren’t put in the hot seat? It’s not rude to ask for references; it’s just common sense. If you get a bad vibe from the person, don’t hire them.

Small Space Living: Know Where to Splurge

living-roomOutfitting your first home or apartment is exciting, daunting and (potentially) very expensive. Fight the urge to go buy furniture and furnishings all at once. Create a plan and know where you can save and what you should splurge on. It may take a while, but if done carefully, you’ll end up with a curated collection of things you’ll love for years to come.

MATTRESS – SPLURGE: Buying a mattress can be as stressful as buying a car. There are so many options, and the decision-making process can be nerve-racking. You spend a lot of time on your mattress, so this is the place to splurge. Do your research to figure out what type is right for you: coil, foam or a combo of both. Even if you plan to buy online, go to several stores to figure out how firm or soft you want to go. Think you’re ready to purchase? Before you buy, find out if you can return your mattress. Some stores will give you 90 days no-questions-asked to decide, while others will charge a fee to return a mattress. If you can wait, buy your mattress around one of the big Monday holidays: Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc. That’s when retailers have the biggest sales.

DRESSERS + NIGHTSTANDS – SAVE: Wood pieces like dressers, nightstands and coffee tables can be had for little money. When shopping for these pieces, ignore the finish and look at the general shape, the sturdiness of the piece (avoid anything held together with staples) and how much storage the piece will provide. Refinishing furniture is more sloppy than it is difficult. Products like chalk paint and gel stains make the process easy.

SOFA – SPLURGE: Invest in a good sofa. Go with a basic/neutral color and classic design, so even if you change the style of your home or your living room, you won’t have to shell out big bucks for a new sofa. Ask yourself, “will I still love this in a few years?” To save money, buy secondhand. Many high-end furniture stores sell used furniture on consignment, or you may have a designer consignment store in your area. It’s usually better quality stuff, but way cheaper. Sometimes it’s better to buy a quality piece secondhand than a new piece that is cheaply made. Do research on the brand to see what it retailed for brand new — that’ll help you determine if you’re getting a deal.

DINING FURNITURE – SAVE: This is where you can save and score some deals on secondhand pieces. Remember, your table doesn’t have to match the chairs, and not every chair has to match. For a striking look, buy six different chairs and paint them all the same color. Scour secondhand stores, online forums and estate sales. It doesn’t have to be perfect. A pretty tablecloth can cover blemishes and dents, seat cushions can make a boring chair look adorable and pillow cases can be used as chair-back swags to give you an elegant look.

FLOORING – SPLURGE: Flooring is an investment, so it’s not going to be that cheap. If you don’t plan on staying in house for too long, go with an affordable option, not necessarily what you love. Also, make sure you have the right type of flooring for each room. You’ll need something waterproof for bathrooms and kitchens.