Four Deck Maintenance Tips

Spring is here, and summer is just around the corner. Time to get that wood deck ready for family fun and entertaining. Here are four tips to do it right:

(1) Safety First. Before you do anything else, pound in those popped nails, replace splintered boards, and repair any unstable, rotted, or split railings, steps, or supports. Nothing ruins a summer barbecue faster than the entire party falling to the yard below when the deck gives way.

(2) Clean It Up. Experts recommend cleaning just before staining and sealing (see (3) below) and, otherwise, only when there is visible grime, mold, or mildew. Avoid cleaning too often, wire brushes, chlorine bleach, and cleaning products as they all can damage the wood. Opt for a power washer using plain water on the lowest possible effective setting. Too much water pressure can damage wood too.

(3) Stain and Seal. Every two or three years, follow up the deck cleaning with a good stain and seal. You can save yourself a step by using a combination stain/seal product that does both in one brush stroke. Don’t sand unless absolutely necessary as you’ll remove the top layer of color and need to apply three coats of finish where one refresher coat would have done just fine.

(4) Ongoing Maintenance. Periodically, and at least at the end of each season, rearrange your furniture, rugs, potted plants, and other items to allow dampness trapped underneath to dry out and avoid mildew and mold. Similarly, in the fall, remove leaves that accumulate on the deck.

Deck maintenance isn’t difficult to DIY, but it will consume the better part of your valuable weekend. There are licensed professionals who can swoop in and take care of it for you. We know the best!

Wise homeowners extend the life of their deck with regular maintenance. Now, go forth and dwell al fresco!

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at

Tax Breaks For Accessibility Remodeling

For those of you preparing your Virginia state tax returns, or planning remodeling and looking to maximize tax credits for next year – – here’s how to get up to $5,000 back if you do accessibility remodeling to accommodate aging in place or other physical challenges. Sadly, the federal bill referenced in this blog, originally posted last September, died before coming to a vote. But, Virginians, you’re good.

Read on . . .

With advances in medical care and increased awareness and implementation of healthy lifestyle choices, aging is a lot more fun than it used to be. Here’s another advantage for 21st-century seniors: tax breaks for fixing up your home so you can stay comfortably as you age.

Virginia offers homeowners a Livable Home Tax Credit equal to 50% of what they spend to retrofit a home to add accessibility features (like ramps, grab bars, and widened doorways), with a $5000 cap.

Alternatively, Virginia homeowners can receive as much as $5000 in credits if they purchase or build a home with accessibility features.

While there is no age limit on who can use the tax credit in Virginia, seniors wanting to make their homes aging-in-place-friendly are one of the largest groups that will find this credit useful.

Maryland considered an accessibility tax credit this year but it was ultimately rejected.

A proposal for a similar credit for federal income tax payers is wending its way through Congress now. House Ways & Means is considering a bipartisan-sponsored bill – – H.R. 5254, The Senior Accessible Housing Act – – to provide up to a $30,000 tax credit over a senior’s lifetime for expenses incurred in making aging in place modifications.  Unlike Virginia’s tax credit, the proposed federal credit would be limited to persons 60 years and older. The federal bill is in the early stages but, if it passes, it could be a real boost to the home improvement industry and a great help to seniors.

For more information about state tax credits for accessibility modifications, see this August 24, 2016, article by Jenni Bergal for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

For details about the federal Senior Accessible Housing Act, see this Sept. 20, 2016, article from National Review.

Wise homeowners consider all financial consequences before remodeling or relocating. Now, go forth and age frugally – – in place if you want to!

Image courtesy of “hywards” at

Seven Tips for the Perfect Paint Job

Pantone, the self-described “world-renowned authority on color”, has declared “Greenery” 2017’s Color of the Year.  Paint companies, however, are not so sure, touting everything from sedate taupe to mysterious charcoal black this year. For more about the paint companies’ recommended colors, and which paints provide the best value, check out Consumer Reports.

Once you have your colors chosen, follow these tips from HomeWise to ensure that your painting project turns out its best:

Choosing paint colors and finishes and achieving a professional-looking result doesn’t have to be a chore. Here are seven tips to make sure you do it right:

  • Know Your Purpose: If you are painting your home in anticipation of living there for several years, go crazy with orange, purple, or fuschia. However, if you’re intending to sell anytime soon, keep the walls neutral (white, off-white, soft beiges or grays) so buyers won’t be overwhelmed by your color choices but, instead, can imagine putting their own stamp on the place.
  • Know Your Finishes: From lowest to highest sheen, you have flat, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss and high-gloss. The shinier, the more scrubbable, so a little sheen is good for kitchens, bathrooms and kids’ rooms. Reserve semi- and high-gloss for moldings, windows and doors. Satin can be good on trim, too, or in high-traffic or high-moisture areas like hallways, kitchens and baths. Eggshell is the most popular finish for walls in other rooms.
  • Prep is Key: Remember, the higher the sheen, the more it will show imperfections. Take time to spackle and sand for a smooth finish before painting.
  • Tape, Tape, Tape: This is the only way to guarantee clean edges. The time you spend taping is nothing compared to the time you’ll spend cleaning up/touching up if you try to freehand it.
  • Choose Room Contents Before Choosing Paint Color: It’s a lot easier to match paint to a few key pieces or accessories than it is to purchase a room full of furnishings to match your paint. Paint comes in such a vast array of colors and shades, and can be customized to coordinate with almost anything, so pick your paint color based on the other pieces you’ve already chosen.
  • Set the Mood: If you’re going for serenity (in the bedroom, for example), choose cool shades like blue and green. Warmer colors like orange and red evoke energy and excitement (hmmm . . . could be good for the bedroom too; your choice).
  • Transition Color Room to Room: You don’t need all the walls in your home to be the same, but be aware of how colors will blend (or clash) among rooms that adjoin one another. Consider, for example, furnishings, window treatments or accessories in one room that contain colors on the adjoining rooms’ walls, especially in the “public” areas (kitchen, living, dining, family, other non-bedroom spaces.)

Most licensed painters are happy to provide free color consultation. Remember, they’ve seen lots more walls, and considered how colors and finishes work together a lot more often, than you have. We’re happy to refer you to the right professional for your painting project if you decide not to DIY.

Universal Design Explained (and Why Homeowners Should Care)

I saw a cartoon today that was designed to illustrate the differences among equality, equity and the removal of systemic barriers  . . . but it is also a really good way to explain universal design.

Now, hang with me here for a minute. I can’t show you the cartoon because, frankly, I can’t determine who originated it and therefore can’t give proper credit and we have a little thing in this country called intellectual property law and I don’t want to get sued and, well, you get the picture (well, you don’t actually, but you know what I mean).

Anyhoo . . . here’s what it depicted:

In panel one, the “Equality” panel, three people of varying heights – – short, medium, and tall – – are standing on one side of a solid fence on the other side of which a baseball game is being played.  They each are standing on one crate, and each crate is the same size, which allows the tall and medium people to see over the fence to watch the game, but the shortest of the three still isn’t tall enough to see, even with the crate under him.

In panel two, the “Equity” panel, the tall and medium guys still have their crates but the shortest guy stands on two crates and can now see the game too.

In the third panel, the “Removal of Systemic Barriers” one, none of the three spectators is standing on any crate, but the fence has been changed from a solid one to a chain-link one, allowing everyone to see through it. That, my friends, is universal design. [Drops mic, walks off]

Well, okay. A bit more explanation may be in order as to how this relates to home improvements and why you, the homeowner, should care.

First, it is a perfect illustration of “universal design” because it shows how something can be made to fit everyone in a way that disadvantages no one. The chain link fence is useful to everyone, regardless of height (hence, it is “universal” in it’s application.) Similarly, door levers instead of knobs are great for arthritic hands but equally usable by the non-arthritis afflicted; light switches lowered a few inches can be reached by the able-bodied just as easily as the higher version can, and are now accessible to those in wheelchairs as well; and hallways and doorways widened by several inches to allow for walker and wheelchair passage don’t in any way pale in comparison, for those moving without appliances, to the narrower versions.

Secondly, these three panels illustrate that universal accessibility doesn’t have to look “special”, or “different” or otherwise detract from your home’s style or aesthetic. If you walked into that third-panel ballpark, it would likely never occur to you that the chain link fence was different, didn’t fit in, or was in any way inferior to some other kind of fence. Universal design elements can be the same. Wider hallways are as aesthetically pleasing as their narrower counterparts, and bathrooms designed with enough free space to allow for a wheelchair turning radius appear simply “spacious” or “spa-like” to those not tuned into the turning radius issue.

So, why should you care? In a nutshell, a big segment of America is aging (hello “boomers”), and doing it in good health with lots of energy. Sixty is the new 40, 80 the new 60. We’ll be staying in our homes longer, aging in place rather than transitioning to assisted living or nursing homes. If you’re making renovations now, consider whether you’ll be in this home in 10, 15, or 20 years and plan accordingly. Installing wide hallways will never be easier than when you’re renovating anyway. If, instead, you plan to sell the home before you’re too advanced in age, consider universal design elements as part of your renovation anyway. Your future buyers will be looking for them, and it will only improve your home’s value.

Check out our previous blogs for more information about remodeling for baby boomers and for special needs and aging in place.

Wise homeowners plan to get the most out of their renovations, now and in the future. Now, go forth, and improve universally!

Image courtesy of franky242 at

Use Environmental Home Design to Help Reach Your Goals

It’s March already. How are you doing on those 2017 New Year’s Resolutions?

As you keep striving, don’t underestimate the power of your environment to help or hurt your goal achievement. Sure, there are things you can’t control, like the weather, but you have almost complete control over the environment in your home.

Here are some examples of how to exercise that control for maximum impact:

Let’s say your goal is to eat healthier. If you wanted to quit drinking, would you keep beer around the house? Surely not. So, take an hour this weekend and purge ‘fridge and pantry of unhealthy choices then restock with good-for-you meal options and snacks. Now, for the design part. Pull out that beautiful bowl stuck in the back of your cabinet. You know, the one you got for your wedding but never use. Set it out as a design element on the counter, and keep it full of fresh fruit and veggies. Put a pad of paper and pen out too, and write down the healthy foods as you run out of them so you’ll always have a shopping list handy. Finally, grab a book stand from your local kitchen store, and set out a healthy eating cookbook as a design element too, ensuring you’ll always have goal-enhancing recipes at your fingertips.

Maybe you want to read more. Set up a corner just for you and make it cozy so you’ll long to be there daily. Make sure it is in an area free from distractions, not a high-traffic part of the house or near the television. Put your favorite chair there and a bookcase nearby stocked with a wide variety of books you’re itching to dive into. Add good lighting and accessorize with a soft blanket throw, plush pillows, small end table, and a coaster (so you can wet your whistle whilst reading, without leaving a ring.)

If fitness is your top priority this year, good design can help there too. If you leave the house for your workouts, make the exit as easy as possible by creating a place near the door that athletic shoes always live, setting aside space in the bedroom to lay out the morning’s workout clothes before you go to bed, and hanging some hooks or locating a tray near your exit where the dog’s leash (if Fido jogs with you) and your keys will always be found. If caffeine is required to get you going in the morning, give the coffee pot a place of honor in your kitchen, with all necessary supplies and mugs right next to it, and develop the habit of filling it the night before so nothing but a flip of the switch is required in the morning (better yet, invest in a pot with a timer.) If you work out at home, make your exercise room as pleasant as possible. Paint walls, hang motivational pictures, and add a television or radio so you can’t use boredom as an excuse to stay away.

Wise homeowners make their environments consistent with their goals. Now, go forth and achieve!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

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