Archives: December 2015

How to Inspect Windows and Doors to Stop Air and Water Leaks

Posted on: December 17, 2015

By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon at HouseLogic.com

Inspect windows and doors regularly to stop air and water leaks that mean costly energy and repair bills. We’ll show you how.

Take a close look at your windows, doors, and skylights to stop air leaks, foil water drips, and detect the gaps and rot that let the outside in. You can perform a quick check with a home air-pressure test, or a DIY energy audit.

Luckily, these inspections are easy to do. Here’s how to give your house a checkup:

How to Check for Air Leaks

A home air pressure test sucks outside air into the house to reveal air leaks that increase your energy bills. To inspect windows and other openings:

  • Seal the house by locking all doors, windows, and skylights.
  • Close all dampers and vents.
  • Turn on all kitchen and bath exhaust fans.
  • Pass a burning incense stick along all openings — windows, doors, fireplaces, outlets — to pinpoint air rushing in from the outside.

How to Pinpoint Window Problems

Air and water can seep into closed widows from gaps and rot in frames, deteriorating caulking, cracked glass, and closures that don’t fully close.

To stop air leaks, give your windows a thorough inspection:

  • Give a little shake. If they rattle, frames are not secure, so heat and air conditioning can leak out and rain can seep in. Some caulk and a few nails into surrounding framing will fix this.
  • Look deep. If you can see the outside from around — not just through — the window, you’ve got gaps. Seal air leaks by caulking and weather stripping around frames.
  • Inspect window panes for cracks.
  • Check locks. Make sure double-hung windows slide smoothly up and down. If not, run a knife around the frame and sash to loosen any dried paint. Tighten cranks on casement windows and check that top locks fully grab latches.

Some older windows can be repaired and save you money over new windows. However, if you think you’ll automatically gain energy savings, think carefully — there may be other, cheaper ways to cut utility bills, such as sealing air leaks.

Inspecting Doors for Leaks

  • Check doors for cracks that weaken their ability to stop air leaks and water seeps.
  • Inspect weather stripping for peels and gaps.
  • Make sure hinges are tight and doors fit securely in their thresholds.


Checking Out Skylights

Brown stains on walls under a skylight are telltale signs that water is invading and air is escaping. Cut a small hole in the stained drywall to check for wetness, which would indicate rot, or gaps in the skylight.

To investigate skylight leaks, carefully climb on the roof and look for the following:

  • Open seams between flashing or shingles.
  • Shingle debris that allows water to collect on roofs.
  • Failed and/or cracked patches of roofing cement put down the last time the skylight leaked.

9 Surprising Things That Add Value to Your House

Posted on: December 11, 2015

By: Dona DeZube at Houselogic.com

A home’s value is dependent on many things. Here are nine factors you might not have thought about.

What do surf breaks, Walmarts, and public transportation have in common? Being near any of them can add thousands to your home’s value.

At least that’s what various university researchers have found based on their evaluation of variables that could be influencing home prices. Their conclusions might surprise you. Here’s what they found:

1. Surf Breaks

Being within a mile of a surf break (a spot where surf-able waves happen) adds about $106,000 to a home’s value, according to surfonomics experts at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

Reality check: Mother Nature makes surf breaks, so it’s not like you could build your own DIY break to boost your home’s value.

2. Parks and Open Spaces

A desirable public park or other recreational open space boosts the property value of nearby homes by 8%-20%.

One study looked at 16,400 home sales within 1,500 feet of 193 public parks in Portland, Ore., and found these boosts to home values:

  • Natural areas: $10,648
  • Golf courses: $8,849
  • Specialty parks: $5,657
  • Urban parks: $1,214

Reality check: A park that’s not maintained and overcrowded can drag down nearby home values.

3. Living Near a Walmart

Along with making it easier to run out for a gallon of milk at midnight, researchers at the University of Chicago concluded that living within a mile of a Walmart store could raise your home’s value by 1%-2%, and living within half a mile could boost your property value by an additional 1%.

For an average-size home, that’s an uptick of $4,000-$7,000.

Realty check: What you gain in home value, you may end up spending at Walmart.

4. Solar Photovoltaic Systems

California homes with solar photovoltaic (PV) systems sell for a $17,000 premium over homes without solar systems, according to research from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Reality check: Although costs for residential solar power systems are falling, they’re still rather pricey at $15,000-$40,000, depending on the size of your house.

5. Walkability

Being able to stroll to schools, parks, stores, and restaurants will raise your property value anywhere from $4,000-$34,000, says a 2009 study from CEOs for Cities.

Reality check: The biggest boost in walkability values occurred in large, dense cities.

6. Accessory Dwelling Units

Whether it’s a granny flat, an in-law apartment, or a carriage house, having a separate unit can increase your home’s value by 25%-34%, according to a study of 14 properties with accessory dwelling units in Portland, Ore. You can also get a steady stream of income from a second unit.

Reality check: Local governments often ban accessory dwelling units, so check zoning laws, building codes, and homeowners association rules before you add a unit.

7. Professional Sports Arenas

A new pro sports stadium can raise property values in a 2.5-mile radius by an average of $2,214. The closer you are to the new facility, the larger the increase in home value. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Alberta examined house sales in Columbus, Ohio, before and after the city added two sports stadiums.

Reality check: If a stadium is proposed, home values can decline a bit until the project is complete. And if you live really close to a stadium, you may encounter traffic and parking issues.

8. Community Gardens

Planting a community garden raises the value of homes within a 1,000-foot radius by 9.4% within five years, according to research by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and New York University School of Law.

The impact increases over time, and high-quality community gardens have the greatest positive influence. Poor neighborhoods saw the biggest gains in home values.

Reality check: Gardens on privately owned land and in higher-income neighborhoods don’t have the same beneficial influence.

9. Trees

No real surprise here — whether trees are in your yard or just on your street, they’re a valuable asset you should be aware of. Here’s a gauge of how much trees are worth to your home value according to a University of Washington research survey:

  • Mature trees anywhere in your yard: 2%.
  • Mature trees on your street: 3%.
  • Trees in your front yard: 3%-5%.
  • Mature trees in high income neighborhoods: 10%-15%.

Reality check: Trees usually mean work — raking leaves, trimming branches, and keeping roots out of sewer lines.


Best Money-Saving DIY Projects (and Tips for Doing Them Right)

Posted on: December 7, 2015

By: John Riha from HouseLogic.com

When you factor in return on investment, you’d be nuts not to DIY.

You’re going to save money with DIY home improvement projects. Sure, everybody knows that.

But did you know how much? Cut professionals out of the equation and you can save half the cost of a project — or more. On a minor bathroom refresh, that could be up to $10,000.

What’s more, you get a great return on your investment. Meaning, the financial value you get out of a DIY project is much more than what you put in.

Of course there are projects where pro installation is going to be much faster and safer, and worth the price of a hiring a contractor. Major exterior improvements, such as replacing roofing and siding, are prime candidates.

And granted, there are tasks where a pro is invaluable. Personally, I have years of DIY experience, but I still won’t touch electrical work with a 10-foot insulated pole.

Nevertheless, going DIY is the ultimate money-saving tool. You’ll also get tons of satisfaction and enjoyment from creating a better home environment, and from learning home improvement skills that’ll last a lifetime.

Here’s a rundown of some top money-saving projects, using cost and return-on-investment figures from “Remodeling” magazine’s annual “Cost vs. Value Report.”

But before we get to that, let’s swat aside some concerns. Or go straight to the projects.

What If You Don’t Have the Skills?

Sorry, not buying it. How-to tutorials are everywhere. Check out YouTube for video instructions on everything from taking out a toilet to tiling your shower stall. In addition:

  • Most major manufacturers have tutorials on their websites. If you’re looking to install a particular product, check out the horse’s mouth for videos and PDF instructions.
  • Big box home improvement centers run clinics on installing tile, building decks, paint finishes, and more — free. Spend an hour or so at a clinic to learn direct from professionals.
  • Yes, physical books still exist. Buy new, or head down to your local library for free how-to books you can keep for weeks. (Yes, they still have overdue fines!)

What If You Don’t Have the Time?

That’s the trade-off. Your time (and labor) is going to stand in for cash out of your pocket. If you truly don’t have the time, then DIY probably isn’t for you.

The next best move is to BIY your project — buy-it-yourself. With a BIY project, you do the research, shopping, and purchasing of materials and save the contractor’s markup. You need to work closely with your professional to make sure you agree on what stuff you’ll be buying, and what is still the contractor’s responsibility.

Deck Addition

A 12-foot-by-16-foot wood deck addition is a straightforward project, especially if you keep the design simple (rectangular) and use concrete piers instead of poured concrete footings (check your local codes). Even a set of simple stairs can be tricky, so take your time with measurements. If you botch your first attempt, know you’re in good company, and try again.

If You Hire If You DIY
Cost $10,048 Cost $1,650
What You Get Back When You Sell* $8,085 What You Get Back When You Sell* $8,085
Return on Investment

80.5%

Return on Investment

490%

*Source: “Remodeling” magazine “Cost vs. Value Report

You can probably build a 12-foot-by-16-foot DIY deck in three to four days over two weekends. If you’re using poured footings instead of precast piers, you’ll need to wait two or three days for the concrete to cure. Having a buddy definitely helps move things along, but might cost you extra for pizza and beer.

Minor Bathroom Facelift

A typical guest bathroom is about 5 feet by 7 feet, so let’s bring that up-to-date by installing a new tub, toilet, ceramic tile floor and shower surround, updating the shower valve, and adding a new vanity, sink, and counter. Spruce it all up with moisture-proof vinyl wallpaper.

You’ll do everything but the plumbing connections, so add $380 for a pro plumber (four hours at $95 per hour).

Installing ceramic tile is one of the more challenging — and rewarding — DIY projects. Study those tutorials first, and get the right tools. Rent an electric tile saw for $50 to $75 per day; but note that you can buy an acceptable tile saw at a home improvement center for less than $100.

If You Hire If You DIY
Cost $16,724 Cost $6,880
What You Get Back When You Sell* $11,707 What You Get Back When You Sell* $11,707
Return on Investment

70%

Return on Investment

170%

*Source: “Remodeling” magazine “Cost vs. Value Report

Plan for six to eight days of work, spread over however long you can stand to be without your bathroom. You’ll need the better part of two days for the tile alone, and a day to let the tile adhesive set.

Entry Door Replacement

No other project gives as much return as a new steel entry replacement door. Not only is it a cost-effective project with one of the highest returns in the Cost vs. Value Report, but you get the added benefit of sprucing up your curb appeal.

Know your door parts (jambs, threshold, stops) before digging in. You’ll be putting in a pre-hung door that includes jambs, so the old stuff has to come out. If you can, preserve the old casing (trim) that goes around the door. Otherwise, plan to buy new casing.

If You Hire If You DIY
Cost $1,230 Cost $250
What You Get Back When You Sell* $1,252 What You Get Back When You Sell* $1,252
Return on Investment

101.8%

Return on Investment

501%

*Source: “Remodeling” magazine “Cost vs. Value Report

This is a good one to have a buddy or spouse lend a hand. It’ll take six to eight hours if it’s your first time. Remember the three-legged mantra of door installation: Plumb, level, square.

Garage Door Replacement

Tired of looking at that big blank billboard every time you pull into your driveway? Change out your old garage door for a spiffy new steel model and the whole neighborhood will thank you. Save some cash by keeping the same motorized opener.

If You Hire If You DIY
Cost $1,595 Cost $850
What You Get Back When You Sell* $1,410 What You Get Back When You Sell* $1,410
Return on Investment

88.4%

Return on Investment

166%

*Source: “Remodeling” magazine “Cost vs. Value Report

A steel garage door comes in four panels that are relatively lightweight but awkward — get a friend to lend a hand and you’ll have this project done in a day.

Vinyl Window Replacement

If you want to replace four or more windows, or a second-story window, then hire the work out. Being up on a ladder with an object as bulky as a window is no place for a non-professional. Pros bring scaffolding, which takes time to set up but ultimately makes the work faster and safer.

Replacing one, two, or maybe three first-story windows is a good DIY job. Anything more and the pros will get the job done with better efficiency in terms of time and hassle.

If You Hire If You DIY
Cost (per window) $1,120 Cost (per window) $250
What You Get Back When You Sell* $816 What You Get Back When You Sell* $816
Return on Investment

72.9%

Return on Investment

320%

*Source: “Remodeling” magazine “Cost vs. Value Report

If you’ve measured your rough opening correctly and bought the right window, then one window should take you three to four hours. You’ll get faster with subsequent windows.


11 Ways to Create a Welcoming Front Entrance for Under $100

Posted on: December 2, 2015

 

By: Cara Greenberg at Houselogic.com

Wouldn’t it be nice to approach your home’s entrance with a grin instead of a grimace? Take our tips for beating a clear, safe, and stylish path to your front door.

First impressions count — not just for your friends, relatives, and the UPS guy, but for yourself. Whether it’s on an urban stoop or a Victorian front porch, your front door and the area leading up to it should extend a warm welcome to all comers — and needn’t cost a bundle.

Here’s what you can do to make welcoming happen on the cheap.

1. Clear the way for curb appeal. The path to your front door should be at least 3 feet wide so people can walk shoulder-to-shoulder, with an unobstructed view and no stumbling hazards. So get out those loppers and cut back any overhanging branches or encroaching shrubs.

2. Light the route. Landscape lighting makes it easy to get around at night. Solar-powered LED lights you can just stick in the ground, requiring no wiring, are suprisingly inexpensive. We found 8 packs for under $60 online.

3. Go glossy. Borrow inspiration from London’s lovely row houses, whose owners assert their individuality by painting their doors in high-gloss colors. The reflective sheen of a royal blue, deep green, crimson, or whatever color you like will ensure your house stands out from the pack.

4. Pretty up the view. A door with lots of glass is a plus for letting light into the front hall — but if you also want privacy and a bit of decor, check out decorative window film. It’s removable and re-positionable, and comes in innumerable styles and motifs. Pricing depends on size and design; many available for under $30.

A way to get the look of stained glass without doing custom work or buying a whole new door: Mount a decorative panel on the inside of the door behind an existing glass insert, $92 for an Arts and Crafts-style panel 20-inches-high by 11-inches-wide.

5. Replace door hardware. While you’re at it, polish up the handle on the big front door. Or better yet, replace it with a shiny new brass lockset with a secure deadbolt. Available for about $60.

6. Please knock. Doorbells may be the norm, but a hefty knocker is a classic that will never run out of battery life, and another opportunity to express yourself (whatever your favorite animal or insect is, there’s a door-knocker in its image).

7. Ever-greenery. Boxwoods are always tidy-looking, the definition of easy upkeep. A pair on either side of the door is traditional, but a singleton is good, too. About $25 at garden centers. In cold climates, make sure pots are frost-proof (polyethylene urns and boxes mimic terracotta and wood to perfection).

8. Numbers game. Is your house number clearly visible? That’s of prime importance if you want your guests to arrive and your pizza to be hot. Stick-on vinyl numbers in a variety of fonts make it easy, starting at about $4 per digit.

9. Foot traffic. A hardworking mat for wiping muddy feet is a must. A thick coir mat can be had at the hardware store for less than $20. Even fancier varieties can be found well under $50.

10. Go for the glow. Fumbling for keys in the dark isn’t fun. Consider doubling up on porch lights with a pair of lanterns, one on each side of the door, for symmetry and twice the illumination. Many mounted lights are available well under $100.

11. Snail mail. Mailboxes run the gamut from kitschy roadside novelties masquerading as dogs, fish, or what-have-you to sober black lockboxes mounted alongside the front door. Whichever way you go, make sure yours is standing or hanging straight, with a secure closure, and no dings or dents. The mail carrier will thank you.