Basement Remodeling Ideas: Overcoming Obstacles

For gaining space in a home there are several ways to go: up, sideways and down. The first two require extensive renovations whereas down, in the basement, already has the shell, floor and utilities ready to go. Unlike other areas of the home the basement can be completely closed off for privacy or as a space to send the kids for privacy upstairs. However, you may encounter some obstacles such as lack of light, low ceilings and exposed ductwork but these can be worked out with a little planning. For example, ductwork can be painted black or, as in commercial buildings and hospitals, painted bright colors to accentuate them. Whatever you plan to do in the lower regions of the home get a professional basement remodel contractor to look at the space. Not only will you get a great job but he or she knows the pitfalls of basements and can correct them.

The Green Kitchen: How to Make Your Kitchen More Eco-Friendly and Energy-Efficient

Having a kitchen space that uses less power and water is said to be "green." However being environmentally responsible in the kitchen goes a lot further than that. Considerations such as energy-saving appliances, a recycling station and using sustainable building materials all contribute to the eco-friendly movement. Renovating the kitchen with environmentally-friendly materials such as cork, bamboo and linoleum floors, as well as stone countertops, is in keeping with this trend. In addition, many home owners are also keeping their old cabinets, refinishing them and adding new doors and avoiding sending the old cupboards to the landfill.

Faux Finishing Painting Techniques

The popular understanding of "faux finishing" is that the process revolves around painting. However, the true definition of this technique is applying new processes and materials onto one surface to imitate another. Faux paint finishing can be applied using whatever you have on hand like rags, newspaper, sponges and even plastic grocery bags to create realistic imitations like marble, stone or even bamboo. Sponging and ragging still rate among the most popular applications and can be accomplished by do-it-yourselfers. Getting started just requires a bit of practice and very soon any novice can be making great walls.

Waterproofing Your Basement

One of the most frustrating things that can happen to your home is to have water in the basement. Many homeowners have had the sinking feeling after going down the basement to find soggy carpets and soaked boxes of personal possessions. Basement contractors go right to the source of the leaks and this could mean excavating around the exterior basement walls. When the cracks are fixed a waterproofing membrane seals the foundation then a drain tile system is put in place and the are is backfilled with 1" gravel. Water will now be drained away before it touches the foundation and, better yet, the basement will be dry.

Bathroom Remodeling Basics

The master bathroom used to be one of the most transient places in the home but new innovations in tubs, showers and other fixtures have transformed it into a hub of relaxation, a vital living space and refuge. Just like the ones of thirty years ago today's bathrooms have to be designed to serve a purpose so designers are incorporating style with new technologies. Low-flow toilets and showers are conserving water and heat recovery systems on shower drains are saving hot water draining from the new soaker tubs and steam shower cabinets. The after-bath experience is a lounge complete with reading area, massage table and an entertainment center.

Restoring Hardwood Floors

Hardwood was the luxury flooring for most of the last century but a lot of maintenance was needed to make the surface look great. The floor surface had to be waxed and buffed and then, to redo them, the wax had to be stripped off before they could repeat the cycle. So in the 1960's and 1970's many home owners just covered them with carpet. Now people are discovering beautiful hardwood floors under linoleum and old carpet and they want to refinish them to their former glory. With the new finishing agents and techniques old hardwood floors are now the new gems of new flooring.

Under-Roof and Attic Insulation

In all parts of the country homes need insulation, either from the cold or intense heat. Because in actual fact, without insulation both require great amounts of energy to maintain a comfortable home. In the standard home design the energy savings can be increased by putting more insulation in the attic. This includes fiberglass batts and blown-in cellulose insulation which both have an insulation factor of R-3.5 per inch. For the best results the attic should have an R-40 rating which would be a minimum of 12 inches of either product. Blown-in cellulose is recycled bits of newspaper treated with a fire retardant. An agitator the size of a washing machine mixes this with air an it is pumped into the attic space.

Cathedral ceilings follow the roof line which means there is not a lot of space separating the two surfaces. These spaces are usually filled with fiberglass batts, blown-in cellulose or rigid foam sheets. Another product, closed-cell foam spray, sticks to the ceiling and expands to form a leak-proof seal. This prevents any moisture build-up that could rot the roof from inside. Another product, radiant foil, looks like a large emergency blanket but installed in the attic can both reflect the summer's heat out of the attic or, in winter, reflect the heat back into the home. In addition to insulation a smart homeowner will check the home for leaks from windows, chimneys and other spaces.

Home Sealing and Insulation

At the first sign of an increase home heating homeowners will rush to fill up their attics with insulation. This is good, and should be done, but they neglect to service another big problem: drafts. Before doing anything a homeowner should contact an Energy Star representative and see about getting an energy audit on the home to find out where the heat is leaking out. New technologies like infrared photos of the home will show where the heat is escaping, especially from older homes where insulation was not as important because heat was cheaper back then. A blower test will reveal air leaks, most of which then can be caulked and sealed. Other leaks include outlets, doors, window sliders, utility junctures with the home's exterior and vents. These can be fixed with weather stripping and caulking ro, in the case of window sliders, removable sealer.

Safety and Sustainability in Cabinetry

Many household items contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including kitchen and bathroom cabinets, which may be made from melamine sheets sandwiching a sawdust filler. This is because the pressed wood filling needs a binding product and many of these contain chemicals like formaldehyde that can be harmful to the occupants of a tightly-sealed home. Changing these chemicals for more natural ones or ones which contain minimal VOC glues is becoming an obsession with many cabinet companies.

Sources for a "green" cabinet filling is also in the works. Straw and re-milled wood are not from old-growth forests and neither is bamboo or cork, which are sustainable crops. Agri-board, agricultural products inserted between two sheets of wood veneer, has no VOCs. In addition, look for Material Data Safety Sheets to find any substances of concern and use the LEED Green Building Rating Systemª specifications for low-emitting materials. Another economical way to outfit the cabinets is to look for recycled cabinet hardware and storage racks in second-hand building supply places.

Choosing Exterior and Interior Doors

New doors are like a magnet to the eyes and can increase the home's value as well as improve energy-efficiency and security. The entrance door should compliment the home's design as well as be made from a material that suits the climate. Insulated, steel doors are the most popular but fiberglass is catching up because it will not rust, warp or dent. In addition, fiberglass can mimic real wood right down to grain and miters. Aluminum or vinyl clad wooden doors have the advantage of being sturdy and maintenance-proof while also resisting warping whereas wood looks great but is susceptible to warping, insects and other maintenance. For security choose a solid panel door with sidelights and non-removable hinges. And the right hardware will bring out the best features of the entranceway.

Inside doors can range between $50 up to $900 depending on the use. Pockets doors, which disappear into the walls, are popular but require the wall space and a lot of skill to install them. French doors, with their glass panels, are also popular in the home. They can be frosted for privacy or just to compliment the room design. In addition, the right hardware can bring out the beauty of the door much like chrome trim will highlight a new car.

Fireplace Inserts

While fireplaces are romantic and provide a great atmosphere they are source of heat loss and indoor pollution. Steel and cast-iron, fireplace inserts that burn wood, coal pellets, gas and oil. They fit into the fireplace hole and the firebox and chimney is sealed off from the home. The new wood burning fireplace inserts are more efficient than the older ones, which are a major cause of air pollution in some areas, and will have an EPA certification. Many have thermostats, heat-distributing fans, beautiful trim and glass doors which can warm the room in an efficient way but still show the fire through the protective glass to retain the ambiance.

Fireplace inserts will run from $1,000 to $3,000 installed but the buyer should get the right one for the amount of area he or she wants to heat. In addition, a stainless-steel flue should be inserted in the old chimney because it may not be in good shape but the certified installer will check this. Only seasoned wood - logs that have been left to dry for a year- should be burned as "green" wood gives off creosote and this is a chimney fire hazard. There are additives that can be put on the fire that clean out the flues but professionals should clean the chimney and check the stove every year.

Window Safety

Windows are not only for protection against the wind, rain and snow they are security portals and should be easy exits for emergencies and entrances for firefighters - 5.7 square feet. The main escape route when a fire occurs the front door directly to the outside. The comes the windows in the sleeping and living areas. All windows shouldn't be more than 44" off the floor and less than 20" wide or 24" high

Green products for insulating can be found on the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI) site. They can also point out over 2000 items in the home that give off volatile organic compound (VOC) gases and recommend products that are safe for interior use. VOC's are responsible for indoor air pollution. In addition the GEI shows which building products are recycled and which ones leave the least "carbon footprint."

Plumbing, Waste Removal and Basement Bathrooms

Many homes with a basement are positioned so that the drains run out to the main sewer line from under the concrete floor. This gravity feed means that a basement bathroom and wash facility can be installed without much trouble. However, many homes are "below grade," which means that the waste water has to be pumped up if a normal bathroom is to be installed. The basement remodeler will have a plumber install an "upflushing toilet," a freestanding pumping station that will send the sewage to the main line. These toilets are around $900 but they do not have to break the concrete to install them as they sit on the floor. An expanded system will also pump sinks, showers and a washing machine. Many of these systems have a macerating options which grind the waste before pumping.

Another pumping system is a below-ground tank that holds more than the upflush tanks. The floor has to be dug up to install one of these types but they are an all-in-one unit which is convenient. Composting toilets are becoming popular but meant only for solid waste. They require very little water and are vented outside. An electric warmer and fax evaporates the remaining water and bacteria changes the waste to compost for the garden. At $1,000 they are expensive but require no chemicals and completely environmentally-friendly.

Gutter Basics

Gutters may be one of the best defenses your home has against basement water leakage. When taking into consideration the roof area of a bungalow is around 1500 square feet, multiplying that amount by a rainfall of even 1/4" is over 16 gallons of water pooling around the foundation. Gutters gather this water and a system of downspouts direct it off the property. They are usually made from vinyl or aluminum, which usually cost from $3-$6 a linear foot, or, on the high-end, stainless-steel, copper and wood. These systems are usually put on commercial building as they can cost from $15 to $35 a linear foot. Vinyl is the easiest to work for do-it-yourselfers and won't dent but seamless aluminum is a better product to prevent leaking because there are no joints except on the corners. Both come in the "J" and round shapes.

Whatever gutter system is chosen all have to conform to gravity. This means that the pitch of the system should be 1/2" for every 10 foot run of gutter. Runs longer than 35 feet are usually pitched in the middle with the ends sloping down to the downspouts on each end. Gutters must be kept clear of debris to function properly and should be cleaned at least twice a year. In this way they will form an integral part of the home's defense system.

Comparing Paint and Siding

"Curb appeal" is a real estate term where a buyer sums up a home on the first glance. The thinking in many quarters is that a book, especially in real estate, can be judged by its cover. However, the other job of paint or a low-maintenance siding is to protect the home. In this regard, wood clapboard is one of the oldest and most respected sidings and new preserving techniques have made it impervious to rot and insects. Vinyl siding mimics the shape and grain of wood in a light, low-maintenance package that comes in a variety of colors. It won't rot and is impervious to pests. But for more heft and resistance to heat, wind, water and insects cement fiber plank is popular and it also looks like wood and can be nailed and cut like original clapboard.

Painting the exterior is also a popular choice, especially with the improvements in the composition. If a surface is cleaned, scraped and primed with a quality paint the surface should last for a dozen years at a fraction of what siding costs. Vinyl can also be painted as can fiber cement planks and stucco. However, these products should be power-washed first to get rid of mildew or paint chips and then a high-end primer should be used.

Choosing Custom Windows

Most homeowners can change windows because they look old and the mechanisms do not work well anymore. Others will buy new ones because they are renovating the home and want a new look. However, for more and more of homeowners the top directive seems to be for new, energy-efficient windows. If the window frames are in good shape sometimes custom panes can be ordered to fit. This is a popular choice in old homes where the frames have historical value. Many manufacturers will accept special orders for new triple-pane window glass with low-emissivity coatings and filled with a heavy argon gas for better resistance to cold. With some windows, volume speaks so a larger order may be rewarded with a price break. However, measuring windows is an art and mistakes can be extremely costly so homeowners should leave this to a professional.

The thing to remember in all cases is that not all windows are created equally both in quality and in size. Window standards change with each decade so having non-standard openings may mean that custom-ordered windows are the only choice. By custom-ordering the homeowner can also get the style, energy-efficiency and options that he or she wants in wood, vinyl, aluminum, composite or fiberglass. The truth is that not all manufacturers make equally-sized windows so homeowners should shop around.

Attic Storage

One of the best, and most hidden, features of Victorian homes is that there is an attic where, in most cases, a person can stand up and move around. In the larger, manor homes these were used as servant's quarters or "sick rooms" where the ill in the family were quarantined. The open-beam construction also meant that they were used for unobstructed storage whereas the new, low-pitched homes are blocked with trusses. Side wings at the bottom of the roof line would also offer storage and many homes have doors to them. Up in the attic of a traditional home the gable walls offer the best storage as shelving can be built there. In addition, the homeowner should keep an inventory list to help with the organizing and to be able to retrieve items.

In any attic ventilation is important to rid the space of humidity and built-up heat. Many of these homes in southern areas have electric fans but convection works well in the northern states where the air outside is colder and attracts the heat from the vents. Some homes will also have a dehumidifying option which will keep the relative humidity of the space consistent, which is important if storing moisture-sensitive items. Insulation is also important on the attic floor to maintain a consistent temperature within the home whether winter or summer.


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