Author Archives: Deb Alden

The Beauty of Reclaimed Lumber

Gorgeous rediscovered and recovered woods will add a touch of class to any home, whether you're going for sustainability or distinction.

Reclaimed Lumber


Reclaimed Lumber
Gorgeous rediscovered and recovered woods are being offered by fine mills and merchants throughout the United States and Canada. These woods come from industrial mills, barns, old homes, forests, and riverbeds. Left to age naturally, these antique woods are of a quality and grain that is unequaled in woods found today. Heart pines with almost all heart, old growth oaks, Douglas firs, cypresses, black cherry trees, are all being rediscovered after centuries of growth and 150 or more years of aging.

Antique softwoods harden with age and transform themselves into woods that are completely unlike wood products that are grown, stained, worked, or distressed today. These antique woods are noted for their dimensional stability, grain, character, and size. Once cut from original old growth forests, these rediscovered trees and beams are enormous, rich in grain and in color, with the structural and dimensional integrity lacking in fast-growth woods found today.

Reclaimed, recovered, or rediscovered wood comes to its owners with a history. Perhaps it was used in a Victorian home that has been dismantled, in a textile mill from the turn-of-the-century, from a long forgotten logging route through the Great Lakes, or a slow-moving southern river. Some logs bear a stamp on their sawn ends to prove where they were logged. Huge beams salvaged from old industrial buildings and barns can be dated and placed in a historical context.

Once these boards are milled to make new floorboards, they enter a new page in history. “This is the wood that was in grandma’s house,” explains Carol Goodwin, co-owner of Goodwin Heart Pine. This is the wood from the great timber stands of the 1700s and 1800s, the same wood that graced the old homes of America and is no longer available today. Recaptured from “industrial America as it’s being dismantled, it’s just a perfect wood to remanufacture,” Goodwin says. “This is the product you put in your final home,” not one intended merely for resale, Goodwin says.

Some recovered wood is certified. The SmartWood certification program authenticates the wood, providing a chain-of-custody document to tell the origin and handling of the wood. Such certification guarantees its owner that the wood, the built and natural environment, and the ecosystem were all handled with respect.

When purchasing riverbed-recovered wood, it matters whether the marine ecosystems were maintained during the recovery. SmartWood’s program ensures that wood is recovered in such a way that it benefits all parties, a genuine act of discovery, reclamation, and reuse.

Other companies offer their own documentation and wood histories. Wood obtained from demolition contactors can be linked to an address and pictures. Lost timbers recovered from riverbeds can be identified by the number of growth rings. Whatever the method, verify that the dealer is reputable before making an investment that is often three times what a new-growth installation would cost.

Recovered wood’s beauty is unsurpassed. Left to age among the elements, whether in the baking sun, the close, dry conditions of an abandoned factory, or preserved in the cold depths by underwater silicates, these woods are transformed by the natural aging process. Steve Herrick, owner of Lost Lodge Timber, a recovered wood dealer, describes the beauty of wood left to age naturally, then recovered as fallen timber “aged beautifully, perfectly.”

Goodwin Heart Pine tells a similar story when describing the recovery of the longleaf pine pilings used in the 1700s shipyard in Savannah. Once recovered, dried, and milled, “the wood is the color of the heart pine floor in George Washington’s Mount Vernon, without waiting 250 years for the color to age.” Heart pine like this, aged to a rich red color, hardened by the resin in its wood, or antique Douglas fir, aged rock hard with its extraordinary color and grain, cannot be replicated. “You can’t fake it,” says Herrick. “Trying to make a new product look old is not the same.”

Remilled for Today
Long revered by preservationists, architects, and restorationists, recovered wood is now being discovered by discriminating homeowners.

Carlisle Restoration Lumber mills the stunning wide plank flooring found in the homes and historic residences of the Northeast. Once recovered, Carlisle air and kiln dries the wood, and then mills each board individually. Carlisle recovers wood from barns and industrial buildings, then subjects it to the same standards used for new wood. The result is a dimensionally stable, uniform board, with the depth of grain, pattern, and color that cannot be found in new woods.

“When you see beautiful paneling, cabinets, in the decorator magazines and wonder where they got them, this is where,” says Herrick of the treasures found in reclaimed wood. “I would say it’s a well-kept secret.”

Supervise the Work on Your Home

Follow these simple guidelines to ensure that your construction is completed as planned.

Construction Supervision


It’s important to oversee the details of any repair or remodeling job done on your home. There are a number of ways to protect yourself from incompetent or dishonest contractors. Start with a contract and keep track of the job as it progresses to make sure you get the work you pay for. Once you’ve selected a licensed contactor and completed the contract, you should follow a payment schedule and sign off on completed work. These steps will protect you from builder scams and shoddy work:

  • Be sure to sign a formal contract for work.
  • Read the contract carefully and personally fill in any blank spaces. Consider having an attorney review it. If you don’t have an attorney, contact your state bar association or your state or local division of legal services for a referral.
  • Verify the contractor’s contact information, including the state license number. Most states require a licensed contactor to perform certain jobs, including plumbing, heating, electrical, roofing, alarm work, and permit-related building.
  • Include a full description of the work being done, including a schedule and the materials that will be used.
  • Determine in the contract when payments will be made made—upon the completion of each phase of the job or after an inspection and sign-off.
  • Set a completion date to include cleanup.
  • Include a warranty agreement.
  • Make sure the contract includes provisions for how work outside the scope of the original contract will be presented to the homeowner and billed.
  • Make sure theat you is complete and signed by all parties.

It’s very important to keep track of the work being done. If there are dates for completion or the delivery of materials, check that those items are completed successfully and mark the dates on your copy of the contract. Keep careful notes about any delays in the delivery of materials, weather delays, or work slowdowns. Make payments according to the schedule set forth in the contract and follow the recommendations below:

  • Do not pay in cash.
  • Be wary of those who ask that checks be written directly in their name.
  • Do not pay up front. Arrange to pay after the work is completed or in installments.
  • Beware of contractorswho travel in unmarked vehicles, solicit door-to-door, or use a post office box for an address.
  • Do not pull your own building permits.
  • Do not sign a completion certificate until all work is finished and has passed a final inspection.

Most contractors are hardworking and honest. They will appreciate a firm contract that guarantees their payment and a timely schedule. By working with a licensed professional and using a solid contract for services, you will protect yourself and your home from dishonest businesspeople who take advantage of homeowners.

The New Family Room

New trends in home remodeling, like the 'family studio,' bring projects (and families) together.


Homes, how we live in and use them, are constantly evolving. Kitchens have opened up to living spaces and become family gathering spots. Spare bedrooms are now home offices. Under-utilized formal dining areas are becoming catch-alls for spillover projects. Chores like mending, ironing, laundry, and homework have become the tasks of family time. Ironing and wash are done during dinner preparation and homework. Bills are paid during science projects, and sewing. Crafts, mending, and hand wash go hand-in-hand with Internet research. This is more than multi-tasking, it’s how families function.

But these are all messy projects that bring clutter and chaos to kitchen tables and family rooms. So, as homeowners evaluate their space and needs, architects, builders, and designers are creating a new kind of living space while big-name companies are devising the products to enhance it.

Friendly Space
The family studio concept is a space apart from the public or show spaces of the home, where the nitty-gritty of daily life can take place without cluttering the rest of the house. More than just a project room, this space functions like an active family room, housing crafts, laundry aids, computers, even music. The goal is to create comfortable family space that accommodates the messy moments in life and the chores that go with them. Counters, a sink, functional surfaces, and project-specific space are critical.

How much space? Functional home studio spaces start at around 8-by-10 feet. To work properly, the family studio does require significant square footage that must be borrowed from existing spaces or added on to the home. Key to the success of these spaces is a location close to the core of the home, perhaps off the kitchen or family room, in a converted upstairs space or lower-level family area.

As with any home enhancement project, add-ons and upgrades increase the cost. Still, this is the room where those add-ons will really pay off. Storage is a key function in a home studio, so cabinets are prominently featured in most designs. However, save for a sink cabinet, designs with fewer built-in features are possible if the space exists but not the budget. The Whirlpool Corporation, maker of kitchen and laundry appliances, is actively promoting the home studio concept by marketing creative appliances to make it function smoothly.

Appliances: A New Category?
Whirlpool’s advocacy of the family studio makes sense: If the concept takes off, a new category of appliances will likely line the room’s walls. The company has developed a suite of convenience appliances intended to make laundry chores less cumbersome. The company now offers a spa-like jetted sink that is designed to swirl water under and around delicate washables, with adjustments for the degree and height of spray. A warm-air cabinet, called the DryAire, puts hand washables in the proper drying position, behind cabinet doors. It features fold-down shelves for flat drying, racks for hang drying, and door racks for gloves, socks, and scarves. A chemical-free cleaning system, called the Personal Valet, is housed in an armoire-like cabinet. The device steams and freshens most fabrics, including machine-washable and dry-clean-only items. To round out the collection, an ironing station and front-loading washers and dryers are also offered. Buying the full suite of Whirlpool appliances can cost around $5,000; the Personal Valet, the centerpiece of the collection, starts around $1,000.

Planning for Projects
Organization is critical. Storage and workspace are the key features of the home studio space. Storage cabinets and cupboards house glues, paints, fabrics, books, and cleaning supplies. Table and counter space accommodates projects large and small. Lighting, task centers, and project-friendly surfaces help the entire space function easily and well.

When designing a home studio space, attention should be paid to specific project areas. Some families will want a large central surface for layouts, projects, homework, and snacks. Overhead diffused light is good for these areas. Counter space should be incorporated for laundry folding, and small task space. Recessed cans can provide task lighting for these spaces, but for delicate work like sewing, quilting, or handwork, special task lighting should be included. Attention to outlets and power requirements is essential. Wiring may be required for certain appliances and all built-in lighting. Other tasks will require ready access to outlets. Some families opt to include music, computers, or even a television. Surfaces should be made user-friendly, both in height and in reach. Hardwood floors, vinyls, or manufactured flooring make cleanup of spills a breeze. Carpet may be warmer, but should have a short, tight pile to allow for easy vacuuming and cleanup.

The most important aspect of all is to create a space that works for the family. Cabinets make for organized chaos, and can neatly store craft, fabric, and project clutter. Shelves can be used for drying, display, and books. Built-in storage cupboards can house appliances, spare tables, boards, and tools. In the end, creating a space that allows for family collaboration makes for productive, enjoyable home time — even when there’s laundry to be done.

Pick the Right Grill

Fuel, size, and features will depend on how and where you use your grill.



Whether you like charcoal or gas, a single grill or a cooking station, how and where you use a grill will help you decide on the grill size and features you need.

Flame cooking is what makes grilling so special, so it’s essential to pick the right type of fuel for the grilling you do. Charcoal fans love the flavor it imparts and the natural flame. Gas-grill lovers like a fuel that burns cleaner, is easy to start, and is always at the ready.

Grill Types and Fuels
Barbecues or charcoal-fueled grills require charcoal or briquets and take 15-30 minutes for the flames to reduce before the food can be cooked over hot coals. Many cooks use natural accelerants, paper, wood, and smoking chips like mesquite for flavor. Charcoal grills typically have air vents to help control the flames, and cleaning vents that allow you to empty the ashes from the bottom.

Gas grills are powered by liquid propane (LP) or natural gas — each uses its own valve, so be sure you buy the right version. They typically have an automatic starter that ignites the flame with the touch of a button. Gas grills take very little time to heat up and are extinguished by shutting down the gas. Gas burns much cleaner than charcoal, but does not impart the smoky flavor of charcoal or wood-fueled cooking. Propane is sold in tanks that are refillable. A standard 20 lb. tank will last about nine hours before running out. Natural gas grills have a direct line to the gas supply and never run out of fuel.

Grill Size and Power
Grill size is determined by the amount of space given to the grill and the amount of cooking surface it provides. A large specialty grill with two or more burners will require a lot of space. Measure the area where you intend to put the grill and check carefully to ensure that the features you want will fit in the space you have.

Think about the way you wish to use your grill. If you entertain large groups, and want to grill a bunch of dogs and hamburgers for a crowd, then surface space will be very important. Typical family grilling for single-entree meals, like steaks, chicken, or chops, do not require a lot of area. Meats cook well when close together because they share heat, which helps speed the cooking process. If, however, you like to cook full meals on the grill, including vegetables and side dishes, it is important to select a grill with burners and grill shelves for foods that cook at different temperatures or need to be kept warm. Individual controls will allow you to cook with one surface area at a time or all at once. When selecting burners, look for porcelain-coated grids for the best and most durable cooking surface.

Grill power is also measured in output or number of BTUs (British thermal units) of heat produced. Avoid the temptation to think the greatest number of BTUs will provide the best grilling experience. In general, a larger grill will require more BTUs, while a smaller grill may need half that amount. If you intend to cook full meals or entertain large groups, you will need more capacity and greater cooking capability. Compare grills, output, and features before deciding how much fuel power you need for the cooking you will do.

Grill Placement and Accessories
Selecting the right spot for your grill depends on many factors. Proximity to the kitchen or food source is important for many outdoor cooks. Locating the grill near a door or entrance to the kitchen will make trips for food, utensils, marinades, cleanup, and serving plates easier. If you like to grill in all kinds of weather, consider locating your grill under an overhang, eave, or awning. For those who wish to create an outdoor dining or entertainment space, try locating the grill station near a patio, deck, or backyard picnic table. Pay attention to prevalent wind directions, though, since no one likes to dine in a cloud of smoke.

Accessories complete the grilling experience and can even help with the decision on where to place your grill. Grill stations can have added counter space for food preparation, storage for pots, pans, and utensils, and sinks for prep and cleanup. Consider a grill with hanging space for spatulas, forks, and brushes. A small refrigerator can keep meats, beverages, and condiments cold.

Picking the Right Garage Door

From basic stock to custom designs, you have a range of options when it comes to choosing a garage door.

Garage Doors

Photo: Flickr

When selecting a garage door for your home, the list of questions includes basic material, style, and price. There is a range of options and prices for garage doors, starting with the basic stock offerings and moving up to architecturally designed custom doors. The wood you select, the quality of the insulation, the glass inserts, and the panel style will all impact the purchase price of your garage door. Of course, you can pay bargain basement prices for a garage door that will only last a few years — Orbreak out the checkbook for a craftsman’s $10,000 work of art. With a little homework, however, you can find the best door for your home while staying within your budget. Here are some general guidelines for what to expect when you go shopping.

Stock Doors
No matter the material you choose, a basic garage door comes without significant panel design and without glass. From there, each upgrade will impact the cost of your door. Whether you install it yourself, the degree to which you customize your selections, and the materials you select, will determine whether your door is on the low, medium, or high end of the spectrum. A basic wood garage door for a two-car garage made of pressed wood or Masonite, with recessed panels, ready for paint, will cost around $575. In the value range, customers can also select flush faces or upgrade the wood for an increase in price. This price will not include installation, but typically includes new tracks and rollers. Ordering the door installed typically adds about $100, as do basic glass inserts. An average steel door, single-faced without insulation or windows, typically costs about $360.00. Adding windows to steel doors is slightly more expensive, but installation costs are usually the same.

Semi-Custom Doors
In the mid- or semi-custom range, customers begin to select among panel styles, glass inserts, and designs. Homeowners select from a kit of styles to create the door that best suits their home. In this range there are more wood types available, six or so panel designs, and different levels of glass inserts and designer-look glass options. Wood doors in this range may be hemlock, on the low end, or cedar or mahogany at the upper end. Semi-custom wood doors usually range from $1,500 to $3,000, not including installation or primer. A steel door in the mid-range is typically steel facing with a sandwiched insulation and fiberglass inner face. These doors come with a variety of available options, including color. Steel doors always come primed and with a baked-on finish suitable for painting. Prices for mid-range steel doors run from around $400 to $1,200 or so. Again, installation is extra, but includes new tracks and rollers plus a check on your garage-door opening system and a resetting of that system.

Custom Doors
The high end of garage doors can go from custom colors, finishes, panel designs, grooved panel faces, insulation, and top-quality materials, up to architectural design. Many companies refer to this level of wood door as a carriage house selection. These doors are made of high-quality woods, carry longer guarantees (up to five years for some), and are intended to enhance the design quality of the home. Doors in this category can run $3,000 or more apiece. Plans for the garage doors can be drawn architecturally and submitted to the company. Many can manufacture and deliver a custom door within three weeks. There are also a number of companies that provide wood carriage house doors with a variety of panel and glass options. Many of these design showrooms can be toured online. Installation costs vary, as do guarantees on workmanship, parts, and materials. High-end steel doors are double-faced with steel inside and out, with insulation sandwiched in between. More often than not, high-end steel doors feature injected foam insulation, superior insulation value, and soundproofing. They frequently come with a lifetime warranty, a myriad of style and glass options, and a select number of panel designs. Two-car garage steel doors in this range typically cost anywhere from $595 to $1,500, not including installation.

Questions to Ask a Contractor

Though it may be tempting to rush into hiring a contractor, take the time to ask a considered set of questions.


After a damaging storm, it can be hard to find a contractor who will repair your home right away. Although it is tempting to rush into a contract with the first available builder or handyman, it is very important to take the time and check their licenses. Licenses are required in most states whenever contractors work on structural, plumbing, electrical, alarm, air conditioning, permitted, or roof-related work. 

Meet the contractor on site. Have a complete set of questions ready to ask. Make sure to interview more than one contractor and compare their estimates to see if the work, materials, schedule, and pricing are alike. If they are very different, be sure to ask why. This may help you discover any underlying problems that go unnoticed by other contractors.

Interview Checklist

  • Ask to see the contractor’s state-issued license and write down the number. Verify that the license is current and active. Check with your local building official about certification guidelines.
  • Ask for references. Licensed contractors should be happy to provide you with names and contact information for recent customers.
  • Get written estimates from several contactors that include all costs and a completion date. Beware of contractors that promise to be the fastest and the cheapest, this may result in poor quality or unfinished work.
  • Get a written description of the work being done, including a schedule and the material that will be used.
  • Check that the contractors you hire are fully insured.
  • Ask for a firm completion date, including cleanup.
  • Ask for a warranty agreement that guarantees the work for a specified period of time and provides for necessary repairs.

The time you take to hire the right contractor will pay for itself in safe, reliable repairs and peace of mind.