Friday, August 31, 2012

Tile 101

Here at Universal we love to use tile in home renovations because it is so versatile, durable, beautiful, easy to clean, easy to maintain, and affordable!  No matter what style your home is, there is a tile that would greatly compliment the look of your home. I’m not just talking the bathroom and kitchen floor either… I believe that there is a tile (or a combination of tiles) that would greatly compliment nearly every room in your home.
Ceramic and Porcelain Tiles:
Pros: Usually the most affordable. They come just about every finish, color, and size you could possibly hope for. Stands up to traffic and moisture better than nearly every other flooring choice (except concrete). Easy to maintain and very scratch resistant. If planned well and done right, ceramic or porcelain tile can look very rich, even on a small budget.
Cons: Cold on feet. A warmer can be installed beneath to help with this. If heavy objects are dropped on tiles, they can crack. Grout can stain or crack. On the bright side, replacing one tile or a small grout crack is usually a very simple and quick process. Just be sure keep a few extra tiles and extra grout on hand so you have an exact match if a repair needs to be made.
For about the same price as hardwood flooring, ceramic wood grain tiles are available. These gorgeous textured tiles come in just about every wood color you could possibly dream of, and are even shaped like hardwood boards. Check out to get a visual. Impressive, right? Imagine having the beauty of hardwood, but never worrying about warping, fading, scratching, refinishing, or water damage!
Natural Stone Tiles:
Pros: Come in several colors, sizes, finishes, and shapes.  Natural stone tiles are durable and absolutely beautiful. If you love the look of granite or marble counters, but you can’t (or don’t want to) pay the high price for solid stone, you could have a granite or marble tile counter installed instead.
Cons: Pits and holes, like found in some rough finishes, can become a hot spot for bacteria. Natural materials generally cost more. They require more care and maintenance than ceramic and porcelain. Can be also cold to touch and crack if heavy objects are dropped on them.
Flooring Tiles:
In general, flooring tiles are usually 12”x12”, but they can be found smaller, in different shapes, or in 16”, 18”, 20”, &  24”. I recommend using at least a 12” tile for flooring, or using a combination of tile sizes and including some 12″ (or larger) tiles.  In small areas, still use a 12″ (or larger) tile, but chose a solid color and match the grout color to the tile color. This makes the area look more open and less busy. There are always exceptions to the rule, for example; if recreating a classic look, you would want to use whatever type of tile that was popular for that specific time period.
Wall Tile/Backsplashes:
A couple personal backsplash favorites of mine are colored glass and slate. Colored glass tiles generally come in 12” sections of multi-color, rectangular or square shaped, small glass pieces matted together in a ready-to-hang pattern. They can be a little pricey ($5-$25 per foot), but if you only need them for a small area, they really can produce a huge bang for your buck! They are great for pulling several colors together, and are very easy to clean. Slate wall tiles will probably come with more size and shape options than glass would, and will give you a more earthy, natural, look. As a general rule, backsplash tiles should be smaller than your flooring tiles.
If you want more information or need help coming up with a beautiful, unique, tile design for your next home renovation, please call us today! (865) 202-8501

Ways to Save Money When Hiring a Contractor

If you have the time and want to save some money, I have listed some steps you might be able to tackle yourself the next time you choose to hire out a home improvement project. What I have listed here doesn’t require construction experience or expensive tools… it just requires a little muscle, and a lot of patience. Be sure to go over your “DIY” details when discussing your remodeling project(s) with your contractor(s).
1.Move your furniture and personal belongings out of the areas to be worked on. This is generally an easy (but time consuming) task many homeowners overlook.
2.Do some of the demolition yourself. Have the contractor explain what needs to be done, BEFORE tearing into your home. He/she should tell you when to start it, and the safe way to do it. Please leave the removal of roofing, concrete, framing, wires, and pipes to the professionals.
3. Buy your own appliances and fixtures. If a contractor has to pick up and deliver appliances or fixtures, he/she is going to mark up the price on those items to accommodate for his/her time invested. Have all the fixtures and appliances you want to use picked out and available for your contractor by your project’s start date.
4. If you have a steady hand and a lot of patience, you could tackle the painting yourself. Be sure to prime first. I recommend using a latex primer and a latex topcoat. Latex can be cleaned up with water, while oil based paint requires harsh chemicals for clean up. If using a dark top coat, have them tint your primer at the store (primer is generally white). For interior wall topcoats, I recommend using paint with an eggshell finish. An eggshell finish will be cleanable, but won’t make the walls look shiny. For ceilings, I recommend using a flat paint. For interior trim, I recommend using a semi-gloss paint. Buy a high quality angled brush to “cut in” around baseboards and along the ceiling. Tape can cause latex paint to peel, and sometimes it can be more of a hassle than a help. Purchase a high quality roller cover to paint with. Cheap roller covers tend to leave “lint” behind as you roll. Also, use high quality paint. It covers better, and is easier to work with. Using high quality products all around will make the task much, much easier. If you are drastically changing the color, keep in mind that you will probably need two coats for the finished product to look good, even when using a tinted primer.

Important Tips for Hiring a Contractor

For most people, their home is their biggest investment and their most prized possession.  When you choose to hire out a remodel or repair, you are spending your hard earned money on a process you are probably not very familiar with, and putting a lot of trust into someone you barely know. Understandably, hiring a contractor to work on your home can be a scary and intimidating process, especially with all the horror stories out there. With that being said, I want to give you some tips and advice that will help ease your mind, and give you confidence in choosing the right contractor for you.

1. Meet with the person providing the estimate on your project. Even if the project is exterior and you don’t need to be home for the contractor to work up a quote, you need that face-to-face interaction to get a feel for the contractor and the company he/she works for.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask about the process: a step by step explanation, how many people will be on the job, how long the job will take, and what the contractor will do to protect your floors and/or landscaping (when applicable). Ask to see photos of other similar projects the company has done. Ask about different materials options, which brands the contractor prefers, and if they have any tips to help save you money. Ask about change order policies and warranties. If you don’t understand something, ask the contractor to explain it again. A good contractor should be able to clearly explain all aspects of the project, should seem confident and knowledgeable when delivering his/her answers, and should be easy to talk to.
The exception to this rule: some larger corporations send out a sales rep to quote their jobs. Quite often, sales reps simply take measurements, use a price list to work up a quote, and stick to a script. They generally can’t offer immediate answers to questions outside of the “norm”, so they will pass those questions on to a supervisor or manager. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this practice, you just must decide whether or not you mind dealing with a middleman.
Please note: No matter who the company sends out to represent them, no one should be pressuring you to sign a contract right away!!

3. Ask for proof of insurance, state licensing, and references.

4. Take the time to do your homework! Call their insurance company to make sure their insurance is current. Check their license number. Call their references. Their insurance, licensing, and references should be from the same state you live in. Tennessee residents, check the list of Tennessee’s problem contractors: Check the BBB for unresolved complaints. See if any other complaints or lawsuits show up in your search results. Keep in mind that most companies will receive an occasional complaint, but they should handle them in a professional and timely manner, to the satisfaction of the client, if possible.

5. Read over the contract, including all the fine print. Be sure that the contract thoroughly explains what materials are to be used, clearly defines what will be taking place, and where. The total cost and breakdown of the payments should also be clearly outlined.  If there is a warranty, or a permit needs to be pulled, that information should also be included. Be sure that the contract contains the company’s contact information, and the company name on the contract matches the insurance and licensing documents. If any information is missing, be sure to request it to be included in the contract, in writing, prior to signing.
Be aware: Any contract requiring more than 1/3 of the total contract price at the time of signing, or to reserve your spot on the schedule, is breaking Tennessee State laws. Also, final payments should not be due until the project is complete.

6. Get more than one estimate. Most people recommend obtaining at least 3 estimates. Compare the estimates by comparing the proposed materials, services, warranties, and price. If one price is way higher or way lower, find out why; don’t just automatically pick the one with the lowest price.

7. Most importantly, but often forgotten; GO WITH YOUR GUT FEELING! If your instincts are telling that you the contractor or company isn’t being honest, they probably aren’t. Don’t risk it.

Renovations that Add Value to Your Home

It can be tough to decide where to spend your money when it comes to remodeling your home. Though every home is different, there are some basic guidelines to be aware of before you start your renovation. If you want the best return when it comes time to sell your home, there are areas you should focus on and some common mistakes to avoid.
Having a functional and attractive outdoor living space usually brings a great return. Easy access to a deck or paved area extends your home and ups the value. If you don’t have a functional outdoor space to entertain or an easy way to access your outdoor space, you should consider investing in this area. Simply adding a deck or patio and some landscaping can be one of the less expensive upgrades for your home if you choose your materials wisely and don’t go overboard. Choosing native plants will save money on landscaping, and if pavers are needed, try finding them at a salvage store. Natural wood decks are beautiful and initially less expensive, but they require regular maintenance and don’t last as long as composite materials. When dealing with a natural wood that is exposed to the elements, it is suggested that the wood be cleaned, stained, and sealed every spring to prevent deterioration and keep it looking good. With composite, usually the only maintenance needed is an occasional cleaning.
If your bathrooms are dated, you should consider investing in them. Replace old fixtures and old toilets. Many modern toilets and fixtures are made to use less water and work just as well as, or even better than, their older counterparts. If you have linoleum floors in your bathroom, you should definitely tile your floor. The right tile can make a bathroom look gorgeous and still be fairly inexpensive. Outdated countertops and cabinets are an eye sore too. Many older cabinets can just be refinished to give them a more modern look and there are many options for affordable, beautiful countertops. If your bathroom doesn’t have a fan, install one! If you have a full size tub in your bathroom, don’t replace it with a small stand up shower unless space is a serious issue in your bathroom. Potential future buyers with young children (or furry animals) will appreciate having a bathtub to wash their little ones in.
If you house has a lot of walls, open it up! Areas where you entertain should not be separated from each other. The kitchen, dining room, and living room should be open and the style of these rooms should flow together. Also, have access to your outdoor living space from this area. Replace old linoleum kitchen floors and cheap/ugly countertops. To save money, simply refinish sturdy, but outdated cabinets. If your appliances are extremely outdated, you should replace them. Kitchen renovations have the potential to be very expensive depending on what materials are used, so keep a level head when planning and shopping. Remember that if you go overboard, you probably won’t make all that money back when it comes time to sell.
Warmer colors are becoming popular but if you plan on selling your home you shouldn’t choose wall colors that are extremely bold or dramatic. No matter how great blood red walls might look with your furniture, the next potential might hate it and see it as a downfall. Subtle, warm colors are the key. Choose a finish like eggshell and your walls will be easier to clean than a flat finish would be. Don’t go any shinier than an eggshell finish for walls, but for trim a semi-gloss or gloss is acceptable.
When it comes time to sell, curb appeal can make or break the deal. First impressions are extremely important, so repair cracked sidewalks & steps, replace loose or mismatched shingles & siding, and repaint if your paint is cracking or peeling. If your yard is bare, a few well placed bushes or plants can make a huge impact. If your home doesn’t have gutters & downspouts, you should have some installed. If your windows are old, installing energy efficient windows can also be a good place to invest. Replacing windows can be very pricey, but if you can afford it, not only will it save you money heating and cooling, but it is a great selling point when it comes time to put your home on the market. Also keep in mind that exterior style of your house should mirror the interior style.
Please keep in mind that this is just a guideline. Use common sense when planning a renovation and address major issues/repairs first. Dropping lots of money in completely new floor plans and custom materials make sense if you plan on staying in your home forever, but if you plan to sell, you have to make renovation choices wisely. If you are not sure where to start or aren’t sure what your options are for your budget, consult a professional.

Moisture & Mold

Inadequate ventilation and leaks can cause moisture to build up in your home and moisture can lead to mold. If you have ever noticed condensation on your interior tiles, painted surfaces, or windows, you may have a moisture problem. Thankfully, there are many things you can do to fix and prevent moisture build up.
1. Fix water leaks immediately! Water stains on walls & ceilings, puddles under pipes or around the toilet, bubbling paint, wet basements, and rotting wood, are all signs of a water leak.
2. Keep gutters & downspouts in working order. If you do not have gutter guards, they should be cleaned twice a year to prevent clogging.
3. If your home has an attic, it should also have an attic ventilation system. These systems prevent build up as heat and moisture rise up into the attic space. There are many different choices for venting your attic space and your home may already have one in place. If so, make sure it works properly and clear the vents of all debris.
4. Run your exhaust fan  every time you take a shower, cook a meal, or run your dishwasher. Dryers should also have a vent that leads outside. All of these activities create a large amount of moisture. If your kitchen or bathroom don’t have an exhaust fan, install one!
5. Direct drainage away from your house. Do you know where your downspouts empty? If not, its time to find out! If it seems like rainwater isn’t being directed AWAY from your house, you have a drainage issue. Some simple rerouting can easily fix this.
6. Make sure you have vapor barriers. Vapor barriers are generally ran under your flooring or along your basement walls.
7. If you need helping diagnosing or fixing your moisture/mold issues, call us! (865) 202-8501

"Green" Choices for Home Renovations

All over the US, many home renovation projects are “Going Green”. Going green means efficiently using available resources while reducing waste and pollution. There are many “green” options for every home renovation.
Use more bamboo! Bamboo is beautiful, strong and durable. Bamboo grows very quickly making the environmental impact far less than that of traditional woods. Many bamboo products are available, including bamboo flooring, cabinets, fencing, furniture, and even counters. Many bamboo products are not any more expensive than their traditional wood counterparts.
Recycle when possible. Donate your old cabinets, doors, fixtures, and counters to the Restore, a store ran by Habitat for Humanity. Just by donating your old stuff, you are helping a great cause.  Metal roofing can be recycled, making it a good “green” choice, while shingle recycling is still not available in many places. Also, recycled glass counters can be a beautiful focal point for any kitchen or bath renovation.
Refinish when possible. For example, if your cabinets are real wood, they are still sturdy, but outdated; some new knobs, doors, and stain might be all you need to make them look amazing!
Replacing faucets & shower heads with low flow faucets & shower heads can greatly reduce the amount of water you use, and lower your water bill. These products have come a long way since they first hit the market and now many work even better than their traditional counterparts.
Replace your old toilets with low flow toilets. Toilets use more water than any other appliance in your house. If your toilet was made before 1992, it is probably a water guzzler and should be replaced. Also, Dishwashers built before 1994 can use up to 8 gallons more water per use than today’s energy efficient dishwashers.
Insulate and seal your home. Caulking gaps around windows, doors and between pieces of siding can reduce heat transfer and help prevent interior moisture. Many older homes lack adequate insulation, costing their owners hundreds of unnecessary heating and cooling dollars a year.
Replace old windows with Low-e dual pane windows. These insulated windows allow less transfer of heat, keeping your heating and cooling under control. In 2011, when you replace old windows with energy efficient windows, you are eligible to receive a tax credit of up to 10% of the cost, or $200.
Use low VOC interior paints. Paints containing VOCs release toxic gases inside your home. Most major brands have low VOC paint options with the same great quality at a slightly higher price. Also, replace vinyl shower curtains with a glass door or mold resistant cloth curtains. Vinyl curtains also release VOC’s.
For environmentally friendly  home renovations ideas to fit your plan and budget, please call us at (865) 202-8501

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Preventive Maintenance 101

Preventive maintenance consists of work that is performed on a routine basis to maintain and preserve a good, working condition. Preventive maintenance is often put on the back burner because it means spending money on things that are not failing yet. Many home and business owners wait until something goes wrong before they schedule a professional to come out and look. Waiting until something breaks or a system fails is usually the more expensive route! Simple steps can be taken to prevent many malfunctions from happening, or detect them BEFORE they cause major damage to other areas.
Neglecting your gutters, downspouts, or roof drains can cost you BIG time. Gutters & downspouts are very important to the life of your home because they direct water away from it, helping prevent basement leaks & foundation problems.  But, clogged gutters & downspouts can be even more damaging than not having any at all. A back up in your downspouts or gutters can force water into your home, often going unnoticed until serious damage has already been done behind the surface. The good news: it is usually not very expensive to have someone install gutter guards, and/or clean out your gutters and downspouts. If you do not have gutter guards, you should have your gutters & downspouts cleaned at least twice a year, once before winter & once after. If you do have gutter guards, you should brush them off anytime you notice debris collecting on top of them. There are many different types of gutter guards, so please contact your contractor if you are unsure of which will best suit your needs, and your budget.
Paint, Caulk & Seal! If your home has wood, masonite, or cement fiber siding, sealing the exterior of your home with a high quality paint can greatly extend the life of both your exterior & interior surfaces. A high quality latex paint and good caulk job create a vapor barrier, helping to  prevent moisture and insects from finding their way into your home. Keeping moisture out helps prevent wood rot, warping, bubbled paint, drywall damage, and mold growth. How often a home or business should be caulked & repainted greatly varies. If the paint or caulk appear to be peeling or cracked, those areas are no longer protected. Loose paint should be scraped away, the surface should be cleaned, caulked, and new paint applied. Also, decks and other high-traffic stained exterior wood surfaces should be sealed annually.
Replace loose or damaged shingles immediately! Your roof protects everything under it from damage, including your furniture. When your roof leaks, NOTHING is safe. Once water gets past the roof it can cause drywall damage, wood rot, mold growth and warped hardwood floors, just to name a few.  Ceilings are usually not made to hold weight & water is heavy. A flooded ceiling can easily collapse, damaging everything underneath. Replacing a couple loose shingles can save you thousands in water damage repairs and furniture replacement!
Grout and natural stone surfaces should be sealed annually. Sealing grout or natural stones is very easy and inexpensive. Most sealing products can be purchased at any hardware store and simply wiped on with a cloth or sponge.
If you have any questions regarding a preventive maintenance plan for your home, please feel free to call us!
(865) 202-8501