Will The Value Of My Home Increase If I Invest In My Homes Curb Appeal?

It is a proven fact that homes with greater curb appeal command higher prices and will take less time to sell. The way your home looks from the street can significantly add to or decrease the value of your home, regardless of the interior condition. The first impression a potential buyer receives when approaching your property is one of the most important factors in selling your home.

When we say increasing your curb appeal is a good investment to make in your homes perceived value, we do not necessarily mean you have to embark on a major home improvement project.  You do not have to replace siding, windows and doors to gain greater curb appeal, rather make your home look like it has been cared for and loved. 

Take as much time as needed, and spend the least money possible to maximize your homes curb appeal.  Consider these few tips to make your homes first impression one that lasts.

Remove the clutter – Remove any weathered toys, broken swing sets, old holiday decorations, rotting patio furniture or cruddy planters. This will open up your yard space and make your property appear larger. 

Clean up the outside of your home – grab a bucket of soapy water and a long handled soft bristled brush to remove any dirt and dust on the complete façade of your home, including garage and entry doors. Walk around the perimeter of your home and remove any debris. Wipe away any cobwebs that may have formed. Hose out your downspouts and clear away leaves that may have gathered.  Lastly, wash your windows inside and out.

Check the outside of your home – nothing looks as worse from the curb as missing bricks, peeling paint, damaged siding, cracked windows or missing trim. These maintenance issues not only affect your home’s value, they can also damage the structure of your home. Be sure to refasten sagging gutters, repoint bricks that have lost their mortar, reseal cracks in the asphalt, replace cracked windows, replace damaged or missing siding, or trim around doors and windows, and make sure all your windows and doors open and close securely.  

Give some TLC to your front door – the most common advice a realtor will provide a seller is to make sure the front door is in the best shape possible. Whether that means painting it, cleaning it, re-staining it, or placing a decorative wreath on the door, your door is the main factor in your home’s curb appeal.

Check your roof – Whether it’s you or a professional, have your roof checked for missing, curled or faded shingles.  Make sure you roof is clear from debris, and your gutters are attached to your roofline. A messy roof can make even a relatively new roof look like it needs to be repaired or replaced. 

Clean up the yard - a freshly cut lawn, pruned shrubs, a few flowers and some mulch can boost the curb appeal of almost any home.  Replace or remove overgrown bushes with leafy plants or colorful annuals.  Walk around your property and remove any weeds or overgrown vines from the sides of your home. Whether it’s you or a professional landscape contractor, green up your grass with lawn food and water, and cover bare spots with seeds.

Add a splash of color – Although some realtors recommend your door red or green or blue, this may not be your thing.  Consider instead adding a few pots of colorful flowers near the front door, or a colorful Adirondack chair on the front porch. Although adding color to your home will not increase its value directly, it will enhance your homes curb appeal.

Replace or add a welcome mat – add a welcome mat that reflects your homes style.  This is a great way to add color to the outside of your home, while providing a place for potential buyers to clean their shoes before entering your home.

Add some finishing touches – Replace old house numbers with new clearly placed address numbers so that your home is easy to find.  Consider replacing or painting your mail box a bright color to add some pizazz. The better your home looks, the easier it will be to sell.

If your home needs a lot more than a freshening up, consider hiring a licensed and insured professional who can take on some of the larger projects. It is suggested that you get about two to three estimates for the work you want to do. Then compare the services and materials listed for your project so that you are comparing apples to apples. During this process, you should also check references and on line reviews of the companies you are considering.

Homeowners are protected by the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs when using one of their licensed contractors. It is important that the contractor you hire has a valid and active Home Improvement Contractors license issued by the Department of Consumer Affairs. You can call 311 or visit www.nyc.gov/dca to verify their license, and to find out if there are any active complaints against the company.

Your home may be the most valuable asset you own. If you are considering selling it or have it on the market now, consider some of the items on this checklist so that your home gets sold at the highest price possible

Fran & Frank Reali, Owners -BHGRE Safari Realty

(718) 442-5200   www.safarirealtyonline.com

Is It Important To Get My Heating System Serviced Before The Winter?

Yes, it is important to get your heating system serviced before the winter. The purpose of a heating system service is to keep your heating system up and running all season long, with no surprise breakdowns, while allowing it to operate at optimum efficiency.

At the start of the heating season, your system should be cycled and checked to make sure its operating safely. Like cars, heating systems require routine maintenance to keep them running longer. 

Routine maintenance will provide lower energy costs and longer equipment life. A neglected system slowly loses its ability to keep your home comfortable at the same level of efficiency it once did. Routine maintenance will also ensure fewer repairs.

Most importantly, a complete checkup of your system will provide you peace of mind in knowing that your heating equipment is operating safely. Faulty electrical wiring, a blockage in your flue piping, or a crack in your heat exchanger can be dangerous to the health and safety of your family.

A prescheduled preventive maintenance call will provide you the best value for the money. During this visit, a technician will check all mechanical and electrical components of your heating system, and will identify any issues. By preventing future repairs, your annual maintenance will pay for itself. Furthermore, who wants to be without heat for even a few hours during the winter? Preventive maintenance will help avoid breakdowns.

There are a few maintenance items that can be performed by homeowners, however, many of the tasks will require the assistance of a professional.

Homeowners can replace air filters in their forced air heating system. Just be sure to use filters that are properly fitted for the space they occupy. A filter that is too small will allow dust and dirt particles to pass through into the heating system. A filter that is too large won't fit and if you jam it in, it can obstruct air flow, causing inefficiency and potential breakdowns.

Filters should be changed every month or two, depending on how dirty they get. Standard replacement filters cost a few dollars each, while higher efficiency filters can cost around twenty dollars. It is important to keep up on filter replacements to allow your system to operate at maximum efficiency.

If you have a programmable thermostat, check the settings and schedule to make sure you are comfortable with the time and temperatures you have preset. Since you last used your heating system your schedule may have changed, or your comfort level may have adjusted. You should also get into the habit of changing your thermostat battery once a year to ensure your thermostat operates without interruption.

Inspect and clean the grills and registers, or if you have a hot water system with baseboard radiators, check to make sure they are clear from obstruction. Make sure to remove all dust or debris on or around them so that the full output of your heating system can be felt.

It is important to get a professional involved when it comes to the electrical and burner sections of your heating system.  A thorough tune up will require skills, tools and knowledge that only an experience service technician can provide.

Your service technician will check and tighten electrical connections, check the sequence of operation, check and clean the blower section, check gas connections, burner combustion and the heat exchanger. This service should also include a check to make sure there is no carbon monoxide being emitted from your heating system during operation.

The added value of a heating system maintenance call, is that you have a professional in front of you that can make recommendations on how to improve your system operation, should you have any concerns. Leaks in your ductwork can cause added inefficiencies and will reduce your comfort.

The heating season is fast approaching. The best time to have a professional visit your home to service your heating equipment is now. The later it gets in the season, the more difficult it is to get an appointment and the more it will cost you. Look for pre-season discounts to provide the most bang for your buck.

As with any home improvement or home service, make sure your service provider is licensed and insured. Homeowners are protected by the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs when using a local, licensed contractor, so it is important to ask for their license information and check the references they have provided.

Jim Hall, President – Jim Hall HVAC

(718) 948-2456   www.jimhallhvac.com 

What Do I Need To Know About Closing My Pool For The Winter?

Labor Day has come and gone, and the Summer of 2017 is behind us. The cool fall weather is fast approaching, making September the best time to close your pool. Since this is a key element in the successful annual maintenance of your pool, it is important that you plan ahead. Make sure you have all the tools, parts and supplies you will need, as this is not a 1-2-3 job. 

Closing your pool requires preparation, a good understanding of how to balance the chemicals in your pool, and a full day dedicated to the task. The true test of a successful pool closing will occur when it is time to open your pool in the Spring. A failed pool closure will rear its ugly face as soon as you uncover your pool and attempt to turn on your pumps for the first time.

Properly winterizing your pool will limit the chances of equipment and piping from freezing. It will also limit the need for repairs or the lengthy delays getting your pool water clear when you open it again.  

The first step in closing your pool is cleaning it. Well actually deep cleaning it. Take the time to vacuum your pool, brush your pool walls and clean out your skimmer baskets well. Consider purchasing a telescopic pole with a scrubber at the end to scrub the bottom of the pool floor. This is the perfect time to take extra care of the small areas with some build-up of dirt to prevent the growth of algae and to improve the overall aesthetic of your pool. 

When done cleaning, make sure to empty the things in your pool, like ladders and any other objects that are normally kept inside the pool water during the summer. 

After you’ve worked to get your pool sparkly clean, be sure to balance the chemical levels in your pool.  Your pH, chlorine and alkaline levels must be stable. This will help your pool get off to a good start in the Spring. In addition, you should consider shocking the pool to prevent stains occurring on the walls and floor of your pool. When looking for pool shock, consider ones made just for pool closures, as they contain scale preventer and an algaecide as well.

Backwashing your filter is another part of the pool closing process. However, it is important that you allow your pool pump to run a complete cycle first.  This should take about eight to ten hours. After you backwash your filter, make sure you open both the drain at the bottom of the tank and open the air relief valve, if you have one.  This will allow the water in the tank to drain.

As there are many types of filters available on the market (cartridge, sand and DE filters), it is important you consult with the manufacturer or a local pool supply company to learn the right way to backwash your filter. When speaking with a professional, ask about new products on the market that make pool closings easier, or that limit the potential for damage during the winter. Broken skimmers from poor winterization are one of the most common winter related pool failures, and could be limited by adding protective devices that will fail first before your pool equipment. 

One of the first instincts of many pool owners is to empty the pool completely for the winter. That is not suggested as the soil under and around your pool can freeze, expand, and then move your pool out of place.  The weight of the water in your pool keeps the pool in place. As the northeast experiences temperatures below freezing, it is recommended to drain your pool 4” – 6” below the skimmer.

One of the last steps in preparing your pool for winter is blowing out your pool lines.  This is one of the most important tasks.  Failure to properly blow out your lines will cause your pipes to freeze and crack, creating an unnecessary expense and mess, especially if the piping is located underground. You can use a simple shop vac to blow water from the skimmer, through the equipment, back into the pool. It is important to remove any directional fittings and install freeze plugs. Pumps, filters, heaters and chlorinators should also be drained.  

Some pool owners use antifreeze in the piping leading to the skimmer to help prevent freezing.  Keep in mind this is NOT the same antifreeze you use in your car.  Pool antifreeze is made for a specific purpose; to keep your skimmer and piping from freezing.

Don’t forget to turn off all your pum, heaters and any other equipment associated with your pool. Store parts that you will need for Spring in one place.  This will make opening your pool easier and less stressful.

Lastly, cover your pool. Consider using a combination of a safety or standard winter pool cover, and a leaf cover.  By placing a leaf cover on top of your heavier pool cover, it will allow you to remove the leaves and debris that gathers over the winter first, and then remove the heavier cover with a lot less effort. 

Most of the hard work in opening your pool is removing your pool cover filled with water, leaves and debris.    

There are many how to videos available on YouTube, as well as some of the pool manufacturer’s websites, if you are insistent on taking on this project by yourself. However, it is always good to consult with or hire a professional who has knowledge of your pool equipment. They can assist you with closing your pool or help guide you in the right direction. As with all home service contractors, it is important to make sure they are licensed and insured.

Stuart Roaker, President – The Pool Therapist

(718) 370-7000       www.pooltherapist.com    

How Can I Freshen Up My Kitchen Without Doing A Complete Remodel?

Your kitchen is one of the most used rooms of your home. It is actually said to be the heart of the home, as it is the place where family and friends gather to share special times. Whether small or large, it is important to keep this space updated and clean so that at any time, you are ready to prepare a meal, or entertain, without much fuss.

A complete kitchen remodel could cost thousands of dollars, and requires your time and effort to research the perfect cabinetry, flooring, countertops, backsplash and appliances for your project. If your kitchen looks tired and dated, it doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg to get results. If you are not ready for a complete remodel, consider updating some of the key components of your kitchen to provide a completely new look.  

If your kitchen cabinets and floors are in relatively good condition, consider replacing only your countertop and backsplash. Replacing this major element of your kitchen can transform this room instantaneously. As this can be one of the biggest expenses in freshening up your kitchen, consider a Formica laminated surface. Formica products have come a long way and offer a broad range of looks at an affordable price. Or consider upgrading to granite or a synthetic product, like Corian or Quartz. These types of surfaces will not only change the way your kitchen looks, it will change the way your kitchen functions.

If considering a countertop upgrade, it is important to speak to a professional to see what type of surface will work best for you, and to see if your existing sink or appliances would be affected by this change.

Consider painting your kitchen cabinets or the walls to bring a new, fresh look to your room.  If you are lucky enough to have solid wood cabinets, consider refinishing them.  This will take a little more effort and some consultation with a paint supply professional, like your local Benjamin Moore dealer, however, the results could be astounding.  Your dark and dreary cabinet faces can be transformed with the use of some trending brighter colors. Or you can take a plain wood cabinet and bring in some richness with a new colored stain.

For a more simple way to update your cabinets give them a really good cleaning, and replace the knobs and handles.  With today’s wide variety of pulls, cup pulls, knobs, handles, latches, etc. there is no end to the combination of hardware you can use to give your kitchen a new look, all at a very low cost.

By adding new dishtowels, wall art, fresh flowers or decorative plates, you can add life and a new look to your kitchen.  You may even want to consider some new low cost window treatments, a new kitchen faucet set or seat covers to add to the beauty of your newly redecorated room.  

Although this not the least expensive option when updating your kitchen, replacing your appliances will not only provide a whole new look, it will also provide energy savings. Manufacturers of kitchen appliances are always looking for ways to provide consumers with innovative technology and greater energy efficiency for their homes.  

Homeowners can capitalize on this opportunity by purchasing “last year’s” model at a discounted cost.  It may not be the newest appliance available on the market, but it is certainly an upgrade in efficiency from a 15 to 20 year old appliance, whereby making the investment a smart choice.  Replacing your older, inefficient refrigerator, dishwasher, oven or range will save you money on your gas, electric and water bills, whereby making the replacement of your kitchen appliances not only a visual upgrade, but also worthwhile investment.

Replacing an existing light fixture or adding a decorative one can completely change the appearance of your kitchen or dinette area.  With so many different options in the lighting industry, you can bling out your kitchen with a crystal chandelier, hang a pendant light over your island, install a ceiling fan with a light kit, or even install under counter lighting to provide your dark and dull kitchen with a new look.

Many homeowners today are replacing their existing inefficient recessed lighting with newer dimmable LED retro kits which provide flexibility in the way light is used in the kitchen, and at the same time provides a modern, clean look without having to change the housing and trim.  

In general, updating your kitchen can be one of the best investments of time and resources in your home.  You will create a more comfortable place to live, a nicer environment to entertain your guests and best of all, increase its market value.  

Should you decide that your kitchen remodel requires a little more effort, you should consult with a local licensed, insured and qualified home improvement contractor.  These professionals can provide you with some cost effective options for a kitchen renovation that can change the way you live, entertain and enjoy your home.

Michael DeFillippo – President     Handyman For You Home Improvement Co.

(347) 683-0792   www.handymanforyou.net

Registration now open for the 56th Staten Island Chamber's Building Awards!


The Chamber's Building Awards Program, now in its 56th year, celebrates excellence in Staten Island's building and design industries. Each entry will be judged on its own merit by a panel of judges who represent a cross section of building-related industries. Entries can be submitted for commercial, residential and mixed-use projects including: new construction, renovations, alternations/additions, historical renovations, Superstorm Sandy renovations, kitchens, bathrooms and other single rooms.

  • WHO CAN ENTER: A project's owner, architect/engineer, builder, general contractor, certified interior designer, interior decorator, craftsman, and/or landscape contractor/designer.
  • CATEGORIES INCLUDE: exterior, interior, interior decorating, outdoor space, and specialty craftsmanship, as well as discretionary awards such as historical renovation, adaptive reuse, and neighborhood improvement.
  • FOR COMPLETE DETAILS, click here. Application deadline is Friday, Sept. 15.

How do I know if I need to upgrade my electrical panel?

In today's age of connectivity, the search for an electric outlet seems to be top priority. We aren't only plugging in our TVs, washers, dryers and refrigerators. We are plugging in to charge our cell phones, computers, iPads, and voice activated home assistants. We are adding outdoor living spaces to our homes, which may also require additional electrical power. We love to use energy, but can our electrical panels handle the load?

Building code requires that new homes be built with adequate electrical service, taking into consideration the size of the home, and the electrical demands of the design. Most homes are built with 200 amp service, but can include up to 400 amp service to meet the electrical demands of today's homeowner.

Many of the existing homes on Staten Island connect to the power grid with 100 amp 240 volt service, and utilize a 100 amp circuit breaker panel. If there are no plans to add significant equipment to your home, if there is adequate room in your panel and if your main breaker does not occasionally trip, you are in good shape. Meaning, the 100 amp service is adequate for your home and there is no need to upgrade your service.

Some homeowners may think if they are experiencing individual breakers tripping, that it's time to upgrade. That is not necessarily the case. A breaker's purpose is to protect the electrical circuit from damage when there is an overload or short in the circuit. In this case, you may just need a repair, not a complete upgrade of your service or panel replacement.  

Power enters our homes through the electrical panel, and is then distributed to outlets, switches and junction boxes. This panel contains either fuses or circuit breakers and can only handle a certain amount of electrical amperage. If the appliances, and electrical demands exceed your panel's capacity, it is time to upgrade your electrical service.

If your electrical panel utilizes fuses instead of breakers, you may want to consider converting to circuit breakers. Many insurance companies have identified that fuses are unsafe and may be a fire hazard, and therefore will not write policies for homes where they are utilized. It is also important to check with your existing insurance company, if your panel has fuses, to make sure they will cover a loss in the event there is a fire due to faulty electrical service.

You should consider upgrading your panel when; you are adding additional equipment or appliances that require independent circuits and there is no more room in the panel; if there is an overload in the existing panel which is causing circuits to trip; if you are adding a sub panel, which requires the use of more amperage than is available; or if you are doing a major renovation to your home, as it may be cost effective to include that in the electrical workload. If you are not planning this type of work, or you do not have circuit breakers tripping from overload, and the breakers in your panel are not overfed, then chances are your existing service is adequate.

If your home utilizes a Federal Pacific brand panel, you should have a licensed electrician evaluate your electrical service immediately. Federal Pacific panels are dangerous and can cause a fire in your home. These panels are easily identified by name and the bright orange circuit breakers inside the panel. 

This company is no longer in business and lost their UL listing license in the late 1960s. A UL license ensures that a lighting product or electrical components has a safety-related certification and has been tested, and inspected for the safety of its users.

These circuit breakers do not have short circuit protection, which means when a circuit is shorted they will not immediate trip the breaker. They will arc and continue to burn until the circuit opens. This is a potential danger to your home and should be replaced immediately. Currently no major home mortgage lending institution will allow the sale of a home with a Federal Pacific panel.  

If you are concerned about any type of lighting or wiring inconsistency in your home, you should consider having a licensed electrician evaluate your home electrical system.  Be proactive and protect your family. A routine home evaluation is complimentary and can provide you with peace of mind.

Donald Pagano, President - DRP Electrical Contracting Inc.

(718) 477-7275    admin@drpelectric.com

​What Do I Need To Know Before Planning My Home Remodel? 

The planning and research phases of a home improvement project are the most critical steps in the remodeling process. The more knowledgeable and prepared a homeowner is, the more successful they will be in identifying the right contractor, and sourcing the best materials for their remodeling project. A home improvement project is a huge investment of time and money, so making sure it is done right the first time is extremely important. 

Please use this top ten list as a guide when preparing for a home remodeling project or home improvement:

1. Research Your Project – For a good sense of what is involved, such as cost, scope of work, return on investment, and product and/or material options, speak with an architect or designer about your wants and needs for the project. They will be familiar with what can and cannot be done according to local building code,  as well as provide you with projected costs.

2. Plan Your Project Around the Long Term – How long do you plan to stay in your home? How might your family's needs change over time? Life can change quickly – these questions should be answered early on to ensure your project will fit your lifestyle long after it is completed.

3. Set Your Budget – Deciding on a realistic budget and arranging finances to support your project are essential. The total cost needs to include; the proposed cost for architectural services; any permits, filing fees or fees for controlled inspections; the cost of the contract provided by your contractor, and any sub-contractors that have been hired for specialty work; all products and materials you are responsible to purchase independent of the contract; and lastly, a slush fund for unforeseen expenses that were not included in the contract. Don't be afraid to share your concerns about your budget with your contractor.  Professionals are respectful of a client's budget and will create a plan around it, not over it.

4. Use Advanced Searches for Professionals – The online world makes it easy to gather information about the contractors you are considering. Ask friends, family and neighbors for referrals, then spend time researching your short list on line. Professional remodelers take their reputation seriously and hold credentials beyond licensing such as certifications, memberships in trade associations and additional training.

Check on line reviews and social media to see how they have interacted with past clients and peers. Contact both the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (by calling 311) or visit their website at www.nyc.gov/dca, and call the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any recent consumer complaints made against the contractor.

5. Ask the Right Questions – Ask your professional remodeler about his educational background, or familiarity with specialty materials included in your project. Ask how the project will affect your schedule, and ask what is expected from you in this remodeling process. Lastly, ask how long it will be until they can schedule your project, and how long they anticipate it will take until they are completed. 

6. Verify Your Remodeler – Don't take their word for it. Check the information given to you such as references,  license numbers, insurance information and certifications by calling those providers to verify. Request a visit to an active client's jobsite. Make it known that you are checking on the company – a true professional considers that as a positive sign in working with a homeowner.  Ask for a Certificate of Insurance and verify that the contractors and subcontractors he will be using are properly insured and have active licenses.

7. Review Contracts Word By Word – A remodeling contract protects you and your remodeler. Homeownersshould review their contract carefully. Professional remodelers provide contracts to protect themselves, and the limits of their responsibility for your project. Homeowners are not as familiar with the remodeling process and should ask about terms that they don't understand. Pay attention to details about change orders, payment schedules, additional fees, timelines and responsibilities. If it's not in the contract, it doesn't exist.

8. Keep Design in Mind – Your design guides the entire project. Think about what you dislike about your current space and the intended use of the new space. Use websites such as Pinterest.com and Houzz.com to gather design ideas. Make sure your designer, architect or contractor understands your needs and what you would like the end product to look like. Professionals may not be able to recreate a photo you have provided, but they can incorporate some of the features, functionality, style and value into your design.

9. Make Your Selections – Deciding on products and materials is a larger process than most imagine. With so many options to choose from, product selections are one of the primary reasons for project timelines to be extended. Base decisions on quality, function, price, style and availability. Try to include your selections in the contract so that there are no surprises, and to keep your budget intact.

10. Create a Communication Plan – A common downfall between contractors and homeowners is the lack of communication between during a home renovation. Your remodeler should lay out a clear communication plan at the beginning of the project, if not, ask them to do so. This plan should clarify the roles of everyone involved, communication methods, and the availability and frequency of communication that is expected.

For helpful tips and guidance with your remodeling project, visit NARI at www.nari.org where homeowners can find useful information about the remodeling process. If you have a question about your remodeling project or a contractor, visit hicofsi.org.

Lana Seidman, Executive Director - NARI-HIC of Staten Island Inc.

(718) 356-2323     www.hicofsi.org

What Key Aspects Should Be Included In My Remodeling Contract?

Finding the right remodeling contractor your home improvement is a difficult task.  Understanding what you are agreeing to in a contract can be even more challenging.

It is not only important to identify a contractor that you are comfortable with, who communicates well, provides a sensible payment schedule, who has great references, and who is fully licensed and insured, it is equally important to make sure the contract is forthright and inclusive of all the materials and labor you are expecting from the project.

Be sure your contract includes what the contractor will and will not be providing.  In addition it should contain the following items:

Your contractor's business name; physical street address (not a PO Box), phone number and NYC Home Improvement Contractors license number.

A comprehensive scope of work that will be provided for your project, including a detailed list of materials covering size, color, model, brand and product information (when applicable).

Study your design or architectural plans and make sure all of the materials that you expected the contractor to provide is included in detail in the contract. If there are allowances, make sure it is noted, and a realistic price has been allocated for those materials.

A warranty covering materials and workmanship for a minimum of one year should be written in the contract. The warranty terms should be noted as "full" or "limited". The name and address of the party who will honor the warranty should be identified; contractor, distributor or manufacturer.

The contract should include approximate start and completion dates, along with the financial terms of the contract, including total price, an acceptable payment schedule and any cancellation penalty.

A binding arbitration clause is also a good inclusion, in the event a disagreement occurs.  Arbitration may enable you to resolve disputes without costly litigation.

Never make any payments to any third parties or any individual names, or anyone whose name is not exactly the same as the one that appears on your contract. (If this request occurs that should raise a large red flag and you should immediately re-think your contractor selection.)

Thoroughly review the entire contract and be certain you understand it before signing it. It is important to ask questions about terms, or unfamiliar processes if you are not clear what they mean. Pay attention to details about change orders, additional fees, timelines and responsibilities. If it's not in the contract, it doesn't exist. When it comes to your remodeling project, and protecting your family and home, you can never ask too many questions. 

Review the scope of the project and make sure all items you have requested from your contractor, and the design in its entirety, is included in the contract. If you do not see a specific item in the contract, consider it not included. And, never sign an incomplete contract. Make sure both you and your contractor have signed the agreement, including initialing any changes, and always keep a copy of the dually executed document for your records.

If changes occur during your project, put all changes to the scope of work, materials, labor and schedules in writing and ensure your contractor issues you a change order. Both you and your contractor should sign the change order and continue to keep one copy for yourself. It is not uncommon to have many change orders generated during a project; it protects both the consumer and contractor.

Lastly, make sure your contract includes a notice of cancellation.  NYC code requires contractors to provide a 3-day cancellation clause in their contracts which provides homeowners the right to cancel, without penalty, within that time frame.

It is a good idea to keep a job file which should include the contract, plans, specifications, invoices, change orders and all correspondence with the contractor. You may need to refer to these documents in the future.

At the end of the project, before you make your final payment, request a contractors Waiver of Mechanics Lien. This is your assurance that you will not be liable for any third-party claims for non-payment of materials or subcontractors.

or any questions about a contractor, or the requirements of a contractor agreement, you can contact the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (by calling 311) or visit their website at www.nyc.gov/dca.

For any questions about your remodeling project, you can contact NARI-HIC of Staten Island by e-mail at narihic@gmail.com.

Cliff Siegel, President -   Cee Jay Real Estate Development Corp.

(917) 771-7710    www.ceejayrealestatedev.com

How Can I Add Function And Style To My Closet?

Closets and storage rooms can be the most lackluster areas of your home. When you don't have enough of either, clutter can make these spaces even worse. With a little effort, and some organization and updating, these areas can provide great function and style.  

If it's your closet that tests your patience, try some of these personal touches to make your experience, when opening and closing your closet door, more calming and less stressful.  

Color code your closet – When your closet is in disarray, finding something to wear becomes difficult.  Consider grouping your garments by style; shirts, pants, dresses, suits, and so on. Then hang like colors next to each other. Maintaining a streamlined color palate will not only be pleasing to your eyes, it will provide an easier way to select your wardrobe. 

Add a trendy light fixture – a lighting fixture will not only add a special decorative touch to your closet, it can also provide function.  How many times have you had to pull garments out of your closet to see if two pieces match? Or how many times have you tried to match a black shirt with black pants, but can't seem to find two blacks that match each other. There can never be too much light in a closet. Adding a fixture that provides adequate lighting can provide both function and style.

Hang your clothes with care –invest in high quality velvet hangers.  Switch out your wooden, wire or plastic hangers with these slimmer hangers to create more space.  The fabric that coats the hangers will grab hold of your clothes to prevent your garments from stretching, while providing a uniform appearance that will make your closet look organized. 

Use colorful fabric drawers – colorful or patterned fabric drawers can provide a place for small personal items, like ties, belts, scarves and costume jewelry.  Place these drawers on top of shelves to add both function and style to your closet. 

Get creative with unused wall space – create a vision board in your closet.  Use a simple cork board to place photos of your favorite outfits.  You can also use the space for inspiration, or pin up clips from magazines of new styles that you would like to try.  Or, use the wall space for decorative hooks to hang a special purse or hat.

Use storage space on your floor – purchase low profile plastic containers and use them for purses, shoes or big sweaters that you don't use often.  This extra space on the bottom of your closet, if organized wisely, can provide you with lots of extra storage. 

If you are looking to make a real change in your closet, consider a closet system.  These organizational shelving and hanging units maximize your closet space, as well as provide function and style.

here is no limit to the creative ways you can maximize every closet in your home, on a budget that you are comfortable with.  Even if you don't have a closet, custom closet furniture can be created with no construction or need to hire a contractor.

Closet systems can be professionally installed, or for those that are handy, can be self-installed.  With every closet installation though, it is important to properly anchor the closet system to support the weight of the shelving and the contents that will be placed inside.

ohn DeFrancesco, President      Superior Garage & Home Organizing

(718) 727-7022       www.superiororganizing.com

How Can I Update My Bathroom For Less?

A bathroom is one of the most used rooms in your home, but can be the least thought of when it comes to updating or decorating.  We spend big bucks updating kitchens and living areas, but when it comes to the bathroom, it sometimes seems easier to just shut the door. 

Because of its size, transforming your bathroom can be easier than you think.  Half the battle of making your bathroom more inviting, is making sure it smells good and doesn't have mold growing around all the crevices.  A good bathroom cleaner and some elbow grease will fix that problem.  

Whether you are looking to just update your small space, or you're looking for a total renovation, here are some simple and affordable ideas to help make your bathroom one of the rooms you invite your friends to see, rather than avoid it.

Brighten up the room – remove old, dark wallpaper, or update the paint color. Consider using bright colors, or even whites to lighten the atmosphere in the room. Then, consider adding some bold accessories to liven the room. Exchange your old shower curtain with a new colorful one to provide a bold statement. Install a new toilet seat, flush handle, towel bar and toilet paper holder to provide a new bathroom feel.

Take the modern approach – updating your bathroom with a LED light fixture can provide you with energy savings, as well as a new sleek look. Use a dimmer switch, with a dimmable bulb to add a romantic feel to your bathroom. Add a dramatic mirror, or glass and chrome accent shelves to finish off the look.  

Add decorative wall treatments – wainscoting or decorative paneling on part of the walls, or textured painting can provide a custom look for your bathroom. Use wood trim to accent mirrors, fixtures, or windows to provide a warm, natural feeling.

Re-do your vanity – the vanity can very well be the biggest expense when it comes to a bathroom renovation. If your countertop is in relatively good condition, and the cabinets are not warped or broken, consider refinishing it. A little sanding, some paint and new hardware can provide your bathroom with a completely different look, and will provide you with the least expensive option. 

Update your storage – purchasing new and improved under cabinet storage bins, can provide you with a place for everything you need. Add pullout shelves that provide access to the back of your cabinets. This will provide the maximum use of your space, while allowing you to see everything that you shoved underneath. Use small acrylic or valet trays, or pouches to organize small items or cosmetics. This will keep the clutter off your countertops.

Use a simple bracket and shelf system to add floating shelves on the walls. This will provide space for decorative displays or to place hand towels, or small baskets for storage. The results will provide a stylish and functional space for all your bathroom needs.

Make some simple changes – remove any items from the bathroom that have not been used in a while. Added clutter can make your bathroom appear smaller. Replace an old bathroom mat or rug with a new one, or add a painting or picture on the wall. A few simple inexpensive purchases can make all the difference.

Consider re-caulking around your tub or shower where it has faded or been torn away. Deep clean the grout around your tiles. Dirty, faded or chipped grout can easily be fixed by re-grouting the tile with the same, or different color. However, this may require the assistance of a professional.  

Replace your countertop – vanities will often remain in good shape, but a damaged countertop can adversely affect the way your bathroom appears. For an affordable option, consider a marble or granite remnant for a luxurious look that costs less.

Add some vintage charm – flea markets, salvage yards, antique auctions, and internet sites are great suppliers of vintage tubs, sinks, countertops, flooring, benches and accent pieces. If you are looking for a complete bathroom renovation, it doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg for the materials.

If you are looking to renovate your bathroom to include the replacement of toilets, faucets, and shower heads, enlist the services of a professional. A bathroom renovation may require a professional tile installation company, a licensed plumber, and possibly a licensed electrician. In some cases, and if you plan to rework the location of your fixtures, you may need to consult with an architect and file your project with the NYC Department of Buildings.

As with any home renovation where a contractor is utilized, it is important to make sure you hire a licensed and insured, reputable contractor that provides you with good references.

Jeff Troost, President    Troost Bros. Inc. Home Renovations

(718) 667-3131    www.troostbros.com    www.facebook.com/troostbros

Is It Important To Use Certain Colors When Decorating?

It is very important to consider color when planning to decorate your home.  In fact, one of the first things you should do when designing a home or office is choose the color or colors you want to use.  This will set the tone of the room and the feelings that will be aroused when you are in it.

You need to think of colors for your walls, the fabrics for your furniture and window treatments, and for all the accessories you will fill the room with. That’s not so simple if you are not experienced with choosing colors that relate well to each other, o to the unique needs of your space.

Though scientists don’t completely understand the link between color and mood, it is a scientific fact that color affects mood. And since the colors we choose to live in can definitely affect how we act, think and feel, we should certainly consider the personality of color when choosing a room’s color scheme.

Color is associated with many different aspects in life and is used to express our moods and personalities. A person can be described as being green with envy, feeling blue, tickled pink, or seeing red. Color evokes feelings, and emotions and has always been used as a means of expression. Decorators spend a lot of time assessing how their clients want to feel when they are in their room and providing a solution through color. Because we see color with our hearts, not our heads, we can use color to affect the way we feel and how we do things.

Ancient civilizations believed in the influence of color on humans. The ancient Chinese, Egyptians, and Indians used chromotherapy, or healing with color. 

Utilizing colors such as red, yellow and orange will evoke energy, and reate energy. These colors warm, cheer and inspire conversation in varying degrees. 

Red sparks emotions by stimulating the autonomous nervous system, even causing you to salivate. Think of how you feel when you see a little red Corvett.

Orange and yellow stimulate your senses and helps you move faster. Put these colors to work in activity spaces. If you are dieting, red is not a good color – it can cause you to eat more. It is no accident that many of the brands of fast food chains are in red and yellow – red to make you hungry and yellow to move you quickly.

Pink, a lighter version of red, is the most romantic color. It can also be calming or drain you of energy. Many sports teams paint the opposing team’s locker room pink for that reason.

Pacifying colors such as blue, green and purple stay reservedly in the background. They are cooling and calming and re-energize weary spirits. Cool hues release tension. Put them in rooms for resting and refueling. Blues and purples work meditative wonders. Proud, strong blues help foster a sense of responsibility in the people using that space. Weightlifters have been shown to have more powerful performances in blue rooms. 

Purple is the color for dreaming. Do not put purple in a workspace because it works against productivity. Associated with wisdom and spirituality, purple combines the stability of blue and the energy of red, taking on the characteristics of either, depending on the shade. Purple can,owever, have a luxurious feel and is associated with wealth and royalty.

Green is safety- it stabilizes and secures, and many people say that it is their favorite color.  Green also symbolizes nature and thus promotes a serene and calming environment. Associated with health, healing and well being, green has a soothing effect on the body and mind, reducing anxiety and promoting concentration.

White or light beige colors have a modern appeal, however, the monochromatic look can create boredom after a short period of time.  These colors do not provide stimulation, and can be attributed to distraction, as minds can begin to wander when not inspired or bored.

You can harness the mood making energies of color, using them to exhilarate you or tranquilize you, warm you or cool you, prompt you to talk or put you to sleep. We all see the same light, but we connect different feelings, experiences and memories to each color. Think of color as the visual spice of life.

When choosing a room's color scheme, remember that balance is best achieved with a mix of warm and cool colors.

If you find yourself challenged with your next decorating project, it is a good idea to consult with a professional designer or decorator who can lead you in the right direction.  The size of your room, the amount of natural lighting, or lack thereof, or existing conditions of the room, like a hardwood floor that you just can't get rid of, create challenges for even the best home designer. 

Using on-line tools and home design software is a great way to start identifying design styles, paint colors and furnishings that you like.  Although you may be able to select items, and colors here and there that you like, it is sometimes difficult to put it all together so that it makes sense. 

The most important part of designing a room is making sure that you have put all of the components together to create the emotion that you are looking to feel when you walk into the room.

onny Golden, President - Golden Key Interiors

(718) 761-2366     sonnygolden@msn.com

When Is The Best Time Of The Year To Landscape My Yard?

Plants, shrubs and flowers thrive when the weather is comfortable – not too hot - not too cold. It is important to understand how and when to landscape your home to ensure the fruits of your labor are a success, and do not result in a bunch of brown, limp foliage.

For many novice gardeners, selecting the right type of plants and the right time to install them can be confusing.  Your objective is to maximize your home's curb appeal. To make your effort the most successful, it is important you know all the facts and particulars about your ground conditions, and each type of plant, shrub or flower you are planning to install.

Factors also include the amount of sun or shade your plants will receive in your landscaping beds, and will that sunlight be projected in the morning or the afternoon? Or do your landscaping beds get any sun at all? What type of soil conditions exist in your garden? And, how good is the drainage of your landscaping beds during rain storms?  Too much sun, not enough sun, too much water, not enough water, and poor soil conditions all contribute to a failed garden.  Knowing every aspect of growing conditions will help you choose plants that will thrive, with minimal care.

Though many of us get the planting bug on the first beautiful day of spring, it is not necessarily the best time to start your landscaping project.  Unexpected heat waves, excessive rain or a surprise snow storm early in the season, can place stress on newly installed plants, shrubs and flowers.

Plant during the latter part of spring or summer, you will need to pay a little more attention to your garden.  The hot and humid days of summer place more stress on your plants, shrubs and flowers, and therefore will require routine watering, and a little extra TLC. 

As early fall lends itself to cooler temperatures and lower humidity, it is the most favorable, and most comfortable time of the year to embark on your landscaping project.  Planting trees, shrubs and perennials in the fall allows for them to establish their root system so they are strong when spring arrives.   More developed root systems help plants perform better in the summer, more so than those planted in the spring.

Timing is not the only thing that makes your landscape installation a success.  Knowing which plants to install and how can be the difference between a beautiful landscaped yard and a bed of dead plants. Most plants that die within a few months of being planted do so because they were not planted properly or because they were not watered correctly; it is rare for a tree or shrub to die from insects or disease within the first year of planting. Planting in fall will help improve your chances of a successful installation, as will knowing the right way to plant and water.

If you are dead set on planting in the spring, make sure you do so when the morning temperatures are not forecasted to go below 45 to 50 degrees.  Frost is a major factor in prematurely killing flowers and delicate seedlings. In our region, the beginning to middle of May is the best time to start your landscaping project. If you are unsure if it is safe to plant, consult with your local garden center expert who should be able to give you some pointers and tips.

The most important consideration when planting during the spring, is making sure the ground conditions are favorable.  Make sure when you dig down the ground is not frozen or too wet from spring rains.  Although early spring is not good for many types of plants, dormant shrubs and trees, as well as some cold crop vegetable seeds, like peas, spinach and onions can be placed in the ground successfully. Some very cold tolerant annuals such as pansies, primroses and violas can also be planted in early spring.

After the threat of frost has passed, you can plant or transplant any type of annual, perennial, vegetable, shrub or tree.  Just keep in mind that an early summer heatwave, will require more attention and care for your plants to survive.  Plants or delicate flowers that aren't tolerant to heat will struggle if planted in the later days of spring or summer.  If that is your plan, speak with a professional that can help guide you to the right type of planting materials that will provide beautiful results.

Once the fall rolls in, you can basically plant anything.  Fall planting is advantageous because of favorable soil temperatures and moisture conditions that promote root growth to sustain plants during the critical first year in the ground.

Shrubs and trees planted in the fall will establish strong root systems by the time spring rolls around.  Perennials will flourish and be ready to bud.  Fall is also the best time of the year to divide perennials and replant them, although it is not encouraged for any perennials that are in mid-bloom. 

As the fall holidays approach, it is a good time to plant cold tolerant annuals like Diasica, Osteospermum, Nemesia and Osaka, the flowering cabbage that seems to be installed in every landscape bed in October.

As with any home improvement project.  It is always best to consult with a professional who is familiar with each type of specimen and the key components they require to grow, bloom and thrive in the landscaping of your home.

 Gary Malandro, President – Gary's Landscaping

(718) 761-2475   www.garyslandscaping.com


On Tuesday evening, May 16th and Wednesday, May 17th, NARI members from around the country converged on Washington, DC for the third and largest NARI DC Fly-In and Lobby Day on Capitol Hill.  NARI members came to meet with their Congressional Representatives about the important issues impacting the remodeling industry.  Each year the fly-in grows and this year’s attendance nearly doubled in size! We were taken on an exclusive and personal nighttime tour of the U.S. Capitol.  Leading the tour was NARI’s government affairs representatives - former U.S. Senator Tim Hutchinson, and former Congressmen Albert Wynn and Charles Bass. One notable highlight of the tour included the opportunity to venture out onto the Speaker of the House’s balcony, something only few are able to experience.  In addition to the Speaker’s balcony, NARI members were able to visit the House and Senate floors.

On Wednesday morning, we gathered in the historic Lincoln Room located directly off Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. The Lincoln Room is not generally open to the public and is only offered with express consent from the Majority Whip.  This room was a former cloak room for members of Congress and the location where President Lincoln spent time during his two years in the U.S. Congress.

During our morning session, Congressman Steve Chabot (R-OH), Chairman of the Small Business Committee, spent time discussing regulatory reform and his commitment to work to provide relief for small businesses – specifically, regulatory relief.  Next, Congressman Dave Brat (R-VA) who sits on both the Small Business Committee and Education and Workforce Committee, focused his remarks on regulatory relief and workforce development.  Both guests welcomed input and questions from the group, and they engaged in great conversation.  In addition to the two speakers, Senator Hutchinson and Congressman Wynn provided a bipartisan outlook on the remarkably unusual current political landscape.

The remainder of the morning focused on a “Lobbying 101” session to prepare all attendees on what to expect on the Hill and legislative issues that NARI members would discuss in each of their Congressional meetings.  Those issues included: Workforce Development; Energy Efficiency Legislation; and Tax Reform.  Members of Congress and their staff always expect an “ask” during these meetings where constituents ask for their help.

We then had the opportunity to meet face-to-face with our local lawmakers and their staff.  During the meetings, we asked our members of Congress to support legislation that impacts the remodeling industry.  Federal lobbying is a Constitutional right and many fail to take advantage of this privilege.  Some of the feedback from my fellow attendees is provided below:

Making our individual and combined voices known, directly, to our nation’s Senators and Congressmen, is an important step in making sure our industry and our NARI membership is fairly represented.

“The perspective given by both sitting/retired senators and representatives was most enlightening not to mention the back drop of the rare opportunity to meet in the Lincoln room.  In addition, I was able to sit down with both a Democrat and Republican representative who listened as I explained NARI’s issues. They were both very receptive to us. WE are making a difference and getting noticed in the process.”  Laurence Carolan, NARI National - Chair of Government Affairs

Several attendees also noted that the DC Fly-in is critical to growing and maintaining relationships with members of Congress.  While Congress may not always actively focus on all NARI’s federal priorities, building relationships and educating Congressional representatives and staff will only help further NARI’s goals.  NARI members can be sure they left DC with relationships that were stronger than when they arrived and can be maintained through this Congressional session.  NARI looks forward to expanding this event next year!.

Is There Any Way To Soundproof My Home?

With all the loud noises that surround us day to day, it is no wonder we can't wait to escape it all.  Noise disturbs our sleep, adds to our stressful lives and infringes on our privacy.  Whether it be the sound of phones ringing, construction, traffic, airplanes flying overhead, or music, it seems the only place to get away is in the peace and quiet of your own home.
But is your home quiet? Or do you still hear street traffic from outside, or your children playing video games in an adjacent room, or a noisy neighbor above or to the side of you? Is noise entering your home through the windows, your walls or floors?  How can you just sit in a room without hearing anything else but your heart beat? The answer may not be as simple as you would like.
Open floor plans, lightweight construction, hard surfaces and high tech audio equipment play a significant part in designing a noisy home.  As such, our awareness of noise has heightened and home soundproofing has become more popular.  Not only to keep the noises out, but to keep the noise in; as is the case when building a home theater or music room. 
In new construction, this task can more easily be accomplished.  By adding soundproofing barriers while your home is being built, and while the drywall is not yet hung, you can save time and money on the effort.  Choices for soundproofing in new construction include using denser insulation between walls and floors, or using thicker drywall material, or adding a second layer of drywall, with a noise-proofing compound between the sheets for new construction homes that may already have drywall installed. Adding an acoustical sealant where the corners of the drywall meets, or around outlets can provide additional noise reduction.
Materials used for sound proofing are rated to measure their effectiveness.  These ratings are a measure of how much sound is stopped by a particular material.  They are referred to as STC (Sound Transmission Class) ratings.  The higher the STC rating, the better the soundproofing capabilities are of a material.  Windows, insulation and carpeting all carry an STC rating.
In an existing home, there is a limit to the amount of retrofit soundproofing you can do.  If you have older, single paned windows, you probably can hear the birds chirping, or the next door neighbor mowing their lawn. Newer double-paned, insulated windows with an acrylic frame are designed to keep those types of noises out.  They typically have a rating between 28 and 35 STCs; whereas single paned windows only have about a 20 STC rating.
If new windows are out of your budget, consider sound deadening drapes, like the ones used in a hotel.  These drapes help block sound waves from entering, or exiting your home through the windows, and absorb sound in your room. Or for a more effective way to soundproof your windows in high traffic neighborhoods, there are window plugs.  These "plugs" are made from 1" to 2" soundproofing boards that provide a tight barrier over and around the frame of your windows. These sound boards are highly effective in reducing noise, however, block all the light from your window.
With respect to drywall, the same measures can be used to better soundproof your home as with new construction.  Utilizing thicker drywall, multiple layers of drywall and using silicone caulking on the stud side of the drywall and between the layers to insulate screw penetrations, and adding an acoustical sealant, will all help to minimize noise. 
In some cases, adding thicker or higher rated insulation will provide better sound absorption. If you are not renovating your home, you can consult with a professional who can provide alternative options, which may include cutting holes into your drywall and blowing insulation into your walls.
If you don't want to damage your existing walls, consider wall coverings or acoustical wall panels that provide soundproofing capabilities. These coverings come in a variety of materials and colors, and can be customized to match your décor.  They are simply applied and fastened to your walls, and can be arranged as you see fit.
If your noise issue is vertical, due to noisy children, pets or tenants that run around above you, there are a few options to consider.  By installing wall to wall carpet, an area rug in high traffic areas, or placing sound proofing matting on the floors, these measures will reduce the movement of sound through the floors to the ceiling below.  If you just love your hard wood or tiled floors, consider adding soundproofing acoustical tiles to your ceiling or insulating above the drywall ceiling to lessen the noise.
In general, to make rooms as soundproof as possible, place absorbent materials, such as furniture, draperies and carpet in at least 25% of the room area. This will help dampen sound waves and absorb noise.  As hollow doors do not block noise between rooms, consider replacing them with solid core doors, which will reduce sound from traveling. If on a shoestring budget, you can always hang absorbent materials, like an area rug or a plush comforter on the walls to help reduce noise transmission.  
Making your home quiet may take a little work, or the assistance of a professional. But the effort is worth the reward, and when you can relax and enjoy the peace and quiet that surrounds you, you will know it was all worthwhile.   
Gary Grecco, Owner  - EnergyPro Insulation
(718) 984-7211    www.energyproinsulation.com

Should I Invest In A "Smart" Thermostat?

Many homeowners have invested in programmable thermostats over the years, providing a cost savings and convenience for operating their cooling and heating systems.  These thermostats are able to maintain preset temperature settings for weekdays and weekend schedules, but require manual overrides, in the event that you want to lower or raise the setting, or alter the time of a setting. Meaning, you are already experiencing discomfort by the time you get to the thermostat, then have to wait for your heating or cooling system to get to catch up to the temperature you are comfortable with.

Our society has developed a culture of instant gratification, where when you want something, you want it now.  Many businesses are capitalizing on that, and have built their companies around providing consumers with products and services how and when they want them. Thermostat manufacturers are no different. 

Today's thermostat manufacturers have identified that homeowner's need and want comfort on demand. A change in schedule, an extremely hot and humid day, or a day with below zero temperatures, should not alter the comfort level of their home, no matter what schedule they pre-programmed in their thermostat month's prior. "Smart Thermostats" provide the solution to meet those needs and wants in maintaining home comfort.

Smart thermostats promise energy savings, cost reduction, and automatic temperature settings based on your habits and preferences.  Not to mention you can use your smart phone to control your heating and air conditioning system remotely, providing easy access when you are away, or forget to alter the settings before leaving for an extended period of time.

While some of us just consider thermostats a control panel to our heating and air conditioning system, smart thermostats provide comfort based on your lifestyle.  What makes most smart thermostats so "smart" is that they learn your behaviors and adapt to meet your desired temperature settings.  They can adjust themselves to accommodate conditions like humidity, and the time it takes to go from an "away" setting to a "home" setting, so that by the time you arrive home, the desired temperature is met.

You may already be saving money by using a programmable thermostat for home and away temperature settings.  Smart thermostats, however, actually learn these times by sensing when you are home and not at home.  "Smarty Stat" is watching you.  That means if your schedule changes your smart thermostat will change the settings automatically, no re-programming is required.  This can eliminate the desire to drop the thermostat to the lowest temperature possible to "cool your house faster" which wastes energy and doesn't actually work.  There are phone apps for some smart thermostats that even provide insight into how much you are spending on your energy costs. 

The cost of smart thermostats vary widely.  Some require a professional contractor to provide the installation.  This will save you time but add to the initial cost.  Those promoted as self-installed are not "plug and play" so be prepared to invest some time in the installation process.  Don't forget you will need to download and learn the new smart phone application if you want remote capabilities as well.

If you already have a standard 7 day, or 5 day/2day programmable thermostat and you have it set to accommodate your regular routine, you are already saving money.  A programmable thermostat can save you up to $200 per year on your energy bills... if you are using it properly. 

If you are still using a non-programmable thermostat, consider making the investment in one.  It is well worth the cost, and will provide a "set it and forget it" experience. When narrowing your choices, consider the thermostat features, price, and attributes that matter to you, such as color, size, or style, and then read reviews by other consumers.

If you are ready to experience comfort, energy savings and convenience like no other, then you are ready for a Smart Thermostat.  The most common, and reliable smart thermostat manufacturers are Nest, Ecobee, and Honeywell.  It is important to do your research on these smart thermostats, as some offer more control than other.

The Nest thermostat, like the Ecobee, offers humidity control, which will alter the way your heating and cooling system operates to reduce, or add moisture in the air. In addition, it has a weather sensor that takes outdoor conditions into consideration when maintain your home comfort levels. In addition, the auto scheduling feature will learn and understand your schedule to maintain optimum comfort, and use WiFi connectivity to allow for remote temperature control.

The Honeywell thermostat also has sensing capabilities, and works with Wifi to provide remote access.  The thermostat provides modifiable wallpaper and a 5-day weather forecast, in addition to an indoor humidity sensor, which can either humidify or dehumidify your home, according to your comfort level. The Honeywell thermostat also has the ability to engage your system fan to enhance the circulation in your room, brining you the highest level of comfort.

Keep in mind that the best place to install a thermostat is on an interior wall and away from vents and other sources of heat and drafts that could distort temperature readings. If you're doing more than a simple replacement, call a heating and cooling professional to assist. This will ensure your thermostat is installed and set up properly, to provide your family with the most efficient and effective way to condition your home.

Tom Scarangello, General Manager - Scaran Heating and Air Conditioning

(718) 984-0805   www.scaran.com

How Do I Prevent Mold And Mildew From Accumulating In My Bathroom?

Mold and mildew can be located anywhere in our homes, but is most likely to grow in areas that are wet, humid and damp.  It is most commonly found in bathrooms, basements and attics, when a combination of water and insufficient ventilation are combined.

One of the most noticeable areas you will find mold and mildew is in your bathroom because of the high levels of humidity confined in this small space.  Most commonly, mold and mildew are found in the corners and bases of your shower, under your sink, and along the walls near your shower. 

Bathroom mold occurs because it loves damp, isolated and non-ventilated spaces. Leaky toilets, sinks and plumbing pipes also increase the likelihood that mold will accumulate in your bathroom.  Add water saturated wood, wallpaper, grout, drywall and fabric, and your mold will have all the surface area it needs to take over your bathroom.

How do you know you have a mold problem? If you can see it or smell it, you have it. Although bathroom mold is not always clear to see, you should look under sinks, in access doors adjacent to your shower or bathroom fixtures, around exhaust fans, and even in crawl spaces or basement under you bathroom.

The best way to prevent mold is to stop it from happening in the first place.  Use these simple tips to keep mold away:

-Use your bathroom exhaust fan when you shower or take a bath, and leave it on for 30 minutes afterwards.  Removing moisture from the bathroom is one of the best things you can do to reduce the chances of mold growth.

- If you don't have an exhaust fan, try cracking open your window to help circulate air and dry the room more efficiently.

-Try to keep toys, shampoo, body wash and loofas out of the shower, as they provide additional surfaces for mold to grown on.

-Do not leave wet towels in the bathroom.

-Wash your bathroom rugs frequently.

-Use mildew resistant shower liners, and wash or replace them frequently. Try to stretch out your shower curtain after showering to prevent mold from growing in the folds.

-Keep household humidity levels below 50%.  Your air conditioning system or dehumidifier can help.

-If you have a hand shower, rinse the walls and corners of your shower stall or bathtub to remove any extra soap, shampoo and conditioner that may get stuck in the corners.

-Clean and dust your bathroom at least once a week, as dust is a food source for mold.

-Mix 70% water and 30% bleach in a spray bottle, and spray shower area to allow the mixture to settle for 2 to 3 minutes, then rinse with water weekly.

Have mold? As long as the mold is on the surface, and the infestation isn't too large, you can attempt to remedy it yourself by cleaning your bathroom with mold killing solutions and cleaners like bleach, vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. Just be careful not to mix those products as they may cause a toxic reaction. By stripping away and replacing any caulking or sealant where you see mold, you will completely rid the mold without having to clean it. And lastly, try to open windows and doors after cleaning to provide ventilation and help dry out the surfaces more quickly.

Consider routinely checking your bathroom for leaks by feeling around pipes and seals under your sink and by the toilet. If you notice your hands are wet, call a plumber before it worsens.  Clear your slow drains, as these too can cause mold to grow in your bathroom. 

If it is time to freshen up your bathroom, consider using a semi-gloss paint that is more resistant to stains, easier to clean and creates a harder surface, which makes mold more difficult to grow.

If you have an area affected by mold that is bigger than 10 square feet, it is recommended that you call a professional who can assist in identifying the exact type of mold you are dealing with, and what the proper abatement procedures are.

If you notice mold building up on your walls or insulation, do not handle it yourself.  The improper handling of mold can lead to releasing mold spores through your entire house, creating an even bigger issue than you had in the first place.

Max Mannino, President – Tri-Star Construction & Home Improvement

(718) 815-1800         www.tri-starconstruction.com

Is An Attic Fan A Good Investment For My Home?

There is a lot of confusion surrounding attic fans.  Studies have shown if your attic is properly ventilated with a ridge vent and your attic is well insulated, you wouldn’t need an attic fan. A ridge vent is an opening along the ridge of your roof that allows air to enter the lower eves of your attic to naturally take hotter air from the attic up through the ridge vent using natural convection.  

Before providing a simple yes or no answer to this question, you must understand that there are a couple of types of attic fans available on the market. 

Whole-house fans are intended to be used in homes that are not air-conditioned. Whole-house fans are used to bring fresh air into your home, via open windows, and up through your attic.  If you live in the right climate, whole-house fans are a great way to keep your house cool day and night, and only use about 10% to 15% of the power drawn by a central air conditioner.  In the U.S., this type of fan makes more sense in the arid West, rather than in the more humid Eastern part of the country.  

Utilizing this type of fan in our area will introduce potentially humid and unfiltered exterior air into your home.  Many people use their central air conditioning system, not only to cool their home, but also to dehumidify and filter the outdoor air, whereby reducing dust and allergens through a central filtration system.  A whole house fan is the antithesis of your central air system, even if used only at night.  

In most cases, a whole-house fan is mounted in the attic floor, above a rectangular grille in the ceiling of a central hallway.  The fan pulls warm air from the interior of your home and blows it into the attic. Since whole-house fans are relatively powerful, they quickly exhaust the hot indoor air, allowing cooler outdoor air to enter through open windows. Once the house has cooled off, the fan can be turned off and the windows closed. Typically whole house fans are used at night to bring in the cooler air and then windows are closed from early morning until evening, so that the cool air inside the house doesn’t escape.

Even when whole-house fans seem to make sense in your home, they may not be a smart choice due to the following; if your home is located in a neighborhood where open windows may be a security issue; whole-house fans create a big hole in your ceiling which is likely to create a lot of heat loss during the winter, whereby increasing your heating costs; whole house fans are noisy; and lastly, when whole-house fans are used they can cause atmospherically vented appliances located inside your home to back draft, like a gas-fired water heater; whereby potentially creating a carbon monoxide issue. 

A powered attic ventilator (attic fan) has a different purpose: it is designed to lower the temperature of an attic by exhausting hot air from the attic and replacing attic air with outdoor air through roof vents.  The idea is to save energy by reducing the run time of your air conditioner by keeping the attic cooler.  The consideration is that a powered attic ventilator will alleviate some of the heat load on the top floor of your home, whereby providing an energy savings from reduced use of your air conditioning system.

Powered attic ventilators are usually mounted on a sloped roof or the gable wall of an attic. Most powered attic ventilators are controlled by a thermostat so that they turn on when the attic gets hot.  Although the logic behind powered attic ventilators is compelling to many hot-climate homeowners, these devices can cause some problems.  A powered attic ventilator requires make up air to work effectively.  If your roof soffits are not adequate, the attic fan will find other ways to get the air it needs, which can pose a problem.

In many homes, powered attic ventilators pull conditioned air out of the home and into the attic through ceiling cracks. The net result: powered attic ventilators increase rather than decrease cooling costs.  As the cool air is being sucked out of the house through the ceiling, hot exterior air enters the house through other cracks to replace the exhausted air. The net result: the air conditioner has to work harder than ever as it struggles to cool all that entering outdoor air.

Several studies show that using a power attic ventilator does not always save more electric than it uses; even in a newer home with no cracks or air seepage.

A more alarming problem is that powered attic ventilators can also depressurize a house enough to cause gas appliances, like water heaters and boilers used to heat domestic water, to seep hazardous gases into your home. The potential for hazardous conditions is elevated in homes utilizing power exhaust fans during the summer when gas appliances are on at the same time the fan is on.  The negative pressure created by the attic fan causes carbon monoxide to feed back into your home, rather than exhausting up through your chimney.  This can create a potentially hazardous condition for your family.

If your attic is too hot, it isn’t necessarily a problem. If there is no ductwork or HVAC equipment up there, who cares how hot it gets? After all, you should have a thick layer of insulation on your attic floor to isolate your hot attic from your cool house.  If you do have ductwork or HVAC equipment in your attic, make sure you seal any leaking ductwork and make sure your ductwork is wrapped with insulation.

If you believe that your house has a hot ceiling during the summer, the solution is not a powered attic ventilator. The solution is to seal any air leaks in your ceiling and to add more insulation to your attic floor.

Donald Pagano, President – DRP Electrical Contracting

(718) 447-7275   dpagano@drpelectric.com  

What Are The Code Requirements To Install An In-Ground Swimming Pool?

As sticky as the hot summer days can be in New York City, the zoning and construction requirements for our backyard oasis can be even more so. 

There are two types of pools that are accessory to one- or two-family homes that DO NOT require a permit from the Department of Buildings. These are: 1) outdoor in-ground pools less than 400 square feet in area, which have an existing slop sink connected to a sanitary sewer for drainage, and 2) above-ground pools that are less than 48 inches deep and do not exceed 500 square feet in area. 

Though a permit is not necessary for these pools they must still comply with NYC Building Code standards. Homeowners can access the NYC Building Code online at www.nyc.gov/buildings, and see Rule 44 and sections 27-488 through 27-493 for specific requirements.

All other types of pools require plans to be filed by a licensed architect or engineer, and the issuance of a permit prior to construction. Whether requiring approval or not, the following general rules apply to all pool installations:

- Permanent markings showing the depth of the shallow end, break points, diving depth, and deep end must be visible from both inside and outside the pool.

- The pool must be located at least five feet from any lot line, unless the lot itself is less than 25 feet wide. In that case, the pool may be located at least three feet from the side yard lot line and must be screened from the adjoining lots by a six-foot-high fence that is continuous, solid and opaque.

- There must be a continuous fence surrounding the pool, at least four feet high above the ground with a closed, childproof, self-closing gate.

- If a fence is metal, it must be grounded to prevent it from becoming electrically charged.

- No overhead electrical conductors should be installed within 15 feet of the pool.

- Should you install a gas-fired pool heater, an architect or plumber must file for Building Department approval and an electrician must file for approval of an electrical pool heater.

- Drainage lines must either connect to a slop sink that is connected to a sanitary sewer or approval must be secured for alternative drainage methods

It is important to note however, that regulations from other agencies may apply to your property if your property is landmarked or is situated in a special natural area, historic, or other designated district. These regulations may concern front, rear, or side yard requirements, tree maintenance, and/or grading requirements that would affect your pool, porch, or deck location choice. You can secure landmarks information from the Landmarks Preservation Commission at www.nyc.gov/landmarks, and zoning information from the Department of City Planning at www.nyc.gov/planning.

Upon completion of construction, sign-off inspections may be required, an updated survey may be needed indicating the conditions as completed, and either a Letter of Completion or amended Certificate of Occupancy may be required depending upon the type of approval that was required.

Summer is fast approaching us but there is still time for you to create your backyard bliss. Be sure to check with a licensed architect regarding the regulations specific to your property.  

Use reputable pool installers and licensed home improvement contractors for installation and construction of any accessory structures. Most of all, remember that although these rules and regulations can put a damper on the installation process, they exist for your safety and for the safety of you friends and family. Make a splash and enjoy the summer!

Ronald D. Victorio, R.A. – Ronald Victorio Architects

(718) 720-3478   e-mail:  ronvictorioarch@aol.com

All our experts are licensed, bonded and insured members of the Staten Island Chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (The Home Improvement Contractors of Staten Island).  Homeowners should always consult with licensed professionals, check a contractor's license through the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (call 311 for information) and ensure that their project complies with NYC DOB regulations before embarking on any home improvement project.

To ask your home improvement questions contact: questionsfortheexpert@gmail.com.

Ask the Expert: How Do I Select The Right Type Of Wood Flooring For My Home?

With so many options on the market, it is important that you choose a flooring product that fits your style, and that functions well for your family. There are pros and cons to each type of flooring material, so it is important to understand the differences.

When considering a wood, or wood-like flooring product, there are three basic options on the market; hardwood flooring, engineered flooring and laminate flooring.

Laminate floors come in many varieties and styles, but are always prefinished and ready to use when installed. Hardwood, and some engineered products are available prefinished, as well.  If you choose the unfinished variety of either, you will be able to customize the finish and color of your floor, however it will require some additional work after installation.

Before you start ripping your home apart, do your homework on the flooring options available in your price range, find out what the lead time will be to get the materials, and most importantly make sure you understand the manufacturer's suggested installation process.

Hardwood flooring, also known as solid wood, has three categories; strip flooring, plank flooring and parquet flooring. In addition, each is available in prefinished and unfinished versions.

When installing unfinished wood in your home, the finishing process is done on site, after installation. After the boards are carefully installed, they have to be sanded, stained and sealed. This process will require about 3 to 4 rounds of application. Because each application has a cure period, the project can take an additional 3 to 5 days to complete.

Prefinished products are finished at the factory by applying approximately 5 to 10 coats of an aluminum oxide finish to the wood. This process is designed to add a layer of protection to help prevent scratches. It's more durable and solidifies the product. Some manufacturers will apply an aluminum oxide layer to the backing of each board as well, to add moisture resistance.

The benefit of purchasing a prefinished product is the extended manufacturer's warranty. As the manufacturer controls the quality of the finishing process, the warranty is provided anywhere from 10 years to lifetime. The added benefit of a prefinished floor is that once the flooring system is installed, it is ready for immediate use.

One of the downsides of a prefinished floor, is the boards are micro-beveled at the edges. This means you are more likely to see the lines between each plank. If you're seeking a more traditional or sleek look, unfinished products are the way to go. The boards are flat, not beveled, so you will not see the separation of the floor boards, rather a seamless pattern. The only downside to unfinished flooring is that they do not come with a warranty, and if they do, the warranty is typically only good for one year.

What makes hardwood flooring a valuable investment, is it can be re-sanded and refinished 3 to 7 times to look brand new and should last at least 100 years. In addition, it is the only flooring option that can add considerable value to your home.

There are a slew of species of hardwood floors to pick from, ranging from domestic options like red and white oak, birch, pine, maple and hickory to exotics from all around the world like Brazilian cherry, Brazilian teak and Santos mahogany. Each species carries its own characteristics. It is important to research the most suitable species for your living environment.

Each type of solid wood floor is graded by the manufacturer. The wood is not necessarily graded by the quality, durability and stability of the wood, rather look of the wood and its characteristics. The best grades of wood are clear and select. These woods have fewer markings and are more consistent in appearance than the common grades, which may have a variety of markings.

Hardwood flooring can only be nailed down on a plywood subfloor with no moisture — no exceptions. It's typically installed on the first floor with a basement below and can also be installed on second floors and above.

For cleaning, you can use a soft bristle broom or dry microfiber mop — no water. If the floor has beveled edges, vacuum with the beater bar turned off to remove dust between the floorboards.

Engineered flooring, like hardwood, also comes in prefinished and unfinished options. It was originally designed for below-grade levels, like basements, as it performs well in high-moisture environments. Because of this, it can virtually be installed anywhere in your home.

The boards are made of multiple layers of plywood at its core and other moisture-resistant materials. It looks like real solid wood, and can also be sanded and refinished depending on the quality of the material. A wood veneer is applied to the top of the board, which can range from 1 to 4 millimeters in thickness. The thicker the veneer, the better.

Engineered flooring must be glued down when installing. Pricing is comparable to hardwood, and it can last 20 to 100 years, depending on the manufacturer. If the boards have a 1 to 2 millimeter-thick veneer, it can't be sanded and refinished — you'll eventually have to replace the floor due to wear and tear.

The flooring is easy to maintain. You can either use a vacuum with a soft flooring attachment, broom or dry microfiber dust mop to clean.

Laminate flooring only comes in prefinished options. Unlike the other flooring options, there is no wood material. Instead, it's made of a high density fiberboard (HDF) core and can appear like plastic. The boards are installed using a click-lock floating method over a foam pad with no adhesive, nails or staples.

Like engineered flooring, laminate flooring is also moisture-resistant. It's also more resistant to stains and won't expand or contract as much with seasonal changes in humidity. It can be installed on, above or below-grade level, but it's not recommended for full baths. Instead of a veneer, the top layer has a computer-printed image of a wood species, and multiple coats of a finish are applied at the factory.

Laminate flooring isn't a high-maintenance product. You can use a dust mop or vacuum with a soft brush or wood floor attachment. You can also use a slightly damp mop for spot cleaning, just be careful to avoid excessive water.

Quality laminate flooring also isn't easily scratched or dented, performs well in high traffic areas, and is a more affordable option. But unlike hardwood and engineered, laminate flooring only spans 10 to 20 years and can't be sanded or refinished. If you're not planning on staying in your home for a long period of time, laminate flooring is a good option to go with.

When selecting a new floor for your home, consider consulting with an expert in the field. They will be able to provide you with advice on the best flooring options for your home, budget and family needs. As the cost of replacing your flooring can be an expensive portion of your remodeling budget, it is important to do your homework.

When pricing different flooring options, remember that flooring is priced by the square foot. It's a good idea to know your measurements before you go shopping. Once you know the square footage of the area to be covered, you'll be able to compare the cost of the materials for your home project. Just remember that when shopping for flooring materials, costs for installation, and the materials to prepare your floor for the installation, will need to be added to the project cost.

John Kolbaska, President - The Men With Tools Home Remodeling
(347) 815-4151 www.themenwithtools.com

All our experts are licensed, bonded and insured members of the Staten Island Chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (The Home Improvement Contractors of Staten Island). Homeowners should always consult with licensed professionals, check a contractor's license through the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (call 311 for information) and ensure that their project complies with NYC DOB regulations before embarking on any home improvement project.

When Should I Replace The Windows In My Home? The 4 Most Common Signs.

When it comes to home improvement projects, replacement windows are not at the top of most homeowners to-do lists, as they do not provide much of a decorative change. However, if your home is more than 20 years old, it is important to identify some of the warning signs that tell you it's time to consider the project. 

If your windows show signs of age or deterioration, it is important that you consider replacement.  Windows play an important role in your homes efficiency. When windows do not fully close, or have warped, the conditioned air in your home escapes and unconditioned outdoor air enters your home.  When it comes to window replacement, it is important to fix the problem before it worsens, and save yourself money while doing so.

Here are the four common signs that it is time to replace your windows:

Your windows do not lock properly - Is it difficult or impossible for the latches or locking mechanism on your windows to close? Do your windows still open when you think they are locked? This means the security of your home is compromised. Broken locks are not only an access point for intruders, windows that do not close all the way provide drafts, the infiltration of outside elements including water and other debris, and even bugs crawling through the cracks into your home.

Drafty, air infiltration - Is it noticeably colder by your windows during the winter and warmer in the summer? Do your blinds or curtains tend to move by themselves? This is a sign that air is leaking into your home and whether you realize it or not, it's affecting your energy bills all year round.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that drafty windows are only a problem in colder temperatures.  That is why you'll see plastic from those do-it-yourself insulator kits or towels on window sills. Once the season changes, they are gone. Although many homeowners think they are providing a temporary fix, it is not true. Drafts from cold air may be more noticeable, but whether you use your heat in the winter or cooling system in the summer, a drafty window will cause inefficiency during both seasons. If you hear your HVAC system constantly cycling, it could mean your windows are drafty.

Hard to open, close or operate - Opening and closing a window should be a one-finger operation. Do you find yourself needing to use both hands and sometimes a foot planted against a wall to get a difficult window open? When the sashes don't operate properly, you're losing efficiency, and may cause further damage to your window, its frame or the glass.

Condensation - Condensation is the buildup of moisture. It can form on the outside of the glass or in between the panes. It's important to understand the differences between the two.

"Is condensation on the surface of the glass a bad thing? No, it's not," The Men With Tools Owner John Kolbaska said. "If you can wipe the condensation off of the glass, the window is doing its job. It is keeping the warm air out during the winter and the cold air out during the winter.  Condensation on your windows is an indication that the moisture level in your home is high.   

When condensation forms between the panes of your window, this is an indication that your windows have seal failure. Seal failure usually first forms at the bottom of the glass where it will look like dirt that can't be cleaned. Over time, it'll grow larger in size turning into white grime. Eventually you won't be able to see out of your window clearly.

Another less common sign that your windows seals have failed is a rainbow effect forming in the middle of your glass. Both are noticeable signs that it may be time to consider replacing your windows.

If you see any of the signs above, now may be a good time to replace your windows. Today's replacement windows are much more energy efficient. They come standard with Low-E coatings, argon gas and double-pane glass packages. These new options will save you money and return your investment over the long haul. Consult with a professional window installation company about the products, services and offers they provide when considering the replacement of your windows. 

John Kolbaska, President - The Men With Tools Home Remodeling

(347) 815-4151   www.themenwithtools.com