Category: Managing Construction


So, You Want to… Install a Zoned Comfort Solution

Get precise control of the temperature in every room of your home with an energy-efficient and whisper-quiet cooling and heating system from Mitsubishi Electric.

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Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

It’s strange: We hold our dishwashers, ovens and other household appliances to an extremely high standard, but not our cooling and heating systems. Many homeowners tolerate lackluster performance that consumes energy and drives up utility bills. The explanation may be that over the past 50 years or so, one particular climate-control technology has dominated the market, and many folks are unaware that alternatives exist. Today, with so many advances in technology, homeowners can choose from a variety of compelling options to ensure year-round comfort. Among the most intriguing is the Zoned Comfort Solution™ from longtime industry leader Mitsubishi Electric. Departing from conventional technology, the zoning systems deliver highly customizable climate control with unparalleled efficiency that results in low operating costs. Though already widely popular in Europe and Asia, the Mitsubishi Electric system is just catching on here at home. So the real question is: Is this system right for your home? Read on for some key points to bear in mind.

 

PROJECT SCOPE

Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

Some people choose Zoned Comfort Solutions to provide supplemental climate control to one room in their home. More common is using these systems to cool and heat the entire home. How does the Mitsubishi Electric system manage to be so versatile? In large part, it’s that the unique, streamlined design of the system enables it to scale up and down with ease. The simplest application consists of only two discrete components—an outdoor compressor-condenser (the outdoor unit) and an indoor evaporator (the indoor unit), with a single outdoor unit capable of supporting multiple indoor units. The result is you can have many indoor units as part of just one cooling and heating system. Those units can be any style you like—the style that gets mounted high up on a wall, the one that gets concealed behind a wall or ceiling and so on. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. The right combination depends entirely on you—your needs and your preferences. No matter how you envision Zoned Comfort Solutions serving your home, you can expect the installation to involve a minimal amount of remodeling work. In fact, depending on the scope of the project, technicians may be able to complete the work in just one day.

 

ENERGY SAVINGS

Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

With no sacrifice of performance, the Zoned Comfort Solutions operate with remarkable, stand-out energy efficiency. Simply put, in comparison with older, increasingly outmoded systems, Mitsubishi Electric technology uses noticeably less electricity to power its normal operation. The key: A traditional forced-air system operates in a stop-and-start cyclical pattern that consumes a great deal of energy. Conversely, a Mitsubishi Electric system minimizes energy consumption by running continuously. That doesn’t mean that the system operates continuously at full capacity, rather, it monitors each zone’s temperature and modulates its output to match the demand of a room at any given time. If that doesn’t sound like a groundbreaking innovation, consider that Zoned Comfort Solutions can save you as much as 40 percent on cooling and heating (an expense that, in average homes, accounts for about half of total energy consumption). Those savings really add up, especially over the long term, putting to rest the assumption that with cooling and heating you can enjoy comfort or savings, but you can’t have both.

 

CUSTOM COMFORT

Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Mitsubishi Electric systems is that the technology affords an exceptional degree of control. Namely, it enables you to target temperatures on a room-by-room basis. Contrast that with homes that have a traditional forced-air system where a single thermostat sets the temperature for the entire house. The frustration with such a setup has always been that in order to make one room cooler or warmer, you need to raise or lower the temperature for every room, all at once. This includes rooms that are unoccupied—the guest bedroom, the formal dining room and so on. Besides wasting a considerable amount of energy that the homeowner has to pay for at the end of the month, a single-thermostat system fails to recognize different members of your household may prefer different temperatures. With zoned systems, everyone under the same roof can be comfortable at the same time. If you like it a bit cooler, you can turn down the thermostat in the zones where you spend the most time. If your children like it warmer, you can set the temperature for their bedrooms accordingly. And if you’re all in the living room, no need to waste electricity cooling unoccupied spaces. Isn’t that the way it should be?

 

DESIGN DECISION

Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

Historically, cooling and heating manufacturers have focused mainly on performance and less on aesthetics. Mitsubishi Electric sets itself apart: With their Zoned Comfort Solutions, you can choose from a range of indoor units, each with its own look. For multifunctional living spaces common to contemporary floor plans, many homeowners opt for a wall-mounted unit that, as its name suggests, mounts on the wall, often several feet above eye level. Even less conspicuous are the units that recess into the ceiling, or if enough space is available, into the floor or soffit. With their working parts fully concealed and only their air distribution vents visible, recessed units easily escape notice—a feature enhanced by their whisper-quiet operation. For an even more sophisticated option, look to the Designer Series, a new line of indoor units that goes further to prove that climate control need not conflict with home decor. Available in three colors (glossy black, pearl white and matte silver), the sleek and slim Designer Series hugs the wall, protruding mere inches into the living space. Homeowners can stick with one design or choose a different one for each room. The options are endless.

 

Mitsubishi Electric’s Zoned Comfort Solutions takes a fresh approach to cooling and heating—one that may forever change your mind about the meaning of, and possibilities for, home comfort. In the past, homeowners who were unaware of alternatives accepted the drawbacks of bulky, cumbersome and inflexible climate-control systems that offered hit-and-miss, energy-wasting performance. Today, thanks to innovative systems from Mitsubishi Electric, homeowners can enjoy better-than-ever climate control, probably for less money than they’re currently spending. Ready to take the first step? Go online now to MitsubishiComfort.com to locate a Diamond Contractor™ in your area. Trained and certified by Mitsubishi Electric, Diamond Contractors are always on hand to offer expert advice on integrating Zoned Comfort Solutions into your home, no matter its age, size or style. Compact, efficient and versatile, cooling and heating isn’t what it used to be—and that’s a good thing!

Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

This article has been brought to you by Mitsubishi Electric. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


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Bob Vila Radio: Are Home Improvements Tax-Deductible?

That remodel you've been planning? It may be tax-deductible! Consult your accountant for details, but continue reading now to learn the basics.

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When you finish a home improvement project, you can certainly take pride in a job well done. But in many cases, you can also feel good about saving money on taxes.

Home Improvement Tax Deductions

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Listen to BOB VILA ON HOME IMPROVEMENT TAX DEDUCTIONS or read the text below:

While it’s true that if you use your home solely as a personal residence, you cannot deduct the cost of home improvements, you can add the value of those improvements to the amount you have invested in the property. That means that when you sell the house, any profit you make will be offset by what you’ve invested in the place, and that includes your improvements.

Also, if you use part of your home for business purposes, you can qualify for home office deductions. If the project you’ve done benefits only the office portion of your home—a bookcase, for example—you can deduct the whole cost. But if the benefits extend to your entire home, you can only write off the percentage that corresponds to your home office use.

Check with your accountant for details!

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free.


Bob Vila Radio: Dodge the Dangers of Demolition Work

Before you dive into demolition, understand a few things about how to safely undertake these types of jobs.

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Demolition is one part of the remodeling process that most homeowners can lend a hand with. But there are some important points to keep in mind.

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

Before you start cutting into sheetrock, make sure you know where all your plumbing, electric, and cable lines are located. Same for heating and AC components.

If you’re planning to do anything with a wall, first check in the basement to see if the floor joists run parallel with the wall upstairs. If they do, chances are it’s a load-bearing wall, meaning it’s integral to the structure of the house and should only be altered by someone who’s qualified.

Having the right tools makes demolition jobs a lot easier. The basics include hammers, screwdrivers, pry bars, and a reciprocating saw. It’s also a good idea to have a dumpster handy to keep the work area clear.

And don’t forget safety gear—eye, ear, and lung protection are all important. So too is a hard hat. They’ll lessen chances your job will be postponed by a trip to the emergency room!

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 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. 


Quick Tip: Cement Board

Waterproof and very strong—though not too strong for a do-it-yourselfer to manage—cement board is most employed as a backing for tiled walls and floors.

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If you’re remodeling or adding a bathroom, use cement board as an underlayment. A bit of hardened mortar is sandwiched between two layers of fiberglass sheets. It cuts and trims like sheet rock, but it provides a waterproof layer under wall or floor tile. To attach it, drill a pilot hole first, then use galvanized drywall screws.

For more on building materials, consider:

Deconstructing Engineered Wood
Concrete and Cement: A Case of Mistaken Identities
10 Ways to Use Glass Block in Your Home Design


Quick Tip: Protective Floor Covering

Protective floor covering products safeguard your home against the wear and tear that remodeling projects so often involve.

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Even the simplest home improvement projects can be messy. Be sure to protect your floors while you work. There’s a wide variety of protective products on the market today for vinyl or tile floors, and especially for hardwood floors. Or try this shedproof and waterproof alternative. For quick trips, don’t forget shoe covers.

For more on remodeling, consider:

Sorting Waste After Remodeling
Where to Live When You Renovate
Construction Site Living: Surviving Days (and Days) of DIY


Bob Vila Radio: President’s Day Inventory

Capitalize on the long weekend by conducting a home inventory.

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For those of you in the tristate area who aren’t hitting the ski slopes or escaping to the Bahamas this weekend, Presidents’ Day is a great opportunity to do some annual financial homework.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON PRESIDENT’S DAY INVENTORY or read the text below:

Home Inventory

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First, check your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy to be sure your coverage is up to date. Do you have all the riders you need for musical instruments, jewelry, or other unique items? If you own a home, you should also have an umbrella policy—check to be sure you have the required underlying coverage to support it.

Next, check your home inventory: Have you purchased new appliances or electronics since you last updated it? If you’ve never created a one, now’s the time. The easiest way to get started is to walk through every room of your home with a video camera, talking about what you see. You can document the items later on paper, but a video record is a good place to start.

If you own your home, check your cost basis records. The cost basis is what you paid for your home originally, plus what you’ve spent on all the capital improvements you’ve made since then. You’ll need it when you sell your home, and it’s much easier to keep your records current than try to figure it all out when it’s time to sell. Happy Presidents’ Day!

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.


Quick Tip: Cranes

Cranes come in very handy when home remodelers need to move heavy materials to a high floor.

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When doing an attic or a third-floor renovation, consider using a crane for the heavy materials. For about $500 a day, you can rent a small crane or lift. It can easily handle heavy materials like lumber and sheetrock, not to mention hot tubs. They can boom out about 42 feet, enough to get to the top floors of most homes.

For more on remodeling, consider:

Protect Your Home from Job Site Theft
4 Ways to Reduce Your Renovation Waste
Moving Appliances Without Damaging Floors (VIDEO)


Staying Put: 10+ Improvements to Get Your House Ready for Your Next Age

Much of our Boomer population seems determined to stay in their homes as they age. But if they really want to stay put, they'll need to make sure their houses are fit to meet their changing needs. Here are some key considerations.

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We’re getting older. Every day 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65—part of a huge shift in America, as 79 million Boomers start marching into their later years. But don’t expect them to march into nursing homes. “Close to 83 percent of Boomers say they want to ‘age in place,’ ” says Amy Levner, manager of livable communities for AARP, the advocacy group for older Americans. In other words, people want to stay in their homes as long as they can.

If you are among this population or nearing it (or have parents who are), there are lots of changes, small and large, that you can make to keep your home safe, comfortable, and fully enjoyable in the years ahead.

 

1. Limit the Steps

Having easy access to and from the house is an important feature in any home. But for older homeowners, particularly those suffering from mobility issues, it’s paramount. If you’re planning on retooling the exterior of your house, the experts recommend that you try to devise an entry without stairs. It needn’t look like a handicap ramp; if there’s space, the approach can simply be a nice slope to the doorway. If you’re putting in a ramp—or even adding walkways or decks—consider using nonslip materials. And if you can do nothing more, at least plan on a no-threshold front door to reduce the risk of tripping.

 

Cedarbrook vinyl siding

Photo: Heartland Siding by ProVia

2. Go Low Maintenance

When it comes time to replace exterior materials, choose products that require little or no maintenance, such as vinyl siding, metal roofing, and composite decking. These products will offer dual benefits of good looks and lasting performance. You can reduce landscape maintenance, too, by choosing native plants and installing a time-activated sprinkler system.

 

3. Improve Convenience

In the kitchen, install cabinets with pull-out shelves on rollers, so it’s easier to access the items inside. And opt for drawers rather than base cabinets. They will make it easier to retrieve contents without having to reach into the back of cabinets. Consider installing your dishwasher 12 inches off the floor to cut down on bending. If you want to install an eating counter, plan on its sitting 29 to 30 inches from the floor—a height comfortable for dining chairs rather than barstools.

 

Related:  12 Outstanding Kitchen Island Options

 

4. Choose Smart Appliances

Today’s manufacturers continue to make innovative design improvements in programmable and smart appliances, such as stoves that notify you with a beep when they turn on or that have controls that light up, says Levner. These can be a real help to older homeowners as their sight deteriorates or they get a bit forgetful about whether or not they’ve turned off the oven. Home automation is another important component of aging-in-place improvements; sensors and timers can monitor house systems to alert homeowners, as well as care and security providers, to potential problems.

 

5. Bathe Safely

Delta zero threshold shower

Delta Zero Threshold Shower

If you have a walk-in shower, consider changing it to a zero-clearance shower—one with no threshold or step to negotiate, says Levner. It’s a good idea to add a stool as well. Replace your toilet with a comfort-height model; it’s just a bit higher than normal—more consistent with standard dining chair seat height—and easier to sit down on and get up from. “Add some well-placed bars that you can grab on to, to steady yourself or to pull yourself upright,” says Tori Goldhammer, an occupational therapist and a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS), a certification given by the National Association of Home Builders.

 

6.  Go Hands-Free

For both kitchen and bath faucets, consider fixtures that offer the benefit of touch or hands-free operation. For the kitchen, opt for a faucet with a pull-out spout to make cleanup and food prep more convenient. In the bath, select a faucet that can monitor temperatures to reduce the risk of burns.

7. Ditch the Throw Rugs

Avoid small throw rugs, as they are “big tripping hazards,” Levner says. If you insist on area rugs, look for those with a skid-resistant backing. Or better yet, go with carpeting that covers the entire room. There are a lot of nice, new slip-resistant flooring surfaces that have more texture “and that still look great,” she says.

 

8. Master the Stairs

If you have a second floor, stairs are unavoidable—but they can still be made more user-friendly. Be sure they are covered in a slip-resistant material and, if possible, install a second banister on the opposite wall. Consider locating a chair at the base or top of the stair so that people can steady themselves after the climb or descent.

 

Sylvania LED Stair and Hallway Lighting

Sylvania LED Stair and Hallway Lighting

9. Up the Lighting

Our eyesight gets worse as we age, so it’s important to improve lighting wherever possible. One of the best solutions is “layered lighting,” says Goldhammer, where a mix of ambient, task, focal, and decorative fixtures fulfill various requirements. Don’t forget to add more lighting in tricky, often dark places such as stairways and hallways, as well as bathrooms and kitchens, where task-specific lighting will be most useful. Consider adding more light switches outside rooms and raising outlets to a more convenient height.

 

Related:  Under Cabinet Lighting—10 “Shining” Examples

 

10. First-Floor Master Bedroom

“If you’re doing a major renovation, make sure there’s a bedroom on the lower level—one that could become the master bedroom in the future,” says Wid Chapman, an architect and co-author of the books Home Design in an Aging World and Unassisted Living. The room can double as a guest room now, or even a den, Chapman suggests. But outfit the room so that at a future time, if you or your spouse can no longer negotiate stairs, you can make this ground-level room your bedroom.

 


5 Ticking Time Bombs Every Homeowner Should Know About

You've done everything you can to make your house picture-perfect, but don't forget about the real big picture. Maintenance and repair issues that may lurk beneath your beautiful facade could turn any dream home into a nightmare on Elm Street.

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There are some maintenance and repair issues that homeowners just hate to deal with—either because they take time, or cost money, or just don’t seem, well, urgent. But some of these problems can become ticking time bombs, poised to explode if they’re not defused early, when they are more like firecrackers than bombs.

Here are some of the top structural and mechanical time bombs in your home that experts say have the potential to blow up and are worth squelching now—before the big boom.

 

THE FOUNDATION

Why It’s Explosive: Houses settle. But not all settling is the same. “A lot of times people will ignore the cracks in the brick veneer on the outside of the house, even when they get to be a half-inch or more,” says Bill Loden, incoming president of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). Even though that brick is often just the “skin” of the house, a crack that large can signal much deeper problems with a moving foundation, Loden says. Caught early, a repair might cost a few thousand dollars. Caught too late, the tab could run $20,000 to $50,000.

Snuff the Fuse: Some cracks in your house are essentially cosmetic, the result of natural settling. When is a crack something more? “If you see a crack big enough to put a No. 2 pencil in, you’re looking at a problem,” says Loden, owner of Huntsville, Alabama-based Insight Building Inspection. Other signs of trouble: a tilting chimney or windows and doors that stick or jam, which can be caused by a moving foundation that is twisting their frames. If you suspect foundation issues, hire a structural engineer to evaluate your house, Loden says.

THE ROOF

Why It’s Explosive: ”Most people don’t pay any attention to their roof until they see water coming through the ceiling!” says Bill Jacques, outgoing president of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and owner of American Inspection Service in Charleston, S.C. But if you see drips in your living room, the problem is already far gone. A new roof could cost you “probably $8,000 to $10,000,” Jacques says.

Snuff the Fuse: “Some people say, ‘I’ve got a 20-year shingle, it’s gonna last 20 years.’ Well, no it’s not,” Jacques says. “I would just recommend that about every five years they have the roof inspected.” One of the telltale signs of a wearing roof is coarse sand pooling at the base of gutter downspouts; the sand is most likely the granules of the shingles washing off. If you see a lot of it, then it’s a good idea to have someone climb higher. If you can safely get on the roof (be careful!) and the surface feels slippery, that’s another sign that the shingle material is coming off, Jacques says.

You can find evidence of additional problems under the roof. Water will usually enter the attic first. Hire an inspector, or look for stains around the chimney and the stack vents, or around other venting pipes that exit the house. Those are places where the metal flashing can fail, says Jacques. Also, look around the attic for wet and/or damaged insulation. Discovering issues early on could mean the difference between repair and replacement—or a few hundred dollars rather than thousands.

 

septic tank

Photo: actionseptictankservice.com

THE SEPTIC SYSTEM

Why It’s Explosive: Homeowners who have septic tanks don’t always like to think about them, Loden says. That’s a mistake. “A septic tank is gonna work until the day it quits,” he quips.

Generally speaking, a septic system breaks down the solids and liquefies them. The liquid then goes out into lines and is dispersed into the surrounding ground. But other materials also reach the septic tank—from sanitary napkins and cigarette butts to foodstuffs such as coffee grounds and grease (particularly if you have a garbage disposal). Over time, the baffles that stop the larger solids from going into the lines can get blocked. If that happens, the system can back up into your house. “That’s not a ‘check engine’ light; that’s an ‘engine failure’ light,” Loden says. “That’s when you end up with a backhoe in your yard.”

Snuff the Fuse: If you have a septic tank, have the tank pumped every five years—“and if you have a garbage disposal, you might want to have it done every three years,” Loden says. In Loden’s area of the South, the cost is “between $300 and $500,” he says. “It’s really relatively inexpensive to have it pumped. A lot of those guys will pump it and inspect it at the same time.” It’s particularly cheap when compared with the cost of digging up your yard to repair your system, which can run thousands of dollars.

 

OLD ELECTRICAL SYSTEMS

Why It’s Explosive: Homes built after World War II, as well as homes built earlier, “didn’t have the same requirements for power that we do now,” Loden says. Homes built today can’t have more than 12 linear feet of space between electrical outlets. This stipulation was intended to minimize the use of extension cords, which can cause fires. The electrical systems of older homes, particularly those outfitted with lots of appliances and amenities, just can’t handle modern electrical demands. Sockets can actually wear out, and switches, too. Breakers become less reliable as they age. The upshot can be a fire.

Snuff the Fuse: “Probably every 20 years,” a home should have a thorough inspection of its electrical system, Loden says. Homes built prior to 1980 should definitely be looked at, “and another break point in my region—the Deep South—is 1965. There were a lot of improvements in the 1960s,” he says. You could call an electrician, although Loden cautions that “an electrician may see it as a sales call. Like any trade, they’re there to fix things.” Another alternative: Consider calling an experienced home inspector.

 

THE CRAWL SPACE 

Why It’s Explosive: Few homeowners ever pay attention to their crawl space, that often dank, dirt-floored area beneath many homes. “And why would they?” says Jacques, of ASHI. But you should, because the crawl space is sort of a window into the belly of your home and all its inner workings, he says. It could reveal all sorts of problems before they get bigger:

  • “You might have a leak in the bathroom under the commode or in a supply line that could be weakening the floor,” Jacques says, and you’d never know it until the day a sag appears in the floor and you need major repairs.
  • Termite damage can usually be seen there before it appears elsewhere.
  • Many crawl spaces carry the heating and air-conditioning ductwork that runs throughout a house. But when repairmen clamber about in this cramped space, over time “they might cause some damage to the insulation or to the ductwork. So you could be pumping your nice cold air into the crawl space itself,” Jacques says.

Snuff the Fuse: Jacques recommends that a homeowner periodically spend a few minutes with a flashlight looking inside the crawl space as a precautionary measure.

He also recommends occasionally hiring a home inspector to do a more thorough examination of the space. An inspector can look for leaks in plumbing and find faulty or damaged ductwork and worrisome wiring. As well, while often not licensed to inspect for termites, an inspector usually knows enough to point out suspected trouble and recommend treatment or repair. (Find an ASHI-certified home inspector in your area here.)