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.