Painting — a quick and inexpensive way to update your home

In today’s economy, more and more homeowners are looking for ways to spruce up their home without spending a lot of money, and there is no better way to change the look and feel of a room than painting.

But even if you are a first time painter, there’s no need to worry. Just follow these simple tips from the experts and you’ll end up with a room looking like it was painted by professionals.

“Preparation is 90 percent of the battle,” says Lou Manfredini, Ace’s ‘Helpful Hardware Man.’ “Before you pick-up the paintbrush, take a moment to look at the space you are working with and determine the tools you will need for the project. This will help insure you have the right supplies for the job and save you unnecessary trips to the hardware store.”

Paint
Think picking the perfect color is all that matters when choosing paint? Think again. There are two main types of paint to choose from, oil-based and latex-based paints.

* Oil-based paints go on thicker, so it’s less likely that you will have to apply more than one coat. They are ideal for chalky surfaces or walls that already have several coats of paint on them.
* Latex paints give off less of an odor, dry faster and retain color better than the oil variety. The majority of paints sold in the U.S. are latex-based as they have a higher gloss, are easier to touchup and are the perfect choice for wood, drywall, stucco or concrete.

Once you’ve selected the type of paint, you’ll need to choose the level of gloss, which refers to how shiny the paint is.

* High-gloss paints are ideal for high-traffic areas such as the kitchen, bathroom, railings, trim and windowsills because they provide a tough washable finish that is stain resistant. One drawback though is that they show surface imperfections, so make sure you take care when painting with high-gloss.
* Semi-gloss is less stain-resistant, but is easier to work with, so use this type of paint on walls that see less traffic (and fewer dirty hands).
* Eggshell paints are a little less glossy than semi-gloss, and are a good option for those who dislike having shiny walls.
* Matte or flat finish is a perfect choice for ceilings and walls that see little to no traffic.

Finally, you’ll need to know how much paint to get, which you can determine with a simple formula:

* Measure the total footage around the perimeter and multiply by the wall height in feet.
* From this subtract 20 square feet for each door and 14 square feet for each window.
* Divide by 300.

The result is the number of gallons that you’ll need to complete the job. There are also online calculators that can help you figure it out, like the one on AceHardware.com.

Tools
When purchasing paintbrushes and roller covers, try to buy the highest quality that you can afford as it really does make a difference. If you aren’t sure what to buy, choose rollers for large spaces, traditional paintbrushes for smaller spaces and thin angled paintbrushes for corners and trim.

Paintbrushes and roller covers come in natural and synthetic materials. “Use a synthetic brush when you use latex paint since latex can make natural bristles frizzy,” says Manfredini. “Natural brushes are best when used with oil-based finishes.”

Get started
With the right paint and tools on hand, its time to get to work. Push the furniture into the middle of the room and cover with a plastic tarp or old sheet. Next, put painter’s tape along the borders of the space, such as the doors, windows and trim.

Paint in wide brush strokes and alternate the direction you paint to avoid stripes on the wall. In no time, you’ll have a beautiful room to enjoy.

For more painting tips and advice, visit the painting tips section at acehardware.com, or stop by your neighborhood Ace Hardware store.

Make your green renovation the envy of the neighborhood

What is it about “going green” that is so appealing? Even if it’s not your favorite color, going green can benefit the environment, your health and reduce energy consumption, as well as overall energy costs.

You may already recycle, use public transportation, buy local products or simply turn off the lights when you leave the room. While these simple practices can greatly reduce your overall impact on the environment, now is the perfect time to think about a total green renovation for your home.

If the cost of a project is holding you back, you still have time to take advantage of the 2009-2010 Federal Energy Tax Credit for making energy-related home improvements.

 The tax credit allows homeowners to claim tax credits equal to 30 percent of product and installation costs – up to $1,500 – for qualified energy-related home improvements. It applies as a direct reduction of taxes owed. You’ll have to make a decision soon, because the 2009-2010 Energy Tax Credit expires at the end of this year.

The most helpful step you can take when transforming your home into a completely green living environment is planning. These tips can help green light a well-planned renovation:

* List your needs and goals before you do anything. Find a contractor who is skilled in traditional building trades and understands how to design projects to be energy-, water- and resource-efficient.

* Work with your builder on a master plan for your project. Think about downsizing your current space.

* Consider heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) needs by upgrading mechanical systems. A hybrid comfort system, like those from American Standard Heating & Air Conditioning, is ideal for a green renovation. A hybrid system alternates between two different energy sources depending upon temperature, settings and efficiency, making it one of the most efficient and flexible heating and cooling systems available.

* Design systems that minimize water use and maximize water distribution efficiency. Plan for future wiring and cabling needs when considering the lighting, electronics and appliances.

* Reuse old materials or take them to a company that accepts well-preserved demolition waste and intact building materials. Buy reclaimed material, such as reclaimed pine timbers, for flooring.

* Purchase materials that are durable, easy to maintain and will age gracefully. Research products that contain recycled content and are sourced locally.

Once you’ve completed your renovation it’s important to maintain your green renovation efforts so they last for years. The longer you stay a part of the green scene, the smaller your carbon footprint.

Hybrids aren’t just for cars anymore

A hybrid comfort system combines an electric heat pump with an oil or natural gas furnace for warmth and comfort for the cold nights, and effective, efficient cooling in the summer months. A heat pump doesn’t use up fuel making heat, it just moves it. With a hybrid system you have ultimate flexibility for greater efficiency in all seasons. To learn more, go to www.americanstandardair.com or contact your local independent American Standard Heating & Air Conditioning dealer who can help decide which components are right for your home’s energy sources.

Simple home changes that save big money

Many homeowners are cutting back this year in an effort to save cash. But a few simple improvements to make your home more energy efficient can provide enormous return on your investment.

“If you could invest a few dollars and save $100, you’d do that, right? That’s what you’re doing when you invest in making your home more energy efficient,” says Michael Chenard, director of environmental affairs at Lowe’s. “An inexpensive air filter replaced at recommended intervals can save you $100 or more on your heating and cooling bills. Making your home more energy efficient saves you real money.”

Chenard recommends checking out Lowes.com/BuildYourSavings, to answer a few questions about your home and receive a list of recommended home improvements along with your estimated cost savings. He also suggests several ways to save money in your home.

Utility Savings:
Toilets – Replace an old, inefficient toilet with a WaterSense-labeled model and you can save up to $90 per year off your water bill, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Light bulbs – When you replace your five most-used incandescent light bulbs with ENERGY STAR-qualified compact fluorescent blubs, you can save up to $70 a year. According to the EPA, the average cost of a CFL bulb is between $4 and $9, but they pay for themselves quickly in savings on your utility bill.

Programmable thermostats – As little as $30 and an hour or two is all it takes to save up to $500 a year, according to a 2008 article in Money magazine. ENERGY STAR-qualified thermostats with pre-programmed settings are intended to deliver savings without sacrificing comfort. For instance, your thermostat can automatically adjust the home’s temperature during sleeping hours or when no one is home achieving significant savings. The EPA recommends raising your thermostat four degrees in the summer and lowering it seven in the winter. Savings may vary depending on where in the country you live.

Do-it-yourself Savings:
Lawn maintenance – If you use a professional lawn service to mow, trim and maintain your lawn and landscaping, simply doing it yourself can save up to $900 a year, based on the national average paid for professional services.

Pest control – If you’ve got termites, ants or rodents, you might be tempted to throw up your hands and call a pest control service. But you can do your own pest control easily and affordably and save up to $300 a year, based on a national average of professional pest services four times per year.

Tax Credits:
Windows – Replacing 300 square feet of old, single-pane windows with more energy-efficient ENERGY STAR-qualified windows can save more than $460 every year in energy costs, according to the EPA. You’ll notice a difference in the summer when you don’t need to run your air conditioner as often and in the winter when your heater can rest more often.

Sealing and insulation – If you have less than 15 inches of insulation in your attic you can save money by adding more and also use expanding foam insulation to seal cracks and gaps where air seeps in and gets out and you can save up to $500 in annual energy costs, according to a 2008 Money magazine article.

“In addition to the savings you’ll see in your monthly bills through energy-efficient improvements, you may be able to take advantage of the tax credits in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” says Chenard. “Certain energy-efficient improvements to residential properties, like replacement windows, are eligible for up to 30 percent of the cost of improvements (up to $1,500) in tax credits under the Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit.”

For more information and additional energy saving ideas, visit Lowe’s stores in United States and Canada and Lowes.com/BuildYourSavings.

Give your kitchen a ‘make under’

Think your kitchen needs a makeover? Why not try a “make under”?

“Less is more” is the new mantra for homeowners who want to take control of their home decor – eliminating clutter, streamlining products and taking a simplified, minimalistic approach to their home-improvement projects. The perfect room to begin this organized overhaul is the kitchen, as it’s a spot that tends to clutter quickly. Learn how you can make under this space and uncover its true beauty.

 “This concept of a ‘make under’ is growing quickly across the country,” says Rebecca Kolls, senior director and consumer strategist of home and garden at Iconoculture, a global consumer research and advisory company. “While consumers are finding their way back home and finding comfort in its dry-walled embrace; they’re also becoming stressed out by too much stuff. A ‘make under’ can not only make your space more simplified and efficient; but it also can alleviate a lot of the stress that accompanies a typical home improvement project.”

Take control of your counters
An area of the kitchen that can quickly become cluttered – and in desperate need of a ‘make under’ – is the countertop. From the coffee pot and bean grinder in one corner … to a mixer, blender and toaster in the next corner … not to mention the bread basket, paper towel holder, phone charger and more – there are often more gadgets than there is room on your countertops.

To take control of your counters, Kolls recommends seeking out multi-purpose innovations that save time, money and space. The perfect example is the new Kitchen Center product, which features a streamlined power base that supports and runs multiple kitchen appliances – from a coffee grinder and blender to a power mixer and food processor. Each attachment runs from the same base, enabling you to utilize a number of handy appliances without cluttering your counters.

Streamline the sink
Another spot that often becomes muddled with mess is the kitchen sink. While you may start with a simple sink and faucet, by the time you add a side spray, soap dispenser, hand sanitizer, lotion, water filter, dish soap and sponge, you can see this area can quickly become strewn with a wide variety of items.

To streamline the sink, Kolls again recommends simplifying this spot with as many multi-functional products and appliances as possible. One such example is a single-handle, pulldown kitchen faucet – like the new Arbor faucet from Moen. This efficient – yet stylish – faucet offers a single-hole mount (and includes a coverplate for sinks with up to four holes), for a clean, refined look without the clutter of additional handles. Plus, the faucet’s pulldown wand eliminates the need for a sidespray and offers added efficiency and maneuverability – allowing users to switch between several water flow patterns with the touch of a button and the ability to fill pots or vases on the countertop next to the sink.

If you want to start on the smaller scale, begin by tidying up your cleaning items with a sink caddy. For less than $20, a rust-proof stainless steel caddy eliminates counter clutter because it affixes to the sink with suction cups and a wire ledge hanger. A sink caddy works perfectly in a deep bowl sink, such as the Lancelot stainless steel sink from Moen.

How to create a custom kitchen without the custom price

Forget about the living room. The kitchen is the social hub of a home.

Today’s homeowners update their kitchens to reflect their personal tastes and add visual appeal their guests can enjoy when they entertain. But how do you get a custom look in your kitchen without the hefty price tag?

“By adding just a few decorative accents, homeowners can not only create a custom-looking kitchen, they can create a space that reflects a specific look — from Art Nouveau to French Neoclassical,” says Paul Radoy, manager of design services for Merillat, a cabinet company specializing in kitchen design.

If you think updating your kitchen is out of your budget, here are some cost-effective renovation tips that can help you live the good life and entertain in a stylish kitchen that is a perfect reflection of your personal taste.

1. Cabinetry accents

While there will always be a place for custom cabinetry, there are more sensible and affordable options. Cabinetry accents work to enhance any kitchen’s style with details such as feet, corbels, ornamental onlays and molding inserts. These decorative details can change the look of ordinary cabinetry into heirloom furniture, while allowing the homeowner to express their own personal style.

In addition to cabinetry accents, many common cabinetry options can be creatively incorporated. Decorative hardware is one small detail that can make a big statement. Pulls and knobs can complement the cabinetry style, or they can be used to create a refreshing contrast.

2. Add color and contrast

Adding splashes of color is a great way to create a fun, vibrant look while keeping the kitchen functional. Try adding tile details such as a colorful backsplash behind the stove. Or, purchase fresh towels and accessories for your kitchen in a coordinated, colorful design.

Using color as an accent on crown molding also adds a personal touch, while molding build-ups and dentil molding create intriguing visual effects. Cabinetry molding in a contrasting finish creates an entirely different look, and including under-cabinet molding can add even more personality to your kitchen.

3. Make it your own

Displaying decorative items is an easy way to add your own personal touch. Options like pigeon holes, plate racks and glass front cabinet doors can be used to display these special items. Things like porcelain collectables, wine bottles or fine china are all types of decorative items that help create a personal space that sparks conversation with guests.

“People are spending more and more time in their kitchen, and whether they are using it for everyday activities or for entertaining, they want it to be beautiful,” says Radoy. “The kitchen is a space that should make the homeowner proud, a place they love to be in, and by incorporating just a few design details any homeowner can accomplish this.”

If creating your dream kitchen seems out of reach, there’s still hope, as you could win a $30,000 kitchen makeover. You can get your chance by visiting www.merillat.com and viewing the “Good Life” music video. Then, make your own video before June 4 about what the “good life” means to you — include your friends, family, pets and more. If chosen, your video will appear on Merillat’s Facebook page where fans can vote on their favorite. You could win the ultimate kitchen makeover or one of several great prizes.

Luxury bathroom upgrades that are worth the investment

Few room renovations return as much on your investment – in terms of resale value and enhanced enjoyment – as refurbishing a bathroom. Maybe that’s why many Americans, who have tightened their belts when it comes to other areas of home improvement, still seem to be willing to spend more for luxury bathroom upgrades.

 Bathroom remodels traditionally return more on investment at resale time – often 70 or 80 percent, or even more. The trend toward spa-like baths continues to appeal to both potential buyers and renovating homeowners. While homeowners may still be willing to spend on luxurious bathroom products, they’re also looking for upgrades that give them the most return for their investment.

Here are a handful of upgrades that can help elevate a common bathroom to a luxurious home resort:

Massaging bathtubs
The bathtub has become a symbol of modern luxury in the bathroom. Whether you prefer a placid soaking tub experience or an energetic massage from whirlpool-style bubbles, adding an upscale bathtub can greatly enhance the luxury quotient in any bathroom.

For strength and beauty – as well as durability – cast iron has long been a material of choice when designing a luxury bathroom. Now, you can even find cast-iron tubs that provide those lovely, fizzy bubbles that shout “luxury.” Kohler recently integrated its BubbleMassage technology into three of its most popular cast iron bath tub lines. The technology uses 40 air jets positioned around the bath to deliver a fully customizable air massage; users can opt for heat or no heat, and vary the intensity of the massage by adjusting the speed control. You can learn more at www.kohler.com.

Flat screen TVs
LCD TVs are showing up in upscale bathroom designs. The trend that started in top-end hotels in cities like New York and Las Vegas, has found a willing, loving audience in homeowners seeking ultimate luxury in the bathroom. With manufacturers offering LCD TVs in a wide range of colors, sizes and configurations, it’s possible to find one to match virtually any decor. Plus, mounting manufacturers have created wall mounts that address one of the LCD’s most common issues – viewability from an angle. Adjustable wall mounts, many of them motorized, make it possible to adjust the TV for viewing from several points in a room – whether it’s the soaking tub or the shower.

Lovely lavatories
Even one of the most utilitarian items in the bathroom can enhance the overall luxury of the setting. One of the hottest trends in lavatories is to go beyond commonly used materials. Kohler’s Nature’s Chemistry and Artist Editions collections incorporate glass and bronze to create a more dazzling marriage of form and function. Materials and design touches are all intended to evoke a sense of grace, luxury and harmony with the natural world.

Showers that show off
People spend, on average, 10 minutes a day in the shower, according to one study conducted in the United Kingdom. In America, especially, showering isn’t just about getting clean. The shower is also a favorite spot to relax, decompress and perhaps even practice your karaoke style.

Multi-jet showers and multiple showerheads are becoming sought-after improvements in upscale baths. Steam showers are another popular trend. A self-enclosed unit uses a steam generator to turn the water from the tap into steam. Occupying about the same size as a traditional shower, steam showers allow you to control the temperature of the steam and often come with a range of upscale features, including massage jets and voice activation.

Fancy faucets
Faucets are no longer just a way to get some water for washing your hands or brushing your teeth. Today, they’re a style statement, as well. Whether you opt for traditional or modern, classic or contemporary, two-handled or hands-free, you can find a faucet design to fit virtually any decor. And manufacturers continue to expand the range of options available, introducing new designs and extra touches. Kohler’s new Stance faucets feature refined angles and edges with a softened cubic flare to create functional faucets that also look beautiful in contemporary baths.

While it may be your dream to incorporate every upscale touch possible into your bathroom design, if your budget allows for only one or two, you can still greatly enhance the room’s luxury by adding elements that offer the most enjoyment and value for your investment.