Green Design – 12 Easy Ways To Efficiently Upgrade and "Green-Up" Your Bathrooms and Kitchens!

No matter what your favorite color is . . . when thinking of your home, it needs to be GREEN! With growing concerns over rising energy costs, global warming and protecting our environment for future generations, the desire to “Green-Up” has dramatically increased.

There are affordable ways that homeowners can upgrade their bathrooms and kitchens to make them more water and energy efficient. The following are some easy ways that have been suggested by the National Association of Homebuilders to “Green-Up” when remodeling:

Water Heater – Replace your existing water heater with a money $aving, energy-efficient tankless model.

Showerhead – A high efficiency showerhead can help you $ave on your water bill each month, making it a simple choice when remodeling.

Toilet – With the addition of high efficiency toilets to your home, you again are $aving on water usage.

Ventilation Fans – Home owners will $ave electricity by using energy-efficient exhaust fans. When remodeling your bathroom, remember to look for an Energy-Star-Rated fan which will $ave you both money and electricity over the lifespan of the product.

Bathroom Faucets – High-efficiency water faucets for sinks and tubs have been designed to give you better performance as well as $ave water consumption.

Refrigerators – Energy-$aving fridges have been designed to perform more efficiently, and for more years than older models.

Dishwashers – Again, look for Energy-Star-rated models which will use 41 percent less energy than other dishwashers.

Microwave Ovens – Energy-efficient microwaves cook much faster than conventional ovens, but also can use up to 80% less energy. While not appropriate for all types of cooking, they can $ave you both time and money!

Oven Ranges – Gas burners use 55% of the energy produced compared to 65% for electric cooktops. Additionally, self cleaning ovens tend to have more insulation, making them more efficient as well.

Countertops – Recycled glass, stone and concrete have a great modern look, and have given these old materials a new life. Many of these same products also work well as tiles for your kitchens and baths.

Cabinetry – Consider recycled or reclaimed wood which is durable and both economically and environmentally friendly.

Flooring – Renewable flooring like cork or bamboo have become quite popular for both kitchens and bath areas. They offer durability and easy maintenance with a long-lasting natural look. And of course, stone and wood floors will last you a lifetime!

It’s important for us as homeowners to realize that we ALL can help save the planet by lowering our energy bills, one at a time . . . and doing all we can to conserve our natural resources. Green Building and Green Remodeling should no longer be viewed by us as an option, but as our RESPONSIBILITY!

How To Choose An Interior Designer Or Redecorator

What types of professional interior designers are available?

Have you heard of Interior redecorators? These professional interior decorators transform your home using things you have accumulated over the years. The end result is a balanced, harmonious space that reflects the personality of the people who use it. Many interior designers have added this service to their repertoire. Alternate terms for professional interior designers specializing in interior redecorating are interior redesigners, interior arrangers, interior stylists, one day decorators, visual coordinators or interior refiners.

What is a Certified Interior Designer? (from B&P Code Section 5800,5538)

A Certified interior designer is a competent design professional who is qualified to design, prepare, and submit any type of nonstructural, non-seismic interior construction plans and specifications to local building departments. Certified interior designers have demonstrated through education, experience, and examination their knowledge of the Uniform Building Code as it relates to space planning, life safety, flammability, and disabled access code issues. Most interior designers have a minimum four-year education. Many have Master of Interior Design degrees or other additional education in architecture or interior design. Interior designers who have many years experience may not have a Bachelors in Interior Design, but usually are well educated and have many years of qualified experience. All qualified interior designers will indicate that they have passed the NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Certification) examination and/or are registered/ certified/ licensed in their state.

How do Interior Decorators charge for their services?

Flat Design Fee: The client pays a flat fee for the professional interior designer’s services based on the design plan, time required, and scope of services.

Hourly Rate: The interior decorator bills a negotiated rate per hour.

Cost Plus Method: Professional interior designers charge a set percentage on all merchandise purchased and tradesmen’s services rendered.

Mixed Method: The client pays both a set percentage on purchases and a base design fee for hourly rate.

Per square foot: This method is used especially in new construction.

What to ask at the first meeting:

o Ask to see the interior designer’s portfolio, but remember that the designs reflect other people’s tastes,¬ not necessarily the interior decorator’s, and possibly not your own.

o Ask what size projects the interior designer has worked on, where, and what was the budget range.

o Ask how the established budget will be handled, and the kind of payment schedules the interior decorator requires.

o Ask about the types of services the designer can provide.

o Ask for a list of references.

What you may be asked at the first meeting:

It is a good idea to prepare for your first meeting with a professional interior designer by creating your own folder of clippings from magazines, catalogs, and books of design ideas that appeal to you.

You may also be asked some or all of the following questions:

o For whom is the space being designed?

o What activities will take place in the space?

o How long do you plan to occupy the space?

o What is your time frame for completing the project?

o What is your budget?

o Are you relocating or remodeling?

o What image do you want to project?

o What colors, style, and effects do you like?

o What are your objective and lifestyle needs?

o What is the approximate square footage to be designed?

If a professional interior designer, or anyone, for that matter, tells you the process is easy, stress-free, and will be complete in two weeks, they’re either lying or stupid. Don’t hire that person.

The Dos and Don’ts of Upgrades

When it comes to optioning the house, the primary question an investor should be asking themselves upon an acquisition is whether or not the option selected will contribute to the sell-ability of the house, relative to the actual cost. Obviously, there’s a point of diminishing return if one builds a Taj Mahal in a land of tract homes. Despite the urge to go all out and deck the place to the tee, please resist the temptation. Doing so will only cut down on your return. This is particularly important given the fact that since it is an investment, an investment with an unknown value, it isn’t prudent to put some of the potential gain at risk by purchasing unnecessary design upgrades that aren’t critical.

More often than not, homebuilders are aware of this vulnerability. This is more then ever true for investors, for whom they will provide a glut of options and upgrades that are grossly marked up. This type of financial exploitation provides an income stream that is indispensable to many homebuilders, such as KB Home, who are notorious for their exuberant cost upgrades and options. This system is so elaborate that their design department is a whole corporation of its own-which is known as KB Home Studio and rivals that of most high-end design centers. Not only are these stand-alone profit centers, KB Home has a separate business unit with senior vice presidents, AVPs, regional heads, etc., to take care of this organizational monster. The great thing about this apparatus is that it offers a plethora of design upgrades and options that are really top-shelf. The only problem is that you usually have to pay an arm and a leg to get these wonderful amenities.

To relate a story, the first time I went through a KB Home Studio, it was baptism by fire. I spent over eight hours in the design center, split over two days. At $35,000 plus in upgrades, I estimated that it cost me about $4,300 an hour to shop in their design center. You can see why I was happy to get out of there. Keep in mind also, that you may be required to pay a fraction of the upgrade costs in the form of a deposit soon after selection. This is almost a certainty and industry standard. On average, the deposit amount runs 25 percent to 50 percent and are usually nonrefundable. The consequence of this deposit requirement is apparent, in that it makes it more difficult, especially as an investor, to walk away from a transaction.

In spite of the latter, you can see on a pure convenience factor, it’s hard not to like that a homebuilder can offer you lots of options. Having the “convenience factor” available is all good and well; however, it becomes somewhat of an entrapment issue when the builder offers a plain vanilla box without any or few upgrades. In these cases, sometimes builders will only go to “code”-meaning, only providing what is necessary to have the local housing department or building and safety, at the city or the county level sign off on the property and give it a certificate of occupancy. This for instance, may mean no rain gutters, no landscaping in the front or back, unfinished garages, which typically consist of drywall with a coat of primer, or an unfinished garage consisting of the latter but with exposed 2×4 studs, sheetrock, chicken wire and black installation coversheet. Other more obvious “standards” include all vinyl flooring and small 4×4 white tile for the kitchen countertops, or cheap laminate for that matter. To top it all off, in terms of complete ugly-fication, you might get the builders’ special quarter-inch clustered marble countertops in the bathroom.

There’s a reason why even home design centers at Home Depot or Lowe’s highlight these amenities, and that’s because they’re cheap and nobody really wants them. Consequently, many homebuilders offer the standards in order to eek out as much money as possible out of each home they build. As a result, a new homeowner and/or investor is essentially forced into buying options and various upgrades in order to avoid the home looking like a plain Jane. Having too much of a plain Jane can actually hurt a home’s value. As an investor, it’s up to you to define the balance without overspending on a new tract flip. That’s the nature of making a business decision: you have to use your judgment. I’ve seen some homes that were literally destroyed from the inside out given the extreme lack of appeal that permeated the house as a result of no upgrades. As an example, spending an additional $4,000 to $6,000 on upgraded floorways and kitchen countertops is probably well advised. Most carpeting, even if it doesn’t have stain guard, should be adequate for most homes. Don’t be pressured into upgrading into a thicker padding for the carpet. Just go with the standard one-quarter inch, since most builders will try to get an extra $700 to $1,200, if not more, added to the cost of the house just for upgraded padding.

Staging Your Home For Autumn and Halloween

Your efforts to sell your home this fall season can be aided by some simple decorating that reflects autumn and/or the popular holiday of Halloween. Some effective touches can not only ’round out’ your staging; they can also encourage potential buyers to imagine decorating the home themselves by creating a warm, inviting atmosphere.

The first rule of Halloween decorating is: don’t go overboard! You’re staging your home, not throwing a Halloween party. No skeletons, NO fake blood and nothing that is meant to jump out and startle people! You want people to enjoy their tour of your home; not have a heart attack when the fake bat drops onto their head.

A fall staging theme can be as simple as warm fall colors being featured in the decor. Or, it can be tastefully elaborate, with some kind of decoration in every room that ‘ties’ the rooms together.

In homage to the holiday, you can use pumpkins and the small pumpkin-like gourds to accent your porch, tables and mantelpieces. Pumpkins are definitely an attention getter, both in terms of size and color. Use them wisely.

If you decide to carve your pumpkins, make sure that they are carved in harmless, “happy” expressions, if they have faces. One idea is to use your jack-o-lanterns to highlight the numbers of your address. Or, you could carve a tiny house into one.

If you do decide to go the jack-o-lantern route, use candle substitutes. The last thing you want is to find the perfect buyer, only to have your home burn to the ground because a candle fell over. Flameless flickering lights are available cheaply from local stores, especially around Halloween.

Flowers and plants are popular with home stagers and you can make them work for you. Chrysanthemums and dried leaves are good fall choices for the home stager. A vase of these in a room can provide some attractive natural color that calls to mind the crisp warmth of fall. Planting hardy fall flowers like mums can also add some color to an otherwise fading garden.

One idea for home showing is have business cards printed up with a picture of your home and contact information. Tie these to Halloween candy bags and put them in a fall/Halloween themed bowl for prospective buyers.

Halloween and fall provide you with a great decorating scheme to bring your house together with warm, inviting colors and decorations that reflect the fall harvest/Halloween season. This can help prospective buyers imagine decorating your home for their seasonal celebrations and encourage them to think of your home as their own.