You can read all you want about gardening, but a garden journal is the best tool for making sure you remember what works—and what doesn’t—in your garden!
Listen to BOB VILA ON GARDEN JOURNALS, or read text below:
One of the reasons we chose the house plan we built was because there was a “flex” room off the breakfast nook. We thought it was the perfect location for a playroom during these early years with our kids. For one thing, it’s close to the kitchen, where I spend a good portion of the day. In the future, it will make the perfect guest room or study.
The original house plan called for traditional French doors in this space. But since we plan to use this breakfast nook for all our eating and entertaining (we’re just not formal dining room people), we felt the French doors, which opened out, would really get in the way and impede our use of the space. So instead we decided to have pocket doors installed.
All contracts you sign should begin with the parties to the agreement. Your name and address and that of the contractor’s should be stated up front, along with the date the agreement was drawn and a brief statement describing the work to be done.
Here are the rest of the items for your checklist:
The Bidding Process Is Telling
By now, most homeowners know that you need to get quotes from several contractors before deciding which one to hire for your job. But how do you know who you can trust? While the numbers are useful, the way contractors bid for your job can actually help you decide how trustworthy they are.
You Get What You Pay For
First, beware of low-ball estimates or special discounts for today only. Often, a contractor who bids much lower than everyone else either doesn’t understand what the job entails or doesn’t plan to do it right.
Minimize Upfront Pay
A reputable contractor can get subcontractors and materials to start most jobs without your money, so be very wary if a contractor asks for more than a 10 to 20 percent deposit up front or requires payment in cash.
Get It in Writing
A verbal quote isn’t good enough. A good contractor will always be happy to give you a written quote itemizing labor and material costs, as well as references you can check.
Always verify the contact information you’re given to be sure it’s a legitimate business, and follow up on those references. If in doubt, you can check for any past problems with your city’s building department.
During your construction project, you will have to deal with the workmen. Even if you feel comfortable with them—and especially if you don’t—it is important that you keep a couple of considerations in mind. I call it the “3 P’s”:
These men and women are pros in their own worlds. You need them. You wouldn’t dream of buying a car and assembling it yourself, would you? In the same way you leave a mechanic to do his or her job, let the carpenters and electricians and plumbers do theirs. Watch if you wish, but don’t interfere.
Step back, count to ten, think before you speak. Speak your mind, but with a little perspective. Don’t violate chains of command. Yes, you’re the boss, but unless you are also acting as your own GC, you are not the only boss.
Be polite and complimentary. Even if you are not totally satisfied with the work, you are better off finding something good to say about part of it (to the fellow or gal wielding the hammer, as well as his or her boss). Then, through the proper channels, detail the problem areas to be corrected. It is human nature to want to do better work for someone who appreciates it and, conversely, to be less inclined to work for the person who doesn’t know how to do anything but complain.
Contain the Heat
How much insulation does your home need and where? It depends on your climate and the energy costs in your area. The basic principle is that you want to keep heat energy from doing what it does best: dissipating to colder areas. The best way is to trap a layer of air next to the heat source. In new framing, sprayed-on polyurethane foam, fiberglass or cellulose do a good job of providing this layer before the drywall goes up. If you’re retrofitting your insulation, you can still spray in cellulose through holes cut from the interior or the exterior.
Choosing the Right Insulation
To find out what insulation will work best in your home, you’ll want to know the recommended insulation r-values in your area. R-value is the measure of a material’s resistance to heat flow. The higher the value, the more effective it is. To see the recommended insulation r-values and cost estimates in your ZIP code, visit the Department of Energy’s Web site.
Even a small draft can make your insulation less effective. Seal any gaps around electrical outlets, ducts, windows and doors with foam sealants, caulking, or weather-stripping.
Focus on the Attic
The most important area to insulate is your attic. Make sure you’ve got at least the attic floor insulated with blown-in or batt insulation to your area’s recommended r-value, and consider insulating the roof and attic walls as well. This can provide a fully insulated buffer zone to keep heat where you want it and keep the lid on your energy costs.
Even if you live in a quiet neighborhood, laundry and dishwashers, hair dryers and even showers can make your house a noisy place. If you work at home, you know how important a quiet environment is, especially when the kids are enjoying that fabulous new home theater. So what’s the best way to keep sound from going where you don’t want it? You can absorb it, block it, break it or isolate it.
Absorption dampens sound waves by converting them into weaker energy. Fiberglass batt insulation inside interior partitions actually converts sound to heat. Carpets, upholstered furniture, and acoustical ceilings also help with sound absorption in large open areas.
Blocking sound requires a barrier with enough mass to stop the air movement caused by airborne sound waves. You can block noise by using acoustical caulk in all gaps, double drywall, concrete walls and even lead sheeting.
Breaking the path of the sound means removing the point of contact between the inside and outside so sound doesn’t reverberate through the structure.
Acoustic wall studs or a layer of foam under flooring allow the inner surface to float and isolate the noise. Even if you’re not building a recording studio in your garage, there are lots of reasons to consider noise control.
Start with Heat
Whether you’re building a whole house or just adding a new bathroom, one of your first decisions has to be how you’re going to heat the new space.
Benefits of Radiant Heat
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, radiant heat is more efficient than baseboard or forced air systems. Rather than just blowing hot air around the room in bursts, radiant systems slowly and steadily charge the floor with heat, keeping it where you want it, longer.
Hydronic Radiant Heat
Hydronic, or water-circulating, radiant systems are best for new construction or large additions. They come in many forms, for installation just below the subfloor between the joists, directly under tile or hardwood flooring, or even inside a concrete floor slab.
Electric Radiant Heat
Where you only need to heat a small space, like a bathroom, electric radiant heat is an easy luxury option. Electric radiant mats can be installed directly under tile and are ideal over a concrete subfloor. Set the timed thermostat to turn the system on only when you’ll be using the room, like the morning when you shower, and it will use less than 15 cents of electricity per day. This way, you don’t have to make room for ductwork or baseboard units when you add a bathroom.
On a cold winter morning, your toes will thank you for choosing radiant heat!
A fire in an open hearth is only 10 percent efficient at best, which means that 90 percent of the heat energy you’ve paid for goes up in smoke. Heated room air is drafted up the chimney as well, so your main heating system actually works harder to keep the house warm. Glass fireplace doors raise the efficiency somewhat but only to about 20 percent.
While wood burning is becoming less viable in heavily populated areas, if it’s still your fuel of choice you should invest in an EPA-rated wood stove with a catalytic combustor. And only burn seasoned wood or wood that’s been split and stacked in the sun for about 6 months. Green wood makes for a smoky fire that pollutes more and coats your chimney with resins, which can lead to chimney fires.
If you’re tired of shoveling ashes and hauling wood, a gas-burning fireplace insert is a more efficient option that also saves space. A built-in fan distributes heat into the room and a thermostat allows you to set a target temperature. Some models even have a timer so a roaring fire welcomes you when you get up in the morning. One gas fireplace insert can heat a whole small house in all but the coldest weather, which can save you a lot if your main heating system is oil-fired or electric.
How long do the steps take? No two jobs are the same, but here are some reasonable estimates of what will be required for each stage. Do keep in mind, though, that even the most organized job will, occasionally, have quiet days when work is on hold because of scheduling conflicts, delays in deliveries, and the rest.
Here are the steps and the time required for each: