Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Basement Remodeling

One of the joys of a basement remodel is the opportunity to work on a space that is enclosed from the elements and not subject to the whims of the weather. These can be relatively economical projects that enhance the livable area of a home without the expenses incurred when you are increasing the footprint of a house, yet the possibilities for a basement space are unlimited.

Dreaming of a home movie theater? The basement offers a great, naturally dark space to take advantage of. Some recessed lighting and wall sconces on a dimmer switch can give it the full effect of a night out at the movies, with all the coziness of staying in. Plus you can furnish it with cushy seats and have warm blankets on hand to go with your popcorn.

Lilliputian playland? Especially if your ceiling heights are low, maybe this is the perfect opportunity to have some storage built for games and toys. Add in some child scaled furniture. This can age into a teen paradise as the kids grow older, too, with some video gaming chairs and a game system tucked away.

Lounge around? No, not (necessarily) the kind you do in a Snuggie, but a grown up room for sipping Scotch and listening to music or for tasting wine and cheese with your book club. A cozy, tucked away downstairs space can be a great spot to cultivate the perfect lounge ambiance. Add a sleek bar and wine storage for a luxurious space.

Guest suite? A small kitchenette and bedroom downstairs with a pull out sofa and built in entertainment cabinet can make your home a welcome place for guests. When friends and family aren't around, you can still enjoy the little hideaway for yourselves.

Truly the options go on and on: a multipurpose family room with a Murphy bed, a home office with built in desks and cabinets, a pool room with wood paneling, a craft room with a sewing table and storage cabinets for all the supplies. We would be delighted to help you see any of these dreams become a reality.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Lionel Lloyd of The Painted Finish

It is a great feeling when someone working on your home becomes a person you look forward to chatting with every day. Lionel Lloyd of The Painted Finish is just that kind of guy.
Lionel's house painting company evolved out of a business partnership with a friend. They started out together doing property management. Since the properties frequently needed painting as part of the regular maintenance, it was a natural transition for Lionel to step into this line of work in 1987. He has been doing it ever since. Sometimes his step-son Cameron steps in to assist him on the job, as needed.

Painting seems like an obvious choice for Lionel, given his decidedly artistic bent. His attention to detail and perfection on the job reflect his artistic priorities. Lionel was a finalist at the first FOTOWEEKDC in 2008, and was honored to meet some of the photographers he admires and respects. See his amazing photography work at Spiderpaw's Blog, where he displays some truly magical images.

Lionel revels in travel, history and culture. He has had some fantastic adventures visiting his wife's family. She is originally from the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, where they enjoy a great deal of peace and quiet at their family cottage, which is accessible via a not-insignificant ride in a small boat. On Lionel's most recent trip to visit them he logged 3,000 miles around the United Kingdom with his brother-in-law, seeing many of the sites important to the history of the U.K. He hopes to have the opportunity to visit France when they are visiting across the pond in the future.

He has upcoming plans to do an essay of his in-laws' family history. He also hopes to do both portraiture and an essay on a friend's family, focusing on their Salvadoran heritage.
The photo above is from Lionel's recent fall photo collection. This shot is from the Cushwa Basin of the C&O Canal in Big Pool, MD. The Cushwa Brick graphic was a particularly interesting coincidence. Harmon Builders renovated a home in a previous project, matching the original Cushwa brick with new brick from the original manufacturer.

Should Lionel find his way to a painting project at your home, be sure to collect some of his fascinating tales. Don't forget to ask if he has any photographs to show you. You will be swept off your feet by the beautiful work Lionel can do, both with a camera and with a paintbrush on your walls. It is a true pleasure to have him on board any project with his friendly commitment to high-quality work.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Home Weather Station

Everybody loves to talk about the weather.  A subject that is both entertaining and practical. A basic home weather station can be relatively simple and inexpensive to put together, while also having loads of scientific value.

You will need a rain gauge. You can buy a simple graduated cylinder for measuring, or easily make your own with a ruler and a container. Of course, you must be mindful of a couple of things. The container should have straight sides, and nothing overhead or nearby that would shelter the guage from the rainfall from above or if it is coming down at an angle.

A weather vane is something that can be easily made or purchased. Mount it high on a roof top or up on a tall post, positioning it to avoid disrupted air flow from buildings and trees. A wind sock serves the same purpose, and it can be nice to have both--you can also make your own wind sock relatively easily.  If you are using these with children, the visual of the colorful windsock reinforces the accuracy of determining the wind direction. With a wind sock you will have a great visual. Use a compass with it for precision, which gives the children a chance to learn a great life skill with other applications, too.

An anemometer reads the wind speed. These look very cool and high-tech, and you can get one for $30-$50 range at the low end. The same rules apply about mounting it high and away from obstructions to the air flow.

Another instrument you will want that will not be a DIY choice, but is inexpensive to purchase is a hygrometer. These are only about $5 for a reliable tool that is used to measure the humidity in the air.

A barometer measures fluctuating atmospheric pressure. In actuality, you can easily make one of these as well for a fun family project, but you will want something more durable for regular use. Check out all the different types of barometers. Classic analog or glass barometers can be interesting decorative finds for inside the house. Modern ones are digital, of course, and run the gamut in pricing.

Assembling your own weather station should be fun, but if you want the easy way out, there are always fancy electronic ones that are ready to use and streamline the details.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Great Salvage Pieces

I like industrial and vintage looks. They often blend well with either modern or traditional aesthetics. Plus, this is an excellent way to reduce waste. When I need something affordable, I've started checking in with Chartreuse & Company in Buckeystown. They are usually open the third Friday, Saturday and Sunday each month, but do have special holiday functions. Here is a peek at the kind of amazing finds they have had there in the past (architectural items, furniture, and fun bric-a-brac).

I am constantly trying to improve the storage and shelving options to suit a modern family of four in a house built in 1927. We just finished the basement. It is currently a pretty blank canvas. It needs a utility sink and this was one of the first things to capture my attention. Complicating matters, the plumbing is in the main space that we plan to use like a game room. I thought I would like a bar aesthetic in the space, rather than looking at laundry room ides. I was so excited by what I found--I never even asked what the original function of this item was.

This will need to be converted to have a real, workable drain "set up"--it has just small spigots, but it has several things going for it. Number one, it looks cool. It will also hold beer and ice handily in half, while still having a functional sink in the other half. Best of all, this cover that I can remove to scrub something in the deep sink will also provide surface space when the waterworks are not in use. I'll have to get started on the search for some wall mount fixtures to work with this. There is no way there is anything this cool in all of Ikea! There is another popular architectural salvage place in Baltimore called Housewerks. I have never been to Lucketts, VA, but Chartreuse & Company is often compared to the much larger market there. I have much more to look forward to as I hunt for pieces to reuse and repurpose.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Beautiful Built-Ins Save Space

Harmon Builders has already done a fantastic addition for us. Having no reasonable way to add more square footage, space efficiency is our best bet. We love having a home in historic Frederick, but older houses present some challenges. Built-in shelving and cabinetry would be ideal for maximizing our usable space to keep and enhance the gorgeous architectural details that enticed us to buy an old house in this area to begin with.

By adding built in cabinets, drawers or shelving under the stair cases it is possible to build a distinctive piece that brings character and the storage space a modern family needs to a home with closets sized for an era gone-by. Another way to take advantage of the space available is to add cubbies or shelves near the ceiling. Often homes under-utilize the vertical space within, and older houses frequently were built with higher ceilings than new homes.

In a bedroom you may use vertical space for a built in loft beds with storage or desk space below. In our home we are looking at the possibility of opening attic space into the smallest bedroom (which doesn't have a closet) for a sleeping loft space. The ceiling height available would not make a true loft room an option there, but it would be perfect as a permanent bunk for one of our children. This would free the space below to allow for a wall of cabinets or a wide, shallow closet and a desk and chair. Even the ladder to a loft can serve to create storage space by having graduated depth shelving tucked between the risers on the ladder and the wall behind.

You may have seen dining areas that have built-in banquettes. I love these because you don't need to account for area for pulling chairs in and out from the table, which is surprisingly space consuming. Often the bench seating also has a hinged compartment for storage below the seating. Another way to use that area is to add drawers, which make the space more accessible and functional. An idea I just discovered is to add a safety hinge on the vertical back of the seating area with concealed shelving behind. This makes perfect food storage, especially for cans and dry goods.

Shallow shelving can be built into bathroom walls between studs. These are scaled perfectly for beauty products and toiletries. A mirror can go in front like a medicine cabinet or the shelves can be left open. These can also be inset into tiled shower walls for shampoo and conditioner.

In the laundry room, a counter can be installed over the washer and dryer to make a convenient folding station. Drawers or pull out shelving between the appliances can go underneath the counter top for storage of detergents and fabric softeners.

In a small home, you can find ways to take advantage of all kinds of space that others take for granted. Gorgeous built-ins add storage with great character.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Green Insulation Products

People look to different factors to determine what is the most ecologically friendly choice in insulation. You may look to reduce exposure to chemicals, prioritize waste reduction by recycling materials, or prefer using renewable natural materials. Since heating and cooling accounts for such a large percentage of a home's energy expenditures, high quality insulation is green with respect to energy conservation no matter what.

I had the peculiar experience of getting very excited about home insulation products at the Frederick County Fair. There was a small exhibit displaying sheep's wool in use as home insulation. It's a natural, renewable fiber and one of its appealing properties is that it is flame retardant. Wool requires treatment to be safe from insect damage, usually with boron, which is also a natural element and doesn't have known health risks. Other "cloth" fibers such as hemp and manufacturers' scrap denim can be used as well, but they need to be treated with flame retardant chemicals.

Cellulose insulation is made from about 80% recycled newspaper, and requires a fraction of the energy to produce it compared to traditional fiberglass material. It comes in loose fill that is blown in, and it also needs to be treated with boron like wool does.

Foam insulation is now available--both spray foam and rigid foam--in a soy based product that doesn't have any toxic gas emissions and is non ozone-depleting. Foam insulation is also an excellent sound barrier. You may also wish to consider acoustical properties when choosing an insulation product.

Mineral wool is made from molten rock that is spun like cotton candy. It has excellent fire retardant properties as well as being unattractive to insects and pests. It comes in batt, loose fill and board form. It is a great choice for those who are looking to avoid chemical toxins.

The U.S. Green Building Council offers this buyer's guide for green insulation products if you are interested in more information.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Energy Modeling Software: Benefits & Drawbacks

People are becoming more familiar with energy modeling software. These programs predict energy consumption of homes, and they are more widely seen due to the popularity of energy audits that seek answers on how to reduce energy consumption for homeowners. Whether or not these software tools are worth the time and expense for a construction project is going to depend on the circumstances.

Energy modeling programs serve different purposes. Some are commissioned by manufacturers or industry organizations to help market their equipment. Others are specific to the green building industry, or have a narrower niche market like those catering to net zero home design. There are specific programs developed as tools for states or municipalities to ensure code compliance by calculating the energy efficiency during the design phase, and still others for energy audits and retrofitting during remodeling.

In general energy modeling involves plugging in different variables to determine if, for example, a window upgrade or a different insulation product will be the most effective at energy savings. Then you can decide where your investment is best made. The more time consuming the program is to use, the more variables it will cover and the more accurate the calculations should be. The downside of this is that the models that cover a lot of different factors often ask for details that can't be easily measured, leaving a lot of guesswork that can be a drain on accuracy.

Another weakness in energy modeling software tools is that when they are in the hands of someone who stands to benefit by up-selling materials, you don't know if you can depend on the accuracy of the figures being input. It is common for the quality of the existing construction to be underestimated. Worst-case conditions are typically assumed, when those may exist only on rare occasions. Many programs also have systematic failures where the complexity of home design simply cannot account for the calculations in a straight-forward spreadsheet formula.

What these programs do very well is calculate for new construction, where there is far less uncertainty in measuring quality and reliability. When the guesswork is minimized, energy modeling tools can do a great job of determining energy efficiency in a home without being overly complicated. At this time, you are likely to do best for a remodeling projects by making educated assumptions and choosing wisely to improve on the things you know are typically problematic in the type of home you own.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

High Efficiency Ductless HVAC

The HVAC industry has recently dubbed what were called mini-splits "ductless systems." They operate similarly to what you will be familiar with from some hotel rooms, although modern residential units offer remote control operation. Mini-split refers to the small size and the two units split, indoor and out. These systems can be a very economical choice for a remodel, and they are standouts in terms of energy efficiency.

The obvious advantage to these in remodel construction is that they don't consume the space required for the duct work. If the remodel is being done within an existing structure, you won't lose the area overhead or in corners. Some people don't care for the look of the indoor unit, and if it bothers you, there are ways to install a flat mounted grille by using some creative carpentry. Placing it in a discreet location or concealing it with built in shelving are both ways of dealing with this issue.

More and more frequently these systems are being used in new construction as a result of other advantages. A forced air system with ducts incurs roughly a 30% energy loss, whereas the ductless system will lose only 1 to 5%. They have become a popular choice for net-zero energy construction.

In addition to energy savings, the price of the units may be lower. The labor expenses required for these units will be significantly less because they are far simpler to install than a system that requires duct work. Savings on the HVAC system can then be devoted to improvements in insulation, windows and sealing in air, so that the construction is extremely efficient overall.

This video from Fujitsu discusses their mini-split and how it works for climate control and cleaning the air.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Beautiful New Windows to Match an Older Home

We needed to replace our windows--we had needed to for quite a while. I realized it would solve a few problems, but what I hadn't counted on was how much nicer our home would look with well-made new windows.

We live in a 1920s shed-roofed bungalow. When we moved in the windows on the top floor had been recently updated, but they were low quality and improperly installed. Leaks were visibly damaging our walls, so it was getting urgent. On the ground floor we had beautiful windows that were original to the home. Unfortunately you could feel the drafts in the winter or the heat cushion around them in the summer without even concentrating on it. Plus, the single pane glass was doing nothing to keep out the noise pollution from a town that had spent 90 more years growing after our house was built there.

Paul recommended the Andersen Eagle line with aluminum-cladding on the exterior and wood on the inside. The Eagle line offers more color options than most manufacturers and makes high-quality architectural matches. I wanted the exterior to be something other than white. I always envied the homes with painted window casings in our old neighborhood. They seemed to have the striking curb appeal. We ended up choosing a red similar to our ground floor brick, since matching the two would mean the window color wouldn't affect paint color choices in the future.

Since the original windows offered so much architectural detail to a house of this period, I was bracing myself to be disappointed by anything new. I was resigned to it: a thing we have to do before the studs start to rot. I was completely on the wrong track in my head. These windows look amazing. They are fresh and new, but they look just as solid as what was original to the house. They are far more beautiful than the ones on the second story that had been previously replaced. Plus, I had been focused on what they would look like outside, but they also renewed the interior. Now that the trim is patched and painted and looks crisp and fresh, I can't bring myself to cover them again with curtains.

There are several other things I had not expected that turned out to be immense improvements. The windows tilt inward for cleaning. The grill work snaps out, again for cleaning, yet it appears to be sturdy and permanent. Several of the original windows had been lodged shut since before we moved in. The new windows not only open, they slide up and down effortlessly if you want fresh air on a nice day (or something is burning in the kitchen and I am dashing around opening them as quickly as possible before the smoke alarm goes off). We now have screens for all of them that keep the mosquitoes out when we do open them. The edges of the screens match the window clad color. The screens pop out easily for storage during the seasons that they won't be gliding up and down.

If you are considering new windows, the key is to choose something that meets your needs and that emphasizes both form and function. This will improve the look and the feel of the home you love.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Maintaining an Older Home

Older homes offer solid construction and beautiful architectural details. Some are situated in neighborhoods that have aged into vibrant communities with many amenities and mature trees. A home that looks aesthetically perfect can conceal problems if systems and structures have not been regularly upgraded. Some can be simple fixes while others will require complicated overhauls and skilled professionals in order to accomplish them.

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are inexpensive and easy to install. Carbon monoxide risks may be elevated by some older heating systems so this should be one of the first things to check off your list. It is probably a task that you can accomplish yourself, if you wish.

Lead paint can be a problem. Be aware that contractors must be licensed for lead-safe practices by the EPA when working on construction that predates 1978, so this is something to look for if you are having renovations done to your older home. It not only protects the environment from lead exposure, but it protects people in your home from potentially serious effects of lead poisoning.

Aging electrical systems will have knob-and-tube or aluminum wiring. Both of these can pose a fire risk and should be replaced with new wiring as soon as possible. This is especially true where the wiring is surrounded by insulation, like in an attic.

Plumbing systems that use old metal pipes can corrode. Failing pipes can obviously cause very expensive water damage, in the event of a serious leak. Low water pressure in an older home may be evidence of mineral build-up within the pipes.

Since the beauty and history of older homes is often the reason they are so loved by homeowners, caring for that aspect of the house can be a labor of love, but it is still work. Cracks in settled walls will need to be patched and old oil based paint may need to be covered. Rather than removing paint from wood trim, it may be preferable to smooth over uneven spots with spackling compound. Using a high quality paint will be essential to covering surfaces that were painted with oil-based paint in the past.

Preserving the architectural details that make older homes stand out may require custom carpentry for replacement pieces, as oftentimes pre-cut trim pieces will no longer be available in the style that is required. A skilled professional can handle this beautifully, as well as tackle the task of replacing square doors and windows in walls that may have settled and shifted.

Saving and enhancing a home with history can be a joy for homeowners. Avoid unpleasant surprises by evaluating and maintaining the home as needed. If you are considering buying an older home to renovate, be sure to understand what will require attention so that you can enjoy the projects and budget for them.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Reviving a Weatherbeaten Deck

Maintaining a wood deck that has been exposed to the weather year-round can be a big job, especially if it hasn't been cleaned and repaired regularly; however, an old deck can be made beautiful again without starting from scratch.

Start by assessing for structural damage. Especially focus on the areas where the deck touches the ground or butts up against the house. If you find that the wood is soft (meaning you can stick a metal file into it a quarter inch or more) you will have to replace these elements.

Tap down any popped nails. If they can be removed with a nail puller, replace them with slightly longer, slightly thicker nails. Deal with splinters in one of several ways. Glue those large enough to be glued down with an exterior grade product. Using a utility knife, cut away the large splinters that cannot be glued. Smaller splinters can be sanded or filed. If you need to replace any sections of wood, this video demonstrates a good technique.

Clean with a deck cleaning product. This is something that should be done annually. If it hasn't been, you may need to rent a power washer to tackle what will be a bigger job. Then go over it with a stiff bristle brush. Allow time after the washing for the deck to dry completely. To test that the deck is ready to accept stain, sprinkle the dry deck with a few droplets of water. If the wood absorbs them, it will absorb the stain, too.

Use a solid stain, which will mask any inconsistencies in aging that are visible in the wood. Buy from a good quality paint store like Sherwin Williams or Benjamin Moore. These products are truly better than what you find at the big box retailers. They have good step-by-step instructions for applying their products here and here.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Caring for Your Beautiful Custom Cabinetry

Keeping your custom cabinets as spectacular as they are the day they are built is not any more time consuming than day-to-day cleaning, but adhering to some specifics will ensure that your cabinets stay beautiful and unblemished.

It is essential that cabinets stay dry, so all splashes or spills should be wiped away immediately. Also, avoid draping any damp towels or other wet cloth over the doors and do not use soap and water to clean cabinets. Place small appliances so that they are not causing extreme temperature changes that may cause wood to expand and contract. Clean cooking residues from smoke and vapors using a soft cloth moistened with furniture polish, just like you would dust your wood furniture.

Oven cleaners, ammonia, bleach or other harsh cleansers should be kept safely away from wood finishes. Never use abrasive cleansers or sponges on your cabinetry, and avoid using furniture polishes that contain any silicone or wax. These will build sticky residue over time, which not only makes it difficult to keep them clean, but can make repairs or refinishing impossible.

Guardsman makes some of the best products for wood care, including soft cloths for gentle use on wood finishes. Their Kitchen Cabinet Polish is meant for light cleaning, and does not contain any silicone or wax. The Kitchen Cabinet Cleaner product is for heavier cleaning, and their purifying wood cleaner is one of the only products that is capable of removing silicone or wax residues if the wrong polish has been used in the past.

This should be all you need to keep your custom wood cabinetry beautiful for a lifetime.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

EcoFriendly Roofing Options

Roofing choices offer a large scale opportunity to make a visual impact. The surface area involved means a "green" choice is a significant benefit. There is an amazing array of possibilities.

Metal roofing is durable, lasting up to 4 times what is expected from an asphalt or cedar roof. It is also fireproof, and typically contains a great deal of recycled material. A metal roof is often visually striking and offers the flexibility for the homeowner to paint them to suit their taste.  Light colors offer the added benefit of reflecting the heat away from the home. Metal tiles are available to mimic the look of ceramic roofing. Certain metal roofing (such as galvanized metals) may leech minerals into the soil via rainwater runoff, so be aware that not all metals are equally beneficial.

Slate, cement or clay tile roofs offer excellent durability, with an expected longevity of 50 to 100 years depending upon the type of tile. Their weight may demand more materials to support the structure or require significant energy and expense consumed by transportation. This means tile roofing's environmental advantages will depend on where you live, but these choices are excellent in terms of sustainability. One plus is that the increase in weight provides increased insulation.

Solar shingles are a new possibility in some parts of the country. As the production capacity increases these will be available in more market areas, so keep an eye on the potential offered by this innovative technology where solar cells are actually integrated into the roofing material.

An ecoroof is a living rooftop of vegetation that thrives in a shallow soil environment. It is placed over a synthetic waterproof membrane. Ecoroofing is a surprisingly low maintenance choice that differs from a "rooftop garden" in that they are not accessible for use. These have been increasingly popular for commercial use where stormwater runoff is a concern. They offer a unique design opportunity for a home and they insulate extremely well (click the link above for some interesting images).

Many synthetic shingles now are made of recycled content, though they generally cannot be recycled after they need to be replaced. Shingles by Landmark CertainTeed look like a typical asphalt shingle, but are easier on the environment. Enviroshake offers an attractive engineered product with the look of cedar shakes.

With so many possibilities available in Earth-friendly roofing materials, one will provide the perfect design aesthetic for any home in any type of community.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

LEED Certification in Home Building

LEED (or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Certification may seem like an unnecessary designation to have for a home, but registering and certifying a project means that you will reduce the expenses associated with energy consumption and maintenance of your household, and the designation can significantly increase your property value.

Certification for a LEED home is done by the U.S. Green Building Council. Harmon Builders would work with a Green Rater during the design process, who is there to ensure that the design specifications will meet the intended credits for certification. Then the project would be registered.  The Green Rater is there to verify that the goals of your environmentally conscious home design are met during the building process. Technical services are available through the U.S. Green Building Council throughout the project and their expertise is available to assist on the project during the building phase.

Certification is achieved through fulfillment of a number of credits. The credits pertain to various aspects of the design and construction. These may have to do with indoor air quality, sustainability, water efficiency, or management of materials and minimizing waste, to name a few. There are different certification levels available depending upon the number of credits met by the finished project.

Registration and certification fees for a single family home are minimal. The total for both comes close to $500 in in many instances. Extensive information about LEED certification is available from the US Green Building Council, which Harmon Builders is a member of.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Hiring a Contractor

Many people don't know where to begin when it comes time to find a contractor for their home building or renovation project. The first step is to find referrals, then get estimates and check references to prepare for a successful outcome.

Many people start by getting referrals from friends or family members who have had a successful project. There are other resources to consider that tap into expert opinions about about contractors' quality of work and professionalism. If an architect or interior designer is already involved, they will recommend the best general contractors for your needs. If you don't already have a design professional involved, you may choose to find one. Another reliable source may be a plumber, painter or other tradesperson that you already have experience with and trust. Also consider contacting the building permit department in your municipality for information about who they consider reputable, as they will have vast experience with people in the industry.

Choose a few contractors to meet. Get estimates and references. When you contact references ask whether or not the job was on time and on budget. Weather or changes a homeowner makes to a contract may cause the schedule to slip or budget to grow, but still reflect good customer service. If these issues arose, be sure to find out why. Of course you will want to know if the homeowner was satisfied with the outcome.  Find out about the communication between the contractor and the homeowner--how it was done and if it was done effectively. There may also be details that are important to you, such as cleanliness or keeping particular working hours. Once you have collected your estimates, be aware that sometimes (but not always) the lowest bid may come with a sacrifice in quality and professionalism. Balance the figures with what you learn from the references to get a full picture of the value for the work you will receive. Hopefully you will have an opportunity to visit a previous project to see completed work for yourself, as well.

Reputable builders should be members of pertinent trade organizations and hold all the legally required licenses and insurance. For example, Harmon Builders is a member of the US Green Building Council and has Green Advantage Environmental Certification. All contractors in Maryland must be licensed by the Maryland Home Improvement Commission, receive a MD-HBR (Maryland Homebuilder) Certification Number, and they must be certified "Lead-Safe" by the EPA. Find out if licenses and insurance are up to date--if not, assume that this is a strong warning signal that something is not right. Other signs of unprofessional conduct are implications that you must act quickly to avoid putting your home or family at risk, as are any other high pressure tactics that push you to make a decision without taking time to think it through.

You should be thrilled with the result of your building or remodeling project. The best way to see this end result is to pave the way carefully. Take these initial steps to find out about who you will be working with.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Choosing Exterior Color

Choosing exterior colors for your home can be time consuming and even intimidating. There are several ways to narrow the scope of the task, besides sifting through pictures or driving around town to see what appeals to you.

If you already have some building materials determined, the brick, stone or roofing can begin to steer you in a particular direction. Tiny flecks of color you see in those can become a dominant color in the palette you choose. No matter what, these are important materials to consider. Grey roofing looks best with cooler colors (blues, greys, and greens); brown with the warmer tones. Also consider what will harmonize with the color of your windows, if you cannot or will not be changing the color on them.

Historic homes or homes built in reference to a particular historical style can be painted using historic color combinations. Check selections from manufacturers' period color chips. They will often have certain colors presented together to represent different periods, and if one of these is suitable it can make the decision much simpler.

Choosing from an infinite selection of colors does not have to be overwhelming. Once you consider what harmonizes with the other building materials or is in-keeping with your neighborhood, a simple solution is to choose a monochromatic scheme. This means using shades or tints of the same base color. Shades are colors mixed with white; tints are colors mixed with black (and tones are colors with gray). When you look at a paint chip there will be shades, tints and tones from the same base color, so you can choose one and then pick another a few steps away. People forget that the full spectrum of sunlight will wash out the colors outdoors. Choosing something on the darker side of where your taste falls is best.

The next step in enhancing a monochromatic color scheme would be to choose an accent color. This is sometimes compared to make up or accessories in fashion, and it is used to play up architectural features like windows and trim. You can make a bold choice, but  in this area a little can go a long way. It is common to use a complimentary color, black or "near black"--dark greens, browns, and maroons that almost look black. Complimentary colors would be across the color wheel. Red and green, yellow and purple, blue and orange are complimentary. Of course you would not want to choose something that immediately calls to mind Mardi-Gras or Christmas decor. Yellow and purple might be a trio of camel with rich plum and a dusky lavender. Two shades of sage with a burgundy accent represent a red and green pairing. These avoid pulling toward the strong popular images.

Benjamin Moore offers a handy way to check your ideas before you commit. They have a Personal Color Viewer that allows you to upload an image and view it using different colors from their selections. This can be a fun way to look at what you like without the commitment. It is also always fun to look through pictures of homes and see what looks nice on them!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Energy Efficient Windows

In the average home 30% of all energy consumed by heat or air-conditioning is lost due to inefficient windows. If your windows are more than fifteen years old, odds are that they are not conserving as efficiently as possible. The good news is, replacing windows offers a great return on investment, with up to 70% of the expense recuperated upon sale of the home.

You don't have to wait to sell your home to reduce your energy bills, though. The energy savings will be most noticeable if you are replacing single pane windows with Energy Star qualified windows. Modest tax incentives are currently available through the 2012-2013 Tax Credit for Qualified Energy Improvements--up to $200 for window purchases (and up to $500 for a door, with a maximum of $500 possible for all energy improvements).

Some things you will want to make note of when considering new windows are the terms used in the energy ratings. Low E coatings reflect heat rather than absorb it--they reflect it inward in the winter and outward in the summer. Gas fills insulate between layers of glass. The terms R-value and U-value are opposites: R is an insulating value, U is a loss value. You will want to find a high R-value/low U-value choice. The manufacturers label will be most likely to denote the U-value.

Harmon Builders reccomends quality Pella or Andersen windows in our projects. You may view their product lines at Pella and Andersen online.