Friday, December 29, 2006

How to be your own General Contractor on a Home Construction Project

By Mark J. Donovan

Question: I live in New Jersey and would like to be my own general contractor, and do some of the renovations myself on my home improvement project. In particular, I want to do some of the construction myself on a new home addition and want to hire subcontractors for some of the tasks that I can not do, or am not allowed to do in the state of New Jersey. Can you explain to me how I go about being my own general contractor and building the addition myself?

Answer: A General Contractor basically coordinates the build; pulling permits, hiring the subcontractors for Foundation, Framing, Roofing, Electrical, Plumbing etc. He frequently also obtains the financing through a construction mortgage and disperses payments to the subs as they complete their phases of the project. At the end of the project the General Contractor sells you the home, or transfers ownership to you, and the construction mortgage is converted over to a conventional homeowner mortgage.

You can be your own general contractor, however, banks are hesitant in giving out construction mortgages to "part-time" general contractors, so unless you have the finances to fund the project yourself you may run into some problems getting the construction mortgage. A good documented plan (architectural drawings, costs fully fleshed out, a timetable/schedule for the building of the home or addition, and subcontractors identified) can be helpful however in getting over this hurdle.

In regards to actually doing the work, you should check with your local municipality building inspector. Plumbing and Electrical can sometimes be a problem as frequently building inspectors require licensed contractors to do this work. From my experience, doing your own framing, insulation, roofing, flooring, interior trim work can all be done by the homeowner.

When you submit your plans to the building inspector they should clearly spell out / show what you are planning to build. They should include drawings of cross-sectional views of the construction and what type of material will be used.

Assuming you get the permit approved you should be able to construct the home or home addition yourself, or via subcontractors that you hire. You will need to have inspections upon the completion of major tasks:

• Foundation Installed
• Framing completed (including outside doors/windows/roofing)
• Rough Electrical
• Rough Plumbing
• Insulation
• Final inspection.

You will also need approved septic design plans and inspections for a septic system if your home will not be on municipal sewage. Note: a septic design can take 2-3 months to complete, so plan early.

To learn more about how to be your own general contractor or how to hire the right contractors for your new home construction project see Home Addition Bid Sheets from Readmore »»

Building a Family Room Addition on to a Small House

By Mark J. Donovan

Question: I want to add a family room addition to my tiny house. My square footage as of now is 544 sq feet on the first floor and 544 sq on the second floor. There is no full attic, nor a full basement. As you can see it is a small home. I want a one level 16x25 family room addition with a crawl space. My question is, do you think that is a good size or is it too big?

Answer: Indeed your house is small; however adding a family room addition to it is possible. I think the 16x25 family room addition, simply added to the side of the home may be a bit excessive such that it throws the home out of balance. The addition may swamp the size of the main home from a proportions standpoint when viewing it from the curb.

One architectural possibility is to consider some form of a “wrap-around” family room addition, where you have a portion of the family room extended off the side of the house and the remainder of it, extended off of the back of the home.

I would suggest your contact a local architect, as he/she may be able to provide a number of family room addition ideas that creates a finished home with curb appeal. Curb appeal is important from a resale perspective. Future home buyers care for both space and how the home looks, both from the inside and the outside.

For more help on building a family room addition, see's Room Addition Bid sheet. The Room Addition Bid Sheet will teach you how to hire the right general contractor and subcontractors for your family room addition, and help ensure that your project is completed on time and budget. Readmore »»

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Home Freeze Alarm Installation

By Mark J. Donovan

I installed a home freeze alarm system in my home yesterday, and I must say I am pretty impressed with it.

I installed an FA-D2 Freeze Alarm that I purchased online from The FA-D2 Freeze Alarm provides a number of unique features that I could not find in other systems I researched.

The key features that I was looking for and that were supported by the FA-D2 Freeze Alarm included:

  • The ability for the box to call up to 3 phone numbers when the temperature went outside a specified temperate range (e.g. 45o - 85o F).
  • The ability for the box to accept Water Sensor and Motion Sensor inputs and to call up to 3 phone numbers when either/any of these alarm sensors activates.
  • The ability for the box to switch between two thermostats (e.g. one set for 68o F and the other one set for 55o F when we are away from the home). Very useful for a vacation home or cottage.
  • The ability to call the box at any time to obtain temperature and power conditions at the home.

The cost of the FA-D2 freeze alarm varies between $280 and $300, depending upon who you purchased it from.

The device was very simple to install. I located it near a telephone jack and power outlet, and within 10 minutes I was able to program it to dial 3 different phone numbers in the event of an out-of-temperature condition.

I also added a second thermostat in my home to take advantage of the remote temperature control feature. My home is heated with a single zone hot air system. By adding the second thermostat, I can remotely control which thermostat is used by the heating system to control the temperature of the house.

After installing the second thermostat, I had to make a few minor wiring changes to the controller box on the heating burner associated with the furnace. Basically each of the thermostats normal “hot” lines needed to feed into the FA-D2 freeze alarm system. I then connected a third wire between the FA-D2’s Common terminal and the “hot side” of the heating burner’s control electronics. I finally connected the white return wires associated with each thermostat to the “return” screw nut on the heating burner’s control electronic box.

Again, with a phone call to the FA-D2 Freeze Alarm box, I was able to select which thermostat the furnace operated off of. One of the thermostats I set at 68o F and the other I set to 55o F for when we are away from the home.

The entire project only took a couple of hours to complete, and after repeated tests, I am 100% sold on the FA-D2 Freeze Alarm. It works as advertised and is well worth the $300 investment.

Readmore »»

Monday, December 18, 2006

Should one brand of Kitchen Applicances be used in a Kitchen Remodeling Project

By Mark J. Donovan

Question: How important is it to match kitchen appliance brand names in a professional style kitchen?

Answer: Kitchen appliance selection depends on your particular budget and tastes. Thermador and Viking offer very high end kitchen appliances and if you choose to go with these types of appliances plan to spend $10K or more on just kitchen appliances when remodeling your kitchen.

In regards to sticking with one brand throughout the kitchen, I would worry less about that and more on sticking with the same color and quality level. For example you would probably want all appliances to be stainless steel versus a mix of finished surfaces.

On the other hand, if there is a discount offered by purchasing all of the same appliances from the same manufacturer, then it may make sense.

I do believe a kitchen is the most important room in the home. Consequently, I think its worth spending a little more in this room than others, as I think you will have a a better chance of getting your return on investment. On the other hand if you have an average home, and are going to put high end, state of the art, appliances in (e.g. Viking) you may not get your money back on the investment if your planning to sell in 1-3 years. Readmore »»

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Hands Free, Water-Saving Electronic Touchless Faucets

By Mark J. Donovan

With water becoming increasingly more of a precious commodity hands free, water-saving electronic touchless faucets will become the way of the future in new home construction.

As prices decline on this technology, don't be surprised in the not too distant future to see municipalities mandating hands-free water-saving electronic touchless faucets in new home construction.

As environmental concerns rise, the use of these types of faucets make a lot of sense, not to mention the other health and energy benefits associated with them.

However, the consumer / homeowner will surely push back on this technology if ultra-low water-saving / low flow is also part of the mandate. Today's water faucets can pump out 2.5 - 5 gallons per minute (GPM), where as frequent flyer experience at the airports suggest hands-free water-saving electronic touchless faucets maybe pump out 1 GPM. There will need to be some level of compromise in the water-saving flow rate if this technology is to ultimately take off and provide a benefit for our environment.

To learn more about hands free, water-saving electronic touchless faucets see Readmore »»

Solar Powered Attic Fans

By Mark J. Donovan

One of the best ways to cool off your home's attic quickly is to employ an attic fan. However, because of their size, noise and required re-wiring, homeowners frequently hesitate or never install them. As a result, they either suffer with un-necessary elevated temperatures in the home or spend more on air conditioning electric bills.

An alternative to the traditional attic fan is to use a solar powered attic fan. They require no re-wiring and have theromostats that can turn the attic fan on as soon as the temp hits a pre-set temperature level.

The Solar panel sits right on top of the attic fan cover, consequently requiring little square area.

To learn more about solar attic fans see: Readmore »»

Top 12 Tools for the DIY Home Improvement Handyman

By Mark J. Donovan

Below is my list of the Top 12 tools required for the DIY home improvement handyman:

1) Hammer - This is a must. Without a hammer, not even a simple pitcure can be hung.

2) Screw Driver Set - A set of Common and Philips screw drivers for tightening loose kitchen cabinet handles.

3) Wrench and Socket set - for installing curtain rods.

4) Tape measure - for knowing where the center of the wall is when hanging the picture frame.

5) Level - for making sure that shelf that you just hung on the wall looks straight from 4 feet away.

6) Hand Saw -for cutting small pieces of lumber (garden stakes).

7) Circular Saw - for cutting larger pieces of lumber.

8) Plunger - To prevent the need for calling a plumber.

9) Carpenters Knife - for trimming everything unimaginable.

10)Screw Gun / Power Drill (with drill bits) - for drilling holes in everything and screwing in the curtain rods.

11) Square - for making straight lines prior to cutting lumber.

12) Tool box - for storing the tools Readmore »»

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Radio Controlled Home Lighting

By Mark J. Donovan

As the cell phone has become ubiquitous in our lives, other wireless technology products are now beginning to pervade our homes. Wireless routers and radio controlled home lighting systems are primary examples of the wireless phenomenon.

Many techno-savvy homeowners have already installed wireless routers within their homes to connect to the Internet and network computers, printers, and gaming equipment together.

Radio controlled products such as electric garage door openers have also been around for years. However, much more sophisticated radio controlled home building products are right around the corner from becoming standard features within our homes.

Radio controlled home lighting systems are a good example of the inexorable march of wireless technology. There are a number of manufacturers selling some very exciting radio controlled home lighting systems that enable virtually all of your home lights to be controlled by 1 or 2 master controllers (be it wall mounted or remote controllers).

Some of the benefits associated with radio controlled home lighting, include the ability to turn on or off all, or a portion of, a home’s lights by a single control button either located on a wall or via a remote hand set. In addition, remote controlled home lighting systems frequently employ dimmer switches that replace older switches within the home, thus allowing the ability to set or control the brightness of lighting in each room within the home.

Radio controlled home lighting systems can also be turned on/off from your car, just like your standard garage door opener. Thus, you no longer need to walk into a dark house when you arrive home in the middle of the night.

Radio controlled home lighting systems can easily be installed in both new and old home construction as no rewiring is required. Typically light switches are replaced with Dimmers that have built-in transceivers in them that communicate with a master controller and one or more repeaters that are strategically positioned within the home. Also, some manufacturers offer light dimmers that can be plugged right into existing outlets. Some master controllers are powered via batteries, so no AC wiring is required.

Radio controlled home lighting systems can also be integrated into existing home security systems.

The cost of radio controlled home lighting systems can vary as it is dependent upon how many light dimmers are required, the size of the home (which impacts the number of repeaters that may be required) and the types of master controllers employed. See or for more information on features and pricing. Readmore »»

Monday, December 11, 2006

How to Fix a Sagging Kitchen Cabinet Spice Rack

By Mark J. Donovan

Recently we had new kitchen cabinets installed and within weeks my wife brought to my attention that the kitchen cabinet spice rack was sagging. It was actually sagging to the point that the bottom end, furthest from the hinges, was actually rubbing on the bottom of the kitchen cabinet frame.

Instead of calling the cabinet installer and attempting to get someone out to fix it, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

After removing all of the spices and other cooking products from the cabinet, I inspected the hinges to see what was going on.

It turned out there were three problems. First, the hinges were adjustable. Instead of circular holes for the screws to slide through and attach to the kitchen cabinet frame, they were elliptical holes. I noticed that the screws were positioned at the top of the ellipses. So I first attempted to loosen the screws and push the cabinet upwards and retighten the screws. In doing this I quickly learned that the screws would not tightly snug down. After removing them, I learned why. The screws were barely penetrating into the wood, even when screwed all the way flush with the hinge. At best they were penetrating the wood cabinet by 1/8th of an inch.

After purchasing some slightly longer screws, that would allow ¼” penetration into the wood, but not penetrate out the other side of the kitchen cabinet, I again readjusted the kitchen cabinet spice rack upwards. I adjusted it such that the screws lined up with the bottom portion of the elliptical hinge holes and then tighten them.

After installing the new screws, the kitchen cabinet spice rack was no longer resting on the bottom of the kitchen cabinet and swung freely. However, the cabinet spice rack still sagged somewhat on the side furthest away from the hinge.

Again, after inspecting the spice rack, I noticed the kitchen cabinet installers did not attach the other side of the hinges to the spice rack properly. The bottom hinge’s center column sat flush with the kitchen cabinet spice rack, whereas the top hinge’s center column sat almost ¼” away from the spice rack. This also was contributing to the sagging.

So, I pulled out my screw gun once again and removed the spice rack from the hinges. Using a center punch I then created 3 new screw-hole locations where the top hinge had been attached. The new screw-hole positions were set slightly further back from the original holes such that the hinge’s center column would rest flush with the spice rack when it was reattached.

Using a small drill bit, I then drilled small pilot holes, being careful not to penetrate completely through the other side of the spice rack.

I then reinstalled the spice rack to the hinges and again stood back to see if the sagging had been fully corrected.

Though the kitchen cabinet spice rack swung freely, there was still some sagging.

I next pulled out my tape measure and made two measurements. I measured the distance from opposite corners of the spice rack. Sure enough, the spice rack was “racked”. The measurements differed by ½”. I was also able to adjust this distance by pushing on opposite corners of the spice rack, however of course as soon as I let go the spice rack went back to its original sagging shape.

I realized the reason for this component of the sagging kitchen cabinet spice rack saga was due to the fact that the dowels and center board within the spice rack float in the sockets and cutout grooves. This is standard process, however. Most cabinetry makers do not use glue in these components so that the wood can flex and contract pending temperature and moisture levels.

At this point I chose to go no further in the sagging spice rack project, as the sag was minimal and no longer caused any damaging rubbing with the bottom part of the cabinet. I did, however, come up with a simple idea to solve this final component of the sagging spice rack.

If I was to simply cut a section of 1/8” thick lattice, approximately 12” in length, and cut the ends at 45 degrees, I could position it within the back base section of the spice rack such that I could square up the spice rack. The piece of lattice would lie at a 45 degree angle against the center board. The bottom portion of it would butt up against the bottom corner of the spice rack, near the lower hinge. The top portion would sit up under the first shelf of the spice rack. The lattice would affectively be wedged into this space at a 45 degree angle such that it would square up the spice rack.

Note: When making the measurements for the lattice piece you need to hold the rack to the squared up position, otherwise you will cut a section of lattice that leaves you with your sagging spice rack.

Tools/Material Required for Fixing a Sagging Kitchen Cabinet Spice Rack
  • Screw Driver or Screw Gun
  • ¾” screws
  • 16” of 1/8” thick lattice
  • Drill and Drill bit
  • Center Punch
  • Hammer
  • Tape Measure
Readmore »»

Sunday, December 10, 2006

How to Repair a Sticky Interior Door

By Mark J. Donovan

A sticky interior door is usually attributable to either a door hinge becoming loose, or the door swelling due to high moisture or humidity levels within the home. How to repair a sticky interior door dramatically differs pending on which is the culprit associated with your sticky interior door.

Tools Required for Repairing a Sticky Interior Door
  • Screw Driver or Screw Gun
  • ½” or 3/8” dowel (12 inches in length)
  • Circular Saw
  • Long Straight Edge
  • Hand Plane
  • Chisel
  • Sandpaper
  • 2 C-Clamps
  • 4 wood shims
  • Carpenters Glue
  • Paint/Stain

The first thing to inspect when experiencing a sticky interior door is the door hinges. Make sure all of the hinges are tightly fastened to the door jamb and the door itself. Due to some basic laws of physics and leverage, the upper most hinges along the door jamb are more likely to become loose over time, so inspect these first. As the hinge becomes loose and separates from the door jamb, the door leans out, if you will. Consequently the far end of the door winds up rubbing up against the far side of door jamb, which causes the stickiness.

Tighten Screws in Door Hinges

Use a screw driver or a screw gun to make sure all of the screws are tightly secured to the door jamb.

If in the process of tightening the screws you determine that one or more of the screws are stripped you can do one of two things. First try to use longer screws in place of the original shorter ones. If the longer screws do not securely fasten the hinge to the door jamb, you will then need to go to Plan B.

Plan B involves the use of ½” or 3/8” dowels. When using dowels, first open the door widely and remove the screws from the section of hinge. Swing the hinge away from the stripped out screw holes so that the stripped out screw holes are visible.

Next, using a ½” or 3/8” drill bit, drill out the stripped out screw holes, approximately 1” in depth. Then, with carpenters glue applied to approximately 1” of dowel, slide the dowel into the hole you just drilled. Let the dowel and glue set up for 24 hours.

With the dowel now firmly setup and sanded flush with the door jamb, position the hinge back over the door jamb and make a small pilot-hole mark.

Again, slide the door hinge out of the way and then drill a small pilot hole into the dowel, where you made the small pilot-hole mark.

After the pilot-hole has been drilled refasten the hinge using the original screws.

If the door hinges are all properly secured the space between the door jamb and the door, on the hinge side, should be approximately 1/8th of an inch the entire height of the door.

Trimming a Sticky Interior Door

If the interior door still sticks, then your door may have swelled due to the absorption of moisture. If this is the case, you will then need to remove the door and trim the opposite hinge side of the door.

Before removing the door, attempt to close the door and see where the door is touching the door jamb. Use a pencil and run a mark along the length of the door where the door is touching the door jamb.

Next, remove the door from its hinges by pulling out the hinge pins.

Lay the door on a set of horses or other flat work area.

Using a long straight edge, run a straight line along the length of the edge of the door such that it is consistent with the marks you made earlier on the door.

Also, while still holding the straight edge, score the line with a carpenter’s knife. This will help aid in preventing chips in the door when cutting with your circular saw.

If the section of door material to be removed is 1/8th inch or less, use a hand plane to remove the offending wood.

If greater than 1/8th of an inch then you will need to use your circular saw.

Using a couple of C clamps, and a few of shims for protecting the door from the clamps, fasten your long straight edge to the door so that it can be used as a fence for the circular saw. Position the long straight edge board so that your saw will slide along side of it and cut on the line that you previously made.

After cutting the door, lightly sand it.

Re-install the door onto its hinges, and check to see if the door swings freely closed.

Once you have determined the interior door is no longer sticking, remove the door again, and apply one coat of stain/paint to the trimmed edge.

With the door reinstalled, your sticky interior door is now a thing of the past.

Readmore »»

Friday, December 8, 2006

Radiant Heating with Radiant Cove Heaters

By: Mark J. Donovan

Radiant cove heaters are an ideal choice for heating a new addition to your home. Radiant Cove heaters, as their name implies, provide radiant heat to rooms by converting electricity into heat energy.

Radiant cove heaters are mounted on walls near the ceilings in a room. They typically are positioned approximately 4 inches from the ceiling and come in various lengths and sizes, pending the room’s area. Radiant cove heating units are controlled via a wall thermostat located in the room. Each room utilizing radiant cove heaters can be independently controlled with separate thermostats, similar to standard floor mounted electrical heating elements.

Radiant cove heaters produce mainly heat energy that is radiated downwards towards the living area. Radiant heating, unlike convectional heating, is absorbed into the objects that it is directed at including, furniture, people, floors and walls. These objects once warmed, emit heat energy, which helps to provide for a comfortable, stable and warm room temperature. Similar to how the sun’s rays can quickly warm you; radiant cove heaters provide rapid directional heat that quickly warms you and your local surroundings.

In addition, radiant cove heaters also provide some level of convection heating, which helps to heat the air within the room.

As a result of their radiant heating properties, cove heaters are extremely efficient as they direct heat where people need it - towards the center of the living space. Other alternative heating sources direct conventionally heated air towards the ceilings, via outside walls. This process creates drafts that circulate throughout the room. Pending where you stand relative to the heating element, there can be several degrees difference in temperature within the same room, not to mention breezes.

Besides being extremely efficient, radiant cove heaters can also be aesthetically appealing. They come in various lengths, colors, styles, and wattages, and are produced by a number of manufacturers, including Radiant Systems, Inc.

Radiant cove heaters are also extremely functional and safe. Because they are located up near the ceilings, they are out of the way of children, pets, curtains and furniture. Unlike standard baseboard heating elements, there are no concerns of denting or scratching them as they are above the fray of children and vacuum cleaners. In addition, furniture can be placed along walls that would not otherwise be possible with baseboard heating elements.

Also, because they operate on electricity, which is an extremely efficient energy source, there are no vents or chimneys required with radiant cove heaters, thus saving building costs an energy operating costs.

So when considering your next construction or home addition project, consider radiant cove heaters. They are an excellent alternative to traditional heating sources, and can save you money both in the short and long run. Readmore »»

Monday, December 4, 2006

Simple Woodworking Projects for Christmas Presents

By Mark J. Donovan

My son and I visited my father’s woodworking shop this past weekend to build a couple of simple woodworking projects for Christmas presents.

Every year the extended family gets together to exchange Christmas gifts via a Yankee Swap. A few years back the family decided that presents should all be hand made by the giver, versus store bought items. Consequently my son and I make our annual pilgrimage to my father’s woodworking shop around this time of year to build simple woodworking projects.

Typically we select projects that can be built and stained/painted in the same day (albeit a long day). In the past we have built Tie and Belt Racks, Birdhouses, and Newspaper and Magazine baskets. Normally we both build the same thing to expedite the process and to better share in the building process (on the fly acquired knowledge, tool jig settings, etc.)

This year, my son and I decided to build different woodworking projects. My son built a simple paper towel rack and I built a small step stool.

The paper towel rack consisted of two sideboards with rounded front edges and 1” holes through their centers. The two sideboards were attached via a backboard that spaced the sideboards for the standard width of a paper towel roll. A 7/8th inch dowel, that extended beyond the ends of the sideboards by two inches, and that was slightly milled out in the sections that lined up with the two sideboard holes, completed the project. The sideboards and backboard were constructed using Maple.

My small step stool, consisted of a top board that was 12” x 10”. Actually the top board was initially constructed of two sections of 5.5” x 0.75” Maple boards that were glued together, planed, sanded, and then routed along the top edge.

The top board then rested on two legs, again made out of Maple, that were 8” in length and 5.5” tall. Using a coffee can lid I traced out curves on the underside of each leg, as well as on the ends of them, to jazz up their appearance.

The legs were then sanded and attached to the top board via 1.25” screws that were countersunk into the top board.

I then added a 1.0” x 0.75” x 9.5” brace board that sat between the two legs and flush up against the underside of the top board. This added some extra rigidity to the stool. Again, I counter sunk a single 1.25” screw into each leg to secure the brace between the legs. Note: I also used woodworking glue on all pieces for added strength.

I then plugged all the holes with some glue and pre-fab’d wood plugs, let them dry for an hour, and then sanded them flush.

Finally, we both added a coat of Walnut stain and some wax to our projects and we ready for this year’s Yankee Swap.

So if you too are looking for some simple woodworking projects to do for this Christmas, consider the projects outlined above. Within 6-8 hours you too can have some fairly nice looking presents to hand to the family. Readmore »»