Friday, December 30, 2011

A Painter's Promise

Earlier this week, I was glad to hear that a close friend of mine, a NYC painter, had started to see a tremendous influx of work after a particularly dire dry spell. We met years ago, at the retirement party of a colleague of his that I apprenticed under for a summer, and we kept in touch, even worked on a few jobs together. He’s been around for a while and has some experience and, as such, I was glad to hear about the work but was woe to hear about the circumstances that brought him the job.

There are varying theories on just how much responsibility is put on painters, and all other handymen and service providers for that matter, when they take up a job. The times I’ve worked with painters, the only major responsibility we put to the customer was clearing out the way and ensuring none of their larger, more valuable items got splattered. My friend the painter (there’s no harm, I suppose, in referring to him as “Mike”) requests this service as well but I’ve seen him move more than one or two couches in our day.

One thing that is commonplace, however, is that the painter takes care of any repairs, as long as they are paid a reasonable amount for their time and labor. The gross lack of these minor considerations was the reason Mike was called into a young couple’s home in Seaford to steam and strip some wallpaper and paint. As was relayed to me, the original painter, an independent four-man crew, promised to have the work done within a week, didn’t contact the woman of the house for nearly three weeks (despite several phone calls to them) and then cited the fact that she hadn’t removed the wallpaper yet as the reason they didn’t start, even though they had originally stipulated that they would take care of cleaning and repairing before painting the walls.

Steaming and stripping wallpaper is hardly a job that requires any sort of expertise. Renting a steamer is a simple task and there are numerous ways to learn how to properly use the device. The one I used (I’ve only had the privilege four times in my life) consisted of a three-foot-high tank with rubber tubing running to a large square (about 2’5”x 2’5”) that emits heavy doses of steam. You press the square against a desired area for about 20 seconds to half-a-minute and use a paint scraper to remove the loosened wallpaper.

As would be expected, there are certain patches that require repair from the process, most of which can be fixed with some joint compound, a taping knife and some sandpaper to even out the repaired area. Even if it was more of a chore, however, it certainly isn’t something that would cause a three-week delay, and that is disregarding the fact that no one said that he had to ensure the repairs in the first place! Again, I am glad enough to see Mike happy and working but the NYC handyman in me gets riled by such deplorable behavior. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Garage Sales

There was work going on at my mother’s neighbor’s house while I was home in Albany last week and I couldn’t help but inquire with my mother’s neighbors about what the trouble was. In the suburbs, electronic garage doors are a far more regular sight than they are in the city, even in the outer boroughs of NYC. One thing that distinguishes electronic garage doors to manual ones is that the electrical ones can get into what any electrician, NYC or not, would call “phantom operations.” Apparently, this had happened to my mother’s neighbors right after the installation but they were unable to contact the man who had installed it to do a check-up. My mother’s neighbors, The Matthews, had even driven to their offices, only to find it closed, in the middle of the day, on a weekday.

Michael and Joan (The Matthews) were able to get a pretty reasonable price on an inspection and servicing but the idea that the installer felt the need to duck the repair is disquieting. Unless this was a straight-up bilk job – doubtful, seeing as my neighbor had received a recommendation for the man – there is no conceivable reason that wouldn’t fall under the rubric of incalculable greed. Having talked to my NYC electrician and installer friends this week, many of them said the main reason for phantom operations is a power surge, which most installers and/or electricians can diagnose pretty easily. Now, the Matthews are doing well enough that they can afford to have someone else come and do the work, but this should be something that the installer takes responsibility for, especially considering the installation wasn’t but a week old when the operations began.

There are of course other reasons: faulty remotes, nearby use of advanced electronics (think military bases or larger digital firms), and bad storage (keeping the remote in a cluttered glove department). But these are also things that could be very simply diagnosed by anyone who has installed electronic garage doors for longer than a year. To me, its just another way to make customers nervous about installers, which is certainly not the picture that should be painted when jobless claims are slow rising. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Christmas Clean-Up

As we slog through that often near-comatose period that exists between Christmas and the New Year, it’s a bit of a chore to concentrate on the job at hand. Luckily, my holidays (which went very well, thank you for asking) included at least one incident that made me think of home solutions and common things that homeowners find themselves dealing with even when they are attempting to be festive and care-free.

The harbinger of this solution was Guinness (formerly known as Gus), the pint-size French bulldog that became my mother’s ward earlier this year. I am thoroughly convinced that Guinness has some goblin DNA in him but those who have seen French bulldogs will no doubt attest to the impossibilities of not playing with them and showering them with attention. So it was, while my girlfriend was teasing poor Guinness with a rope toy as my father and me were preparing a salad, the little quasi-goblin canine decided to relieve himself quickly on the carpet, for seemingly little more reason than over-excitement.

When I was growing up in my mother’s home, my dog (Bishop, a golden Labrador) was prone to these accidents as well and as such, my grandmother taught both my mother and me the ins and outs of avoiding bacteria buildup and that inevitable, unbearable smell that comes along with it. The tools needed were, and still are, quite common: paper towels, white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, rubber gloves, a scrubbing brush, dish detergent and baking soda. Some current websites also call for a black light but I have done without, so I’m certain you can too.

Use the paper towels to do an initial soak-up of all the urine; depending on how you handle bodily fluids, the rubber gloves may be useful here.  When most of the urine has been soaked up, empty half a bottle of white vinegar into a bucket and match that amount with room-temperature water. Use a scrubbing brush to get this solution down into the fibers and get rid of any collected bacteria. Then, use the paper towels (or a wet-dry vacuum, if it’s available) to dry up the area once again and once dry, sprinkle some baking powder on top of the area. Pour a mixture of one cup of hydrogen peroxide and a teaspoon of dish detergent (Palmolive works best) over the baking soda and use the scrubbing brush once more to work the mixture into the fibers.

After you dry the last bit, the bacteria should be gone for good and your carpet should be in the clear until the next time your pup can’t keep him/herself in check. To be completely honest, this isn’t a family secret: most professional maids know this technique inside out. Nevertheless, it’s a nice process to have in your back pocket, especially if you’re a pet owner and have extensive carpeting in your house. It might very well save your next Christmas from smelling like the inside of a busy kennel.   

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Quick Class: Float Ball

A short post today, nothing fancy. We’ve been working on some videos over at Click and Improve and while writing a few of them, one thing that came up was common things that people see but don’t know the use for. One thing that came up, as I was talking to a NYC plumber at a recent meeting, was how the mechanisms in the back of the toilet tank work together and how a kink in their process is what tends to be the cause of a runny toilet. This led me to the floater ball, which I remember used to be completely alien to me; that black ball in the toiet tank that looks like an inflatable croquet ball. Not to get too gross, but the winter months can be some battle-test weeks for your toilet and this was something that seemed to be an easy DIY repair job to go through.

The float ball sits on the water and when the toilet flushes, it drops, causing the float arm to raise the valve plunger and bring fresh water into the tank until the floatball is floating again. The most common effect of a defective float ball is a running toilet, and there are a few things that can cause this. The float ball can be cut or leaky, which can cause it to not float properly. There’s also a possibility that the float ball is rubbing up against the side of the tank, which can cause a tear or make it so the lever doesn’t lift properly.

The most common solution is replacement, as float balls are relatively cheap. Regardless, you should replace it immediately, as it links directly with the mechanism that ensures that you can flush your toilet properly. To replace it, you’ll have to turn the water shutoff valve to the toilet and flush the toilet to empty the tank. Use a pair of pliers to take off the rod arm and float ball. Turn the rod arm counterclockwise to remove the defective float ball before threading the new float ball on the rod arm and tighten it. Turn the water back on to the toilet and reattach the rod arm, bending it to reach a desirable level to meet the water level.

Okay. So, admittedly, some of that stuff takes a bit more effort than I led on, but plumbing in general tends to be a craft that even the most experienced of practitioners are consistently refining and honing. But this is a good thing to have in your back pocket when the sound of swirling water is keeping you up to hours that would make Santa cock an eyebrow. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Scam Outs

As the hours tick away towards the holiday weekend, I find myself taking a look more and more at reports of contracting scams, which is upsetting to say the least. There is, I suppose, a certain glee in knowing that I take pride in my work and customer service, as do a great deal of the NYC plumbers I work with, in contrast but that’s mostly pride and doesn’t really help the hundreds of reports from victims of contractor malfeasance that come in daily. During the holidays, when you’ve just spent a large portion of your paycheck on Batman: Arkham City and that Justin Bieber concert movie (on blu-ray, no less), it’s doubly disappointing.

An article published yesterday in the Washington Post spurred my interest in these matters. A technology officer out of Great Falls, along with some other swindlers, decided to bilk the Army Corps. of Engineers out of nearly $20 million while working for Nova Datacom. The scam involves kickbacks (never thought I’d get to use that word), conspiracy and a web of bribes reaching back to 2007. It’s a quagmire, to put it politely, but the truth is that I react far more strongly to local, smaller-scale scams, seeing as it tarnishes the name of all service providers, including and maybe especially NYC handymen.

One of the more perplexing reports I read was from a customer in Buffalo, complaining about a home improvement contractor who was working without permits and boasted a Better Business Bueau accreditation that they did not earn. A fake BBB accreditation shows a disturbing lack of confidence in how one works, since the accreditation itself doesn’t really guarantee that they have been evaluated or endorsed by the BBB. The lack of permits, however, is a charge that should garner genuine legal action and can be seen as real old-fashioned criminal behavior.

Lack of a proper permit may seem like a small thing but to be frank, its one of the most potentially expensive problems you can find yourself in. Not having the right permit can legally cause an inspector or neighbor to file a suit and cause you to pull down any work you’ve done and start again from scratch, causing thousands of dollars potentially. My own mother fell prey to this when she built her front porch. And, to be honest, getting an inspector to come by and tell you what you can do is not really what you would call a hassle. Most inspectors want to help customers understand their project better and far from the bureaucratic task masters that more seedy contractors make them out to be.

In a perfect world, every contractor would have this stuff down but as that customer in Buffalo would tell you, this is not the case. Ask your contractors and service providers about these things, make sure they have it covered before you start in on any project. Otherwise, you might find yourself in the middle of tearing down that new rec room the day after Christmas, as your kids enjoy their presents out of your sight. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

And Here We Go...

Our introductory video is up and it's a humdinger! Check out this video and the other two we made. More to come soon!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Trouble with Christmas Lists

It’s unanimous: I am an absolute pain to shop for. The latest ballot cast on this subject came from my darling girlfriend who opined that not only me, but also any NYC handyman or service provider is near impossible to shop for. I inquired as to how she came to this conclusion and her reason is something I find slight fault in: “You can fix things and you purposefully don’t own that much.”  

What’s my main complaint? This completely dismisses more experiential options, such as a dinner at a nice restaurant or a weekend romp up to Vermont, just for examples. But at the end of the day, my girlfriend has a point: at the end of the day, Id rather be home with her, in pajama pants, eating pizza and watching a recorded TCM movie than get dolled up to try yet another pretty good sushi place that got a good review in Time Out. I find it unlikely that you’d find a NYC handyman with an opinion that differs sharply from that.

Still, she’s big on forcing me into new experiences, which I’m grateful for, and just today, she suggested two things that I can’t say I’d be sad to receive: a day at a spa or quarterly maid service for one year. (She also suggested a gym membership, but I told her quite openly that I already have one gym membership that is barely used and am in no need for a second one.) I am, admittedly, leaning towards the maid service, seeing as I have never really had a “spa treatment” and am somewhat dubious as to whether I will enjoy it in the least. On the other hand, with the exception of my kitchen and bathroom, I am a bit of a compulsive organizer and cleaner, a trait I believe I get from my father.

Of course, this is omitting the obvious truth: I don’t really need much of anything at this point in my life and am happy with how everything is going right now. So, sure, sometime in January, I will return home and my stove top will no longer have those small specks of dried tomato soup will be gone and the tiles of my shower will look whiter than my bicuspids have ever been and, subsequently, I won’t feel like I’m bathing in germs. But at the end of the day, if my gift was a day off with a few good movies and some time on my Nintendo, I’d be genuinely content. And I suppose that does make me a pain to shop for.   

Monday, December 12, 2011

Educational Overload

 Just as I was getting excited about reports that construction work and jobs showing improvement so early into December, a huge gain upon even the optimistic November numbers, a good friend of mine in Washington, who once apprenticed under the same NYC electrician as me, forwarded me a small article. The article, published in the Washington Post, reports on a study that finds two-fifths of graduating high school students unprepared for both college and the workforce, or even work training. Research for the study was done at John Hopkins and the University of Arizona and the results, originally published last year while the study was still going on, are very interesting to say the least.

I am reminded of a scene from the first season of Treme, HBO’s luminous New-Orleans-set drama, in which an older man, a handyman by trade, boasts that he can build an entire home to a young hood who has attempted to rob him. It speaks to a truth that might have gotten glossed over in the age of self-confidence: Always know a trade. Indeed, to be totally clear, know something that no one can short-change. A NYC plumber has stores of knowledge that are practical and of constant use, and therefore will always be needed. I think of myself as a good writer but that can’t be proven, necessarily; it’s only believed to be true because enough people have reacted positively to the way I write.

 This isn’t to say that writing and other artistic endeavors are pointless. On the contrary, a temperament inclined towards artistry makes one humble, curious and forever more interesting in comparison to those who find such endeavors “pretentious” or, worse yet, “useless.” But as I told my young cousin only a few months ago, as she moved off to Portland to study poetry and work for an organic farmer, it’s important to know an everyday task back and forth, whether it be building a house or creating a detailed Excel spreadsheet. Of course, I’m inclined towards the former, seeing as remodeling and construction will never go out of style.

Indeed, the study concludes that a Bachelor’s Degree is often less crucial to a job hunt than an expertise in a STEM field, which often encourages higher-paying jobs even without a college education. It’s a hard issue to talk about, seeing as college was for me a rather revelatory experience, as I’m sure it is for most students. But, finally, there’s no rule saying you can’t go to college while also finding some level of expertise in a STEM field. It’s a compromise: an overwhelming amount of work for a small duration of your life, in exchange for a home to call your own where you have the option to either fix-up yourself or relax and pay some hard-working NYC handyman to fix for you. In essence, it gives you more options.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Green News

I’m writing a short post today but one of some measurable importance for those of you in the construction and remodeling game like myself. It was my girlfriend’s brother, an ex-NYC plumber who now works in the administration at a community college in Maryland, who pointed me towards an article late last week highlighting that President Obama and former President Bill Clinton are launching a four-billion dollar plan aiming at promoting Green building and retrofitting. The result is more jobs being created at no further expense to the taxpayer, as no new federal spending or tax breaks are required for the plan.

It comes at a crucial time, both economically speaking and in terms of seasons. As many of my local NYC handymen have been telling me, energy efficiency is something that becomes more important around the holidays, right around when the energy bill looks to spike. Green lighting is one thing but many people, thankfully, have been also replacing and repairing their doors and windows to cut down on drafts and subsequently lessen the need for increased heating costs. We’re still a few years away from compost heaters becoming a normal purchase and practice but news of Obama’s plan, coupled with the news from my colleagues, is certainly a positive step.

The plan’s main thrust is green improvements to larger buildings and, on average, Clinton was quoted as saying that every billion dollars spent on energy upgrades equates to approximately 7,000 jobs in America. June 2012 will see the first steps of this plan, wherein over a dozen organizations have planned to upgrade some 300 sq. ft. of building space with over $500 million coming from private financing. For NYC plumbers, electricians, handymen and other service providers, this is all gravy. Overdue gravy, but gravy all the same.  

Monday, December 5, 2011

Ryan's Artwork or: Dry Wall Delirium

The trip back home to Albany for Thanksgiving spurred a memory that is borderline cinematic to me. One of my first jobs, following a stint working at the local multiplex, was at Siena College, where I worked as a carpenter’s assistant and key room manager. Most days were spent in the key room, a little nothing of an office, with John, a former NYC handyman who had moved to Albany to essentially retire. He took the job, as he told me, out of boredom and seemed to enjoy the lazy pace of the place.

When I wasn’t with John, I was working with a crew to restore dormitories and classrooms across campus, jobs that, though relatively simple, often caused me injuries. One of my first jobs was involved soldering, and I don’t mind telling you that, while removing a wheel from an iron cart of sorts, a piece of hot metal fell and cut me around my ankle pretty badily. That was actual pain that John and my supervisor, Eric (another veteran NYC handyman, as it turned out), took very seriously but the dry wall story was more the thing of comedic legend in the Siena carpentry shop.

The job was simply to bring two-dozen large pieces of dry wall up to the fifth floor, from the fourth floor. There were three of us doing it, to save time, and about halfway through the job, we took an hour lunch break at the dining hall. The dry wall was to replace some damaged walls in a classroom upstairs, a suitable quick fix before the winter and fall started. It’s a regular job now that nearly any handyman can get done in a day, but this was larger scale seeing as a two-day torrential rainstorm that had hit us earlier that month had caused water damage in nearly half the classroom.

Boring stuff, actually, but when my two colleagues and me returned we found that the remaining half-dozen or so planks had become the canvas of some particularly expressive young artists. There were some minor curse words but more prominently, a slew of crayon drawing on at least half of the planks.  There were the normal culprits: a big sun, stick figures, a few animals, shapes surrounded by a mass of squiggly lines. More than anything, I was shocked by the amount of stuff that had been drawn in a relatively short amount of time.

The culprits were obvious a few rebellious kids from the campus summer camp and at the end of the day, who cares? But as I’ve been told, watching Tim, who eventually became a general contractor out of Nyack, and myself grunting and sweating while angling a large piece of dry wall with “Ryan Wuz Here!” and a big blue smiley face on it was enough to bring a few of the day laborers to their knees with laughter. I don’t doubt it, especially concerning the fact that I was a bit more liberal with the curse words back then. Regardless, the artist henceforth to be known as Ryan’s masterpiece is now covered up and makes up the left wall of the Level 3 math course classroom at Siena to this day. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Seasonal Spackling or: My First and Only College Thanksgiving

There have been only two instances in my life when I have not been at home with my extended family for Thanksgiving. Two years ago, I made the grievous mistake of attending Thanksgiving dinner at my then-girlfriend’s stepfather’s home in Concord, New Hampshire. It was a bad drive topped by one of the more uncomfortably confrontational family dinners I’ve ever been a party to, in which a slice of pumpkin pie was, I kid you not, thrown at someone’s face. That was the last straw for several situations, including that particular relationship, but most of all, it reaffirmed that the only place I really wanted to be on Thanksgiving was upstate with my family, as much as the idea of staying home and doing some freelance NYC handyman work to make some extra dough allures me.

Indeed, the only other time I ever abstained from my annual November trip upstate was my junior year of college, which I have surpassingly fond memories of. Not of the food, mind you: the turkey came out drier than plywood, the mashed potatoes were served as a type of soup essentially, and the stuffing was like gobbling down a plate of salad croutons. The preparation for the meal is what I remember, especially since it put me in contact with a lifelong friend, currently a general contractor for a NYC handyman outfit out of Jackson Heights.

By preparation, I mean less the strewning of festive colored paper and cardboard turkey cutouts, and more the repairs to this particular apartment. See, the apartment we decided to hold it in was very tiny and we had a lot of people who were staying at college, due largely to the clash between slim college-kid budgets and somewhat unreasonable travel costs. So, we had to get a larger table into a living room about the size of a dorm bedroom, and also had to move around furniture. This may have been an easy task if the group of men responsible for this, my NYC handyman friend and myself included, weren’t stone-cold drunk at the time we performed this miraculous move around. 

As you may expect, there were more than a few holes in the drywall by the time we were done wedging the long dinner table, which we had borrowed from a friend of a friend who worked as part of the janitorial staff in the compute science building. The relief that we would indeed be able to feed all 20-odd people was immediately replaced by the burden of having to convincingly repair these holes. We may have been able to wait a few days to make repairs but the girl whose apartment we were using had what might kindly be referred to as a hissy fit. To be fair, she was a few glasses of dirt-cheap white wine in as well but still, her complaints rang louder and more routinely than even those god-forsaken college fire alarms.

So, we walked across campus to my NYC handyman friend’s dorm and picked up some extra spackle he had brought home from the studio, and newspaper for the bigger holes. It turned out to be a simple fix when we returned: most of the holes needed only a little spackle, followed by some sanding a day or two later, and only one of the holes required a layer of newspaper to fill it. What I have a very vivid and happy memory of is the rest of our friends, happy enough to crack a few more beers and relax while we did the work, commentating on our job as if they were announcers for the NFL. Until you have a drunk philosophy major remark that you have “stepped up [your] spackling game since last season” and “must have really worked on [your] sanding during the off season”, you really haven’t lived.

But as much as I have fond memories of these days, this year I’m thankful to be getting home for a few days and getting a breather from city life. I imagine my short time spent at Penn Station tomorrow will be a hell not worth remembering, but it’s worth it in the long run. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hippy Dippy or: My Trip to the Communal Boiler

The idea of communal living was always something that interested me until I saw it first hand. Coming out of high school, I found myself accepted into a Dramatic Writing conservatory at SUNY Purchase, one of the more left-leaning campuses in the SUNY system. It was there that I came face-to-face with communal living, radical politics (on both ends, oddly enough), and an invigorating culture of craftsman (some of whom eventually became NYC handymen friends of mine) and artists who believed steadfast in the do-it-yourself approach. For most, money was tight, used mainly for booze, gas, and a monthly trip into the city, but materials were plentiful and there was a spirit of invention that still attracts me to this day.

This was not the same sort of spirit I encountered when I found myself giving a ride to a NYC plumber friend early this year while her truck was in the shop.  A call had come in from a house all the way out in Bay Ridge, an area I remembered largely as a community of firemen, police officers, construction workers and other various day laborers. I had lived in an adjacent neighborhood, Sunset Park, for a few years after college and was shocked to find that there was a large house (12 bedrooms!) that served as a sort of commune for a pack of Brooklyn college graduates in the middle of the Ridge.

What was not so much of a surprise was that none of them knew anything about boilers and what exactly they do, though, to be perfectly frank, neither did I until a different NYC plumber friend of mine gave me a shot-in-the-arm tutorial about the whole shindig. We arrived at the house and my friend immediately followed the ringleader of the outfit to the basement, where their gas boiler was clearly malfunctioning. The house itself was freezing and at every corner of the house, I could see a blanket or a quilt being used as a heating alternative, either being wrapped around some being or being pinned up to cover a window. In fact, there was a young woman wrapped in a quilt, working on knitting another quilt.

My friend came up and informed me that it was a simple blown fuse and that we would be done within the hour. Seeing as it was frigid outside, I graciously took up an offer to hang out with other members of the household as my friend did her work. It turns out that most boiler problems go back to tripped circuit breakers, blown fuses, an unlit pilot light or, in rarer cases, a problem with the thermostat. A blown fuse is, in fact, something that should be left to a professional. The others are easy enough to learn, but are hugely dependent on brands and models, thus why I must sadly decline a quick tutorial.

Anyway, as I was saying, my memories of living with metal and wood workers at SUNY Purchase was not exactly matched by the group of people (most of them were about three years my junior) I came into contact with at this house. There was a silence to the house that not even the seemingly on-loop recordings of Bob Dylan and Fleet Foxes that echoed through the rooms seemed to help. I attribute this to the fact that many artists, especially writers and graphic artists, do their work online and it is not my intention to say that this band of communal believers aren’t as ambitious and unique as the people I knew, who are now, as I said, NYC handymen, plumbers, stagehands, furniture makers or old-fashioned artists. I guess I miss the sound of activity, which has been replaced with the tapping of keyboards, for better or worse. (If I’m being totally honest, it’s probably for the better.)

Soon enough, me and my friend left and I dropped her back off at her shop in Dumbo. I told my girlfriend at the time about the house and similar ideas as the ones I have expressed here and she, perhaps rightly, figured me as an “old fuddy duddy.” It’s not as if I’m expecting everyone to go out there and learn how to perfectly maintain a boiler or hot water heaters or anything else of the sort, though I hardly see the harm in that being an ambition. My business, and others, might suffer but I can hardly contain a grin when my younger cousin tells me that he learned how to relight a pilot light or reset a thermostat on his own.       

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Lamp Lady or: The Virtues of CFL and LED Bulbs

Sometimes, you can’t help but be amazed by the unique idiosyncrasies of people, especially when you’re in a business that involves visiting homes often. The holidays are coming up so heating and electric bills have been on my mind these last few weeks and it led me to think about one of the better projects I came across in September, when this blog was just starting. I’m not a NYC electrician but some of my friends are and one of them asked me to be a second pair of eyes for him on a design project for an elderly woman living in Tarrytown.

When we arrived, she showed us in and I was stunned: Lamps! In the living room alone, there were eight (that I counted) lamps on various surfaces, each with a unique style; one was in the shape of a lighthouse, another one had the bulb coming out of an elephant’s trunk. It was like being in the best antique store in the world but the problem was also plainly there: We needed to consolidate her energy use. She told my NYC electrician friend that she usually had three or four of these lamps on as soon as it turned dark, as well as one or two in the dining room and an overhead light in the kitchen. What’s worse? They were all old-school, incandescent bulbs, from a stockpile she had in her basement.

Incandescent bulbs are energy killers, plain and simple, and with the energy bills rising these days, I told her that she should not only cut down on the amount of lamps but toss out most, if not all of her incandescent bulbs. It took some convincing, over two cups of the strongest Russian tea I’ve ever had in my life, but she finally agreed and me any my friend got to work. Over the next week or so, we helped design a system of recessed lights in her living room, dining room and bedroom (which had at least five lamps, including one in the bathroom) and ran new electric lines and dimmer switches in all three rooms. We also ran a line and a new dimmer switch in her kitchen.

The biggest change-up was that we installed CFL bulbs in all the fixtures, including the lamps that she decided to keep out. (It’s worth noting that she agreed to sell me one lamp I particularly liked, the base of which was a suited man who looked a lot like Peter Lorre.) CFL bulbs are commonplace for most people but I feel the need to remind people of them constantly. They are the simplest of all energy savers and most NYC electricians will be the first to sing their praises; there are also LED lamps and lights, which are essentially Christmas lights but used in new designs and compacted to boost the concentrated light emitted. In fact, the drive back to Queens consisted of a long talk about the burdens of hanging exterior Christmas lights, though ultimately, this year, I have something bigger to dread: Hauling a tree up three flights of stairs. Does Santa know a good chiropractor?     

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Brief History of Clogs: Part 1

For several reasons that I don’t care to go through right now, there is no clear history of clogs in the United States, nor in any other country. This is a problem I thought the Internet would have solved, but as it turns out, the Internet has slacked off big time. I asked a NYC plumber that I routinely work with about it and all he could give me is remembrances of jobs he went on with his father to dormitories and military bases, where clogs were a weekly ordeal. But there was no talk about what must have been epic clogs in the 19th century—just look at the facial hair from that day and age and tell me the constant trimmings didn’t cause some doozies.

I’ve been dealing with a rash of clogs in both my bathroom and my kitchen recently, the result, I suspect, of a not all that wise attempt to grow my hair and beard out a bit.  Most of them were fixed with chemicals, but Monday night, I found myself struggling with what I would politely call a ravenous beast of a clog in my shower. I called up a NYC plumber friend (my aforementioned colleague, in fact) and he talked me through the process, beginning with a homemade version of a clog dissolvent with baking powder and white vinegar, that ended up not working.

So, taking my friends advice, I popped open the drain with a screwdriver, straightened a metal hanger and got a plunger. I plunged the drain for what had to be ten minutes (my arms still hurt!) and lo and behold, when I took the plunger off, I could clearly see the clog some three feet or so down the drain. I then made a hook with the wire hanger, snaked it down the drain and with only a little bit of maneuvering was able to get the culprit, a wet wad of mess that I will spare detailed definition of, for your benefit.

This was the end of my nightmare but my friend was quick to point out that this is a 50/50 fix, meaning that the other half the time you will have to hire an actual NYC plumber and get a professional snaking job done, or at least get them to inspect the clog firsthand. But there is an easy fix: A simple two-dollar strainer that can be picked up at any hardware store and often cuts most clogs in half. Still, it’s a relief to have these moments when you can just ask a friend for some advice and put your own elbow into it. That’s old news but the feeling rarely feels old or tired. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Hallway Dilemma

I’ve been writing a lot about the importance of organization on here, especially when it comes to saving space and attaining some semblance of a clean, clear aesthetic in your space. Well, the chicken came home to roost for me a few weekends ago when a friend of mine, a NYC handyman who works around Dumbo, pointed out that my hallway closet was literally bulging due to overstuffing.
 The hallway closet has been, for all intents and purposes, the junk drawer of my home, where I cram sleeping bags, summer/winter clothes, plastic bins for moving, blankets…the list goes on. And for awhile, I was gleefully unaware that it looked like it was going to burst forth, unleashing an avalanche of clothing and trinkets that would likely put me out for good. My NYC handyman friend urged me to take care of this mess sooner than later.

We began by tossing a great deal of the plastic bins. Most of them ended up at my mother’s house, whose junk drawer has spread to include an entire garage at this point. The rest of them went to my downstairs neighbor and the local recycling center. When I inevitably move, I will likely partake in those super-cheap fold-up boxes that most movers offer. We then inventoried what I needed to put in the closet and what I could store elsewhere. We decided to put shelves in and make it something like a linen closet for all manner of useful things.

There was already a top shelf build into the closet and that’s where I put my luggage: Gym bags, duffel bags, suitcases, backpacks, messenger bags and roller cases. We measured each following shelf two feet from the previous, giving space to fold things and store blankets, jackets and clothing easily. As it turned out, my NYC handyman friend was also a laundry expert and he instructed me the proper way to fold jackets for storage; I have, after many years of struggle, learned how to fold a t-shirt and a pair of jeans.

At the end of the day, I had two entire shelves left empty. (I have since used them to store old video game consoles and piles of old New Yorkers and Film Comments that I don’t have the heart to toss quite yet.) This was a marginally simple project to handle with my friend, and most NYC handymen can do this for relatively cheap. It’s something worth looking into, lest you enjoy looking like you’re trying to store an entire department store in your hallway closet.     

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Eulogy for Beanie

It brings me no pleasure to tell you that my beanbag chair, which I had nicknamed Beanie for many years, was tossed in the trash this past weekend. Beanie had been residing in a particularly mildew-caked and dusty corner of my mother’s humungous garage, having suffered several tears and rips with no hope of repair; there are some wounds even duct tape can’t heal. So, there Beanie sat for years, surviving winters, floods and numerous visits from NYC handymen brought in to fix-up the garage in the two decades since my mother moved into her house.

My mother is an odd duck and so it came as no surprise when she announced to me that she had cleaned out the garage now, in the middle of November, some six months before most homeowners start their annual clear out. What did come as a surprise is when she uttered these words: “Oh, and I tossed out that smelly old beanbag sack.”  I stalled for a moment and let out a chuckle, unable to understand what “sack” she was speaking of. And then it hit me, and for just the smallest fraction of a second, I felt grief for an inanimate object. These are things I will not be sharing with any of my prospective progeny or grandchildren, for that matter.

There are three distinct memories I have of Beanie that came rushing to me when I pieced together what my mother had done:

1.     December, 1996: Sitting on Beanie with a small glass of beer my father had snuck me, playing a Star Wars video game and blaring a mix of Grateful Dead songs a friend had given me.

2.     Summer, 1999: My first kinda-girlfriend and me, attempting to position ourselves comfortable on top of Beanie before watching Caddyshack for approximately the 77th time in my life.

3.     August, 2001: Deciding to not bring Beanie with me to college, seeing as there was about as much personal space in my freshman-year dormroom as there were in those sweatboxes in Cool Hand Luke. Spend the night watching movies with my dog, Bishop, on Beanie, after saying goodbye to local friends.

Bean bag chairs came into prominence some time in the late 1960s and were favorites of hippies and quasi-informed philosophy students around those times, and I certainly wanted to connect to that generation and those people. I remember seeing a character in Richar Linklater’s Dazed and Confused sitting on one and immediately wanting to be that character. The bean bag chair started its slow crawl out somewhere in the mid-to-late 1980s and it essentially shrunk, becoming the much-loved and much-maligned hacky sack in the 1990s, seen on college campuses and high school soccer fields nationwide.

Still, there was a comfort that Beanie gave me that my beat-up futon doesn’t offer. Maybe it was the fragility of it, the fact that it was so prone to dilapidating injuries; the fleetingness of its lifespan. I always thought it was a comfort issue but frankly, my recliner is far more comfortable and I was never nuts about being that low to the ground. So, it remains a bit of mystery why I give half-a-care about Beanie, but I do, whether it is just plain old nostalgia or my intermittent ability to become a complete doodle-brain. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Couch Surfing USA!

Whether you live in New York City or not, the couch is still the central part of the living room. The design and flow of your living room or den is largely decided by the placement, size and color of your couch, not to mention the fact that the couch tends to be where most family members cool out after their workday. Okay, so the function of the couch as nap headquarters, make-out central and the place where your status as King/Queen Couch Potato is solidified is a bit more easy to figure than the design and flow (a term I still grapple with) of your living room but for the more in-the-know home owner, this is a large facet of how your home will look to visiting friends and family. Here are some things to look out for when choosing your next couch.

What Do You Do There? – For many, this is a given. The couch is largely a utility for relaxing and watching your DVR. There are others, however, who think of it like a nook, a small place to read a book with some sunlight; some people don’t even want a TV in their living room. Any NYC handyman will tell you that your television can be positioned nearly anywhere in the living room, so think more about light in this case. If you use it more for naps, try to get it away from the light; if you have kids, keep it away from the center of the room and allow them some room to roll around and play. Also, be aware, most NYC electricians can help you with your lighting to ensure that your space looks exactly how you’d like. 

What Look Are You Going For? – The regular three-cushion look is the most popular and its classic for a good reason. It optimizes your space and is the perfect size for couples with or without kids. There’s also the L-shape one (see below) which makes a cozy piece for the corner of the room and may be a better choice for bigger families and those who entertain more often. Configurations matter a lot here, so take measurements and consider the size of the area before deciding on what you want to pay for.

What’s The Mood of Your Room? – It pains me to write that rooms do indeed have moods. If your walls are a lighter (yellow or white), you’ll want to look for more pronounced, bold colors like reds and greens. If you have darker walls, you can either go darker with a dark brown/chestnut look or perhaps a nice, dark blue. You could also go for something lighter, even white, though I am hesitant to suggest such things as this can be a problem if you eat on your couch often and stains are a real possibility.

What Makes You Comfortable? – When you’re younger, you suffer with futons, allowing a perfect crash location for your drunk friends or visitors. As you get older, your tastes change (maybe) and you start thinking more about sitting down for a meal with a significant other, a beloved pet, your child or your closest friends. Do you like to sink into your couch or do you like a firm seat? Test out different fillings and see what suits you. Equally important is the choice of fabric. If you like a smoother surface, leather might be the best choice, though then its fickle to weather and makes odd noises. So then, maybe something more textured would be a better fit for you. Talk to your local furniture store salesman and they’ll help you with this as well.

In this particular fashion, I am deeply old-fashioned. Give me a comfortable couch that I can sink into and watch an old movie on TCM with, and it could be a polka dot couch for all I care. That being said, walking into a beautifully laid out living room, as my girlfriend and I did a few weeks ago while visiting relatives, creates its own comfort and atmosphere off the bat. This is all to say, once again, the importance of the stuff above is subjective to your needs as a homeowner. Act accordingly.  

Friday, November 4, 2011

NYC Apartments: Cleaning Out the Clutter

Eliminating clutter in a New York City apartment has always been a matter of organization and preparation, with a handful of perceivably hard decisions that turn out to be simple once you really think about it.  It’s easy to say “I’ll clean it up later” and chill out with some television and a cocktail instead of taking five minutes to put things where they belong. But then a few weeks go by, your office looks like the remnants of a ticker-tape parade, you’d have to put on hiking boots to reach the top of the mountains of dirty clothes, the leftovers from Gino’s gains a pulse and you have to whack at things with a machete to get more than a foot into your closet.

Okay, so maybe I’m employing hyperbole but organization of time, amongst other things, is crucial to having a clear, uncluttered NYC apartment that you can look forward to showing off. Not only does the organization of an apartment create a clean aesthetic for you to live in, but it has also been proven to help one’s psychological outlook and confidence.  Here are some easy tips to keep your apartment clean, neat and well managed.

·          Paper & Bills: In the age of the green movement, this is less of a problem, or at least that’s what you’d hope. The fact of the matter is that a lot of people still receive huge amounts of their mail and bills in physical form on paper. This can lead to a lot of clutter but can be avoided easily with a set of magazine holders, an in & out rack for your desk and a small filing cabinet for copies, forms and other loose papers. Make it a routine of separating your stuff out and filing it away when you get home.

·         Junk & Trinkets: Junk drawers beget apartments full of junk; it’s an attitude that everything will eventually have a use or holds some indeterminable sentimental value. Having a few nostalgic but ostensibly useless trinkets is fine but if you start collecting every little scrap, things could get messy quick. Set a Sunday aside to look through your drawers three or four times a year, to make sure nothing gets out of control.

·         Clothing: I’m expecting some sort of hate mail for this but most people have a good portion of clothes that they never really use, the storage of which takes up a lot of room at times. Take a day by yourself or with your partner to go through your wardrobe and pick out stuff that you simply don’t wear anymore. Get a friend to help: they’ll be able to tell you if you wear certain outfits regularly, if you don’t remember. This will clear out your closets and allow you to get a good sense of how you want to store articles of clothing.

·        Storage: I can’t stress enough how important and beneficial solid system of organized storage is to having a tidy home. Look for furniture that offers storage (coffee tables with drawers, beds with space underneath etc.) and consider getting some shelves put in your living room, bedroom, bathroom and, especially, the kitchen. Use labels, if it helps, but know where things belong and try to find places for loose items. This will all make it easier to attain a sense of open space, something that always garners compliments and fosters a healthy outlook.

As you might have guessed, storage is one of my more passionate issues when it comes to design and organization in the home. I’ll be talking more about how to use storage in a NYC apartment in the future, talking about things you can undertake with one of your local New York City handymen for advance apartment options. All this being said, it’s important to also give yourself time to do all of these things, to have some sort of schedule or routine in each case, which is something many people find rigid and bothersome. Maybe it is, but doing something that you may not find incredibly enthralling is part of owning your own space and being in charge of your adult life. Also, eat your vegetables and call your mother, she worries.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Finding Your Fire Pit

As the weather turns colder, the wanting to be outside inevitably diminishes. The grill goes into the garage, the tarp goes over the pool, and the jackets, mittens and hats come out. Still, for some the winter changes very little and if the Polar Bear Club isn’t exactly your speed (I am a proud member), a fire pit is one of the more relaxing and simple outdoor projects you can undertake to still enjoy the outdoors in the wintertime. Some people just like having a simple unit to sit around while others prefer to devote an entire section of their yard to create a solid mood for the activity. Here are some choices for everyone.

  • ·         Copper: This is the most popular option, as copper’s melting point is quite high and the orange hue of the copper is eye grabbing. Copper fire pits also blend in nicely with a good, well-designed backyard garden. The problem is that the material is far more expensive than other options and to be honest, the design of most copper fire pits is a bit boring.  

  • ·         Cast Iron: If copper will put a hurt on your wallet, cast iron is a good, cheap second option. They tend to come in black, which is dull but blends with nearly any backyard design or configuration. They also come in more varied designs. But with the noticeable difference in price comes a negligible difference in quality, as cast iron has a far lower melting point and therefore cast iron units wear out a lot quicker than Copper. So, if you’re looking to remodel your backyard and you have no plans to sell your home, it might be worth it to save and go with copper.

  • ·         Chimenea: Now, here’s an interesting choice. The form of the unit is like a small chimney with a tiny hearth at the bottom and it looks absolutely beautiful. They’re also conducive to smaller areas, if you don’t have a big backyard. On top of this, the chimenea can be made not only out of copper or cast iron but can also be made out of terra corra, a clay-based ceramic. The only bad news is that for those who like to look at the fire, it is near impossible due to the design of the chimenea. It’s a matter of taste but I’m fond of this because of its beauty and longevity.

  • ·         Gas-Powered: Full disclosure: I’m not fond of this choice. If you’re going to have a fire pit, I think part of the fun of it is building a fire and having the smell of wood. That being said, some areas restrict wood burning because of said smell and suddenly Gas looks like a good option. The good news is that they are easier to clean than wood-burning pits. If you are considering this option, talk to a plumber, handyman or home improvement specialist about connecting a propane tank or any natural gas connections to the pit. Be sure to notify your utility company about your pit installation as well.

  • ·         Stone: Stone fire pits are the most aesthetically pleasing but they are also a bit more of a project and are better suited for bigger spaces. Still, it is wise for you to hire a contractor or call up a buddy to help you to put one together. Palletized stone is preferred but you can get pretty creative here. There is also the matter of need for regular cleaning but at the end of the day, stone fire pits convey an aged, naturalistic feel to the surrounding area. The price will run you around what a copper pit would cost you but, I think you will find that it is worth it, in my opinion.

The portable option is also up there but that can be handled largely by browsing through your local home improvement warehouse, though, in that case, I would still recommend the chimenea above anything else. Chimeneas and stone fire pits are my personal favorites, as I’m sure you’ve picked up by now, largely do to their classic yet unique designs.  But if it’s a matter of having a good reason to go outside and enjoy your back yard even in the winter, there is no such thing as a bad choice.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Optimizing Your Garage Space

As we start getting into fall, the anticipation for the winter season is already starting to grip homeowners. One of the more favored home improvement projects in the colder months is organizing your home and opening up some space. This even extends to areas like the shed, the terrace and, finally, the garage, which is an area rife with possibilities for space saving. Of course, the central question when thinking about this is what you use (or rather WANT to use) your garage for. Is it simply a depository for your car(s) and a snow shovel? Is it a space used for your tools? Knick-knacks? A second refrigerator? Bikes and sports equipment? Considering the ideas below, you might very well be able to fit all of these things into your garage…oh, and maybe your car.

  • ·         Clear Out: If it were summer or spring, it would be easy enough to put all the stuff in your garage in your driveway or your front lawn. Alas, in the colder months, you’d be better off putting it in a mudroom or any room that has some extra space for this stuff. Regardless, put all the clutter in a separate space and then clean your garage. A good sweep and mopping should do the job but also consider washing the walls, just to be thorough.

  • ·         Inventory: What do you have? It’s important to see what you already store in your garage before deciding how to store it and what else you’d like to put in there.  If you’re a handyman, it’s likely that you have a lot of tools that need to be at the quick and ready. If you have recreational and sports equipment, it could range from a kayak to hockey pads to fishing gear. Know what you have and know what is more important to have at the quick and ready. 

  • ·         Shelves: A major key to organizing is using every inch of space you have and in this, adding shelves to your walls is a major advantage. As for a DIY project, this is a mildly difficult task but not an enormous undertaking, though I still suggest hiring a home improvement professional to help with the planning and get an estimate, at the very least. Make sure that the shelves are properly supported and out enough to hold some containers, which you can use to store anything from sports balls to emergency supplies to beach games to loose washers and lug nuts.

  • ·         Pegs and Racks: It sounds like such a small thing but they make a huge difference. Sure, they’re perfect for hanging up coats and a pegboard is still one of the best things a tool hound can invest in and properly label but think bigger. You can hang a mesh bag for sports equipment from two pegs for easy access or place a latter on the wall. If you do it right, you can also use a system of pegs to hang your bikes on the wall. Racks serve a similar purpose and are perfect for shovels, skis and oars, amongst other things.

  • ·         Work Station: If you’re more mechanic-minded, you’ll want a good countertop, one that’s easy to clean and resistant to easy cuts, to work and properly clean parts. It’s essentially the same for a home-improvement enthusiast, though you would assumedly want a bigger countertop or table for any woodworking or remodeling project. Hang two or three medium-size cabinets above the station and two or three utility drawers underneath and you should have the perfect area to handle any job. Some of these can be bought largely pre-made but otherwise, I implore you to seek out a contractor or home improvement expert to help you with this project, as it involves a sizable amount of work and time.

There are other options, such as using your ceiling to house your kayaks or canoes, that are more specific but it’s enough to say that every blank wall should be seen as an opportunity for storage. At a recent job, I helped a musician turn his garage into a supply space for his instruments and his record collection, not to mention his wife’s and his bicycles. Nothing is impossible or too ambitious when it comes to these types of projects. It’s all a matter of whether you care enough about the use of your available space.    

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Prepping Your Paint Job

No matter how easy or hard the task, preparation is the key to a successful remodeling job or outdoor project, which is why I try to encourage consultation with and hiring of home improvement professionals while also embracing DIY. In the future, we’ll discuss plenty of jobs that need to be well thought out but let’s start with an easy one: Painting your interior walls.

There is the temptation to just hire a crew and have it done during the day when you’re at work, but then there’s that nostalgic image of you and your partner in your own home, painting the walls together. In the latter case, you should take the steps suggested below as a way to ensure your paint job, certainly the most aesthetically noticeable facet of your interior, is done in a professional manner.

  • ·      Strip, Scrape, Remove: Any and all left over wallpaper and/or peeling and cracked paint should be removed. Use a scraper gently to get rid of the old paint, wallpaper and adhesive resin. If you’re dealing with old woodwork with bad finish, you’ll have to get some paint-stripping gel to remove paint and other debris.

  • ·      Repair and Patch: Unless your home is brand new, you will likely have a few cracks and holes that should be rectified. It’s worth it to get a quick consultation from a contractor to see if there are any foundation problems or if you’ll need professional help dealing with a bigger crack. Otherwise, clean and dampen the spot before using a putty knife to fill in any holes and cracks; if working with wood, use wood filler instead of joint compound. On bigger holes, cover the hole with two small pieces of joint tape before covering it with joint compound.  

  • ·      Sandpaper: Get yourself some fine-grade sandpaper and sand the entire area that you will be painting. This not only helps smooth down rough, incongruous areas but also boosts adherence for the overall paint job. For glossy areas, use a light-duty liquid de-glosser or TSP powder mixed into some hot/warm water. Rinse the wall and let it sit for a day before moving forward.  

  • ·      Clear Out: Take any easily moveable objects (lamps, end tables, coffee tables, small chairs, etc.) and put them in another room. Anything too big or too inconvenient to move, gather into a huddled mass in the middle of the room and cover with a tarp or an ample length of plastic sheathing. Tape it down. Finally, cover the floors as best as possible with plastic sheathing or plenty of newspaper.

  • ·      Tape Up: Buy yourself two rolls of painter’s tape from a local handyman or home improvement store – trust me, it comes in handy. Cover up your light switches, doorknobs, handles, locks, and any other minor thing that would be a pain to remove and you don’t want to have splatter marks on. The tape will also be needed when you paint the trim.

  • ·      Last Clean: Do one more full clean before getting to the fun (and exhausting) part. Vacuum the entire room and dust off every area that will be painted. If your room happens to be a kitchen or bathroom, you should do one more wash with TSP mix. If you encounter mildewed areas, mix the TSP (about three ounces) with hot water (no less than three quarts), chlorine (one quart) and detergent (one ounce). Let it all dry for at least 12 hours or, to be double sure, a full 24.

Sit down and think about exactly what you want out of the look of your room. Consult with your partner and/or family and talk with the employees at your local home improvement supplies store about what brand of paint and/or primer to purchase. For my nephew’s room, for instance, I recently used forest green and had a close artist friend come in and paint a mural over it about a month afterwards. As tiresome as it can be, these are the jobs that I have the most fun with, usually enlisting at least one close friend, a good radio station and a few refreshments for the day. Not all of these projects have to feel like work. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Looking into Lady Caves

The term “mom cave” is an unfortunate bit of vernacular. Let’s forget, for the time being, that not all female homeowners are moms and focus rather on the innumerable interests that women indulge in when they want some time alone away from their job, their partner, their everyday struggles and, yes, their children. As much as most men need their man caves, most women are in dire need of a similar lady caves that speaks to their unique identity and their loves. And men, take note: This is the sort of project that could earn you major points and, depending on your home, can be a DIY affair. Whether you’re putting together a space for yourself or for your partner, you should consider the ideas below when looking into the home improvement concerns that often surround the building of a lady cave.

  •    Finding Your Space: A garage is often the best space for caves. If you want to conserve space, you can put up a simple divider and have spaces for both you and your partner to enjoy some alone time. The garage door is also an easy entrance.  If you don’t have space in your garage (or don’t have one), consider utilizing a guest bedroom, the basement, or the attic and transforming part of or the entire space into a lady cave.  You could also hire or consult with a contractor to build a small cabin or shed in your backyard or put on an addition. In which case, be sure to call your local municipality and check about any permits needed.
  •   Practical Concerns: You will want electricity in this lady cave, if only for lighting. In the home, this is simple but if you do have a separate structure, consider purchasing a small generator or running an extension cord from your home and disguising it tastefully. There’s also the natural light option, enacted simply by putting in a window. Think about color schemes and furniture. Do you want to be a place where you could take a nap or is it all activity? Consider putting a futon in the space or if you want to be more stylish, a chaise lounge. If you are doing this for your partner, it’d be best to spoil the surprise at this point and see what they’d like the space to look like. 
  •   Get Together Your Theme: Here’s where things get fun and, just maybe, a bit pricey. What do you want this space to be fitted for? Are you a nut for a mind-clearing run on the treadmill or do you want a quiet space to dig into the latest New York Times best seller? Take a look at some of these popular ideas.

a.     Reading/Writing/Sewing – First, put in a large bookshelf. Maybe put a few pictures of loved ones and sentimental knick-knacks on the shelves that haven’t been filled with books. Also, find a nice, modest desk, a lamp and a comfortable chair if you’d like to write in your diary or take some quicknotes. Throw up a few framed photos of your favorite quotations or inspirational figures for character. For an accomplished sewer, have a ready basket of yarn, replacement needles and other needed utensils.

b.     Exercising – This would ideally be in the house but if it is in a separate structure, be sure to consult a contractor about how much energy you will require. An elliptical bike or treadmill facing a small television is a great first step, but you may also think about adding a set of weights or some space for a yoga mat and inflatable abdominal ball. Throw in a scale and a dry-erase board to track progress or set schedules and you should be ready to go.

c.      Sports/Entertainment: One would think this would be something for a living room but tastes clash. This option tends to be a bit pricier, considering you’ll want a nice television and an extra cable box. Put in a small shelving unit for your favorite DVDs and Blu-rays, and maybe hang a vintage movie poster or a cast photo. For sports fans, cover the place with your team colors, banners and other fanfare. You’d do well to have a micro-fridge in there for snacks and drinks too.  

d.     Gardening: This one is a bit more complicated but doesn’t require as much space and is well worth it for the seasoned gardening enthusiast. Talk to a plumber or contractor about setting up a pair of deep sinks with some counter space and cabinets to hold any chemicals or seeds. Put up racks on the wall for your gloves, hats, coats and various utensils. Stock the place with extra pots and a small bookshelf for any gardening books you regularly use. Hang a few plants for mood and you should be ready to start growing.   

The materials for building a small cabin on your own or shed usually comes in between $1200 and $1600. The option of hiring a contractor is always favorable, if you can spare the funds, and this also insures that any issues with energy or water will be hassle-free. Regardless, this tends to be a favored project amongst my close friends and customers.

Most people look for something closer to the Reading/Writing/Sewing option but having recently seen one, I can attest that a gardening cave can be a lively and comforting space to call your own. But think outside the box about what you would really like to do with your free time. Your personal corner of the world should speak directly to you, your wants and your needs.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Floor Resurfacing the Right Way

It’s an inescapable fact that the relatively simple task of resurfacing floors is often confused and considered interchangeable with the process of refinishing floors. Neither job is particularly pleasant but unlike refinishing, resurfacing is something that an ambitious amateur could undertake and likely succeed at. Here are some simple A-Z steps you can take to ensure that the job gets done right.

Prepping Your Room:

What’s the first thing a painter needs? A blank canvas! Any furniture or rugs should be moved out of the room you’re working on.  The smartest move would be to put it in another room but if you simply don’t have the space, rent a small moving truck or van for the day (U-Haul works fine). Once you’ve cleared the room, give it a solid sweeping and mopping. Be as thorough as possible to ensure a clean workspace.

The Buff ‘n’ Shine:

Now, it’s time to rent a buffer. Most day rentals for buffers hover around $30. Ask an employee to give you a general overview of how the machine works. It’s a relatively easy machine to work with but it’s also helpful to know how to maintain and clean it. Once you start buffering, be sure to go over the area at least two or three times. Depending on the size of the room, it will take you anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour to complete. Top it off with another good sweep.

Pick and Apply:

Waterborne finishes are safer and quicker than any other option, and they are more scratch resistant, making it a clear choice for pet owners. Waterborne finishers are also the most environmentally friendly finishes on the market (low on volatile organic compounds). Each waterborne coat takes only an hour to dry. You will have to apply more coats than with oil-based finishes but it’s worth it in the long run; three coats should be sufficient. When it’s fully dried, give the floor one last sweep and that’s that.

Hiring Out:     
Resurfacing is not a job that every person wants to roll up his or her sleeves for. Time restraints or the stress inherent in any home improvement project may make hiring a flooring specialist or contractor a more viable option for you. If so, consider these questions when interviewing prospective contractors.

1.     How long have they been in business? Over three years is best.

2.     Do they have a timetable? They should have a secure idea of the amount of time needed.

3.     How do they stand with past customers? Ask around and get an idea of their track record.

The job should not take longer than two days. Doing it yourself will run you anywhere from $100 to $200 while hiring a professional will run you anywhere from $300-500. When Click and Improve handles a job like this, we demand a pre-set schedule and price. So, you should expect the same if/when you hire a contractor or service provider.

Don’t be shy to call up a professional and ask about when it’s safe to move furniture back in, as it can vary depending on the finish. Once every thing is back in, you can admire and take pride in your floors, which should be ready for several more years of use and abuse.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Avoiding That Sinking Feeling

If I were to sit here and type out every option available when it comes to bathroom faucets, this post might run the length of Moby Dick. Technologies advance, trends change, and handymen, plumbers and contractors install new, uniquely designed sinks every single day. The choices of faucets are innumerable but the bathroom sink is a central part of the bathroom and home improvement professionals of all sorts will tell you that the days of everyone installing the same simple sink unit with a vanity mirror and cabinets underneath are over. There are new ways to save room, ensure a more modern and stylish design, and make cleaning a breeze. Here are three or four options to consider talking over with your local NYC plumber.

·      On the Wall: Sinks attached directly to the wall are becoming popular for several reasons, not the least of which being that they cut down on the instances of plumber’s crack. There’s a minimalist bent to this that makes it easy to see leaks and to keep your bathroom clean. It gives off a spacious look as well and allows you to think of new, fun ways to design storage for your hygiene and medical supplies. Bad news: You need to think about new storage ideas…now.

·      Vessels: Vessel sinks, which essentially sit on your countertop like a large bowl with a faucet, convey a sense of containment. This means less clipped hairs from shaving and excess water from washing on your countertop. They also look incredibly nice and personalized. They are also very large and take up a lot of the countertop. Investing in some reasonably priced, wall-mounted holders for your toothbrushes, soaps, floss can solve this problem, and face washes.

·      Consoles and Pedestals: Like the vessel sink, the console conveys a sense of personalized attention. The sink is attached to the wall but has a set of legs going to the floor that are used for support. They are very classy looking and it’s only slightly harder to clean than the wall sink. There are also pedestal sinks that essentially do the same thing but with one thick stand that offers support and is attached to the wall as well. If you do chose this one, be sure to discuss it with a plumber or home improvement professional, as pedestals are a bit harder to install.  

Any of these options are easy enough to plan with a plumber but you might consider undertaking this project while remodeling other parts of your bathroom and get it all done in one fell swoop. I am a huge fan of console sinks: They look classic and give the room a stylish yet open feeling. In fact, I recommended a console sink to my cousin last month and am happy to report that she just recently got one installed. She will not stop raving about it. But, as always, different strokes for different folks.