Monthly Archives: April 2016

Review Marble Counters and Tile Slab

Making the decision to remodel often includes taking a deep breath and bracing for sticker shock. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Remodeling smart means looking for alternative materials that look just as good, if not better, than your original plan, and cost much less. Here are some of the more popular ‘must have’ remodeling materials and their much cheaper alternatives.

Marble countertops can be astoundingly beautiful, especially when surrounded by rich wood cabinetry. But the price tag on those countertops can be enough to make a budget-minded homeowner back away with real regret. Is it possible to create the look of a marble countertop without the steep cost?



Amazingly, it is. Often known as ‘thin porcelain tile,’ the material is much lighter and thinner than marble, allowing for easier installation. The thinnest slabs can be installed right over an existing countertop, thus saving a great deal of money in demo work. The lines throughout the tile are so well-made that it is impossible to tell the difference between them and the natural look of marble. In short, it’s a perfect fake.

If that’s something to rejoice about, the price differences will make you swoon. Marble can easily cost between $50 and $100 and up per square foot; thin porcelain tile will run about half that, depending upon the style. One of the big selling points is the lack of necessity for a full gutting of the kitchen or bathroom, which saves even more cash.

A gorgeous old hardwood floor can be enough to make a homeowner go weak in the knees. But floors that have stood the test of time are often found only in much older homes. If you want that look in a newer house, it’s going to be necessary to go with hand-scarped wood floors, right?

Maybe not. Reclaimed wood is all the rage, and for good reason: It allows homeowners to get the look of old wood for a much cheaper price, and it saves those treasured old boards from ending up in landfills or deteriorating even more in abandoned homes. A simple refinish and the wood is ready to be used — nail holes, scrapes, and all.

The money saved depends upon where you get the wood. In most cases, expect to save an average of two-thirds off the retail price through a building supply store or salvage shop. If you pull the wood from an old house or barn yourself, your savings will be even higher.

Opting for wood siding can turn any home into a classic. Most wood siding comes with the added bonus of being versatile, as with a few fresh coats of paint, your house can look like an entirely different place. But wood siding requires a great deal of maintenance over its lifetime and the good stuff can be quite expensive.

Engineered wood siding is made of wood strands combined with a resin binder. The result is a strong, durable yet light wood material that easily installs on a home. It can be installed just like wood with the use of typical woodworking tools. In fact, engineered wood is so close to the ‘real thing’ that is can be very tough to tell them apart.

The big differences in the two options become evident at the bottom line. Wood siding installed by a professional tends to cost between $6,500 and $10,000 for a 1,250 square foot home. Engineered wood siding, again installed by a professional, cuts that cost to between $3,000 and $5,000.

When seeking out the best alternatives, choose materials from manufacturers that are tried and true. Cheaper materials from a reputable company are definitely not the same as ‘cheap’ materials from a company that is very new to the home improvement scene.

Using more affordable materials can save a great deal of money as long as they are installed properly and treated correctly. That’s why choosing the right contractor is so important. Look for someone who has a great deal of experience, excellent reviews, and a thorough estimate. Proper installation of more affordable elements helps ensure they truly will stand the test of time.

Making the decision to remodel often includes taking a deep breath and bracing for sticker shock. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Remodeling smart means looking for alternative materials that look just as good, if not better, than your original plan, and cost much less. Here are some of the more popular ‘must have’ remodeling materials and their much cheaper alternatives.

8 Essential Things to Know Before You Hire a Contractor

Contractor Stephen Fanuka shares what he wishes his clients knew before—and after— hiring him.

1. Don’t expect perfection — expect quality.

The most unrealistic expectation a client can have is that the job will be perfect. There’s no such thing. Painting and tiling and brickwork aren’t done by machine. They’re done by craftsmen — who, yes, are human.

2. Your contractor is making judgments from the moment he steps in your home.


This is like a first date — the first time a contractor meets a client, we size up who they are, how they conduct themselves. What’s their personality like? Are they hot-tempered? Dismissive of your suggestions? If they deal with you this way right off the bat, there probably won’t be a second date.

3. … but they know you’re making judgments, too.

Clients want to be sure you are responsible and fully involved. They want us to be attentive, direct, honest, courteous. In other words: We should be someone they won’t mind seeing every day for six months or longer.

4. Good negotiators can get a better price.

Get more than one bid. Start with the highest-end contractor, the best-stuff-money-can-buy guy. Ask him for a detailed proposal. Take that proposal and copy it, leaving out the costs. Pass it out to subsequent contractors you interview and ask them to fill in the costs. This will give you a good idea of what the job is worth. But be cautious: The lowest bid isn’t usually the best.

5. Safety is your responsibility, too.

Do a simple gut check: Do you want this guy in your home for the next year? Find out if your contractor is licensed. Ask them to show you the license. Make sure they carry liability insurance, so if one of their guys falls off a ladder and breaks his neck, you’re not sued. Likewise, if they cause any damage to your property, you won’t have to pay for it.

6. Feel free to hire subcontractors — but don’t go over your contractor’s head.

Contractors are like agents, always looking for fresh talent. Let’s say you happen to know a terrific painter who’ll do you a favor on price. Most contractors won’t mind that kind of limited subcontracting, especially if you throw a small managerial fee their way.

7. Be nice to the crew.

One simple thing clients can do to make my life easier: Allow the crew to use your bathroom. You’d be surprised how many clients ask us to go to the nearest gas station or diner. Make the work environment comfortable. If it’s 97 degrees, we’re remodeling an attic, and the client won’t let us turn on the AC — that’s cruel. Also, maintain an air of diplomacy and good cheer. Wait 15 minutes before you discuss anything that’s really upsetting you.

8. Pay attention to the warning signs.

Is the contractor usually late? Do you make several calls before he gets back to you? Does he delegate the job to one of his crew? Is he careless about keeping the job clean? Know when to draw the line. This is your home after all, not a construction site.

4 Ways to Make The Most of a Tiny Backyard

  1. If you’re a city dweller there’s a good chance the size of your backyard, if you’re lucky enough to even have one, is on the smaller side. But like the old proverb: good things come in small packages; a small backyard can be a lovely, intimate oasis. Here are 6 ideas for making the most out of your outdoor space.

    Let it burn: If you only have enough room for a few plants, make them showstoppers. The fiery Burning Bush is a deciduous shrub that gets its name from the brilliant shade of its red fall leaves. The Burning Bush adapts to a variety of soils and climate conditions and can be grown in almost any area of the country. You’ll look forward to fall just to enjoy the amazing color.

    Veg out. Container gardening is a great way to create layers of greenery. And why not make your garden edible? Fresh herbs, strawberries, tomatoes, grapes, and other plants that enjoy climbing are a perfect fit for a smaller garden.  Companies like Minifarmbox specialize in products for small produce gardens. Ideally, most vegetables want six to eight hours of full sun, so depending on your light situation, you may opt to put your bed on wheels so that you can move it around to chase the sun.

    Create a natural fence: If privacy is an issue, plant bamboo as a lush and quick alternative to a fence, or to mask an unsightly one. Bamboo is fast growing and very low maintenance. Beware, though, some varieties of bamboo are invasive, so choose wisely in order to keep it from overtaking your backyard, or spreading to your neighbor’s.

    Light it up:
    Outdoor or patio string lights are a wonderful may to brighten up your outdoor space and make it feel festive. Also, they are inexpensive and can be installed easily. You can hang strands of light in rows or a criss cross pattern, wrap lights around a tree or bush, or both. Get creative and make the space yours. And no need to stick with basic white lights, or standard shapes. Try pink lights for a soft, romantic mood, old lanterns for a vintage feel, or fun shapes (palm trees, unicorns) to match your interests and personality.

    These are just a few ideas for maximizing the outdoor space you have available. By using your space wisely, you’ll have a relaxing, green space to call your own without giving up the concrete jungle.