Aerial hedge trimming

Written By: admin - May• 15•10

Burbia.comHere’s a photo from the quirky former website This fellow found a unique solution to that pesky hedge-trimming job.

This beats the heck out of standing on a tall ladder and leaning over with a hedge trimmer in your hands. Hey, if this is safe and you’ve got the right equipment, why not?

Ask a Contractor: Should we renovate all at once, or in steps?

Written By: admin - Apr• 28•10

QPhotouestion: We want to do several upgrades to our house, including the kitchen, the master bathroom and a new deck. Should we have them all done at the same time, or would it be easier on my family to have them done one at a time?

Answer: From Alon Toker, president of Mega Builders in Chatsworth, California:

Certainly a more comprehensive project would take a toll on a family, whether the family remains in place or finds temporary housing elsewhere. After all, moving out is also stressful.

Still, I think you should opt to get it all done in a single swoop, or you could lose momentum. In my experience, no one is less likely to undertake a remodeling project than someone who has just completed one.

It makes financial sense as well. Generally speaking, it is more cost effective to bundle all your project’s objectives into a single undertaking.

Here’s why: A construction project progresses trade by trade, from the “rough” stages to the “finish” work. For example, tile work should go in before the last coat of paint but after the cabinets are in. The electrician will wire the open walls during the rough stage and return toward the project’s completion to install light fixtures and trim.

Breaking up a home-remodeling project by room or by any other arbitrary criteria undermines this natural and efficient progression. As a result, crews will work on rough items and then do finish work only to return to address additional rough items in a different location of the house. Total project time and cost will increase as a result.

Given travel time, daily setup and breakdown times (bringing materials from the truck, collecting tools, daily cleanup of the job site), the one-at-a-time process creates waste. This also means higher time-related costs, such as for supervision, overhead and temporary facilities.

I suggest you get all the pain out of the way and enjoy your new and improved home.

Do you have a question for a contractor? Please email your question to Alon Toker at

Best and worst home improvement products

Written By: admin - Apr• 14•10

Consumer ReportsAre you a fan of Consumer Reports? I am. Totally. The nonprofit company’s integrity and independence remind me of the good old days of journalism.

In the May issue of the magazine, CR named the Best and Worst in home fix-it-up products. The winners and losers include:

Cordless tool kits

Consumer ReportsPorter-Cable PCL418C-2 and Skil 2887-16 cordless-tool kits

Porter-Cable PCL418C-2 and Skil 2887-16 cordless-tool kits

Best: Combine a drill, reciprocating saw, and circular saw, and you have a cordless-tool kit. The Porter-Cable PCL418C-2, $300, at top, drove screws and sawed 2x12s almost as well as a $500 kit. Worst: Don’t be tempted by the $230 price tag of the Skil 2887-16. It’s mediocre overall, but worse, it has a short battery run time and will require frequent recharges.

Interior paints

Kathy's Remodeling BlogBehr Premium Plus Ultra Satin Enamel and Sherwin-Williams
Duration Home Satin interior paints

Behr Premium Plus Ultra Satin Enamel and Sherwin-Williams Duration Home Satin

Best: Low-luster paints, also known as eggshell or satin, are ideal for most rooms. And Behr Premium Plus Ultra Satin Enamel, $33, sold at Home Depot, had impressive one-coat hiding and stain resistance and doesn’t need a primer. It’s also low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Worst: But Sherwin-Williams Duration Home Satin, $47, was only so-so at hiding and stain resistance. Plus its sheen noticeably changed after scrubbing.

See more

Jennifer Aniston’s sumptuous bed: DIY instructions here

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Apr• 13•10

Architectural DigestWhen Jennifer Aniston’s home turned up in Architectural Digest last month, the bed in the master bedroom really caught my eye. As you can see above, it’s an oversized platform with two “ears” for low-slung night stands.

I can imagine one of those ultra-comfortable memory foam mattresses sitting atop this platform. It’s just too yummy.

Best of all, you could actually make this bed yourself with a few tools and a little skill. I asked nationally known carpentry guru Gary Katz of This Is Carpentry for some tips, and he went ahead and drew the whole DIY process out for us.

Check out Gary’s drawings on how to make this bed at DIY Life.

(Photo: Architectural Digest)

Downed walnut tree milled into kitchen cabinets

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Apr• 13•10

Walnut kitchen cabinets

The cabinets in this South Dakota home were milled
from a felled black walnut tree.

If you’ve ever had to cut down a tree around your house, you know how sad that can be. On one hand, the tree might cause you trouble. It might be dying and in danger of falling. It might shed leaves and fruit, or harbor pests, that muddle up your life. On the other hand, the tree might be stately and big, and that’s a sorrowful thing to see felled.

A couple in Mitchell, South Dakota, faced just that problem with an old black walnut tree in their back yard. Squirrels were part of the problem. They ate the walnuts then dropped shells with black walnut “ink” on the deck, and it was a constant mess for years. Finally the couple decided the tree had to go.

But here’s the bright side: instead of turning the tree into firewood or mulch, the couple had the wood milled into new kitchen cabinets. And they are gorgeous, as you can see above, and as was reported in The Daily Republic. (I would have chosen something other than brick for the backsplash, but that’s a story for another day.)

This is the second time I’ve seen cabinets milled from a felled neighborhood tree. In Santa Barbara, Bill and Becka Doerning had downed neighborhood acacia trees milled into cabinets and a countertop. They got the idea when they saw the beautiful conference room table used by their contractor, Allen Associates. That table was also milled from a felled acacia tree.

So the next time you see a neighborhood tree coming down, think not just of sorrow, but of possibilities. It could become the heart of your new kitchen.

Photo: The Daily Republic

Owners of pre-1978 homes may soon have a better pool of contractors to choose from

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Apr• 11•10

New Orleans homeOwn an older home? Beginning April 22, only contractors who have been trained in safe handling of lead-contaminated paint dust can legally work on your home. And that’s a good thing for you.

If you’ve been keeping up with contractor-type news, you know that contractors are not happy at all with a soon-to-be enforced EPA law that requires extra precautions when dealing with lead contamination in homes.

Lead was routinely added to paint prior to 1978. When that lead-infused paint is sanded or cut into, dust is created that can be ingested. Lead poisoning has been proved conclusively to cause brain and neurological damage to children. That’s what this law is all about, to protect the health of children. And I can tell you from personal experience, life is hard enough without the added burden of brain damage. Congress directed the EPA to enact these safety requirements nearly 20 years ago, and it’s only now being done.

Some contractors say the financial burden of these safety precautions is too great. Some have turned it into a political issue and another reason to dislike President Obama and his administration.

The law requires that in order to work on houses built prior to 1978 (the year paint with lead in it was banned for residential construction), each contractor must take an 8-hour class that costs about $250 and pass a 25-question multiple-choice test. Then, the workers in the company must be trained on how to protect themselves from lead-contaminated paint dust, and how to protect the jobsite. This often requires plastic gloves, masks, plastic bags to collect the contaminated material, a HEPA vacuum, etc.

Times are tough right now for businesses and so many contractors are rebelling by saying they won’t get certified and they simply won’t take any remodeling jobs on houses built prior to 1978. Some companies report they will go out of business because of this new requirement.

What this means is more work for the companies who are certified to work with lead-contaminated paint dust. The EPA estimates some 125,000 certified contractors by the April 22 deadline, with companies continuing to be certified after that.

If you own a home built prior to 1978, the pool of contractors that you can choose from to do remodeling will not be bigger, but it will be better.

Certain companies have a special affinity for older homes and you will be more likely to choose such a company when others with less of a commitment to older homes drop out of the business. Plus, the companies who have taken the time and effort to become certified in the handling of lead-contaminated dust are the companies who have a demonstrated affinity for safety, both for their own workers and for the home’s occupants.

There have always been people who resent the government stepping in to protect the safety of consumers. Drug companies really hate it. So do polluting industries. Yes, protecting consumers and workers does cost money. However, if a company is so close to financial ruin that a commitment of $1,000 for new safety training and equipment puts them over the edge, you have to assume that if it wasn’t this new safety requirement then it would be something else that caused them to shut their doors, like a late-paying client or being turned down for a business loan from the bank.

I’m certainly sad when good contracting companies go out of business. These are really tough times for everyone. I’m even more sad about contaminants we expose young children to in this modern world.

Bottom line: When you as a homeowner of a house built prior to 1978 seek remodeling services in the future, the contractors who can legally work on your house, meaning they are certified to handle lead-polluted paint dust, will have demonstrated a level of solvency and commitment to safety that should give you some comfort.

Contractors lagging behind in new lead training law

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

Planning to remodel? Unless your home is fairly new, only renovators certified to handle lead will soon be legally allowed to do the work.  The problem: Many are not yet ready.

By Darren Hauck for USA TODAY

On April 22, the Environmental Protection Agency is slated to enact rules requiring EPA certification for contractors working 0n homes built before lead paint was banned in 1978. The rule, aimed at limiting exposure to lead, applies to carpenters, plumbers, heating and air conditioning workers, window installers and others.

People who hire uncertified workers for their pre-1978 homes won’t face fines, but the remodelers themselves could.


Fake gas-powered alarm clock wins Energy Star label

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Mar• 26•10

Does a “gasoline-powered alarm clock” qualify for the Energy Star label, the government stamp of approval for an energy-saving product?

Like more than a dozen other bogus products submitted for approval since last June by Congressional auditors posing as companies, it easily secured the label, according to a Congressional report to be issued Friday. So did an “air purifier” that was essentially an electric space heater with a feather duster pasted on top, the Government Accountability Office said.

In a nine-month study, four fictitious companies invented by the accountability office also sought EnergyStar status for some conventional devices like dehumidifiers and heat pump models that existed only on paper.

See the whole story at

Is climate change threatening home foundations?

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Mar• 04•10

From the New York Times:

Steven Derse, the owner of a corporate travel business in Nashville, cannot feel his house move, but he can hear it. “It’s an eerie creaking sound,” he said, and it echoes throughout his two-story Georgian-style house.

It started two years ago when a severe drought contracted the soil beneath the foundation, which caused it to crack and sink, pulling the house down with it. The noise has continued intermittently, becoming more insistent last year when flooding pushed the already compromised foundation and house back upward.

This seesawing effect was noisy and expensive. Mr. Derse has spent more than $10,000 to install subterranean piers to stabilize his foundation, and he expects he will have to install more to prevent further cracking and crumbling. “You lose your sense of security,” he said. “You love your home and then it literally turns on you.”

Photo Caption: The soil under the home of Psonya Wilson has required some major work and repairs. The two-story garden style house in Brandon, Miss., has required the installation of stabilization piers to shore up the foundation.

Photo Credit: James Patterson for The New York Times

See the whole story at

Case study: First LEED for Homes Silver on West Coast

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

Tom Kelly is president of Neil Kelly Company, a design/build firm that his father founded 60 years ago in Portland, Oregon. Neil Kelly has supported sustainable building practices long before “green building” was in vogue and has taken a strong leadership position with the construction of Tom’s home in Parkdale, Oregon. The house is the first home on the West Coast to receive LEED for Homes Silver Certification.

Tom Kelly“For all the years we’ve urged our employees, suppliers and clients to build and remodel in a sustainable manner, Barbara [Kelly’s wife] and I have always wanted to build a showcase for sustainable design, construction and living,” Tom Kelly said. “We believe this is the future of home building.”

See the whole story at

Create the Look for Less: Lance Armstrong’s kitchen

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Feb• 28•10

Lance Armstrong's Austin kitchenThere’s a good reason Lance Armstrong‘s kitchen is so comfortable and inviting. This is not merely a showplace, but the heart of a family home where the cycling superstar is raising three young children (he shares amicable joint custody with his former wife), and where he plans to live until his kids graduate from high school.

“Dad’s not moving again,” Armstrong told his kids, as was first reported in Architectural Digest (their original story contains almost a dozen photos of Armstrong’s amazing estate).

At first glance the kitchen seems luxurious beyond most people’s budget, with stately stainless steel pendant lights, slab stone counters and a dramatic beamed ceiling.

However, if you break the kitchen down into components, many of the features are well within the budget and abilities of a talented DIYer. Consider how some of these changes to a typical kitchen could give you the look of Lance Armstrong’s cozy retreat.

Let’s take a closer look at how to make the following features your own:

• Faux wood beams on ceiling
• Banquette in kitchen
• Pendant lights hung over island or peninsula
• Inlaid tile floor in working area
• Shelf above windows for family photos

See the whole story at

Recession hits ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’ — No more McMansions

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Feb• 22•10

Ty PenningtonYou aren’t the only one feeling the pinch. In an exclusive interview with WalletPop’s Jason Cochran, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition‘s resident carpenter, Paul DiMeo, reports that the tough times have hit his popular ABC show, too.

One of the first things to change was the size of the homes. In years past, families would be bestowed with homes that felt more like mansions, with scads of square footage and amenities such as new swimming pools. The taxman and the maintenance bills can prove too onerous for families to cope with, so that’s a thing of the past, and homes are now built more modestly, with lower-cost upkeep in mind.

Also gone are the days when a dozen contractors would vie to be the one to give needy families their dream homes. Now, the show is lucky if one or two step forward for the chance at charity — and national publicity.


Using Facebook or Twitter could raise your homeowners insurance premiums

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Feb• 21•10

Services such as Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and Buzz can alert criminals when users are not home, according to, the price comparison service. Foursquare, for example, shows that people are in a specific spot and, more importantly, that the user is definitely not at home, added.

It predicted that the new wave in social media could eventually lead to big rises in home insurance premiums.

– snip –

The company offered the following advice to users of social networking websites:

1. Never post your home address or other personal information such as your home phone number on social networking sites

2. Don’t follow people you don’t know on social networks and block others from seeing your profile if you don’t know them

3. Turn off location-based services on Twitter and Facebook unless you absolutely need to use them

See the whole story at

From Lamps Plus — The Closer video (trust me on this one)

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Feb• 18•10

Very clever:

2010 Trends — Is contemporary out? Already?

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Feb• 17•10

Contemporary kitchenIn 2008, I posed this question in a poll: Is contemporary style on its way out? My theory was that hard economic times would propel people into the comfort of traditional styles. I used this June 2008 photo from Architectural Digest to illustrate the shift. Notice the farm style table and warm floors to balance the chic chairs, range hood and metal stairs.

Many respondents to my poll said NO WAY are the sleek, spare lines of contemporary style on the way out. Some even suggested that this would be the “in” look forever more.

See the results of my Poll: Is contemporary style on its way out?

But, as you can see from the list of kitchen and bath trends below (if you believe this list), contemporary is moving out and traditional is moving up.

Here’s a press release from the National Kitchen & Bath Association:

The results are in from a recent survey of designers conducted by the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) to reveal the key design trends for 2010. The results of the NKBA 2010 Kitchen & Bath Design Trends Survey confirmed the continuation of a number of existing trends in the marketplace, but also uncovered others that indicate shifts in the direction that kitchen and bath style will take this year. Below are 2010’s seven kitchen trends and four bath trends.


1. Traditional is the New Contemporary

Traditional will continue as the most popular kitchen design style in 2010, with contemporary following closely behind, while the Shaker style is seeing a surprisingly strong resurgence. Shades of whites and off-whites will be the most common kitchen colors in 2010, while brown, beige, and bone hues will also be popular.

2. Cherry on Top

Cherry will remain the most popular wood for kitchen cabinetry, followed closely by maple, while alder increases in use. As for the finishes placed on those cabinets, medium natural, dark natural, glazed, and white painted will all be common. Other colors of painted cabinetry and light natural finishes are in decline, however, as are distressed finishes.


Such a cute lamp from Discovery Kids; too bad it might catch fire

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Feb• 15•10


The latest recall from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission:

of Product:
Kids™ Animated Marine and Safari Lamps

About 360,000

Innovage LLC, of
Foothill Ranch, Calif.

A defect in the
lamp’s printed circuit board can cause an electrical short, posing a fire and
burn hazard to consumers.

Innovage has
received nine reports of incidents, including seven reports of lamps catching
fire, one involving smoke inhalation injury to a child and three involving
minor property damage.

This recall
involves the Discovery Kids™ Animated Marine Lamp with model number 1627121 or
1628626 and the Animated Safari Lamp with model number 1627124 or 1628626.All
models have batch numbers beginning with “2”. The decorative lamps are silver
in color and feature rotating films with marine or safari scenes. “Discovery
Kids” is printed on the front top left corner. The batch number is an 11 digit
number located on the bottom of each unit. The model number can be found on the
bottom of the packaging.

merchandisers, department, drug and hardware stores nationwide, online and
through direct sales from July 2009 through January 2010 for about $10.


Consumers should
immediately stop using the lamps, and contact Innovage for information on
returning the product for a full refund.

additional information, contact Innovage toll-free at (888) 232-1535 between 9
a.m. and 5 p.m. PT Monday through Friday, visit the firm’s Web site at
or email

10 ways to love your Valentine during a home remodel

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Feb• 14•10

Sub-zero-wine-coolerIn the middle of a home remodel this Valentine’s Day? No doubt it can be stressful. But instead of bickering and lashing out at the one you love, how about making this a time of sweetness? Here are some ideas to ensure a romantic weekend, despite all the dust and rubble:

1. If the kitchen is out of use, buy a wine fridge and stock it with a few bottles of white wine and champagne to enjoy while watching movies (or home improvement TV shows!). It can be your gift to yourselves for working so hard on your new kitchen.

2. Splurge on designer-looking work gloves for you and your squeeze.

See the whole list at

Refrigerator makeover

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Feb• 14•10





See how it’s done from CNN

Fake videos from Integrity Windows go viral

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Feb• 12•10

A few videos recently showed up on YouTube showing construction dudes doing amazing feats with nail guns and such. The videos went viral and were seen millions of times.

However, it turns out those construction guys were actors and the videos were made by Integrity Windows and Doors, a division of Marvin Windows. I think it's weird for a classy company like that to make fake videos. But these are the times we find ourselves in.

See the story from Fine Homebuilding, who was duped by the stunt. And see one of the videos below.

Ask an Expert: How can pregnant homeowner avoid remodeling hazards?

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Feb• 12•10

Pregnancy webFrom the Contra Costa Times:

Q I’m pregnant and will be remodeling my home soon. Is there anything I should be aware of (off-gassing, asbestos, glues, etc.) that could hurt my unborn baby or me?

A There are two points during a remodeling project that are critical times at which to consider the impact of potentially hazardous materials.

The first is during demolition, when materials are removed or disturbed, as some of the materials may have been manufactured with known toxins such as asbestos and lead.

The second is during the construction phase, when you should be aware of potentially harmful products used to manufacture building materials that will go in your home.

See the whole story at

(Photo: Brigham Young University)