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Category: How Tos & Helpful Tips
Posted: 4/14/2011
How to make an Entrance
By Felicia Feaster
There are probably sexier ways to spend your home improvement money -- on a shiny new bathroom or a glamorous kitchen remodel with stainless steel appliances and granite counter tops, for example. But there are few things as rewarding as replacing your windows and front door, which can yield a variety of benefits, from lowered utility bills to better soundproofing and greater curb appeal.
And if your house is on the market, you may get a bigger rate of return. “Remodeling Magazine's" 2010-2011 Cost Versus Value issue notes that entry door replacements, which typically costs $1,000-$10,000, can recoup anywhere from 63 percent to 135 percent of the cost upon resale. Window replacement, which typically costs $450 to $2,000 per window,  can recoup 73 percent to 77 percent of the cost when sold.

There are obvious reasons to replace windows: the wooden frames are rotting or the glass is broken or fogged, transforming your charming historic home into an eyesore that sets neighbors’ tongues wagging. But there are other reasons for replacement that might not be as readily apparent -- or as galling to the neighbors.
For instance, single-pane glass windows, which are present in most homes built before the mid-1990s, are hugely energy inefficient and allow heating and cooling dollars to fly out the window and noise to cascade in. According to Mark Jamerson, owner of Atlanta Area Window and Door in Marietta, the majority of his customers are switching from single pane to double pane glass to gain more energy efficiency in their homes.

“In Atlanta it’s not uncommon to see houses that have 40 windows," said Jamerson. "And people wonder why they’re paying $650 dollars [a month] to cool their houses. It’s because 50 percent of their walls are made up of windows.” More expensive triple-pane glass is generally considered overkill in the South, unless sound is a major issue.

To maximize energy efficiency homeowners should look for a low U-Factor, which measures how well a window prevents heat from escaping the home, and a low Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC), which refers to the fraction of sunlight that is admitted through the window and released as heat indoors. Low E2 solar control glass is a good choice in hot climates like Georgia’s.

Replacing standard windows with energy efficient windows and doors that meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency/U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Star program lowers energy bills by 7 percent to 15 percent, according to www.energystar.gov. As an added bonus, homeowners may also qualify for a tax credit equal to 10 percent of the product cost if they install Energy Star windows and doors in their primary residences by Dec. 31.

Depending on their budgets, homeowners have several options to choose from when replacing windows. Frames come in a variety of materials including vinyl, aluminum- or vinyl-coated wood, paintable fiberglass or PVC composite. And some homeowners still choose wood, although Matt Hoots, president of SawHorse Inc. remodeling company in Atlanta, does not recommend it. “Wood does not belong on the outside of houses in Georgia because it rots,” he said. Katie Yielding Hughes, architectural consultant at Architectural Visions Inc., feels similarly about vinyl. “Vinyl is a terrible material. It’s a petroleum-based product, it off-gases like crazy and expands and contracts so much in UV radiation. It’s just not a good material to use and it’s not going to last.”

Replacing every window in your home can be an expensive proposition. But homeowners have options there, too. If your window frame is in good shape, just replacing single pane window sashes with double pane sashes can save a lot of money. Hoots says some thrifty clients replace windows in sections at a time as they can afford it, generally beginning with the front of the house.

For budget-minded homeowners who want a quick home makeover, few improvements are as inexpensive or as dramatic as a change to the front door.

“I tell people if they want to just do a quick facelift to the front of the house, replace your front entry door with a nice decorative glass front door, maybe some new hardware,” said Heather Elsberry, a sales consultant at Architectural Visions Inc.

Wrought iron details can also make an enormous difference in the look of your front entry when you want it to stand apart from the pack, said Carol Simmons, co-owner of Jennifer's Glassworks, a custom door and window manufacturer in Smyrna. “As long as they’ve got a sad looking door that the builder stuck on there 20 years ago, it’s time to make a change.”

Replacing standard 36-inch wide doors with double doors is a current trend that lends grandeur to the front entry way. Solid wood and fiberglass doors that have the look of real wood are the most popular options. Jamerson and Elsberry both noted that steel doors are on the way out because of their industrial look and their tendency to dent and show imperfections.

Whether for cosmetic reasons or increased energy efficiency, metro Atlanta home experts agree that you can’t lose money when you replace or refresh your windows and doors.

“Passersby don’t see what fixtures you’ve got in the bathroom or what your cabinets look like in the kitchen, but they see that front door,” said Simmons.

Keller Williams Atlanta Perimeter real estate agent Virginia Moran said that new windows make a home competitive even in a challenging resale market. Moran swapped out her single pane windows and storm windows in her own home with double pane windows and said, “I was shocked at how much quieter it was.”

“You can still get a good price on a house that has been cared for,” said Moran, and in terms of giving the impression to buyers that your home is well-tended, “windows are a very obvious sign from the street.”

Posted: 4/1/2011
Rocking Interiors- Create unique, modern interiors with outdoor-inspired hardscaping
By Laura Judy
Love the look of the stone, brick and concrete hardscapes in your yard? You don’t have to stop there! These materials are all making their way indoors as “interior hardscaping” becomes more popular in modern homes. Whether you’re building a stone fireplace, using the latest brick products to spice up your walls or installing concrete floors or countertops, the line between indoor and out is becoming increasingly blurred.


Optical Illusion

Many of the interior hardscaping applications are in basements or rooms that open directly to the backyard. If done well, this can create the illusion of a home that’s becoming one with its surroundings.

Evan Hunter of Hunter Reising Design & Build Inc. in Atlanta recently built a home addition beside an existing pool, creating a room that opens right out onto the pool. “We wanted to match the bluestone that we installed around the pool with a bluestone floor in the family room,” he says. “When the four doors are opened all the way, the floor helps blur the line between inside and outside.”


Stone Surprises

Right now, stone seems to be the most popular product used in interior applications. “Interior stone is still probably the most requested interior hardscape,” says Tom Dwyer of Harbour Towne Construction Inc. in Atlanta. “We are removing brick and installing stone on fireplaces.” Fireplaces tend to be the most common indoor hardscaping features, which makes sense, as they are often the focal point of a room.

However, fireplaces aren’t the only areas where stone can create a unique interior hardscape look. “Right now, we are seeing more clients liking the stacked-stone effect in an interior application,” says Matt Hoots of SawHorse Inc. and The Hoots Group Inc., both in Atlanta. “Recently, we’ve installed stone around bars, structural columns and even on bathroom walls.” Those who like to change their homes to fit the latest trends may find that once stone is installed, they have no interest in changing it as years go by. “Stone seems to be timeless; it endures forever,” says Judy Mozen of Handcrafted Homes Inc. in Roswell.


Beautiful Brick

While stone is all the rage right now, brick is taking on a modern twist. Generally, you may picture indoor brick only in very contemporary spaces, such as lofts. “Lofts tend to be more contemporary, so you may see exposed brick walls from the interior,” Dwyer says. In older homes, many fireplaces are surrounded by brick, which maintains an elegant, timeless look. Today’s brick, however, often takes on a new style.

Recently, Walter Lewis of Neighbors Home Remodeling in Roswell used the latest brick products in a unique kitchen remodel. “We used ‘thin brick,’ which is actual brick that is thinly sliced and applied like tile. The owner wanted the feel of an old New Orleans warehouse on the interior walls,” Lewis says. Thin brick is being used in a variety of applications, from entire walls to backsplashes or accent areas. Like stone, brick is super-durable and easy to care for.


Concrete Facts

Most often used for floors and countertops, concrete has become much more versatile over the years. “I’ve had requests for stained concrete basement floors and concrete countertops,” Dwyer says. A concrete floor is not one that resembles your driveway, but rather a smooth, elegant surface that can withstand plenty of wear and tear.

“Lately, concrete has really come into its own as a design feature on a floor,” Mozen says. “It can be etched, stained or painted. We’ve recently been doing a lot of staining on concrete slab basement floors. It’s quick and easy.” While you can create special designs or use a variety of colors for staining concrete, many homeowners are choosing nice, neutral shades. Because many basements in the South open out to a lower level of the yard, concrete floors can blend seamlessly with outdoor patios and hardscaping.


Blending In

Incorporating hardscape materials into your home is easier than you might think. In most instances, you can add them without any major remodeling or structural changes to your home. “Since most of the materials are veneers, the existing structure is sufficient to hold their weight,” Dwyer says. He does point out that you should consult a professional before you go ahead with a project in an existing home, however. “Some older homes were built with smaller framing materials and should be checked by someone knowledgeable before you add, for example, a concrete island top.”

While full-size stone and brick take a little more time and effort to work with, the stone and brick veneers that are so popular generally go in pretty quickly. “The thinner veneers are easy to install since they don’t require a concrete footing like full-size stone or brick,” Hoots says. “Most of the veneers install like tile, so they go up quickly and are easy to handle.”

Whether you’re adding stone to a family room that opens onto an outdoor entertaining area or using brick veneers to create an old-world look in your kitchen, indoor hardscaping will make your home one of the most unique houses on the block.

Keep It Clean

Generally, stone, brick and concrete are all low maintenance. There are just a few things to consider when caring for these products:
•    Dust or vacuum them regularly to keep them looking bright and clean.
•    Grout cleaning may be required once every few years on stone floors.
•    Concrete finishes may need sealing and intermittent resealing depending on the use.
Sources: Tom Dwyer, Harbour Towne Construction Inc.; Matt Hoots, SawHorse Inc. and The Hoots Group Inc.; Judy Mozen, Handcrafted Homes Inc.

Cost Considerations

Because materials such as stone, brick and concrete are timeless and extremely durable, they tend to be significantly pricier than other choices. Here are a couple things to keep in mind:
•    Jobs are usually priced depending on accessibility and materials used. Per-square-foot pricing usually will not apply when the quantities are smaller.
•    Real stone costs the most, and manufactured stone and brick are usually less per unit.
Sources: Tom Dwyer, Harbour Towne Construction Inc.; Matt Hoots, SawHorse Inc. and The Hoots Group Inc.

Going Green

To create a passive solar feature in your home, you only need to install a masonry floor or wall near windows. The masonry will absorb the sun’s heat during the day and release it at night. This is a wonderful benefit in the winter. You can even go barefoot at night on the masonry—it’s warm and toasty!
—Judy Mozen, president, Handcrafted Homes Inc.

Posted: 1/15/2011
2011 Energy Tax Credits for Greater Atlanta
By Matt Hoots

You may have heard the buzz about energy tax credits increasing a couple years ago for items such as window replacement to geothermal HVAC.  There have been a few changes in the tax code for 2011.

For energy upgrades to existing houses, the $1500 credit that you have seen windows suppliers and insulation installers advertising was set to expire December 31, 2010.  Many contractors saw a rush of clients at the end of the year take advantage of this expiring credit.  The good news is that the credit was extended for another year, however it is for 10% of the cost up to $500 for this year.

There is good news though, if you live in the city of Atlanta and are a GA Power client you can get up to $4000 for similar improvements.  However, you must go through a home performance contractor that is part of the program to get these rebates.

The other good news is that the renewable energy federal tax credit is still good through 2016.  This applies to qualified products like geothermal HVAC, solar hot water, photovoltaic, and wind power.  You get 30% off the installed cost without a cap on your federal tax return.  The tax credit for the state of GA does expire this year and once the 2.5MM in the fund is exhausted, it will not be renewed.

While most of the credits and rebates mentioned benefits existing homes only, new construction clients can benefit the greatest if they install renewable energy.  New homeowners can get the 30% credit on items such as geothermal HVAC and solar when building new homes.

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