Author Archives: Maureen Blaney Flietner


Nature Inspires Sustainable Solutions for the Home

Nature inspires creativity when it comes to building more sustainable homes.

Sustainable Building

Photo: Flickr

Rather than trying to dominate or overrun nature, some companies are being inspired by it, and with good reason. Over eons, nature’s “laboratory” has developed sustainable solutions to life’s challenges.

The process of drawing inspiration from nature has been called biomimicry or biomimetics, with “bio,” meaning “life,” and “mimesis,” meaning “to emulate.” Engineers and scientists are increasingly looking at how nature handles everything from energy and food production to nontoxic chemistry, transportation, and packaging. Nature, for example, offers solutions such as self-cleaning surfaces that do not require detergents, manufacturing processes that use materials that do not leave toxic wastes and use little energy, and antibiotics that do not result in resistant pathogens.

The design approach called biomimicry looks for nature’s strategies, such as maintaining physical integrity; getting, storing, and distributing resources; and making, modifying, or staying put — all without destroying the very system in which they exist. That approach contrasts with long-time product strategies that harvest resources to the point of exhaustion or poison the environment.

But how does this affect the average homeowner/consumer? “Knowing that the natural world is providing inspiration for the technologies and products we all use and purchase is important information to have,” says Sam Stier, director of K-12 and Non-formal Education at The Biomimicry Institute. “It tends to increase people’s interest in and respect for the natural world when they know how learning from nature is improving the quality of human life and our environment. This awareness allows you to make decisions about what sort of impact you want to make on the world by your purchases.

Innovation at Work
The toxic residue and unsustainability of certain practices and products have become evident, and natural alternatives are being sought more often. For instance, lead was often used in paint to give it color and a water-resistant coating. But lead-based paint was banned from housing in 1978 because lead is toxic. Since then, safer alternatives have been discovered.

Damaging stormwater runoff is often experienced because of the impermeable surfaces of cities. Taking cues from nature, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency now promotes the use of rain gardens and green roofs. These options offer the techniques of infiltrating and evaporating that mimic how water would naturally move through an undeveloped area. In addition, these vegetated areas play into larger ecosystem techniques by improving air quality and reducing “heat islands,” those concrete and asphalt metropolitan areas significantly warmer than their greener surroundings.

Here’s one example. The tenacity of the blue mussel inspired the development of a formaldehyde-free wood glue. The shellfish secretes filaments that contain a unique combination of amino acids that give it super-sticking powers. Using that as a basis, Columbia Forest Products, the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, and Hercules Inc. (now Ashland Hercules) cooperatively developed what has become the patented PureBond® technology, which closely resembles the mussel’s important proteins and uses inexpensive, accessible soy. With that technology, Columbia Forest Products was able to eliminate urea-formaldehyde, a recognized human carcinogen, from its hardwood plywood products. 

“Since our products are all wood-based panels, we look to nature to begin many of our product innovation initiatives and work to preserve nature by practicing responsible forestry,” says Todd Vogelsinger, director of marketing for Columbia Forest Products.

Database of Solutions
In November 2008, the website AskNature.org launched, allowing users to search for and study nature’s solutions to design challenges with its database. Say you are a budding entrepreneur and looking for the next great idea in keeping fabrics clean or allowing carpeting to be self-healing. Maybe you are an architecture student who wants to come up with a new idea for heating and cooling homes.

The site was launched with the support of Autodesk, a world leader in design software, and with the guiding vision of Janine Benyus, founder of The Biomimicry Institute and author of Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.

“Biomimicry is interdisciplinary: biology applied to architecture, engineering, product design, city planning, medicine, organizational theory,” says Stier. “So to design the site, we had to make it accessible to all of these various audiences.  The site isn’t just about finding inspiration from nature; it’s also about finding other people who are interested in the same things you are.”

Users can explore the site’s forums to get an appreciation of what can be done, such as the young British woman who created a sustainable refrigerator for impoverished Africans.  Users can discover nature-inspired products such as StoCoat Lotusan® self-cleaning exterior coating. Modeled on the lotus plant, it possesses a highly water-repellent surface that allows dirt to run off with the water that falls on a building’s facade. Inspired by Morpho butterflies that remain a vibrant blue throughout their lives, Morphotex® structural colored fibers by Teijin Fibers Limited of Japan produce colors based on the thickness and structure of the fibers without the use of dyes or pigments.


Window Blind and Curtain Safety

Window treatments, especially those purchased before 2001, can become dangerous when their cords or chains are within reach infants and children.

Photo: Flickr

Since 1991, more than 175 infants and young children have died from accidentally strangling in drapery and window cords. This issue has resulted in industry changes and guidelines for correcting cord dangers.

Correct Cord Problems
Potential problems can be reduced in a couple of ways. For families with children, or grandparents and caregivers with visiting children, move cribs, beds, and playpens away from windows and window cords. Always keep window pull cords out of the reach of small hands.

If the home has older curtains and blinds, retrofit them. Window blinds and shades sold before 1995 had outer pull cords that ended in loops. Consumers with blinds that still have outer pull cord loops should cut the loops short, install safety tassels at the end of each pull cord, and individually tie the cord ends to secure the tassel. Horizontal blinds that have inner cords running through them to lift the slats are also dangerous. Properly installed and adjusted cord stops can limit the movement of inner lift cords. Cords need to be locked into position at the headrail once the blind is lowered to the desired length.

Vertical blinds and drapery cords with continuous loop systems can’t be cut and still operate. However, a special tie-down device can permanently anchor it to the floor or wall and reduce chances of problems. Attach the tie-down device to the floor or wall so that the cord is fully extended and securely fastened. For vertical blinds, a cord tensioning device that encloses the cord or chain loops can be installed. Wrap any cord around a cleat attached to the wall near the top of the curtain or blind.

Never knot or tie cords together to get them out of the way, as this just creates another loop in which a child can become entangled. 

Safer New Products
An option consumers may prefer — and experts recommend — is to replace any window blinds, corded shades, or other window treatments made before 2001 with newer, safer products.

Prompted by results of the investigations of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, manufacturers have worked to develop new designs and safety features.

Two products by Hunter Douglas improve upon standard designs with innovative safety features. One is its Break-Thru safety tassel which is a standard feature on all of its blinds. It is designed to break open under pressure should a child or pet become entangled in the cord loop. The manufacturer also offers the Cord Tensioner, a specially designed cord weight with spring tension and brackets to improve the safety of cord-looped products.

Many manufacturers offer a variety of cordless window coverings. Some experts consider cordless the best choice for children’s bedrooms and playrooms. Cordless styles operate through the use of spring-loaded mechanisms, battery- or motor-operated lift controls, or simple wands that include both tilt and traverse functions. Pella Windows even offers an enclosed blind that sits between the panes of glass and operates with a slide control, reducing buildup of allergens and making for a safer home.


Adding an In-Law Suite

With the number of multigenerational households increasing, an in-law suite can be one way to accommodate the change. But creating one takes planning and understanding.

In-Law Suite

Photo: Eric Stengel Architecture

Job loss and broken retirement nest eggs may encourage more Americans to consider moving in with their adult children. It’s important, however, that this new living space allows privacy and independence for all.

Combine Households
The benefits of inviting relatives to cohabit include combining incomes to maintain a single household, shutting down homes in the off-season to save on utility and maintenance costs, and creating a sense of permanence for seniors instead so they don’t feel they have to rotate among children to avoid inconveniencing any one household. And, as the old saying goes, two can eat as cheaply as one.

Data compiled by AARP, the advocacy group for people 50 and over, shows an increase in multigenerational households from 5 million, or 4.8 percent of all U.S. households, in 2000 to 6.2 million, or 5.3 percent of all households, in 2008.

From its research, AARP also notes that:

  • 24 percent of baby boomers anticipate that their parents or in-laws will move in with them
  • About one-half say they would be happy to have their parents or in-laws move in
  • 51 percent say they would feel obligated to help in their parents’ retirement
  • 17 percent would be “eager” to find their parents or in-laws another living arrangement
  • 8 percent of boomers would charge their parents rent.

Define Priorities and Make Plans
There’s no strict definition of an in-law suite, but generally it’s a private living area within a house. Most experts say it should have a private full bathroom and a door that separates it from the rest of the home. Some suggest that, if possible, it should also have a separate entrance and kitchen, especially if the living situation will be long-term.

The first item on a suite project list is to check local planning and subdivision regulations. Requirements for multigenerational family living spaces can vary drastically across the country.

The next consideration is accessibility. “Many people have been making provisions for first-floor housing to make visits by aging relatives easier for some years,” says Jamie Gibbs, principal of the New York-based interior design and landscape architecture firm Jamie Gibbs and Associates. “Now we see those quarters being used for much longer stretches of time, perhaps permanently. Forty percent of my new-construction clients request incorporating first-floor guest accommodations, usually suites. Sixty percent of my renovation projects request first-floor bedchambers and full baths, additional closets, and, in some cases, full guest suites.” If a first-floor suite is not an option, Gibbs suggests considering an elevator to make all floors accessible or a chairlift added to the main or secondary stairs.

A third priority is privacy. Not providing enough privacy is a common pitfall, says Diana L. Patterson, an interior designer in Tucson. “This is a big and sometimes difficult transition,” she says.

“Not only do the homeowners that live in the house want to maintain their privacy, but they don’t want to know everything about their parents either,” says Marlene Buckner of Portland, Ore., owner of the Urban Realm and a past president of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID)—Oregon. “Respecting others’ space and privacy has been important to all families I have worked with.”

Find Space
Assess your home to determine the best possible space for the in-law suite. The garage or a porch area that can be enclosed and transformed into living space are two possibilities, says Patterson. Basements can also be used with if they have adequate outside egress.

Combining two bedrooms to create a suite is another possibility. Buckner says that homes with four bedrooms transformed to two suites, one guest room, and an office are efficient, sellable, marketable, and desired in the Pacific Northwest, where she lives and works. “In a three-bedroom house, reducing the home to two suites by combining two bedrooms is also very sellable and pleasurable to live in,” she says.

Another option is to build an addition to accommodate a new master suite. Usually the homeowners move into the new addition and remodel or upgrade their original suite for their parents or grandparents, says Buckner. Another possibility is to convert a third bay of a garage into a separate apartment-type living space with its own access. “This encourages privacy and autonomy,” she says, “and can be rented to someone else in the event of vacancy.”

Gibbs suggests that homeowners might want to consider replacing or eliminating an underused first-floor living space — such as a formal living room or dining room  — or to create a suite on an upper floor or in a bonus room over the garage, though an elevator or chairlift might be needed.

Photo: coolhouseplans.com

Design Spaces within the Space
Once the space has been chosen, decide what can be included. A separate bathroom and adequate storage in the bedroom sitting area are essential. Separate washer- dryers (stackables are a good option here) might be included in the bathroom closet area.

A separate entrance and kitchen can take it to another level. But separate cooking facilities and separate entrances, Gibbs cautions, may actually pose zoning code issues. The code might consider the space a freestanding apartment that can be rented out, which might be prohibited in a neighborhood zoned for single-family occupancy. For this reason, he says, “we rarely incorporate a full kitchen but may design what is labeled as a wet bar.

Buckner has found similar issues. “In most jurisdictions in Oregon, you’re prohibited from having two complete kitchens in a residence,” she says. “Basically you can include a kitchenette, which is everything except a cooktop-oven. Depending on the age and circumstances with clients, I have designed various options. A kitchenette would include a sink, dishwasher, refrigerator, and microwave. Some include just having a minibar refrigerator, sink, and microwave. Another option is to have no kitchen facilities and eat communally with the family.”

Where regulations allow, Buckner says, “separate entrances are commonly requested and planned for in the design. Usually this scenario involves parents with good mobility who can still drive and care for themselves. They just need a little extra support — whether financial, physical or psychological. Perhaps their spouse has died and they are lonely. Half of the projects with two master suites that I have designed have had their own access to decks, patios, and/or egress to the street.”

Tips to Remember
As the in-law suite is created, remember that the occupants of the suite may change, so keep the basic design attractive for any future occupants. Here are some other essentials to keep in mind:

  • Make areas of the suite as spacious as possible. Incorporate universal design principles not only in the suite but also throughout the house if possible. These designs can include no-slip flooring, considerations for height and reachability, wider doorways, grab bars, and handrails. Make sure the suite has some relationship to public areas of the home.
  • Install separate light, heat, and air-conditioning controls as well as smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Choose easy-open door and drawer hardware and install overhead and hand-held shower heads.
  • Place electrical outlets on both sides of the bed. Consider installing emergency call buttons or at least a jack. Install a separate phone line, Internet connection, and cable jacks, and perhaps a stereo system unique to the suite.
  • Choose materials that ensure the health, safety. and welfare of the occupants.

Expanding a Home to Create an In-Law Suite
More and more homeowners are converting their houses into multigenerational homes for themselves, their children, and their aging parents. Howard Brickman, an old friend of the Bob Vila show who specializes in hardwood flooring installations, added space  to his Norwell, MA, home to make room for his mother-in-law, who wanted to move closer to family. Brickman also wanted to be able to help her if she needed it. The walls and floor of the addition were built of energy-efficient Reddi-Form insulated concrete forms (ICFs). ICFs work like building blocks to make light work of foundations and walls. These forms are designed to use less concrete and still carry the load of a soaring 20-foot-gable end wall. Once the shell has been poured, a specialized framing system for the deck or interior floors of the home is set in place for the concrete pour. This high-efficiency, thermally smart home also has a solar roof to help reduce the family’s utility bills and usage. Air quality is a top priority, so all steps were taken to dry the house completely and stop mold from starting once the walls were put up. A deck, beautiful windows, flooring, a fireplace faced in stone, doors, and worry-free trim complete this new home.


Zone Your Kitchen Countertops

Mix and match for a more functional, beautiful kitchen.

Kitchen Countertops

Photo: thisoldhouse.com

Busy lifestyles mean that many families are solution-driven. The key to contemporary design is to find a way to do it all in one room. One solution is to “zone” the kitchen. Homeowners are no longer tied to the traditional kitchen countertop. They’re taking advantage of today’s innovative marketplace to create a “mix and match” approach that gives them the utility they need with the aesthetics they want.

Creating Kitchen Activity Zones
Today’s zoned countertops are true taskmasters. Some get a daily workout as the center of busy family meal preparations or cleanup. Others are essential spaces for baking or fresh food preparation. Some serve as showpieces. Yet others have become one-stop home offices with room for phone, computer, and work space for parents or kids.

By creating activity zones with counters of appropriate heights and materials, the traditional matching countertop look is disappearing from the kitchen. Even backsplashes, which always used to match the countertop, are part of the new mix and match.

There’s a new rule of thumb in kitchen planning and design — “The richer the mix, the better,” says Gin Guei Ebnesajjad, manager of product styling and development, Dupont Surfaces, Corian and Zodiaq. Customers are selecting mixes of colors, textures, and surfaces to meet their individual needs.

No More Uniform Counters
As with the rest of the home, the kitchen has become part of a design fusion, with more visual interest and more complexity. That trend is showing up in furniture-style cabinetry and customized countertops, distinguishing each area by its surface material and function.

The center island has become standard in any new kitchen layout. It can function as a food preparation, dining, or homework station. Counter peninsulas also do service for baking, dining, and food preparation. Countertops are available with various surfaces, at varying heights, and with insets and additions to match any task. Countertops can be deeper than standard or built to include leg space for desk and dining areas. Defining the task and applying creativity are the two skills required when designing today’s multi-tasking kitchen counters.

Designated Work Spaces
Food prep area. For those who love their food fresh, a counter with a comfortable drop-down surface is often the option of choice. For tasks like mixing or beating, a 27-inch height may be desirable. A food prep surface might include a wood chopping block or a stainless-steel prep area, once common in commercial kitchens and now popular among home chefs.

An integrated sink allows fruits and vegetables to be cleaned and scraps disposed of right at the preparation center. Raised strips of metal set into the countertop will support hot pans and protect the counter against scratches. Drainboards, too, can be integrated into the sink-side countertop for convenient cleanup.

Entertaining. For some homeowners, food is all about sharing —with friends, family, and company. Granite and marble have long been popular as food staging and serving counters. New solid-surface, concrete, and e-stone selections also offer some striking options for display and dining counters.

Baking . For those interested in baking, a proper countertop is essential. That might mean installing marble or granite countertop sections that will maintain the cold for proper dough rolling. Depending on the height of the home baker, the tasks of kneading and rolling dough can be made more comfortable by lowering the countertop from the standard 36-inch counter height. Experts recommend a rolling counter that is 7 to 8 inches below the elbow for a baking and mixing countertop.

Kitchen office. Even today, the kitchen remains the center of the home. Because of that, kitchens often require a zone that includes space for a phone, computer, message board, bill paying, and other household work.

For the tasks at hand, an office zone may require a multi-level counter. Counters from 30 to 34 inches high with adequate knee space will accommodate a chair for desk space. A stool can be used for higher counters and as homework or snack spaces for family members.

Surface choices here may go beyond the function and look to the feel or the “hand” of the surface. Having a warm or cold surface, one that is hard, or one that is giving can give real character to the desk area.


How To: Paint a Room

Painting can be an inexpensive way to give a room a major transformation. For the best results, follow techniques that are proven by the pros.

How to paint a room, how to paint a wall

Photo: Flickr

Preparing to Paint
Paint preparation starts with clearing the room. Take down window treatments and remove as much furniture as possible. Move the rest to the center of the room and cover with a tarp. Take down artwork, mirrors, or other wall decorations. Turn off power to the room and—safely—disconnect light fixtures or bag them as they hang disconnected. Remove faceplates on electrical outlets and light switches.

Look for holes and dents to plug with spackling compound. Check to see if there is any discoloration on the walls or ceiling. If there is, consider painting with a stain blocker so the stain does not show through the new paint.

Vacuum the floor, walls, and ceiling. Wash the walls and ceiling with just a bit of diluted soapy water to remove any build-up, especially if painting the kitchen or bathroom. With a damp, lint-free cloth, wipe down the space to remove any soap residue and allow the ceiling and walls to dry.

Cover the floor with a tarp or drop cloth. Consider using painter’s tape to attach the cloth to the baseboard to prevent it from moving. Run a line of tape on the edge of the woodwork where it meets the wall. Particularly messy painters might consider using newspaper and painter’s tape to “package” the windows and doors to minimize the need for spill cleanup.

Paint Tools and Equipment
Before painting, assemble everything that may be needed. Typically, for a latex- or water-based interior paint, that includes a roller, a roller pan, an extension pole for the roller, a narrow (two- to four-inch) angled brush for “cutting in” or doing tight abutting areas between wall and ceiling or trimwork, a wider brush for areas narrower than the roller, cans of paint, and a stir stick.

Have a roll of paper towels, old newspapers, a bag to dispose of used towels, a screwdriver or paint key to remove the paint can lid, a stepladder, a stepstool, and a damp lint-free rag.

Order of Painting
A room is painted from the top down, so the ceiling is first. Begin by painting a strip about three inches wide on the ceiling where the ceiling meets the wall. When this is finished, clean the brush with soap and water and wrap it in paper to keep it clean with a shaped edge.

Prepare the roller and extension pole. Pour some of the paint into the roller pan. Lightly roll the roller in the paint and start painting the ceiling at the furthest corner from the exit door. Paint with a criss-cross stroke to ensure sufficient coverage. Complete small sections of the ceiling at a time.

As painting continues, spills and splatters may occur. Be sure to wipe them up quickly while they are easiest to remove. If not, there also is a risk of stepping in the spill and tracking it around the room.

How to Paint Walls
When the ceiling is completed, start on the walls. You need to know how to paint a wall in order to paint a room. Use your cleaned brush to paint an edge of about three inches out from the corners of the room, around the windows and doors, at the baseboard, and below the ceiling. After that’s done, use the roller and extension to paint the walls. Experts recommend two coats of paint for any surface, as the first coat can shrink when dry, revealing voids that were not there when wet. A second coat ensures uniform coverage.

If you take a break during the project, don’t leave your brushes or rollers sitting in paint. Clean them. Latex paint can dry out quickly. Cover paint trays with a damp rag. If the paint has a plastic lid, snap it back on. If it has a metal lid, clean the rim, put a piece of newspaper or a rag over the top, and gently tap the lid closed with a hammer.

Paint Cleanup
When finished, stand back and review the work. Check for paint drips on the wall or areas not sufficiently covered. If it all looks great, it’s time to clean up. If there is any paint remaining, take a permanent ink marker and note the name and blend of paint and the room in which it was used. Wipe the can edge clean and seal it. If you’ve used latex paint, clean all brushes and rollers with warm, soapy water and rinse them well. Oil-based paints require solvents for cleanup, followed by a wash with warm, soapy water and a good rinse. Allow brushes and rollers to dry naturally. When dry, wrap the brushes in paper to preserve the shape and prevent bristles from curling.


Care and Repair of Outdoor Furniture

Well-maintained patio and deck furniture is an essential for truly enjoyable outdoor living.

How to Clean Patio Furniture

Photo: flickr.com

When choosing outdoor furniture for a garden room, outdoor kitchen, or multi-level deck, some consumers prefer quality tables, chairs, and assorted pieces that become an investment to protect. Quality furniture in good condition with good bracing can be refurbished at a substantial savings over replacing it, while less-costly furniture may be refurbished to avoid adding to the growing waste stream. In either case, the best way to keep outdoor furniture looking its best is regular maintenance.

Outdoor furniture comes in many materials, from exotic woods to metals to recycled high-density polyethylene to plastic, so check the guide that accompanied your purchase for specific care for the individual product. Most importantly, keep it clean. Immediately wipe up spills or deposits.

Slings and Things
Exposure to the sun, rain, pool, suntan lotions and body oils, and the outdoor casual lifestyle eventually take their toll on much furniture. The vinyl strapping on chairs and lounges eventually fade, crack, and break. Slings might rip or discolor. Glides can disappear.

When it comes to repairing or replacing materials or parts, there are options. Replacement parts are available that include anything from vinyl strapping to tires, custom-made slings to end caps, even chair glides to keep bare metal ends from scratching decks.

Chair Care Patio, based in Dallas, is one business that caters to those caring for their outdoor furniture. “Most people are not aware that they can refurbish their lawn furniture,” says Lelia Brown. “Before I came to work here, I threw away a chair because I did not know you could replace the sling.”

Brown says Chair Care Patio is both a traditional business that offers patio furniture repair and refinishing at its Texas store and a web-based parts and materials business. Brown says the web-based portion of the business has grown astronomically.

Through do-it-yourself instructions on supplier websites, such as Chair Care Patio’s, customers can learn how to measure, cut, and install using common vinyl strap installation methods such as single wrap, double wrap, or slotted conversion.

Freshen Up
A fresh coat of stain or paint can work wonders updating outdoor furniture. For wrought iron, touch it up with a rust-resistant primer, such as Rustoleum’s, whenever bare metal is exposed and it can look good for years. But if the rust has spread, consider having the piece sandblasted and powder-coated for a new look.

Aluminum furniture will resist rust but is subject to pitting that can dull the metal. Wash it frequently and wax it with automobile wax to keep it in good condition.

Most wood outdoor furniture will benefit from a mild scrubbing and rinsing at the start and finish of each season. Many pieces also work best with an annual sanding and a fresh coat of a protectant, such as a good outdoor varnish, to prevent drying or cracking. Maintenance will vary with the wood type.

Today’s wicker furniture comes in both natural and synthetic. Organic natural wicker is best kept for short uses outside and in the shade. Its synthetic cousin of vinyl or resin better handles exposure. Rinse and scrub away dirt to keep a good-looking synthetic wicker surface.

Bamboo, another popular natural material, is fine on a covered porch or deck but tends to split and separate if left out to weather. Keep it looking good by bringing it inside when not in use.

Putting a new face on plastic furniture has had its problems. It’s easy to scratch the surface when trying to clean it. Applying paint often results in a coating that beads up or peels away after it dries. Instead of sending a good but faded piece of plastic furniture to the landfill, there are options.

Krylon® Fusion for Plastic® is one. This is a no-prep, super-bond paint that works on most plastics as well as several other surfaces. Available in a variety of colors as well as “textured shimmer” shades and a clear “Mystic Prism Effect,” it is dry to the touch in 15 minutes or less and cures to full chip resistance after seven days.

Fabric Care
Keep cushions, pillows and other fabrics clean and fresh-smelling and -looking. Mold or mildew can set in older cotton-batting fillings. Fabric colors can fade.

Among the options to consider are a fabric-protecting spray finish, such as Krylon’s Outdoor Spaces® UV Fabric Protector. It can be used on canvas and everything from tents to table napkins to keep colors or patterns looking good longer and it repels water.

Another option is to replace faded and smelly cushions and pillows with upgraded items. New fabrics include Sunbrella® that is made from acrylic fiber that resists sunlight, mildew and rot and is coated with a soil- and stain-resistant finish for easy cleanup. New cushions can be filled with high-density, all-weather foam or fiber filling. If the cushions have zippers, remove the core for cleaning or replacement.

Care and recycling tips for outdoor furniture
Dust furniture before washing in a solution of mild detergent and water. Avoid using ground water that may contain sulfur, iron oxide or other minerals that can stain the furniture. Rinse and dry thoroughly.

  • Wipe up any beverage or food spills right away.
  • Wipe off furniture after it rains.
  • Remove any tree or bird deposits as soon as possible.
  • Remove any residue from suntan lotions and body oils that can stain or accelerate the breakdown of materials. Have towels available to provide an easily cleanable barrier between chairs and their occupants.
  • Store or cover furniture that doesn’t stand up well to constant exposure, such as bamboo.
  • Check all bolts and screws and tighten any that may be loose.
  • Replace broken, rusted or missing pieces.
  • Use a silicone lubricant on all wheels and hinges.
  • Bring the furniture inside during harsh winter weather or store under a breathable cover.
  • Look underneath chaises for damage to the glides from dragging. Replace if they are worn out or missing.
  • Aluminum is one of those great recyclable items. Strip this furniture to the aluminum only, removing webbing, hardware (if not aluminum) and glides. Recycled aluminum is made into cans, pie pans, small appliances and lawn furniture.
  • If the furniture is still serviceable but your design ideas have changed, donate the item to a local charity that sells used goods.
  • If the lawn furniture is made from No. 2 plastic, it also can be recycled into other durable products.

How To: Avoid House Painting Problems

Repainting exterior wood or wood trim is time-consuming, so don't let your paint job fail. Learn to recognize the symptoms and create a paint job that will last.

How To Avoid Painting Problems

Photo: Flickr

Start any exterior paint job by cleaning, scraping, and repairing the surface. Take notice of how the paint has weathered and any surface problems. Chalking, blisters, peeling, cracking, and stains must be dealt with before applying a new coat. Unless the cause is discovered and corrected, the problem will reappear and ruin your fresh paint job.

Temperature Blisters
Paint bubbles can show up pretty quickly, from within a few hours to a few days after application. The blisters are only in the top coat of paint and appear most often in oil-based paint. A quick rise in temperature, like sunlight shining directly on the newly painted wood, causes a thin skin to form on the outer surface of the paint. The skin traps inner wet paint that produces vapor when it heats up. The vapor expands and causes the paint to blister from underneath. 

To repair blisters, scrape them off, smooth the edges, and repaint, being sure to avoid direct sunlight while the coat dries. Experts suggest establishing a painting order that follows the sun around the project. Thick coats and dark colors are more likely to blister than light colors and thinner paint.

Moisture Blisters and Peeling
Moisture causes problems for paint. Rain, dew, ice, and snow on the outside or vapor and moisture buildup from the inside can cause problems with exterior paint. When moisture penetrates the paint, blisters can form and paint can peel. Moisture blisters, unlike temperature blisters, go through all coats of paint down to the wood.

To stop moisture blisters, you must locate the source of the moisture and repair it. Improper construction techniques and lack of flashing can cause outside water to pool at joints, on window sills, frames, or on the end grain of the wood.

Water vapor moving through walls to the outside paint can come from plumbing leaks, sink or tub overflows, cooking, or using a humidifier. The vapor moves through exterior walls if there is not a vapor barrier or if the barrier is incorrectly installed. Look for this deterioration particularly outside bathrooms, laundry rooms, kitchens, and the gable ends of the attic.

Intercoat Peeling
Another type of peeling occurs when a newer coat of paint separates from the coat underneath. An inadequately prepared or dirty surface is one cause for a weak bond. Another is that the two paint layers are incompatible. For example, an oil-based paint may have been applied over a latex-based paint. They are incompatible and can peel away from one another.

Peeling can also occur when too much time has elapsed between applications of the primer coat and the top coat. If more than two weeks separates the primer application and the paint coat, the primer’s surface can begin to break down and prevent proper bonding with the paint. To correct the problem, you must remove the paint and properly clean the surface.

Cross-Grain Cracking or Crazing
Too many layers of paint or one layer that is too thick can result in an interconnected, uneven pattern of cracks. The thick paint is unable to expand and contract with the wood, so breaks result, starting in the outer layers. If the problem is not corrected, moisture enters the paint layers, causing deeper cracking and deterioration. 

Surface cracking may require sanding and repainting. Deeper cracks will require a complete removal of the old paint. Once the wood is bare, clean it and treat it with a paintable, water-repellant preservative. Once the preservative has dried, apply a primer and top coat at the recommended spread rates. 

Chalking
Some exterior paint has a powdery coating. Chalking comes from the disintegration of the paint resin due to exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. This gradual deterioration is how paint is supposed to age. Too much, however, can cause discoloration of other painted areas below as rain washes off the chalk. It also signals that the paint is rapidly deteriorating.

Chalking was more of a problem with older paints that contained excessive pigment for the amount of binder, but other triggers include the failure to properly prime and seal exterior wood, spreading the paint too thinly, or thinning the paint too much. To correct excessive chalking, the surface must be cleaned and repainted.

Staining
A stain is typically caused by moisture. The most common source is rusting metal nails or anchoring devices in the wood. The second cause is a chemical reaction between moisture and wood, such as red cedar, which results in color buildup on the surface.

Rusty nails can be hand sanded and coated with a rust inhibitor and finish coat. Unless the wood is too fragile or the exposure of the nail head is related to the original construction system, it’s best for nail heads to be countersunk, primed, and filled before painting. Stains from wood extracts need to be cleaned, rinsed, dried, and primed with a stain-blocking primer before applying the finish coat. Check with a knowledgeable local paint retailer for the best cleaning mixture.


Growing a Bamboo Garden

Bamboo provides a quick-growing evergreen screen and adds glorious character with delicate leaves and substantial culms or canes, but research and commitment are needed to maintain the right plant for your yard.

Bamboo Care

Clumping and Running Bamboo
Bamboo is a member of the grass family, with more than 200 species available in the U.S. and 1,300 worldwide. Its leaves can range from over 55 inches long to merely a few inches in length. Its culms, or trunks, can be black, green with yellow stripes, or yellow with green stripes, and vary from the size of a thin wire to about 14 inches in diameter.

At its most basic level, bamboo divides itself into two categories: clumpers and runners. The underground root structure, rhizome, determines its classification. Some plants are even a mixture of the two. A clumper’s rhizome typically runs a short distance before sending up new culms. The distance it travels is determined by its genus. Clumping bamboos are usually tropical plants that don’t like temperatures dipping into the 40s. Unlike clumpers, runners are temperate plants whose rhizomes “run” far and wide. Running bamboo can send root offshoots some distance before sending up a culm, which is why they are sometimes called invasive or hard to manage.

Bamboo Requires Research
Bamboo’s shortcomings are usually the fault of the gardener, says Adam Turtle, a bamboo consultant who operates Earth Advocates Research Farm in Summertown, TN, a wholesale nursery specializing in landscape-grade bamboos. Those who plan to add bamboo to their landscape or garden should become informed before they purchase and plant to avoid unwanted consequences.

Bamboo is not for the lazy, the beginner gardener, or anyone who doesn’t wish to do homework, says Turtle. He suggests that gardeners considering bamboo for their yards consult the American Bamboo Society for information. Bamboo varieties range in size from groundcover to soaring plants several stories high. Even more confusing, what might work in the north-central U.S. would not be happy in the southeast, says Ted Meredith, a bamboo enthusiast and author of Bamboo for Gardens by Timber Press.

Gardeners must be prepared to cultivate and maintain their bamboo. Problems arise when the home gardener does not understand the variety he or she has planted. Bamboo with deeper-growing rhizomes or high maintenance requirements may have runners that spread and become difficult to control or eliminate.

Bamboo Specifics
While some bamboos prefer shade, others like sun. Some are hardy to 20 below while others cannot tolerate frost. Most cannot tolerate drying winds. As a grass, bamboo appreciates garden soil that contains organic matter and is well irrigated. A pH of 6 to 6.5 is preferred. It will not tolerate wet feet or saturated soils.

Deer won’t bother bamboo, which is a plus. Bamboo’s only true pest is the bamboo mite, which is more of a problem in the western U.S., where it’s dry, than on the east coast, according to Meredith. Bamboo mites can be difficult to control, so it’s best to avoid the problem by isolating and inspecting all new bamboo purchased. While the mites won’t kill the plant, they will leave a pattern of yellow damage on both sides of the leaf that can look like variegation.

Bamboo exhibits pretty amazing growth habits. “If you want an affirmation of growth in the spring, it’s a pretty dramatic expression,” Meredith says. A bamboo culm will attain about 90 percent of its height in 30 days, he says, and that applies equally to three-foot or three-story plants. Meredith has seen a culm grow 14 inches in a single day!

Once the bamboo culm attains its full height, side branches appear first, followed by leaves. Keep bamboo clipped to the height you desire. Meredith maintains his front-yard bamboo hedge at eight feet to block noise and wind.

Controlling Bamboo
Since most of the bamboo grown in the U.S. tends to be running bamboos, it’s important to put down barriers. For a privacy screen, Meredith suggests creating a barrier of 60 mil high-density polyethylene buried 24 inches into the ground along the fence line. It’s important to check barrier health each year to avoid penetration and escaping rhizomes.

Another way to limit growth is to trim the rhizomes yearly. Some of the most desirable bamboos have the shallowest rhizomes and are the easiest to control, Meredith says. In late summer or early winter, a gardener can walk the perimeter of the bamboo area and spade about six inches down. When a rhizome is encountered, it can be cut off and removed, stopping the expansion.

Turtle advises pruning the perimeter rhizomes twice a year or annually if you live north of I-40, the major west-east highway that runs from Barstow, CA to Wilmington, NC. He also suggests digging a trench along the perimeter and filling it with sand to mark the area for future pruning and make it easier to accomplish. Groundcover that doesn’t get more than boot-top high can be mowed to ground.

Another way to control bamboo is to pot it. Meredith notes that the gardener should be aware that the plant’s rapid growth may require frequent repotting so it does not get potbound.

Bamboo Products and Applications
Bamboo is very versatile and has many uses worldwide, as flooring, fencing, woven mats and blinds, or food with tender shoots that can be boiled and eaten.

When used for fencing, people must be careful. Bamboo is very dense, hard, and holds its edge, says Adam Turtle, a bamboo consultant who operates Earth Advocates Research Farm in Summertown, TN. “Work with it, not against it,” he suggests. Splitting bamboo lengthwise takes almost no effort, but widthwise cuts are very difficult.

Use bamboo culms to stake tomatoes and beans. Bamboo leaves, which can contain up to 22% protein, are fed to cattle in some parts of the world.

Bamboo is becoming popular as a flooring material because it is a green or environmentally responsible product. The crop matures quickly, regenerates without having to be replanted, and requires little fertilization or pest control. It can be dried and laminated into solid boards that are then milled into standard strip-flooring profiles. Bamboo wears and ages much like oak and maple flooring.


Pick the Right Appliances

There's much more to consider than colors and styles

BlueStar

When it’s time to purchase new appliances, go beyond colors and styles to consider features, capacity, energy efficiency and cost.

Start with some research: Keep a tally of a week’s usage to help you decide what capacity and features you really need from your new appliance. For washers or dryers, note the number of laundry loads. List particulars such as the number of bath towels or jeans, whether each wash was a full load, and if there was time wasted waiting between wash and dry cycles. Some models offer synchronized timing cycles, lower water usage, and even notification by remote when the load is finished.

For refrigerators, put a pad on the door and have family members log the items they were looking for, where they found them, and whether they were difficult to find. For stoves, keep a list of meals, reheats, microwave uses, and warming duties. Maybe your next stove should have a warming drawer or a greater selection of heat settings. When reviewing your dishwasher, note the number of loads, the capacity, type of dishes, and any problems getting items clean. Some dishwashers feature faster cycles or dual washing drawers for multiple loads.

Appliance Size and Features

GE Appliances

When the week is done, review your use and determine which features are most important for your family. Having matching timing cycles on a washer and dryer can eliminate waiting for loads to finish. A larger-capacity washer or dryer can reduce the number of loads overall. A pullout freezer compartment may make more storage and accessibility sense for your family. Maybe it’s time to downsize the dishwasher or get a convection oven. A family with young children might choose appliances with safety features. An older household might select easy-to-reach controls and compartments. Analyze how you use your appliances before you start shopping.

Finally, add a gripe column and list frustrations with present or past appliances. A poorly designed lint trap on a clothes dryer, a stovetop without independent heating elements that required total replacement when one element failed, or loose seals on refrigerator doors can all drive you crazy. A loud dishwasher can prevent you from using the kitchen phone or helping with homework. When you buy new, make sure to correct past problems.

Definitely consider your available space before you select an appliance, because it won’t do you any good if it doesn’t fit. Measure your available space and include footprint, height, and width. Measure the doorswing or space needed to fully open doors, drawers, or lids. Decide if it must be right or left-handed because of counters or obstructions. Determine how the appliance will be ventilated and how much clearance is needed. And don’t forget to size your openings before you get the appliance home. Measure hallways, stairways, and door openings to ensure the appliance can pass through.

Judging Appliance Efficiency
Part of the problem in comparing models is that they can look alike outside but have major differences inside. Motors, compressors, insulation, and electronic sensors are the real brawn and brains of any appliance, so it’s important to find a source of information that will sift through it all.

Efficiency plays a bigger role in consumer decisions as the cost of utilities rises. Appliances, after all, account for about 20 percent of a household’s energy consumption, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Larry Costello, of Sears Holdings, says consumers now list efficiency in water used and energy consumed as second only to performance when deciding to buy an appliance. Refrigerators, clothes washers, and clothes dryers are the top consumers of energy and resources.

The EnergyGuide and the Energy Star are appliance labels that offer energy-related appliance information to consumers. The EnergyGuide lists features, capacity, and model. It estimates annual energy consumption or efficiency, compares it with similar models, and suggests an estimated yearly operating cost. The cost estimate, however, will vary depending on local utility rates and how the appliance is used—things like partial dishwasher loads will be inefficient with any model. Energy Star is a certification program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. Energy Star recognition signifies that the appliance has been tested and meets standards for energy efficiency, making it significantly more energy-efficient than comparable models.

In communities with tighter water restrictions, wise use of resources is also a factor. For example, Energy Star dishwashers consider the “water factor.” That is a measurement of the gallons of water used per cycle per cubic foot. The lower the water factor, the less water used. Appliance manufacturers are responding with washers and dishwashers that are cutting water use in half.

True Cost Calculations
Consumers know that cost is more than purchase price. The cost to operate and maintain an appliance must be calculated over time. Since refrigerators can last an average of 13 years, dishwashers about 11 years, and clothes washers about 9 years, costs add up.

Two refrigerators may have the same capacity, but one may use 600 kilo-watt hours per year and the other 800. That difference may equal $20 in savings over one year and $260 or more over the life of the refrigerator. Rising energy costs could make the savings even more significant.

Keeping efficiency in mind has rewards. Ask the appliance salesperson about manufacturer rebates on energy-efficient models. Check with your local utility about any efficiency rebates, and check the tax incentives for switching to energy-efficient appliances.


Painting the House: Should You Hire a Pro?

The paint may be peeling, the color fading, or it just could be time to freshen the look of your home’s exterior. Is this a project you can do without the pros?

Photo: Flickr

If you’re used to taking on your own renovations, painting your home’s exterior might be a natural money-saving project. But before you start positioning that ladder, here are the equipment, safety, and stress factors you should review.

TYPES OF HOUSES AND FEATURES

Some houses are easier to paint, others more difficult. Which is yours?

How tall is your home? Mike Lyster of Mike Lyster Painting and Wallcovering in Oshkosh, WI started out providing exterior painting services more than 28 years ago. He suggests that older, taller homes would be best left to a pro. Dick Seitz, Director of Communication and Training for Valspar, one of the largest global coatings manufacturers in the world, agrees. “A one-story rambler is relatively easy. A three-story Victorian with multiple dormers is a big challenge.”

Try this as a guideline: Straight exteriors on a simple, box-shaped house make for easier work. Irregularly shaped homes of two stories or more with dormers, gingerbread, or turrets, for example, tend to make for a more time-consuming and complicated project that may suggest a professional is needed.

Any intricate designs? On the more ornate homes, such as those of Queen Anne style, accessibility is an issue. Ladders won’t get you into their many high nooks and crannies. Homeowners need experience and the correct equipment to be able to inspect, remedy, and paint in what can be awkward positions. If your home has delicate detailing on the first floor, decide if you are the type of person who enjoys doing detail work. If you do have the patience, a first-floor project should be right for you. Those who prefer the broad strokes might be better off leaving the detail work to a pro.

Flat or sloping ground? Seitz also suggests looking at the grade (the finished surface slant of ground ) around the house for ladder positioning. It’s a plus if all sides have flat ground up to the house. Walkouts with slopes make it difficult to safely position ladders. Also check to see if obstacles like trees, shrubs, decks, fences, vines, or electric wires will be in the way.

How much prep-work? Examine your house for potential problems that may require extensive prep work. “Wood rot, mildew, severe peeling, or alligatoring are typical siding problems,” says Seitz. “Cracked window panes, crumbling glaze, and loose caulking around trim are other issues.” If you’re familiar with solving these problems, just be prepared that you might need a few extra days to remedy the situations. Talk with an experienced paint retailer about the problem for some potential solutions. Another option might be to consider hiring a pro to fix any extensive issues before you get started.

Do you have lead paint? Homes built before 1978 have a good chance of having paint containing lead. If you decide to paint your home yourself, you will have to learn about how to handle and/or remove it safely.

TOOLS, MATERIALS, AND COST

Each home project will vary. If you have determined your needs and already own the equipment, your decision may be easier. But be sure to price out the rental or purchase of tools and equipment. Then compare the price of everything you need to rent and buy to estimates from at least three local professional companies who will bring all of it with them.

Lifts and Ladders. Do you need ladders, scaffolding, planks, or lifts? While a one-story home may only require a ladder, a multi-story house may need not only larger ladders but perhaps scaffolding and planks or a lift. While you may be able to rent needed equipment, consider if you will be comfortable working at heights, says Lyster.

Prep materials. Preparing the house is the first step, and cleaning it is the number one job, says Seitz. Basic cleaning supplies include scrub brushes, pails, bleach for mildew, a cleaning agent such as TSP (trisodium phosphate), and a hose with spray nozzle.

Tip: Consider power washers to clean exterior surfaces. “They do a good job of removing loose paint and surface dirt, but they don’t usually remove heavy chalk, which is created by oxidation of the previous coatings,” says Seitz. Check into hand and eye protection for this equipment and follow the guidelines.

Have drop cloths, rags, and masking tape for around critical areas such as windows. Lyster suggests canvas drop cloths instead of plastic so the grass or flowers underneath are not cooked in the sun.

Paint removers. If you have many areas of blistering or peeling paint, a good amount of scraping may be ahead. Carbide blade scrapers will be needed if a fair amount of scraping is involved. Also try using an old, dry paint brush to sweep dust away. Just be sure to use dust masks to protect your lungs. “Pressure washing should never be used to take off paint because it can ruin wood siding,” says Lyster. Chemical removers may be necessary if the paint has to be softened to be removed, as is the case with many older homes with coats of paint. Power sanding? That can be dangerous because it can release many toxic ingredients into the environment. After getting rid of the loose paint, sandpaper will feather the edges smooth.

Caulking. This is a must to seal up cracks around windows and doors and to maintain flexibility and adhesion over many years, says Seitz. There are many types of caulks available. Discuss your project with your paint retailer. Before purchasing any caulk, check the manufacturer’s instructions for recommended surfaces. Make sure the caulk you have selected is paintable and remains flexible to expand and contract with your home. Caulks that are 100% silicone, for example, are not paintable.

Paint applicators. Different sizes of quality brushes are basic, and if you are a typical DIYer, you probably already have several in your workshop. Quality brushes are made for the latex, oil, or varnish paints you will apply. The brush hairs are typically of varying lengths and taper neatly. They have a ferrule, or band, that holds the bristles tightly to the handle. Quality brushes hold more paint, don’t lose bristles, paint more smoothly, and are easier to use than cheaper alternatives. Spray equipment is a possibility if the house has a lot of flat surfaces with few doors or windows. Remember that sprayers require extensive cleaning. Overspray can be a problem, so everything needs to be covered well and you will need to get familiar with the use of a sprayer. Rollers also can be a time saver and are familiar to most DIYers if they have tackled interior paint jobs.

Primer. You will need to prime any new, severely weathered, or problem areas to make sure there will be a proper seal of the surface and a smooth surface for the paint. A primer does not need to be used on a clean, dull, coated surface that is in good condition, according to Seitz. Typically you will want to choose a primer geared specifically for your job. If your paint will be 100% acrylic latex, you will want to use a 100% acrylic resins primer. If there are problem areas, however, consult with your local paint retailer for the best choice.

Paint. For most jobs, you will want 100% acrylic latex paint. “On the inside, you can get by with lesser quality, but you’ll want top-of-the-line for holding up to outside conditions. One hundred percent acrylic latex is everybody’s standard nowadays,” says Lyster. Valspar’s Seitz notes that a quality acrylic paint adheres best and holds its color much better than less expensive paints. If doing it yourself, consult a knowledgeable retailer to get the right products for the project.

ASSESS EXPERIENCE AND SKILLS

“If you have never painted before, even an interior surface, an exterior is probably not a good place to start. If you have painted an interior and had many problems or hated doing it, this is probably a good sign to call a pro,” says Carl Minchew, Director of Product Development for Benjamin Moore, a nationally known leader in the paint and coatings industry.

Just like any job, there are techniques and tricks to learn along the way. Lyster compares prep work to being a dental hygienist, carefully cleaning and probing for problems. Once problems are discovered, it’s vital to know or be able to find out how to remedy them. One example would be choosing a caulk and knowing how to apply it. “Put it on too thin and it expands and tears, leaving an opening for water,” says Lyster.

If painting is more your speed than prepping, consider hiring someone for just the prep work. Check for handyman services in your area for someone experienced in such work, or ask local painting contractors if they ever handle just prep work and can provide an estimate.

Have you painted before? Knowledge of painting techniques is important. “People tend to overbrush, extending paint too far and not putting on a thick enough coat,” says Lyster. Sprayers can put on a lot of paint in a hurry but require skill to use. If a house incorporates several colors, that design feature requires more skill in “cutting in,” where the colors butt up against each other, says Seitz.

Do you know your paint needs? Estimating paint needs will be more difficult for a DIYer. Homeowners can use Valspar’s online paint calculator. Experts also suggest talking with knowledgeable paint retailers. They can provide advice for many painting problems or direct you to experienced pros.

Can you physically handle the job? Being able to physically handle the job is a consideration. The mind may be willing, but painting an entire house requires a certain amount of fitness. “It’s physical work and takes arm and upper body strength,” says Lyster. Climbing up and down ladders for prep and painting also figures in.

TIME AND LABOR

Your DIY estimate depends on your skills and experience in assessing the project. For a large project, it also depends on how much reliable, qualified help you have. If enlisting family or friends, learn if they have had previous experience and whether their time restraints could leave you with a project half-finished.

Will you have time for needed prep work? Expect to spend 30–50% of the time on proper prepping. You won’t want to skimp on surface preparation. “Most failures of exterior paint are due to poor surface preparation or structural defects that lead to water damage. Extra time spent on stripping the exterior surface is almost always worth it,” says Minchew. If the house has signs of water damage, the damage must be repaired and the source of the water corrected before painting. Check caulking around windows; replace it if necessary. Check the gutters and roof. Roof leaks, ice dams, and plugged or leaking gutters can lead to moisture problems in the exterior walls that can affect paint.

How much time do you have? If you will only be able to handle a project for a few hours a day, a longer timetable will be necessary. Also keep weather and change of seasons in mind, since you might be mid-project as the air gets damper. A project should be clean and dry. Typically, paint needs to dry for 24 hours. If short on time, homeowners may want to look to new products, such as Sherwin-Williams Resilience, which provides resistance to moisture 50% faster.

Time available away from a job, time away from family and family duties, and household budget also should be considered.

FINAL ASSESSMENT

If this evaluation has left you feeling confident, a DIY project may be in your future. “Painting the exterior of a home can be a rewarding and effective way of getting the most from your money. But do think it through and avoid shortcuts. In the end, your home is probably your most valuable asset, and it pays to protect it,” says Minchew.

If you’re not sure, there is no harm in getting a couple of bids. “The cost of hiring a pro may not be as high as you think, especially if you value your leisure time,” says Minchew. Lyster suggests getting two or three bids. “Evaluate not only on the dollar but on how confident they seem.” Get references and follow up on them. Ask those homeowners how long the project took, the professionalism of the crew, if they stayed on budget, and how happy they are with the results.

If you are considering hiring a pro, Adam Potts, Communication Manager for the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America of St. Louis MO says that often the small additional cost associated with hiring a professional painting contractor is justified by the quality of the craftsmanship and the knowledge they provide. Better craftsmanship lasts longer, and knowledgeable choices (such as color, texture, and specifications) help to ensure that the right result is accomplished. He suggests visiting the PDCA Web site for its tips on hiring a contractor.