Three Home Improvement Projects to Have Done While You’re Vacationing

There are some home improvement projects you just don’t want to live through.

Why not have them done while you’re out of town?

First, a few precautions:

  • Make sure, of course, that you are working with a licensed, insured, well-established, highly reputable contractor so your home and personal property will be safe. (You know that’s the only kind of contractor HomeWise recommends, right?)
  • Consider having a neighbor let the contractor in and lock up after them at the end of the day so you don’t have to give the contractor a key.
  • Move valuables (jewelry and electronics for instance) to an off-site, secure location (like a safe deposit box or trusted friend’s or relative’s home.)

Now, here are three projects you’ll want to “get outta Dodge” for:

(1) Hardwood Floor Refinishing. You really shouldn’t walk on your floors for at least a couple days after they’re finished, longer if the finish is oil-based. Even if you have a house where you can jump from non-wood floor to non-wood floor, avoiding the affected rooms, it’s just too difficult to live that way. Clear out, enjoy the beach, and come home to beautiful new hardwoods.

(2) Major Drywall Repair. If you have more than a small area of patching to be done, you can count on lots and lots of dust. A good contractor will have it all cleaned up by project’s end, but the process prior to that can be a dust storm. Avoid having to breathe all of that powder and just have it done while you’re out of town.

(3) Additions and Major Remodels. These may take longer than your average vacation will last, but the principle is the same. They’re just too hard to live through. Loss of kitchen or bathrooms, entire exterior walls missing, openings in the roof, etc.  Your home can feel like a disaster area before the beautiful finished product is revealed. You can tough it out in your basement with a hot plate, but you’ll save yourself a lot of stress if you just include in your renovation budget a stay elsewhere, even if it is only for a couple of weeks during the worst part of the installation or construction.

Wise homeowners reduce inconvenience and stress during the home improvement process. Now, go forth and vacation strategically!

Image courtesy of nokhoog_buchachon at

Secure Your Home While On Vacation

Summer means travel for a lot of us. Here are some tips to keep your home as safe as possible while you’re away.

  1. Don’t Look Abandoned
  • Stop your mail (a simple form filled out at your local post office).
  • Stop newspaper deliveries.
  • Employ a neighbor kid to open and close front curtains as well as turn on/off the porch light and an interior light that’s visible from the street.
  • If you’ll be gone more than a week, hire the same neighbor kid to mow the grass. Nothing tells thieves “I’m empty” more than an overgrown lawn in an otherwise well-kept neighborhood.
  1. Prepare for Storms
  • Make sure your sump pump is working and has battery backup in case of a power outage.
  • Clean gutters so they’ll not overflow and damage the roof or siding, or pool water against the house, if there is heavy rain while you’re gone.
  1. Give Someone Your Contact Info.
  • Make sure a trusted neighbor has your mobile phone number. Don’t you want to know if a storm knocks a tree onto your roof while you’re away?
  • Consider leaving a house key with the same trusted neighbor, especially if you’d like your basement checked after heavy rain.
  1. Call the Authorities
  • Let your local police station know the dates during which your home will be empty. They will at least pay special attention during regular patrols and they may be willing to drive by more frequently than usual.
  • If you have a Neighborhood Watch, notify them that you’ll be gone.
  1. Mum’s the Word
  • Be careful about where and to whom you broadcast your travel plans. You never know who might be listening, and you’d be surprised how quickly a motivated would-be thief can figure out where you live.
  • Never announce your vacation dates on social media and wait until you’re home to post those envy-inducing pictures of your trip.
  1. Safeguard the Valuables
  • Get that jewelry out of your dresser or nightstand drawer. It’s the first place a thief will look. You should have a fireproof, lockbox or safe for important documents like wills, insurance policies, etc. Put the valuables there or get them to a safety deposit box at your local bank.
  1. Advertise Your Security Measures
  • Make sure your security company’s signs are visible. If you don’t have a security company, you can put up fake signs and even fake security cameras. Yup. People do it all the time, and it really is a deterrent to thieves.
  1. Adjust the Thermostat
  • No need to cool or heat a home no one is in. Why not save a little on the utility bills? 85 degrees Fahrenheit is good in the summer. In the winter, make sure you keep some heat on to help prevent pipes from freezing.
  1. Unplug . . .
  • . . . both large and small items to protect you from power surges.

If you do some smart advance-planning, you can be free of worries about your home while you’re on vacation.

Why You Shouldn’t “Go It Alone” When Choosing Home Improvement Contractors

You know a lot of people. Some of them may even be contractors. You’ve been feeding and clothing yourself, making adult decisions, and communicating with businesspeople for years now.

Why do you need a referral service to help with home improvement projects?

The easy answer is, “Why not?” It doesn’t cost you a thing. Plus, we’ll provide personal consultation to understand what you need, you’ll only be put in touch with properly-credentialed contractors who are terrific at what they do (so you don’t waste your time culling through the yahoos), and we’ll follow up to help as the project progresses.

However, there’s more to the “personal consultation” and “following up” parts than meet the eye.

Here are examples from recent matters we handled that illustrate only three reasons (there are more) why the personal touch of a local referral service, including life-cycle-of-your-project follow up, can be so important:

  1. It Helps Fill In What You Don’t Know (Especially When You Don’t Know You Don’t Know It): John and Meghan called to ask for a basement water proofer. We have terrific ones, and would have been happy to recommend them. But, upon talking with Meghan, we learned that the moisture coming into their basement was on one side only and the ground outside that wall sloped toward the house. We suggested that a landscaper might be able to grade the ground so that water would drain away from the home. It turned out that was all that was needed and John and Meghan saved several thousands of dollars over what they’d have paid a waterproofing company.
  1. It Gives You Leverage You’d Not Have On Your Own. Rob and Cindy just bought their first home and contacted us because they wanted to remodel their bathroom. We put them in touch with three bath remodelers, they chose one, and work got underway. Toward the end of the project, we called to check in and Cindy reported, “We’re new to this, and I don’t want to make a big deal out of something, but the bathtub they installed gives a little when you lean on it.” We told her that was, in fact, a big deal and immediately contacted our referred contractor. The company owner promptly visited the project and personally secured the bathtub properly. Without our help, these “newbies” to the home ownership scene might have been too timid to say anything, and, if they had, they may not have gotten the ear of the owner of some company they’d found on their own. Our network contractors, on the other hand, are very responsive to concerns we raise because they want to continue to receive the terrific leads we send them.
  1. It saves you time and frustration. Jim and Hope will close on the sale of their home at the end of this month and, from there, be off to an exciting new job out of state. Their real estate agent suggested they contact us to take care of a long list of items the home inspector discovered, and their buyers are requiring them to fix. Just like pulling a string on a sweater, only to have the whole thing unravel, it seems like every time I talk with Hope, one of the “fixes” has revealed yet another problem (just one example: the roof repair led to discovery of a clogged furnace chimney). Add to this a brand new baby and a husband on frequent business travel, and poor Hope is at her wit’s end. Much of the time, we’ve been a sounding board, to talk over the latest-discovered problem and suggest ways to fix it. Sometimes, we’ve needed to encourage our recommended contractors to move Jim’s and Hope’s project higher on their priority list to accommodate the looming closing date. Hope has indicated how helpful it’s been to have someone to consult as they move toward this deadline.

In short, don’t go it alone. Whatever your project, chances are your local referral service has helped dozens of folks with something similar, whereas this may be only the first or second such project you’ve ever undertaken.  Just be sure you are working with a referral service that doesn’t charge you, is located in your area, is happy to talk on the phone if you want or need, and will stick with you until things are completed to your satisfaction.

Is it a DIY Project or a Contractor Job? Some Guidelines . . .

As we go into spring, and you begin to consider all the repair projects you’d like to do around the house, how do you know what you can do yourself and what you need a pro for? Here’s the advice we provided in a blog from 2013, and it’s just as timely today:

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, right? For instance, if you need someone to play piano, or balance your checkbook, I’m your gal (I’m pretty good at both those things.) But, I am absolutely the last person you should contact if you want a dress hemmed or your hair braided (on this last one, just ask my daughters.)

Recognizing when you need help, therefore, is important. In the case of home improvement, getting it wrong could be, at least, expensive and, at most, dangerous.

So, in the interest of making sure we all make wise choices about our home maintenance and repairs, here is a list of situations in which you’re better off hiring a contractor than trying to do the work yourself:

  1. Electrical Work. Pretty much “any and all”. Yeah, I know. People routinely switch out their own light fixtures. But did you know that homes older than about 30 years may be wired such that, if you replace a hanging or mounted fixture that is not flush-mounted with one that is flush-mounted, you create a fire hazard? Likewise, were you aware that installing the wrong type of canister lights in a space with insulation in the ceiling may lead to overheating and fire? Yeah, I didn’t know either until I nearly burned the house down a couple of times. But, do you know who does know that stuff? Licensed electricians.  Bottom line: don’t mess with electricity. Let the experts handle it. The money you think you’re saving by doing it yourself will, quite literally, go up in smoke if you make a mistake because you don’t know what you don’t know.
  2. Anything having to do with gas appliances. Examples: gas water heaters, gas dryers, gas stoves, gas fireplaces, gas furnaces. Here, the reasoning is pretty much the same as with the electrical work. Leaking gas lines can kill you. Period. If what you plan to do includes a step that looks anything like this – “Then, you turn off the gas feed” . . . common sense needs to prevail. Let a licensed gasfitter take care of that for you. It’s called a “master license” for a reason.
  3. Anything structural. As tempting as it may be to take a sledge hammer to that wall that blocks your view from the kitchen to the family room – – DON’T DO IT!!! You probably can’t tell whether it is load bearing and there may be electrical, plumbing or ductwork running through it that you do not want to smash. Similarly, resist the temptation to do any project where you think you might have to cut into trusses or joists (found in attics holding up the roof and in basements holding up the floor above.) Even a small cut can compromise integrity and lead to sinking floors, weak spots in the roof or worse.
  4. Work on gutters and roofs. There are really two issues here. The first is safety. Working at heights is dangerous. If you live alone, are old enough to be on AARP’s mailing list (I’m very nearly there myself), are pregnant, or have issues with balance or vertigo, be safe and hire someone to clean your gutters or inspect your roof. The second issue is one of expertise, just like in numbers 1 – 3 above. Power washing the green slime off your roof is not only dangerous (green slime = slippery), but you can do structural damage if you spray too hard. Likewise, any repairs you do to roofs and gutters, especially if you’re swinging a hammer, need to be accomplished with the right sorts of nails and other products to make sure you don’t get moisture in the holes later.
  5. Any project you’ve been “meaning to do” for six months or more.  Face it: you’re not going to do it. What’s the cost of a good handyman or carpenter compared to the daily buildup of stress caused by having to trip over the same warped floorboard, or look at that cracked and peeling trim paint, for another year?

I’m certain this list isn’t exhaustive, but it gives you enough information to see the issues.  Any project that requires expertise, puts you or your home in danger of injury, or isn’t something you’re likely to get to (your spouse’s nagging notwithstanding), needs an expert.

Seven Tips for the Perfect Paint Job

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.

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