Improving–and water-proofing–Your Basement

If you’ve been giving some thought to updating or remodeling your basement—particularly as an area that will see more frequent use as, say, a playroom, den or entertainment area, you’ll want to take some precautions before beginning, once in particular:

Check for excessive moisture—and take steps to prevent it.  You can make a simple moisture test to ensure there aren’t hidden water hazards.  Place a piece of cardboard about two feet square on the basement floor with its edges held down by bricks or other heavy objects.  If the cardboard remains dry for several days after a heavy rainfall, you can be confident that you don’t have an underground water hazard.  Make the same test on the walls by taping cardboard to the foundation about two feet above floor level and after a storm, remove it and check to see if the side pressed against the wall has remained dry.

Water proofing of basement walls has been simplified by the development of easy-to-apply paints with a cement base.  They are typically sold in powdered form and can be mixed with water and brushed on.

If your basement walls are bare, cement paint can be applied directly.  But if the wall has previously been painted, then that paint should be scraped off first.  A water-soluble remover will do the job with wall paint.  And muriatic acid, scrubbed on with a brush and rinsed off several times, will remove whitewash.

It is not difficult to apply cement-based paint.  Wet the walls thoroughly with either a brush of spray.  Then apply the waterproofing paint, working from the bottom up.  After the wall has dried thoroughly—in two days or so—add another coat.

 Once the walls are effectively water-proofed, you can begin making more specific plans for transforming your basement into something more appealing.

8 Tips to Help Organize your Home

home-organizationHere are 8 very useful tips on organizing your home. Taking that first step is the most important part of organizing your home. So now let’s get started on step one. This is critical because you can’t get to where you want to go unless you know what that “where” looks like. How do you want this room to function? How do you want to feel when you’re in it? What do you want to do in this room? What is the real purpose of this room?

Tip #1

Get a pad of paper and pen and walk through each room of your home and write down what you see. It is important not to be overwhelmed. Try doing this systematically.

For example, here is what you might see in your home entry way: shoes, unopened newspapers, mail and circulars that are left at your door, keys, pet toys, coats, sweaters and more. Now write down what can be done to eliminate this clutter.

Tip #2- Get into a Routine

Sounds simple doesn’t it – well take it from me it’s one of the hardest tasks to do. As a teacher, I have always found this has helped me “organize” my day at school for lessons planning, staff meetings and have always found it effective – so, guess what? I now do it for organizing the home. For example, with the children if they have left any toys lying around after playing with them I encourage them to put them away in their “tidy box” or on the shelf.

Tip #3 – Organize Storage

All things in the home must have a “Home” that’s one of the things I say to my kids. Why? Because when something is not seen (in the closet) you can get the False Feeling of it’s all organized. On the shelves divide up sweaters, blouses, the clothes you wear now. As for racks – great for shoes.

Tip #4 – Organize your kitchen

Organize you cabinets for plates, Tupperware, guest tableware – separately if possible, if not, separate shelves. Another great (often overlooked) storage facility is the “Dishwasher” – storage and “purpose” rolled into one!

Tip #5 – Organize the Bathrooms

Ideally, if you have the space and children two bathrooms are great. Make sure that shelves for the toothpaste are just the ‘right’ height for the children in their bathroom. In addition, keep no make up or any potentially dangerous articles in the children’s bathroom within reach!

Tip #6 – The master grocery list

It’s been one the greatest time savers in our home. Basically I have a ‘general list’ that includes the ‘basics’ then ‘specifics’ including favorite items that my children would like in the week and then ‘luxuries’ the items that we would like but don’t need.

Tip #7 – Organize the Garage

Start out by making piles, for example: Yard tools, hand tools etc. Begin by clearing off the work bench if you have one. You might want to purchase some storage containers for the things you have in the house you want to save. Label the containers and stack them in the garage. You can buy hooks to hang rakes, shovels, hoses, bicycles and more. Don’t have room? Try using a company that will store a few extra boxes or those seasonal items you don’t always need access to.

Tip #8 – Have a garage sale

After you go through the house and garage, you will end up with many things you no longer want. The most fun way to get rid of these items is by having a garage sale. You will be amazed at the amount of money you can possibly earn and what you don’t sell you can give away or donate.

How to Bring Some Daylight Into Your Basement

basement-windowEven if your house sits quite a bit lower in the ground with barely any basement wall exposed, it is still possible to install a light-bringing window by re-grading the soil along the basement wall on the side of the house. If that is impractical or too expensive to do on a large scale, then you can dig a window well. It is important to remember, however, that the grade at the bottom of each window is at least 4 to 6 inches below the window frame, so that rain water and melting snow can drain away from, rather than leak in, the sill. The same rule applies to your yard around the basement wall — allow sufficient space below the window frame for drainage.

An experience do-it-yourselfer can complete the job him—or her—self using the following steps. Depending on your available time and personal skill set, it may be easier and less frustrating to hire a professional to take it from here. With that caution in mind, here are the steps to follow:

You should wait until you have the actual window in hand before making the opening. If building your own custom bay window, it should be completed in advance so you can make the frame and opening to match. A stock window does not need to be double hung, but a casement window will be easier to open. Pre-assembled, ready-to-install bay and bow windows are also available in standard sizes. You may want to consider these before making the rough opening, or before building your own.

After your window location has been scouted out and the yard graded and lowered, create the opening for your window. All windows fit within a rough opening in the wall framing, so you will need to measure and mark where this opening will be. This rough opening is slightly larger than the overall dimensions of the window, measured at the outside edge of the jambs, and the extra space allows the window to be plumbed and leveled as needed. With a purchased standard window, there will be instructions for the size of the rough opening you will need to make. In this basement example, the measurement should be the dimensions of the window plus 2 additional inches. These extra 2 inches are for the wooden frame you will be building into the opening to attach the actual window to.

Always be sure to have the following safety items available for your protection: safety glasses, gloves, and a proper dust mask or respirator.
If your basement wall is made from cement block, you can break through it with a cold chisel and hammer. If your foundation wall is made from poured concrete, then a power chisel or a rented jackhammer should do the trick.

After the opening has been made, smooth the edges of the hole and butter those edges with a stiff mortar mix. Next, set in a 3-sided wooden frame of at least 2-inch-thick lumber that is as wide as the cement block or concrete is thick. The existing horizontal house plate that contacts the concrete basement wall from the floor above can serve as the top of the frame and the fourth side if your window is high up on the basement wall. Otherwise, make a 4-sided frame.

Plumb and level this frame while the mortar is still wet. This is the rough opening itself.
After the mortar has dried, set the window into the frame, line it up flush with the outside edges of the frame and carefully nail it into the 2 inch rough frame on all sides. Depending on how the window was built, you may be able to drive the nails into the rough frame parallel to the wall if it is a wood frame window, or, if it is in a metal casing, there will be a flange or edge you can use to nail perpendicular to the wall into the edges of the rough frame. Other possibilities exist; use your window as a guide if no instructions came with it or if it is custom built.

After it has been nailed into place, use narrow wooden trim on both the inside and the outside to surround the window and hide the attachment framing. You may want to put a small bit of insulation around the framed window before applying the trim, to lessen heat loss through the frame.

Note: If you live in an area that gets snow, check the snow level around the basement wall and window. Snow that has melted near the wall or window indicates heat loss. If this occurs, you may need to remove the trim, re-install your insulation and seal it a bit better.

Using Mirrors to Decorate Your Home

decorative-mirrorPutting mirrors in your house can do wonders, especially if you have limited space, or you just want to decorate your home. Why mirrors? Because mirrors enhance light and reflection, they could help improve what your house looks like. Mirrors can also simulate depth for houses with small rooms.

I. Top 10 Mirror Tips

10. Put large-sized mirrors in your house. You could, for instance, use mirrors that could span from the floor to the ceiling. You could put these mirrors on both sides of your fireplace. This would make your fireplace room larger and would reflect objects around the room.

9. You might want to have peer mirrors in the windows. Rooms with peer mirrors could have an added depth.

8. You could also install mirrors to cover wall blemishes. This would also save you refinishing costs. Instead of spending fortunes on repainting and refurnishing that part of the wall that got burned by candle or have dirt that cannot be removed, why not put a nice mirror there to hide the wall’s scar?

7. There are also movable mirrors that you could use. You could move the mirrors from time to time to have a different view of the house. In that way, you could have a new look in your house from time to time, depending on what location and items the mirrors are reflecting on.

6. You could also use small mirrors which could reflect on interesting objects. An area with aromatic candles could be given extra prominence if reflected on a mirror.

5. You could also have mirrored screens for you to illuminate a dark corner. You do not have to put bulbs or lights in every part of your house, thanks to mirrors. This would save you electricity costs.

4. There are also place mats that are mirrored. Dishes and accessories made of glass shimmer better than non-glass ones. Shop around for these utensils.

3. Ceilings could also be enhanced with mirrors. Mirrors on the ceiling create a “skylight” effect.

2. Kitchen backsplash could also be mirrored.

1. Room ceilings are not the only ceilings where you could put some mirrors on. Even pantry or cabinet ceilings could also be placed with mirrors. Putting mirrors on these ceilings would enable you to see the contents of the upper shelves.

II. Mirror Essentials

– You could also have basement windows that could reflect things happening in the ground level. It could also reflect what is happening in your yard above.

– Putting big mirrors in rooms, especially which have limited spaces, can provide bright and spacious feel. Putting some little plants or shrubs in places where mirrors could reflect on them. Putting some greenery will give the room an uplifting and relaxing ambiance.

– Mirrors can also put personality into one’s room. The mirrors, for example, in the master’s bedroom could be more formal; while mirrors in the children’s bedroom can be decorative and fun to look at.

– You could also put a large-sized decorative mirror on a wall with your picture adjacent on it. The mirror would reflect on the large picture, and the wall’s additional darker color would immediately give the room its much-needed depth. This would make the room to be viewed wider.

– Decorative mirrors could not just help enhance your rooms for its decoration purposes. But these distinctive mirrors could also show your personality, putting your personal lifestyle and taste into your room. In addition they also give the illusion of width, length, and height. Decorative mirrors could be combined with wall pictures, with contrasting colors.

– While it is also good to use frame mirrors over a sideboard or mantle since that is the traditional kind of mirror, you might want to consider other creative approaches such as putting large-scale mirrors on a floor leaning against the wall.

– Another beautiful way adding shimmer to an otherwise plain and ordinary table is by putting mirrored table toppers.

– You could ask a professional glass worker to make you some furniture using mirrors as embellishments.

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Choosing Home Furniture for All Types of Rooms

home-furnishingsThe furniture in our house makes up a lot of our home’s entire look. The pieces we choose set the tone of the room and indicate what activities are done in that specific area of the house. For example, you wouldn’t get a convertible sofa bed for office furniture, nor would you choose hard and gloomy-looking pieces for a kid’s furniture. You also would avoid using large pieces of furniture for a small and cramped room.

Selecting versatile and multifunctional home furniture is a practical and economic way to make your house look well put-together. You just have to know what pieces to get from the furniture store. You may want to find a good balance between what appeals to you and what best serves the function of the room.

Unless you have a large home, select home furniture and accessories on a small scale. They’ll fit into most spaces as you move them around in your home. For living room sets, it is important that you consider your family’s lifestyle. Do you often use this area of the room for lounging and rest? Do you have pets that you bring to the sofa? These are things to contemplate before furnishing the room. Choose items that will fit the size of your family comfortably, as well as being durable and long-lasting.

Taking the size of the room into consideration, you may want to go for versatile items like two-piece loveseats, rather than one huge sofa. These are easier to move and can be utilized in more variable ways, forming a corner seating area, or opposite each other to create a conversation spot. You can even split them up between rooms, if need be.

Storage is in short supply in most homes. Select home furniture pieces that offer drawers or hanging space, such as a chest of drawers or an armoire. These can be used in a bedroom, foyer, living room, mudroom, and more. If you have kids who have lots of stuff like books and toys, it’s always wise to choose cabinets that can provide good storage to avoid clutter in their rooms. Children’s furniture should also be safe; avoid items and accessories with sharp edges or detachable pieces. And be sure to ask for warranties.

By Chris Lontok

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How To Safely Deal With Asbestos In Your Home

by Joe Cline

Handling asbestos safelyWorried about asbestos that may be in your home? Asbestos fiber exposure has a lot of associated health risks, so it is always important that a homeowner who thinks a material may contain asbestos proceed with as much caution as possible.

While manufacturers don’t currently use asbestos to make anything, many of the homes and buildings built in the 1970’s were built with asbestos in the materials as a fire safety precaution. Asbestos can be found in many different parts of homes built during this era, including the insulating paper tape and blankets used for water heaters and heating ducts, and many of the glues and materials used to create floor tiles, roofing shingles, and jointing areas. Any of the insulating materials around appliances in the kitchen may contain asbestos, and the materials that are sprayed onto walls and ceilings for soundproofing and decoration may also be carriers.

If you suspect materials in your home that are in good condition may contain unreleased asbestos fiber, the Consumer Product Safety Commission suggests simply leaving these materials alone. Try to avoid handling and brushing against anything that may contain asbestos, and check the area frequently to make sure there are no rips, tears, or chips in anything you think may have asbestos in it. If the area can be easily avoided, the CPSC suggests simply leaving it alone even if there are small cracks and tears.

When To Have It Checked

If you notice an area of your home that may contain asbestos has any form of damage that might release fibers, you need to have the area checked by a professional. Contact a professional asbestos inspector to take a sample, and take safety precautions before the sample is taken to make sure you are not exposed to fibers from the sample area.

What To Do While Waiting For Repair Or Removal

When you have a damaged area with asbestos in your home and you’re waiting for professional repair or removal, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself and your family. Avoid the area where the asbestos materials are located as much as possible. Try to avoid activity in that area, and do not to disturb the damaged material. Never attempt to sweep or vacuum an area that you suspect may contain debris from asbestos containing materials. Don’t sand the area, drill the area, or perform any other repairs before the professional deals with the problem.

Asbestos can be frightening, but with the right precautions it doesn’t need to be dangerous to you or your family. As long as you regularly inspect any areas of your home that may contain asbestos and call in a professional if you suspect a problem, you should never need to worry about exposing your home to this dangerous substance. If your 1970’s era home hasn’t been checked for asbestos, it is always best to assume that the material is present and avoid making home repairs or renovations until you have it professionally inspected.

Giving Your Basement the Illusion of Space

Basement-RemodelingUnlike other areas of your home, you can’t simply expand the size of your basement; you’re pretty much locked into what’s already there. But there are ways to create the sensation of having a more airy and inviting basement, rather than living over a cramped, dark and claustrophobic dungeon.

First of all, take advantage of the available natural lighting. In addition to creating additional ventilation, sunlight enhances the natural mood of any space. If you’ve got a garden-entry basement doorway, keep the entryway clutter-free. Consider replacing any small-pane windows with larger glass plates. Do away with curtains, which tend to overwhelm windows. Light-colored shutters or blinds not only allow more light to enter, they provide a more clearly-defined geometric configuration.

Walk around the exterior of your house to examine all basement windows—egress, garden-level, etc.—to ensure all are unobstructed by shrubbery, grass, trees or tree limbs.

Once you’ve done all you can with natural light, give some thought to the most effective and efficient use of other lighting schemes. You’ll want something that provides sufficient illumination, yet does so without overwhelming the room. Low-power bulbs and diffused lighting can provide an ambient and relaxed environment. A subtle use of spots, particularly aimed towards dark corners does away with claustrophobic shadows and brightens the mood of the room considerably.

To further underscore a sense of spaciousness, decorate with light pastel colors on both walls and furnishings. Utilize horizontal patterns rather than vertical ones, which tend to suggest a “walled” or even “jailed in” feeling to small interiors.

Rather than separating the basement from the rest of your home with a solid wooden door, either leave it open or install a glass door instead.

Go for a more “Spartan” look—fewer furnishings and decorations will lighten the room’s atmosphere. Built-in bookcases crammed with books and games, plastic storage bins, lots of pillows, knickknacks, photos and paintings will overwhelm the space.

Finally, contemplate the finishing touch of a plant or two that doesn’t require much direct sunlight. This can do wonders to give a room a ventilated and “green” look.

These few touches can transform that dank room that lurks downstairs just off your kitchen to an inviting and pleasant place to relax and entertain guests.

Tips from design expert Savs Foster

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Top 5 Redecorating Steps To Avoid

Whether you’re ready to redesign your entire home or just intend to redecorate a single room, make sure you have a master plan. Here are five common decorating errors that are easy to make.

1. Poor Furniture Placement. A bad furniture layout can set the tone for the room and an easy mistake to make.

Don’t line up all your furniture and seating against the walls of a room.  Contrary to popular opinion, it does not give the illusion of more space.  Instead, try moving the large sofa off the wall.  Position it in the center of the room facing the focal point, whether that’s the fireplace or the entertainment unit.  Re-orient the other furniture pieces to work off of the sofa, creating a more intimate living space where great conversations can happen.

2. Oversized Furniture.

Large furniture pieces can be overpowering and chunky, and they can actually make a room feel smaller than it is.  Large-scaled pieces work better when used sparingly.

3. Unbalanced Room.

When decorating a room, take a moment to be aware of the height, width and depth of the major pieces of furnishings.  Position them evenly around the room rather than grouping them all together in one end or corner.  Overloading one side of a room throws it out of balance.  Your guests may not be able to precisely put their finger on what seems “off” about the room layout, but they’ll definitely notice that something is askew.

Avoid the problem by introducing some lighter, narrower pieces to the mix.  Glass, iron, or metal combinations for end tables and coffee tables are a great way to “alleviate” that heavy feeling.

4. Poor Traffic Patterns.

Don’t arrange the furnishings in such a way as to present some sort of maze or obstacle course that your family or your guests will have to navigate.

Always keep the doorways to a room clean and clutter free.  If you have heavier pieces (couches, recliners, tables) sitting in the middle of the room, make sure that there’s at least thirty inches (or more!) clear floor space between these and the wall.

When you begin decorating or re-arranging a room’s furnishings, take a moment to envision that room in the midst of a party or gathering.  Allow your eye to draw you to the spots where you naturally want to stand or to congregate, and keep these open and easily navigable when you place your furnishings.

5. Identifying One Focal Point.

Every space should have one “anchor” for the other furnishings and design elements to accentuate to best effect.  What’s that special feature in the room you’re decorating?   Is it the bay window overlooking your garden?  Is it the rock work fireplace?  Is it the painting over the hearth?

Select the dramatic element you most want to highlight.  Arrange the furnishings to subtly direct focus to that feature.  And if you aren’t able to decide what it might be?  Not a problem!  Create one!  It’s an ideal opportunity to add that “something special” to your design.

Ten Simple Ways To Make Your Home Safe For Every Generation Who Lives In It

Most of us start life depending on our parents to take care of us. But as they age, chances are the roles will reverse. And, whether you provide additional help in their own homes – or move aging parents into your home – how do you prepare to meet the new needs of aging adults? Luckily many simple, quick, affordable – and even stylish and savvy – updates can  make homes safer and more enjoyable for you, your family and your parents. Here are some tips from Handyman Matters:

De-clutter: Both kids and older adults have reduced reflexes and balance. Spruce up the look of your home – and avoid tripping hazards – by removing clutter and items you no longer use (especially obstacles in walkways).

safe shower for seniorsSafe shower: Showers can be an enjoyable and luxurious part of anyone’s day – if they are safe. While you probably don’t want to renovate the shower, simple additions of bath safety products can make it safer and more enjoyable. Start by adding rubber grips to the bottom of the shower to avoid slick surfaces. Next, take a seat with a comfortable shower chair and enjoy a shower massage with a multi-function hand held shower head. You might also want to consider adding some grab bars around the shower to ensure entry and exit from the shower are safe.

Save resources, save money: Eco-friendly adjustments not only can make you feel good about preserving natural resources for your family, they can also help lower energy costs (ideal for tight budgets). Simple steps can include replacing standard light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, insulating doors and windows and swapping faucets and shower heads with new water-saving models.

Handy handles: In the course of a day, you grip many objects – from cups and pens, to door knobs and faucet handles. Swapping out door knobs or faucets with knobs for lever-handle models can make these everyday tasks a bit easier – especially for smaller or arthritic hands.

Get a grip: For any age, stairs are a falling hazard in homes – whether it’s one step or 20. To increase safety, add hand rails or decorative hand grips in high-traffic doorways where there may be a step, such as the garage or front entry.

Let there be light: Did you also know that by age 60 the average person requires 15 times more lighting than when they were 10 years old? Brighten up the home with additional reading lamps in bedrooms and family rooms, under-cabinet task lighting in the kitchen, motion-sensor lights near entrances and night lights in hallways.

Safe and secure: Your home is your safe haven … so make sure it is protected. In the bathroom where slick surfaces can be falling hazards, add functional – yet fashionable – grab bars. And, in case of unforeseen falls or other home accidents, home security systems can give you peace of mind to know that fire-, medical- or emergency-response is available for you and your loved ones at the touch of a button.

Flat flooring: According to the Home Safety Council, falls are the leading cause (66 percent) of all nonfatal home injuries. To help you – or your loved ones – avoid becoming a statistic, remove throw rugs or ensure that they have a non-slip backing to provide more firm footing.

Low-maintenance lawns: With busy lifestyles, it’s tough to keep up landscaping. Making a few modifications to the yard can help ease the burden. Replace large grassy areas that require frequent mowing with rock gardens or mulch beds. Additionally, choose drought-resistant perennial plants and shrubs to save time and money on watering – and ensure you don’t have to plant new each spring.

Be prepared: Are the washer and dryer in the basement? Are the bedroom and bathroom upstairs? Since stairs can be difficult to navigate for children or aging parents, having all the necessities on one floor is ideal. While it may not be in the budget to move everything to the main floor now, gradually start getting ready by wiring a closet or small room for the laundry – or planning to expand a half bath to a full bath.

With a few minor updates, you can breathe easier knowing your home is safer for your loved ones – both young and old. For more information on safety products and other helpful tips or assistance in  “safe-proofing” your home, contact your local Handyman Matters location today. Click here to find a location near you or call 866-FIX-MY-HOME (866-349-6946).

20 Budget-Friendly Ways To Make Your Home More Livable

Budget friendly home improvementChallenging economic times may have you tabling major home projects like doing a major kitchen overhaul or adding a swimming pool, but that doesn’t mean that you should forego smaller, budget-friendly upgrades. There are many things you can have done that can really improve the look and the livability of your home, for mere hundreds, rather than thousands, of dollars.

“Smaller projects can give homeowners immediate gratification. In just a few hours, we can paint your front door or update the hardware in your kitchen and suddenly your house has a fresh new look,” says Andy Bell, President and CEO of Handyman Matters. We asked Handyman Matters’ Bell to give us the top 20 projects he recommends for homeowners who want to protect their investment in their homes without breaking the bank. Before hiring someone to tackle anything on the list, he cautions homeowners to make sure that the business is reputable, offers a materials and labor guarantee and uses craftsmen who are experienced and trained to do the job you’re asking for.

  1. Painting is one of the most inexpensive ways to make a big impact. If you don’t want to spring for a total exterior paint job, consider staining or painting the front door or your shutters in a bold, rich color.
  2. Install new accessories in your bathroom and transform the whole look of your room. Towel bars, mirrors, shelving, Pedestal sinks or modern vessel-styled sinks give maximum style with minimal effort.
  3. Safety upgrades like adding brighter light bulbs, replacing locks, or installing grab bars in the shower can bring peace of mind. Consider having it done for your parents as a gift. It may not be glamorous, but it is practical and shows you care.
  4. Outdoor living is the hot home improvement right now. Have a deck or patio built, and your backyard becomes a haven for partygoers.
  5. It’s like the fashionistas always say: accessories are what makes the difference. Get rid of your 50s-era cabinet hardware and have shiny new pulls and knobs installed. In just a couple of hours your kitchen has a whole new look.

15 More budget-friendly ideas:

  1. Install shelving & organizers
  2. Install low voltage under cabinet lighting
  3. Seal and stain deck
  4. Replace door knobs
  5. Install new fixtures
  6. Install weather-stripping
  7. Replace or add shower doors
  8. Install new railings
  9. Paint garage doors
  10. Install screen doors
  11. Install new counters
  12. Regrout or caulk tile
  13. Replace entryway tile
  14. Upgrade landscaping
  15. Resurface fireplace

The professional craftsmen of Handyman Matters have expertise in thousands of home repair and home improvement projects. To find a location near you visit,