Author Archives: Benjamin Hardy

Modular Homes: A Rising Industry

The modular home industry continues growth as a green alternative to traditional construction.

Modular Homes


Whether it’s called a modular home, a systems-built home, or a factory-built home, the modular home is a misunderstood product. Despite a steady growth in sales, the modular home industry still battles public misconception. The move towards green modular homes and a continued commitment to consumer education are helping to raise the public’s perception of this promising housing alternative.

Continuing Education
The modular home industry is still struggling to shake comparisons to mobile homes (or homes with axles and a chassis) and is equally confronted by misinformed consumers who perceive the modular product to be “cheap.” Although the modular home-building process does produce less construction waste, takes less time, and can be a little easier on the budget, the end product is anything but cheap — and industry proponents are eager to spread the word.

“The truth is modular homes appraise at the same, if not more, than a stick-built home,” insists David Cooper, president of Modular Homes, Inc. of Edison, NJ. “They are built with more materials, they are constructed in factories that have it down to a science and are built sturdy enough to sustain the hurricane-force winds of being driven down the highway.”

Through efforts led mainly by manufacturers and builders, misconceptions are methodically being transformed into greater awareness. “We have classes and seminars to teach the benefits of modular homes, as well as green homes,” says Cooper. These educational opportunities, which exist for builders, consumers, and real estate professionals, teach about the economical and environmental benefits to building modular as well as an all-important notion that “the modular house isn’t going to look any different than a traditional home,” Cooper adds.

Green Modular Homes
It’s fairly well-established that the modular home industry is inherently green. Factory building produces far less waste, keeps lumber dry (and thus free of mold), and guarantees precision cuts that result in a tighter-fitting, more energy-efficient home. This “green by nature” quality is helping modular builders promote their products to the growing ranks of green-savvy prospective home buyers. “Just out of the factory a modular home can be 15 percent of the way towards LEED certification,” says Cooper, referring to the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED-H) certification program for residential structures.

Modular Homes, Inc. (MHI), acts as general contractor to the homebuyer, from finalizing floor plans to on-site construction of the shipped modules. The company’s “Building Green. Living Green” motto speaks to an industry-wide trend of building upon the green qualities imbued by the factory-built process. To achieve the LEED certification, Cooper hires a LEED-certified consultant to advise on the project, and a LEED-certified inspector is brought into the factory to oversee and sign off on the various steps of the construction process, just as would be done on a site-built home.

Although not every homebuyer has the budget for a site-built home that is designated Platinum, the highest LEED-H certification, meeting some reasonable green goals for a home might be more readily accomplished by going modular.

For instance, manufacturers use 2x6s for framing modular homes, rather than the 2x4s used in most site-built homes, so that the modules are sturdy for transport to the site. What happens with the extra two inches? “It’s filled with additional insulation,” which contributes to higher energy efficiency, says Chad Harvey, Deputy Director for the Modular Building Systems Association (MSBA). According to Harvey, there are countless nuanced factory construction techniques that result in a greener product, from tightly sealed outlets  to extensive material recycling programs.

Like traditional site-built green homes, green modular builders rely on educated subcontractors who understand the green industry. This can be a particular challenge to modular builders, who are often shipping the home from one state to another, sometimes to an unfamiliar area.

The Best of Both Worlds
One inaccurate criticism of modular homes paints them as “cookie-cutter” or generic, but nothing could be farther from the truth. “People still have this image of a double-wide mobile home when you say modular,” says Harvey. In reality, the modular home industry allows for more customization than ever before.

Higher-end modular homes, like many of the ones MHI are responsible for, are being built through a happy marriage of systems-built and site-built techniques, enabling customization options that can only further drive homebuyers toward modular homes as an attractive—and green—solution.

Custom Paneling Systems

Customizable, ready-to-assemble systems have made wall paneling and wainscoting more accessible than ever.

Jay Gleysteen Architects, Inc.

Custom paneling has always been a luxury item. It is labor and cost intensive, since creating a profile means multiple components —baseboard, rails, stiles, panels, caps—to create a visually interesting or historically accurate look. Each component requires cuts and fitting. This work time is consuming and very precise. The margin for error is slim, and it isn’t a project that most homeowners undertake for themselves. So, paneling and wainscoting have remained a finish for the well heeled or the well trained.

Now, however, luxury has at last come to the masses in an affordable and customer-friendly package, with the advent of custom designed, ready-to-assemble paneling systems like those sold by New England Classic.

Redefining Custom with Ready-to-Order Systems
Most customers start with a vision of the finished room. Often they have photos taken from design magazines or historic homes. “Consumers come to us with an idea of what they want the room to look like,” says Greg Farr, vice president of New England Classic. “They give us the dimensions and then our inside sales people work with the consumer to come up with a design. We can send sample colors and pieces to help with selections.”

Customers first visit the website or work with their builder or designer to select among the designs and profiles. On the website, downloadable design forms ask for pertinent info, including room dimensions, wall measurements, locations and heights of doors and windows, and any irregularities. An in-house design team then generates a design, installation materials, a materials list, and a set of project drawings. The materials list is then taken to a local dealer or, for customers located 20 miles or more from a dealer, submitted directly to the company. A complete kit of parts is cut and packaged for pickup or delivery in two to three weeks.

Panels and components are available finished or unfinished, paint ready, or with a high-end veneer. Panels range in size from 30 inches to full wall height. Wainscoting comes in standard 30 or 32-inch heights and a variety of widths.

Installation Made Easy
Once on site, the installation is easy. “The materials are all routed out in the back and everything slides together like a children’s puzzle,” says Farr. “Once the bottom rail is in place, you are just sliding pieces together. The only tools you need are a hammer, nails, a caulk gun for adhesive, and a miter saw for corners,” Farr says. Homeowners and do-it-yourselfers need only know how to determine the center of a room and mark it, how to check for level and plumb, how to apply panel adhesive and nail on the bead. Instructions are included with every order and an installation video is available.

Making Luxury Affordable

New England Classic

The panels are engineered from medium density fiberboard (MDF) and faced with a wood veneer. The trim pieces such as stiles, rails, and caps, all come wrapped in a melamine paper to protect against damage. MDF is made from wood fiber waste material, making it easy to machine into the necessary profiles. The wood veneers may be Oak, Maple, or Cherry. This wood-veneer layer is bonded to the MDF, which makes for a sturdier, more stable product than natural woods. There is virtually no shrinkage or warping.

Paneling and wainscoting jobs are calculated by the square foot. While prices depend on the style and finish selected, a New England Classic system can range in price from $7.50 per square foot for unfinished or paint-ready components to $25 per square foot for high-end Regal Cherry. Even at that price, a ready-to-install paneling system is a beautiful and affordable option for homeowners wishing to add luxury, beauty, and aesthetic value to their homes. “It’s an inexpensive way to add perceived value to a room and a home,” concludes Farr.

Choosing Major Kitchen Appliances

Design, technology, and budget factor into decision making on the purchase of major kitchen appliances.

Major Kitchen Appliances

Choosing major kitchen appliances can be fun, but homeowners should think of family and lifestyle first. If hiring a designer, be prepared with a list of your desired appliances as they will impact space and traffic patterns. Many designers will want this information first, as it will influence the shape and design of the rest of the kitchen.

Dishwasher Upgrades
Dishwashers have undergone changes over the years, replacing loud, clunky eyesores with incognito models that are so quiet it is difficult to tell if they are on. Look for models that feature concealed control panels built into the top of the door and stylized paneling that keep this appliance from standing out. Quieter motors and stainless-steel interiors help deaden dishwasher noise—a crucial feature for open-plan homes or kitchens with adjacent entertaining spaces.

Don’t overlook the possibility of buying two or more dishwashers, a growing trend in kitchens and kitchen remodels. “Fifty percent of my clients have at least two dishwashers in their kitchens,” says Peter Salerno, a certified kitchen designer and owner of Peter Salerno Inc., in New Jersey. “For larger families or homes that like to entertain, one dishwasher can be cleaning while the other is being filled with new dirty dishes.”

Companies like KitchenAid and Fisher have also come up with dishwasher drawers, essentially two independent dishwashing drawers that are stacked on top of one another to accommodate single- or double-drawer loads. Salerno sees homeowners in space-challenged kitchens using the dishwasher drawers as storage, too. “If there’s a shortage of storage space, one drawer can hold dishes while the other washes them,” he adds.

Dishwasher Technology and Sizing
Homeowners interested in cutting-edge technology should be on the lookout for energy-efficiency, shorter cycles, and advanced features designed to cut time and fuss over dishes. GE’s SmartDispense dishwasher, which holds 45 ounces of detergent for automatic release with each load, and Jenn-Air’s 3-tiered dishwasher, with adjustable racks and a washing arm under each rack, are setting new marks in dishwasher design.

Most American-made under-the-counter dishwasher models are a standard 24 inches in width, so selecting a new unit to replace an old one may not require space reconfiguration. If considering European models, check the measurements since they are often narrower than their American counterparts.

Cooktop Features
Cooktops—formerly known as stoves—are now fully independent from ovens, which brings more features and flexibility to both. Commercial cooktops are becoming more popular in residential kitchens because they truly cater to the gourmet chef. High-end gas cooktops feature low-level BTU output settings for cooking light sauces or melting chocolates, which provides maximum control for precise cooking. Look for burners with an inner and an outer flame for high-precision and consistent heating.

New residential units are chasing their commercial predecessors in terms of price and features, so do your homework. Electric residential cooktops may be less expensive, but will not have the same precision as gas models. Cooktops range in size from 30 to 38 inches wide, but may be as wide as 48 inches if a griddle is included.

An island cooktop allows the entertaining chef to face the guests and bring the cooking to the party. Downdraft ventilation systems can eliminate the need for overhead hoods, and emerging technologies like induction cooking can create a safer cooking environment. With induction cooking, a magnetic-based pot or pan interacts with a magnetic field created by the cooking hob coils, inducing a current in the pot or pan. The pot or pan actually heats up and cooks the food while the surface stays cool. The system itself is entirely flame-free.

Stove Exhaust
The exhaust system is an essential and often overlooked kitchen component. Exhaust system capabilities should match the size of the stove or cooktop below it. Exhaust systems are measured in cubic feet per minute (cfm). The bigger the stove, the greater the exhaust capabilities of the system. A 36-inch stove, for example, should be matched by a minimum 800-cfm system, while a 48-inch stove would require at least 1000 to 1200 cfm. Check with your designer or certified dealer to be certain that the exhaust system matches and complements the stove that it services.

Standard and Convection Ovens
Ovens come in two types:  convection and conventional. Convection ovens are more expensive, as they feature blowers that circulate the heat for faster, even cooking. As with dishwashers, two ovens is becoming the norm in today’s kitchen. “The double oven is really critical,” Salerno believes. “Every kitchen should have two ovens.” Whether wall-mounted or fixed below the cooktop, two ovens allows for greater cooking capacity and flexibility.

Warming drawers, once a pretty prominent fixture in kitchens, are seeing a resurgence in kitchen design. Warming drawers can be set from 0 to 175 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain the texture and temperature of cooked foods without drying them out. Warming drawers cost anywhere from $800 to $1,400, but are useful additions to kitchens that see a lot of use and provide large or complex meals for guests or families.

Innovative appliances like convection microwaves offer new cooking options for the pressed-for-time homeowner. With roasting, baking, and crisping capabilities, convection microwaves combine all the reheat features of a microwave with the cooking options of a convection oven. Cooking time is cut in half, but the desired flavor and texture of the food remains.

Refrigerator Rundown
Refrigerators come as side-by-side, top-and-bottom, and built-in units. Choosing a style may be largely a matter of personal preference, but the size of the refrigerator should take into account the size of the family. A family of four may only require a unit of 21 to 25 cubic feet, while one of six or more might want a unit with 27 to 32 cubic feet. Storage may be measured in cubic feet, but the width of the unit determines placement options. Let the needs of the family determine the size of the fridge, but be sure not to skimp—there’s nothing worse than having a packed fridge that doesn’t function to fit the family.

When considering additional features like ice makers or water dispensers, think about placement. A paneled refrigerator, for example, won’t go well with an external water dispenser, as spills can damage the paneling over time.

Both height and width need to be taken into account when looking at refrigerator size. Refrigerators can be as tall as 68 inches or more and as wide as 36 inches. A homeowner will want sufficient clearance from hallways, doorways and so on. A refrigerator that is going to be placed next to a wall will require a suitable door design. A standard rule of thumb is to allow at least 2 inches minimum on each side to allow a door to swing open, depending on the model.

One rising trend to consider is the addition of auxiliary fridge/freezer drawers. These under-the-counter units can serve as easy-access beverage centers or to store overflow items from the fridge or freezer. Reducing traffic through the chef’s space is a nice little perk for the busy kitchen. “A beverage drawer can keep the kids out of the cooking area and out of the primary refrigerator,” Salerno says.

Check the Label: A Guide to Green Designations for the Home

Consumers today must select from a growing list of green home certifications or builders claiming green homebuilder status.

Green Certification


What is a green home? While “green” has yet to be given a universally accepted definition, a green home would be defined today as a certified “green” home built to certain specifications and/or a home built by a certified “green builder” that might include any number of green features. Even after choosing one of these two definitions, however, the consumer must select from a growing list of green home certifications or builders claiming green homebuilder status.

The Energy Star label is one of the best known in the residential world. An Energy Star-qualified home is built to energy-efficient standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The guidelines imposed on an Energy Star home address insulation, window performance, construction, and duct tightness, the home’s HVAC systems, and energy-efficient products. Lastly, an Energy Star home has been third-party tested. Although the Energy Star home does not incorporate all aspects of a green home (such as indoor air quality, water efficiency, etc.), its comprehensive approach to energy efficiency sets it apart.

The United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes (LEED-H) certification has enjoyed a role as one of the building industry’s defining models for green homes. A home built to LEED-H specifications can earn one of four designations: certified, silver, gold, and platinum. To receive the LEED-H label, a home is rated by unbiased third-party testers on eight green-related categories: design, location, being a sustainable site, water efficiency, energy, and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and awareness and education.

The National Green Building Standard from the National Association of Home Builders is an industry-accepted standard for green homes, allowing for “flexibility of green building practices while providing a common national benchmark for builders, remodelers and developers.” The standard is based on the NAHB’s Model Green Home Building Guidelines, a two-part builder’s guide to green building first published in 2005 as a resource for the building community and more importantly for local and state home building associations.

Like the LEED-H label, the Model Green Home Building Guidelines awards more than one certification level (bronze, silver, gold) and gives points in seven guiding principles: lot design, preparation and, development; resource efficiency; energy efficiency; water efficiency; indoor environment quality; operation, maintenance and homeowner education; and global impact.

There are numerous other green home certification programs across the country. Consumers should contact their state or local home building association for an endorsed or widely used program in their area. USGBC has recently launched The Green Home Guide, a website that lists green home programs by state, although the programs themselves are not endorsed or affiliated with the USGBC. Similarly, the NAHB’s National Green Builder Program website features a list of voluntary green builder programs by state. When investigating green home certification programs, be sure to find out if the home is independently tested or verified.

Green Builders
When searching for a qualified green builder, consumers should inquire into certifications, courses, and educational steps taken by a potential builder. The LEED Professional Accreditation program, launched in 2001, certifies students as LEED Accredited Professionals (LEED APs) upon completion of the program. Once administered by the USGBC, the LEED Professional Accreditation program is now managed by the Green Building Certification Institute. The LEED AP will be educated on the practices of green home building.

Energy Star’s website includes a search feature to help locate builders and developers who have partnered with Energy Star and who have built an Energy Star-qualified new home within the last 12 months. This list could serve as a good jumping-off point for the consumer looking for green-minded professionals in their area or state.

Green Systems and Products
It’s a widely accepted notion that a home can be considered “green” simply by incorporating green elements throughout the home, which can mean replacing a few old energy-hogging appliances with more energy-efficient ones or undergoing a complete overhaul of the home’s water devices. Any homeowner looking to green up a home in sections should seek out the few systems and products that have green designations.

Energy Star again sits atop the stack, with an extensive list of third-party-tested products that span a wide range of energy-related subcategories, including appliances, HVAC systems and components, insulation and windows, and miscellaneous home electronic devices. Replacing any electricity-dependent items in the home with Energy Star-rated versions will save on the home’s utility bill and can help reduce the home’s carbon footprint.

The EPA’s WaterSense  program is designed much like Energy Star but with a focus on testing and certifying water-saving products in the home. Thus far, the program has tackled toilets, faucets, showerheads, and irrigation services and technologies.

Saving electricity and water is an easy sell for these two programs. Often overlooked, however, is taking steps to improve indoor air quality (IAQ). The GREENGUARD Environmental Institute has given homeowners a leg up on the battle for better IAQ, with its GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality certification program. The program certifies low-emitting interior building materials, furniture, and finishing systems, testing each product for chemical emissions. GREENGUARD currently certifies over 200,000 products for 130 different manufacturers.

Although the practice of ecolabelling is not new, the growth in green products and certifications has brought the term more to the forefront. The Energy Star, WaterSense. and GREENGUARD certifications both fall into the ecolabel category, but there are other ecolabels as well as organizations and websites that catalogue “approved” ecolabels or green certification programs. carries an extensive list of green buildings, services, and building products without particular selection criteria. Building Green’s selection process for their “GreenSpec” list of products is somewhat more demanding, albeit limited to journalistic research, e-mail and forum discussion, and builder recommendation.

The Global Ecolabelling Network is an association of third-party labeling organizations from around the world. The United States is represented in the network by Green Seal, a group that establishes green standards for product categories and accepts applicants for certification within those categories.

The Canadian-based EcoLogo is North America’s oldest ecolabel with over 7,000 certified products representing 120 categories, including building and construction. “The criteria set for certifying a product evaluates the entire lifecycle of the product,” says Lise Beutel of TerraChoice Environmental Marketing, managers of the EcoLogo program. “We can look at everything from the raw materials used to the final stages of the product’s usage.”

Ceramic Coatings for Increased Insulation

Aided by ceramic coating, new insulating paint products bring huge energy savings to the market.


Ceramic coating has been around for almost 20 years and is highly effective in preventing unnecessary heat loss or gain in residential and commercial structures.

Inspired in part by the ceramic tiles that NASA uses on the Space Shuttle, a ceramic coating is a paint mixed with one or more ceramic compounds for application via spray or roller to exterior and interior surfaces. Depending on the ceramic compounds used (there are hundreds of varieties), this insulating product has the ability to prevent heat transfer and heat loading onto a structure. This means heat will not transfer into or out of a building.

Insulation and Emissivity
Unlike fiberglass insulation, whose R-value rating assumes heat loading by a building and simply measures the rate at which that heat is transferred, ceramic coatings are not given an R-value rating. Instead, they are rated by “emissivity.” a measure of both their ability to reflect heat and the amount of heat that is loaded onto a surface.

“The true key to insulation is preventing heat load,” says J.E. Pritchett, founder and developer of SuperTherm, a ceramic coating product produced by Superior Products International. The concept is simple: Why use fiberglass insulation to slow the transfer of heat into a building when you can just prevent that heat from ever loading onto the building in the first place? If heat is kept off the structure to begin with, that fiberglass insulation becomes unnecessary. It’s a change in the way we think about insulating our homes against energy lost. “R rating is for the 20th century,” says Pritchett. “Emissivity is 21st century.”

Blocking Heat Buildup
Blocking heat buildup is a complicated task. Heat comes in three forms: ultra-violet (UV), visible light, and infrared (IR). A quality ceramic coating will block all three, especially IR, which is responsible for roughly 57 percent of heat load on a building. “Some ceramic paints claim to block all heat caused by UV,” says Pritchett, “but UV only accounts for three percent of heat load on a building.”

Consumers should be careful to distinguish between purely reflective coatings and true insulating coatings. Reflective coatings only perform when clean and will not block all forms of heat, but a coating with insulative and reflective qualities will block more than one form of heat. “SuperTherm uses four ceramic compounds to block short-wave radiation, IR, and to block the conductivity of heat through the surface,” claims Pritchett. “It’s not just a reflective coating.”

Blocking Heat Transfer
As an exterior surface coating, insulating ceramic paints or coatings can be applied to the roof and sides of a building. This includes roofing surfaces such as metal, felt, asphalt, aluminum, and sidings made of rubber, vinyl, and aluminum. Ceramic coatings can be used on the interior of a home, too.

“Since most of mechanical heat is IR heat, ceramic coatings can be used to prevent heat loss from inside a building,” Pritchett says. A home interior coated in ceramic paint can therefore reduce energy costs due to heat loss in the colder months. “We estimate that a home can save up to 40 to 50 percent in energy costs using our product,” Pritchett says. Payback on a product like SuperTherm, which retails for about $100 per gallon, can come in as little as two years.

Some ceramic coatings feature additional properties, like preventing moisture migration. Some structures see up to 25 percent of HVAC costs coming from dehumidification needs, but a ceramic coating can also bring savings through moisture management. Additional features can include mold and mildew control, sound attenuation properties, and fire resistance.

Ceramic Coatings vs. Fiberglass Insulation
Fiberglass is the giant in the insulation industry, and the R rating to which it conforms is ingrained in the minds of contractors, builders, and code inspectors. Insulating ceramic coatings offer an alternative to traditional batt insulation. “Fiberglass insulation is tested and rated at 73 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the ideal temperature for fiberglass,” says Pritchett. Under harsher conditions, Pritchett suggests that fiberglass doesn’t perform as well as its ratings predict.

Fiberglass is also rated in terms of thickness. “Six inches of fiberglass insulation might get an R-19 rating,” says Pritchett, “but how many builders will cram that six inches of insulation into four inches of stud wall? That R-19 rating doesn’t account for compression of the product.” SuperTherm achieves an R-19 rating with one coat applied, and a rating of R-28.5 when the surface is coated on the exterior and interior.

Ceramic coatings have yet to become code-approved and accepted as a sole means of insulating a home, but the demand for increased energy efficiency is likely to push these products to the front of the consumer market.

Weatherproof with Paint

New paints and surface coatings offer more protection for your home's exterior.

Weatherproof with Paint


Extreme heat or cold, moisture, and prolonged exposure to the sun all take their toll on the exterior of our homes. When paint deteriorates, cracks in the substrate are exposed and let damaging moisture penetrate the home. In every region of the country, a painted surface faces tests from the elements, and homeowners are asking for more from their exterior paint than aesthetic appeal and easy application.

Cracking, peeling, bubbling, and mildew can sometimes be avoided by proper preparation of the surface and paint application, but the quality of the paint can make a big difference. In storm-threatened areas of the country, where water intrusion is a major concern, paint failure will leave exposed hairline cracks in the stucco, allowing wind-driven rains to penetrate the home’s exterior. Once in the wall cavity, this moisture can lead to mold and mildew growth, a major health concern in subtropical Southern states. Hurricane Andrew brought major building code changes and calls for better exterior paints to resist the effects of severe weather.

Finding a Better Paint
A good paint keeps severe weather on the outside but breathes to allow damaging moisture vapor to escape from the inside. Color Wheel Paintings and Coatings, of Orlando, FL, found that changing the ratio of resins to pigment (the two main ingredients in paint) and increasing the elongation factor in their product resulted in a high-quality exterior coating that would stretch over any cracks in the home’s exterior. “Our Flex-Lox exterior coating has a 350 percent elongation rate, which allows it to stretch and bridge any hairline cracks in the stucco,” says Tim McLaughlin, vice president of business development for Color Wheel.

Homes in Florida are essentially built on sand, which shifts frequently. A home’s foundation and walls are affected by these shifts, which can cause fractures and cracks to form. Exterior paints or coatings with a high elongation rate can cover existing cracks and stretch to contain the formation of new fractures, while still allowing for moisture vapor from the inside to pass through.

“The raw materials to make this kind of product are available to all the manufacturers,” McLaughlin comments, “but the intense 2004 hurricane season has increased demand for it.” These days just about every paint company offers their version of a waterproof or weatherproof coating. Elastomeric coatings that retain their flexibility and stretchability over a wide range of temperatures are becoming popular solutions for homes in storm or extreme-weather regions. The applicability to a host of surfaces adds to these products’ appeal. “Benjamin Moore’s Elastomeric coatings are for use on uncoated or new masonry and previously painted surfaces such as smooth stucco, concrete/cinder block, fiber cement siding, pre-cast concrete, poured-in-place concrete, and tilt-up construction,” says Allison Marcus of Benjamin Moore, the leading supplier of exterior paint and coatings in Florida.

What to Look For in a Paint
The amount and quality of the resin in a paint or coating will determine its effectiveness. A higher ratio of resin to pigment is a start but, as McLaughlin points out, not all resins are quality resins. “We use 100 percent acrylic resin, and a 60/40 resin-to-pigment ratio.” A paint that uses vinyl acrylic, for example, breaks down within a year in the Florida climate. It is becoming common practice in storm-threatened regions to use a paint or coating system that calls for the application of at least two coats. “Two coats of Flex-Lox will set up to an 8=millimeter thickness. Some homeowners use it as a primer coating and cover it with a finish.”

Finding a Better Paint
Although no code requires paints or coatings to meet a certain water intrusion-standard, there has been talk of making such changes in parts of Florida and regions battered by wind-driven rain. “Benjamin Moore’s entire product portfolio is always being evaluated to determine what, if any, new products or improvements are needed to better serve our end users’ needs,” Marcus states. In addition to these qualities, most storm-resistant paints and elastomeric coatings tout essential breathability, an important feature for homes in regions where moisture retention can be a problem.

A product that uses a greater concentration of a higher-quality resin is suitable for dry climates, too. In Las Vegas, where stucco and masonry are also common building products, efflorescence in the exterior paint is an issue. Efflorescence is caused when rain penetrates the paint film, invades the stucco, and reacts with it to turn into a salt. As this salt evaporates in the hot, dry heat, it passes through the paint, discoloring it and compromising its integrity. The 100 percent acrylic resin in a higher-quality paint or coating will retard efflorescence in such climates.

Storm-Proof Your Garage Doors

Strengthening the biggest hole in your house

Painted Garage Doors

In the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew’s devastation in 1992, the building codes in many coastal counties and storm-threatened areas made a leap in stringency. One of the most important changes in code concerned the biggest hole in our homes—the garage door. Failure of the garage door in a hurricane leaves a breach in the house envelope that can be as big as 300 square feet. Experts conclude that the resulting change in pressure can blow the roof off a house or create other tears and fissures in the home that allow rains and water to invade and damage or ruin drywall.

Violent hurricanes and massive building failures have convinced storm-prone communities that residents must be prepared to employ active or passive reinforcement systems for their garage doors. Passive systems are those that are built into the product and need no activation on the part of the homeowner. Active systems are reinforcements that need to be installed in preparation for a high-wind event. Either way, for the homeowner in hurricane-prone areas of the country there are two real options—a new garage door, or a garage door reinforcement kit.

Building Code
For a garage door system to be up to code in the hurricane-prone areas of the U.S., it must meet the wind-load requirements of the county in which it is installed. These wind-load requirements are less strict the further inland one lives, but nowhere are they more demanding than in the Miami-Dade County, FL. There a garage door system must be able to resist a wind speed of up to 150 mph. (The Saffir-Simpson Scale for hurricane classification rates a hurricane with wind speeds of 131-155 mph as a Category 4.) Testing on garage door systems and retro-fit kits includes subjecting the products to hurricane-force winds using a wind-tunnel testing lab and using air guns to fire 2x4s and other materials at the garage door surface to simulate the effects of flying debris in a high-wind situation.

Buying a New Garage Door
One way to make the garage hurricane-ready and code-compliant is to buy a new garage door. Products such as DAB’s Hurricane Master Garage Door System are complete garage door systems that, when installed properly, comply with Florida building codes. “Our garage door systems use our patented InterForce Structural Reinforcement System,” says Ernie Hunto, spokesperson for the company. This system addresses common weaknesses found in regular garages, including the end stiles that brace the edges of the door and the weak skin. “We use anti-distortion end stiles and a 24-gauge steel skin on our doors,” explains Hunto. In hurricane-strength winds, regular garage door end stiles endure enormous forces and often rotate, causing the garage door to “dump out” or give way. A reinforced end stile resists these forces and keeps the garage door holding firm. A stronger steel skin resists small- and large-missile impact from the debris that hurtles through the air during hurricanes.

A stronger door certainly helps, but the door itself won’t matter if the mounting area and track aren’t strengthened as well. To that end, products like Hurricane Master use a 14-gauge tracking system with heavy-grade track brackets. “You can reinforce an old door with a retrofit kit, but if the track system isn’t upgraded, it can twist and the door will dump out on you,” adds Hunto. Additional reinforcing U-bars can be purchased for a Hurricane Master system and installed before the storm hits to make the door more resistant to higher winds.

Prices for a new hurricane-resistant garage door can vary according to size and wind-load capability. According to Hunto, an 8-foot-by-7-foot single residential Hurricane Master Garage Door System might run anywhere from $700 to $900, while a double-bay door could cost as much as $1,200.

Retrofitting an Existing Garage Door
When a storm is coming, retrofit kits are used to bolster the hurricane-resistance of existing garage doors. Their effectiveness is usually contingent upon the integrity and strength of the door itself — an old wooden door is not going to hold up to a Category 4, whether it has been reinforced or not. “If the garage door was faultily installed or in poor condition, you cannot expect the same results from our product,” says Jack Stumpff, co-owner of Secure Door in Plantation, FL. Secure Door is the only Florida Building Code-approved garage door retrofit kit available on the market, and it is also designed to be installed by the do-it-yourselfer.

Retrofit kits like Secure Door’s products commonly include bracing systems that install on the inside of the garage door. Secure Door’s telescoping, lightweight, high-strength aluminum braces install vertically through the header above the door and through floor mounts that are drilled into the concrete floor. The braces also attach through the hinges in the door itself to protect both from external pressure and internal negative pressure in a hurricane. “Three of our braces installed on a 7-foot-by-16-foot garage door will protect up to 180 mph,” says Stumpff. “It takes about 40 minutes to retrofit the garage for our reinforcing braces, and all a homeowner needs is an electric drill, a 1⁄2-inch masonry bit, an adjustable wrench, and a screwdriver.” Once the garage has been retrofitted, the braces themselves take three to five minutes to actually attach in preparation for a storm.

Retrofit kits cost significantly less than a new door. A single Secure Door kit for a single garage door costs $150 plus shipping and handling. A two-kit solution for a double-door garage that is dealer-installed will run about $500—still almost a third of the cost for a new door of the same size.

Blown and Sprayed Insulation

There are different methods for spraying different kinds of blown insulation into the walls, attics, and floors of your home.

Blown Insulation


Blown-in insulation, or blow in insulation, products are competing to bring improved performance per square inch and the least amount of settling over time to the insulation market. Blown-in insulation refers to blowing or spraying insulation product into wall cavities, attics, and floors. Methods vary depending on the form of insulation selected.

Loose-Fill Fiberglass
In its loose-fill form, fiberglass is made from glass that is blown or spun into fibers. It is installed using a blowing machine. Loose-fill fiberglass is suitable for attics and wall cavities and can combat common insulation enemies like mildew, fungus, and moisture. “Our OPTIMA insulation is made of virgin fiberglass,” says a CertainTeed representative, “so it won’t rot or absorb moisture.” Critics do contend that many fiberglass products include recycled glass and that loose-fill fiberglass can leave floating particles in the home.

One solution is to contain the fiberglass with membranes or netting. Fox Valley Insulation in Illinois markets the Blow-In Blanket System (BIBS) to blow loose-fill fiberglass into cavities that have been prepared with a proprietary netting system. These netted cavities are filled with fire-resistant, odorless, and chemical-free fiberglass and provide an R-value of 4.2 per inch (the R-value is a measure of the insulation’s effectiveness), while a standard loose-fill blow-in fiberglass provides an R-value of 3.2 per inch. BIBS installations are suitable for custom jobs and unique or unconventional ceiling configurations.

Blow-in cellulose insulation has been around since the 1920′s and consists predominantly of recovered or recycled newsprint and/or corrugated cardboard, treated with a fire retardant. Three main types of blow-in cellulose insulation are used in residential application: loose fill, stabilized, and wall-cavity spray.

Spray-in Foam 
Spray-in or spray-on polyurethane foam expands to fill cracks and voids to form a tightly sealed barrier. Foam’s biggest advantage is it virtually eliminates air infiltration. In most cases the foam is mixed on site, where trained professionals do the installation. “The spray-on foam is a pretty popular option,” says Michael Kwart, executive director of the Insulation Contractors Association of America, “but it requires higher skill training.” Spray foam is used in attics, ceilings, walls, and floors. When applied, it expands to 100 times its volume to seal cracks and crevices. It also maintains some flexibility as the home ages.

Depending on the product used, foam can provide the highest R-value per inch of the three forms of insulation discussed at 3.6 per inch. “We use an expanding foam in closed-cell application that has an R-value of 6.5 per inch,” says Joe Ann Hurst, president of Astro Insulation in Chicago. “It is a very effective air barrier.” It is also fairly expensive. Depending on the region and market, spray-foam insulation can sell for $1.30 to $3.50 per square foot. In most home markets, this type of insulation is considered an added home value that will pay back over time and in the sale of the home.

Greener Insulation Options
Homeowners looking for a natural alternative to chemical foam insulation might look at soy. With none of the CFC’s, HCFC’s, or Formaldehyde that spark concern among indoor-air-quality experts, green builders and consumers are turning to soy-based foam. This spray foam is made from soy beans or castor beans and polyurethane foam. Like its chemical cousin, soy-based foam forms a total air barrier by filling voids and crevices to prevent air intrusion. It is inert, will not support moisture or mold, and is durable. Advocates point to the sustainability of an industry that encourages planting, harvesting, and manufacture of a product that will in turn save energy.

Loose-fill cellulose blow in insulation is a dry install for walls and attics. Run through a blowing machine, loose fill can be installed in a wall through access holes after the interior finish has gone up, or installed into a netting system or reinforced poly-barrier retaining membrane. Loose-fill cellulose should never be blown into exhaust fans or come into contact with any overhead lighting or lighting fixtures.

Stabilized cellulose contains a slight moisture additive and adhesive, so it is useful in horizontal applications such as attics. Builders and installers often choose to use stabilized cellulose because the moisture controls the dust, and the product is less expensive. “The density of stabilized cellulose is such that a builder doesn’t have to use as much to achieve the R-value. To a builder putting up a large number of homes, this means savings,” says Daniel Lea, executive director of the Cellulose Insulation Manufacturers Association.

Wall-cavity spray is used in vertical installs and includes a moisture additive, typically up to 10 percent, which allows it to adhere to vertical surfaces. It is important that the wall cavities not be closed before the insulation has dried completely. “Some folks are set against adding moisture to the walls,” says Lea, because it can encourage mildew or fungal growth. Wall cavity spray eliminates the worry of settling and is also considered the cheapest to install, as it is less labor intensive and requires no retaining membranes.

Cellulose can provide excellent sound attenuation properties, and is very competitive in price. Depending on the region, market, and the specific product used, cellulose can cost under $1.00 per square foot. “Our cellulose insulation runs about 84 cents per square foot,” says Harrah. “If I had a choice between fiberglass, foam, and cellulose, I would go with cellulose.” A wet-spray cellulose install can provide an R-value of around 3.4 per inch.

Combatting Settling
Settling occurs over time and can compromise a home’s insulation. Loose insulation has been found to settle as much as 20 percent over the first few years after installation, so it’s important to have a gauge and guarantee from the installer. Each installer should provide an attic card affixed to the roof truss as a standing measure that states the type of insulation, density, amount installed, and installer’s contact information. Installers verify density by following the prescription for the exact number of bags needed to reach the desired R-value. The bag to density formula is printed on each bag.

How To: Stage a Home

Staging your home sets the scene for potential buyers. A well-staged home can help it sell faster and for more money. Here are some basics for prepping your house.

Ho To Stage a Home


Much like detailing a used car prior to sale, staging a home allows it to put on its best face. Not to be confused with decorating, staging is about presentation, cleanliness, and drawing positive attention to the space inside. According to, the Web site for a unique program that provides certification and training to become an Accredited Staging Professional (ASP), 93% of homes staged by an ASP sell in less than 31 days. Home sellers can choose to do the staging themselves, take guidance from a qualified realtor, or hire an accredited professional.

Letting Go
The first step when staging a home to sell is to cut emotional ties, which means temporarily living without your most precious belongings surrounding you. When the house is put on the market, it should be thought of as a product, not a home. Although you might still be living in it while it’s for sale, it should not look that way to potential buyers. “The way that you live in your home and the way that you market it and sell it are two different things,” says Barb Schwarz, author of Home Staging: The Winning Way to Sell Your House for More Money and recognized as one of the founders of the home staging industry. “Once your home becomes a house, it can become a product, and people want to buy the product that has the best wrapper.” One way for the seller to be able to look at his home objectively is to take tours of homes for sale. “A walk through the neighbor’s house can help the home seller to see things from the homebuyer’s point of view,” says Craig Schilling, founder of Real Estaging, a home staging company in Chicago.

Selling the Space
Part of letting go means packing up all unnecessary “junk.” Anything that can be lived without should be packed up and either tucked away or put into storage. Put away knickknacks, memorabilia, superfluous furniture, lamps, or anything else that adds to the home’s clutter and distracts from what is really important: the space. “You’re supposed to be selling the space, not the stuff,” says Schwarz. “The value of the house is in the space.” When potential buyers walk through an unstaged home, they tend to focus on everything but the space, particular in an overly cluttered home. A sparse, staged home is open, allowing the size of the rooms to be the main attraction.

Packing alone isn’t enough, however. The staged home must sparkle, and to do that will take some elbow grease and attention to detail. “A staged home needs to be Q-tip-clean,” adds Schwarz. For the exterior of the home, cleaning can mean power-washing the siding, scrubbing and staining the deck, and taking down unsightly cobwebs. Inside the house, any dust, stains, and scratches must go. Every corner of every room—from the windows to the baseboards—should be made to look new.

Setting the Stage
With clutter packed away and all the surfaces shining, homeowners should go through each room arranging furniture and configuration to best present the space. Also, each room should clearly look like what it’s designed to be. “Make each room what it is,” suggests Schwarz. “If it’s a dining room, make it a dining room.” Consider the focal points of each room, and arrange those focal points to accentuate space and function. In bedrooms, for example, the bed is the focal point. When a potential buyer stands in the doorway to look inside a bedroom, the bed should not block the view of the room or make the room look small. If certain rooms lack the necessary furniture to make them what they are, the homeowner might consider borrowing or renting furniture for staging purposes.

Another investment worth making is in paint. Neutral and light colors will make a room look big, while dark walls shrink the size of a room. Furthermore, off-kilter colors and color combinations can make for a bad first impression of a home. The small investment in time and money to paint the walls can make the difference when it comes to time on the market and selling price.

Hiring a Professional
The home staging business is a fast-growing industry, and there are many people who call themselves professional home stagers. Accredited staging professionals are typically members of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals and can be found by searching by ZIP code on both organizations’ Web sites. When hiring a professional home stager, homeowners should ensure that the professional is certified as well as protected and insured. “Homeowners should call and meet two or three professionals,” says Schwarz. “Home staging is about commitment, and homeowners should know that everyone involved is committed to the job.” Home stagers can be hired to perform a range of staging services, from simple consultationto a complete “enhancement,” where the stager might bring in his/her own props, furniture, and artwork as part of the staging process.

Additionally, more and more realtors are becoming staged-home-savvy. Many are choosing the ASP certification, while others are educating themselves on the ins and outs of the practice. When choosing a realtor to help sell the home, homeowners should inquire into staging experience and ask about rates. Although the cost to have a home professionally staged will vary by market, homeowners should expect to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000. “Homeowners need to remember that they are not just paying for the props or the advice; they are paying for the actual time it takes to stage the home,” says Schiller.

Whether you hire a professional home stager or use the funds toward a DIY staging job, home staging is a worthwhile investment that will almost certainly sell your home more quickly and increase your return on investment.

Maximize Appeal
The exterior of the home is the first thing a potential buyer sees, so make sure to tend to landscaping needs, make small repairs, and clean dirty siding. Here are some other quick essentials for the interior:

Pack before you move. Put everything that you can do without until your move into boxes and then put the boxes in storage or somewhere completely out of sight.

Clean. Go room to room and clean every surface until it sparkles. No cutting corners! Don’t forget the windows.

Create space. Arrange the furniture in each room to accentuate the space. Remove as much furniture as possible without making the room appear vacant. Make every room seem bigger than it is.

Paint. Freshen up your walls and make colorful ones neutral. Dark rooms are smaller in appearance, and off-kilter color combinations are distracting.

Eliminate odors. It’s not just what is seen that matters. Unsavory smells will turn the buyer off. Clean carpets, get rid of pet and food odors, light some candles, and put out some potpourri.

Lighten up. Open blinds, pull up shades, and turn on lighting.

Cork Flooring 101

An environmentally friendly alternative to wood or tile, remodelers often neglect to consider cork flooring as a viable option—but it is.

Cork Flooring


Cork has been used for flooring for over a century. Finished cork floor can have the look of textured hardwood, the soft give of carpet, and the easy maintenance of vinyl. Throw in natural insulating and sound attenuation properties, and cork is an environmentally friendly flooring option worthy of attention.

Beneficial by Nature
A cross-section of cork resembles a honeycomb with over 100 million prism-shaped cells per cubic inch. Each cell is comprised mostly of air, making cork highly elastic and naturally insulating. Cork’s inherent “give” lets it be compressed up to 40 percent and still spring back to its original form. As flooring, cork feels softer than hardwood and warm underfoot, making it an obvious alternative to carpet.

The air within the cells also acts as sound insulation, which is why it is not uncommon to find museums floored in cork to deaden the clickety-clack of so many feet falling. “We find cork is being widely used in commercial projects like school hallways and museums, where sound reduction is important,” says Robert Sawyer of Amorim, a cork manufacturing company that makes the Wicanders line of cork floors, “but it works great in a residential setting, like a TV room, where acoustics play an important role.” In a condo requiring floors of a given impact insulation class (IIC) rating or less, cork passes the test, leaving the occupants in the unit below wondering if anyone at all is living upstairs.

Cork’s benefits come naturally, which makes it a wise choice for the environmentally conscious. It is a naturally fire-resistant material, and will not release toxins if it burns. Cork also boasts anti-microbial properties, allowing it to resist mold and mildew. Cork even naturally repels invasive insects like termites.

Design and Installation
Cork floors come in a wide variety of colors—from the more common natural-looking, honey tones to stained greens, reds, and even blacks. Cork floors can feature textures with granite-like appearances and, like hardwood floors, be installed in planks. These planks can be shuffled and arranged prior to installation to add different flows, designs, and color tones to the flooring project. The cork planks themselves will vary in actual composition from company to company, but most are layered with a cork underlayment, a high-density-fiberboard middle layer for moisture resistance, a natural cork or wood veneer layer, and a thin vinyl or acrylic finish or “wear layer” for durability and easy maintenance. “Our PVC [poly-vinyl chloride] wear layer protects from scuffs and wear,” says Sawyer. “Cleaning is easy—it’s the same as vinyl or hardwood. All you need is a damp mop.”

Although cork flooring companies offer the adhesive installation option with some of their product lines, most have turned to floating-floor systems for ease of installation. The floating-floor systems do not require an adhesive or glue be applied to the subfloor or tiles. With floating-floor systems, the tiles are laid and snapped together by virtue of locking designs that vary by name from company to company—the Wicanders line, for example, uses the CORKLOC system for its click-together, glue-free tiles. “Floating floors are fast and easy to install,” says Sawyer. “The consumer can install it easily, and there is no glue to clean up.”

A Sustainable and Renewable Resource
The cork used in cork floors comes from the bark of the cork oak, which is grown in the Mediterranean Basin, in countries like Portugal, Spain, and Italy. The cork bark is harvested from a tree every nine years, during the months when the trees are in a dormant state. The process does not damage the trees at all, and the industry is controlled strictly by the government. A cork oak is not harvested until it is at least 25-30 years old, and the trees can live for 150-200 years. Cork and cork floors are becoming a popular choice as a renewable resource in a more environmentally conscious world. “Cork is the other wood,” Sawyer explains. “People are looking for something different, for a different look.” In cork floors, consumers can find that different look, easy maintenance, benefits galore, plus the clear conscience that comes with using a product that is good for the environment.

Extra: The Truth About Wine Corks
Alternative wine stoppers are taking the place of natural cork in some wine bottles these days. Manufacturing companies cite a worldwide “cork shortage” as the reason for change. Robert Sawyer of Amorim, a cork company that claims 65 percent of worldwide cork sales, is just as fast to respond that, “The shortage exists on the side of the manufacturers, who can’t get their hands on the cork as quick as they would like.”

Amorim uses cork byproducts from stopper manufacturing to make other cork products such as cork floors and cork gaskets.

The real reason for the increase in alternative stoppers may be the increase in incidents of “corked wine,” or wine that has been “tainted” by TCA, a bacteria that forms during the interaction of bad cork and wine. Alternative wine-stopper companies claim that almost 10 percent of wine in the U.S. is “tainted,” and that corked wine is the leading contributor to the $100 million annual losses suffered by the wine industry.

“Our synthetic cork eliminates the quality issues that the wine industry had with natural cork,” said one representative of Nomacorc, a synthetic cork company based in North Carolina.

Wine purists will continue to insist on wine with natural corks, however. “There is enough cork in Portugal to last 100 years,” Sawyer insists.