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Home improvement can enhance your quality of life and increase the value of your property. Discover how you can create a “better nest” on any size budget.

Home improvement: what thoughts flash through your mind when you hear that phrase?

Do you remember enjoying a nice, hot shower, then having the water suddenly turn icy cold because someone else in the house turned on hot water too?
Did you wish your water heater were twice as big?

May we suggest the following books as a starting point for your home improvement projects.

Tools stored neatly - Home improvement Or maybe you look into your back yard and see a clutter of yard tools or kids toys. Do you long for a neat looking garden shed to store all those items in an orderly, attractive way?

Do you live in a vintage home; one that was built when life was very different from today?
Do you dream of adequate closet space and a surplus of electrical outlets?

If you can relate to any of these or dozens of related scenarios, then this site is for you.

Home improvement can mean many different things to different people depending on their time available to complete a project, skill level and budget. A home improvement project can be as simple as decorating with pictures – a project requiring only pictures, picture hangers and a hammer – or as complex as a total renovation – requiring an architect, a contractor, an interior designer and a very large dumpster. Most home improvement projects fall somewhere in the middle.

Let’s look at some examples:

Low Budget, Short Time

Some home improvement projects that require only a little time (one or two days) and little or no money are:

Rearranging furniture – You might not think of moving furniture as home improvement, but if you can enhance the function of a space, making it more usable, or ease traffic flow through a space, is that not a home improvement?

Painted dining room - home improvement

Paint – Painting can be one of the most impactful home improvements you can make. A new coat of paint can brighten and freshen a space remarkably. If you can do the work yourself, you can paint a room for under $200 in just a day or two.

Window treatments – Window treatments can have many functions other than simply dressing for the windows. You might choose a window covering specifically for light control or to help temper the effects of heat or cold in your spaces, increase privacy, or simply to enhance the beauty of the space. Cost can vary depending on how many windows you are covering and how elaborate your window treatment is. With a good drill and a helper, installation is usually pretty quick.

Other quick, inexpensive projects would include hanging pictures, adding shelving or storage units, etc. For more information and ideas, visit our Home Interior and Indoor Lighting pages.

Moderate Budget, Moderate Time

These home improvement projects cost several thousand dollars each and can take from a weekend to a couple of weeks to complete:

Flooring – To the traditional choices of ceramic tile, hardwood, vinyl, carpet or marble, you can now add bamboo, cork, a range of stones, concrete, and more. The cost of flooring can range from inexpensive to very expensive. The time required to install depends on how many spaces are being floored and the method of installation. Most floors can be installed in a day or two.

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Adding an outdoor deck or sunroom – Adding comfortable outdoor living spaces to your home can enhance your life in so many ways. From a playroom for the kids or grandkids to a place to host parties or lounge on a summer day, these flexible areas can expand your living space and put more fun into your life.

Sprinkler Systems – Adding a sprinkler system to your landscape helps maintain your lawn and garden in beautiful condition despite your busy schedule. A zoned installation lets your flower beds and garden areas get the water they need and your lawn and trees get exactly what they need without wasting precious water. Automatic timers let you water at the optimum time of day for maximum absorption and minimum evaporation.

You’ll find lots more inspiration and information on our Home Exterior and Landscape pages.

Big Budget, Lots of Time

Kitchen remodel - home interiors

Projects in this category usually encompass a number of smaller projects and may involve demolition or major construction, like adding rooms, renovating a kitchen, installing new HVAC equipment, remodeling a bathroom or even gutting and rebuilding an entire structure.

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Be sure to get professional help when undertaking this type of home improvement. The cost of their service will more than pay for itself in frustration and things done improperly. When looking for an architect, contractor or other professional, be sure to check with the Better Business Bureau and get recommendations from relatives and friends. Obtain copies of licenses and insurance binders, and by all means, contact their references to see whether their former clients were happy with the results.

You’re Invited

… to explore these and many other home improvement topics throughout the site. Come back often, because we’ll be adding new content regularly. In fact, in one section of the blog we’ll be recounting our experiences as we work on our vintage home. As you go throughout the site, we welcome and encourage you to interact with us; tell us what you like and what you don’t. Tell us how we can make the site better fit your needs.

You’re also invited to participate with us in any or all of the following ways:

  • If you find something that is informative or helpful, tell us and tell your friends.
  • If you have a question, a tip or a suggestion for a new topic, fill out the form on the Contact Us page. We’ll share your input and get a conversation started. (Don’t worry. You won’t get added to any mailing lists.)
  • If you have an experience to share that’s funny or started off horrible but turned out well, share that with us as well. We’ll share it on the site (with your permission), but we promise to protect your identity.

Mostly, we just want you to enjoy…

Home Exterior

Regular maintenance and upgrades to your home exterior are one element of “curb appeal” that can greatly enhance the value and desirability of a property.

home exterior

Your home exterior provides many opportunities for home improvement.

Your property can be broken into two major categories: the home exterior and the surrounding landscape. Within these two major categories there are dozens of subcategories. This article will address the home exterior only. Landscape will be treated in a separate article.

Areas of your home exterior that might trigger maintenance and improvement projects would include:

Roofing

Whether due to storm damage or normal wear and tear, eventually roofing needs to be replaced. Insurance companies offer a great discount to replace wood shake shingles with a material that is more fire resistant like composition roofing, clay tile or metal. The type and color of roofing materials should be chosen to complement other home exterior materials.

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If you decide to change your roofing material, be certain that your walls are strong enough to bear the weight of the new material. For example, clay tiles are beautiful, durable and fire resistant, but also very heavy. Placing them on a roof without properly reinforcing the walls can cause the entire structure to literally burst apart at the seams. Consult a structural engineer for guidance in changing roofing materials.

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Insulation

Fiberglass bat insulationInsulation is considered a part of the home exterior because although it is under the roof and inside the walls, it is not part of the living space. It is an aspect of a building’s construction. Older buildings can almost always benefit from the addition or replacement of insulation. New materials such as radiant barrier, that is sprayed onto the rafters in an attic or the studs in a wall, and recycled paper are economical and very effective insulators.

Insulation can also be used in interior walls and in ceilings between floors as a sound barrier. This is especially useful in creating a “quiet zone” between bedrooms and the public rooms like the living room or den.

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Siding

The siding or “skin” of a home exterior is very important in protecting the structure from water, wind and other corrosive elements. Siding materials may include the obvious wood clapboards, brick, stucco, stone or rock. Vinyl or aluminum siding can offer a low maintenance alternative to wood on a home exterior. Changing the siding material can completely alter the appearance of a home exterior.

As a part of the routine maintenance of your home exterior, you should periodically inspect the condition of the siding, looking for loose joints or missing pieces in siding; missing or weak mortar joints in brick, rock or stone; and bubbling, peeling or other signs of weakness in adobe or stucco. These conditions will often be the result of water penetrating the “skin” and should be repaired immediately to prevent water damage to the interior.

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Windows and Doors

The “eyes” of a structure, these openings allow for light, air, people and pets to pass through. Home exterior doors should be solid core, either solid wood, insulation filled fiberglass or steel. Steel doors should be reinforced in the handle and lock areas to prevent the door being pried open with a crowbar or other tool. “Lights”, or windows, in doors should be of multi-paned glass for temperature control. Leaded effects or frosted glass will provide privacy while letting in plenty of natural light.

Windows and French doors home exterior

Windows are the best way to “bring the outdoors in”. They should be multi-paned to provide the best heat/cold barrier. If you have existing single pane windows, storm windows can be added to the home exterior. If you are building a new structure or replacing existing windows, double or triple pane windows are easy to care for and energy efficient.

To increase energy efficiency, low-e (coated) glass or shade screens can be used on home exterior walls that face the sun, especially in the afternoons. These allow the light to pass through, but eliminate glare, heat transfer and UV damage to interiors. You’ll find more information on windows and doors on our Indoor Lighting page.

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For more on how to improve your home’s curb appeal, check out our Landscape section.

Home Interior

When considering a home interior project, thoughtful planning of flooring, walls, windows and lighting can produce a result you will be happy to live with.

home interior living roomThere are literally dozens of home interior choices that will make your space more attractive and more functional. Many projects can be implemented in one to two days for a cost ranging from zero to a few hundred dollars. You can break these home interior options into categories by function or by room, depending on how you plan to work.

For example, if you plan to replace all of the flooring in your home interior at one time, you would choose from among the available flooring types for the way you live in your home:

  • children/no children
  • pets/no pets
  • spend a lot of time at home/spend a lot of time traveling
  • and so on.

On the other hand, if you plan to work on one room at a time, you would need to determine what you need for the project room in terms of wall covering, flooring, lighting, storage, window treatments, furniture, etc., depending on who will use the space, how it will be used and how it relates to the rest of your home interior.

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Let’s take a closer look at some categories you will want to consider when planning your home interior makeover.

Flooring

You will probably choose different types of flooring for different areas of your home interior. Entryways, mud rooms, bathrooms and kitchens need a floor covering that can stand up to moisture. Bedrooms and hallways benefit from a sound dampening material like carpet or cork. You may prefer the warmth and natural beauty of hardwood, the durability of concrete, stone or tile or the easy care of sheet vinyl or linoleum.

Care requirements are also a factor. Most resilient floors require only sweeping or dust mopping on a regular basis with an occasional damp mopping to clean up spills or refresh the floor. Carpet must be vacuumed regularly and should be professionally cleaned at least once a year. Marble and other natural stones may require honing, polishing and other special treatments periodically to keep them looking their best.

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 Walls

Paint adds drama to this dining room - home interiorMost people, by default or by choice, have drywall or plaster walls with a coat of white paint. But treated creatively, walls can add so much to your home interior. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that you must keep your walls white or plain so your house will sell well. Unless you are planning to sell your home in the near future, use paint, wallpaper, textured plaster and other methods to create an interesting, inviting atmosphere that you will enjoy. Kitchens and bathrooms are great places to use tile on the walls to add drama.

Window Treatments

Whether simple or elaborate, window treatments are not just for appearance. They can serve a variety of other functions, like light control, privacy, temperature control and ventilation, to name just a few. You can choose from shades (plain or patterned), shutters, blinds of all kinds, drapes, valances and more, in a host of materials.

window coverings give privacy - home interior The great thing about window coverings is that you can layer them, putting a sheer drapery over plantation blinds, for example. This allows you to control the amount of light and heat coming into the room (the blinds), while maintaining privacy when the blinds are open (the sheers).

The main thing is to think carefully about your home interior and how your windows relate to how each space is used. Then look for the best combination of beauty and function.

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Lighting

Creating an effective lighting design is another area where careful consideration of your home interior is required. How is the space used? Do you need to provide for mood lighting (dimmer switches or recessed lighting)? Which areas need task lighting (kitchen counters, stove top, desks, vanities)? Do you need to include specialized accent lighting for art?

The variety of lighting solutions available is truly amazing and often comes in coordinated sets so that you can use a similar look throughout your home interior for entryways and stairwells, dining rooms, bathrooms, bedrooms and even ceiling fans with coordinating light kits.

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For more on this topic, visit our Indoor Lighting page.

With thoughtful planning in these areas you can create a professional looking home interior that you will be proud of for years to come.

Landscape

The best landscape designs are based on careful planning that consider location, lifestyle and resources to create a useful, beautiful property.

The landscape of a property is composed of two major elements: Hardscapes and Plantscapes. There are a host of sub-elements and even more possible variations. To achieve the absolute best results a landscape should be planned in as much detail as possible, taking into account the orientation of the lot, the house, any other buildings on the property, and how each part of property will be used. The size, growth pattern and life expectancy of plant materials should also be considered.

The best landscape designs divide a property into zones, providing a space for every use and focal points to draw the eye into the zone.

Hardscapes

The hardscapes in a landscape are composed of driveways, walkways, patios, decks, porches, fences, pools or fountains and outbuildings, which may include a garden shed, garage, pool house, greenhouse, etc. These elements should be carefully planned to position them for ease of access to the main house or service areas, orientation to the sun and relationship to plantings.

Pavement Options

Intimate gravel patio with rock wall - landscapeTo avoid huge swaths of concrete, consider using alternate materials like aggregate, brick or stained and textured concrete for driveways and walkways. Walkways may also be made from gravel, flagstone, or tiles. Incorporating curves into walkways, patios, pool surrounds and other large areas adds interest and helps to keep the eye moving through the landscape instead of focusing on a large rectangle of pavement.

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Fences

Fences are not just to separate one property from another. They can be used in the landscape to separate service areas from “living” areas and to create intimate settings for entertaining or reflection. For example, a low wall could be used around the edge of a patio (as in the image above) to create an intimate seating and dining area while maintaining a view of the larger yard. A lattice wall could be used to mask HVAC units, storage sheds or trash bins.

Outbuildings

Outbuildings can be used to protect and organize yard tools, to store pool chemicals, equipment and accessories, to provide a protected place for potting and planting materials. Generally, their function is to keep your landscape neat and organized. Ideally, outbuildings will coordinate (not necessarily match) with the main house in color and style to produce a cohesive look throughout your property.

Plantscapes

back yard garden landscape Plantscapes are literally the life of your landscape. They consist of structural elements, like trees, large shrubs and garden areas and of lawns and beds. Plants fall into two classes: perennials, live from year to year as a permanent part of your landscape; annuals and biennials, on the other hand, are replanted each year or two. They grow for one or two seasons and then will need to be replaced unless they reseed themselves.

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Planning your plantscape requires as much care and thought as planning the hardscapes.

Trees

trees frame the house landscapeTrees should be planted far enough from buildings, drives and walkways that they do not damage the pavement as they grow, but close enough to provide cooling shade to outdoor living areas. Plantings should be located so as to frame the house and provide unobstructed access to doorways and walks.

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Gardens

xeric garden landscapeA xeric garden can be a lush and colorful part of the landscape. Garden areas can be provided for growing vegetables, herbs and flowers. Often, herbs, flowers and some vegetables can be grown as borders beneath shrubs as part of your landscape beds. But be aware that many herbs spread quickly and can take over a bed. You may want to grow these plants in containers. Containers are also ideal for small city gardens. Everything from herbs and vegetables to small trees can be grown in them, so you can literally have a landscape almost anywhere, even an apartment deck.

Plantscapes should also be well adapted to your location. Choose plants that are native to your area or have been adapted. This will keep diseases from your plants and will reduce watering requirements. Xeriscaping, using only native plants and those that require little or no supplemental watering, has become very popular in recent years. Xeriscaping does not mean “no maintenance”, however. Plants still need to be monitored for pests, pruned and cared for.

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For information on lighting your landscape, see our Outdoor Lighting page.