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Be prepared when putting an addition on your home BY MELISSA RAYWORTH FOR THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Ask William Carter about expanding your home and he’s going to be blunt: It will be expensive. It will be messy. And it will take time. “This is a very taxing process,” says Carter, who has renovated homes in California for three decades and is now board chairman of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. “You’re probably going to make 1,500 to 2,000 decisions before this project is completed.” But, he says, if you plan carefully and trust your instincts, you can “end up with a quality project and everyone will be friends afterwards.” RESEARCH Like all remodeling projects, adding on to your home starts with planning and research. In surveys of Consumer Reports readers who have remodeled their homes, “the thing they wish they had done is spent more time upfront,” says Celia Kuperszmid-Lehr man, deputy home editor at the magazine. Make detailed notes about the basics you want, and a separate list of special things — maybe skylights or a fireplace — that you’d love to include but can live without. “There is almost always a conflict between what you can afford and what you want,” says Bill Harbrecht, a retired contractor from Florida who shares his knowle d g e o n t h e we b s i t e Remodeling4Dumbells.com. Basics such as “foundation, framing, basic electric and heating are built-in costs and there is no way around them. Many are governed by building codes and cannot be changed to make them less T2
“There is almost always a conflict between what you can afford and what you want.” — Bill Harbrecht, retired contractor
expensive,” Harbrecht says. But “you do have control over everything else, and everything else encompasses hundreds of choices, each one more or less expensive than the other.” Be sure to plan a large enough addition, he says, because scrimping on space may leave you unsatisfied with the finished product. But also consider how the value and size of your home compares with others in the neighborhood. “You don’t want to go crazy beyond what’s common in your neighborhood,” says Kuperszmid-Lehrman, because building too big can make it harder to recoup the money when you eventually sell. Do research at local stores to decide what you like — particular appliances, types of flooring, etc. — and what it costs. This legwork makes you more informed when interviewing contractors, and helps create a budget. Knowing exactly what you want will help you avoid expensive changes once the job is underway. Work up a realistic budget, Kuperszmid-Lehrman says, leaving room for cost overruns of 5 percent to 10 percent. When budgeting, consider whether you’ll need to live elsewhere while work is being done. Look into financing in advance, says Mark Donovan, founder of the DIY web-
site HomeAdditionPlus.com. Don’t wait until you’ve signed a contract to confirm how you’ll pay for it. Once you know what you want, ask friends and neighbors to recommend contractors. EXTENSIVE INTERVIEWS
from an architect before interviewing contractors or work with “design/build” contractors who create plans for their work. If the addition isn’t elaborate, you also can buy software to design your own plans. Software can cost up to several hundred dollars, Donovan says, but “that’s what an architect would charge you for one hour.” When interviewing contractors, make sure all decision-makers are present. Come prepared with questions, and ask for clarification of details. Once you have several bids, be sure you’re comparing apples to apples. Low bids may not offer the same services or quality items as higher ones, so ask for specifics. “If someone offers a much lower bid than others, he’s probably not going to be on the job all the time,” Carter says. “It’s going to start, then Please see ADDITION, Page 3
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AP PHOTO/AMY SANCETTA, FILE
This May 6, 2010, file photo shows builder John Cowles as he works on an addition to a home in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Putting an addition on your home is no quick and easy You can commission plans job, but doing some research in advance will better prepare you for the project.
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Creating a nice space to do homework matters BY SUSAN ZEVON FOR THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
AP PHOTO/DAMIAN DOVARGANES, FILE
This June 17, 2008, file photo shows construction worker Sergio Samperio as he works on the roof of a home addition in Los Angeles.
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languish awhile.” Carter’s proposals are carefully organized, and include numerous documents detailing every aspect of the job. “Look at how the bid was presented,” he says, because the effort put into the proposal may give a sense of the effort that will go into the finished job. Look for someone who is experienced in the specific type of work you’re planning, and perhaps is certified in that area. Does the contractor point out potential difficulties up front or promise that the job will be totally smooth sailing? Ask about things like downtime while they wait for supplies. Get references from former customers, and “don’t just say, ‘Did you like the guy?”’ says Kuperszmid-Lehrman. Ask how the job went and whether there were any surprises. Ideally, visit former customers’ homes to see the work. Most important: Listen to your instincts in choosing
the right contractor. “Find the builder you have the right chemistry with,” Carter says, because this person will be in your home for months to come.
Agree in writing on an estimated time frame and overall estimate of costs. But accept that contractors can’t predict the weather, and things like frayed wiring or termites may be discovered EVERYTHING IN when walls are opened. WRITING “Even the best contractor doesn’t have X-ray vision,” “A lot of people get bids, says Kuperszmid-Lehrman, and by then they’re already “and the older your home is so tired of the process” that the more likely it is you’re they just jump in and get going to find something like started, Carter says. But it’s that.” vital to move slowly and careOnce the project is underway, stay in written communication. Phone messages can cause confusion, says Carter, so he prefers e-mail updates, with everyone copied in. Written communication with a date and — William Carter, NARI board chair time stamp is the best way to prevent “he said, she said” conflict, and preserve a good relafully when signing contracts. tionship until the end. Don’t assume details are • Online: implied. Outline everything http://www.homeaddion paper, from which materi- tionplus.com als will be used to how clean http://www. the worksite will be at the remodeling4dumbbells.com/ end of each day. http://www.nari.org/
Kids may want to do their homework at the kitchen table with a sea of activity sur rounding them. Many experts say they shouldn’t. “Build a space dedicated to homework and eliminate distractions,” advises Douglas C. Merril, a former Google spokesman and author of the new “Getting Organized in the Google Era” (Broadway Books). According to Merril, everyone thinks they can multi-task, but our brains just aren’t cut out for it. In her new book, “RightSizing Your Home” (Northwest Arm Press, 2010), con-
“Build a space dedicated to homework and eliminate distractions.” — Douglas C. Merril, author
sultant Gale Steves agrees. She writes, “Although kids gravitate to the kitchen or family room — where parents can keep a watchful eye on them — ultimately having a workspace of their own is important.” And Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, founder of the
design blog Apartmenttherapy.com, taught school in New York City before he became an interior designer. Each year he would visit students’ homes, and here’s what he observed: “Invariably, the children who did best in school came from Please see SPACE, Page 4
“Find the builder you have the right chemistry with.”
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homes that were calm, wellorganized and attractive,” he says. “A child’s homework space should be as simple and practical as possible,” he believes. “Children need a private, separate environment where they can concentrate and get through their work.” While homework space must be functional and well organized, it also should be somewhere the child wants to spend time. “Get your child involved in the design,” advises Susanna Salk, interior designer and contributor to the “Today” show. “Have them look at pictures and say what they like.” Salk’s book, “Room for Children: Stylish Spaces for Sleep and Play” (Rizzoli, 2010), compiles pictures of children’s rooms decorated by well-known designers. She believes that a child’s workspace should have an inspirational element, and suggests checking out the wall art available on Art. com, where you can find murals that are easy to move, are stain-resistant, and can transform even a tiny homework space with a beautiful landscape or world map. Most children are inspired by having something like what their par-
ents use, Gillingham-Ryan suggests. “My daughter likes to have something that my wife or I have on our own desks. Consider giving your child a pen, lamp stapler or mouse pad like your own.” When selecting furnishings for homework space, keep in mind that your little girl or boy is going to get bigger and older. “Don’t just look at kids’ stuff,” Salk says. Consider good adult task lighting, and keep in mind that a nice wooden table can serve as a good desk. Gillingham-Ryan favors desks made from wood. “Natural materials help a child to feel grounded,” he says. He believes there is a healthier energy from natural materials and fewer propensities for a child to write on them. He recommends the adjustable wood desks available from North-woods in Ontario, Canada. He also suggests avoiding fluorescent lighting, selecting instead halogen or incandescent light. Stock up on containers, trays and baskets. “If their homework space is well organized, children are more likely to keep it that way,” Salk says. The Container Store has a large selection of such accessories in many sizes and styles. But don’t overdo storage or your child will wind up hoarding a lot of stuff that could be thrown out.
“Storage always wants to be full, and anything you can’t see has a tendency to live there forever,” Gillingham-Ryan warns. Use baskets and open containers so you can see what’s there and encourage your kids to keep editing things out. Fortunately, you do not need a large space to create a good homework area. If space is limited, Steves suggests placing a desk under the top bunk instead of another bed, and creating storage with a small file caddy on wheels. She also suggests thinking vertically when space is limited. A hutch or shelves above a desk provide storage as well as space to display children’s work. You can affordably put up some shelves using a system like the Elfa storage system, available at the Container Store. No matter how appealing and private the homework space may be, encourage your child to take a break. “The human brain can only focus on any one thing for about an hour. It is more effective to take a break and come back to homework,” Merrill advises. • Online: www.douglascmerrill. com www.apartmenttherapy. com www.susannasalk.com http://north-woods.ca/ school.htm www.containerstore.com www.art.com
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AP PHOTOS/NORTHWEST ARM PRESS
Top: This photo provided by Northwest Arm Press shows the Base Camp Loft Bunk Bed with desk in Rustic Cherry from Young America Youth Furniture as seen in ‘Right-Sizing Your Home,’ by Gale Stevens. In this child’s room, a desk placed under a bunk bed in place of another bed creates a cozy homework space. Left: This photo provided by Northwest Arm Press shows a desk with hutch from Lea Furniture’s Freetime Collection as seen in ‘Right-Sizing Your Home,’ by Gale Stevens. While homework space must be functional and well organized, it also should be somewhere the child wants to spend time.
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Home energy audits Doctor’s checkups for a house BY SUSAN ZEVON FOR THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Jim Alexander, a real estate agent in Atlanta, decided this summer to subject his own 11-year-old house to an energy audit. “If this was something I was going to recommend to my clients I wanted to see for myself how it works,” he says. His verdict: “Home energy audits are going to change the way we buy and sell houses in America.” Alexander hired the company Retrofit America to conduct the audit, which showed that by spending about $3,000 <0x2014> $700 of it covered by government rebates <0x2014> he could save several hundred dollars a month in energy costs. Some of the recommendations were as simple as putting a latch on the attic door so that it would not swing open. “The auditors not only brought in all the latest equipment and computer technology but they also used their eyes,” he says. Home energy audits are like doctors’ checkups for the house, says Seith Leitman, who blogs as the Green Living Guy and consults on McGraw Hill’s series “Green Guru Guides.” And just as you need to follow a doctor’s advice to get healthier, so you need to follow an audit’s recommendations and retrofit your house if you want to see savings, experts say. The federal government’s Energy Star Web site, Energystar.gov, says the audits are the first step in making a home more efficient, comfortable and healthy. If your home is too hot in summer, too cold in winter, drafty or
damp, and if you suffer from allergies or just from high energy bills, you should do a home energy audit. You also should do one on any house you are considering buying. HOW TO PROCEED You can perform a simple home energy audit yourself, but you will need a professional for a thorough assessment that includes heating and cooling systems. Begin with a diligent walkthrough of your house, keeping a checklist of areas you have inspected and problems you find. The Energy Star website offers a checklist, or for more guidelines read “Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Audits” (McGrawHill, 2010). To get started, Chandler von Schrader, national manager of Home Performance
with Energy Star, recommends going online to complete the Energy Star Home Energy Yardstick, which lets you compare your household’s energy use to others and get recommendations for improvement. The yardstick is intended just to give you a general idea, not a thorough audit. EASY FIXES Some simple steps to start conserving energy at home include replacing incandescent lighting with energy efficient, fluorescent lighting in the room you use most. Other quick fixes may include replacing old appliances with Energy Star Appliances. Check the Energy Star website for products
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AP PHOTO/U.S. EPA
This computer generated image provided by the U.S. EPA shows an illustration of where air can leak in and out of a home. According to the federal government’s Energy Star site, ‘a home energy audit is often the first step in making your home more efficient.’
on any qualifying system l5seer or higher Installed before 12/31/2010 The Progress-Index, Petersburg, VA Sunday, September 19, 2010
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that have earned that label. Beware of some other popular quick fixes. Windows, for example, cost a lot, and new ones will not provide energy savings if they are not properly installed with caulking, and if leaks in rooms are not sealed. THE COMPREHENSIVE AUDIT
Von Schrader war ns against cheap energy audits conducted by someone trying to sell you something. “Houses are complex and require comprehensive solutions,” he says. “You should look at a house in a holistic fashion. If you do just one thing you may throw others off. For example, sealing off drafts in an attic may cause humidity buildup in other
parts of the house.” A complete energy audit requires specialized equipment, says Matt Golden, president and founder of Recurve Inc., a San Francisco-are company that helps homeowners increase energy efficiency. That equipment includes blower doors that measure the extent of leaks in the building, infrared cameras that reveal areas of air infiltration and missing insulation, and duct blasters that use pressure testing to find leaks in a duct system. SELECTING AN AUDITOR Von Schrader suggests hiring energy auditors approved by the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) or the Building Performance Institute (BPI), which set national standards. Companies like Retrofit
America and Recurve promise one-stop service for homeowners, from the audit to financing to completing the home improvements and verifying the work is done right. Retrofits may include air sealing and insulation; duct work; replacing heating and cooling systems and water heaters; substituting windows, doors or appliances; and adding renewable energy systems, such as solar panels. COSTS The average cost of retrofitting a house once it has been audited is $8,000 to $10,000, according to Von Schrader, and it is not always advisable to go with the lowest estimate. “Work done correctly often costs more,” he says. Fortunately, there are programs to offset the costs. Some state energy programs and utilities offer
Welcome fall with new accents, colors Approach of fall is opportunity to infuse your space with color and warmth BY MELISSA RAYWORTH FOR THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Don’t be fooled by all the attention paid to “spring cleaning,” says interior decorator and professional organizer Kathryn Bechen. The transition from summer to fall can be an even better time to get your home organized and in shape, since many of us shift our T6
focus indoors. The approach of fall is an opportunity, Bechen says, to infuse your space with enough color and warmth to carry you through the winter ahead. CLEAN AND CLEAR Late summer and early fall are the ideal times to go through your wardrobe and kitchen cabinets selecting things for donation, says Donna Smallin, an organizing and cleaning guru whose most recent book is “A to Z Storage Solutions” (Storey, 2008). If you wait any longer, she says, the holidays will
arrive and you won’t get the donation done in time for the coming year’s tax return. Be tough, she says: Warmweather items that you didn’t use this past spring and summer really should go. Interior designer Mallory Mathison advises putting away the plastic and acrylic kitchen items you relied on all summer. Bringing out heavier pottery pieces and baskets will change the look of your kitchen, especially if you use them to display fall vegetables and fruits. Please see COLORS, Page 7
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AP PHOTO/PAUL SAKUMA, FILE
This March 9, 2010, file photo shows an Energy Star label at an appliance store in Mountain View, Calif. One way to start conserving energy in your home is to replace old appliances with Energy Star Appliances. rebates, which require accredited home-energy auditors and contractors to do the work. A federal energy tax credit of $1,500 is available until the end of this year. Providing rebates to consumers to encourage energy-efficiency upgrades is also part of energy legislation making its way through Congress.
• On The Net: www.energystar.gov www.greenlivingguy.com http://www.retrofitamerica.com http://www.energystar. gov/index.cfm?fuseaction= HOME<0x2014>ENERGY<0 x2014>YARDSTICK .showGetStarted www.energysavers.gov http://resnet.us http://www.recurve.com
AP PHOTO/ROBERT F. BUKATY, FILE
This June 10, 2009 file photo shows a compact fluorescent light bulb in Freeport, Maine. There are simple steps you may take to start conserving energy in your home, such as replacing your incandescent lighting in the room you use the most with energy efficient, fluorescent lighting.
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Sort through the remaining clutter that’s accumulated all summer and get things put away. Then, Smallin says, clean everything that normally gets ignored: from light switches and light fixtures to doorframes and kitchen cabinets. For an added facelift, touch up the paint around doors and windows. And use a smudgeremover to banish fingerprints and evidence of a busy summer. Rugs and floors should be cleaned if you’ve had a lot of indoor/outdoor traffic during the summer. Also be sure to clean summer bedding and linens before packing them away, Bechen says. She advises storing summer items in large plastic storage bins. If you choose opaque ones, rather than clear, label them to identify the contents. Last, you can clean your home with products that are scented, and bring in woodsy fragrances with sprays and candles. Does all of this sound daunting? “The thought of doing a whole big cleaning can be overwhelming,”
AP PHOTO/PIER 1 IMPORTS
Smallin says, so “each day pick one thing that inspires you” and tackle that task. COLORS AND TEXTURES There are many creative ways to bring in the warm, deep colors and cozy textures of fall, Mathison says. Some are obvious: bed and bath linens, accent pillows, place mats, cloth napkins. But there are plenty of other opportunities for injecting fall colors. “People think of slipcovers for summer, but you can slipcover a chair with chocolate brown velvet,” Mathison says, and bring a cozy fall look into the room. She
also loves “a pair of really worn-in, dark brown espresso leather pillows.” More tips: Mathison advises clients to swap out white lampshades for warmer colored ones when summer ends. “Say you have a black iron lamp,” she says. “Using a toffee-colored linen shade looks so different than a white silk shade. And it casts a warmer glow.” She also brings a golden glow to picture frames and furniture using a product called “Rub n Buff,” which gives a warm, burnished look. And Mathison loves layering rugs at this time of year. “If you have some-
thing like a 9-by-12 seagrass rug,” she says, “layer a slightly smaller rug on top” that has deeper colors and a cozy texture. You can also add warm throw blankets over a sofa or chair. Please see COLORS, Page 8
Above: This product image provided by JCPenney shows the Cindy Crawford Style Mocha Damask Comforter Set. Left: This product image provided by Pier 1 Imports shows dinnerware from their Round Beaded Reactive collection and Luster glasses. Warm toned decor inside your home helps welcome in the fall and winter seasons.
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This product image provided by JCPenney shows AP PHOTO/PIER 1 IMPORTS a Cindy Crawford Style Ceramic Vase in warm This product image provided by Pier 1 Imports shows their Caramel Pumpkin Pillar candles. tones.
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“Look to what’s happening in fashion” this time of year, Mathison says. “You’re layering your house in the same way to feel cozy ... pulling out a cable-knit cashmere throw the same way you’ll pull out your sweaters.” SMALL MOVES, BIG PAYOFF
Most of us don’t have time to redecorate heavily each season, Bechen says. And we probably don’t have room to store a lot of seasonal items. For maximum impact without too much work, she suggests focusing seasonal decorating on your front entryway and your dining table. At the entryway, hang a fall wreath and add a sea-
AP PHOTOS/PIER 1 IMPORTS
Top: This product image provided by Pier 1 Imports shows their Vibrant Leaves Wall Decor. Warm toned decor inside your home helps welcome in the fall and winter seasons. Right: This product image provided by Pier 1 Imports shows their Artificial Pomegranate Wreath. sonal welcome-mat, Bechen says. Both are available in many styles, from simple to elaborate, and can help put your personal stamp on the space.
To go a step further, Mathison says, swap out the fading summer plants and flowers in outdoor planters with fresh plants in fall colors.
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For your dining table, add a tablecloth and centerpiece in war m reds, golds and browns. But keep the centerpiece relatively simple, warns Bechen — a
basket of pumpkins and gourds, for instance. That way, you can keep it in place while the family eats. Seasonal decorating, she s ay s, d o e s n’ t h ave t o
involve redecorating in every room. Better a handful of small but bold moves. “ I f yo u s c at t e r i t a l l throughout the space, it doesn’t have the impact. You want it to pop.”