Posted by John on March 7th, 2014
One thing I’d like to do more often on our blog is general home improvement discussions. They can be a little less exciting than some project posts, but they can end up providing WAY more value to casual readers and our newsletter subscribers alike.
In today’s post, I want to share with you some of my advice as it pertains to purchasing a home. How old? Well, generally a home of any age including new construction, but it applies especially well to older homes.
So, let’s assume you’re in the market for a home. You know your budget. You know the neighborhood and school system you want to live in. You found a few homes you want to view. Maybe you are trying to decide if the home you really like at the moment is worth the investment. Is it a money pit? Are there hidden costs down the road? What do you absolutely need to know about the house before you make an offer?
Here are 6 Things to Consider BEFORE you Buy a Home. They largely pertain to the material condition of the house and can help you make a more informed decision about a potential purchase.
1. The Roof. Not necessarily the biggest expense, but a costly one nonetheless. When we are talking about roofs, we’re generally talking about the shingles, especially if it’s an angled, single home roof. Flat roofs also have a similar covering and also suffer from the same type of wear over time. Shingles range in quality and expected lifetime, but you can expect to see a manufacturer offer warranties in the 30 to 50 year range. If the home you’re looking doesn’t have a new roof and it’s near the end of the warranty, then you can expect to have to replace it while you own the home. You may want to have a roofer give you a rough estimate to see what the costs would be even if you don’t have to replace it for several years.
You also definitely want to take a hard look at all the ceilings in the house. If there is discoloration on any ceiling, it can be a result of a roof leak. It’s either that or a leak from a bathroom. If the leak is terrible, or if the house is older than 30-50 years, there may be multiple layers of shingles and damage to the plywood beneath the shingles. That sort of repair is more costly, but not necessarily a deal-breaker.
2. The Furnace. This one is a biggie. There are oil furnaces, gas furnaces, propane furnaces, hot water baseboard, steam radiators, electric baseboards. Age is not necessarily a factor quite as much with furnaces. Functionality and maintainability are more the concern with heaters. Get the manufacturer’s name and the part number during your walk thru and then you can Google it to determine how much it costs on average to maintain. You may want to call an HVAC contractor to determine both how often they need to repair those units and a rough replacement cost. Also take a look at whether or not the unit has an air conditioner attached to the heater, especially if it’s forced air heat or “central air”. Often times, the forced air heat furnaces can be upgraded to a full heat/AC system. If you do need to replace the furnace, depending upon the configuration, it can set you back anywhere from $5k-$15k on average.
3. The Foundation. The foundation is not one of those areas where you want to take risks, in my opinion. If the home has a basement, especially if it’s unfinished, you should check for deep cracks in the wall and water intrusion issues. Most water intrusion issues can be fixed fairly reasonably with caulk or hydraulic cement. Some settling will occur over time, so it’s not unusual to see cracks in drywall a few years after the house was built. You want to look for the big things, like an addition pulling away from the main house or loose and crumbling foundation stone or concrete. If you have major reservations, have a concrete contractor that specializes in pouring foundations come take a look at it. To keep the contractor honest, you can pay him a flat fee just to inspect it and let him know upfront that if any major work is indeed required, that you’ll be hiring someone else. That way there is no motivation for the contractor to embellish the required repair to get more work.
4. The Utilities. This one is enormously important. When we prepared to start looking at houses, we were very fixated on monthly mortgages, interest rates and taxes. When it comes to utilities though, we just assumed that the heat and electric would be $200-$300 a month on average. That was because we based our assumptions on using natural gas and keeping the house at a certain temperature throughout the year. If we looked at a home that used propane instead, that monthly heating bill could go up to $1000 a month, not including electric. Before you decide to purchase a home, make sure you have a clear understanding of what the utility bills will be like each month and include a warm and cold weather average.
5. The Septic or Sewer. Our first home had access to the city sewer and our current home has a septic tank. We haven’t noticed much difference between either yet in terms of performance. The only day to day concern is the garbage disposal and the toilet paper. You’re not supposed to use a garbage disposal with a septic tank system. Not exactly sure why, but something about it affecting the bacteria balance within the tank. It could cause it to back up or fail if you use it too frequently. We’ll be composting soon enough though, so we should be cutting down on our trash. So just be aware of that requirement. Some people have said you can use certain disposals, but in my opinion, its better not to risk it. You also can’t clean out paint brushes or roller trays. Latex paint forms a film that if passed through your septic system can clog your leech field requiring an enormously expensive repair. So wash your brushes out in a bucket and don’t flush the water down the drain. You also need to use toilet paper that is septic safe. Not a big increase in price or aggravation, but you do need to be aware of it. This change may no be a big deal to you, but for some people it’s a deal breaker.
6. Any HAZMAT. Particularly of concern in older homes, there can be a lot of hazardous materials present in older homes. There can be asbestos in siding shingles, furnace or pipe insulation, flooring glue and flooring materials as well as some types of plaster. You may find lead paint on older trim work. If you have grand visions of buying an older home, gutting it and then refinishing it for a reasonable price, those dreams become significantly more expensive if the plaster you wanted to demo contain asbestos, or if the siding or flooring contain asbestos. You need professional service teams to do that removal for you and it’s not cheap. It’s also not worth the risk to your health that removing it yourself will cause. You may be able to get a small sample of the plaster or vinyl flooring tested at a local lab for asbestos before you purchase the home or ask the current owner or seller to perform that test for you.
I hope you found this list both helpful and insightful. If you enjoyed it, please share it. Also, please consider signing up for our free e-newsletter so you can be the first to know when content like this is available.
Posted in House Knowledge. Tagged in ,home, house
Posted by John on February 27th, 2014
In this post you will learn
-A unique approach to framing out a coffered ceiling
Over the last few evenings, I’ve managed to squeeze in some office work. Not the typical office work one would expect, but the kind where I’m screwing 2×6′s to my ceiling. THAT sort of office work. As of today, the coffered ceiling framing is in place. Once I get the go-ahead from my local township to start the electrical work, I’ll be pulling cable through the walls.
Here’s how the office looks right now.
When the wiring is done, all of that wood will get covered in drywall and then wrapped in crown molding. If you’re new to our site, we’re going for a unique, drywalled coffered ceiling instead of one made from all hardwood. The framing wood method SHOULD end up being cheaper than an all-hardwood approach, but I’ll let you know once the room is all wrapped up.
Ultimately, depending on how this ceiling turns out, we’re looking to add a coffered ceiling in our family room and kitchen space. This is a warm-up of sorts for us. The family room and kitchen ceiling is about four times as large.
So let me rewind this project a bit and show you how this ceiling took shape.
We started with the soffit we’re installing above the built-ins. Aren’t soffits old fashioned? They certainly can be, but we’re hoping it gives our built-ins a bigger look. TBD. The soffits are just two 2×4 frames that we fastened to the wall. They extend out as far as the future cabinets taking into account that they’ll get covered in drywall.
So the soffits are JUST for the cabinets. With the framing for that completed, it was time to turn our attention to the coffered ceiling frame. I started by fastening a 2×6 at the top of the wall all the way around the room. The 2×6 was butted up against the ceiling.
To the 2×6, I nailed a 2″ wide strip of 2x wood to the very top and very bottom of the 2×6. This left a middle channel on the 2×6 that was 2.5″ wide. That’s the same width as a 2×3.
With this channel in place all the way around the room, I then used a chalk string to snap chalk lines to mark where the ceiling joists were located.
Knowing exactly where the joists are located makes fastening the longer beams to them much, MUCH easier than trying to guess or use a stud finder at a later point.
Next, I built two long “I-beams” that consisted of a 2×6 on the top and bottom with a 2×3 on edge sandwiched in the middle. I used construction adhesive (aka liquid nail) and my pneumatic nail gun to build them. These two long beams spanned the length of the entire room and were intentionally run perpendicular to the ceiling joists. I made the middle 2×3 section longer by a couple inches so it could be inserted into the channel that went around the room. It made installing these beams crazy easy. The beams just rested in the channel until I screwed them into the ceiling joists.
This whole channel system made the work a little heavier than I’d like, but it enabled me to put all that wood up by myself. I also used my SketchUp drawing to mark exactly where the beams needed to be located. Considering how hard it looks, this was surprisingly simple to do.
So what are the key takeaways from this post that you can use on your own project?
- Chalk lines are your friend
- Don’t be afraid to try a different approach to a common project
What home improvement project is next on your radar? Are you thinking about taking a different approach with a certain aspect of it?
Posted in DIY Projects. Tagged in ,ceiling, coffered ceiling, home office
Posted by John on February 25th, 2014
In this post you’ll learn:
-About my Amazing Experience with Angie’s List
Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time getting to work on our home office remodel. I’ve got about 90% of the coffered ceiling framed out and I’ve applied for an electrical permit for the additional ceiling lights we’ll be adding. I’m looking forward to shifting gears and actually doing some drywall work, which isn’t something I’ve had to do much of in our new house. Am I any good at spackling or mudding walls? I’m actually pretty good at it, so I hope I can share some tips on that subject if you’re interested learning. Later this week, I’ll share some pictures of the ceiling work on our Instagram and Facebook accounts.
Today, I want to do something a little different and share with you one of my all-time favorite remodeling stories. Now just so we’re clear, I’m not being paid to write this post. I’m sort of on the fence as to whether or not I should start doing sponsored posts or not. I have yet to write one. Anyway, that’s a discussion for another day. Even though this isn’t a sponsored post and I’m not being compensated for it, I just added Angie’s List to my affiliate portfolio. That means if you visit the Angie’s List website using my link AND THEN purchase a subscription to their service, I get a kickback at no additional charge to you. Affiliate advertising is a good deal for bloggers and there’s way more money in affiliate advertising than banner or Google ads. Anyway, just want to be above board with our readers on this stuff.
So back to my favorite remodeling story….
It’s 2008 and I’m getting married in under three months. I’m living in a row house that has been about 50% gutted. The kitchen is gone. The upstairs bathroom is non-existent. All of my personal belongings are covered in a thin haze of horse-hair plaster dust. I was just informed by Philly’s License and Inspections Department that I need to have most of my remaining remodeling work completed by licensed and insured contractors. Philly has a policy where contractors are the only ones permitted to perform electrical and plumbing work. Homeowners are allowed to do some basic remodeling like window replacements, framing, drywall, etc. Not a popular policy among DIYers as you can probably imagine. So, being the rule follower, I acquiesced and attempted to hire a plumber and an electrician. Lucky for me, I had just signed up for Angie’s List. A few years prior, I had renovated the first half of the house and hired out some roof work. I quickly realized that using the yellow pages to find a roofer was a misadventure I didn’t care to repeat. Let’s just say I burned through some serious vacation time waiting for contractors to eventually not show up to give me quotes. It was infuriating. So by the time 2008 had rolled around, I had already become an Angie’s List subscriber.
Now here was the challenge before me. I needed to identify affordable, competent and reliable contractors to finish the electrical and plumbing work so I could finish the house in time to have my beautiful bride move in after we got married. These contractors would have to both show up AND give me a quote, which in the days before Angie’s List was… well… a crapshoot. Oh, and after all of that, I still wanted to build my own kitchen cabinets. Needless to say, time was a critical factor.
Here’s how I pulled it off… On a Monday, I called three electricians and four plumbers I found in Angie’s List. I told them all I wanted them to come by my house on Wednesday and give me a quote for some work I wasn’t permitted to do myself. I intentionally gave them all different times so as to stagger their visits throughout the day. Right away, in Philly, this is like asking for the Pope to swing by with a fresh cheesesteak. A couple responded with something like… “Meh, maybe Wednesday will work. We’ll see what we can do.” Then, as if reading from a script, towards the end of the phone call, they would each ask me where I got their number. Was this from a previous job? Did you find my number on a bathroom wall? Where did you hear about our business?
This is my favorite part. I would tell them “Angie’s List” and then listen for that audible silence on the other end of the line. That “Oh crap, I better show up and better give this dude a quote” kind of silence. They would all commit to being at the house that Wednesday. They know that if they didn’t show up or blew me off, I could go onto Angie’s List and leave them a bad review or indicate a no-show. That’s not good for business.
Wednesday rolled around and I literally had a dozen contractors in the house tripping all over each other to scope out the job. It was an Angie’s List miracle. Oh and that whole staggering thing went out the window once the morning rush hour hit. I had three electrical contractors in the house at the same time eyeing each other up. I think it ended up working out in my favor. They knew there was competition.
Each and every one of those contractors showed up and all but one gave me a written or verbal quote. One contractor did decline to provide a quote, but showed up anyway and after viewing the work, told me he wasn’t interested in the job. Hey, at least he told me.
I was thrilled. I ended up hiring two awesome contractors that’d I’d recommend in a second. Actually, I’m working on a Resources Page and I will provide their info to anyone in the Philly area who’s looking for some quality guys.
All the work ended up getting done fairly quickly, which left me in a great position to build my kitchen cabinets.
So that’s my Angie’s List story. If I ever need anything done by a contractor, which is rare these days, the first place Lisa and I look is “the List.” The membership fee is outrageously affordable. It’s under $4 a month and the cost drops even further if you buy a whole year or two subscription. Lisa and I have even used it to look up our prospective doctors and dentists. Forget “in-network”… are they on the List?
For $4 a month, if you hire a contractor once a year, it pays for itself immediately.
Just so you know, I’m never going to recommend a product or a service that I haven’t used or don’t hold in high regard.
I hope you’re having a great week and I’ll be back later this week with a home office update.
Posted in Blogging. Tagged in ,angie's list, contractors
Posted by John on February 20th, 2014
As promised, I’m back with another post on adding value to our home. If you’re new to our site, here’s what we’ve covered so far in this short series. Oh and definitely check out our new “Start Here” page.
1. How I Doubled my First Home’s Value (Free Newsletter Subscribers Only)
Today I’m going to share with you 6 Ways I’m Planning on Adding MORE Value to my Current Home. Before I get started, I want to stress that if you’re a DIYer, all of these upgrades are achievable with a little know-how and a LOT of hard work. You can be sure we’ll be sharing with you all of our experiences with these projects as we go along. Our blog’s motto is just like voting… visit early and visit often.
Let’s get started.
1. Killer Spaces. When you walk into our home for the first time, I want you to be impressed. Not just, “Hey, nice house,” but “Holy crap, this place is AWESOME.” Actually, I want people to say that in EVERY room in our house. How am I going to achieve that? By adding custom touches through trim, paint and other woodwork. Basically, what we did in our dining room with the wainscoting is what we’d like to do in every space. That doesn’t mean I need to spend months of work or thousands of dollars all over the house, but it means I need to put some level of thought and effort into these spaces.
2. Finished Basement. Right now our basement is unfinished. It’s where I do most of my carpentry and cabinet building. There’s a lot of construction material down there and all of my power tools. My neighbor summed it up nicely during one recent visit when he said “Oh, so it’s pretty much Home Depot down here.” Consequently, Lisa has prohibited me from sharing any photos of it in its current state. I’m thinking we add a bathroom and a bedroom down there as well as a pantry, a sweet common area with a bar and a pool table. Unfortunately, this is going to be expensive, but I can make this addition much more affordable by doing it in stages. I can frame it out and then a few months later I can do the electrical. Maybe a few months later, do the plumbing. You get the idea.
3. Deck AND Patio. Double trouble. Our house doesn’t have anything in the back, other than our shed. Now it’s a really nice shed, but I can’t exactly relax in it with a drink on summer evenings. So, what to do? I’m personally a fan of patios and they seem to add more value than a comparably built deck, but they are mad expensive. Moreover, I can build my own deck, but I’ll probably die of extreme exhaustion if I attempt a large patio build. What makes our property especially patio-unfriendly is the drop off. The back door has a good four foot drop and then the yard slopes away from the house with about a 6-inch drop for every foot of run. It eventually levels out, but it’s probably 20 feet out before it does that. So in order for me to add a patio, I’d have to level out that land or bring in a ton of dirt and stone and bring the dirt up to the door. Either way, it would easily be a $20k to $30k job if I paid someone to do it and I just don’t think it would be worth me attempting it. SO. We’re probably going to build a nice, large, high-end deck ourselves. THEN, we’ll add a small stone patio (i.e., small enough for me to build) further out in the yard where we can sit around a nice fire.
4. More Hardwood. In our last post, our biggest value adder to date has been our new hardwood floors in our living room, office and family room. I’d LOVE to replace our builder grade carpeting in our upstairs bedrooms with the same hardwood. I may have to win the lottery first, but it’s definitely a goal I’d like to achieve. Honestly, this job intimidates me more than any project I’ve worked on to date. It took me two full days each time I installed hardwood floors in those other rooms. So if I repeat that in my upstairs, I’m looking at like ten days of pure laborious hell. Plus, I’d be moving furniture out of some rooms then moving them back. Ugh. I may opt to pay someone to do it. TBD.
5. Luxury Master Bath. Our master bathroom is nice. It’s big, it’s got a nicer soaker tub and if we decided to move tomorrow, I’d be happy to show it to a prospective buyer. BUT, it’s super plain and could use some luxury elements to lift its value. I’d like to resurface the whole space. New tile, new claw foot tub, larger shower with overhead shower heads. Again, by doing all the work myself, I’m only looking at material costs. It’s lower down on our totem pole of projects compared to the deck and the basement, but it’d be nice to get done.
6. More Landscaping. More bushes, shrubs, flowers, trees, plants, etc. Outdoor work is HARD. REALLY hard. I absolutely hate doing it, but it makes such a big impact, that it’s worth the effort. We’d really like to add some ‘islands’ of interest in our yard with some more plants. Throw in some landscape lighting that up-lights those areas and we’ve immediately given our outdoors a boost. I’ll give you a good two weeks notice before I start, that way you can buy stock in Advil. I’m going to need a lot of it.
So that list is exhausting. I’m glad I enjoy working on my home, or else this list would read like a prison sentence. Honestly though, I’m literally looking at 5-10 years of hard labor in this list alone. :)
Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this post, please share it on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.
I would love to hear from you now. How are YOU planning on adding value to your home in the years ahead??
Posted in DIY Projects,Uncategorized. Tagged in ,home, home improvement, value
Posted by John on February 18th, 2014
In this post you’ll learn:
-What Detailed Design is all about
-How to use existing products to dimension your own projects
It’s been nearly two weeks since our last home office post, so it’s time for an update. We just completed the detailed design work and we’re going to be getting started later this week with the actual building. I’m pretty pumped about starting. Really looking forward to building some coffered ceilings and cabinets!
Let’s do a quick recap of where we are in the build process. Nearly a month ago we kicked off the room re-design with a discussion on the Home Remodeling Process. We started with the Concept Design stage where we listed all of our requirements for the space and made some rough designs of built-in and cabinet options using SketchUp. We finished the Concept Design stage with a couple major accomplishments: 1.) We picked a furniture layout and 2.) We picked a coffered ceiling design. That’s it. That’s all we really needed to do there.
Here’s a quick picture of where we left off last time…
So now it’s time for some Detailed Design work. What’s involved with the detailed design work? Good question. We’re going to take those rough ideas we came up with during the Concept Design stage and we’re going to add all the detail. Were you expecting something else?
What sort of detail? That’s a better question. Here’s a list of everything I need to have answered before I’m done with the detailed design work and can start buying material.
1. Large built-in cabinet dimensions: How wide to make the stiles and rails. Length of all the cabinet pieces. Door or face frame designs. How high to make the cabinet. How high to tie it into the coffered ceiling. What sort of cabinet construction method. Cut sheets. Material list. If drawers, which drawer slides, etc.
2. Coffered ceiling: How will I actually build this thing. How much lumber. Where will the lights go. How many lights. What size/design crown molding.
3. Work desk: How much space will we need. What sort of leg room. What color to make the desks.
4. Filing Cabinet: How big should the drawers be. What kind of drawer hardware. How big are filing cabinet folders.
Get the idea? I need to nail down the specifics of nearly everything that gets assembled. That means I need to think about all that stuff and in my head or on paper I need to know the process or the steps I’m going to take to get the room finished. Admittedly, that’s not something I can explain in great detail in a couple posts. It takes a LOT of experience to design a functional cabinet from start to finish and then tie it into a desk and ceiling work. Is it hard to figure all that out? Not really and it’s fairly easy stuff to learn, just time consuming.
The key point I’d like to stress here is that if you aren’t prepared for even one build detail, it can bite you. If I just winged the coffered ceiling or the cabinets, I may get lucky and end up with a quality piece of work, but chances are I’d make mistakes or end up re-doing something. Putting all these details down on paper is really the goal here.
So let’s dive in a little deeper here so I can illustrate how I wound up with the details for each of these main four areas.
Dimensioning the Cabinets
Let’s start with the built-in design. First thing I did once I nailed down the overall dimensions, which includes the height, width and depth of the cabinets, I went to work on figuring out how big to make each individual piece. I used the SketchUp model I started with and drew some lines and rectangles on the face of the cabinet until I had something that looked like a cabinet. I stuck with common dimensions for all the parts. So, the rails and stiles are all 2″ or 2.5″. I didn’t intentionally make something 2-17/32″ or something. Keep it simple. Here’s what the front of the bottom built-in cabinet looks like with the drawer front drawn on and the doors.
You don’t need to be a SketchUp expert to come up with something like this. If you want more info on how to dimension a cabinet, I suggest you read our series on our Custom TV stand.
Now let’s talk about the coffered ceiling. The original design included three drywall boxes across the width of the room and four across the length. I assumed the drywall should be 8″ wide, just because I thought it looked good. Then I got to thinking about how I was going to actually construct these coffered ceiling beams and I realized that my initial layout was flawed and that maybe getting 8″ wasn’t quite as plug and play as I’d like it. So, I made some changes. I came up with a layout that worked for the room, but more importantly, it’s something I can make from regular 2x’s and some drywall. I ended up with 3 boxes across by 3 the other way. It’s slightly more rectangular than I’d like, but it’s going to be much faster to build.
Here’s the original ceiling layout:
Here’s the current one:
It’s not a huge change, but the top one would take me much longer to build. I’ll get more into the details of the finished coffered ceiling design when I actually show you what the framing looks like. It’ll be much easier to explain a photo than to try to describe my idea.
Onto the work desk. When you design something simple like a desk, it’s easier to start with existing models. So, instead of reinventing the wheel, I just looked inside a Pottery Barn catalog and wrote down the dimensions of one of their desks. Their desks have a depth of 23″. Okay. So does mine… now. Better to use a reference than to guess at something like that.
As for the filing cabinet, I measured the dimensions of a folder we use in our current filing cabinet. Now when I design the drawer size for the new unit, I know it needs to accommodate a drawer that can hold one of those folders. That’s how I came up with my drawer sizes for the third cabinet.
So after all that detailed design work, my finished product is a list of materials I need to take to my local building supplier. I’m having them deliver all the long pieces, since it’s easier. I’ll pick out the poplar boards for the cabinets myself.
In our next Home Office post, we’re going to start framing out the coffered ceiling.
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