Hire a remodeling consultant? It’s something to consider

Written By: admin - Aug• 26•11

Sometimes the remodeling industry seems like the Wild, Wild West. It’s crazy out here!

The cast of characters is huge! You’ve got your builders and general contractors and remodeling contractors and architects and designers and engineers and plumbers and roofers and tile setters and butchers and bakers and candlestick makers. Oh wait. Well, anyway, it can be very confusing.

And that’s why consultants were invented. They are experienced in a certain field (remodeling in this case), can be a source of wisdom detached from any of the above, and can help and guide you through a project.

I know what you’re thinking: The industry is already populated with so many characters, and now you add another? How does that help?

Good question! And to find out what these “building consultant” characters are up to, I asked renovation consultant Gary Belk a few questions. Here’s what he said:

Kathy’s Remodeling Blog: Why would someone remodeling a house hire a consultant first rather than an architect or contractor?

Gary Belk Gary Belk: Getting unbiased advise about the feasibility of your project and budget should be the first step. In my experience contractors and architects are reluctant to be the one to tell the client that their expectations about time and money are way off base. As a consultant it is my job to help the client understand and if needed, be the one to deliver the “unpleasant” facts. My clients pay me to give them an honest assessment. My main function at this point is to make sure their expectations are in line with the amount of money they want to spend.  I also help clients decide what professionals are needed for the project and help assemble the right team.  How does a homeowner choose the right professionals or even know what professionals to hire? A good consultant is a bit like a matchmaker and knows the right professionals for the client and the particular job.


Add a front porch; save the world

Written By: admin - Aug• 26•11

Plaskoff porch Have you ever driven or walked past a house that was so alluring, so charming, so warmly inviting that you felt an urge to go in and sit a spell? I bet that house had a front porch.

I’m convinced that our future as a species would be more hopeful if we all had front porches, and if we used them. Here’s how to use a front porch:

1. Sit on it

2. Greet your neighbors

That’s how it works. If we greet our neighbors as they walk their dogs, jog past, push their baby strollers, and so on, we get to know them just a little, and we start to care about them. Then, when it’s time to make lifestyle and political decisions, we have a few more people to care about.

In my own neighborhood, front porches are de rigueur. (I’ve never used that word before so let me now look it up. Ahh, it means “prescribed or required by fashion, etiquette, or custom.”) Yep, that’s it. In my own city, known for it’s friendliness, front porches are part of the reason for that. We all make eye contact and greet each other with “how ya doin’?” or “hey.” It’s salve for my soul.

But if you live in a neighborhood where front porches are rare, then it’s time to add one to your own home. Ideally, front porches are built into the architecture of the house. But if not, one must be added.

Vintagewoodworks_2004_22591560 The pink house above has an added porch. You can see, in photo below, the house before the porch was added. It’s a handsome house, but here’s nowhere to sit out front. The message is: go in the house, shut the door, and do not connect with your neighborhood.

Vintagewoodworks_2004_22467138 These photos are from a cool company in Quinlin, Texas, called Vintage Woodworks (Motto: Porches Are Our Passion), and you can find examples of your own home’s style and how it could look with a front porch.

The gorgeous porch at the top of this story was built by Plaskoff Construction in Southern California.

So if you add the porch and use it as prescribed, perhaps I or another human will walk by some sweet evening, glance your way, give a nod and call out: “Hey. How ya doin’?” What happens after that is up to you.

Flaunting Ashton Kutcher’s luxury studio trailer is in very poor taste . . . but I wanna touch it!

Written By: admin - Aug• 25•11

Ashton KutcherAs you well know, the rich are getting richer and the rest of us are going the other way. The whole economy is rigged that way and you wonder how long it will go on.

As our new two-class economy unfolds, it seems disgusting for rich people to flaunt their riches, doesn’t it? So why am I so enamored with the trailer Ashton Kutcher will be staying in as he films for his new Two and a Half Men gig?

Coming from what I refer to lovingly as “a long line of Okies and alcoholics,” I just love me a traveling house on wheels. It might be from the days of covered wagons when my Mormon ancestors moved west to escape persecution. Or it might have been during the dustbowl when another line of ancestors headed to farms in California.

Ashton KutcherWhatever the reason, this $2 million luxury trailer is friggin’ fantastic! Check it out. You’ve got your bump-outs to make it a double wide. You’ve got your hydraulic roof that raises to open up the second story. I’ve had a couple of pop-top VW campers during my life that did pretty much the same thing with canvas and screen material. And I’ll tell you, it is thrilling to suddenly have headroom when camping!

The trailer Mr. Demi Moore will be using on the lot will be 1,200 square feet with granite countertops in the kitchen, two bathrooms and seven large flat-screen TVs. Of course, he won’t have expansive views of the salt flats as shown here, but will be likely be looking at the side of a sound studio or another trailer.

I’m sure there are more delights in this rig, and I’d love to have a grand tour of it. Yes, it’s a disgusting display of wealth. And yes, I want to touch it.

Etsy Find of the Week — Super cool wall decals

Written By: admin - Aug• 23•11

I just can’t get enough of these removable vinyl wall decals. They are made by a lady and her Chinese husband, who is the artist. The little bio on the Etsy website is so endearing:

“We are a family run shop,my husband is a chinese artist,he design the graphics,I do some computer work.we are very happy the etsy give us the chance to offer our best decals to the world.”

I want the fish ($22 plus $10 shipping) and the bamboo leaves ($42 plus shipping). How about you? See more




If I had a baby, I’d want this one ($68):


Macy’s recalls nearly 1 million Martha Stewart enamel cast iron casserole dishes

Written By: admin - Aug• 22•11

Martha StewartIf Macy’s and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission are recalling 1 million Martha Stewart enamel cast iron casserole dishes, and you are an avid cook, it’s possible you have one of these. They are kind of cute.

Should you care about the recall? You decide. Here are the details:

Hazard: The enamel coating on the cast iron casseroles can crack or break during use. This can cause the enamel to crack and fly off as a projectile, posing a risk of laceration or burn hazard to the user or bystanders.

Incidents/Injuries: Macy’s has received two reports of the enamel cracking and flying off of the casseroles during use. No injuries have been reported.

Description: The recall involves Martha Stewart Collection Enamel Cast Iron Casseroles in 7 quart, 5.5 quart and 2.75 quart sizes, with exterior enamel finishes in red, cobalt blue, sand, green, blue, white, mustard, brown and teal, with cream colored interior finishes. The casseroles are embossed with Martha Stewart Collection on the bottom and lid handle.

Sold at: Macy’s stores and AAFES, MCX and NEX locations nationwide, and on macys.com between June 2007 and June 2011 for between about $25 and $170.

Manufactured in: China

Remedy: Consumers should immediately stop using the casseroles and return them to any Macy’s store for a full refund.

Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact Macy’s toll-free at (888) 257-5949 between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET or visit the Macy’s website at www.macys.com.

Getting rejected by a remodeling company

Written By: admin - Aug• 22•11

Kathy's Remodeling Blog Have you ever been turned down by a remodeling company or a tradesperson?

You may have been rejected, but a savvy contractor’s manner of turning down clients may be so artful that you don’t even realize it happened. All you know is that you’re calling other companies.

First, why would a potential client be rejected by a remodeling company? Aren’t all remodeling companies desperate for clients?

No they are not. Well, not all of them, anyway. In my decades of reporting on the industry, I’ve heard these reasons for subtly turning a client away:

• The homeowners are obsessed with price, with getting a deal, and put that above all else, even down to questioning the cost of a single sheet of drywall.

• The homeowners may be excruciatingly picky and demand way more perfection than is problable or possible. While there are companies who cater to super picky people with high-end projects, the costs are proportionate.

* The homeowners may be rude or bigoted. I talked with a highly respected female remodeling company CEO who told me that if a client seems disrespectful of different genders, races, sexual orientation or whatever, she will not take the job and subject her employees to that.

• The homeowner may have a brittle personality and be just unpleasant to be around. Who needs that?

• The potential client may have tustled with or sued previous contractors. One way contractors find this out is to ask about past experiences with remodeling contractors. If a homeowners tells the truth, that reveals a lot.

In these cases and more, remodeling contractors are wise not to pursue particular jobs. But they must do so in a way that doesn’t anger the homeowners, as those homeowners might well refer other people who are more compatible with the companies.

If you are being rejected, you’ll hear phrases like this:

• We’re not a good fit for your project.

• I’ll give you some name of other companies.

• We’re too busy to take this on right now.

Or, a strategy used by some remodeling companies when they face a difficult client is to price the job so high that the bid is sure to be rejected. And if the high bid is accepted, at least there is extra money to make the painful job worthwhile.

The worst way of all for a contractor to turn down is a client is to shut down communications and not return calls. I hope no legitimate remodeling company chooses that tactic.

Hanging your own drywall? Please, I’m begging you, learn from a master

Written By: admin - Aug• 21•11

Myron So you’re doing some remodeling and it occurs to you that, hey, you can hang the drywall yourself and save some money. How hard could it be? You just nail some paper-covered chalk board to the studs and voila! You’re an expert.

Whoa! Hold on there. I want you to hear me out. I think I could safely say I’ve been inside more professional and DIY remodel jobs that most other people on the planet. And I’ve seen way more bad DIY drywall jobs than anyone should be subjected to. I’m talking bad cuts. Bad nailing. Bad taping. Bad mudding. Bad all around.

Most people in the remodeling industry know that hanging and taping drywall is an absolute artform. You’ll find remodeling companies with in-house staff to do foundations, framing, window installation and all kinds of other jobs. But they will still “sub out” the drywall to specialists. Why? These professional drywaller are gifted artisans. And the homeowners or tenants will be looking at that drywall job for a long time to come. So it should be done with finesse.

If you still want to tackle this craft, you should learn it from a real artist, Myron Ferguson, also known as That Drywall Guy. I wish you could have been in my shoes during various remodeling shows when I’ve seen Myron enthrall a standing-room-only audience of construction guys just by stirring a bucket of “mud.” Yes, that part is an artform, as well.

The good news is that Myron is a good guy and he loves to share what he knows. There are many ways for you to learn from this master:

Drywall: Hanging and Taping 1. Watch Myron’s videos online on the JLC (Journal of Light Construction) website.

2. Buy Myron’s training DVDs, which are very comprehensive.

2. Buy Myron’s book Drywall: Professional Techniques for Great Results, which I’ve been told is the bestselling construction book put out by the highly respected Taunton Press. You can also buy it on Amazon.

So why am I telling you all this? It’s purely self-serving. As I said, I’ve seen more that enough bad DIY drywall jobs to last a lifetime. I don’t need to see any more. And neither do you.

Why should buildings cause 39% of greenhouse gases? That just ain’t right

Written By: admin - Aug• 14•11

Global warmingWhat is the most critical, dangerous, life-threatening problem of our time? Carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.

Everything else — political discord, economic downturns, loss of freedoms — can be changed fairly quickly. But once those greenhouse gases become trapped in the atmosphere, they will be there for a long, long, long time. And they will contribute to the droughts, floods and other weather anomalies that cause me and you and our fellow humans so much misery.

But what can we do? Isn’t that someone else’s fault? Someone else’s responsibility?

Truth be told, if each of us took some action on this front, the cumulative effects would be astronomical.

And it must begin at home. According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, the energy used in buildings accounts for 39 percent of all greenhouse gases.

To cut down on energy use in our own homes, we can:

LED bulbs• Switch to efficient lighting
• Replace broken appliances with energy efficient models
• Switch to solar hot water heating
Seal leaky ducts in the attic
• Seal leaks in old window assemblies
• Unplug electronics that are not being used
Put in extra insulation when remodeling 

And so on. Surprisingly, the energy upgrades that seem the most exciting — solar panels and new windows — give you the least bang for your buck.

In my own home, the things I do to cut down on energy use also cut down on that hopeless feeling. While it might be self-righteously pleasurable for a moment to blame everyone else for the world’s problems, it ultimately feels much better when my action is part of the solution. How about you?

P.S. Click here for a fun music video on air sealing

The irresistible appeal of a tiny house

Written By: admin - Aug• 02•11

I guess I'll end up in a tiny house someday because I am irresistibly drawn to them. The one shown in this video is in Olympia, Washington, which is, I gather, a free-thinking community.

What I love: The simple life. Being a citizen rather than a consumer. Cedar walls. A loft bed. Off the grid.

What I don't love: No shower. Living in somebody's back yard. And what about air conditioning?

I could get around the problem of living in someone else's back yard by living in my own back yard. I could imagine owning a house, renting it out, and setting up a tiny house out back. It would allow for low living expenses but still a sense of place.

The thing I would struggle with is no shower. But having a simple, movable, tiny house kind of depends on the lack of plumbing, especially the issue of waste water. I'm OK with the composting toilet. 

But what about air conditioning? With a warming planet, and living in the deep south, living without air conditioning would be unbearable for many months of the year. Is the solution to not live in the deep south? That would be difficult.

One nice thing about watching this very well done 27-minute video is that when I later walked through my own 1,400-sq. ft. house, I thought: Wow! What a spacious mansion! And that was an appropriate thought.

Air conditioner on the fritz? Maybe it’s been stolen

Written By: admin - Jul• 31•11

copper theft Here’s an embarrassing situation: Your air conditioner stops working so you call out the repair company. When they arrive, they’re puzzled to see a bare concrete slab where your air conditioner used to be. Your AC has been stolen.

This happens and not infrequently, unfortunately. Thieves can sell the copper in an AC unit for about $20, meanwhile causing about $3,000 to $10,000 in damages.

It’s all over the news. In Tennessee, here’s a story about an alarm device for AC units.

In Louisiana, the problem is bad.

It’s even happening in Newport News and Hampton, Virginia, where recent thefts have spiked.

In some states, only air conditioning professional are allowed to sell AC copper coils to scrap yards, but in other states, there is no such law.

Copper_Locker_20110728131731_320_240What to do? With each problem in society comes a business opportunity, and there are companies selling alarms and AC cages to prevent this theft here, here and here. The one pictured here is called the Copper Locker.

So next time your AC goes out, take a peek outside before you call the repair folks. It could be worse than you thought.

Photos: Times-Picayune, ABC 15

A deep energy retrofit — coming soon to a very HOT climate

Written By: admin - Jul• 29•11

Orlando Cool Energy House

In case you’re not familiar with central Florida, let me break it down for you: it’s HOT, HOT, HOT. And humid. Think sunshine, thunder and flash rain storms in the summer.

So what does this mean? Houses in hot and humid climates need to be built differently from those in, say, cool and dry climates. You can see the map of climate zones here:

The house I’m talking about is in that orange section at the bottom right. I visited the house not too long ago and I can tell you that I was uncomfortable standing near the single-pane French doors in the family room. Even though there was no direct sun on the East-facing glass, as there was an overhang outside, I could still feel the heat from outside radiating through the glass and I had to get up and move.

In a well-functioning house, you should be equally comfortable no matter where you are. In a house that has energy disfunction, however, you’ll be cool on the ground floor, hot on the second floor, feeling stuffy in one room, chilly in another, etc.

In this house, a team will be coming next week to do an energy audit. That is to determine how much energy the house is using before the remodel. I know that the energy bills are $450 a month when the house is vacant. Imagine how much that would cost with a family living in it?

When the remodel and energy retrofit are done, the team will come back and do another audit and note the differences.

Like I said, getting a house to be “energy smart” is not just about saving energy, saving money and saving the planet, though those are good goals. It’s also about being comfortable. It’s about you and your family being healthy. And it’s about a long-lasting home that is not degraded by mold and rot.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Here it is: The Cool Energy House

In New Orleans, a blessed sign of recovery

Written By: admin - Jul• 28•11

New OrleansIn most communities, garage sale signs are so ubiquitous as to be a nuisance. After all, most of us have too much stuff and we need to get rid of it. And these days, to pocket some cash is a happy thing.

But in New Orleans, which got flooded in 2005 when the defective federal levee system failed, signs like these were rare for many years. While not all the city got flooded (the French Quarter and Uptown were barely touched), much of it did, and hundreds of thousands of people lost everything they had to toxic floodwaters.

Imagine everyone around you losing all their furniture, kitchen stuff, clothing, kids toys, books, music, plants, bedding, rugs, appliances, and so on and so on.

In that case, you would not see any garage sale signs. In New Orleans, it was several years before folks got back to their houses, cleaned them up, collected whole households worth of goods, and once again had too much stuff.

So a garage sale sign in the Big Easy is a blessed sign indeed.

Famous Folks at Home: Whose foyer is this?

Written By: admin - Jul• 27•11

Famous Folks at Home
Here are a few hints:

This bright foyer is in Los Angeles.

The owner or owners are known for being quirky.

Yep, that’s a big hand sculpture on the table.

So whose is it?

Click HERE to see the answer

See more Famous Folks at Home


New Orleans House Paint Colors: Periwinkle Blue, Yellow and White

Written By: admin - Jul• 27•11

New Orleans House Paint ColorsHow can you go wrong with this combination? (click on photo for a larger view)

This lovely raised Creole cottage just off Marconi near City Park is luminous with its periwinkle lap siding, softly yellow doors and bright white trim.

It’s simple and stunning.

Siding: Periwinkle blue
Trim: White
Doors: Yellow
Roofing: Gray

Casting Call — Do you hate your bathroom?

Written By: admin - Jun• 24•11

New Orleans Bathroom Or, I guess I should ask: DID you hate your bathroom? And did you do something about it?

If so, a new DIY Network television show called “I Hate My Bath” is looking for DIYers who have remodeled their bathroom, taking the room from bland to beautiful.

As part of the show, they will have a short segment where they feature great bathroom remodels from around the country. They will not film anything. Rather, they will use photographs of the before and after.
In return, they will talk about your remodel along with sending you a DVD copy of the show.
So no, you don’t get a new bathroom out of the deal. But if you’ve already remodeled your bathroom, then you’re all set, right?
If you’re interested, here’s what they need:
1) Your name and the name(s) of anyone you own the home with
2) Where the home is located (city and state)
3) A description of how you changed your bathroom
4) How much the project cost
5) Which parts of the project were completed by you, if any
6) Hi-res before and after shots of the bathroom (typically 1MB or higher per pic)
If that all sounds groovy, you can email the information to Martine Schroeder   mschroeder@magneticproductions.com
Good luck!


Kathy’s Remodeling Blog wins prestigious award

Written By: admin - Jun• 10•11

Interior Design College
Kathy’s Remodeling Blog has been named one of the best 50 home improvement blogs in the entire blogosphere by Interior Design College.

The team’s five favorite blogs include:

The Art of Doing Stuff

The Home Know-It-All

Laurendy Home Blog

DIY Diva

This Damn House

Congratulations to all the winners.

Famous Folks at Home: Gerry and Imaging Spence in Montecito, Calif.

Written By: admin - May• 09•11


When Santa Barbara Magazine asked me to write an article about the massive remodel done by Imaging Spence (yes, that’s her given name), I kind of dreaded it. You may recall that her husband Gerry Spence is a famous attorney and author, and I feared that the couple might be snotty and ostentatious and arrogant. But they are the exact opposite: humble, self-effacing, fun and delightful. And their remodeled house is stunning.

Here’s the story I wrote:

To hear Gerry Spence tell it, his wife has a way with both houses and husbands.

“Look what she’s done with me,” says Gerry, a photographer, painter, poet and pundit, author of 14 books, and an undefeated trial lawyer who represented Karen Silkwood, Randy Weaver and others.

“Without Imaging Spence,” he claims, “I’d be a homeless waif.”

But when Imaging, his spouse of three decades, says “Don’t tell me you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” she’s actually referring to the ho-hum Montecito property she transformed into a gracious Mediterranean manor with arches, columns and corbels, and the enchanting gardens she has imagined since childhood.

The couple, who live half the year in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, bought the home on 24 canyon acres because, Imaging says, “I needed a project.”

At the time, the Spences owned a George Washington Smith-designed home on 2 1/2 acres in Montecito, with gardens designed by famed architect Lutah Maria Riggs. When their real estate agent said, “Imaging, I’ve got a property you should look at,” the couple agreed to see it.

Ignoring the house, Gerry and Imaging hiked all over the ocean-view property, taking in the creek, sycamores, oaks, eucalyptus, cypress and century-old olive trees. As the couple looked toward the pool, they spied two ducks floating there and a bobcat stalking from a nearby hill. When the bobcat made its move and the ducks took flight, Gerry took it as “a sign” that the couple would be protected there: “Well, we have to buy this house,” he said.

(Photos: Santa Barbara Magazine)


The truth about HGTV’s House Hunters? Take the poll

Written By: admin - Apr• 01•11

House Hunters First off, I’m addicted to House Hunters on HGTV.

Well, I was addicted.

Then I started looking into some allegations on the Internet that the show is really quite phony. For instance, some say the clients have already closed escrow on a house and the other two houses they are trying to choose from are chosen by the show’s producers. And I’ve heard the prices are artificial, as well, to help build suspense.

Now all of these are allegations, and I don’t know the truth about how the show is put together.

But a lot of elements of the show are very suspicious to me:

1. How is it that the clients always get the house they chose? In real life, we all put in offers that aren’t accepted, or we find things during the inspection that are deal breakers. No so in this show.

2. Why do the clients all use the same terms “top of our price range” or “bottom of our price range”? In real life, I would say something like: “Wow, that’s way too much” or “That’s too expensive” or “That’s a rip-off.” But on this show, everyone says the same thing.

3. Likewise, why do so many people on the show talk about “open concept.” Is this really such a common term? I think they might be fed lines from the producers.

4. Why so little talk about the location of the homes, when we all know that real estate is all about location, location, location? Nobody buys a house only because of the granite counters or walk-in closet. We’re more concerned with local schools, what’s across the street, the ability to walk to stores, nearness to public transportation, etc. In other programs, like “My First Place” and “Property Virgins,” those elements are considered more.

5. And of course, the most obvious sign that this show is phony is that the people are choosing from only three houses. We all know you look at dozens of houses before you choose one.

Now all of you probably already put all of this together and I admit to being a late bloomer. Now that I’ve thought through all this, it changes my enjoyment of the program. I’m now noticing even more the stilted language of the clients and I imagine how they had to do take after take to get that just right. (Again, this is all speculation and I have no inside knowledge.)

On the upside, I feel my addiction to “House Hunters” coming to a close, and that will free up a lot of my time!

Headboard made from a church pew — very cool!

Written By: admin - Mar• 29•11

Church pew headboardI’m totally in love with this headboard made from an old church pew. See the whole story at AOL’s DIY Life.

Casting Call: Clean House

Written By: admin - Mar• 29•11

Clean House

Do you need help ridding your home of clutter?

Are you having a hard time letting go of stuff you don’t need but just can’t seem to part with?

Is your house in dire need of a makeover?

If at least three rooms in your house are messy, you might need a visit from The Style Network’s “Clean House,” which is campy, fun and one of my favorite reality shows!

But there are a few requirements.

You must own a single-family home (that means no rentals, apartments, condos, or townhouses) and at least two adults must live in your home. If those things are true, you can email the following information to Clean House and they will be in touch with more details:

1. Names and relationships of everyone living in the house.

2. Address and phone number.

3. Photos or video of all your cluttered rooms.

4. Tell them about yourself and why you and your family need “Clean House.”

5. Do you own or rent your house? Again, you must own your house and not be renting it.

You can email all this to: rosecastingcleanhouse@gmail.com.

They look forward to hosting your yard sale! And I look forward to seeing you on the TV.

P.S. Here is an editorial opinion from me to “Clean House” — Please be careful when asking folks to part with old family items. It’s one thing to let go of clutter or junk you’ve had for a few decades. But when you’ve got a piano that was played by your great-grandmother, for instance, that’s not something to give up. Please be sensitive to our needs for ancestry and family and history. Thank you!