Category: Basement & Garage

Bob Vila Radio: Dehumidifiers

To rid basements of their notorious dampness, consider a humidifier.

Basements are notorious for being damp, just by virtue of being underground. If you have a damp basement, your first job is to find and stop any possible water penetration. If your basement is watertight but still feels damp, or if it registers more than 50 percent humidity on a humidity meter, it’s a good idea to use a dehumidifier.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON DEHUMIDIFIERS or read the text below:



A dehumidifier is about the size of an air conditioner, but it doesn’t require window installation. It works by pulling moisture out of the air, then directing it into either a collection tank or through a hose to a drain. If you’ll be collecting water in the tank, you can place a dehumidifier anywhere you have an electrical outlet.

The dehumidifier will turn itself off when the tank is full, so you’ll need to empty it every time that happens. Depending on how humid the room is, that might be once a week or several times a day.

If you’d rather send the wastewater right down the drain, you’ll need to position your dehumidifier near a sink or a floor drain. Unless the dehumidifier has a pump, it drains using gravity, so if you’re draining it into a sink you’ll need to position the dehumidifier above the level of the sink so that the water runs down into it.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

3 Steps to a Successful Garage Makeover

If a messy garage is driving you crazy, here’s how to steer things back on course.

Garage Makeover Ideas

Photo: Gladiator GarageWorks

Let’s face it. For most of us, the garage serves as a dumping ground for old paint, broken toys, and boxes of clothes awaiting a ride to the local thrift store. No wonder our vehicles feel the squeeze—provided they can fit inside the garage at all.

If the thought of organizing your garage fills you with dread, take courage. Here’s how to break the task into three steps, so you can curb the chaos once and for all:

Garage Makeover Ideas 1. CLEAR THE CLUTTER
Begin with a serious cleaning, if possible hauling everything onto the driveway. Group items you’re eliminating into four piles: toss, recycle, donate or sell. “Be brutal when you are sorting,” advises Erin Gentry, Associate Public Relations and Consumer Engagement Manager at Rubbermaid. “Get rid of anything you haven’t used in the past year.” If parting with perfectly good items proves paralyzing, find motivation in a moneymaking garage sale or gain satisfaction from helping a favorite charity.

Here are additional sources to get you started:
• 1-800-GOT-JUNK: This national franchise will remove everything from appliances to tires to trash, donating and recycling whatever is possible. (Ask the hauler to obtain a tax receipt if you are donating to a charity.)
• Check here to find local recycling centers where you can safely dispose of paint and chemicals.
• Use this site to match your items with a local charity and arrange pickup.

Now that the garage is empty, avoid the common mistake of hastily rushing out to buy organizational products. First consider whether the space could benefit from a fresh coat of paint. Then begin grouping items by task or interest. “Your pots, fertilizer, and garden hose should be grouped together for a gardening zone,” says Tim Keaton, Head of Brand and Product Marketing for Gladiator/GarageWorks. “And your golf clubs, soccer balls, and baseball bats should be kept together for a sporting zone.” Other logical zone groupings include holiday decorations, kids stuff, and a workshop area with space for a sturdy bench, plus pegboard or cabinets.

Once you’ve determined what zones you’ll need, work logically to fit them in where they’ll be easiest to access. For instance, it makes sense to keep garden equipment and the lawn mower by the door leading to the yard. Plan to store frequently used items close at hand. Stash seasonal items like holiday lights in higher, harder-to-reach spaces.

Garage Makeover Ideas - Ceiling Storage

Photo: Family Hanydman

In fact, thinking vertical is key. “Look up and you’ll find a ton of wasted space,” says Keaton. “Using vertical space leads to creating more useable space. In addition to hanging rakes and tools, consider hanging up your bikes and wheelbarrow.” Hoists and overhead racks maximize space near the ceiling.

Now that you have a plan, put it into action with smart organizational products that require minimal effort to use. The good news is there are plenty of options, from inexpensive DIY hooks and chrome racks to customized, professionally installed systems priced in the thousands. Here are key categories worth considering:

Wall systems, such as those from GarageTek, Rubbermaid, Schulte and Gladiator/GarageWorks, wrap any or all sides of your garage with panels that can be outfitted with your choice of accessories, including ball holders, bins, cabinets and hooks. Though some systems can be priced in the thousands, they do offer excellent flexibility and get everything organized and off the floor. Models that use tracks or rails are easiest to install.

Slideshow: 10 “Neat” Garage Storage Solutions

Storage cabinets range from freestanding units to modular wall-hung models. Locked cabinets are ideal for storing toxic items, while tall cabinets make great use of vertical space. Look for the versatility of adjustable shelves to ensure you can store everything from camping gear to automotive parts.

Workbenches provide an ideal spot for home improvement projects, repairs, and woodworking. Models may be wood or steel and might include cabinets, lighting, or pegboard backs.

Racks help get all kinds of items off the floor. Specialty racks include space-saving corner models and overhead platforms that attach to the ceiling. The latter is ideal for holding memorabilia or off-season sports equipment.

Garage Makeover Ideas - Storage Racks

Photo: Gladiator/GarageWorks

Shelves are among the most common and versatile storage solutions, providing “see, grab, and go” functionality that keeps frequently used items at the ready. Choose from metal, plastic, wire and wood models in freestanding or wall-mounted options. Invest in deep shelves for larger items like snow tires.

Hooks are easy to use and inexpensive, and in different sizes they are tremendously versatile. Small hooks can hang keys, twine, and hand tools, while larger hooks can get bikes, cords, and equipment off the ground.

Bins and tubs stash toys, holiday decorations, craft supplies and more. Choose stackable ones with lids to eliminate dust, and be sure to label each clearly to avoid having to dig around.

Perforated hardboard offers an easy DIY solution for hanging tools. Pre-drilled holes accept pegs or hooks. Look for options in wood fiber, wood, or metal.

Don’t miss our roundup of organizing products—10 “Neat” Garage Storage Solutionsfor even more on achieving a clutter-free garage.

Planning Guide: Basement Remodeling

Basements offer a bonus for homeowners looking to increase living space. But unlike the rest of the house, these below-grade rooms require thoughtful planning and prep work.

Basement Remodeling


Do you feel like your home is shrinking? Are the kids growing up and accumulating more stuff? Is your teenager demanding a room of his own? Has the college grad come back to the nest? Are you looking to provide room for an elderly parent or rent out space to help makes ends meet? Regardless of the reason, the space solution may actually be right under your feet.

Basements are typically about one third of the entire home’s available space, 600 to 800 sq. ft. in the average home. And while some basements have been finished to create more living area, the majority of these spaces are used as makeshift laundry rooms, home offices, and storage repositories for everything from spare freezers to pantries, paints, and paperwork. In other words, most basements are underused.

There are definitely benefits to considering a basement remodel:
• Unlike a room addition, there is no need to excavate for new footings or worry about structural loads.
• Utilities (including water, electricity, gas and sewer lines) are typically close at hand, further reducing costs.
• Heating and cooling loads are relatively light for basements.
• Basements almost always have stairs leading to them, unlike many attics (another popular house expansion candidate).

Converting a basement, however, is not without its challenges. Below-grade spaces are subject to water and moisture, two common enemies of home construction. Mold and mildew are also common, and natural light is limited. Overhead pipes and ductwork can add further challenges, and if you didn’t anticipate a bathroom when the house was built, the basement toilet may have to flush up.

Before embarking on a basement conversion, get serious about waterproofing. If water periodically wells up between the slab and foundation wall, or there are cracks in the foundation, you will need to call in a contractor or basement waterproofing company for advice. They will be able to tell you whether the source of water is an easy one to stem—it can be as simple as gutters and downspouts not doing their jobs—or whether it’s more serious.

Related: 10 “Neat” Garage Storage Solutions

Sewer Rooter.Com Basement Sump Pump

In many cases, a below-slab perimeter drain leading to a sump pit with at least two pumps (primary and backup) is the answer. The sump pit should be installed in the lowest part of the room perimeter and set-up to discharge water outside in the most efficient manner. Many finished basements build a closet around the sump pit. Regardless of how you conceal it, be sure to allow for easy access.

Groundwater isn’t the only source of dampness and moisture in a basement. Plumbing leaks and condensation are two other common sources. A good waterproofing contractor can install water alerts in your laundry area and near water heater tanks to warn you of a leak before it can cause major damage. He can also recommend a self-draining, high-capacity dehumidifier to further remedy moisture issues.

When finishing a basement, it’s smart to use materials that can stand up to water and moisture. Conventional materials like drywall, wood framing, and MDF moldings are not necessarily the best choices in below-grade applications. That’s why several companies offer complete basement finishing systems that include waterproof wall panels, moisture-proof drop ceilings, mold-proof PVC moldings and water-resistant underfloor systems; everything to reduce the risk from water damage.

Owens Corning offers an insulated wall panel for basement conversion composed of compressed fiberglass lined by vinyl on the finished side. It attaches to block and poured concrete foundation walls with special channels. If you need access to electrical wires or plumbing behind the panels, you can remove them. The panels are non-flammable, impact resistant, won’t trap water vapor, and don’t support mold. They may, however, be damaged in a flood if left standing in water for any length of time.

Total Basement Finishing (TBF), a Basement Systems, Inc. company, offers a highly impact-resistant cement panel backed by rigid foam insulation. It’s strong enough to support anything you’d hang on a conventionally framed wall. Precut channels make wiring easy. And a linen-look vinyl skin in white and beige covers the finished side.

TBF panels can be installed in floor and ceiling tracks independent of the foundation wall, or they can be attached directly to foundation walls. The system is versatile enough that you can leave a portion of your basement unfinished, or divide the space into rooms, or even erect closets. In addition to various versions of its wall panels, TBF offers a menu of other basement remodeling products, including finished stair kits, drop ceilings, and waterproof flooring. The parent company, Basement Systems, is a nationwide network of waterproofing contractors, so it’s likely that the TBF dealer in your area will be able to help with basement waterproofing, too.

Related: Easy Laundry Room Storage Ideas

Wahoo Walls.Com Basement Refinishing DiyDo-it-yourselfers looking to save some money will want to consider basement wall panels made of magnesium oxide, like those from Wahoo Walls. When adhered to polystyrene insulation, MgO boards insulate to R-11. They are well-suited to damp areas, are mold- and mildew-resistant, and are easy to cut and install. Plus, they can be painted. The boards install in L-shaped steel brackets screwed to the slab and joists, which have pre-cut wiring and cable channels. Panels for interior partitions are also available without the insulation. The company offers excellent installation instructions.

Unless you’re fortunate enough to have a walkout basement, where one or more walls are above-grade and can accommodate large windows and glazed doors, natural lighting is going to be limited in your basement to a handful of small windows. Fortunately, dropped or suspended ceilings, common in basements, can easily and attractively accommodate recessed can, track, and fluorescent troffer fixtures.

Designers recommend lots of perimeter lighting as well, including sconces, recessed spotlights, and fluorescent tubes or LED wall washers hidden behind coves. By lighting the walls, you can simulate natural ambient light and make the space seem bigger.

Accommodating ductwork and beams is often a challenge. Painting them to match the ceiling is a common approach. Another is to paint them in bright playful colors. So is boxing the ducts in with soffits, or wood-framed enclosures covered with drywall or MDF. Keep in mind, however, that duct enclosures cannot extend more than 6 inches below the minimum 7-ft. allowable ceiling height. If there are ducts that are hanging too low, sometimes they can be split into smaller ducts. Wider and flatter replacement ducts can also be installed to gain a few inches of headroom. Whatever you do, check with your local building department before beginning work to be sure your plan conforms to building codes.

Plumbingsupply.Com Saniflo Sanitop Basement Upflush Toilet RevWHEN DRAINS MUST GO UP
Basement bathrooms, laundries, and kitchens, common features in many conversions, are straightforward with regard to hot and cold water supply lines, though not always for drainage. If necessary, there are several methods for draining sewage waste and wastewater—especially from toilets—upwards to existing drain lines. The least expensive is a macerating bathroom pump, like those by Saniflo. It turns on automatically to pump toilet waste and grey water from sink, shower, tub or laundry to your sewer line. These units are compact and quiet, typically fitting either directly behind the toilet or behind the wall.

Basement rooms can be used for many purposes: laundry, home theater, game playing, hobbies and crafts, and the list goes on. There are many building codes intended to ensure the safety of occupants that apply to all of the above. They include the use of smoke and CO detectors, GFI receptacles, outside combustion air for the furnace or boiler, materials that resist the spread of fire, minimum room sizes, and emergency window well egress. When choosing contractors to work on your basement conversion, find one who has done the job many times before and who is knowledgeable about applicable codes. Do not work with a contractor who says you can convert a basement without pulling permits.

Garage Doors 101

If you're shopping for a new garage door, style and material choices will be abundant, but which will meet your needs best?

Garage Doors

Photo: High Street Market

As cars have grown more important to our lives, they have gained equal prominence in residential floor plans. You’d probably be hard-pressed to find a single-family house built in the last 30 years where the first thing you noticed wasn’t the garage door. In the day-to-day life of today’s home, the garage is so central that many people use it as the primary entrance!

Over the last ten years, garage door manufacturers and architects have begun to improve on the curb appeal of garage doors. Sometimes it seems that wooden carriage-style doors are now to home exteriors what granite countertops are to kitchens (both carry a similar sticker price). Fortunately, there are also some reasonably priced and decidedly attractive options to consider.

A wide variety of residential garage door types are on the market—sliding, folding, up-and-over and roll-up, to name a few. In the US, the most common is a sectional door, which has several horizontal panels hinged together and fitted with rollers. The entire assembly rides in two parallel tracks. A heavy-duty torsion spring, which is in turn wrapped around a torsion bar, serves to counterbalance the weight of the door. Homeowners are able to lift the door either manually or by switching on a motorized garage door opener. The actual lifting may be chain-, belt-, screw- or direct-driven.

Sectional doors are available with or without windows. Options for the former include up to 16 lites in several shapes, including square and arched. And there are many decorative styles too, from contemporary to traditional. Sectional doors are even available in the popular carriage-house style; these look like swing-style doors but work the same as sectional doors.

True carriage or swing-style garage doors operate like a pair of very big French doors. They are typically made of wood and hang from jambs on hinges. Swing-style doors look good, with their strong vertical lines often helping to integrate the garage with the rest of the home. In addition, swinging doors tend to be more energy-efficient, because they seal well at the header and side jambs and only have one joint. They do, however, require more clearance. If you park too close to swinging doors, you won’t be able to open them. Also remember that swinging garage doors are more time-consuming to manually open and lock than sectional doors, and they’re much more expensive to automate.

Like entry doors, garage doors can be made of steel, aluminum, wood, wood composites, fiberglass, vinyl or glass. No matter what the actual material is, the wood look is most popular.

Garage Doors 101 - SteelSteel Doors. The best steel garage doors are made of two layers of galvanized steel, the surface of which is either primed and painted with a tough topcoat finish or clad with a composite material. Steel doors can be painted to match your home and are available with or without insulation. The downside of steel doors is that they can be dented and are subject to corrosion, especially in coastal areas.

Wood Doors. Wood garage doors are built with layers, or plies, to prevent warping. Woods include cedar, redwood, fir and meranti (luan). Wood doors may be factory-stained or painted, or finished on-site.

Wood Composite Doors. Composite garage doors typically have a wood frame covered with sheets of fiberboard. Better models offer higher-density fiberboard skins and include realistic details, such as overlays and grooves to simulate a real wood door. Cores are filled with polystyrene insulation.

Aluminum Frame Doors. Garage doors fitted with aluminum panels eliminate the problem of rust but are easier to dent. They are available in contemporary brushed finishes, as well as in many colors. (Translucent glass panels may be used in place of aluminum panels; these admit daylight without compromising privacy or security.)

Fiberglass Doors. Garage doors made from fiberglass are less subject to denting or cracking. They do not rust but can break upon impact. Two layers of fiberglass are typically bonded to a steel frame and filled with polyurethane insulation. Steel end caps help improve rigidity.

Vinyl Doors. Vinyl garage doors are promoted as being ‘kid-proof’, because they are difficult to dent or break. Typically built upon steel frames, these too are filled with polyurethane insulation. Vinyl doors look similar to fiberglass doors but are available in fewer colors. They are very durable and require little maintenance aside from an occasional hosing.

To see a selection of garage doors, don’t miss our Product Showcase: Garage Doors

Home Renovation: The Cellar and the Attic

When undertaking a renovation project, an examination of the out-of-sight, out-of-mind spaces may be useful.

Basement Remodel, Attic Remodel


When undertaking a renovation project, an examination of the out-of-sight, out-of-mind spaces may be useful. If you’re thinking about converting an unfinished basement or attic area, this part of the inspection tour is especially important. In general, the least expensive way to add living space is by finishing unused areas—but to do so, those areas must be dry, adequately ventilated, and spacious enough to be usable. Even if you have no intention of converting any of your cellar or attic to living space, this step in the inspection process can still be valuable for the insights it can offer into the structure and working systems of your home.

When inspecting the cellar or attic, wear old clothes. A long-sleeved shirt and trousers are best, along with sneakers or work shoes. Basements and attics tend to be dirty and damp, and have awkward spaces that may require getting down on all fours. A couple of simple tools will be useful, too: a tape measure, a hammer, jackknife, maybe a screwdriver, definitely a flashlight. Grab your clipboard and you’re ready.

The Foundation. In areas where the ground freezes in winter, the foundation must reach below the frost line. That means the base of the house is buried below grade to a depth so that the freezing and thawing cycle won’t cause it to move. The cellar may be tall enough to stand up in (a full cellar); it may be a half-cellar called a crawl space; there may be no cellar at all if the place was built on a simple slab of concrete. In all cases, the principle remains the same.

When inspecting your cellar (if there is one), you’re looking for bad news first. Investigate the perimeter of the foundation. There are three categories of trouble common to basements: uneven settlement; dampness and decay, and insect infestation. You’re seeking signs of all three.

Uneven settlement means that certain portions of the foundation have settled more than others or that the action of the frozen ground has heaved some sections upward. Cracks in the wall are the classic sign of uneven settlement. When the walls are made of block, settlement cracking may resemble a staircase, climbing from one block to the next. Don’t panic if you find hairline cracking, but cracks of more than an eighth of an inch should be noted prominently on your list of issues to discuss later with your designer/contractor team.

What is the floor? If it’s just dirt, then water problems are likely, as the dampness can rise up every time there’s a heavy rain. Except in very arid climates, however, some basement dampness is normal. However, puddles or serious water stains on the wall can indicate the presence of too much water.

Keep an eye out for any signs of insect damage or structural decay in the wooden members, which occurs when wood is alternately dry and wet. You can test for decay using your screwdriver to probe for softness. In some unobtrusive location, jab the tool into the wood—the force required is more than a tap but less than a punch. If the driver penetrates the wood easily and deeply, serious rot is present. Make a note of it.

Insect damage is most likely in damp, dark environments. If in probing any wooden structural members you find channels in the wood (“galleries”), you probably have a termite or carpenter ant infestation. Note whether there are tiny pellets or gray residue (that’s insect excrement). Wood dust on top of foundation walls or on the floor far from any recent saw work can also indicate the presence of carpenter ants or powder-post beetles. If you see lots of tiny, round holes in wooden members, those are exit holes for beetles. Cobwebs with a dusting of what looks like sawdust is another sign. If the wood dust is a bright yellowish brown, it’s recent; if it’s gray, it’s been there a good while. Again, if you find insect signs, add that to your list of items requiring further investigation.

Typically cellars are crisscrossed with a network of pipes, wires, and perhaps ducts. While detailed evaluations of the working systems in the house are best left to the experts who will come later, take a commonsense look at the HVAC, electrical, and plumbing equipment. Is it a hodgepodge of new and old? Is the installation neat and orderly? Would you guess that each system was installed at one time or piecemeal, over many years, by a variety of installers and repairpeople of varying skills? If you detect leaks, rust, open electrical boxes, or any other signs of potential trouble, note them, too.

If you’re thinking of converting part of the basement to a playroom or other living space, you need to have adequate ceiling height, dry conditions, and safe access (cellar stairs that are steep, narrow, or that lack a proper railing are an accident just waiting to happen).

The Attic. There are three basic kinds of attics. In the unfinished attic, the walls and roof are open to reveal the structure. In the crawl attic, the structures are revealed, but there’s no place to stand meaning that, as with the crawl space foundation, you have to get down on all fours to move about. In the finished attic, the walls, floors, and ceilings are already finished and, therefore, “livable.”

Access varies greatly from one kind of attic to another. In many imposing Victorian houses, a full stairway leads up to a generously proportioned attic. With crawl attics, there’s often a ladder-stairway that pulls down from a hatch in the ceiling of an upstairs hallway. More than a few crawl attics have nothing more than a trap door that requires climbing a ladder to reach it.

Once you’re up there, you’re looking to assess the health of this portion of the house: Is the attic dry, well-ventilated, and structurally sound? Can you detect any signs of leaking? Look around the chimney for water stains on the masonry. How about on the insulation and along the length of the rafters? Are there water stains or fungus on the underside of the roof? Is there ventilation up there, such as windows, an attic fan, or louvers?

Are there streaks of creosote, a sticky brownish by-product of burning wood, on the chimney? Creosote is also flammable and means, at the very least, that the chimney needs to be cleaned. It may also mean that the flue liner isn’t doing its job.

Record what you’ve learned, and then get to work.

Basement Remodeling Ideas: Overcoming Obstacles

Basements don’t have to be cold, dark rooms hidden from public view. Try these tips to turn your home’s lowest level into a pinnacle of design and comfort.

Basement Remodeling Ideas, Basement Renovation Ideas

Photo: Flickr

If you’re looking for extra space to expand your home and haven’t considered the basement, you’re missing out on the possibilities of this perennially underrated room. Long relegated to use as little more than laundry rooms and storage areas, basement remodeling can enable everything from guest suites to media rooms. Try these ideas to turn your lowest room from a cold, dark afterthought into a warm, inviting centerpiece.

Accentuate the Positive
The obstacles that come with basement renovation ideas are many: little to no natural light, exposed ductwork, concrete structural beams, and low ceilings are just a few problems many homeowners encounter when planning a basement remodel. But instead of looking at the basement as a hopeless case, consider the room’s positive aspects.

“A basement provides a lot of raw space to work with,” says Sharon McCormick, principal of the Durham, CT-based Sharon McCormick Design, LLC. “Ductwork can be boxed in with hollow beams or drywall, creating an interesting coffered or soffited ceiling. Or suspended square ceiling panels made of copper or tin can lend a historic feeling.” For a more modern look, McCormick suggests painting exposed mechanicals and joists black to create a trendy, loft-like ambience.

Choose the Purpose Wisely
Choosing the right purpose for the room and planning it wisely can give homeowners a head start on making the area more inviting.

“The first thing to do is detail what activities you would like to accommodate,” McCormick says. “Game rooms with a billiards table, poker table, arcade games and bar are well-suited to a basement space, because you don’t have to worry about the weight of the equipment. Creating a moody, masculine game room is a breeze in a dark basement.”

Another room that uses a basement’s natural characteristics to its advantage is a home gym. Designer Nicole Sassaman, owner of Los Angeles-based Nicole Sassaman Designs, turned her basement into a workout area. “A room that benefits from the cold, like a gym, is a good choice for a basement makeover,” she says.

Other rooms that work well in basements include home theaters, which benefit from the naturally dark character of the room, and family lounges, which can have open areas that allow little ones to run and explore. “A wide expanse of space lends itself to laying out race tracks or large dollhouses,” McCormick says.

Let the Light Shine In
One of the most commonly cited problems in basement spaces is the lack of natural light. But with some careful planning and creative lighting design, even this seemingly fatal flaw can be corrected.

“As you plan for basement lighting, remember you will likely need more light than in other places in the home,” says Jeff Dross, lighting senior product manager for Cleveland-based Kichler Lighting. “Because the basement is located below grade, natural light does not provide the baseline ambient light that is found in the above-ground floors.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that quantity should rule over quality. Dross says tricking the eye to “see” natural light is one way to make a basement space feel more inviting. “To supplement the light that would typically come from a window, consider washing the walls with light or using recessed can lights close to the walls, or even energy-efficient fluorescent linear fixtures hidden in a cove,” he says.

When choosing your lighting, think about the room vertically, considering the effect each level will have on the room’s feel, says Atlanta-based interior designer Melissa Galt of Melissa Galt Interiors. “Light is best created in layers: ambient or general lighting, task or specific lighting, and accent or decorative lighting,” she says. “Soffit lighting and bookcase lighting are great enhancers for accent lighting, and torchères work especially well in corners, since they bounce light up the corner and across the ceiling.”

Finally, when choosing your fixtures, think about not only the light they give out but also their look in relation to your space. “Shorter lamps or lamps that have stout or squat bases with wide shades will look more natural and more fitting in conversation areas,” Dross says, adding that choosing both bulbs and fixtures carefully will accentuate your space. “Consider using warmer fixture colors, which will of course make the whole space feel warmer and more inviting.” If you’re using fluorescent lamps, he says that finding the lamp with the highest color rendering index (CRI) will give the room the most natural feel.

Paint with Purpose
If you’re trying to make a room feel lighter and more inviting, the first instinct is often to wash the walls in white. But Ann McGuire, a Valspar color consultant and the founder of Beehive Studios in Buck Hill Falls, PA, says it’s time to toss those ideas out the window. “People sometimes think, ‘Oh, I’ll paint the walls white, paint the ceiling white, and put in lots of fluorescent lighting’,” she says. “It makes it really bright, but it also makes it really unpleasant. The key with a basement is really warming up the space to make it an inviting environment.”

McGuire suggests that no matter what function the room will serve, going with colors on the warm end of the spectrum is a good choice. “No matter if it’s a home theater or a children’s play area, starting with a warm color will really make the space much more livable,” she says, noting that while yellows tend to look dingy, colors like a light caramel or a warm ivory can soften the glare from all the lighting without making the room feel too enclosed.

Because basements are often huge, undefined spaces, using paint to clearly delineate areas according to their purpose can make the room more livable. “Use paint to visually section off different areas of play,” McGuire says. “Creating activity spaces for the kids can make it more fun for them, and it can also help keep the room more organized.”

Wow with the Unexpected
When finishing your basement space, don’t forget the details. Because of the sublevel nature of the room, people often neglect finishes that they would put in other areas of the house. “Use architectural details just like you would in the rest of the house,” McCormick says. “Crown molding, substantial baseboards, wainscoting, and beadboard ceilings all go a long way toward eliminating the ‘basement’ feeling of living in a substandard space.”

Finally, don’t be afraid to express your decorating personality. Because basements present unique challenges, homeowners are often afraid to do anything too daring with them. But Sassaman says that’s the wrong idea if you want to make people think about the room rather than its location. “Be bold in your style, whatever that is, and give people that ‘wow’ factor when they enter the room,” she says. “It will take their minds off the fact that they are even in a basement.”

Feng Shui for Your Basement
Want to take your quest for a livable basement a step further? Space design consultant and feng shui expert Suzy Minken offers these tips for a more balanced basement environment: 

  • Reconsider the basement home office. Minken says home offices in the basement can be a real feng shui challenge. “Energy, or ‘chi’, enters the home through the front door and flows upward, not down into the basement, she says. Because of the energy profile of a basement, rooms that are higher-energy naturally, like a children’s indoor play area or exercise room, are better choices.
  • Stay clutter-free. One problem Minken often sees in basements is furniture that’s too big for the space, overpowering the room.
  • Fake the natural. Choosing a wall and creating recessed boxes where you can place outdoor-themed decorative accessories, like silk plants, along with small upward lights, can give the appearance of a window, which makes the enclosed interior feel more open.
  • Relax with water. If you really want to give your basement a refreshing twist, think fish. Minken suggests using a wall-mounted aquarium. “It looks like it is built-in, and it will add a wonderful sense of comfort and harmony,” she adds.

Basement Remodels Add More Living Space

Increase basement space using new specialty products to add value to your home.

Photo: Flickr

America’s home improvement frontier is going underground with basement remodeling. Basement design has gone way beyond the second-class spaces and finishes of old. These spaces bring increased value, lifestyle enhancement, and expanded living to today’s homes.

Basement Space Is Found Space
Basements today are emerging as valuable found space and are serving vital roles as guest bedrooms, master suites, and home offices in addition to the more traditional role of family rec room. In fact, basement remodels account for an ever-growing chunk of the more than $200 billion per year spent on remodeling nationwide. And this despite the fact that, according to the National Association of Home Builders, only about 68 percent of American homes even have basements! Many of these new spaces feature eye-popping, award-winning designs. This trend is being driven by housing values.

Builders and homeowners alike are finding that utilizing basement space as living space represents real value. When you build an addition, you expand the footprint of your home by attaching new construction to your existing house. Additions entail excavation, foundation work, exterior walls, sheathing , siding, and roofing just to enclose the new space. In addition, you will have to wire, plumb, add heating and cooling, and complete the interior of the new addition. With a basement remodel, the space is already there so a higher proportion of your remodeling dollar can go into “The Three Fs”—features, fixtures, and finishes. The three Fs are the touches that can make any new space more useful, beautiful, and enjoyable—in other words, valuable.

Equity and Payback
Another aspect of value is equity and payback, or how the project will affect the immediate value of your home and any long-term payback for the project when the house is sold. These questions may be difficult to answer, but they should be considered before tackling any home improvement project. There are a lot of variables that come into play including location, market, quality of the design, materials, and workmanship. Getting the best value and the best payback hinge on finding the right balance for your specific needs and location. According to the 2010-11   Cost vs. Value Report, an annual study conducted by Remodeling Magazine in cooperation with the National Association of Realtors, very few of the most popular home improvement projects yield 100 percent cost recovery, with basement remodeling at just over 70 percent cost recovery as a national average.

Converting Basement Space
Many of the products on the market are designed to make basements more appealing and useable, which is why mid-to -high- range basement remodels are so popular. Homeowners and building codes demand adequate light and ventilation in any living space. There are several window-well products that allow for full-sized windows and some that are code-approved for egress or escape in the event of a fire or other emergency.

Bathrooms and wet bars are also top features requested by homeowners in their basement remodels. Basement bathrooms and sinks present a challenge since wastewater lines exit the house above the basement floor. There is plumbing equipment available to pump waste from basement bathrooms up to the main waste system, but beware—these systems can be costly, require high maintenance, and may even be prohibited in some situations. It’s best to check with a licensed plumber and your local building code official before proceeding.

Every basement should be evaluated for moisture and flooding, structural concerns, and radon. Invest in professional advice and remember that not every house is a prime candidate for basement remodeling.

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.

Create a Distinctive Driveway

Give this usually overlooked part of your home a facelift, because if you aren't ordinary, why should your driveway be?


Your driveway is your welcome mat, the pathway to your home. It may be a broad expanse, or curved and winding and disappearing among the shrubbery, or a straight shot to a waiting garage. Whatever the profile, your driveway presents landscaping opportunities to enhance your home and its character. While you must consider the drainage you will need, the stability of your soil, and the freeze and thaw cycles in your region, there are many materials and techniques available to help you create a driveway that goes a step beyond asphalt to accent.

Bricks may be among the simplest of all paving and patio materials to work with. They come in standard sizes and regular forms, they are manufactured in a variety of colors, and they present a non-slip surface for cars and people. Bricks, like flagstones, cobblestones, or pavers, should be laid in a stable bed of stone topped with bedding sand. Creative homeowners can devise geometric patterns that repeat along the length of the driveway. For older and historic homes, try copying a pattern from photos of historic places. For local interest, look to area foundries for the bricks they produce. Some demolition companies also sell old bricks that are perfect for quaint older structures. There are distinct advantages to using bricks, as they can be replaced when damaged. For a more permanent set, the bricks can be laid in a concrete /sand bed and allowed to set up from below, as well as between the bricks.

Concrete is far more versatile and aesthetic than people give it credit for. It can be colored, shaped, given surface contours and textures, or even embedded with stone or aggregates to give it a composite look. Quikcrete sells shape grids that allow you to create a decorative pattern on your walk or drive as simply as pouring concrete. They also feature color mix that you can add directly to the concrete. Some homeowners may opt to create pre-formed concrete pavers using molds. These can be lined with a layer of crushed stone, shell, or aggregate prior to the pour. Once the mold is removed, your pavers will have a pebbled surface. Concrete drives can also be stamped or imprinted with a pattern to look like stone, cobble, or brick. How you brush or finish the concrete once poured determines how slippery and uniform the surface of your driveway will be. Take into account the activities that go on before deciding upon the surface of your driveway. Basketball is easier on a smooth surface, while walking to the mailbox or bringing your car up an incline is easier on a less slick surface.

Stone driveways are very handsome and easy to maintain. Depending on the look you desire, you can create a driveway with any color stone, from white to dark grey and black. Visit a stone shop, quarry, or landscape yard to see the available colors and sizes of stone. Ask which are local and which can be mixed and matched to give a varied, more colorful look. Beware of round stones, as they tend to roll away from high spots. Good driveway stones should be angular so that they will stay put. Smaller stones may work their way through larger ones and into the bedding soil below. Whatever stone you choose, be prepared to restone every year or so to maintain the surface. Stone gives excellent drainage and a beautiful look for the home. Think twice before building a white gravel drive, however, because a stone driveway is virtually impossible to clean.

Interlocking pavers are smart and elegant. They are manufactured to withstand weight and weather. They are laid in bedding sand just as flagstone, cobblestone, and brick, but they interlock to provide a perfect, stable fit. They come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, textures, and designs. With pavers homeowners can create a rustic or period look quite easily. Pavers are wonderful for intricate designs and difficult applications. They are easy to maintain and, like other applications that give onto a bedding layer, provide excellent drainage for your driveway.

Compressed Earth
The truly lyrical driveway in our mind’s eye is still the dirt drive with grass between the tracks. This type of driveway is especially well suited to a rustic or country home. The key to this look is to maintain the grass between the tracks and along the sides of the drive. Provide good drainage to the sides of the tracks as well, since compressed earth may encourage pooling. Another option for the two-track drive is to lay strips of concrete where the tire tracks lay, while maintaining the grass and plantings between and to the sides of the tracks.

Mix and Match
Have fun with your driveway and allow it to develop a style of its own. Mixing stones together, stones and concrete, or concrete and pavers are great ways to achieve the look you want. Entryways might require concrete. A basketball area could be surfaced in smooth concrete while the rest of the drive is done in decorative pavers or brick. Whatever your choice, before deciding to lay down a driveway, look at the possibilities. Your driveway is, after all, the first glimpse of your personality that visitors will see.

Upgrade to a Basement System

Finishing the basement is a smart way to add space to your home. Using a complete basement system package may be the smartest way to insulate, finish and upgrade that space.

Basement Systems


Finishing the basement is a smart way to add space to your home. Using a complete basement system package may be the smartest way to insulate, finish and upgrade that space.

Unlike a traditional finished basement with stud walls or furring strips with attached wallboard, basement finishing packages are proprietary systems that take an unfinished basement and turn it into first-class living space. As systems, they include more than just walls or ceiling — they include trim, lighting, electrical work, and door installation. Some system installers also offer flooring, plumbing, HVAC, and windows to meet homeowners’ design plans.

Selecting a Basement Package
First, a detailed spatial plan is created to include the homeowner’s wants and needs. Every inch, from creating walls around stairwells to installing lights, has to be taken into account. Wiring or lighting upgrades are custom features and are priced beyond the base package plan.

Some homeowners want their finished basements for a laundry room, family room, game, exercise, or play room. Others might opt for a home theater or home office, so allowances are made for speakers or other special needs.

Owens Corning and Champion both offer basement systems. Their package prices are determined by the local market and the individual specifications of each plan, but are generally comparable cost-wise to a traditional basement remodel. The Owens Corning system is available only through its franchises and their certified salespeople and installers. The Champion system, only installed by its trained employees, can be obtained through its offices across the country.

Basement System Components
Walls are the basic building blocks, insulation, and finish for complete basement packages. Basement finishing walls are modular systems with plastic or vinyl frames that are screwed into the foundation walls. Finished, dent-resistant four-foot wall panels, covered with attractive mold- and mildew-resistant fabrics, are snapped into place on the framing. Baseboard and crown pieces complete the look.

Owens Corning’s Basement Finishing System uses commercial-grade R-11 insulation value fiberglass board for its panels. The wall panels are coated with DuPont Teflon for stain resistance and washability. Suzanne Mitchell, marketing manager for Basement Finishing System, notes that the panels come in Linen Mist, which features speckles of 14 different neutral shades to blend into any decorating scheme.

Basement Living Systems by Champion offer compressed three-inch-thick R-13 fiberglass insulation board covered in one of four linen-look fabric choices. The system includes a suspended white acoustic ceiling and takes about two weeks to install.

Constructing Basement Space
A basement can be a difficult environment to finish because the space is typically colder and more humid than above-ground space. Finishing a basement with traditional building materials presents the risk of encouraging mold, mildew, water damage, or warping. In many areas of the country, a vapor barrier must be installed before hanging wallboard. That can cause more harm than good because it traps moisture in the walls. It may also mean no access to the foundation or mechanicals.A basement system means the entire project is installed at once instead of piecemeal through individual contractors. A good basement system contractor will also lead the homeowner through the necessary steps required to ensure a dry, healthy, and code-compliant basement upgrade. Owens Cornings only sells their Basement Finishing System through certified, franchised dealers to ensure that their product will meet the highest installation standards. “These professionals will conduct inspections to assess the condition of the basement and recommend any needed repairs prior to starting work (waterproofing, mold remediation), and will also handle all needed permitting,” Mitchell says.

Basement System Pros and Cons
Mitchell cites the 2005 Cost vs. Value Report from Remodeling Magazine when talking about the return on any basement investment. The report says a basement remodel recoups an average of 90 percent of its cost in the first year. This tops other popular projects like added bathrooms or major kitchen remodels for return on investment.

Even more significant, says Jones, a basement system investment goes toward a durable, substantial wall. With traditional building materials, the money goes largely toward the labor necessary to create the walls.

Basement systems provide a way to tuck mechanicals and wiring out of sight. Yet, with the snap-in and snap-out panels, homeowners have easy access in case of needed repairs to foundation walls, plumbing, and electrical or mechanical equipment.

Wall panels offer noise-deadening acoustic and insulation value, making for a warmer, quieter space. The Owens Corning Basement Finishing System panels also have a Class A fire rating.

Because they are designed specifically for basements, package components avoid the problems that can plague other materials. They do not wick up water and, if they do get wet, they can be cleaned and dried.

While the fabrics have a rich look, color choices are limited. The panels cannot be painted, since paint would prevent the walls from breathing, which would eliminate the key benefit of mold and mildew resistance.

Hanging artwork or similar items on the panels requires special picture-hanging kits, but the pins used leave no holes. Heavier items such as plasma screen TVs or shelves require additional structure behind the walls.