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and maintenance of gutters and siding in the Vancouver Lower Mainland.

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Home Renovations in Winter

It might seem counterintuitive to plan a major house remodeling project during the winter months. But homeowners who tackle renovations from late November to the beginning of March might be surprised to discover that they can add significant value to their homes while saving money.

Interior Renovations

The most common home improvements to complete during winter include:

  • repainting a group of rooms (on the ground floor/all of the bedrooms)
  • replacing flooring
  • transforming an unfinished basement into a usable space
  • updating lighting
  • updating kitchen cabinets
  • revamping a small bathroom
  • converting a garage

Exterior Renovations

While it makes more sense to focus on indoor renovations during winter months, doing home exterior improvements now can cut the total cost by 30 percent or more. Contractors such as roofing professionals, siding specialists and gutter installers will let you know exactly what to expect. Some exterior renovations that can be accomplished during the winter season are:

  • building a deck
  • remodeling a porch
  • adding a sunroom
  • replacing or repairing a roof
  • adding a leaf protection system that fits over the gutters

Contractors – Availability and Scheduling

During winter, building contractors typically have less exterior work scheduled. This means there’s more time to take on home remodeling projects. When contractors are available, homeowners have more scheduling options. Often homeowners begin home improvements in the spring after receiving tax refunds; as building contractors become busier, their rates tend to rise.

Permits

Government agencies and municipal offices are generally less busy in winter months, making it easier and quicker to get the necessary permits. The same goes for any building inspections that need to be scheduled after the project has been completed.

Sales and Year-End Clearances

Many retailers offer winter sales and year-end clearances. If you’re redoing the laundry room, adding a home theatre or remodeling the master bedroom, paying less for new appliances, furniture, and home décor items will make your budget go further.

Factors that Affect Gutter Estimates

Recently you decided to invest in new gutters. So, you did your homework, including asking for referrals. One of the three estimates you received was from a gutter installation company that a neighbour recommended. But the estimate the contractor sent you was thirty percent higher. Why the difference? Whether you’re hiring a gutter installer, plumber, or electrician, here are some factors that affect the original estimate given to you by a contractor.

Type of Gutter

The type of gutter you choose will have an impact on the estimated cost of the installation of your gutter system. Seamless gutters cost more than sectional gutters. Gutter width is also a factor – most gutter installation companies charge more for 6-inch gutters than they do for 5-inch gutter systems.

Gutter System Material

Materials used to produce gutters include a wide range of options. Aluminum gutters will be less expensive than a copper gutter system. Sectional galvanized steel gutters typically cost more than aluminum but are not as expensive as copper gutters.

Square Footage

When installing gutters, contractors generally charge per linear foot. The larger the home, the larger the drainage area. A gutter system for medium to large sized houses requires more guttering and downspouts, adding to the cost of materials.

Size and Accessibility

In terms of storeys, costs of a gutter installation increase because a larger home might require more crew members, more safety equipment, specialized equipment, and permits.

Another factor that affects gutter estimates is accessibility. A combination of house size and roof configuration can create areas that are difficult for installers to access.

Gutter System Components

How many hangers will be used to install the gutters? Does the gutter system need downspout extensions and/or splash blocks? Does the contractor plan on using prefabricated corners or fabricating them by hand? Would you like to add a leaf protection system? For a homeowner purchasing gutters, there are many options to choose from, all of which result in price variations even in estimates for similar products and services.

Labour Costs

Local labour costs greatly affect the total price of a gutter estimate. Fully licensed, bonded and insured gutter technicians will cost more. Other factors that determine labour costs include the use of subcontractors, special permits and site requirements, and attention to detail. For example, if a gutter installation technician takes actual measurements instead of eyeballing the slope, it will take longer.

Fall Curb Appeal

Crisp air, leaves changing colour, orange pumpkins, and bright yellow chrysanthemums – there is something very special about autumn. Adding seasonal touches to your home’s exterior is a simple way to update your curb appeal.

Decorate the Front Door

Transform the front door by hanging a garland of autumn leaves, trailing vines, or branches combined with small gourds. Pair the garland with a matching wreath.

Window Boxes

Another way to bring the spirit of fall to your front yard is to add window boxes. Fall flowers and seasonal grasses give color to the landscaping and lend charm to your home. When choosing the kind of window box, consider the type of material that will fit in with your home’s exterior. Wood boxes tend to add a rustic feel, while copper and iron window boxes provide a more traditional look.

Cleaning the Exterior

Clean the exterior of your home to remove accumulated grime, dirt, and particles before they etch glass panes and scratch siding. You don’t have to do it all at once. Spraying the siding with water first will give you a better idea if you need a soft bristle brush and a pail of soapy water. Spruce up the windows, doors, trim, and steps on another day.

Thoroughly clean the gutter system inside and out. Yes, it’s more important to get rid of the debris inside the gutter channel. But removing surface dirt from the gutter face helps preserve the finish.

Don’t forget to clean hardscape elements such as a pathway, driveway, wood deck or paved patio, especially if they are visible from the street.

Lawn TLC

Leave the leaves for the trees. It’s not just a matter of aesthetics. Once they have fallen and are left on the ground, they can do your lawn more harm than good. A lawn must be allowed to breathe. Layers of leaves block sunlight, oxygen, and water required for a healthy lawn. Trapped moisture in the soil can lead to fungi growth. Rake the lawn, seed bald patches and add fertilizer.

Those Finishing Touches

Flank planters on either side of the door and on the stairs leading up to the house.

Add edging – plants, stone, brickwork – to sidewalks and driveways. Use fall plants and/or flowering shrubs.

Create an autumn-themed display by repurposing a little red wagon, old wheelbarrow, or vintage wash tub.

Summer Curb Appeal Tips

Curb appeal isn’t just about real estate value. Whether entering from the backyard or through the front door, returning to a home that’s visually appealing is deeply rewarding. Here are a few summer curb appeal tips that will increase your sense of well-being, while those driving by will appreciate the view.

Exterior Cleaning Services

You clean the gutters regularly, wash the windows when they’re really dusty, and remove stains from the siding on an as-needed basis. But you can’t remember the last time you cleaned the roof and the only time the driveway gets “power washed” is when you water the flower beds. Consider hiring a professional exterior cleaning company at least once every two years. Typical services include:

  • roof cleaning
  • roof moss removal
  • gutter cleaning
  • siding soft wash
  • window cleaning
  • driveway cleaning

When a home’s exterior shines, it invites and welcomes visitors.

Painting the Trim

Painting the exterior of your home will definitely improve curb appeal. But who wants to spend the summer repainting the house? A high impact, low-cost trick is to paint just the trim. Selecting a complementary bold shade or intense earth tone will give your home an updated appearance.

Painting Concrete

Perhaps it’s time to paint the concrete driveway, walkway, or stairs if scrubbing doesn’t make a difference anymore. Applying one or two coats of paint to the front steps can greatly improve curb appeal. You don’t have to stop at “plain.” Explore Pinterest for some really creative DIY projects – pinstriped stairs, checkered porch floor, faux tile patio – all accomplished with tape, stencils, paint, and a little imagination!

Landscaping Tweaks

Flowering trees and shrubs automatically increase curb appeal. However, you can have too much of a good thing. Limit the number in a particular area, a small front yard for example, to under five.

Seed bald spots to bring a patchy lawn back to life.

When flower beds contain perennials, landscaping can be given a seasonal look by adding containers of annuals on either side of the front door, in the corner of a porch or by the steps.

There is a variety of landscape lighting available. Consider what type of light you would like to install. Sidewalk from the front gate to the entry door a bit dark after the sun sets? Choose lights designed to boarder a pathway. The porch lights don’t reach as far as the stairs? Add a down light so visitors can see the stair treads.

Home Improvements that Add Resale Value

The trick to selecting renovations that do increase the value of your home is to choose ones that fit in with the look and feel of the neighbourhood. Whether you plan to live in your home for many more years or you will be selling in the near future, here are some home improvements that add resale value whenever you decide to sell.

Redefining Space

Do the patio doors open onto just a grassy part of the backyard? Adding a deck or a flagstone patio will convert the area around the doors into usable space for relaxing and entertaining. Would enclosing the existing porch increase the house’s functionality? Is the attic filled with boxes of “treasures?” Turning an unused attic into a bedroom is a good investment. The same goes for the basement – if you’ve been meaning to refinish it for a while now, this is another home renovation that adds resale value.

Energy Efficient Upgrades

Any kitchen or laundry room renovations should include energy efficient appliances and insulated exterior walls.

Replacing single-pane windows will improve the energy efficiency of a home.

Home improvement projects involving the roof, the gutters, and HVAC systems should increase energy efficiency, be eco-friendly and be relatively easy to maintain.

Cosmetic Upgrades

Any part of a house, interior or exterior, that appears tired or worn will detract from a house’s market value. Painting a home’s exterior a new colour increases curb appeal. Replacing old wall-to-wall carpet with area rugs and laminate flooring will be more appealing to home buyers with small children. Swapping out an old front door for a new one can make the entrance to your home more welcoming.

Adding Storage

Increasing a home’s storage capacity is an excellent way to make your home attractive to prospective buyers. No closet by the front door? Build one. Adding shelves, bins and cabinets are good clutter-management solutions. But use built-ins judiciously: built-in shelving units in a laundry room will add more resale value than built-in bookcases in a living room.

Home Improvements that Don’t Add Value

It seems logical that anything a homeowner does to improve their home will increase its value. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Some renovations end up not paying for themselves. Here are some home improvements that don’t add value to your home.

Niche Amenities

You might think amenities like a wine cellar, hot tub, regulation-size basketball court or a life-size chess set will entice home buyers. But what’s appealing to you might not be appealing to someone else. It’s not only the actual price tag for materials and installation: don’t forget to factor in long-term increased energy expenses for amenities such as a wine cellar, sauna or hot tub.

Swimming Pool

In-ground swimming pools are expensive to install and maintain. While most of us like the idea of taking a dip in our own pool, the reality is that many homeowners and prospective buyers don’t want the hassle. Home buyers today are looking for a house that looks good but is low maintenance. The amount of money you invest in your pool most likely won’t be recouped when you sell.

Water Features

No argument, water features add curb appeal. A koi pond, reflection pool or small waterfall lends ambience and tranquility to the surrounding landscape. But when it comes time to sell, a water feature could scare off homebuyers with small children.

Bedroom into Home Office

Having a permanent home office might seem like a good investment, but not if it’s at the expense of one less bedroom. When turning a bedroom into an office, skip the built-ins like bookshelves, a computer station or cubbies. This will give you the option of turning it back into a bedroom when you put your home on the market.

Unusual or Elaborate Landscaping

Multi-level terraces complete with stone retaining walls create an inviting place to entertain. Topiary is beautiful to look at. The same goes for exotic flowering shrubs and trees. However, in addition to increased curb appeal, a home buyer might also see increased time and cost to maintain such elaborate beauty.

High-End Kitchen

Probably counterintuitive, but it is possible to over-improve when doing a kitchen renovation. When it comes to kitchens, home buyers generally look for clean, contemporary lines, functionality and open concept. My idea of a dream kitchen will most likely be different from yours. Unless your house is in a high-end neighbourhood, skip the granite countertops, marble tile, and stainless steel appliances.

Gutters and Ladder Safety

The nice weather is calling your name, enticing you into the backyard to sit on the deck and relax. But summertime is also when homeowners become motivated to get home maintenance stuff done. If checking the siding or cleaning the gutters is on your to-do list, make sure if it involves a ladder, you’re using it safely.

Reasons People Fall off a Ladder

When cleaning out the gutters, cleaning off the roof or inspecting the roofing system, working on a ladder can be dangerous. Reasons people fall off ladders include:

  • wearing the wrong type of shoes
  • improper ladder placement
  • overreaching
  • standing on your toes
  • doesn’t heed the “three points of contact” rule

Choosing the Right Ladder

If it’s not the right type for the task at hand, you’re putting yourself in danger. Keep these tips in mind when buying a new ladder:

  • a step-ladder is fine for a one storey house but if your home is two or more floors, invest in an extension ladder to help you safely reach the gutters
  • if your house is two or more storeys, a straight ladder (leans but doesn’t extend) should be tall enough to reach
  • select metal over wood to avoid warping
  • purchase a ladder with a stabilizer to prevent denting aluminum gutters or buy the ladder standoff/stabilizer separately

Using the Ladder Safely

Most falls off a ladder are preventable. When doing gutter maintenance this summer or cleaning the gutters in the fall, use these tips suggested by professionals.

Place the ladder on even and stable ground. For example, avoid putting a ladder on shifting surfaces such as wet mud or gravel.

Shoes on ladders should have rubber soles or be made of some other non-slip material.

An extension or straight ladder should not be placed too far from the wall – to determine the maximum number of feet the ladder should be away from the house, divide the height of the ladder by four.

If you have to remove a clog just slightly out of reach, move the ladder instead of reaching too far.

Climbing the ladder, place the middle of the foot on the rung. When standing on the rungs, feet should be flat and slightly apart for added balance.

Always practice the “three points of contact” rule: two feet and one hand when cleaning the gutters or one foot and two hands when climbing the ladder.

Partner up with someone when using the ladder – one on it, one holding or standing nearby; never both on the ladder at the same time.

When is a Really Good Deal Just a Scam?

Home improvements not only make a house more functional, they also add beauty and resale value. While there are many dependable, highly skilled contractors, unfortunately, some are not. When planning renovations this summer, use these tips to tell a really good deal from just a scam.

Types of Home Improvement Fraud

Does the roof need replacing? Is the siding of your home a little worse for wear? Have you wanted to build a ground floor addition where the old garage used to be? Home improvement fraud comes in all kinds of guises such as driveway repair, replacing the roof, siding repairs or replacement and “fixing” structural issues.

Warning Signs

Fortunately, there are identifiable warning signs that can help a potential victim avoid home improvement fraud. The most common signs are fraudulent “contractors” will:

  • appear on your doorstep claiming they were in the neighbourhood or they had done renovations for someone on your street
  • quote a very low price
  • offer special deals – only good for one day; free paint; discount because materials were leftover from another job
  • tell you the work they do will be covered by your home insurance policy – most policies don’t cover the costs of home improvements
  • want payment before the work begins – possible indication that they don’t have the money to buy materials or they have no intention of doing the renovation
  • have no permanent indicators of a company affiliation like a truck with a logo, legitimate licenses/certifications, and proper contact information (YP listing, real website, etc.)

Ways to Prevent from being Scammed

Nice weather seems to bring out the itinerant roofers, pavers, landscapers, and gutters and siding installers intent on not providing the services they promise. To prevent from being scammed:

  • check all credentials, licenses and any other documentation they provide – if something doesn’t look or feel right, confirm with the appropriate board, agency or municipal office; legit businesses have a paper trail that can be followed
  • insist on an itemized estimate that clearly outlines what work is to be done, material costs, labour costs, and a stated percentage of how much more than the original estimate can be charged
  • avoid unsolicited offers; get a recommendation from a family member or co-worker
  • don’t cave into someone else’s sense of urgency – if they talk too fast, offer a low price if you sign right now, or pressure you into making a decision, ask yourself why or what are they hiding?

Ways to Make the Backyard Safe

Now that summer is officially here, the backyard is the most common outdoor gathering place for family and friends. Especially if you have children or children visiting throughout the summer, the ideal recreational space should be safe for everyone.

Trees

Trees are great for shade, a home for birds, and bringing nature into an urban setting. But sick, dying or dead trees make a backyard unsafe. If a tree has dead and/or broken branches, fungi growing at the base of its trunk, or patches of peeling bark, it needs attention, even possible removal. Call a landscaper or arborist for advice.

Animals and Insects

Is your backyard a magnet for wild animals and insects? They might be cute on television but animals such as raccoons, skunks, and badgers can cause mischief and even be dangerous. A wasp nest in the gutters is never a good thing. Here are some helpful ways to keep unwanted critters and pests out of the yard:

  • build a fence if you don’t already have one
  • if you do have a fence, keep it maintained – no holes or gaps
  • eliminate sources of standing water like buckets or unattended recyclables
  • put a cover on a sandbox
  • clean out the gutters

Backyard Amenities

Having a pool, fire pit or barbecue helps create the perfect place to hang out. But they do pose certain risks. Make sure the pool area is safe and secure. When the grill is still hot, keep children away from the barbecue. Fire pits should be located at least 10 feet away from the house and not positioned directly under an overhang.

Patio Furniture

Any outdoor furniture on the property should be able to handle fluctuating temperatures and changeable weather conditions. Particularly when being used by children, furniture pieces should have rounded edges or at least not be sharp. Replace any metal patio furniture that is rusting; breathing in particles or having them become embedded in a cut or on skin poses a health risk.

Bring Style to Your Backyard this Summer

The backyard should be a place where you can relax, enjoy the company of friends, and spend some downtime with family. But if it’s missing that wow factor other yards in your neighbourhood seem to have this summer might be the perfect time to bring style to your backyard.

Place to Sit

A backyard sanctuary starts with the perfect place to sit. Charming wicker furniture can transform an urban space into a beachfront refuge. Loungers by a pool or on a deck provide an inviting way to soak up some sun. A porch swing doesn’t always need a porch – it can be hung from a tree or a wide overhang.

You don’t need to buy new – chairs can be repainted or furniture such as stools and wood benches no longer needed inside can be repurposed for outdoor use. Update patio furniture with new pillows and seat cushions in bold colors, patterns, and different textures.

Place to Dine

A deck, patio, or grassy area is ideal for a patio dining set. Choose one that reflects your hosting style and the people who will most likely be using it. Is it just for your family? Are you in the habit of inviting friends over but also include anyone who peers over the fence? When entertaining a large group, select an outdoor table that can be extended.

Give some thought to the theme of your outdoor table and chairs. A rustic farm table or classic picnic table has a casual, country feel. Openwork metal dining table and chairs will lend a backyard a vintage appearance. To give your back yard dining area a tropical vibe, choose a patio set made from wicker or rattan.

Place to Relax

Amp up the style factor of your back yard with an outdoor spa. Hot tubs are available in a wide range of types, materials, colours and sizes. There are even portable models. Yes, it’s fun, but health benefits include reducing stress, chronic pain, and sleeplessness.

An outdoor spa not in the budget? String a hammock between two trees.

Place to Entertain

An outdoor bar shines the light on your bartending skills. It’s also a great way to store everything you need in one convenient place.

Create a conversation area with a built-in or portable fire pit and some really comfortable chairs.