All posts tagged home improvement

Let’s Talk About Lumber

Let’s Talk About Lumber

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For Westchester homeowners looking to get more into the DIY lifestyle, lumber is a material that provides a myriad of uses and can offer a major gateway into understanding how one can build on one’s own terms. Knowing what you want to build and what you want to do with your lumber, however, is only the beginning, as there are several types of popular lumber that can be used for many different projects. One type of lumber is good for small Westchester home jobs, while others are better for big jobs, and it’s important to know the difference.

Western lumber is perhaps the most well known, used for most general building projects and framing, and there are some 15-20 commercially important species of Western softwood. Douglas fir and Hem fir tend to be the most popular and can be classified in three terms: high-quality appearance, general-purpose board or radius-edged patio decking. When looking for western lumber, make sure the brand you purchase has the logo of the Western Wood Products Association (WWPA), which has excellent quality standards and a thorough, check process. Lumber with “WWPA Rules” stamped on it, however, merely indicates the lumber has been graded according to the WWPA rules, but not inspected.

Redwood has two major grades: heartwood and sapwood. Either comes in a variety of grades including a fine finish or a rougher, less attractive finish. Heartwood fends off termites and decay naturally, making it an obvious choice for projects involved in nature or underground. Sapwood, on the other hand, should not be used in contact with the ground, but is good for many Westchester home projects. Architectural redwood is, of course, the strongest redwood, often kiln-dried and used for structural and finish applications. Lastly, garden redwood comprises lower grades and is used commonly for decks, fences, and, you guessed it, gardens.

Less prominent but highly valuable is southern pine. It boasts high strength, resistance to wear and is perfect for projects that require fasteners be used with wood. Southern pine is graded 1-4: 1 has the highest quality and best appearance, 2 has tight knots but usually has no holes, 3 is serviceable sheathing, and more popular than other grades, and 4 contains usable portions of 24 inches long. Then there’s treated lumber, which is resistant to weather, termites and fungus. ACQ and copper azole are the current popular chemicals used to treat lumber, which is used in outdoor consumer projects (decks, etc.). Treated wood isn’t waterproof, but is decay-proof, and comes largely from ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, Hem-fir and southern yellow pine. Be certain to wear respiratory protection when cutting it.

Finally, there is pine shelving, Pieces of pine shelving measure about 1-inch thick and at varying widths and lengths. Shelving is a favorite for those doing touch ups in garages or basements; it’s sometimes referred to as simply “garage shelving.” Consumer-grade pieces measure up to 12 feet long but most consumer sales will come in at 4 and 6-foot lengths. It’s the most economical wood, which is where a beginner would most likely want to start, but now that you have some idea about lumber, you can start anywhere you like, really.


Make Those Squeaky Floorboards Silent

Make Those Squeaky Floorboards Silent

Squeaky floorboards are one of those things that most people consider a necessary evil of homeownership. Some people think it’s a sign that the entire floor is about to give way, or that a poltergeist is secretly creeping around, or that they really need to hit the gym. In reality, this is a natural deterioration of the floorboards that have dried out after awhile and are now sliding and grinding against each other; there’s also the factor of unstable subflooring. Bare hardwood floors tend to be the main culprits but the squeaks are still perceivable in carpeted areas and tiled areas.

Fixing these common annoyances is an easy enough project for an active home improvement weekender. In any situation, the first thing to do is locating the squeak and mark it with some electrical tape. Now, the toughest situation is when you have no way of getting under a bear hardwood floor and must fix it from above. This will require a drill, breakaway screws, matching screwdriver bit and a depth-control fixture. (O’Berry’s makes a handy counter-snap kit for this sort of job.) Drill a pilot hole (approximately 3/32 in.-dia) and use the depth-control fixture provided in the kit to drill one of the provided screws into the hole until it snaps off. To conceal the work, fill the hole with wood putty.

Carpeted floors that need to be looked at from above can be similarly fixed. In this case, I highly suggest a squeak-no-more kit, which contain everything you’d need for this job, including breakaway screws and a pilot screw for locating joists. If you have a joist locator, it’s a bit easier and quicker. Using either, locate the joist that is in closest proximity to your squeak and mark it. To ensure your carpet doesn’t get damaged, wrap the special breakaway screw with scotch tape when you drive the screw through the fixture. Screw it in and then use the fixture’s side to break off the top of the breakaway screw. All of the work you’ve should be concealed by the carpeting.

The more common and easier task is fixing squeaks from underneath, through a basement. Have a member of your family or a friend walk over the squeaky area while you’re below. Take a thin wooden shim, cover it with carpenter’s glue and tap it into the area between the closest joist and the subfloor. Follow this up with a drywall screw driven through the joist, the shim and into the subfloor at an angle. This is an easy enough fix, but for a more secure fix, get your hands on a hold-down bracket – the most popular one is the Squeak-Ender. This usually consists of a steel mounting plate being held next to the trouble spot’s closest joist, screwed into the subfloor and then tightened via attached nuts so that the joist and the floor are brought closer together.

Floorboards make noise, so don’t get out your kits and tool belt every time you hear the faintest utterance of sound. Be reasonable, but there’s no denying the sound of a floorboard that needs attention. Now, at the very least, you’ll be able to walk across your home without wanting to run for the scale or checking the notches on your belt.


Be Yourself With A New, Personalized Backsplash

Be Yourself With A New, Personalized Backsplash

Kitchen renovations are expensive, obviously, but that doesn’t mean that one’s kitchen has to remain a dull workspace for home cooking. A very popular way to give a kick of color and personality to a kitchen is installing a new kitchen backsplash with some personally chosen tiles. And whether you currently have a backsplash or merely painted drywall in your kitchen, the job is, as it turns out, relatively easy from a DIY standpoint, though removing old backsplash can get a bit messy to say the least.

In the case of painted drywall, you can start by sanding the area to rough up the surface for installation. If you already have a tile backsplash, however, you need to get rid of it completely, which tends to involve cutting out and getting rid of both the drywall and the attached tiles before putting the new backer board onto the studs; cement backer is best but green drywall is ultimately almost as good.

Now, its measuring time! You’ll need to get the length of the backsplash and measure the distance from the top of your counter to the bottom of your top cabinets to calculate what will be your tiled area. Now, this is where you begin to have fun. Use graph paper and draw a scale outline to see how you’ll want to set-up your tile pattern. 4 x 4, 6 x 6 or 3 x 4 subway tiles tend to be the favored types but using 1 x 1 tiles attached to a back mesh has become just as popular over the years. Calculate your tile quantities from there but be sure to tack on 10-15% for cutting and wastage and be sure that you’re using glazed tiles.

So, when you get back from the Home Depot or local hardware store, it’s time to install. First, remove the stove or range hood, outlet or switch cover plates, and anything else that will be in the way of a precise tiling job. (Also, be sure to turn of the electricity to that particular area!) If you need to, install the backer board first by using galvanized drywall screws. A 1/8″ gap between the edges is a solid distance when installing the boards. Use mesh wire and filler to cover. In case of any gaps (ex. the range area), use a temporary ledger board along the base of your tile line to help hold your tiles in place. Find, mark and draw a visible startling line with a level at the central focal point of your design. This is to line up your tiles vertically in the correct way.

It’s best to lay your tiles out somewhere open, just to have the design set in your head, and then get ready to place the tiles. From the center, begin with the bottom row. You will need tile mastic or thin-set mortar to set the tiles. Add a little of either to a small section of the wall using a trowel, preferably grooved. Put the edge of the first tile on the starting line you made and remember to leave a 1/8″ gap on the bottom for caulking. Press the first tile into place, then put in a temporary 1/8″ spacer vertically and continue on like this.

At one point, you will likely have to cut a tile to fit certain areas and for this, you will need a scoring cutter, which can be rented or purchased. Mark on the tile where you will need to cut before putting the tile in the tool and scoring said mark on the surface. Used properly, the cutter will break the tile along the scored line. In the case of an electrical outlet, you may be need to cut two tiles and then use tile nippers to cut out the opening and put them on each side of the outlet. After the tiles are in place, apply a mixed sandless grout with a rubber float. Make sure to push it down into the gaps between the tiles and remove any excess grout. Then, just let it set for about an hour or so.

Use and regularly rinse wet sponges for the cleanup and it doesn’t hurt to employ a clean dry cloth to give the tiles a good buff and shine. 
Your electrical outlets will likely need box extenders before you place the cover plates back on and then, finally, apply caulk, preferably the same color as your chosen grout, all along the bottom seam where the backsplash meets the countertop. With this, your kitchen should not only be a workspace but will emanate the feeling of a distinct place for friends and family to take a moment and share a story or take a peak at what you’re preparing.


Fixing Those Pesky Flickers

Fixing Those Pesky Flickers

The first thing most people do (rightly) when they see a bulb flickering is try to replace it, or just chalk it up to bad weather or a momentary dim from a momentary glitch. Most of the time, this is all a flicker denotes but some flickers (think a three-to-four-second flicker) can become annoyances and represent a fault that requires either immediate or forthcoming repair.  Now, to be sure, we’re not talking about the expected dims that can come from CFL bulbs (the twirly, spiral energy-saving ones) connected to dimmer switches, but rather repetitive flickers that usually coincide with other electrical usage.

Consistent flickers are usually due to a poor connection in your wiring, affecting a singular part of your circuit. If an entire circuit is affected, the source of the problem will likely be in the breaker or, less frequently, the panel; the panel is a regular source for flickers on an entire circuit. But we’re talking about consecutive flickers coming from a single source. For an example, let’s say an overhead light is flickering every time you turn it on at night. The source of the problem will almost always be spotty connections coming from the light fixture, the switch box or the outlet. To help diagnose which one it is, one should mark when the flickering occurs and for how long. For instance, if it starts immediately as you flip the switch, the likely culprit is the switch box. It’ll make for an easier project, whether you’re trying to fix it yourself or you’re hiring a professional.

Though this seems like a minor issue, these problems almost always cause arcing, which can heat up connections or wires and lead to further problems either with the single fixture or the overall circuit if it goes unchecked. Smaller, fickle outages will likely be unable to be diagnosed until they erupt in an outright open. In any case, the rule of thumb here is to trust a professional electrician with these problems though, if you do go DIY, be sure to shut off electricity to the entire circuit if you’re attempting to replace or repair the wiring or connection.


Sophisticated, stunning, one of a kind walls

Sophisticated, stunning, one of a kind walls

There are many ways to make your home unique and beautiful. Painting an accent wall in a striking color, adding wallpaper to a room or updating your windows with brand new curtains are all great ways to give your rooms more personality and pizzazz. However, there are also more subtle ways to make your home stand out and turn ordinary walls into stunning works of art. For homeowners in Westchester, wall moldings are the perfect way to make your space feel more polished and sophisticated.

Although they present the ideal opportunity to make a home unique, the walls of many homes tend to be boring. Many homeowners decide to play it safe by leaving their walls bare; unfortunately, this level of conservatism in decorating can make a home seem devoid of personality and style. Wall moldings are a small touch that can dramatically increase the elegance of your rooms and give them more character – with minimal work! If you want to improve the look and feel of your home in Westchester, wall moldings can help you to do so.

Wall moldings have been used in architecture since antiquity, and it’s easy to see why. Wooden or stucco frames around doors, ceilings, floors, windows and entryways serve to define borders and create an appealing interplay of shadow and light. Just as a picture frame enhances a work of art, moldings can increase the visual allure of walls. Base moldings around floors can give your rooms a finished appearance, and crown moldings add elegance to ceilings. For homeowners in Westchester, wall moldings come in a huge variety of styles, making it easy to find the right moldings to complete your decorating scheme and make your home your own. If you’re ready to say goodbye to boring walls, and hello to stunning style, adding moldings to your home could be just the ticket!