Gardening Tips

April
8
2015

 

I was busy working in the garden last week, planting some cool weather herbs and veggies, and now I’m on the hunt for something they don’t have around here.  Broccoli raab. I don’t know why nobody has it. It’s not that unusual an item.  But it made me decide to put in some brussel sprouts.  I don’t know if that makes sense to you, but it makes perfect sense to me.  They are all over the place and I have a little room to spare.

What we have so far is arugula and garlic, chives and celery seedlings, and parsley, cilantro and thyme. I also planted more parsley (by way of seeds), and peas and spinach.

I’ll be away this week, back in Jersey, and you can bet I’m scouting around for some broccoli raab! Meanwhile, I saw this wonderful article on gardening.  It’s from fix.com and it’s very interesting and informative.   Hopefully it will get you in the gardening mood and help answer any questions you might have if you’re just starting out.  And I’d love to hear about your gardens!

 


Source: Fix.com

How to Sell a House in Five Days

February
18
2014

 

Yep, I’m not kidding, that’s how long it took to sell our house in Jersey.  The other side of the story, however, is that we worked on it for over a year and a half to get it cleaned out and updated.  And we did a LOT of work.  The last part of our success is that we priced it right.  And by priced it right I mean when our realtor Peggy (a/k/a “The Pegster”) told us what price we should list it for, our jaws dropped in dismay.  But she was the expert, she knew the market, and she was right.

Here’s a list of the work we did:

1.  We cleaned out the attic totally – we put everything we wanted to keep in plastic bins (I should’ve bought stock in the bin company for all the bins we bought.)  Some of the stuff we sold at our garage sales, a lot was donated to Good Will and some was thrown out.  Unfortunately, (especially according to John) we also have to store Jackson and Chrissy’s things since they are both living in places with hardly any storage room.  Someday they’ll take their stuff.  That’s what we keep telling ourselves anyway.

Little Choptank 2014 G May 2 - 6, 2014 081

2.  We gutted the “sunroom.”  This is the room we mostly sat in to watch TV at night.  When we bought the house it had an olive-green shag rug, dark brown paneling, and green shower curtains and dark drapes covering all three walls of windows.  Why they called it the sunroom was beyond us because not one ray of sunlight was able to sneak through.  We changed the floor and curtains when we moved in of course.  But we never got around to that paneling or the windows.  We did change it to sell though.

Denville House Construction 016

Denville House Construction 045

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This room is hard to recognize from the way it was before.

denville house 1

3.  The hallway to the bedrooms was stripped of wallpaper, painted, and we put in a new floor. We also redid the stairs up to these rooms.  And scrubbing off that wallpaper was one of the hardest jobs I had!  We used every tool and every product, and in the end I have to admit it still wasn’t as smooth as I would have liked it.

Denville House Construction 074

Denville House Construction 119

4.  The living and dining rooms were painted and got crown molding.  We also put in a new window in the front of the house in the living room.  Later, when all the other work on the house was done, we put in a new rug in these two rooms and the entryway.

Denville House Construction 098      This and Tht 2014 015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A big improvement I think:

denville house 4

5.  In the kitchen we stripped the wallpaper (a pain, but not nearly as bad as the hall) we painted, and we cleaned out.  Later, but before we were going to list, we had a stager come in – courtesy of the Pegster.  She wanted us to take down the glass block wall between the front door and the living room, and put granite in the kitchen, and change the appliances to stainless.   Yeah.  I would have loved to change the appliances and the counter top, but we knew we weren’t going to get a price for the house that warranted putting in even more money.  And John actually loved that glass block.  We put it in not too many years ago.  So we left those things as they were.

Denville House Construction 125    denville house 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6.  Our oil tank was still in the ground, and it needed to be inspected and closed up.   We were so happy that the tank in the ground had no leaks, and the town gave us its blessing to close it up and cover it up, and a new tank was put in the basement.

Denville House Construction 177     Denville House Construction 182

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7.  John’s office needed updating.  We lived in a split level, so this room was downstairs but right off the garage.  It wasn’t the basement, that was still one level down.

Denville House Construction 133    denville house 11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here we replaced the two windows, changed three doors, changed the carpet, added molding and changed the ceiling.  We toyed with the idea of ripping out this real wood knotty pine paneling, but that would have added so much to the cost, and both John and Peggy thought it had a charm about it, so I scrubbed it and shined it up, and it looked a lot better when I was done.

8.  We painted the entire basement, and of course cleaned everything out!  There were essentially three areas of the basement, the back room, which was primarily storage and now held the new oil tank, the work room, a pretty long area that also had the washer/dryer and some shelves that we built for the extra pantry type stuff, and the man cave area.  This had a pool table, a bar and a jukebox.  John and our two dads spent many happy hours down there.

denville house 12

 

9.  We re-glazed the tiles in the two bathrooms.  (And by “we” I mean we hired a  company to do it.)   We decided to re-glaze rather than replace mostly because of the cost.  The tiles weren’t in bad shape, they just had outdated colors.  Melon and aqua. And we lived with them for 22 years.  Yep.  (At least they weren’t avocado green.)  We did redo the floor and added porcelain tile, and of course we removed wallpaper from the larger bathroom, and repainted the second.  Wallpaper seems to be forbidden by realtors and buyers.  It’s fine to do for yourself, but then you’ve got to take it down when  you want to sell.  I will remind myself of this if we ever want to put wallpaper anywhere ever again!  We also re-glazed the tub and shower, and in the larger bathroom, we re-glazed the counter!  It was beautiful!  We were so happy with the results that we wished we had done it years ago so we could have enjoyed it!  The blue in the picture is actually much brighter than it was in person.  Trust me.

Denville House Construction 224       denville house 10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I showed you our smaller bathroom last post, but here it is again:

Before update

Before update

 

After

After

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10. and 11.  We painted Jackson’s room and closets and Chrissy’s room and closets, and in her room we put new carpet.

12.  Last but not least, we emptied the garage and had it painted.  It was already sheet rocked, but we painted it and put some of Chris’s formica built-in type furniture, a set of drawers with shelves in the back out of the way, and it looked great!  We also patched up the plain old cement floor and had a non-slip surface put on it.

The only rooms in the house we didn’t do much to was our bedroom and my office (other bedroom).  We had changed things in both and painted them not too long ago – although I did paint the closets so they’d be nice and fresh looking.

So, after almost two years and $25,000+, yes, we sold our house in five days.

 

Keeping Things Cool

March
26
2014

 

This is the story of how crazy I’m making myself trying to decide on a refrigerator.  It’s just so difficult, especially for someone who likes to do a lot of research and comparisons.  And if you start reading the reviews….forget it!  There are as many negative reviews as there are positive for every single brand.

Jenn-Air

Jenn-Air either has the dispenser or the panel overlay, but not both in the 48″

There are a few things I have already decided.   Okay, I already know I want a built-in fridge, and I also know I want a side by side.  I know many people don’t like the side by side, and there are a lot of you who love the freezer on the bottom, what I consider “the new style.”  However, I have that style in the Crab Shack, and as I suspected, I don’t like it.  For me, I don’t like bending down and rummaging through what ultimately becomes a mess of items. My hands get too cold.   I like the entire side to be freezer, plus even though your argument against the side by side is the narrowness of the freezer, we will have a second (albeit cheaper) fridge in the garage for overflow, and that will probably have the old-fashioned freezer on the top.  Or we will have a small stand alone freezer like we have here in our basement and either option will solve that issue.

Dacor

Dacor also has either the panel-ready door or the water dispenser, not both

Okay, so two decisions down, easy, right?  Nope.  Still so much to decide!  You probably remember me saying I don’t like stainless.  And that’s really because of the fingerprints.  I hate looking at them, and I would hate having to clean that giant appliance all the time.  So it would have to be the smudge-proof stainless, and not too many are made in that size. So my number one choice would be to have a “panel ready” fridge that would match the cabinets.  Which is fine because I love that design.  I love it so much I have it now!  I have white cabinets and I have a white cabinet covered KitchenAid Refrigerator.  I’m happy with it, the problem is they don’t make the same one anymore with the front water dispenser.  I actually could live without the dispenser, you could count on one hand the amount of times I’ve used it in 20 years. (Not the same fridge we purchased 20 years ago, although yes, the same model.) But John likes it and uses it often.

KitchenAid

KitchenAid

This is the model KitchenAid has now.  The handles are completely different, mine go from top to bottom and are white, and match the cabinets.  That was a big disappointment.  Not that it would have been my first choice maybe.  I probably would have liked something different.  But at least, I figured, I could always go back to this one if I couldn’t find something else.

I ruled out the Viking right off the bat, it had many, many, many terrible reviews, which was surprising for such a high-end appliance. I did give them a peek a while back though, they have a model that has a glass front, and there was one in a Sea Glass color.  It was just beautiful but I see now they don’t even make that color anymore.

There was one I’ve never heard of before, a Marvel.  Then I saw it was made by AGA, and I have heard of them. They can accept the panel, but they don’t have the water and ice dispenser.

 

Marvel by AGA

Marvel by AGA

One that has come pretty highly recommended is the Sub Zero.  I know two people who own them, and although they have had to do  repairs, they still love them.  Also, this brand has the water dispenser and will accept the panel overlay. Of course, with the price tag (let say $10,000 to $12,000 range) I’ll have to skimp somewhere else to afford it!

Sub Zero

Sub Zero

The last one I think I will be considering is the GE Monogram.  This model does accept the panels, and has the dispenser, the main thing I don’t like about it is the handles.  I’d prefer the ones that go from top to bottom, or at least most of the way.  These are a little skimpy looking to me.

GE Monogram

GE Monogram

Okay then, the last feature I would like to have is the Energy Star rating.  We are going a little more green now that we are building, we have a wind turbine, we will incorporate some solar, and having Energy Star appliances fits right in, besides the fact that they will save us money.  The GE is Energy Star rated, but the Sub Zero in that configuration is not!

It looks like from my research, and from laying all the facts out here, the GE Monogram will be the way to go.  However, if you knew me, you’d know I’m not done looking.  I may just start looking at the 42 inch refrigerators now to see what I come up with. See how I drive myself crazy?

If you own any of these brands and want to weigh in, I’d love to hear what you like or dislike about them.  Have you ever had to repair it?  How was it dealing with the customer service department? Do you mind cleaning the stainless, or do you recommend the smudge-proof kind?  Save me from myself and send me some info!  I’d appreciate it!

Kitchen Backsplashes

January
23
2014

 

While there is still nothing going on metal building-wise (formal permit still not received)  – I’ve been thinking about designing my new kitchen.  This is one of my favorite things to do, especially since I do not make decisions quickly.  I like to think about it, make a “faux” decision, live with it for a while, then change my mind.  This method works for me, even if in the past it has sometimes driven John crazy.  He’s learned now, after 30 some years, that this is just the way I’m wired.  I mean really, this is something I’m going to have to live with for a long time.  I certainly don’t want to make the wrong decision.  And you might say there is no “wrong” decision because all the backsplashes that I’m looking at are pretty.  And yes, you would be right.  But I’d still hate to think, “I wish I picked the other one.”  So it’s good I have lots of time to decide. Here are some ideas:

This was the first one I fell in love with

This was the first one I fell in love with

I really like flowers, and I figured, since I can look out the window at a water scene, I’d go with flowers.  And blue hydrangeas are so pretty.  But I’m not really crazy about the basket.  I’m thinking now I’ll have a blue kitchen (with white cabinets) so this would go with it.  But then again…….   (this is the story of my life).

This one also has the basket, but a more neutral white flower:

Same basket though

Maybe not enough color

I do like the “raised” flower, it’s kind of interesting.  But then, will it be harder to clean?  You know how greasy it can get behind the cook top!

These are also pretty:

Backsplash picture5

I like these dogwoods, and it doesn’t have the basket but it is kind of small.  My cook top is going to be big, I’m thinking 48″, so this would look tiny behind it.

I like poppies, and these red flowers would be fun with a blue kitchen. It’s not a mosaic, but it’s not tiles either:

backsplash-Lobel2

It’s also kind of cute with the shutters on the sides.  I like this one a lot!  This one is a real contender.   There is also a picture of poppies in a field, you may have seen it on Pinterest or somewhere.  If I was going to have somebody custom make a backsplash, this might be nice:

231231762087645104_DX7UT8hw_c

I could go with a blue crab, Maryland is famous for them.  But I think I’d get tired of this pretty quickly.  They did a nice job with it though.

Blue crab

Blue crab

There are other flower types that I gave a little thought to, but I realize now when I look at them, I just don’t see myself choosing them.

backsplash-Fangman1

Backsplash picture3backsplash picture2Backsplash picture1

They are all very pretty, especially that last one, so I still go back and forth about it.

I did a mosaic of a blue heron once.  We have them in our cove occasionally and Jon and I really like them.  But the crab shack has a tile backsplash of herons (not mosaic) and I would need to get somebody to custom make it.  I don’t know how to make a backsplash.

Here's the picture I did

Here’s the picture I did

And here’s the one from the crab shack:

Little Choptank 2013  H August 2 to Sept 4 496

I don’t think I want to go with regular size tiles.  There are a lot more pictures to choose from in tiles though, that’s the plus side.  And truthfully, full size tiles would probably be easier to clean.  Now I’m talking myself into them.  You can see how I go back and forth!  Here’s another one with tile:

backsplash3

It’s kind of pretty, you see a lot of the Italian countryside done up with the regular tiles.  I don’t know if it really goes with a house on the water in Maryland though.

Then I found a picture of a boat on the water.  And like I said before, I do see the water out my window.  But it’s really pretty and if I was going to have to have someone make this, I could put our boat in the picture.  That would be interesting!

2012-07-11_1035

So many choices!  Too many!  It’s good I have a long time to make this decision because this is going to be a hard one to make.  What are your thoughts on this?  Do you have a decorative backsplash?  Tile?  Mosaic?  Is it easy or hard to clean and do you get tired of looking at the same picture all the time?  I’d love to hear your opinions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baby Boomer Housing Trends

January
21
2014

Here’s a good article by the NAHB (National Association of Home Builders).  They say that baby boomers dominate new housing trends.  And if we are any indication – being both baby boomers, and on our way to building our retirement home, then what they are saying is very true!  See if you agree.

The largest American generation is either retired or quickly nearing retirement age. Baby boomers, the generation born between 1946 and 1964 and who count more than 76 million, may be getting older, but they are definitely not ready to head to an elder care facility! 

I love this design!

I love this design!

The boomer generation is more active than generations past, has a more sophisticated style and wants options and choices in their homes. Whether they are selling the homes where they raised their children and heading to sunnier pastures, or staying put and redesigning to accommodate their retired lifestyle, boomers are making an impact on new housing trends. Some features that home builders and re-modelers are seeing as they begin to cater to the boomers include:

Home Offices – Many, many boomers are continuing to work past the age of 65 either because they love their work, or because their retirement savings lost value in the recession. As they transition from a traditional 9-to-5 job, however, many want home offices for flexibility. A second career or part-time employment often eliminates the hassle of commuting while keeping them active and bringing in supplementary income.   

Technology – The tech-savvy boomer generation wants a home that will support all their personal technology. That can mean structured wiring that can drive a network of services that include lighting controls, a security system or a home media center. And they may want a wireless home network with broadband internet access for laptops, tablets and streaming movies.  

Wider Doors and Hallways – Designing a home that is livable now but can transition and be functional as the occupant ages is important in ensuring that the home will be a good long-term investment. Wider doors and hallways are useful for moving larger furniture today, and will allow the home owners to use mobility devices such as walkers and wheelchairs, should they become necessary.

Better Lighting/Bigger Windows – The need for more lighting increases as we grow older. To accommodate this, builders are adding more windows, making them larger to let in more natural light, and making them more energy-efficient as well. They are also adding more light fixtures in areas such as kitchens, bathrooms, and stairways, where dim light can lead to accidental injury. Switches at the top and bottom of a stairwell, and the use of dimmer controls to eliminate glare are other helpful options.

This one from Great Falls Construction is also beautiful!

This one from Great Falls Construction is also beautiful!

First-Floor Bedrooms and Bathrooms – NAHB data shows that 73 percent of buyers aged 55 and up don’t want a second-floor master suite. Boomers wishing to save their joints and avoid stairs have helped fuel this trend. Today’s bedrooms are also bigger, with larger walk-in closets and bathrooms that often have a separate tub and shower and dual sinks.

Easy to Maintain Exteriors/Landscaping Yard work, painting, and other landscaping chores may no longer be enjoyable to aging home owners. People who move to a new home when they retire may opt for a maintenance-free community. Those that choose to stay in their homes might make improvements to exterior surfaces such as installing stucco, brick or low-maintenance siding. Lawns are being replaced with outdoor rooms, decorative landscaping, or flower beds for gardening enthusiasts — either at ground level or raised for seated access.

Our new house will be similar to this design by Dan Sater.

Our new house will be similar to this design by Dan Sater.

Flex Space – Flexible space has become more prevalent in both new homes and remodeling. Flex spaces are rooms that serve the present home owner’s needs but can adjust to changes as they occur. What may have once started out as a child’s bedroom can be redecorated to serve as a hobby room, library or home office, and can be repurposed later for a bedroom for visiting grandchildren or for an in-home caregiver. This flexibility allows home owners to stay in their homes longer, meeting their needs throughout life’s stages.

We will actually be following all of these examples.  We plan on having two home offices, we’ll keep our master on the first floor,  our home will be more technologically advanced, the doorways will be wider, the lighting and amount of windows will be greater, and we plan on keeping the grounds as low maintenance as we possibly can.  I was also planning on adding closets to the room that will be dedicated to storage, qualifying as flex space because it could then be turned into a bedroom if needed one day.  We’ll be going against the tide in a way, since we will not be downsizing, but we will still be following what will be the norm for the baby boomer generation.  Will you be following these guidelines also?

December sky in the backyard.

December sky in the backyard.

Let’s Talk Kitchen Sinks

October
23
2013

 

 

I was browsing around the Houzz site the other day, when I saw a discussion about sinks.  I haven’t decided yet on what type of sink I want to install in the kitchen of our new house, (although I know I want just the one bowl, very large and deep) and I’d love to hear your opinions on what you have, and why you love it or hate it.

In the Crab Shack I have a stainless steel sink, and here at my present home I have a Corian sink, since we have Corian counters and I wanted a totally seamless design. (This kitchen was put in over 20 years ago, and Corian was a big upgrade.  I didn’t realize how much I would have loved granite!)  In other places we’ve lived I’ve also had stainless and clay, now updated to be called “fireclay.”  I suspect all of them have their good points and bad points.  There are some new materials I didn’t know about though, or didn’t realize were being used as sinks.   Here’s a rundown:

Stainless Steel: this is the most popular material for a sink by far.  Many people have it and love it. I have it in the Crab Shack because Lowe’s gave it to me free with the Granite counter top.  (Yes, we bought the counter top at Lowe’s.  It was the same one as in the kitchen store we were looking in, for about half the price.)  I’m going to admit something here because we’re buds and I know you won’t judge me too harshly….   I hate stainless steel.  There I said it.  And the ceiling didn’t fall in.  I just cannot stand the fingerprints.  It never looks clean, even after it’s just been cleaned. The sink has marks that look like scratches and constantly shows water spots. I want to love it, it looks so professional. But I just don’t want to spend that much time trying, without too much luck, to keep it shiny and finger-print free.  And no, my mind hasn’t really changed.  This will be an issue in my new kitchen.  I’ve already planned on getting the refrigerator with the panels that look like the cabinets (I have that now and love it!!) but I’ll probably be getting a stainless dishwasher, double oven and microwave.  But not a stainless sink, that’s for sure.

Stainless Steel

Stainless Apron

Composite Granite: These sinks are 80% granite and 20% acrylic resin.   They are supposed to be very durable and come in a variety of hues. They have been known to crack during shipment, so it must be inspected carefully when it arrives.  It’s only available in matte and the finish can dull over time, but people have noted that this adds to the personality of it, and it’s not a “bad” thing.  The dark colors seem to be the overwhelming favorite because they don’t show the spots. It’s been recommended to clean and dry it with a dishcloth every night, which seems like too much work, (the drying, not the cleaning)  but again, people have noted that it’s not that big a deal, and with the darker colors, this isn’t even necessary.  These sinks are very pretty, I’m adding it to my list of possibilities.

Composite Granite

 Fireclay:  These clay sinks are highly resistant to scratches but can stain and chip!  Cleanup, however, is easy.  If you want a white sink, this material comes highly recommended.  It is mostly seen in the “Farmhouse” or apron style sinks.  It doesn’t come in a large variety of sizes, although I wouldn’t think this would be an issue.  It is very heavy, and would need adequate support and it’s not “friendly” to dropped dishes.  I’m probably not going with this one.

Fireclay apron sink

Enameled Cast Iron:  This sink is smooth, glossy and shiny, which gives it some appeal.  It won’t crack or dent, but I don’t think most sinks would dent.  (Maybe stainless)  It would be a consideration if you know you want a white sparkly sink.  (Although other colors are available.) It is also very durable, but can chip, and show stains and nicks.  Some people have said it shows pot “scrapes” and it is very, very heavy!  This (like the clay sink) will not be one of my choices.

cast iron

Natural Stone:  There are a couple of different “stone” sinks on the market, I hadn’t heard about them before but they are beautiful.  Like all the other options however, they have pros and cons.

Soapstone -  This sink is non-porous and unaffected by heat, bacteria and stains. It’s a little “softer” than other materials so some care has to be taken with it because it could get scratched or nicked.   I’ve read it’s not easy to install, but compared to the heavy cast iron or clay sinks, how hard could it be?  Also, I’ve read it’s not cheap.  But who wants a cheap sink?  If you buy cheap, you get cheap, that’s my motto.  (Well, it is now.)  The one thing in its favor is it’s absolutely beautiful!  I’m going to have white cabinets and this sink would be just gorgeous!  I wasn’t thinking about getting soapstone counters though, I was thinking granite.  And with the veining in the granite, do I need a sink with veining also?  I’ll put it on my list as a possibility for now.

soapstone sink

Slate -  I did not even realize this was a sink material.  However, it is resistant to fading, burning and scratching.  And custom designs can be sand blasted into it to make a truly custom look.  This feature would only be helpful if you have having the apron type sink, which I am not leaning towards, but am still undecided about.  It is a material that will last forever, and people have written it keeps its beauty, and even if it got a nick or two, it’s hardly visible.  The etching on this one is adorable, especially since our house is on the water, and we love the “water” theme.

Slate Sink

slate

Quartz -  This sink is made from 70% quartz and 30% resin filler.  It is a step below the granite composite in terms of wear and durability, but still a good choice.  It is resistant to dings, dents and stains, but the darker ones tend to show scratches more than the lighter colors, on ones with more of a pattern.  It would be a good choice if you’re using quartz countertops and want a seemless look.

Quartz

 

 

quartz.2

 

Copper:  Copper comes in various thicknesses like stainless, and that will be reflected in the price.It’s easy to shape so can come in a wide variety of sizes.  It is anti microbial, which is good, but people have written they would be worried about the copper leaching into food, such as vegetables soaking in the sink.  The finish will almost certainly change over time, this could be either a pro or a con, depending on how you feel about that.  For me it’s a con, the copper is pretty when it’s brand new, but I don’t like the change.  The thinner variety can dent and scratch.  The hammered sink is very pretty, in my opinion, but I don’t think this is one product that I will consider.

CopperCopper.2

The last two sinks I looked into and have pictures of are tile and hand painted.  But these, along with glass sinks, are better left as a “show” sink in the powder room.  Yes, they are beautiful and different, but keeping them clean and free of dings would be difficult in the hard-working kitchen area.

Tile -

Tiletiled sink

Hand painted -

Hand Paintedpainted

 

Well, suffice it to say today we have many, many choices when it comes to kitchen sinks.  It’s overwhelming at times.  But by narrowing it down, and doing a little research, and by being honest about how much you are willing to clean, or live with in terms of water spots or nicks, you and I  will finally figure out which one is the best choice.  I hope.

 

“What Your Contractor Can’t Tell You”

August
14
2013

Book Review

 

I was surprised to learn that you can expect to make 1500 decisions when you are building a new home.  Scary!  Especially when you don’t really like making decisions anyway! The author tells us, “Your choices are infinite when you start, so design is more a process of de-selecting than selecting.” The author, Amy Johnston, guides us through this process.  She says owners will be entering a culture that is much less straight forward than it appears, and everyone in that culture knows more than we do. And added to that are all the new relationships, deadlines, quality standards and more money than we’ve spent on probably anything else, and it becomes a huge undertaking that most people don’t know how to prepare for, and few have wanted to tell us. Until now.

If you are planning on building a house, (and by building I mean hiring contractors and builders to do the actual work) or even if you are just thinking about building your dream home, this book is a must to have on hand.  Ms Johnston says, “This book is not about how to swing a hammer, or even how to be your own general contractor.  It is about how to be a savvy consumer of design and construction services and a competent participant in your own project.” And she does not disappoint.

Her advice covers how to start a project, including picking the people on your team, from bankers to surveyors. It also talks about the project plan, how to keep good notes and information, and how to distinguish between needs and wants.  She also suggests (and this really is great advice) be true to yourself and the way you really live, accept your own lifestyle.  For instance, if you spend the evenings watching TV (like we do), don’t make the fireplace the focal point in the room the TV is in.  And I don’t know about you, but I can’t really understand the TV over the fireplace design element.  I would think your neck would hurt by the end of the evening, plus it seems to “take away” from both items!

My well used book

My well used book

Ms. Johnston suggests not to ignore the tried and true.  Yes, newer and sometimes even more efficient designs, materials, supplies and equipment come on the market every day, some are great, but some will be off the market in a few years.  You don’t want to try to replace a broken part or find someone to fix it then, which is especially true in heating and air conditioning.

She discusses and helps with how to work together as a couple and make more balanced choices, how to provide more details so the project runs smoother and how to work well with a contractor and/or architect.  Also, what gets you the most bang for your buck, and cost estimating and budgets.  She talks about contract structures (I spoke about that in a previous post), putting the contract out to bid, insurance, rules for change orders (there are 4 kinds), permits and the way to monitor your project.  Her advice is invaluable and will save you both time and money.  And hopefully, you (and I) will be a more educated homeowner, and wind up with a project that runs much more smoothly than it would have.

Enjoy the sunset.

 

Sunset on the Little Choptank River

Sunset on the Little Choptank River

Ten Things to Discuss with your Contractor

July
24
2013

I saw an article on Houzz today, written by Anne Higuera CGR, CAPS, that I thought was very germane to my blog. She lists things to discuss with your contractor before you start any job, big or small.  People wrote in to add their own suggestions, like discuss his or her clean up policy, and ask who will be responsible for minor fixes if any damage occurs during the job. Some people suggested discussing on-site ”behavior”, one crew brought their dog to the site, and others arrived at 6 a.m., and of course we’ve all had the workers who blast the radio the minute they arrive.  All touchy subjects, but if they are of concern to you, discuss them up front.  The main suggestion was the most important, I think: KNOW your contractor.  Get his license number and insurance number.  Get referrals and call them up! Check if your state posts licenses and complaints, see if you can learn anything there. You will have these people around for a while, and if you’re building a house, like we will be, they will be around for a long, long time.  Discussing issues up front, or as soon as they come up will go a long way to having a smooth, successful reno or build.  Here is Anne’s article:

Remodeling or building a new home is a big financial and emotional investment. It can also be a big investment of your time if you want to be closely involved in the decision-making. Knowing what to expect before the project gets started will help you better prepare for the process. Here are 10 questions you should always ask your contractor before starting a home remodeling project.

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1. What is our schedule? A schedule is more than   just a start and end date. Having a schedule that outlines tasks and timing   will give you a big-picture view of sequencing and deadlines for things such   as tile and countertops. It will also give you a benchmark so that you know   if things are slipping by a day or two.With small projects such as kitchens and baths, schedule is everything. The   cabinet lead time determines the start date and sub-trades need to be scheduled in quick succession, for instance. Don’t start without a schedule that tells you what days and times workers will be on site.

2. Who will be here every day? Depending on the size and structure of the company you hire, the answer could vary widely. Many remodelers use a  lead carpenter system, where a staff member (sometimes called a superintendent) is responsible for day-to-day work on site, and often swings a hammer as well. Ask your contractor direct questions about who will be responsible for opening and locking up, who will supervise subcontractors on site and who to call on a daily basis with any questions.

3. How will you protect my property?This is a conversation best had before demolition, not after you come home and find dust all over the house.There are a number of dust-containment measures that can be taken, and talking about it ahead of time will provide you will a clear idea of how the construction area will be cordoned off from the rest of your home and how you’ll be able to move through your house.

There’s also the issue of stuff — all the books, furniture, drapes, delicate vases and paintings on the wall.It’s helpful to remove them all from the construction zone. This includes anything hung on walls or sitting on shelves in adjacent rooms, since they can shake loose from persistent hammering.If you leave them as-is, it will cost to have them moved and moved again to keep them out of the way, and you risk damage in the process.It’s better to move it all at once and know it’s safe and sound.

4. How will you communicate with me? With every   mode of electronic communication at your fingertips, you may have some ideas   about how you would like to receive information about your project. Your   contractor likely has specific ways he or she likes to communicate, too — daily emails, cloud-based schedules or maybe just phone calls.Make sure you   understand how you will be contacted and receive information. If the contractor’s format doesn’t give you what you think you’ll need, agree on a   method and format so that you’re not in remodeling limbo on a daily basis.   Weekly meetings at a specific time are an effective way to make sure you see   your contractor in person to get your questions answered.

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5. What part of my project concerns you? There’s always something unknown about a project, or an area that is most likely to trigger an immediate change order. Odds are, your contractor already knows what that is. Talking about it upfront and running some worst-case-scenario numbers or doing some early, selective demolition to get more information could be the best way to get a handle on what may be ahead.

6. What will happen if there is a change order? Change orders can be easily handled in your construction contract. A common way to document change orders is in writing, where the change in scope of work and the price are noted and signed by the client and contractor. Some contracts also note the change in schedule, if applicable. Make sure you have a plan in place to document the unexpected and expected changes that happen along the way.

7. How will you let me know I need to make a decision? There are many ways to organize a list of decisions — from spreadsheets, to lists, to notes on a calendar. But all of these methods focus on the same outcome: giving you clear direction about what and when you need to make a decision on something. Asking for a list and deadlines will help you keep organized and ensure you are able to shop for materials and make decisions in time to meet your contractor’s schedule.

8. How do I reach you after hours? Knowing how to reach your contractor on an emergency basis is just as important as your contractor being able to reach you. Exchange all your numbers — work, cell and landline — so that contacting each other won’t be a crisis in itself.

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9. When do I need to be available to meet? Even if you set up a regular weekly meeting, there may still be necessary additional meetings.We usually schedule an electrical walk-through on the day the electrician sets boxes and can lights so that everyone can review their placement and function before wires are run. Another key day is when the tile-setter works on layout .There are a number of ways to set tile, and having an on-site meeting is the best way to make these decisions. It’s also possible to have your architect or designer attend those meetings in your place.

10. What kind of documentation will I receive when the project is done? Contracts frequently call out end-of-project paperwork — lien releases, marked-up plans with as-builts on plumbing and other utilities, copies of inspection reports, etc. But there may be additional items you will find valuable: a full set of mechanical photos before insulation is installed, the operating manuals for installed equipment (and a personal lesson in their operation if you don’t know the basics), a list of subcontractors and contact info, care for things such as countertops and tile and a well-marked electrical panel. Confirming that you will receive these things before you get started will help ensure   that you finish the project with all the information you need.

 

We were very happy with our builder for the garage and crab shack, but since then he and his family decided to move to Vermont!  So, when we start the house, we will be back to interviewing and vetting new contractors, and this information will be extremely handy.

Do you have any other advice, or any good (or bad) stories about your contractor to share?  We’d love to hear them.

 

Builder’s Contracts

July
15
2013

When we first decided to build our retirement house, we were sort of naive.  Sure, like most people, we’ve had some construction done on the different houses we’ve lived in, some renovating here and there.  But a whole house?

In our case, we started with the garage, then went onto the “crab shack”- which of course is a house, although a small one.  It was a good thing actually  that we did do our plan that way, because when we start on the house – probably next year -  we will be so much wiser!

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We didn’t realize, for instance, that there are different kinds of contracts you can negotiate with a builder.  According to Amy Johnston in her book, “What Your Contractor Can’t Tell You,” (a book I will be reviewing soon), there are about 5 or 6 different types, but to me, many are the same as each other, and some aren’t really “contracts”- but ways of building your house, such as Design/Build – which is you go to one company and they do it all, from designing the house to building it.  Or Modular Construction, where you buy from a manufacturer that builds the house in a factory, again, an option for building, but to me, not a contract with a builder to stick-build your house.  Another option Ms. Johnston mentions is Build-to-Suit.  This is where you buy a developer’s lot, usually in a community, and have a choice from houses that the developer builds.  You can customize it a bit, but basically the plan is already set.  Two that come to mind that are this type are Toll Brothers, and K Hovnanian Homes.  But again, this doesn’t seem like a “builder’s contract” to us.

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For the way we want to build, there are two kinds of contracts; Time and Materials, and Fixed Bid. (Meaning we come up with the plans for the house, either from online or have a draftsperson or architect do them, then interview a few different builders, then have each one come up with a price for building the house.)

The Time and Materials type of bid, in our opinion, mostly favors the builder.  It basically is based on the number of hours it will take the builder to finish the project, plus the cost of the materials you specify. The small advantage for the owner is that he will pay for only the actual time worked.  Some of these contracts come with a guaranteed maximum price (GMP) which is a little help for the homeowner.  It specifies the contractor agrees not to go beyond a certain price. The builder may then have allowances for any unknown issues.  Also, a time limit may be written in to the contract, and the builder actually has to pay you if the job takes much, much longer than written into the contract.  Not one builder of the many we spoke with agreed with that portion of the contract.  There are too many variables to predict a building timeline, but I guess if you had to be out of your present place and into your new place, this might be an option you would want to think about adding in.

We actually used the Time and Materials contract when we had the garage built.  And believe it or not, the project came in under budget.  However, it is only a garage… and there aren’t appliances in there that I would want to upgrade, a situation that is all too common when building a house.

We also used it with the Crab Shack, since it had gone so well with the garage.  Well, this was a completely different story, and also the reason why we would not use a Time and Materials contract again.  Yes, we upgraded things as we went along, something we realized always happens.  Really, always.  Then, parts of the metal roofing were missing, and the first go-round they sent the wrong thing.  But our builder had his guys working on it, installing it before realizing it wasn’t the right pieces, and of course, we paid for that time.  Other situations like that happened.  Time adds up very quickly and adds a lot to the total cost.

The Fixed Price Bid includes the cost of performing the work, purchase of materials, plus the mark-up for overhead and profit. With this contract, we feel the advantage is more with the homeowner, since you know the cost up front, and no matter how long it takes the builder to fix issues, the price stays the same.  The disadvantage for the builder is if the job runs long, or if he has underestimated the cost.  If you have a good relationship with your builder and trust him or her, this won’t be an issue, but some contractor’s have been known to use lesser grade materials than stipulated to save costs and increase profits.  No matter what, it helps to be on site regularly to check on the work.

Stipulations can also be built-in to this type of contract, for instance, the specific schedule, or a reporting schedule, where the builder sends regular updates on work completed and even pictures.  We did this with the Crab Shack, but we plan to be living IN the Crab Shack while the house is being built, so we’ll have the advantage of seeing what’s going on every day!

With this Fixed Price Bid, the builder gives you “allowances” for your appliances and other items that must be decided upon.  I have to admit, I didn’t get what this meant at all.  I figured, it’s our money, why does the builder give me an allowance?  But I found out that you let him know up front the range you are willing to spend for your appliances, etc. and after he quotes a total price,  then he lets you know later how much you have allotted for those appliances.  I know, still kind of sketchy.  Say for instance, you specify, “medium grade granite” for the countertops, then later, when the kitchen is ready to be built, he tells you how much money you can spend on the countertops.  I guess it’s helpful, but when you go to actually chose the granite (or whatever), that’s when you (meaning I) usually decide to upgrade.

Here is the first draft of our house plans.  We’ve changed it twice already, and we already have some more changes to make.  We’ll probably do that another time or two before we’re ready to build.  You always think of things later that you should have added, or taken away, and we have the luxury of having the time to come up with the best plans we can.  And get the best contract we can.  The more decisions you have made, the better.  For you, and for the builder.

floor_plans_1st_lookI’d love to hear some of your stories, good and bad, about builders, and contracts, or your house plans and designs. Send me a comment and we’ll chat.

 

Building Advice and Tips

June
19
2013

 

After John read my blog on Monday, he thought it would be useful to have some specifics about the garage and Crab Shack, and about building in general.  So I’d like to share some of our experiences with the hope that they’ll help you make more informed decisions.  We were total novices.  We’ve remodeled.  We’ve put on additions.  But we had never taken on a job of this magnitude.  So in other words, we knew nothing.  And we made mistakes.  Maybe this will help you avoid them.

Before we even began doing anything, as mentioned in a previous post, we had to take down two buildings.  We found out, through a contractor, that our local Fire Department would consider burning them down, and use the experience as a learning session for new recruits. We gave these wonderful people a donation, and it was a win-win experience. I’m not sure if they do this in other areas, but if this is at all a possibility for you, it’s truly a great way to go.

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We began to “design our retirement” with the stand-alone garage.  I like to say we started the building process backwards, doing the “out” buildings first, and leaving the house (which we won’t start probably for another year) till last.  But we had our reasons.  (We needed a place to put the “stuff” from a PA vacation home that we sold, and we knew we wanted this garage for the tractor, and the other vehicles right away.)  For this building John found plans online that he liked, and we had them tweaked a bit by a draftsperson.  (Also known as a Residential Designer.)  After we decided that Thom Huntington (of Huntington Construction) would be our builder, he drew up a contract (Time & Materials) and he built it.  It was a very smooth operation and there were no surprises and no cost over-runs.  As for the structure of the building, we went with 2×6 lumber for strength, regular roll insulation, a large propane heater, an on-demand hot water heater (more on this another time) and because we are building on the water, we needed to raise the garage up, which meant building up the soil all around the building to allow for a gradual incline – expensive, but a necessity for a place where hurricanes and flooding storms are likely.

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The second, and more “exciting” building was (going to be) the Boathouse. (Blog post here.)  This was where we made many of our mistakes.  We had a dream, a vague vision, and needed to have someone draw up this vision for us.  Of course, we again used Michael, the Residential Designer we used on the garage.  Now, because of our inexperience, the costs of these plans (in total) were sky high.  We kept changing things, and having the plans re-drawn.  Many, many times.  (At great expense.)  Then, in one instance, Michael was doing “due diligence” making sure the ground would support our Boat House, and had our soil tested.  I can now tell you what our soil looks like for 16 feet below sea level. It’s interesting, but we weren’t expecting that charge.  And, as already mentioned, this all happened during the collapse of the economy.  So, $20,000 later, rather than scrap all of our plans, we scrapped the building, and bought plans online from Lowe’s at a cost of $500!  (The Crab Shack.)  I’ll speak more about house plans another time, but here’s another tip:  if you can find plans you like online or in a book, use them.  Believe me, you will be saving yourself a ton of money.  Even if you just use them as a starting point.  Or cut out parts from different plans. You’ll thank me later.

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For the structure of the Crab Shack, we again used 2×6’s, but went with the spray insulation.  And I can definitively say this type of insulation is excellent. The building cools down instantly when we need the air conditioning, and heats up and stays warm in the winter when we need the heat.  For both buildings we decided on the strongest metal roof available, which has many, many benefits.  It’s great against the elements, being rated to withstand over 200 mph winds; it saves in home heating and cooling energy costs;  there are energy tax credit incentives available; it’s good for the environment , (considered a “green” solution) and comes with either a 30 or 50 year warranty – depending on the roof you buy.  All this, and of course it has that “coastal” look.   In the “con” list, the only thing I could say is that it costs more initially to put in than a traditional asphalt roof.  But it pays for itself in other ways.  I was worried that it would be noisy, especially during a rain storm, but I can tell you honestly, it’s absolutely not.

We also built it up high, knowing the area could possibly flood if there was a bad storm, (like Hurricane Irene and Super Storm Sandy) and built it with flow through vents in the foundation that allows the water to literally flow through and prevent any structural damage. (You can see them in the photo.)

We used vinyl siding on the Crab Shack, for one reason, to keep the costs down, but next time – for the house – we’ll go with Fiber Cement.  It will be stronger and better looking.  We’ve had a few pieces of the siding come down in both storms, and although not a huge deal, we had to have someone repair it.  We went with Anderson windows that are strong enough to withstand hurricanes and have shutters inside just in case anything should come flying through.  On the house, however, we’ll look into getting something installed on the outside of the windows also, either workable shutters, or hurricane screens.  The decks are made of composite material; we want our semi and real retirement to be as low maintenance as possible.

I hope some of these ideas will help you, and if you have any tips or ideas you’d like to share with me, I’d love to hear them!

 

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