Can I finance the cost of my home renovation into my mortgage?

Yes you can! Renovation loans are ideal for a number of situations ― such as purchasing a new home, renovating and refinancing your current home, sprucing-up a vacation home or updating an investment property. In each of these cases, you do have the ability to finance most, if not all, of the costs associated with your renovations into a mortgage.

There are several types of loans that can be used to finance the costs of renovations, these include FHA 203(k), FNMA HomeStyle®, Construction-to-Permanent (also known as a C/P loan), or Home Equity. These loans typically include all of the costs of minor and major repairs, additions and renovations, plus the purchase price or existing home loan balance, minus the required down payment or current equity in the home. Keep in mind that allowable renovations may vary depending on the renovation loan type you choose.

Homebuyers can transform an outdated home in a great location or resolve property problems or required improvements right away.

Homeowners can modernize or expand to enhance the value of their home or repair and remodel their home without depleting their savings.

A wide range of home improvements can be accomplished with a renovation loan. These include, but are not limited to: Remodeling kitchens and baths; aesthetic changes and upgrades such as new siding, paint and landscaping; repairing or replacing a deck; finishing a basement or raising a roof; structural improvements, changes or additions; installing accommodations for handicap access; adding, repairing or re-roofing a garage; completely rebuilding a home on a modified existing foundation; and replacement of electrical, HVAC, plumbing, installation of well and/or septic tanks.

The loan process is straightforward and a licensed and experienced Renovation Mortgage Loan Originator can walk you through the process:


Once the Work Write-up or detailed bid is completed and reviewed by you and your Mortgage Loan Originator, it will be sent to an appraiser, who uses it to determine the after-improved value of the property.

The Contractor

It’s never too early to start interviewing contractors. As the homeowner, you are responsible for selecting a contractor to do the actual renovation work. It is suggested to get recommendations for contractors and then price quotes either prior to or immediately after selecting a property.

Final Approval

The Mortgage Loan Originator submits the Work Write-up or detailed bid, contractor documents and appraisal for final loan approval. Once the approval process is complete, and any outstanding conditions are met, the loan can proceed to closing.

Loan Closing

The Closing Agent will have all required documents ready for you to review and sign, including the Closing Disclosure that details all costs of the transaction. A renovation escrow account will be set up to hold the funds to pay for the work to be done.

Funds disbursement “draws” are managed by the lender’s Draw Center. The Mortgage Loan Originator will provide the name and phone number of the assigned Draw Specialist, who will send you a welcome package with instructions for requesting draws.

How funds are disbursed:

Renovation financing loans are fully funded at closing. For purchase transactions, the home seller receives their net proceeds and Real Estate Agents are paid. A renovation escrow account is set up to pay the renovation costs. For refinance transactions, the homeowner’s existing mortgage is paid in full and the renovation funds are placed in an escrow account after a three-day waiting period. When a consultant is required the customer will be directed to contact the HUD Consultant or Draw Specialist to schedule an appointment for each required inspection. Funds are released in “draws” from the escrow account as work is completed. The HUD Consultant must inspect the completed work and submit a draw. Request form must be signed by you, the customer, the consultant and the contractor in order for funds to be disbursed. The Draw Request form is submitted to the lender’s Draw Department and a check will be issued by overnight mail. Checks will be made payable to you and the contractor.

The Final Draw

When all work is complete, the Draw Department provides a letter of completion, which you must sign and return prior to release of the final funds. You will also receive a final release form that confirms all the specified work is completed and shows how all funds were applied. For certain transactions, the Appraiser may be required to re-inspect the property and issue a completion report to the lender.

Everyone’s situation and budget are different, so, speaking with a Mortgage Loan Originator who is experienced with Renovation Lending should be your first call, so you get the results and the home you’re looking for!

Remember, a renovation loan can be used to purchase or refinance a home that is in less-than-perfect condition, make immediate improvements, and pay for them over time. That’s the power of renovation financing!

Tom Gumb, Branch Manager HomeBridge Financial Services, Inc.

(347) 582-4378

Do I Need To Check My Fireplace More Than Once A Year?

A thorough inspection of your fireplace and chimney should be performed by a professional at the beginning of each heating season to ensure it's safe operation. However, that doesn't guarantee that each time you light your fireplace it will operate safely, especially if used often.

Whether you have a wood burning, gas fired or electric fireplace, it is important to start your fire or ignite your unit properly, to make sure the flame burns clean, and to never leave your fireplace unattended while lit. If you had a new fireplace installed, be sure to read any instructions that came with the unit and follow the directions.

If your wood burning fireplace is heavily used, you will need to check it more than once a year. When fires burn inefficiently, or improperly, creosote will build up more rapidly. A dusty coating in your fireplace reflects 1st degree creosote build up, which occurs during normal use. When creosote buildup looks like hair or fur, it is considered 2nd degree, which should be brushed out to avoid further buildup. An appearance similar to black ice is considered 3rd degree creosote, and needs immediate removal to avoid a chimney fire.

Many house fires start in the chimney because of the build up of creosote. This sticky black material builds up in your chimney when fires burn low, when wood is not properly seasoned and dried prior to lighting, and when improper materials are burned in your fireplace. It is a good idea to gather firewood a year in advance to give it enough time to cure. This will result in a cleaner flame and less build up of flammable material in the chimney.

Although your chimney may have been clear at the beginning of the season, an erratic or smokey flame is a sign that your flue may need cleaning or your flue damper may be closed or not functioning. An ounce of safety is worth a pound of cure, so when in doubt call a professional.

It is also a good idea to routinely check the top of your chimney to make sure the cap is still in place, as heavy wind gusts can easily blow a loose cap off its base. During heavy snow storms, make sure to check that your cap is not covered by snow prior to lighting a fire,as the lack of proper airflow through your flue will create the same danger as a blocked chimney.

While you are outside, make sure there are no tree limbs above or near the chimney. Also check that the roof flashing at the base of your chimney is secure to avoid leaks into your home, or freezing between the roofing material and the sheathing. 

As your chimney keeps birds and rodents warm when temperatures plunge, it is an ideal place for them to build nests. If you find that your fire is smoking, or it is not burning upward, you may have some unwanted visitors nestled in your chimney. They must be removed prior to lighting your next fire.

Before turning on a gas burning fireplace make sure the glass is secure and free of cracks. When turning on the fireplace, make sure all the burner holes ignite, as debris can accumulate over time, signaling the need for service. A qualified and knowledgeable service company can provide a simple cleaning and inspection to restore safe operation. 

A properly operating gas fireplace will ignite within 10 seconds, have a clean blueish color flame and will vent properly out through a termination cap that is clear from debris or obstruction. If any of these conditions are compromised, your home and family's safety are in jeopardy, and your fireplace is in need of service. 

As with wood burning fireplaces, your gas fireplace has a chimney cap that should be safely secured to the flue piping. The bird screen inside the cap should be intact to ensure that small animals do not make a home inside your vent termination. The absence of the screen can leave you vulnerable to unwanted pests that can block or damage your flue pipe, and render your fireplace unusable until it is repaired. 

Even if you had your fireplace inspected in the beginning of the year, conditions can change at any time. Being proactive is not only the smartest and safest choice for your home and family, it is the most cost-effective as well. The lack of proper maintenance of your fireplace can cause many hazardous conditions including fire, carbon monoxide poisoning and toxic fumes. 

Daniel Ragusa, President – Firebird Sweep Inc.

(718) 356-1747 –

Is Wallpaper A Practical Way To Decorate My Home?

Wallpaper has received a bad reputation over the years. It has been said that wallpaper damages walls, it was something your grandmother had in the 70's, it is difficult to maintain and hard to find someone that knows how to install it. Don't let the tales of yesterday stop you from considering this versatile and fabulous way to design your walls. Is wallpaper back in style? Absolutely! 

When searching for the right type of wallpaper, it is not only important to look at design, it is also important to consider the type of material it is made from. If you are considering some sort of wall covering other than paint, you should consider these few points: 

What type of wallpaper works for you? Wallpaper comes in many varieties; vinyl, paper, silk, linen, grass, and many other fabrics. Depending on the look you are trying to achieve, it is important to ask a professional what would work best for your application. 

When wallpapering a high traffic area like a hallway, entry foyer or mudroom, you should use vinyl paper that can be easily washed down. They look beautiful, they are durable and many of them are inexpensive. 

Varieties of wallpaper come prepasted or peelable so there is no messy glue, but that doesn't mean it's the best for your walls. When considering hanging wallpaper, let your professional explain the best option for your walls. If adding wallpaper to your home is only a temporary design option, consider a strippable paper. It won't leave any residue when you are ready to make a change. 

What's even more exciting is temporary wallpaper which can be removed quickly and easily. If you are in a rental this is a great way to accent a wall or backsplash that may need a little pizzazz. 

If you are eco conscious, there are a wide range of eco-friendly wall coverings available on the market. Ask your design center for wallpaper with low VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), which are harmful gases emitted during the manufacturing process. If you are interested in wallpapering a nursery or children's room, consider one made with natural dyes. 

If you are interested in wallpapering your kitchen or bathroom, consider a moisture resistant wallpaper. You should not install wallpaper in a bathroom that is not properly ventilated or does not have a window. After time, the excessive moisture will separate the paper from the wall. If you are concerned about how it will last, wallpaper just one wall as a test. 

Wallpaper comes in a variety of widths and lengths, and is typically priced by the roll. To determine how much wallpaper you need, measure the height and width of each wall separately, then multiply the two numbers to get the total square footage of each wall. Then add the square footage of all walls. This will give you the total square footage of wallpaper you will need. Round up slightly to give yourself a little wiggle room, but measure carefully. Unneeded rolls of paper can increase the cost of your project. In most cases, extra rolls are not returnable. 

Wallpaper has come a long way since the 70s. Bold, modern prints, textures and designs add punch and can transform the feel of any room in your house. Wallpaper can be installed on only one of the walls of your room, to provide a feature wall. Then the other walls can be painted in a complimentary color. Sometimes, less is more. 

When wallpapering a small space like a walk in closet, find a pattern that works for small spaces. 

To minimize the expense of wallpaper, consider papering only one wall and add a mirror on the opposite wall. This will provide a symmetric feel, without the added cost. Or if you have fallen in love with an expensive wallpaper, consider using it as a design element, like using it on half a wall and separating it with chair moulding. Wrap a large box, or place the wallpaper in a frame on the wall that compliments the other decor in the room. You can also use it to line the back of a bookcase with double sided tape. 

Another great trick is to box out an area on your ceiling above the dining room table and paper inside the box. With the right lighting reflecting off a glass bead, wallpaper can look stunning. 

When you have finally selected the right wallpaper, consider using a professional for the installation. There is a talent involved in properly hanging wallpaper, as the right wall preparation, the proper hanging procedure and the concise installation requires an expert. There is nothing worse than hanging wallpaper upside down or not lining up edges to conceal where one roll ends and the other begins. 

Most people are under the impression that wallpaper will cover the imperfections or bumps on the wall. This is not the case. In fact, in many cases wallpaper will accentuate the imperfections. For the best results, your walls should be as smooth as possible, which may require a skim coat prior to papering. 

Hanging wallpaper can be tricky, especially when hanging more expensive fabric wallpaper, or those with intricate designs that require precise pattern matching. 

As with all home improvements, make sure you select a company that is licensed and insured to work in New York City, and who is experienced with the services you need. Ask for references and check their reviews online to ensure their customers are satisfied with the company's services and professionalism. 

Lou Spagnuolo Finishing Touch Painting of NY Inc.

How Do I Know When It's Time To Replace My Hot Water Heater?

Many homeowners have no idea how old their hot water heater is, nor is it at the top of anyone's mind when it comes to providing routine maintenance for your home appliances. However, when a hot water heater lets go and floods your home, it can be the most destructive type of appliance failure you can imagine. 

Without a safety mechanism, a water heater will leak continuously and allow water to flow from the supply pipe, through the water heater and into your basement until someone manually shuts off the supply valve to the water heater. If you are away when your water heater lets go, who knows how much water will be in your basement when you get back.

A water heaters lifespan depends on several factors. Water quality, water temperature and how often maintenance is provided, will contribute to the life expectancy of your water heater. The more sediment contained in the water that enters the hot water heater, the more damage it can do to your unit.

It is easy to identify the age of your water heater. Every water heater has a label which states the manufacturer, the model number and serial number of the heater. The model number provides information about the type of hot water heater you have, and the warranty period the manufacturer provided with your unit. The serial number tells the age of your water heater.

Generally, most water heaters that are more than 10 years old should be on your radar for replacement. If your water heater is 15 years or older, consider yourself lucky and begin the replacement process, as most water heaters are not designed to last that long. Error on the side of caution and consider replacing your water heater earlier than usual if your water heater is located in a closet near a finished area of your home.

There are safeguards that can be used to diminish the amount of damage should your water heater leak. A drain pan installed under your water heater, with an automatic shut off mechanism in the pan will shut down water supply to your hot water heater should your water heater start to leak. If your hot water heater is located on an upper floor, a drain plan with a direct drain line connection should be used so that any water seeping from your hot water heater can be redirected safely, and not cause damage to your home below.

There are a few signs that your water heater is aging, and on its last leg:

-The water flowing from your faucet looks rusty or not as clean as it used to be. This is a sign that your water heater is rusting away on the inside.

-The temperature of your hot water has diminished. This is a sign that your water heater may have sediment build up, or that the heating element could be faulty.

-The hot water has a metallic smell or taste. This is also a sign that the interior of your water heater is starting to break down.

-Your water heater makes loud cracks or pops. This is a sign that sediment may have built up to the point where it has formed a mass in your water heater, and the heating process is creating noises.

- There are burn marks or soot on the water heater, indicating a potential problem with the venting or flue pipe. As this is potentially dangerous to your well-being, this should be addressed by a professional immediately.

-There is condensation on top of or around your water heater. A slight fracture in your tank can produce condensation on top of or around your water heater. This is an indication that it is time to replace your water heater.

When installing a new hot water heater it is a good practice to provide regular maintenance to extend its life. Cleaning out the burner compartment, keeping the area around the hot water heater free of lint and debris, and flushing the relief valve a couple of times a year to get rid of any rust build up, will reduce the amount of repairs and allow your water heater to run efficiently. It is also a good idea to keep the water temperature set to the manufacturer's recommended temperature setting. This is usually about 120 degrees.

When searching for a new hot water heater there are a few questions you should ask your professional installer, like; what size water heater do I need to fit my household needs; do I need a water heater with a high recovery rate; what are the dimensions of the new heater; and what is the efficiency rating?

In today's hot water heater marketplace, there are many options for your domestic hot water needs. If high efficiency is a high priority, consider a tankless hot water heater. The initial cost is a little more than a standard hot water heater, however, the benefits of a high efficiency unit are worth the investment.

Tankless water heaters are much smaller than standard heaters, and can be mounted on any wall of your home, including an exterior wall. Tankless heaters typically last twice as long as the standard ones, providing 20 years plus of domestic hot water service. According to, "for homes that use 41 gallons or less of hot water daily, on demand (tankless) water heaters can be 24% to 34% more efficient than conventional storage tank water heaters".

Because of their high efficiency and design, tankless hot water heaters deliver hot water on demand, providing two to three gallons of water per minute. Standard hot water heaters hold water in their tanks, and heat and reheat water based on the unit's temperature setting. Even when you are not using water, your water heater may turn on just to reheat the water that has already been heated.

A final word of advice to those reading this article. Take a moment to check your water heater. It is recommended that you do this twice a year so that you can detect any issues with your water heater in advance of a leak, a repair or a venting issue, which can lead to a carbon monoxide emergency in your home.

If you suspect there is something wrong, consult with a professional. Knowledgeable technicians can provide you with the proper diagnostic of your water heater and provide options to repair or replace your equipment.

As with all home improvements or home repair services, make sure you select a company that is licensed and insured to do work in New York City, and who is capable of providing the services you need. Ask for references and check their reviews online to ensure their customers are satisfied with the services they were provided.

Tom & Frank Scarangello Scaran Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing

(718) 984-0805

Is There A Difference Between Big Box Stores And Neighborhood Retail Stores? 

Growing up in the 1980's I remember always going to the local hardware store with my parents when they needed stuff for our house like paint, a toilet seat, piece of lumber and even some nails or screws. There were really no big box home improvement centers on the island, besides Rickels and Pergament, and even those home improvement centers were not nearly as big and stocked with every construction item known to man, like the ones we have today. 

National chain stores entice customers with a well-produced brand, and strategically advertised low prices, but the big box shopping experience leaves a lot to be desired. When selecting appliances, windows, doors, flooring and wall finishing products for your home, it is important to weigh the pros and cons of using the big box store’s goods and services versus your local retail store.

Today you can walk into any big box home improvement center, seven days a week, some even 24 hours a day, and purchase anything from an entire kitchen with appliances down to a tiny lug nut. It's extremely convenient and you can buy anything you need to repair, or even build a home.

There isn't one person out there that will say they don't like convenience. We all want instant gratification in this day and age, and don't like to wait. And so, big box stores can sometimes provide what you need, when you need it. However, one of the major cons of shopping at a big box home improvement center is that you will never get the same personal service, attention and accessibility as you do when shopping at a local neighborhood business.

Typically when entering a big box store you are left to navigate a maze of thousands of items. You walk up and down the aisles until you find what you are looking for, and then, have a choice of 5 to 10 varieties of the same thing. Which is the right one for your project?

Have you ever tried to find an employee that can help you? It’s like finding a needle in a haystack. And, when you finally find someone, they usually don't work in the department you need help in, so you now have to look for someone else. FRUSTRATING! In smaller home improvement centers and “mom and pop” shops, typically the owners are present, and knowledgeable staff are available to help.

What’s even more frustrating is when you are having difficulty with a product that you purchased from a big box store. If you found it difficult to get assistance in the store, good luck trying to get someone on the phone to answer a technical question.  

When purchasing home appliances, faucets, toilets, thermostats, windows and doors, it is important to know that the product lines in big box stores are not the same as those available at your local retail shops. The products offered in big box stores are typically mass produced, and come from the “builder’s line” that the manufacturer offers, rather than their higher end lines offered in specialized home improvement stores.

What is best about going to a local specialized retailer is they employee knowledgeable staff that can explain the differences between the product lines offered by the manufacturers, along with information about efficiency ratings, and options in quality, color and materials. They will also be able to give you the lead times of your materials and the installation process, as the installation services are “in house” as opposed to being provided by a third party.  

The biggest con that comes with shopping at big box home centers is they do not install the products they sell. All of their work is sub-contracted to outside vendors, who were required to go through a thorough application process, proving they are licensed and insured. However, these sub-contractors are not required by the big box stores to comply with local building code requirements, when they perform work in their customer’s homes. Even worse, big box stores provide consumers a disclaimer on their contracts that they are not responsible for filing or obtaining permits, even if they are required, for the work they are contracted to do.

Furthermore, as the sub-contractor application process is completed on line, the quality of the sub-contractors workmanship is not vetted prior to the on-boarding process. How can a consumer be assured that the contractor that has been selected to provide services in their home will provide quality workmanship?  

If you buy windows, doors, lighting, kitchen cabinets or flooring from one of the big retail chains, they only serve as the middle man between you, and another company that provides the installation. If you have a problem with the installation you will have to jump through hoops, like a circus dog, to try and get the right person on the phone to help rectify the issue as the big box store is only responsible for the products they sold you, not the service that was provided.

There are many instances where big box store contractors can wind up costing you more money, effort and time, in the long run. Improperly or illegally installed heating or air conditioning equipment, boilers, generators or hot water heaters, can lead to hefty fines, and may require they be removed to remedy a violation that may have been issued. There are clear electrical, plumbing and zoning specifications that need to be met when installing or replacing this type of equipment.

Whether or not you are using a contractor that has been assigned to you by a big box store, or that you have hired yourself, it is important to check the contractor’s quality of work, other consumer reviews, licenses and insurance. Ultimately, you are responsible to maintain your home in compliance with local building code, and when you don’t, you are the one that pays to bring it up to code.  

When you shop at a local retailer that specifically sells and installs the brands and materials you need, you are in control of the transaction. You can select the grade of materials you want, and know who your contractor will be. You will also be able to directly communicate with the business, should you run into a problem.

It is also great to support your local businesses as their profits stay in the 

community. They hire local workers, pay for local services and give to local causes. Because they aren’t part of a national purchasing plan, local businesses often source products from regional manufacturers and distributors. Consumers can walk out of a local business knowing that they supported American industry and their community.

Before considering your next home improvement purchase in a big box store, ask yourself what you are willing to give up for that experience.

So if you're in the market for windows, doors, flooring, a new kitchen or bath, make sure you do your homework and shop at a store which has a good reputation, and both sells and installs the products you need for your home. Most local businesses treat their customers like family and provide a clear line of communication when providing services to their customers.


John Kolbaska, Owner   The Men with Tools Windows, Doors & Hardwood Floors

(347) 815-4151     

Allen Hauber Scholarship Awards Program

NARI-HIC of Staten Island (The Home Improvement Contractors of Staten Island) and the Staten Island Chapter of AIA are proud to present, at this years 56th Annual Building Awards program, our Allen Hauber Scholarship Awards Program.

This scholarship program was designed to provide high school seniors, interested in furthering their education in the architecture, engineering, construction, remodeling or mechanical industries, a scholarship of up to $2,500 towards their education in these fields.

The passing of Allen Hauber in 2014 inspired this program as he was a mentor, and advocate for educating today's younger generation in the construction, architecture, mechanical and trade industries. Allen was a valuable member of the Staten Island community, serving as Chair of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce's Annual Home Show and Building Awards programs, and as the Executive Vice President of the Home Improvement Contractors of Staten Island before he passed away. Allen was the General Manager of Bob Mims Heating & Air Conditioning.

The High School Seniors who applied for this scholarship demonstrated the following outstanding achievements and qualified for program by:

Providing meritorious service to the Staten Island Community;

Demonstrating excellent grades and marked leadership in their Scholastic Achievements;

Proving their skills int he engineering, architecture, mechanical or trade industries by submitting a project demonstrating their talents, or writing an essay pertaining to the experience they have already had in these industries and why they want to pursue this type of career.

Students were nominated by their deans, teachers, and principals who identified their scholastic achievements and desire to pursue their career in these specialized industries.

We congratulate the winners and look forward to having them join our industry

How can I find out if there is a violation on my property?

Open violations on your property can prevent you from selling or refinancing your home and property. You may not know that your property has been issued a violation, especially if you rent your property to a tenant, however, that does not preclude you from remedying the infraction. Many violations carry fines and penalties, so it is important that they are addressed quickly to avoid accruing additional costs.

The NYC Construction Codes require owners of property in New York City to build and maintain their properties in safe condition. It also requires property owners to legally file any alterations or changes made to the structure, electrical or plumbing systems, and the construction of new structures within their property lines. These filings require the use of a licensed architect, engineer, or contractor, and in some cases all three.

There are two types of violations that can be issued to your property; an ECB (Environmental Control Board) violation and a DOB (Department of Buildings) violation.  An ECB violation is the most common of the two and are issued by classification.

A Class 1 ECB Violation is issued for an immediate hazardous condition. These conditions pose a threat that severely affects life, health, safety, property, the public interest of a significant number of persons, to warrant immediate corrective actions. A more moderate violation can receive a Class 2 categorization, and a lesser violation would receive a Class 3 categorization.

With any ECB violation, they must be corrected immediately. Notification of the correction must be provided to the Department's Administrative Enforcement Unit. In some cases, you will need to attend an ECB hearing and pay any applicable penalties and fines. Resolving these matters can be complicated. It may be in your interest to get a professional architect and attorney involved to remedy these outstanding violations correctly and efficiently.

DOB violations, like ECB violations are public information and can be accessed on line through the NYC BIS (Building Information System) at You can search your property by block and lot, or street address to find out if your property has received any type of violation. If you are not able to access the system, you can call 311 or consult with an architect to see if your property has been cited for any violations.

The BIS system is also a good source for obtaining documents related to your property.  You can access your Certificate of Occupancy, or copies of any permits that were issued on your property.  You can also access information in the files related to a filed construction permit.

If there are DOB violations that exist on your property, the DOB will not issue a new or amended Certificates of Occupancy and may delay the issuance of Letters of Completion, until the violations are remedied. This will require you complete the work required to remedy the violation and bring your property up to code. It will also require you to provide support documentation to the DOB as proof that the work has been completed, and may require you to pay fines and penalties associated with the violation.

When considering a purchase on a home or commercial property it is prudent to retain the services of an architect prior to the purchase of the property to identify if any violations exist. It is also important to know that all additions to the existing structure, decks, swimming pools or fireplaces made by prior owners have been legally filed. When purchasing a property, any existing violations to the subject premise will transfer to the new owner.

Whenever you embark on a home improvement project, an electrical or plumbing renovation, or construct an addition on or to your property, you should consult with an architect to file permits with the Department of Buildings. If you are altering any interior walls of your home, relocating plumbing fixtures, finishing your basement, adding a deck or swimming pool to your backyard or adding onto your home you need to follow specific procedures, which should start with consulting and hiring a licensed architect.

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

(718) 720-3478

How Do I Know When I Need A Handyman And When I Need A Contractor?

If the projects around your house are starting to pile up, it may be time to hire a professional to get the work done. A small crack in the ceiling, a small drip from a pipe, a broken cabinet, a shifting toilet bowl, or a loose railing may individually be something you can live with, but as these minor repairs build, they can drive you crazy.

It may be useful to start compiling a list of items in disrepair so that none are forgotten. This list will also be useful to identify the type of professional you may need to get this work done. Perhaps the items on your “to do list” can be performed by a qualified and insured handyman, or you may need the services of a licensed contractor.  In some cases, you may even need to hire a licensed electrician, plumber or HVAC technician.

Most homeowners have small projects that pile up for years.  We always say we will get to it when we have time, but that rarely happens. Before you know it, a small fix or two, becomes days-worth of work that needs to be completed.

As with any home project, it is important to select a company that is insured, even if the work is being provided by a handyman. If the company isn’t insured, you could be financially liable if any damages occur, or if anyone gets hurt in your home. 

An added benefit is to find a handyman that is licensed and insured, as their licenses can be checked with the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA). A business that is licensed by the DCA is registered with New York City.  They have produced proof of insurance, have successfully completed a licensing test, have agreed to uphold consumer contract requirements enforced by the City, and must maintain the current address for their business with the agency.

Typically large projects like kitchen or bathroom remodels, additions, the relocation of walls and room entry ways, window and door replacements, roofing, the renovation or installation of a new deck, or the refinishing of a basement, require a licensed home improvement contractor. In many cases some of these projects also require permits. 

Smaller projects can be handled by a qualified and insured handyman. Often handymen charge less than a contractor because many small projects do not require additional laborers, heavy duty equipment and overall, these companies tend to have less overhead costs. 

Handymen are very well versed in a variety of small tasks since they are exposed to many different types of challenges on a daily basis. A handyman can paint, install a new door lock, re-grout a bathtub, tile a back splash, replace a countertop, repair a small crack or hole in a wall or ceiling and clean up an overgrown yard. 

Before hiring a handyman, take the time to review their businesses on line or search websites like Houzz, Porch, Angies List and Yelp to see what others are saying about the company.  Ask if you can check their references by contacting other clients, and see if there are any complaints with the Better Business Bureau. It is important to choose a handyman that you are comfortable with because you will be working closely with them around your home.  

If someone comes knocking on your door who states they are a handyman and can help you with some projects around the house, do not let them in.  Ask them to place a business card in your mailbox, then check their qualifications and reputation. Many out of state contractors, and out of work people go door to door looking for homes that need a little TLC in hopes of finding a homeowner that will hire them. In many cases, these individuals are not competent, are unlicensed, have no insurance, and may be on a search for their next victim.

When hiring a handyman, make sure to ask for a written agreement that details the job, the cost and the payment schedule, and make sure to get a guarantee in writing. Be wary of handymen, or contractors, that try to ask for full payment before doing any work.

The risks of hiring an unlicensed and uninsured handyman or contractor run deep. Utilizing an unlicensed and uninsured company can leave you and your family exposed to fraud, inadequate workmanship and potential harm. Typically these companies do not carry General Liability or Workers Compensation insurance because of the expense which they cannot afford to carry.  As they are not licensed, no one is checking.  

For any questions about any home services or your next remodeling project, you can contact NARI-HIC of Staten Island by e-mail at

Michael DeFillippo – President     Handyman For You Home Improvement Co.

(347) 683-0792

What Resources Should I Use To Check A Potential Contractor? 

One of the most difficult tasks for a homeowner, when remodeling their home, is to find a reputable, reliable and knowledgeable contractor to provide the materials and services provided in your scope of work.  It is important to know that a potential contractor can be trusted in your home, that they are capable of executing the complete project, whether with or without subcontractors, and that they are as dedicated to the project as you are. It is also imperative that they are licensed and insured to provide remodeling services in your local area.

The more knowledgeable and prepared you are as a homeowner, the more capable you will be in choosing the right contractor, which is pivotal to the success of your project.  Vetting a contractor could be a lengthy process.  A good place to start is by consulting with your architect. They are familiar with the work that local contractors provide to their clients, and speak from experience.

Many architects that provide architectural services for homeowners will follow their projects through to completion. They have the opportunity to see the craftsmanship of the contractor at project end, and have the opportunity to speak to their clients about their experiences with the remodeling contractor.

Another good resource is a friend, neighbor or relative that has recently had a contractor provide work in their home. Word of mouth is one of the best sources of advertisement for a contractor. If someone you know had a good or bad experience with a company, they will have no problem telling you. It is also an easy way to see for yourself the results of the contractors work.

The online world makes it easy to gather information about potential contractors.  Google, Yelp, Houzz, Angie's List and Home Advisor are good resources for homeowners to identify how the contractor is rated by other consumers.

Many contractors also use social media as a way to connect with their customers. They interact with their followers by posting photos of their work and can receive reviews on their pages.  Consider checking the reviews made by other clients to get some insight into the way they respond to their reviews, whether good or bad.  A conscientious company will address customer complaints graciously and look to correct a bad customer experience.  

Check with the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs by calling 311 or by visiting their website at to make sure the contractor you are considering is licensed. The contractor should hold a valid Home Improvement Contractors (HIC) license and the salesperson that comes to your door should hold a valid Home Improvement Sales (HIS) license. The proposal that you receive should also list the same HIC and HIS license numbers.

Electricians and plumbers are not required to hold a HIC license, rather they hold a New York State license, with a license number assigned to the Licensed Electrician or the Master Plumber.  These licenses can be checked through the applicable New York State agencies.   

You can also contact the Better Business Bureau at to check the businesses rating and to see if any other consumers have made a complaint with the bureau.  Any complaints will be posted on the contractor's page and the status of the claim will be noted.  

Contractors maintain credentials beyond licensing such as certifications with industry organizations. When speaking with a contractor, ask about their certifications and the associations that they belong to.  This can provide some additional resources for reference checks.

Some contractors will also take the extra step to become certified installers with national manufacturers to install their specialty products like; heating and air conditioning equipment, windows, doors, flooring or appliances. If there are certain manufacturer's products you want to include in your project, consult with the manufacturer to identify if the contractor you are considering is a trained and certified installer.

When considering a contractor for your remodel, it is important to request an estimate from at least three contractors. Although it is not necessarily any easier to make a choice, you will have the opportunity to see how each contractor differs in the services they provide and to see if their personalities align with you and your family.

Once you have identified which contractors you will be interviewing, make a check list of all the questions you have about your project and ask the same questions to each contractor.  Questions should include timelines, payment schedules, subcontractor information, insurance and licensing information, and an acceptable communication plan. You should also ask for references from the contractors last few projects, and visit active worksites.

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

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

(718) 356-2323

Do I Need To Hire An Architect For My Home Improvement Project?

An architect is needed for any home improvement project that requires a work permit filed with the Department of Buildings. You may not have a choice whether or not to hire an architect if your project includes the alteration of any interior walls, relocation of plumbing fixtures, basement build-outs, and any type of addition, to name a few.

Working with an architect can make your project flow more smoothly. Their knowledge of local building code requirements, coupled with their understanding of the products and materials available on the market, can provide you with all the information you need to make your project a success. Architects facilitate your home project, providing design guidance, and the knowledge and information you need to identify the right contractor. 

It is important to identify an architect that has a portfolio of projects similar in style and budget to fit your needs. The AIA (American Institute of Architects) website can provide you with a list of reputable architects in your area.  

An initial consultation or interview with an architect should determine if you and your project are a good fit with his or her practice. During this meeting, it’s best to communicate your ideas clearly and ask lots of questions. Find out the architect’s approach, fee schedule, deliverables, and what they think is important about your project. Furthermore, assess whether the architect listens to your needs and confirms that he or she understands them.

Once you have selected your architect, the design phase will begin. It is important that your architect understands your preliminary budget prior to beginning his or her design drawings. Your architect will then analyze your home, or the project’s site conditions, and come up with conceptual drawings or ideas that integrate your goals, coupled with the architect’s aesthetic direction and schematic approach. 

During this phase, you should provide your architect with photos and ideas so that he or she understands your likes and dislikes. Initially your architect should provide you with a couple of design concepts, intended to spark your feedback and hone in on your design aesthetic. Once the general design direction is settled, your architect will produce more extensive drawings.

Keep in mind that there is still design work that needs to be completed. Interior finishes, lighting and storage design, and plumbing fixture selections are only a few of the choices the homeowner will have to make.

The application process starts when the local jurisdiction reviews the drawings the architect has submitted on your behalf and determines whether the proposed work is in accordance with local safety and building codes. Every project requires specific documentation and applications to facilitate an approval. The length of time it takes for approval will be determined by how complete the submission package is, the workload of the buildings department and if the project is being self-certified or waiting for plan examiners approval.

During this phase, it can feel like the project has stagnated because of the procedures within the Department of Buildings. 

Once your project is approved, there are two parts to the construction stage. The first is finding a contractor to do the work. The timing of this step will depend on whether you have made the choice in advance of hiring an architect, or if you will need the architect’s help selecting a contractor. The latter might entail a bidding process, wherein the architect helps the client select two or three contractors to submit bids for the proposed work, and the client chooses the best proposal.

If you have selected your contractor first, it can be helpful in identifying the real time costs throughout the design process. It can also jump start your project once you have received your approved plans back from the architect. If you wait for approved drawings before selecting a contractor, it can delay the process as choice contractors can be back logged with work, and your project may not be scheduled for months.

Once the contractor starts work, the architect’s role is not diminished. There can be a lot going on behind the scenes, such as the contractor calling the architect to make sure they are executing the design correctly or the architect needing to troubleshoot when problems arise. During this stage, many architects will engage in weekly site visits to the project with the contractor and client, and go over instructions with subcontractors in order to get the details right.

Your architect can also be involved in reviewing progress and payment requisitions submitted by your contractor. This will protect the homeowner if a contractor is requesting more money than the services and materials provided and installed to date. Prior to final payment or release of retainage, a Release of Lien should be provided by the contractor for his work and that of the subcontractors that provided goods and services for your project. 

When considering a home improvement project, make sure to do your homework. Search for on line reviews and ask friends, family and neighbors for referrals.  Professionals take their reputation seriously. It is important for you to identify the right architect for your project so that it is designed for you and your family’s needs. 

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

(718) 720-3478

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 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

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 

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    

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

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

​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, 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 and 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 where homeowners can find useful information about the remodeling process. If you have a question about your remodeling project or a contractor, visit

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

(718) 356-2323

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

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

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

(917) 771-7710

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