Saturday, November 25, 2006

Paving over an Existing Asphalt Driveway

By Mark J. Donovan

Asphalt paving over an existing driveway can be done if the existing driveway is in good shape. It should be level, and free from any bulges or trenches.

If the existing asphalt paved driveway is crumbling and heaving, or if there are signs of root damage, then the old driveway should be ripped up so the base can be re-constructed. Tree roots and any rocks that have worked their way to the surface should be removed. Additional gravel should then be brought in and packed and rolled prior to applying the new Asphalt driveway.

For more help on Asphalt Driveway Paving, see's Asphalt Driveway Paving Bid sheet. The Asphalt Driveway Paving Bid Sheet will help ensure that your hire the right contractor so that your driveway is paved correctly and you get the finished driveway you are looking for. Readmore »»

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs – Read Fine Print before Buying

By Mark J. Donovan

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFL) can save you a lot of money, but not necessarily as much as proponents and home improvement stores suggest.

Technically Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs use only a quarter of the power as incandescent light bulbs and they are typically guaranteed for 8000 hours versus 500 hours, respectively. Compact Flourescent Light Bulbs cost around $3.00 (during sales) whereas an incandescent typically goes for around $.50. Though a Compact Fluorescent light bulb costs about 6 times as much as an incandescent bulb, it lasts 16 times longer and uses only ¼ the power of the incandescent bulb. As a result, Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs make a lot of financial sense, at least in the simple math.

The problem with Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs is that they have a fixed number of times that they can be turned on before they begin to fail. As a result, they are not appropriate for lighting applications where the light will be turned on and off frequently. Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs are meant to be turned on and left on for long periods of time (e.g. 3 hours or more). Thus, Compact Flourescent Light Bulbs are probably not meant for bathrooms or bedrooms where lights are turned on and off frequently. They may however be appropriate for living rooms and kitchens where lights may be left on much longer in the evening.

In addition, thought Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs do not create a great deal of heat themselves, they are however sensitive to it. As a result, they are not appropriate for recessed lights or enclosed lighting fixtures. Because of the excess heat build up in these types of lights, the Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs will fail in short order.

The other consideration with Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs is that they contain trace amounts of Mercury and thus should not be simply thrown away when they fail. Instead they should be taken back to the store where you purchased them or to a recycling plant that can properly handle them. The Mercury levels associated with Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs are safe, when the bulb is left in its natural state (unbroken). So failed bulbs should be returned to stores or recycling plants left undamaged.

All this said, Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs) have a bright future and can save homeowners a great deal of money. Used in appropriate applications a Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb will pay for itself after just 500 hours of use (e.g. 100 days at 5 hours per day). CFLs are available in a variety of white lighting shades including “Warm White”, “Soft White”, “Cool White” and “Day” light tones.

So the next time you are contemplating a Compact Fluorescent Light bulb sale at your local home improvement store, think where you will use them in your home before you decide on how many to actually buy. Readmore »»

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

How to Clear a Clogged Sink Drain

By Mark J. Donovan

Having to clear a clogged sink is inevitable if you are a homeowner. Fortunately, however, clearing a clogged sink is straight forward to do, albeit it’s a little messy and awkward.

The first step in clearing a clogged sink is to first look under the sink, and see what type of drain plumbing exists. You should see either a PVC or metal J-trap length of tubing. The J-Trap is basically a 180o bend in the tubing that creates a water seal between the sink drain and the rest of the drain system in the house.

Next remove the drain stopper. Normally you can remove the drain stopper by turning it left or right 90o and lifting up. To aid in removing the drain stopper you may also need to disconnect the pivot rod that sits behind the drain tail pipe underneath the sink.

J-Trap with Couplings

If the J –Trap has couplings that you can unscrew, use your hand or a pair of channel pliers to remove the couplings. Make sure, however, you first place a bucket underneath the J-Trap to catch the standing water in the J-trap.

Once you have removed the couplings, simply slide the J-trap down off the sink drain sleeve and away from the remaining portion of the house drain system. Pour the contents of the J-Trap into the bucket and remove any large solid/semi-solid clogs from the J-Trap. A pair of gloves may be helpful during this task.

Next, use a rag or bottle washer brush to thoroughly clean out the J-Trap.

In the event you did not find a clog in the J-Trap, first look down through the drain and see if the drain tail pipe is clear. If it is not use a hand auger to remove the clog in the drain tail pipe. If there is no clog in the drain tail pipe and the J-Trap, this probably means the clog is further into the drain system. If this is the case you will want to use the hand auger again and push it further into the drain system. As you push it in, feel for resistance. Once you have passed any resistance screw the hand auger and pull back towards you to remove the clog.

Finally, reinsert the J-Trap into position and reconnect the couplings. With the couplings tightened your clogged sink is a thing of the past.

J-Trap with Clean-Out Plug

Some J-Traps may not have couplings. This is particularly true with older plumbing systems. In this case there is typically a Clean-Out Plug at the base of the J-Trap.

Using a pair of channel lock pliers loosen the Clean-Out Plug nut. Once loose, position a bucket underneath the J-Trap and remove by hand the Clean-Out Plug. Clear the clog via access the Clean-Out Hole. Again, gloves work great during this task. Frequently the clog is a mass of hair. A small screw driver may help in this case to enable you to reach in and clear the clog.

Again, if the clog persists after cleaning out the J-trap, repeat with the hand auger as described earlier.

J-Trap without Couplings or Clean-out Plug

In this case use the hand auger and insert it into the sink drain to remove the sink clog.

Insert the auger into the sink drain until you feel the auger pass the obstructed area. Then simply screw the auger and pull back on it to remove the sink clog.

Using a Plunger to Clear a Clogged Sink

A plunger should be your last resort as it effectively just pushes the clog further into the system. The hope is that the clog will be pushed into a wider portion of the drain system and then simply be flushed away. Sometimes, however you just push the clog further into the narrow portion of the drain system and make it more difficult to remove with a hand auger later. Readmore »»

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Raised Floor System Benefits

By Mark J. Donovan

A raised floor system can be very useful when building a new home or even sometimes when adding a bathroom.

A raised floor system, using standard wood floor joist framing, can provide additional headroom in a basement or can ensure access to pluming and wiring that would not otherwise be accessible on a to-be-built concrete slab based home. In addition, if you are contemplating a new bathroom in a second or third floor, and can not or do not want to rip up ceilings and floors to route new pipes, a raised flooring system maybe just the answer.

Many basements have limited height, particularly if the center beam running down the length of the basement, is sitting in a recessed wall pocket. A raised floor system can elevate the beam another 12-18”, providing comfortable headroom in the basement. This is highly useful if the basement is anticipated to be finished at some point. It also enables additional window and natural lighting possibilities in the basement.

If a home is slated to be mounted on a slab, a raised floor system is a good way to elevate the home a little. This can serve several purposes. First, the home will have more curb appeal as a raised foundation typically is more aesthetically pleasing than a home sitting on a slab. Second, by using a raised floor system, all of the plumbing pipes and electrical wires can be routed in the raised floor verses imbedded in the concrete slab. This allows the ability to make repairs or even make wiring or plumbing improvements possible. Finally, a raised floor system helps reduce the risk of water damage in case of high rainfalls.

Frequently people decide to add bathrooms on second or third floors where they have little access to existing plumbing pipes or the ability to install new ones. By building a raised floor system using 2x6’s for example, they can route all of the plumbing pipes to one central or appropriate location to connect into an existing plumbing drain system. The only downside to using a raised floor system in a bathroom is the fact that you need to step up to it. This may be a small price to pay when considering the alternatives, e.g. not adding the bathroom or having to rip up floors and ceilings to route new pipes. Readmore »»

Thursday, November 16, 2006

How to Control Moisture in a Ventilated Crawl Space

By Mark J. Donovan

For many, a home’s crawl space is rarely accessed or used. However, an out-of-sight / out-of-mind mentality on a crawl space that is not properly moisture controlled could cost you a lot of money.

If a crawl space is not moisture controlled properly, your home is susceptible to rot, mold and insect damage. In addition, if an air conditioning or heating system is located in the crawl space it may also be damaged by high moisture content. Finally, a non moisture controlled crawl space is energy inefficient which translates into higher heating and air conditioning bills.

Crawl spaces can be found with and without operable ventilation systems. Though venting a crawl space may seem to make sense to reduce moisture levels, it actually can cause more harm than good in hot, humid climates. A vented crawl space in a hot, humid climate actually will increase the humidity level within the crawl space and make it more susceptible to moisture damage. The moist hot air reacts with the cooler air in the crawl space and causes condensation. The condensing moisture attaches itself to floor framing surfaces where mold can begin to form.

Though the rules can vary on your local climate conditions there are several basic steps you should do to minimize the moisture levels in your crawl space.

First, when installing the crawl space foundation, make sure you put in a French drain (perimeter drain) around the foundation walls. The Perimeter drain should be designed so that water runs away from the outside foundation walls.

Second, make sure you seal the outside of the foundation walls to finished grade level with a waterproof sealer.

Third, when backfilling in around the foundation, make sure the finished grade gently slopes away from the foundation walls.

Fourth, the floor of the crawl space should be covered with a 4-6 mil layer of polyethylene vinyl (plastic) to reduce moisture transfer from the ground into the crawl space area. The seams should overlap by 1-2 feet and should be taped. The plastic should go up the sides of the wall of the crawl space 6-12 inches. Finally, add 2 inches of sand over the plastic to minimize the risk of breakage.

Lastly, ad gutters around the eves of the house or addition to control the flow of rain water run off. Downspouts should be positioned to direct the water away from the foundation walls.

During hot summer months seal off the vents in the crawl space to minimize the influx of hot moist air that would otherwise condense in the cool crawl space area. Likewise, in the winter months seal off and insulate the vents of the crawl space to reduce the threat of cold air that could freeze pipes in the crawl space.

During cooler/moderate temperature seasons (spring and fall), open the vents of the crawl space to enable moisture within the crawl space to be dissipated.

Note: The recommend ratio of ventilation area to crawl space is 1:500.

In order to minimize the affects of the colder drier air in the crawl space you will want to insulate the “roof” of the crawl space. Basically you will want to install rolled insulation between the floor joists. The rolled insulation will not require a moisture barrier surface, as the plywood floors above act as a moisture barrier. However, after you have installed the rolled insulation you may want to cover and staple it with a layer of polyethylene vinyl to create a vapor barrier between the bottom side of the insulation and the crawl space airspace. Make sure when installing the rolled insulation you use insulation hangers to secure the insulation in between the floor joists. Do not rely on the friction between the floor joist and the rolled insulation to hold the insulation in place. Readmore »»

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Can You Asphalt Pave a Driveway in Winter

By Mark J. Donovan

Frequently I get asked the question by homeowners on whether or not a driveway can be asphalt paved in winter.

The answer depends on whether or not the ground is frozen. Simply put, if the ground is frozen do not allow the asphalt paving contractor to apply the asphalt. If it is applied when the ground is frozen it will not roll to grade well. The asphalt arrives on the job site extremely hot allowing it to be easily spread and rolled to grade. However, if the hot asphalt is poured onto a frozen surface such as the ground, the asphalt will immediately begin to stiffen or freeze up.

Even if the asphalt driveway is able to be rolled to grade while the ground is frozen it will result in a poor quality driveway that will quickly begin to break down. The reason for this is the aggregate material embedded in the asphalt will not be firmly packed with the asphalt, thus resulting in stones quickly becoming loose.

If, the temperature is below freezing, but the ground has not yet frozen it is acceptable to have the Asphalt paving contractor install the asphalt driveway. Unlike a frozen ground, below freezing air temperatures will not dramatically affect the rate of hardening of the asphalt material. Thus the asphalt paving contractor will be able to roll the asphalt to grade and achieve the right level of compression.

To conclude, if you live in the northern half of the United States, and it is already December it is probably wise to hold off any asphalt paving projects until spring time. Readmore »»

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Home or Garden Arbor can Spice up Your Backyard

By Mark J. Donovan

If you are looking to spice up the outdoor appearance of your home or backyard, building a home or garden arbor just maybe your answer.

Home and garden arbor structures offer versatility to your home’s property in several ways. An arbor can immediately transform a drab home doorway entrance, or a plain backyard garden, into a beautiful entranceway or garden.

Arbors have been in use throughout time to enhance gardens by providing a place to grow climbing flowers and vines. You can also squeeze more flowers in your garden as an arbor allows you the ability to grow plants upwards, where they actually fair better because of more sunlight exposure.

In addition, arbors can establish privacy barriers and increase your home’s outdoor living space during the warm spring and summer seasons. Arbors can influence mood swings, and provide a romantic hideaway to while away a summer afternoon while relaxing on a swing or hammock. Arbors can also enhance a home’s landscape, particularly if your backyard appears drab and lacks any unique visual aesthetics.

Arbors are relative easy to build and an ideal project for the do-it-yourself homeowner. Material for building an arbor is readily available at most home improvement centers. The cost of building an arbor is relatively inexpensive and construction can be completed in a single day or weekend using common tools.

When your arbor is complete, you will enjoy something more special than just a sense of accomplishing another home project. You will have added real value to your home and you will undoubtedly receive the envious admiration of your family and neighbors.

For more information on building a home or garden arbor, See's "How to Build an Arbor Ebook". It provides in-depth, easy to understand, step-by-step instructions and pictures, on how to build an arbor. Readmore »»

Friday, November 10, 2006

Should You Feed Your Home Remodeling Contractor

By Mark J. Donovan

Frequently I get asked the question by homeowners on whether or not they should feed a home remodeling contractor when they are performing work on their home.

My response is always the same. As with any employer/employee relationship it is always good for the employer to show some occasional extra level of appreciation to his/her employees. And this frequently does come in the form of a free lunch or dinner. However, this said, it is unwise to become the regular “Chuck Wagon” to your home remodeling contractor. Besides getting expensive just in terms of groceries it also can lead to other negatives. Your over hospitality could actually backfire on you. The contractor may grow to expect the regular food service and in the event you stop or suspend service, they may question your motives. This questioning could lead to bad feelings and a reduction in their performance as they may think you are unsatisfied with their level or quality of work.

To conclude, it is best to maintain a healthy employer/employee relationship with your home remodeling contractor, however it is unwise to inadvertently try to become their friend by feeding them on a regular basis. Show occasional appreciation if it is deserved but do not attempt to become a contractors meal ticket. Readmore »»

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Outdoor Fireplace Plans

Constructing Backyard Beauty

Building an outdoor fireplace is a huge commitment. Most of these fireplaces are permanent structures and will remain a part of your home for many years. This means that they have to remain attractive to you and any future owners of your property. This is why outdoor fireplace plans are vital before undertaking this type of construction plan.

Obviously the first thing to consider when building an outdoor fireplace is where to place it. Many people choose to put a fireplace near the pool or on a deck that is used for entertaining.

Be sure to choose a spot that compliments the house and other structures on the property. Also choose a spot that is ideal even if you change the landscaping or setup of your yard. Remember, the fireplace is permanent. You have to be happy with your placement decision. If you have any doubts, hold off on construction until you are completely sure.

The next thing to consider is what type of fuel you are going to burn in your fireplace. Wood fireplaces will require the installation of a chimney whereas gas fireplaces will require other venting structures. Keep in mind that the addition of a chimney or the exclusion of one may affect the overall look of your fireplace.

Next you will need to choose your materials. Most outdoor fireplaces are constructed with beautiful stone and brick. The interior of the fireplace is constructed of aluminum alloy and/or cast iron. There are a wide variety of stones that can be used in constructing your fireplace so this could be the most enjoyable part of your construction project.

Now all you have to do is look through construction plans and/or pictures of other fireplaces to choose the look of your fireplace. There are many styles to choose from so this could be a bit overwhelming. You can even customize your fireplace to make it perfectly accent your home and property. Once you have done this, it is time to begin construction and start enjoying your outdoor fireplace.

About the Author: Article provided courtesy of the Outdoor Heating Guide - your premier resource for outdoor fireplaces and fire pits. Readmore »»

Outdoor Furnaces can Dramatically Lower Your Heating Bills

Outdoor Wood Burning Furnaces for Home Heating

If the high cost of heating your home last winter didn’t already prompt you to look for alternative ways to keep your home cozy, the threat of future hikes in fuel prices may have you looking at possible solutions to lowering your heating bill. Yes, at the moment things are looking a little better but we all know now how quickly escalating fuel and energy costs can wreak havoc on our budgets. This possibility has many looking at outdoor furnaces as a solution to shield them from fluctuating fuel prices.

Outdoor wood-burning furnaces are a great idea for many reasons. They keep your home comfortable with the kind of warm, cozy heat that only wood can provide. And by burning wood instead of fuels, you are being friendlier to the environment. Wood is also a renewable resource, whereas fuel is not.

As the demand for fuel grows and the supply dwindles, fuel price hikes like we have experienced over the past year will become commonplace. By heating your home with wood, you can avoid these peaks in heating costs and may be able to do away with your heating bill altogether if you burn wood from your own property.

Outside wood burners are also safer and cleaner than burning wood indoors. There is no smoke, ashes, odors or soot buildup and the chance of catching your home on fire with this type of heat is virtually nonexistent.

The only drawback of the outdoor furnace is that you have to go outside to load the furnace with wood and to perform routine cleaning and maintenance. But the ability of the furnace to burn whole logs instead of split lumber means that you will not have to see to your heating system very often. There will be no running outside in the middle of the night to add more fuel to the fire. And if you are like many, the money that you save will more than make up for this inconvenience.

About the Author: The Outdoor Heating Guide is your premier resource for outdoor fireplaces, fire pits and patio heaters. Readmore »»

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Engineered Wood I-Beams vs Sawn Lumber for Floor Joists

By Mark J. Donovan

Engineered Wood I-Beams Continue to Grow in Popularity

Engineered wood I-beams were first introduced in the late 1960s and were used mainly for high-end home construction. However, today up to half the homes built in the United States now use engineered wood I-beams. Engineered wood I-beams are considered an excellent alternative to sawn lumber for floor joists due to their strength and overall lower installation costs.

Wood I-beams look similar to the traditional steel I-beam. They consist of a center section constructed out of a thin layer of Oriented Strand Board (OSB) material that is sandwiched on top and bottom by two wide flange sections made out of finger jointed sawn lumber. Typically there are cut-out or knock-out sections in the OSB material that can be removed for running electrical wires and heat ducts.

Engineered Wood I-beams have several major advantages. First, they are much stronger, straighter and stiffer than conventional sawn lumber. Data indicates that they are 50% stiffer than sawn lumber. Consequently they provide less deflection, which translates into better floor construction.

As a result of their strength, wood I-beams can be used to cover larger spans and can be separated on wider on-center spacings. Thus, significant building costs can be achieved as less wood material and labor installation effort is required.

Note: wood I-beams are more expensive than sawn lumber equivalent lengths; however, these initial material costs are more than offset due to fewer wood I-beam joists required on the project. With the benefits of increased on-center spacing and coverage of longer spans, typically fewer floor joists are needed and the traditional center beam required in most sawn lumber floor joist construction is eliminated.

Engineered wood I-beams are also much lighter than conventional sawn lumber (e.g. 2 x 10s or 2 x 12s) as they are constructed using a combination of finger jointed sawn lumber and OSB material. Wood I-beams can weigh up to 60% less than their sawn lumber counterparts.

Because of their unique construction wood I-beams do not warp, shrink, cup or twist and thus they are able to create stiffer floors that have fewer tendencies to settle or squeak.

Engineered wood I-beams typically come in longer lengths than traditional sawn lumber. Wood I-beams lengths can range from 24’ to 60’ in length and can be modified on the job site with certain manufacturer restrictions.

Wood I-beams are also considered an environmentally sensitive alternative to traditional sawn lumber as they require 35-60% less wood material and can be constructed using smaller faster growing trees.

Wood I-beams do have a few limitations/concerns. Typically they are used for interior construction only as water can damage them. Also, not all contractors and sub-contractors are trained in using wood I-beams. As a result, careful attention has to be made so that electrical and plumbing contractors do not notch the flanges when installing pipes, wire or ducts.

There has also been concern for fire safety with wood I-beams. Studies have shown that wood I-beams are more susceptible to fire damage due to their lack of mass (when compared to sawn lumber) and their heavy reliance on glue in their construction.

Regardless of the few limitations/concerns, the use of engineered wood I-beams continues to grow in popularity. They provide stronger floors, reduce overall building costs and are environmentally friendlier than their traditional sawn lumber counterparts. So when considering your next home building project you may want to ask your contractor about using wood I-beams floor joists as an alternative to standard 2x10s and 2x12s. Readmore »»