Is Granite Going Out of Style?

Pick up any kitchen magazine and you’ll find a story about the latest and greatest design trends. Some, like shaker cabinets, have staying power, while others fall out of vogue almost as quickly as they appeared (we’re looking at you farmhouse sink). Given the fact that trends, by definition, come and go, it only makes sense that granite countertops will eventually lose their place as the must-have material. And while granite countertops remain one of the most popular design features, some interior designers suggest we’ve reached the end of the granite countertop trend.

The End of the Trend?

As far as countertops are concerned, granite is a material that wasn’t widely used until the late 80s. However, it wasn’t until the late 90s and early 2000s that it became the material of choice that it is today. With it’s near ubiquitous presence in kitchens across the country, granite is still one of the most popular countertop options you can choose; it’s just not as in demand as it once was.

There’s lots to love about granite. It’s durable, looks good, and is becoming more affordable. That being said, granite appears to have become a victim of its own popularity. Homeowners are individuals, and individuals like their homes to be a reflection of their personalities. For many, granite is just too mainstream. But there’s a bigger reason fewer homeowners are choosing it: in recent kitchen designs the countertop is less and less of a focal point and granite is almost impossible not to notice.

Subtle Style

Today’s kitchen styles are becoming more understated and neutral. Given that a kitchen’s color theme determines countertop selection, you’ll find that homeowners are choosing countertops that seamlessly blend into the rest of the kitchen, rather than stand out. While it’s difficult to achieve a neutral look with granite, it’s decidedly easier when using more subtle materials such as marble, soapstone, and quartz. Not surprisingly, these are the materials that more and more homeowners are demanding.

Choosing the Right Material

If you’re getting ready to remodel your kitchen you’ve likely given a lot of thought to what kind of countertops to go with. The fundamental question to ask yourself is who are you remodeling for? If you’re remodeling for yourself and not planning on moving anytime soon, choose the materials that you like most. If that means granite, go with granite. However, if you’re remodeling with an eye towards selling soon, we advise going with a more neutral option. You’ll get the classy, upscale look you’re going for, but not at the risk of alienating potential buyers who don’t care for granite.

More Than One Kind of Cool

We’re all familiar with the cooling comfort of air conditioning. But have you heard of a swamp cooler? How about geothermal cooling? There are many different home cooling technologies out there—and they’re always evolving. Here’s a rundown of different systems and a look at the future of air conditioning after the phase-out of R22 refrigerant.

Air conditioning.  Whether it’s a window unit or a central air system, air conditioners all use a pressurized refrigerant to circulate the heat from inside your home and release it outside. The most commonly used refrigerant in air conditioning systems is called R22, which is also marketed under many brand names, including Freon®. Air conditioning is a highly effective means of cooling a home, and it offers the added benefit of dehumidification.

Evaporative cooling.  An evaporative cooler, also known as a swamp cooler or a desert cooler, uses the evaporation of water to cool air, which is then circulated throughout a home. A fan forces dry, warm air over cool water, which evaporates and reduces the temperature of the air. In dry environments, evaporative coolers also help increase the humidity within a home.

Geothermal cooling.  A geothermal system employs special pipes that are buried deep underground where the earth’s temperature typically ranges from 50˚-60˚F—much cooler than the outside temperature during the summer. A fluid is circulated through pipes in the home, absorbing heat. The warm fluid is then pumped below ground, where the cool earth acts as a heat sink and absorbs the fluid’s heat. The fluid then returns to the surface to continue the process. During the winter, geothermal systems can also be used to heat a home.

What’s next for home air conditioning?  The Environmental Protection Agency has required manufacturers to completely phase out the production of R22 by 2020. As a result, supplies have become more limited, and the price has risen from less than $10 per pound in 2010 to over $50 per pound and more today, in some cases.

Even simple air conditioning repairs may cost significantly more as a result. Technicians commonly add 1-2 pounds of refrigerant on a routine service call. A more complicated repair or replacement can require up to 10 pounds. As you can see, the cost can add up quickly.

from AHS August Newsletter – Inside & Out

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Deck Maintenance – From HomeAdvisor Newsletter by Marcus Pickett


Decks have become an extremely popular, low-cost way to add living space to a  home. Decks make it convenient to enjoy sitting outside day or night. They open  up the home and facilitate entertaining and outdoor dining. Yet, decks are also  subject to the damaging effects of weather. As such, deck maintenance is  critical to prevent discoloration caused by dirt, moss, algae, and other plants.  These deck enemies tear apart the surface of the wood. Splinters form, creating  a rougher surface that is even more inviting to dirt and plants. Before long,  you have a dingy deck that’s treacherous when wet and riddled with splinters.

Basic Deck Maintenance

1. Inspect and Prepare the Deck As part of your deck maintenance,  you should inspect your deck every year or two. Check especially for any loose  boards or protruding nails that need repair. Clear the deck of any furniture or  toys and cover all fragile plants. Next, sweep the deck of larger debris. Before  beginning the cleaning process, make sure no children have access to the area.

2. Clean the Deck Before you can apply sealant, you must  thoroughly clean the deck of all dirt and build-up. Debris clogging the spaces  between deck boards should first be blasted out with a powerful nozzle on a  garden hose or a powerwasher. The water can also help dilute any chemicals that  may inadvertently come into contact with plants and grass. (Even with mild  solutions may contain plant-killing bleach.) Products with a base of  non-chlorine bleach base or oxalic acid are used to eliminate discoloration and  stains. Bleach-based products eliminate mildew, while acid-based materials  handle graying and stains. But, be aware that bleach used to kill mildew can  also leave a surface drab and washed-out. For these problems, an acid-based deck  restoration product should be used.

Be sure to read the cleaning solution directions and warnings thoroughly. The  solutions can usually be brushed onto the deck using a broom or it can be  sprayed on with a powerwasher under low pressure. In general, the more powerful  the chemical, the less scrubbing will be necessary. Scrubbing can be done by  hand using a basic scrub brush or a push broom. After waiting the directed  length of time for the chemicals to do their work, thoroughly rinse the deck.  High-powered jets can be helpful, but too much pressure can gouge wood or cause  the grain to become exaggerated.

3. Seal the Deck Once the area is dry, you must seal the deck. Put  down tarps to protect plants, air conditioners, and other items that need  protection from the sealant. The level of protection needed depends in part on  how you are going to apply the sealant. Sealant can be brushed on, rolled on  with a paint roller, or sprayed on. Spraying is the fastest by far, but this is  also the hardest to control. And, some sealants have color that will stain  surfaces to which they are applied.

Sealants are also rough on plants. While most plants won’t be damaged by  getting hit with wafting over-spray, direct hits can do real damage. Sealants  come in either water- or oil-based formulas. Professional sealants, which are  typically superior, are oil-based. Some sealants contain stain to tint the color  of the deck. Sealants with stain don’t always deliver a uniform color across the  wood, so try it first in an out-of-the-way spot to make sure the results match  your expectations. A good quality sealant will also contain ultraviolet sunlight  protection to reduce the damaging effects of the sun.

4. Paint or Stain the Deck

Though some people choose to paint their decks with deck paint, most take  advantage of the natural beauty of expensive decking woods by using a clear or  lightly stained finish as the final step of their deck maintenance. If you do  choose to paint, use a stain-blocking oil or alkyd primer first. In general, the  best finishes are those that soak into the wood, not those that provide a  surface film. A heavily pigmented, solid stain isn’t really recommended for  decking because it shows wear patterns and may peel. You want something that  really soaks in.

Deck  Installation Project Guide If you enjoyed this article, check out our  free Deck  Installation Guide, which features expert advice, design & material  comparisons, and custom price estimates for your remodeling project


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Checklist: Fall Preventative Home Maintenance

Before the weather grows colder it’s important to prepare for the winter  months to prevent costly damage. Below are the fall preventative home  maintenance steps that every homeowner should follow.

Gutters and Downspouts

Clean gutters and downspouts frequently throughout fall to prevent build up of  leaves and other debris. Neglected gutters can lead to wood rot problems and  pest infestations, not to mention ruined gutters
Be sure water is not coming down behind gutters and that all support brackets  are securely in place.  Ensure that  water drains properly and doesn’t pool. Pooling can cause damage to foundations,  driveways, and walkways.

Windows and Doors

Change  summer screens to cool weather storm windows and doors.   Inspect  and repair any loose or damaged window or door frames.   Install  weather stripping or caulking around windows and doors to prevent drafts and to  lower heating bills.

Heating Systems

Replace  the filter in your furnace.   Consider  having a heating professional check your heating system to ensure optimal  performance and discover minor problems before they turn into costly major  repairs. Clean your ducts to better your  heating system’s efficiency as well as to reduce household dust and to provide  relief to those with respiratory problems.


To prevent pipes  freezing and bursting, ensure that the pipes are well insulated.   Know  how to locate and turn off the water shut-off valve in case pipes do freeze.

Chimney and Fireplace

Call  a professional in to inspect and clean your chimney.  Fireplaces that are  regularly used during the season should have an annual cleaning to prevent  dangerous chimney fires.  Test your  fireplace flue for a tight seal when closed.

Attic ventilation

Be sure  attic insulation doesn’t cover vents in the eaves to prevent winter ice dams on  the roof.   Be sure ridge vents and vents  at eaves are free of plants and debris.   Check bird and rodent screens for attic vents to  prevent any unwanted guests.

Landscape and Yardwork

Although grass appears to stop growing in the  fall, the roots are actually growing deeper to prepare for winter. Now is the  best time to fertilize and reseed your lawn.   Prune  your trees and shrubs after the leaves turn to encourage healthy growth.   Trim any tree limbs that are dangerously close  to power lines or the roof of your house. Heavy snow and ice can cause damage in  the winter.

from HomeAdvisor formerly ServiceMagic Newsletter

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Preventive Maintenance: Chimneys

Since your chimney is one of the major barriers to fire danger in your home  (and consequently one of the primary sources of fire outbreaks), when a problem  occurs chimney repair is of utmost importance. Here’s a short list of quick  checks you can perform on your own or hire a professional to undertake in order  to evaluate when chimney repairs are in order.

Easy-to-Identify Reasons for Chimney Repairs Reducing the severity  and frequency of chimney repair is about three things: inspection, inspection,  inspection. The easiest place to begin an evaluation of whether your chimney  needs any attention is from your living room. These simple inspections can be  made by just about any homeowner, and could lead to spotting a necessary chimney  repair before it becomes a much larger problem.

Check the Firebox.  Cracks and loose joints in the masonry are an  issue, but one that is easy to repair. Chimney experts can generally fix small  cracks by applying refractory cement to seal up the offending areas.

Examine the DamperIt should open and close easily, and you don’t  want to see any evidence of extensive rust, cracks or pitting. If you do, it’s  time to have your damper replaced.

Look Up The FlueUse a high powered flashlight and inspect the flue  liner for cracks or other defects. All the joints should be smooth and tight to  prevent fire or heat from reaching the materials behind it.

Identifying Areas in Need of Chimney Repair from the Outside Just  about every homeowner can examine components that are visible from indoors, but  it is often necessary to climb up to the roof to spot areas in need of repair.  Chimney service companies are often better able to identify and handle problems  in these harder to reach areas; if you have a steep roof, or aren’t comfortable  with heights, contact a certified chimney sweep or repairman to look things over  for you.

Remove Any Blockages.  The tops of chimneys are favorite places for  birds and squirrels to build nests, especially in the spring and summer months  when the fireplace isn’t used. If you’ve got unwanted guests, be sure to remove  all the debris to eliminate the consequent fire danger.

Check the Flashing and Brick and Mortar Joints.  Just as with the  inside of your fireplace, the exterior of your chimney needs to be tight and  without defect. Reseal your flashing if it needs it, and be sure to reseal all  cracks, loose bricks, and mortar joints with a cement compound to prevent  further deterioration.

Is There Evidence of Water DamageIf so, apply a waterproof sealant  to your chimney to prevent further damage and more expensive repair. Chimneys  might look sturdy and tough, but water has been known to cause damage to  hardware, and even to mortar that was improperly mixed or set.

Inspect the Interior.  Use a high-powered flashlight to inspect the  interior of your chimney from above. Again, check the flue liner for defects,  and also keep an eye out for creosote or soot deposits. These deposits are a  leading cause of damaging fires if they’re not dealt with. If you’re chimney  needs a cleaning, contact a chimney sweep to remove these dangerous deposits.

Keep in mind that unsafe chimneys account for over $200 million dollars in  damage and a number of deaths each year. To lower these statistics, The Chimney  Safety Institute of America recommends that every home with a chimney have an  annual inspection to ensure optimal safety. Whether you suspect you may be in  need of a repair job or are just due for a regular checkup, contacting a  certified chimney repair specialist to inspect your chimney, identify existing  problems, and perform necessary cleaning or repairs can be very beneficial. Not  only do the pros know what they are looking for and understand how to fix it,  they can also offer good advice to prevent future problems; when a chimney  repair service finds and fixes a problem early, hiring that service is actually  saving you money (and quite possibly a lot of hassle) in the long run!

by Matt Goering for HomeAdvisor formerly ServiceMagic Newsletter



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Why Deck Sealing Saves Money

Your deck only has a certain amount of life. Water will sit on it, and the sun will heat it up all day long for months on end. There’s only so much abuse it can take. Professional deck sealing is the smartest way to get the most life out of your deck. Sealing a deck is like using sunscreen. The sun will still get through, but the sun will do less damage to your skin if you use sunscreen. Only in the case of decks, you don’t have to seal it every time the sun comes out.

The Process
A decking professional will typically use a solution of bleach and water to remove the water damage from the wood. Water damage manifests itself by turning the decking a chalky gray color. The bleach solution will bring back the original color of the wood.

From here the deck will either be pressure washed or sandblasted to remove any previous stains, sealants, residues, oils, etc. Once the wood has been stripped down and raw, then the stain and sealant can be applied. This process needs to happen every 3-5 years or as soon as you notice damage setting in on the deck.

If your deck needs to be sealed, use this link to hire some for deck sealing.

Saving Money by Sealing
Let’s say that the average deck will last 25 years, provided that it is cared for regularly. Every year that you go without treating you deck, no matter what the reason, you take time off of its life. If you move into a home that has an older deck, if you don’t take care of it, you will be replacing this deck soon.

Some decks have lasted only 4 years because of improper care and not being aware of the damage accruing each season. Wood is very strong, but it needs your help to stay strong. Deck sealing might seem like a hassle every few years, but this process is much cheaper than a new deck, and much cheaper than having to replace your current one much earlier than you should have had to.

Deck Installation Project Guide
If you enjoyed this article, check out our free Deck Installation Guide, which features expert advice, design & material comparisons, and custom price estimates for your remodeling Matt Myers for Servicemagic newsletter

Matt Myers is a freelance writer for the home maintenance and remodeling industry. Formerly a contractor specializing in deck building and casework, Matt has written over 500 articles for both homeowners and contractors.
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Roof Inspections

In many states, especially those that see a higher amount of snow and hail, when  buying a home it is usually requisite to have the roof certified from  inspection. Matter of fact, many lenders required this to be done before they  will cut a check. In most states, a properly ventilated roof can last 20 years  or more. In states where the snow is heavy, they often have to be replaced every  five years. While having a secure roof is one of the most important parts of a  home, it can also be a very expensive investment, especially if you bought a  home under the guise that everything was on the up and up.

Roofing Inspections Roof inspections are simply inspections that  determine the intergrity of a roof, how long it may last, and when it will need  to be replaced. Roof inspectors are not going to climb up on your roof or the  roof of a home you are thinking of buying and pull up shingles or tiles. Roof  inspectors have special procedures wherein they can determine the lifespan of a  given roof without tearing into it. At first glance it might seem that roofing  inspectors would have to pull up part of the roof to do a  thorough examination,  but if you consider your own roof, you would not want anyone tearing holes in it  just to see if it was in good shape.

Roof Inspectors Roof inspectors also have super-technical  techniques like infrared roof inspections where they don’t even have to touch  the surface of the roof itself to determine a roof’s integrity. This process  uses infrared rays to locate parts of a roof that are at higher or lower  temperatures than the rest of the roof. These “hot spots” can show a roof  inspector just exactly where heat is escaping.

Roof Inspections Because replacing a roof can be quite an investment,  insurance companies and lenders require that this has been checked off. It makes  sense for these companies to protect their investments, but you as the homeowner  should want this to be secured as well. You don’t want to be stuck with a bill  that you weren’t expecting, and you also don’t want to sell a home to a family  and put them in the same spot.

from Homesense by Servicemagic

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Can Hardwood Flooring Make You Healthier?

As one of the oldest and still most highly prized types of flooring in the nation, hardwood has nothing to prove when it comes to desirability. However, on the commonly held belief that hardwood is a healthier flooring than carpet (because hardwood doesn’t provide a place for dust and mold to hide) the verdict isn’t exactly cut and dry.

Does Carpet Affect Allergies?
There are many people out there who believe that dust mites, pollen, and other allergens can easily become trapped in your carpet. Perhaps surprisingly, the carpet industry supports this belief. According to, studies comparing airborne particles levels in carpeted rooms to non-carpeted rooms showed carpeted surfaces trapped more particles so that walking [over the floor] disturbed fewer particles. Result: less dust in the breathing zone over carpeted floors. To put it more bluntly, the website tells us, clean, dry, well maintained carpet actually improves indoor air quality.

On the Other Hand…
Producers of hard flooring are quick to point out that just because the allergens are trapped, they are still present. From their prospective, having dust you can see and remove on your flooring is a better situation than having trapped particles all over your house. People other than hardwood flooring manufacturers share this view, as well. According to the AAFA (Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America), Hardwood floors are an ideal type of floor for persons with allergies and asthma.

The Problem with Moisture Issues
One place where everyone can agree that carpet DOESN’T belong is in moist areas. The Center for Disease Control firmly tells homeowners to “Remove and replace flooded carpets to reduce the likelihood of mold growth (a situation that can become decidedly serious).” The CDC also makes a point of telling homeowners, “Do not carpet bathrooms” for the same reason.

Note: Any moisture rich area is generally considered a bad place to install carpet, but since moisture can have extremely detrimental effects on hardwood, too, the clear winners in basements, bathrooms, and laundry areas are other forms of hard flooring like tile, stone, and concrete.

Is One Flooring Healthier than the Other?
If you take care of your flooring and replace it when necessary, there’s nothing to strongly suggest that either hardwood or carpet is a significantly healthier option. However, homeowners who like the comfortable feel of carpet should be aware that proper cleaning and maintenance are essential to keep it as healthy and attractive as possible.

It should be noted that some have made a case for hardwood being healthier on a global scale. When sustainably grown and harvested, wood flooring is a very environmentally friendly product whose long life expectancy suggests that it won’t be taking up landfill space any time soon!

by John Nunan from ServiceMagic Newsletter “The Neighborhood”

Jon Nunan is a freelance writer who draws on his experience in construction, ranging from landscaping to log home building, for his articles on home improvement.


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Checklist: Preparing Your Home for Colder Weather

The pantry is stocked with hot cocoa and there’s a stack of logs by the fireplace.  Youmay be ready for colder weather, but is your home?  Whether you expect your winter to be mild or wild, don’t ignore these steps to get your house ready for colder weather.

Check weather stripping around doors and windows, and replace where necessary.

Place a draft snake or rolled towel underneath drafty doors.

Turn the toggle switch on your ceiling fans so that the downward sides of the blades are leading. (In most cases, this means they’ll be rotating clockwise.)  This rotation will help pull warm air down into the room.

Remove and store window AC units.  If you leave them in year round, air can seep in (and out) through the sides.

Reduce th temperature of your water heater to 120 degrees or lower.  You’ll enjoy lower utility bills – and you won’t have to worry about getting scalded.

Install storm doors and windows.  Yes, it’s a time and money investment, but it can seal drafts and reduce airflow significantly, especially if you live in a cold climate.

Before the weather gets too cold, get your heating system inspected by a professional.  Periodic maintenance will help your unit run smoothly.

Make sure you have enough insulation in your attic.  A well-insulated attic should have at least 12 inches of insulation.  Here’s a tip:  If youcan see the ceiling joists, you need to add more.

Exterior and Lawn

Prepare your lawn.  Rake up all your leaves before winter arrives.  Apply a sustained-release fertilizer in late fall – it will help the roots survive the cold season and bounce back quickly in the spring.

Drain all hoses and turn off faucets.

Check your gutters.  Properly pitched gutters slope between 1//16 inch and 1/8 inch per foot.

Inspect the exterior of your house.  Seal entry points around pipes with caulk or foam.

Seal driveway and walkway cracks.  For crevices less than a half-inch wide, use acrylic latex concrete repair compound.  For larger cracks, apply vinyl concrete patching compound with a trowel.

Empty your lawnmower’s fuel tank and store it for the winter.

from AHS November newsletter “Inside & Out”

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Home Maintenance Tip – How to Keep Wintry Pests Outside

Colder temperatures send wintry pests, such as rodents, spiders and cockroaches, searching for food, water and shelter inside our homes. Mice are a common winter nuisance and only need a space the size of a nickel to enter a home.

To keep these pests outside:

  • Seal any cracks and holes on the outside of the home, including utility and pipe entrances.
  • Put screens on vents and openings to chimneys.
  • Replace loose mortar and weather-stripping around the basement foundation and windows, and at all entry doors.
  • Keep attics, basements and crawl spaces well ventilated and dry.


from Old Republic Home Protection email

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