Dec31st

10 Ways To Maintain Or Improve Your Home Value

We are always looking for ways to increase, or at the very minimum, maintain our home value. Well, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: It doesn’t always have to break the bank. Sometimes it just means taking a closer look at things when we go to do those normal fix ups around the house.

For the most part, every community has a high end and a low end. In the Real Estate Industry we call these "Comparables". Depending on the size, condition and location of the home- your home may be anywhere in between. For the sake of this article, let’s focus on getting you at the top.

10. Keep it Clean - Sounds simple right? Well, it pretty much is just that. If you are thinking about selling take a few days and do some ‘deep cleaning’ or call in a maid service. Clean out some of those closets that look jam-packed full of linens and boxes. It just needs to be tidy. Get rid of those dust streamers on the ceiling fans, dust and wash the baseboards/door casings. A clean and organized home leaves the impression of one that is well maintained.

9. Maintenance - Keep up with your property…all the time. If you wait until it is time to sell, the cost of repairs may be so much that you won’t want to do it. Set a schedule and paint the house every so often, change the roof in a timely manner, keep those fences looking good. This way, it won’t be overwhelming when you need it the most. Other items that would be on this list would be Hot Water Heaters, A/C and Heat equipments, etc. Buyers really DO look at these things. Wouldn’t you?

8. Update - Often times we confuse the term ‘Update’ with ‘Upgrade’. Updating the home just means to keep it cosmetically as though it is recent. Sometimes this just means changing out a couple of light fixtures, paint on the walls, color choices on the exterior and maybe even the flooring.

7. Flooring - Keep it clean or change it. If you don’t want to mess with it, put down a tile or Hardwood Floor (A little Hint: If the color of the grout in the tile is your only issue, you can have someone come in and stain it for a minimal amount of money). If you think you might be moving in 5 or so years, why don’t you change it now so that you can also enjoy it?

6. Kitchen - When your appliances are getting to look a little…used- Maybe you are getting tired of them? Change those also, and don’t forget to buy ENERGY STAR appliances! If you want to spice it up a little bit more, change the color of them. That would then be updating. Then maybe change the paint and the light over the breakfast table, faucet on the sink. You would have a whole new kitchen for less than $300. Update the pulls on the cabinet doors/drawers, countertops maybe?

5. Bathrooms - The same thing goes here as in the Kitchen. If money allows you can always update the shower and flooring. If not? Just changing out the light fixtures (ENERGY STAR of course) a little paint or American Clay Wall Plaster and you will be lookin’ good!

4. Exterior of the Home - Painting the exterior was mentioned above, but there is so much more to the exterior of the home. If you have gutters, clean them out regularly. Not just to look nice, but to reduce the maintenance of your home as they can cause severe wood rot. Speaking of wood rot, change out the wood that needs to go if there is any. Get the roof changed or washed (don’t forget the radiant barrier) - Should you change out the windows? Check with a local Real Estate Professional, but if this is something you want to do, you will likely get your money back on resale and THEN some.

3. Reduce Your Energy Bills - Now, this is something to do even if you don’t want to move. It could be as simple as sealing around your doors and windows and upgrading to Energy Efficient (ENERGY STAR) items as you go through the home. Make the home a little more affordable to actually LIVE in, and you will likely see the return when you go to sell. On top of that, put a little more money in your pocket every month before you decide to make the big move. First things first though, get an energy audit!

haisma skyvale 2. Upgrade - If you are changing out items in your home, and the Comparables allow you to do so, Upgrade what you put in. Remember, when you go to sell, the other homes around you will likely be your competition. What can you put in that maybe some other homes won’t have? Just don’t over improve your home! I recommend getting with a local real estate professional to find out how much you have to play with in your renovations if there is a chance you may move in the next 5 years.

1. Curb Appeal - This is number One! Your front yard is the first thing that people see, make sure that you make a good impression. Do a little bit of landscaping and maybe try to use Native plants to your Region. People are busy and don’t always like to have High Maintenance yards, but we LOVE to enjoy them. Try to Landscape somewhere in the middle. Let it Dazzle but be easy to keep that way.

Houston Skyline It really is easy as that! If you are having a hard time figuring out what to do to your home, contact a local Professional whether it be a Remodeler, Interior Designer, Landscape Company or Real Estate Professional.

My best advice would be to make a list. Write down what you want to see in your home over the next ‘X’ years or months and how much they will cost. From there it will probably be easier to figure out in what order you want to complete the tasks. Stephanie Edwards-Musa

Stephanie Edwards-Musa is a Realtor® and Certified EcoBroker® in Houston, Texas. She teaches a course on "Making Your Home More Energy Efficient" at Lone Star College and is the founder of TurningHoustonGreen.com .




Dec23rd

What is Universal Design & Why You Should Care?

In our company, we believe Universal Design is extremely important. We’d like every home to incorporate Universal Design concepts out of desire, but not by law. So what is it and why is it so important?

So, What is Universal Design?

According to North Carolina State University Center for Universal Design, the intent of Universal Design is to “simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal Design benefits people of all ages and abilities.”

There are a lot of names people use in place of Universal Design: barrier free, handicap accessible, ADA compliant, and many more. Universal Design, I think, is the best name for this concept because to me accessibility is not just for "them folks" in wheelchairs. It is for everyone regardless of age and current physical ability. It’s universal.

So, What does Universal Design Look Like? Copyright 2008 Heartland Builders LLC

Click here for a full floor plan. Here are some features that are very important in the design of the home which are basic to Universal Design :

1. Exterior Doors - Without question should be at least 36" wide.

2. Interior Doors - Bedrooms, bathrooms, laundry rooms, common area doors - 36" wide While many sources recommend 32" doors, keep in mind a person in a wheelchair likely will scrape their knuckles as they go through the door opening that is only 32” wide. Remember, this is about comfort and dignity too. I once priced out doors for a home including 10 doors ranging from 32" to 36" wide. The cost to go with the wider doors didn’t even total $100 - for the entire house (not per door). No brainer !

3. Wider Halls - Minimum 42", better if halls are 48". Please note that halls are a waste of space. Eliminate them or reduce them and you will increase the functional space in your home.

4. Clear Floor Space (otherwise known as Turning Radius) – Especially in kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry a turning radius equaling 5′. What is the benefit? If you utilized a wheelchair you would have the ability to enter and function without obstacles in these parts of your home. For those without wheelchairs, a little elbow room for carrying laundry baskets or groceries.

5. My personal favorite: A Zero Step Entry - What is that? No steps into your home from the front porch and from the garage into the home. Imagine, not having to worry about steps as you bring home groceries. There are so many benefits to this feature.

6. Wider Stairs - Minimum 42", better if 48".

7. Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist - There are many other features associated with Universal Design. Their necessity for you depends on your needs. Make sure you work with a Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist and member of your local home builder association who can asses and implement exactly what you need in order to live a comfortable life in your home.

Benefits of Universal Design

Thanks to wider doors, wider halls, wider stairs and clear space your home will appear larger and will feel more open. Wider doors, wider halls and wider stairs will allow you to carry furniture throughout your home much easier.

So you are 30 years old and own your home. If the home incorporates the basic features of Universal Design, guests will be able to visit your home without limitation. Imagine if your grandparents or Aunt Millie is in a wheelchair or requires the use of a walker. They could visit without limitation and feel welcome.

Or imagine you are 65. Retirement is just 10 years away (no please, not that long!). Your parents may still be around. Mom and Dad could come visit your home without limitation as well. Not to mention, you are probably thinking about your own future AND want to remain in your home for as long as possible. A home that has incorporated Universal Design is livable for much longer than a home without such features.

The Big Question: How Much Does it Cost?

1. Wider Doors - Under $100 for the entire home.
2. Wider Halls and Stairs - Hard to answer this one, but under generally around $500.
3. Zero Step Entry - this one depends on the size of the home but generally around $1,000.
4. Levered Door Handles, Light Switches a Little Lower on the Wall, Rocker Switches – Shouldn’t cost more than other styles.

Wow! If all you do is 1 and 2, you can have an accessible home for under $500. Better yet, for under $1,500 you can have a home that is really accessible to you and everyone. It makes a great deal of sense. Rich Kogelschatz

I am a proponent of Universal Design for one reason: I believe that it is my responsibility as a builder to provide value for my customers when building their home. To me there is no greater value than accessibility. If something were to happen to you or your family, without accessibility your home has little value to you.

So when building new or remodeling, consider Universal Design. You won’t regret it.

…………………………….

Richard Kogelschatz CGB CAPS of Heartland Builders LLC was recently named 2008 Builder of the Year and is President of his local Home Builder Association , chair of Great Lakes Green 2008 and is a past recipient of the ZeroStep builder and Disability Advocates awards .




Dec18th

Is My Home Ready for a Small Wind Energy System?

Pick up any newspaper these days and I will bet you a dollar to a donut you will find at least one article about energy. Of specific interest lately is wind energy.

SkyStream 3.7 Small Wind Energy System, Manistee, Michigan, COPYRIGHT © 2009 Mary McGraw-Bigelow All Rights Reserved Why? Wind is clean energy. And it’s totally renewable—just wait for the next breeze. As a wind energy installer, it is a very powerful feeling leaving a home knowing the homeowner is producing their own energy. They have their own private power plant.

With so much information and so many points of view whirling around, I hear a lot of confusion over the variety of wind energy systems available specifically to homeowners.

There are basically two different types of residential wind generator systems:

1. Off Grid – These systems require some type of battery storage for the energy created. They are not tied to the energy company.

2. Grid Tied - The majority of small wind energy systems feed the energy produced to the power company. These are required to have an automatic shut off when the grid is down. Otherwise, you could produce energy and feed it back to the grid while some poor line worker is trying to restore power to your neighbors. The poor line worker would get a heck of a shock!

The majority of wind energy systems we install are Grid Tied. For most households the best source of backup power is the electric company’s grid! Why? There will be times when the wind doesn’t blow so you won’t create any energy and for the average household the draw will normally be more than their wind generator can produce. So that back up from the energy company is still necessary.

Now the conversation moves toward, "So then I can sell the extra I make to the electric company?" Well…that is another deep subject (sorry, I had to say it!) and depends on the number of KiloWatts per month or year your home uses. So I ask.

With that you would think I asked a question about the periodic table of elements. It’s unfortunate but most people simply don’t know how much electricity they use.

I must confess, I never knew until getting into this field and that’s ok. Now I know. Awareness is half the battle! And now our family can take action to cut down on wasting electricity.

So how many average KiloWatts does your household use in a year? There are a couple ways to find out:

1. Many utility companies now have a web site where you can check your history. You will need to register and will need your bill handy because you will need your account number and some other personal information. I have found this to be the simplest way.

2. If you don’t have access to the internet you can go through your records of paper bills (uggh!), add the KiloWatt hours you have used over "x" number of months, divide by "x" number of months and voila, you have an average. The KiloWatt hours on my bill are listed in the upper right hand corner. Each utility will vary where KiloWatt hours are placed on the bill.

3. If you can’t access the internet or paper billing records you will have to call your utility company (double uggh!) and have them send it to you. This is always last resort!

In climates like the Midwest it is good to get a 12-month average since you have extreme swings in temperature throughout the year. Most air conditioning is used in the summer, which is powered by electricity. Most of our homes are heated with some type of gas or fuel oil so the electric utility is normally lower during winter months.

In warmer climates with less extreme temperature swings can go with a 6-month average, selecting every other month.

For those of you who pay utilities on a "budget" program, there are several reasons to reconsider. Unfortunately people tend to look at the dollar amount of their bill and not the KiloWatt hours used. If the bill stays the same for 10 months out of the year most people are unaware of times when they are using more energy. This causes less conservation again due to unawareness and leads to higher utility bills.

Once we know how much energy the home requires we can determine the best turbine for our situation. Check back for part II where we discuss the various wind energy system makes the most sense for your home.

Mary McGraw-Bigelow is a renewable energy sales representative for Contractors Building Supply . Mary is facilitator of her local LEED for Homes Member Circle and has worked with clients from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast.

COPYRIGHT © 2009 Mary McGraw-Bigelow All Rights Reserved

Photo: SkyStream 3.7 Small Wind Energy System, Manistee, Michigan




Dec2nd

Cork: Revered Renewable Resource

I have a confession. Sometimes I like to think of myself as smart. There are many smart people, right? I have a degree. I made it thru 12 years of the military, that’s gotta count for something. My home state is world famous for “Yankee Ingenuity”. Smart right? Well, Not… So… Fast! I’ve been learning ALOT this last year after opening Green Builders Source. So many things that a laymen’s understanding didn’t do justice. Let me share my latest discovery! CORK! Cork Sample

Seems, my layman’s understanding of cork was woefully inadequate! Sure, there are the cork boards, the underlayment of engineered flooring, and then my personal favorite, the wine cork! Yummy! But it wasn’t until 1999 that I had even HEARD of a cork floor. Tile? Yup! Wood? Of course! Marble? Have you seen the Duomo in Florence? But Cork? Apparently it was all the rage in Europe! And I just lived in Europe for 5 years? How could I miss it? How?

Well, being the ever curious, I started to pay attention every time information on cork was available. Jump to 2008 and Cork is now a top player for any green building project. The top green choices almost always start with: Cork, Bamboo, Linoleum, and locally manufactured tile. Many don’t know why Cork is on the “Short list” for Green. Bamboo is obvious as it’s a grass, it can be harvested and rapidly renew its stalks for a future harvest. Tile is sustainable, that’s green. Linoleum is very natural and long lasting. But Cork? The harvesting of Cork is not yet as well known nor is how and from where it is harvested.

Cork oak cross sectionCork comes from the Cork Oak. A medium sized tree that can be found in southern Europe and northern Africa. An interesting piece of information that is quite indicative of our vocabulary is all trees generate cork as a layer between the old growth bark and the living inner plant cells. It is a major component of the tree bark that protects the inner growth cells and sapwood from disease, insects, and damage. (note this… it protects the tree from bacteria, insects, and damage) It can be harvested from any tree, but only the Cork Oak is commercially viable due to its thickness and ease of harvesting.

The harvesting is equally interesting and truly a sustainable commodity, if not entirely practical. A Cork Oak does live an amazingly long time, upwards of 200 years. However, the first harvest cannot be taken until the tree is 20 years old. This harvest is of poor grade and it is not till the cork has been harvested an additional 3 times, or when the tree is 50 that high grade cork is available. This thought quickly squelched my desire to create a Cork Oak orchard in Texas given my level of attention and interest would surely expire before the first harvest. I did entertain the “second generation” idea, but my children would probably be so bored of hearing of the future harvest, they surely would be interested in more rapidly rewarding endeavors. Maybe Bamboo is more our “speed”? That said, the following harvests can be made at 10 year intervals. This allows 15 or more harvests from one tree! Truly a quest for a forward thinking entrepreneur. Very forward thinking!

Here’s a summary from the Canada/Portugal Chamber website:

Given that a cork oak produces cork tissue until it is 150 or even 200 years old, during which time it Whistler - Worlds Oldest Cork Treemay be stripped 15 to 18 times, and that the average ages of trees presently in production is 85 years and that the area under plantation is growing by an average of 4% a year, cork production can look forward to a rosy future in Portugal. There are at present more than 600 industrial facilities operating in Portugal, employing a labor force of about 15,000. Cork products were exported in 1990 to the tune of 80,433,356,000 escudos (corresponding to 105,516 tons). In the same period natural cork stoppers accounted for 55% of total cork product exports. At 44,614,694,000 escudos, this trade is worth more than the export of Port Wine.

This only further clarifies that the commercial leaders in cork production are in Europe and Africa with Portugal producing 50% of the world’s supply. Don’t let the scarcity of the harvest locations fool you, however. Cork has a plethora of qualities that make it very desirable. It’s elastic in nature and near-water impermeable. It has low thermal conductivity, low density, fire resistance, and good energy absorption, antimicrobial, and resistant to insects, mold and mildew. (remember how it protected the tree as part of the bark?) All these factors make cork an excellent product for wine stoppers, sports equipment, sound management in musical instruments, and more. However, these qualities sound amazingly grand for use in construction.

Microscopic view of cork cellsCork cells are comprised mostly of air. This trait makes each cork cell act as a balloon or a gasket. Additionally, the cell walls contain a waxy substance called “suberin” which enhances the impermeable wall to liquids and air. The product qualities that are found from the features of cork are: reduced sound from dropped items or walking, cork has a natural feel, it insulates against temperature changes (It has an “R-factor” of 2.6), it is low maintenance, extremely durable, and above all, it looks great. I found during my research for this article that there are cork floor installs that are still in use today over one hundred years old! One is a church in Chicago that had cork flooring in 1890 and is still in use today! And I just learned that The Library of Congress has cork flooring installed. Did I mention the sound absorption! Libraries and museums love cork. So do child care facilities. Not that I quote “Bob Vila” much, but his website had this to say about cork: “Finished cork flooring can have the look of textured hardwood… the soft give of carpet, and the easy maintenance of vinyl….cork feels softer than hardwood and warm underfoot, making it an obvious alternative to carpet.

Because of its cellular composition, it is extremely durable and resilient. This makes it much less affected by impact or friction than hard surface floors such as wood, laminate or tile. One feature that I always get questioned on is its resilience. I too worried that such a “soft” product would fall victim to high heeled shoes and the like. Apparently that “elasticity” that I mentioned has a “bounce back” factor of 40%! So, no worries about your high heeled shoes! Once the pressure is off, the cellular structure returns to shape very quickly.

Ok, so now we know it’s water resistant, insect and bacteria resistant, resilient, durable, quiet, and insulating, what do you have to do to get some? First, there are suppliers all over including Green Builders Source. Check all your options, inquiring about thickness, colors, patterns, pre-sealed, and quality. Second, there are two options for installation. Your cork floor can be installed as glue down tiles or as a floating floor. The glue down tiles uses fewer materials, but requires a near perfect floor for installation. The floating floor with interlocking tongue-and-groove edges is easier to install, and repair, and ready to walk on, thus making it a popular flooring choice.

For the floating floor planks and tiles, the cork floor looks like any engineered hardwood. Locking or There is a wear surface made of a factory applied, UV rated varnish or sealer, a veneer of cork oak bark, a cork core, a moisture resistant hard rigid core, and a cork underlayment. This layered solution provides the best of both worlds. The price is on par with other engineered woods or ceramic tile, so any alternative should put cork within the same budget range.

Once you have decided on cork, and you think you have a source, before you install it, you better have a maintenance plan. Every floor requires maintenance right? Well, yes, that is true, but cork is a low maintenance floor. The good news just keeps getting better with this flooring, doesn’t it? The catch? There isn’t any. Pick up loose dirt with vacuum, broom or “swiffer®”. The most important step is to Damp mop. Do NOT Wet mop! Do NOT let water stand on the floor. Then spot treat any tough to clean areas. Water is cleaning solvent enough. If you have to add something, nothing more abrasive then a drop or two of dish soap. Given all the water-resistance of cork, the seams of the flooring would swell under standing water.

Photo from Pretty amazing, hun? I know that in the time it’s taken me to finish this article, I’ve walked the house twice to see which room would look best in that new Green Builders Source Cork Floor! It’s a toss-up between the children’s play room or the kitchen. I’ll keep you posted.

Angelique Grado
Green Builders Source
angelique@greenbuilderssource.com

References for this page came from: Wikipedia, Nova Cork, Natural Cork, Bob Vila, Canada/Portugal Chamber, TexasParks.org, and several .edu sites.