The rise of the basement: Top tips for a better space

October 18th, 2016 by Emil No comments »

(BPT) – With fewer homes for sale and good returns on the remodeling investment, more homeowners are reclaiming their lower levels and remodeling their basements.

Basements are coming out of hiding these days. And they’re doing it in style, with before-and-after transformations featured everywhere from HGTV to Pinterest and YouTube.

What’s driving this trend? A tight housing market, for one thing. With houses at a premium — and a proliferation of DIY how-to’s — more homeowners are inspired to reclaim their unused space and expand their living area.

A smart, affordable upgrade

Updating your lower level is a sound investment in your home. Remodeling magazine’s 2016 Cost vs. Value Report put the average basement remodel at $61,303, with a 70.3 percent payback — a far better investment return than adding a bathroom or garage.

Props for your property value

Depending on local regulations, the additional space can often be added to your home’s total square footage, making your market listing more appealing to buyers and potentially increasing your property value.

To recoup the most from your remodeling efforts, make sure your design and decorating choices are attractive and functional — not too quirky or customized.

Look up, look down: Banish water all around

Before you begin making decorating choices, tackle any needed repairs, including waterproofing your lower level. It’s a good idea to seal your walls and floors first, and important enough to hire a professional if you’re short on time.

And since below-grade spaces are usually cool, humid and prone to water damage, consider investing in a good dehumidifier and choosing moisture-resistant products.

Elevate your ceiling style

Ugly or damaged ceilings can ruin the look of your newly updated basement space, so take steps to repair or replace your ceiling. Plaster any cracks and replace yellowing tiles.

If you’re updating the ceiling, look for products from companies like Armstrong Ceilings that are specially treated to resist the growth of mold and mildew. From there, the sky — or the ceiling — is the limit. Savvy design choices, like coffered ceilings, or wood planks add style and the results are easier to achieve than most people think.

Stuck with an older, 2-foot x 4-foot dropped ceiling grid? There’s no need to suffer without style. Homeowners can take advantage of today’s beautiful new 2-foot x 2-foot ceiling tiles by adding 2-foot cross tees to their existing grid systems.

Flooring: Think warm and dry

Make sure your flooring choices stand up to moisture, too. Patch any cracks in the concrete floor and consider adding a subfloor if the surface slopes or is uneven.

Many homeowners gravitate to the warmth and soundproofing effect of carpeting in basements. Low-pile or Berber carpets resist wear and are inexpensive options. A moisture-barrier pad between the carpet pad and the carpet adds another level of water resistance and reassurance.

Now is a great time to finish your basement. You’ll enjoy the added living space now, and likely realize a healthy return on your investment in the future.


5 residential design trends in hardwood

October 11th, 2016 by Emil No comments »

(BPT) – Hardwood may be one of the oldest building materials known to man, yet architects, designers and homeowners are always finding fresh ways to use it in the modern home. What’s the appeal? Flexibility and variety, for starters.

“We’re constantly delighted to see how traditional woods like oak and walnut are being employed with renewed flair and imagination,” says Linda Jovanovich, of the American Hardwood Information Center, “Subtle tweaks can make something familiar, look innovative. The current trend is to take a classic hardwood application, like paneling or flooring, and give it a stylish, up-to-the-minute twist. Here’s a look at what’s trending.”

Wide-plank flooring

Perhaps no recent trend has been more influential than the use of wide-plank hardwood flooring. Traditional plank widths, ranging from 2 1/4 to 3 1/2 inches, are still popular. But today’s homeowners often ask for widths between 5 and 7 inches, and there is even demand for up to 10 or 12 inches. “Wider floorboards can make a space look larger and more modern,” says Melissa Morgan of M Interiors in San Antonio, Texas, who has used the generously proportioned planks in traditional and contemporary homes. “With fewer seams, these floors can be treated like a canvas: ebonized oak or walnut for a sleek, dark look; light woods like ash or maple for a chic, urban vibe; weathered-gray tones for a slightly rustic affect – the possibilities are endless.”

Wood ceilings

It used to be that hardwood planks primarily went on floors or walls, but today they’re appearing on residential ceilings too. “Simple poplar beadboard, painted white or with a light natural stain, looks crisp and airy overhead, adding visual interest while remaining quiet and unassuming,” says Rebecca Ascher, Ascher Davis Architects in New York and Newport, Rhode Island. “For a more assertive affect, I might specify tongue-and-groove walnut or hickory, characterful woods that provide a degree of drama. For that reason, they’re best reserved for large, high-ceilinged rooms that are not easily overwhelmed. In smaller, lower spaces, a ceiling with too much personality can feel oppressive.”

Mix and match

Architects and designers, who once avoided using different varieties of hardwood in a single residential space, now mix and match them with newfound enthusiasm. Clearly contrasting wood tones – blond maple and black walnut, for example – create a striking effect that can work well in both traditional and contemporary settings. This is particularly true in kitchens, where a favorite configuration features upper cabinetry in a light-color wood such as birch, and lower cabinetry in a dark-color wood like cherry. The result is a space that has strong visual interest, and is light and airy, yet solidly grounded.

Gray stains and finishes

Gray is a classic “neutral” that never truly goes out of fashion. It’s currently one of the most popular colors, ranging from pale smoke to deep charcoal, showing up in hardwood flooring, paneling and cabinetry. “Whether light or dark, gray stains bring out any wood’s natural grain and texture,” says New York interior designer Laura Bohn. “Grays are versatile and timeless – quiet and soothing colors that recede into the background without losing personality or becoming faceless. That’s why they work in any style d├ęcor, yet always look modern.”

Distressed hardwoods

Homeowners drawn to the popular look of weather-beaten rustic and elegantly timeworn are turning to distressed hardwoods – new product to which scrapes, nail holes, notches, saw marks and other signs of wear and tear have been carefully applied, often by hand. Manufacturers are able to reproduce convincing facsimiles of anything from the burnished walnut floorboards of an 18th century salon to the rugged oak-plank siding of a 19th century Pennsylvania barn. It’s a distinctive look that offers a wide range of aesthetics.

Visit for more about residential design trends and other applications and products using American hardwoods.


3 surprising home elements you can automate

October 9th, 2016 by Emil No comments »

(BPT) – Just a decade or two ago, home automation was still something of a novelty. Some homeowners might have had programmable thermostats in their homes, but many probably hadn’t thought of automating things like window coverings. Moreover, they likely viewed any home automation they did have as a convenience. Today, home automation is becoming an essential efficiency-enhancing element in many homes.

Right now, just fewer than 6 percent of American households have automated homes, but within four years that percentage is expected to triple to nearly 19 percent, according to data compiled by What’s driving more people to automate their homes? A report by icontrol networks found security, cost savings and eco-friendly energy efficiency are what people find most exciting about home automation.

Heating and cooling, lighting and security systems are among the most common elements automated in homes, but they’re far from the only ones that can save you money and make your home more efficient. Here are three surprising things you can automate in your home to further improve efficiency, boost energy savings and lower energy costs:

Window coverings

Shades, drapes, blinds, and awnings can all help control the amount of heat and light that enter your home. Selecting window coverings to block out light and heat in summer, and admit light in winter, can help your home’s heating and cooling systems work more efficiently. However, the effectiveness of window coverings hinges on opening and closing them at the right time – something you may forget to do, or not be home to do.

Automating and powering window coverings can help automatically maximize their effectiveness. Depending on the climate where you live, automating window coverings could yield energy savings of 11-20 percent, according to a study commissioned by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA).

Somfy’s motorized solutions easily integrate with any home automation system, regardless of brand or technology, and offer many options for controlling window coverings. Select from a wide variety of hand-held remotes, sensors, wall switches, and the myLink app that allows you to control your motorized window coverings from mobile devices.

Door locks

If you’ve ever been locked out of your house or had a guest arrive at your home when you were out, you probably wished there was some way to unlock your front door without a key – and from miles away. Smart locks allow you to do both those things and more.

You can replace or supplement an existing lock by installing a smart lock, and you won’t need a professional locksmith to do it. If you can install a regular lock and operate a smartphone, you have the expertise you need to add and use a smart lock.

In addition to allowing you to lock and unlock your door without a key, smart locks also allow you to operate the lock remotely from an app on your phone. You can also receive alerts when the door has been unlocked – a great way to track the comings and goings of latchkey kids. Many allow you to generate a single-use digital key that you can email to guests or service providers who may need to enter your home when you’re not there. Smart locks can also be paired with most popular home automation systems.

Smart appliances

Many appliance makers are offering smart, connected appliances with the big draw being their “wow factor.” However, some of the features of these appliances do hold the potential to improve a home’s efficiency and energy savings.

For example, a refrigerator that tracks groceries and lets you know when you’re about to run out of an important item could help you better plan your shopping trips. Fewer car trips conserves gas and reduces greenhouse emissions. Cooking is another area where automation can relieve some of the energy waste caused by human error. Smart ovens and cooktops can sense when to turn themselves off in case you forget to do it – reducing energy waste and fire risks.

More homeowners are discovering the convenience, security and efficiency advantages of home automation. Technology is helping make American homes more livable and enjoyable.


4 DIY projects for your first home

October 5th, 2016 by Emil No comments »

(BPT) – “Where should I start?” It’s a question many homeowners ask themselves.

DIY is a great place to start for new homeowners. DIY projects are very versatile – they can easily be adapted to your skill level, budget and desired project. With a little extra time and creativity, you can transform your home.

Other benefits to choosing a DIY project are that they are typically more cost-effective than the alternative and they offer an added sense of ownership and pride in your home.

Since DIY project ideas are endless, it’s important to choose ones that will improve your home’s value at a reasonable cost. A DIY project should make your life easier and more enjoyable. These are some top recommended DIY projects for first-time homeowners. They won’t break the bank but they will deliver a bang for your buck.

1. Add crown molding or update casing and trim. The addition of crown molding to the top of interior walls is a subtle change with big impact. Casing, which is the trim around doors and windows, can also make a huge difference. The replacement of dated crown molding, casing or trim can make a room look newly updated. Go one step further with a fresh coat of paint on the walls, and you’ll basically have an entirely new room. For more information on how to install crown molding, check out these simple steps.

2. Replace doors. Doors are often forgettable, but don’t have to be. Replace hollow core bedroom, bathroom and closet doors with wood alternatives for an instant dash of richness. And don’t limit yourself to traditionally-styled options. From specialty woods to glass panels, there are plenty of options to choose from.

3. Clean and refinish your wood deck. As long as your wood is in good shape, all you need is deck cleaner and wood stain to turn something dated into the focal point of your backyard. You can buy deck cleaner at your local hardware store. Wood deck stains are available there or at a paint store. You’ll be amazed to see weathered wood look like new again. If you haven’t cleaned or refinished a deck before, here are step-by-step instructions.

4. Update your closets. Add built-in shelving or simply streamline clothes hangers for an organizational boost you’ll thank yourself for every day. Or you can tackle a popular closet upgrade: lining a traditional closet with cedar. Natural cedar looks great, smells great and keeps moths and mildew away. It’s a classic and high-end upgrade that’s not terribly expensive or time-intensive. When your friends or family open your closet, they will be pleasantly surprised.

Use tongue-and-groove cedar to line some or all of an existing closet. You can leave baseboards in place if they’re thicker than the cedar. If not, remove them with a pry bar before the cedar installation. Use nails to attach the cedar to the wall studs, or adhere them with a construction adhesive. Prepare to feel like a bona fide fancy grown-up when it’s done!

These are just a fraction of the many DIY projects possibilities. The most important piece of advice is to have fun and don’t be afraid to try new things. The more DIY projects you complete, the more confident you’ll feel. To get started, pencil in a dedicated DIY day on your calendar and enjoy the process!


Tips for creating a virtually self-cleaning bathroom

October 4th, 2016 by Emil No comments »

(BPT) – Americans may be spending less time on housework, but that’s probably not much consolation when you’re scrubbing the toilet for the third time in a week. Meanwhile, hours spent working are taking more of our time, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey. Factor in other time demands like taking care of the kids, your in-laws, your spouse and yourself, and it’s easy to see why products that improve cleanability are gaining ground in bathroom design.

Fortunately, elbow grease and harsh chemical cleansers are no longer the only ways to keep a bathroom clean. Today, a variety of bathroom fixtures, devices and construction materials can all help contribute to a bathroom that cleans up with less effort from you and stays that way for longer.

Innovative fixtures and faucets

Cleaning the toilet, tub and shower probably doesn’t top anyone’s list of favorite tasks. While it’s still necessary to do regular deep cleaning, when it comes to daily maintenance, a range of new bathroom additions can lend a hand.

* Self-cleaning toilets – Even in the cleanest households, the toilet can be a hotbed for a variety of unpleasantness. The new ActiClean self-cleaning toilet from American Standard can make day-to-day cleaning of the bowl a much easier task. The press of a button releases cleaning solution into the bowl for either a one-minute quick clean or a 10-minute deep clean, while the patented VorMax jetted flushing technology powerfully scours the bowl to remove all splatter, skid marks and clinging waste. At the end of the soak period, the unit automatically siphons away the cleaner and rinses the bowl with clear water. Simply press a button, walk away, and let the toilet do the rest – it’s that easy.

* Smarter showers – Sure, you can find high-tech, high-cost showers that keep shower doors spotless through nano-technology that repels dirt and water droplets. But having an easy-to-clean shower can actually be simpler and less expensive. It starts by choosing the right materials and design. For example, traditional shower doors are notorious for building up mold, mildew and grime in door tracks. Frameless shower doors can eliminate that problem. If you hate mold in tile grout (and who doesn’t?) you have numerous options. Tile your shower with a dark tile and dark grout. Or, opt for tiles made with mildew-resistant coatings. For super-easy cleaning – not to mention leading edge design – you can even choose a concrete shower.

* No-touch faucets – The bathroom faucet is the most touched area in a bathroom, which means it can also have the most germs. After all, everyone touches it right after using the toilet (you hope). Touchless bathroom sink faucets can help reduce the spread of bacteria and germs, since no one needs to touch them to turn them on. Plus, their hands-free operation ensures that the faucet stays free of fingerprints, soap scum and toothpaste splatters. A wave of the hand starts the faucet — and you’re on your way to a tidier, maybe even immaculate, bathroom.

Cleaner construction

Of course, if you’ll be renovating a bathroom or building a new home, the best way to ensure a cleaner bathroom at the get-go is to start with construction materials that promote cleanliness. Mildew resistant tiles and grout, mold-resistant paint, and solid surface countertops can all add up to less cleaning time down the road.

One of the most important features to incorporate into a bathroom to help keep it fresher and healthier is an exhaust fan. This will not only remove unpleasant odors from the bathroom, it will also vent moisture out of the room from steamy showers and baths. Excess moisture in a bathroom is one of the leading causes of mold and mildew, which can be unsightly, smelly and unhealthy.

Yes, you can achieve freedom from cleaning. By installing easy-to-clean bathroom fixtures and materials, you can invest less time, effort and energy keeping the room clean. Unexpected guests – drop in unannounced at any time!