Author gives a realistic look at home improvements

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Jan• 03•10

ManageyourremodelThese days, it seems everyone's got a case of the budget blues.

Not surprisingly, turbulent economic times also tend to sideline home renovation projects, at least for the short term. But if you have the savings or financing available for your remodeling adventure, the timing for some improvements couldn't be better.

Why? Well, for starters, materials and labor costs are down, and many contractors are bidding competitively with discounts they'd never consider when there's plenty of work to be had. If you want to stretch your home improvement dollars even further, you might want to try a part-time gig as your very own construction manager.

Author Victoria Likes did just that for a major renovation on her Seattle home and lived to tell about it. She recounts the experience, and packages the lessons learned, in her book, Manage Your Remodel–And Save Money (Creative Homeowner Press, $16.95)

With the subtitle "… and save money!" the book's purpose is clear. Likes claims that a savings of 20 to 30 percent is typical for those who take on the role of homeowner/general contractor, or HGC.

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10 home-improvement projects for 2010

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Jan• 03•10

With a minimal budget and a little sweat equity, your home can go from a "so-so" to a "wow" in no time. Whether you want to update your existing living space or add value to a house you are trying to sell, investing in some basic home renovations can make a huge impact.

So what home improvements will provide the biggest bang for your buck and make the strongest impression on guests and potential buyers? We interviewed two local contractors and a local real estate agent as well as John DeSilvia, host of the DIY Network's series, "10 Grand in Your Hand." They recommended 10 projects for the new year.

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A greener house fit for man and beast

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Jan• 03•10

2010627119For Seattle resident Andy Luk, it's always been about his dog, Spiff. The massive mutt is as much a fixture in Luk's home as his collection of Asian- and nature-inspired artwork and delicate antique furniture.

The reason Luk found his hillside home in the first place? Spiff. Almost a decade ago, Luk was taking Spiff out to walk in Discovery Park, but made a wrong turn and ended up passing the house with its for-sale sign out front.

And the reason Luk chose to remodel? Again, Spiff. Luk, a rheumatologist, originally decided he just wanted to enlarge his bathroom shower so he could easily bathe Spiff, who weighs in at 80 pounds.

But with remodels, things don't always go as planned.

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Posty Cards breaks ground on LEED certified expansion/remodel

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Jan• 01•10

Posty Cards, Inc., a manufacturer of personalized business greeting cards in Kansas City, has broken ground on a $6.4 million expansion/remodel that is being built to LEED v3 Gold green building standards. 

When the project is completed in July 2010, the new facility will feature a large solar photovoltaic array, solar heated water, high efficiency HVAC, natural lighting and automatic artificial lighting control systems, rain water reclamation for irrigation and waste management, and water efficient native plant landscaping. 

The project, designed by McHenry Shaffer Mitchell Architects, and constructed by Turner Construction Company, will be the first LEED v3 Gold manufacturing facility in Kansas City.

Posty Cards has manufactured greeting cards in Kansas City for over 60 years and has been located at 1600 Olive Street for over 20 years. The 25,000 square foot expansion and renovation will double the current space for the growing company.

“We have outgrown our current space, and since we are committed to environmentally sound practices, designing our expansion/remodel project to LEED green building standards is a top priority,” said Erick Jessee, General Manager.

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Single mom, kids get surprise home remodel

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Jan• 01•10

MomkidsremodelWhen Leslie Nelson met Deb Farnsworth last year, she couldn’t have imagined their friendship would result in a community project that changed her entire house. Nelson just wanted to change her life.

Farnsworth leads a Celebrate Recovery group at Valley Real Life church. The ministry focuses on those “struggling with hurts, habits and hang-ups.” Farnsworth recalled their initial meeting. “Leslie had come out of a dysfunctional, abusive relationship and was a recovering meth addict. When she told me her story, crying, I asked her, ‘What do you want?’ ”

Farnsworth’s voice broke as she recalled Nelson’s answer. “She just looked at me and said, ‘I need prayer.’ ”

That reply touched Farnsworth.

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Homeowners more cautious on remodeling projects

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Dec• 31•09

51289219'Twas only a few years ago, when the housing boom was in full roar, that homeowners didn't have to fret too much over whether the money they invested in remodeling would be paid back at resale time.

Indeed, it was practically a no-brainer: Home sale prices were going up so high and so fast that remodeling the kitchen or the master bath would nearly pay for itself. Some remodeling companies had so much backlogged work that clients passed the time on waiting lists.

"These days, it's a new ballgame," said Sal Alfano, a former contractor who now is the editorial director for Remodeling magazine, a trade journal. "Now, the jobs are smaller, the scope of work has been cut back, and consumers are doing things in phases."

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Window Covering Safety Council recalls to repair all Roman and roll-up blinds due to risk of strangulation

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Dec• 22•09

10073aWASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Window Covering Safety Council (WCSC) are announcing today a voluntary recall to repair all Roman shades and roll-up blinds to prevent the risk of strangulation to young children. This recall involves millions of Roman and roll-up blinds. About five million Roman shades and about three million roll-up blinds are sold each year.

CPSC has received reports of five deaths and 16 near strangulations, since 2006, in Roman shades and three deaths, since 2001, in roll-up blinds. Strangulations in Roman shades can occur when a child places his/her neck between the exposed inner cord and the fabric on the backside of the blind or when a child pulls the cord out and wraps it around his/her neck. Strangulations in roll-up blinds can occur if the lifting loop slides off the side of the blind and a child’s neck becomes entangled on the free-standing loop or if a child places his/her neck between the lifting loop and the roll-up blind material.


RemodelGate: Concerns about $707,000 remodel for Supervisor’s office shows disconnect with public

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Dec• 22•09

Taking elected office is often a Cinderella-like experience. Normal people with private lives are thrust into a strange and magical public world where their dreams really do come true.

Maybe no singing birds or supernatural pumpkins accompany them, but they are beset with many other surreal experiences: instant celebrity, power, deference and hundreds of new best friends vying for their attention with flattery and promises.

If that's not enough, there are the perks of the job – the taxpayer-funded cars and phones, the gifts from lobbyists, the tickets to games, the parties, the beautiful women wanting to be with them.

Then there's the money.

If it is a job like one of the 15 L.A. City Council or five county supervisors' seats, it comes with a fat salary and flush discretionary account. On top of that are the billions of taxpayers' dollars that can be spent (or misspent, as the case so often seems to be; just note the LAPD's spending revelations this week) as part of the job.

It is understandable, then, that this kind of experience would alter – in some cases corrupt – any normal person.

But new Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas' disconnection with the public goes far beyond what's reasonable. Less Cinderella, more Wizard of Oz.

He's planning a $707,000 remodel of his office suite in the county Hall of Administration and can't understand why people are offended. His reaction shows he's completely

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Inmates help remodel police department

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Dec• 20•09

G13c00060c858f0f2c7e699b24a4a98b289eaa696eb66c5Extensive renovations to much of the Marshfield (Mass.) Police Department’s interior, which took place from April to July, included a complete remodel of the building’s lobby, dispatch area and records room.

The months of full-time labor that it took for those projects to come together was completed at virtually no cost to the taxpayer, said Lt. Paul Taber, who helped the town link up with Project Labor, which is a Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department program that puts inmates to work for municipalities.

“We estimate the labor on the dispatch area alone saved us over $100,000,” said Taber, who on Dec. 7 met with several town officials at the police department to show them the recent work that had been completed. Sheriff Joseph McDonald Jr., corrections officers and the five inmates who volunteered their services were all on hand for the occasion.

“The town just pays for the materials and they go to work,” said sheriff department spokeswoman Sara Lavoie, who added that there was one small catch to the arrangement. “They just have to buy the whole crew lunch every day.”

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The remodeling blues from Home Depot

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Dec• 20•09

1whistle1220For lack of a kitchen sink, Darrell and Colleen Brandt wash their pots and pans in the bathtub. Sheets of cardboard and drywall serve as their countertop.

It's exactly the situation the Golden Valley couple were trying to avoid when they chose a contractor for their kitchen remodel. 

In September, they hired the Home Depot because they thought the home improvement giant would use only the best remodeling professionals.

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New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton is lead plaintiff in Chinese drywall suit

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Dec• 11•09

Saints coach Sean Payton is the lead plaintiff in a 591-page class action lawsuit against Knauf Plasterboard Tainjin Co. Ltd., a Chinese company that manufactured drywall that is believed to be corroding homes and making people sick.

The suit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New Orleans on behalf of people with this particular brand of drywall, attempts to give some scope to the problem of defective drywall as both plaintiffs and defendants figure out how many people are affected and much it will cost to repair damage.

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10 ways to add holiday spirit to your kitchen

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Dec• 06•09

Holiday kitchen002a
Decorating the kitchen for the holidays is often overlooked as we go about decorating the rest of our home (and we have many big and small holidays in December not the least of which is Underdog Day on December 17)! We're probably in the kitchen even more during this period of time (National Brownie Day is December 8th) so here are a variety of ideas – traditional, fresh, modern, green to add spirit to our kitchens.

10 Ways to Add That Holiday Spirit 

1. Replace your collections and accessories around the kitchen to a single color theme for a unifying color story – sounds easy, and it is – all objects are one color. 

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Checklist for hiring a builder or remodeler

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Dec• 06•09

Use this checklist to help you select a builder or remodeler to work on or build your home.

  • Does the builder or remodeler have a permanent business location and a good reputation with local banks and suppliers?

  • How long have they been in the building business? It usually takes three to five years to establish a financially sound business. Will they be around after the construction is complete to service any warranties?

  • Have you called your local Better Business Bureau? They can alert you to any complaints.

  • Does the builder/remodeler have sufficient workers compensation and general liability insurance? If not, you may be liable for any construction-related accidents on your premises.

  • Will the builder/remodeler provide you with names of previous customers? Ask them if they would hire the builder/remodeler again.

  • Have you seen the builder/remodelers work, both completed and in progress? Check for quality of workmanship and materials.

  • Are you able to communicate with the builder/remodeler? Remember you will be in close contact with them throughout the construction process and afterward as you live in your new home.

  • Will the builder/remodeler provide you with a complete and clearly written contract? The contract will benefit both of you. Review it carefully.

  • Be cautious of unusually low-priced bids. If the builder/remodeler is unable to pay for the materials and labor as the project proceeds, this may indicate a potential problem.

Call your local home builders’ association for the names of member builders and remodelers. Find contact information at


Refinish or replace the bathtub?

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Dec• 04•09

Bathtub450x450Q: My bathtub is a mess, and a friend told me to consider refinishing. I read online that bathtub re-glazing might not be the wisest thing. I've always wanted a clawfoot bathtub, but maybe it's not too practical. To further complicate things, there is a possibility that my mother will come live with me, so perhaps I should be looking at walk-in bathtubs. — Nancy W., Memphis

A: You have the home improvement disease known as "paralysis by analysis." It's quite common. In fact, just the fear of having to decide among hundreds of choices stops many people from even starting a project.

I would suggest that you think first about the real prospects that your mother will come to stay with you. That is the primary variable. Even if you plan this remodel job around her, you may have all sorts of options and will be able to a get a tub that provides safety as well as good looks

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Architects are third-worst drivers by profession

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Dec• 03•09

If you believe the old adage that you are what you eat, it follows in the car insurance business that you're likely to drive what's on your mind. To put it plainly, when people are stressed and in a hurry, they tend to get in more accidents.

Recently, Quality Planning Corp. and released their list of the top most crash-prone professions. Not surprisingly, the list probably aligns quite well with the types of jobs your mother always thought you'd do one day.

Perhaps it's a sign that the people getting in the most accidents tend to have the most stressful jobs. There's no yoga instructor on this list.

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Uptick in lead poisoning cases related to economy?

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Nov• 28•09

Sanding_dustState health officials say an increase in childhood lead poisoning cases in Iowa could be tied to the economic downturn.

Kevin Officer, with the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Lead Poisoning Prevention, says many people living in older homes are choosing to do their own repairs and they’re not always following lead-safe practices.

“Homeowners or landlords are doing scraping or sanding of the existing lead pain on the homes,” Officer said.

Removing lead-based paint can be dangerous if it’s not done correctly.


Unlicensed contractor faces jail time, restitution

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Nov• 28•09

Jail An unlicensed Napa (Calif.) contractor has been ordered to pay full restitution to three customers he defrauded or he faces a six-year prison term, the Contractors State Licensing Board said this week.

Ronald Russell Clawson, 27, pleaded no contest in Napa County Superior Court last week to elder abuse, identity theft, grand theft and fraudulent use of a contractor license number, board spokeswoman Venus Stromberg said.

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Extreme Makeover: Home Edition to remodel house in Hattiesburg, Miss.

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Nov• 28•09


One lucky Hattiesburg (Miss.) family will welcome Christmas in a brand new remodeled home, thanks to ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

Mayor Johnny DuPree made the announcement Thursday morning that Ty Pennington (above) and his crew of construction workers will arrive in Hattiesburg on December 3 and knock on the door of one lucky family.

We are told there are five families under consideration. None are aware they are being considered.

DuPree said construction will begin on December 3, and the crew has seven days to complete the task.

Once built, Dupree said it will be the first green-certified house in Hattiesburg.

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Book Report: Marie’s Home Improvement Guide

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Nov• 21•09

9781580052924 If you're the type of woman who owns a full set of home fix-up tools and knows how to use them, and uses them, move along. This book report doesn't involve you.

But, if you're like me, and the biggest tool in your set is your husband, boyfriend, father or handyman, and you want more autonomy in your home-improvement projects, "Marie's Home Improvement Guide" will help.

The book stems from the experiences of the author, Marie L. Leonard, who ran a handywoman business with a twist: she not only did home improvements and simple repairs, but she also taught her women clients how to do those repairs themselves. She also taught the same subject at a community college.

The book is meaty, at about 300 pages, but not flashy. For instance, the simple illustrations are all black and white. But this book is not for flipping through like you would a Pottery Barn catalogue and admiring the pretty pictures. This book is about words and ideas to help women become comfortable and competent with tools, shopping for materials, and making repairs.

Just reading for a few minutes I learned something I didn't know: A miter saw is also called a chop saw because when the blade comes down it basically "chops" a piece of wood in half. This is different from other types of saws that move along a piece of wood, or along which a piece of wood moves.'

If you already knew this and you're saying to yourself, oh anybody knows that, again I suggest you click on through. But if you have a lack of knowledge and little confidence for making simple home improvements, and the men in your life are as tired of catering to your needs as you are in asking them to do things for you, Marie Leonard is a good teacher.

Ms. Leonard can't come to all our homes and teach us to hang a picture or replace a doorknob. But she has sent this book and we would be wise to read it.

Trends in green flooring from Remodeling Magazine

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Nov• 17•09

42320164 Mari Strain, owner of Flooring Alternatives, a green flooring retailer that offers consulting services and ships products across the country, says that the range of sustainable flooring options continues to grow.

For example, there are now more Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)–certified wood flooring products available. “It’s also more recognized,” she says. “LEED helps bring awareness to what FSC is about,” and the LEED program includes points for installing FSC-certified wood.

According to Strain, cork flooring continues to gain popularity, but she finds that although homeowners might use cork in the bedroom, they prefer wood flooring for the main living spaces and resilient sheet flooring for baths and kitchens


Photo: HGTV decorating star Angelo Surmelis chose cork for his own kitchen floor.