Thursday, March 7, 2013

New Kitchen Cabinets?

Refinish, re-face or replace

Ready to renovate that kitchen, but don't know where to start when selecting new cabinets. It is important to understand the different quality options that are available as well as determining if a make over of your existing cabinets is a viable option.

If you like the current layout of your kitchen and the existing cabinets are structurally sound, re-finishing is an option.
Minor refinish - would consist of first cleaning off oil and dirt and light sanding of the glossy finish. Then the bare areas can be stained and a new finish applied. Removal and replacement or hardware can give you a new look for a small investment.
Major refinish – would involve first removing all doors and drawer fronts. Sanding and filling all surfaces and imperfections. Priming. Applying a new solid color stain or paint and finishing. This option while more involved still keeps your existing layout, but gives you a totally new look.

If you are considering only minor changes to your cabinet configuration and you have a decent cabinet box (the part left after removing doors and drawers), a re-face can be your solution. With this option all doors and drawers are removed and thrown away. The old boxes are completely covered with a wood veneer of your choice. If you have oak cabinets you can switch to alder or cherry! Boxes are covered with a thin plywood veneer or a paper thin veneer of real wood. The boxes are then stained and finished. New doors and drawers are installed and finished to match. The only way you can tell the cabinets have been re-faced is to check the insides (usually a decision made when deciding weather to reface or replace.)
Additionally, changes to your layout and cabinet modifications can be made before re-facing thus matching your new cabinets to those refaced. One word of caution - there becomes a point where too many modifications can begin to approach the cost of new cabinetry. Make sure you are working with a contractor who will inform you of this point!

You have made the decision to replace your cabinets, but where do I start. Select a good contractor who will provide you with a design. Your design should consist of incorporating your needs and wants in a kitchen. When looking at options be aware of the quality choices you have with new cabinets.
Custom – cabinets are made to order and to exact specifications. There are no limitations to size and design – only your budget! When you are considering a unique layout and specific cabinet sizes the custom option can also be the most cost efficient.
Semi Custom – cabinets are just what they say, semi custom. A wide variety of sizes and colors are available, but units are made ahead of time in specific size increments with certain limitations. Different quality levels are usually offered such as an all plywood (considered the best quality) or MDF (very common) or particle board (considered the least quality) cabinet box. Options of hardware quality also effect your final pricing.
Off the Shelf – cabinets are pre-made to specific sizes. Don't necessarily assume they are of poor quality. There are a number of pre-made cabinet manufactures that offer an all wood cabinet. A little extra planning in your design can save you money and is worth a comparison.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Basement Finishing

An easy way to increase the finished square footage of your home is to finish or update your basement. One question I am always asked is does it pay to finish my basement? Will I get my money out of it? To get that answer from a real estate professional I asked Erich Young from Edina Realty in North Oaks, Minnesota. So Erich what is your answer?

A basement finish remodel can have a significant impact on your home valuation. The biggest return on your investment will come if you can add an egress window in order to get an additional legal bedroom. This is especially true if your home has three or less bedrooms currently. The second biggest return will be an additional bathroom. Remember, with just the bedroom and bathroom your house has moved up the valuation ladder two steps from lets say a two-bedroom one-bath to a three-bedrooms and two-baths. This is a significant factor in your home's valuation. The third factor is the total finished square footage. This number is always listed on the MLS sheet and again affects your home valuation. So, yes as Joe says do it and do it right to get the most for your money!

Before you start it is important to approach your basement project by taking care of the essentials first. The last thing you want is to stick a lot of money into your home and not have it dry, safe and comfortable.


Make sure that you have drain tile and a working sump pump with a battery backup. If not have a system installed, or make sure there has not been a water problem previously in the home. I recommend in either case sealing the concrete or block walls with 'Drylock' which will reduce condensation and moisture on the wall surface.

Check for Radon

Do a radon gas check. Radon occurs in certain soil formations and can build up in basements. A simple test kit can be obtained from: There are several remediation methods available including radon blocking paint and air ventilation. In either case both are easier and cheaper to do before you begin work on your basement.

Balance your Heating and Air Conditioning

In most cases there are not the proper number and proper sized supplies and return vents to make the basement air system effective. Additionally, you need to determine if your current system is sized properly for your additional living space. Have a professional balance your system so you have a comfortable newly finished basement when completed.


Especially if your home is older, a thorough evaluation from a licensed electrician can save a lot of time and money if done prior to beginning your remodel.


If it fits your budget I recommend foam insulation in the rim joists and top of outside walls. Foam is also the best for below grade concrete walls. Rigid insulation such as 'Thermax' is a less expensive alternative for these areas especially against concrete walls. Only use fiberglass bats in above grade wood framed walls. Visit to get the latest research on the best practices for basement insulation.

Frame and Finish

Make sure at the very least you follow code in using treated wood on all floor contact wall plates. Moreover, mold resistant framing and gypsum wall board are more expensive now, but can be a huge money and health saver in the future.

Follow this checklist when starting your basement remodel and you will be sure to have a dry, safe and comfortable living area.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What is the best surface for my tub or shower surround?

I am frequently asked for my opinion on the best surface for a tub or shower surround. There are a number of good choices that depend upon the look you are after as well as your budget. Here is my list and their approximate cost levels.

Natural Stone (granite, slate) or quartz (Silestone, Cambria) slabs. A hard solid smooth surface with tight epoxied and/or silicone joints is tough to beat. Slabs can be cut to a 2cm thickness to save money vs standard 3cm as for counter tops.
Most expensive

Solid Acrylic (Corian, HiMacs,) slabs. Again, a hard solid smooth surface with either 'hard joints' (those epoxied together) or lapping siliconed joints. Many new colors to choose from. For a shower the pan can be made of the same material.

Stone, porcelain or ceramic tiles. A traditional finish with an endless choice of colors, textures and finishes. Installation and wall prep is critical though. Make sure that walls are first covered with cement board, taped and mortared. If a steam shower is in use, an additional water proof layer is recommended before setting the tile with thin set mix.
Moderate to Expensive

Cultured Marble slabs (Onyx) is an option to not have grout lines and still get a smooth surface. Cultured marble slabs can be custom made for your tub/shower or purchased in kits. Though cultured marble is not a solid surface like quartz and acrylic it does hold up well in a tub/shower.

Fiberglass or other composite materials covered with an acrylic or polyester coat are clean, smooth, durable and cost effective. Many colors and styles are available. You will want to make sure and get a unit that is actually either 3-piece for the tub or 4-piece for the shower. One piece units may be too difficult to place in other than new construction. A good pre-formed unit is sturdy, self supporting and attached directly to the stud requiring no wall prep work.

Vinyl surround panels that must be glued to cement board and cut to fit. The most affordable alternative.
Least expensive

No matter which tub/shower surround you choose make sure and choose an experienced contractor that warranties their work. Most products work very well when installed according the manufacturer's specifications.

Joe Nelson

Thursday, January 24, 2013

What to do About Condensation on Your Windows?

One of the most frequently asked questions by home owners is what do do about condensation on their windows. It's messy, damages the wood sills and turns them black (mold). “In the winter I even have ice in the corners of the window glass.”

What's the Cause?

Condensation is caused by warm moist air coming into contact with a cold surface (window) in the winter and/or cool air-conditioned air coming in contact with a hot surface (window) in the summer. There can be only two reasons for condensation in your home:

  1. Too much humidity, and/or
  2. Poorly insulated surfaces (windows)

What's the Solution?

Decreasing the humidity level in the home is the first step to take. Purchase a hydrometer at the local hardware or box store. You want to keep the humidity level at less than or equal to 40% when the outside temperature is between 20° - 40°. (see below)

Outside temp Inside humidity
20 – 40 ° 40%
10 – 20 ° 35%
0 – 10 ° 30%
-10 – 0 ° 25%

Note: Decrease inside humidity level as outside temperature decreases.

How Do I Decrease the Humidity Level?

      1. If you have a humidity control on your furnace, just turn the humidistat down.
      2. Increase air circulation around affected areas.
      • Turn furnace fan from “auto” to “on”.
      • Open drapes and window coverings to expose windows to air movement.
      • Turn on ceiling fans if available.
      • Check your air filter to make sure it is clean.
      1. Increase the time your bathroom exhaust vent is running after showers. Put this switch on a timer so you don't forget.
      2. Open a window in a moist area like a bathroom.
      3. In summer use a dehumidifier to maintain a humidity level of about 50%.

What About Better Insulating the Surfaces (windows)?

It is very important to address humidity levels and air movement first. Even brand new high efficient windows will condense moisture if humidity levels are too high. If you think about it, the new windows will actually keep that moist air from escaping better than the old drafty windows.

Once humidity levels are addressed, then proceed to improve the insulation of your windows and adjacent wall and ceiling areas. Not only are windows damaged from excess humidity, but also walls can stain and metal throughout the house rust. By properly installing windows with a minimum U-factor of .30 and SHGC of .30 you can drastically improve the condensation problem. Also, have an insulation contractor or power company perform an energy audit to identify (with an infrared camera) the suspected areas that are letting warm moist air escape. This escaping of moist air can condensate and damage walls and attic space.

By following these tips you can beat the condensation problem.

Monday, January 21, 2013

What's the BEST Counter Top?

I am always asked which is the best counter top for my kitchen or bathroom. The facts are you have many excellent choices. The quartz suppliers have done an excellent job in selling their revolutionary product and planting the seed of doubt about their competitors. However, the granite, acrylic, cultured marble and laminate manufactures have responded with some innovations of their own to gain back some of the counter top market share. Here are my recommendations based upon a number of years of installing each product.

Natural Stone

Granite, Soapstone and Slate are the most popular natural stones in use today. Granite comes in a wide variety of colors and designs. Because it is natural-it is timeless. I often tell people that in 10 years they may have an outdated man-made product because it will be identified with the colors and patterns available today! On the other hand, with a natural stone you will not be able to tell whether it is 10 years or 10 days old!

Many granite slabs are pre-sealed by soaking in an impregnating sealer. Sensa granite even offers a 15-year Warranty against staining when you purchase one of their patented sealed granite slabs. You pay a little more per square foot, but it is worth it. You also want to purchase from a reputable fabricator who pre- inspects their slabs for natural flaws that could cause problems. Guess what, these slabs are usually sold to another fabricator at a discount! Expect to pay between $75 - $250 per s.f. depending upon color.

Soapstone is porous and will require an ongoing sealant. $100 - $150 per s.f.

Slate is naturally non-porous and can scratch, but will buff out easily. $100 - $200 per s.f.


A man-made product made of 90% quartz and 10% acrylic binders, is non-porous and very hard. NSF approved for use in food service. Available in more and more designs and colors to look more like natural stone. An Italian company owns the patent for the formulation process which all the suppliers use. Cambria, Silestone, Hanstone, Zodiak, CesarStone are all quartz manufactures. Strong, hard and stain resistant. Expect to pay between $150 to $200 per sq. ft.

Acrylic Solid Surface

The first acrylic solid surface Corian was developed by Dupont. It comes in a variety of colors and can be thermofoiled or shaped by heating to 300 degrees to any shape desired. Integral sinks are a selling point of this product because seams can be made undetectable. Not as hard as quartz, but it can also be adhered to other solid surfaces like quartz with colored epoxy to provide a seamless acrylic sink for a quartz counter top. HI-MACS, Gibraltar, and Avonite are all acrylic manufactures offering their own line of colors. Expect to pay between $100 to $150 per sq ft.


Your mother's Formica is still available now in a variety of colors and even natural stone designs. Many designs have a new stronger wear layer. Now, with the ability to install over an under-mount sink, laminates are an excellent option for less expensive renovations. The other laminate manufactures Wilsonart and Pionite each have a stable of new designs for you to choose from. Expect to pay between $25 to $35 per sq ft.

Ceramic Tile

Although not used as much, you still can construct a beautiful counter top out of tile. Expect to pay between $40 and $60 per sq ft.


Still a popular counter top especially for islands the butcher bar look is attractive. Actually, bacteria has been shown to not stay in wood cutting surfaces, but die as it dries. Expect to pay between $100 and $200 per sq ft.


Made by pouring concrete over reinforcing mesh and then staining or coloring. Unique designs can be created at less cost than other options. Expect to pay between $85 and $100 per sq ft.

Cultured Marble

Cultured marble is a precise blend of polyester resin, catalyst, fillers and pigments that is thoroughly mixed and placed into open molds that have been coated with a clear gel coat. The clear gel coat is the ware layer for this product. Best applications are for bathroom vanity counter tops and shower walls.
Not a solid surface, so it cannot be brought back if damaged. However, a beautiful less expensive option for the right application. Expect to pay between $30 and $35 per sq ft.

JoeNelson – Owner – Twin City Home Remodeling LLC