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Is Replacing Your Cabinets Worth It?

by Gail Brumfield

We’ve all seen how dingy old cabinets can ruin the appeal of an otherwise nice kitchen. It’s an unfortunate reality that cabinets will eventually get grubby from years of use, especially cabinets around the stove top that get splattered with oil and grease. In addition to dirt and grime, cabinets get dented, nicked, and scratched over time. All of this wear and tear can really hurt the overall look of your kitchen.

Most of the time when cabinets get to this point, people consider getting the whole unit refaced. Unfortunately, getting your kitchen cabinets refaced is a long, expensive, and messy process that will take your kitchen out of commission for days or weeks. Nobody wants to turn their kitchen into a construction zone for that long.

Luckily, there are alternatives to replacing or fully refacing the cabinets in your kitchen. One alternative would be to buy some powerful degreasing solution and try to clean all the caked-on grime off of your cabinets, and then follow up with some joint compound and matching stain to take care of any dents, scratches, or nicks. This solution would be a great deal of work, with no guarantee that your cabinets will come out looking all that much better.

Another alternative would be cabinet refinishing services from a company like N-Hance Wood Renewal. Refinishing your cabinets is a much quicker and more affordable process than trying to reface everything or replace them entirely. These services generally cost a fraction of the price of replacement or refacing, and at the end of the day, your cabinets will look good as new.

The process starts with them sanding down your cabinets to remove any grime, scratches, nicks, stains, or other blemishes. After your cabinets are smoothed down and free of imperfections, they’ll wipe everything down and vacuum up any dust from the sanding process in preparation for staining.

Once you get to the staining part of the process you have a couple of choices that you can make. You could have them match the stain that was originally on your cabinets to return them to their original color, rejuvenating your kitchen while still keeping the same general aesthetic. Alternatively, you could choose a darker shade of stain for your kitchen. Most of the time you won’t be able to get your cabinets any lighter than they are, short of painting them white, but it’s easy to take them a few shades darker, or even many shades darker if that’s what you’re looking for.

In addition to natural stain, N-Hance and other cabinet refinishing companies can also repaint your cabinet in a variety of different colors, and even add antiquing to give them a classic look. All white cabinets are very popular these days, and with a little bit of antiquing can make your kitchen look like a traditional farmhouse kitchen.

The possibilities are nearly endless when it comes to what you want your cabinets to look like after a refinishing job. You can basically get what will feel like a brand new set of cabinets, for a fraction of the price. So, before you go trying to get a carpenter to custom fit a whole new set of cabinets for your kitchen, talk to some refinishing experts to see if there’s a better alternative to replacement. You might be amazed at what they’re able to do!

How Much Damage Can Pet Stains Cause to Your Home?

by Gail Brumfield

Carpet cleaning companies are constantly telling consumers how much damage pet urine can cause to their flooring, but how much damage can it actually cause? You might be surprised to find out that pet urine can cause a plethora of problems for your home both in terms of actual physical damage, as well as environmental factors for you and your family.

Housebreaking new pets is always a fair amount of work, and during that period there are bound to be accidents that happen along the way. It’s incredibly important to take care of pet stains as soon as you are aware of them or there may be some nasty unintended consequences for your carpets as well as your health.

What kind of damage can pet urine cause? Here are some of the main issues that can develop from untreated pet urine in your home:

  1. A Higher Risk for Dangerous Mold – When pets urinate on your floor, it’s imperative to clean it up immediately, not only because it’s gross, but because the longer it stays there the higher the chance of a repeat offense in the same spot. When spots like this are left untreated, pets will resoil the same spot instinctually in an attempt to remark their territory. The repeated moisture caused by this will eventually seep into your padding and subfloor, trapping moisture and creating a perfect environment for multiple different kinds of bacteria to grow. Some of these bacteria, like penicillium, can cause respiratory issues for adults and children alike, and some bacteria can even cause asthma or other breathing conditions to develop.
  2. A Strong Ammonia Smell – All urine has ammonia in it, but the ammonia in cat urine is particularly concentrated. If a urine spot is left unchecked those chemicals will crystalize and trap the odor in your carpet, making it much more difficult to get rid of. In addition to smelling disgusting, this odor can exacerbate symptoms for people suffering from COPD, or worsen allergy symptoms for people that come in contact with it.
  3. Growth of Microorganisms – There is a wide range of microorganisms that can grow and thrive on the moisture left behind from pet accidents, and for most adults with a healthy immune system they don’t pose any sort of serious threat. They can, however, cause minor health issues like sinusitis, watery eyes, and increased allergic reactions. For young children or the elderly, these microorganisms can pose a more serious risk, due to their more easily compromised immune systems.
  4. Sub Floor Rot – In serious cases, where a urine spot has been left untreated and repeatedly resoiled, the moisture will seep through both your carpeting and your padding down to the subfloor, where it can cause serious structural damage. If left too long, the moisture can start to break down the subfloor, causing it to rot and become soft, which could eventually turn into a hole in your floor, which can cause a whole host of other problems.

In short, pet stains can quickly become a very serious problem for your health and your home. There are many different home remedies that you can use to help break up and remove pet stains, like a baking soda and vinegar solution. Often times that will be enough to take care of your stain, though in serious cases where the stain has been left to sit for a while, or if it’s in a hard to reach place that you may not have noticed, you might need some professional help. Carpet cleaning companies like Chem-Dry of Omaha, have specialized equipment that helps them to break up and destroy pet stains all the way through the layers of your floor. They also have the expertise to pull back your carpeting and make sure that your padding and subfloor haven’t started to mold or show other signs of deterioration.

If you’re housebreaking a new puppy, or just have a cat that prefers your floor to the litter box, make sure to stay on top of getting those stains up as soon as possible. It will make a huge difference when it comes to the indoor air quality of your home, and your general environment as well.

Dealing with Excessive Damage as a Homeowner

by Gail Brumfield

Every homeowner dreads coming back from a vacation only to find that a disaster has struck their house in their absence. Whether it’s a burst pipe causing flooding, or faulty electrical connections causing a fire, home disasters happen on a regular basis. Needless to say, these disasters are incredibly inconvenient, expensive, and frightening for everyone involved. In serious cases, you may end up replacing most of your belongings on top of intensive home repairs.

When it comes to dealing with home disasters, many people have no idea where to even start the process of fixing the massive damage and destruction. Most people only deal with these kinds of situations a few times in their lives, so it is often a new and daunting experience for a homeowner. Whether you’re dealing with a fire, flood, or some kind of storm damage, there are easy steps that one can take to get the ball rolling for home repair.

Here are some of the most common types of home damage with first steps you can take to start the home repair process:

Fire Damage:

A house fire is one of the most destructive situations a homeowner can face. Not only can fire quickly destroy your whole house, but even if kept contained to one room, the smoke can fill up the rest of the house causing filth and dangerous living conditions.

In the event of a fire, always remember, safety first! Make sure that everyone is evacuated from the home as soon as possible. Stay low to the ground while exiting to avoid smoke, and always check doorknobs before opening a door to keep fire contained. When all family members and pets are safely removed from the house, call 911 immediately. Generally the first person out of the house should make the call as soon as they are able.

Once the fire has been put out, it is time to assess the damage and file a claim with your insurance provider. Most insurance providers offer 24 hour emergency claim services, so you should be able to file the same day of the incident, no matter what time it is.

Once your insurance provider has been notified of your situation, it’s time to start the process of searching for a contractor who can assess the damage to your home and provide you with an estimate for repairs. Your insurance provider will take a look at the estimate and determine whether or not it seems reasonable for the work that needs to be accomplished. Once your insurance company signs off on the estimate, the contractor can begin the process of repairing your home.

Repairs can take several weeks to several months or even a year if the damage is severe. Depending on the extent of the damage you will probably want to seek a temporary living space for you and your family.

Water Damage:

Water damage is one of the most common types of home damage in the United States. It can stem from various sources, such as a burst pipe, broken appliance, or poorly installed plumbing. In many cases the source of water damage is readily apparent, like in the case of a broken dishwasher that is leaking excessive amounts of water onto the floor. Though, in some cases, water damage can take place over a long period of time, for example a small drip somewhere in the walls of your home that is slowly causing mold and rot in places that aren’t readily visible.

Be aware of the signs of water damage, you can find more information about what those look like here.

In the event of water damage in your home, first order of business is finding the source of the water. Sometimes it may be an appliance, and other times it might not be obvious where the source is. In cases where you can’t identify the source, turn off all water to your home. Once the source has been identified and stopped, take steps to remove anything salvageable from the affected area. This could be furniture, storage boxes, rugs, or anything that could be ruined by water.

When you’ve stopped the source of the water and salvaged anything that can be saved in the affected area, it’s time to report your incident to your insurance provider and call a contractor that can assess the damage to your home and provide you with next steps. Depending on the extent of the damage, water damage can necessitate the replacement of walls, floors, molding, and cabinets. In the most serious cases, water damage can cause severe structural problems that require extensive repairs. The sooner you get a contractor and your insurance company involved, the sooner your home will be back to normal.

Storm Damage:

This type of home damage can vary wildly in terms of what will be required to fix it. In the case of strong winds and hail, you may need to replace the siding or shingles on your home. Heavy rain could flood your whole property, or a tornado could break windows and tear off chunks of the roof.

Due to the variable nature of storm damage, there is no simple fix that I can provide that will be appropriate for all kinds of storm damage. Here are some good general rules that one can follow when dealing with powerful storm systems:

  • When high winds are expected, board up windows to keep debris from breaking the glass into your home.
  • In case of heavy rain, use sandbags on doors and windows that open up at ground level to keep excess water out.
  • Remember Safety First! Stay in interior sections of your home during a storm and far away from windows at all times.
  • Take care of any dead or dangerous looking trees around your property BEFORE a storm is approaching. This can help save you from a dangerous situation in the future.
  • Make sure cars and generators are full of gas, in case you need to evacuate or rely on your generator for power.

In the event of storm damage, inform your insurance provider of any damage that your home has sustained, and work with them to find a contractor that can help you get your house back to normal.

Finding the Right Contractor

There are many options when it comes to choosing a home damage contractor, and after dealing with a home emergency you’ve got more things to worry about than weighing the pros and cons of various contractors. For the quickest repairs, you’ll want to choose someone who is pre-approved with major insurance companies, as that will allow for the fastest communication between insurance provider and contractor, meaning your estimates will be signed off on faster and your repairs can begin sooner.

An example of this sort of contractor is Metropolitan Contractors in Northern Virginia. They specialize in home damage repairs, and work closely with most of the major insurance providers to ensure that repairs are completed quickly and properly.

If you are suffering from home damage, the team at American House on the Hill sincerely wishes you the best. We hope that everything goes well for your repairs and that you can quickly get back to doing the things you love in your home.

Properly Storing An Antique Rug

If you make the investment into a high-quality antique Persian rug, it’s just as important that you take the time to store it properly when you are moving, or have to remove it from your house for a period of time. Improperly storing your antique rugs and fabrics can cause major issues to the quality and overall health of the item.


To properly store a carpet, it’s important to follow the steps outlined below:

  1. Properly and thoroughly hand-wash the Persian antique rug before storing it. Insects, particularly moths and other flying critters, are far less interested in a clean rug than a dirty, dusty older rug. If you don’t have the time or the budget to invest in a hand-wash from a professional carpet cleaning company such as http://www.chemdryofcharleston.com/, it may be worthwhile to purchase some cedar blocks and pieces of cedar wood to store with the rug. This can help prevent moths and other insects from flocking to the fabric.
  2. It is EXTREMELY important that you not wrap the rug in a sheet of plastic when you are storing it for extended periods of time. Wrapping an antique rug, or any rug in general, in a plastic wrap can contribute heavily to moisture build up within the plastic, leading to mildew and mold growth, which has the potential to create health hazards and other issues with your family and home. In most cases, if you need to wrap the rug in a plastic material for whatever reason, it’s best to use a special construction material such as Tyvek paper, because it is specifically made to be resistant to moisture and mildew.
  3. Covering all of the seams on the rug after it is wrapped is an often-overlooked step, but is absolutely vital. If you aren’t careful to cover the various openings and seams on the rug, it can allow moisture, insects, and other issues to seep in to the fabric over time.
  4. Keeping the rug out of moisture-heavy areas is the most important thing you can do to prevent any kind of damage over a long-term period. The majority of problems that arise with antique rugs and carpets has to do with moisture and humidity build up. If possible, putting the rug on an elevated surface rather than on the floor can help prevent any kind of moisture issues as well.
  5. Do not use any sort of chemical or pesticide sprays when you are storing the rug. These are very toxic, and most of the time very acidic, which can be very harmful to antique rugs and carpets. There are special sprays that can be purchased for storing rugs in moth-ridden areas.
  6. The last issue that arises with storing rugs and carpets has to do with mice and rats getting to it. It can be tough dealing with a rodent problem, because they can eat through any sort of wrapping or paper that you may have around the rug. In these cases, the best guidance and information that can be given is to store the rug in as clean of an area as possible, trying to avoid common problematic areas for rodents such as the basement or attic.

Top 4 Preventable Water Damage Sources

by Gail Brumfield

There are many different causes of water damage, some of which there’s not much you can do to prevent, like natural disasters or storm flooding, but there are plenty of causes that can be prevented with regular maintenance checks.

Since the majority of modern plumbing work is hidden in your walls and cabinets, it can be easy to forget it’s there altogether. While everything is usually fine, it doesn’t hurt to have a professional check out your plumbing system to make sure that it isn’t cracking or leaking in any spots.

Here are the most important kinds of plumbing damage to look out for:

Leaky or Burst Pipes:

This is one that you will probably notice, as most of the time the water damage is done by the time you notice a burst pipe. Leaky pipes may give you slightly more warning if they are dripping in a place that is visible. For instance, a leaky pipe in your ceiling will cause a spot on the ceiling that will slowly grow, allowing you to address the situation before it starts to afflict other areas of your home. Burst pipes generally cause rapid water damage to the area around the pipe, which needs to be addressed immediately.


Unwanted Water Buildup in Attics, Crawl spaces, & Basements:

This kind of water damage is a little more difficult to detect early. Since these areas aren’t usually accessed all that often, with the possible exception of a basement that is used as a functional room, water can build up slowly over a long period of time, eventually causing serious structural issues for your home.

Checking your crawl space can be difficult, especially if you’re older or just aren’t sure what you’re looking for. Calling an HVAC professional in your area is the best way to have your crawl space checked for excess water. Some places even provide closed crawl services where they will come and seal up your crawl space to prevent any moisture buildup. Crawl space water damage is incredibly important to check on since it can cause serious damage to the foundation of your home.

HVAC Units:

Most of the time if your HVAC system is running properly there shouldn’t be any moisture buildup, but if you neglect to get them serviced regularly, it can cause moisture build up in and around the unit.  This moisture can interact with any mold spores in your ductwork, causing them to start growing and pumping mold throughout your house. This can drastically lower your indoor air quality and cause health issues for you and your family.

Appliance Malfunction:

Another common cause of household water damage is malfunctioning appliances that use large amounts of water such as, washing machines, dishwashers, water heaters, and refrigerators.  Over time the pipes and connections can get rusty and crack causing leaks, and in some cases a massive failure can cause the unit to drain all over the floor creating a huge mess.

Replacing your appliances every 10 years or so is a good way to avoid a catastrophic system failure ending with home water damage. It’s a good idea to have an appliance specialist come check out your appliances if they start to make strange noises or seem to be malfunctioning in some way to avoid water damage before it happens.

These are some of the most common preventable causes of water damage. Unfortunately not all water damage can be prevented and there are emergency situations where preparation simply doesn’t solve the issue, but it doesn’t hurt to be as prepared as possible.

Calling your local plumbing professional (we use Bradley Mechanical here in Richmond) is a good start to help identify any potential problems with your plumbing, HVAC system, and attic and crawl space. They will be able to tell you about potential issues and offer solutions that could save you lots of money and strife further down the road.

Refinishing Your Historic Floors

by Gail Brumfield

Many historic homes throughout the US have gorgeous wooden floors that were put in when the house was built. While many of these floors have experienced their fair share of wear and tear over the years, don’t think for a second that they can’t be restored to their former shine and luster. With a little hard work, or a few phone calls, you can bring new life to the beautiful historic floors in your home.

Most historic floors are made of oak, an extremely hard and durable wood, which means that if taken care of properly your floors will last for a very very long time. Unfortunately, many of these beautiful hardwood floors get covered up by new homeowners with laminate, tile, carpet, or in the worst cases torn up and replaced with newer, less durable wood. Historic oak floors can last for 100 years or more if taken care of properly, while newer wood flooring products last 40-50 years on average.

When it comes to refinishing your historic floors, there are a couple different choices you’ll want to make before you start your project. To figure out the best plan for refinishing your floors, you’ll need to check out the floor to determine which of these methods is the best solution.

Screening vs. Sanding

Screening Equipment

Sanding Equipment

Screening is a great way to take off the current finish of a floor without sanding into the wood itself. This method is only appropriate for floors with an un-waxed polyurethane coating, which is a hard plastic finish that sits on top of the floor rather than sinking into the wood like oil based finish. Screening works best for floors that have a scratched finish. If the actual wood under the finish is stained or damaged, sanding may be a better option for your floor.

Sanding is the appropriate solution for floors that have oil based finish, a wax coating on a polyurethane finish, or are showing damage to the wood floorboards. Sanding can be tricky, and if done incorrectly can make your floor uneven, or grind uneven grooves and ridges into the floor.

Both of these methods cause a fair amount of dust, so you’ll want to create a seal by taping over the door with plastic before starting. Screening creates less dust than sanding, but either way you’ll want to keep the mess confined to the room you’re working in so you can vacuum it up more easily.

Oil Based Polyurethane vs. Water Based Polyurethane

The next thing you’ll need to figure out for your floor restoration is what kind of finish you’ll use to recoat your floors. Polyurethane is the most common finish for hardwood floors due to its durability and resistance to heavy traffic. You just need to decide whether oil or water based polyurethane is right for your floors.

Oil based polyurethane is great for beginners because it can be worked when wet, which means you can go back and fix any mistakes. Unfortunately, it also takes much longer to dry than water based and emits noxious fumes. It is also cheaper than water based polyurethane. One thing to consider with oil based finish is the fact that it will darken to a light amber color over time, which can look beautiful on certain floors, but if you’re trying to preserve the exact look of the wood in your floor, water based finish might be a better choice.

Water based polyurethane dries totally clear, and much faster than oil based. While that may sound like an advantage (and it can be!), you also need to take into account the skill that it will require to get it all smooth and right the first time. Both of these finishes need to be worked with a “wet edge”, which means you can’t allow it to dry while you’re still coating the floor, otherwise there will be a visible edge where the dried finish creates a bump. You also won’t be able to go back and work with water based finish, even while it’s wet, because it will create marks in the finish.

All that being said, both finishes are good options for hardwood floors, it all just depends on your level of skill and what you want your final product to look like.

Basic Refinishing Process

Here’s a quick rundown of the refinishing process. For more in-depth instructions on how to refinish your floors, ask a professional at your local hardware store, or check out this guide: https://www.thisoldhouse.com/how-to/refinishing-school .

  1. Cleaning – Firstly, you’ll need to remove all the furniture from the room and clean the floor to get up any loose particles that might scratch up the floor during sanding or buffing. Just spray the area with your choice of cleaning agent and wipe it down with an old terrycloth mop or towel.
  2. Sand the Perimeter and Hard to Reach Spaces – Before you break out your drum sander or polisher with a screening disk, you’ll want to sand the finish down around the perimeter of the room and in other areas where the power sander won’t be able to fit. Sand each floorboard until the finish gets dull and forms a powder.
  3. Power Sanding – Once you’ve gotten all of the hard to reach places, break out that drum sander or polisher and screen or sand the rest of your floor. Take care to move at an even pace with the sander to avoid creating uneven spots in the floor. Take a shop-vac and vacuum the dust off of the pad every so often to keep it working consistently.
  4. Dust Clean-up – Take a short break and let all the dust in the room settle for about 20 minutes after sanding. Once everything seems to be settled, put the brush attachment on your shop-vac and get up all of the dust. Move along the seams of the boards to make sure you get any dust that might have settled in between the cracks.
  5. Applying the Perimeter Finish – Now that you’ve gotten all the dust up, strap on some booties to cover your shoes, and grab your paintbrush and finish. Have your roller for the next step ready to go, since you’ll need to work quickly at this point (unless you’re using oil based finish, which will give you a little more leeway in terms of drying time).  Using your paintbrush, paint a 3 inch stripe of finish all around the perimeter of the room starting from the back corner (you don’t want to paint yourself in!) being careful not to let this strip dry. If you’re in a large room, you might want to get the first section and then complete other parts of the perimeter as you come to them.
  6. Finishing the Middle – While the edge finish is still wet, pour a line of finish along the floor in line with the grain of the wood. Take care to only pour about as much as you can spread in ten minutes, you want to make sure you’re maintaining your “wet edge”. First spread the finish with the grain, and then move the roller across the grain. Repeat this process until the whole room is covered, again taking care not to paint yourself into the room. Wait about 3 hours before applying a second coat, and a week or so before replacing your furniture (dry times will be longer with oil based finish).

That’s about it as far as the refinishing process goes. It can be quite a bit of work if you’ve never done it before, and it can be tricky to get a nice finish the first time you do it. That being said, if you do it properly and follow directions, you’ll end up with a floor that you can be proud of for years to come.

If you aren’t sure you want to risk messing up your historic floors doing an amateur refinishing job, there are tons of hardwood floor refinishing companies out there that can take care of your floors for you. Personally, I recommend Buff and Coat. They’ve refinished the floors in several historic homes that I’ve renovated, and always do a wonderful job.

No matter what you decide to do with your floors, don’t cover up that beautiful historic hardwood. Cheap linoleum and tiles may be enticing, but your home will look much better and retain its historic appeal with its classic hardwood floors. They’ll last longer and give you something to be proud of for years to come.


How to Protect Your Investment in Your Carpet

by Gail Brumfield

If you’ve never replaced the carpeting in a home, you may not appreciate the value of proper carpet maintenance. But if you have, you already know: New carpeting can cost thousands of dollars. For most of us, that’s a big investment, one that merits some extra care and effort to protect.

Despite the big cost of carpeting, many homeowners don’t do enough to protect it. While they wouldn’t dream of skipping a car’s oil change, for example, they’re perfectly comfortable with skipping a professional carpet cleaning. Unfortunately, the effect of neglect is similar for both carpets and cars: without regular maintenance, both wear out (and will need to be replaced) more quickly.

Consider this: Medium-grade carpet can last between five and fifteen years. Would you like to take care of your carpet and replace it in fifteen years? Or would you prefer to neglect it, and pay to replace it in five? With proper maintenance and care, you’ll enjoy the carpet for the duration of its intended lifespan. You won’t have to spend thousands to replace that carpet before its time.

Ready to invest a little effort to protect the investment in your carpet? Here’s what you need to do:

Vacuum, regularly. Plan to vacuum your carpet at least once a week, and potentially more in high-traffic areas. Perhaps you’re thinking that, even after two weeks since the last vacuuming, your carpet looks just fine. But that’s not the point. Regular vacuuming removes dirt, sand, and gravel before it has a chance to sink deep into your carpet. Once there, abrasive grit can damage carpet fibers; deep-down dirt is also harder to remove.

Remove stains, immediately. When a spill occurs, you need to stop what you’re doing and attend to it right away. You’ll need a white towel. You’ll also need a stain removal spray that won’t harm your carpet; test this spray in advance, in an out-of-the-way spot before applying it to any stain. Be sure to read the directions on the spray before applying it. After all, you’re trying to protect a big investment – remember?

Steam clean, periodically. Portable steam cleaners can help your carpeting maintain a neat and clean appearance; they’re also effective removing spots, stains, and grit missed by regular vacuuming. Instead of renting a steam cleaning machine, consider purchasing one; this investment will pay for itself after just a few uses. Again, be sure to follow the directions for proper operation. You don’t want to apply too much water or cleaning solution, and you don’t want to leave too much in your carpet.

Schedule professional cleanings, yearly. Despite your best efforts, your carpeting will collect dirt, grit, and stains over time. For a deep clean, you’ll need to rely on a professional carpet cleaner such as Chem-Dry. Professionals have more effective solutions and more powerful extraction equipment; they can remove dirt that homeowners can’t reach. Most carpet manufacturers suggest scheduling a professional cleaning once a year.

Hopefully, by now you agree: A little extra care is worth all of the money you can save by postponing that carpet replacement. And all the while, you’ll get to enjoy a carpet that looks and feels nice and clean.

Upgrading Your Home’s Energy Efficiency

by Gail Brumfield

If you own a home, improving its energy efficiency is likely to be an ongoing, gradual process. There’s so much you can do to make your home more efficient –  too much work and expense for most of us to accomplish for most of us in less than several years. But when elements of your home need to be replaced, making a commitment to upgrading to more efficient solutions can pay huge dividends for you.

Energy-Efficient Appliances

If you have an old appliance or two in your home, it may be costing you more than you realize. That’s because today’s appliances are so much more efficient than those of a generation ago. Let’s look at refrigerators, for example: Per ENERGY STAR, a refrigerator made in 1980 would cost more than $200 a year to run; a new, ENERGY STAR qualified refrigerator would cost only $50. Even when compared to today’s standard models, ENERGY STAR refrigerators are about 20% more efficient.

Upgrading the other major appliances in your home also offers the potential for big energy savings. Dishwashers, clothes washers, freezers, water heaters all use a lot of energy – but ENERGY STAR models use a lot less. As if that wasn’t enough incentive, your local government agencies and utilities may also offer tax credits, rebates, or other incentives to support your efficiency-enhancing upgrades.

Replacement Windows

Appliances aren’t the only household devices that have greatly improved in energy-efficiency: Replacement windows have, too. Today’s windows offer glass coatings that manage the sun’s rays, allowing some through while reflecting others away. These coatings allow windows to play an active role in managing the temperature in a home, and reducing the workload on heating and air conditioning systems.

Like appliances, windows can also be ENERGY STAR qualified. Replacing your windows with ENERGY STAR models can greatly reduce your energy usage and cut down on your power bills. Per ENERGY STAR, replacing a home’s single-pane windows with ENERGY STAR qualified windows can save between just over $100 to almost $500 per year. Savings like these can pay for your window replacement in just a few years, while keeping you more comfortable.

Heating & Air Systems

Chances are, you’re not going to replace your entire heating and air system before you have to do so. But there are things you can do to reduce the energy it spends. Changing your air filter on schedule, for example, will improve the air flow to your system and reduce the energy required to keep you comfortable. Scheduling tune-ups from a heating and air professional will also help your system run more efficiently.

If you want to upgrade your heating and air system on a budget, consider a programmable thermostat. These thermostats maintain a comfortable temperature while you’re at home and awake; when you’re away or asleep, the thermostat can be programmed to maintain a temperature that demands less from your heating and air system. For example, your thermostat may be programmed to let your home stay cooler in winter, while you’re away at work; adjustments like these can reduce your power bill by as much as 10%.

Interlocks & Transfer Switches –
What’s the Difference?

by Gail Brumfield

If you’ve got a portable generator, and you want to safely connect it to your home’s electrical system, you and your licensed electrician have a choice to make: Whether to install a transfer switch or an interlock. There’s just one problem: You don’t know the difference. Don’t worry – we’ll fix that!

What’s a Transfer Switch?

Simply put, it’s a device that allows you to safely run power to your home’s electrical system. Transfer switches force you to choose between using utility power and generator power; they prohibit you from connecting your household electrical system to both at the same time – a dangerous circumstance that can severely harm devices, household systems, and utility workers.

In addition to controlling the connection between home, generator, and utilities, transfer switches also dictate which circuits are powered. Because most portable generators can’t power entire homes, transfer switches restrict power to the circuits (and their connected devices) that you’ll need most during an outage. You and your electrician will agree upon these circuits (and devices) prior to installation.

Transfer switches look like smaller versions of your home’s electrical panel. Because fewer circuits will be powered, you’ll see fewer breakers. You’ll also see a switch that allows you select whether you want to connect to the utility, the generator, or neither one. Once you flip the switch to the generator setting, the pre-arranged circuits will receive power as needed.

Depending on where your electrical panel (and transfer switch) are located, you may be able to plug your generator directly into an outlet on the switch; this will be the case if your panel and generator are located outside of your home. If your electrical panel is located inside your home, a power inlet box will also need to be installed on the outside of your home; your switch will connect to the generator via the power inlet box (which is basically an outlet).

What’s an Interlock?

Interlocks perform the same role as transfer switches, but they use a simpler method to do it. Interlocks are sliding metal plates that are installed onto the electrical panel; where these plates are positioned dictates whether or not the panel is connected to the generator or to utility power.

Unlike transfer switches, interlocks don’t require your electrician to perform any rewiring; overall, a bit less installation time is required for interlock kits. Again, depending on where your electrical panel is located, a power inlet box may also need to be installed.

Interlocks don’t dictate which circuits are powered; this is something that you’ll need to do manually. As mentioned above, portable generators are limited in which household systems they can power. You and your electrician will want to confirm what your generator can – and can’t – safely power. This will determine which circuits you’ll engage in the event of an outage; engage too many, and try to power too much, and you’ll risk overloading your generator.

There you have it: Relative to interlocks, transfer switches offer slightly easier operation, but more expense. What matters most to you?

How to Save Money on Renovating Your Home: 7 Cost-Saving Tips from the Pros

How to Save Money on Renovating Your Home: 7 Cost-Saving Tips from the Pros

Your dream home at a price you can afford? If you think that sounds more like a fantasy than reality, think again. You can definitely save on your home remodeling projects if you know the smart ways you can cut on costs.

Here are some suggestions on cost-efficient home renovation ideas that can save you thousands of dollars.

1. Don’t transfer the toilet or kitchen sink.

Moving the toilet or kitchen sink can increase your plumbing costs (which can go up to a thousand bucks)—so do away with it if it’s not necessary. But if you really have to do it, take the chance to have your pipes upgraded, too.

2. Seek the help of a contractor.

If you’re a skilled DIYer, chances are there’ll be some costly mistakes along the way if you’re doing everything on your own. Consider hiring the coaching services of a contractor for mentoring and consultation. You’ll then realize how much you’re going to save taking this route rather than relying only on yourself.

3. Pick up your materials yourself.

For your own DIY projects, having your needed materials delivered to your doorstep is convenient—but delivery fees can stack up and cost you much. You can save by picking them up yourself. No pickup truck? No problem. For just less than 500 bucks, you can get a utility trailer online that you can use for hauling your materials for your DIY home renovation projects.

4. Purchase your building supplies at auctions.

Rather than shop at home centers where prices can get really expensive, you’ll be better off buying your needed home renovation supplies at building-supply auctions. There, you’ll find items that cost only a few bucks as compared to home center items that can cost you thousands of dollars.

5. Engage an architect in a one-time design consultation.

If the scale of your project is not that big, it’s not practical and cost-efficient to get a full architectural service. Look for architects who are willing to provide design consultancy-only services. Make sure the service includes inspecting the problem and drawing out some solutions. Then you can give the architect’s drawing to a builder for execution.

6. Demolish and rebuild.

While this may sound like the craziest idea in the world, but starting from scratch can actually save you tens of thousands of dollars if you’re going to do a major home remodel. Demolishing your entire house and constructing a new one will result in a living space that’s stronger, sturdier, safer, and more energy-efficient.

7. Prioritize efficiency.

This is especially true in kitchen remodeling where size isn’t as important as efficiency. It just makes sense if you’re working with a small space. For example, you can change your space-consuming shelves with pull-out drawers that have racks for your various kitchen items and food. Kitchen upgrades such as lazy Susans, dividers, and pull-out trays can maximize your space and save you on remodeling costs.

Home renovation projects don’t have to involve wiping out your bank account. With some cost-saving ideas, you can make sure that you’ll have an excellently renovated house while keeping some of your savings intact.